A woman in a beautiful white robe was standing in front of the imperial watch tower. The soft breeze that blew, swayed her long black hair gracefully. Her maid who had been following her faithfully chided behind her back. It was so uncalled, for the royal concubine to roam around the palace with her hair loose. But her mistress was exceptionally stubborn today. She insisted that it was early in the morning hence there will scarce people to notice about her inappropriate appearance.
The royal concubine was talking a leisure walk that morning after having her breakfast. Unlike their previous routine, her mistress decided to strayed away from their usual path and now she had been standing in front of the watch tower for almost thirty minutes. For the exact duration of time, she had never taken her eyes off the watch tower.
Gushes of wind once again passed through their small entourage. This time, it felt a little colder than usual. The maid unconsciously rubbed her palm against her arms. She signed for the eunuch to wrap the thick fur robe (that he was holding) around their mistress. The young eunuch hurriedly put on the coat on the concubine.
“My Lady. It’s cold here. Let’s go back to the mansion” the maid suggested. She was worried sick about her mistress’ condition. A pregnant woman should not be exposed toward cold temperature like this! If something bad befallen on her mistress, she would be the one who was going to lose her head! The thought alone was enough to send chill down her spine.
The emperor was generally a calm and tranquil figure. He rarely made a scene out of irrelevant stuff such as not putting one’s hair. However, there was something about her mistress that always did not sit well with the emperor.
He had always loose his temper whenever he was in the company of the mistress . His calm and collected persona fade as soon as he saw the mistress. It was always as if they he had a deep hatred toward her. Despite that, the mistress seemed to be his favorite among all of his concubines in the palace. He always visited her mansion and spend the night with her. He cared enough about her to always inquire about the mistress’s frequent sickness. He also held her gently at night , whenever she was visited by her occasional nightmare. Yet…. Somehow, he was quite cold toward her. This young maid could never understand the exact nature of their relationship. Was it love? Or hatred?
What more puzzling was the fact that the mistress , too, was being indifferent toward the emperor. She shown almost no emotion nor reaction toward the treatment that she received from him. They were a pair of odd couple. Other Concubines would die just to get the attention that the emperor gave to her. But not her. On the other hand, this young maid was unsure whether the other concubine would be able to face the cold and moody emperor all the time.
Seeing that her mistress seemed to be deep in thought, the young maid once again tried to call her
“My lady?” This time, her mistress looked directly toward her. “Do you want to go back to your room? It’s getting cold here”
The Lady was starring at the maid’s face for quite a time. She then turned to look at the direction of watch tower. She gazed at the tower longingly.
“Xiao Er, would I be able to see the entire capital if I climbed to the top of the tower?” her soft voice broke the silence between them. Her questions seemed to make the entire group went flustered. The young maid bowed helplessly on the ground. The rest of the group began to imitate her behavior.
“My lady, this is not my place to hold you from doing whatever you want. But My lady must not climb the tower. Please consider your current condition” She appealed.
“But …..I wanted to see the scenery. You know that I am from the neighboring country, right? Since I came here three years ago, I have never gotten the chance to see the boisterous and exuberant place.” Said the royal concubine half crooning.
“This servant does not dare to give any permission my lady” said the young maid. All of the servants were still on the ground, silently pleading for their mistress’ cooperation.
This sight however, riled up the concubine even more. She had set her eyes on the watch tower. She will climb the stairs regardless of myriad consequences she would face in the future.
“I’m going” Said the concubine. She lifted the hem of her skirt before stepping on the first plank. The concubine gladly ignored the sounds of her servants clamoring and pleading for her not to do it. Today she wanted to feel free. No one had ever listened and understand her. Why should she do the same to other people?
“What is going on here?!” A deep baritone voice greeted the group. Every servant that had been prostrating and pleading abruptly stopped at the track. Even the royal concubine paused her step in the middle of first and the second plank.
“Why was there commotion here ?” His question was directed at the young maid who was still on the ground. Yet, the royal concubine knew that it was indirect attack toward her unseemly action that she was about to take few moment ago.
“I was the one who caused this ruckus earlier in the morning” the royal concubine calmly explained the situation. She was still in her previous position on the staircase. “I wanted to see the scenery of the capital from the top of the tower. The servants had already tried to prevent me from going up there, but I was being difficult” she continued.
“Concubine Rong! How dare you standing on the staircase in front of His Majesty like that. You did not even pay obeisance toward His Majesty!” The old eunuch who had been the emperor closest aid chided the royal concubine. In the palace, only him had the power to reprimand a concubine about palace’s propriety without the fear of enduring the emperor’s wrath.
The mistress looked intently at the emperor for a few second as if challenging him to openly scolded her in front of the palace’s aide, before - finally - decided to step down from the plank. She then, performed a perfect curtsied in front of the emperor.
“Forgive this lowly concubine Your Majesty for conducting inappropriate act. This concubine was blinded by an impulse moment that she forgot to take her servant’s advise into consideration” She then proceed to bowed on the ground. The young maid hurriedly went to aid the visibly pregnant concubine to kneel on the pavement.
All of the servants twitched uncomfortably after listening to the concubine’s half baked ‘apology’. Trying to lower oneself on the ground while carrying the emperor’s child was another rule that she purposely broke to annoy the emperor. Just like how she was always acting up recently. In this palace, no one had the audacity to provoke the visibly upset emperor except for concubine Rong.
Since her first arrival at the Tang empire’s palace three years ago, Concubine Rong was always been deemed as a peculiar figure who had no conscience of propriety. Rumors had it that she hailed from a quiet town at the border between Tang empire and Yan Kingdom. Peony town (the rumored town) was under Yan Kingdom’s authority hence making concubine Rong to be the subject of the king of Yan. Taking an unknown peasant girl into the palace was already ludicrous for a man of his status. What more from their neighbouring country that they had longstanding beef with! Therefore, the news about the Tang Emperor making a peasant girl from their enemy’s country into a royal concubine caused an uproar in the royal court.
Most of the officials demanded the emperor to retract his decision officiating her as royal concubine. The emperor vehemently refused to do so. Confused and bewildered, the officials tried to investigate Concubine Rong’s background but to no avail.
The most mind-boggling aspect for this event was the emperor who seemed to be very determine to keep her in the inner court somehow decided to let concubine Rong loose once she was officiated into the inner palace. She was not given proper training on how to properly conduct oneself according to the palace’s rule. This made Concubine Rong to be further alienated by the resident of inner palace for being uncultured and rude. It also did not help that Concubine Rong naturally had an arrogance air around her despite coming from humble beginning.
Nevertheless, she was also highly observant and a quick learner. In the span of only one year, she managed to grasp all the rules and regulation of the inner palace. Not only that, she also gone through the grueling task of learning how to read, write and dance at the same time. This prove to be a partial mistake as her ability to adapt made her to be envied even more. Now that Concubine Rong is currently carrying the emperor’s child, she was practically an outcast in the inner palace. Concubine Rong had enough of all this!
“Concubine Rong!! You…how dare you…” the elder eunuch sweat profusely. He was at loss of words. He never thought that he could live passed this day where a lowly concubine subtly testing the patient of the emperor. He secretly eyeing the emperor to see his reaction toward the ill manner concubine. To his surprise, he saw that the emperor was smirking at the concubine throughout the entire fiasco as if he was enjoying it.
“Err…Your Majesty” the Elderly Eunuch tried to get the emperor’s reaction.
“How should we settle this Your majesty?” he inquired.
The emperor kept on staring at the concubine who was still kneeling on the ground with fascinating face expression. His face suddenly changed to more serious expression and ordered the young maid to help the concubine back at her feet. Once the concubine straightened her body posture, the emperor walked leisurely toward the concubine. He stopped at a moment, and then proceed to stare at her with the exact smirk on his face.
“I see that you are already showing your original self” he was practically hissing at this point making everyone – except for the concubine- to once again bowing on the ground.
“Servant. Take Concubine Rong back to her room. Ensure that she get the rest she needed. Do not let her out of the room” the emperor ordered nonchalantly. He then walked away from the garden as soon as he gave the order. The chaotic morning quieted down as soon as the elder eunuch ushered everyone to dismiss.
In her room, Concubine Rong was trying to force herself to sleep. After being cooped up in the room for quiet a while, she can no longer laying around on the bed the whole day. Her mind suddenly drifted back to her simpler life in Peony town. Living in a small hut with her older brother, Concubine Rong did not have any other family member. Her closest friend was the five-year-old Yue Liang, her neighbor’s granddaughter. It was funny because Concubine Rong was old enough to be Yue Liang’s mother. In fact, she was quite well known as the spinster from their village. At the age of 27, she was not married and still lived with her older brother.
She lived a rather sheltered life with her older brother. Every day, she would spend most of her time, doing chores around their small hut and keeping company with Yue Liang while her brother would venture into the forest to collect herbs to be sold at the apothecary and the town’s market. Except for one particular day, when he came back with serious foot injury. His mobility was hindered and Concubine Rong was pleading for them to switched places for a day.
‘Only if I did not insist to go to the forest the next day’. She realized that regretting on the decision that she made almost three years ago, would not do any good to her. She was the one who decided to brought the injured man that she found in forest back home and hide him in the shed at the back of their hut. She was also, too naïve to realized how stupid it was to put her trust on a stranger. What more harboring a huge crush on the same strange man. It was one of the stupidest decisions she had ever made and she had to spent her entire life thinking about the fateful day that changed her life forever. It was also the last day she had seen her brother. She helplessly lifted her head.
“It has been three years.”
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