The Deposed Empress
Under the roof of the Cold Palace, Li Wei Yang counted six fleas in her long hair. It’s been years since she last bathed, causing her to feel as if there was a thick armor on her body. Catching fleas has become the only method to kill time.
12 years. She has been imprisoned inside the Cold Palace for 12 years. Wei Yang lifted her head up into the sky. Every time it rains, her legs would ache, becoming so painful that it made her want to go crazy.
She was Prime Minister Li Xiao Ran’s biological daughter. Unfortunately, she was not born from the first wife but a mistress. Her mother was merely a maid of lowly class. Not to mention, she was born in February, coinciding with the saying that any female born in the month of February was a misfortune to the family. As a result, her father sent her to a distant relative to be raised in foster care. However, even the distant relative didn’t want to raise a mere stepchild born from a lowly maid. They sent her off to a rural area for her to survive on her own. Her father was the Prime Minister and her family background was one of the most powerful and influential in Da Li yet she had to depend on herself to do house chores and even farm work.
She was abandoned and forgotten. If it wasn’t for the fact her older stepsister, Li Zhang Le, refusing to marry that person then her father and Da Furen (first wife) would probably never spare her a second look . . .
Zhang Le, Wei Yang, their mere names set them worlds apart.
When she first returned to the Li’s estate, she was filled with joy and happiness. She had naively believed her father had finally remembered her, only to have overheard her father say to her beautiful and elegant stepsister, Li Zhang Le: “Xian Hui, you can be at ease now. Wei Yang will take your place and marry Tuo Ba Zhen instead.”
Older sister Li Zhang Le was also given the name Xian Hui. Her name was truly beautiful, at least that was what Wei Yang thought at the time. Soon, this particular name would become her worst nightmare.
Eventually, she listened to her father’s decision and married the Third Prince, Tuo Ba Zhen, instead of Zhang Le. She willingly and wholeheartedly helped Tuo Ba Zhen realize his ambitions, slowly watching as he went from Third Prince to become the Emperor. She had even given birth to his son, Yu Li. Once Tuo Ba Zhen became Emperor, he also made her Empress. All of this happened within 8 years.
Tuo Ba Zhen once said she had soft skin and was a first class beauty. But a first class beauty still could not be compared to a fairy with ethereal beauty. Just a glance and anyone could see the difference between them was wide and embarrassing.
What happened after? After. . .
Every time Li Wei Yang remembers that particular day, she would burst out laughing. Laughing at her young and naive self, laughing at the present her and the past her, at how different the two have become.
She could still remember that night clearly. The palace maids and everyone in Kun Ning Palace was punished immediately on scene, as if they were impatient to bring it all to a conclusion or to keep everything a hidden secret. The maids weren’t even brought to the torture chamber but were punished right outside of her bedchamber.
The entrance to Kun Ning Palace was locked. All the ones to be punished had their mouths stuffed and muted. In a blink of an eye, Kun Ning Palace had turned into a bloody mess. Li Wei Yang was dragged in front of Emperor Tuo Ba Zhen.
In Tuo Ba Zhen’s usual astute gaze, there was now a sharp, cold and ruthless look. “You bitch! She is your blood-related sister and yet you so cruelly tried to harm her.”
Li Wei Yang was filled with anguish but still said, “Harm her? I have never harmed her!”
Mercilessly Tuo Ba Zhen hit her in the chest causing blood to spill out of Li Wei Yang’s mouth. He looked at her with disdain. “Wretch! Zhang Le was suffering in labor but I wasn’t there. A maid went to look for you, pleading for your help, but why did you closed your doors and turned your head the other away? It’s obvious you were trying to harm her! If I didn’t come back in time, both mother and child would’ve died!”
Lifting her head, her eyes fell on Tuo Ba Zhen. He was just as handsome now as then, like he didn’t belong in this world. The truth is, she has never understood this man in front of her. She herself didn’t know who the man she loved was, what kind of person he was. One minute he could be gentle and sweet, but he could also be cold and ruthless. She felt like a laughingstock for being deluded in her one-sided affections for him, not realizing that he had never needed her.
Li Wei Yang laughed coldly. “Your Majesty is thinking of jiejie, but have you ever thought of Yu Li – our son? On the same day yours and jiejie’s child is to be born, my Yu Li was severely ill and suffering on his deathbed! Is it wrong of me to call upon the Imperial Doctor? Zhang Le is human, but so am I! She has successfully given birth. Even the child is given the title of Crown Prince upon birth, but my Yu Li has died! You once promised me you would let Yu Li become the Crown Prince. Aren’t you already the Emperor? Why are you changing your mind? Why!?”
His face was cold, looking at her with indifference. “I already gave you the title of Empress, but you still don’t think that’s enough! You’re greedily eyeing the title of Crown Prince too!”
Li Wei Yang could only taste blood in her mouth. Her voice was cold and frosty like glaciers. “Empress? That’s right, I am the Empress, but the royal decree to depose me is already sitting in front of you. You were merely waiting for Zhang Le to finish giving birth so that you could stamp your seal! Tuo Ba Zhen, what have I done wrong? I’ve been married to you for eight years. How have I treated you?” she asked as she pulled open her outer shirt to reveal a scary scar on her chest.
“In the 38th year of Xiandi, I shielded you from an assassination attempt and left a scar right here in the middle of my chest. In the 40th year of Xiandi, knowing that the Crown Prince had poisoned the wine, I drank it in your stead. In the 41st year of Xiandi, knowing Seventh Prince wanted to kill you, I traveled day and night by horse for thousands of miles just so I could inform you! In the 42nd year of Xiandi, when you were aiding in the disaster relief and got infected, I alone took care of you for 48 days straight! When you became the Emperor, what did you promise me, do you even remember? You said as long as you are the Emperor, I will always be the Empress. But then right after, you became infatuated with Li Zhang Le. Not only did you let her son become the Crown Prince, but you also wanted to depose me! Tuo Ba Zhen, you truly did not disappoint me!”
Tuo Ba Zhen stared at her with an indifferent and apathetic expression. His apathy was so natural, as if he was born with that countenance. His expression made her heart feel as if it was being squeezed tightly, feeling as if a very small but very sharp needle had suddenly stabbed deep into her heart at the moment she least expected it. She took in a sharp breath of air. However, on her face remained a stubborn look but deep in her gaze was grief and loss.
“Zhang Le is the person I love. Even though my original intention was to depose you, I was still going to let you reside in the palace so that you don’t have to worry about food and shelter and live comfortably for the rest of your life.”
“Live comfortably for the rest of my life?” Something sharp poked a hole inside her chest. First the hole was small but slowly, little by little, the hole became bigger, until it felt like her heart had been completely crushed. Li Wei Yang was like an iceberg about to crumble and shatter into pieces. They were a married couple for eight years, experiencing the ups and downs together. At his most difficult time, she was the only one beside him but when he became the Emperor, he suddenly loved Zhang Le. He wanted to depose her but at the same time, said he didn’t want her to worry about food and shelter.
“Everything I’ve done was for you. Just to protect you, I didn’t even care about my own life but in the end all I’ve received is a saying to not worry about food and shelter? 8 years! We’ve been husband and wife for 8 years, but it can’t even be compared to Li Zhang Le’s beauty. A comfortable life? Who needs a comfortable life? All of the danger and suffering I endured is to achieve what I have today but you so easily handed it to some other woman! Yet you want me to be grateful towards you guys?”
Tuo Ba Zhen pounded his hands down on the table. The teapot fell to the ground. He frowned. “Shut up! What other woman?! Zhang Le is your sister!”
Li Wei Yang sneered. “Sister? She is the fairy sent from heaven, she is the noble young lady of the Li family, and what about me? I’m merely the mistress’s daughter, a misfortune that my father wouldn’t even look at, like the dirt on the ground! If she had really thought of me as her sister, how could she steal my husband from me? How could she steal the position of Crown Prince from my son?”
Tuo Ba Zhen softly scoffed. He lowered his gaze onto Li Wei Yang’s pale face. His gaze was wicked and intimidating to the point it could make a person forget how to breathe. “Zhang Le is pure and kind-hearted. She wouldn’t even kill an ant. You can’t be compared to her! As for Yu Li, he has no respect or sense of filial piety. He dared to say disrespectful things towards Zhang Le. He has no rights to be the Crown Prince!”
Pure and kind-hearted? Since young, she was always the one helping others and doing the good deeds, but the person to benefit from it all was her sister. It’s simply because she has the face of an Angel, beautiful enough to make others believe her heart was also a reflection of her appearance.
Li Wei Yang wanted to laugh at herself. His voice was like a sword, stabbing straight into her heart as blood oozed out. It felt like there were hot tears streaming out of her empty, dried up eyes.
Her eyes were filled with unspeakable despair. “That’s right, I can’t be compared to Zhang Le but Yu Li is innocent. He’s a 4 year old child. There are many things he doesn’t understand. He sees his mother hurting and crying, that’s why he couldn’t help but to say some resentful words towards Zhang Le, but you’re so cold-hearted to lock him up for 3 days and 3 nights!”
Tuo Ba Zhen emotionlessly stared at her without saying a word.
Her heart broke even more. “If it weren’t for that, his lungs wouldn’t be infected. He wouldn’t have to die at an age so young! He’s your flesh and blood. All because of one word from you that he is too disrespectful and you treated him like that. Am I wrong? I called upon all the Imperial Doctors to treat him because I want to save my flesh and blood! You only think about Li Zhang Le. My Yu Li was suffering from a high fever. He told me that he was hurting. Do you understand how painful it was for me? If I could, I would trade my life in exchange for his. That precious son of yours has you and Li Zhang Le, but Yu Li only has me! Why should I go see Li Zhang Le and take care of her? At that moment, my Yu Li was fighting between life and death. Right now I don’t need anything. All I want is for Yu Li to live again! I hate Li Zhang Le, I hate her to death. I hate that I can’t mince her into pieces!”
“You bitch!” Tuo Ba Zhen was furious. He was filled with disgust and disdain for this woman before him. “If you want to hate then hate me! She didn’t want to enter the palace but it was me who forced her to enter the palace, wanting to make her the Empress. She’s an innocent and kind-hearted person. How could she possibly have such an evil and scary little sister like you?” He walked quickly towards Li Wei Yang and evilly pulled on her hair. “I will definitely not forgive you! I want you to suffer for the rest of your life! Guards! Cut off this bitch’s legs and throw her into the Cold Palace!”
Then Wei Yang saw some sort of yellow thing. The palace was dark and somber, but that yellow thing blinded everything else. It was even brighter than the candlelight, penetrating through the entire world. She knew right then that it was the Emperor’s royal decree to depose the Empress.
The Eunuch announced the decree. Somewhere, there was a pair of eyes that looked like poisonous arrows wanting to shoot through her heart. Her soul was lost, she was empty. All thoughts disappeared inside her head except for two words: revenge and hatred. She could not hear a word; her devastated soul had long flown away to somewhere far, far away.
Tuo Ba Zhen, you are ruthless. Truly ruthless!
Holding her heart, she lay down on the ground but he didn’t spare her a second look. He lifted his foot and kicked her mercilessly. This kick didn’t just hurt her physically but had trampled on her dignity and spirit.
Li Wei Yang laughed hysterically. She had once said she loved Jiang Nan’s landscape. One of these days, when everything has come to an end, she wanted to go to Jiang Nan to view its scenery, to drink good tea, to listen to the best folk songs and to travel the world. Tuo Ba Zhen said he would remember those words for the rest of his life. And it’s because he remembers, that’s why he used this method to punish her. She said she wanted to travel the world, so he cut off her legs. She said she wanted to be Empress, so he deposed her and threw her into the Cold Palace. Tuo Ba Zhen, you are truly sinister, truly ruthless!
Under the Cold Palace’s roof, Li Wei Yang slightly narrowed her eyes.
Afterwards, Tuo Ba Zhen made Li Zhang Le into Empress, made her son into Crown Prince. For the rest of their lives, they were loved and bathed in glory whereas Li Wei Yang had been forgotten and abandoned. Staying alive was merely to prolong the last breath. She had promised herself to live longer than Li Zhang Le. She must live longer than Li Zhang Le!
Right then, the doors to the Cold Palace opened. Li Wei Yang saw a faint ray of light through the crack in the door.
“Li Wei Yang, kneel and accept the decree!”
Kneel? Her legs were amputated, so how can she kneel?
Li Wei Yang didn’t understand what the man was saying. His voice was hoarse yet sharp to the ears. She was dragged out into the hallway by someone.
“The Emperor has decreed: the deposed Empress Li has no virtues and does not reflect on her wrong-doings, instead cursing the new Empress day and night. She is granted the poisoned wine!”
“Consort Li, don’t blame others. The Empress has been terrified and restless, losing sleep at night. The Emperor found a diviner and it was determined that your karma is too strong and opposes the Empress. You should hurry and go reincarnate!”
Poison wine. Of course it was going to be poison wine! Her life was spent as a good wife. She did everything for him. She was a good Empress. On the battlefield, she didn’t care about her own health but personally went around and encouraged the soldiers’ morale. When a natural disaster happened, she immediately donated silvers and gold to the citizens. Even if he got angry at her, she helped him point out and corrected his faults. She treated the palace maids and eunuchs with tolerance and kindness. But what happened to her now? When she was met with misfortune, not a single person has come forward to help her.
Li Wei Yang laughed like a maniac. “Tuo Ba Zhen, Li Zhang Le, good for you guys! You guys treated me so well! In the next lifetime, I – Li Wei Yang – swear to never do people favours, to never step into the palace and to never become the Empress!”
The senior eunuch looked at the deposed Empress Li with pity and sighed deeply. “Drag her down.”
Miles away, Li Wei Yang’s voice could still be heard. Her voice was hysterical but also filled with painful suffering. That noise sounded like endless curses filling up the entire palace, instilling fear into people’s hearts. . . .