Chapter 40 – Queen’s Favorite
What was wrong? Prince Heinley looked as if he were caught by surprise, his purple eyes darting around the hall.
“Queen’s busy right now. No, I mean, Queen’s quite shy. He’s bashful whenever there are two or more people in the room with him.”
That Queen, the one who played with my ladies-in-waiting? I stared at him doubtfully, and Prince Heinley flushed. For some reason he didn’t want to see Queen with me.
Ah. Perhaps it was too forward if Prince Heinley came into my room or I went into his, or if we spent time together at the garden in the evening.
“I apologize. I made an unreasonable request.”
We had decided not to be friendly in public. Prince Heinley groaned and placed a hand on his forehead.
“No, it’s not that…anyway, what do you want to ask about Queen?”
“Queen’s favorite is the Empress.”
Why was his face so red? He looked quite embarrassed. Was it childish to say that the bird looked like his human? I smiled from the charming image, but that was not what I meant to ask.
“Then please tell him thank you.”
“And I want to know what his favorite food is.”
“I usually bring water to my room, but I’d like to give him something to eat.”
“Queen will love anything you give him.”
I thought Prince Heinley was responding too much from his own perspective.
“Still, there must be something he likes.”
“No, he’s a good bird, so he’ll eat anything.”
He suddenly tightened his lips and turned his head sideways. His jaw was clenched as if he were trying to suppress laughter.
…Was Queen a big eater? Or was he saying that as a joke?
Before I could ask him anything else, Prince Heinley turned away to leave, saying he would send Queen.
When I returned to my room, I opened the window so Queen could enter when he arrived.
When Prince Heinley first brought up Queen, I only wanted to hug the warm bird, but as we talked more I decided I wanted to give Queen some delicious food as well. I consulted Sir Artina on the subject.
“What kind of food do birds usually like, Sir Artina?”
The imperial guard had their own messenger birds, and I surmised that Sir Artina had more knowledge of birds than I did. As expected, he answered without hesitation.
“Birds like insects.”
“Caterpillars, mosquitoes, moths…”
“What is it?”
This would be more difficult than I thought…
“I thought I’d give Queen something he’d like to eat.”
As my guard, Sir Artina was often with me and had known about Queen.
“Ah. Since he’s a large bird he might like large insects.”
When I didn’t reply, Sir Artina gave a soft chuckle.
“We have caterpillars meant for the messenger birds. I’ll get you some.”
“Are you sure?”
“Queen might not eat if them if they’re are served on a plate. If he’s doubtful, you can feed him with tweezers.”
I felt sick imagining picking up a caterpillar with tweezers, but I nodded for now. I had promised Prince Heinley that I would take care of Queen, and I couldn’t back out simply because I was squeamish.
Finally, Sir Artina returned with a wooden plate and set it down on the table. It was full of plump, squirming larvae.
“Are you alright?”
I nodded automatically, but as soon as Sir Artina left, I immediately backed away from the table. I was afraid they would crawl out of the plate at any moment.
‘Queen is going to eat that…’
I sat hunched on the bed and peeked at the table about five or six times to check whether the caterpillars had wriggled off the plate.
At last, Queen arrived. Instead of landing on the window sill, he flew gracefully through the open window and circled the room in a glorious sweep, his eyes on me as if to confirm that I was watching his majesty on display. After a brief circuit, he landed on my knee. I stroked his neck and back, and he gave a loud cry and wiggled his tail.
“You’re incredible, Queen.”
Queen raised a wing at the compliment, and I thought it was now a good time to prepare the caterpillars, nervous as I was. Once again I brushed his back and hugged him.
“I wanted to give Queen something to eat.”
“Your master says you’ll eat anything…”
“I think he’s wrong.”
“So I prepared something that big, nice birds like the most.”
Queen nodded enthusiastically. I picked him up and brought him to my desk.
“Here are some caterpillars, Queen.”
Fortunately, the larvae were still on the plate, and I set him right in front of it.
Queen pulled away, his eyes blinking wildly. Sir Artina had said that Queen might be doubtful if I fed him like this, so I stroke the bird’s back again and picked up a plump caterpillar with a pair of tweezers. I could feel the fine hairs on my body rise as I came near the plate, but I steeled myself for Queen’s sake.
“Come on, Queen. Let’s eat.”
The bird, however, drew even further backwards and refused to eat.
“Try it, Queen. It’s okay.”
I jerked my hand and got the caterpillar right in front of Queen’s face. The caterpillar suddenly wriggled, then slipped from the tweezers and landed on Queen’s head.
The bird leapt up with a shriek.
Surprised, I tried to catch him, but he was hopping everywhere like crazy. Queen leapt out the window, caterpillar still attached to his head, and flew away and finally disappeared.
Was it the wrong kind of caterpillar? Sir Artina’s birds ate them and were fine. Was it because Queen was a different species of bird?
I worried about Queen all night long and slept uneasily. It was him that eased the hurt caused by Sovieshu. I was heartbroken by the distrust in Sovieshu’s eyes, but as soon as I remembered Queen, the image of Sovieshu was pushed away.
The next day, I left my room as soon as I finished breakfast to see Prince Heinley. I couldn’t visit his room, but I would likely run into him around the southern palace.
‘I need to ask if Queen returned safely.’
However, as soon as I left the palace, I discovered Prince Heinley leaning against a pillar and staring at the building.
He turned to me, omitting the greeting bow and immediately speaking.
“I answered wrongly yesterday. He doesn’t eat raw food.”
“Well, then I can give him cooked larvae—”
“He doesn’t eat that. He doesn’t eat insects at all.”
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