Chapter 28 – Heinley’s Rage (1)
Queen used to visit me daily, but he hadn’t made an appearance for the last two days. As far as I could recall, we had not communicated ever since Rashta’s maid pretended to be me. Only a few hours before that revelation, Queen had been playing in my room. My mood turned somber as I remembered his chirping and the last time I hugged him. Should I raise a bird, as just Countess Eliza said?
‘No. Other birds are not like Queen.’
“Are you thinking about Queen?”
Countess Eliza seemed to understand my innermost thoughts as I kept glancing at the window. I smiled awkwardly and didn’t answer. I missed Queen, but if I said that out loud it could be interpreted as me wanting to see Prince Heinley. Due to that, I was cautious.
Instead of prodding me for an answer, Countess Eliza pulled out a light pink dress from the wardrobe. The dress had a thin, falling silhouette and was a little less extravagant then the dresses of the past three days.
“You won’t be going to a large banquet tonight, so I will dress you more elegantly, Your Majesty.”
Tomorrow was the last day of the New Year’s celebrations, as well as the day of the special banquet. However, since its attendees usually changed from year to year, there was usually a preview dinner the prior evening for the guests to become more acquainted, as Countess Eliza mentioned. It was a bit unreasonable to wear an extravagant dress to dinner when it was only a relatively small gathering.
“Thank you, as always.”
“I am honored.”
Thanks to Countess Eliza’s preparations, my straight hair was styled in waves and my pale complexion looked rosy. With her assistance, I slipped into the dress and studied myself in the mirror, then left for the central palace.
No one came to work during large holidays, but I wanted to look over a few documents. I went to my office and looked over the guest list for the special banquet. In addition to having to carry polite conversation with the foreign guests, I had to familiarize myself with their culture as to not accidentally offend them.
The most noteworthy guests were Prince Heinley and Grand Duke Kapmen. Prince Heinley was especially a prominent figure.
‘I have to be careful with Grand Duke Kapmen as well…’
Grand Duke Kapmen was the only guest from another continent, who hailed from the great desert nation of Rwibt. He was invited not only because he was a great man, but also because he was a foreign student who graduated at the top of the magic academy. There was not much exchange across the continents, and the trade merchants did not linger long. Little was known about the court etiquette of Rwibt. One of the few books on the nation was “The Travelogue,” written after an adventurer’s visit to the desert country. I had heard that Grand Duke Kapmen had mocked the book and said it was not in the least bit accurate.
‘He’s already been studying overseas for a few years, and he should be treated like he’s one of us…’
After some lengthy research and learning, the time for the dinner arrived.
When I left my office, I found Countess Eliza and Sir Artina nervously standing outside, and they called out “Your Majesty!” when they saw me.
“I was wondering if I should go in.”
“I’ve been checking the clock.”
At Countess Eliza’s urging, I went back to my room where she touched up my hair and makeup, before heading to the eastern palace.
Rashta was the first person I saw when I entered the dining room. She covered her mouth in surprise, then smiled and said, “Your Majesty!”
My smooth expression almost crumbled. Was Rashta among the twenty special guests tomorrow? No, I had checked the list only a while ago. Sovieshu must have brought her here. While one could not attend the special banquet without an invitation, those who were not invited could still go to the dinner.
A moment later, Prince Heinley, Sovieshu and Princess Soju entered the dining room. Princess Soju looked at me as if to say, ‘What’s wrong?’ but I shook my head and went towards my seat. Prince Heinley said hello to me, and I only gave him a slight nod. I could feel Princess Soju’s eyes in my direction, but I didn’t acknowledge it and took my seat with my head pounding. It was only after a servant poured water into my glass that Princess Soju leaned over and whispered quietly to me.
“I thought it was a joke until a while ago.”
Her voice was so low that I could barely hear it.
She glanced over at the Prince.
“Prince Heinley. I believe the rumor that he is a womanizer is true. He acts so sweetly to Miss Rashta in front of His Majesty, I thought he was some kind of human custard.”
Her expression sent me into a coughing fit as I drank from my glass, while the Princess smiled in amusement. Prince Heinley’s, Rashta’s, and Sovieshu’s attention turned towards me at the same time, and I quickly schooled my expression and covered my mouth with a handkerchief.
Now that Princess Soju pointed it out, the atmosphere did seem strange. Prince Heinley was aloof and mysterious as always, but Sovieshu seemed more on edge than usual. From time to time he shot glances between Prince Heinley and Rashta. And Rashta…she seemed to be enjoying the situation. Her cheeks were more flushed than usual at the attention of both the Emperor and the Prince.
‘If it had been Rashta that Prince Heinley was with from the beginning, then what would have happened…?’
My heart throbbed at the sudden thought, but I soon shook it away. Even if it wasn’t Rashta, Sovieshu would have still brought in a concubine one day. Princess Soju leaned towards me again.
“Strange. Prince Heinley was so openly sweet on Miss Rashta before. Not now.”
I did not bother looking in their direction this time. Soon after, the table filled up with all the guests, and the servants brought in the first course—mulled wine, fresh celery, salmon with potatoes, and chicken poached in wine.
It was well into the middle of a long meal when, suddenly, there was a sharp crash. The dining room turned silent. Sovieshu was staring at Prince Heinley, his golden goblet spilled over his plate. Everyone watched them with bated breath.
“That’s rude, Prince Heinley.”
“What do you mean? What’s rude? Is it rude of me to point out that the one who claimed to exchange letters with me doesn’t know the contents of said letters? Is it rude for me to protest when I find out later she’s deceiving me?”
“Prince Heinley. Watch your language.”
“Tell your concubine to be careful.”
“This is disgraceful. First the maid, then her master Lady Rashta. Are you scorning the Western Kingdom, scorning me, or scorning my promises?”
Rashta’s eyes were as wide as saucers, while Prince Heinley leaned back against his seat and stared at Sovieshu coldly.
“Oh, perhaps—Did His Majesty order Lady Rashta to do it? Use me?”