Chapter 2 … The difference between heaven and earth was just like that.
Gu Hong Jian had ample resentment towards him. At this point, she wanted to stay at Wen Dao Tang, but when Lin Si Ze went on a walk for a while, she was immediately dragged outside by their bond as well. Forced against her will, she followed Lin Si Ze. Lin Si Ze sat in a huge chariot, and she floated beside him like a kite.
He Fang Ning had already heard the cries of “the emperor’s chariot approaches.” Thus, she had already completely attired herself in light white muslin and was kneeling outside Zi Yun Palace to wait respectfully for the holy chariot. Seeing Lin Si Ze arrive, she humbly lifted her eyes before then greeting softly, “Your majesty.” Frankly speaking, it made one softhearted.
And Gu Hong Jian watched attentively with a sneer on her face.
He Fang Ning… her face didn’t seem to extremely resemble a certain person…. humph!
Lin Si Ze appeared and slightly frowned. Advancing to help her stand up, he said, “The weather is so cold, why are you wearing so little?”
Although his facial expression was still apathetic, his voice still sounded somewhat concerned.
“Because chén qiè1 remembered that your majesty loves it the most when chén qiè wears white clothes. So chén qiè was anxiously waiting upon your majesty’s return…cough…” While He Fang Ning spoke, she gave a few faint coughs. Lin Si Ze then simply pulled her hand and lead her directly inside Zi Yun Palace.
He Fang Ning glanced at Lin Si Ze as he pulled her hand and revealed a shy expression. The deathly white face that was a result of the cold also flushed red.
Gu Hong Jian simply sneered.
It was now just entering autumn which was indeed not regarded warm, but the palace interior’s high walls stood tall. With such little wind, where could the chill go?
When she was in Hu prefecture, even though it was July-August, it was still a world of ice and snow and very arid. The chilly wind, like countless barbs, scraped against them and made people’s cold skin painfully raw. The first day Gu Hong Jian arrived in Hu prefecture, she woke up at midnight to find her face bloody. It wasn’t because of him; it was bleeding because her lip was excessively chapped.
The next day, she caught a common cold. Since many of the officers and soldiers didn’t particularly welcome her at first, she didn’t dare to speak of her cold. Instead, she firmly carried on, ignoring the burden, and acted as if nothing was troubling her in order to demonstrate her tenacity to those officers and soldiers. When everyone was shivering from the cold, she even intentionally wore thin clothes to practice in this world of ice and snow. Although she won a lot of respectful looks, she also caused the cold to become even more severe, almost developing into tuberculosis.
In short, she endured all sorts of suffering. As a child, Gu Hong Jian hadn’t been taken care of well, so she wasn’t afraid of suffering hardships. She was only afraid of death. After dying, everything would truly be over.
Even though she wasn’t afraid of suffering hardships, it didn’t mean that she was accustomed to suffering. Furthermore, it didn’t mean she wished to suffer on her own; she wanted someone to come and pamper her when she was suffering.
Unfortunately, however, she had died in a region like the Hu prefecture, without Lin Si Ze knowing anything about it. But inside this high-walled, warm Palace, he was concerned about He Fang Ning who hadn’t even caught a cold.
The difference between heaven and earth was just like that.
In fact, it wasn’t that Lin Si Ze hadn’t treated her well. He had treated her well; there were simply no words for just how well he had treated her back when he cared for her. But that was already an awfully long time ago, a previous matter that Gu Hong Jian had already long forgotten about…
Gu Hong Jian was just about to recall it, but she suddenly returned to her senses only to find herself already within Zi Yun Palace. Lin Si Ze and He Fang Ning sat very close, the latter having put on thicker clothing. But, He Fang Ning still seemed very cold. Whether intentionally or not, she leaned into Lin Si Ze who didn’t take note of it and merely stared straight ahead as if he was lost in thought.
Lin Si Ze could unexpectedly become lost in thought…
This was also truly strange.
When he and Gu Hong Jian were together, Lin Si Ze would only glare at her with those infuriating eyes, as if he wanted to kill her at any time. There wasn’t a moment of peace or relaxation. When he was together with He Fang Ning, however, he could actually appear to be very relaxed and happy, as if he was incredibly comfortable, and becoming lost in thought…
He Fang Ning was also a bit surprised. She tried to gently pull Lin Si Ze’s sleeve and whispered, “Your majesty?”
Lin Si Ze withdrew his gaze, looked at her, and said, “Huh?”
He Fang Ning replied, “Your majesty…you seem distracted. Is something on your mind?”
Lin Si Ze paused before shaking his head. “It’s nothing. I’m just a bit tired.”
He Fang Ning somewhat shyly lowered her head, her lips curving up into a smile. She said, “Then, your majesty, how about a break…”
Lin Si Ze nodded. “En.”
Gu Hong Jian was getting a bit hysterical——she wouldn’t have to stay here and watch Lin Si Ze fondle He Fang Ning, would she?!
Knowing was one thing, but seeing it with her own eyes was a completely different matter.
She could only hope that Lin Si Ze would remember to lay down the bed sheets…
Unexpectedly, however, Lin Si Ze stood up and said, “Then I’ll go back to the Palace. Níng Fēi2, your body is unwell. Go rest properly.”
He Fang Ning’s complexion turned dark. She said, “Your majesty? Chén qiè—chén qiè’s body, there is nothing wrong with it…”
“You appear to have caught a cold. Weren’t you coughing a little? I’ll have the imperial physician come take a look at you in a bit.”
Lin Si Ze didn’t say anymore and immediately left, leaving only the dumbfounded He Fang Ning sitting on the chair alone. After quite a while, she thought of escorting Lin Si Ze back, only to be cast away by Lin Si Ze who was worried about her health.
When Gu Hong Jian saw He Fang Ning’s practically twisted face, she almost laughed out loud.
She could be considered to be thoroughly schooled in what it meant to drop a boulder on one’s foot…
That’s what you get for acting so pitiful!
Gu Hong Jian was in a good mood as she followed closely behind Lin Si Ze. The connection pulled her out of Zi Yun Palace. Jian Hai Fu inquired, “Your majesty, do you wish to return to Zhang Qian Palace?”
Lin Si Ze contemplated for a moment before saying, “No…go to Zhao Hong Palace.”
Gu Hong Jian froze instantly, blank.
Zhao Hong Palace?
Wasn’t that her imperial palace residence?
Although…she had only lived there for a short period of two to three years.
Why would Lin Si Ze want to go to Zhao Hong Palace?
Did he miss her?
Although Gu Hong Jian was already a ghost, for a moment, she completely understood what it meant to be “floating on air”. Her whole body was trembling slightly and she couldn’t suppress her smile as she floated by Lin Si Ze’s side towards Zhao Hong Palace.
She hadn’t lived in Zhao Hong Palace for at least half a year. Since that large quarrel she had with Lin Si Ze, where he had driven her out of Zhao Hong Palace, she had not returned even once. Xiang Jun was Zhao Hong Palace’s head palace maid, but even though Zhao Hong Palace was absolutely empty, Lin Si Ze wouldn’t allow the maids to leave to serve in the other palaces. They could only guard the absolutely empty Zhao Hong Palace.
At present, under the dim light of the darkened night, the moon shrouded everything in a layer of light silk, hazily streaking across the sky and sprinkling down very faint moonlight. Zhao Hong Palace looked especially cold and cheerless from this. The trees’ shadows were vague, and the breeze occasionally blew through, giving off a somewhat haunted atmosphere.
Lin Si Ze descended from his huge chariot, entering with Jiang Hai Fu following silently. He expected that this imperial palace would already be lifeless, but to his surprise there was still a small palace maid holding a broom and sweeping the floor.
Jiang Hai Fu wrinkled his brows——the sky was already dark, why was she sweeping?
Lin Si Ze took note of this at last and slightly paused. Jiang Hai Fu hurriedly said, “Hello. Which palace’s maid are you? Why are you here in the middle of the night, sweeping the floor?”
That small palace maid turned her head, the moonlight illuminating her face. At last, her face was visible; it was Gu Hong Jian’s small maid, Xiang Jun.
Xiang Jun probably hadn’t anticipated them coming at this moment, so she was startled. As Lin Si Ze’s body was hidden within the trees’ shadows, Xiang Jun didn’t see him. She stared blankly before replying, “House Steward Jiang? Why have you come here? Does the emperor have an order? Or, or is Gu dà ren3 returning?!”
Jiang Hai Fu saw that Lin Si Ze didn’t speak up, still keeping silent. Mentally realizing this, he easily said, “The emperor has ordered nothing. I’m just casually visiting to have a look. Actually you… Xiang Jun, why are you sweeping the ground this late at night?”
When Lin Si Ze and Gu Hong Jian were quite passionate and sweet together, the former visited Zhao Hong Palace frequently. In addition, Xiang Jun was Gu Hong Jian’s personal maid, so Jiang Hai Fu had naturally recognized her.
Xiang Jun glanced down at the broom in her hand and exclaimed, “I can’t sleep. With nothing to do, I got up to sweep the floor.”
Jiang Hai Fu didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “How do you have this kind of tiring life. You are a head palace maid, and yet you are still using a broom?”
”Habit. Before, when Gu dà ren was still living in Zhao Hong Palace, Gu dà ren would frequently be unable to sleep at night if the emperor didn’t visit. She would practice martial arts in the courtyard. I would hold the broom and sweep behind her as she chopped down flowers carelessly.”
Jiang Hai Fu paused before commenting, “Oh…”
He didn’t know how to respond to that properly.
As for the emperor’s thoughts, Jiang Hai Fu really couldn’t figure them out. He also didn’t know why Lin Si Ze was hiding in the trees’ shadows, eavesdropping on him and this small palace maid’s conversation on this topic.
Jiang Hai Fu felt as if his head could explode. He didn’t know whether this conversation should continue. He was afraid the emperor would be unhappy if he were to stop his questioning, yet he was afraid to ask more in case the emperor actually didn’t want to hear more…
But seeing as how Lin Si Ze hadn’t made any sound, Jiang Hai Fu had no better option but to brace himself and continue, “Gu dà ren frequently couldn’t sleep?”
“Yes.” Xiang Jun sighed, sitting down on a chair to the side. “Gu dà ren apparently had frequent nightmares. I had to watch as dà ren fell ill. I even heard her speaking about having harmed too many people, babbling on and on about their names: something about a third prince, fourth prince, and there was also something else… Zuo Ning Yan? Aiya, I don’t remember. Anyway, Gu dà ren was very pitiful…”
Floating beside the three people and hearing Xiang Jun reminisce about her, the somewhat touched Gu Hong Jian immediately felt foolish as a result.
Perfectly all right… perfectly all right..
This stupid Xiang Jun! Why did she mention Zuo Ning Yan?!
Jiang Hai Fu also immediately opened his eyes wide. He didn’t know how he should respond. Even Lin Si Ze was unable to continue hiding and directly emerged from the trees’ shadows.
Xiang Jun didn’t anticipate that another person would appear from the shadows, giving her a fright. And when could clearly see who it was, she was even more frightened as she hurriedly knelt down. She exclaimed, “Long live your majesty the emperor! Nú bì4 didn’t, didn’t see your majesty and didn’t prompt greet your majesty. I plead for your majesty to forgive me!”
Lin Si Ze coldly sneered and said, “You can’t sleep and like to sweep floors?”
”Eh?” Xiang Jun blankly raised her head.
Lin Si Ze continued, “From this day forth, you must light a lamp and sweep the floors within Zhao Hong Palace, Cheng Ze Palace, and Kong Ming Palace, every day for three months. I will send someone to inspect. If you have not swept the palaces clean, you will continue cleaning them for several months.”
Xiang Jun collapsed and took a deep breath of cold air, but she saw Jiang Hai Fu give her a meaningful look about. Kneeling with a bitter face and kowtowing, she replied, “Thank you, your majesty.”
Lin Si Ze flung his sleeves out and left, while Xiang Jun remained blankly kneeling on the ground. Jiang Hai Fu stared at Lin Si Ze’s back and whispered, “You really are lucky.”
Xiang Jun said, “Me, lucky?! I, I was blind and didn’t see the emperor, so I must sweep for three months… and even sweep three areas. I am so lucky… boo hoo…”
Zhao Hong Palace was Gu Hong Jian’s residence. It was always empty, with very few servants.
Cheng Ze Palace was the Empress’s living area, but since Lin Si Ze had ascended the throne seven years ago, regardless of what the chancellor said, he had not declared an empress. Thus, it too remained empty, with very few servants.
Kong Ming Palace, however, was a completely cold palace. The late emperor ordained during his reign that his imperial wives and concubines will enter and be buried alive with him. After Lin Si Ze ascended the throne, his harem was entirely empty. The number of imperial concubines he had could be counted on one hand. As a result, not many people would have a chance to enter the cold palace.
In other words, these three areas were uninhabitied. They could even be described as desolate. Servants tasked with cleaning it merely did superficial work. They would, in all likelihood, have many years’ worth of filth, especially Kong Ming Palace…
Making her clean these three areas…he was simply too formidable!
Jiang Hai Fu disagreed, “Hn, the emperor spared your life; that is already giving you special favor! Just remember, never make any irresponsible remarks about the three words ‘Zuo Ning Yan’ by all means. The next time you say it again, I’d reckon you must really want to be beheaded.”
After he finished explaining, he scampered off like a little animal to catch up to Lin Si Ze, leaving Xiang Jun by herself as she sat blankly on the cold floor. At a loss, she mumbled, “Zuo Ning Yan?”
Gu Hong Jian still wanted to look back on her for much longer, but Lin Si Ze was already leaving Zhao Hong Palace.
Hearing the three words ‘Zuo Ning Yan,’ and seeing Lin Si Ze’s reaction, her heart was empty.
Lin Si Ze then said, “Go to Zi Yun Palace,” as he entered the huge chariot. After that, the party returned to Zi Yun Palace. He Fang Ning hadn’t entertained the thought that Lin Si Ze would actually leave and then return, but she was happy despite not knowing the reason. Lin Si Ze indifferently asked her if nothing was wrong with her body. He Fang Ning hurriedly and repeatedly established that there was nothing majorly wrong. Lin Si Ze nodded and guided her into the palace.
Gu Hong Jian, frightened out of her mind, was pulled along inside. She rejoiced, however, as it seemed that even though it was compulsory for her to stay in the same room as Lin Si Ze, she could still control the distance. She hid behind the outer screen, wanting to prevent herself from seeing or hearing anything.
But even if she truly couldn’t see anything, she had no alternative but to hear them. She heard He Fang Ning whispering sweet nothings and the rustling of clothes.
Gu Hong Jian’s face was expressionless as she heard that. Throughout this, she tried desperately to break her bonds and leave. It was probably because her heart was in too much turmoil, but she actually was managed to break out and leave.
Even though she was unable to leave Zi Yun Palace, she could at least leave the inner palace.
Gu Hong Jian floated out to the outer palace, subconsciously wiping her face with her hand, because she felt like she might cry. In the end, she only found out when she made to wipe her face―her hands unexpectedly passed through her own face just as her hand had passed through Lin Si Ze’s face.
She really was very completely a soul, nothing came close. She was like a wisp of air, floating about neither here nor there, unable to do a thing. She couldn’t even control her own whereabouts. She couldn’t touch anything, not even herself. She couldn’t cry either; she was simply forced to “live” in this empty manner, with her sight and hearing intact.
This must be retribution.
Why else would she be forced to see Lin Si Ze loving another woman even after her death? Seeing Lin Si Ze with another woman made her infuriated.
This must be Zuo Ning Yan’s retribution.
Author’s Note: Spoiler – the male lead doesn’t touch the second female.
I made you think——too fake, right?!
Humph. I think so!!! (Well there’s a good reason behind this… – -)
- (self-appellation of a lower-rank female) ↩
- Níng means ‘peace’ while Fēi means ‘imperial concubine’, so her official palace title is ‘Peaceful Imperial Concubine.’ It’s also a play on words as the last character in He Fang Ning’s name | 凝 | is pronounced identical to the | 宁 | in Níng Fēi.) ↩
- (literally means “adult,” general term used to refer to those of high status) ↩
- (means “slave-servant,” how a slave refers to themselves) ↩