It was an accident for me to enter the palace.
My name is Jiang Yingliu. I'm 14 years old, and was born in a literary family. My grandfather is the Grand Preceptor of the dynasty and my grandmother is Princess Huayang-- the grand aunt of the Emperor. My father and uncle are officials of the imperial court and my brothers are young and promising. As is known, it is indeed a flourishing big family on the rise.
For such a family, they must send a daughter to the palace, but they never take me as a candidate. It's not that I have a ordinary appearance, but that I'm——
My grandmother often said that I have a lot in common with her. We are both the youngest daughter in the family with a simple mind and could not understand the implied words. When my sisters almost quarreled from jealousy in a poetry contest, I still seriously considered whether there was an inappropriate word in my poem.
"Let her alone. Find Liu'er a promising husband in low family status till she turns 16 years old," the grandma said. I also think so, hence I have no desire to win the Emperor's favor.
Unexpectedly, on the eve of the imperial consort selection, something happened to my two elder sisters. One had a rash on her face, the other fell into the lake. I had no choice and was brought to the site by them without any preparation. In the end, it was no doubt that I was chosen.
The Emperor was interested in my father and brothers instead of me. It seemed that the sentence doesn't always sound right.
I have a strong background and a high status, so they gave me the title of Beauty and also let me live in Orchid Fragrance Pavilion in Yihua Palace. The host of Yihua Palace is Consort Shu, who gave birth to the Third Princess. Consort Shu is 25 years old, as everyone can see, she holds herself aloof from the imperial world and can be called as the NO. 1 invisible human in the Emperor's harem if there is an award for it. But for her own people... she is a chef.
Consort Shu loves cooking and is very good at it. She regrets that she couldn't be an female official in the Imperial Kitchen and really enjoys to see other people eat what she cooks.
And I gained her favor by my heartfelt praise for her cooking and the practical actions of my weight gaining within half a month.
On the first day of April, one month after entering the palace, I went to greet Consort Shu, while she was loudly condemning my good friend, the Third Princess in a spirited manner, "Li Jiale! You must finish your meal!"
The Third Princess is only five years old, but she already has her own aesthetic standards. She swore not to be as fat as a ball again, so she hided behind me and shouts loudly, "Beauty Sister, please help me! My mother is crazy!"
Consort Shu rubbed her hands with a sneer, "Li Jiale! I will count to three, one, two… " Sure enough, each child was afraid that their parents would call them by full name. Before counting to three, the Third Princess tamely lowered her head and chewed the red dates in the red date and Chinese pearl barley porridge with tears. She accidentally bit her own tongue and looked up to her mother. Consort Shu was hardhearted and expressionless, so she had to hold back her tears and continue eating.
How poor she is! I sat next to her and patted her on the back. Consort Shu said, "Liu'er, just ignore her! Hurry up and eat something. The Empress is very good today, let's go to Weiyang Palace to greet her."
The Empress had been ill, and was even absent from the imperial consort selection. This was the first time for me to inquire after her health.
The Emperor has been in power for four years, and there are already many consorts in the palace. Noble Consort Chen is domineering and arrogant; Consort Xian is gentle and generous; Consort Chun doesn't like to talk much; Zhaoyi Wen is even more reticent; Shuyi Zheng is the Emperor's favorite. Others like Baolin and Yunv are most pathetic. Actually they are older than me and have a longer time in the palace, but they have to greet me as their elder sister. There are also ten newcomers like me, some of them promoted their status for serving the Emperor, and others do not even know whether the Emperor is handsome or ugly like me.
The Empress is as gorgeous as a fairy coming from the heaven, she speaks tenderly, but she coughs from time to time so that everyone show tender care for her. In contrast, Noble Consort Chen who likes to pick quarrels with everyone is very discordant.
Consort Shu told me that Noble Consort Chen is a fool and has a lot of unreasonable thoughts. She actually loves the Emperor and is crazy to pick quarrels with others, so she made countless enemies in the palace.
"Liu'er, she is a negative example, she can like everybody else but the Emperor, she must be crazy!"
Suddenly, I realized that Consort Shu is really a woman of great wisdom.
After Noble Consort Chen scolded Shuyi Zheng as a vixen and irritated the six newcomers who had slept with the Emperor with sarcastic words, she turned to us that five of us had no chance to serve the Emperor, "You come into the palace to serve the Emperor! But you have never see the Emperor until now, what else can you do? Do you feel ashamed?"
I thought there is no shame in that. There are lots of people in the world who never see the Emperor, and no one tries to commit suicide for it.
However, Baolin Zhao, Liangren He and Yunv Wen and Yunv Zhou were all extremely ashamed and was almost crying, so I was very anxious after seeing this! I had nothing to cry! I had no choice but to lower my head to avoid embarrassment, but Noble Consort Chen particularly called me,
"Beauty Jiang, you have the highest status among the newcomers, you should set a good example! Why are you also so useless? Don't learn from someone in Yihua Palace to become invisible!"
Both of them asked me not to learn from each other. What an evil fate! They definitely can be a good couple if they are a man and a woman.
Consort Shu and I both kept silent, then the Empress said, "Well, Beauty Jiang is still young. There are a lot of chances for her. For the newcomers, as long as you behave yourself well, you must all have the opportunity to serve the Emperor."
Noble Consort Chen glanced at the Empress with anger, then she bowed to her casually and left.
Returning to Yihua Palace, Consort Shu lied down on the deck chair and cursed, "This foolish Chen Cairong wants to sleep with the Emperor, she just needs to go to find the Emperor! It is useless to pick a quarrel with us! Does it sound like I can replace the Emperor to sleep with her?"
Seeing that I was confused, she quickly said in another way, "Liu'er, you are a good girl, and definitely don't be stupid as that fool. If you fall in love with the Emperor, there will not be a good result, because the Emperor will never love us. Look at the Empress, she and the Emperor were intimidate when they were in Eastern Palace, and they had three children but all died, does it affect the Emperor to hold the imperial consort selection every year? I was his favorite for a while, and I gave birth to Jiale at that time, but you have been here for a month, have you seen the Emperor come to me once? You are young and kind-hearted, so I treat you like both a daughter and a sister that's why I am telling you these things. In the future, no matter you get the Emperor's favorite or not, you must remember not to fall in love with the Emperor!"
I lied down on Consort Shu's legs, just like the old days when I was my mom's cutie at home. I said that I don't want to get the Emperor's favorite. I just want to stay with Niangniang in Yihua Palace and grow up with the little princess.
On April 2nd, Jiale and I made a swing for the whole day but failed. Then we turned to make clay figurines and rubbed dirty on our face unintentionally. Eventually, Consort Shu punished us to copy the book, and also refused to make Braised pork ball in brown sauce for me with a straight face. The scene yesterday was a flash in the pan, how sad!
From the day of April 11th, I was the only consort in the palace who never served the Emperor. Consort Shu made me a lot of delicious dishes because she was afraid of me being sad. She praised me that I am the cutest girl that she had ever seen and I shouldn't lose self-confidence because of that playboy. I ate with satisfaction but pretended to be unhappy, and just wanted her to make me more delicious dishes tomorrow.
On April 12th, after paying respect to the Empress, she asked Consort Shu and me to stay in the Weiyang Palace.
The Empress is really beautiful. Her face is enchanting like hibiscus and her eyebrows are arched like willow leaves. She is graceful and delicate. When she smiles, there are two dimples in her cheeks. Is she a fairy in the sky? I couldn't help to stare at her.
Consort Shu made herself as comfortable as in Yihua Palace, leaning on the chair with her legs crossed, "Now all of us are in a trench, feel free to talk!"
The Empress bounced her head and then talked with me that I am young and good-looking and would get the Emperor's favorite sooner or later, so I must keep my head even if someone might mislead me.
I was intrigued by her beauty. It took me quite a while to realize that she was talking to me, and I nodded, "My Empress, you are so beautiful! I promise that I won't be sad about it! I will be good!"
The Empress smiled and touched my cheek, then said, "No wonder Ah Rou likes you, you are a really good girl."
Consort Shu hugged me and said, "This little cutie is mine. You can't take her away from me. But Yaoyao, just tell me, since the Emperor gave Liu'er the title of 'Beauty', why doesn't he ask her to serve?"
The Empress lowered her voice and asked me, "Liu'er, your two sisters have the reputation outside. Why did you end up to enter the palace?"
I told her the reason, and the Empress sighed, "This is the reason. The Emperor had long wanted to choose a daughter from your family as a consort, but it happened that they didn't send the two famous daughters but you 14-year-old girl to the palace, so maybe the Emperor thought that your family look down on him! That's why he leaves you alone."
Consort Shu chuckled as soon as she heard this, "Pooh, how narrow-minded he is!"
I was a little afraid that the Emperor would punish my grandfather and others for this. The Empress comforted me and said, "It's okay, Grand Preceptor Jiang has always been cautious and conscientious. The Emperor will not embarrass him with this kind of thing. I guess he will just say something to irritate him and then call you to serve him in a few days later."
I said, "… is there any way that I don’t need to serve him?"
The Empress laughed her head off and pretended blaming Consort Shu, "Let's see what you have taught her!"
Consort Shu said, "I taught her the rules for surviving in the palace, I just think she is a bit like you those years ago. I don't want her to end up like you."
The Empress stopped laughing and looked at me for a long time thoughtfully until I felt embarrassed. Then she said, "Well, it is not her appearance like me… but the temperament is really… " Before she finished, here came a burst of the cough. I was suddenly sad, was she the same as me before? But she is nothing like me now. She is so weak, I could see a little sorrow from her eyebrows while she smiled. I felt unhappy for that and wanted to do something to make her happy!
On April 15th, the Empress got better, so she invited Consort Shu, the Third Princess and me to have lunch together. When we got there, we found the particularly reticent Zhaoyi Wen was also there.
Zhaoyi Wen was embroidering when we came in. She just raised her eyelids slightly and said to Consort Shu, "I want to eat lotus leaf shaped pancake, and don’t forget to make a sturgeon soup for Yaoyao. Go to the kitchen and cook."
Consort Shu said, "I can cook for you. But you have to make me a embroidery screen. The Emperor's birthday is coming in two months. I don't know what to prepare for him."
Zhaoyi Wen looked disgusted, "Pooh, he doesn't deserve my embroideries! But I have two defective ones here, I can ask people to modify them and send them to him!"
Consort Shu shrugged her shoulders and said casually, "Just modify it slightly. The Emperor will not take a glance at what I send to him."
The Empress was worried, "Is the defect obvious? I am afraid others will notice it."
Zhaoyi Wen said proudly, "The defective embroideries I made are even ten times better than others' perfect ones! The Emperor really get a great bargain."
Now I understood why the Empress didn't ask the maids to serve us in the room. It was really not convenient to be heard by others.
Consort Shu went to cook while the Empress hugged the Third Princess and coaxed her to talk. Zhaoyi Wen started to measure my figure without any notification, "Ah Rou is willing to cook for you, then I should make a new dress for you. After you eat Ah Rou's dishes and wear my dresses, you are our family member from now on."
I just broke into the leadership inner circle of the Emperor's harem and became a member of them, which is really gratifying.
Since the Empress looked better, Consort Shu was very happy and did a lot of delicious dishes. In addition to lotus leaf shaped pancakes and sturgeon soup, she also cooked goose feet with duck tongues, fresh pork stewed with harm, bamboo-shoots with chicken marrow, Chinese yam in hot toffee and chicken skin soup with shrimp balls… The Third Princess and I enjoyed the dishes and even have no time to talk with others. Zhaoyi Wen vaguely praised as she ate, "Ah Rou, you are really good at cooking!"
The Empress tried each dish and only ate a small bowl of the sturgeon soup for her and then watched us laugh. Consort Shu tried her best to persuade her to take another small half-bowl of rice porridge.
After dinner, the Empress took the Third Princess for a walk to promote digestion and she looked a bit tired soon. Consort Shu and Zhaoyi Wen helped the Empress to go back to her room and waited for her to fall asleep. Then they asked the maids in details, "When does the Empress sleep? When does she wake up? How many times does she wake up at night? How much does she eat every day?" The more they asked, the more worried they were.
Being afraid of disturbing the Empress, Zhaoyi Wen returned to Yihua Palace with us. As soon as they sat down, Consort Shu sighed, "She looks better than before, but she eats little and also sleep less, how long will it take for Yaoyao to recover!"
Zhaoyi Wen also sighed, "Sister Yaoyao is bothering by something."
As they started the topic, the aunt from Minghua Palace where Zhaoyi Wen lives in came over. and said sadly, "Niangniang, the Emperor ask you to serve him tonight."
Zhaoyi Wen said angrily, "Damn it, I am almost done it for Sister Yaoyao and there is with only two crane legs left! I originally planned to finish it tonight and take it to Weiyang Palace tomorrow! The Emperor is so annoying!"
The aunt from Minghua Palace was almost crying, "Naingniang, please don't say it out loud! Luckily, these are our own people here. You just bear it tonight, but don't be against the Emperor!"
Consort Shu comforted her for a long time in sympathy, then Zhaoyi Wen walked away with heavy footsteps. Then Consort Shu told me that Zhaoyi Wen was a bit pitiful, and she would make a sweetened crispy cookie for her tomorrow.
On the first day of May, it has been two months since I entered the palace, but I still had no chance to sleep with the Emperor. I had the highest status among the newcomers to the palace together, but in the past two months, Cairen Yang and Baolin Song were both promoted to Beauty. Cairen Yang even got a title, and now we have to call her Beauty Qing, who is in a higher status than me. When I went to Weiyang Palace for greeting, they always looked at me with a pity. I... I must be naturally dull so that I don't mind at all.
I often went to the Weiyang Palace to accompany the Empress with Consort Shu and Zhaoyi Wen. The Consorts in the low position did not dare to embarrass me, and the Consorts in the high position neglected me. Suddenly, I became the second invisible person in the palace.
I wore the Chinese skirt that Zhaoyi Wen made for me. It is so pretty. I happily hugged her and said a bunch of fabulous words to her. Zhaoyi Wen was even happier and decided to make me two more clothes.
The Empress's healthy condition is not stable, she coughs slightly everyday, and she has to take the medicine. She asked the generous Consort Xian to assist in the management of the harem affairs. Consort Xian is not only virtuous, but also respectful to the Empress. When Consort Chen often arrogantly made troubles during the greeting, Consort Xian always stopped her, and then the situation ended up with their quarrels. Consort Chen is arrogant and unreasonable, but Consort Xian is very proficient in the way of speaking, so she could beat Consort Chen in a few words, and finally Consort Chen could only say "You! You!" and left with anger. During that time, every morning's greeting turned into a lively class. Every time we returned from the WeiYang Palace, the Consort Shu asked me to record and review the golden words of Consort Xian in case of need.
Although Consort Chen is arrogant, she never talked back to the Empress in her presence. She just acted with extreme disrespect, and the Empress did not bring to mind. When Consort Shu once complained about that, the Empress spoke for her, "Ah Rou, she is not very good in temper, but she is still young and innocent, right? You are the most open-minded person, I think you never get angry at these trifle things... Is this worth us being angry?"
Since the Empress said so, Consort Shu was not angry anymore. She had her arms around the Empress' shoulder and patted her chest with the heroic spirit, "Okay! As long as Yaoyao is not angry, I'm not angry either!"
With the help of the Empress, the Third Princess and I finally set up the swing. The Empress also taught us to play the Chinese rope waving game and to fold small animals with silk cloth. She could also play magic tricks! By waving her sleeves, a handkerchief in her hands turned into a flower. Both the Third Princess and I like the Empress very much. As Consort Shu and Zhaoyi Wen saw that the Empress not only had a lot of smiles with us, but also ate more, they praised our good deeds. One made us a crystal candy cake and the other made us a doll.
I lived a comfortable life these days except that sometimes I felt a little homesick. However, the Empress told me that my grandmother, Princess Huayang, would definitely come to the palace in the morning of the Dragon Boat Festival on May 5th, then I could come to Weiyang Palace earlier on that day to meet my grandma!
Just when I was extremely happy, the eunuch beside the Emperor came to Yihua Palace to deliver an imperial order that the Emperor asked me to serve him on May 2nd.
Consort Shu didn't curse the Emperor this time. She prepared everything for me from clothes to makeup. She was as nervous as a mother whose daughter was going to marry, and also comforted me, "Liu'er, don't be afraid. Take it easy, this is a good thing. You have to sleep with the Emperor sooner or later since you entered the palace, otherwise the people in the palace will laugh at you."
When I came out of the palace, I still held the sleeves of Consort Shu tightly and refused to let go. Consort Shu was afraid of me crying, so she kept coaxing me and then said at last, "Don't be afraid, I will cook for you when you come back tomorrow!"
I looked back repeatedly at every step as I walked to Yong'an Palace, and at the corner of the road, I turned around and saw that Consort Shu was still standing at the gate of the palace watching me.
1.The imperial consort selection: girls between the age of 13 and 17 years old from the officials' families of the Manchu, Mongolian and Han nationalities were required to participate in the imperial consort selection, which were held once every three years.The girls who were selected would have the opportunity to be conferred with honorable titles and become imperial consorts in the palace.
2.The Emperor has many consorts, and they have different titles to show their status as below: Empress, Noble Consort, Consort, Zhaoyi, Zhaorong, Zhaoyuan, Xiuyi, Xiurong, Xiuyuan, Chongyi, Chongrong, Chongyuan, Jieyu, Beauty, Cairen, Baolin, Liangren, Yunv, Carinv.