The White-Haired Imperial Concubine - Chapter 47 - A horse galloped full of red dust, the imperial consort smiled[Updated at: 2021-01-11 22:05:36]
Chapter 47 A horse galloped full of red dust, the imperial consort smiled
T/N: The title of this chapter comes from a line in a poem by Tang dynasty poet Du Mu about Yang Guifei (one of the four ancient beauties of China). One of the stories about her was about her love of lychees, and in order to please her, Emperor Xuanzong would often have them delivered to the palace using fast horses, riding day and night. While the poem itself laments about how the extravagant desires of royalty (and Yang Guifei in particular) are fulfilled at the expense of the common people, this particular line is a metaphor for the lengths someone will go to in order to please the person they love.
Time quickly flew by, in a blink of an eye, a year had already passed. The sun in the summer afternoon was as hot as fire.
General’s residence, Qing Mi Garden. Within the thick bamboo forest, Man Yao found a cool and shady place to set down a chessboard. In her hand was a red chess piece as she dazedly looked at the board.
“Mistress, why are you over here?” Ling’er walked over with big steps, smiling.
Man Yao calmly replied, “The weather’s getting hotter and I can’t sleep. It’s cooler here so I came out for a while.”
Ling’er sat next to her, gentling fanning her, “Mistress wants to play chess? I’ll play with you.” After following her mistress for four years, even though she was not particularly well-educated, she felt it was lonely to watch her mistress play chess alone.
Man Yao lightly shook her head and smiled, “Even if I went easy on you, you would not last past an incense stick. Where’s Xiao Sha? Recently he’s been disappearing quite often, even busier than I am.”
Hearing this, Ling’er immediately began to complain, “I know right, Mistress, I can never find him when I need him for something, you should give him a good scolding.”
Man Yao faintly smiled, raising her eyes just in to to see Steward Liang bring forth some servants and a few chests walking over and bowing, “Reporting to furen(1), this is what General had the servants bring over just now, it is the Emperor’s reward. May furen check.”
She swept a perfunctory gaze over the things. It was probably the same as always, some jewels and luxurious bolts of fabric. When she saw that last chest that was finely crafted, her eyes lit up and she immediately stood up.
Ling’er was curious, “Mistress, what is this?”
“Lychee.” Such a deep red color, it seems like they were very fresh. Man Yao took one in her hands, such an icy sensation was very refreshing compared to the hot summer day. Peeling off the top layer, she saw the flesh inside still slightly frozen. In this world, fruits were very rare, especially lychees since they were difficult to keep fresh. In this era where delivery technology was not very advanced, by the time they reached the capital cities, they were usually no longer fresh. It was even rarer to see frozen ones.
Steward Liang had on a congratulatory smile, “Furen is knowledgeable. Xiang Mei, leave this chest of lychees behind for furen.”
Man Yao waved her hand, “No need, just leave a little bit to taste them while they’re fresh, as for the rest, put them in the cellar so that we can bring them out when General returns.”
“Yes, furen.” Steward Liang agreed and retreated away with the rest of the room. When Man Yao peeled the shell, a long-lost feeling of familiarity rose up within her. She didn’t remember how long it’s been since she last had a lychee. Qiyun did not have this fruit, and in Lingtian, only the palace had it.
Ling’er smiled, “Mistress, the General treats you really well. No matter what the Emperor rewards, General always gives it to Mistress first.”
Man Yao faintly smiled and her gave became heavier as she stayed silent. Ling’er tilted her heady to look at her, constantly feeling like there was a look of unspeakable loneliness between her eyes, “Mistress, do you know? Right now in the whole capital, all the ladies are envious that Mistress married such a good husband. But why do I feel like Mistress is…not happy at all?”
Man Yao froze. She had never thought about whether she had been happy or not these during this time. Fu Chou treated her very well, so well that she could not find any faults with it. Other than official matters, no matter where he went, he would bring her with him. No matter where they were, he would always treat her extremely tenderly, never minding that there were outsiders present. This type of care made her think that it was unreal and very forced like it was done specifically to show others, to tell everyone else how well he treated her. Even so, she should have been satisfied with this. Fu Chou did not have any concubines so she did not have to face the scheming and tricks that went on between women. Such a peaceful life was what she had always wished for but why couldn’t she feel any happiness?
Ling’er spoke again, “I always felt that Mistress had a lot on her mind even before coming to Lingtian. After coming here, Mistress has even more matters weighing on your heart. Mistress, after so long, do you still harbor a grudge against the Emperor?”
After a year, it no longer mattered whether she held a grudge or not, everyone had their own stance. Her days right now were very nice. Man Yao slowly stood up and gazed at the clouds in the sky, her voice airy, “I’m not unhappy. It’s very good right now.” Her heart was like still water, her life was without any disturbances, there was nothing bad. Peeling another lychee, she handed it to Ling’er, “You taste it too.”
Ling’er tasted it and nodded her head in praise, “En, it’s delicious. It’s unfortunate that the chest was too small.”
Man Yao: “This chest is not considered small. I heard that only Jiang Nan produces lychee, so to be able to keep it this fresh all the way to the capital, they must have used express horses. Who knows how many riders they switched, how many horses have fallen in exhaustion.”
Ling’er didn’t really understand, “If Mistress likes it, then let the General send people to Jiang Nan on express horses to bring some more back then. The General has so many people under him, and he treats Mistress so well, he would definitely agree.”
Man Yao’s smile disappeared, “You really think I’m Yang Guifei.” A horse galloped full of red dust and the consort gave a smile, no one knew the lychee had arrived. The legendary love story between a legendary woman and an Emperor, other than proving that “the most heartless was the imperial family”, nothing else was left. She never desired for something that would shock the heavens, only for a calm and peaceful life. But in the end, even this small wish did not come true.
Ling’er curiously asked, “Who is Yang Guifei?”
Man Yao: “An ancient person.”
Ling’er went “Oh” and remembered something, “Mistress said that the Jiang Nan produces lychees, isn’t Jiang Nan under Prince Li’s control?”
Man Yao’s hand trembled and the lychee she had peeled fell to the ground and rolled far away. No one had mentioned this name for a long time. One year ago, after the three days in that dark room, he did not care about the Emperor of Lingtian’s disagreement and left the capital to go to his fief. No one knew the reason why. When the new year came, all the provinces brought forth tributes except for Jiang Nan. With his personality and his disgust towards the royal palace, how could he possibly order express horses to send lychees to the capital?
She fell into a daze, Ling’er called her name several times but she didn’t hear it.
“Rong Le, what are you thinking about? You have such a serious look on your face.” At some point in time, Fu Chou appeared beside her.
Man Yao returned to her senses and faintly smiled, “How come General returned so early today?”
Fu Chou grasped her hand out of habit and pulled her to sit down, smiling, “What, you’re not happy that I’m back early?”
Man Yao lightly laughed, “Of course not. I just feel that it’s…odd.” She was used to him holding her hands. Since they were husband and wife already, she had to get used to accepting his acts of intimacy. After sitting down, she suddenly turned towards him, “The lychees that the Emperor sent down today were very fresh.”
Fu Chou faltered for a moment and frowned, “Lychee? His Majesty only rewarded jewels and pearls today, where did lychees come from?”
Man Yao was stunned and Ling’er hastily responded, “General, there are, this servant also ate some. Look, there’s a piece that fell over there.”
Fu Chou’s eyes followed to where her finger pointed, finally seeing the round lychee that had rolled onto the ground. His gaze instantly sharpened and called out, “Xiang Ying.”
“This subject is present.”
Fu Chou: “When did an extra case of lychees appear from the rewards His Majesty bestowed?”
Xiang Ying: “Replying to General, this subject followed General’s order and was returning to the residence with His Majesty’s rewards then not long after exiting the palace, Chen gonggong caught up to this subject and said that we had left behind one. He also said…this chest of lychees was for furen.”
Man Yao’s originally calm heart suddenly became anxious. Tightly holding her hands, her fingertips turned white. Because of what happened one year ago, the Emperor of Lingtian had always resented her, why would he give her such a precious gift out of nowhere?
Fu Chou’s expression became somewhat heavy and with an unfathomable gaze, he looked at her, “It looks like he already returned to the capital. He was pretty fast, able to get her in only five days.”
She closed her eyes, her thick eyelashes gentle trembled and she couldn’t help but ask in a small voice, “Who General referring to?”
Fu Chou let out an elegant smile with a hidden meaning, “Naturally, it’s Prince Li.”
Man Yao knew the answer but she couldn’t help her heart from becoming restless. Fu Chou held her hand again, asking, “What’s wrong, why are your hands still so cold when it’s so hot outside?”
Man Yao retracted her hands back into her sleeves and carelessly placed down a chess piece as she lightly smiled, “I’m fine. He…I mean Prince Li, doesn’t he detest the palace? Why would he come back?”
Fu Chou answered with a question of his own, “How does Rong Le know he doesn’t like the palace?”
He clearly had a warm smile on, but she somehow felt there were traces of coldness within. Man Yao turned away and opened her hand. Unknowingly, the chess piece she held was a black one. She lowered her eyes, not speaking.
Fu Chou didn’t seem to mind and smiled again, “In seven days, there will be a flower banquet at the palace. Come with me.”
Another banquet, she frowned. Fu Chou held her hand and along with it, the black chess piece. He had a lot of strength and it felt like he was going to crush the chess piece between their hands. After a moment, he spoke, “Rong Le, I know you don’t like those types of gatherings, but this is His Majesty’s order, all of his court officials and their wives and daughters must attend. That’s why…you can only suffer for a little bit.”
How pleading! Man Yao pursed her lips, to say suffer, she would not really suffer, it was just a required gathering that she did not like is all. It was just, why would the Emperor of Lingtian also require his officials bring their wives and daughters as well? Framing it as a royal command at that! Nodding her head, she agreed, “Alright.”
Fu Chou smiled and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, helping her stand up. He spoke in a gentle voice, “Don’t worry, I’m here. I won’t let anyone bully you.”
She gave a faint smile and lowered her head in silence.
When night fell, the moon had not come out. The sky was as black as a hole.
Qing Mi Garden was the General’s residence’s farthest garden. It was thick with growth and looked to be a very desolate area, but also happened to seem more natural as well. There was a natural pond near the walls and the water was very cooling. During the summer, she liked to come here alone at night and sit. Running her hands through the water, she would be able to calm the frustrations and worries she had in the day.
Fu Chou accompanied her tonight and stood behind her, quietly watching her hands run through the water. The surroundings were very quiet, and the light from the fireflies lit up her pale and slender fingers. It was an unspeakably beautiful scenery. Fu Chou restrained himself for stepping forward and turned his eyes away, looking in the distance.
This garden was very bare, only a few servants lived here and not many people passed by here during the day. As such, the people in the garden tended to be more relaxed, whenever they opened their mouths, they would not hold back.
Three young girls walked out from the house on the western side, their hands holding food as they walked to sit down at the stone table in the middle of the garden. The girl sitting in the middle was about eighteen or nineteen years old and looked quite charming, she even had a few hints of pride on her face.
The girl on the left swiped away the little bugs flying in front of her and complained, “This garden has the most bugs, when can we finally escape from this damn garden and serve the front courtyard?” As she spoke, she pushed the food towards the girl in the middle, “Xun guniang, here, you eat first. When you become the ce furen(2), don’t forget about us!”
The girl on the right side smirked, “I bet that General probably already forgot about you. It’s already been a year since furen married in, who doesn’t know how much General loves furen, how could he possibly remember you. Besides, furen is such a beauty, just like a celestial being, take a look at yourself, how could you compare?”
Hearing this, Xun guniang‘s face immediately blacked and gave a cold snort, “Who cares how beautiful she is when she’s not a clean woman? I started serving General since I was fifteen, at least the body I gave General was a clean one, how could she compare?”
“Yours is just pure luck, wasn’t it just once? It was even an accident. Here I was wondering, how could General possibly touch you at that time when he was injured and barely conscious?”
Xun guniang paled and then gave a mysterious smile, “En…I’m not telling.”
The group laughed and then the left girl spoke again, “Aye, don’t you guys think it’s weird, it’s been a year already, I heard…General never steps foot into furen‘s room at night, do you guys know why?”
“Is there a need to think about it, he must hate how her body’s not pure. Don’t just look at how he treats her like a treasure in the daytime, how could he not have a thorn in his heart? The thing men hate the most is when their woman is not clean, they might as well go to the brothels to find a prostitute.”
“That’s true. However, speaking of which, Prince Li has an esteemed status and he’s even the Emperor’s favored son, he might even be the next Emperor, plus, he’s so handsome….If he were to be interested in me, I’m willing to die.”
“You sure have an active imagination, you think Prince Li would be interested in you? Dream on!” Xun guniang knocked against that girl’s head, “No matter how good Prince Li is, I won’t like him. I only like…Gen…General…” Xun guniang suddenly held her hand over her mouth, seeing the man standing in front of her, her eyes widened in shock. The bowl in her hand shattered on the ground and the food within splattered in the vicinity. When the egg mixed with the red colors of the vegetables, it was similar to when a bloody head rolled away after being chopped off. The other two girls followed suit and raised their heads. When they saw Fu Chou, they were scared witless and their bodies shook. They hurriedly kneeled down, wailing, “Gen, gen…General…have mercy!”
(1) 夫人 (fu ren): Used to indicate a woman that is married
(2) 侧夫人 (ce fu ren): Means side wife (but really just a concubine in the end)