The imperial consort selection was set to begin in April. The Emperor accepted my proposition to promote all consorts before new girls entered the Palace with alacrity. Then Consort Wen was promoted as Noble Consort Wen, Shuyi Yao as Zhaoyi Yao, Beauty Song as Jieyu Song and Baolin Wang as Beauty Wang. For Consort Xian, Consort Shu and Consort Chun who were not promoted, there were rewards as well. Besides them, the rest consorts were also promoted one to two rates higher. Consorts were all grateful to me as I brought everyone in the harem material benefits ever since my accession.
A conclusion Consort Shu and I came to was that Noble Consort Wen’s father must have saved a great amount of money for the Emperor. Otherwise it was too unscientific for her who was obsessed in embroidering all year, to be granted a stepson and promoted as well considering her rare opportunities to meet the Emperor.
However, Consort Shu told me and Noble Consort Wen cryptically, “It seems that the Emperor doesn’t trust Nanyang Marquis either, otherwise Consort Chun would have become one of the four consorts. Bah, why does he make his daughter enter the palace if he doesn’t trust her family at all?”
The Emperor is an Emperor in the first place.
The imperial consort selection in April was very spectacular, during which ten girls were selected to enter the palace. Six of them were selected by me and four by the Emperor. All of them were from general ministers’ families. Standing side by side, they were like a line of tender scirpus tabernaemontani. Modestly listening to my teaching, they replied “My pleasure, noble Empress” with an atmosphere of beautiful Spring. That reminded me of three years ago when I entered into the palace which was so long ago.
Considering that the arrangement of the new girls’ status, title and housing were serious, I planned to obey to the Emperor’s arrangement. However, the Emperor, after ordering two girls from the south to live in the palace of Consort Chun, passed all things to me and even said shamelessly, “Jioajiao helps me to take charge of the harem. Such a small matter you must be able to handle well”.
Luckily, I had Consort Xian who was enthusiastic in housekeeping behind me. Hearing my seeking for help, she was too excited to say any humble words to cover her fantasy, “Noble Empress, I think it’s no big deal. As to the Emperor’s attitude, he doesn’t care at all. You can follow the custom of the previous two selections.” Noticing my blankness, she reiterated the arrangement before, deciding the status of new beauties in terms of their family, appearance... from the morning to the night when the lamp was lighted. She said all that as fluently as she was reciting, which made me ashamed. Before I had the opportunity to express my admiration, she already handed me the suggestion list of the arrangement of the new girls she had written.
I even felt regretful for Consort Xian, who, with such distinguished talent, had to work under me, such a common and even stupid one. However, what was magic in Consort Xian was that she only wanted to be a steward free from any distractions. She was most grateful after finding that I trusted her so much. She regarded me as the most virtuous Empress in centuries just like the late Empress and thought the dynasty was blessed to have an Empress like me.
These words were not spoken out by her but expressed on her face, which could not be more obvious. Her sincere admiration for me made me afraid of being found out.
The Emperor became busier after the selection of new girls. After a long time’s observation, Consort Shu and I noticed that he visited them one by one in a great balance. Consort Shu whispered in my ear, “It’s difficult to be a Emperor. It seems that he doesn’t like them that much. Such beautiful girls have to end their youth in the complicated harem. It does do great harm to people.”
Since new girls came, it became even more boisterous during the morning and dusk when consorts paid respects to me. Due to lack of enough sleep every morning, I, sitting in the chair in front of them, tried to restrain me from yawning when chatting with them. Filled with weary tears in my eyes, I tried to wear a decorous smile, in case they thought too much if I didn’t smile someday. Later, I realized that was never a good solution, because without enough sleep, one tended to be irritable. Once one became irritable, she would harbor ill ideas, then became an evil person, doing bad things and disturbing the peace of the harem. I would never let such things happen. To maintain the harmony in the harem, I delayed their time to pay respects to me later and later. Finally I even asked them to come after having breakfast.
When I entered the palace, Noble Consort Chen was in high favor with the Emperor, who made the situation to pay respects to her like a battle. Now it was different when I became the Empress. To me, paying respects to me was an occasion where four consorts, who lived comfortably but felt boring, gathered together to chat, play jokes and eat snacks. If I noticed there was some discord between two consorts, I would leave them behind in private, asking them what the wrong with them and persuading them to reconcile. In the script written by Jieyu Song, a capable Empress would establish her dignity and majesty when other consorts paid respects to her, otherwise she would be bullied by them. As for me, no one would bully me and Consort Shu were my best friends, Consort Xian my fan and Consort De a friend of Consort Xian. None of the four consorts would bully me.
I told Jieyu Song to take a good look at the reality and to stop making up, but she retorted:
“You indeed lack dignity. Yesterday, you begged Consort Shu to make Honey Cake made with Rose for you. In every case you have majesty, you will stand up and point you finger at her nose ‘you do what I order you to do. Give you half an hour. If Jieyu Song and I don’t see the cake after half an hour... you know what I’ll do!’ .”
Saying in a gloomy manner, backing me into a corner while speaking together with a distorted face, she succeeded in frightening me out of being a prestigious empress. Consort Shu applause for Jieyu Song’s acting ability. To punish her, all of us ate the cake except for Jieyu Song, who was left looking at us eating. Out of anger, she wrote a new script in which the protagonist was a devil, who has the same name and appearance of Consort Shu. The devil with a wry mouth stilted her head to beat people everyday with the spatula. Before she beat someone, she would always say, “You, in my eyes, is just a dish.” While she told us the story, she played the devil in the script just like an insane person. Consort Shu was enraged to hit the ceiling. Finally, one day, Consort Shu chased after her to beat her on the head with a spatula in hand. How harmonious the harem family was!
Well, there was also dissonant people, among whom Zhaoyi Yao was one. The Emperor freed her from paying respects to me, as she told the Emperor that she was feeling unwell because of pregnancy. Consorts all felt a kind of regret for me. For me, however, I appreciated the rare wisdom of the Emperor, as for Zhaoyi Yao, in my eyes, was a prototype of the word “affectation”, who always said with a long tone with the wriggling of her neck, waist and the playing with her hair, such as “Oops~~, you all see, my sisters~~, dear Empress~~, I’m late~~, the Emperor allows me to get up late, would you be mad at me~~”. Under the organization of Jieyu Song, we imitated Zhaoyi Yao in secret several times but all failed in imitating the essence of her. Consort Shu even twisted her neck. It was better for her not to come, or else I would fear of myself laughing to death.
None of the new beauties won special favor with the Emperor. After promoting several of them casually, the Emperor became cold to them. None of them won favor with him. This year being prosperous, the Emperor with more free time went to the harem more often. Besides me, he also went to visit the Noble Consort, Consort De, Consort Xian and Consort Chun from time to time. However, the most frequently visited was still Zhaoyi Yao. As we expected, he never visited Consort Shu. That made Noble Consort Wen jealous, “Every time he came to see me, I restrain myself from poking the old man with the embroidery needle.”
Zhaoyi Yao gave birth to a princess in August. The Emperor was fantastic and conferred her as Consort Yao. In fact, if it were not for her far less distinguished family, she would possibly be conferred as Noble Consort. Maybe to compensate for her, the Emperor granted the Changle Palace where I lived before to her. Since then, Consort Yao was so elated that she, besides wriggling her waist, neck and playing with her hair, even rolled her eyes when she paid respects to me. Let alone the words she said. As a result, all, from four consorts to Baolin Wang and servants in the harem criticized her one by one till she began to doubt her life. During the next several days, no one greeted her when she paid respects to me. Lately, she belatedly realized she was isolated. Then she said something to the Emperor and he told me that he freed her from paying respects to me because she needed time to recover due to postpartum disorder. That news enlightened me so much that I opened the storeroom that day to reward with her a ginseng, telling her to take a good rest. Kind and virtuous as I was, the Emperor felt ashamed for me and slept in Weiyang Palace for several nights.
My Changsi and Changyi were aged 1, able to speak and walk. The Emperor loved them very much, held them on his knees to play with them. Most of the time, he would hold me in his arms with both of us holing a child in our arms. Seen from the mirror, we seemed like a happy family.
However, it was only the surface but not the truth.
I seldom took the children out to hang out, because the tragic memory of the mysterious death of the three children of the late Empress cast a shadow on me, Consort Shu and Noble Consort Wen. People in Weiyang Palace, Yihua Palace and Jinxia Palace were all scrupulous and careful, prohibiting servants to take them out alone. It seemed that we were preventing against burglars.
When thinking, I found it interesting that the Emperor and I seemed like a family, while the complicated harem like my home.
Changsi was taller than his sister and more naughty as well. When Changsi was still crawling, he was able to stand up trembly and toddled like a little duck. The naughty boy even swaggered before his sister on purpose. Seeing that, poor little Changyi stared at her brother for a while, tried to stand up but was still scared. Finally, she burst into crying, at the same time kicking her feet.
That made me overwhelmed with joy. I finally felt what Consort Shu said the interest in bringing up children.
Although Changyi was slow in learning to walk, she was quick in learning to speak. Before she was 1 year old, she was able to call “mummy” and “daddy”, which excited the Emperor and me. Whenever he was free, he would come to hold her in his arms and amuse her to speak. Changsi, however, was slow in learning to speak, uttering loudly “Ah” “Ah” to his father with great pride just like a proud white goose.
I developed a good habit in bringing up the children, that was, whenever Consort Shu made delicate cakes such as Osmanthus Cake with Lotus Root Starch for me, I would sat before the two children, holding a plate in the palm to eat these cakes. I ate them slowly one by one while they would stare at me. In the end, when I finished the last piece and they realized there was none left for them, they would burst out crying. It proved effective every time, which was really hilarious.
The Emperor pinched my face out of anger after accidentally finding the source of my happiness. Every time he left, he would tell me again and again:
“Jiaojiao, be good. Don’t tease with my children.”
His words were in vain.
After Consort Shu found out the interest of me, she cut off the supply of cakes from her with a bright smile. I felt like weeping but had no tears, crying for two months before she became lenient to me. Therefore, I turned over a new leaf to learn to be a good mother.