Mo Yuan stared at the tiny parchment in his hand. He flipped the small strand of paper between his graceful fingertips before setting it on fire. The message from Ye Hua had come by a carrier pigeon, explaining why they hadn’t reached the capital. His pressing concerns lightened after seeing his brother’s note.
In contemplative meditation, the mala beads of dark bodhi seeds rolled, passing as his thumb firmly pressed against the wood-like balls, rotating them towards himself. He silently offered prayers to the great Buddha for his brother’s safe return since this time of three months was the longest they had ever been apart.
“Your Highness, Imperial Consort’s servant, is here again. She says her mistress is unwell and requested your presence. She is also upset you haven’t flipped her tag to serve you in weeks.” Eunuch Bao’s faint whispery voice still had a childish pitch like a prepubescent boy. Perhaps castration at such a young age was the cause, but it wasn’t unpleasant. If anything, it came off cheerfully and upbeat.
“Illness or in need of physical attention? Have her pick one or the other.” When he exhaled, Mo Yuan’s sigh turned into an airy moan of utter exasperation. “Send the royal physician to her residence to secure her health. Remind Imperial Consort Shao that I’m abstaining with profound difficulties and deep temptation from having her and Consort Chung serve me until the end of their first trimester for our children’s safety.”
“Your Highness, it’s not healthy for a man your age to refrain from your nightly release. Would you like me to summon one of the new girls? I hear some of them are quite pretty, agreeable, and talented. Wouldn’t it be a tremendous blessing if another carried with your divine seed and the inner palace became full with pitter-patters of little Princes running around? ” Most politely, Eunuch Bao spoke persuasively while filling Mo Yuan’s teacup.
Such a comment made the serious young Prince chuckle despite his earnest disposition and shake his head, amused, before casually sipping the newly brewed tea presently before him.
“The footfall of children? You visit the harem.” Mo Yuan teased only to have his servant moan his grievance, “Your Highness, that was mean and a low blow. Aya, Eunuch Bao is a eunuch. Your Highness knows this already and is teasing this servant.”
Mo Yuan snorted, laughed aloud, and choked on his tea until the bell tower sounded, ringing steadily. His other servant rushed into his working chamber in utter despair, tripped on his long green eunuch’s garment, collapsed, crumbled to his knees, and cried in grief, “Your Highness, The Emperor… The Emperor has passed. He is gone.”
The massive main gate bell tolled on, and a rush of collective moans, wailing, screams of shock, and cries of lament followed for the recently deceased Emperor. Unbeknownst to Mo Yuan, the new Emperor, royal father’s untimely death spurred a new competition with the highest stakes inside the perfumed inner palace.
The race to give birth to the first imperial heir, preferably a prince who would be looked upon as the auspicious child due to timing after the royal coronation of the new Emperor had commenced. Those who coveted the Empress seat merely needed to give birth to the first son and make sure Bai Qian never reached the Forbidden City alive.
To be continued…