Chapter 11.2: Inner Palace

It was snowing heavily as Fu Rou entered the Royal Palace. In front of her, the Royal Palace looked like paradise. Behind her, Sheng Chumu sent her off with heavy emotions. Her footsteps were light and even the loud slamming of the palace door did not bring out the timid side in her.

She truly believed that she would soon leave these gates. When that time comes, he would still be there.

Because she started off on a good note, Fu Rou was able to adapt quickly. She thought that the Seamstress Department was where palace ladies who knew how to embroider and dye went. She was ready to start right from the bottom. It was only after she understood that she realised she has not seen much of the world.

The Royal Palace has six offices, each containing four departments, forming a total of twenty-four departments. She was in one of the departments. The Seamstress Department was made up of females. Any seamstress from rank six and above could dispatch people from their department. A Head Seamstress was also in charge of all the dyeing and embroidery in the palace and their position was not low. They even had a personal female servant to serve them. It was even better than the Han Mansion. Her responsibilities were a lot more now. She even had to go to the Rites Office to learn the palace’s etiquette and was only considered an official palace worker after she passed the examination. On her first lesson, she was late because she had stayed up all night going through the ledger. She was then reprimanded severely by a rites official, Official Situ. She then studied and practiced with other newly-entered palace ladies for the entire day. Her hands and legs were aching by the end of the day. 

However, Fu Rou gained something from this. From the new palace ladies, she found out a lot of gossip regarding Official Situ. Although Official Situ was unreasonable, Empress Zhangsun regarded her highly. Official Situ had accompanied the Crown Prince when he was young and she had influence with the Crown Prince. Fu Rou thought back on the scolding that she had received and understood that Official Situ was merely doing her job. Her opinion on Official Situ changed as she decided to put in more effort into learning etiquette.

Fu Rou only returned when the sky was dark. She was about to rest when Lady Li handed a tray containing embroideries over to her.

A Lady’s position is only second to a Head Seamstress. Ever since the previous Head Seamstress retired, Lady Li had always managed the department. When Fu Rou came, she brought the other palace ladies to come and greet her. She handled everything that was needed for the transition and even took the initiative to have over the ledger. Fu Rou felt relieved.

Lady Li presented the tray to her and took two steps backward. Her movements were delicate and her beauty was above average amongst regular palace ladies. If she was not wearing the standard uniform that female officials had to wear, anyone who paid a little attention to her would realise that she was a unique beauty.

“Head Seamstress, this is the embroidery for Concubine Yan. According to the rules, you have to be the one to personally deliver it.” She was beautiful and her voice was pleasing.

Concubine Yan was an imperial consort second only to the Empress. She gave birth to Prince Zhou and received much love from the Emperor. There could not be any delays when dealing with someone of her rank. Fu Rou did not think more as she immediately headed to Concubine Yan’s palace. It was only when she reached the palace that she felt something was off. The internal attendant blamed her for delivering it so late in the day, when the sun had already set. He mentioned that she should have delivered it in the morning. 

Fu Rou was stunned as Lady Li had never mentioned this and only said that this could not be delayed. She immediately had her guard up. Fu Rou’s suspicion arose and looked at the tray that was covered with a cloth. As the attendant was leading the way, she took the chance to flip open the tray. Although the embroidery was beautiful and perfect on the top, the bottom was extremely torn. It was as if someone had intentionally torn it.

Fu Rou was shocked, but it was too late for regrets. It took less than ten steps to get from the main entrance to the main hall. When she appeared in front of Concubine Yan, she did not say a single word. Dropping to her knees, Fu Rou revealed the tray to her and exposed the torn embroidery.

“I made a mistake on my first day here. I failed to check the embroidery when it was handed over to me before rushing over to deliver it to Your Highness. When I found out that there was a mistake, it was already too late. I am here to admit my mistake and to beg Your Highness to give me another chance. By tomorrow morning, I will deliver the embroidery that you wanted.” The only thing she could do now was to tell the truth and admit her mistake.

“You are very honest.” Concubine Yan could tell that there was something unusual about the defect. “Lift up your head.”

Fu Rou looked up to face the lady that was sitting on the chair. 

If Empress Zhangsun was considered dignified and elegant, Concubine Yan would then be beautiful and alluring. Her son was already an adult and she was obviously old in terms of age, however, there was not a single sign of her age from her appearance. She was stunning and looked as if she had never experienced hardship and had been sheltered all her life. Therefore, she could maintain her youthful and pure beauty.

“The truth is better than lying.” 

“In the Royal Palace, there aren’t many that speak the truth.” Concubine Yan smiled before her tone changed. “You mentioned that this embroidery was handed to you by someone else. Who is this person?”

“I was the one that failed to check when I received this defective good. It is my fault and I should be the one that is punished.” Fu Rou would solve her own problem.

“In the Royal Palace, this place is full of schemes and people trying to frame each other. Your refreshing answers are a good thing. For today’s matter, I will temporarily not hold it against you. As for the department that you are managing, it seems like it is time to clean up the smoke.” Concubine Yan wanted to see Fu Rou’s capabilities. “Are you the one that sewed the peony screen that the Empress recently loves?” Concubine Yan asked indifferently.

“Yes.” Fu Rou did not think deeply before answering.

“I like water lilies. Sew one with similar dimensions for me.” Whether she is stupid or smart, this test would show. 

 

The next morning, Lady Li brought her subordinate, Attendant Yuan, as she walked merrily into the Seamstress Office. She did not expect to see Fu Rou sitting calmly studying the ledger.

Although Concubine Yan was an easy-going person and treated everyone kindly despite her high rank, it did not mean that she did not have a temper. Moreover, the Seamstress Department had repeatedly delayed producing the embroidery that she wanted. Even if she was a goddess, she would have a limit. Lady Li did not expect her to let Fu Rou go. 

A competitive look entered Lady Li's eyes.

“Lady Li, you missed out one of the account books when you handed them over to me.” Fu Rou did not bring up the previous day’s events. Lady Li froze.

“There should be another account book recording the money, cloth and threads used in this department.” Fu Rou pointed out.

Lady Li finally reacted. “There are many different kinds of material used here and the numbers are complicated. Over the years, we have also been stockpiling the excess. The accounts are extremely complex. I am afraid you will not be able to understand it. Why don’t we follow the same rules that the previous Head Lady Wen set? I will record a list with Attendant Yuan. At the end of the month, I will report the summarized list to you.”

“Speaking of rules, I still have to go to the Office of Rites tomorrow to learn palace etiquette. I might as well ask Official Situ to advise me on when the rule stating that the Head Seamstress is not allowed to see the accounts and transactions of her own department was set. Once I understand, I will follow it strictly.” Rules are good. Rules are fair.

“This…” Lady Li did not dare to give anymore excuses. “Head Seamstress Fu, of course you can see the accounts. In the next two days, I will find it and hand it over to you.”

Fu Rou kept it short. “I want it tomorrow morning.”

Lady Li was reluctant. “Understood.”

Not only did Fu Rou want the ledger, she also wanted to check all the records. She found out that the Seamstress Department often procrastinated. She intended to make use of three rotational shifts to rush out the embroidery pieces that were already delayed and get rid of this bad habit. Expectedly, her subordinates were not pleased and wanted Fu Rou to speak to Lady Li before doing so.

Fu Rou naturally did not discuss this with Lady Li but instead called Lady Li’s subordinate, Attendant Yuan. On the surface, she called Attendant Yuan to go through the accounts with her. In actuality, Fu Rou wanted to find out the truth. “The numbers don’t match. The amount of gold sheets used for embroidery is different from the amount of gold sheets stated.” Fu Rou flipped the ledger.

“The accounts are very complicated. Head Seamstress Fu, could it be that you missed out something? It definitely won’t be less.” Attendant Yuan was surprised. She was similar to Lady Li and thought that Fu Rou only knew how to embroider and would not be able to detect any foul play.

Fu Rou replied with an oh sound as she instructed Shu’er to bring an abacus over. Using the abacus, she did the calculations in front of Attendant Yuan. 

“From the start of the year until the last record, there are five less bundles of gold sheets, twelve missing bundles of gold curls, two pairs of first grade brocades and…”

Attendant Yuan kneeled on the ground as her face was anxious. “Head Seamstress Fu, there are many people in the Seamstress Department. You cannot blame me for the missing items in the account book.”

Fu Rou smiled. “You are saying this but the words are written by you. Could it be my fault then?”

“This…Lady Li ordered me to do it.” When trouble comes, even couples separate. Why would she care about someone else when she herself was in danger?

“Are you trying to put the blame on your superior after you made a mistake?” Fu Rou was determined to take her down.

“No, no! I am really not trying to push the blame. The items that are missing on the account book were really taken by Lady Li.” Attendant Yuan’s mouth loosened. “A portion of it was given to the attendants and palace maids in the Seamstress Department in order to win them over. The rest was used by Lady Li to make clothes for herself. All the clothes she made are in her trunk. Head Seamstress Fu, if you bring someone to check, you will definitely find it. It is evidence that Lady Li stole the Ministry of Work’s materials.”

“Every year, everyone in the Ministry of Works will have clothes given to them. Why would Lady Li want to risk getting caught to make other clothes for herself?” Fu Rou could not understand.

“Head Seamstress Fu may not know but Lady Li has always wished to gain the Emperor’s favour and propel her status. That is why she has been preparing luxurious clothes for herself in secret. She wants to find an opportunity to seduce the Emperor. She is very ambitious.” Attendant Yuan spilled everything.

Fu Rou smiled. Her intuition was correct. It would be easier to handle if Lady Li was not in the Seamstress Department. After all, one wanted to reach for the skies while the other wanted to stay on the ground. They should not clash to begin with.

Previous Chapter Next Chapter