Chapter 66 – Slush Fund (1)
After completing my mission at Wirwol, I stayed for another day before leaving early in the morning for the Imperial Palace. It was evening when I finally arrived.
“I’ve added rose-scented bath salts to help relieve your fatigue, Your Majesty.”
To my gratitude, Countess Eliza had timed the preparation of my bath with my arrival. I dipped my foot into the hot water, then felt a tingling sensation as I gradually submerged myself.
“How was your trip to Wirwol, Your Majesty?”
“It was quite enjoyable.”
“Thank goodness. I was worried because it was such a short schedule.”
“What happened here while I was gone?”
My muscles slackened in the warm water and I began to feel drowsy. Countess Eliza poured water over my shoulders as I tried to chase away sleep, but my eyelids felt heavy.
“Oh…don’t even ask. It was very noisy.”
“Duchess Tuania and a young noblewoman fought. There was even hair-pulling involved.”
Any thought of sleep shattered as I turned around in amazement. I was wide awake. Who fought with who? Hair-pulling?
“Duke Elgy rented an entire opera house and held a surprise party. Almost every important socialite went.”
“Was Duchess Tuania invited? ”
“Yes. But during the party, I saw the Duchess Tuania and Duke Elgy talking with each other on the balcony.”
I remembered their previous conflict at Duchess Tuania’s tea party. Did Duke Elgy apologize to her?
“They were the most popular man and woman, and everyone was wondering what they were talking about. The first person who left the balcony was Duke Elgy.”
“Was Miss Rashta around?”
Laura cut into the conversation.
“Rashta was invited, but she was talking to Grand Duke Lilteang at the time.”
Most of my ladies-in-waiting seemed to have been there. Countess Eliza sighed heavily and continued.
“Then, someone asked Duke Elgy how attractive he thought Duchess Tuania was.”
“Did he say anything negative?”
“I heard him say he could see why so many men fell in love with the duchess.”
“I don’t know what happened afterwards. Later, there was a commotion when Duchess Tuania had slapped Duke Elgy on the cheek. In front of so many people, too.”
Laura was pacing as if she was impatient to speak, and eagerly jumped in again.
“It was a frenzy from there! Duchess Tuania slapped Duke Elgy’s cheek like this. Pak! Then Duke’s Elgy face twisted back. Suddenly, a woman ran over and pulled Duchess Tuania’s hair from behind!”
What on earth…? I looked up at Laura and she quickly explained.
“She was one of Duke Elgy’s former lovers. She was chasing him after their separation.”
“She was ordered to leave the capital yesterday.”
“Does anyone know why the Duchess Tuania hit Duke Elgy?”
So no one knew why, but that would mean only more people would talk about it.
“Don’t worry too much, Your Majesty. Over two dozen of these incidents happen a year, right?”
“Everyone will gossip then move on to the next thing.”
I stirred my hands in the slightly cooled water. I checked the time, then got up twenty minutes later and pulled on a bathrobe.
Incidents like Duchess Tuania’s and Duke Elgy’s happened frequently in high society, and only the characters involved changed. As Empress, I could not step beyond the line of governmental authority, and I had no choice but to let the incident go. In any case, I would hurt the duchess’ pride if I mentioned it.
As I went out in my bathrobe, a lady-in-waiting brought me an iced tea.
I nodded as I accepted the cup, and glanced at the window habitually. To my surprise, I saw a familiar silhouette through the darkness.
The cup fell from my hand, and I quickly ran over to the window to open it. The bird hauled himself inside, exhausted.
“Queen, are you alright?”
He looked tired, as if he had traveled farther than usual. Did Prince Heinley take Queen to Wirwol? But if he did, he would’ve put the bird in his cage and brought him in his carriage…
Taking caring of Queen was my first priority, however, and I took him in my arms and sat on my bed.
“Drink this, Queen.”
Laura had brought cold water in a bowl, and Queen gulped it down greedily. As soon as he was refreshed, he flew up and circled the room three times.
“Are you alright now?”
Gladdened by his response, I stood up and approached him. I wanted to hug him for a long time and kiss his cute forehead. However, Queen, who usually stood as still a doll, dodged my touch.
He landed onto the table and peered at me strangely, as if he were worrying about something.
Queen? Is everything alright?”
I looked at him in concern. Queen tilted his head from side to side, gave what seemed to be a sigh, and came right near me. Then, he took my sleeve in his beak and tried to fly up.
For some reason, he wanted me to lift my hand. I obliged, but he kept trying to go upwards to the ceiling.
I tried to pull away my arm, but he kept flapping his wings until he finally fell back onto the ground in exhaustion. Never had I heard a bird pant so loudly, nor seen one sit with its legs stretched out in front of it. Were all the birds like this? He looked the image of a tired man. I reached out carefully to touch his head, and Queen closed his eyes and weakly rubbed his head against my palm.
“Queen, what’s wrong?”
“Ah! Queen, are you…”
“Are you trying to take me somewhere?”
I supposed so.
“Where do you want me to go? I’ll catch up if you fly ahead.”
I picked up the fallen bird and asked if I could kiss his forehead, but he did not reply. Instead, he checked his wings, like a man looking at his hands, then sighed and flew out the window.
‘What was he doing? Was he really trying to take me to Prince Heinley?’