This chapter has been brought to you by me and Adnana.
“Your Majesty, careful of the stairs.” He Ming held a lantern to illuminate the path ahead. Gu Ru Jiu smelled a sour odor and used a handkerchief to cover her nose.
But this place was much cleaner than she had imagined—no dirty water on the floor or mosquitoes flying everywhere. After a few steps, she saw Sima Xiang whose face was covered in dirt and who was in tattered clothes.
In her memories, Sima Xiang was an extremely beautiful woman. She almost stilled at seeing this sorry figure whose appearance could not be made out.
The room was extremely humid and not pleasing to the nose. She did not need to think to know how painful it was for a miss from an aristocratic family who had never worked a day in her life to be imprisoned here.
She had not brought her personal servant girls because she did not want them to see this. Bai Xian, who came in with her, fanned her with a fan. He whispered, ” Your Majesty, the prison is hot. You should not say for long.”
“No wonder people started cleaning the cell in the morning. It’s because someone important like you was coming.” Sima Xiang was extremely embarrassed when she first saw Gu Ru Jiu. But when she saw the other’s grand clothing and how she sat at an elegant table, someone fanning her, someone holding a pot, and someone coming with an incense pot, her embarrassment turned to endless hate. “You are finally satisfied after my family has become like this?”
“What your family has become has nothing to do with me.” Gu Ru Jiu suddenly felt that her trip here was meaningless. Maybe she came here with negative thoughts, or rather, she had no sympathy for Sima Xiang’s outcome.
After learning the other once wanted her life, her negative feelings spread and she had a thought of “coming to see the other’s ending.”
But when she finally saw the other, this woman of seventeen mad and crazy, she felt all this was meaningless.
A person who was fated to not have a good outcome would be the same whether she visited or not. She did not feel this trip was one to relieve her hatred.
Seeing Gu Ru Jiu’s tranquil gaze, Sima Xiang suddenly calmed. She sat in the corner and hugged her knees. She said after a moment, “You came to see how sorry of a state I am in?”
“It was like that.” Gu Ru Jiu looked down at her hands. “But after seeing you, I feel I shouldn’t have come.”
“How could you not come?” Sima Xiang sneered. “Didn’t the emperor imprison me here to curry favour with you? If you had not come, wouldn’t his efforts have been in vain?”
Gu Ru Jiu did not argue with her words and said, “Yes, I did not want to waste his efforts so I came. A person treats me so—I cannot bear to let him down.”
“Even if the man is vicious, has hands covered in blood, and is extremely ambitious?” Sima Xiang looked mockingly at the well-dressed beauty next to her. “You have never thought that one day, he will treat you the same?”
Outside the hall, Jin Yang stopped on the stone stairs. He stood in the dark entrance, looking at the woman under the candlelight, and lost the courage to walk closer.
Maybe, in his heart, he was still slightly cautious about this love.
Gu Ru Jiu looked at Sima Xiang and shook her head silently with a smile.
“Why are you smiling?” Sima Xiang saw her smile and was irritated. She felt the other was laughing at her.
“I laugh at your not understanding feelings.” Gu Ru Jiu’s smile slowly spread. “You can sense if someone is true or false towards you if you want to. Unless, no one has ever been good or sincere towards you.”
“True or false, those are intangible things.” Sima Xiang snorted. “In the face of interests, things like feelings are always the most useless.”
Gu Ru Jiu tilted her head and thought. She shook her head and said, “Maybe you are right. But I still want to try to trust a person in this lifetime. A lifetime is only a few short decades. If one lives forever in suspicion, that is too tiring.”
“What if you trust wrong?”
“Then I can only blame myself for being blind.” Gu Ru Jiu smiled. “If there’s that day, it is good to die on the same day of the same month of the same year.”
Sima Xiang stilled and then laughed. “They say I am a lunatic, but in reality, you are the true lunatic.”
Gu Ru Jiu sat quietly and let her laugh. When she was about finished, she said, “When I first met you, you were sitting next to a flower, as beautiful as a painting. Back then, I thought, this Sima miss is so beautiful. If I were a man, I would fall in love.” She stood up and sighed. “I did not think that even though we almost never interacted, you wanted my life. Even if I suffered from your plans, there are other girls in the world. They are more talented, more beautiful or live better than you. Could you destroy all of them?”
“But who made it that you were the one who appeared in front of me?” Sima Xiang seemed to remember the day she first saw Gu Ru Jiu. The young masters and misses of the Li Family invited everyone to a gathering. Li Chu Rou had been alive back then, Sima Li still present, and her hands were also not stained with blood.
At that time, she had been carefully keeping her eldest cousin company and admired Gu Ru Jiu who was surrounded by a few aristocratic family misses.
What had she thought back then?
It had been… wouldn’t it be great if I was her?
Sima Xiang slowly looked up at the woman under the candlelight. She had bright eyes and white skin. Even though she was not the most beautiful woman in the world, that pair of eyes that could almost talk could move many men’s hearts.
She dazedly covered her face. If she had known today would come, she would not have listened to her mother and stained her hands with blood.
That night, she had gone to her mother’s yard. She had seen her mother unconscious and the floor covered in blood. She had felt a hint of joy inside. If not for a mother like this, and such a useless father, maybe she could live easily and like a person, like Gu Ru Jiu, like her eldest cousin.
She wanted to live with power and noble status. She wanted to escape the family and live carefree like her eldest cousin. But she did not have any of this.
Sima Xiang took her hand down from her face and looked calmly at Gu Ru Jiu. “I have been cursing you these days—I wanted you to encounter the worst things in the world.” Then she smiled mockingly. “Maybe I really am wrong.”
Gu Ru Jiu’s lips moved. She looked at the withered Sima Xiang and turned to the eunuchs behind her. “Help Miss Sima wash up.”
When the news that Sima Xiang had passed away from illness came from the Sima Family, she knew that Chenjun would not let Sima Xiang live. The reason the other had lived until now was because Chenjun was waiting for her to see Sima Xiang.
Regardless of past grievances, at least the other could go cleanly.
Sima Xiang stood up, and walked towards the cell door. She slowly bowed to Gu Ru Jiu. “Your Majesty, thank you for your grace.”
“You…” Gu Ru Jiu sighed after a moment and turned to leave.
“Your Majesty!” Sima Xiang suddenly called out.
Gu Ru Jiu turned back and saw the other’s eyes were burning like they were on fire.
“I wish the empress to fly the nine heavens and be in harmony with His Majesty.” She slowly knelt to Gu Ru Jiu. “My father is useless and cowardly. Your Majesty, please spare his life.”
Gu Ru Jiu stopped and nodded after a moment. “If he has done no wrong, His Majesty will not kill the innocent.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty.” She kowtowed hard to Gu Ru Jiu and then fell to the ground.
Gu Ru Jiu turned, walking away. Sima Xiang’s voice came from behind her.
“I hope in my next life, I will not be born in an aristocratic family.”
She paused in her steps, her heart affected, but she did not look back. Halfway, she glanced into a corner. There was a blurry figure there, but the other was on the ground, back to the door, so she could not see who it was.
“Your Majesty?” He Ming saw Gu Ru Jiu suddenly stop and came closer with the lantern. “Is the path not clear?”
“Let’s go.” Gu Ru Jiu shook her head and left this suffocating and humid place. She exhaled deeply. She turned back to look up at the palace plaque. Written were the words for “Careful Conduct Palace.” The expert calligraphy looked dilapidated and bleak because the gold paint had worn off.
Returning to Purple Imperial Hall, she first bathed and then went to the main hall. She saw Jin Yang in his underclothes and reading under the lantern. She said, “It harms the eyes to read at night. Chenjun, rest early.”
Jin Yang obediently put down the book and smiled at Gu Ru Jiu. “As a lotus flower breaking the surface, such a portrait of a beauty.”
“So silver-tongued.” Gu Ru Jiu walked in front of him and tapped his forehead. “It’s late—let’s sleep.” She reached to pull Jin Yang and then swept across the book Jin Yang had placed on the side.
Hadn’t he said a few days ago that the book was full of nonsense? Why had he started to read it?
Seeing Gu Ru Jiu’s gaze land on the book, Jin Yang picked her up. “Let’s go. Jiu Jiu, come rest with me.”
The next afternoon, when Gu Ru Jiu was practicing her calligraphy in the study, He Ming entered. “Your Majesty, the miss you met yesterday has passed away.”
Her brush stilled slightly. The tip left behind an ugly black dot on the paper. “I see. Bury her in peace.”
“Yes.” He Ming glanced at the table. The paper had the words for “Quiet and Peace.” The second character had not been completed before the ink dot ruined the words.
“Pity…” Gu Ru Jiu put down the brush and turned to wash her hands. “This palace will walk around the garden.”
“Yes.” He Ming glanced at the calligraphy thrown to the side and bowed, following. Qiu Luo, standing at the side, saw this, and followed.
Bao Lu wanted to follow and Gu Ru Jiu said to her, “No need for you to go. Stay and clean up the study.”
“Yes.” Bao Lu immediately paled, bowing and retreating.
The morning light in early summer was already bright. Qiu Luo held an umbrella for Gu Ru Jiu to cover her from the sun and whispered, “Your Majesty, Bao Lu is…” Before she finished, she saw Her Majesty’s aloof expression and hurriedly stopped. “This servant has overstepped.”
Gu Ru Jiu fanned herself with a fan and said coolly, “Bao Lu is very good, but not suited to the palace.” At the start, she had taken Bao Lu into the palace because she had a reliable personality. Now, it appeared that Bao Lu was not suited to palace life. Qiu Luo, slightly younger, seemed more to her taste.
After walking a bit and getting a sweat, Gu Ru Jiu felt she was in a much better mood. When she was preparing to return to her palace, she encountered Dowager Consort Wei who she had not seen in a long time.
“Greetings, Your Majesty.” Dowager Consort Wei timidly walked in front of Gu Ru Jiu and bowed to her.
“Dowager Consort Wei,” Gu Ru Jiu returned a half-bow. She saw Dowager Consort Wei’s hesitant expression and knew that today was not a coincidence, but Dowager Consort Wei intentionally found her.
As expected, the two did not say many words after entering the pavilion, when Dowager Consort Wei suddenly bowed to her.
“Your Majesty, please help me.”
Gu Ru Jiu suddenly remembered a few years ago, when she saw Dowager Consort Wei in Kangquan Palace, she had once said these words to the empress dowager. But back then, it was likely for herself, and this time, it was likely for someone else.
“Dowager Consort, what do you mean?” Gu Ru Jiu indicated for the palace maid to help Dowager Consort Wei up. She fanned herself and said, “Have people in the palace slighted you?”
“No.” Dowager Consort Wei grimaced. “I should not have come to you with this matter, but I do not know who to beg.”
Gu Ru Jiu bowed her head to look at her teacup and did not speak because she could not agree to Dowager Consort Wei’s request.
Dowager Consort Wei seemed to know that it was not likely that Gu Ru Jiu would agree, but she still stated her plea, hoping that Gu Ru Jiu would say a few words for her uncle in front of the emperor.
Right now, the Sima Family suddenly grew low-key, and received comfort. But her uncle had been used by the Sima Family as the battering ram. Now that the affair had come out, these people all went their own ways, and did not care about her uncle.
“Dowager Consort, this palace never pays attention to the matters of the court. You will be disappointed today,” Gu Ru Jiu said with apology. “I cannot help you with this.”
“Your Majesty,” Dowager Consort Wei said, “as long as Uncle is alive, I am willing to do anything for you.” Her uncle had always treated her well. In her childhood, if not for her uncle’s help, their family would not have survived. Now, no matter what, she had to find a way to keep her uncle alive.
Gu Ru Jiu sighed. “Dowager Consort, why do this? I cannot help.”
“Your Majesty,” Dowager Consort Wei said urgently and then told a great secret, “Dowager Consort Sun once had a secret affair in the past with the Prince of Rui!”
Clang! Gu Ru Jiu overturned the teacup in her hand. Her expression changed slightly. She looked around at the palace attendants serving around. Fortunately, she did not have many people with her today, and all of them were from Purple Imperial Hall. Otherwise, if the words today spread, it would cause great waves.
He Ming, Qiu Luo and the others wanted to not have grown ears and hear these words. If any of the ugly rumors of the imperial family spread even a bit, it would stain all of the imperial family.
“Dowager Consort Wei, speak carefully.” Gu Ru Jiu made her expression calm again. “You cannot speak rashly of such things.” She remembered that the Prince of Rui had a crippled leg. Back then, after the emperor was crowned, he went to his lands. Dowager Consort Sun only entered the palace after he went away to his lands. If the pair had a relationship back then, why did Dowager Consort Sun enter the palace?
“Your Majesty, all I say today is true,” Dowager Consort Wei said. “Back then, the Prince of Rui and Dowager Consort Sun had been in love for a long time, but the Sun Family was not willing to let Dowager Consort Sun marry the Prince of Rui. Adding on that, the previous emperor did not have many children after he came to the throne. The people of the Astrology Bureau calculated that Dowager Consort Sun’s birth time was good for flourishing children, and so the previous emperor took her into the palace.”
The reason for stealing the woman his brother liked was because the other may give birth to a child. When she could not have a child, she was put to the side. The previous emperor’s actions were disgusting.
“How do you know these past matters?” Gu Ru Jiu looked at Dowager Consort Wei. With Dowager Consort Wei’s age and birth, she should not know of these past matters.
“After I entered the palace, the previous emperor favored me greatly. One day, after he got drunk, he mentioned these things to me.” Dowager Consort Wei grimaced. She thought of how the previous emperor had bragged to her about how powerful he was, how he caused his younger brother pain. She could not help but say mockingly, “Back then, I was young and ignorant. Because the emperor did not value them, I frequently insulted them. So what if they were from aristocratic families? Without the favor of the emperor, could I, a consort of common birth, do as I wished with them?”
Hearing this, Gu Ru Jiu frowned.
Seeing her frown, Dowager Consort Wei suddenly stopped and changed her words. “One gets what they deserve. I cannot blame others for what I get now. But my uncle is not an evil person. I hope that Your Majesty can plead for him in front of the emperor, and save his life.”
“Dowager Consort.” Gu Ru Jiu stood up and said slowly, “You will forget all what happened today—understand?”
“Your Majesty, I understand.” Dowager Consort Wei bowed to her. “I still know some secrets. These will be of use to you and the emperor. If you are willing to spare my uncle’s life, I will tell you everything.”
“All right.” Gu Ru Jiu lifted her hand, and took a deep breath. “I will tell these words to His Majesty. Return to your palace now.”
The death of the imperial son, the miscarriage of justice, the struggles of the consorts. The cause of these disasters was the previous emperor. As an emperor, he was proud to have stolen his brother’s love. How disgusting was his personality to have done something like this?
Two days later, Zhao Jin’s case was clarified. Zhao Jin had been falsely accused by Wei Ting. Because of Wei Ting’s past efforts, Jin Yang only took away his position and the residence the previous emperor had gifted him, and did not take his life.
The other officials that followed the Sima Family saw the situation, were first relieved and felt that they were clean. It seemed the emperor did not plan on cleaning out the officials of the Sima party. If they were loyal to the ruler and loved the people, they would still have a chance of rising up.
When the mountain on their chests was moved away, the atmosphere of the court became much better. At least, the imperial censors dared to come out again.
The imperial censors liked to have good reputations. Loyal to the country, not fearing power. They would interfere in any matter that could give them a good reputation. Of course, there were people among them that were truly for the country and people. But regardless of the type, their direct criticisms would test the emperor’s patience.
During the time of the previous emperor, because he did not like affairs of state, many imperial censors liked to criticize him. But that was useless against the previous emperor. He did as he pleased. But his posthumous name and titles did not appear like those of a wise emperor.
The imperial censors thought the new emperor would not be like the previous one. But they only guessed the start and not the end. The new emperor was not muddleheaded like the previous emperor, and was diligent and capable after he started to govern on his own.
But this one did not take the usual path. No matter how the imperial censors jumped and threatened death, this one did not get angry and just looked on coolly. Next time during a court session, if the imperial censors dared to speak more, the emperor would find the dark history of the imperial censor and ruin his reputation.
Yet one could also not say the emperor did not listen to his loyal subjects. He did, and very much at times. So this caused the imperial censors to feel like they were on a roller coaster—sometimes good, sometimes bad.
Today, the imperial censors were on the topic of the empress living in Purple Imperial Hall. While this was a private affair of the emperor, in the view of the imperial censors, the family matters of the emperor were matters of state, and it was all right for them to say a few words.
“Your Majesty, the empress has entered the palace for more than three months. Even now, she lives in the Purple Imperial Hall. This subject thinks that this is not in line with the ancestral rules,” one imperial censor said, distressed. “Please, Emperor, do not be obsessed with matters of man and woman, and have the empress move out.”
The officials standing by his side looked at the emperor’s face. Then they silently took small steps to get away from this imperial censor.
Why mention something like this? The Prime Ministers had not spoken up. You, a minor imperial censor, dare to criticize the private affairs of the emperor?
Even if you wanted to leave your name behind in history, should you pick something like this to do so?
Should the history books record a certain month and year of Delong, an imperial censor angered the emperor because he wanted the emperor and empress to live separately, and so the emperor took away his position? Was this glorious?
The future generations would only feel that this imperial censor was so bored as to mind something like this.
If the emperor was obsessed with women and had countless consorts, you would leave a good name in history if you admonished him. Today’s situation was completely different.
Also, you spoke as you pleased at court. Once you left, did you not fear the Gu brothers putting a bag over your head and beating you up?
“The empress is the mother of the country. Moving is no minor matter,” Jin Yang started coolly. “Zhen has ideas on this matter, and you do not have to say more.”
“Your Majesty…” Imperial censor A did not give up. “Great Feng has never had a precedent for the empress to live in Purple Imperial Hall. This subject worries that this will mess up government!”
The words, even more plainly, were—I worry the empress is ambitious and has ideas towards your throne.
The court officials were all silent and looked at the imperial censor like he was stupid.
It was against the rules for the empress to live in Purple Imperial Hall, but you could not say it like this.
The way you say it, are you looking down on the emperor or the entire court? If the empress living in Purple Imperial Hall could destabilize the country, how incapable was the emperor that he could lose his throne?
Everyone looked at the emperor. As expected, he had a dark expression, as though he would erupt when the official said another word.
So the officials all bowed their heads silently.