I dreamt of a mother bird watching over her babies. It was a little hazy, as there were only a few parts I managed to understand. The mother bird flew, and flew into the sky, attacking anyone who went against her children. As the bird arrives back to her nest, the strong winds blew it away, and so the mother bird is in defeat.
I was in tears although I was still dreaming. I missed my family. It hasn’t been a week but I was already going insane. The thought of people that cared for me, searching everywhere to find me, saddened me to such an extent. The idea of me never coming back home and never being able to access the internet, crushed me. All the factors that caused me to become depressed, ran into my mind at this very moment and woke me up.
But I sensed another presence with me.
“You have awakened,” His Majesty breathed.
His face was about ten inches away from me, kneeling to face me. I didn’t expect him to pop up into my chamber uninvitedly, but I wasn’t complaining at all. He didn’t smile, yet he had a friendly tone in his voice.
“Good morning, Your Majesty. May I ask why you’ve come this early in the morning?” I yawned, covering my mouth as I widened my mouth. He would be unattracted after looking at me yawn.
“I just wanted to see how you were holding up,” the Emperor replied, backing away from me as I got up from the second bed. “May I ask why your lady-in-waiting is sleeping on your bed?”
Is he mad? I couldn’t tell if he was or not. He looked at me with no expression on his face; he studied me carefully. Does he know that it makes me nervous?
I tried to smooth the front of my hair down. I tried to make it seem like I was busy doing something to think of my answer. “Truthfully, Your Majesty, I wanted to take turns with Hua Er because it’s not fair for me to take the bed every night. I apologize and take any blame for it if I broke any rules.”
The Emperor, still, showed no expression. It was as if he was thinking about something. “That’s very courteous of you. There are no rules involving this, it’s just that I wouldn’t expect you to do that.”
“You think I’m a horrible person, Your Majesty? Is that what you were aiming for? I thought we made it clear that whatever happened the first time we met, I was being rebellious and foolish.” I retorted back vigorously.
As his back was turned against me, I could see his shoulders moving, and his entire body shaking. His laughter spread across the room, and it was the most unexpected thing that ever happened to me. It was too early for this.
“I’m amused by the look of your face, forgive me if I offended you,” he faced me again, a big smile spread on his face like a little boy after someone gave him toy cars for his birthday. “It’s entertaining to tease you.”
“I’m glad to amuse you, Your Majesty.”
I will slap you silly.
“Of course,” the Emperor replied. He opened his mouth to say something but paused. “I wish I could talk to you more, but I am very busy. I hope to see you soon, Ying Yue.”
“Likewise.” I gave him a bow as he turned his back on me and left my chamber.
“Also, I will provide you with four maids a little earlier,” he turned his head around. “Don’t discuss this with the other concubines. That’s an order.”
“I will not, Your Majesty, I thank you for your kindness...”
He left promptly.
Well, that was... eventful.
I was just going to say that four maids were too much...
The Emperor left a different impression after he left my room. His childlike behaviour showed this morning, which I’ve never seen before. I knew he had a tough exterior, but I soon realised he wasn’t what he looked like. As I was left alone in my thoughts, I turned my head to my left side. “Hua Er, I know you’re awake.”
Fake sleeping Hua Er began to open her eyes immediately after. “You woke me up.”
“Don’t lie to me. When His Majesty was talking to me, I saw your eyes open and close.” I let out a soft giggle.
“I did no such thing, don’t accuse me so quick.” Hua Er retorted with a grin.
Being in the palace was an absolute bore. Since all the other concubines settle in the palace just for the Emperor, there’s not much to do unless you’re having sexual intercourse with him.
“You’re getting a hang of this, Ying Yue!” Su Yin, a former Imperial Concubine, was complimenting me the entire match.
“Thank you, it’s my first time!” I smiled back as I peered down at my cards.
“You’ve never played simple cards before?” Jia Ying, Su Yin’s lady-in-waiting, called out in shock, widening her eyes.
Su Yin and Jia Ying, were definitely, good people. I never would’ve known I was going to make friends.
I shook my head. “These rules are slightly different than what I’ve played before.”
Su Yin has been staying in the palace for a year, and her rank is still an Imperial Concubine. The Emperor does not ask her to arrive at his chamber anymore. Surprisingly, Su Yin is neutral about the situation. Her parents died at an early age before she became a concubine. Living in the palace was the only way to escape her abusive aunt.
Jia Ying was her sister. They both looked alike, but Su Yin had angrier features.
“I win!” Su Yin threw her cards down, raising her arms in victory with a goofy smile on her face.
“You always win!” my lady-in-waiting whined grumpily. She threw her cards down with emotion.
“You won four times in a row,” I mentioned as I took a sip of my tea. “How do you do it?”
“I’ve been playing for years,” Su Yin started to shuffle the cards, despite the rule that the loser is supposed to. “I’m not that great at this, luck is always by my side.”
We watched the winner shuffle the playing cards swiftly, managing to keep the cards from flying in different directions. As Hua Er and Jia Ying talk amongst themselves, I glanced at a far distance to see a group of girls huddling together.
“Who are they? Are they also Imperial Concubines?” I whispered, still staring as they walked towards us. Their attire was different than ours.
“Quick, stand up!” Su Yin whispered.
I quickly looked around in confusion. As the strangers approached, all three of my friends bowed gracefully. I followed a bit later.
“What’s your name?” a rather arrogant female snapped. I could feel her eyes scanning me like I was a barcode.
“Ying Yue.” I looked her straight in the eye.
“Do you not know the basic manners and etiquette in this palace?” she scoffed.
She stood in the middle of the two girls, meaning she was undoubtedly much more important than me.
“I wasn’t taught that yet, they taught us the basics during the ceremony. Please excuse me,” I replied boldly as I crossed my arms. “May I ask, why should I bow to you?”
“I am Niu Lin, as a Noble Consort,” she spoke, emphasizing her title at the end. “I suggest you practice your manners and etiquette. You, an Imperial Concubine, will bow to me. Since it’s a good day today for me, I’ll let you go.”
“Well forgive me, Lady Niu Lin,” I bowed. “Concubines, Noble Consorts, Empresses, they’re all the same in my eyes. We are all sisters in the harem, aren’t we?”
“You foolish concubine,” she crudely laughed, widening her mouth to exaggerate her laughter. I wasn’t trying to be funny. “I am your superior, I can get you lashed, watch your tone when you talk to me.”
I stepped towards her. We were both glaring at each other, but I can tell no one had stood up against her, judging by her behaviour. “Although you are my superior, I expect the same respect as well. Like previously said, we are all sisters in the harem.”
“Hmph!” Niu Lin turned her head away from me. The girls surrounding her followed as she hastily walked away from us. Her hanfu was graceful, but not the wearer.
One girl stayed back. She slowly approached us with anxiousness, but surprisingly, gave us a friendly look. “Please excuse Lady Niu Lin, she’s very cocky. Miss, I would be glad to give you lessons.”
“Thank you, that is very nice of you.” I bowed.
“You, Ying Yue, are a bold woman.” Jia Ying smiled with her teeth, clapping at my performance.
“His Majesty favours her, Ying Yue could only receive light punishments.” Hua Er said with confidence.
I smiled nervously, looking at them stare at me in awe. Su Yin quickly peered down at her cards, avoiding my eye contact. She was noticeably frowning.
“I-It’s not like that! Even if His Majesty favoured me, I would never... I-” I waved my hands apprehensively.
Su Yin looked up and gave me a reassuring smirk. “It’s okay, Ying Yue, my interest in the Emperor is long gone.”
“I’m starving, let’s head back to eat.” Hua Er interrupted, giving me a nod.
“You understand? These are very strict rules you must not break.” the concubine instructed solemnly, giving me a piece of tofu as she spoke.
“I understand,” I replied with my mouth filled with food. “Mmf, thanks for teach... ing me, mmfh... You... really-”
“Please restrain from speaking with your mouth full!” my instructor was fairly sick of my terrible manners.
What can I say? I learned the best from my era.
I swallowed everything and laughed. “My apologies, this is definitely not going to work for me.”
The concubine sighed stressfully. “It’s fine. I just hope you don’t do such ill-mannered actions when you are in front of the Emperor. He’ll lose interest in you and never pick you for night attendance.”
“To Hell, I care about bearing his child!” I scoffed.
“Ying Yue! Please don’t say that so loud!” she gasped. “I’ve never seen such a lady! You have a kind heart, though...”
“Greatly appreciate this meal, and thank you for teaching me rules that I,” sighing dramatically, I twirled around. “Will probably break. Would you like me to escort you back to your chamber?”
The concubine got up as well, giving her maids a nod. She looked at me and shook her head with a tight smile on her face. “You have the personality of a six-year-old boy. It’s refreshing.”
“Thank you!” I bowed.
I skipped happily with her towards her chamber and bowed again before I left to mine. It’s been a long day. I was glad that I didn’t have to spend time causing problems with other concubines, but I knew I had to deal with this bullshit until I collect all the ingredients.
I forgot all about Jaxon.
The only ingredient I could remember was Jasmine green tea and the Emperor’s spit. I chuckled a little to myself. Memories of Jaxon and I laughing under the moon made me feel comfortable within myself, and I couldn’t help but miss talking to him. His little dimple on his right, the sound of his laughter... He was such a good friend.
I needed to talk to him.
I sprang up from my bed immediately, rushing out of my chamber to look for Jaxon. As I scanned around the hallway, I saw a royal guard coming towards me. I speed-walked past him, hoping he wasn’t suspicious.
“Miss, I want a word with you!”