The Rebirth of an Ill-Fated Consort - Chapter 159
Chapter 159: 159
Chapter 159 : Conferred Marriage
In a private room within Dong Feng Lou, Xiao Shao, Mo Cong and Xia Qing were seated together. Looking travel-worn, Mo Cong seemed to have just rushed in from an errand because as soon as he entered, he had immediately plonked himself on to a chair and without any hesitation, lifted the tea pot, poured himself a cup and gulped it down in one motion. It was only after he had drunk his fill that he took a breath before addressing Xiao Shao, “Third Brother, it has all been arranged. Everything has been prepared on Xuan Li’s side too. This time there will not be any issues, you only have to wait to carry your beloved home.”
Xia Qing was absolutely confused as he listened and anxiously asked, “What do you mean by ‘carrying his beloved’? Has Third Brother got someone special in his heart, which family’s young lady? And what has it got to do with Xuan Li?”
“You’re such a dimwit.” Mo Cong rapped him(XQ) on his head, “Not only have you not shown any concern for our Third Brother’s life, you aren’t even aware that our Third Brother has finally been enlightened. Although it’s a pity that while the falling leaves are yearning for love, the heartless brook ripples on. Meaning, his lady is very cold so Third Brother is searching for ways to improve and endear himself. However, this young lady is rather beautiful, and her eldest brother has some military troops under him, so it’s no wonder that Xuan Li also has his sights on her. Thus Third Brother is unsettled on account of beauty, and is intent on tripping up Xuan Li.”
 落花有意，流水无情 (luò huā yǒu yì，liú shuǐ wú qíng) – this phrase is from a poem from the Ming dynasty by Feng Menglong, published in 1627 in his compilation of vernacular short stories “Stories to Awaken the World.” It refers to the affections between a couple, it refers to twist turns between the two parties wherein one party has deep affections yet the other party does not have these intentions. In the matters of love and marriage, this has similarities to unrequited longing, secretly being in love with another, one-sided lovesickness, and one’s own wishful thinking.
 冲冠一怒为红颜 (chong guan yi nu wei hong yan) – this phrase is from a poem, 圆圆曲 (yuan yuan qu) written early in the Qing dynasty, which chronicles the historical events at that time, with the relationship between General Wu Sangui and his concubine Chen Yuanyuan forming the narrative backbone of the poem. The idea is that Wu Sangui betrayed the Ming dynasty to the Manchus (thus giving rise to the Qing dynasty) because Chen Yuanyuan had been seized. (There are doubts as to whether the events in the poem are true.)
Whilst Mo Cong spoke sarcastically, Xiao Shao continued to savour his tea in silence, without taking any of his snarkiness to heart. In fact, he was slightly distracted, but it was hard to fathom what he was thinking about.
Then, finally, Xia Qing grasped the full content of the news and hollered exaggeratedly, “WHAT?! Who has caused Third Brother to fall into this one-sided love; to be turned away at the door? Seventh Brother, don’t lie to me.”
What kind of person was Xiao Shao? When he was younger and had ridden on horseback down the streets of the capital, his way had always been paved with fragrance – the young ladies among the bystanders had willingly flung their scented sachets and silk flowers at him. Naturally, the end result was that Xiao Shao’s mount always possessed a floral scent. Later, when he had gone to Mt. Jianan as a disciple, there were countless young ladies, all with ulterior motives, who loudly insisted that they wished to go to Mt. Jianan to be disciples. This, naturally, was impossible. At the foot of Mt. Jianan was a defensive array created by Teacher Ba Qi himself. Therefore, a person trying to enter would be in grave danger. At that time, many young, unmarried daughters from noble families, banking on Xiao Shao’s protective feelings for the fairer sex, deliberately ‘charged’ into the array, but Xiao Shao never paid them the slightest attention. Thus, for no good reason, they brought trouble to Xiao Shao’s fellow disciples who had to clean up his mess. At that time, Xia Qing and Mo Cong were still young, and they had to spend most of their time each day hunting in all directions for such people.
 擦屁股 (ca pi gu) – lit. wipe one’s bottom.
And yet, hunting was not the problem. It was because once ‘caught’, the eyes of the ladies who looked at them were so disappointed that this became the nightmare of every Mt. Jianan disciple – it was truly too damaging to their self-respect.
In reality, among their band of disciples, there was no lack of handsome young men. However, Xiao Shao was highly accomplished despite his youth, and possessed a natural grace and detached air which lent him a unique charm. This, when compared with the other youngsters, caused him to stand out like a crane among crows. When all the youngsters were pursuing beautiful girls, only Xiao Shao remained motionless, a picture of exceptional refinement. In their private discussions, the other disciples gossiped that in future Xiao Shao was destined to become a monk in a Shaolin Temple.
So who knew that Mo Cong would drop such a bombshell today, giving Xia Qing a rude shock. There was also an indescribable feeling in his heart; perhaps it was because he had never imagined that the person who was almost god-like to him would finally step off his pedestal. And even hit a wall. Even though this baby-face youth(XQ) was pure-hearted, he could not help feeling the tiniest bit of schadenfreude. It was indeed true that the heavens were fair – what goes around, comes around.
“Yes, you saw her yourself today.” When Mo Cong saw Xia Qing’s expression, he knew exactly what he was thinking. With a mischievous smile, he said, “It was the person who escaped calamity because of your help in performing an autopsy, Hong’an Junzhu. You saw her, the one who was being framed.”
“It was her!” Xia Qing was dumbstruck. He thought of that young lady in Golden Throne Hall, whose prison garb did not diminish her gracious bearing. She possessed a natural beauty and charm, and it was only her unperturbed expression that caused him to feel slightly fearful. Xia Qing pondered briefly before saying, in all seriousness, “So, Third Brother likes the beautiful and charming type. I understand now. I’ll write to Fourth Brother by and by and tell him about it.”
Mo Cong rolled his eyes. The fact that Xiao Shao liked a girl was truly going to be known by everyone now, and he wondered what Teacher Ba Qi’s expression would be when he found out. He looked at Xiao Shao and his previously bantering manner vanished. Gravely, he said, “After the marriage has been conferred, you’ll be leading an attack against Tian Jin at the border?”
“Yes.” Xiao Shao lowered his eyes as he said, “At that time, you will be in charge of handling matters in the capital so you must be careful.”
“Xuan Li will definitely be manipulating events from behind the scenes.” Mo Cong muttered, “Even if you make arrangements, he has an advantage in the capital. How will you divide your 300,000 Jinyi guards?”
“A hundred thousand will come with me as the main force. A hundred thousand will carry on as usual, and the final hundred thousand will stay in the capital.” Xiao Shao continued, “Xirong is restless, and I fear that they will attack from both the front and the rear to box us in. Xuan Li is definitely on the move, and he will seize this opportunity to take action.” He paused, then said, “You are in the capital, help me to protect her.” ‘Her’ naturally referred to Jiang Ruan. Mo Cong was not entirely sure what he was feeling at the moment, so he simply replied, “I know. You have to be careful, too.”
“Xirong, South Xinjiang, Tian Jin, as well as the traitors within the imperial court… This time, we won’t be able to catch all of them in the same net, and there will be more incidents in future. I have already written to recall Qi Si; the two of you will stay in the capital. After I leave, there will probably be a flurry of activity in the imperial court, and you must render what assistance you can. Leaving Xuan Li alone is for the purpose of ‘fishing’, but if he really goes berserk, just kill him.” A faint sliver of cruelty showed itself in Xiao Shao’s face momentarily as he said, “If anything bad happens, I will take responsibility.”
Xia Qing was taken aback. “What are you all talking about, why can’t I understand anything?”
“Fifth Brother Xia, you should stay in the capital as well. Today, you entered the palace, so it is unlikely that you can escape Xuan Li’s attention. It is not safe for you to return to Jinling at the moment. If you stay in the capital, at least there will be people to protect you; I will assign troops to you. With you here, you can also help me to look after Jiang Ruan,” Xiao Shao said as he looked at Xia Qing.
“Ah?” Xia Qing rubbed his nose before saying, “I’m a renowned genius doctor, not your fu’s doctor. How can I only treat one person? Moreover, why would Eighth Prince pay attention to me? I merely performed an autopsy, and I’m upright and frank . . .”
When he saw that Xia Qing was not going to stop talking, Mo Cong said, “Shut up. If you really want to die, then go back to Jinling now. Third Brother is only thinking of what’s good for you. When the time comes, if you die in some dubious manner, don’t say that none of us cared about our fellow disciples.”
Xia Qing was a pure-hearted medical idiot. When he heard Mo Cong speaking to him this way, he immediately fell silent before muttering obediently, “I was just speaking casually; I will listen to Third Brother.”
* * *
And so, like a bolt from the blue, there was a turnaround in the case of Jiang Ruan’s being charged with murder. The appearance of the Crown Prince and Thirteenth Prince had changed the situation for the better, and the Jinling Divine Physician had unearthed everything that was fishy. In the end, the imperial trial had raised many suspicious points, Jiang Ruan had been proven to be innocent, and Fourth Prince, Xuan Lang, was now the prime murder suspect.
A few days later, the Emperor called for another imperial trial but, for some unknown reason, Xuan Lang voluntarily admitted his crimes. In addition, investigators from the Ministry of Justice had really found proof, both human testimony and material evidence, so how could Xuan Lang deny it? He was immediately thrown into sky prison, and everyone was making guesses as to the severity of the charge and the subsequent punishment. When all was said and done, Princess He Yi had been doted upon considerably by the Emperor, and Imperial Consort Shu would not allow her own daughter to die under such tragic circumstances in vain. She would spare no effort to bring about Xuan Lang’s death.
However, before the judgement could be handed down, Xuan Lang committed suicide in sky prison. He had used poison, and since sky prison was heavily guarded, it was not possible that someone had killed him to silence him. Since Xuan Lang’s death was so unexpected, people were, unsurprisingly, suspicious. Nevertheless, no matter how suspicious the situation looked, Xuan Lang was already dead, and without proof, the case could only be dropped. In a fit of temper, the Emperor expunged Xuan Lang from the imperial book of records and demoted him to the status of a mere commoner, so that he could not gain entrance to the imperial tomb even in death.
On the second day after the news of Xuan Lang’s death, Imperial Consort Xian hung herself in the palace. Ultimately, this mother-son pair met death together, and immediately set off a considerable storm. Because of his feelings towards Xuan Lang, the Emperor also viewed Imperial Consort Xian’s suicide negatively, and looked for an excuse to get Imperial Consort Xian’s family to take her body. In the end though, as he reflected on the good number of years Imperial Consort Xian had kept him company in the palace, the Emperor decided to allow her and Xuan Lang to be buried together.
Imperial Consort Xian’s death seemed to deal a huge blow to Imperial Consort Shu as Princess He Yi was dead, and of the original four concubines in the palace who virtually controlled the wind and the waves, only Imperial Consort Shu and Imperial Consort De remained. Imperial Consort De still had Xuan Hua by her side, but Imperial Consort Shu had no children. Moreover, at the imperial trial that day, Xuan Pei’s words had stirred up ill-feeling in the Emperor towards Imperial Consort Shu. She clearly felt that, in recent days, the Emperor had already begun to keep her at a distance, whether intentionally or not. If this continued, then it would not be long before she lost his favour completely. Imperial Consort Shu was someone who knew how to behave in a delicate situation. Since there was nothing for her to cherish in the palace, and the likelihood was high that she would end up like Imperial Consort Chen and Imperial Consort Xian sooner or later, she might as well seek permission to leave the palace and become a nun to pray for Princess He Yi.
The Emperor said nothing. Therefore, Imperial Consort Shu left the palace the next day and entered a temple to begin her life of devotion, immediately vowing that she would never again, in her lifetime, enter the palace. Empress Dowager Yi De, feeling kindly towards her, conferred the name ‘Qing Hong’ on her. However, these are all matters for future stories.
In the previous dynasty, everyone in the imperial harem had been intricately bound to one another. Thus, Fourth Prince’s fall from grace had disrupted the equilibrium which had existed for the past few decades. Now, of the four imperial consorts, three positions were empty, and only Imperial Consort De remained. The Empress momentarily experienced a surge in popularity, and Imperial Consort De became even more careful, such that it was near impossible to detect any faults. Even so, the balance in the palace had to be maintained, and so, the Emperor had already begun the process of selecting suitable candidates from among the newest batch of beautiful ladies who had entered the palace
Each of these ladies knew that this was a rare opportunity, so they focussed all their efforts on trying to gain the Emperor’s favour. As they were itching to secure this opportunity to soar high, the long hours they spent dressing up daily were justified. Today, the ladies were gathered in conversation, and the topic was Princess He Yi.
The young miss of Assistant Minister Wang’s family was sixteen this year, the year girls came of age. She could be said to be daintily beautiful, and played the pipa very well. As she was eating dianxin, she said, “The palace in recent days has become increasingly colder; the eunuchs and palace maids are all going around with faces which are a fright to behold.” By nature, she was someone who liked a bit of excitement, and since the atmosphere in the palace was fraught with tension, this had naturally dampened her spirits.
Another lady patted her hand and handed her a cup of tea while saying, “Wang Jiejie, don’t say such things. Be careful, or you might be overheard.” She lowered her voice to whisper, “I’ve heard that the Emperor has not been in a good mood these past few days. He’s always angry, and everyone takes extra care with what they do and say.”
Miss Wang eyed the lady opposite her, sighed, and said, “I know, but it’s so suffocating for people our age to be stuck in the palace.”
The young lady opposite her wore a light yellow dress with a tapered skirt, which set off her willowy beauty. She was none other than Jiang Dan. Jiang Dan smiled as she said, “We are much more fortunate than those people. At the very least, we still have our lives. Take for example Fourth Prince, a few days ago. So what if he was a descendant of the imperial family? In the end, his status could not preserve his life. The imperial family’s riches and honour harbour great danger.”
Fear immediately appeared on Miss Wang’s face. She patted her chest and said, “Yes, the second I think of this situation, I feel cold all over. As you say, Fourth Prince was His Majesty’s flesh and blood, his own son, but he invoked the wrath of His Majesty, and he’s gone. We are nothing in comparison to Fourth Prince, and if we committed even the smallest error, we would be executed without a proper burial. The imperial family’s riches and honour – I dare not seek them.”
Jiang Dan patted her hand and murmured a few words of consolation, but laughter glinted in her eyes. Assistant Minister Wang was neither important nor insignificant in the imperial court. Although he seemed unremarkable, his wife’s maiden family had the backing of Left Commandant fu, and Miss Wang was generously provided for. What’s more, she was a natural beauty, and she played the pipa very well. If she were really chosen to be an imperial consort, it would not be difficult for her to win his favour. She was, therefore, a strong rival within the palace for Jiang Dan.
 左尉 (zuo wei) – Left Commandant. It usually refers to the Commandant or the person in charge of the public security of one the bigger counties/provinces of the dynasty (perhaps closer to the capital).
What a pity, though . . . Jiang Dan’s eyes brightened momentarily. Although Miss Wang was exceptionally blessed, she was a dunce; she believed whatever she heard. With the slightest instigation, Miss Wang totally believed Jiang Dan’s words. At present, all she had done was to suggest that the palace was a dangerous place. In future, Miss Wang would be increasingly nervous in front of the Emperor. The Emperor would never like a woman who was constantly nervous and high-strung; this kind of woman was completely not to any man’s liking. If the Emperor was made unhappy by Miss Wang, how could she ever gain favour within the palace?
Jiang Dan’s thoughts and emotions were in a whirl, but she maintained a soft and gentle smile. Frank and plain-speaking Miss Wang pulled her hand and said, “You’re such a good meimei, you’re so affectionate. You’re the only one who treats me with sincerity in this palace.”
Hardly had she said this when yet another of the beautiful ladies, Miss Li, entered the room. She walked over to the table and sat next to it, and said, in a rather indignant tone, “Hey, have you heard? The Empress Dowager has conferred a marriage on Jinying Wang.
“Jinying Wang?” Miss Li’s words immediately drew the beautiful ladies from all directions to surround her, each of them surveying her intently as they asked, “Is it that rebel, Xiao Shao, Jinying Wang?”
Even though they had said ‘rebel’, it was easy to see from their expressions that romantic thoughts were floating around these beautiful ladies’ heads. It was as if the mere mention of his name was enough to captivate these ladies, heart and soul. It was only natural, for this elegant and outstanding, graceful yet desolate young man was the main character in the springtime dreams of innumerable daughters of the Great Jin dynasty. Even though they had entered the palace to become the Emperor’s women, they would always cherish a wisp of the magnificent fantasy of their innocent younger days.
“Exactly.” Miss Li said, “Then, do you all know who the Empress Dowager has conferred on him in marriage?”
Everyone shook their heads. Miss Wang said, “Jinying Wang is unsurpassed in looks, so the person Empress Dowager confers on him in marriage must be fairy-like. Let me guess, is it Miss Yao from the Governor of Binhai fu?”
Miss Yao had a good background, good looks, good moral character, good talent; she was truly one in a million. If anyone in the Great Jin could match Xiao Shao, it would be this ethereal, fairy-like person.
Miss Li shook her head. She could not help the sourness of her tone when she said, “It’s not her. The person Empress Dowager has conferred on Jinying Wang in marriage is the Jiang family’s eldest di daughter, the present Hong’an Junzhu, Jiang Ruan!”
The minute these words issued forth, every single person was struck dumb, transfixed where they stood. Even Dong Yinger, who was sitting at a distance with her embroidery, could not stop her hands from jerking. Immediately, a bead of blood formed on her index finger. She slowly put her finger to her mouth and sucked away the blood, while her eyes unconsciously drifted towards the person who had spoken.
Jiang Dan frowned. Somewhat tentatively, she said, “This . . . how could my eldest sister suddenly be conferred in marriage to Jinying Wang?”
“Who knows?” Miss Li eyed Jiang Dan with annoyance, as if venting her anger towards Jiang Ruan on Jiang Dan, and said, “Although she is a junzhu, in the end, the title is hers because Empress Dowager bestowed it on her; she is not truly a member of the imperial family. Moreover, the only thing she has going for her is that her looks are above average. However, she has the face of a vixen, and she is not at all a dignified and virtuous person. I don’t know what Empress Dowager was thinking of, to pass over the perfectly suitable Miss Yao and choose Eldest Miss Jiang.”
Jiang Dan rolled her eyes; the unpleasantness in Miss Li’s words was plain to all. In truth, it was not only Miss Li who was unhappy, everyone who was seated there was more or less dissatisfied with Jiang Ruan. People always felt that if they could not attain the person they desired, then no one else should be allowed to attain them. If other people succeeded, then it was only because their conditions were much better than one’s own. However, among those seated there, there were those whose status and family background were not inferior to Jiang Ruan’s, and there were also those whose talents in the four arts were not inferior to Jiang Ruan’s. Yet, none of them had been chosen to be the Jinying Wangfei. How could their bitter envy be any less than it was?
 琴棋书画 (qin qi shu hua) – lit. zither, chess, calligraphy, painting. Collectively known as the ‘four arts’, the accomplishments of an educated person.
One should know that once he (XS) took his position, Jinying Wang was the true master of Jinying Wangfu. These past years, although Jinying Wang had been called a rebel, he had actually been blessed by the imperial family, and his honour, status, and power were immeasurable. The wealth and fame Jinying Wangfu represented would give anyone a golden lustre. Who was not green with envy? Moreover, Xiao Shao himself was not bad. A good-looking husband, whose family’s wealth was equivalent to that of a nation’s, without in-laws, self-possessed, illustrious, huge, refined, these are sought after in the dreams of all women. Then how could Jiang Ruan, with neither morality nor capability, become the mistress of Jinying Wangfu?
“Jinying Wang is such a brilliant and handsome person, of course Da Jiejie would like him. But . . . why would Empress Dowager suddenly confer this marriage?” Jiang Dan asked timidly. “I have never heard Da Jiejie speak of this before.”
As soon as these words were spoken, everyone’s gaze was full of speculation. What method had Jiang Ruan used to garner the favour of Empress Dowager Yi De, such that she would personally ask the Emperor to confer the title of Hong’an Junzhu on Jiang Ruan? It was not impossible that Jiang Ruan would, of her own accord, ask Empress Dowager Yi De to confer a marriage on Xiao Shao. The more everyone thought about it, the more likely it became; Jiang Ruan must have taken a fancy to Xiao Shao’s talents and good looks, as well as the riches of Jinying Wangfu, then taken the initiative to mention the matter to Empress Dowager Yi De, resulting in the bestowal of marriage. However, it was such a pity that Xiao Shao, that peerless talent, would be matched with such a woman who was all looks and no substance.
“Truly no sense of honour,” Miss Li said angrily. “There are really such shameless people in the world.”
“What a pity,” said Miss Wang. “I wonder what Xiao Wangye thought when he found out about this fated marriage.”
“What opinion can be had? The good cabbage has been snatched up by pigs, what a human tragedy,” another young lady said with regret.
Jiang Dan lowered her head, but the fists hidden within her sleeves were tightly clenched, and a dark light gleamed in her eyes.
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