First off, thank you, everyone, for all your comments and support. They made me teary. (Gosh, this translation has turned on my waterworks.)
Everyone has their own story. Without the seeds sown yesterday, how could there be the fruit borne today?
Epilogue 1 – If There Should be a Next Life
It was said, when the late emperor was still alive, it was rare that a prince within the palace could live a long life, for out of every ten princes, seven would not escape the fate of dying before adulthood.
Fortunately, she was a princess.
Fortunately, the elder brother she loved most was the crown prince.
She was the only daughter of her consort-mother. Out of all the imperial consorts and concubines, the empress trusted her mother the most, and hence, when the crown prince was still merely an ordinary prince, he had stayed, along with her, in Consort-Mother’s palace. At the time, this elder brother’s body had been frail from sickness, and the medicines he consumed were more numerous than the food he partook. Often, while Consort-Mother was coaxing him to take his medicines, she would sprawl at her elder brother’s bedside and play with his sleeve. Round and round in circles her finger would move, wrapping his sleeve around it.
With just a gentle tug on his sleeve, Elder Brother would not be able to hold his bowl of medicine steady, and some of the brown concoction would splatter onto the brocade quilt, bringing about Consort-Mother’s laughing reproach. Only in such moments would a smile come into her elder brother’s eyes, which were so beautiful, as if dabbed with ink.
The late emperor had passed away, and the prince became the crown prince. And since then, she never again saw her elder brother.
Except for that one time. She heard Consort-Mother mention how the crown prince had stood for one full day and night before the palace gates with a bowl of medicine cupped in his hands, not allowed to move and not daring to move. She had been extremely afraid and had secretly slipped out to the palace gates to stare at that figure, dressed in white and holding a medicine bowl, which had the value of a thousand gold pieces.
That night, there had been no moon.
Crown Prince Elder Brother had been seven years old, and she, six years old.
Many years later, when she recalled that night, it would still be clear in her mind, as if it had only been yesterday. From that moment on, she, the Princess Xinghua, had grown up and matured.
Each day, the one thing she most cared about was simply her crown prince elder brother. Whether the crown prince had been reprimanded by the empress dowager, whether he had received praises from the imperial tutor, whether his each meal had been eaten without any difficulties, whether his sleep had been restful…
Later, she learned of the news that the crown prince had a crown princess.
Someone brought to her a scroll painting of her portrait – an ordinary girl, besides that inconcealable, gentle smile on her face that carried a hint of innocence and a hint of stubbornness. Those were traits she had never had. Since that moment, when she was six years old and had seen the silhouette of Elder Brother standing there, alone, those things had gradually faded from her.
From that point on, she was no longer the only girl Elder Brother knew and was no longer his little sister whom he had once relied upon for support.
Perhaps, the crown prince had already forgotten he had this younger sister.
From when he had assumed the position of crown prince, the sole time she had physically come close to him again was the night Consort-Mother left this world. As her sobs left her light-headed, she seemed to hear someone call out, “Your Imperial Highness, Crown Prince…”
She turned and saw that man, wan in complexion but whose eyes seemed as if they had been dabbed with ink, standing outside her palace’s doors with a cloak of fox fur around his shoulders. He did not speak, only staring wordlessly into the palace hall, the palace where, when they were young, he had once laughed and played with her. As she gazed at him, her mind pulled up many memories from their childhood: when the weather was fine, she would accompany Elder Brother to read beside the lotus pond; when rain fell, she would accompany Elder Brother and they would watch the rain together beside the lotus pond…
Overlapping layers of familiar warmth from the past began to seep into the depths of her heart.
Although the crown prince had not spoken a single word before he turned and left, she knew that, like her, he, too, was filled with grief.
From that moment on, she, the Princess Xinghua, had no loved ones remaining but for Crown Prince Elder Brother.
The empress dowager viewed the crown prince as a nail in her eye, a thorn in her side, confining him for years within the Eastern Palace. Upon hearing the reports of the alleged illicit relationship between the crown princess and Xiao Nanchen Prince, the empress dowager had even privately revealed to her trusted ministers her intentions: Xiao Nanchen Prince had entered the battlefields since he was a youth, never once to be defeated, and he was not one to be crossed. Should he have tender feelings for the maiden, then she would grant him the maiden, asking only in exchange that the remainder of her own life be lived in peace and security.
Upon hearing this, she was so alarmed her writing brush slipped from her hand. “What did Crown Prince Elder Brother say?”
The expression of the maidservant next to her shifted, and retrieving the writing brush for her, she gently shook her head and answered, “Crown Prince spoke not a word, as if he had not heard.”
As if he had not heard…… As if he had not heard……
Who did not know that, in these dozen or so years, as merely a puppet crown prince, Elder Brother had always been a mute?
But how could she allow someone to rob from him the treasure of his heart.
She remained awake the entire night, deliberating through countless numbers of ways and plans. Finally, she steeled her heart and decided resolutely that, even if she should give up her own life, she would take the empress dowager’s life so that the crown prince could successfully ascend the throne and take back his rightful title as emperor as well as the woman he loved.
The affairs of the world were unpredictable. The empress dowager died unexpectedly.
The crown prince sealed the imperial city and prevented the announcement of this to the world. Using the empress dowager’s name, the first imperial decree he wrote was to summon the crown princess into the palace to complete their marriage ceremony. And on that same day, he sent out a secret imperial summons to the Cui family of Qinghe to enter the palace.
That day, she heard that the representatives of the Cui family of Qinghe had knelt outside the Eastern Palace for two full shichen [four hours]. It was into the middle of the night when finally, a eunuch came to lead them inside.
What had been spoken? She did not know, but that entire night, she lay sleepless.
The following day, the crown prince summoned her into the Eastern Palace.
The crown prince of the Eastern Palace. Nobody from outside of the imperial palace had ever seen him before. But, when had she, as a princess, ever had this opportunity to see him here either? That day, half a chi [approximately 15-16 cm] of snow had accumulated, and though the palace maids had promptly swept away the snow, it had still soddened her shoes. She could hear the pounding of her own heart as, step by step, she walked into the Eastern Palace and deferentially paid the ceremonial respects.
Upon the daybed, great fatigue had long since come over the man, who had spent the entire night in discussion with the representatives of the Cui family of Qinghe. Under the glow of the early morning sunlight, his complexion appeared even more pallid, so pale it was rather frightening.
Someone brought over medicine, and he took it. Through the rising steam of the medicine, his coughing rang out incessantly. “Xing’er.”
The vast Eastern Palace was extremely quiet, and only his voice could be heard.
This was the name he had addressed her by in their childhood days. Xing’er. Each time he spoke that name, his voice would be very gentle and tender. Only he would ever call her in such a way. It had been ten years already since she had last heard that name being spoken.
She walked over and leaned back against the daybed, leaned back beside him.
The crown prince took a small sip of the medicine. He seemed as if he did not want to take it but still forced himself to. One small sip at a time, he slowly consumed it. “I have set a date for you to be wed.”
Something in the deepest reaches of her heart soundlessly shattered. She gave a light “mm.”
Crown Prince Elder Brother slowly told her, she would be wedded off to the distant lands south of the [Yangtze] River, that place where it was said the landscape and scenery were extremely beautiful. She listened to him without speaking many words in return. If her marriage off to a faraway place should aid him in securing his rule over his realm, she would certainly happily don her wedding gown and allow herself to be married off.
That day, she stayed in the palace of the crown prince from the early morning hours until sundown, staying close beside him, as if they had returned to the scenes of their childhood.
Light glistened off the snow and shone upon the red plum blossoms. She stayed with him, admiring the snow as well as the plum blossoms.
“Wasted willows, withered lotuses, but plum blossoms as before.” He stared out at the snow, the expression on his face rather indistinguishable. “I should wonder, after you have wed, will you still have the opportunity to gaze upon plum blossoms glowing in the reflection of the sun’s light off the snow?”
Hastily, she was married. Very shortly after, the word reached her ears of Xiao Nanchen Prince’s plot of treason and the punishment of deboning bestowed upon him by the crown prince.
Then, following, came the grievous tidings of the empress dowager’s sudden death and the news that the crown prince had ascended the throne with the regnal name, Emperor Dongling.
That night, her new husband sighed ruefully that with the death of Xiao Nanchen Prince, the land would surely be thrown into great tumult, and it was fortunate that she had married afar. Among the common people, rumours of the romance between the crown princess and Xiao Nanchen Prince had reached even the folk south of the River. Even her husband had once said in jest, the supposed plotted rebellion perhaps was simply a guise, a show created as a result of an instance of fury by Emperor Dongling for his fair maiden.
She was silent.
Whether it was true or false, the deed had been done and was irreversible.
Emperor Dongling reigned for three years before his abrupt death. He left no offspring. The empire fell into great disorder.
However, because she, the Princess Xinghua, had married far away, she had been far removed from all the fighting for territory.
Historical records stated:
The deep love between siblings was shared between Princess Xinghua and Emperor Dongling. Later, she was wedded away to the lands south of the River.
The emperor reigned for three years before his abrupt death. War and dissension gradually arose in the realm. Overcome with worry for her homeland, the princess succumbed to grief and died the following year.
Crown Prince Elder Brother.
The lands south of the River have a pleasant climate. The only regret is, here, in this place… you truly cannot see any red plum blossoms glowing in the reflection of the sun’s light off the snow.
If there should be a next life, still I will be willing to stay by your side, to admire with you the lotus flowers in the summer and the red plum blossoms in the winter.
 幸儿 “Xing’er.” The 幸 is taken from the first character of the name of the princess, 幸华 Xinghua. The “er” added at the end is to express affection.
 江水以南 “jiang shui yi nan.” Literally, this means “south of the River.” The “river” in this case is referring to what is now known as 长江 “Chang Jiang” or Yangtze River. In antiquity, the Yangtze River was simply called 江 or “The River.” It is the largest river in Asia and makes a significant mark on the landscape of China. The “lands south of the River,” with its beautiful landscape and warm weather, that is being referred to here is Jiangnan (where most of the modern parts of this story are set).
If you have not guessed by now, the character 幸 “xing” in 幸华 Princess Xinghua’s name is also found in the name 文幸 Wenxing — the name of the girl who, through the millennia, may have forgotten why but, within the deepest reaches of her soul, still longed to stand by the “plum blossoms as before.”
Anyone ever watched the movie, Vantage Point? (If you haven’t, it’s not a huge loss.) I love how the author has used the vantage points of different characters to describe the same historical event. Each time you see it through the eyes of a different character, you get a slightly different picture.
1 of 1 Prologue
56 of 56 Main story segments
1 of 3 Epilogues