This chapter has been brought to you by me and Adnana.
Hearing the topics the other women were discussing, Tian Bi Yue remained silent. The things these people talked about were things she did not understand, and she had nothing to say. She sat here, but did not fit in with the mood of the banquet.
“Miss Tian, I heard your father was the regional inspector of Jin Prefecture before he was transferred to the capital?”
Tian Bi Yue heard this, and turned her head. The one who spoke was a girl in a yellow dress sitting next to her. She appeared to be sixteen or so.
She had never interacted with people of the capital. She also did not have anyone to guide her, so she did not know at all who the other was.
“Miss is correct. Before my father came to the capital, he was the regional inspector.” Tian Bi Yue saw that this girl did not seem to be easy-going and responded.
“The Jin Prefecture is a good place.” The yellow-robed girl smiled and then said, “I see that you have not touched the fruits in front of you. Are they not suited to your appetite?”
“No. Because it is my first time in the palace, I saw the palace is so golden and magnificent and I forgot myself.” Tian Bi Yue stilled, and did not know what this girl meant.
“So that is why. I was wondering why Miss Tian was looking around.” The yellow-robed girl smiled and said with slight disdain, “Miss, you came from Jin Prefecture and do not know how to act in the capital. It is not elegant to look around at a banquet.”
Tian Bi Yue flushed red. She did not know if the other had detected that she had been peeking at His Majesty, so the other was warning her. She said, “Miss, thank you for reminding me.”
The yellow-robed girl sneered, and then turned to say to the blue-robed girl next to her, “I am going out for air. Come with me.”
The blue-robed girl glanced at Tian Bi Yue and smiled, taking the other’s hand and leaving the hall.
“Why argue with a person like this?” The blue-robed girl sighed when they left the hall. “In the eyes of others, it is you bullying others with your status.”
“I just look down on her staring at His Majesty without blinking. She thinks that the people around her are stupid and cannot see.” The yellow-robed girl, Wu Dong Yun, the daughter of the Wu Family patriarch, snorted. “Back then, in Taihe Palace, I even dared to slight Sima Xiang. I do not fear bullying this daughter of the chief of the Court of the Imperial Stud.”
“Her having feelings for His Majesty has nothing to do with you. Why are you so indignant?” The blue-robed girl knew that her cousin was always so direct. She never had a good expression for people she looked down on. But this Miss Tian had done a favor for His Majesty and it would not be good to make a fuss.
“The emperor and the empress are in harmony. Why have other people mix in?” Wu Dong Yun cursed in a low voice. “I cannot stand to see that.”
Just after she finished, she saw a few people walk out from the path on the side. It was the two Gu brothers, and Hu Yun Qi.
The blue-robed girl was slightly embarrassed. They had just mentioned the empress, and were overheard by the Gu Family. This really was…
Fortunately, the three men were well-mannered and did not show unusual expressions. They did not seem to have heard Wu Dong Yun’s words. After exchanging greetings, they separated.
“Now you know not to talk about people behind their backs.” The girl in the blue robe pulled Wu Dong Yun’s sleeve. “We were lucky to meet these three. If we had met some wastrels instead, heaven knows how it would have been passed on.”
“They can talk like they wish. Am I afraid?” Wu Dong Yun snorted stubbornly. She turned to glance in the direction that Gu Zhi Yu and the others had disappeared in. She pulled the blue-robed girl to walk away faster.
Because the Gu brothers were outstanding in appearance and deeply in love with their wives, they had a good reputation among the capital noblewomen. So when they appeared, they caused small discussions among the women.
Tian Bi Yue looked up and saw that this was the handsome man she had encountered at the Vermillion Bird Gates. She suddenly understood why the guards and the matrons flattered the other so.
The older brother of the empress, the country’s brother-in-law. No wonder he was treated differently. When she thought of this, she could not help but look again at the emperor and empress on the dais. The empress’ paternal family was so popular in the capital. Would this cause a rift between the emperor and empress?
She rubbed the corner of her forehead, and felt that she was ridiculous. How was a person like her qualified to consider this?
The gifts that the subjects presented as birthday gifts for the emperor were rarely made public unless the emperor felt something was interesting, and took it out to show off.
Jin Yang was never a person who liked to show off. So after everyone said their birthday wishes, he just said good, and did not hint if someone’s gift was to his liking. So the people present were unable to guess the emperor’s preferences.
As a subject, it was sometimes hard. If the emperor had an unbearable liking, they worried. If the emperor kept his preferences secret and they could not guess, they worried. To accompany the ruler was like accompanying a tiger. If they could not guess the thoughts of the emperor, they, as subjects, would not know what to say and do and what not to say and do.
Ever since Gu Chang Ling and Sima Hong retired, Li Guang Ji had assumed the position of the top person in court. If not for Zhang Zhong Han being in the middle, Li Guang Ji’s status would likely be even more steady.
Zhang Zhong Han was different recently. In the past, he was soft and easy-going, but this time, when Li Guang Ji wanted to transfer his people to other positions, Zhang Zhong Han found a reason to block it each time.
Li Guang Ji thought that he had not had much conflict with Zhang Zhong Han in past years. So he could not understand why Zhang Zhong Han was at odds with him.
Today, the two of them were seated next to each other. Li Guang Ji listened to the musicians play and lightly clapped along. He turned and saw Zhang Zhong Han was just eating fruit. So he said, ” Prime Minister Zhang does not like this song. Is the song not good?”
Zhang Zhong Han did not know if Li Guang Ji was laughing at him for his lack of rhythm, and did not mind. He smiled brightly at Li Guang Ji and said, “Not that the song is bad, but this one is not good at rhythm. Prime Minister Li, do not laugh at me.”
When you were preparing to laugh at others and the other admitted their shortcoming first, then you had no chance to say your words of mockery.
“Prime Minister Zhang is well informed, and not being skilled in music is not a flaw that overwhelms.” Li Guang Ji’s smile did not change. “Otherwise, how could you be so valued by the emperor?”
“Prime Minister Li is joking. You and I are His Majesty’s subjects—we are all valued.” Zhang Zhong Han raised the lychee in his hand. “The lychee is very good. Prime Minister Li, you should eat some more. But after eating, remember to drink more water to avoid becoming inflamed.”
“Thank you, Prime Minister Zhang, for your reminder. But since Prime Minister Zhang dares to eat, then this one does not fear becoming inflamed.” Li Guang Ji smiled insincerely, and peeled a lychee to eat. He looked up and saw the emperor and empress talking closely. He could not help but sneer inside. He had not thought this emperor would actually be a faithful lover.
How had the Gu Family taught their daughter? So skilled to have the emperor running around in circles.
“Can you guess what Li Guang Ji and Zhang Zhong Han are saying?” The best part about sitting at the top was that you could see other people’s actions clearly. Gu Ru Jiu saw the atmosphere between Li Guang Ji and Zhang Zhong Han did not seem to be very good. So she lowered her head and said to Jin Yang, “I think that these two Prime Ministers are not getting along well.”
Jin Yang raised his eyebrows in surprise. Of course he could not hear what Zhang Zhong Han and Li Guang Ji were saying. But from the two men’s expressions and movements, they showed no signs of disharmony. Normal people could not see that things were bad between the two.
Seeing Jin Yang’s puzzled expression, Gu Ru Jiu smiled. “Are you very surprised that I could guess this?”
“A bit.” Jin Yang nodded honestly. He always thought with how much the Gu Family spoiled Jiu Jiu, she would not be so sensitive to emotions like this.
“This has nothing surprising.” Gu Ru Jiu picked up a piece of pear with a fork, and placed it together with a peeled lychee. “While these two fruits are similar in color, they are different types in the end.”
Zhang Zhong Han looked to have a good temper, but no matter how good he was at enduring, it did not mean he did not have a temper or any ambition. He looked to have been the peacemaker in these years, so smooth he had no edges, but from how he came from a common family yet was able to become the prime minister, and moreover from the time of the previous emperor until now, it could be seen that this person was capable.
Li Guang Ji was the opposite of Zhang Zhong Han. He came from an aristocratic family. From birth, he got the best education. Even before he became an official, many people followed him. He was also a capable person. His personality was clear, and his bones gave off an aura of being superior to others. This was especially clear when he faced officials from common families.
Did those officials from common families have no temper at all? Gu Ru Jiu did not believe that. No one had no temper at all, especially these common-born scholars who managed to climb up after untold hardships.
Zhang Zhong Han would not be happy to see the aristocratic families take over the court. Li Guang Ji would not be happy to see the commoners rise above the aristocratic families. The fighting between the two sides appeared to cause instability in court. But in reality, to the emperor, if this was used well, it would not be a bad thing.
They said that if there was no competition, there would be no pressure. For the emperor, if all the officials were all on the same side, then that would be terrifying.
“Who cares what type they are?” Jin Yang stirred his bowl with his silver fork, and then picked up the lychee, putting in a grape instead. “If it can be used, then it will be. If not, then it will be thrown away and changed for another.”
Gu Ru Jiu saw his white hand holding the silver fork, his posture so good-looking she could not look away. So she did not respond to Jin Yang and reached out to touch his hand. She praised, “So beautiful.”
Thinking that a man like this belonged completely to her, Gu Ru Jiu felt very good. Even when she found many unmarried girls were peeking at Jin Yang, it did not affect her mood.
Even if they looked, he was hers. When she thought about this, she felt quite fulfilled.
“Your Majesty, today is your birthday. This subject leads my son and daughter to wish Your Majesty as much good fortune as the East Sea, and longevity like the South Mountains.” Prince Zhong stood up and raised his wine cup. He said loudly, “And also that you and the empress have feelings as deep as the ocean, and will do so until you are both old and white-haired.”
“Thank you, Prince Zhong.” Jin Yang lifted his wine cup and tapped glasses with Prince Zhong from a distance. Then he drank this cup which no one knew whether it contained wine or water.
Prince Zhong’s words were vulgar and unoriginal, but they all went to Jin Yang’s heart.
Gu Ru Jiu glanced at Prince Zhong who was smiling simply, and then at Prince Rui who was sitting by his side. From appearance and reputation, Princes Zhong and Rui were as different as heaven and earth.
But things like rumors—they were frequently overturned after meeting the real person.
Prince Rui was more cunning than she imagined. Prince Zhong was not as violent as she thought. She even suspected the memorandums that criticized Prince Zhong for his brutality had other intentions.
Or was Prince Zhong a very skilled actor just like Prince Rui? Prince Zhong acted as an impulsive and fiery person who had no brains while Prince Rui acted as an elegant gentleman?
The more she thought, the more pain she felt in her head. Gu Ru Jiu glanced at Jin Yang. She would leave matters like this to the professionals, and just stand by and watch.
The people saw that the emperor did not seem to be displeased with Prince Zhong and were curious. Knowing how much the emperor valued the people, after hearing the rumors from Rong Prefecture, he was still able to peacefully interact with Prince Zhong—this really broadened people’s horizons.
They also did not know how Prince Zhong had grown up to be like this. He was careless in his actions. He had none of the airs of nobility, and he was more like new money.
It seemed that all the generations of Prince Zhong had been like this. They were rough in their conduct. Many scholars would say they were crude.
The Zhaoyang Hall was very lively. The backstage of the artists was chaotic. There were those putting on makeup, arguing, and showing off what they were rewarded. It was a mess.
The imperial guards standing outside did not care what a fuss they made. From start to finish, they guarded the door and did not let anyone suspicious in.
At this time, two of the dancers inside started to fight. One called the other a bitch, the other called her a whore. They pulled at hair and scratched at faces, tangled up together.
These folk artists were not illiterate, and they had met all kinds of people before. When they cursed at each other, they had no scruples, they would say anything, and were extremely vulgar.
The eunuch standing guard outside could no longer listen and went in to scold. “What are you fussing about—do you not want to live?!”
Seeing the eunuch come in, Fu Yao grabbed hard at her opponent’s hair, and then pushed them away.
Noticing her movement, the eunuch’s expression darkened. Those from the common people did not understand the rules. If other people had heard him speak like this, they would have pulled back long ago. Who would have dared to take the chance to make another grab?
The eunuch saw the dancer who had fought had messy hair and wrinkled clothes, but he immediately recognized that this was Fu Yao, famed for her beauty. The eunuch, who was used to seeing all kinds of people of the palace, knew what thoughts Fu Yao had. He sneered, “Miss Fu Yao, after you entered the palace, no one taught you the rules?”
Relying on beauty to commit a crime depended on whether there was someone to appreciate this beauty.
Just a wild pheasant that came out of the weeds. It was laughable she dared to dream.
“Being noisy in the palace, not following the rules—you will get ten blows to help you remember.” The eunuch’s tone was calm and soft, but everyone shuddered at his words.
He reached out to point at Fu Yao. “Cover her mouth and drag her out—do not let her disturb the important people. ”
While ten blows would not be fatal, for Fu Yao who danced, it would destroy her way of making a living. Dancers needed a supple and soft waist the most. After the strikes, Fu Yao would be lucky to not be crippled, much less to still be able to dance.
Before Fu Yao could react, her mouth was covered. The people around her were silent. No one begged for mercy for her.
She was dragged out of the courtyard to the torture room. When the first blow landed on her, she wanted to scream, but she could only make a groaning sound as her mouth was blocked.
After ten blows, she did not even have the power to breathe.
“You are lucky, you survived.” The eunuch in charge of the punishment had a hard face, his eyes murky and mad. “Today is His Majesty’s birthday. People should not die today. Otherwise, a person like you wouldn’t survive ten blows.”
Fu Yao’s shoulders shook. Her face was covered in tears. She did not look like the most beautiful woman in the capital now.
“Okay, I am done. Drag her out.” The eunuch lit up a tobacco pipe, and took a few puffs. He looked down on Fu Yao. “There are many people who have absurd dreams because they have beauty. You are not the first, and will not be the last.”
So Fu Yao, who had a dream of a sparrow turning into a phoenix, was driven out of the palace without the emperor taking another look.
She lay in a dilapidated carriage. She thought of how mad the noble young masters had been when she danced. She muttered in discontent, “I am the most beautiful person in the capital…”
How did she end up like this? How could she end up like this?
The birthday banquet started. The empress dowager came, sat for a while, and then left. But everyone did not care. In the last year, the empress dowager had rarely appeared in public. It was already rare for the empress dowager to come out and sit for a while at His Majesty’s birthday banquet.
The birthday banquet paid particular attention to good fortune. So even the dishes on the table all had good names and were carefully styled.
The monarch and the subjects were all happy at this meal. No one stood up to say anything bad, and no one made a problem.
“The miss in the corner seems to look at you many times.” Gu Ru Jiu found that miss slightly familiar, but did not know where she had seen the other before.
“She sits so far, I cannot see what she looks like.” Jin Yang glanced in the direction that Gu Ru Jiu was looking in. He saw several women sitting over there that he could not see the appearance of.
“I cannot see her clearly, but I can sense her gaze.” Gu Ru Jiu beckoned to Bai Xian at the side. When Bai Xian came in front of her with a bow, she whispered, “Who is the miss in the blue dress sitting in the corner?”
Bai Xian looked up, and then said in a low voice, “Your Majesty, if this servant is right, then she is the miss from the family of the Chief of the Court of the Imperial Stud.”
“So it is the Miss Tian who helped His Majesty.” Gu Ru Jiu nodded in understanding. She had mentioned adding Tian Bi Yue’s name. Because the other had helped Jin Yang, she used this opportunity to raise Tian Bi Yue’s status. If Tian Bi Yue wanted to marry again, attending the birthday banquet would be a source of conversation.
But this Miss Tian seemed to be too obvious in how she was looking at Jin Yang. It was so obvious it was hard to ignore her.
“It is her,” Jin Yang said coolly. Then he said, “I do not remember what she looks like.”
Gu Ru Jiu smiled and turned to look at him, but did not say anything.
Soon, the other seemed to have looked away, and Gu Ru Jiu did not sense any more people looking at her and Jin Yang.
After the banquet ended, everyone bowed, shouted three times long live the emperor, and then left the hall.
Without the birthday banquet where they had to take care and did not have any freedom, Jin Yang and Gu Ru Jiu idly sat together and painted and studied.
Gu Ru Jiu drew a painting of mountains and waters. Jin Yang wrote on it and stamped it with the seals of the two of them.
“Before you knew my regard, I once thought what it would feel like if you painted and I wrote. The reality is much better than my imagination.” Jin Yang put an arm around Gu Ru Jiu’s shoulders. He watched her draw a cute dog on the paper and smiled. “Jiu Jiu likes dogs?”
Gu Ru Jiu shook her head. “Just looking is good. But I would not be a good master, so I do not plan on raising one.”
Jin Yang immediately dispelled his plans, and then looked out the window. The sun had moved down and the red clouds covered the sky.
He looked with hidden anticipation at Gu Ru Jiu, but the other had a normal expression, as though today was no different than any other day.
“Your Majesty, what are you looking at?” Gu Ru Jiu touched her own face. “Is something wrong?”
“Nothing.” Jin Yang smiled, and reached to brush the hair on the side of her face behind her ear. “I was just thinking, if you like dogs, we can have people raise them, and when you are interested, you can go and look.”
“Nevermind.” Gu Ru Jiu put down her brush, and tilted her head to examine the cat she had drawn. She shook her head and said, “I am not as good at drawing live things as still life.”
“I feel it is very good.” Jin Yang called over He Ming to frame up the two paintings that Gu Ru Jiu had drawn and then to hang them in his study.
“Officials will come in and out of your study. Isn’t it inappropriate to hang my paintings there?” Gu Ru Jiu laughed. “How about putting them in our rooms?”
“You are right. We should hang one in our rooms.” Jin Yang nodded. “Then the one of the cat playing in our room, and the one of the tall mountains and rivers in the study.”
Seeing him so firm, Gu Ru Jiu could only agree.
Then the emperor and empress had another meal. Jin Yang looked at the dark sky, and his eyes dimmed slightly.
“I am a bit full.” Gu Ru Jiu walked to his side. “Come walk with me.”
“Yes.” Jin Yang smiled and let her pull him up.
As they passed Luanhe Palace, Gu Ru Jiu stopped. She pointed at the palace where two red lanterns were hanging from the gates. “I remember a few days ago, I had people move some books in here. Your Majesty, come with me—I want to search through them.”
Jin Yang glanced at the black sky. There was not even a moon. “It is late. How about I come with you tomorrow?”
“Finish today’s matters today. Why not go?” Gu Ru Jiu pulled and shook Jin Yang’s sleeve. Jin Yang uncontrollably followed Gu Ru Jiu to the gates.
At the gates of the palace, he saw the gates were half open, and there were no eunuchs standing guard.
He frowned. The people serving in Luanhe Palace were so slack?
Suddenly, the gates slowly opened. When he saw the scene inside, he was stunned.
Translator Ramblings: I completely forgot about posting this …