Chapter 44 – An Unchanging Person (1)
To be honest, I was skeptical whether the strain between us could be relieved so quickly, but a rejection would only worsen our relationship.
I knew the rational answer was yes. An inharmonious relationship between the emperor and empress would reveal weakness to our enemies, and even if Sovieshu loved another woman, it was my duty to show everyone that I was on good terms with him.
However, the answer lodged itself in my throat. My pride was bruised. It was hard to not be affected by strong emotions when my husband loved another woman and took her as his concubine. Whenever Sovieshu and I had problems before it could be ignored, but that wasn’t the case anymore. Anyone with an ounce of wit knew that anytime we fought, it was about Rashta.
I forced a smile and nodded.
“I’m looking forward to it.”
When he heard my answer, Sovieshu smiled and lifted his arm again.
“Shall we walk together?”
We strolled the grounds wordlessly together. Our shoes echoed on the stone path, and the breeze flew pleasantly on our faces. In the past, I had taken many pleasant walks with Sovieshu and shared comfortable silences with him. Those days were all gone now…
I stopped myself from sighing, and Sovieshu broke the silence.
“Did you know that Grand Duke Kapmen is still here at the palace?”
I had looked over the relevant documents, of course, but why did he bring up Grand Duke Kapmen all of a sudden? I looked up, and Sovieshu explained.
“Kapmen wants to open diplomatic relations between Rypt and the Wol continent.”
Oh…is that what he’s here for?
“The officials have varying opinions as to whether it’s beneficial or not. The Hwa continent where Rypt is located is certainly exotic and appealing, but it’s too different from the Wol continent. Moreover, we’re too far away to significantly influence each other.”
“Efforts to establish trade would be a drain on the state coffers.”
“Exactly. There are so many things to discuss. What is the Empress’ opinion?”
“Grand Duke Kapmen graduated from the magical academy in Wirwol. Autonomous or not, it is clearly in Eastern Empire territory. Rypt may be too dissimilar in culture, but the grand duke has spent many years in this Empire and must have given thought to it more than anyone else. The Eastern Empire is in a relatively good position to open diplomatic relations, so there is no reason to miss this opportunity.”
Sovieshu frequently consulted me on various issues, and I naturally replied. He nodded in agreement. Instead of commenting on my answer, however, he slightly shifted topics.
“Have you ever had a private conversation with Grand Duke Kapmen?”
Grand Duke Kapmen. He criticized me for not dealing with Rashta properly. Should that be called a conversation?
Alright, I’ll call it a conversation. Sovieshu spoke again.
“Kapmen said if we were to open diplomatic relations with Rypt, he would like the Empress to be involved.”
“Grand Duke Kapmen?”
Sovieshu seemed to wonder what kind of words Kapmen and I shared, but I did as well. Why did Kapmen criticize me?
“He said he wants you in the next meeting.”
After a conversation that started with my birthday and ended with Kapmen, Sovieshu returned to the Eastern Palace, while I strolled around more by myself. However, thoughts of Kapmen and my birthday felt distant.
Frankly…I was skeptical. Would Rashta, the one who wanted to attend a special banquet for only twenty people, passively let me and Sovieshu leave for the villa alone? Well…there was a high probability that there would be three of us there instead of two, and I would be completely stressed out.
I sighed as I approached a fountain, when I spotted Prince Heinley. I halted in surprise. He was exactly at the place I left him. I thought he would have gone for a walk or gone back to his quarters, so what was he still doing here?
Had Prince Heinley sensed my feelings? He turned his head and smiled.
“Why haven’t you gone yet?”
I approached him where he was sitting by the fountain and splashing the water with one hand.
“Hmm…can I tell you the truth?”
He pulled his hand out of the water and smiled softly.
“I was waiting for you to come back.”
“When one gets lost, one should remain where they are.”
“You don’t know the way?”
I pulled out a handkerchief and offered it to him with a smile. He took it and dried his hand, then tucked the handkerchief away.
He gave a chuckle as I reached out my hand in embarrassment.
“Don’t worry. I’ll give it back to you after I wash it.”
“But this way we can see each other again, right?”
He gave an easy smile, and I nodded at his playful tone. At the same time, I remembered what he said a few hours ago.
“Prince Heinley. About my birthday.”
He said he was here for my birthday, though I didn’t think that was entirely true. He did seem to want to spend time with me, and I felt sorry and wanted his understanding.
“I don’t think we can spend time and have a meal together.”
“The Emperor wants to go to the royal villa. Just him and me.”
His lips parted and he blinked dazedly, until he murmured “Yes, I see.”
“No, it’s your birthday, and you needn’t feel sorry for me.”
“Please, don’t be sorry. I don’t want to put pressure on you.”
“You must be feeling a lot of pressure…”
Sir McKenna stared awkwardly at the scene before him. Spread before him were various jeweled rings, prized possessions associated with various legends. Prince Heinley usually carried them in an enchanted pouch, but now he had taken them all out to examine each one. He was going to give one of these precious rings as a gift to the empress of another country. McKenna couldn’t help but be perplexed.
“Why are you giving a ring all of a sudden?”
“How do you know that again? …And isn’t the gift too much? The Eastern Empire may be prestigious, but so is the Western Kingdom. There isn’t a wide enough gap between the countries for you to offer such a tribute.”
Prince Heinley put the jewels back in his pouch.
“I’ll choose when you’re not around. You’re a nag.”
He pulled out a handkerchief instead.
“Can’t you see? It’s a precious handkerchief.”
The prince then transformed into a bird, holding the handkerchief in his beak and flying in front of McKenna. The prince pointed a claw at his neck.
“You want me to tie it there?”
McKenna fastened the handkerchief to the bird’s neck, and he was rewarded with a feathery smack of a tail. Prince Heinley then flew out the window, and McKenna frowned as he watched him disappear.
The handkerchief appeared to have been embroidered with the letter “N”…
“Is Prince Heinley’s letter acquaintance Empress Navier?”