Chapter 23 – Tears That Only Queen Knows (2)
Although I wasn’t expecting Countess Eliza, it was even more curious that Laura was here when she had been looking forward to the New Year’s celebrations. Did I spoil the mood? Did they come after me because I ran away?
Even so, I did not want to be consoled, strange as it may be. It was my pride that was injured when my husband loved another woman. There was nothing wrong with my reaction, but it was Sovieshu and Rashta that remained dignified while I shrank. I couldn’t even explain this vague feeling, so I couldn’t bring myself to speak about it.
However, the way Sovieshu rushed to Rashta did not seem to be on their minds. Countess Eliza quickly fanned her face, and Laura kept nervously touching her curls.
What was wrong? Come to think of it, everyone seemed to be quite agitated.
“Your Majesty. There was a messenger from the Verdi estate.”
Countess Eliza lowered her fan as she spoke, and I stood there in confusion.
“The Verdi estate?”
“Is it from Viscountess Verdi?”
“Yes, Your Majesty. The message said that Viscountess Verdi can no longer serve as the lady-in-waiting for the Empress.”
Viscountess Verdi…didn’t she borrow money from me a few days ago? Back then she looked like she was at the end of her rope.
“Are you sure it was from Viscountess Verdi?”
I looked on in bewilderment. Her household was in massive debt because of the troubled actions of the husband and son. The debt was not enough to leave them on the streets, but most of their income had been used to pay it off. And now Viscountess Verdi was quitting her position as lady-in-waiting?
Laura continued anxiously.
“She quit in quite a hurry. Maybe Viscountess Verdi fought with her husband or son?”
Another lady-in-waiting made a suggestion with a concerned look.
“It might be a good idea to send someone to check on the situation.”
“I suppose so.”
* * *
The next day proved our worries over Viscountess Verdi unnecessary.
I was not obligated to stand with Sovieshu to the banquet on the second day, so I relaxed a little as I went to the banquet hall myself. There were many noblewomen there, including Countess Eliza and Laura, and Princess Soju from the Southern Kingdom. Princess Soju was the typical southerner ideal, sweet and generous and a skilled conversationalist. Everyone’s attention was drawn to what she said, when she suddenly looked over her shoulder and said, “That’s her.”
When I turned around, Rashta was walking alone, smiling at the people around her. She seemed even more dazzling in the daytime. If our eyes met, she would come here as talk to me as if I were her sister again, so I turned my head away.
“Oh my God.”
But this time, Laura was staring at Rashta.
“What is it?”
I couldn’t help my curiosity, and Laura answered with a glare at Rashta.
“The blue silk she’s wearing, Your Majesty. Isn’t that the one Grand Duke Lilteang tried to gift to you?”
I looked back and saw Laura was telling the truth. Rashta was arrayed in a gown of blue silk. The ladies clicked their tongues.
“Grand Duke Lilteang is truly incredible.”
“I know. He moved as soon as he was rejected by Her Majesty.”
I turned back again, and this time it was Countess Eliza that spoke, her voice low and confused.
“I don’t think the silk was the only thing that went from the Empress to her.”
What was she talking about?
This was starting to be a nuisance, but I looked back again, and his time I couldn’t tear my eyes away.
Viscountess Verdi was standing next to Rashta, the day after Viscountess Verdi informed me that she couldn’t be my lady-in-waiting. I didn’t see her at first as she was hidden by someone else, but now I could see it clearly. Viscountess Verdi was next to Rashta. Laura had been worried about Viscountess Verdi all night, and she yelled sharply.
“I can’t believe it. Is she mad?”
Rashta and Viscountess Verdi looked over in our direction at the source of the loud noise. Viscountess Verdi quickly avoided my gaze when she saw me.
I thought the gift of blue silk from Lilteang was amusing, but this time I was upset. The lady-in-waiting was standing next to the women who took my husband. She had borrowed a lot of money from me. I didn’t know where Viscountess Verdi’s plan came from or how she changed her mind, but before she was the one who mocked Rashta the most.
Count Eliza and Laura said something next to me, but I didn’t hear them. What should I say about this? Was I embarrassed? In disbelief? Was the concubine here to take everything of mine away?
No. Perhaps Viscountess Verdi was not my companion from the beginning. Perhaps she was only with me for money, but I couldn’t allow myself to look flustered. Princess Soju clicked her tongue.
“I don’t understand the concubine system. There is no such strange system in the Southern Kingdom. In polite terms she a concubine, but isn’t it still cheating? But since the law approves of her as a concubine, she holds her head high without realizing how shameful it is.”
“It’s as you say. Isn’t strange how she can pass in front of the Empress with her back held straight?”
Laura fired up in defense of me, while I ignored them and picked out the sweetest champagne. Yesterday I had left my seat and fled, so I thought I’d stay as long as possible today. It wouldn’t be easy though. While I appreciated everything that Princess Soju and the other ladies said, I didn’t want to talk about it in public.
I wondered how the story would spread. Everyone would pretend to be respectful on the surface, but they thought little of me for sending gifts to Rashta and would talk about me behind my back.
“Shall we talk about something else?”
In the end, I indirectly indicated that I did not want to discuss it. Fortunately, Princess Soju took no offense and redirected the conversation.
“Oh, I heard an interesting story about Prince Heinley this morning.”
“An interesting story?”
“It was when we were eating together in the southern palace. I heard he exchanged letters anonymously with someone in the Eastern Empire.”
“He said he wanted to find them, and that they should meet him at the southern palace. The gossip is everywhere.”