Chapter 2: The Virtuous Consort
Actually, since half a month prior, A’Bao was already not the original A’Bao. His little body now housed the soul of the current emperor Gu Shaoze. However, despite now having such a powerful soul, A’Bao was still just a dog, a strange looking foreign breed.
This was probably the real meaning of “a tiger fallen to prairie harassed by a pack; a dragon at bay taunt by shrimp.”
(TN: Originally ‘虎落平阳被犬欺，龙困浅滩遭虾戏’, the meaning is similar to Confucius’s “even the greatest of whales is helpless in the desert,” basically, when things are outside of their niche or realm they are helpless to creatures that were originally much weaker. This quote is from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.)
After falling from the horse on the way back from visiting the Empress Dowager at Thousand Buddha Mountain half a month ago, he woke up as a little dog in the Taming Enclosure. Thinking back on eating and living with a bunch of imbeciles in the past month, and being forced to drink a bitch’s milk, Emperor Zhou’wu’s face turned blue. It was good that his fur was thick, so even if he scrunched his face into distorted expressions, the servants in the Taming Enclosure were unsuspecting. Otherwise, he may have had already been burned at the stake.
As an emperor, his mind and perseverance always surpassed those of normal people. After going through the initial shock, fear, anxiety, confusion, Emperor Zhou’wu quickly adapted to his circumstances. He neither starved himself to death, nor committed suicide on the spot. He was simply thinner and weaker than most puppies due to being unwilling to drink milk and distaste for the mushed up dog food.
The Taming Enclosure was built in the Inner Palace. The little eunuchs in the enclosure sometimes gossiped about some of the insignificant events in the palace. After half a month of eavesdropping, Emperor Zhou’wu knew that he did not die from his accident, but instead remained unconscious from heavy injuries. His body woke up ten days ago and was currently in bed rest at Cheng’qing Palace. Of course, these were just rumors he heard, no one knew of the inside scoop.
‘Am I really awake? Or perhaps is my body in the same situation as A’Bao where a foreign soul has taken over the physical body? Would the soul be human or monster? Would it be a danger to my empire?’ These questions enveloped Emperor Zhou’wu’s mind, making him ill at ease and unable to rest. If it wasn’t for his weak body and being closed in a cage, he would have ran to Cheng’qing Palace long ago to search for the truth.
When the little eunuch was carefully picking puppies to send to each palace’s concubines earlier in the morning, Emperor Zhou’wu knew that his chance to escape his cage had come. He switched from his usual listless state to lively and obedient. By repeatedly sticking himself in front of the little eunuch, in addition showing a pair of lively eyes, he was picked as expected to be brought to the inner palace.
Curling himself up on one side of the cage, he watched as the path below his feet extended nonstop. As they passed by the cracks, he realized how the cracks in the pavement now seemed like steep steps, something he normally would not notice. As he noticed this, Emperor Zhou’wu’s feelings suddenly became complicated.
Passing each threshold of the giant doorways, looking at the luminous black bricks, Emperor Zhou’wu knew they arrived in the inner palace. Unable to see the palace’s complete appearance and the palace sign hanging off the roof post, he was not sure exactly where this was. However, when he lifted his head to face the woman in palace attire sitting in the head seat, he realized, this must be Bi’xiao Palace. The palace of the virtuous consort, the head of the four consorts.
The virtuous consort was his most ‘favored’ consort. In this forbidden palace full if toadying and jeering, it was understandable that the little eunuch would bring pets to the virtuous consort for first pick.
(TN: Toadying and jeering was translated from the idiom 踩低捧高, usually 捧高踩低. It directly translates to ‘Lift the tall/high, step on the short/low’, meaning to put those in power on a pedastal and at the same time mocking and discriminating against those with less power. )
Dog eyes cannot see color – the world is just black and white to them. If it wasn’t for this experience, Emperor Zhou’wu would have never learned this. After struggling to survive in in a dark gray world for half a month, Emperor Zhou’wu was incredibly excited to suddenly see a familiar face. He stared blankly at the seated woman’s face, forgetting to react.
The gorgeously dressed woman slightly tilted her body towards him. That ink-like dark thick hair, that snow-like glowing translucent skin, that highly contrasting black and white eyes; a sort of austere and noble air emanated from her. There is only one word that can describe her – beautiful. A type of unearthly beauty, more beautiful than the her in color. Perhaps due to a different angle, perhaps due to a different mindset, Emperor Zhou’wu became a little entranced with one look.
This beautiful woman before his eyes who seemed as if she walked out of a painting was his own consort, while he was meeting her as a dog. Realizing this, he quickly awoke from his daze and curled his body away, wishing he could immediately dissipate in the air.
However, the gods did not hear his prayer. Not only did he not disappear, he was also picked by the virtuous consort. Picked up by the little eunuch by the neck and handed to a maid. And in this maid’s mouth he was referred to as a ‘rascal,’ Emperor Zhou’wu’s entire body was stiff. He wanted to snap, but couldn’t.
In the moment that he dozed off, the virtuous consort carried him into her arms. Her embrace was soft and warm, and even had a light waft of entrancing fragrance. An opposite extreme to the freezing cold imprisoning cage with odd odors. Under the virtuous consort’s gentle petting, he was almost bewitched. But at the thought that a emperor such as he was being played with in the lap of his consort, he felt humiliated and began struggling intensely. Breaking away from the arms of the virtuous consort, falling heavily to the ground, he suddenly realized that he was no longer Emperor Zhou’wu but a puppy that was not even a month old. The pain throughout his body reminded him that he would definitely be unable to survive in the forbidden palace if he left the protection of this woman. Before he figured out if the emperor in the palace was human or monster, whether it was endangering his empire, he could not die.
Thus, he gave up his displeasure and resistance, forced down the humiliation in his heart, and allowed these people to fiddle with him. During this time frame, the virtuous consort’s change perplexed him.
This woman considerately prepared him a delicious smooth minced meat congee, almost making the Emperor Zhou’wu who has ate half a month of dog food shed tears. This woman allowed him to eat on the table and not drive him away to a damp dark corner. This woman took on the job of bathing him herself, gentle and experienced in the process, not a bit like the impatient and crass students of the Taming Enclosure. This woman used a gentle voice and soft tone to talk to him, with a peaceful and sincere attitude, as if she were facing a human. Or more exactly, as if she were facing a child.
Emperor Zhou’wu fixed his gaze with on the virtuous consort’s gentle brows and eyes without blinking an eye, feeling incredibly complicated. Was this still the capricious and stringent Meng Sangyu who forced the empress to death, suppressed the Noble Consort, and surmounted the inner palace? With this entrancing smile, eyes full of spirit, he could barely recognize her.
However, after getting tossed around all day, Emperor Zhou’wu was already too tired to investigate. In the warmth of the blazing brazier and the gentle petting of the virtuous consort, he soon dozed off into sleep. This was the first time in half a month that he was able to sleep so sweetly and deeply.
But when the virtuous consort carefully laid him into the basket, the highly alert Emperor still immediately woke up. It wasn’t until after the virtuous consort quietly shifted away that he opened his dark black eyes, gazing at her back with complicated eyes for a long time.
Pulling at the little cloth on top of his stomach, Emperor Zhou’wu reflected on his toasty fresh dumb name. A little humiliated, a little helpless, but also a little comforted.
A’Bao, heart’s treasure? What stupid name is this? She really is an uncultured daughter of a general after all, not a single bit of eloquence. He wanted to snort a laugh, but when he discovered that he could only make a soft and sweet whine, Emperor Zhou’wu’s face turned green then white. He angrily slapped at the little cloth on his stomach with his paws and slowly closed his eyes.
A quarter till four, the skies were still gray, but dawn was already breaking in the east. There wouldn’t be much time before the warm light of dawn shined upon the land. At five, it would be time to go to Feng’luan Palace to pay respects to Noble Consort Li.
Half a year ago, the empress experienced labor complications, giving birth to a stillborn fetus, an already formed little prince. Not long after, the empress also passed away depressed, leaving her just seven year old daughter, the fourth princess. The empress dowager was disheartened due to a coup preceding the enthronement of Emperor Zhou’wu, moved to Thousand Buddha Mountain to worship, and had not overlooked worldly matters since long before. Thus, the inner palace’s two highest positions were left unfilled. Naturally, Noble Consort Li with the highest position following would preside over the six palaces in their stead.
Noble Consort Li’s father was the current court’s left chancellor, his power overspreading the court. In addition, Noble Consort Li consecutively gave birth to the second prince and third princess, one twelve years and one ten years in age, both healthy and clever. Position, power, children, all that the concubines of the inner palace could dream for, Noble Consort Li already had. She truly could be called the champion of the inner palace.
But this champion appeared slightly groundless before Virtuous Consort Meng Sangyu.
Meng Sangyu was seventeen this year, a flowering age, a vibrant and gorgeous beauty. Her father Meng Changxiong was the distinguished gallant Jian’wei General of the Zhou, with the power of a hundred thousand brigades in his hands, perennially stationed at the borders. The reason the Zhou dynasty had flourished under the constant aggravation of the barbarians was completely due to the unstoppable Meng Family Army under Meng Changxiong.
The Meng family rose to prominence from their military accomplishments. During the era of Founding Emperor Zhou they already held the position of senior official in the court, receiving a hereditary title of Duke of Protection. In the Zhou empire, not just the powerful left and right ministers, even Emperor Zhou’wu had to give considerable respect to the Duke of Protection.
Clever, beautiful with a powerful background, Meng Sangyu became a nail in the eye and a thorn in the side of a plethora of concubines in the various palaces. But after fighting for three years, they not only were unable to remove this thorn, but also became a stepping stone for her. The emperor didn’t find fault with her even after she forced the empress to death. Who would still dare to cause trouble for her?
In front of the forceful and unreasonable, militant-like virtuous consort, these concubines just felt spent.
At this point in time, the legendary shrewd ‘favored consort’ Meng Sanyu was slowly awakening to the quiet calling of Head Nurse Feng. She propped up her upper body and lazily leaned on the bed frame. Her drowsy eyes open only a slit, she let Head Nurse Feng wipe her face and hands with a warm cloth.
With her face refreshed, she stepped barefoot into a pair of embroidered shoes which dangled off her feet as she walked to her vanity table and let a little palace maid arrange her hair. On her upper body hung a scarlet colored small dudou, just barely covering her round and prominent breasts.
(TN: These descriptions have just escalated veerrry quickly, but anyways, for anyone who does not know what a dudou is, it’s basically ancient Chinese undergarment. Fun fact, it’s usually red and have something embroidered on it. For those who are curious, feel free to search it up, do be warned that it is definitely still considered underwear in the modern day as well.)
She wore a pair of white silk bloomers on her lower body. The light thin fabric stuck tightly to her skin, drawing out the elegant curve of her slender legs. This half covering, half hiding manner of dress was more alluring than not wearing any clothing. The little palace maids serving her on the side already flushed red, but could not resist moving their gaze to the alluring maiden.
“Your ladyship, it is already fall. The mornings are cold, you should wear more.” A thread of cold wind entered the sleeping quarters from the cracks of the half shut window. Head Nurse Feng furrowed her eyebrows and immediately grabbed a chiffon cardigan for Meng Sangyu to slip on.
Meng Songyu let Head Nurse Feng move her around with a bored expression until her face lit up at the sight of Bi Shui who was holding A’Bao.