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Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace (Arc1 Chp4 Pt3)

Chapter 4: Straight-forward Speech (Part 3)

Translator: Tygris
English proofreader: 247Reader, [redacted]

When the time for the mid-day meal arrived, because Luyun had not long ago birthed the Third Prince, the Empress Dowager specially permitted her to go back and take care of [him]. Luyun was extremely grateful and went immediately. This left Langhua, Xiyue, and Qingying to move to the side palace to serve the Empress Dowager during the mid-day meal. 

The Empress Dowager had originally intended to go back to Shou’kang Palace to use her mid-day meal. 

The rules of this dynasty dictated that the current Emperor and the Consorts and Concubines of the previous Emperor could not concurrently live in the east and west six palaces. So when the previous Emperor left, the remaining Consorts [and Concubines] of the six palaces were all hurriedly moved to Shou’kang Palace and settled. The Empress Dowager also lived in the main hall of Shou’kang Palace and had not moved to Ci’ning Palace, which was originally meant as the residence of the Empress Dowager alone. 

This day was also the last day of the late Emperor’s funeral; the Empress Dowager did not want to labor the sedan and would rather spend more time mourning for the late Emperor. So, she had ordered the Imperial Kitchens to move the mid-day meal to the side hall.

Langhua originally had planned to use the time of the mid-day meal to go visit the Second Prince, but now that the Empress Dowager was here, following the teachings of filial piety, [Langhua] whole-heartedly served [the Empress Dowager] without a single flaw. The moment the meal was brought up, Langhua served rice, Xiyue arranged dishes, and Qingying ladled soup. Though many people were serving, there was not even the slightest sound of a cough: the silence was as though no one was present.

The Empress Dowager, seeing that Langhua was serving at the side, unknowingly asked, “The Second Prince is still young. Why do you not return to take care of him, instead staying here to serve Ai’jia?” [1]哀家 (āi jiā) is a term with which Empress Dowagers or Empresses use to refer to oneself after the death of one’s husband. The term directly translates to ‘Grieving One’ and only shows up in novels or films/TV: the term did not exist in actual history.

Langhua gave a natural-looking smile. “Empress Dowager may not yet be aware. To administer the various tasks of the Imperial Harem properly, this concubine had already, following the rules of the ancestors, sent the Second Prince to a’ge’suo to be taken care of by the momo there.”

The Empress Dowager was somewhat shocked and surprised. “Why do you not take care of him yourself for a few days? Are you not afraid that he will be unaccustomed to living at a’ge’suo?”

Langhua’s brows were serene, as though full of calm, peaceful acceptance. “This dynasty’s family laws state that once a Prince or Princess has been born, if there is an edict, then the lower ranked Consort or Concubine should give [the child] to a higher ranking Consort or Concubine to raise; if there is no edict, then [the child] should be raised by the momo at a’ge’suo. This is to prevent the mother and child from developing overly deep feelings, which would prevent [the Consorts and Concubines] from peacefully serving the Emperor and would also reduce their chances of producing more Imperial heirs. This concubine does not dare not to lead by example, and so had already sent the Second Prince and the Eldest Prince over.”

The Empress Dowager considered for a moment, then gradually began to speak. “Then you have been troubled. By this logic, née Su’s Third Prince should not remain to be raised by her side. Fujia, pass the order and instruct gege née Su to swiftly send the Third Prince to a’ge’suo so that she can concentrate on serving the Emperor.”

Fu gugu sounded in the affirmative, passed the order, and then returned to the Empress Dowager’s side to serve.

The Empress Dowager’s custom when taking meals was usually to begin with a bowl of soup. Qingying, seeing that there was a Ham and Bamboo Soup on the table – the snow-white bamboo juxtaposed against the vibrant-red ham, soaked in a golden soup, looked especially appetizing – used a ruyi-topped [2]如意 (rú yì) is a traditional decorative object with a long S-shaped handle and a head fashioned like a fist, cloud, or lingzhi mushroom. See: silver ladle to scoop a ladleful into the bowl, then used chopsticks to add a piece of bamboo before placing [the bowl] in front of the Empress Dowager.

The Empress Dowager drank a mouthful, lowering her head slightly. “Within the realm of soup and drinks, there is nothing more savory than this Jinhua [3]A location in China that is SUPER well known for their cured ham. See: ham and bamboo soup. This soup is indeed full of flavor, and the bamboo slices are indeed tender. Only, with such flavorful items at the front, no matter how well-made the following dishes are, they will still taste flavorless in comparison.”

Fu gugu, who served the Empress Dowager, was already an experienced momo by now. She hurriedly laughed, “The Empress Dowager has always enjoyed this soup. But over these last several days, while mourning for the late Emperor, she has had neither the appetite to [drink] tea nor to eat. Now that such intensely flavorful food has entered her mouth, one fears that she will have even less appetite for the following dishes.”

Qingying was frightened, rushing to kneel, and apologized, “This concubine only remembered Empress Dowager’s preferences in the past, and did not consider Empress Dowager’s current appetite. This is indeed this concubine’s negligence.”

Xiyue, seeing Qingying thus, could not help but coldly sound a laugh, only caring to watch from the sidelines.

Langhua continued [the Empress Dowager’s words], “If it was just the soup then it would not be such a grave error. But, though bamboo slices are flavorful and tender, eating too many is detrimental to the stomach, which is not compatible with Empress Dowager.”

The Empress Dowager waved her hand, tiredly saying, “Forget it. You are just showing your filial piety. It is just that Ai’jia has no appetite.” The Empress Dowager glanced at the dishes spread around the table, lazily ordering, “Call people to withdraw [these dishes]. Even after looking, Ai’jia still does not have an appetite.”

Xiyue soundlessly gave a cold laugh, slowly commenting, “Younger Sister has such a heart full of filial piety. The Empress Dowager’s meals these days have been light, and it was not without effort that she would use some of the mid-day meal. Yet, just after one sip of soup, her appetite has been spoiled by Younger Sister. There are still many hours of mourning remaining this afternoon. Does Younger Sister plan to have Empress Dowager endure all that with an empty stomach?”

Qingying bit her lip, then kowtowed. “Begging Empress Dowager to forgive [this one’s] sins. This concubine made a momentary mistake, unexpectedly compromising the Empress Dowager’s phoenix body. Should the Empress Dowager wish to punish [this concubine], this concubine has neither objections nor resentment, but only requests that the Empress Dowager take good care of the body and partake more [of the meal].”

The Empress Dowager’s lethargic expression did not indicate a desire to partake of more food. Langhua, seeing this situation, hurriedly scooped a bowl of extra thick porridge, used a silver spoon to pick up a scoopful and blew gently, then placed it in the Empress Dowager’s hand. “However much Empress Dowager lacks an appetite, [Empress Dowager] should still consider the late Emperor’s feelings and consume a bowl of porridge.”

The Empress Dowager raised her eyes and took a glance, then lazily closed them again. Scornfully, she replied, “Ai’jia has no appetite.” 

Fu gugu furrowed her brows, gently advising, “Mistress, Empress Dowager has not had a good appetite for the last few days, and at most could only ingest some extremely thin watery porridge. Regarding such thick porridge, Empress Dowager truly cannot summon the appetite.” 

Langhua was neither angered nor dispirited, saying with a smile, “The rice used in this thick porridge had been newly delivered from the Imperial farmlands. Each grain is plump and translucent, the mouthfeel is slightly sweet, soft yet chewy, most suitable for simmering into a thick porridge, and will melt immediately after entering the mouth. These days, the Emperor was deeply saddened by the late Emperor’s passing in addition to being occupied with matters of the court and similarly did not have much of an appetite. This child [4]Referring to herself, as the daughter-in-law of the Empress Dowager. ordered the Imperial Kitchens to make this type of porridge. The Emperor was actually able to take in a few mouthfuls.”

Only then did the Empress Dowager nod. “You, as the Emperor’s hair-bound [wife], [5]结发 (jié fà). When a couple gets married, as part of marriage customs, each takes a section of hair from their heads and together make a knot. Also understood to refer to the legitimate wife. indeed should be more concerned with the Emperor and keep him from overexertion.” She paused for a bit. “Well, if even the Emperor is working hard to eat a bit more, then no matter how sorrowful Ai’jia is, [Ai’jia] should still use some [of the meal]. Just a taste.”

Langhua could not contain her joy. Seeing that the Empress Dowager took two bites and managed to keep them down, she felt a bit more at ease. Xiyue diligently organized the dishes and picked out some light side dishes, and watched the Empress Dowager drink all of the not even half-full bowl of porridge.

Only now did Langhua reveal a few traces of happiness, softly saying, “Though Younger Sister Qingying’s soup is indeed flavorful, when combined with plain porridge and side dishes, it can still be consumed. If the following dishes were still thickly flavorful, then it would have undoubtedly damaged the appetite.” 

The Empress Dowager considered the aftertaste for a moment. “You all have had heart. It is just that this porridge Ai’jia drank has a faint ginger taste. Ingesting it warms the stomach, making it feel a bit more comfortable.”

This was out of Langhua’s expectations: she did not know of this matter. Hurriedly looking over at the Imperial Kitchens eunuch standing behind her, she asked, “Why is this the case?”

The eunuch hurriedly gave a qianer [6]Greeting etiquette usually performed by men, consisting of bending the left knee forward, bending the right leg backward, leaning the upper torso slightly forward, and dropping the right fist to the floor. This greeting is considered a midpoint between bowing and kneeling. bow, and answered while keeping his waist bent. “Niangniang‘s order was to use the newly arrived rice from the Imperial farmlands to make porridge, but starting the day before yesterday, the Emperor had some coldness of the stomach. [7]Stomach pain, which in Traditional Chinese Medicine is said to be caused by overeating raw and cold food. When Little Mistress Qingying learned of this, she specially ordered the servants to add a bit more young ginger into the porridge to warm the stomach. The Emperor used it and consistently felt that it was pretty good, so today the Empress Dowager’s porridge was made in the same way.”

The Empress Dowager gave a light sigh. “My son! This is what is considered using one’s heart sufficiently.” [8]i.e. having put in enough thought and care. She glanced at Qingying and ordered, “Kneeling outside and still kneeling at Ai’jia’s place. Are you not afraid of hurting your knees and causing the Emperor to feel heartache? Get up.”

Only then did Qingying dare to thank [the Empress Dowager’s] grace and rise. The Empress Dowager straightened the silver silk and pearl phoenix hairpin by her temples, continuing, “Ai’jia still wants to drink some soup. You go choose a bowl for Ai’jia.”

Qingying did not dare to act rashly. After careful consideration, she chose a bowl of Purple Ginseng and Snowcock [9]A bird in the pheasant family. See: Soup and served a bowl to the Empress Dowager. The Empress Dowager only took one look before the rims of her eyes turned somewhat red. “How come you chose this soup?”

Qingying replied cautiously, “Purple ginseng boosts one’s energy, and snowcock nourishes one’s physique, and is suitable for the Empress Dowager’s phoenix body. Additionally, when the late Emperor was still here, this concubine had served the late Emperor along with Empress Dowager in using the meal, and had heard the late Emperor observe that this soup is suitable for Empress Dowager’s use. Now that Empress Dowager is continuing to drink [soup], [this concubine] requests Empress Dowager to treat this as the late Emperor’s care and affection, and maintain good health.”

The Empress Dowager thought for a bit and picked up a silk handkerchief to wipe her tears. “When the late Emperor was here, he enjoyed this soup the most, always saying that it boosts one’s energy and nourishes one’s physique, and would often ask Ai’jia to drink some. Now, just seeing it makes one feel grieved. Moreover, the late Emperor has just left, yet most of the dishes on the table contain meat and fish. How can the Ai’jia swallow this? Forget it.”

Though this sentence does not reject the use of the meal, it was more frightful than previous. Qingying only felt that her earlobes flashed hotter and hotter, until her scalp burned with pain. Moreover, the foods from the Imperial Kitchens, to prevent the dishes from going cold, were all kept warm in suspended copper baskets. Qingying, holding the bowl of boiling hot soup, at first only felt heat and pain in her fingertips, as though being bitten by bugs, but gradually lost sensation. Holding the soup, she could neither proceed nor retreat, and was in an extremely awkward situation.

Xiyue, seeing her chance, busily and attentively put a chopstick full of asparagus into the Empress Dowager’s bowl. “This asparagus can still be considered simple. Empress Dowager should try some: this is still considered vegetarian food, somewhat expressing your feelings towards the late Emperor.”

The Empress Dowager reluctantly took a bite, then pulled over Langhua and Xiyue’s hands, crying, “Ai’jia is only [eating] in consideration of your care. In fact, how many standards can be placed upon food and drink? It is only a matter of assessing the situation and not trying to show off one’s smarts, that is all!” 

She gave Qingying a sidelong glance. “That is enough. Why are you still holding that soup? For example, that porridge. Though some additional ginger might be suitable for the Emperor, it is not necessarily the case that the same is suitable for Ai’jia. Having heart is good, but do not always treat the people today the same way you treat others. Do you understand?”

Qingying originally did not understand where she went wrong, but once she heard this line, she realized the origin of the issue. As though struck by five thunderbolts, she feebly fell to her knees.

Translator’s Notes

Our poor Qingying is getting bullied TT_TT

Also, I am going on vacation soon, so there will be a gap in translation posts. Can expect the next update to be on 6/15/2024 or 7/01/2024. Will aim for the earlier date as much as possible!

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