Why Harem Intrigue When You Can Just Raise A Dog Instead? (Chp 43)
Chapter 43: Returning to the Palace 1 (回宫1)
Assistant: [redacted] – Scribe/Co-translator/Editor
English proofreader: JimmyfromIT
Shen Hui’ru was still badly shaken as she withdrew within the carriage. Nian’ci was sent to her side to accompany her by the Empress Dowager. She covered her trembling body with a brocade quilt while comforting her non-stop.
The carriage passed over an uneven flagstone, causing a rattling noise. The rhythmic swaying helped Shen Hui’ru recover her composure. She forcefully shook off Nian’ci’s hand and her knuckles turned white. “Father, Mother, Elder Brother – How are they?”
“The Grand Preceptor’s right hand was injured and the Madam and Young Master were killed,” replied Nian’ci in a low voice. She didn’t dare to look at her expression.
“How could this be? How could this be?!” Shen Hui’ru collapsed in her seat, muttering. Her eyes were red but she hadn’t shed a single tear. After a long time, she suddenly let out an agonizing moan. Her hand covered her stomach which had yet to show signs of swelling.
“Your Ladyship, your honoured self mustn’t think too much. The Shen family still has the Grand Preceptor and the Little Young Master. There is also the child in your honoured self’s womb. After making it through this ordeal, everything will get better.” Nian’ci hurriedly covered her with a heavy brocade blanket and rubbed her back in an attempt to calm her down. This fetus was extremely important for the Shen family. Nothing could happen to it.
Shen Hui’ru clearly understood this and promptly took deep breaths. After a while, the painful feeling finally lessened gradually. She suddenly turned to look at Nian’ci and asked in a panic-stricken voice, “Why would the Empress Dowager suddenly return to the palace? Did she happen to get wind of any news?”
“This servant suppressed the news. The Empress Dowager isn’t aware. When she was praying to Buddha, her heart suddenly felt a pain, like it was being twisted. She said that when the Late Emperor had passed away, she’d felt this same sense of foreboding. She constantly felt uneasy about the Emperor, so she hastened back to the palace. The whole way, this servant was by her side chanting sutras. This servant truly couldn’t find an opportunity to send word to Your Ladyship. Just now, the Hidden Guards wanted to approach the Empress Dowager but were intercepted by the Imperial Guards. Your Ladyship should set your honoured mind to rest.” Nian’ci’s tone of voice sounded considerably resolute.
In these ten years, the Empress Dowager has never accepted the Emperor’s letters. Even if the Emperor were to personally pay her a visit, she would shut the door and refuse to meet him. It was far too easy to cut off all communication between them. However, when all is said and done, he was still someone she had raised from childhood. Even if she felt resentment, she still could not abandon him in times of crisis.
Shen Hui’ru calmed herself down. It was unclear what she was thinking. The corners of her mouth were curved upwards in a twisted smile. “No wonder the Hidden Guards mercilessly slaughtered my family members. The Emperor must’ve already died. Sure enough, the Empress Dowager’s premonition was accurate. She already returned to the palace. Bengong won’t let her leave alive.”
Saying so, she lightly stroked her stomach over and over and expressionlessly closed her eyes. Since the Shen family already paid such an excruciatingly bitter price, she was already bound to walk this road to its very end. She would either see this through or die trying.
Meng Sangyu just finished breakfast and was planning to return to her own quarters to relive some of her childhood memories when she received news that the Emperor had been attacked by an assassin and that the Empress Dowager had returned to the palace. She was greatly surprised! She promptly took her leave from Lady Meng and headed back to the palace with her imperial entourage as fast as she could.
The atmosphere inside the carriage was icy, just like her present state of mind. She continuously turned over the handheld brazier. Her elegant eyebrows were tightly knit. Nurse Feng’s face was pale as she kept watch by her side. She felt extremely on edge and did not dare to speak. Yin’cui and Bi’shui were in the carriage behind them.
After a long time, she faintly smiled and gently spoke. “The assassination attempt on the Emperor and the Empress Dowager returning to the palace – the mastermind behind this incident must be someone extraordinary.”
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“Has Your Ladyship realized something?” asked Nurse Feng in a low voice as she moved closer to her.
“There are two possibilities. One is that the Emperor has already died. This time’s assassination attempt was a cleanup operation by the hidden guards with the goal of avenging the Emperor.
“The second possibility is that the Emperor has not died. This time’s assassination attempt was a farce to switch back the real and fake Emperors without anyone knowing.” Meng Sangyu leaned back against the carriage. She clutched the handheld brazier close to her body as she calmed her rapidly beating heart.
“Would your honoured self say that Her Ladyship, the Empress Dowager knows the truth?” asked Nurse Feng. Her voice was filled with worry.
“If it’s the first possibility, the Empress Dowager is definitely unaware. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have brought soldiers to save Shen Hui’ru and Imperial Preceptor Shen.
“If it’s the second possibility, then the Empress Dowager definitely knows the truth and was playing along with the Emperor’s act. No matter which possibility it is, we must first return to the palace and see. At present, the palace is under the Empress Dowager’s control. Matters will be easy to handle.” Meng Sangyu fiddled with the gold-plated copper brazier on top of the teapoy and her expression relaxed.
The Emperor was in critical condition and his entire body was drenched in blood as he was carried back to Qian’qing Palace. Thankfully the Empress Dowager had brought an Imperial Physician back from Thousand Buddha Mountain, who had helped to bandage the wound in time.
When the Imperial Physicians from the Imperial Medical Institute heard the news and rushed over, the Emperor had already taken herbal medicine and had fallen asleep. The Empress Dowager tiredly kept watch outside the Emperor’s room and ruthlessly scolded the Imperial Physicians who had been slow in arriving. She sent them to Zhong’cui Palace to take Gracious Consort’s pulse. Gracious Consort was pregnant with the ‘Dragon’s Child’. The tiniest mistake would not be tolerated.
The Emperor remained unconscious and was unable to handle the assassination incident. The Empress Dowager felt pity for her son and summoned the commanders of the Forbidden Dragon Guards and the Imperial Guards, as well as the newly-appointed Provincial Commander of the Nine Gates to the hall to discipline them. She immediately relieved the two commanders of their posts and ordered the Provincial Commander of the Nine Gates to arrest and bring the assassins to justice within three days. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to avoid being demoted.
Before the Empress Dowager had begun to practice Buddhism, she had been known for her fiery and swift decisiveness. Many ministers remembered this vividly. With the Emperor being seriously ill, it was perfectly justified for the Empress Dowager to assume responsibility for handling administrative and political affairs on his behalf. No one in the Imperial Court dared to say anything. It was very difficult for the Shen family to increase their power and influence over the capital’s defences only to lose this way.
In Zong’cui Palace, after Shen Hui’ru heard the news, she felt a pain in her stomach. This old hag was very much a hindrance and must be eliminated! Fortunately, she had spies embedded throughout the palace. Getting rid of the Empress Dowager was an easy task.
But her optimism quickly faded. During this time’s visit to one’s relatives, each of her and the fake Emperor’s close confidants were killed by the Hidden Guards. Even her most competent attendant, Wan’qing, was murdered. The Empress Dowager felt sorry that she had received a fright while pregnant, and quickly sent maids and momos 嬷嬷 (mómo) A senior and usually older maid. They were respected because of their experience. ‘Nurse’ didn’t fit here so I used the pinyin. I assume everyone knows what momo means by now~ from Ci’ning Palace to her side to look after her. The Fake Emperor’s close aides were also all replaced with the Empress Dowager’s trusted subordinates. Fortunately, Chang’xi only received a slight wound and could still be used. This made Shen Hui’ru feel a little better.
She and the Fake Emperor had now been placed in a precarious situation. Without useful pawns at her disposal, even if she had so many spies and agents within the palace, she had no way to dispatch them. She truly felt that her hands were tied!
In Qian’qing Palace, Emperor Zhou’wu, who ought to have remained unconscious, was presently lying on his bed. He held a thick stack of memorials that had been previously reviewed by Shen Hui’ru. He scrutinized each one carefully. The memorials’ calligraphy was lively and vigorous with powerful strokes running through it. It looked exactly like his handwriting. In the past, he thought that Shen Hui’ru forging his handwriting was amusing, but now his lips were contorted in a bitterly cold smile.
“If you’re injured, lie down for a while. You’ll have time to look at these memorials when you wake up.” The Empress Dowager walked over slowly and sat down by the bed. She looked at his injured shoulder with concern.
“Empress Mother need not worry, your son’s injury looks frightful but it is actually not as serious as it seems. It will be fine after resting for 5-6 days.” Emperor Zhou’wu put down the memorial he was holding and carefully examined the Empress Dowager’s face, which had aged considerably. His line of sight drew up to the greyish-white hair on her temples and he continued staring for some time. This was his mother, who had cared for and protected him all his life. He knew that if something were to happen to him, his mother would absolutely not abandon him.
“Does Empress Mother still resent your son?” He looked directly into the Empress Dowager’s eyes with a bitter expression.
“Not anymore, it was not your fault in the first place.” The Empress Dowager tiredly waved her hand and finally, her manner of speaking became respectful. “Aijia already finished arranging the matters you assigned regarding the dismissal of the commanders for the Imperial Dragon Guards and Imperial Guards. Do you have a suitable replacement in mind? If you don’t, this capital will be in disarray for a while.”
“Naturally. Empress Mother can be at ease. This incident was also a test for the ministers. What kind of person can be used, what kind of person can’t be used, your son knows what he’s doing!” Emperor Zhou’wu smiled with interest. That strategic commanding monarch returned once again.
“Then that’s fine.” The Empress Dowager nodded her head. She looked at her son and opened her mouth to say something, then held back as if she was unsure how to bring up the subject.
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Emperor Zhou’wu had not told the Empress Dowager about the fortuitous meeting he had while he was unconscious. Seeing the Empress Dowager’s conflicted expression, of course he knew what she wanted to say. In an indifferent voice, he prodded, “If Empress Mother has something to say, there’s no need to feel anxious.”
The Empress Dowager rubbed her forehead and said in a low voice, “Those Imperial Concubines… how do you intend to deal with them? [The Fake Emperor has] defiled the entire palace. This matter is absolutely appalling! Humiliating to the utmost degree!”
The Empress Dowager wished she could unleash troops to eliminate the Shen family. To let them die in such a dubious manner left them some high renown and a clean reputation. Empress Dowager was left feeling dissatisfied. No matter what, they must utterly knock the Shen family into the abyss. So long as Great Zhou belonged to the Gu family, the Shen clan would never have a chance to recover!
“After all, they’re all important ministers’ daughters. We cannot simply dispose of them. Just let them stay.” Emperor Zhou’wu dismissively waved his hand. He didn’t have the least bit of fury that the Dowager had imagined. If he had truly fallen into a coma for five months and woken up completely unaware, Emperor Zhou’wu would have definitely been unable to act as calmly as he was now. The betrayals of the woman he treasured and his respected teacher; the green clouds of humiliation that bore down on him; an Imperial Court that was out of hand; and a frontier in imminent danger; any one of these would have been unbearable. However, having experienced overwhelmingly hellish suffering alongside comforting warmth and sweetness for five months, his state of mind had long been changed from what it used to be.
“The fact that you are able to clearly think through these things is good. They don’t have to know of this sort of scandal. Just let them live out their lives in the palace. When the Grand Selection comes next year, you can select new people to enter the palace.” The Empress Dowager let out a sigh of relief. What man could withstand this kind of humiliation? Especially the most revered and supreme Emperor? It was better for her son to prioritize the grand scheme of things.
“Let’s talk about this again later.” Emperor Zhou’wu frowned. His heart refused to accept it somewhat. A crowd of orioles and swallows perched around him. All kinds of irritating cosmetic odours assailed his senses. Just thinking about it caused him to feel annoyed.
“Aijia already proclaimed that the morning court will be adjourned for ten days until your body recovers its strength. These ten days, Aijia will appoint two untainted Imperial Concubines to come and nurse your recovery. What do you think?” asked the Empress Dowager warmly.
Emperor Zhou’wu’s pupils darkened. He was just about to speak when the Empress Dowager continued, “It’s just Virtuous Consort and Cai’ren Liu.”
“Just Virtuous Consort is fine.” Emperor Zhou’wu said in a gruff voice. Feeling like he had replied too quickly, he wet his lips and added, ”If there are too many people, your son will feel troubled. It’s just serving medicine, one person is enough.”
“Then it’ll be Virtuous Consort.” the Empress Dowager gave the final confirmation. She told him to rest well before getting up to leave. Arriving at the door, she thought of something and calmly looked back at the Emperor and cautiously said, “Imperial Duke Meng has disappeared. Virtuous Consort has lost her support. Although she is widely known, she has never touched the Emperor’s bottom line and has no children. She is wise and knows when to advance and when to retreat. In this incident, she was fortunate to be able to escape unscathed. Regardless of whether she knows something, Aijia trusts that she will keep her mouth shut. Intelligent people deserve to survive. What does Your Majesty think?”
“What Empress Mother says is correct.” Emperor Zhou’wu covered his face. His voice was hoarse beyond recognition. Empress Mother actually thought he would kill Sangyu? Heh~ He chuckled. He clutched his shoulder tightly, wanting to use the pain of his wound to distract from the pain of his heart.
Hope everyone had a safe and spooky Halloween~ The scariest thing about Halloween was being unable to meet the deadline u ~ u. It looks like the reunion is coming up soon~
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