Into the Sun
By: Aisaki Sumi
To Nan, for being the most understanding friend I've ever had.
Summary: Set in 700 A.C., ancient China. Father had told me, when I was young, that one must be ruthless in order to rule a country. I didn't understand the meaning behind those words back then. But now I do…for, I am the Empress of China.
a/n: if I were to sum this story up in one sentence, it would probably be "a story about how a happy/carefree princess turn into a cunning woman, ruthless in politics but remained as a dear wife and mother to the ones she loved".
On the day of my birth, Chang-an was embraced by the worst storm of the century. The exceeding density of the clouds, which hung so low as to press upon the roofs of the residential houses, could not cover up the view of the impetuous fury of the storm. The flashing forth of the thunderbolts, were hidden under the surfaces of the huge masses of agitated vapour, as well as all terrestrial objects – glowing in the unnatural light of a blindingly luminous and distinctly visible gaseous exhalation which hung about and enshrouded the Forbidden City.
Inside the monumental and grandiose Palace of Ci Ning, which meant serene peace (where the mother of the Emperor resided), with its tall, red walls of the color of blood, where maids carrying water, clean cloth, were constantly exiting and entering the palace, and their hasty footsteps were blended so perfectly with the screams of a woman in labour.
"Duchess, push! I can see the head! Please give another push!"
The storm was still abroad in all its wrath, when another painful groan was heard. The sound echoed in the air, but was easily whisked away to the darkest corners of the palace. Suddenly, there shot along the path a wild light, a gleam so unnatural and bright scattered across Chang-an, and a loud wailing sound was heard – I was born.
On the day of my birth, the Duke of the West surrendered, ending the seven-year-long civil war waged upon the country by power struggles in the Royal family, which had brought nothing but poverty and pain to this ancient land, leaving its lands barren, half-perished and its people hungry.
My father rushed into the Ci Ning Palace right after his meeting in Qian Qing Palace, where the Emperor holds the everyday meetings of the ministers in the court to discuss important political matters. While everyone was congratulating him, he simply just smiled, as confidently as he always was, as everything in the world followed his plans as they were – as if nothing in life could ever bewilder him with its unexpectedness.
Many had asked him, half-jokingly, that he broke the record of getting everything he had ever wanted because I was not a son, and father kept his unwavering smile, answering "I would not ask for more, she is everything I wanted in a child". My birth, along with the furious storm, brought peace to China, and for that reason, I was crowned the Imperial Princess of Peace, by the Emperor himself – an honourable title that could only be given to the daughters of the Emperor.
Mother said I was the first princess to be born in the Forbidden City – a privilege that only the Imperial Princesses had (they were the daughters of the Emperor), and it was a sign of a bright future. Every time, when mother spoke of the fateful night of my birth, father would put down his book and pat me on the head "my daughter is no inferior to the daughters of my brother", he would say such words in great confidence which always earned him a deep frowning look from Mother, because making such scandalous comments were not allowed, even if Father was a part of the Royal family.
My father was the younger brother of the current Emperor, where their mother was the previous Empress of China. This made them very different from the sons of the other Imperial concubines. Father was different from the other brothers of the current Emperor, he had a higher status, and was proud and brilliant. People say that father was the right hand of the Emperor, no one could shake his firm stance in the Imperial Court, because he was the Emperor's brother, and the Emperor's most trusted advisor.
My Mother was the favourite of daughter of the Prime Minister of China, and the most renowned beauty in Chang-an. It was said that her beauty would shame all the celestial bodies in the universe and all the rarest flowers that Mother Nature could offer. The famous poet, Miroku, of our time, had written poems, trying to capture Mother's beauty on paper, in vain. One of the most prominent and well-known phrase was "qing guo qing cheng", meaning her beauty has the potential to bewitch the entire nation, if her face was ever shown so publicly.
At that time, the most talked about gossip in Chang-an was my Mother's marriage to Father, and how they fell in love at first sight. (Note: Chang-an is the capital city of China at the time). It was like a fairytale, where the beautiful aristocratic lady married the Prince of China, and they had a daughter born in the Forbidden City where her birth was celebrated nationally.
Many said my uncle, the Emperor of China, gave me more love than his own daughters could ever receive, and that was the highest glory I could ever bring to my family.
It never occurred to me why things were the way they were. I had everything I ever wanted, from the most precious jewels to the respect that only a few women of my days could receive. Everything, literally. Sango once said I was the luckiest girl in the entire world, and I remembered laughing with her, our giggles would ring through the air of the Forbidden City.
In my eyes, happiness was eternal. It was endless. I could never understand why people would have those forlorn looks in their eyes, the lower class commoners, the beggars and the homeless roaming on the streets day and night, like lost souls seeking for a hope and a mere guidance that would never come.
On those days, I would steal a glance at Mother with a perplexed expression plastered across my childish face, and Mother would smile warmly at me, taking my hand into hers.
"Kagome, the world is an unfair place. We sit at the highest level of the hierarchy, where others remain at the bottom. But we did receive this through luck." Mother paused, tilting her chin toward the sedan window, where her gaze was set upon the outside world.
"Nothing comes without a sacrifice. You can never gain something, unless you lose something of equal value."
I couldn't understand the meaning behind those immortal words saturated with wisdom and years of experience gained in life through countless failures. But one thing I understood, and that I was different. Everything my birth provided me with would come back and take away something precious to me, because we couldn't gain anything without giving something of equal value in return.
The thought frightened me right then, and when I arrived back to our mansion, I ran straight to father and asked him if I had to pay for all the presents I received from uncle and auntie. Father gave out a light, soft laughter, his eyes twinkling with a rare glint of mischievousness.
"The world is yours, and one day you'll be able to hold it in your hands." He said, with such certainty and overwhelming confidence that I couldn't help but believe his words.
I grinned childishly and wrapped my arms around his neck. In his arms, I would always feel protected and treasured, and on these days, I would wish for the river of time to freeze in that particular frame of movement, so the moment could last forever. I thought I would always be father's little princess, but one day…I would be proven wrong.
Many things in life, after their occurrence, they would be altered permanently. Those changes were perpetual…nothing could stay the same forever.
On my fifteenth birthday, everything changed. I walked down the golden corridors of the Forbidden City, with my hair tied up. It was a sign of maturation – when I finally step into the world of adults and become who I am today. There were tears pooling up in Mother's eyes, sparkling under the golden lights like a thousand diamonds. But the corners of her lips remained lifted.
As I strolled pass Father, he gave me a small nod of acknowledgement, his smile, perpetual and cutting. But I knew he was proud of me, I could see it in his ink-coloured eyes. Standing by his right side was a beautiful woman dressed in scarlet red satin gown, her posture elegant and poise, revealing her status as an imperial princess.
Auntie, I recognized instantly as I sent her a small smile at the tilt of my chin. My Auntie was the Duchess of the East – a title given to her after her marriage with the Duke of the East. Auntie was my father's younger sister (born of the same parents), the only full-blooded sister of the current Emperor – this gave her the highest glory an imperial princess could ever have.
No one could shake her stance in Forbidden Palace, even though she was already married. Most said she had everything in the world – all except a child, and the world was fair in its own ways. Auntie was pregnant once, but lost the child through an accident which no one dared to speak of, even up to this day.
It was a mystery – a secret hidden in the pervasive darkness lurking in the corners of the Forbidden Palace, where the hideous things were hidden beneath its camouflage. A few years ago, a servant girl was caught discussing the matters of this accident in the Forbidden City and was instantly put to death.
After that tragic event, no one dared to speak another word of it, as if the words were poisonous. Auntie treated me as if I was her own daughter, protecting me with her life. Six years ago, during the Royal Family's annual hunt, my horse went wild and no one was able to stop it.
Auntie jumped off her horse and towards me in the hasty chase, and wrapped her arms around me to prevent me from any injuries as we fell to the ground. I cried like I never did before, in auntie's arm, and she just held me in her arms, so tightly as if she was guarding the most precious jewel.
At that time, I told myself I would do my best to fill up the hole in Auntie's heart that was caused by the death of her child who was denied of his or her chance to come into this world so cruelly by the heavens above. If Auntie's heart was broken, I would become the glue that could amend the broken pieces together. As I walked pass Auntie, I saw that familiar cheerful grin on her face again. There were warm feelings surging into the chambers of my heart, filling me up with contentment that I couldn't identify right then. I promised myself, silently, that as long as Auntie kept on smiling, I would do my best to preserve that smile of hers – even if it required me to freeze time in place.
Finally, I was reaching the end of my journey, the walk from Ci Ning Palace (the place of my birth) and to Qian Qing Palace, where the Emperor and Empress of China awaited for my arrival. It felt like I had walked for an eternity long, watching the familiar faces I recognized from my childhood fleeting pass me, and the memories of them flashed before my eyes like an endless play.
No specific script was required for such a play, for its actors and scenes were all a part of my mind. The long procession of imperial servants and my golden sedan chair slowly made its arrival at Qian Qing Palace – a palace that I had seen countless times, yet this time, it looked different.
The roof of the palace was a blinding golden color, with its tiles neatly and uniformly scattered across the entire top of the palace and when the sunlight shone upon it in its own merciless way, the roof was given the false impression of being lighten on fire. Ten grand pillars, dipped in a dark shade of crimson red – like the color of blood – ran down across the frontal view of the palace, acting as strong supports that could withstand the heavy, invisible burdens that it carried, and as well as the worst of the furies of the storms.
For hundreds and thousands of years, the building stood still, in the constantly changing world, and I couldn't help but wonder how it managed to remain the same in such a world as ours.
I inhaled deeply before I entered the Palace, the crispy air filled my lungs and cleared off the uneasy feelings I had developed a moment ago with its refreshing scent. There, at the very hard end, on the golden chair that represented the imperial throne, sat its rightful ruler, my dearest Uncle.
The Empress stood by his side, keeping her chin tilted and a fine poise that revealed nothing but gracefulness as the mother of China. Her robe was the most brilliant shade of gold, with images of beautiful phoenix in flight sewed across the fabric – it was the symbol of the Empress of China, and only she could use such pattern on her robes.
The overwhelming extravagance and delicacy of her robe, was a silent, wordless declaration of her status – where one could only bow their heads and they become small and insignificant. The Empress wore his golden robe with an august dragon sewed across his chest, its color matching the ones of the Empress.
Only the Emperor and the Empress could wear golden robes, where the Empress was represented by phoenix and the Emperor as the dragon that ruled this ancient land. We were called the descendents of the dragon, and the Emperor was the son of the Dragon God – granting him the responsibility and power to reign over the rest of us.
My uncle wore a faint smile as his vision collided with mine, as if it was his way of giving me the strength and courage I needed to go on. But the Empress, kept her stern face. Even though her gaze seemed to be focused upon me, but I wasn't sure if she really did see me – it was more like seeing through me rather than seeing me.
This was expected, since she was never fond of me for some strange reason, just like how Auntie never took a liking of the Imperial Prince, her son, and my childhood crush. Prince Sesshoumaru… I could feel my heart racing at the speed of light as I slowly shifted my eyes to him, who was standing on the other side of the Emperor.
Sesshoumaru was the Imperial Prince, the only son of the Empress and the one who was going to succeed the throne after my Uncle. My Uncle had many more sons, but Sesshoumaru was the oldest and most favourite son – he was smart and quick-witted, and the best martial artist among the princes.
The story of how I became acquainted with him still remained as the funniest joke in my mind. I was only two when I met him, on a royal family Moon festival feast. I wanted to go watch the fireworks, and he was sitting right beside me so Uncle asked him to take me there.
At that time, he was only eight, and Mother said everyone could see the reluctance in his movements when he picked me up and took me into his arms. Mother told me that at that time, Sesshoumaru always seemed too mature for his age, and with that perpetually stoic expression of his, the Emperor was worried that all the pressure he was put under deprived him of a happy childhood – which was why uncle asked him to take me to watch the fire works.
But I, being the unpredictable one, peed on him and cracked the emotionless mask of his -- and that instance, our fates were forever entwined. He became my childhood friend, and acted like a big brother that I never had because Mother's health never recovered from labour – which left me as the only child of my family.
Although Sesshoumaru retained his cold exterior towards everyone else, I knew I was someone special to him, because his smiles were for me and no one else had the privilege of ever witnessing them. I always thought I would marry him one day. For the past five years, I counted down the days until my Adult Ceremony which would mark the commencement of my adulthood – but most importantly of all, I would be able to marry.
I always complained to him that he was too old, and he could only chuckle softly in return. In my eyes, six years difference in age was a lot, even tough to others it really wasn't much.
"Sesshoumaru, can you slow down and wait for me? I'll never be able to catch up with you." I pouted at him, gazing into those endless pools of amber.
I loved staring into his eyes – they were of the most beautiful color I had ever seen – unlike mine, which were of the common ink-color that most people had. Beneath that apparent icy layer, I saw passions and an eternal flame of life in those brilliant amber orbs.
Sometimes, when he had his eyes set upon the distant sun – when I stole glimpses at him from the fringe of my vision, I could almost see the world reflected in his eyes.
"Then you must grow up fast, into a young lady so I can finally take your hand into mine." He would tease me in reply whenever I complained about our age gap.
I must grow up, I told myself repetitively.
"You'll just have to be a little patient then, and save yourself for me until I turn fifteen. Pinky promise!" I exclaimed with a slight frown, holding out my pinky.
He just smiled warmly – though it was only a light lift of the corners of his lips and many probably wouldn't even notice the difference, but they didn't know him – at least not as well as I did.
He wrapped his slender finger around mine, while his eyes were locked in an intense gaze with mine. "I, Sesshoumaru, Crowned Imperial Prince of China, swear upon the gods of the universe, and let the wind and the sun be my witness, that if I were to take the hand of a woman as my lawful wife, it would be Kagome's hand – if I married another woman, let the Gods punish—" before he could finish his vow, I put my finger on his lips, forbidding him of speaking such cursed words.
"Don't say it, I know you mean it." I cried out desperately, with fears flashing in my eyes, and leaned against his well-built chest, as if it was the safest place to be.
The soothing sound of his heartbeat was the most beautiful rhythm I had ever heard. "When will my little Kagome grow up…" He whispered softly, indulging my childish actions and allowing me to bear my face in his robe. It was a habit that I developed during childhood. Old habits die hard, it wasn't my fault.
I exchanged a brief glance with Sesshoumaru before gracefully bowing down to the Emperor and the Empress. It was a tradition for a grown up princess to bow three times to the Emperor and Empress to demonstrate her obedience and her respect for her royal relatives, before she finally reveal herself to her people.
After the bowing ceremony, I led my procession down the Palace of Qian Qing and head for our final destination – the red walls of the Forbidden City – which separated the Forbidden City from the outside world.
The sky was the clearest shade of blue – like a silken fabric stretched across the ends of the horizon, there wasn't a sight of clouds forming. I felt the sun baking my skin and the fancy ornate and jewels I wore on my head – hanging down to the sides of my face – glimmered blindingly under the shower of pale sun lights. Some even blocked my vision and I had to make my way to the red walls with the support of the servant girls.
As I rose to the top of the Forbidden City, the violent wind lifted up the sleeves and ends of my satin robe, throwing them into the air so relentlessly. The few strands of ebony hair tickled my cheeks as I fought to see the thousands of people before my eyes.
The cheers from the crowds and the deep, rumbling sounds of the ringing of the Grand Bell, echoed through the air and was carried miles away by the gust of violent wind that swirled by, to the distant ends of Chang-An, as if to ensure the entire city was aware of this ceremony, where the nation celebrated my fifteenth birthday and congratulated me on becoming an adult.
Every ray of the holy light was trained upon me as I ended my long walk at the top of the highest gate of the Forbidden City, where a splendid view of the people of Chang-an jumped into my eyes. The cheers died down as the world held its breath at my presence, as I kept my chin high and my face solemn.
I was the Princess of Peace, and one day, I would hold the world before my eyes in my own hands.
This moment marked the end of my childhood, and the beginning of my adulthood, one could say that it was the turning point in my life. And indeed it was, nothing was the same ever again from this moment and onward, and my life would spin so out of control and that never in my wildest dreams would I be able to foresee such abrupt change.
Regardless of what fate had in stored for me, I would still be me, and nothing could change that.
to be continued.