In the twinkling of an eye, the Winter Solstice (22nd solar term) came. At the end the year, I finally realized that the Emperor paid less visits to me than last year. Most of the time, he accompanied Consort Yao from her pregnancy to delivery and then to her confinement in childbirth.
The night before the Winter Solstice, the Emperor with a cold air came to Weiyang Palace. Before he entered the door, he shouted, “Where is my Jiaojiao?”
At that time, Changyi was asleep and Changsi was drowsy, and I was patting him to help him to fall asleep. However, the shouting woke the two kids up. They were all awake! All awake! Awake!
What the fuck did the man come!
Changle burst into tears. Hearing his crying, Changsi began cry as well as if she was competing with him to see whose crying was louder. That threw me, wet nurses and all servants into total confusion, irritating me. Out of anger, I threw a pillow at him.
The Emperor always liked me to throw a tantrum from time to time. I knew it a long time ago. He liked me to be shy and naughty occasionally; he also liked me to act like a spoiled child and throw an innocuous tantrum once in a while. In a word, he liked me to be lively but also lovely.
The more he liked, the more pathetic he was in my eyes.
Just as I expected, after I threw the pillow, the Emperor burst out laughing heartily. Out of anxiety, I almost hit the ceiling and rushed to point a finger before his mouth, “Shh! Wait, until they fall asleep!”
To my surprise, he suddenly clasp my waist in his arms, smiled faintly with soft eyes, exuding tenderness and love, and then put my finger in his mouth passingly.
The kids were soon calmed down and took away. Then the Emperor bent over with his head against my forehead, “I find you become even more naughty, hmm? How dare you!”
I intentionally threw a tantrum, “I didn't mean to. Having not seen you for a long time, I didn't recognize you at first in the dim light. I thought it was a burglar. Your Majesty, you deigns to come here. Are you sure you don't go to the wrong room and mistake me for someone else?”
Although I said so, I was smiling. The Emperor, however, looked ashamed. Putting me on his lap against his chest, he said, “It's my fault. I always. Alas, I always...”
He lowered his voice bit by bit. Finally he didn't make it clear what was after the word “always”. I really wanted to ask what that was after “always”. Was it “always missed” or “always made mistakes”?
I didn't ask in the end. I wasn't that stupid to be my real self before the Emperor.
I gently touched hair beside his temple. Just in a year, he had more white hair. I said sorrowfully, “Dear Xiu, take good care of yourself. You're having white hair.”
He held me even more closely. After a long time, he said, “After this year, I would be 30 years old.”
While he was saying, several drips dropped onto my forehead. I knew what these were, but I didn't want to look up.
That night he kept on holding me and asked me to play The Phoenix Courtship to him. He also asked me to practise calligraphy with him. His letters, which were fierce and adventurous, showing his ability to the full extent, totally dwarfed my regular script in small characters like hairpin, making them look extremely tender and pathetic.
My forehead covered by my hair cut straight,
I played with flowers pluck’d before the gate.
On a hobby-horse you came on the scene,
Around the well we played with mumes still green.
We lived, close neighbors on Riverside lane.
Carefree and innocent, we children twain.
In the past we were both young, while now only you had white hair.
After a night of passion, I cuddled up in his arms. Worn out as a was in a trance, I didn’t forget what I had intended to say, “Dear brother Xiu, can I see my family tomorrow? I’m a little homesick.”
According to the rule of this dynasty, during holidays, Imperial Mandate Madams could enter the Imperial Palace to pay respects to the Empress. However, in recent years after the Emperor’s accession, Imperial Mandate Madams were not often summoned to enter the palace because of the illness of the late Emperor. After the late Empress passed away, leaving no Empress in the harem, Imperial Mandate Madams came to the harem even less frequently. This year after my coronation, I only saw them once when they kowtowed to me during my coronation. Reasons I didn’t summon them to come were as follows,
Consort Yao worried that the entering of Imperial Mandate Madams to the Imperial Palace may be inauspicious to her baby because she was pregnant. Besides, she would be brokenhearted if she saw other consorts meet their mothers while she couldn't because of her parents’ death! How could a pregnant woman be sad!
To our surprise, the Emperor agreed. He didn't even worry that one day Consort Yao be beaten to death in the Changle Palace.
The Emperor said, “OK.”
I said, “Dear brother Xiu, sisters in the harem... ”
The Emperor lowered his head to kiss my forehead and sighed, “Jiaojiao, you are always like this. You care about everyone. On the one hand, I likes your thoughtfulness. But on the other, I hope you can only put your heart into me, ignoring all other things.”
If I really did so, I was already insane.
The Emperor finally promised me that during the winter solstice he would summon Imperial Mandate Madams of the fifth rank and above to the Imperial Palace. Consorts of the fourth rank, Jieyu or above could meet their families for consorts under the fourth rank or those whose parents were not in the capital, he would order the Liu Ju, six organizations in charge of oblation, to open the storehouse to reward with these consorts’ family various treasures according to their ranks. Actually, in past years, during holidays the Emperor would also reward with consorts’ families holiday gifts. However, either consorts in low ranks were devoided of the opportunity to be rewarded, or consorts had no idea what the gifts were. This time it was different. Everyone had the the opportunity. Besides, I also allowed them to pick up the treasures in line according to their ranks, making it possible for them do something for their families.
After the decree was issued, all consorts came to the Weiyang Palace to give thanks to me, almost treading down the palace. Everyone looked at me with stars shining in their eyes. They complimented me and flattered me, making me feel that I reached the peak of my life in an instant.
Consort Shu said, “You always do such arduous but fruitless things. If you want to see Princess Huayang, you can just tell the Emperor who will absolutely permit. Why do you have to share weal with us? Are you silly!”
Noble Consort Wen sneered, “So what were you doing, Ah Rou? Isn’t that you who picked up a pile of things to send home?!”
Consort Shu, whose parents were in the west of Liaozhou, didn’t see her parents for eleven years ever since she entered the East Palace when she was 17 years old. This time she couldn't see her parents either. I really felt sorry for her. I said, “You can pick up more. You are in such a high rank and you have entered the palace for so many years...”
Consort Shu waved her hand, “Things in the Imperial Palace are beautiful, but not useful. It’s enough for me to pick up a few, sending them home to let them know that I’m living well... Besides, the Emperor it when consorts often connect with their families. Just several years after Empress Dowager Renhe’s death, he wished us to put our families out of our minds since we entered the Imperial Palace, and quietly stayed in the harem as mascots so that our brothers and fathers will risk their lives for him. When he is happy, he will speak to you; when not, he only regards you as stepping stones to give him a helping hand...”
I said it was my fault to ask for the grace of the Emperor this time.
Consort Shu shook her head, “You're not wrong either. Woman in the harem are very pathetic. For families who the Emperor wants them to lose power and influence they already have; for consorts who he wants to clean up have already been. Now, the Emperor stays in absolute political power. Naturally, he doesn't have to keep an eye on the harem anymore. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have agreed. The old Emperor, though not qualified enough to be a man, is definitely qualified enough to be an Emperor.”
In winter solstice, it was very suitable for sleeping. Therefore, I slept all the time. Until Imperial Mandate Madams stepped one foot into the Weiyang Palace, I was still grabbing the quilt, shouting, “15 minutes more! Just 15 minutes!”
Consort Shu lifted my quilt and woke me up, “If you sleep again, I will never make Mutton Soup with Coriander, Stir-fried Pigeon, Fried Scallop in Shape of Silk Ball, Crab Meat & Minced Pork Ball in Casserole and Lion's Head, large meatballs for you!”
Too terrible! The threat was too terrible! Hearing that, I became sober in an instant.
Imperial Mandate Madams came to pay respects to me first, before going to meet their daughters. For those who were not qualified to see their daughters, they could chat with me, often very awkwardly, for a while and then kowtowed to me and went back. Because only a few consorts in the harem were of fourth rank and above, most Madams came to chat with me.
My grandmother was really old now. Before I entered the palace, grey-haired as she was, she spoke, full of energy, and could hit my father easily with her Dragon Head Cane，which means "to hit both fatuous and self-indulgent Emperors and evil counselors”, playing a deterrent role in persuasion, warning, etc However. However, now when she spoke, she panted slightly. I threw myself into her arms instantly after the outsiders went away and refused to leave her, because I grew up with her and loved her deeply.
“Little Liu’er, stand up. Oh, it’s inappropriate. Oh, little Liu’er, my little Liu’er”, while she said, unconscious tears filled my eyes. “Our little Liu’er, you loses weight. Why do you lose weight...”
If consort Shu was here, she would jump up out of anger. It was absolutely an insult to her if I, after eating food she made every two or three days, turned out to lose weight.
I leaned my head on grandma’ knees, “... everyone in the family is well. Your brothers and sisters are all fine. Jinge’er of your oldest brother now can write articles very well. Your sister-in-law of your third brother is pregnant and is expected to give birth next year. Your grandpa is also well. He sometimes coughs, but it doesn’t matter.”
“Are you living well in the palace, little Liu’er? Yes. All right, all right. I always want to come to see you, but I’m not feeling well after you entered the Imperial Palace two years ago, because I missed you so much... Last year the late Empress passed away... This year, I finally meet my little Liu’er...”
“Miss grandma? Grandma also misses you, little Liu’er. My baby, how can I not miss you~It’s my fault. I don’t make a name. In the past in the harem I didn’t make a name either. The late Emperor even didn’t know me... ”
“Your grandpa, that evil old man, told me that when monster Renhe was alive, she liked to draw Imperial Mandate Madams over to her side and closely connected to the Court. The Emperor hates such behavior very much. That’s why Consort Chen was killed. The old man Chen always told the Emperor to take good care of his granddaughter and the granddaughter always summoned her family to the Imperial Palace without the grand of the late Empress... Your grandpa said that the less frequently we meet you, the more dutiful we seem and the safer you are... That totally frightened me! Therefore, I restrained me from submitting a written statement to the Emperor, asking to see you. But anyway, even if I submitted a written statement, the Emperor perhaps couldn’t recall me, one of his great aunts, who didn’t hugged him even once when he was young...”
“Does the Emperor treat you well, little Liu’er? What does the word fine mean? Yes is yes and no is no. What does the word fine mean? Ah, I’m relieved to hear that you are well. How about the Sixth Prince and the Fourth Princess? What do you mean when you say they are like little pigs? Nonsense. Nonsense. Be good. Your grandpa hit your father and uncles, requesting them to behave themselves as officials and make no trouble for you. Be good. In this way the Emperor likes you. Don’t throw a tantrum after being the Empress.”
While listening to my grandma’s endless talking, I, leaning on her, grinned at her with tears in my eyes like a child and buried my face in her bosom rubbing, repeating “Grandma, I miss you” or “Grandma, you love me the most”. Until a serious “Little Liu’er” nearby, I realized that my mother was also present!
I was not very familiar with my mother, because I grew up with my grandmother and she devoted herself to my brothers and sister. My older sister, who was beautiful and industrious, longed to make it huge in the harem since she was young, while I only wanted to be a salted fish, who was even too lazy to turn over. She treated us so differently that I often doubted that I was born by her. She bought my older sister beautiful clothes and jewelry and my brothers tonics but me nothing. Later, my elder sister fell into the lake unexplainedly and couldn’t enter the Imperial Palace. Therefore, I became the one to enter the palace. She even asked me whether it was me that pushed her into the lake.
I thought she was a silly woman, from whom I inherited the silliness.
Just as I expected, the minute I looked at her, she began to do silly things, “Little Liu’er, you should thank your sister for helping you become the Empress. The harem should be in her hands! Now she lives a pathetic life in her husband’s home. You can’t leave her alone... ”
Before she finished her words, she was covered mouth by my oldest aunt-in-law, “Dear Empress, it’s nonsense. Your mother must be too excited to see you after such a lone time.”
My oldest aunt was indeed my oldest aunt. She could adjust to changing circumstances so quickly to talk such nonsense, no wonder my mother was always bullied her.
“Isn’t there something wrong with your sister, who refused to look at your brother-in-law or talk to him and prevented him from taking concubines... How can I have such a silly granddaughter. So ashamed! Little Liu’er, it’s none of your business. Don’t care about that. Be a dutiful Empress... ”
Even when my grandma was leaving, she still repeated, “Be good, little Liu’er...”
Of course I will be good! Standing in front of the Weiyang Palace, I watched them going away step by step. Soon, grandma was out of my sight. It was the first time I felt the Weiyang Palace was so small.
1. Imperial Mandate Madams: titles conferred with the mother or wife of a senior official in the dynasties of Tang, Song, Yuan and Ming.