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Chapter 15: In the Palace
Li Huai Gu stood in the courtyard, the spirit that a youth should have completely gone after this accident. He looked at the tightly closed room door and said tiredly, “Mother is still not willing to meet Father?”
Ever since his younger sister had died in an accident, the feelings between Mother and Father seemed to have turned cold overnight. Mother wasn’t even willing to let Father through the door. The entire inner courtyard felt so cold in atmosphere he almost couldn’t breathe.
“Young Master, Madam does not feel well.” The one who answered was one of Li Wu shi‘s servants that came in her dowry. While her tone was gentle and respectful, this did not conceal that Li Wu shi did not want to see anyone.
“I understand.” Li Huai Gu was slightly disappointed but also inexplicably relaxed. Deep inside, he did not dare to meet his mother’s grieving gaze. After bowing respectfully at the door, he raised his voice and said, “Mother, please rest well. This son will visit you tomorrow.”
Li Wu shi sat in the dim room and sighed softly when she heard her son’s voice outside.
The woman in the copper mirror had her hair down. While her skin was still white, it wasn’t as soft and tight as during her youth.
She had wasted half of her life in the inner courtyard, and in the end, didn’t even manage to take good care of her children.
“Sense of propriety, justice, integrity, and honour. The glory of the aristocratic families.” She snorted and brushed everything on her dressing table to the ground. She had a mad expression between tears and laughter. “They are just hypocrites concealing evil deeds, male bandits and female whores!”
“Mistress!” The worried voice of a young servant girl from outside the door. But out of fear for her authority, she did not dare to enter.
“I am fine.” Li Wu shi suddenly calmed down. She bent down and picked up a rhino comb that had fallen and broken in two. She used one half to lightly brush through her hair and then pinned her hair back up.
How could she let the Sima Family gain what they wanted so easily? The thing her daughter could not obtain, the Sima Family shouldn’t even dream of obtaining it.
Anyone’s daughter in the world could be the empress, only not a daughter of the Sima and Li families!
In the next few days, a fine drizzle continued to fall over Jing. Gu Ru Jiu stayed at home for many days, drinking all kinds of calming and nourishing soups. She felt that when she walked, she could hear the “splash” in her belly.
Fortunately, the empress dowager had summoned her today and she did not have to drink two more bowls of nourishing soup.
The carriage made its way with familiarity through the street that the Residence of the Marquis of Ningping was on, and then entered the palace through the Vermillion Bird Gates to stop outside Kangquan Palace’s gates.
When Gu Ru Jiu deboarded the carriage, she saw Matron Liu waiting for her and said with a smile, “Matron Liu, have you been well recently?”
“Thank you, County Mistress, for asking. This old servant is well.” Matron Liu was the empress dowager’s most valued servant, but she did not posture in front of Gu Ru Jiu and bowed slightly to her.
Reaching out to help Matron Liu stand, Gu Ru Jiu said with a smile, “Aunt had Matron Liu come to welcome me. It seems she has really missed me.”
“County Mistress is correct. The empress dowager has been talking about you each day in front of this servant.” Matron Liu’s smile grew more intimate. “She has already asked a few times today, and this servant feels that she is waiting anxiously.”
Hearing Matron Liu say this, Gu Ru Jiu sped up her walk and almost ran into the inner hall.
Matron Liu watched County Mistress Gu’s hurried back. Her smile did not change. The Gu Family raised this second miss to be so innocent and unaffected. No wonder the empress dowager liked her so much. Even servants of Kangquan Palace like her had a great affection for this miss. But due to this, she was worried.
The bad people in the world would not be any less bad because someone was innocent and unaffected.
Outside the gates of Kangquan Palace, the imperial cart slowly stopped. Jin Yang stepped on a stool to deboard the carriage, supporting himself on Bai Xian’s hand. Just after taking two steps, he coughed. He took out a white handkerchief to press to the corner of his mouth and said, “Bai Xian, have someone report.” He and Empress Dowager Zhou were mother and son in name, but everyone in court knew they had no blood connection. So if there were no major matters, he would not rashly charge into the empress dowager’s residential palace.
“Your Majesty.” Matron Liu saw the imperial carriage stop by the gates and moved forward to greet Jin Yang respectfully with a bow. “The empress dowager said that Your Majesty does not have to have someone report if you come, and can enter directly. No such care has to be taken between mother and child.”
“Mother-Empress is correct. I am too much of a stickler for fomalities.” Jin Yang smiled and then headed towards the inner hall, ushered by Matron Liu.
But they all knew that next time, in this situation, Jin Yang would still have someone report. But some things just had to be understood and not expressed.
“Men like those from the Wei Family are soft in the bones. If you do not hit him and make him feel pain, he will not know what is right or wrong.” Empress Dowager Zhou, who had focused on gossip for three decades, knew everything about what had happened in the Wei Family a few days ago. She also wanted to use this matter to teach Gu Ru Jiu some ways of how to conduct oneself as a woman. “Jiu Jiu, you are going to be twelve soon?”
“Twelve at the start of autumn.” Gu Ru Jiu nodded as she ate sliced fruits. There were not many fruits at the start of spring. The fragrant oranges she was eating now had been stored with a special method from last year. One of the best things about being here at the empress dowager’s place was that when she wanted to eat fruit, she did not have to worry there was none.
“Time has passed so quickly.” Empress Dowager Zhou thought. “When I was your age, I was already engaged.” While the other member of the engagement was proven in the end to be an unreliable man, Empress Dowager Zhou did not feel that this matter could not be mentioned.
Gu Ru Jiu’s hand paused as she reached for the fruits. Why was the empress dowager suddenly mentioning this?
“The world is always stricter towards women. Even when I divorced from that family back then, many people talked about me behind my back. Even when I entered the palace, there were always people that talked secretly about the previous family.” Empress Dowager Zhou”s tone was calm. It could be seen that the words of the past had not affected her greatly. “But us women cannot slight ourselves due to other people’s idle words. Otherwise, there will be no meaning in living.”
“I’m telling you honestly—” The empress dowager suddenly lowered her voice and whispered as she moved her head closer to Gu Ru Jiu. “If not for some blind person saying that I had a noble fate in the past, I would not have been willing to enter this place.”
Seeing Gu Ru Jiu show a thread of surprise, Empress Dowager Zhou laughed out loud. She straightened and said, “You are still young. I do not know if it is appropriate for me to speak of such things to you. But I think of you as my daughter, and do not want you to suffer a loss.” The empress dowager’s smile grew faint and she became more solemn. “Love yourself. Poems, paintings, sweet words—they are all illusions. Listen to them, but do not believe them deeply and give your feelings to the wrong person.”
As the empress dowager, Zhou shi telling Gu Ru Jiu such things was going over the line. Even though she did not regard Gu Ru Jiu as her own daughter, it was not far off either.
Gu Ru Jiu was a person that knew good from bad. She naturally detected Empress Dowager Zhou’s concern for her and said, “Aunt, do not worry. Jiu Jiu will remember.”
Hearing her promise, Empress Dowager Zhou smiled again. Then she heard Matron Liu say outside, “Your Majesty, please.”
The young emperor had come? Gu Ru Jiu stood up from the chair and turned to look at Empress Dowager Zhou. She saw the other was now sitting properly with dignity and seriousness.
Seeing Jin Yang walk in, Gu Ru Jiu bowed and said, “This subject’s daughter greets the Holy One.”
When Jin Yang entered the door, he had seen Gu Ru Jiu standing by the chair. So before Gu Ru Jiu could finish her bow, he stopped her. “Junior Gu doesn’t have to be so polite—please sit.” Then he bowed and asked about Empress Dowager Zhou’s wellness. After exchanging polite words with the empress dowager, he sat down on the chair facing Gu Ru Jiu.
The two sat facing each other and their gazes could not avoid landing on each other. After the pair secretly examined each other, their impressions grew more positive.
Gu Ru Jiu thought, such a beautiful sickly youth, even better looking than last time.
Jin Yang thought, Junior’s eyes are so beautiful, her dimples so adorable. I want to touch them.
Empress Dowager Zhou noticed that Jin Yang’s face was slightly red and asked in concern, “Emperor, are you well?”
“This son is fine, Mother-Empress, do not worry.” Jin Yang gave a smile to Empress Dowager Zhou.
The lethality of a beautiful youth did not discriminate by age. Empress Dowager Zhou saw her complimentary son’s smile and her tone grew deeper. “It is the changing of the seasons. You have to pay more attention, otherwise, you will have to drink the black and bitter medicines.”
Gu Ru Jiu sat on the side and watched the empress dowager and the young emperor interact. She faintly felt that the empress dowager did not think of the emperor as her own son, but she definitely had no intentions of making him into a puppet emperor.
Mother and son lacked closeness, but they did not seem to suspect and test each other. She was almost certain that Empress Dowager Zhou was not interested in power.
The empress dowager’s attitude had been expressed faintly during the management of the earthquake. This was why the aristocratic families were now wanting to get close to the young emperor.
If the empress dowager was opposing the young emperor, they could borrow the empress dowager’s power and not take the emperor seriously . But the empress dowager did not play with them and entertained herself with the doors closed while arranging many reliable assistants for the young emperor. Wasn’t this just telling everyone baldly that ‘I have no interest in the governance of the Feng Dynasty and do not come find me?’
“Junior Gu, what do you think?”
Gu Ru Jiu heard the young emperor call her and looked up blankly. She saw the young emperor smiling warmly but didn’t know what they were talking about.
She stilled and then touched her ear embarrassedly. She tilted her head at Jin Yang. “Your Majesty, what did you just say?”
Jin Yang saw the young girl touch her ear and felt his heart speed up.
Junior Gu was so adorable when she looked at him!