Translator’s notes: Thank you to Tweedledeestwin and RyuRyu for your generous donations despite the full chapter bar!
After lunch, Xiao Hua walked around her room to digest a little, and went to curl up on the warm kiln.
If it wasn’t time to sleep, she would rarely go into the bedroom.
Snow was falling heavily at this time, the skies were cold and the ground was frozen. Since no one would come visit her, Xiao Hua felt that it was very comfortable curling up on the kiln and watching the snow outside, sleeping a little if she felt sleepy.
Xiao Hua usually wouldn’t force herself to think about problems she couldn’t solve. She just had to quietly observe any changes. She had only been in the rear court for a brief period of time. Things would slowly become clear.
Only by thinking this way would that suffocating feeling of urgency fade a little.
She unintentionally saw the book that the Jing Prince was reading last night on the kiln. Xiao Hua picked it up and flipped through it a little.
Looking at the cover, she realized it was a travel log.
The Jing Prince felt like a rigorous person, and this sort of light reading for leisure didn’t seem to be the type of book he would read. However, this was precisely what he had been reading.
Xiao Hua was a little stunned and felt that the book in her hands didn’t match that person’s appearance. Since she was bored and idle, she also started reading it.
The more she read the more she got drawn in. Before she knew it, half an hour had gone by.
Chun Cao, whom she hadn’t seen in several days, came in and switched out Xiao Hua’s tea.
“Hey, Chun Cao. What have you been busy with these past few days? It feels like you haven’t been around.”
Chun Cao gave Xiao Hua a slightly aggrieved look, saw Ding Xiang who had been standing constantly by the side, and hurriedly half lowered her head.
“This servant has been busy organizing madam’s allowance the last couple days.”
Xiao Hua let out an ‘oh’, took a sip of her tea and buried her head back into the travel log.
Chun Cao walked slowly out of the western room.
According to reason, she had served Madam Hua the longest. When Madam Hua was still a low-ranked palace maid, she was also a low-ranked palace maid, and it was even because of Madam Hua that she was able to be relocated to the Hall of Splendor.
Since Madam Hua had ascended to the sky, she expected herself to also rise with the tide. However, when she got to the western pavilion she realized Madam Hua’s personal palace maids had already been arranged, and she had become unnecessary.
Everyone had their own place. There was a quota for two personal palace maids. It was only because she had come along from the Hall of Splendor with Madam Hua that the high-ranked palace maid Ding Xiang had arranged her to serve inside the house.
Her happy heart was suddenly doused by someone with a bucket of cold water. Even though Chun Cao knew that her age was insufficient to become a high-ranked palace maid, she still inexplicably felt some grievance in her heart at this arrangement.
That Ding Xiang managed her and six other palace maids, and was very strict. In front of the madam she was respectful and deferential, but in front of them she was as strict as can be. Although she didn’t beat or curse at them, she was still strict enough to make others feel fear.
Ding Xiang had arranged her to work outside with the other low-ranked palace maids. Although she told the madam that she would be arranged to serve inside the house, she actually never allowed her to enter.
Chun Cao had labelled Ding Xiang as someone treacherous from the start.
This was just her initial impression. Afterwards, that night after the madam had gone to bed, Ding Xiang called her outside and gave her a lecture. Her general meaning was that she would still be able to serve inside the house, but it would depend on her performance. If she behaved well then she would make the arrangements.
These few days Chun Cao was very well behaved on the surface. In her heart she was actually saying that Ding Xiang better not let her seize the chance to go complain to the madam. She had accompanied the madam for so long, she would probably be on her side. But today when Ding Xiang arranged for her to enter and serve tea, she saw the madam yet wasn’t able to tattle.
Chun Cao thought it was because it wasn’t the right moment since Ding Xiang was there as well.
Xiao Hua glanced at Chun Cao’s back and lowered her head again to read.
Although she was literate and had read several books before, it had been a while since she last did so. The reading was quite strenuous. However, the stories recorded in the travel log were exciting, so she stuttered along and felt her mood was pretty good.
“Chun Cao is someone who has been with me from the beginning. I’d like to look after her.”
Xiao Hua thought that Ding Xiang should probably understand her meaning.
“Madam, this servant understands.” Ding Xiang paused and continued: “This servant isn’t trying to make things difficult for her. Her attitude isn’t right and this servant just wants to polish her up a little. If she continues developing as is, she will cause problems for the madam.”
Xiao Hua raised her head, “It’s not that serious, right?”
Ding Xiang looked Xiao Hua in the eyes, “Mistresses are mistresses, and servants are servants. She shouldn’t be unaware of her own place just because she has some relationship with the mistress.”
“Chun Cao isn’t someone who doesn’t know her place….”
“That’s because it hasn’t developed to that extent.” Ding Xiang half lowered her head and said quietly: “Madam, your birth is not noble. Chun Cao also watched as you became a mistress in a single leap….”
Xiao Hua looked at Ding Xiang without sorrow or anger, her expression very calm.
Ding Xiang raised her head and looked at Xiao Hua, continuing to speak: “What inappropriate thoughts will slowly develop into is something none of us can foresee. However, Ding Xiang knows that Chun Cao’s thoughts will only cause madam many problems if they continue to develop.”
After half a moment, she said again: “Madam cannot afford to deal with any more problems at the moment.”
Their eyes met.
Xiao Hua sighed and retreated in defeat, “Alright, I don’t really understand these things. However, I trust you.”
Ding Xiang didn’t reveal much on the surface, but she felt relieved in her heart.
“Ding Xiang will not fail to live up to madam’s trust.”
Xiao Hua continued reading the book in her hands. Ding Xiang once again sat on the small stool and did some needlework.
The room was very quiet.
“Ding Xiang, where did you work in the past? I feel you aren’t someone who came in from the outside.” Xiao Hua casually flipped through the book and her tone was one of casual conversation.
Ding Xiang had her head down and her hands never stopped moving.
“This servant was a low-ranked palace maid in the imperial palace. When his highness came to the Jing Province, this servant was assigned over by the palace.” She paused, and spoke again: “After coming to the Jing Province, this servant worked under Auntie Qi.”
Although the one on the kiln didn’t continue speaking, Ding Xiang glanced over, a slight smile appearing on the corner of her lips.
At first when Auntie Qi sent her over, she had felt a little apprehensive in her heart. However, after spending some time with this mistress, she felt that Madam Hua was a pretty good person.
It wasn’t known how much time had passed when Xiao Hua’s voice sounded from the top of the kiln.
“The consort’s side is forcing things tightly. It seems I can only act shamelessly the entire time.”
The voice was very fleeting, the person who spoke seemed as if she wasn’t even paying attention. However, this made Ding Xiang let out another rarely seen smile.
Xiao Hua did indeed act shamelessly to the bitter end.
Every time she went to pay respects, her attitude was very respectful and she advanced or retreated with her words very appropriately. However, she never even touched the drinks and snacks at the Changchun Pavilion.
The Jing Consort would sometimes appear, and sometimes would only leave them hanging.
No matter what the Jing Consort ended up doing, Xiao Hua decided to remain steady to the end, sitting there unmoving like a clock.
After a few days, not only did the Jing Consort become extremely irritable at the lack of developments, Senior Concubine Qiao had started viewing her in a new light. Even Yu Rong felt that this Madam Hua didn’t seem to be a simple mistress.
Yu Jiao didn’t consider whether Xiao Hua was simple or not, but only felt that she had a lot of issues.
She would have indigestion every day, or a lack of appetite, or loss of taste due to a cold…after this carried on for a while, even Yu Jiao started feeling something wasn’t right, and didn’t need Yu Rong to say anything.
In the past the two of them had never been on guard against the Jing Consort’s food and drink. It was because they weren’t favored, and they also didn’t feel that the Jing Consort would do something like try to poison them.
This morning during the routine paying of respects, the Jing Consort suddenly threw a bolt from the blue.
“Congratulations, little sis Hua. His highness has visited you twice in the last five days. You’re really extremely favored by his highness.” The Jing Consort’s smile seemed a little twisted, and her tone was also very ugly, not as nice and amicable as in the past.
Thinking of what her subordinates had reported, the Jing Consort gritted her teeth in hatred. This lowly hussy. She appeared docile on the surface but actually harbored evil intentions. She actually roped his highness over under everyone’s noses without anyone finding out about it.
Xiao Hua gave her a glance. Was she jealous, or trying to make her everyone’s target, or showing off her information gathering skills?
Probably all of the above.
After the Jing Prince went to her place, the next few times she came to pay respects Xiao Hua had been a little worried the Jing Consort and the rest would make things difficult for her, or attack her outright. However things had been unexpectedly peaceful. The second time the Jing Prince came was three days ago. Who knew that they had only now found out about it?
Xiao Hua calculated in her heart that perhaps the Jing Consort, Senior Concubine Qiao and the two Madams Yu weren’t as well-informed as she expected?
Towards the Jing Consorts words, Xiao Hua merely lowered her head and adopted a restrained posture, not saying anything.
The Jing Consort’s words really stirred up huge waves amongst the others. However, no one questioned the validity of her statement. Just based on the Jing Consort’s unpleasant expression they could tell the news wasn’t false.
“We really couldn’t tell, little sis Hua has such abilities?”
“Someone who had served under his highness in the past really is on a different level from us. Of course she gets treated more favorably.”
“Congratulations little sis Hua. Really makes one deathly jealous.”
Yu Jiao’s face immediately turned red from jealous spite. Even Senior Concubine Qiao and Yu Rong who rarely spoke couldn’t hide their jealousy and spoke several mocking phrases.
Looks like the Jing Prince’s actions had thoroughly provoked them.
Xiao Hua wasn’t surprised at Yu Jiao’s change in expression, and the Jing Consort’s anger was expected. However, she didn’t expect that Senior Concubine Qiao who had been low-key all this time would also be unable to endure. After all, she had given Xiao Hua the impression of someone still on the fence!
Being attacked from all sides by three jealous women, Xiao Hua remained steadily seated like Mt. Tai. Her posture was still the same half lowered face, sitting there without speaking. It definitely wasn’t possible for her to not have heard everything, but she still acted as if she hadn’t.
The Jing Consort who was in the seat of honor seemed to feel that she had seen enough of the show and found it hard to conceal her restlessness. She waved her hand with an impatient air of ‘we’re done paying respects so you guys can scram’.
In the past the Jing Consort had always put on a dignified appearance, but today her face had changed dramatically. It was clear that this news had truly provoked her a lot.
The few people all stood and finished up paying respects for the day.
Unfortunately, due to the Jing Consort gathering everyone’s hatred onto her, it wasn’t as peaceful as the last few days. After Xiao Hua left the main hall and entered the hallway, Yu Jiao continued to fire off sour words of mockery.
Looking at Yu Jiao’s appearance, Xiao Hua felt like she seemed to be possessed by Qiao Lian.1
“Big sisters, this servant concubine will take her leave first.” After speaking, Xiao Hua left with Ding Xiang and Ding Lan. From start to finish, she never responded to their words and didn’t reveal any indignant expressions. She was shockingly calm.
After leaving the Changchun Pavilion’s gates, Ding Lan couldn’t resist saying: “This consort is too immoral. Isn’t she attracting hostility onto the madam? Also those Madams Yu, especially that Madam Yu Jiao, their words were too ugly.”
“Enough, keep your voice down.” Ding Xiang said.
“It’s fine. They can say whatever they want, it’s not like I’ll lose any skin over it.” Xiao Hua yawned and adjusted the hood over her head. “Right, Ding Xiang. Why do I feel the consort and the rest aren’t that well-informed?”
Ding Xiang muttered to herself for a bit before saying: “Probably because they weren’t prepared for it. After all, his highness rarely comes to the rear court.”
What Ding Xiang didn’t mention was that his highness would go for over a year and a half without visiting the rear court in the past, so there weren’t many struggles. Now with the appearance of Madam Hua, as well as his highness’s two visits, the others would definitely keep a close eye on her place.
Even If Ding Xiang didn’t say it, Xiao Hua also understood this. Looks like there will be many problems in the future.
At this time, Xiao Hua’s feelings were extremely complicated. She hated being targeted like this, but also felt a little relieved.
It’s also good that they knew his highness was coming to her place. At least now on the surface they could only say a few harsh words. When they couldn’t do anything to her openly, all that was left to deal with were the hidden schemes.