“I will have him recall the imperial edict. He lied to you, and he lied to me. He’s a liar!”
Of course, Song Yuan had to express her thoughts. “Dad, I’m not going to tell you what Mr. Xie thinks. You said it yourself; his family background is not ordinary, and I’ve mentioned to him that I have a son. Dad, your behavior today really embarrassed me. Mr. Xie and I really are just ordinary friends. Regardless of what other people think, I treat him as an ordinary friend, and there is no interaction with him beyond the scope of friends.”
Although she knew that Rong Ting wouldn’t eavesdrop, she still lowered her voice. “Rong Ting is still young. Although he likes me a lot, children believe that their parents are a pair. He thinks that I and his father are still husband and wife. Until he corrects his belief, I can’t be in a relationship with anyone, and I don’t want him to misunderstand me as a mom who had an extramarital affair. I just want to raise him well right now; I haven’t thought about anything else.
“But don’t worry, Dad, I know what kind of person I am. The rich and powerful aren’t for me, and I don’t have such a big heart; I won’t have any ideas after finding out Mr. Xie’s identity and background. What you’re worried about won’t happen.”
One should know one’s place. She had always known that she wasn’t very bright. Even since she was young, her grades had never been particularly good. Even if she studied hard, her grades would always hover between average or just above. And as for emotional intelligence, she was not the kind of person who could handle complicated interpersonal relationships with ease. People like her were used as stepping stones in palace dramas, dying without even knowing how they died…In other words, she still didn’t quite believe that she transmigrated to the ancient times and somehow ended up becoming empress.
Song Haiping was relieved after hearing Song Yuan’s reassurance. He was very ambitious and initially wanted to get on board with Xie Heng, but when he saw Rong Heng interacting with and showing interest in his daughter, he didn’t feel the least bit happy. Instead, he was flustered and anxious.
“It’s best if you think this way. Okay, I thought at first that I’d have to speak with you for a long time, but now I can catch my flight. I won’t say any more.” Song Haiping stood up and got ready to leave. Before he left, he warned Song Yuan again, “Don’t get too close to the Xie family. The waters in B City are too deep; it might be troublesome even if you two are ordinary friends. The rich and powerful in B City are… ai.”
“Fine fine fine, I know.”
Song Yuan wasn’t stupid. She was living so peacefully now; she didn’t want any trouble.
Song Haiping understood his daughter and left, satisfied.
As soon as he left, Rong Ting came out from the kitchen, having finished washing the strawberries. Not seeing Song Haiping, he asked doubtfully, “Grandfather has left again?”
“En, he left to go catch a plane for his business trip.”
“Then he is unfortunate1.” Strawberries were Rong Ting’s favorite. The transparent fruit bowl was filled to the brim with large and beautiful strawberries. He looked up at Song Yuan. “Empress Mother, let us eat together. Gu just had a taste of one, and it was quite sweet. It is better than the strawberries gu has eaten before.”
The mother and son sat at the coffee table, happily eating strawberries.
Rong Ting couldn’t pay attention to other things while eating strawberries, and for a while, he didn’t notice that Song Yuan was a bit out of it.
“Empress Mother, one should not be greedy.” Song Yuan had been thinking while eating strawberries, and she’d eaten quite a lot without knowing it. Still, Rong Ting took it upon himself to remind her.
Although Rong Ting was still young, his self-discipline and self-control were incomparable to those of many adults.
“It is winter now. Eating too many cold foods is bad for the stomach,” Rong Ting said solemnly. “One should not be greedy. It’s all the same to eat them tomorrow.”
Song Yuan was amused. “You’re right, but we can’t finish eating this many. Why don’t we give some to the neighbors tomorrow?”
Their neighbor was a mother-to-be who was six or seven months pregnant. She liked Rong Ting very much and often brought over food.
It was just that once, this mother-to-be had asked Rong Ting whether the child in her belly was a younger brother or sister. Rong Ting had clearly felt awkward.
Many people believed that children could see the gender of the baby in a pregnant woman’s belly. The younger the child, the more accurate the prediction.
At that time, Rong Ting said with a wooden face, gu is not a prophet.
Fortunately, he was still young and handsome; no matter what he said, adults would find him very meng and very cute. Song Yuan had corrected him and told him not to refer to himself as “gu” with others, but this young lad was stubborn. He was willing to change a lot of habits–he was willing to talk to others and get along well with them, and occasionally he was willing to play soccer with the other children in the community–but he was insistent on this point and refused to change anything.
Rong Ting was not stingy and generously nodded his head.
“Gugu, we’re going to B City soon, and I don’t think we’ll be back for another half a year. I was thinking, before we leave, why don’t we invite the neighbor auntie and your buddies over for a meal?”
Rong Ting had never felt that the young boys playing soccer with him were his buddies.
Clearly they were just playing soccer together. After playing, they each returned to their own homes to their own mothers. What friends?
He didn’t think he could be friends with them, either. It was just that his mother was very happy to see him play with his peers, so he reluctantly played soccer.
“Anything is fine.” Rong Ting said.
Song Yuan said happily, “That’s great! I’ll go order a cake.”
Seeing Empress Mother excitedly ordering a cake, decking out the house, and other trivial matters, Rong Ting’s lips curled into a smile. He was not lonely. He was used to it, and Emperor Father had once said that the peak was unbearably cold2. The emperor did not need a confidant; to maintain clarity, one must remain solitary, so as to see everything thoroughly and clearly and to not be blinded by so-called friendship and make a wrong judgement.
But if Empress Mother was happy, then he was happy.
Since they had eaten strawberries, Song Yuan wanted Rong Ting to brush his teeth again. After brushing their teeth, they got ready to head to bed.
The house was very warm–it didn’t even feel like winter–but it was also extremely dry. Several humidifiers were used at once.
After Rong Ting went to sleep, she had time to do her own things. Just as she sat on the bed and prepared to watch a variety show, her phone rang. She picked it up and saw that the caller ID read “Mr. Xie.” She hesitated for a moment before accepting the call. “Hello, Mr. Xie.”
“Miss Song, you haven’t gone to sleep yet? I hope I didn’t disturb you. I was worried that Uncle might have misunderstood me, so I called you.”
In fact, her father hadn’t really misunderstood him…
Song Yuan laughed. “It’s alright. My dad is just worried that I’ll be deceived, so he pays close attention to my friends. Don’t mind it, he doesn’t mean any harm.”
“So that’s how it was. Uncle is a very responsible father. I thought that I’d offended him in the past.”
“Not at all.”
Rong Heng stood before the floor-to-ceiling windows, the phone in his hand and a slight smile on his face. “That’s good. Then I won’t disturb your rest. Good night, Miss Song.”
“En, good night.”
Fortunately, he wasn’t looking to chat. Song Yuan hung up the phone and lay on her bed with a sigh of relief.
After listening to her father’s account of the Xie family, she felt that it was very stressful to be ordinary friends with this man.
Fortunately, when he returned to B City, they likely wouldn’t cross paths.
Otherwise, she would never be able to help herself from imagining all sorts of love-and-hate relationships among the rich and powerful, and she would be afraid of accidentally becoming cannon fodder.
On the other side, Rong Heng hung up the phone, suppressing the smile on his face, and returned to his chair. He held Song Haiping’s business card between his fingers and fell deep in thought.
Song Yuan dreamt again that night.
Unlike the lighthearted and merry atmosphere from the previous times, this time her heart ached in pain. The scene changed to what seemed to be the palace. A young man wore a traditional military uniform, but she couldn’t see his face clearly, and there was some distance between the two of them. The young man’s tone and behavior were very respectful.
She sat high up. Her nose sour, she had the maids by her side withdraw, leaving just the two of them in the room.
She descended, her skirt dragging across the floor. She looked up at him and asked in a trembling voice, “Why must gege go to the battleground?”
“Reporting to Your Majesty3…”
She interrupted him, her eyes red. “Must gege speak with me like this? Must you make me uncomfortable?”
The man let out a soft sigh. “I’m sorry, Yuanyuan. This has been my wish since childhood. As a descendant of the Meng family, my mission is to defend the country4.”
“It is the Meng family’s blessing to be bestowed with such an important task by His Majesty.”
“You’re lying to me again. Mother came to see me a few days ago. Her eyes were swollen, and she must have cried. She clearly said that the Meng family would never get involved in these matters again. Father and Mother just want the family to be safe.”
“Yuanyuan, dage didn’t lie to you. There are no suitable generals in the army right now, and both the front lines and the court are unstable. I just want to give my all to protect the people. WIthout a country, how can there be a home?”
“No, not like this! I’ll ask him to recall the imperial edict. He lied to you, and he lied to me. He’s a liar!”
The man looked frightened and barely managed to calm his nerves. “Yuanyuan, be careful! I didn’t lie to you. Going to the battlefield to kill the enemy and protect the country is my heart’s desire and my mission. Don’t talk about it any more, and don’t argue with His Majesty anymore, Yuanyuan. He is His Majesty!”
It was definitely not true.
She wasn’t stupid. She knew everything.
There were several concubines in the harem whose families had great influence in court, and the court and the harem were intricately connected5. The General’s estate had been declining since long ago, since the time of the previous emperor. Her brother was just afraid that, without someone in court, she would be bullied in the rear palace.
But the present was fiercer than during the previous emperor’s reign, and the battlefield was even more dangerous6. The Meng family had been reluctant to get involved since long ago, and now they had no choice but to walk into these plots and conspiracies.
“Niangniang, I must go.” The young man finally looked up at her. “You must look after yourself and stay safe.”
Once the young man left, she was unable to suppress her emotions. She thought herself the biggest sinner.
She wept sorrowfully, but not wanting to be discovered by others, she fiercely bit her lips, refusing to let out a sound.
Someone wearing a dragon robe came in. Seeing her weeping in grief, he looked down upon her7 and asked her in a frigid voice, “Who is it that you feel sorry for?”
She didn’t speak.
He gripped her wrist and fiercely tugged. “Zhen dislikes it, hates it, to see you feel sorrow for others.”
She didn’t speak as she silently shed tears.
Song Yuan abruptly woke up. When she woke up, she discovered that more than half her pillow was wet. She clutched the hem of her clothes. She could still feel the emotions caused by the dream, the dull pain gripping her heart and tightening bit by bit.
 The raws were more like “then he has no luck with food”
 高处不胜寒: it’s lonely at the top
 娘娘: term used to refer to a queen, empress, or imperial concubine. Even though he’s her (adoptive) older brother, he still has to call her “Her Majesty” as a sign of respect for her higher status
 保家卫国: defend home, guard the country
 牵一发而动全身: lit. pull one hair and the whole body moves; fig. a slight change will affect everything else; the butterfly effect
 刀剑无眼: lit. swords do not have eyes
 居高临下: to live high and look down; to tower above; fig. arrogance based on one’s social position
Cheese: *silently sharpening my knives and spears* time to go kill a man