Emperor's Conquest

By Mei Yu Zhe,寐语者

Emperor's Conquest Chapter 5

Emperor's Conquest Chapter 5

1.5 A Sudden Change

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Time so easily slipped away. In the blink of an eye, three years passed.

As I lay inclined by the window, the warm breeze of the fourth month came wafting into the room, and the smell of it was enough to intoxicate the senses1. A petal fluttered on the wind and landed on my face, a little ticklish.

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The hangover from last night had not yet receded, and my body felt weak and powerless. Stretching out my hand, I accidentally knocked over a jade pot. It rolled away down the steps, scattering the last of the remaining wine. The spring air bloomed with wine fragrance.

The blue-plum wine that Brother had brought from the capital half a month ago - I had finished it off again. I did not know when he would next come to Huizhou2 on business pretenses and visit me again. Lethargically, I propped myself up and called for Jin'er. No one answered. That wench! - ever since we left the capital and came to this place, she had become increasingly lazy and careless.

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I got up and slipped my bare feet into silk slippers, and then indolently made my way through the winding corridors. By chance, I caught a glimpse of the magnolia tree3 in the courtyard, which had overnight bloomed in such a glory, the flowers looked like snow on the branches.

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I was somewhat dazed by the sight. Leaning against the railing, my mind wandered. I thought dimly of the magnolia courtyard4 back home…

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"Highness5, you're awake at last! How drunk you were last night! And you haven't even put on a robe before coming outside - be careful you don't catch another cold." Jin'er draped a silk robe over my shoulders, grumbling garrulously the entire time.

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I turned my face up. "The white magnolias at home should be blossoming now. I wonder how the flowers are this year."

"The weather in the capital is warmer than here, so the flowers probably bloom earlier," Jin'er also sighed. Then, with a laugh, she said, "Though it's a bit colder here, yet the skies are clearer than in the capital. It doesn't rain so incessantly. I like staying here better."

This wench was getting better and better at coaxing a person into good spirits. Seeing that I had pressed my lips over a smile, and was not answering, she gently led me to a seat and said in a low voice, "If living in Huizhou has become tiresome - we could return to the capital for a look. It has been three years. Highness, you must be missing home?"

I came out of my absent-minded musings. With a self-mocking laugh, I lazily stretched my back, "Oh, certainly - I pine for the blue-plum wine at home. But then I think of the fairytale life6 we are leading here, and I cannot bear to leave it."

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So saying, I rose and with a brush of my sleeves swept away the petals that had landed on me. "It is such a beautiful spring. Let us go out for a stroll."

Jin'er hurried after me, saying anxiously, "His Highness's courier from yesterday is still waiting for you … for Your Highness's reply letter7!"

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I stopped. An inexplicable gloom suddenly descended.

"Better that you write the reply for me." I did not look back. Turning, I made to leave -then, suddenly remembering, added, "Oh. Go and take a look at what he's sent this time. Pick some of the amusing gifts to keep. Give the rest to the physicians."

In another two days, Physician Xu would be arriving. This time would require a bit more gold and silver to bribe him.

Brother said, Mother and Aunt often asked after my illness and inquired why my condition was not showing improvement, why after so long I still could not return to the capital. The imperial physicians were all anxious and on edge, in fear that the lie might not hold up. Though there was Brother to help maintain the falsehood to Mother and Father, yet the imperial physicians were ever a cowardly bunch. If it were not for these bribes keeping their mouths shut, I would be hard pressed to keep Aunt from suspecting anything strange and with one imperial decree recall me back to the capital.

Yet if the imperial physicians described my illness in too strong terms, there was the danger of Mother rushing to my side to nurse me herself. That was no good either.

That I could, these three years, retreat to Huizhou to convalesce in solitude, and lead a fairy-like existence, free and unfettered - I owed entirely to my husband's generosity.

That wedding night, when the Yuzhang Prince would not enter even a step into his bridal chamber, and left so hurriedly for battle to suppress the rebel army…

At that time, everyone had admired the Yuzhang Prince's dedicated service in guarding the country8, and admired even more the Yuzhang Princess's high principles and sense of duty9, putting the state above all else.

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Daddy not only did not blame this fine son-in-law for leaving without a word, but even brought the matter up at court, lavishing him with praises and honors.

No one dared to mock my lonely night in the bridal chamber, and I as calmly as ever went to the palace to pay my respects10, and alone by myself paid the bridal visit to my parents11 … and I was exactly as they anticipated, graceful, poised, mild, placid, in every aspect the lady of a great family.

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Those gazes that that were fixed on me, those eyes that stared at my back, those people who waited for me to sorrow and rage - probably were all left unsatisfied.

I remained as healthy and vigorous as ever, as beautifully coifed and splendidly dressed as ever, as widely renowned, my comings and goings as widely discussed as ever. Under my orders, the Yuzhang Prince's manor was filled with music and song every night, and feasts and banquets were arranged to almost excess.

So it was for two months after the wedding. Then a cold wind blew through the city, and I suddenly fell ill. From then on, I lingered in the sickbed. On the most dangerous night, I came close to death. Mother knelt all night at the temple12 in prayer. Her tears could have washed her face, and she said to Father, if A-wu should depart, then Mother would hate him her entire life, and never forgive him or Aunt. Father could say nothing, and sat up in his study the whole night.

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At dawn, as the sky lightened, I woke, and the fever finally receded.

Waking to see the bed surrounded by my family, all of them tearful with joy - I only felt a deep exhaustion. I could not face this anymore, and had no more strength to bear it.

That left only running away.

Fortunately, the rainy season was just arriving. My coughing and shortness of breath made a reappearance, and the imperial physicians worried that the dampness and continual rains of the capital were detrimental to my recuperation.

When Uncle13 had been a government official in Huizhou, he had renovated a quite elaborate travel lodge. Just when the renovations had been completed, he was transferred back to the capital, and so the travel lodge had remained unused until now.

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The climate of Huizhou was dry and arid, and the weather bright and sunny. The scenery was charming. It was a place well-suited for convalescence.

I bribed the imperial physicians heavily, and forced Brother to convince our parents. And so, like that, I came to this Huizhou travel lodge to recuperate.

When I first arrived in Huizhou, Father and Mother had sent along so many maids and servants and guards and physicians that they numbered more than three hundred, impossible to squeeze into so small a travel lodge. Such a large arrival had alarmed the provincial governor, and he came personally to pay a visit14. Such fuss vexed me to no end.

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I made the imperial physicians report to the emperor15 that too many people created too much noise and disturbance, and was not good for recuperation. So I forced most of the attendants back to the capital, leaving only a few maids and servants and nurses. At last, things quieted and I settled into my tranquil existence, without bothers or vexations.

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Huizhou was far, and the world was large, and withdrawing this one step16 surprisingly had the feeling of being reborn, of starting anew17.

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Uncle's travel lodge was as if it had been specially prepared for me. Not only were the views pleasant, but everywhere and in all respects, the lodge was agreeable. Especially in the cellars, where there were stored bottles of well-aged fine wine. In the front courtyard, the trees grew lushly green like jade, and the flowers blossomed in splendor. The peaceful pond gathered birds. Compared to the enchantments of the gardens and parks in the capital city, this had a different sort of serene, remote charm.

Father and Mother had originally thought that I only wanted a change of scenery while recuperating, and would not stay long before returning to the capital. They could not have guessed that once I arrived in Huizhou, I came to love the free and unfettered life here, comfortable and leisurely. I settled into a long residence, cheerfully not thinking of return. Only for the spring and autumn festivals, and for Mother and Father's birthdays, did I return to the capital for a short period - but after a few days, on the pretext of feeling unwell, I always went back to Huizhou.

Thus, day after day, month after month, year after year … I began to feel that I had changed.

From somewhere in my heart, gradually I became colder, and harder.

The young girl of olden days, who delighted in pleasing her parents18, and could not bear to part with her home and family, no longer existed; the friends and relatives of olden days, were now by circumstances scattered and separated, each to their own path; and even Wanru had become taciturn and quietly bitter, the same as those beautiful and lonely imperial concubines in the palace.

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Father, Mother, Aunt, Uncle, every one of them would always do their utmost to guard me, and in their brows was always the unconcealable remorse and guilt.

Rather than face this kind of family, I would rather they reprimand and chide and lecture me as before, instead of this careful handling.

Some things had changed irrevocably, and could not be restored.

Only Brother had not changed. Only he understood me, and only in front of him was I not the Yuzhang Princess, or the Shangyang Princess - but rather, the little A-wu who used to tag along behind him in bygone days.

Even Zitan had not, for a long time, appeared in my dreams.

His period of mourning at the imperial tombs had concluded, but the Emperor had passed down another imperial edict: that he should remain at the tombs and supervise the reconstruction19 of the ancestral shrines.

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Such a construction project would last an indefinitely long time. There was no knowing when he would be able to return to the capital.

In the past, I had not understood, why the Emperor, who clearly loved Zitan so dearly, would allow Aunt to banish him so far away to the imperial tombs.

Now, I understood.

The Emperor allowing Zitan to stay far from the palace - only that was true compassion, true protection … In that sucking whirlpool of power and intrigue, to misstep even slightly meant a horrible death20. The Emperor knew that the Wang family and the Crown Prince were already in alliance, and now also had Xiao Qi as ally. Four hundred thousand soldiers on the northern border were watching hungrily21.

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To depose the Crown Prince, and change the order of succession, was already impossible.

As a father, the only thing he could do was to ensure as much as possible Zitan's safety.

I too lingered on Zitan's memory no longer: our mutual fate in this life had come to an end. I had become someone else's wife. Only occasionally, in the middle of the night, I dreamt of the far off imperial tombs, and from a distance wished him peace and health22.

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Yet as a so-called "someone else's wife", I had not these three years seen even a glimpse of my husband.

Aside from this, there was really no faults to pick of my lord husband23: the grand and stately Yuzhang Prince - who had reached the highest position at court; whose authority was near absolute24; whose regard for home was generous and considerate25; who was stationed in the distant borderlands - yet he still never forgot every month to dispatch someone to carry letters home; and he always sent rare treasures and precious jewels that the Emperor bestowed upon him … to Huizhou.

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Only, his letters were always about the same. The contents rarely varied, and the tone was always correct and proper. Most likely it was the same secretary26 writing them every month, and then just stamping the letters with his seal. Thus: the so-called letter home. I did not know whether this was scrupulous courtesy on his part, or consideration of our public image and appearances which must be kept, or if there was any guilt and apology in the action. At first, I too had harbored a faint hope, and in my own hand written back to him … Over time, toward those rigid and ever unchanging letters home, which read like official documents, I had not even the interest to open them.

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Perhaps, this was what they called mutual respect in a marriage, that husband and wife should treat each other as an honored guest27.

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We were of a tacit and mutual understanding. There was no need to force ourselves in some half-hearted attempt at union. Instead, better that we separately find amusements in our own ways, to seek our own pleasures were we would.

When I first came to Huizhou, it was still early autumn, and the yellow leaves were all adrift on the wind. Then came the snowfalls on midwinter nights, and the snow melting into spring, and then shadows of summer gradually growing denser … The days passed insubstantial as mist, and the years flowed like water, and my heart grew calmer. From calmness, to placidity, and then eventually indifference. At last, I had learned self-possession.

Of this marriage, and of this husband … should I not be satisfied with them?

Huizhou was located at the junction of a major north-south crossroad, and traffic through here was heavy. Waterways were also readily accessible. As a result, it had always been a center of trade, and was known as a populous and wealthy place.

The weather here was very different from that in the capital. Unlike the capital's damp humidity and frequent rains, its hot summers and cold winters.

Rather, Huizhou had four distinct seasons, but all year round the sun always shone brightly, and the air was always clean and clear.

Since ancient times, there had been a steady influx of migrants from both the north and the south. The people mixed and intermarried, and so folkways of Huizhou had the northern influence of candid openness, the north's unaffected straightforwardness, but also the southern influence of nimbleness and ingenuity, the south's honest amiability. Even through these years of continuous warfare, there had been little chaos or turbulence in this place. Business continued, trade flourished, and Huizhou remained populous and affluent.

The provincial governor here was Wu Qian, who had once been a student of Father's and had subsequently in his career been guided and supported by Father. As a student, he had been a gifted scholar, a standout among his peers, and favored by Father. In the four years since his appointment to this post, his political achievements had been quite impressive. Ever since I settled at the travel lodge, His Excellency Wu was always solicitous and attentive, and Madame Wu often called on me to pay her respects. In fear that I should suffer the slightest annoyance, they poured their full effort into assuring my pleasure and comfort.

Regarding this kind of hospitality28 from the Wu family, I was not much impressed by it, and yet I could not bear to rebuff them.

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Wu Qian by virtue of his own accomplishments and also by strength of my father's support had done fairly well for himself in his political career. Future promotions and advancements seemed likely. There was no need for such painstaking and deliberate flattery to me - except that his only daughter was nearly come of age. The child had followed her parents after her father's political appointment and come to Huizhou, where it had been impossible for her to be introduced to or made known to any of the high-born sons of the capital. Now that marriage had become an imminent and pressing matter, Governor and Madame Wu had grown increasingly anxious, but could only hope for a transfer back to the capital, whereupon they might be able to find a fine match for their daughter and settle this marriage business.

Such are the hearts of mothers and fathers in the world! How touching - that their worries and efforts for their children should actually come to such a point.

Knowing as I did their motivations for such toadying hospitality, how could I have the heart to rebuff them?

These couple of days, the liveliest and most bustling event in the city surely had to be "Meeting of a Thousand Kites29".

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To compete at kite-flying in the spring was originally a southern tradition, popular especially among the ladies of the aristocracy in the capital.

In previous years, every sunny spring in the third or fourth month, the court ladies in the capital would always seek out skilled craftsman who could fashion magnificent and beautiful kites. Then they would invite their relatives and friends to the city outskirts, and walk among the newly green grass, and hold outdoor banquets, and see who could fly their kites higher, and sing songs and recite poetry … Huizhou originally did not have such a tradition, but since I came, Madame Wu took it upon herself to organize such an outing every year. She invited the ladies of all the prestigious houses and wealthy families in the city. On the ninth day of the fourth month, in Qionghua Park did "Meeting of a Thousand Kites" take place.

How the Governor and Madame must have wracked their brains and long pondered, to come up with such a way to try to please me.

In years past, Brother would always manage to find the most skilled artisan to make my kite, and he would personally paint30 it and inscribe on it poetry verses of my own composition. Then we would let the kite fly as it would, floating on the wind, and not mind where it fell. Occasionally, the kite would be picked up by other people, and it would be regarded as a valuable treasure. On the market, the opening price started at hundreds of taels31 of fine silver, and there would be bidding wars. Over time, these kites came to be known as "Beauty's Kites".

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Which beauty's kite would Brother be painting this year? The well-bred young lady of which house?

Perhaps it was a Jin'er said: maybe I really did miss home.

The ninth day of the fourth month, Qionghua Park.

It was a fragrant, clear spring day, the flowers all vying against each other in beauty and splendor, as splendid as brocade embroidery, as beautiful as clouds high in the sky.

The first families of Huizhou were all gathered. Any house with even a little status or rank were all eager that their daughters should attend this distinguished gathering.

I understood, these young girls all hoped to display themselves at this "Meeting of a Thousand Kites", to demonstrate their elegance and their talents, and thereby catch my eye, and by my favor climb to a higher status.

In their eyes, I was someone of unspeakably high rank, my eminence so great as to be unapproachable -someone who could with a word change the course of their entire life.

But though they so desperately desired for the course of their life to be changed by a word - I felt too keenly that one's life should not be dictated by others' say so.

The instruments paused their music for a break, and the dancers took their rest.

Attended by Madame Wu and a crowd of other upper-class matrons, I stepped into the park.

Everyone bowed down in obeisance.

The girls present were all lively, healthy girls, pretty and well-formed, dressed in damask and gauze, adorned in jade and pearls, each and every one of them a vision of elegant splendor.

Whereas I had only carelessly put on a water-colored, cloud-patterned robe, wide robes trailing, belt loosely tied, hair up in a low bun with only a single pearl hairpin as decoration. There was not another piece of jewelry on my entire person.

Courtesies paid, etiquette observed, the feast began.

As the music started up again, the dancers came out again, colorfully dressed, their movements light and graceful. In the park, the first kite went up. It was purple-red, gilded in gold, and shaped like a butterfly. It caught it wind, which bore it up high. The look of the kite was rich and beautiful, but not overwrought - there was an artful simplicity in the painting which could not have been easy to achieve. It seemed likely the handiwork of the Wu family's daughter.

I said with a faint smile, "Wings glimmering with raindrops / busily bustling around fresh flowers32."

Wings glimmering with raindrops / busily bustling around fresh flowers3232

"My daughter's33 skill is still clumsy, it must seem a joke to Your Highness34." Madame Wu bowed slightly, and though her words were self-deprecating, her expression seemed rather self-satisfied.

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Further down the tables, a girl dressed in yellow rose and curtsying expressed her gratitude.

Madame Wu said smilingly, "My daughter Huixin pays her respects to Your Higness."

I nodded to indicate that the girl should come closer.

The girl dressed in yellow lowered her head and slowly came forward. Her appearance was sweet, fair, and graceful. The thin veil over her face fluttered lightly in the wind, and lent her an even more pleasing delicacy.

In the south, there was an old custom, that unmarried girls must wear veils when they went out. However, I did not know that there was a similar custom in Huizhou. That this Wu daughter would veil herself in gauze when in company surely indicated a strict upbringing.

Just as I was carefully inspecting this girl, suddenly a whistle sounded. In the park, a green kite in the shape of swallow was rising on the wind, a delightfully cunning creation, turning over in flight back and forth just like the newborn swallows of the forest. Barely had we seen that kite, when up rose another, a lustrously golden kite in the shape of a carp. Then came one like the peaches of immortality held by the Queen Mother of the West35, then a lotus flower, a jade cicada, a dragonfly … In a moment, the sky was filled with flying kites, an extraordinary splendor of different colors and shapes, bustling with excitement, lively to the extreme, almost too much for the eyes to take in.

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For a while, everyone at the tables was engrossed in looking up, marveling at the sight.

The Wu daughter came gracefully forward, her steps delicate, until she was just before my seat. She made a low bow.

"What a pretty daughter."

I turned my head and smilingly told Madame Wu - but then saw that her expression had become exceedingly strange. She stared at the girl in front of us.

All of a sudden, another piercing whistle sounded.

Alarmed, I raised my head. Just past the southeast side of the park, there suddenly appeared a dark shadow.

Born aloft on a strong wind, the shadow turned out to be an enormous blue-green kite, soaring high overhead. In shape it was like a northern goshawk, the two wings spanning almost three zhang36. It loomed menacingly and then swept toward where I was seated, at the head of the table.

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I quickly stood up and moved back in a hurry.

A yellow blur passed before my eyes. The Wu daughter abruptly turned fractious, and reached out to grab my shoulder. Her finger dug into my flesh painfully.

"You aren't Huixin—!" Madame Wu shrieked. But the girl was already coming at me. She struck my neck with a blow of her palm.

At the same time, that kite with its enormous shadow, swept along by the wind, had arrived overhead.

An overwhelming darkness descended.

Sharp pain in my neck and darkness falling over me - the last thing I knew was a feeling of constriction across my shoulders, and the sensation of being suspended in the air, and all about me, the sound of rushing air …

Footnotes:
1 – "intoxicate the senses" - literally, to make the body go limp and to rouse the appetites.


1 – "intoxicate the senses" - literally, to make the body go limp and to rouse the appetites.

2 – "Huizhou" - referring to the region and not the city. Now a district in Anhui.

2 – "Huizhou" - referring to the region and not the city. Now a district in Anhui.region

3 – "magnolia tree" – specifically, the Yulan magnolia, also known as the lilytree

3 – "magnolia tree" – specifically, the Yulan magnolia, also known as the lilytreeYulan magnolia

4 – "magnolia" – the word lan/兰 used here can mean either "orchid" or archaically "lily magnolia". Given the context, I have gone with the archaic meaning.

4 – "magnolia" – the word lan/兰 used here can mean either "orchid" or archaically "lily magnolia". Given the context, I have gone with the archaic meaning.lan

5 – "Highness" – noticeably, she is still addressed as junzhu / princess, her title before marriage, and not wangfei / princess consort, her current title after marriage.

5 – "Highness" – noticeably, she is still addressed as junzhu / princess, her title before marriage, and not wangfei / princess consort, her current title after marriage.junzhuwangfei

6 – "fairytale life" –  more literally, the life of fairies, the life led by celestial beings: a paradise.

6 – "fairytale life" –  more literally, the life of fairies, the life led by celestial beings: a paradise.

7 – "Your Highness's…" – Jin'er starts this sentence calling A-wu junzhu / princess and then corrects herself to use wangfei /princess consort instead.

7 – "Your Highness's…" – Jin'er starts this sentence calling A-wu junzhu / princess and then corrects herself to use wangfei /princess consort instead.junzhuwangfei

8 – "loyal guard of the country" - more literally, meritorious service to support the ruler in governing the country

8 – "loyal guard of the country" - more literally, meritorious service to support the ruler in governing the country

9 – "high principles and sense of duty" - more literally, to have a high notion of one's duty; to be highly principled

9 – "high principles and sense of duty" - more literally, to have a high notion of one's duty; to be highly principled

10 – "pay my respects" - more literally, to thank the emperor/empress for favors: here, the "favor" probably indicates her marriage

10 – "pay my respects" - more literally, to thank the emperor/empress for favors: here, the "favor" probably indicates her marriage

11 – "alone by myself paid the bridal visit" - usually, and especially if the groom respected his wife and his wife's family, when a married woman returns to her parents' home, the groom accompanies her to pay his respects to his in-laws. That A-wu goes alone is embarrassing and possibly shameful: that she, and her family, should be so disregarded.

11 – "alone by myself paid the bridal visit" - usually, and especially if the groom respected his wife and his wife's family, when a married woman returns to her parents' home, the groom accompanies her to pay his respects to his in-laws. That A-wu goes alone is embarrassing and possibly shameful: that she, and her family, should be so disregarded.

12 – "the temple" - specifically, a Buddhist temple

12 – "the temple" - specifically, a Buddhist temple

13 – "uncle" - specifically, her father's younger brother

13 – "uncle" - specifically, her father's younger brother

14 – "pay a visit" - the phrase can also mean, "pay his respects" or "pay homage"

14 – "pay a visit" - the phrase can also mean, "pay his respects" or "pay homage"

15 – "report to the emperor" - more literally, the imperial physicians wrote up a memorandum to the emperor

15 – "report to the emperor" - more literally, the imperial physicians wrote up a memorandum to the emperor

16 – "withdrawing this one step" - in the sense of retreating from the world, withdrawing from public life to become more reclusive

16 – "withdrawing this one step" - in the sense of retreating from the world, withdrawing from public life to become more reclusive

17 – "of being reborn, of starting anew" - the phrase used here has some Taoist background, an idiom to mean "to shed one's mortal body and exchange one's bones"

17 – "of being reborn, of starting anew" - the phrase used here has some Taoist background, an idiom to mean "to shed one's mortal body and exchange one's bones"

18 – "delighted in pleasing my parents" - more literally, "to cater to somebody to make them happy (esp of one's parents)"

18 – "delighted in pleasing my parents" - more literally, "to cater to somebody to make them happy (esp of one's parents)"

19 – "reconstruction" - not clear from context if the construction is to repair or renovate

19 – "reconstruction" - not clear from context if the construction is to repair or renovate

20 – "a horrible death" - the idiom more literally translates as "torn body and crushed bones"

20 – "a horrible death" - the idiom more literally translates as "torn body and crushed bones"

21 – "were watching hungrily" - the idiom used here means literally, "to glare like a tiger watching his prey": meaning both that they presented a danger should the Emperor oppose the Wang family/Crown Prince/Xiao Qi faction; but also that they were lying in wait and biding their time, eying the thrown covetously

21 – "were watching hungrily" - the idiom used here means literally, "to glare like a tiger watching his prey": meaning both that they presented a danger should the Emperor oppose the Wang family/Crown Prince/Xiao Qi faction; but also that they were lying in wait and biding their time, eying the thrown covetously

22 – "from a distance wished him peace and health" - this is a mostly literal translation of what is a fairly set phrase: her expression here is formal but not cold; the implication is that they have become something like distant acquaintances, who might bear each other well-wishes, but only in the generally friendly sort of way; she has warm feelings for him but she limits those to a strictly non-intimate expression.

22 – "from a distance wished him peace and health" - this is a mostly literal translation of what is a fairly set phrase: her expression here is formal but not cold; the implication is that they have become something like distant acquaintances, who might bear each other well-wishes, but only in the generally friendly sort of way; she has warm feelings for him but she limits those to a strictly non-intimate expression.

23 – "my lord husband" - these two references to "husband", A-wu uses either the literary or archaic terms, to the effect of something like "my wedded lord": formal and distant and almost slightly mocking, given the lack of any marital intimacy

23 – "my lord husband" - these two references to "husband", A-wu uses either the literary or archaic terms, to the effect of something like "my wedded lord": formal and distant and almost slightly mocking, given the lack of any marital intimacy

24 - "whose authority was near absolute" - the idiom used here indicates a prime minister who has almost total control of the country; or possibly a minister who is acting as regent; or possibly a puppet regime kind of situation where the emperor is only a figurehead. Basically, the Yuzhang Prince is a person of power.

24 - "whose authority was near absolute" - the idiom used here indicates a prime minister who has almost total control of the country; or possibly a minister who is acting as regent; or possibly a puppet regime kind of situation where the emperor is only a figurehead. Basically, the Yuzhang Prince is a person of power.

25 – "whose regard for home was generous and considerate" - regard here can also be translated as "loyalty" and "generous" might also be translated as "vehement /fervent/giving/liberal"

25 – "whose regard for home was generous and considerate" - regard here can also be translated as "loyalty" and "generous" might also be translated as "vehement /fervent/giving/liberal"

26 - "secretary" - the term, muliao, better translates as "aids and advisors of top officials"

26 - "secretary" - the term, muliao, better translates as "aids and advisors of top officials"muliao

27 - "mutual respect … an honored guest" - two idioms are used here: "to lift the tray to eyebrow level, to treat each other as an honored guest", which means "mutual respect in a marriage, mutual respect between husband and wife"

27 - "mutual respect … an honored guest" - two idioms are used here: "to lift the tray to eyebrow level, to treat each other as an honored guest", which means "mutual respect in a marriage, mutual respect between husband and wife"

28 - "hospitality" - the phrase used here comprises of "welcome" + "tribute" : there is an element of careful sycophancy in this hospitality.

28 - "hospitality" - the phrase used here comprises of "welcome" + "tribute" : there is an element of careful sycophancy in this hospitality.

29 - "kites" - the pun works in English as well: kite here references the bird, a small hawk; but later, a "paper kite" references the toy item to be flown in the wind.

29 - "kites" - the pun works in English as well: kite here references the bird, a small hawk; but later, a "paper kite" references the toy item to be flown in the wind.

30 - "paint" - specifically, gongbi, a traditional Chinese painting method characterized by meticulous brush technique and detailed description

30 - "paint" - specifically, gongbi, a traditional Chinese painting method characterized by meticulous brush technique and detailed descriptiongongbigongbi

31 - "taels" - the dictionary gives modern conversion of about 50 grams. Regardless the real world value, this is a pretty exorbitant price for a kite.

31 - "taels" - the dictionary gives modern conversion of about 50 grams. Regardless the real world value, this is a pretty exorbitant price for a kite.

32 - "wings glimmering … around fresh flowers" - A-wu is quoting from a poem () which roughly translates to something like "Gazing to the south, a southern butterfly", written by Ouyang Xiu. The poem is in two parts, and describes the appearance and characteristics of butterflies. The lines A-wu quotes are from the second half of the poem. Very roughly, the literal meaning translates as: after a little rain, the butterfly's powdery wings have gotten wet and become sticky, and they glimmer in the light of the setting sun. Just now, the butterfly flew with the honeybee into the small courtyard, then with the willow catkins it crossed over the east wall, and it constantly bustles around the fresh flowers.

32 - "wings glimmering … around fresh flowers" - A-wu is quoting from a poem () which roughly translates to something like "Gazing to the south, a southern butterfly", written by Ouyang Xiu. The poem is in two parts, and describes the appearance and characteristics of butterflies. The lines A-wu quotes are from the second half of the poem. Very roughly, the literal meaning translates as: after a little rain, the butterfly's powdery wings have gotten wet and become sticky, and they glimmer in the light of the setting sun. Just now, the butterfly flew with the honeybee into the small courtyard, then with the willow catkins it crossed over the east wall, and it constantly bustles around the fresh flowers.Ouyang Xiuafter a little rain, the butterfly's powdery wings have gotten wet and become sticky, and they glimmer in the light of the setting sun. Just now, the butterfly flew with the honeybee into the small courtyard, then with the willow catkins it crossed over the east wall, and it constantly bustles around the fresh flowers.

33 - "My daughter" - she uses the humble term, literally "small girl"

33 - "My daughter" - she uses the humble term, literally "small girl"

34 - "it must seem a joke to Your Highness" - a fairly standard phrase to express humility. More literally, it might translate to something like "she has incurred Your Highness' ridicule through her poor performance". Being so standard a phrase, usually more used as boilerplate politeness than any true embarrassment.

34 - "it must seem a joke to Your Highness" - a fairly standard phrase to express humility. More literally, it might translate to something like "she has incurred Your Highness' ridicule through her poor performance". Being so standard a phrase, usually more used as boilerplate politeness than any true embarrassment.

35 - "Western Queen" -referring to the goddess Xi Wangmu.

35 - "Western Queen" -referring to the goddess Xi Wangmu.Xi WangmuXiWangmu

36 - "three zhang" - a zhang is about 10 feet, or 3.3 meters: so the wingspan is about 10 meters, or 30 feet.

36 - "three zhang" - a zhang is about 10 feet, or 3.3 meters: so the wingspan is about 10 meters, or 30 feet.zhangzhang

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