Held in the Lonely Castle (Chp 1 Part 1)
TL: This chapter has a number of complicated explanations. I’ve simplified some of the synonymous titles and split sections into separate paragraphs to make it easier to follow along. I indicate any replacements with . It was difficult to tell if certain positions were singular or plural. If you’ve read the raws, I’d appreciate feedback about my translation. Thank you and enjoy!
Chapter 1: Autumn Riverside, Esteemed Guests, A Pair of Geese Fly Overhead
Part 1 – The Forbidden Palace Gates (禁门)
English proofreader: JimmyfromIT
There were serious repercussions for opening the palace gates at night. I already knew this from the time I first entered the palace.
That year I was eight years old. My clansmen had no choice but to send me into the palace to become a eunuch. After my father passed away, my mother remarried. None of my clan members were willing to adopt me either. To me, [becoming a eunuch] was something that couldn’t be helped.
I learned court etiquette and palace regulations along with 30-40 other children who entered the palace at the same time as me. When it came to important points, Liang Quanyi, the pavilion head who was responsible for teaching us, would invite two departmental heads from the Department of Service 内侍省 (nèishì shěng) – Department responsible for staffing the palace, essentially the ancient HR department, consisting of all servants in the palace who dealt with all sorts of business in the palace to come and explain them to us in detail.
“The gates of the Forbidden City must be closed once darkness falls. They must not be opened before sunrise.” The person who said this was Zhang Maoze, the eunuch responsible for the Inner Eastern Gate. To come and go from the inner palace, one must pass through the Inner Eastern Gate which acted as a checkpoint for people and things. This was a very important position for eunuchs. He was only around twenty years old at that time. Not many people succeeded in achieving such a high position at his age. Meanwhile, his expression was indifferent without a smidgen of conceit. When he spoke, his tone of voice was also very gentle. Moreover, I noticed that out of all the eunuchs who came to teach, the clothes he wore were the darkest as if they had been worn for many years. However, they were very clean.
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“If it’s really something important and you must open the palace gates at night, you’ll need an imperial edict and the fish tally.” In general, 符(fú) were tallies made of bamboo, wood, metal (gold, silver, bronze) or jade and used as a proof of authorization. They could be carved into various shapes but the most popular one is the Tiger tally (虎符 húfú). Tiger tallies were used by a King or Emperor to command and dispatch the army. The right piece was retained in the central government while the left piece was issued to the local officials or commanders. If someone wanted to dispatch the troops from a certain area, he had to show the right piece of the tiger tally in order to obtain authorization; both pieces of the tally had to match each other. Take a look at the TL Notes section to see what the Tiger tally looked like. A similar process is described below for the fish tally. Zhang Maoze continued to explain the procedure, “The one requesting the imperial edict needs to write down the time, the matter at hand in detail, the name of the guards opening the gate, how many people are entering or exiting, and their identities, and send it to the Central Secretariat. Glad I made this post. The Central Secretariat was one of the three departments responsible for policy. After the Great General responsible for the gate and related persons read over the request, they must call on the [ministers of the Central Secretariat] to present the memorial to the Emperor. Only after receiving the Emperor’s approval can you invite the eunuch responsible for the gate keys to come and open the gates.”
Everyone in the Interior Department of Service was aware that Ren Shouzhong occupied a high-ranking position with immense responsibility. Originally there was no need for him to come and give lectures, but when he passed by this place and it was convenient, he would also come in to take a look.
Hearing Zhang Maoze finish his explanation, I nodded my head. He swept his gaze over us and said: “All of you listen carefully. There is also a process for when you open the gates.”
I held my breath as I concentrated on listening to Zhang Maoze as he continued to explain the rules. “Before opening the gates, [the Great General] must examine the copper Fish tally with the eunuch responsible for the gate keys.” Zhang Maoze held up a pair of Fish tallies in front of us who were seated in rows: “A fish design along with the name of the gate is carved on the copper tally. Every copper Fish tally is divided into left and right sides and all Great Generals in charge of the gate and the eunuchs responsible for the gate keys have one half each.
Awaiting the opening of the gates, the Great General and their deputy must first ready the gate’s defences: The troops on both sides of the gate must get into position and light the torches.
The Great General and eunuch need to closely examine the Fish tally. They can only open the gate after ensuring there is no room for error. Even if the Fish tallies match, if the Great General and eunuch do not examine the tallies, or if they ignore the fact that the tallies do not match, or if they do not have the imperial edict and decide to open the gate without authorization, they will suffer severe punishment by criminal law.”
“Do you remember everything?” chimed in Ren Shouzhong. All of us gave acknowledgement in unison. He pointed at a young eunuch sitting closest to him in the front row and ordered: “You, summarize the explanation.”
That child presented his summary but displayed slow-wittedness. He stood around thinking for a long time before stammering out a few sentences, but his explanation had mistakes.
Ren Shouzhong struck his head and raged, “If you can’t even remember these few sentences, how will you serve in the palace? In the future, undoubtedly some amongst you will be responsible for the keys to the palace gates. If you make a mistake, the punishment is death!”
Zhang Maoze added his two cents from the side: “If you don’t follow the proper procedure in admitting people through the gate according to the law, in minor cases you’ll be exiled while in more serious cases you’ll be hanged.”
The majority of the young eunuchs were stricken with panic upon hearing this. They looked at one other, speechless with fear.
“You, go kneel outside the hall and reflect on your mistakes. Tonight you’ll go without dinner.” Ren Shouzhong announced that child’s punishment. Once more, he looked about the others before finally choosing me: “Did you remember everything?”
I stood and bowed, replying in the affirmative. I repeated Zhang Maoze’s original explanation word for word: “The palace gates must be closed once darkness falls. Before sunrise, it must not be opened without permission. If there’s an urgent matter where one must open the palace gates at night, one must have a written imperial edict and Fish tally…… If one does not follow the proper procedure according to the law, in minor cases one will be exiled while in serious cases one will be hanged.”
A perfect explanation. Zhang Maoze and the other department heads nodded and smiled.
Ren Shouzhong was also satisfied. With a gentle expression, he asked me: “What is your name?”
“Liang Yuan Heng,” I replied, before adding, “Yuan Heng like the characters in ‘Yuan Heng Li Zhen’.” ‘元亨利贞’ (yuán hēng lì zhēn) is a phrase from The Book of Changes 《易经》derived from the growth of plants in nature. These four characters are believed to represent the four basic virtues of Heavenly Divination. They stand for benevolence, courtesy, justice, and integrity.
Yuan: Symbolizes the beginning of a thing and corresponds to the germination of plants in spring.
Heng: Symbolizes the growth of a thing and corresponds to the growth of plants in summer.
Li: Symbolizes the harvest of a thing, and corresponds to the flowering of plants in the fall.
Zhen: Symbolizes the collection of a thing and corresponds to the fallen leaves of plants during winter. It’s common when giving your name in Chinese that you explain which characters you are talking about since there are many homophones [words that sound the same but have different meanings and spellings] – E.g. next paragraph~
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Evidently, this was superfluous. Once the words were out, everyone’s expression changed. Ren Shouzhong arrived in front of me in a few steps and slapped me soundly across the face. “What a daring bastard, you are! Don’t you know how to avoid a taboo subject?”
Only then did I vaguely recall that when my father explained the meaning of my name to me, he warned me not to say the word ‘Zhen (贞)’ because the reigning Emperor’s name has the character, ‘Zhen (祯)’. Remember back then, it was forbidden to call the Emperor by name. Therefore, ‘Zhen (贞)’ is also taboo.
I was immediately seized with terror and was unsure how to respond. I stood silently with my eyes lowered.
Ren Shouzhong ordered: “Drag him away and lock him up. I will decide on his punishment after seeking instruction from the Emperor.”
I stayed in a small, pitch-black room for two or three days. I laid on my back staring blankly, nearly starving. I passed out several times thinking that I would die soon.
Finally, someone opened the door. Light, which I hadn’t seen for a long time, flooded inside like a tidal wave, stabbing my eyes.
Opening my eyes again, I caught sight of my teacher Liang Quanyi’s kind and gentle face. Perhaps it was because we shared the same surname but he had always treated me kindly.
“Let’s go,” he said. Seeing that I had no energy to walk, he unexpectedly crouched down to personally carry me out on his back.
I was unable to restrain my tears and they dripped onto his neck. He continued walking as if nothing had happened and didn’t try to comfort me, but said: “You need to be careful in the future. Violating a taboo by mentioning the name of the Emperor – If this kind of thing happened outside [the palace], you could probably conceal it. However, in the palace, it’s not the same. Any tiny mistake can endanger your life. It was Teacher Zhang who earnestly requested the Empress to plead for mercy on your behalf to the Emperor. You should remember this favour…”
Of course, I would remember this. When Zhang Maoze came to give lectures again, I followed him outside after class. I rushed in front of him and kneeled, kowtowing in earnest thanks for saving my life.
He only smiled, saying: “You rascal, it is too easy to break taboo with your name. It would be better if you changed it.”
I agreed and respectfully requested him to bestow me a new name.
He muttered to himself briefly before saying: “Huaiji. You’ll be called Liang Huaiji from now on.”
I wholeheartedly thanked him. He asked another question: “Have you studied in the past?”
I replied: “Back home, I learned how to read a few characters with my father.”
He nodded and looked at me attentively before turning around to depart.
Thank you for your patience! <3 I hope you enjoyed the chapter. I’m still going some health things irl but can finally get back to translating. No translation schedule for the next few months but I plan on alternating between projects.
FYI, About Liang Huaiji’s new name, 怀(huái) means “to harbour or cherish” and 吉(jí) means “auspicious or lucky”. Zhang Maoze is impressed that the MC understands which characters he chose and their meaning since most commoners were illiterate in those days.
I’ve started a character and place name list for this novel and will continue adding to it as the story progresses. I hope it’s a helpful reference (especially between long chapter updates ^^;)
Until next time,
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