The days in winter were short and many women, who were accustomed to doing chores, had to busy themselves during the day to complete their tedious work before the sun went down.
This was the case for Old Madame Zhen as well. Although she was staying outside at an inn, she was always one to keep herself busy. Hence, she sat by the window and did her needlework with the aid of the light streaming in from the window.
Coincidentally, Mrs. Li, who happened to be staying in the next room, came over to borrow a needle and thread to mend her husband’s clothes. She moved a chair and sat beside Old Madame Zhen. The two engaged in idle chit-chat when she asked, “I see that Old Madam is also heading to the Imperial City. Are you and your granddaughter going there to join the rest of your relatives?”
It was not that Mrs. Li loved to gossip. The main reason was that there were few people on the road in winter, and Old Madame Zhen’s group was also a bit peculiar. The old were elderly, while the young were small, even though there were accompanying manservants, there did not seem to be a man in charge. Hence, it was inevitable that people found it strange. In particular, Old Madame Zhen’s little granddaughter, whose appearance was lovely and pale, looked like a painting. It dazzled those that laid eyes on her.
Mrs. Li’s husband was a businessman and she, herself, was also a little astute. When they first met, she did not dare to ask too many questions for fear of poking people’s wounds. But after getting along for a few days, she realized that Old Madame Zhen and her young granddaughter were both candid and open-minded people. Thus, she finally mustered the courage to ask the question.
Little did she realize, Old Madame Zhen was itching for Mrs. Li to ask her. On their journey, she had been holding it in. If it was not because her family’s girl constantly watching over her, she long wanted to brag. So when Mrs. Li finally asked, Old Madam Zhen could not be bothered to continue her needlework. She shoved them back into the basket, before modesty saying, “My ancestors were all farmers, where would there be relatives in the capital? It’s because the girl’s father was finally promoted to be a governing official in the Imperial City, and had specifically sent people to bring us there… In all honesty, as I’ve said earlier, I’ve spent my whole life in the countryside, never once stepping out of the village. I’m actually worried that I won’t be able to get used to the environment in the Imperial City. But the girl’s father was concerned about us and sent people over serval times previously. In fact, I’m also worried about them staying in the Imperial City, hence, I finally decided to tag along…”
Mrs. Li could not help but be surprised. She- she did not expect that this Old Madame Zhen actually had a son who was a government official!
Being surprised was one thing, Mrs. Li did not forget to swiftly follow up with compliments to Old Madame Zhen, “When we first met, I’ve already noticed that Old Madam seemed to have good fortune. It turns out to be true! Us, common folks, simply cannot compare…”
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Gp vblu olal vyzjkdt, pbl oswze kdlhkvyczu byhl vs ypj ycswv vbkp Yypvla Hbld obs blze yd sqqknkyz rspv.
Rd Xze Yyeyxl Hbld’p zkql, vbkp psd oyp bla rakel yde fsu. Lso vbyv psxlsdl bye ypjle ycswv bkx, pbl pvayktbvldle bla cynj, qkzzle okvb ldlatu, yp pbl nsxralbldpkhlzu cltyd bla pvsau. Fbl alnyrrle vbyv vbkp psd sq blap oyp csad okvb y okel qsalblye. Tl bye y tsse xlxsau, nswze pvweu yde byrrldle vs xllv y tldvzlxyd obs oyp okzzkdt vs ynnlrv bkx wdela bkp vwvlzytl…
Jlqsal Xze Yyeyxl Hbld tsv vs vbl ryav oblal bla psd rypple vbl nswdvu kxrlakyz lmyxp, qszzsole cu vbl rashkdnkyz kxrlakyz lmyxp, yde tsv plzlnvle vs clnsxl y nkhkz sqqknkyz. Mbl pweeld asya sq vbwdela nwv bla pbsav. Mbl olyvbla kd okdvla oyp lmvalxlzu hszyvkzl. Rd y czkdj sq yd lul, vbl pju pvyavle vs hkpkczu eyajld.
Xze Yyeyxl Hbld nswze dsv cl csvblale vs nsdvkdwl nbyvvlakdt ycswv bla psd yduxsal. Fbl tsv wr qasx vbl pvssz yde pbswvle swv vbl okdeso, “Flnsde Qkaz! Flnsde Qkaz! Rv’p ycswv vs aykd! Zsw tlv wr blal kxxlekyvlzu!”&dcpr;
Mbkp pvyavzle Yap. Nk, obs yzps tzydnle swv vbl okdeso, “Zswa qyxkzu’p tkaz kp pvkzz esodpvykap?”
“Omynvzu! Kwpv zkjl bla xsvbla, pbl’p yzps ydsvbla csvblapsxl sdl!” Frlyjkdt sq bla eywtbvla-kd-zyo, Xze Yyeyxl Hbld qlzv ydtau yzz shla ytykd. Ekvb y clzzu qwzz sq osaep, pbl hldvle vs Yap. Nk, “Zsw esd’v jdso vbkp, cwv xu eywtbvla-kd-zyo kp y vlxrlayxldvyz sdl. Fbl nsdplnwvkhlzu tyhl ckavb vs vos eywtbvlap. Rq kv olal vs cl svbla rlsrzl’p xsvbla-kd-zyo, vblu oswze byhl yzalyeu qswde psxlsdl lzpl1Wswde y nsdnwckdl.! Jwv R eked’v es yduvbkdt svbla vbyd pyu y qlo osaep. Zlv, pbl pbsole xl y czynj qynl yde vbalo y vydvawx. Ebld pbl tyhl ckavb vs Flnsde Qkaz, Flnsde Qkaz’p qyvbla byrrldle vs cl sdl sq vbl pwnnlppqwz nydekeyvlp kd vbl bktblpv kxrlakyz nkhkz plahknl lmyxkdyvksd. Rd y qkv sq ydtla, pbl vssj Ozelpv tkaz yde ayd yoyu qasx bsxl vs vbl Rxrlakyz Ukvu zlyhkdt xl okvb vbl dlocsad cycu tkaz! R pyu, kq vbkp oyp y taydepsd, vbld R oswze’hl elqkdkvlzu aykple bkx okzzkdtzu. Tsolhla, kv oyp y cycu zypp! Ebld pbl oyp uswdtla, pbl zshle vs nau, yde dso vbyv pbl’p szela, pbl’p y csvblapsxl sdl!”
Frlyjkdt wr vs vbkp rskdv, pbl pweeldzu alyzkgle vbyv vblal oyp ds pswde sa xshlxldv qasx clzso. Raakvyvle, Xze Yyeyxl Hbld ds zsdtla nyale ycswv xykdvykdkdt vbl yrrlyaydnl sq yd yakpvsnayvkn sze zyeu. Ekvb bla bydep alpvkdt sd bla bkrp, pbl pbswvle, “Gal usw nsxkdt wr sa dsv? Rq usw esd’v nsxl wr aktbv vbkp kdpvydv, vbld usw nyd ynnsxrydu vbyv bsapl yde prlde vbl dktbv kd vbl pvyczl!”&dcpr;
Rv oyp vbld, vbyv y hsknl pswdele qasx clzso.
“Coming, coming! You keep urging that the rain is gonna pour down before I manage to make it up.”
The girl’s voice was clear and crisp. Like the buds blooming on the branches in early spring, so tender that one could squeeze nectar out from.
Upon hearing those words, Mrs. Li could not help but chuckle, “Your family’s girl’s character sure is a lively one.”
Old Madame Zhen refuted, “Aiyo, don’t praise her! This girl has a peculiar temperament!” Despite her words, there was a hint of joy in her tone.
The two ladies continued their conversation upstairs, while the little girl of Zhen family, Zhen Ting Yun, sat in the stable talking to a horse. At one glance, she looked like she was thirteen or fourteen years old. With apricot eyes, plump lips, a bit of baby fat on her cheeks, and two shallow dimples on each side. Because she wore a rose pink padded coat today, her whole person looked as sweet and lovely as a budding bloom.
Although Zhen Ting Yun verbally assented to Old Madame Zhen’s words, her movements remained unhurried as she fed the other half of the carrot in her hand to the horse while caressing its head, “In a few more days, we’ll be reaching the Imperial City. You must be obedient and don’t run around…”
She continuously reiterated, “Look at how well I treat you. I feed you apples and carrots all day long. If your owner were to be someone else, you might not even get a handful of grass to eat.”
And maybe, the horse understood what she said. While it was being fed, caressed, and nagged at, it unexpectedly lowered its forehead and nudged against the little girl’s palm.
Being nudged back, Zhen Ting Yun felt a little itchy and released a giggle before she reluctantly got up to leave, “Then, Ma Lan Tou be good, I’ll come to see you again later…”
Zhen Ting Yun turned back ever so often as she strode out of the stable. Although it was able to rain, her pace remain unhurried and her mind was utterly tranquil.
In fact, when Father Zhen first sent someone to fetch her and her grandmother into the Imperial City, Zhen Ting Yun was a little nervous. She grew up in the countryside with her grandmother and had never met her parents before, let alone her eldest sister and younger brother who was raised at her parents’ sides. She heard from others that Old Madame Zhen valued males above females. Hence, when Mother Zhen, Pei-Shi2‘Shi’ refers to the clan or maiden name. So Mother Zhen’s natal clan is Pei, hence she’s addressed as Pei-Shi. Or, following her husband’s surname, she could be addressed as Madame Zhen as well., gave birth to two daughters consecutively, Old Madame Zhen did not treat her well during her confinement. In a fit of rage, Pei-Shi brought her eldest daughter to the Imperial City to find her husband.
In the beginning, it might have been because her youngest daughter was still an infant, hence making it unideal to have her travel the long journey over. Later on, it was because Father Zhen was appointed to a remote post outside the Imperial City. In addition, Old Madame Zhen could not bear to part with their ancestral home. Hence, it did not make sense to just pick up his daughter while leaving his mother alone back in the countryside.
Thus, after all these twists and turns, when Father Zhen was finally promoted and returned to the Imperial City, did Zhen Ting Yun finally get to meet the parents she had never seen before. It was inevitable that she felt apprehensive.
As a result of this unrest, Zhen Ting Yun fell ill and had a strange dream.
In her dream, she followed her grandmother to the Imperial City. They rushed all the way and finally met with her parents and siblings. Father Zhen was cordial and tolerant; Mother Zhen was an iron fist in a velvet glove3Used to describe someone who seems to be gentle but is in fact uncompromisingly firm.; Eldest Sister was beautiful and talented; Younger Brother was smart and sensible. At one glance, this was a harmonious and loving family. Unfortunately, there was the addition of her and Grandma.
As Grandma spent most of her life in the countryside, she did not know the etiquettes of the Imperial City. After arriving in the capital, her grandmother could neither manage the housekeeping nor go out to socialize, she could only stay at home in boredom. On top of that, the relationship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law was not harmonious. The boredom gave birth to more issues which finally led to the fallout between mother and son. Then, Old Madame Zhen fell seriously ill and passed away not long after.
As for Zhen Ting Yun, she had a more miserable fate. Because she had a talented and beautiful elder sister, Zhen Ting Yun, a bumpkin from the countryside, was compared to be nothing better than mud. She was not close to her father, her mother did not dote on her, her brother thought that she was clumsy, and even her maternal uncle’s children did not like talking to her.
In the dream, Zhen Ting Yun was naturally unresigned. She tried to prove herself several times, but in the end, she made more mistakes and made a complete fool of herself. She only received more disappointing gazes from her family. After her grandmother passed away, the Zhen family no longer had a place for her. Father Zhen did not want to let such a disreputable younger daughter ruin his family’s reputation, so he simply instructed someone to have Zhen Ting Yun sent back to the countryside. He asked his uncles from the countryside for a favor by looking for a suitable marriage for her and letting her live her remaining life in the countryside. In the dream, Zhen Ting Yun became extremely upset. Before her departure, she ran to argue with her parents and quarreled with her eldest sister, before running outside and meeting her demise.
Yet, even after her death, the dream continued.
In the dream, she saw that the Zhen family grieved over the death of this unfilial daughter momentarily. Before long it was overridden by the good news of the Heir of Duke Yan being established as the crown prince. The whole Zhen family rejoiced over it because Zhen Yi Yun, as the crown prince’s consort, would naturally become the crown princess, and presumably become the future Empress. It was only at this moment that the beautiful and talented Zhen Yi Yun breathed a sigh of relief. As she looked at her reflection through the bronze mirror donned in the crown princess attire, she smiled.
With no one around, Zhen Yi Yun looked in the mirror and voiced out what was in her heart, “And here I thought the protagonist’s halo was some powerful thing, but it only just amounted to this.”
Then, she triumphantly continued to narrate all the things she had done throughout her span of life.
She claimed that they were living in a novel.
She claimed that in the original novel, Zhen Ting Yun was the actual beloved female lead. Pei-Shi was reluctant to leave her younger daughter behind and thus brought both of them to the Imperial City with her. Due to the hasty and strenuous journey, the younger daughter fell ill. Father Zhen and Pei-Shi felt extremely guilty because of this and so they loved and pampered this daughter even more.
Since young, Zhen Ting Yun was fair as jade, clever, and quick-witted. Occasionally, she would go to live at her maternal grandfather’s manor and was well received by her eldest aunt, thus she and her eldest cousin were arranged to be betrothed. As they grew up together, they were like green plum and hobby-horse4Childhood sweethearts.. So when they got married, they were even more affectionate. Later on, their eldest cousin became the grand secretary, a first-rank official, and she was also granted the title of the first-rank madam. The both of them became a couple that shared one life and one world, becoming the envy of others.
However, when Zhen Yi Yun transmigrated into the novel, she felt that a female lead like Zhen Ting Yun, who only relied on luck and was favored by others, was really worthless. And she did not want to be inferior to such a useless female lead. Thus, she thought of a simple plan for Pei-Shi to leave Zhen Ting Yun behind and only bring her to the Imperial City. Whenever Father Zhen and Pei-Shi had thoughts to fetch Old Madame Zhen and Zhen Ting Yun, she would always get them to dispel those thoughts. This way, she was able to take Zhen Ting Yun’s opportunities to live at her grandfather’s manor, become childhood sweethearts with her eldest cousin, snatched the chance of becoming the disciple of a famous teacher, and become the top female scholar. All of which, originally belonged to Zhen Ting Yun. When Zhen Yi Yun finally felt that Zhen Ting Yun was no longer a cause for concern, did she stop preventing her parents from bringing them into the Imperial City. Instead, she displayed the appearance of a lovable and amicable eldest sister and even brought out the fine steed Father Zhen previously gave her, saying she wanted to give this gift to her younger sister.
However, the horse was lost during their journey.
This resulted in Zhen Yi Yun deciding that hers and Zhen Ting Yun’s lives would always clash with one another. A king shall not encounter another king5In a game of chess, there is a rule whereby the ‘king’ pieces must never be on the same file without any other chess pieces in between them. It holds the same meaning as a mountain is not big enough for two tigers.. Thus, she plotted and schemed against Zhen Ting Yun…
It was only natural that Zhen Yi Yun, who was privy to the novel’s plotline, would constantly emerge victorious against Zhen Ting Yun, who just arrived in the Imperial City from the countryside and knew nothing. She forced Zhen Ting Yun into a corner where Zhen Ting Yun was always embarrassed and despised by all and finally found her demise on the streets.
On the other hand, Zhen Yi Yun was able to broaden her horizons. Their eldest (male) cousin could no longer enter her eyes. She took advantage of the situation and married the future emperor, who at that point in time, was only the Heir of Duke Yan, thus embarking on her road of prosperity.
Like a dream of Nanke6In simpler words, it was just a dream. This Chinese idiom was based on a story of a Tang Dynasty scholar, Chu Yu Fen, that fell asleep after getting drunk and he had a long illustrious dream. Long, whereby he ‘lived’ many years of his life in that dream.; to say it was not true was wrong, but to say it was false, was also wrong.
Zhen Ting Yun was literally jolted awake by the scene in her dream. After she woke up, the first thing she did was to check on the horse.
This horse cannot be lost. If it was lost, would it not be giving Zhen Yi Yun another reason to torment her?
Yellow peeps! I’ve decided to pick up another novel. Hope everyone will like it as much as I did~
As this is my first historical novel, there might be some inconsistencies/discrepancies in the terminologies. If you have any suggestions for a more accurate term, you can leave them in the comments and I’m more than willing to consider them!
As with my other novels, please feel free to let me know if there are any terms or idioms that didn’t make sense because I didn’t leave a description or definition.