TLNote: this is a teaser chapter. 

Chapter 1 One person became an official, the poultry and dogs also rise to heaven

  • Poultry and dogs also rise to heaven: ride on someone else’s success.

Every year when the red flowers bloomed, the Forbidden City seemed like it was covered with red clouds. It was like rainbow-colored clothes worn by the fairy of the Ninth Heaven which was extremely pleasing to the eyes. This year, the flowers which was red like blood has brought a touch of chill to the palace. Emperor Dunxiao had passed away. Empress Zhang was struck by grief and had to go with the emperor.

  • Ninth heaven: the highest of all heaven

In fact, there was no ‘struck by grief’. The emperor’s secret decree, “I want my most beloved empress to be buried with me.”

Entering the palace at fourteen, Qi Danyan’s had above average looks. She liked to do embroidery. In the end, her eyes had gone bad because of the embroidery. In modern times, it would be called presbyopia. Because her maiden family had a literary reputation in their province and was very prominent, she got the rank of Noble Lady after having just entered the palace. She didn’t have a title. Because her vision wasn’t good, she didn’t dare to go out much and wasn’t well liked. The emperor had never thought of her. She was barely promoted to imperial concubine five years ago because of the rule (principle) and got the title Yu. And because the empress gave birth to a princess three years ago, she was promoted to Noble Imperial Concubine. At twenty-one years old, such an “old age”, she had become a miracle and big joke in the highly competitive harem.

  • You can find the ranks of the imperial consorts here

It was said in the <Poetic Essays of Efang Palace>: There are thirty-six unseen years. In comparison, Qi Danyan felt that she was still lucky. It was just, she really couldn’t remember what the emperor looked like.

  • Poetic Essays of Efang Palace was the work of poet Du Mu from the late Tang dynasty. I also didn’t understand what he meant by the line (有不得见者,三十六年. There are thirty-six unseen years)

Like this, she wanted to live peacefully as an old virgin among the bitter fights of the harem. Other consorts and concubine where like, you give me poison, I kick your lower abdomen. Those who wounded were wounded; those who died had died; those who couldn’t get pregnant, didn’t get pregnant; those who lost their child, lost their child; those who went to the cold palace were in the cold palace. Only Qi Danyan who had presbyopia didn’t put a foot outside. When she put a foot outside, she bent and scraped to curry favor. Although, she endured frigid irony and scorching satire, but she lived in abundance and her face glowed.

Before the emperor died young, eldest prince died even younger than him. Although second prince Qiu Jingxuan born by the empress wasn’t even eight years old but logically, he became the next emperor. Before the empress decided to follow her husband, she carefully investigated the women of the harem. This one was a blind person. That one had once harmed my son. This one maiden family’s power was too strong. The outside family may take the imperial power and, in the end, still harm my son. Arranging till the end, she discovered Noble Imperial Concubine Yu. Her status was not high and had never fought for the emperor’s favor. It was said that her body isn’t that well. Her maiden family is literary officials. They don’t have military power. Empress Zhang summarized the total. “The body is not well” could add extra points. After she took care of my son and raise him into a grown man, perhaps she would die from being ill.

Before empress Zhang died on the white rope, she left a certain number of imperial decrees. What was known was one was to let Noble Imperial Consort Yu take care of second prince Jingxuan in her stead. Another one was given to the Xiang household, arranging marriage to Xiang Wu and gave Xiang Suizhan the duty of the assisting minister. She also gave a large-scale destructive weapon…the Imperial Sword that had to ability to kill the highly emperor if he was useless and to behead the lowly malicious officials.

This move of empress Zhan could be called Zhuge Kongming. It was a move that was for the future of a thousand miles away. First, let’s talk about Xiang household. Empress Zhang’s mother also had the surname Xiang. In short, they were relatives. Xiang family had been military commanders for generations. The one who inherited the title great -general Weiyuan was Xiang Suizhan who accompanied his father on the battles of the north and south from ever since he was thirteen years old. After more than a decade, his military prestige was high, and he held half of the military power of Gan dynasty. Xiang Wu is the only daughter of Xiang Suizhan’s big brother Xiang Suihan who died on the battlefield. She was raised by Xiang Suizhan. This year, she was five years old. At such a young age, she thought that Xiang Suizhan was her father. Empress Zhang made a pair of Jingxuan and Xiang Wu. It was undoubtedly to find a backing for her son — Keep my son safe, your family’s eldest miss would be the future empress. Also, keep an eye on the future empress dowager and the officials for me. Well, the power was divided between the prince, the empress dowager and the general; mutually protecting and restraining each other. Empress Zhang’s political strategy was comparable to Charles Montesquieu. She was ahead of her time for a hundred of years.

In a blink of an eye, Noble Imperial Consort Yu who would squint her eyes to see the people that had come and bow in respect a few days ago, had now become the most noble woman of the harem. She no longer had to be afraid about being picked on because her etiquette was not on point. She also didn’t have o worry anymore about the status of the person opposite of her because after all, their status wasn’t higher than hers.

The officials paid homage to the emperor the day he ascended the throne. Qi Danyan sat behind the curtain made of beads. Looking at the crowd of people below; they bowed neatly like dominoes while shouting long live the emperor for ten thousand years and long live the empress dowager for a thousand years.

Complicated hair accessories made Qi Danyan’s small head sway from side to side. A pair of big East Pearl earrings hurt her ears. As a result, she had to stretch her neck like a turtle in his shell. Jingxuan had been previously protected by the empress like a small chicken in the greenhouse. He was also not very comfortable facing so many officials with bad intention at once. It was like he was suddenly forced to walk naked on the street; feeling all kinds of recoiling and wanting to pee.

The pseudo mother and son exchanged a glance. There was the same eagerness in their eyes; let them get out and go do the things they had to do!

There was only one person in the crowd that didn’t had flatter in his eyes. The black armor on his chest emitted a cold light. The scarlet cloak behind him seemed like it had been watered by blood. The eagle eyes were cold and unfeeling like black sandalwood. After he rose up, he slowly looked at the high seat in the hall. The child on the dragon chair looked everywhere. The image of the woman wearing luxurious clothes behind the bead curtain was not clear. But she also didn’t seem to sit very composed. If the dynasty that had been guarded for generations by his ancestors was destroyed by the hands of this pair of mother and son, would eldest brother Suihan’s only daughter Xiang Wu also need to be buried with them?

After the ceremony, Qi Danyan gloriously moved into Cining palace. On the way, she encountered many consorts and concubines who had ridiculed and mocked her in that past. Oh, now, they are consort dowager and concubine dowager. Now, they are all dejected and depressed. Unwillingly, they knelt on both sides of the road. Qi Danyan narrowed her eyes and looked for half a day. Aside from the silver and golden light coming from the jewelries, she couldn’t see anything else clearly.

The thought that she would spend the rest of her life wearing such beautiful dresses and jewelries, Qi Danyan was very happy. With her simple mind, she didn’t realize the concept of “govern from behind the curtain” and “substitute the emperor in making decisions”. The Yellow River floods that plagued the emperors of the past, the southeast barbarians, the colluded chaos of the foreigners in the northwest and the gigantic corrupt officials of Jiangnan; these hasn’t yet plagued the her who was in the state of a mouse that fell into a rice tank.

As the saying goes, when one person rose to be an official, the poultry and dogs rise to heaven. The little eunuch Xiao Dongzi who was also ordered around together with Qi Danyan became the head eunuch of Cining palace of the fourth rank. Everyone changed the way they called him to master Dong. Her personal maid Jinxiu also been promoted to the fifth rank. Before, she was always called lowly slave. Nowadays, she was called aunt Li by others. Xiao Dongzi and Jingxiu were also immersed in the two-color ball-like madness. If they had nothing to do, they would go take a walk outside. Even if they had to go to the toilet, they would deliberately walk around two times and listen to people call them master and aunt.

  • The poultry and dogs rise to heaven: to ride on someone else’s success.

In the past, young masters like Qi Danyan who lost favor the moment they entered the palace, not to mention order the dishes, even if she went to the imperial kitchen to receive the ingredients according to the rules, she could only pick the worst. Times are different now. The serf turned her fate and was now leading the song. The East is Red, the sun rose. Exotic delicacies were consumed till bursting point.

  • The East is Red: north Shaanxi folk song

Just when Qi Danyan though that the road ahead of her was bright as the sun, a person’s appearance took her back from Mount Everest to the Mariana Trench.

Little emperor Jingxuan threw tantrums and didn’t attend the court for a few days. He said that he couldn’t understand what those unshaven people were talking about. And there were big men who blew their beard and glared at him, almost scared him so much that he peed in his pants.

It seemed that the bladder of the newly appointed little emperor was very fragile.

After thinking about this, Qi Danyan felt very sympathetic towards Jingxuan. When she entered the palace, her little brother was as old as Jingxuan was now. At the age of seven or eight, the whole day he would go fish or lift the skirt of Lin family’s daughter with his friends. He wasn’t like Jingxuan who even when he farted or when some poop accidentally came out, a historical official would take a small brush and write: “XX-day of X-month of the year XX, leak of dragon gas. It was colorless but had a distinct smell. This subject couldn’t help but gasp in admiration and thereupon bowed and shouted long live for ten thousand years.”

Ever since, Qi Danyan hugged the little emperor and lovingly stroked his small head, she planned to tell the story of Pan Jinlian and Ximen Qing to let him sleep so she could do embroidery. Just when she told him about how Pan Jinlian pushed the window and the pole hasn’t reached the head of Ximen Qing yet, she heard Jingxuan’s Xiao Qingzi sharply announce: “Announcing to the emperor, general Weiyuan is seeking your attendance at the South Study.”

  • Pan Jinlian and Ximen Qing are characters of the novel The Golden Lotus.

“The South Study is too far. Let him come here,” Jingxuan said heedlessly while peeling peanuts…

After all, Xiao Qingzi had stayed in the palace for twenty years. After hearing those words, he was surprised for a moment and then picked up his courage and said, “Emperor, it’s not appropriate for an outsider official to enter the harem.”

Jingxuan stuffed a peanut into his mouth and lifted his chin, “I don’t care whether it’s appropriate or not. If I ran to the South Study when general Xiang wants to see me; is he the emperor or am I the emperor?”

Qi Danyan looked approvingly at Jingxuan. In her heart, she thought he was an amazing kid. Even at such a young age, he already has the temperament of an incapable ruler.  Wait, general Weiyuan…? He seemed to be Jingxuan’s future wife’s uncle. “My little emperor, you are not right to say this.”

Xiao Qingzi bowed gratefully to Qi Danyan. In his heart he thought that the empress dowager understood the matter!

“You can’t always use I and me. To the people below, you should use zhen,” Qi Danyan said sternly. She put two peanuts that Jingxuan peeled into her mouth.

  • Zhen: I, used by the emperor.

“Yes! Empress mother!” Jingxuan nodded.

Xiao Qingzi felt defeated and secretly gave Xiao Dongzi a glance.

Xiao Dongzi pretended to remind, “Old ancestor, general Weiyuan is still waiting at the South Study for the emperor.”

After Qi Danyan heard “old ancestor”, she felt very relieved and said with the intent of helping the tyrant, “Oh, then do as the emperor said. Let him come over to see the emperor.”

“Yes…,” Xiao Dongzi’s mouth twitched and retreated.

When Qi Danyan got to the third story, she heard Xiao Qingzi announce, “General Weiyuan…Xiang Suizhan…is waiting outside…”

“Let him enter,” Jingxuan burped and touched his stomach.

Qi Danyan has lived in the harem for a long time. She didn’t know about the fighting inside the palace let alone the fighting at court. She did know about general Weiyuan but not about him being a descendant of generals. She only heard that the past empress had arranged a marriage for Jingxuan. So, Xiang family could be considered to be in-laws. She didn’t know that whether she, this empress dowager could live till the day Jingxuan gets married, she had to take into consideration when Xiang Suizhan would let the secret decree that he was holding see the sun.

Footsteps could be heard outside the palace door. Someone was slowly approaching. He bypassed the spirit wall and showed his face. His long hair was in a bundle. He wore a dark purple robe which may contain an armor inside. His shoulders looked wide and strong. He was handsome and thin. His eyes were sharp and his aura was suppressing people. When he was at the door, he lifted his robe and entered. The silver tiger head above the black boots were extraordinary mighty. He came closer, bowed and said, “This subject Xiang Suizhan greets the emperor. Long live the emperor and empress dowager.”

Qi Danyan was a bit dazed. She had always thought that general Weiyuan should be like those in plays who was full of flesh and blood, with white hairs on both sides and was a sturdy big man with sorrowful eyes because of the battles. Who would have known that he was so graceful, cold and handsome?