The Girl Who Struggled Through Palace Intrigues to Become the Empress - C.7: First Meet the Queen

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The idle chatter between Consort Yun and Consort Yin stopped when a palace maid solemnly announced, "The Empress is arriving."

The noble consorts who were already seated rose to their feet, faced the corridor leading from the inner palace to the main hall, and paid their respects, saying:

"This lowly concubine pays her respects to the honorable Empress. May the Empress receive endless blessings and prosperity."

Song Zhao followed etiquette along with the crowd, glancing at the Empress as she gradually made her way to the phoenix seat.

The Empress wore a bright yellow phoenix embroidered peony robe, a gold and jade phoenix crown on her head, three pendant pearl earrings in her ears, and was dressed solemnly and impressively overall. As she walked, her posture was elegant and poised, with barely a flutter detectable in the tassels of her robe's hem.

After the Empress was seated steadily on the phoenix seat and bid the crowd dispense with ceremony, Song Zhao finally got a good look at her appearance.

She had sharp, upturned phoenix eyes, soft, full, cherry-red lips, a straight nose, and an air of composure and grace.

Only the somewhat heavy rouge and powder on her face seemed deliberately applied to conceal signs of poor health.

After appraising the newcomer, the kindly smiling Empress asked,

"You entered the palace just yesterday and left your family estate. Are you adjusting well to life here?"

The women unanimously nodded their heads. Noble Consort Li, standing at the front, was quick to flatter the Empress, saying,

"This lowly concubine thanks the Empress for her care. The eastern wing of Yao Hua Palace has a courtyard filled with blooming azaleas, which happen to be this concubine's favorite flower. This concubine's family home had many planted as well, so moving in yesterday felt as warm and homey as being back there."

The Empress kindly replied, "Good that you like it. I should have personally overseen arrangements for your residences. But I've had heart trouble these past few days, so I left those matters to Consort Yin." fr𝐞𝐞𝚠e𝗯𝗻ovel.c𝐨m

She nodded with a smile at Consort Yin. "You have a meticulous mind. Thank you for taking on this troublesome task."

Consort Yin quickly responded, "The Empress flatters me. To share in some trivial affairs for you is this concubine's good fortune."

The savvy Noble Consort Li hurriedly expressed gratitude to Consort Yin as well. "This lowly concubine offers much thanks to Consort Yin."

Consort Yin glanced at her briefly and gave a cursory "Mm" of acknowledgement.

The Empress went on, "Yesterday was a joyous day for you all to enter the palace. You should have each had an audience with His Majesty. Blame my illness for impeding him at an inopportune time. Do not take it to heart."

The women hastened to say, "How could the Empress say such a thing? That would grieve us deeply. Your phoenix-like health is of paramount importance."

The impatient Consort Yun couldn't resist rolling her eyes and angrily declaring,

"How could we blame the Empress? We heard clearly yesterday while attending to you that you repeatedly urged His Majesty to receive the new concubines, so they would not feel neglected.

If Consort Chen hadn't obstinately seduced and pulled His Majesty to her palace, I'm certain we sisters would have met His Majesty's holy countenance yesterday!"

Song Zhao could discern that Consort Yun said this to make the new concubines resent the unseen Consort Chen.

The Empress let Consort Yun's words pass without objection, indicating she was also unsatisfied with Consort Chen's conduct yesterday.

But as the legitimate empress, it would be unseemly for her to voice jealousy.

Later, the Empress asked them some trivial questions about their lives. Song Zhao stood quietly without responding.

She waited until she heard the Empress give a couple weak coughs, then saw Noble Consort Li make a move.

The noble consort had her maid pass up a black brocade box. She respectfully offered it to the Empress with both hands, saying,

"Hearing yesterday that the Empress was afflicted by heart trouble, this lowly concubine was anxious. This century-old wild ginseng was brought by this concubine on her father's orders to nourish and enrich the qi. I hope the Empress will not despise this token of goodwill."

Song Zhao sneakily inspected the wild ginseng in the black brocade box. Its quality was indeed excellent.

The Empress also said with a smile, "This wild ginseng is of the finest grade. Noble Consort Li's thoughtfulness is much appreciated."

Before her voice faded, her head palace maid Shuang Ruo moved to accept the gift.

Just then, Consort Yun gave a cold mocking laugh. "Ha, Noble Consort Li means well, but she should have investigated the Empress's symptoms first.

The Empress's heart trouble flared up this time due to the hot weather lately. There is excess heat and deficiency of yin with exuberant fire in her body. This 'gift' of yours is absolutely unsuitable for those conditions."

Hearing this, Noble Consort Li's expression changed. She hurriedly pleaded,

"The Empress must forgive this offense... This lowly concubine does not understand such things. I beg the Empress not blame me for my ignorance."

The Empress serenely smiled. "You meant well. How could I blame you? Let's do this - I will accept your gift, but if I wish to re-gift it, will you take offense?"

Noble Consort Li forced a smile. "Of course not."

The Empress then said, "Consort Shu is pregnant and deficient, in need of nourishment. This excellent wild ginseng is perfect for her. Today I will regift this item to Consort Shu."

Consort Shu was absent from court today due to pregnancy, but her palace maid Qing Yue was present.

She came to convey Consort Shu's apologies, and to listen in and later report back to her mistress.

Qing Yue stepped forward and accepted the black brocade box from Shuang Ruo, saying,

"This lowly servant conveys Consort Shu's deep gratitude for the Empress's generosity."

The Empress nodded slightly. "When you return, remember to tell your mistress these are tokens of Noble Consort Li's regard."

Naturally, Noble Consort Li was delighted.

Her gift had earned her favor from both the Empress and Consort Shu. Though wild ginseng was pricey, it was worth it.

The new consorts' name plaques would be sent to the attendance room tonight. She thought to herself, at this morning's court session she had performed the best. She might get to serve the emperor tonight.

Later, the wearied Empress dismissed the consorts to return to their palaces, following proper order of precedence.

As the most junior, Song Zhao was the last to leave.

But she had barely stepped out of Feng Luan Palace when someone called for her to wait.

She turned back to see it was Shuang Ruo.

The palace maid held a palm-sized yellow pear wood box, which she handed to Song Zhao, saying:

"This is Purple Gold Blood Activating Ointment, extremely effective for treating rashes. The Empress has instructed me to give this to you. Apply a thin layer morning and night, and the red swelling and oozing rash on your face will disappear in under five days."

Song Zhao accepted the box happily, smiling as she said:

"This lowly concubine offers profound thanks for the Empress's abounding grace. I should thank her personally. Her care is deeply moving."

Shuang Ruo replied, "The Empress is tired today and says there is no need to thank her. You may go."

With that, she turned and went back to Feng Luan Palace.

Song Zhao gave the pear wood box to Cloud Zhao, telling her maid to take good care of it. Then she too headed for Yao Hua Palace.

Walking some distance away, Cloud Zhao whispered to Song Zhao, "The Empress is indeed as kind and caring as the rumors say."

Song Zhao just lightly hmm-ed in response.

She thought to herself, in this treacherous palace, kindness alone could not have enabled the Empress to keep her position steadily for so many years under Consort Chen's pressure.

Moreover, this was their first meeting, yet the Empress already somehow knew about her rash and prepared tailored medication in advance.

She was pondering this when a cold, stern female voice suddenly sounded behind her:

"Who goes there?"

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