Why Harem Intrigue When You Can Just Raise A Dog Instead? (Chp 57)
Chapter 57: Mismatched Opponent (憋屈)
Translators: Silverylazes & Nyamachi
Translation checker: Nyamachi
English proofreader: JimmyfromIT
Entering the small prayer hall with Nurse Jin leading the way, Emperor Zhou’wu greeted the Empress Dowager and paid his respects. Looking all around the room, he couldn’t help but frown slightly after seeing that the prayer hall was dimly lit with a lifeless atmosphere.
“Empress Mother, this hall is cramped and has poor airflow. Long-term, Zhen is afraid that it will harm your honoured self’s health. Why not open the window on the west side to let some sunlight in?” Supporting the Empress Dowager to sit on the host’s seat, he offered advice in a low voice.
The Empress Dowager stared at him bemusedly for a while before commenting, “Virtuous Consort said the exact same thing when she came by this morning. When did you two become so close? Aijia remembers that you couldn’t stand her before.”
“The past is the past. How can it represent the present?” Emperor Zhou’wu lowered his head and took a sip of tea in order to conceal the uncontrollable curve of his mouth. It was as if his heart, that had been burning with anger, had been doused with sweet nectar, leaving a faint taste of sweetness. After living inseparably for five months, how couldn’t they have developed an uncommonly deep mutual understanding? He was convinced that he was the best match for Sangyu!
The Empress Dowager glanced at him meaningfully and waited for him to put down his cup of tea before gently asking, “Cai’ren Li outside was your doing, wasn’t it?”
“Yes,” Emperor Zhou’wu cordially confessed in an easy-going manner, tapping the table. “Empress Mother, if your honoured self needs someone to accompany you, your son believes that she is the most suitable person to do so. No one will be more dedicated than her at chanting sutras and waiting upon you, for she is a person with no other options left. Why don’t you let Sangyu stay behind? She is your son’s future Empress, your son’s future wife. How could she go with your honoured self to Thousand Buddha Mountain to abstain from meat and pray to Buddha?”
“She is not fit to be Empress.” The Empress Dowager handled her Buddhist prayer beads as she voiced her disapproval.
“She has the aptitude, temperament, and the wits to get things done – how is she unsuitable? Sangyu is outstanding! Your honoured self ought to be able to see that, Empress Mother.” Emperor Zhou’wu’s eyes were slightly lowered.
“Her family background isn’t suitable. Aren’t you afraid that the Meng family’s achievements will overshadow the royal family and her relatives will monopolize power?” sneered the Empress Dowager. Her words were filled with ridicule.
“What do you mean by ‘achievement’s overshadowing the royal family’? Outside relatives seizing power is just an excuse to cover up the monarch’s incompetence. How can one control the world, if one can’t even control their own subjects? It was your son that was narrow-minded in the past!” Emperor Zhou’wu looked steadily at the Empress Dowager with a solemn expression.
The Empress Dowager looked at him for a long time and sighed deeply. If only the Late Emperor could have thought this way…… She shook her head and reminded herself that the past had already become a memory. She couldn’t bring herself to look back.
“Go, call Cai’ren Li inside and boil a bowl of ginger soup for her to drink. Tell her that Aijia gives Our consent.” The Empress Dowager waved her hand at Nurse Jin, finally convinced by her son.
“However, since Aijia has already spoken, Virtuous Consort will still stay at Ci’ning Palace to accompany Us in chanting sutras until Aijia leaves the palace.” Glimpsing the joy overflowing from her son’s eyes, the corner of the Empress Dowager’s mouth curved upwards as she threw cold water [on his excitement] at the right moment.
“Of course!” Emperor Zhou’wu’s expression stiffened as replied through gritted teeth.
The Empress Dowager’s smile deepened. At that moment, news arrived from outside that Virtuous Consort had finished putting things in order and came to Ci’ning Palace to pay her respects.
“Your son will speak with her alone for a while and will borrow Empress Mother’s side palace hall.” Without waiting for the Empress Dowager to consent, Emperor Zhou’wu got up and left in a hurry.
Looking at his rushing figure, the Empress Dowager shook her head helplessly, but her eyes showed utter relief. The Late Emperor once said that a monarch should walk the path of ruthlessness in order to bring about a century of greatness. She had never agreed with that. How could a monarch who was ruthless and unfeeling love his subjects as his own children? How could he show love to everyone under heaven equally? She had always felt pity for the Late Emperor. Fortunately, her son had not followed in his footsteps and ended up spending his last years alone, isolated from his family.
Cai’ren Li was shivering outside the hall with a pale face as she struggled to drink the bowl of ginger soup in her hands. “Cai’ren Li? Why are you here?” Catching sight of Li Shujing, Meng Sangyu walked over and inquired. A sense of foreboding filled her heart.
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“This servant greets Your Ladyship. Cai’ren Li uses 妾身 (qièshēn) to refer to herself as opposed to 本宫 (běngōng) like before. This can mean concubine or servant, depending on who the speaker is talking to. Since she’s a much lower-ranked concubine compared to MSY, we used servant here. Similar to 臣妾，小女 etc., it’s deprecatory self-reference for women. This servant has come to accompany the Empress Dowager chant sutras.” Li Shujing put down the bowl and saluted. Her attitude was extremely respectful. Her lofty and unyielding character had been broken inch by inch long ago.
Moreover, she ought to be grateful to Virtuous Consort. If it weren’t for the sake of replacing Virtuous Consort, the Emperor wouldn’t have given her and her son this way out. By following the Empress Dowager to Thousand Buddha Mountain and leaving behind the endlessly contentious Inner Palace and Imperial Court, it would be possible to protect her son and allow him to grow up safely in spite of her lowly status.
Hearing her reply, Meng Sangyu’s heart sank, knowing that things had gone awry.
“Sangyu, come with Zhen. Zhen has something to say to you.” Emperor Zhou’wu stood at the entrance of the hall with his hands folded behind him as he called out in a deep voice.
You’re here again to mess up this lady’s plans! What are you trying to do, you crazy Emperor?! Meng Sangyu secretly ground her teeth, but a gentle and beautiful smile spread across her face as she walked over and followed the man into the side hall.
Li Shujing sighed with relief after receiving a satisfied look from the Emperor. A few moments later, the Empress Dowager’s imperial decree was issued. Seeing her own rank ascend to the position of Zhao’yi, she smiled for the first time in days.
“Your Majesty, is Cai’ren Li also accompanying the Empress Dowager to Thousand Buddha Mountain?” Upon entering the side hall, Meng Sangyu didn’t even curtsy to greet him before asking about the matter that concerned her the most. She could see that the current Emperor held some affection for her and she had always been good at seizing the occasion. It was okay to act carefreely now and then.
“You ought to call her Zhao’yi Li now.” Emperor Zhou’wu sat down in the seat of honour and patted the spot beside him. His eyes were so serene that they were almost unrecognizable, making Meng Sangyu’s hair stand on end.
Sitting down next to him, the smile on Meng Sanyu’s face was slightly stiff.
Emperor Zhou’wu gazed sideways at her and brushed his fingertips over her chapped lips. He beckoned Chang’xi, who was guarding the door, “Have you finished warming up Her Ladyship’s medicine? Bring it over once it’s done.”
This afternoon, the female physicians had sent over medicine multiple times, but they had all been dismissed by Nurse Feng on the grounds that ‘Virtuous Consort was still sound asleep.’ They probably thought that this medicine was the same as the previous abortion soup and hated the fact that they couldn’t shatter every bowl that arrived.
When Emperor Zhou’wu heard the news, he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. He held in his anger with no way to express it himself. This was no one else’s fault but his own. He could only blame himself for his previous sins!
“Your Majesty…… ” Meng Sangyu licked her lips and tried to speak, but the man’s fingertip pressed against her lips in a silencing gesture.
“Whatever you have to say can wait until you’ve finished drinking the medicine. If Zhen forgets, won’t the servants at your side remind you? If you don’t know how to take care of your body when its already this weak, how will you bear Zhen an heir in the future?” He seemed displeased as he chided her, but his tone was extremely gentle. He took the bowl of medicine handed to him by Chang’xi and picked up the spoon, looking as if he intended to feed her himself.
Meng Sangyu slightly leaned to the side to avoid it and spoke in a tender voice, “It’s too bitter to drink by the spoonful. It’s more bearable to down it in one gulp.”
“Mm, drink slowly. Be careful not to burn yourself.” The man agreed and handed her the bowl of medicine, watching her gulp it down. Her throat made a gurgling sound that was unspeakably lovely to the ears. He couldn’t help but drop his head and let out a low chuckle. This woman wanted to leave him by any means possible, yet he still desired to hold her, protect her, please her… No matter how furious he became, it would turn to pleasure at the mere sight of her. She was truly fated to be his mismatched opponent.
“Your Majesty, Zhao’yi Li…” Putting down the medicine bowl, Meng Sangyu intended to bring back the conversation to the previous topic. As for the part about conceiving an heir, hell no!
The man wiped the medicinal broth from the corner of her mouth with a handkerchief, gave her a meaningful glance, and spoke slowly, “Zhao’yi Li is staying at Ci’ning Palace for the next few days and will accompany the Empress Dowager to chant sutras alongside with you.” Seeing her cheerful expression, his lips curved into a smile and added, “When the Empress Dowager returns to Thousand Buddha Mountain, she’ll take the Second Prince along with her.”
“What about this concubine?” Meng Sangyu tugged at his sleeve. Her eyes revealed a bit of worry.
Emperor Zhou’wu smiled slightly and took her cold hand, wrapping it in his palm to warm it up. He waited until he felt her body temperature rise slightly before saying in a satisfied manner, “Obviously, you’ll stay behind to manage the Inner Palace for Zhen.”
“Your Majesty, although this concubine has assisted with managing palace affairs in the past, they were all trifling matters. To give this concubine so many large palaces to manage… this concubine fears she is not up to the task.” Meng Sangyu tried her best to keep her voice calm without sounding like she was gnashing her teeth in anger.
“You can ask the Empress Dowager for guidance in your spare time while you accompany her to chant sutras during these next few days. Once your body recovers, Zhen will hand the Empress’ treasured seal over to you. Apart from you, Zhen cannot find a suitable candidate. No one else has the qualifications.” Emperor Zhou’wu played with her delicate white fingers. His voice was calm and indifferent, but when you listened carefully, there were a few hints of coldness.
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Meng Sangyu lowered her eyes. It just occurred to her that she was the only one out of the high-ranking imperial concubines who had not been defiled by that substitute. The others had long since become ‘spoiled goods’ in the Emperor’s mind, women who were dishonourable and unchaste. The fact that he hadn’t already dealt with them in secret could already be considered an act of benevolence. How could he possibly allow them to manage palace affairs as well? After taking everything into consideration, she was indeed the best candidate to manage the Inner Palace! Owing to this fact, the Empress Dowager would likely have not agreed to take her away.
Damn it! What the hell! Such a great day was ruined just like that!
Seeing the situation she was in, Meng Sangyu wanted to flip the table and roar! Just as her brows pursed together, they immediately relaxed again. Bringing out a beaming smile, she calmly said, “Since Your Majesty trusts this concubine, this concubine will certainly not let Your Majesty down.”
Managing the affairs of the palace? She may as well. After going to the trouble of managing the harem for two years, she wouldn’t have to worry about having a hard life after she lost his favour. In this palace, while imperial favour was a good thing, power and status were even better. If one path was blocked, she’d immediately switch tracks and find another. She would never let herself become trapped by narrow-minded thinking. The phrase here is 撞死在南墙上 (zhuàngsǐ zài nánqiáng shàng). ‘Running into the south wall’ is a metaphor for someone who is unwilling to be flexible. The south wall refers to the screen wall used to shield an entrance in traditional Chinese architecture. To enter/exit, you would have to go to the right or left. If you insist on going straight, you’d walk right into the screen.
Seeing her break free from her disappointment, frustration and despondency in an instant and face her feelings in such a perfect and natural manner, Emperor Zhou’wu could only sigh in admiration. He was somewhat grateful for Sangyu’s strong coping skills. It was precisely because of this that she was able to safely make it this far and that they had come across each other.
With a long sigh, Emperor Zhou’wu took the fake-smiling person into his arms, kissed the top of her hair and said softly, “Zhen knows you will not let Us down. Over these next few days, Zhen will send Imperial Physician Du to take care of you and the Empress Dowager. Take your medicine on time, rest regularly, and don’t think about anything. Zhen will come visit you every day, okay?”
How warm and secure this embrace was! Each reminder was brimming with a thick, enveloping warmth. Meng Sangyu’s false smile faded away, revealing a bewildered expression. If she hadn’t gone through three years surrounded by danger, 危机四伏 (wēijīsìfú) A Chinese idiom meaning that danger lurks on every side. exploitation and schemes, she might have been captured by this man’s gentle doting. But now, no matter what kind of agenda this man had for treating her like this, she wouldn’t let herself surrender. She had no control over her life, but her heart belonged to her alone.
Shedding her bewildered expression, she pretended to be docile as she agreed, raising her head with a hopeful look, “Your Majesty, if there is any news of Father at the border, your honoured self must tell this concubine.” She was afraid that this man would pay no heed to her father and had no choice but to to remind him again and again.
“Of course, Zhen will tell you at the first opportunity. Don’t worry.” He placed a tender kiss on her forehead. Thinking of the mountain of official business that he had to deal with in Qian’qing Palace, Emperor Zhou’wu had no choice but to let her go. “Zhen is leaving and will come see you tomorrow.”
“This concubine will see off your honoured self.” Meng Sangyu held his arm attentively, clinging to him like a cute, helpless bird. When she begged something of others, she would always play the part to the end.
Emperor Zhou’wu eyed the false curvature of her mouth with a crestfallen gaze, before lowering his head to hide the bitter smile on his face. When the two of them exited the hall, the Empress Dowager was standing in the corridor. She rolled a string of Buddhist prayer beads in her hand as she gently looked over at them. “Has the Emperor told you everything?”
“Yes.” replied Meng Sangyu softly.
“No flower can bloom for a hundred days and no one is good for a thousand days. 花无百日红，人无千日好 (huā wú bǎirì hóng, rén wú qiānrì hǎo) This phrase refers to impermanence – youth, beauty, love, happy times, human relationships. A good thing doesn’t last forever and lasting friendships are difficult to maintain. If you are still willing to come to Thousand Buddha Mountain to accompany Us in a few years, Aijia will send someone to fetch you.” With a meaningful smile, the Empress Dowager slowly stepped into the hall and Meng Sangyu’s delighted assenting voice rang out behind her.
Emperor Zhou’wu barely managed to suppress the anger in his heart and raised his head, revealing a slightly twisted smile. He pinched Sangyu’s delighted cheeks with force and flung his sleeves behind him as he strode away.
The mother-in-law spared no effort in abetting her daughter-in-law to become a nun, but the daughter-in-law actually still yearned to go through with it! The Emperor was certainly sulking! Chang’xi followed the man’s pace at a trot, feeling slightly consoled. He had thought he was miserable when he had been downgraded from being a secret guard to a eunuch, but he didn’t expect that the high and mighty Emperor was even more miserable than him.
Here is chapter 57! ^ ^
Tangerine, you were right!! Kudos for guessing ZW’s plan correctly!
Hehe~ I love how much delight the Empress Dowager is taking in her small revenge~ :3 It’s also nice to see the Emperor reflecting on his actions a bit. Poor Sangyu though… all that planning for almost nothing. She changed her thinking so fast though owo Admirable, indeed!
Until next time,