M. Emperor x F. Palace Servant
A young girl was walking hectically behind the mistress she was serving. The lady was not well ranked amongst the consorts, being namely ignored by the emperor. A picky man though he was, it seemed for good reason that she was not favored. After all, the (h/c) haired girl only just started, still in training for the woman, but she demanded everything be done to her liking. (Y/n) hardly ever got any time to herself, often being whipped harshly for daring to ask for lunch.
Still, as an ex-noble’s daughter, it was her fate. While she was low ranked and not as wealthy as other families or clans, she was still subjected towards the emperor’s rage. Her father had attempted to establish trade routes outside the country, and while it was not anything out of the ordinary, he gave away national secrets. Clearly, it caused outrage, and her noble title was stripped away from her and she, as well as the rest of her family, were resigned to working as either slaves or low-ranking servants.
She came out of it as one of the lucky ones, but it didn’t mean life was easy for her. On the contrary, she lived a difficult life. There were incredibly strict rules in the palace, and if she broke any, she’d likely be on death row. It frightened her, but not more than what she had already experienced. She could hold herself up to all the rules. It just meant she had to confine herself to living without a real purpose.
Thus, confined to the role of an obedient maid, the younger girl stood behind her mistress with the other servants. The ladies had just gotten their shipment of dresses imported from the eastern side of the country. They were deeply excited about the prospect of impressing the emperor with their beauty, but it was more likely he wouldn’t care. At least, that was what the servants gossiped about when their mistresses weren’t there.
“Does this color please you on me, High Consort Liuxian?” the younger girl’s mistress asked, attempting to make friends with those more redeemed than herself.
“I’d have to say white is a rather lovely color, yes. Your complexity is beautiful with the silk. And what of this pink color?”
As the consorts and concubines continued to speak about seemingly pointless things. While the (h/c) haired girl would have enjoyed discussing such things when she was a noble, it seemed as if they were flouting their wealth unnecessarily. How they even had the gall to ask the emperor for such frivolous things, the younger girl had no idea. She sighed, rolling her eyes discreetly. If her mistress had seen such behavior, she would have been whipped, but (Y/n) had come to learn if she wasn’t caught, it was perfectly fine. In fact, she would say it was encouraged.
As the ladies were exchanging dresses and headpieces with one another to see what suited them best, the younger girl changed with another servant. It was one of the few times she was allowed to take a break and eat. Determined to do just that, she scurried along to where she would be both out of the way and the sights of others. Wandering around almost aimlessly, she discovered a small garden to rest herself.
However, in the midst of eating lunch, she found a small child stumbling around. He must have been three or four with raven black hair and matching eyes. On the brink of tears, he looked as though he was lost, unable to find his way back from where he came from. The sight invoked the adoration the (h/c) haired girl had for children, and she couldn’t leave him there. Putting on an amiable smile, she stood up and walked over to the poor thing, getting on her knees to address him.
“Are you alright, sweetheart?”
The small boy had tears in his eyes as he looked up at the girl, bawling while rubbing at his already red eyes. As if he sensed she only wanted to help him, he clung to her, sobbing loudly while burying himself in her neck. Though surprised, the (h/c) haired girl hugged him softly, telling him softly that everything would be alright. He seemed to believe her, taking comfort in her loving embrace. It touched him deeply, and he wanted nothing more than to fall asleep in her arms.
While he attempted to fight it, she had noticed he was tired, and instinctively sang him a lullaby she had adored as a child. He pouted but ultimately caved it, falling into her arms when he could no longer hold his head up himself. She chuckled, carrying him in her arms with as little movement as possible. The small boy was out like a light, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t wake up if something suddenly startled him.
Without a thought to where the boy had come from, the (h/c) haired girl took him to her mistress. She hadn’t wanted to interrupt, of course, planning to stand to the side until they were finished. That being said, the moment she walked into the room, she found herself in the presence of the emperor himself. Quickly bowing with the child in her arms, she couldn’t stop him from waking up. It was imperative she dropped to her knees in his presence, and, unfortunately, his sleep came second to such a thing.
Fearful to look up at the man, the younger girl simply stared at the small boy waking up. Tears sprung in his eyes again and he cried, alerting everyone in the area to her sudden presence. She felt scowls on her for daring to interrupt the emperor’s visit, and no doubt she would receive a harsh punishment from her mistress for doing so. Shivering, she attempted to comfort the small ravenette in the tense and unnerving atmosphere. It must have been bad for his heart.
“Your highness!” a eunuch gasped, rushing to the small boy the girl held, “You cannot run off like that again! We were panicking!”
The ravenette didn’t even look at the powerful political advisor, largely ignoring him. In fact, he only looked up at (Y/n) and gave a concerned frown, hugging her tightly. It was as if he was asking for her to sing him to sleep again so he could slumber soundly. That being said, the girl in question was practically ripped away from him by another and he started crying. Immediately, all movement halted and he was able to scurry back over to the lady who had helped him. There were gasps at the sight.
“Shufen,” a powerful voice spoke, the small boy turning his head around with curiosity, “You’ve interrupted my work. Why?”
“Mother was scolding me,” the small boy mumbled shyly, hiding in the (h/c) haired girl’s ruqun, “She hit me and I ran. Sorry…”
One could hear a pin drop in the room. It was unsettling to everyone around, and none dared to speak until the emperor did. In the meantime, however, the little ravenette continued to grab at the maid. He very clearly enjoyed her attention, and while she would have been happy to give it to him, doing so in front of the emperor would have been disrespectful. As such, she placed her finger to her lips, earning a vigorous nod from the boy - who she now knew as the emperor’s first and only son.
It didn’t surprise her, seeming as most children in the palace were those of high-ranked consorts or visiting nobles. However, when heavy footsteps came her way, she flinched, wondering if she would be punished for even touching the boy. That being said, she felt Shufen being taken away from her, lifted up by his father who held him tightly. The ravenette smiled, letting him fix his hair and kiss him gently on the forehead as if he were the most precious thing on earth.
“This maid helped you?”
“Mm! Can we help her, too?”
“That’s only natural,” the young man smiled, patting his son on the head affectionately, “Deliver this girl 200 taels of gold and a new ruqun for her service to me. I thank you for protecting my son. Continue to serve this palace well.”
“O-Of course, your imperial majesty. I-I will endeavor to do my best!”
The small ravenette wiggled from his father’s arms to hug the maid before leaving, holding the emperor’s much larger hand. It was often unusual for an emperor to have so much attachment to one son. However, seeming as he was the only heir produced, it was only natural he was special. The thought made the younger girl smile. When first seeing Shufen, she feared his parents were ignoring him, but he was well-taken care of. And while she wasn’t greedy, 200 taels of gold would surely take care of her and whatever members of her family she could help.
It was perhaps a week of continuous scoldings and slaps from her mistress that (Y/n) endured for gaining compliments from the emperor, himself. While it was well deserved, seeming as she touched the next in line for the throne, she had already been forgiven and rewarded for doing that. That being said, it wasn’t as if she could go against her mistress’s orders. She was still a servant whether or not she did the emperor a small favor.
At least, that was what she thought. However, when she took her lunch back out to the same garden, she saw a ravenette rushing towards her with open arms. Eunuchs ran behind him as quickly as they could, attempting to keep up with the small, energetic bundle of joy. They likely didn’t want to incur the emperor’s wrath for losing his child a second time. Anyone would have been fearful of that even if they weren’t the ones at fault.
“You came!” Shufen giggled, latching onto the maid and nuzzling her, “I thought I wasn’t going to get to see you ever again!”
“Good afternoon, your highness.”
“I brought my ball! Can we play a game or two?”
“Of course, your highness.”
Although the (h/c) haired girl addressed the boy as he was typically called - referring to him as his station rather than his name as was custom - she felt no intimidation from him. It was rather the eunuchs that she was wary of, attempting not to make a wrong move in front of them. They would likely scold her intensely if Shufen had gotten hurt in their game. That being said, the hopeful look on the ravenette’s face couldn’t let her say no to him. She just had to play, and the moment she accepted, his eyes lit up with joy.
The two kicked around his elaborate ball with giggles. (Y/n) slowed her running to prove a better match for the boy, which she knew he appreciated. His chuberic pink cheeks made her find it hard to frown. He had an aura of beauty surrounding him that anyone would admire. It was no wonder he was the son of his father.
Watching on from afar, the emperor stopped in his tracks. He had been walking from one of his consorts to a meeting with his generals, but when hearing his son’s unmistakeable squeals, he halted everything completely. Turning his head to the sight, he found that same maid playing with him. He blushed. It was unusual for Shufen to take a liking to anyone, especially any of the consorts. He absolutely hated them, worried they would take his father away from him. While it wasn’t the case, it was refreshing to see he had a woman to look up to.
“Who is that servant?” the young man asked, holding his sleeve in front of his mouth to stifle the chuckles he made at his son’s jumps.
“I believe she works for Concubine Lai, your imperial majesty.”
The more the male studied the woman playing with his son, the more he became confused. Certainly, he recognized her face. It was one of his roles as emperor to know and understand his nobles. While a low-ranked one, her family nonetheless made a handful of trips to the palace to pay their respects to him. In fact, he remembered seeing her at his son’s birth. She was quite the beauty even then as well.
“I place her family in servitude and I find her playing joyfully like a little girl.”
“Shall I scold her and ensure to her immediate punishment, your imperial majesty?”
“Don’t be a fool. Look at Shufen. He’s glowing radiantly like he does when I tell him he can have an extra almond cookie for dessert. I enjoy this very much. Let her play.”
. . .
It became abundantly clear to everyone in the palace that Consort Lai was moving up in the emperor’s good graces. Some believed it had to do with her occasional arguments with the empress, especially after the latter had been locked in her room for six months for earning the emperor’s ire. Then again, there were those that knew the empress was there due to her abuse of the emperor’s son and that Consort Lai had little to do with it. It was not that the emperor favored Lai. It was that he favored her maid.
(Y/n) had become quite dependable in the short amount of time she had been working at the palace. Although she would make mistakes - as any human would - she went beyond what was expected of her. Every day, without fail, she would provide comfort to Shufen every day. The boy was delighted to see her, and even more so to nap or play games with her. She became the woman he looked up to the most and quickly marked her as his role model. After all, seeming as his mother was not fond of him - and rather abhorred his existence - he enjoyed her constant affection and reassurance.
The emperor had often stopped in his walks to watch the two. He had no conversation with the (h/c) haired maid, but he knew it was fate. The male hadn’t ever seen someone so invested in his son. They all pretended to care deeply, but none went out of their way for his wellbeing and happiness. As he cherished his only son, he quickly began to cherish her as well, so much so that he approached her one day.
“It is a shame your work ethic and integrity are wasted in the servitude of Consort Lai, is it not?”
The male watched as shivers went up to her spine. He resisted the urge to snicker, but he couldn’t stop the dumb-founded smile on his features from appearing. Immediately, she dropped to her knees and bowed, confusing Shufen. The little ravenette ran over and smiled upon seeing his two favorite people in the world. Throwing his arms around his father’s leg, he eavesdropped on their conversation.
“I-It’s an honor to...be in your presence, your imperial majesty,” she cowered, taking in sharp and terrified breaths.
“Dear girl, there is no need for the formalities. Raise your head and stand.”
Apprehensively, (Y/n) followed the orders of the emperor, her legs shaking and daring to give out from under her. The very real fear of being unable to stand and thrown to her butt in his presence made her sweat. She disliked the feeling of being intimidating by his astounding aura. The (h/c) haired girl hadn’t even set her eyes on him, but she knew he resembled a higher being. She likely wouldn’t be able to comprehend him even if she did look at him.
“You err on the side of caution. There’s something admirable about that, but risks are often worth taking, you know.”
“Thank you for the wisdom,” the girl bowed, quaking at the movement, “but I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“I’m telling you to look at me, silly girl.”
“I couldn’t possibly - ”
“Do not go against my wishes. Look at me.”
The male’s tone was dark and shook the younger girl to her core. He had changed so quickly from elegant and regal to demanding. It reminded her that he had the brutality to turn her father into a slave and the rest of her family into low-ranked servants. That being said, she couldn’t think he would want to do anything more to her after being so close to his beloved son. Or was that precisely the reason he spoke so terrifyingly? Perhaps he was distraught over his position in his son’s heart being threatened by her.
“I-If I have done something wrong, your imperial majesty, I w-will repent. And if it’s as great as an insult to spend time with your son, I will i-i-immediately spot seeing him. P-Please forgive me!”
Harshly, the emperor gripped at the girl’s chin, prompting her to wince. He pulled it up so she was no longer bowing and making direct eye contact with him. His aura changed again, becoming both graceful and respectable. Her eyes sparkled. Even as a noble, she never dared to look him in the eyes or even sneak a peek at his form, but it did not disappoint. The male was as handsome as she could fathom.
The male seemed to hold his head high as she took him all in, his smile wide and posture confident. He possessed the most brilliant purple eyes that she almost forgot about the rest of him. His long black hair that trailed behind him contrasted against his pale as white skin that resembled ivory. He wore a gold longpao with fur trailed around his collar that resembled the gold accessory in his hair. The male was the epitome of beauty and grace. She couldn’t stop looking at him with eyes of - what he thought was - desire.
“You will continue to play with my son,” he chuckled, pretending to wipe a smudge off of the girl’s flawless cheek, “He enjoys your company and I enjoy watching the two of you. However, you will no longer do so under the servitude of Consort Lai. I will be stealing you for myself.”
Shufen’s eyes lit up at the sound of what his father proposed. If she was his father’s servant, she would be able to play with him whenever he wanted. They wouldn’t have to wait until lunch any longer, and they could be together in the inner grounds. It excited him to no end, and with an appreciative giggle, the little ravenette shook his father’s robe, bouncing up and down like an excited goat.
“I-I don’t mean to be rude - ”
“Then don’t,” the emperor snapped, narrowing his eyes at the girl, “Accept my generous offer and you will be treated much better as well as provided a higher salary and more benefits. A choice a monkey can make, no doubt. Say yes.”
“But, your imperial highness - ”
“You irritate me. I gave you an order and I expect - no, demand - you follow through with it. Then you address me so formally. You will call me Jin. That, no doubt, should be a simple task for you.”
The (h/c) haired girl once more opened her mouth to speak only for the male to smack her lightly on the head with his fan. While the action was light, the look on his face was not. He didn’t want to hear anything resembling a “no”. The emperor had waited far too long to begin making his move on her. She would have made a better mother than the empress and provided him much more fun in his daily life. It was a no-brainer.
“Repeat it, dear girl,” he instructed, his voice somewhere in between being threatening and being expecting.
“Y-Your imperial highness Jin, I - ”
“Ridiculous. If I wanted to hear someone say my title, I would go to a eunuch, but the fact of the matter is that I’m here with you. Once more and then I will begin punishing you for every time you disobey me.”
“J-Jin!” the younger girl squeaked, earning a giggle from a somewhat dense Shufen.
The emperor suddenly smiled, the tenseness in his shoulders disappearing. Instead of the scowl he had plastered on his face, it was a joyful grin. While it would have been much nicer to have her listen to and follow his orders as he gave them to her, he did suppose he knew her much better than she knew him. Her name was simply a daily habit of his to say at random, often at times he shouldn’t have. No doubt Imperial Consort Shen would have spread word of what happened the previous night. He blushed at the thought.
“Wonderfully done,” he complimented the girl, patting her on the head approvingly, utterly overwhelmed by her adorably awkward facial expression, “Now, for the second matter, you shall report to my chambers tomorrow morning to wake me up. Are we agreed?”
“Your Imperial - ” The startings of a scowl, “J-Jin.” A smile, “I doubt you want me working for you. Y-You were furious with my father and - ”
“I believe one of the first things you should learn is never to doubt me, dear. I am aware of everything I want, and as such, I am well-informed about your situation. And yet, I still demanded you serve me. I am your master. No one else. Me.”
As the emperor spoke, he found himself uncontrollably getting closer to the (h/c) haired maid. His hands reached out without his permission and caressed her cheek again, his lips becoming dangerously close to hers. He would have claimed her right there and then, kissing her and sealing his love for her, but it embarrassed him so. After all, his son was staring right up at him with wide eyes, wondering what he was doing. To make a confession in front of a child that was not hers...it felt bizarre and unnatural. As such, he made a note to do it another time when she was more comfortable with him and his son was away.
“I understand, Jin,” the girl bowed, being abruptly lifted back up by the emperor.
“This pleases me unexpectedly much. I shall reward you with one tael of gold or silver whenever you say my name correctly.”
The emperor then took his son by his small hand and led him away. It left him with a fluttering feeling in his chest to know he would be woken up by (Y/n). If only he had not stripped her family of her title and standing, she would have been quickly made into a critical part of his imperial harem. He would likely have placed her at the level of imperial noble consort. It just went to show how much he wanted her by his side.
However, as things hadn’t turned out that way, keeping her as a personal maid promised to deliver exciting and up-close encounters with her. After all, he couldn’t keep watching her play with his son from afar. He might have become more jealous than he already was. Then again, as a servant, she would be prohibited from marrying without his permission and dismissal. Obviously, he would deny her, and as a servant, she would only be able to serve one master. And her serving only him? Well now, that seemed like a great two-for-one deal to him. Now he just had to wait until morning when it all began.