Koshar snorted at the bandit.
"What kind of scam is this?"
"So, is the king trying to get me to invest in something? Did he say there was a good prospect somewhere?"
The man cried out in dismay and pointed to the symbol of the Western Kingdom on his chest.
"Look at this! It's real."
Koshar studied the crest for a moment and nodded, and the man's face turned to relief. However, just because the symbol was real, didn't mean that Koshar cared that the Western King was trying to find him. He spoke bluntly.
"I won't answer a summons from the Western King. Even if it's about anything related to my sister."
Koshar still did not look believing. The man grunted frustratedly to himself, but he knew Koshar's reaction was understandable. How many foreigners would follow if he told them that a neighboring king was looking for them? Perhaps if it was done in a more formal manner, it would have been more believable. However, the man had to travel quickly and secretly, and thus his appearance was more than questionable. Still, Koshar was known for his muscles rather than his brain, and the man never expected he would react like that…!
Koshar snorted and tugged his reins. In the end, he did not leave but stared at the man expectantly. When the man looked at him in confusion, Koshar responded.
"Well? Shouldn't you guide me?"
The man didn't think Koshar would come along, so why all of a sudden…? He stared in bewilderment, but Koshar did not bother explaining himself.
"Go. Lead me."
The man started and walked ahead.
"Come this way."
However, Koshar did not intend to see the Western King meekly. He recalled the rumors that the Western King had fallen head over heels in love with Rashta at the New Year's celebration. When Koshar had gathered information to find Rashta's weakness, he heard that Heinley's love was to the extent that he argued publicly with Emperor Sovieshu.
Koshar did not trust King Heinley. No matter how much he thought about it, there was no reason for the Western King to call him. However, Koshar was expelled from his country, and he had no work and no rights. So he followed along. If the Western King really summoned him…
He was going to persuade the king to take him to Rashta.
* * *
Rashta stared at the bird's blue feathers. She didn't know what species it was, but she felt an air of nobility around it. However, this was not the time to admire the bird's appearance.
Rashta murmured and reached for the bird. She gripped a handful of its feathers, before taking a deep breath and yanking them out. The bird screeched and fluttered in surprise, but the cage prevented any means of escape.
Rashta reached out again and pulled out more of its feathers, and the bird cried out and pecked her hand with its beak. She jerked her hand backward.
The bird gave Rashta a dark glare. If she put her hand in the cage again, she really might get hurt. Rashta pulled away as she had enough feathers anyway, and she brushed the feathers off the floor and hid them in a pillowcase.
Rashta once again apologized to the bird.
Despite her guilt, she was determined to protect herself and her baby. Although the Empress' violent brother was banished, the rest of her family remained. Apart from Sovieshu's promise to make Rashta empress, she had to secure her own safety by any means necessary.
Even if it meant that she had to do a terrible thing.
'How was I driven this far?'
This was all because of the Empress' hostility. If the Empress and her brother had not attacked her first, Rashta was convinced that she would not have done this.
She sat down in an armchair, placed her hand on her belly, and sobbed.
A few hours later the sky had darkened, and when Sovieshu entered the room, she was still crying. Sovieshu looked exhausted when he walked in, but when he saw Rashta, he immediately became alert.
"Why are you crying?"
Rashta pointed towards the cage. Sovieshu's eyebrows flew upward when he saw the missing feathers on the bird.
"Why is it in this state? No, why do you have this bird?"
"The Empress sent the bird back, and Delise took it and gave it to Rashta."
"Why are its feathers like this?"
Sovieshu walked up to the cage, examined the wound, and pressed his lips tightly as if he were trying to quell his anger.
"Rashta doesn't know."
She shook her head, sniffling. She was sorry for the way the bird was glaring at her, but she thought she could repay it and raise it for herself.
Rashta put her hands together in a begging gesture.
"Your Majesty, now that the Empress has abandoned the bird, can Rashta keep it?"
Sovieshu stared at the bird without a reply. He was deeply offended that his present was returned this way. Rashta begged him again, wiping away her tears.
"Your Majesty. Rashta wants to take care of it. It's so pitiful."
Sovieshu looked back at Rashta and gave a weary sigh.
"Why do you want a bird that someone else has abandoned? I'll buy you a new one."
"This creature has a life too. How can you throw it away?"
"Who said I will throw it away?"
"Huh? You won't?"
"I will raise it."
"Why will you keep the bird that Her Majesty has abandoned?"
Rashta looked at him nervously. His reaction did not make sense. She didn't expect him to raise a bird himself. The Emperor was a proud man, and he was supposed to be furious that the Empress ruined and rejected his gift. The Emperor wasn't as angry as he should be. Was it because he still had feelings for the Empress? He said he was going to unseat her. Did he change his mind?
If Rashta had been able to read Sovieshu's mind, she would have been relieved instead of anxious. Sovieshu was indeed angry. The Empress had fainted because Prince Heinley's bird had died, and then she had plucked the feathers out of the bird he had sent her. He wanted to confront the Empress and ask what she was doing. It was true that during the hours that the Empress was unconscious, Sovieshu suffered a fear as if he were submerged in ice water. He was afraid that she would collapse again. However, the anger that had lost its way in his body had reignited again.
Without a word, Sovieshu took the cage and left Rashta's room.
* * *
Sovieshu's anger was not resolved the next day, and he ended blowing up on Marquis Karl.
The chief secretary had come into the office holding a new report on "Loss of Mana in Mages," and he was surprised when he saw Sovieshu crossing his arms and wearing a terrifying look.
Sovieshu's expression was so abnormal that the marquis instinctively shrank.
"What is it? Did something happen?"
'But your face is…'
Marquis Karl presented his report while looking into Sovieshu's eyes. The Emperor took the documents with one hand and glanced at it quickly, but his expression did not improve at all once he saw the nature of its contents. Marquis Karl surreptitiously tried to leave the room when Sovieshu called out to him.
"Did you find the certificate of sale yet?"
"Certificate? Ah yes, Rashta's slave certificate…"
"You haven't forgotten, have you?"
Marquis Karl sighed.
"As you know, we found nothing on the Empress or her brother."
"So you dropped it?"
"No. Afterwards, I remembered what Lord Koshar said, and checked the knights' quarters."
Marquis Karl's face grew darker.
"But it hasn't been found."
A certificate of sale did exist. It was confirmed by Viscount Roteschu, Lord Koshar, and the company that Roteschu had entrusted it to. But Sovieshu hadn't even seen a shred of that paper yet! Why did he even plan to divorce the Empress?
The uncertainty would never go away unless the sale certificate was completely destroyed, but it was nowhere to be found even after searching every place they could search. As Emperor, he could use his power to search every single citizen's home in the empire, but giving such an order was tantamount to promoting the existence of such a certificate.
Sovieshu sighed and pressed his fingers against his throbbing temples. He pursed his lips and stared at the wall, but he couldn't come up with anything.
"I don't have much time. I'm going crazy."
He needed to finish the divorce and remarriage before Rashta had a baby. The Empress would not go down meekly. His anxiety only grew when he calculated the time he had left for his plan.
"We need to find the certificate quickly and destroy it…"
Marquis Karl just stood there in silence. Meanwhile, Sovieshu murmured to himself as he stewed in his thoughts.
"I didn't want to use the blindfold method…"
"If I can't get rid of the trade certificate, then it can't be helped."
"What are you talking about, Your Majesty?"
"I should use the method that previous emperors often use with their concubines."
Marquis Karl understood immediately.
"You want to wash Rashta's identity?!"
"Yes. If the certificate of sale comes along, this is the only way to dispute it."
Sovieshu's voice was harsh with irritation.
"Bring me the right person from fallen nobility. It would be best if they were a little older. It doesn't matter if they're a couple, or just a man or a woman."
A frequent method used to change a concubine's status was to have a fake marriage with another noble. However, because Sovieshu had to marry Rashta within a year, he could not take the course of action.
"Yes, Your Majesty "
"As soon as possible."
Marquis Karl bowed and left the room, and Sovieshu leaned back in his chair and closed his heavy eyelids. He was still angry about the blue bird. Empress Navier's pale face kept hovering before him. If he wanted to divorce her…
Marquis Karl bowed and left the room, and Sovieshu leaned back in his chair and closed his heavy eyelids. He was still angry about the blue bird. Empress Navier's pale face kept hovering before him. Trying to make this divorce happen caused many surprises.
Simply thinking about it made him feel uneasy.
* * *
After my anger at Sovieshu sending the bird died down, thoughts of McKenna and the blue bird came back to my mind. After giving it some thought, I decided to go to Duke Elgy and ask him myself.
'I wonder what McKenna's condition is…'
I went to the southern palace and tapped on Duke Elgy's door. There was no response. When I knocked on the door again, a voice answered from right behind me.
It was a voice full of laughter. I turned around and saw Duke Elgy holding a handful of baby's breath flowers in his hands.
"Would you like it?"
I glanced at his smiling face as he held out the bouquet of flowers. Instead of accepting it, however, I asked him a question.
"It's fine. Is Sir McKenna inside?"
Instead of answering, Duke Elgy responded with his own nonsense.
"No one has ever rejected these. I'm embarrassed now."
Why was this man playing with me? I sighed and accepted the flowers in hope that he would answer me properly.
"You receive flowers with a sigh now? Wow. This is the first time I've ever been this embarrassed."
"Very peculiar person."
"Just like a knife."
Was he joking with me? I tilted my head at him, and he stared at me and laughed. He answered with a wicked smile.
"You stimulate the spirit of a challenge, you know?"
"Is this why Heinley is attracted to Her Majesty?"
"McKenna mustn't be here."
If he were actually in the room, he would have come out as to not be troublesome.
I handed back Duke Elgy the flowers instead of exchanging more words with him. Somehow my hands were full of energy, but I tried to not express them. Duke Elgy held the bouquet of flowers, but as I turned around and walked, he kept following me and babbling.
"McKenna wasn't as badly hurt as he appeared, so he went back."
"I wish you had told me earlier."
Why is this man so slippery? I wondered what Duke Elgy's and Rashta's conversations were like. Rashta would say, "Rashta, Rashta,", and Duke Elgy would say whatever he wanted. Would their conversation ever progress? I wondered about it.
However, I had another inquiry. It was about the reason why McKenna was here in the first place…but if he was gone, could I ask Duke Elgy instead?
"I'd like to ask you a question."
"Is McKenna a bird?"
If McKenna was the blue bird as I expected, then Duke Elgy would know it too. Laura said that he had picked up the blue bird from the garden. The duke answered with a giggle.
"Well. He's close to it, but not."
"Then, is he a part of the Bird Headed Tribe?"
The tribal name sounded like a swear word, so I spoke with a serious expression as I could. The duke suddenly threw back his head and burst into laughter. It was so loud that I looked around in embarrassment. After a time, his laughter finally died down.
"What kind of new insult is that?"
I was embarrassed, so I spoke in a roundabout way and left.
* * *
After Empress Navier disappeared, Duke Elgy smiled to himself by the walled fence. He found it amusing the way the Empress said: "Bird Headed Tribe" with her distinctive cold expression. Why was Heinley attracted to people who were so plain and uninteresting? Was it her appearance that he liked?
Duke Elgy shook his head. He couldn't believe that the Empress had already taken a legend so seriously. He murmured to himself, remembering the way she calmly asked about the lost tribe.
"She's quick on the uptake."