Chapter 13 – My Nest (2)
It seemed that I dropped my handkerchief when I pulled out my pen yesterday. I searched all over my room, but I couldn’t find the handkerchief I usually carried with me. I went to work as usual at the Central Palace, then headed to the Western Garden during lunch.
“It’s alright. The Empress won’t be here at this time.”
“Does the Empress really own the entire palace? Only the Empress’ bedroom is hers.”
“The Empress often visits here too, so why not Miss Rashta as well?”
I heard laughter and conversation as I approached my nest chair, and I stopped right before the bushes to observe what was happening.
Rashta was sitting in my nest chair while a maidservant pushed it like a swing. The other maid had brought a table and was even cutting fruit.
Hot anger seared through my chest. Did the concubine still not know that the Western Palace was the domain of the Empress? No, she must know if she was avoiding me. I could barely tolerate the fact that someone I didn’t like was enjoying themselves in my chair.
“Well, the Empress would never come to such a small place. If Rashta doesn’t sit in it, the chair will be lonely, right?”
“Miss Rashta…you adorable little thing.”
“You are so different from the other young ladies. You are so innocent.”
“Why? What about the others?”
“Well…nobles make their debut in society at the age of seventeen. After that, they need to be cunning.”
“There’s a lot of fighting and backstabbing involved.”
“Miss Rashta, don’t get involved with them, or they’ll eat you alive.”
Rashta smiled, then turned and suddenly caught sight of me.
“A-ah, Your Majesty.”
Rashta jumped to her feet. The maids, who had been speaking ill of the nobility, also stepped back in surprise. Two new ladies-in-waiting were nowhere to be seen. Supposedly they did not get along with Rashta, and they must have been sent back by Sovieshu or the maids.
I pushed aside a few stems and approached them, my eyes fixed on the nest chair. When Rashta stood up, I spotted my handkerchief behind her dress. She had used the handkerchief to sit on my nest chair. When Rashta saw the direction of my gaze, she spoke up hurriedly.
“This isn’t trash, Your Majesty. It’s very beautiful.”
“I know the chair is not trash. It’s my chair.”
Rashta flinched at my clipped tone. I counted to the number ten in the old language. That chair was my cherished possession, and this was my secret place. I was angry that Sovieshu’s concubine invaded my precious spot.
“I…Your Majesty? Why do you look so frightening?”
Rashta’s voice was short of breath, but I couldn’t open my mouth to reply. It was not forbidden for anyone else to be here. While I never saw other people with my own eyes, anyone else could have used this chair.
And yet, anger flared in my chest at the thought of Rashta using it. Concubines were not supposed to come here to the Western Palace to see the empress. However, it was unbecoming for an empress to take offense for someone sitting in a chair, and those maids would certainly gossip about the nobles like they did before.
I managed to steady my breathing and repeated to myself to never get angry in any way.
“The handkerchief you are sitting on is mine, too.”
As I managed to force my anger down, Rashta turned back quickly in surprise. The maids glanced at each other and bowed their heads.
“I’m sorry, Your Majesty. Rashta didn’t know. It was just by the chair…”
“You did it without knowing. But don’t come to the Western Palace anymore. It’s not good that we see each other.”
“B-but Rashta wants to be friends with Her Majesty…”
Rashta was in tears, and the maids looked on in pity. They probably already thought I was a mean woman who was offended over a chair or handkerchief. Seeing Rashta so upset, I deliberately smiled and said something to shock her.
“You can be friends with the next concubine.”
“The next concubine?”
“The next concubine that the Emperor will bring in after you.”
I only returned what she said to me.
Rashta turned pale and looked at me with a wounded expression. She bowed her head and ran away, and her maids chased after her.
I stood alone and gazed at my nest chair and my crushed handkerchief.
I didn’t feel good. It was the same chair and handkerchief that I had before, but…I found no cheer in them.
Sovieshu found himself surprised when he visited Rashta after work. As soon as he entered the room, a sobbing Rashta leapt into his arms.
“What’s wrong? Why are you crying? Did a lady-in-waiting insult you again?”
“Your Majesty, when you get tired of Rashta, will you bring another woman as your concubine?”
“What? Who said that?”
He stared at her dumbfounded, and she cried out “The Empress!”
Sovieshu frowned as if he found it difficult to believe.
“Why would the Empress suddenly say that to you? No, where did you meet her?”
“There is an abandoned chair in the Western Palace garden. No one was using it, so Rashta was playing there—”
“Did you go to the Western Palace again?”
“I went when the Empress wasn’t there. And it was in the secluded garden, not near the building, Your Majesty.”
Tears poured down Rashta’s face in rivulets, and Sovieshu sighed and wiped them away with his sleeve.
“So, you were sitting in a chair that no one was using. And you were avoiding the Empress.”
“I don’t know. She had a scary face, and R-Rashta said ‘I want to be friends with the Empress.’”
“And she insinuated that I would bring another concubine when I tired of you?”
“She didn’t say that exactly, but she meant it. Is that really true? Will you love another woman besides Rashta? Your Majesty, are you going to cheat on Rashta?”
“That’s not possible.”
“Are you sure? You’re not the kind of man to cheat?”
Rashta stared widely at him with her doe eyes, and Sovieshu hugged her tightly and repeated his answer. Her trembling finally calmed down. Sovieshu rubbed Rashta’s back, frowning.