This chapter has been brought to you by me and Adnana.
Gu Zhi Yu, as the heir to the Gu Family, was the most reliable and motivated of the four Gu siblings. Gu Cun Jing, in comparison, was more lively compared to him. Gu Pan Qi was more narrow-minded in comparison while Gu Ru Jiu was relatively lazy. He seemed to have gathered all the best traits of his siblings, and the other families all admired Gu Chang Ling for having such an heir.
And because of this, everyone agreed when Gu Chang Ling asked to make him the heir. No one was discontent.
In the view of others, Gu Cun Jing was already exceptional enough, but he encountered an older brother even better than him. He should either be jealous or have other negative emotions. But the Gu brothers had a good relationship and never had any arguments. Some people felt regret about this inside.
Gu Zhi Yu had never disappointed his family. He had both martial and literary skill, he was educated and polite. Before marriage, he had received the favour of many girls. After marriage, he was respectful and loving towards his wife, and many women praised him.
Who would dislike an almost perfect and dedicated man?
It was because of this that so many women in the capital disliked the Sima third branch after Gu Zhi Yu’s wife was killed by the only son of the Sima third branch. Even Sima Xiang was ostracized.
Before the third Sima mistress died, she always thought it was the Gu Family acting behind the scenes that caused her and her daughter to be excluded by the noblewomen of the capital. They didn’t know that they were the ones who had caused their own situation.
“Thank you for letting me win.” Gu Zhi Yu pressed the tip of his sword at the Gaoluo swordsman’s throat. Then he gave a small smile to the swordsman, turned his sword downwards and bowed elegantly to the other.
“Thank you for your teaching; this one was outmatched.” The Gaoluo swordsman was embarrassed to have lost but he accepted his loss. He respectfully bowed to Gu Zhi Yu before leaving.
“Great Feng’s swordsmanship is really as they say. Hearing is not as good as seeing. Official Gu has such swordsmanship as a civil official. Our minds have been enlightened.” Among the Gaoluo envoys who had lost, a large man with a full beard stood up. He said in a praising tone as he bowed to Jin Yang, “This subject is a first-rank general of Gaoluo, Bo Xun Ge. This subject has a daughter of seventeen years. Is Official Gu willing to have her accompany you?”
The hand of the prime minister of Karu, Duo Mi, shook as he held a winecup. Was Bo Xun Ge crazy? This Official Gu was the empress’ elder brother, the heir to a first-rank ducal establishment. How could he marry a foreign woman? Not just as the legal wife—she couldn’t even be a concubine!
After Bo Xun Ge spoke, Gu Zhi Yu’s smile turned cold. He said coolly, “Thank you, General, for your goodwill. This one has no intentions of getting married.”
“Official Gu, what do you mean—do you look down on my daughter?” Bo Xun Ge felt that his daughter, the foremost beauty of Gaoluo, should marry a good-looking and elegant man.
Great Feng was both rich and prosperous, and the men were not as rough as those from Gaoluo. As a man, he felt the men of Gaoluo were more masculine. But as a father, he felt it was better for his daughter to marry a nobleman from Great Feng.
As a father, he felt his daughter was of noble birth and beautiful. It wouldn’t be social climbing to marry a third-rank Feng official. But the other didn’t give him any face and directly refused.
Bo Xun Ge’s face immediately darkened. He narrowed his eyes and said, “Please, Official Gu, consider carefully.”
“General Bo Xun Ge.” Gu Ru Jiu, who hadn’t spoken much since the banquet started, started talking. She put down her wine cup and said neutrally, “I hear that your country has a tradition of grabbing husbands. When nobles like a certain warrior, they would steal him home to be the son-in-law?”
“Noble Empress, in our Gaoluo, warriors are worthy of respect, and qualify for being the husbands of noblewomen.” Bo Xun Ge was slightly puzzled upon hearing the weak-looking empress speak up. But he still stood up and bowed to answer.
“Then, General, do you know the traditions of Great Feng?” Gu Ru Jiu raised her voice slightly. “In Great Feng, marriage is a prudent and holy matter. We care about the opinions of the parents. General Gu doesn’t ask the opinions of Official Gu’s parents, or even Official Gu himself before wanting Official Gu as your son-in-law. Should this palace assume that in General’s eyes, you can pick Great Feng’s men as you wish?”
Bo Xun Ge felt the empress’ words were increasingly wrong. This Official Gu was not a very important official, but the imperial house was speaking so harshly on his behalf?
“Your Majesty, please understand. This subject just admires Official Gu greatly and urgently wants to find a good husband for my daughter. Please forgive any missteps in my words.” Bo Xun Ge had a fiery temper but his mind was normal. While he didn’t understand why the empress appeared more discontent than the emperor, he still perceptively apologized.
Thinking about her big brother, good everywhere, being humiliated so by the Gaoluo general, Gu Ru Jiu was extremely angry. The Gaoluo general likes the heir to the ducal establishment, so he casually stated wanting to marry his daughter over?
“This palace’s brother is the son of a first-rank duke, the heir to the Gu Clan. His marriage is not a trifling matter.” Gu Ru Jiu’s eyes swept across everyone present and he said coldly, “General, please take back your words.”
What? This assistant minister of the Office of State Ceremonies was the empress’ brother?
The pitiful Gaoluo had come relatively late, not three days before the start of the banquet. They had no time to understand the twists and turns of the Feng nobility.
They didn’t even know the empress’ surname. They only heard that she was a noblewoman and her family was greatly trusted by the emperor, and nothing else.
Thinking that he had tried to grab the empress’ brother, Bo Xun Gu was dumbstruck. Even in Gaoluo, no one lower-ranked would grab someone higher-ranked as their son-in-law. Warriors from the common people felt glory at being a noblewoman’s husband, but those were common people, not nobility.
Bo Xun Ge apologized to Gu Zhi Yu with a stiff face before going back to his seat. He just wished he had never said anything about having Gu Zhi Yu as his son-in-law.
Duo Mi, the prime minister of Karu, glanced at Bo Xun Ge and then whispered to an official in his company, “Do you see—this is called having bravery without any smarts.”
He couldn’t be blamed for gloating because Gaoluo was much more dislikable compared to Great Feng. In private, Gaoluo liked to show off in front of small countries and looked down on them. Great Feng was so strong but didn’t show off like them. Gaoluo couldn’t even compare to Great Feng, so where did they get their confidence?
“Your Majesty, General Bo Xun Ge admires Official Gu so much, and forgot himself momentarily. Please, Your Majesty, do not hold a grudge against his unintentional mistake as he does not understand Great Feng’s traditions.” The leading Gaoluo Envoy stood up and bowed deeply to Gu Ru Jiu. “Gaoluo is extremely loyal to Great Feng and has no intentions of offending.”
Seeing the other put this on the level of country to country, Gu Ru Jiu smiled rather than getting angry. She laughed softly, ignoring the words and said, “I hear that your honored country has also had experts travel here. Official, where are these experts?”
“This subject is Qi Lian, and cannot bear to be called Official in front of Niangniang.” The leading envoy said, “If Niangniang wants to meet them, it is their honor.” Then he had someone take the experts in from outside the hall.
Other people couldn’t hear it, but Jin Yang knew this envoy called Qi Lian was trying to sow discord between them by saying Niangniang all this time.
If he had really married Jiu Jiu due to the Empress Dowager, when he heard Qi Lian’s manner of speaking, he would have definitely felt some anger. He would have been angry at the Gu Family, and also towards the Empress Dowager.
Internal conflict inside Great Feng was something Gaoluo had always hoped for.
Did Gaoluo really not know Gu Zhi Yu was Jiu Jiu’s brother, or were they pretending?
“Your Majesty.” Gu Ru Jiu used the movement of toasting wine to whisper to Jin Yang, “I feel that this Qi Lian is extremely cunning.”
Jin Yang smiled at her, and used the cover of his wide sleeve to grip her hand. “Jiu Jiu, do not worry. If someone disrespects you, just teach them a lesson.”
Gu Ru Jiu tilted her head to smile at him and then turned and said, “Since there are so many experts, wouldn’t it be a pity if they do not spar?”
The Feng officials heard the empress’ words and expressed no opinions. If this was another country, they may have spoken up to urge otherwise, to leave them some face. But since this was Gaoluo, they silently decided to drink wine and watch the spectacle.
Qi Lian hadn’t thought the Feng empress would be so aggressive. He knew long ago that Bo Xun Ge was rash, and didn’t know the relationship between Gu Zhi Yu and the empress. This was why he hadn’t stopped Bo Xun Ge from offending the empress just now.
But he hadn’t expected Great Feng to keep pressing, intending to embarrass Gaoluo.
The first to mention sparing was them. Now, he knew that Gaoluo’s experts couldn’t compare to Great Feng’s, but he still gritted his teeth and agreed.
Having courted disaster, he now had to see it through to the end.
What followed was an inhuman suppression. Blade work—Gaoluo lost; archery—Gaoluo lost; math—Gaoluo lost; boxing—Gaoluo lost.
After the string of losses, the Gaoluo envoys had green faces. Qi Lian saw that this could not continue. He could only stand and express to Jin Yang that Gaoluo’s skills were not enough. But after seeing Great Feng’s experts, they were happy even though they lost, and Gaoluo were loyal supporters of Great Feng.
If loyal supporters were all like this, no one would be willing to have any supporters.
Gu Ru Jiu’s goals had been reached in embarrassing Gaoluo. So she didn’t want to waste words with Qi Lian. She pretended to be concentrating on tasting wine and threw the matter to Jin Yang.
Knowing she was irritated and unwilling to talk to Qi Lian, Jin Yang smiled and let him go.
But in Qi Lian’s view, this was the Feng emperor having a gentle personality, while the empress was being aggressive by relying on the power of her paternal family and the empress dowager. If this continued, conflict would arise between the emperor and the empress dowager and the empress.
And he was waiting for that day.
Because Gaoluo’s actions of making trouble for themselves amused everyone, the following events during the banquet appeared flat.
But when the banquet was about to end, something happened again.
One country expressed they were willing to give their noble princess to the great emperor in tribute.
Didn’t you come to congratulate the emperor and empress for their wedding? Giving their princess in tribute to compete with the empress for a man—were they coming to congratulate or to cause trouble?
Everyone was stunned by the conduct of this small country because ordinary people couldn’t do something like this.
“Princess Qiu Lier of Li greets Your Majesty the emperor of Great Feng, and the noble empress.” A woman with snowy skin, large eyes and curly hair walked into the hall. She took down the face veil she wore and bowed gracefully to Jin Yang and Gu Ru Jiu.
Seeing this princess, Gu Ru Jiu had to say from the bottom of her heart—such a beautiful princess. Seductive and dazzling. A rare treasure in the world.
“Thank you for your country’s goodwill, but Zhen is deeply in love with the empress and has no intentions of taking a concubine.” Jin Yang refused in a flat tone. “Your princess is noble, and should find a loyal man to accompany her in life.”
“Your Majesty”—Qiu Lier looked up at the handsome man with a reverent gaze—”Qiu Lier has no intentions of being a tripping stone between you and the empress, and only hopes to perform a dance in front of you and the empress in your idle time.”
The people of her country were in famine. If Great Feng was able to save their people, she would have no objection to giving up her life, much less being a dancer for Great Feng’s imperial couple.
“Such a beautiful pair of eyes.”
Unexpectedly, the one who spoke wasn’t the emperor, but the empress.
“Empress, if you are willing, Qiu Lier is willing to be your maid.” Qiu Lier looked up, saw Gu Ru Jiu’s smile, and then knelt down to Gu Ru Jiu.
Gu Ru Jiu examined this princess called Qiu Lier. Although she was a princess, her Li country wasn’t even as large as a county of Great Feng. If they hadn’t relied on Great Feng in these years, the country would have been destroyed and split up by other countries long ago.
“Princess, please rise.” Gu Ru Jiu had her servant girl Qiu Luo help Qiu Lier up. Then she said, “Princess is of noble blood, and cannot say such things in the future. How could I let you be a maid?”
Jin Yang saw Gu Ru Jiu being so pleasant to this princess and worried that she would actually agree to the other’s request. He said, “Zhen will not have a consort. Princess, please be seated and do not mention this matter again.”
Qiu Lier saw the Feng emperor resolute in tone and was extremely disappointed. But she didn’t dare to stir the emperor’s discontent, and could only bow and return to her seat.
“Sister, do not be like this.” The prince of Li was disappointed when he saw Jin Yang refuse his younger sister, but when he saw his sister’s disappointment, he gritted his teeth and said, “In the worst case, I will go plead with His Majesty for me to stay here, and for you to return with the prime minister.”
“How can this be?” Qiu Lier’s eyes widened. If her older brother stayed here, the pleasing explanation would be that he admired the culture of Great Feng and stayed here to study. In reality, he would be using himself as a hostage to trade for Great Feng’s help.
“If Great Feng helps our Li through this calamity if I stay in the capital, it will be a fortunate matter for Li.” The prince grimaced. He just feared Great Feng would look down on a poor and small country and not accept him as their hostage in exchange for their help. Then the Li people could only accept their fate.
Qiu Lier sat dazedly. She suddenly turned to look at the female on the phoenix throne and said dazedly, “Maybe… maybe the empress…”
“Sister, do not be studpid.” The Li prince sighed. “The emperor is always in charge in Great Feng. The empress may look glorious but rarely interferes in government.”
“Really?” Qiu Lier sat depressedly on her seat. She looked at the grand palace, the dancers and the musicians. Her mind was filled with the starving people of her country.
“But what about our people?” Qiu Lier looked around blankly. Everyone seated all had smiles on their faces, and seemed to be of a different world with the Li people.
Although two surprises occurred in the form of Gaoluo and Li, but for the court officials, this state banquet was a success.
They thought nothing of His Majesty saying that he wouldn’t take a consort. Not having a consort now didn’t mean he wouldn’t have one in the future. Great Feng had never had an emperor without consorts. Great Feng’s court officials had a great understanding of the lusts of the Jin Family men.
But unlike the other court officials, Li Guang Ji felt slightly uneasy. In his view, His Majesty was too good to the empress. This already exceeded the bottom line of the average emperor to their empress.
If His Majesty really married the Gu daughter because of the empress dowager, did he have to wrong himself like this?
Personally going to the Gu Family to fetch the bride, accepting the respects of the court with the empress in the same carriage, having the phoenix and dragon thrones placed next to each other… This caused him to think of that emperor in history who decreed he would “never have a consort.”
The history books said that not many court officials believed the emperor after his decree, but until his death, the emperor really did not have a consort, and whenever he travelled, he was always in the same carriage as the empress.
Would His Majesty be like that emperor?
Li Guang Ji stood by the gates of Vermillion Bird Hall and bowed to see the imperial cart off. The wheels made dull thuds on the ground. Only the golden bells chimed as they swung, each sound making him irritated.
The imperial procession disappeared through the gates. Li Guang Ji straightened, sat into the Li family carriage, and blocked out everyone who wanted to come up and curry favour.
“Big Brother.” Gu Cun Jing sat on horseback and moved side by side with Gu Zhi Yu. He exhaled a hot breath and said with a smile, “You won so beautifully today.”
Gu Zhi Yu smiled. “His Majesty’s plan was flawless.”
Gu Cun Jing heard this and did not ask what His Majesty had planned. He said, “I see that Little Sister looked slightly majestic today.”
“She is the empress now. If she were like before, then it would be inappropriate.” Gu Zhi Yu lightly tapped the horse with his crop. “I worry less seeing her like this.”
“You think…” Gu Cun Jing spoke after some hesitation. “His Majesty will always not have a consort?”
Hearing these words, Gu Zhi Yu was silent for a long time. He looked up at the moon and slowly said, “If he is willing, it will come true.”
Gu Cun Jing grew silent. He knew the meaning in Big Brother’s words.
Having consorts or not would all depend on what His Majesty thought. As an older brother, he naturally hoped His Majesty would never have a consort and be in love with his sister until death.
But this world… How many emperors didn’t have consorts, and how many did?
The envoys did not leave after the state banquet ended, waiting for individual audiences with the Feng emperor. This was what they all needed to wait for.
The Li country was the first among the envoys to meet the emperor. They were a small and weak country. It was a fortunate matter to receive an audience with the emperor, even more so before any other country.
The next day after the state banquet, they received their first guests, not officials from Great Feng, but from Gaoluo.
“What does Official Qi Lian mean?” The prince of Li, Be Duo Ke, suddenly stood up and said nervously, “How can you have such thoughts?”
Qi Lian wasn’t surprised seeing him so panicked. He slowly took a sip of tea and said, “Your Highness, you do not have to be so afraid. This one is only asking for you to do something simple. If you agree, Gaoluo is willing to help the Li through their crisis.”
“I understand Official Qi Lian’s goodwill, but this matter… is very important.” Bei Duo Ke managed a bow to Qi Lian. “I do not dare to accept.”
“If so, then I will not disturb Your Highness’ rest any longer.” Qi Lian stood up. When he reached the doorway, he seemed to suddenly think of something and turned back to glance at Bei Duo Ke. “I believe Your Highness is a smart and quiet person. Your country and Duoluo are neighbours, no?”
Hearing these words, Bei Duo Ke said with a pale face, “Official Qi Lian, do not worry.”
“That’s good.” Qi Lian’s gaze swept toward the screen and then he glided out of the small courtyard.
“Brother.” Qiu Lier walked out from behind the screen and said with an ugly expression, “We cannot agree to his request. If the Feng emperor learns of this, Li will be finished.”
No matter how well Gaoluo spoke, if this leaked and Great Feng knew they had participated, the army would go north, and she feared Gaoluo would not protect them.
“I know.” Bei Duo Ke was pale. “But what can we do now?”
“We go and ask to meet His Majesty,” Qiu Lier said viciously. “We can only live by doing that.”
“Do you remember what Father-King said when we came?”
“Yes, this is the safest choice.”
Bei Duo Ke looked dazedly at his younger sister. “But if we do this, there will be no more Li in the world.”
“At least the people of Li will be saved, and Gaoluo won’t dare to bully us any more.”
Translator Ramblings: I like how Gu Ru Jiu’s defining trait with her siblings is her indolence.