How long had it been since I tried to sleep I could feel the arm constraining me relax as my nightly companion began to draw the slow, steady breaths of slumber.
I struggled to wriggle my way out of his embrace, but he mumbled incoherent words and pulled me in again.
My body twisted towards him and I came face to face with the great emperor.
My breath caught.
The lines in his face, often hard and stern, had smoothed out and relaxed.
He appeared gentle and kind, not the intimidating man he became when he awoke.
Sleep would be impossible with the weight of his muscular arm compressing me.
Try as might, I could not loosen his grip.
I felt the tears of frustration welling up inside me.
I should be comfortable and satisfied that I slept in his arms.
He was a handsome and powerful man.
But he was also a strict and ruthless leader.
It was like lying in bed with a majestic peacock and a hungry lion, all at the same time.
I wanted to relax, but I also wanted to run.
Remaining there, sobbing, I forced myself to drift into a dreamless sleep.
When I awoke the next morning, the emperor had already vanished.
During the night he had made his escape in silence, taking the care to tuck me in with the warm blankets before he left.
From then on we never spoke of what happened that first day.
Our interactions became simple and polite.
“Lily, how was your day I’m exhausted.
Let’s retire early.” This was the extent of his communication with me.
It left me confused as to my duties and my place in his household.
I didn’t know where I fit in.
* * *
The day’s sun shone with an orange brilliance, a fragrant spring breeze blowing through the palace.
It had been two weeks since I had been brought in as a doll for the emperor.
It could be dangerous many days, when he nurtured a foul mood that made me feel uncomfortable.
I looked forward to the instances when I could be on my own, enjoying the peace and monotony of palace life.
Every morning, I would learn the ways of imperial etiquette with the new maids and house staff.
The rest of the time I spent awaiting the return of the emperor in his chambers.
Lina, a servant who was always kind and friendly, would bring me my meals, draw my bath, and take care of any other necessities I required.
Other than her company, my time remained quiet and lonesome.
What I wouldn’t have given for a book, with a romantic plot, to immerse myself into.
The time spent in solitude could be boring and frustrating.
I opened the window overlooking the garden, smiling as the cool wind brushed my face.
I longed to be walking in that garden, amongst the rainbow of flowers, but I had been forbidden to leave the palace interior.
At least the maids did not bar the shutters from the peaceful view.
The long-standing slave life and the loss of voice sounds like a tragedy, but this job that supplied three meals a day and allowed me to get lots of naps in between made me feel lucky.
In fact, for the first three or four days, I struggled to fall asleep because of the fact that a stranger (no, frankly, a sexy male) was in the same bed.
When the emperor moves, I would flinch!
Even if the emperor breathes loudly, I would flinch!
I felt like I was going to die for the first three days going to bed.
The nights I did manage to fall asleep, I slept in peace, even if they were few and far between.
There had been times when the emperor did not retire until the early morning, having worked until the candles burned low.
Yet he would still be gone by dawn, having only a few hours of sleep.
I wondered how he could manage a mighty empire with such a lack of rest.
During those instances I had to be wary.
When the emperor exhausted himself, he becomes tyrannical.
Though a powerful man, he would rail, usually bolstered by the fact that he had been drinking.
He would then stumble to his chamber and collapse into a deep slumber.
That seemed to be the only time I would ever see him sleep without a companion in his arms.
During those nights, I would be able to study him without fear.
I liked to run my fingers through his hair.
The strands were soft and smelled like mint.
The feel of it on my hands gave me pleasure and I would find myself stoking his head for hours, addicted to the sensation.
If he had woken, I would have been severely punished for touching him without permission.
The days after he had slept a full night, and stayed away from the drink, became different.
He would lean his head on my knee and tell me stories of the day’s politics.
He spoke of the pardon of the Marquis of Draman, the governor of the Alto colony, and the nominees for his replacement.
The information he discussed with me I had no interest or understanding in.
Occasionally, he would look into my eyes as he told his stories and I would wonder if my head is still in its place.
‘I thought of him as just a big bear, and it somehow worked out.
Hahaha.’ The problem was that the teddy bear is too sexy.