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xlwoo
September 6th, 2014, 02:40 PM
Chapter 3

A scholar should always care for a scholar friend, or his family when he was dead. It was required by old Chinese customs and etiquette. Mayor Wu knew that this late friend of his was not rich. Therefore, he sent a servant to give the friend three hundred taels of silver. The servant was told where the late friendís ship was, at the second berth along the wharf. But before the servant arrived there, the late friendís ship left and the next ship at the third berth moved up one berth. At fate had it, just as LanErís family was in great need of money, some unknown mayor sent the former friend three hundred taels of silver. The servant didnít know who the friend was. He only did his job by sending the silver to the ship at the second berth. LanErís family didnít know whether the father had had such a friend before. Who cared since they got the money to pay for things in urgent need. Right then, they needed a coffin badly because the father died last night. Also lucky for Mayor Wu, LanEr remembered to ask the servant the name of his master. LanEr had a long memory. And Mayor Wu had a bright future.


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Once back in their old house, they buried the old masterís coffin. Now it should be the duties of the sons to shoulder the lifeís burden for the family. But LanErís two brothers were lame ducks. They just idled away their time in teahouses, carrying cages of their favorite birds. That was the common life style of the sons of the rich families of the Mandarin Clan, but they were not rich anymore. Now LanEr had to take care of the family chores.
What could Empress Dowager Cixi still remember about the life of her girlhood living with her parents? Almost everything. She had a distant cousin by the name of Ronglu, a few years younger than she. They were playmates. She liked Ronglu better than she did her brothers and sister. Ronglu was clever and talented, too, while her brothers were a little dumb and her sister just ordinary both in the look and in brains. Does it mean that birds of a feather get together? Normally so.
ďIf youíll be the queen, Iíll be your bodyguard.Ē Ronglu often said to LanEr as her family deemed her as someone special since she was born with the scent of the orchid. She loved it that way. She would play the part of the queen and Ronglu the part of bodyguard. He even went so far as down on his knees before her to make it look real, or feel real. All these served to rouse in her the ambition for power.


* * *


At three yearís intervals, the selection of girls for the emperor would begin. It lasted for several months. First, every family of the Mandarin Clan would report their unmarried daughters between ages 13 and 17 to the Clan Affairs Management. The management would send some officials and eunuchs to check out the girls on the list. That was the first stage of the selection. Many names on the long list would be crossed out. Those still on the list would be sent into the Forbidden City for further sifting. Among those selected, some would be sent to the princes. If lucky, they would become the concubines of the princes. Some of the selected would be the royal waiting maids in the palaces. Only a handful of luckiest girls would be in the presence of the emperor.
Most girls, however, still longed to be selected and live in the Forbidden City, either as royal maids or as royal concubines. Even as a royal maid, if she took the emperorís fancy and had sex with him, she would become a royal concubine. But as a royal concubine, if the emperor was never interested in her, she would always live alone, till death released her from the solitary ďconfinementĒ. Just try luck when selected. But whether a girl was selected or not depended on the emperor himself or the empress dowager if there was one. The girl could do nothing to that effect.
As destiny had it, LanEr was selected as a royal concubine and sent to live in the Round-Bright Garden, the Garden of All Gardens, as the foreigners called it. But getting into the palace was only the first step. If the emperor never looked at her, her fate would be miserable. Actually the emperor lived in the Forbidden City, not in the Garden. So LanEr was disappointed. But no worry. The lucky star was shining over her. The rebels in the southern provinces had founded their own regime. It was named ďThe Peaceful Heavenly KingdomĒ. The Qing government armies had been defeated. Reports came in from these provinces, bearing bad news. The emperor felt a headache whenever he read these reports. Therefore, he moved into the Round-bright Garden with the queen, wishing a better environment would assuage his headache when he had to read those reports in dismay. Now LanEr had the chance. She wanted to approach the emperor, but didnít dare to do so, because there were strict rules of etiquette everywhere in the palace. One step amiss, regret the whole life. If she could not go near the emperor, why not let the emperor come to her? Good idea. She always got good ideas. She was so proud of herself.
Emperor Xianfeng (1831-1861 and succeeded to the throne in 1850) came out from the queenís chamber. The queen was from Nugulu family. Her father was one of the prime ministers. (There was more than one prime ministers in Qing Dynasty, because the decision was made by the emperor himself, not by a prime minister.) The queen was kind, benevolent and demure. She never showed her teeth even when grinning. Okay. She never grinned, only smiled. Thatís what demureness required from a lady.
The emperor sauntered in the royal garden towards his study. Suddenly he heard someone singing from behind a cluster of trees. The voice was so sweet that it magnetized him to it, like the song of the sirens. No resistance offered on his part. Indeed, the emperor never thought of resisting it. He was willing to be drawn to it, to so sweet a voice, a female voice. He was a man. How can a man resist a woman? Besides, he could conclude, from the sweet voice, that she must be a beautiful young girl. Never did an ugly woman have such a sweet voice. Is there any woman like that? Ugly but with a sweet voice? Heíd best explore it and find the answer for himself.
Behind the grove there was a pavilion, in which a girl sat leaning on the railing. From the attire, he knew she was a royal concubine, but a new one he had never set his eyes on before.
LanEr sat in the pavilion, singing her heart out. A bait she threw out. She had studied the location. It lay near the everyday route the emperor would take when he went to the queenís chamber from his study and then back. Now she saw the emperor coming. The fish to her hook. The biggest fish she could get.
She got on her knees to welcome the emperor, who helped her on her feet. The emperor looked attentively at the new concubine. Beautiful. Really beautiful. The most beautiful among all his concubines. The queen was not so beautiful. But an emperor chose a queen for her demureness and decency of behavior, not for her beauty, but chose a concubine for her beauty. The emperor couldnít take his eyes away from the oval face, the straight nose, crescent-shaped eyebrows, almond-shaped eyes, clear as crystal, peach-colored cheeks with two dimples when smiling, ebony-black hair in a tress, a pretty contrast to her fair skin. She was dressed in a red brocade gown of the Mandarin style. The emperor touched her hand, jade-white, with red nails. He felt his heart beating wildly against his rib cage like he were having a palpitation. The emperor was only in his early twenties. His hormones rushed up.
So that night the emperor slept with LanEr. She became known later as Royal Concubine Yan, the emperorís favorite concubine. Before long, Concubine Yan got pregnant. The queen didnít have any children of her own and Concubine Yan was the only one pregnant among all the concubines at the time. So she got special treatment. Andehai (known later as Little An), the emperorís favorite eunuch, was sent to wait on her and then became her favorite eunuch. Andehai was a young eunuch with a handsome face and fair complexion. And the most important thing was that he knew how to flatter and to please. If he were to open a school to teach the skills of flattering, he would have had a lot of students.
Emperor Xianfeng was expecting a son, an heir and a successor. If Concubine Yan gave birth to a girl, her side of the scales would tip up and lose the favorite balance, and also her importance in the eye of the emperor. And also her ambition. But as fate would have it, she bore a son to the great expectation of the emperor. Now her side of the scales sank. Her position in the palace was unshakable. Even the queen sometimes would yield to her wishes.