Chapter 3: Façade
Emperor Zhou’wu slept deeply last night, up until Bi Shui neared his basket. She was about to reach her hand out to pull at his little blanket when he awoke.
Seeing that A’Bao woke up, Bi Shui immediately lifted him up and wiped his face and paws off with a handkerchief she dipped in warm water. She then carried him to the sleeping quarters. No one was more aware of the virtuous consort’s love for small animals than Bi Shui. She was certain that the virtuous consort would be incredibly happy to see A’Bao first thing in the morning.
Emperor Zhou’wu struggled in Bi Shui’s arms. He initially planned to angrily berate her, but as a puppy, he was only able to muster up sweet little whimpers. Thus, he shut his mouth as soon as he opened it in humiliation.
As soon as he entered the hall, a fresh scent of grass wafted upon him – a refreshing aroma that energized the mind. Not a bit like the cloying scent of sandalwood in the other palaces, nor similar to the heavy aroma of dragon spittle fragrance (ambergris) in Qian’qing Palace. Possessing a dog, Emperor Zhou’wu’s sense of smell was stronger than before. He weakened his struggle and lifted his head, gazing toward the virtuous consort dressing up before the mirror.
The maiden was sitting at a slant, her white and red clothing became a hazy white and shades of gray in the eyes of Emperor Zhou’wu. The originally vibrant colors returned to a plain monochrome. Yet despite this, there was still a sense of beauty that transcended mortality, especially the luscious black hair that flowed to her feet like a gentle streaming waterfall, glowing and breathtaking.
After experiencing some ten days of dark, gray, anxious day and nights, this portrait of an extremely normal wakeup routine was beautiful in Emperor Zhou’wu’s eyes, pulling at his heartstrings. In this moment, it was as if he was still that brilliant Emperor Zhou’wu, waiting for his own concubine to dress him and serve him.
However, he quickly awoke from this hallucination – only because the woman who was before the mirror already reached out and picked him up, bending her head down to leave a kiss on his eyes. Her soft lips brushed over as if the wings of a butterfly, tingly with an unique fragrance.
This was a kiss that expressed the love of an owner to a pet, and not a woman to a man. Emperor Zhou’wu suddenly felt hopeless at this moment, but then also felt angered by his own expression of weakness. He began to rigorously struggle in her arms.
“Oh no, don’t do that, be careful of falling!” The back of Meng Sangyu’s hand was scratched and she quickly bent down to put A’Bao down so he doesn’t hurt himself.
“Your ladyship, are you okay?” Yin Cui and Bi Shui asked simultaneously.
Head Nurse Feng angrily stomped up and reached out her foot, wanting to kick over A’Bao.
“Head Nurse, no! I’m okay!” Seeing this, Meng Sangyu quickly stopped her, lifting up her hand to show that the back was not injured.
The porcelain like smooth skin had a red line running down it, it wasn’t bleeding. Despite this, Head Nurse Feng’s heart still hurt incredibly at the sight. She pulled out a bottle of Xue’fu Cream and carefully rubbed it on Meng Sangyu, her low voice still held a trace of anger, “this little imbecile’s savage nature is so difficult to tame, as expected of a dog from the Barbarians! Your ladyship, why don’t you send him back to the Taming Enclosure, then we can pick a gentle and obedient Shih Tzu to bring back and raise.”
Nobody noticed that A’Bao, who was quietly sitting in the corner, glared at Head Nurse Feng with dagger eyes at this notion. But this sharp gaze was hidden by his thick fur. In combination with his petite and cute body, there really wasn’t much lethality to it, so it didn’t draw in the attention of the crowd in the hall.
He stiffly turned his head toward the virtuous consort, waiting for her judgement. He miscalculated. Since he already decided that he will temporarily rely on the virtuous consort, then he must appropriately take a step back and conciliate. The him now is not the high up emperor, but just a pet. A pet must be obedient and understand how to please its owner.
Remembering how before it was always these women that used thousands of different facets and hundreds of different strategies to please himself, Emperor Zhou’wu felt a sense of desolation, a desolation from when one realizes that the tides always turn.
“Raising a pet is also fate. I fell in love with him at first sight. Not switching!” The virtuous consort decisively shook her head, adding, “A’Bao is still little, it’s unavoidable that he’s afraid of strangers. After we interact longer we’ll naturally become closer. Dogs are the most loyal animals in this world. If you give him your heart, he will give you his. So much better than most humans!”
At that, Emperor Zhou’wu put his heart to rest, using very complicated eyes to inspect the virtuous consort’s gentle face. He didn’t think that the virtuous consort who was cold and strict with humans would be so lenient and accepting of animals. But he knew, in front of a dog, the virtuous consort had no need to act, so these were her true thoughts. His heart was moved, he could not deny that her words held weight. The human heart is the most unpredictable, most dangerous thing in this world. Perhaps it was because she could see this all too clearly, so she can only completely relax before pure, simple-minded animals. Isn’t it the same for him?
Thinking until this, a bit of sympathy was added to Emperor Zhou’wu’s gaze. This woman wasn’t as unbearable and ignorant as he imagined, she has good points as well.
Seeing A’Bao in the corner staring in a daze at herself, the little thing incredibly pitiful, Meng Sangyu’s heart softened. She told the palace maids to bring up breakfast while beckoning towards A’Bao with her hands, “A’Bao come here, it’s time for breakfast.”
This body had been just born recently, not able to withstand hunger. Emperor Zhou’wu moved, pita-patting to in front of the virtuous consort, lifting his head to look up at her. Meng Sangyu picked him up and put him on the dining table. Petting his back while looking at Head Nurse Feng with a smile, “Look, head nurse, my A’Bao is actually really docile.”
Seeing that her master really liked the dog, any anger Head Nurse Feng had subsided, fondly voicing agreement.
A’Bao straightened his two little front legs and sat with a mediocre posture on the dining table. On one side, drunken off of the virtuous consort loving touch, on the other side warning himself with an inner voice to not actually be tamed into a useless pet by this woman. (TN: Congrats for foreseeing your fate)
Breakfast was quickly served, and Emperor Zhou’wu could already smell the aroma of minced meat congee from far away. He sniffed with his nose, his mouth quickly beginning to excrete clear saliva. Threads of saliva dripped onto the table. This was an animal’s instinct, which even the brilliant and valiant Emperor Zhou’wu was unable to control.
“Pfft!” The virtuous consort covered her light laughter, beckoning to the servants, “move faster, A’Bao’s hungry!”
Tightly shutting his mouth and gulping down the remaining saliva, Emperor Zhou’wu’s face burned red, hating how he couldn’t dig a hole with his claws and bury himself in it. It was good that his fur was thick so the virtuous consort did not detect any abnormalities.
“Your ladyship, why don’t you let A’Bao down the table to eat, otherwise if the table gets dirty it will ruin your appetite.” Yin Cui suggested quietly, carrying the minced meat congee.
“No worries, I like A’Bao eating together with me.” The virtuous consort waved her hand, personally carrying the congee bowl and putting it in front of A’Bao, gently cooing, “eat.”
‘She’s actually letting a dog eat on the table?’ Emperor Zhou’wu gave her a surprised look, a little moved in his heart. But before delicious food, there wasn’t room for him to think too much. His animal instincts rushed him to immediately stick his head and start gulping down the food.
Meng Sangyu saw that he was enjoying his food and picked up her bowl and chopsticks to have her meal. She had low blood sugar, usually with no appetite in the morning, but because she had A’Bao with her, she was surprisingly able to finish a bowl of chicken congee and a small plate of desserts, making Head Nurse Feng so happy she had on a beaming smile.
Using a handkerchief to wipe the corners of her mouth, Meng Sangyu propped her arms up, her head resting on her hands, and enjoying watching A’Bao eating with smiling eyes. The month old puppy was not even the size of the bowl. At the moment, half his body was almost buried in the bowl, quite comedic. He was consuming his food one lick at a time, at a moderate speed which emanated a sense of refinement.
Meng Sangyu lifted her brows, saying to Yin Cui, “Look at this, My A’Bao won’t be dirtying the dining table. This demeanor is even more graceful than the lion king!”
Lion King, whats’ that? Emperor Zhou’wu was confused, but was very satisfied that the virtuous consort was taking a sovereign in comparison with himself.
Yin Cui heeded with a smile. Seeing that it was about time, she served Meng Sangyu to get dressed, preparing to go to Noble Consort Li’s Feng’luan Palace to pay respects.
She removed her loose fitting, comfortable outer gown, changing into the gorgeous, noble court dress. She then put up a Liu’yun hairstyle with eye-catching sparkling buyao. Lastly, using a brow pencil to thicken the ends of her brows downwards, she hid her unconscious relaxed expression. The usual cold-faced pressuring virtuous consort appeared before everyone’s eyes.
(TN: Liu’yun’fa or 流云发 is the name of a hairstyle. This hairstyle is pulling all of your hair up to your head, kind of like how you do it in a bun, and decorating it with hair pin accessories (buyao). There are “simple” (not so simple) ones and more complex ones that you can do, but the general concept is the same. It’s one that ancient Chinese women, in wealthy families, arranged when attending a social event or when they deemed it necessary. I have never seen someone able to put one up by themselves, but then again, I can’t even braid my hair so who am I to say no one can?)
Looking at the woman whose atmosphere changed immensely, Emperor Zhou’wu who lifted his head from his bowl was shocked into a daze. He couldn’t understand, how could a woman change into someone so different with just a change in clothes and putting on some makeup? He was a little reminiscent of that casual and natural virtuous consort.
Meng Sangyu strode to before the table, cradled A’Bao’s little head in her hands, and gently told him, “A’Bao be good and stay in the palace, don’t run around. I’m going out for a bit, I’ll come back really soon.”
To Feng’luan Palace? Not interested. He was planning to sneak into Qian’qing Palace after the virtuous consort left. Bi’xiao Palace was very close to Qian’qing palace. Walking didn’t even need the time for a pot of tea. As such, it may not be so bad to be in the care of the virtuous consort.
(TN: A pot of tea = About 15 minutes give and take 5)
But the virtuous consort’s next words quickly shattered his wishful thinking.
Meng Sangyu looked towards the several palace maids waiting beside the table, sternly addressing, “Watch A’Bao carefully, don’t let him run out of Bi’xiao palace. He’s still small. It’s easy to overlook him on the path and for him to get hurt and stepped on.
The palace maids heeded in unison, making Emperor Zhou’wu rather frustrated.
As if picking up on A’Bao’s bad mood, Meng Sangyu picked him up and kissed his little wet nose. Smiling gently saying, “When A’Bao gets big, I’ll take A’Bao to the imperial garden for walks. The imperial garden is really pretty and very spacious, there are a lot of places to play. A’Bao will like it for sure.”
What’s with this pampering attitude? It’s as if she wasn’t facing an animal, but more like she was facing a child. But he had to admit, being the direct beneficiary, Emperor Zhou’wu was actually moved for a second.
“Alrighty, time for work! Bring all of your cold beauty high-standing attitudes out for us!” Meng Sangyu carefully handed A’Bao to a palace maid, then straightened her face, clapped her hands and commanded.
“Yes ma’am!” The crowd of servants behind her first covered their giggles, then straightened their backs and lifted their chins, with a slightly condescending attitude. Their sharp eyes showed arrogance and belittlement, with a pressuring feeling billowing over the surroundings.
Emperor Zhou’wu was dazed in shock. Laying in a palace maid’s arms, he gaped as he watched the virtuous consort’s entourage walking into the distance. This virtuous consort and company were the appearances he was familiar with, but it turned out to all be a disguise, a façade that the virtuous consort acted out on purpose. Why must she do so?
Slightly thinking about it, Emperor Zhou’wu quickly understood. This was just a way the virtuous consort was using to protect herself. She doesn’t want to flaunt, but she has no choice but to flaunt. She doesn’t want to be cruel, but she has no choice but to be cruel. By doing so, she can intimidate her enemies, making them scared to strike easily. At least, if they aren’t at the empress’s or noble consort’s level, cannot down her in one strike, these others will not have the guts to casually advance. They would not be able to withstand the vengeance of the virtuous consort. In doing so, she would be saving herself a lot of unnecessary trouble.
Thinking through it, Emperor Zhou’wu could no longer deny, the woman he thought was simple-minded and boorish was actually so intelligent. Thinking a little further, he was even more surprised. The virtuous consort was undoubtedly an ostentatious flaunter, numerous concubines had been tripped up by her. But she always knew, who can be offended, who can’t be offended, she was always stepping on his bottom line, but never passing it. That is why, even though annoyed, he was willing to give her a certain amount of respect and power, all fruits of her careful management.
‘This woman is not simple, her deception even passed by me!’ Emperor Zhou’wu reflected, adding to his caution towards the Meng family in his heart. But at the same time, he did not realize that his negative feelings towards the virtuous consort were decreasing.
Intelligent women always gather admiration, an intelligent and beautiful woman is even harder to resist. Living with this kind of woman, in each other’s company day and night, it is only a matter of time before your fall.
- Bi: A type of jade
- Xiao: Skies, high altitudes
Qian’qing Palace (this is the actual name of the emperor’s palace in the forbidden city)
- Qian: Skies, heavenly, celestial
- Qing: Clear, pure
- Feng: Pheonix
- Luan: A specific type of pheonix
- Yin: Silver
- Cui: A type of jade
- Bi: A type of jade
- Shui: Water