After the Emperor and Noble Consort swapped bodies…
A beautiful lady was sitting sideways by the window overlooking the pavilion below when she heard movement from outside. She quickly stood up and asked: “How is it?”
The young palace barely managed to stand steady, gasping for breath as she said: “Niangniang…Noble Consort Rong…does not seem to be doing too well.”
At first, Concubine Li was staring blankly, but then she was overjoyed: “Is it truly the end for her?”
“It is completely and utterly true.”
Concubine Li almost wanted to lean back to look up at the sky and let out a hearty laugh: “Zhan Yurong, oh Zhan Yurong, to think that there would be a day like this! Hurry up and prepare a change of clothes, I want to be there to see her take her last breath myself.”
By the time Concubine Li rushed over to Furong Palace, it was already packed with people standing inside and outside the palace hall.
Concubine Li and Noble Consort Rong were chosen to enter the palace in the same year. Between the two of them, one was the daughter of a renowned scholar, while the other was the daughter of the general of the Northwestern Garrison. They were of similar status, but how they were treated upon entering the palace could not be more different.
As soon as Noble Consort Rong entered the palace, she promptly received favor the very night of the same day. She entered the palace alongside seven or eight beautiful women, but she was the only one the Emperor took a liking to, and so she was directly promoted to Noble Lady the next day. After that, Noble Consort’s favor flourished, never waning as she became the most favored newcomer in the imperial harem. There were many who admired her and just as many who resented her. Concubine Li took pride in being known as a talented lady in the Capital. She disdained the fact that she had to be associated with Zhan Yurong, this unbearable and vulgar general’s daughter. Moreover, the rafters at the top are the first to rot. Zhan Yurong did not exercise any restraint in the least and was bound to not last long.
 The rafters at the top are the first to rot in a storm — the one standing at the forefront will be the first to fall.
That was the way everyone felt. Everyone was waiting for Zhan Yurong to fall from the clouds above. However, it was unclear whether the imperial concubines were careless or not, but Zhan Yurong was promoted from a Noble Lady to Concubine three months later, and within half a year, she was pregnant and conferred the title Consort Rong. Some time ago, given the fact that she had given birth to a prince, she became a Noble Consort in one fell swoop. There was no Imperial Noble Consort at the present, and across the six palaces, Zhan Yurong was merely a step away from the Empress. Zhan Yurong’s favor was unprecedented, and not even the Emperor’s own cousin could compare. How much longer will they allow something so disgraceful to go on? Concubine Li was so angry she wrung her square handkerchief. Why is it her? How is it that no one else has caught the Emperor’s eye?
 [original] biaomei – maternal cousin with a different surname and hence why they were allowed to marry
“However, Zhan Yurong was promoted so quickly that the slander and schemes taking place behind her back were equally astonishing. She attracted too much attention in the imperial harem. From the moment she entered the palace, she was the first to be chosen to serve in bed, the first to be promoted, and the first to become pregnant. Even if the Emperor bestowed some sort of reward, she would also be the first to have it ostentatiously carried back to Furong Palace. Zhan Yurong had a bad reputation throughout the imperial harem, but now, her retribution for solely dominating favor had finally come.
A few days ago, His Majesty led his concubines to appreciate the lotuses. While on the boat, Noble Lady Ya accidentally fell into the water. The Emperor saw this and immediately jumped into the water to rescue her. Noble Consort Rong happened to be standing at the edge of the boat, so when the Emperor stepped onto the edge of the boat and jumped off, it violently rocked the boat. Noble Consort Rong also fell into the water just like that.
As soon as the surrounding attendants saw the situation, they disregarded everything and all jumped in, throwing themselves into the water to rescue them. His Majesty carefully held Noble Lady Ya in his arms and swam back. After carefully setting Noble Lady Ya down, His Majesty discovered that Noble Consort Rong had also fallen into the water.
The Emperor caressed Noble Lady Ya’s forehead once more before going back into the water to look for Noble Consort Rong. The attendants all came together to stop him, but the Emperor insisted on doing so. However, by the time everyone finally found Noble Consort Rong, something unexpected happened. Noble Consort Rong had already lost consciousness, so the Emperor gave her air through mouth-to-mouth. The Emperor also felt lightheaded, perhaps from holding his breath underwater for too long that he lost consciousness as well. When the Emperor fainted, the palace maids and eunuchs were all frightened to death and frantically transported him back by imperial carriage in great haste and summoned an imperial physician. The concubines in the palace all crowded into the Palace of Heavenly Purity, waiting for the Emperor to regain consciousness.
As for Noble Consort Rong, the concubines all came to a mutual understanding and forgot about this person. Even the Empress was so worried about the Emperor’s condition that she forgot to summon an imperial physician for Noble Consort Rong.
Noble Lady Ya was the Emperor’s dear cousin who burst into tears before the Emperor’s bed. When the Emperor woke up, he looked around in a daze before blankly staring at Noble Lady Ya. As soon as the Empress saw this, she hurried over and said: “Your Majesty, are you feeling much better now?”
The Emperor was startled, then he said in a hoarse voice: “Much better.” Before the concubines could rejoice, they heard the next thing the Emperor asked about: “What about Noble Consort Rong?”
Oh dear, are you still thinking of that little bitch at this time? The concubines all clenched their handkerchiefs, and the smile on the Empress’s face went imperceptibly stiff: “Noble Consort Rong will naturally make a steady recovery. I already sent someone to take care of her a while ago. Your Majesty need not worry about her, please be at ease and take the time to recuperate.”
“No, I have to go see her in person.”
Noble Lady Ya could only helplessly look on as her big cousin walked right past her. Ever since her big cousin woke up, he didn’t even ask her a single word, and the only thing that kept coming out of his mouth was Noble Consort Rong this, Noble Consort Rong that! Zhan Yurong was nothing more than a shield for her to hide behind, so why should he need to go to her?
What happened next was even more shocking. It was one thing for the Emperor to humble himself to go and see Noble Consort Rong in person, but he even wanted to stay the night at the Noble Consort’s palace. The Empress frowned and immediately advised: “Your Majesty, this is improper. You are the most powerful ruler standing above all. You should send a concubine to the Palace of Heavenly Purity to serve you, how can you stay the night at a concubine’s palace?”
If the Emperor wished to stay the night, it would have to be at the Empress’s palace. This was a privilege that only the Empress was entitled to as the legitimate wife.
But the Emperor said: “It is no matter. Seeing as she is rather unwell, I will not be at ease if I am not watching over her myself.”
Noble Consort Rong was lying in bed with a pale face. She looked at these women standing before her bed with a rather strange look in her eyes as if this was the first time they met.
What more could the Empress say? She could only suppress her emotions, suppress her unwillingness and lead the concubines out. Before many of the concubines went out, they saw that the Emperor was no longer there and turned back and fiercely glared at Noble Consort Rong. Even Noble Lady Ya deliberately walked over towards the end, coldly eying Noble Consort Rong before she let out a scoff and whispered: “You are just a substitute. Do not forget your own duty.”
The Emperor stayed overnight in Furong Palace for three consecutive days, and the concubines across all six palaces also secretly cursed Noble Consort Rong for three days.
Today, the news of Noble Consort Rong’s grave illness seemed to have grown wings and spread across the six palaces in an instant. Concubine Li happily and cheerily came, and when she arrived outside of Furong Palace, she discovered that many of the concubines were already waiting there.
Everyone was waiting, waiting for Noble Consort Rong to lose her good fortune and fall from grace from here.
Noble Consort Rong kept coughing in the inner chamber, nearly unable to catch her breath. An Xiang from the General’s manor came and knelt in front of the Noble Consort’s bed, weeping as she wiped away Noble Consort Rong’s fine sweat: “Xiaojie, how many storms have we had to weather in the past? You must pull through this time too!”
 Xiaojie — a maiden form of address for a young lady of a family with social status; Young Miss (common translation)
“In the past?” This beautiful lady’s hair was disheveled around her temples, making her appear too weak to stand up to the wind, but the look in her eyes was nevertheless that of extreme vigilance in contrast, “Someone poisoned her in the past too?”
An Xiang’s attention was fully focused on Noble Consort’s old ailments and did not notice the strange wording coming from her family’s Xiaojie. An Xiang felt aggrieved and said: “Isn’t that so? Ever since you became pregnant, there were things laced with poison, musk incense, and wicked people using pins and needles. We never had any peace in Furong Palace.”
Noble Consort Rong barely managed to stop coughing and struggled to say: “Then why not tell the Emperor?”
“What use would there be in saying anything?” An Xiang’s tears swiftly fell, “He only wants to push us into the fire to burn, how could he be genuinely concerned about Xiaojie’s life or death? Xiaojie, please bear with it, the General and Madam are trying to find a way to use a token to enter the palace and see you!”
Noble Consort Rong leaned back against the pillow, unable to find the words to say for a long time.
The Empress was aloof and distant, her dignified yet cold voice rang out from outside: “Imperial Physician, what happened to the Noble Consort?”
“The Noble Consort caught a cold, and her old ailments have relapsed.”
“Oh, so it is an old ailment. Then you all can treat it. If it can truly be treated, Bengong will certainly reward you handsomely.”
There was also the sound of another voice outside promising to do so. Noble Consort Rong heard it and only felt that it was rather ironic.
How dare they! Fortunately, Ya’er is still good.
A greeting came from the door, and it turned out to be Noble Lady Ya. The Empress’s warm, gentle laughter could be heard: “Noble Lady Ya, you also came.”
“Yes, I heard Noble Consort jiejie was ill, so I brought her favorite lotus seed soup and came to see her.”
“Noble Lady Ya has always been so considerate, no wonder His Majesty loves you so dearly.”
Noble Lady Ya was quick to say: “Niangniang surely must be joking. With the Noble Consort here, how could I dare to speak of this? Noble Consort Rong is obviously the one His Majesty favors the most.”
The Empress smiled but made no remark and only said: “The Noble Consort is inside. Since you have gone through all this trouble to bring her favorite lotus seed soup, bring it inside.”
Noble Lady Ya expressed her acknowledgement in a low voice and started walking towards the inner chamber. When Noble Consort Rong heard Noble Lady Ya approaching, she involuntarily felt a hint of anticipation.
When Noble Lady came closer and saw Noble Consort Rong lying in bed, her hair scattered behind her and looking like a begonia after the rain, like a weak and delicate beauty. Noble Lady coldly scoffed and ordered people to move the round stool over, so that she could sit by Noble Consort Rong’s bed. She spoke as she gently stirred the lotus seed soup with a spoon: “You are rather good at putting on pretenses.”
Noble Consort Rong’s mouth fell wide open, taken aback by the words she just heard: “What did you say?”
“Why are you still pretending? My cousin is not here anyways, so who are you pretending to be so pitiful for? You are just a stand-in for me like a target put up to shield me. Do you really think that you can use your status as Noble Consort in front of me?”
“You…” Noble Consort Rong seemed utterly shocked, her fingertips trembling as she was rendered speechless for a while.
Noble Lady Ya was secretly stunned to see her like this. Since when did Zhan Yurong lose her temper like this? Noble Lady Ya knew that Noble Consort Rong had caught a cold and the evil qi affected her mind, leading her old ailments to relapse. Noble Lady Ya had the intention of making her angry again. If it could make her condition worsen or make her so angry that she died of anger, then what a joy it would be for everyone!
Noble Lady Ya leaned in, lowered her voice and said to Noble Consort Rong: “Are you proud that you gave birth to my cousin’s only prince? Let me tell you, my cousin has long been guarded against your family. He will not let you raise this little prince.”
Noble Lady Ya looked at Noble Consort Rong’s wide eyes, quite satisfied with her reaction as Noble Lady Ya continued to say: “My cousin already promised me, and in the future, he will let me raise the prince in my name. He even promised to give me my own little prince eventually. You are just a stand-in for me, you have been paving the way for me all your life, and your child will also be a stepping stone for my little prince. But it’s a pity that you probably will not live to see this day.”
Noble Consort Rong’s fury affected her state of mind, she barely managed to hold back her anger and said in a low, solemn voice: “She is the Noble Consort, and you are just a Noble Lady. How dare you say something like that?”
Noble Lady Ya started giggling like someone who had just heard something funny: “You are asking me, how dare I? My cousin is His Majesty the Emperor himself, he indulges me, loves me, and promises me anything I want. Of course he was the one who gave me the courage!”
Noble Consort Rong was so angry that her chest rose and fell with her breaths, unable to say a word for the longest time. Noble Lady Ya was stirring the bowl of lotus seed soup as she spoke when an eunuch’s voice suddenly rang out from outside: “His Majesty arrives.”
Noble Lady Ya immediately stood up, shyly lowering herself to salute in a delicate manner: “Your Majesty!”
When the Emperor entered the inner chamber, his eyes swept over the palace servants and concubines kneeling on the ground, past the box of food Noble Lady Ya had brought in, and finally landed on Noble Consort Rong in bed. Noble Consort Rong had not gotten out of bed to salute, but the Emperor did not seem to mind it in the least as he sat down on the edge of the Noble Consort’s bed and said: “You may all rise. Noble Consort, are you feeling better now?”
Noble Consort Rong’s expression finally showed some improvement, and she bowed her head slightly. When the Emperor saw this, he smiled and took the bowl of lotus seed soup from a palace servant nearby and said: “Noble Lady Ya brought this in?”
Noble Lady Ya immediately responded, smiling innocently and kindly as she did so. The Emperor smiled and nodded: “Noble Lady Ya is quite considerate. You have always been so kind towards Noble Consort Rong. She will surely remember your kindness for a lifetime.”
Noble Lady Ya expressed her agreement in a soft, delicate voice. She thought to herself: Sure enough, my big cousin still likes the pure, delicate and innocent kind of girl the most. In her cousin’s heart, she must be a pure and kindhearted lady as well.
The Empress saw the Emperor praising Noble Lady Ya and almost wanted to personally feed the medicine to Noble Consort Rong with the way things were looking, except the latter had never shown any interest in the Empress herself. The Empress could not idly stand by and watch any longer and interjected: “Your Majesty, you are the powerful ruler standing above all. How could we let you do such a thing? How about you give me the bowl of medicine, and I will feed it to Noble Consort Rong.”
“No need.” The Emperor said, “Noble Consort Rong is tired and needs the peace and quiet to recuperate. You all should head out first.”
This… The Empress looked on with a frown, but seeing the determination in the Emperor’s expression, she could only reluctantly take her leave. Even Noble Lady Ya looked back three times as she was led away.
Seeing everyone withdraw from the chamber, Noble Consort Rong let out a weary sigh: “I was wrong to have blamed you in the past.”
The Emperor smiled and said: “It is no matter.” There was not the slightest bit of falsehood in her words, and soon enough, it will be no matter at all.
A soft smile suddenly appeared on the Emperor’s face. It was the kind of smile that was rather pleasing to the eye when it appeared on a woman’s face, but when it appeared on the face of the most powerful ruler in the land, it felt rather ill-disposed. The Emperor smiled as he stirred the bowl of lotus seed soup with the spoon and said: “Your Majesty, allow Chenqie to feed this soup to you.”
 Chenqie (臣妾) — along the lines of “I, your servant and concubine” or “I, your subject and concubine”
The Emperor, who had inexplicably swapped bodies with his concubine and was also Noble Consort Rong at this moment, nodded and had no qualms about opening his mouth to let the other person serve him. He thought Zhan Yurong was still sensible, and when he returned, he would definitely reward Zhan Yurong handsomely and promote her. His beloved concubines turned out to have such faces behind his back, truly spoiling one’s appetite, and besides, they were not as docile as Zhan Yurong.
The former Noble Consort Rong, who was now the Emperor, fed the other person the lotus seed soup spoonful by spoonful. There was an imperceptible smile on her lips, and when the other person finished the soup with nothing left behind, she set down the bowl and helped him lie back down. “Have a good rest, Your Majesty. Chenqie will stay here and watch over you.”
The Noble Consort Rong whose soul had been swapped, nodded peacefully fell asleep in this manner. Even as he was falling asleep, he was still saying: “Rong’er, rest assured, I will be good to you in the future and let you become the most powerful and favored concubine across the six palaces.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty.” She responded with a smile.
After sitting and watching this particularly delicate Emperor for a while, she slowly leaned over and whispered into his ear, softly calling out: “Your Majesty?”
There was no response from the other person. The Emperor stared intently at Noble Consort Rong’s beautiful and serene face and suddenly burst into uncontrollable silent laughter.
Oh Your Majesty, she would much rather be the Emperor than to be a favored concubine.
As long as you are dead, who would know that there is another person within the shell of the present-day Holy One? Don’t worry, Your Majesty, you only fell ill and died after drinking Noble Lady Ya’s lotus seed soup. Soon enough, your dear cousin will go down to the underworld to serve you.
The Emperor left with such a smile. As he walked through Furong Palace, he happened to see a wet nurse holding a little prince and coming over. The little child’s face was red from crying as he kept begging for his mother.
The wet nurse nearly collapsed out of fright, but the Emperor did not find him to be a disobedient child and carefully took the little prince into his arms in a quite familiar manner: “My little prince, your mother, she just fell asleep. In the future, your Father Emperor will love you dearly.”
The hiccuping child who was crying just now miraculously stopped crying and nestled into the Emperor’s neck and fell asleep from exhaustion.
The wet nurse was so frightened by the sight of this that she was about to go over and pick up the little prince when the Emperor stopped her.
“You may go. He will be living with me in the Palace of Heavenly Purity from now on.”
The palace servants looked at one another, not understanding what was happening. The Emperor held the child with one hand and strode out. As he sat atop the swaying imperial sedan, he looked up and looked into the depths of the palace. The glazed roof tiles of the Forbidden City were shining brightly beneath the blue sky.
Zhan Yurong softly chuckled. After all, she had been a favored concubine for nearly the past two years, and she was quite familiar with the Emperor’s every move. Impersonating the Emperor would not be a problem at all. She never expected that the Heavens above would be toying with them like this. Since the Heavens have given her this opportunity, then it would be impolite for her to refuse.
If given the choice, just why would she still want to be a favored concubine?