It was said when Consort Sun was dragged outside, she was still screaming all the time, “Emperor! Emperor! Brother Xiu!”
But it was no use.
Noble Consort Wen kept sneering as she retold the story to me, “Brother Xiu! The old man is thirty-six or thirty-seven years old, Consort Sun is only sixteen. He could almost be her father, brother? I nearly threw up, it’s so disgusting!”
Consort Xian sighed, “Speaking of this, the harem really lacks of talents now. In these years, only Consort Sun had some wisdom, so she could set that trap. Though it isn’t very good, it’s a trap after all. Since Xu Chanfang had died, the days in the harem are too peaceful. I feel like rusty, it evens took three days for four consorts to investigate this shit. Well, I really am rusty.”
Consort Xian signed and shook her head as well, “A consort who hasn’t been through Xu Chanfang is not qualified to talk about the harem fight. A consort who has survived Xu Chanfang is a master. We both are lonely masters.”
The two toasted with tea instead of wine.
Noble Consort Wen and Consort De were unpleasant about this, “We have seen the situation when Xu Chanfang was in high favor.”
Consort Shu sneered, “Crap! It hasn’t been a year since you entered the palace that Xu Chanfang was thrown into the dog house. By then she has been watching over us, and Yaoyao, Consort Chun. How could she spare time to care about you?”
Noble Consort Wen also sneered, “The darkness before the dawn is the most difficult to pass by! As soon as I entered the palace and listened to her words for a while, somehow I was disrespected to the Empress. I knew nothing, neither did Yaoyao, and I was jailed for a month! Even now I haven’t figured out how all that happened!”
The four people toasted. I was looking at them hanging their arms around each other’s shoulders, it seemed they would almost become sworn brothers, I quickly said, “We’ve been through Noble Consort Chen! She could be seen as a talent!” Jieyu Song and Beauty Wang nodded their heads at the same time.
Consort Shu sneered again, “The gap between Chen Cairong and Xu Chanfang is as big as one hundred Consort Xian, two hundred me, three hundred Consort De and ten thousand Wen Yuanyuan. Chen Cairong had a brain in the beginning, she was arrogant but she knew the limits. She tended to make a fuss because she was so spoiled by Emperor that she lost her mind, but she had limited tricks, only to curse others. She would make it clear when she bullied you, there was no smell of conspiracy. You only need to ignore her. Xu Chanfang was someone hard to defend who would have a finger in every pie.”
Consort Xian nodded her head, “Chen Cairong was arrogant, but that was what Emperor hoped for so that he could catch out her family. Chen Cairong herself didn’t have much means, only indulged by Emperor, we couldn’t fight against her. Xu Chanfang, she’s really a genius. She is cold-heated and daring. Though I hate her to the extreme, I lost to her and I sincerely admitted it. Though the reason she repeatedly won was the influence of Xu Family to some extent, but even if she didn’t count on this, she would still be extraordinary. At that time, countless silly girls like you were completely exploited by her and they still considered her as the best person.”
Consort Shu trembled a little bit and crossed her arms, “There’s nothing she couldn’t do, and she still remained so nice to people… How many bad things did we do in previous lives that we have to meet her?! What a pity! She is exactly the same as Emperor. She didn’t want be a nice person either, if she was born as a boy, and she still had such a powerful family… No one could tell who would be the master of the world! The foolish Yaoyao, she felt sorry for her in the beginning and thought she was a good person… What kind of a life did we live? ”
Consort Xian said, “The court is in instability, there will be many thoughts in the harem. It will be hard to being fair if Emperor needs to rely on one side to pin down the other side. Empress couldn’t manage this either. Emperor is unfair, Empress can’t manage, it would be odd if the harem wasn’t in chaos. ” The late Empress was such a nice person! She wasn’t in the good times, back then, the court was in a big chaos, she could do nothing about that. And she couldn’t open her heart, only if she had bent over and was in favor again, she didn’t have to live such a bitter life. We could also live better then.”
Consort Shu said angrily, “Yaoyao won’t bend over to him! Yaoyao doesn’t like him any more! What a cold heart! I’d rather live a little harder life, I won’t let her to bend over to him!”
Consort Xian nodded and signed, “I know, I know. I am only saying this casually. Now we have a better life, I’m very grateful to Emperor, for dealing with the court affairs in justice. There isn’t any powerful group of consorts in the harem. Rules can be established easily. I’m also grateful for him having his judges, though he didn’t have a good taste for his favorite consorts, he could be seen as reasonable, and he wouldn’t shield anyone.”
Consort Shu lay down on the deck chair, I and Noble Consort Wen separately massaged her kneels on each side. Since she turned to thirty years old, the old wound of her kneels will terribly hurt every rainy or cloudy day. She said with pleasure, “Emperor’s judgement of women is far worse than ours. Only if he wasn’t that fake and annoying, we could pick the favorite imperial consort for him. We will make sure that every one of them will be nice and adorable.”
Consort De shook her head, “Well, you’re wrong. Did you see how Emperor just spoiled someone at his will? I’m telling you this, whomever spoiled by him will gradually became different, the reason is Emperor didn’t learn parenting knowledge, so he didn’t know that spoil is another form of hurt. A little girl just entered the palace, he would raise her for five levels in ten days. Which girl could avoid being spoiled by him and assuming herself as the apple of his eye? Who could still stay reasonable? If he had restrained himself a little bit, he wouldn’t have spoiled them! Think back, among all of his favorite imperial consorts in these years, Xu Chanfang and Chen Cairong were in favor because of the previous dynasty, so they could be excluded. The other ones, besides Empress, weren’t they all spoiled so that they tended to make a fuss like an idiot? Liu’er surely is smart, so she didn’t go bad!”
I thought back, Consort De really had her point. Back then when I was only fourteen years old, Emperor combed my hair and fed me food, told me stories and hummed songs for me. He also raised my level and granted a reward to me every day. He called me Jiaojiao all the time, and asked me to call him Brother Xiu. I hadn’t been spoiled by him and became arrogant, this could only be accounted for the good education from my grandparents.
That night, I tossed and turned, Emperor sneaked in at that time. He stood in front of my bed. I was trying to pretend I was asleep, I thought a lot and remembered the talk in the day, in the end, I softly called, “Brother Xiu?”
He didn’t speak, for quite a long while. He grasped my hand and touched my face.
I made a very light sign.
He said, “Jiaojiao, Jiaojiao, I can’t find you. Why can’t I find you…”
The moonlight in front of the bed looked like frost. It was all gray at his temples.
I held his hand, read that poem for him:
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.
I was fourteen when I became your young bride,
I’d often turn my bashful face aside,
Hanging my head, I’d look towards the wall,
A thousand times I’d not answer your call.
I was fifteen when I composed my brows,
To fix my dust with yours were my dear vows
I thought I really was a good person. I even could comfort him like this.
It was quite baffling that we made peace like this. The people in the harem all felt released. It was unsure that whether Emperor had seen it all clearly, he wrapped his arms around my waist and said to me, “There won’t be any selection for consorts. The women in the harem were sufficiently enough.”
It wasn’t because the women in the harem were sufficiently enough, it was the times he got disappoint were enough. I leaned on his chest and said, “If you had thought it through, then it will be fine.”
Emperor had announced that there wouldn’t be any selection for consorts. Moreover, the old members in the harem had already seen the endings of making a fuss. So the harem became peaceful. But the moment the harem stopped the fight, there was something wrong with affairs of the state.
There was a khan of great talent and ambition in Beidi, who was good at leading armies in wars. He harassed our border repeatedly. Some ministers had proposed to send a princess to marry him for peace.
The only princess in the harem who was at the right age was Jiale, she was sixteen years old.
For the first time, Consort Shu panicked. She held my hand and trembled all along, she sounded almost weeping, “What should I do? What should I do now…”
This was one of affairs of the state. In terms of these affairs, Emperor always had a cold heart. We took Jiale with us every day, and we dared not allow her out if our view for one moment, as if by this we could make her stay.
The first of April, Emperor called civil and military ministers on a meeting, and officially declared the decree to send forth armies. Since it was gonna be a war, then there would be no need for a marriage. However, the war would cost human lives. The leader of the army was General Lin, Consort Xian’s father. The situation in the west of Liaozhou was also unstable. The Di people divided into two armies, one of which kept harassing the west of Liaozhou.
We began to copy Buddhist sutras and worship bodhisattvas, each of us was wearing the sandalwood prayer beads which had been consecrated in Temple Fulong before. We only hoped that all the gods and buddhas would keep the family of Consort Xian and Shu safe.
Emperor wisely utilized the talents, and the country was powerful, the rebel in the north was pacified the next year. Consort Shu lost one uncle and one brother, General Lin, Consort Xian’s father also died from an arrow in the war.
I worried a lot about Consort Shu, but she was quite calm. She said to me, “There was no famous general who could live till his hair turned grey. My uncle and my fourth brother could die for the country in the battlefield, they would have a fame in history, which is better than die from conspiracy of their own people.”
She was so calm, she had seen it so clearly, I don’t know how to comfort her any more. She was silent for a long while, then she slightly signed, “My fourth brother always lacked some talent in fighting a war. When we read the war tactics as kids, he would always fail if I didn’t help him. When I arrived at the capital, the only one I worry about was him. It really happened… ”
She shook her head and no longer spoke. I tapped on Consort Xian’s back, she leaned on my shoulder. She cried without a sound, and said with a smile of grievance, “Now he doesn’t have to be careful of me.”
Emperor himself went outside the city to welcome the armies returning from the battlefield. He made an inspection tour in the major camp located in the capital suburb by the way. It would take three days for him to be away from the harem. Besides the ill third prince and the young eighth prince, the other princes would all go with him.
Changsi who was ten-year-old wore a gown of diamond blue, seemed like a little man. He stood in front of me, listening to me as he held Changnian’s hand. I told him to remember to worship General Lin, and told him I would take care of Consort Xian.
Consort Xian wasn’t just anybody, she calmed down after one night. Kangle was around her all the time, rubbed her shoulders and sent her water, as obedient as a little kitten. Seeing Consort Xian was willing to eat, Consort Shu cooked Pearl Chicken, Fish slices in milk, Shrimps with lilies, Fried Quail, Tofu with Almond, Fresh peach with preserved fruit... With a table fool of delicious food, Consort Xian couldn’t help smiling, “It was lucky for us that Rou didn’t cook every day, or we would all be as fat as a ball.”
May years later, I still clearly remembered the fresh flavor and crisp of the Fried quail. At that noon of great sunshine, I had just enjoyed one bite of the quail, I didn’t have the time to make a compliment. At that time, Consort Chun, who was always cold and didn’t associate with others, brought a bunch of armed soldiers into Palace Weiyang. There was only tiresome between her eyebrows.
Jiale held Changyi and Kangle in his arms at once. I stood up, four consorts, Noble, Xian, Shu and De along with Jieyu Song and Wang all surrounded me. I asked, “Consort Chun, what do you mean?”
Consort Chun spoke very slowly and without strength, as if she had worn out all her strength, “Emperor was attacked on his inspection tour to the major camp in the capital suburb. The princes were missing. The third prince is the elderly son, he should take responsibility now.”
We looked at each other. This was a betrayal! I really got the chance to see this in my life! And the one did this was Consort Chun, who was almost half dead. What kind of action was this?
Consort Chun ordered people to besiege the Weiyang Palace and kept the consorts all inside. I didn't know what happened in the court, and I dare not ask. I didn’t know what if other empresses got caught into a treason, how they would handle this. But I still remembered to ask Zhaoyi Shen to feed the eighth prince. The poor kid was as thin as a sprout, I was afraid he could die if he didn't eat something.
The consorts in the harem were about to cry at first, but they couldn’t help swallowing as they saw the delicious food made by Consort Shu on the table. With my encouragement, they ate all the food. The amount of people was larger than the food, so they were all feel unsatisfied. I invited Consort Chun to eat for several times. She only came slowly after three or four invitations to maintain her dignity as a fairy. By then the plates were already empty. I could only smile to her in embarrassment. My face even hurt from smiling, but she ignored me.
Consort Shu and Consort Xian were two women who had seen some big scenes. Consort Shu stood next to me all the time, with all the strength and pride of a general’s daughter, “What? You betrayed your cousin?”
The word “cousin” had hit Consort Chun, her eyes glazed, “I don’t have any cousin.”
Noble Consort Wen and Consort De worried about their sons, but I thought we should worry about ourselves the most. This treason looked like it was for fun, the troops of Lord Nanyang came from nowhere, and dashed into the palace without any barrier. I was afraid that Emperor was inviting them for a trap.
You surely could invite your enemy for a trap, but we were in the trap too! Did Emperor plan to boil us together with the rebels in the same pot? After a while, there came clashing of the swords and knives. We hadn’t realized it, a teenager general in a white gown with a red-tasselled spear entered the Weiyang Palace first, he speared three rebels in a row. He cried, “Lore Nanyang has been slayed, why don’t you put down your weapon and surrender?!”
By then, this treason came to the end. A rebel who wasn’t totally dead jumped to cut me before he died. Was there something on my face suggesting that I need to be cut? So baffling.
Consort Shu covered for me.
The general in white stopped him with his spear. The cut missed the target, didn’t hurt any important organs. But I, Jiale and Noble Consort Wen still screamed out, struggled to hold her. Consort Shu grinned and said to the general in white, “Kid, you’ve done well.”
The kid was so ashamed and knelt down to salute me, “My name is Jiang Huaijing, Empress, you must be frightened.”
Jiang Huaijing, Jiang Huaijing, what a coincidence. It was the same name as my big brother’s son.
I remembered when I entered the palace that year, the kid was only seven or eight years old. He wept and pulled my sleeves, he cried, “Auntie, don’t go… don't go… ”
It had been twelve years since then. The kid had grown into a handsome boy, he won the first place in this year’s military official selection and the third place in the civil official selection. Emperor appointed him to serve in the Imperial Guard Army, he praised him for several times in front of me. Emperor also said he would make a feast for my family after the war ended. I didn’t expect that we would meet in this occasion. If he hadn’t introduced himself, I wouldn’t recognize him at all!
Though the cut on Consort Shun didn't hurt the vital part, it still made her bleed a lot. I was scared and freaked out, I stayed in Yihua Palace and took two sheets to cover her from head to toe, keeping her on the bed. When the imperial physician bandaged her wound, I ordered servants to set a fire in the fire pan inside the room. Noble Consort Wen couldn't stand this and clapped on the back of my head, “Don't make it worse! It’s June now, you idiot!”
I said, “People will get cold when they lost too much blood!”
We almost start a fight, Consort Xian was so annoyed of us that she kicked both of us. Then she rolled her sleeves and arranged for every work clearly, thus we two could only sat on the bedside of Consort Shu in dejection and stared at the imperial physician to put drug on her wound. The physician sweated all over because of us.