Part of a Memories of a Graceful Reflection translation project at fruitydeer.com.
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Source: 猶記驚鴻照影 by Feng Ning Xue Wu // Translated By: Xin (fruitydeer)
Yesterday was the Lantern Festival, did anyone get a chance to eat some yuan xiao (aka tang yuan or glutinous rice balls)? I had some peanut filled ones with my family but I’m going to make some of the little ones tonight, too. The plan was to make some yesterday but we ran out of red food coloring so it didn’t seem right to eat yuan xiao that way.
My preferred way of eating yuan xiao is pairing the little ones with fermented rice wine soup with sugar and a little bit of egg. It’s the perfect amount of sweet with a little bit of sourness.
Now, onto the chapter!
Chapter 001: The First Time
Prime Minister Murong’s fu.1
“One brush combed to the end. A second brush for the blessings of growing old together with mutual respect. A third brush for many children and grandchildren. A fourth brush for wealth and a long marriage…”2
In the midst of the cheerful prayers of the Good Fortune Matron (好命婆 // Hao Ming Po), what I saw in the copper mirror was Mother’s tearful smile.
Tomorrow, I’ll be leaving the boudoir.3 I thought I could handle all matters of the heart, but at the end, there were some ties I couldn’t bear to let go of.
“Qing’er, you were separated from us when you were a child. I had finally found you and wished to keep you for a few more years, but who would have thought…” The jade comb in the Good Fortune Matron’s hand slid through my glossy locks, but Mother’s words choked and she couldn’t continue speaking anymore.
The servant girl assisting at the side, Bi Zhi, has always been intelligent. Seeing this scene, she hurriedly took a silk kerchief to wipe Mother’s tears. She smiled and spoke wisely: “The one that Young Miss is marrying is our Nan Dynasty’s third prince. A natural-born aristocrat, handsome and elegant. This is a favor that so many daughters can’t even hope to have. With a blessing this good, there’s nothing that Madam need worry about.”
Hearing this, Mother nodded, smiling while tears welled in her eyes: “Naturally, I understand this, but my heart is just unwilling.”
Accompanied by the Good Fortune Matron’s “lofty” prayers, Mother got up from the chaise and personally helped me sit down by her side. Perhaps my expression was too subdued, for the smile that had just formed unwittingly became dimmer: “Qing’er, since there aren’t any outsiders in the room now, Mother will tell it to you straight. I know that you have been wronged by the situation this time, but the news of the grand wedding between Murong Family’s young miss and the third prince has long been known by everyone in the world. Yan’er was too foolish and committed such a thing as fleeing this marriage, which could have implicated our entire family. Had we any other choice, how could your father and I be willing to let you suffer the grievance of substituting in marriage?”
“I understand, I’ve never felt wronged.” I smiled gently, but my heart was as clear as a mirror. Though I was a substitute, anyone who knew of the situation would only speak of my extraordinary luck. Had it not been for mei-mei‘s4 unexpected fleeing, how could I come by the chance to have such an exceptional husband? There was barely even enough time to rejoice, let alone feel wronged.
Moving my gaze to the dragon and phoenix candles shining high by the window, I spoke softly: “Qing’er is only worried about ultimately failing to meet Father and Mother’s expectations.”
When Mother heard me speak like this, she, on the contrary, smiled slightly: “You’re worrying too much, everyone in the world knows that Murong Family’s young miss is set to marry the Third Highness on an auspicious date. The decree did not state which Miss Murong it is. Your father rushed to Third Wang fu5 early morning and explained everything to His Highness. Should the Third Highness agree to bear the responsibility, His Majesty won’t pursue the issue too far.”
I did not speak again. Seeing Mother’s expression, the Third Highness must have consented. Everything had been settled conclusively.
When Mother saw that I was still silent, a thread of apprehension flashed across her face as if she had suddenly thought of something. Holding my hand, she said: “Qing’er, are you worried that what the Third Highness cared about was Yan’er’s beautiful looks?”
I was slightly stunned, never having expected that Mother would say such words. A moment later, I became more relieved. After all, mei-mei, Murong Yan’s beauty and talents had long been renowned in the capital.
Before I could say anything, the servant girl, Shu Ying6 had already spoken up coldly: “How many people who depend on beauty for love end up with good repercussions? Moreover, how can ordinary people compare to Young Miss’ beauty?”
Mother probably didn’t expect her to intervene in such a way. After a start, she still spoke with a smile: “Good child, you and Qing’er suffered from disaster together. You always stayed by her side and protected her like this. I’m very grateful for such shared affection.”
I lifted my gaze and gave her a slight smile. Five years ago, the whole family was moving to the capital and on the way, we encountered rebels from the previous dynasty. In the midst of the chaos, my palanquin fell from the precipice of a cliff. Back then, I was merely twelve years old, and the only one accompanying me in the palanquin was Shu Ying.
Shu Ying spoke no further and neither did Mother continue on with the words from just before. She merely gave me more and more bits of advice until it was late at night; Bi Zhi had already urged her several times that the bride must get a good night’s sleep in order to have a good complexion for the grand occasion the next day. When she left just now, her eyes were filled with reluctance.
I saw her all the way to the gates of the small courtyard. Mother held my hand tightly, but spoke nothing the entire way.
It was clear to all of us. After tomorrow, even being able to meet would be a rarity.
Only when Mother’s silhouette disappeared into the curving path of the garden did I turn around. What I saw was the cold moon on the horizon, shaped like a hook.
And on the eaves, below the jade-like hook, a silhouette clad in robes as white as snow saw me turn around. He raised the wine jar in his hand, gesturing slightly towards me.
I smiled: “Since you’re here, what are you doing on the eaves instead of coming inside?”
He laughed, lightly pointing his toes. In the blink of an eye, he stood steadily in front of me: “Come, I’ll take you horseback riding. After tomorrow, who knows when there’ll be another opportunity.”
My heart warmed, smiling as I placed my hand in his outstretched palm. Murong Lian, my youngest brother.
He nodded, holding onto my hand at once. He gently supported my waist and exerted strength from his toes, leaping into the air.
I could only hear the wind whistling as it passed my ears. Occasionally, the sounds would be corrupted by Shu Ying’s anxious voice: “Young Master Lian, where are you taking Young Miss, ah. She’ll be leaving the boudoir tomorrow, she can’t go out…”
- 府 // Fu: Referring to a manor, typically that of a wealthy family.
- Part of an ancient custom where family members or wedding matrons would comb the hair of a bride for good fortune.
- 出閣 // Chu Ge: Metaphor for marrying out of the natal household.
- 妹妹 // Mei Mei: Younger sister or junior female.
- 王府 // Wang Fu: Referring to the third prince’s manor. Wang, derivative of wang zi, which refers to a prince or feudal king. Fu means manor.
- Shu Ying means sparse shadow.
- 一入侯門深似海: Fig. Once a woman marries into wealth, she loses her freedom. This metaphor describes the disparity between the rich and poor.
- 天家 // Tian Jia: The actual term is means Heaven’s Family. The Imperial Family is referred to as Heaven’s Family because the emperor is said to have the Mandate of Heaven.
- 琴 // Qin: Chinese plucked zither.
- 箏 // Zheng: Short for gu zheng, not to be confused with gu qin. A zheng has around 21 strings while qin has seven. It is usually made of paulonia wood and dates back to the Warring States period (475–221 BC). Sometimes called qin zheng as it became popular during the Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC).