Pampered Into Being the Empress – Chapter 21
Translated by: Cozy Translations
Chapter 21 – The Court’s Situation
Due to the strong north wind that night, it seemed to carry evil aura along with it, fanning the flames and making the fire even stronger.
The extravagant Jihua Palace burned the whole night. The smell of smoke did not disappear in the Forbidden City for a long time.
After Mu Huai left, he did not return all night. Rong Xi was worried and did not sleep until very late either.
That night, Second Princess Mu Qian was rescued by the palace servants. Her fair and tender hands were severely burned by the raging fire. Her face was full of fear and panic and she collapsed on the ground. Seeing the home she grew up in slowly becoming charred and blackened ruins, and adding on the pain from her hands, she couldn’t help but loudly sob. Mu Qian’s cries were piercing. She was like a heartbroken madwoman, making such a ruckus that the royal concubines who lived nearby could not sleep peacefully.
Noble Consort Li was finally saved by the palace servants. No matter if it was her fair skin or her beautiful looks, they were all destroyed by the raging inferno.
Women placed the most importance on their looks. When the royal physician let out a helpless sigh, Noble Consort Li felt that it was better to have just died. Even if the best medicines were used to cure her, her disfigured body could not be returned to normal, and it would look even more terrifying after the wounds scab over.
She wanted to cry, but when she was crying out for help earlier, she accidentally swallowed some sparks and her throat was damaged as well. Now, she could not even form a full sentence.
When Mu Qian saw her concubine mother being carried out in this way, she fainted on the spot.
The situation was extremely chaotic. Jihua Palace was already burnt to the ground by the royal physician received an imperial edict and sent Noble Consort Li and Second Princess Mu Qian to be temporarily situated in the nearby palace of Consort Shu1
Consort Shu was present even back when Zhuang Emperor had just established his own prince residence and was considered an old-timer in the harem. She had given birth to Zhuang Emperor’s eldest son, Mu Run, but Mu Run had passed away from illness shortly after Zhuang Emperor ascended the throne.
Being awoken from her dreams late at night, Consort Shu was already unhappy, not to mention she had to receive a dying, blood-stained, charcoal-looking person into her palace. When she took another glance and realized it was actually Noble Consort Li, Consort Shu raised an eyebrow and a smile slowly rose on her lips.
Good, this arrogant Noble Consort Li would have such a day as well.
Consort Shu ordered the eunuch to situate Noble Consort Li in the main hall. A crowd of royal physicians were troubled over Noble Consort Li’s body. This current situation was truly a hot potato.
Consort Shu sat on the armchair, her expression unchanged.
At the side, the palace maids watched the royal physicians carefully tearing the clothes that were stuck to Noble Consort Li’s skin. Their hearts were trembling as they forcefully suppressed their nausea.
Noble Consort Li couldn’t talk but her whole body was in pain and could only let out odd whimpers.
Consort Shu raised an eyebrow and let out a long sigh, almost as if she was savoring Noble Consort Li’s suffering.
When Mu Ji discovered Noble Consort Li had been carried to Consort Shu’s palace, he hurriedly went to beg the eunuch stationed outside the palace doors, wanting to enter to see Noble Consort Li. As Mu Ji was an imperial prince, it was inappropriate for him to barge into an imperial harem member’s palace. The eunuch asked him to wait and went in to ask Consort Shu.
Consort Shu let out a light laugh and told the eunuch, “You tell Second Prince, the time is not early, as an imperial prince it’s not suitable for him to enter bengong‘s palace. Also tell him that bengong will definitely take care of Noble Consort Li for him.”
Following, she walked towards Noble Consort Li who was in the middle of the hall. Her tone was very light, but it gave a bone-chilling feeling.
Consort Shu: “I will definitely take good care of you, Noble Consort Li. Bengong will definitely not let you end up like Virtuous Consort, dying early to become precious fertilizer for the ground. I will definitely keep you alive.”
Noble Consort Li whimpered, then fell silent.
The eunuch bore the fear he felt in his heart and after respectfully receiving his command, he headed back towards the palace doors. He told Mu Ji that since it was so late at night, as a prince it was not appropriate for him to enter Consort Shu’s palace so he should head back and rest early.
Mu Ji felt extremely anxious and throwing all caution to the wind, he ran towards the Ganyuan Hall that Zhuang Emperor resided in. He knelt outside the hall, and seeing that the interior was lit with lanterns, he knew that Zhuang Emperor was not yet asleep.
Mu Ji sobbed as he begged Zhuang Emperor, “Father Emperor, I beg you to let this subject-son see Concubine Mother.”
What was returned to him was silence.
Mu Ji heavily kowtowed in the direction of the hall.
Du, du, du—2
After three heavy knocking sounds, his forehead was bleeding but he continued to plead, “If it is unsuitable for this subject-son to go to Consort Shu’s palace, then Father Emperor please go see Concubine Mother…Concubine Mother was indeed wrong before, but please, on the account that she gave birth to this subject-son and Qian’er, go see her…”
Mu Ji lowered his eyes only to see a pair of red boots stopping in front of him.
When he raised his head, he met Mu Huai’s deep eyes and he couldn’t help but be stunned.
Mu Huai’s voice was ice-cold without any fluctuations in emotion. He looked down at Mu Ji, “Go back, Father Emperor will not see you tonight.”
Mu Ji stood up. When the usually gentle and elegant youth looked at Mu Huai, his face was full of hatred. He turned around to leave but took only a couple of steps before halting. Speaking to Mu Huai behind him, “How many days do you think you can still feel smug for?”
Mu Huai didn’t reply. The gaze he used to look at Mu Ji was as if he was looking at a bug.
Mu Ji’s voice became fierce and he spoke again, “Mu Huai, you just wait.”
The next day, Rong Xi made a special detour to pass by Jihua Palace. Seeing the previously luxurious palace be burnt to charred wood, melancholy gradually arose in her eyes.
She knew many people in the palace, and on the way here she had heard about everything that happened last night. A few palace servants liked to embellish events, but for the most part, what they said was true. She left Jihua Palace with quickened steps and sought a secluded and quiet area. Rubbing her chest, she began to vomit.
Both were biological sons, but the treatment was too different.
Mu Ji wanted to see his mother, Zhuang Emperor did not allow it.
Yet, today when Zhuang Emperor’s body took a turn for the better, he held court with his officials in Jiazheng Hall and did not ask or talk about Noble Consort Li’s matters.
The grievances between the noble masters were not something she, a mere servant, could inquire about.
But as a mother, she naturally hoped that her child’s father would only love him alone. She did not wish for her husband to have children borne from her women and treat the children differently.
Everything that happened in the palace made her terrified. She had stayed here for almost four years, and she already knew what this palace was like. But to ensure her survival, her heart had slowly turned numb towards these things.
Now that she was with child, the fear deep inside of her was awakened. Mu Huai was the strongest, the one standing at the very top. In the future, he will have many children and will not lack the child born by a slave like her. However, in her heart, her child was the most precious and she would not allow others to humiliate or trample on her child.
This morning, she felt conflicted and hesitant, wanting to tell Mu Huai about her pregnancy. But now, those thoughts dissipated like the wind. She just wanted to escape from this frightening Forbidden City.
Before the New Year’s, something shocking happened in Bianjing.
Although it had been a long time since the situation happened, the commoners still like to talk about it and the storytellers would also describe the situation in vivid detail when they had a couple of drinks.
That day by the royal street’s Xuande Tower, there was a commoner woman wearing coarse clothing who beat the deng wen drum.
The thunderous sound of the drum could be heard throughout the luxurious royal streets. The commoners suddenly realized that someone wanted to sue the imperial court and beat the deng wen3 drum.
Although this drum was always located next to Xuande Tower, ever since Zhuang Emperor ascended the throne, it became a decorative ornament. No one dared to beat it.
Jin wang coincidentally was riding his horse through this street, and after learning the news, he dismounted from his horse to walk towards the commoner woman. The city patrol had already reached her and thought that this commoner woman was making a ruckus and wanted to drag her away and beat her a few times with planks.
Mu Huai had stopped them, and in front of all the commoners, he asked what grievances the commoner woman had. If she truly had a large grievance, he would redress them today for her.
The woman was surnamed Shi, her husband’s name was Yan Juxu, and he was a scholar. The lady surnamed Shi said that although Hanlin scholar An Hong was an exam official, during the imperial exam he fixed the exam results and chose a brutish straw bag4 as the winner of the exam. On the other hand, her husband who braved the bitter chill to study next to the windows every day had no connections to receive a recommendation letter or scroll5
Mu Huai had an icy smile as he asked the commoner woman, “How do you know that your husband would definitely be selected?”
Commoner Lady Shi replied, “If Your Highness doesn’t believe me, you can send people to search for the policy essay this commoner woman’s husband wrote during the exam. With his talent, he would definitely be in the top three.”
The official next to Mu Huai scolded the commoner woman for being unruly, wanting to drag her down and beat her to death.
Mu Huai raised his hand and stopped the official. Afterwards, he really did dispatch people to bring back Yan Juxu’s policy essay. He personally opened the paper and read it with furrowed brows.
After a while, he threw the policy essay on the ground and asked the lady surnamed Shi in a solemn voice, “Such a level and he’s considered to be in the top three? Do you think my Great Qi does not have any talented people?”
The commoner woman’s hands shook as she picked up the paper. She raised her head to look at Mu Huai as her words became a little agitated, “Your Highness, please bear witness, this…this isn’t my husband’s handwriting!”
When her words fell, the crowd was shocked.
Great Qi’s imperial exam that was known to be just and fair actually had something as ugly as having policy essays secretly switched happen. Mu Huai stared at the woman on the ground and spoke in a cold voice to the official behind him, “Investigate for this prince.”
When Zhuang Emperor learned of this matter, he gave Mu Huai the power to investigate the imperial exam’s fraud. When Rong Xi learned of this matter, she felt that there was something strange behind this commoner woman’s suit.
There were several fire watchtowers in the vicinity of the royal street’s alleyways. One was so that they could observe if any fires broke, and two so that they could prevent people from causing a disturbance in the city.
If that commoner woman had the intention of beating the deng wen drum, the officials up top would definitely have discovered it early on and stopped her in time. But when the commoner woman beat the drum, there was no one in her way.
Only when Mu Huai rode his horse nearby did the city patrol finally reach Xuande Tower.
What a good move.
Rong Xi secretly felt that this commoner woman beating the drum to air her grievances was probably a play that Mu Huai acted out for the commoners. The play’s purpose would not only gain him fame but also eliminate people as well.
This time, Mu Huai punished the related officials. Using the power of the imperial censors, he cleanly eliminated the officials who were not on his side. Everyone in court felt panicked for a moment.
Yet the commoners outside repeatedly praised Mu Huai for being just and fair and thinking of the people.
In order to restore the reputation of Great Qi’s imperial exam as being unbiased and fair, Mu Huai asked Zhuang Emperor to order a new exam at Zhuoying Hall. The scores and placements the Ministry of Rites issued earlier would be nullified.
Zhuang Emperor’s body was ill, so he let Mu Huai preside over the exam.
The entire day, Mu Huai only drank a few cups of tea. Along with his fellow Hanlin scholars, they monitored all the exam candidates’ policies and philosophies. Then they discussed with the officials from the Ministry of Rites to determine the final placements.
When the exam ended, it was already nighttime. Rong Xi let out a deep sigh. Mu Huai was only twenty-one years old this year but was well-versed in how to be a monarch. If he really did become the heir and ascend the throne, he would definitely be a good emperor.
She felt exhausted recently. When Mu Huai returned to the palace, he saw her petite figure sprawled out across the desk. Her breathing was light as she was deeply asleep.
These past few days, this woman was not very obedient and would often make mistakes on purpose. It was like she was trying to anger him on purpose. He had even admonished her yesterday, don’t think that just because he graced her, he would not kill her.
That woman cherished her life so after she heard it, she was frightened and then returned back to doing things correctly for him.
Mu Huai had busied about the whole day and was extremely tired. When he saw Rong Xi, his heart immediately softened. He proceeded to pick up that soft and delicate woman. Recently, Rong Xi’s body always felt a little cold, not like before when she was warm.
Rong Xi was not really asleep. When she saw her body in the air and in Mu Huai’s arms, she was so scared that she widened her eyes.
Mu Huai glanced down at her and with some helplessness, he said, “I don’t have the intentions of touching you today.”
Rong Xi let out a sigh of relief at these words and had Mu Huai let her down.
She accompanied Mu Huai in eating dinner. Although Mu Huai didn’t eat lunch, he didn’t have much of an appetite. On the other hand, Rong Xi’s appetite was very good tonight. Mu Huai discovered that she suddenly liked to eat sour things and ate a lot of fish balls simmered in vinegar. He pushed those fish balls in front of her, implying for her to eat more.
As Rong Xi was pregnant, she always had a poor appetite and she had to force herself every day to eat more.
When Mu Huai saw this, he faintly felt that this woman was tired of throwing her little temper tantrum and returned back to being her usual obedient self. His heart also settled down.
When the night deepened, Rong Xi gently sat at the desk Mu Huai had prepared for her. She was holding a needle and thread in her hands and was embroidering something. Mu Huai saw her beautiful slanted profile. When he held the brush, he did not practice calligraphy, but instead stained the gold-flecked paper with an ink drawing of her profile.
Rong Xi felt Mu Huai looking at her, then looking down before looking back up at times. She couldn’t help but smile and ask him warmly, “Is Your Highness drawing this slave?”
When Mu Huai heard this, he coughed into his fist, then hurriedly covered the painting with a stack of paper. He purposely spoke in a serious voice, “Draw you? You’re dreaming.”
Rong Xi’s smile didn’t disappear. When Mu Huai saw her, he felt a little weird. This woman seemed to be in a good mood tonight.
He stood up and walked until he was in front of Rong Xi. When he lowered his head to look at her, she also stood up.
Rong Xi spoke up in a warm voice, “This slave made a die xie for Your Highness. In the pouches, you can put some daggers or brushes, small things like that. You can also attach a fragrance pouch or jade pendant. It’s very useful for daily wear.”
Mu Huai’s heart felt a little warm, “Quite thoughtful.”
When he finished, he suddenly saw the stunning beauty hook her pinky through the belt buckle. Then raising her eyes, she looked at him with a somewhat amorous gaze.
Mu Huai grabbed her slender wrist and raised an eyebrow, “What are you doing?”
Rong Xi stood on her tiptoes and placed a light kiss on his lips.
Mu Huai was slightly startled, then he closed his eyes. Just as he wanted to lean in to deepen the kiss, he was pushed away by the woman.
Rong Xi’s lips were placed by his ear and he only heard her whisper softly, “This slave will serve Your Highness tonight, but Your Highness must promise this slave to let this slave do everything, alright?”
Author’s note: (spoiler alert!)
Break-up gift for Dog Mu. Next chapter Rong Rong will run away
Translator’s comments: Once again, I cry for censorship of smut. But also, I feel a little relieved because these chapters are already very long, so my fingers and wrists are thankful. ( ; ω ; )
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- Her actual title is shufei 淑妃which means Gentle Consort, but because there’s no surname listed, I will just call her Consort Shu so that it doesn’t sound too awkward when reading and it’s easier to remember the character.
- Sound effects
- Known as the deng wen gu 登闻鼓, it is a drum outside of the palace that people could beat to petition for an audience with the emperor or directly raise their grievances about the court.
- An idiom to mean someone that is dumb
- Known as xingjuan 行卷, for scholars who wanted to fight for placement in the imperial exam, they would write down their own poems or essays on a scroll. Prior to the exam, they would present it to those who had connections so that they could secure a recommendation.
- Think of it like the utility belt of ancient times