Chapter 7: The Gracious Consort
Autumn’s weather always tends to be more sunny. The golden sunlight lost summer’s blazing heat. When its rays hit, it was warm and cozy, exceptionally comfortable. The osmanthus trees outside Bi’xiao Palace were already filled with bunches of small milky white flowers, hanging on the branches. When a light breeze passed by, a drunkening aroma wafted in and filled the courtyard.
Under the osmanthus tree, Meng Sangyu was wrapped in a deep purple strapless long dress, with a light purple chiffon outer garment with a pattern of silver auspicious clouds embroidered on it. She swung out her hanging sleeves and lazily curled up on a soft chaise couch to bathe in the sun.
A round furball was currently laying on her chest, his plump little paws on her alluring cleavage. He shifted left and right, appearing incredibly uncomfortable.
The virtuous consort’s makeup-less bare face was right before his eyes, her straight nose, long curled lashes, white smooth skin, uncommonly elegantly shaped lips, and that bewitching collarbone and full breast… every part of the woman’s body was fittingly beautiful, attracting Emperor Zhou’wu’s gaze again and again.
He’s always known that the virtuous consort is a beauty, but he never imagined that the virtuous consort without her extravagant makeup was hundreds of times more beautiful than usual. Isn’t beauty the most useful weapon for a woman to gain ground in the inner palace? But the virtuous consort seems as if she’s purposely hiding her brilliance. What is she actually thinking? Emperor Zhou’wu was increasingly less able to understand her.
“Can A’Bao not fall asleep? Are you hungry?” Meng Sangyu opened her phoenix eyes and gave the A’Bao nudging around her arms a pat on the butt.
Emperor Zhou’wu let out a humph, moved his meaty paws from the woman’s cleavage, momentarily, then put it back, and “unintentionally” pressed down on it a bit.
“So you are hungry, have a snack.” Meng Sangyu reached out her arm and grabbed a snack from the end table. She pinched a piece off and put it to A’Bao’s mouth.
Emperor Zhou’wu unhesitatingly took the snack and swallowed it. He was already used to being fed by the woman.
Meng Sangyu used a handkerchief to wipe off the crumbs on his whiskers and also pinched a piece off and put it in her mouth. The one human and one dog split the slowly split the snack one bite at a time. Above their head, osmanthus flowers and petals drifted down, a warm and beautiful scene.
Moved by the beautiful scene before her, Meng Sangyu held her palms out and caught a little white falling flower. She slightly squinted her vibrant eyes and hummed out a gentle and curious melody.
The melody didn’t have any lyrics, it only had high and low hums. It was like the wind and mist, swirling and drifting all around, but also ethereal, akin to the heavenly songs of the moon palace, as if it could touch the soul… Emperor Zhou’wu forgot to chew on the snack in his mouth, and blankly stared at the self content and happy woman among the falling flowers, suddenly feeling a little enchanted.
[TN: Moon palace is the heavenly palace on the moon where the goddess Chang’e is believed to reside. It’s often mentioned in the folktale behind the celebration of China’s Qi Xi (Chinese Valentines) and Japan’s Tanabata.]
The servants by the side kept their heads down, but all had hazy eyes, the corner of the mouths curled up, clearly already entranced.
“Your Ladyship, just a while ago this servant received information that the emperor is currently in the imperial garden appreciating chrysanthemums.” Head Nurse Feng quickly walked over and said after hurriedly paying her respects.
The mesmerizing atmosphere shattered like a bubble that was heartlessly popped. Emperor Zhou’wu turned his head and dangerously glared at Head Nurse Feng. How is such an unbearably crass lowly servant fit to serve the virtuous consort? Just wait until he recovers his human body and immediately send her off to the fullery!
[TN: A fullery is basically the ancient manual labor based… laundromat.]
“Oh.” Meng Sangyu answered ambiguously as she tossed away the fallen flowers in her hands and gently stroked A’Bao’s back.
“Your Ladyship, why don’t you quickly get dressed. The other palaces must have gotten the news by now. We can’t let them be first!” Head Nurse Feng rushed.
Meng Sangyu didn’t move and nonchalantly asked, “Who is His Imperial Majesty with at the moment?”
Meng Sangyu answered with a heavy tone, “With Her Ladyship the gracious consort.”
“Shen Huiru?” Meng Sangyu murmured, then waved her hand with a decided voice, “Not going.”
Emperor Zhou’wu who was gazing at her intently dazed in surprise. He didn’t expect her to have this kind of reaction and immediately became irritated and impatient. He really wants to go take a look, to prove his predictions. Thus, he began whimpering, and an unstoppable struggle in the virtuous consort’s arms.
“Your Ladyship, it’s such a nice day today, it’s okay even if you go to the imperial garden just to bring A’Bao on a walk! A’Bao hasn’t been to the imperial garden before!” Seeing the irritated A’Bao, Head Nurse Feng immediately altered her words to persuade.
Meeting A’Bao’s eyes full of yearning , Meng Sangyu let out a sigh and then ordered with a heavy tone, “Then serve us to get dressed.” She stood up and walked into the palace with her head held high. The sharp atmosphere unique to Her Ladyship the virtuous consort immediately spread out.
The servants heeded and unison and quickly followed behind her.
Emperor Zhou’wu squated at the door of the sleeping chamber, his deep eyes did not falter while gazing at the fuzzy figure behind the screen. His feelings were right. The virtuous consort really doesn’t care for him. The him in her heart is not even as good as a dog. The gentleness and passion from the past were all her acts. When speaking of the emperor in private, the cold and apathy in her eyes all came as a shock.
Damn it! Have we not been good enough to you? We gave you high status gave you pamper, gave you power, but how have you repaid us? If it wasn’t for this accident, how much longer were you going to deceive us? Emperor Zhou’wu cursed fieriously under his breath, the turmoil in his heart was not only anger, but there was also a tint of an unexplainable sharp pain to it.
As his thoughts wandered off, Meng Sangyu already finished dressing. She walked out from behind the screen and bent down to carry A’Bao.
Emperor Zhou’wu brought his attention back and began furiously struggling.
“A’Bao, don’t be naughty, I’m bringing you out to play!” Meng Sangyu pat his head while gently comforting him, leaving a kiss by his mouth after.
Soft lips that held a light aroma brushed passed his nose tip and the corners of his mouth. The touch was unnaturally hot with some slight tingling. Emperor Zhou’wu dazed momentarily, then laid in the woman’s arms and stopped moving. His fluffy tail began its uncontrollable wagging.
Regardless of how unreadable Emperor Zhou’wu was normally, after he became a dog, all pretenses are a waste of time. A dog’s tail is directly connected to his heart and soul, and not his brain, so they they don’t have the hypocrisy of humans.
His burning anger was immediately put out by the woman. Emperor Zhou’wu was a little dejected, giving up and letting himself be carried away by the woman.
Meng Sangyu scrunched her brows in incredible annoyance. She has been tired of using all her energy to scheme and feud just to fight over a man since long ago. It’s good that now she has A’Bao, the days are still bearable. Weighing the warm furball in her hands, she relaxed her brows and walked towards the imperial garden.
Next to the water pavilion of the imperial garden, a vibrant crowd gathered, appearing incredibly boisterous. A slightly bitter, fresh scent could be smelled far in the distance, following which came the gentle sound of the guqin, with a clear and alluring song wrapped in between. This undoubtedly is a grand banquet of sight and sound. It can be imagined how elegant the person playing the qin and chrysanthemum viewing must be.
[TN: Guqin is a traditional Chinese stringed instruments. Historically the number of strings on it has actually varied depending on style and time period.]
After turning past the rock garden, a man and woman can be seen sitting side by side in the pavilion. Meng Sangyu lifted her eyebrows and halted her steps.
The man’s was of very tall and broad build, dressing in a bright yellow longpao elevated his domineering aura, his handsome features were enough to attract all the women of the world. This man was the current emperor of Zhou — Emperor Zhou’wu, age 27, at his prime.
[TN: A longpao is the official garb of a Chinese emperor. Sometimes translators also call the official garb of the empress longpao, but traditionally it was basically blasphemy to consider the dragon (long) in association with the empress. Thus, the empress’s official garb is often called fengpao instead with feng meaning phoenix.]
Across him is a guqin, a pair of slender white hands was currently playing it, following the jade-like hands up, a beauty wearing a light yellow ethereal palace garment was playing while singing. Her pair of water-like clear eyes met with the gaze of the emperor from time to time and their gazes intertwined. The beauty of this scene made the surrounding concubines into accessories.
“What a match made in heaven.” Meng Sangyu quietly expressed as she combed A’Bao’s back with her finger tips.
“That’s because Your Ladyship has yet to arrive. If you go over, there wouldn’t even be a place for the gracious consort. She claims to have extraordinary talent in the guqin, but she can’t even compare to your acapella singing. Your Ladyship should present the emperor with a song and dampen her haughtiness.” Head Nurse Feng encouraged.
“We are not an entertainer selling ourselves.” A thread of disgust flashed through Meng Sangyu’s eyes, she lifted her foot and walked towards to pavilion.
Head Nurse Feng shut her mouth, she could not understand why her master was so unmotivated to curry favor with the emperor. If the master wanted to, perhaps she would even be on the throne of the empress by this time.
She pitied the situation to herself, but did not notice the helpless expressions Yin Cui and Bi Shui were making.
All of A’Bao’s attention was stolen by the pair in the pavilion. He began an intense struggle to get out of Meng Sangyu’s arms. When she walked close she would have to pay her respects, so Meng Sangyu just let him down in the process, swinging her handkerchief and addressing the emperor ‘Wan Sui’.
[TN: The way the author wrote it, I’m not quite sure if she’s addressing the emperor as Wan Sui [万岁] as in the emperor himself (Your Majesty) or as greeting (Long live (the emperor)).]
Seeing the carefree stance of the virtuous consort, the concubines in the pavilion all held an amused and curious expression. In the past, the virtuous consort could be said to have had the love for 10,000 collected in one. The number of times she was called to serve in the bedchamber and the amount of rewards she had received was unrivaled. Seeing her, even the empress and honorable consort had to step to the side, making everyone’s eyes red with envy.
But ever since the emperor woke up, his tastes seem to have changed. The first person he called upon was not his favorite, the virtuous consort, but low-key and honorable gracious consort. Not only so, but for the next half a month he continued to call upon her to accompany him in the imperial study and the Shen family has gradually been more heavily relied upon. This favoring appears to have the potential to slowly rise above the virtuous consort’s.
Of all the concubines that have received some sort of favor in the palace, who has not been disciplined by the ostentatious virtuous consort? Only the gracious consort has remained quiet, never going against the virtuous consort face to face. Now this is going to be a good show.
The emperor furrowed his brows, staring at the virtuous consort’s head without a word. The surrounding atmosphere immediately became silent and awkward. The gracious consort on the side curled her lips, ridicule and satisfaction quickly flashed through her water-like doe eyes.
Meng Sangyu looked down towards her nose, leading the servants all kneeling on the ground. Neither did she lift her head to look at the emperor’s expression, nor did she express any discontent.
A’Bao has long since abandoned her and ran toward the emperor. The hand-sized little furball was easy to miss, so he easily got to the emperor’s side. Seeing that this person had slightly blue nails and pale lips, a light flashed through his eyes. He thought to himself that he guessed right after all. This person is his body double, the reason he looked exactly like himself was because he took a face shifting pill.
There is only one face shifting pill in all of Zhou. All you had to do was take the pill then appropriately massage the muscles on the face into the place and you could have a completely different appearance, without leaving a trace. But this type of pill also has a deadly poison which shaves off a person’s life span. Emperor Zhou’wu has also banned the spread of how to produce it to the public for fear of people misusing the it.
This pill has been stored in the leader of the hidden guards Yan Junwei’s hands. As such, this person must have been one of his subordinates.
Emperor’s tightly clenched heart slightly relaxed. He looked towards the gracious consort to the side. This beautifully innocent and immaculate face had appeared in his dreams an innumerable amount of times. He wanted to quickly walk to her side, but after just taking two steps, he remembered the virtuous consort who was still kneeling on the ground in place and couldn’t help but look back.
At the same time, the gracious consort also saw A’Bao on the ground. She curled her lips up and lifted him up.
“This is the Her Ladyship the gracious consort’s pet? Why is he missing a circle of fur around his neck?” She stroked A’Bao’s fur-less neck, asking with her brows scrunched.
The emperor at last allowed the virtuous consort to rise. He took a cold look at her and turned his head to the gracious consort, a slight pampering look hidden in the depths of his eyes. This clear difference in treatment led the surrounding concubines to show expressions of ridicule. The battle hadn’t even started and the virtuous consort already lost half of it. How boring! Seems like the winds in the inner palace is going to change!
Meng Sangyu’s expression was still calm as usual. She naturally sat at the seat beneath the emperor’s and looked directly at the gracious consort saying, “Just earlier he had been hurt by some branches. We had to shave off the fur to put on medicine.”
“Which branches choked him to have done it so coincidentally? If the virtuous consort had not said, we would have thought someone had purposely done it.” The gracious consort hinted.
Meng Sangyu lightly smiled, not following her direction of conversation. She would never even have a chance of winning fighting with Shen Huiru in front of the emperor. The emperor can think whatever he likes, she doesn’t care even half a bit. What’s to a honorable name? Can you eat it?
A’Bao quietly laid on the gracious consort’s lap. He had initially missed the aroma on the gracious consort, but after listening to her crafty words, his excitement quickly became cold. Underhanded suggestions, making something out of nothing, was this really the gentle, understanding, and prideful Huiru?