In Yan Feng’s eyes, Shen Yi Yao was a stubborn and unyielding person. She had absolutely no idea what she was thinking.
Was her son not her own?
If a woman wanted prestige, she still had to depend on her man and her son. Why would she toss a perfectly good noble title aside? She truly didn’t know what was going on in her mind.
Many people had such thoughts. Shen Yi Yao wasn’t surprised Yan Feng thought this way.
“Second sis-in-law, can you tell your eldest sis what you’re thinking? Ah Mo is your biological son. Why won’t you consider his future?”
Shen Yi Yao lowered her head and said: “Eldest sis, I feel the younger generations will be fine on their own. Furthermore, eldest sis is overestimating the Shen household too much. This is the Grand Xi’s rule, and it cannot be overturned so casually.”
Yan Feng’s cheeks were flushed from anger. She stood in front of Shen Yi Yao and stared her down. Her expression was unreconciled, irritable and filled with doubt.
There were many titled nobles in the capital that ended after five generations. It wasn’t like there weren’t previous examples of those who received some favor outside the law. The point was that it required his majesty’s favor. The Yan household didn’t even register in Emperor Xi’s eyes. They were the lowest of the low. However, the Shen household was different. This inherited duke title could be counted as the tip of the pyramid amongst nobility. If the Shen household could speak up for the Yan household, and then put in some effort, nothing was a problem.
Yan Feng wasn’t the only one who thought this way. Many people in the estate did as well. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be so many people spending time on Shen Yi Yao. When the tree was about to collapse, everyone feared for the eggs inside the nest.
“Do you think that because old two is gone, the future Yan household has nothing to do with you? Don’t you forget you’re the Yan household’s wife!” Yan Feng was utterly exasperated.
These words shed all pretenses of cordiality. Yan Feng had truly gotten frustrated.
Her maternal family was a mess and her husband’s family didn’t want her to get involved. But her heavily ill old mom cried and begged her. Could she say no? She just couldn’t figure out why Shen Yi Yao made things all sorts of difficult when it was an extremely easy matter. In the past when her mom didn’t like Shen Yi Yao, she assumed it was because mothers-in-law were natural enemies with daughters-in-law. Now she no longer thought this. She felt it was completely this Shen Yi Yao’s issue!
Shen Yi Yao raised her head and looked at Yan Feng, saying: “Eldest sis, no need put such a label on me. I truly am the Yan household’s wife. Since that is the case, I will naturally abide by my role and properly mourn for my husband at home. The matters outside aren’t things that a housewife like me can handle.”
Yan Feng was angered by Shen Yi Yao’s gentle retort, and said shrilly: “Then you mean you won’t manage this household anymore?”
“Eldest sis, ever since I married into the Yan household, I’ve never been in charge. Why are you asking me whether I’m still going to manage it? You should ask your mom this question instead.”
This was the truth. Although Shen Yi Yao had been the household manager for several years, everything was still controlled by the old madam. The old madam was rude and unreasonable, and held everything tightly in her grasp. For the sake of usurping her daughter-in-law’s authority in a justified manner, she had used all sorts of covert and overt methods.
When everything was fine, she couldn’t care less about Shen Yi Yao. When something was wrong, she would force her to shoulder the responsibility. No one was really a fool. It’s just that people often weren’t willing to say the ugly part out loud.
Shen Yi Yao even wondered if Ah Mo’s premature birth was due to someone’s scheme. She had maintained herself well when she was pregnant with him and everything had been fine. Only when it was two months before he was due did something happen.
As the saying goes, a baby born after seven months is more likely to survive than one born after eight months.1 At that time, Shen Yi Yao had even wanted to die. Luckily Ah Mo was able to be safely born. Although he was frail due to the premature birth and needed all sorts of medicine and treatment, she still felt it was a blessing from the heavens.
The doubts she had back then was so long ago. She more or less had been able to understand some things. Although she had no proof, many things didn’t require any proof. It was fine as long as she knew.
The more she understood, the colder Shen Yi Yao felt in her heart. She lamented about her blindness in finding such a household, and she was also full of exhaustion.
Yan Feng didn’t expect Shen Yi Yao to say such ugly words. She viciously glared at her.
“Although I’m being a busybody, as a married woman I can only do my best without making demands for my maternal family. You just sit pretty and watch as the Yan household is ruined by your hands! How will you go explain yourself when you meet old two in the ground? Aren’t you afraid the Yan household’s ancestors will come speak to you at night?”
These words were a little malicious!
Suddenly, a girl’s voice sounded from the door. An imposing aura swept in before the person could even be seen.
“Oh? According to eldest aunt, my mom should be taking care of the old and young in this estate? She has to take care of the oldest ones until they pass, and take care of the youngest ones until they get married? Is my mom this estate’s madam, or is she the Yan household’s slave? When someone’s daughter marries into the Yan household, she’s supposed to work herself to death for this household of vermin? Is eldest aunt like this at the Chen household too? Aren’t you a little too full of yourself?”
“Ah Yan.” Shen Yi Yao stood up.
Yan Yan nodded at her and then turned to Yan Feng with a cold smile: “Your niece had some spare time today and came by to see my mother and brother. I didn’t expect to see eldest aunt, who’s also married out. Eldest aunt, you keep putting all these labels on my mom’s head. Your niece has been listening for a while outside. Eldest aunt is also the Chen household’s wife now. Aren’t you overreaching a little bit too much!?”
Yan Feng’s face was flushed. She was angered due to her humiliation: “As someone of the younger generation, do you still have a sense of propriety? To actually speak to your elders this way. I felt you were still quite an obedient miss when younger. How did you become so domineering after marriage? No wonder everyone’s calling you a tigress in makeup!”
Shen Yi Yao was normally gentle. Often times, when someone says something ugly, she wouldn’t get angry or argue. She naturally appeared a little weak to others. However, this was just her way of doing things. She ignored whatever she didn’t want to hear. Why should she bicker with others? Arguing only serves to degrade herself to a lower level.
She could comment on her own daughter’s personality, but others weren’t allowed to do so. This was a mother’s protective instinct. Therefore, when she heard Yan Feng vilify Yan Yan so, Shen Yi Yao suddenly got angry.
“Eldest sis, you’re saying Yan Yan has no sense of propriety? As an elder, is it proper to vilify your own household’s younger generation? Furthermore, Ah Yan is my daughter. Let me worry about her upbringing. There’s no need for you to mouth off.”
Yan Feng was repeatedly refuted and was then trampled over by Yan Yan who was her junior. She was already in a towering rage. Hearing Shen Yi Yao’s words, she immediately retorted, “You also know your daughter’s being improper? Heh, it’s good that you’re self-aware.”
Shen Yi Yao teared up in anger. She was a novice at bickering after all. If Xue-shi were here, she would naturally have thousands of ways to make Yan Feng retreat in defeat. Therefore, being too good-natured really wasn’t a good thing.
“So what if I’m a tigress in makeup?” Yan Yan stepped forward and puffed out her chest. She didn’t seem ashamed at all. She still had the cold smile around her lips and she glared sharply at Yan Feng. “Like I said, eldest aunt is full of herself and likes to stick her nose in other people’s business. This consort is the royal family’s daughter-in-law. My royal father and mother empress, and even my husband have never criticized me. Eldest aunt, what status do you have that gives you the guts to wax on about this conferred consort?”
Yan Feng’s face was deathly pale and she couldn’t say anything.
This label of Yan Yan was rather vicious.
Since Yan Yan had married into the royal family, she was now part of it. In terms of status between monarch and officials, Yan Yan was the monarch and Yan Feng the official. This difference in status superseded that between elders and juniors. This was the proper way of things. In theory, Yan Feng should be saluting Yan Yan. After all, she couldn’t even be counted as a noblewoman. As for Yan Yan, she was the conferred consort, which was a first-rank position. In the future, she would be the consort of a titled prince.
More severely, Yan Feng really had a lot of face. Emperor Xi and Empress Xiao hadn’t said anything about their daughter-in-law, and neither did her husband the fourth prince. What rights did Yan Feng have to judge her? There were many who spoke about Yan Yan secretly, but no one dared to say it to her face. Charging Yan Feng with offending her superiors would be letting her off lightly.
Of course, Yan Feng had lost herself due to her anger. Normally she wasn’t someone so frivolous. After being stimulated by Yan Yan’s words, she realized what she had done. However, she wasn’t able to suck it up and apologize right away. She could only stand silently with a rigid expression.
At this moment, Luo Huai Yuan walked in.
Yan Feng’s face turned pale when she saw him. Her heart was a mess. She wondered how much the fourth prince had heard while also complaining that this couple was screwing with others. Why didn’t they come in at the same time? If she knew the fourth prince was there as well, Yan Feng definitely wouldn’t have said those things.
The circumstances didn’t let her do as she pleased. Yan Feng wasn’t a fool. She naturally knew if things got out of hand, she would end up being incriminated. Furthermore, this matter could be big or small. It depended on how they wanted to play it out. Since she had made a fuss at the Jinse Pavilion, argued with Shen Yi Yao and Yan Yan, based on that lass’s cold smile, Yan Feng knew she had offended her. If she took revenge by making a fuss in front of the emperor and empress, Yan Feng didn’t dare imagine the outcome.
These thoughts flashed through Yan Feng’s mind like a spark. Her face was pale and awkward: “Second sis-in-law, Ah Yan, please don’t take offense. I was just too anxious. Second brother had just met with mishap and mom is bedridden. Now that this matter with the estate occurred, I’m still surnamed Yan despite having married out. I’m worried about my family not being able to continue on in the future. If I’ve offended with my words, please don’t lower yourselves to my level. After all, I didn’t have any ill intentions.”
As she spoke, Yan Feng wiped her tears with her handkerchief. It seemed the Yan household’s situation has truly alarmed her.
Was she trying to get some sympathy?
However, it was truly effective. Since she was being reasonable, if Yan Yan continued to bicker with her she would seem a little too merciless.
Yan Yan couldn’t be bothered with this sort of person. Shen Yi Yao was also angry in her heart. The mother and daughter went and sat down together.
Luo Huai Yuan smiled and said: “This highness can understand eldest aunt’s sincerity. It’s just that some words cannot be casually spoken. However, we’re relatives after all so we naturally won’t bicker about it excessively. Eldest aunt should be more careful in the future. Don’t have such issues when out in public. Otherwise it would be hard to fix.”
Yan Feng stared at the smiling chubby face in a daze, all sorts of emotions in her heart.
She was a little resentful that this useless fourth prince didn’t give her any face. A junior actually dared teach a senior like her a lesson. However, a useless prince was still the son of the emperor. A small woman like her couldn’t provoke him.
She restrained her emotions and awkwardly said, “of course, of course” before using the excuse of checking on the old madam to hurriedly leave.
Seeing Yan Feng leave, Yan Yan scolded Shen Yi Yao: “You’re just too good-natured. These types of people shouldn’t be indulged.”
Shen Yi Yao looked gently at her daughter and said: “She is the eldest in name. It’s still better to leave her a bit of face.”
“That would depend on who it is. Why bother with people who blindly demand things without doing any self-reflecting?! I heard that some mischief-makers in the estate come annoy you every day. Since you’re annoyed with them, just have them kicked out.”
“This matter is better decided sooner rather than later. You can expel one, but not all. We can’t just waste time with them daily.” Luo Huai Yuan interrupted.
A maid brought some tea and the three continued discussing.
“Since mom and grandfather are of the same opinion, and everyone else feels the same way, we should get things started. Take this opportunity and be rid of these bad characters a little sooner. Mom and Ah Mo will also get some peace and quiet.”
Hearing Luo Huai Yuan say this, Yan Yan first agreed before revealing a troubled expression: “It’s easy to say, but with mom and bro being a widow and an orphan, the old madam has countless excuses to tie them down. Based on her character, it’s impossible for her to let mom off. In my opinion, if things develop to the very end without any changes, the old madam will definitely cling onto mom. It’s reasonable for a widow to take care of her mother-in-law until the end. Of course, the third branch will also cling on using the excuse of taking care of the old madam. Therefore, this excess baggage isn’t easy to discard.”
Shen Yi Yao sighed and said: “If that is the case, then might as well not discard it. This is already the best case scenario. Not everything can be perfect. There are times when we are helpless.”
A delicate person lacked that bit of unyielding spirit after all. When faced with an unsolvable problem, they usually choose to endure instead of struggle. This was a woman raised under a traditional upbringing. Since she was his mother-in-law, it wasn’t appropriate for Luo Huai Yuan to judge.
He stroked his chin and his eyes flashed: “I remember hearing Ah Yan say that when the previous Weiyuan Marquis passed away, the household had been split before?”
Shen Yi Yao nodded. Yan Yan couldn’t figure out why Luo Huai Yuan brought this up.
The Weiyuan Marquis Estate had truly been split before. Since the old madam was still alive, the principal branches and the eldest branch had received their share of the assets, but didn’t really “split”. Even if they did, the old madam would follow Yan Ting since he was the inheritor of the noble title. With Yan Ting’s death, it was still upon Shen Yi Yao to serve her. This was the way of the wife.
Ancient convention was really fucking lousy!
Luo Huai Yuan cursed inside and said persistently: “What if someone forcibly assumed this “responsibility”?”
Yan Yan’s eyes flashed as she thought of the eldest branch.
The couple looked at each other. Luo Huai Yuan laid out a few possible methods. The more he spoke the more feasible it seemed. Unfortunately, Shen Yi Yao didn’t really agree after listening.
“Your eldest aunt and uncle aren’t bad people. Your eldest aunt has helped your mom in many places. We can’t screw them over.” Giving someone baggage that she herself wanted to throw away, wasn’t that screwing them over?
Oh mother-in-law, can you not be so kindhearted?!
Luo Huai Yuan wailed in his heart.
Yan Zhi was the oldest. Although he wasn’t a biological son, he had been raised as one. The entire estate was aware of this. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have remained behind when all the other concubine born sons were split off. Yan Zhi was nominally listed under the old madam’s name on the ancestry records. As the justifiable oldest son, he could naturally supersede his widowed sister-in-law and receive the old madam to take care of her. This would be repayment for her raising him all these years. It was reasonable in every way.
Unfortunately, this reasoning didn’t work with Shen Yi Yao. She was determined not to harm anyone. It wasn’t convenient for Luo Huai Yuan to say it clearly. He could only ask: what if the eldest branch took the initiative to bring it up?
Shen Yi Yao naturally didn’t realize her seemingly honest son-in-law was actually very cunning. He would put all his efforts into accomplishing his desires. Shen Yi Yao didn’t insist after hearing this. She said if eldest brother and sister-in-law were willing, she herself would naturally be willing. After all, no one would say anything about this show of filial piety and noble character.
Luo Huai Yuan was overjoyed at hearing this.
Yan Yan didn’t say much at the time. After the two returned to their estate, she asked Luo Huai Yuan what he was up to.
He smiled and wouldn’t say, merely telling her to wait and see.
Since he had the idea, Luo Huai Yuan would naturally adjust accordingly.
The so-called adjustment was to investigate the other party’s characters and likes so he could take the most effective approach.
He ordered his subordinates to investigate Yan Zhi. After receiving the information, Luo Huai Yuan carefully looked it over and felt some admiration towards him.
Yan Zhi seemed to have accomplished nothing on the surface, but upon closer examination he was actually an extremely wise person.
He was a concubine born son who was raised by the principal mother. This should have been a blessing but the world was fickle. The principal mother soon became pregnant and gave birth to two boys in a row. In theory, his situation was extremely awkward. However, he turned it to his advantage and managed to survive. This naturally involved some wisdom from his biological mother, but afterwards was also due to his own efforts.
He used a seemingly preposterous method to survive and get accepted by the principal mother. He had almost reached the level of a biological son, and he was like a fish in the water back at the estate. He was even pretty well off.
Of course, others wouldn’t think a man squandering his days in a small estate was worthy of praise. But those who hadn’t been in his shoes weren’t qualified to judge. Those living without worries wouldn’t be able to understand what struggles a child whose life wasn’t guaranteed had to go through to mature into a large tree.
Perhaps this tree didn’t grow too well, and was even a little crooked. However, it was able to provide shade and shelter for those under it. For Xue-shi and their children, Yan Zhi was this sort of character. The lofty Yan Ting might even fall short in this regard.
Luo Huai Yuan felt that on a fundamental level, he and Yan Zhi were the same. Yan Zhi’s struggles were in an estate and he sought to survive and obtain a better life, at least better than the other concubine born sons. As for Luo Huai Yuan, his struggles were on a wider field and they were more difficult. He merely wanted to live peacefully. In the past it was just him and his mom. Now there was Yan Yan, and perhaps their children in the future.
Furthermore, Yan Zhi was a cunning person but not sinister. He had his bottom line in doing things. If he were someone ungrateful, there was no need for him to continue acting anymore. Yan Ting was dead, the Weiyuan Marquis Estate was on the decline, the old madam was bedridden and Yan Qu wasn’t any use. He could have shed all pretenses.
Perhaps it was due to his nature or perhaps he was sincere. Regardless, he still remained the good son and Yan Qu’s good brother.
The only reason he noticed Yan Zhi was to help his wife’s maternal family. However, Luo Huai Yuan was now praising him in his mind.
Perhaps his following actions could also allow him to develop someone useful at the same time? After all, the two matters weren’t in conflict!
No one knew how Luo Huai Yuan discussed things with Yan Zhi.
Ultimately, the two came to a pleasant agreement.
Luo Huai Yuan was all smiles when he returned. As for Yan Zhi, there was an unusual joy on his face that couldn’t be concealed.
This matter naturally couldn’t be kept from Xue-shi and Yan Zhi also wasn’t planning on doing so.
Xue-shi was anxious: “Have you lost your mind? Although your previous seventh-ranked idle posting was a little low, it’s still better than a ninth-ranked posting. Are you stupid or are you dumb to have agreed to this?”
It was no wonder she was anxious. Now that the Weiyuan Marquis Estate was falling apart, the lowly seventh-ranked posting was what they depended on to live. Could it be discarded just like that, for some minor functionary position?
What was a functionary? It was someone who did odd jobs. It wasn’t even given a rank.
Yan Zhi had gotten a few drinks with friends after meeting with the fourth prince. At the time he had suppressed his excitement and didn’t dare express anything. Now, he was flushed from drinking and wanted to brag to his own wife, but ended up getting struck down.
However, he was in a good mood and didn’t want to bicker with a woman. He beamed and waved his hand: “Shortsighted woman, I won’t argue with you!”
He put his legs up as he leaned against the kiln. He squinted his eyes, lost in his own pleasure while even humming a little tune.
Xue-shi didn’t let him off and pounced over, pulling him up: “If you don’t clarify this matter, neither of us will be sleeping!”
“Fine, fine, don’t pull me great aunt, my clothes are going to get ruined. I’ll explain things slowly in detail.” Yan Zhi pulled Xue-shi’s hands away before looking at her smugly: “Have you heard of the city’s shipping regulatory office? It’s the city’s shipping office that opened up in the last few years, responsible for managing the vassal countries’ offerings and overseas trading.”
As a woman, Xue-shi had really not heard of this before. However, this didn’t mean that Yan Zhi hadn’t heard of it.
After the embargo was lifted, the city’s shipping office was set up in the Fu Province. It was mainly responsible for managing the tributes and commercial goods being exchanged. At first glance it truly didn’t seem like much, but after several years’ of development, the ocean trade was now a large part of the Grand Xi’s economy. It actually made up over half of the Grand Xi’s taxes.
The treasury grew rapidly which made Emperor Xi and the Ministry of Revenue overjoyed. They would have long since lifted the embargo had they known. Therefore, the unassuming shipping office entered everyone’s eyes.
For those at the top of the pyramid, this shipping office wasn’t a big deal. However, no one felt they had too much silver. Silver made everything easy and without it anything would be hard. However, many postings needed one to seize the opportunity. Those who failed naturally wouldn’t get any of the good stuff.
The shipping office had one captain and two vice-captains. Under them were a certain number of functionaries. The lowly Yan Zhi naturally wouldn’t have anything to do with the position of a captain, but the fourth prince had promised him a spot as a functionary in the shipping office. This was a position where the ranking was low but the influence was large. The functionary was the vice-captain’s assistant and was responsible for the daily interactions with the sea merchants. There were unimaginable benefits involved.
Yan Zhi had discussed with his disreputable friends when the shipping office first entered people’s eyes. These friends were all concubine born sons who were suppressed at home. They seemed well off but were actually poor. How would they have any grand ambitions? Any posting that came with benefits was a good one in their eyes.
Especially since rumors built upon rumors. People in the capital believed Fu Province’s port was a good place where gold was counted by the shipload. Yan Zhi had naturally coveted the position in the past.
He truly didn’t expect such a good thing to happen to him. The position seemed to be low and he would only be a minor functionary after going. However, the fourth prince had said that the Fu Province wasn’t like the capital. The postings in there capital were all tightly filled. For someone like him without any literary or martial skill, without any background and having passed the imperial exam, it was extremely difficult to make any progress. However, the Fu Province was different. Ability and insight was what mattered. As long as you were good at maneuvering, good at turning things to gold, good at seizing opportunities, it wasn’t hard to rise up in the ranks.
Yan Zhi happened to possess all of those qualities.
Furthermore, the ocean commerce was becoming more important by the day in the eyes of the emperor. The shipping office would definitely become well-developed in the future. Being able to get a spot in advance will have quite a few benefits.
Xue-shi was dazed from listening and still couldn’t quite believe it. “There’s so much gold there? They really count it by boatloads?”
Yan Zhi rolled his eyes at his wife, “Of course not. However, the meaning behind it is still there. Our Grand Xi takes in around forty to fifty thousand taels every year in taxes, and if calamity strikes the treasury may even have to give some of it back. Since over half of it comes from overseas commerce, how much do you think the city’s shipping office is passing upwards? This cannot be counted in terms of boats!”
“How can such a good thing fall into our laps? Are there some stipulations?”
Hearing this, Yan Zhi’s face froze: “This naturally has a lot to do with the time we spent with second sis-in-law. We are close with her so she is close with us. Good things are naturally given to those close to you. You must remember this reasoning. However, there is indeed a condition. The fourth prince only brought up one thing. The estate has to be split up, and at that time, we must take mom in by our sides to show our filial piety.”
Xue-shi’s hand suddenly tightened.
She naturally understood the implications. The two of them had discussed that the Zhenguo Duke would definitely make plans for his own daughter. Unexpectedly, before he could make a move, her son-in-law had already done so.
This move was fast and accurate. There was nothing to be picked at.
The only thing left for them to decide was whether or not to accept this arrangement.
From Yan Zhi’s expression, it was clear his mind was made up.
Xue-shi also knew this was a sacrifice they had to make. However, thinking of how she had to serve the old woman in the future, she was sullen.
“We were finally about to be free of her, but now it’ll be just like before. Wouldn’t your mom be able to torment me in the future? The situation with the third branch is also a difficult matter. If they use the excuse of also wanting to show filial piety to the old madam and tagged along, what can we do?” Xue-shi was aggrieved.
This truly gave them a headache. However, there had to be a solution. This was what Yan Zhi thought.
Haha, this author realized that the eldest branch can come in with the godly assist. Xue-shi can be the shadow to Shen Yi Yao’s light. The eldest branch will handle the hard and bitter jobs. Of course, minor characters have their own way of living. Those with more righteous hearts will ultimately get what they deserve. Although they are getting screwed over a little, it’s also an opportunity for them.