Chapter 100: Turn Back in Sadness
Translator: Translation Nation Editor: - -
The skies were laden with dark clouds, concealing the bright stars. It was slightly foggy as well, reducing visibility. The doors within the palace had many colourful lanterns hanging from it. The biggest among the lanterns were a pair of dragon lanterns, illuminating the area around it.
It was rare for the royal family to celebrate such an occasion with the normal folks. All the lanterns which bore poems lined the entire walkway through the city. They flickered in the darkness and made pretty lights. Since there were heating units beneath the ground, it felt warm. The royal families were thus able to watch the citizens and lanterns and not feel cold. Several princes and princesses were guessing riddles on the lanterns, and were watching fireworks as well.
(TN: During the olden days, they used to burn controlled fires within the basement passageways. The steam would rise up to the main level and exit through several openings, thus heating the location.)
On the wall, there was an Imperial Guard after every five steps. Since it was a festive and joyous day, the Imperial Guards were all dressed in red uniform. However, they still wielded their swords with fearsome aura.
"The Emperor has arrived!"
A white-faced, beardless, old eunuch shouted loudly. His voice was shrill and high pitched. Instantly, it became quiet.
The eunuch was dressed in red robes as well and was carrying a floral lantern, leading the entourage. Several young eunuchs followed closely behind him. They were all carrying lanterns as well. Right behind them was the Emperor. He was middle aged and was dressed in golden robes, and had a huge red cloak draped over him. Beside him were more than ten Imperial Guards, all wielding swords.
When the Emperor appeared, the princes and princesses who had been happily playing all became quiet. The most senior concubine took a step forward, "Respects to your Majesty!"
Everyone from the royal family knelt down instantly and shouted, "Long live, long live, long live your Majesty!"
"Rise!" The Emperor spoke, asking everyone to arise. After sometime, he then instructed, "Begin!"
Immediately, there were three cannon blasts as the Imperial Guards started marching, their stomping silenced the crowd. They took 300 steps forward, demarcating the boundary that nobody was to enter.
Although this was an event in which the royal family celebrated together with the common folk, their safety and distance had to be ensured.
Below the deck where the Emperor sat, there were tens of thousands of people who were all quiet and still. All of a sudden, the sounds of music erupted along with dancing. Everyone burst into cheers, causing a lively and noisy scene. The flag of the empire was raised as everyone watched on.
The lanterns were bright and illuminated the area. Although the distance from the Emperor was a few hundred steps away, they could still faintly see a man in golden robes, wearing a crown with jewels on it. He was smiling faintly. Although he was older than fifty, he still looked relatively healthy.
The throngs of people looked like an entire field of wheat. They too knelt down shouting loudly, "Long live, long live, long live, Your Majesty!"
The Emperor waved his hand to acknowledge the crowd, answered by loud cheers and thumping of drums. At this point it was late into the night. The Emperor then glanced across at the princes, princesses and concubines. He smiled, "You don't have to be overtly ceremonial. Go and have fun today. Go!"
These princes and princesses then started playing around. There were several young princes of about five years old who were screaming and running around. It added a playful and jovial atmosphere.
The eunuchs from the Imperial Palace were directing the oxcarts into position. These oxcarts had firecrackers loaded on them. They all were waiting for the signal from the Emperor to release them.
From afar, several streets were all lined with activity for the ordinary citizens to participate and have fun in. There was a huge red lantern before each street, lighting up the entire city. The lanterns and firecrackers which were occasionally set off made scene before them lively and noisy.
Although it was a very interesting sight, after sometime, there was nothing more to see. The Emperor turned his head back to admire the beautifully crafted lanterns. The design of the lanterns this year was exceptionally well done. Much better than those crafted the year before. The Emperor was intrigued by the riddles written on the lanterns, nodding his head in approval. The eunuchs were admiring the scenery and laughing.
The Emperor had been living without an Empress or Empress Dowager for a long time. The highest ranking female member of his entourage was the Senior Concubine. The concubines, who weren't always close and intimate with each other on a regular basis, were talking to each other and laughing now. The Emperor suddenly recalled that someone wasn't around, "Where is the Grand Princess?"
A trembling eunuch approached, "Your Majesty, the Grand Princess led her daughter, the young Canton Princess, to admire the lanterns down below. This humble servant didn't dare to stop them."
Hearing these words, the Emperor's expression turned sour instantly, "How can such an important member of the royal family attend an event like this on her own? Should something happen who will be responsible? Hurry call them over here now."
The minute the Emperor said this, the voice of the Grand Princess could be heard, "Your Majesty, why should you flare up and be upset? I just went to take a look at the lanterns. And I'm back now."
The Grand Princess strode across, beside her stood her daughter, the young Canton Princess. She was holding onto a pretty floral lantern, clearly unwilling to part with it.
Seeing the Grand Princess, the Emperor chided, "How can you be this careless?"
She was his only younger sister and was very precious to him. The Grand Princess's husband had died in war and only had a daughter. The Emperor was thus often worried about her, and lashed out in frustration at her lack of prudency. The Grand Princess smiled, "Emperor Brother, I just went out to have some fun. Besides I had my Imperial Guards with me. What's there to be worried about?"
"Address me as Your Majesty!" Hearing the Grand Princess speak this way, the Emperor turned red and chided angrily.
The Emperor only had one young sister, and thus doted on her frequently. After she was married, he maintained a good relationship with her husband as well. Ever since his demise, her attitude took a somewhat strange twist. She started using her authority and status to her benefit. He knew that she had been making money to fuel her lavish lifestyle, and yet it was not a big deal. He could tolerate all these. Afterall, she was his only sister.
"Emperor Brother, we are all here to celebrate and have fun, do not scare me." The Grand Princess started acting afraid. Seeing her this way, all cute and helpless looking, he relented.
"I really don't know what to do about you." The Emperor forced a laugh and stopped being upset. He then turned to her, "Grand Princess, you've had enough fun outside. Now tell me, what happened outside that caused you to be so high in spirits?"
"Your Majesty, naturally something good happened. Look at what I've brought." The Grand Princess then retrieved some parchments. It smelt clearly of ink, still fresh from being written on. The Emperor said, "What good item have you brought for me?"
As he said this, he started reading.
"Giggling, she melded into the crowed with her fragrant scent. Hundreds of thousands of times I searched for her amidst the chaos. When I looked back, there she was, standing under the lights."
After reading the first line, a smile was etched on his face. When he had finished reading, his brows were furrowed. When he was younger, he had met his Empress for the first time, completely by chance. The way she attended to his needs, the way her fingers curled when she fed him soup. Still immersed in the document, he snapped back to reality. He recalled how the Empress loved doing embroidery, and how she looked up at him lovingly.....
The Emperor was stunned and shocked at the feelings evoked while reading the poem... His memories of the Empress were fresh, as though he had only last seen her the day before. He recalled the day he told her of his plans to rebel against the dynasty. Her expression was calm and composed as she whispered, "What my husband has decided to do, I will never disagree. If you succeed, I shall celebrate with you. And if you fail, naturally I will follow you as well."
Memories played continuously in his head. In the blink of an eye it led to that fateful rainy evening. The look in her eyes, as though she couldn't bear to leave him, and yet it was her final moments.... It had been five years now. All this pain and heartache, he had tried his hardest to forget and yet was momentarily reminded of it. All of a sudden the wound became fresh and hurt him greatly. Tears rolled down his cheek. He wiped it away hurriedly and brusquely, hoping that nobody noticed. He then turned around to his sister, "Grand Princess, let's take a walk by ourselves."
The chief eunuch stepped forward, "That might not be the best idea Your Majesty."
The Emperor then hardened his face, "I wish to walk alone with the Royal Princess, can't I do that? Don't tell me you suspect something's lurking in the dark trying to assassinate me?"
His senior concubine was beside him, and looked at the Grand Princess with curiosity. The tender love and affection shown by the Emperor to his sister was extremely pure and caused no small amount of envy throughout the court. The senior concubine glanced at the parchments held by the Emperor. The dreamy look the Emperor fell into while reading the scroll gave her quite a fright, having not seen him like this ever.
After taking a few steps, the Emperor raised the parchments and asked, "Who's the author of this work"
"The author was the Top Scorer from Ying Prefecture, Pei Zi Yun." The Grand Princess replied softly. The Grand Princess had caught a glimpse of the Emperor's expression while reading the poem as well. She knew that it had moved his heart. Seeing him this way however, ached her heart. The Emperor was actually a very affectionate person. It's just that he took his role as an Emperor very seriously, and thus always had to put up a hard and bold front.
"Pei Zi Yun, Pei Zi Yun, could this be the same Pei Zi Yun who composed ?" The Emperor finally recalled. He had heard of this person before.
"That's correct, they are the same person. I met him just now, and invited him to join us at the lantern festival. There was a difficult riddle, which he solved almost instantly. He then pointed at this lights, took three steps forward and composed this poem. Even I was captivated by his talents, and for a second it was almost as if I had met husband Zhen once again. He is really special." The Grand Princess finished.
"Since this person is so talented, and he's here during this period, it must be that he's rushing to take the Imperial Examination to become a Grand Scholar. Could it be that he wished to take a shortcut by asking you for help? Although just by this poem alone I would instantly pick him out and make him a trusted advisor." The Emperor said half-jokingly. It was hard to tell if the Emperor meant what he said. Based on his tone however, the Grand Princess could tell that his mood was neither particularly good, nor was it bad.
"He he, I'm afraid Your Majesty will not be able to catch him even if you wanted to. This person has already joined the Dao. This time, he came to me for a favor. Although it's completely unrelated to academics....." The Grand Princess spoke openly, without concealing any facts.
When the Emperor heard this, he glanced at the Grand Princess. Having been shaken from the poem, he did not wish to think on anything serious. He then interrupted her, "Let's speak about this after the celebration. Let's have fun and be happy here and not discuss work related affairs."
"Yes, Your Majesty." The Grand Princess nodded and bowed.
Following the orders given by the Emperor, fireworks were released from the fields. The entire night sky was then illuminated with colourful displays of lights. There were red, yellow, blue and purple. Pretty lights scattered all across the skies.
A little princess was being carried by a concubine. Her small beady eyes were transfixed on the lights in the sky, "They're so pretty. I could gaze at them everyday."
A slightly older prince replied, "Younger sister, this display only happens once a year. If you want to see it again you have to wait for next year."
"Mother, I don't care! I want to see it everyday." The little princess grabbed her mother's clothes and pulled. The concubine then hushed her adoringly.
The lantern festival was held once a year, where everyone could experience such festivities. The fireworks continued for a long time, as everyone remained fixated at the pretty lights in the sky.
Pei Zi Yun walked along the road, back to his house. He too, raised his head to look at the fireworks. This made him reminisce back to his own world. He was speechless. After sometime, he shook his head, "Since the Grand Princess has given her word, I will have to deliver the 1,000 taels of gold to her tomorrow. And there's Minister Li as well. I will give him 100 taels of gold."
"As for the rest of the gold, I will convert them to banknotes." As he thought, his expression became less worried as he continued heading home.
When the fireworks were exhausted, the chief eunuch then approached the Emperor, "Your Majesty, it's time to leave the celebrations."
Following the cheers from the crowd, the Emperor took his leave. Everyone in his entourage stood up to head back to the palace as well.
When they reached the palace, all the palace maids and eunuchs hurriedly served them warm drinks and food to prevent them from catching a cold.
The Grand Princess walked beside the Emperor, as they led the Canton Princess to a seat. Following the Emperor's orders, their royal banquet began. It was an extremely lively event as well. Every now and then, the Emperor will test the young princes on poems and essays. All these were done casually. If they did well, he will praise them. And if they didn't he wouldn't criticize them as well.
When the banquet was over, the Emperor took his leave and returned to his study. There, a eunuch served up a bowl of clear soup. On the table, there were many files and documents regarding Pei Zi Yun. He picked the file up and said, "Call the Grand Princess in."
"The Grand Princess seeks an audience." The eunuch at the door announced. Following the eunuch, the Grand Princess strode in the study.