Choices, choices are everything. (If this was a TV trailer, it would be like “three women, three different roads … … who will end up on top?”)
Chapter Twenty Six People Are Not the Same, Roads Are Not the Same
When it came to clothing and adornments, women would always have many words. Which place had the best rouge, which place had the most exquisite hairpins, which place had the best embroiders. In conclusion, the topic was limitless.
The three wangfei present were different in their styles of dress. Ning Wang Fei was dignified and staid. An embroidered goose-yellow dress covered with a pure white cape. The hair was styled into a yuanbaoji and set off with a whole set of jewelled toumian.  She looked dignified yet noble. Rui Wang Fei didn’t have a cape but wore a silver mouse fur coat. She had a subdued duowoji, beautiful and graceful with a hint of scholarliness.
Qu Qing Ju’s appearance was the best among the three of them. What she wore wasn’t as dignified as Ning Wang Fei or as scholarly as Rui Wang Fei. She was breathtaking, was what the women present thought. No wonder Duan wang ye would get angry on her behalf at Chang De Gong Fu. If any newly married wife had such a beauty, not many men would not favour her at all.
“Er dimei, the butterflies and peony embroidered on the edge of this dress is very beautiful,” Wei Qing E’s eyes swept over the hem of the dress Qu Qing Ju wore that was revealed under the cape, “At a glance, it seems almost alive.”
“Saosao is too nice. There’s a yahuan that serves on by my side. When it isn’t busy, she likes to work on this kind of things,” Qu Qing Ju raised an eyebrow, “I normally don’t use any other embroidery-women so I let them play among themselves. It’s fine as long as I can wear it out the door.”
“Everybody else sitting here also have some embroidery-women but er sao is too modest. I think this dress is extremely beautiful.” Qin Bai Lu complimented Qu Qing Ju but inside she thought this ersao was too shallow. No matter how much care she took with her clothing, without any scholarly and artistic talent, how was she different from the common people?
The others furen present complimented the three, their words along the lines of noble, beautiful, magnificent or dignified . Along the way, they criticized themselves to create a contrast. To them, admiring the blossoms wasn’t the most important. What was important was that these three were happy. Then they have almost completely fulfilled their duty at this plum-blossom banquet.
Wei Qing E was the eldest among the three so she held herself as the most steady and when talking with Qu Qing Ju and Qin Bai Lu, her voice held a hint of the affection elders had for those younger. She waited for the officials’ wives to finish flattering them and interrupted: “All of you should not compliment these two anymore. Otherwise, they would get bashful.”
The chenfu laughed and replied that they only said the truth, it wasn’t complimenting them.
Qu Qing Ju looked at this room full of women. Each person had the most natural smile, as though each was happier than the next. At this time, she couldn’t help but feel tired for these people but thinking that when these people returned home, they would naturally have others to flatter them, she could only sigh to herself. It was lucky that she hadn’t become a wife of a common man. Otherwise, it would be even more difficult to live in this kind of era and social conventions.
“Er sao, I heard that the Duchess of Chang De fell sick in the past few days. She couldn’t even manage to attend today’s banquet. How is she now?” Qin Bai Lu looked at Qu Qing Ju who seemed to be always smiling with the corners of her eyes and suddenly asked, “The third young lady of the fu even seemed to have fallen ill due to caring for her mother?”
Qu Qing Ju’s eyebrows moved slightly, the mirth at the corner of her eyes not diminishing: “Really?”
“Er sao didn’t know?” Qin Bai Lu asked with a hint of shock, “It seems like I asked the wrong person.”
Putting down the teacup in her hand, Qu Qing Ju pushed the teacup to one side, “Dimei’s eyes and ears are as intelligent as expected. Er sao thanks you for your notice.” Finishing, she stood, “It seems that this snow has stopped already. Dimei is so hospitable that I shouldn’t leave but there is much to do at the fu so er sao will leave first.” Finishing, she didn’t care to see what expression Qin Bai Lu revealed and bowed slightly to Wei Qing E. She turned and left, supporting herself on Mu Jin’s hand.
Everybody present stopped in shock and quickly stood to bid farewell to find that Duan Wang Fei had already passed the door.
Qin Bai Lu hadn’t thought that Qu Qing Ju would just stand up and leave. She had been smiling just a second ago. Her expression had instantaneously changed. Her own face was frozen in irritation that somebody had insulted her and it took her a while to suppress the rage.
Wei Qing E smiled and stood. She also unhesitatingly bid her farewells. She clearly didn’t desire to remain at this place to give honor to Qin Bai Lu. Ning Wang might not be close to He Heng, but it was better than with He Yuan. Why would she side with Qin Bai Lu and offend Qu Qing Ju?
When the two wang fei left, half of the crowd of noblewomen continuously left, leaving behind only the members of the families that had sided with He Yuan.
“Wang fei, this Duan Wang Fei is too straightforward,” The yahuan that supported Wei Qing E exclaimed in a quiet voice, “Nubi saw that Rui Wang Fei’s expression even changed.”
“Change is good. She keeps doing her act of the talented woman, it’s so distasteful,” When Wei Qing E came out of the pavilion, she mocked, “This entire city, who doesn’t know that the second Duchess of Chang De treated Duan Wang Fei badly. Qin Bai Lu was clearly accusing Qu Qing Ju of being unfilial. She was purposefully embarrassing Qu Qing Ju.”
“Even so, but the way Duan Wang Fei left, wouldn’t people say she is unfilial?” The yahuan looked at the surrounding and seeing no one around, she quipped, “I hadn’t thought that Duan Wang Fei’s personality was like this.”
“Who doesn’t have sore spots,” Wei Qing E expressionlessly stepped on the snow, “All in the Jing City knows that, as a stepmother, the second Duchess of Chang De was not loving. Qu Qing Ju dares to do so, she isn’t afraid of being talked about. Also, in Jing City, who would, for a second Duchess of Changde, criticize a wang fei? A member of the Imperial Family, a right is right, but a wrong is still right. Didn’t you see that Duan Wang Fei was very respectful to the Marchioness of Xiang Qing?
Thinking that she was experienced after reading those stupid books? Wei Qing E smiled coldly. From her point of view, Qin Bai Lu clearly was a pedant. Were those words what she, as a dimei, could say to her saozi? No wonder Qu Qing Ju mocked Qin Bai Lu for being intelligent with her eyes and ears. After what happened today, tomorrow the rumor would be that Rui Wang Fu knew everything that occurred in the City of Jing.
Whose home didn’t have things that people shouldn’t see? In the future, the officials in Jing would be at least wary of Rui Wang Fu. She was happy to spectate at the chaos. But Qu Qing Ju had guts, to turn and leave. Not just anyone would have the boldness.
At this time, the sedan carrying Qu Qing Ju was slowly making its way to the front gate. Qu Qing Ju sat in the sedan without the anger that everybody else was imagining. At the beginning, she had the decree that if you who wouldn’t let me be happy, then I would make it difficult for you. She dared to leave and she wasn’t afraid of becoming enemies with Qin Bai Lu. Additionally, even if she didn’t storm off, the two of them wouldn’t have good relations in the future.
The swaying and bouncing sedan suddenly stopped. Qu Qing Ju heard the servants outside kneel and voice a greeting. She slightly pulled back the window curtain and saw a person wearing a white cloak with a taijian accompanying him, standing five paces away from the sedan.
This person was Rui Wang He Yuan. Qu Qing Ju instantly let go of the curtain in her hand, and sat back in the sedan without a word.
He Yuan saw the slight movement of the curtain on the sedan and slightly bowed at the waist: “Greetings to er sao.”
“San shu is too courteous.” Qu Qing Ju didn’t have any interest in men that was as beautiful as a woman and faintly returned, “Thanks for your hospitality today, but it is late, so farewell.”
“Farewell er sao,” He Yuan place his hand behind his back and looked at the sedan sway and bounce as it left. Then he saw a young taijian quickly run over.
“Wang ye, one of the gatekeepers just reported that Duan wang ye’s sedan has stopped at the gate but he doesn’t know why it hasn’t entered.”
Turning to look at the far-away sedan, He Yuan snorted: “Since ben wang’s good brother isn’t entering the fu, ben wang won’t disturb him.” He actually came personally to pick her up. Did this He Heng get addicted to pretending to be a romantic?
Just as he finished, he saw a few more sedans coming from the direction of the plum forest. He turned and walked to the side, avoiding the sedans of the womenfolk. Knowing that Qin Bai Lu had invited the women to today’s banquet, he didn’t have any objections. But he looked down on his wang fei’s love for admiring plum blossoms in a snowstorm. No wonder people said the virtue of a woman was to have no talents. Women who read too many books, they were so picky. Was it impossible to admire plum blossoms at some other time?
Luo shi sat in the sedan and thought back to what had happened at the banquet. She felt that her niece seemed different than before. Her words were as few as in the past, but the aura she exuded had become stronger. It seemed that Duan wang ye did treat her well. Otherwise, her niece wouldn’t have the bravery to storm away to embarrassed Rui Wang Fei.
The sedan stopped inside the main gate and Luo shi came out. She found many of the furen were standing at the spot as though they were waiting for something.
“What’s going on?” She walked towards a furen that she had good relations with and asked in a light voice, “Why aren’t they leaving?”
“Duan wang ye’s sedan is outside,” This furen raised her chin and motioned for her to look at the main gate. She suddenly smiled and teased, “I think that Duan Wang really cares for your niece.”
Luo shi, upon hearing this, looked at the gate and saw her niece take Duan Wang’s hand to enter the sedan. That red cloak dragging over the white snow was especially beautiful.
Seeing that Duan Wang waited for her niece to sit down before he followed, Luo shi took back her gaze. Under the gazes that the women surrounding her sent over, the smile on her face was the same as any other day.
Wei Qing E held her servant’s hand as she stood outside the gate. Seeing Duan Wang Fu’s sedan being carried far away, her expression was distant. For Ning Wang Fu, she poured her heart in, but she hadn’t seen wang ye treat her this way. Qu Qing Ju, other than her exceptional appearance, was she as good as her in any area? Could it be that everything she had done, it wasn’t enough to surpass Qu Qing Ju’s gorgeous dress?
Even that cloak that Qu Qing Ju carelessly dragged on the snow, it was made from the finest Yun brocade and sewn with silk on the inside. When it touched water, it would wrinkle. Just this one cloak, it would cost several hundreds of gold. Now that this cloak has been dragged in the snow, naturally it couldn’t be worn anymore.
The wang fu naturally didn’t care about the money, but she was used to running a household and everything used in the household was budgeted. She herself wasn’t used to such extravagance. As the wife, why would she copy those qieshi and spend all her attention on clothing and makeup?
“Wang fei?” The yahuan beside her saw she hadn’t moved and worriedly looked at her.
“Let’s go,” Wei Qing E smiled. She didn’t have to compete with Qu Qing Ju. When He Heng was tired of her, her beautiful dress would become lavishness and wastefulness. Her conduct will become willfulness and pretension. And she herself didn’t need this time of magnificence. No matter what time and place, she was always the most dignified and virtuous Ning Wang Fei.
This was the road that the wives of the Imperial Family should walk.
 元宝髻: a style of hair with the hair gathered in a topknot
 头面: ornaments for hair. The specific style would vary by the dynasty.
 堕倭髻: a hairstyle where the hair is gathered in a knot at one side of the head near the top. It has been described as “on the edge of falling off”.
 The “second” refers to the fact she is the second wife of the Duke of Changde, not the original wife.