The emperor and bengong who were lazing around on bed were woken up by Tian Bing Qing and E Huang. We washed ourselves before sitting for breakfast. The concubines were left waiting outside, under the glaring sun.
——–They seemed to had been waiting for almost an hour.
E Huang told me that I needed to address myself as ‘bengong’. I didn’t really like that term of addressment.
The emperor who didn’t have to attend the morning court was very leisure and idle. I already swallowed three pieces of shrimps and he was still chewing on his first crab dumpling.
I could not bear to see that and picked up a shrimp before offering it to him. He froze a little before opening his mouth and lightly chewed on the shrimp. He looked very pleased and comfortable.
E Huang and Tian Bing Qing exchanged a look before smiling together.
In my opinion, His Majesty was too elegant and dignified when he eats. It made me felt comfortable as well and could not bear to urge him to eat faster. Rather than inconveniencing His Majesty’s tummy and ruining the elegant atmosphere, might as well inconvenience the legs of those concubines outside.
Breakfast took around 2 hours. By the time those gentle concubines were led in by Consort Yu and Consort De, they looked tired and pale. They kowtowed a couple of times.
After that, they kneeled and paid respect to His Majesty and bengong. As E Huang presented each of them with gifts, I gave them a good look; the beauties in His Majesty’s harem were of all kinds; some were plump like Yang Guifei while some were slender like Zhao Feiyan. All of them looked pretty different from each other, just they all looked a little weak. Because of that, I gave an enthusiastic suggestion to His Majesty, “Your Majesty, chenqie thinks they look a little frail. They don’t look like they can live long. Back then, when chenqie was living in the countryside, chenqie noticed that those women who lived there were all strong and healthy. Why don’t we send them to live in the countryside for a period of time? So they can get healthy?”
(TN: 环肥燕瘦(Plump Huan, Slender Yan) refers to Yang Yuhuan and Zhao Feiyan. They were two famous women of ancient times. Yang Yuhuan was the infamous Yang Guifei who was the consort of Emperor Xuan Zong while Zhao Feiyan was a dancer from a humble background who rose and became the empress for Emperor Cheng. Her sister was Zhao He De, also a favored consort of Emperor Cheng. Yang Yuhuan was known to be of plump size while Zhao Feiyan was known for her slender figure. Scholars have been using them as an example to describe beauties of all types.)
When those concubines heard that, their faces turned white like paper. Consort De and Consort Yu looked at me with fiery eyes.
They did not understand my goodwill, bengong was so disappointed!
His Majesty nodded with a big smile, “Everything is up to the empress.” In the blink of an eye, the hall was filled with sounds of murmurs.
Consort De looked at me in hatred and could not stop herself from muttering, “S*ut—–“
Before I even got to react, the emperor’s face changed, “Somebody come! Consort De was disrespectful to the empress, slap her mouth twenty times!”
Consort De struggled while repeatedly calling out, “Your Majesty!” When the emperor seemed unperturbed, she went on and begged pitifully, “Biaoge…. Biaoge….. Shu Er did not offend the empress on purpose…”
(TN: Biaoge is the way younger females call their older male cousins.)
Bengong felt displeased on the inside.
In the common people’s household, those who eloped the most were cousins. They were usually those prone to committing adulteries.
I rested against my phoenix seat and looked at Consort De who was weeping like pear blossoms that were bathed by rain. I turned my head towards His Majesty, “Your Majesty, the palace is not fun at all. Now that my younger brother is back, it is a good time for our family to get together….”
(TN: Pear blossom bathed by rain refers to a heart-melting sight of a beauty in tears.)
Your Majesty, if you dared to displease me, I would fling my sleeves and refused to do the laborious task of an empress!
His Majesty’s forehead was adorned by a fierce frown, “Are you people deaf?”
Four servants came up. Two of them restrained Consort De while the other two slapped her mouth. 15 minutes passed and Consort De’s smooth cheeks became round like buns.
I got up and could not help from speaking in discontent, “Bengong hates crooked relationship between cousins the most.”
The emperor smiled lightly, “Zhen has no cousin in the palace.”
His ability to speak nonsense in the face of truth was unparalleled.
Consort De fell to the ground and cried out loud.
Meeting those consorts took around an hour, so by the time we arrived in the empress dowager’s palace, it was already near noon.
When the empress dowager saw me and the emperor arriving side by side, she appeared really pleased. She called him ‘imperial son’ really intimately before calling me over. She patted my hands a couple of times and looked really emotional. Had I not known that she was not Feng Zhao Wen’s real mother, I would have thought they were blood-related mother and son.
As we sat to chat, Feng Zhao Wen became a lot indifferent. After paying his respect and sitting down, he opened his mouth, “Imperial mother is aged now. Now that imperial son has brought back a daughter-in-law, it is time to hand over the harem’s authority to her. Imperial mother should spend your later days in peace. Imperial son was stubborn and refused to take an empress for so many years, it was hard and tiring on imperial mother.”
The empress dowager’s beautiful lined face suddenly appeared tense and dangerous.
However, she quickly composed her expression. She appeared desolate, “Imperial mother is old and is now incapable of taking care of so many things. Just, the Great General Hu Guo only has one daughter, Shu Er. You two must take good care of her. Imperial mother too, will keep her company in free time. Shu Er and the empress seem to be around the same age. If there is time, you should invite her to Zhong Hua Palace to keep the empress company.”
The Great General Hu Guo was Consort De’s father and the empress dowager’s younger brother.
In my opinion, Feng Zhao Wen brought me here today to wrestle the authority of the back palace from the empress dowager. However, the back palace and the court were interconnected; why else was the son-less empress dowager managed to keep her power for so many years?
That Great General Hu Guo must not be underestimated.
I gave him a worried glance; one that he replied with a meaningful blink. He swallowed slowly, “As long as Consort De abide by the rules, there will naturally be a bowl of rice for her, here in the palace.”
…… What he meant by that was if she broke the rules, we could starve her to death?
The emperor was so calculative; this response was as good as no response.
The empress dowager forced herself to smile. She called her personal maid and instructed her to summon all the prominent female officials and eunuchs, explaining everything clearly to them in front of the emperor.
In the end, it took another two hours.
It was not easy for us to return to Zhong Hua Palace in time for lunch.
Feng Zhao Wen’s appetite was really good, he ate very fast too. By the time he put down his silver chopsticks, my bowl was still half-full.
He pleasantly scooped up a pearl fish ball and fed it to me. I ate it before wonderingly asking him, “Why were you so slow during breakfast earlier?”
His Majesty smiled lightly and pinched my nose, “Such an idiot!”
Tian Bing Qing who was waiting on the side-line laughed happily, “Your Ladyship does not know this. The reason His Majesty made those consorts wait under the sun was to tell them who the real owner of the back palace is.”
Bengong felt really pleased and finished quickly my rice.
The emperor was pleased as well. I kept buttering him up and feeding him fish balls. In the end, the both of us ate our hearts out and groaned as we laid on the dragon bed. After we drank a cup of tea to help digestion, we felt a little better.
Later, His Majesty summoned all female officials and high-ranked eunuchs to gather in Zhong Hua Palace. He also summoned the imperial guards, which were led in by Yan Ping. He ordered them to check those people’s quarters, prompting the palace to plunge into a sudden frenzy.
His Majesty dragged me to sit next to him in Zhong Hua Palace, reading all the reports one by one. Other than those managing the empress dowager’s palace, all the officials and eunuchs in charge of the six ministries and twenty-four departments were replaced.
Taking advantage of me slacking off and drinking tea, E Huang secretly told me that His Majesty replacing all these people was actually something that he had prepared for, in the dark. Those people were cultivated under the empress dowager’s hands. Now, he replaced them off and by doing so, cut off the empress dowager’s wings.
Even though he did not directly touch the empress dowager’s palace, he as good as did. It would be hard for them to send or receive news and to meddle in the harem’s affair from now on.
The respect E Huang have for me seemed to have raised by a few notch, “His Majesty personally dealt with this today so that Your Ladyship can manage the harem in peace, in the future. No one would dare to create trouble anymore.”
My head felt numb as I looked at E Huang blankly, “This is the empress’ duty?”
E Huang nodded, “His Majesty takes care of the politic while the harem is the responsibility of the empress.”
I must have gotten on the bad side of His Majesty somehow.
I originally thought that being an empress meant making anyone you dislike encounter ‘accident’ somehow. Other than having to get on the good side of the emperor and getting along with everyone else, an empress’ life ought to be not bad. I never knew an empress had so much responsibilities.
Though I sort of grew up in the Great Chen’s palace, I did not had the chance to gain experience from the previous empress.
In my opinion, I would not be the empress for long…
His Majesty took around four hours to finish the matter, accusing the empress dowager’s people of bribe and embezzlement. The empress dowager dispatched her close maid over to try and protect those people, but she got scolded and could only return to the empress dowager’s palace in defeat.
I heard the empress dowager threw a huge tantrum, almost all of the vases and porcelains in her palace were smashed to the ground….. When His Majesty heard that, he simply dispatched people to summon imperial physicians to check the empress dowager’s blood pressure.
The palace was a messy place. While the empress dowager and the emperor engaged in their war, I, who was caught up in the middle of it couldn’t really do anything. If Feng Zhao Wen hadn’t made me stay to know the new female officials and supervisor eunuchs better, I would have gone to sleep long ago.
In my opinion, an empress’ responsibility was really hard. After he ate his dinner, I gathered my courage to brought up my desire to resign from my job, only to be scolded badly by him with his ‘you are so unreliable and when are you going to improve’ and whatnot. All in all, his scolding was much more outrageous than how Father scolded me back then. The only difference was he did not cane me.
I decided to be a coward and obediently admitted fault, but he actually got angrier. In the end, I got upset as well and scolded him back, “Your Majesty, are you my father or my husband?”
He furiously glared at me, his chest heaving up and down. He got up from behind the desk before grabbing me and pressing me against his chest. He gritted his teeth as he spoke, “You ungrateful white-eyed wolf…”
I could tell that the situation would turn ugly, so I quickly begged for mercy, “Your Majesty, I will do my best to improve myself and properly manage the back palace. I will no longer bring up my resignation or what not…”
Tian Bing Qing had dragged E Huang away long ago; it was only me and him in Zhong Hua Hall right now.
His Majesty grazed his teeth on my ear before saying, “Too late!” And then, he bit my earlobe hard.
….. In my opinion, being an empress at this moment was really tragic.
Serene: This chapter was brought by Nurulfasihah!