Joy of Life - Chapter 486 - The Death Of A Palace Serving Girl[Updated at: 2021-01-12 01:49:24]
Chapter 486: The Death Of A Palace Serving Girl
Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio
Spring arrived in February. Flowers bloomed and withered depending on the time of day. Until the flowers bloomed toward the sky, one temporarily borrowed clever hands to plant the spirit of spring. People often wondered where is the sense of spring, the spirit of spring? They were planted on people’s clothing. Those flowers bloomed, abundant and layered amongst the gold-edged embroidery.
A day earlier, the foreign cloth the empress in the Eastern Palace ordered had finally arrived in the Palace. There were countless yards, and it needed the labor of countless eunuchs. The person who had brought the cloths into the Palace was Hong Zhu. For the simple tasks, such as dividing up the cloth and the heavy labor work, he was too lazy to do it himself.
He stayed in the Eastern Palace and noticed that the Crown Prince was not there. As he carefully moved the yellow copper piece in the fragrance pot to prevent the incense from burning too quickly, he ordered the serving girls to work more diligently and to quickly spread out the three layers of mattresses because the empress was going to read in a moment.
A gust of fragrant breeze blew in, and the inner curtain was lifted. Black-browed, red-lipped, and with a pair of smooth and slanted eyes, the empress walked out weakly. She leaned on the low couch, drank the already steeped scented tea, and read the book in her hand.
The book was a novel published by the Danbo bookstore. Although the empress hated Fan Xian with a passion and was terrified of him, this mother of a nation was unwilling to lower her living standards in her recreations.
After reading a few pages, the empress’s brows furrowed as she thought about something.
Hong Zhu was standing behind the empress gently hammering on her frail body with his particularly clean fists. The empress always liked Hong Zhu’s tact, carefulness, and considerate service, particularly, his skill in massage. However, she did not close her eyes in enjoyment, as usual, rather, she stared at the book in front of her in a daze.
“Mistress, what are you thinking about?” Hong Zhu smiled slightly and said.
Compared to the nobles, the eunuchs and serving girls were like ants in the mud. When normal people saw a noble like the empress, they would always be terrified to even make a loud noise. They were always timid and respectful, as if they wished they could completely retract their hands and feet.
However, Hong Zhu had once received Fan Xian’s teachings. He also felt that although these people looked to have high and powerful positions, dressed and ate well, and had little to be discontented with, these nobles easily felt suffocation in the palace, loneliness and uneasiness, and liked to have someone keep them company and talk with them.
From when Hong Zhu was in the royal study, he was different from the other young eunuchs. He would not always lower his eyes and never forgot his servile appearance. Rather, he was respectfully and a bit more magnanimous when dealing with matters.
In reality, this logic was simple. The nobles in the palace also needed to talk. However, their status meant that they did not have any close friends with whom they could talk. If the eunuchs, who were always at their side, did not appear vulgar, were not coy or suspicious, their mood would be much better.
That was why Hong Zhu was liked by so many nobles, including the empress.
The empress seemed to be used to talking with Hong Zhu and sighed. “I was just thinking… it’s rather irritating to stay in the Palace all day. Aunt is busy fasting and reading prayers, so I don’t have much opportunity to see her.”
Hong Zhu smiled and said, “Your servant can chat with you for a bit.”
It was imperative that he said “servant,” but there must not be a subservient expression on his face. Otherwise, if the master or mistress saw the subservient servant, their only desire would be to hit him and would certainly not share their thoughts.
“What can you talk about?” the empress asked with great interest. “How about you tell me of your childhood spent wandering around like you did a few days ago?”
After Hong Zhu’s family was ruined by a corrupt official, he and his brother escaped to Jiaozhou. In those years, they had suffered endlessly and saw plenty of the joys and sorrows of life. Speaking of experience, his was far richer than those nobles who had grown up in royal families.
Every time he spoke of beggar secrets, little rumors on the jianghu, and food and entertainment among the common people, the empress always found it new and interesting.
Hong Zhu told her about the true jokes that he had heard while wandering on the road related to the girls in a brothel. However, he was in the Royal Palace, and the person listening to the story was the mother of a nation, so he told the story with particular care, not daring to say anything too explicit.
As the empress listened to this story, her eyes twinkled. She smiled slightly. She found it funny and quickly gave a yawn to hide it. She was in front of Hong Zhu, so he couldn’t see. He only found it strange that the empress had not stopped him from continuing.
After all, he was very young. He had no idea that no matter how inviolable nobles were, the things in their heads were not much different from the women in the marketplace.
After he finished telling the story, the empress sighed and said, “The commoner’s children do have it very tough. However, they can see some very different things.”
Hong Zhu mumbled indistinctly, “Speaking of bitterness, given Mistress’ status, ever since you were young…”
This very naturally brought the conversation onto the empress’s childhood. For a moment, the empress’s mind wandered. She thought of how the present Emperor, when she was a child, was still a boy careful with his words and smiles, but they seemed to have the occasionally joyful moment. Later… how did it become like this?
She immediately thought of the prince her family paid that night Jingdou ran red with blood. Her emotions became unstable. Gradually, feelings of sorrow welled in her.
Hong Zhu carefully controlled his word and watched the fluttering of the empress’s eyelashes. He then turned the contents of his words to the little playthings the empress had in her childhood.
The empress was warning herself that she could not tell a servant so much about herself. Hearing him change the subject, she relaxed and began to count with great familiarity.
In the end, after endless turns, Hong Zhu finally successfully, and without leaving any traces, made her remember a piece of jade. A piece of jade that she had brought into the Royal Palace from her home.
The empress gestured as to the size of the piece of jade and smiled. “The color of that jade was pretty good. Of course, it couldn’t compare to the tribute goods kept in the Great Dong Mountain. However, it was an item of rare quality in a normal royal family… Oh yes, it was gifted to my family by the previous Emperor, so it has the Emperor’s mark carved on it. It can’t be worn outside and had to be kept among the clothing.”
The empress unconsciously pointed at her chest. Although she was wearing thick winter clothing, her finger still sank into the plumpness.
Hong Zhu gently swallowed and carefully smiled along with her. “I don’t think I’ve seen Mistress wear it in the Palace.”
“Although that piece of jade was gentle, the green is too light… Back in the day, I often wore it before my marriage, but now it doesn’t suit me.”
Flatteringly, Hong Zhu said, “Mistress is beautiful and no less so than the past. There is little difference to a young girl… No matter how light the jade is, it is suitable.”
A severe light flashed through the empress’s eyes. She lowered her voice to yell, “Your words are becoming more and more impudent!”
Hong Zhu’s expression became one of great shock. He quickly slapped himself heavily on the face. He did not notice the glimmer of a satisfied smile at the corners of the empress’s lips as well as the meaning growing thicker and thicker in her eyes.
The empress learned of the entry of the embroidered cloths into the Palace, but, naturally, she did not worry much about these little things. The Palace would send it to the various palaces based on ranking. The empress dowager would be the first, and the concubines with ranking would each receive some. In the end, it would reach the Eldest Princess’ Guangxin Palace. Although the empress did not much like this aunt, she had to keep her mouth shut tightly for her son’s sake.
Meanwhile, a side room in the Eastern Palace was busy with the distribution of the cloth. Hong Zhu was serving the empress but did not have any specific tasks. With nothing at hand, he stood outside the door and stared at the slender serving girls rushing around. His gaze swept over the serving girls’ plump and perky behinds.
Suddenly, he felt pain at his waist and turned his head to see that a charming serving girl was staring ferociously at him.
He couldn’t help but scold in a low voice, “Xiu’er, are you crazy? There are so many people, and this is in the Palace!”
This serving girl, who was so bold as to pinch the head eunuch of the Eastern Palace, was the Xiu’er that Fan Xian had once heard about. She was also a companion Hong Zhu had found in the loneliness of the Palace.
Xiu’er bit her bottom lip and mumbled, “Where are your eyes looking? Are you sure you know this is the Palace?”
Hong Zhu chuckled and said a few soothing words. He thought to himself that since he was a eunuch, he could only satisfy his cravings with his eyes and fingers. What was there to be jealous about? He didn’t think much of it, but he suddenly thought of something and asked, “What are you doing here?”
His heart suddenly jumped, and he lowered his voice, “Surely they’re not sending you to the various palaces to deliver the cloth?”
Xiu’er looked at his nervous expression with curiosity and said, a little startled, “No… For some reason, the empress suddenly remembered a little item she hadn’t used in a long time and sent me to look for it in the side room.”
Hong Zhu relaxed a bit and carefully asked, “What item?”
“A light green piece of jade,” Xiu’er pouted and said. “Someone must have said something to her and made her remember this item. It hasn’t been used in so many years, where am I to find it in an instant? If I don’t find it, how will I explain it to the empress?”
Hong Zhu was overjoyed. He knew that his words from earlier had worked. The empress had finally thought to look for that piece of jade.
A serving girl covered her smiled and walked by the two of them.
Xiu’er said angrily, “What are you smiling about?”
The serving girl stuck out her tongue and said, “Can only you two smile but I cannot?”
The empire of Qing Kingdom was not as radiant and imposing as the people thought, but it was also not as dark and terrifying as described by some novels. Particularly in the Eastern Palace, the empress was aware of her weakness and helplessness, so she purposely put in more effort in the details. She was relatively gentle toward the serving girls and eunuchs and was not very harsh in front of the Emperor. She had the intention of having everyone get along.
Hong Zhu was also a very careful person. Even now, as the head eunuch, he was not arrogant and bossy toward those below him. That was why the serving girl dared to make a joke about the two of them.
“Where are you going?” Hong Zhu smiled at the serving girl, as well as the little eunuch behind her holding two rolls of superior cloth.
The serving girl giggled and bowed. “This is being delivered to Guangxin Palace.”
Hong Zhu nodded with a smile and let her go.
The serving girl was called Wang Zhui’er. To be able to have a family name meant that she was a fairly favored figure in the Eastern Palace. She led the two little eunuchs to Guangxin Palace. She knew the Eldest Princess’ habit and waved her hands to have the two eunuchs wait outside. Laboriously, she took the embroidered cloth and went in.
Inside the palace were the Eldest Princess’ serving girls, who took them away. Since it was someone representing the empress, the Eldest Princess casually said a few words with the serving girl, asked after the empress, and then sent her away.
When Guangxin Palace was quiet and empty, only then did the Eldest Princess turn behind the screen and looked at the Crown Prince, whose face was filled with a content expression. She smiled warmly and said, “Have you memorized ‘The Three Ways to Govern a Country?\'”
The Crown Prince stared at her in a daze and nodded. Gently, he held the Eldest Princess’ soft hands and lifted them to the side of his face like they were a delicate and easily broken piece of jade. He rubbed them back and forth and said in a quiet voice, “Qian’er has already memorized it.”
The Eldest Princess gently tapped the place between his brows with her finger. Looking at the familiar mark between the Crown Prince’s brows, for some reason, her heart moved and then softened. Holding his face between her hands, her eyes twinkled. She gently said, “Good, now recite it for aunt.”
In the Eastern Palace, the empress was angry because the serving girl had searched for a long time and still had not found that piece of jade. This made the empress’s mood very bad.
Xiu’er stopped in fear beside the empress and wondered why her mistress was so set on this piece of jade today.
She had no idea that the empress had been touched by Hong Zhu’s words and wanted to seek out some of her past radiance.
“Search carefully!” The empress was very angry. She suddenly wanted to find something but was unable to find it. She was generous, and now her servants had taken advantage of that. She had also faintly heard that there were some fellows in the Palace whose hands and feet were unclean, but she had not thought that these people would be so daring as to stretch their hands into the Eastern Palace.
Thinking of how she was alone and without support in the Royal Palace, and now these servants were riding above her, the empress’s mouth shook with anger. In a dark voice, she said to the row of kneeling eunuchs and serving girls in front of her, “If you can’t find it in the treasury, then search every room!”
The expressions of the line of kneeling people were unpleasant. They were all wondering if this was a preparation to search the palace. The three eunuchs to the right were scared pale and terrified because the small and old items from the Eastern Palace had almost all been smuggled out and sold by them. The piece of jade the empress had mentioned earlier was among them.
Fortunately, everyone was terrified by the empress’s sharp scolding. All of them were rather pale, so no one noticed the drumming of these eunuchs’ hearts.
The empress slapped her right hand down heavily on the table. The emerald ring on her right middle finger shattered. In a great rage, she said, “If you discover who has been stealing, there is no need to report to me. Drag them out and beat them to death!”
Hong Zhu lowered his head and looked at the shattered pieces of the emerald on the table, thinking to himself, with a bitter smile, This ring was worth far more than that piece of jade. However, he knew that the empress had an idea and was angry. She was also using this opportunity to clean out the palace, so he couldn’t say anything. He bowed slightly and accepted his orders. He then led some upper-level serving girls and eunuchs to search the Palace.
In a flash, footsteps rang out from the back of the side rooms in the Eastern Palace. The sounds of chests being opened and cabinets emptied rang out. It was just like a search, and it filled people with unspeakable fear.
Those serving girls and eunuchs who were waiting patiently outside the doors for the orders of fate were not very worried, not even the three eunuchs who had done this because they had done this many times. No one was stupid enough to hide the taboo object in their own room.
However, it looked like someone was indeed this stupid.
The three eunuchs were shocked. The serving girl who had worn a proud expression as she watched the crowd suddenly became pale and said in a sharp voice, “It’s not mine! It’s not mine!”
In order to avoid suspicion, Hong Zhu did not personally join in the search. When he saw a eunuch find that piece of jade from beneath a serving girl’s bed, he couldn’t help but sigh and shake his head as he looked at that serving girl.
This serving girl was the one who had delivered the cloth to Guangxin Palace earlier. Her face was pale, and her eyes were wild. With a crash, she knelt in front of Hong Zhu and said in a shaky voice, “Eunuch Hong… this has nothing to do with me, nothing to do with me… nothing to do with me…”
The three eunuchs who had stolen the piece of jade met each other’s eyes, thinking, Hadn’t this piece of jade already been sold out of the Palace? How could it suddenly appear in the Eastern Palace and in the hands of that serving girl? Cold sweat immediately poured down the eunuchs’ backs. With the appearance of the item, who knew what could be discovered in questioning later?
Hong Zhu furrowed his brows and looked at the serving girl kneeling in front of him. He sighed and said, “Bind her and wait for the Mistress to decide.”
A few slightly sturdier eunuchs came forward and flipped her onto the ground. They then used hemp rope to bind her solidly. The serving girl was already terrified out of her mind and could only cry out that she was wronged and had never seen this piece of jade before.
Hong Zhu shook his head and went forward to the palace to debrief. The three eunuchs met each other’s eyes and had the slightly braver one follow behind Hong Zhu. He lowered his voice and said, “Sir, earlier, the Mistress intended for us to find the item and then directly kill the thief… If you talk to the Mistress right now, she might not be happy and make things difficult for you.”
Hong Zhu stopped his steps. “This matter is too important. It’s best to wait for the mistress to speak. For us servants, it’s better to not be too interfering.”
A streak of disappointment flashed through the eunuch’s eyes. He had thought to use Hong Zhu’s hand to directly kill the serving girl. Then, regardless of how that piece of hade once again entered the Palace, as long as she was dead and the jade had returned, it was impossible for it to be linked for him. He had not expected that Hong Zhu would still seek the empress’s orders.
“The matter is not as simple as you think.” Hong Zhu smiled coldly and glanced at him icily. “She doesn’t have enough courage to steal things from the Eastern Palace by herself. There has to be someone else helping her hide it. Even if she doesn’t have someone helping her… after the inner court questions her carefully, we will definitely find clues as to the origin of this item.”
The eunuch felt his heart chill, thinking, The origin… If this is truly investigated, it will single out all three of them. However, no matter what, he did not dare to confess to this to Hong Zhu. He only said, probingly, “I wonder how the Mistress will punish this.”
“If we really find the scourge in the Palace… beaten to death would be pretty good. I would be worried about being thrown into prison and having those freaks from the Overwatch Council torture me.” Hong Zhu sighed.
The eunuch’s mind spun. He swallowed in terror. “This is, after all, a Palace matter. If it is investigated by the internal court and the Overwatch Council, I’m afraid… the Mistress would lose face. Why don’t we… investigate it ourselves first?”
Hong Zhu seemed to have been moved by these words and slanted his eyes at him. Coincidentally, he saw the murderous intent in the eunuch’s eyes and smiled. He nodded his head and ordered, “Question her carefully.”
Once they reached the bedroom in the front of the Palace, Hong Zhu had changed his tone. He told the empress what they had already learned and then sincerely urged her to be merciful in her punishments. After all, the empress dowager was praying these days. If someone died, it might make her unhappy.
At first, the empress was very angry. After hearing Hong Zhu’s argument, her anger gradually dissipated. Holding that piece of jade in her hands and slowly stroking it, she furrowed her brows and said, “That is reasonable. She may be able to escape the death sentence, but she will have to suffer in life. Give the order to have her heavily beaten!”
Hong Zhu took the order. As he prepared to go, the empress suddenly called him to a stop. “Why are you going? Just give the order… You stay here. I have long heard you praise your clever hands. Weave a golden cage and hang up this piece of jade.”
The empress’s expression was calm. Nothing could be heard in her voice. Hong Zhu was overjoyed in his heart, thinking, If he had headed the questioning, he might have become implicated.
After an indeterminable amount of time, a eunuch knelt with an uncomfortable expression outside the Palace. Hong Zhu furrowed his brows and went to listen to him. His expression also became uncomfortable.
He moved closer to the empress’s ear and quietly said a few words.
The empress furrowed her brows and said with disgust, “So unlucky… if she couldn’t stand the beating, it would have been fine. At least she had some sense of shame and committed suicide to make a clean end of things…” this mother of the nation said carelessly. “Have Jingle Hall drag her out and burned.”
Hong Zhu’s heart trembled. He knew that in the eyes of these nobles, servants like him were just things to be ordered around and played with. Their lives were worth no more than that of ants. He silently bent his body and went to organize the serving girl’s funeral matters.
He knew that the serving girl’s death was not as simple as suicide. The eunuch he had arranged to question her earlier must have secretly killed her in order to keep her silent and protect his wealth, life, and property.
Since this was something Hong Zhu had planned, he was not very surprised. He only felt a glimmer of remorse for the innocent serving girl.
The Qing Royal Palace was very expansive. It took up a quarter of the area of Jingdou. Inside it lived the most honorable men and women, but it also had the lowliest women and people who were neither man nor woman. In this cold Palace, countless stories happened every day. No one knew how many of the lowliest disappeared and died strangely without a sound, and there was no one to remember they once existed in the Palace.
Although the Qing royal family was not famously cruel, the strict barriers between classes destined the Royal Palace to forever be a place where each person fought for themselves.
Thus, the death of an average serving girl in the Eastern Palace did not draw anyone’s attention. There was just an extra body on the Jingle Hall’s burning plains. A girl in the embroidery office, fortunately, received the opportunity to enter the Eastern Palace to serve the empress. She still listened to Hong Zhu tell jokes every day. The empress dowager continued to fast, and the Crown Prince continued to study the ways of governance every day and to go to Guangxin Palace to ask the Eldest Princess for advice.
Everything was as normal.
“For a large family, if someone asks from the outside, it will never be all at once because the foundations are strong. However, if the family has internal problems, if their own people began to act and suspect, and there is conflict, then they are not far from the day of their death.”
On the newly constructed riverbanks in Yingzhou, Fan Xian looked at the Great River flowing east and said thoughtfully, “Thousands of li of riverbanks destroyed by an ant hole; a thousand years or clan, destroyed by a thought.”
He turned his head and said to the dark-skinned Yang Wanli, “I am not just talking about the riverbank you repaired or the Ming family, but the entire world.”
Fan Xian did explain things clearly. He meant that in terms of time, today should be the day that the serving girl died. In a few more days, once the rumors started, the Emperor would notice the Eastern Palace serving girl’s strange death. Given his suspicious nature, he would certainly notice there were many problems.
On the surface, the royal family appeared calm and harmonious. But, perhaps because of the serving girl’s death, it would spiral into unexpected upheaval.