TIGR Chapter 76
The Imperial Guard’s Revenge
Chapter 76 To Suffer
Monarch Xing’s Mansion was hidden behind the trees, surrounded by the sound of insects calling one another, stretching the afternoon long. It was so hot that Zhang Jihou couldn’t sleep. She leaned on the chaise lounge and stared blankly into the sky. A palace maid knelt beside the chaise lounge, cautiously and solomnly fanning Zhang Jihou.
One wet nurse came in from outside carrying a food box. When the palace maid at the door saw her, she opened the bamboo curtain with lowered eyebrows. The wet nurse met Zhang Jihou inside the room and greeted: “Empress, your ice cream has arrived, it will refresh you.”
Now it was August, in the capital, it should have been the season where the autumn breeze was picking up and red leaves filled the sky. However, in Chengtian Mansion, the still stifling hot weather was hard to endure. Zhang Jihou was afraid of the heat and couldn’t stand this climate. She had trouble sleeping every day and only by eating iced desserts could she feel a little relief.
Zhang Jihou hurriedly beckoned it forward. She scooped a spoonful and held it in her mouth, finally feeling her dull body come back to life. The wet nurse stood at her side and watched: “Although this kind of thing is nice, it can’t be eaten often. If there is ice, it is good, you can cool down in the room and be refreshed inside and outside. Empress can also get a good sleep.”
Zhang Jihou paused, lowered her eyes, and said: “Chengtian Mansion is not like the capital. Ice is first for the emperor’s use and there is hinderance here.”
The Imperial Palace had people dedicated to making and storing ice, and there were several ice cellars in the city. The configuration of Chengtian Mansion, however, could not be compared with Beijing. The ice in the government cellar was prioritized for the emperor’s use. Distribution after would go to the important officials beside the emperor such as Lu Heng and Head Auxiliary Zhang. After that, it would be bestowed to those who were close to the emperor, and finally, it would be Zhang Jihou’s turn.
The distribution of ice was decided by the weight of each person in the emperor’s heart. Zhang Jihou, a queen with no children and no favours, ranked behind even eunuchs like Assistant Zhang.
The wet nurse pursed her lips and scoffed: “Naturally, we dare not compete with his Majesty and Master Lu, but how does Imperial Concubine Duan dare rank above Empress. In terms of entering the palace, she came later than you; in terms of status, you are the Empress, and she is only a concubine; in terms of decency, you are the daughter-in-law handpicked by Empress Dowager Zhang. Empress, I heard that Imperial Concubine Duan was too hot last night, so she ordered two boxes of ice, and today she is pestering the emperor to go to the lake together.”
The emperor had two harem drafts. The first time was in the first year of Jiajing. Empress Dowager Zhang personally selected several concubines for the emperor, among whom were the Chen and Zhang families from the Yuan Dynasty. But after ten years, the emperor had no heir for a long time, and the officials couldn’t see any progress. In the tenth year of Jiajing, the head auxiliary personally asked for an imperial decree, requesting the emperor to fill the harem. The emperor accepted nine beauties into the palace and all of them were bestowed the title of concubine. Imperial Concubine Duan from the Cao family was one of the nine concubines.
Although it was said that there were beauties in the harem, the emperor did not only look at their faces, but cared more about their spirit. Among all the beauties, the emperor loved Imperial Concubine Duan the most. The emperor even missed her on the southern patrol when it was inconvenient to take a woman with him as he climbed the mountain to see Xianling two days ago. After, when he was back in Chengtian Mansion, the emperor took Imperial Concubine Duan with him everywhere.
Zhang Jihou knew very well in her heart that the emperor would be willing wherever Concubine Duan was present. The emperor was smart and ruthless. If it weren’t for his willingness, anyone who dared to make an inch of him would have been buried in the ground long ago.
But the people in Kunning Palace were unwilling to admit it, as if they could cover up the truth they didn’t want to see if they just pushed the mistake onto another woman—it wasn’t the emperor’s fault or their own fault, it was always someone else’s fault.
Was Zhang Jihou happy? Of course, she was not happy, but what else could she do besides endure it? The emperor didn’t pursue heaven and earth. That thinking was similar to loosening the reigns in order to acquire something. To this day, Zhang Jihou still clearly remembered that day. She stood in front of Empress Chen during her pregnancy when the emperor looked over another concubine and held her hand in front of Empress Chen. She got jealous on the spot, stood up and threw a cup.
What kind of a person was he? How could he hold a woman’s hand like that, she exploded in anger. Empress Chen was so frightened that she suffered a miscarriage and died of illness not long after. After the death of Empress Chen, the emperor followed the advice of Empress Dowager Jiang and named Concubine Zhang the Empress that would carry his successors.
On the day Empress Chen threw the cup, Zhang Jihou was also there, and she saw with her own eyes how Empress Chen fell from a kingdom into the dust. Zhang Jihou was frightened. After ascending to the throne, she did not dare care about the emperor’s affairs.
While it was bad to care too much about this kind of thing, it was also bad to ignore it. Empress Dowager Jiang was quite critical of Zhang Jihou, and the emperor thought of Zhang Jihou as inflexible and boring. He held no affection for her at all.
She, the empress, actually had nothing but a name.
Seeing that Zhang Jihou looked lonely, the wet nurse waved all the maids away. The wet nurse took the rounded fan, sat down on the foot of the couch and fanned Zhang Jihou lightly: “Empress, you can’t bear it any longer? Not mentioning Imperial Concubine Duan’s favor, Imperial Concubine Li didn’t follow from the palace. Others don’t know why, do you know? After we get back, I suppose her belly will be big. If a prince is born, what will you do in the future?”
For this southern patrol, Zhang Jihou, Imperial Concubine Fangde, and Imperial Concubine Li were originally scheduled to follow, but before the trip, Imperial Concubine Li was quietly replaced and changed to Imperial Concubine Duan. The emperor could take whichever concubine he wanted and outsiders didn’t know how this was selected, but Zhang Jihou knew.
Imperial Concubine Li was removed from the list for the Southern Patrol, not because she offended the saints, but because she was pregnant. The emperor had been on the throne for twelve years, and finally had a child. He was afraid that something might go wrong, so he quietly concealed the matter. After returning from the Southern Patrol, when the fetus in Imperial Concubine Li’s womb came out safely, he would make an announcement.
Except for Empress Chen’s miscarriage many years ago, this was the first time that the imperial concubine chambers received good news. Moreover, the emperor discovered that Imperial Concubine Li was pregnant in the fourth month and kept it a secret since then. If Zhang Jihou hadn’t been in charge of the harem, she wouldn’t have known about it.
Calculating the time, Imperial Concubine Li’s belly should be full at eight months this month. The emperor sent his most powerful eunuch to protect Imperial Concubine Li and ensure the safety of the fetus. Maybe when they return from the Southern Patrol, the palace will welcome new life.
Zhang Jihou’s body seemed to be pressed by a stone, her limbs were heavy and powerless, she sighed: “What can I do? It’s been five years, how many secret tonics have I drank, but the emperor didn’t come at all, how could I give birth to a prince? Forget it, maybe it’s because I don’t have a child. Even if Concubine Li gave birth to a prince, she would still be called Mother of the Palace.”
The wet nurse frowned when she heard this, and hurriedly said: “Your Majesty, you can’t say such an inappropriate thing. Heirs are now the most important thing in the harem. If the emperor really gets a prince, he will definitely find a way to make the prince become the heir, for the convenience of establishing a crown prince in the future. You don’t have children by your side, even if you are willing to raise them, Imperial Concubine Li may not be willing to give them up.”
Zhang Jihou was stunned for a moment, and suddenly realized what the wet nurse said: “You mean…”
Nanny nodded into Zhang Jihou’s eyes and kept the rest of her words in silence. Zhang Jihou suddenly broke out in a cold sweat when she thought about the fate of the previous empresses who were childless.
Emperor Hongwu made an imperial edict. The crown prince of this dynasty needed a first wife to establish a son and without a son, no legitimate leader could be established. However, if the reputation of the eldest son was not good and the emperor really wanted to pave the way for the prince, he could definitely make his son become the eldest child of his first wife.
There were two ways to let the child become an heir. One was to let the empress adopt the prince and the other was to let the prince’s biological mother become his wife. After all, the little prince’s biological mother cannot be changed, but the empress could be changed at any time.
Zhang Jihou had neither favor nor family background, so no one would speak for her if she was abolished. But it was still good to be abolished. What if the emperor didn’t want to bear the reputation of having her abolished for no reason, and wanted her to “die of illness”?
The clothes on Zhang Jihou’s back were wet with sweat, but she didn’t feel hot at all. Seeing Zhang Jihou, the wet nurse already understood, put down her fan, and lightly pinched Zhang Jihou’s leg: “Empress, Imperial Concubine Li is in front and Imperial Concubine Duan is in the back, you have to make plans for yourself quickly, or it will be too late. In this harem, it is difficult to move without a patron, so you must find help.”
Zhang Jihou threw her handkerchief angrily and said: “It’s not that I don’t want to find a supporter in the palace. But these people in the harem are more snobbish than each other. Finding a loyal supporter is easier said than done.”
Zhang Jihou held no favor, and the emperor rarely stayed overnight at Kunning Palace. Zhang Jihou obviously had no future, and people in the harem would obviously choose younger and more favored concubines. Why would they take their chances on Zhang Jihou? Seeing that her opportunity was nearly gone, the wet nurse took advantage of this moment to say: “Little people are easily swayed, and only big people can make steady promises. Empress, why don’t you look east?”
Zhang Jihou was stunned and thought for a long time before she realized: “You mean, Empress Dowager Zhang?”
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“Exactly.” When the wet nurse saw Zhang Jihou following her train of thought, she tried harder to persuade Zhang Jihou for the purpose of her own twenty taels: “Empress Dowager Zhang is amazing. She has been Empress of one dynasty and Empress Dowager of two dynasties in the Forbidden City. Even though nowadays she has fallen short of her former grandness, her power in the palace is not comparable to that of ordinary people. Now that former Empress Dowager Jiang is dead, Empress Dowager Zhang is the only Empress Dowager, and the court will give Empress Dowager Zhang some face. If Empress Dowager Zhang is willing to protect you, maybe the emperor will change his mind and bring Concubine Li’s prince to you so you can raise him as your own.”
Zhang Jihou frowned deeply, with hesitation on her face: “But the emperor and Empress Dowager Zhang are not close…”
“That was before.” The wet nurse persuaded patiently, “His own mother was present, it is only natural that the emperor favored the Jiang family. Now that former Empress Dowager Jiang has been buried, the knot between the emperor and the Zhang family is slowly being untied. Empress Dowager Zhang is the Superior Empress Dowager, and she has the most power in dealing with the affairs of the prince and the imperial heir. If she speaks, the emperor can’t ignore it. Empress, this is the last person who can help you. You must seize the opportunity.”
Zhang Jihou was gradually persuaded. Yes, Empress Dowager Zhang was the empress dowager after all. If she asked her successor to raise the prince and the emperor doesn’t listen, the officials outside would make trouble. Zhang Jihou held on tightly to her last straw, and had no time to consider whether this straw could save her life: “I have never had any contact with Empress Dowager Zhang, how can I ask Empress Dowager Zhang to help such a fool?”
The wet nurse squinted and smiled, knowing that the matter was over, and all the gold sent by the Duke of Changguo would belong to her: “Your Majesty, this is not easy. The two younger brothers of Empress Dowager Zhang are still suffering in Nanjing. If you speak well for the Zhang family brothers before the ceremony, how can Empress Dowager Zhang not remember your kindness?”
The Lu house.
Lu Heng was busy as expected these few days and Wang Yanqing didn’t go out except when shopping for clothes on the first day. Fu Tingzhou was still inside the city, and no matter how strict the precautions were, it would be better to eliminate the hidden danger from the source, so Wang Yanqing chose not to go out.
Life in the Lu house was very quiet. Wang Yanqing went to pay her respects to Madam Fan in the morning, and sometimes when she met Madam Chu, she would stay and tease Lu Zhan for a while. Lu Wen didn’t come back to eat at noon, and the three of them often ate with the child. Only at night could they see Lu Heng and Lu Wen.
Lu Wen came home on time every day, but Lu Heng was much harder to see, and sometimes he couldn’t even come back for dinner. Wang Yanqing was not a talkative character, and except for those three meals a day, she stayed in Lu Heng’s room and read his old books. Occasionally, Lu Zhan would run over and look at Wang Yanqing with blinking eyes.
Wang Yanqing also didn’t know how to amuse a child, so she could only put down her book and make him some little things like butterflies and nets. Usually, it wouldn’t be long before Madam Chu would rush over, saying that she was embarrassed to cause trouble for Wang Yanqing.
Apart from the worry of not knowing how to amuse a child, Wang Yanqing spent the rest of her time happily. In the blink of an eye, she had already stayed in the Lu family house for seven days, and it gradually became time for the Southern Patrol to head back.
However, in the past few days something happened in the Prince’s Mansion. Wang Yanqing was helping Lu Heng tie Lu Zhan’s butterfly model when Lu Heng’s words shocked her until she almost missed the string: “You’re saying that Empress Zhang asked to pardon the brothers, Zhang Heling and Zhang Yanling?”
Lu Heng nodded: “When I first heard it, I also felt it to be unimaginable. This was a matter of the harem, and the emperor asked the East Department to investigate. However, he overheard from the eunuchs that Zhang Heling probably gave benefits to the people around Empress Zhang and requested her to speak on their behalf.”
Lu Heng knew everything about the East Department. In the past, the East and West Departments were often above the Imperial Guards because of their convenient status, but when Lu Heng arrived, it flipped the other way around and the East and West Departments were careful to please the Imperial Guards.
Wang Yanqing nimbly retrieved a string with her fingers and asked: “Then what did the emperor say?”
“What can the emperor say?” Lu Heng shook his head in a laugh, “The emperor was furious, he wanted to write an imperial order for abolishment on the spot. The Head Auxiliary tried every means to reason with the emperor, asking him to wait until they returned to the capital until deciding. However, I think Empress Zhang has been worried.”
In the past two days, the emperor personally went to Mount Chunde to offer sacrifices among the mountains and rivers, inspected the Xianling Tomb, received Taoist priests from Wudang Mountain, and visited the scenic spots and historic sites of Chengtian Mansion. He was in a good mood. Suddenly Zhang Jihou ran over to intercede for Empress Dowager Zhang’s younger brothers, and just like that, the emperor nearly exploded in anger.
Originally, Jiang Jihou was recommended to become the empress by Empress Dowager Jiang, and now she interceded on behalf of Empress Dowager Jiang’s enemy family. In the emperor’s eyes, this was simply regret on top of regret.
The emperor kept it concealed, but several close officials knew how things stood. There should have been good news from the harem. Empress Zhang was originally a bit superfluous, but now she even violated a taboo of the emperor. This position of empress would certainly not be able to stay with her.
Wang Yanqing sighed faintly when she thought of the fate of the previous recklessly abolished empress. Seeing that Wang Yanqing was depressed, Lu Heng asked: “What’s wrong?”
Wang Yanqing shook her head lightly and said in a gloomy voice: “It’s nothing. I just lament that women are born like duckweed, even if you are an empress, your wealth and life are all tied to others.”
A poor woman with no family to rely on lived entirely on the conscience of her husband. Although an above average girl had the support of her father and brother, once their interests were touched, she would still be given away or abandoned immediately. To put it bluntly, women all over the world had no choice. No matter whether they were high or low, there was no difference.
Lu Heng felt that this was a dangerous topic, and if he couldn’t answer it correctly, the flames would burn on him. Lu Heng calmly walked behind Wang Yanqing, leaned over to look at the half-made butterfly in her hand: “Then who in the world is happy? Whether a citizen without political power or an official in the court, everyone has to choose the best among a bunch of bad results. Even the emperor cannot freely decide the affairs around him. People in this world want nothing more than to seek a life for themselves. Those who are confused are manipulated by others and go with the flow for a lifetime. Those who are smart can make their own choices and bear the consequences themselves.”
Wang Yanqing thought about it too, the state of the world is like this, blaming others would not make any changes, the only feasible solution was to grasp the things around you well. From Zhang Jihou’s point of view, it was really saddening, but from the emperor’s point of view, he was serious about choosing a cemetery for his parents, and the person next to his pillow suddenly came to make negotiations about the enemy. Why would the emperor put up with it?
Regardless of whether this result was Zhang Jihou’s wish or not, she said the words, and she can only swallow the bitter fruit.
Wang Yanqing finally sighed: “Her only fault is that she failed to understand people. It’s human nature to have materialistic desires and it can’t be said that she betrayed her master. But the people around her concealed it and deliberately led the empress to do certain things, which is really too vile.”
After Wang Yanqing finished speaking, she was surprised to find that there was no movement behind her. She turned her head in surprise and looked at Lu Heng: “Why aren’t you speaking?”
Lu Heng didn’t want her to see his expression at this moment, so he reached a hand to wrap around her from behind and put his face on top of her head. Lu Heng asked: “What if it was a white lie?”
“That’s a lie too.” Wang Yanqing said, “This time the lie was with good intentions, but with so many opportunities in the future, can you guarantee that they will be kind every time?”
“What if they didn’t lie anymore?”
Wang Yanqing snorted lightly, and said, “Such words are self-deception. Taking a step back, even if what the other party said was true, once you know that you have been deceived, even if you are willing to forgive later, you will not be able to give your sincerity.”
Wang Yanqing felt the arms around her shoulders tighten as if he was afraid that she would disappear if he let go. Wang Yanqing was surprised and asked: “Brother, what’s wrong?”
After a while, Lu Heng’s voice came in a drooping tone: “Nothing.”
|| Author’s Note:
Lu Heng: Shot an arrow in the knee.
|| Translator’s Note: Thank you all for waiting. I will remove the schedule for this series as I am getting busier, though I will try my best to continue translating. 😊