This chapter has been brought to you by me and Adnana.
On the bustling street, an inconspicuous little sedan chair stopped by the street corner. A door opened from the yard facing the street. A woman in a veil walked in, and the door closed again.
“Miss Sima.” Qi Lian stood up in the pavilion, and bowed to Sima Xiang outside the pavilion. “This one greets you.”
Sima Xiang looked coldly at the man. She took off her veil and had Bai Mei wait outside. Then she walked towards the stone table in the pavilion. There was a tea set on the table, and one of the cups was filled with steaming hot tea. “Official has much elegance.”
“With a beautiful guest, this one can only pretend.” Qi Lian poured a cup of tea and presented it to Sima Xiang with two hands.
Sima Xiang took the teacup and glanced down. She did not drink and placed the cup back on the table. “Official Qi Lian has invited me several times. For what matter?”
“This one heard of Miss Sima’s name long ago and wanted to meet, so this one was shameless in making several invitations.” Qi Lian invited Sima Xiang to sit down. After she was seated, he lifted up his robe and sat down as well. “This one is joyous that Miss Sima came today.”
“As expected of a capable person who became the prime minister so young.” Sima Xiang sneered and then said, her expression turning heavy, “Smart people do not speak in implications. Official Qi Lian, speak straight.”
If Qi Lian had not mentioned her mother’s death in his letter, she would not have come today.
“Miss Sima, when did you ever lose your composure so easily?” Qi Lian took a slow sip of tea and said with a smile, “But I did invite you here because I have something important to discuss.”
Sima Xiang lifted her eyelids and didn’t speak.
Seeing her react like this, Qi Lian was unconcerned and said directly, “I hear that Miss Sima originally had hopes of entering the palace, but the Gu Family interfered and ruined Miss’ chances?”
Sima Xiang found such words funny to hear and smiled scornfully. “Official Qi Lian speaks well.”
“Speaking well to beauties is called respect.” Qi Lian gave a chuckle, his eyes slightly flirty. “If Miss Sima wasn’t so beautiful, this one would not spend so much effort on thinking of how to speak.”
Sima Xiang sneered and thought nothing of Qi Lian’s words. She did not need this man with unfathomable motives complimenting her beauty.
“The empress in the palace is not half as beautiful as Miss, but the young emperor does not know how to admire beauties. Even I feel injustice on Miss’ behalf.” Qi Lian sighed. “In terms of family, beauty, talent—she cannot compare to you in even one.”
“Official Qi Lian is well-informed. You must know the empress is a person Spiritual Master Chu Yun praised as having good fortune.” Sima Xiang’s expression was calm. Her emotions were not affected by Qi Lian’s crude methods of sowing discord. “Gu shi being the empress is the Mandate of Heaven.”
“Mandate of Heaven?” Qi Lian laughed scornfully. “A person like Miss Sima believes that?”
Sima Xiang laughed softly, her eyes moving. “So what if I believe or not?”
“As expected of a daughter of the Sima Family.” Qi Lian clapped. “Does Miss Sima want to be free of this kind of life?”
Sima Xiang looked up at him and remained silent.
She was now living in her uncle’s house, which appeared to be the same as before her cousin married, but she could feel that her aunt did not like her very much. But so what? She just wanted to rely on the first branch and elevate her own status.
No matter how hard life was now, it was still…
“I do not understand Official Qi Lian’s words.” Sima Xiang stood up and looked down at Qi Lian. “It is late. This small woman will be leaving.”
Then, she turned and left, not waiting for Qi Lian’s response.
Qi Lian watched her leave with a smile. Only when she had disappeared, a servant came out and said, “Official, this Miss Sima seems to have no intentions of working with us.”
“No.” Qi Lian put the teacup to his lips and said with a smile, “She is an ambitious woman, vicious in mind, vicious in tactics. A woman like this, even if she is moved by something, will not immediately show it.”
“It is fortunate that she did not become the empress. Otherwise, if the Feng emperor had such a woman as a helper, wouldn’t it be disadvantageous to Gaoluo?” The servant said emotionally, “This also brings Official a helper.”
Qi Lilan moved the cup in his hand and ignored the servant’s words.
But the present Feng empress…
He frowned. He couldn’t see anything special. They all said that she had a good personality and was kind. Because of the empress dowager’s affection for her, she became empress.
That day at the palace banquet, the empress did not show any special behaviour, but when Bo Xun Ge wanted to marry his daughter to her brother, she had been slightly angry. However, this was always the case with Great Feng’s aristocratic families. It was normal that the empress would be angry.
“Maybe the emperor likes innocent and harmless little girls like that.” Qi Lian put down his teacup and sneered. “But there are many women like that in the world. How long can the love between the emperor and empress last?”
“Where did you go today?” Zheng shi looked at Sima Xiang who had returned. She examined the young woman and then pointed at the chair next to her. “Sit first; I have something to talk to you about.”
“Yes.” Sima Xiang bowed docilely to Zheng shi and then sat down.
“Today, the Qian Family came to propose marriage for their eldest legitimate son. I did not immediately agree.” Zheng shi hesitated for a moment. “The Qian Family is a second-class declining aristocratic family, but their family has good conduct and few family members. Their eldest son is also a motivated person. You can consider it.”
Zheng shi did not bluntly say that with Sima Xiang’s present situation, she could only pick a middling family. The Qian Family was actually a good choice.
Sima Xiang stilled, and took a while to remember who the eldest legitimate son of the Qian Family was. This person was of normal appearance and inconspicuous among the young masters of the capital. If she did not have a good memory, she feared she wouldn’t remember how he looked like.
While she was discontent and unwilling, she did not dare to show it. She said, “Thank you, Aunt, for worrying for me. I will think about it well.”
“Yes.” Zheng shi nodded. Her gaze landed on the young woman’s shoes which were covered in some dirt. She was slightly discontent but did not dare to ask more. “You must be tired after being out all day—go and rest.”
Sima Xiang’s face stiffened slightly. She stood up and curtsied to Zheng shi. “Yes, Aunt.”
After Sima Xiang left, Zheng shi frowned. Although this niece had always appeared peaceful, she always had an anxious feeling.
“Mistress, Miss and her husband have returned.” A servant came to report.
Zheng shi smiled immediately upon hearing this and said, “They just visited a few days ago. How is it that they come again—aren’t they afraid of others gossiping?”
“Because the miss and her husband are filial,” her dowry matron said with a smile. “Wouldn’t Miss and her husband be hurt if they heard that?”
Zheng shi was made happy by the dowry matron and ordered servants to welcome Miss and her husband.
Sima Xiang heard the happy voices coming from the main yard not long after she had left. She turned back, and saw Sima Ling and a young man walking together in an intimate matter.
“Miss?” Bao Mei whispered, “Your cousin and her husband have come back for a visit.”
“If so, I should go meet them.” Sima Xiang neated her robes and squeezed out a smile on her face, turning back to the main yard.
Sima Ling stayed half a day in her paternal home before reluctantly boarding the carriage back to her marriage home. Shen Qing He saw her like this and whispered, “Ling’er, no need for this. Next time I have a day off, I will bring you home to visit.”
“Thank you, Husband.” Sima Ling smiled, her eyes red. She leaned against his shoulder. “I make things difficult for you.”
“I am your husband, and I should make you happy.” Shen Qing He gently put an arm around her shoulders. After a moment of silence, he said, “While a gentleman should not gossip, the matter concerns the in-laws, so I must be the villain this time.”
Sima Ling stilled and thought something major had happened in court. She hurriedly asked, “What is it?”
Shen Qing He smiled and comforted her. “No need to be so nervous—just a minor thing. Just… your cousin, she doesn’t give a good feeling.”
“You mean Little Xiang?” Sima Ling hesitated and said, “What did she do?”
“No, just my intuition.” Shen Qing He laughed. “Never mind, just treat it as nonsense.” Sima Xiang was a rare beauty, but at first glance, he did not feel stunned but felt an unspeakable repulsion.
Maybe because he liked Ling’er’s gaze more, so he unconsciously disliked the other’s gaze.
While he said so, Sima Ling remembered the words. She knew her husband’s personality. He would not easily speak badly of others. Since he had spoken, this meant that something was wrong.
During court, Jin Yang watched coldly as the civil officials fought verbally. After they were about done, Jin Yang started talking. “Both officials speak reasonably, but the border officials protect the lands for the country. If we determine their crime in a few words, wouldn’t that disappoint the soldiers?”
“Your Majesty is wise!” One civil official bowed immediately, while the other did not have a good expression.
“Zhen will investigate before discussing right or wrong.” Jin Yang played with the incense pouch at his waist. He said neutrally, “If the great matters of the world are determined by quarreling, then where does that place the laws of Great Feng?”
“We are terrified.” The officials were not stupid and could hear the emperor was not very happy, so they stood and asked for forgiveness.
Jin Yang did not want to see them act and said directly, “Zhen has summoned Wei Ting and Zhao Jin into the capital for an audience. You do not have to worry about this matter.”
The Sima party officials were slightly stunned about this. The emperor had sent a secret decree? Otherwise, why would no one in court know of this?
No, someone must know!
Sima Hong looked over at two people. Zhang Zhong Han had a surprised expression while Li Guang Ji looked confused. He cursed inside. They had such good acting skills—why didn’t they go on stage and be actors?
After court, Jin Yang first went to the imperial study to take care of some of the memorandums. Seeing it was almost noon, he then put down the imperial pen and walked out.
“Your Majesty”—Bai Xian came over with an umbrella—”it is raining.”
He looked up and as expected, the ground had been soaked by rain. The rain was not heavy, but dense. Jin Yang placed his hands behind his back. “Go to Kangquan Palace.”
Bai Xian carefully held the umbrella. He Ming walked on the side and blocked the wind and rain for Jin Yang, not daring to allow even a drop to land on Jin Yang.
When they passed by the bamboo forest outside Luanhe Palace, the voice of a woman came. The voice was soft, so soft they could only hear that she seemed to be humming a song.
The song’s tune was simple, but extremely pleasing. Bai Xian had come with Jin Yang from Prince Cheng’s Establishment, so he could recognize this was a folk song from Jin Prefecture.
Jin Yang heard this song and stopped. He said expressionlessly, “Go—see who is singing in the forest.”
“Yes.” Two blue-robed eunuchs walked into the bamboo forest and soon came out with a green-robed palace maid.
“This servant greets Your Majesty, Long Live Your Majesty.” The palace maid kept her head down and bowed deeply to Jin Yang. Threads of rain fell on her head, wetting her hair. Even her hair tie looked dispirited and pitiful.
“Raise your head,” Jin Yang said coldly.
The green-robed palace maid slowly looked up. She had willow-leaf brows, almond eyes, and a plump mouth. She looked pitiful.
“You were just singing a tune from Jin Prefecture?” Jin Yang’s expression was cold, as though unaffected by the other’s pitiful appearance.
“Yes, Your Majesty.” The green-robed palace maid trembled even more. “This servant thought there was no one in the forest, and momentarily forgot myself. Your Majesty, please forgive me.” She knelt down with a bang, her white hands appearing even whiter when placed on the mud.
Bai Xian looked expressionlessly at the palace maid and lowered his eyelids.
“Where are you on duty?” Jin Yang looked even colder.
“Your Majesty, this servant is of the Food Bureau.” The green-robed palace maid looked up timidly, glancing quickly at Jin Yang’s waist and then quickly looking down, appearing very feminine and fragile.
Jin Yang said coolly, “Palace maids are not allowed to casually sing and dance. The eunuch in charge of the palace rules and Food Bureau did not teach you this?” Then he left, not even looking behind.
Bai Xian held the umbrella up and followed, not even looking at the woman kneeling on the ground.
He Ming looked down at the trembling palace maid on the ground. He bowed down and said with a smile, “I’ve seen many palace maids like you. A sparrow wants to become a phoenix, but you have to see—is the dragon willing? Since you like to kneel, then kneel.” He snorted and then chased in the direction of the imperial procession.
The palace maid knelt on the ground, pale. The passing palace attendants didn’t even dare to look at her.
Gu Ru Jiu was discussing with Empress Dowager Zhou the novel she had read. Seeing Jin Yang enter, she stood up and welcomed him. “Your Majesty, did you get wet?”
“Don’t worry, Bai Xian and He Ming are always careful.” Jin Yang held Gu Ru Jiu’s hand and walked in front of Empress Dowager Zhou, bowing. “This son came late, and made Mother-Empress wait.”
“You have government matters—what is the problem if you come late?” Empress Dowager Zhou smiled and had the couple sit. “Our family does not care about that. Let’s eat.”
“Yes.” Jin Yang smiled at Gu Ru Jiu and then said to Empress Dowager Zhou, “What delicious food did Mother-Empress prepare today?”
Empress Dowager Zhou laughed and scolded, “You won’t starve.”
Gu Ru Jiu smiled as she watched mother and son interact, happy to watch from the side.
After lunch, Jin Yang left first because he had to meet officials from the Ministry of Revenue. Gu Ru Jiu stayed with Empress Dowager Zhou for another hour before standing to leave.
After Gu Ru Jiu left, Matron Liu said, “Empress Dowager, when the emperor came today, a palace maid had thoughts she shouldn’t have and is still kneeling there now.”
“How did the emperor react?” Empress Dowager Zhou asked expressionlessly.
“The emperor did not seem to be happy.” Matron Liu thought for a moment, “Later, when the empress returns to Purple Imperial Hall, she will definitely encounter the kneeling palace maid. How can this be good?”
“How is this not? Today’s palace maid won’t be the first with such thoughts and won’t be the last. She will encounter a matter like this sooner or later,” Empress Dowager Zhou said. “Rather than this Grieving One acting, it is better for her to take care of it.”
Didn’t Jin Yang have such intentions by making the palace maid kneel at the intersection?
Gu Ru Jiu walked slowly. She held her own umbrella and felt exceptionally calm as she walked on the path. Even when she saw a green-robed palace maid kneeling on the ground, her mood wasn’t ruined.
The green-robed palace maid knelt on the ground, her knees already numb. She felt cold all over, the rain landing on her seeming to pierce through her flesh and chilling her bones.
She didn’t know how long she had knelt. When a pair of pearl shoes embroidered with lucky clouds appeared in front of her, she took a moment before responding.
She slowly looked up and saw the dress embroidered with phoenix patterns. She immediately didn’t dare to look up again. “This servant greets Your Majesty.” She hoped the empress would allow her to stand up, even if just for a while.
To her disappointment, the empress did not speak. The palace attendants around the empress also did not speak.
She started to feel scared again. Did the empress already know she wanted to seduce the emperor?
Gu Ru Jiu did not know why the palace maid was kneeling here, at the intersection of the path to Luanhe Palace. She silently examined this palace maid. While she could not see the other’s face clearly, the other had sloped shoulders, a thin waist and snowy skin. This was clearly a rare beauty.
“Raise your head,” she coolly said, and then saw a pale and slender face.
As expected, a beauty. Even a woman like her couldn’t help but feel pity when seeing this face.
Qiu Luo and Bao Lu’s faces darkened. Other than His Majesty, no one else would allow the palace maid to kneel at the intersection to Luanhe Palace. With a thought, they knew what intention this palace maid had to make His Majesty angry.
“Such a beauty.” Of course Gu Ru Jiu knew what was going on. She reached out to tip up the palace maid’s chin. The skin was smooth and delicate to the touch, and could be called stunning.
“Who sent you in?” Gu Ru Jiu smiled as she looked at the palace maid.” This palace is interested in the person behind you.”
“Your Majesty, forgive me! This servant is from the Food Bureau, and was punished for offending the imperial procession. Your Majesty, please have mercy.” The green-robed palace maid kow-towed to Gu Ru Jiu and said pitifully, “Your Majesty, please forgive me.”
Wiping her fingers with a handkerchief, Gu Ru Jiu looked coldly at the kowtowing palace maid. “The entire inner palace knows this palace is an easy-going person.” She turned to Qiu Luo and said, “Qiu Luo, invite Bai Gonggong over. This palace wants to know what happened.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” Qiu Luo glared at the kneeling palace maid and then turned to walk.
In the imperial study, Jin Yang heard Qiu Luo requesting an audience and put down the memorandum in hand, allowing her to enter.
“This servant greets Your Majesty.” Qiu Luo respectfully curtsied to Jin Yang and then spoke of her intentions.
Jin Yang nodded after listening and had Bai Xian follow Qiu Luo.
After Bai Xian and Qiu Luo left, Jin Yang had a small smile. Thinking of Jiu Jiu being jealous because of him, he felt exceptionally good.
As to the green-robed palace maid, the wise and magnificent His Majesty Delong said, he didn’t even remember the other’s face. That pair of eyes slightly similar to Jiu Jiu’s was somewhat dazzling, but everything else was lackluster.
“Bai Gonggong,” Qiu Luo said dryly, “Her Majesty is slightly angry. Gonggong, you cannot leave anything out. Otherwise, neither you nor I will be able to endure her punishment.”
“Miss Qiu Luo, don’t worry; if Her Majesty asks, this one will say everything I know,” Bai Xian said. “Not just Her Majesty—even His Majesty is very discontent with this palace maid.”
Qiu Luo’s smile deepened. “Then I will thank Gonggong.”
“No, no, it is this one’s duty to work for His and Her Majesty.”
“Your Majesty, Qiu Luo and Bai Gonggong have arrived.” Bao Lu was holding the umbrella for Gu Ru Jiu and whispered when she saw Qiu Luo come.
Gu Ru Jiu did not look back. She had been looking at the kneeling palace maid for a while. This palace maid had been trained and nurtured carefully. Otherwise, she would not have such a figure and fine skin.
Even the most beautiful palace maid wouldn’t have a pair of smooth white hands, unless she usually did not do anything.
But could there be a palace maid under discipline who did not work?
“Take her to Luanhe Palace. This palace wants to ask more questions,” Gu Ru Jiu said when Bai Xian came over. “Also call over the eunuch and palace maid in charge of the Food Bureau.”
“Yes.” Bai Xian thought the empress likely was truly angry this time.
The green-robed palace maid wanted to speak, but her mouth was covered by the two eunuchs. Like dragging a bag, she was dragged towards Luanhe Palace.
Gu Ru Jiu slowly wiped her mouth corner and followed.
The rooms of Luanhe Palace were much warmer than the outside, but the green-robed palace maid still felt that this place was colder and scarier than the outside.
The empress had done nothing and said nothing, just walked along and drunk tea, but she felt that she couldn’t breathe.
“This palace has two taboos.” Gu Ru Jiu expressionlessly put down the teacup. “One is my family, the other my man.”
The green-robed palace maid was stunned inside. The empress regarded the emperor as hers?!
This was ridiculous!