Chapter 19 – Curiousity (2)
After our stroll together, I returned to the western palace. Countess Eliza was helping me change my clothes, when she suddenly exclaimed “Oh!”
Countess Eliza was smiling at the window. I followed her gaze and saw Queen sitting on sill. That was normal, but today his back was towards us. Countess Eliza chuckled.
“He flew here, but when he saw you changing, he panicked and turned around.”
“That bird is so clever, Your Majesty. Like a gentleman.”
When I finished dressing, I approached the bird, but Queen still kept his back firmly towards me. He cocked his head when I approached, but didn’t turn around. I spoke to him in a soft voice.
“I’m dressed now.”
I poked his feathery rear, and he spun around and rubbed his forehead against mine.
“Did you not look because you were ashamed?”
Queen nodded his head primly. He really did look intelligent. However…
“Did you come here in a hurry today? Why are you tired?”
Queen seemed exhausted from his journey when he carried the first note, but after his owner arrived at the palace, he appeared to be more at ease. He looked exhausted again today, however, as if in a rush.
Queen fumbled a little, then held out his leg with another note. I petted his head and pulled out the scrap of paper.
– Looking for me?
Queen tilted her head and stared. He then went to drink some water, keeping his eye on me. It was a long moment before I finally replied.
– Looking hard. And you?
Queen shook the water from his beak then flew towards me. He looked at the note, then tapped my arm lightly with his wings as if to reprimand me for my lie. He was so adorable the way he reacted to my letters, and I patted his beak again.
* * *
The New Year’s celebrations finally began.
Fireworks glittered in the sky at night, and people laughed and chatted in the streets by day.
Although I had lived in the palace for a long time, the image that still came to mind when thinking about New Year’s was the lively pre-marriage festival.
I opened the window, allowing the cool yet moist morning air to tickle my nose. I inhaled and exhaled deeply, then half-closed the window and rang the bell next to my bed. After a moment, Countess Eliza entered, dressed more extravagantly than usual.
“You will be quite busy today.”
The Countess smiled at me, then quickly lifted the dress she prepared from the closet. My mother had given the dress to me as a gift, a beautiful thing adorned with white pearls and underlaid with layers of snowy lace to give a full skirt. My mother didn’t say it directly to me, but I knew that she was worried about me after the rumors about Rashta.
“It’s the first day, so we must all dress up. On an event like this, one should look colorful, but too strong of a color would look tacky. Instead, it’s better to make the queen’s image stand out.”
She explained to me that concept was “The Queen of Snow”, then urged me to get up and wash my face. After sliding into the scented bath water and receiving a massage, Countess Eliza washed my hair and placed on light makeup to make my skin look smoother. She helped me put on the white dress, then decorated my hair with more pearls. I slipped on the white shoes, and soon it really was as if I came from a country of snow.
“You look so beautiful, Empress. I’m not only saying this because you’re here.”
“Thank you, Countess Eliza.”
Countess Eliza seemed to want to speak more, but she smiled silently instead. Perhaps she was about to say something like, “Sovieshu will be impressed when he sees you.”
I checked the schedule on my desk one final time, then headed towards the eastern palace. From the second day onwards it wouldn’t matter, but on the first day it was required that the emperor and empress enter the first grand banquet together.
I found Sovieshu waiting for me outside. He smiled at me gently and extended his arm for me to take. I thought he would be more upset and longing for his lover, but I noticed no such thing in his expression. It was surprising, but I took his arm and we walked towards the grand ballroom.
The doors to the hall were wide open. Four guards, dressed in splendid imperial uniforms than usual, stood on each side of the door, and one rapped on the door when they saw Sovieshu and I. An official sounded the trumpet, and the noise in the hall subsided.
I took a few steps with Sovieshu at my side, and an enormous staircase stretched downwards from our feet out towards an enormous hall dotted with the colorful outfits of the guests. Sovieshu raised his hand, and everyone bowed at the same time. I took in the crowd, when something I saw made my hands clench involuntarily.
Near the center of the ballroom was Rashta surrounded by foreign nobles.