Several days ago, I promised Rivetti and several other young women that I would hold a tea party soon. I sent invitations to all the attendees that day in honor of my promise. I usually held a tea party for all the nobles in the vicinity at this time of the year, and so having Rivetti in attendance would not give reason for Sovieshu to become angry. Rashta was not a member of the nobility, so I did not invite her.
The day of the tea party, Rivetti was lightly teased for having dressed up as if she were going to a ball, but she generally got along well with the other nobles. The atmosphere of the party was bright and pleasant throughout.
When the party ended and most of the other nobles left, I suggested that Rivetti take a walk with me.
Rivetti voice trembled, and she hurriedly joined my side with a delighted cry. We walked the promenade beginning in the western palace and leading towards the Silver Garden. I did not ask her about Rashta or the Rimwell estate. If Viscount Roteschu had given Rivetti any advanced warning, I wouldn't want to raise their guard.
"I-I have a portrait of you, Your Majesty."
"A portrait of me? Really?"
"Yes. I…I bought it."
"They sell those kinds of things?"
"They're very popular. I have them all assorted by type."
"If you bought them by type, then there's more than one?"
Her cheeks turned pink and embarrassed tears threatened to spill over her eyes.
"Do you really have thirty portraits of me?"
Rivetti nodded and flushed to the tip of her ears.
"I'm not a freak."
"I didn't think you were."
Rivetti's shoulders drooped in relief and she burst into a giggle. However, she still looked like she regretted making her embarrassing confession.
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"Don't cry because you think you're strange, hmm?"
"There are still tears. Are you sure you're alright?"
"Yes…it's just that I don't think the portrait is as wonderful as the Empress."
As we were strolling down the pathway, I saw Rashta emerge from the southern palace. Next to her was Duke Elgy. She wasn't too far away, and our eyes met.
Rivetti's good mood darkened as soon as she saw Rashta. Rivetti noticed me looking at her and hastily rearranged her face into something more pleasant, but I had already seen the hostility in her eye. She would survive well in high society.
Rashta and Duke Elgy approached the both of us.
"I didn't expect to see you again, Your Majesty."
Duke Elgy flashed a smile, and then glanced at Rivetti next to me. She flinched under his sharp eyes and leaned in closer to me.
"Who is this cute young lady beside you, Your Majesty?"
Duke Elgy looked at me with a beaming smile. It didn't seem like a compliment that was made with good intentions.
Meanwhile, Rashta stared at Rivetti with open displeasure. I was about to introduce Rivetti as "Viscount Roteschu's daughter," but when I saw Rashta's face, I changed my mind. I remembered what the concubine had wanted to call me before.
"She's a new young lady here."
I deliberately praised Rivetti, then gave her my sweetest, gentlest smile.
"I like her so much I wish she could be my younger sister."
Rivetti had been glaring at Rashta, but then she jumped and blushed when I called her my sister.
Rivetti spoke in stunned awe. My smile broadened.
"If it's not too much of a burden, would you ever call me your sister?"
Rivetti's eyes widened as thoughts of Rashta were completely forgotten her mind. Rivetti's reaction really was cute. I adjusted her cape and rubbed her shoulders in a familiar manner.
Though my actions were deliberate, Rashta looked much more hurt than I expected. On the contrary, I was inwardly taken aback by it.
'The relationship between Rashta and Rivetti might be much worse than I thought…'
That night, Rashta complained to Sovieshu that no one had come to her tea party except for Duke Elgy, and all the other nobles had gone to the Empress' party instead.
"You should have held it another day."
Sovieshu thought it was strange, but he hugged Rashta in sympathy.
"Rashta didn't know that no one would come."
"If someone received an invitation from both you and the Empress, they would go to the Empress' party of course."
"I don't think she invited every single noble."
Rashta puffed her cheeks and pouted. Although Duke Elgy had told her that no one would come, she had assumed that at least one or two of the nobles that didn't receive an invitation from the Empress would have arrived. But even those who were not invited by the Empress did not come to her party. According to Duke Elgy, they did not want to appear to be in conflict with the Empress. And yet, the wounds left on Rashta's heart did not go away.
And then, there was Rivetti. How could that hateful and wretched Rivetti be treated like a cute little sister by the Empress…?
"Don't worry about too much about it. Duke Elgy is worth ten men."
"Does the Empress hate Rashta a lot?"
"The Empress is…is like wood."
"She is indifferent to her own feelings, much less other people's."