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Held in the Lonely Castle (Chp 1 Part 6)

Chapter 1: Autumn Riverside, Esteemed Guests, A Pair of Geese Fly Overhead

Part 6 – Qiuhe (秋和)

Translator: Nyamachi
Translation assistants: [redacted]
& Saltnpepper
English proofreader: JimmyfromIT

TL: Sorry for the lengthy footnotes. There were many research rabbit holes along the way in translating this chapter. If they’re too long or bother you, please do let me know in the comments. I’ll work on it for next time!

In the following days, there were no sudden waves in the Fine Arts Institute. Life continued on as normal and there were no significant announcements from the Inner Palace. I couldn’t help but seek out my childhood companions who had been assigned to the Interior Department of Service and make inquiries. They told me that the Emperor’s health was gradually improving. He felt rather moved after hearing that Princess Fukang had prayed to the moon while he was unwell and was even willing to take her Father’s place. He doted on the Princess even more ever since. 

Beautiful Lady Zhang was arrogant before others, but even so, she knew to carefully watch her words before His Majesty. Seeing how the Emperor cherished the Princess like a treasured pearl recently, it was unfavourable for her to bring up the matter of witchcraft. Furthermore, Youwu’s illness had already improved slightly so she could only not make things difficult for the Princess for the time being.     

On the day that Cui Bai left the Fine Arts Institute, I accompanied him until the Palace Gates. Before leaving, he led me to a secluded area, took out a scroll and gave it to me with both hands, [1]This is considered the polite way to give or receive something and continues today. asking: “Could Huaiji possibly present this painting, {{Esteemed Guests at Qiupu River}}, to a friend on my behalf?”

I agreed without a second thought and took the proffered painting before surprise hit me ⎯ So it turned out that Zixi had another friend in the Palace.

I opened it to take a look but saw that what he painted was the Qiupu Riverbank. There were partially bloomed lotus flowers and colourful hibiscus scattered around. Two or three grey wagtails [2]Motacilla cinerea. See Image. swept over the water and perched among the flowers and leaves. Above the river, there was a pair of wild geese, [3]Geese are an important motif in classical Chinese art and literature. They are a symbol of marital fidelity, like the mandarin duck, but wild geese can also symbolize separation, as they migrate south in the winter. They can also represent seasonal change and the passage of time. Sources: Chinasage and Wikipedia one leaning its neck to the right and the other spreading its wings to the left, circling around each other in the air. 

I didn’t withhold my sigh of admiration and asked him who he wanted to give it to.     

He suddenly smiled and said: “Last year the Emperor ordered the painters in the Imperial Art Institute to prepare a painting showing merry-making. [4]行乐图 (xínglè tú) This is a type of Chinese figure painting with fun as its theme featuring pleasure-seeking moments. ‘行乐’ in this context means ‘merry-making’ or ‘pleasure-seeking’. It can also refer to small portraits of people. Typically, these depicted kings or nobles. Examples: [Example 1] Scroll through the pages to see the full painting (originally one long scroll) [Example 2] [Example 3]. After the initial draft was finished, the Emperor wasn’t satisfied and said: ‘The appearance of the buildings aren’t bad, but the style of the servants’ clothes in the painting do not match the time period.’ 

“Hence, the female officials from the Palace Wardrobe Service’s Style Bureau [5]One of the bureaus of the Department of Internal Affairs composed of female officials or court ladies. Read more in my glossary of Characters, Place Names, and Rankings or my post on Ancient Ranks and Titles. were ordered to explain the particulars of the palace uniforms to us. They even demonstrated how to arrange the hairstyles for us to see. To style the hair, the maids were put into pairs. One person helped the other to coil the hair and add hair ornaments. Among them was a twelve or thirteen-year-old girl. She looked so lovely and cute, but for some reason, tears ran down her face as she combed. I found the sight strange and asked her the reason. 

“She replied: ‘The sparrows that I was raising died this morning.’ Her voice was low and quivering and I truly felt sympathetic towards her, seeing her like this. So I promised her that the following day I would give her a sparrow that wouldn’t die. 

“That night, I painted a wagtail and gave it to her the next day. She was pleasantly surprised and thanked me profusely. Her skin was slightly pale and, at the time, her cheeks were slightly red. Even the middle section around the bridge of her nose was a somewhat childish rosy colour. It was like hibiscus in the light of the autumn dawn ⎯ marvellous to behold. 

“So, I smiled and asked her: ‘What kind of rouge does Miss use? What is the name of the makeup look you put on?’ 

“She was shy and didn’t answer. I didn’t continue pressing her, but I asked her to wear this look again in the future. I wanted to paint her into the merry-making painting. For the next few days, she did indeed use the same style of makeup and continued until I had finished painting.” 

I nodded and replied: “The Palace Wardrobe Service’s Style Bureau is responsible for creams and oils, bathing, fabric, hairstyles, outfits, and other ornaments. Coming up with a new makeup look is probably also one of their responsibilities.” 

Cui Bai laughed and said: “But I only found out later that her look wasn’t painted on…… On the last day that the maids from the Palace Wardrobe Service came to the Fine Arts Institute, she was absent. I asked her companions and they told me that although her skin was more pale and fair than most, it was highly reactive. If the weather changed, or if she ate something her body couldn’t take, her face would turn red. The day I asked her about her makeup, she had first gone to do Zhao’rong Miao’s makeup and style her hair. Zhao’rong Miao incidentally rewarded her with a prepared pomegranate. She normally couldn’t eat this kind of hot property and sour food, but she had no choice but to eat it so that Zhao’rong Miao would not lose face. Her cheeks then flushed red, as if they’d been applied with rouge.” [6]In traditional Chinese medicine (the generally accepted Chinese outlook on food), food is also considered to be a form of medicine, with some having more medicinal effects than others. Each food has a temporal property/energy/nature associated with it. This isn’t according to the actual temperature of the food itself but rather its effects on the human body after consumption. There are five temporal properties: Cold, Cool, Neutral, Warm, and Hot. Eating too much of one property causes imbalance and affects a person’s immune system. There are also five flavours: Sour, Bitter, Sweet, Spicy, and Salty, and each of these are associated with a colour and element that correspond to a different organ in the body. Again, eating too much of one flavour/colour food can risk damage to its associated organ. Every temporal property, flavour, colour, and element is associated with yin or yang energy and the ultimate goal is to keep the body in balance. Everyone has a unique body composition so Chinese medicine treatment is often tailored to what you specifically need. To apply it here, it seems that Maid Dong’s body has naturally more hot property, so if she eats more hot property foods (e.g. pomegranate – warm), her skin is prone to flushing. Eating cold property foods would be more beneficial to her. If you’re interested in reading more~ Two great explanations of food from a TCM perspective: [Deutsche Welle Article] [Article by Prof. Dang Yi at the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine] | Infographic of food in each of the five properties | 2020 journal article linking TCM hot/cold properties to food composition

I had an idea of what happened: “Then those next few days, she purposely ate hot property foods to maintain the same appearance and told you that her look was applied for you to paint?”

Cui Bai nodded and sighed: “As a result, the internal heat was too much, causing discomfort in her whole body. In the end, she finally fell ill. Since that time, I haven’t seen her again. I still feel guilty about this matter, hence I recently worked on this new painting and wanted to give it to her to express my apologies.” 

I inquired about the girl’s name. Cui Bai said, “Her last name is Dong. I heard the other maids call her ‘Qiuhe’.” 

I promised to definitely give her the painting once more. Since I was extremely familiar with him, I casually joked: “When I saw you take out a painted scroll earlier, I thought that you meant to give this painting to me.” 

Cui Bai gave a hearty laugh: “I dare not forget about your half-eminence! I originally wanted to select one of my best works to present to you. I hummed and hawed, but I didn’t see any that weren’t embarrassing to give to you. But I’ll definitely keep this matter in mind. I’ll definitely paint a good one and give it to you next time.”

After Cui Bai had left, I immediately headed for the Palace Wardrobe Service to look for Maid Dong, but she wasn’t there at the moment. From the Palace Wardrobe Service, [I searched] the Imperial Pharmacy, the Imperial Brewery, the Imperial Transportation Service, and the Imperial Food Service. [7]See List of Place Names for more information. They were all located in the northeast of the Imperial Palace, not far from the Interior Department. Later on, I visited several times, but I wasn’t able to find her. According to the other maids, Maid Dong was very detail-oriented and skilled with her hands, so all the imperial concubines liked to request her to style their hair. Usually, she would not return until dusk.

Even though I was a eunuch, it was still improper to search for a palace maid after dark. Passing on a painting on behalf of a palace outsider would arouse suspicion of a clandestine romance, [8]私相授受之嫌 this literally translates to “suspicion of giving/receiving personal items”, but it also has scandalous undertones. There’s another Chinese idiom which is 男女授受不亲, meaning that men and women shouldn’t interact too intimately with one another, otherwise it would go against proper etiquette. This stems from Confucian ethics which restricted communication and contact between men and women. For example, it was considered improper for men and women to directly hand items to each other or to have physical contact generally. The idea was to maintain a certain degree of etiquette, including respect for one another and allowing the other party to save face. The smallest suspicion of this nature was especially serious for women since a successful marriage rode on their reputation. It wasn’t always taken as seriously for men, but the good ones still followed it. You might see dramas where a woman seeking power and status makes sure that she and her target are seen in a compromising position and/or a scandalous rumour goes around about them, forcing the man to take responsibility and marry her (if he was honourable). Therefore, being tactful and subtle was considered the proper way to express one’s feelings or affection. This kind of understanding about human interaction has been passed down through the generations and is a prominent element of Chinese culture. so it was inconvenient to leave the painting with another maid and ask them to pass it on instead. Thus, this matter was temporarily put on hold. 

One day, after I finished an assignment for the Fine Arts Institute, I returned back to the living quarters for the Exterior Department. When I arrived at the side door connecting the Exterior Department, the Department of Internal Affairs, and where the Emperor handles governmental affairs, I saw that there was an apprentice eunuch who was about my age up ahead. He held a brocade box in one hand, and the other was pressed against his abdomen. He was bent over and crouching, leaning against the wall with an expression of agony on his face. 

I hurried over and asked him what was wrong. He said that it felt like his stomach was twisting and he feared it might be stomach flu. I wanted to help him to get to the Imperial Pharmacy but he kept waving his hand in refusal, saying: “The newly appointed Case Reviewer in the Court of Judicial Review, [9]大理寺 (dàlísī) The Court of Judicial Review was the highest judiciary power in Imperial China. It changed names quite a few times. In the Song dynasty, the court was given the authority to review serious cases throughout the empire. Read more if you like. the forthright Sima Guang from the Imperial Academy is highly regarded, therefore the Emperor has summoned him for an audience many times. Today, after hearing him give a lecture at the Pavillion of Adjacent Talent, His Majesty was greatly pleased and bestowed him a colourful glazed cup. [10]琉璃盏 (liúli zhān) 琉璃 = coloured glass or ceramic glaze, 盏 = a small cup or the classifier for lamps. Sometimes 琉璃盏 is called a colourful glass lamp or colourful glass lamp. Coloured glazed pottery (likely Ding ware, Ru ware, or Ancient Chinese glass) is one of China’s famous artifacts and one of the seven treasures of Buddhism. In ancient times, this material was used exclusively by the imperial royal family and was considered a mystical object representing Heaven. It is said to bring good fortune, health and peace. In Chinese mythology, it’s considered the treasure of the God of Wealth since the earliest cornucopia in the legend is also made of coloured glaze => why it brings fortune. In Buddhism, it is said that coloured glaze can illuminate the darkness of the Three Realms => why it brings health and safety. [Image 1] | [Image 2] Second image | Source: Baike The evidence of the bestowment was delivered to the Auditing Bureau for verification and that wasted quite a bit of time. A moment ago, I just came from the Imperial Warehouse to fetch it. Presently, His Majesty has already returned to the Hall of Tranquil Blessings, but Sir Sima is still waiting at Pavillion of Adjacent Talent. I originally intended to quickly head over to give it to him, then felt a sudden malaise……This elder brother, could you send over the colourful glazed cup on my behalf? The Imperial Pharmacy is nearby. I can walk over by myself.”  

I hesitated somewhat and he insistently urged me, looking very anxious. Finally, I agreed, took the brocade box and proceeded in the direction of the Pavilion of Adjacent Talent.

In the pavilion, there was a lean man sitting dignifiedly in wait. He appeared quite young and had probably only assumed his post for a few years. However, his gaze was serious, looking old and wise. Seeing me come in, he raised his eyes to look at me with an alert gaze. 

I hesitated and softly called out, “Sir Sima”, only after seeing him nod did I approach with relief. I bowed and presented the brocade box to him. [11]锦盒 (jǐnhé) A small brocade box or case typically used to store gifts or precious items. See Image. I associate them with yin yang health balls.

He turned to look in the direction of the Hall of Tranquil Blessings and bowed respectfully in thanks before accepting it and slowly opening the brocade box. 

In the brief instant that the lid of the box opened, his expression swiftly changed to one of shock. I saw that his expression looked strange, so I craned my head to look inside. A jolt of surprise passed through me like a thunderbolt and I stood there dumbfounded, at a loss for what to do. 

The colour of the glazed cup inside the box was luminous and iridescent, but it had already been split into two. 

My mind blanked for a moment, followed by a jumble of incoherent thoughts: It wasn’t me…… It wasn’t me…… I had held the brocade box steady all along without once dropping it…… A moment ago, I unexpectedly forgot to ask for that apprentice eunuch’s name…… Finding him wouldn’t help, either. I simply had no way to prove that the colourful glazed cup was already broken before it was handed to me……

At this moment, the pavilion doors opened wide and a flood of eunuchs entered. The last one to come in was the Assistant Omniscient Chamberlain of the Interior Department of Service, Ren Shouzhong.

Ren Shouzhong’s hands were clasped behind his back as he slowly walked to my side. 

“You little brat, [you] broke a treasure bestowed by the Emperor……” He said with a gloomy expression. Suddenly, he turned to one side and signalled the eunuchs around him. Immediately, someone stepped forward and forced me to the ground on my knees.

Ren Shouzhong bowed towards Sima Guang and said: “According to palace tradition if a eunuch damages an item bestowed to a minister, the minister is free to deal with that eunuch as he sees fit. Whether this brat is to be beaten or expelled, Sir just has to say the word.”

I was powerless to defend myself. It felt like I had returned to that time in my childhood when I had been locked in the dark room. My vision blurred, my thoughts clouded, and it felt like death loomed closer with each breath I took. I lowered my head and stared blankly at the glow of sunset that peeked through the window, unsure if I could live to see the bright sun of tomorrow.

After what felt like an eternity, I finally heard a voice.

“Let him go,” said Sima Guang.

“Pardon?” Ren Shouzhong stuttered, thinking he’d heard wrong.

“Let him go,” Sima Guang repeated firmly. His tone was unusually calm.

Ren Shouzhong frowned, still in disbelief: “Just let him go like this? The death penalty wouldn’t be out of the question for having damaged an item bestowed by the Emperor.”

“How could a trinket be more valuable than a person’s life?” Sima Guang lightly said, “This half-eminence is still young. Accidentally stumbling and breaking the colourful glazed cup shouldn’t be considered so grave a mistake.” 

Ren Shouzhong appeared troubled: “But, His Majesty……”

“If His Majesty asks about it, please reply with these two sentences.” Sima Guang briefly paused, then said: “‘One should not brandish a jade wine vessel’ [12]爵 (jué) is an ancient wine holder with three legs and a loop handle, typically made with bronze. See image. – I remember hearing this at a past banquet. After all, colourful clouds disperse easily, hence this person’s mistakes ought to be forgiven.” [13]Sima Guang’s words: 玉爵弗挥,典礼虽闻于往记;彩云易散,过差宜恕于斯人。’玉爵弗挥’is a phrase from the Book of Rites, Chapter 1 – Summary of the Rules of Propriety Part 1 (One of the Five Classics that form part of the traditional Confucian canon). Since jade is valuable, one shouldn’t brandish a jade wine vessel for fear of accidentally dropping it and causing it to break. ‘彩云’ Colourful clouds are a metaphor for beautiful things or happy times. Together, ‘彩云易散’ means that beautiful things are fragile or happiness is fleeting. Basically, Sima Guang is saying: One should not be careless because beautiful things are fragile to begin with. Since the cup is already broken, in light of that, this person’s mistakes ought to be forgiven.

The post of a Case Reviewer in the Court of Judicial Review was considered an entry-level official post in the capital. It was only a principal eighth rank post. [14]Ancient Chinese officials were classified into nine ranks via the Nine-Rank System [九品中正制 (jiǔpǐn zhōngzhèngzhì) or 九品官人法 (jiǔpǐn guānrénfǎ)] where those directly under the Emperor were of the first rank while county judicial officers or other low-level officials were of the ninth rank. Some ranks were further divided into principal [正 (zhèng)], deputy [從 (cóng)], upper [上 (shàng)], and lower [下 (xià)] grades. So here, Sima Guang’s rank is the highest within the eighth rank but still low overall. For a high-ranking eunuch like Ren Shouzhong who was used to facing powerful executive ministers, perhaps it was not even worth mentioning. Sir Sima’s tone of voice was mild and his demeanour appeared gentle and refined. He did not use his power or influence to mistreat others. However, as a tacit man, [his words] unexpectedly carried a different sort of power. It felt like once the words were spoken, any opposition would not be tolerated. 

Ren Shouzhong repeatedly searched Sir Sima’s face up and down, seeming like he wanted to say something, but then hesitated. In the end, he finally withdrew resentfully.

Only Sir Sima and I were left in the pavilion. I tearfully knelt and bowed: “Huaiji can’t thank Sir Sima enough for saving this one’s life. This eunuch will engrave your kindness into this one’s memory forever.”

He reached out with both hands to assist me up, and then smiled, saying: “No need for that…… Just make sure you’re more cautious in the future.”

I nodded: “Huaiji will remember Sir’s teachings.”

“Huaiji?” He paused, then immediately asked, “Are you the half-eminence from the Hanlin Classical Institute, Liang Huaiji?”

“Yes, I used to work in the Classical Institute for several years. Afterwards, I was transferred to the Hanlin Fine Arts Institute.” I answered, feeling flabbergasted, and asked, “How does Sir know……”

“I heard Sir Sun Zhihan mention you before.” He said. His expression towards me became increasingly good-natured.

When I was still working in the Hanlin Classical Institute two winters ago, I had an assignment where I transcribed past officials’ memorials. Afterwards, they were sent to the Imperial Bureau of Information [15]Previously translated as ‘the Secret Pavilion’. I found more information on it – Check out the list of characters and place names. for editing before they were filed away in a warehouse. 

When red snow fell from the sky and the country was facing a disastrous earthquake, Remonstrance Official Sun Fu (Courtesy name: Zhihan) had once sent a memorial to the Emperor pointing out that indulging Beautiful Lady Zhang too much foreshadowed a disaster. She had no regard for the polygamous hierarchy and was extravagant in her use of daily items, causing heaven to send a warning sign. [16]According to this article’s abstract, red snow is actually an extremely rare natural phenomenon. Since ancient times, it was always regarded as an auspicious sign and associated with politics. However, Sun Fu saw it as a bad omen. The author, He Qiang, notes that Sun Fu’s writing reflected some changes in people’s political ideas and political practice from the Middle Ages to the Northern Song Dynasty. 

In his written statement, he quoted Chancellor Zhang Hangcheng in the Old Book of Tang [17]200 scrolls chronicling the history of the early Tang dynasty. It’s the sixteenth of the Twenty-Four (Dynastic) Histories, a collection of official historical books on Chinese dynastic history from 3000 BC to the 17th century. when he admonished Emperor Gaozhong to stay away from vile women, saying: “Treacherous women use power for their own ends. If ministers scheme, it would be more accurate to say that their schemes are being manipulated from the shadows.”

With a wrong brushstroke, he wrote “(to visit [a superior])” as “遏 (to restrain).” I discovered it while copying and privately corrected the word. Afterwards, when the Imperial Archives compared the original text to the copy, the staff noticed the revision and asked Sun Fu for his opinion. Sir Sun Fu stated that he was ashamed and acknowledged that it was his own fault. He didn’t take offence that I had changed his words of my own accord. Instead, he offered high praise and told many people about what happened. 

“Has your half-eminence read the Old Book of Tang?” asked Sir Sima. His manner of speaking seemed to imply his admiration.

I hesitated slightly before slowly nodding my head in response, replying: “When Chancellor Jia compiled and revised the books in the Hall of Benevolence, he gave lectures to the eunuchs in Hanlin Imperial Academy on the Classics and history. I sat in on the lectures and later borrowed one or two books that were mentioned many times in various ministers’ memorials to read……” 

The Hall of Benevolence was where the current dynasty’s princes studied. When Chancellor Jia Changchao was revising the books in the Hall of Benevolence, he gathered a few civil officials to give lectures to the eunuchs in Hanlin Imperial Academy, wanting them to participate in the work of revising the books. However, later Remonstrance Official Wu Yu submitted a memorial to oppose the idea, saying that educating the eunuchs would easily lead to disaster wrought by them participating in political affairs. Consequently, the Emperor ordered that the education of the eunuchs be suspended.    

Since that time, whether to nurture the eunuchs to become properly educated Confucian scholars or to let them remain ignorant servants of the Imperial Family has been a topic of debate in the Imperial Court between supporters of both sides.

Hearing me bring up an old matter, Sir Sima’s expression looked somewhat indolent and he was silent for a while before saying: “There is no need to study a lot. The most important task of an imperial official is to serve the imperial family. Knowing how to read a few characters and providing the Imperial Court with daily necessities is enough.”  

I nodded and affirmed. He gazed at me attentively and asked: “How old are you?”

“Fourteen this year,” I replied.

He sighed with regret and lightly shook his head, saying: “What a pity.”

I naturally understood what he meant by, “What a pity.” If I was a eunuch who had yet to undergo castration, he would have undoubtedly encouraged me to study more for the sake of supporting the nation in the future. Unfortunately, my fate was sealed the moment the palace gates closed behind me, crushing any dreams of serving my country or upholding my family name. 

I figured that Ren Shouzhong would have already sent a memorial to the Emperor by now, but I saw no sight of any punishment being handed down yet. The Interior Department only deducted three months of my salary as a reprimand. As far as I was concerned, this had practically no impact [on my life]. Since I had lived in the palace for a long time, there was basically no need to use money. My accumulated salary over many years was nothing to sniff at either. Sometimes I would sit and look at the filled box of money in a daze. Thinking about my past and my future, it felt like I lacked everything fundamental in life, destitute to the point where only money remained.  

I told my good friend Zhang Chengzhao about the incident with the coloured glazed cup. Zhang Chengzhao had been working in the Classical Institute up until now and had a good grasp of the cabinet ministers’ character and temperament. 

After he heard what had happened, he clicked his tongue and sighed, “It was lucky that the one you encountered was Sima Guang, who is a well-known straight shooter who knows to save someone after smashing pottery. If you had met someone like Wu Yu, who is difficult to deal with, even if you didn’t die you would have still had your skin flayed. Last time when he and Chancellor Jia were arguing in Court again, the two quarrelled so badly they came just short of exchanging blows. The Emperor, who was anxious, wanted to descend from his throne to mediate several times, but he was stopped by Omniscient Chamberlain Ren……” 

Speaking until here, he frowned, as if he had suddenly realized something, and asked: “According to what you just told me, just when Sir Sima had opened the box, Omniscient Chamberlain Ren had led people inside?”

I confirmed, faintly sensing that something wasn’t right. 

“How could there be such a coincidence?! Omniscient Chamberlain Ren isn’t a custodial team member for the Hall of Adjacent Talent who would linger there all day. That said, why did he bring people to arrest you just as you discovered that the colourful glazed cup was cracked in two? Clearly someone wanted to frame you for this matter!”

I remained silent and Zhang Chengzhao asked again: “Have you offended someone recently?”

Have I? I thought about it. In terms of things that could be regarded as an offense, there was only the matter with Beautiful Lady Zhang.

I told him about the matter with Princess Fukang. Zhang Chengzhao’s eyes widened in shock: ”You upstaged Beautiful Lady Zhang, and then compared her to Zhao Feiyan?! Who in the palace doesn’t know that she is a vengeful master who never lets go of the smallest grievance?!” [18]睚眦必报 (yázìbìbào) An expression describing someone who is petty and narrow-minded who will retaliate even for the smallest of grievances, like looking at them the wrong way.

I replied: “Since I already saw the events that happened that night, if I didn’t tell the truth, then was I supposed to let Beautiful Lady Zhang falsely accuse the Princess?”

Zhang Chengzhao sighed: “The Princess is His Majesty’s beloved daughter. Putting aside whether or not she actually did it, even if she had actually harmed Beautiful Lady Zhang, what do you think His Majesty would do to her? When the masters fight, the ones who suffer are always the servants. Under these circumstances, you shouldn’t say anything.” 

I lowered my eyes and took in the advice. I made no rebuttal and only said: “I hadn’t thought that much about it.”

Zhang Chengzhao looked at me exasperatedly with an expression of pity: “No wonder your situation is getting worse and worse the longer you stay in the palace.”

He referred to me being “demoted” from the Classical Institute to the Fine Arts Institute and even proclaimed that I would be set up again. However, the outcome astonished him: One month later, I was transferred to work in the Privy Council to organize documents and pass on messages.  

The Privy Council was located in the southwest area of the Imperial Palace. Just like the Secretariat-Chancellery and the Three Ducal Ministers, it was a crucial central institution of government. The Secretariat-Chancellery governed civil affairs, the Privy Council oversaw the military, and the Three Ducal Ministers managed finances. These three offices were where almost all administrative affairs were carried out for important ministers in Court and it was the objective of practically every literate eunuch in Hanlin Imperial Academy. As a result, my transfer this time was tantamount to a promotion. 

Later on, I learned that it was Sir Sima Guang who had recommended me to the Deputy Military Affairs Commissioner, Pang Ji, with whom he was close. When it came to the important task of overseeing the military, it was of vital importance that there were no mistakes in writing. I had a good foundation that was sufficient enough to be qualified for undertaking similar work.  

Owing to the fact that my heart was filled with fond memories towards Sir Sima and that I had held onto my reverence and gratitude towards him for many years, even if later there was a day when he criticized me in front of the Emperor as someone whose “crimes have grown as tall as a mountain who should be severely punished for his sins”, I bore him no hatred.


TL Thoughts:

Hello! It’s been a while~

I hope you enjoyed the chapter. The more I translate this novel, the more impressed I am at how much attention to detail and research Mi Lan Lady put into writing this. Most people, even Cui Bai, were based on actual historical figures. Translating this project is slow, but very rewarding (^- v -^)s The writing is just so good!!

Thanks to everyone who commented about how helpful the footnotes are. I’ll keep adding them. As you can see, I had to research lots of things while translating this, sometimes falling into a research rabbit hole and maybe doing too deep a dive for some topics. Sorry if the footnotes are lengthy. Please let me know if you’d like them to be more concise. 

There are a lot of new characters, place names and ranks mentioned in this chapter. I’ve added them all to the list of characters, place names and rankings for this novel. If you’re ever worried about translation progress, you could probably just check when that page was last updated. I constantly refer and add to it as I’m translating.

Some TL team updates: 

  • I’m super happy to announce that the Nyanovels TL team has a new member!!! Please welcome Saltnpepper as a TL Assistant! Their bio will be coming soon~
  • I mentioned this in my April TL Goals post but Silverylazes has stepped back somewhat because of other commitments. They will still help translate chapters when they can.
  • In terms of a planned release schedule for this novel, I will aim for it monthly or bi-monthly. I’m in my last semester of school now, so capstone projects etc. mean that I’ll be busier. I’m so sorry for the long wait for this chapter! Thank you for your infinite patience.

Last but not least, some much-appreciated thank-yous:


Thank you eloquent Nuffian, umiyuki493, for helping me with some of the research in this chapter and helping me find the right translation for all of these fancy new place names!


I’m very grateful to Cynthia for being the first one to donate for Held in the Lonely Castle!!
Thank you so much for your generosity and kindness!


Until next time,



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List of Characters, Place Names and Ranks


  • Initially, I was a bit prejudiced against Sir Sima before reading this part. He is a great official indeed but I wish Huaji and Huirou had a happy ending. This novel just breaks my heart. Thank you so much for undergoing such pains to translate this!

    • Hi Light of Dawn, This is a bit late but thank you so much for taking the time to comment! It really brightened my day!

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