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Concubine

 Himari lay in bed on her side, staring at the barren wall with dry scarlet stained eyes resting her head on her small delicate hands. Her spent, and tired body was still as a statue. The royal child left her womb, and everyone followed it to the home of her masters, and he would be raised as one of them, and she would be nothing more than just another subject. This wasn't the only child Himari had given to her imperial lord, but the first boy hadn't lasted a week before dashing his father's hopes for a worthy progeny. 

When she was with child, a stupid part of her started to forget how it would inevitably end. Once the golden boy left her womb, what happened to her wouldn't matter much after.  Even after enduring the pain of childbirth, she wouldn't be given the catharsis of cradling the fruits of her labor in her arms. That had been the hardest part the first time.

Watching her baby get carried away was just the first shock, though. The little prince had clawed out of her as fast as he could because, of course, he must have known this woman was no empress, just a concubine!  Many sad mothers are forced to abandon their babies, but a mother abandoned by her own baby is a rare thing. Then there were the long quiet days for Himari to think of the baby boy she wouldn't even get to name. 

This thought returned the sting of tears to her eyes. Impotent anger and hopeless despair compounded each other and blended into a painful mixture inside her heart. Himari began to quietly sob again when she heard the door to her quarters gently slide open. 

Himari wiped her eyes, turned her head, and saw the diminutive but still imposing Dowager Empress Yui standing in the doorway. Himari tried to stand up, but Yui commanded her to be still.

Yui walked over to Himari and sat on the bed beside her. It was a strange display of informality, and Yui didn't know how to respond. What would happen if people knew she hadn't stood up to bow to the Dowager Empress?

Yui gently stroked Himari's long ebony hair. 

"How are you, my dear?" She finally asked.

Himari was startled by the question. "With respect, how I am is of no consequence. What about the prince? Is he healthy?"

Yui nodded. "Yes, the child appears healthy." 

A heavy silence hung over the room. Yui's fingers extricated themselves from Himari's hair, and she moved it down to clutch Himari's soft hand.

"Did you know," Yui suddenly stopped midsentence and the old woman's face, always still and never revealing, began to tremble. 

"My son's mother was a concubine," she suddenly blurted out the rest of the thought. 

Himari stayed silent.

"We never spoke while she was in the palace, but sometimes I would see her watching her son with longing eyes. Physically she was near, but as the subject of the future emperor and not his mother, he was remote from her. Every time I saw her, I could see the pain it caused. 

"Her duty must be her comfort," Himari said, thinking it was what the Dowager wanted to hear.

Yui's hand trembled. "I am so sorry, Yui said before she started crying. 

"It's not your fault," Himari cried. The women embraced and held each other while they cried. It was the only thing they could do. Himari cried for the son that would never know she was alive, and Yui cried for the young woman whose child she took. They found a moment of comfort in sharing their unique traumas. Emotional pains few would be able to understand. 

Relief, however, was fleeting. Soon they departed and were alone, facing something neither one could ever hope to make right. 


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