Editor's Note: Like many Chinese phrases, the title of Fu Tian's novel can be translated in more than one way. Fu herself suggests The Sounds of the Palace, but notes that "certainly that is not accurate." Another translator suggests the title we've chosen here.
The First Chapter: A Fantasy
It was a chilling day in February. The carriages up and down the post road were tightly wrapped in curtains to keep warm for those sitting inside. The wayfarers who couldn't afford a ride had to put up with the cold and struggle to walk forward, with the only hope that they could get a cup of hot tea to warm up their numb body at the next tea stop.
There suddenly came a hurried clopping. A carriage quickly raced by, scattering pedestrians to the two sides of the road. Some on the road started to curse the owner of the carriage after it passed by in a large cloud of dust. However, he wisely shut up when he saw a streak of yellow (the color represented the royal family) revealed on the back of the carriage.
He knew he should never make imprudent remarks on the first family.
Although the carriage was moving smoothly, Su Cui felt restless inside. It was the first time she had ever gone out of her hometown. She spent the previous eight years of her life in a small town, living with no other famly members except for Aunt Chen and Uncle Chen. The couple had shown her a picture of her father, saying that he was a well-known warrior. They didn't tell her anything about her mother. However, some visitor came in a hurry a few days ago and said that her mother wanted her to be sent to the capital city.
She could still remember the pale faces of Aunt Chen and Uncle Chen when they received the visitor. Although she hated to part with them, her desire to see her mother dominated her mind and she chose to leave the home she had lived for years.
"Aunt Jing, what kind of person is my mom like? Is she beautiful? Is she gentle?" Su Cui looked up and curiously asked the woman who came to take her.
"Your mom is the most beautiful lady in the world. She is certainly beautiful and gentle, " the woman answered.
Su Cui didn't recognize the uneasiness and evasiveness in the answer. Her heart was full of joy. She had just one idea in her mind-Nobody could ever say that she was a motherless child again. Nobody could laugh at her again. With this pleasant thought, she gradually fell asleep.
The young woman beside her caressed her hair and suddenly let out a deep sigh. Ignorance might be a good thing sometimes. Let this child be happy, even if it was just for a few days.
When they finally reached the capital city, Su Cui didn't see the mother whom she had been longing for day and night. Instead, she was taken to a grand villa where a dozen servants dressed her up with luxurious jewelry and colorful silk clothing. She was treated like a puppet and was put on one dress after another until she could no longer suppress her anger.
She threw the coronet of pearls on her head to the floor with all her strength. The shiny beads scattered to the ground, reflecting the scared faces of the servants in the room. She was satisfied with her revenge. Why didn't you explain to me what was happening?
At that very moment, a middle-aged man in splendid costume entered the room in a hurry. He frowned at the messy floor and walked quickly towards Su Cui. He looked at her carefully, bowed deeply to her, and then said, "Her Excellency the Queen Mother is coming. You Excellency the Princess, please get ready to welcome her."
Queen Mother? Princess?
Su Cui looked up in bewilderment. All she saw around her were strangers with stiff smiles on their faces. A tinge of fear came to her heart. Where on earth was her mother?
The floor was swiftly cleaned up, and a new pearl coronet was put on her head, looking exactly the same with the previous one. Everyone rushed around, looking rushed and anxious. She was again put aside alone in her new dress.
"Her Excellency the Queen Mother comes!"
With the loud announcement, all in the room knelt down and respectfully lowered their body to the floor. Su Cui didn't know what to do. She stood there clumsily, staring at the gate.
The front gate was slowly opened. Two exquisite young men came in. They stumbled when they saw her still standing there, and then hurried to get out of the way. Shortly afterwards, another person entered the room. She was a person that Su Cui would never forget about for the rest of her life.
Su Cui could swear that the person had a pair of eyes that was brighter than the morning stars. The light contained within the eyes was sharper than knives. Su Cui could not help but lowering her head when she first caught a glimpse of the visitor.
But soon she looked up and faced her bravely. She hated her own timidity at the previous moment. She dared to chase after the kids who cursed her at her hometown; she didn't hesitate to catch fish in rapid streams; she could even clinch venomous snakes in her hands while walking on streets. How could she be afraid of a pair of eyes?
"What a valiant child!"
The person walked slowly towards her. She stopped and looked down at Su Cui when she came close. Su Cui finally saw more features of her —-she was in a loose robe, with dragons and pheonix embroidered on her boots. Her two hands revealed outside of her sleeves were plumb and fair. Although there were silver tinges in her hair, her face looked more majestic than Grandpa Zhao, who was the most intimidating man in her hometown.
"Do you know who I am?" she asked.
Su Cui shook her head, but she kept her neck straightened up. The visitor finally laughed and lowered her body, so Su Cui could see her face at her eye level.
Her desire to see her mother suddenly broke forth at that moment. A question jumped out of her mouth, "Are you my mom?"
The visitor suddenly changed her expression from composure to astonishment and then to grief. The next moment, Su Cui felt that she was embraced so tightly that she could hardly breathe. A few beads of warm tears rolled down her neck.
A while later, the visitor loosened Su Cui, but still put her hands on her shoulders, and spoke to her word by word, "your mother has passed away. I am the mother of her. I am your grandma."
My mother has died!
This simple sentence filled Su Cui's heart completely. A strong sense of lost crashed her body, making her motionless. How many times had she imagined the moment of reunion with her mother! How many times had she pictured her and the moment she hugged her! It had never crossed her mind that her mother had already passed away.
The staunch world she had built inside her heart instantly collapsed. Her eyes blurred. She lost all her strength. She didn't even know which words she was yelling. At that moment, she felt once again that she was hugged by someone and a voice entered her ears.
"From now on, you could treat me as your mother. I will shield you from the wind and the rain. Su, remember, a man doesn't cry easily. A woman is not as soft as water, either. "
Su Cui lost a mother she had never seen, but got a grandma. This was her final memory in the eighth year of her life.