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Held in the Lonely Castle (Chp 2 Part 3)

Chapter 2: Noticing You Since That Time We Met

Part 3 – A Nighttime Chat (夜语)

Translator: Nyamachi
Translation assistant: Petrified

English proofreader: JimmyfromIT

“Elder Brother.”

With clear eyes without the slightest speck of dust, the Princess was full of expectations as she called me like this. I was completely caught off guard. [1]丢盔弃甲 (diūkuīqìjiǎ) To be so surprised that you drop your helmet and throw away your armor.

She was pleading for me to ghostwrite the essay her father had assigned her, regarding “a noble’s character and how benevolence, righteousness, courtesy and wisdom are rooted in one’s heart.”

She was the most intelligent girl I had ever seen, but she had no patience to study those Confucian classics. However, His Majesty paid considerable attention to her studies and often came over to examine her work and urge her to complete tasks. More often than not he would leave behind a pile of homework and order her to complete them. In the beginning, it was merely transcribing Confucian classics while simultaneously practicing calligraphy, but later on, he requested her to recite poetry and write essays.

One time, I noticed that the volume of content that she needed to transcribe was too much and that she wrote with much hardship. Taking advantage of the fact that no one was around, I secretly helped her write a few pages. Imitating another person’s writing to transcribe a work was an easy task for me. The Princess was delighted when she saw it and since then, whenever her workload was somewhat heavy, she would come and beg me to write on her behalf.

I helped her write two or three times, but afterwards, I stopped agreeing to her requests. Instead, I explained the techniques of writing calligraphy to her and that one could not understand the quintessence of literary works without studying them meticulously on their own. Even though she claimed to understand, she also said it would be just this once and not to be repeated in the future. Her pleas wore me down and I agreed, but there would be another time soon after.

This time the task was unexpectedly purely ghostwriting. Finally, I resolved myself and coldly responded to her request. No matter what, I would no longer agree.

Her eyes twinkled and she ordered a servant to fetch some tea. Only the two of us remained in the study. She came close and pulled on my sleeve with both hands, calling softly: “Elder Brother.”

My heart seemed to yield to her light tugging for a bit, but I quickly hardened my resolve.

She enjoyed my almost terrified expression with satisfaction, then she lowered her eyelashes as her lips curved into a smile. She pulled at my sleeve, swinging it back and forth, while also wearing a pleading expression: “Elder Brother, just help me this one time, okay? I promise that this will definitely be the last time. If I don’t finish writing before dinner I’ll be scolded by Daddy again.”

What could I say? These feelings and this situation – even if she told me to die, I would also gladly accept the order.

I sat silently. She happily laughed like a small sparrow that flutters. She hopped up and down as she prepared She Prefecture’s Cixingtang paper [2]澄心堂纸 (chéng xīn táng zhǐ) Superior quality rice paper that was considered a treasure by several Emperors. and brought over a Dragon Stream Fragrance inkstone [3]Chinese: 溪龙香砚. Please let me know if you have a better translation! with pre-prepared ink using a Harmony Tinggui ink stick. [4]Chinese: 廷珪四和墨. Please let me know if you have a better translation! She also personally handed me a set of Xuancheng Prefecture’s Zhuge calligraphy brushes. [5]Chinese: 城诸葛三副笔. Please let me know if you have a better translation! Finally, she brought over a cloth-covered stool [6]绣墩 (xiùdūn) A round, drum-shaped ceramic or wooden stool with an embroidered cover. embroidered with purple flowers for herself, climbed up and sat in a kneeling position. [7]What we imagine here is Huirou sitting in seiza on top of the stool. Her elbows were propped on top of the writing desk as she tilted her head to one side and watched me write with a smile. On top of that, from time to time she would offer praise.

From then on, this way of calling, “Elder Brother”, became a spell that I was unable to break free from. The Princess liked using it to command me to bow and do her bidding, but sometimes she would also randomly call me like this without any obvious reason.

Occasionally, she would call me “Elder Brother” in the presence of other people. In the beginning, all the servants turned pale with fright, explaining that our social rankings were different, and requested her to change her form of address. However, contrary to expectations, Zhao’rong Miao paid it no mind, saying: “When the Emperor lived in the Spring Palace, [8]The Crown Prince’s residence; Known as 春宫 (chūngōng) (Lit. spring palace) or 东宫 (dōnggōng) (Lit. eastern palace). There’s a c-drama with the same name. he also liked to call the eunuch who waited upon him, Zhou Huaizheng, ‘Elder Brother’. It is nothing more than showing closeness with one’s subordinates.”

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“The Princess does not have any elder brothers. The Emperor’s adopted son, Thirteenth Regiment, has also already moved his residence outside the palace. She’s probably a little lonely.” Ms. Han told me privately.

The Emperor did not have any sons. In the past, he permitted the thirteenth son of Runan County’s Junwang to be raised in the Palace, bestowed him the name “Zongshi”, and awarded him the position of Yue Prefecture’s Military Training Commissioner. Everyone in the Forbidden City often addressed him as “Thirteenth Regiment.” Later on, because Zhao’rong Miao gave birth to Prince Xin, Yu Wang, the Emperor ordered Zongshi to return to the residence in his territory. Later on, the Prince died young and the Emperor did not summon Zongshi back to the palace again.

“When Thirteenth Regiment was still in the palace, the Princess addressed him as ‘Elder Brother.’ You are around the same age as him so when she sees you, the Princess probably feels much closer to you and would therefore address you like this,” said Ms. Han.

Still, she continued: “However, we are of low status; if we accept a noble personage addressing us with honorifics, we will suffer a loss of good fortune.

“When the Emperor was still the Crown Prince, Zhou Huaizheng was the Interior Department’s Assistant Omniscient Chamberlain in charge of all of the Eastern Palace’s affairs. He often waited upon His Majesty and so the Emperor jokingly called him, ‘Elder Brother.’ One time Zhou Huaizheng saw that His Majesty was practicing calligraphy, so he stepped forward to request His Majesty to grant him an Imperial Document. [9]御书 (yùshū) can be anything written by the Emperor e.g. a letter or random calligraphy. The Emperor was momentarily delighted and wrote several large characters for him — ‘The Zhou Family’s Elder Brother looks very sharp’. [10]Chinese: 周家哥哥斩斩. 斩斩 (zhǎn zhǎn) apparently means ‘neat appearance’. Literally, 斩 means beheading. Thank you Baidu. Originally it was a joke. No one ever thought that many years later Zhou Huaizheng would secretly plot with someone in order to assassinate Chancellor Ding Wei, request that Kou Zhun become the new Chancellor, confer the title of ‘Great Emperor’ on Emperor Zhenzong, [11]太上皇 (tài shàng huáng) Great Emperor or Retired Emperor. Father of the current reigning Emperor who may or may not possess political power. Learn more about Ancient Chinese Titles with my list! and try to pass on the throne to the Crown Prince – that is to say, the current Emperor. This plot failed.

“In the end, Zhou Huaizheng was beheaded. It could even be said that the Emperor had predicted this. [12]Because of the double meaning of the characters above. Others also say that Zhou Huaizheng had accepted the Emperor’s respectful form of address and didn’t know to avoid the taboo, thus bringing about the wrath of heaven in due course.”

I understood the implication in her words. At a later date, I also conveyed to the Princess my wish that she no longer address me this way, but in spite of this, she paid me no heed and carried on calling me in this manner. I didn’t say anything more and even rejoiced that she continued to express herself freely, because every time I heard her call me “Elder Brother”, I would feel a certain kind of hidden warmth.

When the Princess received her lessons, she would always want me to sit in on them. After class, she would always ask me if she didn’t understand anything. Borrowing this unusual method, I was also able to continue with my studies.

One night, I was reading by candlelight when I suddenly heard someone lightly knock on the door. At first, I thought it was another servant urging me to go to sleep. When I opened the door, I discovered that it was actually the Princess.

It was clear that she had slipped out again, taking advantage of the fact that the servants who normally attended to her were asleep. On this cold winter night, she was barely dressed; White socks covered her feet, but she wasn’t wearing any shoes.

I was startled and asked her: “Why did Your Highness come here at this hour?”

She laughed: “I was hungry. Do you have anything to eat?”

Not waiting for an answer, she entered my room on her own and curiously looked around.

I quickly found my newest winter robe and draped it over her shoulders, but I was quite troubled as to whether or not I should let her stay.

I had already been promoted to First-Class Eunuch [13]See my list for Eunuch Rankings. and therefore had my own bedroom. In any event, spending time alone with the Princess very late at night was utterly inappropriate.

I did my best to persuade her to return saying that I didn’t have any pastries here. If she returned and woke a servant, naturally she could eat whatever she wanted.

Yet, she said: “Normally, Daddy always tells me to empathize with the servants and not work them too hard. If I wake them up, they’re bound to go through the effort of rushing to the Imperial Kitchen and bringing over a meal. Wouldn’t that go against Daddy’s teachings? At first, I thought of just going hungry, as Daddy did. I would endure my hunger and it would pass. Who would have guessed that my stomach would grumble so much, just like a partridge? It was embarrassing. That’s why I could only secretly come over to find you.”

I asked her why she didn’t take the pre-prepared light refreshments in her room. She replied that she was sick of them. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I wanted to ask her how she knew that my place would even have snacks that she would like, but thought better of it, realizing that she would inevitably have her own reasons. So, I held back, picked up two small pieces of taro from the table, and asked her: “Does Your Highness eat this?”

These were small taros from Lingnan that were barely larger than the size of a green date. As eunuchs, we normally slept later than our masters, so the Imperial Kitchen would prepare a few snacks for us. I often ate taro before I entered the palace, hence I chose this to quell my hunger at night.

She didn’t recognize it and asked me what it was. I didn’t find this strange because the food she normally ate was always meticulously prepared. Even if she ate taro, it would be in the form of refined taro pastries or taro soup. [14]芋泥羹 (yùní gēng) It’s a thicker broth made with taro. You can make it sweet or savoury. E.g. Osmanthus taro soup or Chicken taro soup. The recipes are in Chinese, but there are pictures! She had never seen food in this kind of state where the skin hadn’t even been peeled.

I told her the name of the food and that this was the only edible thing I had. She cheerfully agreed to have a taste, so I carried over my futon and spread it in front of the porch by the door and invited her to sit outside. Then, I wrapped her up tightly with my blanket to prevent her from catching a cold. After that, I sat down next to her and started peeling the taro for her.

Done peeling one, I handed it to her and saw that she was bundled up like a big sticky rice dumpling. [15]粽子 (zòngzi) is a sticky rice dumpling with some kind of filling that is typically wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. I am most familiar with the Cantonese style one (English Recipe). Only her head was able to move. At that moment, her eyes were wide open. Her dark pupils switched back and forth between me and the taro in my hand.

I couldn’t help but turn my head, letting my widening smile melt into the boundless night.

The Princess struggled to extend her hand out of the blanket to receive it. I was afraid that she would catch a cold from this and promptly stopped her. I held the taro close to her mouth and she yielded, taking small bites like a small bird pecking at rice.

She quickly finished eating one and proclaimed that the simplest food was the most delicious! I continued to peel another one for her and she quietly watched from the side.

None of the lanterns hanging from the eaves in the palace were lit so late at night, but the moon was bright. Our shadows stretched and overlapped under the moonlight. At first, the two of us sat opposite each other in silence, but there wasn’t the least bit of awkwardness.

Snow began to lightly fall from the sky. At the time, I wore deep blue clothes. Feeling slightly moved, I extended my sleeve out to receive a few snowflakes and faintly smiled, asking the Princess: “Does Your Highness know how many petals a snowflake has?”

She instantly replied: “Six petals!”

I answered that it wasn’t completely correct and moved my sleeve in front of her to let her count herself. She took a look and cried out softly in surprise. Suddenly, a hand shot out from her cotton cocoon. She caught my snowflake-covered sleeve and tapped my sleeve with a finger, mumbling to herself: “One, two, three, four, five……”

“There are five petals.” She concluded. She lowered her head and immersed herself in counting again. Shortly after, she cheerfully announced her discovery: “Also, there are ones with three petals and four petals!”

I smiled without saying a word, held her hand that was covered with snowflakes, and fed her another piece of peeled taro. The snowflakes melted, creating a few damp spots on my sleeve, but I didn’t feel cold at all, even though the weather was currently freezing.

I loved seeing the Princess’ bright smiling face. Just attending to her like this filled my heart with joy. On this cold, dark night, she was my sole source of light, shining even brighter than the first quarter moon.

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“Huaiji,” The Princess suddenly asked me a question, “Why did you come to the palace?”

I was lost for words, not knowing how to explain my complicated family situation to her. I settled for a simple explanation: “Because my family was poor.”

“What does being poor mean?” She asked bewilderedly.

I then became conscious of the fact that all the lessons that she had had up until now hadn’t yet touched on the concept of poverty in detail.

First, I gave her the most direct answer: “It means not having a lot of money.”

“I also don’t have a lot of money!” sighed the Princess, “Every day, Elder Sister [16]Remember that she is referring to her birth mother, Zhao’rong Miao. only gives me twelve copper coins. If I play the coin toss game and lose everything, she won’t give me anymore. If I win, she would award all my winnings to the people who played with me. In the end, I’m left with no money. In that case, would that make me very poor?”

“Uh, that’s not……” I started to earnestly ponder over how I should interpret and explain this word, “Being poor means not wearing enough to stay warm, not eating until you’re full – you might not even have enough food to eat and can only eat taro everyday……”

“But taro is delicious!” The Princess didn’t understand and interjected, “From now on, I want to eat taro every day.”

It was evident that just now I had chosen the wrong example. I remained silent. I had never expected that clearly explaining the meaning of a word would be so difficult.

After thinking for a long time, I explained it to her like this: “If there was some object, and you have it – you even have a lot of it – but others don’t have it, and yet they need it very much, then compared to you, they would be poor. For example, if Your Highness had a lot of pretty clothes, but your maids didn’t have any, then you could say that they are poorer than you are.”

Maybe this example still wasn’t good enough, but apart from this, for the time being, I couldn’t think of anything else that she had seen and was aware of to use to explain to her. She was a sheltered princess who had lived a privileged life in the palace since she was born. [17]金枝玉叶 (jīnzhīyùyè) Lit. golden branch, jade leaves but used to describe privileged nobility, especially noblewomen and imperial relations. It was impossible for her to have seen what true poverty looked like, nor was it likely that she would ever know the meaning of being poverty-stricken and suffering starvation.

She thought for a while, and then said: “I think I understand a little bit…… In other words, other families had a lot of clothes, a lot of taro, but your family didn’t have enough clothes for you to wear or enough taro for you to eat, so they had no choice but to send you to work in the palace?”

I smiled bitterly: “You could say that.”

“Then I understood!” She happily declared. Then, she continued to tell me what she learned: “Qiuhe is poorer than me because I have tons of time to play, but she has to work all day, almost to the point where she doesn’t have time for herself; Miss Fan, Miss Zhou, and Miss Xu are also poorer than me because I have Mother by my side, while their birth mothers are all outside the palace; Lady Yu is poorer than Elder Sister because Elder Sister has the title of Zhao’rong and she doesn’t, she’s only a Jie’yu, so her monthly stipend and the rewards she gets during festivals is less than what Elder Sister gets…… In that case, Lady Zhang is much poorer than Mother because Mother’s rank is the Empress and her rank isn’t. Last time, she wanted to use the red parasol exclusively for the Empress’ use on her carriage and increase the number of guards she had to the same amount as the Empress. In the end, she was criticized so badly by the ministers……”

Speaking until here, she couldn’t refrain from laughing, but following this, her voice dimmed: “But Daddy often goes to Lady Zhang’s residence. Normally he would only visit Mother’s Hall of Gentle Countenance on the first day of each month. If you compare it like this, then Mother is also poorer than Lady Zhang.”

It was hard for me to speak on this topic, so I could only keep my silence. However, the Princess also didn’t seem to want to wait for me to talk and continued on her own: “What about Daddy? Daddy must have places where he’s poor too…… Oh, right. He constantly talks about how all of his officials have sons, but he doesn’t have any……”

More and more, I couldn’t voice my opinion. In the end, she finally mentioned herself: “Actually, I’m also very poor. My eyes are very poor…… Even though the maids who serve me don’t have as many clothes as I do, but in the past, they’ve seen many interesting things outside the palace. Even if they tell me about them, I still don’t know…… Aside from the Imperial Palace, I’ve only been to Yichun (Fitting Spring), Yujin (Jade Ford), Ruisheng (Auspicious Sacred), and Qionglin (Jade Forest) – these four gardens and Jinming’s pond. [18]金明 (jīnmíng) is a district of Kaifeng City a.k.a. The modern-day 东京 or Eastern Capital of this novel. I’ve never been to a night market and don’t know what restaurants and tea houses are like…… I really want to visit the Zhouqiao night market and try the street food along with the wild badger and fox meat sold in front of the Jade Restaurant. I want to visit the Vermilion Bird Gate and watch how to make loops of lamb sausages and sweet snow cones. I also want to visit the Prime Minister’s Temple [19]This probably refers to the Daixiangguo Temple in Kaifeng City. It is a famous Chinese Buddhist Temple with its own Wikipedia page~ and meet the great monk who sells roasted pork in the courtyard……”

At first, her words were rather sad, but the last sentence made me laugh. In the Prime Minister’s Temple’s Burning Cinnabar Courtyard, [20]朱 (zhū) Cinnabar was an ingredient used in Chinese alchemy. Cinnabar is red, which is thought to represent the sun, fire, life, blood, royalty and energy. In Chinese alchemy, it is literally burned to extract its vermilion pigment. The significance of its red colour and the difficulty with which it was refined made alchemists connect it with the search for immortality. This is probably where its religious ties come from. Read more about Chinese alchemy here: The Golden Elixir | Wikipedia there was a monk with the Dharma name [21]法号 (fǎhào) or Dharma name is a name given to a newly ordained monk, nun or layperson after they complete the initiation ritual for Buddhism. The names are considered aspirational, not descriptive. of Huiming. He broke the rules and opened a store selling roasted pork. Reportedly, it’s very tasty. Among the people, his roasted pork is especially well known. Nowadays, people call Burning Cinnabar Courtyard, ‘Roasted Pig Courtyard’. [22]烧朱 (shāozhū) Burning Cinnabar has the same pronunciation as 烧猪 (shāozhū) Roasted Pig. It was reasonable to say that the women of the palace have the opportunity to visit the Prime Minister’s Temple to burn incense, but it would indeed be quite difficult if they wanted to see that strong-smelling Buddhist monk.

“What’s so funny?!” The Princess frowned, feeling awfully displeased, “Could it be that you can just go out whenever you want and see whoever you want after entering the palace?”

I truly had no reply for this. Since I had entered the palace, I had never gone out. The scenes of bustling marketplaces and lively fireworks from my memories had become hazier and hazier.

Ai,” The Princess sighed, extremely worried, “Huaiji, we’re both already trapped in here.”

 


TL Thoughts:

Hello dear readers~

Here is Chapter 2 Part 3! I really loved Huirou and Huaiji’s chat about what poverty means. Her innocence was portrayed well, and it really made me think about how privileged we are today in modern times. Lots of footnotes in this chapter.

Please let me know what you prefer for place names. I’ve been trying to fully translate them to English where possible, but if you prefer me to leave them in pinyin, please tell me! E.g. Rouyi Hall/Palace vs Hall of Gentle Countenance | Xiangguo Temple vs Prime Minister’s Temple. Sometimes they sound better one way or the other. Would a mix be okay?

Nyanovels’ TL team has grown again! We have another new member, Lazilily, who will be a TL Assistant for our other project, Why Harem Intrigue When You Can Raise A Dog Instead? Please check it out! It’s about an Emperor whose soul transmigrates into a cute doggo and falls in love :3 Read our team members’ bios~ Cat avatars to come!

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

Until next time,

Nyamachi

 

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