Despite the anger on Sovieshu’s face, Prince Heinley looked unimpressed.
“I’m sure Rashta wrote those letters. She was confused for a moment. The contents can be confusing, can’t they?”
“Does it make sense to confuse half the contents of the letters?”
Sovieshu turned even redder the face. Princess Soju was riveted on them as if she were entertained, and she set down her fork and started eating cookies as she were watching a play.
“Goodness…So Lady Rashta has a poor brain? Ten things, half forgotten? If her wit is the issue, then I’ll admit my wrong.”
In an instant, the atmosphere turned ugly. I could only hear the sound of Princess Soju eating the cookies. With her lively and dependable personality, she showed her curiosity to the fullest extent.
“Am I the strange one here, everyone? The lady sitting here, Rashta, called herself my friend yesterday. I believed it because I thought that a famous lady like Rashta wouldn’t lie, and I spent all day honoring her. And as Princess Soju put it, I was as soft as a human custard.”
Princess Soju flinched.
‘Prince Heinley has good ears.’
The Princess automatically sided with Prince Heinley in return for him calling her out. Prince Heinley looked around and spoke again.
“But there was something strange during our conversation. Lady Rashta didn’t know more than half of what she has exchanged with me. She knew nothing about our recent exchanges. Isn’t it strange that she doesn’t know half the contents, as well as the contents from only one or two letters ago? Lady Rashta’s maid didn’t know that as well.”
Everyone nodded, and Rashta’s ears turned red. Sovieshu glared at Prince Heinley as if he could shoot lightning from his eyes.
“Enough of this, Prince Heinley.”
“It was supposed to be a quiet matter, but it was the Emperor of the Eastern Empire that brought it out to the open.”
“Shouldn’t a knight protect his lady if she’s in trouble? If the Western Kingdom condemns a poor woman over a trivial matter and calls that chivalry, then there’s nothing left for me to explain.”
“No, no. My lady was falsely impersonated, and I must protect her too.”
A playful smile lifted on the Prince’s mouth.
“Of course, my letter acquaintance may be a man, not a lady.”
His gaze fell on me for a moment, and my heart ran cold. It occurred to me that I wrote ‘I am a man’ as a hint.
Even if Prince Heinley discovered that Rashta was the false friend, there was still no way he could tell I was the real one.
It was then.
Rashta, who had not said a word so far, whimpered, “It’s too much.” Everyone’s eyes shifted from Sovieshu and Prince Heinley towards Rashta, who sniffled as if she were the main character in a play. One of Prince Heinley’s eyebrows lifted.
“Why did you try to deceive me again, Lady Rashta? Why did you play a trick with the maid?”
Rashta let out a sob.
“I said the contents of the letter exactly. But Prince Heinley keeps insisting it’s a lie.”
What on earth…
My lips parted at that moment. What did she just say? Tears started to stream down her eyes.
“I think I know why you’re doing this. Is it because Rashta is not the kind of person you wanted? Were all the gestures of friendship you sent to Rashta false?”
She was the image of a tragic heroine who had been wrongly abandoned. Sovieshu clenched his jaw as he glared at the Prince.
“Is that true?”
Prince Heinley’s shoulders jerked as he laughed, then he sighed and shook his head.
“You must be crazy.”
“Are you accusing of Rashta being a liar because you saw her with His Majesty?”
I once believed Rashta’s naivety came from innocence and ignorance. Now I knew that she was deviously cunning woman. Prince Heinley clicked his tongue.
“Lady Rashta. You are the most brazen person I have ever met.”
“For the sake of our friendship, please don’t keep saying things that will hurt Rashta.”
Rashta dissolved into tears, and some of the surrounding nobles began to look uncomfortable. For those who didn’t know the truth, Rashta appeared so confident in the truth that they were confused to what was real. Princess Soju was busy watching with wide eyes with her cookies in her mouth, while Duchess Tuania calmly watched the situation with her arms folded.
In the meanwhile, only Grand Duke Kapmen was delicately working on his meal. With his long, sharp eyes and healthy caramel-colored skin, he moved his utensils with a dull expression, as if he found the whole affair tiresome.
‘I should come forward and say that I’m Prince Heinley’s letter acquaintance…’
I stared blankly at Kapmen as I agonized over the decision. If I sided with the Prince, the others would mock not only Rashta, but also Sovieshu who had stood up for her. However, I didn’t want to see Prince Heinley be blamed because of Rashta. The friendship that Rashta repeatedly claimed was hers was between me and Prince Heinley.
At that moment, Grand Duke Kapmen, who was eating like a machine, looked paused and looked up at me in surprise. I nodded slightly as our eyes met. Kapmen stared at me without responding, then he looked at Rashta and Prince Heinley then smiled quietly.
‘What’s the matter with him?’
However, it wasn’t the abnormal behavior of Grand Duke Kapmen that was the problem at this moment.
‘I wanted to stay quiet, but there is a misunderstanding. I should fix it.’
I finished debating internally with myself and readied myself to speak. Everyone turned to me. They seemed to be enjoying the whirlwind of events. Only Rashta was staring at me with her eyes wide open. Suddenly, it occurred to me that Viscountess Verdi must have told her I was the letter acquaintance, and I felt a sense of irony in the situation. I couldn’t understand why Rashta thought she could pretend to be me and think I would stay quiet.
I spoke to Sovieshu, keeping my face as still as possible.
“Your Majesty, I know who it was that exchanged letters with Prince Heinley…and it was not Rashta.”
Prince Heinley’s face lit up. Rashta, on the other hand, stared at me with a look of betrayal, while Sovieshu’s face turned white.
He addressed me in a low voice.
“This is not a matter for you to decide. Just because you dislike Rashta doesn’t mean you should take Prince Heinley’s side.”
“I am only on the side of truth.”
As soon as I was finished, Prince Heinley spoke up acidly.
“Your Majesty the Empress. It must be frustrating that the Emperor treats all the words from Lady Rashta’s lips as truth.”
The remark bled the last of Sovieshu’s patience.
“I cannot tolerate this anymore.”
Sovieshu stood up and drew out his sword. It was a decorative piece not made for combat, but it was enough to injure a defenseless person. The mood in the room quickly became tense.
“Prince Heinley, how dare you defile my honor. I challenge you to a duel.”
“If I kill you now, may I leave here safely? Then, I will accept the duel.”