Held in the Lonely Castle (Chp 3 Part 4)
Chapter 3: Pointlessly Missing Another Chance
Part 4 – Praying for Rain (祈雨)
Translation assistant: Petrified
Translation checker: Nyamachi
English proofreaders: 247Reader & JimmyfromIT
In no more than half a day’s time, the matter with Miss Fan spread throughout the Six Palaces. The Emperor had taken many adopted daughters as his concubines previously; however, those were all women adopted by the previous Emperor’s imperial concubines.
According to the palace rumours, Miss Fan was the first among the later generation of young women to be “blessed by the heavens.” Hence, all of the imperial concubines made discreet inquiries for information. They waited to see how the Emperor would handle the matter.
After returning from the Garden Viewing Palace, the Empress resumed her normal attitude as the nation’s mother; she wore no emotions on her face and methodically handled the Inner Palace’s affairs as usual.
Afterwards, at the dinner banquet, she described Miss Gao’s coming-of-age ceremony to the Emperor before nonchalantly mentioning Miss Fan. She told him that Miss Fan was getting older and she was no longer willing to let her adopted daughter leave the palace, so she requested that the Emperor accept Miss Fan so that they would not have to worry about parting.
She said all of this in such a calm and unperturbed manner that it actually made His Majesty feel somewhat embarrassed; but, in the end, he still went with the flow 顺水推舟 (shùnshuǐtuīzhōu) Lit. To push the boat with the current. It means to take advantage of a situation for one’s own benefit. and “accepted her request.”
Consequently, the Empress allocated Miss Fan a different pavilion to live in and the number of her servants greatly increased. Moreover, she ordered her senior attendants and the Matrons from the Ministry of Internal Affairs to cooperate in making arrangements and selected an auspicious day for Miss Fan’s title conferment ceremony.
The Six Palaces were in an uproar as word passed from mouth to mouth. Soon, there were many versions of the story, each with a different spin regarding the cause and ensuing events.
One version among these said that the Empress had purposefully adopted Miss Fan in order to divide the favour shown to Beautiful Lady Zhang, and that Miss Fan’s “seduction” of the Emperor was incited by the Empress.
When people heard that I had once witnessed the events in the Hall of Gentle Countenance, all of them barraged me with controversial questions, but I refused to answer. They also pleaded with me to at the very least describe to them the Empress’ reaction when she found out about the matter, asking me whether she was very pleased with herself in the moment. However, I categorically refused to respond. Even towards Zhao’rong Miao, I only said that “I hadn’t witnessed anything.”
I wasn’t sure if this matter came as a surprise to the Empress or not, but I was certain of one thing: that drop of water hadn’t fallen from the sky. However, I wouldn’t tell others of this. I believed that the Empress would also not deign to explain or justify herself to others at this moment.
Though she had not yet been conferred a title, the Emperor already visited Miss Fan’s pavilion often. Everyone in the palace had many guesses about her official rank.
When the Emperor accepted a new imperial concubine, generally they would be conferred the title of Imperial Attendant, 御侍 (yùshì) Title unique to the Song Dynasty for women who have entered the palace but have not slept with the Emperor. and those who were slightly favoured would simultaneously be granted the title of Lady of the First Rank 郡君 (jùnjūn) Lit. Lady of a Commandery. This is also the title given to the daughter of a Qinwang or Lady of the Second Rank, 县君 (xiànjūn) Lit. Lady of a County. This is also the title given to the daughter of a Junwang. and not be included within the fifth rank of titled noble women. They could be slowly promoted in the future.
However, according to the current palace rumours, because Miss Fan came from a good family and was also the Empress’ adopted daughter, it was said that Their Imperial Majesties intended to bestow upon her a higher rank; she would be granted the title of Noble Lady or Talented Lady right from the start. It was even possible that she would be bestowed the title of Beautiful Lady, which was within the Fourth Rank. By rank from highest to lowest in the Song Dynasty, the order is: Beautiful Lady [美人; měi rén] > Talented Lady [才人; cái rén] > Noble Lady [貴人; guì rén].
When this topic was brought up, most of the imperial concubines smiled with delight, seemingly thrilled at the thought of this happening. It was not hard to guess why. They were all waiting to see the newly-appointed Beautiful Lady suppress the old Beautiful Lady.
Beautiful Lady Zhang felt restless after hearing these rumours, and she constantly waited in the palace behind the Imperial Court for the Emperor. After this had happened many times, the Emperor couldn’t bear it anymore and directly said that she didn’t need to come again. After news of this spread, she was reduced to the laughingstock of the Six Palaces.
In all likelihood, Beautiful Lady Zhang had not given up on looking for a countermeasure. For several days, the servants in her pavilion were extremely busy. One could often see Grandmother Jia or her pavilion’s eunuchs coming or going from the Imperial City, wearing gloomy expressions as they hurried along.
“She probably wants to go and consult with Head Chancellor Jia again,” Zhao’rong Miao said privately, “but this time, the Emperor’s newest favourite is someone who the Empress recommended. Moreover, Fan Guanyin was born from a good background. Even if Head Chancellor Jia presents a memorial to remonstrate the Emperor, the Emperor also has grounds to refuse him and no need to give him further consideration.” 不加理睬 (bùjiālǐcǎi) To ignore, overlook or not give due consideration.
Originally, her words were not wrong, but the great drought that had started the previous winter and still held the country in its grip caused many changes to the situation.
Monarchs and rulers always feared natural disasters, as ministers would always present memorials asking that the Emperor reflect on himself, saying that the conduct of his administration was misguided and would lead to the end of the dynasty.
There had been no rainfall these last three months and the Emperor was deeply worried about this. Not only did he shut himself in the main hall [of the Buddhist temple in the Palace], but he also often reduced the number of his meals and repeatedly prayed for rain.
The Emperor tried all kinds of methods to pray for rain, going so far as to lead all the Imperial Concubines and court eunuchs to burn incense and pray. Yet, from beginning to end, there was not a single drop of sweet rain in the skies.
During this time, Head Chancellor Jia Changzhao presented a memorial admonishing the Emperor, stating that there were too many women in the imperial harem and requesting that several Imperial Concubines be sent out of the palace to quell disaster.
The Emperor agreed. After he returned to the Inner Palace, he ordered for someone to fetch the palace registry and selected several people he was not intimate with who desired to leave the palace.
That day, there was still a ceremony to pray for rain in the palace. The Emperor personally read prayers aloud as usual. I was unsure how to translate 亲书祝辞. Please let us know in the comments if you have a better translation!
Just as he was about to take up his brush to copy down [sutras], Beautiful Lady Zhang suddenly stepped forward and said: “This concubine heard that the one offering prayer should use their blood to [copy sutras] to properly express their sincerity. For many years, this concubine has received no small measure of Your Majesty’s care but has been unable to return the favour. In today’s prayers for rain, this concubine implores Your Majesty to use this concubine’s blood and fulfill this concubine’s long-cherished wish to share Your Majesty’s worries and difficulties.”
Before she had even finished speaking, she suddenly revealed a small dagger and sliced her left arm.
Seeing the dripping blood, the Emperor turned pale with fright. In one swift movement, he grasped her arm and applied pressure to her wound, shouting for someone to come and bandage it.
However, Beautiful Lady Zhang lightly pushed him away and insisted on calling someone to bring over a cup. Only after she supplied the cup with several drops of blood did she allow the servants to bandage the wound.
The Emperor was greatly moved and repeatedly comforted her on top of rewarding her.
Beautiful Lady Zhang merely smiled, and said: “How could this concubine not part with a little blood for the sake of being able to share Your Majesty’s worries?” Afterwards, she softly urged him to write his prayers.
The last step of today’s ceremony was to summon servants to exit the palace, to spread the prayer, and show the Emperor’s sincerity in accepting the remonstrance officials’ request to reduce the number of women in the palace.
Once the senior attendant finished roll call and let the palace maids pay their respects one last time, Beautiful Lady Zhang stood up again with a tremble and bowed towards His Majesty, saying:
“This great drought has continued for a rarely seen length of time. If those who are to leave the palace are simply expendable people, it would be difficult to show Your Majesty and the Six Palaces’ sincerity in praying for rain. This concubine’s adopted daughter, Miss Xu, has always been greatly treasured by this concubine, but now that calamity has befallen us, this concubine is willing to give up our mother and daughter relationship and let Miss Xu leave the palace. This concubine only hopes that this gesture will move the heavens, and prays for rain to prevent disaster for Your Majesty and the nation.”
Once she finished speaking, two other imperial concubines, who were usually very close with her, also stepped out of the ranks to kowtow. They echoed her desire to let their own adopted daughters leave the palace.
The Emperor hesitated and said nothing for a long time. The remaining imperial concubines with adopted daughters who were present at the scene were as uncomfortable as if they were sitting on pins and needles.
A moment later, a few more imperial concubines also knelt down in support of the request. Like this, they continuously knelt one after another, all expressing their desires to part with their adopted daughters.
It seemed certain that most among them didn’t originally have this intention, but when faced with this scene, those who didn’t follow the will of the majority, unwilling to make this seemingly-small sacrifice, would appear disloyal to the Emperor and nation.
Upon seeing this, Beautiful Lady Zhang faintly smiled. She patted her chest and panted slightly as she said to the Emperor: “Congratulations, Your Majesty. Now the Six Palaces are of one mind; all are willing to part with their adopted daughters and let them leave the palace. The heavens will certainly give a response and will soon release sweet rain down to the earth.” Saying this, she unhurriedly turned her head towards the Empress, and asked softly: “Your Majesty the Empress, this concubine didn’t misspeak, correct?”
The Empress didn’t reply, but turned to face His Majesty. She half rose out of her chair and said: “Your Majesty, nowadays this concubine only has one adopted daughter in the palace. Whether to keep her or to let her go is completely up to Your Majesty’s discretion.”
The Emperor silently raised a hand towards the heavens with a dignified expression. Only after a long time did he speak: “Zhen will discuss this matter with the Head Chancellor tomorrow and then will make a decision.”
It was obvious what the result of discussing this matter with Head Chancellor Jia would be.
With Jia Changzhao making a supreme effort to get this matter approved, even going as far as to instigate other [ministers], His Majesty issued an imperial decree to release the Empress’ adopted daughter, Miss Fan, and Beautiful Lady Zhang’s adopted daughter, Miss Xu, along with a dozen or more other young ladies from the palace.
The atmosphere of the final farewell ceremony was exceedingly mournful. There were several mother-daughter pairs who were holding one another and barely holding back sobs.
After Miss Fan finished paying her respects to the Emperor, she rushed towards the Empress and collapsed at her feet, kowtowing while sobbing: “Mother, I was wrong…”
The Empress pulled her up and helped her to wipe her tears. After much thought, she seemed as if she wanted to say something but hesitated. In the end, the Empress only sighed and tearfully hugged her.
When it was Miss Xu’s turn to pay her respects, an unexpected event occurred.
At first, she knelt down in a daze. Upon seeing her, Grandmother Jia didn’t move, but reminded her from the side to bid His Majesty goodbye.
Who would’ve thought that Miss Xu would suddenly become emotional: she turned and crawled towards Beautiful Lady Zhang on her knees, grasping the hem of her skirt, and cried loudly: “Elder Sister, why are you sending me away?”
Beautiful Lady Zhang flinched. When she responded a moment later, her expression was heartbroken: “Elder Sister also can’t bear to part with you, but if we are not willing to part with someone close to us, this rain…”
“That’s not it! Elder Sister didn’t like me from the beginning!” Miss Xu didn’t want to hear her excuses and cried, “The one you are most fond of is still Youwu… Since you gave birth to her, you barely even spared me a glance… I thought that after Youwu was gone you would treat me better, but you still never looked at me. You treat Younger Sister Zhou better than me…”
“Youwu…” It almost seemed like Beautiful Lady Zhang was stabbed by this name as she repeated it in a low voice.
Suddenly, she lunged and grabbed Miss Xu’s arms, practically digging her nails into her skin. Her eyes gave off an ominous glint: “It was you! So it was you…!”
Miss Xu shrieked with pain and tried her best to struggle free.
Noticing that the situation appeared to be taking a turn for the worse, Grandmother Jia hurriedly pulled the two apart.
She held Miss Xu in her arms and covered her mouth with one hand while trying to gloss over the situation: “This child is too heartbroken and is slightly muddle-headed. Why not exempt her from this ceremony?” After that, she repeatedly sent meaningful glances toward Beautiful Lady Zhang.
Beautiful Lady Zhang stared back blankly, before gradually calming down. Giving a weak smile, she spoke to Miss Xu in a gentle tone: “Foolish child, if Elder Sister doesn’t like you, then who else could Elder Sister like? Return for the time being. Elder Sister will visit you again later.”
Receiving Beautiful Lady Zhang’s instruction, Grandmother Jia half held, half dragged Miss Xu outside. Miss Xu struggled and shook her head, but not one word could be made out from her muffled cries. Her tears streamed across the hand Grandmother Jia still held over her mouth.
Relatively speaking, Miss Fan and the rest left in a very tranquil manner. No one resisted, but each one buried their heads in their hands and wept. They rode in carriages out of the palace gates, and their delegation of ten carriages rolled along the dirt path as their sorrowful voices lingered in the wind. In this manner, they left the Imperial City.
Seeing them gradually disappear into the distance, I suddenly recalled that when these palace women left the Imperial City, all of them were in tears.
Perhaps there would be an exception, I thought to myself.
For example, Qiuhe. When she left the palace in the future, she would certainly be full of joy because the life she looked forward to was like a painted scroll. When the time came, it would unfurl in front of her, with many beautiful scenes of happiness waiting hidden inside for her to appreciate one by one.
The Princess would be another example. She had been born in the palace, but would not be able to spend her later years here. There would inevitably be a day when his Majesty sought out a Princess Consort, and would grandly send her out of the palace with all the bells and whistles…
The scholars of the current dynasty are elegant and carefree. With His Majesty presiding over the Imperial Court, all of the ministers he sees are intelligent and accomplished, with no exception. Someday, when he selects a husband for his sole surviving daughter, it’s unknown just what kind of outstanding talent he will choose… When Her Highness gets married, she will surely feel happy…
I became lost in my thoughts as I gazed into the distance and didn’t notice that someone had approached me. Only after she waved a hand in front of my face a few times did I somewhat give a reaction, staring forward. The person was in fact Qiuhe.
“You’re staring blankly, what are you thinking of?” she asked with a light grin. Since she had cried because of Miss Fan earlier, the rim of her eyes were slightly red. “Why the big sigh?”
“Ah?” I asked, confused. “Did I sigh?”
It had been several days since Miss Fan’s group had left the palace, and there was still no sign of rain.
In a fit of rage, the Emperor demoted Jia Changzhao to be the Provincial Governor of Wusheng County to judge cases in Daming County’s Governmental Office and simultaneously hold the position of Military Commissioner of Hebei Province, thus expelling him from the capital.
The day before the announcement was made, Grandmother Jia rushed arduously all about the Imperial City, but she returned without any results. The people observing her movements during this time as they gathered information about Jia Changzhao’s demotion from the Head Chancellor seat all came out of the woodwork.
As it turned out, after His Majesty released the servants from the palace to pray for rain, he then had a private meeting with Censor Li Jian.
Li Jian said: “Your Majesty has nearly exhausted all the methods to pray for rain. The only method left is the one recorded when disaster befell the Han Dynasty, where the Emperor dismissed the Three Ducal Ministers.” 三公 (sāngōng) The top three governmental officials/The Emperor’s closest advisors were known collectively as the Three Ducal Ministers or the Three Excellencies. They were the Chancellor (丞相), Grand Secretary (御史大夫), and Grand Commandant (太尉). Learn more about Ancient Chinese Ranks and Titles~
The Remonstrance Official, Hong Fan, seconded the motion. Moreover, he mentioned that Jia Changzhao had repeatedly quarrelled with Wu Yu during Imperial Court, saying: “If the officials are not respectful, then rain will not fall on time.”
His Majesty couldn’t take it anymore. He slammed the table and stood up. He ordered the Locking of the Institution along with the drafting of an imperial decree permitting the Hanlin scholars to announce Jia Changzhao’s demotion from Head Chancellor.
When the Hanlin Imperial Academy drafted an imperial edict of such significance, they would first lock the academy gates and sever all contact with the outside to avoid leaking information. This was called “Locking the Institution”.
Grandmother Jia had already bribed two of the eunuchs waiting at His Majesty’s side. When the eunuch saw that His Majesty intended to announce Jia Changzhao’s demotion, he immediately informed Grandmother Jia.
Grandmother Jia and Beautiful Lady Zhang were extremely anxious. They intended to get in touch with the Jia clan’s henchmen, but at the moment, the Imperial Court had already been dismissed and all of those officials had already departed from the Imperial City.
Thus, Grandmother Jia found an excuse to exit the palace, but to her surprise, she was stopped by Teacher Zhang Maoze, who said that the hour was already late. If she left now, she would not be able to return before the palace gates shut; therefore, she could not leave. Grandmother Jia resentfully returned.
Later, she ran to the gates of the Hanlin Imperial Academy to watch from the sidelines, but once again she was shooed away by the imperial guards watching the gate. With great difficulty, she waited until dawn to visit Hanlin Imperial Academy again but saw that the gates were wide open.
An Imperial Scholar held the imperial decree up high and swaggered off to have an audience with His Majesty as she looked on helplessly. Approximately one hour later, the demoted Jia Changzhao dejectedly walked out of the palace hall.
Furthermore, right after he was demoted, rain poured down for several days.
These events were vividly described by the imperial concubines. All the listeners would laugh heartily, except for one time when the Princess asked quietly after hearing this: “Then will Elder Sister Fan come back?”
Zhao’rong Miao didn’t answer. She called over Jiaqing Plums and Smiling Dumplings and had them accompany the Princess to play on the swing in the courtyard.
Zhao’rong Miao spoke to the surrounding concubines only after the Princess left. “They were sent away on the pretext of praying for rain. Who would be able to return?”
Jie’yu Yu also sighed: “This child Guanyin is also quite pitiful. Who would dare to marry a woman who has served the Emperor? In the future, she will be obliged to become a Buddhist nun.”
“Exactly.” Zhao’rong Miao absentmindedly brushed the flower in the vase beside her. “She’s just like a well cared for peach blossom [tree] that had just had its first bloom at the beginning of spring, but was chopped down and turned into firewood.”
TL Team Thoughts:
Hello dear readers,
Thank you so much for your continued patience as irl continues to be busy for the team. We hope you enjoyed the chapter~
Please let us know in the comments if anything would make waiting easier between posts. Look out for our monthly TL goal posts if you’re ever wondering about how translation is going. Here are our TL Goals for October.
Poor Miss Fan… Her fate reminds me of another character in the most recent chapter of Why Harem Intrigue who was denounced by the emperor as ‘unclean’. A bleak future awaits both.
We will try to aim for monthly HLC posts until the end of the year. The dense exposition in some chapters makes TLCing quite slow. If you have time and interest, please feel free to contact Nyamachi about being a Translation Checker. We could also use help with website admin.
Until next time,
The Nyanovels Translation Team