She is the first one to walk with such accoutrements, the emblems of the Mu carved into her Phoenix crown, a bejewelled sword at her hip, and a trail of red in her wake as she climbs the stairs to the Golden Throne - where her Imperial Husband, once known as Xiao Jingyan (and the only man who wishes her to stand with him, and not behind him) awaits.
It’s complicated between her and Dong-Jie, for they’ve danced around each other a long time, hot whispers in ears, fingers teasing taut stomachs but going no lower - and one day, Nihuang decides she has had enough of the sweet waltz, and she lifts Dong-Jie’s legs into the air, followed by simultaneously freeing her with fingers and stifling her cries with a tongue.
Nihuang is enjoying an evening appreciating teas with Consort Jing when they are interrupted by a disturbance from Zhaoren Palace, for the Consort Xian is feeling that her heart is about to burst - “Oh dear, looks like the new herb I’ve added as per your wishes is taking effect”, Consort Jing observes.
The Langya Hall is a place of great beauty just like its master, the ethereal Lin Chen – he requests the beautiful visiting general to pass a gift for the Emperor and Consort Mei, a book of great wonder from the land of Tianzhu** - unexpectedly, the next day his garrulous mouth runs dry when his visitor requests to increase her stay to sixty-four days, because she has enjoyed the book herself and wanted to try the multiple, very detailed positions with him as a willing subject.
Mu Qing sometimes wants to sink into the ground, the weight of running the Defence Ministry of Da Liang a serious responsibility - but his face lights up when he receives a message about a victory at the Eastern Border from his fifty-five-year-old sister, still painting the enemy fields red - and still worrying about her (now not-so)innocent brother.
“Gong Yu guniang must be in love, her new music is filled with exquisite whimsical tones!”, declares Prince Ji with a laugh to his guests at a recital, not missing the proud smile on Princess Nihuang’s face or the fiery possessiveness in his favourite musician’s demeanour, whose eyes are locked with the general’s.
The defeated nineteen-year-old kneels with her head held high, waiting for the Nan Chu commander’s sword to cut her throat - but instead, he lifts her up and lets her go with a sharp smile - and years later, when Nihuang battles the sixth-rank holder of the Martial Arts Langya list to improve her ranking, the former Commander Yue Xiuze remarks with a smile that it was a wise decision not to waste her life after all.
Whisky and Rum
“Am I to Madam Tan’s liking?”, he says slickly, his eyes, voice and suit as expensive as the whiskey he drinks, (and the discreet charge from her credit card, of course) and Nihuang thinks how good he would look with her refined husband’s mouth biting his nipple, their lover’s talented and long surgeon’s fingers buried inside him, and her own mouth swallowing his cock - their search for Xiao Shu has ended rather interestingly in this lifetime, it seems.
The last time Nihuang goes to war, she rides away secretly in the dark of the night, her belly swollen with their fourth child - for she is the only one that can subdue the Southern border for the country her husbands have fought so hard to keep - and four days later Lin Shu collapses in Jingyan’s arms as a sobbing Mu Qing reports complete victory.
Their wedding night is unlike anyone else’s, because the usually smug Lin Chen hides his very real nervousness well by suggesting they play a weiqi game, and Nihuang vows to kill him if he is so boring in the next life - and so on their first night, Andi finds Tan Zong Ming handcuffed to the bed in black lace, a cobalt blue toy spreading him open for her pleasure, and sighs in relief that he finally got with the program.
It is the Empress Mu’s birthday, and royals, nobles and officials all scurry to send her choice gifts of precious metals and silk materials, but she receives surprisingly receives nothing from the Emperor except an imperial approval for her plan for amnesty and rehabilitation of the Hua and other prisoners-of-war - and later a warm hug and a deep kiss to thank her for never failing him.
Yuwen Nian is a sweet blessing, thinks Nihuang as she unveils her new wife - a shy rosebud despite her martial arts prowess, and enjoys her pink blush as they kiss for the first time while reassuring her that, “I look forward to many lifetimes of happiness.”
The Emperor’s bias for the Crown Prince and Consort Yue seals her marriage to Sima Lei, and her own predisposition for justice prevails when her offender is castrated two days before the wedding, and the Mu Manor storms the Palace with the support of the Imperial Guards and Prince Jing - and Nihuang presents the heads of his beloved son and consort to the broken emperor.
She is surprised when Li Gang and Zhanying try to stop her from entering Sir Su’s room at the Hunting Palace - but their apologetic faces only deepen the burning in her ears and her heart from the sounds of reunion that emanate from the quarters- she will miss her Shu-gege once again in this life.
Nihuang knows she looks a debauched sight, a male concubine at each breast and one laving her stomach- but even sweeter is the hitch in Nian Nian’s breath as she comes to join them for the first time and Nihuang rejoices in taking her new wife’s breath away.
Nihuang has held Mu Qing in her comforting arms her whole life, soothing him - when he breaks his first toy, when he breaks his first finger, when he breaks the Empress’ favourite vase as she suggests a husband for her, when he breaks through his first enemy frontline, when he breaks Sima Lei’s leg - but she cannot help but smile this time, as he breaks down looking at his beautiful new daughter for the first time, the new Princess Mu.
She is greatness, she is solidity, she is just and kind, she is the unshakeable belief of the people after their Emperor goes to join his Lin Shu in heaven - she kneels in front of the former Empress Dowager who places the crown on her head with great solemnity as she says, “For the future of Da Liang, I only trust you, Nihuang.”
Xia Dong looks at photographs of a life gone by growing up together with Nihuang, a lifetime of playing together just like their last one - they started with cute balloon animals, inflatable swords, graduating to Paintball and lightsabers, and ultimately to Kendo and Taekwondo - “Dong-Jie, stop doing your makeup, we’re late!”, Mu Qing’s smartass voice breaks her out of her reverie - “The Balloon will run out of hot air before you even get to go down on your knees to propose!”
“Don’t worry, I’ve done this with Xiao Qu before, no one can see us,”, says Jingyan in a playful voice as he presses Nihuang against the glass balcony, under the stars and over the tiny multicolour mass of lights that is Shanghai - his movements always so precise and perfectly madness-inducing, just like when they were married in the last lifetime.
Newspapers publish the story of a vigilante - the colonial government calls her the ‘Bane’- an other-worldly beauty that can only be seen, and not heard, making many of their key people fall prey to her charms and her blade - and Nihuang wryly reads these tall claims at Langya Hall, ever eternal and unchanging - waiting for the master to bring her the new Langya List of Most Wanted people.
The Japanese colonel’s house is otherwise quiet except for the strains of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, a rather cheerful song that pervades the silence and solitude as Nihuang peacefully enjoys a most delectable steak after a hundred years - a rare treat for an immortal general like her whose work is never done - she raises a glass of wine to the host, the Number Three on the Langya Hall’s list of Most wanted people, who sleeps in a pool of blood in the corner.
Nihuang particularly revels Gong Yu’s quirk of always eating strawberries for dessert, for who can complain when the icy musician loves eating them off of her mistress, rather than a plate?
Nihuang is a ruler of the people, by the people, for the people - and her ministers gasp in worry and indignation when she opens her court for a day every week to the common people - she quells their questions with one line - she is here to answer to the people, and they are here to answer to her.
Nihuang and Jingyan pore over a map of the borders, discussing troop movements- however their peace is continually disrupted by the two man-children who are actively rowing over an actual child’s fashion choices, when Nihuang screams and shuts her husband down, “Chen-ge, I swear I will throttle you and Lin Shu-gege till you both sound like parrots, so shut up!”
The Empress Dowager Jing prepares to leave the Palace having fulfilled her duties - a new ruler is installed, and it’s time to pray for her poor children Jingyan and Xiao Shu - but then Emperor Nihuang comes to pay her respects, tears in her eyes, “Won’t you stay back, Empress Dowager…I mean Auntie Jing?”, and the older woman’s resolve begins to crumble a little - because this child needs her, and maybe it isn’t time to quit after all.
They hold her little chubby hands in theirs, pulling her up and encouraging to jump higher as they take her for a walk - Dong-Jie and Feng Da-ge are young and in love, and Nihuang hopes they both will forever hold her like this.
Every Emperor needs a Court Jester, and Nihuang has appointed one - of course he is more smartass than jester, more sarcastic than actually funny, and leaves her ministers in tears sometimes - so every night, while writhing in pleasure, she tells Lin Chen that he must thank the gods that his sharp tongue is good for something else as well.
The Emperor seethes in anger as Nihuang defeats the multiple noble warriors who joust for her hand, his plan to marry her off failing every time because of those fools who can’t defeat a woman - until he comes across her sparring with Xia Dong much later and she loses every time, even when she has an advantage - and he wonders, wonders if this was the person Nihuang was waiting to lose to.
She stands in court proudly, not bejewelled like all women of her stature, but in a staid Minister’s hat, as Emperor Jingyan declares the new Minister of Defence, the Jewel of the South, Mu Nihuang.
Nihuang buries her head in her hands as she fends off the claims of being unjust from both her wives for they are rather unimpressed with the fact that she spends too many hours in her new ministerial office - and so one fine day, two black-clad figures slide stealthily into the Defence Bureau during lunchtime and Nihuang lets herself get kidnapped for some afternoon delight with Xia Dong and Gong Yu.
Nihuang smirks as Lin Shu-gege falls down to the ground, being held at swordpoint by Nihuang, who has been learning martial arts only for the last two months, while Jingyan giggles “I guess we’ve found the real prodigy!”
Sorrow is an easy burden to bear, Nihuang knows, as she watches Mu Qing’s little body be wracked with sobs - but only when she reaches the battlefield in lieu of her father, beautiful blue armour cloaking the white and death beneath it, and Mu Qing is far, far away, does she break down and fall into pieces.
Nihuang pinches her forehead at the family dinner while Qing-er and Prince Ling, the sheer idiots, battle with chopsticks over some trivial matter - and then suddenly a blade comes flying, and chopping the sticks in half and shutting the boys up, and Nihuang realises at that moment, just how much she loves Nian Nian.
Nihuang enjoys the intimate, private classical music concert, a few close friends and associates, when Lao Tan (Chen-ge Version 1000, as she calls him) sits down at the piano, eyes alight with mischief and locked with her, deft fingers tracing the ebony and ivory and he sings - not his usual “Can’t help falling in Love”, but Savage Garden’s “To the Moon and back”, because indeed, he loves her that much.
“My dear Princess, why, that new hairpin looks absolutely beautiful,” says the newly-reinstated Consort Yue in her usual sugary-sweet poisonous manner, “Of course, it would have suited the hair of a married woman much more, aha ha!”, and of course, the reply from a disgusted Nihuang is ready for her “Your words are well-understood, my lady - but I beg to differ, in my opinion, the pin would look even more lovely plunged deep into an adversary’s throat.”
Nihuang smiles as the soldiers of Mu Manor bring Qin Banruo to her - once high and mighty, she has fallen and begs for mercy - but Nihuang has no kindness for her, the instigator and murderer of thousands - and ensures that her death is as sordid as her life - with flaming arrows being shot into her.
“Your Majesty, the Chiyan have suffered a great injustice, and the Lin family is innocent! As the last member of the Lin family, I beg you to investigate…”, the words are strangled in the fifteen-year-old's throat and she bursts into tears - sitting confined to cold, dark store-room by her father, practising her speech to the Emperor again and again - but no one is there to hear her, except the chirping crickets and empty water drums.
Andi makes the short, but unfamiliar commute from Manhattan to the Village, never having been one to sojourn into the rather colourful area - but her friend has set her up with the ‘most gorgeous older student at Tisch’ for a blind date and she can’t say no, so she goes to the tiny hipster café selling artisanal noodles, and Lin Shu-gege stares right back at her with a delighted expression, stubbled chin and a cat on his lap, “Nihuang darling, our Lin Chen has been such a bad influence on you!”
Nihuang reminisces about her Lin Shu-gege, and how he would always coax her and Jingyan-gege into giving him their share of sweets rather sweetly - apparently nothing has changed because Imperial Tutor Mei Changsu is buried to the hilt inside her sweetly keening husband, while spreading himself open and waiting for her, the Empress to sink her tongue into him.
Nihuang’s heart beats with joy as she runs into the Celestial prison and releases Dong-Jie from the midnight-black confines of the solitary cell with a tight, warm hug and tears of happiness for finally, finally the Chiyan case will be overturned.
Tan Zong Ming is a coltish young man, shy, large glasses and hidden behind the large volumes of his Marketing textbooks- when he spots her, equally coltish and bespectacled, struggling with the large selection of finance textbooks in her arms - and he rushes over to help, reassuring her that he has nowhere else to be - for his home was always in Nihuang’s arms, in the last life, and hopefully in this one too.
She visits the emperor on his deathbed, one of the few people who is allowed the look at the gaunt, weak face of the once-powerful Xiao Xuan - she is cool and equanimous, an official rather than the daughter he expected, but she feels a strange pang in her heart as he bids her farewell, and says “Nihuang, I wish you had loved me, I wish you had even hated me, but to see you so steady like this, I cannot go in peace.”
There are these nuances to things at Langya Hall, small processes, tiny movements run by the million cogs in the Hall’s wheels and the terrifying army of wise children - but what Nihuang enjoys most are the precise movements of Gong Yu’s fingers on her Qin, the perfect temperature of her tea (attended to by the Master himself) - and the translation of these nuances into the warmth of her bed at night.
Nihuang just gulps at the uncomfortable proximity of Lin Shu-gege in sexy red heels, seated in her lap at the nightclub, and no - she doesn’t need to look at those firm, muscled thighs through the slits of the sleek black Shanghai Tang qipao (oh god, so yummy), while he belts out ‘Dancing Cheek to Cheek’, almost whispering personally to her - when Jingyan-gege arrives, and the little ball of fire runs far, far away into his arms.
“Are those natural? Must be a 32DD at least. I would love to find out.”, Xia Dong tells her wife with a bite of her lips, as they listen to the gorgeous nightclub singer, clearly interested in her assets rather than the ice in her eyes or the caramel in her voice - “Already ahead of you.”, smirks Nihuang as the waitress brings back a slip of paper that says: Gong Yu, Room 233.
The first time General Mu Qing rides out to battle alone - he is scared, almost afraid that something bad will happen, that without his Jie-Jie, he will always be a failure - and then, a dark horse passes him, a rider in blue-silver armour astride it, and then he hears a chastising voice, “General Mu Qing, you are fifty years old! Do you still need me? Be brave and ride on!”- the sudden appearance of his sister’s spectre brings moist eyes and warm reassurances - and Mu Qing follows his sister into the beautiful horizon.
Nihuang thinks that everyone praises the valour of a soldier in war - but no one praises the valour of the ordinary human, who covers their scars and bleeding wounds and their grief - and dons a cloak of fur and deception to become a Divine Talent.
“Princess Yuwen Nian is a most virtuous lady, you are most fortunate to have her,”compliments the Empress Liu at an evening banquet, and Nihuang winks slyly at her blushing wife - who was filled with three of Nihuang’s male concubines not two hours ago, so blissed out that she was unable to even scream - while Nihuang devoured the delicious scene, Gong Yu working a long jade toy between her thighs.
Nihuang doesn’t enjoy victory in submission, so she raises a hand to stay the spot execution of the shivering youths of the Qing Li army that her warriors have rounded up - after all, the real victory is overcoming base emotions and giving kindness and hope to the defeated.
“Does the Emperor accept defeat?”, says the sultry voice of Empress Jing as he traces a riding crop down her breastbone, her breasts reddened with gentle marks - she grunts in grudging agreement at her husband through the gag, having been spread apart and tied to the bedposts by Consort Mei, who has just dutifully added his two fingers to the two of Consort Lie’s, filling and stretching her to the brim, just the way Emperor Nihuang loves it.