This chapter has been brought to you by me and Adnana.
After dining, Spiritual Master Chu Yun appeared again with a young Taoist attendant who held a tray in his hands. Gu Ru Jiu looked over curiously. On the tray were all kinds of gold, silver and jade tokens that had exquisite craftsmanship and Taoist runes engraved on them.
“Greetings, Virtuous Ones.” Spiritual Master Chu Yun turned and took the tray from the young attendant. Then he said, “This poor Taoist has kept these jade tokens in front of the statues of the Three Holy Ones for many years. If Virtuous Ones do not mind, you can keep a few to play with.”
“This Grieving One will not look down on an item that Spiritual Master has blessed.” Empress Dowager smiled. “Spiritual Master is too polite.”
Gu Ru Jiu took the tray from Spiritual Master Chu Yun’s hand and curtsied slightly to him before moving back to Empress Dowager Zhou’s side.
Spiritual Master Chu Yun returned a bow to her solemnly before turning to speak with Empress Dowager Zhou. He clearly respected Gu Ru Jiu greatly, and did not seem as cold and aloof as the rumours said.
Jin Yang walked next to Gu Ru Jiu’s side to look at the items on the tray. Then he reached out and took a fish-shaped jade token about two fingers wide. He saw the surface was carved with complicated runes and the words “Good Fortune.”
The jade was of a great quality, and felt comfortable in his hand.
He glanced at the other tokens in the tray, smiled, and put away this token.
Gu Ru Jiu raised an eyebrow. She felt that Jin Yang should have selected the token with the words “Longevity Blessings.”
“This poor Taoist has stayed in Jing for many days to have the good fortune to see Honoured Ones today.” Spiritual Master Chu Yun led the trio towards the courtyard. In the end, he stood in the wide courtyard. “The world is so large, this poor Taoist should not stay in one place.”
Empress Dowager Zhou knew that Spiritual Master Chu Yun was not a person who resided in one place, so she did not try to persuade him otherwise. She only told him to be careful in his travels.
“The heavens have their law, life and death are destined.” Spiritual Master Chu Yun clearly appeared very free. He looked at the empress dowager and said, “Virtuous One has raised a legendary emperor. You have boundless virtuous achievements and the reverence of all people.”
Empress Dowager Zhou smiled and said, “This Grieving One only asks for that.”
Spiritual Master Chu Yun turned back to look at the emperor and County Mistress Gu who were standing nearby, shook his head and smiled. “Virtuous One, do not blame this one for overstepping.”
“Spiritual Master is devoted to the people; there is no overstep.” Empress Dowager Zhou smiled and took a few steps forward to become closer to Jin Yang and Gu Ru Jiu. “Spiritual Master says that this Grieving One’s niece has great fortune, extraordinary riches and honour. Is there a reason?”
“Destiny is determined by the heavens. This noble lady is extremely lucky and her blessings will benefit others.” Spiritual Master Chu Yun said emotionally, “This poor Taoist has travelled for many years, and seen many important people in Jing. This Virtuous One’s niece is the most lucky.”
“It is not important if she is prosperous. As long as she has a peaceful and content life, that will be good fortune,” Empress Dowager Zhou heard the words and her expression relaxed. She only half-believed in fate, but who did not like hearing good words?
“Your Majesty.” Gu Ru Jiu took the token with the words “Longevity Blessings” and presented it to Jin Yang. “What do you think of this?” While gods and ghosts were imaginary, there were many wonders in the world, and even if she did not completely believe, she had reverence. The words on this token were extremely good. Jin Yang’s health was a bit weak and if he had this token, it would reassure her.
Jin Yang took this jade token from her soft palm and placed the other jade in her hand. “Then let us trade.”
Gu Ru Jiu was speechless at this child-like conduct of trading things. She pulled her hand back with the token of “Good Fortune” and accepted it with a smile.
Empress Dowager Zhou turned and saw their movements. She was slightly dazed and then said in a raised voice, “Your Majesty, it is late. We should return to the palace.”
Jin Yang tied the jade token at his waist and then bowed to Empress Dowager Zhou. “This son understands.”
Gu Ru Jiu walked next to Empress Dowager Zhou and bowed with a smile to Spiritual Master Chu Yun. Then she reached out to support Empress Dowager Zhou using her arm.
Spiritual Master Chu Yun returned the bow, and then saw the trio off to the gates of the temple. After the three boarded the carriages and left, he finally showed a smile.
“Master.” The young child came behind him with a bag of pastries, a smile on his pudgy face. “Virtuous Ones left behind a good thing.”
Spiritual Master Chu Yun looked at the pastries in his hand. “Who gave you this?”
“It was the young female virtuous one. She said children should eat these.” The Taoist child scratched his head. “This disciple had a taste—it is quite delicious.”
Spiritual Master Chu Yun touched the top of his head, smiled and didn’t speak. He looked in the direction of the carriage. A long time later, he sighed emotionally.
When Gu Cun Jing returned home, it was already near curfew. He hurriedly ate a few bites, and then mentioned what had happened today to Gu Chang Ling.
“Spiritual Master Chu Yun really said such a thing?” Yang shi had a happy but worried expression. She was happy that her daughter had good fortune, but was worried because she remembered Empress Dowager Zhou’s past.
Something like good fortune was intangible. Who could guarantee whether the words were true or false? In history, how many people had used the excuse of destiny for their conduct, and then ended up in tragedy?
Some people, to seek wealth and status, found those so-called experts and masters to say that their son or daughter had good fates and would be extraordinary in the future in order to obtain the favour of important people.
“Do not worry.” Gu Chang Ling detected his wife’s worry and said in a low voice, “Spiritual Master Chu Yun is not an ordinary Taoist. Even if other people will not completely believe his words, they will not say anything bad.”
Yang shi slowly nodded, and took a sip of tea to suppress her depression. “Jiu Jiu was following behind the empress dowager the entire time?”
“Mother, do not worry. Jiu Jiu took great care with this. Even when the empress dowager was not present, there were many servants around her.” Gu Cun Jing thought for a moment, and then mentioned how the emperor had heard Hu Yun Qi’s joke.
“This son thinks that His Majesty was just casually responding.” Gu Cun Jing faintly felt that His Majesty was overly concerned with his sister. But when the two interacted, there was no excessive conduct, so he felt that he was thinking too much.
Maybe His Majesty really treated Jiu Jiu as his true sister.
“Father, Mother.” Gu Zhi Yu walked in, his expression joyful. He hurriedly bowed to Yang shi and Gu Chang Ling before saying, “Jia Yue is pregnant.”
Jia Yue was Chen shi‘s name. Gu Zhi Yu coming in a hurry showed how happy he was about the arrival of this child.
“This is a good thing!” Yang shi was overjoyed upon hearing this. She turned and told her servants to pick things that pregnant women could use to send to Chen shi.
Gu Chang Ling was extremely happy. He put down his teacup and walked around the room. He rubbed his hands and told Gu Zhi Yu to pay more attention to Chen shi and not to forget his private duties for his public ones.
Chen shi had been married for more than five years, and Hu shi for almost four. Both of them had never been pregnant. Their family had never said anything, but other people outside were worrying. Some people with other intentions even spread ugly gossip.
“Congratulations, Big Brother.” Gu Cun Jing smiled as he said to Gu Zhi Yu, “It seems that I will soon have a nephew.”
Yang shi smiled as she tapped his forehead with her index finger. She told him to tell Gu Ru Jiu tomorrow so she could be happy as well.
As expected, when Gu Ru Jiu heard on the next day that her eldest sister-in-law was pregnant, she smiled so hard her eyes were closed. She immediately took out a pile of items that the empress dowager and the emperor had given her for Gu Cun Jing to take back.
“My good sister, please spare me. How can I carry so many things?” Gu Cun Jing felt a headache when he saw the big pile. He also worried that the empress dowager and the emperor would be displeased that his younger sister was giving these things to someone else. He said, “You do not have to worry about these things. The family will make good arrangements.”
“I am their aunt, so what if I prepare things for my nephews and nieces?” Gu Ru Jiu smiled as she shoved a box of precious stones into Gu Cun Jing’s hand. “Before Fu Shou was born, I also gave many things.”
Fu Shou was Gu Pan Qi’s child born last winter, an adorable and pudgy child. Before the birth, Gu Ru Jiu had sent many good things to the Zhang Family, and a large pile of things after the birth. This had caused Zhang Yu Qin to joke that she, as the paternal aunt, would be outcompeted by the maternal aunt.
However, the conduct of the Gu Family caused the Zhang Family to understand the Gu Family’s attitude again. Their married daughter was still their daughter. They would not give her less than what they should, including their affection.
A father as the director of the department of state affairs, two brothers who had limitless potential, and a younger sister very well-liked by the empress dowager. Gu Pan Qi herself was a virtuous, talented, and capable woman. So she was well-respected in the Zhang Family and by her husband Zhang Shao.
“You will not be able to take them alone. I will have someone help you send them.” Empress Dowager Zhou heard the siblings talking from outside the courtyard. She walked into the courtyard and said with a smile, “You do not just have to deliver what Jiu Jiu has prepared; you also have to take what I have prepared.”
Gu Cun Jing stood to bow and said with a smile, “Then this nephew will first thank Aunt.”
“Now you do not refuse.” Empress Dowager Zhou smiled and sat next to the pair. She said, “Usually, when the family has such a happy matter, I should let Jiu Jiu go back. But recently, I have not felt well, so I have to let Jiu Jiu stay a few more days in the palace.”
“It is right for juniors to be filial to their elders.” Gu Cun Jing smiled and said, with a slight bow, “Of course, a junior should take care of what an elder bestows.”
“I think the point of the words is on the last part.” Empress Dowager smiled and chatted with Gu Cun Jing about daily matters for a while before having Gu Cun Jing leave with a big pile of presents.
After Gu Cun Jing left, Empress Dowager Zhou said to Gu Ru Jiu, “Do you know why do I not let you return?”
Gu Ru Jiu slowly shook her head. Even if she had thoughts inside, she would not speak them.
“Girl, you have a clever mind—you just do not like to use it. ” Empress Dowager Zhou smiled helplessly. “If you leave today, a pile of people will be proposing marriage at your home tomorrow.”
Gu Ru Jiu heard this and couldn’t help but sit straight. Looking at the empress dowager, she hesitantly spoke, “Because… of Spiritual Master Chu Yun’s words?”
“There are no secrets in a place like the capital,” Empress Dowager Zhou said wryly. “Your father is the director of the department of state affairs. He has real power and is deeply trusted by the emperor. There are many people who want to marry you.
Gu Ru Jiu displayed slight bashfulness and said, her head held low, “Aunt, you are…”
“This is not something embarrassing. You do not have to be bashful.” Empress Dowager Zhou thought of the eldest son of the Ducal Yang Family and said, “In Jing, there are many young masters of aristocratic families, and there isn’t a lack of those with both appearance and talent. But a marriage is not just a matter of two people, but of two families. Even the most handsome man, if he has a terrible family behind him, is not a good match. Even the best love cannot withstand the torment of these trivial matters.”
Gu Ru Jiu agreed with these words. No matter how good the husband was, if one encountered terrible in-laws that one had to meet every day, then the days would be a hardship. Over time, the past soft emotions would turn into anger. The deep love would become regret. What feelings would there be then?
In reality, she did not have much terror towards marriage. At least, the majority of aristocratic families wanted face, and she would not allow others to torment her. However, it was not possible to say that she felt great anticipation.
Her present days were very good. She did not lack for anything. If she married, it would not be easy to live according to her present living standard.
Empress Dowager Zhou saw that Gu Ru Jiu’s eyes were clear and knew that she had heard the words. She said emotionally, “I really want to select for you the aristocratic family young masters in the capital, and then pick the most suitable one for you.”
But those that wanted Gu Ru Jiu, the Gu Family may not like. The ones that the Gu Family wanted may not be willing.
After helplessly worrying for Gu Ru Jiu’s marriage, Empress Dowager Zhou had to worry about Jin Yang’s capping ceremony. There were only a few days until the date of Jin Yang’s ceremony. The specific course of events had been set, but she had to carefully ponder the details and strive for perfection.
The empress dowager and the emperor were busy, so Gu Ru Jiu found things for herself to do. She practiced her calligraphy, painted, or ruined the flowers in the courtyard. She lived extremely freely.
“Miss,” Qiu Luo and the others held paper umbrellas over Gu Ru Jiu and whispered, “Careful of the slippery ground. Do not fall.”
The spring rain was not heavy and came down in soft drizzles. It was slightly cold, and made people feel the need for poetry. But Gu Ru Jiu was never skilled in poetry and weiqi. At most, she could only copy scholars in admiring scenery, but not in making poetry.
“No matter.” Gu Ru Jiu held her skirt up. Walking on the slate road, she listened to the muffled sound of the rain on the top of the umbrella and couldn’t help but say with a smile, “I have hidden in the palace recently, and avoided people inviting me to admire flowers and compose poems.”
Knowing that her miss did not like those poems and songs, Qiu Luo said, “It can be seen that the empress dowager knows your thoughts, and helped you avoid these troubles.”
Gu Ru Jiu smiled and did not speak. The empress dowager definitely had not kept her in the palace because of this. Having the daughter of a court official stay in the palace was not a minor matter in itself. The empress dowager was usually reliable and beautiful in her conduct. Keeping her in the palace this time was not like her usual style.
As she pondered this matter, she heard a muffled “bam” nearby. It sounded like someone had fallen. She looked over curiously and saw an eunuch in blue robes that had fallen. After seeing her, he hurriedly climbed off the ground. He did not even pat away the mud from his robes as he bowed and took a few steps back.
Gu Ru Jiu saw that his palm was covered in mud, and possibly had broken skin. She had no intention of having him stand there and wait for her to leave, so she had the palace attendant who was with her give him a handkerchief. Then she sped up as she walked away so this young eunuch could go and treat his wounds.
But when she passed by this young eunuch, the young eunuch suddenly said something.
Gu Ru Jiu’s eyes showed a hint of surprise. She nodded slightly at the young eunuch but she did not stop walking towards Kangquan Palace.
When Gu Ru Jiu had gone far, the young eunuch finally lifted his head. Looking at her back, he gripped the handkerchief that palace attendants usually used, and sniffled with his red nose.
“Miss, what did the young eunuch mean?” Qiu Luo lowered her voice and said after returning to the western hall, “What does he mean by please be more careful?”
Gu Ru Jiu took the bracelet from her hand and said slowly, “The Sima and Li families cannot bear it anymore.”
“You mean …” Qiu Luo’s expression changed dramatically. “What do they want to do?”
“It’s not important what they want to do. It’s only important if the empress dowager and the emperor have prepared.” Gu Ru Jiu walked next to the table and drew out a piece of paper. After hesitating for a long time, she said, “Bao Lu, grind ink for me.” While it was not easy to write a letter to the outside from the palace, she would give this letter to Second Brother’s hand tomorrow in front of the emperor.
After the ink was ground, Gu Ru Jiu took a brush from the rack and quickly wrote a simple letter. She believed that her parents would understand her meaning.
Chef Zhao waited anxiously in the imperial kitchen for a long time before he saw the person he was waiting for. He hurriedly grabbed the other and pulled him to a quiet corner. “Did you meet today?”
“I was lucky today and encountered the important person,” the incomer whispered. “I passed the word, but County Mistress Gu did not appear to panic.”
“Do not think that the important people are like us. Would they panic if they encountered something?” Chef Zhao sighed in relief when he heard the word had been passed. He took out all the silver he had on him and gave it to the young eunuch in thanks. But the young eunuch refused.
“Brother Zhao, if you hadn’t secretly sneaked food for me all these years, I would have starved to death, and not reached today.” The young eunuch pushed the silver back into Chef Zhao’s arms. “If I am full, my family will not starve. What is the use in the silver? You have a wife and children—there are many places you have to spend money.”
Chef Zhao would not believe the young eunuch’s words. The two pushed around. In the end, the young eunuch accepted half of the silver and the two were satisfied.
Chef Zhao took a deep breath after seeing away the young eunuch. A few days ago, the Sima Family had somehow learned that County Mistress Gu had liked the pastries he made. So they sent someone to his home and told him to pay more attention to County Mistress Gu’s preferences. He was an outside chef who had never even seen County Mistress Gu and could not have known much information. But even if he had, he would not have spoken of it. So while he had agreed in front of that person, he had been thinking of how to pass the news to County Mistress Gu’s ears.
This County Mistress Gu was not just his benefactor, but had saved his younger brother’s life. A few years ago, two noble misses of the Sima and Li families had died in an accident. If not for County Mistress Gu speaking up, his young brother likely wouldn’t have escaped with his life, much less be in his present position of a rank eight official.
With the strength of the two aristocratic families, they would not just have found him. He worried that the two families would conspire against County Mistress Gu.
In his view, these two families were boring. If they wanted something, they could openly compete. Why focus on a girl of a dozen years? They all said that the members of aristocratic families were the most polite and kind. This conduct did not seem like that of an aristocratic family.
In the third branch of the Sima Family’s residence, Sima Xiang looked at the recipe for peach cake. She read for a while but could not take it in. She put on an outer robe with some irritation and headed in the direction of the main courtyard.
In the main courtyard, the old master Sima Peng, Sima Xiang’s father Sima Yue, her older brother Sima Ji, and Third Taitai were all present. Seeing her come in, they stopped talking.
Sima Xiang bowed to them before sitting down next to Sima Ji. She hesitated and spoke, “Grandfather, I heard Spiritual Master Chu Yun praised Second Miss Gu a few days ago. Is that true?”
“It is not important how their miss is, but how you are.” Sima Peng sighed. “I felt from the start that you should not be set on this path. Right now…”
“Father, our third branch has no choice now.” Sima Yue stood and bowed deeply to Sima Peng. “Please, Father, help me.”
Seeing his son like this, Sima Peng’s worried expression grew. But when he thought of how his son wasn’t able to have an important position in court like his nephews of the first and second branches due to his own stubbornness, he could only say, “Let me think about it.”
Seeing his father loosen up, Sima Yue showed happiness in his expression. “Originally, this son planned to have a master come see Xiang’er’s face and then copy the empress dowager by saying she has extraordinary fate. But Spiritual Master Chu Yun praised Second Miss Gu and I cannot use my original plan.”
“Not using it is a good thing,” Sima Peng said. “Such a famed person like Spiritual Master Chu Yun has praised the girl from the Gu Family, but have you seen the Gu Family spreading it around? They did not spread it, but became more low-key. Do you know why?”
Sima Yue did not understand. “Isn’t this a good thing? Why would they try to hide it?”
Seeing his son like this, Sima Peng said with exasperation, “How old is the girl? When one has not lived a century, until the moment they close their eyes, who dares to say that they are blessed with good fortune? They love their child and fear her being criticized.”
Sima Peng did not say that the other reason was that the Gu Family had no intentions of Second Miss Gu entering the palace as a consort.
Thinking of how his son and daughter-in-law were focused on sending their daughter into the palace, he couldn’t help but say, “You have schemed so much. Have you ever thought if the imperial house has no wish to have Xiang’er marry into the palace, and isn’t even willing to take her as a consort, what should our family do?”
Seeing his father slightly angry, Sima Yue murmured, awkward and not able to say much. But in his view, the misses of the Sima Family were always the object that many people pursued to marry. How could she end up in such an awkward situation?
Sima Xiang’s eyelashes flickered when she heard the words “love their daughter.” When she looked up, she saw her father’s head hanging low at her grandfather’s words. She whispered, “Please, Grandfather, do not be angry. Father is only worried for his family members.”
“Oh.” Sima Peng looked at his outstandingly beautiful granddaughter and waved his hand. “I am old; I will not have many years left to worry.”
Sima Xiang heard this and felt blocked up inside. She felt many emotions and could not speak.
Sima Ji looked at his father and then at his younger sister. He opened his mouth and couldn’t say a word.
As a result, the room was completely silent.
Sima Peng looked at his wooden son and grandchildren. He almost vomited blood. A moment later, he waved his hand and said, “Never mind; just think about it on your own.”
Leaving the main courtyard, he showed a grimace. Not having taught his son to be smart was likely the greatest mistake in his life.
Fortunately, his big brother’s children were clear-minded. Even if their third branch…
No matter what, as long as one branch was safe, the root of the Sima Family would not be broken, and the glory of the Sima Family would not disappear.
In the room, Sima Xiang looked at her parents who had wooden expressions. She bit the corner of her mouth and said, “Mother, I…”
“Do not worry; your grandfather is just speaking in anger. He will help us.” Sima Yue sat down and said to Sima Xiang, “This father will also think of ways.”
Sima Xiang felt bitterness in her throat. Her mouth was open for a while before she made a sound of acknowledgement.
Translator Ramblings: For some reason, I feel this novel has the longest chapters from the author. It just never ends.