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Chapter 5: Gathering
Sima Xiang felt that she did not like life in the capital. Compared to the Ting Prefecture that had a spring-like climate during all four seasons, the summer in Jing was too hot and dry. The fashion style here was also different from Ting Prefecture. She, who had never come to Jing before, was slightly unused to this.
But as a daughter of the Sima Family, she could not say this kind of scary words, and could not let people see her at a loss for what to do. This time, Grandfather had taken the family into the palace to get a future for Father and her two uncles. She could not shame the family at this time.
Due to this, when her older female cousin Sima Ling invited her to a gathering, she did not refuse. Instead, she meticulously prepared for this gathering.
This time, the gathering was at a cool manor in the suburbs of Jing. Sima Xiang waved the sandalwood fan in her hand and suppressed the irritation she felt due to the heat. She only felt a thread of coolness when the carriage entered the borders of the manor.
Descending from the carriage, she walked in following Sima Ling. Before they reached the location, she heard lively laughter and talking coming from ahead.
“You finally arrived.” She saw a young girl dressed in an orange dress see them and came forward with a smile to link arms with Sima Ling but turned to her to say, “Come here and sit with us.”
After introductions, she learned the young girl linking arms with Cousin was Li Jing Yu, the third miss of the Li Family second branch. But based on what she knew, Cousin’s close friends did not include this Miss Li.
As the hosts of this gathering, the young masters and misses of the Li Family were enthusiastic but not fawning. Even Sima Xiang, who did not like gatherings, could not pick at anything.
She held the teacup and took a small sip. A light lotus fragrance immediately reached her nose and caused the last feelings of heat to disappear.
She calmed down and finally was in the mood to examine the young men and women talking or playing games in small groups around her.
Cousin introduced the misses to her by whispering softly in her ear. Fortunately, she had memorized the genealogies long ago, so she had some knowledge of the connections between the families these young people belonged to.
“Which family is that miss from?” Sima Xiang gazed towards a girl of around twelve. This girl wore an almond yellow gauze dress. While the other was not the most beautiful among those present, the other was the one she cared about the most. The first moment she saw this girl, she felt her heart soften slightly. She felt that even the other’s large and bright eyes were especially beautiful.
“You mean her?” Sima Ling paused in her words. While her expression did not change, her eyes showed something similar to dismissiveness and envy.
Sima Xiang nodded minutely. Coincidentally, that miss also looked over at her, and gave a sweet and innocent smile.
“That is the miss of the Gu Family of Jing.” Sima Ling’s tone softened. Her dismissiveness and envy disappeared. “Her personality… is not bad.”
Sima Xiang nodded. There were several slightly older misses sitting around the others. It could be seen she had a likable personality.
As the sisters of the Sima Family discussed the people present, other people were naturally curious about this “newcomer” to Jing.
“Beautiful, ethereal presence, as expected of a miss of the Sima Family.” The third miss of the Hu Family was Gu Ru Jiu’s second sister-in-law’s younger sister. She and Gu Ru Jiu were always very close.
“Yes.” Gu Ru Jiu nodded in agreement. This Miss Sima Xiang had a willow brow, a cherry mouth, and while she was not yet fifteen, her figure was beautiful and more outstanding than Sima Ling’s who was sitting next to her.
Shen Qing Ran and Yang Xi Xue who were sitting together with the pair only smiled when they heard this. Seeing Gu Ru Jiu nodding along, she said helplessly, “They are playing pitch pot over there. We’re going to watch.”
“Pitch pot again. So boring.” Hu Xi sighed.
“It’s so hot—who can tolerate playing anything else?” Yang Xi Xue could see her discontent and went forward to hold her hand. “Just think of it as keeping us company.”
“All right.” Hu Xi helplessly allowed herself to be pulled along by Yang Xi Xue. Gu Ru Jiu and Shen Qing Ran smiled at each other and followed.
In reality, other than pitch pot, playing weiqi, painting and poetry viewings and watching servants fight were common entertainment activities in summer.
The noblemen and noble ladies liked to gamble with silver and gold over the fights of strongmen that were hired by the families. They liked to see whose family’s strongman was the strongest. The winner would frequently return with a large pile of gold and jewelry. So each time, the strongmen would use all their power to get the wealth they may never earn in their lifetime.
As a miss of an exploitative aristocratic family, Gu Ru Jiu did not express any opinions about this kind of activity.
Her family did not keep fighters like this, so they would not send anyone to participate in this kind of competition. At most, when the fight ended, they would also give some gold and silver to reward these fighters.
After the fight ended, the excitement of the masters and misses faded. Everyone was preparing to bid farewell when a small conflict arose between the misses of the Wu and Sun families where they verbally fought.
The misses of the Li Family, as the hosts, could only come out to smooth over the matter. While the conflict did not worsen, this left a flaw on this gathering. For the Li Family that pursued perfection, this was not a happy matter.
This could be seen from the expressions of the Li siblings when they were seeing her off at the gates.
“Miss Gu.” Before Gu Ru Jiu boarded the carriage, Li Huai Gu held out a wooden box. “These are freshly picked sweet peaches from the manor. Miss, if you do not mind, please accept and take them home for a taste.”
“Thank you, Young Master Li.” Gu Ru Jiu took the wooden box personally before handing it to Bao Lu. “Just now, when I was touring the manor, I noticed the peaches on the trees. I was just too embarrassed to speak, and hadn’t expected my wishes to be fulfilled.”
“As long as Miss Gu likes them.” Li Huai Gu smiled warmly. He watched as Gu Ru Jiu boarded the carriage and put down the curtain before he turned and walked in.
Li Chu Rou, who was following behind him, whispered, “Big Brother, Mother is preparing for your engagement already.”
Li Huai Gu’s steps slowed. He said in a calm tone, “I know.”
Seeing a lack of response from Li Huai Gu, Li Chu Rou was slightly glum. After following him for several steps, she spoke, “The Gu Family can only be considered the bottom of second-tier aristocratic families. Mother will not accept a girl from this family.”
“You think too much.” Li Huai Gu turned to look at his younger sister. “Miss Gu is only eleven this year.”
Also, even if the Gu Family could only be considered the lowest of second-tier families, their misses were better than the ones from the Wu and Sun families. However, because his mother was from the Wu Family, he could not say such a thing.
After Gu Ru Jiu returned to her courtyard, she opened the wood box that the young master of the Li Family had given her. Inside were eight rosy peaches neatly lined up, all of them about the same size and giving off a sweet fragrance.
She thought for a moment, and had a servant girl send six to her parents and brothers. She kept two for herself.
After eating half of the tender and juicy peach, Gu Ru Jiu added a few more positive points to the Li Family because their peaches were more delicious than the ones her family’s manor sent over.
In the evening, when everyone in the family was together to eat, Yang shi mentioned the peaches that Gu Ru Jiu had a servant girl deliver. When she learned that the Li siblings had given them to Gu Ru Jiu, she did not say anything else. After a few days, she had someone prepare some of her family manor’s fresh vegetables and fruits to send to the Li Family.
The Li and Gu families did not have much of a friendship, but they were not at odds. They did not need the Li Family lowering themselves to interact, and the Li Family did not need them bowing to welcome them. This measured distance was the best.
That night, a large rainstorm occurred. When Gu Ru Jiu went the next day to see the empress dowager in the palace, the water had not yet evaporated from the ground, but the sun in the sky was blinding.
During this half a year, Gu Ru Jiu had entered the palace several times, and the empress dowager still treated her with the same intimacy. The biggest difference was that her first time, the carriage had to stop at a distance from Kangquan Palace, but now, it could stop not far from the gates of Kangquan Palace.
She and the empress dowager did not interact like the empress dowager and the daughter of a court official. They were more like elder and niece. The empress dowager never tried to ask her about the matters of the Gu Family, and she would not deliberately curry favour with the empress dowager for her family’s benefit.
Each time they met, they talked the most about… the food of different places and gossip about past events in Jing.
The empress dowager was filled with all kinds of gossip she had no one to tell to in the past. After so many years, she finally found Gu Ru Jiu, a confidant who was close-mouthed and liked to listen to gossip.
Gu Ru Jiu, due to the gossip the empress dowager told her, had her worldview changed over and over. She felt that she could no longer look straight at the words ‘aristocratic family’ ever again.
So this time, when the two came together again to chat, the empress dowager spoke of the top-tier family, the Li Clan.
It was a pity the empress didn’t say much before being interrupted by an eunuch from Qiankun Palace
The emperor had been in class with a teacher since the end of the court session. But just now, he suddenly vomited and felt dizzy. Now, he was starting to heat up.
The empress dowager’s smile faded after the eunuch’s report. Gu Ru Jiu looked down at her fingertips. She thought it had been almost two hours since the emperor left the court session. Why was he sending someone to report to the empress dowager just now?
Had he just showed signs of illness, or… the young emperor was already starting to guard against the empress dowager?
Translator Ramblings: Li Huai Gu is to be pitied. Parental disapproval is so powerful.