Why Harem Intrigue When You Can Just Raise A Dog Instead? (Chp 77)
Chapter 77: Beautiful Women (美人)
Translators: Nyamachi & Tygris
English proofreader: 247Reader
All daughters of officials of the fourth rank and higher who had reached fourteen years of age were required to attend Great Zhou’s Grand Concubine Selection. However, this was just a formality – the imperial family wouldn’t actually force anyone unwilling.
Parents who decided to seek good husbands for their daughters elsewhere with their daughters’ best interests at heart could present memorials with explanations to the Emperor. These would generally be accepted.
If the young women missed the Concubine Selection due to reasons out of their control, then, after explaining the reasons clearly, they were free to choose their own marriages without needing to wait for the next selection. After all, the selections happened only once every three years, and young women didn’t have the luxury of time.
Nevertheless, there were still those ambitious parents who insisted on sending their daughters into the Inner Palace to obtain splendour and glory.
Under the warm sun, with growing grass and flying orioles, Bi’xiao Palace, which was surrounded by lush green vegetation, was the very picture of spring. The scent of fresh grass and the fragrance of blooming flowers filled the air.
Meng Sangyu opened the window and lazily reclined on the soft couch, enjoying the sun as she flipped through the roster of girls for the Concubine Selection. The roster was very detailed. It included paintings of each candidate and was even more interesting than a modern fashion magazine.
Seeing her mistress flipping through the roster with such relish and without even the slightest sense of danger, Nurse Feng couldn’t resist anymore and worriedly spoke, “Your Ladyship, why don’t you privately ask the Emperor what his thoughts are towards these girls, so as to make preparations early on. I hear that this batch of concubine candidates is extremely outstanding. In fact, one of the girls has the reputation of being Great Zhou’s number one beauty and cannot be underestimated!”
“I already asked earlier. The Emperor says that he has no inclinations, and it will all be up to me.” Meng Sangyu took a handkerchief to cover her mouth and yawned without regard to her image.
Yesterday she had taken the roster to seek the Emperor’s opinion and to ask him to choose a few that had caught his eye so that she could select them, but the Emperor had unexpectedly tossed the roster to the side without even looking at it, and then mercilessly tumbled with her for an entire night.
Nurse Feng was content and smiled so much that her face was full of wrinkles. The Emperor was indeed the one who was most considerate of her mistress.
Meng Sangyu glanced down at her with a disapproving expression. The man’s actions had gone far, but not far enough for her heart to be satisfied.
She could endure sharing him with many other women and choose beautiful concubines to pad the Inner Palace on his behalf. This was all part of the time period and beyond her control.
If she could choose, then why wouldn’t she want to spend a lifetime with someone as a couple? But this dream was destined to be hopeless. The only thing she could do was firmly control her own heart.
She had been wallowing in the Emperor’s gentle love, but luckily this round of concubine selection had allowed her to sober up in time. Meng Sangyu smiled mockingly at herself and flipped through to the end of the candidate roster.
She curiously inquired, “Great Zhou’s number one beauty? Which family is she from?” She had vaguely heard of someone with this reputation before she had entered the palace.
“Replying to Your Ladyship, it’s Imperial Duke Yu’s eldest legitimate daughter, Yu Ya’ge. 雅歌 (yǎgē) Her name refers to a part of the Book of Songs 詩經}, an early collection of Chinese poems and one of the Five Classics of Confucianism; A poem set to elegant music She was originally supposed to enter the palace along with your honoured self as a Concubine Candidate, but at the time, she suddenly took ill and was unable to participate in the selection process. Therefore, her candidacy as a concubine was put off until this round. Her illegitimate younger sister was selected, but during these three years in the palace, she has not been able to attract the Emperor’s favour. Recently, thanks to Her Highness the Empress Dowager’s grace, the younger sister was promoted to the rank of Virtuous Consort.”
Nurse Feng exchanged the now-cold tea for a new cup as she spoke.
Meng Sangyu lifted the cup to take a sip and flipped to the page belonging to Imperial Duke Yu’s Manor. The tip of her eyebrow raised slightly.
“So, she was Yu Ya’an’s legitimate elder sister, eighteen years old. Her age is a bit high. How could she choose not to marry within the last three years and insist on entering the Inner Palace, choosing to gamble her future on this one difficult path?” Meng Sangyu shook her head, feeling that she could not understand the other woman.
Don’t tell me that glory, splendour, wealth, and rank were truly more important than one’s lifelong happiness?
“I heard that the matchmakers swarmed their manor to the point that their front gates were broken down. After looking at the candidates, her mother had found several families to her liking, but the young lady refused them all. She is an ambitious woman. Seeing that her illegitimate younger sister was promoted to become the head of the Four Consorts, how could she be willing to resign herself [to a normal marriage]?” Nurse Feng’s expression was scornful.
Meng Sangyu carefully appreciated the portrait in her hand and sighed, “With these looks, how could she not be ambitious? Even I feel moved when looking at her; how could any man resist? Imperial Duke Yu must have placed great hopes on her, otherwise he wouldn’t have sent her into the palace just at the moment when her illegitimate younger sister has been granted the title of Virtuous Consort.”
Nurse Feng glanced at the roster of candidates and couldn’t help but concede that this woman was indeed a cut apart from the rest. It was merely a small portrait, but that delicate and peerless face already drew the eye. Who knew how beautiful she would be in the flesh?
Noticing her master’s features relaxing and that her gaze had become clearer and completely unguarded, Nurse Feng hesitated to speak several times before finally remaining silent.
Even without the Emperor’s favour, her master could still live just as comfortably as before. There was no need for her to vie with others and torment herself.
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The two continued to flip through the roster of candidates. It was at this moment that Bi’shui hurriedly entered the room, a happy and excited Er’bao at her heels.
“Your Ladyship, today is a beautiful spring day. Her Ladyship Virtuous Consort is arranging a flower viewing banquet in the Imperial Garden and invites your honoured self to attend.” After a pause, Bi’shui added, “She also invited a few Concubine Candidates, and the Second Young Mistress will also be attending.”
Meng Rui’zhu? Meng Sangyu raised an eyebrow. Originally, she hadn’t wished to go, but upon hearing the latter part of the sentence, she changed her mind.
Even if Meng Rui’zhu had some kind of scheme, her perspective was too narrow. Moreover, her temperament was still extremely arrogant and vain, making her an easy target for others to use as a tool. Meng Sangyu wouldn’t stop worrying unless she went to see for herself.
“Help me change.” Massaging her eyebrows, Meng Sangyu entered the inner chamber and changed into the bright yellow imperial court dress of a Noble Imperial Consort. The phoenix tail feathers embroidered onto the imperial court dress were inlaid with tiny pearls, which dazzled and glistened in the sunlight. With the addition of her extremely lavish golden hair ornaments, Meng Sangyu’s whole body emitted a golden light like a small sun, until it was impossible to look directly at her.
If an ordinary person adorned themself with gold from head to foot, it would undoubtedly appear intolerably vulgar, but Meng Sangyu’s noble aura and incomparably gorgeous looks made the garish gold colour appear graceful and eye-catching in its brilliance. Her sharp and intense beauty could stab through a viewer’s eyes.
Nurse Feng smoothed the folds in her master’s skirt and stepped back a few steps to examine her. The sense of crisis she felt in her heart instantly disappeared.
Who else in Great Zhou could reach her master’s level of dignified magnificence? It didn’t matter how beautiful a woman was – if she stood together with her master, she would only seem washed out, like an old garment that could no longer be worn.
“Let’s go!” Meng Sangyu flicked her sleeve, emitting a flash of golden light. The group of servants straightened their backs and acknowledged the order in unison, displaying the fierce and lofty, imposing manner that was unique to Bi’xiao Palace in full force.
Inside the Peng’Lai Pavilion 蓬莱 (pénglái) Penglai is one of the three fabled islands in the Eastern sea in Chinese mythology said to be where immortals and fairies lived. within the Imperial Garden, the newly-appointed Virtuous Consort, Yu Ya’an, was in the middle of greeting a group of Concubine Candidates, inviting them to sit. She even affectionately invited her own legitimate elder sister and Meng Rui’zhu to sit by her side.
Since Yu Ya’ge possessed outstanding beauty on top of being the daughter of the first wife, she had grown up receiving everyone’s love and affection from a young age. Therefore, she was extremely haughty. She especially couldn’t stand this illegitimate younger sister, whose appearance was inferior to hers, yet who was ranked as the head of the Four Consorts.
With great difficulty, she endured the envy in her heart and curtseyed in salute to her illegitimate younger sister. When she saw that Meng Rui’zhu, whose looks were only average, was being treated even better than she was, a dejected expression appeared on her face.
No matter how beautiful she was, with thin brows like willow trees, vermillion phoenix eyes, 丹凤眼 (dānfèngyǎn) Describes eyes whose outer corners incline upwards, i.e. anime eyes. skin as smooth as a goose egg, delicate ruby lips, a cloud of ebony black hair… As far as the word “beauty” was concerned, not a single part of her body was lacking, not to mention that she was extremely skilled at styling herself. Her goose-yellow muslin dress and simple and elegant makeup made her seem as enchanting as a fairy in the Moon Palace. All other women were eclipsed when sitting beside her.
Seeing everyone repeatedly cast implicitly envious and guarded glances towards her, Yu Ya’ge used her embroidered handkerchief to hide the upraised corners of her contented smile. She had heard that the Pure and Gracious Imperial Noble Consort dominated the imperial favour in the Inner Palace, and the Emperor loved her like a treasure.
Now that she had arrived, wasn’t the position of most-favoured consort about to change?
“The Pure and Gracious Imperial Noble Consort has arrived!” The eunuch standing outside Peng’lai Pavilion held his head high as he made his ringing announcement. The group of imperial concubines and Concubine Candidates promptly headed outside to curtsey in salute.
The bright yellow figure approached along the curved path towards them under the resplendent sunshine. Her golden, dangling hair ornaments jingled as she moved, causing everyone to unconsciously raise their heads to take a look before quickly closing their eyes in shock.
Yu Ya’ge was indeed very beautiful. They originally thought that she had already reached the limits of beauty, and it would be difficult to surpass her. It was only after they saw the Imperial Noble Consort that they came to realize that there was a type of beauty that did not rely on one’s appearance but rather centred on one’s demeanour.
Her eyebrows were not shaped according to the most fashionable style at present, thin willow brows. Instead, they were quite thick, and a bit of imperious aura could be felt from their slightly raised tips.
Her highly-contrasting phoenix eyes were long and narrow. It seemed as if their sharp gaze could see through a person’s innermost desires so that no one dared to look at her directly.
Her lips were slightly plump, and her blood-red rouge resembled a raging inferno.
This was a kind of extremely flamboyant and domineering beauty capable of burning everything around it.
Standing beside her, Yu Ya’ge seemed weak and powerless, just as a luminous moon against a pitch-black night sky could never compete with the blazing sun freely travelling along the horizon in splendour.
The newly-appointed Virtuous Consort, Yu Ya’an, deferentially paid her respects and righted herself after the Imperial Noble Consort absent-mindedly flicked her sleeve. Seeing her legitimate elder sister’s pale complexion, a fleeting light of ridicule flashed in her eyes
After becoming accustomed to seeing such a bright and resplendent Imperial Noble Consort, would the Emperor still pay any attention to the stubborn, boring Yu Ya’ge? She doubted it! She was merely a narrow-minded frog at the bottom of a well, 井底之蛙 (jǐngdǐzhīwā) Describes a person of limited outlook and experience. yet she still delusionally wanted to ascend to the heavens!
She lowered her head and covered her mouth with an embroidered handkerchief, giving an inaudible sneer.
Meng Sangyu sat in the host’s seat vacated by Virtuous Consort. She spotted Meng Rui’zhu and beckoned her over, saying sweetly, “Come over and sit.”
Meng Rui’zhu, who had been completely suppressed by Yu Ya’ge, happily agreed and sat down beside her legitimate elder sister. Her attitude was somewhat reserved.
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“All of you may sit; you can be at ease.” Meng Sangyu took the cup of tea offered by Nurse Feng and took a few light sips. Each and every one of her movements emitted an intimidatingly noble aura, directly causing those present to be even more nervous. There was no way that they could relax.
“Besides enjoying the flowers, are there any other fun activities planned?” asked Meng Sangyu lightly, breaking the faintly sluggish atmosphere.
Virtuous Consort was just about to reply when Yu Ya’ge, who had regained her vigour, got a step ahead of her and curtseyed in salute. Her voice was mellow. “This common girl has a suggestion but is unsure if it is a good idea.” She slightly raised her head and shot a lightning-fast glance at Meng Sangyu.
“What suggestion?” Meng Sangyu raised an eyebrow with interest. Since she was bored anyways, she would accompany Great Zhou’s number one beauty to play a round.
Er’Bao, who was held in Yin’cui’s embrace, began to whine inappropriately as he struggled, wanting to be let down, interrupting Yu Ya’ge’s speech.
“Take him for a walk in the garden. The rain of the past few days has made him stifled.” Note – MSY technically uses 它 here, meaning “it” for non-human things. It’s pronounced the same way as him or her. These are the three second-person gender pronouns in Chinese. Here is an article that explains more. Sangyu waved a hand and smiled indulgently.
Yin’cui and Bi’shui agreed and brought Er’bao into the Imperial Garden. Meng Sangyu looked over at Yu Ya’ge and raised an eyebrow, saying, “Continue.”
“Replying to Your Ladyship, shall we enjoy the flowers while composing poems? Moreover, we can crown the person who composes the best poem as a good omen. What does your honoured self think?” Yu Ya’ge lowered her head, concealing the scheming look in her eyes.
Who didn’t know that the militaristic Meng family’s tigress of a daughter was absolutely ignorant of the literary arts? If she agreed to this suggestion, she would definitely make a fool of herself, but if she didn’t agree, she would display her ignorance.
She wasn’t afraid that the other party would bear a grudge because of this. With her father and illegitimate younger sister’s backing, on top of her own beautiful features, she was confident that when the day of the Grand Selection came, the Emperor would absolutely pick her as soon as he laid eyes upon her.
No matter how favoured the Imperial Noble Consort was, could she defy His Majesty’s will? She didn’t think so!
Meng Rui’zhu’s expression stiffened. She truly didn’t understand the literary arts, and hurriedly turned toward her legitimate elder sister with a pleading gaze.
Meng Sangyu laughed and carelessly waved her hand. “This isn’t a bad idea. Bengong will reward the person who composes the best poem. There’s no limit on the theme. Compose one complete poem within the period of one incense stick. Begin!”
She was someone who occupied a high-ranked position. Making these people compose poems was purely a way for her to amuse herself. Who said that she had to participate personally? Wouldn’t that be beneath her position? Besides, this Yu Ya’ge was truly aiming for her weak points. She was innately gifted in calligraphy and painting, but when it came to composing poems, she was a complete good-for-nothing, and plagiarizing poems was not her style.
Yu Ya’ge choked up upon hearing the Imperial Noble Consort’s arrogant and bossy 颐指气使 (yízhǐqìshǐ) An idiom literally meaning ordering people by pointing the chin; signalling orders using facial gestures. manner of speech. Her complexion changed a few times before she finally weakly agreed. She wracked her brains In Chinese, “wracking one’s brains” is 绞尽脑汁 (jiǎojìnnǎozhī) or “exhausting one’s brain juice.” to compose a poem on the paper spread in front of her.
Yu Ya’an concealed a smile and thought: Is the Imperial Noble Consort someone you can provoke? Did Father and Mother 嫡母 (dímǔ) Though she addresses her as ‘Mother’, she’s referring to her father’s first wife or her legal mother, not her birth mother. raise you not to know the immensity of heaven and earth? 不知天高地厚 (bùzhī tiāngāodìhòu) To have an exaggerated opinion of one’s own abilities. Do you think that you can rely on some good looks to ascend into the heavens? What a joke!
After a single incense stick finished burning, all of the Concubine Candidates handed over their poems in succession. Meng Sangyu and Yu Ya’an examined them together.
As expected, Yu Ya’ge had some genuine ability since she dared to speak up and suggest selecting the best poet.
Her choice of words in the poem “Spring Song” was magnificent. The meaning behind the poem and its rhythm was refreshing and stayed with the reader. It was truly an exceedingly rare masterpiece. After looking through the poems, it seemed that she undoubtedly took first place in this poetry competition.
Meng Sangyu was about to declare the result when the eunuch standing outside the pavilion loudly announced, “His Majesty has arrived!”
Meng Sangyu and Yu Ya’ge hurriedly walked outside to kneel in welcome. All of the Concubine Candidates’ eyes gleamed.
Hello dear readers,
Just as the day is changing, here is our one chapter for August. Thank you for waiting so patiently.
We finally have some harem drama after a long while of court politics~ It feels refreshing~ I wonder what the result of the poetry competition will be?
We’re still recruiting for two(2) discord moderators~ If you’d like to help out the TL team, please contact Nyamachi!
Until next time,