Chapter 6 – The Empress’ Gift To The Concubine (1)
“The Emperor is going to take the woman as a concubine!”
It was a typical morning. It was neither cloudy or rainy, nor warmer or colder. Today was just like yesterday and the day before yesterday.
Unusual news came out of nowhere on this ordinary day.
“So the Empress is busy with the New Year’s preparations while the Emperor takes in a concubine.”
“That’s too much.”
“He should at least have waited until New Year’s was over.”
The ladies-in-waiting were complaining darkly among themselves.
I stared silently at myself in the mirror. I was prepared for Sovieshu to make her his concubine…but I didn’t realize it would happen so soon. Judging by the timing, the ceremony might officially happen just before New Year’s Day.
A sigh emerged from deep inside me, and I felt nauseous at the thought of everyone coming up to me on New Year’s Day to talk about it. And even if they did not speak about it to my face, I was sure to hear them whispering from behind. However, I could not ignore the fact that the Emperor was taking in a concubine no matter how much I disliked it.
“When is the ceremony?”
The ladies-in-waiting glanced at each other, and eventually it was Countess Eliza who answered.
“Rumor has it that he wants it to happen as soon as possible. He’ll want it done before the New Year.”
Around noontime, Sovieshu’s secretary came up to me again to deliver a message. It was about the concubine, and the other officials kept an eye on us in an effort to catch some gossip.
“The Emperor wants it to be simple, as there are other large events scheduled and time is tight.”
The Emperor’s concubines were not recognized as part of the Imperial Family, and their children were not recognized as prince or princess. The best that could happen was to earn favor and take the title of duke, but with no claim of succession.
Even so, it was possible for a concubine to carry the emperor’s child, and it was customary to hold a banquet. There would be no wedding ceremony, however. Instead, the concubine would be the center of the attention of the banquet, and would later sign a contract notarized by the chancellor.
“Is the Emperor saying to hold a simple banquet or omit it altogether?”
“It’s impossible to invite a large number of guests at such a short notice, so we’ll skip the banquet.”
“Is there anything I need to handle if there isn’t going to be a banquet?”
“There isn’t. His Majesty said you needn’t worry about it at all.”
As far as I knew, omitting the banquet was not unusual. The inside of the hall would still be decorated in honor of the concubine that day, but instead it would be a smaller affair to dine with the Emperor, invite the people that were close to them, and sign the contract documents.
But I needn’t worry about it? Was it out of Sovieshu’s pride or his consideration?
“Tell him I received his message.”
There was no harm to me. The secretary bowed and left. The other officials were staring at me, and when I glanced up, they hurriedly lowered their heads and pretended to go back to work.
‘Do not tremble in front of them.’
They would whisper if I showed any signs of hurt. Even though the concubine was nipping away at my life, I didn’t want them to think it was over just because my husband loved another woman.
Placing on an indifferent expression, I reviewed the plan again and advised them on the necessary revisions.
“The Emperor will sign the contract first. Then you sign on the thin black line below his name.”
Baron Lant, one of the Emperor’s secretaries, was put in charge in educating Rashta. When the Baron finished explaining the basic outline of the documents, Rashta’s eyes widened and she let out a small wail.
That was not usually a sound made by an aristocrat. Baron Lant stared at her for a moment, flustered, while tears streamed from Rashta’s eyes.
“I understand what you mean, but…Rashta has no signature.”
“You can make one.”
Rashta’s face turned red at the casual way he answered.
Baron Lant finally realized why Rashta was struggling.
“You don’t know how to write?”
When Baron Lant was assigned to Rashta, the Emperor had told him she was a commoner, and so he assumed that she had basic education. Perhaps the rumors were true that this beautiful prey the Emperor favored was indeed a runaway slave. There wasn’t much investment in teaching slaves how to read or write.
“I suppose you don’t know.”
He wanted to ask her if she was a slave, but he smiled, pretending not to know, and set down a blank sheet of paper in front of her. It would not be easy to teach her to write in a few days, but she could quickly learn how to draw her name.
“If you don’t know how to spell your name, I’ll write down several versions that sound like ‘Rashta,’ and you can choose one and memorize it.”
Fortunately, Rashta quickly mastered spelling. It should’ve been a frustrating task for someone who came from slavery, and Baron Lant was astonished.
“Am I doing alright?”
“You’re doing excellently.”
After praising her and receiving a smile in return, Baron Lant explained what she should expect from the signing ceremony.
“There will be a big banquet and all the nobles will be there. Miss Rashta can invite as many friends as she wants.”
“When the chancellor comes up to you and unfolds the government documents, you sign it.”
“The chancellor will keep it safe.”
Rashta stamped her feet in delight and let out a small squeal. Baron Lant watched her for a moment before adding another thing.
“This is not an obligation, but…”
“Sometimes the empress sends a gift to the emperor’s concubine when she signs the contract.”
“The empress is the master of the palace.”
“From the viewpoint of the master, a concubine is one that will live with them in the future. This means the concubine not only receives the emperor’s respect and acknowledgment, but the empress’ as well if she is given a gift. If there are several concubines, the ones that receive a gift from the empress are regarded as the top concubines.”
Rashta suddenly looked insecure.
“So Rashta will receive a gift from the Empress?”