This chapter has been brought to you by me and Adnana.
“Official Shen.” Gu Zhi Yu walked into the courtyard of Duobao’s envoy. He ignored the inelegant envoy at the side and first bowed to Shen Qing He.
“Official Gu.” Shen Qing He sighed in relief inwardly when he saw Gu Zhi Yu. He and Gu Zhi Yu were officials in the same department. They were both lower third rank vice directors of the Office of State Ceremonies, and frequently worked together. He had entered court as a vice director due to the influence of his grandmother. Compared to Gu Zhi Yu who had been promoted based on experience and ability, he had corresponding talent, but lacked experience.
“Honored Envoy, what are you doing?” After exchanging greetings with Shen Qing He, Gu Zhi Yu looked at the Duobao Envoy. This lead envoy was tall and large, his skin dark, and he appeared extremely strong and good-tempered.
Gu Zhi Yu had not seen this person before, and guessed this person was acting as the envoy for the first time. He said, “Honoured Guests, is there something unsatisfactory?”
The new envoys from Duobao saw this official wore the same robes as the officials who had come earlier and felt reassured. The lead envoy immediately said, “We have come, representing the wishes of Duobao’s people, to congratulate the amazing emperor and empress. Why do you not arrange for us to meet His Majesty? Does your honored country look down on Duobao?”
The words were very provocative, and many of the officials from the Office of State Ceremonies frowned.
“Official, since you serve in court, you naturally should know some rules.” Gu Zhi Yu looked down and said softly, “When subjects meet His Majesty, they have to pay attention to etiquette and rules.”
The envoy from Duobao frowned. “But we came from afar. Is this how Great Feng treats guests?”
“If your honoured country’s king requests an audience, the emperor will immediately summon him.” Gu Zhi Yu stopped talking and looked with bright eyes at the envoy. “Are you more noble than your honored country’s king and my country’s emperor?”
The envoy from Duobao almost choked at Gu Zhi Yu’s words. But he didn’t dare to say that he was more noble than these two people.
“Please, Honoured Guests, do not be angry. We have prepared a special state banquet to welcome all the envoys—please attend.” After finishing with the unpleasant words, Gu Zhi Yu immediately put on a smiling face. “The emperor and empress will officially appear then.”
The Duobao envoy was slightly displeased by Gu Zhi Yu’s words, but after Gu Zhi Yu said a few good words, he found a way to avoid embarrassment and agreed with a smile. Even though Gu Zhi Yu did not say when the state banquet would be held or where, he quickly stopped arguing and even politely saw Shen Qing He and Gu Zhi Yu off.
“Official Gu,” Shen Qing He asked in confusion after they left, “why do they become more unreasonable when we treat them with due respect…”
“The people of Duobao are strong in their culture and always restless. Rather than say they have come to congratulate the emperor for his wedding, it is more accurate to say they came to spy on Great Feng’s strength.” Gu Zhi Yu put his hands behind his back .”So do not be too reasonable with these people. For them, being too reasonable means being easy to bully.”
Shen Qing He gaped. “They, they…” What kind of weirdos were they to bully the weak and fear the strong?
“Back when His Majesty first ascended the throne, the Duobao envoy also caused a fuss.” Gu Zhi Yu narrowed his eyes. “It was Official Sun who received them. They caused such a large fuss that Official Sun said in anger if they continued, we would cut off our border markets with Duobao and never have relations in the future.”
“What happened?” Shen Qing He swallowed. He was puzzled. Wouldn’t this cause a diplomatic incident between countries?
“Then they followed the rules and stopped making trouble,” Gu Zhi Yu said softly. “This country’s conduct is always like this. Just get used to it.”
Shen Qing He was used to the polite and gentle ways of interaction between the aristocratic families and did not feel very good.
Seeing this, Gu Zhi Yu couldn’t help but think of when he first entered the Office of State Ceremonies and was stunned by all kinds of weird conduct from the envoys. No matter how weird something was, one would become calm after seeing it many times.
The two of them left the visitor palace, but before they turned the corner, they saw a burial procession passing by on the main street. So they stopped walking for the burial procession to pass first.
But when the burial procession came closer, Shen Qing He saw who was in the procession and immediately felt uneasy. He even glanced embarrassedly at Gu Zhi Yu.
But Gu Zhi Yu only looked coldly at the burial procession which passed with its drums and trumpets, as though the person lying in the coffin wasn’t the mistress of the third Sima branch but a passerby he had no conflict with.
“Official Gu, this one’s servants has come. Farewell.” Shen Qing He felt he was too embarrassed to stay. After the burial procession passed, he ignored the flying paper coins and immediately found an excuse to leave.
“Take care.” Gu Zhi Yu bowed with raised hands and then stood standing at his spot. He watched the burial procession travel further until it was out of sight.
“This third mistress is to be pitied. I hear the Sima Family isn’t planning to bury her in the ancestral tombs.”
“What do you know? I hear this mistress did not die at a good time, and her eight characters are in conflict with the Sima Family ancestral tombs, so she wasn’t allowed in.”
“What conflict—I think the Sima Family are not kind in this. She did bear and raise children for your family, and even if she has no merit, she endured hardship. You bury her alone like this—how does this look?
“The matters of these rich and noble families are not things for us lowly people to know. Who cares how she is buried? If this third mistress had had a powerful paternal family, I fear the Sima Family wouldn’t have acted like this.”
“So these aristocratic families are just hypocrites. They treat their wives like this, much less other people.”
“Your words are not all right. That Gu family mistress died with evil spirits and didn’t raise any children for the Gu Family. Didn’t the Gu Family still bury her in the ancestral tombs?”
“How many Gu families are there in the world? Otherwise, how did their daughter become the empress? Isn’t it because their family has good virtue and conduct?”
Some matters of aristocratic families were frequently the topic of the common people after their meals. Oftentimes, they only knew a little about certain matters, but this did not stop them from making daring speculations, and from being determined to search for the truth.
Compared to the unimportant matters of men in the village or around the corner, the matters of aristocratic families were more interesting.
Hearing the surrounding people talk with gusto about these matters, Gu Zhi Yu blankly walked towards the end of the street.
In this world, there was too much pain and helplessness. But for unrelated people, they were nothing else except something to talk about.
Sima Xiang walked within the burial procession in her mourning hemp garb. The sound of the oboes was like the despairing dry cries of an old woman. They passed into her ears and made her unable to breathe.
A mistress of the Sima Family had died, but not many families had set up altars on the road. These people seemed to treat the third branch like a scourge to be avoided.
Pulling aside the headscarf covering her sight, Sima Xiang gripped her mother’s memorial tablet hard as she walked step by step out of the city amid the rain of paper coins.
The eldest Sima branch was discussing at this time whether they should take over Sima Xiang’s upbringing. Honestly speaking, Zheng shi was not willing. Even Sima Hong, the elder, did not really like Sima Xiang.
But now it wasn’t a problem of whether they were willing or not. Sima Xiang did not have her mother, and her family had no other female elders. If the eldest branch did not stand up here, whether or not they were on the right side, people would still speak about them behind their backs.
But another family’s daughter wasn’t so easy to discipline. They could not be either too soft or too severe. This was also a grown girl. Even if the eldest branch started to raise her now, what kind of changes could they bring?
Zheng shi felt a bit of dislike towards this niece not just because of Sima Xiang’s narrow-mindedness. Inexplicably, she felt that Sima Xiang lacked vitality, was dull, and did not have a pure mind.
It was not good for a girl in her teens to not have an open mind.
But no matter how unwillingly, as a member of an important family in the capital, Zheng shi still proactively went to the third branch and brought Sima Xiang back.
In the imperial palace, Gu Ru Jiu was playing weiqi with Empress Dowager Zhou in Kangquan Palace. Her skill had not advanced recently and she would lose every match with the empress dowager. In the end, even the empress dowager had no interest in continuing to play against her.
“It seems something like this cannot be forced.” The empress dowager called for a palace maid to put away the board and then said, “I heard the envoys of various countries have gradually arrived in the capital. Soon, you may have to greet these envoys with the emperor.”
Gu Ru Jiu had heard long ago that Great Feng had several subordinate countries and that there were some surrounding countries who had relations with Great Feng. So when she heard the empress dowager say this, she wasn’t surprised. She was just curious which countries had come.
“Other than the countries who only sent congratulatory letters, eleven countries sent their envoys. Among them, three countries sent their royal sons.” Back when Jin Yang ascended the throne, Empress Dowager Zhou had met many envoys, so she was detailed when she talked to Gu Ru Jiu.
“Whatever thoughts these envoys have is not important.” Empress Dowager Zhou worried Gu Ru Jiu would be nervous and said with a smile, “If they dare to have bad thoughts, then the iron hooves of Great Feng will teach them regret.”
Gu Ru Jiu agreed with Empress Dowager Zhou’s words. One would only have enough confidence if they had the support of actual strength. Didn’t the subordinate countries try to gain favor with Great Feng because it was strong and prosperous?
If Great Feng had been weak and easily bullied, these countries would have jumped and torn pieces off of Great Feng to fill their bellies.
“Mother-Empress, you are right. In the face of absolute power, some conspiracies are nothing.” Gu Ru Jiu smiled. “Copying the conduct of villains would be lowering myself.”
“It is good you can think like this.” Empress Dowager Zhou suddenly changed the topic. “You were very good in your tactics in dealing with those two palace maids two days ago.”
If an empress had to speak directly and say how to punish a mere palace maid, it would degrade her own status. Handing the matter over to the eunuchs in charge was perfect.
Hearing the empress dowager say so, Gu Ru Jiu smiled. “I am too lazy to learn what these two palace maids really are. I only hope that others will not make the same mistake.”
“People want to test your way of behaviour,” Empress Dowager Zhou said wryly. “You and I are not the only mistresses in the inner palace.”
Gu Ru Jiu stilled upon hearing this. Did Mother-Empress mean the dowager consorts in the palace?
“Women who are able to establish themselves in the inner palace will always have their own people.” Empress Dowager Zhou saw Gu Ru Jiu did not show any expressions of finding this hard to accept. She smiled in satisfaction. “The imperial palace is a place of good and bad intermingled. Some people want to escape, some want to enter, and others want to climb. Those people will do all things and group together, even killing people for their own ambitions. They just want a victory.”
This was the first time Gu Ru Jiu heard the empress dowager talk about the darkness of the inner palace, so she didn’t interrupt and listened quietly.
“In other people’s eyes, I may be the final winner among these people.” The empress dowager smiled scornfully. “But in a place like this, there are no true winners. Us women that the emperor treats like playthings are fated to be losers the moment we enter the palace gates.”
Gu Ru Jiu opened her mouth. Seeing the empress dowager’s bitter expression, she swallowed her unspoken words.
“The true winners are only the Jin Clan emperors.” Empress Dowager sighed and grimaced. “So at the start, when the emperor wanted to propose to you, I once hesitated.”
“Mother-Empress.” Gu Ru Jiu had never thought Empress Dowager Zhou had not planned for her to enter the palace. She felt moved and heartsore at Empress Dowager Zhou’s intentions to protect her.
How much suffering and hardship did she experience in this imperial palace that she would hate this place so much?
“Fortunately, the emperor is not like the last emperor, and you are not like me.” The empress dowager smiled, her tone slightly relaxed. “Mother-Empress hopes you will become the lucky one in this palace.”
Gu Ru Jiu gripped Empress Dowager Zhou’s hand, bit her lower lip and didn’t speak.
Coming out of Kangquan Palace, Gu Ru Jiu thought about walking in the imperial gardens. Then she unexpectedly encountered Dowager Consort Qian and Dowager Consort Wu.
The two dowager consorts and the empress dowager were close in age, but the two looked older than the empress dowager. When the two dowager consorts saw Gu Ru Jiu, they immediately stood up.
Gu Ru Jiu was not familiar with the pair. Other than seeing the dowager consorts on the second day after the wedding at the empress dowager’s place, she basically had no other chances to meet them.
The three of them had nothing to say, but leaving directly like this was not appropriate. In the end, Dowager Consort Qian invited Gu Ru Jiu to sit down for tea.
Gu Ru Jiu did not refuse, and sat together with the two dowager consorts at a stone table at the side.
The tea was good, but tasted like last year’s tea. However, Gu Ru Jiu did not show this on her face. She did not have any disdain when she held the teacup and chatted with the two dowager consorts.
They really did not have any friendly relations, so after the three finished the question and answer session, they had no topic to speak of, and they sank into silence.
Fortunately, the sound of clapping interrupted this almost awkward silence.
The two dowager consorts knew this was the reminder that the emperor’s procession was incoming. As dowager consorts without any children, they had a natural reverence towards the emperor. So they put down their cups, stood and took two steps back.
Gu Ru Jiu stood up a beat later than the two dowager consorts. She put down the teacup and smiled without speaking when she saw the black-robed youth coming towards her.
“Your Majesty.” The two dowager consorts bowed.
Jin Yang returned the bow of a junior to them and turned to look at Gu Ru Jiu. “Just now, I went to Mother-Empress to find you, and Mother-Empress said you had already left. Who knew that you were drinking tea with the dowager consorts?”
“The sun is perfect. If I do not walk around, I will let down this sunlight.” Gu Ru Jiu gave a dimpled smile towards Jin Yang. He could not resist poking the dimples. “Since the weather is so good, I will walk around with you.”
“Good.” Gu Ru Jiu was happy to not have to sit in silence with the two dowager consorts. Even more importantly, the two dowager consorts looked honest and sincere, but… how could there be such honest and sincere people after living in the inner palace for so many years?
After Gu Ru Jiu and Jin Yang had left, Dowager Consort Qian took a sip of the tea made from last year’s leaves. Then she slowly said, “The empress had good self-restraint.”
They all said the Gu family miss was spoiled by her elders. But from today, this empress did not look like she was too pampered.
Now that Wu family miss, she could be called arrogant. Her conduct and way of speaking was always presumptuous and shrewish. If it had been her who drank this tea today, though she would not have said anything in dissatisfaction, she definitely wouldn’t have taken a second sip.
But this empress was able to look unaffected, as though she wasn’t drinking old tea but carefully selected tribute tea.
“As the empress capable of being selected by that person, of course she can perform this bit of superficiality.” Dowager Consort Wu raised her chin towards Kangquan Palace. “That one entered the palace back then, having been previously married, and managed to become the empress. You and I cannot compare to her skill.”
Hearing Dowager Consort Wu mention the past, Dowager Consort Qian did not have a good expression. A bit later, she said, “The person she selected also has good skills. The spies we had managed to put into Qiankun Palace have all been cleaned out, and she has enchanted the emperor. He came in search of her after not seeing her for a while.”
“What are you saying—they are a young couple. It is normal they do not bear to part.” Dowager Consort Qian smiled, her voice slightly sharp as though she was being sarcastic. “I just wonder how long this love can last.”
As a loser of palace struggle, they did not feel well seeing the love between the next emperor and empress.
Thinking of how the previous emperor had treated the women in the imperial palace, they started to anticipate the day Gu Ru Jiu lost the favour of the emperor.
They were not willing for other women to receive something they had never had.
They were all women of the inner palace, all women who served the emperor. Why should their fates be different?
“You expression was not well just now,” Gu Ru Jiu whispered to Jin Yang after leaving the imperial gardens. “Because of those two dowager consorts?”
“Those two dowager consorts…” Jin Yang thought of the spies he had Bai Xian and He Ming extract in the last few days, and frowned slightly. “Their thoughts are complicated. Be careful.”
“They are only dowager consorts who have lost power, whereas I have Your Majesty’s support. So no matter the thoughts they have, I have nothing to fear.” Gu Ru Jiu smiled proudly. “The most noble man in the world is standing by my side—what can they use against me?”
Jin Yang’s heart itched at seeing her smug expression. He clasped her hand and smiled. “I am very happy to protect Jiu Jiu for a lifetime.”
Gu Ru Jiu smiled and said, “I am also happy being protected by Your Majesty for a lifetime.”
Bai Xian who followed behind the pair thought, no wonder all generations of husband and wife in the Gu Family were harmonious and had happy families. So the secret was here.
It was the Gu Family’s special characteristic of being good at making people happy.
“Remember the apricot forest we once went to?” Jin Yang looked back at Gu Ru Jiu. He thought of how he had only dared to secretly observe her back then out of fear that she would discover his thoughts. He felt that the present was like a dream, so beautiful it wasn’t real.
Gu Ru Jiu nodded.
“The flowers have bloomed. Jiu Jiu, are you willing to go admire flowers with me?” Jin Yang gripped Gu Ru Jiu’s hand tighter. His gaze was extremely warm.
“Flowers should be cut when possible.” Gu Ru Jiu looked at her clasped hand. “But I fear that with my husband and master by me, I will have no thoughts for admiring flowers.”
Bai Xian felt that he was going to kneel for the empress. She said what His Majesty was going to say before he did.
It was a pity that the couple’s plan to admire flowers was cancelled due to a request from the Chief Justice of the court.
Not wanting to inadvertently interfere in court matters, Gu Ru Jiu found an excuse and returned to Purple Imperial Hall.
Before entering her rooms, she saw the chief justice standing in front of the entrance to Purple Imperial Hall. His expression was ugly and she had a bad feeling.
“A guard from the Duobao Envoy group molested a woman?!” Jin Yang heard the report from the chief justice and frowned. “Since they have come to Great Feng, they should abide by our rules. Just punish him strictly according to the crime of molesting a woman.”
“This subject also thinks the same. But the Duobao envoy said that the guard is a Duobao noble and is willing to take the woman as a concubine.” The chief justice found the explanation disgusting, but as a subject, he still explained the matter clearly.
“Molesting an innocent woman, taking the woman as a concubine, and not being punished—what are their intentions?!” Jin Yang’s expression immediately darkened. “If all men went and molested a woman if they wanted a woman, then took her as a concubine, would the world have any rules to speak of?!
“Go and tell the Duobao envoy that a woman of Great Feng will not be unmarriageable just because she was molested. Zhen doesn’t care about the status of the guard. Since he dares to commit an illicit sexual crime, then he will be punished severely!
“If they are not willing,” Jin Yang slowly added, “then they will be deported from Great Feng. The Duobao will never be allowed to take one step into Great Feng again.”
Translator Ramblings: We passed the halfway point. The Sima Family is not doing great with the funeral and the burial, especially with the Gu Family in comparison.