107 Much Like Opium Pt.3

    With his chin resting on his propped-up arm, Jimin sighed.

    "Your Majesty," one of the interpreters addressed him with a clear voice, "if you were to accept the marriage proposal between yourself and the princess of Huaxia, the Huaxian emperor promises to establish an unprecedented treaty that will benefit both kingdoms." The interpreter drew closer to the Huaxian envoy, who was a stout man with a long, ebony beard and coarse hair bound neatly in a plait. Harsh whispers were heard as the Huaxian envoy relayed his message, the interpreter regularly nodding while the rest of the men in court awaited his translation.

    "On behalf of the Huaxian kingdom, the Huaxian emperor also extends a warm invitation for you to visit their kingdom should you wish to discuss the proposal in person."

    The men in court broke into whispers, filling the large hall with gruff murmurs of disapproval and debate. From his throne, Jimin observed as the silver-haired men passively argued with each other, with some beginning to raise their voices, turning the low hubbub into a raucous riot.

    "Silence!" Minseok bellowed from Jimin's right.

    Jimin peered down at his brother-in-law from his pedestal. It was only in court did Minseok's ferocity as a politician came into odds with his usual mild demeanour.

    "Those who have qualms with this proposal can make their opinions known after the envoy from Nihon has had his say." As Minseok said this, everyone shifted their gaze towards the brawny man who stepped forward.

    Immediately, silence fell as the sharp-featured diplomat cleared his throat, the long scar on his cheek and his militaristic attire intimidating them. He leaned closer to his interpreter and started speaking, his voice deep and low.

    "Your Majesty," the interpreter nervously translated. "As you are aware, the kingdom of Nihon is a strong nation that has fought against foreign invaders." The brawny diplomat spoke passionately to which the interpreter did his best to imitate, "Nihon is very proud to remain untouched by their infective ideals. Ideals that threaten to poison the minds of your people-our people- which can destabilise the foundations and culture which make both Nihon and Saim unique."

    The Nihonese diplomat glared at the Huaxian envoy before speaking to the interpreter again. "The Emperor of Nihon offers the hand of one of his many daughters to you, in the hopes that you will accept and forge a union. From this union, the bulwark against foreign influence will be strengthened and the preservation of both kingdoms' identity ensured."

    Whispers from the men in court filled the courtroom once more, forming a partition between those who favoured a union with Huaxia, and those who wished for a Nihonese- Saimese alliance.

    Jimin let out a long sigh as the men began to squabble amongst themselves again.

    They had been in the courtroom for almost three hours, discussing matters of state which, quite frankly, Jimin had little interest in. While the men debated over who he should marry, Jimin was distractedly thinking about when the daily conclave would end and how keen he was to be out of the palace walls. But while Jimin's train of thought led him to crave the feeling of fresh air blowing against his face, another thought spontaneously entered his mind, causing his train of thought to veer off its original course.

    Jimin blushed as a vivid image of Gyuri underneath him suddenly appeared.

    Not again... he internally murmured as he hid his mouth behind his hand. Why is she constantly on my mind? With his palm covering his mouth, Jimin concealed the embarrassed smile that he couldn't seem to control.

    Ever since their last encounter a week ago, Jimin had been experiencing a strange array of physiological symptoms that even his royal physicians couldn't explain. Whenever he thought of Gyuri, his heart would flutter lightly, and sporadic images of her face would occupy his mind, causing him to either blush uncontrollably or smile like he had been stupefied. And currently, Jimin was experiencing both symptoms at once.

    Could I have contracted a disease while I was in the village? Jimin pondered. Brother-in-law did say that there was an epidemic sweeping across the capital, but my symptoms do not seem to match those described.

    Once the symptoms had subsided, Jimin sighed again.

    Noticing his troubled expression, Zeren gaped at him from the left of his pedestal. "Are you okay, Your Majesty?" he whispered inconspicuously, his mouth barely moving.

    From the corner of his eye, Jimin acknowledged Zeren's utterance with a slight nod.

    Zeren resumed his ventriloquism. "So, what are your thoughts? Have you decided on which princess you will marry?"

    "I have not" Jimin mumbled back with his face still facing forward. He glanced at the men at court who were too engaged in a debate to notice Jimin and Zeren communicating secretly. "From what has been discussed, both kingdoms offer equally desirable assets that come with the marriage." He pursed his lips as he murmured, "But what seems to spark the most debate is whether I should choose to accept a nation that welcomes Waekugin influence or one that fights against it."

    Zeren peered at Jimin with concern.

    "Between the Three Great Kingdoms in Asia, Saim is in the centre" Jimin explained. "And with Huaxia affiliated with the Waekugin, we, as a kingdom, are caught in the epicentre of not only a political struggle between two dissimilar nations but also a collision of political ideals." With a serious glint in his eyes he uttered, "To the whole world, Saim is the last blockade before the Waekugin reaches Nihon's impenetrable fortress."

    Zeren eyed Jimin's tired countenance with pity. "I bet if you had the choice, you would have chosen to marry someone else entirely."

    At this, Jimin couldn't resist glancing at his friend. "What do you mean?"

    Zeren gestured for Jimin to face forward and he hurriedly did so. "The late emperor married for love" Zeren replied, and with a hint of sadness he added, "it is a shame that you can't do the same."

    Jimin's eyes softened. "My circumstances are different."

    "But if you could marry for love, would you?"

    A brief image of Gyuri floated in his mind again. "No," Jimin uttered determinedly as he tried to dispel her from his thoughts. "My kingdom must come first. I know my responsibility."

    Zeren frowned at Jimin's response. "You're only saying that because you've never been in love."

    "And you have?"

    "Of course," Zeren boasted. Jimin had to resist turning to face Zeren to give him a questioning stare. "I fall in love with every woman I lay eyes on."

    With a stifled laugh, Jimin coughed into his mouth so as not to attract too much attention. "You really are a pervert" he managed to respond.

    "Love can make you a pervert, a fool, a beggar" Zeren listed with a slight grin. "Love will make you do the stupidest things that seem right even when you know it's wrong. It will make you beg; it will make you crave; it is so powerful that it can possess you like an evil spirit." He chuckled before saying, "Once you desire someone, you will be addicted to them... much like opium."

    Jimin was silent as he contemplated his friend's words. But just as he was about to reply, the heavy, courtroom doors suddenly burst open and a wide-eyed eunuch came rushing in.

    Everyone in the courtroom was stunned into silence.

    "Your-your Majesty!" the royal eunuch exclaimed, ignoring the disapproving stares of the politicians. "They are here!"

    Minseok answered in Jimin's stead. "Who?"

    But as the question left his lips, the sound of leather boots tapping against the stone floor was heard as two men swiftly followed suit.

    Everyone's eyes shifted from the eunuch to the pair of gentleman clad in black suits, their eyes rounded and their jaws agape.

    "Your Majesty," the eunuch said as clearly as he could. "May I present the consuls of New Britannia."

    Vernon came forward and lowered his head into a bow. "It is a pleasure to finally meet you..." Vernon looked up and Jimin could feel the blood in his veins go cold at the instance their eyes locked into a stare down, "Your Majesty."
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