Part of a Memories of a Graceful Reflection translation project at fruitydeer.com.
Do not download, copy, or redistribute without permission.
Source: 猶記驚鴻照影 by Feng Ning Xue Wu // Translated By: Xin (fruitydeer)
In the opening line of this and a few subsequent chapters, Feng Ning Xue Wu will mention several times, Raiment of Rainbows and Feathers (霓裳羽衣舞歌 // ní chang yǔ yī wǔ gē). This is the commonly used version of the song title, but a more literal translation of would be Song and Dance of Rainbow Skirts and Feathered Robes. It’s a Tang Dynasty song about beautiful dancers in colorful garment but has also come to symbolize brides of ancient times. It’s so well-known that the phrase ni chang (rainbow skirts/raiments) has become somewhat synonymous with this song. The tale goes: Emperor Xuan Zong had a dream about maidens on a moon performing a dance to music. When he woke up, he penned the song and named it for the garments he saw the maidens wearing in his dream. His favored concubine, Yang Gui fei, supposedly choreographed the accompanying dance and had performed it to him.
Stuff like this is what makes translating Memories such an enjoyable experience—the literature and rich culture steeped within it.
Also, apologies in advance for the many footnotes today. It’s the day of Murong Qing’s grand wedding, so of course, there’s several terms mentioned. If there is enough demand, I may create a glossary for some of the commonly used words! 🙂
Chapter 003: The Third Time
“Commence the temple greeting ceremony,3 play music!”
Silently, I let the Matron of Honor (喜娘 // Xi Niang) support me as I kneeled deeply before the calls of the Ceremonial Rites Officer (讚禮官 // Zan Li Guan) In my hand was the red tribute silk from Jiang Nan.4 On the other end of the silk was this dynasty’s third prince, Nan Cheng Yao, the husband I had never met.
I could not see what he looked like. The auspicious dragon and phoenix bridal veil blocked my line of sight, coating the world in bright, extravagant red.
Three kneels, nine kowtows, six ritual salutes.
When marrying into Heaven’s Family, traditions are paid all the more attention to. By the time the Xi Niang brought me into the matrimonial chambers, my temples already had the slightest perspiration.
The sound of the music and rights outside of the matrimonial chamber boomed, making the quietude of the room even more apparent. A servant girl passed over a plate of snacks to my hands, softly saying: “Wang fei,5 please eat these snacks first, they are all bestowed by the palace. Nu-bi6 picked a little of everything, Wang fei must be hungry after a long day.”
That maidservant’s voice was graceful and calm, befitting for the occasion. Although I was not hungry, I still picked a few pieces and tried a bite before returning the plate to her.
She received it, then spoke again: “His Highness is in the main hall entertaining guests with wine. Unfortunately, he may not be able to leave for some time. Wang fei, please rest a little. Nu-bi will stand watch just outside the matrimonial chamber. Wang fei can give the order if anything is needed.”
She closed the door and left, her etiquette thorough. Inside this vast room, only I remained. At this time, even Shu Ying could only stand watch outside of the room.
My fingers carefully traced the golden twin lotuses upon a single stalk7 on the bridal dress. When Mother’s brother took up a post as a construction supervisor far off in Jiang Nan, he sought out an officially titled woman to embroider the dress.8 It took three months to complete before getting rushed to the fu9 by horse.
Verdant lotus leaves cover the lush green water, bright blooms wearing a coat of red.10 With each stitch and each thread, these were honors that other people could not deign to hope for.
However, I smiled ever so impassively, brushing over the wide sleeves.
This was something that was never mine in the first place. No matter how respectable, it was, in the end, a poor fit. What sort of end would come of a fated union that had erred ever since its beginnings?
“How can this be? Then what about my family’s young miss?” Shu Ying’s voice outside the matrimonial chambers interrupted my thoughts. Though she had suppressed herself, she couldn’t hide her discontent and anxiousness.
The voice of that girl with the graceful and calm voice sounded. She answered softly, carrying both etiquette and apology, though neither servile nor overbearing: “There is an urgent decree from the palace, the Sacred One’s dragon’s body11 is unwell and all princes must immediately enter the palace. This is a force of the circumstances, the Third Highness also has no choice in the matter.”
“No matter how urgent, shouldn’t there still be some time to remove the bridal veil? Now what, do I ask my family’s young miss to remove the veil herself or continue on with waiting?”
That maiden was tongue-tied for a moment, clearly hesitating. But I quietly called out Shu Ying’s name.
Shu Ying hurried in, answering the call by greeting me with a “Young Miss,” but she wavered on the notion of how she ought to continue.
The sound of that gentle, courteous voice trailed in: “Wang fei has been disturbed, it’s nu-bi‘s wrong.”
I smiled faintly: “The maiden speaks too gravely. There’s an urgent matter and Imperial Father’s order cannot be disobeyed.”
“But, Young Miss…”
Before Shu Ying could utter a full sentence, I reached out and held her hand, beckoning for her to keep from speaking further. I turned to the servant girl and spoke: “Young Maiden, is there a married woman in the wang fu who has had both luck and longevity?”
The servant girl pondered for a moment, then replied: “His Highness’ wet nurse, Wang fu ren,12 should be such a person.”
I nodded gently: “Then I must burden the maiden to request that Wang fu ren help Murong Qing remove the veil.”
“This…” she hesitated slightly.
I spoke mildly: “There is an urgent matter in the palace. The Sacred One’s condition must be unstable, otherwise he would not casually disturb the prince’s wedding ceremony. Thus, it’s hard to predict when he (the prince) will be able to return. Ultimately, going on waiting like this would be improper. But it would be inauspicious for a new bride to take off her own bridal veil. Even if Murong Qing does not mind, if this news spreads in the future, it may not be good for His Highness in the future. Thus, although asking Wang fu ren to act as a replacement to conduct the veil removal doesn not conform with tradition, it is still proper and can be abided by. Though unconventional, it is not without precedent. I’ve to burden the maiden with this.”13
My voice was calm and steady. Once I finished speaking, I did not press on.
The servant girl contemplated for a few seconds, then said: “What Wang fei says is correct. Nu-bi will call on someone to invite Wang fu ren right now.”
It took more than a moment for Wang fu ren to arrive. As the veil was slowly lifted, I saw a luxurious and elegant room: A bed curtain, yuan yang14 pillows, and a dragon and phoenix15 quilt. The bed was covered with red dates, peanuts, longans, lotus seeds and all types of auspicious fruits and items. The arrangement was not lacking in merriment and joy.
However, within this jubilation-filled world, my husband was not present.
That’s not to say there was a thread of disappointment. Rather, there was a long sigh of relief at the bottom of my heart. Even though I knew it was unavoidable, the idea of having physical relations with a man I did not know was something I had yet to fully reconcile.
Later is better than sooner. At least it allows me some more time to adjust mentally.
Thinking about it this way, it was inevitable that I felt a little ridiculous. The timber has already been turned into a boat.16 What else is there left to resist? What else could not be let go of?
I laughed self-deprecatingly in my heart and simply stopped thinking about it.
The sounds of Wang fu ren‘s apologies and consoling words still rang by my ears. I smiled, but my gaze slowly fell to the window.
On the desk, the red candles shed tears.
The auspicious time and beautiful scene was destined to end in disappointment.
Translator’s Note: I got a little trigger happy with the visual aids, heh. Some of the images I included are only vaguely historically accurate and should be seen as more of a general “ancient” style updated for modern times. This page that shows some examples of the bridal garb referenced in Raiment of Rainbows and Feathers is more accurate, but it’s brief and unfortunately, is written in Chinese. There’s also some more info here in English that very briefly outlines wedding fashion during some of the more prominent dynasties.
Ouchies for Murong Qing. Chinese weddings back in the day were basically 99% about tradition and auspiciousness, less about the couple themselves. The snub is akin cursing Murong Qing with bad fortune and dismissing her natal family.
A heads up that the next chapter is a bit short, so I’ll release it ahead of time as a bit of a bonus. Most likely this coming Monday.
- I kind of fudged this line and took some creative liberties. It derives from the song Raiment of Rainbows and Feathers (霓裳羽衣舞歌). This particular verse describes the color extravagance of dancing performers’ clothing, but has become known as a descriptor for brides of ancient times.
- Key mention is the xia pei (霞帔), which was a shawl-like covering worn by wealthy women when they got married, and bu yao crown (步搖冠), which is basically a phoenix crown with dangling ornaments (which are called bu yao).
- 廟見禮 // Chao Jian Li: The temple greeting/meeting ceremony is part of traditional wedding ceremonies where the bride officially becomes a member of the family, usually before the groom’s ancestral hall.
- The Jiang Nan region is famed for its silk.
- 王妃 // Wang Fei: Means princess consort, a wang fei is the consort of a prince. Wang refers to a prince or feudal king, fei means consort.
- 奴婢 // Nu Bi: Illeism for female slave.
- 並蒂蓮花 // Bi Ding Lian Hua: This imagery symbolizes a devoted married couple.
- The point here is that it’s not ordinary people who made the dress but a noble lady.
- 府 // fu: Referring to manor. In this case, the Murong fu
- From the poem Qing Yang Du (青陽渡) by female poet Bao Ling Hui. The red lotus symbolizes a pure and beautiful maiden in bloom.
- Refers to the emperor.
- 夫人 // fu ren: Refers to a married woman. Like lady or madam.
- Saying that you’ve troubled someone or burdened someone is a way of politely accepting or requesting someone’s service or favor.
- 鴛鴦 // Yuan Yang: A mandarin duck pair. Mandarin ducks mate for life and are a symbolic representation of couples.
- 龍鳳 // Long Feng: Dragon and phoenix. Symbolic representation of couples.
- 木已成舟 // Mu Yi Cheng Dan: Idiom. Fig. What’s done cannot be undone.