Chapter 4 – Compare With Whom? (1)
The Emperor witnessed Laura insulting the woman he was in love with. It was quite a scene.
Laura and other ladies-in-waiting quickly lifted their skirts to bow to him, but he gave them a hellish glare. I had already seen Sovieshu a few times earlier in the palace, and I stared at him quietly instead of greeting him again. Sovieshu looked at Laura then turned to Rashta.
Sovieshu sighed. Rashta’s eyes were wet, probably out of surprise, and the wide look she gave him made her look like a poor frightened animal.
Despite his attempt to soothe her, tears began to drip down her face.
“I said don’t cry.”
Despite the unsympathetic tone in his voice, Rashta did not stop. She seemed unafraid of his infamous cold attitude. I kept staring at her. When Rashta continued to cry, to my surprise, Sovieshu pulled out a gold embroidered handkerchief and held it out to her. Her tears didn’t cease even when offered the handkerchief, and he sighed and wiped her face himself.
“You’re a handful.”
There was a note of worry in his tone, and the corner of my heart throbbed again. No, it was natural…it was natural. I reminded myself of Countess Eliza’s words, and I turned around and instructed my ladies-in-waiting to follow.
“Let’s go. My legs ache.”
I wouldn’t be able to stop Sovieshu from having a concubine, but I was free to avert my eyes from it. The ladies quickly followed after me.
Sovieshu called out to me before we had even taken a few steps. First Rashta, and now him? Sovieshu glared at Laura and pointed to her.
“Leave that lady-in-waiting behind, Empress.”
“She is my lady-in-waiting. You need to tell me why first.”
Laura’s complexion turned pale. I also felt an ominous wind blowing through my thoughts.
Surely he wouldn’t punish Laura for what she said to Rashta, would he? While Laura’s behavior was not exactly exemplary, she was still a lady-in-waiting of the Empress. Rashta, on the other hand, was not yet a concubine, nor was she even lower nobility. She was even likely a runaway slave. For Sovieshu to punish Laura would publicly disgrace her in society.
As well as myself, the Empress.
I stared at him, and he turned his gaze back to Laura.
“She is a lady-in-waiting of the Empress, but she is also my subject. How dare she speak like that.”
“Then I will scold her.”
“You think a scolding will fix someone who calls another person filthy? Surely not.”
Sovieshu barked an order to a nearby guard, pointing his chin towards Laura.
“Lock her up for three days and give her only water and hard bread.”
Laura’s face whitened, and the other ladies let out a small scream of distress.
“That is too far, Your Majesty.”
I stepped forward, but Sovieshu directed his icy glare towards me.
“She called a woman in a wheelchair who can’t even properly walk filthy. Don’t you think that is too far?”
“Well, you only watched. You probably thought that was not too far.”
“My ladies-in-waiting only stopped her because she pulled my dress.”
The look on Sovieshu’s face only turned darker.
“You were walking away from her.”
“And what is wrong with holding a dress? Is the Empress’ dress more noble than a human hand?”
“Then I will have your servant pull at the hem of your cloak. Even if your cloak is not as noble as a human hand, is that still acceptable?”
Sovieshu raised his eyebrows and smirked.
“Your words are meaningless. Do you really think it is the same situation?”
“Is it different?”
“Then what is the difference?”
“Rashta is not a servant.”
I wanted to ask him if I should change my example, and what he would do if a concubine pulled on the hem of his clothes.
“Lock up the Empress’ lady-in-waiting for five days.”
Before I could say anything else, Sovieshu increased Laura’s punishment. The more I opposed him, the more severe he became.
I saw Rashta sitting behind Sovieshu with her eyes wide open, staring at him as if he was some sort of hero. The words I wanted to say threatened to leap from my mouth, but even the empress could not overturn the emperor’s orders. I could call a trial to challenge Laura’s punishment, but by the time the trial would be opened she would already be released.
“I accept the punishment, Your Majesty.”
As I was agonizing about losing to Sovieshu, Laura quickly stepped forward. My face turned red with shame and anger.
Rather than asking why the girl was near the Central Palace, Sovieshu complimented me for working hard all day.
Sovieshu and I weren’t passionate lovers, but we were good friends. Now we were neither. I gritted my teeth and turned away. Now I understood why my mother advised me not to get involved with the concubines.