The winter solstice celebration arrived quicker than expected. It felt like only a day had passed since the pregnancy of Su Yin was announced. Su Yin stayed in her residence most of the time and rested. I was busy as well, running errands for the Empress Dowager. I was barely visited by the Emperor.
He attended Dong Mei and Su Yin more, which caused the inevitable envy in the rest of us.
I couldn’t help but also feel peeved by the whole thing. It had me thinking about if I could ever have the Emperor’s baby. What would’ve happened if I lost my virginity in an ancient era? If I came back, would I still be a virgin? Would I take my child with me? I doubt I could. The Emperor would’ve had full custody over my baby.
What am I even thinking? I scrunched up my nose in disgust and continued to apply more blush onto the apples of my cheeks. The irregular train of thoughts sped away. My maids were busy doing my hair to perfection, and Hua Er, well she was sprawled on my bed.
“Milady?” Guan Shu asked, tapping my shoulder.
“Huh? Yes?” I exclaimed. My mind was still on about the Emperor’s child. Unhealthy, I know, but every day I thought a lot. It was often a bore.
“Are you excited?” she repeated.
After applying my lipstick with the tinted red paper, I focused my eyes on the magnificent beauty in the mirror.
My hair was almost ready. Half of my hair was up in a beautiful headpiece I’ve never worn before. It was silver and lustrous with pieces dangling off it. I glowed.
I nodded my head and let my hand drop slowly after touching my hair. “Yes... I think I am excited.”
This would look good for me. The Emperor and his family will be there. His siblings from different regions of this nation will sit in my presence, and I will try my hardest to impress them. Not like I cared for the Emperor’s family, but I need to give a good first impression. That was all.
A small knock was heard and Chen Xi hurriedly went to see who it was. I was greeted by two smiling maids that I didn’t recognize. They kneeled and greeted me, which I responded by telling them to get up. My four maids moved back to give them some space.
“What brings you two here?” I asked distractedly, still admiring myself in the mirror.
“You all can leave, the Emperor had told us to take charge for this occasion,” one of the maids, the ruder-looking one, gave a simple smile to Guan Shu. She turned to me. “Your lady-in-waiting can head to the banquet now.”
Hua Er groaned and jumped up from the bed. She yawned and looked the maids up and down. “I am required to go with her.”
Me, in the mirror, was so gorgeous but I soon turned my attention to the two maids to the side of me. They looked familiar but I couldn’t put my finger on it now that I saw them up close. They were probably palace maids that did the morning duties.
I watched my maids leave my chamber before I peeked at Hua Er’s face. “It’s okay. Hua Er, you can take your leave.”
Hua Er eyed the maids before she left.
“Milady, we are here to give you your attire for this evening,” the timid maid spoke quietly. She had a pretty butterfly pin on her hair. “I will get it for you right now.”
My gut instinct was telling me something, but I nodded my head casually. The rude maid plastered a smile on her face while the timid maid left the room. “You look gorgeous today, milady.”
‘I know’, was what I wanted to say.
“Thank you.” was what actually came out of my mouth.
It didn’t take long for the timid maid to retrieve my hanfu, which was gorgeous, not to mention. It was a beautiful red colour with traces of yellow and it looked like something out of a Met Gala. I ran my fingers through the fabric.
“This is beautiful!” I was in awe. The brocade fabric on the sleeves of the hanfu felt so authentic. The yellow fabric was silk. I love silk. I want to rub my entire body against silk. That’s how much I love it.
“You must try it on, milady! His Majesty would love to see you wear it.” the timid maid said in excitement.
She held out her hand for me and I gladly took it. I stood up and let the maids dress me. I didn’t care for anyone to see me naked. I did love being naked. Besides, I would do it to be coated in this lavish attire I had obtained.
I strutted out of my chamber and noticed the emptiness of the residence. I was late. With the two maids behind me, we both quickly jogged to the hall. My heart was racing. My anger was urging me to punish the maids but I didn’t want to waste my time even more. When I arrived, the maids were gone.
With fear, I entered the hall and it didn’t take long for all eyes to be on me. The princes and princesses looked nervous. Chang Ying gawked at me. She looked concerned. She tried to mouth something but I shook my head. Chang Ying frustratedly pointed at the rest of the concubines and my heart stopped.
How stupid can I be? Play the clown music.
All the concubines and consorts were wearing hanfus that were not red. I faced the Imperial couple with horror. Again, how foolish could I be? I’m not allowed to wear red.
I am not allowed to wear red.
I looked behind myself again and still, no signs of the maids that raised skepticism in me. Hua Er was nowhere to be found. Where did she go? My hands started to shake. Everyone was looking at me not because of how good I looked, but because I was committing a crime! Was it a crime? I don’t fucking know! But it was against the rules!
“What is the meaning behind this?” the Empress yelled. She was already standing up from her throne, already built up with the anger she needed to put me in my place.
My eyes started watering. “Wait, Empress, this was a misunderstanding!”
Others just sat and watched. It was too many people... way more than I expected there to be. There was horror on their faces, on everyone’s faces for that matter. Even Niu Lin looked a bit shocked as well. I felt the heat of my embarrassment rushing to my face.
This was going to traumatize me.
“What misunderstanding? That you wore red colours to mock me? To mock His Majesty and me? Was that it?” the Empress was screaming now.
“Please appease your anger, Empress! Let me explain!” I choked on my words, getting on my knees immediately and kowtowing repeatedly to her. Oh, my pride... My ego was bruised. I couldn’t even get angry at the maids because of the heat of the moment.
I do not want to be executed.
The Empress Dowager raised her hand, her palm facing the rest of the people watching how this event will occur. “Empress, that is enough. Let’s let Noble Consort Han give us her explanation.”
More to the left-hand side, the Emperor was still narrowing his eyes at me. He looked puzzled, rather than mad.
The Empress stayed silent. I could hear her heavy breathing. She nodded in agreement and angrily plopped herself back onto her throne. She remained glaring at me. She had to obey. It was the Empress Dowager. If the Emperor had told her to shut up, the Empress would’ve got one last word in at me.
The Emperor was whipped.
I kowtowed and stayed in my position. I couldn’t do this. I wanted to bawl my eyes out. This was way too much for me to handle. It took everything in me to not slap myself in the face for being so oblivious.
“Y-Your Majesty, t-two maids arrived in my chamber and told my maids and lady-in-waiting to leave,” I explained, sniffling as I spoke because I was not going to cry in front of everyone. I focused on calming myself down but I kept stammering.“T-They... they dressed me instead.”
The Empress scoffed. “You expect us to believe that?”
“It could be possible,” Chang Ying chimed in. “This scheme happened a few years before. Noble Consort Han was framed.”
“Ying Yue,” the Emperor spoke in a stern tone. “Do you recognize what the maids looked like?”
I squeezed my eyes shut. They looked generic! How the hell am I supposed to distinguish them from every other maid? I soon had a minor flashback of the timid maid’s butterfly pin on her hair that I thought was cute. But right now, I don’t think it was cute anymore.
“One of them had a distinctive butterfly pin on the left side of her hair. There was another maid who was next to her, but I don’t seem to remember her. I apologize, Your Majesty.” I said, still sniffling.
As soon as I finished talking, a noise of aggressive shuffling was heard near the far end of the room. I shot my head towards the direction and I swear I felt a raging burst of anger within myself. Of course, how could I not have seen that coming?
The timid one was there, not the tall one. There could be another entrance or something. She could’ve slipped in unnoticed when they had toasted their drinks. The maid stood behind Niu Lin. I can already see the sweat molecules dripping down her face.
I pointed my finger. “She’s right there!”
The ‘butterfly maid’ was juggling her pin. It was so obvious that I wanted to laugh. Her hair looked like someone ran their hands through it and shot their hand up. The butterfly pin was launched across the room. Dong Mei was the one who picked it up. She held the butterfly pin to the ‘audience’ like a magician after they grab the bunny out of the hat.
I was amused at the pure stupidity of the maid. She had a priceless expression of guilt painted on her face. She quickly dashed to the middle of the hall and touched the ground with her head. “Please forgive me, Empress!”
The Empress pursed her lips. She eyed me from top to bottom before her fury started to rise higher than it was ever before.
“Was this Niu Lin’s idea?” Chang Ying questioned, she glanced at Niu Lin.
“N-No, Your Grace! I thought Noble Consort Han and Noble Consort Qi’s feud was silly! I wanted to end—” the maid’s breath was shaking, and so was the tight fist clenching her butterfly pin.
“Who else was with you?” the Empress Dowager demanded.
“One of Noble Consort Jiao’s maids...” the maid shivered. Her hair was tangled. It looked as if someone scribbled at the top of her head. Tears were still forming in her eyes.
I had no pity.
“We’ll sort this out later,” the Empress Dowager motioned her hand towards a eunuch. “Take her away.”
I stood there stiffly, some eyes were still on me. I was wearing something the Empress would wear. This was more embarrassing than the time I said ‘orgasm’ instead of ‘organism’ in the third grade.
Whatever, I looked better in this outfit anyway.
The Emperor cleared his throat and ushered one of the maids next to him with his hand. “Please get her another attire.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” the maid bowed and quickly headed out of the hall.
I stayed in my chamber for at least ten minutes, waiting for my attire. Even though I was humiliated out there, at least I wasn’t sent to a dark, musty cell for around three days like last time.
My maids rushed in holding a beautiful baby blue hanfu. It was silky and felt good underneath my fingers. I smiled tiredly at them. As they were dressing me, Chen Xi spoke up, “Those women are horrid.”
“At least I’m alive and safe. I didn’t get disciplined but... the embarrassment...” I sighed.
With caution, I fixed my headpiece that was slightly falling.
The banquet was peaceful. The second prince shared the same beauty as the Emperor, I suspected them to be from the same mother. The youngest princess was fourteen, not that younger than the women in the harem. It was weird to think of it like that. Truthfully, I don’t know how old the Emperor was.
We dined and talked for a while. The dumplings were filling, but I devoured it like I haven’t eaten for days. After setting my chopsticks down, a loud thud caused me to jump. There were a few murmurs and gasps that caught my attention.
I stood up sharply but the crowd of women was covering what I wanted to look at.
How chaotic was I? I stood up when I thought there was drama!
After one of the princesses shooed away the crowd, it was revealed to everyone. A concubine had her entire weight dropped onto the ground. Her eyes were half-opened. Her chest was still puffing up and down, signalling that she didn’t die.
There was confusion in the crowd.
“Is she alright, Your Highness?” I asked, turning to the eldest princess who was kneeling to check her pulse. She had a very petite button nose that I admired; she had the nose of a small Asian toddler. If nobody had told me she was the eldest, I wouldn’t have guessed it. The eldest princess was quite eye-catching. She had a babyface.
The Emperor had already called the physician, right when his eyes caught the concubine dropping on the floor. It was up to all of us to remain calm and not do anything foolish. But I was afraid if it was what I thought it would be.
When the eldest princess turned her head to face me, her frown curved up into a gentle smile. She raised her eyebrows in astonishment but quickly dismissed the look on her face. “Yes. She will be fine. We’ll have to get her—”
“Your Majesty, I feel dizzy and ill..” were the words that came out of the concubine’s mouth. She coughed a little before trying to get up.
The Emperor had a slight spark in his eyes. It shone brighter when he acknowledged the girl on the ground.
“Don’t get up,” the eldest princess said sharply while cautiously pushing the concubine down. “Allow me to check your pulse.”
The princess’s two fingers were on the concubine’s wrist. I could hear my heart beating rapidly. I prepared myself in case my thoughts were confirmed. When the princess slowly moved her fingers, she raised her eyebrows and smiled.
My heart sank.
“Your Majesty! She’s pregnant!”
I swallowed my spit and braced myself before the familiarity of my jealousy storms into my body.