This chapter has been brought to you by me and Adnana.
Bao Lu had never thought that she would die silently in a desolate mountain. The moon was beautiful. She looked at the moon in the sky and dazedly thought, who would want to kill her?
Was… was it the empress?
No, not her. If the empress wanted to kill her, she could not have left the palace. If the empress had shown even the least bit displeasure to He Ming, he would have taken her life.
But other than the empress, who wanted her to die? She was just an unimportant palace maid. Was she worthy of someone spending so much effort to take care of her?
Not far from her, the parcel was stained with fresh blood. She covered her wounded abdomen, and crawled to the parcel. She opened the big parcel.
Inside were all valuable but inconspicuous jewelry pieces, as well as silver taels, copper coins, and paper notes. These were enough for her to live securely for a lifetime.
Looking at these things, she laughed silently until she cried.
Suddenly, in a daze, she recalled, one day, the empress asked the emperor, what if someone makes me sad?
What had the emperor said back then?
The emperor said, I will make someone like that regret it.
She should have thought of it long ago. She should have.
She used her last energy to put a jade bangle from the parcel on her wrist before she coughed up blood and fell on the cold soil.
The moon seemed to gradually become veiled by a white mist. A double image seemed to appear. Bao Lu stroked the jade bangle on her wrist, and slowly closed her eyes.
Where the moonlight could not reach, He Ming looked on coldly as Bao Lu stopped breathing. He said to the black-robed soldier behind him, “Bury her.”
He got onto the horse and left without looking back. Having Bao Lu live was the empress’ intention. Having Bao Lu die was His Majesty’s intention.
Bao Lu had served the empress closely for many years. She knew Her Majesty’s living habits and preferences well. With the emperor’s caution, how could he really let her go?
“Huh!” Gu Ru Jiu opened her eyes, sweating hard. Because her motion was loud, Jin Yang woke up from beside her. “Jiu Jiu, what is it?”
“I seemed to have a bad dream.” Gu Ru Jiu leaned back on his chest and spoke in a hoarse voice.
In the darkness, Jin Yang lightly patted her back. “What did you dream about?”
“I forgot.” Gu Ru Jiu’s eyes widened in confusion. Then, under Jin Yang’s patting, she calmed down. “Let’s sleep.”
“All right.” Kissing the top of her head, Jin Yang said, “Tomorrow, I will have the imperial physician come take your pulse. Nightmares hurt the mind.”
“Yes.” Gu Ru Jiu mumbled and then fell asleep.
Jin Yang looked at the moonlight that came through the window, and gradually closed his eyes.
A few days later, when Gu Ru Jiu opened her rouge box, she glanced at the palace maid that had taken over Bao Lu’s role, and sighed.
“Your Majesty, has this servant done something wrong?” The palace maid called Cui Qiao saw the empress did not have a good expression and pulled her hands back uncertainly. She looked carefully at Gu Ru Jiu. She had just arrived to serve the empress, but she had seen how importantly the emperor thought of her, so she trembled when serving.
“It has nothing to do with you.” Gu Ru Jiu forced a smile. Then people from the Bureau of Clothing came.
The matron in charge of the Bureau of Clothing was a woman in her forties. She bowed to Gu Ru Jiu right after entering.
Gu Ru Jiu had her stand back up. She then glanced at the boxes that some eunuchs were carrying behind her and asked, “The clothing is done?”
In a few days, it would be Jin Yang’s birthday. She, as the empress, had to take more care with what she wore than she usually did.
“Your Majesty, the Bureau of Clothing has prepared six sets of clothing for you. Please inspect them.” The matron in charge turned around, and had the palace maid who came with her open the boxes. Then she took out the sets of clothes for Gu Ru Jiu to view. There were also sets of matching jewelry for the clothes. It could be seen how much effort the Bureau of Clothing had put in.
Gu Ru Jiu saw them one by one, nodded in satisfaction, and then had Qiu Luo give them some reward money. As the matron was going to leave, she suddenly said, “Is His Majesty’s clothing prepared as well?”
“Your Majesty, because His Majesty’s clothes are slightly too small, this servant has taken them back to be mended,” the matron said. “They will be changed in two days.”
This could not be blamed on the bureau. They had not expected that after measuring His Majesty, His Majesty would gain weight even in such hot weather.
But regardless of the reasons, as the matron in charge of the Bureau of Clothing, she could not find excuses for herself. So after describing the matter, she said nothing else.
Hearing this, Gu Ru Jiu laughed instead. She was happy that Jin Yang could gain weight. She would not blame these people because the size was not right. “This cannot be blamed on you. You have worked hard these days.”
“We do not dare.” The matron sighed in relief seeing that Her Majesty was not blaming them. “It is the good fortune of us servants to work for His Majesty and Your Majesty.”
Gu Ru Jiu was used to hearing things like this, and did not take them seriously. She had Cui Qiao see them back.
“Miss, no need to see us off.” The matron in charge saw the palace maid who came out with them was more elegant than other palace maids and guessed that the other was one of the empress’ personal servants. So she politely repeated that the other did not have to walk with her.
“Matron, take care.” Cui Qiao knew her thoughts. Seeing the matron out of the Purple Imperial Hall, she stopped and bowed lightly to her.
The matron did not dare to accept the bow. She turned sideways and then returned half a bow before leaving with her subordinates.
“The people who serve the empress are really different from others,” a palace maid who was not very old said in a whisper, “but the empress is really kind, and more easy-going than the dowager consorts.”
“Shut your mouth—who let you dare to discuss your superiors?” The matron spoke with a dark expression. “If you speak again like you did today, you will not have to follow me any more.”
“Matron, I won’t dare.” The young palace maid paled and asked for forgiveness.
The matron did not say a word. When they returned to the Bureau of Clothing, she said to the people who had come with her to the Purple Imperial Hall, “I was able to take you to the Purple Imperial Hall to deliver clothing because you are all the top people in the bureau. But do not be proud and complacent because of this. This is the imperial palace, not the workshops in the capital where you can take your salary and leave if you are dissatisfied.”
The people in the room grew silent. The young palace maid who had just spoken flushed red.
The matron’s gaze suddenly landed on her. “You are good-looking, and you are also popular here. But because of this, you dare to speak nonsense. When you make a mistake in the future and offend someone important, you will know that these two things are of no use at all.
“In this place, there is only one thing useful—be cautious in your words and conduct!”
That palace maid who had originally been with the empress had been so trusted. Who still saw her now? Someone even took over her duties. In these recent days, no one mentioned her. It could be seen she had done something wrong.
She was so nervous because she feared people from the Bureau of Clothing making a mistake. This would affect the entire bureau. At that time, she could only cry.
The people in the palace had all seen how good the emperor was to the empress. Also, the empress had control of the inner palace right now. The empress dowager did not attend to matters. How much daring did they, these palace servants, had to have in order to discuss the empress behind her back?
The sixth month in the capital was unusually hot. Fortunately, the heavens were good. A few days before the start of the birthday celebration, a heavy rainstorm came down on the capital, and reduced a lot of the heat in the city.
The gifts from the various regions had already been delivered to the capital. Prince Rui came from his lands with his son and entered the palace.
When Gu Ru Jiu saw Prince Rui on his wooden wheelchair, she finally understood why Dowager Consort Sun had such deep feelings towards a disabled man.
Prince Rui was in his forties, but he looked to be thirty or so. Even though he was born with deformed feet, and unable to walk like a normal person, just sitting there, he looked pleasing to the eye and gave off a pleasant aura.
Because this was a beautiful middle-aged man, she could not help but take a few more looks. In the capital, there was no one except for Jin Yang who could rival him.
Prince Rui had not expected to see the empress in the imperial study. But he did not show any surprise and calmly bowed to the emperor and empress.
If he was not disabled, he would be a perfect man. When he came closer, Gu Ru Jiu found that Jin Yang’s eyes were similar to Prince Rui’s. Both of them had a large pair of charming eyes.
“Uncle, no need for such courtesy.” Jin Yang looked up with a smile, indicating that Prince Rui did not need to bow. Then he said with a warm expression, “Uncle must have had a hard time traveling.”
“It was a pleasant thing to see the scenery of Great Feng along the way.” Prince Rui smiled warmly. He looked up and examined Jin Yang closely. His smile grew warmer. “I have no regrets after seeing Your Majesty.”
Gu Ru Jiu felt this Prince Rui had a bit of a poetic personality, and his words were very emotional.
“Zhen is very happy to see Uncle. Uncle has been gone from the capital for many years. Are you used to the weather?” Jin Yang turned to glance at Gu Ru Jiu who was sitting at the side docilely without speaking, but had looked many times at Prince Rui. He reached to hold her wrist and said, “If there is something you are unused to, you must tell Zhen.”
“Your Majesty has prepared a suitable place for this subject—there is not a thing wrong.” Prince Rui saw Jin Yang’s action but pretended not to. “In a flash, more than a decade has passed.”
Because Prince Rui was born disabled and his mother had passed away early, he was not valued by the old emperor. When Prince Cheng, less than two years older than him, married Miss Sima, he was still an imperial son without a title. Later, when the old emperor was giving Prince Cheng his title, Prince Rui was given his along the way. He and his princess consort were married on his lands, and not in the capital.
An imperial son, born disabled, was given the title of “Rui” meaning auspicious. Gu Ru Jiu did not know if the old emperor was lacking foresight, or if he was being ironic.
“Yes.” Jin Yang also showed a reminiscent expression. “Zhen‘s birth mother passed away early, so there was no chance to hear her talk about past matters in the capital.” At this, he stopped. “Or maybe she did say, but Zhen was young back then, and does not remember.”
“It is normal for Your Majesty to not remember past matters. This subject remembers some.” Prince Rui gave a benevolent smile. His entire person became gentle. “Back then, Princess Consort Cheng was pregnant with you in the capital. Later, when the previous emperor became the crown prince, Second Brother went to his lands. Princess Consort Cheng had to travel while pregnant with Your Majesty. She must have had it hard.”
Gu Ru Jiu sensed that when Prince Rui said the words Princess Consort Cheng, he paused almost imperceptibly.
For some reason, she felt that Princess Consort Cheng and Prince Rui might have had something back then, or rather, Prince Rui had some thoughts towards Princess Consort Cheng. This feeling came without any basis, but Gu Ru Jiu had such a suspicion.
But if Prince Rui had thoughts towards Princess Consort Cheng, then what was that between him and Dowager Consort Sun? Was this a complex multi-corner relationship?
With doubts inside, Gu Ru Jiu could not help but jump at shadows. Gu Ru Jiu even felt that Prince Rui looked at Jin Yang with an especially warm gaze.
This style did not seem right. Shouldn’t it be Prince Rui with intent to steal the country for his own son, secretly training an army, building his own faction in court, and trying to overturn Jin Yang, this young emperor?
Or rather… Prince Rui was so good at acting that people could not see even the slightest flaw? If that was true, then this person was terrifying. A person who could freely change their emotions was not just vicious to others—he was also vicious to himself.
An opponent like this was a bad thing.
During the time that Gu Ru Jiu spent in a daze, Jin Yang and Prince Rui had finished talking. Then Prince Rui suggested going to visit the empress dowager.
Jin Yang did not refuse, and along with Gu Ru Jiu, took Prince Rui towards Kangquan Palace.
The slate stones laid out on the ground in the palace were very flat. Prince Rui’s wheelchair would not take effort to push or sway greatly on this surface. So uncle and nephew conversed with great interest along the way.
“So this fake mountain is still here. This subject frequently played near here as a child. Back then, during Father-Emperor’s birthday, during the banquet, this subject encountered your… Princess Consort Cheng.” Passing by the fake mountain in the imperial garden, Prince Rui sighed. “Time spares no one. Your Majesty has become a good emperor admired by the people.”
Jin Yang’s gaze swept across the fake mountain with a calm expression. He had no emotion in his eyes.
Gu Ru Jiu followed his gaze towards the fake mountain, then she frowned slightly.
After entering Kangquan Palace, Gu Ru Jiu found that not just the empress dowager was present—the high-ranking dowager consorts in the palace were all there. They had dressed according to their rank. It appeared that they had expected that Prince Rui would enter the palace today to greet them, the consorts of the previous emperor.
After the greetings, Prince Rui presented the local produce from his lands. Sitting on his chair, he subtly expressed his loyalty towards the empress dowager and Jin Yang.
Gu Ru Jiu was sitting next to the empress dowager. She noticed that while Dowager Consort Sun tried to look calm, her hand, tightly gripping her handkerchief, still exposed her true feelings.
Compared to Dowager Consort Sun’s excitement, Prince Rui was much calmer. From the moment he entered the hall, except for when he greeted her, he did not take an extra look at Dowager Consort Sun. It seemed as though Dowager Consort Sun was no different from Dowager Consort Qian and Dowager Consort Wei.
Gu Ru Jiu glanced at Dowager Consort Sun’s beautiful jewelry and her neatly made-up hair. She suddenly felt that this was not interesting. A man and woman who had not met for more than a decade—after such a long time, how many feelings remained?
Rather than saying that Dowager Consort Sun liked Prince Rui so much, it was more that she was very discontent with life in the palace. So she treated the love affair from before she entered the palace like a drowning man grasping at straws. She beautified her emotions and the other person in the affair, Prince Rui.
Maybe Dowager Consort Sun loved her past self, and what she could not let go of was her unwillingness. If the two of them were in secret and close contact, how come Dowager Consort Sun did not know that Prince Rui was coming to the capital?
Dowager Consort Sun’s status as a concubine-born daughter was not sufficient to become Princess Consort Rui. But if Prince Rui had sufficient feelings for her, even if he was not liked by the old emperor, he could have expressed his feelings to his father. But in reality, Prince Rui did not say a word from start to end. He did not even respond at all when the previous emperor took Dowager Consort Sun into the palace.
If a man truly loved a woman, how could he bear to treat her like this?
After understanding this, Gu Ru Jiu looked at Dowager Consort Sun with complicated feelings, and gently sighed.
“This Grieving One likes my daughter-in-law. With her here, I can’t be more satisfied.” When the empress dowager was discussing children with Prince Rui, she pulled the topic to Gu Ru Jiu. “This is not this Grieving One’s daughter-in-law, but actual daughter.”
Gu Ru Jiu smiled shyly at the empress dowager. Seeing Prince Rui examine her, she gave him a dignified smile.
Prince Rui quickly looked away, and then said, “The empress is so dignified and outstanding. No wonder Empress Dowager likes her so much.”
“You are right. Who would not like a girl like this?” Empress Dowager Zhou said with a smile. Then she said to the dowager consorts sitting with them, “It is almost noon and getting hotter. You can return to your palaces.”
“Yes.” Dowager Consort Wei was the first to stand up and agree with the empress dowager. When she bowed, she glanced with a hint of scorn hidden in her eyes at Dowager Consort Sun who was sitting to her left.
Dowager Consort Sun’s movements were a beat slower than Dowager Consort Wei’s and Dowager Consort Qian’s. When she stood up and walked away, her gaze swept Prince Rui, but even after she looked away, Prince Rui did not look up to see her.
Empress Dowager Zhou kept Prince Rui for the noon meal, together with Jin Yang and Gu Ru Jiu. After the meal, the empress dowager persisted in having the imperial physician come inspect Prince Rui’s legs. After he refused a few times, he agreed.
But Gu Ru Jiu felt that the empress dowager was not truly concerned with Prince Rui’s legs. She wanted to confirm that he could not stand up in this lifetime.
A Prince Rui who could not walk and one who could walk normally were two different things.
In reality, pretending to be disabled like what was written in novels did not exist. As a member in the palace, someone would come to examine you every few days, and it would not be the same person each time. One could not manage to bribe everyone.
“Empress Dowager, Prince Rui’s foot injury was from birth and this subject is really helpless.” Three imperial physicians said this. Empress Dowager Zhou was both anxious and angry. In the end, she said to Prince Rui, helpless and apologetic, “This Grieving One was not thoughtful, and has made you sad.”
“Empress Dowager has a benevolent heart; this subject will not be sad.” Prince Rui had a calm expression, and even a bit of a smile, as though the words of the imperial physicians did not affect him at all.
“Uncle does not care, but Mother-Empress and Zhen do not feel good.” Jin Yang sighed, and said with a dazed expression, “How about Zhen starts searching for famed physicians starting today? Maybe there will be able people.”
“How can this subject trouble Your Majesty so?”
“Uncle, do not worry and stay in the capital.” Jin Yang smiled at him. “At least there will be a thread of hope. If this was not done, there would be no hope at all.”
Prince Rui looked up at Jin Yang and then said slowly, “Then this subject will trouble Your Majesty.”
Gu Ru Jiu knew that this was just Jin Yang’s excuse to keep Prince Rui in the capital. If Prince Rui had to be treated, then his sons that he brought to the capital could only be filial and stay in the capital to take care of him. Otherwise, they would not be filial.
Gu Ru Jiu found that this matter was unusually smooth. Prince Rui was too cooperative in being kept with his sons in the capital.
Did Prince Rui not see that Jin Yang wanted him to stay in the capital?
With Prince Rui’s intelligence, he could not be so innocent.
There was a grand caravan outside of the capital gates. The carriages were all refined and noble. The character for “Zhong” seemed to be carved into them. The city guards recognized that these were carriages from the Prince of Zhong’s establishment, and after an inspection, they were let in through the gates.
Prince Zhong rode a tall horse. He looked at the prosperity of the capital and wiped the fine sweat off his face. Then he said to the follower behind him, “Go inquire—see what the regional officials gave to the emperor, so this prince will know what to do.”
The follower hurriedly responded.
“It is really so hot.” Prince Zhong pulled his robes. “Send some of the prepared gifts to the Gu Family.” He had heard that the emperor loved his empress. Other than the empress, there was no other consort in the inner palace. So he could not slack off on the matter of currying favor with the Gu Family.
As to whether the Gu Family would accept his action of currying favor was not at all in Prince Zhong’s thoughts. He turned back to look at the carriage behind him. Inside were his son and daughter. He had brought his daughter along for the empress to give her grace and let her marry in the capital.
The people of the capital were used to all kinds of important people. So when they saw Prince Zhong’s carriages, they were not nervous. They moved aside in an orderly manner, and then continued to hawk their wares.
“Ha, the people of the capital are more daring than others.” Prince Zhong played with his horse whip. He did not feel very happy when he saw the calm expressions of the people on the sides.
In Rong Prefecture, when the people saw him, they all bowed to him, trembling, not daring to slack off at all. He did not have such glory when he came to the capital.
He did not feel very comfortable inside, but he knew this was the capital. He could not do as he pleased. So he had to bear all the discontent he felt.
After thinking this through, he had the thoughts to look at other things. When he saw some beautiful women, his eyes lit up. The women of the capital were really beautiful.
In Jingan Palace, Dowager Consort Sun sat soullessly on the couch, having lost all her liveliness.
After so many years, he was not even willing to look at her. Was it because she was old, so old that he did not recognize her?
But he had not changed. He was still as gentle as jade and elegant.
“I urge you not to have delusions. We are all dowager consorts of the previous emperor. Who are you looking so sad for?”
Translator Ramblings: Welp, there goes Bao Lu.