This chapter has been brought to you by me and Adnana.
The birthday of the emperor was not widely celebrated each year. Each time it was done big, there was a reason. For example, a round age, the first year after the marriage. These years had special meaning.
The marriage of a man meant that he was of age. This birthday banquet was to show to the world that he was a husband, that he could become a father and raise the next generation.
The Sima Family being invited this time was within everyone’s expectations, but also a surprise. They had expected the eldest branch to be invited. The surprise was that the second branch was also invited. The second branch of the Sima Family had not been kind in their conduct. Everyone had seen, in the years since the emperor took the throne, that he treated the second branch as though they did not exist. Everyone knew this. Now, there was a seat for the second branch at the banquet. Everyone was not used to this.
The outsiders just watched, but Sima Bao was anxious. In the middle of the night, he had shaken Sun shi awake and then asked worriedly, “Do you think the emperor will suddenly want to punish me for my crimes during the banquet?”
Sun shi said sleepily, “Do not worry—even if His Majesty wants to deal with you, he will not do it during the birthday banquet. It would be an ugly thing to hear about. Do not worry, nothing will happen.”
Sima Bao felt even more worried after his wife’s words. “Then when do you think His Majesty will deal with me?”
Sun shi slowly woke up. She sighed. “Husband, in my view, His Majesty may not have the intention. Of course, he is not very happy to see us. The people all say the present emperor loves his people, is open-minded and kind. He is a rare wise ruler. A person like this will not waste effort scheming because of the past. They see the future, and not the present.”
“You mean the emperor will not do anything to us?” Sima Bao was overjoyed, and looked at Sun shi with bright eyes.
“As long as we do not do anything that is an eyesore, there will be no big problems.” Sun shi had been married to Sima Bao for many years, and knew that he was afraid of everything, and worried about everything. So she urged him in a low voice, “Our family does not have power or benefit entanglements right now. What could we do to make His Majesty dislike us?”
“You are right.” Sima Bao nodded. His worries were greatly eased. “Then in the future, I will be careful when outside the home.”
He would stay as far away as possible from beauties and entertainment. It would be fine if he was ignored by the others as long as the family remained safe.
“Okay, go to sleep.” Sun shi yawned, and pulled up her blanket. She prepared to turn and sleep. But then Sima Bao suddenly said, “What robes do you think I should wear, to not embarrass the Sima Family and not displease the emperor?”
Sun shi glanced at her husband’s ordinary face. She pressed her lips together. “Do not worry—anything you wear will be suitable.” Anything he wore would not be eye-catching.
Sima Bao saw his wife had a tired expression, and could only swallow his words. He depressedly shrank back into his blankets, and waited for morning to arrive.
The next morning, husband and wife rode their carriage to the Vermillion Bird Gates, where there was already a long line of carriages waiting.
“The inspection today seems very strict.” Sun shi lifted the curtain and looked out. She turned and said to Sima Bao, “I fear that even a fly cannot fly out of the palace.”
“It should be more careful when it concerns the safety of the emperor.” Sima Bao rubbed his hands together. He appeared very anxious. “I just do not know how much longer it will take until it is our turn to enter the palace.” He glanced up, lifting the curtain. He saw there was an inconspicuous gray carriage behind them. He could not see its rank or family insignia.
“Whose family is in the carriage behind us? Why is it so inconspicuous?” Sima Bao could not think of a family low in status that could enter the palace.
Sun shi looked and said after pondering, “If I am right, the person sitting in the carriage behind us should be the miss of the chief of the Court of the Imperial Stud.”
“The chief of the Court of the Imperial Stud?” Sima Bao thought for a while before saying, “When did he have a daughter?”
He remembered that the chief was part of the Li Family party. Other than his three sons, he did not have a daughter.
“It can be seen that you go to the Ministry of Works just for attendance.” Sun shi sighed. “A few days ago, someone else became the chief of the Court of the Imperial Stud. He was promoted from the post of Jin Prefecture’s regional inspector.”
“Jin Prefecture…” Because he felt guilty, Sima Bao did not like mentioning Jin Prefecture. When he learned the chief of the Court of the Imperial Stud was once Jin Prefecture’s regional inspector, he was in a low mood.
Seeing him like this, Sun shi did not mention why this person had been promoted. Otherwise, when her husband heard, he would be even more uncomfortable.
After waiting nearly an hour, it was finally time for Sima Bao’s family. The guards were very respectful towards them, but searched all the places they had to.
The cabin, under the carriage, the wheels, and even the copper bells hanging from the carriage roof were all inspected.
“The situation is special. Official Sima, please understand.” After the inspection, the guard in charge bowed to Sima Bao. “Official, please enter.”
“This should be so, this should be so.” Sima Bao returned the bow, and put down the curtain so the carriage could pass through the Vermillion Bird Gates.
“Captain, that one is…” One of the guards raised an eyebrow, the meaning evident.
The guard in charge looked coldly at him, and then said, “Next.”
The gray carriage stopped in front of them. The driver handed over the invitation with trembling hands. He looked slightly timid. “The daughter of the chief of the Court of the Imperial Stud wishes His Majesty a happy birthday.”
The guard looked closely at the invitation, and then waved at the matrons behind him. Several matrons walked over.
The curtain was lifted at this time. The guards saw the person in the carriage, and inhaled sharply in unison. Such a beautiful woman.
The woman had a good figure, inky black hair, and a pair of eyes gleaming with emotion. She was not looking at anyone, but the people present all felt that the other was looking at them.
Even the matrons who served in the palace showed some admiration. However, they were experienced people who had seen many beautiful women before, so they did not stop walking. One said, “Miss Tian, this old woman will offend you.”
“Matron is also doing routine matters; there is no offense.” Tian Bi Yue smiled, and then got off the carriage for the matron to search her.
The matrons did not make things difficult for her. After the search, they retreated to the side.
After this time, some noise came from behind her. Tian Bi Yue looked back, and saw a man wearing a sky-blue robe riding a tall horse. Before this person even came close, the guards searching her carriage stopped what they were doing, and went forward to bow to the other. After saying a few words, they led him into the palace personally.
Seeing her confused expression, a matron explained, “Miss Tian, do not mind. We are forced to do this because it is your first time going to the palace. Important people like them who frequently enter the palace will not have such rules.”
The man on the tall horse looked to be twenty-six or so. He had an outstanding appearance and a noble air. Tian Bi Yue, whose heart was as still as water, could not help but take a few more glances. “This person is very outstanding.”
The matrons laughed. At this time, the man was passing by them, and they all took a step back and bowed.
Even these matrons who had ranks in the palace were so careful in their greeting. Was this person a member of the imperial family?
“Miss Tian, please get in the carriage.” After the inspection, the matrons invited Tian Bi Yue back in.
Tian Bi Yue looked back and nodded at the matrons and the guards. She turned and went to sit in the carriage.
The carriage went in through the side door of the Vermillion Bird Gates. After moving for a while Tian Bi Yue heard the announcements called out by the eunuch outside. She suddenly realized that she should get off the carriage here.
Sure enough, the carriage quickly stopped. There was the sound of speech coming through from outside. She lifted the curtain. She saw many women standing here. These women were all dressed grandly, and gave off a noble aura.
The women who had been chatting saw a beauty come in. While they did not change expression, they were secretly curious which family this miss was from. They had never seen her before.
They also saw that although this girl looked to be eighteen or so, her hair was not made in the style of an unmarried woman, and her clothing was plain. They immediately understood. This was likely a widow or a divorced woman.
“This must be the daughter of the chief of the Court of the Imperial Stud.” Mistress Hu saw Tian Bi Yue’s outstanding appearance. She whispered to Yang shi, “This family is said to have done a great favor to the emperor, so they have received such grace.” Otherwise, with the Tian Family’s status, they would not have a chance to attend such an event.
Smart people usually listened. Yang shi scanned Tian Bi Yue and smiled neutrally. “Not of good birth, but a beauty.”
Had done a favor for His Majesty and divorced to return home. There was more to it than met the eye.
Mistress Hu said with a smile, “What Great Feng does not lack the most is beauties like this.” No matter how good the subjects were to His Majesty, that was loyalty, and not favor.
Yang shi knew what Mistress Hu meant and smiled as well. “You are right.”
Tian Bi Yue stood under the sunlight, and felt she was burning up. But not because of the sunlight, but the gazes from these noblewomen. She looked over. These women were all different, elegant and noble, and none of them were looking at her. But she knew that while no one was staring at her, they had seen her in their minds from head to toe. They likely even knew all of her past.
Before she divorced and returned home, her husband had a distant relative who was from a branch of an aristocratic family. She had once talked with the women from that family. These women were perfect all over, flawless, and had a clear understanding of the history of other families.
She did not even dare to think how these women did it, and could hardly imagine it.
Soon, female officials came to arrange them. She was of low status, so her position was near the back. The square was very large, and there was a long and wide red carpet in the middle. The men were on the left, and the women on the right. She looked over and saw flawless backs or side profiles. These people were among the most prominent people of the Feng Dynasty.
The summer sun was hot. But fortunately, today’s weather was not bad. It was breezy, so it was not so uncomfortable for them to stand under the sun. Maybe the emperor did not want everyone to suffer in the sun, so after they all lined up, there was the sound of drum beats from ahead, deep and strong, seeming to drum into her heart.
Deep inside, she could not help but feel respect. Tian Bi Yue copied the other people, and bowed her head.
The drums rang out nine times, and a shrill voice reached everyone’s ears.
“The emperor and empress have arrived.”
She unconsciously raised her head. But she stood far away, and could only see the two red figures on the height platform.
“Long live the emperor, ten thousand years, ten thousand years.”
She bent at the knees and bowed her head. She listened to the calls roar to the heavens. She opened her mouth as well, but she could not hear her own voice.
“Rise!” The sharp voice reached her ears again. Tian Bi Yue frowned.
“Today is Zhen…” Tian Bi Yue heard the voice, and suddenly looked up at the platform. She looked dazedly at the red figure, and could not even hear what the other was saying.
“The blessing of the heavens…” The youth of the past seemed to have grown taller, stronger, and even his voice had changed.
“The heat is unbearable. Please, everyone, go into the inner hall and be seated.”
She dazedly followed the women inside, and thought, was the youth of her memories really the majestic man whose shadow she saw on the platform?
The Zhaoyang Hall was very spacious, and a good place to hold a large banquet. When she walked in, she immediately felt a comfortable coolness rush at her. She saw there were ice cubes placed everywhere in the hall. The ice was clear and transparent. No wonder the hall was so cool.
She looked at the tea set in front of her. So fine she did not bear to stop touching it.
But she, who usually liked good tea, was not in the mood to taste the tea. She just felt that her heart was empty.
Ever since Jin Yang persisted in having Gu Ru Jiu’s throne set side by side with his, the people of the Ministry of Rites did not make the mistake of moving it again. So today, at the birthday banquet, Gu Ru Jiu’s throne stood side by side with Jin Yang’s dragon throne, and the two were using the same table.
“This time, the Ministry of Rites finally was perceptive.” Jin Yang pulled Gu Ru Jiu’s hand to sit down, and then pushed the plate of chilled lychee in her direction. Then he indicated that the performances could start.
There was a tall stage set up in the middle of the hall. The stage was beautiful and large, so the folk artists were proud of being able to stand on the stage of Zhaoyang Hall.
Gu Ru Jiu did not like other people peeling things like lychee, grapes, and longans for her. She always did it for herself. She peeled the lychee, and used a silver knife to pick out the core. Then she placed the fruit flesh in a glass bowl.
After peeling five like this, she wiped her hands, and put the glass bowl in front of Jin Yang. She whispered, “Your Majesty can eat these once today.”
Jin Yang was not in good health, and it was easy for him to get excess heat. So Gu Ru Jiu was always strict regarding his health.
Seeing the pitiful amount of fruit in the bowl, Jin Yang nodded obediently. He used a silver fork to place a piece in his mouth, and chewed slowly.
There were so few that he had to eat slowly.
He Ming and Bai Xian were on the left and right of the imperial couple, and saw the interaction between the emperor and the empress clearly. But they were used to the emperor being “suppressed” in this area. Thus, they were able to maintain their expressions now.
There were still grapes, pears, and other fruits on the table. Gu Ru Jiu did not set strict quotas on these. He Ming originally wanted to cut fruit for the couple. But His Majesty did not care. He took up a dagger and started to slice them himself. From the familiar movements, it could be seen this was not the first time he was doing this.
“The music department is always like this each year. There is nothing new.” Jin Yang had an admiring smile on his face. He placed the sliced pears in front of Gu Ru Jiu as he complained. “There is no meaning in these songs of praise being performed repeatedly.”
Gu Ru Jiu smiled and she tilted her head. She whispered, “Do you like being cursed by others?”
Jin Yang nodded upon hearing this. “Jiu Jiu is right. We can only watch these things on such an occasion.”
Gu Ru Jiu placed a piece of pear in her mouth. Before she swallowed, she heard the music suddenly turn exotic. Several women wearing red dresses and veils over their faces came onto the stage gracefully. Their bodies appeared especially beautiful amid the music.
White skin, bright red silk, and tempting eyes. Gu Ru Jiu could no longer eat pears, and stared at the beauties with unblinking eyes.
Seeing the pears he had cut with his own hands being neglected, Jin Yang looked at the dancers on stage with a cool expression.
Those that could attend the banquet were people who had seen the world. So while this exotic dance was slightly novel, they would not lose their composure. On occasions like this, they had to show they were more reserved and steady. Otherwise, if a reputation of being lusty spread, no one would end up looking good.
Some with keen eyes saw that His Majesty’s smile had faded slightly, and could not help but think inside, did His Majesty not like this type? Then they had to be even more careful. Even if they liked it, they had to show some dislike.
The dancers worked hard, but to their disappointment, the important people seated were not like the guests they encountered in the dance parlor. Those guests spent lots of money, and treated them with enthusiasm. If they went on stage, the guests would clap or toss gold and silver, so excited they were crazy.
But the people seated here had cool and indifferent expressions. They seemed to think that they were not dancers, but wooden pillars standing on the stage.
After the dance, the dancers took off their face veils and bowed, shouting their birthday congratulations.
Fu Yao looked up with anticipation in the direction of the emperor. But the emperor did not even look at her. She seemed to be a passerby that did not exist at all.
Why was it like this? Her eyes widened in disbelief. Her fame had spread through the capital. Was His Majesty not curious at all?
“Such a good Flower Silk Dance. This palace likes it very much.” Gu Ru Jiu clapped. “Come, you will be rewarded.”
“This subject also thinks that this dance is good.” The Ping Prince Heiress Consort was a firm member of the empress’ party. So seeing the empress speak, she also followed in having people rewarded with gold and silver.
The other women followed, and generously gave to the dancers. It actually felt pretty good giving money to beauties.
So these dancers received the strangest treatment in their life. The men seated were indifferent, while the women present were the guests that rewarded them.
Even the famous Fu Yao was stunned by this. But no matter what thoughts she had, His Majesty did not even look at her. She could only bow with the others and leave.
When they reached the back of the stage, she took off the veil that was hanging from her ear, and angrily sat in front of her mirror.
“Why are you not happy? We got so many rewards! Even the empress praised us,” another dancer said joyfully. “The money from today is enough for us to live without worry for a lifetime.”
“Who cares…” Fu Yao had not finished when two eunuchs came in with trays holding the rewards from the mistresses. There were gold and silver pins, as well as other valuables, so many they were dazzling.
“These are your rewards. Everyone, remember to thank the important people.” The two eunuchs put down the trays and turned to leave. Some dancers wanted to give some things from the trays to them, but they refused and left in a hurry.
They were eunuchs with self-respect. No matter how much they wanted these things, they would not take a dancer’s things in a place like this. There were people coming in and out of these rooms. How could they reach out with their hands?
“We are rich, we are rich.” The dancers hugged together, laughing and jumping, extremely excited.
Fu Yao pouted, and whispered, “So ignorant. So happy for as little as this.”
“You say it like you have seen such good things,” the dancer nearest to her said. She wanted to say more, but her fellow stopped her.
“I will have them sooner or later.” Fu Yao thought unwillingly. Sooner or later, she would become an important person who gave the rewards, and not a pitiful person who was happy to be rewarded.
“There was nothing good to see about the dance just now.” Jin Yang skewered a piece of pear and moved it to Gu Ru Jiu’s hands. “Aren’t they just moving their hands and shaking their tails?”
“The dance was beautiful, and so were the people.” Gu Ru Jiu ate the pear off the fork. “Also, they were beauties—they do not have tails.”
No tails, but they can make you reward them with so much?
Jin Yang raised his eyebrows. “Where were they beautiful? They are just common rouge.” His empress was staring at other women, unable to move her eyes away. He was not in a good mood.
“You are even jealous of women?” Gu Ru Jiu covered her mouth with a hand so the people below could not read her lips. “You have a small heart.”
“I cannot have a big heart when it is about you.” Jin Yang was not embarrassed by this, but was proud.
“Be good.” Gu Ru Jiu used the cover of her sleeve to grip his hand. She whispered, “My liking to look is better than your liking to look.”
Jin Yang said softly by her ear, “Are you not embarrassed to say that I have a small heart? You are a jar of vinegar.”
“Then you are a vinegar vat.” Gu Ru Jiu waved a finger and smiled. “Vinegar vat, oh?!”
“You are a vinegar jar, I am a vinegar vat. We are a match made in heaven.” Jin Yang laughed secretly at her. “Don’t you think so?”
Gu Ru Jiu snorted, but did not object.
Tian Bi Yue sat on her seat while her gaze remained on the emperor and empress.
Maybe… the youth in her memories was false. The emperor in love with the empress was the true one. Her memories had lied to her.