This chapter has been brought to you by me and Adnana.
Before the obituary of Prince Cheng reached the Gu Family, Yang shi was welcoming her in-law Mistress Hu. While the two women’s relationship had been so-so before their coming of age, the Hu and Gu families had always had a good relationship. After the two of them married, they had a bit of a friendship due to the interactions of their husbands’ families. Their daughters were also close. After Hu shi married into the Gu Family, Yang shi treated her like her own daughter. Mistress Hu, as the mother, had an increasingly better opinion of the Gu Family.
She had hesitated a long time about taking this trip for the imperial family. If the empress dowager had not summoned her several times into the palace, she really did not want to consent.
She knew how well the Gu Family raised their daughter. Her food and attire was the same as any son’s, and sometimes even more care was taken. Now, the imperial family wanted to have their daughter become the empress. This… No matter how good the emperor was, didn’t he need three palaces and six courtyards? The Gu Family loved their daughter so much. Would they be willing to have their child be slighted so?
But the imperial family had spoken. Even if the Gu Family was not willing, they had to consider it seriously. Mistress Hu felt increasingly that she had come this time to act as a villain, so she had sat in the Gu Family for more than an hour without speaking of why she had come.
“In-law, I came this time at someone’s request.” Seeing time slowly pass, Mistress Hu could only force herself to speak.
“You and I have been family friends—what can you not say?” Yang shi had seen long ago that Mistress Hu had a matter on her mind. She had just not asked when seeing the other not speak up.
“This…” Mistress Hu raised her teacup to drink and spoke hesitantly. “Jiu Jiu is coming of age next year?”
Yang shi was curious. Had the Duke of Yang’s family not yet given up and was having her in-law come say good words again? While puzzled, Yang shi smiled and said, “Yes, I’ve recently been keeping her home to learn how to manage the home.”
“Your daughter is clever and intelligent. She will definitely learn these common matters quickly. Do not be too strict.” Mistress Hu was half-joking but half-serious as she praised Gu Ru Jiu. Seeing Yang shi‘s smile grow, she said, “Pity that my nephew has no fate to marry your daughter; otherwise, we would be closer.”
“Jiu Jiu has been spoiled too much by me and her father; she is innocent and young at this time. So it is the Gu Family’s regret that we cannot marry with the young master of Duke Yang’s family.” Yang shi was somewhat sincere in saying this. She admired the young master of Duke Yang’s family. In the capital, Yang Chui Wen was definitely among the best candidates for son-in-law for families who had daughters of age.
“The two juniors just have no fate.” Mistress Hu was regretful that the Gu Family had not agreed to the marriage proposal from her paternal family, but not discontent with the Gu Family. One should carefully treat the marriage of children. Even her daughter, before marrying into the Gu Family, had refused several families. Also, she secretly rejoiced the Gu Family had not agreed to her proposal last time. Otherwise, her brother’s family would have offended the imperial family.
If her son, returning from duty, had not said to her that His Majesty had feelings towards Second Miss Gu, she would not have known the severity of the matter.
You from a ducal establishment stole the beloved of the emperor. Would you have a good future? It would have been fine if the imperial family was reasonable. They would be discomforted but the matter would pass. If they were unreasonable, wouldn’t they kill your entire family and then take the woman into the palace anyway? In the previous dynasty, there had been emperors who had stolen their sisters-in-law and daughters-in-law. While their dynasty had not had such an event, who could be certain something like this would not occur?
There had been many strange things that occurred in the previous dynasty. When Mistress Hu thought of it, she felt unspeakably afraid.
“A few days ago, I went to the palace and met the empress dowager. The empress was full of praise for your daughter.” Mistress Hu took a sip of tea. “I joked that the empress dowager wanted your daughter to be her daughter. The empress dowager said to me she really wanted to raise your daughter as her own daughter.”
Yang shi‘s smile faded slightly and then said, “The empress dowager has always taken good care of our daughter. Our entire family is grateful to the empress dowager.”
Mistress Hu smiled upon hearing this and said, “It is my daughter’s good fortune to marry into your family and have such a considerate mother-in-law. Each time she returns to her paternal home, she praises you. But when a girl marries, she doesn’t have to see how well her husband is, but the elders.”
“Hu shi is kind, and capable. It is our family’s good fortune to have a daughter-in-law like her.” Yang shi liked Hu shi very much so she praised with a smile. “In-law, your family has good conduct and taught your child well.”
The two praised each other’s children and then Mistress Hu said, “Husband and wife in harmony, this is both fate and love. What do you think of having the empress dowager as your daughter’s mother-in-law?”
“What does In-law mean?” Yang shi‘s smile faded and she put the teacup in her hand back onto the table.
Mistress Hu saw this and grew more worried. She directly said, “The imperial family has intentions of marrying your Second Miss Gu as empress. So they had me come to ask your family’s opinion.”
“This is the empress dowager’s intention… or His Majesty’s?” Yang shi asked after a moment of silence. “The imperial family is determined to have our daughter?”
“You must know the empress dowager’s personality. If not for His Majesty’s agreement, would she have spoken?” Mistress Hu said, “Also, in this matter, maybe His Majesty was the one to speak, and so the empress dowager had me come ask. I know that this matter is a surprise to your family, but this is not bad. Do not be too…”
She wanted to say it was a glorious matter for a family to have an empress. This would be written into the history books. But for parents who truly loved their daughters, the imperial palace was not the best home, even as empress. So what if they could be in the history books? When one could not be loved in life until they were grey-haired, so what if they were spoken of through the ages after death?
After death, all was nothing. Even the greatest reputation was just a topic of discussion for later generations.
“In-law, I cannot decide this matter on my own. When my husband returns, I will speak of this matter to him.” Yang shi felt extremely complicated, and also as though this finally came. She forced a smile towards Mistress Hu. “I am not afraid of making you smile at this, but our Jiu Jiu was raised like half a son. She is competent in how to ride, write and paint, but as the mother of a country…”
“No one is born as the empress. Even the present empress dowager likely never thought of the day she would be the empress,” Mistress Hu said, “Since the imperial family has this thought, think well. Don’t…” Don’t copy that family back in the founding emperor’s time. Because they refused the imperial family’s marriage proposal, they caused their entire family to decline.
Yang shi knew that Mistress Hu spoke the truth, but she truly did not bear for her daughter to enter the palace.
The two talked for a while longer. Mistress Hu saw that Yang shi was slightly distracted, and stood to bid farewell after a few consoling words.
When Gu Chang Ling returned to the inner courtyard, he saw his wife in a daze, her expression not quite right. He hurriedly put a hand on her shoulder. “What is it?”
“You’ve returned?” Yang shi saw it was Gu Chang Ling and smiled slightly. She put down the book she had held but not read. “In-law Hu came to visit today.”
“What did she say that you look so bad?” Gu Chang Ling sat down next to her and gripped her hand. “We have been married for so many years. Remember to tell me, and don’t just keep it inside.”
“The empress dowager and His Majesty have intentions of making Jiu Jiu empress.” Yang shi sighed. “While they did not speak explicitly, they have already had the in-law come ask me.”
Gu Chang Ling heard the words and stilled slightly. However, he did not show much surprise. He lightly gripped Yang shi‘s hand and warmly comforted Yang shi‘s emotions. “I had guessed His Majesty’s feelings. But His Majesty usually keeps his feelings hidden. I am just certain of his feelings today.”
“Since you knew long ago, why did you allow the matter to develop?” Yang shi pulled her hand away, looking at Gu Chang Ling and saying, “You bear for Jiu Jiu to go to a place like that?”
“It’s not that I want her to go there.” Gu Chang Ling thought for a long moment and suddenly said, “Do you remember that dream you and I had the days before Jiu Jiu was born?”
Yang shi shuddered. Even though more than a score of years had passed, she still remembered the dream clearly. That dream had been strange and monstrous, not to mention that she and her husband had the same dream.
In that dream, the fire phoenix had cried tears of blood before turning into light and falling into her belly. The next day, news came out of Luanhe Palace that the young princess had passed away.
Gu Chang Ling did not believe in gods, so while he felt the dream was very strange, he thought it was just a dream. But three years ago, the empress dowager treated Jiu Jiu like a daughter after first meeting her. She summoned Jiu Jiu frequently to the palace, and gave her many things prepared for daughters. Even though they spoiled Jiu Jiu, they could not do more.
Fate was something invisible and intangible, but also something people had to marvel at. The Zhou Family had two daughters of Jiu Jiu’s age, but they were not given special treatment by the empress dowager. She only treated Jiu Jiu like her own.
“After Jiu Jiu was born, she never met the empress dowager.” Gu Chang Ling grimaced. “Right now, it does not matter whether we are willing to have her go into the palace, but that the imperial family wants her as empress.”
He did not bear for his daughter to go into the palace, but who could explain something like the Mandate of Heaven?
Spiritual Master Chu Yun, before leaving the capital, had found him and given him a few words of advice.
“Dragon and Phoenix are auspicious, and the world prospers. The phoenix flies with tears of blood, the lone dragon dies early, the world is in chaos,” Gu Chang Ling said lowly. “This is what Spiritual Master Chu Yun said to me before leaving the capital.”
“Don’t you not believe in gods?” Yang shi laughed bitterly. She said after a long silence, “Never mind. No matter how I worry, it is useless. Could we refuse the proposal from the imperial family?”
If their daughter married into another family, if the son-in-law did something, they, as the paternal family, could cause a commotion. But the imperial house was not like other families. Even if they wanted to get consorts, the paternal family could not do a thing except have their daughter swallow the slight.
Gu Chang Ling thought for a long time. “How about we seek Jiu Jiu’s opinion? If Jiu Jiu is unwilling, we will think of a solution.” If Jiu Jiu was unwilling, due to the cousinly relationship between him and the empress dowager as well as the teacher relationship between him and His Majesty, the two of them may not make things too difficult for the Gu Family.
But before they could ask their daughter her thoughts on their matter, the obituary from Jin Prefecture came. Gu Chang Ling, who had not stayed long at home, hurried towards the palace in a carriage.
The passing of a prince of blood from illness was not much. He should just be buried with the honours of his rank. But Prince Cheng was different. While he was incompetent and muddleheaded, unable to manage even his own lands, he was His Majesty’s birth father, and didn’t yet title his heir. If he was dead, did His Majesty have to have a mourning period? Who would inherit the title?
According to the rules, His Majesty had been adopted by the previous emperor and so was the previous emperor’s child. He was the monarch, Prince Cheng the subject. There was no saying that the monarch had to mourn for the subject. But in terms of emotion, Prince Cheng was His Majesty’s birth father. If His Majesty treated him like an ordinary uncle, that was too cold.
If he mourned, it could likely cause the displeasure of the empress dowager. If he did not mourn, it was a bit unreasonable. So the officials started to argue in Purple Imperial Hall due to this matter.
Jin Yang sat silently in front of the imperial desk. Listening to the chancellors shout, his mind drifted far away.
His emotions towards Prince Cheng were complicated. In his childhood, he had once hoped. When he grew up a bit, he had hated. Later, when he was adopted by Mother-Empress and became the emperor of the Feng Dynasty, he gradually felt no hate or anticipation, nor much emotion at all. How much emotion would he have towards a father that had never paid attention to him and didn’t even look much at him?
There were too many things he had to study during the day. How to govern, how to rule, how to be a person. He was so busy he had no time to think of the Prince Cheng Establishment in Jin Prefecture.
Now news suddenly came that Prince Cheng had died. That man, who was his father but never took on the responsibilities of a father, had died of illness.
He felt slightly blank, empty, but also sore and relaxed.
“Your Majesty, this subject thinks the laws are not above social relationships,” Li Guang Ji said. “You should mourn for Prince Cheng for a year.”
“Absurd—where in the world would a monarch mourn for a subject for a year?” Sima Hong immediately argued back. Your Majesty, you cannot do this. You are first the previous emperor’s child and the monarch of the world. You cannot act like that.”
“Official Sima, everyone in the world knows that Prince Cheng is His Majesty’s birth father. If His Majesty shows no sorrow, what will they think of His Majesty?” Li Guang Ji bowed slightly to Jin Yang. “Your Majesty, please abide by mourning.”
“Official Sima and Prime Minister Li’s words are both correct.” Jin Yang rubbed his forehead. “Official Gu, what do you think of this matter?”
Gu Chang Ling took a step forward and said, “This subject thinks this is Your Majesty’s family matter.”
Jin Yang stood upon hearing this and said, “Yes, Official Gu speaks well. This is Zhen‘s family matter.” After saying this, he looked towards Li Guang Ji and Sima Hong. “Zhen has thoughts on this matter. Officials, please do not harm your peace because of this.”
Sima Hong looked at Gu Chang Ling who was bowing and said in a disdainful tone, “Official Gu has great suggestions.”
“Official Sima, thank you for your praise; this one does not dare to accept.” Gu Chang Ling bowed to Sima Hong with a smile.
Sima Hong moved his gaze aside angrily and did not look at Gu Chang Ling.
Li Guang Ji seemed not to see the turbulence between the pair and said with a bow, “Since Your Majesty has already made a decision, we subjects will not say more. But the matter of Prince Cheng’s heir…”
“The Prince Cheng Establishment has two young masters not yet of age and unable to rule over a prefecture. How about having Princess Consort Cheng and the two young masters come to the capital, and then title them after they are of age.” Jin Yang lowered his face and slowly said, “What do Gentlemen think?”
Zhang Zhong Han, who had not spoken up much, saw the three foxes remain silent, so he stood by the side and did not express any opinions. The emperor’s actions appeared to be out of concern for the family members of Prince Cheng Establishment, but in reality meant retaking Jin Prefecture, and having the sons of Prince Cheng become idle members of the imperial family in name only.
Just like the two old commandery princes in the capital right now. They would have the title but no lands. Staying in the capital, what kind of waves could they make?
This appeared considerate but it was killing without showing blood. This Majesty was much more skilled than the last emperor.
“Your Majesty is wise!” Gu Chang Ling bowed and said, “The sons of Prince Cheng are young, and Your Majesty is kind to think so considerately on their behalf.”
Li Guang Ji and Sima Hong laughed inside. But both of them knew that this was better for court. Unless the two of them had intentions to rebel, they could not say any objections.
“Since this is the case, please, Officials, arrange for the return of Prince Cheng Establishment’s members.” Jin Yang looked at the obituary sent from Jin Prefecture, and said, “These are Prince Cheng’s children—we cannot slight them during their travel.”
Prince Cheng’s children?
The phrasing was so… polite.
Zhang Zhong Han was one who liked to overthink. The more he thought, the stranger he felt His Majesty’s words were. These did not seem to be the words a brother said when they missed their younger siblings?
He glanced at His Majesty’s expression and could not see anything. After some thought, he stood up behind Gu Chang Ling. “Your Majesty is wise, and this subject will work seriously on this matter.”
“Thank you, Beloved Officials.” After Jin Yang said this, he showed a tired expression. The four saw this, and perceptively made their farewells.
Leaving Qiankun Palace, Sima Hong, Gu Chang Ling, and Li Guang Ji smiled and bowed insincerely at each other. Then they left separately, clearly not very satisfied with each other.
Zhang Zhong Han brushed his beard, his gaze sweeping all three. Then he walked towards Gu Chang Ling. “Brother Gu, please wait a moment.”
“Prime Minister Zhang.” Gu Chang Ling turned and saw it was Zhang Zhong Han. He smiled and returned the greeting, “Prime Minister Zhang, is there something?”
“I just wanted to walk with Official Gu and chat.” Zhang Zhong Han chuckled. “Official Gu is deeply trusted by the emperor. What do you think of this matter…”
“Prime Minister Zhang worries too much. You and I are both officials of court. His Majesty is the same towards you, me, and the entire country.” Gu Chang Ling knew that Zhang Zhong Han wanted to get some information out of him so he said directly, “This matter is not major or minor. Prime Minister, you should remember something.”
Zhang Zhong Han said, “I would like to hear the details.”
“Regardless of how Prince Cheng is, he was His Majesty’s birth father. We have no need to say more on this matter. His Majesty naturally has a scale in his mind.” Gu Chang Ling paused and lowered his tone. “The children of Prince Cheng are said to be young, but they are of similar age to His Majesty. They need to understand the things they need to change, and not speak of the things they shouldn’t do. They are just children of a prince and not as noble as His Majesty.”
“Brother Gu’s words are correct. This one also thinks the same.” Zhang Zhong Han was an old fox and immediately understood Gu Chang Ling’s meaning. The two exchanged smiles, and confirmed the treatment for Prince Cheng’s family after they reached the capital.
As expected, the next day, His Majesty wrote an eulogy for Prince Cheng speaking clearly in front of all of court he would mourn for Prince Cheng for seven months.
Based on ordinary people’s etiquette, when an uncle passed away, the nephews’ mourning period was three months. If their parents passed, the sons would have a twelve month mourning period.
His Majesty’s relationship with Prince Cheng was complicated to speak of, but could a monarch be the same as an ordinary person?
Mourning for seven months was a flawless action.
At least the scholars were full of praise. Some scholars even wrote poems praising Jin Yang for his filial piety.
The emperor was going to mourn for seven months. No one in court would come out at this time and speak of having an empress.
His Majesty and the empress dowager were not in a rush. You, as the subject, would be in such a rush to forget that the emperor was in mourning. What kind of thoughts did you have?
Who was willing to be the unfilial, unrighteous person that scholars spoke of?
Five months later, the family members of Prince Cheng entered the capital. Other than the two sons and two daughters of Prince Cheng, there was Princess Consort Cheng and the two secondary consorts. Their compound had been prepared long ago. It had been constructed according to the regulations for a commandery prince. The interior was made extremely well, and anyone who saw it had to say that the emperor was a generous person.
Many people knew that when His Majesty had been just the eldest son in the Prince Cheng Establishment, Princess Consort Cheng had not been good to him, and his siblings had bullied him so his days had been hard. Now, His Majesty was the ruler of the world. Yet he did not hate Princess Consort Cheng and the others for their evil conduct in the past, but had people carefully welcome them. How many people could reach such kindness and generosity?
When the news spread, many people in the capital praised the emperor for being kind, while saying that Princess Consort Cheng and the others were evil. Even the children of Prince Cheng did not have good reputations in the capital. While everyone was polite to them on the surface, they never played with Prince Cheng’s children at private gatherings. The spoiled young masters and commandary ladies immediately felt discomforted.
Although they were unreasonable and unthinking, they also knew this was the capital and not Jin Prefecture. There was also their older brother, who they had once bullied, as emperor. If they were not docile, they feared their days would be hard.
Princess Consort Cheng thought more than her children did. She did not worry that the emperor would bully her family, but that the emperor would keep them captive, not giving them a title or lands. After a few dozen years, who would find them important?
She became increasingly worried, and tried to find different channels, hoping for people that could speak to the emperor who could say good words on their behalf. After she asked around, she learned that the Gu Family was most trusted by the emperor. Marquis Gu had been the emperor’s teacher before he started governing on his own.
But the Gu Family had strict conduct. She, a widowed princess consort could not visit them without a reason. So even though she had such intentions, she had no solutions.
She thought for a while. After a period of time, she finally found a wonderful opportunity.
Second Miss Gu was holding her coming-of-age ceremony in a month. Many women in the capital had been invited. She, as Princess Consort Cheng, was among those.
Looking at the invitation in hand, Princess Consort Cheng thought for a long time and said to Matron Lin, “Matron, prepare my set of crystal cups. When County Princess Changyan is having her coming-of-age, I will use this set of cups as the gift.”
Matron Lin’s expression changed slightly. There were not many sets like that in Great Feng. This was just the coming-of-age for the daughter of a second-tier aristocratic family. Why was the princess consort so generous?
Translator Ramblings: Jin Yang and an evil stepmother is a good fairytale. Now he has pulled his step-siblings away from their own lands, reducing his brother’s future power, and brought them all to the capital which is his home ground. He also gets a glow on his reputation. All for the low low price of mourning for a year meaning he has to refrain from celebrations and entertainment, and likely have a vegetarian diet. Unlike court officials who have to leave their positions when in the mourning period, Jin Yang is still in power. An additional benefit is that no one can force him to get married or take a consort during his period.