Chapter 36 – Viscount Roteschu (1)
‘They must be talking about me…’
Rashta stared anxiously at the doorway, where inside was the special banquet. It should go smoothly with Sovieshu there, but she was still apprehensive.
Would Prince Heinley say anything strange to anyone? The Empress seemed unlikely to spread rumors, but Rashta couldn’t say the same about Prince Heinley. Rashta bit her lip and sighed again.
“You look blue today. Are you feeling well?”
Baron Lant appeared by her side and smiled at her teasingly.
“In truth, I’m not.”
“You’re very honest.”
Rashta smiled and nodded. After Sovieshu, Baron Lant was her favorite person in the palace. He was not prejudiced towards her, and when rumors of her and Prince Heinley had spread, she had heard that Baron Lant stepped up to defend her honor. Rashta couldn’t help but like the older man.
“Rest assured, no matter how unruly Prince Heinley is, he has no choice but to yield to our Emperor. Although the Western Kingdom has been growing in power, it still cannot eclipse the Eastern Empire.”
“I will do whatever I can to protect Lady Rashta’s honor, so go enjoy the last day of the celebrations.”
Rashta nodded, and her mood lifted as she smiled. Those who did not scorn her gathered around her in ones or twos, and before long she was surrounded by people who were close to her or who wanted to be close to her. She preened at their attention, and whether because they were being thoughtful or not, no one asked her why she did not go to the special banquet. Rashta sipped wine that was surely five times older than herself, and happily accepted the praise that the nobles lavished on her.
“The contrast between your silver hair and your dark eyes is so enviable.”
“It gives off the feeling of purity, like a lily-of-the-valley.”
“Duchess Tuania might need to defend her current reputation.”
Duchess Tuania wasn’t present, as she was likely attending the special banquet, and today more and more people approached Rashta instead.
‘Today, I am the butterfly of the social circles.’
Rashta was feeling pleasantly tipsy. Even before she became the emperor’s concubine, she knew beauty could be a poison. It was only after much trial did she learn how to use her own beauty as a weapon, but even then she found herself walking a precarious tightrope, always in danger.
But it was different here. Everyone praised her and loved her. Her protector was the most powerful man on earth, and no one could lay a hand on her.
“But didn’t you say you were going to the special banquet? Why are you here now?”
However, it was only less than half an hour later that someone brought up an uncomfortable question.
Rashta stared at the woman who spoke. She was not a memorable aristocrat, and did not have large possessions or had duties important in the Imperial Palace. This was the first time this particular noblewoman mingled with them. The other nobles turned silent at the question, but despite their curiosity, they did not speak up.
Rashta quickly arranged her thoughts and made up a story.
“It’s because Rashta said it was alright.”
“Oh, Miss Rashta?”
“Important foreign guests usually go to the banquet. Rather than having Rashta attend, she thought it would be better to have someone who would benefit our country. ”
The nobles were delighted over her answer.
“Miss Rashta is so smart for a concubine.”
“Indeed. Many of the previous concubines only spent money and idled away, and held no interest in international affairs at all. Miss Rashta is certainly different from them.”
Rashta smiled shyly and lowered her eyes. Their admiration was as intoxicating as a drug.
“Rashta should help His Majesty.”
Rashta murmured that she wanted another drink, and a number of nobleman quickly offered her a variety of wine glasses. Rashta chose a flute with a light purple liquor, and the face of the young man she had accepted the drink from lit up.
Suddenly, Rashta caught glimpse of someone over the young man’s shoulders. Someone who should not have been there.
The flute slipped from her hand, and the glass shattered on the floor.
“Miss Rashta, are you all right?”
Rashta was unable to answer, and quickly jerked her head. But the one who surprised her was not there anymore.
‘Did I see it wrong?’
Rashta forced her heart to calm. Perhaps it was the effects of the alcohol.
‘I drank too much.’
While the servants placed the broken glass on a tray and wiped the liquor off the floor, Rashta repeatedly glanced back to where she had seen the man.
“What’s wrong, Miss Rashta?”
Baron Lant noticed her strange behavior and turned towards where she was looking, and she quickly caught the hem of his robe to stop him.
“Baron Lant. I have a question.”
“For the New Year’s celebrations, if a nobleman doesn’t come on the first day…can they come on the last day?”
“Of course. Some may not be able to come to the festivities immediately.”
Rashta lowered her voice.
“Do rural aristocrats come to the New Year’s celebrations? Rural aristocrats with small estates? Do you not help choose the guests?”
“Yes, I help choose them. And even nobility of a small estate can be invited.”
“Even if they haven’t attended for years?”
“Even if they haven’t attended for a long time, we still send invitations for that reason. We don’t leave them completely alone.”
Rashta’s lips started to quiver, and Baron Lant’s expression darkened.
“Miss Rashta, what happened?”
Rashta shook her head, then took in her surroundings agains and pushed her glass towards him.
“R-Rashta’s going inside. I think I’m drunk.”
She answered unsteadily and waved her hand to get out of the crowd. There was nothing to worry about if she made a drunken mistake, but if not—it would be dangerous.
That man…Viscount Roteschu. The lord of the estate where she was a slave. He knew Rashta’s face.
As she was leaving, a loud voice behind Rashta proclaimed, “What? Am I seeing right?”
Goose flesh erupted on Rashta’s back. Her face paled, and her eyes darkened in fear.
Rashta was reeling, and Baron Lant hastened towards her.
Baron Lant called out to her anxiously, but she didn’t answer.
The loud voice grew closer, dripping in mockery.
“What is this now? Have you changed your identity?”
The surroundings became deathly silent.
“The world is getting better. A runaway slave gets treated like a lady now? Hm?”