This chapter has been brought to you by me and Adnana.
“Please come this way.” The eunuch leading the way guided Qiu Lier and Bei Duo Ke through the palace. The two didn’t dare to look around, and followed behind the green-robed eunuch with bowed heads. They didn’t say an extra word or take an extra step.
“He gonggong, the prince and princess of Li have arrived.” The green-robed eunuch did not continue walking after he guided the pair to Purple Imperial Hall. He bowed to He Ming who was standing by the doorway.
He Ming nodded to Qiu Lier and Be Duo Ke. “Prince, Princess, please wait for a moment. This lowly one will report to the emperor and empress.”
“Thank you.” Bei Duo Ke hurriedly gave thanks. The other was just an eunuch, but a prince of a minor country like him didn’t dare to offend a person like him.
He Ming smiled and raised his hands to the two before entering the door. His blue-robed figure quickly disappeared.
Bei Duo Ke hadn’t expected His Majesty was really willing to meet them. He was both nervous and excited. He touched the state letter stored away and carefully pulled the corners of his clothes, hoping to show off his strength in front of the emperor.
Qiu Lier bit her lower lip and took a deep breath.
This was their only chance. They could only succeed, and not fail.
After a while, He Ming came out and bowed to the pair. “Prince, Princess, please.”
“Thank you, Gonggong.” Bei Duo Ke bowed to He Ming.
He Ming turned sideways to avoid the bow and then led the pair in.
The Purple Imperial Hall was the residence of the emperor, and built comfortably. As the siblings walked in, they increasingly felt this place was extremely exquisite, and even the floor tiles they stepped on were different.
Entering the inner hall, a faint fragrance appeared that made people feel relaxed.
Qiu Lier had once heard a palace maid say that Great Feng had many valuable fragrances, some of them even worth cities. She, as a princess of Li, was dumbstruck at the prices, and didn’t even dare consider buying and using them.
The trio walked to a hall and stopped. Qiu Lier looked up and found a plaque hanging by the door. Written on it were the words “Meditation.”
“Empress, the prince and princess of Li have arrived.”
Qiu Lier heard the eunuch report like this and was curious. Was His Majesty the emperor not here?
Soon, a palace maid in green robes walked out with a smile. She had valuable vermillion hairpins and flowers in her hair, and wore a twisted gold and silk bracelet on her wrist.
“Your Highnesses, please come in.”
Qiu Lier saw the other bow to her and hurriedly went forward to help the other up. While she didn’t know the status of this palace maid, she was dressed grandly and could wear gold jewelry. This was definitely a high-ranking female official of the empress.
Stepping across the threshold with carved lotus patterns, Qiu Lier and Bei Duo Ke met the noblest woman of Great Feng. She wore a wide-sleeved dress with a faint plum pattern. Her hair was put up in a simple bun. The plum tasseled silver hairpins in her hair contrasted with her tender skin.
The empress looked very different than during the state banquet. Even her presence was much gentler.
“Please sit.” Gu Ru Jiu saw the two seemed slightly awkward and had them sit down. Then she had palace maids serve them tea and pastries. “Just now, an official requested to see His Majesty, so he is not present here. Sit here for a while. Will you stay today and dine in Purple Imperial Hall?”
Bei Duo Ke and Qiu Lier would not refuse such a good opportunity and agreed with joy. But they could not relax and didn’t dare to look up at the empress.
“I heard your country has a fruit called the moon fruit. Inside the hard shell is a sweet and fragrant milky white juice.” Gu Ru Jiu raised her teacup and smiled faintly. “Is it as delicious as they say?”
“Our humble country does have such a fruit, but it is nothing compared to Great Feng with its rich harvest.” Qiu Lier stood and responded. “Recently, our humble country has had a drought, and our crop production has greatly decreased. The moon fruits are not as sweet as in the past.”
Gu Ru Jiu blew on the tea foam and sighed. “Such a pity.”
Qiu Lier saw the empress did not appear to intend to ask about Li’s drought. She was anxious but she didn’t dare to speak and stood silently.
“You are guests. Prince, Princess, do not be so cautious—come sit down.” Gu Ru Jiu smiled and had Qiu Lier sit, so she didn’t have to stand every time she replied. “I do not care about these courtesies. Princess, do not be like this.”
Li was a poor and weak country that relied on Great Feng to survive, but regardless of its strength, as long as it was a country in name and had no malicious intent towards Great Feng, Gu Ru Jiu would not embarrass them.
They discussed the culture and customs on both sides. Gu Ru Jiu’s gentle attitude caused the siblings to relax slightly. They dared to speak up and didn’t need Gu Ru Jiu to ask a question first.
In Qiu Lier’s’ view, the empress of Great Feng was the most beautiful and elegant woman among all those she had seen. She even felt, the emperor who possessed such a woman was the luckiest man in the world.
“Your Li women can be officials. This is good,” Gu Ru Jiu said emotionally. “Great Feng is not as good as you at that.”
“Li is poor and backwards, and does not dare to compare to the superior country,” Qiu Lier said. “But our humble country has few people, and even less with talent and ability, so some of the educated noblewomen have an opportunity to participate in politics.”
Gu Ru Jiu smiled and shook her head. She didn’t say anything and had a palace maid pour hot tea for the two guests.
When Jin Yang came to the Meditation Hall from the imperial study, he heard Gu Ru Jiu’s laughter from inside. He couldn’t help but smile as he entered the hall and said, “What has made Jiu Jiu so happy?”
Qiu Lier and Bei Duo Ke saw a man in black dragon-patterned robes walk in and hurriedly bowed. “Greetings to Your Majesty the Emperor.”
“No need for such courtesy—please be seated.” Jin Yang had long legs and walked next to Gu Ru Jiu in a few steps. Then he took Gu Ru Jiu’s teacup, and took a few gulps without caring.
Qiu Lier accidentally saw His Majesty use the empress’ cup to drink and hurriedly lowered the head, not daring to look again. Then she heard the emperor and empress converse.
“Your Majesty, how is it that you came now?” Gu Ru Jiu saw Jin Yang sneakily use her teacup and glared at him. She took the teacup from his hand, and then took a cup of tea from the tray Qiu Luo held, shoving it into his hand. “The tea from a moment ago is cold; you cannot drink more.”
Jin Yang opened the teacup in his hand. It was the hawthorn tea he usually drank. After two obedient sips, he said, “I will not do it again.”
“Your Majesty’s words are worth a thousand gold.” Gu Ru Jiu raised an eyebrow and said wryly, “If I discover you were sneaking, then…”
“Cough, cough.” Jin Yang turned to look at Bei Duo Ke. “Zhen heard that Prince and Princess wanted to meet Zhen for an important matter. What is it?”
Gu Ru Jiu smiled as she put a hand on his waist. Then she pinched and gently turned a hundred and eighty degrees.
Don’t think pretending to be serious can conceal the fact that you were sneaking food and drinks.
Jin Yang’s lips jerked. He reached out and lightly pinched the back of Gu Ru Jiu’s hand, giving her a fawning smile.
Gu Ru Jiu raised an eyebrow and pulled her hand back. She then stood. “This palace will have people prepare the noon meal. Enjoy your chat.”
“Farewell, Empress.” Bei Duo Ke and Qiu Lier stood and bowed. The two only sat back down after Gu Ru Jiu’s figure disappeared out the door.
After the empress left, the atmosphere of the Meditation Hall immediately grew much more solemn. Even the emperor, gentle in front of the empress, changed presence.
Crack. This was the sound of Jin Yang putting the teacup back onto the table.
Bei Duo Ke inexplicably became nervous at this simple movement. He suddenly stood up, and bowed to Jin Yang. “Your Majesty of the superior country, this subordinate subject has an important matter to report.”
“Your Highness, please speak.” Jin Yang’s expression was calm and didn’t change because of Bei Duo Ke’s response.
Seeing him react like this, Bei Duo Ke anxiously spoke about Gaoluo’s conspiracy.
“Gaoluo wants to use this humble country’s neighbouring position with the superior country and put armies inside the border of this lowly country,” Bei Duo Ke said. “This subordinate subject doesn’t know the intentions of Gaoluo but finds the actions wrong.”
Jin Yang’s gaze swept across Bei Duo Ke and then he said, “Your Highness, have you ever thought that telling me may anger Gaoluo?”
“This lowly country is a subordinate country of the superior country and should be loyal and obey the superior country.” Bei Duo Ke bowed to Jin Yang. “The people of Li will listen to the commands of the superior country.”
Jin Yang had read the imperial records of Great Feng. Li had become a subordinate country of Great Feng twenty years after the founding of Great Feng, and it had been almost two centuries since then. Over the two centuries, this country had been honest. They would send half of what they had to Great Feng, and never caused trouble. They could be called the most loyal and worry-free country among Great Feng’s subordinate countries.
“Zhen heard that Li has had yearly calamities recently and your harvests have been bad. Is this true?” Jin Yang finally mentioned the matter on Bei Kuo De and Qiu Lier’s minds.
“Please, Your Majesty, save the Li people.” Bei Duo Ke knelt in front of Jin Yang, his hands presenting the letter of the country his father-king had written. “Li is willing to submit to your honored country.”
Submitting and being a subordinate country were two different concepts. With the former, you were still a country, whereas the latter meant being absorbed into Great Feng. The country of Li would not exist any longer.
Jin Yang took the letter from Bei Duo Ke, and after reading it, he bent down and helped Bei Duo Ke up. “Your Highness, please do not worry. Li and Great Feng have been good together for many years. Zhen will not watch your honored country’s people suffering.”
While he said this, he didn’t return the letter to Bei Duo Ke.
Bei Duo Ke and Qiu Lier were slightly reassured, a bit disappointed and a bit happy. Then all their emotions turned into deference.
“As long as Great Feng exists, there is no day Gaoluo will dominate.” Jin Yang handed the letter of the country to Bai Xian behind him and raised his hand. “It is late. Your Highnesses, please accompany Zhen to dine.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty.” Bei Duo Ke respectfully bowed and followed with his sister behind Jin Yang out of Meditation Hall.
From beginning to end, he did not even glance at the letter in Bai Xian’s hand.
In the front hall, palace maids and eunuchs were finishing setting up the tableware when Gu Ru Jiu saw Jin Yang come in with the prince and princess of Li.
“Jiu Jiu.” Jin Yang walked next to her and said with a smile, “I hear you had them make a special lunch today?”
Gu Ru Jiu smiled. “I just talked and the imperial chefs in the kitchen did it.” After speaking, she nodded at Qiu Luo behind her. Qiu Luo had the waiting palace maids help everyone wash their hands.
Qiu Lier found that after stepping into this hall, His Majesty’s presence became gentle again.
After the quartet was seated, Qiu Lier and Bei Duo Ke saw the etiquette of Great Feng’s imperial house. They had only heard their teachers speak of it, but never seen it themselves.
So they had to use several handkerchiefs to wipe their hands. The cups for rinsing one’s mouth were made from pure silver. The plates were all precious porcelain.
When the dishes were presented on the table, Qiu Lier discovered that other than the delicious Feng food, there were some dishes unique to Li on the wide and long table.
Seeing the Li dishes, Qiu Lier and Bei Duo Ke felt warmed inside. Bei Duo Ke could not help but think, with such an emperor and empress, even if Li joined Great Feng, it wouldn’t be so hard to accept.
After the noon meal, Qiu Lier and Bei Duo Ke tactfully made their farewells. After the pair left, Gu Ru Jiu said, “Li has a request?”
Jin Yang nodded and held Gu Ru Jiu’s hand as they slowly walked in the garden outside. “Li had several years of drought and no harvest, so it wants Great Feng’s aid.”
“Your Majesty agreed.” Gu Ru Jiu tilted her head towards Jin Yang.
Jin Yang nodded and said after a moment of silence, “Li is willing to submit to us.”
“Submit?!” Gu Ru Jiu looked in surprise at Jin Yang. “Why is Li doing so?” In her view, Li was Great Feng’s subordinate country. If Li was not in a good situation, Great Feng could not sit by and watch. They didn’t need to submit in order to receive help.
Jin Yang saw Jiu Jiu’s surprise and explained with a smile, “The present king of Li is very timid and cowardly. After he became king, they have been frequently bullied by neighbouring countries. If not for Great Feng, they would have been divided up by other countries long ago.”
“It’s been so many years—why…” Gu Ru Jiu suddenly stopped walking. “Because of Gaoluo?”
“Jiu Jiu is so smart.” Jin Yang smiled helplessly. “I originally wanted to pretend to be smart for once in front of you.”
“Your Majesty thought a long time ago of things I just think about now.” Gu Ru Jiu hooked her left index finger onto Jin Yang’s right index finger. “It can be seen Your Majesty is smarter than me.”
Seeing their index fingers linked together, Jin Yang smiled. “There is something that I wanted to say to Jiu Jiu for a long time.”
“What is it?” Gu Ru Jiu looked at him and her index finger tightened.
“Jiu Jiu, do not call me Your Majesty in the future. Call me Dalang or Chenjun?” Jin Yang said uncomfortably. “No one in the world dares to call me by my name, only Jiu Jiu is different.”
“Dalang?” Gu Ru Jiu called softly. The words trembled on the tip of her tongue and turned into the most beautiful sound in the world.
Jin Yang looked at her and smiled infatuatedly.
“Dalang, Chenjun.” Gu Ru Jiu tilted her head to smile at him. “No one else dares to say this, but I do—is Dalang happy?”
“I am very happy.” Jin Yang laughed lowly. He held Gu Ru Jiu’s hand tightly and said softly, “In this world, only Jiu Jiu is different from everyone else.”
In one’s life, there were people they could not afford to turn their backs on. For him, that person was the woman next to him.
“Official Qi Lian?” The guard saw Qi Lian suddenly tighten his reins to stop the carriage and looked in puzzlement at Qi Lian.
Qi Lian narrowed his eyes at the vermillion doors of the Gu Family. A beat later, he used his riding whip on his horse and continued to move.
When they were halfway down the road, a carriage with a red roof was passing ahead. He had the horse stop and then moved with the guards to the side.
Great Feng had rules that those who were not nobility could not ride red-roofed carriages unless it was at a wedding. So the incoming carriage had to be carrying titled nobility in the capital.
“Young Master Chen, you are going to visit Official Gu?”
“Yes, yes, where is Young Master going?”
Hearing the conversation, Qi Lian glanced at the pair who spoke. Both were young people in brocade robes, and one of them was riding a horse beside the carriage.
How many Official Gu were there in the capital?
Qi Lian quickly guessed who was sitting in the carriage.
Supposedly, when Delong Emperor got married, he made his father-in-law a duke and gave titles to the siblings of the empress as well.
Sitting in the carriage should be Gu Chang Ling’s eldest daughter.
He saw this elegant carriage slowly pass in front of his horse and lowered his face slightly, saying coldly, “Let’s go.”
More than a decade ago, when he fled the capital in a rush, the Gu Family had been a minor third-rank marquis establishment. Yet within a short decade, a second-grade decaying aristocratic family had become the target of many people’s attempts to please in the capital.
It could be seen that these aristocratic families were only maintaining their dignity by relying on the glory the imperial family gave them.
That being the case, these aristocratic families had no right to look down on the new nobility. Compared to them, they were just families with a few more centuries of history. They borrowed the skin of aristocratic families to do the same things as new nobility.
“Official Qi Lian, Delong Emperor met with the prince and princess of Li,” someone told Qi Lian once he returned to the courtyard of the visitor’s palace.
“He saw Li first?” Qi Lian frowned upon hearing this. This Delong Emperor seemed different from the last emperor. At least, in terms of conduct, these two emperors were very different.
“Has any news come out?” he asked expressionlessly.
“What news? Great Feng officials have mouths like mussels and can’t even be pried open.” Bo Xun Ge thought of the hoity-toity attitudes of the Feng officials and felt a fire burning in his chest. “I just heard that the emperor and empress’ relationship is not as good as it appears.”
“People have said that long ago. No one knows whether it is true.” Qi Lian pushed his teacup away. “Rather than waste effort on this, how about thinking how we can insert our own people into Great Feng?”
Bo Xun Ge was immediately at a loss for words.
“Official, this one once heard something interesting,” a guard whispered. “I heard the third Sima Branch and the Gu Family have old grievances.”
Qi Lian raised his eyebrow and said interestedly, “Continue.”
The guard recounted the grievances between the Sima Third Branch and the Gu Family, and also presented a lot of gossip.
“The Sima Family once wanted to send a daughter into the palace as empress, but in the end, the low-key Miss Gu became empress.” Qi Lian smiled. “Interesting; this capital is more and more interesting.”
Bo Xun Ge’s thick eyebrows moved.
“Since that’s the case, we will find an opportunity to meet this slighted Miss Sima.” Qi Lian’s smile became slightly mocking. “I just don’t know how much use this Miss Sima will be.”
After Sima Xiang moved into the first branch, she stayed in her small courtyard, rarely going out or seeing guests. But even so, her present days were much more relaxed than in the past. At least, no one was forcing her to understand an unfamiliar man’s preferences, and then change her words and movements based on those preferences.
Her treatment in the first branch was based on Sima Ling’s before her marriage. The servants were respectful, the elders strict but reasonable, and everything was perfect.
But she knew that this perfection wasn’t because the eldest branch liked her very much, but because they had to be good to her for the honor of the Sima Family.
But so what? She just wanted the Sima First branch acting against their will. Only by this could she continue to rely on the surname Sima and maintain her glory and dignity as a daughter of an aristocratic family.
So based on her usual habits, she went out once a month. Then when she coincidentally met the Gaoluo envoy, she guessed this was not a coincidence, and the other had planned this encounter.
The other invited her to a teahouse and she refused without hesitation.
Regardless of what plans and intentions the other had, she would not drink tea with someone from another country at this kind of time.
Qi Lian looked at the departing carriage and smiled unconcernedly. Then he slowly turned the teacup in his hand and said to the guard next to him, “This Miss Sima is really nothing…”
The guard looked in confusion at him and didn’t understand why he didn’t continue.
Qi Lian smiled, put down the teacup, and stood for the guard to pay the bill.
This woman caused him to think of a woman he had met back when he was on the run. The woman had been beautiful and delicate, looking like a fresh flower that would shatter on touch.
But he had seen this woman strangle her best friend with her own hands for a chance to become a dancer for a noble’s family. With an expression of sorrow on her tear-streaked face, amid the words of comfort from others, she entered the gates of that noble mansion.
When he walked out of the teahouse, he saw the vermillion-roofed carriage he had met a few days ago on the street.
The carriage was stopped outside a jewelry shop. A beautiful and noble woman walked out of the carriage.
He stopped walking and focused on the woman. Then he turned to mount his horse and left the teahouse without a look back.
He remembered, back in his youth, she had only been a little girl.
Translator Ramblings: I fell asleep … and forgot to update on time.