Chapter 24 – I Already Knew The Truth (1)
The eyes of my ladies-in-waiting turned to me at the same time.
“Hm? What is it?”
Princess Soju noticed their gazes and turned to me. I knew that my ladies-in-waiting believed the “anonymous friend” that Prince Heinley was looking for must be me.
My thoughts were the same. Was Queen’s owner…Prince Heinley? It could be a coincidence, but the chance that it was not was high.
The ladies-in-waiting hesitated for my answer, but when I remained silent, they pretended not to know and turned to other things. Princess Soju’s attention was caught elsewhere, but Laura leaned over to me.
“Your Majesty, that bird looks like a hybrid of an owl and an eagle. Do you think its owner might look like Prince Heinley?”
Countess Eliza nodded.
“I agree, Your Highness. I think this rumor might be about you.”
The other ladies-in-waiting also looked at me with their eyes shining expectantly.
” …I think so too.”
The ladies covered their mouths and exchanged excited glances. But when I added, “I’m not going to come forward,” they all turned crestfallen.
“Your Majesty, wouldn’t it be a good idea to be friends with someone as beautiful as Prince Heinley?”
“Prince Heinley would love it even more if he found out that his letter partner was the Empress.”
“Didn’t he ask you to dance?”
I shook my head.
“I want to stay a friend whose name or face he doesn’t know.”
Laura sounded dismayed, but a glare from Countess Eliza quieted her. The Countess nodded as if she understood my thoughts.
“Prince Heinley has many scandals involving women. He has the reputation of a womanizer, and if his private correspondence turns out to be the Empress, everyone will give her strange looks.”
Countess Eliza gave a cold stare towards Rashta and Grand Duke Lilteang. The Grand Duke was standing in front of Rashta and laughing loudly.
“We will have many enemies in the future, and they may think to spread malicious rumors. It’s best to be cautious.”
It wasn’t until Countess Eliza finished talking that Laura gave a small “Oh,” and nodded.
“But I am a little sad…”
“Sending letters when you don’t know their identity is so romantic.”
“Is that true? There are so many strange rumors about Prince Heinley, so it’s hard to believe anything, right?”
“But if he’s lying, then he won’t find his ‘friend’ in public.”
“We don’t even know if the person is a friend or lover.”
“I don’t know, maybe the other person is married.”
“I think it’s a woman, but wouldn’t it be fun if it was a man?”
The words were met with an outburst of laughter at Rashta’s salon. Rashta lounged in her soft purple chair while she listened to the nobles’ chatter. Cherily sat next to her, cooling her by waving a fan. As Rashta listened wordlessly to the conversation, Prince Lilteang gave a hearty chuckle and turned to Rashta.
“Why are you so quiet, Lady Rashta? You’re not the one who wrote those romantic letters, are you?”
“It’s not Rashta.”
“Really? Don’t you think Miss Rashta’s sweet tongue would be enough to enthrall Prince Heinley?”
Rashta smiled and shook her head, and encouraged the party to continue on with their conversation. She thought nobles only told solemn stories, and she found it interesting that both slaves and aristocrats indulged in the same kind of provocative gossip. She sat there drinking her tea, but she noticed that Viscountess Verdi had not said a word.
“Viscountess Verdi? What’s wrong? Are you feeling sick?”
Rashta spoke to her gently. Viscountess Verdi gave a start, but then shook her head and smiled.
“Do you want to go back to the Empress?”
The nobles suddenly stopped talking and looked at the woman.
“That will not happen.”
The Viscountess offered another smile and shook her head.
“Now I serve Miss Rashta.”
The rest of the nobles turned their conversation back to Prince Heinley again, and the lady-in-waiting gave a small sigh.
Rashta tilted her head and studied the older woman’s profile.
“Viscountess Verdi, if you want to return to the empress, you can be honest with Rashta.”
Eventually, Rashta spoke to her again after all the other nobles had left and there was only her and the two maids.
“I don’t want to return, really, Miss Rashta.”
Viscountess Verdi answered her quickly, but Rashta was not convinced.
Viscountess Verdi, who had taken up the position as Rashta’s lady-in-waiting through Baron Lant, was someone who had stood steadfastly by the Empress’ side ever since she took the throne. For this reason, Baron Lant chose Viscountess Verdi, who was dire in need of money. When a former lady-in-waiting of the Empress becoming Rashta’s lady-in-waiting, Rashta’s reputation rose.
But even Rashta was not overly familiar with Viscountess Verdi. The lady-in-waiting was here because of money, and was not as reliable as Cherily or Kisu. Maybe Viscountess Verdi noticed the slight air of distrust, but she made excuses while having the eyes of a startled rabbit.
“It’s not because I want to go back to the Empress, Miss Rashta.”
“But it seemed like…”
“When they were talking about Prince Heinley, I…I just remembered something about the Empress.”
Rashta’s look of distrust vanished.
“There’s a rumor about Prince Heinley, but what does it have to do with the Empress?”
Rashta had already been rejected by the Prince twice. Viscountess Verdi nervously fidgeted with her teacup, but she had already started speaking and Rashta was staring at her with bright eyes.
She had no choice but to confess.
“The letter acquaintance that Prince Heinley is looking for. It’s Her Majesty the Empress…”
Rashta’s eyes rounded. Cherily, who was fanning Rashta, looked on in surprise.
Viscountess Verdi replied with a quick “Yes” to Rashta.
“But the Empress won’t come forward even if the letter acquaintance is Prince Heinley. She is very proud.”
Cherily gave a giggle.
“Are you sure the Empress and the Prince Heinley exchanged letters without knowing each other?”
“The Empress knows now. But she didn’t at the time.”
Rashta’s curiosity was aroused, but she didn’t say anything and contemplated the information carefully. Viscountess Verdi glanced towards Rashta to see if she had said something offensive. After a long moment, Rashta finally spoke.
“Then Viscountess Verdi knows a little about the letters that the Empress and Prince Heinley exchanged?”
Viscountess Verdi’s voice quivered, and a playful smile spread across Rashta’s face.
“Can we make it so it looks like the letter acquaintance is Cherily?”
“I’m sorry? You want to deceive Prince Heinley?”
Viscountess Verdi burst out angrily. Rashta gave a peal of laughter and held the hem of Cherily’s dress.
“It’s not deceiving. I’m just playing around.”
“You said it yourself, Viscountess. The Empress would never come forward.”
“But…you would still be deceiving a member of the royal family…”
“Do you know the contents of the letter?”
“I don’t know about any recent ones, Miss Rashta. Prince Heinley might ask about it.”
“He may not ask.”
“How did they exchange letters? Even if they passed it through someone in the middle…huh, I wonder.”
“But Miss Rashta…”
“If he finds out, we can say it was a joke. If things go well, the Prince will fall in love with Cherily. Right?”