Chapter 10 – I Can’t Believe He’s Doing This To Me (1)
“Nonsense! Why should the Empress provide a lady-in-waiting for the concubine!”
The ladies-in-waiting who heard my story shouted angrily. Countess Eliza, who suffered from high blood pressure, rubbed her hands behind her neck while Viscountess Verdi fanned her and spoke in a soothing voice.
“Thank goodness Laura is not here. She is a fiery young woman and would act unbecomingly.”
I sat immobile and hadn’t said a word, and the ladies gave me a nervous look.
“What are you going to do, Your Majesty?”
“Are you really going to find her a lady-in-waiting?”
“No one stepped forward when the Emperor’s secretaries searched for one.”
“I wish I could say no…but he gave me a direct order himself.”
All the ladies had tears of indignation, but there was no other suitable way. I sighed again.
A lady-in-waiting was usually of similar or lower rank than the noblewoman she was serving, but Rashta was not a noble at all. In this case, it would be appropriate to find one of the fallen or the lower nobles…but that posed a problem as many of them could not get to the palace. I considered it over for another moment before turning to Countess Eliza.
“We should start looking nearby, so please send an invitation to the young ladies and women in the capital.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“A tea party with all the noblewomen?”
Rashta’s eyes rounded.
“Are you sure?”
Cherily, the maid who had given her the news, answered with “I told you already!”
“It’s hosted by the Empress. You can’t even imagine how grand it is. All the ladies of the capital have been gathering in the palace for hours. The invitations were sent out yesterday.”
” …What about Rashta?”
“Ah! Even if you are not a noble, Miss Rashta, you’re still a person of His Majesty the Emperor…this really is a shame.”
Rashta’s mouth turned downwards and her shoulders sagged.
“I thought so. The palace seemed to be noisy all day long…”
“The Empress is being unfair. She skipped the banquet because of New Year’s Day, but now she’s having a party that excludes Miss Rashta.”
Tea parties and banquets differed in size and expectations of guests, but to Cherily and Rashta, who did not know about this, a party was a party, and to them it was unfair that Rashta was not invited.
Rashta pushed the floor with her toes and fell back onto her bed.
“Rashta must be hated… ”
“The Empress is just jealous because the Emperor loves you.”
“Why don’t you dress up and go to the palace, too?”
“But Rashta wasn’t invited…?”
“Is the Empress the only one that lives here? This is Rashta’s home too.”
The two maids took turns thinking up a plan, but Rashta shook her head and pulled the covers over herself.
“No. They don’t want me.”
The maids’ eyes watered sympathetically.
“Poor Miss Rashta…”
Although only noblewomen were invited, the number of guests exceeded my expectations as women of high or low rank attended. I didn’t even know the names or faces of some of them, as they rarely made appearances in society.
The garden boasted a spread of puddings, jellies, and chocolates so that everyone could walk around and eat. At first, everyone seemed a little surprised to see a buffet layout at a tea party, but soon they were laughing and talking among themselves in amusement. When the time came, I called for their attention.
“His Majesty the Emperor has asked me to provide a lady-in-waiting for his concubine, Miss Rashta. Because it has to be before New Year’s Day, I cannot search far away for one. Is there anyone of your acquaintance who would want to be a companion for Miss Rashta?”
I did not directly say, “Who among you wants to be Miss Rashta’s lady-in-waiting?” Although the standards were lower than usual, those who lived in the capital city still had a certain amount of pride in their position. The nobles of the capital were not higher than the nobles of the provinces either, and there would be no one who would want to take the position below a commoner concubine. And so I chose my words carefully.
I finished and waited for someone to come forward. The women and young ladies exchanged glances, shaking their heads or shrugging their shoulders. Silence gripped the air. After an uncomfortable pause, Lady Alischute, Laura’s best friend, cautiously spoke up.
“Y-Your Majesty. This has been the talk for days, but…please don’t tell the Emperor what I’m about to say. You musn’t.”
“You may speak, Lady Alischute.”
“Isn’t it rumored that she is a runaway slave? Someone may want to serve her even if she is a commoner, except if the rumors are true instead…everyone is reluctant.”
The other ladies nodded, putting in their own word or two.
“One will not be able to carry face if they become the lady-in-waiting of a runaway slave, Your Majesty.”
“Even if there was someone suitable for the position, they’ll end up getting slapped after that rumor.”
“To be the lady-in-waiting is not an honor, but an insult and a punishment.”
The gossip seemed to have spread widely in society. The noblewomen hesitated before they asked me, “Is the rumor true, Your Majesty?”
I told them Sovieshu’s answer. She was a commoner who was injured by him on accident.
In the evening, the ladies all returned to their homes and I went back to the palace. Tonight I would have dinner with Sovieshu, and I had better inform him that I was unable to find a lady-in-waiting for Rashta.
To my surprise, there was no food on the dining table. Sovieshu was already seated. I looked down at the empty table, discomfited, and Sovieshu spoke to me in a calm voice.
“I heard the Empress summoned all the ladies and ate snacks for hours. I was worried that you would be full, and so I did not have the table set tonight.”
“I can eat with Rashta, so don’t worry.”
“What about Rashta’s lady-in-waiting? Have you found one?”
“I called all the women and young ladies, but none offered to serve, Your Majesty.”
“Then there must be a reason.”
“The issue is not money.”
“What does that mean?”
If I spoke about the rumor that Rashta was a runaway slave, I would be betraying the trust of the other noblewomen. Lady Alischute had asked me to keep it a secret, and so I did not speak a single word of it.
“It’s only my assumption, but with the New Year’s preparations going on, I don’t think anyone wants to take care of anyone else for now. They would be twice as busy.”
Sovieshu pondered for a moment then spoke in a half playful voice.
“Did the Empress say something strange when she called the noblewomen?”
Although he was pretending to be amused, there was a sharp under bite to his tone.
“Of course not. I do not know anything about your concubine, but I wouldn’t say anything strange.”
“People say things despite not knowing anything.”
“That is true. But there are some people that doubt their partner without hearing or seeing anything for themselves…”
A flash of guilt crossed Sovieshu’s face at the implied meaning of my words. We looked at each other in silence.
“If that’s what you say, then I won’t doubt you.”
It was Sovieshu that backed down first.
“I don’t doubt you either.”
I stepped down too, and Sovieshu smiled and looked at me reassuringly.
“I was just asking, so don’t be offended.”
I was already offended, but if I fought openly with the Emperor I would lose. I concealed my crumpled pride, but nausea ran through my body.
I gave him a mechanical smile and stood up from my seat.