Spring Once More - novelonlinefull.com
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Summoning spirits is always easier than dispelling them. The empress dowager has been here since early morning. The lunchtime intermission gives her an opportunity to scold the chef.
“You gang of incompetent servants! The seventh prince is still weak. What were you thinking putting fish and duck on the table? You think he can digest that?! Zhang-gonggong, after we return to the palace, send over some of the Laolaiqing and Bijing rice that were given as tribute from the Jiangnan region so they may be made into congee for the prince. Also send over the newly prepared tribute vegetable from Bozhou. Pick an excellent chef from the imperial kitchen and send him here. I simply do not trust the people here! Furthermore, announce This Dowager’s official edict: let it be that for three days, no act of killing shall be committed within the grounds of the capital, nor shall any animal products be consumed, in order that the little prince may collect yin merits.”
Oh G.o.ddammit, woman! Three days with no animal products – this means I can’t even sneak out of the manor to get myself some chow! Green leaves and radish skin…d.a.m.n it, I ain’t no rabbit!
After the meal, she calls the butler and all the servants to the main hall, and from behind the screen, she scolds each and every one of them. The old grandpa who fainted in the funeral pavilion turns out to be the butler of the prince’s manor, Zhong-shu. He was probably terrorized by the prince so often that he has a constant case of jelly legs, and kneeling before the empress dowager now, he’s barely breathing. I swear he’s on the verge of fainting again.
The sun begins to drop westward. Everyone has been scolded. The empress dowager has tired. She takes a sip of tea to moisten her throat before launching into another rant on everyone from the tea maker to the tea farmer. Finally, mission accomplished. And away she goes, back to the palace.
I can’t help but feel devastated realizing I have another three days to go with nothing but green leaves and radish skin. Xiao-Shun tries his best to comfort me, tripping over his words. “Milord, I know that Your Highness has missed the empress dowager dearly, but there is always tomorrow. You will have time to enter the palace and chat with Her Highness whenever you please.”
Oh f.u.c.k me!
The efficiency of the imperial house is astounding. I watch as a bowl of plainly boiled rice water is served on the dinner table along with a cold vegetable side dish. I grab a bit of the green stuff with my chopsticks and try it. Aack! What is this s.h.i.t, mountain jelly? How dare it be called tribute vegetable?
Today is destined to be a day of visitors. As I’m cursing that old witch silently for the plain congee and mountain jelly on my table, I am being notified that one Prince Ren has arrive at my manor.
Before I can say welcome, this Prince Ren character has already waltzed into the dining hall.
“Hey Ol’ Seven, what goodies are you hiding there?”
Hearing his tone, I get a little excited. This Prince Ren might just be a friend! I beckon with my hand. “Xiao-Gui, Xiao-Zhong, serve Prince Ren a bowl of congee and a plate of mountain jelly.”
He easily navigates through the hall and sits in the taishi fauteuil, legs crossed. “Oh, no thanks. Your third brother isn’t fortunate enough to eat that stuff. Just get me my cup of tea.”
After Xiao-Si serves him, he starts talking, his head swinging every which way. “Ol’ Seven Boy, I have to hand it to you. Two visits to the Gates of h.e.l.l is impressive. As your big brother, I’ve come today to check up on your recovery.”
I point to my nose. “I’m sitting right here. What do you think, my dear third brother?”
Prince Ren squints as he examines me before nodding. “Not bad. Not bad. Other than that b.u.mp on the head, I’d say you’re doing well. I called it a long time ago that someone like you would get kicked out of h.e.l.l ‘cause even King Yan wouldn’t want you. And whaddaya know? I was right, wasn’t I?
“But you really shook up the capital, you know. First it was “the little prince died in bed,” then it was “the little prince’s corpse reanimated.” Then we heard that you had lost your mind. You couldn’t even remember who you were. Our brother, His Majesty, insisted that we visit you with the empress dowager after you had recovered. Then yesterday we heard you knocked yourself out with a rock. Then tonight, there I was with Ol’ Five in the palace accompanying His Majesty at chess. I was planning to mooch a palatial meal, but the empress dowager came back from your place and started bawling clutching at our brother’s sleeve. She said you saw the light, said you’re changing for the better. When I heard that, I immediately wanted to see it for myself, so I rushed over here to see how my dear Ol’ Seven has changed.”
While listening to Prince Ren ramble on like popping corn, I struggle for appropriate reactions. I spewed a bunch of moral bulls.h.i.t to the empress dowager this morning without much thought, so memory loss is probably out now as a plan. Luckily, I read the rough outline of Chai Rong’s life. With my impeccable skills as an actor, it’ll be a walk in the park.
According to my sources, Prince Ren, Chai Xin, was not born from the same mother as Chai Rong, but they were very close nonetheless. His pa.s.sion, c.o.c.k fighting.
So I put on a solemn face. “Amitābha, my dear third brother. Every being has a spirit. All life is equal. You should quit c.o.c.k fighting and save the lives of those poor chickens.”
Prince Ren freezes. He then slaps the table, and we both burst out laughing.
While he laughs, he points at me. “That’s my Ol’ Seven Boy! Almost got me there!” Then his expression suddenly becomes serious. “Actually, I came today to discuss something with you. I heard that you are no longer playing with men. So why don’t you let me have that Pei Ruoshui?”
That catches me off guard. I’m speechless. Oh boy, oh boy. I knew that women were seen as inferior in the past, but I didn’t know men could be that worthless too. From Prince Ren’s tone, it almost sounds like he’s asking me for a cup of tea. Pei Ruoshui is for sure a male concubine, but still…
As I’m trying to figure out a response, he guffaws. “I’m joking with you. Look at your face! It’s enough to fool the empress dowager, but not our brother, His Majesty. I’m being honest here. He saw through your act and knew you couldn’t really give up Pei Ruoshui, and you still felt disgruntled about the li’l tanhua. He sent me here especially to tell you to fetch those two from death row yourself.”
After this whole change of events, I’m even more confused, so I just chuckle along. f.u.c.k, I guess I was a bit too generous with my statement. Acting is pretty d.a.m.n hard!
The prince seems even more pleased at my lack of a comeback. “Our brother really took care of everything for you. Regarding the incident, it’s now officially ‘a fight under alcohol influence’ where w.a.n.g Rui accidentally hurt Prince Tai. The emperor has granted him life, but his tanhua t.i.tle has been revoked. He has been demoted to a servant in your manor. The empress dowager has placed eyes on the w.a.n.g household. If he so much as disobeys you, tries to take his own life or escape, whatever it may be, the entire house shall be executed.”
OMG! People say feudalism was dark, but this is way too dark!
“You know, I really do regret –” I start.
Prince Ren stops me with a wave. “Tomorrow, you will go to the palace and thank our brother for his benevolence. You’ve got w.a.n.g Rui in your hands now, but remember not to go overboard. There is some dissent amongst the people after all. We must be wary.”
I can’t help but wonder how everything ended up like this.
Prince Ren sips his tea for a while longer before getting up. I stand up as well.
He shakes out his sleeves. “The hour is late. I must retire.” Then he whispers in my ear as he pats my shoulder, “I’ll come again with Ol’ Five tomorrow night, and we’ll bring some real food and liquor so you don’t lose your mind again eating nothing but plain congee.”
I’m moved to tears. I give him a wholehearted pat. “That’s my brother.”
Female royalty, especially married ones, were not to be seen by any men outside of the royal family. Hence male servants in the palace were all eunuchs.
A suffix that means “uncle” or refers to any man generally one generation older than the speaker.
Also known as gongcai (tribute vegetable) or loud vegetable, a species in the lactuca genus, it has been cultivated in China for more than two thousand years.
The taishi chair is one of a pair of fauteuils placed at the head location of each room and reserved for the highest ranking person in the room at any given time.
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