I don’t think things through, exactly. I let myself go with the flow, regardless of my instincts and where my feelings take me. People may have called it ‘reckless’ but I prefer the term ‘carefree’. Either way, it served a purpose. It’s not wrong to speak your mind. Especially when it’ll hurt you if you don’t.
I sat at the far side of the court, staring at the Emperor and his councillors from afar. I don’t think I was supposed to be here, but the men didn’t stare at me as much as before. This was the second time the Emperor had invited me, omitting the idea that women shouldn’t be involved in state affairs. I wasn’t involved, though, just watching from afar.
They kneeled at court, on the sidelines so the middle of the hall was empty. Although not many were acknowledging me as much as before, I still felt uneasy.
The Emperor was speaking about the turmoil in various villages and spoke about the struggle of having to leave his palace to go on long trips. A councillor proceeded to step forward to the aisle to give his opinion but the Emperor raised the palm of his hand quickly.
“But there is a solution,” he said with a glint in his eyes. “From now on, every year we will conduct various information from households nation-wide. I will send out messengers to collect the completed papers. All my advisors will analyze the information and I will bring it up during morning assemblies to discuss.”
The councillors bobbed their head, obviously impressed. I tried to release the subconscious smile on my face.
The Emperor continued, “And there is quite a system I want to push onto. A system where other citizens can write to us and whoever they wish. It may take a while to get to the destinations but that means it will create more jobs and also give us outside knowledge. Does everyone agree with this procedure?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” they all chimed in.
He looked so attractive sitting on this throne with a stoic expression on his face. The Emperor meant business and it sure looked like it. His court outfit made him look powerful.
I hope the guards don’t turn to look at me, I already feel my cheeks warming.
One councillor set himself on the aisle, holding a scroll in his hand. “Your Majesty, if I may ask, how did you come up with this brilliant idea?”
There was a slight fidget under his sleeve. His hand was moving underneath his wide sleeves, discreetly but failing as I could see it clearly. The Emperor cleared his throat when the advisor exchanged eye contact with him. I waited for them to say my name.
I straightened my back. I wasn’t going to have them call me with a hunch bank. A high-ranking woman in the harem must have perfect posture, but sometimes I get a little hunched. It was time to shine.
My time to shine.
A Noble Consort invented such a practical idea, that it could work out in their favour; something that was useful, innovative, even though I stole this idea from who knows when they invented the mail system.
My heart was racing. I tried to hide a bright smile on my face but it was difficult to. My teeth were grinding against the insides of my cheeks. I took a deep breath and exhaled when the Emperor opened his mouth to speak.
Already, my hands were shaking. I don’t think anyone could see. I don’t think anyone knew how excited I was.
“My trusted, main advisor, Cao Shen,” the Emperor announced, with hesitation but masked it with a strong voice that illuminated the room, “had the intelligence to think of such an idea!”
It was just then, my jaw dropped. I felt my body disintegrate into dust, up to the shoes of the guards standing with me. I melted under the brutal words of the Emperor. The brutal words of insincere and downright betrayal. Not only did he fall under the influence of patriarchy, but he couldn’t acknowledge the Noble Consort he invited for dinner right when he came back from his journey. I thought I was doted on so much, that he could at least give me the credit.
I was wrong, I guess.
With those words of dishonesty, I didn’t know how to feel. I felt weak under the tension of my thoughts. I wanted to rage. How dare the Emperor pull a UNO reverse card on me! The bubbles of my boiling blood were rising over the surface. It was like my slight interest in the Emperor vanished but still circulated in thin air like a cloud forming above my head.
When I’m frustrated, I don’t think. I have no moral conscience when I have a temper shooting through the centre of the top of my head. The Emperor must have seen the big smoke coming out of my nostrils and ears because he gave me a side glance.
The advisor detected our little tension and ran his mouth. “Well, y-yes, it was an idea that I have been thinking about for an extended period. I—"
That blew it.
“Your Majesty,” I said, in a subtly demanding way. This was the first time I ever spoke in the court hall and definitely the first consort to do so as well because all the government officials turned to look at me. They eyed me with curiosity, or was it annoyance? I wouldn’t know. “Uh... I thought it was me who...”
Every single person had this blank, confused face. Realistically, I definitely would’ve laughed this one off but the pressure on me was antagonizing that I slipped up and let the words flow passive-aggressively out my mouth.
“Your Majesty, not to rudely interrupt but where was my credit? Just because I am only a woman in the harem does not mean my ideas will not belong to me.” I spoke again, this time without my awareness of anything. I felt my face burning hot. It was so hot that when I placed the back of my fingers against my cheek, I felt the burn.
The Emperor, not knowing what to do, stayed in his throne processing what I had unleashed. His eyes were more awake now, I mean, he did wake up at seven every morning.
I don’t think he was as frustrated as I thought he’d be but his facial expressions remained the same throughout. The guards also kept their cool. One of them took a step back from where I was.
My embarrassment was noticeable. I could feel it. I wanted to run away and dive my head into the pillow of the bed in my chamber, but, although I wanted to erase myself from the face of this universe, my feet remained like cement stuck to the floor of the hall.
The Emperor’s right-hand man had his neck dipped down. His eyes focused on the ground instead of me. I wonder why he wasn’t glaring at me by now. If I was him, I would’ve been at least mildly ashamed of myself.
The Emperor cleared his throat, hesitating to look at me. But he eventually did. There was a small glint in his pitch-black eyes. “Ying Yue, it is impolite to be interrupting this court meeting.”
“I just want my credit, Your Majesty,” I stood my ground as my body stiffened. Maybe I had a death wish. “I apologize for interrupting, but it was highly disrespectful for you to erase myself from this idea.”
There it was. The highlight of our bickering—or rather, small but important argument—was at this scene right here. In front of every important official. Was he ashamed? Embarrassed? I wouldn’t know. But I knew he wasn’t as mad as I thought he’d be because his almost black eyes were glistening under the lights, and I could’ve sworn amusement was an undertone in his expression.
“Very well,” he sighed, then turning his head to face his audience. “Maybe I had been dishonest. My intelligent consort came up with everything, relatively speaking to the system I just explained.”
“Your Majesty,” a middle-aged official that looked good for his age, settled himself down in the empty aisle. “How in the world could a woman think of that?”
“Your Majesty, she was only just a farm girl! There must be someone behind this! She stole this idea, evidently.” another official joined.
I clenched my jaw.
“Your Majesty, it’s impossible to think a farm girl who has never been in nobility before would come up with this idea,” the middle-aged official continued. “And she’s a woman!”
The hall began to burst into an endless chatter. Every official spoke up with their opinions even though they weren’t sitting in the pathway. I could hear at least two of the men defend me. This was the shock of my life. The blatant sexism was out and about and I had to conform to it like an obedient dog. A cool breeze was going into my subconsciously widened mouth.
“Enough!” the Emperor roared, standing up to stomp his foot. The burst of anger and the sound of his foot echoed in the room.
There was immediate silence amongst them and one of the officials had quickly situated himself back into his spot. But the middle-aged one remained.
The Emperor shook his head. “Wei Cheng, refrain from speaking this foolishness. Must I ask you to leave this court for today?”
Wei Cheng. He looks like trouble.
“I apologize, Your Majesty,” he mumbled.
“Don’t underestimate a Noble Consort.” the Emperor spoke again. It felt strange listening to that come out of his mouth.
The Emperor gave me one last glance before continuing the discussion on strategies and plans for the mailing system while his officials spoke and listened. Everyone seemed to forget what just happened seconds ago, which was fine with me.
It was fine with me!
The Emperor could throw me in prison for all I care, I just wanted the credit that I deserved. Sure, I stole the idea from somewhere else, but honestly who wouldn’t have done that? I’m making history, baby!
I had mixed feelings about the Emperor. But still, he wasn’t reluctant to deny the fact that I was the one who introduced the idea in front of all his officials. The Emperor deep down... could be a good man.