The Chant of the Sinking Moon Chapter 3

Translated+Edited: Akiha


Chapter 3 The Malignant Butterfly that Envies the True Beauty

Under the night sky where the stars had it all covered, the crying of the insects can be heard at the corridor. At times, there’s something cold brushing the face, but it’s not the feeling of wind brushing. Moving my short legs, I stuck close to my mother as we followed the two palace maids and two attendants that were guiding us. It was silent as we walked, with them bending their body downwards. Looking far away, there were palace lanterns hanged at every pillar. The pale yellow light lighted up the rooms and halls, making the trees and the branches looked dreamy.

Unlike the simplicity and serenity in my residence, You Country’s palace was luxurious. Indeed, as quoted from a poem: The Phoenix Chamber and Dragon Hall lies shrouded aloft; the mansions and terraces in the palace gaudy and decked out.

Our group slowly advanced. The sound of flowing water can somehow be heard, and the fragrance of water lily wafted in the air. The four palace servants that were guiding us stood on both side separately and with their hands in front of their chest. Mother stopped in her tracks and held tightly onto my hand. She smiled as she lowered her gaze towards me: “In the night banquet in the palace today, Qing Qing needs to be obedient and do not cause any troubles.”

Blinking my eyes, I showed a naïve smile: “I understand, mother.”

With hands holding onto the beaded curtains, the two attendants in green silk bent their knees to greet, and a long chanting sounded: “The Wife of the Country’s General, Second Ranked Lady of the Commandments has arrived!”

There were low whispers and fragrance overflowing from the other side of the beaded curtain. “This me, Han Su Shi[1] greets the Queen, long live the Queen.” I followed my mother and kneeled at the waterside pavilion and greeted the one that holds power with greet of greatest honour.

“Mmn, you are excused.” A woman’s voice that felt lazy can be heard, “Lu Yi, lead them to their seat.”

Carefully standing up, I sneakily peeked upwards and made eye contact with a pair of sharp, beautiful eyes. My heart shook and I tugged onto mother’s sleeve and timidly lowered my head. With only an eye, I understood that the Queen is someone powerful. With only an eye, I knew that this banquet is not simple.

Mother arched her body and leaded me to walk two steps backward. We then followed the lady in green clothing to our seat located at the lower platform. Obediently sitting beside mother, I then sighed out of relief and looked out of the waterside pavilion. Not far from here, there is a Cool Hall in the heart of the lake. It was also filled with lights and voices of people can be heard from there.

Tugging onto mother’s sleeve, I inquired wordlessly with curiosity in my eyes. Mother lowered her head and answered softly: “That’s where the King and his ministers gathered in. The men and women should not carelessly come in contact with one another, and so the banquets are held separately. This is a custom that must be followed.” Sigh, it is difficult getting used to this traditional custom. Even if this lake can separate the people, can it separate the heart? Traditional custom place importance in the surface, but is there anyone that can care about what is within the clothing, anyone that can care about what lies within the heart of those that appear to be a proper being?

“Lady of the General.” A mellow voice can be heard. I turned my head towards one of the seats on top and saw a young woman in pink elegant palace attire holding up a wine cup while stood up smilingly. Her eyes moved slightly and she looked towards mother. “Xiang Er heard that the General and the Lady met and fell in love at first sight at Qian Qiao Festival. And some rumours state that with only <Vibrant Cloud Chasing After the Moon> by Lady had made the General someone to be revered. I wonder if such a mundane me can be graced by such a divine song?”

Mother stood up gracefully and bent her knees to greet. The simple yet elegant face had an inconspicuous smile on her face: “Consort Shu is exaggerating. That bland song of mine is not something to be talked about and I’m afraid it might taint your grace’s ear.”

“Oh~” Consort Shu’s lips slightly curved upwards and her eyes turned cold, “Seems like Lady’s divine song is only for the General to listen to and us consorts within the palace has no such luck!” What a person, what words. I lowered down my glance and bit my lips, peeking beside me.

I saw mother’s body froze up and she kneeled down immediately: “This me does not dare to, this me does not dare to.”

“Enough, Xiang Er.” The Queen’s lazy voice sounded, “You’ve scared the Lady.”

“Elder Sister~” Consort Shu stomped on her stitched shoe and said in a spoiled tone, “I really want to listen to it.” Raising my glance over, the beauty in pink attire now has a frail demeanour, the coldness from before can’t be seen.

“This me will be willing to play a song, do please forgive this me.” Mother kneeled on the floor and replied, looking scared,

“Xiang Er, look what you did. The Lady was scared because of you.” With the red chiffon skirt sewn with silver threads behind her, she stood up and walked slowly towards us, “Please stand up, Lady. This sister of mine has been in the palace for a long time. It is inevitable if she’s acting spoiled.”

As she said that she bent down to help mother up. The long eyes looked as if it’s smiling but at the same time it’s not: “The General headed to the war for the country and left his beloved wife and daughter under my care. How would I dare to let the Lady feel upset.” After saying so, she rolled her eyes at Consort Shu, “Xiang Er, come and apologize.”

Consort Shu pursed her lips. She twists her body as she walked up to mother and hold onto mother’s finger: “I’m just straight forwards with my words, saying whatever’s on my mind. Hopefully the Lady won’t blame me.” As she said that, she waved her hands towards the servants behind her, “The King gifted me with a high quality Qin. Leaving it at my place would just be a waste, and so, I might as well just use this chance to give it to Lady as a gift.”

“This me don’t dare to.” Mother wanted to kneel again but her sleeve was pulled by the Queen and Consort Shu. “Does the Lady dislike Xiang Er’s gift? Or is it because the General’s residence has no need for these things?” The mellow voice felt cold.

Giving a blow, consoling after, joking a second ago, and scolding in the next. The Consort Shu who had a red face and the Queen who had a pale face; hidden meanings within the words that carried spears and sticks. Pointing to mother, but is in fact indicating father. What a banquet, what a Qian Qiao Festival, what a pair of Queen and Consort sisters. I held my breath and clenched my fist, sitting there quietly.

“Dong!” I clearly heard the sound of knees hitting the ground hard. When I looked towards mother with my aching heart, mother was grovelling by Consort Shu’s feet with unsteady breaths: “This me is grateful for Consort Shu’s great gift!”

“Do get up, Lady.” Consort Shu smilingly helped mother up and eyed to the people by the side. A female servant then placed a Gu Qin with disconnected patterns onto the stand.

Mother bent her knees shakily and turned her head slightly and smiled at me gently, she then walked towards the stand. At this moment, the sounds of stringed bamboo instruments can be heard. When listen carefully, it was the introduction part of <Vibrant Clouds Chasing After the Moon>. My heart went cold and I heaved a deep sigh: It seems that having mother to perform is something they had in mind since the beginning.

The pale yellow long sleeve raised and slid down along with the thin arm. The beautiful arm that was raised looked as weak as the breeze, and as gentle as the willow. A lingering melody can be heard, making the water ripple. Following that was the soft sound of the flute. The twirling end note, carried by the wind, travels out and the Cool Hall nearby quiet down. Behind the veil, shadows of people began to appear.

Mother’s finger that was applied with balsam moved along the disconnected patterns. With sadness on her face, she closed her eyes, as if to reminiscent.

The soft and lingering tone of Gu Qin, the falling petals of the peach blossom. Flowing like the moon that shines upon the border. The faraway sky moved, but will the heart of the vibrant cloud ever be known?

As the melody gradually stop, the surrounding turned quiet. A moment later, woos can be heard from the Cool Hall and everyone came back to their senses. “It is indeed the voice from heaven.” The Queen exclaimed softly and hold her palms together in commend, “No wonder the General fell in love at first sight with Lady and no matter how much the King oppose to it, he still firmly rejected the marriage with Xiang Er and marry Lady as his wife. If I was a man, I will also choose the same, rejecting the benefits just for the beloved lady~”

My round eyes widened and I looked towards mother who was kneeling on the floor: So there’s also this past! That Consort Shu who had daggers hidden in her smile was originally to be married to father. No wonder she kept on troubling and hindering mother.

The Queen appeared to be nonchalant, but was in fact purposefully talking about the past, causing gasps to appear in the waterside pavilion. The weird atmosphere made my heart beat faster.

An attendant with grey robe lifted the beaded curtain and bent his back as he entered. Holding onto his hand and kneeled down: “This servant has come to greet the Queen, greet all the consorts.”

“It’s Quan Fu. Stand up.” The Queen squint her eyes slightly and smiled, “Do you have any business here?”

“Yes, your highness.” The attendant did not dare to look upwards. With his head lowered and arms in front of his chest, he spoke loudly: “The King sent this servant over to inquire about the consort that played the Gu Qin earlier.”

“Oh? Did the King find that melody to be a pleasure for the ear?” The Queen lifted the jade cup and sipped.

“Replying the Queen, The King and all the ministers find it to be a melody from the heaven.”

“Head back and inform the King. The song was played by the Wife of the Country’s General.” The Queen looked to the side and the maid called Lu Yi nodded her head and walked towards the stage and helped mother who was kneeling on the floor to get up.

“The Lady is excused.” The Queen smiled and looked amiably towards everyone in the lower platform, “Pass on my order, reward Han Su Shi with ten Hu[2] of pearls, two blocks of corals, five sets of agate stones, a pair of jade RuYi. And tomorrow I will request the King to grant the title of First Ranked Lady of the Commandments.”

Mother’s body froze up slightly and she kneeled down once again: “Gratitude towards the Queen for her generosity. Long live the Queen.”

“Do get up.” A soft laughter can be heard from the upper platform, “The Lady does not need to be this wary. Two days ago, the King had told me that he favoured the general’s young daughter. Seems like the possibility is high for both me and the Lady to become in-laws~”

What! I clenched onto the hem of my skirt. My teeth heavily bit onto the tip of my tongue and blood began to flow in my mouth. The pain reminded me that all of this is not a dream. I blankly looked at mother who was standing in the middle of the banquet. She also had the face of disbelief.

“Quan Fu.” The Queen opened her lips and tilted her head. The eyes curved upwards as she looked at me, “Lead the General’s young daughter to Ju Yue Palace. Let the King have a look, and also the crown prince as well.”

The glance with smiles hidden in it made me feel as if I was being targeted by a poisonous snake and my body trembled lightly. Turning my head again, I saw mother with her brows tightly knitted together, she looked like she wanted to say something but is unable to. Secretly heaved a sigh, the corner of my lips went upwards. I jumped down the seat and skipped towards the servant. Suddenly remembering something, I quickly turned by body back and clumsily bowed towards the upper platform: “Your Highness the Queen, Qing Qing will be going now.” I lowered my head, copying the poise and my body slightly lost balance.

“Hehehe~” A lazy laugh can be heard, “Go on, go on. What an endearing child. Quan Fu, do take good care of her. If she loses even a strand of hair when she comes back, I will have you answer to me.”

“Understood!” The attendant beside me promised respectfully, “Consorts, Wife of the General, this servant shall retreat now.” As he said that he bowed towards me: “Miss Han, forgive my intrusion.” After he said so, he held onto my hand and following the maids-in-waiting, we slowly headed out. Turning my head back, I sweetly smiled at mother. The fortune and misfortune of a person is caused by others, as a daughter, I myself understood that.

On board the beautiful boat, warm summer air brushed the cheeks and slowly moved towards Ju Yue Palace located in the heart of the lake. A clear moon hanging on the sky, reflections can be seen in the water. The light sound of water swaying can be heard. With an oar, the reflection of the moon on the water shattered. With the wind, the boat moves.

Holding onto Quan Fu’s hand, I adjusted my breathing and walked into the palace built on a small isle in the heart of the lake. Carefully observing my surrounding – a clean wall, sculptures and decorations on the wall, curtains on all sides, coloured lantern lights, it looked luxurious. While my father and brother breathe in all the dust in the borders, the so-called King just relaxingly enjoys his entertainments at the palace. What ruler and ministers, it is all but a bunch of nonsense!

“King, this servant had greeted the Queen.” Quan Fu let go of my hand and hold onto his sleeve as he bowed his head deeply.

“Oh? What did she say?” A murky voice can be heard from the upper platform.

“Replying the King. The Wife of the General was the one performing earlier.”

“Wife of the General?” A voice showing interests that will have one find that person to be frivolous can be heard. Carefully raising my head, what I saw was a man in yellow robe with goatee, thin cheeks, and long eyes that were calculative. With his hand up, he touched his beard and suddenly noticed me: “This is?”

I lightly breathed in and greeted: “Han Yue Xia greeting the King. Long live the King!”

“Han Yue Xia?”

“Replying to the King. She is the daughter of lord Han Bai Qing, the country’s General.”

“Oh!” He grabbed onto his own palm and laughed loudly, “The Queen sure is mindful, wanting me to meet my future daughter-in-law. Good child, raise your head and let me have a look~”

Suppressing my dissatisfaction, I timidly raised my head and forced myself to look at the cunning eyes.

“You are excused.” The thin man smilingly looked at me, “Yue Xia, your brother is called Yue Xiao right?”

“Yes.” Slowly standing up, I tried my best to control my childlike voice.

“The duet of the vertical bamboo flute and Gu Qin under the moon. What a good scenario!”[3] The King lifted his golden cup and stood up, “There’s news today from Han family that the enemies at Rong City retreated. Showing the might of our country’s military, obliterating the enemies!”

“This is all thanks to the wise decision of the King. If not because of our King that did not care for the opposition and determined to send our military over, how will General Han even earn this honour?” Lowering my head and staring from the corner of my eyes, a middle-aged man in dark blue palace official attire left his seat and walked up. He then kneeled down, “Hail our wise King, hail our wise King!”

The face of wanting to lick up to other’s boots made me feel like puking. Sadly, those in power do prefer this sort of things. The man on the throne smiled triumphantly.

“All hail the wise King!” The ministers on the lower platform all left their seat and kneeled on the ground.

Being the only one standing had made me feel insecure and I immediately kneeled down. When I turned my head, a young official with crimson robe[4] had a disdainful look and kept his mouth shut. Seems like he’s someone with ambitions and is sober.

“Alright, all of you, do get up.” There’s pride within the murky voice, “Today is Qian Qiao Festival. According to the customs, the ministers and imperial officials don’t need to kneel or bow their head. I am willing to enjoy the fun with you all!” As he said that, he eyed to someone at the lower platform. Understanding his intention, Quan Fu clapped his hand. A group of dancers with light chiffon dress showing their shoulders appeared. At that moment, stringed bamboo instruments sounded and the hall felt hazy.

I stood there not knowing what I should do. Seeing the King of You looking at me from the corner of his eyes, he talked to Quan Fu’s ear in a very low voice. Quan Fu nodded his head and hurriedly walked down: “The King appointed you to lead Miss Han to Zhui Yue Terrace. If anything happened to her, I will have you pay with your worthless life!”

I frowned and looked at the Quan Fu that showed different faces. No one here is innocent. In this place, even if I can eat heartily, even if there are all sorts of rare and precious treasures, it is not a place where I will feel safe from the bottom of my heart.

With a grim expression, I followed the attendant. The palace that appeared to be divine were rotten to the core in my eyes. Even the most beautiful sculptures appeared to be filthy to me.

“Do wait here for a moment. Allow this servant to report your arrival.” The attendant bowed towards me and walked shakily and unwillingly into the chamber terrace located at the side of the isle.

“Ah!” The weak voice of a girl can be heard.

“Son of a-! Did you not see me in the middle of something important right now?” A loud roar can be heard from the terrace. The voice of this crown prince appeared to be of same age as brother who is in his voice changing period.

“De Fu? Where’s De Fu? Where the hell did he go!”

Chaotic noises can be heard – the sound of ceramic breaking, cabinet falling onto the ground, and soon the cry of the attendant can be heard: “Forgive me, crown prince. The King appointed me to guide the young daughter of General Han to meet your highness! Or else, even if you give this servant the courage of a lion, this servant will still not dare to interrupt crown prince!” “You lowly servant, you dared to use my father’s name to hold me down!”

“AAhhh!” A yell of pain can be heard. And like a kite with broken thread, his voice gradually disappears.

Hiding myself by the shadows of the decorative hill, I saw a thin young boy with messy hair and covered with only the outer robe kicked the door open. With a face filled with rage: “Where are you? Where!”

“Ser….. Servant is here!” An attendant answered with trembling voice.

“Go! Drag that dead man out. Not understanding the situation, he ruined my business!”

“Ye…… Yes!” The attendant hurried into the chamber and soon dragged a corpse out of the chamber.

“De Fu! De Fu! Go and search for that Miss Han and bring her to Ju Yue Terrace!”

“Yes!”

With a bang, the red door was shut close.

The crickets crying somewhere in the grass, the fireflies flying by the shadow of the wall. The moon still shines brightly, the night wind still breezes lightly. It was as if nothing had happened.

Holding onto my chest, I stuck close to the decorative hill and panted, still shock from earlier.

“Miss Han?” A soft laughter can be heard behind me.

I widened my eyes and my heart stopped beating for a moment. I stood there motionlessly: Who’s that?

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[1] 氏 Shi refers to the family name and Han Su refers to her husband’s family (Han) and her own maiden family name (Su), feels weird to put in “Han Su Family is here to greet…”

[2] 1 hu=60kg; 10 hu=600kg

[3]月下琴箫和 Yue Xia Qin Xiao He, the one above is after tl, and this is a reference to make sense of the sentence and their name=韩月下 Han Yue Xia 韩月箫 Han Yue Xiao

[4] According to Baidu, the ones wearing the crimson robe, 绛衣 is an officer working in the military