Chapter 16 – Want To Make A Bet? (1)
He was already here? The guests started entering the palace today. I mentally filed through all the arrivals.
It was difficult to pinpoint one person from the abundance of guests. There were Grand Duke Chrome and his wife, the Grand Duke Lilteang, the Chancellor and his family from the Northern Kingdom, the children of Duchess Cranthia from Samoneau, Prince Heinley from the Western Kingdom, Emperor Sirim of Blue Bohean…
The problem was that they did not come in twos or threes. Just from the Grand Duke and his wife, there were also the knights, the servants, and escorts, and then multiply that number by several times to account for the other guests. I didn’t know if the letter came from a woman or man, if they were young or old, or what status they were. It was almost impossible to determine Queen’s owner.
– I don’t know who you are.
I considered it a little more and then added,
– Do you know who I am?
I was sure they didn’t know. I was one of countless people living in the palace. As soon as I finished writing the letter, Queen hopped to my side.
“This birdy is quite clever, Your Majesty.”
“Even while cleaning his feathers, he seems to be trying to make eye contact with you, Your Majesty.”
The ladies-in-waiting burst out laughing when Queen butted his head towards me.
I stroked the bird’s head, and he made a pleased sound and half-closed his eyes. I rolled up the note and tied it to the bird’s leg, and he fluttered his wings and landed on the bed in a small dance before leaping back out the window.
“What a clever bird…
The owner themselves would have to be quite intelligent to raise a bird like that. What kind of person were they? A young woman of my age like Laura? An elegant old lady or gentleman? A prodigal nobleman? A knight who knows nothing but the sword…
“Do you like birds, Your Majesty?”
Countess Eliza came by my side as I stared silently outside the window.
“Yes. I think they’re lovely.”
The bird was truly incredible, and the person who owned the bird had to be incredible as well. Countess Eliza smiled and spoke in a half-encouraging tone.
“Then why don’t you raise one or two birds of that species, or any other species?”
“Oh yes. It would be amazing to have a chick from birth.”
“Let’s bring them together!”
It was tempting, but I thought about it for a moment and shook my head.
“No. Seeing one is different from raising one.”
Queen was exceptionally intelligent because of his master’s training. It was unclear whether I liked birds, or just Queen himself. If I had an animal, I would make sure I would commit to it before raising it.
“I haven’t seen Viscountess Verdi since yesterday. ….”
“She had to rush back to her estate.”
The ladies-in-waiting glanced at each other. Unlike the rest of them, Viscountess Verdi had no mansion in the capital, and she frequently returned to her estate due to family matters. The problem was that most of the “family matters” was often unenjoyable news.
“I heard the son was gambling abroad.”
“And the Viscount was with a married commoner woman, and the woman’s husband sued.”
Many aristocrats were like this. Viscountess Verdi’s son had a gambling problem and the husband had a woman problem.
Viscountess Verdi was certainly burdened with hardship. I was worried, but I couldn’t interfere without her asking me. My kindness would bruise her pride. And even if she asked for help, it’s not something that I could resolve…
‘Everyone has problems.’
I sighed and reached out to close the open window.
The next day, more guests arrived at the palace, starting with the arrival of the princess of the Southern Kingdom early in the morning. The time passed quickly as I exchanged greetings with her and her security was cleared. Maybe it was because of the rain, but today felt particularly hectic.
It wasn’t until I retired to my room in the evening that I found Queen sitting on the window frame, pining pitifully as he waited for me. I opened the window, and he crept into the room, soaking wet and shuddering.
“My goodness. Your master sent you in that rain?”
“You’re shaking. I’m sure you have a message.”
With my tongue in my cheek in concentration, I wrapped a soft towel around his body and gently dried his feathers. Queen hesitated for a moment, but soon started dozing in my hands. I rubbed him with the towel until he was completely dry, and carefully pulled the note from his leg. The handwriting was smudged by the rain, but this was what it said.
– Then shall we make a bet? The one who finds the other wins.
What was it that I wrote before?
…Ah, I asked the sender who they were. They wanted to make a bet. I went to the desk and wrote a reply.
– What would you bet on?
After I finished, I looked at Queen and back out the window again. The rain was still lashing heavily against the glass, and had been going on for hours. If I sent him out now, wouldn’t he catch a cold? Queen was staring at me instead of playing with the towel. I put down my pen, and he tilted his head and flew over to the desk. He seemed to scan the contents of the note then extended his leg, as if he wanted me to tie the note.
“It’s raining now. If I send you now, you will catch a cold.”
The bird hesitated as if it really understood me, and I drew him in my arms and patted its head.
“You can sleep with me today. You can go when the rain stops.”
Come to think of it…he was a male bird. Did a bird consider a human’s gender? Why was he suddenly frozen?
I took a bath then slipped into a gown, and when I returned to my room I found Queen lying on my bed. I was going to make a separate cushion for him to sleep next to me, but he was flat on his back.
Could a bird sleep on its back like that? Cute.
When I got closer, I marveled even more when I saw that he breathed with his beak slightly parted. He didn’t wake up even after I touched him lightly, so I lay myself on the bed next to him. I kept still, feeling a warmth by my shoulders. Perhaps it was because Queen’s body temperature was high even though he was a little distance away.
As I stared at him in wonder, Queen opened his eyes. When I saw the purple of his irises, I was somehow reminded of Prince Heinley.
Come to think of it, the Prince also had eyes like an eagle. I reached out and swept the bird’s cheek, and his sharply gleaming eyes soon slid close again.
“You’re so pretty, Queen.”
I spoke in a soft whisper, and the bird stretched its body from wingtip to feet, then covered my arm with its wing.
“Good night, Queen.”