Gao Danyang: Zhao Jie’s maternal cousin
Gao Qingyang: Danyang’s younger sister, around Wei Luo’s age
Zhao Liuli / Princess Tianji: Zhao Jie’s younger sister, around Wei Luo’s age
Nurse Qiu: serves Empress Chen
Li Zhiliang / Prince Ruyang: a general who fought alongside the emperor
Li Song: Li Zhiliang’s son, bullied Changhong (Wei Luo’s brother)
Zhu Geng: Zhao Jie’s bodyguard
Wei Kun: Wei Luo’s father, 5th son of Duke Ying
These days Empress Chen had been troubled over this matter, but hadn’t found a suitable candidate yet. At first, she’d meant to let Gao Qingyang be Zhao Liuli’s study partner. The two of them were of similar age, and could play together as well. However, Gao Qingyang was very arrogant and willful, and also somewhat reckless. Empress Chen grew afraid that she would accidentally injure Zhao Liuli, thus she couldn’t come to a quick decision.
Now, as she listened to Nurse Qiu’s words, she actually thought Wei Luo was an appropriate candidate. The empress hesitated for a moment, then slowly asked Zhao Jie: “What do you think about the fourth miss of Duke Ying’s house?”
Zhao Jie’s lips curled enigmatically as he leaned back on the rosewood chair, both hands folded in front of him, his posture relaxed: “Your son thinks she’s smart, witty, cute and sensible. A very suitable candidate.”
This was a very high evaluation. Empress Chen threw an amazed glance at him, getting more and more curious about this fourth young lady. She hadn’t been able to catch a glimpse of Wei Luo previously, feeling it was quite a pity now. She ought to call her over and see her once. Zhao Jie’s judgment was so fastidious. The people he acknowledged were all above average. And now he gave such a high evaluation to a young lady. Just how outstanding was she? Making Liuli and Zhao Jie both sing her praises.
Empress Chen thought it over, then nodded and said: “Since she could make Liuli take her medicine obediently, letting her enter the palace as a study companion is not unreasonable.”
Zhao Jie didn’t reply, but used his hand to gently stroke over a spot on his right wrist back and forth. The wound there was all healed up, leaving behind uneven tooth marks. Recently, whenever he had something to think about, he would do this action involuntarily. Feeling the marks, he recalled the time he first met Wei Luo, the scene of her opening her small mouth and viciously biting him.
He laughed silently. Employing this sort of method to ask him for help, she was the first one ever.
He seemed to care too much for a little girl. While it really wasn’t a good thing, he nevertheless entertained his curiosity instead of ignoring it. In any case, to him she was only a crafty and amusing little girl with many faces. She was unlikely to cause him any trouble. He even wanted to support her from behind the scene and help her raise hell. He had heard from Zhu Geng that her circumstances in Duke Ying’s residence weren’t too favorable. The stepmother was vicious, the father was weak, the several elders above them weren’t dependable. She had to survive in that kind of environment, while she also wanted to protect her brother. It was a little difficult to deal with all that at her age.
Zhao Jie smirked. He actually didn’t mind acting as her benefactor, but the young lady didn’t seem to appreciate his intention.
Today he’d asked her whether she wanted to bully back. He had initially been thinking of assisting her, but she’d looked at him with a face full of suspicion, clearly showing she didn’t trust him. She would rather rely on herself than ask him for help. Why was that? Was he really so untrustworthy? Zhao Jie was ruminating distractedly while touching his wrist.
Empress Chen spoke a few more words in addition, but Zhao Jie was too absorbed in his thoughts, so she didn’t know whether he’d heard anything.
“Chang Sheng.” The empress helplessly called out to him.
Zhao Jie paused, then looked up to ask: “What did mother empress say?”
Realizing at once that he hadn’t been listening properly, the empress had to repeat herself: “Danyang looked for me earlier to complain. She said you were too careless toward her…”
His face remained expressionless. He’d already expected that Gao Danyang would come and complain to the empress. As for why he was said to be careless, he didn’t need to think too hard to know the reason. It was nothing else but his wish to give away her cat that made her unhappy, so she’d rushed over here to protest, hoping that the empress would speak to him. He had gotten sick of dealing with such things for the past two years, so he’d long developed a selective listening ability.
Empress Chen intended to play matchmaker to him and Gao Danyang. She would daily mention the girl’s name in front of him. Gao Danyang was his maternal cousin, and the empress didn’t mind changing from an aunt to a mother-in-law. And as the two of them were quickly growing into adults, the sooner this matter was settled, the sooner she would feel relieved. However, he was already bored of hearing this. If he wasn’t interested in a person, forcing them on him would only make him lose interest even more.
After a while, he interrupted Empress Chen’s words and stood up saying: “There are some matters that need my attention at my residence. If mother empress is done speaking, I’ll go back first.”
Empress Chen had no other choice but to stop. Knowing he didn’t like listening to these things, she grudgingly waved him away, “Go then, go. As for these so-called matters of yours, I can see they’re just an excuse.”
Zhao Jie smiled, not denying her statement. After he bid her goodbye, he stepped out of Zhaoyang hall.
He didn’t see Gao Danyang as a woman, simply regarding her as an ordinary cousin. If they forced him to marry her, it would only cause harm to both parties. Moreover, he currently had no plans of marrying. It was too soon to think of that. Rather than romance, he had more important issues.
Between love and power, some people would naturally prefer the latter.
Once Zhao Jie left, Empress Chen sat down again and asked Nurse Qiu about Wei Luo.
After all, it concerned the study partner of her own daughter. She couldn’t be careless, everything had to be thoroughly inspected.
Nurse Qiu thought about it, then spoke about today’s event of Wei Luo pushing Li Song into the water. She wasn’t present at the time, but she’d heard people talking about it. In order to even the score for her younger brother, the fourth miss of Duke Ying’s house had requested to push Prince Ruyang’s son into the water as well. After that, no one knew why, but Prince Ruyang’s son had nearly drowned, sinking to the bottom of the lake. Fortunately, he’d been saved quickly, so nothing big happened.
Empress Chen had a straightforward and resolute personality. Though spending so many years in the Emperor’s court had sharpened her edge, her innate character had remained the same. She laughed out loud as she listened, gaining a new impression of this fourth Miss. She hadn’t heard such an interesting story for a long time. “So she got what she wanted, but what about Prince Ruyang?”
She knew that Li Zhiliang loved his son the most. Even if he looked rough, he was ferociously protective.
Nurse Qiu also smiled and said as she tucked her hands in: “It goes without saying, he wasn’t willing to let her do it. However, his son himself had agreed, and Prince Ruyang hadn’t opposed to it either. Afterwards, there was His Highness Prince Jing to act as a witness. Even if he wanted to take it back, he wouldn’t be able to. I heard Prince Ruyang’s face was green at the time…”
Empress Chen took a handkerchief to wipe away the tears from the corners of her eyes. It had been ages since she’d last laughed like this. Back when Zhao Qin (*probably the emperor’s name) had gone to battle in Wurong, she was the deputy general, while Li Zhiliang was the vanguard. The two of them didn’t get along, often disagreeing with each other. At that time she had found Li Zhiliang very displeasing. If it wasn’t for Zhao Qin’s sake, she would have already dropped all civility with him. Now that she learned he had suffered defeat in a little girl’s hands, how could she not rejoice?
At this moment, even though she hadn’t yet met Wei Luo, she already had a favorable impression of her.
Empress Chen finally stopped laughing, then said to Nurse Qiu: “Go find Tutor Chang and tell him that Liuli will attend classes with a study partner. Ask him to prepare one more seat.” Thinking of something else, she added an instruction: “Go to Duke Ying’s place tomorrow and pass down this Empress’ Imperial decree. Tell them my wish is to let Duke Ying’s fourth Miss become Princess Tianji’s study partner.”
Nurse Qiu hurriedly wrote her words down. After waiting for Empress Chen to retire to her quarters, she immediately left Zhaoyang hall to carry out her orders.
After the Imperial decree reached Duke Ying’s house, Wei Kun was utterly shocked. The rest of the family also found this incredible.
The Empress had never even seen Wei Luo’s face. Why would she personally grant her entry to the palace as a study companion?
However, the facts stood before their eyes, so they had to believe it. When Nurse Qiu finished relaying the information, she returned to the palace. Before leaving, she requested that Wei Luo accompany Princess Tianji to class the next day. When the time came, the palace would arrange a special carriage for her.
Wei Kun sent off Nurse Qiu, then went to Wei Luo’s room to personally tell her what had happened. Smiling from ear to ear, he rubbed her head. “Did Ah Luo meet the Empress yesterday? What did you say to her?”
Wei Luo was confused herself. She had never met Empress Chen. She had only met Princess Tianji and had said a few words to her. Could it be that they wanted her to enter the palace as a study partner just because of this? Wasn’t that too reckless? Or did Princess Tianji ask the Empress to let Wei Luo enter the palace to teach her how to kick the shuttlecock? It wasn’t impossible. Judging by how much Empress Chen doted on Princess Tianji, it was absolutely possible she’d agree.
Duke Ying’s family didn’t have many connections to the Imperial household. There wasn’t an Imperial concubine originating from their clan, either. Thus, Wei Luo being able to gain entry to the palace as Princess Tianji’s study companion was actually setting down a precedent. Later that afternoon, Wei Luo went to Mrs. Han and told her about this matter. Mrs. Han would temporarily teach her some court etiquette, so she could avoid making mistakes later.
There were various customs in the palace and speaking to anyone required discretion. It couldn’t be taught in a short time. When she saw Wei Luo straining to listen, Mrs. Han pinched her cheek with a laugh, saying: “Enough. You’re young, you don’t need to study these many rules. Just remember to behave, don’t act willfully.”
Wei Luo nodded with some uncertainty.
The next day, Wei Luo changed into a brand new cherry colored brocade dress with peony patterns. Her hair was styled in two buns as usual. Wei Kun personally lifted her to sit in the Imperial carriage. An old Nurse was already sitting inside. The old Nurse put on a serious face and didn’t speak a word during their trip.
An ordinary child would have gotten scared in such a situation, but Wei Luo wasn’t a genuine six year old after all. Her soul was 15 years old. She felt a little curious, but not afraid. Mrs. Han told her what she’d have to do as a study companion. It was nothing more than attending classes together and playing with the princess. It was very simple. She had to attend classes at home anyway, it was just that the location had changed.
The carriage stopped at the entrance of the Imperial palace, and Wei Luo followed the Nurse to get down.
The inside of the Imperial palace was grand and luxurious. The great lake she had gone to yesterday was only a tiny sample. Furthermore, there were many areas she hadn’t yet seen. Since the Nurse didn’t speak, Wei Luo couldn’t help but ask: “Where are we going now?”
The Nurse wearing a silver colored dress finally opened her mouth: “The First study room.”*
The First study room was a place made especially for the little princes and princesses to attend classes. There was a stipulation within the palace – as long as they reached six years of age, they had to go to the First study room and listen to the tutor. Classes started early in the morning, but she was just arriving now. The others were surely already in the middle of a lecture… Wei Luo felt apprehensive at heart, but she couldn’t say anything. She understood that the Nurse had definitely received instructions from the Empress, so even if she said anything, it would be useless.
The two of them went past the palace gate and through a long corridor, and finally reached the outside of the First study room.
Even from afar, they could hear multiple voices reading out loud. The tutor read out a sentence, then the young princes and princesses sitting below neatly repeated after him. The Nurse had spoken to tutor Chang in advance, so she directly led Wei Luo to knock on the door, then pushed it open and entered inside. With the warm sunlight illuminating them from behind, they appeared in the gathered people’s view.
All noise suddenly came to a halt within the study room, as everyone’s sight fell on the little girl behind the Nurse.
The young girl’s appearance was beautiful, with cherry lips and white teeth, delicate and adorable. Not expecting to see so many people in the room, she stood in a daze, her large glistening eyes blinking repeatedly. She couldn’t recover her composure for quite a while.
The Nurse had already explained Wei Luo’s situation to tutor Chang, arranging for a seat next to Princess Tianji. The tutor was advanced in age and his mood wasn’t easy to fluctuate. He was actually very calm. After the Nurse left, he simply introduced Wei Luo, then made her sit down.
There was a new black lacquered desk with spiral carvings in gold, that was specially prepared for her. girlynovelsblog.wordpress.com
Zhao Liuli greeted her with a beaming smile, her eyes shining. “Ah Luo, I’m here.” Today she was wearing a green short coat with a floral pattern, matched with an embroidered yellow skirt. Compared to yesterday, she seemed more energetic.
That was certainly thanks to Wei Luo. As she knew that Wei Luo would come as her study partner today, she was very happy, so her complexion was also good.
The princes and princesses knew the children in their generation by face. They were just a little surprised when they saw Wei Luo come in, but after they learned she was Zhao Liuli’s study companion, their expressions returned to normal as they went on with the reading exercise. The oldest prince in the study room wasn’t more than 13. Everyone had a reading companion by their side, who were either some high official’s child, or came from an esteemed family. It was nothing unusual.
When Wei Luo sat down, she sensed someone’s angry gaze on her. Turning around to look, her eyes met with Li Song’s.
Wei Luo stared blankly. She hadn’t expected for him to also be here. Knitting her brows in a frown, she didn’t bother concealing the loathing in her eyes.
She only glanced at him, then turned back around to start reading from “The Analects of Confucius”, no longer paying any attention to him.
Li Song’s indignation rose further. He hadn’t even looked for her to take revenge, yet she was the one acting offended. He had been made fun of by her earlier, getting humiliated by sinking into the great lake, and even catching a cold later that night. He had never been so embarrassed before! It was all because of that stinky* girl. Seeing her again today, he naturally wouldn’t have a good expression. Glaring at the back of her head, he gave out a dark ‘humph’ as he couldn’t find an outlet for his anger.
Classes ended late in the afternoon. After that, the princesses could return home, while the princes had to go for military lessons, where they currently practiced archery.
Today was Wei Luo’s first time accompanying Zhao Liuli to class, and she couldn’t go back home yet. She had to visit the Zhaoyang hall in Qingxi palace and meet with Empress Chen first, before she would be allowed to leave.
Zhao Liuli pulled her along excitedly as they headed out, chattering while they walked, “Mother Empress wants to meet you very much. This morning she said that I must bring you to her…”
Wei Luo tilted her head. Under the sunlight, her small face appeared even fairer, and with her eyes curved in a smile, she looked sweet and lovely.
Yesterday she had made the same expression; smiling as she pushed him in the water, then watching on emotionless while he was sinking. Staring at her back, Li Song pursed his lips, then suddenly picked up a bow. He took an arrow from the golden quiver, drew the bow and nocked the arrow, then aimed at Wei Luo’s back and pulled the bowstring fully.
When he let go, the arrow left the string, flying towards Wei Luo’s back…
By the time Zhao Liuli noticed, it was too late. Her eyes widened in shock and she called out, “Ah Luo!”
As Wei Luo turned her head, the arrow whizzed right past, almost grazing her face, then it struck the red lacquered pillar behind her.
(From the author’s notes)
When Ah Luo is six years old.
Romance or power, which is more important?
Zhao Jie (clear-cut and unwavering): Power.
When Ah Luo is 16 years old.
Romance or power, which is more important?
Zhao Jie (without the slightest hesitation): Romance.
Notes: Not edited yet. Some awkward phrasing is possible.
*First study room: ShangShuFang, I picked a random translation for ease of reading.
*Stinky girl: or smelly girl, means a terrible girl. But I found stinky to be a good childish choice of words.
BTW, check out this relational chart, made by Sithkazar. You can also find it on the Index page.
Li Song is so dead…