Senior Concubine Xu was truly flabbergasted.
She had never seen such a rash person. A new wife who just married in dared to not care about her dignity and make a ruckus at the internal affairs department.
After her shock, she started laughing. When she laughed, it was like the blooming of a hundred flowers and she looked peerlessly magnificent.
Senior Concubine Xu wasn’t an absolute beauty. Her appearance was only above average and there were many women who were more beautiful within the palace. Her beauty lay in her unique temperament. This sort of implicit charm was different from others. She was gentle like water and also contained a trace of extreme modesty and pitifulness.
“Concubine, this fourth consort is a complete hothead. She’s made a fool of herself now.”
Senior Concubine Xu merely laughed and didn’t comment.
The same conversation was happening at the same time at the Fengqi Palace.
“Empress, this fourth consort is a complete brute. His majesty should have bestowed her upon the second prince back then. If he had someone like her dragging him down, Senior Concubine Xu’s side would probably be filled with regret.”
“What do you understand? If this person was really bestowed to the second prince, that sneak would have gotten a lot of help. If it weren’t for someone purposefully doing this, would a grand consort ignore her own dignity and make a fuss at the internal affairs department?”
“This Xu bitch never forgets to try and screw others over when doing things. This time she’s using the internal affairs department. Since this seat isn’t responsible for them, we’ll just sit and watch the show.” Empress Xiao revealed an obscure smile.
As expected, the cold weather didn’t stop the rumors from spreading throughout the palace.
Around the second day, it seemed the entire palace was aware that the fourth consort had made a huge ruckus at the internal affairs department.
There were naturally many watching in amusement in the various palaces and courtyards. These rumors left out the part where the internal affairs department withheld the Xianyun Hall’s allowance, and merely focused on the forth consort making a fuss. The rumors made her sound extremely terrifying and described her as a shrew.
The reason these rumors existed was to satisfy people’s mischief. These palace maids and eunuchs had such a low status in the palace. Now that they could make trouble for someone high above them, they were all extremely excited. Some who hadn’t seen Yan Yan before fell just short of describing her as seven feet tall and extremely sturdy, not at all like a woman. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have been matched with the fourth prince.
The rumors spread more and more fiercely. Empress Xiao finally couldn’t just keep watching anymore and put an end to it. At the same time, she also sent her palace maids to give the main perpetrator, Yan Yan, a scolding. She was punished with ten days of confinement.
During this entire process, Mei Xiang’s group were so scared their hearts were about to jump out. However, Yan Yan and Luo Huai Yuan didn’t seem to care and acted as though nothing was wrong. The confinement was perfect. These days Yan Yan didn’t want to go pay respects at the Fengqi Hall due to the snow and slippery roads.
They intended on shutting the doors and minding their own business. Unexpectedly, although they didn’t want to cause any trouble, trouble came to find them. After the empress punished Yan Yan with confinement, Lu Xiu Ling came to the door the next day.
Since her sister-in-law came to the door, she naturally had to be welcomed. Unexpectedly, the moment she sat down she burst out with a flurry of words, angering Yan Yan.
Lu Xiu Ling’s general meaning was to have Yan Yan be mindful of a consort’s dignity and not lower herself to bicker with servants. Although there was no hint of mockery in her tone, her words seemed mocking no matter how one looked at them.
Lu Xiu Ling probably felt her status was slightly higher than Yan Yan’s, and spoke from the perspective of an older sister-in-law. On the surface this wasn’t wrong, but who cared about this in private? This person was too insensitive, coming into her house to annoy her.
Whenever Yan Yan disliked someone, she would show it on her face: “Second royal sis-in-law is here to scold me?”
These words were rather impolite. Yan Yan also wasn’t planning on being polite.
This Lu Xiu Ling was purposefully here to disgust her, right? It didn’t seem like it since her words sounded sincere. However, her actions and words felt disgusting no matter how she looked at it. Regardless, Yan Yan didn’t like this sort of person and couldn’t be bothered to guess what she was thinking. Since she didn’t like her, she would keep her distance.
“Why do you speak this way? I’m here to advise you kindheartedly. Your, your….” Lu Xiu Ling’s face flushed.
Yan Yan raised her brows, “What’s wrong with my words? Second royal sis-in-law, it’s better if you hurried back. I’ve been confined by mother empress, and it’s not appropriate to entertain you at this time. Yi Yun, see our guest out.”
Lu Xiu Ling’s eyes were red. She viciously stomped her foot, her fading figure seeming to flee in defeat.
During dinner that night, Yan Yan mentioned this matter to Luo Huai Yuan.
“What on earth do you think she’s up to? I’ve never been nice to her but she keeps approaching me. What is she planning?”
“My wife is too beautiful. She wants to get some of your light so she can become more beautiful in the future.”
Yan Yan spat at him, “Complete nonsense!”
After leaving the Xianyun Hall on the way back to the Jinan Hall.
Lu Xiu Ling’s personal palace maid couldn’t help but speak up: “Consort, why would you go make yourself unhappy? The fourth consort is just a brute.”
Lu Xiu Ling’s expression was hard to read. She said quietly: “We are in-laws after all. If her reputation isn’t good, it will also affect me. As the older sis-in-law, I naturally have to advise her more.”
Xiu Fang felt indignant at the injustice: “But look at her. She doesn’t respect you at all. Why be so kind to her?”
Lu Xiu Ling merely lowered her head and didn’t speak.
After returning to the Jinan Hall, she gave the excuse that she was tired and went to lie down. She didn’t let anyone serve her.
Xiu Fang was both angry and worried as she stood on duty outside the bedroom doors. Some palace maids asked curiously what the matter was and Xiu Fang didn’t conceal anything. She mentioned the matter of how the second consort was being kindhearted but ended up being scolded off by the fourth consort. Therefore, before long, the entire Jinan Hall knew that their consort had been bullied by the Xianyun Hall’s fourth consort.
This wasn’t the first time. In the past, there were mutterings about how the fourth consort never treated the second consort well. Unexpectedly, things had already developed to this extent. This fourth consort was truly an intolerable bully!
The news soon reached the second prince’s ear.
During dinner, the second prince couldn’t help but say: “Go less to the Xianyun Hall in the future. Since you don’t get along, why go and make yourself unhappy?”
Lu Xiu Ling lowered her head and said quietly: “We are in-laws after all. If she’s insensible, I should advise her more as the older sis-in-law. This is something I should make an effort in.”
The second prince’s eyes flashed obscurely for a moment and he laughed. “Fourth sis-in-law is currently in the limelight. There are many people in the palace with loose tongues. Since you have kind intentions, don’t do anything bad. Order our servants to keep their mouths shut about this, in case any other rumors start spreading.”
Lu Xiu Ling turned rigid for a moment before saying respectfully: ‘Lord husband’s thoughts are more thorough. This one will naturally do my utmost.”
The second prince nodded. He put down his silver chopsticks and someone came to help him rinse his mouth and wash his hands. Afterwards, he wiped his hands with a towel and stood up.
“I’ll be in the study. You should rest first, no need to wait for me.”
“Seeing lord husband off respectfully.”
Lu Xiu Ling lowered her head and saluted. When she stood up, a distortion was finally revealed in the corner of her eyes for an instant.
Ten days of confinement went by very quickly. The first day she was free, she was supposed to go thank the empress at the Fengqi Palace for the favor.
After arriving at the Fengqi Palace, Yan Yan was about to get off the palanquin when she saw Lu Xiu Ling nearby. She purposefully slowed down when she saw her.
Unexpectedly, the other party still approached. Lu Xiu Ling was wearing a silver white cloak with green patterns on the bottom. Her hands were stuffed inside the cloak, holding a golden handheld furnace.
“Fourth sis-in-law is here to pay respects to mother empress? Let’s go in together.”
Yan Yan could only smile rigidly and get out of the palanquin with Mei Xiang’s help.
After they were announced, the two entered the palace. Empress Xiao sat up high on her phoenix throne, looking extremely graceful and splendid.
Lu Xiu Ling paid her respects and was called to rise by Empress Xiao. Then it was Yan Yan’s turn. She crouched and paid respects according to palace etiquette.
Empress Xiao gave her a glance and said in a seeming flash of realization to her palace maid: “Today is the end of old fourth daughter-in-law’s confinement?”
That palace maid bowed and said it was. Empress Xiao nodded and looked at Yan Yan again.
“You’ve just married in so as the mother empress I shouldn’t have disregarded your dignity like this. However, as the royal family’s daughter-in-law you must understand etiquette and maintain the dignity of the royal family. This palace is large and there will inevitably be some crafty servants. If you encounter anything, you can come tell your mother empress. I will help mediate for you. You can’t just make a ruckus at the internal affairs department without minding your dignity. You must know that you are old fourth’s wife. A married couple is treated as a whole. You are honored as one and harmed as one. Whatever mistakes you make, old fourth will also get affected…..”
During this time, Empress Xiao hadn’t called her to rise and let Yan Yan remain crouched.
This was a common tactic in the palace. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a big deal for Yan Yan. She could maintain a horse-stance for two hours without her legs shaking. Would she be scared of such a small trick? Empress Xiao didn’t tell her to rise so she remained crouched.
Lu Xiu Ling wanted to speak but hesitated. In the end, she couldn’t help but speak up for her: “Mother empress, don’t you think you should let fourth sis-in-law get up first? How can she endure remaining crouched like that?”
Only now did Empress Xiao put on a startled appearance. She held her forehead and exclaimed: “Hurry and rise. Your mother empress is already old, and my memory gets worse every day. I always forget things here and there. Xiang Ping, hurry and get the two consorts a seat.”
Seeing this, Lu Xiu Ling hurried over to help Yan Yan up. Who would have thought that Yan Yan straightened up without any unsteadiness? She didn’t look uncomfortable at all, and avoided Lu Xiu Ling’s hand purposefully. Lu Xiu Ling was suddenly in an awkward position.
She smiled gently to cover up her awkwardness and withdrew her hand: “As expected of someone who trains in martial arts.”
Yan Yan nodded and gave her a glance: “You flatter me.”
“You must take mother empress’s careful teachings to heart, and definitely cannot make the same mistake in the future and lose our royal family’s face. We are different from others after all. We are the royal family’s daughters-in-law….”
Yan Yan saw the palace maid bringing chairs over and went to take a seat, ignoring Lu Xiu Ling.
“You are still young and you have an impetuous nature. Life after marriage isn’t like living in your own chambers. In the future, you must frequently….”
Yan Yan couldn’t endure any longer. She smiled coldly and said: “Second royal sis-in-law, this is the Fengqi Palace not your Jinan Hall. I know you are virtuous and capable, dignified and composed, your character is impeccable. This sis-in-law of yours is naturally inferior. However, if you wish to show off, can you wait until you’re back home to do so? Why are you getting full of yourself here? Would you feel uncomfortable if you didn’t use my undignified and lowly character to make yourself look lofty?
Lu Xiu Ling stepped back at the heavy blow. Her eyes grew teary, “I’m being kindhearted. How can you saw that…”
“Alright, alright. Why are you guys arguing in front of this seat? What naughty children!” Empress Xiao rebuked.
Xiang Ping smiled and said to the empress: “Empress, these two consorts are still young and insensible. They will need this mother-in-law of theirs to guide them carefully in the future.”
Empress Xiao exclaimed in laughter: “This seat already has a headache with just three of them. With another two coming in, this seat will be muddled from all the bickering.”
It had to be said, Empress Xiao was really good with her words. The situation had been on the verge of falling apart, but was waved away by her calling them naughty children.
This Xiang Ping was also a capable one. While speaking to her mistress, she still pointed out that Empress Xiao was the proper mother-in-law. These words were naturally meant to knock Lu Xiu Ling down a peg. After all, no matter what, Empress Xiao was the principal mistress of the palace. Even if Senior Concubine Xu was Lu Xiu Ling’s real mother-in-law, she still had to take a step back in front of the empress’s status.
It wasn’t clear whether Yan Yan had understood but Lu Xiu Ling understood.
She hurriedly bent her knees and saluted the empress, saying with a flushed and cramped face: “Hopefully mother empress won’t take offense, it’s all daughter-in-law’s fault. Please don’t blame fourth sis-in-law either. She’s always been straightforward with her words.”
Yan Yan was truly impressed with this Lu Xiu Ling. Why did she have to pull her into whatever she was doing?
She couldn’t be bothered to leave any face for Lu Xiu Ling. She smiled coldly and said: “Thank you second sis-in-law for your righteousness in making an excuse for this sis-in-law of yours. But I will have to trouble you not to bring me up in everything you say in the future. We aren’t close, we’re really not close!”
After speaking, she didn’t look at Lu Xiu Ling’s expression and stood up. She saluted Empress Xiao to take her leave.
“Mother empress, your daughter-in-law still has some unfinished business in her palace. I’ll take my leave first.”
Empress Xiao waved her hand. Yan Yan turned and left. Empress Xiao glanced at Lu Xiu Ling and waved her hand for her to leave as well.
After the two left, a eunuch on the side revealed a weird expression and said: “Empress, do you think that second consort has something wrong with her head?”
Empress Xiao smiled mockingly and said: “You don’t understand the thoughts of women, especially women whose husbands don’t favor them. Xiang Ping, tell Lu Hai.”
Xiang Ping twisted her lips in a smile and said: “This servant will speak her mind. If it’s wrong, may the empress give some guidance. Back then the second prince proposed to the fourth consort in front of the crowd, but was denied by his majesty. The fourth consort was bestowed to the fourth prince instead. This allowed the second consort to appear. From what I hear, the Jinan hall isn’t very stable recently. The second consort constantly visiting the fourth consort resulted in her constantly losing face due to the unruly fourth consort. However, the second consort doesn’t seem to get tired of it as rumors continue to spread. According to this servant’s theory, the second consort his probably hung up on the previous matter and wants to tell everyone that the fourth consort is extremely stubborn and unruly, and isn’t worthy of being considered the second consort.”
Xiang Ping’s words could still be said to be ambiguous.
Empress Xiao merely smiled and didn’t speak.
Lu Hai seemed to have a flash of realization, but he found it hard to believe: “This means that the second consort wants to step on the fourth consort to raise herself up?”
“The palace has never lacked for women who step on others to raise themselves up. However, this Lu Xiu Ling’s methods are really too clumsy.” Empress Xiao said.
Xiang Ping covered her mouth and laughed. “This fourth consort is also an interesting one. She doesn’t leave the second consort any face at all. Now this has gotten out of hand.”
Empress Xiao nodded: “In theory, Lu Xiu Ling shouldn’t be someone who disregards her dignity, but she actually started a ruckus at the Fengqi Palace. There’s only one possibility: she must have suffered some stimulation….”
She left the rest of her words unspoken. She merely knocked on the phoenix throne’s armrest and revealed a meaningful smile.
The two people on the side saw this and their minds turned quickly. However, they weren’t able to figure out the significance of this. The two could only look at each other in confusion.
Time passed quickly and December came in the blink of an eye.
The New Year wasn’t far away and the palace started getting lively.
On the eighth of December, the palace had the tradition of bestowing ceremonial rice porridge. The emperor and empress would have people cook the porridge and bestow it to the royals, the officials, the guards and the palace maids. The porridge for the guards and palace maids was naturally different from that of the royals and officials. The ingredients were different in quality. To receive such a porridge meant they were favored by the emperor and empress. Due to Yan Yan, the Weiyuan Marquis Estate also received some ceremonial porridge.
After the eighth of December, the end of the year was truly approaching.
The various households started putting up lanterns and colored banners, awaiting for the New Year to arrive. The palace was also extremely busy. After all, New Year in the palace was different from other places. There would be many banquets.
However, all this had nothing to do with Yan Yan.
Because of her falling out with Lu Xiu Ling last time, she remained quiet for a while. No one ran over to annoy her for their own reputation either. Due to the deterrence of the fierce fourth consort, everyone in the Xianyun Hall was well-behaved. Whether this was truly the case, it at least appeared to be on the surface. Luo Huai Yuan was obedient to his wife, and listened to whatever Yan Yan said. Therefore, Yan Yan’s days were smooth.
Soon the New Year arrived.
On New Year’s Eve, Emperor Xi held a family banquet at the Zhaoyang1 Palace. The empress, Senior Concubine Xu, and all the concubines who had given birth were present. The princes and consorts were all there as well.
There were many assigned tables at the banquet. The royal table was made up of Emperor Xi and Empress Xiao. Beneath them to the left and right, two rows of tables were arranged. Senior Concubine Xu was at the head of the right side and had her own table. The concubines were seated two to a table. As for those ranked beneath a concubine, they were seated three to a table according to their status. Attendant Ma was seated in the lowest position along with two other unfavored concubines.
According to her current status, she shouldn’t have been able to attend this banquet. However, she had given birth to the fourth prince so she would be afforded more or less some dignity.
The princes sat on the left side with the crown prince in the first spot. Those who weren’t married yet sat by themselves and the married ones sat with their consorts. The crown prince had children so he had two more tables. One table was for him and his consort Qu-shi. Behind them were two tables, one for his two daughters and one for two of his concubines.
The two daughters weren’t old, seeming around two or three. One was birthed by the crown consort and the other by one of his senior concubines surnamed Wu. They were both being taken care of by their wet nurse and they sat upright in their chairs.
The crown prince started off the New Year’s toasts. Since this was a family banquet, there weren’t that many regulations. It was fine to just speak a few blessings. Then came the second prince and the third prince one after the other. When it was Luo Huai Yuan’s turn, he was too lazy to think of something and merely repeated what everyone else had said.
Everyone knew this fourth prince was incompetent and extremely stupid. Therefore, no one laughed about it.
The fifth prince didn’t get a turn because he was a mute. This was something everyone knew.
The fifth prince happened to be sitting next to Yan Yan and she inevitably gave him a glance.
She saw the fifth prince’s skin was fair and his appearance was handsome. His brows seemed as if they were painted with ink and were extremely moving. His expression was very apathetic without any fluctuations. Even at such an occasion, his gaze was motionless as though he wasn’t present.
Yan Yan sighed in sympathy. She had heard the fifth prince was a mute, but didn’t know whether he was deaf as well.
Her hand on her knee was squeezed by someone. Yan Yan looked over and saw Luo Huai Yuan winking at her. His meaning wasn’t clear for the moment but Yan Yan no longer looked at that fifth prince.
Emperor Xi spoke a few words. His general meaning was to have his married sons work hard so that he can see some more royal grandsons at the next New Year’s banquet.
When this was mentioned, the second prince and Luo Huai Yuan were still fine since they had just gotten married. The crown prince’s expression turned ugly.
The crown prince had already been married for over four years. There were many concubines in his Eastern Palace but there were no sons as of yet. He only had two little daughters.
Emperor Xi didn’t blame the crown prince but the crown prince was still anxious. Actually, he wasn’t the only anxious one. Empress Xiao was also anxious. If he had successors, his crown prince’s position would be a little more stable. He would become a joke if the second or third prince’s descendants ended up taking over.
This won’t be mentioned for now.
After the banquet, everyone went their separate ways back to their palaces to ring in the New Year.
Luo Huai Yuan was a lazy one. After getting back to the Xianyun Hall, he first washed up and got in bed. The weather was cold in the winter so it was naturally warm and cozy inside the blankets. Yan Yan had wanted to do something else to pass the time since there was still a while until midnight. Seeing that person already under the blankets and waving at her enthusiastically, she also let her hair down, washed up and got in bed.
As expected, it was still more comfortable under the blankets.
Yan Yan curled up lazily in Luo Huai Yuan’s soft embrace. She didn’t even feel like moving due to the warmth.
“Why were you staring at that kid old fifth today?”
Luo Huai Yuan idly nibbled on Yan Yan’s snow-white earlobe. Yan Yan was too lazy to bother with his actions. From her recent experiences, she also knew it was no use to tell him to stop.
“I wasn’t staring, just curious. Was the fifth prince born mute and deaf?”
Luo Huai Yuan nibbled and licked before saying: “That’s not the case. Old fifth is mute, but he isn’t deaf.”
People in ancient times divided a handicap into two categories: innate or acquired. Innate meant handicapped from birth and acquired meant something that happened after birth. The fifth prince couldn’t speak ever since he was born, which should count as innate. However, people often couldn’t speak due to deafness. Since they couldn’t hear, they naturally didn’t know how to speak. It was rare to see someone who could hear but not speak.
“There’s a reason that old fifth is this way.”