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Held in the Lonely Castle (Chp 3 Part 5)

Chapter 3: Pointlessly Missing Another Chance

Part 5 – Minister Cao (曹郎)

Translator: Nyamachi
Translation assistant: Petrified
Translation checkers: Nyamachi, [redacted] & 247Reader
English proofreaders: 247Reader, Nyamachi, CelestialDumpling & Petrified

As Miss Gao’s wedding day approached, the Princess’ marriage also became a topic of discussion within the palace. She was ten years old this year and had reached the age where one could discuss or suggest marriage to her. 

Within these last few days, after they discussed Miss Gao’s wedding trousseau and ceremonial weaponry, the imperial concubines who visited Zhao’rong Miao’s pavilion  would nearly always bring up the Princess and ask Zhao’rong Miao: “Which young lord has His Majesty selected to become the Princess Consort?” [1]驸马 (fùmǎ) Princess Consort, the Emperor’s son-in-law. This position is typically granted to a military officer.

Zhao’rong Miao only shook her head and said: “I also want to know, but who could possibly guess what His Majesty is thinking? In any case, one can’t always hope for him to choose the Zhuang’yuan.” [2]状元 (zhuàngyuán) The title for the top scorer in the palace or metropolitan level of the imperial examination system. It’s also the highest degree that one could receive. The modern equivalent would probably be someone who’s made valedictorian. [3]Just like with other titles, we will add an apostrophe between characters to make it clear. Please let us know in the comments if you’d prefer to see them italicized instead.

The customs of the current dynasty were different from those of the Sui and Tang Dynasties. Marriage was no longer based on one’s family background, and it had gradually become the norm for the scholarly and warrior castes to intermarry with the common people. 

As the current dynasty placed particular importance on scholars, the civil and militaristic ministers [4]朱紫 (zhūzǐ) Refer to the respective colours of the civil and militaristic ministers’ robes – you see this in dramas a lot. Civil ministers wore red robes while militaristic ministers wore violet robes. of the Imperial Court were all intellectuals. Many powerful, high-ranking officials came from humble backgrounds, having been able to rise through society thanks to the imperial examination system. 

As a result, everyone in the upper crust of society, from the most influential distinguished aristocratic families down to the landed gentry, and the wealthy and powerful was fond of having Jin’shis [5]进士 (jìnshì) title and degree for graduates of the metropolitan level of the imperial examinations. as son-in-laws. Families with marriageable daughters even went so far as to wait nearby when the public roll of successful examinees was released. 

The entire capital fought over the green-robed scholars. [6]Official uniforms were graded by colour in the Song Dynasty, giving them a simple, fresh, clean look. According to our research, green robes were used by officials who were between the seventh and ninth rank, the lowest ranked officials i.e. newly appointed jin’shi. 

In the current dynasty, families with daughters preferred to select Jin’shis as son-in-laws, with some even setting their sights on marrying a daughter to the Zhuang’yuan. 

An example of this was the previous Assistant Administrator in the Central Secretariat, [7]参知政事 (cānzhī zhèngshì) The Nyanovels TL team is really grateful for Chinese-English Dictionary of Ming Government Official Titles by Ying Zhang, Susan Xue, Zhaohui Xue and Li Ni. It’s a super helpful resource for any other translators out there. You can download it here. Xue Kui, who had married two of his daughters in succession, one to the Zhuang’yuan Wang Gongchen and the other to Ouyang Xiu, who had been promoted to an official post in the same year.

The Emperor, however, could not select the Zhuang’yuan as his son-in-law because in previous dynasties, many extended relatives had influenced governmental affairs and frequently caused trouble. 

As a result, an imperial ancestor had set strict rules with regard to outside relatives: Emperors were not allowed to bestow power upon their in-laws. They could support them with a plentiful official salary and a high noble position, but could not give them opportunities to monopolize power for themselves.

If a member of a family due to marry into the Imperial clan wielded true power, then they would normally be made to relinquish their post in advance of the marriage and accept an empty title.

The Zhuang’yuan was a candidate for assisting the Emperor’s future governance of the country. Naturally, one could not be related by marriage to the imperial family. 

After observing all the young talents in the Imperial Court, His Majesty had once joked with the imperial concubines, saying: “Everyone says that the Emperor’s daughters have no need to worry about marriage. In my opinion, this isn’t necessarily true. If I wanted to select a green-robed scholar as my son-in-law, he would most likely rather die than comply with the order. The Imperial Censorate would also scold me for ruining his future prospects.”

Now that the Imperial clan was accepting a wife and marrying off a daughter, many pointed out the instructions of the previous Emperor’s Empress Zhang’xian Ming’su, surnamed Liu: “Time erases the history of a house.” [8]Empress Liu was Emperor Ren’zong’s adoptive mother and had ruled as regent when he was a minor; her own family had been commoners, and she’d been sold into the palace as a musician. She’d also, as mentioned later in the chapter, infamously lied to the Emperor about his biological mother’s identity. Wikipedia has more info on this in case you’d like to learn more!

This referred to a family whose ancestor was a founding figure of the dynasty, but whose descendants were no longer considered high-ranking, influential members of the nobility.

Another possibility was a commoner who did not come from a prestigious family, but whose descendants rose to become government officials after three generations. 

In each case, the most important point would be that the family’s clansmen did not hold a high-ranked position in the current dynasty. 

Of course, if one reduced the pool of candidates for the Emperor’s son-in-law to declining houses and commoners who had recently become officials, there were truly not many outstanding young men who could endure taking a Princess as their wife. 

Once, when Zhao’rong Miao tried to sound out the Emperor’s intention for choosing a son-in-law, the Emperor stated: “Once Thirteenth Regiment returns to the palace to show his face and pay respects, I will let you meet someone when the imperial relatives enter the palace to congratulate him.”

Following a daughter’s wedding, the newlywed couple would return to the bride’s family to pay their respects to the wife’s father and mother. This was called “visiting the bride’s family.” [9]拜门 (bàimén) or 回门 (huímén) is a Chinese wedding custom. Traditionally, the bride and groom would return to the bride’s family three days after their wedding to formally introduce the groom to the bride’s family. Here is a great article that explains Chinese wedding customs in more detail. 

When Miss Gao married, with her identity as the “Empress’ Daughter”, she would use half of the ceremonial weaponry accorded to a Princess and depart from the imperial palace towards her husband’s family. 

Therefore, tomorrow Thirteenth Regiment would return to the palace to greet and visit his bride’s family. Moreover, all extended relatives of the Imperial clan would enter the Forbidden Palace on that day to offer their congratulations. 

His Majesty seemed to be implying that the Princess Consort would be selected from among these extended relatives. 

After Zhao’rong Miao relayed the Emperor’s reply to Jie’yu Yu, she smiled and said: “Given the Emperor’s hints, could it be that he’s chosen Minister Cao’s eldest son? I heard the Empress say that Minister Cao would bring his two sons into the palace that day. Between them, the eldest son is the same age as the Princess. With his talents and appearance, they would be a good match for one another.”

Zhao’rong Miao was unable to contain her joy, and clapped her two hands together, saying: “Praise Buddha! It would be wonderful if Minister Cao’s son was chosen!”

“Minister Cao” referred to Cao Yi, the grandson of Cao Bin, one of Great Song’s founding figures. He was also the Empress’ younger brother. 

His personality was very gentle and easy going and he was well-versed in music, chess, [10]弈 (yì) is the ancient name for Go or Chinese Chess. In modern times it’s known as 围棋 (wéiqí). Here is the Wikipedia page if you’d like to learn more about it. poetry, literature, and calligraphy. Moreover, his features were very handsome. 

The Empress’ temperament was like an iris or an orchard of flowers blooming in a deep valley; no one could deny her noble fragrance. However, when it came to her looks, she was certainly no stunning beauty. 

On the other hand, no one could ignore Cao Yi’s beautiful features: his skin was fair and clear and his hair was an exotic violet blue-green that gave off a faint, attractive aura. People said he was as beautiful as a god among men.

Although he had a beautiful appearance, he wasn’t some feeble scholar. His equestrian archery and swordplay were skillful and dexterous, and his deportment was bright, confident, and easygoing, filled with heroism. 

Since his early youth, he had often come and gone from the Imperial Palace to attend feasts. All of the concubines’ servants were very fond of him and would argue over who could pull back the beaded curtain to catch a glimpse of him. 

The first time I saw this grand spectacle, I thought that this must be what the beautiful women described in Tolerance from {New Words of the World} were like. [11]Here, Huaiji is referencing the fourteenth chapter of《世说新语》titled 容止 or Tolerance written by Liu Yiqing, a famous writer from the Song Dynasty. {New Words of the World} tells 39 stories about the appearance, attitude, and behaviour of critics in the Wei and Jin Dynasties. The chapter Tolerance reflects the aesthetic taste and mental state of the scholars in the Wei and Jin Dynasties and provides a basis for exploring their living conditions as well. – Info from Baidu and Google Translate.

Although he was part of the Empress’ clan, he wasn’t the least bit haughty or proud. His eyes were clear and completely devoid of worldly greed. 

Reportedly, the first time the Emperor spoke with Cao Yi, he discovered that the latter liked to read works from the Lao-Zhuang school of thought. [12]老庄 (lǎo zhuāng) refers to the Lao-Zhuang school of thought in Taoist philosophy, a pre-Qin Dynasty Taoist school based on the works of Lao Tzu and Zhuangzi. His manner of speech was quiet and natural, seemingly without political ambition. 

Consequently, the Emperor had been extremely pleased and had bestowed many rewards upon him. He was neither startled nor delighted and merely lowered his head to express his thanks, nothing more. 

Hence, the Emperor also praised him in front of others, saying that: “Minister Cao has a good temperament and is markedly handsome. In the future, he has the potential to become someone whose deeds could be recorded in our national history.”

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Cao Yi had just reached the age of thirty, and he had two sons: the eldest son’s name was Cao Pin and the second son’s name was Cao You. 

Cao Pin was ten years old, and despite his young age, his literary talent and martial skill already significantly resembled those of his father. He loved to read about literature and history, had very good calligraphy, and was especially skilled at chess. At night, after the candles were extinguished, he could still hit a bullseye when drawing a bow. 

News of his talents had also reached the palace, so Zhao’rong Miao was delighted and looked forward to selecting him as her son-in-law. 

That year, at the beginning of summer, Thirteenth Regiment and Miss Gao completed their Imperially Decreed Wedding Ceremony. Since “The Emperor’s son” married “The Empress’ daughter,” naturally it was a magnificent event on an unprecedented scale. The citizens of the Eastern Capital flooded the streets with everyone clamouring to watch the imperial procession.

The next day, Thirteenth Regiment led his new bride back to the palace for the visit to her family. Members of the Imperial Clan also brought their wives and children to the Forbidden Palace to congratulate the couple. 

The Empress sat behind a beaded curtain in the Water Pavilion within the Back Garden to receive the imperial relatives. Zhao’rong Miao and Princess Huirou were seated slightly behind the Empress on opposite sides. 

Since there was talk of the Emperor selecting a son-in-law, I was more mindful of Cao Yi and his son. Although Cao Yi was the Empress’ blood-related younger brother, she did not give him any preferential treatment.

Just as before, they were two zhangs [13]丈 (zhàng) A measure of length equivalent to ten chi (尺 chí) or 3.3m. So they were 20 chi or 6.6m apart. Learn more about ancient Chinese units of measurement in our Ancient Chinese Glossary. apart and separated by the beaded curtain as they solicitously inquired about each other’s well-being. 

The Empress spoke and Cao Yi responded from the other side of the curtain. He had a gentle bearing and his voice was not too loud, but his enunciation was clear enough that those on both sides of the beaded curtain could hear him properly. 

Cao Ping and Cao You had accompanied their father to attend the audience. Since the two boys were young, the Empress allowed them to sit inside the curtain and gently inquired about their studies. 

The two boys answered her calmly, their discourse and bearing carrying the air of an influential family. 

All along Zhao’rong Miao paid close attention to the two young lords. Once the Empress had finished speaking with them, she called them both to her side and examined them carefully. 

With a joyful expression, she ordered the maids to bring out the pre-prepared gifts and was about to present them when she was stopped by the Empress. 

The Empress smiled and said: “They are young boys who are boisterous and lively all day. If you give them these gold and jade locks to wear, I’m afraid that they might go to waste. It’s fine if you just give them some sweet candies to eat.”

Following this the Empress immediately ordered the servants to bestow some rewards to her two nephews – sure enough, they were candies for these two boys with a sweet tooth. This gift was much smaller compared to those that had been given to the children of other families.

Zhao’rong Miao then softly inquired about the two boys’ birthdays. Hearing that Cao Ping was two months older than the Princess, she asked the Princess to call him “Elder Brother”; the Princess nodded and called him “Elder Brother Cao.”

Cao Ping promptly half rose to bow towards her, and was still very respectful as he called her “Princess.” 

The Princess smiled and then called Cao You, “Younger Brother Cao.” 

Cao You was quite clever and immediately called her “Elder Sister Princess.” Upon hearing this, everyone laughed. A harmonious atmosphere filled the palace. 

At that moment, I thought that the Princess’ perfect match had been settled. 

Thirteenth Regiment and Miss Gao came over after formally paying their respects to the Emperor in the Front Hall. The Empress kept them to chat in the Water Pavilion. 

Noticing that some time had passed since they had left the banquet and that, compared to the other eunuchs in attendance, I was the closest in age to the two young boys, she assigned me to tour them around the Back Garden to play, giving them a little bit of time to rest. 

On this day several sports fields including shooting willows, [14]射柳 (shèliǔ) is a game for practicing archery skills and is one of the ancient customs of the Qingming Festival. To play, you shoot aim at gourd with pigeons inside while on horseback. cuju, [15]击鞠/蹴鞠 (jījū/cùjū) An ancient Chinese game dating back to the Han dynasty and similar to football/soccer and a cricket pitch [16]击丸/捶丸 (jīwán/chuíwán) literally “strike,” is an ancient Chinese ballgame, somewhat like a cross between cricket and golf. We’re using cricket here for simplicity’s sake. This page has an animation about Chuiwan during the Yuan dynasty and a picture of Song dynasty children playing it. [17]In Chapter 2 Part 7, we translated this as ‘Strike the Ball’. We’ve since fixed it and will keep using ‘cricket’ to refer to this going forward. were set up in the Back Garden to provide entertainment to the noble imperial clan members.

There was a colourful flag fluttering above the cricket pitch and the two young lords came to a stop to watch. Seeing that they were very interested, I called people to fetch several different cricket bats in various sizes. They selected their own and went onto the field to play. 

First, they divided into teams to compete. It was merely hitting a ball with a club, but I was shocked to discover that they were quite skilled. They clearly played this game very often. 

After a while, they gradually became bored and asked me whether I knew how to play. I had played many matches in the last few years, so I told them that I knew how. They then suggested I join the game as part of their team. 

Noticing that there were only three of us on the pitch, I said: “If your honoured selves want to compete, then we still need one more person.”

“I’ll play!” At this moment, I suddenly heard a voice call out from the field. I turned my head to look and discovered that, unexpectedly, it was the Princess. 

Without waiting for us to respond, she had already run to my side on the field, smiling. 

She said to the two young lords from the Cao family: “Elder Brother Cao and Younger Brother Cao will be one team, and me and Huaiji will be the other.”

Cao Ping hesitated somewhat, but Cao You was younger and didn’t have as many reservations. He clapped his hands and cheered: “So it turns out that Elder Sister Princess can also play cricket!”

The Princess smiled at him confidently, seeming like a master at this sport. Afterwards, she turned to me and said: “Choose a cricket bat for me.”

I inquired in a low voice: “Does Your Highness know how to play?”

She also replied in a whisper: “You can teach me.”

When she was brimming with interest in something, it was very hard to make her abandon the idea. 

I thought for a moment. Although the two young lords from the Cao family were boys, they were still both quite young; besides, this kind of sport had no player contact. Occasionally, the women in the palace would also play. Thus, I finally agreed and went to choose a cricket bat for her.

If we competed in teams, each team had three attempts to hit the ball into the goal, gaining one point. This was considered one round. The winner would be the team that earned the most points by the end of the game. 

Of course, the Princess, who was a beginner at the game, was absolutely terrible. When she swung the bat, she didn’t hit the ball at all, while a large chunk of grass was shovelled away. Even when she hit the ball, her eyes widened with surprise because she couldn’t see where in front of her the ball had landed. 

This was because it had rolled behind her…

Naturally, there was no competition to speak of in this kind of match. Hence, the three of us crowded around and each taught her the most basic techniques, like how to fix her stance, how to position her hands to hold the club, and at what angle to hit the ball. We corrected each of these one by one. 

Fortunately, the Princess caught on quickly, and her form improved soon after. 

Raise an arm upwards, stretch the bat over the right shoulder, and swing down with the club face directly touching the side of the agate ball. Hit the ball quickly and then, as the bat rises, pull the toe of the bat back from the upper left, drawing a smooth arc… 

After doing all the moves correctly, the Princess made a perfect hit. The agate ball flew like a shooting star into the distance and landed very close to the goal.

We all cheered and applauded! 

The Princess was extremely surprised. Happily running over to the ball, she then swung her cricket bat using the same posture as before. Her movements were so fast that I had no time to run over and remind her that since the ball was quite close to the goal, there was simply no need to swing the bat – just tapping the ball to give it a slight push would suffice…

Consequently, after she swung the bat, the agate ball flew in an arc high up into the sky again, passing over the goal and making a beeline straight for the area outside the field. 

I had a very bad feeling. 

From the arc of the ball, it would likely land on the walkway where several passersby were coming and going.

The Princess seemed to be aware of this as well and hurriedly rushed over. I immediately followed her to check the situation. She ran until she reached a small hill near the edge of the playing field, where she came to a stop. 

Standing on top of the hill, she looked down towards the small path outside of the playing field. It seemed like she spotted something because she stood frozen in place. 

I quickly hurried over, still carrying a cricket bat. Stopping just behind her, I quickly scanned the area below. 

Sure enough, someone had been hit by the ball. They were looking upward and rubbing their forehead in a daze. 

It was a youth around thirteen to fourteen years old. He was not very tall, but had a sturdy build. He had the plain face of a farmer’s child. His skin was slightly darker, his cheeks were rosy, and his slightly plump lips were currently half open. After staring dazedly at the Princess for a long time, he shifted his gaze toward me. 

For the time being, I couldn’t guess his identity. His appearance was vastly different from the aristocratic bearing of the Cao clan’s young lords, but he wore a very expensive child’s robe made of damask with intricate floral designs. Moreover, for him to have entered the palace on this day meant that he was apparently someone from the Imperial Clan. 

“This Young Sir, were you hit by the ball [that flew over] just now?” I asked him. 

He seemed to take a moment to mull over my words and rubbed his forehead again before lowering his body to the ground and hesitantly saying: “The ball fell over there but then immediately shot upwards and hit my head… It’s fine, it’s fine…”

“Put your hand down so I can take a look.” The Princess opened her mouth at this moment. There was a hint of command in her words. “Are you bleeding?”

The youth shook his head and obediently lowered his hand. 

The Princess moved forward and carefully examined him before sighing with relief: “Thank goodness, it’s only a little red.” 

Noticing that I also sighed with relief, the Princess smiled at the young man. Completely lacking any concern, she said: “Doesn’t he seem like a silly rabbit?”

Only then did I notice that this youth wore a cotton head wrap which resembled the Chaotian updo, [18]Here is a good article (with images) explaining different ancient Song hairstyles for women. where the hair is combed into two hair loops. However, since they were made of cloth, the loops looked especially wide, making them truly resemble a pair of rabbit ears. 

I didn’t respond to the Princess’ words. Instead, I lowered my head to briefly explain the situation with the cricket game just now to the youth and apologized on behalf of the Princess. 

However, he seemed to pay no attention to what I was saying. He seemed much more interested in the cricket bat I was holding, staring at it for a long time. 

His focused expression made it so that I couldn’t help but shift my gaze toward the cricket bat. 

The lower end of the cricket bat was hook-shaped. As a whole, it somewhat resembled a wooden ladle with a long handle. The bat had gold ornaments across the side, while the tip of the bat was decorated with jade. It was quite eye-catching. 

“Why doesn’t this Elder Brother come join us to play cricket?” Cao Ping suddenly asked. He had also brought his little brother over. His gaze was very gentle as he stood atop the hill beside me looking down towards the youth.

The youth was silent for a long time as he repeatedly sized up the Cao brothers and myself, as well as the Princess, hesitating. The position he stood in was a drafty one, and after being hit by the wind for a long time he couldn’t help but let out a sneeze, spraying a few drops of snot. He immediately raised a hand to cover his mouth and wiped away the snot with the back of his hand. 

The Princess’ eyebrows knit together slightly.

At that moment, a servant hurriedly ran over and dashed towards the youth, saying: “So this is where you were, Young Master Li! Madam Li has been looking for you everywhere to take you to meet the Empress and Lady Miao…”

The youth responded with “Oh,” and was promptly brought away and pulled in tow by the servant. Still, he seemed reluctant to part and kept turning his head back towards us.

The Princess turned around and told us: “Ignore him, let’s continue to play.”

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Cao Ping had a very easygoing personality. He completely abandoned his delight in his own game and wholeheartedly taught the Princess how to hit the ball, and as a result the Princess’ mood greatly improved. 

When it was time for the dinner banquet, she kept repeatedly turning to look at where Cao Ping was seated, smiling slightly. 

However, Zhao’rong Miao’s face at present greatly differed from how it had been during the day. She wore a dark expression. Though she sat amongst the lively music and dances and the clinking of wine goblets, she didn’t smile at all, sitting with her head lowered. She was not in the mood to look at Young Master Cao. 

Upon returning to the Yearning Phoenix Pavilion after the banquet, Zhao’rong Miao allowed the servants to take the Princess back to her room. She sat alone in the reception hall. 

Noticing something was amiss, Ms. Han gently and cautiously asked: “My Lady, why are you unhappy?”

The moment she heard these words, it was as if a dam had been broken, and Zhao’rong Miao’s tears immediately began to fall. 

“How can I muster any happiness?! His Majesty wants to have the Princess marry into the family of his joss-money-selling maternal uncle!” [19]纸钱 (zhǐqián) Ritual money made of paper burnt for the Gods or the dead.

I was listening at the side and was also shocked beyond words. I had never expected this outcome. 

“Joss-money-selling maternal uncle” referred to the younger brother of the Emperor’s birth mother, Empress Dowager Zhang’hui of the Li clan. His name was Li Yonghe. 

The Emperor had been raised by Empress Dowager Zhang’xian Ming’su of the Liu clan and Empress Dowager Zhang’hui of the Yang clan; however, his birth mother was actually Empress Dowager Liu’s maid, Ms. Li. 

In times gone by, Empress Dowager Liu had been Emperor Zheng’zong’s imperial concubine. She was the most favoured woman in the Six Palaces, but had no sons. 

Once. when Emperor Zheng’zong was visiting her residence, he had seen that Ms. Li was elegant and of fair complexion, and ordered her to attend to him in his chambers.

Consequently, Ms. Li became pregnant and gave birth to a prince. Empress Dowager Liu adopted Ms. Li’s son and raised him as her own, claiming to outsiders that she had given birth to him. 

Ms Li hadn’t made any fuss about receiving a title and was exempted from the list of the previous Emperor’s imperial concubines. She shut her mouth and had taken this secret to her grave, never admitting her relation to the current Emperor.

When Ms Li was critically ill, Empress Dowager Liu incited the current Emperor to promote and bestow the title of Imperial Consort to Ms. Li. [20]“Imperial Consort” in this context is actually a title by itself – 宸妃 (chénfēi). There were usually 4 consort positions and each was granted a special title character by the Emperor. Read more about this in our post on Ancient Chinese Ranks and Titles~ 

The year Ms. Li entered the palace, her younger brother, Li Yonghe, was merely seven years old. After he grew up, he suffered from wretched poverty and disappointment. He made his living by producing joss money and selling it in the capital. This was what everyone scorned as the lowliest profession.

Later on, Empress Dowager Liu dispatched people to inquire after him and granted him an official post.

Once Empress Dowager Liu passed away, Yan Wang informed His Majesty of the truth about his birth mother. 

His Majesty was deeply saddened and ignored governmental affairs for several days. In grief, he had issued an imperial decree blaming himself, and posthumously bestowed the title of Empress Dowager on Ms. Li. He had  rewarded Li Yonghe heavily, promoting him to the nobility. 

Presently Li Yonghe’s official title was that of the Provincial Governor of Zhangxin and the Joint Manager of Affairs with the Secretariat-Chancellery. [21]We’re unsure about the first title – 彰信节度使. 节度使 means ‘Provincial Governor’ and usually the place name is placed in front… The second title was verified using Hucker’s Dictionary of Official Titles.

Although it was an empty title without even the slightest bit of true authority, it received the same salary and honour as the Head Chancellor. This was more than enough to see how much favour the Emperor had bestowed upon the Li clan and in what high regard the Emperor held Ms. Li. It was second to none among the imperial relatives. 

However, his noble title hadn’t promoted National Uncle Li [22]国舅 (guójiù) is the title given to the Empress’ brother. in the hearts of the palace servants. Many people gossiped about him in private, still calling him a joss paper seller, and often using a disrespectful, arrogant manner of speaking when mentioning his “sudden rise to riches and honour.” 

After he and his wife moved into the Forbidden Palace, their conduct and speech were always somewhat inappropriate for the occasion, resulting in them always being chided by the servants.

“Today the Emperor ordered National Uncle Li and his wife to bring their second son, Li Wei, to the palace to be introduced to the Empress and I behind the beaded curtain.” 

Zhao’rong Miao wiped her tears as she moodily grumbled to Miss Han, “That child is thirteen years old and has a foolish appearance. The Empress asked him what he was studying at the moment and he started saying {The Thousand Character Classic}, [23]The Thousand Character Classic or《千字文》(qiānzì wén) is a primer used to teach Chinese characters to children. It’s sung, similar to the alphabet song, and was used as the basis of literacy training in China since the sixth century. but after thinking for a while he then said that he was reading {The Classic of Filial Piety}. [24]The Classic of Filial Piety or 《孝经》(xiàojīng) is a Confucian classic treatise giving advise on filial piety, or how to behave towards a senior in a relationship. It was one of the foundational texts used in elementary and moral education in Imperial China.

“He spoke so exasperatingly slowly, but the Emperor actually took a liking to him. He praised his ‘candidness’ and conferred him a seat. He then bestowed him with several snacks to eat and Li Wei knelt down in thanks. Once again the Emperor praised him for being so courteous, saying that he had an ‘impressive bearing’.”

“I noticed that he had a red bump on his forehead and asked him what happened. He said that he had bumped into a locust tree while walking in the Back Garden…”

Miss Han was astonished hearing this and said: “One can bump into a tree while walking? This child is truly foolish.”

Zhao’rong Miao became even more annoyed and continued her rant: 

“After His Majesty allowed him to withdraw, he asked me for my opinion of Li Wei. I inwardly thought to myself, ‘How could this child reach this age and still end up like that?’ but still ended up saying some flattering words before smiling at His Majesty and praising him a little. 

“Who would have thought that His Majesty would be so overjoyed and say: ‘So you like him too – then that’s perfect! I’m thinking of making him the Princess Consort and having Huirou marry him.’”

Miss Han shook her head and sighed: “My heavens! His Majesty could choose anyone and yet he actually selected a person with a family background like his… Did the Empress have this intention as well?”

Zhao’rong Miao replied: “At first I had thought that His Majesty was only joking and asked him about it, but he unexpectedly gave a firm reply, saying that this was truly his intention. At the time, even Her Majesty the Empress was stumped for words. I believe that she was not very keen on the idea, but seeing His Majesty being so serious, who would dare to say anything more?” 

Pausing, Zhao’rong Miao began to sob again. “When I heard this, I felt unbearably depressed. During the banquet, I just happened to overhear National Uncle Li’s wife arrogantly brag [25]高谈阔论 (gāotánkuòlùn) Describes someone launching into an arrogant, impassioned, and provoking rant. to Madam Cao beside her how much profit her parents’ home had earned this year.

Madam Cao had good self-restraint and only smiled. But good heavens! Just the thought that National Uncle Li’s wife will be my daughter’s future mother-in-law made me want to slam my head into the wall and die during the banquet!”

Miss Han also heaved a deep sigh and accompanied Zhao’rong Miao in shedding tears. In a flash, though, she said a line full of hope: “Perhaps His Majesty was merely saying this in a moment of interest. Maybe in two days’ time when he returns to his senses, he won’t raise this matter anymore.”

Perhaps in two days’ time, no one will bring up this matter anymore. This was also my hope.

That Li Wei was absolutely not a good match for the Princess. 

I didn’t come to this conclusion because I looked down on the Li Clan’s family status. From Zhao’rong Miao’s words I could guess that Li Wei was the youth that the Princess had accidentally hit while playing cricket. His unsuitability was long since apparent from the Princess’ knit brows. 

Now I could only hope that those words were only meant as a joke by the Emperor. 

However, that year, on the Bingzi day of the fifth month, [26]Time is described by “这年五月丙子”; 丙子 (bǐngzǐ) symbolizes 13 in the 60-year cycle of the Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches used in the Chinese Traditional Calendar. It can also correspond to days, but like the lunar new year, Bingzi day differs depending on the year… so we decided to keep the pinyin here. an Imperial Decree arrived for us from the Emperor: 

Head Servitor of the Eastern Interior, [27]In Chinese the title is 东头供奉官. This is one of the eunuch titles I translated in the first chapter. I wasn’t aware that he had this title already since Li Wei is a kid… I just found out that the official title name is Palace Servitor or Court Service Official of the East, courtesy of Hucker’s Dictionary of Official Titles. Let us know in the comments if you’d like us to change them. Li Wei is to be promoted to the position of General of the Left Guard, [28]According to Hucker’s Dictionary of Official Titles, the Left and Right Guard 左右衛 were a single consolidated military unit in charge of palace security and personal bodyguards of the Emperor. the Princess Consort and given Princess Fu’Kang’s hand in marriage. 

The reaction of the palace was within expectations.

The Imperial Concubines privately snickered, saying, “In the future, when the palace holds a religious ceremony, there will be no need to send someone to buy joss paper – Princess Consort Li’s family will naturally present it as a tribute.”

Zhao’rong Miao complained tearfully to the Emperor several times, crying: “This concubine simply doesn’t understand why your Majesty selected this kind of son-in-law. Minister Cao’s eldest son is talented and good-looking. Moreover, his age matches the Princess…”

At the time, the Emperor was in the middle of playing a solo game of chess. He sat alone, carefully scrutinizing the board. 

Hearing Zhao’rong Miao’s words, he picked up a piece with his index finger and slowly placed it in the center of the chessboard. [29]Note, he is likely playing weiqi,  not Western chess. Read about the differences here.

“So, you’re determined for all imperial relatives to have the surname Cao?” he asked indifferently.



TL Team Thoughts:

Hello dear readers,

It has been a very long time! Apologies for the sudden and long hiatus. If you’re curious as to why, last month we gave a more in-depth update about the team. You can also check out our translation goals for September and the rest of 2023.

How did you find the chapter? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments, especially if you’ve read the raws. As you can see from our copious amount of TL notes, some parts were challenging to translate. We hope that we were able to capture the right tones. Please let us know if you spot any translation, grammatical or formatting errors. We’ll happily fix them!

For any translators out there, here are a couple of resources we found especially helpful in this chapter:

We are still looking for someone to join our team as a translation checker for this series. If you’d like to help speed up translations, please contact Nyamachi :3

Until next time,

The Nyanovels Translation Team


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  • Thank you for continuing this! I totally understand the long break and the need to step back for a moment. Taking care of yourself is always first! Best of luck to you!

    • Thank you so much, Floo 💖🙏🏼

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