TIGR Chapter 53
The Imperial Guard’s Revenge
Chapter 53 Acting
On the twentieth day of the third month, Wang Yanqing woke up early. She was going to visit the Empress in the palace today. Naturally, she couldn’t wear bright clothes when visiting someone sick, but it was not appropriate to wear plain white clothes. To make matters worse, Wang Yanqing lost her memory and was completely blank about court etiquette. Fortunately, Lu Heng was there to check. So with the help of Ling Xi and Ling Luan, Wang Yanqing took up the challenge of choosing her clothes for the palace.
Today there was not a serious audience, so there was no need to dress too formally. Wang Yanqing changed into a lotus-root-colored long tunic from dark flower muslin. The body was simple and neat, without any embroidery decorations, but her coat was light purple and reddish, and it would not provoke disdain from the elders. The long tunic had a stand-up collar that was neatly tied to the neck with gold buttons. The jacket was split at the knees on both sides, revealing a white silk horse-faced skirt inside.
Lu Heng did not go to South Fusi today but waited in the Lu Mansion from early in the morning. After Wang Yanqing was dressed neatly, she did not dare to delay and immediately went to the main courtyard to find Lu Heng. Lu Heng couldn’t help laughing when he saw that she wore a serious disposition in anticipation of the event, she was even fully buttoned to the neck. Lu Heng lightly adjusted her neckline and said: “Don’t be nervous, the Empress Dowager of Xingguo is a very kind person. She has not been in good health recently, so she summoned us to meet her. After you enter the palace, everything will be fine as usual, don’t worry.”
Of course, Wang Yanqing was like this. Lu Heng said that she didn’t need to be nervous, but if something should happen to her, how could she not panic. Lu Heng tidied Wang Yanqing’s collar with his fingers, paused, then put them on her shoulder and clenched slightly: “The Empress Dowager of Xingguo has been ill since last winter, and even the imperial doctor has no way to cure it. I was afraid that the empress would be worried so I did not speak to her about you.”
The strength of Lu Heng’s fingers seemed to be hinting at something. Wang Yanqing immediately realized that Empress Jiang didn’t know about her amnesia. Wang Yanqing nodded and said: “I understand, I will try to speak as little as possible, so as not to cause the empress to worry.”
Lu Heng hesitated to speak, and finally sighed silently in his heart. It was he who should be worried now. Lu Heng could confess the truth to the emperor, but Empress Jiang was full of kindness from the elders, and her body was exhausted. Lu Heng really dare not tell Empress Jiang the truth. In Wang Yanqing’s mind, she was an orphan adopted by the Lu family, and she was once favored by Empress Jiang, but in Empress Jiang’s heart, Wang Yanqing was Lu Heng’s woman, who was taken to the Lu family’s golden house to hide her beauty. Lu Heng didn’t even know how he was going to lie between these two women when he entered the palace in a while.
He could only take it one step at a time.
This time, Wang Yanqing entered the palace with Lu Heng, and every step was very smooth. The guards at the palace gate saw Lu Heng, hurriedly greeted him, and let them pass without checking. The last time Wang Yanqing entered the palace was through the east gate, but this time, they entered the palace through the Zuoshun gate and walked all the way north along a narrow road.
Wang Yanqing quietly looked at the buildings on both sides, many eunuchs were going in and out. Unlike the fawning and eager eunuchs in Wang Yanqing’s imagination, the people here were all polite and refined. If they were not wearing palace envoy clothing, she would believe that they were scholars. When the eunuchs passed by and saw them, they bowed and greeted them from a distance. When Lu Heng saw Wang Yanqing looking to the side, he pointed out in a low voice: “That is the supervisor of the Department of Rites.”
Wang Yanqing suddenly realized it turned out to be the famous supervisor of the Department of Rites. Since Emperor Yongle, the court began to reuse eunuchs. The emperor’s original intention to set up the East and West Divisions was to contain the Imperial Guards. Although they were collectively called the Division of Guards, the East and West Divisions never dealt with the Imperial Guards. But now it seemed that, at least in front of Lu Heng, the East Division and the West Division were still very respectful.
On this point, Wang Yanqing admired Lu Heng in particular. Since Lu Heng joined the Imperial Guards, there was no assignment he could not handle. This record was enough to laugh at the others, but his real ability was to get everyone around him to cooperate with him on errands without any question of authority.
It was not difficult to handle these assignments, but the most difficult problem in the world was handling people.
After walking down the corridor for a long time, they finally arrived at the Cining Palace. Wang Yanqing had once been to the Ciqing Palace. The Ciqing Palace was very close to the outer court, but its regulations and layout were more like a prince’s residence than a palace. However, the Cining Palace was the opposite. It served as the residence of all the empress dowagers of the past dynasties. After the emperor ascended the throne, it was renovated, and now it was very graceful and expensive.
As soon as Lu Heng entered the palace gate, someone went inside to report. The palace maid respectfully opened the door for Lu Heng. Wang Yanqing followed behind Lu Heng, and as soon as she entered the door, she was dazzled by the battle scene inside.
The emperor was also here today. Successor Zhang brought all her concubines to the Cining Palace to serve and nurse the sick person. A row of young and beautiful concubines stood on standby in front of the couch, and behind them were the palace maids who served them. Fair and dark, small and big, they all stood together and it was simply magnificent.
Wang Yanqing thought she was just here to greet Empress Jiang alone, she could not have expected this kind of greeting. She just glanced at them and couldn’t see who was who, so she bravely greeted a bunch of shadows: “I humbly pay my respects to the emperor, the Empress Dowager of Xingguo, the empress, and all the concubines.”
The emperor sat in front of Empress Jiang’s couch, Successor Zhang sat beside him, and behind them stood several beauties who looked like female officials. Empress Jiang was leaning on the couch, with a sickly expression and a sallow face. When she heard Lu Heng coming, her eyes lit up, and she quickly said: “No need for courtesies.”
They said they were here to nurse the sick, but in fact, these concubines were just standing here. They likely hadn’t met Empress Jiang many times, and Empress Jiang might not have known them either. To Empress Jiang, her daughter-in-laws in name were far less familiar than Lu Heng. After Empress Jiang spoke, the concubines consciously stepped aside and parted a path down the middle.
Lu Heng was used to seeing this kind of scene, so he walked smoothly through the crowd to Empress Jiang. Wang Yanqing hurriedly followed with her head down.
Lu Heng greeted the Emperor, Empress Jiang, and Successor Zhang familiarly. When Empress Jiang saw Lu Heng, her face was very relieved, and she glanced behind Lu Heng with a clear look: “You guys are here.”
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The smile on Lu Heng’s face was as usual. He pulled Wang Yanqing sideways, his expression was very natural, and he didn’t seem nervous at all: “Empress Dowager, this is Qing Qing.”
Wang Yanqing didn’t dare to look up, and hurriedly bent down to give her thousand blessings: “Empress Dowager of Xingguo.”
Empress Jiang swept over Wang Yanqing’s body and saw that this woman had a beautiful face, and there was no sullenness between her eyebrows. In her greeting, she was calm and steady, and she could be seen to have a quiet and steady temperament. Empress Jiang became more and more satisfied and smiled: “Rise. It is rare for you to come to the palace to see me. Don’t be restrained, take a seat.”
The palace maid gestured to an embroidered pier. Even if Wang Yanqing didn’t remember what happened in the past, she knew that she couldn’t sit down in front of the emperor and empress dowager, so she timidly sat on the edge of her seat. Lu Heng dealt with this kind of situation with ease and said warmly: “I have long wanted to come to greet you, but I haven’t been able to. Today, by His Majesty’s light, I have brought her to meet you.”
Empress Jiang smiled gratified: “You are all good children, and you will be satisfied if you have this heart to mourn your family.”
Lu Heng took advantage of the situation to ask about the empress’ condition. What he asked was not empty words like “How have you been doing?”, but real details, interspersed with one or two nice words from time to time, which made Empress Jiang smile. It was not Wang Yanqing’s turn to talk about this kind of topic. Like many concubines, she quietly lowered her head and stood aside as a wallflower.
The emperor sat in front of the couch, swept over Wang Yanqing silently, and then looked at Lu Heng, his eyes lighting up like he watching a play.
Lu Heng seemed to be at ease, but he was actually very troubled. Every time he said a word, he had to calculate five sentences in advance and the possible reaction of Empress Jiang, he couldn’t reveal any clues, and he only had himself to blame.
Lu Heng took proper precautions, and with a little luck, things developed surprisingly smoothly. Wang Yanqing felt that the “you two” in Empress Jiang’s words meant “you two siblings”, while Empress Jiang thought it was “you two husband and wife”. Many concubines present were calm, and no one felt that anything was wrong.
Only Lu Heng and the emperor knew the inside story. One was weaving the story while the other watched the scene unfold. To their surprise, it was very harmonious.
Empress Jiang looked around, she still remembered when Lu Heng and the emperor were teenagers. In the blink of an eye, the two of them got married and now they were gathered all together in beautiful harmony. Her heart felt firmly reconciled. She was overwhelmed with emotion and sighed: “Our family has gone through ups and downs in this life. I have no regrets in my life, but it’s a pity that I haven’t been able to see children from the two of you. You should start a family first and then establish your work, both of you should hurry up.”
The emperor’s expression slightly froze. He had been on the throne for thirteen years, and there was still no child in the palace. Empress Jiang was anxious, how could the emperor not be in a hurry? When Successor Zhang heard Empress Jiang mention an heir again, her face couldn’t help but show her embarrassment. She got up and said: “The medicine should be ready, I will go outside to have a look.”
When Lu Heng heard Successor Jiang mention this, he knew that the conversation was taking a turn for the worse. He quickly took the opportunity to give Wang Yanqing a meaningful glance. Wang Yanqing understood Lu Heng’s meaning without words and followed Successor Zhang out.
After Wang Yanqing went out, Lu Heng’s face didn’t change, but he breathed a long sigh of relief. Empress Jiang didn’t notice, but the emperor quietly glanced at Lu Heng.
The empress went out to check the medicine in person, and the other concubines couldn’t wait here foolishly, so they all went out with the empress. Most of the people in the room left in a flash, and when there were fewer people, Empress Jiang showed her anger and glared at Lu Heng angrily: “Didn’t you say that when you met someone you like, you would show her to me? Why are you hiding her now, tucked away, so that I would not know?”
The emperor sat quietly on the sidelines, it was inevitable that the elderly would start to nag. If Empress Jiang did not talk about Lu Heng, she would talk about the emperor. In contrast, it was better to talk about Lu Heng. Now Lu Heng was only glad that he responded quickly and sent Wang Yanqing out in time, otherwise, the scene would be unimaginable.
Knowing that he couldn’t count on others, Lu Heng said for himself: “Isn’t that why I came today? I thought about taking her to see you after I was busy, how could I know that you were well-informed and one step ahead of me.”
Empress Jiang didn’t care about the truth of his words, and spoke with heartfelt words again: “No matter how busy you are, you must always take care of your family. This is not only for Lu Heng but also for you, Emperor.”
The emperor’s ears were about to hear the naturally following words, and he disapproved in his heart, saying: “Your son remembers.”
Empress Jiang could not be the master of her son any longer. She said everything she could, and the rest could only depend on her children and grandchildren. Now that there were no outsiders, Empress Jiang was in a happy mood seeing her kids, and she got up to confess her future affairs: “My illness has gotten worse in these two days, after my death, the emperor does not need to observe my grieving period. You can do whatever you need to do and give birth to offspring quickly, that will truly be showing your respect for me.”
The emperor’s face changed slightly when he heard these words, Lu Heng’s smile also disappeared and he lowered his eyes quietly. The emperor said: “Mother, the Taoist Priest is researching new medicinal pills for you, what are you talking about?”
Empress Jiang said: “I don’t like those medicinal pills, so there is no need to disturb more people. My time has come, and sooner or later there will be such a day. There is no need to avoid it. While I can still talk, arrange things well, and when the day comes, you can save yourself from rushing around.”
The emperor was silent, and Lu Heng would not answer. Empress Jiang continued: “There is no need to deal with my death, but there is only one thing I ask, be sure to bury me with your father.”
The emperor finally sighed helplessly: “Mother, don’t worry, I understand.”
On the other side, Wang Yanqing accompanied Successor Zhang while waiting for the medicine, and they were followed by a large group of palace maids and concubines. Successor Zhang said that she would check the concoction herself, but in fact, she just came to the kitchen to look around, and she didn’t even smell the smoke. She sat in the warm pavilion drinking tea, and when the medicine was boiled, her own palace maid brought it to her.
Wang Yanqing didn’t know Successor Zhang at all, and the empress and other concubines had nothing to say when facing Master Lu’s family. The women were relatively speechless, standing quietly in the warm pavilion. Amidst the floating green smoke, they could only hear Successor Zhang lifting her tea cup.
Wang Yanqing didn’t have to talk to anyone, and in her heart, she was rather glad. She didn’t have any doubts about the strangeness at the moment. She felt that it was normal for her to be unfamiliar with these women. No matter how close the relationship between Lu Heng and the palace was, she was still a foreigner. How could she have made friends with the concubines of the harem? Lu Heng was not familiar with them, let alone Wang Yanqing.
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However, before Wang Yanqing entered the palace, Lu Heng told her about the relationships she would face. This empress here was also surnamed, Zhang. She entered the palace in the first year of Jiajing, but she was not related to Empress Zhang, she just happened to have the same surname. Successor Zhang was the emperor’s second empress. The first empress was surnamed, Chen. Because her jealousy offended the emperor, she frightened herself and after having a miscarriage, she died of illness. After the death of Empress Chen, the emperor, at the urging of Empress Jiang, established the oldest concubine Zhang Shun as her successor, who was now Successor Zhang.
It was a pity that Successor Zhang was not favored, and she had not given birth to a son or a half daughter after having entered the palace for thirteen years. Now that Successor Zhang was older, the emperor favored the newcomers, and her position became more and more awkward. Of the women who entered the palace in the first year of Jiajing, the only one who was still active in front of the stage was Successor Zhang. The rest were all newcomers who entered the palace in the tenth year of Jiajing. At this moment, a whisp of smoke was visible in the sunlight, so tender that it was almost reflective.
Wang Yanqing quietly swept over these young and bright women in the warm pavilion, thinking about marrying into the emperor’s family, especially a clever and suspicious emperor like the emperor. She was afraid it may not be a good thing.
She preferred to live outside the palace, even if she didn’t have clothes and food, at least she was free.
Soon, the medicine was ready. Successor Zhang returned to the main hall of the Cining Palace with the medicine in her own hands. Empress Jiang did not know what she was talking about with the emperor, but when she saw them nod their heads, her previous words stopped immediately. After Empress Jiang drank the medicine, her face showed fatigue. The emperor had to go back to the Qianqing Palace to see to a matter, and taking advantage of the situation, Lu Heng left and took Wang Yanqing back.
Lu Heng was going to the Qianqing Palace, so he could only send someone to take Wang Yanqing home. This time, he crossed the public road in front of the emperor and Empress Jiang. Lu Heng was not afraid that someone would take things difficult for Wang Yanqing on the road, so he sent Wang Yanqing away after a few words.
This kind of thing was becoming more and more familiar. Wang Yanqing sat on the carriage leaving the palace, and her expression was very calm. She guessed that when they went out, Empress Jiang said something to the emperor and Lu Heng. The emperor now asked Lu Heng to go to the Qianqing Palace, most likely to discuss the matter.
Wang Yanqing put it aside after thinking about it and didn’t take it to heart. After returning to the mansion, her life was still peaceful and leisurely, but Lu Heng was busy. When he was busy, he disappeared. Wang Yanqing tried to talk to him about Fu Tingzhou several times, but couldn’t find a chance.
A few days later, bad news suddenly came from the palace that Empress Jiang passed away. Wang Yanqing’s meeting with Empress Jiang really became the last. After the emperor’s grief, he followed the order of Empress Jiang, followed the moon and the sun, and observed the grieving period for twenty-seven days. At the same time, the emperor also mentioned the funeral etiquette of Empress Jiang in the morning court.
Empress Jiang died in Beijing, and the emperor’s father, the Xingxian Monarch, was buried in Anlu. How should this be arranged? Some court councilors suggested a joint burial, while others suggested separate burials in the north and south, each with their own clothes.
A separate burial was the most convenient, but Empress Jiang’s only wish was to be buried with the Xingxian Monarch. As a son, how could the emperor go against his mother’s last wish? In the end, regardless of the counselors’ quarrel, the emperor spoke and they were buried together. The joint burial involved moving the coffin. While the emperor chose the tomb site on Tianshou Mountain, the Imperial Guards went to Anlu to check the tomb site where the Xingxian Monarch resided.
This kind of thing naturally fell on Lu Heng. It seemed that the emperor asked the counselors’ opinions on the tomb in the morning court. In fact, long before the death of Empress Jiang, the emperor and Lu Heng discussed the matter of co-burial and relocation of the king’s coffin. He only notified the courtiers in the morning court.
The burial was a major event, and there was no room for error. Lu Heng sent his confidants to the Chengtian Mansion to check the situation of the tomb site, and also to investigate Empress Jiang’s tomb site. He was too busy to see anyone all day long. When Wang Yanqing saw this, it was even more difficult for her to disturb him. She thought that when Lu Heng was done with this and matters had calmed, she could talk to him about Fu Tingzhou.
As a result, the Imperial Guard, who came back from the tomb site, reported that the tomb had filled with water. The emperor was very sad when he heard that water had entered his father’s tomb. They stayed in the capital for fourteen years, and their father stayed in Anlu alone. No one even knew that the cemetery had flooded. After the emperor’s heartache, he made up his mind to patrol the south and personally return to his hometown in Anlu to check whether the tomb site should be moved and how they would be buried together.
Wang Yanqing thought it would be fine for Lu Heng to be busy for a while, but after a while, he became even busier. For the emperor’s southern patrol, he only needed to talk a lot, but the guards, advisors, inspections, and security checks were all handled by the Imperial Guards.
Lu Heng was too busy, and it became more and more difficult for Wang Yanqing to disturb him with trivial matters. Until late at night, Lu Heng was busy again until the sky above the moon returned. Wang Yanqing had already changed into her summer clothes, she poured him a cup of hot tea and said: “Second Brother, the food is warm on the stove, wait a moment.”
Lu Heng took the tea cup, feeling ashamed: “It’s so late, you can just go to bed by yourself, don’t wait for me.”
Wang Yanqing shook her head: “If you don’t come back, I would have nightmares even if I fell asleep. I might as well wait for you here. Second Brother, will you also be going on the southern patrol?”
Lu Heng replied: “Naturally.”
For such an important matter as the emperor going out, if he didn’t take up the position, all the credit would be taken away by others. Wang Yanqing was not surprised by this, she asked: “Second Brother, why is the southern patrol for two months, how will you pack your luggage?”
The southern patrol was a major event for the imperial court, and the various palaces were arranged by the Ministry of Rites, so Lu Heng was not worried about it. However, Wang Yanqing’s words reminded him.
If he left and Wang Yanqing was at home alone, would Fu Tingzhou stay well-behaved?
Holding the tea cup, Lu Heng thought for a while and finally felt that Fu Tingzhou could not be given any chances. He quickly made up his mind and said: “Qing Qing, you should go too.”