First Arc ー Chapter 5 (Part 3): Water Moon
It was as sudden as a lightning bolt out of a clear sky!
All the Jiang members who were kneeling in the main hall were completely shocked by this imperial decree that unexpectedly arrived all of a sudden. Jiang Zhong who was at the lead, raised his head and gazed at Luo Heng who had come to announce the decree as he said, “Eunuch Luo, this is…”
Luo Heng smilingly said, “Well wishes to Right Prime Minister, congratulations Right Prime Minister. Jiang Family has produced a second imperial consort. The whole family is really full of glory.”
“But, my humble daughter, Chenyu has been engaged to Marquis Qi Ao…”
Luo Heng interrupted him, “Right Prime Minister really can joke. I heard that when Lord Marquis’ marriage proposal card entered the residence, it met with a fire. How can this kind of marriage be count?”
This time, everyone was shocked again ー His Majesty actually knew about this matter! Everyone in the residence from superiors to subordinates had clearly had their lips sealed tight like a closed jar, so how did His Majesty know?
Jiang Zhong’s face turned ashen immediately and could no longer say half a sentence out.
Luo Heng handed over the imperial decree to this into his hands and continued to said smilingly, “His Majesty taking a fancy to Third Miss is a fortune as big as the heavens. Right Prime Minister mustn’t disappoint His Majesty’s painstaking efforts. It won’t be good to treat this fortune as misfortune, isn’t that so, Right Prime Minister?” Although his smile was amiable, the overtone in his words was full of warning. How could Jiang Zhong still dare to say more? He hastily trembled as he gave this thanks for the favor and received the imperial decree.
“That’s the way!” Luo Heng then walked to before Jiang Chenyu, bowed as he said, “This old servant also congratulates the new master.”
Jiang Chenyu was motionless like a wooden figure.
Madam Jiang who was at the side hastily pulled her daughter-in-law and supported her up together and helped her to give her thanks. “You’re too kind. We’ll still need Eunuch to look after her in many ways after she enters the palace tomorrow. May Eunuch kindly accept this little gift.” As she said, she stuffed a red packet* over.
*T/n: Contains money
“That’s alright too. In that case, this old servant will return to the palace to report the completion of the task first.” Luo Heng accepted the gift and smilingly led a group of person to leave. The Jiang father and son smiled obsequiously as they sent them to the main entrance. When they came back again, one’s countenance was more solemn and irate than the other.
Madam Jiang was the first who could not hold it back and cried with a ‘wa’. “Senior Master, what is this all about? Why did His Majesty want Chenyu to enter the palace? And how did he know the matter of the marriage proposal card catching fire?”
Jiang Zhong said irritably, “How would I know?”
“You attend the court assembly every day and face the sovereign. Could it be that His Majesty didn’t reveal even an iota of information or clue beforehand?”
“If there had been a clue, would I be at a loss to this extent like now?”
Madam Jiang could not refrain from berating, “To think that you’re still an impressive minister of the first rank, the court’s Right Prime Minister. You weren’t even aware that your daughter was going to enter the palace; And you too, as an elder brother, you don’t put your younger sister’s matters to heart in the least bit…”
Jiang Xiaocheng involuntarily said with grievances, “Mother, I’m only a mere Riding Commander of the Palace Guard Cavalry. How would I know about a matter even Father doesn’t know about? Furthermore, selecting an imperial consort, that is the matters of the imperial harem!”
Jiang Xiaocheng’s madam, née Li, who was at the side saw them quarrelling with each other endlessly and hastily advised, “You all shouldn’t say anymore. Didn’t you all see that Younger Sister is already like this?”
Everyone remembered Chenyu and their expressions turned pained together. They turned their heads to look over there, only to see her remain standing in the hall with expressionless eyes and motionless.
Madam Jiang went up to grasp her hand and wept as she said, “My child who has a bitter fate…what should we do?”
“What else can we do? The imperial decree is already issued and can’t be altered. This palace, she’s definitely entering…ow!” Jiang Xiaocheng had yet to finish speaking when he was already fiercely pinched by née Li.
Although what he said was the truth, everyone knew that Chenyu was totally infatuated with Ji Ying and only looked forward to marrying him as his wife. The happy occasion was about to be completed soon, His Majesty suddenly came in to meddle, causing her wish to be dashed. When they look at her unprecedented despondent appearance as if she had lost her soul right now, they felt their hearts ache even more.
Née Li sighed. “Younger Sister-in-law, the matter has already reached this point…, you, should resign to your fate…”
The one sentence ‘resign to your own fate’ provoked Jiang Chenyu. She bit her lips and even her whole body started trembling vigorously.
“What can we do even if we don’t resign to it? The imperial orders can’t be defied. Going against the decree can result in decapitation. Furthermore, His Majesty actually even knows about the matter of the marriage proposal card being burnt. He has obviously been sufficiently prepared…” As Jiang Zhong spoke, he shook his head and said, “That time when you were summoned into the palace to teach the zither, I had already felt that there was something odd about the matter. Now that I think about it, His Majesty probably had entertained such thoughts back then except that the group of us were all kept in the dark and couldn’t discern it…”
Jiang Xiaocheng cut in. “It’s not that I’m singing my own praises but with this appearance and disposition our younger sister has, as long as one is a man, he will…ow!” Before he had finished speaking, he was pinched again.
Madam Jiang wiped her tears as she said, “Chenyu, Mother knows that you’re upset in your heart. Don’t bottle it up inside, say something…”
Jiang Chenyu suddenly raised her head. Her eyes were extremely bright and there seemed to be a flame burning brilliantly in her pupils.
Everyone was startled.
She swayed as she stood up, then swayed as she walked out of the hall’s door. When Madam Jiang came around, she hastily went forward to hold her up and said, “Chenyu, where are you going?”
She struggled free from her Mother’s hand. Her gaze shifted to a little servant outside the door. “Wo Yu, go prepare the carriage.”
The little servant named Wo Yu stiffened and awkwardly looked up at Madam Jiang. Madam Jiang said in an anxious voice, “It’s raining outside. Where are you going?”
Jiang Chenyu placed more emphasis on her tone. “Huai Jin, go prepare the carriage.”
Another servant girl hurriedly left. Not long after, she reported back that the carriage had been prepared. Jiang Chenyu broke free from her Mother’s hands. Her snow white face had a tranquility like she was close to death. She said indifferently, “I will come back.”
She raised her foot and walked out of the hall. The wind was howling outside, lifting her long hair and sleeves up which flew backwards straightly. The cold spell in early spring was chilly and was extremely gloomy and cold. She wrapped herself tightly with the front of her jacket and walked down the flight of stairs step by step. The horse carriage was already waiting at the bottom of the stairs. The servant girl named Huai Jin got onto the horse carriage with her and kept the umbrella. “Third Miss, where are we going?”
Jiang Chenyu closed her eyes. Her eyebrows were trembling nonstop. When she opened her eyes again, the expression in her eyes was dismal. “Go to Zhao Xi Alley.”
Zhao Xi Alley was full of households.
The horse carriage stopped far away. Jiang Chenyu opened the window until there was a small opening and gazed at that vermilion door at the end of the street through the continuous curtain of rain.
This was her first time coming here.
She had passed by outside the alley many times before and had also wanted to come in to take a look but she always gave up every time due to reasons like this and that. At that time, she always thought that it did not matter as there were many days ahead while she only realized now that their fate had already come to an end.
Or could it be that ーthey had no fate all along?
Jiang Chenyu gazed at the horizontal inscribed board above the entrance door painted with vermilion paint. The two words ‘Qi Ao’ were as deep as brands.
It was just the day before yesterday when she was still admiring the flowers with Gentleman. Gentleman’s smiling countenance and gentleness was still clearly printed in her mind and had not faded away. Back then, she thought that was already the apex of happiness but it really turned out that when things reach an extreme, it will develop in the opposite direction and when one was happy to the extreme, the happiness would ebb. One would eventually wake up from a dream. After one wakes up, one would be beleaguered.
Jiang Zhong’s third daughter, hails from a noble family, has come of age as the epitome of women, respectful and educated, her execution and bearing are of morals. She receives the honor for marriage, moreover, there is a close relation with auspiciousness from casting lots. She will be conferred as Pure Consort and an auspicious time will be selected for her to enter the palace…
The sharp voice unique to eunuchs dragged the intonation very long. Those phrases of compliments sounded no different from a mockery as enormous as the heavens.
His Majesty…why was that man who she had met a few times but did not have a deep impression of, so cruel and wreck the fate she had painstakingly worked out and yearned for a long time so easily with just a simple sentence?!
Not, not, not resigned to it!
She was really not resigned to it!
She was not reconciled to missing her opportune fate with a marriage partner just like this, she was not reconciled to separating from Gentleman just like this and she was even more not resigned to entering the palace just like this and become one of those imperial consorts who were jealous and fought over a man by scheming against one another.
Her destiny should not be like this!
Was it still not enough for the inner palace which was a tiger’s den to bury her Elder Sister alone? They still wanted to add her in?
Jiang Chenyu’s hand clutched at the door tightly, her nails digging into the wood. After a small sound, it broke resoundingly.
It was at that time that Huai Jin said, “Ah, Third Miss, look!”
Actually, there was no need for the reminder, she had already seen Gentleman’s horse carriage.
At the end of the long street, a horse carriage with a drawing of a White Marsh turned out from a corner and stopped before the residence entrance not too fast nor too slow. The guards deferentially went forward to welcome it. A figure which she had depicted in her mind thousands and ten thousands of times appeared within her line of vision. An unrivalled scholar dressed in white robes with a belt burned and moistened her eyes just like that.
Was he aware of the news that His Majesty wanted her to enter the palace? Was he aware of how unwilling she was to enter the palace and marry the emperor? Was he aware that she had adored him, longed for him and admired him for many years? Was he aware of how panicked, how helpless and how indescribably painful she felt right at this moment?
Once her thoughts reached this point, the overwhelming yearning grew a pair of reckless rings which made her push open the carriage door and jumped down.
Huai Jin was immediately frightened until her complexion turned pale. She anxiously called out, “Third Miss! Don’t…” ‘She can’t go. Once she goes, it will be tantamount to forfeiting her own reputation and the whole Jiang clan’s prospects!’
However, Jiang Chenyu ignored her calls, stepping on the whole ground of puddle water and splashing it around. Just like that, she dashed all the way to the residence door.
The guards turned their heads simultaneously and were stunned for a moment before they dispersed, revealing Xue Cai who was inside. There was an odd expression on Xue Cai’s face. It was exactly the same as the expression he looked at her with before he left that day.
But in the end, he still gave way and behind him was Ji Ying.
Ji Ying gazed at her. His face was first of astonishment, then appeared countless feelings of pity.
Whereas Chenyu had already thrown herself over and hugged him before waiting for him to speak.
The umbrella in Ji Ying’s hand dropped to the ground with a bang just like that.
The raindrops fell and shrouded the two people in a layer of misty water vapor. Jiang Chenyu nestled her face in his arms and faintly thought that if life ended right in the next moment, she maybe would not feel regrettable because of such an embrace.
However, how was she going to pass the boundless remainder of her life if she left this embrace?
Jiang Chenyu raised her head. It was unknown if the wetness on her face was due to the rain or tears. She gazed fixedly at the visage of this man she had loved the most in this life. Her lips trembled, yet she could not even speak a single word.
The wind and the rain were dreary and heavy. Between heaven and earth, it was a scene of desolateness and gloominess.
The fine grains of sand in the hourglass trickled down unceasingly.
There were a few cups of tea and an incense burner. Jiang Chenyu lifted the teacup and sipped a little. The water vapour rose and blurred her eyes. She had changed into dry clothes and her hair had also been wiped by. Her expression was also much tranquil and no longer the sorry state she was in just now.
Ji Ying walked in and looked at her as he said, “Do you feel a little better?”
She put down the teacup and nodded.
“Then that’s good.” Ji Ying sat beside her but did not speak for a very long time, focusing on the hourglass on the table with a lost gaze.
Jiang Chenyu inhaled deeply and relaxed her eyebrows as she smiled. “I forgot myself for a moment just now and have made things difficult for Gentleman.”
Ji Ying looked down. He said in a low voice, “The matter about His Majesty issuing the decree, I already kno…”
Without waiting for him to finish speaking, Jiang Chenyu immediately stood up and smiled as she said, “This is the best. Actually, I came to ask for something from Gentleman. Is it okay if Gentleman treats it as sending me a congratulatory gift for my wedding?”
An astounded expression flickered across Ji Ying’s face. When he looked at her again, there was now much sorrow at the bottom of his eyes which seemed like he felt pity, seemed like he could not bear to and seemed like he felt conflicted. Finally, it all condensed into one sentence, “What thing?”
“Ear piercing.” Jiang Chenyu said in all seriousness, “Just one will do.”
No matter how Ji Ying was widely experienced and knowledgeable, he was also nonplussed at this moment. “Ear piercing?”
Jiang Chenyu lifted her hair beside her left ear and revealed a small bright and clean ear. “When Chenyu was young, I was scared of pain the most, therefore I was simply unwilling to pierce my ear no matter what. Mother had no choice but to only let me be. Now, I ask Gentleman to pierce an ear for me and just treat it as Chenyu asking for a congratulatory gift from Gentleman.”
There were countless congratulatory gifts in the world but having an ear piercing as a gift was never ever heard of.
Her hair was like black ink and her skin like jade. The helix of the ear connected with the earlobe and the tragus of the ear was beautiful and elegant. Thirty percent delicateness, forty percent affection with another fifty percent of obstinateness were compiled to form the one hundred and twenty percent of her. Jiang Chenyu simply combed her hair and moved her left ear closer to before Ji Ying. Her eyelashes were hanging down and cast a shadow on her face, covering her expression.
Ji Ying was silent for very long. Finally, he sighed. “Someone come, bring a needle over.”
A person turned and came out from behind the screen but it was Xue Cai who presented the needle case with both hands. Ji Ying took out one of the needles and lit the lamp on the table and tempered the needle with the flame. Then, he silently watched Jiang Chenyu attentively for a while before he said, “Third Miss, recite a poem you rather like.”
Jiang Chenyu thought for a moment and started to recite in a low voice. “Unable to stay together for a long time, youth has elapsed. The previous joyful experiences have forever become the past, the Yellow Springs(Underworld) is now the final destination*…” Outside the window, the rain was a little sparse while the winds were fierce. The desolate hardy bananas(musa basjoo)** were crying and the screen window was hazy while her voice was clear, forlorn and lasting.
*T/n: A poem by Wei Huang. The title of the poem translates roughly to ‘Gifting Two Odes to the Man’. These two lines are supposed to be more consistent in the number of characters but I didn’t keep it that way in the English translation
**T/n: Often associated with feelings of loneliness and when separation is about to come
While she was reciting, the silver needle swiftly pierced through her nose as time passed quickly like a white steed flitting past a crack and fell back into Ji Ying’s hand without being stained with any traces of blood.
“…If I had known earlier the pain of separation, I regret that I have loved deeply all along. Although I know that the deceased in the Yellow Springs has long passed away, I am still searching for that person’s figure in the inner chamber in the day*.” After Jiang Chenyu finished reciting all these words, she placed her hand down and hung her hair loose, covering her ear.
*T/n: Continuation of the same poem. These two lines are also supposed to have the same number of words but they are slightly longer than the first two lines.
She took a step back and gave a bow. “Thank you, Gentleman.”
Ji Ying’s gaze was still on the silver needle in his hand. The needle tip glimmered under the candlelight and embellished his eyes. He raised his head to look at her and seemed to have thousands of words but ultimately did not say them out.
Whereas Jiang Chenyu took another step back and said, “Thank you…Lord Marquis.”
It was ‘Lord Marquis’ and no longer ‘Gentleman’. Once she entered the palace which walls were as deep as the sea, they would be strangers who passed by each other from now on*.
*T/n: This sentence should be adapted from a poem, just that the front part is changed to entering the palace instead of becoming part of an eminent family.
She took the third step back again. A smile which was even lighter than the wind formed. “Chenyu will be taking my leave…Please take care.”
After that, she turned and walked out of the room step by step. Xue Cai stood under roof and handed her an umbrella. She took it with both hands and said thanks to him with a smile. Then, she held the umbrella as she walked out of the Marquis Residence step by step.
Outside the residence, a horse carriage was waiting. When Huai Jin whose face was full of anxiety saw her, she heaved a sigh of relief and hastily opened the carriage door and supported her up the carriage.
The carriage driver waved the whip. The wheels rolled forward and pulverized the whole ground of dust and mud.
Jiang Chenyu hugged that umbrella as if she was hugging her most beloved object. Her eyes were profound and no longer had any emotion. All her strength seemed to have been exhausted when she recited the poem just now. What remained was only an empty shell which would no longer feel happy and no longer feel pain.
The rim of Huai Jin’s eyes was red. “Miss, did Lord Marquis promise to think of a way to let His Majesty change his mind?”
Jiang Chenyu shook her head.
“Then what did he say to you? Miss, are you really going to resign to your fate and enter the palace? Haven’t you always detested the imperial palace? Furthermore, the person you like is clearly Lord Marquis…”
Jiang Chenyu shook her head again.
Huai Jin was now anxious. “Miss, say something, don’t always shake your head. What exactly happened? I feel very scared when I see you like this. If you want to cry, just cry, You’ll feel a little better when you cry it out…”
“Cry?” Jiang Chenyu was placid. “No, I won’t cry.”
“I won’t cry anymore…” She clutched the carriage curtains tightly. She raised her head and gazed at the direction where Ji Ying disappeared. She said unhurriedly, “Because, only until today, did I see a matter clearly.”
“I entering the palace is not because His Majesty wants to…but rather…” The wind and rain outside the carriage were like night. The curtain of night gradually arrived. The Marquis Residence lanterns were all lit with a hazy yellow and flickering on the bumpy and wet ground as if they wanted to twinkle out all the memories of their whole life. She looked at the light emitted and smiled forlornly. “But rather because Gentleman doesn’t want to marry.”
In her smile, a teardrop overflowed out and trickled down her cheeks silently.
Unable to stay together for a long time, unable to stay together for a long time…
The eleventh day of the fourth month of the fourth year of Nation Bi, Jiang Chenyu entered the palace and was conferred as Pure Consort, with her ranking as the head of the nine consorts*.
*T/n: The positions of the nine consorts are already a few of the highest, slightly below that of a noble consort, so you can take it that Jiang Chenyu’s position is quite high.
Start of a new arc from the next chapter onwards! 🙂