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Second epilogue. The last one will be He Heng’s point of view.
Chapter One Hundred and Twenty Two Epilogue A Legendary Love Story
In the seventh year of Jia You, the Empress gave birth to the Eldest Princess for the Emperor. With that, the Imperial Couple had two Imperial Sons and one Princess, with both sons and daughter, it was all good.
For seven entire years, the Imperial House did not take candidates into Jing and the memorandums urging the Emperor to select candidate increased. Even though the Emperor might not be willing to take too many women into the palace, he had to think about the other males of the Imperial and noble families, those people wanted to take concubines.
This time, He Heng didn't strongly oppose it and agreed to let candidates enter Jing. After three months had passed, the female candidates from all over the country were chosen to enter the palace.
These women all came from common but good families. Those of rough conduct were eliminated, the same with those who did not have a fair appearance. After rounds of elimination, just twenty people were left. However, those twenty could not be considered as one of the palace. Unless the Emperor selected to favor one of them, then, according to protocol, these people would all be sent back to their homes after five years. Otherwise, they may be chosen by the Empress or Dowager Empresses to bestow to someone as a concubine. But that was not what they wanted.
He Yao, the Crown Prince of Da Long, already knew what female candidates meant even though he was only seven years old. He looked at his four years-old brother behind him, and a profound expression came onto his face: "Er di, weren't you learning [Thousand Word Text] recently? Why don't we go ask fuhuang? Fuhuang had taught me in the past when I was learning to write."
Qu Qing Ju, who was standing behind them, heard her eldest son's words, and couldn't help but laugh. In the past, wasn't it just two years ago? She saw the serious expression on her eldest son's face and summoned the two sons to her: "Tun Tun, Teng Teng, come over!"
He Yao hadn't thought that Muhou overheard his words. He led He Teng obediently in front of Qu Qing Ju and said in a small voice: "Muhou, why have you come over?"
"Muhou is just walking around," Qu Qing Ju crouched down to hug her two sons and smiled, "I'm going to Chao Ming Hall to take care of some affairs. You two brothers have fun. At noon, muhou will let the chefs make your favorite dishes."
He Yao's foot drew circles on the ground and then he said: "Is muhou going there to select feipin for fuhuang?"
"Who told you these things?" Qu Qing Ju laughed, but she didn't fool them because they were young children and explained seriously, "Muhou is going to see those female candidates, but not to chose them for your fuhuang. These female candidates, other than your fuhuang, they can serve other people."
"Then I'll let them dig earthworms for me," He Teng happily clapped his hands, "I can't find any."
Would the people in the palace take you to places that had earthworms? Qu Qing Ju brushed the bowl cut hairstyle of her younger son.
"Don't go to see the fuss," He Yao sternly patted his didi's shoulder and raised his chin, "What we need to do now is to keep fuhuang further away from these female candidates. Let the taijian dig for earthworms. Those candidates are too soft, they don't have any strength and can't find any earthworms. Something that you can't do, can those female candidates accomplish it?"
He Teng heard his big brother state this, and his chubby face had an expression of realization. He nodded emphatically: "En, we'll keep them away from fuhuang." He turned and tugged Qu Qing Ju's sleeve, "Muhou, I'm also going, I'm also going."
Qu Qing Ju smiled as she looked at her two sons. Her eldest son had his hands at his back, expressing "I don't want to see those women, but for muhou, I can manage to go". At the expectant expression on her younger son's face, she shook her head helplessly, "Alright, you two can come."
Seeing muhou agree to their request, He Yao coughed dryly and then grabbed his didi's hand, seriously ordering: 'When we see the female candidates, you have to be good. We are muhou's children and cannot embarrass muhou."
He Teng obediently nodded his head and patted his chest. "Don't worry, gege. We are Crown Prince and Imperial Son. Muhou doesn't need to say anything. The two of us together are the most honored and invincible yellow buns."
The corner of He Yao's mouth jerked. The words that were used to comfort little children, he hadn't believed them for a long time. He wasn't a child.
The female candidates that had made it through the rounds of eliminations felt very insecure. How in love the Emperor and Empress was had long spread throughout all of Da Long. They were afraid that the Empress would treat them badly, letting them enter the Imperial Palace but without a life to enjoy the riches and luxury. However, they found that they were not shortened in their residence or food. They hadn't even seen one of the Empress' attendants. Only now when they were taken into the Chao Ming Hall did they remember this was the last elimination round where the Imperial Couple would personally interview them. If they were suitable, they could become one of the feipin in the palace.
Some women were still tentative, other women had thoughts that were already soaring. They were all very beautiful females from all over the country. If they could receive the favor of the Emperor, couldn't they honor their ancestors and enjoy the great luxuries and wealth?
Even more, the Empress was now three above two-tens. The Emperor was just a few years older than the Empress. After so many years, even the deepest feelings would not be as strong as in the beginning. They were all females of double-eight. Even though they may not be as beautiful as the Empress, they were younger, had more vitality. That was their asset.
But no matter their thoughts, when the Empress who was not as 'young' or 'lively' as them appeared, they were all dumbstruck.
A grand phoenix robe, exquisite hairpins, and skin whiter than snow. She didn't seem like a woman who had given birth to three children. When the Empress walked up the jade stairs with the help of a palace maid to sit down on the phoenix chair, they all knelt down and gave a full greeting. The little bit of conceit they had completely disappeared.
"Stand up." Qu Qing Ju let her two sons sit beside her, smiling as she looked at the twenty or so youthful females below her. "Our Da Long has good weather and can raise all kinds of beauties. Seeing everyone today, ben gong's eyes feel very good."
The female candidates hadn't thought the Empress was such a beautiful and warm person. Many people suddenly had good feelings towards the Empress and forgot their original intentions.
Those with keen eyes saw the two male children sitting beside the Empress and understood that they were probably His Highness the Crown Princess and Second Imperial Son. Thinking that there was a five-month old princess on the knees of the Empress, those that were smart gave up on entering the palace. Regardless of whether or not they would be favored, if they offended the Empress, they wouldn't have good days in the future.
"The Emperor is busy with state affairs and especially ordered ben gong to see you girls." Qu Qing Ju swept across the expressions on the faces of the women. Seeing that they all had appropriate expressions, she knew that this batch of candidates would be less troublesome than the batch of the last year of Qing De. "Are you girls now accustomed to living in the palace?"
The female candidates standing below all said they were living comfortably and complimented the people of the palace. A few of the females especially expressed their loyalty in front of the Empress. That expressed their true thoughts.
Of course, Qu Qing Ju understood, but from beginning to end, she didn't respond to the good intentions those people expressed. After leaving Chao Ming Hall, she said to her sons: "Did you see? Your fuhuang would not be interested in these kinds of girls. You two are young now. Just enjoy growing up. These things are something little men shouldn't be concerned about."
"As a son, a man should be concerned about the affairs of muhou." He Yao raised his chin to say, "Men should be like that."
"En!" He Teng nodded his head at the side. He didn't really understand but he heard muhou and a man. To that, he gave his agreement.
Qu Qing Ju's heart warmed, she crouched down to hug her two sons: "Muhou is very fortunate to have two good sons. In the future, Tun Tun and Teng Teng need to protect your mother and wife. This is what a man should do."
"En!" The two children nodded their heads seriously.
Qu Qing Ju looked at them, a smile blooming.
Not long after, most of the female candidates were sent back to their homes. These candidates were all extremely happy when they left. When they got back, if someone asked them, they would all talk about the virtues of the Empress. Many of the poor scholars wrote many stories about the Empress, all beautifying the Empress.
Qu Qing Ju didn't know what happened outside the palace, but something that happened inside the palace surprised her. One of the remaining candidates complained that the Empress had taken all of the Emperor's favor and was too jealous.
Once the words came out, it created a storm in the hougong. Everyone was waiting to see what would happen to this candidate. It had to be said that the Empress treated Heng fei and Luo guipin very well. The Emperor resided daily at Kui Yan Palace, that was the Emperor's decision. No matter how skilled the Empress was, could she tie up the feet of the Emperor?
So those kind of words, in the eyes of everyone else, were a great joke. Over the these years, weren't there unperceptive palace maids who wanted to turn from sparrows into phoenixes but they had never succeeded? Where did this candidate get the confidence from?
In reality, Qu Qing Ju was also slightly curious. She sat at a pavilion located in the middle of the pond in the Imperial Garden, and threw the fish feed in her hands to the goldfishes in the lotus pond. Turning, she looked at the female candidate called Chu Bi who was kneeling in front of her. This was a very beautiful girl, her brows carrying proudness that the other girls didn't have. She took the handkerchief that Mu Jin passed over to wipe her hands and sighed: "These years, the palace has never lacked for women who wanted to be feipin. You are not the first, and won't be the last."
Chu Bi had started regretting saying what she said out of anger long ago. Hearing the Empress speak, she obediently knelt, afraid that the Empress would be angry and she would lose her life.
"As a woman, if one could choose, it would be to receive one person's heart and to not separate until death." Qu Qing Ju saw puzzlement on Chu Bi's face and smiled, "But most of the men of the world are heartless while the women are infatuated. The end is always much crueler than imagined."
Hearing this, Chu Bi's heart moved. For some unknown reason, she gathered the courage to raise her head and look at the Empress. She found that there was no anger on the Empress' face, but an unspeakable warmth. Her heart moved, and she regretted her rash outburst even more.
"Empress niangniang… …" Chu Bi said, "Nubi knows her mistake, and asks the Empress for forgiveness."
"Stand up," Qu Qing Ju smiled slightly as she raised a hand, "If you really want to become a feipin of the hougong, ben gong naturally wouldn't stop you but hope you will not regret it."
Chu Bi stilled. She knew that the Empress was not lying but she was more hesitant now.
At this time, she heard the sounds of feet coming behind her. Before she could raise her head, she heard the maids and taijian all kneel down, calling the Emperor.
The Emperor? She boldly raised her head and saw the Emperor and Empress were holding hands together. It seemed that, in the eyes of the Emperor, there was only the Empress and nothing else.
She respectfully greeted the Emperor, but from beginning to end, the Emperor didn't look at her or ask about her. When the Emperor left hurriedly, that was when she knew that the Emperor still had state affairs. It was only that he had seen the Empress in the pond pavilion so he had especially come over to see her.
How deep did the feeling have to be for him to do this?
Chu Bi walked in front of the Empress and made a full greeting: "West Region Outside Official's daughter Chu Bi courageously asks for the phoenix blessing of the Empress, and begs the Empress to allow nubi to return home to marry freely."
She might admire the luxury and status, but she also knew what things could be achieved and what should be given up. Otherwise, the ending would only be a tragedy.
Qu Qing Ju looked at this girl and smiled. As expected, she had not been wrong. A female like this might have a stubborn personality but she wouldn't lose her head. So she hadn't wasted the effort put in.
Since He Heng had no intentions towards other women, why would she, for a virtuous reputation, keep these young women in the palace to be living widows? They were all women. She wouldn't do something so shameless and selfish in order to look good.
Chu Bi left like this. Afterwards, she had heard that none of the five remaining candidates had become the feipin of the Emperor and had become the concubines of other people. She looked at her husband who treated her very well beside her, and for some strange reason, she thought about what the Empress had said.
As a woman, if one could choose, it would be to receive one person's heart, and to not separate until death.
It was only now that she understood the rules the Empress held for the candidates. If the Empress hadn't taken care of them, and let the twenty or so candidates spend five years in the palace before they were sent off, their youth would have disappeared. Where could they find a good spouse then?
"What are you thinking about?" The man next to Chu Bi asked.
"Nothing," Chu Bi shook her head and said: "Just thinking, if it wasn't for one person, I probably would never have encountered you."
"Who's that person?"
"She is probably the best woman in the world." She closed the book in her hands, her smile warm and sweet. "It's late, let's sleep."
The man beside her looked at the book in her hand. Wasn't that a novel about the love between the Emperor and Empress?
Supposedly, the Imperial Couple had great love. After more than a decade of marriage, the Emperor had not changed his love for the Empress. Right now, they had both sons and daughters and were the object of admiration for many people.
He smiled. That was probably the most moving, unprecedented love story in Da Long dynasty.