“Dong dong dong dong dong……”
Just as the officials were about to get down and kneel 3 times and kowtow 9 times, the echo of the injustice drum1 rung outside of Tai Ji Hall. After about a dozen or so strikes, the oppressive sound of the drum resounded within the hall.
Hua Zhu Yu had a bad premonition. She glanced over at Huangfu Wu Shuang and saw that he had on a look of surprise. Her eyes quickly shifted towards Ji Feng Li. His expression was unchanged. He returned her gaze calmly and his lips curled in a gentle smile.
Her heart suddenly trembled, she knew that the more seemingly gentle his smile was, the crueler his actions were going to be. She feared what was to come was going to be difficult to deal with.
A little palace eunuch quickly ran over and Hua Zhu Yu stepped down, asking in a low voice, “What’s the matter?”
“Chief Manager Bao, Yu Tai Fei escaped from the Cold Palace and is striking the drums of injustice. She says she has an important matter to report to the Retired Emperor,” the eunuch replied in a hushed voice.
Hua Zhu Yu’s expression darkened. Yu Tai Fei was Emperor Kang Huangfu Wu Shang’s birth mother. Many years ago the Retired Emperor had banished her to the Cold Palace. It was even rumored that she had turned crazy. A few months ago, when Emperor Kang ascended the throne, he went to the Cold Palace to welcome her back but she drove him away in a crazy fit. Why did she come strike the drum of injustice today? Had she just been pretending to be crazy?
“Have the men detain her, don’t let her run into the hall. I will go report to the Emperor.” Once she spoke, she went back to her prior position.
“What’s the matter?” Huangfu Wu Shuang asked in a low voice.
“Reporting to Your Majesty, the palace maids of the Cold Palace were negligent and Yu Tai Fei escaped. Since she’s mentally unstable, her actions are inevitably abnormal,” Hua Zhu Yu calmly reported.
Huangfu Wu Shuang nodded. “Alright, if that’s the case, then proceed with the ceremony.”
Hua Zhu Yu turned around and raise her voice to announce, “Hundreds of officials kneel and kowtow to the new Emperor!…”
“Wait!” Ji Feng Li coldly shouted, his voice clear as water splashing on a jade plate, crisp and penetrating.
Hua Zhu Yu’s words were cut off and she had no other choice but to stop.
She saw Ji Feng Li walking out from amongst the crowd of officials, step by step, elegant and steady. A moment later he was standing in the middle of the hall. His actions were refined and calm, his demeanor lax and unhurried, yet at the same time intimidating. Facing the Retired Emperor Yan, he said, “Retired Emperor, today the new emperor ascends the throne. All under heaven have been pardoned2 and an injustice should be addressed. Although Yu Tai Fei is said to be crazy, perhaps she has recovered. Your Majesty, please allow her into the hall.”
Upon hearing this, Imperial Tutor Wen slowly stepped forward, parroting, “Left Chancellor daren is right. Retired Emperor, please allow her into the hall!’
After the both of them have spoken, over half of the officials knelt down and kowtowed, beseeching, “Retired Emperor, please allow her into the hall!” These words resonated even louder and clearer than the words ‘Long live the Emperor.”
The Retired Emperor was sitting in his seat. The beaded curtain obscured his expression, no one could tell what he was thinking. Liu Fei, dressed in a gorgeous attire, was sitting beside him, whispering something in his ear.
The Retired Emperor raised his voice and said, “Allow her into the hall!”
A moment later, Yu Tai Fei was escorted in.
She was dressed in plain attires. She had her head lowered as she stepped forward to pay her respects. She knelt down and raised her voice to say, “Chen Qie1 greets Retired Emperor.” Her voice was calm and steady, completely unlike that of a crazy woman.
“You may rise. Why did you strike the drum?” the Retired Emperor questioned in a stern voice.
“Chen Qie has suffered a great injustice. Chen Qie requests Retired Emperor to please seek justice!” Yu Tai Fei said distressingly as she slowly lifted her head.
Hua Zhu Yu observed Yu Tai Fei who appeared to be just a little over thirty years old. She had a beautiful appearance and a pair of clear eyes, completely unlike that of a person who had gone mad.
Hua Zhu Yu could vaguely guess that Yu Tai Fei’s injustice had something to do with Huangfu Wu Shuang. Though she was unclear about the particulars, she was sure this matter would be a fatal blow to Huangfu Wu Shuang.
She looked over at Ji Feng Li and saw that he was also glancing her way.
A chill swept over her. If Huangfu Wu Shuang couldn’t ascend the throne today, that would also mean that she would be suffering a defeat under Ji Feng Li’s hands.
She looked back at Yu Tai Fei and saw her take out a silk cloth stained with blood from her sleeve and handed it over to a eunuch who proceeded to hand it over to the Retired Emperor Yan. As the Retired Emperor glanced at the cloth, Hua Zhu Yu felt a rising anxiousness. Sitting beside him, Lui Fei’s expression also changed upon seeing the cloth.
“Alright, you can withdraw. I understand and will look over this matter.” The Retired Emperor commanded in a stern voice, “Proceed with the ceremony!”
Yu Tai Fei’s body stiffened before she raised her voice to add, “Retired Emperor Yan, those are the words personally written by the former Empress. Every word is true. Retired Emperor Yan, how could you let this thief ascend the throne. He imprisoned Shang’Er, he….he’s not…”
Suddenly, Huangfu Wu Shuang interrupted in a loud voice, “Cover her mouth!”
A eunuch quickly stepped forward, rolled up a handkerchief and stuffed it in her mouth.
Ji Feng Li hastily stepped forward and requested, “Retired Emperor Yan, please allow Yu Tai Fei to finish speaking.”
“Merely words of a mad woman!” The Retired Emperor asserted angrily.
None of the other officials dared intervene.
Hua Zhu Yu was also surprised. Ji Feng Li letting Yu Tai Fei enter the hall meant that whatever that was written on that silk cloth was very significant, enough to stop the ceremony from proceeding. Yet the Emperor responded in such a manner. Anyone with eyes could see that Yu Tai Fei was not a mad woman. Ji Feng Li’s eyes congealed as he gazed at the Retired Emperor. His eyes were glinting with sharpness like he wanted to rip apart those beaded curtains. But suddenly he smiled and a pensive look appeared in his eyes.
Yu Tai Fei was dragged down and the ceremony proceeded. The hundreds of officials acknowledge allegiance, proceeding to kneel 3 times and kowtow 9 times to Huangfu Wu Shuang, reciting ‘Long Live the Emperor’.
Hua Zhu Yu breathed a sigh of relief, only to realize that her back had at some point in time drenched in cold sweat.
She looked up, gazing ahead in the distant at the magnificent 9 palaces beneath the rays of sunlight. It was lofty and beautiful but hidden in the darkness were countless dangers. A single careless mistake could cost you everything. Beneath the conspicuous walls of these 9 palaces were the imperceptible blood that flowed like a river.
Huangfu Wu Shuang ascending the throne brought glory to Hua Zhu Yu but this did not bring her the slightest joy. She knew that once the ascension had taken place, she had already embarked on a path of no retreat.
After the ascension ceremony was the ancestral sacrificial rituals. After everything was completed, it was already the 15th of December. Since the year was coming to an end, the palace was naturally busy.
In addition to being on duty, Hua Zhu Yu would also quietly visit Yong Zheng Palace to get medicine. She didn’t know how to tell Dan Hong about the pregnancy so naturally Dan Hong did not know she needed the medicine for the fetus. Because every medicinal herb that is taken must be recorded down, to avoid suspicion, she only dared to take a few herbs. The rest of the ingredients she needed for the prescription she would sneak outside the palace to purchase.
That night, the moonlight was as cool as water, making the night appear long and gloomy.
Hua Zhu Yu was not on night duty. She strolled through the corridors and paved pathways, slowly heading northeast. There was a corner gate that allowed carriages in and out of the palace on weeknights. The gatekeepers were all An Xiao Er’s men. As soon as Hua Zhu Yu arrived, An Xiao Er(Little Second) slowly stepped out from the shadows and waved at her.
They both left the palace, neither taking a carriage nor a sedan. Employing their qinggong(lightness skill), they traveled through the dark alleyways and finally arrived in front of a small house.
An Xiao Er stopped and turned around to look at Hua Zhu Yu in her eunuch attires. “You should probably change and put on your mask else Lao San(Old Third) and Lao Si(Old Fourth) will be scared to death.” An Xiao Er’s poisonous tongue hasn’t changed in the least.
Hua Zhu Yu stroked her face and coldly snorted, “Is it that frightening?” An Xiao Er, Ping Lao Da(Eldest) and even Dan Hong had seen her real face so there wasn’t any reason to hide in front of Kang and Tai.
The two made sure there was no one following them before they entered the house. A guard noticed them and once he saw An Xiao Er, he bowed and said, “The 3 are waiting for you inside.”
An Xiao Er nodded and brought Hua Zhu Yu inside. Underneath the faint candlelight, Ping, Kang, Tai and one other guard were sitting around the table playing ma diao.(t/n card game called “Lifted Horse”. More info here) As soon as An Xiao’Er appeared, the guard ecstatically stood and said, “If second master did not arrive, this subordinate would surely lose all of my silver.”
translations at peachblossomgrove . com
Kang Lao San glanced at An Xiao Er and snorted, “He won’t be able to win either.”
Hua Zhu Yu, who had been standing behind An Xiao Er, stepped out and flashed a bright smile, asking, “What about me?”
Hearing her voice, Kang Lao San’s hand which had been holding the card slightly shook. He looked at her with an astonished expression on his face as he pointed at her with his finger, asking , “You….. who are you?”
Tai Xiao Si also looked up at Hua Zhu Yu with a light flashing in his eyes.
Among the 3, Ping Lao Da was the calmest since he had already met her on the battlefield. Seeing their looks of surprise, Ping Lao Da merely smiled in silence.
Hua Zhu Yu went over and picked up the teapot on the table, pouring herself a cup of tea as she took the seat of the guard that had stood and slowly sipped the tea and said, “Guess!”
“You….” Kang Lao San looked at An Xiao Er then back again at Hua Zhu Yu. “Aren’t you a eunuch? An, why did you bring this eunuch here?”
Tai Xiao Si gazed at Hua Zhu Yu silently. When he heard Kang Lao San, he smiled and said, “General, working in the palace, you must have earned a decent amount of silver. Tonight, don’t blame me for being impolite.”(aka not going easy)
After he spoke, he shuffled the cards and dealt.
Hua Zhu Yu smiled and said, “I’m not lacking in silver but let’s see if you have the ability to win it.”
Kang Lao San took in a cold breath and the cards in his hands fell to the table. His eyes were trembling in shock as he ran in front of Hua Zhu Yu. He looked at her front top to bottom then asked, “General, it’s really you?”
Hua Zhu Yu ignored Kang Lao San and looked at all the silver on the table, then loudly exclaimed, “ I win! Three, four, five!”
Kang Lao San pointed at Hua Zhu Yu, laughing, “It truly is General, you only care about winning! Wait! Not just yet, I haven’t looked at my cards yet!” He quickly returned to his seat only to find that An Xiao Er had taken his place.
He stomped his feet in annoyance. When they played this game in the army camp and the General joined, someone had to be kicked out.(t/n only a 4 person game I assume) Unfortunately, today it was him. With a sullen expression, he moved a chair over to sit next to Hua Zhu Yu and watch the game.
“General, has your health not been well these days?” Tai Xiao Si slowly asked as he glanced at Hua Zhu Yu’s complexion.
Among her 4 guards, Tai was the most attentive and meticulous.
Hua Zhu Yu smiled, “I’m fine, it’s just the cold weather.”
Kang Lao San grinned and said, “Can General even get sick?”
An Xiao Er glanced at Hua Zhu Yu, asking, “General, what do you plan to do next? Ji Feng Li cannot be spared. He mislead that muddleheaded Retired Emperor Yan into harming the Hua Family.”
“I feel there is something off with the Retired Emperor Yan. On the day of the ascension, when he saw the blood letter written by the Empress, he did not do anything. Ji Feng Li would not make a useless move. An, investigate and see exactly what’s going on with the Retired Emperor,” Hua Zhu Yu instructed with furrowed brows. She was really curious about the context of that letter.
An Xiao Er nodded.
Ping Lao Da sighed, “Ji Feng Li’s power and influence is great. Wang Yu is stationed at the northern border so Huangfu Wu Shuang cannot make a move against Ji Feng Li in fear of Wang Yu heading back to the capital with his troops.”
“Then we must have a force to contend against Wang Yu’s,” An Xiao Er stated.
Hua Zhu Yu nodded. “You all should quickly convene the Orphan Army. Though our number is not great, at least we should have a force to contend with. I win, six, seven, eight.”
Kang Lao San said, “ You only know how to win! If General is so considerate you should win against Wang Yu’s troops.”
“That’s nothing hard!” Tai, who was silent the whole time, suddenly said.
“Why would you say so?” Hua Zhu Yu asked with furrowed brows.
“The Marquis(HZY’s father) knew that the imperial court would soon forget favors and violate justice(t/n idiom for being ungrateful). He had already instructed me to borrow 50,000 troops. However, the Marquis was afraid you would rebel so he didn’t tell you about it. It seems the time has arrived for it to come to use,” Tai Xiao Si calmly stated.
Hua Zhu Yu was completely shocked. She recalled that day when the Hua Family was executed. Tai Xiao Si and An Xiao Er were not at Liangzhou. At that time An Xiao Er was ordered by father to investigate in the palace. Tai Xiao Si was also sent off. At first she thought he went with An Xiao Er to the palace, but he actually went to borrow troops.
“Borrow troops? Whose troops? Wang Yi’s?”All across Southern Kingdom, there was only Wang Yi near the eastern lands that had troops. But Wang Yi was all the way in the east and besides participating in the annual tribute, he did nothing else. He did not make any unusual movements that attracted any attention. During the battle with the North last time, the Imperial Court wasn’t able to borrow troops from him so how could Tai be able to?
Tai Xiao Si sounded in assent.
Hua Zhu Yu couldn’t believe it.
“Why would he let you borrow his troops? It can’t be that those are actually troops left behind by the Marquis?” Hua Zhu Yu asked suspiciously.
Tai’s eyes creased as he smiled furtively and said, “How could the Marquis have troops left? The northeastern land is the safest place if Southern Kingdom were to fall into chaos.”
“That’s good then,” An Xiao Er said as he placed down his cards. “I shall remain in the capital and Tai will lead the troops to the northern border to stop Wang Yu. That way, General will not have to worry in the palace.”
Hua Zhu Yu was relieved of another burden weighing on her heart. As they were busily conversing, she stealthily exchanged her cards. Seeing that Ping, An, and Tai did not notice, she couldn’t help feeling delighted inside.
“General, you…you…. You’ve been playing this way these past years?” Kang Lao San’s appalled voice sounded beside her ear. He was pointing at her with eyes wide, not daring to believe what he had just witnessed.
No wonder General always won, he was exchanging cards.
Hua Zhu Yu was startled, she had forgotten Kang Lao San was sitting beside her. She shamelessly asked, “In what way?” as she glared at him threateningly.
Kang Lao San couldn’t say anything and just sighed.
Ping Lao Da glanced at Hua Zhu Yu and shook his head with a smile.
That night, though they talked strategy, they also had fun playing. It was one of the happiest days Hua Zhu Yu had these past few months.
Qin Zheng Hall
Huangfu Wu Shuang threw the memorial on the table angrily and said, “Imperial Tutor Wen, don’t think Zhen(how the Emperor addresses himself) don’t dare act against you!”
Hua Zhu Yu furrow brow. It seems Imperial Tutor Wen’s memorial has angered Huangfu Wu Shuang.
“Look at it, look at what he writes!” Huangfu Wu Shuang angrily spat.
Hua Zhu Yu glanced over it and scoffed. This Imperial Tutor Wen was an official with a reputation of being upright and plainspoken but the words written inside this memorial was a bit extreme. He stated that Huangfu Wu Shuang was enthralled by a eunuch and that the eunuch was vying for power. He was clearly targeting her.
“Tell me, why are they always targeting you?” Huangfu Wu Shuang asked indignantly.
“Your Majesty really wants to remove Imperial Tutor Wen?” Hua Zhu Yu asked. Imperial Tutor Wen was one of Ji Feng Li’s men and eliminating him would be crippling Ji Feng Li’s wings.
Huangfu Wu Shuang nodded. “That old man, when Zhen liked Wan’Er, he always objected, wanting to marry her off to Ji Feng Li. But that old man has an honest reputation, both of his sleeves flow in the wind freely(idiom for being uncorrupt). Even if Zhen wants to remove him, it would be difficult.”
“Your Majesty, do you still think of Miss Wen?” Hua Zhu Yu asked, recalling that Wen Wan was now by Xiao Yin’s side. She wondered if Huangfu Wu Shuang was aware Wen Wan had played the tune Sha Po Lang on the battlefield to help Xiao Yin.
“So what if I think about her, she’s now in Northern Kingdom,” Huangfu Wu Shuang replied with a frown as he walked around the room.
“Your Majesty, Wen Wan was married off to Northern Kingdom. On the battlefield, she assisted the Northern Emperor. The daughter of Imperial Tutor Wen helped the enemy. Would this matter be enough to take down Imperial Tutor Wen?” Hua Zhu Yu asked.
Huangfu Wu Shuang let out a long sigh and said, “Wan Er, she… she must hate us for us marrying her off to the north.”
Hua Zhu Yu lightly sighed. It seems Huangfu Wu Shuang did not want Wen Wan to carry to crime of treason. “Your Majesty, you have just ascended the throne. Don’t you want to investigate the shortage of military goods and the deficit of the national treasury. You can leave this matter to Imperial Tutor Wen. If he is a righteous official, all would be fine. If he does not give a clear verdict and takes the opportunity to embezzle then Your Majesty can righteously remove him from his post.”
Huangfu Wu Shuang’s eyes brightened and he said with a smile,“Then let’s go with Xiao Bao Er’s arrangement.”
As a result, Imperial Tutor Wen conducted a national inspection. A few young nobles and officials were implicated. Hua Zhu Yu lamented, Imperial Tutor Wen was indeed a righteous official. That same day, Hua Zhu Yu carried out the orders to confiscate the assets of those implicated and deliver it to the national treasury.
- An injustice drum is a drum that people can strike to publicly voice their grievances.
- Usually when there is a happy occasion, such as an enthronement, many criminals will be pardoned for the crimes. So that’s what I think JFL was referring to
- Yu Tai Fei referred to herself as chen qie which means this servant. But this is different from when a maid refers to herself as a servant which is nu bi.