Chapter 12.1: Lotus

When Lady Li entered her room, she was startled to see Fu Rou waiting for her. The lid to her clothes trunk was wide open. Numerous sets of beautiful gowns, glimmered under the candlelight blinding her.

Lady Li’s face paled. “Head Seamstress Fu, what a good strategy. I had looked down on you since you were new. However, schemes and tricks are common in the Royal Palace. Although I have lost, I will not beg you for forgiveness. You can dream on.”

Fu Rou lightly caressed one of the gowns next to her. “Your skills are pretty good. But when will you ever have the chance to wear them? As someone from the Ministry of Works, we have a fixed uniform. Even if you made more for yourself, wearing them will be going against the rule. What a waste of effort. Moreover, the harem is filled with ladies in elaborate gowns, what have the Emperor not seen before? Displaying your own originality might be the only way to move the Emperor. Lady Li, you have chosen wrongly.”

Lady Li frowned. She could not sense any mockery from Fu Rou’s tone. It seemed as if Fu Rou was trying to tell her to use a different approach. What was the meaning of this?

Fu Rou carried on. “Although embroidery is a small skill, it cannot be overlooked. Let’s take the colour gold as an example. Initially, threads were dyed gold to brighten up embroideries. Soon, people thought that the colour was not bright enough and threads made out of gold were introduced. After that, gold sheets and gold curls started to come up. From two different shades of gold to four different shades of gold. They were combined to form colourful sheets. This is how the golden brocades eventually became stunning.”

Lady Li had second thoughts. “Head Seamstress Fu, your knowledge in embroidery far surpasses me. But so what? There is a difference between a winner and a loser. Even if you are magnanimous and forgive me, I cannot remain in the Seamstress Department and continue working under you.”

“Lady Li, you are right. After this, your time in the Seamstress Department is limited. Hence, so that we won’t have to continue meeting each other awkwardly, you should hurry and find the correct path.” Fu Rou stood up and walked towards the door. When she passed Lady Li, she said, “Other than colour, light rays can also attract someone’s attention. If incorporated seamlessly, it can reflect elegant and clear waves. That will have greater certainty.”

Deep in thought, Lady Li turned her head and looked out. The small lamp that Fu Rou held outlined her figure, making her look slim and supple. In that moment, Lady Li understood.

After a few days, Fu Rou purposely brought Lady Li along when she went to deliver a spice pouch to the Emperor. Two of them went but only one returned. Lady Li wore a robe that was identical to every other palace lady. However, when the light shone on her robe, light rays reflected off it delicately, attracting the Emperor’s attention. The Emperor then requested for her to stay behind. The following day, Lady Li returned in a sedan. She had received the Emperor’s favour and was conferred the title Baolin. 

Everyone except Fu Rou was extremely shocked.

When everyone else left, Lady Li entered Fu Rou’s residence and bowed to her deeply. “It is only because of you, Head Seamstress Fu, that I got to where I am today. You are straightforward, generous and considerate. I admire you.”

Fu Rou rushed to help her stand. “Now that you are Baolin, I cannot accept your greeting. It is not like we have a lot of animosity between us to begin with. Isn’t this much better?” The truth was that Fu Rou actually admired her as well. Lady Li knew how to handle accounts as well as embroidery. She also knew how to win over the masses.

Lady Li smiled as well. “We both got what we wanted. It is indeed better.” Her tone changed to one filled with guilt. “Do you remember me giving you a book when you first came? I was muddled then and gave you a fake book. If you follow the book to try and please the Concubines and Princesses, you will definitely get in trouble. However, I have another book here. I no longer have any use for it. On the other hand, this might help you.” 

Fu Rou thanked her.

“Is this the water lily that Concubine Yan requested for?” Lady Li noticed Fu Rou’s embroidery rack. There was a half completed, elaborate pink water lily. Although the embroidery was clearly skilled, it made her frown.

Fu Rou noticed her reaction. “Please do not hesitate to teach me.”

“Seamstress Fu, you have to treat this matter carefully.” Since Lady Li dared to aim for a higher status, she clearly had the skill needed to survive. She was particularly observant when it came to the undercurrents of things. “You were chosen by the Empress to enter the Ministry of Works because of your peony screen. If you do not embroider this well, you will offend Concubine Yan. However, if you do it too well, you will offend the Empress.”

Fu Rou froze as a cold shiver ran up her spine. She did not think much into this task and thought that Concubine Yan simply wanted to see her skills. Thankfully, she was lucky and helped Lady Li. In return, Lady Li had saved her. The Royal Palace was full of traps, any wrong step and she could fall into deep trouble. That was so close!

 

The Crown Prince visited the Han Mansion again. He did not know why but he could not stop thinking of the show on Zhao Zilong’s Seven Charges into Changbanpo. When he entered the Main Hall, he saw that Prince Han had a guest.

“Crown Prince, you are here.” Prince Han greeted with a huge smile plastered on his face. The guest turned and immediately stood up to greet him. “Your Highness.”

Animosity flashed through the Crown Prince’s eyes when he saw who the guest was. It was not because the guest had a handsome face, nor was it because the guest was giving off an impressive appearance. It was simply because it was Prince Zhou.

Prince Zhou was the son of Concubine Yan. When he had come of age, he had gone to his own prefecture and would not attend court unless there was something on. However, it was almost the Empress’ birthday and the Crown Prince was about to get married. The Emperor had hence called Prince Zhou over to celebrate. The Crown Prince remembered that the Imperial order had just been sent out. In such a short time, Prince Zhou had already arrived at Chang’an. He wondered what exactly Prince Zhou was trying to do.

On the surface, the three brothers could get along but their relationship was not deep. The Emperor and the Empress had gone through numerous challenges together to get to where they were now and the Emperor was extremely respectful to the Empress. However, when it came to feelings, the Emperor preferred Concubine Yan. Prince Zhou, the Crown Prince and Prince Han were hence destined to never be able to treat each other like real brothers.

Even when it came to hunting, the atmosphere between the two brothers and the three brothers were vastly different. The Crown Prince was clearly more competitive when it came to Prince Zhou. Prince Zhou would also not give in and would hunt whatever amount the Crown Prince managed to hunt. Prince Han could see through their relationship but did not interfere. After all, the Crown Prince was his biological brother and Prince Zhou had never offended him either.

The Crown Prince smiled. “It is a great thing that your archery skills improved, as long as you don’t shoot into Chang’an.”

Prince Zhou smiled along. “Crown Prince, you must be joking.”

“Of course, I am joking. Father’s power stretches over tens of thousands of miles. Who would dare shoot into Chang’an?” There was a deeper meaning in the Crown Prince’s words. “This hunt is not over, the winner is not decided until it ends. Come, let us compete to see who can hunt more animals!” 

The Crown Prince shot off first as he headed straight into the depths of the forest, leaving everyone far behind. Although he thought that he had made a smart move, he never thought that he would bump into Chen Ji. This lad just loved to sleep on trees.

Chen Ji was lying comfortably as he snored in his sleep, making even the Crown Prince jealous. The Crown Prince immediately shot three consecutive arrows. He completely forgot about the contest he was having with Prince Zhou.

Chen Ji was jolted awake as he jumped up from the branch and nimbly moved to dodge the arrows. He landed on the ground gracefully. He lifted his head only to see the Crown Prince.

“Oh, so it is Your Highness.” Chen Ji’s expression fell. It seems like he has turned into a living target. He cannot come here anymore.

“Chen Ji, are you slacking off on the tree again?” The Crown Prince burst out into laughter. 

Chen Ji frowned. “I was simply taking a nap on the tree. It is not considered slacking off.”

The Crown Prince then said, “The way you flipped down from the tree looks pretty impressive.”

Chen Ji did not agree. “They are simply techniques I learnt from acting in martial art shows. After training for so long, they naturally look good.”

“Flip a few more times for me to see.” The Crown Prince ordered. 

Chen Ji muttered, “I am not a monkey.”

The Crown Prince did not hear him clearly. “What?”

Chen Ji replied loudly, “Yes, Your Highness.” He then did two somersaults backwards. “Are you satisfied, Your Highness?”

“I am not satisfied.” The Crown Prince could tell that he was just doing the bare minimum. “Go back and prepare, I want to watch Zhao Zilong’s Seven Charges into Changbanpo.”

“That show again?”

From afar, the horn sounded. The Crown Prince recalled that the hunt had not ended and immediately turned to leave. He urged Chen Ji, “Hurry and go!”

Chen Ji sighed as he turned and left the mountain. He knew when he could relax and when he should not. To others, it may seem like his life wasn’t worth much but he was willing to put aside his pride.

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