Chapter 17 – Want To Make A Bet? (2)
I woke the next day and saw Queen was gone. The window was slightly ajar, as if he had let itself out.
‘What a smart bird.’
Even more impressively, he remembered to take the note from my desk.
“Countess Eliza. Did you clear the paper from my desk?”
I asked Countess Eliza just in case.
“No, Your Majesty. Is it gone?”
“Yes, I think Queen must have taken it.”
Countess Eliza was also impressed with my story.
I thought about the bet as I made my way to the central palace. Queen was quite intelligent, so his owner had to be as well. Perhaps it was Emperor Sirim from Blue Bohean. I heard he was quite smart. Moreover, as Blue Bohean was a maritime country, it used messenger birds the most compared to other countries…
“Your face looks brighter, Your Majesty.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes. I’ve been worried about your dark moods, but I’m glad the New Year’s celebrations seem to cheer you, Your Majesty.”
More precisely, it was Queen’s presence that lifted my mood, but if it weren’t for New Year’s, he never would have come to me. Countess Eliza was right in the end.
I worked on my papers with a smile, and as soon as it was lunchtime, I returned to the western palace. I usually took my meals at the central palace, but I was worried that Queen would be waiting for me outside the window like yesterday.
Queen was sitting outside the window again. Fortunately, the weather was clear and he was half-dozing off in the sunshine, instead of shivering in the rain. When I opened the window, Queen quickly came into the room and held out his leg. I pulled out the note and checked it eagerly, and once again saw the familiar handwriting.
– I’ll bet Queen.
I looked at Queen. The bird blinked his large eyes and tilted his head, oblivious to the contents of the letter.
“Your master wants to offer you, Queen?”
As soon as I spoke, Queen jumped and flapped his wings. I pulled Queen into my arms and placed him in my lap, and looked down at his magnificent golden plumage.
I wanted to have Queen. I have never seen such a cute, smart and lovely bird before. But…no matter what anyone else said, it was best if he stayed with his master. It would be heartbreaking if I won the bet and Queen was let go. No, that was not the best way to describe it. Queen would be abandoned by his master.
I was not so happy with the competition either. I was curious of course, but worry stopped me. The reason Queen’s owner and I could send messages to each other was because we were strangers. Would we be able to talk in this familiar way even after we have discovered each other’s identity? I had to be careful to preserve the dignity of my pose as empress, or else this comfortable atmosphere would disappear.
The bird tapped my hand as I sat still, as if he were impatient for me to start writing I hesitated and took Queen to my desk. I set him down, took out a piece of paper, and wrote a lie.
– Hint. I’m a man.
Queen squawked and flapped his wings as soon as he saw my message It sounded like he was laughing, and I felt embarrassed even though he was just a bird. I scratched his cheek, and Queen turned round and round and rubbed his head against my wrist.
“Do you think it’s fun to lie to your master?”
I was glad he was having fun. I felt sorry for Queen’s master, but…they won’t find me if I wrote this lie. That way, we wouldn’t be able to find each other, and we could remain faceless friends like now.
“You like this too, don’t you, Queen?”
* * *
It was the day before the New Year’s celebrations officially began.
I greeted the last-minute arrivals, and checked on the New Year’s proceedings and the special banquet for the last day. I went to the western palace again during lunch hour to see if Queen was there today, but the effort was fruitless. Instead, Viscountess Verdi, who had been away for several days, returned. She still looked quite pale and distressed, but she greeted me.
“If it’s no trouble to you, Your Majesty, I…”
“It’s alright. Tell me.”
“Can I borrow some money? ”
The red-faced Viscountess Verdi could not even explain the reason she needed it.
“About five thousand krangs…”
The other ladies-in-waiting and I knew though, however. Perhaps it was for her son or husband. Though Viscountess had hurried back to her estate, she could not pull her family out of the mire. I promised to lend her the money without prying any further, and she repeatedly said she would pay me back and left the room shame-faced.
“I’d rather get divorced.”
Laura was unmarried, and didn’t have much sympathy towards Viscountess Verdi.
“That’s as good as throwing away the Lux army.”
Countess Eliza was patient in explaining this to Laura, but the young lady still didn’t seem to understand.
“But even if she went through divorce, wouldn’t her child be considered illegitimate?”
“While it won’t happen immediately, there is the possibility that he’ll lose the right to inheritance. That’s why she’s enduring, Laura.”
“So what. If a troublemaker like him becomes heir, he’ll only end up sucking his family dry.”
Countess Eliza glared at Laura and she pouted her lips.
“I’m only worried.”
Viscountess Verdi returned to her estate again, but not everyone could eat comfortably. As soon as I finished my lunch, I quickly returned to the central palace. Near the end of my work day, something happened as I was taking a break.
One of the knights came inside my office and gave me an unexpected report.
“Prince Heinley wants to see you.”
Why him? I went outside and found him looking at a mural with his back to me.
“Ah. Your Majesty.”
I approached him, and he turned his head and bowed like a knight again.
“I hope I am not too rude?”
“Not at all. What can I do for you?”
“I was told you would be finished with work around this time. Are you still busy?”
Did he find out my working hours? He was right though, and I replied that I was almost done and he grinned.
“That’s great. If you don’t mind, could you show me the palace? I’d like to look around, but it’s so enormous that I’m afraid I’ll get lost.”
“Ah, then my lady-in-waiting–”
I was about to give him one of my ladies-in-waiting, but he interrupted me in a low voice.
“I wish for the Queen to do it.”