As the years passed with the empress remaining the only favored one, the officials all got used to it.
This clearly didn’t conform to convention, but this was the way it was, and after a while, everyone felt this was the way it should be.
Of course, there were a couple of small fries who popped up and mentioned the state of the Jing Emperor’s harem, but they were all ignored by him. As time passed, no one brought it up anymore.
Concubine Qiao passed away. It was said she had died of illness, and the event didn’t even make a ripple within the rear palace or the court.
But at the same time, in a small southern town far from the capital, an ordinary looking widow moved into an alley along with an old one and a young one.
Their stories continued, but no one knew what would happen to them in the future…..
Xiao Hua didn’t expect Concubine Qiao to make such a choice, and also didn’t expect the Chengyang Count’s family to agree with it. But it was as she said, a woman’s happiness didn’t come from luxury. Concubine Qiao was a smart one, and she had her own reasons for choosing such a life.
Xiao Hua wished her well.
Arrangements were also made for the Serene and Tranquil Concubines, but they showed no signs of movement. One day, they both suddenly asked for an audience with the empress.
“We’ve taken empress’s consideration to heart, and understand empress’s intentions. However, the two of us are different from big sis Concubine Qiao. People like us wouldn’t find much happiness to speak of even if we went outside. We might as well continue to muddle about in the palace. Empress wouldn’t mind having a couple more mouths to feed, right?”
Xiao Hua fell silent at their words.
However, she respected their decisions. Everyone had their own lifestyle, and she had already done what she wanted to. Her conscience was clear.
“Empress doesn’t have to overthink things. In fact, our days are no longer hard after thinking things through….”
Someone with such thoughts shouldn’t have a hard life.
Days flowed on like a boat rowing with the current, and one year passed after another.
During these years, Luo Zhuo, Yi Yi and Luo Yu all matured. Xiao Hua felt that whenever she blinked, the children would age by a year. On the other hand, her own days with the Jing Emperor were the same as always.
The Jing Emperor was a dull person. He didn’t enjoy music, song or dance, didn’t enjoy playing go, and in fact didn’t really have any hobbies. Every day, he went to the same three places: the court, the imperial study and the Fengqi Palace. The Violet Imperial Hall that belonged to him had been empty for far too long.
Of course, the two of them felt the urge to travel for fun, but were helpless since the Jing Emperor was too busy. Xiao Hua also couldn’t bear leaving her still young children behind. They could only put their thoughts to rest.
The days passed like this, calm yet filled with comforting joy.
Only when the Jing Emperor brought up the matter of finding Yi Yi a husband did Xiao Hua realize her daughter was almost of marrying age. As for herself, she seemed to have grown old.
Of course, this was just in her own mind. In the Jing Emperor’s eyes, she was just as beautiful, but this wasn’t something he was able to vocalize. He wasn’t someone who would say such sweet nothings, and would only use actions to represent his thoughts. The only time the Jing Emperor told Xiao Hua she was beautiful was the day she was conferred empress.
That was already eight years ago.
To be honest, Xiao Hua wasn’t old. She was thirty-two, which was the prime of a woman’s life. This was obvious from the Jing Emperor’s occasional infatuated gaze these past few years.
Xiao Hua didn’t know that she had involuntarily stunned the Jing Emperor countless times. After being married for a while, there would always be the fear that one’s partner would one day get bored. For example, Xiao Hua would occasionally ask the Jing Emperor worriedly whether she had gotten old, and whether she was no longer as beautiful. Another example was that the Jing Emperor would put more effort into his own appearance.
The Jing Emperor had changed quite a lot. First of all, his temperament had changed. In the past he was apathetic. Now, he was still apathetic, but now also had the inviolable air and prestige of a ruler. As someone over forty, he still maintained his health and body appropriately, and was slender yet energetic. However, due to his constant work, his hair had whitened quite a bit at the temples.
In the past he never cared about his own appearance, but when the empress asked worriedly whether she was getting old, he got the urge to look in the mirror. When he saw his reflection in the mirror and then looked at her, he suddenly realized something. If they were getting old, he should be the first one. He was older than her by eleven years after all.
Looking at the increasingly beautiful person and then looking at himself, he felt he was much older than Xiao Hua’er. After asking imperial physicians, the Jing Emperor started taking some medicine made from knotweed.
This naturally couldn’t be kept from Xiao Hua. She secretly laughed in her heart but pretended not to know about it. However, when they were together, she would reveal a worried expression and say things like “when I’m old, majesty isn’t allowed to leave me for someone new”. This gave the Jing Emperor a weird sense of self-confidence, but on the surface, he merely said righteously: “We’ve loved the empress as Our wife for so many years. It was this way in the past, and will be this way in the future.”
Thus, both sides regained their equilibrium and continued their lovey-dovey days, making others envious.
This sort of little amusements between the couple had no winners or losers. As for their daughter Yi Yi, the eldest princess, she both cringed at and admired their relationship.
She and Luo Zhuo were both sixteen. Luo Zhuo didn’t have to marry until he was eighteen, but her own matter seemed to be imminent.
When Xiao Hua mentioned the matter of finding a son-in-law for the emperor, Yi Yi was inexplicably unhappy.
“Mom, are you tired of your daughter? I’m only sixteen, why are you in a hurry to marry your daughter off?”
The sixteen year old Yi Yi had already become a rather beautiful young lady. The pair of limpid peach blossom eyes and the inherited palm sized little face from Xiao Hua, along with her curvy willow brows, cherry lips and cheeks that dimpled at a smile made her both sweet and moving.
Xiao Hua pulled Yi Yi into her arms and stroked her daughter’s jet-black, thick hair. “Silly lass, mom isn’t tired of you. But you’re at the age where you should be thinking about marriage. Even if you don’t marry right away and do it two years later, it’s still something that needs to be decided beforehand.”
“Then let’s talk about it two years later, alright?”
Xiao Hua didn’t speak and looked at her daughter.
“Pleeease? Pleeeease?” Yi Yi acted spoiled with all her might. She knew this act worked on her mom.
“But your father….”
“Mom can deal with father. Father listens to mom the most. Daughter doesn’t want to get married yet. Yi Yi wants to spend time with mom and dad….”
Xiao Hua sighed and stroked her daughter’s hair.
That night while lying in bed, Xiao Hua sighed and said: “Sir Jing, our daughter says to talk about her marriage two years later.”
The Jing Emperor frowned and didn’t say anything.
“What do you think we should do? Who knows what those little things are thinking? I’m getting worried from watching.”
The Jing Emperor pulled her into his arms and said quietly: “Daughter isn’t young anymore. She should be able to decide these things by herself.”
“I’m just afraid she will get hurt later…..” A mother’s heart is like this.
“Our daughter isn’t a fool. She’s aware of the situation.” Compared to Xiao Hua who was a mess due to worrying, the Jing Emperor could see things a little more clearly.
“Yi Yi, Yi Yi, wait for me……”
A teenager called from behind. He took a couple of large steps and stepped in front of the fleeing Yi Yi.
“What’s wrong? Why have you been avoiding me recently? I got something new to play with and wanted to give it to you, but could never find the opportunity.”
As he spoke, the teenager pulled out a little object.
It was a thumb-sized little milky-white rabbit made of suet jade. It was holding and nibbling on a carrot. The carrot was made of red jadeite. What was special about it wasn’t the rarity of the jade, but rather the lifelike carving and the fact that it was carved from a single piece of jade.
“Do you like it? I specially picked out the jade and came to give it to you after carving.”
The teenager was Yang Heng, who was Yi Yi’s childhood friend growing up. The two were both lively and got along well together. Although they became reserved as they grew up since they were opposite genders, Yi Yi wasn’t an unreasonable person and Yang Heng often came to the palace. Their relationship remained pretty good.
But at some point, Yi Yi started avoiding Yang Heng, making him endlessly confused. He wondered whether he had accidentally offended her at some point, and found something to try and make her happy.
Yi Yi truly liked it a lot, and fondled it admiringly for a while. She suddenly seemed to think of something and her expression grew complicated. She stuffed the thing back into Yang Heng’s hands.
“What? You don’t like it?” Yang Heng scratched his head uncomprehendingly.
He was already sixteen as well, and had grown tall and sturdy. His angular face was clearly similar to his father “Iron Pillar” Yang’s.1 It was filled with masculinity, but due to his youth it gave him an air of foolishness.
“That’s not it.” Yi Yi turned her back to him.
“Then what’s wrong? You don’t come play with me anymore. Did I do something to anger you?” Yang Heng ran in front of her.
Yi Yi’s brows contained a hint of worry. Compared to her normal cheerful and lively self, it was a very big difference.
“Yang Heng, we’re both grown up. I can’t accept your things…..”
“Didn’t you accept all my little gifts in the past? Why don’t you want them anymore?” Yang Heng really couldn’t understand what growing up had to do with accepting or not accepting something.
Yi Yi didn’t know how to respond, and could only yell out “If I say I don’t want it, then I don’t want it” before running off.
Yang Heng was left staring at her back for a long time, before putting the rabbit sorrowfully back into his robes.
That night in the Yang Family’s carriage on the way home.
“Bro, Yi Yi lost her temper at me. I don’t know where I offended her. She doesn’t even want the little rabbit I made for her.”
Yang Nuo who was reading with his head lowered glanced at his disheartened little brother. A strange gaze flashed across his eyes. Unfortunately, Yang Heng was sighing with his head lowered and didn’t notice.
“The little thing you carved with the jade dad found for you?”
Yang Heng brought the little rabbit out for him to see, “Doesn’t this suit Yi Yi very well? Cute, right?”
It was truly very cute.
After Yang Nuo looked at it, he gave a knowing smile. Looking at the little rabbit nibbling on the carrot was like looking at Yi Yi with her eyes narrowed in a satisfied smile, her little mouth twitching mischievously. It made one’s heart involuntarily soften.
But these thoughts only lasted a moment. Yang Nuo restrained his smile and returned his gaze back to his book, and turned the page.
“She definitely has her own reasons for not accepting.”
“She said it’s because she’s grown up, and can’t accept my gifts anymore. But what does that have to do with growing up!”
Yang Nuo’s eyes flashed, “She’s a grown lady now, and naturally can’t just randomly accept gifts from men.”
“But…….” Yang Heng brows furrowed before relaxing again, “Forget it. It must be because she’s in a bad mood these days. I’ll give it to her when her mood improves.”
Yang Nuo furrowed his brows instead.