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Chapter 27: The Women In The Palace
“Noble ladies, please sit.” The palace attendant presented tea and pastries, bowed to the two and retreated to the side.
In the past, when Gu Ru Jiu entered the palace, she would directly meet the empress dowager. This time, maybe due to the presence of Mistress Li, she was guided into a side hall by the palace attendant to wait for the empress dowager to appear.
The side hall of Kangquan Palace was large and bright, its decor refined. It could be seen that this was a place that the empress dowager frequently used to receive female guests.
Just as Gu Ru Jiu raised her teacup, Wu shi spoke. “It has been a long time since we met. Has Miss Gu been well?”
Wu shi had once intended to propose marriage to the Gu Family on behalf of her son. But after asking someone to test the waters and discovering that the Gu Family did not have such intentions, she never mentioned the matter again. Fortunately, the news had not spread, so things were not too awkward between the two families.
That young child from back then now revealed a hint of beauty. However, her features still carried innocence. It could be seen that the Gu Family had protected her well. If her daughter was still alive…
Wu shi‘s eyes dimmed slightly. She used the movement of drinking tea to disguise her emotions.
“Thank you, Mistress Li, for thinking of me; everything is well.” Gu Ru Jiu smiled politely at Wu shi, and responded politely. She had no intentions of being close to Wu shi.
Wu shi‘s gaze landed on the hibiscus jade pendant that Gu Ru Jiu used to keep her skirts down. She blew lightly on her tea.
While the Gu Clan was only at the bottom of second-tier aristocratic families, they were much richer than scholarly families with good reputations like the Ducal Yang Family. Otherwise, a jade pendant used to keep one’s skirts down would not be so extraordinary.
Thinking of the empress dowager’s affections for Second Miss Gu and of the Holy One’s closeness to the Gu Family, Wu shi was even more certain of a speculation she had.
If the speculation came true, then it would not waste her efforts for their coincidental meeting today.
Wu shi put down the tea cup and said in a soft voice, “Last time when I saw you, you were just a girl. In the blink of an eye, you have grown up.”
The last time Gu Ru Jiu met Wu shi, it had been at the suburban race track. That day had been the day of Miss Li’s accident. She feared that while she had paid attention to Wu shi, Wu shi had had no interest in seeing other people.
“This junior has not seen you for a long time.” Gu Ru Jiu appeared innocent and harmless. “Have you been well?”
“I have been all right.” Wu shi smiled, a smile that was standard and flawless.
In reality, how well could a mother be who had lost her child?
Speaking fairly, Wu shi was not an especially beautiful woman, but she had an unspeakable dignity. Her features were also gentle and she appeared to be a person easy to get along with. But all of this was just appearance. Someone who could become the matriarch of a major aristocratic family could not be as gentle as she appeared.
Gu Ru Jiu had no interest in that kind of life. She did not want to live like a zombie and become an exemplar that people revered.
The two really had nothing to say. After a few courtesies, the room became quiet. But maybe because Wu shi‘s presence was too calm, Gu Ru Jiu did not feel any awkwardness.
After about half an hour, Empress Dowager Zhou appeared with her group of attendants. The two greeted the empress dowager before Empress Dowager Zhou had the two sit.
Empress Dowager Zhou’s attitude towards Wu shi was extremely polite and calm. Gu Ru Jiu faintly sensed that the empress dowager did not like this person very much.
As expected, after a short while, Wu shi stood up and bid farewell. The empress dowager did not persist in keeping her and allowed Wu shi to leave.
“Is Jiu Jiu wondering why I am so cold towards her?” After Wu shi left, Empress Dowager Zhou’s noble and dignified presence decreased greatly. She held Gu Ru Jiu’s hand and stood up, saying with a smile, “Go, let’s go inside and talk.”
“I was somewhat curious.” Gu Ru Jiu thought. “I feel that you do not quite like her.”
“She was like this towards me in the past.” Empress Dowager Zhou’s tone was flat. “When I first entered the palace and wasn’t yet promoted to the empress position, when the women of court came into the palace to visit me, Wu shi looked at me like she was looking at a pitiful and lamentable woman.”
Gu Ru Jiu had never heard the empress dowager mention such a thing. She stilled, and turned to look at Empress Dowager Zhou’s expression. She found the other was especially calm.
“She seemed to be sympathizing with someone else, but in reality, she was just satisfying her own pride.” Empress Dowager Zhou looked at Gu Ru Jiu and said, “If she had really felt sympathy, she would not have acted like that.”
Gu Ru Jiu understood what the empress dowager meant. If a person truly cared about someone else’s situation, they would carefully avoid the painful matters of the past, and not discomfort the other again.
Maybe Wu shi did not intend such a thing, but to Empress Dowager Zhou back then, being looked at like that was definitely not a happy matter.
“Empress Dowager, Dowager Consort Wei has come to see you.” Matron Liu walked next to the pair and whispered, “This servant sees that Dowager Consort Wei does not look very well.”
Empress Dowager frowned upon hearing this. “Let her in.”
Gu Ru Jiu helped her sit down at her original spot and then stood next to her.
She had visited the palace many times, but she had only seen Dowager Consort Wei once, and the empress dowager and the emperor had been present.
When Dowager Consort Wei entered, Gu Ru Jiu was shocked. She could not believe this fragile and thin woman was Dowager Consort Wei.
Dowager Consort Wei was not yet thirty, but why did she look like she was in her forties?
“This concubine greets Empress Dowager.” When Dowager Consort Wei came in, she knelt and bowed to Empress Dowager Zhou. Gu Ru Jiu hurriedly moved aside to avoid Dowager Consort Wei’s greeting. She also curtsied towards the other.
Dowager Consort Wei noticed her action. Her face trembled slightly and then she bowed her head.
“No need for such a serious greeting. Please be seated.” No matter how many conflicts there had been in the past, Empress Dowager Zhou was helpless when she saw such a Dowager Consort Wei.. Also, the two only had minor conflicts in the past, and no grudges of blood.
Women should not make things difficult for other women. The conflict between the women in the imperial palace all came from the previous emperor. Now that the previous emperor was dead, why should the women left behind like them hate each other for a man like that rather than live well?
“Empress Dowager, please save me!” Last year, Dowager Consort Wei’s paternal family had been removed from their position due to their absurd conduct. They had even lost their third-rank baron title. The family was not productive and was just relying on their past wealth to muddle through their days.
The paternal family was unreliable, and Dowager Consort Wei could not leave the palace. Her days were not good. Adding on the other dowager consorts that previously had grudges with her and were doing their best to embarrass her, her days grew even more difficult.
“You knew of this, so why did you do what you did?” Empress Dowager Zhou saw that while her clothing was clean, it was possible to see crease marks. She guessed that these clothes should have been from the bottom of Dowager Consort Wei’s closet. “If you had been a bit more polite to He shi, Qian shi and the others back then, you would not be in this situation now.”
Wei shi had been young when she entered the palace, at an innocent and romantic age. Up until the death of the previous emperor, she had been the most favoured consort in the palace. Maybe the favour of the emperor had caused her to forget herself. She committed acts of tormenting unfavoured consorts. If not for her, the empress, in the palace, she feared that Wei shi would have been even more arrogant in her conduct.
“This concubine knows her mistakes. Please, Empress Dowager, say a few words for this concubine to the sisters.” Wei shi sobbed. She clearly feared the days she lived and could only beg the empress dowager.
Gu Ru Jiu watched this silently. She felt Wei shi was both hateful and pitiful. She clearly was someone who could not decide anything for herself, but she harassed other women using the favour a man gave her.
In the end, the empress dowager had someone send Wei shi away, and sternly ordered the servants to not slight the dowager consorts. But she did not plan to manage the conflict between the dowager consorts.
Karma made sense. If she felt Wei shi was pitiful and helped her, should the consorts she had humiliated in the past deserve to be tormented so? So as long as these people did not create trouble, she would turn a blind eye.
After Wei shi left, Empress Dowager Zhou found that Gu Ru Jiu was in low spirits. She said, “Jiu Jiu, what is it?”
“I just feel this is not interesting.” Gu Ru Jiu did not hide her thoughts and said to Empress Dowager Zhou, “What is the meaning of scheming like this for a lifetime?”
“They are sacrifices for their family’s interests. What meaning is there?” Empress Dowager Zhou laughed softly. “The emperor is willing to take, and their parents are willing to give. Their own willingness is not very important. There are many in the palace like Wei shi* who were willing to enter the palace for glory and riches.”
Gu Ru Jiu did not speak as she listened. But in her opinion, if the emperor had no intentions of taking consorts, the situation like the present one could be avoided.
“People will have desires. The same is true for men and women in the world. But the world is biased towards men so they have more choices.” When Empress Dowager Zhou said this, she winked at Gu Ru Jiu. “If the women were in charge of the world, maybe the situation would be the same as now, except with the genders reversed.”
Gu Ru Jiu was silent. She thought inside, the empress dowager was really forward in her thoughts.
But then she turned to think of those imperial princesses and commandery princesses who neglected their husbands and had a group of gigolos. Gu Ru Jiu felt that the empress dowager’s words might be correct.
“This is why so many people work so hard for power and money in the world. Because compared to someone’s heart that cannot be seen or touched, these things reassure people more.” Empress Dowager Zhou patted Gu Ru Jiu’s hand. “This is also why I did all I can to give you a title.”
Gu Ru Jiu swallowed. “Thank you, Aunt, for helping me.”
It appeared that her understanding was still not high enough.
“We are aunt and niece—there is no need for such polite words.” The empress dowager smiled and said, “I arranged for you to live in the western hall. The scenery there is good and it is close to where I live. A young girl like you is most perfect to live there. The other places are very noble but not spirited enough. If young girls live there, it will not be good for their energy.”
Empress Dowager Zhou was speaking to her niece about the importance of a residence for a woman when a female attendant came in to report the emperor had come.
Reaching out to touch her temple, Empress Dowager Zhou nodded and said, “Have His Majesty wait temporarily. I will arrive soon.” Then she turned to look at Gu Ru Jiu. “Jiu Jiu, do you want to go with me?”
Gu Ru Jiu thought that she had to pay respects to the emperor since she was staying in the palace and nodded.