Today was New Year’s Eve, but palace maids and eunuchs didn’t celebrate it. Apart from receiving a month salary’s worth of coins, a new set of clothing and one more meat dish in their meal, the rest of the time was spent as normal.
Xiao Hua also knew that the prince was accompanying his concubines and wives for New Year’s Eve dinner, but it didn’t have much to do with her. Knowing that the hall was entertaining a lot of people today, she was self-aware enough not to try and join the ruckus.
The food for the hall’s feast was prepared by the meal management center, so Nana He was idling in the small kitchen.
All the people in the Hall of Splendor had gathered in the front hall, leaving behind a few strays. The small kitchen prepared a table of sumptuous delicacies, and everyone sat eating together. It could be counted as a New Year’s celebration dinner.
Xiao Hua was over at Nana He’s place at this time. A large round table was set up in the small kitchen’s outer room. Those that weren’t currently serving in the front hall or guarding the door were all gathered here.
There weren’t that many people, a little over ten.
In the small kitchen there was Nana He and her few older palace maid Aunties, as well as Xiao Hua, Chun Cao and five low-ranked eunuchs responsible for odd jobs.
Today’s food was prepared by a palace maid called Auntie Meng while Nana He directed on the side. Nana He was old and apart from occasionally preparing his highness’s meals she would usually have her subordinates do the cooking. Xiao Hua only found out about this after getting familiar with those in the small kitchen.
After the dishes were arranged and the people were seated, An Chen came over.
Seeing An Chen, everyone was a little surprised.
Before anyone had a chance to ask, they saw An Chen’s stern face as he spoke: “Miss Xiao Hua, his highness summons you to the front hall.”
As his words fell, the kitchen immediately quieted down. Only the occasional sparks from the lamps could be heard.
“This——” For a time, Xiao Hua was bewildered and didn’t know how to react.
Nana He was old and experienced, and knew that the prince definitely wouldn’t summon Xiao Hua over for no reason. If he had intended to do so, she would have long been called over and not suddenly summoned halfway through.
“An Chen you brat, just what is going on here? Don’t you put on airs in front of this Nana here.”
An Chen rubbed his face and smiled ingratiatingly.
“Nana He don’t say it like that. This little one had just come over from the other side, and didn’t have time to adjust.” He furrowed his brow, looked worriedly at Xiao Hua on the side and said: “Things aren’t looking too good. The consort has somehow found out about Miss Xiao Hua’s situation and suddenly mentioned wanting to take a look at her during the feast. She had spoken so earnestly in front of others, and her words were extremely reasonable, making it hard for his highness to reject her and thus he accepted it.”
As Eunuch Fu’s disciple, An Chen was still quite knowledgeable. The Jing Consort wouldn’t have created this situation without a good reason. But the situation was urgent and his highness had also agreed, so they as servants could only come bring the person over. Moreover, they knew that once this was over, the Hall of Splendor would undergo another round of turbulence.
Outsiders weren’t aware, but those inside where all clear on the Hall of Splendor’s rules. If the smallest piece of information was leaked outside the hall, the one responsible would be put to death.
The situation with Miss Xiao Hua and his highness was only known by those inside the hall. Miss Xiao Hua herself as well as the low-ranked palace maid by her side never left the hall, which meant that the news had definitely been leaked by someone within the hall.
The Hall of Splendor had two eunuchs in charge of things. One was the Exalted Inner Manager Eunuch Fu, the other was Vice Manager Eunuch Chang. The one in charge was Eunuch Fu, but since he would often be out by his highness’s side, the rest of the various affairs were handled by Eunuch Chang.
Eunuch Fu appeared to not be managing anything, but no one dared to say he was lax in his duties. He didn’t care about the little things, and only managed things concerning the prince himself. Those who crossed a line with the prince would suffer his wrath. Those who suffered his wrath had tragic outcomes.
This was something countless old timers within the Jing Prince Estate had witnessed with their own eyes.
As for Xiao Hua, those with insight could tell at a glance that her placement was arranged by Eunuch Fu. No matter what his plans were, many could at least tell that Eunuch Fu had been in a good mood for this period of time. The reason he was happy had to do with this low-ranked palace maid Xiao Hua.
Those who didn’t understand the reason behind it still pretended not to see anything out of fear of Eunuch Fu. Those who understood the reason were even clearer about the implications of Eunuch Fu’s actions.
Only after everyone’s hard work and efforts had his highness finally shown some interest, but the Jing Consort had suddenly stuck her hand in from the side. No matter what her goal was, the one who leaked her the information was dead for sure.
An Chen and Nana He were both aware of the situation inside the hall, and knew that things definitely weren’t so simple. However, they couldn’t say it clearly since there were others present.
“Lass Xiao Hua, you don’t have to be scared. Go and reply carefully. His highness is there so everything will definitely be fine.” Nana He could only comfort Xiao Hua this way.
Xiao Hua forced a smile and nervously followed An Chen.
The main hall was gloriously lit but deadly silent.
Xiao Hua entered from the side door, and upon reaching the center of the hall knelt and kowtowed in respect without looking at anyone’s expressions.
“Blessings to your highness, blessings to the consort, blessings to Senior Concubine Qiao and the two Madams.”
On the way there, An Chen had already given her a brief overview of the various people inside, so Xiao Hua did not leave anyone out.
The Jing Consort smiling face was like a flower, her attitude extremely warm as she said: “Hurry and rise, no need to make such big salutations. We’re all sisters here so you definitely shouldn’t be reserved.” She indicated for Chun Xiang at her side to go lift Xiao Hua up.
Xiao Hua stood and lowered her head.
“Quick, let me take a look. I haven’t seen little sis before.” The Jing Consort spoke while motioning with her hand.
The Jing Consort’s attitude was extremely friendly and warm, but Xiao Hua felt chills all over her body. She was like a rabbit running towards a trap with a vicious wolf chasing behind her. Even though she knew there was a pit, she had no choice but to proceed.
The moment Xiao Hua approached, her hand was grabbed by the Jing Consort.
The consort’s hand was very warm, but Xiao Hua felt a chill penetrate her soul. Through her half closed eyelids she took a glance at the other. The Jing Consort was smiling amicably, but Xiao Hua felt something hidden behind her smile.
“Really good looking. No wonder his highness is keeping you hidden by his side without letting anyone see you. Tsk. Senior Concubine Qiao take a look. Isn’t she extremely fresh?”
Senior Concubine Qiao smiled and didn’t speak.
“How old are you this year?” The Jing Consort stroked Xiao Hua’s hand and asked gently.
“This servant just turned fifteen.”
“Oh wow, that’s really young.”
She truly was young, only fifteen after all. Really young. Compared to her fifteen years, the twenty-four year old consort was older by a whole decade.
The Jing Consort clearly knew she shouldn’t be doing this, but her hands that held Xiao Hua’s couldn’t resist squeezing tighter and tighter.
Xiao Hua’s hands were deeply in pain, but she didn’t dare withdraw it. Her eyes inadvertently glanced towards the Jing Prince.
She saw the side of his face remain unperturbed as he toyed with the wine glass in his hand, not even looking in their direction.
“Such a delicate and exquisite little person, his highness is truly wronging you in his thoughtlessness by not conferring you a status.”
This line left Xiao Hua in a predicament. If she agreed, she would be calling the prince thoughtless. If she didn’t agree, she would be disrespecting the Jing Consort. Xiao Hua’s current understanding of the Jing Prince’s rear court was currently zero, and in this situation where she couldn’t offend either side she chose to remain silent.
It had to be said the Jing Consort’s ability to talk by herself was steadily improving. She continued speaking while smiling: “His highness is busy with official business and naturally doesn’t have the time to worry about these little things. As his consort, I cannot be so thoughtless. How about this? This consort will take charge and confer you the status of concubine, and accept your service of his highness. Later on, move into the eastern three pavilions to live. Things would be livelier if all of us lived together.”
She paused a little, and revealed a troubled expression: “I heard that you were a palace maid, and have only been in this estate for half a year. Our estate has its rules so don’t be upset that this concubine status is too low. There aren’t that many of us sisters in this estate. For example, those two Madams Yu were bestowed by his father the emperor, and so were able to obtain the status of Madams despite being palace maids previously.”
The Jing Consorts words contained many things. She was saying that Xiao Hua needed to be conferred a status while mocking her background for being too, only able to receive a common concubine’s status. At the same time, she also mocked Yu Jiao and Yu Rong, lumping them together with Xiao Hua as servant born, and only able to become Madams due to Emperor Xi’s bestowal.
The ranking and number of the Grand Xi Dynasty prince’s harem was as such: There could be one consort, two senior concubines, and a number of madams. A madam was the lowest rank of titled concubine. However, even if the ranking was low, at least it was still titled. Common concubines didn’t have a ranking or record, and there could be any number of them.
At this point, the people in the hall had pretty much understood the Jing Consort’s intentions.
The friendliness was fake, the kindness was fake, the roping in was fake, all the various excuses were fake. Only her goal in giving Xiao Hua a status was real.
There may be some who say that giving Xiao Hua a status was for her own good.
Whether it was truly a good thing, only the heavens would know.
Those present all knew that once a woman was conferred a status in the rear court, she couldn’t live wherever she pleased anymore. She would be relegated to either the eastern or western three pavilions. This rule was initially set by the Jing Prince for the purpose of letting them know their place and not enter where they shouldn’t.
Yet today, the Jing Consort had used this rule to slap the Jing Prince’s face.
Of course, it didn’t really count as face slapping. After all, her attitude was flawless and her words were reasonable. The only thing that could be criticized was her intent behind the words.
Those with good eyesight could tell that while Xiao Hua was in the Hall of Splendor, the proverb of “the moon shines first on the closest tower by the water” applied to her. The Jing Prince hadn’t gone to the rear court in many years, so there was no way the consort would let someone remain within his reach take advantage. If she herself couldn’t get him, she would drag everyone else to the same starting line. It couldn’t be said the Jing Consort was wrong in doing this, but it would inevitably make others feel she was extending her reach a little far.
“Your highness, you wouldn’t blame this consort for minding too many things right? It’s for this little sis’s own good.”
Seeing the Jing Prince look over, the Jing Consort put on a slightly aggrieved appearance, giving off an air of “you can’t fault me when I’m acting so magnanimously”.
Xiao Hua looked at the Jing Prince, begging him with her eyes not to agree.
The Jing Prince however misunderstood the begging in Xiao Hua’s eyes, and his own gaze deepened.
Since she had served him for so long, she indeed deserved a status. As for the words she said long ago about wanting to remain a low palace maid, he had completely forgotten about it.
But the Jing Prince felt that a common concubine’s status was a little low. He looked at the two “madams” that he had relegated as random people. Could it be that having served him for so long, she wasn’t even on the same level as those two whom he had never touched before?
“This old servant is here.”
“Her.” The Jing Prince raised his wine glass towards where Xiao Hua was standing, and said concisely: “Madam.”
“Yes.” Eunuch Fu’s clear voice rang out: “This old servant will arrange matters quickly.”
Although Eunuch Fu felt blood dripping in his heart, he still decided to properly stab at the consort in return.
Who asked you to be a busybody, who asked you to use your words to lower others? What rule? Weren’t the rules set by his highness to begin with?
The Jing Consort brought up Xiao Hua’s insufficient status and lowly birth. Apart from mocking the two madams, she was also telling the Jing Prince that “this low palace maid’s birth is low, at most she can only be fit to be a common concubine”.
Little did she know that speaking too much rubbish ended up screwing herself over. While Xiao Hua’s birth was low, it couldn’t compare to the prince feeling that he didn’t want to wrong her any longer. Although a madam’s status was a low title, it didn’t need to be requested from the court unlike a senior concubine’s status. However, a madam would still be recorded as part of the harem, though she wouldn’t be on the jade slip harem record recognized by the ancestors.
Seeing that this couldn’t be prevented, the Jing Consort smiled a little rigidly and said: “Then, then we really have to congratulate this little sis.”
Senior Concubine Qiao’s eyes flashed, and her smiling face was like a flower: “Congratulations.”
Yu Jiao and Yu Rong’s expressions were a little ugly, but they still congratulated with their mouths.
Apart from kneeling and thanking the Jing Prince for his grace, Xiao Hua was unable to do anything else.
Eunuch Fu gave the low-ranked eunuch beside him a kick and said: “You shortsighted thing, why aren’t you arranging a seat for Madam Hua at the banquet?”
This “Madam Hua” was called out extremely clearly, making Xiao Hua blank out, and also making the Jing Consort’s expression even more rigid.
The low-ranked eunuch’s movements were very fast, and things were soon arranged.
Therefore, Xiao Hua also sat down within the hall, her seat right below Senior Concubine Qiao.