Chapter 11.1: Inner Palace

After everyone left, a young girl in a palace maid uniform appeared from behind the pillar. Her face was round and fair. She stomped her foot unhappily.

“Damn it. No wonder he is Chang’an’s number one hedonist. He even knows about Lady Lu’s birthmark on her lower back. What a pervert. How can I marry someone like him?”

This girl was the daughter-in-law that Sheng Xiaojing had wanted, Princess Xinnan. Although Princess Xinnan was not Empress Zhangsun’s biological daughter, Empress Zhangsun was the one that raised her and the Crown Prince and Prince Han doted on her heavily.

She had disguised herself and blended in with the Crown Prince’s palace maids just to get a glimpse of Sheng Chumu. Although her Imperial Father did not have a good impression of Sheng Chumu, he had yet to turn down Sheng Xiaojing’s offer out of respect for Sheng Xiaojing’s reputation.

Princess Xinnan was afraid of the unlikely possibility that she would have to marry Sheng Chumu. However, she was a reasonable person and wanted to at least see how he was like before she rejected him. Now that she had seen him, she was certain he was not a good man.

“Eh? Everyone left?” Sheng Chuling entered and saw Princess Xinnan. He sat on top of a table. “Pour me a cup of tea.”

Princess Xinnan looked around her before pointing at herself in bewilderment. “You want me to pour you tea?”

Sheng Chuling pointed at himself. “Then do you want me to pour my tea myself?”

Princess Xinnan momentarily forgot that she was wearing a palace maid’s uniform as she poured him tea begrudgingly. However, she used too much force to place the tea on the table, and the tea splashed all over.

“You…” Sheng Chuling decided to do it himself. “I know how difficult your lives are, so I shall not argue with you.”

“How do you know that our lives are difficult?” Princess Xinnan found it strange to hear this coming from a man. She did not know that Sheng Chuling had just heard this from Fu Rou.

“Why wouldn’t I know? You all have to train to maintain your posture. Your body has to be straight, your neck has to be aligned. It sounds terrible.” Sheng Chuling was already boasting his knowledge even as he just learned it. All of a sudden, he stared at Princess Xinnan. “You are quite pretty. Are you new? I don’t think I have ever seen you before.”

Princess Xinnan hesitated. “I just came today. My name is Qing…Qing’er. Who are you?”

“Consort Han is my elder sister. I am Sheng Chuling.”

“Oh, so you are Sheng Chumu’s younger brother, Sheng Chuling.” Their names, Chumoliangjian [1], were famous in Chang’an.

“You have no respect for the rules. Call me Lord Ling.” So much air for a young girl.

“I am a servant from the Han Mansion, not your Sheng Residence. You have no right to reprimand me.” Princess Xinnan argued back.

“Aiyo, you are quite daring aren’t you? I will kiss you if you dare to argue back.” Sheng Chuling threatened her.

“You dare!” Princess Xinnan was not easily frightened.

“Why wouldn’t I dare? If I say I will kiss you, I will.” Sheng Chuling hopped off the table and grabbed onto Xinnan, quickly pecking her on the lips. 

Princess Xinnan lost her composure and pushed Sheng Chuling away. Sheng Chuling lost his balance as he fell and hit his head on the doorstep, passing out immediately.

Princess Xinnan put her finger under his nose anxiously to check whether he was still alive. When she realised that he was still breathing, she was relieved. This brat could not blame her. How dare he order her around and even stole her first kiss! She looked into the distance, glancing at Duke Lu. He looked especially upright and proper. How could his sons be so inappropriate?

At this moment, Princess Xinnan stuck out her tongue at the unconscious Sheng Chuling. “You better not appear in front of me ever again!”

 

At the performance stage in Pear Garden, the show on Zhao Zilong’s seven charges into Changbanpo was being performed. The fighting scene was very exciting.

“Prince Han, this performance troupe of yours is quite talented.” The Crown Prince complimented.

“Consort Han loves watching exciting plays like this. I specially spend money in order to hire those with excellent martial arts performance skills to stay in my performance troupe.” Prince Han clearly pampered his wife.

Lu Yunji was still furious about the earlier incident. “It is just a play. After watching too many times, it becomes dull, unlike the battlefield where blood is shed for loyalty and honour.”

“General Lu fought for the country and has huge achievements. That is why the Emperor has conferred the title of Duke Chen on General Lu. The Emperor is wise and has always been fair with his rewards and punishments. For his ministers that deserve to be rewarded, he has already rewarded them appropriately. As his subjects, we cannot be greedy. Am I right, Duke Chen?” Prince Han’s words were filled with intention.

Lu Yunji realised that the Crown Prince was also looking at him and could only hold it in. “Yes, Prince Han…you are right.”

At this moment, an exciting battle scene occurred on stage, dazzling the audience. The person acting as Zhao Zilong stole Cao Cao’s horses and suddenly turned around and revealed his face. He was Chen Ji.

The Crown Prince immediately noticed. “What is the name of the person acting as Zhao Zilong?”

“His name is Chen Ji.” 

“Good. Call him over. I want to reward him.”

Soon, Chen Ji came over. Bowing deeply, he said, “Greetings, Your Highness.”

“Chen Ji, this time I will reward you properly.” The Crown Prince retrieved his jade pendant and gave it to Chen Ji. 

Chen Ji received the jade pendant and looked at the Crown Prince. “Thank you, Your Highness.”

At this moment, servants came in to report that the Empress had arrived. Everyone rushed back to the main hall.

In front of the Peony Screen, an elegant woman stood. She had a golden phoenix hairpin in her hair, and a few silver strands framed her skinny face.

“Greetings, Imperial Mother.” The Crown Prince and Prince Han came up to greet her. The other people bowed along with them.

Empress Zhangsun turned around. Her smile was warm yet her eyes looked slightly tired. “Don’t stand on courtesy.”

Empress Zhangsun had come to the Han Mansion as she was concerned about who her son had chosen. When Consort Han told her that the Crown Prince had given the peony to Sun Tan’s daughter, she was delighted. Sun Tan was a courageous and straightforward advisor that was not afraid to express his opinions. She did not forget to console Lu Yunji and expressed that she would help his daughter to find other suitable candidates. She then turned around to look at the Peony Screen once more.

Lu Yunji was feeling hatred towards the Han Mansion and immediately made use of the opportunity. “I remember that Your Majesty’s Lizheng Palace also has a screen embroidered with a peony. This screen is, however, much more exquisite.”

Empress Zhangsun replied nonchalantly, “There are quite a few beautiful things in the Han Mansion.”

Consort Han was startled. “Mother, I know that you have always loved the peony flower. For your birthday next month, I instructed someone to embroider a peony on a screen as your birthday gift. This screen was supposed to be sent to the palace next month. Since you like it, I will get someone to deliver it to Lizheng Palace right away.”

“Consort Han has always been filial.” Empress Zhangsun was curious about something else. “I wonder who is so talented as to embroider such a beautiful piece?”

“It is a seamstress from my Han Mansion. Her name is Fu Rou.” Consort Han did not dare to lie to the Empress. 

Empress Zhangsun commented, “With such skills, she must be smart. Call her here, I would like to meet her.”

Fu Rou was summoned. She was feeling nervous but her face remained calm. “Greetings, Your Majesty. My name is Fu Rou.”

“Are you the one that embroidered this peony screen?” The Empress thought that this girl looked graceful and generous. 

“Yes.”

“I have seen numerous peony embroideries but this peony screen is very unique. It showcases the beauty of the peony and looks extremely life-like. What secret technique did you use?”

“Your Majesty. In order to show the beauty of the peony, the colour of the flower petals have to look natural. When others embroider the flower, they usually use a single colour. However, I change the colour of my thread to suit the colour of the petals. I dyed the threads before using them to embroider the petal. To make it look life-like, it is necessary to make it slightly bumpy as if it were real. On top of interleaving the stitches as done in the Sun embroidery method, the pattern has to follow along the actual veins of the leaves. I used different techniques like the slanting and looping stitch.”

Empress Zhangsun made an oh sound. “You know how to dye threads?”

Fu Rou replied, “My family used to own a dye workshop and an embroidery house. I learn a bit from there.”

Lu Yunji started to find Fu Rou familiar. He suddenly remembered seeing Sheng Chumu pulling this girl’s hand and heading to the back of the mansion when he entered the Han Mansion earlier. 

“Congratulations, Your Majesty.” Since Sheng Chumu ruined his plans, Lu Yunji wanted to get his revenge. “His Majesty has always acknowledged talented young people and looked to groom them. I am sure Your Majesty feels the same way. How can you give up such a talented young woman like her?”

“Duke Chen, I agree with your rationale. Fu Rou’s family has an exquisite technique and can serve the Royal Family. The Seamstress Department currently has a position. It will be considered a good use of talent if she could manage the dyeing of fabric and embroidery in the palace.” 

The more she looked at the peony screen, the more Empress Zhangsun liked it.

Consort Han was about to speak up but caught sight of Prince Han giving her a look to remain quiet. 

As Lu Yunji saw Fu Rou’s face pale, he sniggered, “Fu Rou, shouldn’t you hurry and thank Her Majesty?” 

Fu Rou had no choice and kneeled down. Ever since she had arrived at Chang’an, it was as if she no longer had control of her fate. 

 

Sheng Chumu came to find Fu Rou as soon as he heard the news. Sheng Chumu saw her standing by her window, pointing at the distance between the Altair and Vega star.

Walking up to her, he sighed. “I wanted to ask Her Majesty to let you go but Elder Sister felt that this is not the right time and bringing it up will only implicate your family and mine.” He looked at the stars alongside Fu Rou. “Why does Her Majesty want to split the Cowherd and the Weaving Maid with a silver river?”

“Maybe it is to test them. True love will go through numerous challenges. Just like the Cowherd and the Weaving Maid. Just like Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai.”

“If we were butterfly lovers, that would still be okay. We can still fly across the ocean and eat pollen every day. We can also give birth to a few hairy caterpillars.”

Fu Rou snorted out a laugh. “Even at this time, you are not serious.”

Sheng Chumu grabbed onto Fu Rou’s hand. “How else will we survive if we do not find joy in suffering? When will you enter the palace?”

“According to the Empress’ decree, I will head home tomorrow to bid farewell to my parents before entering the palace the following morning.” Fu Rou had already calmed down. “I believe that we can get through this.”

Sheng Chumu nodded sharply. “But once you enter the palace, we won’t know when you will be able to come out again. I am not leaving tonight.”

Fu Rou’s eyes widened as her cheeks flushed red. 

Sheng Chumu waved his hands. “Don’t worry, although I am young and vigorous, I treat you with utmost respect.” Sheng Chumu knew that Fu Rou was not a frivolous lady and he had to cherish her and wait until they get married.

Fu Rou thought of how after tonight, they wouldn’t know when they would be able to meet again and her heart softened. “Okay. You sleep on your pillow and I will sleep on mine. You can’t move close to me.”

Sheng Chumu raised his hand into the air. “I swear.” 

Hence, the two of them each occupied one corner of the bed, with their backs against the wall. They hugged their knees to their chests as they sat.

After a while, Sheng Chumu said, “Rou’er, can I…”

Fu Rou did not wait for him to complete his sentence. “No.”

After a while more, Sheng Chumu persisted. “Even a tigress would let me touch her fur.”

Fu Rou remained stubborn. “You are the one that said you would treat me with utmost respect – Ah!” Sheng Chumu moved like a black panther, pushing Fu Rou down onto the bed and kissing her.

The beauty of the moon reflects how touching their emotions were. With that single kiss, it was like a pledge of eternal love. They sealed their commitment to each other for the rest of their lives.

After a while, he slowly released her lips and the tip of his nose brushed the side of her cheek. 

Sheng Chumu's gaze was aggressive, like a starving panther seeking permission from his partner. However, Fu Rou, whose ears had reddened along with her face, quickly became clear-headed as she pushed Sheng Chumu away. Sheng Chumu scratched his head and retreated to another corner, hugging his knees once again. He was truly going to respect her.

Yet, Fu Rou was displeased. “You disrespected me.”

“You are right, I was too disrespectful. I should have kissed you harder, longer and more intensely.” If he knew she was going to act this way, he should have continued kissing her and never let go.

“Shut up.” How could he say something like this?

“Fine. I will shut up.” Sheng Chumu smacked his lips as he pondered on the aftertaste. “My mouth is filled with fragrance. This can last me three days.”

“Sheng Chumu, you are despicable.” How could he continue and say even more intense things?

“After you enter the palace, I will spend my lonely days thinking back on this memory. I will count on this memory to slowly get me through the torture. I will persevere until the rain clears and the day is bright.” Sheng Chumu slowly began to undo his belt.

“Sheng Chumu, what are you doing?” She covered her eyes in fright as even her neck reddened.

He held one side of the belt and threw the other side to her. She released her hand and grabbed onto one side of the belt. She then heard him say the most moving words on earth -- 

“This is our silver river.”


1. original names used in the novel

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Coca's Thoughts

lol are any of you guys impressed by the shameless male lead? Hahahaha!