The beauty of the Capital, is best reflected when the sun descends, a scenery of sunset glow, colourful and magically changing, particularly with the colour of red prominent, like the spreading of light ink in water, rendering half the sky, deep and heavy, breathtakingly spectacular, together with the grandeur of the tall red walls of the imperial palace, a display of extremely honourable glory, with the tallest Ning Kun Palace as focal point, extending a stretch into the net of Capital glory, within such solemnity, a trace of long honoured historical flavour is revealed, within such desolation, a display of profound influence overflows with the deeply rooted air of imperial power.
The descending sun like blood……
In the evening hours, having finally arrived at the Capital City, Gui Wan steps down from the horse carriage, looking into the distance at first glance, what she sees is the Capital City as such, her heart suddenly jumps, gazing into half a sky of rosy clouds, the bright red of the setting sun.
Unexpectedly, coming to welcome them at the eastern gates is actually Prince Duan and his party. In purple-gold python robes, jade belt and brocade boots, Prince Duan walks over in big strides, a friendly smile hung on his usually stern looking face, seeing Lou Che, Lin Rui En, he actually looks as though he has not seen his good friends for a long time, who could possibly think from seeing such passionate appearance that they each actually hold their own share of great power, and can become political enemies at any given time?
“Prime Minister Lou and General Lin has finally returned, without Prime Minister Lou and General Lin, this Capital City has practically gotten a little too cold and cheerless.” Heartily laughing as he nears them, Prince Duan appears to be filled with a tremendous amount of lament.
“With Prince Duan here, how could the Capital possibly be cold and cheerless?” Such statement escapes his thin lips as though praising, as though ridiculing, Lou Che sits on the horseback, condescendingly looking down at Prince Duan.
Prince Duan acts as though he did not hear the tone hidden within his words, the smile on his face not at all faltering, he turns to Lin Rui En, “General Lin has worked hard, his majesty is singing high praises for you, General Lin truly does not fall short of being our country’s rarely seen military talent.”
The cold general indifferently nods his head, “I daren’t be worthy.”
Knowing that he is originally someone cold by nature, his overly simple use of four words does not bother Prince Duan at all, Prince Duan is talking cheerfully and humorously today, acting very friendly, he greets Gui Wan who had just gotten off the horse carriage: “Madam Lou’s elegant demeanour remains the same, I am very fortunate indeed.”
Gui Wan slightly performs a courteous bow in greeting, returning a smile, displaying impeccable etiquette and elegance, whilst hiding the shock of seeing Prince Duan’s warm welcome, inevitably suspicious of his reason for coming here. Smiling as she looks away, she suddenly catches sight of a clear shadow within the accompanying officials. Having not seen this youth for over two months, he seems to have changed a lot, a humble attitude as he cautiously stands in a row of blue amongst the red official robes, against a background of stained red skies, all their faces seem to blur, sinking into the shadows of the sunset.
Prince Duan and Lou Che, Lin Rui En, the three people side by side as they head into the imperial city, Gui Wan transfers to a simple horse carriage and follows behind, the rest of the government officials stands in waiting. Just when the carriage passes by the officials in rank order, the young first ranked scholar could not help but to look over, he looks into the carriage, face revealing a sincere smile, that sort of air of innocence and incisiveness once again returning to his body, refreshing just like the clear mountain springs.
He is still the youth from back then, thinking this, Gui Wan feels much more at ease.
In front of the city gates up ahead, the three most powerful men within the current imperial court discusses something as they walk, every so often Prince Duan’s laughter like the cry of an eagle can be heard. Gui Wan looks askance at the three figures, finding it truly laughable, just when she was enjoying the individual looks on their faces, Prince Duan makes a sudden turn and heads towards her, pulling up the horse to the carriage side, laughingly say: “Madam Lou, excuse my rudeness, I shall be leaving first.”
“Prince Duan’s personal welcome, is already of the greatest of honour……please walk slowly.”
“Madam is too polite,” Prince Duan’s eagle eyes makes a turn, carrying interest, as he stares at Gui Wan, “I shall be looking forward to Madam’s gracious presence in the palace within a day’s time.”
Rendered speechless for a moment, Gui Wan widens her eyes, before the last sentence even sunk in, Prince Duan had already left, laughing away.
She gazes towards the back with a sense of loss, Lou Che slowly walks up to her, as gentle as water, just as usual with no change, “Let us return home.”
Radiant pearls, white jade bangle, extending her hand to fiddle with the jewellery, Gui Wan sits in front of the mirror, leaving Ling Long to comb her hair, the candle on the table flickers, wavering unsteadily, just like the current mood she is in.
Receiving Consort Ying’s invitation, although unexpected, she was not actually surprised, a woman who is fragile to the extreme is also a type of danger, and Yao Ying is undoubtedly a master in this. A shallow smile surfaces on her lips, Gui Wan softly laughs out loud.
Ling Long receives a shock, revealing puzzlement as she asks: “What are you laughing at?” Even though Gui Wan has already gotten married, she still hasn’t been able to change her addressment.
“I’m laughing at, a woman’s grief, a woman’s sorrow, a woman’s foolishness, such that pains people’s heart but at the same time it also give rises to slight resentment ah.” Gui Wan very casually strokes the ends of her hair, with unspeakable elegance and distinct air of refinement.
Ling Long was even more confused, she does not know who she is feeling sad for, but in this instance, she indeed feels her heart pained……deeply remembering Madam’s unique way of teaching, the sort that took effect very subtly, unconsciously influential, bit by bit penetrating into the heart. Accepting an overly strong sense of self-protection and awareness, only when feelings have been moved would a slight crack emerge. Ah, did you know, the one who is truly pitiful and miserable is not someone else who is crazy in love, but is you who is equipped with a show of no emotions and only love yourself ah. (Ling Long is addressing Gui Wan’s mother as Madam here)
Words that cannot possibly leave her lips, remains stuck in her heart, a sour feel rushes up to her eyes, in the heat of the moment, tears come rolling down.
Gui Wan doubtfully looks back, reaching out to catch those crystal tears, gently asking: “Ling Long, what’s wrong?”
The tears rushes down more fiercely, Ling Long sobs, “……could it be that you’re not lonely? Why can you not give someone a chance? Why must you reject happiness?”
Questions accompanied by strings of tears, dripping into Gui Wan’s heart. Heart like a mirror, suddenly seeing the light, her smile gradually widens, even the tip of her brows expresses her joy, Gui Wan laments: “To this day, I can truly feel your sincere concern and loyalty towards me.” Reaching up to wipe away the trails of tears, quietly saying in a laughing manner, “Listen, these words I may only ever say once……”
The candlelight flickers around like an illusion on Gui Wan’s face, weakening Ling Long’s consciousness, and only then did she notice, after not seeing her for over two months, Gui Wan seems to have changed. This is the most purest, most genuine smile she has ever seen from Gui Wan.
“Ling Long, I seem to have found the path to happiness.”
Time suddenly stood still, Ling Long cried even more sorrowfully, but also showing a trace of laughter, a trace of bitterness, a trace of relief, a trace of joy……
Ah, did you know, hearing those words from you, just how happy Ling Long also is ah
After a long while, Gui Wan laughs and teases as she waits for Ling Long to organise herself. Ling Long very easily stops crying, and only then did she feel slightly embarrassed, gently laughing as she says: “Let’s quickly doll you up, you still need to enter the palace.”
Seeing her take out a set of ordinary palace outfit, paired with the silver silk ribbon, Gui Wan lowers her head in thinking, leisurely saying: “Today I won’t be wearing this one.” Standing up, she walks to the closet, selecting a set of robes, smoothly taking off her jewellery, before handing it to Ling Long to take a look, “Today I shall wear this set.”
Staring dumbfounded at Gui Wan, Ling Long was speechless, absolutely surprised, others are desperate to display their beauty, as for her, her grace alone is a stroke above others, usually she would hide her beauty, that is why they never add much to her outfit, but what is going on today?
Just from looking at Ling Long’s expression, she already knows what she is thinking, Gui Wan lightly purses her lips prettily, softly saying: “Today, waiting for my man, is the startling beauty, Consort Ying, the slightest of negligence, and I may very well lose.”
No matter what, that delicate Consort Ying with heavenly grace has already evoked the competitiveness in Gui Wan’s heart, the curtains to this war between women, is only just about to be drawn open.
Ling Long laughs, her laugh particularly cheerful, she really has changed, before when she was as calm and light as the clouds and wind, she was of course beautiful, but right now, because of that additional sense of vigour, she is even more attractive, so much that others will not be able to lift their eyes from her.
On this summer day in the Capital City, it has already turned cold in the evening, in the elegantly beautiful imperial garden, even the air carries a sweet scent of fragrant grass. Right now the palace lanterns are hung high, the already extraordinary scenery of the garden in the morning, because of the lighting, has an additional touch of enjoyable fun within peaceful seclusion, and above the crystal clear pond, the water sparkles under the lighting of the palace lanterns, a beautiful atmosphere like a fantasy has been formed within this entire garden.
The palace maids are either holding the lanterns, or carrying plates, or respectfully standing there, shuttling around the imperial garden, serving every women of noble status within the courtyard, by the thicket of trees, sat at the stone table inside the jade veranda, light chuckles and shallow frowns, smooth and pleasant speech, everywhere is overflowing with the cheerful chatting and laughter of women.
“Lady Consort Li, I see that you’ve been dazing off here the entire time, what are you thinking?” Thin robes exposing her shoulders, the speaker has an enchanting figure, extremely charming, her speech full of smiles as she approaches the beauty in a palace outfit, sitting by the pond.
Consort Li docilely raises her head, seeing the approaching person, she slowly stands, greeting: “So it’s [Older] Sister Consort Yin ah, I only feel that this pond looks particularly beautiful at night, thus lost in admiration.”
Sounding a few laughs, Consort Yin shows a look of awareness: “This pond indeed holds a different charm during night, but Consort Li……is not actually infatuated with the scenery of this pond right?”
“Sister must be joking.”
“Whether I am joking or not, Consort Li knows very well in your own heart, your mood, is it not the same as everyone else within this back palace?” Consort Yin is plain-spoken and straightforward, whatever she thinks she would immediately blurt out, she sends Consort Li an eye signal, the corner of her lips casting towards the side, pointing towards the person stood in the heart of the garden.
Consort Li follows her in looking, eyes also darkening, her original look of gentle grace, actually carrying a trace of distortion, a sort of resentment silently diffusing into the open air.
His majesty the Emperor once said: Obtaining the world is not the highest point of my life, obtaining Consort Ying has completed my lifelong aspiration.
Using those words to sum up Consort Ying’s doted situation is not at all an exaggeration. Ever since Consort Ying entered the palace, the Emperor’s eyes no longer held other people, towards the usual consorts this is natural, but even the Empress is not an exception.
“Such beauty like that, even the heavens and earth will be overshadowed by it ah.” Consort Yin says, with both envy and jealousy, her tone ceasing to be relaxed, and instead every word deep and heavy.
Consort Li does not say anything after her, absentmindedly looking ahead. Consort Ying sits by the stone table, at the same table, other than the Empress, there are also a few women of the senior official families, and right now, all eyes seems to be set on Consort Ying alone, such glory equal to that of heaven and earth, making the other people on the table dejectedly overshadowed, the women in the entire garden are all put to shame.
The back palace is originally the palace of beauty, not one woman here is not beautiful, not one is not charming, this word beauty, is the most superficial thing in the back palace, and the Consort Ying before their eyes is no exception to this, her beauty can overthrow cities and ruin states, right now, dressed in a sheer light blue robe, six jade glazed hairpins holding up her hair, delicately beautiful, such beauty of extreme magnificence, swallows up all the glory within the back palace, within the absolute brilliance of six palaces, only one alone outshine others.
Just how much envy and jealousy such beauty draws out ah. Not to mention she had even obtained the Emperor’s unrivalled love.
Heart twitching in pain, Consort Li reaches up to her chest, as though she cannot bear the bitterness in her heart, her face turns pale, not allowing her eyes to continue looking in that direction.
“Strange,” Consort Yin mutters to herself, “Consort Ying seems to have deliberately dressed up today, does she enjoy pressuring the other fragrant flowers with her brilliance?”
Lowering her head to take a look at Consort Li’s expression, Consort Yin smiles, not mentioning it anymore, and diverts to another topic: “Fortunately Consort Ying had a miscarriage, now the Empress can rise up from the east again, if not, Consort Ying cannot possibly be suppressed.”
Only when she listened up until this point, did she show a little reaction, Consort Li reveals a trace of doubt, “I heard that students across the world submitted a written petition to his majesty, and only then did his majesty restore the Empress’ legitimate power?”
“That’s right, I heard that ballads were circulating around the commoners, the students petitioned one after another, pressure from the outside is all very great ah.” To hear such news, she inevitably felt rather delighted in the misfortune of others, secretly pleased.
“But, it isn’t able to cause Consort Ying any harm right? I just get this feeling there’s someone secretly helping her.” A good few times, such power from the outside has interfered with the back palace, and in such situation where no one catches sight of the slightest trace of the shadow, there is always someone who protects Consort Ying.
Not hearing Consort Li’s words, Consort Yin stares ahead in full concentration, her mouth mumbling in intrigue: “Strange……”
“Exactly what is strange?” Hearing her continuously mention the word strange, Consort Li also becomes curious.
“Could it be that you can’t sense Consort Ying’s difference in behaviour today? Her heart is not here, occasionally glancing towards the entrance, as though she’s waiting for someone.”
“Is that so?” Unable to hold back her gaze from looking over there once again.
Those close to the stone table can all sense Consort Ying’s abnormality, inadvertently revealing a slight show of nervousness, just when they were all surprised by this, a sound of “Prime Minister Lou’s Madam has arrived––” penetrates the air from the entrance, the usually firm and stable voice of announcement is actually trembling a little when loudly calling out.
Consort Ying is abruptly startled, turning her gaze, tightening her grip on the cup in hand. Everyone follows her actions and simultaneously looks over towards the entrance.
This is the first time the gathering of women has seen someone of Consort Ying’s equal. Gui Wan leisurely walks up, in a black outer robe with high lapel and wide sleeves, adorned with bright red embroidery patterns, the obscure embroidering on the outfit like the lights of fireflies, the fine threads of silk twisting and turning, a body of flowing patterns seemingly alive. Her hair held up in a string of finely divided pearls, emitting faint rings of glow, scattering onto her silky black hair, such fusion with her beauty results in an extremely charming demeanour, appearing devilishly glamourous, bewitchingly beautiful, an extremely unique charm.
After this matter, when those that were present were asked about the two people’s charms, they could not possibly describe it, and said as follows: Consort Ying’s beauty, is of great magnificence, delicately pretty, a charm that makes others cannot help but to feel tender towards her, beautiful to such extent that brings people to tears; Gui Wan’s beauty, is of pure essence, bewitchingly beautiful, such devilish force of attractiveness makes people sink into intoxication.
“So it is……Madam Lou who has come.” Standing up, Consort Ying delivers her greeting, the words Madam Lou seemingly difficult to push out of her mouth.
“Greetings your highnesses.” Paying her formal respects, Gui Wan’s light smile like an orchid.
Only at this very moment were all those present struck by a breath-taking sensation, simultaneously looking at Gui Wan, then also looking at Consort Ying, not one of them were untaken by shortness of breath after such lamentations.
In this moment, the Empress also reveals a rejoicing smile, hurriedly standing up as she pulls Gui Wan along to take a seat. The people seated there one by one comes forward in greeting, the atmosphere seething with excitement all over again. Her first time sitting at the same table with Consort Ying, Gui Wan did not feel constrained at all, whilst conversing about topics that concerns all women, the time flows by bit by bit.
Up until the reporting officer once again comes forth to notify them the banquet is about to begin, the women once again grows delighted, making their way to the banquet hall in an orderly manner, only the table with Consort Ying did not make a single move.
The Empress stands up first, calling out: “His majesty and hundred officials are waiting, let us make our way over to the front hall now.” Replies are sounded and the few people at this table stands, making their way out. Gui Wan stands up, was just about to trail behind, when her wrist was held back, upon turning her head, she is greeted by Consort Ying’s pair of exceptionally gentle eyes: “Madam Lou, may you accompany me for a walk.”
The Empress hears this, and looks back in surprise, yet Gui Wan only presses her lips together, carrying a thin smile as she nods in agreement.
Seeing Gui Wan’s appeasing smile, the Empress is relieved, leaving at ease.
Only the two are left within the garden, after a while, Consort Ying gracefully stands, starting to make her way out, Gui Wan silently follows after her. The two of them walks side by side on this long path in the palace, palace maids and eunuchs following them at a distance. An entourage of people walking at an incredibly slow speed.
“Can you guess how long it takes to finish walking this path?” Consort Ying who was silent all the way suddenly speaks up, her gentle voice lightly asking the person beside her.
Already thinking that she would not say anything, Gui Wan glances into the distance, under the evening skies, she cannot see the end, shaking her head, she says: “Not sure.”
“I walk this path every day, thus knowing that this road requires the time to drink half a pot of tea to get there, and the time to drink a full pot of tea to head back.”
Gui Wan indifferently smiles without responding, knowing full well that there must be a reason behind her words.
“You really are tolerant, are you not going to ask? Why this same path, getting there and back, why would the timing be different?” Consort Ying side eyes her, within those eyes with tenderness like water, a sorrowful coldness flows out, “That is because, when I’m heading there, I want to get one look of him, so I walk particularly fast, when I’m heading back, I’m absolutely reluctant to leave, my walking speed thus naturally slows.”
“Lady Consort’s affections runs deep, ties highly valued, such rarity is truly commendable.”
“You know who I am talking about, why are you still this calm?” Her voice raises a few notches, seeming to be very unsatisfied with Gui Wan’s reaction.
Gui Wan turns her head, acting in a pensive manner, giving an irrelevant answer: “The magnificence of the imperial palace is extraordinary, since Lady Consort has already married into the palace, why not cherish what you have, why must you bitterly struggle to grasp onto the past?”
Consort Ying upon hearing this, is slightly stunned, suddenly laughing out loud, an astringent taste hidden in her laughter, “You think those words can possibly affect me? Had I wanted to let go of the past, I would never have suffered for so long.”
“Not able to let go, also not able to be happy, Consort Ying is also living it tough.”
Suddenly stopping in her steps, Consort Ying doubtfully turns her head, eyes set on Gui Wan, delicately asking: “If so, are you willing to give this woman living a tough life a helping hand?”
Revealing a smile carrying a trace of ridicule, Gui Wan plays along saying: “Excuse my rudeness, but I really cannot see, how Lady Consort’s life is tough. Even if I can, I also do not have the ability to solve Lady Consort’s troubles.”
An expression of disappointment gradually emerges, and then immediately appears serious again, Consort Ying says: “You are being too modest, your tactics are truly superior, the average person cannot even reach there, the student petitioning a month ago, was it not your doing?”
Didn’t think she would actually mention this matter, originally she did not think that she could hide this since the very start, readily embracing Consort Ying’s critique, Gui Wan laughs it off.
Absolutely unable to accept such calm and open attitude from Gui Wan, Consort Ying frowns, “I do not know why you are helping the Empress, but it will only happen just this once. From henceforth, Lou Che would also not let you do this.”
“Is that so? If it is like this, then why should Lady Consort be so alarmed?” The wind raises her black hair, Gui Wan gently strokes her long hair, because of being pressed harder and harder by Consort Ying, she was feeling slightly impatient.
“This thing called feelings changes accordingly to the surrounding environment, but feelings toughened throughout many years of trials, even though there will be many ups and downs, the fundamental essence will not be changed, do you believe this?”
The meaning strongly implied.
“I believe it.” Gui Wan leisurely replies, pointing to the large doors of the palace hall in front, the luxuriously jade green lighting leaking out from within, seemingly waiting for the late arrival of the two guests, “Lady Consort, we have arrived.”
Eyes slightly dimming, Consort Ying stands on the spot motionless.
“Lady Consort, no matter how long the path is, there will always be a time you reach the end, let us go in now.”
“I will not give up……” Towards Gui Wan, she looks at the bright lights ahead, Consort Ying speaks as though she is making an oath, “I have missed the opportunity once, I will not miss it the second time.” Throwing aside those words, she walks forward, this time not having the slightest of hesitation.
Watching the back of her figure walking into the light and shade, Gui Wan quietly sighs, “Such foolish love, makes people pity and hate ah.” Raising her foot, she follows into the noisy and vibrant main hall.
The brilliance within large hall is casted upon the two figures, within that moment, the banquet, originally a mix of all kinds of liveliness is rendered into a moment of pause, all eyes of hundreds of civil and military officials locks onto those two figures. There were even those who immediately recognised Gui Wan as the Nu prince’s person in the painting, absolutely struck with shock, dumbly stunned on the spot.
Since Gui Wan entered, Guan Xiu Wen seems to have lost his senses, never has he thought, Gui Wan’s beauty, is so directly displayed in front of people, a unique charm that captures your soul and sucks it in, under the rendering of the lighting, her charms infinitely expanding. Suddenly waking himself up, recalling the last time when his own infatuated state was discovered by Prince Duan, thus allowing himself to be grabbed by the handle, he hurriedly fixes his expression, still rather unassured, he turns his head to look towards the right, greeting him was actually the sight of Prince Duan swaying the jade cup in hand, his eyes appearing enchanted, Guan Xiu Wen was secretly surprised, could it be that he also……upon careful inspection, joy quietly rises within his heart, the one Prince Duan is looking at, is clearly Consort Ying, so this is how it is, Prince Duan ah Prince Duan, not until this very moment, did I know, we can be allies. Unable to hold it in, soft laughter is sounded, one point of intoxication, three points of frivolous attitude.
Finally walking into the middle of the palace hall, Consort Ying walks up the steps towards the imperial seats, Gui Wan walks a few steps to the left.
Sitting in the banquet, Lou Che lightly takes a sip of the fine wine, it is said that this newly brewed wine has a name, called “Demoness”, clean and mellow upon first taste, the aftertaste very strong, making the people consuming it, unknowingly sink into intoxication, he has never gotten drunk before, continuously drinking three mouthfuls, faintly smiling as he watches Gui Wan walk over. In a moment of haziness, his line of sight is locked onto her, his pupils darkening, the alcohol effect slowly spreading, seeping into all areas of his body, his chest in particular, burning all the way up to his brain, all the surrounding sounds suddenly vanishes, only leaving behind that touch of enchantingly beautiful view, surpassing every spring scenery this world has to offer.
The imperial palace’s world is separate from that of the outside, the magnificence here, blurred, the sounds, the vibe, the emotions, delicately dispirited, all that is detached from worldly norms, exuding of sinful sweetness, luring people into walking past the gates of moral boundaries.
Amongst the hundreds of officials in the banquet, a literary man gently sways the feather fan in hand, with a small smile, he shakes his head, quietly lamenting: “The country’s source of misfortune, didn’t think that there’s actually two of them.” He downs a big mouthful of wine.
“General.” Lowering his voice as he calls out to the person besides him, only to find that Lin Rui En ears are deaf to him, his eyes lax, complicated as though hundreds of feelings have gathered. The literary man desolately smiles, his words mainly spoken out of ridicule, “General, have you forgotten, I have once said, if a woman’s beauty is used as a weapon, then that shall be a frightening matter, what it leads to will definitely be tragedy.”
His body stunned, Lin Rui En turns his head, a look of shame emerging, as he bitterly laughs: “Military Advisor’s reminder is correct, I have learnt my lesson.” Not daring to rest his eyes on that face again, he sits up straight.
“Your majesty.” A long drawn out voice attracts all attention to the spot next to the imperial throne, all the officials raises their heads, looking towards the direction of the Empress.
Gracefully performing a light bow, the Empress may not have such stunning beauty that can overthrow cities like Gui Wan and Consort Ying, but she too is a beauty amongst the million, such demeanour with tranquillity within elegance, differs from the average women, naturally giving off a sense of dignity and grace, she speaks up saying: “Your majesty, I hold great admiration towards Madam Lou’s grace, is it possible to have her seated with me?”
In respect, the Empress originally comes first in the back palace, even the accompanying female partners of the officials have precedents, the Emperor smiles in a cultured and refined manner, was just about to nod his head, when suddenly the first table on the left sounds a sharp response: “No.”
A stern rejection, the entire place thrown into an uproar, all officials stops what they are doing, looking at the imperial court’s Grand Secretary.
Lou Che looks at the Empress, his tone eased: “I thank your highness for such good intentions, unfortunately Gui Wan’s body is weak, too inconvenient to take care of your highness, please pardon my offense.” His words says to pardon his offense, yet his attitude shows not an ounce of intention to give way.
The Empress was rather surprised, but did not show this on her face, “It is I who was thoughtless.” Lou Che holds legitimate power, even the Emperor has to back down a few points in face of him, so why would she hold something against him over such a small matter?
Although it comes to no surprise that things ended this way, but this matter has still given the hundreds of officials a slight fright, towards Lou Che’s actions today, they are rather puzzled. Although he holds great power, Lou Che would usually never have any clashes with the imperial family, and definitely would not use his power as a threat, so today, why would he outright oppose the Empress who had only just regained her phoenix seal over such a small matter?
Only Lin Rui En was able to vaguely guess Lou Che’s thinking, although monarch and his subjects share the same happiness, those jade steps to the imperial seating is a boundary line, setting foot on those jade steps, is the monarch, standing below the steps, is thus the subject. No matter how much power Lou Che holds, it is still impossible for him to walk past that threshold, that is not an ordinary boundary line, that is a gap that cannot be passed. Today’s matter, if it were to happen in the past, Gui Wan sitting next the Empress will not be a matter of great significance, but after experiencing the scene at Jun Mo Pavilion, Lou Che will definitely never let Gui Wan set foot onto those jade steps no matter what.
One hand holding the cup, one hand gently holding Gui Wan’s hand under the table, Lou Che adjusts his breathing, calming his somewhat chaotic mind-set, eyes hidden with chilliness as he looks upward, gently turning the wine cup in his hand, what was that just now? Upon thinking of Gui Wan setting foot on those jade steps, he was immediately struck with uncontrollable rage and fear, slightly tightening his hold on Gui Wan’s hand, feeling that tonight really has been a mess, did he drink too much wine?
An ordinary banquet because of a very small episode in between, actually becomes a situation like a hidden tide surging up, even with the singing and dancing entertainment, all those within this banquet were passing on witty remarks one by one, unable to conceal the air of back palace dispute above those jade steps, along with the underlying turbulence within the political situation below those steps.
“Li gong-gong, you go wait ahead in Jin Xiang Hall, I and Madam Lou have things to talk about.” Standing under the evening skies, the Empress turns back to order the eunuch beside her.
Such chubby face extremely glossy, in the moment he raises his eyes, a look of surprise flashes by, taking a step back, he respectfully says: “Yes, your highness.” Leaving ahead, not long after, he turns a corner and enters another palace hall.
Gui Wan looks towards the Empress who deliberately kept a distance from the palace maids, gently asking: “Is there something troubling you?”
“This imperial palace is originally a place filled with rights and wrongs, not a day of peace and order.” A tender-hearted tone, even the Empress’ smile carries a few points of exhaustion, unfortunately it is consumed by the darkness, and thus hidden away just like that.
“That’s why you need be careful to such extent, even a simple conversation requires guarding against all people?” Gui Wan reveals a glimmer of a slightly satirical smile, within this air of indifference, such shady gentleness is unpredictable.
“You think I want to be like this?” The Empress slowly starts walking, looking at the cold and cheerless palace path after the dispersing of the banquet, carrying a trace of feeling like that of tea cooling down once the people are gone, “Did you know, the Li gong-gong just now is a pair of eyes your husband planted beside me, if I hadn’t sent him away, I’m afraid our conversation today, will be a passing message, and will have faithfully reached the Prime Minister Estate tomorrow. As for the palace maids here, I also do not know who I am to trust.”
Suddenly as though they entered deep into darkness, a scene of still silence befalls them, only after a long while later, did Gui Wan sadly speak up: “You already regained control of the phoenix seal, why is each step still so difficult to take?”
“Phoenix seal is a lifeless object, without legitimate power, what can you possibly do, within this palace, following red to top white is but a common case, a phoenix headdress without legitimate power, how is it any different to any ordinary headdress?” A sorrowful sigh, the mother of this country tells of the hidden dangers within the palace, within the darkness, Gui Wan’s expression cannot be clearly seen, nor does it seem like she will speak up in response, gloomily smiling, “To be able to regain this phoenix seal in my hands, is already extremely fortunate, I have yet to say a word of thanks to you.”
Footsteps suddenly coming to a stop, a pair of jade-like fine hands reaches out to the Empress’ cheeks, gently brushing it, catching a droplet of hot teardrop, Gui Wan speaks as though she’s sighing: “Why shed tears?”
Extending her hand to grab onto Gui Wan’s, the Empress is unable to suppress the surge of emotions, voicing it out: “[Little] Sister, in this back palace, I can no longer sleep peacefully.”
During such still and silent night, Gui Wan hears a dozen paces, the noise of the candles burning inside the lanterns outside the palace, a stimulating hissing sound, making her heart feel a chill upon hearing it, pulling out her hand from the Empress’ warm palms, indifferently saying: “If you want peaceful sleep, first calm your own heart, overly unreasonable demands, will only put yourself at unease.”
The Empress bitterly laughs out loud, an astringent taste spreading out, sorrowfully sayings: “Gui Wan, I am already a mother, please be considerate of my feelings, even if it is not for myself, I still need to fight a war for the child ah, who let him be born in the imperial family? His majesty only dotes on Consort Ying alone, no longer does he visit the other consorts anymore, even if she had a miscarriage this time, what about in future? Who can possibly guarantee future happenings?” The hurriedly spoken words seems as though it is affirming something.
That word of “little sister” just now, who knows how much sincere affection it truly held, Gui Wan brushes it off with a smile, yet with this word of “Gui Wan” right now, she is unable to remain indifferent to it, this tone is extremely similar to her mother’s. Their expressions cannot be clearly seen within this darkness, further giving her a sense of misconception, a sound of lament disperses from the bottom of her heart, this sound of calling has touched her broken heart.
“Gui Wan?” Thinking she did not hear clearly, the Empress gently calls out once again.
“Alright, you are only lacking legitimate power in the back palace right now.” Throwing back her sleeves with a sway, Gui Wan once again starts pacing forward, elegant steps making not a sound within the dark, “Rest assured, even if you do not say it, I will still help you.”
The Empress follows up, wanting to say a word of gratitude, but then thinks it will insult Gui Wan, and could only swallow back her intended words, discarding it into the darkness.
The two people accompany each other without a word, after a while of walking, they can already see a side hall, brightly lit, with sound of voices, the two of them stops and looks over.
Looking for a long time, Gui Wan smiles, lightly asking the Empress: “Who are those two consorts?”
“Consort Li and Consort Yin, I heard that their ancestors were relatives, so they often accompany one another within the palace.” Thinking back to the past, with one elegant, one charming, the Emperor was extremely fond of them, but now they too have fallen to the lonely fate of guarding their palace halls.
Gui Wan’s faint smile like a plum blossom, carefully observing for a while, she suddenly laments: “Within this imperial palace, everyone here is quite the character.”
“This Consort Yin is plain-spoken and straightforward, not at all one to get bored of, just that being able to survive in this back palace, is also not an easy task; that Consort Li is fragile and kind-hearted, has not gone through any particular ups and downs within the palace.” One by one explaining to Gui Wan, in great detail. The Empress turns her head, only to find that Gui Wan did not even seem to be listening, just staring ahead.
“Who is that eunuch?” A jade finger extends, Gui Wan points ahead at the eunuch in purple that is rushing around, she turns her head and pulls a consulting expression.
The Empress glances over, but was not able to recognise him, presumably a little known figure within the ranks of eunuchs, just when she was thinking this, the personal maid by her side speaks up: “That is De Yu, Madam Lou.”
“Oh?” Gui Wan slightly raises her brows, appearing rather interested, signalling for the palace maid to continue speaking.
“De Yu seems to have entered the palace at the age of fourteen, runs errands in Yu Gan Hall, already been in the palace for ten years, it is said that he too is born from a scholarly household, but the family is too poor, he is typically good with economizing, always sending his monthly salary back home, providing his younger brothers and sisters with living expenses.” The palace maid tells everything to the best of her knowledge, De Yu may be a low ranked eunuch, but has a delicate appearance with bright eyes and graceful brows, and gets along well with others, the palace maids are all very happy to be of help to him.
Gui Wan reveals a shadow of a smile, raising her head to look at the pitch black sky, not a single star in sight, slightly disappointed, she turns back saying: “Your highness, please remain, just have this De Yu to lead the rest of the road for me.”
The Empress gently nods, although she does not know why she would suddenly take interest in this little eunuch, she does not ask about it, allowing the palace maid beside her to go call for him, she observes Gui Wan saying: “Are you disappointed? To think that I am actually one who would also do whatever I have to in struggle for power.”
Hearing this, Gui Wan’s eyes lands on the Empress, suddenly finding, she seems to have truly gotten thinner, smiling in understanding, she leisurely says: “Of wealth and power, who can possibly remain indifferent to it? I have no right to judge you, just put your mind at ease now.”
Hearing these words of hers, the Empress’ conscience seems as though it had received redemption, the thorn pricking at her heart also disappears, softly mewling: “Gui Wan……” Seeing the palace maid that had left, come jogging over with the little eunuch in purple, she hurriedly lifts her sleeve to cover her face, masking her loss of bearings.
The palace maid and De Yu draws close, he first bows at the Empress, before greeting Gui Wan, indeed a gentle and well refined appearance.
From the side palace hall to the palace path where the horse carriage is parked, the distance is neither far nor close, De Yu uprightly leads the way through this stone path in the dark, feeling a little puzzled inside, he does not understand why this Madam Lou wants for him to lead the way, he dares not be rude, carefully, warily attending to her.
“How long have you been in the palace?” A long drawn out voice sounding particularly prominent in this heavily gloomy night, as though it can seep in the bottom of his heart.
His steps does not falter, still maintaining the same walking speed as he answers: “It’s been ten years.”
“Is your family living well? It should be about time your younger brothers and sisters get married off right?” Gui Wan soft questioning contains a smile, even this somewhat chilly passage also warms up a bit due to those words.
Unable to help but to slow down his pace, De Yu has clearly been stunned, followed by respectful bow as he says: “I thank Madam for your concern, they are all well.”
Gently sounding a sigh, Gui Wan’s eyes gazes out, overflowing with feelings, seeming as though her heart is wrapped in distress, De Yu raises his head and just happens to see this, his heart slightly shook, not knowing why, he suddenly really wants to ask her, is there something making her unhappy, such impulse is literally being suppressed in his heart, whilst cold sweat is oozing out of him. In the grand hall, he has already witnessed this Madam Lou carrying a devilish charm of breathtakingly beautiful elegance, only when facing it right now, did he come to realise just how captivating it is. His six roots have already been cleaned out, cannot be considered a man, but he still holds a certain sense that feels as though it is being affected by her.
His intuition from being in the palace for many years tells him, this matter is very strange, hastily taking a step back, he lowers his head respectfully.
Looking at him filled with praises, Gui Wan secretly gives him a pass, she has indeed found the right person, seeing him run around the side hall just now, very methodological, agile and manoeuvrable, she immediately know this person’s thinking is very thorough but closed, smart and alert; looking at it now, he is still very cautious and wary, indeed a great talent. Gently laughing, she sweetly says: “Entering the palace for ten years, yet you are still a little eunuch, do you not find it unjust?”
Not waiting for him, Gui Wan continues to speak: “As long as you are able to gain power within the palace, you can become more reliable to your family, could it be that this was not your original intention when you first entered the palace? Li gong-gong upon receiving my husband’s recognition, already became a head eunuch within a short number of years, could it be that you do not want to ascend to the sky in one step?”
This voice originally has a leisurely tone that soothes the heart, upon entering the ears, one naturally feel as though their heart is lightly floating. De Yu panics, reminding himself that he must never be stirred, the fierceness of palace disputes is not something the average person can withstand, when raising his eyes, he suddenly sees Gui Wan’s body shake, seeming to be at discomfort, he could not help but to reach out to support her, gently holding onto Gui Wan’s wrist, feeling something warm and smooth within the grip of his hand, in a moment of coldness, something slides off Gui Wan’s hand, and his own hand receives an additional item, borrowing the dim palace lanterns to take a careful look, he sees a string of pearl bracelet, his pair of penetrating eyes that have been refined throughout his years in the palace, immediately recognises at one glance, this is a highly valued treasure.
“De Yu gong-gong, I and the Empress share a bond like that of sisters, she alone in the palace, is lonely and helpless, may I request of gong-gong to take good care of her.” Having said that, Gui Wan actually performs a gentle bow, not giving him the chance to return the bracelet.
How could De Yu possibly dare to accept such a big gift, panicking, he painfully struggles with himself inside. His family is in an impoverished situation, for the family’s livelihood, he sold away his entire life, right now, could it be that he has to sell his soul for riches? The pearl bracelet in hand still carries the Gui Wan’s warmth, spreading out from his palm, and at the same time it warms up his heart, but also pricks at him. Looking at the graceful woman in front, he knows she adopts tactics that are both tough and soft, and also uses psychological tactics, faintly sighing, only saying in his heart: whatever, just let the soul sink into this lonely darkness.
“Madam Lou, if you have any orders just speak directly.” Even his voice has toughened up a few points due to his determination.
Her eyes like flowing waves, Gui Wan sweetly smiles, filled with a unique charm, peerlessly stunning beauty, “Gong-gong, remember today’s matter cannot be known to a second person, in future gong-gong will naturally go through a meteoric rise, make sure to look after the Empress in the palace, other matters happening in the palace you can immediately report to me, especially……” Her words coming to a pause, she follows on saying, “I think gong-gong should be very clear.”
De Yu is a very smart person, a little point easily gets through to him, nodding in agreement.
“Gong-gong, the most important thing, you must absolutely not forget, this matter cannot be known to Prime Minister Lou.”
Slightly stunned, De Yu looks at her, thinking for a bit, he clenches the bracelet in hand, resolutely nodding his head.
Having finished speaking, the two people continues forward as if nothing happened, but the surrounding mood is quite complicated, De Yu’s steps were all somewhat heavy, Gui Wan remains wordless, up until the outside of the side hall, where they see the horse carriage, Gui Wan turns back with a smile, saying: “Thank you gong-gong for seeing me all the way here, Gui Wan is very grateful.”
Knowing her words of gratitude is pointing towards something else, De Yu silently accepts it, watching as Gui Wan walks far ahead.
“Why are you so late, did the Empress pull you off to speak again?” Lou Che stands beside the carriage, his gently moist eyes carrying a hint of tipsiness, his feelings faintly flowing out.
Gui Wan comes closer and closer, yet the smile on her face slowly fades, replacing it is a sort of loneliness and stillness, making Lou Che panic upon seeing it, hurriedly asking: “What’s going on?”
Not answering his question, she asks back: “Lord Husband, do you know what kind of place the back palace is?”
“What kind of place is it?” This woman ah, always has unpredictable behaviour patterns.
A very soft and light laughter spreads, Gui Wan laughingly says: “This is a women’s place, a place men cannot interfere with, a place where all the problems are up to the women to solve, you know that?”
Lou Che was speechless, not knowing what to say in response, faintly feeling uneasy deep in his heart.
Smile faintly disappearing from her lips, Gui Wan eyes rolls to the side, looking towards the direction she came from, appearing very helpless, she softly asks: “Clearly knowing not to but still resorting to such, calling it ‘courage’, clearly knowing not to but still resorting to such, what it should be called, do you know?”
Lou Che’s heart slightly throbs, reaching out to gently hold onto Gui Wan’s shoulder, knowing her heart is met with troubles, he had yet to comfort her, when Gui Wan raises her head, her eyes like water, deeply secluded, softly saying: “That is called ‘sin’.”
“I today, must have committed an unforgivable sin.”
The act of enticing another into committing a sin, houses a more sinful sin.
 Smooth and pleasant speech particularly women’s speech, is described with the phrase yīng shēng yàn yǔ / 莺声燕语 which translates to sounds of orioles and tones of swallows, basically saying that their talking is like the singing of these birds.
 The phrase used to refer to one’s entire body here, is more specific in Chinese – sì zhī bǎi hái / 四肢百骸 – as it literally translates to the four limbs, hundred bones.
 The original phrase for passing on witty remark one by one is miào yǔ lián zhū / 妙语连珠 which literally translates to witty remarks stringed together like pearl beads.
 Tea cool down once the people are gone or rén zǒu chá liang / 人走茶凉 refers to the superficiality of human relationships
 Following red to top white or gēn hóng dǐng bái / 跟红顶白 is an expression of the attitude of survival intelligence where people follow those in power to avoid danger, with red representing the winner and white representing loser.
 Six roots all cleaned out or Liù gēn jù jìng / 六根俱净 means all six roots of human senses (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, mind) are pure and clean, and is thus free from human desires and passion.
It seems like I made quite a few of you a little muddled up after bringing up the Emperor Swallow Stick in the comments section of the previous chapter, so I’ll just drop a few reminders and notes here:
The emperor swallow stick is a stick drawn from kau chim – which is a fortune telling method that works like drawing lots [more info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kau_cim]
In chapter one, both Gui Wan and Yao Ying went to kau chim and both drew out the emperor swallow stick, Yao Ying went on to become the most doted imperial consort whilst Gui Wan married Lou Che, despite the suggestive sign that those who draw this stick is to become the emperor’s woman
Note that the Emperor is not informed of who has drawn the emperor swallow stick, in fact, he may not even know of the stick’s existence.
The stick itself represents the women’s fate to become the emperor’s woman, so the emperor making them his consort, can only be said to be fate
Of course Lou Che is not aware that Gui Wan had also drawn this stick but the divine reading of the crazy woman alone, has already made him wary of Gui Wan stepping any where close to the emperor hehe
I hope that I cleared things up a bit, if anyone is still confused about anything, do feel free to ask 🙂