Chapter 12 – My Nest (1)
In the end, I could not tolerate it anymore and spoke my mind. Sovieshu stared at me in amazement. My eyes were hot with unshed tears, but I bit my tongue to hold them back. The empress should not cry as a matter of pride.
“They said they heard rumors, not that I said them. Are you blaming me for rumors for which you don’t know the source?”
“No matter how much I think about it, there isn’t anyone else but you who could benefit from it.”
“What would I gain?”
“Rashta is like a romantic rival to you, is she not?”
“Wasn’t it you who told me the story of Rashta being a runaway slave? You never said a word about the source of the rumor then. I didn’t know it before, but it could have been you from the beginning.”
Sovieshu’s accusation was one-sided and insulting. I managed to steady my breath and keep my composure. But the more I tried to keep calm, the more suspicious Sovieshu seemed to be of me. It took a moment, but finally I managed to force out a voice that sounded normal.
“Your concubine is not a rival to me.”
“You are not my lover, so how can she be a threat to me?”
Sovieshu’s expression wavered. I straightened my back and gave him a smile practiced hundreds of times in front of a mirror.
“The concubine is precious to you, while I am just like everyone else. I am tired of this, so let me say it again, Your Majesty—don’t get me involved with you and your concubine.”
I whirled around and saw myself through the door. The finance minister was nervously pacing down the hallway, and he turned his head in my direction. His eyes widened when his gaze fell upon me. It was obvious that I couldn’t manage my facial expressions.
I smiled at him, then quickly left the hallway and made to the western grounds. I ran to my secluded nest chair where there were no ladies-in-waiting and buried myself inside. I hugged my body, and stifled my sobs as best I could. The empress does not cry. She does not cry in front of others. In my head, Sovieshu and his concubine were so small and unimportant that they could not shake me. But in my heart, there was a hole.
Eventually, it turned dark. I stayed cocooned in my chair for a long time. I was sure that my ladies-in-waiting were searching for me, and I slowly unfolded my body. After sitting curled in one position for hours, my arms and legs were as stiff as a wooden doll.
Then, there was a piercing shriek from afar. I looked up from my nest chair, and saw a large bird coming down from the sky.
It was the handsome bird, the one that brought the note from the drunken foreigner. It headed for me again, then landed in my lap and peered at me up close. It looked so adorable that I burst into giggles, and the bird blinked its large eyes and tilted its head.
“You came to see me.”
Again, a note was tied to the bird’s leg. I unfurled the note and saw written in neat script,
- Does it need a name? You can give it one if necessary.
I studied the bird, and the bird looked back at me. Its gaze felt more penetrating than usual. Did it know that I was feeling depressed?
I looked into its bright eyes, and almost believed that it understood me.
No, that was foolish…but intelligent birds could understand people, right? I hesitated for a moment, looked around, then hugged the bird and whispered to its feathery head.
“This…is my secret place.”
The bird shifted and gave me a blank look. I petted the bird’s back, and continued again awkwardly.
“There’s nowhere I can cry. But here I can cry to my heart’s content. It’s a secret, so don’t tell anyone else.”
The bird blinked its large eyes again. Then, it slowly lifted a wing and brushed it against my cheek as if to comfort me, and I smiled.
I kissed its head in gratitude, and the bird made a funny squawking noise and tapped the note with its beak.
Did it want a reply? It really was a clever creature. Fortunately, I carried note paper and a pocket pen with me. I took them out, meditated on the right name for the bird, and wrote it down.
- The bird’s name is ‘Queen.’
When I finished the note, I looked up to see the bird staring at my writing as if it could read the letters. The bird tapped the word “Queen” with a large claw.
“That’s your name. If you could give this to your master.”
I tied the note to the bird’s leg, then gently hugged it again.
The empress. Yes…no matter what happened, I was the empress. No matter what Sovieshu said, the concubine was the concubine and the empress was the empress. I pulled out a handkerchief, patted the swollen area around my eyes, and took a breath. Remember what my mother said—I shouldn’t get involved with them.
“People don’t expect me to be an empress that is loved by the emperor.”
“My goal in life is not to be loved by the emperor, either. “
I had learned and lived to be the most perfect empress. I was human, and I would be hurt, but I couldn’t sink into despair. I already had enough pity for myself. Now I had to get up.
I drew my breath, kissed the bird’s head again, and let it fly into the sky. The bird seemed unwilling to part with me for a moment and circled once over my head, but it finally turned and flew far away.
I practiced my smile once more, then returned to the palace.
The large bird flew straight to a nearby mountain. It skimmed the trees until it found a suitable outcrop, which was already occupied with a flock of birds, and landed there. The appearance of the large bird sent the other smaller birds scattering, and the large bird perched itself on a rock in the open space.
Then, incredibly, the bird transformed into a young man. He was handsome, extremely so, and his entire body was finely proportioned and shaped with well-defined muscles.
“Calling a male ‘Queen.’”
The young man grumbled to himself and scratched his head. A blue bird, which was sitting on a nearby tree, hopped down and also transformed into a man, this time with blue hair. The blue-haired man pulled a red cape from another tree and started to scold the other.
“What do you mean? You said you were going to scout. You didn’t go anywhere else, did you—”
“O-oh. No, I’ve been scouting.”
“What are you talking about? I went to the palace, the palace.”
“…Are you sure?”
The handsome young man grimaced when the blue-haired man stared at him distrustfully.
“You don’t believe me?”
The blue-haired man swung the red cape around the young man’s shoulders.
“That will never happen. But please pay attention to your actions, Your Highness. Remember that you are the heir to the Western Kingdom.”