Chapter 110 – Duke Elgy’s Suggestion (1)
The party’s gossip entered Sovieshu’s ear.
As it was a relatively small event, the rumor that the Emperor’s concubine had encountered Viscount Roteschu’s daughter did not cause a storm in the social circles. Sovieshu had only heard what happened as he had sent his secretary to be his eyes and ears.
After hearing Count Pirnu’s report, Sovieshu’s expression turned serious.
“It will take some time for the rumors to disappear completely. It’s fortunate that Lord Alan, Viscount Roteschu’s son, took her away before things grew bigger.”
Count Pirnu spoke words meant to reassure the Emperor, but they did bear truth. Sovieshu’s expression, however, did not loosen.
“That’s not the problem.”
“The nobles ignore Rashta too much.”
Count Pirnu gave a chuckle, as if the suggestion were untrue.
“There are some nobles that ignore commoners, but more people think that Rashta is a sweet and lovely concubine. Such purity is rarely seen in high society.”
“Do they think of her as too soft?”
“She’s sweet and lovely. Good for a first impression, but that’s all.”
“It would be a compliment to a normal aristocrat, but Rashta will soon be my baby’s mother. The nobles have to respect her to some degree.”
“Alas…yes. They wouldn’t have played such a trick on her in the first place if she were respected.”
Count Pirnu gave a sheepish smile. Sovieshu was right, but was it possible to increase the status of a concubine who was rumored to be a former slave? Perhaps it could be done with Rashta, but it would take a lot of time. Besides…
“Your Majesty, I have something else to report.”
“What is it?”
“It is about Viscount Roteschu, who you mentioned before.”
Sovieshu had his interest piqued by Viscount Roteschu ever since the incident with the Red Flame Star ring, and he kept an eye on the viscount through the incident regarding Duchess Tuania. Not only did Sovieshu surveil Roteschu’s Rimwell estate and newly purchased mansion, but he also monitored all of his movements.
There was nothing of note so far. However, Count Pirnu seemed to want to say something.
“There are a suspicious number of people coming in and out the viscount’s residence.”
“Are they his own people?”
“I don’t think so. They ask about Miss Rashta.”
“They want to know if she really is a slave or a commoner.”
“Yes, I believe that’s the purpose.”
“Find out who is behind it.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
When they finished discussing Rashta, Baron Lant, who had been quietly listening to the two men’s conversation, carefully addressed the Emperor.
“What is it?”
Baron Lant took a step closer to Sovieshu.
“I have something to report on Miss Rashta. Actually, Miss Rashta told me to pass on a request.”
Baron Lant was Rashta’s most favored man out of Sovieshu’s secretaries. Sovieshu lifted his eyebrows at him, and the baron replied in a sheepish voice.
“Yes. She wants to learn aristocratic etiquette to help her in court life.”
“I believed it’s because of the same reason Count Pirnu mentioned.”
The nobles playing a prank on her at the party would certainly motivate her.
“Very well. Assign her the best teacher.”
Sovieshu readily agreed. Rashta hadn’t even learned to properly write yet. There were many things for her to learn before she could live respectably as a concubine.
But even as Sovieshu ordered a teacher to be assigned to her, a pang of regret throbbed in his heart.
“I’m afraid that Rashta’s charm will disappear.”
“She will only act more formally, Your Majesty.”
“Even ten-year-old children behave similarly to the adults after they had been given aristocratic lessons. Rashta will be the same as the other nobles, with her fresh new qualities gone.”
There was a gloom about Sovieshu, but he did not retract his words. Rashta wouldn’t be exciting if she was like everyone else, but because she was pregnant with his baby, her character couldn’t be ignored.
Sovieshu heaved a sigh and dismissed his two secretaries.
It was the day when the delegation would depart to celebrate the coronation of Heinley I.
The mission’s representative, Grand Duke Lilteang, seemed very pleased to lead the trip. He kept smiling to himself when he listened to Sovieshu’s words of encouragement, but when I gave my own farewell address, he fixed his face into a solemn expression and looked downwards in an indifferent manner.
He used to persistently stick to me even after I continually turned down his bribes. Now that he was friendly with Rashta, he no longer had to act in a way that hurt his pride. Could that be the reason for the cold atmosphere between Grand Duke Lilteang and I?
Sovieshu stood by my side, but he didn’t bother to talk to me.
After a time, I went to an upstairs window to watch the delegation as they slowly exited the courtyard gates. The crowds gathered to see the procession as it snaked its way down the large road away from the capital. It saddened me to watch the horses and carriages gradually become more distant. The little bird was moving away as well.
It was always something, and then another thing. Heinley and I would not be able to meet for various reasons. Those days were over.
“I can only live with the hope that your nation’s peace is also your wellbeing.”
When the procession was completely out of sight, I started to feel restless and left the window. I descended the steps one-by-one and put my mind in order. As I went through the winding corridors to return to the western palace, a familiar, cocky voice called out to me.
I turned my head and saw Duke Elgy, looking casually rumpled with his partially unbuttoned shirt and creased clothes. He grinned as he fastened a button and approached me.
“It’s been a while.”
He was a friend to Prince Heinley, but we had never been close. On the contrary, Rashta was much friendlier to him, which was why I regarded the duke with uneasy reluctance. I had only spoken to him a handful of times, but…
“I wanted to visit you once in a while. I don’t often have the chance.”
“Yes. I hope there will be a good opportunity someday.”
“Ha ha. Do you mean not now?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“Then do you mind if I walk with you for a while? Only while our paths overlap.”
I tried my best to politely pass him by, but Duke Elgy deliberately held on to the conversation. No matter how uncomfortable I might feel, he was still the duke of Blue Bohean, and I could not refuse him so openly.
He smiled at my agreement, then spoke more kindly than before.
“I thought Her Majesty was going to be part of the delegation to the Western Kingdom.”
“I’m afraid I’m too busy.”
“They’ll be very disappointed.”
Who did he mean? Was he talking about Heinley?
When I looked up at him, Duke Elgy smiled and corrected my thoughts, saying “Lady Rashta.”
“What makes you think so?”
“Don’t you think Lady Rashta likes it when the Empress is far away?”
“Was that too close to the bone?”
“Well, that sounds like something she would say.”
Duke Elgy gave a deep-throated chuckle in agreement, and continued to walk by my side.
“What does Her Majesty think of Lady Rashta?”
“I feel the same way most empresses feel about concubines.”
He gave another laugh.
“Why do you avoid questions so well?”
“Is there a response you wanted?”
“Not at all.”
I had no idea what this man intended. Why was Rashta’s friend acting affably towards me and asking me strange questions? Did he want me to curse at her?
“If you have something to say to me, say it, Duke.”
I decided to be more straightforward, and fortunately he did not sidestep me this time.
“It is an ugly thing to harass the weak, Your Majesty.”
There was a strong implication to his words. The weak meant Rashta. But what did he mean by the “ugly thing”? In the end, however, it didn’t matter.
“I did not touch her first.”
“But if a weak person comes running at you with a knife, you can’t allow yourself to be stabbed simply because they’re weak.”
“If the Duke meets a weak enemy, will you throw away your weapon and hide your fists?”
Duke Elgy did not answer and fell into silence.
Meanwhile, we arrived near the western palace. I wasn’t inclined to invite him inside, and indicated that this would be where we would part. The duke was still seriously mulling over my words, but when our eyes met, he smiled.
‘Why is he smiling like that?’
It was a strange moment to say goodbye.
“Can you hit me just once?”
I was stunned at this absurd request.
“Why should I?”
He wanted me to hit him out of nowhere. It was ridiculous. I shot him an incredulous look, and he murmured under his breath in reply.
“I want to ease my guilt.”
“Guilt? What guilt are you talking about?”
Instead of explaining, Duke Elgy pointed his hands in two directions, one where he should go and one where I should go.
“Here we are, walking together. Now we need to take different paths. I hope you will return safely.”
Was the guilt he described because he sided with Rashta?
It suddenly occurred to me that Heinley was the one who brought Duke Elgy here. And those two had planned something.
Could the Duke Elgy’s apology be because of their plans?