ranquilly, “I dare not refuse.” 

Princess Changle noticed my cold indifference.
Looking at me faintly, she continued, “These are the verses that we have copied and recited on a daily basis.
Does Jiang daren know which verse we like the most?” As she spoke, she handed a book to Liang Wan who passed it to me. 

I took a look after accepting the book.
It was definitely a handwritten copy of verses, each of the small characters extremely beautiful and graceful.
Opening to the first page was the poem, the Patterned Zither.21

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“Mere chance that the patterned lute has fifty strings. 
String and fret, one by one, recall the blossoming years. 
Zhuangzi dreams at sunrise that a butterfly lost its way, 
Wangdi bequeathing his spring passion to the nightjar. 
The moon is full on the vast sea, a tear on the pearl. 
On Blue Mountain the sun warms, a smoke issues from the jade. 
Did it wait this mood, to mature with hindsight? 
In a trance from the beginning, then as now.”

These verses that I recited was from a poem that I written at the age of fifteen upon the passing of my father.
At the time, my father was dying.
He gazed unceasingly at a painting of my mother, sometimes muttering, sometimes laughing lightly, but mostly there was faint sadness.
Faint, because he was about to see my mother.
As a result, there was happiness in his sorrow.
For this reason, I did not force my father to drink the bitter medicine.
Since there no way to prevent my father from dying, there was no point for me to force him to continue to endure seemingly endless suffering.
I remember one night, kneeling before my father’s deathbed, promising that I would be able to take care of myself.
With a gratified look, my father stopped breathing.
The expression on his face was peaceful.
I could help but begin to cry heavily.
It wasn’t until today that I finally realized how painful it was to lose my father. 

Seeing my tears, Princess Changle could not sit still.
Raising her head, she gave Liang Wan a look.
Acknowledging the look, Liang Wan turned to me and offered a handkerchief. 

Wiping away the tears, I smiled faintly and spoke, “I have ridiculed myself before Your Majesty.
This poem was written by this vassal when my father passed away.
In life, my parents were extremely affectionate.
When my mother passed, my father found it difficult to accept.
On his deathbed, his mood became calm, for he knew that he was going to see my mother.
I did not realize that the Princess would have a copy here.” 

Softly, Princess Changle replied, “When we celebrated reaching adulthood, someone brought this poem to us from Southern Chu.
At the time, we did not know who Jiang Zhe was.
When we later came to Southern Chu, I heard and liked the Recollections Under the Moon very much.
From the Crown Prince, I learned that it was a masterpiece by the zhuangyuan, Jiang Zhe.
From that point on, we have had older sister Wan’er to help me collect zhuangyuan’s poems.
Over these years living deep within the royal palace, I have read zhuangyuan’s poems to relieve my melancholy. 

Kneeling, I said, “For this vassal’s poems to receive Your Majesty’s appreciation is this vassal’s fortune.” 

Seeing that I had calmed down, she asked, “We like this poem, the Patterned Zither, very much.
But we do not understand the verse: ‘on Blue Mountain the sun warms, a smoke issues from the jade.’ Do jade from the blue mountain emit smoke when exposed to sunlight?” 

With a smile on my face, I replied, “This verse originates in a saying by the late Tang Dynasty poet, Sikong Tu, who said, “Dai Shulun once said that the scene presented by a poet is like the smoke which issues from fine jade when the sun is warm on Blue Mountain; it can be seen from a distance but not from up close.” 

In a flash, Princess Changle understood, replying “So that is why.
We understand.
We wonder if the zhuangyuanhas any new poetry to share?” 

After thinking it over, I replied, “This vassal has been busy in recent days with official business and have not composed any worthy verses.
If Your Majesty does not mind, please allow this vassal to record a verse that I playfully composed.” 

Extremely happy, Princess Changle called for an attendant to grind the inkstick against an inkstone.
On a nearby table, I used the four treasures of the study to write out the topic of the poem: ‘Moving in the spring to Willow Manor to listen to the warblers.’ I continued by writing down the poem verse by verse:

‘The return of spring brings heaven harmony between rain and smoke, 
Countless strips drag through the ground. 
Several days under shady trees to restore one’s delicate color, 
For a time, a yellow bird occupies a tall tree branch. 
Flying to come along the journey through the clear skies, 
Hearing and doubting the news of the red snow song. 
Rising in spirals, the wind blows open the jade curtains, 
Hand in hand the golden shuttles pass on the branches. 
From morning, the sounds of sunset seem opportune, 
From the many northern hangings and southern shadows. 

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A few strands vaguely bewilder the Han gardens, 
One sound as if to recollect Qin beauty. 
But to hold appeal and leisurely listen to each other, 
Not allowing rough unrestrained to cross on horseback. 
Pampered and smooth like pearls, born with a base tongue, 
Soft constantly as thread bound eyebrow nest. 
Under the concentrated lights one quickly sees the truth of receiving life, 
The talk of the young chick is overwhelmed as if facing death. 
To consider shadows but to suspect the intermittent sounds of the voice, 
To hear sounds and yet to recognize the whirling shadows. 
By what means are we to entertain the appearance of a general today, 
To fall down before the greatest respect to forward gold flat baskets.’22

Walking forward, Princess Changle recited the verses in a low voice.
After some time, she said, “The gifted scholars of Southern Chu are really extraordinary.
We have read it and the articulation is excellent.” 

Seeing that Princess Changle was tired, I replied, bidding my farewell, “The Queen must be tired.
This vassal dares not stay and wishes to bid my farewell.
May the Queen please take care of yourself.” 

Smiling lightly, Princess Changle replied, “Thank you.
Liang Wan, please escort the daren out.” 

Answering in the affirmative, Liang Wan came over and led me out.
After we had gone far, she suddenly stopped, coldly asking, “Jiang daren, did you forget something?” 

Freezing momentarily, I suddenly remembered that I was to lobby the Queen over the issue of the heir apparent.
Thinking it over, I indifferently replied, “Why has Lady Liang spoken in such a manner? Whether I lobbied or not is of no importance.” 

Angrily, she replied, “What? Do you vassals of Southern Chu think the Princess can be bullied?” 

Seeing through the bewilderment in her eyes, but made no effort to conceal anything and replied, “Surely Lady Liang must understand.
The issue over naming an heir apparent has already been decided.
The Queen understand this fact.
To so readily agree would be to harm the prestige of Great Yong.” 

Her complexion heavy, she asked, “What are you bullshitting about?” 

Thinking it over, rather than allowing her to think that I was easily manipulated, it was better for her to realize that I was difficult to deal with, forcing her to remain at a respectful distance23 and preventing her from harming me in the future.
Therefore, using a barely discernable voice, I replied, “For the Princess of Great Yong to be wed to Southern Chu was originally not something she did willingly.
Therefore, the Queen cares little about winning the favor of the King.
The Yong Emperor sent so many beautiful women as part of the dowry for the sole purpose of confusing the King and prevent the Queen from having to deal with a husband she does not like.
As for Lady Liang, able to easily employ money and power to further your goals, are the perfect person to command Great Yong’s spies in Southern Chu.
My lady is in a unique and subtle position, and are able to act with impunity.
If the Princess were to handle this matter, it would be difficult for her to prevent others from finding out.
To Great Yong, the Princess has already fulfilled her duties by being wed to Southern Chu.” 

Although Liang Wan made an effort to remain cool at any cost, her face paled and her eyes emitted a cold light. 

Hurriedly, I continued, “This lowly official is no more than a member of the Hanlin Academy.
I have never shown and am disinclined to show an interest in these matters of state.
But for my lady to involve me is not an intelligent decision.
If something were to happen to this lowly official, it would be hard to prevent people from harboring suspicions regarding my lady’s motives.” 

Freezing momentarily, her face gradually regained its color, sweetly saying, “The Queen loves daren’s poems.
From now on, once in a while, this servant15 will send someone to daren’s home to fetch your latest works.
Surely, darenwould be unlikely to refuse.” 

Calmly, I replied, “This lowly official comes from a poor background and do not have an official residence.
I merely rent a house near the Hanlin Academy.
Under ordinary circumstances, if my lady were to send someone to my home, they would be unable to find this lowly official.
If my lady does not mind, this lowly official would be willing to send my new verses to the Bright Moon Pavilion to pass along to the Queen.” 

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Liang Wan regarded me with an admiringly look before she said, “Okay.
This servant still has to return to lobby the Queen.
The carriage has been prepared.
They will take daren to the Prime Minister’s residence to report on the mission.” 

I respectfully thanked her before boarding the carriage and departing. 

Late at night, I returned without incident to the city.
Arriving at the Prime Minister’s residence, I told the extremely worried Shang Weijun the truth about what had transpired, “This lowly official was granted an audience with the Queen.
Her Majesty does indeed like this lowly official’s poetry very much, asking many questions regarding poetic verse.
This lowly official’s tongue is clumsy and did not know how to lobby the Queen.
The Queen later became tired and this lowly official could only depart.
Afterwards, Lady Liang told this lowly official that she knew that I could not say anything.
Her Majesty wished for this lowly official to alleviate the Queen’s melancholy in order.
The Queen is highly principled and long ago understood that only one person can be named the heir apparent.
Annoyed, Her Majesty could not easily change her mind.
Taking advantage of her cheerful mood, Lady Liang should be able to convince Her Majesty to change her mind.
But Lady Liang also said that the King must personally go to bring the Queen in order for Her Majesty to be able to back off.” 

Filled with happiness, Shang Weijun replied, “Good, good.
Academician Jiang is definitely a pillar of the state.
I have already discussed matters with Academy Chancellor Xie.
You have performed meritorious deeds in the establishment of the Palace of Sublime Culture.
In a few days, you will be rewarded.
Alright, go home and rest.” 

Fatigued, I returned home.
Seeing that a single light, I knew immediately that Xiaoshunzi had come to see me.
Lazily, I entered my bedroom and collapsed onto the bed, asking him, “How do you have free time today? If I remember correctly, you shouldn’t be free for another two days.” 

Xiaoshunzi smiled lightly and walked over.
Pulling me up, he helped me undress and said, “I was originally supposed to be on duty today, but I overheard Prime Minister Shang tell the King that you had gone to the royal residence on the outskirts of the city, so I changed shifts with someone else.
You must be tired from the trip.
When I saw you enter the Prime Minister’s residence, I knew there was no danger, so I came over to prepare the bath.
Once you have bathed, the midnight snack should be ready.” 

With my eyes half closed, he dragged me to the kitchen.
Inside was a barrel bathtub seventy percent filled with water.
On the stove was a snack being heated.
In a low voice, I asked, “Did you follow me into the royal residence?” 

Helping me into the barrel, replied lightly, “My martial arts aren’t that good.
The royal residence and the Prime Minister’s residence both have tight security.” 

Yawning, I replied, “Under my pillow there is a sword manual.
I don’t know if it is useful, you should go take a look.” 

Indifferently, Xiaoshunzi replied, “I have already taken a look.
Although the sword techniques aren’t bad, they are useless for me as they require rigid, yang-principled inner qi.
As a eunuch, my inner qi is yin-principled.” 

Almost asleep, I replied, somewhat in a daze, “I understand.
I will go back and search.
The more powerful your martial arts, the safer I become.” 

Although Xiaoshunzi said something in response, I did not hear anything. 

Half a month later, the Queen returned to the main royal palace inside Jianye, and the King held the ceremony naming the heir apparent.
The hundreds of officials all were rewarded.
I was promoted to become a Reader-in-waiting rated as a cong wupin24. 


楚灵王, chu lingwang – King Ling of Chu; 灵, ling means spirited; thus the Spirited King of Chu 谏议大夫, jianyi dafu – the Minister Who Remonstrates and Advises is an official who served as an imperial censor with the duty of protesting wrongful actions of the government and of the sovereigns 贵妃, guifei – the third highest rank in the harem 子以母贵, ziyimugui – lit.
son’s position is based off his mother’s social status 哀家, aijia – royal we used by women 楚炀王, chu yangwang – King Yang of Chu; 炀, yang means molten and has a negative connotation 不亦乐乎, buyilehu – idiom, a quote from Confucius, lit.
isn’t that a joy; extremely, awful in a sarcastic manner 焦头烂额, jiaotoulan’e – idiom, lit.
badly burned about the head (from trying to put out a fire); fig.
hard-pressed, under pressure 车水马龙, cheshuimalong – idiom, lit.
endless stream of horses and carriages; heavy traffic 沁人心脾, qinrenxinpi – idiom, lit.
to penetrate deeply into the heart; to gladden the heart, to refresh the mind 七品, qipin – seventh-ranked 六品, liupin – sixth-ranked 下官, xiaguan – lit.
this lower-ranked official; used by officials as a deferential way of referring to themselves when talking with higher-ranking officials 从六品, cong liupin – lower sixth-ranked 妾身, qieshen – lit.
your servant (deprecatory self-reference for women) Jiang Zhe is basically saying that since we have no grudges or grievances, why are you trying to harm me? 长袖善舞, changxiushanwu – idiom, lit.
long sleeves help one dance beautifully; money and power will help you in any occupation 如鱼得水, ruyudeshui – idiom, lit.
like a fish back in water; glad to be back in one’s proper surroundings 婉儿, wan’er – an affectionate way of calling Liang Wan by her given name 王后千岁千千岁, wanghou qiansui qianqiansui – lit.
long live the Queen; may the Queen live a thousand years 锦瑟, jinse – this is a poem by the late Tang Dynasty poet, Li Shangyin.
This poem was originally untitled, but ultimately took its title from the first two characters of the poem; the 瑟 (se) is a type of zither with 25-50 strings This topic and poem comes from an early Qing Dynasty book entitled 平山冷燕, pingshanlengyan 敬而远之, jing’eryuanzhi – idiom, lit.
to show respect from a distance; to remain at a respectful distance 从五品, congwupin – lower fifth-ranked

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