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The palace held a grand banquet for the mid-Autumn Festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month.
Because it was a moon-viewing banquet that was enjoyed by the monarch and his officials, it was set in the pavilion on the lake within the imperial gardens.
The pavilion was extremely large, constructed upon the blue waters of the lake. There was an open-air terrace constructed of white marble which was perfect for viewing the moon.
The banquet was divided into two areas for men and women. The Jing Emperor sat on the left with the officials and nobility while the empress sat on the right with the concubines and the titled women. They were separated by various potted plants that were as tall as a person.
Such a banquet when hosted at night was extremely magnificent. Countless lanterns lit up the pavilion and there was singing, dancing and playing instruments. It looked like a scene from paradise.
The empress sat in the seat of honor.
She was dressed up in an extremely eye-catching manner. She wore a bright yellow palace outfit and wore a nine-tailed phoenix hairpin on her head. Under the lamplight, she looked graceful and opulent, giving off the prestige of the nation’s mother figure.
Below the seat of honor, two long rows of seats were arranged. Xiao Hua sat in the first seat on the left and Virtuous Concubine Qiao was seated the next spot down. Further down, the titled women were arranged by their ranks. The right side’s layout was the same, except there wasn’t a seat across from Xiao Hua.
There were many fruits and refreshments placed on the table. One of the plates contained various sorts of bite-sized mooncakes. They looked extremely exquisite.
The two children sat with Xiao Hua in her seat. One was wearing a delicate crown prince’s outfit and the other wore a pink little palace outfit. Combined with the children’s jade-like appearances, they looked extremely cute. They attracted the attention of countless women. They truly felt that this senior concubine was good looking, and her dragon and phoenix pair of children were also extremely outstanding in appearance.
This was the first time the children participated in such an occasion, and they were naturally quite curious. Yi Yi saw the palace dancers performing and couldn’t bear to even blink. Zhuo’er was much better off. Although he also felt it was novel, he didn’t express anything on the surface. He sat upright next to his mother concubine, exhibiting a crown prince’s demeanor to the extreme.
This made his mom Xiao Hua unable to stop herself from smiling.
“Zhuo’er, aren’t you tired sitting like that?”
“A little.” Zhuo’er furrowed his little brows, “But Gentleman Qian said that although Zhuo’er is still young and doesn’t need to learn anything else, basic etiquette needs to be observed. Especially in front of outsiders. Can’t let down the royal family’s appearance.”
Gentleman Qian was the crown prince’s gentleman, and was responsible for teaching the crown prince etiquette and correcting his mistakes. The Grand Xi Nation did have an established institution in the eastern palace, which had the three official tutors and three junior tutors to instruct the crown prince. Since Luo Zhuo was still young and still lived with Xiao Hua in the Chenxi Palace, he didn’t have to be registered yet. However, he still needed to learn etiquette every day.
Xiao Hua could see that this child had some hard days ahead of him. But as the Jing Emperor said, his position required him to be groomed in this way. If his parents spoiled him too much, it would only result in their child becoming a useless person in the future. Furthermore, Xiao Hua didn’t know how to teach a child, and especially didn’t know how to teach an heir apparent. Thus, she could only go along with the Jing Emperor’s arrangements while doing her best to cherish her children more during their free time.
“Let mother concubine know if you’re tired. You’re still very young, no need to work so bitterly.”
Luo Zhuo only nodded, but still remained in his upright position. Xiao Hua saw her child’s determination and no longer said anything.
Compared to Zhuo’er, Yi Yi didn’t have much of the bearing of a princess. However, the eldest princess was still young, and no one would question it. She grew bored of the singing and dancing after a while, and started fussing to Xiao Hua that she was hungry.
They hadn’t eaten dinner that night. Even as their mom, she had only eaten some snacks. After getting here, there were still only snacks to be had. Xiao Hua instructed Ding Xiang to prepare some of the children’s favorite foods.
The Jing Emperor sat up high on the left side, and could see the situation clearly. Although he held a cup of alcohol in his hand and his expression remained unperturbed, has gaze had never left that spot.
Seeing the movement on that side and thinking the same thing as Xiao Hua, he quietly gave Eunuch Fu some instructions. Ding Xiang moved very quickly, and soon brought over some food. There was sweet porridge and butter biscuits, as well as little buns, and jujube paste rolls. Yi Yi liked sweet foods and smiled the moment she saw them. With Ding Xiang’s help, she started eating. Zhuo’er didn’t like sweets so Xiao Hua used her chopsticks and grabbed a couple of little buns and a jujube paste roll into his empty plate for him to eat.
Zhuo’er was also hungry, and started eating the things Xiao Hua had given him.
The two finished eating, and some palace maids cleared the things away.
At this time, a low-ranked eunuch carried a golden platter over. On the platter were several large, golden colored crabs. They were the size of one and a half palms. There was also a jug of alcohol.
“These are freshly offered crabs. His majesty bestowed it for the concubine to enjoy. There’s also some superior amber wine.”
Xiao Hua turned her head towards the raised platform and happened to meet the Jing Emperor’s eyes.
Although she couldn’t see clearly, she could understand his meaning. He was definitely thinking how she hadn’t eaten dinner yet. The children could eat first and no one would find fault with them, but she wasn’t able to do so. Therefore, he bestowed some crabs to let her fill her stomach.
Xiao Hua smiled in his direction and said: “Tell his majesty this servant concubine thanks him for his bestowal.”
This was witness by many people, including the empress.
Only bestowing the senior concubine but not the empress. Everyone could see where his majesty’s heart lay.
Looking at the empress’s rigid expression, the Serene Concubine let out a rare smile. She made eye contact with the Tranquil Concubine who was also smiling in Schadenfreude.
Ding Xiang was responsible for peeling the crab while Xiao Hua was responsible for eating it.
Dipped in garlic vinegar, it was exceptionally tasty. Even Yi Yi and Zhuo’er continuously ate several bites.
“Alright, alright. Children shouldn’t eat too much food with cold essence. It’s not good for your health.” While she told the children this, Xiao Hua who should also be eating less cold foods hadn’t stopped yet.
Crabs were cold in nature, but when eaten along with amber wine, the effects were counteracted. Therefore, Xiao Hua drank several cups of amber wine. The amber wine didn’t burn the mouth, and was extremely pure and fragrant. Xiao Hua subconsciously drank a few more cups.
The light breeze gently brushed her cheeks and the full moon shone above her head. The moon’s reflection in the water was surrounded by ripples, and it suddenly felt like paradise.
Eunuch Fu walked over, “Concubine, his majesty had this old servant come invite his highness the crown prince over.”
Xiao Hua nodded and Zhuo’er left with Eunuch Fu to the Jing Emperor’s side.
The banquet reached its halfway point and the atmosphere became more relaxed. The sound of chatter gradually became louder.
The Jing Emperor’s side had various officials eating and drinking together. Xiao Hua’s side had some of the titled women leaving their seats to interact with others. Even the empress was speaking closely to a few women who appeared to be her relatives.
Virtuous Concubine Qiao’s maternal family was the Chengyang Count’s household who also had people present. Her mother and older brother’s wife came over to her and spoke about family matters.
In comparison, Xiao Hua’s place was extremely cold and cheerless.
She wasn’t familiar with the women in the capital, and those who wanted to curry favor with her didn’t dare since they didn’t understand the senior concubine’s personality.
At this moment, the Jinyang madam walked over. She first gave Xiao Hua a salute and then struck up a conversation.
“Seeing no one by concubine’s seat, this servant shamelessly came over. Actually there are a lot of madams who want to make concubine’s acquaintance, but don’t dare because they don’t know your personality. But this servant has thicker skin, so hopefully concubine won’t blame me.”
“Jinyang madam is overpraising.”
“This is the eldest princess, right? She looks like one of Buddha’s fairy maidens. Like a jade statue, so fair and cute….”
Yi Yi didn’t really like this stranger in front of her and looked at Xiao Hua, saying: “Mother concubine, Yi Yi wants to play with brother.”
“Brother is over by father’s side.”
“Then I’ll go find father.”
Xiao Hua considered it and said: “Mother concubine will have auntie Ding Lan take you. You have to behave, and can’t run around. Just stay by your father’s side.”
Seeing Xiao Hua agree, Yi Yi pulled Ding Lan along. Ding Lan held her hand and along with a few palace maids and two eunuchs took Yi Yi to the left side as a group.
Xiao Hua turned her attention back to the Jinyang Madam and said: “Apologies madam. What were you just saying?”
The Jinyang madam smiled rigidly for a bit, “This servant was just praising her highness the eldest princess for her intelligence and cuteness. It seems her highness is so wise at such a young age, she will definitely be a role model for our Grand Xi’s princesses in the future.”
Xiao Hua smiled awkwardly. This person was really laying on the flattery without blinking an eye. But of course, hearing this person compliment her child, she still felt quite pleased.
But for some reason, Xiao Hua couldn’t really stand this flattering person. She didn’t know what to say to her, and merely smiled without saying anything.
Xiao Hua felt her behavior was appropriate enough, but some people would feel that it wasn’t that good.
Especially since Tian-Shi felt that she had something she could use against this senior concubine. At this time, the prime senior concubine should be the one currying favor with her instead. Unexpectedly she seemed to be giving her the cold shoulder. This made Tian-Shi a little angry, and her eyes flashed as she looked at Xiao Hua.
“This servant feels that concubine seems a little familiar. Kind of like someone I had seen a few years ago.”
If Xiao Hua still didn’t understand the Jinyang madam’s meaning after this gaze and these words, she would have lived her life for nothing.
She pursed her lips in a reserved smile and her expression was indifferent, “Really? Madam might have confused me with someone else. This seat isn’t from the capital.”
“Is that so? Perhaps this servant made a mistake….”
“Madam naturally made a mistake.”
“But it wasn’t just this servant who had seen that person before. There were quite a few others. This servant’s estate has an old servant called Grandma Wang…..”
The rest of her words were cut off by a gaze that penetrated one’s heart. That cold glance seemed to contain countless of knives and arrows.
Because she knew the prime senior concubine’s background, the reverence in Tian-Shi’s heart had long since been replaced by contempt. This was why she alone dared come over to talk to her when no one else did.
The reason being that she felt she had some blackmail on her!
This feeling was as though the lowest person had suddenly found out a shameful secret about someone extremely high and noble. She immediately felt that she could use this weakness to force this noble person to give her glory and power.
The Jinyang madam’s thoughts weren’t wrong. This sort of information truly couldn’t be revealed to others. Even if the truth wasn’t like this, everyone knew that public opinion could often override the actual facts of the matter. Xiao Hua’s current reputation would be thoroughly ruined.
This was even more the case since Xiao Hua wasn’t by herself. She had three children behind her. A crown prince, the eldest princess and a second prince. If their mother concubine’s reputation was ruined, it might implicate the children as well.
But, at the same time, Xiao Hua couldn’t show any weakness.
Xiao Hua understood this sort of person’s thoughts too well. Her greed knew no bounds. If she gave in, she would never see the end of it. Not only would she be faced with this boundless greed, even her children would be implicated.
“Jinyang madam, this seat thinks you probably understand. Some words you can say, some words you cannot say. Watch your mouth. Don’t implicate your entire family….”
Xiao Hua currently had some backing for her attitude. This was because she knew the Jing Emperor would definitely believe her. Of course, how to deal with this Jinyang madam also gave her a headache. She wasn’t worried about the Jing Emperor’s side, but was afraid things would spread…..
Suddenly, a clamor arose in the distance. There were many people surrounding the place and someone cried out: “The eldest princess has fallen into the water…..”
Xiao Hua’s body suddenly went limp. She hurried over with Ding Xiang’s support.
Behind her, the Jinyang madam stood in the same spot. Her expression revealed some fear and also a trace of malevolence.
From behind her, a voice suddenly rang out, “Madam, why are you standing here?”
The Jinyang madam froze and saluted soon after, “Greetings to the Virtuous Concubine.”