Held in the Lonely Castle (Chp 2 Part 4)
Chapter 2: Noticing You Since That Time We Met
Part 4 – Reflection of Clouds (云影)
Translation assistant: Petrified
English proofreader: JimmyfromIT
The next spring, Beautiful Lady Zhang’s daughter, Youwu’s illness became more serious. Once it reached April, the Imperial Physicians stated that it was a hopeless situation. The Emperor was distraught. First, he conferred Youwu the title of Princess Deng’guo, and then several days later, he promoted her to become the Princess Imperial Qi’guo, outranking Princess Fu’kang. However, consecutively adding on auspicious events like this could not cure disease or avoid calamity. Not long after, news of her death spread: The Princess Imperial Qi’guo had passed away. Not sure if I’m using the right translation here. Youwu is promoted to 邓国公主 and then 齐国长公主. Technically, 邓国 and 齐国 could refer to actual countries i.e. Princess of Deng Country. In that case, would that make Huirou’s title in the prologue, 兖国公主, “Princess of Yan Country”? While 兖国公主 could also be translated as The Founding Princess (兖 = Establish; 国 = Country; 公主 = Princess), 邓 and 齐 don’t have such clear-cut meanings. Maybe all of the countries in these titles refer to names of states and dynasties at previous points in Chinese history i.e. the Warring States period and they were just carried forward? This seems to make the most sense to me. I’m leaving them in pinyin like how I did in the prologue for now. If anyone knows the answer, please let me know in the comments!
Hearing this news Princess Fu’kang immediately began to weep. Even though she loathed Beautiful Lady Zhang, she felt no hostility towards Beautiful Lady Zhang’s daughter and adopted daughters. She even really liked to play together with them. She was truly heartbroken about the death of her younger sister.
She sobbingly said through a whisper: “I want to go see Youwu.”
I hesitated, thinking of the previous witchcraft incident.
She could clearly tell what I was thinking.
This time when she called me like this she appeared especially solemn, “I had never cursed Youwu.”
I nodded and faced her with a gentle smile: “I know.”
However, Beautiful Lady Zhang did not necessarily know this. When I passed on the Princess’ wish to Zhao’rong Miao and asked for her instructions, she also sighed and said: “If Huirou goes over now, wouldn’t that be the same thing as walking straight into Lady Zhang’s knife?”
She secretly entrusted Wang Zhaoming to inquire about His Majesty’s opinion and the Emperor ordered the Princess to visit the next day. Furthermore, she was to dress in linen and hemp mourning clothes for Youwu.
When a young child passes away without reaching the age of eight, it is considered a death that requires no mourning. Originally, one’s family members were not obliged to wear mourning clothes. The Emperor’s request that his eldest daughter wear linen and hemp mourning clothes for his youngest daughter did not actually conform to etiquette. It made it seem like Youwu’s funeral was especially more significant and considerably wronged Princess Fu’kang, but the Princess had no complaints. Sure enough, the next day she wore linen and hemp mourning clothes as she proceeded towards the altar to offer tribute.
Black smoke coiled around the courtyard of Beautiful Lady Zhang’s Soaring Phoenix Pavilion. A group of monks sat in a row and chanted sutras while Beautiful Lady Zhang kept vigil in front of Youwu’s coffin. She had probably cried too much before and now her eyes were red and swollen. She wore a wooden expression, completely lacking in vitality. The Emperor accompanied her at her side and would console her from time to time, but he also couldn’t help but repeatedly wipe his tears.
When Beautiful Lady Zhang caught sight of Zhao’rong Miao and Princess Fu’kang, it was like she had suddenly regained consciousness. Her lips curved into an ice cold smile: “This is the third time, are you all still dissatisfied?”
I followed the Princess inside. Hearing this, I didn’t understand and was still thinking about it when Beautiful Lady Zhang’s sharp gaze had already slashed towards the mother-daughter pair: “Anshou is dead. Baohe is also dead. Now you won’t even let off Youwu! I know that you both hate me! In that case, just let His Majesty kill me. Why did you have to harm my daughter?!”
Princess Anshou and Princess Baohe were the Third and Fourth Imperial Princesses, respectively, born from Beautiful Lady Zhang. They had both died one after another. Inferring the meaning behind Beautiful Lady Zhang’s words, it seemed like she suspected that each of her three daughters had died of unnatural causes. Since there was the previous matter with the cloth doll, she therefore directed her anger towards the Princess and Zhao’rong Miao.
The more she spoke, the more furious she became. She stood up and made as if to charge towards the Princess. The Emperor hurriedly rose from his seat and stopped her.
The Princess burst into tears and shook her head repeatedly, saying: “I didn’t harm Youwu, I didn’t harm this younger sister……”
Beautiful Lady Zhang completely ignored her explanation. The Princess’ appearance gave her grounds to vent her fury. She continued to cry and curse, cursing all who harmed her daughters. After yelling for a while, she was once again taken over by grief. She returned to nestle against His Majesty and started to recall the events before each of her three daughters passed away one by one.
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After voicing everything on her mind, her expression gradually became more at ease, her tone of voice and started to become more gentle: “……..Youwu was very well behaved. She was always afraid that I would be sad. Even in the moments when she was suffering the most, she wouldn’t complain about the pain. Seeing me shed tears, she would extend her small hand, help me wipe them, and say: ‘Elder Sister, don’t cry, your flower design will disappear.’…… Then, later on, even when it was difficult for her to breathe and her small face was flushed, she would still try her best to look at me with a smile…… I held her like this and hugged her. Her face rested snugly against my chest. Her hand grasped my clothes but her body slowly became colder……”
The Emperor hugged her and slightly leaned to one side with his back facing us. We temporarily couldn’t see his expression, but we saw his shoulders faintly tremble. He must have endured vocalizing his grief with great difficulty.
The latter half of Beautiful Lady Zhang’s words also made my eyes moisten. After removing her outwardly brash layer, the person she was in this moment was no more than a grieving mother.
The Princess wiped her tears and stepped forward desiring to burn incense and pay her respects, but Beautiful Lady Zhang coldly opened her mouth once more from the side: “Princess, please go back. I believe that Youwu wouldn’t wish to see you right now.”
The Princess approached her until she was a few feet away and looked up towards her with a sincerity that she had never previously shown to Beautiful Lady Zhang: “Lady Zhang I……”
She must have wanted to explain something to Beautiful Lady Zhang, but Beautiful Lady Zhang immediately interrupted her and ruthlessly showed her the door: “Get out!”
The Princess tearfully looked at the Emperor: “Daddy……”
The Emperor sighed and waved a hand saying: “Return.”
The Princess still didn’t leave and sobbed: “Daddy listen to me……”
“Get lost!” Beautiful Lady Zhang became angry again. She fixed her gaze on the Princess’ linen and hemp mourning clothes and spoke again: “There’s no need for you to hypocritically wear these mourning clothes. Even if you wore ten kinds of mourning clothes, would you be able to rid yourself of your sins and exchange them for Youwu’s life?”
These words slightly agitated the Princess. She stood straight-backed and frowned, saying coldly: “I didn’t do what you accused me of. There is no sin to repent for.”
“Enough, Huirou!” The Emperor suddenly raised his voice to scold: “Leave, quickly get out!”
The Princess stared blankly at her father. She saw that his expression was grave and stern, completely unlike his usual affectionate appearance. She lowered her eyelashes and two streaks of tears fell down her face, then she turned around and quickly ran out of the courtyard.
Ms. Han and I, along with the many servants from Yearning Phoenix Pavilion following closely behind, hurried out and chased the Princess until we exited Soaring Phoenix Pavilion. The Princess halted her steps and turned around, angrily shouting: “All of you stop! Anyone who follows me will be beheaded!”
Everyone had no choice but to stop, and the Princess continued to run forward. At this moment, Ms. Han tugged my sleeve, gazed at the Princess’ figure, and pouted. I understood her meaning and quickly ran after the Princess.
The Inner Palace was only so big. After running around, she nevertheless finally arrived at the Back Garden. She sat down, leaning against a stone mountain, and cried bitterly.
I knew that she felt wronged from the bottom of her heart. It was good for her to cry it out so I didn’t go over to console her. I only stood behind her and silently watched on. She quickly discovered me, stood up, and ran to another spot to sit and continue to cry. I followed her again. She was aware of it, but this time she only glared at me without changing spots.
She cried for a very long time and moreover, it was in the fashion of how a young child cries without caring the least about their appearance. She also didn’t bring a handkerchief, so she wiped her tears on her sleeve. Very soon, the sleeve was soaked halfway through. Waiting until she wanted to wipe her snot, I walked in front of her, stooped down and offered my own clean sleeve.
She looked at it and inconsiderately pulled the cuff of my sleeve and blew her nose.
She wiped her nose so calmly that I ended up laughing.
She pouted with a puff and glared at me with tearful eyes, asking: “What are you doing following me like a shadow?”
“……I’m not just any shadow,” I replied without thinking too much about it, “I am Your Highness’ shadow; I will be wherever Your Highness is.”
At first, she stared at me silently for a while, but then she lifted her head towards the sky. Suddenly, her eyes lit up and she jumped up. She ran towards an area where there were no flowers growing or shadows present and stood straight with her hands plastered to her side. She raised her head and looked squarely at me, trying to hold still as much as possible, and said: “Look at the ground!”
In front of her and behind her were rays of golden sunshine without any shadows. It turned out that the sun was shining brightly and it just so happened to be noon. With her standing upright in such a contracted posture, of course there was practically no shadow to be seen.
“Where’s my shadow? Where’s Huaiji?” She jokingly asked.
I looked at her smiling face and didn’t have an answer.
“Sillyhead!” She came to a conclusion for me, following which she told me what she believed to be an appropriate response: “You could explain it like this: ‘The shadow is under Your Highness’ feet and Huaiji is in Your Highness’ heart.’”
She stood in the sunlight and gave a completely innocent smile without taking notice of my surprise. I believed that she simply didn’t sense the ambiguity behind these words and only stated it like a fact, like the reflection of clouds floating above mist-covered water or poplar flowers fluttering over the palace walls.
Leading the Princess to Yearning Phoenix Pavilion, when she returned to her room in the afternoon to rest for a bit, Zhao’rong Miao summoned me to the reception hall and asked me to explain the details of what happened when the Princess went to the Back Garden. I told her a little bit, but naturally skipped over the part about the “shadow.”
At the time, Jie’yu Yu was also present. After listening to everything, she sighed, saying: “This incident truly slighted the Princess…… Elder Sister Miao, For those new to imperial harem novels, the Emperor’s wives have a sister-wife relationship with each other. They refer to each other as 姐姐 (Elder Sister) and 妹妹 (Younger Sister). Some might be as close as real sisters, while others only use this form of address due to etiquette. your temperament is also too good. If I was in your place and was so wrongly accused by Lady Zhang, I probably wouldn’t have been able to endure the situation and actually would have retorted to her: ‘You suspect me? I also suspect you! Why is it that not a single newborn child in this palace has been able to grow up well ever since you obtained favour?’”
Zhao’rong Miao laughed and said: “Don’t tell me that if she loses her mind, then we also have to lower ourselves to her level? That said, she is also quite pitiful. She gave birth to three daughters and all of them died. It’s natural that she wouldn’t be in a good frame of mind. Saying it in a more unpleasant way, we should also endure it for the time being. It’s not worthwhile to contend with her at this moment.”
“Even if she isn’t in a good frame of mind, does it mean that it’s okay for her to snap at others at random?” Jie’yu Yu disapproved. She added, “When my Chongqing died, I didn’t think to irresponsibly remark that she had been killed by others.”
Princess Chongqing was the Second Imperial Princess, born by Jie’yu Yu. She had also died prematurely in childhood.
Hearing this, Zhao’rong Miao said sadly: “Exactly, when ‘Herald of Joy’ passed away I was so heartbroken, but I also didn’t suspect that others had caused his death……”
‘Herald of Joy’ was Prince Xin, Yu Wang’s childhood nickname. His name ‘Xin’, while his title is ‘Yu Wang’. 王 (wáng) literally means ‘king’ but refers to a Prince of the First or Second Rank. Learn more about Ancient Chinese Ranks and Titles~ When Zhao’rong Miao gave birth to the Prince, the Emperor had dreamed that a deity had told him these three words: “utmost joy comes”. Hence, this became the Prince’s childhood name. Yu Wang had great potential and the Emperor was very fond of him. It was a pity that he hadn’t reached six months old before he promptly passed away. The Emperor and Zhao’rong Miao were inconsolable with grief and to this day, they always remember him.
One mention of her son brought Zhao’rong Miao to tears. Jie’yu Yu rushed to cheer her up and joked: “Everything was fine; why did I mention these things? Instead, I caused Elder Sister to feel bad.”
Zhao’rong Miao sighed and said: “It’s not your fault. Us sisters like to commiserate with each other in suffering. No matter what we say, we understand one another. There’s no need to explain.”
Jie’yu Yu nodded and agreed. She lamented: “We are all people who serve His Majesty. How are we much different from each other? In the palace, even an aggressive master like her is just one of many. I just don’t understand. At His Majesty’s side, there are many noble’s daughters who are intelligent and virtuous; there are also pretty daughters from humble families that are gentle and sweet-tempered. But why is it that nowadays he specifically favours such a rotten woman with a poor background? Even though she’s somewhat pretty, is her beauty enough to raise her up to the sky?”
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I had previously heard of people mentioning Beautiful Lady Zhang’s background. Her father, Zhang Yaofeng, became an Advanced Scholar 进士 (jìnshì) The highest rank a scholar can get and is attained after passing the imperial exam. When scholars attain this rank they usually become court officials. Credits go to Jebbie from Twin Dragons Translations. Their footnotes for their project, Transmigrating to the Ming Dynasty’s Imperial Examination, explain the Imperial Examination system very well. It’s an interesting read! after passing the highest Imperial Civil Service Examination, but he had died early. Her mother entrusted her to Zhang Yaofeng’s older male second cousin, Zhang Yaozuo, to raise. Later on, when Zhang Yaozuo had to leave for Shu Province to take an official post, he used the excuse of it being too far of a trip to decline to bring along his younger male second cousin’s orphan children for the journey. Beautiful Lady Zhang’s mother had no way to support her family and had no choice but to sell her daughter to the family of Wei Country’s Princess Imperial as a musical entertainer. In the ancient Chinese caste system, women who gave public performances were looked down upon for showing themselves in the public eye. Remember that a woman’s reputation was everything in those days. Women of good birth were cloistered away in their boudoirs until marriage. Presumably, both performers and courtesans would have been considered part of the artisan/craftsmen class, possibly adding to the negative social perception of female entertainers. Learn more about the ancient Chinese caste system in my post! She herself remarried into the Jian Clan and gave birth to a son.
The Grand Princess Imperial sent Beautiful Lady Zhang into the palace to serve in Forbidden City’s Immortal Music Troupe. In those days, Beautiful Lady Zhang was still quite young. Maid Jia took a liking to her and adopted her, raising her as if she were her own daughter. Beautiful Lady Zhang performed for several years until later when she met His Majesty at the Empress Dowager Zhang’hui’s palace. Zhang’hui is her title, not her name. 章 (zhāng) means “seal/badge” and 惠 (huì) means benevolence.
Presently, she’s favoured by His Majesty and the Emperor no longer mentions her career as a performer. To outsiders, he claims that she is the Previous Emperor’s Jie’yu Shen’s adopted daughter. However, naturally everyone in the palace would not forget. In private, many often spoke of her like Jie’yu Yu did in this way, calling her a “rotten woman with a poor background.”
“You entered the palace later than me and might not know what happened in previous years. There is a reason for this.”
Zhao’rong Miao explained to Jie’yu Yu the reason behind Lady Zhang’s favour: “One time when she danced for Empress Dowager Zhang’hui, the Empress Dowager thought that she looked lovely and kept her by her side. The Emperor was raised by Empress Dowager Zhang’hui and is extremely filial towards her. After he reached adulthood, he never forgot to visit her in the morning and evening. 晨昏定省 (chénhūndìngxǐng) It was considered part of one’s filial duties to greet one’s parents/elders in the morning and evening. At the time, Lady Zhang was quite young. She wasn’t much older than the current Huirou.
One day, she discovered that the bunny rabbit she was raising had died. Its throat was injured and half its body was covered in blood. She cried her heart out. Afterwards, someone told her that the bunny might have been bitten by a rat. Coincidentally, at the time, a small rat had run by her foot. She saw it and became angry. She chased it everywhere, carrying her skirt, determined to stamp it to death. At that moment, the Emperor just happened to come in. Seeing this scene, he henceforth began to like her and treated her with somewhat more care, and then took her as his concubine.”
Jie’yu Yu came to a sudden realization, and laughed: “So it turns out that His Majesty specifically liked her short temper.”
Zhao’rong Miao also gave a slight smile: “Perhaps. In his eyes, this personality is one that’s rarely seen amongst the women in the palace…… Later on, someone told Lady Zhang that the bunny was actually killed by a young lady who resented her out of jealousy. No one knows whether this claim was true or false, but after this, suspicion sprouted in Lady Zhang’s heart. If she finds even the smallest thing that displeases her, then she would harbour suspicions that someone is trying to harm her. Now that her daughter is dead, it would be more strange if she didn’t suspect something.”
Jie’yu Yu pondered for a bit, and then said: “But previously, she really did find a cloth doll in the Back Garden……” Without finishing her thought, she hurriedly changed the subject again, saying: “She’s so insolent! Surely there are more than a few people who harbour a grudge against her in the palace. To stir up something like this, in the end, it’s still because of her own foolishness.”
Zhao’rong Miao shook her head and quietly sighed: “Who knows……”
At this moment, Zhao’rong Miao took note of me and instructed: “A moment ago, the Emperor dispatched someone to ask if the Princess is better now. Go to Lady Zhang’s Pavilion and report back to His Majesty.”
I nodded my head and agreed. Jie’yu Yu noticed that I had stood in attendance all along when they were talking about Beautiful Lady Zhang’s affairs. She intentionally smiled and warned me: “Don’t tell others about Lady Miao and my conversation.”
I had not yet replied when Zhao’rong Miao had already opened her mouth and responded to Jie’yu Yu: “You don’t need to worry about this. Don’t be fooled by the fact that this child is young. In fact, he’s more loyal than many veteran servants and always singlemindedly waits upon Huirou. I merely treated him as someone on our side.”
Once more, I arrived at Soaring Phoenix Pavilion. Beautiful Lady Zhang was no longer in the courtyard. She must have cried for a very long time and was supported by someone inside to rest. The Emperor saw me come in and immediately beckoned me to approach. He asked me about the Princess’ situation in detail and appeared to be deeply concerned.
At this moment, a group of servants entered in an orderly fashion. They lined up and all held a few rolls of purple gauze in their hands. The Emperor turned to look at the monks who were praying in the courtyard and said: “Bestow a foot of purple gauze to every monk.”
When prayers were held in the palace, there was a predetermined reward for every monk. Purple gauze was not included among these. It must have been that His Majesty extended his kindness and especially granted these items.
One after another, all of the monks thanked the Emperor for his grace. Unexpectedly, the Emperor changed the topic and went so far as to seriously advise them: “In the coming days, you will leave the palace from the East Glorious Gate. 东华门 (dōnghuámén) The eastern outer gate of the Forbidden City. Be sure to be mindful and hide the purple gauze in your clothes. Don’t let the people from the Office of the Inner Eastern Gate see or else the Imperial Censors will complain.”
The monks agreed, but they looked at each other and couldn’t help but show a look of surprise. The two rows of servants naturally knew that His Majesty had always been afraid of the Imperial Censors. Hearing these words they all felt like laughing, but taking a furtive look, they discovered that something was amiss with the Emperor’s expression. Their smiling expressions became stiff as they timidly withdrew.
At first, he spoke to the monks in an amicable manner, but when he mentioned “the people at the Office of the Inner Eastern Gate”, his eyes became cold. After he finished speaking, his face remained cold and cheerless as if it was covered by frost.
Hearing the words, “the people from the Office of the Inner Eastern Gate”, I immediately thought of Teacher Zhang. Connecting it with the previous time I referred to him in front of His Majesty where His Majesty became more reserved, I inwardly suspected that Teacher Zhang had displeased the Emperor. Could it be that, owing to the fact that he controlled the passage of people and goods into the Forbidden Palace, he would go and inform the Imperial Censorate upon seeing that the Emperor had rewarded people more generously?”
The Office of the Inner Eastern Gate was close to the Secretariat-Chancellery as well as all the foreign embassies. It would be very easy to form relationships with foreign officials. But thinking over the matter closely, the Emperor rarely made an exception to generously grant rewards to others. Teacher Zhang also probably wouldn’t upset His Majesty over something like this. My suspicions were considerably childish. Still, what was the reason as to why His Majesty was not fond of Teacher Zhang?”
While indulging in my own thoughts, I didn’t hear that the Emperor had called me. Only once he slightly raised his voice and called my name again did I wake up from my daze.
“Come on, let’s go to Yearning Phoenix Pavilion. I want to visit Huirou.” He said.
Hope the start of your month is going well!
We announced this in our December goals post, but here is the first of 3 chapters for Held in the Lonely castle this month! You can thank Petrified for faster releases! We’ve made a lot of progress thanks to him joining the team! In the new year, we aim to release 2 chapters per month instead of only one chapter monthly/bi-monthly. I apologize for the slowness in translating since picking up this project. Thank you again for your infinite patience! <3
If you prefer something a bit sweeter for the holiday season, please check out our other project, Why Harem Intrigue!
As always, any feedback about our translations is very welcome 😀
Until next time,