Chapter 38 – A Man Of Secrets (1)
As usual, it was futile trying to avoid getting entangled with Rashta. Each time, it was either her or Sovieshu that netted me in, but this time it was Sovieshu.
Some of the foreign guests would return to their countries, while a few would stay longer at the southern palace. I returned to the western palace, leaving behind those who wanted to stay up for the drinking and revelry. I wanted to take a warm bath to relieve my fatigue of the day. The ladies-in-waiting also seemed exhausted, so instead of having them follow me, I sent them away to take their rest.
However, before I could even finish drawing the bathwater, Sovieshu’s captain of the guard came to see me. I had a sinking feeling the moment I saw him. For nearly a month, all the times Sovieshu summoned me out of the blue had been unpleasant encounters.
What on earth did he want this time? My mood felt heavy as I walked through the long corridors, but I managed to control my expression. I hoped I could maintain it in front of my husband…
Finally, I entered Sovieshu’s bedroom in the eastern palace. Sovieshu was seated on a chair by the bed, and I also noted Rashta on the bed with a towel on her forehead. I turned back to Sovieshu again, who had his eyes fixed on me.
“…I’ll take my leave.”
The captain closed the door, and the atmosphere became even more oppressive. Sovieshu slowly opened his mouth to speak.
“Do you have anything to say to me?”
His voice was curt.
“Why did you call me here?”
I spoke to him just as bluntly.
“Is that the only thing you want to say?”
“That’s what I’m most curious about now.”
“You do not even blink at this situation.”
The first thought that came to mind was, ‘I must be doing a good job of controlling my facial expression,’ and the corners of my mouth tipped upwards. Sovieshu seemed even more offended by my smile.
“Are you happy that everyone thinks Rashta’s a runaway slave?”
“Are you going to take your anger out on me?”
“I heard about Miss Rashta at the grand hall. I know you’re upset, but don’t take it out on me.”
“Did you think I called you to vent?”
“You did not?”
“Then why did you call me?”
He did not call me to be angry at me, but weren’t his remarks derisive only a while ago? He probably thought I was happy that Rashta was discovered to be a runaway slave.
Sovieshu silently watched Rashta’s sleeping form. The ticking of the clock echoed in the room. Only after some time passed did Sovieshu speak.
“Did you really want to prove that Rashta is a fugitive slave?”
“That story again?”
“The Empress was born a great aristocrat. She had a good family, enormous wealth, great power, a beautiful mansion, and a natural wit and beauty. But in spite of that, she still wants to be on top of everyone.”
It wasn’t a compliment in this situation. I looked at Sovieshu with narrowed eyes, and he sighed.
“Rashta had nothing. She became a slave and had no memory or her parents or family. No property, no power, no home. She is like the Empress who is smart and beautiful, but she doesn’t have opportunities opened to her.”
“And then she met me, and she had been trying to get these for her own. The chance to be loved, to eat a warm meal, to relax on a comfortable bed, to learn something.”
She also took my husband, but I didn’t say this because my pride was injured. I wanted to ask if he wanted me to sympathize with Rasta, but I couldn’t say it either. I just stared at him without a word. I couldn’t understand why he was talking so much—was he asking me to take care of Rashta because she was in trouble?
“I don’t need you to understand Rashta. But you have the smallest compassion…can you give it?”
“The compassion the Empress shows here and there—for example, towards the orphanages, elderly homes, medical centers, temples, scholarship centers. Why can you not spare that compassion to Rashta!”
Sovieshu exploded at me, but then he stopped himself and collapsed back into his chair. Rashta reached out with a groan, and he quickly took her hand. I noticed that she was wearing a shirt with wide sleeves. I wanted to clench my fist.
“Rashta is your concubine, so you should take care of her. I’m not looking after her because she’s not under my jurisdiction.”
“Who said you had to look after her? Ha. I don’t want you to take care of her, so please leave her alone!”
“Have I ever provoked her?”
“Yesterday in front of Prince Heinley, when he insulted Rashta. Of the two of them, Prince Heinley and Rashta, you should have sided with Rashta. If you don’t know who’s telling the truth, then you should stand by your subjects!”
“As I said, I knew the truth, and sided with Prince Heinley accordingly.”
“It is you who believe in her innocence, not me.”
“Well, that was yesterday. How about today? Why were you trying to undermine her today?”
“You know I never spoke to Miss Rashta today.”
“Did you. You never talked to Rashta herself, but you called Viscount Roteschu from behind her back.”
The air seemed to crack when he made the accusation. I knew it couldn’t really be, but it sounded like it. I glared at Sovieshu.
“What are you talking about?”
“You wanted to prove that Rashta is a runaway slave, and so you brought Viscount Roteschu.”
“…I invited the viscount because of Miss Rashta?”
What kind of ridiculous invention was this? I was dumbfounded. Sovieshu let out an exhale.
“Ever since I said that Rashta wasn’t an escaped slave, didn’t you want to prove me otherwise? Were you so offended by everyone loving her?”
“You’re speaking nonsense.”
I forced my voice to sound calm, but I felt ready to burst. Sovieshu stood straight up from his chair, his eyes flashing threateningly.
“Who knows the guest invitations better than the Empress? You must have been working hard. You invited Viscount Roteschu.”
“Yes, I know the invitations very well. It was my job. However, I invited him weeks before Rashta even came to the palace.”
“He’s not an important guest, so why did you invite him to the celebrations?”
“As I said before…I’m not interested in every single thing concerning Miss Rashta. And you were confident that she was not a runaway slave. Under these circumstances, why would I not send an invitation to Viscount Roteschu?”
I didn’t even know she was his slave. The only connection I knew was that Sovieshu had found her on the hunting grounds near Roteschu’s estate. Since then, I had never heard mention of it, and if Rashta was commoner, then Roteschu’s attendance was irrelevant. Yet somehow, Sovieshu thought I calculated Rashta was Roteschu’s slave? Me? I was dumbfounded.
“If you have any consideration—”
“You should take care of her yourself. You can’t expect me to look after her, even if I didn’t know she was Roteschu’s slave.”
“…You’re heartless. A woman who has been living in poverty her whole life now wants to stand straight, and you don’t want to see it? You don’t want to be tarnished? The Empress is a horrible woman.”