This chapter has been brought to you by me and Adnana.
“When coming here for the marriage, I only cared about Jiu Jiu and did not even see what the yard looked like.” Jin Yang stood in the small refined courtyard. From each grass and tree in the courtyard, it could be seen how much the ducal establishment kept Jiu Jiu on their minds and how much effort they put in. “Now I know it is like this.”
A swing, mottled bamboo, rare and precious flora, a fine stone table, a fake stone mountain, a flower window. Everything gave off the feeling of a girl’s rooms. Jin Yang walked next to the orange tree. The tree was much higher than him, and there were thumb-sized fruits at the ends of the branches, some of them still covered in dried flower stamens.
Gu Cun Jing, behind him, saw the green fruits and could not help but feel his mouth fill with saliva and his teeth start to ache. These oranges were so sour that he could not help his reflex.
The emperor found an excuse to come out so his sister could talk with her parents. As a member of the dragon guard and also the host, he could only accompany the emperor in visiting his sister’s rooms from before her marriage.
Opening the door, the room’s decor was still as before his sister married—the decorations on the Hundred Treasures shelf, the embroidery on the bed coverings, and even the window screens that had just been newly replaced with fashionable materials.
Jin Yang could sense from this room his in-laws’ love and reluctance to part from Jiu Jiu. He turned to Gu Cun Jing and saw him also revealing an emotional expression, and then he smiled.
He walked to the neighbouring study. Jin Yang pulled out a worn book, and found this was a travelogue on the weather and culture of different places. There were even notes inscribed. It appeared that Jiu Jiu had liked this book greatly for a period of time.
On the table, the four treasures of the study were placed neatly, as though their master had never left.
In the corner, there was a zither stand. The zither was shaped like the Nine Heavens Jade Pendant, and at a glance, people would feel the master of the room was an elegant woman.
He had not lived well in his early years in the Prince of Cheng’s establishment. He knew how to play the zither, but it was nothing to be seen in public. He reached out to touch the strings. He knew, this was a rare and good zither. “Zhen has never heard Jiu Jiu discuss playing.”
“I fear Your Majesty will laugh upon hearing this, but the empress was not good at playing before she married.” Gu Cun Jing looked up and saw His Majesty take out a handkerchief and lightly wipe the strings. He said, “After marrying, no one manages her, so she is not willing to touch these again.”
“Does she not play well?” Jin Yang pulled his hand back and turned to examine the paintings hanging from the walls. The paintings were good and the calligraphy even better. “Are all these Jiu Jiu’s idle works?” At just a glance, he was certain these were Jiu Jiu’s words.
“It’s not that she was not good.” Gu Cun Jing shook his head. “She just did not like it.”
Jin Yang nodded and walked to the bookshelf. He looked at the neat rows of books and said with a smile, “You all spoiled Jiu Jiu greatly.”
Ordinary wealthy families may not have so many books even if all the books they possessed were placed together. The Gu Family had so many books just in their daughter’s study, some of them even rarities that could not be found anywhere else.
He had heard long ago that the Gu Family had a deep background, and it now appeared to be truly so.
“My father said that women have it harder than men in the world, so the family loves the two daughters more.” Gu Cun Jing smiled and pulled out a book. He remembered that he had gone to several bookstores in a previous year to find it. His younger sister had been extremely happy and dedicated two days to him.
“It is rare for someone to have thoughts like Father-in-law.” Jin Yang looked around the room. He thought of how Jiu Jiu once read and wrote in this room and said with a smile, “Let’s return. I think they will have finished talking.”
Gu Cun Jing glanced at the sky outside. They should also return to the palace at this time.
In the main courtyard, Gu Ru Jiu and her parents had endless things to talk about. Seeing Jin Yang and Gu Cun Jing come back, she suddenly realized that time had passed so quickly. While she was reluctant, she knew that Jin Yang had come out incognito. If they stayed too long, she feared making trouble for Jin Yang.
“Father, Mother, it is late—this daughter should return to the palace.” She stood up and bowed to Yang shi and Gu Chang Ling. “Please take care of yourselves, and do not let this daughter worry you.”
“We know, you… be careful.” Yang shi forced a smile. Because Jin Yang was present, she could not say much else. She reached to caress Gu Ru Jiu’s face. “There is something happy that we forgot to tell you—your second sister-in-law is two months pregnant.”
“Really? How come you did not tell me before?” Gu Ru Jiu showed a smile as she looked at Hu shi behind her mother. She said in a happy voice, “Congratulations.”
Hu shi smiled and whispered, “You are in charge of the inner palace now—how can we trouble you with such a minor matter?”
“How is this a minor matter?” Gu Ru Jiu pretended to be displeased. “Sister-in-law treats me like an outsider if you say this.”
Hu shi saw that her sister-in-law had not grown distant after becoming the empress, and her original restraint disappeared. “This is my fault. In the future, I will immediately tell you first.”
“Not first.” Gu Ru Jiu smiled at Gu Cun Jing. “With Second Brother here, I can be second.”
The family teased each other some more. Because of the good news, Gu Ru Jiu’s reluctance dissipated slightly. At least, when she walked out of the compound, she was not feeling so sad.
“Do not be sad; I will take you out again next time.” Jin Yang squeezed her hand. He turned back to Gu Chang Ling and the others. “Father-in-law, Mother-in-law, please do not see us off.”
Gu Chang Ling returned the bow. He looked at Gu Ru Jiu standing behind Jin Yang. “Your Majesty, my daughter will be a bother to you.”
Jin Yang smiled. “It is I who caused Jiu Jiu much worry.”
Gu Chang Ling did not know if his words were just politeness or true. But he still persisted in seeing the couple off to the main gate. At this time, Bai Xian had already arranged for a carriage to return to the palace and was standing beside it.
“Please stay—please stay here.” Jin Yang bowed to Gu Chang Ling with the bow of a junior before reaching out to help Gu Ru Jiu.
Gu Ru Jiu bowed to Gu Chang Ling before taking Jin Yang’s hand to help her board the carriage with red eyes.
Dazedly seeing his daughter’s figure disappear behind the curtain, Gu Chang Ling bowed deeply. “Farewell, Your Majesties.”
The carriage rumbled forward. Gu Chang Ling slowly straightened and watched the carriage leave. Only when it had disappeared did he move his stiff legs and slowly returned.
The setting sun drew out his long shadow like a line that thought of his daughter. Even though he wanted to protect his daughter under his wings, he was helpless.
“Miss, the capital is so prosperous.” In the carriage, a servant girl excitedly lifted the curtain and looked at the people passing by. She said, “As expected of the capital.”
“No matter if it is busy or sparse, it does not have much to do with me.” The “miss” the servant girl spoke to looked to be seventeen or so. She had a simple hairstyle secured with a few hairpins. She looked especially dull.
She had a white face and looked slightly weak and cold, like the frost of winter. She was not very beautiful, but definitely moved the heart.
The young servant girl Ming Cui saw Miss like this, and immediately sat properly. She said in a low tone, “This servant forgot in excitement.”
“You are still young, and you should be curious when you see the prosperity of the capital.” She reached out with a hand. She wore a silver bangle on her thin wrist. Because she was so thin, it looked empty. She lifted a corner of the curtain, and at first glance, she saw the wide street and the rows of impressive shops.
Compared to the capital, the Jin Prefecture was too small and shabby.
The carriage continued for a while before suddenly stopping and reversing for a bit. She lifted the curtain curiously and saw a grand red-roofed carriage pass by. The bells hanging from the carriage chimed pleasingly.
She had never been to the capital, but she knew that this was a carriage that only the country ladies could ride in.
“The carriage that just passed is so beautiful,” Ming Cui said in admiration. “There were gems inlaid in the carriage.”
“I heard the present emperor loves the empress very much. He ennobled her family members, and even bestowed a Fragrant Treasure Carriage. This carriage has the insignia of the imperial work and the country lady regulation.” She whispered, “The person who just passed may likely be the older sister of the empress.”
“The elder sister of the empress?” Ming Cui swallowed, filled with awe towards an important person like that.
Seeing her servant girl with such an expression, she curled her lips and then resumed her cold look.
No matter their importance, what did that person have to do with her?
She looked down. She thought of the beautiful youth she had met five years ago, and then laughed at herself, shaking her head. Do not look back at the past. She was a woman who had returned home after a divorce. She would not think of things that she should not.
The carriage did not travel far before stopping. Then she heard that even the outside seemed to have grown much quieter.
She lifted the curtain. There were the dragon guards riding tall horses passing by, followed by a carriage whose rank she could not identify.
Whether by coincidence or not, just as she was curious who the person in the carriage was, the person in the other carriage also lifted the curtain.
The face behind the curtain was good-looking, but that pair of clever eyes were even better. Just looking at those eyes, people seemed to feel endless energy.
The other did not seem to have expected her to also lift the curtain and look over. The other stilled, gave a warm smile, and then put the curtain down.
She looked dazedly as the carriage went away. But that pair of clever eyes could not leave her mind.
Probably only a person with such eyes could be called truly alive.
“Just now, I saw a beauty.” Gu Ru Jiu put down the curtain and said to Jin Yang. “An oval face, willow brows, almond eyes. She looked like she was from a painting.”
“Really?” Jin Yang saw that Jiu Jiu seemed to be very interested in that beauty and his lips curved. “Better-looking than me?”
“Um…” Gu Ru Jiu hurriedly patted his head. “Of course you are the best-looking. These are two different types of beauty.”
“What is different?” Jin Yang asked sternly, looking as though he would not give up without an answer.
“I will just look at a beauty like that. Whereas a beauty like you”—Gu Ru Jiu smiled and reached out to touch his face—”I will want to eat in a bite.”
“You eat me, or I eat you?” Jin Yang lowered his head, his eyes darkening. “In my eyes, you are the best meal.”
Gu Ru Jiu tapped his Adam’s apple with her index finger. “How about we try after we get back?”
Jin Yang smiled, holding her hand. “I also think the same.”
That night, the pair returned to the palace and had a great battle. The battle caused Jin Yang to look radiant the next morning, and to feel everyone was pleasing to the eyes.
Jin Xiang, who was on duty, saw Jin Yang wearing a smile as though he was full, and could not help but cough. As expected of Her Majesty. Only she could make the emperor so happy.
Recently, the local officials who were coming to the capital to take up positions had all taken up their positions, including the regional inspector of the distant Jin Prefecture. Because this inspector had once helped Jin Yang, Jin Yang summoned Tian En Guang for a special audience in the imperial study.
Due to his good fortune at meeting the emperor, Tian En Guang did not sleep well the night before. He woke up early in the morning to prepare, worried that anything wrong with him would cause the emperor’s displeasure.
“Father.” His daughter walked in front of him and bowed down to neaten the jade pendants hanging from his waist. She whispered, “His Majesty is seeing you, first because we helped him, and second because you were successful in governing Jin Prefecture in these years. You do not have to be so nervous.”
“How can I not be nervous?” Tian En Guang took a deep breath. “You are young and you do not know the importance of this.” As a young emperor with power, the other may not be willing to see these people who had once seen him in a bad state in the past. At that time, he would not be valued, and if he was not careful, he might even harm his entire family.
“His Majesty is young, but can keep Great Feng at peace. He is not a person to forget past favors,” his daughter said coolly. “Also, our Tian family is not one who will use our past favor to ask for things. As subjects, we are only loyal to the ruler and country. Do not mention past matters. Even if His Majesty mentions them, do not casually reply.”
“This father has lived for many years, and knows all this you say.” Tian En Guang waved his hands. Seeing his daughter thin and weak like this, he sighed. “Do not worry too much about this. Just take care of yourself.”
Tian Bi Yue smiled at hearing this. “I know, Father; do not worry.”
“It was this father’s mistake—I should not have forced you to marry into a family like that. Who knew that he would be such a bastard.” Tian En Guang sighed. “But you cannot have your previous thoughts. This is the capital. People of our background, in the face of aristocratic families like the Gu Family, will be nothing to look at.” So do not think about what you should not.
This present emperor was not the previous one, and his daughter did not have the fate of the present empress dowager. It was better not think about these things that could lead to heads being chopped off.
Tian En Guang did not immediately see the emperor after entering the palace. He waited for a while before an eunuch led him in.
The weather of the sixth month was very hot. His clothing was already soaked after standing outside for a while. When he entered the imperial study, a wave of cold air came at him, so comfortable that his nervous expression eased slightly.
He did not dare to look up at the black figure behind the table. He walked a few steps and bowed. “This subject Jin Prefecture’s Regional Inspector Tian En Guang greets Your Majesty.” Because he had not yet taken up his new position in the Court of Imperial Stud, he could only call himself the regional inspector of Jin Prefecture.
“Stand, be seated.” Jin Yang examined this Tian En Guang. He was like a few years before, a careful and cautious person. It was suitable for a person like this to be in charge of the Court of Imperial Stud.
“Thank you, Your Majesty.” Tian En Guang carefully sat on the edge of the seat. He did not know where to put his hands. The room which had been comfortable now felt cold.
“Official Tian must have had a hard time travelling.” Jin Yang was in a good mood today, so his tone was very gentle. “We have not met for five or six years—is your family doing well?”
“Thank you, Your Majesty, for asking. My family is well.” Tian En Guang repeatedly said well. Even if they were not, he had to say they were well.
“Yes.” Jin Yang nodded. Seeing Tian En Guang like this, he said with a smile, “Official Tian does not have to be so cautious. Just think of this as chatting about the family with me. If not for you and your daughter, Zhen likely would not have reached the capital back then.”
“Do not dare, do not dare.” Tian En Guang bowed repeatedly. “Your Majesty is destined by the heavens. Even if not for this subject, there is the help of the heavens. This subject only received Your Majesty’s grace to be able to offer a little strength to Your Majesty.”
Jin Yang smiled. He did not care much about Tian En Guang’s flattery. He took a sip of tea. “Speaking of your daughter—which family has she married into?”
“This… I am ashamed to speak of it. My daughter married two years ago, but the family… She has divorced and returned to my family.” Tian En Guang could not say bad things about the other but also did not dare to lie, so he could only return such a vague answer.
“The other is blind,” Jin Yang said with a smile. “There are many good men in the capital—Official Tian will be able to find a good son-in-law.”
“This subject thanks Your Majesty for your words.” Tian En Guang heard the tone with which His Majesty mentioned his daughter and knew that the matter back then had been his daughter’s unrequited affection. How old was His Majesty back then—just twelve or thirteen. How would he have known of the matters between men and women? Pity that his daughter matured early and had such thoughts. If His Majesty had not been adopted by the present empress dowager and become the emperor, maybe his daughter’s thoughts would have been realized. But the other was the emperor now, a wise monarch praised by the people, and had the daughter of an aristocratic family as empress. Who would remember you, a miss from a remote county?
As monarch and subject spoke, Tian En Guang saw an eunuch in blue robes come in with a bowl. From the other’s caution, he seemed to be carrying a gold doll and not a bowl of soup.
“Your Majesty, the empress made this heat-relief soup for you with her own hands.” Bai Xian glanced at the ice bowls placed around the corners of the room, and buried his head lower. “Her Majesty also said, Your Majesty, you cannot have too much ice in the room. That is not good for your health.”
He knew the emperor feared the heat. So the empress’s request to have fewer ice bowls placed was really difficult.
Jin Yang lifted the cover of the bowl and took a few sips. “Have them take away an ice bowl.”
An eunuch moved away a bowl.
He took two more sips and sighed. “Take away two more.”
Bai Xian bowed to Jin Yang. “It is good Your Majesty likes the soup Her Majesty made. This servant will report to Her Majesty now; she will be very happy.”
“All right, Zhen knows what you this old thing are thinking.” Jin Yang was both exasperated and amused. He waved a hand for him to leave, and then continued to drink the soup.
The bowl was not large, and he was only half-full after drinking it. He swallowed the last spoonful. Jin Yang rinsed his mouth and washed his hands with the help of the eunuchs. Then he said to Tian En Guang who was still sitting on his seat. “The empress is always like this, worried that Zhen is not of good health, and makes Zhen drink these soups and drinks.”
He Ming thought, his head bowed—Your Majesty, if your smile was not so bright, maybe it could be more convincing.
Clearly, Tian En Guang, who had enough brains, saw that the emperor was not dissatisfied with the empress, but very satisfied. So he gathered his courage and said, “This subject will overreach—Your Majesty forgive me.”
“This subject thinks the empress is a noble daughter of an aristocratic family, but is willing to personally make soup for Your Majesty. It can be seen that the empress has deep feelings for you. Otherwise, with countless servants in the palace, why would the empress personally make soup for you in such hot weather?”
“You are right. So Zhen does not bear to waste any of her efforts, and will drink all of this.” Jin Yang said with a sweet distress, “Oh, there is nothing to be done.”
He Ming: Ha, ha.
Tian En Guang: Daughter, it is better for you to give up. I fear the emperor cannot see anyone except the empress.
“Your Majesty, when this servant delivered the soup, His Majesty was receiving the regional inspector of Jin Prefecture, but he drank your soup.” Bai Xian said with a smile, “He also said your soup was good.”
“The regional inspector of Jin Prefecture?” Gu Ru Jiu was not stupid. With Bai Xian’s personality, he would rarely mention who Jin Yang was seeing. There had to be a reason that he was mentioning this person. “This person is an official who was recently moved to the capital?” A regional inspector of a prefecture in a prince’s demesne was pretty much a decoration. There had to be a reason that Jin Yang had called this person back to the capital.
“His Majesty, when he came to the capital back then, had things made difficult by the second princess consort. After learning about this, the miss of Regional Inspector Tian informed her father. With the help of the two, His Majesty managed to get to the capital.” Bai Xian paused and said, “This servant heard that this Miss Tian married a bad person a few years ago. At the start of the year, she divorced and returned home. Now, she has come to the capital with Official Tian.”
“She did not have it easy.” Gu Ru Jiu sighed. “She is a person who helped His Majesty, and this palace should express thanks.” Then she had two eunuchs take gifts to give to Miss Tian.
Bai Xian bowed and said, “Your Majesty is really kind. That was just them serving as subjects; they are not worthy of your rewards.”
So he always said that this present empress was not a benevolent person. Even though she was jealous, she did not want anyone to pick out a flaw?
She, a miss from a regional inspector’s family, could afford to accept the empress’ thanks?
“She helped this palace’s man, so this palace will of course thank her.” Gu Ru Jiu looked up and saw Jin Yang walk in. She raised an eyebrow. “Your Majesty, do you not think so?”
Bai Xian turned and saw His Majesty had a big smile. As a staunch member of the empress’ side, he was immediately reassured.
That beautiful Miss Tian likely had no role to play. From His Majesty’s attitude, he likely did not even remember what the other looked like.
Translator Ramblings: The maneating flower comes out.