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Chapter 17: Ambition
In the imperial kitchen, Chef Zhao was bending as he carefully put the pastries he made into a food box. Then he hung a card two fingers wide on the box that had “Kangquan Palace” written on it.
Although it was not time to eat, everyone knew that the empress dowager of Kangquan Palace would occasionally have the chefs of the imperial kitchen make some things. They would naturally do their best. Because Kangquan Palace had its own kitchen, there were not many opportunities for the imperial kitchen to show their skills.
“Brother Zhao has great skill.” The chef responsible for hot foods felt both admiration and envy. But because they worked together, he didn’t dare to go out of line and said in a joking tone, “You must have spent great effort in making the pastries look like blooming peach flowers?”
“Yes, just our regard as servants.” Chef Zhao was plump and looked honest. When he smiled, he looked good-tempered. The other people saw this, and even though they were jealous, they could not say displeasing things.
This man really had good luck. He had originally been average among the pastry chefs. But a certain pastry dish he made received the favor of the empress dowager and County Mistress Gu. After that, he frequently had the opportunity of contributing one or two pastry dishes to Kangquan Palace.
Chefs like them could not get any news from inside the palace. But seeing Old Zhao present this dish, they all knew that the empress dowager must have summoned County Mistress Gu into the palace.
This was strange to speak of. The empress dowager had many girls in her paternal family, but the empress dowager never invited them. Instead, she seemed to have exceptional affection for County Mistress Gu, a niece several times removed in relation.
Due to this, while they only knew County Mistress Gu by name, she already had a mysterious status in the imperial kitchen. People were curious about her but didn’t dare to talk much.
The pastries that Chef Zhao presented were quickly carried away by the eunuch. About an hour later, the eunuch came back with an attendant behind him. Someone recognized him as one of the attendants serving in Kangquan Palace, and they all enthusiastically surrounded him.
This was someone who frequently served in front of the empress dowager. They rarely even saw someone who swept the courtyard, much less a personal attendant.
When the attendant from Kangquan Palace came in, his attitude was not very proud. However, the people of the imperial kitchen felt the other had more of a presence than attendants from other places.
“The peach cake served this time was very good in taste. The empress dowager has told this one to give thanks.”
Everyone in the imperial kitchen felt a wave of envy. What damned luck did this man get this time?!
“This one doesn’t dare at all; it is this one’s good fortune and doesn’t dare to receive thanks.” Chef Zhao was both surprised and joyful. He bowed repeatedly to the attendant.
While the noble people in the palace would not easily speak the words “reward,” not anyone would dare to accept their “thanks.” So Chef Zhao continued to bow.
Seeing him being perceptive, the attendant spoke of his intentions in coming. So the empress dowager liked his skill and wanted him to provide pastries just for Kangquan Palace from now on. But because Chef Zhao was not a court eunuch, he would still be on duty in the imperial kitchen.
Chef Zhao immediately accepted with joy. When he sent the attendant out the door, he took out all the silver he had on him and shoved it into the attendant’s hands.
The attendant put the silver into his pockets without changing expression before slowly saying, “The empress dowager doesn’t usually like pastries. You just have to send over some clear and refreshing ones. But on days like today, use more effort and do not slight guests.” Then he said in an admiring tone, “The Holy One is also satisfied with your pastries.”
People in the palace would not be direct when speaking. The court eunuchs would not easily mention the names of noblewomen not yet of age. When the attendant said this, Chef Zhao generally understood the truth of the matter.
So the empress dowager being satisfied was false, but County Mistress Gu’s liking was true. Even more coincidentally, the emperor had been present today.
As a member of the imperial kitchen, how could he not know that the Holy One had not been especially picky of his food in the year since his ascension? So why would he express his satisfaction or dissatisfaction about a plate of pastries?
Everything was for County Mistress Gu.
After seeing off the attendant, Chef Zhao bowed several times in joy in the direction of Kangquan Palace. He muttered a few compliments to County Mistress Gu before he turned to walk back into the imperial kitchen.
Other people saw this and cursed Chef Zhao inside for being a good flatterer. He still didn’t forget to pretend to show his loyalty after the person from Kangquan Palace had left.
In Kangquan Palace, Gu Ru Jiu and Jin Yang still sat face to face. While the two had not met each other frequently before, their conservation was not awkward.
Empress Dowager Zhou watched as the two moved from calligraphy to various other topics such as the customs and habits of vassal countries, and then onto a discussion of delicious food.
As expected, no matter the topic, they were all different routes to the same destination.
The people of the Feng Dynasty’s spiritual pursuit of exploring “food” was engraved in their bones.
“Supposedly, the vinegar fish of Qingyuan Prefecture is the best in the dynasty. The imperial chefs once made this dish, but I have not had the fortune to go to Qingyuan Prefecture. As a result, I do not know how it ranks.” Jin Yang saw his junior sister became much more at ease once their discussion was on food and deliberately directed the conversation in this direction. “Junior Sister’s ancestral home is Qingyuan Prefecture?”
Gu Ru Jiu saw the young emperor spoke clearly about the local food of different places and thought inside, so this is a hidden glutton. Thinking of how the other had to support the future of a country at such a young age, and could not easily leave the capital, she felt sympathy and pain on his behalf.
“Yes, I heard Daddy mention that Qingyuan Prefecture’s vinegar fish is the most authentic. Once it leaves the water and fish there, it would lose its taste.” When Gu Ru Jiu said this, she scrunched her face. “But while this subject’s ancestors were from Qingyuan Prefecture, this subject was born and raised in the capital and has not had the good fortune to taste an authentic vinegar fish.”
If she said this, would the young emperor feel better? At this age of teenage rebellion, she did not want the young emperor to copy a certain emperor just because he could not eat authentic vinegar fish, and end up running all over the country and spending silver. That would both waste money and disturb the people.
Did you not know that there were people that become great villains due to a steamed bun? Vinegar fish was more delicious and valuable than a steamed bun.
“It’s all right that we cannot get to eat it. The fish of Jing are also delicious.” Jin Yang saw his junior seemed to be very disappointed and regretted mentioning the topic. He immediately moved from the topic of food to the capital. “I heard that a restaurant in Jing has a complete fish banquet.”
“Where?” Gu Ru Jiu saw the young emperor did not seem to be greatly attached to the vinegar fish and her opinion of the young emperor grew better. Such a young age, and he had such self-control. It could be seen that when he grew up, he would be a good emperor that would not be easily affected by material things.
“I do not know. I just accidentally heard the guards mention it. If Junior Sister Gu is interested, I will have a guard investigate and then have Senior Brother Gu tell you when he is home.” Jin Yang smiled apologetically. He turned to glance at the sky outside, and then he lowered his head as he sat motionlessly on his chair.
The Senior Brother Gu whom Jin Yang referenced was Gu Cun Jing, who was a fifth rank imperial guard in the palace.
“Thank you, Holy One.” Gu Ru Jiu responded, giving a big smile to this considerate and gentle young emperor.
Jin Yang looked at Junior Sister Gu’s smiling face and blushed slightly.
Gu Ru Jiu finally left the imperial palace in a carriage late in the afternoon. Of course, she did not know that the young emperor hadn’t attended his afternoon classes in order to keep her company.
Fortunately, Empress Dowager Zhou had sent someone to give the teachers responsible for the classes a free day in advance. Otherwise, Jin Yang would be called a truant for the first time in his life.
“Empress Dowager, County Mistress Gu and the Holy One get along well.” Under the candlelight, Matron Liu helped take down Empress Dowager Zhou’s hair.
Empress Dowager Zhou sighed. “They are just half-grown children. What do they know? Jiu Jiu is a good girl. Her future will be up to her. The inner palaces and courtyards are not a good place. They just appear glorious.”
Matron Liu knew that the empress dowager truly loved County Mistress Gu and would not want her to be slighted. She could only change the topic. “His Majesty will make the Feng Dynasty better in the future.”
Empress Dowager Zhou smiled and didn’t speak.
Who said she had no ambitions?
Her ambition was to raise a wise monarch that would be praised throughout history by millions.
Translator Ramblings: The empress dowager is such a good parent.