The Emperor's Seal
Touching Time Book 1
by Amanda Roberts Genre: Paranormal Fantasy Mystery
The Emperor’s Seal – the divine symbol of the Emperor on earth – is missing. The Empress will do whatever it takes to get it back.
Jiayi has a gift – she can travel through time just by touching historical artifacts. More than anything, she wants to escape the clutches of the Empress and run away to a foreign land. Finding the Emperor’s Seal could be her only chance at freedom, but is she willing to risk the wrath of the Empress?
Historian and wannabe archaeologist Zhihao has no love for the Empress or the Qing Dynasty, but when the Empress orders him to find the Emperor’s Seal in exchange for funding China’s first history museum, he cannot refuse. It is only after he accepts the assignment that he realizes the key to finding the seal lies in the hands of a palace slave.
Civil unrest and encroaching foreign powers threaten Jiayi and Zhihao's mission and lives as they hunt for The Emperor's Seal.
Do it,” the empress commanded.
Carefully, as if it contained a snake that could bite her, Jiayi pulled up the long sleeves of her robe
and took the box in her hands. She inhaled slow deep breaths as she closed her eyes. She never knew what to expect, so she had to be prepared for anything.
When she opened her eyes again, she was surrounded by running horses. People screamed as they ran for cover. The men riding the horses brandished weapons and they slashed and hacked at the people around them. Jiayi turned left and right, searching for a way out before she too was trampled. She had never died during one of her visions before, but she didn’t know what would happen to her in real life if she did. She didn’t want to take the chance. One of the riders stopped to skewer a man not far from her. He
screamed as blood shot from his body like a fountain. Jiayi was terrified, but there was nothing she could do for him.
She had to take care of herself. The stopped horse caused a break in the sea of galloping beasts. Jiayi had to run while she had the chance. She had no idea where she was going, why the box the empress handed her sent her to this place, this time, but she had to find it, the emperor’s seal.
Somehow this body, this woman she was inhabiting had a connection to it. She had to trust that this woman would lead her to the answer.
She ran as far as she could, away from the battle. Up on a hill, she saw a large tent and many men on horseback watching the fray below. Why they were only watching, she did not know. She looked down at her clothing and saw she was dressed in the clothing of a Manchu noblewoman. The men who were watching were also dressed as Manchu. At least she wasn’t running toward the enemy. She scurried up
the hill as quickly as she could.
“Please! Help me!” she screamed when she was within earshot.
The men looked down at her in utter surprise, as if they only just now saw her. It was possible. Jiayi had no idea what her manifestations in the visions looked like to other people.
“Lady Caigiya!” one of the men dressed as a general called out. He pointed to her and two of his men ran down to her side and helped her up. “What happened? How did you get down there?” the general asked when she finally made it to him.
“I…I don’t know,” she mumbled. “I must have been lost…”
The answer seemed to satisfy the general. He nodded again to his men. “Take her to the emperor. He must be worried about her.”
Jiayi doubted that very much. She had never known an emperor to worry over a woman, but she allowed herself to be led along. She was taken to a large tent, one big and grand enough to be an imperial residence at the Forbidden City. When the heavy curtains were drawn back, it was so dark inside she could see nothing. She was ungraciously ushered inside and the curtains were dropped closed behind her. The room was shockingly quiet. She could hear low voices of men talking but could hardly hear the sounds
of the battle raging just below so thick were the walls of the tent. After a moment, her eyes began to adjust to the low light of the braziers scattered throughout the room.
On the far side was a large table, and several men stood around it in heated discussion. Around the tent, along the walls were fashionably dressed ladies and many children. If the emperor was here, these must be his ladies—his wives and concubines—and his children, the princes and princesses. Why were they here, in the midst of a dangerous battle? Not for the first time Jiayi wished she knew something of history. Even names and dates would help her understand her visions so much more.
She took a few steps closer to the men in the middle of the room. The general had said she should be taken to the emperor, but did he just mean here, in this room, or to his side?
One of the men looked up at her and his face brightened.
“Cai!” he called out as he ran to her. “My beloved,” he cooed as he held her hand. “What happened to you?” he asked.
Cai! Of course. Caigiya was her full name, but she was more commonly known as Lady Cai, the most loved—and the most scandalous—of Emperor Daoguang’s women. She did not need a formal history lesson to know who she was now. Any woman who lived in the palace would know the infamous Lady Cai, the one who stole an emperor’s heart.
But there was no time for her to recite the legend of their love now. She needed to find the seal. If she failed again, the empress would be highly displeased…and no one wanted to be in the empress’s bad graces.
“I…I was lost. There were horses running and men were screaming…” she said.
“I am so sorry you got caught up in that. The rebels, they came upon us so swiftly. I was a fool to try to take my family to Jehol during such a time…” the emperor lamented.
Jiayi was putting a few pieces together. The emperor and his family must have been traveling from Peking to the Mountain Palace north of Peking in Jehol when they were sat upon by a rebel army. What rebels, she had no idea, but it did not seem important right now.
“I am fine,” Jiayi said as she tried to smile. “I am here with you now.”
The emperor smiled back and kissed her tenderly. She nearly pulled away. Such moments always shocked her. She had never been kissed in real life. She was an innocent maiden who had spent most of her life sequestered in the empress’s palace. But this was not the first time a man in one of her visions kissed her. Some had done more…She had learned to suppress her real feelings and let the body of her host take over. She needed to remain calm and pretend everything was normal. She needed the emperor to lead her
to the seal. It had to be here!
The emperor stepped back and smiled at her. “You are sure everything is fine?” he asked.
She nodded. “Of course. I was only worried for you. Is there any way I can help you?” she asked.
He reached up and playfully touched her nose. “It is as if you can read my thoughts,” he said. “Follow me.”
She did as she was told. The emperor took her hand and led her to the table surrounded by the other men. They looked anything but happy to have her in their presence, scowling and crossing their arms. They were not used to discussing important matters in the presence of a woman.
Jiayi could not help but smile to herself at that. In her time, only a couple of decades later, China was ruled by a woman.
“Your Majesty,” one of the men said. “Surely there is another way…”
“We must protect the seal,” the emperor said firmly.
“The seal represents the emperor—myself and every emperor who had come before me and who will come after until the end of time—and the Mandate of Heaven. We are under attack here! If the barbarians get their hands on it, they could use it to overthrow the Qing Dynasty! If I die today, they could find the seal and use it to claim the empire for themselves. It must be hidden, just for now.”
“But to trust a woman?” another of the ministers piped up.
The emperor laughed. “Women are the best at hiding things! Every chance they get they will spirit away a bit of money or a jewel or even a piece of fine clothing and you will never see it again. Why do you think you must always buy them new things?”
The other men joined in the laughter, but Jiayi blushed.
It was partly true. Most women could not earn their own money, so they often had to hide small amounts away for an emergency. A woman never knew when she might lose the favor of her husband or mother-in-law or other benefactor and have nowhere to go and no food to eat. Even in the service of the empress, Jiayi feared the day she would no longer be useful to her and find herself back on the street.
The emperor snapped his fingers. A eunuch ran up and placed a large box on the table. It was the same box that Jiayi was holding in her real hands—the box that contained the seal. The box was red lacquered with golden dragons painted on it. It was much larger than it needed to be, but the box’s interior had many layers of protective red silk to cushion the seal.
The emperor opened the box and reverently lifted the seal. The seal had been forged from pure gold hundreds of years ago. The base of the seal was square, but on the top there was an ornately carved dragon—the symbol of the emperor. The dragon’s eyes were set with rubies that glistened in the fire from the braziers. Each of the four sides of the seal had cloisonné images that were blue in the background
with two dragons—eight in all—reaching for a flaming pearl. The pearl symbolized wisdom, prosperity,
power, and immortality—all qualities the emperor possessed.
The beauty of the seal and the weight of its meaning took Jiayi’s breath away. She was so close. Her
hands started to tremble and sweat beaded on her forehead.
The whole room started to blur. As the emperor turned to her, it was as though the world had slowed
down. Jiayi realized what was happening—she was waking up! She was losing her grip on the vision and
would soon be back in the presence of the empress. She had to find out what happened to the seal before it was too late.
The emperor stepped toward her so slowly it was as if he was moving through thick mud. Jiayi tried to walk to him, but was nearly frozen in place. “My love,” she called out, willing him to hurry without causing suspicion.
“My dear Lady Cai,” he said as he held out the seal. “I need you to hide this for me. Do you promise to keep it safe and reveal it to no one but me when it is once again safe todo so?” It sounded as though he was calling to her through water.
“Yes, yes, my love. Of course,” she said. The world blurred further. She could no longer see the table, the
braziers, or the angry faces of the men nearby.
“Into your hands, I entrust all of China.”
She tried to hold out her hands, but she could not move quickly enough. The emperor released the seal and it slipped through her fingers, crashing to the ground.
“Jiayi…” she thought she heard the emperor say, but his voice sounded far away even though he was right in front of her.
“What?” she asked.
“Jiayi…” His voice was little more than a whisper as the world went black.
As Jiayi woke, she heard her name being called louder and louder.
“Jiayi! Jiayi, answer me! Did you find it? Do you know where the seal is?”
Jiayi opened her eyes and the empress was right in front of her. She started as the hard eyes looked deep into hers.
“Jiayi! Answer me! What did you see?”
“Lady Cai…” Jiayi said as she tried to recall the details of the vision. “The emperor gave the seal to Lady Cai.”
She heard other women in the room gasp. She looked around and saw the empress’s other ladies, her attendants and maids, all looking at her. While the empress kept Jiayi’s powers secret from her ministers and male counselors, she did not bother hiding Jiayi from her friends and ladies— her real advisors.
“You mean the Lady Cai? The one the emperor nearly
gave up the throne for?” one of the ladies asked. “He truly trusted her that much?”
Jiayi nodded. “He loved her,” she said.
“But what about the seal?” the empress snapped, grabbing Jiayi’s arm and shaking her.
She knew the empress would be angry when she found out Jiayi did not know where it was. But maybe she could give her enough information to temper her anger.
“There was a battle, on the road to Jehol. Some barbarians. I don’t know who…” she explained. “The emperor feared that they would kill him and steal the seal. He wanted Lady Cai to hide it, to protect it.”
“And?” The empress was shaking. She held her hands out as if Jiayi was in possession of the seal and could simply hand it over to her.
“And…I…I dropped it,” Jiayi said, tears forming in her eyes. “I’m sorry, but the vision ended before he could hand it to me. I don’t know where it is. But he certainly gave it to Lady Cai! If we know where the battle took place, she must have hidden it nearby and…”
The empress slapped her so hard across the face she thought her neck snapped. She held her breath, afraid to make the slightest noise and possibly invite more of the empress’s wrath. The room was completely silent. None of the other women dared to go to Jiayi’s aid. After a moment that seemed like much longer, the empress stumbled back.
Jiayi finally sucked in a breath as everyone else in the room audibly exhaled. She slowly straightened her neck, but kept her moist eyes downturned.
“So close…so close…” the empress muttered.
“We can try again,” one of the other women suggested.
She picked up the box and shoved it into Jiayi’s hands, but nothing happened.
“You know it doesn’t work that way,” another of the other women angrily whispered, slapping her hands away.
“But Jiayi was right,” Princess Der Ling said. “If Lady Cai had the box on the way to Jehol, that narrows the search considerably.”
The empress sat down in her chair, looking as worn and exhausted as Jiayi felt. She sat for a moment, as if considering her options. Finally, she nodded her head.
“Yes, it is time. Bring him to me…”
Amanda Roberts is a writer and editor who has been living in China since 2010. Amanda has an MA in English from the University of Central Missouri. She has been published in magazines, newspapers, and anthologies around the world and she regularly contributes to numerous blogs. Amanda can be found all over the Internet, but her home is TwoAmericansinChina.com.