This chapter has been brought to you by me and Adnana.
After this awkward event, the ladies present pretended nothing had happened, in order to maintain the families’ faces. Mistress Wu’s expression was not good. While she managed to keep up a small smile, everyone could see she was not quite happy. In the capital, while the Wu Family was not as prestigious as the Sima and Li families, they were still famed, and had great reputation in their ancestral Fan Prefecture.
The Wu misses had been raised with great care. So seeing her daughter schemed against by the Sima Third Branch, Mistress Wu was naturally not very happy. Fortunately, she remembered that this was the empress dowager’s birthday, and managed to swallow her anger.
Li Wu shi who had not spoken much suddenly laughed softly. “Lady Sima’s niece is a rare beauty.”
The mistress of the eldest Sima branch was from a prestigious and noble background, the Zheng Family of Qinlin Prefecture. The Zheng Family had produced many people who had been recorded in the history books. Zheng shi‘s father was a scholar revered by many other students, and even though the Zheng Family resided in Qinlin Prefecture, Zheng shi had a lot of reputation among the women.
Once Li Wu shi started to speak, Zheng shi knew the other was mocking her but still smiled politely and responded, “The third branch has raised her well.”
At these words, the ladies present immediately understood. The eldest branch was discontent with the third branch. Otherwise, why would they say such a thing and not mention Li Wu shi‘s words?
Yang shi watched the conflict between the Li and Sima families coldly. She bent her head to blow softly at the tea leaves on the surface.
At the side, Mistress Chen looked at the Sima family members, sneered, and then walked to the back of the hall. When she thought of her daughter and unborn grandson killed by the Sima Family, she felt so disgusted she could throw up.
Yang shi saw her in-law leave and turned to say a few words to Duchess Yang before following.
When she walked to the back of the hall, Yang shi heard Chen shi‘s daughter-in-law comforting her. She hesitated and did not follow. Chen shi‘s death was the Chen Family and Gu Family’s pain. The Chen Family may not want to see the Gu Family.
This was not because the Chen Family was unreasonable, but people’s emotions were sometimes not controlled by their logic. Maybe the Chen Family would think that the Gu Family had not taken good care of Chen shi, or it would have been good if the Gu Family hadn’t allowed Chen shi to go to Five Estates Temple.
In reality, she had thought of this. That day, if only she hadn’t agreed to Chen shi going to Five Estates Temple. Then, Chen shi would not have died, and her son would not be grieving and depressed now.
On her seat, Gu Ru Jiu looked worriedly at the empty seat that her mother should be in. She only sighed in relief when she saw Yang shi return to her seat.
The empress dowager saw her inattention when sitting next to her and said, “I know you miss your mother. Go get her tea and pastries.”
“Aunt, don’t be angry. I also want to pour you tea.” Gu Ru Jiu stood up, made a new cup of tea for the empress dowager before bobbing a curtsy. “This subject will do as you say and go serve my mother tea.”
The empress dowager saw this, and was both amused and exasperated. She waved her hand and said, “Go, go.”
Seeing Gu Ru Jiu leave, the empress dowager’s smile did not fade. She turned and said to Jin Yang, “You know what I like the most about Jiu Jiu?”
Jin Yang had been peeking at Gu Ru Jiu’s back. Hearing the empress dowager’s words, he stilled and then said, “In this son’s view, Junior Sister is good in all aspects.”
The empress knew he was implying that he had such intentions but pretended ignorance. She spoke with a smile. “This child is one to remember who is good to her and did favors to her. She is good to whoever is good to her.”
She would be good to whoever was good to her?
Jin Yang looked thoughtfully at Gu Ru Jiu who was sitting next to his master’s wife. She was whispering something that caused her mother to smile.
If he was good to Jiu Jiu, would Jiu Jiu be willing to be his empress?
“Since the empress dowager likes young girls, then you should get a filial daughter-in-law soon. That way, someone will keep you company all day to relieve your boredom,” the wife of Commandery Prince Ping said with a smile. “Don’t you think so?”
Empress Dowager clapped and said with a smile, “This is right. I should get a daughter-in-law. But she shouldn’t keep me company, but have good days with my son. They should mutually respect each other and be of one heart.”
The other women of the imperial family heard this and agreed with smiles. They also praised the empress dowager for being an open-minded and kind mother-in-law, and that once the empress entered the palace, she would definitely be in love with the emperor.
Everyone could say pleasing things, and everyone liked hearing pleasing things. But after speaking so long, no one was able to get out of the empress dowager which miss she liked.
After having fun for an entire day, everyone felt that the empress dowager had said one concrete thing. The imperial family was preparing to have an empress. But no one knew which miss the imperial house wanted. But from His Majesty’s neutral attitude towards the Sima Family, they did not seem likely.
They didn’t know what the Li Family was thinking this time. Other than Li Wu shi and the other wives, they had not brought along any Li misses of age. Many of the young masters had come instead, and gained great attention today.
Ever since two years ago when the miss of the Li Eldest Branch fell off her horse and died, the other Li misses had suddenly become low-key, and not been as proactive about becoming the empress. No one knew if they had really given up on a marriage alliance with the imperial house, or if they were waiting to act.
Regardless of what they thought, at least their actions looked better than the Sima Third Branch’s.
Near sunset, Empress Dowager Zhou stood up and expressed her thanks to everyone present before indicating they could leave.
After the phoenix carriage and the imperial carriage left with the empress dowager and the emperor, the remaining aristocratic family members left the Taihe Palace together. Gu Ru Jiu sat in the carriage. Listening to the sound of fireworks suddenly coming from the Taihe Palace, she lifted the curtain and saw that the fireworks exploding above the just-darkened sky seemed exceptionally lonely.
The caravan was extremely long, so that she had to stick her head out to see the end. She leaned her head against the carriage cushion and inexplicably thought of the moment Jin Yang had reached his hand out to her.
In these years, Jin Yang had taken good care of her, gentle and considerate like her older brothers. In their interactions, Jin Yang was always the one who invested, and she was the one taken care of.
Maybe because Jin Yang was always calm and intelligent and did not race horses and fight with poetry like other aristocratic family young masters that she almost forgot the other was a youth not yet seventeen.
As the carriage wheels rumbled along, the sky gradually darkened completely. The sound of hoofbeats and the collisions of the guards’ metal armor came from the windows.
Suddenly, the scream of a woman broke through the air. The carriage caravan suddenly stopped.
“What happened?” Gu Ru Jiu lifted the curtain. She saw a guard holding a torch beside her carriage and asked, “Why has the carriage stopped?”
The guard being asked was an ordinary imperial guard, unlike the dragon guards of high birth. So at Gu Ru Jiu’s questions, he said respectfully, “This subordinate does not know the details, but someone has gone to investigate.”
Gu Ru Jiu nodded. As she was preparing to put down the curtain, Yang Chui Wen galloped over on his horse.
“Miss Gu.” Yang Chui Wen was worried that Gu Ru Jiu would be frightened by the scream and came over on his horse. He whispered, “Don’t worry, it’s not anything major.”
Gu Ru Jiu saw that he seemed to know the details but did not say any details. She perceptively nodded. “Thank you, Young Master Yang, for coming to tell me.” After she spoke, she heard someone else come request Yang Chui Wen. Yang Chui Wen bowed to her and then moved in the direction of another carriage.
That carriage was further away. Gu Ru Jiu could not hear what Yang Chui Wen had said, but his tone was still warm and the voice of a miss seemed to come over.
Gu Ru Jiu put down the curtain, thought carefully and then smiled.
As expected, not long after, the carriages started to move again. Gu Ru Jiu lifted the curtain and found the guards around her had changed. Now, riding beside her carriage was Hu Yun Qi.
Seeing her lift the curtain, Hu Yun Qi gave her a bright smile. “Little Sister Gu.”
“Cousin Hu.” Gu Ru Jiu nodded towards him. Hu Yun Qi was her second sister-in-law’s brother. In order to show closeness between the two families, she always called the Hu Family members of her generation as cousins.
Pointing ahead, Gu Ru Jiu showed a curious expression. “What happened up ahead?” If nothing had happened, Hu Yun Qi would not have come next to her carriage to follow.
Hearing Gu Ru Jiu ask this, Hu Yun Qi had an odd expression. He pulled his reins so the horse was closer to the carriage. “An accident occurred to Miss Sima.”
“Miss Sima?” Gu Ru Jiu frowned. No wonder the scream had come from ahead. But what could have caused a Sima miss to scream aloud?
“The miss of the Sima Third Branch received a fright. The dowager empress’ Matron Liu has already gone to visit. Nothing major.” Hu Yun Qi lowered his voice. “Supposedly, a black cat suddenly jumped into this Miss Sima’s carriage, and she was scratched on her hand.”
Gu Ru Jiu frowned even more deeply. With the empress dowager and the emperor present, the guards had cleaned the way long ago. Why would an inauspicious black cat suddenly charge in?
Hu Yun Qi saw Gu Ru Jiu’s frown and laughed. “Maybe it is just a wild cat. Do not think too much. With Cousin Hu here, a mosquito cannot fly in, much less a black cat.”
Gu Ru Jiu tilted her head towards him. “Are there mosquitoes in weather like this?”
Hu Yun Qi laughed embarrassedly and then said, “The night wind is cold. Put the curtain down.” His Majesty had told him to come take care of Little Sister Gu due to the in-law relationship between the two families. But if he did not take good care, then he would have failed the Gu Family and also could not end up well with His Majesty.
“Cousin Hu, you also have to take care.” Gu Ru Jiu smiled and then put the curtain down.
Looking at the obediently lowered curtain, Hu Yun Qi rubbed his chin and thought, this Little Sister Gu was really lovable. No wonder Cun Qing treated her like a pearl. Even his younger sister, who had married Cun Jing, was very happy whenever she mentioned this Little Sister Gu.
After the carriage entered the city, Hu Yun Qi called over a guard to stand next to Gu Ru Jiu’s carriage before going forward to report to His Majesty.
Hearing slow hoofbeats, Jin Yang’s brow moved slightly. Hu Yun Qi’s voice passed in.
“Your Majesty, this subject Hu Yun Qi asks for an audience.”
“Has any of the womenfolk been frightened?” Jin Yang lifted the curtain and asked gravely.
“Your Majesty, the womenfolk are all fine and were not frightened.” Hu Yun Qi knew who His Majesty was asking about. But due to the location, he could not say so. So he said, “Do not worry, everything is fine.”
“That is good. Zhen is assured.” Jin Yang nodded slightly and put down the curtain. He did not mention Miss Sima, as though he had forgotten this person.
Hu Yun Qi lowered his head and thought, you are reassured about Little Sister Gu, right?
Empress Dowager Zhou’s carriage was ahead of the imperial carriage. She heard the report from a servant and said, shaking her head, “This Miss Sima does not appear to come from an aristocratic family. In the future, if there are banquets like this, do not let her attend.”
Matron Liu nodded and said, “You are correct. This family doesn’t know how to raise their children. Their son raced horses and killed someone, their miss is scheming. If someone like this entered the palace and had children, I fear they would raise them badly.”
Empress Dowager Zhou thought for a moment and suddenly smiled. “It is good that the Sima Family produced a branch like this.”
Matron Liu looked with puzzlement at the empress dowager. Seeing she had no intention to explain, she was too embarrassed to ask and said, “Speaking of these aristocratic family misses, this servant feels that County Princess Changyan is lively and makes people happy to see her.”
When the superior had a preference, the inferior had to welcome it. Matron Liu managed to serve the empress dowager for many years. She naturally knew what to say to make the empress dowager happy. County Princess Changyan was the empress dowager’s darling. If she mentioned the county princess, the empress dowager would grow happy.
As expected, Empress Dowager Zhou had a faint smile. She nodded and smiled. “The Gu Family raises their children well. Not just Jiu Jiu, the two sons are also very good. But they are young, and they cannot be put into important positions. If they gain experience, they will have great accomplishments in the future.”
Matron Liu gently kneaded Empress Dowager Zhou’s shoulders. She said hesitantly, “This servant fears…”
“Fears what?” Empress Dowager Zhou leaned back into the cushions and closed her eyes. “Fears that the emperor will use the Gu Family, causing them to dominate and give rise to instability in the court?”
Matron Liu’s expression changed slightly and she hurriedly said, “This servant has not thought of this, just worried that if His Majesty has thoughts about County Princess Changyan, the Gu Family will not bear to let their miss enter the palace.”
“If His Majesty mentions this matter to me, I will have to talk to the Gu Family.” Empress Dowager Zhou sighed and said, “But he has not spoken now. I will naturally pretend ignorance.” She and Jin Yang were not blood mother and son. The young emperor was growing up and she had to pay more attention to her actions and speech to avoid any separation between them that other people could take advantage of.
“This servant sees that His Majesty cannot suppress for much longer,” Matron Liu said with a smile. “Just watch.”
Empress Dowager Zhou smiled and did not refute Matron Liu’s words.
Two days later, the two old commandery princes entered the palace to see the empress dowager and once again mentioned the matter of the empress.
This time, Empress Dowager Zhou did not refuse and said directly, “This Grieving One has ideas in mind. But the Sima miss you previously mentioned is likely not suitable.”
The two old commandery princes had heard of how Sima Xiang had been frightened by a black cat and lost her composure in public. So when the empress dowager said this, the two were unable to argue. Even the eldest and second branch of the Sima Family were no longer mentioning the matter of the empress, so they did not plan to pay attention.
“Which young noblewoman does Empress Dowager want?” Commandery Prince Ping was slightly curious.
“This Grieving One has some idea, but has not yet asked for marriage from the girl’s family. After the matter, this Grieving One will tell Uncles. What do Uncles think?” Empress Dowager Zhou saw the two commandery princes had given up on asking and knew they would not persist on this matter.
“This is natural, this is natural.” The two commandery princes perceptively said that this was most suitable. If the matter did not succeed, it would not be very awkward. While no aristocratic family dared to refuse the imperial family’s marriage proposal given its current status, they could not say those words so baldly.
They remembered how their Jin Family ancestor wanted to marry the miss of a certain family to the crown prince when he just ascended the throne, and then was ruthlessly refused. The ancestral emperor had generously said it was fine at the time. But in a few years, all the members of the family in court positions had been demoted out of court for various reasons. A century ago when they re-established the aristocratic families genealogies, the surname of that family was no longer present.
The Jin Family had no great shortcomings–they were just petty-minded.
The heir to the petty-minded family was not feeling well when he heard the empress dowager had a candidate in mind. After sitting anxiously in Qiankun Palace for half a day, he finally could not control himself and stepped towards Kangquan Palace.
“Your Majesty, how is it that you have come here?” Empress Dowager Zhou had a palace attendant go out to make tea and then said, “Do you miss having dinner here?”
“Mother-Empress’ food is delicious, and this son naturally desires it.” Jin Yang smiled and started chatting idly with Empress Dowager Zhou. Even after dinner started, he showed no intentions of leaving.
After dinner finished, Empress Dowager Zhou unhurriedly spoke. “I see that Your Majesty seems to have a matter on mind?”
“This son is worried and wants Mother-Empress’ help.” Jin Yang stood and bowed deeply to Empress Dowager Zhou. “This son heard that Mother-Empress has a candidate in mind for empress. Could this son ask which miss Mother-Empress has selected?”
“Where did Your Majesty hear this rumor?” The empress dowager looked wryly at Jin Yang and allowed him to stay down in his bow. She slowly said, “As an emperor, you cannot be anxious. Your conduct right now is not that of an emperor.”
Jin Yang’s body froze. He said after a moment of silence, “This son understands that as an emperor, one should not be so anxious. But I am only a man concerned about my future wife.”
Hearing this, the empress dowager’s expression changed slightly. She stood up and helped Jin Yang stand up. Her tone gentled. “Your Majesty thinks that if I really was selecting the empress, I would not discuss it with you?”
Jin Yang stilled and then bowed again. “This son thought incorrectly.”
“You did not think wrong. This Grieving One has a suitable candidate but has not yet told you.” Empress Dowager Zhou walked to a nearby chair and sat down. “The daughter of Duke Yang has been the most suitable empress candidate in my mind. They are high in status, have reputation in the Feng Dynasty but cannot pose a threat to the imperial family. They have brought up their daughter well–she is as gentle as water, and detail-minded. If she enters the palace, she will take good care of you.”
“But this son already has someone he admires, “Jin Yang said, “and has no intention of marrying Yang shi.”
“If the girl you like is a woman of an aristocratic family, you set her as empress, and welcome Yang shi as the noble consort.” Empress Dowager Zhou looked at Jin Yang and carefully observed his expression. “What do you feel?”
The room grew quiet. Jin Yang looked directly at the empress dowager. “Mother-Empress, I am not willing to have her slighted.”
“Absurd! How many emperors did you ever hear of without a consort?” Empress Dowager Zhou scolded. “You say you are not willing to have a consort now; if you regret this in the future, does the imperial family still want their face?”
“In history, most emperors liked having three palaces and six courtyards, but there were also emperors who only had one empress and the two went through life together. This son is willing to copy them.” Jin Yang bowed and said, “Mother-Empress, please help me.”
“This Grieving One cannot help you.” Empress Dowager Zhou grew silent. A beat later, she spoke again. “You are the only one who can do so.”
Jin Yang looked at Empress Dowager Zhou and didn’t speak.
“You are not a puppet monarch without any power. There naturally would not be any subjects forcing you to take a consort by threatening with their own deaths.” Empress Dowager Zhou looked down and said coolly, “So if you want to grow to old age with your future empress or to have three palaces and six courtyards, that is all up to you. This Grieving One cannot control you, and will not.”
“Thank you, Mother-Empress.” Jin Yang bowed and said, “But there is still another matter that Mother-Empress has to help this son with?”
“What is it?” Empress Dowager Zhou took a sip of tea and asked slowly.
“The matter of empress.” Jin Yang bowed deeply. “Mother-Empress, please help this son propose to the Gu Family.”
Empress Dowager Zhou’s hand stilled. Seeing this child bowing from the waist, she asked in a low voice, “Your Majesty, your words are true?”
“Everything this son said today is from the heart. This son only hopes that Mother-Empress can say more good things for this son in front of Teacher Gu.” Jin Yang looked up at the composed empress dowager and said, “This is this son’s regard; Junior Sister doesn’t know.”
“If she does not know, then how do you know she is willing to be your empress?” Empress Dowager Zhou threw out the words and continued directly without waiting for Jin Yang to respond. “This Grieving One will try, but it is late, and you should go rest.”
Jin Yang opened his mouth, wanting to say something. But seeing the empress dowager clearly not willing to talk anymore, he could only say, “Thank you, Mother-Empress, for your work. This son will leave.”
Leaving Kangquan Palace, he exhaled deeply. He hoped that Jiu Jiu would not hate him in the future.
But before Empress Dowager Zhou had the time to mention this matter to the Gu Family, the Yang Ducal Establishment had requested Mistress Hu to be the matchmaker to propose marriage between their only son, Yang Chui Wen, and Second Miss Gu.
When the news reached the palace, Jin Yang immediately flipped the teacup in his hand and blurred his page of words. The hot tea steamed on the table, and dripped to the floor as it spread across the table.
But Jin Yang could not care about this now. He glared at Hu Yun Qi, saying in a hoarse voice, “The Gu Family, did the Gu Family agree?”
He was both anxious and regretful. He crossed the imperial study in a few steps to reach Hu Yun Qi. “What did the Gu Family say?”
Hu Yun Qi just wanted to speak when Jin Yang started coughing violently, his face flushing red.
“Your Majesty.” Hu Yun Qi saw him like this and changed expression in fright. He turned, wanting to call the eunuch to summon the imperial doctors, but Jin Yang pulled him back.
“Tell Zhen—how did the Gu Family respond?!” Jin Yang glared at Hu Yun Qi, his eyes about to seep blood.
Translator Ramblings: The empress dowager is likely my favourite character from the old generation in this novel. She knows what to do to every time.