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“Your Majesty, the Gu Family did not agree to the proposal from Duke Yang’s family.” Hu Yun Qi was almost dumbfounded by His Majesty’s response. He had guessed long ago that His Majesty had some form of feeling for Younger Sister Gu, but had not expected it to be so deep. He and his wife had been married due to their parents. While they were not connected at the hip, they had mutual respect, and never fought with each other. To sons of aristocratic families like him, being able to have a marital relationship like this was satisfactory.
He could not understand going crazy for love, and could not do it. In his view, feelings were illusory. They were written about in books, discussed by people, but were intangible things.
While he could not understand, this did not mean he would dismiss other people’s feelings. So seeing Jin Yang so angry and his face so pale, he didn’t dare to delay and immediately told what he knew to His Majesty. “Your Majesty, the Gu Family thinks their daughter is too young and subtly refused my mother’s offer.” Hu Yun Qi was worried now if His Majesty would blame the Hu Family. If he had known his mother would help the Duke of Yang as a matchmaker, he would have definitely stopped her.
“You say that the Gu Family has no intentions of a marriage with the Duke of Yang’s family?” Jin Yang leaned against the table, coughing, his pale face giving off a sickly red.
Hu Yun Qi wanted to say that the Gu Family had refused the proposal but it didn’t mean that Yang Chui Wen had no chance. If the Yang Family was shameless enough, and Yang Chui Wen could gain Younger Sister Gu’s affections, this matter may still succeed. But seeing His Majesty like this, Hu Yun Qi did not dare to say such things. “Since the Gu Family has refused my mother’s matchmaking for the Duke Yang’s family, I think that they have no intentions of a marriage. Duke Yang’s family are famed in the capital. While the Gu Family has refused subtly, with the Yang Family’s status, they would not be so shameless as to ask again. So the marriage will not succeed.”
After Hu Yun Qi’s words, Jin Yang slowly calmed down. After he completely calmed down, he looked at Hu Yun Qi who was standing with his head low. He said seriously, “Yun Qi, do you know why Zhen is not willing for Junior Sister to marry into the Yang Family?”
You are this excited—what other reason could there be?
Hu Yun Qi bowed and said, “Your Majesty treats County Princess Changyan like a family member and naturally wants to pick the best for her.”
A wife was also a family member. Hu Yun Qi felt that his usage of the term was very appropriate.
“You are right. Zhen is not willing to have Junior Sister marry into the Yang Family.” Jin Yang looked at the messy table, put his hands behind his back, and a determined smile appeared on his slightly sickly face. “A family member should be protected.”
Hu Yun Qi sighed in relief. It seemed that His Majesty’s attention was not on the Hu Family.
“Right, the Mistress Hu who helped Duke Yang’s family this time is your mother?” Jin Yang looked at Hu Yun Qi without any expression. Or rather, even if he was displeased by this matter, he would not blame the innocent Hu Family for it. Although he was the monarch, he was not a tyrant who did as he pleased.
“Your Majesty, it was my mother.” Hu Yun Qi glanced at Jin Yang’s expression and could not see anything. He could only say, “My mother’s surname is Yang, and she is the cousin to Duke Yang. Considering the marital relationship between the Hu and Gu families, Duke Yang asked my mother to make this trip.”
“So that is how it is. It appears your family is on good terms with the Gu Family?” Jin Yang casually asked.
It was normal for marital ties to exist between aristocratic families. So Hu Yun Qi did not worry that Jin Yang would overthink. He said, “My younger sister is Cun Jing’s wife, so our relationship is close.”
“It should be so.” Jin Yang nodded and said nothing else.
When Hu Yun Qi was leaving, he looked up with slight awe at the emperor who had so quickly recovered his calm. If not for the mess on the table, he would feel that the emperor who was as panicked as a young boy a moment ago was an illusion, and this authoritative and calm emperor was the reality.
In the courtyard of the Gu Family, Gu Ru Jiu put the throat-lubricating tea into two clay jars. Then she glued red paper with the words “A gift” onto the jars.
Yang shi sat next to her. Seeing the red paper in front of her, she said, “This is for the empress dowager?”
Gu Ru Jiu nodded. “The empress dowager has been coughing recently. His Majesty… also frequently coughs. This tea is quite good, and I will bring some for them to taste.”
“In all of court, no one will easily bring anything consumable for important people. You…” Yang shi sighed. “While this mother does not know why you do not want to marry Young Master Yang, since you are unwilling, I refused for you. I only hope you do not regret it in the future.”
“Mother, the husband I want should be like how Father treats you. Young Master Yang is good, but he is good to everyone.” Gu Ru Jiu said with a smile, “How can he compare to Dad?”
“Girl, you are so shameless you dare speak of your elders.” Yang shi laughed and the last bit of conflict disappeared. “There are many good men in the capital. You are not yet of age. We can look slowly.”
Yang shi said this, but she knew well that she would not marry Jiu Jiu outside of the capital. And in the capital, there were only so many families that would marry with the Gu Family. But one could not demand a marriage, and she did not bear for her child to suffer hardship. No matter how good Duke Yang’s son was, it was nothing compared with her child’s unwillingness.
Only people close to the two families knew that Duke Yang had proposed marriage to the Gu Family. The other families may have known of the matter, but did not know the veracity, so they only privately mentioned it and then passed over the matter. Right now, everyone was more concerned with the candidate for empress. The Sima Family did not have much possibility, the Li Family did not show any initiative, so the empress position became a mystery.
Some guessed the Gu Family, some the Li Family, some Duke Yang’s family. There were also some other misses of suitable age from good aristocratic families within everyone’s speculations.
A few days later, Empress Dowager Zhou suddenly summoned the mistress of the Hu Family and also kept her in the palace for the noon meal. Everyone wondered, did the imperial house want to have Hu shi as empress?
No matter what other people speculated, the Hu Family did not say anything. A fortnight later, Miss Hu Xi married Yang Wen Ji of the Yang Family.
Everyone was stunned at the Hu Family’s conduct. Had the Hu Family looked down on the imperial house and prepared to marry their daughter off? The last aristocratic family that dared to do this had been in the early days of the Feng Dynasty. But their outcome had been so terrible that all the aristocratic families had learned the lesson and their respect of the imperial house had reached a new height.
But if the Hu Family was really so noble, why did they have their son go be a dragon guard? Wasn’t this in conflict?
Or rather… the truth was the imperial house had no intentions towards the Hu Family?
As the central person of everyone’s speculations, Empress Dowager Zhou held a teacup and tasted the tea that Gu Ru Jiu had sent in. The tea did not taste very good, and had a herbal scent. But the goodwill was rare, and Empress Dowager Zhou still slowly drank it.
“Jiu Jiu has not visited the palace for some time.” Empress Dowager Zhou put down the teacup. She saw Gu Ru Jiu’s servant girl was still holding a jar of tea and said, “Is this one also for this Grieving One?”
“A few days ago, I encountered His Majesty in Taihe Palace, and saw that he was still coughing. So I prepared a jar for His Majesty as well.” Gu Ru Jiu took the tea jar from Qiu Luo’s hand and explained, “This tea is gentle, it nourishes the throat and the lungs, and also refreshes the mind.”
“If so, then you should make a trip and deliver it to the emperor,” Empress Dowager Zhou said. “Ever since His Majesty started to govern, he has been busy with court matters, and has not rested well. Go help me persuade him. You are his junior sister. He will listen to at least some of your words.”
Gu Ru Jiu thought of Jin Yang’s sickly body and how he had to work daily. She frowned, and curtsied to Empress Dowager Zhou. “Aunt, then I will go see.”
“Yes, go. Later, come with His Majesty together to eat here.” Empress Dowager Zhou smiled and nodded.
Leaving Kangquan Palace, one had to pass by Luanhe Palace. Gu Ru Jiu heard sounds from inside and curiously asked the palace attendant leading the way. “Why is there sound here?” This was the place that generations of Feng Dynasty empresses lived in. Right now, the empress seat was empty. Who would be so daring to make noise here?
“County Princess, it is people from the Ministry of Works renovating the palace.” The palace attendant bowed and said, “They had finished already, but a few days ago, His Majesty felt it was not good enough. So he had the Ministry of Works and the Secretariat redo it.”
Gu Ru Jiu nodded thoughtfully. When she passed the gates of Luanhe Palace, she seemed to see recently transplanted orange trees. But their branches had been cut and she did not know for certain.
“County Princess, do you want to go in to visit?” The palace attendant saw Gu Ru Jiu looking through the gates, and said, “If you want to look, this servant will have them stop first.”
“No need.” Gu Ru Jiu shook her head with a smile. She passed by the gates of Luanhe Palace and then spoke. “That is the residence of the empress. How can we easily go in?”
The palace attendant bent at the knees and said, “This servant did not consider it.”
Gu Ru Jiu smiled and shook her head. This palace attendant was frequently with Matron Liu and reliable in her conduct. Today, the palace attendant must have seen her curiosity, and therefore spoken.
They passed by Luanhe Palace, walked a bit more, and then reached Qiankun Palace. When they were waiting at the gates of Qiankun Palace, Gu Ru Jiu saw someone she had not seen for a long time.
“This servant Bai Xian greets County Princess Changyan.” Bai Xian stopped walking when he saw Gu Ru Jiu, and took a few steps to reach her. “County Princess, have you been well recently?”
“Thank you, Gonggong for your concern. Everything is good.” Gu Ru Jiu saw Bai Xian’s expression was more fragile than usual and he lacked the usual cohort of junior eunuchs who followed him and tried to curry favor. She was puzzled inside but did not show it. “How has Gonggong been recently?”
“County Princess, thank you for asking. This servant is good.” Bai Xian responded appropriately, but was excited inside. He was disliked by His Majesty right now, and rarely had the chance to serve. He greatly regretted his former conduct, but He Ming had already taken over his position. Even if he wanted to return, He Ming would stop him.
When he saw County Princess Changyan, he suddenly felt a thread of hope. He could not walk the path of His Majesty, but if he gained favor with County Princess Changyan, he might have a return to glory. But he knew well that important people like County Princess Changyan did not like simpering servants, so he kept his attitude constrained.
“This servant greets County Princess Changyan.” As they talked, He Ming walked out of the inner hall and came with a smile to bow to Gu Ru Jiu. “Please enter.”
Disregarding the machinations in the background, just in terms of the surface, Gu Ru Jiu appreciated Bai Xian’s conduct more. He Ming’s was too frivolous. Maybe it was her feeling, but while He Ming was serving Jin Yang recently, Gu Ru Jiu still felt that he did not use He Ming the same way he had used Bai Xian.
Did Jin Yang really dislike Bai Xian, or was teaching him a lesson due to a mistake Bai Xian had made?
Gu Ru Jiu was not interested in how a monarch ruled. She only came into the palace this time for Jin Yang’s health. While Jin Yang was not a member of her family, she was truly concerned for Jin Yang, and not just due to his status.
No one’s heart was made from stone. She remembered the good that Jin Yang gave her.
“Junior Sister has come?” Seeing Gu Ru Jiu come in, before she could bow, Jin Yang had walked in front of her and stopped her from bowing. “We have not met for a fortnight.”
Gu Ru Jiu smiled and put the tea jar in his hand. “I worried that I have visited the palace too frequently, and you find me bothersome.”
“If you entered the palace every day, Mother-Empress and I would only be happy—why would we find you a bother?”
He Ming wanted to take the jar from Jin Yang’s hand, but Jin Yang waved a hand for him to move back. Then he opened the lid and said, “What good thing is contained inside?”
“What does Your Majesty lack?” Gu Ru Jiu said. “I found a book in the family library which said that this kind of tea can stop coughing, refresh the mind, and nourish the lungs. So I tried to get it. Before bringing it to the palace, I have drunk it for a while, and this is of some effect. Your Majesty, try it. If it is useful, I will prepare more.”
While Gu Ru Jiu could not deliver a recipe passed down from generation to generation in the family, she could gift things already prepared.
“Junior Sister has worked hard.” Jin Yang immediately had the palace maid take away the teacup he had been using, and had them switch to the tea Gu Ru Jiu had brought.
“Your Majesty.” He Ming looked worriedly at the teacup in Jin Yang’s hand. The emperor was preparing to consume the tea County Princess Changyan had given without any inspection. This…
“The taste of this tea is not good, but it is effective.” Gu Ru Jiu seemed to not see He Ming’s minute movement and took the new teacup to take a large gulp. Then she said with a smile, “Your Majesty, do not look down on its taste and not drink it.”
He Ming saw a large amount of tea was gone from County Princess Changyan’s teacup and immediately knew his previous action had been inappropriate. Otherwise, a daughter of an aristocratic family like County Princess Changyan would not have drunk without any bearing.
But he had no attention to spare for County Princess Changyan’s thoughts. He feared something happening to His Majesty. If something happened, all in Qiankun Palace would lose their heads.
Jin Yang glanced at He Ming, and copied Gu Ru Jiu in taking a large mouthful. He said with a smile, “What Junior Sister brings, no matter how bitter, I will drink it.”
Gu Ru Jiu’s eyebrows rose minutely. Why did these words not sound quite right?
But before she could think, Jin Yang suddenly coughed violently. She saw that he was almost unable to breathe, and He Ming still standing by the side, so she went forward and patted Jin Yang’s back, ignoring the taboo.
“Last time, when I saw you at Taihe Palace, you were not coughing so seriously. How come it has worsened?” Gu Ru Jiu waited for him to stop coughing before giving him a cup of tea to moisten his throat. “Has the imperial physicians seen you?”
“The imperial physicians will take my pulse every few days, and have not seen anything major.” Jin Yang smiled at Gu Ru Jiu. “Just old problems.”
“How old are you to have old problems?” Gu Ru Jiu said, and then realized her words were too casual. She paused. She saw Jin Yang was still smiling gently, as though he was not the one ill. She sighed and said, “Your Majesty, please take care of your health. Otherwise, many people will worry.”
Jin Yang saw her brow slightly furrowed, nodded and said, “All right, I will pay attention. Do not be unhappy, yes?”
Gu Ru Jiu avoided his gaze and took a step to the side. She said with a smile, “It will be good if you do so. Aunt said for us to go to Kangquan Palace for the noon meal. It’s almost noon—do not just pay attention to matters of governance.”
Jin Yang put down his teacup. “I originally wanted to go visit Mother-Empress today—how about we leave now?”
Standing in the corner, He Ming followed. Gu Ru Jiu glanced at him, smiled and didn’t speak.
Leaving the gates of Quankun Palace, Gu Ru Jiu mentioned encountering Bai Xian by the gates. While she said nothing else, at least she helped refresh Bai Xian in front of Jin Yang.
“He did something wrong a few days ago, and I am having him reflect,” Jin Yang said. “If Junior Sister likes his service, then summon him to Kangquan Palace.”
“Since he made a mistake, then have him reflect.” Gu Ru Jiu shook her head and said, “I do not want to meddle in such matters.”
Seeing her speak so plainly, Jin Yang was both amused and exasperated. “Don’t worry—it was not a major mistake. I did not plan on keeping him from duties forever.”
“That’s your business. What would it look like if you summoned him back because of my words?” Gu Ru Jiu still shook her head. “You cannot easily change your ideas because of me. Otherwise, I will not dare speak of such things to you from now on.” She was not especially afraid of causing trouble, but did not want Jin Yang to change his original plans due to her.
If that was so… she would feel very apologetic.
When the two reached Kangquan Palace, the food had already been prepared. Empress Dowager Zhou saw them and waved for the two of them to wash their hands. Then she said, “I originally thought of sending someone to invite you, and didn’t expect you to arrive first.”
“I would not forget what Aunt ordered me.” Gu Ru Jiu smiled and took the handkerchief that the palace maid presented. “We just said a few words back in Purple Imperial Hall.”
Empress Dowager Zhou saw Jin Yang smiling with his head lowered. He looked well, so she could only have the meal start.
After the noon meal, Gu Ru Jiu did not prepare to stay any longer and rose to bid farewell to the empress dowager and the emperor.
“Why are you in such a hurry today?” Usually, when Gu Ru Jiu came to the palace, even if she did not stay the night, she would leave in the evening. A situation like today was not common.
“These last few days, I have been attending classes with teachers. Today, I was able to come because Mother asked for a holiday from the teachers on my behalf,” Gu Ru Jiu explained in helplessness. “While the teachers have given me a day off, I still have to turn in my homework tomorrow.”
Empress Dowager Zhou heard her say this and immediately understood. She nodded and said, “If so, then go.”
“I am also going back to Purple Imperial Hall, so I will accompany Junior Sister for a while.” Jin Yang stood, bowed to Empress Dowager Zhou and prepared to see Gu Ru Jiu away.
Empress Dowager Zhou saw him wanting to fawn while pretending it was along the way. So she waved her hand to express she did not want to see this.
When a son was grown, he could not be kept. Let him do as he pleased.
“Your Majesty.” When Gu Ru Jiu was preparing to part ways with Jin Yang, she stopped and looked at him. “While I may speak words and overstep, if I do not speak, I will feel uncomfortable.”
Jin Yang looked at her and waited for her next words.
“This subject said long ago this world will be in your palm sooner or later. But while the world is important, you are also important.” She bowed deeply to Jin Yang. “Please, for yourself and for the world, take care of yourself.”
In her words, he was first, and the world was second.
Jin Yang bent and helped her up, separated by her sleeve. He nodded solemnly and said, “Junior Sister, don’t worry. Zhen will remember your words.” Then he smiled. “Zhen also said that Zhen will not make you worry in the future.”
Hearing this, Gu Ru Jiu smiled. “A gentleman’s words are worth nine sacred cauldrons; the emperor’s words are as weighty as gold and jade. You have to do as you say.”
After Gu Ru Jiu boarded the carriage and left, disappearing along the long palace paths, Jin Yang’s smile slowly faded. He turned and said to the attending palace attendants and eunuchs, “Return.”
When Jin Yang returned to Purple Imperial Hall, he saw an eunuch cleaning up his table and spoke. “You can leave; no need to clean.”
The eunuch retreated to the side in anxiousness. He did not understand why His Majesty suddenly stopped him from touching the table like usual. Had he done something wrong?
Jin Yang picked up the tea jar from the imperial table. He looked at it for a long time before saying, “Put this tea jar in Zhen‘s inner rooms.”
“Yes.” A personal eunuch carried the tea jar like it was priceless as he moved carefully towards the inner rooms.
In the following days, everything was good. Court was calm, and the surrounding countries were all docile until two months later, Jin Prefecture suddenly sent over the obituary of Prince Cheng.
The calm court suddenly boiled over.
Translator Ramblings: Prince Cheng is Jin Yang’s father. Jin Yang’s parents are both dead now.