My previous stories had focused on Plot, while this one on Setting and Description.
Coursera Prompt: Slow motion moment. A one to two pager describing a scene that would have taken 10 seconds in real life. No inner monologue of the characters, only what they are doing. Nothing that happens before or after the 10-second timeframe. No wondering about what’s happening elsewhere. No mental planning on what the character’s going to do next. Strictly actions and material details only.
It was not easy – I think I had broken some of the rules.
The young Empress bit her lower lip and clenched her fists. She watched with intense stare every movement her infant son made as he crawled closer to the assortment of items meticulously arranged in front of him. Uncharacteristically gritting her teeth, The Empress’ facial expression concealed little of her impatience and despair.
Bai Xue, the lady-in-waiting standing next to her, was surprised by this rare loss of composure, but wisely dared not speak a word. Xue was sure The Empress could see with her peripheral vision the shortening length of the trees’ shadows outside the window. It was almost noontime. As she shifted her sight to somehow distance herself from The Empress, Xue accidentally exchanged a look with the triumphant-looking Imperial Concubine. The way her black irises glittered in premature glory sent shivers to Xue’s spine.
Only the one-year-old seemed unaware of the heavy atmosphere surrounding him. He had stopped crawling and now lied on his stomach. He was laughing happily and punching his tiny fists in the air, displaying no interest in any of the prophetic articles lain before him, the determinants of the crown prince’s future once grabbed by his tiny hands. A Confucian book, a wise king. A brush pen, an ink stone, an abacus, an intelligent king. An arrow, a sheathed sword, a warrior king. A toy, a playful king. A vase of flowers, a gentle king -a weak king.
And the royal stamp, the legitimate king.
Xue fearfully stole a look at The Empress, who seemed, if Xue did not know better, to be slightly trembling. The Empress’ shoulders loosened and her body shook inconspicuously. The jewels on her headdress swung awkwardly, shimmering violently in the sunlight.
The light from his mother’s headdress caught the young crown prince’s attention. Within an instant, his laugh turned to a smile and then to a puzzled pout. He could sense she was not pleased. He kept his stare fixated on his mother, looking for a clue. Bai Xue could almost feel a cloud of relief vaporizing out of The Empress’ body as she curled her thin lips into an encouraging, motherly smile. The royal stamp, Xue and everyone present in the court could almost hear The Empress’ mind, grab the royal stamp, my son. The Empress directed her sight to the stamp with such intensity that she would produce the same effect if she had instead pointed her finger to the object.
The crown prince tilted his tiny head, seemingly for the first time noticing the tools of fate in front of him. He began to crawl, only this time left to right instead of forward. He extended his short arm upward to the flowers and opened his fist.
Xue lost her mandibular control and gaped at the horrifying spectacle. And The Empress’ eyes! Xue could not distinguish whether it was fear or wrath or pain that flashed them. Whatever it was, for that one millisecond Xue witnessed a mother relinquished her love for her child.
But the heavens had other plans. The short reach of the prince’s puny right arm did not allow him to grab the flower, so he pulled it down, and landed his palm unintentionally on the stamp. He acknowledged the stamp’s existence as it touched his baby skin, looked at it with interest, wrapped his fingers around it, and lifted it closer to his face.
Bai Xue never felt so relieved in her life. She could feel the atmosphere changed as the crowd sighed relief and cheerful murmurs arose. She heard a gasp coming from the Imperial Concubine’s direction. In her wave relief, Xue noticed a second too late that The Empress had left her side, gracefully and noiselessly, to kneel and embrace her son. She smiled widely.
Bai Xue noticed that The Empress was still biting her lower lip.