Hai Yan’s Notes:
Her perspective on xiao Mei not helping Jingning:
“Firstly, besides the usual sympathy and pity, he has no relationship with Jingning and can’t even really be called her friend, as they have not had many direct interactions and have only met a few times. Secondly, xiao Mei is a person who is more rational than emotional, and he didn’t come to the capital to save the world (literally: “be the saviour of the world”), and he doesn’t really want to deal with matters that are not related to his main goal, not to mention that Jingning’s situation is difficult and complicated, and would bring nasty consequences for him if it was handled badly. Thirdly, from the beginning, xiao Mei did not agree with Jingning letting her emotions run wild while knowing full well that her marriage would not be under her own control, but he never said anything because it wasn’t something that concerned him, and so the Emperor wedding Jingning to a foreigner does not clash with xiao Mei’s own perspective or values. Fourthly, he is still a man in this society, and though he might pity Jingning, he cannot really fully understand the pain in her heart. He is striving to help Nihuang because both sides [Nihuang and Nie Duo] are his friends, and he loves them both, not because he believes that loves triumphs over all and should take precedent over all other considerations. Fifthly, to allow xiao Mei, this character who is plotting for revenge and playing the game of thrones, instead spend time and effort protecting the love of a princess he doesn’t really know or care for, seems to deviate a little too much from the plot of this story, and would tip the balance of the plot too heavily towards romance….”
“The Emperor is the one who holds Jingning’s marriage in his hands, and it is easy to speak of delaying for a few years, but hard to achieve in practice. The only choices would be to fake illness or fake madness, and putting aside whether the facade would be successfully, even if it worked, she could at most avoid being wedded to a foreigner, and it would not guarantee that the Emperor would not arrange her marriage anyway, and possibly even sooner than he would have otherwise, just to marry her off. Besides, Jingning is a princess raised in the traditional manner of education and customs, and is not like modern girls with such a strong sense of independence and personal freedom. In those days, even as she struggled, the reason for her struggle was not one that could be spoken of openly, and she herself would not dare to say that she had the right of it, so if she digs her foot in and persists until the end, then the story would be a little too modern, so I’m sorry, my little princess….”
Although Xiao Jingyan had established his own official residence and even had his own army, he was still only a prince born of a concubine, who barely had a duke’s rank, and was not like Prince Yu, who enjoyed many special privileges. Therefore, except for special days like the first day of each lunar month, public holidays, his birthday, his mother’s birthday, or days of sacrifice, he could not enter the Inner Palace without imperial permission. After Xiao Jingning had pleaded for his help, she did not see so much as the shadow of her Seventh Brother for many days, and she grew so anxious that she broke palace rules and sent one of her serving maids to Prince Jing’s residence, to deliver a hand-written letter to Guan Zhen. Before the maid had even made it out of Dingan Gate, she was caught by imperial guards. Meng Zhi heard of the situation and rushed over, confiscating the letter and releasing the maid back into the Inner Palace before severely forbidding his subordinates from speaking of this matter to anyone, quietly covering it up. That night, he paid a secret visit to the imperial Jing manor and showed Xiao Jingyan the letter, urging him to send Guan Zhen away from the capital as soon as possible.
Prince Jing knew that, ever since eunuchs had been murdered in the palace, Meng Zhi’s hold over the imperial guard was not as tight or solid as it had been once, and although it would be good if this matter could really be covered up, if it leaked somehow to the Emperor or the Empress, Guan Zhen’s life would be forfeit, and so he could only send Guan Zhen far away to the border, hiding him away to save his life. Sure enough, two or three days later, the Emperor heard about the Princess smuggling her maid out of the palace. He had always doted on this young daughter of his, and so naturally his fury was terrible to behold, and he ordered for Meng Zhi to be summoned, and began questioning him in a thundering rage.
Meng Zhi came well-prepared, and after waiting for the Emperor to finish venting his anger, he bowed and answered slowly, “If His Majesty finds any fault with me, your servant should of course die a thousand deaths as payment for my crimes. But, since time immemorial, the reputation of the ladies of the palace has always been the most important consideration, and though your servant holds this position of Commander of the Imperial Guard by your Majesty’s great mercy, your servant is nonetheless only an outer official. That maid was the Princess’ personal attendant, and the letter was sealed. Your servant firstly had no right to question anyone from the inner palace, and secondly could not open a confidential correspondence. Without questioning or reading, your servant could not know its authenticity. Without knowing its authenticity, how could your servant dare to report this matter to Your Majesty? And so, your servant could only escort the maid back into the inner palace, command my subordinates to keep silent, and burn the letter. Only in this way could this matter remain concealed, so that it would not harm the Princess’ sacred virtue. Your servant’s knowledge is crude and shallow, and if your servant has acted improperly in any way, pray Your Majesty name my punishment.”
After hearing his explanation, the Emperor thought it sounded very logical. It was best to let this kind of private matter of the inner palace disappear quietly if at all possible, as if it was thoroughly investigated, the results would only bring shame upon himself and make him lose face. As soon as he thought about it like this, his anger dissipated, and he ordered Meng Zhi to rise and said a few words to placate him, then recalled the internal messenger he had sent to the Princess’ palace to investigate, instead issuing a secret command to the Empress to increase her surveillance over Jingning, and then quietly let the matter pass.
Meng Zhi and Prince Jing’s relationship had been good all along, and this time, when he made a purposeful effort to protect him by not letting anyone realize that the Princess’ love interest had been taken in by Prince Jing’s residence, it was clearly a great show of goodwill towards him. Prince Jing had already received a quiet urging from Mei Changsu to befriend Meng Zhi, and after receiving this favour, the interactions between the two gradually increased, and although it had still not risen to a degree to be easily noticed by others, the confidence and trust between the two had deepened significantly.
At the same time, Meng Zhi also followed Mei Changsu’s plan and appeared especially eager and helpful. One day, when he was at the imperial Jing manor participating in a riding and archery competition Prince Jing had organized, he took the chance, and using the excuse of wanting to see the double-edged sword Prince Jing had seized from the Northern Di¹ king, he was shown into Prince Jing’s bedroom, where the sword was kept, where he very coincidentally stumbled upon the entrance to the hidden tunnel.
And so, in this way, Meng Zhi successfully became the first court official to know of the lord and servant relationship between Prince Jing and Mei Changsu, and he took the opportunity to express to Prince Jing that, so long as doing so would not defy the Emperor’s command, he would certainly support him in the fight for the throne.
By this time, it was April.
The Da Chu ambassadors arrived outside of Jinling bearing impressive gifts, and as the Chu Emperor had sent his own nephew Prince Ling, Yuwen Xuan, as lead ambassador, the Liang Emperor naturally had to return the courtesy by arranging a member of his own royal family to meet them, and so Prince Yu received the imperial command and went to the city gates to welcome the party, arranging for them to stay at one of the outer residences of the imperial family, Baocheng Palace.
From the seriousness expressed by the Da Chu side and the courtesy shown by the Da Liang side, it seemed that this marriage pact was already seven or eight parts decided, and the meeting was only to facilitate the discussion of certain details.
A marriage pact between these two countries was no small matter. Although it had not yet been set in stone, preparations were already beginning in the palace and the court. On the fifth day after lead ambassador Yuwen Xuan’s audience with His Majesty, two imperial edicts were passed, the first raising Princess Jingning to a nine-pearl Princess, and the second bestowing unto the fifth-born Prince Huai his own official residence and seat. This seemed to reveal that the preliminary candidates for the marriage pact had already been chosen.
She had cried, and fought, and even attempted a hunger strike in protest, but in the end, Xiao Jingning finally yielded. As a Princess of Da Liang, she had understood from the beginning the shackles of responsibility that she could not shed, and her defiance against her father was only because she was unwilling to give up the happiness she had chosen for herself, and in the end, this defiance met only unfeeling imperial will. The Empress sent her most trusted serving girls to watch over the Princess night and day, and concubines and consorts from different palaces took their turns persuading and urging her in a hundred different ways. And so, in the Inner Palace, where the will of their lord Emperor was treated as law, Jingning did not receive any open support. This was because, to most of the cool eyes observing the scene, Jingning’s fate was no different from that of other princesses through the ages, and although she had not been more fortunate than most despite the Emperor’s doting on her, neither was she any less fortunate.
Every time Prince Jing entered the palace, he would go to visit this little sister of his, and as he saw that she was slowly accepting the reality of the situation, his worry began to lessen. When Xiao Jingning begged him to look after Guan Zhen in the future, he did not even have to think before giving her his word.
Recently, the Crown Prince was under punishment and could not participate in politics, and Prince Yu was even more active than usual in the court, participating enthusiastically in every debate that arose, regardless of the topic. The court was yet far from pledging him its complete loyalty, but in the face of his current triumph, unless he committed some grave mistake, most of the officials would not obstruct his rise. And, for some reason, in the last month, even the officials of the Crown Prince’s camp were being unusually respectful, and did not face off hotly against Prince Yu as they had done in the past. This prince was not only known for his virtuous appearance, his ability was not mediocre either, and his manor was full of talent as well, so it was rare indeed that he ever made truly unforgivable mistakes in important matters, and so, more and more, it began to look as if he was gaining the support of the court. No one knew what the Emperor thought about this, but on the surface, it did seem as if his favour towards Prince Yu was only increasing, as every time he encountered a difficult situation, he would discuss it first with him, and ask for his opinion. Word began to spread that His Highness Prince Yu would soon become His Highness the Crown Prince.
This kind of rumour naturally made its way to the Emperor’s ear, and when he questioned Meng Zhi, who was standing watch beside him as usual, Meng Zhi claimed to have never heard any such rumour. Although the Emperor admired his commitment to staying out of affairs unrelated to his work, he was still uneasy in his heart. Restless, he dismissed his carriage, and instead walked slowly back to the Inner Palace, accompanied only by his personal guards.
“Your Majesty, you will be going this evening to….” Gao Zhan, the head eunuch of the Six Palaces, listened attentively, waiting to notify the chosen palace so they could make preparations to receive the Emperor.
The Emperor’s steps slowed. The Empress had always been solemn and averse to pleasure. Recently, Consort Yue only spent her days crying for the Crown Prince, so he did not wish to see her either. The younger beauties were charming and gaudy, but he was not in that kind of mood today. And so, in the end, he only frowned, and ignored Gao Zhan.
Eunuch Gao, who had almost perfected the art of interpreting facial expressions, refrained from asking further, and only bowed as he followed behind the Emperor.
Lanterns lit the road ahead. Candlelight flickered from behind windows, glowing softly in the hazy dusk. But the Emperor turned towards the darkest paths, as if purposefully seeking out a kind of quiet calm.
He walked and walked, and suddenly, the scent of medicinal herbs drifted past. He raised his head and saw a small courtyard before him, simple and plain, as if he had left behind the glorious splendour of the imperial palace and entered into an elegant little herbal garden.
“What is this place?”
Gao Zhan hurriedly replied, “Your Majesty, this is the residence of my lady the Concubine Jing.”
“Concubine Jing….” The Emperor closed his eyes, as if in reminiscence. ….That’s right, Concubine Jing, Jingyan’s mother……he saw her often, when the ladies of the palace came to pay their respects on festivals and holidays, and she always stood quietly and inconspicuously near the back, never speaking unless spoken to, just as she had done since she first entered the palace.
“Gao Zhan, it’s been nearly thirty years since Concubine Jing entered the palace, hm?”
A sheen of cold sweat broke out on Gao Zhan’s back. He didn’t dare answer anything more than a quiet, “Yes.”
“After Yueyao gave birth to Jingyu, she was always sick, and didn’t seem to improve even after many years, so the Lin family was worried, and sent a female physician into the palace to care for her……we remember, Yueyao always treated her like a sister….”
Consort Chen Lin Yueyao, the Emperor’s eldest son Xiao Jingyu, these were all forbidden and taboo topics one could not bring up casually around the Emperor. Gao Zhan’s underclothes were half soaked in sweat, and he forced himself to slow his breathing as he bowed even lower.
The Emperor eyed him coldly, “You do not need to look so scared……go, send in my command, and have Concubine Jing prepare to receive me.”
Shortly after, the herbal-scented Zhiluo Palace lit up with lanterns and candles, and Concubine Jing and her serving girls emerged in formal dress, kneeling at the door to receive the Emperor.
The Emperor did not look at her closely, and only said, “Rise,” before striding into the main rooms. Concubine Jing hurriedly got up and followed, helping him remove his outer robes, and after glancing quietly at his face, she said gracefully, “Your Majesty looks fatigued, perhaps a herbal bath would be desirable?”
The Emperor knew she had been a physician and was naturally familiar with herbal remedies, and besides he was indeed tired, so he nodded his permission. Concubine Jing ordered for hot water and a bathing tub to be brought in, and prepared the herbs herself. Soon, the preparations were complete and she helped the Emperor into the tub, lit a stick of herbal incense, and then began to massage his head and shoulders. Although Concubine Jing was not young, and had never been a stunning beauty, her heart was tranquil, and her appearance well-maintained. Her hair was still dark, and her hands were smooth and strong, so her massage was very comfortable indeed.
It had been a long time since the Emperor had felt so peaceful and relaxed.
“Your Majesty, herbal baths dry the mouth, perhaps some herbal tea?” Concubine Jing asked quietly, lifting the slender cup to his lips. The Emperor did not even open his eyes as he drank slowly from the cup in her hands. The tea was crisp and fresh, with none of the bitterness of medicine, and suddenly, in his mind, blurred figures seemed to arise vaguely in the distance.
“Concubine Jing….we have neglected you in these years….” The Emperor raised his head and said with a sigh, holding her hand.
Hearing this, Concubine Jing did not seize the opportunity to air her grievances, but neither did she express humble thanks for these beautiful words. She only smiled, as if she had not taken his words to heart, and continued to gently massage the Emperor’s aching neck and shoulders.
“So many years have gone by in the blink of an eye, and we are growing old….” The Emperor knew well her quiet and contented nature, and so did not seem to mind her silence. “There is not much we can do to make up for it, but Jingyan is filial, and he will be a blessing to you.”
“Your Majesty speaks truly, with Jingyan here, your servant is content. This child values filial piety, and has a loyal² heart, and whenever he is in the capital, he will always come to pay his greetings. As long as I can see him, your servant is happy, no matter what.”
The Emperor glanced at her, but her clear, gentle gaze was only full of motherly affection, and his heart softened. “Jingyan is a good and loyal child, how could we not know that? It is only that he is a little stubborn……some of his talents have been suppressed, and we have not given him many opportunities. But do not worry, we will take care of him, the battlefield is deadly and dangerous, and in the future, we will send him out as little as possible….”
“If it is the need of the court, he ought to go if he should go,” Concubine Jing said tranquilly. “Your servant is not familiar with matters outside the palace, but as a prince, it is the duty of his birth to protect the country. Although this child is not ostentatious, he holds Your Majesty in his heart, and Da Liang as well. If Your Majesty protects him out of love, and allows him to remain in the capital in ease and comfort, he would feel even more wronged.”
The Emperor couldn’t help smiling. “You are right. Jingyan has an honest heart, and even when he is wronged, he will not come to us to protest. Although it is true that we are lord and servant before father and son, sometimes he is a little too distant. In this way, he is rather like you.”
“The dragon has nine sons³, and each is unique. Your Majesty’s own princes are naturally distinct in their personalities as well.”
The Emperor’s brow jumped, and he thought again of the fight between the Crown Prince and Prince Yu, and a wave of melancholy arose in his heart.
To the emperors of dynasties past and present, having a unanimously beloved heir with both talent and integrity by their sides was not necessarily a comfortable situation. And so, although he had declared a Crown Prince, he nonetheless heaped favour onto Prince Yu in order to weaken the Eastern Palace’s influence, so that it would not acquire enough power to threaten the throne. But Crown Prince Xiao Jingxuan’s birth mother was a highly-favoured consort, and he himself had never committed any major errors, so you could not say that the Emperor had planned all along to remove his title. It was only this past half year, when his reputation had been sullied time and again, that the Emperor was truly angered, and began considering replacing his position, and so confined him to Guijia Palace and forbade him to participate in politics. Originally, Prince Yu was the most likely candidate for the Eastern Palace, and it would have been the natural conclusion for him to replace the Crown Prince’s position, but….
“Concubine Jing, what do you think about Prince Yu?” No one could deny that the Inner Palace had long established their own camps. But who could have thought that it was in the presence of this low-ranking concubine, who had stood aloof from worldly affairs for the past thirty years, that he could ask this question without doubt or hesitation?
“Your servant thinks Prince Yu has a handsome countenance and a noble manner, and is a very lordly prince.”
“We were not asking about his appearance….”
“I beg Your Majesty’s forgiveness, apart from his appearance and manner, your servant has very little knowledge about Prince Yu. I have heard the ladies of the palace discussing him on occasion, and saying that he is a wise prince.”
“Hmph,” the Emperor scoffed. “What do women of the palace know about wisdom? This kind of saying must have been passed along from somewhere else! These days, whenever the court discusses anything, all the ministers look to him first and follow his word blindly, he must be wise indeed!”
“This too must be because of Your Majesty’s heavy favour,” Concubine Jing answered indifferently. “Before, when the Crown Prince was in the court, was it not also like this?”
Her seemingly offhand comments struck the Emperor hard.
Even the Crown Prince, lord of the Eastern Palace and governing by imperial will, had not experienced such wholehearted support in the court. Prince Yu was yet only a Royal Prince, and he already commanded such respect and influence, if he was crowned as heir, he feared….
“Your Majesty, the water has cooled, please rise.” Concubine Jing did not seem to notice that the Emperor was deep in thought, and helped him up as she called for towels to be brought, helping him dry himself and change into soft robes, and then guided him over to the bed to sleep, kneeling down beside him to massage his feet.
“You must be tired as well,” the Emperor sat up and held onto Concubine Jing’s hands, which had been kneading busily. “….sleep.”
Concubine Jing turned her face to him serenely, the soft glow of the lamp erasing the lines of age on her face, making her appear even more gentle than usual. She gave him an unusually sweet smile, and answered lightly, “Yes, your Majesty….”
¹generic term for the Northern ethnic minorities during the Qin and Han dynasties
²the word used here (and by the Emperor in the next lines) is actually qing yi, which I never know how to translate. It means valuing friendship and being loyal to your friends, it means affection and brotherhood, it means love. It’s the ‘brotherhood’ part of the title of the last book, ‘Brotherhood Eternal’. So anyway, it’s more than loyalty.
³an idiom meaning ‘it takes all sorts to make a world’ (I don’t think it means this Emperor literally has nine sons)
1. JINGMUM IS DA BOMB ❤
2. Random, but is a brilliant analysis I just discovered of Lin Shu / Mei Changsu / Su Zhe’s names, aka, in which Lin Shu (and Hai Yan) was just being a massive troll.
3. I mentioned this a few chapters ago, but unfortunately, this will be the last chapter posted until April, as I need to go handle this catastrophe called final exams. I’m so sorry, and so grateful for your patience. THANK YOU GUYS SO MUCH ❤ I WILL BE BACK.
I have a few more of those LYB filming behind the scenes stories translated, so maybe I’ll queue those up to post every couple of weeks during the hiatus.
P. P. S.
THINGS TO KEEP YOU BUSY:
So there! That should be enough to tide y’all over for a month or two! And I’m sure people will be adding more fun LYB things in the comments, so I leave assured that you will all take good care of each other while I go off to do battle with twelve exams.
See you in April 🙂