GRAND CONSORT SHU
"Your Highness, we have to list the women that may serve His Majesty for the week," Court Lady Park quietly said. "Please note that it has been a while since the emperor slept with anyone."
Grand Consort Shu gently brushed the long silky hair that softly caressed her fingers as she ran along its length. She then neatly placed back the hair by her sleeping maid's face. The contrast of black against her pale skin made her look ghostly. Li Lian had the most beautiful hair she had ever seen.
Grand Consort Shu was in her sleeping chambers, sitting next to the mattress made for Li Lian when they had picked her up beaten at the Punishment Bureau.
Grand Consort Shu sighed as if remembering that her court lady just spoke to her. "What now? I should force him to sleep with those vipers?"
"But it is Her Highness' job to ensure everything runs smoothly in the Dragon Palace. If Her Highness does not prove herself worthy, Grand Dowager Empress may give back the responsibility of the place to Dowager Empress Wang."
Grand Consort Shu flinched at those words. The only thing that made her feel significant was the power she held over her son's palace as the elder of the harem.
"Alright then," she finally agreed.
She had promised to grant Consort Wang one night with her son. But what use was that promise when the woman delayed her from rescuing her maid in time. She exerted herself to consider which concubines had been recently good to her and deserved to be rewarded.
"Her Highness must also speak to the emperor about this duty. Court Lady Nam attests that it has been a while since he visited any palace woman."
She rolled her eyes, the problem about being the elder of the harem was having to chastise her son about matters she'd rather have him continue to do. Grand Consort Shu listed a few names from the back of her mind excluding Consort Wang. What that woman was entitled to from her was punishment for her sins. She had one chance to do something right but cunningly muddled it up.
Consort Shu bent herself over Li Lian, reaching for her maid's hand.
"A week has passed since they beat you up, but why do you still have this persistent fever?" Grand Consort Shu picked a cotton cloth and wiped the collecting sweat on her servant's forehead. "Li'er, do you not want to dance for this mistress of yours now that she has failed you?" The woman breathed out sadly, feeling overwhelmed by her subject's condition.
After the beating, she had been swollen with some patches of bruising looking worse than she did now. The pertinacious problem was her persistent fever though pretty much of the wounds had healed. And the limp that she had whenever she tried to walk. The physicians had said it would go away with time, which was good news for the dance performance that would take place at Grand Consort's birthday celebration. She needed Le-anne to be at her best or her banquet would be shunned and looked down upon. They would spit the ground and whisper how she would always be a low-born no matter what.
"Your Highness did all she could." Court Lady Park tried to comfort her.
She shook her head. "But it was not enough."
At that moment Li Lian stirred a little, her eyes slightly opening.
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"Your Highness," she struggled to speak as she was laboring to breathe. Seeing her maid this helpless and broken, Grand Consort Shu couldn't wait to get her hands on the witch who caused all this. Given the opportunity, she was going to teach her a lesson.
"Li Lian... how do you feel? What hurts?" Streams of questions filled her mind. Consort Shu did not realize how worried she was for her until now. She ran her hand along the side of her face to reassure her that everything would be alright.
"Where does it hurt?" Grand Consort Shu whispered. "Tell me and I will make it better."
Instead of responding, Li Lian closed her eyes. Grand Consort Shu's heart felt sore looking at her in affliction. It did not make sense what kind of animal Consort Wang was to do this.
"Li'er," her voice cracked as she shook her so that she could again open her eyes and talk to her. She wanted her maid to tell her it was alright and maybe come up with a good plan for her like she always did for all their other cases. It was doltish that Li Lian was the canvalescent but here she was craving for support from her when she should be the one offering one.
Her eyes opened again at the coaxing of her mistress. They were a gripping shade of golden amber in the dimness of the room, a glow persisting from within them. Subsequent to that, she saw a shade of grey grip the roots of her black inked hair. The elderly color traced the strands of her hair down to the tip of it and in a flash Li'er had become older, except her features were still of youth.
"Li'er your eyes... your hair," Grand Consort Shu trembled.
Who was this woman before her? Could it be true that what she had in her hands was more than just a maid? It was unheard of that hair color could change instantaneously, and also her eyes were a glowing lamp. Li Lian was not human. She couldn't be.
Her beauty was so much that it hypnotized her, stopping her mind from working. It was so beguiling that it felt like a bloodsucker sucking life out of her. She found herself losing strength as she swayed a bit like she would faint. This forced her to close her eyes to regain posture.
"Court Lady Park?" Grand Consort shuddered as she glared at her court lady who was writing down the lists of concubines, making a point that whatever she may have seen it was only her who bore witness.
When she gazed down at her maid's eyes again they were a normal shade of amber like she had just imagined them glow earlier on. She was mindful of the fact that they said she was a lady of Wei, but people of Nevoria did not possess such fine hair like hers and eyes that exotic. But still she was a Lady from the House of Wei, a renowned residence. What had she to fear? She shook her head and dismissed her assumptions.
"Your Highness, who ordered this?" Li Lian coughed, "they will have to pay me back ten fold." Her hands were balled into a set of fists, a side of her servant she had never been exposed to before.
A loud deafening sound intruded their conversation. It was terrible that it shook the insides of Consort Shu. Squealing and screaming ensued, even as she heard people start to run outside. The resulting clang that echoed around the palace was most keenly felt by Li Lian who clamped over her tender ears. Each strike was also a hammer to Grand Consort Shu's head, reverberating her delicate brain in it's skull.
The loud bells rang in a peal. Normally this would signal the beginning of a commemoration or celebration. But it was midnight and the clanging that echoed was chaotic rather than melodic. It was a warning.
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