A Fruitful Conversation.
I am currently dressed in a simply light gown and pants. The interior is lined with a thin layer of cotton to keep me cool in this summer heat. The outside is a silk material with the usual flashy embroidery of silver threads. I am getting immune to these expensive clothes. Although it is not as exquisite as the clothes worn in Court, it is something that would be priceless back home.
I am sitting in a dignified manner on a carved, high backed chair in my study. On the other side of the large polished desk is an old man. He is dressed in a plain white cotton robe, stitched with gold threads. As normal as it looks, this may be worth hundreds because of its design and detailed fine stitches. On this man, it gives him the appearance of a dignified scholar and person of high position.
It should be so, since sitting across from me is none other than He Jingguo, Prime Minister of the Shan Empire.
Currently this old coot and I am locked in a stare down. Him assessing me and me gazing innocently at him, trying not to blink. I had raised my head a little, so now I am confidently looking down at him.
Thank god my chair is also higher than his! Bless the servants and builders of this world for paying attention to such minute details!
He withdrew his gaze and leaned back and sighed.
I WON! Heh, heh.
The old man was the first to speak.
- It has been a week since His Majesty was crowned Emperor, His Excellency did a great job today in reaffirming the strength of the Imperial bloodline. A powerful Emperor deters all who would try to grasp wealth and opportunities in a moment of weakness.
- No need to thank Us. We know that the scenario by Pei Song was an act orchestrated by you. He being the second person to approach and cause a rise in fear by such an outrageous display totally destroyed any ambitious moves by those seeking advantage.
- Oh, hohoho, so His Grace was aware of that play. May this servant humbly ask as to how His Eminence knew?
- Pei Song, Gen Fu and you, He Jingguo are three of the 5 Pillars. The 5 are said to have served three Emperors. We are the third Emperor of the Shan Dynasty. Your families have lived under the blessings of the Shan. There is no way under Heaven would Pei Song steal from the Empire, just as there is no way under Heaven YOU, He Jingguo would sit with a straight face and not say something.
- Your servant He Jingguo begs forgiveness in trying to fool the Emperor. Please forgive me, Your Highness.
- Ahahaha! He Jingguo, you really know how to act in front of Us. Even now while begging, why are you not prostrating on the floor? You old Coot! Are We not the Emperor under Heaven? The Shan is the Empire and the Empire is the land which supports the 5 Pillars. The pillars may crumble and turn to dust BUT the land will always remain.
He Jingguo looked at Us in an interested way. On his face the expressions of surprise made way to a happy then frowning one. He seemed lost in his thoughts for a moment.
- The Emperor is beneficent and wise. Your Highness has truly surprised this old man. Not only does Your Grace have a keen insight, but possesses a patient mind. It is very much different from the information I received.
- Old Fowl, why don’t you stop with you pleasantries and get right to the point, I know you can here for a reason. Don’t think I was so lost during the past few days that I forgot your recommendation of trying to isolate me. I saw the look of desperation that night! If the doctors had left, I am sure you would have suffocated me with the bed pillows. This One does not forget!
- Lei Shan! You little Runt! I should have spanked you more when your old man was alive. If I had known back then that Heaven’s decree was you becoming Emperor, I would have grinded you into dust to study. You DARE call me He Jingguo, servant of your grandfather an Old Fowl!
- Old Coot! Let’s see who dares to touch this Emperor. You and I both know if anything happens to me after showing my face today, this Empire will be in chaos. Let’s see you try to touch me. I will run amok on the outside so bad, I will put you to shame!
- YOU! You dare try to insult my intelligence by blackmailing me. Lei Shan, if your old man or grandfather were alive I would beat you black and blue before they had the chance to hang you! You little brat, just because there are no heir’s you want to take advantage?
We were now standing with the desk between us, panting heavily and fingers pointing at one another. We looked at each other with faces of victory and contempt flashing together. Then in a dignified manner with small coughs we sat down like nothing had happened.
- What do you need, old man. I am scheduled to take a walk around the Imperial gardens this evening. The families of the Ministers and Nobles will finally have a glimpse of their new Emperor.
- I am aware, it was me after all who arranged it. Don’t even think of skipping out on you responsibilities Lei Shan. General Weimin is set to return from the north in a month’s time to pay respects to the past Emperor and offer allegiance to you in public. At that time you will be escorted around the city.
- So you want me on display, very well then for the sake of the Empire I will oblige your request. That can’t be all, for the great Prime Minister to meet his humble Emperor?
- Humph! You agreed to that all too easy, you better not have some hidden agenda. The main reason for this visit is to inform you of the Rite of Passage. You were made Emperor because the last two princes killed each other unexpectedly, followed by your father’s untimely death. It is your duty to walk the Road of the Shan, and pay tribute to your ancestors only then can you truly be called Emperor.
- Hey, hey, how come I haven’t heard about this before? This sounds like you’re sending me into exile or forcing me on a quest. You trying to trick me?
- You little fool, you think something like this is made public for everyone to gossip? The last Emperor was supposed to inform whichever prince was successful in their attempts for the throne. Unfortunately he passed away before it happened. Only the 5 Pillars know of this Rite, which had been law since the small kingdom of Shan prospered into the Mighty Empire. This Rite of Passage is simply you paying respects to your Ancestor, the first Emperor. There is a door hidden inside the Building housing the tombs. It leads to an underground cave that holds the tomb of your Ancestor. There is a pillar with instructions for tribute, only your father could tell you about it. The ritual takes about 2 hours; your old man once said that time was mostly him walking to the tomb and back.
- Very well then. I will perform this ritual tomorrow evening. Make the necessary preparations. It’s better to get this thing over and done with. I don’t want you dying of high blood pressure.
- Brat, I will make the preparations. I will organize your schedule for the week and pass it on. There shouldn’t be any problems or anything out of the ordinary. Well there might be……..hmmmm, we will cross that bridge when it comes. Concerning your old man’s wives and concubines. I have made arrangements for them to be moved from the Palace compound to the Hall of Sorrow. It is a residential compound located close to the Imperial gardens. It was built by your father in the event of his retirement or death. By the week’s end, only you the Emperor and your mother the Queen will be living in the Palace area.
- Ohh! So my old man made preparations huh? But wont this cause strife and additional problems?
- I understand your concern. Your father had already made this announcement so there is no room for any resistance. He has also made clear that the Palace of a Thousand Beauties is his legacy to his descendants. When we have completed the relocation of the residents, it shall be up to you to refill that great building. The women who were living there were all treated with equally with respect and consideration. Half of them were given as tribute by kings, dukes and nobles from other countries. Others were given to gain political leverage. But they are all faithful to your old man and the Empire which took care of them. Every one of them are all educated and cultured.
- I see. I leave it to you…Wait! Wait, wait what did you say, continue his legacy? Did that man know not why he died so young? Let’s keep our Palace nice and quiet for the time being.
- That is all for now, I request your leave to continue my work. Remember this evening to be wary during your walk. Most of the nobles and ministers were part of the factions led by your brothers when they were competing. They will not dare approach you, but you must first gain an insight into their character before you form your own circle.
- I will bear that advice in mind.
He Jingguo rises and bows before me. He then leaves to attend his duties. As I suspected this man mind is deep. My personal aide returns, Yi Zin is the person with my completed schedule, day and night. This schedule is kept updated hourly and behind the scenes. The Emperors time is monitored strictly using the sun and moon positioning. I am under Heaven so Heaven decrees my time.
I have about two hours for an afternoon sleep, and then I am off to the Imperial Garden for my walk. He Jingguo is remarkable. In that short meeting of his, I was able to find out about the arrangements of the concubines, able to gain some insights into the Ministers and Nobles when I take my evening walk, and have a visit throughout the capital to feel out the common people.
According to He Jingguo, I must be wary. The Emperor cannot take the initiative to approach a person, and calling over someone is likely to lead to favoritism by people in a group. It will be easier to just stroll around and observe how they act.
I need to get used to this world’s thinking and culture. Here, a family has no hesitation in using a young lady to achieve some ambitious goal. It is also not uncommon for members of the large households to have a wife and several mistresses. I have to be mindful of such tactics.
I have to understand that with power comes conflict. I now know that the last two of my brothers offed themselves. Maybe because I was weaker than everyone else, the conflicts between my brothers didn’t include me. Thus when all my powerful brothers were trying to kill each other, they may have thought that somebody would have finished me off in a collateral damage. Unfortunately I was left for last since I was not even recognized as a competitor for the throne.
How weak was I? This previous body’s master must have been a real pushover and clown. I have the feeling that I will be in for a rude awakening come time to mingle with nobles and people close to the Emperor.
I move to my office bedroom. This is a roomy area with large windows opened to allow the summer wind. Maids have already assembled with large fans to gently cool me during sleep. I place my troubles under the pillow as I fall asleep.