I tried to get up but she pushed me down again. She squatted down towards me until she was eye level with me. “You little temptress... You were supposed to be rejected like that lady-in-waiting you have.”
I smirked. “Temptress? If I’m a temptress, you must be-”
I felt a stinging pain as she slapped me across the face. “You wench! You disrespected me, and the Emperor still decided to let you in? And you dare to go with him to the gardens?”
“I mean, he asked, what’s it to you?” I retorted, trying to get up but the evil witch was in my way. I rubbed my sweaty hands on my cheek. It burned.
“You’re a mere Imperial Concubine! Han Ying Yue, how dare you-” the Empress was fuming, I could see the imaginary smoke coming out of her ears and nose.
“His Majesty arrives!”
“Greetings to the Emperor!” we kowtowed, I silently thanked him for interrupting our little disagreement.
“You may all rise.”
This is something that I’ll have to get used to.
“Your Majesty,” the Empress cheerfully walked up to the Emperor. She bowed. “It’s so pleasant to see you.”
“Likewise,” he spoke gently, then turning to face me. “Thank you for helping Ying Yue with her hair. Her lady-in-waiting was occupied at the time, so my apologies for the inconvenience. The Imperial Concubines still haven’t been given maids yet.”
The Empress shook her head in denial, still with a big grin on her face. “Oh, no worries, Imperial Concubine Han and I are very good friends.”
I’ve never wanted to punch someone in the face this much in my life. The sleeves of my hanfu hid my fists that were balled up in frustration. It took me a lot of strength to not risk my life and end the Empress’s.
“We’ll be going now,” the Emperor stated, then gripping my arm to lead us out.
I would expect the Emperor to realise the redness of my cheek, but I remembered I had blush on. The Emperor is, and probably will be, oblivious to his insanely envious wife. I slightly didn’t want to blame the Empress for her attitude. It’s pretty sexist for the Emperor to have concubines yet the Empress can’t. Why does the Emperor need so many women to breed anyway?
I need to rant to Jaxon soon.
I’m not going to lie, my cheek stung a little bit and it lingered. I took that slap like a champ. I barely flinched when she slapped me, but I was still in frustration that I wasn’t able to defend myself. The next time she tries me, I will be sure to snap back at her.
“What’s on your mind?” the Emperor asked as we headed out.
“How did you and the Empress meet?” I asked quickly, perhaps a little bit too fast.
It was a simple, curious question that has crossed my mind for a while. They most likely had chemistry at first, but soon faded after their marriage. It seemed like it, yet I always see the pure happiness of the Empress whenever the Emperor arrives or shows her affection. I almost felt sorry for the Empress. It truly is hard to watch someone you love giving their love to other women.
The Emperor laughed and paused for a bit. “That’s a straightforward question to ask. A concubine has never asked me that before.”
“I apologize, Your-”
“You don’t have to,” he said, smiling to himself. “We were children, her mother was friends with mine. She was just a peasant, but a peasant that caught my eye. We played together for hours. At first, my mother didn’t approve of the interaction, which lead to an argument with the Empress’s mother. But, later on, everything went well. I guess it just happened... There isn’t much to say.”
“Interesting,” I mumbled as I was too caught up in the scenery. There was still doubt I had in the story. It seemed too... cliché. “What a beautiful love story, Your Majesty.”
I hope he didn’t catch on my sarcasm.
“Now, I feel like I’ve been drifting away from her,” he paused for a moment, then clearing his throat. We both turned to face each other. “I’m busy and usually unavailable due to the issues going on right now, and I doubt the Empress realises that. I still love her but-”
“Not that much as before,” we both said simultaneously.
There was a calm silence between us. He stopped walking, and so I followed. There was an unusual atmosphere surrounding us. It was strangely heartwarming and it was a feeling that I couldn’t explain. Even as different people, I feel like we could be connected. He was the ruler of an empire, and I was just a normal citizen from the year 2018, or in other words, a peasant. It was weird, really weird, but I sort of liked it.
He also opened up to me fast.
The Emperor caressed the top of my head. We both looked at each other without the need for words coming out of our lips. “Ying Yue, have you ever fell in love?”
As much as I wanted him to stop petting me like a dog, I knew he was in a vulnerable state, so I let him. I looked away from him as my heart fluttered.
“Of course I did, Your Majesty, we were both young and in love that time,” I softly responded. “As time went by, we distanced from each other... It was heartbreaking but we decided to-”
“Your Majesty! I have urgent news!” a eunuch shouted, a few metres away from us. He was soon out of breath, trying to catch up to us.
Can I ever get peace with him in this place?
“What is it?” the Emperor asked with irritation in his tone. He clenched his jaw, and I could tell that he was agitated.
“The Empress’s mother has fallen sick.” the messenger informed, catching his breath as he panted, bending down with his hands on his knees.
“Deep apologies, Ying Yue, this is an urgent matter I have to attend. Will you be okay alone for now?” the Emperor gave me a pitiful look.
“Of course, I hope the Empress’s mother gets well soon.”
I walked back to my chamber, still thinking about the experience with the Emperor. He’s not as bad as I thought he would be, but he’s still married to the Empress and that’s a massive turn off.
Hua Er was in our chamber by the time I got back. She had a whole sewing kit going on, and it seemed to me like she was really into it.
“What are you doing?” I asked. Although I knew what she was doing, I had to start a conversation of some sort.
“Sewing new clothing for us,” she looked up and beamed brightly at me. “Where were you?”
“Out in the gardens with the Emperor.” I dropped my entire weight on the bed, looking at the ceiling. My entire body was so exhausted from today, and it hasn’t even been nighttime yet.
“What? Already?” Hua Er exclaimed, she covered her mouth with her hand. She grabbed my arm and moved it around excitedly.
“What are you doing? W-Why?” I laughed, trying to push her off of me.
“What happened? You must tell me what happened today!”
So I told her.
Every single detail. I told her about the Empress’s insane behaviour and how of a nutjob she is, my stroll with the Emperor, and my first time seeing Lan Yun. I never left a single thing out.
She chuckled. “You just came here and now you’re handling two guys!”
“I’m not interested in them! Hua Er, I just want to get back home, that’s it!” I said exhaustedly, I didn’t have to explain myself but I was amused at Hua Er’s comment.
I laid on my bed for quite some time before falling asleep.
“Ying Yue, it’s time to wake up.”
I woke up to the sound of Jaxon’s voice. I opened my eyes and stared at him. “What do you want?”
“You’re a little snappy,” he ran his fingers through his hair and smirked at me. “Some sort of boring entertainment is happening, the Emperor wants you there. Also, mind you, I am not allowed to be here.”
“What? The performance right?”
“Yes, whatever these people do during their free time,” he yawned after I did. “Now get up. I had to warn you because your eunuch is coming and you need to be prepared.”
“Now you’re stalking me? I can’t have peace in this place...” I grumbled as I flung my bed sheets away from my body, then aggressively hopped down the bed.
“Calm down, we’ll get out of this, okay?” Jaxon gazed at me reassuringly.
My eyes watered as it bored into his. His words were almost comforting enough for me to have trust in him, and have hope that we could make it out of here. Unfortunately, a small piece of me still had doubt, and it slowly devoured every single little hope I had. There was nothing we can do, there were no resources in this place and Google is non-existent.
I couldn’t hold back my tears anymore. I despised being weak and showing my vulnerability to others, but here I was, awkwardly standing up while tears streamed down my face.
“I-I’m sorry...” I sobbed, my voice cracking as I spoke.
Jaxon’s sudden embrace shocked me, but I rested my head on him. His arms were wrapped tightly around me, which made me become overwhelmed by the wave of calmness that washed my fears away. I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to prevent my tears from seeping through my lids.
”Carmen,” he spoke while smoothly stroking my hair. He took a long pause, then sighing heavily. “I’m going to the Imperial Library to see if they have anything there that can be useful. Enjoy the next few hours please.”
”Okay,” I pulled away, then wiping my eyes with the sleeves of my hanfu.
I looked like a grown child who cries non-stop. I wonder what Jaxon thinks of me now. I truly hope that he still has a good impression of me. I don’t want him to assume that he’s the only one who’s putting effort and the only one who’s attempting to get us both home. I want him to know that I am capable of finding the missing puzzle pieces to this mess, and not just capable of crying whenever we discuss this issue.
I already know what he thinks of me regardless.
Hua Er wasn’t with me, but the eunuch I was with ushered me to another palace. We walked in silence. I said nothing. Besides, there was nothing to say.
“Ah, Ying Yue!” the Emperor greets me as soon as I walk in. He looked attractive as usual, with his hair flowing down for the first time.
“Greetings to Your Majesty, I apologize that I am late,” I gave him a small bow, smiling warmly at him.
The room was a bit quiet for a performance. I kneeled and watched as a few songstresses started to sing and play soft instruments. It was a performance I would definitely not pay to see. How on Earth can these people be entertained by this?
As I watched them dance, I embarrassingly started to eat more food than the rest of the other concubines. I could tell most of them were immensely entertained by the show, but the toxic ones I’ve known of, they eyed the songstresses carefully.
I slowly tried to turn my head to take a glance at the Emperor, but the eyes of the Empress met mine faster. I hastily turned my head away, feeling my cheeks turning warm.
Why was the Empress even here? Her mother is sick and she has guts to even see the performance instead of her own mother? There she was, smiling brightly looking at the girls, with her hand on her husband’s hand... I wanted to smack her.
A performance I’ve never expected to come into this palace stood in front of me. My eyes widened and an intentional smile spread across my face. These men had little masks on their face; the masks had tribal-related paint on them. The headpieces, the clothing, they were all so unique. I watched them apprehensively, yet my hands began to clam up while they began to stab their spears closer to me.
I moved a little back, still viewing the performance with anticipation. One of the performers began to move closer to my direction, then the two of them followed. I moved a little more back, smiling apologetically at them. They started to crowd up, then raising their spears in a synchronized manner. The drums began to beat faster and my heart started racing. I turned to look over at the Emperor, his eyes were cold but his facial expression looked more stern than usual. The Empress was also entertained, smiling from ear to ear and clapping with the beat.
The rhythm of the drums was faster. The adrenaline flowed through my system, causing my heart to beat as fast as the rhythm. At the last beat of the drum, I flinched as one of the spears lunged at me.