Chapter 35 – Secret Friend (2)
Prince Heinley’s expression was both serious and sad. He didn’t have his usual smile or proud bearing. I nodded for him to speak, remembering that he had helped me.
Prince Heinley picked up two champagne glasses from a passing servant, and with his eyes pointed towards a spot where the music was loudest and would cover our conversation. The open area left no room for the other guests to misunderstand, even if I was with the much-gossiped-about Prince Heinley. He was a surprisingly thoughtful man…
As I admired him, Prince Heinley extended to me a glass of champagne, which I accepted. He didn’t drink his, however, and simply fiddled with his glass, while I still stood and waited for him to speak. Finally, he carefully opened his mouth.
“I read your message, Your Majesty. You want to keep our friendship only by letter.”
“You know that it’s me?”
All I had said yesterday was that I knew it was not Rashta. How did he know it was me? When I looked up at him, Prince Heinley hurriedly waved his hand and gave an awkward smile.
“Don’t be alarmed. You did not make a mistake.”
“Both Lady Rashta and her maid knew the contents of the early letters, but not the later ones. So I thought about it. It turned out that a lady-in-waiting named Viscountess Verdi had transferred from the Empress to Lady Rashta.”
So that’s how he figured it out…
But I was still surprised. Rumors had it that Prince Heinley was a womanizer, a cruel man, a person who kept bad company. I had never heard a rumor that he was exceedingly intelligent, and I smiled a little.
But the prince still looked forlorn, and I couldn’t help but wonder. He wasn’t disappointed that I was the letter acquaintance, even though I’d rather not have it revealed in the beginning. It would be less embarrassing for the both of us to ignore it. Why was his face so stiff?
“Are you alright? You don’t look very happy.”
Prince Heinley sighed as he stared at me.
“How can I be happy? I imagined us as good friends, but you want to pretend not to know me in real life?”
Was that really as coldhearted as it sounds? I thought he was exaggerating, but he looked so forlorn I didn’t protest. He downed his champagne glass in one smooth motion.
“In fact, I don’t have many friends to share my thoughts with.”
Prince Heinley set his empty glass down on the statue pedestal and continued, his voice thick.
“I know. It’s unexpected, isn’t it? Am I popular? Yes. I have many friends. I always have people around me, so you many think I am not lonely.”
“But that is only what you see. In fact, I’m very lonely. It’s not that I hate my friends—I have many good ones. However, as the prince of the West, I cannot honestly share my thoughts, and always have to be conscious of others.”
I looked at him in surprise. Those were almost my exact same thoughts. It was as if—as if Queen listened to me and delivered those words straight to Prince Heinley.
“It’s not a problem about the people, but my own, so there’s no way to improve it…”
I stared steadily at Prince Heinley, as I realized I wasn’t the only one with those thoughts. I had believed Prince Heinley behaved without regard to what other people thought of him, but it was an act too…
“I loved being able to talk to someone without them thinking of me as ‘Prince Heinley’ or ‘Crown Prince.’ Our conversations weren’t long, but I was happy to have someone exchange lighthearted letters to.”
I was the same. I was marked as a princess early on, and this was the first time since with my family that I felt I could open up my heart. Not because there weren’t good people, but because “a good person” and “a person I can reveal my innermost thoughts to” were not the same.
“I’ve looked forward to those letters. Honestly, I was even happier when I knew that my letter acquaintance was you, Your Majesty. But instead you seemed reluctant and inconvenienced.”
Prince Heinley sighed, his eyes becoming moist. As I faced those eyes, I felt a wave of guilt wash over me. I sympathized with everything he said, and felt further shame.
“We had the same thoughts, but different conclusions.”
Prince Heinley looked at me with those wet eyes and sighed again, his mysterious violet irises glistening like jewels under the chandelier’s light. There almost seemed to be resentment in his expression. I could be his friend, or I could end it like this.
“I understand what you feel, Prince Heinley.”
“But you still only want to exchange letters?”
“I enjoyed them.”
“Outside of letters, it will be even more enjoyable.”
“You can tell me that Sovieshu’s a son of a bitch.”
I choked when Prince Heinley tossed all dignity out of the window. Everyone stared at me as I coughed, and Prince Heinley lowered his voice once again and whispered, “Sovieshu’s a son of a bitch.”
What kind of person…
Prince Heinley raised his eyebrows and gave a silly grin.
“There is nothing more funny than watching someone suppress a laugh. Just laugh if you want to. ”
“If you don’t laugh, your heart will ache.”
Ache? Did he have experience in this?
His smile faded, as did his voice. For a moment, Prince Heinley stared at the floor, his forehead furrowed in thought.
“Then, can you do something for me? I’ll keep it a secret you, my Queen, are my letter partner. And I’ll also keep secret that we are friends.”
“Are we friends?”
“Don’t you know that we’re friends, Queen?”
He gave a strange smile, then he pressed his lips together and continued.
“Instead, it can be like now. If we meet by chance, please don’t ignore me. And if the two of us happen to be alone, don’t avoid me.”
His voice was playful and the smile around his mouth looked light, but his gaze was serious. It sounded like a joke, but I knew it wasn’t.
He gazed at me with those earnest eyes, and I felt a strange sensation of my heart being squeezed lightly with fingernails.