TL’s note: Looks like these lengthy chapters are here to stay…
After the Jing Prince returned from the front court, he first went to change in the inner hall before returning to sit in the outer hall.
Those who were aware of his character would be serving him tea at this moment.
Having served in the Hall of Splendor all this time, the few low-ranked palace maids had all changed in small ways.
Without mentioning anything else, at least they now have mastered the ‘meaningful glances’. The purpose of these meaningful glances won’t be mentioned for the moment, but it basically let them continue doing their jobs well.
Qiao Lian and Zhi’er who were responsible for serving tea had recently been struggling over it very hard. One person was clearly sufficient to serve the tea, but these days the two were inseparable, coming and going together.
Qiao Lian carried the carved lacquer tea set and Zhi’er was responsible for placing the teacup onto the table. Both of them had something to do, and both of them made an appearance, their roles were divided clearly.
As for how the two managed to reach such a cooperation Xiao Hua didn’t know, but the fact they were still secretly competing with each other was still apparent to bystanders.
As a matter of fact, Xiao Hua who was standing quite close clearly saw that as Zhi’er lifted the teacup, Qiao Lian retrieved the tray and accidentally nudged her.
The result was obvious: the cup in Zhi’er’s hands fell onto the floor.
The hall was very silent, and the sound rang out clearly.
Xiao Hua was very speechless. She had no idea what Qiao Lian was thinking.
Zhi’er frantically knelt to the floor as Qiao Lian stood to the side, a cold smile appearing on her mouth for an instant.
The Jing Prince never looked over, but Eunuch Fu who was constantly beside the prince as a backdrop saw things clearly, including the cause of the situation.
His good mood instantly turned bad as he hated how he couldn’t have these two immature low palace maids dragged out and beaten to death. But considering the Jing Prince’s indulgent attitude in this half a month, he felt a little relieved though the worry was still present.
“That was really careless. Hurry and clean the floor up.” Eunuch Fu reprimanded in a low voice. He was hoping to use this interruption to smooth things over.
Unfortunately, heaven decided to play a joke on him.
“Have these two leave.”
The silent prince finally opened his mouth, but his words had no introdction or conclusion.
The Jing Prince’s attitude had been very calm, and his tone was calm as well. Zhi’er who had been dismayed and frightened earlier immediately sighed in relief.
But Eunuch Fu’s attitude was hard to understand, seeming flustered and exasperated all of a sudden. Ordering Xiao Hua and Xiu Yun to step up and clean, he waved his hand at the same time for Qiao Lian and Zhi’er to take their leave, his expression extremely ugly.
From his expression, it seemed as though his parents passed away.
Xiao Hua thought she had seen wrongly and didn’t put it to heart.
As she griped that ‘turns out his highness could speak’, she also felt that his highness was a pretty nice person. Although he was usually taciturn and apathetic, he wasn’t harsh towards others. In the past she had often seen similar situations where teacups were spilled. The rules were usually stricter, directly ordering the offender to kneel outside and be reprimanded harshly. This Jing Prince didn’t have any expressions, and only asked them to leave.
Only when they got off work that night and returned to their room did Xiao Hua realize things weren’t so simple. Only then did she understand why Eunuch Fu’s expression had been so weird.
Turns out that ‘have these two leave’ wasn’t left at that, but rather after leaving they were not allowed back in the hall to serve.
Before Xiao Hua and Xiu Yun returned, Xiao Xia Zi had already come and told them his highness’s orders. In the future, Qiao Lian and Zhi’er would be responsible for sweeping the yard outside the hall.
They had fallen from heaven to earth in the blink of an eye. Having worked hard for so long, struggled for so long, they ended up back where they started.
Qiao Lian and Zhi’er were sprawled on their beds crying hard, seemingly unable to accept such a large downgrade.
Mei’er and Xi’er were consoling them on the side, though they had some schadenfreude in their expressions that couldn’t quite be concealed.
The more time Xiao Hua spent with Xi’er, the more she realized that she wasn’t that innocent. At least an innocent person wouldn’t be able to carry out such acts of flattery, and also wouldn’t have such an expression of joy at someone’s misfortune.
The initial good feelings about her seemed ridiculous at this moment.
Turns out no one was innocent in a rich household after all. Even if they were innocent to begin with, they would change due to various circumstances over time. Especially when those who spent a lot of time together end up infringing on each other’s benefits. Such changes were especially despicable.
When Xiao Hua worked at the various different places in the past, she had encountered such situations before. It wasn’t as clear in other places since those were all smaller households. After getting to the Jingyang Marquis Estate it had gotten a lot more obvious.
Entering the Jingyang Marquis Estate at twelve, she started off as a sweeper maid.
The work of a sweeper maid was very labor intensive, and they would often get bullied by the other maids. Each of them were filled with thoughts of switching jobs. Those who stuck out in front of the grannies in charge would end up being besieged by the others in the dark. After she had entered the Jinxiu Pavilion and successfully schemed her way to senior maid, all those “good sisters” of hers in the past had changed their attitudes towards her.
When faced with such a stark change in attitude, she had secretly cried before, felt wronged before and complained before.
Only after dying once and coming back did she understand that the so called friendship and sisterhood was nothing in front of personal benefits.
Understanding is understanding, but every time she saw Xi’er she would think of the noisy girl she had gotten to know at first and feel faintly uncomfortable in her heart.
“Could you stop being so fake? I know you guys want to laugh. Laugh all you want, no need to feel stifled by holding it in.” Qiao Lian pulled Xi’er’s hand away, yelling as she sat up.
Her face was extremely twisted. She had never been one to hold in her anger, and now seemed even more hysterical.
Xi’er’s face was full of shock, as though she couldn’t believe Qiao Lian could talk about her like that, her eyes instantly turning red in grievance, “Qiao Lian how could you say that, I would never…..”
Qiao Lian pushed her away, “Go go go, go further away. Stop acting all pure and innocent every day, your act doesn’t fool me.” She paused, then continued yelling at the others in the room: “We all know each other very well, why are you pretending? Does your heart feel so comfortable when seeing others in a tight spot that you have to come show off your existence?”
Qiao Lian’s words didn’t just anger Xi’er to the point where she turned around and went back to her own bed. Even Mei’er’s expression had turned ugly.
The room was incredibly silent for a long while before Xi’er angrily grumbled, “Dog who bites the hand that feeds.”
Xiao Hua didn’t speak, going over to her bed and carefully undressing before lying down.
The scary silence in the room was broken only by the occasional sob. After this round of arguments, the room was imperceptibly filled with an air of depression, making one feel uncomfortable.
Originally planning to fetch some water to wash up before sleeping, Xiao Hua didn’t feel like moving anymore and lay on her bed, feeling an indescribable weariness in her heart.
Xiu Yun who was similarly quiet was gripping her hand tightly. She finally understood her sister’s meaning, and finally understood the result of not being steady.
Although everyone in the room was silent, they were each absorbed in their own thoughts.
Afterwards, due to Eunuch Fu’s frustration, he gathered the remaining four people and knocked them down a peg or two.
Only then did Xiao Hua realize that the always smiling Eunuch Fu actually had such a side to him.
His face was still the same face, but his expression and tone was a little frightening. Actually he didn’t scold them, only warning them to work properly without making mistakes.
Yet they couldn’t help but feel frightened.
Of course after knocking them down he still gave them something to soften the blow. That something was another set of clothing.
This time it was a delicate piece: a pink short coat with a pale greenish blue skirt. The material was very good, and the measurements fit their bodies precisely. It was unknown how Eunuch Fu magically knew the low-ranked palace maids’ measurements.
The implied meaning was to tell everyone that working properly without making mistakes will bring many rewards. Of course, the rewards would be even better if they could take it a step further.
While the last part was interpreted according to their own desires, it actually wasn’t that far from the truth. Xiao Hua could also tell that Eunuch Fu’s intentions were the same.
Within the room of six, four people received the clothes. The other two could only watch in vain. After Xiao Xia Zi brought the things over, the room’s atmosphere became frozen.
Xiao Hua held the clothes in hand, not knowing if Eunuch Fu was unaware or if it was intentional.
Wasn’t this just causing conflict? There was already enough conflict as it was!
“Looks like those serving inside the hall are different from us who are outside. Even the benefits are different.” Zhi’er’s tone was extremely sour, and after speaking she sidled up to Xi’er, “Little sis Xi’er, after you ascend to the sky in the future, don’t forget to lend this big sis a few helping hands.”
Xi’er originally had a face full of smiles and was very excited in her heart, but after being stabbed by Zhi’er’s words, she immediately withdrew her smile. Her relationship with Zhi’er had been pretty good in the past so she was bound to have a few misgivings, making it inconvenient to lose her temper. She could only lower her head and say: “Big sis Zhi’er, you shouldn’t say it like that. What does that have to do with anything?”
Qiao Lian sneered at the side, “Fake!”
Xi’er glared a little, endured a little and didn’t retort.
“Eunuch Fu’s meaning is already extremely clear. Those who can seize the target will get extraordinary treatment. Stop pretending like you all didn’t understand. You clearly want it so badly in your hearts, it’s disgusting how you are all acting clueless.”
Qiao Lian’s words were a little ugly. While it was one thing for everyone to think it, having someone say it out loud was another. Especially since these words were like a bamboo stick that tipped a boatload of everyone’s suspicions.
Xi’er couldn’t sit still any longer, standing up and glaring at Qiao Lian, “You’re the disgusting one. Why don’t you look at your face, it’s twisted so much that it’s disgusting.”
Mei’er stood to the side and acted as if she was unintentionally interrupting: “Tsk, your eyes are turning red from jealousy. If you had known this day would come would you have changed your initial path? Didn’t you enjoy internal strife? Screwing over one of your own, and though the victim ended up in a bad spot, you got yourself implicated as well.”
Zhi’er only dropped the teacup because she was bumped by Qiao Lian. This wasn’t a secret. Zhi’er clearly knew this in her heart, and the rest of the people in the room were also clear about it. Normally everyone wanted to avoid raising problems. Normally everyone ignored or yielded to Qiao Lian’s ugly words, but everyone had a breaking point. Mei’er probably had had enough of Qiao Lian’s words these past few days and ended up spilling it all out.
“You—-“ Qiao Lian glared angrily at Mei’er, her expression as though hating she couldn’t swallow her up.
Mei’er wasn’t going to be outdone, “Me what? Everyone just doesn’t want to bother with you, did you really think we were afraid?” Putting on a look of disinterest, she turned her head and said to Xi’er, “Xi’er, when we’re working you mustn’t follow in certain people’s footsteps. We are all grasshoppers on the same thread, only idiots would try and screw over one of their own.”
Zhi’er’s expression also turned ugly. Presumably, Mei’er’s words had poked at the sore spot in her heart.
Xi’er nodded vigorously, intentionally raising her voice, “Of course, I’m definitely not that dumb.”
After speaking, the two looked at each other and burst out laughing.
Zhi’er sat silently on her bed without speaking. Qiao Lian angrily got on her bed and covered her head with the blanket.
Xiao Hua inwardly shook her head, not wanting to look in that direction any longer. Xiu Yun’s eyes flashed a little before she lowered them once more.
After Qiao Lian and Zhi’er were relocated outside the hall, the remaining four became even more cautious.
Xi’er was naturally lively, but after serving inside the hall she had become much more restrained. Nowadays, her actions and manners became even more solemn, seeming to have matured a lot in a brief amount of time.
On this day, the prince was eating while Xi’er and Mei’er served the meal.
The Jing Prince was wearing a sapphire blue embroidered robe, a pure gold crown on his head, making him appear even more jade-like and handsome. It was just that his face didn’t have any expression, and he didn’t say a word.
Seriously speaking, these palace maids all had some understanding of his character after serving for a while. Although they were afraid, they were unable to prevent the thoughts in their hearts of ascending to the sky, especially with the prince’s status placed in front of them. Combined with his handsome appearance, it dealt a critical blow to these palace maids.
Xi’er served the meal at the side, seeming a little absent-minded, sneaking glances at the prince while an infatuated expression flashed across her face.
The hall was extremely silent. Xiao Hua stood and watched the situation from afar and kept having the urge to frown.
The Jing Prince’s table manners were excellent, calm and unhurried. His movements of eating were very slow, and each bite was chewed thoroughly. The Jing Prince had the habit of drinking soup after he finished eating. When he placed his chopsticks down and gazed at the soup, it meant he was ready for soup.
This habit was known not only to Xi’er and Mei’er, but even Xiao Hua knew it after watching from the side. But for some reason, when the Jing Prince put his chopsticks down today, Xi’er who was responsible for serving the soup didn’t make a move.
Mei’er stood to the side and gave her a few glances but she didn’t notice any of it. Mei’er could only helplessly walk to her side, holding the empty soup bowl.
What was this Xi’er doing? How did she not notice such an obvious gesture from his highness?
Mei’er’s movements shocked Xi’er awake. She only remembered her responsibilities after seeing Mei’er carrying the bowl of soup. She grabbed the bowl out of her hands, and without checking how much was already in it, added two scoops of soup before offering it to the prince with shaking hands.
Xi’er’s voice was shaking heavily, even Xiao Hua who had her head lowered and didn’t feel like watching could hear the abnormality. She raised her eyes to look and happened to see Xi’er’s expression which contained infatuation, excitement and happiness along with her two slightly trembling hands.
The Jing Prince raised his hands to receive the bowl without looking at the palace maid beside him. It wasn’t known if Xi’er was too excited or if the bowl was overfilled, but the bowl shook a little in her hand and happened to spill some soup onto the prince’s delicate hand.
The person who got soup spilled on didn’t say anything, but Xi’er was panicked. In her fright she ended up dropping the bowl of soup. It spilled all over Xi’er, but more importantly also spilled onto the prince’s shoes and the hems of his robe.
“I didn’t do it on purpose, it wasn’t on purpose, wuwuwu, your highness let me wipe it off for you….”
Xi’er pulled out her own handkerchief in a fluster and wanted to step up and wipe the prince clean but was stopped by Eunuch Fu’s hand.
Eunuch Fu’s face froze. Without saying anything, he indicated with his hands for Xiao Hua and Xiu Yun to come clean up the floor.
“Your highness, I really didn’t do it on purpose….” Xi’er cried until her eyes were red. She knelt on the floor and still wanted to beg for mercy. She crawled forward seemingly wanting to hug the prince’s legs.
The prince’s brows furrowed in a rare display of emotion, and he stood up.
“Eunuch Fu, have both of these people leave.”1 After speaking, he went to the back to change.
At this time, Eunuch Fu was unable to maintain a good expression anymore. He frowned as he impatiently waved his hand. Two eunuchs walked up from the side and pulled the crying Xi’er who still wanted to struggle outside. Mei’er followed behind, her face full of vexation.
Xiu Yun and Xiao Hua were left behind to clean up the mess on the floor. When Xi’er was pulled out, Xiu Yun raised her eyes and glanced at Xiao Hua. She had thought her gaze to be discreet, but it unexpectedly met with Xiao Hua’s own gaze.
Xiao Hua gave a faint sigh, and didn’t want to waste her thoughts trying to decipher what was contained in Xiu Yun’s gaze.2