Chapter 8 – The Issue Of A Lady-In-Waiting (1)
“Your Majesty, the Grand Duke Lilteang has sent you a gift of silk from a foreign land.”
The ladies-in-waiting had finished preparing me for the day earlier than usual, so I sat with them as I drank my breakfast coffee. In the meanwhile, Grand Duke Lilteang had sent a servant bearing a gift.
I looked up from my coffee cup and examined the item on the servant’s outstretched hands. It was a gorgeous blue silk cloth that shone like the scales of a cutlassfish.
I sighed and put down my coffee. The silk looked beautiful and expensive, but it was hard to accept it purely considering the intentions of the sender.
Prince Lilteang was Sovieshu’s uncle, and two years older than his nephew. Although he had no desire to be the emperor, he regularly bribed me and asked me for favors since I became the empress. If I accepted the gift, there was certain to be difficult demands attached to it.
“Thank you, but tell him that I cannot accept it because it would cause a misunderstanding.”
This had happened many times before, and the servant smiled awkwardly as if he expected my response. He murmured a respectful “Yes” and stepped back.
“The gentleman hasn’t gotten tired yet.”
When the door closed, Countess Eliza spoke her mind and the others burst into laughter. The atmosphere was peaceful again.
Quite unexpectedly, a second visitor was announced. I usually went to the Central Palace after breakfast every morning, so few visitors came here in the early hours. But two people in one morning? I allowed admittance of the visitor, although I remained curious.
Fortunately, the second visitor was not a servant of a noble who offered bribes, but an official who came to coordinate the day’s agenda. It was not a difficult task, and after exchanging a few words he left.
To my surprise, a third visitor appeared.
This time it was Rashta, who I thought I would rarely meet face-to-face.
I looked back at the guard in surprise. He bowed his head and answered “Yes” with a look of contempt. Countess Eliza clicked her tongue again.
“Why does she dare come here?”
The guard did not know; he only stood by the door and announced the arrival visitors. However, it seemed like he felt responsible telling me the news, and he had an embarrassed expression on his face. Countess Eliza turned to me anxiously.
“Will you let her in, Your Highness?”
Frankly, I did not want to meet her at all. Why should I be obligated to see someone that would only hurt my feelings? Someday, I may be able to laugh and talk with Sovieshu even if he has many beautiful concubines by his side. That time wasn’t now, however, and it was still difficult for me to treat Sovieshu’s lover in an easy manner.
“Let her in.”
Countess Eliza cried out in surprise.
I picked up the handle of the half-full cup of coffee. I did not want to see her, but Rashta was just a concubine, and Sovieshu’s first love…was it love? The first woman he loved. Sovieshu had been chilly towards me since she first appeared, and I did not want to fight with him again. Even if I could not love him passionately, I did not want to be hated by the Emperor. I could tolerate just this one visit.
“This our second time meeting, Your Majesty. I am Rashta.”
I didn’t know if she was pretending to neither know nor care about the incident Laura, but Rashta greeted me with a bright smile as soon as she came in.
Countess Eliza did not hide her displeasure and sat back in stony silence, while I schooled my facial muscles into something as neutral as possible. Fortunately, I had a great deal of practice in hiding my emotions in less than ideal situations.
” …Unlike before, I am sure you are his concubine. Congratulations.”
I gave a mechanical greeting…what was I supposed to say now? I thought over it for a moment and decided to go straight to the point.
“What brings you here?”
“What brings me here?”
“You and I are like sisters now, Your Majesty. Family.”
Countess Eliza was caught by surprise and choked on her cold coffee. She placed her hand in front of her mouth as she coughed and glared at Rashta. I was equally bewildered. What did I just hear? Sisters? Family?
“Because we have the same husband. ”
My smooth face almost cracked. I fought to keep down a twitching nerve. The concubine contract was just a contract, and concubines were not recognized as part of the Imperial Family. During the contract period a concubine could receive a favorable amount of wealth, but if the contract was not extended, she had to leave the Imperial Palace. The children born by the concubine were not considered princes or princesses, even if they were fathered by the emperor.
Yet now this girl considers us family just because we have the same husband? There were so many errors in that statement that I didn’t even know where to start. As I tamed my thoughts, Rashta gathered both of her hands together.
“May I call you sister?”
The air chilled around me. I pressed my lips down. This was the limit of my generosity.
Rashta’s expression dropped. She blinked her eyes and stared at me as if in fright, as if she never anticipated an answer like this. That was more amazing to me. She practically said, “Yes, let’s be sisters. I took away your husband, but can we get along?”
“Is it because you don’t like Rashta?”
Her large, doe-like eyes began to well with tears.
“It’s not a matter about hating you.”
Of course I hated her.
“You may have become the Emperor’s concubine, but are not my sister.”
I tried to explain this difficult truth with a smile, but Rashta only seemed to cry more. She must have thought I was ridiculing her. Smiling didn’t work, so I wiped it away and decided to end our meeting there.
After Rashta left, everyone in the room looked around in shock.
“Indeed…I really don’t know what to say about her.”
Countess Eliza was dumbfounded. And so were the other ladies-in-waiting. Most of them had never met an emperor’s concubine before, let alone one that called on the empress. With a frown, I turned to the oldest lady-in-waiting.
“Is that what a concubine is like?”
Although I had been in and out of the Imperial Palace since I was young, I had never met any of the previous emperor’s concubines while being educated in court. I hadn’t been old enough to debut in society yet, and so I had nothing to do with the concubines of the late emperor.
“Concubines rarely see the empress. It would only hurt each other’s feelings, and the concubines don’t want to be disliked by her.”
Maybe Sovieshu liked a character like Rashta. Countess Eliza sighed.
“She will need lady-in-waiting sooner or later. The Emperor says she is a commoner, but I am afraid she is not like a commoner at all. I wonder if any young woman would want to be the lady-in-waiting of the concubine…”