The concubines in the palace seemed to had their own unique (must never be known) housekeeping skills. Consort De liked to punish her people by pricking them with hairpins while Consort Yu liked using whips. Zhen Pin liked stubbing burning incense on the skin of her maids. Nobody would raise question even if she did it in the most obvious places.
When I first became the empress, my head hurt by the large number of murders committed in the back palace. The empress dowager was compassionate and lenient; those concubines had lived under her rule for so long, it was only natural that some of them could not adapt to me being in power. Because of that, I sent them to Yi Ning Palace to learn about virtue and Buddhism from the empress dowager in hopes that they would stop become delinquents.
The empress dowager was probably taken aback by my move. I heard, before those concubines were accepted, the empress dowager smashed the newly replaced vases in her Yi Ning Palace. In the end, those concubines had to kneel for a long time while studying, their first lesson was learning about benevolence and meditation.
The empress dowager’s prayer hall was overcrowded. Because of that, the empress dowager invited the emperor over to request permission to rebuild the prayer hall. The emperor rejected her suggestion because the kingdom’s treasury was empty.
In the end, the empress dowager became ill.
After His Majesty returned from Yi Ning Palace, he poked fun pf my method of re-organizing the harem. He was laughing now, but if he found out that I had told those concubines that those who studied well and became benevolent would get His Majesty’s favor soon, would he still be laughing like this?
There was a saying that if you did not want a donkey to dawdle without wasting resources, you could just dangle a radish in front of the donkey’s nose. In this case, the radish was His Majesty.
Amitabha, chenqie was wrong!
E Huang admonished me from the sideline, “Your Ladyship, you have good intentions and is very lenient, but those consorts may not understand your good-will.”
En… Even in battlefields, people would use soft-measures first before resorting to violence. I was only being light-handed for now.
Ten days later, another maid was murdered in Consort De’s Palace. The female officials that His Majesty hired were really quick and efficient. After I received the news, I brought imperial guards with me and blocked people from hap-hazardly burying the victim. Then, I ordered them to place the dead body in the entrance of Consort De’s palace.
Consort De swept her eyes over the crowd, probably looking for her so-called ‘biaoge’. When she realized that he wasn’t around, she stepped forward bitterly before paying her respect.
In my opinion, the situation in the harem where the women outnumbered the men may not be a good thing. There were so many women eyeing your husband like tigress, waiting for their share. That feeling was not good. I invited the rest of the concubines to come over and allowed the dead body to be examined. I accused Consort De of being indifferent to death and punished her for it.
On the next day, I summoned the concubines to the palace’s cuju field. They were dressed to the nines, wearing riding gears. With E Huang as my voice, they walked elegantly to the cuju field, dust and dirt rising to the air.
The autumn air of the 9th month was really comfortable, it was just the right time for me to feast on the views. I would find time to enjoy the scenery once every day.
When those concubines arrived, they were looking exquisite and pretty, but after running around the field for two laps, they were all drenched in sweat and their makeups were all ruined. What was even more unfortunate was the emperor was getting off from the morning court and decided to pick me up so we could return to Zhong Hua Palace together. In the end, he was shocked when he saw what was becoming of his concubines. He looked at them with bulged eyes and gaped mouth. He probably did not expect that I was destructive enough to ruin the exquisite people in his harem.
Behind the emperor’s back, E Huang laughed so happily, “Your Ladyship, this servant has never seen the emperor that shocked before…. With how embarrassing they were, His Majesty probably will not spare them much look from now on! This is a highly-skilled move from you, Your Ladyship!”
Cough…. Honestly, I just thought that those concubines felt too confined in the palace and had no idea how they could spend their energy. That was why they kept figuring out ways to torture their servants, and that was also why the murder cases never stopped.
However, what I did not get was why the emperor hugged me when I was in a similar sweaty, embarrassing situation yet actually reacted with such disgust when he saw those concubines.
A pleasant feeling slowly rose within me. I drank the tonic E Huang gave me and it actually tasted a little sweet.
3 months later, the concubines were like flowers during fall. The usually ostentatiously dressed concubines now had tanned skins. Since they did not want sweat to ruin their make-ups, they now came over with bare faces. Besides, concubines were usually not allowed to dress more excessively than the empress and since I hated dressing up….. If one looked from afar, Feng Zhao Wen’s back palace was really refreshing and clean.
General Hu Guo entered the palace to visit the empress dowager and bumped into Consort De along the way. He almost did not recognized his own daughter. If Consort De had not called him Father, he would have thought she was a low-ranked concubine who did not receive favor.
The back palace had always been intricately connected to the court.
Right now, General Hu Guo was only an empty title. On the first court session after His Majesty got married to me, General Hu Guo was made to completely hand over his power to His Majesty. General Hu Guo used to control 1/3 of the Great Qi’s troops and now those troops were completely under the emperor’s control.
Though the power struggle in court more or less had it’s effect to the concubines, it did not had anything to do with me. Though His Majesty would occasionally bully me and locked the door while doing so, I no longer fawned after him like I used to.
Feng Zhao Wen really regretted that. When the servants were not around, he would sigh to me, “If zhen had known this earlier on, zhen wouldn’t have married you. Zhen would have glued you to Zhong Hua Palace as a maid instead, see if you would still dare to fight zhen then. Nowadays, even begging you to make zhen tea is hard!”
“Your Majesty has hands and feet, must you order me about for you to be happy?” I casually strolled passed the imperial desk and buried myself in his chest. I took the memorial on his hand and gave it a look. Complicated text filled the memorial. I massaged his temples in sympathy, “If you are in a battlefield and received this kind of report, it will hinder the military operation. These rotten people only know to write excessive allusions to appear well-learned.”
His phoenix eyes twinkled as he held me tight against him, giving me a fierce kiss. Once my face was filled with saliva, he spoke in appreciation, “No wonder people praised the empress, calling the empress wise and sympathetic, virtuous and frugal. Ever since you took control of the harem, the expenditure of the entire back palace has reduced greatly. If any of them dares to write like this anymore, we should throw the memorial back to them and ask them to rewrite it; they need to use simple and straightforward sentences so that the content of the memorial is accurate and concise!”
He swept all the memorials down the table with one hand before placing me on top of the table. He looked like he was going to take off my clothes.
However, I was interested in what he was saying, so I refused to fulfill his wish. I grabbed his belt and refused to let go, “Someone really praised me? Are you sure they weren’t scolding me?”
The way His Majesty stared at me was like how a proud Father would look at his accomplished daughter, he looked pretty arrogant and proud as he spoke, “Speaking about that, it was all due to General Hu Guo.”
Turned out that after General Hu Guo bumped into Consort De, he listened to some gossip in the empress dowager’s palace. Relying on his past merit, he blasted me while attending the morning court the next day. He said I was cruel to the concubines and kept on deducting their allowances. He basically painted me as a jealous, poisonous and non-virtuous mother of the kingdom.
The emperor’s defense was very short; he compared the expenditures of when the empress dowager was in power to mine. He even invited the Head of Imperial Physicians over to back up his claim.
Making those concubines run was only to keep them fit. The Head of Imperial Physicians was the witness to that. The concubines were rarely sick these days and thus reduced the expenditure for medicines.
Then, the supervisor eunuchs and female officials were summoned. They told the court of my penchant for plain dresses and my dislike of make-up. The concubines were impressed and followed the empress’ lead and thus cut off the spending for dresses and make-ups. I did not cut off their allowances.
In the blink of an eye, the court was in an uproar. The officials praised me and called me a virtuous empress.
There were wars for many years. It had been 3 years since the last war; the common people had only returned to their hometown and it was only recently that the court was unified, they naturally wouldn’t dare to raise the tax. All those barren agricultural lands had become tax-free for three years. The treasury being empty was not a mere lie that Feng Zhao Wen gave the empress dowager, it was true.
I really needed to thank the old General. He cared too much for his daughter and in the end helped me became smart and virtuous in front of the other ministers.
I was too complacent in my worldly dawdle that I failed to recognize the wisdom and virtue in me. I angrily pulled at His Majesty’s ear, “Will you still dare to say you regretted marrying bengong?”
He scoffed before lifting me up and carrying me to the dragon bed. There were traces of smiles in his eyes, “You are pasting gold onto your own face. You are too used to posing as a man, that’s why you do not like make up and ostentatious dresses.” Then, he bitterly pointed an accusing finger towards me, “The concubines in zhen’s harem are really pitiful. They used to dress so prettily; just one look at them and one’s heart will be pleased. They used to be so pleasing to the eyes. Nowadays, they are dressed in ashen grey. And now, they have to run everyday. They might as well be men….. Zhen has a really hard life as an emperor!”
I laced my hands around his neck and bit him on the lips, “What ‘hard life’ are you talking about?”
He was very cooperative and obediently answered me, “Being able to marry such a virtuous empress is zhen’s fortune!” The two of us rolled around on the dragon bed; the situation was absurd and funny at the same time. The moment our eyes locked, we burst into laughter.
He outstretched his arm and placed me against his chest as he laughed without restrains. He scrutinized me before incredulously saying, “You…. A virtuous empress?”
Serene: This chapter was brought to you by Anna!