It was almost winter. The palaces and other structures had roofs coated with shimmering snow, which looked rather beautiful. Winter trees that surrounded the crowded palaces made the entire scenery lively. Unfortunately, the bodies of water will remain still. It would be frozen and I would imagine myself inventing skating.
Although I knew a heater will never keep me accompanied, I was thankful to be able to see the amazing scenery. The Emperor invited me to an evening stroll. Shocking. It’s been days since I last saw him. Funny thing is, he still hasn’t thanked me nor congratulated me for winning against the assassins in the Empress Dowager’s bedroom.
He was either too busy or he lost interest in me... which was fine by me!
Guards from that night were punished greatly. Some were even exiled and sent off to live elsewhere as commoners. Jaxon was praised for being a great Imperial guard and had more privileges than the rest of them. There was probably a term for his position but I wasn’t very knowledgeable outside of harem affairs.
He even spent time with the Emperor, which was a little troublesome for me.
Jaxon and the Emperor bonding? I couldn’t believe it. I can imagine them having afternoon tea and refraining themselves from bringing up my name.
Since I haven’t seen the Emperor for a great amount of time, I decided to put more makeup on and dress nicely. My maids threw a big fur cape around my body to keep me warm outside. The white as snow cape kept me snug and warm in my chilly chamber with one window. It was made with white fox fur and white brocade. There were big fluffs of fur down the opening.
This was the time I was glad that I only had one window, but there was a lack of light in my chamber if I didn’t turn on my lamp.
“Your Majesty,” I bowed to greet the Emperor. He looked powerful in his black winter cape with red embroideries of dragons. However, he still looked cute. “It’s getting a lot colder, don’t you think?”
He shines his million-dollar smile, or should I say a million-tael smile. Haha. The Emperor reaches for my hand and clasps it. “You must forgive me for not coming to you sooner. I’ve been very busy with state affairs. Our army will be heading up south for a battle against deranged warlords. I’m sure we will find the answers to this assassin crisis.”
The determination on his face gave me the chills. Ancient China had way too many unnecessary wars. If I ever became too known, I’ll be in danger.
“Also,” the Emperor leans in forwards to my face and tilts my chin up. “Thank you for saving my mother. You almost sacrificed yourself for the Empress Dowager. I wish I could get mad at you, but I can’t.”
“Your Majesty, it is my job to serve you but I backed out. I had to make it up to you.” my voice was small. I remembered the strange tension with Hua Er and I after I came back from accompanying the Emperor.
Would I be even willing to give my body to the Emperor to go home? Did I have the guts to go against the Empress and win a metaphorical ticket to go home?
I felt soft lips press against mine. It took me a second to realise the Emperor was locking his lips against mine. It felt wrong. It felt really wrong. But I gave in and kissed him back. I slowly pulled away from him and peered up at him under my eyelashes.
I smiled. “I didn’t expect that from Your Majesty.”
“I might be dull because I was busy with my work and duties, but I promise you I am full of surprises,” he says as we walk along the path. “What have you been up to nowadays?”
Having an affair with your guard... Finding ways to go home to where I originally was that didn’t treat women like crap.
“Nothing, Your Majesty. Longing for you is all I truly do,” I chuckled. “I’m just kidding. I’ve been practising how to play the guqin with the assistance of Hua Er. And I’ve been trying to learn how to write fluently but I think it’s been difficult for me.”
The Emperor looked a bit taken aback but gave me a look of amusement. “So you haven’t been longing for me, then?”
“Not one bit.” I teased.
His light brown eyes looked down at me, reading me like I was a picture book. The Emperor’s ethereal beauty wasn’t a joke. The way his hair followed the gentle breeze’s direction, the way he had a graceful yet dominant demeanour... I was melting.
“That makes me deeply upset to hear that,” he paused and brushed a strand of hair away from my face. “You are so beautiful.”
I flashed another friendly smile but found myself in awe. His gentle finger on my cheek left heat rising, and I was glad I packed more blush than I did before. We walked again, slowly observing the winter scenery with each other’s presence in mind.
It was peaceful until I broke the silence. “Your Majesty.”
“You told me the Empress was a commoner... that Her Majesty didn’t have a high status,” I started to say. “Were you lying to me to make me feel better, Your Majesty?”
The Emperor was taken aback. His face froze in time and his body stiffened beneath the large cape. I watched him with suspicion.
“Yes,” he spoke with remorse and continued to walk again as he side glanced at me. “You’re right. I didn’t want to make you feel unworthy to be my concubine, so I lied to you.”
I took a deep breath before letting it all out. My ego was bruised! I wanted to slap him but I knew what he did was all in good intentions. It was heartwarming, I guess. The Emperor cared about me. The Emperor cared about me during our first stroll together.
Even though he lied to me, he lied for a good reason. Weirdly enough, I had a goofy smile on my face that caused the Emperor to look down at me in confusion.
Our hands brushed against each other lightly. I cleared my throat, still attempting to hide the admiration on my face. “Your Majesty, I think it’s really sweet that you did that. It shows that you care about me.”
The Emperor knitted his eyebrows and frowned. “Of course I care about you. What makes you think I don’t? Whenever I do have a little bit of free time left, I do try to see you.”
Did he love me? Technically we were supposed to be married but I feel so peculiar under his wing. My heart was fluttering. As sappy as it sounds, hearing what he had to say made me feel loved. I hardly knew this man. I don’t even know his favourite colour, but here I am walking with him like we were a couple. I made out with him too.
“Your Majesty... that... I don’t know,” I stumbled upon my words, still speechless. I was flushing like crazy and I guess he could tell because every time he glanced down at me, he smirked. ”Gah! You’re so—”
“What? Handsome? Charming? It’s okay, you don’t have to finish your words, I already know.” he arched an eyebrow and a mischievous grin emerged.
I laughed and shook my head, still grinning. We both shared a small chuckle before my smile slowly faded away. Still, the flashback of me telling him I wasn’t ready remained in my head. I was too afraid to bring it up, but it kept bothering me.
“You are. You are way too charming, Your Majesty,” I complimented with sincerity. My worries got the best of me. “And... I apologize for when I accompanied you. My job is to serve you and... I don’t think I did what was intended.”
“Yes, your purpose in the palace is to serve me, and that night you didn’t,” the Emperor nodded. I gulped loudly. “But you have also brought me happiness, and that fulfils me as well. Women in the harem should give me children, but that’s not the only thing I want in life. Ying Yue, don’t be so harsh on yourself. I will not pressure you.”
That was so pleasant to hear. My shoulders relaxed. Some emperors forced their women into having sex with them. I was glad this one had morals.
I felt a wet drop on my cheek and immediately wiped it away with my thumb. I stared at my small finger, it was glistening. The Emperor realised and tilted his head up.
It was just snow, not my tears. What a relief.
The snow was barely touching my skin but I felt little drops on the top of my head. I felt like I haven’t seen snow for years. The scenery was beautiful but with the snowfall, I felt like it was complete. My lips began to form into a joyful smile as I nudged the Emperor’s arms. “Your Majesty, it’s snowing!”
Like a child, I twirled around dramatically and heard the Emperor’s soft chuckles. Was it wrong to be happy? I feel like I would’ve been at home excited for Christmas, but I think spending winter in ancient China might be interesting. I wasn’t going to magically fly back to 2018.
I might as well enjoy it.
“Ying Yue, have you never seen snow before?” he questioned me but still had a smile on his face. I was still in my own world, dancing and twirling with joy while he stood there and watched me behave like his daughter.
I giggled playfully. I dashed over to the Emperor, who was in an awkward stance, and grabbed his arm and led him in the middle of the pathway. It was highly unprofessional and informal but I didn’t care. He didn’t seem to mind either because he twirled with me.
I laughed even harder as he began to cup his hands to try to catch the snow.
“Catch a snowflake with your tongue!” I exclaimed before I let my tongue hang out of my mouth.
The Emperor knitted his eyebrows in confusion. “I’ve never heard of doing that.”
When I looked at him through my peripheral vision—with my tongue still out, he gave in and stuck his tongue a little bit out of his mouth. Both of us, in the middle of a pathway, slowly pacing around the area for snowflakes to land onto our tongues, was a sight to see.
“Did you get any?” I asked with a grin on my face, my tongue was a little cold.
“No,” he said in a cute frustrated tone, it sounded a little muffled with the small tongue between his lips.
“It’s because you are not sticking your tongue out, Your Majesty! Do what I’m doing!” I lunged my tongue forward.
He imitated my tongue action and proceeded to repeat the whole process. “I look so ridiculous right now.”
The weather was so chilly but within myself, I felt warm. The Emperor and I, together we were catching snowflakes with our tongue like children. He must’ve been twice my age but looked so young. I saw a side I’ve never seen before. It was hidden deep behind the serious and mature side he portrayed himself with.
I was still grinning at him. His hair flowed along with the small breeze; he looked so graceful and beautiful. The Emperor was handsome.
My shivering began to alarm him and he quickly rushed to me. He clasped my cold hands between his surprisingly warm ones and towered over me. “You’re freezing, aren’t you? Let’s get you back inside.”
His eyes were piercing, but gentle. We were so close to each other that I thought that we were going to lock lips. I guess the Emperor got tired or remembered that he had other plans and dropped me off at my residence. Before I entered in, he called out to me.
“Ying Yue, I had an amazing time,” he spoke thoughtfully. “You brought the inner child in me and I haven’t felt it in a long time.”
I turned around and bowed. “I am glad to hear that, Your Majesty. Thank you for giving me a chance. I shall take my leave now.”
As I walked into the familiar setting, I wondered if I was crazy to think that it was slightly different. Maybe it was the chilliness in the residence, but it did feel slightly different.
Alright, not slightly.
It was very different. Sometimes there was bickering but at this moment, it was anxious chatters and aggressive arguments. I felt myself frowning as I attempted to pass by a group of girls in pretty hanfus wearing angry faces.
“What’s all this commotion?” I questioned with aggravation in my voice.
A few girls backed away from my presence. There was a Noble Consort near the doorway of a chamber with a slight distasteful expression on her face. As much as I wanted to walk past the crowd and mind my business, I wanted to hear some gossip.
One of the girls in the group had her arms crossed and stepped towards me. “Noble Consort Jiao is keeping all the coal to herself! She doesn’t understand that we can’t survive if it’s too cold!”
The concubine I slapped had her hands on her hips. “She thinks she can keep it from us because a eunuch gave it to her!”
The coal hogger was still in distress but now looked as if she was bathed in guilt. This is even more childish than middle school drama. Well, it makes sense. Some of these girls are at least sixteen.
I realised why the hallway was chilly. This selfish brat was keeping all the coal to herself. Oh boy, once I invent air conditioning in this place, it’s over.
I gave Noble Consort Jiao a small smile. “Sister, would His Majesty want you to take all of this coal? We, women in the harem, should be equally respecting one another. Great morals and values are what brings us together and attracts His Majesty. Please reconsider this or we all have to tell the Empress.”
That took all the willpower in me, I’m drained. She looked at me as if I called her ugly. It also took me all of my ‘spending-time-with-His-Majesty’ energy to not stab her in the face. I shivered a little as well; it was cold.
“It’s a little too late for that, sister.” Niu Lin rolled her eyes.
My smiles begin to fade every time Niu Lin spoke but I imagined myself gouging out her eyeballs which truthfully, made me maintain my smile.
“What do you mean?” I asked, sharply inhaling.
There was a long pause in the hallway. I felt like I could hear the cold and possibly the hypothermia vibes this room was giving me. Nobody answered me and I quickly knew this was going to be bad.
“Well? Answer me.” I demanded as I adjusted one of my hairpins.
Noble Consort Jiao stared at the ground while biting her bottom lip. Her finger traced the brocade material on her hanfu as she shifted her feet away from the doorway to a chamber. I proceeded to walk in while the girls gently moved out of my way.
I swear I felt my heart stop. A shiver shocked my spine, and it wasn’t because of the weather in this residence. This was bad. So bad. I couldn’t even breathe, talk, or swallow. I’ve never seen anything like this. I hastily went on my knees and gave her warmth by throwing my body against hers.
Su Yin was laying on the floor next to her fireplace, her eyes were still blinking but widened. She was shivering and pale. I don’t know the symptoms of hypothermia but I was guessing it was hypothermia. No way was she this cold. I turned around, I could feel my face flushing red in anger. “Why is nobody helping her? Call the physician! Now!”
“We did! They said they will be here any second!” Noble Consort Jiao exclaimed but I felt no sympathy on her tongue.
I muttered a few English swear words under my breath and began searching for my phone. Oh, wait. I didn’t have one! I would’ve done a quick Google search on what to do when someone is going through hypothermia but this uncivilized place doesn’t even have the Internet!
My heart was already racing like crazy. I paced around the room with pressure because I just felt incompetent.
Although I can be a little stupid, I am not that stupid. I carefully lifted her body up and onto the bed. Her clothing wasn’t wet. Like a burrito, I wrapped the thick blanket around her body. She was slowly regaining consciousness. I think.
I wish they had Mexican food here.
But before I could warm her up, even more, I stomped towards Noble Consort Jiao and the rest of the group of concubines. “Su Yin is a low-ranking concubine! His Majesty hardly visits her chamber, how can anyone do this to her? What do you gain from this?”
I was fuming. Noble Consort Jiao was shaking.
“Ying Yue, haven’t you heard?” Chang Ying strutted towards us, a glum expression on her face. “Su Yin is pregnant.”