He said in a low voice, he would never let her down.
Song Yuan instantly formed an image of the emperor in her mind: a weak chicken-like figure with prominent dark circles under his eyes.
As a matter of fact, it wasn’t a big deal for men to have fertility issues.
It was just that Song Yuan couldn’t accept that her partner had such a problem. Such were her double standards~
“Your Emperor Father, en…” Song Yuan did not have a poisonous tongue, so naturally she would not reveal her opinion of His Majesty the emperor in front of the child. “Is his hair alright?”
When Rong Ting heard her, he was silent for a long while before candidly asking: “Empress Mother wishes to know of Emperor Father’s white hair?”
Song Yuan was stunned, and her thoughts escaped from her lips: “White hair? You just said he’s in his prime!”
Oh my god ah! Did she really sleep with an old man and even have a child? No, she refused to accept such a script!
Rong Ting was startled by Song Yuan’s reaction. He answered with creased brows, “Gu said before that gu would not lie to Empress Mother. Emperor Father is indeed in the prime of his life!”
“Then why does he have white hair!”
This clearly left Rong Ting unable to respond. The palace maids, eunuchs, and even the Grand Tutor would not talk about Emperor Father in front of him. He did not know much about Emperor Father; compared to Emperor Father, he was more concerned about everything related to Empress Mother. “For as long as gu can recall, Emperor Father has had white hair. But Empress Mother, gu has never lied to you. Emperor Father is indeed in the prime of his life; he is likely only a few years older than Empress Mother.”
The more she knew about His Majesty the emperor, the more Song Yuan felt that this was a dangerous topic.
Continuing to talk, continuing to try to understand, Song Yuan feared that she truly wouldn’t be able to overcome this hurdle.
“Alright, alright, let’s not talk about him.” Song Yuan was the first to drop the topic. She told Rong Ting, “Today is the weekend. There are many people here, and I’m afraid you won’t be used to it. Let’s just walk around this neighborhood. There’s a bookstore1 in the area. I noticed that you like to read books; I’ll buy you a few, is that good?”
Rong Ting was still a child, after all, and his attention was very quickly diverted. He indeed enjoyed reading books. Even if he wasn’t familiar with the characters here, under Mother Empress’s guidance, he could probably figure out the general pattern. Give him a bit of time, and he would be able to understand it.
“Empress Mother, are there the Four Treasures of the Study2 at home?” Rong Ting was an obedient child. Although this was Empress Mother’s residence, and despite his curiosity, he only gave a cursory glance. He didn’t dare to explore in depth, let alone go through Empress Mother’s things without her permission.
“Gu should not neglect gu‘s studies. Gu has not practiced calligraphy for several days; it would not be good if gu is out of practice upon returning to the palace.”
Song Yuan was somewhat surprised. She pulled him over to sit on the sofa, found a notebook and pen from the drawer of the coffee table, and wrote two characters on the paper. “Can you use this pen?”
Okay ba, she also felt her question was nonsense. How could people from ancient times use pens3?
“Alright ba, let’s go out now. We’ll buy a few books, as well as the Four Treasures.”
Song Yuan thought for a bit. To be on the safe side, she said: “But just saying in advance, ah, you can’t be too picky about it. After all, this is not the ancient times.”
Rong Ting thought that Empress Mother was short of money4.
His heart felt somewhat suffocated as he looked at Song Yuan’s smiling face. He secretly sighed and nodded: “Gu understands.”
He would not let Empress Mother feel embarrassed, nor let her feel sad.
Song Yuan sighed in relief. Although this child sometimes had moments when he was stinky and awkward, he was very dependable and sensible when it counted. If he truly was that sort of bear child5, even if she felt close to him in her heart, she would still consciously stay away.
The two took advantage of the good weather and went out to the local bookstore.
There were many cars and people going around on the weekend. Feeling that the bookstore was not far from home, she did not drive and instead walked on foot with Rong Ting.
Rong Ting couldn’t adapt to Song Yuan’s close contact at first. Later, without Song Yuan taking the initiative, he reached out, motioning for her to hold it. He said very righteously, “Gu is not familiar with life here!”
Song Yuan held back a smile. She looked at his small face and found it very interesting. “Yes yes yes, I shall lead Your Highness so you don’t lose your way~”
Hearing Empress Mother call him “Your Highness”, Rong Ting’s ears stealthily flushed red.
Two people, one big hand holding one small hand, walked on the street toward the sunlight. Rong Ting was endlessly shocked by everything in the city, including the high-rise buildings and the cars speeding past.
He soaked it all in, astonished.
“Empress Mother’s hometown is quite…”
Rong Ting couldn’t even look away.
He was not ignorant. On the contrary, he was crown prince the moment he was born; his awareness was not narrow, but rather quite broad. He was able to discern how good Empress Mother’s hometown was.
If Empress Mother felt this place was unforgettable, and was even unwilling to return to the palace with him, it wasn’t as though he couldn’t understand.
The Empress Mother that the old maid spoke of was dignified, and could be regarded as the nation’s mother, but the Empress Mother before him was cheerful and bright.
Empress Mother, gu only wants you to be happy.
The two arrived at the bookstore. The bookstore was especially busy on the weekend. Rong Ting did not know what books were good, as he had never come across such books before, so Song Yuan helped him choose several storybooks suitable for children his age. She also picked up a set of the best-selling “Father and Son” collection6. She didn’t know if he had learned mathematics, but she picked up a book of beginner’s mathematics.
Rong Ting was delighted.
In actuality, he didn’t express his excitement and joy like other children did, but after two days of living together, the attentive Song Yuan could already start to distinguish his moods. Like right now, when he clutched these books tightly, his eyes bright, and his lips slightly upturned, it meant that this child was happy enough to fly away.
Extracurricular academies7 had already been popular since as early as when Song Yuan was in junior high school. Nowadays many parents would send their children to learn calligraphy and traditional Chinese painting, so it was not difficult to purchase a set of the Four Treasures; she could buy them after visiting a few stores. It was only that Rong Ting was a bit disdainful of them. Of course, he didn’t make a fuss.
After purchasing a calligraphy set, Rong Ting was reluctant to stroll around outside. His justification was quite reasonable: “Gu is not willing to receive other people’s stares.”
That was to say, if this were the palace, how many people would dare to look directly at him as they did in Empress Mother’s hometown, or take out such objects of unknown origins in front of him ne?
Song Yuan pinched his ear. “Those big sisters think that you’re very adorable and handsome, so they looked at you and took out their cellphones to take photos; I stopped them. You are very handsome in your period clothing, better looking than all the children in historical dramas.”
Rong Ting solemnly corrected her. “Empress Mother, one must not pay attention to outer appearance. Moreover, gu is a man; inner talent is more important than superficial looks8.”
Song Yuan: “…”
She was actually educated by a child.
By the time the two came home, it was already almost noon. Song Yuan did not supervise Rong Ting. After washing her hands and putting on her apron, she entered the kitchen. Rong Ting’s mouth was truly quite shrewd. He didn’t like takeout, but the meals she made, regardless of whether it tasted good or not, he would praise and flatter.
By the time Song Yuan finished bustling about and came out of the kitchen, Rong Ting was already writing.
She was extremely curious about what level of calligraphy a five- or six-year-old child from the ancient times would have. She moved closer to look and was amazed. Rong Ting’s writing was very similar to traditional script. She hadn’t learned calligraphy and couldn’t judge the style, but at a glance, the writing was indeed quite good.
Song Yuan couldn’t do anything else, but she could still give lavish praise.
Rong Ting was quite flattered by her praise, and there was a faintly proud expression on his face. But when he thought of Emperor Father’s daily teachings to guard against pride and impatience, he said modestly, “My writing is only average. The Grand Tutor once said that Emperor Father’s painting and calligraphy are without equal.”
Song Yuan: “…”
This was simply the tinted lenses9 of a son ba. In light of having white hair and one child and quite possibly10 having awkward circumstances11, when it came to this Majesty the emperor, Song Yuan… naturally had no fantastic delusions.
“Empress Mother, come try.” Rong Ting passed his brush to Song Yuan.
Song Yuan had not learned calligraphy, but she still took the brush. She thought about it, then wrote the three words “Time to eat” on the paper.
She was used to using a ballpoint pen to write, and now she was suddenly using a writing brush. Although her writing wasn’t chicken scratch12, it also couldn’t be considered beautiful.
Rong Ting carefully scrutinized the three characters Song Yuan wrote, his expression as serious as that of the Grand Tutor who usually checked his work. Finally, he lifted his head and said: “Emperor Father deceived me.”
“When gu was young, gu did not like to practice writing characters. Emperor Father said to gu that he and Empress Mother both excelled at calligraphy, so how could their son not be proficient? Since then, gu has diligently practiced.”
Song Yuan had a bold thought. Could Gugu, this little tadpole, have found the wrong mom?
That’s what she said, ma. The person with good hands and a clever mind that Gugu spoke of was clearly not her, and the person His Majesty the emperor spoke of was definitely not her!
The person who knew her best was surely herself. A person like her would never transmigrate into ancient times and become a fair maiden who excelled in the four arts13.
Song Yuan hummed as she cleared away the tableware: “The little tadpole looking for mama, found a fish and called it mama, the fish wagged its tail, ‘Child ya, I am not your mama’~14“
Rong Ting heard her singing and walked over from the living room. His small head poked in as he asked, “Empress Mother, are you singing?”
“Child, ya, I am not your mama~”
Rong Ting: “…”
On Saturday night, Song Yuan had a dream.
It was very strange. Everything was very hazy, and she couldn’t clearly make out anyone’s faces.
It was night, and everything seemed to be in a state of slumber. It was white as far as the eye could see; it seemed that there had been a heavy snowfall. A man brought her up the watchtower15. She couldn’t see his face clearly, but she could feel his gentleness and care. He brushed off the snowflakes on her cloak and took her by the hand.
She followed his lead and looked outside the watchtower.
She didn’t seem to feel the cold.
What she saw was the vast heaven and earth.
The man said something to her. She couldn’t hear him clearly except for the end. He said in a low voice, he would never let her down.
Her dream was full of happiness.
 书城: lit. book + city/town. Like the name suggests, they’re quite big, probably bigger than your average Borders or B&N
 笔墨纸砚: the Four Treasures of the Study: writing brushes, ink(sticks), paper, and inkstones. Inksticks are ground on an inkstone, and the powder is mixed with water to create ink
 水笔: seems to be an overall term for any modern pen, like a ballpoint or gel pen
 囊中羞涩: a light purse makes for a heavy heart; to be embarrassingly short of money
 熊孩子: a brat, rascal, or troublemaker
 父与子全集: the original “Vater und Sohn” is a daily life comic about a balding father and his son. Written by E. O. Plauen, it was a weekly feature in the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung from 1934 to 1937. I’m not sure if the Chinese version has the exact same stories, but the art is definitely different, and I believe the Chinese version has added text, while the original version is a silent/pantomime comic. Does anybody reading this who has some knowledge of Chinese culture know if this is actually a super popular series? lmk
 兴趣班: lit. interest classes. Based on the description, it sounds like an educational academy where children learn and practice hobbies outside the regular school classroom. So like, a place to take extracurricular classes?
 腹中才华远比皮相重要: lit. talent in the belly holds greater importance than the appearance of the skin
 Figuratively, like rose-tinted glasses. Song Yuan feels that Rong Ting would definitely be biased when speaking about his father
 疑似: seemingly certain but at the same time uncertain
 难言之隐: a hidden trouble that is hard to mention; an embarrassing illness
 至于如狗爬: lit. like a crawling dog
 琴棋书画: the four skills expected of the aristocratic nobles to learn: the guqin (a 7-stringed musical instrument), Go (that one strategy board game with black and white pieces), calligraphy, and painting. Wiki said these were expected of scholar-gentlemen, and I couldn’t find anything similar for women, so the term might just be used here as a general description for being talented
 城楼: Google called it a barbican?? A watchtower built along the city wall as a lookout, a base for archers during battle, a commander’s HQ, etc.
Cheese: tfw your maybe-son basically roasts your handwriting hahahahahaha
i love sy and her preoccupation with her maybe-husband’s potential old age but lbr, who wouldnt be the same way?
also, i may not reply to your comments, but i do read all of them (is it embarrassing for me to say that i go back every few days to check the most recent chapters for comments?)! it warms my heart to see that people seem to be enjoying this series, and i’m very grateful for your support, even if i don’t show it thru replies! im just v shy (
question of the week: what do you consider to be a good translation? good grammar and punctuation is a given, i think, but im more so referring to the writing. some say that being faithful to the original text (incl. sentence structure) is a sign of a good translation, while others think it’s better to take some liberties because that it better conveys the author’s intent and meaning. but if so, at what point are you taking it too far, and your translation ends up being more of a summary or interpretation?
its a topic that i struggle with even as a mtl-er (who often aren’t considered “true” translators due to the notorious reputation of “not knowing the language they’re translating from/into”). what terms are better kept as pinyin? what terms would be better off replacing with a direct or approximate english word? what about consistency? if i keep the royal “we” (zhen) in pinyin, then does that mean i should keep the royal self-appellations “this prince” (gu/benwang) or “this palace” (bengong) or “this grieving one” (aijia) in pinyin, too? i’m curious to see what yall think, whether or not you have strong opinions