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Chapter Ninety Four Appetite Wide Open
The case of Jiang Nan was taken up once again, but this time, no one begged for mercy for Rui Wang. The Emperor didn’t send an official of high position to investigate in Jiang Nan but sent down an imperial decree for the Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Court to cooperate in the investigation.
Originally, some people had thought that the Emperor would use the chance to take down Rui Wang, but who knew that he was doing everything according to the rules. He didn’t seem to side with his brother, and didn’t take the chance to settle the score with his half brother. Many people were deeply moved by the benevolence of the Emperor.
Whether or not He Heng was really so generous, it wasn’t very important to Qu Qing Ju. In the palace at the moment, she dominated above all. And she ate, drank, played and amused herself greatly.
The weather slowly moved into the fall but her appetite became better and better. She preferred to eat sour and spicy food. One night at the end of the ninth month, she ate two bowls of rice, one bowl of hot and spicy fish, and one bowl of mushroom tofu fish head soup in one sitting. It was all home-style cooking. But she just liked it and it scared He Heng into accompanying her on a walk of the gardens for more than two hours that night.
Qu Qing Ju’s birthday was the second to last day of the ninth month. That day, Empress Dowager Wei held a family banquet at Fu Shou Palace. Other than their family of three, there was only Muhou Empress Dowager, Jin An Princess Royal and Heng fei present. The other three feipin only kowtowed outside the palace doors before being excused to leave.
Jiang Yong Yu was the only one of the imperial concubines whose position was a first-grade fei. Appearing at the banquet, she represented the generosity and virtue of the Empress who was able to tolerate other women in the palace. But Jiang Yong Yu understood inside what her identity was and what she should do. So after making her greetings, she picked the corner furthest away from He Heng to sit and quietly pretended to be a statue.
After He Heng ascended the throne, he elevated the titles of Jin An Princess’ children. Everyone in Jing knew by then that Jin An Princess was on good relations with the new Emperor. Of all the princesses of xiandi, only Jin An Princess’ position hadn’t been affected, and the people in Jing still carefully flattered and respected her.
It was human nature. One’s father being the Emperor or a half-brother being the Emperor, it really was two different things. No wonder some princesses would pick a side on the matter of succession. Jin An Princess managed to make a correct decision.
Those who had eyes all knew that when the new Emperor was still Duan Wang, Jin An Princess had been extremely close to Duan Wang Fei. When the news that Duan Wang had been attacked, Jin An Princess had sent many herbs and medicine to Duan Wang. Didn’t her actions clearly show Jin An Princess’ position?
The other person who benefited was Cheng Wang. Originally, he had been a pitiful little thing that his own father didn’t care for. But now, he could be considered to be one of the most trusted people by the new Emperor. His wife had connections with the Emperor so overall, his status was even higher than when xiandi had been alive.
“Empress, your appetite is so good,” After the meal, Jin An Princess looked with amazement at Qu Qing Ju who was wiping her mouth. A beat later, she commented, “Eating is good fortune.”
“It’s not that much,” Qu Qing Ju took a mouthful of the digestive tea that a palace maid presented and looked in confusion at He Heng beside her, asking, “Really too much?”
“It’s good you like eating,” He Heng smiled. He looked at the other’s pale and smooth face, his fingers slightly trembling as he resisted the urge to reach out and pinch her face. He turned to order Ming He behind him, “Today, the pickled cabbage fish head and Kung Pao beef tendons were made well. Who was the chef, reward!”
Ming He noted the two dishes. He knew that it was the Empress who liked them and indicated for a taijian behind him to go reward the chef in the Imperial Kitchens.
Empress Dowager Wei raised the teacup to take a sip, smiling as she commented: “Recently, Qing Ju’s appetite is getting even better. When aijia sees her eat, aijia feels the appetite improving and can eat an extra half bowl.”
Hearing this, Muhou Empress Dowager smiled and teased: “Meimei and Empress’ good appetites, even I at Chang Ning Palace have heard of. Even the Imperial Kitchen is thinking all day of creating new pastries and dishes in hopes of receiving your favors.”
“It seems that our mother and daughter’s gluttonous reputation has spread,” Empress Dowager Wei smiled at Qu Qing Ju, completely uncaring of people in the palace spreading such news. She said to Muhou Empress Dowager, “Jiejie, we have known other for more than twenty years. When xiandi was alive, we were always cautious and alert. Now that our children have grown up, we don’t need to live so cautiously. In this time that we can still eat and drink, it’s better to enjoy it.”
Muhou Empress Dowager hadn’t thought Empress Dowager Wei would say such a thing. She paused slightly before smiling, “You’re right. A life is short and hard. We’ve endured for more than half a lifetime, it can’t be put to waste.” She and Wei shi had no conflicts of interest. Now that Duan Wang had ascended the throne, he had treated her well. Even Jin An Princess who had been recorded under her name was the most important among the princesses. Right now, she was only an idle Empress Dowager, what did she have to worry about?
Qu Qing Ju listened to the sisterly-like conversation between the two Empress Dowagers. If one didn’t know, they really wouldn’t believe that the two had once served the same man. The words basically meant, we finally made it through, let’s enjoy ourselves.
But as the two chatted, the topic unknowingly skewed to land on Qu Qing Ju. Muhou Empress Dowager looked at Qu Qing Ju’s waist that never grew thick no matter how much she ate: “Today is Empress’ birthday, it’s not good to let a taiyi take the pulse. But, it’s fine for a taiyi to take a look tomorrow. If too much is eaten, it might harm the stomach.” Her words were very euphemistic, but inside, she was suspicious of another matter.
What kind of person was Empress Dowager Wei? When Muhou Empress Dowager’s words came out, she knew what the other hand meant. She quickly calculated in her head. The passing of xiandi was the end of the fourth month. The end of the seventh month was the end of the mourning period. After the mourning period ended, Qu Qing Ju was still living in the back hall of Tian Qi Palace. Heng’er hadn’t gone once to any of the other women in the palace. It was the end of the ninth month now, two months had passed, was it that ……
The two Empress Dowagers were experienced and knew to not casually say their conjectures. Otherwise, if there was first hope and then disappointment, it was harmful. The two exchanged a glance. Empress Dowager Wei said: “Since jiejie has said this, I’m worried now as well. Why don’t we have a taiyi take the pulse tomorrow?”
Qu Qing Ju felt helpless. After entering the palace, even though her body didn’t have any ailments, the taiyi would take a pulse every two weeks. They had also prescribed some tonics. She really didn’t like drinking those things.
He Heng’s eyebrow slightly twitched. He then smiled, promising: “Since both muhous are worried, this son will summon the dean of the Imperial hospital tomorrow to take the pulse for the Empress.”
Qu Qing Ju put down her teacup, interjecting: “The weather turned cold lately, so I couldn’t help but eat more. There shouldn’t be any problems, but I should not cause both muhou to worry.”
Empress Dowager Wei smiled and sighed: “As long as you are all well, us, as muhou will be comforted.”
Qu Qing Ju’s heart moved slightly. She wasn’t stupid, so she could hear that the majority of Empress Dowager’s words were sincere. As a popo, Empress Dowager Wei was really very good. Not even in this era, in the place that she lived in her previous life, a popo as fair and considerate as Empress Dowager Wei was rare.
Thinking about how she and Empress Dowager Wei had interacted, from the mutual probes at the intimacy now, Empress Dowager Wei tried to do the best for her as the erxi. Even when He Heng had given out a decree that was more of a love letter to announce to the world and not going to the hougong after the mourning period ended, Empress Dowager Wei had never been discontent with her and treated her even better.
“Muhou’s words have made erxi ashamed. As the younger generation, as long as you have healthy bodies, and are happy, it makes us happy.” Qu Qing Ju spoke with a smile, “With a muhou so concerned with erxi like this, it is erxi’s good fortune.”
Empress Dowager Wei stilled. Then her voice was soft as she said: “Stupid child, even now as Empress, you make aijia worried.”
At one side, Heng fei listened to Empress Dowager Wei’s words. Her heart was also full of admiration. When the Empress had just entered the fu, the Empress Dowager had been somewhat dissatisfied with Empress. Yet now, the Empress Dowager treated her like she was her own.
From beginning to end, He Heng had a smile on his face. Even as they left Fu Shou Palace to return to Tian Qi Palace, the smile on his face didn’t dissipate.
His good mood maintained itself until morning court. When he heard officials suggesting he take a few female candidates as concubines, his brows wrinkled.
Some certain officials didn’t put any attention all day on state matters, didn’t do any work, and their attention was entirely focused on the matter of his hougong. Such subjects, what was the use in keeping them?
“Emperor, now that the mourning period has passed, your hougong is empty. This subject thinks that the xuannu should be taken as fei to expand the hougong.” An official in the Ministry of Rites said, “This is a critical matter of continuing the line. Please, Emperor, make a decision.”
The words seemed like they were urging He Heng to take fei. In reality, they were saying that the Empress was childless, and wanted him to take other women to have children.
The kind of Emperor that was He Heng, he wouldn’t listen to this spiel. If this person was speaking on behalf of the people, he might have felt that this person could be used. But this person was criticizing the matter of the women of the hougong. He Heng’s face was cold as he looked at the Rites official: “Are you meaning to criticize that zhen’s Empress has no son, or implying to zhen to let other feipin give birth to the eldest imperial son?”
This official of the Ministry of Rites nearly bit his tongue. He clearly only had been urging the Emperor to take concubines, how did become slandering the Empress and scheming about the Imperial Heir? He apprehensively knelt down: “This subject did not mean that. Please forgive, Emperor.”
It was the orthodox way for the di son of the middle palace to succeed the throne, unless the Empress really couldn’t have a child. He wouldn’t dare to imply for the Emperor to let other feipin give birth to the eldest son, wasn’t that heretical?
“The Empress has been married to zhen for not even a year. Before, she had to observe mourning for xiandi, and then she had prayed for xiandi everyday without pause. Such a virtuous Empress, to be marred by you in such a way, it is abominable,” He Heng uttered, “As an official, the heart should be placed with the people and not to put the focus on zhen’s hougong. Does everyone here like other people meddling in their houyuan? Or is it that some people believe they can arrange everything for zhen and make the decisions for zhen?”
As the words landed, the entire court followed in kneeling down to ask for mercy. In this world, who would dare to make the decisions for the Emperor, wasn’t that the great crime of treason?
He Heng gave a cold snort, looking at the people kneeling below, “Xiandi hasn’t passed for a long time yet. Even though zhen used months to substitute for years to come out of mourning, but every time zhen thinks of xiandi’s appearance and voice, it still hurts. There is much less interest to take other women. You all are scholars, and naturally know what is filial piety and righteousness. To respect the elders is filial piety, to be responsible for siblings and wife is righteousness. If filial piety and righteousness cannot be achieved, how is one a human?”
“Emperor is enlightened!” He Ming shouted.
“Emperor is enlightened, this subject is ashamed!” Luo Chang Qing and Wei Wen Guang simultaneously clamoured.
The other’s followed in shouting the Emperor was enlightened. No one dared to argue with the words, otherwise, wouldn’t they be the person that wasn’t filial or righteous?
As to that official of the Ministry of Rites that suggested for He Heng to take other fei, he was so frightened his face was pasty-white and trembling. The officials on either side of him silently took a step back from him to distance themselves even more.
He Yuan looked coldly at He Heng sitting on the dragon chair. The unshakable love between Emperor and Empress, it really …… was an eyesore.