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)
Happy Saturday! I planned to spend the entire day being a sloth, but then I realized I still needed to edit and upload this chapter.
Chapter 012: The Twelfth Time
I slowly raised my eyes and looked at the woman sitting on the mistress’ seat. Fuchsia, adorned with golden phoenix brocade; dazzling hairpins inlaid with precious gems embellished her hair that was drawn in the style of a hundred birds flying towards the phoenix. Her boudoir name has already been gradually forgotten by the people, what is now remembered is the one and only elegant, charming Gui fei niang-niang of Qing Yang Palace.
Because of this, when Nan Cheng Yao called her by name last night, I had not taken any heed to it. Nor did I ever expect that he would dare to act so audaciously and commit adultery with the Sacred One’s most favored Qing Gui fei.
The shock in my heart lasted for but a moment. After giving it some more thought, I could not help but laugh inwardly at myself for being too naive. If Qing Fei niang-niang couldn’t get close to the emperor this easily and there was instead some other older brother working in the Imperial Hospital, Nan Cheng Yao would not be going off and getting himself entangled with her.
But this Qing Fei niang-niang does by no means play a simple part. Her natal family is weak and holds little power in court. Yet, step by step, she was able to come this far and ultimately win the most favor in the rear palace. Some rumors even said that when the Sacred One was ill, memorandums were up to this niang-niang to review in his stead.
“If Third Wang fei isn’t in a hurry to leave, ben-gong1 would like some company for a chat.” After I served tea and offered greetings, she fiddled with her long, cinnabar dyed nails seemingly nonchalantly, speaking with an indolent charm.
I smiled warmly: “It is Murong Qing’s blessing to be able to receive Niang-niang‘s favor.”
With a smile, she replied neither hastily or leisurely: “On the day of Wang fei‘s wedding, ben-gong originally wanted to personally offer congratulations, but unfortunately, His Majesty’s head illness began acting up. The palace is full of dames, and in a moment of panic, ben-gong had no idea what to do. As a last resort, all the princes were summoned back to the palace, and Third Wang fei had to watch over the chamber alone on your wedding night. Ben-gong simply feels too apologetic.”
I sneered inwardly, but my face revealed nothing at all. If I once had the slightest belief that the Sacred One’s illness was real, then today, if it was said that the emperor’s illness from last time had nothing to do with this niang-niang, I would absolutely not believe it.
I could not help but recall something Lian once said: Once a woman’s jealousy is rattled, little good will come of it.
Now, it seems that he wasn’t completely without reason.
Regardless of whether these remarks of Qing Gui fei were intentional or harmless, her inflection more or less brought with it a sense of pointedness as well as a joy in calamity, delight in disaster.2
I lowered my brows and controlled my gaze, replying amiably and respectfully: “Filial piety takes precedence, Qing’er doesn’t dare to complain.”
Qing Fei‘s eyes held a smile, seemingly disdainful and somewhat mocking: “I met your mei-mei once. She was so arrogant that I wondered if all daughters of Murong Family were this way. Who could have expected that you would be conscientious of your role.”
I kept my eyes lowered and lightly replied: “Everything of the Murong Family has been a bestowment of the Sacred One, how could Qing’er dare have any self-conceit?”
Hearing this, Qing Gui fei‘s eyes filled with even more disdain and she no longer wasted effort on masking it. But just as she was about to say something, she suddenly looked towards the outside of the hall. Her expression instantly softened.
I was slightly taken aback, but when I looked back, I saw Nan Cheng Yao’s figure step into the front hall.
Qing Gui fei smiled gently: “Your Highness didn’t even have someone make an announcement upon arriving.”
Nan Cheng Yao laughed lazily: “Such empty courtesies annoy me the most. It’s not like Niang-niang is an outsider. Here in Qing Yang Palace, why not just forgive me? If you can offer pardons, then simply pardon, right?”
Even though he was speaking to Qing Gui fei, his eyes gazed faintly towards my direction.
Like a puppet in delicate makeup and clothes, I smiled silently, revealing no emotions whatsoever.
Qing Gui fei laughed, her voice increasingly gentle and charming: “Third Highness is indeed this sort of person. Wang fei, don’t ridicule, from today onwards, ben-gong must request that you bear some of these burdens.”
I let my lashes droop downwards and concealed the smile in my eyes. To bystanders, it sounded like she was advising her daughter-in-law under the guise of being an elder, which would not necessarily be unreasonable. But that desire to flaunt was too obvious; it was impossible for me to even feign ignorance.
So I continued smiling amiably and replied customarily: “I cannot afford Niang-niang‘s request, this is naturally Qing’er’s role.”
I raised my eyes. Though the emotion Qing Gui fei’s eyes was well concealed, it was nevertheless faintly discernible.
On the other hand, Nan Cheng Yao laughed and walked to my side: “As such, I should first thank Wang fei.”
I did not understand his intent, so I hastily rose and bowed in greetings to him. The smile playing on his lips deepened, and the moment he raised his hand to support me, he whispered in my ear: “You already know who she is, right? Yet, you keep posturing lower. If not because you’re weak and easily bullied, then it’s because you conceal yourself deeply. It’s quite apparent that you’re not the former, no?”
I knew that there was nothing I could hide from him, so I smiled gently and whispered just as softly: “If it’s Your Highness’ wish that I play the jealous rival, then Qing’er can do that as well.”
He let out a low laugh, his breath dusting against my neck and leaving a slight prickle. I maintained composure and turned away. Just as I breathed a sigh of relief, I heard him laugh, likely because he found things amusing. It seemed like he was in quite the good mood.
It was just that that pair of dark eyes were still just as temperate as ever.
I didn’t even have time to sigh before Qing Gui fei‘s voice sounded with slight disdain and mocking, even bringing with it traces of provocation: “Since Third Wang fei is so wise, if the Third Highness stays in the palace to serve the emperor for a few more days, Wang fei will be understanding as well, yes?”
Nan Cheng Yao did not reply. His expression continued to hold an insouciant smile, appearing as if he was watching a good show.
So I smiled gently, speaking in a cordial, courteous tone: “Qing’er naturally doesn’t dare harbor any complaints. The health of Imperial Father’s Sacred Body is a blessing to us. Moreover, since His Highness and I have already married, we’re destined to walk hand in hand for a lifetime. Why be in such a rush for husband and wife to spend time together? The future is long.”
With the last phrase of “the future is long,” my words were soft and languid, as if bearing shyness and, even more so, affection.
As for my bearing, it was modest and deferential, so much so that one couldn’t pick out a single fault.
A strike to the snake’s heart, this was a concept I understood.3 And the more unintentional the harm, the more harmful it could be.
When I raised my eyes again, I saw, unsurprisingly, that Qing Gui fei‘s face no could no longer maintain that smile.
And Nan Cheng Yao’s lips slowly hooked upwards, turning into a curve overflowing with amusement.
Translator’s Note: Qing Gui fei thinks she’s playing mind games with Murong Qing, but in reality, it’s Murong Qing playing mind games with Qing Gui fei while Nan Cheng Yao plays mind games with Murong Qing.
Also, gui fei is a title meaning noble consort while fei itself is an umbrella category of imperial concubines at the fei rank. That’s why Murong Qing sometimes shortens her address for Qing Gui fei to simply Qing Fei. And though it varies between eras, fei are generally considered official wives with a seniority level only second to the empress.
- 本宮 // Ben Gong: Illeism used by the empress or imperial concubines when conversing with those of lower status. Literally means “this palace.”
- 幸災樂禍: Idiom. Fig. Gloating in others’ misfortune.
- 蛇打七寸: Idiom. Lit. Hit the snake by hitting seven inches. The “seven inches” is the location of the snake’s heart, so the idiom means to strike a fatal injury.