Liang Yurong: Wei Luo’s friend
Zhao Liuli: princess Tianji, Zhao Jie’s little sister
Mrs. Han: Wei Luo’s tutor on etiquette
Madam Qin: 4th madam, Wei Luo’s close aunt
Gao Qingyang: maternal cousin of Zhao Liuli
Wei Changhong: Wei Luo’s twin brother
When Liang Yurong and Wei Luo had come out, they had only taken along two old nurses, who were also entering the palace for the first time. Following this twisting and remote footpath inside the palace courtyard for some time, they had gotten completely lost. Wild Goose house was obviously in front of them, yet no matter how much they walked, they couldn’t reach it. They had passed by the same statue, returning to their original position.
Right now the palace maids and eunuchs were busy working, so no one came to this place. Even if they wanted to find a person to ask for directions, they couldn’t. The two nurses were just getting worried, their foreheads sweating, when some palace maids and nurses escorting a young lady dressed in brocade clothes, suddenly appeared before them and walked over.
Being able to walk anywhere in the palace, and also having such a huge escort, this young lady’s status was probably not simple. Secretly trying to figure out Zhao Liuli’s identity, the nurses retreated to the side, waiting for the opposite party to introduce themselves. Sure enough, a nurse with some seniority, wearing an ash blue court dress, asked: “Who are you? Why are you here? You’re still not greeting the princess.”
It turned out to be a princess.
The two old nurses hurriedly saluted, signaling with their eyes to Wei Luo and Liang Yurong, reminding them in a whisper: “Little miss, quickly make your greetings together with this servant.”
During this month, Wei Luo had learned plenty of court etiquette from Mrs. Han, so she smoothly followed along. After properly saluting, she calmly sized up Zhao Liuli. Emperor Chong Zhen had altogether eight princesses. The first five were already over ten years old, while the sixth and seventh were of a similar age – one seven, the other six years old. The sixth princess was Empress Chen’s child, and the seventh princess was Noble Consort Ning’s. She just didn’t know whether it was the sixth or seventh child in front of her.
As Wei Luo was sizing up Zhao Liuli, Zhao Liuli was also curiously looking at them.
She was cooped inside the palace all year round, mostly coming in contact with palace maids and nurses, their ages all bigger than hers. She rarely met young ladies of a similar age. Empress Chen didn’t allow her to approach her seventh younger sister Zhao Linlang. She was actually very lonely, staying in the palace by herself. Although mother Empress and big brother both loved her dearly, she still wanted to have her own playmate. Zhao Linlang had many playmates. Each time she went to the back garden, she could see her and several other little girls talking excitedly and making a commotion. While she could only look from afar and secretly envy them. In fact, Gao Qingyang was also alright, but she rarely entered the palace, and when she did occasionally visit, she didn’t seem all that willing to play with her. If her body was healthy, Zhao Liuli thought, if she wasn’t so ill, she could also be laughing and playing with the other little girls, and creating a disturbance.
Both sides were looking at each other for some time. Wei Luo noticed the opposite party was looking at them eagerly, as if she wanted to approach them but was too embarrassed to, and couldn’t help finding it amusing. Her eyes spun as she started thinking. Pointing at Wild Goose house behind herself, she asked: “Do you know how to get there? We want to go over there.”
Zhao Liuli pursed her lips and gently nodded.
The nurse nearby had received Empress Chen’s instructions. Seeing Wei Luo chatting with princess Tianji now, she didn’t stop them, but was rather happy to observe.
Wei Luo truly wanted to return to Wild Goose house. She had been out with Liang Yurong for too long, and fourth aunt was surely getting worried by now, after not hearing from them. She asked: “Can you lead us there?”
Zhao Liuli felt extremely flattered, pleasant surprise showing on her small face, and she nodded in consent. She rarely met any outsiders. Other people minded her status and never dared to talk to her of their own initiative, making her feel alienated with their deference. Now there was someone treating her normally, and even asking her for help. She was naturally pleased, blushing as she said: “I also intended to go over there.”
Princess Tianji’s body was weak, but the problem didn’t stem from her birth. Instead, it was the result of someone’s schemes inside the palace.
When she was a year old, she was given poison by Consort Shu’s maid. At that time she had narrowly kept her life, with a dozen Imperial physicians laboring to save her for a whole day and night. Although Consort Shu was ordered to commit suicide afterward, the deed was done. She’d been weak ever since, having to drink medicine daily. She detested that rank, bitter concoction. After drinking it for 5-6 years continuously, just smelling it was enough to make her feel like throwing up.
However, it was because of that medicine that she was able to live to the present.
She hadn’t walked many steps, when Zhao Liuli’s small face paled, gasping for breath as she held Nurse Qiu’s hand for support, “Nurse, I’m a bit tired…”
Nurse Qiu’s expression stiffened as she held her up in a hurry. “What happened, Your Highness? Can’t catch your breath?” In the end, she said remorsefully: “The reason should be not drinking the medicine this morning. It’s all this servant’s fault, I shouldn’t have indulged your temper…”
At this moment, Zhao Liuli could neither speak, nor listen. Her body was curled up in pain.
Fortunately, they weren’t too far from Wild Goose house. Nurse Qiu promptly carried her in her arms and headed for the building, instructing the palace maids as she walked: “Quick, quickly bring sixth princess’ medicine!”
Wei Luo and Liang Yurong followed behind, now realizing she was the sixth princess Zhao Liuli.
There were several richly dressed noble women on the first floor of Wild Goose house, talking and laughing merrily. They soon noticed a nurse carrying a little girl, rushing over with an anxious expression, in the middle of saying “Your Highness, please hold on a little longer”. Startled, they stood up to salute in succession, but Nurse Qiu was unable to attend to their greetings. She placed Zhao Liuli on a glazed couch and lightly stroked her back. “Your Highness, do you feel a little better? Can you breathe now?”
A good while later, Zhao Liuli’s complexion finally improved. Though her face was still pale, it wasn’t as scary as just now. She nodded softly, only to realize she was surrounded by many people, all looking at her. There was some curiosity in their gazes, some probing, but even more was the sympathy… She shrank back, hiding in Nurse Qiu’s arms.
Nurse Qiu didn’t pay attention to her mood. Soon after, a maidservant in a yellow dress came in, carrying a bowl of medicine in both hands. “Nurse, sixth princess’ medicine is here.”
Nurse Qiu took the large copper-rimmed enamel bowl from the tray, and gently helped Zhao Liuli up, propping her against the pillows. She scooped up a spoonful of medicine to feed her: “Your Highness, come, once you finish drinking this bowl of medicine you’ll feel better.”
Facing this both smelly and bitter medicine, Zhao Liuli, who had drunk it for 5-6 years, was more clear than anyone about its taste. She subconsciously got nauseous, and shook her head stubbornly: “I won’t drink. Bitter.”
After she said that, she tightly shut her mouth. No matter how Nurse Qiu coaxed her, she was not willing to open it.
This made Nurse Qiu very anxious, how could she not drink the medicine? This sickness had made her suffer so much a moment ago, precisely because she hadn’t drunk the medicine earlier. If she didn’t drink it now, she would most certainly have a problem later. What to do then? For so many years they had depended on this bowl of medicine to preserve the princess’ life. Now she didn’t want to take it, didn’t she care for her own life? Nurse Qiu thought of the heartache Empress Chen had gone through all these years, and couldn’t help but tear up.
“Your Highness, I’m begging you, drink the medicine… If you don’t, the Empress will be very worried when she hears of this…” She was patiently persuading her, wishing she could personally drink this bowl of medicine in Zhao Liuli’s stead.
Unfortunately, Zhao Liuli wasn’t listening to any of her words, shaking her head and saying “I won’t, I won’t drink.” Nurse Qiu brought the medicine to her mouth, but she smacked the spoon away, her eyes red: “I won’t drink it. Why don’t others have to drink medicine, but only I have to? Nurse, I want to be like the other girls… I also want to fly a kite and kick a shuttlecock. I don’t want to drink medicine daily… The medicine’s bitter…” The more she spoke, the harder she cried, until she ended up sobbing in Nurse Qiu’s arms.
Listening to her, Nurse Qiu was feeling extremely sorry for her, cursing that year’s murderer over and over in her mind. “Your Highness…”
The two of them were sorrowful, and the noble women nearby finally came to realize that this was Empress Chen’s most beloved princess Tianji. Harboring various thoughts, one by one they went forward to console.
One was saying that drinking the medicine would make her healthy, the other was asking the princess not to cry, but it was all useless. Zhao Liuli was still as sad as before and listened to nobody.
Just as the group of people was feeling helpless, they heard a clear voice resounding from outside: “One, two, three…”
Everyone’s attention was drawn by this voice as they looked outside.
They saw a young girl in a cherry-colored light dress kicking a shuttlecock under the weeping willow, while another girl was helping her count. The noble women knit their eyebrows, thinking the two children weren’t sensible. Didn’t they see the princess crying so sadly just now? They didn’t come to comfort, but went to play instead, really bad-mannered.
But gradually, their attention was captured by the girl kicking the shuttlecock. Her body was as lithe as a swallow, showing one trick after another. Raising her foot to kick, the red embroidered shoes steadily received the shuttlecock in the air. After kicking it again, she waited for its fall and her left foot reached out, as she jumped to catch the shuttlecock in another kind of pose… Swallow, double swallow, mandarin duck turn, double mandarin duck turn (*techniques), she was nimble and graceful as she moved, delighting the spectators and making them clap in praise. Unknowing, everyone’s eyes were attracted by her as they stopped what they were doing to watch. Even princess Tianji who was breathless from crying, was unable to take her eyes off of her, looking on with admiration.
Wei Luo’s hair was styled in two buns, each held by a red silk ribbon. The ribbons were decorated with four small gilded bells respectively. Each time she kicked, the bells jingled along.
Accompanied by the sound, Wei Luo kicked a full hundred times before she stopped. Her legs were aching as she hadn’t played this for quite a while and wasn’t able to keep it up. During her previous life in the small farmhouse, she would kick the shuttlecock together with the neighbor’s little girl whenever she wasn’t busy. She was better at it than anyone, she could kick more than 300 times.
At that time, she had definitely never expected that she would use this skill to amuse a seven year old little girl one day.
She picked up the shuttlecock and walked inside. As she approached the glazed couch, she looked at Zhao Liuli with a smile: “Sixth princess, did I kick well just now?”
Zhao Liuli was in a daze, but quickly composing herself, she looked at her respectfully and nodded like a chicken pecking rice: “Yes!”
More than just well, she was simply too good! She hadn’t seen anyone play better than her.
Wei Luo grinned and asked in a soft milky voice: “Do you want to learn?”
Zhao Liuli nodded her head even harder, suddenly feeling much closer to her: “Want!” Saying that, she paused, then asked uncertainly: “Can you teach me?”
“Sure I can.” Wei Luo’s smiling face was adorable. Having played too much a moment ago, the tip of her nose shone with a thin layer of sweat. Her glossy face was radiant under the sunlight, as if sculpted out of crystal. After she answered, she saw that Zhao Liuli was feeling happy from this topic, and went on saying: “But you need a healthy body to kick the shuttlecock, otherwise it’s easy to get hurt. If you want to learn, get better first. I’ll teach you then.”
She didn’t know why she was doing this. Maybe after seeing her cry so pitifully, she felt a little sympathetic.
Zhao Liuli’s eyes lit up as she grabbed her sleeve to ask: “If I get better, you can teach me all those tricks?”
Wei Luo tilted her head, looking at her, “Of course.” Saying that, she blinked her eyes and pointed at the medicine on top of the coated with gold sandalwood tea table, “But you have to drink the medicine first.”
Zhao Liuli was sincerely convinced by her, and taking her at her word, rushed to say: “I’ll drink, I’ll drink. Don’t forget your promise.”
Supporting her cheek in her hand, Wei Luo laughed softly, but didn’t speak.
She would certainly not renege on a promise, because it was unlikely for Zhao Liuli’s body to recuperate. In her previous life, princess Tianji had been bedridden with a lingering disease for several years. Her body had been weak, and she ultimately couldn’t live over 16. She had perished at 16, making Wei Luo think of herself. They were equally pitiful, unable to live till an old age. That’s why Wei Luo decided to help her. If she properly took her medicine this time, would she be able to live for a few more years?
Nurse Qiu was crying tears of joy nearby, having a whole new level of respect for Wei Luo. She was so grateful, she didn’t know what to do. “The medicine got cold. This servant will make someone go and heat it up. Princess, please wait a moment.”
Zhao Liuli agreed, patiently waiting for the palace maids to return with the warm medicine. She didn’t need Nurse Qiu to feed her. Holding up the bowl, she obediently gulped it down sip by sip.
At long last, things returned to normal in Wild Goose house. Everyone’s gazes fell on the little girl next to the couch, their expressions varying. Seemingly unaware, Wei Luo was about to go upstairs to look for fourth aunt, when she noticed Madam Qin rushing down the stairs, looking worried.
Wei Luo brought her to a stop, calling out to her: “Fourth aunt!”
Madam Qin turned her head to look, and seeing it was her, hurriedly stepped forward to hug her. Without enough time to ask her where she’d gone, she was urgently speaking while making her way out: “Ah Luo, come with me quickly. Just now, someone told me that Changhong had a conflict with Prince Ruyang’s successor and was pushed into the lake by him…”
Wei Luo’s smiling expression froze, her small face clouding over immediately.
With Changhong’s temper, how would he have a conflict with anyone? Unless the other party intended to seek trouble.
She had an impression of Prince Ruyang’s son Li Song, since he was largely responsible for Changhong’s misfortune in her past life, going so far as to conspire together with Wei Zheng and her mother.
Her eyes grew cold. Last time Li Song had appeared in this exact manner. Why did they argue? He actually dared to push Changhong in the water. If Changhong got hurt, she wanted Li Song to die a hundred times over.
Wei Luo was holding onto Madam Qin’s neck, her pink lips pursed in a line, her expression dark and cold. Raising her head, she unexpectedly met someone’s line of sight.
At the lake shore opposite the building, Zhao Jie was standing under the same willow tree, where she had kicked the shuttlecock earlier. His lips were held up in a smile as he gave her a deep look.
Madam Qin hugged her tighter and walked faster, leaving him far behind. He stood there for a moment, then slowly started strolling after them.
Notes: Been nice knowing you, Li Song.
Good luck remembering all those names, guys. If you’ve noticed, I’ve decided to help you out by putting the significant ones appearing in the chapter right at the top. The rest is up to your memorization strength~