Cui Qiao felt her heart pounding.
She was born into the Weiyuan Marquis Estate but hadn’t been doing too well.
She was an only child and her parents were both honest and clumsy people. She couldn’t get any of the good assignments, and was left with the difficult and thankless tasks.
She started working when she was eight years old and started off as a sweeper lass. She became an errand girl for the Jinse Pavilion, and then a junior maid within the main residence. After so many years, the various things happening within the estate was seen by her. But since she was just a little lass, how could she get involved in the affairs of her masters? She might as well keep quiet and work obediently.
Because of the third miss, the Jinse Pavillion’s people were regularly switched out. The servants all felt threatened, not by the whip but rather by the thought of having to leave such a good place. She was the same way. Unexpectedly, when Fang Cao and Fang Cui were beaten to death, the two senior maid spots were freed up. She was promoted along with Cui Ping.
Cui Qiao was very afraid of the third miss. This fear was present in her heart ever since she was a junior maid. This was why she tried to get in her good books despite being promoted to senior maid.
After all this time she was able to tell that all those who went against the third miss ended up suffering. Fang Cao and Fang Cui didn’t serve the madam properly and became Concubine Pei’s lackeys. They deserved their fates.
As for the matter today, Cui Qiao was clear that she had become embroiled in it. The old madam was angry at the madam, which was why Matron Zhao dared to treat this matter superficially.
Actually, Cui Qiao absolutely could have dropped the matter after returning form the Rongan Hall. She was just a powerless servant. Nothing would happen to the madam due to a night of fever. But she wasn’t willing to do so. The madam was a good person and treated the servants in the Jinse Pavilion well. What others thought and did had nothing to do with Cui Qiao. She wasn’t able to do something that went against her conscience.
This was why she went and called the third miss in the middle of the night.
Cui Qiao’s hand was suddenly held fast.
“Your hands are so cold. Are you cold?”
There were little lasses holding lamps walking behind so it wasn’t dark. The weather was just cold, and the freezing wind blew onto their necks.
Her hand was gently patted. “Don’t be afraid. You are a loyal one and the third miss knows this. We truly have something to report so it cannot be helped if we disturb the old madam.”
Cui Qiao nodded.
When they arrived at the Rongan Hall and reported their reason for coming, the lights in the side room of the main residence were quickly lit.
Matron Zhao came out with a jacket draped over her.
“You’ve actually made another trip back. Did the third miss get woken up by the ruckus? Really, you lass. If you told this old woman about such a major matter, would we still stop you? Why did you leave just like that, and even disturbed the third miss?”
Cui Qiao lowered her head. She was going to speak but was pulled behind someone.
She heard Matron Zou’s gentle words. “This lass was only recently promoted and was momentarily panicked. But she is quite loyal, and merely needs to be properly taught in the future. We’ve inconvenienced this old sis at this late hour. You should hurry and go rest. It’ll be fine as long as you order the side door to be opened.”
“The madam is feverish. How can I go back to sleep? Let me send you back.”
“No need, no need. We’ll be leaving now. Just wanted to let give you a heads up. You know what the third miss’s temper is like. Since the granny guarding the side door refused to accept face when given it and delayed the Jinse Pavilion’s matter, the third miss has ordered for her to be slapped. Please inform the old madam when she wakes up tomorrow and ask her to consider that the third miss’s actions stemmed from filial piety.”
Matron Zou took her group and left. Matron Zhao was left frozen in place.
Was this hitting the granny’s face, or hitting her own?
Refused to accept face when given it!
Hey, this old thing’s words were truly infuriating!
Matron Zhao entered the main residence, using the faint light to enter the inner room. It turns out there was a small lamp burning inside, but due to its dimness it wasn’t visible from the outside.
The old madam was half-reclined in bed with her eyes shut. Hearing the movement, she opened her eyes.
Matron Zhou approached and quietly explained the matter.
“That Shen Yi Yao wasn’t faking her illness?”
Matron Zhao shook her head. “It seems like she wasn’t. That senior maid from the Jinse Pavilion is useless, and even woke the third miss up with her ruckus.”
The old madam didn’t speak for a while. Matron Zhao observed her expression and didn’t dare say anything either.
After some time.
“Enough, you should go rest. That lass was timid and didn’t dare speak up. What does it have to do with us?”
Matron Zhou thought about it and said: “It’s just Granny Qi who guards the side door is going to suffer. The third miss’s temper is really violent, ordering for her to be slapped without even waiting a little.”
The old madam’s expression was extremely ugly. Was this slapping that granny, or slapping her?!
This wicked little thing!
Shen Yi Yao only awoke on the next day.
She opened her eyes and saw Cui Ping dozing off on a stool by the bed.
The moment she moved, Cui Ping awoke and hurriedly stood up, yelling happily: “The madam is awake.”
Cui Qiao carried a golden platter inside. “The medicine just finished simmering. Since madam is awake, drink up first. This servant will have someone prepare breakfast. Madam has missed two meals, and needs to eat something.”
As she drank the medicine, Shen Yi Yao asked quietly, “The third miss came here last night?”
Cui Qiao froze but she didn’t hide anything. She described what happened last night.
As she was speaking, the sound of greetings came from outside.
Yan Ting walked in.
“I worked late last night and slept in the front court’s study. This morning, I heard you got a fever and hurried over to see you. Are you ok?”
It seemed the weird Yan Ting from yesterday was just an illusion. At this time, Yan Ting was the considerate and loving husband from before.
Shen Yi Yao nodded. “I’m a lot better after drinking medicine.”
An errand boy came and reported there was a matter that needed the lord marquis’s attention in the front court.
Yan Ting didn’t delay. After speaking a few more comforting words, he left.
Following this, Concubine Pei and Concubine Wu brought Yan Qian and Yan Chan over. They politely inquired about her health and then said they wanted to take care of her while she was sick. Shen Yi Yao’s head was still fuzzy and started hurting from the clamor. She waved her hand and had them leave.
Concubine Pei still wanted to speak when Cui Qiao said: “Madam has just taken medicine and needs to sleep a little. How about the two concubines come back another day?”
Concubine Pei gave Cui Qiao a glance, and only saw her smiling warmly. “Concubine Pei, you’re pregnant and need to save your strength. This servant will escort you out.”
Shen Yi Yao took medicine for a couple more days before gradually recovering.
In the blink of an eye, the Lantern Festival arrived.
On the fifteenth of the New Year, the Grand Xi celebrated an important festival: the Lantern Festival. Every year around this time, the capital would host a grand celebration. The Latern Festival lasted for ten days, from the eigth of the month to the seventeenth. During this time, the capital would be filled with lantern markets. The markets by the Donghua Gate1 were the largest.
The so-called lantern markets had “markets” from dawn to dusk, and from dusk to dawn they had “lanterns”. There were merchants from all over at these lantern markets selling various rarities. There were antiques from the past and objects for people of all statuses. There were colored lanterns that remained lit throughout the night, accompanied by music and performances until the next day.
During this time, the citizens would all come out of their houses and admire the lanterns at the lantern markets, solve riddles, eat festive snacks and drive away illness. The palace also held celebrations during this time. There would be mountains of lanterns and fireworks, but only royalty, nobility and officials could attend. The emperor would also come watch in person.
It could be called a nation-wide celebration.
Luo Huai Yuan had long since written Yan Yan a letter, inviting her and Shen Qi to go admire the lanterns.
Yan Yan had gone to the latern market many times. This lantern market was the one held within the palace. The lights were splendid and the fireworks were dazzling. There were many food stalls and performances. All these were tailored to the tastes of the upper class. Even the small food stands, music and performances were all meticulously screend beforehand. Those who attended were all high-ranking officials and nobility. Although it was lively, it lacked some character.
Luo Huai Yuan also wasn’t willing to go to the lantern market in the inner city. The destination he chose for the lantern viewing was in the outer city. In his letter, he described how lively it was going to be on the day. He said the market at the Dongan2 Gate had already started, and there were many many beautiful lanterns. It was clear things were going to be lively when night approached.
He also mentioned that commoners had the custom of “driving away illnesses”. Since Ah Mo’s health wasn’t good, he could get a blessing for good health in the future.
Ultimately, he used all sorts of methods to convince Yan Yan, and she ended up being convinced.
Therefore, Yan Yan decided to go lantern viewing on the day of the Lantern Festival.
The Weiyuan Marquis Estate also had arrangements on this day. They would go attend the lantern market in the inner city. However, the old madam was old and Shen Yi Yao had just recovered from her illness. Concubine Pei was pregnant so the second branch left Yan Hong and Yan Qian to the eldest branch and third branch. The adults of these two branches would take everyone out for a stroll.
Yan Yan told Shen Yi Yao that she was going to go lantern viewing. Hearing that Shen Qi would be accompanying them, Shen Yi Yao didn’t say too much, just telling her to take care of her younger brother.
Yan Yan knew to do so without being instructed. There would definitely be a lot of people and she planned on bringing Lady Hui as well as several guards. As for Mei Xiang’s group, she wouldn’t take them along. They were all feeble girls and wouldn’t be much use if anything occurred.
On the day of the Lantern Festival, Yan Yan took Yan Mo and left the estate.
The carriage had just reached the outer city when they became stuck in traffic. Therefore, the abandoned the carriage and prepared to continue by foot.
Yan Yan held Yan Mo’s hand and Lady Hui was next to her. They walked into the outer city with several sturdy guards. She and Luo Huai Yuan had agreed to meet at the Liu Xiang Restaurant. It wasn’t too far from the inner city, but there were a lot of people on the roads. They had no choice but to walk slowly.
Seeing more and more people the further they walked, Yan Yan grabbed a black silk cord from her robes and tied one end onto her wrist and the other onto Yan Mo’s. The few guards parted the crowd on all sides and the group slowly walked onwards.
By the time the reached the Liu Xiang Restaurant, the sky was already dark.
The restaurant was packed with customers and it was extremely rowdy. One could tell how lively it was while standing outside. Especially the second floor, which had all its windows wide open. The private rooms seemed to be fully occupied.
Someone leaned out from one of the second floor windows and waved enthusiastically.
“Little sis Ah Yan, over here.”
It was Shen Qi.
This brat didn’t mind his appearance and yelled loudly while waving his hands and feet. He was full of vigor and his cry of “little sis Ah Yan” attracted countless gazes. They seemed to be searching for this “little sis Ah Yan”.
Yan Yan glared viciously at him. She fished a silver bead from her coin pouch and shot it at him.
The brat’s body moved in a flash and he caught the bead, stuck out his tongue and withdrew his head.
Reaching the second floor, they were led to that private room.
Apart from Shen Qi, Luo Huai Yuan had also arrived a long time ago.
He was wearing a sapphire blue jacket with a dark green hem. On his head was a black fox fur hat inlaid with sapphires. Because he wasn’t wearing his fur jacket this time, he appeared a little skinnier than before.
Seeing Yan Yan looking at him, he even purposefully patted his stomach with a grin. His wide smile and dimpled cheeks made one unable to resist smiling along with him.
“Did little sis Ah Yan eat before coming here? If not, we can eat a little first.”
Why did this little fatty Luo always bring up food whenever they met? Could it be that she looks like someone who loves eating?3
Yan Yan didn’t have the face of someone who loved eating. Rather, it was Luo Huai Yuan who was the glutton. He also remembered a saying in the modern world: the way to someone’s heart is through their stomach.
For the sake of conquering the little consort’s heart, Luo Huai Yuan could be said to be pulling out all stops.
“We ate a little before leaving.” Yan Yan lowered her head and asked her younger brother. “Ah Mo, are you hungry?”
Yan Mo shook his head.
Shen Qi interrupted on the isde: “I took a look on the way here. There are quite a few food stands outside. We can eat while walking around.”
This brat was unable to wait any longer. This was his first time at a lantern market in the outer city. He was completely dazzled, and if Luo Huai Yuan hadn’t been holding him back, he would have long since run off.
“This lantern market is really lively and full of people! Go, go go! Let’s hurry!”