This chapter has been brought to you by me and Adnana.
Dowager Consort Qian did not think that she would return to the palace so soon. In less than two months, her life seemed to have changed completely. When she saw this prosperous city again, she did not feel very strongly, just a bit rueful.
Love and hate, glory and wealth. No matter how much you had, in the face of death, they were nothing.
On the road back to the capital, she had suffered several assassination attempts. Fortunately, the guards were tight, and there was the strict protection of the counties along the way, so she managed to return to the capital safely.
The matter was now so big that the counties along the way were afraid that she would die in their place. Then they would be in trouble, and unable to keep their official positions.
In her view, Prince Rui had no reason to spend so much effort to try to kill her. She knew nothing of what had happened. What could she say even if she returned to the capital?
There was a gray carriage stopped in the corner of the busy market. A piece of hair had fallen off the neck of the horse pulling the carriage, and did not look spirited at all. Prince Rui sat in the carriage. Seeing the procession of the dowager consort pass by on the street, his face was as black as ink.
“Return.” He squeezed this out from between his teeth. He put down the window curtain and did not look outside again.
Before Sun shi died, she had said a few words to Dowager Consort Qian. Other than Dowager Consort Qian, no one knew what she had said. He did not know if Sun shi had left some words for Dowager Consort Qian. He could only make Dowager Consort Qian shut her mouth.
But from Linan Palace to the capital, the guard had been tight the entire way. His subordinates were unable to find a chance to act. The people that Jin Yang had arranged were truly somewhat capable. They managed to protect Dowager Consort Qian.
Because of this, he suspected even more that Dowager Consort Qian knew something. Otherwise, why would Jin Yang spend so much effort to protect her return to the capital? If he wanted to investigate, he could just send officials to the Linan Palace. Why summon Dowager Consort Qian back?
And the rumors outside. If there were not people behind this, how could the rumors have spread so much? And all of them were targeted at him. Even the officials at court recently looked at him oddly. There were also some more daring troupes and storytellers that made story after story that vilified his image.
Never mind that. Even some scholars started to make poems that were scolding him in secret. He almost became the symbol of a beast in human clothing.
After just a short fortnight, his reputation was at the bottom. Jin Yang insincerely sent an imperial decree that the people were not allowed to spread rumors. But after the imperial decree was sent, the people did not talk much in public, but in private, they were more interested in him, and then added more fuel to talking about his past.
He had lived for decades. Even if he was crippled, he was always elegant and refined in other people’s eyes. When had he ever been so embarrassed? He finally tasted what it was like for public opinion to be powerful enough to melt metal. He had sent people to direct the focus to the empress, but the people did not seem interested in the little conflict between the empress and Dowager Consort Sun. Some even felt that he had done this to stain the name of the empress, so that people would ignore the past between him and Dowager Consort Sun.
Hearing the rumors outside grow stronger, to the point where some scholars even wrote letters for the emperor to thoroughly investigate the case of Dowager Consort Sun and not miss him, he was so angry he could not breathe, and drank medicine for a few days before he recovered.
When he returned to his palace, he encountered Prince Zhong who was in a nearby yard. Both of them did not have an official residence in the capital, so they were both staying in a palace.
“Oh, Prince Rui, what is this? Why do you look so fragile?” Prince Zhong stood at the gates of the palace, and called out to Prince Rui. He bowed to Prince Rui with a smile. “When one gets old, you have to take care, and not get old ahead of your time.”
“Thank you, Prince Zhong, for your reminder. This prince is a few years younger than you, and does not have much experience.” Prince Rui was not happy. Prince Zhong’s words were not pleasing to hear, so he was slightly rude. “Rather than worry about this prince, worry more about yourself.”
Prince Zhong had a personality that did not care for anything. Seeing Prince Rui like this, he did not care either, and smiled even brighter. “You do not understand. Men need spirit the most. I am a few years older, but I look younger.” He walked in front of Prince Rui and bent to pat his shoulder. “Younger Brother Prince Rui, do you not say so?”
Seeing the other’s full beard, dark skin color and coarse skin, Prince Rui chuckled and ignored him, having his attendant push his wheelchair past the gates.
“Father-Prince.” Jin Hong saw his father make Prince Rui pale in anger and came up to say in a whisper, “Father-Prince, it is better not to say too much. I see that he is thin. If his anger harms him, it will not be good for us.”
Jin Hong’s whisper was not very quiet, and Prince Rui, who was not far, tightly gripped the handles of his wheelchair, his eyes as red as blood.
“I like seeing people angry but helpless.” Prince Rui rubbed his bearded chin, and patted his son. “Walk, let’s go drink.”
Jin Hong knew his father had other things to say, so he let Prince Zhong drag him back to the courtyard.
After returning to their yard, Prince Zhong’s smile disappeared. “Have you heard the recent rumors in the capital?”
“They have spread so much—who does not know?” Jin Hong sat down below Prince Zhong. “I feel this…”
“I heard two months ago, court officials advised the emperor to take consorts, and caused the emperor’s rage. Not long after, some of the officials lost their positions because of bad conduct, and some were even convicted. Back then, the rumors in the capital filled the city like this. The people clapped in joy at the fall of these officials.” Prince Zhong took a sip of tea, and sighed. “Right now is a lot like back then.”
“You mean…” Jin Hong said hesitantly after a moment, “Was the emperor behind this?” No wonder the rumors at the start which had targeted the empress changed in direction after two days. Prince Rui had been slandered from head to toe, and so had been his children.
“With the emperor’s personality, he would not use such gentle means.” Prince Zhong shook his head.
“This is gentle?” Jin Hong’s mouth was wide. “If I had been Prince Rui, I would have died out of anger a long time ago.”
Prince Zhong looked at his son with an expression of “you are still too young.” “For an emperor, such tactics are too soft.”
Jin Hong felt guilty at being stared at by his father like this. He coughed. “If not the emperor, then who? It cannot be the Gu Family?” With the Gu Family’s way of doing things, they did not seem like people who would do this.
“Though not the Gu Family, still one of their members.” Prince Zhong pointed in the direction of the palace. “Do you understand?”
“How is that possible?” Jin Hong Hong changed expression. “She is so daring! These rumors involve the previous emperor. She does not fear the empress dowager and the emperor holding her accountable?” Was it like the rumors said—the empress had been spoiled by the emperor so much she dared to be so reckless?
“She dares to do this because she is sure the empress dowager and the emperor will not pursue it.” Prince Zhong saw his son still could not keep his emotions steady, and shook his head with regret. “You do not know what kind of person the previous emperor was?”
The previous emperor did not have much of a good reputation. Even if he was discredited again, it would still be like that. It was normal that there were no feelings between the empress dowager and the emperor. It would be a wonder if there were. The empress was Gu Chang Ling’s daughter. Before she did this, the empress dowager and the emperor would have known. Otherwise, the matter would not have developed like this and not gotten suppressed.
Then, the emperor’s recent decree seemed to be protecting Prince Rui, but it was strange, as though it was indicating that there was something wrong with Prince Rui, but they were not telling you, nor letting you know.
People were always rebellious. The more you did not want someone to know, the more curious they were. So after this, the incident became more popular. Did you not see that the emperor, other than sending a perfunctory imperial decree, did nothing else?
“I did not see that the empress is this person.” Jin Hong raised his thumb. He thought back to the empress’ sweet appearance, and could not relate her to scheming.
But thinking that the emperor was in love with a woman who was so different inside from her outside, his awe of the emperor was like a flood.
Ordinary men could not withstand such a woman.
As an unusual man, Jin Yang was not at court right now, nor reviewing memorandums, nor seeing officials. He was holding the Thousand Characters Classic, and reciting it in a gentle voice.
“Clouds ascend to cause rain to fall; morning dew transforms to white frost, gold from the Li River…”
Gu Ru Jiu ignored him, holding a book and eating snacks as she read. Jin Yang had heard from someone that reading to the fetus everyday would let the fetus feel a sense of belonging. They would be smart when they were born, and the labor would be easy. So every day, he would tell stories to the fetus in her belly, recite text, and mimic the sound of animals.
Fortunately, he knew to protect his image as the emperor, and did not let other people stay in the room when he did this.
After reciting a bit of the Thousand Characters Classic, Jin Yang started to tell the story of the rooster crowing. But he did not seem to be very familiar with these children’s stories; he forgot parts of the story and the story did not flow. Fortunately, while his skill at storytelling was not great, he was full of interest, and persisted in finishing the story.
“Take a drink, nourish your throat.” Gu Ru Jiu pushed the date and wolfberry tea she was drinking into Jin Yang’s hands.
Jin Yang took a sip of the tea, and then sat down next to Gu Ru Jiu. He glanced out of the corner of his eye at what she was reading. He discovered that this was not a novel, but a collection of poems.
Jiu Jiu usually did not like to read these things?
In a blink, Jin Yang understood the reason. While Jiu Jiu appeared to dislike him reading to the fetus on the surface, she actually cared very much. Otherwise, why would she be reading poetry? She was even selective about the novels she read recently. Any that did not have good plots were picked out.
Having seen through his wife’s thoughts, Jin Yang was considerate and did not expose her. He said, “Dowager Consort Qian returned to the capital.”
“So fast.” They had taken nearly a month to go, but only half a month to return. It could be seen that Dowager Consort Qian had been in a hurry. Gu Ru Jiu thought for a moment. “Dowager Consort Qian must have had a hard time on the road. Let her first rest in the palace for a night, and I will see her tomorrow.”
“Yes, good.” Jin Yang nodded. He then looked at the bright sunlight out the window. “How about you sleep for a while? I will wake you up in two hours?”
Ever since she became pregnant, Jiu Jiu was very sleepy. She slept longer and ate more than usual, but she did not look much fatter.
“All right.” Gu Ru Jiu put down the poetry, and yawned. “Then I will sleep for a while.”
Immediately after lying down on the bed, Gu Ru Jiu went to sleep. Jin Yang put a blanket over her, and then left the hall. He said to Qiu Luo who was standing outside, “The empress is sleeping—pay attention to the inside.”
“Yes.” Qiu Luo bent in response.
Knowing that Qiu Luo was loyal to Jiu Jiu, Jin Yang was not worried. He nodded, and went with his attendants to the imperial study.
He had heard that many women liked to think nonsense after they became pregnant, and were very emotional. So he tried to make time for Jiu Jiu so she would not think too much. If he did not finish taking care of the memorandums in Purple Imperial Hall, he would be taking care of them when Jiu Jiu was asleep. This way, he even became faster at reviewing them.
It could be seen that people had limitless potential.
In the imperial study, the guard captain in charge of escorting the dowager consorts to Linan Palace was waiting for him, and bowed when Jin Yang appeared.
“This soldier greets Your Majesty.” He was a military official, and not very high*ranking, but he had been steady in these years, and had not thought he would encounter something like this. He could not shirk the blame when something happened to the dowager consorts under his guard.
“Stand.” Jin Yang nodded, his expression neutral. He was not angry as the captain had thought. “What happened with the noble dowager consort on the way?”
After Dowager Consort Sun was assassinated, Jin Yang elevated her to noble dowager consort.
The captain did not know the emperor’s intentions, but he was a direct and honest person. Seeing the emperor ask, he said what he knew. From how the noble dowager consort was very careful with what she ate on the way, to things such as when they were leaving the capital, the dowager consort wanted to eat tea eggs, but the eunuch was so daring to reject buying them for her.
He talked for more than an hour, and the captain was almost hoarse. He Ming gave him a cup of tea that he drained in a few gulps.
“Zhen sees.” Jin Yang could see that this captain had not lied and said, “You may leave. Do not receive any guests for a while.”
“This subject will follow instructions.” The captain put the teacup down, and bowed deeply.
“Your Majesty, this servant has asked the palace attendants that went with the guard. The things the captain said did happen,” He Ming said in a low voice. “But there is something that the captain may not know. The noble dowager consort threw a teapot at the eunuch. Someone discovered that the tea water was filled with torn paper.”
“What did she have that she did not want others to see, but also wanted to let Zhen know about? Someone prepared to get something from her, or did she want someone to know that she no longer had it?” Jin Yang did not care too much about this. He already knew who this person was.
There would be a result to the assassination of Dowager Consort Sun, but the result likely would not be as the people wanted.
When he thought of this, his face turned cold. But it was only a matter of time.
Gu Ru Jiu had a beautiful sleep. When she woke up, she saw Jin Yang sitting nearby and looking at memorandums. She yawned and sat up. “What time is it?”
“Noon.” Jin Yang put down the papers, and walked to the clothing shelf to get Gu Ru Jiu’s clothing. Then he walked to the bed, and helped her put on clothes. “Did you sleep well?”
“Yes.” Gu Ru Jiu put her head on his shoulder, and said lazily, “I am hungry.”
“I had them prepare food already.” Gently hugging Gu Ru Jiu, Jin Yang moved her to his lap, and then put on her shoes. “I feel like I am raising a daughter.”
Gu Ru Jiu hugged his neck and laughed. “Could you give birth to a daughter as old as me?”
“No, so I love you like my life, protect you like my daughter. You are the pearl in the palm of my hand.” Jin Yang smiled warmly. “Do you think this is good?”
Gu Ru Jiu buried her face in his chest, and did not speak.
He Ming and the others came in. They saw the empress had gotten up, and her clothing was neat. Thinking of how His Majesty did not even want the empress to bend at the waist, but the empress was wearing shoes…
It was better not to know too much. He Ming forced his gaze away from the empress’ shoes, and then bowed. “Your Majesties, the food is ready.”
“Yes.” Jin Yang nodded, turned and took Gu Ru Jiu’s hand. They walked idly in the direction of the dining hall. He was so careful that all the palace attendants diverted their gazes.
Because they really could not keep looking.
The next day, Gu Ru Jiu rose late. When she got up, Jin Yang was already at court. She slowly ate, and then got someone to invite Dowager Consort Qian.
Dowager Consort Qian knew that she would be summoned by the empress dowager or the empress after she returned, but she did not expect the empress dowager not to care about the matter at all. The empress only summoned her on the second day, and the meeting place was not Luanhe Palace but Purple Imperial Hall.
Gu Ru Jiu was likely the first empress to live in the same palace as the emperor for half a year, and right now, it appeared that the emperor planned for her to continue to live there.
“Greeting, Dowager Consort Qian.” The person standing outside Purple Imperial Hall was Bai Xian. Dowager Consort Qian knew that he was a servant of the emperor, and smiled politely at him.
“Her Majesty is waiting for you inside. Please come with this servant.” Bai Xian bowed and ushered Dowager Consort Qian in.
This was not the first time Dowager Consort Qian was coming to Purple Imperial Hall, but the first time she saw it so warm. This did not seem like the emperor’s sleeping hall, but a place where husband and wife were living together.
She felt some admiration towards the present empress for encountering such a man, such an emperor.
The present emperor was very cold to other women, but soft towards the empress alone. The previous emperor had feelings towards all women, but the feelings never lasted.
They were both emperors, but they could not be compared as one was like the sky, and the other like the earth.
Because Qian shi had just returned to the palace and was caught up in the assassination of Sun shi, she did not know that the empress was pregnant. So after entering the inner hall, she was shocked when she discovered that the ground was covered in soft and thick carpet.
It was the eighth month, and not as hot as the sixth or seventh, but the heat had not disappeared. Why was there such a thick carpet in the hall?
“Greeting, Empress.” She bowed to Gu Ru Jiu who was sitting at the top, and then found the empress was dressed plainly, without any earrings, and her hair was just simply wound up. There were not many hair pins, and she did not even use makeup. But the empress was young, and even without powder, her skin was still tender and soft.
In the past, the jewelry that the empress wore was worth cities, fine and beautiful, and Qian shi was not used to seeing the empress so plain.
“Dowager Consort Qian, please sit.” Gu Ru Jiu had a palace maid serve tea to Dowager Consort Qian. Then she said, “It must be hard for Dowager Consort Qian to have traveled back and forth.”
Dowager Consort Qian grimaced. “Not very hard, but…” She had conflicted emotions towards Sun shi, but now, she did not want to mention the other so much.
Seeing her like this, Gu Ru Jiu knew that she had complicated feelings, and said after a moment of silence, “Dowager Consort, please do not be sad.”
Dowager Consort Qian had not expected the empress to comfort her. She smiled, and said, “I do not fear Empress laughing at me. When Noble Dowager Consort and I were young, we were at odds.”
Back then, the previous emperor was lustful, and had many women in the palace. She and Sun shi were not bestowed consort titles because they were the most favored, but because of their aristocratic birth.
Back then, first Lin shi and later on Wei shi were titled consorts because of imperial favor. There were many women, but only one man. Naturally, there was fighting and scheming.
There had been a lot of fights between her and Sun shi. But she did not expect that Sun shi would end up like this.
“Your Majesty, I want to go see Yunfang Palace,” Dowager Consort Qian said. “When the previous emperor was alive, Sun shi lived there.”
Gu Ru Jiu put down the teacup and nodded. “This palace will go with you.”
Dowager Consort Qian thought that the empress would change her clothes before leaving Qiankun Palace, but the empress did not seem to plan this, and came out with a plain face.
“Your Majesty, be careful of the stairs.”
“Your Majesty, there are stones ahead of you—please wait a moment.”
Dowager Consort Qian saw Bai Xian jog over, and bend down to pick up stones, and her suspicions became clear.
These palace attendants were so nervous, and the empress was dressed like this. Could it be…
The empress was pregnant?
She had been heavily guarded these days, and news from the outside could not come in, and she could not pass news out. Yesterday, after returning to the palace, she still did not have a chance to see outsiders, and did not even know that the empress was pregnant.
“Your Majesty… you are pregnant?” Dowager Consort Qian saw the large group of palace attendants around the empress, and asked uncertainly.
Gu Ru Jiu nodded with a smile.
“So this is why. I did not know of such happy news, and did not congratulate you. This is my fault.” Dowager Consort Qian looked happy, and then curtsied. “Please forgive me.”
“Dowager Consort is too serious.” Gu Ru Jiu smiled and did not plan on talking about this. She pointed at the palace ahead. “That is Yunfang Palace?”
She had been in the palace for half a year, and never come here.
Translator Ramblings: You know what bugs me about pregnancy and childbirth in novels? It’s not the stunning rate of “miscarriages”, “fake pregnancies” and “hyperfertility” with multiple children in one pregnancy and constant pregnancies. It’s how the authors seem to pretty much think once a child is born, they are immortal. The child mortality rate is astoundingly low. It’s so rare for any child to die of disease or illness, even if they are not a main character’s child. But on the other hand, child deaths are a pretty sad topic.