140 The Emperors Paradox Pt.1

    The royal maid had her eyes fixed on the ground as she closed the heavy, carved doors in front of her. She sighed. From the corner of her eye, she could tell it was a beautiful, warm day, but she was reluctant to admire the scenery.

    She mustn't.

    Having served in the palace for many years, the old maid had learned that keeping her head down was by far the safest option. It was a vital skill. Like the rest of the Saimese, the old maid believed that the eyes were windows to the soul; they revealed everything. From one glance alone, the eye of the beholder could perceive another's thoughts, another's intentions... another's emotions. And despite the young emperor being magnanimous, she couldn't risk compromising her invisibility. After all, the less she was noticed the more peaceful her days at the palace would be.

    She knew better than to look up. The late emperor had made sure of that.

    But despite knowing better, the maid couldn't help but be overwhelmed by discontent. How long must she remain docile?

    Years of being reminded that she must never aspire above her station had convinced her to always play safe; to turn a blind eye to wrongdoing; to never interfere with things beyond her class. If she kept her eyes on the ground nothing could go wrong. She had aged believing that was the case... but what if it didn't have to be?

    While one can enact a lie, the eyes are unable to deceive.

    The old maid sighed again as she pulled away from such dangerous thoughts. It was all because of what she had overheard. News had spread like wildfire that a drunkard had incited a riot while dueling with one of the imperial guards. He spoke of profanities, insulted the emperor, but most of all, he spoke of something treacherous.


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    The maid shuddered.

    Even the mere act of thinking about it could cost her life. Despite being uneducated, the maid was aware of her kingdom's history before the Jade Lotus. Tales from her elders had painted a different Saim- one that was full of instability, deprivation and conflict. While Saim at present suffered from similar affairs, none can deny that the Jade Lotus had restored widespread peace. Decades of warring amongst each other ceased under the rule of a formidable clan. A clan that united and became arbiters of a once ruined realm.

    But what would happen should that clan be overthrown by an unlikely enemy?

    The old maid shuddered again as she dismissed another dangerous thought. It had almost been a century since the Jade Lotus had unified Saim, leaving the blood of the enemy spilled at their wake. She was fortunate to not have witnessed the carnage her ancestors had and she was keen to keep it that way.

    Better to be a flightless bird than to be a bird that can never fly again.

    Resuming her routine of admiring the uneven patterns of the floor, the maid slipped into a reverie. She reminded herself that while her status was undignified, she was still affluent in other ways. Yielding to greed was something she mustn't risk. Only the naïve mistake her station as permanent- never rising in social class; never being more than a royal servant. But the truth was, it was quite the opposite: there was every opportunity to fall. And like every other day for the past decade, she must remain unnoticed to prevent that from happening.

    After all, she was no better than furniture in the palace; only worth keeping if it still served a purpose.

    The swirls on the ground blurred into one as the maid eagerly shifted her thoughts to something more pressing: the young emperor's love life- or lack of it.

    A while had passed since His Majesty had ascended the throne and still, he had not claimed an empress. Words were not needed to convey the worries that she and the other servants shared. After all, the prospect of an heirless emperor was enough to induce bouts of anxiety on anyone. Should the emperor suddenly pass away, Saim would be vulnerable. Would the neighbouring kingdoms attack? Would there be civil war amongst the clansmen?

    The maid was so occupied by morbid thoughts that she failed to notice someone approaching. She blinked when a pair of embroidered shoes suddenly came to view.

    These shoes... where have I seen them before?

    She looked up.

    In a blink of an eye, the maid registered a man wearing a eunuch's uniform. His brown eyes, while exhibiting a hint of curiosity, were encircled by dark crescents that contrasted with his pale skin. A yellowish bruise bloomed near the corner of his mouth while his other injuries remained hidden underneath his modest clothing. The man stood expectantly before the maid; his posture slightly hunched as if it pained him to stand straight. His face, while expressionless, displayed a haggardness that was a tell-tale sign of his fatigue and discomfort.

    It didn't take the maid long to realise who the man before her really was. She bowed immediately. "Your- your Majesty!"

    Jimin peered at the maid, unfazed by her startled reaction. He spoke softly, his voice coming out much croakier than he liked. "Is Her Highness still awake?"

    Surprised by his question, the maid stuttered, "Y-yes, Your Majesty. Her Highness was awake when I- when I left."

    There was silence as Jimin glanced at the carved doors behind her. Like the rest of the palace, the doors were decorated elaborately. It served as a reminder of how revered the person residing behind them was.

    Her hands clenched as she waited for his command.

    "You may leave now."

    Ducking her head even lower, the maid hurriedly scampered away, relieved to be dismissed.

    Jimin held back until the maid's footsteps faded away before facing the door. He took a deep breath. It had been weeks since he had last visited this part of the palace grounds, that he started doubting whether it was a good idea to come at all. Swallowing his fears, he ventured inside. A loud, creaking noise filled the air as light flooded into the dimly lit room and he took a wary step forward.
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