Translator’s note: Thank you to Grri for donating despite the full chapter bar!
“Does madam want to lean against the kiln for a bit? It’s warmer than the chair after all.” Ding Xiang’s voice interrupted Xiao Hua’s thoughts.
Xiao Hua’s new house didn’t have any heated vents, unlike the Hall of Splendor’s which were always burning. However, it did have a heating kiln, and a charcoal basin was also burning, making it a little warmer.
Xiao Hua nodded her head and went over to the west room’s window to sit on the kiln.
Ding Xiang was quick with her hands, placing a pillow behind Xiao Hua’s back and covering her legs with a thin blanket. She then placed some tea and snacks on the kiln.
Having been taken care of so thoroughly these last two days made Xiao Hua feel as if she were a cripple.
However, she didn’t refuse. She had also been served like this in the past as “Concubine Hua”. She had two personal common maids at the time.
Xiao Hua also understood that having someone serve her wasn’t just living lazily. It also symbolizes her status. Although speaking of status as the lowest titled concubine was a little laughable, it was still the difference between a mistress and a servant. If the mistress didn’t need serving, what would the servants be good for?
If you didn’t have anyone serving you while others of similar status did, not only would they look down upon you, even the servants would say you are petty and unwilling to be elevated. Those who were unwilling to be elevated would not be respected, and those who weren’t respected would continue falling in a vicious cycle. Therefore, although Xiao Hua was not used to it, she didn’t raise any objections.
Ding Xiang sat at Xiao Hua’s feet, doing needlework with her hands while idly chatting with Xiao Hua.
Ding Xiang was a strange palace maid. Xiao Hua had noticed this herself over the past days.
Her words were few but every one of them had a purpose.
Perhaps Xiao Hua wouldn’t understand the meaning behind her words right away, but after listening for a while she knew that she was actually filling her in on some happenings in the estate, and occasionally reminding her of some rules.
Ding Xiang was also extremely competent. She had taken care of all the arrangements for the pavilion the last couple of days. The work was perfectly divided amongst the low-ranked palace maids. Xiao Hua practically didn’t have to spend any effort on it.
At the moment, Ding Xiang was speaking about the circumstances of the eastern three pavilions. Although her words seemed unorganized, Xiao Hua found out that the Jing Consort’s health wasn’t too good. She spent half of her time bed-ridden, so those who went to pay her respects may not necessarily see her each time. However, even Senior Concubine Qiao would go every day. It was a rule after all.
Rule? Xiao Hua understood rules.
Leaning on the warm and cozy kiln, Xiao Hua started feeling sleepy. Seeing her yawn continuously, Ding Xiang fetched a thicker blanket and placed it over her body.
Xiao Hua leaned against the pillow covered by the blanket and fell asleep soon afterwards.
She slept until the middle of the afternoon. When she opened her eyes, Ding Xiang was still sitting there doing needlework. Xiao Hua couldn’t help but say, “Ding Xiang, how long have you been doing needlework? It’s bad for your eyes if you do it for too long.”
Ding Xiang smiled and put the things in her hands down. “Not that long, this servant wants to hurry and make a cloak for madam. In this snowy weather, going to pay respects to the consort without a top layer would be very cold.”
Xiao Hua never left the Hall of Splendor in the past and wearing her old clothes inside the house was fine. However, going outside would be very cold. Xiao Hua had noticed Ding Xiang working on the piece of cloth in her hands a while ago, but never realized that she had long since thought of making her a cloak.
“Don’t always do it yourself. See if anyone else is decently skilled and have them help a little.”
“It’s fine, this is easy. I’m almost done. Ding Lan and the rest are all busy since madam doesn’t have many clothes. The cloth that was delivered needs to be processed quickly.”
Xiao Hua didn’t understand for a moment but then immediately thought it through.
Her clothes were all given to her in the Hall of Splendor. Although they looked decent, there was still quite a gap compared to those worn by the Jing Prince’s harem. During the banquet she could tell that even the Madams Yu overshadowed her by a lot a lot, let alone Senior Concbuine Qiao or the Jing Consort. In the past as a low-ranked palace maid she didn’t have to worry about these things. However, with her change in status she needed to have clothing that was “appropriate” to her new title.
Ding Xiang was silent for a moment, and carefully said to Xiao Hua: “But since time is so short, we might not be able to make it in time for tomorrow. Only this cloak can be worn.”
Xiao Hua smiled and said: “It’s fine, I’m not picky about these things.”
Ding Xiang didn’t speak further but Xiao Hua understood her meaning.
Places with many women had many quarrels. Furthermore, the women in the rear court were mostly vain. If your clothes were prettier, they would look at you in a better light. If your clothes were too plain, they would mock and look down on you. In her past life Xiao Hua had seen too many situations like this. A piece of jewelry or a piece of clothing could become the topic of many conversations.
After reincarnating, Xiao Hua had analyzed this situation. The women in the pavilion were too idle, and there was only one man. Everyone would be looking for bones in the chicken egg1, and if they could seize onto any weaknesses they would trample that person to death.
If you didn’t get angry they’d continuously slander you. If you got angry, that was exactly what they wanted. The arguments in the pavilion mostly started this way. Jealousy spurred them to make trouble for others. The amount of favor available was limited. If you got a little more, others got a little less. Doesn’t this make it impossible for them all to coexist peacefully?
Unexpectedly, in both her lives she ended up in similar circumstances though the surroundings had changed. She understood that she was now officially part of the Jing Prince Estate’s rear court.
She didn’t know if she could avoid struggles in the future.
Xiao Hua knew that this thought was complete nonsense. Just based on what she could tell from the Jing Consort’s attitude, she was already sitting on pins and needles. As for the other three, she didn’t have a clear understanding yet. But she could already imagine that there would be a hard fought battle tomorrow.
She hoped she would be able to deal with it appropriately.
Thinking of these things, Xiao Hua sighed once again.
Ding Xiang who was sitting at her feet heard the sigh and her eyes flashed, but she didn’t say anything.
The Jing Prince was very busy these last few days, and didn’t get any leisure time despite it being the New Year.
Reports from Mt. Dahei said that they had caught two scouts in the area. The Jing Prince viewed the place with great importance, thus the news was not delayed by the festivities.
Only now did the Jing Prince know that there had been people inserted into his vassal state. In the past things had been calm, but who would have expected this slight abnormality to flush them out of hiding.
The two of them were deathsworn warriors, and immediately committed suicide upon capture.
Since the situation was rather severe, the Jing Prince naturally started investigating things.
Regarding this situation, he wasn’t too vexed. Better to find out sooner than later. This way he could make the necessary preparations.
Huang Qin was the Jing Prince’s advisor. He held an instructor’s position within the Jing Prince Estate. An instructor was a ninth rank minor official under the Adjutant’s Office. There could be any number of them, and they were responsible for the upbringing of the vassal prince’s sons and daughters. Although this was their role on the surface, most vassal prince estates had the instructors serve as an advisor to the vassal prince and help him come up with plans and ideas.
Huang Qin was over fifty years old. In the first half of his life he was an unrecognized talent. Despite being a scholar he hadn’t even passed the imperial exam. He spent several years as a freelancer before finally understanding that he wasn’t good at standard literature despite being highly intelligent. He was however very good at putting together plans and schemes. Thus he found his path, becoming a teacher or advisor to others.
Unfortunately becoming a teacher needed its own qualifications. Someone that didn’t even pass the exam would never be sought after as a teacher. Even when he found a household to serve, it would be as a low ranking minor official.
Huang Qin had ambition, and was naturally not resigned to a life of mediocrity. Due to a stroke of fate and coincidence, he was snapped up by the Jing Prince into the Jing Prince Estate.
At that time the prince had just arrived in the Jing Province, and although he had been enlightened he still had several things dragging him down from his past life, and didn’t know how to start fixing them. Meeting Huang Qin, he at first hadn’t really viewed him with much importance and merely wanted to learn how to handle common affairs from him.
It had to be said that the Jing Prince learned a lot from Huang Qin. Although he wasn’t good at other things, the prince still had a good eye for people. Many of the Jing Prince’s initial policies were enacted under Huang Qin’s advice.
After spending several years with him, the Jing Prince also understood that Huang Qin was someone of great wisdom, and naturally lamented that others were blind to this treasure he picked up by the side of the road.
From when he first started learning, the Jing Prince by now had mastered several things, even to the extent of surpassing his master. In these few short years, there were many times when the Jing Prince didn’t need Huang Qin to help him with his plans.
Huang Qin was gratified at the Jing Prince’s natural intelligence, and also changed his own role. Nowadays he helped the prince share some of his burdens and handled some of the more secret affairs.
If an advisor wanted to live a long life, he had to have self-awareness. When the master needed it, he had to come up with a suggestion right away. When the master didn’t need it, he had to properly act invisible.
This was what Huang Qin had learned from his experience wandering around as teacher and advisor in his early years, but it wasn’t much use in the Jing Prince Estate.
Having spent many years with the Jing Prince as both mentor and friend, Huang Qin understood the prince’s personality to some extent.
The Jing Prince was a very complicated person. He was simple yet complicated.
He was simple because the Jing Prince’s thoughts were simple, unlike others whose hearts were filled with suspicion and would always keep things hidden. He was complicated because after receiving his teachings, the prince had casually started handling things himself. Although his methods were often strange, these different methods ended up producing the intended results. This often made others stare speechlessly, and they couldn’t help acknowledging the Jing Prince as someone wise on the inside but foolish on the outside.
Actually to this day, Huang Qin didn’t dare say he truly understood the Jing Prince.
At first, Huang Qin hadn’t known about the situation with Mt. Dahei’s silver mine. Only when the Jing Prince had caught two deathsworn warriors and needed to investigate further did he notify Huang Qin, and have him assist in the operation.
If it were someone with complicated thoughts, they would definitely suspect the prince of keeping things hidden and being guarded against them. Huang Qin was someone with complicated thoughts, but through his many years of knowing the Jing Prince he came to a conclusion that would make others speechless. The conclusion was that the Jing Prince didn’t think the situation was worth telling him about, since it was just a silver mine after all. Although the prince knew it would be extremely helpful to him in the future, it couldn’t be counted as a major situation yet and merely needed to be kept hidden. The reason the prince told him about it now was also very simple. The Jing Prince felt that he didn’t have enough time on his hands, and thus decided to delegate the task to him.
Having come to this conclusion, Huang Qin wasn’t too bewildered. This was because from the years he spent with him, he understood that the Jing Prince was someone who didn’t play his cards according to logic, and was someone whose thoughts were different from others.
Huang Qin moved very quickly, and used the subordinates assigned to him by the Jing Prince to investigate everywhere. Based on his analysis he came to a conclusion that was most likely close to the truth: The scouts weren’t sent by anyone from the capital, or from the Jin Province or Qi Province. They were from the neighboring Yun Province, the Yun Prince’s people.
The Yun Prince Luo Huai was nominally the fourth prince, one rank ahead of the Jing Prince. However, they were born in the same year. His mother had a poor reputation, and could even be said to be lowly. The Jing Prince’s mother was first an attendant before becoming a titled concubine. The Yun Prince’s mother was also born as a palace maid, and at first also given a titled concubine status. However, due to the Yun Prince being chubby and foolish-looking from the age of five, as well as extremely dimwitted, the emperor was extremely disgusted.
After the fifth prince grew up, things grew worse to the extent that after coming of age and marrying, he received another stain on his reputation as someone afraid of his wife. This ended up causing his father to demote his mother out of rage to an attendant, and the Yun Prince ended up much like the Jing Prince, also being sent far away.
The Yun Prince had always been rumored to be dumb as a pig and cowardly, but he unexpectedly pulled off something like this.
But thinking of his own situation, the Jing Prince somewhat understood.
When Huang Qin reported his conclusions to the Jing Prince, he was a little apprehensive since this was really unlike something the Yun Prince would do. However, the Jing Prince unexpectedly didn’t have any doubts about his report.
The Jing Prince lifted his teacup, stirred the tea slightly and took a couple sips.
His expression was apathetic as usual, his gaze obscure.
“No need to continue investigating. The final few things will also be handled by you.” The Jing Prince spoke one word at a time. Perhaps he wasn’t used to saying so many words at once, so he spoke very slowly.
The usually taciturn prince would only speak a little more when dealing with official business or with certain people.
Huang Qin nodded his head and didn’t ask why he shouldn’t continue his investigations.
The Jing Prince placed the teacup down and walked outside. Huang Qin sat in the room and pondered for half a moment before his eyes flashed with understanding.
Looks like there was more than more person disguising themselves as a pig to eat the tiger!2
Eunuch Fu had been constantly waiting outside this remote courtyard in the Jing Prince Estate.
Eunuch Fu had served by the prince’s side for many years, and there were only a few hidden situations that the Jing Prince wouldn’t bring him into. Eunuch Fu also understood the reasoning, and didn’t disagree with it.
On the way back to the Hall of Splendor, the sky had already turned dark. The Jing Prince had eaten in the front court tonight, and only needed to bathe and change upon returning.
He came out of the bathroom in his underwear, and after some thought the Jing Prince had the eunuch serving him put another outer layer over him.
The Jing Prince didn’t speak, and Eunuch Fu didn’t ask. He watched as the Jing Prince left the inner hall towards Xiao Hua’s previous room.
Eunuch Fu’s expression was awkward, and didn’t dare look at the expression of the Jing Prince who was standing outside the door peering into the dark room.
“Highness, Madam Hua has moved to the western pavilion.” Eunuch Fu’s voice was very low.
He paused, and spoke again: “How about we go to the western pavilion?”
The Jing Prince didn’t speak, and turned back towards the study.
He stood in front of the bookshelf, seemed to choose a book at random and started flipping through it. Out of the corner of Eunuch Fu’s eyes, he saw that there was a small, small piece of paper inside the book.
The Jing Prince caressed the piece of paper a little, then closed the book and returned it to its place. He turned around and went back to the inner hall, clearly going to sleep.
Eunuch Fu sighed silently in his heart, and didn’t say a word.