Chapter 114 – What Do You Want Me To Say? (1)
Rivetti swayed down the white corridor in a dream-like mood.
She had only seen the Empress’ likeness from a portrait before, but now she saw Her Majesty sitting and drinking tea before her up close. The Empress even smiled at her and invited her to another tea party a few days later. To Rivetti, this was far more thrilling than a spectacular new mansion and countless servants.
‘I should bake some cookies for the tea party. I’m sure the Empress likes it. Rivetti’s cookies are the best in the world!’
However, her good mood soured as soon as she saw Rashta at the other end of the corridor. Rashta stood with her arms folded, apparently waiting for Rivetti.
“What do you want?”
Rivetti skipped the greeting as her eyes swept over the former slave. Rashta had always been beautiful, but now she truly looked like an angel.
Rivetti wasn’t impressed, however. She had hated Rashta ever since Alan started a relationship with her, and the feeling remained the same even though the pair were no longer together.
“Did you meet the Empress?”
Rashta harbored similar feelings towards Rivetti, ignoring any pleasantries and going straight to the point.
“The Empress? You’re a little short on words.”
“What did you say to her?”
“It’s still short.”
“What did you say?”
“It doesn’t matter. So what.”
“…Did you talk?”
“Talk about what?”
Rashta couldn’t say the words, “About your brother the baby,” and she pressed her lips shut.
A smug smile spread on Rivetti’s face. She knew what Rashta wanted to say, and noticed that even though Rashta was now the Emperor’s mistress, she was still shackled to the past. If it was uncovered, it may even destroy her.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Rashta. Don’t worry too much.”
Rivetti gave a teasing smile.
“Why would I talk about you to Her Majesty the Empress? You’re worth nothing.”
Rashta’s cheeks flushed with anger at the insult.
“I’m worth nothing?”
“Just like being with my brother didn’t make you a noble, being with the Emperor won’t make you royalty.”
A mocking laugh left Rivetti’s mouth.
Rashta’s anger burst, and she slapped Rivetti on the cheek. It happened before she even realized what she was doing.
Rivetti gave a stunned cry.
Rivetti raised her hand to hit her back, but Rashta flinched and covered her stomach.
Rivetti paused. As her father Viscount Roteschu observed, Rivetti was a bright girl. She remembered whose baby Rashta was carrying and she gritted her teeth. They could trade insults, but this could not be a physical fight. No matter how much the nobles laughed at Rashta, she was still the Emperor’s concubine, and she was carrying his baby.
“Even with violence you’re still lowly. Lowly!”
Rashta’s anger swelled again. However, she regretted slapping Rivetti, not because Rashta felt guilty, but because she worried how Viscount Roteschu would react. He doted on his daughter terribly.
The two women locked gazes with each other. Eventually, the vicious encounter ended when Rivetti brushed past Rashta.
‘What should I do…’
Rivetti finally disappeared, and Rashta nervously bit her thumb. Rivetti would certainly tell her father that Rashta had hit her, and then Viscount Roteschu would come and demand more money…
Rashta could not tell her own side of the story to Sovieshu. On top of it all, she still had to obtain a debutante dress for that arrogant and awful Rivetti.
“Did you enjoy yourself today?”
I was having dinner with Sovieshu. He spoke up as I was silently mixing my salad and dressing.
“I heard you invited some of the nobles for a get-together. How was it?”
Was he being sarcastic because I didn’t invite Rashta? Or because I did invite Viscount Roteschu’s daughter?
At this moment, however, Sovieshu did not look angry or sneering. He was simply cutting the fish on his plate.
“Yes, I felt quite renewed afterwards.”
I answered the question as usual instead of bringing up the subject of Lady Rivetti. Sovieshu nodded.
“Yes. You should invite people you like and spend more time with them. You are too preoccupied with work, so it’s good to take a break every so often.”
“Don’t forget that your well-being is the well-being of the country.”
I responded normally, but I watched Sovieshu with a careful eye. We had been fighting a war of nerves lately, but now his attitude was similar to that before Rashta appeared.
‘Why is he like this?’
Did Sovieshu change his strategy? Instead of forcing me to treat Rashta well, did he decide to set an example? Perhaps he thought that if he treated me well, I would be kinder to Rashta too?
I turned over various theories in my mind, but I couldn’t solve the puzzle that was Sovieshu’s way of thinking. Instead, I decided to bring up the topic of work.
“I heard that the mages’ office requested that we send over a grand scholar. Is that right?”
“You heard right.”
Technically speaking, matters regarding the mage’s office and grand scholars weren’t under my jurisdiction. However, the mage army was the bastion of power for the emperor, and any issue regarding them was cause for concern.
“Is it because of the decline in mages?”
He pressed his fingers against his forehead with a grim expression.
“So far, it’s not clear whether the number of mages born is decreasing. But there is a report claiming that a mage can suddenly revert to being non-magical.”
“Is that true?”
“I’ll have to confirm it myself.”
It was best that he did so, as it was not uncommon for someone to claim they were a mage as part of a hoax.
I nodded thoughtfully and considered the circumstances if it were true. Loyalists to the crown were allowed a certain number of private soldiers and a degree of autonomy within the law. No matter how great the lord was, however, they could never hire mages. That privilege was exclusively for the Imperial Family, and it was the emperor’s source of power that the lords and nobles bowed to.
But if there were fewer mages…
Sovieshu interrupted my thoughts in a low voice. I turned my gaze back to him, and he made an unexpected request.
“Just smile once.”
What was the occasion? I found it strange, but I smiled as he requested.
“…No, not like that.”
However, he wasn’t satisfied. He shook his head and asked again.
“Not a smile that you practiced in the mirror. Show me a real smile.”
When I frowned, Sovieshu reached out to the air and pretended to raise the ends of my mouth.
“You used to smile well before.”
What was he talking about? I stared at him, and he breathed a weary sigh.
“You used to smile at me. From the bottom of your heart.”
“I’m still smiling from the bottom of my heart.”
“I really am smiling.”
“I mean from pleasure that comes from true joy.”
“Then shouldn’t there be joy and happiness first?”
In retrospect…I had very little to smile about since Queen left. I simply spent my time chatting with the ladies-in-waiting.
To my surprise, Sovieshu nodded in agreement with me.
“Yes, it must be for something joyful.”
He rang a bell on the table. Soon after, a servant appeared, pushing a cart bearing a plate and large silver lid.
‘What is this?’
I watched in wonder, and Sovieshu gestured to the lid with his eyes.
When I took off the lid, I found a silver ring resting inside. Sovieshu studied my face as he spoke.
“How do you like it?”
“Is it a gift?”
His tone turned slightly disappointed.
“It is. Is there anything else you want to say?”
Sovieshu was still staring at me. What did he expect?
Oh. He had wanted me to smile. I smiled faintly and thanked him again. However, Sovieshu repeated once more, “Do you have anything to say?”
“What else should I say?”
“Is ‘thank you’ all that you have?”
“This a ring from Sodenbrunn. It was made by the three master craftsmen of Allit’s Workshop, and was commissioned by Emperor Carl Myron during the war 156 years ago. Since then, the ring’s whereabouts had been unknown.”
Was that what he wanted me to say?
Sovieshu sighed and gestured to the food with his hand.