Chapter 50: The Empress Dowager’s Birthday

“I need you to help me with something right now.” Lin Haihai thought of Fahai, the evil Buddhist monk from Legend of the White Snake. She might as well put on a play of Legend of the White Snake for the empress dowager’s birthday. She still had two days for prep work; though time was tight, it would suffice. There were so many things to be done - casting, wardrobe fitting, rehearsals; there was simply no time to waste!

 

“How can I help?” Zheng Feng chased after Lin Haihai.

 

“Be an actor,” Lin Haihai tossed out a reply before leaping into the sky, much to Zheng Feng’s shock. He hurriedly chased after her with his qinggong, but was unable to close the increasing distance between them.

 

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“Sister, I don’t know how to act. You’re better off finding someone else.” After hearing Lin Haihai’s idea, Xiao Ju quickly waved to reject it.

 

“Where am I going to find someone else? Even if you can’t act, you can learn. Who knows how to act the moment they’re born, hmm? Many movie kings started off their careers with insignificant minor roles.” Lin Haihai was anxious. If Xiao Ju wasn’t going to act as Xiaoqing, there wouldn’t be anyone else.

 

“What? Anyway, I don’t know how to act. Sister, why don’t you go find Liu’er?”

 

“Liu’er is too young. Xiao Ju, once this is over, we’ll receive a thousand gold taels. Do you know how much that’s worth?” Lin Haihai tried to entice her with money.

 

As expected, Xiao Ju was moved. She clearly knew the operation costs of the hospital. They needed money, and she was feeling perturbed as well.

 

“Then fine, I’ll try,” Xiao Ju said helplessly.

 

“That’s great. We already have our cast for Bai Suzhen, Xiaoqing, and Fahai. I’ll act as Xu Xian then,” Lin Haihai announced.

 

“Sister, what’s Legend of the White Snake?” Liu’er asked.

 

Lin Haihai summarised the plot of Legend of the White Snake. Everyone present was moved by the tragic and sorrowful love of Xu Xian and Bai Suzhen, soon showing their interest in being part of the performance.

 

“Physician Lin, if you’re going to dress as a male and play Xu Xian, then who is going to be Bai Suzhen?” Zheng Feng was really excited.

 

Lin Haihai flashed a mysterious smile, saying, “Her Majesty!” Everyone let out an answer of affirmation. Right. Empress Chen’s temperament was as though she were the rebirth of Bai Suzhen - elegant, kind, merciful. Appearance wise, she was beautiful and dignified as well.

 

“Has Her Majesty agreed to it?”

 

“She has to agree. I know her weakness!” Lin Haihai smiled craftily.

 

“But I think you are a better fit as Bai Suzhen,” Zheng Feng muttered to himself irresolutely.

 

“No, I want to be Xu Xian!” Lin Haihai insisted. “Other than that, we need to find some people to play the supporting roles. Let’s find Qing Feng, Ming Yue, and the others.”

 

Zheng Feng shrugged, and kept his opinions to himself. Wasn’t Lin Haihai just picking to act as Xu Xian because the man was a physician and she would have no qualms in playing the role perfectly?

 

Meanwhile, Empress Chen couldn’t resist Lin Haihai’s enticement and threats, eventually agreeing to take on the role of Bai Suzhen. To be fair, she did quite like the plot and had been pestering Lin Haihai about the fate of Fahai, and whether Xu Xian and Bai Suzhen were able to have a happy ending. Lin Haihai actually wasn’t very sure of the story’s ending. She only knew that Xu Xian shaved his head and became a monk at Leifeng Pagoda, and died a few years after.

 

The rehearsals were long and arduous. They were tight on time and Lin Haihai was vying for the reward, so the cast poured in their efforts and time, rehearsing day in and day out. Even Empress Chen and Zheng Feng had yet to return to the palace for two days. And tonight was the night of the empress dowager’s birthday. They started their last round of rehearsal, or rather, dress rehearsal.

 

The costumes had been sent over in the afternoon. Everyone had also changed into their respective costumes since then in order to get into their roles. Lin Haihai had also requested for the cast to address each other by their role names.

 

“Wife, do you think my costume is a bit too long?” Lin Haihai looked around, feeling that her robe was a tad too long and seemed to be dragging on the ground.

 

“It is a bit too long, but there’s no time to adjust it right now. Just make do with it.” Empress Chen adjusted Lin Haihai’s belt a bit higher, so the robe wouldn’t seem too long.

 

“Monk, remember to take your headgear along. Everyone, look around and see if there’s anything that requires attention. Don’t leave anything behind,” Lin Haihai reminded everyone again. Everyone ignored her incessant nagging and started chattering about as if they hadn’t heard her.

 

“Xiaoqing, help me hold the hem of my robe. Don’t dirty it,” Empress Chen ordered Xiao Ju.

 

“Okay, Sister. You look so beautiful, just like a fairy!” Xiao Ju did her best to kiss up to her. 

 

“Xiaoqing, am I not handsome?” Lin Haihai puffed out her chest and took a few steady steps as though she were a man.

 

“Husband Xu is naturally the most handsome!” Xiao Ju smiled.

 

“Xiao Ju, practice the lines where you shout at Fahai again. I keep feeling like your imposing manner isn’t stern and severe enough. You have to know that Xiaoqing’s attitude towards Fahai is really rude and bad. Try shouting a few times, let me have a look.” Lin Haihai recalled this problem. After all, Xiao Ju was just a maidservant. Having her shout at the Imperial Guards Commander would be somewhat stressful for her, and hence inhibit her from delivering her lines accurately.

 

“Right, Xiaoqing, you haven’t gotten into character yet for this portion. You need to be more bratty and harsh. Come, try again,” Empress Chen encouraged Xiao Ju.

 

“Okay, I’ll try my best to get into character.” With Empress Chen’s encouragement, Xiao Ju grew bolder.

 

Her large, round almond eyes widened into a glare as an angry expression appeared on her visage. “Fahai, you bald-head donkey! Stop being so overbearing and forcing us into a corner. Do you think we sisters are afraid of you?”

 

“Hmph, what a vicious and crafty green snake. This old monk will let you see the power of the alms bowl!” Zheng Feng continued with his lines, the two putting on quite a realistic show.

 

“Awesome!” Lin Haihai clapped and complimented. The duo was truly on par with professional actors. If the two were in the modern world, they wouldn’t have to worry about not being able to land a job.

 

“We still have some time. Don’t we still have a prop yet to be completed? Let’s take this time to quickly finish it.” Zheng Feng recalled the incomplete Leifeng Pagoda, which was lacking its ceiling.

 

“Right, let’s get working!” Xiao Ju was very excited. Liu’er carried Tangtang over to join in on the fun, too. Tangtang looked at Lin Haihai as he tugged on her sleeves before looking at Empress Chen, and then back at Lin Haihai. Panic crept onto his countenance. Lin Haihai carried him into her arms in one swoop and teased, “Silly boy, do you not even recognize your elder sister?”

 

Tangtang caressed her face and flashed an innocent smile. Zheng Feng took in the scene before him. Lin Haihai was like a kind mother carrying her child in her arms, her face painted with joy. A strange woman like Lin Haihai was in fact, the embodiment of Bai Suzhen, the kindhearted Bai Suzhen.

 

The troupe had already come up with the rough structure of the Leifeng Pagoda long ago and also sealed the bottom part of the pagoda with paper. Now, they only need to complete the top portions and the ceiling. Lin Haihai placed Tangtang down and checked on the green and white snakes, as well as the peach wooden swords.

 

By the time everything was ready, the sun had set. The sky and clouds were tinged with sunset hues and it shone on the papered form of Leifeng Pagoda, emitting a heavy feeling as if many years had passed. Lin Haihai was extremely excited, as if the thousand gold taels were already waving at her. She called for everyone to gather as they did their final round of checks before the Linhai Drama Troupe majestically headed towards the imperial palace.

 

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The imperial palace was exceptionally splendid and bright tonight as its walls were lined with lanterns and colored banners; it was brimming with a joyous atmosphere. After settling everyone down, Lin Haihai and Empress Chen headed to the Empress Dowager’s palace to offer their birthday greetings.

 

Ci’an Palace was bustling with vigor this night, the lanterns glowing brightly, and chatter could be heard everywhere. Many nobles and royalty had gathered to offer their congratulations. Empress Chen looked at the costume she had on and turned to Lin Haihai, asking, “Isn’t it inappropriate if we were to go greet Her Highness Empress Dowager in these outfits?”

 

“It should be fine. The elderly woman is pretty friendly,” Lin Haihai responded in a carefree manner.

 

“We’ll be performing in a while; it’d be inconvenient for us to change into our royal robes and then back to our costumes again. Don’t mind it. Let’s just go.” Empress Chen thought of how much the empress dowager doted on her, and believed that she wouldn’t make things difficult for them either.

 

The moment they arrived at the door, the eunuch announced in a sharp voice, “Her Majesty has arrived!” The eunuch naturally couldn’t recognize Lin Haihai, since she was dressed in a man’s robes. Lin Haihai had her arm intertwined with Empress Chen’s as they slowly walked in, startling the eunuch. Who is this man? How dare he seduce Her Majesty in such a brazen and aboveboard manner?

 

Empress Chen was an empress indeed. She walked forward with light lotus steps; the hem of her dress remained still, carrying herself in a dignified and elegant manner. Lin Haihai could feel her face glowing with pride just by having her arm interlocked with Empress Chen’s.

 

However, the people in the room almost dropped to the ground out of fear. Who is this man? The eunuch didn’t announce this man’s existence either. How dare he hold on to Her Majesty’s arm so brazenly? The imperial concubines watched on in glee while the empress dowager took a few careful looks before a gentle smile appeared on her face. Yang Shaolun was seated beside his mother; his gaze had never left Lin Haihai ever since she’d entered the room. Lin Haihai looked more handsome and charming wearing men’s clothes, but she seemed to be a little skinnier. Yang Shaolun felt a stab of pain in his heart. He had told himself not to think about her, but why could he never control his feelings?!

 

Lin Haihai saw Yang Shaolun as well. He donned on a bright yellow dragon robe with a golden yellow belt around his waist. At this moment, he looked very dashing and outstanding, radiating health and vigor. He glanced at her with deep affection, his firm expression a little relaxed. However, his gaze gradually hardened, becoming cold and distant as if he were looking at something that was of no relevance to him.

 

Lin Haihai retracted her gaze, her heart felt like it was being restricted. However, she maintained her poker face. Following Empress Chen, she got on her knees and kowtowed. “This daughter-in-law wishes Imperial Mother good fortune as boundless as the East Sea and a life as long as the South Mountains!” The empress dowager couldn’t conceal her happiness and hurriedly replied, “Quickly get up. Come over and sit by my side.”

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