Chapter 190: Entering the Palace
Author: White Pear Flower
Translated by Pill Bug
Edited by Gumihou
Gumihou: I think… the author doesn’t know how music works…
Madam Jiang appeared to be in a very cheerful mood that day. Not only did she not turn a ten-thousand-year ice statue face at Fu Qiuning, but she even deigned to feign some vague indifferent interest as she said, “Brother Yi is now at your place, yes? How are the brother and sister doing?”
Fu Qiuning privately rolled her eyes but managed to muster up a smile to say, “In response to Elder Madam, Brother Yi’er has become more sensible after the incident. As for Third Young Miss, although she has a sharp tongue and does not casually speak, she is getting along well in Elegant Mansion.”
Madam Jiang nodded, [a] satisfied that she had done her duty as a grandmother and paused to observe Fu Qiuning for a moment. Aside from the pearl ornament on her head, she was still dressed as plainly as before. There was makeup on her face, but her stoic expression lacked the charm and vivacity of Jiang Wanying or her own daughter. For some reason, this utter plainness, which had annoyed her before, now evoked a sense of steadfastness and reliability. Moreover, there appeared to be an impression of strength in her delicate figure.
When she thought back again to how Fu Qiuning had raised Jin Changfeng and his sister into such respectable individuals, Madam Jiang suddenly felt three-tenths of her hatred towards this woman dissipate into a general feeling of benevolence. Feeling pleased with her own great magnanimity, she stood up and said loftily, “It is getting late, Old Madam, we should head out now.”
Madam Fang also stood up, envy sparking in her eyes. Per protocol, as one of the official wives of the duchy, she should also have the right to an audience with the Empress Dowager. However, the Empress Dowager had specifically summoned only Old Madam Jin and Madam Jiang. In fact, the Empress Dowager had been so excited that she had blurted out the two names the day before. If Madam Fang had followed along, the Empress Dowager would probably have been happy to see her. However, the golden lips had spoken and the words were taken as a verbal decree. Therefore, how could anyone dare to defy it? Thus, they have no choice but to conduct themselves according to established rules and procedures.
Because most of the younger gentlemen of the Jin clan were not around, the only male escort they could count on was the idling home guard Jin Yu. Even Jin Shi had gone to court. Therefore, only Jin Yu was around to accompany his mother and wife to the palace. At the palace gate, they found that a eunuch from Chengci Palace was already waiting for them. After exchanging a few words with the eunuch, Jin Yu handed over his charges to the eunuch, who led the sedan chair procession all the way to the palace; leaving the Duke of Jing at the gate, a gratified smile on his face.
When the group arrived at Chengci Palace, two old matrons trotted out to welcome them with the full wanfu salute even before they announced their arrival. They beamed at Old Madam Jin, and one of them said, “Old Madam, it has been a while since we last saw you. You still look quite sturdy.”
Neither Madam Jiang nor Fu Qiuning knew the matron, but Old Madam did. She knew that the old matron was one of the trusted and reliable attendants who had accompanied the Empress into the palace as a dowry maid on her wedding day. Not daring to be neglectful, Old Madam Jin quickly replied with a smile, “I dare not claim that. I recall that you are two years older than I, but you look much livelier than myself.”
As they continued to cheerfully banter back and forth, the two matrons led them into a side hall of Chengci Palace. On the way, Matron Feng smiled at Fu Qiuning and said, “Madam, the Empress Dowager was absolutely thrilled with your performance yesterday. She could not even get a good night’s rest because you did not sing the full performance for her. She rolled and turned throughout the night, asking this one over and over again just what kind of play it was and what story it was based on. Alas, this old woman lacks talent and could not soothe her curiosity. As a result, the old woman couldn’t fall asleep until the early morning and woke up early today, saying that she ought to have bidden you to come to visit her early. She feared that you would, out of courtesy, only come in the afternoon, making her wait all morning. What was she to do?”
Naturally, as the subordinate, Fu Qiuning tittered lightly at the joke.
The lively chatter continued as they made it to the receiving hall. The general outlay of the room was similar to Health & Longevity Court’s, but much larger and more exquisitely decorated. Opulence and luxury practically shimmered in the air and Fu Qiuning could feel herself being dazzled by the sense of wealth and money painted into the very walls of the place.
To Fu Qiuning’s eyes, which had not yet adjusted themselves to what absolute wealth and luxury were supposed to look like, the antique furniture, huge vases, and decorations of jade and gold practically screamed ‘Imperial Family’! She had no idea whether this was vulgar, kitsch, or tasteful. The only thing swirling in her mind was: If any of these antiques survived to the modern era, just how much would they be worth?
They walked around the folding screen and found the Empress Dowager sitting on a couch. Upon seeing them, she smiled and said, “I could hear you all chattering all the way here. That old hag must be scheming against me again. You must not believe anything that comes out of her mouth. I slept quite well last night.”
Fu Qiuning blinked at the vulgar term. Was this something that the older generation ladies like to call their maids? Elder Madam likes to call her Luo Cui ‘slut’. It must be a generational thing since Elder Madam Jiang looked uncomfortable.[b] The Empress Dowager seemed to have noticed her surprise and smiled, “What? Are you thinking that this Empress Dowager seems different from yesterday? Do not worry, we are still the same person. It is just that in Clear Jade Palace yesterday, with the Emperor and ministers present, I, as an Empress Dowager, had to maintain the aura of a motherly ruler. Now, in my own territory, if I still have to sing along to that tune, wouldn’t it exhaust me to death?”
“Indeed,” Fu Qiuning murmured quietly, thinking: Madam, I never asked you. Are you showing off or trying to make us lower our defences?
Meanwhile, a seat was ordered for Madam Jiang. While that was happening, the Empress Dowager patted the small table situated between the couch and said to Old Madam Jin, “My in-law, do come and sit beside me. We are two old bones that cannot be compared to these agile young ones. If your back happens to hurt, you can lean down. No one will dare laugh at us.”
Old Madam Jin quickly simpered and jokingly declined a few times before taking her seat on the couch. The Empress Dowager even bade her to sit more comfortably and not sit so stiffly, saying, “If you hold any respect for me, lean down a little more. If you see me leaning, you are not allowed to sit upright, or others will laugh at me for being old. If you happen to lean before me, I shall be even more delighted.”
At once, the room erupted into titters and chuckles.
In that instant, Fu Qiuning’s [d] smile froze on her face. This… isn’t this Empress Dowager exactly the same as Old Madam Jin??! In fact, she even had her own background maids and attendants thrilling in the background laughing at every little joke that rolled out of that golden mouth.
Fu Qiuning couldn’t help but marvel, thinking: [d] Those two old things sitting on the couch, just who was imitating whom? Was it the Empress Dowager who imitated the Old Madam or the other way around? No, it must be the other way around. Look how the Old Madam simpers and titters with the best of them while the most powerful woman in the room keeps rolling out joke after vulgar joke from her royal mouth.
Personally, Fu Qiuning had no idea whether pretending to laugh and titter was better than cold silence, but, when in the Chengci Palace, do as the Chengci Palace’s lower-class women do. Thus, she too opened her mouth to titter and laugh with the rest of the giggling women, a hand over her mouth to cover her dismay…
Finally, the old Empress Dowager eagerly turned to Fu Qiuning and said, “Perform the <<Fairy Couple>>  for us!”
Having trained herself to laugh at everything the Empress Dowager said, Fu Qiuning accidentally burst out laughing, just a tad too loudly, which she hurriedly covered up by waving her handkerchief quickly to say, “Goodness, perform? I cannot lay claim to the talent of performing the entirety of an opera on my own. Do allow this humble woman to select a few excellent female performers and rehearse first for the best impact. For now, I beg Empress Dowager to settle for a few verses, which I promise to give my very best effort.”
The Empress Dowager said, “That is fine too. I suppose having no musical accompaniment or dancing would be a little lacking, but that is fine for now.”
Thus, Fu Qiuning sang a few pieces for everyone’s entertainment. To save her voice, she spent the rest of the time explaining the story that inspired the play. Needless to say, the story of Dong Yong and the Seven Celestials won the Empress Dowager’s sympathy and sighs. However, the old Empress Dowager soon became puzzled and couldn’t help but say, “Why do I remember this story differently? Wasn’t it about two brothers, with the elder being cruel, driving the younger one away and giving him only an old cow? The cow then tells the younger brother to go to the riverbank, where he finds a group of extremely beautiful women bathing at night…”
Fu Qiuning immediately recognized that it was the story of <<The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl>> . However, since the boss lady was talking, she kept quiet. At any rate, she had to allow the boss to show off as well. Since all the palace attendants present were mature women, without any unmarried young ladies or princesses, the old Empress Dowager had no reservations and enjoyed herself telling the racier version of the story to elicit gasps and titters from her audience.
Once the final gasp and nervous laughter had died off, Fu Qiuning smiled and said, “In response to Your Majesty’s words, I believe this story is about the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl. An opera of this story does exist. However, four months is not enough time to properly learn and perform this story for the All Nations Cultural Festival.”
The old Empress Dowager laughed loudly, “No wonder, no wonder, it turns out we have recalled the wrong story. These stories are too similar. I vaguely recall Dong Yong and the Seven Celestials, but cannot remember the details. So, you know songs from other stories? Sing one from <<The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl>>.”
Fu Qiuning thought of kicking herself, but there was no choice but to indulge the boss lady. She thought for a moment. <<The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl>> was also a classic piece in Huangmei Opera. Back then, renowned Huangmei Opera performers, Yan Fengying and Wang Shaofang, had also performed this story. Therefore, Fu Qiuning was well-versed in it. In the end, she decided on the famous excerpt from <<The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl>> , “Melons and fruits hang lush on racks, the wind stirs golden waves in the rice fields, listening to the laughter and chatter in the quiet night, just how joyful life can be…”
As the song came to an end, everyone appeared intoxicated by the beauty of the melody. For a moment, the vast room was so quiet that not even a breath could be heard. However, at that moment, the sound of footsteps approached, and then a palace maid entered and performed a wanfu salute, saying “Reporting to Empress Dowager, Musician Zhang and Musician Liu have arrived. They have arrived earlier but stopped us servants from announcing them until the end of the Marchioness’ song.”
Fu Qiuning [e] blinked, she thought: Ah, time to work. I wonder, how did ancient people write music in the past? Should I just sing and have them work and record the melody through the flute and the qin? Other instruments can be incorporated once the basic melody has been transcribed.
As she pondered over how best to delegate the problem, two palace maids lowered the beaded curtains and the two musicians came in and knelt from beyond the curtain. One of them spoke, “In response to Your Majesty, we have been sent by His Majesty the Emperor to compose music for the Marchioness. We shall do our best to compose the music suited for the song. Perhaps the Marchioness might let us know what instruments may be needed for the performance? This official shall have the players dispatched to play the song.”
Fu Qiuning frowned. Would they have to get the full orchestra? Well, if the people here really wanted to win the Festival, a full orchestra would certainly be more impressive. Therefore, she said, “We may need players for the pipa, yangqin, guqin, guzheng, gongs, drums, cymbals, flutes, xiao and others  depending on the songs and stage effects. Once the songs have been composed, instruments may be added or reduced as you see fit as musicians. I am merely a singer and not a player of instruments.”
Hearing Fu Qiuning’s concise, yet humble response, they respectfully took their leave. After a while, another female official came in and informed Fu Qiuning that the singers and dancers were ready, and requested Fu Qiuning to personally select them.
Fu Qiuning then excused herself and followed the female official to a waterside pavilion. As she looked into the distance, all she could see was a vast expanse of water with misty waves. In the nearby area, dozens of mu of lotus flowers were in bloom, their leaves extending endlessly, a brilliant shade of emerald, with white or pink lotus buds in groups of two and three. Though it wasn’t the season for the lotus flowers to be in full bloom, and only a few buds had blossomed, the sight of those jade-like lotus leaves placed close together and leaning on each other was already delightful to the eyes. With a gentle breeze blowing, the lotus leaves undulated like waves, creating a breathtakingly beautiful scene.
Fatalistically, Fu Qiuning thought: Well, who knows what dead bodies are buried underneath these lovely flowers?
[Gumihou: Yes, I added that last paragraph to ruin the picturesque scene]
[a] Edited the wording to pin down the exact moment Madam Jiang thought differently about Fu Qiuning and why. Did not leave it as an ‘author say so’ type of situation by adding precious little gems such as ‘Feeling pleased with her own great benevolence’ and ‘satisfied she had done her duty’. If Old Madam is the scheming old vixen, Madam Jiang is the self-deluded ‘righteous’ person. The radical vegan who consumes avocado, pistachio and almond milk while screaming climate change issues at the rest of the world.
It’s all there, Gumi just made it… a teensy bit more obvious.[b] Deleted close to 180 words describing like, wow, the Empress Dowager is so, so clever and Fu Qiuning is so, so cute and this is all so, so heartwarming [c] Delete: ‘Almost that instant, Fu Qiuning fell in love with this Empress Dowager’s down-to-earth attitude. Looking at the matrons and palace attendants around the Empress Dowager, with all their lowered heads and suppressed laughter’
Fu Qiuning: …
Fu Qiuning: What. Is. that. Absolute. Fakeness.
Gumihou: It’s… basically Old Madam x 10
Fu Qiuning: Get rid of that simpering bitch, now!
Gumihou: On it, ma’am!![d] Change out weird ass shit with truth [e] I think, the author doesn’t know anything about composing or making music. Per this cute line ‘After all, it was too complex, requiring the coordination of multiple musical instruments. Hoping for a modern-like arrangement was impossible; even achieving sixty or seventy percent of its charm would be commendable.
Like wow, so complicated. Gumi would have left it alone, but if Fu Qiuning was a teacher of opera, and could write music somewhat, she should have some operating ideas on how to work out this problem logically. She could hum the music and have a flute player imitate the sounds she makes. She could get a string player to play background accompaniment, which is something that a musician should be able to do easily. So, no, Gumi could not condone this with a simple ‘like wow, it’s so, so complicated~~ teehee~’
Pill Bug TL Notes:
 《天仙配》 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tian_Xian_Pei
 I hope you appreciate me scrolling through an hour’s worth of opera to find this part! https://youtu.be/qjtfXyIrBFo?t=4202
Gumihou: Woah, that’s dedication! There are a whole lot of Chinese musical instruments here:
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