Chapter 27 – I’m On My Way To See You (2)
Banquet attendance usually dropped by the third day of the New Year’s celebrations. It didn’t have the priority of neither the first nor the last day, and everyone wanted to enjoy themselves in the city or socialize with the people they had befriended. That had been the pattern for three years. Until now.
“There are many people here today, Your Majesty.”
Countess Eliza clicked her tongue.
“I suppose it’s because of the rumors about the prince and the maid.”
I spoke in a disinterested manner. I still hadn’t decided out how I should react to this. It was both awkward and amusing to think about.
Rashta—who was surrounded by other nobles sans Sovieshu—was the one that looked more concerned, however, and kept glancing at Duchess Tuania.
‘Do they know each other?’
There was the sound of the door opening. I looked up, expecting Sovieshu to enter, but it was Prince Heinley instead. On his arm was Cherily, Rashta’s maid.
“My god. He actually brought her here.”
Countess Eliza spoke in a whispered awe, then tutted once again. Cherily looked much brighter in a pale pink gown compared to her servant uniform.
“That dress looks very expensive.”
“Prince Heinley bought it for her, didn’t he?”
“They look good together somehow. I’m sure it’s because they had been searching for someone they were in love with.”
The room started to buzz with gossip. At that moment, Prince Heinley looked straight towards me. I nodded in greeting towards him, but he made a strange expression, then frowned and shook his head.
‘What does that mean?’
I wondered at that unusual exchange, but before I could think about it more, Prince Heinley walked away with Cherily in tow. Sovieshu entered the room soon after, and looked round then headed towards Rashta.
I turned away, picking up a glass from a passing servant. I didn’t check what drink it was, until my taste buds informed me it was strawberry juice. It was very sweet, a contrast to my mood. Then, the music started to play. I was in no mood for dancing, so I settled myself on a couch by the wall and talked to guests.
However, some time after, a commotion in the middle of the room interrupted my conversation. I looked up and saw everyone’s eyes were turned towards Prince Heinley, who looked heartbroken, and Rashta’s maid, whose face was blotched red with tears. The sweet atmosphere from only a few hours ago had completely dissipated. One was terrified, while the other looked like he was suppressing his anger. What was happening? I couldn’t hear well from here, and I stood up and made my way towards the crowd.
“Why did you deceive me? I told you, I was searching for someone important.”
When I got close enough, I could hear Prince Heinley’s voice and immediately understood the situation. The maid had been caught lying. She was completely red in the face, and could barely choke out an answer.
“This is absurd.”
Prince Heinley exhaled as he waited for the maid’s reply.
“Is this what servants do in the Eastern Empire? Deceive royalty? No, regardless of status, that is still deception, is it not?”
It was unclear if he was ranting to himself or speaking caustically, but some nobles glared at the maid and one muttered under their breath,
“Bringing disgrace to the country….”
The maid heard it and turned redder than before.
I turned to the noblewoman next to me, and she lowered her voice to explain.
“I don’t know exactly. They were having a friendly conversation, but I think the prince was questioning the maid.”
She thought for a moment before continuing.
“I believe that the maid didn’t know the exact details of the letters.”
“I see. Thank you for telling me.”
The noblewoman again turned to the scene of the prince and the maid.
I considered the situation for a moment. If it didn’t calm down, then it would be best for me to step in and interrupt. But if the maid did wrong to Prince Heinley, it was her or her master, Rashta, that had to apologize.
The maid trembled, staring at Rashta as if she had the same thought. But Rashta only looked on in surprise, and seemed unwilling to step in. I had no choice. I had to do it.
“You know what I believe? I don’t think you completely lied to me, is that right?”
“I thought you completely deceived me at first. But I’m not a fool. I’m sure that you know about the letters.”
Prince Heinley voice was low, but his voice easily carried in the room. I wasn’t the only one that looked surprised. The maid lied, but that didn’t mean she knew nothing…
I didn’t know if Rashta was involved, but Viscountess Verdi had to be responsible, at least.
“You know what I think? I think you weren’t the one that exchanged letters with me—but you know who did. You are the go-between. Correct?”
“Who is your master?”
Prince Heinley smiled.
“Isn’t your master the one I’ve been looking for?”
My tongue felt thick in my mouth. What a complete misunderstanding…
Despite his bold reasoning, the prince’s eyes looked cold.
‘Is that only anger in his eyes?’
Rashta, who had not said a word so far, sighed and stepped forward.
“I thought Prince Heinley was just a playful man when we exchanged letters. You’re surprisingly sharp.”
Rashta wasn’t just coming forward. She spoke with a nuance that suggested she knew him through the letters, and the nobles exchanged glances with each either. Prince Heinley looked up at Rashta with his eyebrows raised, then smiled.
“Lady Rashta. You sound like the person I’ve been looking for.”
“That is right. The one you were looking for is me.”
What? Were Rashta and the maid conspiring together?
No, I didn’t think so. Rashta’s maid looked completely shocked. Prince Heinley studied Rashta carefully with an unreadable expression on his face.
“Why did you send the maid in your place?”
“Because Rashta is the Emperor’s woman. You and I are just friends, of course, but Rashta was worried his Majesty would be offended.”
“Even though I think of you as my friend, I hope you won’t take offense either.”
Rashta rounded her eyes as she spoke, while Prince Heinley tilted his head. It was as if time had frozen when he looked down at her. Then he burst out in laughter.
Rashta flinched. Prince Heinley seemed to easily read Rashta’s lie and he found it endlessly amusing. Or perhaps I only saw it because I already knew Rashta wasn’t telling the truth…
“Does he know she’s lying?”
Laura whispered in my ear. So it wasn’t only my eyes. Could it still be an illusion? For a moment derision flashed in Prince Heinley’s eyes, but then he smiled without asking for proof.
“I see. I wasn’t offended at all. But what if you’re a fake again?”
“Are you done thinking? You can check as much as you please. Rashta is confident.”
“No, it’s quite alright. I do not believe Lady Rashta would not lie about this.”
Rashta answered with a surety, and the corner of Heinley’s mouth crept up.
“I hope it’s true this time, Lady Rashta. The second lie is likely to make me even more angry.”
His eyes turned to the maid who told the first lie. His friendly look from earlier was gone, and the iciness of his gaze forced the maid to bow her head.
“Because she impersonated you, Lady Rashta, would you take care of the punishment?”
When Rashta nodded, he straightened his back and left.
“Dear god, who knew she was such a fox?!”
As soon as I returned to the western palace, my ladies-in-waiting exploded in anger.
“Your Majesty, will you let that lowly thing go around like that?”
“Even after becoming the emperor’s concubine, she tried to befriend the prince of another country by lying!”
“How dare she!”
Countess Eliza was usually so composed, but now she was fanning herself furiously.
“The Prince knows that Rashta is a fake, so don’t become too upset.”
I couldn’t let the ladies-in-waiting be, so I said something to calm them down. The ladies stared at me in surprise, as if wondering why I was so complacent. Laura snorted angrily.
“At first he seemed a bit suspicious, but then he knew it! It was obvious that he knew he was deceived!”
Another lady chimed in.
“Maybe Rashta thinks she can trick him with her pretty face.”
“If he thought Rashta was genuine, he wouldn’t have hesitated.”
The ladies-in-waiting nodded in agreement.
“So Prince Heinley is deliberately letting himself be deceived by her lies?”
“I believe so. It’s strange for him to be cheated twice in the same way. The only strange thing is…”
Why? Perhaps, as one of the ladies claimed, he liked Rashta, regardless of whether she was lying.