Chapter 16.2: Hidden Battle

The Crown Prince was oblivious that Sun Lingshu was being punished to kneel. He left the palace and went to look for Chen Ji to catch and grill fish. When he returned to the Eastern Palace, Duke Wei Peiji suggested a good idea to him. If he presented the book “Han Shu” written by the great Confucius scholar, he could gain more favor over Prince Zhou. The Crown Prince was in a good mood. 

When Official Situ came in with a bowl of soup, she wore a rare smile on her face.

The Crown Prince looked upon Official Situ highly and he stood up respectfully to greet her. “Why have you come?”

“I have not seen you in a while and I thought I would pay you a visit. I went to visit the Empress today and she wanted to send you a bowl of bird nest soup. I used this excuse of running the errand to visit you.”

Official Situ placed the bowl of bird nest on the table. She carefully scooped a spoon of bird nest soup, blew gently on it to cool it before feeding it to the Crown Prince.

“Official Situ, I am not a child anymore.” The Crown Prince laughed and realised that her face was slightly swollen. He could not help but be concerned. “What happened to your face?”

“I have been slightly heaty these few days and my face is slightly swollen.” Official Situ brushed it off. She reserved her main point. “I always remember your younger days. Once you drank chicken soup hurriedly and scalded your tongue. Because of that incident, I cried for a few nights. In a blink of an eye, you are already married and can take care of others.”

The Crown Prince seemed to be slightly unhappy. “Official Situ, you may not know but the Crown Princess...is too immature. Ignoring how she always disturbs me when I am handling official business, she even behaves inappropriately for her status. I chose her initially because she was pure and innocent. I never would have thought that she would change once we were married.”

“Your Highness, although the Crown Princess is slightly daring, she is still young after all. Moreover, she just entered the palace and there are many things that she still does not understand. If you show a little concern to her, she will slowly get used to things.” Official Situ was here to help them. “Her Majesty wishes for her to help you carry on the family line. If you are too busy and neglect her, it is no wonder that she would act out.”

“Oh, I see.” The Crown Prince agreed as he thought about it. “I have indeed neglected her. Tonight, I will go and see her.”

Official Situ nodded appreciatively, “Then I will take my leave. I still have to carry out the Empress’ orders.” 

“Wait a minute.” The Crown Prince took out a jade tray that was filled with valuable pearls. “These are Naga Pearls that I asked men to bring from the Southern Seas. Each of these pearls are large and incredibly hard to get. I had to spend a lot of effort to get these ten pearls. I wanted to personally give this to my Imperial Mother. But Prince Zhou recently wrote a book ‘Admonishing Extravagance’ and this has greatly troubled me. Rites Officer Situ, please give this to my Imperial Mother for me.”

Official Situ was taken aback. She said, “Don’t worry, Your Highness. Please leave it to me.”

Official Situ carried the jade plate and walked out of the palace. Her skirt got caught on her on a corner of a stool.  She placed the jade plate of pearls aside to unhook and tidy her skirt. Suddenly, she heard two palace maids quarrelling over a kite. She could not stand it and walked over to reprimand the palace maids. She even tore apart the kite during the process. To her dismay, when she returned to the jade plate, there were only seven pearls left!

“Official Situ, what are you looking for?” Sun Lingshu and Shuangxi suddenly appeared. They looked unfriendly.

After spending a night kneeling, her knees were aching and she could not forget the person who caused her to be punished. Sun Lingshu decided that she would no longer pretend to be friendly in front of this old woman. Regardless of what she did, Official Situ would pick on her, so she might as well treat her the same.

“His Highness gave me ten pearls but three pearls have gone missing. Your Highness, did you see anyone suspicious around?” Official Situ could sense that Sun Lingshu was feeling vengeful but could not be bothered.

Sun Lingshu pretended to be shocked. “His Highness put in so much effort in order to collect those ten pearls. You haven’t even left the Eastern Palace and you already lost three of them? I think you are old and confused already!” She turned to look at Shuangxi, who was enjoying the show. “Go and inform the Crown Prince that he has handed the task over to the wrong person.” 

Official Situ paled as she watched Shuangxi walk away.

Soon, the Crown Prince came out. 

Official Situ kneeled on the floor and apologized profusely to him as tears flowed down her cheeks uncontrollably. “Your Highness, this is all my fault. It is just that the place was empty just now and I simply went to scold two palace maids. Moreover, I made sure that no one else entered the area. How can three pearls go missing like that?”

“Stop crying. I am not going to scold you.” Although the Crown Prince was annoyed, Official Situ was old and the servant who raised him, so he could not bring himself to punish her.

Sun Lingshu sat at a corner, her face filled with pity. However, she spoke coldly, “Your Highness, you cannot blame Official Situ. She is old, her hands are no longer stable and her reaction is slow. She probably had slipped when she was walking and dropped the three pearls along the way.”

Official Situ hurriedly denied, “No no. I was very careful, I definitely did not slip …”

Sun Lingshu cut her off in annoyance. “You claimed you were being careful and still lost three pearls. If you were not careful, wouldn’t you have lost everything?”

“Since it is lost, it is lost. Forget it, I spent so much effort to find ten pearls for Imperial Mother because I wanted her to have good blessings[1]. Now…” The Crown Prince shook his head and sighed, “I wasted my effort.”

Sun Lingshu comforted the Crown Prince, “Take this as a lesson learnt. If you have any important things in the future, you should assign it to others.”

Official Situ bit her lip and remained silent. 

At this moment, Fu Rou entered along with an internal attendant. The palace maid behind her held a tray of embroideries in her hands. 

Fu Rou reported, “Your Highness, the furnishings in the palace were recently changed. I am worried that these newly made tablecloths and fabric will not match the furnishings. I want to see whether they fit properly. If there is any mismatch, may I take the items back and alter them?”

Sun Lingshu found Fu Rou’s request strange but the Crown Prince permitted Fu Rou’s request.

Fu Rou chose a few fabric designs and instructed internal attendants to shift an amphora in the room. She took a few steps back to examine the amphora. 

All of a sudden, the internal attendant stared into the amphora and exclaimed, “Hm? There seems to be something inside this amphora.” He shook the amphora and clanging sounds echoed through the room.

Official Situ hurriedly stood up and snatched the amphora from the internal attendant. Turning the amphora over, three Naga Pearls rolled out.

“Naga Pearls!” Official Situ exclaimed in surprise, “We found it! Your Highness, I did not lose them. Someone is purposely framing me!”

Sun Lingshu’s eyes shone brightly. “Yes, who could be framing Official Situ? Is there anyone in the Eastern Palace that has not been scolded by Official Situ before?”

“That is enough.” The Crown Prince sighed deeply, his gaze shifted to Sun Lingshu but he did not want to pursue the matter further. “It is good that we found it. I am tired, I don’t want to waste time on pursuing this matter.”

The Crown Prince left. Official Situ carried the jade plate and left hurriedly, even forgetting to bow towards Sun Lingshu.

Sun Lingshu glared at Fu Rou who was casually tidying up the fabric and furnishings. She questioned in a cold tone, “She made things difficult for me and you. Why did you help her?”

Sun Lingshu had heard that Official Situ had single handedly made the decision to reject Fu Rou during her Internal Entry Examination with the excuse of improper ceremonial behaviors. 

Fu Rou turned towards Sun Lingshu and replied, “Although it is hard to get along with Official Situ, we should not scheme against her.”

Coincidentally, in the short time that it took Official Situ to scold the two palace maids, she had witnessed Sun Lingshu instructing Shuangxi to take three of the Naga Pearls and drop them into the amphora. Hence, Fu Rou rushed back to the Seamstress Department to get some embroidery to help Official Situ out. 

“Even if it is for me?” Sun Lingshu selfishly thought that Fu Rou could be her trusted aide.

“I won’t help with this kind of thing.”

Fu Rou curtseyed before turning to leave. At this very moment, she knew that she and Sun Lingshu were on completely different paths. 

Just before she reached the Seamstress Department, Fu Rou caught sight of Official Situ. She walked up to Official Situ and greeted her politely.

“I thought that you didn’t like me. Why would you help me?” Official Situ immediately rushed over after delivering the pearls. 

Fu Rou spoke calmly, “Once I have seen it, I cannot pretend that I didn’t. That’s all.”

Official Situ fell silent. “Head Seamstress Fu, don’t you begrudge me for not passing you in the Internal Entry Examination?”

“I wouldn’t dare. However, if I may be so bold to ask, my etiquette may not be perfect but I don’t believe that it was bad enough to fail. Official Situ, I do wonder if you are making things difficult for me.”

Official Situ nodded. “That’s right. I did make things difficult for you during the Internal Entry Examination.”

Fu Rou was curious. “Why?”

Official Situ remained calm. “Someone instructed me to do so.”

“Who?” 

“Consort Han.”

Fu Rou was initially startled but later smiled softly. “I believe Consort Han has her reasons.”

Official Situ found Fu Rou’s reaction rather pleasing as she nodded and explained, “Many years ago, I received a favor from the Duke Lu Residence. Now that Consort Han has requested something from me, I definitely have to repay her. Head Seamstress Fu, do you know what the Internal Entry Examination is for?”

Fu Rou replied, “Anyone who just entered the palace must learn palace etiquette. One is only considered to have learnt palace etiquette when they pass the Internal Entry Examination. If they do not pass, it means they have not fully learned the etiquette. Not only would they get punished, they also won’t be promoted even if they are excellent at their job.”

“You have only got half right.” Official Situ replied warmly, “The Internal Entry Examination tests people in the internal palace. Within these four walls, all ladies and palace maids from the three palaces and six courtyards as well as female officials from the six offices and twenty-four departments exist solely for the Emperor. As long as you pass the Internal Entry Examination, it means you are ready to belong to the Emperor.”

All of a sudden, Fu Rou understood.

“With the status of an official palace lady, regardless of whether the Emperor favors you, you cannot marry unless the Emperor personally grants you marriage. Even if one of the nobles is gracious and allows you to leave the palace, you will only be able to become a nun or remain single for the rest of your life.” Official Situ gazed at Fu Rou. “Do you understand why Consort Han requested what she did now?”

Fu Rou bowed deeply. “I understand. I’ll have to thank Consort Han and you, Official Situ, for taking care of me.” 

Although the palace was a dangerous place, there were still people that were sincere that she could make friends with to get through it. She only hoped that Sheng Chumu was as lucky as her and could find someone to help him out.

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