Thursday, June 4, 2015
The Emperor's Atpyical Request
That next night, as usual, the Emperor entertained a party of concubines. Considering the agreement she had made with the Emperor, Beatriss watched the Emperor closely, and her attention was not that of a bashful coquette, but of a tactician. More notable than the Emperor’s sexual interests, however, was one concubine’s uncanny skill at anticipating them. She directed the others in when they should sing and when they should dance, when they should undress—when one should allow herself to be taken while the others withdrew. This concubine’s name was Biyu. Biyu seemed to know Beatriss, and when she invited her, half-mocking, to share the feast, she addressed Beatriss by name, mispronouncing it in the same way that Jiaohu had done.
After the Emperor was exhausted, one woman remained to sleep in his bed, while the others piled cushions on the floor. Beatriss remained awake. After an hour or so, she saw Biyu rise from her sleeping place and slip out of the room. Less than a minute, Bayan—Beatriss’s protégé—entered the room, wearing her armor, but moving almost silently. She moved toward Beatriss while raising a knife. Beatriss screamed for help—Bayan charged at Beatriss, but seemed to fumble in panic as she delivered what could have been a killing blow—the blade made a long, but shallow gash over Beatriss’s temple. As guards charged into the room, Bayan dropped the knife and sprang for the window. The guards surrounded the Emperor as the conqueror, quickly roused himself from slumber, reaching for a weapon. Other guards shouted orders to secure the palace, search the grounds, and arrest Bayan. Eventually someone tended to Beatriss’s nerves. The panicked concubines were held for questioning. Biyu was nowhere to be found.
Soon the guards tracked down Bayan. They’d found her fast asleep in her bed. The Emperor’s advisors saw no reason to take chances, but the Emperor relented, agreeing that Bayan should be given some chance to find the real assassin—especially since if it was Biyu, she might be taking refuge in the Women’s Palace, a place where the Emperor would not in most circumstances allow his guards to enter.
Guards escorted Bayan to the Women’s Palace, and through a series of gates, and then passed her off to one of the elderly ladies-in-waiting who watched over the sleeping harem at night. The old woman said she knew who Biyu was and led Bayan through halls and gardens and bathing rooms, to a small chamber. Bayan dismissed the old woman and opened the door, and entered, lingering for several minutes. There was a figure in the bed—a young woman—but she was dead, strangled.
Bayan found a place to hide in the room and waited. After some time, another person entered the room—Bayan’s doppleganger, holding a knife. Bayan said nothing, but attacked the strange being with a kick in the back and a series of punches. The faux-Bayan screamed and ran, transforming herself into the form of a young woman. Her screams were answered my more screams, but Bayan warned that residents that anyone venturing into the corridor would be putting her life in danger. Locks clicked and lights were extinguished. When Bayan caught the shape-changer, it tried to strangle, her, the slender hands turning into barbed claws. Bayan drew her dagger and drove it deep into the fiend’s body. It bled and screamed. Bayan overpowered it and it surrendered, promising to go with Bayan to speak to the Emperor. Bayan agreed, but the promise soon proved to be duplicitous. In the ensuing struggle, Bayan at last killed the evil thing. She dragged the strange gray featureless body out of the Woman’s Palace. The guards helped her carry it back to the Imperial Palace and it was shown to the Emperor.
For what remained of the night, the Emperor requested to sleep alone.