This chapter has been brought to you by me and Adnana.
“Took her away?” Gu Ru Jiu stilled and wiped the water from her face. “What did he say when he came?”
Qiu Luo shook her head and said after a moment of thought, “When he took her away, He Ming only said that Your Majesty has no need to trouble yourself for such a minor matter.”
“Really?” Gu Ru Jiu thought for a moment. “I see.”
After the bath, Gu Ru Jiu put on a loose and breathable palace dress. She said to Qiu Luo, “Get someone to find He Ming. Say that I have something to ask him.”
In a dark room, He Ming looked at the pale Bao Lu and sneered. “You have a good life. The empress is willing to let you live.”
Bao Lu panted and trembled on the ground. She did not dare to even look at He Ming.
“If you were not the empress’ personal maid, the emperor would not have tolerated you.” He Ming walked in front of Bao Lu and grabbed her hair, forcing her to meet his gaze. “Do you know how many people in the palace want to climb on the dragon’s bed?”
Bao Lu’s lips were as white as paper. Tears fell from her eyes. She was in a sorry state.
“Look at you. From head to toe, how can you compare to the empress? Why have such thoughts?” He Ming loosened his hand and Bao Lu fell back on the ground.
“We are all servants. But you cannot even be loyal to your master. What is the use in you?” He Ming looked in disdain at the woman on the ground, his gaze icy. “The emperor is in great love with the empress. Yet a servant like you dares to wound the empress’ heart. You really want to die.”
Then, he slapped Bao Lu on the face. Just as he was preparing to continue to torture Bao Lu, an eunuch walked in from outside. The eunuch glanced at Bao Lu on the ground and whispered, “Grandfather He, the empress wants to see you.”
He Ming took out a handkerchief and wiped his hands. He flicked away the creases in his sleeves. “Since the empress has summoned me, I do not dare to delay. I give this person to your care. Remember to keep her alive.”
“Yes.” The eunuch who had passed the message nodded. He glanced at the palace maid curled up on the ground and raised his eyebrows. “Do not worry—this lowly one will take good care of Miss Bao Lu.”
Bao Lu looked up and only saw He Ming’s departing back. So she turned to look at the green-robed eunuch standing in front of her, and smiled bitterly. In the past, an eunuch like this would have only tried to gain favor with her. Now, he dared to look down at her, and she was at his feet.
She had a high position among these palace attendants not because of her own status, but because the empress gave her status. After leaving the empress, she was nothing. Anyone could bully her.
Before entering the palace, she always heard people say that those in the palace flattered those higher up and bullied those lower down. Life was hard. So when she first entered the palace, she was cautious. Later, because the empress’s position was secure, because she controlled the palace and was favored by the emperor, these people serving the empress, like her, also rose in status to be flattered by countless people. Even the people who served the emperor were polite to her.
After being praised and flattered, she gradually forgot herself, and that all this was due to the empress.
“You regret it?” The green-robed eunuch saw her regretful expression, and shook his head, sighing. “I entered the palace when I was six. What hardship did I not suffer? What kinds of people have I not seen? But it is my first time seeing someone like you who has good fortune but does not know it.
“All right, let’s not waste words.” The green-robed eunuch looked at the sky outside. “Since He Gonggong told me to take good care of you, I cannot slack off. If you want to blame someone, you can only blame yourself.” Then, he took a whip from the wall, and it flew onto Bao Lu’s body with a whoosh.
The whip was black, and looked ordinary and dusty. But a blow could make people feel heart-piercing pain, without even leaving a mark on the body.
This whip had a beautiful name—the Dream.
“Aaah!” Bao Lu curled up in a ball after a whip stroke. Pain, so much pain that she could not help but cry.
“Your Majesty!” She sobbed. She could only hope the empress would send someone to save her.
“Miss Bao Lu, what are you doing?” The green-robed eunuch struck her again. Seeing her roll on the ground in pain, he had a content smile. “You betrayed your master and now hope that she will come to save you. You really want to have everything good.”
He thought of how he tried to gain favor everywhere after he came into the palace, but was unable to find any noble person, and he hated Bao Lu who had such good fortune and did not know it. His whip strokes grew harder.
He Ming entered the inner hall, and saw the empress in a wide-sleeved dress and an indigo shawl. Except for a jade bangle on her wrist, she had no other adornment. He did not dare to look more, and bowed properly.
“I hear that you took Bao Lu away?” Gu Ru Jiu closed her eyes and leaned her head back for a palace maid to massage her head.
“Your Majesty, this servant is following His Majesty’s orders.” He Ming bowed and said, “His Majesty was angry at seeing you sad.”
Gu Ru Jiu was silent for a moment at hearing this. “This palace has decided to send the girl out of the palace. Go back and release her. This palace will speak to His Majesty about the rest.”
“This servant will obey,” He Ming said without hesitation. He had already guessed the empress would keep Bao Lu alive. On this kind of matters, His Majesty would listen to the empress, so he did not feel any conflict.
“Your Majesty, should this servant bring Bao Lu here?” He Ming asked.
“No need.” Gu Ru Jiu shook her head. “Send someone to see her out of the palace.”
“Yes.” He Ming took the big parcel that Qiu Luo handed over. The parcel was heavy. It could be seen that the empress had left many good things for Bao Lu.
He Ming’s thoughts moved. He bowed to Gu Ru Jiu before withdrawing.
As a servant, it was good fortune to have a master like this. No wonder Bai Xian would run errands for the empress so willingly that he acted as the empress’s personal eunuch. If he was always serving the empress, he would probably have the same thoughts.
But this was also good. If Bai Xian wanted to show his face in front of the empress, then no one would compete for the emperor’s favor with him.
Returning to the dark room, He Ming saw Bao Lu lying on the ground. He raised his voice. “Miss Bao Lu, Her Majesty is kind and has let me release you out of the palace. Go wash, change, and come with me to leave.”
Bao Lu slowly looked up, her hair sticking to her sweat-covered face. She could barely make out He Ming’s blurry body swaying in front of her, and could not see anything clearly.
Then two matrons helped her up to wash and change. She was then shoved into a carriage.
“Bao Lu, take care of yourself. The empress asked me to give this to you.” He Ming threw the parcel in. Away from the curtain, he could not see Bao Lu’s expression, but this was not important. “Take care of yourself.”
As he turned around to leave, he heard the sound of sobs coming from the carriage, followed by the sound of bangs which sounded like kowtowing.
Would she have done what she did knowing what she did now? He Ming smiled scornfully, and turned to leave.
After taking care of Bao Lu, He Ming moved in the direction of the imperial study. Before he reached it, he saw Bai Xian standing at the doorway from a long ways off. He frowned. He walked to Bai Xian’s side and smiled insincerely. “Such a hot day, yet Bai Gonggong is standing here. Careful of heatstroke.”
“Thank you, He Gonggong, for your concern. This one is happy to work for the emperor and empress.” Bai Xian smiled just as insincerely.
He Ming did not want to play games with him. He lowered his voice. “The empress is inside?”
“Went in a while ago. Why are you asking this?” Bai Xian lowered his eyelids, clearly not wanting to pay attention.
“What can I do?” He Ming snorted. “Just now, I sent that one off.”
“You mean Bao Lu?” Bai Xian finally became interested. He looked inside and said in a low voice, “That one had good luck.”
“Never mind—do not look so jealous.” He Ming pushed his lips out towards the door. “Who let her have a good master?” He and Bai Xian had a lot of conflict, but they were the same in status, just eunuchs. They were not like the palace maids who still had a chance to leave the palace. So having a good master or a rich job was very important.
Because of this, he was especially jealous of palace maids like Bao Lu who did not recognize their good fortune.
“As if you are not jealous.” Bai Xian flicked his horse whisk, and rolled his eyes at He Ming.
He Ming wanted to argue, but then he turned and saw an official in red robes walking over, so he immediately closed his mouth.
When the person came close, He Ming recognized that this person was the Minister of Rites. He went forward and bowed. “Minister Sun.”
“Gonggong, is the emperor present?” Minister Sun was much better in his attitude towards the palace eunuchs than Li Guang Ji. Adding on that the Sun and Sima families were in-laws, the Sima Family had retreated, and his younger sister was a dowager consort in the palace, he was very polite to the palace eunuchs.
“Minister Sun, please wait a moment. This servant will report to the emperor.” He Ming saw that while Minister Sun was trying his best to conceal, he still looked anxious, so he did not dare to delay, turning to go into the imperial study to report to the emperor.
At this time, some noise came out of the study. Then the empress’ figure appeared in the doorway.
Minister Sun had not expected the empress to walk out of the imperial study. He first stilled, and then took a few steps back before bowing to Gu Ru Jiu.
Because of the old case between the Gu and Sima families, as a Sima in-law, Minister Sun could not help but feel guilty when facing members of the Gu Family. So when he saw Gu Ru Jiu, he buried his head deeper.
“This is Official Sun from the Ministry of Rites?” Gu Ru Jiu walked in front of Minister Sun and stopped.
“Your Majesty, this lowly official is Sun,” Minister Sun said with his head down.
“Then you are Dowager Consort Sun’s older brother?” Gu Ru Jiu thought of Dowager Consort Sun who had been “recovering from illness” all this time and her eyebrows moved slightly.
“Yes, the dowager consort is this lowly official’s younger sister from a different mother.”
Different mother? No wonder Dowager Consort Sun did not have much contact with the Sun Family in these years in the palace. So she was concubine-born. Because Great Feng’s women were relatively fierce, many people with good reputation did not have concubines, so the difference in status between wife-born and concubine-born was great.
This may have been the reason that Dowager Consort Sun and Prince Rui did not get together in the end. As a daughter of an aristocratic family, even concubine-born, she had status. She could not go be a concubine for a disabled prince. Wouldn’t that embarrass her family? But being concubine-born, she was also just a bit too lowly to be a princess consort. So her matter with Prince Rui was delayed, and the previous emperor got her first.
The difference between being an imperial consort and being the concubine of an ordinary imperial member was the difference between sky and earth. The Sun Family would absolutely bear to part with a concubine-born daughter under such circumstances.
Their wife-born daughter married into the Sima Family, the concubine-born daughter went into the palace to be a consort. The Sun Family really had a good plan.
“Dowager Consort Sun has been ill recently. This palace intends for her to go to the Linan Palace to recover. What does Minister Sun think?” Gu Ru Jiu did not plan to let these cunning dowager consorts stay in the palace. Who knew what thoughts they had in secret. But if she had driven the dowager consorts out of the palace in the first few months after she entered the palace, then it would not have been good for her reputation.
Now, she had been the empress for more than half a year, and had the palace’s power in her hands. Even if she moved these dowager consorts to Linan Palace, the other people could only endure if they did not agree.
“Linan Palace has a good climate with birds and flowers. It is a good place to recover.” Minister Sun knew what was important. So after Gu Ru Jiu spoke, he agreed without hesitation.
He knew what to do in using a concubine-born sister he did not have any feelings with to trade for the favorable impression of the empress and the Gu Family.
Also, even if the empress did not tell him about matters like this that concerned the inner palace, and she just did it, it would be nothing. The empress mentioning it to him counted as respect towards the Sun Family.
Hearing Minister Sun’s response, Gu Ru Jiu was not surprised at all. She nodded at him. “This palace is reassured that Minister Sun thinks so.”
After the empress left, Minister Sun immediately sighed in relief. It appeared that the empress was not blaming the Sun Family for the Sima Family’s actions.
“Minister Sun, the emperor invites you in.”
“Thank you, Gonggong.” Minister Sun smiled and then followed He Ming in.
Gu Ru Jiu did not like Dowager Consort Sun very much, but she also did not think much of the Sun Family’s conduct. In the face of the colossus that was the Sun Family, Dowager Consort Sun was not a person, but a tool.
Minister Sun could easily give up Dowager Consort Sun. Was it not because Dowager Consort Sun had no value left?
Dowager Consort Sun had entered the palace to be a consort. Did the Sun Family not benefit at all?
A hateful person always had something worthy of being pitied. Gu Ru Jiu pitied Dowager Consort Sun, but she would not allow Dowager Consort Sun to scheme against her and Jin Yang because of this pity.
When she reached Jingan Palace, it was even more lifeless than usual. Gu Ru Jiu saw Dowager Consort Sun dressed in a light-colored robe and looking very haggard. She said with a smile, “After His Majesty’s birthday, this palace will send Dowager Consort to Linan Palace to rest and recover. There are mountains, water, birds and flowers there. It is a good place to enjoy old age.”
Jin Yang’s birthday was on the twenty-eighth of the sixth month. There was less than a fortnight until his birthday.
Dowager Consort Sun showed a grateful expression after hearing this. “Thank you, Your Majesty, for considering me so thoughtfully.”
No matter if the words were sarcastic or had other meaning, Gu Ru Jiu accepted the words with a smile. Then she said, “This year is His Majesty’s first birthday after his marriage. So His Majesty has called back the regional princes from their lands to celebrate with him.”
In Great Feng now, except for the Prince of Rui, only the Prince of Zhong who was in the Rong Prefecture had his own lands. The Prince of Zhong was a title passed down from his ancestors. In terms of bloodline, the prince counted as Jin Yang’s uncle, a relation from four or five generations ago.
The Prince of Zhong’s great-grandfather, because he had done great achievements and was trusted by the emperor, received a prince title, and the Rong Prefecture was given to him as his fiefdom.
The title of the Prince of Zhong was now in its fifth generation when it passed down to the present Prince of Zhong. Because they had always been low-key, the previous emperors had not touched them. The members of the Prince of Zhong establishment lived well in Rong Prefecture.
When people were living well, they easily became stupid. Adding on that the previous emperor did not like attending to matters, this present Prince of Zhong had a hot temper and seemed to be a local tyrant in Rong Prefecture.
Gu Ru Jiu had seen the Prince of Zhong once in her childhood. Back then, the Prince of Zhong was in his twenties, tall and large. He had some status with the previous emperor.
But the court changed with each emperor. The previous emperor could be fooled by the Prince of Zhong’s act, but Jin Yang did not have to be. It was not the first time the news that Prince of Zhong whipped the people and stole women had reached the capital. With Gu Ru Jiu’s understanding of Jin Yang, she felt that Jin Yang did not think highly of Prince Zhong.
She even felt that Jin Yang would use the reason of the birthday to keep Prince Rui and Prince Zhong in the capital. A prince who lost his lands and personal guard was no different from a toothless tiger.
“What did you say?” Dowager Consort Sun’s expression finally changed. She looked at Gu Ru Jiu with scorching eyes. “You say the regional princes are coming to the capital?”
Gu Ru Jiu’s gaze swept her body. Then she said coolly with a smile, “Maybe. This palace is a lazy person and does not care about these matters, so I only heard a bit.”
Dowager Consort Sun sneered inside. As the empress, she was not even concerned with the emperor’s birthday. This empress was really pampered. If a woman like this encountered a man like the previous emperor, she likely would have spent her entire life in tears. She had a good life to encounter an emperor like the present one.
“His Majesty cares for you, and does not want you to tire yourself.” Dowager Consort Sun smiled. “But as the empress, it may not be good to not care about things like this.” If some palace maid or official’s daughter took over, then she would not even have time to cry.
“This palace thinks the same, but His Majesty worries about this and that. He feels that I would get tired just holding a teacup, so I can only rest.” Gu Ru Jiu smiled. Just from Dowager Consort Sun’s response, she believed the things that Dowager Consort Wei had said about the past. She just wondered how good-looking this Prince Rui was that he could cause such deep feelings in Dowager Consort Sun even when disabled. Even after being in the palace for so many years, she was willing to scheme so much for him.
“That is your good fortune. The emperor’s care is more important than anything else.” Dowager Consort Sun forced a smile and then said, ” The regional princes should come to the capital for His Majesty’s first birthday after his marriage. If they are coming, I fear they are already on the road now.”
“Isn’t that so?” Gu Ru Jiu put down her teacup. “The Rong Prefecture is very far from the capital. If they did not travel early, I fear they will not reach the capital in time.”
“Yes, yes.” Dowager Consort Sun nodded, inattentive. She was not thinking of the Prince of Zhong from the Rong Prefecture, but another prince.
“Dowager Consort, this palace sees that you have looked haggard recently. You have to take care.” Gu Ru Jiu smiled. “The days are long. Do not ignore your health.”
Dowager Consort Sun forced a smile.
“In this case, this palace will not disturb you any longer.” Gu Ru Jiu had received the answer she wanted and stood up, saying, “Farewell.”
Dowager Consort Sun had one of her attendants see Gu Ru Jiu out. She sat up on the bed, and bowed to Gu Ru Jiu.
After Gu Ru Jiu left, she threw off her blankets and got off the bed to go in front of the copper mirror.
In the mirror, her complexion was pale, and the wrinkles had climbed up the corners of her eyes. Her skin had lost its luster and tightness.
“So many years have already passed.” Dowager Consort Sun touched her face, and looked at herself in the mirror. She said dazedly, “I am already old.”
Even the most beautiful time would pass one day. Just like her face. Over time, it lost its youth, becoming ugly, pale, and haggard.
“Dowager Consort.” Her servant girl returned from seeing the empress off, and came forward, worried at her expression.
“I am fine.” Dowager Consort Sun stood up, her gaze avoiding the mirror. “Go and inquire whether the regional princes are coming to the capital for the emperor’s birthday.”
If the regional princes were coming to the capital, then why had he not mentioned this in his letters to her?
“Your Majesty.” Qiu Luo walked into the room. She came next to Gu Ru Jiu who was reading in the study and whispered, “Dowager Consort Sun of Jingan Palace has recently asked the imperial physicians to give her a prescription for beauty.”
“Women make themselves beautiful to please themselves. This is good.” Gu Ru Jiu nodded and put down the book in her hand. “Has Dowager Consort Qian moved?”
Qiu Luo shook her head. “Ever since last time there were rumors of ghosts in Jingan Palace, Dowager Consort Qian stayed quietly in her palace. She rarely goes out. She doesn’t even go to visit Dowager Consort Wei very much.”
“This is also a troublesome one.” Gu Ru Jiu’s wariness of Dowager Consort Qian was no less than towards Dowager Consort Sun. She remembered the night that there were ghosts in Jingan Palace. When she reached there, she did not even have the time to put up her hair. But Dowager Consort Qian was dressed properly, not a hair out of place.
Dowager Consort Qian said that she was used to not sleeping at night. But even if one was unable to sleep at night, who would still be wearing heavy hairpieces in their own rooms?
Don’t say that this was a habit from the time of the previous emperor. The previous emperor had been dead for more than five years. How much did she love the previous emperor that she was not willing to change her habits at all?
In reality, which of the women in the inner palace had true feelings towards the previous emperor?
As mistress and servant spoke of Dowager Consort Qian, they saw a palace maid hurry in, sweat on her face.
“Your Majesty, it is not good. Dowager Consort Wei and Dowager Consort Qian are fighting in the garden.”
Even if Gu Ru Jiu was composed enough, her face darkened when she heard the palace maid’s report. When did the imperial palace become a village where dowager consorts would fight?
If the matter spread, would they not feel embarrassed?
Dowager Consort Wei came from a common family. She did not know the etiquette of aristocratic families. But Dowager Consort Qian was from an aristocratic family. How come she was fighting with Dowager Consort Qian?
“All right, let’s go see.” Gu Ru Jiu rubbed her forehead, and wanted to move all the dowager consorts to Linan Palace tomorrow.
At that time, they could fight as they wished where she could not see.
Translator Ramblings: Even palace attendants and eunuchs have competition.