Chapter 46 – Society’s Chewbone (1)
“Why did you call me?”
Prince Heinley turned to Rashta sternly, and her eyes drooped. She looked miserable.
“Don’t you have anything to say to me?”
Her voice quivered in meekness. McKenna understood why so many people fell in love with Rashta. There was something about her distress that aroused pity in the viewer’s heart.
Heinley’s voice was a flat monotone, however, and McKenna tutted warningly. Despite Rashta’s tarnished reputation, she was still highly favored by the Emperor. McKenna didn’t care what Heinley said about her behind the scenes, but the prince would have to be careful in front of her face…
Prince Heinley seemed to completely disregard that, however.
“Don’t you have anything to say to me? I think you do.”
Rashta’s large eyes glistened and filled with tears. McKenna knew what was coming. Prince Heinley could appear light and casual, but at the drop of a hat he could become cold and frightening. Prince Heinley’s frigid gaze intensified, and Rashta, who seemed intimidated, started to cry.
“You are a wonderful man.”
McKenna didn’t expect those words to leave her mouth. Rashta gazed at Prince Heinley with her dark eyes, not a trace of fear on her expression. On the contrary, she looked deeply moved. Who reacted to a cold attitude like that…?
McKenna’s eyebrows twisted in disbelief at her unusual behavior, and Prince Heinley, too, frowned in surprise. Rashta gave a sheepish smile as she wiped her eyes with one hand.
“I’m sorry. You must be embarrassed by Rashta’s sudden crying.”
“After the rumor spread, people began to treat Rashta horribly. They used to be sweet, but now they laugh and mock Rashta.”
She finished dabbing her tears with her sleeve, but as soon as she lowered her arm she choked up again.
“But Prince Heinley is the only one who treats Rashta the same way…of course we’re not on good terms, but Rashta was just touched…”
The urge to protect her strengthened even more when she was crying. Some nobles only treated other nobles with kindness, and looked down at people with lower status. It was likely those same people had terribly humiliated Rashta.
Despite the pitiable sight before him, Heinley continued to speak with cold formality. He seemed to have no opinion on her situation, and he checked his wristwatch and said, “Well, that’s enough,” then walked away without another word.
McKenna, feeling sorry for Rashta, smiled awkwardly at her and followed Prince Heinley.
“Your Highness, I know you’re on bad terms, but that was a little too cold, wasn’t it?”
“You want me to show courtesy to someone who tried to deceive me? Who accused me of being a liar?”
“I…yes. She did do that.”
What extraordinary talent. McKenna was certainly offended on Heinley’s behalf, but he had momentarily forgotten about it when he saw Rashta cry. He tilted his head in thought, while Prince Heinley turned back towards the Southern Palace.
“More importantly, when is Elgy coming? Did you deliver the letter?”
“I delivered it properly. But why did you call him all of a sudden?”
The excitement around New Year’s gradually cooled, and the palace officials roused themselves from their sluggish hangover and began to move around briskly again. I felt back on track as well. I went to the Central Palace, looked over my work, then had a lengthy conversation with the minister of foreign affairs for advice on a subject. To my surprise, he reported that Duke Elgy Klaudia, a royal family member of the Blue Bohean Empire, had requested to visit the palace.
“Duke Elgy Klaudia?”
I stared at the minister in bewilderment and he nodded.
“Did he come here as part of a delegation mission?”
“No, he said he stopped by for sightseeing.”
Foreign guests rarely visited a month or two after the New Year’s celebrations. There were no festivals at this time, and those who did stay past New Year’s did it so they wouldn’t have to visit again. Why would Duke Elgy Klaudia, who couldn’t attend the New Year’s celebrations on the account of being too busy, suddenly come now?
‘Ah, perhaps he came to see Prince Heinley?’
Duke Elgy Klaudia was known to be a close friend of the prince. So…a playboy friend. I wondered at this, but I signed the documents permitting his stay, and continued on with my work. I heard the name Duke Elgy again while having dinner with the ladies-in-waiting.
“Your Majesty, did you hear? Duke Elgy Klaudia came to the palace today.”
“Of course she knows, Laura.”
“Oh, I see. So you know too? Who Lord Elgy was with all day?”
I cut into my salad with a knife.
Laura snorted, “No.”
“He was with the slave, Rashta.”
Since Duke Elgy was Prince Heinley’s best friend, I thought he would avoid Rashta on principle. Laura continued on nervously.
“They didn’t just meet. They were together all day long. I heard they were very close to each other.”
Another lady-in-waiting, who was waiting for her turn in the conversation, followed Laura’s words quickly.
“Not just that. They were so close, they caused quite some trouble.”
What happened? I looked at her questioningly, and she shook her head and clicked her tongue.
“Duke Elgy and Rashta were walking together when they came across a noble. He said he knew Rashta was a runaway slave and insulted her for being with the duke. As soon as the noble finished speaking, Duke Elgy punched him.”
The table in Rashta’s drawing room was loaded with a diverse assortment of cakes—light pink strawberry cake, yellow banana cream cake, melon cake…
The desserts, tailored to Rashta’s taste, were created by the Emperor’s chef and were made to perfection in both appearance and taste. However, these dishes were not for Rashta today.
“Thank you for earlier, Duke.”
Rasta smiled and thanked Duke Elgy sitting opposite her. She was deeply grateful to him. Although Viscount Roteschu retracted his remarks about Rashta being an escaped slave within a day, everyone was reluctant to believe him. As she feared, Rashta quickly became estranged from the nobles. Her friends stopped visiting her, and the flow of gifts disappeared.
What was most upsetting, however, was the occasional glimpses she saw of their gazes. Some nobles showed contempt, others curiosity, some pity, and others vague interest.
But Duke Elgy was different from all of them. He treated her kindly, like when she was treated as an aristocrat during New Year’s. At first Rashta believed it was because Duke Elgy was ignorant about the rumors, but soon she saw with her own eyes that he didn’t care about it at all. He even threw his fist at the nobleman who taunted her. He was a royal, he was a duke, he was a beautiful man who surrounded himself with the love of women—and he punched someone for her. Rashta was flattered beyond measure, and so she invited him to enjoy her favorite food.
“Thank you. I only respond that way to rude people, by the way.”
“Well, as you may have heard, there are bad rumors going around about Rashta. They’re false, of course.”
“Does this always happen?”
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of. The ones who are rude are the ones who should be ashamed.”
“I suppose it happens a lot.”
Duke Elgy propped his arm against the chair arm and uttered a low swear word.
“That bastard. Saying you’re a slave in front of you. So what if you’re a slave? I should have thrashed his mouth more.”
“Those are scary words, Duke…”
“I originally came here to see a friend, but I’m glad I met you first. If I weren’t there, no one else would stand up to that ruffian.”
His friend was probably going crazy that he didn’t show up yet. He rubbed his eyes and wondered if he was concerned.
” He has a mean temper. ”
Duke Elgy was so different from the nobles Rashta met before. He seemed rough like a mercenary from a street bar, yet simultaneously had a sophisticated and noble air. She found it even more amusing to see the contrast of this muscular, big-mouthed noble eating dainty cakes. And he didn’t care if she was a slave…
Rashta especially liked him.
“Anyway, miss, let’s make it so it doesn’t happen in the future. There’s no way those ruffians will suddenly disappear.”
” You’d better take care of it as soon as possible. ”
“There’s no way to fix it. Viscount Roteschu spread those rumors himself, and people don’t believe him even when he says it’s false.”
“Pass it on to someone else. It’s faster than an explanation.”
Duke Elgy answered her bluntly and swallowed another bite of yellow cake.
“Pass it on?”
“The role as society’s chewbone. Shift it to someone else.”