TIGR Chapter 43
The Imperial Guard’s Revenge
Chapter 43 Unbelievable
Wang Yanqing was embarrassed and hurriedly said: “You don’t have to call me Fairy Chief, just call me by my name. I just lived in Qiyunshan for a few years by coincidence and I am not a formal disciple.”
When Wang Yanqing said these words, she couldn’t help feeling guilty. She really didn’t know how Lu Heng could make it up so smoothly. Wang Yanqing was embarrassed to continue this topic and quickly asked: “Where is the woman who was on watch on the day of the twenty-ninth?”
The palace maids looked at each other but did not see Cui Yuehuan nearby. One of the palace maids volunteered and said: “She should be in the house. I will take Miss Wang to find her.”
Wang Yanqing followed the palace maid to the back hall. The Ciqing Palace sat north and faced south. In the front was the main hall with five rooms which was the living place of Empress Zhang. Passing through the small doors on both sides of the main hall, she entered a small courtyard that was obviously cold and silent. The main hall of this courtyard was one level lower than Empress Zhang’s in front, the foundations and the windows were much smaller.
But even so, the main hall was not suitable for the maids to live in. They were the largest in number, but they were crowded into small rooms on the east and west sides of the back hall. These rooms were built together with the palace walls, low and cramped, in sharp contrast with the empress’s magnificent palace in front.
The palace maid stood in front of a low room, knocked on the door, and asked: “Cui Yuehuan, are you inside?”
After a while, a woman’s voice came from inside: “Who is it?”
“It’s me. The female officer brought by Commander Lu wants to ask a few questions. Is it convenient for you now?”
There were hurried footsteps inside, and a palace maid wearing a green jacket quickly opened the door and said: “I didn’t know it was the Fairy Chief, please forgive me.”
Wang Yanqing smiled and said softly: “My surname is Wang, you can just call me by my name.”
Cui Yuehuan agreed and asked Wang Yanqing to come in a little embarrassedly: “Miss Wang, forgive me, there is no light here, and it is a bit humid. I will pour tea for the Miss.”
Wang Yanqing shook her head lightly, indicating that she was okay: “I’m just here to ask a few questions, you don’t have to bother.”
Wang Yanqing said no, but how could the palace maid dare neglect one of Commander Lu’s people. She went to the window to pick up the teapot and found that it was empty. Cui Yuehuan couldn’t help showing embarrassment, and when the maid who led the way saw this, she said: “I’ll go get you some hot water.”
The maid who led the way grabbed the teapot from Cui Yuehuan and left. Cui Yuehuan brought Wang Yanqing to an embroidered seat and nervously asked Wang Yanqing to sit down.
Wang Yanqing leaned back and sat down, as her eyes swept across the room silently. This room was not big, it was less than half of Wang Yanqing’s bedroom in the Lu Mansion, but it was full with four beds. It was difficult for someone to even turn around. The furnishings in the room were clear at a glance. Except for the bed, a box in the corner, and a case in front of the window, there was nothing else.
Because there was no sunshine all year round, and too many people were crowded in here, there was a cloudy tide in the house. Wang Yanqing’s dress, appearance, and temperament were incompatible with this shabby house, and Cui Yuehuan was restless. Wang Yanqing smiled at Cui Yuehuan and said kindly: “You don’t have to be nervous. I heard from the maids that you were resting in the room and worried that you were not feeling well, so I came over to have a look. Can I call you Yuehuan?”
Cui Yuehuan’s face relaxed slightly and she nodded cautiously. Wang Yanqing asked: “How old are you this year, where are you from?”
Cui Yuehuan didn’t know what Wang Yanqing was asking this for and replied: “I am twenty this year. I have been in the palace for six years, and I am a native of Pingyang.”
Wang Yanqing raised her eyes in surprise and said with a smile: “You are actually from Pingyang? My ancestral home is the Datong Mansion, so we are from the same town.”
Cui Yuehuan had been in the palace for many years and had long lost contact with her hometown. When she heard that Wang Yanqing was from the same province, and even though she knew that this woman held great influence, her heart relaxed.
Wang Yanqing seemed to be joking, but in fact, she had been paying attention to Cui Yuhuan’s expression. For most people, talking about their childhood and hometown was the easiest way to get a good impression. Wang Yanqing reluctantly used her relationship as a fellow village woman to get close to the other, and then asked quietly: “I heard that you were beaten a few days ago, how are you, how is your health?”
When Cui Yuehuan heard this, her eyebrows drooped down. She lowered her head and said: “I made a big mistake. It is already a grace that the empress spared me from death, how dare I cry out for pain?”
The day Empress Zhang encountered the ghost happened to be on Cui Yuehuan’s watch. Cui Yuehuan didn’t hear anything or say anything, and even caused Empress Zhang to lie on the ground in the middle of the night. If it wasn’t for Empress Zhang’s frequent encounters with ghosts and that she was in a trance and forgot to deal with Cui Yuehuan for a while, she would have had to endure more than a slap in the face.
Wang Yanqing guessed that while the palace maids were cleaning the palace outside, Cui Yuehuan stayed in the house alone, mostly recovering from her injuries. Wang Yanqing asked: “You are injured. Are your tasks in the palace still as usual?”
“Of course.” Cui Yuehuan said, “For those of us who are servants, it is by the master’s grace to be punished for making mistakes. We should be grateful. How can we delay work because of this?” I owe thanks to Aunt Qin for taking care of me. She has changed me to an easy job these days, and the people in my room also help me with things. My aunt is so kind to me, how can I still be hypocritical?”
Recuperation was the only treatment for the masters. As a palace maid, they were not allowed to waste time. Cui Yuehuan was already considered lucky, with Qin Xiang’er controlling water on the job and her roommate helping her afterward. She could barely wait for the wound to heal. Otherwise, if she was assigned to do heavy work the next day after being beaten, her body would collapse.
Wang Yanqing looked at Cui Yuehuan and couldn’t even say words of comfort. Others could soothe themselves by saying “the days will get better slowly”, but for the palace maids, such days were their whole lives, and there was no hope for them.
As soon as they entered the palace gates, it was as deep as the sea. For the palace maids, once they entered this gate, there was no chance to get out. The best result for them was in a palace of old age and death, if they followed the wrong master, they would be oppressed by concubines and eunuchs. Even if they followed the right master, they still may be buried in the future. To be able to live safely until old age and death was already an extravagant hope that many palace maids could not achieve.
The Forbidden City was majestic and towering, but below it, there were piles of bones. These maids, eunuchs, and even concubines were all victims of this gorgeous palace.
Wang Yanqing’s heart became heavy and she asked: “Is it because of the watch that day?”
Cui Yuehuan was silent for a moment, and then said: “I fell asleep during night watch for the master, and I deserved to be beaten to death, not to mention that I also caused the empress to fall ill.”
Wang Yanqing said in a low voice: “But the other palace maids said that you usually sleep very lightly, and you never made such a mistake before. You slept like the dead that day. Could it be because of someone’s scheming, such as a drink of tea or medicine by mistake?”
Cui Yuehuan lowered her eyes, pursed her lips slightly, and said: “No.”
Wang Yanqing stared at her face and asked: “It really wasn’t? Think about it carefully, did you take anything from another such as eating tea, cakes, snacks, and so on.”
Wang Yanqing spoke very slowly but Cui Yuehuan listened indifferently and said: “I can’t remember, probably not.”
Wang Yanqing nodded lightly and stopped asking: “Then that’s good. I don’t know where this ghost has come from and why it has set its sights on the Ciqing Palace. You are still injured, do you need to go to the front hall for the watch tonight?”
Cui Yuehuan lowered her eyes deeply and replied in an astonished voice: “Yes.”
“Do you still want to go?” Wang Yanqing sighed and asked with concern, “It’s too hard for you to keep watch while you’re injured. Did you run into the hauntings?”
Cui Yuehuan bit her lip, her expression completely different from when she talked about her hometown just now. She didn’t want to continue talking, but because of Wang Yanqing’s question, she had to reply: “I fell asleep during the first haunting and didn’t see anything. The second haunting happened in the first half of the night, and it was my turn to guard for the second half of the night that day, I just missed it. I only heard it last night when the ghost knocked on the door.”
As if unable to see Cui Yuehuan’s indifference, Wang Yanqing continued to ask: “Was the ghost scary?”
Cui Yuehuan gave a “hmm” and then nodded. Wang Yanqing suddenly reached out to hold Cui Yuehuan’s finger. Cui Yuehuan was startled and subconsciously pulled back halfway. Wang Yanqing smiled gently and said: “Don’t worry, the emperor has handed over this case to Master Lu, and Master Lu will definitely find out.”
Cui Yuehuan shrank her fingers, raised the corner of her lips, and smiled at Wang Yanqing.
The maid who went to pick up the hot water came back, and Wang Yanqing let go of Cui Yuehuan’s hand. She asked Cui Yuehuan about her recovery, and Cui Yuehuan responded from time to time. Her eyes were vacant and she didn’t talk much. Wang Yanqing got up wisely and said: “I won’t disturb your recuperation, so rest in peace.”
Cui Yuehuan lowered her shoulders inwardly and stood up to send them off. Wang Yanqing stopped Cui Yuehuan at the door and walked out of the curtain with the maid who had led the way. After coming out, Wang Yanqing asked the palace maid: “On the fifth day of the first month, how was the night watch arranged?”
The palace maid recalled and said: “Aunt Qin divided everyone into two groups, one group stayed up for the first half of the night, the other group stayed up for the second half of the night, and they were replaced the next day. On the fifth day of the new year, Aunt Qin’s group should have been staying up for the first half of the night.”
Wang Yanqing asked who were in the two groups, and the maids said them one by one, which matched what Cui Yuehuan and Yu Wan said. Wang Yanqing pondered this and when the palace maid saw this, she asked:”Miss Wang, why do you ask?”
At such a time, she would like to thank Lu Heng for finding a good excuse for her. Wang Yanqing smiled and replied without having to think hard: “I’m thinking about the transcending ritual. Let me keep watch with you tonight. I don’t need to work on shifts, I can just keep watch with everyone all night.”
Now that a female ghost was causing people to panic, of course, the more people watching at night, the better. However, Wang Yanqing still bore the name of Zhang Tianshi’s successor, so when the palace maid heard that Wang Yanqing was going to stay, she could not ask for more. The palace maid said: “Thank you for your hard work, Miss Wang. But night watch has always been arranged by Aunt Qin. If there is an extra person, they will need to talk to Aunt Qin.”
Wang Yanqing often heard the palace maids mention Aunt Qin so she asked curiously: “Who is Aunt Qin?”
“Aunt Qin’s name is Qin Xiang’er. She is the female official of the Shangyi Bureau, and she is in charge of all matters in the Ciqing Palace.” With some envy in her mouth, the palace maid said, “Aunt Qin is different from us. She was selected through an exam to help the master handle palace affairs without having to do the work of serving other people. It’s a pity that I’m stupid and couldn’t pass the internal examination, otherwise I would be a female official too.”
Female officials were a system set up by Emperor Hongwu. Divided into six bureaus and one division, there were just over one hundred people in the whole palace. Female officials were different from these palace eunuchs whose fate was like grass mustard. They had rank and knowledge of literature and ink. They were the managers of the harem. They managed the palace maids and supervised the concubines. High-level female officials even had palace maids to serve them. Some female officials were selected from the outside and some were trained from the palace. Qin Xiang’er was admitted from outside the palace.
After the palace maid and Wang Yanqing finished talking, they went to Qin Xiang’er to report. Wang Yanqing didn’t follow her, but changed the way, silently pondering the affairs of the Ciqing Palace.
The management of the palace was so strict that unless you were a spy, it was difficult for outsiders to take advantage of the situation. Moreover, the Ciqing Palace was haunted last night after it was surrounded by the Imperial Guards. During the period, no outsiders approached the Ciqing Palace, so this ghost must have appeared from within them.
The first haunting had no valid eyewitnesses, and the second time, half of the Ciqing Palace’s members kept a watch in the house, while the other half slept. The five palace servants and Empress Zhang met the ghost together. When these people gathered together, it was difficult to commit fraud, so the other half of the palace servants were more likely to commit the crime. Among them, Cui Yuehuan, who fell asleep during the first watch, and also happened to be not in the dormitory for the second time, was very suspicious.
The sky gradually darkened, and the atmosphere of the Ciqing Palace became more hurried. When Wang Yanqing was walking around, she saw two palace maids looking around in the back hall with suspicious expressions. One of them was Yu Wan who had spoken to her earlier. Wang Yanqing stopped at the door and knocked gently: “What are you doing?”
Yu Wan was startled when she heard a voice behind her and almost threw the thing in her hand. When she looked back and saw that it was Wang Yanqing, she breathed a sigh of relief: “Miss Wang, it’s you.”
Wang Yanqing lifted her skirt and stepped into the threshold, asking: “What is it?”
Yu Wan quickly twisted the handkerchief in the water basin, not daring to delay for a moment, and said: “Aunt asked us to scrub the warehouse in the back. It’s almost dark, there are few people here, and it’s chilly and creepy. We have to go back quickly.”
So it happened to be that she was afraid of the ghost. Wang Yanqing stopped in front of the Duobao Pavilion to help them. Wang Yanqing carefully took down a pair of vases and asked: “How long have you both been in the palace?”
Yu Wan wrung out the handkerchief, wiped the vase neatly, and replied: “I have been in the palace for five years, and she just been in the palace for three years.”
Wang Yanqing looked at the other palace maid. She had a beautiful face and a slender body. She looked a little dazed, and when she noticed Wang Yanqing looking over, she hurriedly lowered her head, her hands trembled, and she almost broke the vase.
Wang Yanqing stood beside her and quickly caught the vase. Yu Wan was startled, but she was relieved when she saw that the vase was fine. She raised her eyebrows and complained: “Xiu Yao, what are you doing? This vase was given to the empress by Emperor Hongzhi. This is very precious to the empress, if it is broken, ten of you will not be enough.”
Xiu Yao lowered her eyes and said apologized. Yu Wan looked at Xiu Yao’s appearance, hesitated, and finally sighed: “Forget it, if you are not feeling well, just go back and rest for a while, I’ll just wash it here.”
Xiu Yao waved her hand saying no, but Yu Wan snatched the thing over and said in disgust: “Don’t make trouble here, you are in a daze like this, how can you help? Go back quickly, I have to go to the empress’s room to keep watch tonight.”
Xiu Yao couldn’t grab it from Yu Wan and finally walked away with her head down. Wang Yanqing watched the woman go out and asked in a low voice: “What happened to her? I see her face is very white, is she not feeling well?”
Yu Wan hesitated before speaking, and finally shook her head and said: “She is young and she has not gotten used to it since first entering the palace. She will be fine in a few years.”
Yu Wan said it casually and Wang Yanqing looked back at her, only to see Yu Wan’s brows drooping. She picked up Xiu Yao’s vase and wiped it swiftly.
Behind this understatement, she didn’t know how much sorrow was hidden.
Wang Yanqing sighed secretly and asked: “Xiu Yao is an elegant name, her parents should also be scholars, how could they be willing to send her to the palace?”
Yu Wan pursed her lips and said: “How can that be. It would be great if their family were scholars, but unfortunately, her parents died early, and her brother and sister-in-law didn’t want to support her, so they sold her to the palace. Originally, she didn’t have a serious name, she was called Xiao Si after the ranking, and then Aunt Qin said that Si was unlucky, and there was a poem called Xiu Yao…”
Wang Yanqing answered: “Lush blooms in the fourth month, cicadas sing in the fifth month.”
|| Xiu Yao (秀葽) can be broken into two characters, Xiu refers to the lushness of the grass, and Yao which has several meanings such as bloom, elegant, refined, and graceful.”
“Oh, right.” Yu Wan washed the vase and put it back in the Duobao Pavilion upright, twisting the handkerchief in the water while saying, “That is the poem. Aunt Qin said that Xiao Si did not sound good, so she changed her name to Xiu Yao. It’s a pity, no matter how delicate the name is, grass is still grass after all, and it is still a life to be trampled on.”
Yu Wan washed the handkerchief in the water as Wang Yanqing stared at her. Wang Yanqing noticed that Yu Wan’s tone did not fluctuate when she said these words, but her eyes were slightly closed, her upper lip was lifted, and two thin grooves quickly appeared on the side of her nose, which soon disappeared. Wang Yanqing remained calm and asked: “What happened to her?”
Yu Wan pouted and was about to say something when a voice suddenly came from outside the door: “Yu Wan.”
Yu Wan was horrified and immediately stood up: “Aunt Qin.”
Wang Yanqing turned around and found that it was the solemn female official whom she had seen in the morning. It turns out that she was Qin Xiang’er. Wang Yanqing put her hands together and said a thousand blessings, but Qin Xiang’er avoided and returned a greeting: “Miss Wang, you are a distinguished guest, why did you come here? Master Lu instructed the Shangshan supervisor to have dinner brought to you. Miss, please follow me.”
Wang Yanqing listened while her mind was swimming. There were special personnel for everything in the palace, and the Shangshan supervisor was the eunuch who made food for the emperor’s concubines. She just stayed in the Ciqing Palace for a while, it was too much for Second Brother to alarm the Shangshan supervisor, right?
But everything was delivered, Wang Yanqing could only go with Qin Xiang’er to dinner, and the topic just stopped naturally. After Qin Xiang’er and Wang Yanqing left, Yu Wan put away her things and ran away with the dirty water basin.
Wang Yanqing was taken to a quiet palace by Qin Xiang’er. Qin Xiang’er wanted to help Wang Yanqing prepare the meals in person, but Wang Yanqing quickly stopped her. Qin Xianger was used to being a female official and kept her face straight in everything she did. Wang Yanqing couldn’t eat in front of her, so she politely sent Qin Xiang’er away. When only Wang Yanqing was left in the room, she opened the food box and found that it was all her favorite dishes.
Wang Yanqing took a random bite with her chopsticks. Maybe because the emperor believed in Taoism, the meals in the palace were vegetarian, but the taste was not bad. For the first time, Wang Yanqing was eating such a delicious vegetarian dish. She sat down and ate with peace of mind, thinking that acquaintances were really easy to handle. If this dish had not been specially taken care of by the Shangshan supervisor, Wang Yanqing would not have believed it.
Second Brother’s attitude was too treacherous.
Lu Heng was someone who could hold a presence even without being in front of them. Wang Yanqing ate a high-standard dinner, realized that she hadn’t thought of Second Brother all afternoon, and felt very guilty.
After dinner, the sky quickly darkened. Because the Ciqing Palace was haunted, it was particularly depressing after dark, and the gate was locked early. Wang Yanqing did not delay after the meal and immediately went to the empress’ bedroom.
There were already many people in the sleeping halls at this moment, all of them looking like they were in a state of unease and anxiety as if they were going to lose another. Qin Xiang’er was arranging people, and when she saw Wang Yanqing come in, she gave a half bow.
Qin Xiang’er’s face was serious as if the rules had been carved into her bones. Wang Yanqing nodded in return and hid in the corner silently, not wanting to get in the way of anyone.
Empress Zhang’s face was extremely bad and she didn’t even bother to pay attention to Wang Yanqing. Empress Zhang was upset when she saw the flustered faces of the palace maids. She drove them out of the floor and she was assisted by Qin Xiang’er to lie down. While Qin Xiang’er massaged Empress Zhang’s legs in the inner room, Wang Yanqing and the other palace maids huddled together, silently waiting for midnight to come.
It was a very torturous thing. They knew what was going to happen, but there was nothing they could do. The faces of the palace maids were painted white and blanched of any color. Wang Yanqing scanned the crowd and noticed that Cui Yuehuan and the palace maid named Xiu Yao were both there. Wang Yanqing remembered that Cui Yuehuan guarded the first half of the night yesterday. Tonight, it should be her turn to guard the second half of the night, but Cui Yuehuan appeared here when she should have changed shifts with others. Why would she do this?
Wang Yanqing hid her guess in her heart and did not show it. She didn’t actually believe in the so-called haunted words, and she spent most of her time observing the palace maids present. Moreover, no matter how terrifying it was, they couldn’t stop the instinct of the body. As the night gradually deepened, the air in the hall became a little bit colder, and the palace maids were also crowded into a group, drowsy and sleepy.
Wang Yanqing kept reminding herself to stay vigilant, but when sleepiness struck, she was left with no choice and Wang Yanqing closed her eyes at some point. In a daze, she suddenly felt cold air approaching, and Wang Yanqing opened her eyes instantly.
She looked around to find that the palace was quiet, and the palace maids were slumped and unconscious. The lights in the inner room flickered slightly. Qin Xiang’er leaned against Empress Zhang’s couch and seemed to have fallen asleep too.
Everything looked the same. Wang Yanqing moved her numb calf quietly. At this time, she vaguely heard a whining sound outside.
The sound was shrill and melodious, like the sound of the wind, as if someone was crying. Wang Yanqing immediately got up and pushed the window open vigorously.
There was no one outside. Wang Yanqing was rapt with attention, but she could no longer hear the whining sound.
The wind of early spring brought with it a sharp chill, and the night wind swept in from the window, dispelling the drowsiness in an instant. Wang Yanqing did not believe in evil, so she looked around carefully, even on the beams of the room, but there was still nothing.
Wang Yanqing couldn’t help but be shaken. Could it be that it was just the wind?
Wang Yanqing found nothing, so she closed the window and returned to her original position. After a series of hauntings, the maids had become frightened birds. Wang Yanqing’s movement was very light, but they still woke up.
When Cui Yuehuan saw Wang Yanqing coming back from the window, her face changed slightly. Maybe because she had just woken up, her voice was still hoarse, and she asked with difficulty: “Miss Wang, what’s the matter?”
Wang Yanqing shook her head and said it was fine, but the others were also awakened one after another. They realized what had happened and their faces changed.
This kind of feeling of knowing that there were ghosts outside without being able to do anything was terrifying. A palace maid hugged her companion in panic, and muttered absentmindedly: “She’s here, what should I do, she’s here again! ”
The inner room was also awakened, and there was a rustling voice inside. Wang Yanqing was waiting to comfort everyone when she suddenly heard a “Du Du” sound behind her.
It was like something was scratching the door, and almost at the same time, the shrill resentful voice sounded again: “It’s so cold, let me in.”
|| Author’s Note:
Lush blooms in the fourth month, cicadas sing in the fifth month. ——《Book of Poems · Seventh Month》