This chapter has been brought to you by me and Adnana.
“Miss, the night is late, go to sleep.” Bao Mei walked with red-rimmed eyes next to Sima Xiang and put a cape on her. She turned to glance at the bright fireworks outside the window and didn’t dare to take another look. “The night is cold—how about we close the window?”
“The fireworks have been burning for almost two hours.” She smiled disdainfully. “Don’t they all say that His Majesty is thrifty and diligent, never wasting manpower and resources?”
She pressed her palms to the windowsill and looked up at the fireworks in the sky. “These fireworks are not a waste?”
Bai Mei lowered her head and didn’t dare to speak. She was just an insignificant servant girl. She didn’t dare to comment on the matters of the imperial family. She also knew her miss was bitter inside and could only listen.
Sima Xiang stood by the window and watched as the fireworks bloomed and then turned into darkness. The loud fireworks only faded at midnight.
She moved her cold feet to the side of the bed. She seemed to hear curses coming from the main yard, and dazedly walked to sit by the table. Suddenly, she sat up, and swept the tea set on the table to the ground. The porcelain smashed against the ground, the sound ear-piercing in the night.
“Miss.” Bai Mei worriedly wanted to come forward but was stopped by her shout.
“Get out!” Sima Xiang said harshly. “Do not disturb me.”
“I…” Bai Mei saw the mess on the ground and was worried. But seeing her miss’ ugly expression, she could only slowly withdraw from the room and carefully guard the outer room.
To her surprise, no sound came from inside the room halfway through the night. She was so sleepy she couldn’t help but fall asleep in the outer room.
The next morning, she was frightened awake by a scream from the main yard. She hurriedly walked into the inner room without even putting on her shoes. She saw Miss still sleeping on the bed and was reassured.
She was about to leave quietly when sky-shaking cries came from the main yard.
“Miss, Miss.” Sensing something wrong, she went up and woke the sleeping Sima Xiang. “Miss, something seems to have happened in the main yard.”
“What did you say?” Sima Xiang used her arms to push herself up to sit. But she might have stood too long by the window last night and her arms were weak.
Bai Mei hurriedly supported her and called in the servant girls waiting outside to help Miss wash.
Sima Xiang hadn’t finished dressing when a matron ran in hurriedly. Before she spoke, the matron knelt with a bang. “Miss, Mistress has passed away.”
“What did you say?” Sima Xiang finally could not stand up and collapsed to the ground. She looked dazedly at the matron. “She was fine last night—how come…”
“Mistress… Mistress cut her veins.” The matron’s slightly chubby body shook like dice and she was clearly frightened by the scene she had seen.
Bai Mei turned to look at the pale miss and felt the sky was going to cave in.
“Help me go see.” Sima Xiang forced herself to stand, pushed aside Bao Mei who was going to support her, and stumbled out.
“Miss, your shoes…” Bao Mei saw Miss was still wearing a pair of soft slippers for use inside the room and hurriedly returned to the inner room. She opened the shoe cabinet and took out a pair of plain cotton shoes before following.
“Older Sister Bao Mei.” The servant girl responsible for taking care of Sima Xiang”s shoes and socks saw her hurry away and looked down at the cabinet that Bao Mei had made a mess of. After organizing it, she frowned in confusion.
What pair of shoes had Older Sister Bao Mei taken just now? Although the shoes Miss wore usually were good, they were too bright in color. It wasn’t appropriate for Miss to wear those right now?
The third mistress of the Sima Family had not had a clear mind after her son was executed, but right now, who would care about how chaotic this family that had reputation but no real power was?
People would sigh with pity at tea and after meals, saying that their daughter was beautiful, but had been delayed by her mother and older brother.
The third mistress of the Sima Family killed herself but not on a good day—the following day after the marriage of the emperor and empress. As a result, Sima Yue didn’t even send obituaries to other families.
Even more importantly, the third mistress had killed herself. In a situation like this, they needed to discuss with the first and second branches if she could be buried in the Sima tombs.
The Sima Family kept this matter locked down and didn’t leak a thing. Most of the capital’s attention was on the marriage of the emperor or empress. Who would really care if their family had had someone pass away or have an accident?
The day after the wedding was the day for the civil and military officials as well as the titled ladies to pay their respects to the empress. This morning, while Gu Ru Jiu clearly had not had enough sleep and had weak legs and a sore back, she still had to climb out of bed.
“So sleepy.” She took over the still-steaming hot towel the palace attendant handed her and covered her face so she could become more alert.
Seeing her like this, Jin Yang regretted slightly that he had kept going until so late last night. He walked next to Gu Ru Jiu and gently massaged her temples for her. “Is this better?”
Gu Ru Jiu took the towel off her face, and then brushed his face with the towel. She whispered, “Your Majesty, other people are present.”
“These people are the people who usually serve me. Don’t worry.” Jin Yang wasn’t angry at the towel covering his face, and cheerfully looked at Gu Ru Jiu’s white face. He took another towel and wiped Gu Ru Jiu’s hands. “We are having our marital joy—why care about others?”
Gu Ru Jiu felt her thoughts were not liberal enough.
The emperor and empress put on their formal court clothes. When Gu Ru Jiu was putting on make-up, Jin Yang crowded over again.
“Your Majesty, have you heard of a saying?” Gu Ru Jiu was drawing a golden phoenix tail on her forehead as she glanced at the serious Jin Yang.
“What?” Jin Yang asked without blinking.
“When women are putting on make-up, men should not randomly watch.” Gu Ru Jiu put down the pen and then took out a sharpened eyebrow dye. Then she noticed Jin Yang’s eyes were almost glowing.
She slowly traced her brows, put down the dye, and said, “Your Majesty?”
“I am seeing how you draw your eyebrows.” Jin Yang coughed, uneasy. “Those storybooks frequently write of how husband and wife are deeply in love, and the husband will draw the wife’s eyebrows for a lifetime?”
Gu Ru Jiu’s hands, stretched towards the rouge, immediately paused.
“Your eyebrows are so beautiful. I don’t know how to draw them, and I worry they will be ugly if I draw.” After exposing the shortcoming that he couldn’t draw brows, Jin Yang appeared slightly embarrassed. “So I want to first see how you draw.”
Gu Ru Jiu saw herself smile in the mirror.
“No matter, you can learn if you do not know.” Gu Ru Jiu turned to look at Jin Yang standing next to her. “Starting tomorrow, Your Majesty can first try drawing and practicing on me.”
“What if it is bad?” Jin Yang was moved but looking at his Jiu Jiu’s beautiful willow eyebrows, he was slightly distressed. What if he drew earthworms?
“No matter, I will not dislike Your Majesty,” Gu Ru Jiu said with a smile, “because I understand Your Majesty’s intentions.”
Moved by Jiu Jiu’s understanding, Jin Yang decided to practice his skills on paper today so he wouldn’t embarrass himself tomorrow.
The husband and wife in such sweetness caused the surrounding palace attendants to blush and bow their heads.
In the end, Gu Ru Jiu had Jin Yang start with two of her fingernails.
While they had not been done well, Jin Yang still felt great accomplishment when he saw the red fingernails on Jin Yang’s white fingers.
At the side, He Ming and Bai Xian looked woodenly at His Majesty who seemed to have found his beloved today. The two exchanged a look and saw some helplessness from each other’s eyes.
In Vermillion Bird Hall, the officials had lined up based on their titles and positions, and the same with the noblewomen—the men on the left, the women on the right. They were all dressed grandly according to their rank, and hadn’t dared to be negligent.
It was no wonder everyone was so ceremonious. Today was the first time the empress was receiving respect from the court, and this was a significant event. No one wanted to be at fault in their etiquette.
“Official Sima’s expression today is worse than yesterday.” Li Guang Ji stood side by side with Sima Hong. Regarding this person of a generation above him, Li Guang Ji always had respect towards the elderly, and asked in concern, “Did you not sleep well last night?”
“His Majesty finally has an empress, and this old subject is extremely happy and wasn’t able to sleep well out of excitement.” Sima Hong glanced at Li Guang Ji. “Thank you, Minister Li for your worry. I am fine.”
“As long as you are fine,” Li Guang Ji said, chuckling. “His Majesty will worry if a good and loyal official like Official Sima has problems.”
Sima Hong heard the words and his heart shook slightly. He looked expressionlessly at Li Guang Ji and didn’t understand the meaning of his words.
Had Li Guang Ji already learned of what happened in the third branch?
Sima Hong did not have an idea, but seeing Li Guang Ji’s leisurely state, he gave a small smile and said with a bow, “We are the same, we are the same.”
Standing next to the pair, Zhang Zhong Han lowered his head to look at the tips of his shoes, as though he did not hear anything.
“Boom, boom, boom…”
There were nine drum beats. The officials turned in unison to face the center of the hall and then took a step back to bow.
“Welcome, Emperor; welcome Empress.”
No one looked up at this time. Only the important officials near the center of the hall could see the vermillion robes edged in gold pass by. On the dress, golden phoenixes roamed around auspicious clouds.
“Officials, please rise.” Jin Yang and Gu Ru Jiu walked onto the platform together and only sat down after the officials had all straightened.
A phoenix seat had been added next to the dragon throne, so even though it was elevated, the place appeared more lively than usual.
The first to go up and bow to Gu Ru Jiu were the members of the imperial family. When they bowed, Gu Ru Jiu stood up and nodded slightly at them.
After the members of the imperial family were the dukes and ministers, the country ladies, the commandery ladies. Gu Ru Jiu would nod at them with a flawless smile.
Although the number of people who could come to Vermillion Bird Hall to pay respects was limited, after these groups of people all came to bow, Gu Ru Jiu felt that her head was sore. After everyone finished bowing, she slowly sat back onto the phoenix seat, holding a palace attendant’s hand.
Jin Yang turned to smile at her, and then an official stood up holding an imperial decree scroll with a jade bar. He announced the imperial decree titling Gu Chang Ling as the Duke of Zhongning.
Then were three more imperial decrees, all ennobling the members of the empress’ family.
Duchess Zhongning was titled Country Lady Ning, the second son was bestowed a township marquis, and the married eldest daughter of Duke Zhongning was bestowed a township lady title.
The imperial family ennobling the empress’ family during the formal ceremony of paying respects in front of the full court gave the empress a lot of face.
What kind of glory was this?
The court officials heard the imperial decree announcements and were both envious and jealous. Pity that their families did not have a good daughter the imperial family wanted, and couldn’t all get titles.
Thinking of how Duke Zhongning was still the director of the Department of State Affairs, the officials couldn’t help but think the Gu Family was showing signs they would dominate the court.
Just as everyone thought the Gu Family had the limelight this time, Gu Chang Ling sent in a memorandum that afternoon to quit his position.
After this memorandum was delivered, it wasn’t yet evening when the news had already reached the ears of the aristocratic families.
“Gu Chang Ling is an old fox.” Li Guang Ji couldn’t help but lament after learning this. Even he, if one encountered such a situation, may not have been as determined as Gu Chang Ling.
A hero could cut off his hand. But not everyone could do that.
He knew that Gu Chang Ling’s actions were the smartest. The Gu Family had produced an empress, and their entire family was titled. They could be called to be extremely glorious and splendid.
But as a court official, one could not challenge the emperor’s suspicions. His Majesty trusted the Gu Family now and respected the empress. But this did not mean the emperor wouldn’t have suspicions in the future and wouldn’t dislike the empress. At that time, the glory of the Gu Family would become an eyesore in His Majesty’s eyes. The Gu Family would be wrong if they were right, and wrong if they were wrong. At that time, they likely wouldn’t be able to protect even their past glory.
Gu Chang Ling’s decisive resignation, whether or not His Majesty would permit, would leave behind an impression with His Majesty that the Gu Family was very tactful.
Which emperor did not like obedient and tactful subjects?
His Majesty was young now. When he reached middle age and became paranoid, this would become the best emotional card for the Gu Family.
“It is a regret that I did not propose to the Gu daughter for you back then,” Li Guang Ji said to his son. “A smart and tactful in-law like them would have been a great help to you.”
“Father, you are joking,” Li Huai Gu said with a bowed head. “This is just something of the past, and not worth a mention.” Right now, he was engaged to a miss from the Shen Family. Those past things should have been forgotten long ago.
Right now, whenever he thought of the past, he would think of how his younger sister had looked after falling off the horse. His young feelings had been worn away slowly by time.
Li Guang Ji looked at his expressionless son and sighed. “Now, this father slightly regrets your engagement to Miss Shen.”
The miss from the Sima main branch had married the young master of the Shen Family, and his son was going to marry Miss Shen. The Shen Family was also preparing to move into the capital. If there were no other intentions, this would be all right, but if there was anything else, his Li Family could not avoid being implicated.
The Feng Dynasty had several princesses who had been involved in the struggle for the throne. Right now, only the Grand Princess Deyi was still alive. This grand princess had appeared to have no other intentions these years, but it was hard to know if she really had thoughts or not.
“Father, please do not worry—this son will not allow something like that to happen,” Li Huai Gu said after a moment of silence. “If she marries into the Li Family, she will be one of us. The matters of the Shen Family should have nothing to do with her.”
Li Huai Gu nodded. “It is good if you think like this.”
Outside the study, Li Wu shi listened to the talk between father and son. She turned expressionlessly and walked towards her own courtyard.
In the eyes of the Li men, when did women ever need their own thoughts? Women were just tools for them to create offspring. Even they themselves were mud puppets to maintain the glory of the family.
She stood in this grand compound and felt it was deathly silent here, like a tomb.
In Purple Imperial Hall, Gu Ru Jiu took down her hairpins and came out after bathing. She saw Jin Yang had returned from the imperial study but his expression was not pleasant. He asked, “Your Majesty, what is wrong?”
Jin Yang saw her come over with her hair wet. He pulled her to sit down next to him and then used a dry cloth to wipe her hair. “Father-in-law has given Zhen a memorandum.”
“Yes.” Gu Ru Jiu nodded and idly took a book from the side to flip open. Then she looked up at him. “Did my dad do something to upset you?”
“No.” Jin Yang shook his head. “Father-in-law sent in a resignation.”
“What?” Gu Ru Jiu’s voice went high. She threw the book to the side. “My dad really did that?”
Jin Yang nodded silently.
Gu Ru Jiu smiled after a moment. “Your Majesty, you are to be blamed for this.”
“I am to blame?” Jin Yang looked in confusion at Gu Ru Jiu. “Did I do something to displease Father-in-law?”
“No, you are just too good to my father,” Gu Ru Jiu explained. “I remember when I was young, my mother mentioned Father’s hobbies were calligraphy and painting. He wasn’t interested in politics. But the Gu Family does not have many members. If Father did not serve as an official, how could the family continue to prosper?”
Gu Ru Jiu grimaced. “The Gu Clan is an aristocratic family that has lasted for several centuries. A century ago, our ancestor regained the family’s glory. We could not let the family fall again in my father’s generation, so he could only hold on. Today, you sent decrees titling my family. The Gu Clan is full of glory. Father has no more worries and doesn’t want to be an official any longer.”
Jin Yang thought of Gu Chang Ling’s astounding calligraphy and said reluctantly, “But Father-in-law is full of talent. Zhen is really unwilling to let him retire like this.”
“Then try to have my dad stay.” Gu Ru Jiu heartlessly held the book in her hand and flipped the page. “Though I feel that your chances of keeping him are not high.”
Jin Yang saw his empress like this and deflated. As the empress, she did not try to get benefits for her paternal family, and even explained why Father-in-law had resigned. He didn’t know whether to say that Jiu Jiu trusted him, or did not have any sense of caution.
But no matter what, facing Gu Ru Jiu’s honest attitude, Jin Yang’s heart was warmed like he had drunk a pot of hot tea.
In the following days, Jin Yang kept on trying to keep Gu Chang Ling, but Gu Chang Ling’s desire to retire was too great. He cried tears in court as he said how he wanted to repay the court, but his health was not good, his legs were in pain, he had a headache, and he was unhealthy all over his body. In order to not delay work, he could only resign.
Seeing him describe himself as ill all over, Jin Yang was finally shocked by his desire to retire and could only grit his teeth and put his seal on Gu Chang Ling’s twelfth memorandum of resignation.
After court ended, Jin Yang went back to Purple Imperial Hall, feeling a bit wronged. But he didn’t see the empress, and immediately turned to ask Bai Xian, “Where is the empress?”
“Your Majesty, three days have passed. The empress needs to move to Luanhe Palace, and is doing so.”
“Why has no one told Zhen about such an important matter?” Jin Yang’s expression darkened. He thought the people of the palace had made such a decision without permission, and slighted Gu Ru Jiu.
“Your Majesty, that is… didn’t you discuss this with the Ministry of Rites before the wedding?” He Ming reminded in a whisper. “This servant thought you knew and therefore didn’t report to you.”
“Etiquette is dead, people are alive. Why didn’t you know to stop the empress from leaving?” Jin Yang put his hands behind his back .”Also, according to etiquette, the bride should not easily move their residence after marriage for a hundred days. Otherwise, it may hinder the marital relationship.”
He Ming and Bai Xian chuckled inwardly. The one who said that it was inappropriate for a bride to not reside in the husband’s room after marriage was you, now the one who says the bride could not move residences in a hundred days is also you. Why don’t you just say directly that you do not bear for the empress to move out?
While they were madly ridiculing inside, the two kept solemn expressions. “Your Majesty is correct. The people of the Ministry of Rites were not attentive enough.”
“Since this is the case, Zhen will bring the empress back.” Jin Yang turned and walked out of the hall. “Luanhe Palace was just renovated—the smell of paint is stifling there.”
Oh, Your Majesty, the word “just” in your mouth means over a year ago?
Bai Gonggong and He Gonggong, the two personal imperial eunuchs had unknowingly learned the skill of silent criticism to the highest level.
When Gu Ru Jiu entered Luanhe Palace again, she found that this place was even more refined than before. Many decoration items had been added, all of them with auspicious patterns and almost all of them in pairs.
She walked to the courtyard. The palace maids and eunuchs working in Luanhe Palace filled the courtyard. The two men and women standing at the front were dressed grandly and with more care than the people behind them. They appeared to be the stewards of Luanhe Palace.
As the new mistress of Luanhe Palace, she should proceed with “a leadership speech” according to etiquette. But Jin Yang’s arrival caused the plan to be aborted.
Seeing Jin Yang hurriedly walk in, Gu Ru Jiu swallowed the words that had reached her lips. Amid the greetings of the eunuchs and palace attendants, she walked in front of Jin Yang and curtsied slightly. “Your Majesty.”
“Jiu Jiu came to admire the palace?” Jin Yang gripped Gu Ru Jiu’s hand and did not let her go down.
Gu Ru Jiu’s eyebrows rose. Wasn’t today the day of her official move to Luanhe Palace?
Translator Ramblings: A death and then romantic fluff.