(This chapter is pretty long so I will pick up from where the 9th Prince is exiled)
Fall left and winter came. Without knowing it a new year has arrived. Qi Sheng names Qi Hao (Peng Peng's son) as the crown prince. When Fall came around, I found out I am pregnant again. That next summer, the Second Prince was born. That same summer, Concubine Lee asks to move out of the palace for health reasons...Qi Sheng allowed it.
On the third year, the court officials ask Qi Sheng to choose more wives but the only thing Qi Sheng said was "That is my private life, so it doesn't concern you" and ended that discussion.
Once I realized a nation wide beauty pageant was out of question, I figured I could just choose from the palace maids since there are after all over a thousand of them.
Keeping it a secret from Qi Sheng, I went through a whole lot of hard work to finally choose ten palace maids and gathered them together for training. But somehow Qi Sheng got a wind of it and before I have even enjoyed my own hard work sufficiently, Qi Sheng took the ten beauties and gave them to his court officials.
He sure is dang generous with other people's hard work.
I almost spit blood from being so angry. Privately, I took Qi Sheng's emperor's gown and bit it a few times before I elegantly showed up in front of him and advised "A harem exists as a way to have more royal offspring, so you really shouldn't be stubborn about this."
Smiling, Qi Sheng replies "I too think that there are too few children in the palace, let's work harder shall we?"
And thus, that's how in less than three months, the empress is once again pregnant.
Omitting a brief sentence about Peng Peng's maid (not Lu Li though) being married off and someone else becoming her personal maid.
Peaceful time always passes quickly, and in a blink of an eye the third prince is here.
While I am busily being a baby machine, Prince Zhao and Lu Li are also keep busy...kinda of like being in a race with us. However, Prince Zhao still hasn't remarried (not counting Lu Li because she is still more on the concubine status). Every time this subject comes up, the empress dowager would start tearing up and feels like she has done a great wrong towards Prince Zhao... which means all the well known families will be summoned to recommend appropriate marriage candidates.
Every time this happens, Lu Li would come visit me at the palace...right when Qi Sheng is around. Lu Li doesn't say much other than grabbing onto my legs and sob that she misses me too much but since the empress dowager is picking a wife for Prince Zhao, then she is going to come back into the palace as my maid once the new wife arrives.
Unable to stop himself, the very next day Qi Sheng would show up in front of the empress dowager and somehow makes the empress dowager forget all about picking out a new bride for Prince Zhao.
To clarify here, in the novel, Qi Sheng doesn't miss the fact that the first time he slept with Peng Peng she had mistaken him for Lu Li so Qi Sheng has a jealousy thing going on when it comes to Peng Peng's personal maid.
After a few times of this, when the empress dowager brings up Prince Zhao's marriage again, the "important" families stop taking her seriously and all the appropriate candidates for one reason or the other end up becoming unsuitable. Eventually, out of ideas and unable to watch his brother still unmarried, Qi Sheng finally elevates Lu Li's status and she becomes Prince Zhao's wife.
Things settles down over at Prince Zhao's household and Qi Sheng too can finally be at peace.
However, it's my turn to be aggravated, because for some reason all of Qi Sheng's wives have become extremely religious and one after another is asking to leave the palace.
Qi Sheng's wives has always been few in number but now that we are losing one a year, by the time Qi Sheng has been an emperor for five years, the only one left was Concubine Liu and even she is asking to leave in order to join a monastery.
I met with Concubine Liu and tries to persuade her with "You are so young, why do you have to do this? Everything can be worked out. After these years, you and I are the only ones left in the palace. Back in the old days, we had to wait seven or eight days for the emperor to grace us with his presence but now, the emperor is either at my place or your place so why are you asking to leave? How can the monastery be better than the palace? You won't be able to eat meat at all! Stay! Keep me accompany. I promise you, as long as I can eat meat, I won't make you a vegetarian."
So moved by my own speech, my eyes even start to tear up.
However, Concubine Liu was even more determined than I was. She grabbed my legs and sobbed "Empress, Please just let me go! I have took my turn at the emperor's palace for so many years but I have never even touched him! I could only swallow my suffering all this time. Back in the old days, at least with the other sisters' help I only needed to do half of the night, but now I am the only one! I have to stare at the emperor all night! I am getting old now, not sleeping for so many nights it's just torturous. Look! Look at the dark circles underneath my eyes! They can't be covered with makeup!"
Dumbfounded, I stare at the sobbing Concubine Liu and could find no words to say. Finally, after a few pauses I suggests "How about this, I will talk to the emperor and tell him not to summon you at night anymore?"
Unfortunately, Concubine Liu would have none of it and insists on joining the monastery anyway.
Looking around the empty palace, I decided that it can't keep going like this and approach Qi Sheng once again "Why does it have to be like this? Isn't it better to have the palace filled with noises and people? I don't care about things like this so we are you so stubborn?"
Giving me a smile, Qi Sheng replies "I am going to use a heart in exchange for another heart. If one year won't do it, then ten years, and if that's still not enough, then a whole life time."
Not sure how to explain, I tell him "Qi Sheng, you don't understand."
"Then explain it to me." He replied.
I open my mouth to explain, but I had no clue what to say. In the end, I could only tell him that as long as he is the emperor, he is my master. With my very existence in his hand, how could I just toss all caution aside and love him?
He doesn't understand that love is not just about giving me everything but equality. As long as he is the emperor and I am his empress, we will never be equal.
The empress dowager dies on the the tenth year of Qi Sheng becoming an emperor. Qi Sheng was really close to the empress dowager so he was depressed for a long time. However this also meant the next year Qi Sheng had an even better reason to not bring in anymore concubines into the palace.
Two more years passed, and by this time Qi Sheng and I already have three sons and two daughters. That year, Qi Sheng listed all the possible groom candidates and dig though all of their family background before he finally married off our eldest daughter.
I told Qi Sheng "Let's not have anymore kids okay? I am going to become a grandma anytime now, I am really not barefaced enough to have anymore kids."
Qi Sheng thought about it for quite a few nights and finally tells me that he will consider my suggestion.
On the 14th year (since Qi Sheng became the emperor), The crown prince is 16 years old and after picking through carefully we were able to find a wife for him. When we were choosing concubines for him I told my son, "If you would like, it's okay to marry a few more girls. But if you don't like the girl, then don't marry them at all. Don't ruin someone's life."
The crown prince is still young so he eagerly replies "I only like my wife, so I don't need any more girls."
But Qi Sheng looks at my with a thoughtful expression.
The next day, Qi Sheng takes me to the the monastery and asks "Does Peng Peng feel happy?"
Surrounded by the smell of incense, I answered honestly "Happy, very happy."
It's just...I can't help it but feel bad when I think that these happiness came at the price of all those other women spending the rest of their lives at the monastery.
Qi Sheng asks "This monastery is the very one they (the concubines) joined. Would you like to see them?"
After a short pause, I finally shook my head "No, I don't think so."
Qi Sheng laughs and whispers as he lean close "Good thing you don't want to see them. If you did, I wouldn't have anyway to conjure them out of nothing."
Dumbfounded, I look at him without understanding.
Qi Sheng smiles, pats my hair and softly explains "Peng Peng, how can I stand to have your conscience suffer? Them...I let them all go. Even though I couldn't promise riches and splendor for life but I did let them choose the kind of lives them wanted to live."
Heaving a sigh, Qi Sheng pulls me out of the monastery. When we got back to the palace, Qi Sheng's mood suddenly got chipper and he turns to tell me "Our twentieth year will be here soon. I am going to prepare a surprise for you birthday this year."
I nodded. Since I was especially happy because of what happened that morning, I decided to be extra "considerate" that night. Qi Sheng refuses to admit that he is not a young buck anymore...which meant the next morning he was late for the morning court...again.
Before my birthday, Qi Sheng went on a hunting trip after telling me that he is going to catch a few white foxes for me as my gift.
I actually don't care for animal fur too much, but since he seems so enthused I nodded and replies "Remember your words, don't give me empty promises."
He smiles as he nods then rides away.
Half of a month later, an express message came to the palace and said that Qi Sheng died from falling off his horse. My body froze. With the last remaining thought while I lost complete control over my body I thought to myself "This sure it's a surprise."
By this point, the crown prince is already grown and has been helping Qi Sheng with court duties for many years. Therefore, even though the news brought sorrow but there were no chaos. With his brothers, the crown prince held Qi Sheng's funeral and ascends to the throne.
That meant I moved as well and finally became the empress dowager. (In case this wasn't as obvious in the show, Peng Peng's goal has always been to become the empress dowager.)
After twenty years, I can finally sit on that empress dowager seat. Yet, how come my heart feels no joy but only the desire to sob out loud?
However, the tears refuses to come. Instead, there seems to be something pressing down on my heart.
Trying to console myself, I reasoned that after living with Qi Sheng for twenty years, I should feel some emotions ...much like one would feel towards a pet, so it is entirely reasonable that I would feel sorrow towards the loss of a human being. If I can just get over this period then everything will get better.
As the empress dowager, the emperor is my own son and there is no mother-in-law to reign over me so as long as I don't betray the country, I figure no one else would dare to tell me what to do.
In my head, I started thinking once I started feeling better, I am going to go built a big house somewhere nice. I could even bring in some pretty servants, so it will add to the view.
I had plenty of grandiose plans for my future but my body seems to be against me and refuses to get out of the bed no matter what.
The eldest princess came in to keep my company but got concerned when she saw me doing nothing but eating and sleeping. Alarmed by my refusal to get off the bed, all my children knelt around my bedside and plead with me to stop mourning so their father wouldn't be sad in the heavens.
Qi Sheng being sad in the heavens?! He has been dead for two whole moths, he has probably reincarnated into some baby by now.
Still, looking at all of my kneeling and pleading kids, my heart softened and I tell them "Go back. I am going to get better soon. So don't worry anymore."
The emperor is after all a ruler with a bit more shrewdness in him so he immediately cried "As long as mother won't see a physician and get the proper medication then we won't get up from the floor."
With no way out of it, I compromised and told them to summon the palace physicians so they would go their ways.
The palace physician came right away but ended up kneeling on the floor with sweat rolling down their face.
Puzzled, I asked "Is it some incurable disease?"
Shaking like a leaf, the physician stutters "no...no..."
Even more confused, I asked "So why are you shaking?"
Continuing to stutter, the palace physician replies "Empress dowager... is pregnant."
Stunned, I closed my eyes for a moment and finally whispered "You can go now. Don't say anything to anyone, not even to the emperor."
After giving me a bow, the palace physician leaves.
Laying on the bed, my mouth is filled with a bitter taste. Qi Sheng died without a worry but left me baby. How am I suppose to tell my sons and daughters about this?
The second day, Prince Zhao comes to see me and with a mischievous smile tells me "I know how to cure you of this illness."
Confused, I asked "How?"
Turning to the door, Prince Zhao claps a few times and right away someone completely covered in a cloak walks in.
Giving me a smile, Prince Zhao promises "This person will cure sister-in-law's illness for sure. Okay, I will take my leave now." Finished with his declaration, Prince Zhao immediately walks out of the door and even closed it behind him.
Looking at the hidden meaning behind Prince Zhao's words...did he bring the newly minted empress dowager a male concubine? In broad day light? Prince Zhao sure have a lot of guts. Isn't he afraid that Qing Sheng would be so angry that he would climb out of his tomb?
Standing by the door, the man takes off his hooded hat and raised his head. Revealing a handsome face, he grins and asks "Peng Peng, You are finally the empress dowager. Are you satisfied?"
Sitting up abruptly, I look at him in astonishment, unable to say a word.
Laughing, He asks "Does this count as a surprise?"
Dumbfounded, I sat until things starts to get blurry before I finally snaps back to reality and nods "Yap, it really it's a surprise."
Looking at Qi Sheng's bright smile, I continue "Qi Sheng. It's always polite to reciprocate, so let me give a present in return. Alright?"
Surprised, Qi Sheng raises his eyebrow and asks "What surprise?"
Giving him an equally bright grin, I answer "This empress dowager...is pregnant."
Other Interesting Bits From The Novel:
- In the novel, Qi Sheng actually was the one that chose not to marry Ying Yue. Due to some court intrigue Qi Sheng had come to an agreement with Prince Zhao in order to secure his status as the crown prince.
- Prince Zhao had been Qi Sheng's confidant but Prince Zhao did end up resenting Qi Sheng when he couldn't get Ying Yue to give up on Qi Sheng. So the whole assassination attempt by Prince Zhao did happen but it was just more a way to vent his anger instead of a serious attempt on Qi Sheng's life.
- The scene of Ying Yue being a hostage happened in the novel as well but instead of hesitating, it wasn't a hard decision for Qi Sheng to choose between his men or Ying Yue's life but Peng Peng ended up stopping him from killing Ying Yue.
- Prince Zhao was the one that rescued Ying Yue and brought her back. Thanks to Lu Li who "cried" in front of Peng Peng (but within ear shot of Qi Sheng) that Ying Yue will steal her husband's heart so she can come back as Peng Peng's maid soon, Qi Sheng quickly ordered Ying Yue to be sent away. (By this time, Prince Zhao didn't care about Ying Yue anymore.)
- Qi Sheng not only finds out quite quickly that Peng Peng is not his wife BUT he also later starts to suspect Peng Peng's gender. (I guess the whole ogling his concubines gave it away.) Fearing what Qi Sheng would do if he finds out the truth, Peng Peng had assured Qi Sheng that she is a woman in her past life. You do get the feeling that Qi Sheng probably knows that Peng Peng is lying and that's why he remained VERY jealous of Lu Li.
- In the novel, Peng Peng's soul was actually supposed to be a girl anyway but due to a mistake by a minor god, Peng Peng's soul was sent to a man's body. So to correct the mistake the god had put Peng Peng's soul back to her rightful body. (The old Peng Peng actually went to the modern time and into Peng Peng's old body.)
- Instead of being the Romeo he was in the drama, the 9th Prince only had his eyes on the throne and used Peng Peng's secret (the soul switch) as a way to form a partnership with Peng Peng. Which meant, Peng Peng never trusted the 9th Prince and there were really no romance between them. Well...the 9th Prince might have felt something at the end but certainly not enough to sacrifice his emperor dream.
- Oh, one last thing. Remember Yang Yan? In the novel he helped the 9th Prince escape from jail as well but he had no part of betraying the military secret and told Peng Peng that if he knew the 9th Prince would go so far then he would've never helped him.