Chapter 67 – Slush Fund (2)
It was about two hours after I arrived to the central palace for work. My eyes were throbbing, and I went outside to take a break. When I stepped out, I saw Rashta crouching down at the grass and staring at the ground. Perhaps she had heard the door open, and she looked around and said “Ah” as soon as she saw me. She approached and gave me a bow.
“Well…Your Majesty. If you don’t mind, could you spare a few minutes?”
Rashta looked around. As I was right outside my office, there were guards around the building, as well as Sir Artina standing right behind me. Rashta seemed to want to talk alone, but the knight made no move to leave. I gave him a meaningful glance, and he took a few steps backwards. However, when Rashta spoke, it was in a hushed whisper.
“Your Majesty, I hear that concubines receive an allowance…”
“How much is it?”
“About thirty thousand krangs a year.”
Rashta’s eyes widened. It was more money than she expected.
I nodded, and she covered her mouth with both hands. However, her expression looked gloomy when she spoke again.
“When can I get it?”
“Early next month. Why? Do you need the money now?”
I knew that Sovieshu was providing for her at the moment, but I asked her anyway. Rashta shook her head and put her hands together. Her words seem stuck in her throat, but after a few false starts she was able to force her words out.
“Well…Your Majesty. Is all the money you give to Rashta on record?”
“I keep the books.”
It would remain not only on the bookkeeping records, but in historical ones as well, where future generations could read it. I did not bother to mention this however. Rashta hesitated again before speaking.
“Then…Your Majesty. Yesterday, the Emperor said that Rashta’s money would be managed by Baron Lant…”
“Is that so?”
“Yes, well. I mean—some of that money…can you give it to Rashta separately?”
Was she afraid of Baron Lant keeping an eye on her expenses?
“Even if Baron Lant is in charge of the money, it’s still yours. If you’re concerned it will be joined with Sovieshu’s, there’s no need to worry.”
“No, it’s not that…but if you give me fifteen thousand out of the thirty thousand krangs—or even ten thousand—and don’t write it down…is it possible? I hear there is a lot of double bookkeeping…”
Was she trying to create a slush fund? It wasn’t a good thing, but it wasn’t impossible. It sounded like she was only trying to divide up what she had. But it wasn’t my business.
“You should receive permission from the Emperor first.”
“I heard the Empress takes care of the money…”
“But the Emperor manages everything about you. Ask him yourself about this.”
Rashta’s eyes turned away in embarrassment. She muttered to herself, and left.
“Why the troubled face?”
When Duke Elgy spotted Rashta’s expression when he walked into the room, he burst out laughing.
Rashta’s cheeks were swollen and red, and she hugged her pillow more tightly. Her expression didn’t brighten the way it usually did when she saw Duke Elgy.
Sensing that something must have happened, Duke Elgy took a nearby chair and stared at Rashta. With the sight of her silver hair trailing in delicate strands down the pillow, she was truly was a beauty irresistible to an emperor—even when she was pouting.
“The Empress is so cold.”
“Cold? Did you fight?”
“Can I fight in my situation?”
“The Empress not the type to come forward and start a quarrel.”
“You know the Empress?”
“I’m a good judge of people’s personalities. Not in detail, but a good estimation.”
“So the Duke says the Empress has a good personality who doesn’t start a quarrel?”
“I wouldn’t say she has a good personality…more cold, as you said. How should I put it? She acts like an empress, she thinks like an empress, and she speaks like an empress.”
Duke Elgy nodded as he recalled the woman he had only encountered twice. Navier was the perfect stereotype of an empress. According to his sources, she had shadowed the former empress at an early age and took her lessons from her. Navier was likely cast in that same mold.
“What you think is goodness is in reality her drawing a line between herself and others.”
“You know that from only seeing her briefly?”
“It wasn’t brief. I was watching her at the tea party. But what’s really going on, Miss?”
Rashta hesitated and she looked into Duke Elgy’s eyes. The duke chuckled softly with one hand resting on his back.
“You don’t have to talk if you don’t want to.”
Rashta paused, but she knew that he was the person she trusted the most in this world. He helped her in her most difficult time and protected her from the nobles’ gossip. In the end, Rashta decided to confess.
“I asked her if she could give me some money without recording it in the books.”
Duke Elgy let out a laugh.
“I need money…”
“Is there something you want? Tell the Emperor. He would do anything for you.”
“I don’t know, but I’m upset. The Emperor ordered Baron Lant to manage the money, and I can’t use it.”
Why couldn’t she use money that someone else was managing? Duke Elgy noticed that Rashta was not saying anything. Instead of asking about it, however, he made his own suggestion instead.
“If you need the money, shall I lend it to you?”
“I am quite wealthy.”
He added in a mischievous “Well?”
“I will write the loan and the exact amount. Why don’t we do that?”
“Even if you loan the money now, I have to tell Baron Lant when I pay you back later. It still the same. It would be suspicious if he knew I borrowed money!”
“Baron Lant won’t manage it forever. After a few years, you will do it yourself, right?”
“That’s true, but…”
Sovieshu had suggested that he would allow her to govern her allowance after she learned about financial management. If she studied hard and hid the fact that she was paying off Viscount Roteschu, Baron Lant’s supervision could be removed after a year or two.
“Why don’t we write down the loan? I won’t ask for the money back for five years.”
“There is a condition.”
Duke Elgy chuckled and waved his hand.
“What is interest between friends? You only need to pay the loan amount.”
Rashta knew how some people ended up as slaves when they failed to pay off their debts or went bankrupt. She had heard how dangerous it was to borrow money at high interest, and was relieved that Duke Elgy did not ask for it.
“Then what is the condition?”
“Can you tell me why you need money?”
“I’ll have to stop you if I think you’re being scammed.”
“I don’t think there’s a good reason if you’re spending money without informing the Emperor. If it turns out you’re investing in a scam, you should stop.”
He seemed like he was joking, but there was genuine concern in his voice. Rashta stared at Duke Elgy for a moment. She wondered if he would help her if he knew the whole truth, but it was not necessary to take the risk if the situation was stable.
But Rashta needed someone who could help her immediately. Someone who knew her situation and would not laugh or point fingers at her, but treat her with compassion. Right now, the only person that fit that criteria was Duke Elgy. Although the Emperor accepted her even when he knew she was a fugitive slave, her relationship with him was different than with Duke Elgy’s. With the Emperor, it was love, and with the duke, it was friendship. Love could cause disappointment and rejection. Friendship was sympathetic, complimentary, supportive…
Rashta swallowed nervously.