Second Arc ー Chapter 6 (Part 2): Ear Piercing
The Empress Dowager nodded and bestowed the second position at the east to her. Before Xihe had entered her seat, an old palace servant entered to say, “Empress Dowager, someone from Duan Ze Palace came to pass on a message that Imperial Noble Concubine Ji overdrank last night. At the moment, she has yet to wake up from her hangover. If she pushes herself to set out, she’s afraid that the strong smell of alcohol in her breath will offend the imperial prestige, therefore she won’t be coming today. She hopes that Empress Dowager may forgive.”
As soon as Jiang Chenyu heard it, she was felt that some were unexpected but then some were within expectations. The rumors said that Ji Hu rebelled against orthodoxy and a deviant from the classics. After she entered the palace, she also did not have the deportment of an imperial consort. It was just that His Majesty loved her talent and showered her generously with favor. The extent he pampered her was almost more than that of Xihe.
It was also due to this that when the Empress Dowager heard about it, her face remained tranquil and she nodded as if it was nothing. “I got it. Let them go back to wait upon her properly.”
All the imperial consorts sighed. This was something only done by Ji Hu. If it had been someone else instead, she would have long been decapitated a hundred times.
On that side, Xihe chuckled. “Since Imperial Noble Concubine is not coming, then let this concubine subject sit at this first chair.”
The Empress Dowager cast a sidelong glance at her and did not obstruct her.
All the imperial consorts sighed again. This was something only Xihe dared to do. Even if others were thinking in their hearts that they wanted to sit on that chair, they also absolutely did not dare to say it out in front of everybody.
Thus, everyone properly sat at their respective position and listened to the Empress Dowager’s lecture. “This empress dowager is already old, my body is also not nimble anymore. Therefore, I’m also lazy to manage the matters in this palace. Even if I try to manage them, I am also unable to manage them. I only request that you all think of His Majesty. The world has just stabilized. Help to share more burdens with him and don’t create trouble and conflicts and cause him to be displeased.”
The imperial consorts hastily replied with an assent.
The Empress Dowager’s gaze swept across every single imperial consort’s face. When she looked at Xihe, she paused for a moment. Finally, as her gaze landed on Chenyu’s face, it seemed as if she had something she wanted to say but in the end, she only sighed lightly. “Then let’s just leave it like this. This empress dowager is tired already. From today onwards, you don’t have to come every day to pay respects. It’s hard to be a daughter-in-law of the imperial household so let’s just save a little trouble.”
After she finished speaking, she actually rose and tottered unsteadily as she left with the support of the palace servant’s hand.
As Jiang Chenyu ruminated over that phrase ‘hard to be a daughter-in-law’, she could not help but become a little dumbstruck. She was fifteen years old but she had to live her whole life within this enclosing wall…With the Jiang Family’s power, she could not be that carefree like Ji Hu and also could not mimic Xihe in being that fearless. She was really in an extremely awkward situation. While her one and only family member…She looked towards Jiang Huayue and she felt more dejected in her heart again.
It was quiet in the inner chamber for five minutes. An inconspicuous imperial consort dressed in pink who was sitting at the end suddenly cried out in surprise, “Ah!”
Everyone simultaneously turned their heads. “What’s the matter?”
That imperial consort knew that she had forgotten her manners and said in a quivering voice, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Xun Ying only saw that the pearl necklace Consort is wearing and the earring on Pure Consort’s left ear. The pearls seemed to have come from the same set, that’s why I had a slip of the tongue for a moment…”
With just her reminder, everyone looked. Indeed, the two pearls were of the same size and were round and glossy. The slight difference was that under the sunlight, Jiang Chenyu’s pearl was suffused with a pale blue-green color while Xihe’s pearl was a faint vermilion red. When both were compared under the light, it could not be differentiated if it was actually the pearls which were beautified due to the wearer or the wearer who was dazzling due to the pearl.
Lady of Cultivated Deportment Liu who was previously mocked caught a piece of information that could be used against others. She raised her eyebrows as she smiled and said, “Geez, aren’t these that pair of pearls which were offered as tribute by Nation Yi last year? Noble Lady is indeed a good elder sister, she even gave such a precious pearl to Pure Consort. Only such an appearance like Pure Consort can compete with Consort. Us vulgar sisters all can’t match up at all.”
Jiang Chenyu thought, ‘Finished. This time, she has provoked both Huayue and also provoked Xihe. Who doesn’t know that in regards to beauty, Xihe should naturally have the first position in Nation Bi? With Lady of Cultivated Deportment Liu saying it like this, she clearly desires to see the whole world in disorder.’
Unexpectedly, Xihe was not provoked. She remained quietly seated while smiling and did not have the least intention of interrupting her speech. On the contrary, it was Huayue whose expression changed tremendously. She previously gifted this pearl to Chenyu to congratulate her marriage with Ji Ying. Who knew that Xihe disrupted things halfway and she suddenly also became the emperor’s imperial consort. In this way, when this pearl was worn on her younger sister’s ear, it was really like a gargantuan mockery.
She forcefully suppressed the flames of rage in her heart so that they do not erupt but being ridiculed in front of everybody instantly made her feel that she was discredited and it was hard for her to rest. She immediately stood up and flicked her sleeves as she coldly said, “This palace owner* feels tired already and will be taking my leave in advance.”
*T/n: Most commonly used by imperial consorts of higher ranks. It can be used by those who own a palace as well.
Seeing her leave, Jiang Chenyu also hastily stood up and said, “Elder Sister, wait for me, I’ll go together with Elder Sister.” Who knew that Jiang Huayue seemed to not have heard her and only cared about walking briskly. Within the odd gazes of everyone in the room who were waiting to watch a good play, Jiang Chenyu felt both grieved and sad. She was not able to care that much and hastily chased her.
She chased her all the way to Dong Da Bridge before she caught up. She held onto Jiang Huayue’s arm and said, “Elder Sister, I have something I want to tell you.”
Jiang Huayue looked back at her with a hundred emotions appearing in her eyes but it was for only an instant. Finally, she smiled sorrowfully as she said, “Things have already reached this point. What else is there to say?”
Jiang Chenyu anxiously said, “Elder Sister, you clearly know that entering the palace is not what I…”
“Is that so? Then that’s really a coincidence.” The corner of Jiang Huayue’s lips was raised. She smiled unkindly, “On this side, I have just found out that my body…is ill and you came in.”
“Elder Sister, I have never told anyone about that matter, including Father. If I’m lying, I’ll be struck by lightning and die without an intact corpse!”
When Jiang Huayue saw that she spoke firmly, a painful expression flickered across the bottom of her eyes. She turned her face away and said, “So what? It’s the same regardless of whether you say it. Since young, you have been the smartest. On the surface, you appear to have no desire, no request and only want to live a contented life but what you have set your eyes on could never escape from your hands. Everyone praises that you have a good temperament and hence they all like you the best. I don’t even know how much benefits they have given you openly and secretly.”
Jiang Chenyu took three steps back. Her face was full of astonishment. She said in a quivering voice, “Elder Sister…you actually view in such a manner?”
“I remember there was one mid-autumn festival one year when Father tested the three of us. He would reward the crystal mooncake to the one who can throw the feather the furthest. In the end, you used a small bird and seized the championship with one just one move. Father gave you the mooncake but you said that you wanted to share with Elder Brother and me. At that time, I only felt that you were so kind and selfless but Private Adviser became aware of this matter after that. Ever since then, he liked you the best and gave his all to impart knowledge to you. He even went as far as gifting his zither to you before travelling far away.” As Jiang Chenyu said until here, the rim of her eyes were red and her facial features started to distort. She sobbed, “You clearly knew! You clearly knew about it! I liked Private Adviser Bi…”
Jiang Chenyu sucked in a breath of cold air and only felt that her hands and feet were icy cold. As those words crushed down one by one, they were even more painful than hailstones.
So it turned out that the grudge had already been planted long ago. It was just that she was ignorant and naive and was unaware all along.
“You never snatched anything since young but only liked snatching feelings from people. When there was a person who said that they like me, you would definitely exert 120 percent effort to make him like you better. Right now, are you entering the palace again to snatch His Majesty away?”
“Elder Sister…” ‘Elder Sister, why do you have to hurt me like this?’ Jiang Chenyu’s tears immediately fell. She thought about it over and over again, ‘Elder Sister, will you be happy just by hurting me like this? Doesn’t it hurt for you? Elder Sister, aren’t you in pain?’
She always thought that as long as she explicated properly, the deep relationship of being sisters for more than ten years would ultimately be able to melt all misunderstandings. She thought that her Elder Sister knew what kind of tender feelings she harbored for Gentleman. But, right now, at this moment, who was the one standing in front of her and using sentences which were like an icy cold sword to slowly and exceptionally cruelly putting her heart to death by a thousand cuts*?
*T/n: Lingchi. It’s a very slow process to kill a person and is usually used for very severe punishments.
Here’s a Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lingchi
Who was it?
Unfortunately, the voice did not stop and just had to continue faintly entering her ears. “However, this time you have no way at all. You won’t have a chance, Chenyu. That’s because you can’t win Xihe. It’s not because Xihe is prettier than you but because she and His Majesty possess the same thing while that thing, you don’t have. Therfore, Chenyu, you don’t have any chance at all…”
Jiang Chenyu stood there motionless for a very long time like a wooden figurine. Finally, she raised her head and gazed at Jiang Huayue deeply. She did not say anything and simply turned around to stride away.
‘Staying Together for a Long Time’ swayed at her shoulders. She could not refrain from raising her hand to touch that pearl. She inwardly thought, ‘How great. All are together now. The ear piercing Gentleman pierced for me and the pearl earring Elder Sister sent me are all together.’
From now onwards, there would no longer be anything in this world that could hurt her.
That was because what hurt the most were all concentrated on her left ear.
As long as the hole on her left year was still present, as long as the pearl of this earring was still present, she would forever remember this pain, remember this suffering and remember this resentment. She would remember who was the one who bestowed all of this.
The layers of glazed tiles, the towering Hall of Supreme Harmony. The person who engendered all these sufferings, grievances, guilt and despair was sitting there. He had the most illustrious identity in the whole world and had the most supreme authority. His name wasー