This chapter has been brought to you by me and Adnana.
“Your Majesty, the almond milk tea is here.” Bai Xian carried a tray with a bowl of almond milk steaming on it.
Jin Yang took a sip of the milk tea. He felt the taste wasn’t bad, the faint almond suppressing the smell of milk. It also had a faint sweetness.
After drinking the milk tea in one go, Jin Yang took the cup a palace attendant handed him, rinsed his mouth, and then used a handkerchief to wipe his mouth. “County Princess Changyan’s milk tea also tastes like this?”
“Yes, Your Majesty, this milk tea was made based on Kangquan Palace’s method.” Bai Xian handed the empty bowl to an eunuch behind him and whispered, “It is late; do you think…”
Jin Yang was still thinking of the memorandums but thinking of his mother-empress and junior’s concerned gazes, he thought and then said, “Bring over some of the travel books Zhen was reading. Zhen will sleep after reading for a while.”
Bai Xian was reassured. After finding the books for Jin Yang, he stood silently at the side.
In less than an hour, Jin Yang put down the books and said to Bai Xian, “Summon servants to serve me.”
Bai Xian clapped quietly, and the palace attendants and eunuchs walked in, helping Jin Yang wash and preparing the bed.
Carefully taking the jade coronet from Jin Yang’s hair and putting it gently into the box, Bai Xian faintly felt that starting today, the world would change greatly.
“Bai Xian, which family’s young woman is worthy of being empress?” Jin Yang spread his arms. The palace attendant taking off his belt shook.
Bai Xian’s hand stilled on the box, and he broke into a cold sweat. “Your Majesty, this servant is a lowly person, and doesn’t have any opportunity to see the noble ladies.”
“Really?” Jin Yang walked to the chair and sat down. He raised his feet and allowed the palace attendant to take off his socks. Then he put his feet into the steaming wooden basin. The hot water wrapped around his feet and his expression relaxed slightly. “I heard that people from the Sima Family came to see you a few days ago?”
“Your Majesty!” Bai Xian paled. He knelt with a thunk in front of Jin Yang. “This servant is guilty but did not give any information to the Sima Family.”
Jin Yang glanced at him and did not speak, looking in silence at his insteps.
The spring night was still cold, but large sweat droplets appeared on Bai Xian’s forehead. His forehead touched the ground. Listening to the sound of water, he didn’t dare to speak or lift his head. His shoulders trembled. He hoped that the emperor, on account of the many years of friendship, would spare him this once.
After washing his feet, the palace attendants used good cotton to wipe the water from Jin Yang’s feet and knelt on the ground to put a pair of soft cotton shoes for him.
Jin Yang stood up. Walking in front of Bai Xian, he looked silently at Bai Xian.
Bai Xian’s entire body trembled minutely. He waited for a long time, but His Majesty did not speak, and turned to walk into the room.
“Your Majesty, Your Majesty.” He moved a few steps forward, still kneeling, but was blocked by the silk drapes that were taken down. He could only kowtow towards the drapes.
“Your Majesty, this servant is loyal and doesn’t dare to have any second thoughts. Please, Your Majesty.” With just a few knocks, his forehead started bleeding. But he didn’t dare to wipe it or lessen his force.
“You can leave.” His Majesty’s aloof voice came from behind the drapes. “Tonight, He Ming will serve.”
Bai Xian felt a wave of bitterness but didn’t dare to speak. He respectfully kowtowed again. “This servant… bids farewell.”
When he walked out of Purple Imperial Hall, he saw He Ming walking in. The two men’s gazes met in the air. Bai Xian stood motionlessly without any expression.
“Bai Gonggong has worked hard.” He Ming smiled insincerely and then continued to walk in.
Looking at his back, Bai Xian cursed. “A villain getting success!” Let’s see how long he had!
Maybe because he was too tired yesterday or because of the almond milk tea, Jin Yang had a very good sleep and almost missed the court session.
Sitting down on the nine dragons throne, Jin Yang watched as the officials bowed to him. He raised his head.
Standing next to him, He Ming called out, “Rise!”
Sitting on the golden phoenix throne, the empress dowager stood up. “The court officials are all present today, and this Grieving One will make an announcement.”
The officials all looked towards the empress dowager, and understood something.
Just as they expected, the empress dowager was returning governance to His Majesty. She stated, in front of the entire court, that the emperor was in charge of all matters, and she would no longer worry about governance.
Many loyal subjects had originally worried that there would be a power struggle between the empress dowager and the young emperor. Some people had even secretly made preparations to avoid the pair’s conflict affecting the common people. They had thought of countless possibilities, but hadn’t expected the empress dowager to so easily give up.
This was not just speaking of releasing power verbally and secretly staying in control, but truly giving up power. Because the empress dowager even gave the tiger seal for the command of the central army back to the emperor. Her attitude was extremely free and easy, as though this was not a tiger seal, but an ugly stone.
Regardless, many officials sighed in relief inside that the empress dowager was willing to give up power so easily. They respectfully saw the empress dowager off with their kowtows. Had it been them, they might not have done as well as the empress dowager.
Li Guang Ji looked at the young emperor on the throne with a forced smile.
After the court session ended, he called to Gu Chang Ling who was preparing to leave. “Official Gu, please stay.”
“Prime Minister Li.” Gu Chang Ling stopped, and bowed with a harmonious smile towards Li Guang Ji.
Li Guang Ji returned the greeting and then said with a smile, “The weather is good today, and it would be an elegant thing to walk together with a scholarly person like Official Gu. Does Official Gu object to this one’s company?”
“Prime Minister Li, please.” Gu Chang Ling smiled, and waved his hand. “Vulgar people like me cannot be called elegant. Prime Minister Li is too complimentary.”
“Official Gu is too humble.” Li Guang Ji walked shoulder to shoulder with Gu Chang Ling, and the topic changed until they reached the matter of the empress.
“Prime Minister Li, the monarch is the monarch, the master of all. This one is fortunate to teach His Majesty classes, but how can this one speak about such an important matter?”
“We are all loyal to the monarch. The choice of empress is a matter of the country. If we speak a bit, his Majesty is kind and will not be displeased.” Li Guang Ji bowed in the direction of the Purple Imperial Hall. “Official Gu, do you not think so?”
“The order of parents, the word of matchmakers. This one believes the empress dowager will make a decision.” Gu Chang Ling slowly spoke. Seeing Li Guang Ji’s smile grow distant, he said, “But Prime Minister Li is correct. How about I say what I think when I meet the empress dowager?”
“Official Gu’s words are very true.” Li Guang Ji knew that Gu Chang Ling was a slippery smiling tiger, so he did not insist. He turned and called Zhang Zhong Han. The three of them would ask to meet the empress dowager together.
When the trio were asking for an audience, the empress dowager was changing out of her heavy phoenix robes. Hearing three important officials asking for an audience, she did not hesitate, and had the chief eunuch of her palace invite the three in.
Gu Ru Jiu put down the teacup in her hand, stood, and said to the empress dowager, “Aunt, I see that the apricot flowers are blooming well in the palace. I will go pick some for you to see.”
“Be careful. Take some more people to serve.” The empress dowager nodded, and had her put on a cape before allowing her to leave.
Walking out of the hall, Gu Ru Jiu saw her father and two middle-aged men walking towards her. She stopped and moved to the side. When the three walked closer, she bent at the knees.
Zhang Zhong Han knew that this was the second miss of the Gu Family, who now had the title of county princess. So he smiled warmly and nodded like he was a friendly and gentle elder.
Compared to Zhang Zhong Han, Li Guang Ji’s smile was more reserved. He nodded slightly towards Gu Ru Jiu before moving towards the hall.
Gu Chang Ling observed the two men’s actions, smiled at his daughter and rubbed the top of her head.
“Father.” Gu Ru Jiu glared. “I just made up my hair.”
Gu Chang Ling chuckled and pulled his hand back to put behind his back. “Don’t worry—it is fine, not messy.”
Gu Ru Jiu looked up to glance at Li Guang Ji who had already walked ahead and Zhang Zhong Han who was waiting for her father. She whispered, “The empress dowager is waiting for you in the main hall. I will not disturb you.”
Zhang Zhong Han smiled as he looked at Gu Ru Jiu’s back. Then he said, “Brother Gu’s daughter is adorable and lovely, pleasing to see.”
“Spoiled by my wife.” Gu Chang Ling smiled and waved his hand. “Look at how she is.”
Zhang Zhong Han only gave more compliments upon hearing this, and showed his admiration of Gu Ru Jiu. Gu Chang Ling preferring his youngest daughter was not a secret. He was not speaking well of his daughter, but Zhang Zhong Han was sure if someone really criticized his daughter, he would immediately reverse his attitude.
Empress Dowager Zhou had already guessed why the three had come. So after the trio was seated, she mentioned inviting the noble misses to the Taihe Palace next month during her birthday.
Even Li Guang Ji had nothing to say and couldn’t mention the matter of the empress. He looked up and saw Gu Chang Ling’s expression was normal, as though he was not surprised at this. He couldn’t help but think—had this person known of this long ago?
Upon this thought, his scalp felt tight. If the Gu Family knew but he didn’t, what did this mean?
When they left Kangquan Palace, Li Guang Ji raised his folded hands to Gu Chang Ling and said, “Official Gu has good ears.”
Gu Chang Ling said with a smile, “Where do Prime Minister Li’s words come from?”
Li Guang Ji smiled and did not answer. He started talking with Gu Chang Ling about the spring planting. Gu Chang Ling seemed to not keep his previous words in mind, and the two talked pleasantly.
Zhang Zhong Han occasionally added a few words and smiled like a good person.
Gu Ru Jiu walked idly with her personal servant girls and some eunuchs. She had no interest in the apricot flowers; she just wanted to find an excuse to leave.
“County Princess, the imperial procession is coming.” A young eunuch behind her warned in a whisper.
She looked up and saw the emperor’s procession heading over. So she took a few steps to the side. Unexpectedly, the carriage stopped by her.
“Junior Sister.” Jin Yang lifted the curtain at the front of the imperial carriage, revealing his handsome face. He looked with a small smile at Gu Ru Jiu. “What are you doing here?”
Gu Ru Jiu thought of the excuse she used to leave Kangquan Palace and said, “The apricot flowers in Apricot Pavilion are blooming well, and I want to take a look.”
“I also have spare time. Junior Sister, do you mind another person?” Jin Yang did not let go of the curtain, and asked.
“Another person joining in would be perfect.” Gu Ru Jiu smiled at Jin Yang and felt that Jin Yang did need to walk more to exercise.
Jin Yang walked down from the carriage to Gu Ru Jiu’s side, and stood at a distance of two paces from her. “Junior Sister, please.”
“Your Majesty, please.” Gu Ru Jiu did not move.
Jin Yang knew that while she was innocent, she never neglected the rules and etiquette. He could only take the first step and then turn to the side to talk to her. “Junior Sister, you like apricot flowers?”
“I like good-looking things.” Gu Ru Jiu noticed his posture and her smile grew gentle. “What does Your Majesty like?”
“When I was young, the yard I lived in had a peach tree. At the start, I always hoped it would flower and bear fruit. Later, I found its fruits were small, extremely hairy, and bitter to eat. I no longer hoped it would bear fruit.” When Jin Yang said this, he shook his head and laughed. “So I probably like flowers that can produce good fruit.”
This thought was very practical, Gu Ru Jiu thought. Then she thought, the eldest legitimate son of a prince establishment hoped for a peach tree to bear fruit. His days definitely would not have been comfortable. She felt some sympathy towards Jin Yang and said, “My yard doesn’t have a peach tree but an orange tree. Last year, it started to bear fruit. When they mature this year, I will give Your Majesty half.”
“An orange tree is pretty good.” Jin Yang knew that peach flowers were a bit frivolous. Aristocratic families like the Gu Family that loved their children would not plant such a tree in their yard.
“This autumn, when the oranges mature, you cannot forget your words,” Jin Yang said with a smile. “If you forget, do not blame me for being shameless and asking you.”
“Your Majesty, don’t worry. The Gu Family’s first rule is not to easily promise others, but to hold to the promise if you do.” Gu Ru Jiu nodded to express the seriousness, but her expression was smiling. “This year, once the oranges are mature, I will send them to the palace.”
“Do not easily promise, but hold the promise if you do.” Jin Yang smiled and said, “The ancestors of the Gu Family were wise and open-minded people.”
Yes, if they were not open-minded, how were they able to save their declined family and also trap their other competitors?
Speaking from this view, Gu Ru Jiu admired her ancestors greatly.
The two did not walk quickly. When they reached the Apricot Pavilion, they had spent more than 45 minutes. The apricot flowers were blooming well. Gu Ru Jiu stood by the doorway and saw the ground covered in flower petals. The flowers on the branches were even brighter. She couldn’t help but say, “Like clouds and mist—so beautiful.”
After she said this, a wind rose, and the flowers on the branches rose with the wind. It was like a rain of flowers, so beautiful that people would feel it a crime to disturb this scene.
Jin Yang looked at the smiling young girl by his side. His gaze landed on the apricot flower petal in her hair. He suddenly thought, maybe in the future, there would be a handsome young master accompanying her to admire the scenery and taste the delicious food of the world.
If there really was such a person, it would be… pretty good?
Seeing the petal stuck in her hair, his fingers trembled, but he did not reach out.
“Your Majesty, what are you looking at?” Detecting someone looking at her, Gu Ru Jiu turned her head and saw Jin Yang’s clear eyes. She blinked in puzzlement. “Is something wrong?”
“No.” Jin Yang shook his head with a faint smile and pointed at her hair. “There’s a flower petal.”
“Ah?” Gu Ru Jiu shook her head hard and then said, “Is it still there?”
“Do not move.” Jin Yang sighed with a smile, and reached out with his hand. He avoided her hair and picked up the flower petal to place in her palm. “For you.”
Gu Ru Jiu held the flower petal in front of her eyes and said, “The common saying is ‘Pluck the flowers when they are present, do not wait until they are gone.’ Look at this withered apricot flower. It has turned from pink to white.” Then she picked up her skirts. “So while there are still flowers today, I will pick some to show to Auntie.”
“Miss.” Qiu Luo called. Seeing the emperor’s calm expression without any joy and anger, she gritted her teeth and followed.
“What are you standing here for?” Jin Yang turned to look at the eunuchs who had followed Gu Ru Jiu. “Do not let the county princess fall.”
The young eunuchs hurriedly followed, and cut off several beautiful branches under Gu Ru Jiu’s direction.
“Half for you.” Gu Ru Jiu carried a few branches over, and generously shoved a few into Jin Yang’s hands. “If Aunt sees the flowers you give her, she will be happy.”
“If you take them back, Mother-Empress will also be happy.” Jin Yang reached out to pick several flower petals from her hair and said with a smile, “We are returning now?”
“That’s why we are each getting a half.” Gu Ru Jiu turned back to the apricot forest. She nodded and said, “Even the most beautiful thing is stunning upon first glance. But if one looks for long, that amazement will fade.”
Jin Yang looked at the apricot flowers in his hand and said with a smile, “Junior Sister’s words today enlighten me.”
Gu Ru Jiu stilled. What had she said? The words about beauty and amazement?
Seeing Jin Yang’s smile, she hurriedly looked away. Why did a man have to look so good? One almost couldn’t control themselves.
The empress saw Gu Ru Jiu and Jin Yang entering the hall together. She stilled and then said, “Why have you come with so many flowers?”
“The flowers are in perfect bloom. It will be a pity if Aunt does not see them.” Gu Ru Jiu put the branches into a vase, and then washed her hands with the help of a palace attendant. “Aunt, look, His Majesty and I picked them for you.”
The empress looked at Jin Yang. She stood up to walk to the flower vase. She admired it and then said, “Your filialness is rare. These flowers are exceptionally bright.”
“As long as Mother-Empress likes them.” Jin Yang bowed to the empress dowager. “I coincidentally encountered Junior Sister just now on the road and accompanied her to the Apricot Pavilion. Otherwise, if I had not seen the beautiful scene today, it would have been a regret.”
Empress Dowager Zhou looked at him and didn’t speak. She turned her head and saw Gu Ru Jiu happily sorting the flowers in the vase. She said, “Jiu Jiu, sit and drink tea.”
“All right.” Gu Ru Jiu moved the branches to a pleasing angle and sat back in her chair.
Gu Ru Jiu saw that mother and son wanted to talk. She sat for a while before finding an excuse to leave.
“Mother-Empress, this son might be in love with a woman.” Jin Yang held a teacup silently for a few moments before speaking.
“Might?” The empress dowager looked wryly at him. “Since Your Majesty is not sure of your intentions, why mention to this Grieving One?”
“I…” Jin Yang looked at the empress dowager’s smile and hesitated. “I just… don’t know if she is willing to live in the palace with me.”
Empress Dowager Zhou laughed upon hearing this. “You are better than your sire.”
Jin Yang knew the “sire” that the empress dowager spoke of was not Prince Cheng but the previous emperor.
“You are able to say these words. It can be seen you have thoughts towards this woman, and do not think of her as a dispensable thing.” Empress Dowager Zhou thought for a few moments. “If you are sincere, ask to marry her. Love is when both of you are willing, your families’ status match, and the two of you are in love. Otherwise, in the end, you will use up your emotion while she will hate you for a lifetime. You will both feel resentful.”
Jin Yang put down his teacup and stood to bow deeply to the empress dowager. “This son understands.”
“Return. I am tired.” Empress Dowager Zhou waved her hand and rubbed her forehead.
“This son will leave.” Jin Yang knew that with the empress dowager’s personality, she would not ask him who the girl was or make things difficult. But he knew that his action had made things difficult for the empress dowager.
But he could not directly tell the empress dowager he had non-platonic thoughts about the woman he treated as a sister. He worried that the empress dowager would be displeased with Junior Sister, and worried even more that Junior Sister would distance herself if she knew.
“Empress Dowager.” Matron Liu saw the empress dowager’s expression and hurriedly went forward. “What is it?”
Empress Dowager shook her head. “What I worried about has happened. But…” If not for her intentional indulgence, how would Jin Yang have discovered his thoughts?
She had once considered, once Gu Ru Jiu received the county princess title, for her to go back to the Gu Family and for the Gu Family to pick a good husband for her.
But she did not bear to see Jin Yang discover his thoughts at that time, and then be in pain for being unable to obtain his heart’s desire.
Also, she loved Jiu Jiu, but this did not mean that she could manipulate the other’s feelings based on this love.
Jiu Jiu and Jin Yang’s future should be chosen by Jiu Jiu, and not by her.
She… also did not bear for the emperor she had nurtured with her own hands to have this regret in life.
In the western hall, Gu Ru Jiu looked at her room amassing increasingly more items, and pondered how she could mention going home.
She had been in the palace for more than a fortnight. While the empress dowager was good to her, it was not very appropriate to stay constantly in the palace.
“Is County Princess Changyan present? This servant is He Ming of Qiankun Palace and has come with the emperor’s orders to deliver items for County Princess.” The voice of a eunuch came from outside the door.
Gu Ru Jiu’s eyebrows moved. He Ming?
In the past, the lead eunuch who came to deliver things to her was always Bai Xian. Why did it suddenly become He Ming?
She nodded towards Bao Lu. Bao Lu walked to the door and said, “He Gonggong, please enter.”
“This one does not dare.” He Ming bowed to Bao Lu, and then led the palace attendants and eunuchs behind him with items in their hands into the hall. He did not lift his head and first knelt to Gu Ru Jiu.
“This servant He Ming greets County Princess Changyan.” He Ming kowtowed before speaking of why he had come.
Gu Ru Jiu had him stand before going to look at what he had brought.
These items were all things girls liked. One of them was a beautiful apricot golden hairpin, so exquisite it was possible to see the dew on the flower petals.
She was about to speak her thanks when she saw her other personal servant girl, Mu Xiang, run into the hall with a panicked expression. The other had tear tracks on her face, and clearly had lost her usual calm and composure.
Gu Ru Jiu saw this and her heart jumped. She felt an indescribable worry.
Translator Ramblings: This is probably the first cliffhanger in the story.