The Imperial Palace’s Grand Banquet (Part One)
Autumn passes, with spring flowers and wild cuckoos peacefully maintaining the otherness within the earthly realm.
The autumn wind blows, and although the view of lotus flowers in the pond has long gone, with the autumn air gradually thickening, the maple leaves floats down onto the pond, bringing with it its own distinctive charms, a mass of scarlet floating above the water, occasionally making little turns. When she had returned last night, she did not notice the fall of the maple leaves, could it be that they have fallen overnight? Unaware that the flowers of yesterday have already withered away, today other worries occupies her mind.
She had done the right thing right, it wasn’t wrong of her? He is originally the enemy of the Celestial Empire, had she let the tiger return to the mountain, perhaps more people will be put to sacrifice in future, if thinking this can calm her uneasy heart in the slightest bit, she shall continue to tell herself this, she is not in the wrong.
“Gui Wan.” That gentle, considerate voice calls out from nearby, such warming voice, can only be her husband.
Slowly turning her head, she sees Lou Che walk in from the corridor, as though he was revealing himself in the mist, suddenly, she thinks back to these past few days, all that has happened really feels like a dream, like smoke like mist. A smile floats to the surface of her face, “My Lord Husband, back from the court’s assembly?”
Such illusive smile, was the first he had seen. Returning last night when it was almost sunrise, the first thing she says when she sees him was filled with loss and exhaustion: “I’m back, so tired~.” He doesn’t know what she had been through these past few days, she says nothing, he asks nothing, although vaguely knowing that she had used quite a number of spies and guards, he had already promised her, her matters, he will not delve in, he needs only to cover for her.
Filled with tenderness, Lou Che picks up the neglected bowl that was left on the corridor, seeing that its contents were left completely untouched, he inquires: “Why are you not eating the soup, does it not suit your taste?”
“It’s I who doesn’t have the appetite,” Gui Wan smiles, the look in her eyes flickering, lips slightly parted, looking as though she’s struggling with something. After a long while, she asks: “Did anything big happen in the imperial court.”
He looks at Gui Wan in surprise, responding with a hint of wonder and exploratory, “I didn’t know you were also interested in the state affairs.”
Hearing this, Gui Wan says nothing. Lou Che watches her, he just gets the feeling that the her today, has many words that she has yet to say, her entire person appearing to be at loss, contradictory, there’s also this sense of unspeakable melancholy, unable to bear this, also pitying the look of confusion in her eyes, he gently says: “Something big did indeed happen in the imperial court,” Noticing Gui Wan reveal a hint of interest in his words, he continues to speak, “It is reported that General Lin was hunting down the Nu’s prince yesterday. In the end, he had let him slip away.”
Gui Wan lifts her head, confirming one more time: “Slipped away?”
“En, was originally already a bird in the net, who would have known that halfway there, the Nu people charged out in rescue, allowing him to escape.” His words were not spoken without regret.
Gui Wan gathers up her mixed feelings within a moment, the vivid happenings of yesterday in her head. In fact, she is not a cold blooded person, so she too felt perplexed, concerned, conflicted. Ye Li is the enemy of her homeland, is the Nu’s important commander, his death is the wish of countless people within the Celestial Empire, what she did yesterday is completely correct, but hearing that he had escaped just now, the big burden in her heart has dissolved. She did not kill him. Perhaps subconsciously, she was also hoping that she did not indirectly, or even directly, got him killed, hoping that she did not get involved in this kind of foul wind and rain of blood (bloodshed).
Shallowly, faintly, she laughs, the gloominess in her heart, swept away, reaching out, she takes hold of the bowl of soup, slowly starting to eat.
Seeing that she has suddenly got her appetite back, the hint of melancholy in her between her brows gone, Lou Che’s heart was also put at ease, “It’s already cold, call for the servants to heat it up at bit.”
“It doesn’t matter.” Gui Wan replies with her mouth filled with soup.
Perhaps it is because of the relaxation in her mood, the moderately cooled soup also tastes good in her mouth, sighing in satisfaction, she finds that Lou Che is still standing in the corridor, and calls out in surprise: “Lord Husband, what’s the matter?”
Lou Che slowly walks up to the edge, sitting across from Gui Wan. He looks at Gui Wan, wanting to say something but says nothing.
She clearly feels Lou Che’s eyes look past her. In fact, he was looking at the pond filled with scatters of red leaves behind her. Seeing the warmth in his eyes, Gui Wan’s heart turns soft at the sight, “Lord Husband, did you think back to something?”
“Perhaps so.” Lou Che is always carrying that smile, like that of the spring breeze in March, making people feel fresh and mild, “Gui Wan, the first day of next month, we need to make a trip to the palace.”
First day of next month? Isn’t that in five days? Gui Wan asks: “Is there a joyous event to celebrate in the palace?”
Lou Che nods, confirming her guesses, “The Jing Yi Hall (scenery viewing hall) is completed, and the young prince is now two years old. The Emperor will be holding a banquet to celebrate these two joyous events at the same time.”
Jing Yi Hall? Such a familiar name……where has she heard it before? Suddenly thinking back to that day at the restaurant, the middle-aged scholar has mentioned this with a tone of irony, a hall built for Consort Ying. In sudden realisation, Gui Wan looks towards Lou Che, “Do I also need to attend?” Just thinking of the possible scenarios that’s going to play out on the day, her blood freezes.
To accompany Lou Che to see Consort Ying, it is just too strange.
“Of course, you are my wife.” His gentle voice sounding very definite.
Hearing his words, Gui Wan was speechless, keeping watch of Lou Che’s calm face that reveals no trace of mood swings, she suddenly asks: “Wouldn’t it be conflicting?”
Raising his brows, Lou Che asks back: “What conflict?”
Gui Wan places down the bowl, looking out to the skies as she organises her thoughts, she gently says: “Lord Husband is the court’s Grand Secretary, with authority overflowing the imperial court, in this world what is there that you don’t understand? Clearly knowing that righteous matters, you should do, but what if you clearly know it is right but you would regret doing it in future, would you do it?”
Seeing the seriousness in her eyes, her softly spoken tone, Lou Che slightly felt at loss, intuitively asking: “How could there be a matter that you clearly know is right, but would regret doing it in future?”
“Haven’t you already done it before?” Gui Wan says, slyly laughing.
Freezing on the spot, Lou Che looks towards Gui Wan with sharp eyes, seeing such an intense look from him for the first time, Gui Wan seemingly innocent, continues to speak: “The Emperor is the lord, Husband is the subject, imperial power is the key link, romantic feelings are frequent, is this not a conflict?”
Lou Che was dumbfounded, deeply scrutinising Gui Wan, under this sort of inspection of his, Gui Wan freely laughs and stands up, she lightly waves her sleeves, turning around and heads out of the porch, very casually throwing aside a few more words: “It truly is the players holding the pawns ah~.”
Understanding that the meaning behind her words is pinpointing something else, Lou Che gets a little angry, the problems that he has purposely been avoiding has suddenly been brought in front of him, he was also a little angry at the figure like light clouds and soft wind, towards the leaving figure, he responds: “The one who wordlessly watches the game of chess is the true lord.”
Hearing his words, the figure does not stop, continuing to walk out. Gui Wan secretly thinks to herself, who told them to drag her along to watch this game of chess, Consort Ying, Lou Che, her, all of whom originally had their own chessboards to play with, but now, she just had to have been dragged into this one chessboard by them, she too has been forced into this by fate, however, the great fortune within this misfortune, is that she is not the one placing down the pawns.
A building every five steps, a pavilion every ten steps, the roofs connected, turning out to look like there is no end in sight, as though trapped within the red-tiled courtyard, Gui Wan couldn’t help but to sigh, the magnificence within the palace is a lot better than she had imagined.
“Really is an excessive waste of luxury.” Gui Wan says, as though she was sighing. Her voice is accompanied only by the sound of the carriage’s spinning wheels.
Hearing her quiet voice, Lou Che explains: “The late Emperor loved the beauty of luxury, so the palace has gone through some renovations.” His voice also seems to carry a hint of melancholy.
Turning to face Lou Che, her eyes showing no emotion, only carrying an indifferent smile, “I presume Jing Ye is also as luxurious.”
Lou Che says nothing, smiling as he draws the carriages’ curtains, very gently giving her a light hug, not responding to her comment, he says: “Don’t catch the chill like this, you can easily catch a cold.” Unfamiliar with such intimacy, Gui Wan who had originally wanted to push him away, hears those words, and slightly relaxes.
Whilst both people were occupied with their own thoughts, the horse carriage stops. The sound of string instruments, the sound of laughter, the sound of liveliness passes through the curtains and travels inside, bewitched by these sounds, Gui Wan could also feel the excitement surging up from within, hearing the reporting officer loudly call out: “Prime Minister Lou and Madam has arrived.” The seat beside her was empty, Lou Che had already gotten off the horse carriage, Gui Wan moves her body a little bit, and was just about to follow after him, when the curtains were lifted, a hand extended in front of her, her eyes looks up, the originally lively palace, filled with extravagantly dressed officials and their female partners, all had their full attention on them.
Humbly smiling, she takes hold of Lou Che’s extended hand, slowly descending from the horse carriage. Amongst the crowd, there appears to be some who were alarmed and panicky, recovering themselves, several officials immediately surrounds them. Towards Lou Che they are full of flattery and bootlicking, officials’ words are empty words, one after the other, adding lies to a pile of nonsense. Watching them with their hypocritical fawning countenance, Gui Wan laughs mockingly inside, but was also a little startled: So this is power? It truly is a ubiquitous power ah~.
It is during this moment of wave after wave of worshipping officials, a sudden glance from the corner of the eyes, reveals that there are still people standing in the left corner, remaining firmly motionless, so there are still people who do not fear power. To satisfy her curiosity, Gui Wan eagerly looks over, and immediately receives a shock, standing there, with a tall and graceful posture, if not General Lin Rui En who else could it be?
Today, General Lin is dressed in a body of white Confucianism robe, the cold air around him feels different because of his clothing, looking gentle and refined, just from looking at his appearance, who would have known that he is a warlord with tremendous prowess on the battlefield? He stands by the side, surrounding him were also some members of the court, but the majority of them were military commanders. Don’t know whether it is her misconception, Gui Wan feels as though he is also paying attention to this side.
Finally done dealing with the pleasantries and greetings of the big crowd, they wait for the people around them to disperse a bit, Gui Wan feels slightly fatigued, could this be the imperial palace’s banquet? Hypocrisy, extravagance, with an atmosphere of luxurious wastefulness.
Noticing her strange demeanour, Lou Che quietly asks: “Gui Wan, are you tired?” His heart ached to see her looking worn out.
Turning to him with a smile, Gui Wan teases: “Lord Husband, the banquet hasn’t even started yet.”
Lou Che was stunned, he lets out a bright laughter, attracting the attention of some officials who once again looks over at them.
“Truly a woman of peerless elegance.” In the corner, a man with a tall and strong built, dressed in military robes, watches on as he comments. Everywhere is lively within Jing Ye, there is only this place, where only four or five people stands around Lin Rui En, the one who spoke is Feng Luo Cheng who stands before him.
The tall and slim man who stands on the left, begrudgingly says: “Folks like us struggle through life and death at the borders, yet these people who usually only know how to show off their literary skills, stays in the Capital and lives a happy life. Look at that Madam Lou, old me has lived for so long, and have never seen such a beautiful woman before.”
The current Emperor favours civil matters over military, this is known to the world. Military officers within the imperial court does not get promoted as fast the civil officers, their treatment also cannot compare to that of civil officers. All the frontier troops more or less holds feelings of resentment deep down in their hearts.
“General Zhou, watch your words, what place do you think this is.” Reprimanding him is the middle aged scholar accompanying General Lin by his side, he is a military advisor, known for always being able to come up with a hundred of strategies as well his great foresight, his seniority in the army has been preserved, so for him to reprimand someone like that, even the tall and slim man will keep his mouth shut.
Turning around, he sees the unfathomable look on Lin Rui En’s face, letting out a small sigh, he says: “General, I believe with your eyes, you too should have recognised that Madam Lou. It can be considered that we have had the pleasure of meeting her once before.”
Not saying anything in response, Lin Rui En turns a deaf ear, continuing to display that icy cold look of indifference.
The military advisor did not think rudely of him, continuing to speak: “Didn’t think she is Madam Lou.” These words spoken didn’t seem to be his, instead it was said on Lin Rui En’s behalf, Lin Rui En knits his brows together, about to say something. Right at this moment, he notices Lou Che lower his head, his expression gentle as he says something, Gui Wan turns her head and sweetly smiles. Upon seeing this, Lin Rui En freezes, his brows knitting together even more, forgetting whatever he was about to say.
Seeing him like this, the military advisor also frowns, lamenting: “Beauties are all disasters.”
Hearing his words, Lin Rui En didn’t even get the chance to react, when the tall and slim man besides him has already spoken up: “Didn’t think that Military Advisor Lu has also taken a liking to that beauty.” He pauses for a moment, seeming to have thought of something, he speaks again: “This cannot do, Military Advisor Lu, your child is already at the age qualified to enter the battlefield. For you to think of such a young beauty, this is unjust to Madam. I’d say, such a beautiful young lady, seems to match our General quite well.”
Once he had said that, he even let out a snicker or two, as though he felt his own idea wasn’t bad.
“Shut up.” Lin Rui En scolds, “What nonsense are you speaking?”
The people nearby also turns their heads, everyone there had only just seen this frost-like youth reveal a look of anger for the first time. The tall and slim man freeze on the spot, not knowing how he should respond. Everyone else also appears to be shocked by Lin Rui En’s expression.
Having just scolded, he immediately felt a sense of regret, these people are all brothers who he had fought through life and death with on the battlefields, yet he was unable to keep his emotions in check. Just now, he doesn’t know why, but he just couldn’t withstand such crazy talk that carried wishful thinking, severely interfering with his emotions. From the corner of his eyes, he sees the military advisor’s knowing expression, and once again another round of irritation rises within. Looking away, he just happens to meet eyes with Gui Wan’s surprised yet studying expression, he quickly turns away, pretending he didn’t see it.
In this moment of Lin Rui En’s endless irritability, an ink blue figure stands in front of the hall, calling out from the top of his lungs: “His majesty the Emperor, Empress, and Lady Consort Ying has arrived—“
Officials and their partners that filled up the entire hall, all bows down in greeting, the large hall falling into silence, only hearing the noise of footsteps walking in, following on is the modestly spoken “Forego the formalities—“
Gui Wan slowly raises her head, the Emperor stands in the middle of the large hall, a lady stood on each side of him. On the right, is the one who Gui Wan feels familiar yet unfamiliar towards, Consort Ying, and on the left should be the mother of the empire, the Empress. She had heard that within the palace, the one who is specifically opposing Consort Ying is the Empress, unable to hold back her curiosity, Gui Wan cannot help but to look over towards the Empress. The Empress is dressed in a lilac water sleeve robe, although she does not have such startling beauty like Consort Ying, she too has the eyes of a phoenix, clearly a delicate and beautiful woman, what’s more rare is, within her temperament there is tranquillity, a sense of a kind of amiable yet unapproachable elegance.
As a fellow woman, Gui Wan also had to give it to her, secretly singing her praises, she is indeed deserving to be the mother of the empire.
Seeing from the corner of her eyes, that the Emperor has already sat down, Gui Wan also sits down at the first seat on the left hand side, accompanied by Lou Che.
The banquet had already been prepared, without the Emperor’s command, no one dared to move. Gui Wan raises her head to look at the Emperor, who is completely different to the image she had of him. The Emperor has a handsome face, although he is nearing thirty years of age, presumably due to being pampered since young, he appears to have an elegant magnanimity, however, what makes Gui Wan feel regretful is, the Emperor has no eagerness and vigour, when the current Emperor was Crown Prince it was because he was approachable and was loved by the people, but as the Emperor, such modest attitude would definitely be a great flaw.
Seeing the Emperor hold up the jade bottle, Gui Wan also holds up the white jade cup in front of her. In that moment, she didn’t even get to hear what the Emperor had said, only hearing the people beside her reciting “Of peace and harmony” “A golden harvest of all five grains” “It is a rarely seen golden age since the beginning of a new reign” “The Emperor is ingenious” words of this sort. Looks like hypocritical flattery during occasions like this cannot be any more common, Gui Wan carries a mocking smile, whilst maintaining her grace and poise as she sits there……
“So this is Minister Lou’s tender wife?” The words that have been travelling to her ear seems to have suddenly mentioned her, hearing this, she lifts her head, seeing the Emperor gracefully smile as he gazes over.
Next to her, Lou Che has already spoken: “Yes.” Gui Wan nods her head with a smile, in indication.
The Emperor seems to be rather admiring, laughing as he praises: “Madam Lou’s grace is unparalleled, along with Minister Lou, really a couple as fine looking as jade.”
Hearing those words, Consort Ying and the Empress simultaneously set their line of sight on her. Gui Wan raises her head, just happening to meet eyes with Consort Ying, really is autumn water for pupils, but at this moment, her eyes carries the look of perplexity, tenderness, and even a hint of loath, there were also emotions that Gui Wan cannot understand nor define.
Seeing such eyes, even Gui Wan could feel a heavy stone set in her heart, abruptly looking away, she notices that the Empress was looking at her, her face carrying a smile, but also a look of complication.
Luckily at that moment, the Emperor had turned towards other senior officials, lifting the attention away from her. Gui Wan lightly breaths out.
Although she very well knew that today’s banquet will have an underlying turbulence, but what she is facing right now, also carries the feeling of something else. Gui Wan secretly pledges to herself, banquets like this must most definitely be prevented in future, really does harm your mentality, harm your spirits as well as harming your physical body.
Taking hold of the wine cup, she lightly takes a sip, using this action to hide away from several complex eyes. She doesn’t dare to raise her head again, and looks over towards the seat perfectly in centre, making a point to look down a bit.
Sitting below the Emperor seems to be the Emperor’s younger twin brother. Indeed, he and the Emperor looks somewhat similar, but their temperaments are utterly different. The Emperor is modest and gracious, whilst this Prince Duan is known for being cold and heartless, because he is merited for once saving the Emperor out of trouble, he appears to have gotten more domineering. Whilst she was studying him, Prince Duan seems to have noticed someone’s gaze on him, turning his head to her, his eyes like that of an eagle, shooting over. Towards such callous eyes, Gui Wan was slightly startled, but smiles, and nonchalantly turns away.
Prince Duan sees her naturally looking away, and was actually rendered surprised for a moment. When he usually comes across such situations, other people would either submissively avoid his gaze, or be too scared to move, this woman is indeed different from others. This Lou Che, his luck is abnormally great, first he had the peerlessly beautiful Consort Ying, and later gets a wife with such exquisite elegance. The brilliant blessings offered to this world, he has pretty much taken half of it.
Without even looking over, she can feel the bursts of oppression omitted from Prince Duan. Turning her head to look below, these government officials who’ve been drinking, all attitudes will grow unrestraint, laughter converging into one, her heart bursts with irritation. Gui Wan tugs at Lou Che’s sleeve, Lou Che slightly lowers his head, looking at Gui Wan in puzzlement.
“Lord Husband, Prince Duan’s staring is bit too impolite, is it not?” Gui Wan says.
Hearing this, Lou Che looks up towards Prince Duan’s direction, his face displaying a cold smile, eyes relaying a stern warning.
This smiling tiger, meeting eyes with Lou Che, Prince Duan’s look turns more severe. Right now there is no need to oppose this Prime Minister, secretly cursing at him, he turns his face away.
Seeing such an expression from Lou Che for the first time, Gui Wan felt like she couldn’t really adapt to this. The Lou Che she usually sees at home is generally as gentle as the spring breeze in March, it was her first time seeing such smile with a sword hidden within it, this could also be consider another side to him right? If not, within this you-cheat-me-I-cheat-you environment, how would he have been able to maintain his position of power.
Telling herself that she is overthinking too much, after all, the man beside her has promised, he will not cause her any harm. Since he will not harm her, why should she care about his tactics and methods?
Gui Wan who was silently absorbed in her own thoughts, was suddenly jolted awake by the sound of string instruments, and only then did she realise that the entertaining music and dance performances has already started. Raising her head to look over, the youthful dancing girls in front of the seats have started dancing to the tune, such light weighted movements, with gestures touching the hearts of people, be it serenity be it dance, be it fanning be it turning, the sound of string instruments is pleasant to listen to, the movements of the dancers is pleasant to watch. Within that moment, the hall turns hazy, looking as magical as a dream.
A while later, the music and dancing have come to an end. Hearing the reporting officer announce the hour, Gui Wan was taken aback. It has only been an hour. Could it be that she is passing a day like it is year (to be in deep anxiety), thus feeling as though the times are particularly hard to get through?
According to the reporting officer, the music and dance is only a short interlude of the banquet, the real entertainment would be performed after dinner. Gui Wan was dumbfounded, to organise such a grand scale banquet in celebration for the birthday of your two year old son, is this not a bit too extravagant? She later finds out that she was wrong, this banquet that is officially said to be a celebration for the young prince, is actually a celebration for the completion of Jing Yi Hall. To use the birthday of one’s own child as a front, in order to seek the favour of a woman, everything within this imperial palace seems to be blurred and incredibly unconceivable.
I just love how Gui Wan leisurely approaches this touchy topic of Lou Che’s and then lesiurely walks away, only she can get away that 😄 Also I see that our General Lin here, has quickly become the favourite amongst you guys too, he’s so awkward and cute here, and he doesn’t even realise it hahaha. But now that the banquet has started within the imperial palace, you can be expecting some interaction between Lou Che and Yao Ying, which actually makes me start questioning Lou Che’s “love” for her…I’ll explain in the next half of the chapter, and that shall be posted before the end of this week ^_^