Summary: Behind the beauty of the emperor’s many concubines, there is the raging war for his love and for the power it brings. In the end, is power all that Malik, Ryou or Ryuuji need in life?
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It was night again. In the imperial study, a man sat at the large desk, setting aside the last of his scrolls and ink. He blinked his single, amber eye tiredly and ran fingers through his sleek, silvery hair. Beside him, a tall eunuch set a tray on the desk. On the tray were four golden plaques, each with a different name.
“The Phoenix Palace is under repairs, your Majesty,” the eunuch said quietly.
“What about the Lavender Palace?”
“The master is unwell.”
“Your Majesty was there yesterday.”
The man looked to the last plaque. The engraving on it read the name of the last palace. The eunuch noticed his gaze and bowed hastily.
“Then it shall be Lily Palace tonight.”
“As your Majesty commands,” the eunuch said, bowing. “I shall send word.”
Half an hour later, the emperor walked through the open doors to Lily Palace. True to its name, the palace was decorated by fresh lilies from the garden lake within the grounds to the palace, filling the room with its sweet scent. The eunuchs at the door closed it behind them as they exited, leaving the emperor alone in the room with the only other occupant.
Small, pale feet walked timidly out from behind the gauzy curtains separating the main area from the bedchamber. A soft rustle of pale blue and white silk was heard and the slender, gentle figure of a young man came into view. Silvery white hair was pulled back in a loose braid over one shoulder and shy, brown eyes were downcast modestly as the newcomer approached and knelt.
“Your Majesty has not been here for a while.”
“How have you been?”
“My wellbeing does not compare to your Majesty’s. I am only to serve you.”
The young man glided over to where the emperor stood, head still lowered respectfully. The emperor brushed back the silvery hair from the pale neck, hand trailing down to touch the slender shoulder and upper arm.
“You have not been eating again, have you, Ryou?”
“No, your Majesty,” Ryou replied quietly.
“Why ever not?”
“I – I have not been feeling well lately and did not have the appetite to eat.”
“Then you must send someone to inform the kitchens about this,” the emperor told him. “Tell them to make something that will suit your appetite more. I will not have any of you starving.”
“Yes, your Majesty.”
The emperor moved the hand that was on Ryou’s upper arm to the other shoulder, wrapping his arm around it. The other hand took Ryou’s left and the emperor led him towards the bedchamber. Neither spoke a single word on the way there. This was almost routine for the emperor’s visits to this palace.
The emperor, Pegasus, sat at the edge of the bed, leading Ryou to sit beside him. He brought the younger albino’s head to rest on his own shoulder, running a hand through the silvery locks and loosening the braid, letting the hair fall freely. Ryou focused his sight on the gold material in front of him, belonging to Pegasus. He ignored the fingers running through his hair as he memorised each stitch and thread used in the embroidery.
Suddenly, the emperor reached behind him to unhook the curtain surrounding the bed. He reached forward this time and unhooked the other end. The cream-coloured curtains fell in front of them, shielding them from any onlookers. Obediently, Ryou lay down.
When Pegasus left the next morning, Ryou sat down at his dressing table, wrapped in a light blue, silk robe. He brushed his long hair with a comb, his brown eyes distant and unseeing. Behind him, servants were carrying out the sheets and blankets for cleaning.
“Your morning meal, master.”
The sound of a wooden tray being set down on a polished wooden surface was heard. Ryou turned around at the voice, nodding to his personal eunuch. The smaller, shorter man bowed hastily to him as the servants passed with the sheets and blankets. When the doors had closed behind them, the eunuch stood again.
“You cannot stay here all morning and not eat,” he said firmly, dropping all formalities. “Come on, Ryou, get up from that dressing table and eat.”
Ryou shook his head slowly, setting down the comb on the dressing table. He picked up the bronze mirror from his table and looked at his reflection through it. Then he set it face down on the table, turning away in disgust. Yugi quickly took this chance to take the albino by the hand and lead him away from the mirror.
“It’s something light this morning,” he said, sitting the young man in front of the tray. “Not too oily, or with too much flavour, just like you prefer it.”
“Thank you, Yugi.”
“You’ll want to bathe after breakfast,” Yugi continued. “I’ve had the servants prepare one for you. Warm, not too hot, and scented with lilies.”
“You know me too well.”
Yugi watched as Ryou began to eat his breakfast expressionlessly, like he was not noting the taste of it at all. Everything was tasteless to the young man after the emperor’s visits and his warm, brown eyes suddenly looked dead to all feeling, like he was numb.
“I’ve been serving you for three years already, Ryou,” Yugi said matter-of-factly. “There’s nothing you can hide from me.”
“Yes,” Ryou said softly. “Yes, that’s true.”
He finished the rest of his breakfast, setting down his chopsticks on the tray. Yugi picked it up from the table and handed it to one of the servants at the door, who bowed and hurried to take it to the kitchens. Then the eunuch helped his master stand and led him outside in the customary way. Ryou’s pale hand lay on top of Yugi’s outstretched one.
“The bath is ready for you,” Yugi said in a low voice.
The bath was, essentially, a small pool of heated water. The tiled floor around it was made of a pearly kind of marble. Lily petals floated within the pool, and were also scattered around the floor. Ryou made his way to the edge of the pool and looked down at the water. He let Yugi take his robe as he stepped down.
“It’s Master Malik’s birthday today,” Yugi said in an attempt to make conversation. “He was boasting yesterday that the emperor was giving him an expensive and rare gift.”
“Lavenders carved out of gold, no doubt,” Ryou replied, washing himself. “Just like he asked. What did he get last year?”
“A gold hair piece set with pearls.”
“A new library within Lily Palace.”
“Ah yes, I remember now.” Ryou let a petal fall from his hand. “The library. Remind me to ask his Majesty for a new helper within the library. The current one is much too slow to climb up and down ladders.”
The only times Ryou was actually talkative was when he was bathing. Yugi had noticed this and made sure that he brought up only happier notes during this time, so as to not have Ryou withdraw into his shell again. There was nothing better, in Ryou’s eyes, than to bathe. It washed away all his problems.
“Do you have the gift prepared for Malik, like I asked?”
“Have someone send it over after I bathe.” The silvery hair ducked under the water and resurfaced. “And Yugi?”
“I wish to take a walk in the gardens today.”
The gardens were the only place that connected the four palaces of the concubines. There was a large pond in the centre, with four bridges leading to each palace. Each bridge extended from a pagoda-like shaded sitting area, where the concubines were allowed to sit at their leisure.
Ryou and Yugi sat under one of these pagodas, at the stone table in the centre. The albino was plucking absentmindedly at the strings of his harp, occasionally drifting off into part of a tune, before letting that fade off and a new tune to begin. Yugi noticed this and brought out something from inside his robes.
“Would you prefer the flute, master?”
Ryou looked up from the strings of his harp and smiled. He took the flute in his pale hands and raised it to his lips. The sound of a melancholy tune filled the peaceful silence of the gardens. The newcomer to the gardens paused at the archway leading from the Lavender Palace.
“Master Malik,” Yugi greeted, bowing deeply.
Malik nodded to him curtly, eyes not leaving Ryou, who had set down the flute on the table in front of him. The albino looked up at him, meeting his lavender eyes squarely. The eunuch next to Malik bowed deeply to him.
“The emperor came to you last night,” Malik said. He sat himself on the stone stool next to Ryou’s.
“Yes he did.”
“You do realise that, if it weren’t for me being ill, he would have come to me.”
“But you were ill,” Ryou pointed out quietly, “and he came to me.”
Lavender eyes flashed in annoyance, something which Ryou ignored.
“Don’t you have any plans for your birthday, Malik?” the albino asked. His voice was light and betrayed no emotion. “Isn’t the emperor going to spend your birthday with you?”
“He is busy with his politics,” Malik replied, voice acid. “But he has already sent word that he will be with me as soon as court disperses. Which is more than what I can say about you, Ryou. Does his Majesty not spend the day with you?”
Ryou smiled. It always drove Malik insane when he smiled in amusement at something which was meant to insult him. He tossed his blonde hair over his shoulder, gathering up the hem of his lavender robes so they didn’t trail on the ground. He stood and swept away, the eunuch following.
“Bitch,” Yugi snarled.
“Yugi, quietly,” Ryou reprimanded quietly. He turned to the eunuch beside him. “Are you not glad that he has no need of your friend’s services?”
“Yes, I am,” Yugi replied with a smile. “When Jounouchi was in his service, I was always afraid that we would have to work against each other. It’s bad enough that Honda has to work for Master Ryuuji.”
Ryou stood also.
“Come, I want to go to my library.”
Malik stormed into his chambers, his personal eunuch following at a safe distance. The blonde concubine was angry that the emperor had willingly chosen Ryou over him last night, as well as the albino not falling for his tricks. He sat down at the table in the main chamber, pouring himself a cup of tea from the pot in the centre of the table.
“The nerve of that – that bitch,” he hissed. “He drugged the emperor, I’m sure of it. Otherwise he would not have even touched the Lily Palace plaque.”
The eunuch did not point out that it was not the master of the Lily Palace’s fault that the emperor had come to him. It was actually the healer’s fault for informing the emperor’s eunuch of his illness. Malik downed the tea less than elegantly, slamming down the cup on the table.
“I swear, when the emperor comes later, I’ll make sure that his image of that bitch is permanently ruined.”
Easier said that done , the eunuch thought. Master Ryou is well respected by us servants and the emperor knows him to be the most obedient of all concubines. You’ll have a hard time trying to convince him to think differently.
It was true. Yugi was envied by all the other eunuchs because he had the privilege of serving Ryou, who was gentle to everyone. The servants in the Lavender Palace, Peony Palace and Phoenix Palace all envied those who were specially selected to work in Ryou’s Lily Palace. The emperor enjoyed the albino concubine’s intelligence and doted on him in that aspect, giving him a personal library, which was a first for any concubine.
“When is the emperor arriving?” Malik demanded.
“In an hour, master.”
“That long?” The blonde huffed. “Tell me what Ryuuji has been up to.”
“He has enlisted the leader of the dance theatre that arrived last week to teach him the dance that the emperor enjoyed so much.”
Malik nodded. He then noticed the box that was sitting on the table, to one side. The eunuch noticed his gaze and brought the box over when commanded. He opened the box to let Malik see exactly what it was inside.
It was a fan, made of an expensive, white silk. There was intricate embroidery across the silk cover of lavenders. It was also scented. He flipped it over. The embroidery was double-sided, a very rare find. The skill to do double-sided embroidery was known to very few in the empire and so it was prized.
“Isn’t this the box that was sent over from Lily Palace this morning?”
“Yes, master. It came with a letter.”
Malik picked up the paper.
Happy birthday, Malik.
He scowled at Ryou’s perfect calligraphy, scrunching up the note and sweeping over to the coal heater. He threw the note into the embers, watching it shrivel and blacken. Then he looked at the fan. It was undoubtedly expensive, so he would keep it, but if Ryou saw him use it, he would hate himself. The albino had a way of just smiling at him in a quiet, sincere way that made him want to scream.
“His Majesty the emperor is arriving.”
End Chapter One