Chapter 3 – Early Signs Of An Affair (2)
It was the day all the officials and I gathered in the conference room to discuss the preparations for the upcoming New Year.
My throat felt clogged after speaking for so long, and after drinking a glass of warm water, I took a walk in the Central Palace garden to relax. Artina, the deputy commander of the knights, accompanied me, along with my ladies-in-waiting. As I discussed with Artina about whom to recommend for the ceremony, I heard a whisper from somewhere saying, “Is that her?”
I looked around, and saw a woman sitting in a wheelchair with two other women who appeared to be maids beside her. Our eyes met, and the woman in the wheelchair struggled to stand. The two maids tried to stop her, but they dropped their hands when they saw my gaze.
The woman shakily gripped the handles of the wheelchair as she stood up to bow in greeting. I wasn’t sure who she was. I thought she might be the slave the Emperor found, but we were near the Central Palace, and this was no place for a mistress to come. I didn’t think there were any cases of one even working at a high position at the Central Palace.
Still, she greeted me even when her legs were hurt, and so I gave her a nod of acknowledgment. I turned to walk away when I heard a voice from behind me saying, “Hey.”
Was she calling me? This was the first time I heard someone say that to me in the palace after becoming empress. I turned back, flustered, and saw the woman in the wheelchair wheeling herself towards me. The maids were bewildered and called out “Rashta, don’t,” but she ignored them.
Did she have something to do with me? If she did, then surely she would know I was the empress. And yet she said “Hey” to me?
I stared at her with a perplexed expression on my face, and the woman named Rashta drew near and greeted me again.
What was I supposed to do?
She smiled, as if pleased that I called her by her first name. Did she really want me to address her like that? I was struck by curiosity, but not enough to ask why.
The audience time had ended, and my brain was rotted having listened to the stories of strangers for three hours. If there was an emergency, then she would have pleaded for help as soon as she saw me. However, she was smiling cheerfully, so it didn’t seem like she needed my urgent attention.
I turned around again, thinking there was nothing more to see. But as I did so, she reached out and grabbed the skirt of my dress. My ladies-in-waiting who were standing beside me were alarmed and beat away her hand as if she were a zoo monkey.
“Do you not recognize this noble!”
Rashta flinched back in surprise, stammering.
“I-I’m sorry, I should’ve called out to you, but I don’t know your name…”
She really didn’t know I was the empress? Didn’t I hear her whisper to the maid “Is that her?”
Laura glared at Rashta and yelled at her.
“This is Her Majesty the Empress. Be careful of your actions!”
Rashta’s eyes widened.
“What? I…I know the Empress.”
She knows the Empress?
I frowned at her strange words, and she looked into my eyes and spoke softly.
Who was Rashta? My ladies-in-waiting and I were terribly confused. Did we know each other enough to share our names? In my mind I tried to recall the women of her age that visited this country with foreign dignitaries. I did not meet with every single guest. There were the guests that were welcomed by me, guests that were welcomed by the foreign ministers, guests that met with Sovieshu directly…
She had never been one of mine. Had the foreign minister ever met a Rashta? It couldn’t be. If she were from a great noble family, even the ladies-in-waiting would know about her even if I didn’t.
“Do you know me?”
I decided to be straightforward with her, and she looked surprised.
“You don’t know me?”
“I’m not sure.”
Rashta looked at a loss, and she whispered to the maids, “What do I do?” I could hear her, of course. But I was tired. I didn’t even know who she was. I was about to ignore her and leave, when Rashta called out again.
“I am living in the Eastern Palace by the kindness of His Majesty the Emperor.”
The kindness of Sovieshu?
The Eastern Palace. The wounded legs. The woman. Ah.
Then why was she near the Central Palace? Before I could ask, Rashta’s face paled.
“Your Majesty, forgive me for my rudeness. Miss Rashta is not a slave.”
A maid beside Rasta came forward and corrected me. Not a slave? But my ladies-in-waiting told me she was a runaway slave. If they were false rumors, then they would have informed me it was not a credible story, but there was no such statement.
The slave…was more than what I expected. I didn’t expect to meet her this way. I didn’t care about the gossip, but she was as beautiful as the rumors suggested. Her kind of beauty wasn’t like the glamour and elegance of a noble like Duchess Tuania; rather, Rashta’s image was soft and ethereal. Her large, dark eyes stirred one’s protective instincts, and her hair was a light silver that made her pure and innocent charm even more mysterious.
Wait. My ladies-in-waiting bathed her, so why didn’t they recognize her? I glanced around and saw some weren’t with me. Unfortunately, the missing ladies were the ones that washed Rashta.
“Yes. Now I know who you are.”
I nodded, and Rashta beamed.
“Thank goodness. Actually, I’ve been wondering when we’d meet each other.”
“I asked the Emperor, but he kept telling me that I didn’t have to bother…but I thought we should still do so.”
Meet each other? Why?
“What should I call you, Your Majesty?”
“…Just call me ‘Your Majesty.’”
I didn’t know why I was having such a friendly conversation with this girl of all people.
Rashta seemed to feel tired and wanted to turn around, and she grunted in exertion as she moved her wheelchair.
Sensing that my mood was spoiled, my ladies-in-waiting grabbed onto the handles of the wheelchair and pulled her slightly backwards.
“Just who are you to act so friendly towards her?”
Laura’s hands were trembling in anger as she pulled the other woman back.
It was then.
“What do you mean, filthy?”
Sovieshu appeared, his voice like shards of ice.