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Held in the Lonely Castle (Chp 2 Part 2)

Chapter 2: Noticing You Since That Time We Met

Part 2 – The Emperor (今上)

Translator: Nyamachi
Translation assistants:
247Reader & [redacted]
English proofreaders: 247Reader
& JimmyfromIT

The next day, I saw Dong Qiuhe, the maid from the Style Bureau, in the Fleeting Phoenix Pavilion.

She came to assist Zhao’rong Miao with her makeup. It was just past dawn and Zhao’rong Miao hadn’t risen yet, so she waited in the Pavilion courtyard. An experienced servant from the Pavilion called her name and invited her inside, but she just faintly smiled and said softly: “Wait a little longer.”

Qiuhe was dressed in the most common style for a Female Official: a crew neck blue overcoat [1]衫 (shān) A jacket with open slits in place of sleeves. and pointed-toe shoes [2]弯头鞋 (wāntóu xié) See Image. with a red belt around her thin waist, and a headpiece made of cloisonné lacquer-painted hair ornaments wrapped with a black muslin headscarf in the shape of wings atop her head. [3]I tried my best for this sentence. If anyone has a better translation or understanding of this last descriptor for hair, please let me know in the comments! Chinese: 头上戴着未铺翠的黑色漆纱软翅女巾冠子. Her fair face was clean and bare, without any makeup. Only the area near her temples was decorated with moon-shaped white pearl beads on both sides. [4]钿 (diàn) Ancient ornamental face decoration. You might recognize 花钿 (huādiàn) or flower-shaped designs drawn in between the eyebrows (e.g. Tang Dynasty period costumes or Fengjiu’s phoenix flower mark in Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms). In the Song Dynasty, 珠钿 (zhūdiàn) or pearl face jewels were popular. See the second picture in this post or watch this video where the girl creates a wedding look from the Song Dynasty [in Chinese].

Her figure was delicate and slender, and she held a case in her hands as she stood beside the black bamboo [5]紫竹 (zǐzhú) Phyllostachys nigra. in the courtyard. With a thin layer of frost on its branches, shrouded in mist, and reflected in the light of dawn, the early winter morning rays erased a layer of colour from the scene, causing the scene to appear just like a freehand painting swept with faint brush strokes.

Once Zhao’rong Miao and the Princess woke up, I invited Qiuhe inside. Since others were present, I didn’t have the chance to bring up Cui Bai’s matter to her.

She helped Zhao’rong Miao to comb her hair and brought out a headpiece with Youthful Heart Jade Peonies for her to wear. [6]I tried my best with this. I found out that 青心玉板冠子 is a headpiece with a specific variety of peony flowers. According to what I found, the flower is typically white with a full, dense cluster of petals, firm, green stems, and short leaves. In the Tang and Song dynasties, the Luoyang peony was considered the number one flower in the world. It was fashionable to wear them and 39 varieties were recorded. Source: Baidu. I don’t know if these are the same, but here are some images of peony varieties! If anyone has a better suggestion for the translation, please let me know in the comments! Zhao’rong Miao looked keenly into the mirror with a happy expression. She asked Qiuhe: “Does this headpiece have a name?”

Qiuhe nodded her head agreeably and said: “Its name is Fragrance Holding Jade.” [7]Again, I tried my best with this. If anyone has any suggestions for a better translation, please let me know in the comments! Chinese: 掬香琼.

“That’s a good name.” Zhao’rong Miao continued: “This headpiece’s colour is muted and not ostentatious. It’s compact and refined, not like the one that Lady Zhang normally wears. That thing is easily two or three feet in length. It’s a wonder how she can wear it without feeling tired.”

Qiuhe gave a small smile but didn’t continue to speak. She carefully examined Zhao’rong Miao’s appearance in the mirror and said: “Today, Lady Miao’s clothing and accessories are all light-coloured. You can add a flower design on your forehead.”

Zhao’rong Miao agreed. She took out a thin appliqué in the shape of a Japanese rose from the case and lightly stuck it between Zhao’rong Miao’s eyebrows, then she took out a makeup pencil to fill in the colour and outline it in gold.

Once the case was open, the entire room became fragrant. Smelling the scent, the Princess ran over to fiddle with a piece. “This flower facial ornament smells very nice.”

Zhao’rong Miao agreed: “It really does smell good. What is it made of?”

Qiuhe replied: “It’s made of dried pine, sandalwood, Lysimachia foenum-graecum Hance, and lilac – a liang [8]兩 (liáng) Liang is an ancient unit of measurement equivalent to 40g. It is also a monetary unit for silver ingots. of each, and the leaves of wrinkled giant hyssop, yellow cinnabar, Dahurian angelica, and fragrant ink. Mix them together with honey, and pour them into a Japanese rose-shaped mould. Once it’s dry, extract it and rub on a layer of musk deer essence, and it’s finished.”

The Princess interrupted and asked, “Qiuhe, is this a new blend that you made?”

“Yes,” Qiuhe replied. She further added: “I’ve tested it already. It’s not harmful to the skin.”

The Princess walked over to her side, pulled her sleeve, and looked at her. Qiuhe bashfully pulled back her hand and asked: “What is Your Highness looking at?”

The Princess said: “Every time you help the concubines dress up, you always need to test it out first yourself. Out of everyone, your skin is the most delicate and sensitive. The last time when you tested out face cream for Lady Yu, it reached the point where even your wrists were red and swollen. It took several days for the redness to disappear. I wanted to see if your skin became swollen again this time.”

Zhao’rong Miao heard this and felt deeply concerned, asking: “Did it damage your skin?”

“No, no.” Qiuhe pulled her sleeve to cover up her wrist and said: “It really didn’t. This time, I only needed to try it once. My skin didn’t become red at all.”

Presumably, just now the Princess had already seen it clearly, but she didn’t ask any more. She intimately grasped Qiuhe’s hand and said: “In a little while, stay behind. Once I finish studying, we can play the coin toss game together.”

Seeing her hesitate, Zhao’rong Miao also tried to persuade her, saying: “Lady Yu hasn’t been well for the last two days. She’s probably not in the mood to dress up. Later I’ll send someone to ask her for a leave of absence on your behalf. Today, you can just stay here.”

In the end, Qiuhe agreed, so Zhao’rong Miao dispatched someone to Jie’yu Yu’s residence. In a flash, the court lady in charge of teaching the Princess arrived, and the Princess headed towards the study. She also ordered Qiuhe and me to follow and wait upon her.

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Today the female official was giving a lecture on [The Principles of Female Conduct] [9]The book, [女则] (nǚ zé), was written by Emperor Taizong’s wife, Empress Changsun. The content gathers together the outstanding deeds of ancient women. and [National History]. [10]二十四史 (èrshísì shǐ) is the general term for the twenty-four historical books written by various dynasties in ancient China. I assume that the book, [国史] (guóshǐ), that the novel refers to means one of these. The Princess was somewhat inattentive, but Qiuhe’s expression was very focused. It was clear that she understood the content.

Once the lecture was over, the Princess immediately led Qiuhe along and ran back to the hall. Once again, she started to play the coin toss game, but the moment she sat down, she heard a maid come in and announce that the Emperor had arrived and was already outside the Pavilion gates.

Everyone inside stood up and divided into rows on the left and right to welcome His Majesty.

This was my first time seeing the Emperor close up. Previously, I had only seen his lofty figure from afar, sitting on the throne in various ceremonies like the Memorial Ceremony honouring the Gods and Ancestors and the Opening of Court Ceremony. Then, he had worn a purple-red muslin gown with the Imperial Crown on his head. With the addition of a snowy white gauze collar, his upright posture, and his formal speech, he gave off the impression of an Imperial Portrait.

Presently, he was approximately thirty-four to thirty-five years old. Today’s clothes were casual. He wore a white, wide-sleeved, full-length gown with a jacket on top with open slits in place of sleeves. The decorations on the collar, sleeves, and garments were hemmed in black. His feet were covered by black boots. His hair was wrapped in a soft muslin headscarf, and his waist was wrapped with a multi-coloured braided sash. A crane overcoat was draped over his clothes. His countenance was clear and peaceful, and his demeanour was handsome and refined as if he were a famous scholar. [11]This link has a lot of good information about Song Dynasty clothing.

The Emperor strolled over from the back garden and approached the pavilion. After permitting everyone to rise, he promptly ordered someone to quickly bring over some boiled water, saying he was thirsty. Zhao’rong Miao personally poured the water and offered it to His Majesty, who drank several cups in a row.

Upon seeing this, the Princess asked with surprise: “Daddy, how come you didn’t drink water while you were out? Look how thirsty you are now.”

The Emperor said: “I looked back several times, but didn’t see any attending slaves. At the time, I was on duty. If I investigated closely, he would’ve certainly made a big fuss and instantly meted out punishment. Therefore, I thought that I might as well endure my thirst until I returned.”

Wang Zhaoming, the Interior Department Servitor who came in with the Emperor, hastily blamed himself: “This servant noticed the Emperor looking back many times, but failed to notice his intention. This servant truly deserves to die. May Your Majesty please mete out punishment.”

His Majesty smiled and waved his hand: “You are not me and I didn’t say anything. How could you know? Don’t mention this in the future. Also, don’t tell Shouzhong next time, lest the attending slaves be punished.”

Zhao’rong Miao heard this and smiled: “Your Majesty has always been like this. Zhaoming once confided in this concubine that one morning, Your Majesty told him that your honoured self couldn’t sleep the previous night and was hungry and craved lamb. Zhaoming asked why your honoured self didn’t issue an imperial edict to obtain it, but Your Majesty replied, ‘I heard that when those in the Imperial City need something, once word spreads outside the palace, the people will all eagerly try to emulate it, resulting in a momentary craze. I worry that if I say that I want roasted lamb, henceforth every night the citizens will slaughter a great many sheep as a midnight snack. That would cause great harm to the sheep.’ Alas, while it’s true that treating people with tolerance and sympathizing with the common people is good, to actually willingly endure hunger and thirst to such an extent is strange for an Emperor.”

The Emperor faintly smiled and said: “As a member of royalty, each and every move could potentially impact the realm. One must think over each decision three times, and must never act without restraint due to a momentary desire. Sometimes an action can seem harmless when commoners do it, but if we were to do the same, more often than not the repercussions would be hard to recover from.”

Having finished his speech, he asked the Princess: “Huirou, I trust you’ll take heed of these words?”

The Princess adamantly nodded. The Emperor gave a satisfied smile and turned to look at Zhao’rong Miao. Taking note of the floral design on her forehead, he casually complimented: “The flower design you’re wearing today is pretty and meticulously drawn. It has an impressive fragrance as well.”

Zhao’rong Miao smiled and said: “This concubine said the same thing…… This is Qiuhe’s new creation.”

“Oh, Qiuhe……” The Emperor turned his gaze towards Qiuhe, who was standing by in attendance, and faintly smiled while observing her closely. Then he asked the Princess: “Huirou, do Qiuhe’s wrists have any red markings?”

The Princess replied: “I’ve seen them, they do not.”

“Look again behind her ears.” The Emperor gazed at Qiuhe warmly, “This time she definitely applied the product there.”

Sure enough, the Princess went over to examine her, following which she laughed and said: “Daddy is correct. Behind Qiuhe’s right ear there’s a red mark about the size of a fingernail.”

Qiuhe was already extremely embarrassed and slightly withdrew while bowing her head deeply. She mumbled hesitantly: “Your Majesty, Qiuhe didn’t intend…”

“No need to explain, I understand.” The Emperor said, “These perfumes use a lot of ingredients and it would be nearly impossible to get it right in one try. You always have some kind of reaction while testing the products…… However, nowadays you have several girls as your subordinates. Why are you still testing them on yourself?”

Qiuhe quietly replied: “They’re still young – it’s not good for them to use perfume.”

Hearing this, the Emperor smiled again: “You yourself are only what… barely fourteen years old?”

Qiuhe hesitated slightly, but could only honestly reply: “There are still two more months.”

The Emperor nodded and said: “Later, I’ll inform Matron Chu and have her select two sixteen to seventeen-year-old maids for you to order about. Have them test out the perfumes and medicine.”

Qiuhe bowed in gratitude but didn’t readily accept: “Qiuhe is grateful for Your Majesty’s grace. However, Qiuhe’s skin texture isn’t good and is very sensitive to perfumes and medicines. Therefore, it’s the most suitable to apply to. If even Qiuhe can use the perfumes and medicine, then it’s unlikely that it will harm any of Their Ladyships’ skin. If someone else becomes the tester, if their skin quality is better than Their Ladyships’ and the medicine’s slightly toxic properties aren’t discovered after they use it, wouldn’t it be inappropriate if we then gave it to Their Ladyships to use? May Your Majesty take back your order. It would still be better to give Qiuhe the responsibility of testing the medicine.”

His Majesty heaved a sigh. He turned his head towards Zhao’rong Miao, smiled and said: “How can this stand? We want to help her yet aren’t of any help.”

Zhao’rong Miao smiled and gazed at Qiuhe: “This child, it seems like there’s no choice but to request His Majesty to transfer you from the Imperial Wardrobe Service.”

Qiuhe frantically shook her head: “No, no, I didn’t mean that……”

The Emperor and Zhao’rong Miao looked at each other and smiled, and let the subject go. His Majesty changed the topic and said: “Quickly get up. I noticed that there are copper coins on the mat. Were you and Huirou tossing coins just now? Go ahead and continue playing.”

Once more, Qiuhe thanked His Majesty, stood up and returned to the mat. The Princess also went over and started to toss coins with her.

Qiuhe’s hands were exceptionally nimble. Her movements were gentle and elegant. When the Princess tossed the coins, they always made a very loud clanging sound in contrast to her. Whenever she tossed or caught the coins, they always made a crisp ringing sound that wasn’t ear-piercing. Her delicate hands fluttered like butterfly wings. In her hands, surprisingly, the heavy copper coins were as light and graceful as falling leaves, moving up and down according to her gestures. The coins floated up and down in a whirling dance. With each round, the monotonous, repetitive motions appeared pleasing to the eyes.

The Emperor, who was sitting to the side, raised his eyes and watched. Occasionally, he would casually chat with Zhao’rong Miao. His gaze would always drift back towards the figures of the two girls tossing coins. He smiled with a loving gaze full of affection.

Today he had already taken note of myself, a new face, and through Zhao’rong Miao’s introduction, he quickly recalled the matter with Fu Bi.

“Huaiji – this name isn’t bad.” He smiled faintly and asked me, “Was this your original name, or the name you changed to after entering the palace?”

“The one this servant changed to after entering the palace,” I replied, and then added: “This name was given to me by Teacher Zhang Pingfu.”

“Maoze?” The Emperor’s manner of speaking was somewhat peculiar. Afterwards, there was a brief pause, just long enough for me to sense it.

I felt apprehensive, unsure where I had gone wrong in my reply. However, soon after, His Majesty’s expression returned to normal. He said warmly: “Since you’re already here, you don’t need to worry anymore about other things. Associate less with people unrelated to Lady Miao’s Pavilion. It’s enough to just serve the Princess well.”

I agreed. He then permitted me to withdraw and didn’t speak again.

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Past noon, Qiuhe wished to take her leave, but she was held back by several of Zhao’rong Miao’s maids. Each and every one of them wanted her to teach them new hairstyles, and Qiuhe couldn’t avoid teaching them one by one. Half a day was whittled away just like this. Zhao’rong Miao kept her for dinner. When she could finally return to her quarters, the sky was already dark.

I took the initiative and asked for the order to send her out. I speedily returned to my room and fetched the painting, {{Esteemed Guests at Qiupu River}}, that Cui Bai had given me, and hid it inside my sleeve. Then, I carried a lantern to lead her out.

Leaving the gate to the Imperial Concubines’ palaces, after seeing that no one was around, I took out the painting scroll and told her of the matter that Cui Bai entrusted to me when he left the Fine Arts Institute. She took the painting. Her face showed a shallow smile, but tears filled her eyes.

“Sir Cui… Will he come back?” she softly asked.

I sensed a hint of distress from her slightly trembling voice. This put me somewhat at a loss. In order to not disappoint her, I could only reply: “Maybe… he will in the future.”

She forced a smile, thanked me, and quickly took her leave, tightly holding onto the scroll painting as she departed. She turned around and raised her right arm, probably to wipe her tears.

Afterwards, Qiuhe still frequently visited Yearning Phoenix Pavilion and often went to Jie’yu Yu’s place. The Empress would also occasionally call her over. Passing the days busily like this, she would enter the Inner Palace before dawn, and usually could only return after the sky was dark. It was no wonder that I could never find her in the past.

Some days later, when she again stayed late at Yearning Phoenix Pavilion, I was still the one to send her out of the Inner Palace. At that time, she looked extremely exhausted. Her complexion was pale, and she seemed to sway slightly as she walked. I asked if she wanted to rest a bit before continuing, but she said that she didn’t want to be a bother and even urged me to return. Even though I stopped in the end, I still felt somewhat uneasy and followed her departing figure with my eyes.

When she arrived before the Gate of Imperial Rites, she finally couldn’t support herself any longer. Her limbs weakened, and she fell to the ground.

I dashed over. Seeing that she was barely conscious and that there were no maids nearby, I lifted her up and carried her in the direction of the Imperial Pharmacy.

Naturally, it was a long route. In between, just as I passed through the Office of the Inner Eastern Gate, I came across Teacher Zhang Maoze as he was leaving.

He saw us and was quite surprised. He asked for the reason and then reached out two fingers to examine Qiuhe’s pulse. In a flash, he said: “It’s not serious. It’s too exhausting for you to carry her all the way to the Imperial Pharmacy. Why don’t you come in? I’ll provide acupuncture treatment for her. She ought to quickly recover.”

Leading us inside a side room of the Office of the Inner Eastern Gate, he took out a small box of acupuncture needles and inserted a few needles into Qiuhe’s head and neck. After a moment, Qiuhe looked more at ease. Teacher Zhang gently implored her not to be alarmed and continued to insert needles. The treatment was over in the time it took one incense stick to burn and he removed the needles.

Qiuhe’s complexion improved a lot. She curtsied in thanks.

Teacher Zhang said “There’s no need for Maid Dong to be so polite. You are just over-exhausted and lacking sleep, which is why you are in this condition. From now on, you need to remember to rest. Take good care of yourself.”

Qiuhe nodded and agreed.

Teacher Zhang continued, “I heard Matron Chu say that after you return to the Imperial Wardrobe Service at night, you still have to make cosmetics and instruct the younger maids. You don’t have much time to rest like this. Tomorrow, I will explain to the Empress and ask her to only let you work for half a day in the Inner Palace.”

Qiuhe tearfully saluted him in thanks. Teacher Zhang avoided receiving her bow and had me escort her to her residence.

After sending Qiuhe back, I passed through the Office of the Inner Eastern Gate again. Teacher Zhang was in the middle of sterilizing his acupuncture needles and hadn’t left yet. I thanked him.

He smiled and said: “It was a trifling effort, [12]举手之劳 (jǔshǒu zhī láo) Literally, the exertion of lifting one’s hand, meaning a very slight effort. nothing more. Moreover, you weren’t the one who received treatment so there’s no need to thank me.”

Embarrassed, I nodded and smiled. I asked him: “Has Teacher studied medicine?”

“In my younger days, I worked in the Imperial Medicine Institute,” he said self-effacingly. [13]轻描淡写 (qīngmiáo dànxiě) Literally, to sketch in light shades. It means to downplay something. He measured my expression before saying with a smile: “Not bad. You’ve advanced in rank. Congratulations. Among those children who entered the palace together with you, few have prospects as good as yours.”

I thanked him. After hesitating for a long time, I asked him again: “However, for us, is getting promoted a good prospect?”

He frowned slightly: “This child, what are you thinking about?”

Yet there was no reprimand in his voice. He came closer and spoke gently, therefore I had the courage to ask him the question I had been pondering deeply about for many years: “Is seeking advancement our goal after entering the palace? In that case, what is the purpose of getting promoted?”

He stared blankly and didn’t reply for the time being, so I asked again: “Teacher, right now you are Head Servitor of the Western Interior, in charge of the Inner Eastern Gate. You are responsible for the circulation of people and goods entering or exiting the Forbidden Palace, as well as the transmission of any classified official documents or correspondence. You are a high-ranking official amongst the Eunuch-Officials, but you still dress in simple and plain clothes, eat simple food, and also treat people kindly and tolerantly. It’s not at all like how other powerful personages beat and scold their subordinates for pleasure. In that case, where do you derive pleasure? Do you have any desires? What is your greatest wish?”

He muttered to himself for a good while and finally said: “Regarding your question, perhaps, one day in the future, I will give you an answer. But right now, you only need to complete the tasks that the Emperor and Zhao’rong Miao give you well. It’s not necessary to think too much about other things.”



TL Thoughts:

Hello dear readers~

I apologize for the delay in posting!! October was hectic. (> . <) I hope you enjoyed the chapter.

I’m not sure if I mentioned this already, but our TL team has grown in the last couple of months! We’re up to 8 members now~ Please meet our three newest members: Tygris247Reader, and Petrified~ All of them are TL Assistants and Petrified specifically volunteered for HLC. (Yay!!) Hopefully, translating will go a bit faster now 🙂

As always, please let me know in the comments if you spot any mistakes or have suggestions for improvement!

Part 3 coming soon!

Until next time,



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