Chapter 71 – Are You Jealous? (2)
Sovieshu and I kept arguing, and I waved my hand after I got tired of his drivel. I didn’t want to talk anymore. The same was true of Sovieshu, who wore a sour expression and called a passing servant to fetch more wine.
“Will you have a drink, Empress?”
“I’m fine. I’ll have cake.”
“You’re going to gain weight.”
“It’s better than being drunk in public, isn’t it?”
“I won’t get drunk. But if you eat at this time of day, you’ll get fat.”
“Even if I gain a bit of weight, I have a tailor on hand.”
Sovieshu scoffed into his wine as I put a forkful of cake into my mouth.
At that moment, music began to flow in the room again, and everyone on the dance floor changed partners. Sovieshu and I had the uninteresting job of simply sitting here at the table, but we had to keep up formal appearances. I picked a strawberry from a slice of cake and put it in my mouth, while Sovieshu looked around with a bored expression.
Suddenly, his gaze halted. I followed the direction of his stare, and saw Rashta laughing and talking with someone in a corner. I couldn’t see who it was as they were hidden by the crowd—no, now I could see them. It was Duke Tuania, smiling as if he were enjoying his conversation with Rashta.
‘Will Sovieshu be jealous?’
I glanced to the side, but Sovieshu had already turned away and handed a servant his empty wine glass.
‘He’s not jealous?’
Though he kept glancing at them every once in a while, he seemed largely unperturbed. Was it really alright for his lover to smile and talk to other men? Was he not jealous?
Yes. He trusted her.
I shook my head. What was so important about Sovieshu’s reaction anyway? It was between them. It would be strange if I was caught watching them, so I took another bite of cake again.
A familiar voice called to me. I looked up, and saw a man in a glittering gold mask approaching me. I immediately knew who he was by the name he addressed me.
He smiled underneath his mask.
“May I sit with you? I’m not good at dancing.”
“Why, though? You’ve been flying about very well.”
Prince Heinley and I turned towards Sovieshu, who was looking at the prince and holding up his glass of wine.
“Your Majesty, how are you?”
Prince Heinley greeted him belatedly with a smile, but Sovieshu’s expression remained cold. Oh…yes. The pair of them had almost gotten into a fight over Rashta. Sovieshu’s hatred for Prince Heinley was not out of jealousy, but out of insult.
The cake suddenly felt stale in my mouth. I set down my fork and handed my plate to a servant.
As soon as I returned to the palace, I instructed my aide to find out who leaked the information about my dress. He looked skeptical as he received my orders, however. Was that even possible? What I wore was not confidential, and some noblewomen requested this kind of information in advance so their dresses wouldn’t overlap. As expected, after three days the aide could pinpoint any one person to be the culprit.
“Many ladies and gentleman had asked, and there were too many people who had answered, Your Majesty.”
It was evening. Laura, who had been out for Lady Alischute’s birthday, returned earlier than expected.
“Your Majesty, Countess, did you hear?! There’s shocking news!”
Laura burst into the room, and Countess Eliza frowned at her.
“Laura, I told you not to run in front of Her Majesty.”
“There is no time for manners, Countess!”
“There is always time.”
“This is urgent! How could this be a time for manners?”
Laura rushed over to me and collapsed by my side to catch her breath. She was a healthy woman, and must have run here from a distance. Countess Eliza was too overwhelmed with curiosity to nag her, instead choosing to sit next to her, while the other ladies-in-waiting paused their chess game. Laura took in a deep breath as everyone crowded around her.
“It’s about Duchess Tuania.”
“Laura, if you’re talking about Lord Marian or Duke Elgy, you’re a step behind.”
“That’s not the story, Countess Jubel.”
Laura looked affronted, as both of those stories had already been widely circulated. To be precise, one was an old scandal had been revived, and the other was when Duke Elgy was slapped on the cheek.
“Duke Tuania told the Duchess he would divorce her.”
The ladies covered their mouths in astonishment. I was also shocked, and I set my book aside. Why Duke Tuania?
“Is it because of rumors about Lord Marian?”
At Countess Eliza’s question, Laura nodded.
“Yes. I heard him yelling, ‘Is he my brother’s son?’ and that he couldn’t help but be suspicious.”
“But he never said it before, so why is he mentioning it now?”
One of the ladies-in-waiting feigned a smile, while Countess Jubel clicked her tongue.
“Shortly after Lord Marian went into the church, Duchess Tuania visited the temple at the request of the former duke. Before that, they had a close relationship. From the standpoint of the current Duke Tuania, he would be suspicious if he heard these kinds of rumors. Keep talking, Laura. ”
Laura looked alternately between the two, then continued.
“And he didn’t like that the Duchess got into a fight with another woman. He wasn’t sure if it was because there was something between Duke Elgy and her.”
“Oh, that’s too much.”
“The Duke must be frustrated that paternity tests are not allowed by the Church.”
“There used to be talk from some time ago. Someone said to the former duke, ‘Is it possible that the baby may be Lord Marian’s?’ He replied, ‘Is he not still my grandchild anyway?’”
The ladies-in-waiting tsked collectively. Paternity tests had once been considered infallible, until the Rumpel case thirty-five years ago. A woman went to the Church to found out who her child’s father was, but the father had an identical twin brother. As the priest examined the results, he concluded that both men were the baby’s fathers, revealing a loophole in the paternity tests. However, even if there was a flaw, those particular circumstances were so rare…
“It’s kind quite strange, actually. Duke Tuania said they conceived the baby before they were married, but since they were wedded, the Duchess hasn’t gotten pregnant since.”
“Maybe Duke Tuania is too proud to admit he’s infertile.”
The supposed affair of Lord Marian and Duchess Tuania happened when I was still young enough that I had no idea of the commotion at the time. Why was it dredged up now after it had been buried for ten years?
“Does this have something to do with Miss Rashta?”
The ladies-in-waiting stopped chattering and turned towards me. They were unsure why Rashta’s name was brought up all of a sudden, and in all fairness I had no proof. However, Rashta recently asked me about Duchess Tuania, and soon after a scandal broke…was that too weak of a connection?
“What did Duchess Tuania say, Lady Laura?”
“She said she would never divorce. It may even go to trial.”
The ladies-in-waiting began to talk about the possibility of the duchess winning the trial.
I found the timing of this situation unusual, so I asked the ladies-in-waiting to find out why Duke Tuania suddenly brought up the problem. I suspected Rashta must have fanned the duke’s anxious mind, but that alone was not cause for punishment, not unless she actively manipulated information.
‘But it wouldn’t hurt to know.’
If Rashta caused this, she could not simply be treated as a naive slave-turned-concubine. She had the ability to influence society and manipulate public opinion, and one had to be wary of such enemies.
However, four days after hearing the news of the Duke Tuania’s intention to divorce, something more shocking happened.
“Empress! Rashta was stabbed by Viscount Langdel!”