This chapter has been brought to you by me and Adnana.
Even the most ignorant of the common people knew a bit about the grievances between the emperor and Princess Consort Cheng. The main thing was the story of the evil stepmother tormenting the child left behind by the previous wife.
There were many stories among the common people of stepmothers tormenting their stepchildren. After Jin Yang came to the throne, Great Feng had good weather, and the people lived in peace and contentment. The other countries came to pay their respects, and even the Li submitted to Great Feng. Such glorious achievements, in the eyes of the common people, made Jin Yang a good emperor who shone with light from head to foot.
People were biased. One was an evil stepmother, the other a kind and wise emperor who was bullied by his stepmother when he was a child. People unconsciously would be biased toward the emperor who brought them a steady life.
Princess Consort Cheng herself knew that Jin Yang had become the son of the empress dowager and the previous emperor long ago, and had no relation to her in name. In blood, he had no relation at all. Even if she wanted to use the excuse of filial piety, she could not suppress the emperor.
The moment Jin Yang appeared, her mad mind cleared slightly. When Jin Yang announced the three decrees, she dazedly reacted.
Jin Yang did not protect the so-called relative of the empress, and sentenced him to a beheading without even going through the Ministry of Justice and the Court of Judicial Review. Then her coming here to make a fuss today was just a joke.
She was slightly stupid, but she still knew what was good and what was bad. At least, Jin Yang did not step on someone when they were down, and let her son die unclearly. He made the other pay with his life.
But she inexplicably became a commandery princess consort. Her husband was Prince Cheng, so how was she just a commandery princess consort? This was ridiculous. Where did Great Feng have such rules? She wanted to state her objections, but when she saw Jin Yang’s expressionless face, she suddenly remembered ten years ago.
Back then, Jin Yang had not yet been ten. Though he was small, his face had inherited all the best traits of his mother, and when she saw it, she would always think of the lofty Sima shi.
She was from a prestigious family local to the Jin Prefecture, beautiful, and had connections to the Li Family of the capital. Reluctantly, she could be counted as a distant branch of the Li Family. Due to this, she received Prince Cheng’s favor.
A hundred days after Sima shi died, Prince Cheng eagerly married her. Seven months later, she gave birth to a son for Prince Cheng. She knew that people gossiped about her behind her back, but so what? In Jin Prefecture, who did not have to bow their heads to her?
She even had in the palms of her hands the child whom the lofty Sima shi had left behind. She disliked Sima shi and naturally disliked the child she had left behind.
Back then, her parents had urged her not to go too far. But she was not willing. If she restrained herself, what about her son? Could she let Jin Yang become the heir, and the future Prince Cheng?
If she had known that today was going to happen, then a decade ago, she would not have let him live due to carelessness.
The winter that year had been so cold. Who knew that he would still manage to climb out of the water after falling into the pond? It would have been good if she had ordered people to guard the pond and not let him climb out.
Maybe… maybe then the person on the throne would be her son, and her son would not have died…
Thinking of her son who had just died, Princess Consort Cheng stumbled and fell to the ground. Sitting on the ground, she cried so hard as if her heart was broken.
Jin Yang looked at Princess Consort Cheng crying, and did not feel anything. He did not even move, and just watched the woman on the ground.
When he was young, he had hated her, and even thought of how to kill her. But when he ascended to this high position, when he saw this woman again, he did not treat her as his number one enemy. A woman like this could not be his number one enemy. Having her die was a matter of just one word.
After Princess Consort Cheng cried enough, her grief was eased. She looked up and saw a pair of icy eyes. Back then when she watched her children bully Jin Yang, Jin Yang had looked at her children with a gaze like this.
This child was a wolf—cold-hearted and vicious. She and her children were just a piece of meat in his eyes, a bone. If he was hungry, he would ruthlessly bite on them without mercy.
Princess Consort Cheng became afraid. She shrank back, wanting to climb from the ground. But she swayed and fell back on the ground.
“Zhen‘s empress has no grievances with you—why do you curse her?” Jin Yang said coldly. “Back then, you pushed Zhen into the pond and thought that Zhen was dead, so you left. But Zhen survived and married for love. Now, you curse her. Zhen wants to know what great hatred you have that you would do such a thing.”
Usually, in prestigious families, the stepmother would not torment the children left behind by the previous wife too much as she wanted face, and to leave a good reputation to her own children. Otherwise, when something like this spread, she would be shamed, and even her children’s reputation would be damaged.
As a mother, even if she did not consider for herself, she had to consider for her children. So even if one disliked the children of the previous wife, they would not be as obvious as Princess Consort Cheng.
Princess Consort Cheng was not liked among the aristocratic circles of the capital due to this.
“If you want to blame, blame your mother.” Princess Consort Cheng looked at Jin Yang with extreme hatred. “If she did not treat me like that back then, then I would not have treated you so.”
Back then, when she and Prince Cheng were in love, Sima shi did not curse or beat her, only said one thing.
The lowly one smells bad.
How much more noble was she, just because she had the Sima family name?
So what if she was more noble—she was dead.
Dead was good. Dead, she could sleep with the other’s man, beat the other’s child. Who let the other look at her back then with such a gaze?
Jin Yang watched Princess Consort Cheng sink into her memories and her expression grow twisted and ugly. He suddenly had no interest in asking. He said coldly, “Prince Cheng is dead, the position is empty. There must be an heir.”
“The third son of Prince Cheng is mature and reliable. He will inherit the title of Prince Cheng and live in the capital.” Jin Yang looked at Princess Consort Cheng. “As for you, go to the temple to pray for Prince Cheng. After the funeral of the second young master, go at once.”
“No, no…” Princess Consort Cheng shook her head. “How can that whore’s child inherit the title? He is concubine-born…”
“Shh.” Jin Yang put a finger to his lips and made a motion for silence. “If Zhen says so, then it is so—you understand?”
Princess Consort Cheng looked dazedly at Jin Yang. The other had a calm expression, but she was terrified. After the imperial procession left, she did not recover.
She was sure, if she spoke more, she could not tolerate the consequences.
Jin Yang was a madman— a madman who looked beautiful.
“Commandery Princess Consort, the Vermillion Bird Gates are an important place to enter and leave the palace. If you do not have any matters, it is best to leave early.” Hu Yun Qi looked at Princess Consort Cheng who was being held by two eunuchs, and his expression was cold. “Otherwise, I and the others have to act according to the rules.”
Rules, what rules?
Those who trespassed into the imperial palace would be killed with no pardons.
Princess Consort Cheng pushed aside the eunuchs and looked at Hu Yun Qi, laughing and crying. ” His Majesty is a…”
“Woo, woo.” A hand covered her mouth.
“Commandery Princess Consort Cheng is overcome with grief and not in her right mind. Send her back to her establishment.” Hu Yun Qi waved a hand, and had the eunuchs press her into the carriage.
“You are all servants of Princess Consort Cheng. If your master makes mistakes, you will also not live.” Hu Yun Qi looked at the servants that Princess Consort Cheng had brought along. “Serve your master well. If something happens, then you be careful.”
These servants had been unable to stand still when Jin Yang appeared. Hearing Hu Yun Qi say this, they nodded and did not dare to argue against him. They immediately drove the carriage away.
In the past, they did not know what the presence of an emperor was. Today, they saw it.
So scary, like if the other blinked, they would die.
“You left in such a hurry. Did something happen?” Gu Ru Jiu saw Jin Yang hurriedly leave and come back in a short while, and she was curious.
“Nothing.” Jin Yang walked next to Gu Ru Jiu and looked at her growing belly. “Has the baby behaved today?”
“It’s all right.” Gu Ru Jiu forced a smile. She found it hard to sit and stood up to walk.
The child in her belly was already seven or so months along, causing her to not sleep well at night, and sometimes be short of breath. She could not eat well, fearing the baby would kick her stomach and force her to vomit. So she recently ate less to lessen her suffering.
“It is so hard to have a baby.” Jin Yang supported Gu Ru Jiu and helped her walk slowly in the room. “How about I have Mother-in-law come into the palace to keep you company for a few days? Mother-in-law has raised several children, and I would feel safe having her accompany you.”
The child was already old enough that there was a chance of labour at any moment. When he was at court, he worried that there was no one with Jiu Jiu.
“This…” Gu Ru Jiu hesitated. She looked eagerly at Jin Yang. “Would this make things difficult for you?”
If they were a normal couple, there would be no problem in having the mother-in-law come live for a few months, much less a few days. But this was the imperial palace, and one had to pay attention to all this.
“This is nothing. There is only Mother-Empress and us two in this palace. If Mother-in-law comes, then it will be more lively.” Jin Yang caressed Gu Ru Jiu’s face. “Do not worry—it will be fine.”
“Yes.” Gu Ru Jiu nodded. “Have Mother bring me into the palace the fermented bean curd I like. It has been so long since I tasted it.”
“Yes, you can eat whatever you want.” Seeing Gu Ru Jiu smile, Jin Yang sighed in relief inside.
Recently, as the child grew and moved more, Jiu Jiu had to lie down on her back at night, and could not turn as she pleased. She could not eat well or sit comfortably during the day. This was such suffering. Jiu Jiu had never suffered so much like this.
He could not help but reach out to rub the dark circles around Gu Ru Jiu’s eyes. Jin Yang sighed. “Thank you.”
Gu Ru Jiu held his hand. “In the future, you have to be better to me, don’t you know?”
“Yes.” Jin Yang nodded and nodded. “It would be good if you could grow large and small at will.”
“Why?” Gu Ru Jiu looked at him in puzzlement.
“Because then I could carry you and you could come with me wherever I wanted. I would no longer have to worry that you will leave me.” Jin Yang felt that his state of mind was not right, but only this reassured him.
“You are stupid.” Gu Ru Jiu reached out to pull his ear. “Our home is here. When you are out, I will watch our home. When you come home, you can see me. If you take me away, then who will watch our home?”
Jin Yang’s heart felt sweet at these words. He helped Gu Ru Jiu sit down carefully, and then pointed at Gu Ru Jiu’s belly. “He will.”
“Nonsense. I do not bear for my child to stay alone at home.” Gu Ru Jiu touched her belly carefully, and smiled warmly.
Jin Yang felt slightly heartsore. Strange—why did he feel sour?
When Gu Zhi Yu came to the family gates, he saw his second brother gallop over on his horse, and with lingering anger on his face. If his brother did not see him, he likely would have charged in on his horse.
“Big Brother.” No matter how angry Gu Cun Jing was, he was still obedient in front of his elder brother.
“What happened that you are in such a hurry? You miss Yuan Yuan?” Gu Zhi Yu looked at Gu Cun Jing and smiled.
Hearing his big brother mention his son, Gu Cun Jing’s expression eased. He got off the horse, threw the reins to the gatekeeper and said, “Let’s go in and talk.”
Seeing him really have something going on, Gu Zhi Yu did not delay and went with him to the main courtyard. They greeted their parents and then the family sat down.
Hu shi had come out of confinement recently, and looked slightly more round. She saw that her husband did not have a good expression and whispered, “What is it with you?”
Gu Cun Jing did not want his emotions to affect his wife. He smiled comfortingly at her and then said to his parents and brother, “Today, when I was passing by Vermillion Bird Gates, I encountered Princess Consort Cheng. She was cursing Younger Sister, and I kicked her in anger.”
“What?!” Yang shi slapped the table and stood up. “My daughter has no grievances with her—why did she curse my daughter?!”
Hu shi saw the teacup jump on the table from her mother-in-law’s slap and immediately felt awe.
Gu Cun Jing glanced at Gu Zhi Yu and had a hesitant expression.
Gu Zhi Yu also did not have a good expression. The Gu Family was very protective of their own. So after hearing Princess Consort Cheng curse his sister, he did not feel happy. Seeing his brother look at him and speak hesitantly, he frowned. “Second Brother, you can say anything.”
“Because Princess Consort Cheng’s son was killed by Sister-in-law’s younger brother, and… when the two were arguing, Chen Kong told the servants of the prince establishment that he was a relative of the empress and did not fear anyone.” At this, Gu Cun Jing showed some distaste. In his view, Chen Kong was no relative of Jiu Jiu. It was hateful that he dared to use the name of his sister to do as he pleased.
“Chen Kong killed the second young master of Prince Cheng’s establishment?” Gu Chang Ling frowned at hearing this. “Even though the emperor and this second young master were at odds, he did not do this. Where did Chen Kong get the bravery?” The other did something like this, and dragged down the Gu Family’s reputation. This was simply disgusting.
Even relatives could not do something like this. This was no relative, but an enemy.
“This Chen Family really is…” Gu Chang Ling sighed. Back when Old Master Chen was alive, the Chen Family had been well. Ever since his death and the brothers splitting up the family, Mistress Chen spoiled her son Chen Kong badly, and he ruined a lot of the Chen Family’s reputation.
What did the Gu Family owe the Chen Family that Chen Kong ruined the reputations of the Gu Family and his daughter like this?
However, no matter how discontent Gu Chang Ling was with the Chen Family, he still cared that they were his eldest son’s in-laws, so he swallowed the unpleasant words that followed.
“Father…” When Gu Zhi Yu started to speak, he saw the steward come in with a card.
“Master, Mistress Chen and Young Mistress Chen have come.”
Gu Chang Ling took the card and swept a glance at it. Then he said to the steward, “Where are they?”
“They are in the tea room.” The steward did not know if the master wanted to see these two people, so he had not dared to lead them here.
Yang shi had a dark expression and did not speak. Gu Cun Jing’s expression did not look very good either. Both mother and son were suppressing their anger. Gu Chang Ling sighed. “The people who come are guests. Invite them in.”
Gu Zhi Yu looked down at the worn pouch at his waist, and sighed.
When Mistress Chen and her daughter-in-law came in, their eyes were swollen. If their servant girls were not supporting them, they would likely be unable to walk smoothly.
“In-laws.” When Mistress Chen spoke, her tears fell. She choked. “I have come today to ask for your help with my unworthy son.”
“In-law, please sit down and speak.” Yang shi indicated for the Gu Residence servant girls to help Mistress Chen and her daughter-in-law rise. After the two sat, she said, “I have already heard what happened. This time, even our Jiu Jiu was dragged in.”
“In-law, I did not teach my child well. I ask forgiveness from you.” She stood up and moved to bow to Yang shi.
Mistress Chen knew what had happened. She knew that Chen Kong had said that he was a relative of the empress. She knew that these words were not a good influence for the empress, and would make the Gu Family unhappy when they heard. But now, other than the Gu Family, who could help her?
“Mother-in-law, no need.” Gu Zhi Yu was not willing to have his parents in a difficult situation. He walked in front of Mistress Chen, and helped her stand up.
“Virtuous Son-in-law, help your brother-in-law. This child is not an evil person, just slightly absurd. I only have this child left. Help me.” Mistress Chen saw Gu Zhi Yu and seemed to be grasping at a life-saving straw, her hands holding on tightly to Gu Zhi Yu.
“There is something that Mother-in-law may not know. Princess Consort Cheng cursed the empress this morning in front of Vermillion Bird Gates, and said that she allowed her relatives to kill members of the imperial house.” Gu Zhi Yu looked at his sleeve in Mistress Chen’s grip. “Did Brother-in-law ever think what trouble he would bring to my sister while so arrogantly bandying about her name?”
The more Mistress Chen heard, the more panicked she was. She shook her head and said, “Starting now, I will make him change and not do things like this again. Just help him this once. For Su Mei’s sake, help him just one more time.”
“Su Mei has passed away. Mother-in-law, why bring up such things to disturb her departed soul?” Hearing his mother-in-law mention his dead wife, Gu Zhi Yu turned cold and pulled his sleeve back. “In these years, Chen Kong has frequently caused trouble. Back then, he was young and I did not want Su Mei to be embarrassed, so I always helped him. Later, he got married, and did nothing all day. I paid his debts for him. Now, he killed someone and dragged down my sister’s reputation. Do you want me to offer up the reputation of my sister and the centuries’ reputation of the Gu Family to save him?”
Mistress Chen looked dazedly at her usually gentle son-in-law and did not know what to say.
“Su Mei always worried about her younger brother, so after… her death, I frequently took care of him, even going to the Ministry of Rites for him and arranging a position for him.” Gu Zhi Yu had a tired expression. “I love Su Mei, so I was willing to help her brother after her death. But this does not mean that I can ignore my family and my sister.
“Mother-in-law, please leave. It is the law to pay with your life for killing someone.” Gu Zhi Yu made a gesture. “After today, the Gu and Chen families…”—his voice paused for a moment—”will not interact anymore.” He knew he might fail Su Mei by ignoring Chen Kong, but as a son, as the heir to the dukedom, as Jiu Jiu’s older brother, as an official of the court, he could not do something like this.
“Very good, very good, very good.” Mistress Chen repeated. She looked at Gu Zhi Yu and the other members of the Gu Family who had not spoken. “They all say that the Gu Family treated my daughter well, but you just used my daughter to gain a good reputation. Back then, if it was not for my daughter’s death, could your daughter have entered the palace? If not for my daughter, the empress in the palace would be surnamed Sima, and not Gu!”
After saying this, she spat in the direction where Gu Chang Ling and Yang shi were sitting. “Underhanded means to gain reputation.”
Gu Cun Jing immediately changed expression, rising up to argue with Mistress Gu, and then Hu shi pulled him. He could not push Hu shi away but hated Mistress Chen for her nonsense, so he flushed red.
Mistress Chen looked hatefully at Gu Zhi Yu. “If I had known this, I would not have married my daughter to you back then.” She turned to leave without waiting to see how the Gu Family reacted.
Only now, she did not need anyone to support her.
“It was Sima Ji who killed Sister-in-law, and my family was also sad. She does not blame the Sima Family, but blames us. What is the reasoning in this!” Gu Cun Jing cursed in anger. “A shrew!”
“All right, stop speaking!” Hu shi saw that her elder brother-in-law did not have a good expression and pulled Gu Cun Jing’s hand. “Come with me to see Yuan Yuan. He is going to wake up soon.” Then she pulled Gu Cun Jing out of the main courtyard.
Gu Cun Jing knew that his big brother did not feel well, and followed Hu shi without a word, his head down.
“Father, Mother, this child was unfilial and made you wronged.” Thinking of his mother-in-law spitting at his parents, Gu Zhi Yu’s eyes turned red. “In the future, this will not happen again.”
“Child, what does this have to do with you, and with Su Mei?” Yang shi said. “The Chen Family is the Chen Family. Su Mei is Su Mei. The deceased have passed. Do not ruin your past feelings because of other people.”
“Yes.” Gu Zhi Yu bowed, but his expression was still ashamed.
Yang shi saw her son like this and sighed inside. She felt both distressed and sad. They were not the ones being wronged—it was this child who was being wronged.