The Emperor

I couldn’t look at the emperor directly, so I followed the example of Peony and Rose, twirling my hips in their low-slung skirt. Moving my revealed stomach, swinging my arms above my head. I tilted my head back and felt my hair sweep across the back of my thighs. I knew that it was darker than the hair of any woman watching me, dark and lustrous. Strange metal bangles clashed down my wrists, ending up at my elbows.

I moved steadily, my heart beating a quick rhythm that my body followed. I drew close to the throne. I looked down, then to the audience. I glimpsed a woman, dressed in a long green gown, simply a swath of thin fabric draped over her body and belted. She had long, golden hair, and an elaborate silver circlet across her forehead. Her sky-blue eyes held a strange gleam I did not recognize, and I felt fear.

Peony was kneeling to the right of the emperor, Rose to the left, their gazes fixed on the floor. I had not been told where to sit. I stayed in the middle, knelt, and put my face to the floor.

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