Wanwan, the Empress, gave birth to two sons on the fifth year after Changsi’s accession. Besides, with her brothers being valued by Changsi, she gained a firm foothold in the harem. The courtiers suggested holding an audition to fill the imperial harem, but some candidates for the Emperor’s consorts framed each other, causing the death of a person. The Emperor was so furious that he ordered a thorough investigation. It was discovered later that there were poisoning, bribery, verbal offence to Empress Zhao, etc. Taking advantage of this case, the Emperor punished those courtiers implicated in it by beheading, exiling or dismissing from office. As a result, the audition came to nothing. Having read the Emperor's mind and considered the Empress had two sons, the courtiers seldom mentioned an audition from then on.
After turning 20, Changnian, who used to be obedient, suddenly became rebellious. He insisted on joining the army on the border. Having failed to stop him, his siblings told me on him. I sighed and said, “Let him go."
Changnian knelt at my feet with a look of shame. Philosophical about his decision, I said to him, "Go ahead. It is not bad to walk around. Once reaching the west of Liaoning Province, say hello to General Zhou for me. He's your third sister's uncle, the third brother of the former emperor's Imperial Noble Consort of Loyalty and Intelligence. Do you remember her who made you much delicious food when you were young? You were only eight years old when she passed away.”
“You have to tell him that your third sister is living a happy life with her husband. Don’t forget it.”
He answered, “Empress mother, I promise you that I will pass on the message to him.”
In two years, Changnian took credit for suppressing bandits, returning to the capital in high spirit with a lively young girl in red. Able to brandish a red-tasseled spear vigorously, she always chirped around Changnian. He seemed to ignore her, but a smile always curved his lips.
That girl, whose surname was Zhou, gave me an excellent dagger as a gift the first time she entered the palace and then surrounded Wanwan, clamoring, “You are so good-looking. Why don’t you go to my hometown with me? It is no fun staying in the palace.”
Both Changsi and Changnian became black-faced on hearing her words.
She ended up staying at the palace and becoming the youngest daughter-in-law of mine instead of taking Wanwan home.
The daughter of The Fourth Prince once mentioned her cousin inadvertently at the age of eight. Consort Dowager Wang held the little girl’s hand, asking her many questions about her grandparents. Knowing that their youngest son had given birth to a second child and was about to hold a feast to celebrate the first month of the newborn baby, She was so happy that she made a whole table of the little girl's favorite dishes.
She had been taken ill and unable to get up since then.
In the springtime, gazing out of the window at the, she said to Consort Dowager Song and me, “We entered the palace 35 years ago today.”
Yes, it had been 35 years since then. Things were not what they used to be, and we were getting old as well.
Her voice was as light as a breeze, "I am so glad to meet you. I am also happy that he has had many children by now.”
After a long pause, she said softly, "I don't know if he still remembers me."
Eventually a drop of tear slipped from the corner of her eye.
It occurred to me that she confided in me at Weiyang Palace years ago when we were young. I still remembered that she cocked her head without shedding a single tear.
Soon after Consort Dowager Wang passed away, her best friend, Consort Dowager Song, fell ill as well. In autumn, She smiled at me, saying, "I'm sorry. My death means nothing. It is just a great pity that I have to leave you a half-finished book. Please don’t be mad at me."
Noble Consort Dowager Wen pinched Consort Dowager Song’s check angrily, shouting, “I cannot believe you still make trouble even after you die. You bad girl.”
I begged, “could you please stay here until you finished your book?”
She closed her eyes, suddenly asking, “Do you know who I envy most among all the sisters in the palace?”
“I envy the elder sister Wang most because she had kept her beloved in mind until her death.”
“So many people in the cruel palace have died before they could have the chance to fall in love with someone or be loved by someone.”
“What difference does it make whether my book has an end or not? There were so many people in the palace have lost their lives without any stories.”
“I envy her so much. I do envy her.”
She had written so many books in which every girl had a great love story, but she had nothing but a sad cry on her deathbed.
My old friends passed away by one by one. Worried that the Noble Consort Dowager Wen and I felt lonely, Changsi not only brought Wanwan and my grandchildren to dine with us every day, but also frequently asked his siblings to live in the palace temporarily. We watched smilingly the little grandchildren ran around in front of us, had a quarrel and made up again. They gradually growing up, I even did not know since when they started to call me ancestor.