Pampered Into Being the Empress – Chapter 48
Translated by: Cozy Translations
The capital soon ushered in summer. Rong Xi recalled the events of this past year; it hadn’t been that long since she first became Mu Huai’s maidservant. Unknowingly, time had passed so quickly.
Empress Di had kept both her life and her position. However, everyone in Yongxi Palace knew that an empress without a maternal family to rely on in this palace was worse off than a favored jieyu. The Empress was not allowed to even take half a step out of Weiyang Palace, and Zhuang Emperor’s other concubines naturally did not have to go over every morning to pay respects to the Empress. Recently, they’ve been able to sleep in a couple more hours.
Consort De lived up to her namesake, her conduct virtuous and upright, doing everything in a low-key manner. Rong Xi had followed behind Concubine Yu for so long and although she wasn’t overly familiar with Zhuang Emperor’s harem, she did know which concubines were on which side and which concubines fought alone.
Her previous master was a solo fighter. Rong Xi had also once advised Concubine Yu to show some goodwill to Consort De. Consort De had a high rank. Not only did she have her own methods to survive in the inner palace, she was also a woman with a tolerant and generous personality. Concubine Yu had asked Rong Xi why pick the unfavored Consort De instead of the Empress. Rong Xi had explained her reasoning to Concubine Yu.
She said, the Empress had many concubines on her side, and the one with the highest rank was Consort Shu who was also an old-timer who became Zhuang Emperor’s concubine since he was just a prince. Consort Shu had given birth to Zhuang Emperor’s eldest son, Mu Run, but Mu Run had passed away early on. Otherwise, Consort Shu’s ranking in this palace would be even higher.
Or, perhaps it was because her beloved son had passed away young, Consort Shu’s personality was a little strange. Rong Xi knew that Consort Shu and Noble Consort Li weren’t on good terms with each other. In addition, Concubine Yu’s personality was similar to Noble Consort Li, they were both arrogant and domineering when doing things. Consort Shu wouldn’t like her, which mean that she also wouldn’t let the Empress allow Concubine Yu to join their camp.
Concubine Yu grew up being pampered by her family. Being well protected by her family, she had grown up to be someone that wasn’t scheming. After entering the palace, she relied greatly on Rong Xi this senior maidservant of hers. No matter if something was big or small, she would seek Rong Xi’s opinion on all of them. Very rarely did she ever express her own opinion or stance.
After listening to Rong Xi’s advice, Concubine Yu had followed her pointers and wanted to show some goodwill towards Concubine De and join her side. At that time, Noble Consort Li’s position in the palace was unrivaled, and Consort De tactfully rejected Concubine Yu’s favor. Unwilling to form any faction amongst the inner harem, she wanted to protect herself.
Recalling the past, Rong Xi could understand the reasoning behind Consort De’s actions back then.
Yesterday, she had heard Dan Xiang mention that Noble Consort Li had silently died in the cold palace last night. Zhuang Emperor ordered people to hastily bury her, not even ordering people from the Imperial Household Department to make a coffin. Instead, he had the eunuchs find a bamboo mat to roll up Noble Consort Li’s burnt body in.
Rong Xi had on an indifferent expression when she heard this. Inside, however, her heart was in turmoil.
Zhuang Emperor had a gentle and magnanimous temperament. Noble Consort Li’s previous treatment was also the most favored out of all the six palaces. She had given birth to a son and daughter for Zhuang Emperor as well. Having such an ending really made one sigh in regret.
Rong Xi didn’t feel sorry or sympathetic towards Noble Consort Li, however, through this incident, she had a greater understanding of the heartlessness of the imperial family. Thus, she repeatedly reminded herself to be more cautious in her daily conduct.
The afternoon was a little hot. Rong Xi fanned herself while reminiscing about the past.
The corners of the Eastern Palace’s roof curved up towards the sky. Some of the old trees had their branches and leaves hanging over those corners, making for a picturesque view.
Rong Xi wore a jade coronet on her head. Her skin was fair and she had on a contemplative expression as she waved the fan.
When a palace maid came over to look for them, Rong Xi and Dan Xiang heard the movements and looked in the direction of the sounds. The palace maid didn’t dare to stare too long at Rong Xi’s face but she was still startled by her beautiful appearance.
Lowering her head, the palace maid greeted her respectfully, “Liangdi, His Highness has returned to the palace and calls for you to return to drink soup.”
When Rong Xi heard the word soup, she wrinkled her eyebrows. After a beat, she calmly replied, “I understand, I’ll go over now.”
Dan Xiang carefully supported her master as they walked towards the hall.
Rong Xi saw the way the palace maid looked at her. She had always felt that her own beauty was a little too much. To put it bluntly, she had a face that could cause disasters. It was true that she was a beauty, but her beauty carried the flavor of a concubine. She wasn’t tall either, and after being a servant for so many years, she didn’t possess the elegant aura of a young miss that grew up in nobility.
The most incompatible thing about her with the position of the Crown Princess was her sweet voice. Sometimes she felt that her voice was a little too sweet, but her voice wasn’t something that she could control. Just based on her voice alone, it was normal for other people to scold her as a vixen.
Although her current position was liangdi, everyone in the palace was saying that Mu Huai wanted to make her his Crown Princess Consort. Rong Xi had also remembered the words the man had told her that day but she still felt that it wasn’t very realistic.
If she were to be the Crown Princess Consort, then in the future when Mu Huai ascends the throne, she would be Great Qi’s Empress.
She would the Mother of the Nation, the leader of the inner palace.
Every time she thought of this, Rong Xi would feel very complicated.
She wasn’t a saint who didn’t care about fame or power. Naturally, she felt happy at the prospect of being Empress. However, she kept feeling that it was unrealistic, and she was afraid that if she didn’t do well, she would become Mu Huai’s burden instead.
Recently, Rong Xi’s clothes leaned towards dark colors. In addition, she had also instructed Dan Xiang to draw some more virtuous and graceful makeup for her. She also applied crimson lip rouge everyday, trying to make herself seem older.
After entering the hall, Mu Huai was sitting on the arhat bed. He was holding a booklet in his hand, concentrating on the contents within. On top of the small desk was a white porcelain bowl filled with nourishing soup. It had been simmered slowly using tender chicken, thousand-year-old ginseng, abalone and fish maw from the southern seas, and some herbs like goji.
In the hot summer day, if it weren’t for the fact that she was pregnant and had a fragile constitution, she would definitely have a nosebleed after drinking this bowl of soup.
Mu Huai sensed that Rong Xi had returned to the hall. Without lifting his gaze, he placidly ordered Rong Xi, “Come here, drink this soup.”
Although Rong Xi said yes, she felt extremely reluctant.
Although the tonic she drank last time was said to not have caused any harm to the child, her body had still become frailer. Mu Huai had ordered people to brew this nourishing soup every day. In addition, she also had to drink an extra bowl of tonic that stabilized the pregnancy. Rong Xi felt guilty about what she did and would obediently drink it all down for her child.
Mu Huai set down the booklet in his hand and lifted the bowl from the desk. He scooped up the chicken inside as he somewhat clumsily sent it to the woman’s mouth.
Rong Xi carefully chewed as she said lightly, “Husband…you’ve been feeding this concubine like this every day…this concubine has become fat…”
Mu Huai glanced at the woman’s face. Although nothing showed on his face, he felt very pleased inside. He had finally fattened this woman up somewhat.
Mu Huai answered gently, “Which woman doesn’t gain weight when they’re pregnant? Besides, you didn’t gain that much weight, it’s just that your face became a little rounder.”
Rong Xi docilely nodded her head, though her thoughts were different from Mu Huai’s.
She was preparing to form a good relationship with Consort De.
Dan Xiang first ordered the people in the courtyard to prepare a sedan. As the midday sun shined overhead, a eunuch was following behind the sedan holding an umbrella up to block the harsh rays for her.
Soon, the troupe of people arrived at Jiaoyue Palace where Consort De resided.
However, Rong Xi didn’t expect that Consort De’s palace also housed some of Zhuang Emperor’s other concubines. She recognized some of them. Sitting in the main hall of Jiaoyue Palace were Consort Shu and the recently favored Concubine Wang1. In addition, there was also an old-timer from when Zhuang Emperor was just a ranked prince, Lady Xu2.
When the lower-ranked imperial concubines saw she arrived, they all stood up from their armchairs and greeted her in unison.
Rong Xi didn’t know why, but she felt a little anxious prior to coming here. After entering the hall, although she saw all these mature concubines, her heart suddenly settled down.
After she sat down in the seat Consort De arranged for her, Consort De warmly called for a servant to serve her tea. Afterward, she engaged in some polite conversation with her, mainly asking about the royal offspring in her belly as well as the condition of her body. Rong Xi answered each question, her attitude quiet and respectful, without any panic or timidness from being someone who climbed up the ranks to a high position. She had also deliberately practiced on how to make small talk before, so nothing could be picked at.
Originally, she thought that all she would do here would just sit, drink some tea, and eat some refreshments. However, reality always exceeds one’s expectations.
Rong Xi lightly sipped her tea.
Consort Shu, who had never interacted with her before, suddenly opened her mouth and asked, “Recently, the palace is full of stories about Rong liangdi, saying that liangdi‘s life is quite a legend. Your father was once the Minister of Ceremonies and was framed by that Di Zhuo, ending up in exile. Bengong is quite curious about how liangdi passed her days as the daughter of a criminal official, even being able to meet the Crown Prince and become a liangdi?”
Rong Xi was indifferent when she heard this but felt that Consort Shu’s sudden question was a little strange.
Consort De had an unpleasant expression.
Consort Shu actually asked such questions to Rong liangdi in front of all these low-ranked imperial concubines.
Although on the surface it seemed harmless and out of concern, it was actually full of scorn and contempt.
Firstly, it scorned her low birth. Even if her father’s old verdict had been overturned and he was found to be innocent, it could not change the fact that she had lived a low life.
Secondly, it ridiculed her for being scheming. Even though she had already fallen to that state, she schemed to hook up with the current dynasty’s crown prince, turning from a sparrow into a liangdi3.
In her heart, Consort De deeply sympathized with Rong Xi. Similarly, there were many people both inside and outside the palace that sympathized with Rong Xi. Originally, she was an official’s daughter with an outstanding appearance, but overnight she had fallen to being the daughter of a criminal.
Even if no one asked, one could guess how she had lived her days these past few years.
For a woman of low birth to survive, it was either be a servant or even worse, get sold to the brothels to become a prostitute.
Thinking of this, Consort De felt even more that Consort Shu’s words went overboard. She was clearly insinuating that Rong Xi was unclean4.
Just as Rong Xi was about to answer Consort Shu, Consort De beat her to the punch, saying, “Recently, the big restaurants and taverns in Bianjing all have storytellers recounting Rong liangdi‘s life. I’m sure that Consort Shu knows about this, right?”
Consort Shu stopped twisting the grapes, though her face looked calm.
She said, “Older Sister5, where would this little sister get the spare time to listen to the commoners’ stories?”
Consort De slowly said, “Since you don’t know, then just ask the servants in your palace. Everyone in He Palace knows, how come Younger Sister doesn’t know?”
Consort De still spoke gently, but those who were smart could tell that her tone was slightly cold and alienating.
Consort Shu’s gaze imperceptibly changed. Seems like Consort De is quite powerful now; in the past when Noble Consort Li was still alive, she didn’t even dare to breathe too loudly in front of her. Now that something happened to the current Empress, the Emperor had issued an edict to let Consort De take control of the inner palace. It seems like she is quite smug now.
Originally, Consort Shu believed that Zhuang Emperor would allow her to take control of the inner palace after what happened. However, she never thought that the power she wanted was stolen away by Consort De. Since Consort De held the phoenix seal, she was naturally the head.
A few days ago, Consort Shu had expressed her displeasure to Zhuang Emperor. Because of her son’s early death, Zhuang Emperor felt guilty towards her, and he treated her with a little more love and compassion than the other concubines. However, he only gave her the power to assist in the matters of the inner palace.
Consort Shu held her unhappiness deep inside. With a strange expression on her face, she spoke to Consort De, “This Younger Sister isn’t feeling too well and well return to the palace to rest first. Older Sister can continue to slowly converse with Rong liangdi.”
After Consort Shu left, the other concubine and lady left Jiaoyue Palace as well.
Consort De had a helpless expression on her face.
She ordered for the servants to pass over the handcrafted golden lock and bracelet made of Hetian jade to Dan Xiang, saying, “Liangdi is still pregnant, you should also head back and rest some more. Bengong called you here originally because I was thinking of you and wanted to personally take a look.”
Since she had watched him grow up, Consort De had treated Mu Huai as her own child. Moreover, because of Rong Xi’s pitiful life and as the highest-ranking concubine in power in the inner palace, she showed some more care and concern towards the Crown Prince’s liangdi that was pregnant with the royal offspring.
Rong Xi knew that Consort De had a kind heart, and she felt her heart warm up.
However, after leaving Jiaoyue Palace, she also felt Consort De’s difficulties. She also recalled the provoking gestures that Noble Consort Li made in front of the Empress in the past. She was thinking, if she were to become the Empress in the future, what kind of inner palace would Mu Huai leave for her?
It was hard enough to serve Zhuang Emperor’s concubines, and she had seen all types of concubines. There was nothing to be scared of.
As a servant, she had developed loyalty and caution.
As a concubine, she had to be playful and charming, finding ways to obtain the goodwill and affection of her husband.
But as the legal wife, one of the duties was to take care of the husband’s concubines.
If she really were to become the empress, it was even more important that she watched over Mu Huai’s future group of concubines.
Rong Xi was always someone who would fulfill her duties to the best of her abilities. No matter what her status was, she would do it well. Even when she was a servant, she also liked doing the duties that came with her position.
However, whenever she thought about having to face a group of concubines, she felt her head hurt.
On this night, the imperial edict that Zhuang Emperor issued to declare the Crown Princess Consort was delivered to the Eastern Palace.
When the senior eunuch read the decree, Rong Xi calmly knelt on the ground. Yet she felt that the palace servants around her were even more excited than she was.
In order to have her sit in this seat, Mu Huai had done a lot of preparations beforehand.
First, it was to sometimes discuss non-government affairs with Palace Attendant Yan Juxu. When the monarch and his subject didn’t discuss government matters, they would instead seriously discuss on how to write the script. Mu Huai and Yan Juxu were both extremely cautious people. After carefully writing down each word, they finally completed it.
They crafted Rong Xi’s image to be of a down-and-out girl who had been wronged, but still lived tenaciously with the spirit of an official’s daughter. At the same time, they made the Di clan out to be evil and corrupt.
Yan Juxu had even searched for a few well-known storytellers in Bianjing, asking them how they should edit this story to make it even more tear-jerking and sympathetic. Conveniently, he had also given them a lot of money and had these storytellers tall this story in Bianjing’s well-known restaurants and taverns.
Having the storytellers sway public opinion was a political tactic Mu Huai was adept in using.
Thus, Bianjing’s storytellers often had connections with people from various officials’ estates. The exciting stories they told in the restaurants and taverns also have a deeper purpose. There were also often people from the Imperial Censorate present as well, secretly observing the reactions of the commoners.
Although the commoners liked to listen to happy stories and music, unknowingly they had remembered everything the imperial family wanted them to know. After such a tactic, all the commoners in Bianjing felt sympathy and admiration for Rong Xi. Although she was just a liangdi, she had a good reputation amongst the people.
The commoners outside of Yongxi Palace didn’t know anything about Zhuang Emperor and his concubines, but they all knew that the Crown Prince had a Rong liangdi, and they also knew that Rong liangdi was very beautiful.
Mu Huai knew that Zhuang Emperor believed in things like astrology, making numerous trips to the Imperial Astrology Bureau in a day. If he had to make an important decision, he would always call over the Grand Astrologer to enter Ganyuan Hall and ask about the day’s weather.
The instruments and research the Imperial Astrology Bureau did would cost a hefty sum every year.
Mu Huai didn’t believe in such thing, and in his past life, he had dismantled the Imperial Astrology Bureau. But since Zhuang Emperor did believe, he dispatched Yan Juxu to go to the Imperial Astrology Bureau and instruct the Grand Astrologer on what to say. When Zhuang Emperor ordered him to come to Ganyuan Hall and talk about the weather, he said–
“One month ago, the skies of Bianjing were glowing, the stars were hidden, and the clouds sometimes appeared. Now, there is a heavenly guardian star that has fallen in the outskirts of Bianjing. The dark aura of Yongxi Palace has faded away, and the auspicious aura has risen.”
When Zhuang Emperor heard this, he couldn’t help but ask, “Only a month and the signs have changed so much, does beloved official know the reason why?”
The Grand Astrologer looked calm but he recited the words that Yan Juxu had instructed him to say, connecting this heavenly guardian star with the child in Rong liangdi‘s belly.
One month ago, Rong Xi had shown signs of a miscarriage, thus signs of a calamity began to appear in Bianjing’s skies.
One month later, the child in Rong liangdi‘s stomach was healthy, and Bianjing’s skies began to show auspiciousness.
The Grand Astrologer also said that there was a lucky star hovering over the skies above the Eastern Palace.
All of the words were implying that the child in Rong Xi’s belly was Great Qi’s lucky star.
The two things that Mu Huai had planned succeeded, and Rong Xi also openly and legitimately became Great Qi’s Crown Princess Consort.
After the eunuch that served Zhuang Emperor left, Rong Xi still felt as if she was dreaming.
Mu Huai had yet to return to the Eastern Palace. Listening to the palace maid’s congratulatory words, Rong Xi took a bath under their support.
After finishing, her damp hair was loosely draped over her back, giving her a more soft appearance. The imperial edict announcing her as the Crown Princess Consort was placed on the desk. Rong Xi opened up the edict and carefully read over the words, her eyes still carrying some surprise.
Still feeling as if none of this was real, she suddenly felt the man gently hug her from behind.
Mu Huai seemed to have drank some alcohol, the scent of wine was scattered around his body. He placed his chin on the woman’s shoulder and asked, “Satisfied? My Crown Princess Consort.”
Rong Xi was speechless for a while, not knowing how to reply to Mu Huai. She didn’t know if she should kneel in front of Mu Huai right now, showing her gratitude.
Mu huai was dissatisfied with Rong Xi’s reaction.
She was now the Crown Princess Consort, but this woman was still unhappy.
Mu Huai walked around the desk and sat down. Wrinkling his brows, he said to the woman in a heavy voice, “Come here.”
Rong Xi walked over to the man’s side.
Mu Huai saw her dazed expression and felt even more unhappy, “Sit.”
As he was saying this, he didn’t wait for the woman to react before grabbing her elbow and sat her down on his lap.
He was a little tipsy. As he gathered the fragrant woman into his arms, he gathered her long black hair to one side. The woman’s neck was fair and long. Mu Huai lowered his head and sucked on the skin in that area, leaving a hickey behind out of frustration.
Rong Xi lightly sucked in a breath and complained, “…Husband, didn’t we agree to not leave any marks in this area…”
Mu Huai was upset, “So picky, there’s not a single part of you that’s not picky, I can’t even touch a little.”
Rong Xi rubbed that place and slowly let out a sweet and soft smile.
The man in front of her looked as if he was angry, but she could tell from the way he was looking at her that he was feeling wronged.
Rong Xi finally gently said, “This concubine…is very happy…but doesn’t know how to thank Husband.”
When Mu Huai heard this, he ran this thumb over her brows. When he reached her lips that were as soft as flower petals, he leaned over and gently kissed her.
When the two pairs of eyes met again, Rong Xi saw some intentions to conquer from those drunken eyes. The gaze was a little dangerous; he hadn’t looked at her with such a gaze for a long time.
Just when Rong Xi felt a little nervous, Mu Huai’s thin lips rested by her ear.
His deep voice was laced with some tipsiness and a little hoarse as he said, “I want you.”
Rong Xi’s fair cheeks slowly turned red.
Mu Huai was a deep thinker. This past month, he had been constantly feeding her medicinal tonics. He was probably doing so with the intention of fattening her up so that he could eat her.
Strictly speaking, they really could do it right now, but Mu Huai was drunk and Rong Xi felt a little apprehensive. In addition, she remembered how clumsy and rough Mu Huai was before she got pregnant. Ultimately, Rong Xi still felt a little worried and even a little scared.
Mu Huai grabbed her hand at this time and began to play with it.
His voice was a little strained as he added, “Don’t be scared…tonight, you can teach me how to do it.”
Translator’s comments: The growth from Mu Huai has really been amazing. We’ve seen him go from someone who is over-controlling and doesn’t allow room for any kind of rejection or hesitation to someone who has learned how to compromise and also at times concede control in his relationship to Rong Xi. On the contrary, I don’t expect too much change from her since, unlike Mu Huai, this isn’t her second shot at re-living her life, and she’s not living her days with the knowledge of how the future would be, so there’s not much room for her to grow when she doesn’t even realize that her world views (or even just views about Mu Huai) are limited.
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- Official title is Wang jieyu
- Official title is Xu xiuyuan
- Usually the idiom is ‘turning from a sparrow to a phoenix’ which is similar to saying someone is like Cinderella
- Unclean in this context refers to a woman’s chastity (in this case, that Rong Xi was not a virgin before she slept with Mu Huai
- In the inner harem, concubines refer to each other as ‘sisters’ since they’re serving the same man. Usually, whether one calls the other older sister or younger sister would depend on their ranking and seniority (i.e. who entered the harem first) if they’re the same rank.