Chapter 12 – What, the Emperor Wants Me to Prepare the Imperial Banquet?! Master, Save Me!!

 

Kirindas: Schemes has to happen, since it’s a Chinese novel, hohoho

 

Early next morning, way before the princess’ normal wake up time, the emperor’s personal eunuch came looking for me in the courtyard.

“If it isn’t Chief Steward Wang? To think that you would come and see me in this place!” The moment I saw him, I immediately displayed a welcoming face.

“I come bearing a message straight from his majesty’s lips, Imperial Kitchen Chef Song Xiran, you are granted an audience.” My heart started palpitating, and began to pester Chief Steward Wang.

“Chief Steward Wang, do you know what the order has for me?”

“Yo~ We servants are mere carriers of message, how could we know what is in the emperor’s heart? Nor are we know-it-alls.”

If this was not a hint, then I should just quite this job. As expected, these royal servants were all the same, the thing that runs this palace was money. With money you can even move ghosts.

I instantly knew his meaning and stuffed 30 liangs of silver into his hand.

“Don’t know if gong gong would give this one a little hint?”

When he saw the silver liangs, his eyes lit up, when the liangs disappeared into his hands, a smile creased the folds of his skin into a round wrinkly ball.

“Ah, how embarrassing~ Song Daren[1] is too anxious, this old servant heard that the Xi Ye Country has sent their princess over for a political marriage. The emperor was very pleased with your dishes during the last banquet, thus it is possible that this meeting is related to the imperial banquet. That’s all this old slave knows, Song Daren please follow this one and find out for sure.”

Hoho~ look, look, once money was presented, the way of speaking also change. I am now Song Daren. Unfortunately, this imperial banquet was not something I’ve ever done before, what should I do? Though I’m uneasy, there’s nothing I could do but stiffened my scalp[2] and follow Chief Steward Wang to the emperor’s royal study.

“Servant Song Xiran greets the emperor,”

The emperor was seated in front of a writing desk, looking through important papers, when he heard me coming he raised his head to look me over, “Rise,”

“Many thanks to the emperor.” I quickly rose to my feet.

“Song Xiran, We have you brought here due to your performance at the Royal Garden banquet. We have tasted your cuisine and felt that you have the ability to carry the responsibility of the Imperial Banquet. The princess from Xi Ye and her entourage will be here, you shall prepare a banquet that will promote Our country’s greatness. Surely you will not disappoint Us, ba.” On the surface, the emperor seemed to be asking me, but he was in fact just wording his imperial decree nicely, making it impossible for me to excuse myself from this.

“This servant… this servant will not disappoint emperor’s great trust. This one will carry out the duty to the best ability.” Heaven only knew how much I wish to deny this ‘request’, but my mouth could only agree.

“Very good, We appreciate capable people. If you manage to carry out this duty well and pleased us. We shall reward you after the banquet.” Emperor Long Yan appeared very please to have his way.

“Many thanks for emperor’s kindness, this servant shall retire now.” He waved his hand carelessly, indicating that I could leave.

On the way back to Yi Hua Palace, it was like my soul was taken away, there was no life in my eyes.

It’s the imperial banquet, na! It’s not a child’s party, completely different from a royal family banquet. If this banquet made the emperor lose face, won’t I just die without an intact corpse!?

I hung my head as I made my way back to Yi Hua Palace, by now the princess had woken up. Upon seeing my depressed face, she asked:

“Xiran, what are you up to so early. When I saw you’re not around when I woke up, they told me that you’ve been called up by emperor father. Well, did anything happened?”

“Aih~ Looks like Xi Ye had sent it’s princess over for a political marriage and the emperor have put me in charge of the royal banquet. I’ll have to make something new and interesting. Since I’ve never done a royal banquet before the pressure is too great, ah.”

“Then, why don’t I see emperor father and release you from this responsibility? They could just find someone else. Big responsibility comes with great risks, I don’t want you to go either.” She looked really worried, and immediately turned to go look for the emperor.

I snagged her sleeves immediately, and shook my head.

“”Zhen’er, though I know you are worried, but this is the emperor’s imperial edict, also I’ve already accepted, how could I just suddenly change my tune like that? Though I’m not too happy with it, I’m just a chef. Without any backing or influence, how could princess speak for me? If the emperor investigates too closely, princess might suffer from a too close scrutiny. I really don’t want to make trouble for princess.”

At my words, she looked both touched and hesitant. On the one hand, she had to think of the emperor’s face and the wagging tongues of the palace residence, one the other the safety of her beloved As a princess, she has to think of the big picture, but at the same time she did not want to disregard me.

Seeing her smooth brows wrinkled for my sake, I felt that my presence really caused her great unease, I really do not wish for this.

“Zhen’er, frowns really don’t suit you, you’ll get wrinkles too soon. Don’t worry about me and relax. Your Xiran ‘s cooking is top notch, you also know this, right? So have faith in me, I will also put in everything I got, and prove that you’re not wrong in choosing me~”

I lightly stroked her cheeks until the frown went away and a reluctant smile floated up.

“Come little lady, give this uncle a smile~”

She looked at me half crossed and half cheerful. Does this person really have no mental capacity to understand fear?

Seeing the frown mostly gone, and the sweet smile on her face, my own feelings also settled down a lot.

“Zhen’er, may I leave the palace for a bit? I wish to consult with my master about this imperial banquet, he should be able to tell me something about it.” I looked at her inquiringly, waiting for her opinion.

She knew this was no small matter and did not bother to play around. She nodded her acquiescent.

The imperial banquet will be held after the Mid-Autumn Festival, just a little over a month to prepare, so I’m not too anxious. What I have to do now was find out everything I could from my master.

Thus, after packing a few days worth of clothes and saying goodbye to the princess, I left with the escort she sent with me to meet my master.

As soon as I stepped into master’s personal living area, I felt refreshed, as though my troubles have been automatically reduced.

This was certainly a nice play to wile one’s years away. Once the princess and I grew old, I would like to live some place like this with her. With mountains on one side and water on the other, don’t know if the princess would agree?

As I thought about this, I continued walking towards master’s personal house.

“Aiya, what a nice smell!”

As I approached, the fragrant smell of cooking food reached my nose. Master was really masters, ah, his ability was the genuine stuff, it looked like I came at the right time.

When I reached the entrance, I noticed that the door was not close so I went straight in. On the table were several plates of home-cooked dishes made by master. West Lake Vinegar Fish[3] sparkled like gems, fragrant Drunken Prawns[4], refreshing looking Tofu with Crisp Green Onions[5], and a Black Chicken Soup with wolfberry and assorted herbs. The standard three sides and one soup. This table clearly reflected a person who knew how to take care of his health and enjoy himself, tsk tsk, masters life nowadays was just too comfortable.

Master was just about to move his chopsticks when he saw me arrived, his expression showed both happiness and surprise.

“Oh, what wind blew in this noble disciple of mine? You certainly know how to pick your timing, I’m just about to start. Sit, sit, I’ll bring in another set of chopsticks for you.”

There was a flash of suspicion in master’s eyes, but he still welcomed me warmly. A day as a teacher, a lifetime as a father. Those days spent as his student were some of my most cherished memories. In my heart, this master was no different to a father.

I sat down obediently, waiting for master to bring me a set of bowl and chopsticks. I accepted the items with both hands in a most docile manner and said:

“Thank you master, in reply to master’s words, this student of yours is here just to see you, because this student of yours knew that master loves me most.”

As I spoke, I picked up a large piece of the vinegar fish and stuffed it into my mouth, followed by a good helping of rice. While still chewing, I couldn’t resist saying,:

“Ah~ master, why did it seem that your skills have gotten even better since I last saw you? It’s too delicious, once I’ve eaten this fish, I’m afraid I can’t bear to look at other kinds of meat for three months.”

“You slow down a bit, and don’t talk while you eat. Have you been starved these two whole months at the palace? Stuffing your mouth like this, are you not afraid of choking to death? Moreover, your flattery is clearly too fake, as for our relationship. I only gave face to your mother, otherwise I would not have bothered with a brat like you.” Though master was telling me to eat more slowly, I could see pride shining in his eyes.

I answered eagerly, “Yes, yes, give thanks to master’s benevolent heart, to take Xiran as a disciple for the sake of mother, this disciple is really grateful, ah.” I continue to flatter my master, this time my hands cupped in front of me.

“Enough, you just continue, this child…” I could see that though master kept telling me to stop running my mouth, a smile rose irretrievably on his face, it looked like master was really enjoying my flattery.

Once the meal was over, I helped to clean and put away the dishes. Finally, we sat at the dining table again. Master had boiled two cups of high quality Long Jing tea and handed one to me.

“Speak, there’s no way you’ll come here just to see me. There’s no need for your to beat around the bush, just say what’s on your mind. Your master will certainly assist you.” Master went directly to the heart of the matter.

Thus, I explained everything re the imperial banquet to master.

Master was also taken aback. He had not expected that I’d be so valued by the emperor after only working a few months in the palace. However, he was even more worried about the heavy responsibility now resting on my shoulders.

“So, that’s why, the first person I thought of is master. Look, here I am! Though there are many imperial kitchen chefs, the ones I’m close with were either too young or too inexperience. As an ex imperial chef, so you should be really experienced, ba? Would master please impart some knowledge necessary information on imperial banquets? Also, this student of yours need some innovative dishes, if master doesn’t help me, nobody could help me,” I stared up at him with a pitiful face.

“Very well, I shall help you, you stay here for a few days. I will give you some information about the imperial banquets. We’ll start lessons properly tomorrow, just put your luggage in the guest room, rest well for tonight.”

“Yes, many thanks to master. Xiran can’t thank you enough.”

I made my way to the guest room, after a washing my face and rinsing my mouth, I lay in the bed staring at the darkening sky through the window, my eyes slowly growing heavier. I wonder what princess was doing now? She should be asleep, ba.

Then, sweet dreams, princess~

 

[1] 大人 – Daren, respectful title for superiors.

[2] Stiffen one’s scalp – gird the loins, prepare one self mentally

[3] West Lake Vinegar Fish

[4]Drunken Prawns

[5] Tofu with Crisp Green Onions

 

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