(This story is a historical fiction. Not all facts will be true, most will be made up for the storyline.)
I had just gotten back into my room after putting my horse Bai Yao away when there was a knock on my door. I went over to see who it was, and when I opened the door, it was our butler.
Me: "Uncle Su, did something happen?"
(Calling the butler by uncle is her way of showing respect to her elders.)
Butler Su: "Greetings, my lady. Eunuch Huang is here to see you."
Me: "Alright, please take him into the main hall and prepare some tea. I'll be right out."
Once the butler left to take care of the guest, BaiLing took a quick break and put herself together before heading out to the main hall to greet the guest.
It was normal for the emperor to summon her father or brother into the palace, but what people didn't know was that she was summoned more often than her father and brother.
When she finally made her way to the main hall, she stepped inside and greeted the eunuch.
BaiLing: "Greetings to eunuch Huang. What can I do for you today?"
BaiLing put her hands flat against each other, palm facing her and in front of her, and bowed towards the middle-aged man. At the same time, the man stood up and pay his respects to her as well. Once both greeted each other, the eunuch said to her.
Eunuch Huang: "My lady, the emperor wishes to meet you today."
(Eunuch Huang, is the emperor's personal eunuch and the head eunuch in the palace. He has been with the emperor since young.)
After thinking for a minute, BaiLing responded to the eunuch and said.
BaiLing: "Alright, I understand. Please wait for me a bit. I need to go and change before heading in."
Eunuch Huang: "Of course, my lady. Please take your time. I will be waiting here for you."
BaiLing: "Thank you."
After that, she excused herself and went back to her room to get changed.
I couldn't help but think about what the emperor wanted to talk about on my way back. The list was endless. However, since he said he wanted to meet with me, the lady, not the general, shortening the list was a bit easier. By the time that I got back to my room, I narrowed it down that he wanted to talk to me about the princes and about selecting a crown prince.
I went over to my closest to get an outfit to change into. I took off my uniform and put it away in a safe spot before changing into a simple blue dress with flower embroideries. I then put on the bindings for my forearm area to keep the sleeves from getting in the way. After that, I went to do my hair. I took it out of my ponytail and did a simple half-up, half-down hairstyle, then places two hairpins in. Once that was done, I headed back out to the main hall.
After changing, BaiLing headed out to the main hall to meet up with the eunuch. The two then proceeded to get into their own carriages and left for the palace. The roads were pretty empty during the afternoon, so no one noticed her coming into the palace.
Once she arrived, the eunuch took her to the emperor's study through a secret and quiet path. This was the best way to not draw attention while being in the palace.
Upon arriving at the study, the eunuch knocked on the door and said.
Eunuch Huang: "Your majesty, lady Ming has arrived."
A moment later, a response came from inside the room.
Emperor: "Let her in."
The eunuch then opened the door and stepped in, with BaiLing following right behind him. After entering, the emperor told his eunuch to go and get some tea prepare, so he left the room.
Once the eunuch left, BaiLing greeted the emperor. She got down on one knee, looking at the ground while saying.
BaiLing: "Greetings to your majesty. May your reign be everlasting."
The emperor chuckled a bit before saying.
Emperor: "You may rise."
BaiLing then stood up, and the emperor told her to take a seat. Just as she took her seat, a servant knocked on the door bringing in the tea for them. However, instead of bringing in two cups of tea, there were three instead.
Although curious, she didn't ask who the third cup of tea was for because she already had a guess of who it could be for in the back of her mind. So, she sat there in silence, waiting for the emperor to tell her what he wanted.
After a couple minutes of silence, the emperor spoke up and asked me.
Emperor: "BaiLing, how old are you this year?"
"How old am I? This is a weird question to ask," I thought.
But after a bit, I responded to him.
Me: "I am currently 14 years old this year, your majesty. "
Emperor: "Ahh, what a good age. Now that I think about it, you are almost at a marriageable age."
"Ahh, so this is what he wanted to talk about. My marriage. Looks like the 9th prince is coming back from war soon." I thought.
When I didn't say anything, the emperor drank some of his tea and proceeded to say.
Emperor: "How's your relationship doing with the 5th prince?"
Me: "Everything is going well, your majesty. He doesn't suspect anything."
Emperor: "Good. Anyway, it's time to move on with the plan. Tomorrow I will be sending an edict over to the prime minister's mansion bestowing an engagement between his eldest daughter and the 5th prince. Continue to act along with him. I'm sure you know what to do."
Me: "Yes, I understand."
Emperor: "Good. I never had to worry about any missions that were left in your hands. Also, I'm planning to bestow an engagement between you and the 9th prince as well."
I looked up at the emperor when he said that. Although I didn't show that I was surprised on my face, I was a bit. Though I did see it coming when he asked me about my age earlier.
After recovering from the news, I said to him.
Me: "I see."
The emperor has already chosen the 9th prince to be the next heir to the throne. He only went through this whole process just for show. It was already decided the moment the prince's mother was pregnant. The emperor didn't even care if it could have been a girl. He was so sure that it would have been a boy. And true to what he said, it was a boy. A baby boy that rose above all of his brothers known far and wide across all the lands. Known as the God of War, a person, when heard of, make enemies tremble and allies cheering with joy.
Even though most of the process was just for show, the emperor still wanted to give his other sons a chance to prove themselves. Two years ago when news of the crown prince selection arose was when the emperor started to show intentions of choosing a crown prince. However, out of his nine sons, five of them were already not interested in the throne. One of them was the 9th prince, who, after he caught wind of the news, left for the battle and didn't return for two years. With the engagement talk coming up, he will be back in the capital city very soon, or for all, I know he could already be back.
Emperor: "I will keep this news quiet for some time until everything has been taken care of. So you don't have to worry about anything."
Me: "I understand."
Emperor: "By the way, I called for your father. He should be coming soon."
I nodded my head and said nothing more. About 10 minutes later, there was a knock on the door. My father had arrived.
Once he came in, he greeted the emperor and gave me a nod before sitting down in a chair across from me. After sitting down, the emperor began to tell my father about his plans and the two engagements coming up. I could tell that many thoughts were running through my father's head, but the emperor couldn't. No one could actually. Even though my father and the emperor are old friends, the emperor still can't read him. It's a trait that flows within our family. Besides our family, no one can tell what is going through our brains, not even close friends.
After the meeting with the emperor we were dismissed. My father and I headed out to the carriage that I had come in. When we got out there, I saw my father's horse right beside the carriage, ready to go home, ready to go see its friends. We got on and headed back to the mansion.
Throughout the first half of the ride, neither father nor daughter spook a single word. Both were lost in their own thoughts. Both had memories flowing through their minds, promises that needed to be kept.
Finally, after a lot of thinking, the father was the first to break the silence.
Father: "Are you sure about this?"
BaiLing looked at her dad and gave him a gentle smile while nodding her head.
Father: "(sigh)... You know that you don't have to go through with this if you don't want to. "
BaiLing smiled once again at her father before saying.
"Dad, our family serves the emperor. How can we possibly not obey his orders? As powerful as we are, we're still his pawns at the end of the day. Our oath binds us to the emperor generation after generation. It's not something we can disregard."
Father: "I know that we're bound to an oath, but don't forget, for the Ming clan family will always come first. That is something that will never change. Even if your brother and I gave to fight against the emperor and all of the other soldiers, we will protect you until the very end."
BaiLing: "Thank you, father. I understand but don't worry. I'm truly fine. I accepted this position, so that must mean I have to see through it until the very end."
Father: "(sigh)... Alright, if you say so. But remember behind you, there will always be the support of the Ming clan."
BaiLing nodded, and for the rest of the ride home, there was not a single word said.
Upon arriving home, she was greeted by her older brother Ming Zhi Chen. And like her father, he was also a general in the imperial army. Both her father and brother each had a quarter of the army under their control, bringing a total of half of the army under her family's control.
Brother: "Hey, welcome back. How was the meeting with the emperor? Is everything alright?"
BaiLing: "Yeah, everything is alright. Why wouldn't it be? I'm going to go change and then go check on dinner. Be right back."
Once she left, their father came in. His expression was grim, letting his son know that things did not go well. In fact, there was more to be worried about now.
Brother: "Dad, what happened? Why do you look like that?"
Not a response was coming from the father, making Zhi Chen worrier by the minute.
"What could it possibly have happened? Dad isn't talking. Ling'er says nothing going on." Zhi Chen, though.
Finally, unable to keep quiet anymore, Zhi Chen came up to his father and shook him, trying to get an answer out of him.
Brother: "(shaking dad's shoulders)... Dad! What happened at the palace? Why are you acting like a soulless person?"
Father: "(sigh)... The emperor... He has bestowed an engagement between Ling'er and the 9th prince."
Shocked by the news he just heard, he back up, away from his father. He looked in the direction of his sister's room, wondering how she feels right now.
Turning back to his father, he said.
"I'm to go check on her. You should go and get changed before dinner, dad."
After his father nodded, he turned into a tiny sparrow and flew to his sister's room.
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