Chapter 4: The Truth
After the virtuous consort left, Emperor Zhou’wu executed several escape missions. Unfortunately, the palace maids watching over him were too diligent. Often times, he didn’t even take that many steps out before getting carried back. There was not even half a chance. After more than ten tries, the little puppy’s weak body could not take it anymore. Emperor Zhou’wu had no choice but to give up.
With his front legs straight, he patiently squatted at the door waiting for the virtuous consort to return. Having the virtuous consort with him lessened his anxiety and unease by a lot. This type of dependent feeling was planted in the depths of his hearts at his first sight of the virtuous consort, a feeling that even he himself had not perceived.
At a quarter ’til ten, Meng Sangyu strode back with her attendants. At the sight of her figure, Emperor Zhou’wu’s dark eyes lit up, uncontrollably took a step forward, his fluffy tail wagging back and forth behind him, completely giving away his happy feeling. Noticing his ludicrous behavior, Emperor Zhou’wu stiffened, standing in place unmoving.
Meanwhile, Meng Sangyu also saw the little brown fur-ball standing at the door. She quickly walked up and scooped the little fur-ball into her arms. Her clear voice was filled with delight, “Is A’Bao waiting for me to come back? What a good boy!”
Emperor Zhou’wu felt his forehead smooched by the woman a couple times. This passionate carefree virtuous consort is one that he had previously never seen. This woman was like a volcano, her tender and fiery red heart hidden in envelopes of freezing stone, never carelessly letting it show. Realizing this point, for reasons he did not understand, Emperor Zhou’wu’s heart wrenched. It wasn’t painful, but it felt somewhat stifling.
Meng Sangyu carried A’Bao back into the palace. Her heart jumped a little with excitement seeing that A’Bao did not struggle this time. She gently pet A’Bao’s back over and over. In this cold Forbidden Palace, only the little one in her arms truly belonged to her, without her having to worry of being betrayed.
Emperor Zhou’wu warned himself not to be entranced while squinting his eyes in comfort to her loving touch. The instincts of animals were too powerful, it was difficult to resist.
Head Nurse Feng brought a pot of tea in, filling her master’s cup, worriedly saying, “Since the emperor has awoken he has already rested seven to eight days, why has he not yet returned to work nor called on any concubines? Could it be that there are major issues with his body? If this continues, our great Zhou will fall into chaos!”
The Emperor Zhou’wu who was still resisting against his instincts immediately woke up and perked up his ears to eavesdrop on the two’s conversation.
Meng Sangyu lifted the teacup to her lips, took a light sip, slowly and untroubledly replied, “The emperor’s rule has been extremely strategic, in the short-term trouble will not be able to rise in Zhou. There is no need for us to worry about something so irrelevant. When the time comes, we shall see.”
“How is being worried about the emperor’s body something irrelevant? Your ladyship, please do put some heart to the matter.” Head Nurse Feng’s head hurt, criticizing her lackluster attitude, “Look all these concubines in the palace, who isn’t sending someone to express their concerns to Qian’qing Palace everyday? The herbs and soups and incense bags are continuously flowing into the palace. Even Noble Consort Li kneeled outside Qian’qing Palace for half a day. Rumor has it that these past few days she has already hand copied several books of Buddhist scriptures in prayer for the emperor. Your ladyship you should not fall behind others no matter what!”
Bi Shui and Yin Cui had already become tired of listening to Head Nurse Feng motivating the master to curry favor. They eyed each other, both seeing a face of helplessness on the other. The master’s situation, the short-sighted Head Nurse Feng still could not understand in the end, but her loyalty to the master was unquestionable.
Meng Sangyu continued drinking tea with her head down, secretly hiding an eyeroll, that was actually in plain sight of the Emperor Zhou’wu in her arms.
‘What’s this expression supposed to mean? She doesn’t think it’s worth it to worry about us?’ Emperor Zhou’wu furrowed his brows, and that stifling feeling appeared again.
Meng Sangyu put down her teacup, and opened her mouth with a sigh, “herbs, soups, incense bags, scriptures, talismans, which have I not sent? These things only need to be lightly expressed, if we do too much others would just become annoyed instead. The emperor right now needs rest, with how they’re acting are they worried about the emperor or are they trying to kill the emperor? They should take care, for the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
‘Not only clever, but also considerate!’ The stuffy feeling in Emperor Zhou’wu’s chest disappeared, secretly satisfied, but thinking that the one receiving all this consideration was an unknown monster, his heart burned in anger.
Head Nurse Feng ran the notion through her mind and thought that her master’s answer was reasonable, laying this matter to rest.
After getting past Head Nurse Feng, Meng Sangyu’s red lips slightly curled secretively into a sly and proud little smile, making her originally vibrant visage even more lively. Emperor Zhou’wu collected her expressions through his eyes, his black eyes slightly sparkling.
‘By this, it seems the virtuous consort isn’t all that unlovable,’ he thought to himself. But quickly, the virtuous consort’s actions made him want to eat his words.
“Is the sandbox prepared?” Meng Sangyu looked at Bi Shui to her side.
“Your ladyship, it has already been prepared.” Bi Shui bowed in response, beckoning at the little eunuch at the door with her hand. The little eunuch nodded and carried a bronze plate full of sand in, putting it in a corner of the hall.
Meng Sangyu carried A’Bao over, bent down and put him next to his sandbox. She poked his little head and asked, “A’Bao do you know what this plate is for?”
Emperor Zhou’wu unconsciously rubbed against her finger. Then, becoming angered by his own weak self-control, he angrily glared at the perpetrator.
But this glare was automatically read as confusion by Meng Sangyu. She tapped his nose and laughed, “This is for A’Bao to use for pee-pee and poo-poo. If A’Bao pee-pee and poo-poo carelessly and make the hall stinky, we’ll punish A’Bao with one less meal, understand?”
‘Pee-pee poo-poo? What?’ Emperor Zhou’wu scrunched his brows, understanding only at the second half. Then his body, stiffed up, glaring with blazing flames in his eyes at the woman before him. This is humiliation! This is humiliation towards the valiant emperor of the great Zhou!
Again misreading A’Bao’s ‘passionate’ eyes, Meng Sangyu contently nodded her head. Lightly padding the other’s little head complimenting, “Not bad, our A’Bao is so smart!”
Pfft, Bi Shui and Yin Cui behind her couldn’t contain their laughter.
Suppressing her laugh, Bi Shui teased, “How does Your ladyship know that A’Bao understood?”
“No matter whether he understood, I still have to compliment him. Animals also have thoughts and emotions, in fact, they’re much more sensitive than us to them. The kindness, maliciousness, love, hatred in our voices can all be picked up by them. If I compliment him, he will feel happy, and also grow more healthily. Do not scold and beat little animals because they can’t express themselves, they can become sad as well. Dogs are incredibly smart, about the same as a two year old child. Not to mention, our A’Bao is a poodle, the second smartest amongst dog breeds. So he will quickly be able to understand what I mean.”
Meng Sangyu softly explained, without knowing how much impact her words brought to Emperor Zhou’wu. He slowly relaxed his body and lowered his head, a complicated look emitting through the bottom of his dark black eyes. Full of benevolence towards animals, but full of cruelty towards humans, this woman is so complicated. Also, she is rather erudite.
Unknowingly, Emperor Zhou’wu’s negative feelings towards the virtuous consort were again decreasing, but his curiosity was instead thickening.
After teaching A’Bao various life skills and seeing that A’Bao always looked focused, as if he understood her words, Meng Sangyu felt a sense of satisfaction that she had never felt before. From now on, she had a companion at last.
The sunlight of early autumn had a shade of yellow-orange, not too stinging, not too scorching, blanketing warmth on the body, indescribably comforting.
Commanding the servants to place a couch in the garden, Meng Sangyu lazily curled up on the couch while drinking tea and flipping through traveler’s tales.
The A’Bao who has been under watch for an entire morning also received temporary freedom. He was currently exploring the geography in the garden, calculating a route of escape.
Two hours later, a palace maid hurried over. She did not dare to disturb the virtuous consort currently engrossed in her book, instead scooching over to whisper her report to Head Nurse Feng’s ear. The colors on Head Nurse Feng’s face immediately changed.
Emperor Zhou’wu who had already got tired of roaming consciously returned to Meng Sangyu’s side. He currently laid below the couch with his eyes closed. Using his hearing that was now many times better than before, he heard the words ‘Emperor, Grand Preceptor Shen, Gracious Consort’. He immediately opened his eyes and looked to Head Nurse Feng.
Head Nurse Feng waved away the palace maid and quickly walked up, bending down to beside Meng Sangyu’s ear and quietly said, “Your ladyship, just a moment ago the servants received information that the emperor called in Grand Preceptor Shen this morning. The two had a secret meeting for four hours in the Imperial Study. As soon as the grand preceptor left, the emperor called on the Gracious Consort to accompany him in the Imperial Study. It is said that he even ordered Chang Xi to send in many memorials. At this time he has already started working on matters of the state again.”
(TN: Memorials are basically reports from attendants of the emperor that are folded accordion style. It was the basic method of communication between the emperor and his attendants on the matters of the state. Only officials are permitted to send up memorials up to a department that sorts them and usually high-ranking officials “filter” them to what needs to be seen by the emperor. Only high-ranking officials can directly file memorials to the emperor.)
Emperor Zhou’wu’s ear twitched a little.
Meng Sangyu put down the traveler’s tale in her hands, rubbed her chin and asked, “He saw Grand Preceptor Shen and not Minister Li?”
Grand Preceptor Shen is Gracious Consort Shen Huiru’s father, the teacher of Emperor Zhou’wu since his youth, a figurehead of the principled civil court officials. Although he holds high prestige, he has little actual power. The opposite would be Noble Consort Li’s father, Minister Li. Minister Li is one of the people who holds actual power in Zhou Dynasty. If Emperor Zhou’wu were to start attending to the state, the person he should call on first should be Minister Li and not Grand Preceptor Shen. Something is up!
Meng Sangyu slightly furrowed her neat brows, murmuring, “Seems like the emperor was really injured pretty heavily this time, rather unable to attend to stately matters. Otherwise, he would not heavily rely on Grand Preceptor Shen and move away from Minister Li.”
Grand Preceptor Shen understood the emperor’s heart well. It can be said that he was the person Emperor Zhou’wu trusted in most, and also was the one he would rely on in times of difficulties. On the other hand, although Emperor Zhou’wu gave power to Minister Li, he also was skeptical of Minister Li. Otherwise, he would not raise the power of the Meng family to restrain the Li family. In the end, the Meng family and Li family were just pawns for Emperor Zhou’wu to balance the powers of the state. She and Noble Consort Li were just the sacrifices of this political war.
Thinking of this, Meng Sangyu pressed on the side of her forehead and quietly sighed.
Emperor Zhou’wu below the couch was in shock. That monster didn’t continue dormancy but instead called in Grand Preceptor Shen and Huiru? Will he harm them?
Emperor Zhou’wu suddenly jumped up and rushed towards outside the palace. He didn’t manage to run out before Bi Shui quickly caught him and quietly scolded, “A’Bao, don’t run around, be careful of getting lost!”
Head Nurse Feng did not notice A’Bao’s movement. After she heard her master’s words the worry on her face thickened, and she hesitantly asked, “Since the emperor trusts in Grand Preceptor Shen he will definitely give favor to the gracious consort. Your ladyship, what should we do?”
“What to do? Nothing!” Meng Sangyu laughed, uncaringly waving her hand, “who the emperor wants to give favor to is his freedom, it is his graciousness to pass favor, there is no place for us to have a say.”
At that, she reached her hand out to Bi Shui, “Let me hug A’Bao.”
Bi Shui heeded and handed the struggling Emperor Zhou’wu into her master’s arms.
Head Nurse Feng saw that her master did not wish to speak of the matter and closed her mouth.
Falling into a familiar embrace, the light flowery scent of the virtuous consort at the tip of his nose, his fur softly pet over and over, the anxiety in Emperor Zhou’wu’s heart was calmed and he had room to contemplate.
If he were the one possessing someone else’s body, to avoid being found out, staying dormant for a period of time to figure out the situation is a must. The next step would be to get rid of those who were already most familiar with the original owner of the body, in order to protect himself. But, the monster in Qian’qing Palace did not do this. Instead, he called in the attendant and consort closest to the original owner, would he not be afraid of getting found out? The leader of the hidden guards Yan Junwei, the Head Manager Eunuch Chang Xi, Grand Preceptor Shen, Huiru, any one of them would be able to discover the monster’s identity!
But since they did not show any signs of movement, that means that this monster’s behavior was one that they were allowing. Perhaps they were even helping the monster hide his identity. Otherwise, this monster would not call on Huiru to the Imperial Study when he started to attend to the state. Huiru’s intelligence was not less than a man’s, capable of even a position in court, attending to some governmental matters should not be difficult for her.
‘Could it be that they want to help the monster coup?’ Emperor Zhou’wu rebuted this thought as soon as it emerged in his mind. Grand preceptor and Huiru would definitely not betray him, Chang Xi and the hidden guards were even less likely!
Thinking back and forth, Emperor Zhou’wu reached the conclusion that was closest to reality – he didn’t actually wake up. The emperor in Qian’qing Palace was not a monster, but a substitute that the grand preceptor, Yan Junwei and Chang Xi found together while Huiru was helping the substitute hide his identity.
The Barbarians at the borders are invading at the various kings of the different regions have also been restless. He also did not have any trustworthy brothers to substitute him for governmental matters. In court there was the greedily ambitious Minister Li, in the harem there were the restless concubines with powerful family backings, all with their eyes set on the positions of the heir and empress.
With inner and outer turmoil, if the fact that he was unconscious was let out, Zhou would fall into war and chaos, and his own throne would undoubtedly be lost. Seeing such current events, finding a substitute for himself was a decision made without a choice. It was good that this time he only brought his hidden guards, the grand preceptor and Chang Xi to Thousand Buddha Mountain. Otherwise, his comatose state would not be able to be hidden!
After he thought through the last part, Emperor Zhou’wu was able to put half his heart back into his pocket and sighed a heavy breath of relief. Only after did he realize that the woman who was currently holding him also guessed part of the reality; he really was injured heavily! But despite her correct guess, this woman was still sunbathing with her eyes closed, her expression very relaxed. Wasn’t she disregarding him a bit too much?
Thinking this, that stifling feeling returned.