d Zhao Yishu been showered with rewards, he had also been granted a special dispensation from attending court for the whole of the following month.
In fact so great was the Emperor’s regard for his son-in-law that he had even privately instructed the Third Princess to take the best possible care of her husband.


Perhaps it was because of the sheer power of his personal brand, built up through so much word-of-mouth marketing, but when I gave Zhao Yishu a second look, I was impressed by what I saw.
His gaze was sharp and clear; his manners were elegant, but bore no trace of self-consciousness.
He carried himself, in short, with all the grace of a great general.

So I found myself obsequiously saying, ‘Zhao xiong, your illustrious reputation has long preceded you.
But upon meeting you today, I realise that the reality puts even the rumours to shame.’

He brushed the praise off, saying, ‘All these accolades are ultimately hollow.
As prince consorts, our true duty lies in satisfying our princesses’ every desire.’

For a moment, I had no idea what to say.
Was he really — and almost in so many words! — encouraging me to become the best toyboy I could? To attach myself to the princess, and just bask in her reflected glory from here on out?[5]

As I was turning this over in my mind, both Ji Ruosong and Wei Zhuoyang chimed in with their fervent agreement.
In that moment, I felt as though some fundamental truth was being revealed before my very eyes.

‘The Eldest Princess is much favoured by our imperial father,’ said Wei Zhuoyang.
‘As her consort, Wei xiong, you will have many opportunities to accomplish great things at court.’

‘Even leaving aside the position and wealth you will be gaining, the Eldest Princess is a very beautiful woman,’ Ji Ruosong added.
‘Though she might not be as dazzling as the Third Princess, she’s still a regal beauty, and carries herself with an air of distinction.’

I could only give a pained smile.

Things were becoming clearer.
This was no boys’ night out (or in) for steadying my nerves; it was my soon-to-be in-laws putting me on notice.
The message was clear: ‘As long as you stay on your best behaviour and devote yourself whole-heartedly to waiting on your princess, we’ll see to it that you have an easy time of it.’ Judging by how well co-ordinated the three prince consorts were on this point, the mastermind behind the operation must have been no less a personage than my future father-in-law himself.

I had broken into a cold sweat by this point, which I tried to laugh off.

‘Not only is it my own personal great fortune to have been given the hand of the Eldest Princess in marriage, it’s also a sign of how much Heaven has blessed my family,’ I said.
‘Rest assured that I will not be remiss in my duties.
I will serve the princess most diligently, and share most faithfully in the Emperor’s burdens.’

By the time I staggered out of the Second Prince Consort’s manor, my wine-addled brain held only the words ‘professional toyboy’.

To tell the truth, becoming the Eldest Princess’ exclusive toyboy was probably the fondest dream of every man in the Yan Empire.
Beauty and riches — what more could any person want?

Oh yes, this was all absolutely wonderful.
There was only one problem.

You see, I’m a woman.
To be more precise, I am an honest to goodness, one hundred percent guaranteed authentic, pure unadulterated maiden.

And so, what should have made me my fortune became nothing short of a tragedy.

***

 

Footnotes:

‘Boy toy’ in US English.  The princess’ name is Chu Feichen; ‘Yongyan’ is her title.  The original text uses two chengyu to express this.
The first is 杞人忧天, literally ‘the man of Qi who worried that the sky would fall’, which is used to describe a person who has groundless fears.
The second is 多此一举, meaning ‘to make a superfluous or unnecessary move’.  The original text uses the chengyu 眉目如画, literally ‘brows and eyes like a drawing’, which describes the beauty of a person’s face.  The original text uses the phrase 傍上公主好乘凉, literally ‘lean on the princess and relax in her shade’, possibly a riff on the saying 大树底下好乘凉, literally ‘relax in the shade of the big tree’, meaning to rely on a powerful patron. 

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