Chapter 42 – Iron Wall Defense (1)
Rashta felt certain her child was gone forever, but the viscount’s confident manner wracked her with doubt.
“And Rashta, think carefully. What would people think if I were to suddenly disappear after I said you were a runaway slave? Wouldn’t they say the Emperor was trying to hide something?”
Rashta was accustomed to listening to Roteschu speak as if he would trample her underfoot, but his voice suddenly took on a pleasing tone. She swallowed hard.
“Besides, one can’t live so innocently in the Imperial Palace. So much deception to do, how could you leave that kind of work to someone who doesn’t know your secret?”
“What do you mean?”
“You foolish creature, I’m saying you should direct that hostile glare towards someone else. I already know everything about you. In other words, I can perfectly be your hands and ears.”
“I don’t need someone like you!”
Viscount Roteschu tutted at her.
“Playing dress up doesn’t make you a lady, Rashta. Perhaps after a time you will be able to shake off the past and be accepted among the nobles, but by then, would you still be a concubine that the Emperor loves?”
Rashta’s eyes trembled.
“The Emperor says he only loves Rashta.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. Well, how should I say this—you haven’t forgotten my son, have you?”
Rashta bit her lip. The viscount’s son, who had whispered his vows of love to her, began to change as the birth of Rashta’s baby approached. He started out persistent and stubborn, but gradually exhausted himself.
After the baby died, Rashta had pleaded with him to run away together. Eventually he told her, I love you, but I don’t want to change my life for you.
– You looked like you were stuck in a mire, and I wished to save you from it. But I was wrong. You are the mire, and I can’t save you from it. Even any children born between use will be dragged into that mire, and trapped in it.
That miserable day. It wasn’t just the baby that Rashta lost.
Rashta clenched her fists, and blood began to seep from where her fingernails bit her flesh. Instead of stopping, Viscount Roteschu continued to run his blade-like tongue across Rashta’s wounds.
“The more you are loved by the Emperor, the more other poor, beautiful women will look at your situation and hope. To escape their mire, they’ll want to latch on to the Emperor as well.”
“Then what? Greedy nobles, foreign lords, and anyone interested in political collusion will send all kinds of beautiful women to the Emperor. And many of those women will have education and status.”
“You are not an empress, Rashta. If you lose the emperor’s love, you go back into slavery.”
“If that’s the case…it’s no use whether you help me or not.”
“No. It’s up to you and your ability to remain in his favor, but I can make sure no other concubine will come around or last.”
“First you have to let me in.”
Viscount Roteschu bent slightly at the waist and spoke in a low voice.
“If you help me and my family come to the center of power, I will play the role as your parent. Your child is my grandchild, and what is good for it is good for me. ”
The words would have sounded tempting to Rashta if it were not for the speaker. How could a man like him accept a slave as his daughter-in-law? Even a passing dog would laugh at them. It was clear that he only wanted to keep her close to him to leech from her.
Rashta’s expression didn’t change, and Viscount Roteschu chuckled.
“You don’t believe me. But you’ll know at a glance that your child looks like you.”
Rashta couldn’t speak, frozen as if she lost all function of her body. Viscount Roteschu stared at her and stood up with a satisfied smile.
“Think carefully. I will continue to pretend to be an idiot who can’t recognize faces, as His Majesty commanded.”
The New Year’s three-day celebrations came to an end, and most of the guests returned to their respective homes, save a few who requested to stay longer—including Prince Heinley. I reviewed and filled out the period of stay for the remaining guests, their secretaries, servants and knights. When I saw Prince Heinley’s leave date marked “undetermined,” I smiled reflexively.
I remembered he insisted that Queen did not eat raw food. Earlier I had consulted with an ornithologist and asked if there was a bird with such a diet, and recalled what he had said.
“A bird that doesn’t eat raw food? Do you mean it cooks its food? Such a bird would tip the academic world, Your Majesty.”
Perhaps Prince Heinley was not feeding Queen properly by mistake.
‘But Queen seemed to hate bugs.’
Maybe the person in charge of feeding Queen cut up the caterpillars? No wonder Queen was surprised to see a live one. Next time I would give that to him.
I encountered Prince Heinley on the way back from work, so I took a walk with him and told him about my plan. I wanted to inform him in case he might misunderstand and think I was trying to feed Queen some strange food.
After my explanation, the prince made a strange groaning noise.
“Prince? Are you okay?”
“Please…can you just give water?”
“Eastern birds and Western birds have different temperaments. Western birds eat cooked food.”
Was I supposed to believe that? I made a skeptical expression, and he looked at me imploringly.
“You can just pat his head. That’s enough.”
Did Prince Heinley not like other people feeding Queen? I once heard about a dog that didn’t eat anything other than what the owner gave. It could be the same with the bird. I smiled and nodded, wondering if I was being rude, though the tension in Prince Heinley’s face didn’t loosen.
“It’s fine. I’m sure feeding him is lovely, but he’s already lovely himself.”
“No…but I’m sorry anyway.”
He sighed and raked his hand through his blond hair.
“Just. There are a lot of constraints.”
“It’s the Queen’s birthday soon, isn’t it?”
“It’s his birthday?”
Prince Heinley burst out laughing, then corrected himself.
“I meant your birthday, Your Majesty.”
I smiled weakly. Large celebrations were usually held on the birthdays of the emperors and empresses, but mine was too close to New Year’s. Holding large parties in succession with one another could hurt public opinion and place a burden on the nobles. Since my childhood, my birthdays had been a more intimate affair of dinner with family and acquaintances. Prince Heinley didn’t know this, of course.
When I smiled awkwardly, he stopped walking and offered his own grin.
“I know the day, but I still don’t know what you would like.”
“You mean as a gift?”
“I’m your best friend. I want to spend that day with you, don’t you know?”
Before I could answer, I heard a rustling sound. Instead of answering Prince Heinley, I looked around and spotted someone I didn’t expect to see.
It was Sovieshu. Besides a single knight, he was walking alone. Sovieshu’s gaze landed on me and Prince Heinley.