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)
Another big oof this week and this time, our hearts go out to Nan Cheng Yao’s first love.
Chapter 008: The Eighth Time
I was slightly taken aback. After all, the current emperor obtained the world by killing his sovereign. So though the current dynasty was in an age of prosperity, old affairs of the former empire were matters of secrecy.
I had never heard of Nan Cheng Yao’s history with the former dynasty’s princess. Yet, Mother chose this moment to mention it, so it must not be without reason.
I could vaguely understand what Mother meant, thus, I concealed my surprise and merely listened calmly.
Mother did not seem concerned with my thoughts, seemingly having fallen into some sort of distant memory. Her voice continued on, just as softly as before.
“It was rumored that this princess was born with birthmark in the shape of a new moon, so the former emperor ignored the convention of using ‘De’ (德 // Virtuous) as the granted title like with princess of the past. Instead, he conferred the unique name of ‘Yu Gou Princess’ (玉鉤 // Jade Hook). This was an immense grace and she received utmost favor. At first, he looked down at the Third Highness as a potential son-in-law despite him being an extraordinarily skilled cub with striking talents. However, they were just so happy together…”
Wind blew across the window from the outside. Gales of leaves and branches rustled upon the trees. Mother paused ever so slightly, composed herself, then spoke again, returning to her initial calmness.
“Afterwards, because the former emperor truly and genuinely loved this princess, he finally consented to her wishes of marrying the Third Highness. According to custom, with the princess marrying down,1 all members of the Nan Family must return to the capital to offer gratitude. So they used this opportunity to secretly mobilize their troops, cross the sea by a trick,2 and storm Zi Jing Palace on the day of the grand wedding…”
“Did the Third Highness know about it?” I asked softly, interrupting Mother’s words.
“When the troops were destroyed, the current emperor was concerned that the Third Highness would secretly abandon his public duties and harm the cause, so he sent a death order3 to prevent others from revealing anything to him.”
I nodded a little, but it was clear in my heart that though they were strict orders, it was not possible to block everything. Whether or not the Third Highness knew beforehand, no one knew other than himself.
Mother smiled faintly: “But in reality, the emperor was overthinking. That night, of the former emperor and ten remaining princes and princess, none were spared. The only one to escape Zi Jing Palace was the one that the former emperor risked everything to protect, Ning Yu Qing. But this last remaining bloodline of the former dynasty could not escape calamity either. She survived for only three more days. In the end, she lost her life falling off the precipice of a cliff. And the one who led the troops to eliminate the last of the prior regime and force the former dynasty’s princess to jump off was none other than the Third Highness.”
I was silent for a long time. It was not that my heart was not troubled at all. After all, from now onwards, the person Mother spoke of was the one who would be accompanying me for a lifetime.
Mother looked deeply at me for a brief moment, then finally spoke again. In spite of her strength in suppressing emotions, her tone still carried a few degrees of pity and remorse: “Perhaps it is due to this that the Third Highness’ temperament changed so greatly. Now, he spends his days with music and wine as entertainment.”
I smiled but said nothing. I merely wondered if this is what led mei-mei to flee her wedding.
After taking pause, she smiled in what seemed to be a forced manner, then moved away from the subject: “Of course, though the Third Highness is a bit indulgent in his conduct, he’s definitely not a talentless person. If not for that, your father and myself would never agree to this marriage even if we died.”
Still, I smiled and did not speak. But when Mother saw my silence, she stopped for a long while before suddenly asking: “Qing’er, what do you think of Yan’er’s looks?”
I smiled faintly: “Mei-mei’s beauty is one designed by the heavens, something known to everyone in the world.”
“That is because not everyone in the world knows of Ning Yu Qing.” Mother shook her head and sighed gently: “Ning Yu Qing is a noble princess of the previous dynasty. Ordinary people are unable to peer into the heavens on a normal basis, and since the changing of the dynasties, many have remained mum about the affairs of the previous dynasty. Nowadays, it’s no surprise that many people in the world don’t know this.”
Thought I was slightly shocked, I listened on as Mother continued to speak:
“But I had the opportunity to see her once. It was during the former empress dowager’s birthday when I joined your father and entered the palace to attend the banquet. This princess gracefully performed a beautiful song and dance; it was truly one of a kind in this world. At the time, someone had written: ‘A song and dance of absolute grace, reflections that move the entire world; billowy sleeves both gentle and relaxed, leaving behind a clear shadow upon the mortal realm.’4 You can only imagine how beautiful she was. It’s not that I’m being unduly humble, but in front of her, your mei-mei is merely average in looks. And though Yan’er’s talents are praised by all, when compared to her, they need not be mentioned at all.”
“Is Mother trying to tell me about the concept of how difficult it is take a river seriously after having crossed the vast oceans?5 You want me to understand and not have yearnings for his love.” I heard my voice sounding softly after a some time had passed, my expression carrying a small smile.
Mother’s eyes were doting as she spoke gently: “It’s good for you to understand thoroughly, but what I am trying to tell you is, although the Third Highness is never short of soft jade and warm fragrance,6 he will never love any of them. Since he was able to watch the person he loved so wholeheartedly, a woman so unparalleled in this world, leap to her death, how could he give even the slightest bit of sincerity to those numerous orioles and swallows singing and dancing around him today?7 Perhaps you may not be an exception either, but at least you are his officially wed wang fei, the pearl of my Murong Family. Other than the Third Highness himself, you need not have qualms about anyone. No one can give you grievances.”
Mother looked at me, carrying a calmness and pride unique to only the Murong Family. With a tone of voice that left no room for doubt, she said, word by word: “Qing’er, remember that no matter when and regardless of what it is that you want to do, Prime Minister Murong’s xiang fu will always be your greatest shelter.”
Translator’s Note: It may be worth noting that the qing (傾) in Ning Yu Qing is the same character as the one in Nan Cheng Yao’s Qing Tian (傾天) House. While qing tian means overturning the skies/world, yu qing means feathers/wings overturned. 👀
- An imperial princess getting married is referred to as marrying down since marrying out of royalty meant her status would technically lower.
- 瞞天過海: Idiom. Fig. Achieve aims by underhanded means. They didn’t literally cross the sea.
- Meaning, anyone who spills the secret will be punished by death.
- My translation is a bit clunky, but phrases from the title of the book, which is derived from poet Lu You’s line of poetry from Two Verses of Shen Garden (see: Intro & Synopsis) is mentioned several times here in regards to Ning Yu Qing’s dance.
- 曾經滄海難為水: From a line of poetry by Yuan Zhen, a Tang Dynasty poet.
- Metaphor for the suppleness and allure of female bodies.
- Orioles and swallows is a metaphor for concubines and prostitutes.