Chapter 21 – A False Rumor (2)
My voice was adamant, but was clear that the rumor was going to spread like wildfire. I clenched the champagne glass and gave my legs strength. My vision swam in front of me. I just wanted to go back to the western palace and scream and rage, but I could not reveal even a tremor.
“Miss Rashta must have misunderstood something.”
I spoke calmly and the other ladies chuckled and said, “Is that so?” I didn’t know whether they believed me or not. People tended to dismiss the excuses of those hurt by the gossip. I didn’t want to get involved as much as possible, but now that it came to this, there was nothing to be done. I would call Rashta myself later and ask. After taking a deep sigh, I handed over the half-full glass to a servant.
“Oh, I think the dance is about to start.”
Duchess Tuania gave an exaggerated laugh. As she had observed, the musicians had stopped, flicking through their sheet music and speaking lowly to each other.
There was one rule at the ballroom dance–one could not dance with the same partner twice in a row. The rule allowed one to dance with multiple partners, but the partner for the first dance was considered the most meaningful.
The groups began to split up and search for their partners before going to the center. Those who did not want to dance moved to the periphery.
‘Sovieshu will have his first dance with Rashta.’
Since our marriage, Sovieshu always had his first dance with me. This year, however, I had a good inkling who his partner would be this time. I pretended to look away, but I could see Sovieshu taking Rashta’s hand and saying something to her. Rashta, happy, glanced at me. The look in her eyes turned to an apology, and Sovieshu’s head turned this way as well. I looked away before our eyes met, and I kept my chin high as I strode away.
The only person who could ask the Empress for the first dance was the Emperor. No one else would ask me to dance anyway, so I thought it better to leave the area altogether to protect my pride.
Duchess Tuania, the most popular woman in high society, already had a number of suitors on their knees. I couldn’t help myself, but my eyes turned to Rashta and Sovieshu again. Sovieshu was talking to a nearby prime minister. Fortunately, Rashta was now looking closely at Duchess Tuania.
‘I’m glad our eyes didn’t meet.’
I didn’t want them to notice my gaze. I stuck closer to the wall, hoping that my eyes wouldn’t run into them again. However, a buzzing of voices broke out around me before I could reach my intended destination.
I looked around. The eyes of the crowd were glued onto the wandering figure out Prince Heinley. Two young ladies burst into giggles, their cheeks flushed in embarrassment. Many seemed to wonder who the Prince would ask for his first dance, and he seemed to bask in the attention. I was still upset by Sovieshu and Rashta, and I didn’t have time to give my focus to this Prince and his rumors. It didn’t matter to me who he danced with–
“Oh. You were here?”
–until he came to me. The crowd murmured even more. I took out my fan and looked at him. When our gazes met, Prince Heinley lowered his eyes and smiled.
“I went halfway around this room to find you.”
Prince Heinley took out a rose tucked across his chest. With the rose in his palm, he fell down on one knee and looked up at me. For a moment I was puzzled by his behavior.
“I think he’s going to ask the Empress to dance!”
Only after hearing someone’s startled voice did I realize what was happening. Someone wanted to ask the Empress for the first dance? And that someone was Prince Heinley? My lips parted in surprise.
“Are you good at dancing, Your Majesty?”
Although he knelt like a typical knight, Prince Heinley’s voice was playful. I hesitated for a moment.
I was already tangled up in various bad rumors about Rashta and Sovieshu. Perhaps more misunderstandings would sprout if I danced with this womanizer. However, turning down an offer could only be done after several people asked to dance or after there were already several dances. The only one who asked for the first dance is Prince Heinley. In this situation, if I refused, I would insult him–at least, such a situation was considered an insult in high society. There was no other choice.
“Very well. Can you follow me?”
I accepted the rose he was holding, and Prince Heinley straightened up and smiled broadly.
“How confident! If you tread on my foot a few times, I’ll ignore it.”
“It won’t happen.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll stay quiet.”
He chuckled mischievously, then extended his arm. I placed my hand on it, then walked to the center of the dance floor. Sovieshu and Rashta were there as well. Sovieshu raised his eyebrow at Prince Heinley’s presence. In this situation Sovieshu couldn’t ask Rashta, “Do you often dance?”
“…What do you mean?”
“The way you’re looking at me. You didn’t pay much attention to me yesterday. I dressed more nicely today.”
His words were sly.
“Well, you don’t seem to believe it.”
Did he want me to say that yesterday he was dressed wonderfully enough to make my mouth open?
Before I could find my words, the minuet began to flow from the musicians. We dipped briefly and we put our palms together. As we started spinning around to the sound of the violins, the surroundings whirled into view. Duchess Tuania, who was acclaimed as the butterfly of society, chose the young and handsome Viscount Landre over numerous other suitors. Duke Lilteang danced with his wife, and Laura danced with her best friend, Miss Alischute, instead of a man. And Sovieshu danced with…
I didn’t like this spinning dance. I had to see what I didn’t want to see. The moment I sighed, Prince Heinley swung back close to me, close enough that his lips were near my ear.
“I know better than anyone else that unnecessary rumors spread easily.”
I felt like my body was falling again. I looked at him in surprise, and an arrogant smile broadened his face.
“Do you mean the story of me sending Miss Rashta gifts?”
He nodded as he approached again. It was surprising for one to talk about the rumors and console me.
The sweet music finally came to an end. I stared at him hard for a moment to see if he was making fun of me, but it didn’t seem that way.
“… Thank you.”
I felt ashamed that I believed he was a womanizer, and I was grateful that Prince Heinley didn’t believe the rumors about me at all.
“I don’t believe it either.”
“The rumor that you’re a womanizer.”
He unexpectedly burst into laughter, and I turned flustered. Was he saying the rumors were real? I had a blush on my face, and I turned around to hide it. Now that the first dance was over, I wanted to finally go to the edge of the room.
“Empress, this time with me.”
Sovieshu wouldn’t stay away this time. I placed my hand in his with a small sigh. I knew he was only asking because the rules dictated he couldn’t dance with Rashta again, and I was upset to have to accept. However, as I told Sovieshu, we had to set an example with our relationship.
Next to him, Rashta was asking Prince Heinley to dance.