桑歌 : Mulberry Song Chapter 2

[Seventh-seventh festival is the seventh day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar, also known as Chinese Valentine’s Day]

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CHAPTER TWO

Festive Lanterns

Qi perished, the city defences were re-established, with Marquis of Chang Ye – An Zi Wu as monarch, the new reigning era named Chang Ge (meaning – long song).

Time flows by, in a blink of an eye, it is yet another year of the seventh-seventh festival. I quietly stand by the shore, looking out to the big ship in the middle of the river, currently holding a banquet, I stand there silently, wordlessly.

That’s right, I died. Died on the night the imperial palace of the Qi nation was seized, but I have not yet left for the netherworld. It is not that I don’t want to go down, but because no wardens of the netherworld had come to guide my spirit away, so I can only take on the form of a wandering soul amongst the human realm. The so called ––

Ghost.

To qualify being a ghost, one must be subjected to the existence of an intensely strong attachment. I have reflected over this for a long time, but I indeed cannot find any thing or place that I am still reluctant to part from in this world. I don’t know where I should go, fortunately, I have been following my husband all along.

I watched him ascend the throne, become the emperor, clean up the bloodshed covering the imperial city inside out, then grandly bury me, exceeding the proper ritual an empress should have, a funeral that was practically a national mourning.

I know, perhaps in his heart he can only compensate me in such way. And I am really grateful I was able to see this.

I watch over him, every day in court, during meals, when sleeping. To the point of feeling that this period of time, compared to when I was still alive, I have spent much more time with him than ever before. There is no one able to see me, which means I can freely shuttle to wherever his presence lies.

But today I don’t wish to be by his side. Because on an occasion like today, countless singing orioles and dancing swallows are bound to be by his side, with countless fragrant elegance and veiled screens. No matter how open minded I can be, I will still feel absolutely unpleasant. So it is better to hide a little further away, what the eyes does not see, is regarded as clean.

The lantern lighting dims a little on that luxurious pleasure ship, painted in joyfulness. The banquet seems to have ended. Thinking of the atmosphere of rouge and power on it, I am still not very willing to go back.

And what I did not expect, after a little while, was a line of people dressed in ordinary clothing, leaving the pleasure ship. That one walking right at the front is precisely my husband of my lifetime, An Zi Wu.

This is emperor incognito……?

Following by his side are all his trusted confidants, I curiously follow after them.

They head down to the town’s night market, on the night of seventh-seventh, the town is brightly lit up, the road lined with shops selling lanterns on both sides, all around are couples walking hand in hand. He steadily walks to the front, choosing to head to the most bustling areas where the crowds are, not even caring for the guards behind, anxious like ants in a hot pan.

An Zi Wu is just a wilful person like this. Still this wilful after becoming emperor.

I follow after him without a sound. He seems to be deliberately trying to lose the guards, walking in several circles around the crowded areas, in the end, he buys a ghost mask to put on, and also buys a lantern, acting just like a man out searching for his lover.

I couldn’t resist a little burst of laughter.

Time flies by, the people passing by me all carrying warm smiles on their faces, the little river running through the city is filled with lanterns, carrying phase after phase of either deep or shallow romances as they gently float by.

He slowly walks past the little white stone bridge over the river, one hand holding a festive lantern, one hand hanging by his side. I continue to watch as he turns his body sideways, allowing the frolicking children to run past him, his hand reaching behind, practically giving me the illusion of thinking he wants to hold someone’s hand.

After the children had all ran past, he remains standing on the spot, freezing for a moment, he abruptly hooks up a smile, carrying half a trace of taunting, but within those eyes, there is even more of an infinitely disconsolate loss.

This kind of expression does not stay on his face for long, as he steps off the little bridge, walking up to the riverside, rolling up those wide sleeves, he lights a lantern and places it on the river.

I who was on the other side of the shore, upon seeing this scene, couldn’t help but to think back the seventh-seventh festival many years ago in Jiangnan, under the dim moonlight, I said to him: “An Zi Wu, I set off a lantern for you.”

“Thank Madam for taking to the trouble.” His hands rests behind his back as he gazes towards the lively market in the distance, answering without much care.

I help him neaten out his cloak and tidy his hair, messed up in the wind, literally turning his face towards me: “You’re always putting on such a good-for-nothing impression of a wealthy boy in front of people, but I know your heart lies higher than the clouds in the sky, definitely not satisfied with being a mere idling marquis. There will be a day you’d leave the Marquis of Chang Ye Estate in this misty Jiangnan.”

His eyes falls upon me, the glimmer in his eyes swirling.

“In my hometown, lights are a harmonious melody, taking on the meaning of remaining behind in waiting. Sang Ge being your wife in this lifetime, towards me, be it real affection, be it insincere feelings, I am still your wife. Should there be a day, you leave. I will definitely wait for you, even if this life is depleted.”

His eyelids hangs low, sinking into silence for a long time: “Wait for me then.”

Later, I have always been waiting. The Marquis of Chang Ye Estate in Jiangnan moves into the Capital City, every day I wait for him to come back from the court assembly. When he is out in the Xiongnu plains beyond the Great Wall, every night I wait for his triumphant return. He employs a plot to make Emperor of Zhao send him out the Capital, I thus became a hostage, constantly waiting for his return to collect me.

Later he finally returns, yet along with my waiting……brushes past my shoulder.

A lively sparkle suddenly flashes past my eyes, along with a tremendous burst of sound, interrupting my thoughts. I raise my head as I look up, not knowing what grand family in this little town is setting off fireworks. Illuminating the night skies with great magnificence.

Everyone else is looking up towards the night sky, a burst of amazed cheers erupts.

I could not help curving my lips into a smile, during every banquet in the palace, there will always be fireworks, grand and luxurious, however, looking at it always make people unable to refrain from sensing an icy coldness, absolutely not as warm and joyful as it is here.

Zi Wu must also feel this way right?

I turn my head to look back at him, but sees his face is not carrying a smile as I expected, and is instead rigidly looking towards my direction, slowly removing the mask from his face.

Within those eyes filled with incredible disbelief, there faintly suppresses wild joy.

In this moment, I ridiculously thought, perhaps he sees me. Silently standing by the riverside, gazing at the him on the other side of the shore, I slowly spread a smile. If not for the slowly floating lanterns following the waves of the river and the beautifully blooming fireworks in the sky, I would have thought time had already stopped.

“Sang Ge.”

He softly, tenderly calls out, one foot stepping into the river water.

In the moment everyone had yet to react to this, he abruptly trickles into the river, pathing his way to where I stand. Knocking over many lanterns along the way.

The guards discovers him, struck with slight panic, they constantly call out from above “Lord!” “Lord! Careful!” He cannot swim, but fortunately this river is not deep, the deepest area just about sweeping past his chest.

Eyes locked onto me, step by step towards me he approaches. With every step closer, the delight in his eyes becomes increasingly hard to conceal.

A sharp sourness softens my heart, my face somewhat unable to withhold the smile.

All of a sudden, with a slip of his foot, his entire person drops into the river. I instinctively step forward, wanting to pull him up, but sensing the water flow directly through my ankle, gently flowing away, I freeze on the spot, motionless.

The guards could no longer care for anything else right now “putong putong” a few of them jumps in, desperately rushing to his side. He struggles in the water for a bit before solidly standing on his feet, the very moment he stands up, those eyes urgently sweeps towards the shore, face suddenly turning pale.

“Sang Ge!” He yells my name in panic, pushing aside the guards who came to support him, staggeringly running onshore, overwhelmed like losing a child, “Sang Ge! Sang Ge……”

As though other than these two words he cannot say anything else.

I silently listen to him call out to me by my side, looking all around. Whole body drenched, appearing in an absolutely sorry state.

An Zi Wu, since when has he ever been in such sorry state before……

I lower my eyes, with only a sigh no one can possibly hear.

He is sent on the road back to the palace, overcome with gloom, frightening all the officials to not dare let out a breath.

That night he runs a high fever, his consciousness unclear, mouth repeatedly muttering the same words, the eunuch boldly moves his ear closer, vaguely hearing him mutter “……song (歌 Ge)……”

His majesty wishes to listen to songs. Stricken with ill health, it’s not like he can be out in the wind, the eunuch thus had the songstresses shut outside the doors, leaving them to stand in the cold wind, singing an entire night.

I sit by his bedside, senselessly gazing at him. Only I know he isn’t calling for songs, but me. Only I know, what he needs most right now isn’t songs, but a peaceful night, a good night’s rest.

Yet I’m unable to inform others of his needs.

Midnight, amidst the songstresses’ singing, carrying slight tone deaf, Zi Wu suddenly opens his eyes, his eyes somewhat slack, voice hoarse, as he says:

“Sang Ge, I set off a lantern for you.”

Once said, he drowsily drifts back to sleep.

I gaze at him, silently without a word.

An Zi Wu has always been a very healthy person, never does he fall ill, but this round of ill health bore down on him menacingly[1], much more severe than I had thought. Repeatedly dragging on for longer than a month. By the time he just about regained his health, it was already the mid-autumn festival. The palace is to hold a mid-autumn banquet, inviting the Nanyue King. They say that this time, the Nanyue King had brought along his daughter with beauty that overthrows cities. The intention cannot be any more obvious.

Since the establishing of the new reigning era, not only is the empress’ seat empty, but also the entire back palace has not a single concubine. Ministers have petitioned for Zi Wu to select and take in imperial consorts on numerous occasions, but were all brushed aside with the reason of being too busy with the state affairs.

This time, I’m afraid he will be marrying his first woman since becoming emperor.

His woman……

My fingers slowly traces the outline of his face, finally stopping by the side of his lips. I think, after he marries the daughter of the Nanyue King, I shall go wander off elsewhere. Because he already has another woman accompanying him, awaiting him.

On the night of the mid-autumn festival, with the full moon reigning the sky, the palace banquet hits its peak.

The Nanyue King who occupies the upper left seat, raises his cup and says: “Your majesty, [my] dear daughter would like to offer your majesty a dance.”

Zi Wu faintly smiles: “(Imperial) I have heard Nanyue Princess holds peerless beauty, but was never aware princess can actually dance as well. This I shall take a good look at.”

Nanyue King proudly smiles, with two claps, a girl whose face covered behind a veil, dressed in a sheer gown of moon white, lightly ascends to the centre stage, with a beautifully delicate figure, she already earns a round of appreciating sighs despite having yet to reveal her face. She gracefully bows to Zi Wu: “Su Er has only inadequate skills.”

This voice……I was instantly stunned, regaining composure, I can only helplessly sound a bitter laugh. Is it the will of heaven, or was it deliberately arranged by the Nanyue King? This I have no idea. Just that, should Zi Wu feel the slightest longing for me, then he would probably marry this Su Er.

Her dancing is not necessarily the best, but such delicate figure is enough to capture the attention of all present.

As the dance ends, Su Er with one spin of the body, originally intending to perform a bow to Zi Wu, but in the end, with a twist of foot, a sound of “ai-ya”, she falls to the ground. The veil floats down from her face, indeed a face of peerless beauty.

A round of amazed sighs suddenly arises from all around.

Several maids come forward to help her up, Su Er with two eyes containing crystal tears, sheepishly glances at Zi Wu, showing it wasn’t her intention. Such tenderly fragile appearance, only makes people want to step forward and pull her into their comforting embrace with loving care.

The Nanyue King very quickly recovers from this sudden situation, standing in bow to Zi Wu, saying: “[My] dear daughter’s incompetence, may your majesty excuse it!”

Zi Wu does not respond to him, only staring dead on Su Er, the look in his eyes unclear. The Nanyue King was not only not angered upon seeing his attitude, but instead loudly laughs: “This little king has heard your majesty has yet to take in a consort since founding the country, and the soil and grain of the land cannot possibly be missing a female master……”

Not waiting for him to finish, Zi Wu suddenly speaks up: “Does Nanyue King perhaps know of (imperial) my empress?”

“The late empress sacrificed her life for the country, is but a one-of-a-kind woman in this day and age, this little king naturally knows.”

“Since the founding of this era, (imperial) I have always been longing for my empress, every day tossing around for a long time, before being able to fall asleep. Should princess enter the back palace, I’m afraid princess will suffer unjust.” These words of his did not hold a single trace of emotional fluctuation. The several senior ministers familiar with Zi Wu simply continues to lower their heads in drinking, not sparing a glance towards the stage.

Nanyue King believes the emperor has already been shaken by the thought, hurriedly turning to Su Er as he loudly asks: “Do you feel wronged?”

Su Er timidly glances at Zi Wu, cheeks brightly glowing red, she softly answers: “Su Er……Su Er doesn’t feel wronged.” Nanyue King smiles at Zi Wu, but sees him indifferently place the wine cup down, saying: “But (imperial) I fear my empress will be wronged.”

Once those words were spoken, Nanyue King’s face instantly changes colour. Su Er even more so, turns limp as she falls into the maid’s arms, a pale face staring at the emperor.

Thunder strikes my heart. The land of Nanyue has always been subjected to endlessly chaotic struggles. And today, the Nanyue King has brought his daughter along, intending to make peace through intermarriage, should Zi Wu agree to this, that land shall definitely settle down a lot more in future. Yet he actually……

“This throne came with the price of the empress’ life, (imperial) I being able sit on this throne every day is all thanks to the empress’ grace.” His speaking tone remains indifferent, yet the words spoken had a group of people’s faces turning ashen, “As long as the emperor is An Zi Wu, the empress shall forever be Sang Ge. Should anyone want to enter the back palace, in accordance to the rules of the imperial family, first go ahead and ask the empress for her consent.”

This year’s mid-autumn banquet, Nanyue King storms out with the whisk of his sleeves, all the ministers remain silent like frozen cicadas, for a while, the emperor alone gazes at the moon scene before telling everyone to disperse.

As the ministers slowly takes their leave, the eunuchs starts to tidy up the mess of the banquet. An eunuch advises the emperor to go back and rest, but is suddenly questioned: “Is that Nanyue Princess pretty?”

The eunuch struck with shock, hastily drops to his knees. Not knowing for what reason the emperor would ask this, he dares not to rashly answer.

The emperor lets out a sigh, mumbling to himself: “Indeed an exceptional beauty, but cannot compare to even a bare minimum of her. She has her own stubborn pride, of course she would not be able to put on such timid and weak appearance.” Having said that, he stands and leaves.

I step onto the centre stage, empty with not a single soul sight, my hand clenching at my chest, under the moonlight, this long stagnant heart of mine seems to have thumped a bit, An Zi Wu said, him not selecting concubines, is in fear of wronging you.

He said, as long as the emperor is An Zi Wu, the empress shall forever be Sang Ge.

I tightly clench at my chest, the noise there sounding just like thunder.

That night, Zi Wu summons a few senior officials. The next day, the senior officials makes a joint remonstration: for her highness Empress Yong Yi[2] who sacrificed her life for the country, his majesty should compensate her grace, never to elect another empress during his reign. A paper of absurd admonition, yet the emperor actually readily agreed to it, even heavily awarding the remonstrating ministers.

Since then, not one person mentions the matter of selecting concubines to the emperor again.



[1] The original phrase for bore down on him menacingly is lái shì xiōng xiōng / 来势汹汹 which more accurately translates to with the oncoming force of vicious torrents.

[2] Empress Yong Yi is the title or courtesy name bestowed upon Sang Ge after her death – Yǒng Yì Huáng Hòu / 义皇后 – which literally means Empress of Everlasting Righteousness or Empress of Everlasting Justice.

As I had said in the comments of the first chapter, this is another classic case of you never know what you have until its gone, An Zi Wu spent his life striving to fulfill his ambitions, neglecting the woman who always supported him, who sacrificed so much for him, and now he is spending the rest of his life in suffering for this.

“As long as the emperor is An Zi Wu, the empress shall forever be Sang Ge”

How much this one phrase pained me, and how much it must have pained Sang Ge too T_T

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42 thoughts on “桑歌 : Mulberry Song Chapter 2

  1. There are tears lining in my eyes as I read this. How sad that he took no care of her when she was alive but suffers when she was gone. The best ending in this story is a miraculous long talk with each other before she goes to heaven. As she was already dead and him dying too will not be a happy ending.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is really sad, he was too busy being away, and I sometimes wonder how it would be if she let the selfishness in her take over for a bit and just reach out to him to stay by her side, but of course her selfless waiting is a major factor in making him so pained to have her leave him like this.
      I don’t want to be spoiling the ending here, so that I will leave you to find out for yourself very soon hehe

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Yup, he finally gains rule over the country as he had been striving for, but the price paid is much more than he can handle, whilst she waited for him all her life and continues to watch over him after her death, watching his suffering that her own death has caused T_T

      Liked by 1 person

  2. so bittersweet! i dont know why i like torturing myself. Why do i prefer reading novels of this genre! Yet, this kind of feeling is more everlasting compared to others!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is! The ending is very bittersweet too~
      LOL I totally understand, I read through a few short stories from this same author and trust me there’s only like one rare happy novel amongst ten tearjerkers, I’m bawling my eyes out, but it’s so addictive! Even her usual readers would refer to these stories as very 虐 (nüè) as in torturous.
      And that’s true, its the story that makes you shed so many tears that are most memorable!

      Like

  3. *bawling* oh god, this chapter is devastating yet so heart-achingly beautiful!! I hope fervently for some divine intervention so they can converse again and be left without regrets, both able to move on!

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    1. I cannot describe it any better, heartachingly beautiful it is indeed, Zi Wu’s feelings runs so deep, and only when she is no longer by his side (as the living) is Sang Ge able to see just how much he actually loves her T_T

      Like

  4. Can’t even finish this without getting a box of tissue and taking a deep breath. So sad yet so good. Just that, I shouldn’t have read this before class starts. Ahhhh~ so much feels.

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  5. He wasn’t neglecting her, where the hell did you come up with that? he had to overthrow a tyrant who butched people for fun didn’t u guys read the first chapter??? i m sure he’d rather have spend time with her than on a battlefield, why suggesting he did it for selfish ambitions??

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  6. I’m rereading this. First thank you for translating and sharing. Second, that line where he says “As long as the emperor is An Zi Wu, the empress shall forever be Sang Ge” still makes me tear up!

    I just console myself that they reunite in the afterlife and maybe reenter the reincarnation cycle together to hopefully live a more peaceful life together! ❤

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  7. I think I’ve re-read this once every three months or so… And it never fails to tear me up.
    The melancholy and the bittersweet feeling throughout the story are addictive.

    Like

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