It was already dark by the time the Li family arrived.
They had intended to rest for the night before coming the next day, but unfortunately Concubine He couldn’t bear to use money on lodgings. She directly pulled someone over to ask for directions and they ended up going straight there.
Only after arriving did Concubine He understand why that person had such a weird expression. The Jing Prince Estate was indeed easy to find. It occupied over half the city, and they would have reached it after walking a little further in.
Before they reached the gates, they were blocked by group of guards. The Li family saw that these soldiers had polished armor and strict discipline, and couldn’t help but feel respect. After explaining their reason for coming, one of the officers had them wait for a moment before turning and leaving. The remaining soldiers kept an eye on them.
The three worn carriages looked rather wretched compared to the group of soldiers in resplendent armor.
Concubine He sat inside her carriage, looking out through the half raised curtains. She could vaguely see the towering walls in front of her.
My heavens, this was a prince’s estate? Why did it look like a city!?
After some time, the officer returned. With a wave of his hand, the soldiers led the carriages forward to the estate’s western gates. After an inspection, the carriages continued forward.
Not only Concubine He was astonished, even Li Xue Bing was extremely astonished. How was this a prince’s estate? It clearly seemed like a palace.
It wasn’t that Li Xue Bing hadn’t paid attention to this nephew of his before. However, due to what happened all those years ago, they had never interacted.
This matter needs to be explained from the beginning. The Li family wasn’t some rich household at first. Only Li Xue Bing had passed the civil exam and obtained an unimpressive official’s post in a southern county.
That county’s magistrate would have a new assistant at most every three years, but Li Xue Bing managed to stay in that position for quite a while. He was also someone with ambition, but ambition needed to be supported by wealth and connections. He had neither, and thus squandered his time away as a ninth ranked official for many years.
That year the selection happened.
Every time news of a selection spread, the commoners would go into a frenzy. The girls who were chosen weren’t all fortunate enough to enter the palace as a concubine. Many would become palace maids and servants for people in the palace. It was hard to leave once they were chosen.
Even the commoners would flee at this announcement, but Li Xue Bing actually did the opposite. His thoughts had stirred, and these thoughts were in regards to his younger sister Li Wan Ting.
He used his sister as a gamble to improve his future prospects. At that time Li Xue Bing didn’t think this was something shameful. He never considered that if Li Wan Ting wasn’t outstanding enough, she would become a palace maid instead of a concubine.
Luckily, Li Wan Ting was indeed a beauty, and was chosen as a concubine and given the title of an attendant.
When he heard the news, Li Xue Bing was wild with joy. He anxiously awaited the benefits his sister would bring him. But one year past after another without any movements. Li Xue Bing was an official in a small county far away from the capital. How could he have any contact with someone in the palace? The brother and sister fell out of touch.
A few more years passed and word suddenly spread of a fifth prince whose mother was an attendant surnamed Li. She ended up being conferred as the venerated concubine. Li Xue Bing only heard about this “rumor” from his superiors after they started treating him extremely well. At that time Li Xue Bing had already given up on his inappropriate thoughts, but a meat pie suddenly fell from the heavens onto his head.
He considered making a trip to the capital, but how could an appointed official do as he pleased. He also hoped his sister would send a letter home. After all, she was the emperor’s concubine. In Li Xue Bing’s heart, the concubines in the palace were all powerful. He never thought that his sister wasn’t living as glamorously as he imagined.
After never receiving a letter, Li Xue Bing had also complained about it. He felt that this sister of his had forgotten her own brother after becoming a concubine. Still, how could there be no benefits. He was the uncle of a prince after all, and everyone would still more or less give him some face.
Once his superior transferred to another post, Li Xue Bing finally obtained the magistrate position. He finally stopped complaining at that time, and felt that the choices he made were correct. Afterwards, he investigated many things about the capital and found out his sister the venerated concubine wasn’t in good health, and the fifth prince wasn’t healthy either. He was extremely panicked. This was their Li family’s future hope after all. But panicking was of no use.
Before long, his sister passed away, leaving behind an apparently mute fifth prince. It was said the emperor was furious due to his sister’s insanity and his nephew’s muteness.
Li Xue Bing grew afraid. What if he got implicated? The emperor wouldn’t do anything to the fifth prince, but what if he took out his anger on the Li family for giving birth to a crazy woman? Li Xue Bing became thoroughly low key, and was extremely eager for others to forget about his relationship to the venerated concubine and the fifth prince.
After a few years passed without any movements, Li Xue Bing finally relaxed. He honestly fulfilled his duties as a seventh ranked official. This lasted for many years without promotion and without demotion.
If he hadn’t been at his wits end over his current circumstances, he wouldn’t have remembered this nephew of his. But since he had no other choice, he could only seek shelter here. He couldn’t let his whole family become homeless.
After the carriages stopped, the Li family was led into a pavilion.
Right as they sat in the reception feeling ill at ease, an old eunuch who appeared over fifty arrived. This eunuch verified the situation with Li Xue Bing before turning and leaving once more.
After, some palace maids came and served two table’s worth of food, allowing them to eat first.
The Li family hadn’t eaten properly in a long time, and faced with so many delicious dishes they didn’t put on any airs, sitting down and digging in.
There were a total of seventeen people. Li Xue Bing, Qi-Shi, Concubine He, the second young mistress Li Miao Lian and the third young mistress Li Miao Fang. Li Xue Bing’s oldest son Li Hong Chang and his family: his wife Mao-Shi, Concubine Chen and Concubine Xu, and his three children. Li Xue Bing’s second son Li Hong Qian and his family: his wife Qian-Shi, a concubine surnamed Hong and two children.
The dishes were laid out on two large tables.
After they were done eating, Eunuch Fu also came over with the Jing Prince’s orders.
Since this was the prince’s maternal uncle, Eunuch Fu was also polite on the surface. He said his highness was busy with official affairs, and invited his lord uncle to be at ease and move in. Li Xue Bing exchanged some casual words with him before Eunuch Fu took his leave, ordering the palace maids to serve them properly.
Since his nephew didn’t refuse to recognize him, Li Xue Bing finally relaxed.
The pavilion they were in was rather large. It had a main residence, an eastern and western wing as well as some auxiliary residences. It was more than sufficient for them to live in. Eight palace maids had their heads lowered in service, making the Li family let out a stifled breath involuntarily.
After they had gone to bed, Qi-Shi asked Li Xue Bing a question, “Why didn’t nephew come see us?”
Li Xue Bing rolled over and said: “It’s already so late in the evening, why don’t you look at what time it is?”
Qi-Shi pursed her lips and didn’t speak further.
Li Xue Bing could pretend that he had forgotten, but Qi-shi could not.
Back then, before her younger sister-in-law entered the palace, Qi-Shi had already married into the family. Sister-in-law’s marriage had already been arranged by her father back then, and it was with a household they were very close to. Although it wasn’t some government official, it was still a rich landowning household. Unfortunately her own husband had been tempted by benefits and broke off his sister’s marriage, sending her to the palace instead.
Her father-in-law had fallen ill due to his anger, and passed away after being bedridden for two years. Before he died, his thoughts were still on her sister-in-law.
Qi-Shi was also of low birth, and didn’t have much knowledge. In her mind, a woman’s arranged marriage couldn’t be changed. Therefore, the arguments within the family, her husband’s determination and her sister-in-law’s tears were all deeply engraved in her mind. Even if she wasn’t the Qi-Shi from before, and her thoughts had changed after becoming a magistrate’s madam, she still couldn’t forget what happened back then.
Therefore as she lay on the soft mattress, her heart was still unsettled. She still wondered why their nephew didn’t come see them. Did he know that his mother had a grudge against them back then?
After thinking for a while, she managed to think things through. They were family after all, and they were the family’s last branch at that. No matter how you put it, they would get along.
The Jing Prince sat there feeling a little restless in his heart, though it didn’t show on his face.
The reason was none other than his aunt Qi-Shi’s overly exaggerated behavior. Ever since he entered, she had cried while pulling his arm, crying about his mother, crying about his grandparents, crying about her own family’s suffering during their trip from the south…..
When his sister was mentioned, Li Xue Bing’s face was also full of sorrow, and reminisced a little about her when she was still at home.
“Our aunt’s life was hard. Whenever father mentioned her, he would be extremely heartbroken.” Li Xue Bing’s older son Li Hong Chang sighed on the side.
“That’s right, if we weren’t forced by the circumstances, Wan Ting wouldn’t have had to enter the palace and wouldn’t have died early.”
The second son Li Hong Qian interrupted on the side: “Father, what are you saying? Aunt passing away early was due to fate. If aunt hadn’t entered the palace, we wouldn’t have cousin Jing Prince over here.”
“Your uncle misspoke due to being possessed, ai…..”
The Jing Prince’s reactions were slow to begin with and he was emotionally reserved. It was rather hard for him to deal with this group of emotional people. He spoke little to begin with, and sitting there at this time made him seem even more antisocial.
Li Hong Chang blinked and said doubtfully: “Wasn’t cousin’s muteness cured? Why not speak?”
The Jing Prince’s face turned rigid as Eunuch Fu bowed and said: “Highness is taciturn and not fond of speaking. However, his heart is warm towards lord uncle’s family.”
Li Hong Chen smiled mockingly and nodded.
The group of people continued their discussions. They still spoke about the venerated concubine’s past. Unfortunately, too much time had gone by, and only Li Xue Bing and Qi-Shi had known her at the time. Although their feelings seemed very sincere, as they spoke they felt like they soon ran out of words.
The Jing Prince wasn’t able to sit still any longer. He stood up and said: “This humble prince still has official business.”
The Jing Prince stood there and didn’t move. He paused there as though wanting to say something, but not knowing how to say it, and ended up leaving.
Eunuch Fu smiled at the Li family and followed behind him.
After the Jing Prince left, the Li family started talking amongst themselves.
“Lord, this nephew doesn’t seem to like us much.”
Li Hong Chang and Li Hong Qian seemed to be more or less in agreement. Before it wasn’t convenient to speak in front of the Jing Prince, but now all bets were off.
“He wasted so much spit without even giving uncle a greeting, is he even treating us as family?!” Li Hong Chang said.
He was over thirty years old, and was born full of fat. His large stomach made him seem unlike a scholar, but rather a rich landlord. He had studied for many years but hadn’t even been able to pass the imperial exam. Without any achievements, he wasted his days away.
“Big brother, you should speak a little less. This is their estate after all.” Li Hong Qian’s words were much more restrained, but his meaning was also clear from his sour words.
Li Xue Bing’s sons were both similar. They weren’t young anymore, but hadn’t achieved anything for themselves, relying on their father. Now that their father’s position was gone, they planned on mooching off of the Jing Prince Estate instead. Regardless, the two knew that with their father present they wouldn’t have to worry about anything.
“I don’t think cousin is as bad as you guys make him out to be. Didn’t that Eunuch Fu also say that his personality is quiet to begin with?” Li Miao Lian said quietly on the side.
Li Hong Chang sneered and gave his younger sister a glance without saying anything.
At this time, a group of eunuchs carried some platters over.
The one in the lead smiled and said: “Greetings to lord uncle. These are greeting gifts from his highness to his family.”
The platters were covered by silk cloth and it wasn’t clear what was underneath. Li Xue Bing stood and said: “Highness is really too polite.”
“It’s no big deal. Highness said that since you’ve come, you can live in the estate. If you need anything, let the palace maids know.”
“Then we really must thank his highness.”
Li Xui Bing gave Concubine He a glance while he spoke to that eunuch. Concubine He was a smart woman, and hurriedly fished out a small piece of silver from her sleeves and handed it over.
“We’ve inconvenienced you. We don’t have a lot of silver, please treat everyone to some tea with it.”
The eunuch in the lead didn’t refuse it, and gave another bow before taking his leave with the rest.
Minor spoiler in author’s notes below.
It’s not clear what the Li family will bring for the Jing Prince, and we also don’t know if it’s the familial affection the Jing Prince craves.
The readers who are worried about cousins intermarrying shouldn’t worry. That’s not the Li Family’s role in the story.