Noble Consort Dowager Wen of the former emperor did not put down her needlework until her death.
The moonlight was bright on the night before she expired. She showed me her new masterpiece of embroidery. It was a double-sided embroidery screen in which eight lifelike your girls looked different.
At the center of the embroidery was the former empress leaning on a reclining chair with a little child in her arms. She smiled and gazed intently as if she was listening carefully. Besides her was Consort Xian sitting on the stone bench with an account book in her hands. On the right side was Consort Shu holding a tray on which there was exactly her specialty dish, namely stewed pork ball in brown sauce with minced crab meat. Consort Dowager Wang was bending down to set the table while I was staring at Consort Shu smilingly, bright-eyed. On the left side Consort Dowager Song with her arms behind her back, this was her typical storytelling appearance. Consort Dowager De looked anxious while tugging at the sleeve of Noble Consort Dowager Wen. The latter stood with her back to us, and we could only see she slightly looking up at Consort Dowager Song with an embroidery frame in her hands.
The upper right corner of the screen was embroidered with a line of small words:
You have been long dead with bones turning into mud while I am still alive but white-haired.
We were indeed white-haired. Both of our temples were already white. We were so young in this embroidery!
Pointing to the screen, she said with a smile, "if all my embroideries are put on display in a room to commemorate me after I die, the posterity must praise me as a genius.”
When going to bed at night, she told her maid of honor to sort out the threads for embroidery so that she could use the next day.
However, she never woke up the next day.
I thought God had mercy on her and spared her the pain. It was also a great relief to me because I could tell myself she was just asleep and still alive.
I could not remember how many years had passed, but the older I got, the more confused I became. I began to mix up my grandchildren’s names. One day, I suddenly pointed at Jiale, screaming, “Consort Shu, how come you become old and have grey hair?”
Jiale was 61 years old this year and had already got grandchildren. Thinking I was joking with her, she answered casually,” I am indeed old.”
Getting upset, I tugged at her sleeve and acted like a spoiled child. “You won’t get old. You are so beautiful.”
She then realized that there was something wrong with me, querying, “Empress mother, what did you call me just now?”
I answered, “Consort Shu, are you stupid? Can we take Jiale to visit the Empress?”
I pointed at Jiale’s five-year-old granddaughter, asking, “Why does Jiale become thinner? Did she secretly skip dinner?”
Everyone in Ci’an Palace exchanged glances. Jiale held my hands tremblingly, “Yes, she is such a disobedient girl.”
I clamored to meet the Empress and wear the new dress Zhaoyi Wen made for me. After a while, I asked whether Beauty Song’s new book had come out. I later asked if Consort De would not bring The Fourth Prince here to play with The Fifth Prince.
The children surrounded and coaxed me. I did not behave myself until I met my daughter-in-law Wanwan. She coaxed me to sit down and wait patiently for “Consort Shu” to cook for me.
Jiale could barely cook and the stewed pork ball in brown sauce she served was slightly burnt. I asked, “How come it tastes sweet? It used not to be sweet.”
“Well, it is a new dish I created,” Jiale faltered.
I complained, “Take it to the Yongan Palace. It tastes bad.”
Changsi heard what I said as he entered the room, producing a forced smile. Seeing him come in, I took his hands anxiously. “Here you are.”
He was confused, letting me draw him to Wanwan and introduce seriously, “She is your Jiaojiao. Don’t lose her. And he is your Brother Xiu rather than the Emperor.”
In addition, I put their hands together, saying, “You two need hold hands. That’s right. That’s it.”
I clapped happily. “Well, you cannot quarrel anymore.”
Changsi and Wanwan exchanged a glance and agreed.
I took Changsi’s hands again, asking, “Since you two have made up, can I return home? I miss my grandmother.”
I could not help crying out, “I want to go home. I need grandmother.”
Seeing Jin coming up at once, I stopped crying, mistaking him for my brother. “Big brother, are you coming to take me home?”
He said yes.
I sojourned in Jiale’s home, failing to understand why my “big brother” is living with Consort Shu. Nevertheless, with The Fourth Prince, The Fifth Prince, Changyi, Changnian and Kangle all coming to visit me every day, my house was so bustling that I forgot to wrestle with that question.
I could go out to have cakes, saw somebody’s rabbits or wandered the streets with someone. I had so much fun.
One day in October, I returned to the palace with my children in the twilight. The whole family gathered together to have a reunion dinner at that night. However, I fell down while eating.
Coming to my senses after waking up, I said to Changsi, “You promised to love Wanwan for ten or twenty years. You cannot break your word. If you do so… Wanwan, don’t be sad if he broke his promise. You just ignore him and live your own life without him.”
Changsi did not know whether to laugh or to cry. “Imperial mother, I am already 54 years old. Even the Crown Prince has married the Crown Princess. How come I would break my word?”
One more thing came to my mind. “Some embroideries of Noble Consort Dowager Wen have been buried together with her, but some are left in my palace. I would rather have them buried in my mausoleum than keep them in my palace for many years until they are thrown away someday. Time brings a great change to the world. If God bless them, they could be admired by posterity one day. Don’t forget it.”
All my children and grandchildren knelt down, calling me as they wept softly. I asked every family to come to me one by one. After glancing at them one by one, I suddenly felt quite peaceful. I pointed at the windowsill.
“Look, it is dawn.”
I was 70 years old that year. It had been 56 years since I entered the palace.