This chapter has been brought to you by me and Adnana.
The name of Yunfang Palace was beautiful, but after seeing the palace, Gu Ru Jiu did not feel the name reflected the reality. This was a worn-out palace, a courtyard that was not taken care of, and windows with holes in them. When she stepped in, she felt inexplicably cold.
There were so many weeds in the courtyard, the palace attendants went in first to find a path.
“This is Yunfang Palace?” Gu Ru Jiu stood on the stone stairs of the gate, and looked around the palace. She saw it was filled with weeds, and did not know where to place her feet.
She feared that there would be vermin coming out of the grass, and so she did not know where to put her feet down.
“Your Majesty is very surprised?” Dowager Consort Qian stood on the stone stairs as well. She smiled with disdain at the dilapidated courtyard. “Do you feel it is strange that a palace where no one has lived in for five to six years looks as bad as this?”
Gu Ru Jiu listened and did not speak. She did not understand the days that the consorts and concubines had lived when the previous emperor was alive, so she did not qualify to comment.
“Sun shi was not favored back then, and the people from the Department of Household Affairs flattered those higher up and stepped on those lower down. This Yunfang Palace was always cold. The palace attendants responsible for the repair of the palace did not like to come. So even during the time of the previous emperor, this place was not very good.” When Dowager Consort Qian mentioned the previous emperor, her tone had a thread of hate and disdain. “The previous emperor did not care about us consorts who were out of favor. It was not important if we were alive or dead. So even a whore like Wei shi could dare to bully us.”
Gu Ru Jiu remembered that when she entered the palace to see the empress dowager a few years ago, Wei shi had been in a sorry state and begging for mercy from the empress dowager. The reason was that she could not endure the bullying of Dowager Consort Qian, Dowager Consort Sun and the others.
There was a cause for any result. No wonder Dowager Consort Qian and Dowager Consort Sun treated her like that. If she had been one of them, she would not have been nice to Wei shi either.
“Your Majesty, you are loved by His Majesty, and there are no other consorts in the palace. You do not know how hard the days of unfavored consorts in the palace can be.” Dowager Consort Qian laughed at herself. “After coming into a place like this, women are not people—just playthings for the emperor.”
Gu Ru Jiu had not thought that Dowager Consort Qian would say such things freely in front of her. She looked at Dowager Consort Qian. The other wore a gray-indigo outer robe, and did not wear any other ornaments. Her hair accessories were made from plain silver, and there was nothing bright. She thought, was Dowager Consort Qian mourning Dowager Consort Sun?
Seeing Gu Ru Jiu silent, Dowager Consort Qian said with a smile, “Your Majesty, you are frightened by my words?”
Gu Ru Jiu shook her head. “No, I feel that you are right.” She had not experienced it, but living in this environment, women were just sacrifices in the face of patriarchy.
“Ha.” Dowager Consort Qian smiled. “Your Majesty is more clear-minded than I imagined.” She had seen many women favored by an emperor. Most of them were arrogant and forgot themselves. This present empress was the subject of the emperor’s lone favor, and lived with him in Purple Imperial Hall. Yet she did not show any arrogance. No wonder the emperor was so taken with her.
If she was Gu Ru Jiu, she could not do so well.
The two stood at the gates for a while. The palace attendants came back from finding a path, and Dowager Consort Qian was the first to walk in.
Bai Xian and the others circled Gu Ru Jiu, and protected her as she stepped inside. With this attitude, not just vermin—not even a fly could get close.
“Back then, Sun shi liked peach flowers, and wanted a tree in her palace. But the people from the Department of Household Affairs delayed, and did not plant it.” Dowager Consort Qian suddenly paused, and went to a plum tree in the middle of the yard. “Later, for some reason, a plum tree grew in the courtyard, and Sun shi let it grow.”
Gu Ru Jiu saw that this plum tree was about ten years old. But maybe because it did not have enough water and there were many weeds, the tree’s leaves looked dull.
“She was a consort who was the master of a palace, yet there are not many trees in her courtyard. Who would believe it?” Dowager Consort Qian circled around the plum tree, and then said to Gu Ru Jiu, “Your Majesty, no one can live in the palace now. I worry there is too much dust which will harm you. It is better if we do not go in.”
Gu Ru Jiu smiled as she looked at Dowager Consort Qian and then at the plum tree behind her. She nodded. “Dowager Consort is correct; let’s return.”
The palace attendants behind the two were dumbstruck. These two important people came to see the dilapidated palace just for this plum tree?
As servants, they should not guess the thoughts of their superiors. In any case, they were unable to guess correctly.
Dowager Consort Qian had returned to the palace, and should go see the empress dowager. So Gu Ru Jiu led her to Kangquan Palace.
The people of Kangquan Palace saw Gu Ru Jiu and came over, supporting her and bowing. This did not look like a daughter-in-law seeing her mother-in-law, but a married daughter coming back to her paternal family.
Dowager Consort Qian had known long ago that the empress dowager was very good to the empress, but she was still surprised when she saw this scene. Then she looked at Gu Ru Jiu’s back and thought emotionally, this was fate. Some people were born with the love of their parents, the care of their siblings, the protection of their mother-in-law, and the love of their husband. But some people, even after scheming for a lifetime, had nothing.
“Come in, quick—how is it that you came here on such a hot day?”
Before Dowager Consort Qian walked into the palace, she heard the empress dowager’s voice. She stopped in her steps, and then sped up, entering after Gu Ru Jiu.
“This concubine Qian shi greets Empress Dowager.” She walked into the room, and bowed respectfully to Empress Dowager Zhou.
Empress Dowager Zhou pulled Gu Ru Jiu to sit down, and then looked at Dowager Consort Qian with a complicated gaze. She motioned for the other to sit. “You must have had a hard time traveling.”
“Not hard.” Dowager Consort Qian had always felt complex towards Empress Dowager Zhou. She had once looked down on Empress Dowager Zhou for coming into the palace having been married once before, and then been jealous that the empress dowager had managed to keep her throne after birthing twins.
Later on, Empress Dowager Zhou’s children passed away. Although she had her position as empress, she was not favored by the emperor, and Dowager Consort Qian’s jealousy faded gradually, and she even felt some sympathy.
She herself had never had children. At least, she did not have to bear the pain of parting. But Empress Dowager Zhou once had them and lost them. Other than a position as empress, she had nothing.
So in this inner palace, not just the consorts were pitiful; even Zhou shi, the empress, was not much better off.
After Dowager Consort Qian came into the palace, Empress Dowager Zhou saw her unusual attire. “The deceased are dead. Stay in the palace, and live well.” The meaning of the words was that Dowager Consort Qian did not have to go to Linan Palace.
Dowager Consort Qian did not expect the empress dowager to say such a thing. She stilled, and then realized what the empress dowager meant.
“You are old; this Grieving One is also old.” Empress Dowager Zhou sighed. “Let past matters pass.”
“Empress Dowager…” Dowager Consort Qian’s lips moved. A moment later, she said, “Empress Dowager, thank you for your grace.”
Empress Dowager Zhou waved her hand, and turned to say to Gu Ru Jiu, “Jiu Jiu, do you have any objections?”
“It is good for Dowager Consort Qian to return here. There will be one more person for Mother-Empress to talk with,” Gu Ru Jiu said with a smile. “I heard that Moon Listening Tower is not far from here. Dowager Consort Qian can live there from now on.”
Moon Listening Tower was not far from Kangquan Palace, and it was not easy to enter or leave it. If someone inside wanted to pass on any news, other people would discover them.
“This is good.” Empress Dowager Zhou said to Dowager Consort Qian, “What do you think?”
Dowager Consort Qian naturally would not object, and bowed. “Thank you, Your Majesty, for arranging such a comfortable residence for me.”
“Yes.” Empress Dowager Zhou nodded. “I am always relieved when she does things.”
The trio sat there for a while to chat. Then Empress Dowager Zhou kept Gu Ru Jiu and Dowager Consort Qian to eat at noon. Dowager Consort Qian would not refuse. She had just come back to the palace and the empress dowager dined with her. The servants in the palace would not dare to disrespect her.
Gu Ru Jiu had been feeling that she had less time to accompany the empress dowager recently, so she did not refuse either.
Because Gu Ru Jiu was pregnant, the dishes avoided the things that a pregnant woman could not eat. So both the host and the guests were happy with the meal, and the empress dowager ate an extra half bowl of rice.
“I do not know why, but I feel that Empress Dowager’s food is exceptionally delicious,” Dowager Consort Qian said with a smile. “In the future, there is a benefit to living at Moon Listening Tower—I can come here frequently to eat.”
“You do not care about anything but the food here.” Empress Dowager Zhou first laughed, and then turned to say to Gu Ru Jiu, “You usually nap for a while after you eat at noon. The room in the side hall is prepared; you…”
“Your Majesty, His Majesty asks to come in.”
“Quick, invite him in.” Empress Dowager Zhou shook her head toward Gu Ru Jiu and smiled. “It seems that my side hall was prepared for nothing.”
Gu Ru Jiu covered her mouth with a handkerchief and laughed.
Dowager Consort Qian thought inside, the empress dowager was so good to the empress, and His Majesty was also like this to the empress…
As she was thinking this, she saw a young man in black robes walk in. She stood up and bowed to the other.
“Dowager Consort Qian does not have to be so polite.” Jin Yang nodded at Dowager Consort Qian, and took a few steps to bow to the empress dowager. “This son greets Mother- Empress.”
“I see that you did not come to see me,” Empress Dowager Zhou said with a smile. “You came to get Jiu Jiu.”
Jin Yang said with a smile, “It is not false that this son came to see Mother-Empress, and not false that this son will accompany Jiu Jiu back to the residence later.”
“Never mind.” The empress dowager pointed at Gu Ru Jiu. “Go and leave with your emperor; do not let me become the old stick that beats and separates the mandarin ducks.” Then she said to Jin Yang, “You two go, and I can talk with Dowager Consort Qian. You young people should not listen.”
Knowing that the empress dowager was joking, Gu Ru Jiu was not afraid, and stood up, smiling. At her side, Jin Yang reached out to support her.
“Mother-Empress and Dowager Consort talk; this junior will not disturb you. Farewell.” Gu Ru Jiu smiled and bowed to the empress dowager.
Seeing Jiu Jiu steady, Jin Yang released her, and bowed to the empress dowager. “This son bids farewell.” After bowing, he held Gu Ru Jiu’s hand again.
Seeing the two like this, Empress Dowager Zhou smiled and let the two leave.
Dowager Consort Qian thought, people outside speculated that the empress dowager and the emperor were at odds in secret. If they saw today’s scene, she feared that no one would say such a thing again.
The empress dowager and His Majesty were very casual in how they interacted, and did not have suspicion between them in their words and actions. Even blood mothers and sons in the imperial family could do no better.
“They are usually like this in private—do not mind.” Empress Dowager Zhou smiled faintly at Dowager Consort Qian.
“It is the good fortune of Great Feng to have the emperor and empress in harmony. This concubine is happy, and will not mind.” Dowager Consort Qian was shocked inside. The empress dowager was warning her?
“Yes, this Grieving One is very comforted seeing the two of them like this.” Empress Dowager Zhou shook her head and sighed. “Much better than us back then.”
Dowager Consort Qian did not know what the empress dowager’s intentions were, but from her words, she did not sense malice. So she nodded and said, “His Majesty is a good emperor, and a good man.”
The two of them did not mention the previous emperor because there was nothing good to mention. In their eyes, that man had not had even one good point.
The only thing he could rely on was his identity as the emperor.
“Before, if you and Dowager Consort Sun had not made trouble, this Grieving One would not have decided to let you leave.” Empress Dowager Zhou’s smile faded. She looked at Dowager Consort Qian. “Back during the time of the previous emperor, none of us lived well, so I did not want your later years to be miserable.”
Dowager Consort Qian stilled. She had always found it strange why they, the women of the previous emperor, had stayed in the inner palace for so many years, and the empress dowager and the emperor did not raise the idea of them leaving. She originally thought the present emperor wanted to use them to get a reputation of kindness, but upon more thought—the previous emperor was gone; who would care about the dowager consorts? Where they lived and how they lived, could this hinder the reputation of the present emperor?
Originally, all this was the empress dowager’s kindness, so they had stayed so long in the inner palace…
“It is this concubine and the others who disappointed Empress Dowager’s kindness.” Dowager Consort Qian stood up, and bowed sincerely to the empress dowager. “This concubine has embarrassed you.”
Without even thinking, she knew—not long after the empress married, there had been a palace maid who ignored the rules and entered the inner rooms when the empress was resting. Back then, His Majesty and the empress may have known already that this was related to the dowager consorts, but in the end, they did not act. The empress dowager had likely been the reason for this, blocking and stopping the matter.
“Didn’t this Grieving One say not to mention past matters?” Empress Dowager Zhou said in a flat tone. “In the future, just live peacefully. At worst… it will be better than during the time of the previous emperor.”
Dowager Consort Qian smiled upon hearing this. “You are right.”
Even at worst, it could not be worse than that time.
“You went to Yunfang Palace?” Jin Yang held an umbrella to shade him and Gu Ru Jiu’s heads from the sun. “No one has lived there for several years; I fear it is not clean. Do not go there in the future.”
“I did not think you believed in all that?” Gu Ru Jiu tilted her head and smiled at him. “Don’t you usually not believe in all this?”
“If I encounter it, I naturally will not believe it, but if it relates to you, I would rather believe than not.” Jin Yang put an arm around Gu Ru Jiu’s waist. Walking slowly on the bluestone road, he felt at peace.
“Stupid.” Gu Ru Jiu leaned against his shoulder and whispered, “Yunfang Palace is so dilapidated—should we repair it?”
“No one is living there—what is the use in repairing it now?” Jin Yang said indifferently. “It is a waste of money.”
“There are no people now, and none in the future?” Gu Ru Jiu raised her eyebrows at him.
“In a few decades, that will be a matter for our son.” Jin Yang looked at Gu Ru Jiu’s abdomen. “I, as the father, will not spend this money for him.”
Gu Ru Jiu looked at him with a smile. From her expression, she was very happy with Jin Yang’s response.
Although the case of Dowager Consort Sun’s assassination was popular, and Prince Rui’s reputation was blackened because of this, the speculation that Prince Rui had assassinated Dowager Consort Sun could not stand because there was no evidence.
After nearly three months, after deep evidence collection and screening from all parties, the conclusion that the Ministry of Justice and Court of Judicial Review reached was that an eunuch was the one who assassinated Dowager Consort Sun.
This eunuch had been angry because he was punished by Dowager Consort Sun. So he found a good archer friend, worked together with this good friend from the inside, and killed Dowager Consort Sun.
Three months was enough for the people concerned with the case to move their attention away. So while the conclusion was not so convincing, it did not cause much of a ruckus. So this case silently ended.
In the view of some people, this case appeared to be the emperor making a compromise, but in reality, there were other things inside.
“The wind fills the tower before the mountain rain comes.” Prince Zhong sipped tea, and then walked in front of his table holding his cup.
“Son, grind ink for your father.” Prince Zhong sighed. “Since we are going to surrender, then we have to show the proper attitude.”
Jin Hong went to grind ink for Prince Zhong. After he finished, he saw his father-prince write on the paper.
This subject respectfully greets the Holy One. It has been more than four months since this subject came to the capital, and the capital’s prosperity is not seen in Rong Prefecture, making this subject forget to eat and unable to bear parting with it. This subject sincerely asks the Holy One to allow this subject and this subject’s family to reside in the capital…
Seeing the contents, Jin Hong felt a bit melancholy, but also slightly relieved. He seemed to see both the glory and the large mountain on top of his head move away at the same time. He was a bit at a loss.
In the tenth month of the fifth Delong year, the iron-capped Prince Zhong, because he liked the culture of the capital, asked the emperor to allow him to move his entire family to reside in the capital.
When Prince Zhong’s letter reached the emperor, the entire court was shocked. The reason that countless people were wary of Prince Zhong was because he was an iron-capped prince, and had Rong Prefecture as his lands. He could lead armies on his own, and protect his lands. Now, he was giving up on Rong Prefecture and moving his entire family to the capital. Was this not a tiger pulling out his fangs and going to be a cat that was kept by others?
Prince Zhong doing this was not truly because he liked the capital. There were not many in the world who believed this excuse.
This was the message that Prince Zhong was surrendering, and also a signal that the present emperor could no longer tolerate vassal princes with their own lands.
Now that Prince Zhong had surrendered to His Majesty, the only one left with his own lands was Prince Rui.
In reality, Prince Rui was most affected by Prince Zhong. Because Prince Zhong’s actions forced him to the forefront, and into becoming the target of the public.
“Is Prince Zhong mad?!” Prince Rui gripped his teacup so hard his hand turned white. “Jin Yang is just a child, and yet he was so frightened he gave away Rong Prefecture. He always looks like he fears nothing, but that was all a bluff?”
“Father-Prince, do not be angry.” The Rui Prince Heir saw him so angry, and worried that this would harm his body. He went up and said many comforting words. Seeing his father gradually calm down, he said, “This son suspects that Prince Zhong and the emperor were in cahoots long ago, and play-acted like this to pressure you.”
“He is using Rong Prefecture to play-act?” Prince Rui sneered. “Today, no matter if he is play-acting or not, sincere or not, the words he says are like water thrown out—he will not dare to take them back. At that time, if he says that he was play-acting, will Jin Yang admit it?
“Where is his brain in play-acting with a fox?” Prince Rui did not care what Prince Zhong was doing. He hated Prince Zhong for forcing him onto this path.
Prince Zhong was an iron-capped prince, and yet gave back his lands of his own accord. As Jin Yang’s uncle, should he hand them back or not?
If he did not, the people would say that he had ambitions.
But he was unwilling to return them.
How could he be willing? He had schemed for many years, and finally nurtured such a powerful faction. If he gave up like this, would this not mean that his efforts for half of his life were a joke?
He was not willing!
After Prince Zhong sent his letter, the emperor did not agree to his request. He only said that Rong Prefecture had been well under the ancestors of Prince Zhong. If someone else came to take over, he feared that they would not be able to adjust quickly.
Seeing the emperor not agree, Prince Zhong sent letters three more times, and the emperor finally agreed. He expressed that while Prince Zhong would be living in the capital from now on, the taxes of Rong Prefecture would be given to Prince Zhong like before, and Prince Zhong had the power to appoint and remove officials in Rong Prefecture.
Everyone was happy at this, and said that Prince Zhong was loyal to the imperial family. They also praised the emperor for being kind.
After this incident, the mood of the court was much more relaxed. Some people even felt the present empress was a lucky star. Not long after she got pregnant, Prince Zhong was giving up Rong Prefecture to the court. This was a good sign.
Gu Ru Jiu expressed that she was speechless at such a saying.
These people were getting better and better at flattering. Not just flattering her and Chenjun, but also the child in her belly.
The child had been in her belly for four or five months now, and sometimes, she could even feel the fetus move. Maybe because of the movements, she felt more feelings towards this fetus, and she gradually accepted the truth.
She was about to become a mother.
Recently, her appetite was getting better, and she was gaining some unobvious weight. She suspected that the things she ate all grew on the fetus’ body.
In these months, she and Chenjun should not live together, but Chenjun was never reasonable in this area. So the two of them still slept and ate together, and Chenjun was responsible for telling stories to the baby in her belly.
After the training of the recent few months, Chenjun was better and better at telling stories. When he got excited, he was very engaged in imitating the movements and sounds of the characters in the story.
“Your Majesty.” Qiu Luo walked into the room, and presented Gu Ru Jiu with a bowl of soup suitable for a pregnant woman to eat. After serving Gu Ru Jiu, she said, “Just now, He Gonggong punished a palace maid.”
Gu Ru Jiu raised an eyebrow, and indicated for her to continue.
“He Gonggong said, to accumulate good fortune for the dragon son, he spared the palace maid’s life.” Qiu Luo tidied up the empty bowl, and handed it to the palace maid behind her. “But she was sent to the Bureau of Laundry.”
“What palace maid?” Gu Ru Jiu said. “One who saw this palace pregnant, thought that the emperor cannot have intercourse with me, and so had other thoughts?”