Chapter 15 – Where Is Queen? (1)
I lay crying in bed when I heard a tap on my window. I looked up dully, and to my surprise, I saw the handsome bird hovering outside. I hesitated before opening the window, and the bird hopped onto my bed, picked its wings and stared at me.
“You arrived quickly this time.”
I wiped away my tears, and the bird peered at me with its large eyes, like it had seen me crying. It was such a clever bird.
“Is your master near?”
The bird nodded as if it understood my words. I lifted the bird and placed it on my lap, and it froze for a moment and blinked rapidly. I brushed its head then pulled the note from its leg.
– The bird will be named Queen, but keep in mind that he is a male.
It was a short but efficient sentence again. The heaviness in my mind lifted, and I smiled at the words of this stranger who I had neither face nor name for.
“You’re a boy?”
The bird flapped his wings as if miffed by my ignorance, but in my defense, I didn’t know the difference between the males and females of this species. I patted his head again then went to my desk, and the bird followed. I took out a sheet of paper and wrote a reply.
– I didn’t know he was male. An unexpected surprise.
I rolled up the note and tied it to the bird’s leg, then glanced at the calendar. The New Year’s celebrations were just around the corner. Some of the guests would start arriving early tomorrow at the palace…
The owner of the bird was already nearby. Would they come tomorrow?
The next morning, the lord and lady of the Lux region arrived, as well as other distinguished guests from the neighboring countries. The guests’ reception were divided for either me, Sovieshu, or the foreign minister. Most of the time, they went to Sovieshu.
“Your Majesty! Your Majesty! There is an arrival from the Western Kingdom!”
“If it’s the Western Kingdom…”
“Yes, I believe it’s Prince Heinley.”
The Prince was one of the few guests I had to personally greet. I nodded and stood up, and the officials supervising the guest list followed suit. I gestured to them to sit down, then walked towards a large mirror, arranged my dress, and went to the reception room.
Prince Heinley was the younger brother of the king of the West, and the second son of their father. However, Heinley was the heir to the throne as the king had no children, despite already having a queen and three official concubines.
Rumors abounded that because of the king’s infertility and poor physical condition these days, Prince Heinley would likely inherit the throne. In spite of that, the Western Kingdom was already similar in size and power to the Eastern Empire. Of course, I would go and welcome the special guest myself.
I entered the White Rose room, and when I looked at the delegation I stopped breathing when I saw the man at the head.
I had often heard rumors about this man’s beautiful appearance. As soon as one entered into high society, one could not escape talk of Prince Heinley. Word was that he was a womanzier, he had a violent personality, he was indescribably handsome. He killed or backstabbed people with a smile on his face, or that it wasn’t that the king of the Western Kingdom was incapable of having children, but that the Prince killed each of them. I could not decipher from all the rumors whether Prince Heinley was a womanizer or a cruel person.
But one thing was certain. His appearance. He…he really was beautiful. His blonde hair fell into soft, tousled waves on his face, and his lips curved into a delicate bow. He bore a strong neck and broad shoulders, but what was most striking about him were his mysterious violet eyes.
‘Even if he were to stand in the corner with his mouth shut, he would stir all kinds of rumors.’
I stood opposite of Prince Heinley, admiring him as surreptitiously as I could. He was only a prince, but he was from the esteemed Western Kingdom, and so I treated him with the respect of a crown prince.
I stood across from him, but before I could say anything, Prince Heinley bent one knee and reached out his hand like a knight swearing a vow of loyalty. I gave him my hand, upon which he placed a gentle kiss. But the difference between the knights was clear. The knights lowered their eyes or stared towards the front as they gave a kiss of loyalty. This man, however, stared straight into my eyes and held my gaze captive.
“It’s an honor to meet you, Empress.”
He released my hand and smiled, and I felt my stomach knot for some reason. I thought the rumor that he was cruel was more true than the one of him being a womanizer, as I saw no lechery in his eyes.
Instead, he was like an eagle observing me from above, despite the fact that he was kneeling before me.
“It’s an honor to meet you as well, Prince Heinley.”
I wouldn’t let myself be crushed by him, of course. I wore a dignified expression born through years of training. He smiled softly and rose to his knees.
“It must have been a difficult journey, and I hope you will rest and enjoy it here until New Year’s Day.”
“I’ve always heard praise for the imperial palace of the Eastern Empire. It’s very beautiful.”
“I hope you will find it pleasing.”
The prince’s eyes squinted in a smile at the ceremonial greeting.
“I am already pleased.”
The amount of work required from me was halved after the arrival of the special guests, and most of what was left was for the celebrations themselves. I finished my work earlier than usual and returned to the western palace. Laura, who returned to her position as my lady-in-waiting, quickly approached me.
“Your Majesty, Your Majesty. How was he? How was Prince Heinley? Is he beautiful like the rumors say?”
The other ladies-in-waiting approached in interest, teacups in hand. They set them down in various corners like the window frame, on the dresser, on the tea table, then went to work in helping me change.
“I heard that the Grand Duke Chrome fainted when he saw Prince Heinley. Is that really true?”
“I heard a famous theater actress went on a date with him once, then chased him for three years.”
Although the ladies-in-waiting would see him in a few days, they could not bear their patience. I replied to satiate their craving, remembering Prince Heinley’s steady gaze, purple eyes and sharp charisma that could be felt from a distance.
“He was the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen. Without a doubt.”
Laura let out a small scream of exclamation.
“Wow. I can’t wait to see him. What was his voice like?”
“It’s the best voice I’ve ever heard.”
It was not an exaggeration. The ladies put their hands on their hearts while swooning.
“I’m already looking forward to what gossip the handsome prince will bring.”
“I’m sure many are already thinking about it.”
While they were curious about Prince Heinley’s appearance, they were also looking forward to the drama he would bring. I smiled as I listened to their conversation, when there was a tap on the window. It was Queen, rapping the glass with his beak.
“Are you here already?”
I opened the window, and he landed on the sill and blinked at me. Now that I thought about it, Queen also had gold feathers and purple eyes. It was hard to imagine that he could survive in the wild with such conspicuous colors…Suddenly, I worried if it was alright to use a bird like this as a messenger.
Queen held out his foot as if he wanted me to read the note as soon as possible. I opened the note and sat at my desk, while the ladies-in-waiting occupied themselves in feeding Queen. The handwriting was familiar, the message playful.
– I arrived at the Imperial Palace. Do you know who I am?