This chapter has been brought to you by me and Adnana.
世子 shizi: heir son, referring to the heir apparent to a noble title 本宫 ben gong: lit. “this palace”; illeism for members of the Imperial Family
Chapter One Hundred and Eight: Epilogue
The spring of the third year of Shengkun was a good season when the flowers bloomed. Empress Hua invited the women of the Imperial Family and the first-rank titled ladies to the imperial gardens. Those who received an invitation were overjoyed and treated it seriously.
After the new emperor had ascended the throne, he suddenly changed from his previous gentle personality. He reorganized the court in a storm. If the new emperor's foundations had been weak after his ascension, he might have been wary, but there were many supporters of the new emperor who had controlled the entire court. So in less than two years, those who needed to be sorted out were sorted out. The entire court revered and feared the new emperor even more.
Other than Emperor Shengkun being praised by the people for his governance, his love life was also something that everyone was extremely interested in. Why?
Because the new emperor had been on the throne for three years, but other than Empress Hua, he really did not have any other woman. He didn't even have a female official whom he slept with. It really was rare to have this kind of man.
Many men in the world, after they came to power, would be greedy for women. While Empress Hua was beautiful, one would get tired after seeing her for a long time. Could the Emperor control his lower half?
No one had reached a conclusion before Empress Hua decided to hold a banquet. Everyone in Jing knew that Empress Hua had a lazy personality, and did not like to worry about other matters. This was something that the officials were very satisfied with. The Emperor favoured Empress Hua so much—if Empress Hua meddled in the government, then it would be a great calamity.
But this was a lazy person, so everyone was happy. Empress Hua was favoured, and the status of her paternal family also rose. Yi'an Marquis was ennobled as a country duke, his eldest son the heir to the dukedom, his second son a marquis. However, this duke was a perceptive person. After helping the new emperor control the court, he retired from his position at court and did not change his mind no matter how the new emperor tried to persuade him. In the end, he went back to his home to relax, with the titles of duke and Grand Tutor of the crown prince.
Both of his sons were still young, and their positions in court were not low or high. They were also loyal to the Emperor and humble in conduct, so no one could say that the Empress' paternal family bullied people using their power. Compared to the paternal family of the previous emperor's demoted empress, they were infinitely better.
When people thought about it this way, they did not find it strange that the Emperor favoured the Empress so. Everything in this world has its reason.
The imperial garden was filled with fragrant clothing and the shadows of hair. Taijian and palace maids passed through the figures with jars and cups. It was very busy.
"Princess, we have arrived."
Hearing the soft reminder of her personal servant girl, Princess Rui He suddenly refocused. She saw that there were already many women in the imperial garden. She silently picked a spot where to sit and did not try to converse with anyone else.
Last winter, foreigners had tried to invade. Some officials had suggested a marriage alliance, intending for her, the princess, to marry the king of the foreigners, a man almost seventy years old. She had hidden in fear in her princess fu. However, she had been flamboyant in her actions in the past, and no one was close to her. With her father and brother both gone, and her maternal family members demoted to commoners, she could not even find one person to stand and speak on her behalf.
She liked handsome men, but she also loved her children. If she married into a foreign country, her two children would stay in Jing, but what days would they have?
Just as she was feeling hopeless and terrified, she heard that Yan Jin Qiu had refused this suggestion of marriage in front of the entire court.
"My great dynasty will rather have our men die in battle than bow their spines. The foreigners are ambitious—can sacrificing an innocent woman's life trade for the peace of my dynasty?"
She had always felt that Yan Jin Qiu was an insincere person, but when she heard that he had said such words, she felt slightly dazed. She couldn't help but think, if her younger brother had not died and had become the emperor, would he say such a thing at this time?
Maybe… for his peace, she, the sister, would soon be stepping onto the road to marriage for peace.
It was laughable that she had lived as she wished for the first part of her life, but the rest of her life was protected by a person whom she had schemed against.
People could not go against the will of heaven. Scheming was just a joke. Later, when she heard the people of Jing's praises of Yan Jin Qiu, and those of the prestigious families that had submitted to Yan Jin Qiu, she slowly understood. Yan Jin Qiu really was the person most suited to the throne.
Her brother and Sheng Junwang did not have the breadth of mind, the vision, and the talent that he did. She was still a grand princess. She had peaceful days. Her son had been titled shizi. This was good.
Everyone knew that the Holy One had an older sister, but the Holy One never mentioned his older sister. The Empress had never summoned her sister-in-law. Princess Rui He was still titled Grand Princess. This was clearly telling the world that the Emperor did not like his older sister.
Naturally, no one would be so unperceptive as to mention one in disfavour with the Emperor. So no one expressed their curiosity or surprise that there was no trace of the Emperor's sister at the banquet.
Princess Rui He had just raised her teacup to take a sip when she heard the sound of the taijian clapping in the corner. She hurriedly put down the teacup, neatened her dress, and then stood with everyone else around her.
Hua Xi Wan was twenty now, but in Princess Rui He's view, this empress who had already given birth to an imperial son had not changed much from when she had married Yan Jin Qiu. Even the most complex and grand clothing would feel perfectly suited when she wore it, and could not overwhelm her.
After kneeling, Princess Rui He sat down on her spot. She silently looked at the womenfolk who were carefully fawning over the Empress. The lips of her mouth rose slightly, but her eyes were indifferent.
The atmosphere of the banquet was lively, and the food that was presented had been made with great care to have both taste and appearance. It should be said that ever since Emperor Shengkun ascended the throne, the skills of the imperial chefs had grown even better, and had even more styles. The imperial palace was really the place where the most delicious food was found.
The nobles all knew that the Empress had a fondness for good food. They also knew that Empress Shengkun was willing to go along with the empress' hobby. These two were both willing, so no one could say this was bad. But… many females admired and envied Empress Hua's good fortune in secret.
Hua Xi Wan rinsed her mouth, wiped her face, and washed her hands, helped by the palace maids, before she smiled at the womenfolk seated around her. "Now that we are sated… The weather is good—if you do not disdain it, how about you accompany ben gong in walking around the garden?"
Everyone said it was their honor, and interestedly followed behind the Empress. They complimented all the flora in the imperial garden and even wanted to praise the weeds in the cracks.
They all knew that the Empress might not truly pay attention to the praises, but they had to be complimentary, had to be respectful. Everyone knew the position the Empress held in the Emperor's heart. Who dared to displease the Empress?
They had heard that yesterday, a daring palace maid wanted to get imperial favour but enraged the Emperor. No one knew what happened in the end, but some people who had other thoughts gave up now and didn't dare to think more.
Princess Rui He was slightly surprised that the Empress suddenly hosted a banquet. Empress Hua never liked to host banquets like this. If the other didn't have a goal in hosting this flower-admiring banquet, she would not believe it.
"Ben gong had them plant these flowers here a few days ago." Hua Xi Wan's voice was forever soft. "Ben gong likes these beautiful things the most." Finishing, she suddenly saw a flower stem that was reaching the path. She couldn't help but frown. "How come this flower has grown here? Come, cut this."
Then the women saw some taijian come with scissors to cut the entire plant. They looked at the flower that had fallen to the ground with thoughtful expressions.
"Such a pity." Hua Xi Wan glanced at the branch on the ground and then turned to look at the womenfolk. "Let's continue."
Princess Rui He looked at the flower that was completely destroyed by everyone's footsteps and slowly exhaled.
Even the most beautiful thing, if it was disobedient, would not be kept.
Just like when the new emperor ascended the throne, and that young Empress Dowager Zhang had dared to act like a mother-in-law in front of Empress Hua. Within a hundred days, she had died from illness.
Sometimes, a person's greed was enough to consume them.
The Empress did not say anything, but anyone smart should have understood that the Empress did not have a soft personality. She just did not like to manage these matters. If they touched her bottom line, her actions would be enough to give them an unforgettable lesson.
This was also very good.
After they had admired flowers for a time, Princess Rui He heard again the sound of clapping from up front. She raised her head slightly and saw the Emperor's carriage coming this way. The women saw this, bowed their heads and moved back, not looking directly at the dragon carriage.
However, the Emperor's carriage stopped when it was about ten paces away from them. The Emperor clearly did not plan on coming forward due to the women present.
A taijian quickly came up to bow to Empress Hua. It was Chief Steward Mu, whom even those in favour with the Emperor had to treat respectfully.
It was unknown what Chief Steward Mu said. The Empress smiled and walked towards the Emperor's carriage.
When the Empress stepped onto the stool, an arm that was covered in a dark dragon-patterned sleeve reached out of the carriage. The Empress handed her hand to the other and was pulled into the imperial carriage.
When Princess Rui He saw this, she suddenly smiled. She turned to look at the female official who was preparing to see her out of the palace. She lowered her head slightly and then left this sumptuous palace without another look back.
Some people were fated to become those who were to be admired and envied. While she could not become a main characters of legend, at least she was fortunate enough to see a legendary love.
She was born in nobility and wealth, the remaining of her life would be wealthy, and she had no regrets.
Thousands of years later, countless dramas and novels about Emperor Shengkun and Empress Shengde were created. However, some emphasized Emperor Shengkun's extraordinary qualities, some emphasized Empress Shengde's beauty which caused countless men to fall in love. It caused Empress Shengkun to never have a concubine and only hold her his entire life.
Some said that Empress Shengde was a successful woman, some said that Emperor Shengkun was a successful emperor. But the only thing they could not deny was that the two of them were an emperor and empress who had been in love their entire life.
The history books recorded how Empress Shengkun had said in front of the court that he would be together with the Empress forever. He had managed to do it.
In the forty-fifth year of Emperor Shengkun's rule, when he was sixty-eight, he abdicated to the crown prince to become an idle emeritus emperor. He and Empress Shengde were in love their entire life and had three sons and a daughter. He recruited those talented, conquered foreigners, changed the way of farming, and developed a navy. This caused all the surrounding countries to fear and respect his country, and he was called a great and wise ruler by the historians. At least, every year during the high school examinations, this Emperor Shengkun would come out to remind people of his existence and torment high school students year after year.
Some even said in forum posts that this Emperor Shengkun was a time-traveler. Otherwise, how was he so capable and even had the mindset to be monogamous?
However, no one thought seriously of this explanation. Even the poster was just joking.
Who would believe that!
Translator Ramblings: The end!
Thank you, Adnana and Vivie, for helping me edit this, correcting mistakes, and trying to make sense of what I meant from my mish-mashing of cliched but incorrect phrasing and illogical sentence structure, as well as remaining patient as I repeat the same mistakes over and over. I am especially grateful to Adnana for keeping an updated glossary, adding definitions and notes for every chapter as necessary, and her explanations when correcting my grammar mistakes. Unfortunately, she did not see any improvement over this entire time as I had mostly finished translating before she came in.