Chapter 17.2: Swing

Court Lady

On this day, Fu Rou delivered an embroidery piece to Lizheng Palace and bumped into Prince Qin. Prince Qin was only eight years old and still behaved like a child. He did not have the arrogance that was common of the royal family.

He greeted Fu Rou happily and his eyes widened as he caught sight of the embroidery. Alas, he scrunched up his nose and remarked, “It is always flowers and plants. So uninteresting.”

Fu Rou treated Prince Qin dearly. “What would Your Highness like?”

Prince Qin thought about it. “Imperial Father recently bestowed a jade flute to me. I would like a pouch to keep my flute. I want it to look impressive and powerful.”

“Impressive and powerful? I can’t think of anything now, but—” Fu Rou smiled warmly. “I heard that there are a lot of mysterious animals in the Classic of Mountain and Sea. Prince Qin, how about you read the classic and tell me if there is any that catches your attention? I will then help you sew anything you want.”

“Okay, it’s a deal.” Prince Qin ran into the palace happily. 

Fu Rou followed him in. She greeted the Empress and Grand Consort Sun before presenting the embroidery.

The reason why Empress Zhangsun was respected by the Emperor was not only because they have gone through numerous hardships as a couple but also because she was extremely thoughtful when it came to establishing relationships. Back then, due to the Xuanwu Gate Coup, a wedge formed between the Emperor and the Grand Emperor to the point that they were no longer willing to see each other. However, as long as the Grand Emperor lived, he was still the Son of Heaven and cannot be neglected. Luckily, Empress Zhangsun was kind and filial to him, ensuring that everything is settled on the Grand Emperor’s end. 

Grand Consort Sun often came to Lizheng Palace and was close to her daughter-in-law. 

“Head Seamstress Fu, your embroidery is outstanding.” Grand Consort Sun was kind and knowledgeable.

Empress Zhangsun was also extremely pleased. She rewarded Fu Rou with a snack from overseas that she momentarily could not recall the name.

Fu Rou reported, “Your Majesty, this snack is called 'turn back'. I grew up in Guangzhou which is near the ocean. There would often be merchants around and I believe I have eaten this before. During the trading season, there would be even more merchants and more interesting snacks. For example, there is a snack I really love called fried scattered dough.”

Grand Consort Sun was intrigued. “I never would have thought that you not only are extremely skilled, you are also knowledgeable.”

Fu Rou remained humble. “I would not dare. It is just the convenience from living beside the ocean.”

Fu Rou told them of numerous interesting stories and everyone was absorbed by her stories. When Empress Zhangsun let her go to finish her duties, Prince Qin ran out after her. He expressed that he no longer wanted the flute pouch but wanted her to tell him more stories. She was delighted that there were people that enjoyed her stories. She promised Prince Qin that she would embroider the flute pouch and tell him stories. 

As Fu Rou left Lizheng Palace, she thought that the day had passed rather smoothly. Who knew that she would bump into her jinx -- Prince Zhou. 

Seeing the tray that the palace maid behind Fu Rou was carrying, Prince Zhou looked over casually. “I see that Her Majesty rewarded you again. She has given you the Precious Hawksbill Comb. There are only two pieces of this comb and they were given to Her Majesty and my mother. Her Majesty seems to really adore you.”

Fu Rou suddenly remembered something. She remembered telling Prince Zhou that the Crown Princess wanted her to alter the dance outfit. Soon after, Prince Zhou wrote about <<Admonishing Extravagance>>. The timing was too coincidental.

“Prince Zhou, you really know everything that happens in the palace.” She thought that he truly meant to advise her, but he was actually getting inspiration for himself. 

“To live well here, one has to see and hear everything. Sigh, it is actually pretty tiring. So I have to think of ways to help myself relax.” Prince Zhou’s tone changed. “Let’s go to Lingxiao Palace.”

“Again?” Fu Rou blurted out. “For what?”

“Of course. I need to relax.” Without waiting for Fu Rou’s response, Prince Zhou turned and left. He was confident that she would follow.

Fu Rou laughed bitterly and shook her head. She sent the palace maid back to the Seamstress Department before taking her own sweet time to follow Prince Zhou. When she entered Lingxiao Palace, she noticed numerous flower buds. It seemed like spring was about to arrive.

Prince Zhou noticed that she was assessing her surroundings and explained, “The Emperor ordered the gardeners to plant this recently in order to ask me to stay for a while longer.”

“The Emperor really dotes on you.” He was the only prince that could still remain in Chang’an after coming of age. “Your Highness, what did you call me here for?”

Prince Zhou moved to the side. “For this.” 

A beautiful rainbow swing swayed in the wind. Fu Rou’s expression did not change. “Your Highness, please forgive me but I do not enjoy children’s toys.”

Prince Zhou did not seem bothered. “That’s right, I made a children’s toy. However, Head Seamstress Fu, do you know how swings come about?” Fu Rou was speechless. Even he admitted that it was for children.

“Swings are used for prayers.” Prince Zhou answered his own question. “During the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC), it was part of a tradition of Northern tribes. It was introduced into the palace during Emperor Wu’s reign. During the Qingming festival, the rainbow ropes would then be tied to tree branches. They were also used to celebrate the Qianqiu birthdays. Hence, while its original name was Qianqiu (千秋) it was eventually changed to Qiuqian (秋千) to prevent confusion.”

Prince Zhou saw Fu Rou’s attention turn to him. 

“Playing on the swing gives one the feeling of flying through the air and that feeling is often referred to as the happiness of half immortals. Hence, it became a long-standing tradition to play on a swing while praying for a long life for people you care about.” Prince Zhou smiled but did not truly feel happy. The only way he could get her attention was to make use of the one she cared about.

Fu Rou looked hopeful. “Can it really…grant a long and peaceful life to those I care about?”

Prince Zhou walked up to the swing and made a sign of invitation. 

Fu Rou hesitated before walking up to the swing. After spending so many days and nights missing and thinking of Sheng Chumu, her imagination started to run wild. She needed something to comfort herself, even if it seemed imaginary.

Prince Zhou said that the higher one swung, the more likely their prayers were to come through. Hearing what he said, Fu Rou did not stop Prince Zhou from pushing the swing and even requested for him to push her higher. She prayed that Sheng Chumu would return safely and live to a hundred. She closed her eyes as she prayed, momentarily forgetting that she was high up in the air. She placed her palms together and was immediately thrown off the swing. 

Prince Zhou reacted quickly as he quickly caught her. He shouted in shock, “Rou’er!”

Fu Rou had not been startled from falling from the swing but from hearing him shout “Rou’er”. She shivered as she immediately pulled herself out of Prince Zhou’s grasp and took a few steps backwards.

She spoke seriously, “Rou’er is my intimate name and only those who are close to me are allowed to call me that. Please speak cautiously, Your Highness.”

Looking at his empty hands, Prince Zhou looked up and laughed. “Okay, I will listen to you on this. However, you have to listen to me for the next thing I am going to say. Let’s go ride horses tomorrow.”

Fu Rou frowned. “Your Highness is too demanding. I am a female official in the Ministry of Works, not a palace maid in Lingxiao Palace.” Should she not have let Prince Zhou bring her out to visit her family? Now it feels like she was controlled by him.

“All the palace maids in Lingxiao Palace passed the Internal Entry Examination. It seems like the Office of Rites was very strict during Head Seamstress Fu’s Internal Entry Examination. Would you like me to ask His Majesty for a favour and let you become a palace lady earlier?” Prince Zhou obviously knew what had happened. “To avoid serving His Majesty, you intentionally collaborated with Official Situ in the Office of Rites to fail the examination. Isn’t this despicable? I was curious. Official Situ has such poor relationships with others. Why would Head Seamstress Fu help her out when she was in trouble in the Eastern Palace? I became curious and went to investigate. I found out that the two had made a pact. No wonder.”

“Don’t make it sound so bad. Official Situ is cold on the outside but sincere on the inside. She is a good person.” There were friendships in the Royal Palace. On the other hand, Prince Zhou’s ability to obtain information was scary.

“Okay, you are all good people. I am the bad one. Then let me outrightly threaten you. Tomorrow, you shall go ride horses with me.” He finally understood. Currently, he could only use his status to threaten her. But as long as he doesn’t give up, he could achieve anything.

Fu Rou was unwilling. “…Understood.”

Prince Zhou’s eyes turned into a crescent shape as he smiled. “Head Seamstress Fu.”

Fu Rou was in a bad mood. “What other instructions do you have for me?”

Prince Zhou’s eyes glittered. “Did you know that you look especially cute when you are angry?” 

Fu Rou stared at him. She opened her mouth but eventually left without saying a single word.

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