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Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace (Arc1 Chp5 Pt1)

Chapter 5: Shadow Puppets (Part 1)

Translator: Tygris
English proofreader: 247Reader

Not until very late was Qingying able to go back to her own palace to rest. She felt completely drained of energy: even picking up a teacup to drink tea felt beyond her abilities.

Suoxin gave a verbal order and, immediately, palace maids appeared. Those responsible for kneading the neck kneaded [Qingying’s] neck; those responsible for massaging the back massaged [Qingying’s] back. A’Ruo prepared hot water and was just about to serve Qingying in soaking her hands when Suoxin secretly shook her head and whispered, “Go change this to ice water.”

A’Ruo hurriedly swapped the water. Suoxin had already found a cooling medicinal paste from the silver-locked, yellow-flowered pearwood drawers. After serving Qingying in washing her hands, [Suoxin] used a silver pick to carefully lift out some of the medicinal paste, then cautiously smeared it across Qingying’s ten fingers.

A’Ruo, seeing that there were crimson marks upon each of Qingying’s ten fingers, recognized that these were burns. Her willow-shaped brows furrowed uncontrollably, and she scolded, “Suoxin, you followed Little Mistress out. How is it that Little Mistress’s hands became burnt red to such a degree? How did you serve?”

Suoxin, so anxious that her entire face was red, hurriedly replied in a lowered voice, “Elder Sister A’Ruo. This matter is a long story…”

“A long story…” A’Ruo gave a light humph. “This is nothing more than you shirking your duties and failing to be sufficiently considerate. Now, you still dare to talk back! In the end, you are not a servant who has followed Little Mistress over from her natal family – you do not know how to feel distressed for Little Mistress!”

A’Ruo was Qingying’s dowry maid, and always had the most face. Relying on her background of being from Qingying’s natal family, her words and deeds were usually more forceful as well. Suoxin was part of the group of maids, all whose names were suffixed by “-xin”, who had been sent to serve the Consorts and geges back in qiandi. Though she was also an honorable servant, she still could not compare to A’Ruo. Thus, when A’Ruo scolded her, she did not dare to offer much of an explanation [in reply].

Qingying, hearing them, was annoyed and upset. She said coldly, “I did not serve the Empress Dowager properly and injured myself. Some medicine was already applied during the afternoon.” 

A’Ruo, shocked, immediately shut her mouth, and dared not speak again. Her movements when serving also became much lighter and quieter.

After Qingying finished applying the medicinal paste, she drank a cup of tea from Suoxin’s hands and stabilized her emotions. 

A’Ruo moved forward and smiled. “Today is the last day of the funeral rites. Tomorrow is the official beginning of the Emperor’s reign. Little Mistress should also opt for some more celebratory colors when dressing up.”

Seeing that Qingying nodded, A’Ruo smiled even more. “This servant heard that the front [1]Referring to the court, or, when directly translated word-by-word in Chinese, the ‘front court’. This term is in juxtaposition the Imperial Harem, or the ‘back palace’. has determined that the Emperor’s era name [2]An era name is used for year identification and numbering. Starting from the Ming Dynasty, each monarch only had one era name. As such, modern historians would frequently refer to monarchs of the Ming and Qing dynasties by their respective era names, i.e. our Emperor here would be referred to as the Qianlong Emperor. will be Qianlong. This is truly a good and innovative era name, with connotations of thriving and prosperity! Even we servants are able to touch a little of the auspicious air. [We] are now just waiting for the day the Emperor canonizes Little Mistress.”

Qingying wordlessly took a mouthful of tea. “What of it?”

A’Ruo, full of happiness, performed a wanfu bow. “This servant is just waiting for the auspicious day when Niangniang is canonized as a Noble Consort. These last few days, whenever the other Little Mistresses came to visit you, the maids by their side also spoke thus.”

Qingying smiled without smiling, only holding the teacup and asking with a furrowed brow, “You seem convinced that I have this type of good fortune. But A’Ruo, if I am only canonized as Second Class Attendant, [3]答应 (dā yìng) is the lowest of the official ranks of the Imperial harem of the Qing Dynasty. See Qing Dynasty Imperial Chinese Harem for more information. or even tossed out of the palace, how would you feel?”

A’Ruo was so shocked that her face turned pale. Stuttering, she replied, “How… how could this be possible?”

Qingying narrowed in on her main point. “How could this not be possible? With you using your red mouth and white tongue [4]红口白舌 (hóng kǒu bái shé) is used to describe speech with ill-intentions and/or speech that will hurt people. This phrase originated from the Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin to attract troubles for me, and still daring to speak of these matters to others, how could you fail to implicate me? The matter of who the Emperor wishes to canonize or demote is a matter of the Emperor’s thoughts. You dare to presume the Emperor’s thoughts. I ask you, how many lives do you have?”

A’Ruo was so frightened that she fell to her knees. “Little Mistress, this servant has spoken wrongly. This servant is also wholeheartedly considering Little Mistress.”

Qingying, with a cold expression and cold words, ordered, “Suoxin, take her out. A’Ruo has indecent words and manners and is not allowed to serve within the hall.”

A’Ruo, shocked and panicked, hurriedly clung onto Qingying’s leg and begged,  “Little Mistress, Little Mistress, this servant is your dowry maid and has served you since youth. Begging you to consider this servant’s face and not toss this servant to serve outside.” 

Qingying shook her head. “You have spoken wrongly at least three or five times. In the future, in front of the Emperor, would I have the ability to protect you from your crimes?”

A’Ruo sobbed, “This servant, in serving Little Mistress, has never dared to be inconsiderate. How hot Little Mistress likes the water, how strong Little Mistress likes her tea, this servant has firmly remembered in her heart, not daring to forget even for a moment. Begging Little Mistress to forgive this servant this time.”

Qingying understood that she had been habitually triumphant back at qiandi, and that the people serving next to her had also become lax. But now, the situation had greatly changed and was not as favorable as before. Only she knew the difficulty, anger, and bitterness within her heart. Yet, A’Ruo, relying on her status as her dowry maid, was habitually incomparable in having her brows high and eyes low. [5]眉高眼低 (méi gāo yǎn dī) refers to the way of dealing with people and things. This is not a positive description. [Qingying] had the intention to take [A’Ruo] as a raft, [6]筏子 (fá zi), directly translated as ‘raft’, is a metaphor for a tool that can be used. Here, it means that A’Ruo is being used as a way to show others the consequences of their actions. but was unable to fully harden her heart. 

After a long while, Qingying, seeing that A’Ruo remained prostrated and shivering on the floor, pleading with her life on the line, having never suffered such humiliation before, immediately vociferated, “Still not going out! If there are similar cases of unrestrained speech, immediately order people to drag [the offender] out to punish with zhang. [7]杖 (zhàng) refers to a large wooden stick or rod. The punishment is to be spanked repeatedly using the stick. Even being beaten to death would not be too severe.”

Hearing this, A’Ruo was so frightened that her face turned white. Using her life, she kowtowed unceasingly up and down. Suoxin was still the quick-witted one; with one movement, she pulled A’Ruo up and hurriedly thanked [Qingying] for her grace before quickly sending [A’Ruo] to retreat.

Subsequently, the palace became much quieter. The people who served Qingying were all used to A’Ruo’s status and favor; when they saw this, none of them dared do anything but remain silent. 

Qingying tilted up her face; Suoxin understood her intentions immediately and opened the palace door. Qingying slowly tasted a mouthful of tea. Neither quickly nor slowly, she said, “Nowadays, we are in the palace. Here cannot compare to the freedom you had in qiandi to be willful, to speak nonsense, to blather on and on. If I hear a single sentence daring to discuss a master behind their back, the culprit will be immediately sent to the Department of Prudence① [8]One of the Seven Si: and beaten to death. There will be no mercy.”

Though she did not specifically point any one person out in her words, every single person who heard broke out in cold sweat. Simultaneously, they all responded in the affirmative, not daring to attract even a half bit of trouble.

Qingying lifted her chin — all the people understood her intentions and immediately retreated. Suoxin, seeing no one left in the palace, served Qingying in removing her make-up and washing up. Letting Suoxin do as she pleased, Qingying only sat in front of the dressing table and gazed at herself in the mirror. 

The face in the mirror could not be more familiar. She was merely nineteen. She hailed from the late Emperor’s Empress’s maternal clan. Her life thus far had been as free-flowing as wind and water. [9]顺风顺水 (shùn fēng shùn shuǐ) means to be smooth sailing, referring to having good luck, all successes, and no obstacles. She had always been sheltered, and so her nature was inevitably a bit spoiled. This journey thus far could not have been called unstable; if among the numerous steps along the way, there was indeed one that was not perfect, it was still an old incident from many years ago.

Born in a noble, high-ranking clan, Qingying knew her identity. In this life, no matter if she married high or low, even if she was not drafted into the palace as a concubine, she would still marry a member of the Imperial family or a relative of the country. [10]A way of referring to the maternal clans of Empresses, i.e., the in-laws of the Emperor. Of course, the best path to take was to become the Primary Consort of a Prince, take charge of all the residence affairs, and carry on the glory of the Ula Nara clan.

The late Emperor had only three adult sons: the Third Prince Hongshi, the Fourth Prince Hongli, and the Fifth Prince Hongzhou. At one time, she was to be granted marriage to the Third Prince, Hongshi. However, Hongshi had someone else in his heart and refused to allow her to become his Primary Consort. While she was helpless, the Empress Dowager, who was Noble Consort Xi at the time, proposed that she marry the Fourth Prince. She felt as though she had been granted amnesty, escaping from the embarrassment of being pointed at and spoken about by others. Thus, she had become the Fourth Prince’s Secondary Consort.

The days after marrying into the Fourth Prince’s Residence had still been considered smooth. Although the Fourth Prince had never been the most favored in the eyes of the late Emperor, she suppressed her desires and together with him lived a life that seemed serene on the surface, but, in reality, was carefully considered. Fortunately, the family was still peaceful and calm. The only one higher-ranked than she was the Primary Consort, née Fucha, who whole-heartedly focused on spreading branches and opening leaves [11]开枝散叶 (kāi zhī sàn yè) means to give birth to children. Can also be understood as “opening up the family tree”. for the Fourth Prince to consolidate her position, and so rarely had conflicts with Qingying.

Though the Fourth Prince took in several concubines over the years, he still treated her affectionately. Before marriage, her nature had been somewhat spoiled by her maternal clan. After marriage, being doted upon by her husband inevitably caused her to develop a certain degree of arrogance. But during the last few years of the late Emperor’s reign, when her paternal aunt, the Ula Nara Empress, fell out of favor, she had not dared to be quite so unrestrained. 

Now that the late Emperor had passed away and her own husband had, in a single leap, ascended to the seat representing the honor of nine-five, [12]九五之尊 (jiǔ wǔ zhì zūn) is a phrase describing the ruler of all the lands, aka the Emperor. From Baidu: In ancient China, numbers were divided into yang numbers and yin numbers. Odd numbers were yang and even numbers were yin. Among the yang numbers, nine is the highest and five is in the center. Therefore, “nine” and “five” are used to symbolize the authority of the emperor. she naturally was unmeasurably ecstatic, and was indescribably proud of him. But already, during just these past few days in the palace, living had become akin to walking on thin ice: Xiyue’s insults, the Empress’s cold gaze, and the Empress Dowager’s warnings — not a single instance failed to remind her that the blissful days of ignorance and innocence were gone forever.

Qingying sat quietly, looking at her lonely image in the mirror. Although, after the passing of the late Emperor, the palace was decorated plainly and they temporarily resided only in various side halls, the Imperial Palace was, in the end, still the Imperial Palace: with wealth and beauty befitting the royal family, with piles of gold and layers of jade, all was as splendiferous as blooming flowers, and not a single aspect failed to be gorgeous and dazzling. It was only she, only she who was on her own, facing her lonesome image in the mirror. Even when her shadow fell on the ground, it failed to be doubled, seemingly a solitary pistil in a sea of brocade.

Qingying stretched her hand out into a loose fist, understanding that she had no grasp on anything. Throughout her life, there had never been a day in which she was as anxious and as helpless as she was today; it was as though all that her confidence was built upon had, within but a day, been completely drained away.

While she was feeling anxious, the sounds of a disturbance suddenly traveled from outside, as if someone were raising their voice, startling her from her lonely introspection. Qingying furrowed her brows, but before she had the time to speak out and ask, A’Ruo, who was on standby outside, had already pushed open the door and entered, saying anxiously, “Little Mistress, Su gege seems to have gone crazy. She ran to our hall with a face full of tears, crying and sobbing to see Little Mistress. The day is already so late…”

Before the last of A’Ruo’s words could land, Su Luyun had already rushed inside. It appeared that she had originally been planning to rest, as she only wore a homely, short-sleeved dress of jade-colored silk chiffon covered with a light green and silver patterned wrap. She had ran so that her hair was loose and tangled. On this cold, freezing autumn night, she had managed to work up a head of sweat, which merged together with the tears on her face. She was entirely devoid of her usual quiet and gentle temperament.

At first glance, Qingying’s expression changed. Alarmed, she asked, “Luyun, this is the palace. What are you doing?”

Author’s Notes

①Department of Prudence: A department associated with the Qing Dynasty Imperial Household Department. Originally 尚方司 (shàng fāng sī), the name was changed to 尚方院 (shàng fāng yuàn) in the twelfth year of Shunzhi (1655). In the 16th year of Kangxi’s reign (1677), it was changed to 慎刑司 (shèn xíng sī or Department of Prudence). [This department] was in charge of the martial law of the upper three banners. All criminal cases are tried in accordance with the regulations of the Ministry of Justice. Serious cases or cases of great importance are referred to the three judicial departments [13]Refers to the Ministry of Justice, Court of Judicature and Revision, and the 都察院 (which roughly translates to “Procuratorate of the Capital City”). for joint review and judgment. The punishment for eunuchs is mainly determined by the Department of Prudence.

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