Thank you maguiling for donating again!
As the Jing Emperor expected, Tian-Shi had truly gotten scared.
The things that happened in the palace was known to everyone in the capital with some connections. Because the eldest princess had fallen into the water, so many people were beaten to death. The prime senior concubine had even showed up personally to supervise. Only now did Tian-Shi realize this prime senior concubine was no longer the maid she had sold off back then.
The moment she realized this, Tian-Shi was suddenly covered in cold sweat.
The events that happened next in court made Tian-Shi understand just how much the Jing Emperor favored that prime senior concubine. The majestic son of heaven went against convention for the sake of a woman and faced off against so many officials. In the end, he even managed to suppress them. Tian-Shi touched her own neck, and fell ill that night out of fear.
She imagined many things. She thought about how the prime senior concubine would punish her, or whether she would send someone to silence her….all this made her extremely terrified but she wasn’t able to tell anyone about it.
It was her own foolish notion. She had temporarily been blinded by wealth and status, and had actually gone to probe out the majestic senior concubine. Wasn’t this being tired of living? Luckily she had merely probed her that day, and didn’t make her meaning clear. This gave her a trace of hope. She hoped that the senior concubine could be magnanimous and forget about her.
After being worried for several days, she saw that the senior concubine didn’t make any moves and finally felt a little relieved.
Unfortunately, she forgot that things may proceed even without her intent.
The day of the mid-autumn festival, Tian-Shi was startled after running into Virtuous Concubine Qiao. But since the eldest princess fell into the water, she assumed the virtuous concubine was just headed over there and merely stopped to say a few polite words. Therefore, she didn’t think too much about it.
Afterwards, the Chengyang Count’s madam had frequently visited her. On the surface she came for idle chatter, but in reality she kept steering the conversation into asking whether Tian-Shi had some interactions with the senior concubine.
Only then did Tian-Shi realize that the virtuous concubine must have seen some clues that day. However, since she didn’t hear the conversation, she had some doubts and sent her own mother over to investigate or try to form an alliance.
Tian-Shi was too familiar with the thoughts of a woman within a harem. They would appear respectful on the surface but wouldn’t hesitate to cause problems for one another. They would seize any opportunity to pull each other down. But since she had put these dangerous thoughts out of her mind, she naturally wouldn’t go with her schemes. She engaged in tai-chi, played dumb and managed to get by.
This day, Tian-Shi was called back home by her mother, the Yingguo Duke’s madam.
Tian-Shi was born in the Yingguo Duke Estate’s Tian clan. She was the principal wife’s second daughter.
Once she got to the Rongchang1 Pavilion’s main residence, Tian-Shi realized that apart from her mother, her oldest and second brother were there with their wives as well.
After Tian-Shi gave her greetings, she sat down next to her white-haired mother.
“Why is everyone gathered here? Did something happen?”
“Nothing happened.” The Yingguo Duke’s madam patted her daughter’s hand. “There’s just a major matter that needs to be discussed with everyone.”
“Where’s dad?” Since it was a major matter, how can the Yingguo Duke be absent?
The madam’s expression sank. Tian-Shi’s oldest brother Tian Zheng Yu’s expression was also rather ugly.
“Don’t bring up your father anymore. Even I’m embarrassed to talk about him. He’s already so old, almost seventy, but is still working every day trying to have another son. There are so many sons in the family already and he still thinks it’s not enough. He’s pulling that group of little demonesses around every day trying to raise two more sons….”
Before she could finish speaking, a rather energetic voice sounded from the door.
“Who am I doing this for? Isn’t this for the sake of the family? Do you think I want to do this?!”
Along with the voice, the Yingguo Duke walked in. He was in his sixties but had maintained his body quite well. He walked rather smoothly and didn’t need any support. His voice was also full of energy.
His madam saw him come in and wiped away her tears angrily.
“Stop talking about it. You should be ashamed of yourself…It’s all because of you not respecting seniority that our household is in such a mess. You don’t differentiate between the children of the principal wife and the concubines, you mess around with the order of seniority. The lowly seeds of those hussies are even trampling around on my Yu’er’s head.”
“If you don’t see eye to eye with them just sell them off. Are a few concubines worth you making such a fuss?”
“Can I sell them off? Dare I sell them off? They are the birth mothers of your precious sons. If I sold them off, wouldn’t you swallow me whole?”
Speaking about this requires knowing about something that happened long ago.
The first generation Yingguo Duke had also received his title based on merits accumulated from founding the dynasty. The ancestral emperor had ascended the throne and conferred titles to his contributors so they could enjoy this great nation together. While this was supposed to be the case, it was merely some superficial words. The ancestral emperor decreed that the royal line would forever be passed down via his offspring, but those merit-based titles would only last for five generations. The generals back then could understand the reason for this discrimination. They would do the same in his position. After all, people were all selfish.
The ancestral emperor was a benevolent ruler. After ascending the throne, he wasn’t like the emperor of the previous dynasty who burnt his bridges once they had served their purpose. Those merit-based officials all received some benefits in the end. Although it wasn’t quite what was promised during the uprising where they were told they would “enjoy the great nation together”, they still received a lot of wealth and glory.
The following generation was full of potential. Some used their father’s glorious position to push their families to greater heights. They didn’t dishonor their status, and instead expanded the branches and formed rather large clans. Some of them were mediocre, and could only maintain the status quo. Some just muddled along and became arrogant young masters who didn’t worry about the future.
After a few generations, the ancestral emperor’s foresight became clear. There were a few levels of nobility in the Grand Xi. Some titles where conferred only upon the individual. For example, once the Chengen Count died, his next generation wouldn’t be nobility unless they found another way. Some titles lasted for three generations, some for five.
Titles like the Yingguo Duke’s lasted five generations because they contributed a lot in the founding of the dynasty. As of today, the Yingguo Duke was the fourth generation. This meant that after this one passed away, there would be one final generation with the Yingguo Duke’s title.
The Grand Xi had another system which screwed them over: the fact that sons succeeded their fathers. Unless the males in the next generation all died, they couldn’t pass on their titles to their grandsons. This rule was set by the previous emperor. He probably calculated that those merit-based titles were reaching the end of their nobility with this generation, and wanted to avoid people from using loopholes to pass it on to the next generation instead, allowing them to have a few more decades.
The Yingguo Duke was already sixty-seven this year. He had fifteen sons, but had yet to nominate a successor to the Yingguo Duke’s Estate. He was probably considering the matter of passing on his title. After all, his eldest son was already fifty. Compared to passing his title to a middle aged person, everyone knew that passing it on to a child would mean a longer term.
Many in the capital laughed secretly at the Yingguo Duke’s immature schemes, but those uninvolved couldn’t relate to how a large family felt when faced with imminent decline.
Therefore, although the Yingguo Duke’s Estate looked glorious on the surface, it was a complete mess on the inside. There was no differentiation between the sons, and instead more emphasis was placed on the youngest one. The sons of concubines all knew that the future Yingguo Duke would definitely not be the eldest son, which is why none of them really respected the children of the principal wife. Especially those concubines who had the youngest sons. They seemed to all know they would be the future madam of the estate.
This often angered the current madam to tears, but she was helpless.
Tian-Shi also knew her family’s situation, but what could she say about it? She was a daughter who was married off, and she could also understand her dad’s intentions. After all, none of them wanted to see the family decline, leaving so many people without shelter.
The two elders bickered a little longer before each sitting angrily in their seats. This was what was meant by “old children”.
“Enough. We didn’t call little sister back today to listen to the two of you argue. Instead of using this stupid plan to postpone our sentence, we might as well put some effort in coming up with another plan.”
The Yingguo Duke didn’t like what he was hearing and said angrily while blowing his beard: “What do you mean by stupid plan? Are you saying this daddy is stupid? You aren’t stupid, but I don’t see you successfully establishing anything. Aren’t you still hoping for this daddy here to support the entire family!?”
Tian Zheng Yu’s expression immediately turned dark like the bottom of a pan.
Actually the Yingguo Duke’s words weren’t wrong. Their family still had a few talents in his father’s generation. After his generation took over, and even including the most recent young generation, there wasn’t a single person with promising prospects. They were all useless young masters.
Furthermore, to be conferred a merit-based title in the Grand Xi required military accomplishments. There hadn’t been any wars in several decades, and none of their Tian clan’s masters were capable of leading battles.
“Why are you criticizing our eldest child? Although he hasn’t accomplished much, at least he’s sensible. Those sons from your concubines only know to stir up trouble, what else are they good for? If they aren’t beating people up outside, they’re…..”
“Enough, enough. Don’t argue anymore. Since we’re here to discuss serious matters, let’s get to the point. I still have to go back later, stop wasting time.”
The Yingguo Duke let out a hmph and closed his mouth. The madam wiped away her tears and also remained silent.
Tian Zheng Yu cleared his throat and said: “Everyone knows the Jing Duke clan’s empress has contracted a foul disease. Since this is the case, she will definitely be stripped of her status….”
“Haha, to think that the old man from the Xiao clan would also have such a day. He fancied himself clever, but couldn’t avoid the whims of fate….”
“Enough, dad. Stop interrupting. Let eldest brother finish.”
Knowing his dad was a master who liked causing trouble, Tian Zheng Yu spoke as concisely as possible, “After the empress is removed, there will be a new empress conferred. My daughter Qi Yue is of a suitable age and is also the capital’s number one beauty. Our clan’s status isn’t bad either….”
He didn’t finish the rest of his words, but it was precisely this that let everyone’s imaginations wander.
If the Yingguo Duke’s clan could really obtain an empress, and become related to the royal family, there would be plenty of benefits. First of all, as the emperor’s father-in-law, Tian Zheng Yu would be conferred a title. The Yingguo Duke’s Estate may even be raised in status. Then, if the empress could give birth to a few sons, then they would obtain abundant wealth and status.
The Yingguo Duke looked cheerful. He slapped his leg and said: “If we manage to do this, that old man from the Xiao clan would be angered to death. This daddy has been angered by him for many decades…”
Everyone present felt like covering their faces. They truly couldn’t deal with this old man. His thoughts leaped around too fast. While everyone else was still thinking whether this plan was feasible, he was already thinking how to anger his old opponent.
“Would this be possible?”
Tian-Shi had always been intelligent, and was a rather calculating person. Otherwise, her family wouldn’t have called their married-off daughter back for the discussion this time. Of course, it was also because she was close with her maternal family. She was the only smart one out of all the other daughters. The rest were rather ordinary.
“What is difficult about this? That granddaughter of mine is exceptionally beautiful. So many influential families have come asking for her hand in marriage, but have all been rejected. We’ve always felt they were lacking just a bit, but now it seems fortune has descended upon us. Our Qi Yue is clearly empress material ever since she was born.”
“Dad, stop blabbering.”
“What blabbering? Look at how we’ve never found a suitable partner for Qi Yue. Now that the Xiao clan’s empress contracted this illness, isn’t she precisely making room for my granddaughter?”
How do you know she isn’t making room for someone else? Tian-Shi cursed silently.
But thinking about it, her dad’s words did make some sense. Her niece Qi Yue was truly outstanding, and was as beautiful as a fairy. She was talented in each of the four arts. None of the other girls in the capital could compare.
“Since even our family is having such thoughts, the others will naturally be thinking the same thing. Although our status is quite high, we don’t have any capable people. How can we win against the others?”
Tian Zheng Yu frowned unhappily, “Little sister, your big brother called you here to provide suggestions, not to be a downer. How do we know without giving it a try? If we succeed, our family would make a comeback.”
“Exactly, exactly.” The Yingguo Duke agreed.
Tian-Shi also understood this. She looked at her parents whose hair had turned completely white. She looked at her eldest brother whose brows were wrinkled from frowning. She thought about the mess inside their household and their imminent decline. She let out a long breath, and started thinking of possible solutions.
I’ve read a few novels where nobility was only passed down for five generations. This author did some research but couldn’t find anything concrete. The Ming Dynasty divided it into hereditary and non-hereditary. Non-hereditary only lasted for that one generation, whereas hereditary could be passed on but would be lowered in rank.
Since we’re making them figureheads, we’ll just do it this way.
Those worrying about taking care of Tian-Shi shouldn’t be impatient. It’s coming soon. Our little Jing is playing a huge game of chess.