After Jiale married Ah Jin, they had been living a happy life, Consort Shu had satisfied her desire, she felt released. Then she got sick.
Her illness never got cured since then. The imperial physician said, the spirit of Consort Shu had ran out, like a oil lamp whose oil had burnt out. The oil burns out, the lamp light will go out. It was hard for her to get better.
I knew that Consort Shu didn't like the life in the harem, and she held on for Jiale and us all the time. Since Jiale already had a home, I was already the hostess of the palace, the position of Noble Consort Wen had been consolidated. There was nothing more she was worried about. I really couldn't think of anything that deserved the emotions of her in the harem.
She was optimistic about this, she said to me, "Liu’er, what are you worried about? Just smile, everybody has his own destiny. Was there a big difference to live longer or shorter in the harem? It was suffering in the case anyway.
She had been sick for more than a year, sometimes she felt better, sometimes she was worse. One hundred days after the birth of Jiale's son, Consort Shu was unconscious, she held my hand and said a lot to me,
"Liu'er, I have taught Beauty Wang all the cooking skills. You can ask her to cook for you in the future, is that all right?"
"You need to eat. If I passed away, don't stop eating food. That's not okay."
"Could you watch over Jiale and Ah Jin for me?" Don't allow them to argue.
"Ah Jin is a good kid. He uses the spear really well, better than me. My father said I wasn't quick enough when I used the spear.
"The fact is I started to learn cooking after I entered the Eastern Palace, am I good? " All is learned by myself. My mother said I wasn't like a girl, playing the knife and spear all the time. If she got to see what I cooked, she might be startled."
"I have never cooked for my parents."
Speaking of this, she became sad, her voice sounded like crying, "Liu'er, I've never cooked for my parents."
Consort Shu died in the winter of her forties. She had lived in the harem for twenty-three years, she could be viewed as very lucky since she had a daughter to put on morning apparel for her. Emperor awarded her with the posthumous title of "Imperial Noble Consort of Loyalty and Intelligence" and buried her in the Tomb of Consort.
Loyalty and Intelligence, Loyalty was used in an right way, so was Intelligence. Since Consort Shu had entered the harem, all she did was to stay loyal to her family with her intelligent mind.
I secretly cut off one strand of her hair and said to Jiale, "Send this strand of your mother's hair to your grandmother's family if you have an opportunity."
After Consort Shu's death, lots of fun in the harem chatting were lost. Though Beauty Wang had learned all of the cooking skills of Consort Shu, but I couldn't eat a lot like I used to do. I thought about this, then I came to the point that I was thirty, I was not young any more.
Emperor had turned to his forties. Half of his hair was grey. He was more hardworking and cautious about affairs of the state. He seldom called in the Consorts, mostly he would stay at my place. He wouldn't be so clinging and hold me in his arms like before, instead, he quietly sleep on my legs, "Jiaojiao, rub my head."
I would quietly rub him and talked about kids with him. Sometimes when he was cheered up , he would ask me to play The Phoenix Seeks a Mate.
Three years later, The Fourth Prince and The Fifth Prince were at the age to pick a Consort. Emperor conferred The Fourth Prince with the title of Lord Gong, The Fifth Prince with the title of Lord Shun. He started to build palaces for them and planned to arrange a marriage for them.
The Fourth Prince was always obedient and would save us trouble. He was old fashioned, and he followed his parents' orders and the introductions of the matchmaker. He joyfully accepted the marriage arranged by Emperor. As for The Fifth Prince, there was much more trouble. None of the girls Emperor suggested for him was liked by him, he would rather kneel down as a punishment than marry one of them casually.
The veils on the forehead of Emperor twitched, “How could such an important thing declined by you at your will? ! This is the decree!”
The Fifth Prince said, "It's my marriage. Of course it needs my decision, if you like her that much, then you can marry her yourself!"
Emperor took the imperial jade seal and tried to hit The Fifth Prince's head, Changsi stopped him as hard as he could, "Father! This will kill him!"
Emperor was so mad and grasped violently, "What kind of woman do you want to marry?"
The Fifth Prince said, "She needs to be gorgeous, intelligent, talented, clever, unworldly, gentle, lively, adorable, naughty, delicate, elegant, reserved, generous and dignified."
If there was an actual girl like this existing in the world , then she must have split personality.
Emperor punished The Fifth Prince several times, he found out there was really nothing he could do with him. Changsi kept begging for him, Emperor could only put aside his marriage. He got angry with Noble Consort Wen for the first time, "Stop your stitch work! You should restrain the fifth prince's behavior! Look what he has become!"
Noble Consort Wen looked like she was in pain, she swore in the Weiyang Palace later, "Bah! The Fifth Prince is fine! Much better than him! The Fifth Prince knew that my embroidered butterfly is full of live, what does he know?!"
The third of August when The Fourth Prince turned eighteen, he obeyed the decree and married the eldest daughter of Minister Yao, vice minister of punishment department. This Minister Yao was the third place in both civil and military official selections, his father used to be the Commissioner of Dali Temple and was retired then.
The marriage was appropriately arranged, Consort Xian was responsible for all the process and required to be perfect in every single tiny point. The Fourth Prince could be seen the kid of Consort De as well as hers.
The wife of The Fourth Prince was a little girl with a round face. She was dainty and cute, her bright eyes were as innocent as a deer's eyes. She was so lively that she didn't know the regulations very well. The day after the wedding, they came to the Weiyang Palace to meet us, she stepped on her own dress and rolled straight to my face. Her eyes contained tears but she smile at me, "I'm sorry, Empress mother. You are so beautiful."
Who could be that mean to blame such a little girl. We consorts were all nice and cordial, and she was the daughter-in-law of us, we were very curious about her. So we circled around her, and asked about her feelings. The girl was too adorable, we all like her very much. Consort De held her hand and said with tears, "Good girl, don't go back the prince's house with The Fourth Prince. Just stay in your mother's house! The Fourth Prince couldn't even smile, how boring!"
The Fourth Prince's face became so serious that we couldn't help sitting ourselves straight. He cited various classics of all the fields and across the five thousand years of history, to reason things out to her mother. The basic point was that it was shameful to tear a couple apart.
Wow! I thought these two kids wouldn't get along with each other and it would take a long time to make it work! It seemed that The Fourth Prince was very satisfied with the girl!
When they went back, The Fourth Prince actually held her wife's hand tightly. I heard him asking, "Is it still hurting?"
Consort Xian leaned on Consort De's shoulder, "Look. What a nice couple they are."
I looked at Beauty Wang, she stared at them leaving. Her eyes were wide open, beneath the smile was some deep tenderness that she didn't know herself.
Consort Xian had some coughing at the banquet of this year's Mid-autumn Festival, it was not sure whether the cause was being overworked in preparing for The Fourth Prince's wedding. She was always hardworking and didn't take her health seriously. She did it perfectly as she preparing the banquet on the Chinese New Year's eve all by herself. Several consorts had passed away during this year. The good thing was the kids had grown up, Jiale took his two sons to the harem, so the place wouldn't be so deserted.
After the Spring Festival, Consort Xian fell sick.
On that day, she was telling me about the delivery of the spring clothing. Everything in the harem was kept in her mind, even like how many people there were in a certain palace and what the name of a servant was, she could all remember clearly. She was saying that the kids were growing really fast, some little palace maids only made clothes last year, their dresses could only reach their calf now. The funny way they wore the old dress when they came to pick new palace clothing had made everyone laugh...
She fell down when she didn't finish her word.
She had never recovered since she fell down. The harem almost resulted in huge chaos. I had been a nominal Empress for many years. Though I was aware of the big and small things, but the one who actually took control was Consort Xian. Her suddenly fall led everything in my charge. Luckily, I had Consort De and Kangle help me to barely keep the situation stable.
Kangle was sixteen years old and grew into a beautiful and slender girl. She was not Consort Xian's kid, yet somehow she looked very similar to her. She served Consort Xian and helped me reorganize affairs of the harem, as busy as a spinning top. But she was organized and handled all this without any mess, resembling Consort Xian to some point.
Emperor also thought of the hardworking of Consort Xian and often went visiting her. But he didn't bring any encouragement or comfort to her. One time when Emperor had left, she looked outside the door and said to me with a smile, "If he could be like this ten years ago, I would revive even if I got to see the Yama."
The pity was it wasn't ten years ago.
Though she spent one day chatting with us, she never spoke ill of Emperor. She often defended Emperor, but speaking of the fact, during all the twenty-years since Consort Xian entered the harem, the first fifteen years was spent in caution and terror under Emperor's envy and suspicion, fearing the disaster would came on her whole family if she did anything not carefully. How could anyone be considerate about everything for more than twenty years? It was only because she lived in fears, she wouldn't survive if she wasn't that considerate.
Until her father died in the battlefield and exchanged his life for the safety of one family for the future years, she began to live in a easier life.
Consort Xian didn't make a year.
Since her illness, I was busy dealing with all kinds of stuff every day. When I went to visit her, I told her my embarrassing situation as a joke and acted like a spoiled child, "Get better as soon as possible!" How could I deal with this without you！
She smiled and sighed, "You look like my little girl so much! She couldn't do anything, but she would make people adore her only by tilting her head and acting like a spoiled child,
She was quiet for a while, sighed, "I am different from her, I'm the eldest daughter, I haven't been adored since I was a kid."
She perhaps thought of something, but she didn't say anything, only saying in a serious way, "Don't act like a spoiled child. You're so smart, you can learn it for sure, only because you don't care about it." You should learn it well, I'll be released if you could prepare for the banquet well."
The banquet on the Chinese New Year's Eve was a big thing indeed, but everything was followed the regulations that Consort Xian had set up and ended in an appropriate way. However, when everyone toasted on the eve, Consort Xian closed her eyes quietly, never opened again.
It was said that she said to her servants, she felt better, and asked them to play around and eat something, it was the Spring Festival after all. After half an hour when the servants came back, she was already gone,
What kind of person was she? Even when she died, she was quiet.
Consort De told me, she was closest to Consort Xian, but she didn't know her very well. She only knew she was the eldest daughter in her family and lost her mother long time ago. She struggled in her step-mother's eyes, later she entered the palace. It was not sure what the former Empress had done for her, she always remembered her.
Consort Xian was nice to everyone, she was the most thoughtful one, yet she was the coldest one. Nobody knew what she liked and what she didn't like, she didn't talk about these at all. It was unknown that she had nothing to talk about, or if there was no one in the world who deserved her talk.
Consort Xian had lived for forty-two years. Emperor conferred her a posthumous title of "the Imperial Noble Consort of Caution and Generous". Emperor was not that good to the women in the harem, however, he did know them well. Was Consort Xian's life about being cautious and generous all the time?
Emperor was a little sad after Consort Xian's death with the unsure reason that he was turning old. He thought of the bitterness of the consorts during these years, so he conferred titles to people in the harem generously. He raised Zhaoyi Shen who brought up the eighth prince to Consort Shen, Beauty Xiao who raised the sixth princess to Xiuyi, Jieyu Song to Shuyi, Beauty Wang to Jieyu. And the rest of consorts were granted or rewarded all.
Emperor held me in his arms and looked into the mirror, "Jiaojiao, you have grey hair too."
I had some grey hair too. When I looked into the mirror, there were some wrinkles around the corners of my eyes. Changsi and Changyi already turned eighteen and nineteen years old. If I didn't find them a mate, they would really become aged leftover men and women.