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“Your Majesty, Officials Sima and Li ask for an audience.” He Ming came into the study, bowing. Seeing the emperor busy reviewing memorandums, he didn’t dare to look and lowered his head.
“No.” Jin Yang said without looking up. “The country has its laws, the family has its rules; Sima Ji’s case will not be overturned.”
He Ming bowed and left. He came out the doors of Purple Imperial Hall and bowed to the two officials. “Officials, the emperor has no time to see you. Please leave.”
Sima Hong felt bitter inside. Facing this eunuch he had never thought important, he became much more polite. “This old official has something to report. Gonggong, please pass a message again.”
“Official Sima, it is not that this lowly one is not willing to go, but the emperor is busy with important matters and has no time to receive Officials.” He Ming had just recently come to the emperor’s service, but he thought he knew the emperor’s temper well. At this time, the emperor was definitely not willing to see these two.
“If so, this old official will come again tomorrow.” Sima Hong bowed to the hall. Then he turned and slowly walked away, looking so old he was pitiful.
He Ming said, “Official, take care.” Then he stood by the side, and kept his eyes to himself.
Li Guang Ji watched Sima Hong and then looked at the Purple Imperial Hall with its open doors. He bowed towards the hall and turned to leave.
He Ming flicked a gaze up at Li Guang Ji and then buried his head expressionlessly.
Inside Purple Imperial Hall, Jin Yang threw the memorandums to the side and sneered coldly. Sima Hong stood outside Purple Imperial Hall and called himself “this old official.” Was this using his status as an official of three dynasties to gain pity, or was this reminding him, the young emperor, how important he was?
If one could do as they pleased due to their status, then he, as the ruler of the world, could kill as he wished and treat people like they were animals?
He took a hard gulp of tea to suppress his anger. Jin Yang wrote the words “Approved” on the documents from the Ministry of Justice. His gaze lingered for a moment on the words “Sima Ji.” Then he closed the document, his expression frosty.
He was merely executing Sima Ji who had killed someone, and he was getting such resistance. He didn’t know how many injustices were buried due to the benefits of the aristocratic families.
Many aristocratic families were connected together and were like local emperors in their home regions, above the officials sent by the court.
Jin Yang thought of what Gu Ru Jiu had said to him. She said, this world would end up in his hands.
“This is Zhen‘s world…”
Chen shi‘s funeral was grand. Some people said that the passing away of two lives was not auspicious, and so the Gu Family should invite a spiritual master for a ceremony before the burial. Gu Chang Ling, as the head of the family, said directly, “Chen shi is the eldest daughter-in-law of the Gu Family. In life, she was gentle and virtuous. She unfortunately passed away early, but the Gu Family will not fear that she will ruin Gu Family’s ancestral tomb.”
Many people sympathized with Chen shi‘s bitter encounter, but they also cared about the fortunes of their ancestral tombs. Seeing that the Gu Family did not care about this, and were burying Chen shi with the full honors of the wife of the heir to the marquis, they sighed over the Gu Family’s honor but felt their actions were not wise.
The Gu Family knew of what other people were saying, but to them, the saying that unborn children had fiendish energy and women who died pregnant should not be buried in the ancestral tombs could not outweigh the feelings between them and Chen shi since she married in. If they slighted Chen shi due to these inexplicable rules, then what was different between the Gu Family and animals?
Gu Ru Jiu held a meal box and knocked on Gu Zhi Yu’s door. Waiting a moment and hearing no response from inside, she called out, “Big Brother, I am Jiu Jiu.”
The room was silent for a moment. Finally, Gu Zhi Yu’s voice sounded. “Come in.”
Gu Ru Jiu pushed open the door and saw the windows were tightly closed. Big Brother was sitting in the dim room like a soulless statue. She bit her lower lip and put the food box on the table. She turned and opened the windows to let the light in.
Gu Zhi Yu dazedly tilted his head to look at the open windows. He blinked his sore eyes. “Jiu Jiu, I have no appetite. Take the box away.”
“I made these dishes with my own hands for Big Brother. At least taste them.” Gu Ru Jiu rolled up her sleeves and held her white and tender arms in front of Gu Zhi Yu. “For me, all right?”
Gu Zhi Yu saw several blisters on his younger sister’s hand, as though she had been burnt by oil.
When had his sister, spoiled by all in the family, done something like this? Gu Zhi Yu felt choked. He looked up to see his sister’s careful expression and slowly nodded.
Seeing Gu Zhi Yu nodded, Gu Ru Jiu sighed in relief. She put down her sleeves and took out a bowl of rice, two dishes, and a soup from the food box.
Because Gu Zhi Yu had not eaten the last few days, Gu Ru Jiu had worried that his stomach would be weak. She had cooked the rice very soft, and the soup and the dishes were appetizing and easy to digest.
Gu Zhi Yu saw that there was no meat on the table. His sister was dressed in a plain dress, and had no jewelry in her hair except two plain silver hairpins. He felt both sad and warm. He buried his head and started to eat this not-so-delicious food.
Yang shi walked to the gates of her eldest son’s courtyard and saw her daughter come out with a food box. She quickly walked up and asked, “Jiu Jiu, you delivered food for your eldest brother?”
Gu Ru Jiu forced a smile and nodded.
Reaching out to take the cover of the food box off, Yang shi looked at the empty plates and bowls. Her eyes turned slightly red. “Good, as long as he is willing to eat.” She turned to look at the servant girl behind her holding a food box. She inhaled deeply and tried to make her tone calm. “Take the food box away. Eldest Young Master has eaten already.”
Just as she was putting the cover back on, she saw the back of her daughter’s hand was red and there were blisters. Her fingers trembled slightly and she said after a moment, “Child, you worked hard.”
Gu Ru Jiu grimaced. This little thing was not a hardship. From childhood to now, she had almost grown up in the hands of her brothers and sister. Her brother was immersed in his pain of losing his wife. Would she just stand by and watch?
They cared about her. Did she not care about them?
That night, Gu Ru Jiu delivered food for Gu Zhi Yu. Gu Zhi Yu ate half of it.
The afternoon of the next day, when the Gu Family was eating, Gu Zhi Yu appeared at the meal table. While he was still extremely depressed, he was at least willing to eat.
Yang shi and Gu Chang Ling’s worries were eased.
A fortnight later, Sima Ji’s punishment was formally issued. Because his conduct was evil and he had killed, he was set for execution after the fall.
The third mistress of the Sima Third Branch heard the news and immediately fainted. When Sima Peng and Sima Yue came with gifts to the Gu Family for a visit, Gu Chang Ling said he was sick and was not receiving guests. The juniors of the Gu Family did not reveal themselves. Father and son had no way but to beg the second branch.
Sun shi of the Sima Second Branch heard that members of the third branch had come. She immediately sneered and said, “Doesn’t their family have a daughter about to go into the palace to be the empress? Why come beg others?”
Her husband, Sima Bao, heard this and sighed. “Third Uncle came in person. I have to at least meet him.”
Sun shi also felt that her words had been too harsh so she eased her tone and said, “I only worry that you will be affected by this, so I was too rash.”
“You and I have been married for many years; I know your thoughts.” Sima Bao and Sun shi had been married for many years and felt deeply for each other. Ever since their daughter passed away two years ago, he worried that his wife’s grief would harm her health, so he treated her even more gently. “I will meet the Third Branch; you do not have to go.”
Sun shi nodded. She stood and helped Sima Bao neaten his clothing before letting him leave.
After Sima Bao left, the smile on her face disappeared without a trace. She knew why the Third Branch had come to beg their Second Branch. Wasn’t it just because the emperor’s birth mother had been her husband’s full-blood older sister?
The siblings’ parents had passed away early, and the two of them had relied on the eldest branch’s old master and mistress to grow up. After something like that happened to the second branch, the third branch had done nothing at all, only continued as an idle leisurely person. Now that something happened, they thought of the second branch. So funny.
“Uncle.” Sima Bao walked into the main hall and bowed to Sima Peng. “This nephew came late; Uncle, forgive me.”
Sima Peng sighed and said he did not object. After Sima Bao sat down, he said, “Nephew, I come today for my unworthy grandson.”
Sima Bao said after a moment of silence, “Uncle, I have no important position in court right now. I fear I have no power over this.” Also, the decree had been issued. How could it be easily changed? Sima Bao did not say the words, and did not plan to say this to the third branch.
“The Third Branch only has this one seedling. I do not ask much, only that he will survive.” Sima Peng paused. “You and His Majesty have some shared ancestry. If you go beg him, he will give you some face.” He was really demanding a great deal, so when he said this, his expression was slightly unnatural.
Hearing these words, Sima Bao felt helpless. His Majesty had been adopted by the previous emperor long ago and had no connection to the Sima Second Branch. Even if the emperor was willing to recognize him as the maternal uncle, he had no face to see the other.
Back then when his older sister died of illness, he had barely managed to make something of himself by relying on the power of the first branch. For his own family’s power and glory, he was so cruel not to care about his nephew in Prince Cheng’s establishment.
No one would have thought that the child who had been neglected would be picked by the empress dowager and transformed from an unloved child to the emperor in one night. After learning that the empress dowager had picked Jin Yang, he had been more shocked than anyone, and felt more regret and fear.
He regretted that he had not been good to this child in the past, and feared that after this child took power, he would take revenge on this ruthless and cold uncle.
So he wanted to avoid the emperor, and not get close. The third branch wanted him to go ask for mercy as the maternal uncle, but he was not willing at all.
“Uncle, I have never met His Majesty since birth and never taken care of him in these years. There is no feeling to speak of.” Sima Bao grimaced. “I really cannot help on this matter. Uncle, please forgive me.”
“Would you stand and watch your nephew die?!” Sima Yue couldn’t help but speak. “Family is not willing to help. In the future, do not mention brothers of a family—I have no brothers like this!”
“Shut up!” Sima Peng scolded his son with great exasperation. He turned and said to Sima Bao. “Nephew, your younger brother is not sensible. I…”
“Uncle, do not be like this. I really cannot help on this matter. Cousin, please ask someone else!” After saying this, he ignored Sima Yue’s expression and left.
The second and third branches originally had hostility. Now that Sima Bao saw Sima Yue’s attitude, he could not hold back his anger.
Seeing the nephew of the second branch leave with anger due to his son, Sima Peng sighed deeply after a moment. He said to Sima Yue, “I am old and cannot help you for many more years. If you do not change your personality, after I pass away, how will you support your family?”
Sima Yue said reluctantly, “But the second branch is clearly refusing and dismissing the third branch.”
“If you want to be respected by others, you have to first do something worthy of respect.” Sima Peng looked with disappointment at his son. “Sooner or later, you will understand this.”
Seeing his father like this, Sima Yue was still unwilling but did not dare to argue.
Father and son returned home. Facing Third Mistress and Sima Xiang’s anticipating gazes, they were silent.
“The second branch… the second branch did not agree?” Third Mistress murmured. “Is it because I offended Sun shi? I will go apologize to her now. If the second branch is willing to save Ji’er, I will kowtow!” After saying this, she was going to charge off when Sima Xiang pulled her back.
“Mother, do not be like this.” Sima Xiang pulled her sleeve. “Even if you go, Second Uncle and the others are not likely to agree.”
“Release me.” Third Mistress could not pull her sleeve away. In a hurry, she slapped Sima Xiang.
“Bang!” The clear sound caused the entire room to quiet. Sima Peng frowned and said, “Why are you hitting Xiang?”
Sima Xiang touched her burning face and forced a smile. “Grandfather, Mother was just in a hurry; she did not do it intentionally.”
“I…” Third Mistress looked at her daughter, stilled, and then covered her face with a handkerchief and started to cry.
Sima Xiang looked at her sobbing mother and then at her father who had a numb expression. Her lips curled in a grimace. She was extremely tired inside. She even had thoughts of fleeing this courtyard.
More than a fortnight later, for the empress dowager’s birthday, the empress dowager sent a decree inviting the women of the families to celebrate in the Taihe Palace.
Gu Ru Jiu was a third-rank county princess and naturally among the invitees. For these days, due to the passing away of Eldest Sister-in-law, she rarely wore bright things and did not use jewellery. But now it was the empress dowager’s birthday, and she could not appear in Taihe Palace in such attire.
After the servant girls packed up everything that could be needed, Gu Ru Jiu picked a plain light-colored girdled wide-sleeved dress to wear.
There were several boxes in front of her, each one with a delicately crafted hairpin. She looked at herself in the copper mirror and picked the apricot hairpin.
Qiu Luo put up Gu Ru Jiu’s hair for her. When she secured the hairpin, she found that Miss’ face was much thinner. Her face, which originally had baby fat, now showed a beautiful chin.
Ever since Eldest Mistress passed away, the members of the family had lost a lot of weight. Miss, in order to take care of Eldest Young Master, had not rested well these days. No wonder she had lost weight.
“Miss, is this good?” Qiu Luo whispered after finishing the hair.
“This is good.” Gu Ru Jiu squeezed out a small smile and stood up. “Let’s go.”
The Taihe Palace was built in the Jing suburbs and one had to ride a carriage for most of an hour before reaching it. Gu Ru Jiu sat in the carriage and watched the Taihe Palace grow larger with a small mocking smile at the corners of her mouth.
The Sima Family wanted to send a miss into the palace as empress. They needed to see if other people were willing.
Today was the empress dowager’s birthday. While the empress dowager said there was no need to muster many people, the emperor still led the way in bowing to the empress dowager and presenting a carefully prepared gift.
The emperor’s gift to the empress dowager was not novel, but showed great care. It was calligraphy and a painting of good fortune and longevity he had personally created.
Jin Yang was only just sixteen this year, but his painting and calligraphy were very good. After the empress dowager opened the scroll, many people spoke in praise.
As a mother, one would naturally be happy when their children were praised. The empress dowager was not an exception. So when everyone was presenting their gifts, her smile did not disappear from start to end.
“The miss of the Sima Family presents a painting of a goddess wishing longevity!”
Hearing the eunuch’s call, the empress dowager looked at the woman below her. The other was about fifteen years old, light in body, her eyebrows like a mountain range and her eyes like stars. Even though she had seen many beautiful women in these years, she had to praise the other for her beauty.
“Subject Sima shi congratulates the empress dowager for her birthday, and wishes the empress dowager longevity and good fortune, happiness and health.” Sima Xiang took a step forward and bowed elegantly to the empress dowager. No flaw could be picked from her conduct and composure.
The empress nodded slightly. “Thank you, Miss Sima.” Then she raised her hand, indicating that the other could retreat.
Sima Xiang bobbed a curtsey and silently passed to the side. Even this action, when she did it, was unspeakably beautiful.
Empress Dowager Zhou turned to look at Jin Yang. She discovered that he had not noticed Sima Xiang’s beauty at all and his gaze was on a corner.
She followed his gaze and saw Gu Ru Jiu standing under a tree. Since the Gu Family’s accident, Empress Dowager Zhou had not seen Gu Ru Jiu. She hadn’t expected Jiu Jiu to be so much thinner after only one month.
She knew that Jiu Jiu had a deep relationship with her two sisters-in-law. But she had not expected Jiu Jiu to be so sad.
When Gu Ru Jiu had appeared, Jin Yang had seen her. He was very happy seeing her wear the hairpin that he had given her. But seeing her chin much thinner, he felt very bad.
What was it with the Gu Family that they did not take care of Junior Sister Gu? Just one month, and Junior Sister was so much thinner?
This time, the officials and womenfolk who could come to Taihe Palace were from the major aristocratic families of Jing or officials of second rank and above and their wives. But even so, the empress dowager received many gifts, so many that she did not even want to hear the names.
“County Princess Changyan presents a work of Old Celestial gifting peaches to the empress dowager for her birthday.”
“Subject Gu shi congratulates the empress dowager for her birthday, and wishes the empress dowager to have as much fortune as the eastern sea and to live as long as the Zhongnan Mountains.”
“Good, good, good.” The empress dowager said good three times and had the eunuch present the painting. She opened the painting and said with a smile, “This painting is good, the calligraphy is good. When we return, have them hang the painting in this Grieving One’s room.”
Upon hearing this Gu Ru Jiu lifted her head and smiled at the empress dowager. She bowed and moved to retreat.
“Mother-Empress likes this so much—could this son see it?” Jin Yang, who had not spoken from the start, suddenly spoke up. “To think of an old celestial gifting peaches, County Princess Changyan is very clever.”
Gu Ru Jiu heard Jin Yang’s praise and bowed slightly to him.
Sima Xiang looked up and felt that while Gu Ru Jiu’s childishness had faded slightly, her brows still carried naiveté.
Thinking of the conflicts between her family and the Gu Family, Sima Xiang was filled with melancholy and had no thoughts for anything else.
Jin Yang carefully took over the painting of the old celestial and the peaches.
This was the first time he admired his junior sister’s painting and was unusually excited. When he took over the scroll, he eagerly looked at it.
The painting was not the best, but exceptionally expressive and detailed. Even the corners of the old celestial’s clothes were detailed. He held the painting for a long time and then said with a smile, “As Mother-Empress said, the painting and the calligraphy are good. A tiger would not have dog sons. County Princess has received Teacher’s teachings.”
Gu Ru Jiu was praised and even Gu Chang Ling was honored. In other people’s view, this was the emperor liking the house and the crow as well. Because he trusted his teacher Gu Chang Ling so much, he even took special care with his daughter.
After the gifts were presented, the empress dowager stood up and said, “This Grieving One liked riding and shooting in the past, but is old now, and powerless. Young Masters and Misses are in the best of times. Go play—this Grieving One will just sit and watch.”
Everyone heard this and felt the empress dowager’s words had deeper meaning. His Majesty had just started to govern on his own and would use some young people. The empress dowager said for people to play, but they feared that it was to examine their abilities.
As to the misses that were mentioned…
Everyone knew even better. His Majesty was now sixteen and governing. Having an empress was a necessary matter. The empress dowager wanted to make sure no family was embarrassed but also wanted to pick a fitting empress. So she was taking this opportunity to observe the misses of the families. This way, regardless of success or not, the imperial house and the aristocratic families would both look good.
If they were going to ride and shoot, wearing a wide-sleeved dress was not appropriate. Gu Ru Jiu took the servant girls to the back to change into riding attire and met Sima Xiang who had changed clothing.
“County Princess Changyan.” Sima Xiang bowed slightly to Gu Ru Jiu.
Gu Ru Jiu looked expressionlessly at her and then suddenly laughed. “I hear you want to be empress?”
She was smiling, but her gaze was mocking.
Sima Xiang was provoked into anger by her gaze. She was about to speak when she heard the laughter of other misses in the back.
“Excuse me for going first.” Gu Ru Jiu bowed slightly to Sima Xiang. When she turned around, the disdain on her face disappeared without a trace.
The other misses on good terms with her saw Sima Xiang standing next to her and quickly walked over.
In the capital, who didn’t know of the conflict between the Gu and Sima families?
Translator Ramblings: Once again, poor Jin Yang. His maternal family is not good.