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)
We’re headed to the palace today, so this chapter is packed with new terms. If there’s anything lacking clarity, feel free to ask in the comments. Also, last week’s post accidentally went up early and was riddled with typos, but has since been corrected. Do go back an re-read if you want to read the updated version!
Chapter 011: The Eleventh Time
Moving along with the singing of the Ceremonial Announcements Officer (宣禮官 // Xuan Li Guan), the palanquin decorated with a luan and phoenix1 of golden silk steadily descended. Xun Yun lifted the palanquin curtain for me. Up ahead, Nan Cheng Yao wore a lazy smile, insouciantly holding his hand out to me.
I drooped my lashes. When I raised them once more, all emotions inappropriate for the occasion had been suppressed.
Carrying an impeccably perfect smile, I elegantly placed my hand on his wrist. With a light, lotus-like gait,2 I stepped off the palanquin. Up ahead was Zi Jing Palace, its facade as magnificent as gold and jade.
Xun Yun supported me on the path forward. This was originally what Shu Ying ought to do. But right now, she was lying unconscious in Third Wang fu, completely alone.
And not only could I not watch over her, but I also had to accompany the person that hurt her. Warm words and shallow smiles, leaving everyone in the world with a picture of a loving and mutually respectful marriage.
I sighed softly in my heart; he should not be blamed.
He spared the lives of Shu Ying and I. That was already the greatest benevolence. To him, why even take the risk? After all, only the dead could not expose secrets.
However, understanding was one thing; in my heart, I still couldn’t fully reconcile my resentment.
I could remember the dripping wound on Shu Ying’s person last night; and all that blood, seeping into her blue dress.
The me of that moment could think about nothing other than expending all my efforts to save her and let her suffer a little less.
It was evident that Xun Yun had received Nan Cheng Yao’s instruction. She quietly fetched water and ground medicine for me from the side. She said nothing; neither did I have have the leisure of dividing my attention for her.
When I could finally breathe a sigh of relief, I heard Nan Cheng Yao’s voice sound from behind, carrying with it some mirth: “I didn’t expect that Prime Minister Murong’s family was so knowledgeable. Even his daughter has such excellent medical skills, no less of a master than the best physicians in the Imperial Hospital.”
I was a bit fatigued, but I could understand very clearly the suspicion in his words. So I calmly replied: “Qing’er encountered disaster during youth. Fortunately, a noble person saved me and taught me some general medical knowledge.”
He harbored a smile as he asked: “Han Yu Gong-zi‘s medical skills are naturally no small matter, but isn’t that something he doesn’t pass on to others?”
My heart trembled. People in the world only knew that I was once saved after my fall from the cliff, but the matter of Su Xiu Mian (蘇修緬) being the one who rescued me was something known to only a few people closest to me in my family. Firstly, it was to abide by his wishes. Secondly, Father has also said that it wouldn’t be a good thing for too many people to know of any entanglements with this world-renowned person of the jiang hu.3
But Nan Cheng Yao laid it in the open so indifferently. It seemed that I really underestimated his acumen and means.
I did not ask how he came to know this, nor did I leave any trace of astonishment on my face. I only lowered my lashes and spoke amiably: “It was merely a coincidence of fate.”
He chuckled and did not continue asking. His eyes were just as before, lacking any temperature. Without speaking further, he stepped out the door, leaving only Xun Yun to serve in the room.
“Wang fei, up ahead is His Majesty’s resting palace.” Xun Yun’s words pulled my thoughts back to the present.
I packed away my mood and thoughts, putting on a smile that was impossible for one to find fault in. With a composed demeanor, I allowed her to support me as I followed Nan Cheng Yao into the gates of Ding Qian Palace.
The current emperor is an old fellow with a rigid, cold face. Perhaps it was due to his illness that his complexion was somewhat fatigued.
I used both hands to offer tea, performed the ceremonial bows, then said with poise: “Qing’er’s greetings came late, Imperial Father, please forgive me. Wishing safety and health upon Imperial Father’s dragon’s body along with as both fortune and longevity.”
A eunuch took the tea from my hands and offered it to the Sacred One. He took a small sip, then put it down and allowed me to straighten. His tone could be considered genial.
After offering tea, I followed the lead of a eunuch and withdrew from the emperor’s resting palace. In accordance to customs, it was time to greet the empress.
But Xiao Ci Empress4 is deceased, and the Middle Palace5 has remained empty. On top of that, Nan Cheng Yao’s birth mother6 had also passed away. Thus, the eunuch led me towards Qing Yang Palace. As of now, Qing Yang Palace’s Gui fei niang-niang‘s7 8 position was the highest. She was also the most favored and held the power of authority in managing the Six Palaces.9
As per custom, Nan Cheng Yao remained in Ding Qian Palace while I offered tea and greetings to Qing Gui fei by myself.10
Bowing gracefully, my hands carried the exquisite and colorfully glazed cup to my brows. I amiably and gently spoke: “Wishing Niang-niang great fortune and peace.”
I finished speaking, but even after much delay, I had not yet received a response.
Though my brows were lowered and my gaze restrained, I could detect an ambiguous gaze dwelling on me for a long time.
After a while, a female voice spoke lazily: “Bao Yan, hurry and receive Third Wang fei‘s tea, lest her arms get sore.”
Every single word was charming to the bone. It made people want to forget, yet was completely unforgettable.
- 鸞鳳 // Luan Feng: Luan is a mythical bird related to the phoenix (feng). Together, luan and feng symbolizes husband and wife as well as virtue.
- 蓮步輕移: Metaphor for the the graceful, swaying motions of a woman’s posture while moving.
- 江湖 // Jiang Hu: Rivers and lakes. The martial arts world in ancient China, commonly seen in wuxia novels. It refers to a way of life that runs separate to mainstream society and politics. The Imperial Court and those of jiang hu usually avoid intermingling.
- 孝慈 // Xiao Ci: Means filial and compassionate. The empress’ conferred title.
- 中宮 // Zhong Gong: The empress’ palace is sometimes referred to as the middle palace. Tidbit: In Ming Dynasty Forbidden City, the empress’ palace, Kun Ning Palace, is aligned to the center north-south entrances of the Imperial Court, positioned in the rear palace behind the emperor’s Qian Qing Palace. It showed her unity with the emperor as well as her authority as the mistress of the palaces. This layout can be seen in wealthy compounds as well.
- As newlyweds, it would be customary to greet Nan Cheng Yao’s birth mother next.
- 貴妃 // Gui Fei: Noble Consort. Typically one of the highest ranking titles available to an imperial concubine.
- 娘娘 // Niang-Niang: Polite form of address for an empress or imperial concubine. Similar to saying mistress or my lady.
- 六宮 // Liu Gong: Translates to Six Palaces. In the Ming and Qing Dynasties, this was the rear palace where the empress and imperial concubines lived in the Forbidden City. It’s actually twelve total palaces since there’s the six on each of the east and west sides, but they’re usually referred to separately and often just shortened down to six for some reason.
- Qing is the conferred title. It’s the same qing as in Qing Yang Palace.