“The Empress has arrived!”
“Happiness and peace to the Empress.” all of us knelt and bowed.
The Empress had a smile plastered onto her face. I may be wrong, but she must’ve felt upset because the child wasn’t coming from her. Her eyes were glistening but I chose to shove my pity aside. The Empress grinned. “Rise.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty.”
We stood up awkwardly. No one made a sound. Every one of us waited for the Empress to speak, but all she did was stare blankly at us.
Her hanfu exterior was a deep red colour with gold silk as the interior; her hair was styled up neatly with a beautiful gold headpiece. Her entire look was very expensive and exquisite. I hated her but she was stunning. I’ve never noticed it until now, but she looked so elegant and beautiful.
It doesn’t cover the fact that she’s a crude woman, though.
“I’m here to check up on you all,” she spoke. Her cheeks probably hurt from smiling so vigorously. “Nobody informed me that the enchanting one from the bunch may spend their night with His Majesty.”
Two other girls were beginning to bow but the Empress shook her head. The dangling jewellery from her headpiece danced with the motion. “No need. It would’ve been better to inform me beforehand, so I can wish you all good luck earlier.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty,” I bowed. “The Empress is kind and understanding.”
I was expecting her to frown or scoff at me, but all she did was smile. It wasn’t hard to provoke her, all you had to do was be kind to her even if she hated your guts. Empress Zhang, for once, was beaming at me.
“I shall take my leave now. Practice harder!” she exclaimed before turning around.
In the middle of practice, I was becoming drowsy. My eyelids felt like it weighed fifty pounds, I felt like I was weightlifting with my eyes. My mind was battling my needs to remain conscious. If it wasn’t for the Empress Dowager punishing me, I wouldn’t have been in this situation. As I swung my sleeve up and spun, I tripped over my right leg and toppled onto another concubine.
“I’m so sorry!” I held my hand out expecting her to grab it, but she slapped my hand away.
Her unresponsive eyes narrowed at me before she got up on her own. “I didn’t know they asked for untalented dancers.”
“Excuse me?” I raised my eyebrows.
Two concubines behind me were snickering. “Lady Ying Yue, where did you learn to dance? You look so drained out of your life, how could the Emperor choose you?”
“The Empress Dowager made her kneel in the Tranquil Palace, how embarrassing is that? Who taught you Imperial etiquette?” another insulted.
“How did you know that?” I hissed back.
Relax, Carmen, relax. Everything will be okay.
It took me all my patience to not deck all four of these weaklings on the head. I never expected these women to be so rude. The one with the blush all over her face was continuously laughing, but I’ve recognized her before. She was only a Consort, not a Noble Consort.
“Do you remember that I am a Noble Consort?” I raised my head higher to face her.
She immediately darted her eyes off of me before kneeling. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”
“Lady Ying Yue... Wasn’t she the one who took down those guards?” the same two girls who shamed me were whispering to each other.
“How did a lower-class farm girl get such a high title in a span of only a few months?” another had muttered. “I’ve had the same title for almost two years now!”
“The Emperor dotes on her, isn’t that right? Does she have any talents besides fighting?”
“I don’t think dancing is her talent...”
“She needs to teach me some lessons. How did she end up ranking higher than me?”
“Enough speaking!” the agitating voice barked at us.
The Empress Dowager, with her two eunuchs accompanying her from the side and twelve maids behind her, walked towards us. The guqin music that a concubine was stringing along, immediately stopped when the supreme woman interrupted our chattering.
“Peace and longevity to the Empress Dowager.” we all bowed and greeted in unison.
“The Empress didn’t come here to enforce bullying and harassment,” she said. “Neither did I. I also didn’t come here to expect to witness a high-ranking consort—who deserved it—being ridiculed.”
There was stillness.
My body stiffened once she strutted towards me. I tilted my head to the right to avoid eye contact with her. After what had happened yesterday night, I felt tensed being in the presence of the Emperor’s mother.
Oh my God. She was technically my mother-in-law. That’s weird. When every concubine’s neck was craned for their heads to bow in shame, nobody burst into apologetic chaos like any other time. The Empress Dowager cleared her throat before naming all the concubines’ names that ran their mouth about me. “Diligence Hall, immediately. I hope all six of you enjoy sewing and tailoring winter clothing.”
“But, Empress Dowager! That job is for servants!”
“I don’t want to get my hands dirty, Your Majesty!”
“Please, reconsider your decision! This won’t happen again!′
“One more word and I’ll personally have you three lashed,” the Empress Dowager raised her voice. She sighed. “Practice is over, everyone who is not the six girls can leave.”
Everyone began bustling to leave. The instruments were carried out, concubines adjusted their clothing, the six bullies were led by the eunuchs to work, and I was about to leave as well. Before I could even make it to the exit, I hesitated before looking behind my shoulder.
“Thank you, Your Majesty, for standing up for me.” I bowed.
She was slumped on a chair, with a scroll in her hand. The Empress Dowager looked invested in it before she gave me a quick look and frowned. “No need to thank me.”
“I’ll take my leave now.” I bowed before I speed-walked out of the hall.
Maybe I’ll take back what I said about the Empress Dowager. She’s not that bad. I mean, yes, she might’ve punished an hour of kneeling on me (which I’d rather do than craft clothing) and gave me a sort of back-handed compliment, but she saved me (and the girls because I would’ve whooped all their asses.)
The strong winds struck my face in mere seconds, which had me taken aback. It was getting so cold that I had to dash back to the harem. I continued jogging, my feet hitting the ground hard.
It felt good to jog but not in weather like this. It wasn’t winter season yet but my face was numb and frozen from the harsh wind. My breaths began to be sloppy and I ended up gasping every time my foot took another large step. Clouds of air escaped out of my lips. Tears were already streaming down my eyes and flying away into nothingness. Embarrassingly, my nose was watery. I immediately stopped running and wiped the snot from my nose.
Disgusting. If I keep it at this pace, I’m not going to get anywhere. It was only a jog and I’m already out of breath. As I continued heavily breathing, I squinted my eyes and eyed my residence for motivation. I gave my calves a quick warning before sprinting.
My sweat dripped off my temple before I quickly bolted away from a nearby tree. My leg encountered an obstacle and I ended up colliding with a large body. Why did I keep colliding into things?
I groaned while I landed on a soft platform, head first before I pushed my weight with the palms of my hand to face the attacker. “Uh—”
“Why are you running this early in the morning?” he grumbled as he pulled himself up.
I flushed at the position we were in. He sat himself up while I was straddling him. The Emperor’s face was red and six inches away from my face. With my body weight pushing against him, the distance between us wasn’t only six inches.
“W-Warm blessings to Your Majesty...” I stammered, stiffening my entire body and face.
“Ying Yue,” his eyes wandered off to the half of my face. He wiped my nose with his sleeve. “You have something there.”
Why didn’t I wipe my snot when I had the chance?
I kept my mouth shut before I continued to bore my eyes into his. Scanning his entire facial features, I began to realise—by the face he was making—that he could tell that I was analyzing his face. I hastily pulled myself up and offered my hand to the Emperor.
He held my hand as I pulled him up. The Emperor gave me a quick nod. “You’re impressively strong.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty,” I looked away. “I apologize for running... and running into you. Please forgive my childish behaviour.”
I stared off into the far distance at a single tree, dancing and moving to the music of the wind. I darted my eyes back to the Emperor after I was embraced by his warm laughter.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said as he attempted to hold my hand.
I was still a bit aroused by my collision with the Emperor, that I had forgotten that I was mad at him. It was like a big ring in my head, like a notification, to remind me that I despise the Emperor and anything that had to do with him. Speaking about notifications, I started to miss my phone.
My immediate instinct was to jerk my hand away from his. I narrowed my eyes at him. “I’m still mad at you, Your Majesty. Don’t forget that.”
“When my life is at risk, I’ll have to be unbiased as possible,” he brought his index finger under my chin, lifting my sorrowful face. “Please forgive me, I never intended to hurt you. It’s my duty as an emperor to—”
“Your Majesty didn’t even come to my chamber and apologize!” I was shrieking loudly at the moment. “I felt so neglected! Do I even matter to you?”
By all means, I didn’t care about the Emperor’s presence or not, it was just that if I ever loved him, I would’ve been extremely offended by his actions. It wasn’t meant to trip him into a booby trap of guilt, of course not, but even though I had no romantic feelings towards him, I’m still deeply affected by his lack of visits.
“The Empress told me to give you time. She said that because you must’ve been in such a traumatic place, you’d want to distance yourself from everyone in the Palace,” he explained. The Emperor’s genuine look he gave me was starting to make me feel uneasy.
Why haven’t I guessed that? Of course, the Empress would go all the way to spew out bullshit from her mouth!
It took me enough nobleness to cure the wickedness of the women in the harem to hold myself back and respond with, “Her Majesty is very thoughtful, I thank her for that... But, I deeply longed for Your Majesty’s affection during the lonely days in my chamber.”
The Emperor gracefully held my hand and rubbed circles on the back of it. “Then, I apologize for my foolishness. Can you ever forgive me?”
“I have no choice but to, Your Majesty.” I teased, glancing up at him