Chapter 39 ∞ Eavesdrop
I didn’t realize I fell asleep again until I woke up feeling much better. It was already a bit dark out when I came to. The sun had long since started to retreat, leaving a fresh trail of orange and purple wisps. Kora had left the windows open and it let that really refreshing albeit cold breeze wafting through.
I peered at my hands and found leftover stuff from the thing that Kora had rubbed onto my palms. I ran my hands down my clothes instinctively, but the green tint persisted. Perhaps I would have to wash my hands later.
I shook the covers off of me as I rubbed the crusts out of my eyes. I felt my stomach protest loudly. Ever since this morning, I haven’t had anything to eat and, for my always-snacking self, this wasn’t a good thing.
The halls were vacant when I left the room so I naturally went around to look for everyone. I reckoned they were in the kitchen having dinner because I could smell the food all the way where I was standing. Yawning, I trudged my way to the kitchen and was about to take the turn to the right corner when I heard voices coming from the other direction.
“Lady Lamia, I’m sorry I came over in a rush,” someone said.
I frowned and squinted, trying to pinpoint where I had heard this voice before. Stopping short, I made sure not to make any noise.
“Come to my study. What news do you bring?” my mistress replied. I heard a door open as she spoke and quickly shut close, leaving the hall in still silence once more.
I peeked out from around the corner and curiously made my way over. This was Mistress Lamia’s study. The discussion they were probably going to have was most likely very serious. I stood before it and debated whether I should listen in on the conversation or not. A part of me knew it was wrong, but my curiosity ate up all reason and I found myself with my ear flat on the wood. I had already sunk on my knees, trying to find a good spot to eavesdrop. It was no easy feat trying to hear through the door after all, so I gravitated closer to the crack beneath to listen in.
“Although the loophole you found in the system worked in our favor, we can no longer keep using the safehouse and protection card to keep Erenol in your care. They’ve already brought forward a framed culprit to account for the attempt on the princess’s life, which means I will have to return her to the Glass Palace within three days.”
“A framed culprit to account for the attempt?” Mistress Lamia replied. “So you found who it was who ordered it?”
He sighed. “It was quite easy. It’s the Concubine Learr. After looking into the matter, it seemed Erenol’s mother was poisoned by her as well—gradually, over the years, I reckon. They used an old, exiled concubine as fodder. She’s quite cunning.”
“I see. I expected it,” Lamia said with a pause. “Noble Consort Areina was in good health when she entered the royal harem and shortly fell ill after only within a year of her stay. It is perfectly viable that only the closest one to her would do it. While I had my doubts, I still cannot believe how vile that woman’s guts must be for her to have poisoned her own sister.”
“I’m quite surprised you know of these affairs so closely—it’s as if you’re in the palace yourself. It seems you could have found out about this on your own.”
“You overestimate me, Leiran. No matter how extensive the ears I have, it will never trump someone whose feet walk in those cold walls every day.”
My mind whirred to process the information it just picked up. Basically, Learr, was the sister of Erenol’s mother, Areina, who was also responsible for the attempt at Erenol’s life as well as her mother’s death? Wait. There was such a thing?
“I have no choice. I will have to pull out my other card,” Lamia continued. There was a shuffle and movement. Something solid was placed on a table, perhaps, and it was pulled open and shifted in its place. “Use this to shift things in the palace affairs. It should be enough to move around a few pieces. I will keep Erenol a little bit longer under my care to prepare her and have her take the qualifying examinations in the coming opening of the War College very soon. It’s all I can do to protect her.”
“Th—this is…Lady Lamia, how do you have this?” I could paint Captain Leiran’s confusion and shock in my mind very clearly. Although that man could be very stoic at times, he was never quite stiff towards my mother or me at all.
“You didn’t know? I thought the emperor told you everything,” Lamia said.
“I didn’t expect he would…This is an imperial seal! Even the empress has never had the privilege of holding one of these!”
“No one can know I have this,” she stated firmly.
There was silence on the part of Leiran.
“Otherwise, I’ll be biting off more than I can chew. I won’t put it past the empress or the other concubines to do everything in their power just so they can take this seal from me. I already have enough on my plate as it is.”
“Of course,” he replied. “He gave you this…yet none of his wives ever had the privilege. That is a little baffling to me.”
“Because I’m not a wife,” Lamia replied.
“With this seal, you could have entered the palace and easily become the empress. You can be the mother of the nation.”
“Leiran, not everything is about position and power,” Lamia replied. “I don’t prefer to live in a battlefield or be pitted against the people I should be working with. I’d rather spend my life in the outside looking in than spend it being caged inside. Besides, anyone who attaches themselves to the crown or steps into the palace cannot be trusted. That place turns everyone into a savage. If I did that, even I wouldn’t have trusted myself with anything.”
“Then what would you have me do?”
Something else was pushed over the table. “Here’s an emperor’s writ. Put this on the table of the emperor among many of the royal documents and make sure it is discovered by the vizier. That should do the trick. With this, Erenol should be able to stay here longer.”
“So easily? You know, Mistress Lamia, if you give this imperial seal to any of the competing heirs, the competition will be over and done with.”
“If it was that easy, I’d have done it a long time ago,” Lamia said. “But if the next emperor does not solidify his standing before he rises to the throne, then waves would rise again and again until he is swallowed. Firstly, the court must become clean of any opposing forces. And for that, your other assignment is this.”
There was a pause. I heard the shuffling of paper.
“The underground poison syndicate? How did you find out about such a thing? There’s not even an evidence they exist. My men and I have not even found a dust from their footsteps all these years.”
“No need to ask. What if I tell you that the empress has ties with this syndicate?”
“The empress? Surely you don’t mean…”
“In order to cut off Prince Thoran completely from the throne, I have to destroy the bridge first. His mother.”
Leiran sounded speechless. “Are you sure you want to trust me with this? Are you not afraid I will turn on you?”
“I have someone who holds your heart,” she replied. “That, I know, is enough to hold your tongue as well.”
I heard a sigh.
My mistress continued talking. “The empress does a ritual every week that require extensive use of poisons to put her in a trance. She does this to…stay ahead of the other concubines. It summons strange forces to her body which gives her the Mark of the Damned,” Mistress Lamia said. “She’s also probably the reason why the emperor fell into this strange coma.”
“Isn’t that a forbidden ritual? From what I know, only those who descended from…”
“You are correct. The empress is indeed such a person. If Prince Thoran is put on the throne, that would also spell a lot of trouble for this country as a whole. That would give the people we least prefer control over everything.”
Leiran’s voice went high with hope. “If we put an end to the empress, will we be able to save the emperor?”
“I have no hopes to do that yet. You must eliminate the empress first. I had Kora procure this tonic for you. This will show the empress’s true colors—quite literally. However, you only have one chance to use this. If all goes south, it will be too late to do anything. The empress’s reputation must be destroyed if Prince Thoran will be cut off from the throne.”
There was a clink followed by the sound of glass sliding across a wooden table. Although I wanted to listen in some more so that I could get a bigger picture of the situation, I knew that if I lingered any longer, I risked being discovered. I carefully moved, removing my shoes and going barefoot. With my indoor slippers in hand, I quietly left and went to the original direction that I was going in.
My heart was thudding and the adrenalin was making my nerves taut with tension. I breathed quietly when I was a distance away, setting my slippers down on the floor. I tried looking like I just woke up, hiding my distress, and trudged my way to the dining room.
I heard sounds coming from outside, the courtyard, and found Maun sparring with Mistress Veronika. The sky wasn’t that very bright anymore and the lanterns around them were lit brightly to help them see. On the side, there was Erenol stuffing her mouth with powdered treats. Even with her cheeks bulging, she cheered loudly, causing the powder to fly everywhere.
I looked on with knitted brows and stood there dumbfoundedly. It didn’t take long for the girl to notice I was there. Her eyes widened and she yelled, “EWWWYYY!” And one half-chewed treat came popping out of her lips, landing with a dull thump on the grassy terrain.
I flinched back. If she went tackling me, all that powder would get on my clothes. The moment she came over, I stretched out an arm and held her back by the head.
“Get yourself together, idiot! You’re too dirty!” I exclaimed.
Maun looked over to us with wide eyes, causing the wooden stick in Mistress Veronika’s hands to fly right across and whack him square on the back of his head. He promptly fell over with a thump, his twitching fingers nursing the part where he was mercilessly hit.
“So easily distracted!” Mistress Veronika harrumphed.
He rose from his faceplanting moment, tears edging the corners of his eyes. Nevertheless, he looked over to Mistress Veronika pleadingly. And after a while of flashing the puppy dog eyes, Mistress Veronika waved her stick and allowed him to go with a sigh. Maun came over to us quickly, joy erasing the pained face he was making earlier.
I caught sight of his clothes soaked in sweat and immediately felt disgusted. I grasped at his face and pushed him back. I was already holding back the powdered Erenol with my left hand and now I was holding him back with my right. What was this—a sort of tackling match?!
“What are you guys—”
My arms didn’t hold them back too long and very soon I had both powder and sweat messing up my clothes.
“Agh! Aghhhhhh! What the heck. Leave me. Leave me allllooooonnnnneeee!” I exclaimed.
After much struggle, they finally stopped clinging to me.
“You were asleep twelve years!” Erenol yelled.
“Then what happened to you? You never grew up, huh?!” I shouted back.
“She meant twelve hours,” Maun replied, signing to me swiftly.
“Well, I’m hungry,” I said. “I’m gonna eat.”
“But I’m fuulll…” Erenol whined.
“After you stuffed those things into your mouth, what’d you expect? I want a good stew I can pour over warm rice!” I demanded. “Why were you even eating those stuff when you know it’s dinner time?”
“You all better get to the dining table. I heard Hellenia was cooking Evy’s favorite soy-vinegar marinade stew,” I heard Mistress Veronika say.
“REALLY?!” I exclaimed, eyes gleaming with excitement. All the bad mood in my body was washed away by the mention of food.
I practically ran my way to the kitchen. No wonder it smelled so good!
The two ducks ran after me and got settled before the table just as quickly as I did.
My mother came out of the kitchen and was quite surprised to see me before the table. Nevertheless, a pleasant smile spread across her lips and she asked, “How are you feeling, darling?”
“Hungry,” I said.
“Not to worry. I’ll get you all fed immediately. You all look very messy though. Go and wash up before eating,” she said. “To the kitchen now. Go, go.” She herded the three of us to the kitchen to wash up before the sink as she continued setting the table. The clinking of spoons and forks and porcelain plates on top of table mats made me go hungrier. The stew had already been poured over a glass serving bowl about as big as my torso. I looked at it and felt water pool under my tongue.
I dried my hands. Although the green tint from earlier had finally faded, there was still a little bit of it left.
I hurried back to help my mother with the preparations and turned to the other two. “To the mistresses so we can eat, hurry!” I told Maun and Erenol.
They nodded, saluting, and set off to do as I asked.
“Evy. You’re too domineering,” my mother told me with a laugh. “Be a little more considerate towards the other two. They worship you, you know.”
I sighed and didn’t reply, not knowing what to say at all. I sat before the table and sank deep into my thoughts as my mistresses poured in one after another, greeting me with a ruffle of the hair or a kiss on my face. I looked at everyone, warmth seeping into my heart. I didn’t realize it was so cold, actually—in a…quite literal sense.
“What about Mistress Lamia?” I asked, seeing the vacant seat.
“She has something to do, darling,” Mistress Marian said. “We’ll save a plate for her, okay?”
“Alright.” I nodded.
I didn’t know what to make of the conversation I heard just now. To be quite honest, I understood nothing about it except for the fact that Mistress Lamia was poking into the affairs of the palace to protect Eren. On top of that, she was pulling on strings to help put the emperor-candidate on the throne she favored. I didn’t know enough about the affairs of the palace and eavesdropping on that exchange had truly messed up my mind.
Prince Thoran seemed to be the son of the empress and Mistress Lamia was trying to cut off his path to the throne by compromising his mother’s position. I had this impression that the first son of the emperor would be from the empress…but I guess, well…that wasn’t the case, was it?
Not to mention that the empress apparently had connections to something…dark and she was doing this strange ritual that put the emperor in a coma? And Eren’s aunt just tried to have her killed after spending the last few years slowly poisoning her mother. This whole situation was just messed up. What kind of hell was the Glass Palace?
From the distance, it was tall and glorious. It was not possible to see the decay inside with how bright it seemed to shine. I read some novels about this and history elaborated much about the intrigues of the court. I just didn’t think I would experience it firsthand. What Chinese drama series was that? Empresses in the Palace? Damn, that was a good series. But so messed up too. Friends turned on one another. Miscarriage here, gets pregnant there. Seriously, people, what is up with all o’ ya?
I needed to find out more about this because I was very confused. There were many things I didn’t know. I had an inkling I should start getting to know my mistresses’ circle of enemies.
But, damn. Mistress Lamia has an imperial seal? Wasn’t that supposed to be some huge stuff? Judging by Lord Leiran’s reaction, it was not insignificant. And even the emperor came to the House of Oblivion? Didn’t he have enough women in his harem to entertain him every day? Was he that dissatisfied? I suppose even the emperor was not immune to the charms of my mistresses—how would he be when he’s obviously so enamored by women?
Or am I missing something here? Am I judging him too much? After all, I didn’t know the whole story.
Nevertheless, it seemed to me that Mistress Lamia was moving around some pieces. I could only hope her plans go well.
I looked over to the side and found Erenol. She was probably my best research resource right now.
Which reminded me.
I gotta tell her about my element as well.