Chapter 20 – A False Rumor (1)
He invited the concubine for the New Year’s ball?
It wasn’t that concubines couldn’t attend the celebrations, but when they did, they were usually of noble status. It was for this reason that emperors would have a low status concubines fake marriage to another noble, raising that concubine’s status to countesses or marchionesses. However, Sovieshu would never take this “blindfold” approach with Rashta.
Rashta’s appearance caught me off guard. I turned my head sideways, but it seemed that I was the only was surprised. Sovieshu was smiling at Rashta and nodding his head. When I turned back towards Rashta again, she curtsied shyly and looked up at Sovieshu and mouthed “This is difficult.”
Soon her gaze fell on me. When our eyes met, she smiled and mouthed out “Sister!” Then her eyes widened as she cutely she covered her mouth in apology.
“She’s so naive.”
The expression on his face told me he found Rashta completely endearing.
I felt my heart twist. Despite the fact that I was his wife, I felt like a foreign object caught between the two.
The nobles who bowed to us were now looking alternately between Sovieshu and Rashta. Women covered their mouths with their fans, and men whispered to each other behind their gloves. Though they kept their voices low, it was like a roar when all joined in concert. Rashta looked around in surprise and stared up at Sovieshu with a frightened face. He sighed.
“Empress, can you go down alone?”
The two of us already walked in together side-by-side, and his obligations with me were over. We could go down the stairs separately, but I did not want to give the impression that we were together by force. I made myself speak.
“…We go down together.”
Sovieshu turned slightly towards me in amazement, but I kept my voice steady.
“Many of the top foreign aristocrats are gathered here. They would think there is a rift between us if don’t go down together.”
“A conflict between the Emperor and the Empress could be seen as an opportunity for our enemies and the neighboring countries. We don’t have to be a perfect couple, but we shouldn’t look at each other unfavorably.”
Sovieshu’s expression twisted slightly.
“Ah, yes, I suppose so.”
Rather than taking to heart what I said, he seemed to accept it as an excuse. He gave a regretful smile and reached out to me.
“Then let’s go down together. ”
As he escorted me down the stairs, he nodded towards the crowd and before stopping at a suitable area on the floor. He smiled and lowered his arm.
“Is this enough?”
With his duty done, Sovieshu made towards Rashta without looking back. I stood alone and watched him. The foreign nobles surrounding Rashta welcomed the Emperor with a smile and stepped back to make room for him. Rashta quickly nestled herself by Sovieshu’s side. So that was what a loving partnership looked like…
I wrenched my gaze away. Instead of showing pain, I feigned a smile and greeted the Duchess Tuania nearby.
“You organized the New Year’s celebrations didn’t you, Your Majesty? This is wonderful.”
Duchess Tuania approached me with a friendly demeanor, ignoring the topic of Sovieshu and Rashta. Before long, the other noblewomen and young ladies came to me as well, and we carried on in casual conversation.
“Oh, look over there.”
“That’s Prince Heinley.”
“Rumors say that he is a womanizer. He has such a beautiful face.”
“I hear that he mixes with dangerous pirates.”
Because the noblewomen avoided the topic of Rashta, the conversation turned to Prince Heinley instead.
“Since there are more rumors wherever he goes, he must be seeing someone now, right?”
“What partner would deal with that fire of a person?”
“Prince Heinley is single…maybe there isn’t one.”
“Well, he is the future king of the Western Kingdom, so it may be beneficial to marry a woman from our Eastern Empire.”
“But he seems quiet for someone who has so many rumors about him…”
I listened to them talk about the mysterious prince, and took a glass of champagne from a passing servant. It had only a little alcohol, almost like water. I tipped the drink up to my lips, lifting my head. Through the glass I saw the distorted figure of a man. It was Prince Heinley, staring in my direction. I lowered my head and pulled the vessel away from my lips.
I thought it was by chance that he was looking at me, but when our eyes met he didn’t turn away his gaze. Instead, he lifted his own glass to toast me then took a drink. He tilted his head, revealing a smooth jawline. A foreign nobleman then caught his attention, and I quickly took my eyes off him.
It was then–
“Even the most aloof empress cannot help but look at that face.”
There was a laughing voice from somewhere. My heart pounded, and I turned my head in the direction of the voice. The seats by the wall were occupied with many foreigners and natives. There were too many people for me to know who said it, but I immediately knew who it was. A group of people were holding on to their stomachs as they howled in laughter.
It was hard for me to hear, but the person with that voice said something again, and the laughter grew louder. Some of the giggling nobles glanced sideways at me and caught my gaze, and they quickly poked each other in the ribs to signal quiet. Their reaction convinced me of the certainty of my story. They thought I was deaf to what they were saying, but I was not far away.
“Your Majesty…did you really give her a gift?”
A lady had been lingering nearby, as if she had been waiting to ask me a question.
My voice came out sharp without me intending it. The lady blushed and apologized, but what I wanted was not an apology.
“I don’t understand what you mean, but I’m not angry. Tell me, what do you mean, a gift?”
I forced my voice to sound normal, and the lady opened her mouth apprehensively.
“The foreign guests don’t know the rumors about ‘that woman.’ What they say is that she is the first concubine that the Emperor has accepted, and you had given her all kinds of gifts.”
I already knew the first part. But how did I suddenly give her gifts?
“Then a foreigner asked me…”
“It’s alright. Tell me.”
“A foreigner asked ‘that woman’ if she was alright with being in a love triangle involved with Your Majesty, and she said yes. She said that both the Emperor and Empress loved her greatly. ‘That woman’ said that immediately after she became a concubine, the Empress even sent her all kinds of precious gifts to welcome her…”
Communication with foreigners was recent. Moreover, most of the other ladies around looked surprised, as if the gossip was not a familiar topic that spread around society. In other words, the foreigners heard the rumors first and spread it to local aristocrats.
I felt dizzy and my knees were weak beneath me. People were laughing at me for sending gifts to my husband’s lover to gain his attention. The pride that I had mustered swiftly collapsed like a sand castle because of a single false rumor. No matter how much I tried to distance myself from Sovieshu and Rashta, I was buried.