It turned out that Guo Huizhen was the concubine’s daughter of Marquis Luo. Her mother died when she was very young and she became a transparent person in the Marquis household.
When she was sixteen, her first sister Guo Huizhu was assigned to be the Crown Prince's concubine, and Marquis Luo also took advantage to tie himself to the Crown Prince’s boat. In order to help the Crown Prince win people's hearts, Marquis Luo promised Guo Huizhen to the Sixth Prince who was not favored by the emperor at the time to be his concubine, hoping that the Sixth Prince who had no hope of taking the throne would side with the Crown Prince.
As fate would have it, in just three years, several favorites for the throne fell through, leaving only the Sixth Prince, the black horse, to ascend the throne without any risks or dangers. During this period, Guo Huizhen was in a good relationship with the Sixth Prince and gave birth to a pair of boy and girl twins. The Sixth Prince believed that Guo Huizhen was his lucky star and directly appointed her Consort Zhen after he ascended the throne.
When the twins were one year old, the new emperor agreed for Guo Huizhen to return home to visit her relatives. It was supposed to be a grand return, but instead, it became the start of Guo Huizhen’s nightmare. She was caught unprepared by Guo Huizhu's scheme. The latter learned an evil trick from somewhere, tearing off her face and pasting it on her own, turning her into Guo Huizhen's appearance.
During the entire process, Madam Marquis stayed by her side and helped to do the finishing touches afterward.
That night, Guo Huizhu replaced Guo Huizhen and returned to the palace. During this time, no one noticed anything unusual. Perhaps even if someone felt something wrong, they dared not step on the tail of a consort.
After Guo Huizhu was gone, Madam Marquis came to the room where Guo Huizhen was locked up and said coldly, “Why are you so lucky while my Zhu'er has to live in fear in the marquis' house and be a widow for the rest of her life? Now, I want you to know that between you and her, you are the inferior one!”
At that moment, Guo Huizhen finally understood why the mother and daughter didn't kill her. It turned out that they wanted her to watch this happen with her own eyes and watch her lose everything. Guo Huizhen was in distress but she didn't despair yet. She believed that the emperor would discover the truth and come to Marquis Manor to rescue her. But she waited and waited, until her face was scabbed over and new flesh had grown, only to receive the news that the emperor had promoted ‘Consort Zhen’ as Noble Consort Zhen.
Guo Huizhen lost all hope. Even her pillow partner couldn’t recognize her? From then on, what awaited her was a lifetime of inhuman suffering, while her murderer was able to get away with the identity of ‘Guo Huizhen’, and even her children would recognize her enemy as their mother.
She was unwilling to concede and finally found the opportunity to escape from the Luo Marquis Manor a few days ago. She didn't know where to go and could only run and run. She ran out of the capital and collapsed near the tea shed.
After listening to Guo Huizhen's story, Jing Yue guessed that he and Qin Yanzhi were able to retain their magic powers because there were evil spells in this illusionary realm that were beyond the ability of a mortal.
“Jing-jing, Ji-ji is here to teach you again.” Blue phoenix returned from listening at the wall corner and said excitedly, “This is a revenge-seeking, scum-abuse, back palace fighting trope. I didn’t expect a Daoist priest like to you to be involved in back palace fighting! Just thinking about the pregnancy and miscarriage and Gu sorcery and face-slapping routines… Ji-ji is so looking forward to it!”
At this moment, the main lead was right in front of him, so of course Jing Yue wouldn’t listen to blue phoenix. He asked, “What is your wish?”
Guo Huizhen's wish was simple—whoever had failed her would suffer the same pain.
Jing Yue, “As you wish.”
At night, the sky was dark and the wind blew strongly.
In Huaqing Hall, the beautiful woman was fast asleep on the chest of the handsome man, looking peaceful and beautiful.
Suddenly, the bed curtain moved without wind, layer by layer, like clear rippling waves.
The maid on night watch shivered unconsciously. She patted herself awake and looked around with some fear before tiptoeing gingerly to the bedside. She saw the emperor and Noble Consort Zhen lying on their backs and sleeping far apart.
The palace maid was slightly puzzled but quickly returned to her original position.
The next day, the emperor went out of the palace in disguise and brought back a woman from the communal. That night, he summoned the woman to serve him in the bed chamber. The next day, she was given the title Imperial Concubine Yan and allowed to stay in Yilan Hall. For the next ten consecutive days, and even the most favored Zhen-guifei in the past was forgotten.
(TN: For easy reference, the titles will be in pinyin form. Guifei 贵妃 = Noble Consort, Fei 妃 = Consort, Pin 嫔 = Imperial Concubine. The rankings are from high to low. For more information on the titles, Wiki has a pretty good page ‘Imperial Chinese harem system’.)
News of Yan-pin circulated everywhere in the back palace, saying that she was beautiful and fairy-like and charmed the emperor, but the emperor protected Yan-pin so well that outsiders could not see her at all.
After ten days, the emperor would leave for Wuhua Mountain to worship the gods and must leave the palace for two days. The concubines in the back palace celebrated—they were finally able to start the battle of the back palace!
That morning, when the emperor had just left the palace, a beauty in a pink palace dress led a dozen eunuchs and maids to the Yilan Hall.
Yilan Hall was very close to the emperor's bed-chamber and the scenery was particularly pleasant. Although Yan-pin lived only in the side hall of Yilan Hall, there was no other concubine in Yilan Hall. In other words, she was the master of the entire Yilan Hall, and this alone was enough to make the other concubines jealous.
But when they arrived at Yilan Hall, they were met with a closed door.
“Yan-pin-niangniang is resting. May I ask Zhaoyi-niangniang to please come back later.” The young palace maid of Yilan Hall respectfully but bluntly refused.
(TN: Niangniang 娘娘 is a term like Your Highness. Zhaoyi 昭仪is yet another concubine ranking slightly higher than Pin)
“How dare you!” He-zhaoyi's personal palace maid, Shaoyao, stepped forward and rebuked, “How dare you let Zhaoyi wait?”
Little palace maid, “Zhaoyi-niangniang, this…”
“Cut the crap!” Shaoyao received an eye signal from He-zhaoyi and fiercely pushed the little palace maid away. The group broke into Yilan Hall forcefully.
He-zhaoyi strode in aggressively. In the past, she could let it be if Zhen-guifei had taken the lead. After all, she was born of the Marquis family and bore twin son and daughter for the emperor. Now, a wild girl who emerged out of nowhere also wanted to monopolize the emperor's favor?
Hmph! She wanted to see what kind of vixen she was!
But when He-zhaoyi actually saw the person, her legs went weak and she felt her legs kneeling uncontrollably!
There was only one woman in the room, sitting cross-legged on the futon, her eyes closed and motionless. He-zhaoyi actually couldn't see clearly what the woman looked like, but there was a voice in her heart telling her—the woman was beautiful.
No, it couldn't be described by beauty anymore—that would be blasphemy, disrespect!
The woman was the heavenly fairy who fell to the earth. Mortals fortunate enough to lay eyes on her would be pregn… no, would want to prostrate on the ground and kiss the top of her feet.
Everyone in the room fell to the ground and He-zhaoyi’s head drooped lower. A clear cold voice sounded, “What’s the matter?”
As expected, the voice was filled with an immortal aura, except maybe a little lower than an average woman’s, and was simply perfect!
“I…” He-zhaoyi spat out a word before she froze. What the hell? Wasn’t she here to find fault? What was she doing now?
He-zhaoyi felt like she was slapped several times and her face was sore and burning. She staggered to stand up, pointing at Yan-pin and cursing, “You… just stay in the palace. If you have time, why don’t you come to Xicui Hall to chat with me?”
He-zhaoyi stopped abruptly. Toward that face, she really couldn’t say a harsh word, and could only offer her knees.
At that very moment, another group of people bustled in.
“He-zhaoyi, what are you doing?” As soon as Guo Huizhu came in, she saw He-zhaoyi bowing down to Yan-pin. She angrily said, “As a Zhaoyi, how dare you kneel down to her? Where's the decency?”
Of course, Guo Huizhu was here to make trouble. She only said a few words to He-zhaoyi before turning to Yan-pin. As soon as she saw the other party, her heart skipped half a beat. However, she had practiced a little bit of evil magic and was not a normal person, so she quickly stabilized her mind and said, “How bold. Not only did you not kneel when you saw me and He-zhaoyi, but you even accepted He-zhaoyi’s curtsy. Although you came from the countryside, the palace rules…”
“My legs are broken.”
Yan-pin interrupted Guo Huizhu's nonsense without any sincerity, swept her gaze over the other party lightly, and closed her eyes again.
Guo Huizhu was furious. Since she took over Guo Huizhen's identity and became the most beloved concubine, who dared to show her any disrespect? Even the emperor would give way to her, but a small concubine dared to belittle her like that?
“Men! Yan-pin has disregarded the palace rules and dared to disrespect me. Let me…”
At this time, another palace maid came from outside the hall and curtsied to Guo Huizhu, “Your Highness, the Emperor has ordered that no one is allowed to disturb Yan-pin. May I ask you to leave.”
At a glance, Guo Huizhu recognized that the other party was the emperor's most useful palace maid, Lv Mo, and got even angrier. The emperor had left but still sent someone to protect the Yilan Hall? The emperor never cherished her like this!
“What if I insist on punishing her? If the palace rules are involved, the emperor can't just take sides, right?”
Lv Mo said resolutely, “It was Your Highness who first disobeyed the Emperor's wishes.”
Guo Huizhu was furious and laughed, “Very well! Since I’m holding half of the phoenix seal^ on behalf of the Empress, I shall revamp the atmosphere of the back palace today! I refuse to believe that the emperor will berate me on behalf of a small concubine!”
(TN: Phoenix Seal 凤印 usually belongs to the Empress and is the token of authority over the back palace, including the rules, rewards, and punishments.)
She stared at Yan-pin sullenly and enunciated each word, “Men, take Yan-pin away!”
As soon as Guo Huizhu made the order, she heard the sound of orderly footsteps. She turned around and saw hundreds of imperial guards suddenly arrive at the Yilan Hall.
Lv Mo, “Your Highness, please think twice.”
“You!” Not to mention Guo Huizhu, even He Zhaoyi, who ‘fell in love at first sight’ with Yan-pin, jolted to their senses and looked out the door in amazement. They never expected that the emperor had even arranged for the forbidden guards to protect Yan-pin!
If word of this got out, would he be branded as a foolish emperor?
Guo Huizhu once again realized the emperor's determination and dared not act rashly for a while. The emperor even did such a ridiculous thing and could be seen that he had lost his mind. What if he really blamed her for this? Forget it, let this little tramp get away with it for a few days. There would be plenty of opportunities later!
She smiled stiffly and said to Lv Mo, “It’s too hot today and I’m confused with anxiety. Since the emperor has given the order, Yan-pin should have a good rest.”
The autumn breeze was slightly cool. Lv Mo looked at the swaying trees in the garden and wisely did not speak.
When the emperor returned to the palace and stayed in Yilan Hall for three days, Guo Huizhu was so angry that she gritted through a mouthful of teeth.
The emperor didn’t have an Empress Dowager to control him, while the empress didn’t usually get involved in trivial matters. Otherwise, the former Zhen-guifei wouldn’t be so favored. Some courtiers who caught a whiff wanted to interfere, but the emperor never delayed the morning court. He had also become more proficient in handling government affairs as if he was suddenly a changed person, looking more like a benevolent ruler each day. Since the emperor worked so hard, there was no reason for the courtiers to pick at his back palace’s affairs, right?
Thus, everyone could only watch as the emperor did as he pleased.
However, the concubines of the back palace were anxious. They couldn’t see the emperor? It’s okay. If the emperor didn’t come to them, they would go to the emperor. The emperor had to leave Yilan Hall sometime, right? He had to pass by some garden, pavilion, and courtyard, right? Wait, here they come!
So, these days, a series of episodes of chance encounters were staged in the back palace, but the emperor's attitude had always been as steady as a rock.
On this day, the weather was just right, and the emperor decided to take Yan-pin… oh no, Yan-xiuyi to the imperial garden for a stroll.
Yes, in less than a month, Yan-pin had already jumped two levels and became a Xiuyi.
The two were seated in the pavilion, during which the emperor received a lot of enticing winks from the concubines, but he never looked away, only focused on Yan-xiuyi, which made the beauties so jealous that they ripped their handkerchiefs.
Of course, Guo Huizhu was present too. She was the Noble Consort after all, and the emperor invited her into the pavilion. Guo Huizhu gloated secretly. The emperor had her in his heart after all, unlike the others that he didn’t bother about.
As soon as she opened her mouth and said a word, she saw the emperor stretched his hand over Yan-xiuyi, who leaned in obediently.
“My beloved^, eat some grapes.”
(TN: Ai Fei 爱妃 = beloved consort, an endearment)
The emperor plucked a black-purple grape from the fruit plate and gently fed it to Yan-xiuyi’s mouth. Different from her usual cold and aloof face, she smiled lightly at the emperor, her eyes twinkled, and she lowered her head to bite into the grape. It was unknown if it was intentional, but she gently bit the emperor’s fingertips.
Shameless! Vixen! A tramp who seduced the emperor in broad daylight! No one knew what was so beautiful about her, so big and thick, and even taller than the emperor! Guo Huizhu tugged on her handkerchief and cursed. She clearly saw as the emperor froze. It must be the seductive tactics of this Yan-xiuyi!
Seeing the emperor and Yan-xiuyi being lovey-dovey and spreading dog food, Guo Huizhu's eyeballs were about to ooze blood. She was suddenly a little envious of those transparent people ignored by the emperor. At least, they didn’t need to forcibly endure this blatant show of affection!