Why Harem Intrigue When You Can Just Raise A Dog Instead? (Chp 36)
Chapter 36: Returning Soul 2 (回魂2)
The room’s numerous eternal lamps 长明灯 (chángmíngdēng) Altar lamps that are kept burning day and night had almost all burnt out, leaving only a lone candle on the table. In the hazy candlelight, Yan Jun’wei’s expression was somewhat uncertain. After listening to Emperor Zhou’wu’s simple recount of what happened, he closed his gaping mouth and sighed in disbelief, “So Your Majesty’s soul actually transferred to that A’Bao’s body. When I speculated about this possibility, I thought that I had spent too much time building castles in the air and let my imagination run away with me! 异想天开 (yìxiǎng tiānkāi) A Chinese idiom meaning to indulge in one’s wildest fantasy. Check out my post on Chinese idioms for more. The equivalent English expression would be “building castles in the air (or in Spain)” or “letting your imagination run away with you” meaning to indulge in fantasy/daydream. It was hard to choose so I used both! The ways of the world are mysterious indeed!”
“This was a fated meeting between Sangyu and Zhen decided by the heavens.” Emperor Zhou’wu spoke slowly. His expression carried a faint smile, as though he was recalling a serene memory. His eyes brimmed with unmistakable tenderness.
It was Yan Jun’wei’s first time seeing him with such a gentle and loving expression. He was shocked speechless. Even in his treatment towards Gracious Consort, His Majesty was merely a trifle more generous and good-humoured than usual. When had he ever shown such an infatuated expression as he was showing now? It seemed as though Her Ladyship Virtuous Consort had the Emperor firmly wrapped around her little finger.
“So Her Ladyship Virtuous Consort actually knew about the Shen family’s schemes from the very beginning? As expected of Meng Chang’xiong’s daughter! A wild goose never lays a tame egg!” 虎父无犬子 (hǔfù wú quǎnzǐ) A Chinese idiom literally meaning if the father is a tiger, the son cannot be a dog. The raws replace son with daughter 女 (nǚ) in this case. I could’ve translated it to the more well-known phrase ‘like father, like son/daughter’ or ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’ but I wanted to find an idiom that had an animal. The English proverb here is actually, ‘a wild goose never laid a tame egg,’ meaning that something will not be spontaneously different from that which came before. The phrase is used to describe things that are determined by nature and the environment, or else inherited from the previous generation. He had intentionally offered praise, but upon seeing the Emperor’s face glowing with pride, 与有荣焉 (yǔ yǒu róng yān) meaning to feel honoured or extremely proud of someone/something. he couldn’t help but laugh, “It seems like Her Ladyship Virtuous Consort really treats A’Bao well!”
“Very well indeed,” murmured Emperor Zhou’wu. At that moment, he was presumably over the moon with joy as the scorching fires of love warmed his whole body. It was especially heart-warming during this winter night.
“That’s right, immediately send people to the Muddy Shores to find and rescue Imperial Duke Meng and Han Chang’ping. After those two were ambushed by the Barbarian forces, they were forced to enter that place.” Thinking of his father-in-law, Emperor Zhou’wu’s heart chilled. His gentle and soft expression was replaced with a dignified and imposing air. “After all, it was Zhen who was too hasty. Han Chang’ping is young and hot-headed. How could he be qualified to replace Imperial Duke Meng? If he returns safe and sound from this ordeal, Zhen will remove him from his post as Right General and send him to train under Imperial Duke Meng’s command to gain experience for a few years.”
“This subordinate will immediately dispatch people to go find and rescue them. Everything else can wait until they come back safely,” agreed Yan Jun’wei. He made a few hand signals to the subordinate outside the door. The subordinate nodded his head and promptly disappeared into the darkness of the night.
“Also, when the imperial edict issued by Shen Hui’ru reaches the frontier, send someone to assassinate Xie Zheng’hao. With an important battle before them, the army can’t be without a Commander-in-Chief. The Vice Commander will naturally step up as the Commander-in-Chief and there will be no one available to return the Capital’s summons. The army’s Vice Commander is Meng Liang, Imperial Duke Meng’s right-hand man. With him in command, we might not necessarily win this battle but we definitely won’t lose. It’s presently midwinter during the twelfth moon 腊月(臘-) (làyuè) The twelfth month of the lunar year between December 22nd to January 21st. A.k.a. “end of year month” and the Barbarian troops lack clothing and provisions. The war situation will be at a stalemate for a period of time. Even if the Barbarians don’t fight, they’ll suffer defeat by their own hand.” Emperor Zhou’wu’s eyes were slightly closed as he slowly ran through his analysis, his expression stern.
“Your Majesty won’t spare Xie Zheng’hao so that he can confess Shen Zhong’liang’s crime of colluding with the enemy?” asked Yan Jun’wei hesitantly.
“Shen Zhong’liang. Hmph! Is he even worthy of this name?” The characters in Shen Zhong’liang’s name mean loyal (忠 zhōng) and respectable (良 liáng). Together, 忠良 is used to describe a loyal and upright person who is decent and true. Emperor Zhou’wu gave a mocking smile and tapped the table with his slender fingertips. “The world belongs to Zhen. Zhen’s acknowledgement is enough to charge him with the crime. Even without witnesses or physical evidence, Zhen can still execute the Shen family clan all the same. After eliminating Xie Zheng’hao, go to his manor to investigate his correspondence with Imperial Preceptor Shen related to their plans to collude with the enemy. If evidence of their correspondence has already been dealt with, then fabricate a few letters. As long as they are even slightly plausible, it’s enough to bring before the court. If Zhen says they are real, who would dare to say otherwise?”
Yan Jun’wei agreed and stood in silent tribute to Imperial Preceptor Shen. Everything had been going well for him, and yet he had insisted on ‘seeking wealth and insurance.’ ‘富贵险中求’ (fùguì xiǎn zhōng qiú) was a common saying in ancient China. Many people think that ‘seeking wealth and insurance’ means that only by taking risks can you obtain the wealth you desire. Here, Yan Jun’wei means that Imperial Preceptor Shen took unnecessary risks in his pursuit of wealth and glory. However, it comes with another saying as a pair: ‘成功细中取, 富贵险中求’ (chénggōng xì zhōng qǔ, fùguì xiǎn zhōng qiú). Together, they mean that success lies in the details, and wealth comes to those who take risks rationally. Read more about it here [in Chinese]. It’s my first time coming across this phrase. I’d love to know if you have a better translation! Now he hadn’t obtained the wealth and status he sought, and instead had implicated the lives of his entire clan. If that Shen family’s father-daughter pair had cooperated with each other and protected the Emperor’s mortal body while keeping to their station, then when His Majesty awoke, wouldn’t the Shen family have ascended to glory just the same? Humans, they just couldn’t resist temptation. It’s too late to repent!
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Only after systematically issuing his orders did Emperor Zhou’wu begin to feel exhausted. Upon seeing this, Yan Jun’wei hurriedly had people bring in water for him to wash. He also called over several highly skilled doctors from the side courtyard to discuss his medical condition.
Having slept for four, almost five months, even if he had the best medicine to preserve his life and received massages three times every day, Emperor Zhou’wu would have still lost considerable weight. Fortunately, he had practiced martial arts from a young age and had a strong foundation. Soaking in the bath, he drank a bowl of ginseng soup and felt much better.
“What flavour soup is this? It’s simply too hard to swallow!” Putting down the bowl, he slightly knit his brows.
“This was something I especially ordered from Taotie 饕餮 (tāotiè) was a ferocious mythical animal. Restaurant’s most renowned Chef Wang to make for you. Just smelling it, I feel hungry. Since you technically haven’t eaten for four to five months, shouldn’t you take a deep breath and have another bowl?” asked Yan Jun’wei as he accepted the bowl with raised eyebrows.
“Even half of Sangyu’s cooking skill wouldn’t be able to help. Zhen doesn’t want to drink another bowl.” Emperor Zhou’wu lifted his gaze to the direction of the Forbidden Palace. He seemed as though he wished his gaze would pierce through space to see Sangyu’s location. Maybe it was better if he didn’t say anything. Once he said it out loud, longing would flood his heart like a tidal wave, leaving him breathless. Not being able to hear her laughter, see her face, or rush into her arms, he felt as though there was something off with his entire being.
“I He actually says I (我 wǒ) here showing his close relationship with ZW. <3 can tell that you’re so in love that you don’t need to eat.” Yan Jun’wei chuckled as he poked fun at him. Finally, he recalled something and added, “I received news a moment ago that A’Bao disappeared. Her Ladyship Virtuous Consort didn’t sleep for the whole night and searched the entire Forbidden City for him. Even the [fake] Emperor was alerted. They say that she also cried.”
Saying thus, Yan Jun’wei closely observed the Emperor’s expression.
“Cried?” Emperor Zhou’wu stared blankly. His brows unconsciously creased together and his eyes narrowed, gradually turning red. His hand resting on the rim of the bathtub clenched into a fist until his knuckles were white.
This was… This was an expression of pain? Yan Jun’wei blinked several times in disbelief. He inwardly heaved a sigh. It looked like His Majesty was in deep this time. To be pained to such an extent because of a woman – if it wasn’t love, then what could it be?
“Jun’wei, quickly think of a way to send Zhen into the palace as soon as possible so that Zhen can change places with that substitute.” Clenching his teeth, Emperor Zhou’wu clamped down on the pain in his heart and gave his orders in a heavy voice.
“Why don’t you Wah! Jun’wei actually used you (你 nǐ) to directly address ZW! go ahead and get rid of the Shen clan and that substitute so that you can openly and honourably make an appearance? Exchanging the both of you without anyone noticing is no easy feat. That substitute is always accompanied by a host of Imperial guards. There are also the Shen family’s hidden guards around him. The guards have him thoroughly surrounded, even when he has trysts with women. It won’t be easy to strike.” Yan Jun’wei was put in a difficult position.
“Since Shen Zhong’liang brazenly roped in officials to his side, this court has not been Zhen’s court for a long time. Shen Hui’ru’s spies are everywhere within the palace. This palace is also no longer Zhen’s palace. If I kill off that Shen family’s father-daughter pair, both the Imperial Court and the Inner Palace would be out of control. After that, Zhen would still need to spend a lot of effort to bring back order. It would be better if Zhen quietly returned and slowly dealt with these evildoers. Since these people replaced Zhen with a substitute, Zhen can also pay them back in kind 以其人之道还治其人之身 (yǐ qí rén zhī dào, huán zhì qí rén zhī shēn) To pay someone back with their own coin. and let them feel what it’s like to be attacked from all sides, 腹背受敌 (fùbèi shòudí) To be attacked from all sides. unable to retaliate.” 防不胜防 (fángbùshèngfáng) To be impossible to defend effectively. Emperor Zhou’wu held onto Yan Jun’wei for support as he rose from the tub. After drying himself off with a towel, he changed his underclothes with the assistance of two hidden guards.
“Then Your Majesty will have to wait a few days and allow this subordinate make the proper arrangements,” replied Yan Jun’wei after pondering for a moment.
“Zhen will give you a way forward. In the past, Shen Hui’ru often said that she hoped Zhen would take her to visit her parents. In a few days, it will be Elder Lord Zhao’s 80th birthday. Send people to persuade Imperial Consort’s mother and have her submit a request for Imperial Consort to return home to celebrate. Then send someone to Shen Hui’ru’s side to offer support from the sidelines. She will also make a move. So long as she brings that substitute back to the Shen family to pay a visit, we can strike.” Emperor Zhou’wu smiled with his eyes closed as he let the hidden guards dry his hair. His mind was occupied with thoughts of Sangyu’s bright and charming smiling face, and his gloomy mood improved a bit. Even though he had returned to his human body, without Sangyu beside him, he wasn’t as overjoyed as he had thought he would be.
“She wanted you to personally accompany her to visit her family? She was subtly hinting that you should make her Empress.” Yan Jun’wei raised his eyebrows. Shen Hui’ru was so forthright with her words, yet His Majesty had only appointed her as a first-rank Consort. Once appointed, she had stayed the same rank for three years. No wonder she would betray the Emperor.
“Zhen hadn’t thought much of it in the past. I just thought that she missed her family.” Emperor Zhou’wu smiled in self-reproach and waved his hand, unwilling to say more.
Yan Jun’wei caught his meaning and muttered to himself for a while before saying, “This is also a good idea. This subordinate will go make the arrangements shortly.”
“Work quickly. Sangyu is still in the palace waiting for Zhen.” Emperor Zhou’wu urged him to hurry. At last, he cautiously said, “Send people to inform Imperial Mother. Zhen needs Imperial Mother’s help. Also, Zhen put your antidote behind the plaque 牌匾 (páibiǎn) An inscribed board fixed to a wall or the piece of wood above a door or archway. See TL Notes for a picture. in the Imperial Study. It’s inside an ebony box. Go get it yourself.”
“Your Majesty, you…?” Yan Jun’wei was wide-eyed. His whole face showed disbelief.
“You’ll still be the Commander of the Hidden Guards, but Zhen wants a portion of the hidden guards to come into the light. Their duties will be the same as the Hidden Guards, and their unit will be called the Embroidered Uniform Guard. 锦衣卫 (jǐnyīwèi) A real military unit in the Ming Dynasty. They were imperial secret police tasked with gathering military intelligence. They wore a distinctive golden-yellow uniform with a tablet on the torso and carried a special blade weapon. They will only belong to and answer to Zhen. They will be responsible for administration including the Six Ministries. 六部 (liùbù) The Six Ministries formed the central government within the Three Departments and Six Ministries system (三省六部 sān shěng liù bù). Read more in my post on Ancient Chinese Ranks and Titles. Even though the Commander will occupy a mere proper third-ranked military post, their actual power will be substantial, far more than their position would warrant. This is only for the sake of frightening certain unruly officials to let them know that Zhen is watching them. Before you were hidden in the darkness and they were unable to see the threat you posed. That’s why they could act so brazenly!” Emperor Zhou’wu harumphed coldly.
When he looked at Yan Jun’wei, his expression became gentle. “You and Zhen grew up together. No one is more aware of your abilities than Zhen. You have talent, yet you have no way to showcase it freely. You even had to feign being hedonistic and dissolute, were pushed out and suppressed by your concubine-born younger brother and lost the noble title that should have belonged to you. It’s been hard on you! In the past, Zhen was unable to speak up on your behalf, but from now on, with you holding both positions as the Commander of the Hidden Guards and the Embroidered Uniform Guards, you can make a name for yourself through your own merit.”
“Your Majesty isn’t afraid that this subordinate will betray you after taking the antidote?” Yan Jun’wei asked hoarsely. His normally stoic face revealed a rare expression – he was deeply moved.
“Zhen won’t start suspecting others because of Shen Zhong’liang’s betrayal. What people can be used, what people cannot be used – Zhen will use his heart to decide. Zhen doesn’t care for loyalty bought by controlling others with poison. Besides, you and Zhen have risked life and limb countless times together since we were young. You’ve never abandoned Zhen. Zhen believes in you.” Emperor Zhou’wu raised his head and smiled, his expression truly open and natural.
Yan Jun’wei slowly smiled. He knelt down on one knee and said with the most solemn tone, “This subject is willing to be at Your Majesty’s service.”
“Excellent! What an excellent subject!” This way of referring to oneself was much more pleasing to the ears than ‘subordinate.’ Emperor Zhou’wu smacked the tabletop and laughed heartily.
Hearing the jovial laughter coming from inside the room, the highly skilled doctors who had rushed over released the tension in their hearts.
-Thousand Buddha Mountain, Pudu Temple-
The aging Empress Dowager’s hair was already grey. Wearing a coarse monk’s robe, she knelt inside the prayer hall chanting sutras. Her head maid, Nian’ci, knelt behind her. She held a book of scripture, diligently transcribing.
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Suddenly, the sound of flapping wings could be heard from outside the prayer hall. A pigeon, its foot tied with gold thread, landed on the prayer hall’s windowsill. Nian’ci put down her writing brush, walked towards the window. and picked up the pigeon. She untied the note attached to its foot. Catching sight of the soaring dragon design at the top, her eyes gleamed slightly. After collecting herself, she walked to the Empress Dowager’s side and softly asked, “Your Imperial Highness, the Empress Dowager, it’s a letter sent by His Majesty. Would Your Ladyship like to take a look?”
“No, take it away.” The Empress Dowager didn’t even open her eyes and waved her hand in refusal. Her indifferent attitude was the same as the past.
Nian’ci’s eyes flickered with light and after agreeing, she took the note outside to burn it. The soaring dragon pattern – how was this a letter from His Majesty? It was clearly a secret report from the Hidden Guards. However, Nian’ci had already chosen a different master. Naturally, she wouldn’t let this secret report appear before the Empress Dowager.
Just as she finished burning the letter, Pudu Temple’s head monk, Master Xuan Kong, arrived. Nian’ci hastily paid her respects.
“Be at ease. Is Wang Chen 忘尘 (wàng chén) Literally “Leaving the dust” and likely derived from “忘记尘世烦恼” or “To forget the troubles of the world.” It actually means to become a monk and leave the secular world full of mental dust and anguish. In this case, it’s used as a name. This Google link was very helpful. free at the moment? This humble monk came over to discuss the principles of Zen with her,” asked Master Xuan Kong in a gentle voice.
“Please enter, Master Head Monk.” From inside the prayer hall, the Empress Dowager raised her voice to invite him inside.
Master Xuan Kong nodded at Nian’ci before pushing the door open to head inside.
When the Empress Dowager and Head Priest discussed Buddhist doctrine, they dreaded being disturbed. Nian’ci tactfully returned to her own room. Once she closed the door, her calm and indifferent expression became infinitely miserable. She was so young, yet she was confined to this temple to live like a nun. 常伴青灯 (chángbàn qīngdēng) Lit. To accompany a green lamp. It means to become a monk/nun. In the temple, lamps used to be covered with blue cloth resulting in a green lantern. The wealth and rank that had once been so easy to obtain were now out of her reach. How could she not feel resentment?
“Which chapter has Master prepared to discuss with Wang Chen today?” The Empress Dowager took out a book of Buddhist scripture. Specifically 大藏经 (dàzàngjīng) The Tripitaka Koreana, Buddhist scriptures carved on 81,340 wooden tablets and housed in South Korea.
“Buddha be praised. 阿弥陀佛 (amítuófó) A commonly heard Buddhist saying praising Buddha for his mercy. This humble monk told a falsehood. May Buddha forgive me.” Master Xuan Kong confessed his sin before taking out a letter from his sleeve and passing it over to the Empress Dowager. “This is His Majesty’s handwritten letter. The matter is of great importance. No matter what, I implore Wang Chen to take a look.”
Since it was Master Head Monk’s first time making a request, even if her heart was unwilling, the Empress Dowager stared fixedly at the envelope for a long while but still accepted it. After she opened it, she speedily read through it. “What a good Shen family! What a good Nian’ci! There were countless secret letters yet not one reached Aijia’s 哀家 (āijiā) Illeism used by a widowed Empress/Consort. It literally means “This grieving one.” hands. Do they think that just because Aijia hasn’t interfered with secular matters for a long time that they can deceive Aijia since Aijia is old and weak?!” Her tranquil aged face took on a stern countenance.
“Buddha be praised. In the end, Wang Chen cannot leave the troubles of the world behind. However, the resentment in your heart seems to have been long forgotten. It is time for you to return.” Master Xuan Kong brought his palms together 双手合十 (shuāngshǒuhéshí) To bring one’s palms together before oneself (a Buddhist greeting). and gave a faint smile.
“Thank you for your consolement all these years, Master. After dealing with this secular matter, Wang Chen will definitely return.” The Empress Dowager stood up to pay her respects.
“Be at ease. Whether or not you return will depend on your heart.” Xuan Kong read a line of Buddhist scripture and gradually strolled out.
“Someone come. Prepare the carriage and horses. Aijia will immediately return to the palace!” The Empress Dowager took off her mitre 僧帽 (sēngmào) A religious headdress/cap worn by monks and nuns and commanded in a loud voice. The imperial guards who were keeping watch nearby agreed in unison. A surprised Nian’ci immediately ran out of her room.
“Why does Your Imperial Highness, the Empress Dowager want to hurry back to the palace? Did something bad happen?” Nian’ci’s face looked pale.
“Just now while analyzing Buddhist scripture, Aijia suddenly felt pained as if Aijia’s heart was twisting. Presumably, something serious happened to His Majesty. In the past when the Late Emperor passed away, Aijia also had this feeling. How can Aijia rest assured without returning to the Capital to take a look?” The Empress Dowager hurriedly returned to her room. The worry on her face was genuine.
Nian’ci couldn’t tell that anything was amiss and muttered to herself. Could it be that the unconscious Emperor really passed away? Her heart couldn’t help but jump for joy. This was also fine. Here at Thousand Buddha Mountain, Nurse Jin Her title is 嬷嬷 (mómo) as well but I translated it as Nurse to keep things consistent with Nurse Feng. took care of all of the Empress Dowager’s affairs. She was only responsible for keeping the Empress Dowager company while chanting sutras. There was really no chance for her to strike. Now, here was an opportunity. Once the Empress Dowager returned to the palace, it would be a simple matter for Her Ladyship Gracious Consort to secretly get rid of the Empress Dowager.
Hello~ I’m back (again)! Thanks for your patience. Health things are still going on but I’m well enough to translate again (Yay!). I was itching to translate before but forced myself to rest so that I could recover faster. There won’t be any set release schedule for the next few months but I will alternate between translating Why Harem Intrigue and Held in the Lonely Castle.
I’m sorry my releases are so slow compared to other series (> . <). I’m very grateful for your patience in between chapters. Hopefully the quality makes up for the speed somewhat, haha~ (^^);; I’m definitely translating faster compared to when I first started. Progress~!!
Ah, you might’ve noticed that I started including “Do not support theft” messages between paragraphs. I found that someone had posted my translation on their site without permission 🙁 I knew aggregator sites existed but it was my first time encountering something like this. I would deeply appreciate it if you could let me know if you come across any other sites with my translation.
For translators out there: How have you dealt with this? Is it an accepted thing? I’ve since deleted my other blog permanently and this site is more secure so fingers crossed this doesn’t happen again. Sigh~ (> _ <)
On a more positive note:
I’d like to give big, big thank you to Becca, Cristine, and Loretta for your generous PayPal donations! Sending love and light your way!
Ah, this became an essay. Thanks for reading. Please take good care and stay safe!!
Until next time,