The Imperial Palace’s Grand Banquet (Part Two)
The banquet was soon to diffuse, the Emperor, Empress and Consort Ying leaves first to take a short rest. After they left the scene, there was still another hour left, the majority of the officials starts to disperse, starting to head over to the newly built Jing Ye to take a good look around, the women of their families walking in twos and threes, officials talking with eloquence, all in all, the atmosphere was a lot more relaxed compared to when everyone were eating just now, bursts of laughter can be heard here and there.
Gui Wan felt rather bored, and during the dispersing of the banquet, Lou Che said he has important matters to discuss with the Emperor, immediately leaving after. Now that she is left all alone, how is she to kill an hour’s worth of time? At the blink of an eye, she sees some of the other women gathering together to chat, some fluttering around like butterflies as they admire the flowers, she subtly sighs, it’s a shame that she doesn’t usually chat with any of the madams of senior officials, otherwise she wouldn’t be bored to death right now.
Just sitting here would be inappropriate of her, Gui Wan stands up, thinking that it is better to wander around, admire this newly constructed palace hall, otherwise, she may even forget the purpose of entering the palace in first place.
The structure of Jing Ye is almost no different from the other halls, golden magnificence, not even a few steps in and Gui Wan was already sick of it, thinking to herself, if the Emperor wants to seek the favour of Consort Ying, how could he be so unoriginal? Turning here turning there, she has already wandered faraway from the crowd, something that she too was unaware of. When she finally returned to the right state of mind, she was already entering the back courtyard of Jing Ye, here the lighting is scattered, completely different to the brightly lit large hall, looking towards the garden, Gui Wan freezes on the spot.
The lotus pond, maple leaves, corridors, are actually exactly the same as the Prime Minister Estate, even the red leaves floating on the surface of the pond is no different, virtually misguiding her to believe she has returned to the Prime Minister Estate.
Her heart struck with shock, for Gui Wan, walking around this pond feels completely different to her usual stroll back at home, her current mood at this moment is rather heavy. Thinking of Consort Ying’s implications of doing this, Gui Wan slightly breaks out in cold sweat. If this matter is known to a conscientious person, once exposed, it is practically a great sin, the consequences of such crime can bring calamity to the nine grades of relations. Composing herself, she thinks over it again, even if the skies falls down, she still has Lou Che to prop it up, so what is there for her to be afraid of?
With mixed feelings, she continues to walk, she does not know if it has been purposely arranged like this, but the back courtyard actually has not a single guard nor palace maid in sight. Slightly settling her heart, Gui Wan grew a little curious, could this entire garden really be the same as the one in the Prime Minister Estate? Thinking of the jade steps by the pond that she usually loves to stay at, don’t know whether there’d be one here, thinking this, Gui Wan strides deep into the garden.
Walking up to the very edge of the lotus pond, there is indeed the jade steps. At this moment, Gui Wan really has no choice but to give it to this Consort Ying, looks like she is yet another love-struck fool.
Having just confirmed her own speculations, she had just wanted to turn back, but the sound of footsteps can already be heard from behind her, Gui Wan was surprised, all this time there had been not a single soul in sight, who could have walked into this garden at this time?
Taking a quick glance with a turn of her head, approaching from afar is actually Lou Che and Consort Ying!
Gui Wan’s mind blanks out for a second, she had wanted to greet them, but doesn’t know how to speak up, noticing that the two people have no one besides them, the atmosphere also appears to be a bit strange, to come out during such time, wouldn’t it just be too weird? Switching to another thought, she bends her body to hide behind the fake rockery next to the jade steps, at this moment, she was fortunate that this place is made to look exactly like home, hiding here, she most definitely wouldn’t be found.
“Lady Consort Ying, why exactly have you brought this subject here?” Lou Che calls out to Consort Ying, his tone carrying estrangement.
That beautiful face holds a look of hidden bitterness, Yao Ying turns around, directly looking at Lou Che. This beloved man of hers, to actually use such cold voice towards her, to call out to her in such an estranged way, causing her heart to tighten in pain, her voice bringing tears as she speaks: “Do you not recognise the place before your eyes?”
How could he not recognise it? Lou Che continues to speak emotionlessly: “This is the newly built Jing Ye.”
“No,” Yao Ying strains, her voice sounding even more sad and dreary, “This is not Jing Ye, this is not……” Her hand points towards the garden –– pointing over, she says in a crying tone: “That is the lotus pond I love most, the lotus pond you made; that is the corridor I love most, the corridor you made; that is the jade steps I love most, the jade steps you made……” Her words can no longer form any sounds, Yao Ying sobs incessantly.
Seeing Yao Ying weep so sorrowfully in front of him, a scene like that of a pear blossom bathed in rain, Lou Che stands frozen, seized by a sudden impulse, an image of Gui Wan’s face floats before his eyes, both are women equally as beautiful as the other, yet how could there be such a big difference between them personality wise? Yao Ying looks glamorously beautiful on the outside, but is soft on the inside; Gui Wan looks elegantly beautiful on the outside, but inside……inside, she should be considered carefree and easy-going right?
“What are you thinking……?” Yao Ying feels a burst of panicking heartbeats, seeing Lou Che appear absent-minded just now.
Composing himself as he looks at Yao Ying, Lou Che lets out a sigh, gently saying: “Ying-er, do you know what you are doing? This is the imperial palace. There are many eyes and ears, you must always be cautious, if anyone sees you like this, it will give rise to an impending fatality.”
Hearing his change of addressment, Yao Ying’s heart slowly calms, softly speaking: “I am just anxious, today seeing you……you treat Yu so well, I felt too heavy-hearted, that’s why……” (Note: Yu is Gui Wan’s surname)
Brows knitting together, Lou Che responds saying: “Gui Wan is also the wife you have found for me, what exactly do you want me to do?” His heart greatly troubled.
Slightly stunned, Yao Ying reveals a smile that looks worse than crying, “That’s right, it is I who found her for you. I had originally thought, if I cannot stay by your side, then I should find you a woman who is no less than myself to be your wife, but……but seeing it today, I could not even refrain my jealousy……good heavens, how despicable I am, even I loathe myself.” Both hands masking her face, Yao Ying’s tears once again steams down uncontrollably.
Back then when she was entering the palace, she had sincerely wanted for Lou Che to get a great wife, thinking of the stunning glimpse of Yu Gui Wan at Hong Fu Temple, she immediately asked for a marriage grant, but what pained her heart at the time, was that she cannot let go……cannot let go of the man, as gentle as jade, in front of her. That is why on his wedding night, she had summoned him into the palace, doing every means possible to keep him there, when she was being bullied by other imperial concubines within the palace, he would stay by her side to protect her, therefore she does not retaliate, and would rather rely on him to protect her, everyone think she is weak, but how could they know her ulterior motives?
As long as she is vulnerable within the palace, he shall forever stay by her side, so she does not mind, does not mind harming herself, in exchange, he will not be able to let go of this attachment.
The strong feeling of sorrow that is pouring out from Yao Ying’s body, even Gui Wan could feel it, causing her heart to also feel slightly sad, just how heavy of a feeling it is.
Lou Che says nothing, and could only look at Yao Ying. Just when did it start to become like this, this woman’s body has been tied up, shrouded in sorrow and melancholy. Letting out a sigh, he takes out a handkerchief from him sleeve, and very gently wipes away the tears of Yao Ying who had already become like a child flooded in tears.
As his breathing came closer, her heart felt as ease. Yao Ying gently leans onto his shoulders, noticing that he had wanted to back away, she reaches out to hold onto his waist, softly saying: “Don’t leave me, I will no longer be bothered by other women by your side anymore, just as long as you don’t leave me.”
Hearing her words, Lou Che doesn’t say anything, but also doesn’t push her away.
Gui Wan could no longer hold back, taking a little peep from behind the fake rockery, she didn’t think that, what she will be seeing is the beautiful scene of Consort Ying gently resting on Lou Che. Honestly speaking, they do indeed match very well, unfortunately fate messes with people, not knowing why, she too also feels slightly upset today, although Lou Che is not someone she loves, but to personally see the intimacy between him and Consort Ying, she too can feel her heart knot up a bit.
For her who doesn’t have feelings of love as the base point, to be slightly bothered by this, then if by chance the Emperor who deeply loves Consort Ying finds out……would that not……she dares not to think too deeply into it, Gui Wan reminds herself to forget everything she has seen today.
Having finally waited till they have walked far away, Gui Wan could finally let out a sigh of relief, her body that was leaning against the fake rockery was aching, standing up straight, perhaps the performances has started, she was planning to just slowly walk back, turning around, she hears a noise come from the thicket of bushes and trees, her heart immediately rendered shocked, could it be that there is someone else hiding within the bushes?
Taking two steps back, towards the place where the sound has come from, she looks over attentively. Within the darkness, she makes direct eye contact with another person. Gui Wan was alarmed.
Didn’t think that there would be someone within the thicket, Gui Wan was somewhat perturbed. If matters that had happened today is disclosed, there will be an impending fatality awaiting them. Her heart beats in a putong putong rhythm, pinning her eyes on the figure in the darkness, she gently calls out: “Who’s there?”
The person inside the thicket also appears to have been startled by her, shrinking back, and colliding into branches, thus sounding a wave of rustling. Within the still of the night as such, nothing more can appear as abrupt as this.
Seeing that the other person is even more flustered than her, Gui Wan calms down, coldly speaking: “Come out.“ The thicket remains quiet and motionless. After a short while, a figure slowly crawls out from the thicket, a slim body, dressed in a long ink blue robe, he was very nervous, his clothes hooks onto the branches, and his hand tries to detach it, but after several tries he was still unable to unhook his clothes.
Seeing his extremely troubled look, Gui Wan can feel herself loosen up, and even wanted to laugh. That figure who had been inside the dark the entire time, raises his head, Gui Wan looks at him attentively.
Didn’t think that the one who was hiding inside the thicket was actually a delicately handsome youth, his fair skin is no less than that of a woman, his facial features holding a delicate and elegant charm, and a pair of eyes that expresses unspoken purity and innocence. Facing such a handsome and pure youth, Gui Wan was temporarily speechless.
Organising her current feelings, Gui Wan speaks, her voice flowing like quiet waves: “Who are you?” Judging by his clothes, he doesn’t seem to be of noble aristocracy, his temperament doesn’t seem like one all the more, within the aristocratic families, there is none who has such pure eyes like that of water.
The youth appears extremely surprised, but quickly calms down, answering: “I have come with the Kun Yuan Performance Troupe.”
Only after thinking back in circles, did she manage to remember that the performance starting in a bit, seems to be performed by the supposedly well-known Kun Yuan Performance Troupe. Gui Wan’s heart somewhat rests assured, as long as is not someone from within the palace, then it will be much easier to handle.
“Since you are someone from the performance troupe, why are you not in the front hall preparing to start the performance, and instead came here?”
Once the youth heard this, he fell into a daze, not answering immediately, after staying silent for a while, he says: “I don’t act in the opera, only following the performance troupe. Taking advantage of the opening of the performance, I have come here to rest for a bit, do a bit of reading.” Having said that, he slightly lowers his head. Seeing that his eyes appears steady, it does not look like he is lying.
Only now did she notice that when the youth had crawled out in panic, a book had fallen beside him. Gui Wan crouches down, reaching out to pick up the book. Under the youth’s slight look of shock, she turns the page, having skimmed through it, she was unable to hold back her surprise, didn’t think that he was actually reading 《Ingenious Schemes That Assisted The Country》 he’s actually reading such a profound strategy book?
Taking a moment of thought, Gui Wan feels a little troubled, “Just now……did you see it all?”
The purity in the youth’s eyes immediately shows a trace of panic, smacking his lips together, in the end he says nothing. Seeing this, Gui Wan was sure that he had witnessed the scene just now, this really can’t be good.
Her lips lifting into a faint curve, Gui Wan asks the youth: “How old are you this year?” Her voice as gentle as the breeze in spring.
The youth was surprised, answering in a crisp voice: “Nineteen years old.”
A year older than her, Gui Wan smiles. To be able to have such a pure and innocent look in one’s eyes, it really isn’t an easy matter, but no matter how naïve, how innocent, now that he’s gotten involved in this matter, there is no way for him to get away.
Looking at this youth, Gui Wan was momentarily unable to think of a good idea. The front hall is bustling with people, here it is overly cold and cheerless, such a sharp contrast, dividing this place into a strange dimension. A young woman dressed in a glamorous outfit and young man as pure as water, exchanging gazes, yet neither of them speaks.
She can no longer drag this on, Gui Wan thinks to herself, staring at the youth, she clearly tells him: “You have seen something that you should not have, this really is troubling. From now on, your fate is no longer yours.”
Seeing the youth reveal an expression of confusion and panic, Gui Wan also couldn’t help but to pity him, “Right now, you only have two paths to choose from……”
“I will not speak out about it.” The youth suddenly interrupts her words, speaking with an expression of incomparable determination, the raising of his voice was also because of his firm resolution.
Lightly nodding her head, Gui Wan laughingly responds: “I believe you,” Seeing the youth reveal a smile because of those three words, Gui Wan reminds him again, “But I cannot take the lives of so many people to place a bet on you, the stakes at place here are far too great……right now you can only choose one of the two paths.”
The youth’s face appears even paler within the darkness, carrying an expression of contemplation, the youth quietly listens to Gui Wan’s words.
“The first path, is you die.” Not at all realising how brutal of a matter she is speaking of, Gui Wan’s voice does not waver, as though she was speaking of something very common, “If I loudly call for people to come right now, I can immediately have you sent to your death, but……are you willing to die like this?” Taking a pause, Gui Wan looks at the youth, wanting to see what he is thinking underneath those eyes that are as clear as glass.
Seeing the youth carry a bitter smile, Gui Wan lays down the second option, “You still have a second choice,” Once again, she gives the youth an attentive look before speaking again, “Are you willing to leave the performance troupe and come with me?” Hearing this, the youth freezes.
When facing someone who knows a secret, usually there is only two approaches, one is to silence them through death, and two is to accept them as your own. No matter how cruel and heartless this palace is, she does not want to follow the crowd, belittling human lives. Besides this youth gives her the impression of a diamond in the rough.
Seeing the youth’s silence, she waits, without showing the slightest bit of impatience, she silently waits for him to give her an answer.
In the dark, the youth’s eyes becomes more and more firm. He raises his head, looking directly into Gui Wan’s eyes, “I’m willing to go with you.”
In an instance, Gui Wan gets another kind of feeling like being in a scattered dream, that youth determinedly said to her:
I’m willing to go with you.
This is a play.
Sitting on the bench, Gui Wan watches the pounding of gongs and drums on stage, and the dancing of shadow-like figures. Feeling a little dizzy, she turns her head, her eyes circling around the hall, some officials listens on obsessively, entranced as though in a drunken state; some were absent-minded, exchanging flirtatious glances with their female counterparts. Lou Che did not return, Consort Ying also didn’t show up with the excuse of feeling unwell, even the Emperor didn’t come, only leaving the group of officials and their female counterparts to watch the performances. Seeing the situation at hand right now, she could not help but find it funny.
Unable to hold it in, Gui Wan cracks a smile, the real opera act has left, those that have remained to watch the performance, this gathering of public officials attentively watching on this play, has not even noticed, the main characters had already withdrawn. As for herself, although having already discovered the withdrawal of the main characters, has no choice but to continue watching this lead-less play.
Truly a laughable imperial palace.
Unable to help it, her thoughts return to the refreshing youth from before, she had personally followed him to face the head of the performance troupe, once the head of the troupe sees that she is the Prime Minister Madam, he immediately accepts all her requests without a second thought. So that youth is also born from a rundown scholarly family, living an impoverished life. He had followed the performance troupe to the Capital, wanting to participate in tomorrow’s early spring imperial examinations.
Does this naïve youth also want to step into the officialdom? This truly is cruel.
However, when the youth heard others address her as Prime Minister Madam just before, he seemed to be very shocked. Never would he have thought that, she is someone who personally witnessed her own husband and the imperial concubine’s secret rendezvous, and even dealt with a troublesome person for them. Thinking of the youth’s stunned look from before, Gui Wan was no longer able to hold back her laughter.
At this time, when the performance was already playing out, a figure walks towards the seats on the right, sitting down. The people in same area raise their heads in surprise, speaking in surprise: “General? You only just arrived, the performance has already reached the midpoint.” The tall and slim man never holds back his tongue.
Lin Rui En nods his head, “It doesn’t matter.” Calmly sitting down, his expression appears rather absentminded.
The military advisor leans in, a little worried, he asks with concern: “General, where did you go just now, none of the people I sent out could find you.”
Lin Rui En freezes for a moment, hesitantly answering: “I went for a stroll around the back garden of Jing Yi Hall just now.”
“Oh?” The military advisor reveals an expression of surprise, lowering his voice, “Lady Consort Ying does not allow just anyone to stroll around that garden, does General know this?”
Bitterly letting out a laugh, Lin Rui En’s forehead faintly carries a trace of thoughtfulness, turning his head, he could not help but to look towards the first seat on the left side, although the distance was quite far, that face could still be reflected within his eyes, he opens his mouth to answer: “I did not know there was such rules.”
“As long as you say nothing then it’ll be fine.” The military advisor smiles in consolation. With the status of a general, so what if he had strayed into the garden, it’s just that, this is the Emperor’s doted consort, there is no need to be troubled by such trifle matters.
“Is that so? As long as nothing is said then it’ll be fine?” Unconsciously, Lin Rui En recites this in repetition.
Noticing his odd behaviour, the military advisor turns to the left. Following Lin Rui En’s line of sight, he cannot help but sigh, his heart also starting to feel troubled.
On stage, the act continues to sing as it is set in full swing.
The opera act finally comes to an end. Gui Wan feels as though a heavy load had been lifted. Although she didn’t listen to much, she still feels that the performance was splendid, sometimes sad sometimes happy. It’s just a shame, she wasn’t in the mood to listen to it. Life is originally a drama in itself, so what’s the need to go watch such dramatic plays.
Getting up, she heads out of the hall, where a horse carriage awaits. She’s tired, today she needs to go home and take a good rest. Not noticing this when she had come, the aisle in this big hall is actually this long, or should she be saying, her mood has changed.
“Madam Lou……” A voice calls Gui Wan to a stop, turning her head, Prince Duan smiles as he stands three steps outside.
Moving her body slightly, Gui Wan plasters on a shallow smile as she answers: “Prince Duan, is there anything you need?” Such callous eyes, makes people feel dreadful, but can actually be dealt with a forced smile.
Prince Duan takes two steps and then one step, crossing over to Gui Wan as he stands next to her side by side as they walk out of the hall, “It’s just that I see Minister Lou isn’t here, so I shall act as the trailbreaker for Madam.”
Gui Wan picks up her pace, blandly answering: “Prince Duan really is caring.”
Prince Duan lets out a laugh, even his laugh is more arrogant than others, “Minister Lou really is obsessed with the state affairs, will he also be staying in the palace tonight?”
“It is only natural that Husband puts his efforts in contributing to the country.” The words spoken were so hypocritical, Gui Wan found that she is becoming more and more adapted to this place.
“Is it really this simple?” He takes a pause, noticing that Gui Wan is not showing any emotional expression, he changes the subject, “With such a tender wife at home, had it been me, I’d definitely wouldn’t stay in the palace.” His words carries a frivolous tone, deliberately to test her, he really wants to see, just how big of a tolerance this woman has.
Hearing those words, Gui Wan merely knits her brows together ever so slightly, but immediately smiles indifferently again, “Then Princess Consort Duan must be happy.” Raising her eyes to see the horse carriage just in front, she subtly sighs in relief, slightly turning her head, “Your highness, sorry to trouble you, I’ve already arrived. Really thankful to your highness for today.” Saying that, she doesn’t even wait for Prince Duan’s response, and had already left without looking back.
Prince Duan freezes on the spot, not showing any response. An official in crimson red leans in as he comes up to his side, standing next to Prince Duan as he speaks in a toady manner: “Does Lord Prince like this woman?”
Seeing that Prince Duan shows not the slightest of reaction, he assumes he guessed right and gives a sneaky look: “This Madam Lou cannot be touched, but I can get a woman who looks about six or seven points like her, for your highness to enjoy.”
All of a sudden, Prince Duan coldly sounds a laugh: “Who says I like this woman?” He speaks as though he’s clenching his teeth in bitter hatred, turning his body to coldly eye the person in front of him, he hatefully says: “Even if I want it, I would not want a fake. Minister Zhou, if you have the time to come trying to figure out my mind, it’s better to spend more time thinking about how you can keep that wusha hat on your head in the long term.” (Note: Wusha is the black gauze cap that is worn by officials)
Having said that, he leaves with vigorous strides. The remaining official in crimson red shows a face filled with fear, his forehead sweating profusely.
Gui Wan walks up to the horse carriage, and only then did she find that youth was waiting at the side. Seeing his still jade-like figure stand there, her heart warms up. She doesn’t know why, but having just dealt with the hypocritical imperial palace, and then see this youth that is as clear as water after that, makes her feel a type of long absent friendliness.
Firmly sitting in the horse carriage, she turns her hand to beckon the youth on board. Originally, doing this is inappropriate, but now that the skies are so dark, with no other horse carriage, she cannot just leave this youth to run after the horse carriage as they return to the Prime Minister Estate.
Both people firmly sits facing each other. The horse carriage had already started moving, Gui Wan lets out a sigh of relief, extending her hand to lift up the curtains, wanting to see the outside. Another hand suddenly appears in front of her, gently closing the curtain, the youth’s voice sounds in a very gentle manner: “The winds are really strong outside, you’ll catch a cold.”
Looking at him in astonishment, Gui Wan freezes up, such a familiar scene, when coming here, Lou Che also seems to have said this.
The youth sees Gui Wan’s reaction, his face turning red, immediately retrieving his hand back to his side. That’s right, she is of such noble status, how could she tolerate him making such gestures, thinking this, the youth shows an expression of bewilderment.
Noticing the youth’s sudden haste, Gui Wan lets out an elegant yet tense laugh, “Thank you.” Seeing the youth’s clear pupils, she is struck by a thought, asking, “What’s your name?”
The youth replies: “I’m called Guan Xiu Wen.”
Gui Wan takes a look at him, and closes her eyes, gently leaning against the pre-prepared cushion in the carriage, listening to the sound of the carriage’s wheels, she thinks for a long time, then indifferently says: “Are you prepared? Officialdom, is a path even more dangerous than being in the battlefield, if you do not have a firm conviction, how will walk down this path? The you right now is not enough.”
This voice is ever so light, so faint, but with one hit one shot it is beaten into Guan Xiu Wen’s heart. Intently looking at the woman with her eyes closed in front of him, this woman who had once very calmly said she will kill him, this woman who had completely changed his destiny, suddenly feeling at a loss, conviction……just what kind of conviction should he be holding to walk down the path ahead?
The horse carriage continues to run, throwing behind the imperial palace with red walls and gold tiles. At this moment, no one knew, this very night, changed the fate of several people……
Everything, has only just begun.
 Nine grades of relations or jiǔ zú / 九族 is a concept often used when it comes to the application of the law and the punishment of severe crimes. The term is most used in the phrase zhū lián jiǔ zú / 株连九族 – one of the cruellest of punishments – as it means the extermination of the nine grades of relations, whereby innocent family members are executed because of a crime committed by a certain family member – guilt by association. The nine grades of relations includes: the criminal’s parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, siblings, siblings-in-law, uncles, uncles’ spouses, the criminal and the criminal’s spouse. Note that only children over a certain age can be executed.
 Pear blossom bathed in rain or lí huā dài yǔ / 梨花带雨 refers to a weeping beauty.
 The actual proverb used for following the crowd is suí bō zhú liú / 随波逐流 which translates to sailing to the stream or to be carried along by the tide.
 To make gestures of remark to someone – zhǐ shǒu huà jiǎo / 指手画脚 which means to gesticulate profusely or criticize indiscriminately.