After the end of the exhibition, Yong Emperor Li Yuan smiled and asked, “Changle, what do you think of Xiahou Yuanfeng?”
Princess Changle indifferently replied, “Not bad.”
Pleased, Li Yuan continued to ask, “If he were to become your husband, what does Changle think?”
Princess Changle disinterestedly responded, “Although this person is good … it is to no avail, this child is at peace.”
Li Yuan once again asked, “Since this person is not to your liking, then of these many outstanding civil and military talents, is there someone that Changle fancies?”
Princess Changle suddenly began to shed tears. She stepped forward and kneeled on the ground, saying, “Imperial Father, although this child is Imperial Father’s offspring, I am still the Queen of Southern Chu. Its King is still alive. Even if this child lacks honor and shame, what reason is there for me to leave my husband and remarry?”
Li Yuan became indignant and cried out, “We have wholeheartedly made preparations to help you select a fine husband. How can you be so obstinate?”
Furiously, he rose to his feet. Just as he was about to speak stern words of reprimand, he saw Princess Changle kneeling on the ground, shedding heavy tears. Although her jade countenance was not as wan and sallow as when she first returned to Chang’an, she was completely lacking in the splendor and radiance of a youthful married woman. Li Yuan sat down disappointed. It was a good while before he spoke again. “We should not be forcing you. Child, be at ease, We will never again make things difficult for you.”
When this matter was transmitted to me, I did not know why, but my heart was happy. Princess Changle remained as my impressions of her, virtuous and well-mannered. Regardless of how she treated the king, she had nevertheless fulfilled her responsibilities. Even if she were to remarry in the future, I would not look down on her.
This matter, however, was not so easily settled. Although Li Yuan had temporarily abandoned his intentions to have Princess Changle remarry, however, others did not give up. Empress Dou, Noble Consort Yan, and Noble Consort Ji all went to try to persuade Princess Changle. The princess couldn’t drive them off, but at the same time she wasn’t willing to change her mind.
On one day, the Princess of Yong, Lady Gao, entered the palace. Hearing of this, she tried to persuade Noble Consort Zhangsun to allow Princess Changle to live for a few days in the Prince of Yong’s residence, returning to the palace on the fifteenth day of the New Year.
Noble Consort Zhangsun did not immediately agree. With hesitation, she glanced at Lady Gao. There were some things that only she knew. Even if others did not show an interest in matters involving Princess Changle, she would still have to get involved. The day of the competition, after she had returned to her chambers, she questioned her maids, wondering if they had noticed if princess had expressed an interest in anyone. Against her expectations, the maid, Lü’e,1 reported, “The Princess remained cold and indifferent, but when the Prince of Yong arrived, this servant saw the Princess look intently at the man beside the Prince. In addition, she smiled with great happiness. However, she instantly returned to normal again.”
Noble Consort Zhangsun knew who that man was—Jiang Zhe, Jiang Suiyun. When she went to the Jade Phoenix Hall, she would frequently see her daughter holding a book of poetry, filled with Jiang Zhe’s poetry. Included among these was a part that was her daughter’s handwriting. The rest were the handwriting of a stranger. She had once asked her daughter about it. This book had been sent into the palace by Jiang Zhe while they were both in Southern Chu. So the one her daughter admired was a surrendered subject of Southern Chu. However, when she once interrogated the maids attending to her daughter, all of them reported that her daughter had scrupulously abided by the marriage tenets and court rules, never rebelling against the proper rites. Those poems were demanded by Liang Wan of Jiang Zhe before they were delivered into the palace. She only knew that her daughter was fond of that man’s poems. But now, it seemed likely that her daughter’s heart long ago belonged to someone, but was only hindered by her previous status, and thus was never revealed. Of course, it was possible that her daughter originally did not have this inclination. But now with the recent matter of selecting a husband did she have this inclination. If her daughter was allowed to go to the Prince of Yong’s residence, it was possible to allow her daughter to meet with that person.
However, Noble Consort Zhangsun’s brows furrowed tightly. If he were someone from Great Yong, even if his status was humble, as long as his character was good and her daughter liked him, then she would not mind. But that man was a surrendered subject of Southern Chu. Even if her daughter was willing, then that man may not agree. When all was said and done, her daughter was once the Queen of Southern Chu. Thinking it over, Noble Consort Zhangsun thought, regardless of what, allowing her daughter to temporarily stay at the Prince of Yong’s residence would allow her to drive away her worries. As for what her intentions were, the noble consort could investigate matters. With her mind made, Noble Consort Zhangsun replied, “It would be good if Changle could go play at your place. Lü’e, you have always been prudent. Go with the Princess. If anything happens to the Princess, then you will be able to come back to report.”
She had made up her mind, having Lü’e take note of Changle’s mannerisms and actions, taking a good look at what her daughter’s intentions exactly were.
Princess Changle was also very happy that she could temporarily leave the palace to play. When she arrived at the Prince of Yong’s residence, the Princess of Yong accompanied Princess Changle to enjoy the gardens. The residence’s gardens were divided from the lake into inner and outer gardens. The middle was separated using flowers and trees. With dividing screens removed, the boundaries between the inner and outer gardens weren’t extremely clear. However, there was a clear distinction between inner and outer. On this day, the sky was sunny and fair. Within the pavilion of the inner residence’s gardens, the Princess of Yong had servants arrange superior grade fruits, having servants and wet nurses bring over the heir, Li Jun, the two daughters born of concubines, and Roulan. While they frolicked outside the pavilion, she personally led the two concubines in accompanying Princess Changle to watch them from within the pavilion. Not far was the lake. As this moment, the weather was sunny and cloudless, the water of the lake clear, as bright and clean as a piece of jade. The several children giggled as they played around, their innocence fascinating. After Princess Changle watched for a while, she felt her mood improve greatly. With a smile, she wondered, “Sister-in-law, I remember that when I left, brother did not have any children. Surprisingly, he already has one son and three daughters.”
The Princess of Yong laughed and replied, “Princess has guessed wrong. Your brother has few children. Aside from Jun’er, he only has two daughters. The smallest one is called Roulan, the daughter of Jiang Zhe, Major Jiang.”
Princess Changle’s hand trembled. With a cool and collected voice, she asked, “Oh! Major Jiang is already married?”
The Princess of Yong did not sense the restlessness in Changle’s voice, and explained, “This is Major Jiang’s adopted daughter. She is absolutely adorable. From what the Prince has said, the major is alone by himself. Worried that he wouldn’t be able to take care of his daughter, he therefore had her delivered to the inner residence to allow me to take care of her. I’ve spoken to the Prince, mentioning that Major Jiang is already twenty-six or twenty-seven years of age, and should take a wife. However, the Prince stated that Major Jiang was unwilling. It seems as if it is because his former fiancée met with misfortune and died. Alas, this kind of loving man is truly rare.”
While Princess Changle felt sorrow, she was also partly delighted. Thinking it over, she knew that it was impossible for her and that man to be together. Although this man seemed to be free, at ease, and outstanding from his poems, but no matter how one looked, he was not someone to depart from established practices. If this man was to made to take a lord’s daughter as a subject, it was probably extremely unlikely. Thinking of this, Princess Changle felt greater sorrow.
This man that she had silently loved was someone who had did not have the slightest bit of destiny with her. Recalling that day when she had read his poetry for the first time, she had greatly admired him for his talent. That day when Liang Wan brought him to have an audience with her, she had fallen deeper in love with him. However, there was a separation between the royal-imperial family and a subject. She had never dared to reveal the slightest bit of her intentions. Later when he had been dismissed, she was secretly happy, believing that she had no need to be anxious about him being judged guilty of a crime by Great Yong after Southern Chu was destroyed. Who would have thought that he had still been taken captive by her older brother and brought back to Great Yong? She had spent the entire journey back filled with anxiety, worried that he would be unwilling to surrender and would end up being put to death by her brother. But now that he had already become an official in Great Yong, she was further worried that he would be implicated if something were to happen to her second brother. But regardless of what her own thoughts were, after all was said and done, then it would never be possible for her to be with him. She could not reveal any of her affection towards him. Thinking of this, Princess Changle forced a smile and spoke, “Sister-in-law, have Roulan be brought over here. Allow me to take a look at her.”
The Princess of Yong ordered a servant to bring Roulan over. Princess Changle looked at this young baby girl. The more she looked, the more she liked her, and couldn’t help pulling Roulan into her embrace. Roulan had yet to learn how to walk and had just now been playing on top of a felt rug underneath the tree. Seeing the beautiful, elegant Princess Changle, Roulan was filled with inquisitiveness as she extended her hands to grab onto the princess’s hair that was tied up into a bun. In a short while, Roulan completely disheveled Princess Changle’s fine black hair. Yet, Princess Changle did not get angry, instead beginning to laugh, continuing to tease this adorable little girl. Her hearty laughter caused the Princess of Yong to become extremely joyous. Lü’e standing on the side understood the princess’s mind.
At the moment when everyone was joyous and happy, barely audible music could be heard from the other side of the lake. Although this sound did not come from the silk thread of a zither nor from a bamboo flute, it nevertheless tugged at one’s heartstrings. This was a tune popular in Southern Chu. Every year at this time, companionships were formed to appreciate the beauty of the flowering of plum trees. This tune would always be heard during this time. This tune was called, The Cold Plum Flower. Although this tune had a simple and lively melody, and there was nothing about the skill and technique of the person playing the instrument, however the tune allowed its listeners to feel as if they were being cleansed by the blue skies, the cold plum flowers blossoming, opening up one’s heart. Princess Changle was enthralled. After a short period of time, the sound of the melody ended. She murmured to herself, “Is it Major Jiang? Is he thinking of Southern Chu?”
The Princess of Yong’s heart was moved. Glancing at Princess Changle, she said, “It is Major Jiang who played the tune. I do not know what instrument he is using, but whenever I hear it, its sound always feels noble and ancient. Younger sister came here opportunely today. Major Jiang should be taking in the scenery at the Overlooking Wave Pavilion. When this Major Jiang has free time, if he is not appreciating the scenery at the lakeside, he is in the guest courtyard reading or playing weiqi, always contented. He is not as busy as the other retainers and advisers.”
At this moment, an azure-clothed youth approached from a distance. This man was no more than twenty years of age. His appearance was delicate and handsome. However, he carried with him a trace of soft yin-principle. All of the maids recognized him and did not obstruct him. The youth walked to the front of the pavilion. Respectfully, he stated, “Princess of Yong, my master has had this servant come to receive and bring back young Miss Roulan.”
Just as the Princess of Yong was about to accept, she glanced at Princess Changle and suddenly said, “Sir Jiang is too polite. He has been in the Prince’s residence for quite some time now; there is no need for him to feel constrained. Today, Princess Changle is here. She is quite fond of Roulan and would hate to part with her. If he doesn’t think askance, please have Sir Jiang come over. The Prince will also come soon. It won’t be a hindrance.”
Xiaoshunzi stared back blankly, glancing at the Princess of Yong and at Princess Changle, a hint of hesitation flashing across his face. However, he still replied, “This servant will do as you command.”
At this moment, Prince Li Zhi of Yong approached from a distance. Seeing Xiaoshunzi, he smiled and inquired, “What? You’ve come to take back Roulan again? Your master will always amuse his daughter whenever he is free.”
Xiaoshunzi responded, “Reporting to Your Highness, the Princess of Yong has stated that Princess Changle is fond of the young miss, indicating the young master should come over and not treat himself as an outsider.”
Li Zhi stared back blankly. However, he knew that the Princess of Yong would inevitably have her own calculations. And so, he replied, “She speaks rightly. Go and invite your young master to come over.”
Xiaoshunzi was even more amazed. His gaze rapidly moved, looking at everyone and seeing no abnormalities. At this moment, his gaze fell upon Princess Changle. He only saw Princess Changle holding Roulan in her embrace, beaming with happiness. His heart could not but be touched, but after thinking it over, he felt that he was allowing his imagination to run wild. However, he no longer hesitated. He hurriedly returned to the Overlooking Wave Pavilion.
At that moment, I was at the Overlooking Wave Pavilion drinking wine with Gou Lian. Seeing Xiaoshunzi, I smiled and asked, “Where’s Roulan? Why haven’t you brought her back? Brother Gou wants to take a look at my obedient and well-behaved daughter.”
“Today, Princess Changle arrived at the residence to drive away her worries,” responded Xiaoshunzi. “She is extremely fond of the young miss and is unwilling to let her go. The Princess of Yong has stated that young master is not an outsider. If young master is willing, then you should go over. The Prince is also present.”
My brow furrowed and I declined, “This isn’t good, is it? Forget it.… Let’s take a rain check.”
Hearing this, Gou Lian said, “Suiyun, since the Princess of Yong has already spoken, you should make the trip. Otherwise, the Princess of Yong would blame you.”
Thinking it over, I realized that this was true. If the Princess of Yong had not spoken, then it was of no matter. If she had spoken, then it wouldn’t be good if I did not go. Looking at Xiaoshunzi and seeing that he also nodded his head, I spoke to Gou Lian, “If that’s the case, I’ll go. Brother Gou, please drink a few more cups.”
Gou Lian smiled and gestured with his hand, as he acknowledged, “Go quickly. In a while, Brother Dong will come. I will explain everything to him.”
Li Zhi sat down, gazing at Princess Changle. With a smile, he spoke, “Changle, it was correct for you to come out to drive away your worries. The palace is extremely oppressive. If you like, come back often in the future.”
At this moment, Roulan suddenly began to struggle, seemingly eager to urgently return to amuse herself. Princess Changle smiled slightly, handing Roulan over to a maid, allowing the maid to embrace her back. With a smile, she said, “In reality, the palace isn’t oppressive. I was able to meet several younger brothers and sisters that were born after I departed. They are all adorable. It’s only that there are too many restrictions in the palace and is not as uncomplicated and relaxing as the outside. Older brother, I have heard that Jun’er will soon go to Youzhou. For such a young child to leave his parents, older brother is too heartless.”
Li Zhi smiled and replied, “This is because there is no other way. Jun’er is heir to the Principality of Yong. He has to fulfill his duties. Changle, do not take pity on him. Of those in our imperial clan, how many are capable of making their own decisions?”
Princess Changle’s gaze was somewhat gloomy. Just as she was about to speak, a youth walked over from a distance. He was clad in white scholarly robes the color of the moon. The kind of unfettered mannerism and aura that he had caused everyone who saw him to feel happy and merry, while the azure-robed youth following behind him seemed like his shadow. He was obviously underneath the sunlight and yet caused everyone to ignore him.2 Everyone’s eyes were gathered on this master and servant pair, almost as if they also sensed the joy and delight in their hearts.
After walking closer, I stepped forward and greeted everyone. “This subject pays his respects to Your Imperial Highness and the Princess of Yong.”
Li Zhi smiled and spoke, “There is nothing to do today. Suiyun should not be a stickler for formalities. Come join us and sit down.”
My eyes glanced at Princess Changle. Smiling, I said, “Excuse me, may I ask … should this subject call thee Queen or Your Imperial Highness, the Princess Changle?”
Princess Changle half rose out of her seat politely and apologized, “Jiang daren, this one knows that I have let down Southern Chu. Would daren please forgive me?”
I originally did not have any resentments or grudges towards her. Seeing her act this way, I returned the favor and stated, “Your Imperial Highness need not be like this. Regardless of whether Your Imperial Highness is the former queen or the present princess, Your Imperial Highness is still this subject’s lord. This subject can only be reverent and respectful. What reason is there for me to complain and reproach?”
Seeing that I was speaking completely sincerely, Princess Changle’s expression leaped with joy, breaking out into smiles. This smile was like the blossoming of spring flowers, immediately adding a bit of radiance. Seeing this, Li Zhi’s heart also jumped. Could it be possible that the Princess of Yong’s intentions … Just as he was allowing his imagination run wild, I had already addressed, “Today, Your Imperial Highness and the Princess of Yong are entertaining Princess Changle. This subject cannot be a bother and will thus take my leave. Would Your Imperial Highness please forgive me?”
So speaking, I did not wait for them to respond, gesturing for Xiaoshunzi to pick up Roulan, before turning to leave.
Just as Li Zhi was about to urge me stay, he could sight of one of the palace maids was watching attentively. He thus swallowed his words, watching Jiang Zhe’s departing figure. Princess Changle was filled with both delight and with worry. Today, she finally had learned that he did not blame her. Although she was joyous, when she remembered that from this day forward, she would be confined to the depths of the palace and would never have the opportunity to meet him again, she became filled with grief and sorrow. He had spoken the truth. The two of them were lord and subject. There was no chance of anything happening. Just as Changle was feeling sorrow, she remembered that she was still a married woman. How could she fall in love with another man? She thus forced herself to smile, hoping to prevent anyone from seeing any mistakes. However, both the Prince and Princess of Yong were observant individuals. How could they not notice these clues? The Princess of Yong could be ignored. However, Li Zhi sank into deep contemplation. According to his understanding, Jiang Zhe would definitely not agree to this marriage. Moreover, no one would agree. No wonder Princess Changle refused to divulge a word from beginning to end. Presumably even Jiang Zhe himself was unaware that the princess was in love with him. To not speak of others, he himself would not agree to this relationship. If this matter were to spread, the crown prince would definitely make things difficult. If this matter was stirred up before the emperor, when that time came, Jiang Zhe’s life would be difficult to protect. After he were to ascend to the throne and Zhao Jia were to die, would this relationship be possible? The more Li Zhi thought, the bigger his headache became. For a subject to take a lady of the imperial family as his wife, then it was naturally offending one’s superiors. Although Jiang Zhe had already surrendered and pledged allegiance to Great Yong, if he were permitted to take the Queen of Southern Chu as his wife, it would only be possible if Jiang Zhe completely disregarded his reputation. This was probably impossible.
While Li Zhi was occupied by these many thoughts, the Princess of Yong had another way of looking at this matter. In her mind, she thought, If Princess Changle is married to Jiang Zhe, then Jiang Zhe would become one of us. She knew that her husband attached great importance to Jiang Zhe and had once racked his brains to subdue him. Although she was not clear how Jiang Zhe ultimately pledged his allegiance, she knew that her husband had previously found it difficult to sleep at night. If she was able to facilitate this matter, then her husband would gain a capable assistant. In addition, Princess Changle would have someone to be entrusted to. From her female intuition, the Princess of Yong knew that this person who was currently respectfully considering himself as a subject before her husband, in reality, had the temperament of someone who was detached from the vulgar world. If he were not grasped tightly, he would one day fly away. If that were to happen, then her husband would find it difficult to sleep and eat.
I did not perceive in the slightest any of the things that had occurred. Holding Roulan in my embrace, I spoke towards Xiaoshunzi, “Do you think I should take a wife to take care of Roulan?”
Xiaoshunzi indifferently replied, “It is a good matter if young master wishes to take a wife. However, if young master takes a wife that is not to your liking, what’s to be done then? If there is someone you like, then that is naturally well and good. If there is none, then there is no need to force yourself. It’s not like young Miss Roulan doesn’t have anyone to take care of her.”
I smiled and stated, “The world does not have another woman like Piaoxiang. It doesn’t matter if I were to marry an ordinary, virtuous woman. However, you speak the truth. If the pairing is tasteless, then there is only suffering. Forget about it.…”
“What does young master think of Princess Changle?” asked Xiaoshunzi suddenly.
I stared at him blankly for a moment before I smiled and answered, “What nonsense are you saying? Her Imperial Highness, the Princess Changle, has a respected and honorable status. She was also once the mother of a nation. How could I have any ulterior thoughts about her? If this were to spread, wouldn’t this be a joke? At present, there are several candidates to be the Emperor’s son-in-law. I fear that even before the King returns to Southern Chu, Princess Changle’s husband will have already been selected.” Heaving a sigh, I continued, “In reality, of those people, I look most favorably upon Wei Ying. He should be able to provide the Princess with happiness.”
Xiaoshunzi’s mouth twitched and he did not say any more. He was disinclined to speak to this master beside him who was extremely muddled about these little matters. However, his complexion became heavy as he reminded himself to be mindful of this matter. The princess had affection towards the young master. This matter could be large and could be small. If there were individuals jealous of young master because of this matter, then it would jeopardize young master’s safety. In addition, it would be troublesome if he was near Princess Changle. Thinking of this, Xiaoshunzi could not help but feel regret over agreeing to the young master’s decision to let off the princess. He knew that women would often have perceptions that exceeded rational thought. At the time, he had been extremely close to the princess. If she realized that he had kidnapped her, it was likely that the young master would face grave dangers. Alas, how could he not realize that he would meet the princess again? This was a serious oversight.
绿娥, lü’e – lit. green beauty
视而不见, shi’erbujian – idiom, lit. to turn a blind eye; to ignore