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Chapter 8: A Familiar Face
No one could have ever imagined that Her Majesty the Regentess, who was on everyone’s mind, was presently donned in the common primrose-colored uniform of the Gilt Robe Guard with a long sabre carried at her waist, patrolling every corner of the place in a small squadron of those Guards. She had changed up her appearance with makeup, examining the young men and women who had attended the banquet with the little Radiant Princess at her side. As all noblegirls did, the Princess attentively sized up the people who might possibly wed her eldest sister, secretly making judgements about them in her heart.
“Big sis, big sis, can you see? Look at that lady over there, she’s pretty good-looking. It’d be fine to bring her into the palace for you. Or that big brother, he looks elegant and charming and seems like he’s pretty talkative. He could entertain you into opening your heart.” Xuan Jingning, who looked slender-framed under the Gilt Robe Guard’s uniform, whispered to the Regentess after drawing close.
The Regentess’s gaze didn’t waver, continuing to face forward as she marched on nonchalantly. Hearing her little sister talk like this, she put on a smile. “How is that something you can determine with one glimpse at a face?”
“But you’re not even giving anyone a glimpse. Don’t tell me that you’re actually planning on going back to stir up those old fogeys who’re ready to boorishly foist someone onto you,” the Princess pouted, muttering to herself resentfully. “You being like this is really no fun at all, Regal Sis.”
“Being able to get out and relieve boredom is also pretty good.” The Regentess concentrated on performing her duties as a Gilt Robe Guard properly, having no intention to go on with the Princess’s topic.
She didn’t plan on getting married again, it was merely because she couldn’t argue with the higher officials any longer that she had reluctantly agreed to this. Her only idea for this grand banquet was for it to be a celebration of the Great Qing’s increasing prosperity, and hadn’t an interest in regards to those greater officials recommending however many remarkable people for her.
Thankfully, with the Minister of Rites’ prior suggestion of making this a flowerbud meeting, she decided to push her boat along with current and use this as a chance to take a good look at the Great Qing’s talents, enabling her to escape those recommendation meetings that would’ve bored her.
The greater officials were under the impression that she would be getting wedded, so all of them made the young people of every family come rushing for the position of Empress or Empret. In that regard, there was not a single one of the young folk there tonight that wasn’t a budding, outstanding virtuose.
The most excellent of the youths weren’t grasping the notion to enter the palace, though, instead coming with hopes of the Regentess’ appreciation. For exactly that, Xuan Jingchen wished even further to see exactly how stellar the characters in the Findragon Pavilion all were. If there really were one or two of them who could use their skills to benefit the country, then tonight’s trip would not have been made in vain.
Her Majesty the Regentess had a mind filled with her home and the realm, completely unlike the expectation others had that she would have a shred of longing for children. Having known since childhood that her eldest sister was one who committed wholeheartedly to guarding the country, the Radiant Princess couldn’t help but sigh, another person inevitably being brought to mind.
They had only been in contact for a brief couple of years, but the little Princess had a deep bond with the Bright Emperor that had cared for her devotedly during her youth. To this day, she still grieved the Emperor that had been cut down in her prime. In contrast to her, she always felt that her eldest sister, as the Emperor’s wife, had forgotten her a bit too quickly.
No, not forgotten – she even doubted that her sister had ever grieved for the Bright Emperor.
In the heart of she who attached the most importance to the citizens, her family mattered secondmost, and the monarch was most insignificant. The Bright Emperor’s demise was likely a type of a beneficial conclusion.
The ruined Chu State had since rolled into the currents of history, and the increasingly prosperous Great Qing made the people feel safe and content. These few years, though her sister had been doing everything under the sun, she was doing a lot better compared to the time she with the Emperor – just as busy yet always having her brows scrunched in distress.
Being married or not… was also just an insignificant issue.
Before stepping into Findragon Pavilion, the Radiant Princess wouldn’t accept this, nor would she accept her sister getting married again under pressure. After stepping in and witnessing that sister still carrying the bearing of a flag that wouldn’t wave in wind, though, she was vaguely a bit glad.
At the very least, since she’d failed to grow affection for her royal sister-in-law, no one else would be getting it instead.
Almost all the youths who had entered the Pavilion had received news that the Regentess was going incognito. After they weren’t able to recognize Her in the change of costume, they – just like all men and women who didn’t know each other in a flowerbud meeting – launched into a lively, talkative atmosphere, trying to draw Her over.
Pretty much all those situated on the second floor were youths chosen from their families that wanted to enter the palace as well as to come and see the talents of the world. The Regentess, walking along with her long sabre, heard a lot of opinions about current affairs and couldn’t resist shaking her head, keeping quiet as she went on.
The tyranny of the previous Dynasty’s Thorn Emperor lead to the majority of the young ones born in that era to not dare speak their mind, and when they grew to adulthood, they turned into people who conformed to standard and didn’t give off much variety. Not detecting any topics that were enticing, the touring-incognito Regentess went to the entrance of the third floor, finally deciding to shed the primrose suit of the Guard.
At this moment, a soft drumming came from the Findragon stage, followed by a guqin, and then the crisp sound of a chiba slowly swelled up.
In that instant, all words thus dissipated. Everyone in the Pavilion stopped what they were doing, successively turning to look at the fish-and-lotus stage. All eyes fell upon the young person on the stage, who was wearing ivory, embroidered robes, their long hair bound half-up.
Who was this? Who was playing the instrument banned by the Regentess, and on such an occasion?
Many people had such a question in their minds, and when they got a clear view of the young man of about eighteen years of age on stage, more still were somewhat measuring.
The Regentess’s steps halted in hesitation, immediately after which she slowly walked to a vacant third-floor railing, stooping her head to see the one performing. The young Princess beside her also turned for a look, wanting to say something, yet when she recognized who it was, she could only mumble softly. “Isn’t that Senior Lin? Regal Sister…”
She twisted around to look at her eldest sister, about to speak, but got cut off by an energetic youth.
“Whose song is this? Who wrote it?” A teen clad in red threw herself at the other corner of the railing the Gilt Robe Guards were taking up, leaning against it to gaze downwards, her face nicely surprised. “It’s vigorous and dynamic, yet tender and passionate, imitating the poise of the dancing Sea God. It’s beautiful.”
She was talking to herself, her tiny voice tugging at the heartstrings. The young Princess stared wide-eyed at the young one that suddenly showed up, almost blurting out “how could it be you?”.
“Who’s the performer? So skilled. Very elegant and pleasing to the ears,” the teen continued to mutter, looking at the young man playing the chiba onstage with envious admiration.
“That is the Eldest Scion of Assistant Minister of Rites Lin Zhi, Lin Mengdie.” A gentle sentence abruptly lunged out, promptly luring the teen’s attention away from the melody to look towards the woman who spoke.
That pretty face, shedding the childishness of the young under the contrasting shine of the Findragon Pavilion’s bright lights, securely caught the Regentess’s eyes the moment she glanced backwards. Such beauty was nearly illusory, like the moon’s reflection in a lake. Her Majesty loosened her hand around the long sabre she carried, unable to keep herself from stepping forward.
No one noticed a ripple appearing in that pair of ever-undisturbed eyes, the slight stir turning into huge waves. The Regentess, who had never once acknowledged someone else the whole night, suddenly opening her mouth to speak, had attracted the focus of all the Gilt Robe Guards nearby. The young Princess stared at her eldest sister in amazement, trying to find on the other’s face what she had been hoping to find for a long time now.
When her sights fell upon the Gilt Robe Guards at the side, Zhongli Shuo quickly realized how impolite she’d been within her recent entrancement by the music, and breezily cupped her hands in greeting towards them. “Many thanks to your information. I had been enthralled with the quyi just now, so please do not blame me for being so lacking in manners, Sers.” 
She bowed towards each of the Guards, not leaving a single one out. Her gaze went towards the woman who led them. “Would it be alright for this lowly one to stay here with you Sers and finish listening to the song?”
“It’s fine. Do as you like.” Unlike the gentle response from before, this Miss’s voice seemed somewhat cold and stiff. Zhongli Shuo didn’t pay any mind to these changes, leaning on the banister to listen to the melody.
What she wasn’t at all aware of was that the one she had been hoping to see all along was standing behind her, watching her steadily. The little Princess wanted to say something, but right as she parted her lips, the Regentess put her index finger to her lips to indicate for her to be quiet.
The Princess looked at her, then at the teen calmly listening to the performance, and she swallowed down each of her noises.
She suddenly thought back to her childhood, when she had once gone to the study to find her royal sister-in-law to play, and what she had ended up seeing was her eldest sister laying a cloak over the Heir who had fallen asleep at the table. She had sprinted forward happily then, only to get her sister’s arms wrapped around her, an index finger pushing down the lips that wanted to speak. What had her sister said back then? Right, she whispered to her: “Hush, Ning’r, be good and don’t disturb Her Majesty. The Heir is too tired, let Her sleep.”
Still small, she hadn’t understood the sentiment at the time. Thinking of it now, the Princess’s eyes gradually went red around the rims.
The Regentess stood behind Zhongli Shuo, observing that stunning side-profile that looked exactly how she first saw it. The hand hanging down at her side shifted a cun, not brave enough to stretch forwards.
All the Gilt Robe Guards behind Her were silent, accompanying Her to listen to the music.
At the song’s conclusion, a din came from all around. The young man in white didn’t care how others commented on his charms. He grasped his chiba and turned around, leaving the lotus leaf stage.
Zhongli Shuo watched his departing figure, wondering what the song was called. It had to be a new one. She really wanted find him to ask for its score.
“If the Young Scion wants the score, he may as well go to the Literature Advancement Institute to ask. As far I know, Scion Lin is still a musician there, and did not enter officialdom along with his father.” The woman’s voice sounded warm and soft, as if it were the gentlest spring water that caused one to feel incomparable content.
Her remark had Zhongli Shuo once more aware that she had spoken her thoughts aloud again. Raising her head with some embarrassment, she finally set her gaze on the woman before her.
Lan Province-born Yuezheng Su, though ill year-round, had been cultivated for the greater part of a year and had hit a growth spurt, being a lot taller than most women hence. The Gilt Robe Guard before her only reached her bottom lip.
The woman had a delicately charming face and donned the primrose uniform of the Guard. Though petite, she seemed to carry an exceptional strength. Zhongli Shuo composed herself, then looked into the other’s eyes – the moment they met, it was as if all her concentration was snatched. As she was deeply ensnared by those shining, dark black eyes, an abnormal feeling of familiarity bubbled forth from her heart.
These eyes… she must have seen them somewhere.
Chapter 9: Yet An Unfamiliar Person
Where had she seen them, though?
That thought stayed in Zhongli Shuo’s mind for but a brief moment. She looked towards the woman before her that had kindly given her information twice, then cupped her hands in thanks. “This lowly one is once again grateful for the knowledge, Miss, and can’t thank you enough.” As she bowed, Zhongli Shuo could smell the incense wafting from the other’s body. It was of cloves, soothing those who whiffed it.
Zhongli Shuo had an idea within her, unsure of why she was being so talkative herself. “I don’t know what your position in the Gilt Robe Guard is, but please allow this humble one to visit your home and repay you for the great favor of this information.”
She looked to be about fifteen or sixteen, a faction of innocence and cuteness yet consistent with the elder Imperial Guards of the same generation. The Princess who had already recognized her took in the youth’s guileless appearance, then looked towards her Regal Sister, staving off her desire to speak up.
Her Majesty, in her primrose suit, slightly tilted her head up, looking at the youth whose eyes seemed to be glowing. “All I did was tell you something in passing, and now it’s a favor?” she asked warmly.
“Of course it is. It was a good song; if you didn’t tell me this, Miss, where else would I find out?”
“There’s many folks in the Pavilion. You could ask any one of them and they could tell you.”
“But you told me it first, Miss, and that was an immense grace.” Zhongli Shuo smiled lightly. She didn’t know why she wanted to talk to the woman before her so much; perhaps it was her upright, small stature and gentle, steady speech that excessively reminded her of a certain someone.
The teen answered slowly and delicately, a bit of stubbornness penetrating her clear eyes. That kind of expression held a pure adorableness that was impossible to hate. The Regentess watched her conscientiously, gazing into her eyes as if she were looking at someone else. “You like the song that much?”
“It’s a good one, so of course I’d like it. You listened to it too, what do you think of it?”
“It was pretty good,” the Regentess nodded.
“That’s great.” Zhongli Shuo smiled. “So what sort of Imperial Guard are you, Miss? What’s your name, so that this humble one may find you in the future?”
“Before asking for someone’s taboo name, you should always introduce yourself first.”
The two’s back-and-forth had quite a bit of talking to it. Nobody butted in at this juncture, all of them concealing their astonishment as they witnessed the exchange.
“This humble one was being rude.” The red-clad Zhongli Shuo chuckled lightly. “I am Yuezheng—“
“Scion Yuezheng, Scion Yuezheng…” Before she could finish speaking, a young attendant in blue clothes passed in front of the Miss from the Guard and firmly grabbed her hand, dragging her away and chattering as they did so. “Miss Yuezheng has started calling for people to find you. There’s so many nobles here, you mustn’t provoke them.”
The hauled-off Zhongli Shuo was pulled away before she could even react. She urgently turned her head towards the sabre-carrying leader of the Gilt Robe Guard, her eyes falling upon the paint on the hilt of her blade. “I am Yuezheng Su, and my home is on Finebloom Lane,” she said cheerfully. “You’re a Guard of the South Gate, right? At the time of the Monkey tomorrow,  this humble one will bring a meager gift to the South Gate Department in thanks. If you don’t have work tomorrow, I’ll put the present in the Department’s hall. Remember to take it!”
The teen’s prolonged speech attracted the attention of quite a few people. She was completely unaware, though, and after saying all that, she turned to the young attendant beside her. “I’ve inconvenienced you to wait for a long time, and that’s my fault. Did my big sister chastise you?”
Her voice was gentle. She spoke mildly, and acted familiarly; the young attendant’s chest full of unhappiness turned into embarrassment. “It’s no good for you to run off, Scion,” they could only say, “there’s so many Sers here, and if you offended somebody, it would be difficult for us lowly ones to deal with. You also know that we are just scraping by in the palace…”
“What’s your name? Which Hall do you serve in?”
“This lowly one is named Chang Shou, serving the Rising Palace — did Scion Yuezheng offend the Sers of the Gilt Robe Guards just now? They were surrounding you. This lowly one thought they were thinking to make trouble for you?” The young attendant chattered, expressing all the worries they’d just had.
Zhongli Shuo nodded, then listened to them talk on and on about how the Sers of the Gilt Robe Guard had high positions and profound authority, were able to cover the sky with one hand, and were vicious fiends, all the while she internally mulled over how she was going to explain her so-called ‘running off’ to her elder sister.
The Regentess stood in the same place, clenching the long sabre at her waist as she watched both of their figures gradually get further away, that dab of hopeful light at the back of her eyes disappearing completely.
Yuezheng Su… that was Ah-Ying’s little sister. The Thorn Emperor and Irenic Eldest Princess’s mother had been a pampered Consort of the Crowncharm Harem , and Yuezheng Ying’s maternal grandmother had been that mother’s younger twin sister. As that blood relation was neither too close nor too far, Yuezheng Ying and the Resplendent Heir had quite some similarity. Compared to her, Yuezheng Su had inherited even more of her mother’s good looks, as she had an almost identical face to that of the Bright Emperor.
The Regentess had never seen Yuezheng Su after she had grown, and when she heard that name, it was like she had just woken up from a dream. You see, how could a person that had finally remembered her stop and say that all to her before departing?
From start ’til finish, the Regentess had hidden her emotions very well, and she maintained her ever-stable attitude. Nobody knew how her heart surged with waves when she saw that teen. All the things from her dreams that she didn’t dare to long for instantly gushed out in a torrent, becoming an empty vacuum the moment that teen turned around.
“Regal Sister…” The young Princess waiting beside her started to say, using a cautious tone as she watched her eldest sister standing stock-still. “That’s Miss Yuezheng’s ‘little brother’. She looks… a lot like sister-in-law.” Right. It was like a mere trick of the eye, making one think that person was alive again and showed up right before their eyes.
“She really does.” The Regentess laughed, no emotion heard in her voice. Saying so, she turned to stride towards the place she was supposed to have remained from the beginning.
It was only a similarity, however. Just like a flower in a mirror, or the moon’s reflection in water, it wasn’t real.
She’d already died, dead in the inferno of the Ancestral Hall as rebels broke through the imperial city, turning to ashes with pride in her bones.
“‘A child of Heaven defends the country’s openings, a ruler dies for the people and their land.’ That’s something Zitong said to me. You will yet go North, and this lofty one will stand guard in the imperial city. The defending ruler will be safe and sound, far behind the front lines.”
One so weak, one who didn’t understand the Court, had mingled with the cunning officials in the Court and exhausted all her strength to settle the situation. Even before she died, she did all she could to save the countless citizens of Yuan City.
The Bright Emperor wrote an edict of her sins, placing all responsibility onto herself, and when defending the imperial city became an impossibility, she opened the city gates, praying in her edict for the rebel army to not harm a single commoner of the city. Everyone believed her stance to have been begging forgiveness from the rebels and that it was profusely shameless; to this day, people felt that the edict of sin was a colossal shame of the Chu State.
But were there any who cared that, when the rebels entered the city, they were intimidated by the realm’s pensive public opinion, and genuinely never wantonly massacred them?
That Resplendent Heir, who hadn’t the air of a monarch in the eyes of officials and could only talk of frivolous things, was a ruler deserving of her lifelong devotion in Xuan Jingchen’s heart. The Bright Emperor kept the land’s people in her core, and her chest held a deep ravine, as a great hero of indomitable spirit.
Yet, that was only something she was aware of. She was aware, yet she never told her. For that, she could only bear the Bright Emperor’s expectations and set off with diligence.
I can only hope that the world’s prosperity is as you wish, so that you may be at peace in the underworld.
Xuan Jingchen walked step-by-step to the lord’s seat that had everyone’s complete attention. Her inclination to go out and take a look anyone else was extinguished. She shed her primrose uniform and removed her makeupped disguise, changing into a heavy and complicated dragon robe. Just like every day following her ascension, she held the poise of a regent.
Before Xuan Jingchen returned to her seat, Zhongli Shuo, who had finally been caught by the attendants, was returned to her elder sister. Believing that her ‘younger brother’ was too eye-catching, Yuezheng Ying thought of the statement the attendant had uttered earlier, and couldn’t keep from preaching at her. “Didn’t I tell you not to run around? There’s so many nobles here, what could we do if someone bullied you?”
“I won’t do it next time. By the way, big sis, did you hear that chiba’s melody just then?” As Zhongli Shuo took her seat – and after noting that the other was scolding her too harshly – she impatiently tossed out her own question. “I heard a Miss of the Gilt Robe Guard say that was the Eldest Scion of Assistant Minister Lin’s family. What did you think of that song, big sis? Was it nice to listen to?”
Her interest was plainly visible on her face. Not knowing much about the interests of this little sister she hadn’t seen for so long, Yuezheng Ying looked inside herself before she replied. “It was nice, of course, but why are you asking this, Ah-Su?”
“It did sound nice. Can big sis do me a favor and help me ask about what Assistant Minister and Eldest Scion Lin like?” Since the start of the Great Chu, every province’s folk customs had been unrestrained by convention. Women had been in politics for an eternity by now, and from several hundreds of years back, the laws of marriage between men and between women were formed. There was nothing inappropriate with scoping out what people liked.
Yuezheng Ying thought that over for a moment. “You want to find Scion Lin for the score, Ah-Su?”
Zhongli Shuo smiled in embarrassment, her desires discovered with one word. “Mn. Ah-Su wants to learn this melody with Scion Lin.”
“But the chiba is an instrument Her Majesty banned, Ah-Su…”
“Didn’t he just play it tonight? Besides, Her Majesty is a lenient person, it won’t be an issue.” Zhongli Shuo was in high spirits; maybe Zitong’s ban on the chiba was only a play for the old fuddy-duddies in Yuan City? Maybe there was some other ulterior motive within it?
Having been reborn for so long, she was vaguely aware that the Bright Emperor’s critiques were not that great in the scholarly circle, and this ban that was more or less related to her was presumably the masterpiece of that flock of old farts.
Yuezheng Ying knew the teen was interested and couldn’t help but sigh. The kid was clueless; likely everyone at the scene understood and knew what Lin Mengdie’s violation of the ban was for, right? It wasn’t to suck-up to Her Majesty, it was to get favored into the top spot of the inner palace.
Who didn’t know that the Bright Emperor was breezy and talented, went year-round without binding her hair up in a pin-crown, and wore white like the most elegant Yun Province youths? Who didn’t know that the Bright Emperor played a good chiba, and its outstandingly beautiful voice could be said to be that of the imperial dragon’s?
That Lin Mengdie totally re-sculpted the young Bright Emperor’s image tonight, going for Her Majesty’s constant thoughts about her late spouse so that it might give rise to some affection towards him. Such a clumsy solicitation for favor would very likely turn the Lin family into the latest laughingstock in the mouths of every major official tonight.
Yet, against hopes, on a night where everyone was using all their power to even be a substitute so long as they could get a place in the inner palace, her little sister who seemed to be 100% qualified to be a substitute was suddenly wanting to go searching for a chiba song.
Fool child. You’re trickling into these muddied waters.
Yuezheng Ying looked unperturbed, but she was unceasingly trying to think of how to dispel Yuezheng Su’s fascination in her head. Right then, she heard the other say: “Right, a Miss of the Gilt Robe Guard told me this. I want to give proper thanks to the one I spoke to.
Do you know the Sers in the South Gate’s guards, sis? Could you help me by asking around about it? That one was a woman: she only went up to my lower lip, was delicately pretty, about twenty years old, and looked dignified and upright.” Zhongli Shuo played her ‘little brother’ demeanor well, spilling everything out of her brain. “Yeah, she spoke softly and unhurriedly, probably had a very calm temperament, and had the fragrance of cloves…”
“A Gilt Robe Guard using incense? That should be easy to find.” Yuezheng Ying noticed her attention diverting, and after listening for a spell, she couldn’t help but interrupting.
The moment she said so, she noticed Yuezheng Su had stopped talking.
“Styrax smells too icy. Her Highness couldn’t get used to the smell, so I’ll be burning cloves from now on.”
Those particular words in her ear, and her recollection of the sound of that voice from just then, were not-too-distant fragments that converged together, making Zhongli Shuo’s brain suddenly flip around.
The teen turned her head to look towards the place they had parted, her eyes glistening.
That was… Zitong.
She was Zitong.
The author says for 8: Primrose-colored = yellow.
The author says for 9: They both think the other to be a great hero. Nothing wrong with mutual adoration.
The translator says: I spent the last few days binge-reading Female General and Eldest Princess, hence the delay and me just deciding to put both last week and this week’s update into one post. Good shit, btw, 100% recommend also binge-reading it.
 The text uses 皇夫, “emperor’s husband”, which is a word that doesn’t officially exist. So, using the masculine suffix -et from French, I also made a word that doesn’t exist. Hohoho.
 The infamous term ‘daren’ rears its head again… ‘Ser’ (pronounced sair) is a sometimes gender-neutral replacement for ‘Sir/Miss’, which I typically translate the phrase as, but I don’t really like the plural form ‘Misses’ and it’s clunky if the group is mixed-gender. All plurals of the term from now on, gender aside, will use Sers.
 Chinese 2-hour periods (aka shichen) are each named after an animal from the zodiac, and I’ll be calling them as such. The article linked will be linked on all future uses of the terminology as a refresher.
 艳冠后宫 – Glamorous Crown Harem
[-] I’d like to note the use of ‘Regentess’ here; Xuan Jingchen is prominently called 女皇 (lit. female emperor, aka empress) or 女帝 (synonym), but has also infrequently been referred to as the straight-up Emperor 皇帝. (Of note, the other female Emperors have never been called 女皇, only 皇帝.) I render it as Regentess every time to prevent terminology confusion; Empress will, of course, be reserved solely for a ruler’s wife.