Chapter 88 – It’s Darkest Before Dawn (1)
I thought I would be lonely after all my good friends left. The reality was rather the opposite; Sovieshu decided to hold a banquet in celebration of his first baby, and I was busier than before.
“You mustn’t go.”
Laura shook with anger.
“Even if it’s with a group, or close friends, you shouldn’t attend.”
There were different obligations between attending a banquet versus a large ball, but if I didn’t come to celebrate Sovieshu’s baby, I may end up hurting Sovieshu. I didn’t want to ask my friends to make me feel better.
My face was of forced calm, but irritation bubbled beneath the surface. I didn’t want to smile while everyone celebrated Rashta and the Emperor, nor did I want to have to feign ignorance when people stared at me. However, the banquet was already scheduled, and I could not back out.
Four days after Sovieshu decided on the banquet, I walked around the palace mechanically, giving instructions. Eventually I stole away and hid myself away at a secluded bench. I sat there, suppressing the anger that was mounting in me.
Four days ago, it was Sovieshu’s secretary that told me there would be a banquet for the first child. Sovieshu had the wisdom to have his secretary deliver me the news, and then he went on an inspection trip to another province. I hadn’t seen him since. With my current mood, there was a chance I would step on his foot as soon as I saw him.
I sat there alone, when I became aware of the sound of approaching footsteps. I didn’t want to lift my head, so I lifted my hand to shade my eyes. It would likely be a government official, a court official or a knight anyway. They would turn around or pass.
However, the footsteps halted in front of me. I lowered my hand and raised my head.
It was Sovieshu. He must have just arrived back from his inspection, as he was wearing a dark brown travelling cloak and his hair was unkempt. Our eyes met, and he spoke with a slight frown.
“Are you feeling unwell?”
I could hear voices instructing servants to unload luggage not far away. There was also the mingling of other voices that were difficult to make out.
“I’m fine. You just arrived?”
“Yes…but are you really alright?”
I had imagined stepping on his foot before he came here. Now I wondered what to do now that he was right in front of me. It was difficult for me to stay in his presence, so I stood up from the bench and smoothed out the rumpled skirt of my dress.
“You must be tired, so go get some rest today.”
I gave him a perfunctory smile and turned around. However, Sovieshu repeated himself once again.
“Are you really alright?”
The question was the same, but this time the nuances were strange. When I turned around, he was sending me a dark gaze as if he were trying to figure out my thoughts. I looked at him suspiciously. I didn’t think he was asking me this question because he saw my sagging figure on the bench.
I smiled, pretending not to know. Sovieshu, however, decided to be blunt.
“By any chance, do you dislike me holding a banquet welcoming the baby?”
It was an embarrassingly forward question. He looked at me straight in the eyes.
If he asked this as soon as he arrived, did he really need to bother asking? In any case, I answered honestly.
“I don’t want to attend, but since I have to host it, I’m sure I’ll dislike it all the more.”
“The empress is still so cold. No affection at all.”
“The same is true of you, Your Majesty, who knows that I’d hate to organize the banquet, but still instructed me to do so.”
Sovieshu sighed and pressed his temples. It was clear what kind of woman he thought I was. I’m sure he thought of me as frigid and cruel.
“…Do you have any idea why I’m holding this banquet?”
“Do I need to know?”
It was easy to guess why. He wanted to show off Rashta. He was happy to have his first child. Or he wanted to hurt my feelings. Or perhaps it was all three.
“You said it before. Rashta’s baby is not officially part of the Imperial family.”
“Perhaps one day, they will be forgotten in history, as you said. But at least when we are alive, people will think of the baby as the firstborn of the emperor.”
“And you asked me to prepare a banquet to admit it?”
“Whether you admit it or not, it is what it is.”
I pressed my lips tightly and looked sideways, avoiding his eyes. I was afraid I would lose if I didn’t look away. My neck was stretched and my jaw clenched to keep my face impassive.
“The baby…maybe it can be your baby as well. I hope you won’t hate it even before it’s born.”
My forehead creased at Sovieshu’s words. Why was he speaking about this? Why would Rashta’s baby be my baby? I looked at him in incredulity. Sovieshu stared back at me with his dark eyes.
“Do you understand what I mean?”
“You’re asking too much of me.”
As soon as I snapped, Sovieshu sighed and turned away from me with heavy footsteps. After walking a few paces, he carefully opened his mouth to speak.
“We have been married for a long time.”
Why was he talking about that now? I stared at him guardedly. I didn’t know what he would say, but I had an ominous feeling.
“We don’t have a baby yet.”
“Of course we’re both young, and so we may have one someday. But…”
His face grew darker.
“It may not happen.”
“It didn’t happen when you were younger and healthier than you are now.”
I stared at him in shock. Sovieshu looked more uncomfortable when he spoke, too. The sight made my heart thud stronger in my chest.
“So what you mean is…”
I tried to keep my voice as level I could, but it trembled.
“If we don’t have a baby, Rashta’s baby may be recognized as a part of the Imperial family?”
“I’m talking about the worst case. And if it is, don’t hate a baby who’s not yet born.”
“The more you say it, the more I dislike it.”
“It could be a good child.”
“Considering who it takes after?”
“….Are you implying that Rashta or I have bad personalities?”
“Whoever it takes after, the baby won’t like me. And I won’t like it.”
After saying my words, I gave a quick bow and turned my heel and left. Sovieshu called me from behind, but I didn’t look back. Somewhere in my heart, smoke clouded up in me. It burned my nose and made my eyes feel numb. There was a buzzing sensation in my brain.
When I returned to the central palace, I went back to work as mechanically as possible. I needed Queen’s warmth. I needed Queen more than ever.