First Arc ー Chapter 4 (Part 4): Decorative Mirror
“Elder Sister, what’s exactly the matter?” Jiang Chenyu had always thought that regarding conducting oneself, Elder Sister was much more slick and seasoned than her. No matter how deeply sorrowed she felt in her heart, her countenance would still remain calm and collected. They grew up together since young but when had she ever seen her forget herself so much? She did not know how terrible a matter had occurred to actually let this elder sister of hers who was always brimming with confidence cry like a child. She only became like this after the Jiang father and son left. Could it be……
“Elder Sister, are you sick? Did you get afflicted with a very serious illness?”
Jiang Huayue nodded her head while sobbing.
Jiang Chenyu’s heart sank. She grasped her hand in return and said, “What illness? How serious?” Although her Elder Sister often caught a cold during the four seasons in a year and continuously had minor illnesses, if one were to really discuss how weak she was, it was completely hard to articulate in words. What illness could she have caught this time that could actually cause her to be so struck with panic to this extent?
Jiang Huayue opened her mouth and looked all around. The expression in her eyes appeared to be even more gloomy. “I, I……Younger Sister, I’m afraid that for this lifetime of mine, I won’t have, won’t have……children anymore……”
Jiang Chenyu was instantly dumbfounded. Her mind immediately went black. After she recovered from her surprise, her first reaction was, “What? That’s what the Jiang father and son said?”
“Do you still remember the very fragrant medicine I have always been taking?”
Jiang Chenyu nodded her head.
“Actually, I, I already have seasonal menstruation (Note: Refers to the period coming once every three months) for a very long time……while those medicines, I ate them but have not seen any improvements. I felt anxious inside and finally could not refrain from inviting Jiang Wanyi to come take a look. He is known as a divine physician so his medical skills should be even more brilliant than the imperial physicians. In the end, he told me……” When Jiang Huayue spoke until here, she could no longer continue.
Jiang Chenyu narrowed her eyes. “Was it Jiang Wanyi who told you that you can’t get pregnant?” Seeing Jiang Huayue nod, she suddenly had a flash of understanding, she stood up and walked towards outside, frightening Jiang Huayue with a start. She hastily pulled her and said, “What are you going to do?”
“I have things to ask him.”
“Don’t, Chenyu, this kind of matter……” She could not even wait to cover this kind of matter up so how could she spread it around?
Jiang Huayue held her back and said, “What are you going to ask him? Ask him whether he diagnosed incorrectly? Ask him whether he has medicine to cure? I have asked all these already. Actually, I understand my own body the clearest……Thinking back on those days when His Majesty favored me the most and stayed over every night, I couldn’t even conceive an imperial child, let alone when I lose favor with my beauty withering away now……”
Jiang Huayue’s hand embraced her waist instead, like a child embracing a mother and tightly snuggled up to her. “I’m so scared……Younger Sister, I’m so scared……”
Jiang Chenyu hugged her Elder Sister in her arms back, only feeling that her heart fluttered about unsteadily and sank without touching any edge and with no place to settle.
She knew what Huayue was scared of. Huayue’s marriage could be said to have only one purpose. That was to protect and shield the whole family. Seeing that the position of Empress was already vacant, it was precisely the time for all the imperial consorts to take the opportunity to ascend to the position. Whoever could give birth to a child could very likely become the new Empress. However, it was right at this time that the imperial physician told her that what she was afflicted with was infertility. To women, this was no different from a blow that was even more terrifying than death. Huayue had entered the palace for three years and had already gradually lost the imperial favor and no child. Watching on helplessly that there was no hope of being conferred the Empress and she was also not favored, how was she going to spend the remainder of her very long life in this inner palace?
When Jiang Chenyu thought until here, she could not refrain herself from crying along. She hugged her sister and thought, ‘I must help Elder Sister, I must think of a way.’ Yet, the many wisdom and intelligence she had usually all vanished without a trace at this moment. She hugged Huayue who was choked with sobs until she could not speak and felt the tremble and icy-cold emitting from her body. She suddenly felt extremely sorrowful.
That sorrow was very strong. It accompanied the towering buildings of the imperial palace and hazy skies to form the prison of the previous lifetime and this lifetime. How could it only imprison just her Elder Sister alone?
“Younger Sister, you must keep this matter a secret!” Jiang Huayue grabbed her hand tightly. Her anxiety also contained an indescribable fear. “Not only from the people in the palace but you also can’t tell Father, Mother, Elder Brother and the others! Because……Because……”
‘Because one it was exposed, it will definitely arouse the panic of all the family members and cause Father and Mother’s hearts ache for her’……Just as Jiang Chenyu was thinking like this, Jiang Huayue had already continued speaking in the most miserable manner, “Because once they know about it, they will think that I no longer have any exploitation value and become a useless chess piece. Then they won’t treat me as well as now……”
Jiang Chenyu’s whole body trembled once severely. It had absolutely not come across her mind that her Elder Sister would actually say this!
“Actually, how they’re treating me now also can’t be said to be good. At least it’s no longer like three years ago……” Jiang Huayue cried once again. “Younger Sister, why does my life have to be so tough?”
The sentence ‘If I’m going to live, then I must live as a person above people; If I’m going to marry, then I must marry the monarch, only then will I not have lived this life in vain’ from many years ago still resounded by her ears and interweaved with her words now. Jiang Chenyu thought, ‘It surely must have been that an error had cropped up somewhere. Otherwise, why would the formerly lovable young girl who was extremely proud and forever confident have disappeared? Why would those carefree, honest and simple times have disappeared? Why would everything in front of my eyes be blurred by the heavy fog that I can no longer see clearly?’
‘It surely must have been that an error had cropped up somewhere……’
Although it was a gloomy atmosphere of worry and dejection in Jia Ning Palace, it was a celebration of singing and dancing at Bao Hua Palace.
In the enormous palace hall, Xihe laid on the chaise longue at an angle. Her hand held a wine cup and she was watching the girl dancers dance below. These girl dancers were all meticulously trained by Tian Yue Bureau. It was said that Tian Yue Bureau took in hundreds of girls into the bureau. They taught them zither, dance and music theatre* and was extremely harsh. After grooming them for three to five years, the ones with mediocre aptitude would be sent to serve tea and carry out manual labour while the others would start to go on stage to present their art. Only those who danced the best had the qualifications to enter the palace.
*T/n: The various Chinese folk art forms which can include Chinese ballad singing, story telling, comic dialogues, clapper talks, cross talks and more.
These young ladies were all at the age where they were like flowers. Their visages were beautiful and their waists soft. At that moment, they were singing merrily and dancing gracefully. As they gathered around in the hall, it was really indescribably pleasant to the eyes.
As Xihe watched and watched, the expression in her eyes changed. Finally, she raised her hand. All the music and dance immediately stopped at that instant.
She pointed at the most beautiful girl dancer among them and said, “You, what’s your name?”
That person replied timidly, “This servant’s surname is Yuan(Yuán), with the name Xingfang(Xìngfāng).”
“You like apricot flowers*? Xihe’s line of vision burned and concentrated on the apricot flowers embroidered on the hem of her dress.
*T/n: ‘Xing’ in her name refers to apricot.
Yuan Xingfang replied, “Yes.”
Xihe gazed at her indifferently. Suddenly, she placed her wine cup on the low tea-table at the side, stood up and simply walked barefooted like that towards her.
All the girl dancers’ hearts immediately rose to their throats. For a moment, the rumors regarding how this Consort was arrogant, despotic and hard to serve emerged in their minds. Especially for Yuan Xingfang, cold sweat flowed down from her forehead profusely and her expression appeared even more fearful.
Xihe used that profound and unfathomable gaze to size her up for a long time before she bent over and lifted the hem of her skirt. With her exerting her strength like that, only a sound of ‘rip’ was heard. The red dress with exquisite workmanship was forcefully torn apart by her hands.
Everyone’s face turned pale together. Yuan Xingfang cried out in surprise, “Consort! Consort……this servant deserves to die! This servant deserves to die. May Consort pardon the offence! May Consort pardon the offence!” As she said, she knelt down with a thud.
Who knew that Xihe did not bother with her at all and only cared about ripping the apricot flowers on her dress into fragments. For a moment, the big hall was quiet. Only the sounds of fabric tearing could be heard with each and every sound piercing the ears.
Only until that apricot flower had been torn until powder did Xihe stand up and look at Yuan Xingfang with an icy-cold gaze.
The countenances of all the girl dancers were ashen pale. They inwardly thought that they were done for now. They did not know how Xingfang had violated the Consort’s taboo but it looked like a severe punishment would be inevitable. Bringing dragged out for decapitation was still considered good. What they were most afraid of was that they were beaten until they were crippled. Their whole life would then be considered to be completely ruined.
Who knew that Xihe did not flare up as expected but took off a bracelet from her wrist and handed it over to before Yuan Xingfang and said, “I’m rewarding you with this.”
Yuan Xingfang with a tear-stained face raised her head. She looked at that bracelet then looked at her, her face full of disbelief.
Xihe stuffed the bracelet into her hand then languidly waved her hand as she said, “All of you may go back.”
Only then did all the dancer girls know that they had narrowly escaped the calamity and hastily bowed to pay their respects and withdrew. Xihe called out to Yuan Xingfang again and said indifferently, “This consort doesn’t like your name. Go back and change it.”
“Yes……” Yuan Xingfang while trembling with fear and staggered as she escaped.
The enormous palace hall became desolate all of a sudden. A breeze blew past and blew until all the seven layers of gauze muslin fluttered and until Xihe’s long hair flew upwards everywhere, appearing as if she was a demon. She stepped on the shreds of fabric on the ground and turned around as she prepared to return to the couch to continue lying on her side. A pair of arms suddenly reached out and embraced her.
Xihe was stunned and was about to struggle but heard that person laughed beside her ear. “Did you miss this emperor?”
It was Zhao Yin.
Although her body had relaxed, the lingering fear in her heart still existed. She could not refrain from turning her head back. She saw a pair of slender and long phoenix eyes which slightly curved upwards beaming while looking at her. The expression in his eyes was with limitless intimacy.
It was indeed Zhao Yin.
‘To hell with it! Shouldn’t he be on the way back to the capital at this time? Why would he appear at Bao Hua Palace? Furthermore in the attire of an imperial bodyguard!’
“Your Majesty, you……”
“Why did this emperor return to the palace in advance right? It’s because this emperor missed Xihe too much and wanted to meet Xihe earlier. Therefore, I spurred the horse as fast as possible all the way and put aside the main forces and returned ahead of them. Is this answer good enough?” As Zhao Yin spoke, he kissed her cheek and was waiting to kiss the lips but was pushed away by Xihe who smiled sarcastically as she said, “Does Your Majesty need to dress like this when coming to meet this concubine subject*? Deceiving a ghost**?”
*T/n: It’s different from the way females refer to themselves as ‘concubine’ in normal households. ‘Chenqie’ is used when consorts refer to themselves before the emperor.
**T/n: Basically means that he can’t hoodwink anyone.
Zhao Yin laughed heartily. He took the wine on the low tea-table and drank it in one mouth. Then, he conveniently sat onto the couch. “Indeed, it’s still Xihe who understands this emperor best. Can’t deceive you at all, can’t deceive you.”
Xihe saw that his expression looked happy as if he was in a good mood. Finally, she still could not refrain from asking, “What happy occasion has Your Majesty encountered? So happy to this extent?”
Zhao Yin blinked his eyes. “Exterminating the rebel army. Does that count?”
Xihe harrumphed softly and pulled her face down. As Zhao Yin smiled, he pulled her over and embraced her into his arms and said, “In addition, this emperor secretly met a few people and also found a maternal uncle for you.”
“Maternal uncle?” Xihe raised her eyebrows. “My family’s relatives are all already dead. Where did the maternal uncle come from?”
“That’s why I said that it’s ‘found’.” Zhao Yin suddenly kept his smile. He looked at her extremely earnestly and enunciated every single word, “Xihe, you, do you want to become the empress?”
Another breeze blew in from outside the palace hall. The gauze curtain flew upwards lightly and swayed open like layers of clouds and mist. Xihe’s eyes were also like this gauze curtain and appeared blurred.
“Why are you choosing me?” In the afternoon when the weather during the beginning of spring alternated between warm and cold and in the brilliant sunlight which shone everywhere, a dark-haired woman in plain white stood barefooted on the glazed tiles and gently asked.
Hence, those give words turned into the sound of flowers blooming, both hurried yet slow, both doubtful yet astonished, both painful yet happy, with layers upon layers of misgivings but also reckless without fear.
On the brocade couch, the young emperor grasped her hand, grasped both her hands and his profound eyes reflected her figure. He said barely audibly, “Because of a lot of reasons: Don’t wish to delegate power; Don’t wish for a second Xue Huai to appear; give the impression of being weak to other countries and let them think that this emperor is a fatuous and lascivious ruler; In addition, the last point……this emperor likes you.”
The first day of the fourth month of the fourth year of Nation Bi, the emperor’s army returned to the capital. Zhao Yin rewarded the three armies* in recognition of their services and bestowed Pan Fang the title of General of the Left as well as redress his father’s grievances. He proclaimed an amnesty and all the people celebrated together.
*T/n: Upper, middle and lower army. I’ll try to summarize. The upper army is in charge of opening the path, scouting and engaging in small battles and bring some of the goods required. The middle army makes up the main force when fighting the battles and includes the soldiers and mounted soldiers. The lower army is in charge of transporting provisions and supplies. They also include craftsmen and civilian workers who may be needed when there are insufficient soldiers.
It can also be used to refer to the army in general.
Next chapter will be the last chapter for this arc 🙂