Held in the Lonely Castle (Chp 2 Part 1)

Chapter 2: Noticing You Since That Time We Met

Part 1 – Coin Toss (簸钱)

Translator: Nyamachi
Translation assistant:
Saltnpepper
English proofreader: JimmyfromIT
& Nyamachi

Princess Fu’kang followed Zhao’rong Miao to sit in the Yearning Phoenix Pavilion. When I entered the pavilion for the first time, the Princess was sitting in a circle on a finely made mat with three girls her age as they tossed coins for fun. The scattered copper coins jingled and the young ladies’ eyes followed their rise and fall. Their cheerful chattering didn’t cease. 

Seeing how excited they were, Ms. Han, who had led me inside, signalled that I shouldn’t disturb them and quietly took me to stand on the side. 

Looking over at the three girls who were impeccably dressed in high-quality clothing and hair ornaments, she quietly explained: “The one sitting in front of the Princess who is slightly older is the Empress’ adopted daughter, Miss Fan. The other two are Beautiful Lady Zhang’s adopted daughters. Miss Zhou is on the left and Miss Xu is on the right. They are the Princess’ playmates.”

I took note and looked at the Princess again. Right now, it was her turn to toss the coin. She cheerfully gathered the copper coins and held them in her hands before smiling at a playmate, saying: “Let’s add three chips this round!”

Zhao’rong Miao, who observed them, laughed: “The one who is losing the most here is you, yet you still dare to add more chips.” 

“This time I definitely won’t lose.” The Princess was brimming with confidence as she repeatedly urged her playmates to place their bets.

Miss Fan smiled and said: “Fine, three chips it is, but don’t cry if Your Highness loses.”

Immediately after three copper coins were placed on the table, Miss Zhou and Miss Xu placed their bets one after the other and also laughed, saying: “Who wouldn’t feel embarrassed after winning against the Princess so many times?”

Coin toss was a common game played by Great Song’s girls in their boudoirs. Every turn, a player would hold four or five copper coins in their hands, palms up. They would pinch a coin with their thumb and index finger while the leftover coins would rest in their palms. 

Next, they would shake them to adjust their position and angle and then they would toss the pinched coin upwards while flipping their hand to scatter the remaining coins. After catching the falling coin, they would toss it high again. 

This time, they would use the interval where the coin falls to rapidly manipulate and flip over a number of the coins on the ground. Before the coin falls, one must gather coins and cover them with their hand. Finally, they use the same hand that tossed the coin to immediately flip over and hold down the falling coin so that all the coins are covered. 

Then, the player would invite their companion to guess the number of coins that show heads. Whether or not their guess was correct would determine the winner. The key to the game is that the movement of one’s fingers must be dextrous, swiftly manipulating the copper coins in such a way that their opponent would be dazzled and guess incorrectly. [1]I used heads or tails here for convenience, but ancient-style coins would typically have a hole in the middle with writing on one or both sides. Here is an image of a coin from Emperor Renzong’s reign.    

Among the four, the Princess appeared to be the youngest. Hearing what was said, it seemed like she was used to losing, but this time, she was neither angry nor did she rebut when faced with the doubts of her mother and playmates. She only smiled and said, “Wait and see,” before tossing the coins in her palm and starting to play.  

Everyone fixed their gaze on the game, but looking at her tossing the coins, her movements were sloppy and her speed wasn’t fast either. They gradually smiled again: “And here we thought that Her Highness had some kind of special move up her sleeve……” 

“Okay!” The Princess suddenly cried out softly and held down the flipped coin. Eventually, both hands covered the coins. Since her movements were too energetic, she even leaned forward with her upper body, as if she had leapt forward, completely breaking the elegant sitting posture from just a moment ago.

Everyone couldn’t help but giggle and the pavilion filled with peals of laughter. The Princess didn’t get annoyed at all and continued to tightly press down on the coins. Looking about at her playmates, she seriously urged: “Guess quickly!”

Aiya, just now I was caught up in laughter and didn’t look closely in the end.” Miss Fan smiled and said, “I think it’s two heads and three tails.”

Miss Zhou guessed next: “It’s three heads and two tails.”

Miss Xu thought differently: “Four of them must be heads. I only didn’t see one coin clearly.”

“Then what is your final guess?” asked the Princess.

Miss Xu thought about it and replied: “Then my guess will be four heads and one tail.”

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The Princess’ eyes sparkled as her lips curved slightly. Her expression was one of holding back a satisfied smile. She still didn’t announce the result and turned to the rest of the people in the pavilion. “What about you all? There will be a reward if you guess correctly.” 

Everyone smiled and took advantage of the opportunity. Some guesses were the same as the three young ladies. Others also guessed one head and four tails or that they would all show tails. Practically every possibility was guessed.

I had yet to speak, but in the end, her gaze fell on me.

“Oh, Huaiji,” She actually called out my name. Even her voice sounded so natural as if she and I had known each other for a long time. “You came!” 

I walked forward a few steps and respectfully bowed as I greeted the Princess. I turned to the side to pay respects to the three young ladies as well. 

“At ease, at ease,” said the Princess with a smile. It was the first time that I heard a noble personage in the palace say these two solemn words so cheerfully, “Huaiji, you guess too.”

I hadn’t looked closely at her final movements as she tossed the coins, so I had no idea whether the coins covered by her hands showed heads or tails. However, I noticed that her hands covering the copper coins were not placed side by side. Instead, one hand was folded on the other with the back of the upper hand slightly arched.

As a result, I had an answer that was different from the rest: “This servant doesn’t know specifically how many coins show heads or tails, but among them, one of the coins ought to show neither heads nor tails.”

“Ah,” She was astonished and asked, “How did you know?”

She relaxed her hands. Underneath, a copper coin was sandwiched vertically between her thumb and forefinger; It indeed showed neither heads nor tails.

I smiled slightly and replied: “This servant guessed.”

She didn’t ask any more questions and happily held out her hands towards the other girls: “All of you guessed wrong, so hand over the money!”

Zhao’rong Miao purposely admonished her: “How could there be such a thing as an upright coin in both hands? Leaving aside the fact that you broke the rules, you still have the cheek to ask these young ladies for money!” 

Miss Fan also joked: “That’s right, we can’t give this money to you.”

Saying so, she acted as if she was about to take back the money placed as a bet. The Princess panicked and reached forward to grab the coins, sweeping them closer to her. She scrambled for the coins while laughing: “Put them down! Put them down! All of them are mine!” 

Everyone was only teasing her. They let her take all the money in the end.

The Princess gathered the coins in a pile in front of her and gazed at them while nodding with a satisfied smile. Then, she turned her head to say to me: “Huaiji, this money is your reward.” 

I lowered my eyes and said: “Just now, this servant only guessed correctly for one coin, but not all of them. This servant should not be awarded the money.” 

She thought for a while and replied: “That’s true.” She then pushed the money towards a playmate and smiled: “Then, you girls can share it. I won’t play anymore.” Following this, she sprang up and skipped towards me. “You, come with me. I have something to ask you.”  

Saying so, she headed outside first. Before I had even taken a step, there were already four or five eunuchs and maids following her. The Princess paused and turned back, ordering them: “No one move! Only Huaiji is allowed to follow me.”   

The servants looked at each other in dismay, but the Princess didn’t care in the least. She turned and came back to pull my hand: “Let’s go.”

I was quite embarrassed and wanted to withdraw my hand, but I was also afraid that she would consider this a breach of etiquette. While I was still hesitating, she had already pulled me out past the pavilion’s doors.

She kept pulling my hand until we reached the bank of the jade ford pond in the back garden. Her eyes shone with curiosity as she asked me: “Who is Jie’yu Ban?” 

This sudden question momentarily stumped me for words before I realized the connection between this question and the excuse I had made for her sake. I couldn’t stop myself from smiling and asked: “Isn’t she in the stories about virtuous women you’ve heard about, Princess?” 

“No,” She shook her head, “Afterwards, I asked Elder Sister, but she didn’t know. Later on, I asked Mother, but Mother said that I won’t encounter a situation like what happened with Jie’yu Ban in my whole life, so there was no need to know. Finally, I asked Daddy, who returned a question to me: ‘Do you remember the story you were told yesterday about Wei Country’s Grand Princess Imperial? Write it out and let Daddy look at it first.’” 

Wei Country’s Grand Princess Imperial was Emperor Taizong’s daughter. [2]Emperor Taizong was the second Emperor of the Song Dynasty. She was His Majesty’s paternal aunt and Princess Fu’kang’s grandaunt. There was nothing to criticize her about with regards to the Four Virtues. [3]See Ancient Chinese Glossary. She was a role model for the current dynasty’s women to follow and was repeatedly praised by the court officials. Naturally, there were many stories that described her filial piety, virtuous conduct, sensibility, and benevolence.

“Then, did Your Highness write something?” I asked.

She actually replied resolutely: “I did.” 

Seeing that her answer was clearly contrary to my expectations, she gave a satisfied smile and explained: “I only wrote a few words: Wei Country’s Grand Princess Imperial is great, very great, extraordinarily great!”

I said nothing and struggled to suppress the urge to laugh in accordance with imperial palace etiquette.

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She ran to the steps of the white jade bridge at the edge of the pond and sat down, squarely looking me in the eyes. Then she commanded me: “Hurry and tell me about Jie’yu Ban.”

I hesitated for a moment, but in the end, I still slowly gave her an account of some matters concerning Jie’yu Ban, relating to her talent and virtue, her refusal to ride in the same carriage as the Emperor, [4]避辇 (bì niǎn) Refers to the incident where Jie’yu Ban refused to ride in the same carriage as Emperor Cheng of the Han Dynasty, even though he had it custom made for the both of them to share. She cited that ministers should be by the Emperor’s side and listed previous Emperors who rode carriages with beautiful women, only for their country to fall. Later on, she was admired for her ‘forbearance’ and was held up as an example of a virtuous woman for the rest of the imperial harem. her abandonment after falling out of favour, “Song of Resentment”, [5]《怨歌行》Also known as “The Tuan Fan Poem”; A poem written by Jie’yu Ban. It compares a fan to a woman. Fans “go in and out of arms” when they are needed and are like “abandoned donations” when they are not needed. In the old days, many women were in a position to be played with. Their fate was determined by the likes and dislikes of men, and they could be abandoned at any time, just like a fan. The poem uses the experience of the tuan fan as a metaphor for this tragic fate, expressing the painful feelings of women who have fallen out of favour. and “Long Letter of Grievances”. [6]《长信宫怨》Another poem written by Jie’yu Ban which expresses her feelings of deep sadness after her experiences in the palace. I also mentioned Zhao Fei’yan in passing.

“So it was like that.” After she finished listening, she thoughtfully nodded her head. Suddenly, she seemed to realize something: “You were correct in saying that Concubine Zhang was like Zhao Fei’yan!”

I was startled but also unsure how I ought to explain to her how inappropriate this was. I had no choice but to softly say: “Princess, guard your tongue.”

She laughed without covering her mouth, exposing several fine teeth that were almost like pearl cowries. [7]See image! They were uniform and even, and quite cute. 

She was indeed very different from the young palace maids I sometimes encountered. It seemed that etiquette training hadn’t made much of an impression on her. As if sitting peacefully amongst the lotus flowers and willows surrounding Tai’ye Pond, [8]This seems to be a reference to the poem, “长恨歌” or “Song of Everlasting Regret” by famous Tang dynasty poet, Bai Juyi. It tells the tragic love story of Emperor Xuanzong and Yang Gui’fei. I don’t really get the comparison though. If anyone understands this reference, please share your thoughts! she enjoyed the freedom of expressing all manner of human emotions – happiness, anger, sorrow and joy. 

“Huaiji, just now you told a long story. Are you thirsty?” asked the Princess suddenly. 

“This servant is not thirsty…… Would Your Highness like to drink water?” I immediately stood up and was about to return to fetch water.

“Don’t leave, don’t leave!” She rushed to stop me, “There’s no need for us to go personally.”

She looked to the left and right and saw that no one else was around.

She blinked at me. Her lips were still curved in an upwards arc, and seemed to imply something else.

I was still mulling over what she meant, but she had already stood up, turned around and ran towards the bridge behind her. She actually went so far as to act as if she was about to cross over the railing of the stone bridge. 

I immediately went over, intending to stop her. To my surprise, in that short instance, there were already three or four people who seemed to appear out of thin air, who had charged over and pulled her away from the railing before I could.

After that, a continuous stream of people hurried over. Some carried clothing, some carried towels and combs, some carried snacks, and others carried freshly picked fruit…… Naturally, there were also many who carried kettles and teacups. 

It turned out that these were the people who made up the Princess’s procession. Previously, they hid in a location that she couldn’t see.

The Princess stood still and slowly turned around. Her eyes sparkled as she smiled at me. This time, the expression in her eyes was somewhat helpless and lonely.

 


TL Thoughts:

Hello dear readers~

Here is the beginning of chapter 2~ Sorry for the delay on this chapter!!

I’ve added apostrophes to titles (i.e. Princess Fu’kang or Zhao’rong Miao) for clarity~ Please let me know if you’d like me to do this with names as well, like in Why Harem Intrigue.

If anyone understands the reference to Bai Juyi’s “Song of Everlasting Regret” (in red), please do comment~ Here is the original Chinese for that paragraph:  跟我偶尔接触到的小宫女们真是大不一样, 礼仪教化似乎并没在她身上留下太多痕迹, 安然坐在太液芙蓉未央柳中, 她享受着喜怒哀乐形于色的自由. Thank you for sharing your knowledge!!

Until next time,

Nyamachi

 

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