PRINCESS WEI LI LIAN
VIRTUOUS CONSORT SHU'S WELCOMING ROOM
"Concubine Pi greets her Highness, the Virtuous Consort of Shu clan." A young lady bowed down on the floor then stock-stilled, waiting for the consort to excuse her and have her sit down.
"Hǎo hǎo," Consort Shu said carelessly. "Sit down." She unceremoniously motioned her hands in the air and reclined back on her colourful floor couch. Although two moons had passed since Princess Leanne had started teaching her how to be graceful, she still fell short in many ways.
"Did her highness sleep well?" The concubine straightened herself respectfully.
Unlike the previous concubines who had come to wish the consort a good morning, she was the most confident of all. She did not stutter or shake nervously like the few before her had done. She was probably impressive because of her higher status. Obviously, her clan had invested tons of gold to have her groomed by the best courtesans before being sent away to the palace.
Consort Shu sighed and spoke in a nonchalant tone, "I slept well."
The concubine smiled. "I'm glad to know that all of our palace's respectable, great women slept well."
'Wrong move!' Le-anne squirmed inwardly. 'Not when she is in this sour mood.'
Instantly, the Virtuous Consort's eyes narrowed in distaste. She hated the very thought of Dowager Empress Wang; even worse, being associated with her in any way. This was public knowledge, how dare the concubine speak like that? The consort's temper began to flare.
"Court Lady Park!" the consort shouted. "Concubine Pi wishes to retire to her chambers, please help her out," she spat venomously.
Concubine Pi did not say anything further but kept smiling as she bowed her regards. Princess Le-anne kept watching intently and nodded at this.
It was the concubine's aim to make it clear on whose side she was standing. Virtuous Consort Shu was one to be easily affected by small matters because the moment the concubine left, she started hyperventilating. Le-anne knowingly switched from massaging her feet to rubbing her back in circular motions instead.
"Her Highness must control herself," Princess Le-anne said tenderly. She then started to slowly inhale and exhale so that the consort could follow her lead, and settle herself down. Virtuous Consort Shu pitifully nodded her head and tried to follow her breathing exercises.
"Her Highness has a few more concubines waiting outside to pledge their greetings. This servant wishes to have her highness presentable before them," she tried to remind her. It was custom for each woman, whether the emperor's consort or a mere concubine, to present herself to the elders of the harem each morning and wish them a good day.
In short, this was an opportunity to gain favour from their elders.
The next concubine entered and presented her greeting procession before sitting down.
"This concubine has made some sweets for her Highness, and she would be flattered if her highness accepted them." She raised her eyebrows hopefully, but the consort only nodded her head once, her mood still gloomy because of earlier. A maid belonging to the consort knelt beside the concubine and took the sweets basket.
"Her Highness is the most beautiful woman in this harem," the concubine continued. "I am blessed to serve you as Mother."
"Right?" the consort tapped her feet, signalling Le-anne to work on her feet. She preferred having her limbs massaged in the morning to improve her blood flow.
At first, Princess Le-anne had been restricted to work in the gardens, only making oils for her. That is, until Consort Shu asked her to teach her how to dance, and so she began asking Le-anne to do everything for her; be it giving her a massage, making her hair, doing her makeup.
She was not an impossible woman to please like the princess had first thought; as long as you could bear her endless talk about her son, the emperor, and not mention her rival, Dowager Empress Wang, or even Consort Wang in her presence. It had come out as quite a surprise to Le-anne when she even refused to grant audience to Consort Wang the day she came for her greetings.
Considering the fact that she was the reason that Princess Le-anne did not manage to dance for the emperor, the princess couldn't help but feel a little pleased with this. She deserved it.
Le-anne once asked Consort Shu why she hated the woman who was the mother of her only grandchild, at which she dismissed her by saying, "I hate all the women of the harem, they are vultures that compete with me for my Yu-er's attention."
In a way, it made sense. She was just a lonely mother vying to make up for lost time since she had been rid off of the chance to raise him herself.
Le-anne started to gently knead the consort's toes, and they wiggled in response.
"Yeh, your Highness is the most kind, and we are all inspired by you." The concubine's voice brought Le-anne back from her reverie.
"Hmm." Virtuous Consort Shu was bored by the idle conversation, and she was not making any attempt to indicate otherwise. From the princess' judgment, she did not really care about anyone else other than herself and her Yu-er.
Why she called the emperor Yu-er, Princess Le-anne had no idea. Since the day he left for the Military Ground Camp, the name became a song in Le-anne's head as Consort Shu continuously moaned about how she missed him.
Days before his departure, he had suffered from an upset stomach and this had everyone up on their toes, worried sick for him. That was the main reason why the consort was anxious and dreary in temper, this morning. She was still struggling with the idea of him having left for the camp when he was not well recovered.
"Her Highness must be pleased—"
"YOUR HIGHNESS! YOUR HIGHNESS!" A maid sped into the welcoming room, looking flustered, and cutting off the concubine from speaking any further.
"What now?" Consort Shu groaned, looking annoyed.
"Prince Kuan Hui, your Highness..."
The consort frowned. "What about the prince?"
"Will you speak up already?"
"Your Highness! The Prince has been poisoned!" the maid cried.