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The second prince was brought out to show his face before being carried away again.
Since he was only a month old, everyone was quite understanding. Even if they weren’t, a royal son wasn’t someone who could be held by anyone. He wasn’t like a baby in a normal household who could be played with a little.
Then it was time for the banquet, which really just meant it was time to eat.
But there was quite a lot of etiquette involved with eating in the palace, especially when the titled women from the outside dined with those on the inside. Luckily there was a female official who led the event. Otherwise, Xiao Hua would definitely make mistakes.
She finally understood why his majesty said it was better for her to invite this female official over. Turns out that he had expected this. There were too many complicated rules to follow. Everyone was dressed in formal clothes and the banquet no longer looked like a banquet. Instead, it became like a competition to see whose etiquette was better. This made Xiao Hua feel extremely unnatural and afraid she would make a mistake somewhere.
The female official seemed to have noticed Xiao Hua’s anxiety and said quietly: “If concubine doesn’t wish to remain, it’s ok to leave.”
“Is it fine?”
Xiao Hua hadn’t experienced such an occasion before, and still had the mindset of hosting guests at a normal household. The host naturally had to accompany the guests in that case. She didn’t realize that this sort of banquet was just a venue for the nobility to interact with royalty, and was more for political purposes. It allowed the ruling monarch to maintain and strengthen his relationship with his subjects. The royal family didn’t mind giving their subjects some of this glory, and those who were able to participate were naturally pleased to receive it.
But how could the monarch be viewed in the same fashion as his officials? Although Xiao Hua wasn’t the monarch, since the Jing Emperor had her entertain the outer titled women, she represented the Jing Emperor’s dignity, and should be viewed in the same way. Therefore, once the official ceremony had concluded, it was up to her if she wanted to stay.
“It’s fine.” That female official smiled as she looked at the various titled women below, “Perhaps these people feel more reserved with concubine being present.”
This female official’s smile made one feel extremely at ease. It had the considerate feeling of being immersed in spring winds.
Xiao Hua couldn’t help but ask: “Does anything need to be said?”
“No need, concubine.”
Xiao Hua got up. The music and festivities in the hall quieted down. She gave a smile to the crowd below and took her leave. When she stepped out the door, she heard the female official giving a formal explanation to the gathering. The gist of it was that the concubine had just gotten out of her puerperium and hadn’t completely recovered yet. What followed was another wave of congratulations.
After leaving, Xiao Hua complained to Ding Xiang: “These rules are too complicated. It’s truly tiring.”
“Such occasions are quite common in the future. Concubine still needs to get used to it. But once you’re used to it, it won’t be a big deal anymore. As the mistress, you can naturally slack off a little.”
Thinking of those titled women who were left behind to simmer, Xiao Hua couldn’t help but smile at Ding Xiang over their misfortune.
It naturally wasn’t comfortable for those outer titled women to enter the palace. Although it was an honor, they would all be exhausted once they left.
The Jinyang Madam had been stewing over things in her mind the entire day, and only after getting on her carriage did she reveal a bewildered expression.
Once she returned to her estate, the Jingyang Marquis saw his madam still looking dazed and couldn’t help but ask: “What is it? You seem to be preoccupied this whole time.”
Tian-Shi felt her mouth was a little dry and her heart was pounding over her conjecture. She cleared her throat and asked: “Lord Marquis, do you know anything about that prime senior concubine? Do you know what her family background is like?”
The Jinyang Marquis muttered to himself and shook his head, “Why are you suddenly asking this? This prime senior concubine’s background is very mysterious. No one’s heard much about her before, so it’s likely she doesn’t have a noble background.”
Tian-Shi swallowed and pretended to be calm: “It’s nothing. I just felt that she was extremely beautiful and was curious.”
Xiao Hua returned to the Chenxi Palace. After half an hour, the Jing Emperor returned as well.
His fair face contained a hint of red. He seemed to have drank some alcohol.
Xiao Hua personally helped him out of his clothes and prepared water for a bath. When the Jing Emperor finished bathing, Xiao Hua was in the middle of eating swallow’s nest porridge.
“Majesty, want to eat some?”
The Jing Emperor brushed aside his damp hair and reclined lazily on the couch. He shook his head.
After Xiao Hua finished eating, she grabbed a cotton handkerchief from Chun Cao and went to the couch to dry the Jing Emperor’s hair.
The Jing Emperor didn’t like having others serving him closely, especially regarding his hair. Apart from those special few people, he would never let anyone else touch it. Every time he finished washing his hair, if Xiao Hua didn’t say anything he would just let it drip, and didn’t even know to call someone to dry it.
Ever since Xiao Hua realized this bad habit of his, she wouldn’t be able to endure it and would dry his hair for him. He thus became dependent on her. Whenever he washed his hair, he would wander about in front of Xiao Hua with his wet hair until she couldn’t endure any longer and dried it for him.
After Xiao Hua dried the Jing Emperor’s hair, she saw how comfortable he looked and had Ding Xiang bring over a comb. She let him lean against her legs as she slowly brushed his hair loose and used her fingers to massage his scalp at the same time.
The Jing Emperor squinted his eyes in pleasure, and played around with the corner of Xiao Hua’s clothes. He seemed to be in a very good mood.
“Was today tiring?”
“Tiring. There were too many rules. Only after experiencing this event did I realize that the etiquette I learned in the past didn’t really count as etiquette.” Xiao Hua let out an embarrassed laugh. “It’s a good thing there was the female official helping. I ended up leaving as soon as I was able to.”
The Jing Emperor let out a satisfied “en” sound, “There will be many such occasions in the future. It’s good to get used to it.”
Once the Jing Emperor’s hair was pretty much dry, the two of them went to bed.
The curtains were lowered and the Jing Emperor’s gaze changed. Xiao Hua naturally understood what this meant.
After the previous emperor passed away, he needed to observe the mourning period. She had been pregnant and he was busy every day. During this long half a year, the two of them had only done it once or twice. Furthermore, since they had to be cautious they couldn’t properly enjoy themselves.
The Jing Emperor had truly been starved. He didn’t say any superfluous words before pressing over. Having not done it for a while, Xiao Hua was also quite starved. The Jing Emperor merely teased her a few times before she wasn’t able to endure it any longer.
She wrapped her arms around his neck and presented herself for the monarch. But this monarch ended up focusing on the wrong spot, and started teasing her chest instead. Not only did he tease it, he also started sucking on it.
It wasn’t like she hadn’t experienced this before. While she breastfed Zhuo’er, Yi Yi and now her second child, she had also “breastfed” this man of hers. Therefore, Xiao Hua’s face only turned red but she didn’t push him away. She even had him alternate between the two. Xiao Hua always kept in mind what Matron Xu said about her breasts becoming different sizes if they weren’t evenly fed from.
The Jing Emperor suckled for some time before grumbling, “No feeding the children in the future.”
Xiao Hua was distracted as she felt her body burning up. She couldn’t help but say aggrievedly: “Then I’ll have the imperial hospital prescribe some lactation preventing medicine.”
The Jing Emperor gave her a glance and didn’t respond.
After a long, long time, the Jing Emperor finally said, “Not allowed.”
Xiao Hua spent quite a lot of effort before she finally understood what he meant.
After tossing around until midnight, the two finally stopped.
Xiao Hua was already unable to move from exhaustion. The Jing Emperor carried her to take a bath.
Ding Xiang took the opportunity to tidy up the bedding. She saw the various traces on the bed that even included some milk stains, and couldn’t help but blush.
Ding Lan was more open minded with her reactions and turned a blind eye to it as she tidied everything and put on some fresh sheets.
When the two of them left, Ding Lan teased quietly: “I’ve never seen you get so shy easily before. What, you’ve started to understand the meaning behind this after meeting up with Vice Commander Zhao a couple of times?”
Ding Xiang gave her a pinch, “That mouth of yours really has no filter.”
“It’s ok, I know you guys have a good relationship. You shouldn’t leave him hanging. Go tell the concubine when you have a chance. She’s a good person and will support the two of you.”
Ding Xiang knitted her brows. “Ai—-I know this. But looking at the current situation, the concubine is lacking people by her side. It’s better to wait a little.”
“But you aren’t young anymore, and can’t afford to wait.”
Ding Xiang didn’t speak further. She looked at the moon hanging in the sky and let out a deep sigh.
The empress’s illness was truly quite serious this time. Otherwise, she would definitely not have let Xiao Hua increase her reputation during the second prince’s one month anniversary.
After the banquet ended, Virtuous Concubine Qiao came to the Fengqi Palace.
The empress clearly knew she wasn’t here for anything good, but she couldn’t suppress the hope in her heart and invited her inside.
Virtuous Concubine Qiao was very astonished at seeing the pale face empress lying in bed.
She feigned a few words of concern before getting into the main topic.
The main gist of her words were that with the empress absent, the prime senior concubine had been in the spotlight. The female official had organized it into a huge event and all the outside titled women had paid respects to the senior concubine. It was enough to seem as if they were paying respects to the empress instead.
Virtuous Concubine Qiao was someone who was good with her words. Sometimes, despite knowing her ulterior motives and knowing the situation clearly, it still wasn’t possible not to be emotionally affected by her words.
The empress was extremely clear what her intentions were. She clearly felt that this senior concubine was an insurmountable obstacle and wanted to borrow her might as the empress. Cannon fodder were also pushed to the front like this. But sometimes it was inevitable to unite against a common enemy, even if one clearly knew their intentions. After all, this matter had stabbed her own heart in the same manner.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Although Virtuous Concubine Qiao and the Empress weren’t friends, they did have a common enemy. Virtuous Concubine Qiao’s meaning was extremely clear already. The rest was up to the empress to decide what to do.
Once Virtuous Concubine Qiao left, the empress couldn’t help but cough up a mouthful of blood.
She felt a trace of sorrow in her heart, but also plenty of resentment. She resented that person’s existence, resented Virtuous Concubine Qiao for grabbing at her like a lifeline, both of them challenging her prestige as empress over and over.
Nana Zhao walked over and helped the empress drink a bowl of medicine.
“Empress shouldn’t listen to the virtuous concubine’s words. It’s putting a toll on your health. Empress’s health cannot afford anymore disturbances.”
“She didn’t say anything false. This seat also understands her intentions….” The Empress grew emotional and grabbed Nana Zhao’s hand, “But this seat really wants to have that person die. Can Nana help me with this?”
Nana Zhao’s gaze turned inexplicably gloomy, “Empress is overestimating me. Empress needs to understand something. It’s important to first raise yourself up. You don’t have any foundation in the rear palace. The one you should ask for help isn’t this servant, but rather someone you should rely on.”
“Someone I should rely on……”
“Empress, you’ve forgotten about the Royal Imperial Concubine. The royal concubine has been the empress for almost thirty years. Having been in the palace for so long, she has no need to fear a newly promoted senior concubine.”
The empress laughed very mockingly. As expected, it still came to this.
This was the first time she truly hated herself for being powerless. Virtuous Concubine Qiao had poked her sore spot and continuously challenged her dignity as the empress. The Xiao clan had done the same. She clearly knew that Nana Zhao was sent over by the Xiao clan, she knew everything….
But did she have the power to refuse?