Chapter 31 – Wet Tears (2)
The Empress’ demeanor was as remote and as cold as a glacier. Heinley stood dazed as he looked at her profile. Her low, gentle voice captivated his ears but her icy voice even more so. How would it sound if she said his name like that?
Heinley swallowed dryly as his imagination made his head spin. He wanted to kneel before that overbearing empress and pour kisses on her hand. He wanted to hear her speak in that cold voice and issue commands to him. How would it feel to obey her orders and then to rebel?
It had started out as curiosity. He was curious about the empress from a foreign country, and so he traveled as far as the palace to see her. Despite rumors that she was made of steel or ice, she was surprisingly soft and charming towards birds.
The rumors weren’t exactly wrong, however, but he was surprised to see her ordinary side. He felt sympathy for the way she put up a strong front while she cried in secret. He heard her talking to herself as she tried to hold back her tears. What the people wanted was not an emperor’s beloved empress.
But to him, she was incredible. He thought that beneath her strong appearance was a vulnerable figure, but he discovered beneath that was a strong figure again.
The feeling of curiosity and attraction turned into anxiety after actually meeting her. Why did she ignore him when he tried to make himself known? Why did she pretend not to know him? Why wasn’t she trying to look for him? Were the comforts of the letters, the jokes that they had been shared, simply been a one-sided feeling? Or perhaps her pride would be hurt if someone were to take care of her.
But as Heinley drew closer to her, he became angry. He didn’t like seeing the things that burdened her or caused her pain. He knew from experience that controlling one’s reputation was difficult, to the point that he had almost gotten in a fight about it in the past.
“Are you jealous of Rashta, by any chance?”
As the Empress’ jaw hardened at Sovieshu’s insult, Prince Heinley was overcome with an even more violent impulse than in the dining room. The frozen empress was charming, but the things that made her that way were not. He could hear McKenna’s voice in his mind, repeatedly urging him not to cause an incident. It irritated Heinley that he could not officially stand up to defend her honor.
“Your Majesty the Emperor. You must be more discerning.”
Eventually, Heinley spoke. McKenna will be furious when he hears about this. Their king was bedridden, and the court affairs were in chaos. Did he really want to antagonize the Emperor of the Eastern Empire? Despite this, Heinley couldn’t help but speak up.
“This doesn’t concern you, Prince Heinley.”
“I’m a witness. How can I keep my nose out of this?”
Heinley added a grin as he stood next to the Empress.
“Your Majesty, do not worry. I will be the one to spread rumors about the truth. Your reputation will not be tarnished by this mistake.”
Things could have gotten worse if it were not for McKenna, who came running to Prince Heinley’s side and stole him away.
“I heard you say something about reputation. Are you changing course?”
Heinley walked in silence to the southern palace as McKenna nagged at him.
“Do what you usually do, Prince. Don’t fight from the front, fight from behind. Why are you trying to do something that you can’t do well? And why does it have to be with the Eastern Emperor? At this rate, our spying will be moot.”
McKenna’s nagging got worse as soon as he closed the door, and Heinley ignored him and pulled up a chair.
“What are you going to do with the chair? Are you going to hit me?”
As McKenna sat down, Heinley touched his head and forced mana into him. With a cry, McKenna turned into a bluebird, and the clothes he wore tumbled to the ground. McKenna’s eyes widened as Prince Heinley went to his desk and then held out something.
“Deliver this to Elgy.”
“I won’t get myself in trouble, so go and deliver it. I’ll fight from behind, just as you said.”