This chapter has been brought to you by me, vivie and leecherleechleech.
Don’t kill me. I didn’t write the chapter titles.
Chapter One Hundred and Ten Dance
The scorching summer gradually dissipated. The various zhuzhi in the palace took off their silk clothes, threw away the fans in their hands, their hairpins changed from jade to other types. There were some palace maids that thought to attract the Emperor and put effort into their clothing and ornaments. But as they still had to adhere to the protocols of the palace, they had to put even more effort in. It was a pity that the Emperor’s entire heart was on the Empress’ body, and no one was able to attract the Emperor’s attentions.
Kui Yuan Palace had finished its renovation. The night luminous pearls encrusted in the room had been completely taken off because of the His Highness Imperial Son. Beautiful glass lanterns were put in their place. The whole endeavor had only been due to a careless remark of a certain official of the Ministry of Works who said that it was possible that night luminous pearls were harmful to the body.
Everyone knew that night luminous pearls were rare objects. Many people didn’t understand why the Empress didn’t use them, so very quickly on the outside many people praised the Empress for being thrifty. Such a beautiful misunderstanding. He Heng felt that he should let it stay beautiful forever.
Even though people knew that the Empress was living in Tian Qi Palace which was slightly inappropriate but the Emperor had said before that the new renovation of Kui Yuan Palace wasn’t good for newborns. Since it had already passed the sixth month, the good moving day was in the second month of the next year. So in the end, the day that the Empress was to move to Kui Yuan Palace was finalized on the twenty second of the second year of Jia You.
Since the Emperor himself had already made the decision, there wasn’t anyone at court blind enough to argue. Either way, with how strong the love with between Emperor and Empress, they, as outsiders, would stir dislike from the Emperor if they meddled. Furthermore, the Empress Dowagers didn’t object, so why would they care?
Qu Qing Ju occasionally would hear some of the rumors from the outside about her. Most of them were about her goddess-like beauty, her generosity, frugalness, and love for the people. Even though she felt that the Empress in the rumors didn’t have much of a relation to her, but she knew inside that behind the rumors was He Heng’s manipulations in the shadows.
She reaped the benefits of He Heng using such tactics to protect her so she didn’t bear to tear down his stage. Occasionally she would use the position of the Empress to reward some of the kind and famous women in the Da Long Dynasty. In the ninth month, after her birthday, she even personally rewarded a twice-married woman that saved a few children in a great fire.
This woman, because of her second marriage, had been the subject of gossip in the village. But after the handkerchief that Qu Qing Ju had embroidered with “As brave as any man”, she became the most respected matron in the entire county. No one looked down at her again because she had married twice, but became courteous.
Qu Qing Ju never once thought that she had the power to promote change in history, but she wanted to do the things she could. In this world, if a man had a wife and many concubines, he would be praised as romantic, but why couldn’t they tolerate a remarried woman?
Certain scholars in Da Long Dynasty though it was a duty of a woman to not marry twice, but the act of the woman who saved others couldn’t be erased. Therefore, not many people jumped out to criticize the Empress’ actions as being inappropriate. Even more, what the Empress praised was the woman’s act of saving others, not praising her for remarrying. It wouldn’t be appropriate for them to object.
So this matter calmly passed away. Qu Qing Ju still acted at the mistress of the hougong. When bored, she would listen to songs, listen to interesting matters outside of court before picking one or two to praise and reward some things down, then play with her son. Her days were very comfortable.
After the Empress Dowager’s and Qu Qing Ju’s birthdays had passed, it was He Heng’s birthday celebration. Because it was the first birthday after He Heng ascended the throne, even if they wished for the birthday celebration to not be grand, it would still become grand.
Disregarding the noble families and officials of the country of Da Long itself, even those small subordinate countries on the borders would send envoys to congratulate the new Emperor and attend his birthday celebration to express their respect and sincerity to the new Emperor.
Since Da Long Dynasty was a strong country, there were many small subordinate countries that relied on Da Long. Qu Qing Ju looked through the tribute that those subordinate countries had sent up to Da Long over the years and instantly felt that Da Long was very awesome.
Something that Qu Qing Ju found interesting was a small subordinate country called Jing. The present ruler of this country was a female one, and the ones coming to give the tribute this time to Da Long were her son and daughter. The reason that she sent both was that she wanted He Heng to decree one of them as the successor to the throne and through her attitude, express the loyalty of the country of Jing to Da Long.
This feeling of the world coming to rest at Da Long’s feet really made people feel refreshed all over.
He Heng returned to the rear hall and saw that Qu Qing Ju was still looking at the information of the subordinate countries. When he took a closer took, he found that what she was reading explained some of the customs of the country of Jing. Then he asked: “What’s so special about this Jing?”
Qu Qing Ju fanned the papers in her hands: “I heard that Jing’s Hou Guo[i] Princess is amazingly beautiful. Coming to Da Long this time, I wonder how many men would she enchant.”
“That’s just the Jing people’s own opinion,” He Heng’s tone was slightly disapproving, “Jing’s territory is high up, so the majority of people’s skin are dark colored, so how beautiful could they be? Compared to our Da Long’s females, they must be severely lacking. It’s all just unfounded rumors to deceive ignorant people.”
The corners of Qu Qing Ju’s lips jerked. It did seem like that the males of the Da Long Dynasty did prefer women with white and soft skin. So He Heng’s attitude, it really …… was normal.
“What, you don’t like this princess?” He Heng assumed that Qu Qing Ju was worried that he would have an interest in that Jing Country princess and assured, “Don’t worry, I have no interest in other women. Even more, this Hou Guo Princess wants to be empress, not our Da Long’s feipin.”
Qu Qing Ju placed the information on Jing Country to aside and snorted: “Emperor, you’re thinking too much.”
“En, I was thinking too much, don’t be angry.” He Heng laughed lightly, holding up another stack of information, “You don’t need to waste too much effort on these subordinate countries. Like this Duo Han. A hundred years ago, they frequently robbed and killed our people at the northern border of Da Long. In the end, they were soundly defeated by our Da Long. They got scared and then obediently gave their allegiance.
If they were not obedient, they would get beaten up?
Qu Qing Ju finally realized the attitude Da Long held towards those subordinate countries. The main idea was ‘be docile for me, listen to what I say, or I’ll beat you up, down into the ground’.
“I was just reading through because I was bored,” Qu Qing Ju massaged the back of her neck, “Our Da Long is so strong.”
He Heng smiled: “Falling behind means getting beaten up, that was the lesson that the previous dynasty taught us,” He Heng reached out a hand to gently massage her neck, “However, has Qing Ju forgotten something that was promised to me?”
“What?” Qu Qing Ju raised an eyebrow. She thought that her recent memory was pretty good and hadn’t diminished due to her pregnancy.
“For example …… you once said you would dance for me,” He Heng reached to grasp that soft waist, “I often wonder what Qing Ju’s dancing is like.”
“I said that it depended on your performance,” Qu Qing Ju smiled, Seeing He Heng’s let down expression, she smiled, conceding, “Alright, looking at your good behavior recently, I’ll let you see three days later. Wait for ben gong.”
He Heng saw that her eyes were suddenly lit up, and his disappointment all dissolved into a smile, “Thanks, Empress for her grace.”
“What is this?” In the evening, Mu Jin saw a palace maid come out with a stack of paper that had ink on it, and became worried that this palace maid was taking out something she shouldn’t have. She reached to take the papers and casually scanned. Seeing something about the Hou Guo Princess was beautiful and skilled in dancing, her brow furrowed as she asked, “Who let you clean this up?”
“Mu Jin jiejie, it was niangniang who let nubi clean up,” The palace maid submissively answered.
Mu Jin saw that the palace maid was quite young and seemed quick-witted so she ripped what was in her hands and rolled it into a ball, “Go and burn it, it’s nothing useful.” No matter what it was, as long as it was something that came from niangniang’s place, she always likes for the others to clean it completely.
“Yes,” The young palace maid took over the paper ball and carefully held it in her hands as she left, clearly in a rush to burn it.
“Still too inexperienced.” Mu Jin sighed. Clever, yes. But her actions were still immature. She still needed more training.
Entering the room, she saw the Empress was practicing a back bend. She was accustomed to it and went forward, asking: “Niangniang, nubi and Jin Zhan has already picked the fabrics. Jin Zhan’s skills are better than nubi so the clothes will be made by her and Yu Zan. Nubi has also prepared what you ask for. Do you want to see?”
“I’m confident in your abilities, there’s no need to make trouble,” Qu Qing Ju smiled as she replied,” You just have to finish decorating the western hall before tomorrow night according to what I ordered.”
“Nubi knows,” Mu Jin didn’t ask why the Empress was preparing those things. As a servant, she was very clear to her position, and knew what to say or not say.
Qu Qing Ju returned to standing but didn’t immediately sit down, only wiping the sweat from her eyes as she ordered: “Send some water in, I want to bathe.”
After Mu Jin retreated, Qu Qing Ju walked to the window to look at the parasol tree. She sighed. It had been almost two months since that time that He Heng was drunk. Everytime she thought about He Heng’s discontent and sorrowful expression, she felt that she might have been too ruthless with He Heng.
But she always was mind over heart. To lose her mind when interacting with a man, that wasn’t her style. What she could do was when the other treated her well, she would treat the other well; if the other had no feelings, then she wouldn’t offer herself. If a person disappeared from the world, the sun would still rise.
The nights in autumn were cold, but the moon was exceptionally bright. When He Heng finished attending to state matters, he rushed to the rear palace. He still remembered that dance that Qu Qing Ju had promised him. The result was that when he reached the rear hall, he found it empty, even Qu Qing Ju’s shadow wasn’t seen.
“Emperor, Empress invites you to the western hall of Kui Yuan Palace,” Yin Liu was holding a lantern as she bowed at the doorway, “Please.”
He Heng didn’t get irritated and was in a good mood as he followed Yin Liu. The rear hall wasn’t far from Kui Yuan Palace. But what He Heng found unexpected was how exceptionally dark the road was. The only brightness came from the lantern that Yin Liu held. On the lantern was drawn a woman wearing red, flying in the air.
When he reached Kui Yuan Palace, He Heng saw the tightly closed western hall was lit up brightly. At the door, there were two palace maids standing guard. Other than that, he couldn’t see anything else.
Qian Chang Xin and the others that had followed after He Heng were curious. What was the Empress up to that was so mysterious?
“Emperor, please.” Yin Liu smiled as she ushered the other towards the western hall and then turned back to look at Qian Chang Xin and the others waiting behind.
“You all can wait outside. Other than zhen’s decree, you are not allowed to enter,” He Heng waved his hands, indicating he didn’t need Yin Liu to lead him and headed straight for the doors to the hall. Seeing the two palace maids at the door bow to him before leaving, the curiosity in his heart grew. What kind of dance would the Empress perform for him?
He took a breath and reached to slowly push open the doors to the hall. He only saw that the silk curtains flying in the steam and heat as though it was a paradise. But that wasn’t the most attractive thing. The one thing that caught his attention was, on the waters with countless lotus lamps floating in the white jade pool, there was a large flower stage, and in the center of the flower stage, there laid a beauty dressed in an indigo and red dress.
[i]护 国: 护 (hou) protect 国(guo) country