Chapter 56 – Duchess Tuania (1)
The court doctor shifted the stethoscope with a serious expression, and fifteen minutes later he finally pulled away the cool metal instrument.
“How is he?”
“His fever is a little lower than yesterday.”
Everyone around made a sound of relief.
Sovieshu had collapsed after his fight with me, and while I did not think it was my fault, I was troubled. I could be relieved now as well.
“Thank you for coming immediately.”
“Not at all, Your Majesty. It is only my duty.”
After the doctor and everyone else filed out of the room, I pulled over a chair to Sovieshu’s bedside. He cracked open his eyes and fixed his gaze right on me, while I took a towel from a cold basin beside him, squeezed it, and placed it on his forehead. He flinched as soon as the towel touched his skin.
“I heard. I was awake when the doctor said that.”
“Let’s not waste this trip to the villa.”
I sighed as I remembered the sudden awkward kiss Sovieshu placed on me.
“Are you alright? You should take a break.”
He spoke brightly, but I could detect a note of tiredness. Nevertheless, I was happy he had more energy. I took the towel from his forehead, dipped it back in cold water, and placed it back on him.
Sovieshu groaned again and then murmured an apology.
“Your birthday was ruined because of me. I’m sorry.”
“We return here every year. Don’t mind about it.”
“I can’t help but mind.”
“There is next year’s birthday.”
“But your birthday is once this year…huu. Talking to the Empress is like…”
“Like talking to a colleague?”
Sovieshu pulled a face when I echoed his words.
“Do you know you’re being somewhat unkind?”
Somewhat unkind? It was outright derision, I thought.
“The doctor said you had to rest for a few more days. Shall I call in Rashta?”
Sovieshu stared at me as if he couldn’t believe what I said. I meant it this time. I knew he would rather have her take care of him than me. Of course, as I didn’t want the three of us to be together, I would return to the imperial palace if she came. Wasn’t this what Sovieshu wanted anyway? He only needed one person.
“Empress…are you being sarcastic?”
“Does it sound that way?”
I answered with a single word and looked down, while Sovieshu flicked his eyes sideways towards me.
“You don’t have to bring Rashta.”
“I don’t want you to be disappointed.”
“But isn’t this good for the Empress?”
Except whenever Rashta was upset, he always blamed me. On the other hand, if Rashta came here and I returned to the palace, it would actually be helpful. I had a lot of work to catch up to.
Instead of answering, I placed more ice in the bowl, then took the towel from his forehead and soaked it again. I placed the cold towel on the back of his neck, and he jumped and grabbed my wrist.
“Are you angry with me?”
“Alright. Stop glaring at me.”
He sighed, taking the towel off his neck and placing it on the quilt.
“Don’t call Rashta.”
Was that really alright with him? When I looked up, I saw Sovieshu’s eyelids drooping downwards.
“She’s beautiful and charming when she talks, but I’m not comfortable with that now. I have a headache….so I’d like it to stay quiet.”
Rashta would be upset. Ever since she became his concubine, she made sure to never be far away from Sovieshu.
I simply nodded and placed the cloth back on his forehead.
My suspicion that Rashta would be upset was right. After a week’s rest we returned to the imperial palace, and Rashta, who had been waiting in the garden, jumped inside the carriage before either of us could step out. Rashta locked Sovieshu into a fierce hug, while all she did for me was bow awkwardly. It was not unusual for a concubine to be seen by the empress, but her attitude was different, considering she had been overly friendly to me before. While she couldn’t bear being from Sovieshu, she seemed more concerned that he was alone with me.
She and Sovieshu seemed unwilling to detach themselves from each other, so I went to the Central Palace alone and ordered the officials to bring me all my work that I had put off.
Since then, daily life continued. I spent a little more time at the Central Palace catching up on a week’s worth of work, while Sovieshu lessened his overtime hours following the doctor’s advice. Rashta still clung to Duke Elgy during the day while taking care of Sovieshu at night. I sometimes ran into Prince Heinley while going out for walks, and Queen brought back letters now and then.
Ah, but there was one change. Sovieshu summoned me less to make outrageous accusations about Rashta. He’s gotten back on track with affairs concerning her, and there was less reason to make demands. Thankfully I didn’t run into her often anymore, and I naturally became less fatigued even though my work increased. My heart was still sorrowful when it came to Sovieshu, but after a few years like this, perhaps we could be like a normal royal couple.
We would live a moderately dull but peaceful life, without the worry of abandonment or renunciation.
The next time I saw Rashta again was at a tea party hosted by Duchess Tuania.
Adjacent to the Central Palace was a small mansion called the Crystal House. The exterior was not made of crystal, as the name suggested, but with glass arranged at various angles that made the entire house sparkle with light.
I heard that in the past, a concubine that was loved by the emperor lived here. Nowadays it was mainly lent to nobles for a day or two. It was the Crystal House that Duchess Tuania borrowed to host her tea party, and today I was able to finish my work early and join her.
“I was afraid you were too busy to come, Your Majesty.”
“Not at all.”
I greeted Duchess Tuania and sat down at a table in the garden. There was a selection of tea and coffee at the table, as well as a range of cookies, cakes, and other delicacies covered with glass lids. The atmosphere was turning ripe for greeting the noblemen and women.
“Oh dear. We must be late.”
A voice came from the garden entrance. I looked past a cake, and saw a man with wavy blond hair I had never seen before. Next to him was Rashta, who was being escorted by him.
‘Oh. Is that Duke Elgy?’
The man’s eyes fell on me.