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)
Though there’s a tacit understanding between Nan Cheng Yao and Murong Qing of his ambitions in the imperial power struggle and the type of role that she, as his wife, is destined to play, he’s really been thriving off both pushing her buttons as well as seeing how far she’ll go in this perverse game of brinksmanship. Methinks someone will soon be eating his words…
Chapter 018: The Eighteenth Time
Qing fei niang-niang played the part of companion to this dynasty’s rightful Son of Heaven, sitting high above on the principal seat. Today, she wore a bi xia luo1 of peony red. A broad strip of golden brocade was wrapped around her chest while her slender waistline saw an embroidery of a gold, silk phoenix. The phoenix flowed softly along the silk, striking and beyond compare.
This evening, the Sacred One’s complexion was still not well, leaving the delicate, rosy beauty of the Qing Gui fei at his side looking all the more apparent. Dark, spry hair wrapped atop her head, and other than a gold bu yao2 inlaid with gold, there also laid a large, fresh, peony blossom. With her charming, winsome smile3 in accompaniment of the Son of Heaven, it was truly a case of the person being more delicate than the flower. Every frown and every smile could fascinate the soul.
However, though this Qing fei niang-niang shared with the Son of Heaven her soft words and delicate smiles, her gaze that was so charming it could engrave itself into one’s bones, conversely continued to drift, intentionally or otherwise in the direction of where Nan Cheng Yao and I sat.
I lowered my lashes, concealing the smile in my eyes. And with a faint look, Nan Cheng Yao cast a glance in my direction, his lips suddenly hooking into a wicked arc.
I inwardly went on alert, but he had already leaned over, his lazy smile breathing against my ear: “Enjoy watching shows, mn? Then how about Wang fei act out a performance with ben-wang.4
Before his words even sunk in, he grasped my hand and drained the jade cup in my hand with one gulp. Then, he frivolously dropped a kiss before letting go.
I smiled bitterly in my head: “Your Highness, what has Qing’er done to offend that Your Highness must push me into water and fire5 like this.”
He relaxed his posture and leaned indolently into my bosom while laughing lazily: “Now that you’ve married into my Third Wang fu, does Wang fei still hope to remain on the sidelines?”
Everyone in the banquet must have long since gotten used to this third prince’s self-indulgence. Even when coming come across this scene, no one reacted with much shock. Only Father, Mother, and Yan’er looked repeatedly in my direction. I knew that they were concerned for me.
From the principal seat, the Son of Heaven followed Qing Gui fei‘s gesturing and slowly looked over. But he merely laughed, shook his head with a sense of helplessness, and did not interfere with even a single word.
I saw Qing fei niang-niang‘s ever enchanting and soft, dimpled smile. Though she concealed herself well, within that gaze that occasionally drifted in our direction was a hidden bitterness and jealousy that was difficult to disguise.
My expression was gentle and warm. To others, it would seem that my lowered eyes carried with it carried a slight bashfulness, intent on hiding away from everyone else’s probing looks. But I did not gaze upon the subtle smile of the one resting against my bosom.
I only sighed inwardly ever so slightly. I knew that this Mid-Autumn banquet would likely be a stormy one.
Sure enough, before the banquet was halfway through, I heard Qing fei niang-niang‘s genial voice as she spoke with bone numbing charm: “Your Majesty, it’s such a lovely night, why not let chen-qie6 offer a song in this Qing He Hall to supplement Your Majesty’s grandeur. What does Your Majesty think?”
The emperor laughed and patted her hand: “If Beloved Consort has such desires, it would of course be wonderful.”
And so, Qing Gui fei gave the emperor a coquettish smile and stood, then moved to the center of the hall. A palace maid had already brought over a jade flute. She received it, and with a charming and delicate posture, began to play.
It was a song I had never heard before, but I could not deny that every note played was incomparably exquisite. Words could not describe its beauty. Linked together, it was even more so like the music of immortals of the Nine Heavens; a true rarity in the mortal realm. It seemed that this Qing fei niang-niang‘s ability to earn imperial favor was not without reason.
As she played music, her eyes continued to faintly and indiscernibly drift towards the seats in which Nan Cheng Yao and I sat. It carried an eager anticipation and along with it, affection. Though faint, it was something difficult to conceal.
And all along, Nan Cheng Yao maintained his posture of leaning into my bosom, his lips carrying that eternally apathetic curve.
Though Mother cast several glances in my direction, her expression could be considered relatively calm.
At the end of the song, applause sounded like a drum.
With poise and grace in her gait, Qing fei niang-niang went back up the jade steps and sat at the Son of Heaven’s side.
“Beloved Consort indeed has many talents. The skill from playing a single note in a song can stun everyone in the vicinity.” The emperor’s expression carried a smile as he held Qing Gui fei‘s hand and spoke.
“Chen-qie thanks Your Majesty for his praise.”
As one part of her smiled coquettishly, another part of her glanced faintly in my direction. In my heart, I sighed with a sense of helplessness, but I could already hear her speaking again, each and every single word so charming that it embedded into one’s bones: “Chen-qie‘s talents are forgettable and only just so; this is but a small, insignificant skill. I’ve heard long ago that at Prime Minister Murong’s fu, the family is quite learned in their teachings, Miss Murong’s talents in the four arts7 are not lacking at all. That’s the true paragon of amongst all noble families’ daughters. Might we be fortunate enough today to experience this for ourselves?”
I saw a renewed curve find its way to the subtle smile on Nan Cheng Yao’s lips as he remained against my bosom.
- See Chapter 17, footnote 1.
- 步搖 // Bu Yao: Hair ornament that has hanging jewelry that dangles as one walks, which is the literal meaning of bu yao.
- 巧笑倩兮: Derives from a passage〈衛風·碩人〉in the Shi Jing《詩經》which is the oldest anthology of Chinese poetry and is also known as the Book of Songs. The phrase to the charm of a beautiful woman’s smile.
- 本王 // Ben Wang: Self-appellation used by princes. Means “this prince.”
- 水火之中: Idiom meaning misfortune and hardship. Derives from 《梁惠王下》one of the works of Mencius.
- 臣妾 // Chen Qie: Deprecatory illeism meaning “subject-concubine.” Chen is typically used when referring to oneself in front of the emperor, either on its own or along with some other tag, e.g. er-chen (兒臣) which means “subject-child.”
- 琴棋書畫 // Qin Qi Shu Hua: Qin (zither), Qi (Go or chess), Shu (calligraphy), Hua (painting). The necessary skills of any noble daughter or son in the olden days and is a sign of learnedness.