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Chapter 1: A’Bao

In the main hall of Bi’xiao Palace, a little euniche dressed in gray put down the the golden cage in his hands to kneel down and pay his respects to the virtuous consort.

The floor of the main hall is paved with extravagant gold bricks.  Despite the name, these gold bricks in actuality are black in color, with delicate and smooth surfaces, emitting ripple like waves of light. As though he was captivated by the radiance, the little euniche became a little dizzy, involuntarily blinked his eyes, and slightly lifted his head towards the embroidered shoes of the virtuous consort sitting in the head seat.

This is a pair of brocade shoes embroidered with goldfinch patterns throughout, embellished in full with little red and green gems, aligned along the tail feathers of the finches into long and collected swirls, glittering, colorful and gorgeous – truly beautiful. Rumor has it that this pair of shoes was drawn by the virtuous consort in her spare time. The emperor liked it when he caught sight of it, and especially commissioned several Siamese artisans to work day and night to complete the shoes as a gift on the birthday of the consort, reddening the eyes of the mass of concubines with envy. To receive such attention from the emperor even for things as insignificant as the daily necessities, the virtuous concubine’s degree of favor is clear to see. It’s no wonder that even Noble Consort Li, who presides over the six palaces, has to evade her spotlight.

Thinking of this, the little euniche put up an even more respectful face.

The woman in the head seat is dressed in extravagant court attire, covered with intricate goldfinch patterns embroidered out of gold and silver thread.  She carried herself with a brilliant radiance, making her difficult to even gaze straight at. Although just seventeen, an incredibly young and naïve age, the woman’s beauty, resembling the loveliness of a blooming lotus, with gently flowing hair and noble aura, weakened the naivete from her brows.  Her well defined phoenix eyes in particular, enhanced with eye-shadow by the thickening of the slightly lifted corners,  emanate an even stronger sharp and imposing air about her.

The little euniche took just one quick peek before not daring to take a second glance. He thought to himself: As a figure who such rivals heavenly maiden, it is no wonder that she rose straight to the head of the four concubines from the position of a lowly Gui’ren in three short years.  Even the empress met her demise in her hands, not to mention companions of old,  like Noble Consort Li, who have long lost their past beauty. When the virtuous consort’s father – the Jian’wei General – returns victorious from the military assault on the barbarians, this harem will no doubt fall entirely to the grasp of the virtuous consort.  Perhaps the emperor may even been so exuberant as to ascends her to the position of the empress.

Silently thinking to himself, the little euniche bared a flattering smile.  After the virtuous consort gives him permission to rise, he brings the golden cage forward with him. He points to the baby pups in the cage and starts introducing them enthusiastically.

In the cage are a few white Tibetan Mastiffs, their long straight fur exhibit a lustrous shine, combed to perfection.  Their bodies were still particularly petite due to having yet to reach a month in age.  The little white fur-balls squeeze together, appearing all the more lovable and adorable.

A sudden spark flashes through as the virtuous consort slightly squints her phoenix eyes. She straightens her back and uncontrollably leans forward, peering into the golden cage.

“This is…..” she asks hesitantly as she points to the two brown items in the corner of the cage, slightly furrowing her brows.

“Your ladyship, this breed of dog was imported as tribute half a year ago from a foreign nation called Gaul  to our great nation of Zhou.  It is said that their court dogs breeds are considered acceptably fine.  Coincidentally, this breed of dog recently had a litter, this servant thought that there may be a master that likes them and brought one over,” the little euniche respectfully replied.

Compared to Pekingese dogs and Tibetan Mastiffs, this breed of foreign dog has loose fur curling at the ends, appearing very messy.  The coat also looks as if it’s been tainted brown as dirt, deviating greatly from Zhou dynasty’s sense of aesthetics.  Although the pups appear rather subpar, they have good lineage.  The low ranking concubines who have neither favor nor status would not get much of a choice and may be happy to adopt them.  Considering this situation, the little euniche picked two more to bring with him last minute.

Gaul? France? A flash passed throw the virtuous consorts eyes. Slightly parting her lips, “Bring the cage up, let us see closely.”

The little euniche heeded in a low voice, held the cage before his chest, and carefully walked to feet of the chair where the virtuous consort sits, taking a subservient stance.

The virtuous consort leaned forward, gazing toward the two brown fur-balls in the cage.  Sure enough, these are two French Poodles.  Their soft curly fur are a delectable chocolate coat, luscious from proper care.  They appear very healthy, their water obsidian eyes delightful to look at from all angles.

Having come from modern civilization,  the virtuous consort’s sense of aesthetics were distinctly unique from others.  To her, these two puppies were not a bit ugly, and instead incredibly adorable.

Under the virtuous consorts gaze, the slightly thinner brown fur-ball seemed a little anxious.  It turned its back to her and hid back into a corner of the cage, leaving his audience to appreciate only his fluffy butt. His balled up back somehow gave a sense of perplexity and confusion. His brother, possibly sensing his insecurity, glomped on top of him, attempting to give him a warm, comforting embrace – only to be unsuspectingly slapped away with by his little paw.  The fluid action held an indescribable sense of imperious dominance.  But in combination with his petite round body  and little tubby paws, the process was comical no matter how you looked at it.

The virtuous consort couldn’t help but laugh, using one hand to cover her up her smile with her embroidered handkerchief and the other to point at the fur-ball in the cage saying, “this one seems so animate, leave him here.”

The little euniche heeded, lifted the brown furball out from the cage and gave him to the head chambermaid, Bi Shui.  He then briefed on many points to take note of in regard the caring and raising of the puppy, after which he collected a bulging purse into his sleeves and left Bi Xiao Palace.

The virtuous consort immediately slumped down from her befitting posture as soon as the little euniche was out of sight.  Sensually laying down on her chaise lounge, she removed her glittering gold fake nails and reached her arms out towards her head chambermaid Bi Shui, eagerly exclaiming, “Quickly pass him to me!”  At this moment, it was as though her noble demeanor was blown away by a gust into oblivion.

“Your ladyship, please be careful.  This rascal is rather unruly and hard to hold,” Bi Shui tightened her grip to restrain the struggling puppy, passing him to the virtuous consort while warning.  She did not realize, however, that the little pup froze momentarily at the word “rascal.”

By the time the little puppy woke from his daze, he was already shifted to the embrace of the virtuous consort.  The virtuous consort gently and slowly pet his back with her slender white fingers, leaving a tingling sensation, making him involuntarily let out a little whimper.

“He’s acting spoiled, how cute!” A smile could be heard in the virtuous consort’s gentle and lucid voice, making it very alluring.  The little pup squinted his eyes, momentarily in a drunken state of enamor, following which his body froze and he began a fiercer skirmish.

“Little one don’t squirm, you’ll fall and get hurt!” the virtuous consort became flustered seeing the little pup dive out of her arms. She rushed to reach out her arms to try to catch him.

But she was still a step too late.  The little pup fell out of her arms and dropped straight to the floor below the chaise lounge.  Although there is a thick sheep fur rug to break the fall, the pup is, after all, not yet a month old.  His body is still too weak to take a fall like this.  This was not a light fall. After the fall, the puppy directly sprawled out on the rug unable to pick himself up. With his little mouth half open and not even a single full grown tooth in sight, he humphed and panted, looking very pitiful.

The virtuous consort quickly bent down to pick the little pup up into her arms and spread out his arms and legs to carefully check up on him. At the same time, she tasked Bi Shui and Yin Cui to call for an imperial physician.

The imperial physician came and left, throughout which the little pup obediently allowed people to fiddle with him, quietly and without a struggle.

“So good!” the virtuous consort’s stiff pretty face revealed a small smile after she confirmed that the little pup was not harmed.  Using her fingertips to pet the little pup’s head, she heavy-heartedly enjoined, “You are still young.  If you want to see this world, there is no need to race against the clock. When you get older and nimble you can go anywhere you wish.”

The little pup lifted his head up and inspected the virtuous consort with unexplainably complicated look in his obsidian eyes.   His eyes seem to carry innumerous emotions as a human’s can, seeming extremely vivid.  The virtuous consort found his deep gaze rather unexpected.  When she was about to take a closer look, the little pup already lowered his head again, laying in her arms motionless. His soft little body had no energy to the extent that it exuded the sense of helplessness of giving oneself up to fate.

The virtuous consort deduced that she must have thought to much.  She asked for head nurse Feng to brew a bowl of minced meat congee.

The delectable minced meat congee with a delicious wafting aroma was quickly completed.  Head nurse Feng waited for the congee to cool before carrying it back to Bi'xiao Palace and putting it on top a rosewood square table.  The virtuous consort walks over, puts the little pup down, points at the bowl of congee and gently says, “eat, little one.”

The little puppy could barely wait to leave the embrace of the virtuous consort and sit properly on the table.  He took a glance at the minced meat congee, another glance at the virtuous consort, then just stayed still and unmoved.

The virtuous consort reached out and gently nudged the little puppy’s butt, gently coaxing, “little one, your stomach was just growling, why are you not eating now?”

The little puppy slightly scooched his body, continued to sit silently, completely unfazed, awarding the congee not even a glance from the corner of his eyes.

An idea sparked through the virtuous consort’s eyes.  She momentarily entered into deep thought, then raised her hand to beckon the servants beside her, “The emperor suffered severe injuries and is currently on bed rest.  His daily tonics cannot be interrupted. Come, follow us to the storage to pick some appropriate herbs to send over.”

The crowd of servants heeded in unison and filed out of the main hall, following behind the virtuous consort. It soon became quiet inside the hall.  About a 15 minutes later, the minced meat already completely cooled, but the fresh scent of the meat still remained in the air, continuously triggering the little pup’s taste buds.  He took a gulp and subtly stretched his head and neck.  Confirming that there were no people around with a quick scan, he lifted his tiny plump paws and pita-patted to beside the bowl. He first took a quick whiff sniffing with his nose, then he extended his little pink tongue and took a lick.  After discovering the taste was better than imagined, he let out an excited squeal and chowed away with his head buried in the bowl.

“Pfft! So the little one was embarrassed!” the virtuous consort hiding behind the door almost fell down laughing while her servants also could not hold in their laughter.

The little pup’s body froze at the sound of the low laughter keeping his head buried in the bowl.  A moment later, perhaps having prepared himself mentally, the little pup shifted his direction with his butt facing the virtuous consort and her maids.  He thrust his head into the bowl to continued his meal again, with much of a sense of letting the broken pot smash. (TN: It can also be throwing in the towel, but I felt that the direct translation worked just as well if you think it through.)

Seeing such, the virtuous consort walked out from her hiding place and sat before the table.  She tilts her head, props it in one hand and begins appreciating the scene of the little pup’s cute eating portrait.

At first, the little puppy occasionally took a glance at her.  After seeing her sitting quietly at one side, not making any noise nor movement, he dropped his guard and focused his attention on eating.

When the little pup finishes a small bowl of congee, the virtuous consort carries him down from the table and takes him on a stroll around Bi’xiao Palace to digest the meal.  The hour passes by quickly and seeing the darkening of the skies, the virtuous consort hurriedly orders the maids to prepare hot water and a brazier, personally giving the little puppy a bath.

A newborn pup should not take baths or enter water until after four months.  However, the little puppy was raised at the Taming Enclosure where the servants were not particularly meticulous in care-giving, so a displeasing stench was on his body.  After taking a sniff, the virtuous consort decided to use a warm wet cloth to give the puppy a simple wipe down.

Unlike restless other puppies, the little puppy was very cooperative throughout the whole process, making the virtuous consort rather surprised. “If we are not mistaken, this little one is not only sprightly but also intelligent!” the virtuous consort’s voice was somewhat boastful, but also pampering while she squished the little puppies plump paws.  Raising pets also depends on serendipity – she and the little one must be predestined for if not how did she fall in love at first sight?

“Your ladyship, we can’t just keep calling him little one, how about picking a name for him?” Yin Cui suggested gleefully.

“Uh-huh,” lightly squinting her pheonix eyes, the virtuous onsort thought for a moment and decided, “let’s call him A’Bao,our treasure.”

A’Bao? The little puppy’s body stiffened. (TN: Why he no like such a cute name ._. )

The virtuous consort was oblivious to his reaction and passed the damp little puppy to Bi Shui waiting on the side with a dry towel. The two blazing braziers expelled the cold of early autumn. Our newly made-over buddy A’Bao dazed off at the brazier while quietly listening to the virtuous consort and the servants converse while curled up in a towel on her lap.

“A’Bao fell asleep, bring his little nest over. Just put it in my sleeping quarters.” Seeing that the little puppy was dry, breathing deeply with his eyes tightly shut, the virtuous concubine quietly arranged, stopping the conversation.

Head Nurse Feng quickly brought a woven basket covered with layers of small blankets to the corner of the sleeping quarters.  The virtuous consort carefully laid A’Bao inside, considerately covering his little stomach with a soft cloth before slipping away quietly.

Waiting until the virtuous consort slipped away, the supposedly fast asleep A’Bao suddenly opened his eyes.  His gaze was sharp, as if able to see through everything, an uncanny combination with his small round body.

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