Epilogue: Flying Into The Homes Of The Common People
In heaven’s recording of the fifth year, spring, Zhang Zhou’s old general Bai Wei led troops of one hundred and seventy thousands up north, saving Du Cheng from its siege, Nu King Ye Li was forced into retreat. The frontiers halted battles for more than two months, Qi Ling and Nu Tribe reaches settlement. Yet Ye Li actually mobilised troops to head down south during the peace settlement, Bai Wei thus suffering a great defeat, with the loss of eighty thousand soldiers outside Du Cheng, falling back to guard Tong Shu, Nu King is of valiant bearings, unwilling to give up and follows in pursuit, successively capturing three cities, Bai Wei’s hair grew white overnight, committing suicide in Xi Zhou.
Zheng Liu was outraged by this. The value of the Shu Clan is put forth in this moment, under desperate measures, Zheng Liu elects Shu Yu Cai as commander, leading troops in Xi Zhou, preventing Nu King Ye Li from advancing south. Shu Yu Cai had only just reached his twenties, skilled in all areas of astronomy and geography, and is particularly well versed in the art of war. Taking to brutal means, on the battlefield there is nothing he will hold back on, Nu King could also do nothing about this, the two sides continues their confrontation in Xi Zhou for five years, the war adding up to almost a hundred battles, the people residing by the frontier lines miserably suffers. In heaven’s recording of the tenth year, autumn, Nu King Ye Li’s body feeling unwell, thus retreats. In the winter of the same year, the two nations makes peace negotiations — with the exclusion of Xi Zhou — Tong Shu, Tu Lun Fan, Du Cheng, these three lands are ceded to the Nu Tribe, the two nations comes to a truce.
The Battle of the Jade Governor continued for five years, Emperor Zheng Liu of Qi Ling had his worries taking a toll on his health, body hit with a vicious disease, his condition sometimes good sometimes bad, the imperial physician at loss what to do, reaching the time of the year everything returns to spring, the season of flourishing flowers, the truce between the two nations restored peace to the hearts of the people, yet Zheng Liu entered the state of being incurably ill, disregarding all medications.
“Your highness, your highness……” The palace maid hurriedly runs into the hall, the Empress who was sat behind the curtains with sleepy eyes, was startled by this cry, her eyes abruptly opens, unable to conceal how taken aback she is, “Is his majesty……”
“Reporting to your highness, his majesty urgently summons you, the imperial physician……the imperial physician says may your highness quickly go, any longer and it may be too late!”
The Empress deeply furrows her brows, combing back the hair on her temples, in that very moment, a flash of sorrow is revealed in her expression, but disappears without a trace, standing up, she orders, “Quickly summon the Imperial Lin Army’s Commander into the palace to await orders!” The personal palace maid quickly runs out, the Empress gently lets out a sigh, leading a group of palace maids and guards, she hurries towards Yu Gan Hall.
The outside of Yu Gan Hall filled with towering ancient trees, the spring sun shines between the branches, a luxuriant green like jade, just that as one approaches, a thick herbal smell rushes up the nose, gloom follows the herbal smell in dispersing into the spring shades. The Empress steps into the hall, attentively looking over, this hall uses the reflections of glass to gather lighting, the lighting like strings of beads, the form it takes like a woman with hair done up in a highly pulled back bun, a great aesthetic style.
The countless times she has entered and exited this hall, but this one time, it is just like the first time she had stepped inside, heart at great unease, as though sensing an inner voice screaming within her chest, her heart beats faster, wanting to jump out of her chest. Inside the hall, so open and empty, deeply secluded, with not the slightest of sound, knowing that the Emperor has only summoned for her alone, the servants withdrawing to the left and right, she slowly paces into the hall.
“Is that Empress?” Behind the heavy curtains, a deep voice gently calls out, his tone very low, like an echo bouncing off the walls.
“Your majesty, it is I!”
The one behind the curtains seems to have let out a sigh, but also seems to not have let out a sigh, the Empress lowers her eyes, the bottom of her feet smooth and flat like a mirror, she lightly holds up her skirt as she heads forward, leaving behind a very light shadow.
“Help me up!” Zheng Liu says. The Empress hurries forward, rolls up the curtains, half sitting on the side of the bed, reaching out to help Zheng Liu up, placing an embroidered pillow behind him, beyond the curtains there contains a type of smoked ambergris scent, surging up the nose, making her feel a little dizzy, seeing the situation beyond the curtains, her heart is hit with shock, a richly sour feeling hits nose, and she was practically about to break down in tears, mouth unable to refrain from softly calling out: “Your majesty……”
Zheng Liu smiles, ever since he had fallen gravely ill, it seems to be the first time he had revealed a smile: “I just had a dream, dreamt of seeing Mother Empress, she says I had been lying here for too long, should I lie here any longer, this country of the Zheng Clan’s will end up in the hands of others……”
“Your majesty……” The Empress lowly murmurs, the tears unknowingly falling down, “Your majesty’s dragon body is priority, the big matters within court naturally has, naturally has……” Anxiety rising in her heart, all of a sudden, unable to think of anyone else in court who is worthy of mentioning.
Zheng Liu closes his eyes, calmly saying: “I am ill, but not old, what the imperial court is looking like right now, how could I not know? Empress, I have made an imperial decree several days ago, placed on the table, you go help me get it.”
The Empress nods, wiping away her tears, she stands up, coming up to the table, a piece of paper placed on top of the dark red wood, a few lines of words hastily written over it, the imperial decree laid out flatly, her eyes sweeps across, seeing the two words “eldest son”, heartbeats like thunder, hands refusing to listen to the mind as it trembles, touching upon the imperial decree, she dares not to look at it anymore, hurriedly rolling it up. Within this lifetime of hers, she has received countless imperial decrees, but only the one in her hands, seems to weigh heaviest, as heavy as thousands of jin.
Zheng Liu does not even glance at the paper in the Empress’ hands, only saying: “You take a look.” The Empress’ hands starts trembling, unable to suppress the feelings of worries, panic, and also that type of indefinable sense of unpredictable overcast, slowly unrolling the paper, those few lines, she has stared at for a very long time, her brows creasing together, as she says: “Your majesty wants to mobilise the southern army to eradicate Prince Duan? But, but doing this, is it not, forcing him into revolting? Also the Shu Clan, they gained merit for the Battle of the Jade Governor, yet your majesty……your majesty wants……”
“Empress,” Zheng Liu cuts off the Empress’ speech, face looking more pale white than that of paper, his right hand slightly raises, “I know, Yu Yan He of Jin Yang is your assistant in power, he can be a great supporter, in future, can become one of your strong pillars in court. The old minister of three generations, Yan Gang, is most loyal to our Zheng Clan, in future when Xuan-er succeeds the throne, old ministers like him still needs to be relied upon. You remember, master is weak, subjects are deceiving, number one - must guard against those who hold great power, number two - must guard against being a weak master with overpowering subjects, number three - must guard against those of royal bloodline……Prince Duan is currently assembling forces gradually, has long lost the heart to be subject, taking advantage of him having not an ounce of suspicion right now, destroy him in one strike, should this opportunity be missed, once I leave, you mother and son alone, how are you to stand against him……?” He has spoken so much in one breath, seeming to have already exhausted himself, his brows tightly knitting together.
The Empress was just about to speak, but was stopped by the look in his eyes, after taking a little break, Zheng Liu continues: “The Shu Clan are a hidden danger, but can temporarily be put aside for now, should you go against both the Shu Clan and Prince Duan at the same time, it will instead make them join hands, then this country of our Zheng Clan can no longer be protected. Two powerholders plotting against the lesser, the meaning behind this, you should be well aware of……Empress, Xuan-er is too young, I electing him as future emperor, who knows how many conniving wolves will be hiding in the shadows, Empress, in future you must not act impulsively, can only carefully plan out your path, first kill Prince Duan, then destroy the Shu Clan!”
The Empress upon seeing him forcefully keep his eyes open, an extraordinary splendour in his eyes overflowing, immediately panics, as she persuades: “What your majesty has said, I know, I know……your majesty, you take care of your dragon body, these big matters will not be too late to take care of once your majesty gets better……”
Yet Zheng Liu seems to not have heard her, mind at ease as though in deep sleep, abruptly, he waves both his hands, right hand grabbing upwards, but is unable to get hold of anything, his peaceful face reveals a trace of deep sorrow, mind seeming to have already turned hazy, his lips muttering: “Empress……Empress……”
“I am here.” Reaching out her hands, taking old of Zheng Liu’s struggling right hand, the palm of his hand cold like ice.
“You tell me, where is she, just where is she?”
She? Which she?
The Empress parts her lips, but senses a bitter feeling in her mouth, with not a single word coming out, instead, a string of tears comes rolling down, marking a blotch of dark yellow on her chest.
Zheng Liu widens his eyes, directly looking into the veiled curtains, hastened tone revealing his disorderly state: “Did that arrow hit her? Did it hit her……who is to tell me, if it hit her?”
The Empress stiffly leaves him to grab onto her hand, Zheng Liu’s grip tightens the longer he holds on, a state of utter panic, seeming to be grabbing onto something with his life, and all seems to be completely in vain.
Hand sensing pain, heart, seems to be even more in pain, as though a roar is trying to break out from her chest, and the moment she parts her lips, that roar only comes out in the form of gentle words: “Your majesty……already passed, that has already passed, it has already been five years ah……”
Zheng Liu was stunned, the evident panic between his brows lightening up, yet the sorrow thickens: “Five years, it’s been five years? Why do I feel it was but only a moment ago, I see her every night in my dreams, she is smiling, smiling so sweetly, I have never seen her smile like that before……why has she never smiled at me? Ye Li’s arrow shot her, I almost went crazy upon hearing the news, hating to be unable to kill Ye Li immediately on the spot, I have sent for so many people to look into it, but have not gotten any news of her……exactly is she dead or alive? What about Lou Che, he too had disappeared, where has he gone? I am waiting for his return, return to fight a decisive battle against me, why is he too not returning……she and he, exactly where have they gone? You all tell me……where have they gone?”
His last sentence shouted out aloud, the loose hair as though dyed in frost scatters by his cheek, eyes looking lax. The Empress kneels beside the bed, half sprawled on Zheng Liu’s body, suppressing his struggle, eyes and nose running, burying her head into Zheng Liu’s chest, clearly hearing that “putong putong” heartbeat, so close to her, in the end, she could no longer tell whose heartbeat it is.
“Your majesty……your majesty……please stop thinking about it, it’s already been so long, already been so long ah……” The Empress wails, “Your majesty, Prime Minister Lou is not returning, that one arrow, ended everything, Prime Minister Lou is most unwilling to give up his power, but for Gui Wan, he is willing to do anything……your majesty, please stop thinking about it, they are not returning, not returning!”
The hall suddenly turns silent, other than the Empress’ wailing, nothing more can be heard, the struggles and cries just now, fades away as though it was all but an illusion. The Empress raises her head, tears blurring both eyes, Zheng Liu silently lies there, the Empress’ hand senses something wet and warm, upon a closer look, Zheng Liu’s face, actually has wet trails.
“Lou Che willing to give up all for her, I know, if not he would not have kneeled before me back then, is this the reason? I can present all treasures before her, yet for her, Lou Che is able to give up all these treasures……is this the difference? Ha-ha-ha-ha……” He crazily laughs out loud, his breathing unstable, “I was wrong, I missed the opportunity……back then I investigated her identity, she too had once drawn the Emperor Swallow Stick, I should have kept her behind……I was wrong……”
“Your majesty,” The Empress withdraws the hand suppressing Zheng Liu, “Back then I had tested her, she said she is simply not a phoenix that can enter the imperial family, it is her who gave up all these, not your majesty’s fault ah……”
It is uncertain whether Zheng Liu is able to clearly listen to these words, those eyes that were once deeply filled with brilliance gathers away its light, leaving a deep deep black, one look sees a bottomless pit: “She doesn’t want……what I give, she doesn’t want!”
He softly says, only speaking for himself to hear. The Empress hears this, sensing nameless sorrow. After a long time, Zheng Liu had already restored his quiet, the corner of his lips hangs a faint smile, just the same as usual.
“Empress, you tell Xuan-er, I am not a good father, I will be leaving behind the two of you, to continue to struggle for this imperial throne. Just that I have a few words to leave for Xuan-er, tell him, the imperial throne, is honey on the tip of the blade, should you grow greedy for that sweet taste, you will be entangling yourself in a bloody mess, and those around you will avoid, give way, such taste, is far too lonely……”
Heart as though a hole had been drilled through, empty, painfully worried, the Empress forces herself to nod her head with a smile: “Yes, I will naturally convey this.”
Zheng Liu says no more, the Empress takes hold of the blanket beside the bed, gently covering him with it. The lighting in the hall overflowing, filling up the space behind the curtains, faces pale and cold, chin pointy, an entire face giving rise to a layer of light green. She looks at his face, heart beating like a drum, within the heavy silence, she hurriedly turns away, covering her face with her sleeve, wiping away the tears.
The entire hall in complete silence, quiet to the extreme, Zheng Liu tossed and turn just now, very tired, seeming to be in deep sleep. Within this quiet hall, only his breathing can be heard, every inhale and exhale, deep and shallow. She holds back her breath to listen, yet her eyes wanders around the inner hall, the lighting outside the curtains frequently forming strings, passing through the reflection of the glass, it carries slight colour, sometimes yellow, or red, casting upon the mirror-like tiled ground, the lighting appears alive, quietly spilling out from the air.
How long has it been since she has experience such silence before? So long even she herself has forgotten. These past few years, did she have any moment that is like today’s?
Since the Battle of the Jade Governor started, first it was Ba Wei who got defeated, committing suicide in Xi Zhou, following on, his majesty had been physically and mentally exhausted, severely ill, on one hand, the imperial court goes through reformations, eliminating those of the Lou faction, on the other hand, Prince Duan is unable to remain still……for how many years has she survived outside this hall?
Pile after pile of happenings, which of these did not leave people worried, stuck in a dilemma?
She lowers her head, noticing her own hand, smooth and tender, fair like jade, still looking like a young girl in her twenties, not at all seeing the signs of aging. But deep inside, she is well aware, she is already old, even if her appearance remains the same as the past, the heart, has already grown old.
Within these five years, she has been in this hall, watching Zheng Liu grow weaker and weaker, moment after moment of aging, only feeling that these days are so long, with no limits and boundaries……just like this, pushing the heart to mature.
Upon thinking this, she cannot help but to sense a sour feeling in her heart, silently letting out a soft side, turning around, she catches glimpse of Zheng Liu’s bright yellow sleeve hanging outside the blanket, reaching out, she gently tucks it back into the silk covers. Within a trance, the hand under the covers abruptly grabs onto her wrist, heart sounding “putong”, giving her a little scare.
“Gui Wan?” Zheng Liu turns around, deeply calling out, voice a little unclear, seems like sleep talking.
Just now, she was still in a bit of daze, her thinking unclear, upon hearing this calling, a burst of chills hits her heart, her entire person wide awake, face turning red then white, the silk cover before her such a brilliant yellow, so bright to the point of blinding. She withdraws her hand, the force in this movement extremely great.
Zheng Liu is startled awake, opening his eyes: “En?”
The Empress was terrified, only now does she realised what she had done, hurriedly saying: “I was discourteous.”
Zheng Liu once again calls out: “Is Empress?” The Empress sounds a reply.
“You were watching over all along?” Zheng Liu’s spirits seems to be slightly better, “You too must be tired, so take a rest, the decree I gave you, take good care of it.”
The Empress is slightly stunned, only saying: “Your majesty, how about I continue to accompany you here?”
Zheng Liu did not expect her to say this, raising his head to get a good look, stupefied. Chest gradually feeling stuffy, breathing uneven, he was even having difficulty with breathing, not knowing where he got the strength, he waves his hand in irritation: “Withdraw, withdraw……I don’t need taking care of.”
Ever since Zheng Liu had fallen ill, his temper had always been bad, the Empress could only helplessly withdraw away from the curtains, kneeling on the ground: “I shall take my leave.” No one speaks from behind the curtains, she slowly stands, holding the imperial decree placed at the side, with slight movements from her fingers, it is put away into her sleeves. Settling down her feelings, she turns and leaves. With every step the colourful lighting from the glass circles around the floor, as she walks out of the large empty hall.
Hearing this sound of soft calling, her body is stunned, steps coming to a stop. Frantically looking back, staring towards the curtains unbelievingly, the wind gently blows, the pond-like ground ripples, sparkling gold.
Just like when she had just entered the palace to become Princess Consort, he had once stood beyond the curtains, half holding up the curtain, a smile hanging between his brows, softly smiling, every word calling out to her: “He Chu, He Chu……”
But this sound of calling, she has waited for, for ten years already.
“Your majesty,” She speaks up, voice trembling badly, words not matching the tune.
“I know, you and they are keeping it from me, not letting me know……” Beyond the hazy curtains, his voice is faint like a flat line.
The Empress slightly trembles, her lips parts, a mix of colour flashing past her eyes, getting a splitting headache, yet deep inside she could only think: He knows, he knows everything, he knows everything……
“I do not blame, you are doing it for my own good, but I just want to know, she……exactly is she……” A sudden shortness of breath disrupts his words, the Empress silently listens, half her body turning numb, kneeling down on the ice cold floor, only her delicate figure stands amongst this huge hall, such desolation difficult to describe.
“For- forget it……you withdraw, I don’t want to know,” The one behind the curtains heavily breaths, such breathing already using up all the energy in him, his throat hoarse, spending a long time trying to get the words out, he is finally able to say with great difficulty:
“These years, it has been difficult for you.”
How could the Empress possibly hold back anymore, the tears streaming down, she cover her face, pushing her body up, hastily stumbling out in leaving the hall.
The sunlight outside the hall shining bright, bringing the brilliance of spring to an end, warmth harmoniously fills the air. The servants within the courtyard are all being sent away, she looks over this empty yard, wailing aloud.
An entire lifetime of tears, seeming to be used in this one moment.
This one cry took up an entire hour, the moment she snaps out of it, the skies were already dark, it is already evening. The flowing tears from her eyes coming to an end, and only now does her heart feel lighter. Thinking over the situation in Yu Gan Hall today, heart like an understanding mirror, able to make out the meaning. Hand reaching into her sleeves, tightly gripping onto the light paper, she slowly walks out of the courtyard to this hall.
Stepping out the main doors, a group of eunuchs and palace maids had long been waiting, seeing someone appear, a mass of dark heads kneels down. The Empress extremely exhausted, waves her hand as she says: “Return.”
Every person gasps, a few palace maids steps forward, upon getting a clear look of the Empress’ state, they were all shocked, not daring to say much, serving the Empress with great caution. The remaining people performs their respective duties, guarding outside Yu Gan Hall. The Empress’ body grew weak and numb, leaving the palace maids to support her, as they take a few steps out, once again turning her head back, the red lacquer and gold doors were deeply sombre, no longer able to restore its previous brilliance, as though purple smoke had been casted on it, dark and cold, the night skies like paint, giving rise to a chill in her heart, heart rolling like waves, but unable to explain why she is feeling like this.
Back to Feng Ye, the lanterns already lit up, scattering across the courtyard like bright little pearls. The palace maids withdraws to the sides, the Empress alone sits within the palace hall, watching the waving candlelights, casting a colour of silver brilliance onto the walls, whilst she herself silently enters deep thoughts.
It is in this moment a palace maid jogs in, the Empress greatly irritated, coldly says: “Did I not tell you all to withdraw?” The palace maid immediately kneels down, taking on this unpleasant task of reporting: “Head Eunuch De has been requesting an audience in the front hall for a while.”
The Empress turns her eyes, looking at the shadow the lanterns had casted in the front hall, saying: “Allow him in.” The palace maid sounds a reply and withdraws, not long after, De Yu in a body of scarlet red robes slowly paces in, without raising his eyes, he respectfully bows down.
“What matters does De gong-gong have?” These past few years, the only person whose words can get through to Zheng Liu is him, because of this, the Empress has always maintained politeness towards him.
“Your highness, the Imperial Lin Army’s commander upon receiving your highness’ decree, has been waiting outside the palace for half a day.” De Yu says.
The Empress knits her brows together, only now does she recall the decree set in case of any emergencies, saying: “Allow him to withdraw.” De Yu upon hearing the orders, does not move, steadily remains standing before the hall. The Empress seeing him with not the slightest of response, could not help but be angered, cold eyes shooting towards him: “My orders, did you not hear it?”
“This little one believes that the right course of action is for your highness to have the Imperial Lin Army’s general to remain ready on standby outside the palace.” De Yu speaks with a neutral tone, neither high nor low, clean and clear like a jaded bird, not hurried nor slow as he speaks, putting one at ease.
The Empress’ wrath, was originally about to erupt, but once De Yu had finished speaking, upon thinking more carefully, it indeed makes sense, suppressing the anger within, the Empress asks: “What’s the reason?”
De Yu raises his head, skin fair and bright, brows and eyes show righteousness, as he lowly says: “Prince Duan is currently in Qu Zhou, only two days journey from the Capital, only if your highness takes advantage of this timing to grasp hold of the Capital’s military power now, would Prince Duan not be able to act recklessly……”
The Empress was greatly shocked, blurting out: “His majesty, his majesty is still here……you……”
De Yu’s pitch black pupils meets with the Empress’ panic-stricken eyes, sternly saying: “Could it be the imperial physician did not tell your highness, his majesty is already unable to get up these days, only today did his spirits liven up, can only be afraid……” He swallows back the remaining words, attentively looking over the Empress, seeing her seem to be concerned, and not showing any trace of anger, he immediately continues to speak, “Your highness may not have taken precaution for the rainy days ahead, but the best way to go is to take preventive measures. By taking control of all imperial guards within the Capital, those with ambitious heart, even worse, those with sinister intentions, will be brought to a deadlock within the Capital, your hands will also be gaining an additional bargaining chip in face of struggles, more importantly, gaining precious timing to seek help from across the land.”
The Empress does not speak, eyeing De Yu from head to toe, cannot help but to grow suspicious, he was never one who served her, nor has he ever gained anything from her, why is everything he is doing, helping her? Every word spoke, is to plan things out for her……
“These five years, his majesty greatly ill, bad tempered, when I have matters to report, it is often gong-gong who gave way to me, also pitching in good words to his majesty very often, today gong-gong has even hurried here to plan ahead for me, gong-gong’s deeds, truly makes me puzzled.”
De Yu faintly smiles, the Empress’ eyes fixed onto him, her head slightly lowered, the pearls by her ears swaying, giving rise to silver lighting under the lanterns, that side profile, is exactly like that one person in his memory, who also lowers her head in smiling like this, and also carries a hint of faint silver lighting. De Yu slightly falls into a trance, due to having recalled certain matters and happenings, he has slightly frozen in sorrow, his mouth unknowingly answering: “Entrusted by another.”
The Empress’ brows jumps up: “Who?”
The hall filled with deeply still air, echoing her sound of “who”, De Yu stands still with not a word, the Empress’ eyes like a bright blade circling around him. Thinking without stop deep inside, the breeze during spring night as though carrying a sharp chill, whistling into the hall, causing the lanterns to sway in a disorderly manner, disturbing the lighting within. Thousands and thousands of thoughts and clues flashing by the mind, the Empress’ heart thrown into chaos, only feeling that she is missing something, suddenly, a lightning flash passes.
“It’s her!” She lowly cries out.
This ball of mess has been unravelled, gaze deadly set on the bowing De Yu, her heart feeling as though a knife has ripped an opening in it, many many things, one by one falling out onto the ground, her heart is clear, at the same time feels lighter, lighter than a feather.
“So it is you, so it is you, I alone, how could I possibly keep away the news from his majesty, so it was you who aided me from the shadows,” The Empress bitterly laughs, “No wonder his majesty does not know, that’s right, in this palace, only you are able……”
De Yu sees her eyes look far away, suddenly solemn, a pair of autumn-like eyes reflecting countless number of things, the things weighing her down is too much, making one feel pressured, not daring to watch intently, he calls out: “Your highness.”
The Empress does not answer, hand on her head as she softly sighs, motionless for a long time, after a long moment, does she remember something, suddenly raising her head, saying: “Back then did his majesty investigate her? Did she really draw out that stick?” This voice directly bursting out from her chest, desperately quick, leaving her to pant.
“Yes. Because Prime Minister Lou looked into it first, his majesty also sent for people to look into the matter, according to the investigator’s reports, that day at the temple, all worshippers gathered, the young monks made a little mistake, knocking over two kau chim pots, the sticks mixed together, there were two people who drew out the stick.”
“Two people? Who was the other person?”
The Empress grips onto her own sleeve, her mind tightening, with the mentioning of this name, her heart cannot help but to sense pain, as though it is a thorn that had been stuck in her heart from a long time ago, even with the passing of time, one touch will still bring her pain. Her eyes looking into the distance, passing through the many courtyards, seeming to have flew faraway, above that brightly yellow large hall, to the already gravely ill emperor.
She cannot help thinking, within that emperor’s lifetime, his fake love, given to Yao Ying, his true love, given to Gui Wan, only she, real or fake, was given nothing.
Glamorous years flowing by like water, her lifetime, only comes down to this imperial palace in the night, and also the thin imperial decree in her sleeve.
“Your highness,” De Yu seeing her face turn ashen, hurriedly speaks, “Your highness must be prepared for the future, Crown Prince still needs your protection.”
The Empress is startled awake by the two words of “Crown Prince”, sitting up straight, she lightly grits her teeth, a chilly voice asking: “Then what was the results of the investigations? Exactly what makes the Emperor Swallow Stick so miraculous?”
De Yu lets a shallow smile float to the corner of his lips, shaking his head: “Your highness’ heart knows very well, so why continue to ask? What the investigator had reported back then, only one matter, I had kept away, not reporting it to his majesty.” From his waist he takes out an embroidered pouch, greyish pink satin, embroidered with cloud-like patterns, above it are golden tassels hanging, gently swaying in the wind, it appears to be well cherished, always kept by his side. From it, he takes out a snow clear silk fabric, folded into a little square. He takes two steps forward, passing it to the Empress: “This is the note that came with news of the Emperor Swallow.”
The hand passing it over is only a small distance away, she presses her lips together, face turning a little green, not daring to take it, that is a type of fear, fearing that this type of fate that makes her envious, can be shown to her so easily.
In this moment of her hesitation, a sharp ringing suddenly sounds from outside, the sounds are rapid and instable, instantly spreading throughout the entire imperial palace, piercing through the calm night. Inside the palace, there are people shouting, crying, unable to make out their voices. The Empress’ body trembles, her mouth turns dry, something seems to have lightly drift past her ears, yet she hears absolutely nothing. De Yu lightly sighs, taking back the note in hand. His gesture instable, the thin silk fabric drifts to the ground from his hand, yet he does not pick it up, freezing on the spot.
A palace maid breathlessly runs into the hall, face drenched in tears, crying as she speaks: “His ma……his majesty……passed away!”
The Empress opens her mouth, but says nothing. Only inhaling the cold air, the chill travelling into her body, filling her heart. She clutches onto her chest, afraid that any moment now, her heart will stop beating, touching her chest, there, it is also ice cold, body shivering.
She feels as though her alive and beating heart had just gotten a piece cut out of it, such numbing pain, too late to cry out loud, the tears in her eyes already cried dry, right now, only sensing astringent pain in her eyes.
She in his heart, be it real or fake, does not take up any space, gaining only a title. But now that he has gone, does she know, how much of her heart he had occupied. He is no more, her very last support is also no more, a scene of chaos before her eyes, vast emptiness behind her, all is empty.
“Your highness, your highness……” The palace maid shouts out aghast, seeing the Empress stare ahead, such state so chilling, so horrifying. De Yu steps forward, patting the Empress’ back, deep voice advising: “Your highness must take care, you still have Crown Prince.” The Empress catches her breath, unable to emit a sound, she grabs onto De Yu’s hand, long nails drawing red marks on the back of his hand.
“Gong-gong assist me!”
De Yu reads the words from her lips, solemnly nodding.
Tears slowly falls from the corner of her eyes, she thought that she no longer had anymore tears to cry out, turns out this thing called tears, also has no end, inexhaustible. The lanterns hanging from eaves sways to the wind, the lighting dimmed, reflected on everyone’s faces, also brings to light the dejection, carrying a mournful colour. After a long time, regaining her senses, she exerts some strength with her hands, pushing herself up. De Yu supports her from the side.
She has no time to be wailing, nor is there any time to be sorrowful, only in this moment, not knowing how many pairs of eyes in the Capital are simply watching on, how many sparkling hearts are beating. Should she spend this time weeping, her husband’s imperial throne, her son’s fate……what will become of it?
She cannot stall here.
“Come, prepare the sedan!” She speaks up, voice abnormally hoarse, suppressed, yet also extremely firm.
De Yu supports her arm, step by step heading down the hall.
That plain white note gets stepped on by her as she passes, yet she does not notice this in the slightest, eyes set straight ahead, each step more steady than the other, each step more certain than the other, each step more graceful than the other.
The hall doors of Feng Ye are slowly closed behind her, sounding gezhi gezhi.
The lanterns within the hall all put out, quiet with not the slightest sound, the wind rustling by like screeching cries, the entire sky black, heavily falling upon the hall, only leaving behind that little touch of a pale white note, as thin as onion skin.
Only two lines written on it:
The swallows of the former noble families, has now flew into the homes of the common people.
 Lines from the poem Wu Yi Alley by 刘禹锡 Liú Yǔ Xī
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