This chapter has been brought to you by me and Adnana.
Bai Xian, Qiu Luo and the others in attendance heard the empress suddenly speak in jealousy, and immediately knelt in fright.
No matter how much the emperor loved the empress, it did not mean that he could accept the empress’ interrogation. Bai Xian was not a real man, but he understood the temperament of a man. Most men would be angry when women asked this kind of question, and even become enraged. Also, the empress was asking the most noble man in the world.
The room was deathly silent. Qiu Luo worried the emperor would punish the empress, but didn’t dare to lift her head. She hesitated for a moment, gritted her teeth and tilted her head. If the emperor attacked the empress, she could try and protect.
But when she looked, she did not see the emperor’s angry face, but her lady pinching the emperor’s cheek with her white hand. Her legs gave out, and she fell on all fours to the ground.
“Hiss—lighter, lighter.” Jin Yang looked down and held Gu Ru Jiu’s hand from pinching his cheek. He smiled fawningly. “Jiu Jiu, do not be angry—listen to me explain.”
“Hmm?” Gu Ru Jiu raised an eyebrow and released Jin Yang’s face. She sat back on the couch and pointed at the chair next to her. “This servant is willing to listen.”
Hearing Jiu Jiu even use the appellation of “this servant,” Jin Yang felt coldness go up his spine. With larger steps, he got to the chair and sat down. He smiled. “This matter is just an accident. How do you know… I have another person’s fragrance on me?” He had smelled nothing at all. Where was there the smell of fragrance?
Bai Xian, kneeling at the side, sighed in relief. It appeared that if His Majesty explained this matter clearly, no conflict would occur.
But was this a bit … the husband lacking prestige? He peeked up, and saw the empress look sideways at His Majesty while His Majesty was smiling fawningly. He immediately did not want to look anymore. He feared if he kept looking, His Majesty would kill him.
“Does Your Majesty not know that women have a natural and sensitive intuition about their men?” Gu Ru Jiu knew Jin Yang’s habits. He did not like fragrance on his clothes. If he had any scent, then it came from her. As a member of the aristocracy, even though she was not skilled in fragrance, she understood it. She could detect even a hint of it.
Hearing the words “her man,” Jin Yang’s smile grew. He stood up and crowded near Gu Ru Jiu, but she pushed him away.
“Go change. You smell.” Gu Ru Jiu poked his waist, and her expression eased slightly.
Regardless of how he got the fragrance on him, from Jin Yang’s expression, he should not have been having an affair with another woman. She still had the ability to distinguish this.
“Okay, okay, okay, I will go change now.” Jin Yang nodded and turned to go to the side chamber to wash and change.
Bai Xian and the other personal attendants immediately followed to serve him.
Purple Imperial Hall had a bath in the side room. An emperor of Great Feng who liked to soak in a bath had built it. The bath was tiled in white jade with constant hot water. This was a very comfortable bathing place.
After His Majesty ascended the throne, he was not interested in these extravagant luxuries. So the bath was rarely used. So the palace maids and eunuchs responsible for the bath gradually lost their status in Qiankun Palace. But the emperor seemed to have discovered the wonders of the bath after the empress married in. These maids and eunuchs finally had proper duties to do.
Jin Yang came out of the bath, dried off, and changed into new clothing. Then he walked in front of the full-size copper bronze mirror to neaten his clothing. Ever since his marriage, he stopped having palace maids serve him personally.
“Your Majesty, the clothing…” Bai Xian came out carrying the clothing that Jin Yang had changed out of, not knowing what to do with it.
Jin Yang walked in front of Bai Xian, and took the mint pouch out of the pile to tie it to his waist. Then he said, “Throw it away.”
“Yes.” Bai Xian thought—as expected.
Gu Ru Jiu saw Jin Yang come out with loose hair, and went to touch his hair. She called Qiu Luo to bring over a sandalwood comb and then sat down on the couch to massage his scalp. “A book once said that there is a beauty so devastating as to bring down a city. I thought this was a joke, but after seeing Your Majesty, I believe it.”
Jin Yang lay down, and put his head on her leg. “As long as I can get your heart.”
Gu Ru Jiu looked down into his serious eyes, put down the comb and smiled. She used her index fingers to press on his temples. “Do not think because you say this that I will spare you. Tell me—who did you meet before coming back?”
Jin Yang closed his eyes in comfort at the pressure on his temples. “I had people imprison Sima Xiang.”
“What?” Gu Ru Jiu was slightly shocked. Her moving hands stilled for a moment before continuing. “Why did you imprison her?” She hated the Sima third branch, but she did not plan on getting revenge on the innocent Sima Xiang.
“She did a lot. I just accidentally let her grab my sleeve, so I got some of the fragrance on.” Jin Yang opened his eyes, sat up and patted his leg. He said to Gu Ru Jiu, “Come, lie down. I will help you too.”
Seeing him so enthusiastic, Gu Ru Jiu took her hairpins out, allowing her hair to pour down. Then she lay on Jin Yang’s legs. “She is just a girl of sixteen—what can she do?”
“Do you remember what happened a few years ago at the racecourse?” Jin Yang adjusted his sitting posture so Gu Ru Jiu would be more comfortable. “The third mistress of the Sima Family and she planned it together.”
Gu Ru Jiu stilled at this, and said after a while, “But the victims included the miss from the second branch. They…”
“The miss from the second branch was my actual cousin,” Jin Yang said neutrally. “They wanted to send their daughter into the palace, so the first they thought to eliminate was of course my cousin.”
“Are both mother and daughter mad?” Gu Ru Jiu did not believe her ears. They dared to do things to their relatives for the seat of empress. What was all this for? The reason that aristocratic families did not fall was because their families were united enough. If they could not do even this, then how could they become an aristocratic family?
“Does the Li Family know?” Gu Ru Jiu frowned. She could not agree with the conduct of Sima Xiang and her mother.
“So what if they do?” Jin Yang smoothed out her furrowed brow. “Since the Li Family chose to be silent, then how that Miss Li died is not so important to them.”
Gu Ru Jiu sighed after a moment, “Maybe the reason the Gu Family cannot become a first-class aristocratic family is because we cannot endure as much as them, and do not bear to sacrifice like they bear to.”
“I feel the in-laws are good.” Jin Yang smiled. “At least they live like people.”
Gu Ru Jiu thought of how her parents usually treated her and smiled as well.
Seeing her mood get better, Jin Yang continued, “This miss of the Sima Family is guilty of more than this one crime. She is in cahoots with Qi Lian, and she watched her mother commit suicide without helping. Even I feel cold speaking of these things.”
“Suicide,” Gu Ru Jiu said in a daze. “No wonder the Sima Family did not bury the Third Mistress in their ancestral graves and buried her so hurriedly. So it’s because she committed suicide.”
In the thinking of people at present, people who killed themselves would become lonely ghosts the world did not take care of. If they were buried in the ancestral graves, they would ruin the feng shui of the ancestral graves, and influence the fate of the descendants.
Gu Ru Jiu shook her head. “Sima Xiang is such a smart person and yet did such a foolish thing.” Scheming with another country would get her head cut off at least, and drag down her entire family at worst. What kind of mind did she have to do such a thing?
“Smart?” Jin Yang smiled noncommittally.
Because this was concerning Gaoluo, Gu Ru Jiu did not plan to ask, but Jin Yang spoke again.
“Sima Xiang is in the secret prison. No one else knows she is there. If you want to see her, have He Ming lead you tomorrow.” Jin Yang was silent for a moment. “But this person has a vicious mind, so do not go close to her.”
“Why would I go see her?” Gu Ru Jiu closed her eyes. “The ones who did not raise her properly are her parents, the one who killed my sister-in-law is her elder brother. If she has made a mistake, she should be punished. No matter how worse off she is, I will not be happy because of it. It’s better not to see her.”
Hearing her words, Jin Yang stilled and then smiled. “You are right. But she does have old grievances with you.”
“Why?” Gu Ru Jiu said in puzzlement. “Because I won a horse race against her in Taihe Palace?”
Jin Yang shook his head with a smile and told Gu Ru Jiu what had happened that year in the race course. “If Li Huai Gu had not called you to talk, when your horse passed by the flowers, it would have been startled. But because you delayed for so long, before you reached that place, the misses of the Sima and Li families had had their accidents and the plan could only be cancelled.”
At this, Jin Yang sighed, “I am discontent with the Li Family for many things, but I am grateful to Li Huai Gu for this only.”
Gu Ru Jiu could not understand Sima Xiang at all. This attitude of not wanting to see other people well, being so jealous she was mad, and wanting people to die did not belong to the limits of ordinary people.
After a moment, she sighed. “Let’s eat first, and do not let this kind of matter affect our mood.”
“All right.” Jin Yang had not planned to tell these things to Jiu Jiu. But Jiu Jiu had noticed that he smelled wrong. He did want to lie to her so he told her everything.
Fortunately, Jiu Jiu was not displeased with his actions.
In the secret prison, Sima Xiang did not look at the food by the door and dazed out staring at the wall. No one paid attention to her or scolded her. If not for the bone-deep pain from her whipped back, she would have thought this was just a dream.
Then she heard a rustling sound from a dark corner. She could not help but hug her legs. She had heard that in dark places, there would commonly be mice and all kinds of other pests.
“It seems this emperor is not a tender person.” A voice came from the dark corner. The other coughed and then he said, “He will imprison and beat such a beauty. Truly a pity.”
“It’s you?!” Sima Xiang heard the familiar voice and her expression changed. She looked towards the dark corner but saw nothing due to the lack of light there. “You betrayed me?”
Qi Lian looked at the place illuminated by the torches, and sneered. “The present emperor needs me to betray you to know what you did? He could take me from Gaoluo without giving a clue away. Who suspects that he did it?”
Sima Xiang’s expression dimmed. Did the emperor have his own spies? If so, the court officials…
The more she thought, the more terrifying it became. The aristocratic families at court thought themselves noble, but the imperial house played with them in the palms of their hands. It seemed the glory of the aristocratic families was finally going to pass.
“How can you blame others for being less skilled?” Sima Xiang sneered. “I only hate that I chose to work with you out of a moment of greed.” If she had not decided to work with Qi Lian, maybe she would not have appeared here.
“A woman like you…” Qi Lian shook his head. “You have beauty and talent, but your mind is not right. No wonder an emperor like Jin Yang doesn’t want you.”
“Shut up!” Sima Xiang spoke angrily when the unbearable past was mentioned. “You are not much better off than me.”
“I am not better off than you.” Qi Lian sneered. “But at least I won’t want someone’s life just because they live better than me. This is the great difference between us. I am still a person, but you are a lunatic.”
Sima Xiang laughed lowly upon hearing this, like she was laughing at Qi Lian for being in the same state, but also laughing at herself.
The third day after Sima Xiang was imprisoned was the day of a court session. All the officials dressed up for court to discuss major matters.
Because there had been two years of good weather, there were no constant disasters like in the previous emperor’s reign. There were no major matters, but people could fight over the minor matters. Now, everyone was primarily focused on the matter of Wei Ting and Zhao Jin.
But to the confusion of the military officials, the officials from the Sima party seemed especially low-key. They did not argue when Wei Ting was cursed. They would only speak up to throw blame off themselves, and looked like they would leave Wei Ting to his fate.
The military officials were confused by the other side’s response. They couldn’t help but suspect—what tricks were these cunning civil officials planning again?
But when the session was about to end, a greater matter happened that made the military officials dumbstruck.
What? Sima Hong was retiring because of illness?
Sima Hong was the leader of the Sima party. If he retired, wouldn’t the people below him be in disarray? Also, because of the Sima Family’s present state, even if Sima Hong wanted to retire, it should not be now?
Even Li Guang Ji and Zhang Zhong Han were shocked. Sima Hong’s actions were abnormal. The juniors of the Sima Family had not yet grown into their wings, but Sima Hong, the pillar, was leaving first. Then what should the juniors do?
Jin Yang naturally did not consent to Sima Hong’s retirement. He encouraged the other, expressing the court could not lose such a good official.
So everyone understood. Originally, Sima Hong was using a retreat to attack. In reality, he did not want to just give up.
But soon, Sima Hong slapped them with the truth. He expressed three times that he was too old and could only fail the emperor’s hopes. He cried hard, and looked like if the emperor did not agree, he would keep on kneeling.
Jin Yang tried to keep him three times. Seeing Sima Hong seemed to be resolute, he could only helplessly agree. Then, he gave the grandson Sima Bei the title of Senior Commandant of the Light Chariots.
A title like the Senior Commandant of the Light Chariots could not be inherited, but was a title just below a third-rank baron. It was of some comfort to the Sima Family. At least, it saved Sima Hong’s face.
Sima Hong heard the emperor give his grandson the title and sighed in relief inside. He trembled as he kowtowed to Jin Yang. “This subject thanks Your Majesty.”
While he had retired out of helplessness, at least he had protected his entire family. The emperor was willing to give his eldest grandson a title—that meant that he temporarily would not pursue the matter. Or in other words, as long as the Sima Family was good, the emperor would pretend this had never happened.
Everyone finally understood why the Sima party officials were so low-key this time. So their leader had quit. Now, they felt these people were to be pitied. They went around with the Sima Family, but the Sima Family suddenly withdrew without letting them have time to react. Wasn’t this entrapping them? In the future, who would dare to follow the Sima Family?
Regardless of what other people thought, Sima Hong retired, and it was not important whether other people were satisfied. The moment he stepped out the doors of court, he, who was always full of energy, seemed to lose his vitality, and his steps grew unsteady as though he was very old.
Even Li Guang Ji, who was always at odds with Sima Hong, had no thoughts of mockery at seeing him like this. He was an old man in his seventies. If a word caused Sima Hong illness, that was asking for trouble.
Zhang Zhong Han recalled how Sima Hong had mentioned to him the case of Consort Lin harming the imperial son. Now that Sima Hong had retired, this case would likely not be mentioned again.
He wondered—why had Sima Hong suddenly mentioned this matter back then?
The officials relying on the Sima Family were panicking inside. They did not know the cause of the events, but there was definitely some reason behind Sima Hong’s sudden retirement. So they were anxious.
As officials, they could not help but overthink. What if the emperor disliked them for following the Sima Family? What if the Sima Family had committed too great a crime and they were implicated as well?
In Jingan Palace, Dowager Consort Sun heard of Sima Hong’s retirement and immediately smashed the teacup in her hand. She glared hard at the eunuch. “What did you say?”
“Dowager Consort, Official Sima has retired.” The eunuch swallowed. “The emperor made Young Master Sima the Senior Commandant of the Light Chariots.”
“Senior Commandant of the Light Chariots?!” Dowager Consort Sun smiled disdainfully. What was the use in such a useless title in the capital?
The Sima Family was an important part of her plan. Now that the Sima Family had withdrawn, how could she proceed with the rest of her plan?
“I see.” Dowager Consort Sun waved her hand, powerlessly indicating for everyone serving in the room to leave.
An accident would occur at almost every step of her plan. Was this the heavens warning her, or had the emperor and empress learned of her plan already?
But how was this possible? She had never told her plan to anyone. How could the emperor and empress know?
The more she thought, the more she felt this was the heavens. Dowager Consort Sun felt even more irritated. If this was the will of heaven, what was the use in her scheming so much?
“Empress Dowager, Sima Hong has retired.” Matron Liu took the incense from the empress dowager’s hand and inserted it into the incense pot. She bowed to the statues of the Three Pure Ones. She turned and said to the empress dowager, “This servant also heard the miss of the Sima third branch is seriously ill and likely will not survive many more days.”
“The girl called Sima Xiang?” Empress Dowager Zhou had some memory of Sima Xiang. She shook her head. “The emperor and Jiu Jiu can worry about these things. You do not have to tell me in the future.”
“You…” Matron Liu’s expression changed slightly.
“The emperor is an open-minded and enlightened monarch. He does not need people directing him.” Empress Dowager Zhou looked at the benevolent and authoritative faces of the Three Pure Ones. “This Grieving One schemed for more than half a lifetime and only needs to live quietly in peace in the future.”
“This servant… understands.” Matron Liu curtsied.
She bowed to the statues of the Three Pure Ones again. She only hoped the emperor and empress were filial and treated the empress dowager like before, and did not freeze her heart.
After Sima Hong’s retirement, there were several personnel changes at court. But these were not conspicuous positions and did not arouse any objections from the officials.
For example, the vice-director of the Office of State Ceremonies, Gu Zhi Yu, was moved to the Ministry of Revenue as the Assistant Minister of Revenue. While both positions were third-rank and this appeared to be a horizontal transfer, it was actually a promotion. One would only have a chance to rise up after becoming a vice-minister of the six ministries.
The eldest brother of the empress was in the Ministry of Revenue while her second brother was the captain of the imperial guards. One worked for the emperor’s money pouch, one for the emperor’s safety. One internal, one external. It could be seen how much the emperor valued the Gu Family.
Thinking of this, everyone had to admit Gu Chang Ling was an old fox. His quick retreat had paved the way for his sons and grandsons, and he avoided the emperor’s suspicion. Such a good move.
But from this, it could also be seen the empress had the means to keep the emperor’s heart and have him willing to use the Gu Brothers.
Compared to the glorious Gu Family, the Sima Family was much worse off.
Some positions in the capital were changed, and the local officials were also affected. Some people were promoted on the surface but were actually demoted. Some people truly were promoted. Other people changed from local officials to officials of the capital.
For example, the regional inspector of Jin Prefecture had been in charge of Jin Prefecture after the Prince of Cheng’s death. Now, he had the luck to be promoted to Minister of Imperial Stud. Chief of the Court of the Imperial Stud was not an important position, but he would arrange carriages for the emperor, empress and other nobles. For a minor official like the regional inspector of Jin Prefecture, this was a great leap.
The regional inspector of Jin Prefecture, Tian Enguang, cried tears of joy after receiving the transfer order from the capital. He rejoiced that he had listened to his daughter back then, secretly helping His Majesty to arrive in the capital. Otherwise, would he have today?
When he thought of this, he became satisfied with his daughter who had returned home a few days after her divorce. He joyfully went into the inner courtyard to tell his wife and daughter the news.
People had no time for much else due to the changes in the positions of the capital. So almost no one paid attention to the news that the third miss of the Sima Family passed away because of illness.
For an unmarried girl, even her funeral could not be made very grand, because it was unfilial to make the old send off the young. So in the view of others, this was not important.
Only the Qian Family sighed. It was a pity the daughter-in-law they wanted was gone. But on the surface, they did not dare to let people know their family had once proposed to Sima Xiang. If someone said that their child was bad luck to his wife, it would affect their child’s marriage. That would be troublesome.
Translator Ramblings: I feel of all the author’s protagonists, Kong Hou is the most “normal” of the bunch. Qu Qing Ju, Hu Xi Wan, and even Jiu Jiu are not the best role models for ethics/morality. On the other hand, I don’t think most women in the palace can succeed if they aren’t ruthless or ambitious.