This chapter has been provided to you by me, ororomunroe90, vivie and leecherleechleech.
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Chapter Eighty Eight Crowned Empress
Several plain carriages entered through the side door of the Imperial Palace's main gates. The guards protecting the doors watched as the carriages slowly moved away. This procession, compared to when the Empress niangniang had came into the palace, was drastically lacking.
Right now, the Emperor hadn't officially crowned the Empress, but due to the fuss at Royal Court, who in the palace didn't know that Qu shi was the unofficial Empress? They didn't know how many palace maids and taijian in the Department of Household Affairs were currently breaking their backs trying to get a chance to serve the Empress. It was a pity that the Emperor had personally picked the servants for Empress. Just the amount of care that the Emperor was taking was enough to let everyone in the palace understand very clearly that, in the heart of the Emperor, those shiqie of Duan Wang Fu added up together couldn't even compare to one finger of the Empress.
"Stop!" The long thin voice of a taijian sounded from outside the carriage. The carriages simultaneously stopped. The taijian in command looked at the carriages behind him, and announced in a loud voice: "Please, mistresses, get off the carriage and proceed to the step-carriage."
Jiang Yong Yu held Ai Lu's hand to get off the carriage. She saw that there were four step-carriages not too far away, one of which was grander than the others. Before she could react, the taijian who had been speaking walked in front of her, smiling as he greeted: "Greetings to niangniang, nucai is Yu Ping Palace's chief steward He Shou. Please, come this way." He reached out his arm to usher Jiang Yong Yu to the finest step-carriage.
As she supported Jiang Yong Yu, Ai Lu's heart leapt in joy. This taijian dared to call her mistress niangniang, didn't that mean the Emperor was going to give her mistress a high rank?
After Jiang Yong Yu settled on the step-carriage, the taijian raised a hand: "Up." He didn't care about the other three and walked away with Jiang Yong Yu.
After Jiang Yong Yu's step-carriage started moving, another taijian came up to call the other women and ushered them onto the remaining step-carriages to follow behind Jiang Yong Yu.
These shiqie had to first greet the Empress after entering the palace. After they travelled a certain distance, near the back hall of Tian Qi Palace, the step-carriages were lowered and the four had to proceed on foot.
He Shou walked to the entrance of the back hall and said to the taijian guarding the door: "The people of Duan Wang Fu have been received into the palace. Can I trouble gonggong to report?"
The taijian guarding the door wasn't as highly ranked as He Shou but his post was at Tian Qi Palace. He saw that He Shou was very polite and naturally didn't make it difficult for him. He raised his hands to He Shou: "So it's He gonggong. Please wait, this one will go in to ask."
"Thanks, thanks!" The smile of He Shou's face became even friendlier. Seeing the other go in to investigate, he turned to walk next to Jiang Yong Yu, informing in a small voice, "Niangniang, because the renovations of Kui Yuan Palace are quite extensive, the Empress is temporarily living in the back hall of Tian Qi Palace. The Yu Ping Palace you will live in isn't far from Kui Yuan, so it is very convenient for you to give morning greetings to the Empress in the future."
Jiang Yong Yu realized why this one called He Shou was the chief taijian steward in her palace. She quickly examined him. Seeing his conduct and awareness of boundaries, he didn't seem stupid. She nodded, "The Empress is of the highest position. It's natural that it would take more effort to renovate her residence."
He Shou gave a smile, releasing a breath inside. Originally, he was worried that he would have to serve a stupid mistress. Taking a closer look now, this one was a smart person indeed. She should be one. Out of the four shiqie, only she was made a fei. Even her residence was the Yu Ping Palace, which wasn't far from Kui Yuan Palace. That, at least, made it clear that the Empress was closest to her.
It wasn't clear whether the Emperor liked her or not. But if even the Empress didn't like her, how would he live in the future?
Feng Zi Jin stood behind Jiang Yong Yu, her expression ugly. From entering the palace until now, these people were overly and secretly flattering Jiang Yong Yu. Was it that she would be the highest-ranked out of the four of them in the future?
She had the highest birth of the four, but why was the highest now Jiang Yong Yu?
Luo Yin Xiu and Han Qing He docilely stood nearby. They didn't dare to even raise their heads to look at the door to the back hall, and just waited for the Empress' summons.
The four stood for a while before the taijian who had been guarding the door came out. His face was full of smiles as he announced: "The Empress invites zhuzi inside, please." Jin Zhan came out and bowed to the four people, "Honorable mistresses, please follow nubi."
"Thank you for your trouble, Jin Zhan guniang," Jiang Yong Yu smiled at her and lifted her foot to start walking towards the inside.
"Nubi is not worthy," Jin Zhan retreated to the side and made an inviting motion, ushering the four inside the hall.
"Niangniang, the honourable mistresses have come," Huang Yang reported in a small voice. By now, everyone in the other parts of the palace called Qu Qing Ju the Empress, but the people who attended Qu Qing Ju still called her "niangniang." That was because it hadn't formally come down so it was inappropriate to call her Empress.
Qu Qing Ju opened her sleepy eyes and saw the four walking in. They simultaneously knelt down, did a three bow, nine kowtow full greeting.
Qu Qing Ju kept her face up as she was bowed to by the four of them. After they finished, she gave them each a seat. She examined the four women. They were dressed tastefully, it seemed they had put some effort in their appearances to enter the palace.
"It’s been a long time since we saw each other, is everyone fine?" Qu Qing Ju raised a teacup to take a sip, slowly waving the fan in her hand, "We wanted to welcome you into the palace earlier but there were several reasons for the delay. One was that the residences hadn't been prepared and the second was that it hadn't been long after the passing of xiandi. A few delays and the days became more than a month."
"Thanks, niangniang, for thinking of us, pinqie is perfectly fine," Jiang Yong Yu answered, "It's just that pinqie were all worried about niangniang who was tired by the affairs of running the hougong. So we didn't send any messages to you. After seeing you today, it does seem that Empress is thinner."
It was a lie that Qu Qing Ju was thinner, but since she was wearing a white robe, she did seem weaker than she usually did in the fu.
Jiang Yong Yu secretly examined the other. She didn't know if it was her false perception but she felt that the Empress' appearance had changed from when she had just married into the fu. But after thinking about her silent and dull personality when the Empress had just married, she attributed the changes to her dressing differently.
Appearances originated from the heart. The core had been changed so there were some changes in looks. Qu Qing Ju had looked at herself in the mirror and hadn't found much of a difference. She smiled and responded, "It must be that more sweat flowed under the hot weather of the summer which has caused the thinning."
"That's so true, this summer is the hardest to endure," Han Qing He carefully took over, "Niangniang also has to take care of the numerous matters of hougong, how would you not thin?"
Not long after they came in, they saw He Heng walk in wearing a soft brocade robe embroidered with dragons. He walked very quickly, not looking at the shiqie sitting to the side and raised the cup that Qu Qing Ju had been drinking tea from to take a mouthful. Then he sat down on the other chair at the front, "The days are becoming hotter. Just coming in from the front hall was a struggle."
"Greetings to Emperor." Jiang Yong Yu and the others hastily stood and bowed. If He Heng didn't call for them to stand, they didn't dare straighten.
"En, you entered the palace today?" He Heng glanced casually over the four people. He frowned slightly, "Since you have finished the greetings, return to your residences." He waves his hands, clearly not wanting too many people to remain here.
"Qie asks to be excused." Jiang Yong Yu and the others bowed and left. Coming out of the doors to the back hall, they saw some taijian holding long bamboo sticks with a cloth bag catching summer cicadas. They couldn't help but ask, "What are you doing?"
He Shou, who had been waiting outside, quickly answered: "Just now when the Emperor came, he heard the sounds of the cicadas and said that the Empress hadn't rested properly these days. He ordered the servants to drive away the cicadas so the Empress could take a good noon nap."
Jiang Yong Yu looked at the scattering cicadas. No wonder the Emperor was in a hurry to send them away. He had been annoyed with them for disturbing the Empress' noon nap.
Walking at the back, Feng Zi Jin jerked her mouth but didn't dare say anything. She felt that the care that the Emperor took with Qu Qing Ju was becoming over the top.
On the second day after the shiqie entered the palace, He Heng sent down the decree which bestowed the titles for the hougong.
The Empress of xiandi was made Mu Hou Huang Tai Hou,[i] and was to reside in the eastern Chang Ning palace. He Heng's birth mother Jing guifei was made Sheng Mu Huang Tai Hou [ii] and her residence was the western Fu Shou [iii] Palace. An guipin was promoted to gui taifei, Shu guifei to gui taifei. According to the old traditions, both could be received by their sons to live outside the palace. The other feipin of xiandi were also promoted. But some had to move to the auxiliary palace while others stayed in the palace.
"Zhen's wife Qu shi, praised by xiandi to be full of good fortune to be especially decreed in marriage to zhen. Qu shi entered the fu at fifteen years, gentle, excellent and perceptive, kind and virtuous, spirited and elegant, peerlessly intelligent, a rarity in the world. She serves zhen personally in all matters, and is the epitome of a woman and the mother to the world. Zhen has such a wife, it is the blessing of the Heavens. Today, this decree is sent to the world to crown her as the mother of the world.
– By the Emperor"
This Imperial Decree, which later historians believe it to be evidence of the great love He Heng held for his Empress, was recited like so in front of all the officials. After one recitation at court, they had to recite it again in front of the Empress. Afterwards, the Imperial Astronomers calculated an auspicious time to proceed with the full crowning ceremony for her to receive the gold seal and gold book, before it was truly over.
When Qu Qing Ju heard the first-rank palace maid recite the Imperial Decree crowning her Empress in Tian Qi Palace, she was suspicious that this wasn't really a decree crowning her empress, but a love letter that He Heng wrote to her and broadcasted it to the world. What was "spirited and elegant, peerlessly intelligent, a rarity in the world"? And that "zhen has such a wife, it is the blessing of the Heavens?"
Had he never heard a phrase called, "show your love, die even quicker"?
"Congratulations Empress, congratulations Empress." The palace personnel in the room all gave their congratulations, the smile on their faces even brighter than Qu Qing Ju's.
With both hands, she took the Imperial Decree from the female official before she stood. Qu Qing Ju looked at the Imperial Decree in her hands. She knew He Heng's writing. The words on this Imperial Decree had been personally written by He Heng, and not by the imperial assistant.
"Congratulations, Empress," The female official performed a full greeting to Qu Qing Ju.
Qu Qing Ju let someone reward the female official. After the official left, she saw the servants in the room were all brimming with joy and remarked: "Why is it that you are all happier than I am?"
Mu Jin bent slightly as she replied; "Empress' happy occasion is nubi's good occasion. Why wouldn't nubi be happy?"
Qu Qing Ju smiled as she shook her head. She rewarded everyone in the back hall who had served her. After the people that had nothing to do all left, she read the Imperial Decree in her hand again. A long time later, she sighed: "Mu Jin, lock it up."
In Zhuo Jing Zai, Feng Zi Jin looked in disbelief at the Imperial Decree in her hand. She couldn't believe that the Emperor only made her a small minor seventh-grade cairen.
"By the Mandate of Heaven, the Emperor has spoken: "The daughter of the Feng Clan served zhen in the house. Today, is made a cairen and given the title Ping [iv]."
Ping, what sort of title was this?
After the better part of an hour, Chun Yu who went out to gather news came back. Feng Zi Jin put down the Imperial decree in her hands, asking: "Did you find out what the other people's ranks are?"
Chun Yu trembled and shrank into her shoulders as she responded: "Zhuzi, nubi …… nubi found out. Jiang ce fei was promoted to Heng[v] fei, Luo yiniang promoted to guipin, Han yiniang …… was promoted to liangdi."
"Even Han Qin He was given a fifth-grade langdi?" Feng Zi Jin's face paled and she fell back into her chair. She looked dispiritedly at the Imperial Decree on the table. Did the Emperor dislike her this much?
[i] Mother Empress Grand Empress Dowager
[ii]圣母皇太后: Holy Mother Grand Empress Dowager
[iii]福寿: happiness and longevity
[iv]平 means peaceful, flat, calm.
[v]贤: worthy, virtuous