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Chapter 6: Manor
In a daze, Jin Yang seemed to hear the sound of the empress dowager and the imperial doctors talking. But he had no power to open his eyes and see the empress dowager’s expression.
As he faded into sleep again, he heard a clear voice comfort the empress dowager. He didn’t know whose family this miss came from…
When he opened his eyes again, it was evening. The bright red sunset shone through the windows and made the room orange. The empress dowager was standing next to the bed. She wore a plain palace robe that became bright in the sunset.
“Emperor, you are awake?” Seeing his eyes open, Empress Dowager Zhou turned to look out the window and said in a calm voice, “How do you feel?”
The attending palace attendants in the room helped Jin Yang sit up against the bed. She and the chief eunuch steward, Bai Xian, left the room so only Jin Yang and the empress dowager were left in the quiet room.
“Son has caused Mother-Empress worry and is unfilial.” Jin Yang covered the corner of his mouth and coughed.
“The day that this Grieving One’s son passed away, the sunset was also so bright.” Empress Dowager Zhou looked indifferently at the horizon. The clouds there were as red as fire. “This Grieving One cried for a day and a night, but the child who passed away could not come back to life.”
Jin Yang grabbed the blanket under him. Looking at the empress dowager, he did not speak. This was the first time he heard the empress dowager call herself the “Grieving One.”
“In the past, I received a favour from your mother, so I chose you among the children because I think that her child should be exceptional.” Even though that she did not like some of the people in the Sima Family, Jin Yang’s birth mother, Sima shi, had been an astounding noble miss of an aristocratic family. But the heavens were jealous of such beauties, and she passed away early.
Jin Yang hadn’t expected Empress Dowager Zhou to mention his mother. He looked dazedly at the woman by the window and wanted to distinguish between truth and falsehood.
“An emperor without true power is just a tool to get power to the court officials.” Empress Dowager Zhou walked to the bedside and gently tucked in the blankets. “The first thing you need to learn is to look critically at other people and act cautiously.”
After saying all this, Empress Dowager Zhou straightened. “While the emperor’s fever has disappeared, you should still rest for a few days. You do not need to go to court tomorrow.”
Jin Yang lay down on the bed, and pulled the blankets above his head. The words of Empress Dowager Zhou rang through his mind.
Was he only a tool for the court officials to gain power?
None of his teachers treated him with great care. Some people even subtly warned him to not become a puppet emperor of the empress dowager. But the person who said these words was truly loyal to him or… had other intentions?
When Bai Xian entered, he saw the emperor was completely covered in his blanket. Worried that the emperor would suffocate himself, he did not dare to reach out so he could only call softly, “Emperor.”
Jin Yang pushed the blanket off his head. He showed no hint of disappointment on his face. If his face wasn’t still slightly red, no one could see anything wrong with him.
“When zhen fainted, was it Prime Minister Zhang who had someone report to Empress Dowager?” Today, it had been Zhang Zhong Han teaching him, so in Qiankun Palace, Zhang Zhong Han had the highest status next to him.
“Yes.” Bai Xian hesitated for a moment and said, “But Prime Minister Zhang was overly worried for Emperor. So he only remembered to have someone report to the empress dowager after the imperial doctor came to check your pulse.”
Zhang Zhong Han came from a poor family. In his childhood, he was accepted as a student of a famed scholar, and he joined the court due to his filial piety. Right now, he held the role of the Prime Minister of the Right. While the prime minister of the right did not hold as much real power as the prime minister of the left, it could be seen he was an able person to obtain such a position in a court filled with aristocratic family members, given his poor birth.
Jin Yang was silent for a long time. He said, “Prime Minister Zhang is busy with matters of court. In the future, have Teacher Gu take over some of the material he will teach, so he will not be exhausted.”
Bai Xian lowered his head and listened silently.
“Right, today, when the empress dowager visited, did she have anyone else with her?” Jin Yang drank his medicine with the help of a palace maid. He suddenly thought of the young girl’s voice he heard today during his dizziness.
“Today, the empress dowager summoned the second miss of the Gu Family into the palace. Because she worried too much that the empress dowager would harm her body in her rush, Miss Gu came with the empress dowager. She just bowed to you behind the curtain before leaving.”
Jin Yang nodded upon hearing this. In the last half year, the empress dowager had summoned the second miss of the Gu Family into the palace several times, so he had heard of this girl.
Since she was the daughter of Teacher Gu, he thought that she should not be bad.
Jin Yang did not ask more and Bai Xian naturally did not talk more. Inside, he thought that the Gu father and daughter really were capable. The father was respected by the emperor, and the daughter was favoured by the empress dowager. If the empress dowager and the emperor were in conflict in the future, he didn’t know how this father and daughter would side.
In the last few days, Gu Chang Ling had been idle. Because the emperor was sick, he, the emperor’s teacher, also had a few sick days. So, without anything to do, he took his sons and daughter to go visit the guards his family kept.
Any aristocratic family of Jing that was not too poor would keep some guards to plant their lands or to protect their manors. At most a few thousand or ten thousand people. At least a few dozen or hundred people. These guards did not have ordinary citizen family records. They were “private property” of the aristocratic families.
Gu Chang Ling did not have many registered guards, just about eight hundred or so. Adding on the two hundred guards that Yang shi brought along in her marriage, their family had a thousand guards in total. This was nothing compared to the major aristocratic families like the Sima and Li families.
The first time Gu Ru Jiu learned that her family kept a “private army,” she was stunned. Later, she slowly learned that the aristocratic families would keep guards like this to help their masters farm and guard their property during times of peace and become military forces for their masters when the world was in chaos.
This was one of the reasons that when dynasties changed, the aristocratic families still remained standing. Aristocratic families of steel, dynasties of water. No wonder families like the Sima and Li families carried pride in their bones.
In the history of her previous life, there had been an era when the aristocratic families had prospered. Later, due to the concentration of imperial power, the aristocratic families gradually lost their former status. In the end, they disappeared into the flow of history, becoming famed families with good reputations but no real power.
While they had still been called aristocratic families, their rise and fall were connected to the emperor and they no longer had their former glory.
In Gu Ru Jiu’s view, the Feng Dynasty that she was in now was already in the time when aristocratic families were in decline. The imperial family already controlled the important military power. While the aristocratic families could still keep guards, their numbers had to be registered and reported to the court. Even metal items were limited, and if they were over the limit, it would be a crime of “treason.”
The imperial family was slowly cooking the frog. The aristocratic families were the frogs that had jumped into the pot for their glory but did not know it yet.
Gu Ru Jiu knew that this was a necessary change of history. She could not become the person to push the wheel off.
Also, with the Gu Family’s status in Jing, the prosperity of the aristocratic families and the rise of the imperial family had no great effect on them.
In more blunt terms, the Gu Family were just new nobility under the shell of an aristocratic family. Nearly a century ago, the Gu Family, due to being in such decline, was almost kicked out of the ranks of the aristocratic families. Later on, when the last last emperor re-ranked the aristocratic families, the Gu Family coincidentally had two capable members that the emperor put in important positions, so the family barely made it into the rank of second-tier families.
Ever since then, the influence of aristocratic families in court started to unconsciously decline as the status of the imperial family rose. While it was not right to slander one’s ancestors, Gu Ru Jiu had reason to suspect that the two ancestors of the Gu Family were involved in the decline of the aristocratic families.
Whenever she thought of this, Gu Ru Jiu would inhale deeply and then turn her head to be the happy and joyful noble miss. She, as weak as she was, would not think about such idealistic and profound things.
In any case, it was good as long as her close family was safe and happy. She could not manage how other people were.
When they reached the manor, Gu Ru Jiu’s group received the most enthusiastic of welcomes. She and her two brothers rode horses for a while and then hid back in their rooms due to the intolerable heat.
Gu Chang Ling, who was listening to reports from the manor head, saw his children return and said with a smile, “I knew that you three cannot tolerate the heat. Go and drink the cooling soup.”
After drinking the cooling soup, Gu Ru Jiu moved next to Eldest and Second Brother, wanting them to discuss gossip in the court.
Gu Zhi Yu had entered court two years ago, and was now in a position in the Court of Ceremonies. This place was usually leisurely and they were akin to a department of diplomatic secretaries for the emperor’s private use. When the small countries in the surroundings were giving tribute to the Feng Dynasty, the people they could not afford to offend the most were officials of the Court of Ceremonies.
“There is nothing interesting.” Gu Zhi Yu smiled. “Ever since the emperor ascended the throne, several small countries have sent envoys with tributes. The ones from further away are still travelling. But these are poor and undeveloped places. There is nothing worthy of being discussed.”
Gu Ru Jiu held her face in her hands and said, “We cannot blind ourselves and be proud. We will only win if we know our enemy completely, right?”
Seeing his younger sister like this, Gu Zhi Yu smiled and brushed her head. “Do not worry. The court knows.” The court naturally was not reassured by these small countries that submitted, but they would not say some things publicly.
Seeing that he would not speak, his younger sister did not persist in questioning. Gu Zhi Yu sighed in relief inside.
Gu Ru Jiu saw her big brother so relieved and smiled secretly. She led her servant girls to walk in the courtyard. After exiting, she saw several children peeking in at the gates. She had Bao Lu send some pastries for those children.
Today, the weather was exceptionally humid. She had no appetite for food. In weather like this, pastries would go bad if they were not eaten. It was better to give them to the children to fill their bellies.
“Miss.” Bao Lu returned from delivering the pastries. Just as she was about to speak, she suddenly saw some black mice scuttle out of the wall. Her face paled in fright and she hurriedly moved in front of Gu Ru Jiu.
Fortunately, the mice did not try to leap at people. Instead, they hurriedly fled out of the courtyard gates, and the guards outside chased them away.
“What is going on these days? I just heard the children say that mice have been jumping out of the walls frequently in the last two days. The manor’s dogs have been barking relentlessly,” Bao Lu stated and then looked at the sky. “The weather is so hot that even animals cannot tolerate it.”
Hearing Bao Lu’s complaint, Gu Ru Jiu’s heart jumped. She felt that something was not right.
Translator Ramblings: Adoption is a difficult matter … especially when power is involved.