1 General-ly Alive
"Please Your Majesty, the auspicious hour has come. We cannot afford to dally any longer," the young eunuch raised his weak voice just a little louder this time.
Seeing his Highness still deep in thought, the eunuch helplessly prostrated himself along with the rest of the king's imperial staff.
"Your Majesty…17th prince….Dragon…" a little maid coos softly from her position at the corner, knowing full well that the current emperor is still adjusting to his new title.
Fortunately, there was finally some eye movement returning to the young emperor's blank face.
"What are you all doing?" he asks after tuning back into reality and doing a double take at the strange scene before him.
"We beg Your Majesty to get ready for the young General Teng's burial ceremony. Many high-ranking officials and honorable generals and families will be attending. It will not look well upon sire to arrive late."
"Are you sure he's dead?" the emperor pressed seriously. "Did you check the body?"
"Yes. As per your royal orders, we have already checked ten times, sire."
The emperor let out a noticeably deep sigh, obviously disappointed with the same answer.
'The pitiful emperor must still be recovering from the trauma of the recent events and is still in denial,' the servants sympathized.
Little did they know, it was for a much simpler reason. The young ruler looked at the servants and slumped back in defeat.
[No one would believe me.]
And he was right. Who would believe that the young General Teng's soul somehow transmigrated into Emperor Dragon's body after falling off the balcony together? Even more absurdly, Teng's body died, but his soul survived and now resides in who else but the emperor's royal body.
But who would buy his story? Not even his precious Teng family would believe such a tale.
In their eyes, the great son of Teng shielded the emperor's royal body with his own during the fall. He died an honorable death, while Dragon survived.
Plus, no one would perform a thorough investigation based on such a reason alone. They will just brush it aside and call his random thoughts a common symptom of post-trauma as they have been doing so for the past week.
In such a state, his royal advisers did not deem him suitable to attend any meetings and instead, placed him under heavily guarded house arrest. Thus, even his humblest requests to visit the family of the deceased were denied in a heartbeat.
Now, however, his presence is expected because it was supposedly his own request to pay due respects to his life savior in honor of his sacrifice. Although this wasn't exactly his own doing, this is the first opportunity to confirm himself!
"I want to see the body!" the emperor exclaimed at the realization, a wide smile on his face.
'It was insensitive for the emperor to display such a joyous expression in preparation for such a solemn event' the servants thought, but perhaps he did hit his head during the fall despite continuously denying such an occurrence.
Their theories perhaps proved more true when upon arriving at the burial ritual, the emperor abandoned all traditional formalities and immediately rushed beside the corpse to examine it, first holding its cold hand and then patting its lifeless shell with as much familiarity as if it were his own.
Luckily, the majority believed that the meek king was shattered by the great loss as opposed to his candid desperation to confirm the status of his own body.
[My body is really not breathing anymore…]
The king took a few steps back at the devastating realization when his eyes fell upon the older General Teng, his dear old father, who was approaching him.
At the sight, the dutiful son stood a little straighter, withholding tears that he wasn't aware he saved up.
"Lord Emperor," the revered general greeted with a bow.
"Please, father, don't bow to me," the flustered boy said to the man whose eyes grew wide after hearing being called such by the emperor himself.
"Lord Emperor, you must not address me as such despite our likely age difference," older General Teng bowed in fear, eyes kept to the ground. "This lowly servant is undeserving," he added, voice trembling.
For a second, Teng believed that his father, his life role model, actually recognized him. But it was then that he was reminded, little Teng has died. He is now Dragon.
"Rest assured General Teng, your son's sacrifice will not be in vain," was all the filial son could muster before leaving the family to mourn.
With the funeral taking place in the morning, the emperor was summoned by the late emperor's highly-ranked ministers in the afternoon for a prep course before the actual meeting scheduled later in the day.
Normally, the emperor performs the "summoning," but in light of his recent instatement and relatively young age, the elders felt it beyond appropriate to "guide" the child still wet behind the ears.
"Emperor, it is our greatest blessing to see you well," the condensed counsel of six greeted in unison.
It did not take a genius to discern that the group of officials did not hold much respect for the king, judging from their exaggerated speech and lack of genuineness in their expressions.
"It is truly Heaven's divine protection that you haven't fallen to your death from such a height," the skinny official with the long beard commented unnecessarily.
[Judging from their attitudes, they must have correctly assumed that I, no, the real Dragon, attempted suicide. They must be internally teeming with joy that their puppet survived.]
"Indeed," Dragon responded with a solid nod. "However, I can't seem to remember much. Remind me your name and status."
With a sinister smile, the bearded official replied, "Grand Secretary Yan Song 'Rock Pine,' Sire."
[Rock Pine! Why who else could it be other than the infamous corrupt politician selling and controlling government positions after the late emperor died?!? Well, the late late emperor, not the current late emperor, who I am.]
Dragon sat back to analyze the rest of the crew gathered before him.
[Who is on my side? Who is on his?]
"Your Highness, since you are finally returning to morning Councils of State, we want to refresh you on a few matters," the shorter chubbier official started.
From the way he stood closely behind Rock Pine, he must be his underling.
"General Liang Ji has recently returned from a war well fought. You best listen and grant his 'requests' today," another added.
[General Liang Ji "Magnitude"?!? The domineering corrupt general who brags glory when his men's blood are spilled? Listen and grant the notoriously greedy man's demands?]
Although much less recognized in feat and prestige, as a fellow general in past experience, Dragon knew the field all too well.
Vaguely speaking, there were two types of generals—those who cared for their soldiers and those who cared for themselves. General Liang Ji Magnitude was no doubt the latter.
But it seems in court, there is only one type that is recognized—those with results.
"Are you sure?" Dragon asks for confirmation. "The war expenditures on his behalf does not justify any of the measly victories he boasts."
"A piece of advice Lord Emperor, you must not under appreciate your subordinates. Otherwise, you will not sleep well," Rock Pine advised or better phrased, threatened.
No other man in the room dared look up or refute Rock Pine's apparent disrespect.
So they all chose a side already.
This was going to be tougher than Dragon thought.
"I hope your Highness is mentally "stable" enough to attend today's Council of State?" Rock Pine tauntingly added, seemingly pleased with the direction of the conversation.
Much to his surprise, Dragon didn't perform his habitual puppy-like dip of the head. Instead, with an energized smile, the emperor stood with more vigor than that body seemed to ever have possessed.
"To be honest, I was nervous at first. But with Grand Secretary Rock Pine's generous counseling, how can I not be?" Dragon beamed much too confidently for the psychological well-being of his onlookers before taking his lionhearted exit from the stuffy confined room.
Coincidentally making her rounds outside, the real Dragon's clever maid, Dragonfly, spotted the fully white-clothed emperor, proudly ascending the stairs to the imperial court.
"Your Highness! Lord Emperor!" she called out modestly while hurrying her tinier steps to catch up. He showed no signs of stopping. "17th Prince!" she tried next but to no avail.
Shaking her head, Dragonfly concluded that he was inside his little daydreams again. Once that happens, there is really no faster way of snapping him out than playing along.
The emperor was but a single flight of stairs away from making a fool of himself before his favorite maid stopped him in his tracks.
"You called?" Dragon asks gently, after realizing that it was Dragonfly, the only attendant who figured out his instinctual prompt response for that particular address. He rewarded her a handsome smile for her spontaneous cover up.
Seeing him smile like that, Dragonfly almost got persuaded that the normal Dragon—the Dragon before becoming emperor—had returned. Such a smile was too good to be true.
However, seeing him still clad entirely in white, she was reminded that behind his intellectually-advantaged face, the current Dragon can be and is still, for a majority of the time, an airhead.
"Who's funeral are you attending in the imperial court?"
Looking down at his attire, a slight blush touched upon Dragon's white jade skin. At least Dragonfly was the only witness.
"My dignity's if not for you," Dragon joked before being rushed by Dragonfly to quickly change.
"An emperor must always be dressed for battle," Dragonfly commented with a final tightening of the royal robes around the king's delicate waist.
Now that was an actual piece of advice.
"Thank you, Dragonfly," the armored emperor said while casually dropping a much deserved pat on the little maid's head. "I will be alright now."
At his simple words, little Dragonfly became teary.
All the previous times she helped dress Emperor Dragon, not once did he look up. With every meeting he attended, his frail body grew weaker until he barely had the energy to keep a front and became a walking husk. That Dragon was barely managing to stay alive. However…
Today, he had the determined eyes of a ambitious fighter with a clear mind and strong soul. He was brimming with confidence like a general trained in the art of war.
Today, Dragon looked like a true emperor—a true emperor that Great Jin was now, more than ever, in desperate need of.
Watching her once timid 17th Prince walk off in such big strides, Dragonfly found a new surge of hope returning.
[Perhaps Great Jin can be sav-]
"Dragonfly, please show the way to the Imperial Court."
The maid looked up and confirmed that the king was actually serious. In exchange for his photographic memory and partial intelligence, he gained charisma and confidence.
[Indeed the fate of Jin is still a gamble.]