Jaxon poured the tea into the vessel while I rested my chin on the palm of my hands. My eyes, unintentionally, scanned all the features on his face in pure silence. We were back in my chamber, like good old times.
My maids were dismissed, and I usually dismissed my maids. I know they were supposed to be with me most of the time, but I felt stuffed. I needed my space. Su Yin and I would go the bathhouse together to take baths but I was afraid if I had to go alone, my maids would come with.
“What do you want to talk about?” my enthusiasm shot up the roof.
“Your tactics... to coo the Emperor.”
“That’s all you care about?” I scrunched my eyebrows together.
I stood up. Our eyes linked, the room was silenced. He showed no emotions. He parted his lips to speak, but as a blank canvas, there was nothing. Heat rushed into my body and my head as tears began to build up. All he cared about was to go home, and he had to pressure me about it. Pressure me into seducing the Emperor, pressuring me to do this, to do that. I can’t take it anymore. It’s been a couple of weeks, it was best to be slow and steady.
Well, that was my choice.
Jaxon closed the lid of the vessel and raised his head up to look at me. “Carmen, we both want to go home. Would you rather stall, or leave this place as soon as possible?”
“You can’t just pressure me like this! It takes time for me to coax him in,” I whispered aggressively with my fists clenched. “Jaxon, I can’t make him fall in love with me in just a few weeks, and you know that! Stop pressuring me and let’s just take it slow.”
I paused. “I’m sorry. I just-”
“Carmen, I’m sorry,” Jaxon had his hands pressed on my cheeks. His face was too close to mine. Too close. “I-I like it here but... I want to go?”
He looked at me with a solemn expression while I was on the verge of tears. The weeks passing by us get so emotional and I can never be at least joyful for once. I’ve been going through emotional rollercoasters throughout this journey and I’m starting to be emotionally drained. As my eyes bore into Jaxon’s, I couldn’t help but analyze our situation again. This is going to the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. To get the Empress off my ass, to seduce the Emperor, to get his saliva and his wife’s hair, I couldn’t handle it anymore. If I was watching myself on a TV screen, I’d be laughing.
I’m not going to cry in front of him again. As much as I felt like a ball and chain was holding my ankle, I wasn’t going to fuss. I was so frustrated with myself that I couldn’t even think straight. Every day I’ve been thinking the same thoughts over and over again; I shouldn’t have taken that fucking Uber.
And it hurts worse to think that if I don’t get out of here alive, I will never-
One more negative thought and I’ll have an anxiety attack, right here, in whatever-hundred-B.C China.
I could cuss, punch a wall, hurl things across the room to conceal my fury but what good would it do?
But as I look into Jaxon’s eyes, as cliché as it can be, positive energy was already running through my blood, filling up my thoughts.
“I-” I started. “We... can do this. Just give it time.”
“Lady Ying Yue?” a eunuch’s low voice flowed about the room.
Giving Jaxon one last look, I stood up and proceeded to walk towards the eunuch. “Yes? Who needs me?”
Jaxon was far from view.
“You are wanted by the Imperial Noble Consorts, follow me,” he spoke and I did what he said.
As I walked through the empty halls and into the room, I couldn’t help but feel queasy. I was going to encounter the two women that were well respected by the harem. They were just one rank above me, but one rank below the Empress, and I was still struggling on whether to treat them with the highest respect or a medium amount of respect.
Dong Mei and Chang Ying were both sitting in front of each other at a table. Both of them didn’t speak at all. I made my presence clear to them and waited for them to face me.
I almost forgot.
“Greetings to Your Graces,” I got on my knees and bowed.
They both turned to look at me. It was a tad bit awkward.
“Oh, please don’t stand on ceremony,” Chang Ying quickly got up to help me up. “You are the Lady Ying Yue?”
“The? I don’t need such a title, I-”
“Nonsense. The Emperor was in great danger and you risked your life for him,” Dong Mei chimed into our conversation swiftly. She placed her cup down gently on the table. “Ying Yue, may I ask, how did you learn how to fight? And why?”
“U-Uh,” I paused to think. What was my story again? Shit! I don’t have one! “Well... I.. It was just something I was interested in...”
“Weird for a lady to be interested in that...” Dong Mei muttered.
“That’s absurd,” Chang Ying glared at Dong Mei. “Women should be able to fight. If I wasn’t a foolish gift to the Emperor, I would have fought as well.”
A what now?
What does that even mean?
“Gift?” I got a word out, which quickly disrupted the quiet bickering between the two consorts.
Dong Mei had her eyes glued to her feet, her head tipped down slightly. The front of her silky hair was held back by her fine jewellery, which, may I mention, did not hide the smirk she had on her face. I narrowed my eyes in suspicion as I observed the two. There was silence in this large, unoccupied room, and quite frankly, it did make my palms sweat a little.
Did I say something disrespectful?
My teeth dug into my lips as I chewed nervously. I couldn’t read Chang Ying’s facial expression. Her lips curled into a delicate smile. She was looking at everything in the room, everything except for me.
The environment in this room was... something. Weird, peculiar, like tension was rising but it wasn’t at the same time. Dong Mei still had a rudely amused look on her face, Chang Ying looked like she wanted to say something but didn’t, and I looked like a confused asshole.
It wasn’t long before Chang Ying finally opened her mouth to speak.
“Three years ago, my father did something... He broke a rule which dishonoured our family and humiliated the Emperor himself,” Chang Ying calmly whispered, brushing her hair out of her face as she spoke. “Father worked for the Emperor.. he was a government official. He fell in love with one of the Emperor’s consorts.”
“They were in love. My father met this woman every night in the Palace, and to this day, I don’t know how he did it. Their covert relationship halted to an end when the Emperor had suspicions and sent a spy.”
Chang Ying took a deep breath. “The Emperor executed the consort, after all, she was just a consort to him. She drank the wine and died peacefully. But my father, he couldn’t take no for an answer. He would do anything to prevent himself from getting executed... even if it meant sacrificing me.”
Tears began to roll down her cheeks, and Dong Mei, who stood there at ease, took a step away from her. I clasped her hand between my hands, then giving her a tight squeeze.
“So my father told His Majesty,” Chang Ying began. “‘My daughter is an outstanding woman. She is beautiful and gifted with intelligence and talent. I am giving you my daughter. As a return, I want to live’.”
“The Emperor thought about it and accepted it after he had seen me paint. He said my paintings were beautiful, but they would never match my beauty. I was flattered, but I never loved the Emperor. It was only when my father raised his voice at me and threatened me, was when I wanted to go to the palace. When I arrived here in a sedan chair, the Emperor greeted me immediately.”
I glared at Dong Mei as her mouth widened and let out an obnoxious yawn.
“I didn’t know life in the palace would be filled with so much... envy,” Chang Ying’s eyes were noticeably red and glossy. “I thought I was just a low ranked consort, just like the woman my father was seeing, and that the Emperor would throw me in here and never want to see me again. I was wrong. I was his favourite. In a short amount of time, I was already an Imperial Noble Consort.”
She looked up at me and smiled. “I was content, but the hatred and the evil glares by the women in the harem... was unbearable. I was so unhappy with myself because I could never find anyone to be with. To this day, I don’t have a lady-in-waiting. Your friend, Su Yin, is an amazing person. She would attend my chamber every day and make me laugh. Her personality could light up any dull room. Even when the Empress constantly tried to put me down, Su Yin would stand up for me.”
Dong Mei stood up. “I apologize to both of you, but I believe I have something to attend to.”
My question was already answered, but she continued onwards. Not like I cared, though. Chang Ying was broken, I could already tell. Although she had power, wealth, and respect in the palace, she was pitiful.
“Ying Yue, there’s something about you. Someone I could trust in this competitive place. I see potential in you.” Chang Ying paused and looked around the room, perhaps to see if Dong Mei was still here.
“Your Grace, I don’t understand...” I slowly removed my hands from hers.
“The Empress is a nasty woman,” she whispered. “You can do so much for the harem the Palace...”
This keeps getting crazier and crazier.
An empress? She wants me to be the Empress?
I am an eighteen-year-old girl who did not sign up for this.
Then again, I had time.
Scratch that, I don’t. Jaxon wants-
Forget what Jaxon wants, me being treated like a well-deserved queen sounds like a fantasy I never knew I’d experience.
A wave of sadness punched me across the face. My family, my friends, the Internet, better morals... I miss them... I miss it.
What if I’m just in a coma right now? Definitely not.
I was drowning in decisions I had to make!
“You’re saying I should become Empress?” I whispered nervously while playing with my sleeves.
How am I supposed to fulfil her wishes while I can’t even fulfil mine? If I became Empress, how the hell am I going to manage the entire harem when I can’t even handle my job! This is bizarre.
I’m not thinking straight and I’m already stressed.
I hope I don’t break out.
I closed my eyes for a while, before opening them again. Chang Ying was still staring at me with a worried look on her face. I didn’t know what else to say to her. If I refused to, she could turn against me. If I attempt to take Empress Zhang’s spot, I’d have to stay here longer. But either way, I still had to have the Emperor wrapped around my finger.
“I’ll think about it, I shouldn’t try for things like this. When it happens, it happens,” I kneeled down while a maid poured a cup of tea for me. “Forget about this talk, I’m here for etiquette and mannerism?”
Her eyes brightened. Throughout the entire session, none of us brought up the previous topic again.