She slept until noon. When lunch was brought back, Ding Xiang woke Xiao Hua up so she could eat.
Because she was in her own house and she planned on going back to sleep after eating, Xiao Hua didn’t care too much about her appearance. She casually put on a small jacket and court dress, left her hair scattered behind her and went to the table.
Today’s dish was a clay pot of bamboo shoots mixed with smoked duck, and also included some mushrooms and beansprouts. The two other two stir fried dishes were fresh mushrooms with cabbage stems and stir fried kidneys. Xiao Hua liked eating clay pot style dishes, which made one feel warm in the dead of winter. Furthermore, the bamboo shoots mixed with smoked duck was delicious.
She ate half a bowl of rice in one go, and turned towards the soup.
The soup was sent over by Nana He, and there would be one every day. The person fetching the meals knew to first go to the meal management center, and then over to the Hall of Splendor where Nana He would hand over the packaged soup.
It was just a small jar of soup, but the implications behind it were too heavy. Not only did it bring honor to those that served the western pavilion, even the other palace maids outside would have fawning faces when looking at them.
These servants naturally had no idea the soup was given by Nana He, and assumed that it was bestowed by his highness. They felt even more that the western pavilion’s Madam Hua was his highness’s newly favored, and decided to be more mindful in the future.
Xiao Hua also understood this, and accepted Nana He’s kindness in her heart.
Without even mentioning that the soup was good for body, just Nana He’s implicit actions of helping her increase her reputation made Xiao Hua feel deeply grateful.
For someone like her who had no background, this gesture was far too important. At least Xiao Hua had noticed that the four low-ranked palace maids would look at her with eagerly attentive smiles that even contained hints of being inspired.
Only if the mistress was favored would the servant have future prospects. This was something everyone understood.
What the madam said that day, Ding Xiang had also kept in mind.
She polished Chun Cao for several days, beating her into shape with all sorts of methods. She truly spent quite some effort on her.
Being raised and taught by Ding Xiang this way, Chun Chao didn’t have any appreciative feelings, but still understood that a servant had her own place, and the mistress would remain the mistress. Only after Ding Xiang pointed it out a few times did she understand why Ding Xiang had this attitude.
She wasn’t foolish to begin with, and her mindset was adjusted extremely quickly.
Seeing Chun Cao correcting her attitude, Ding Xiang moved her to serve by Xiao Hua’s side.
Therefore, Xiao Hua saw Chun Cao serving by her side. Her appearance wasn’t any different from the past, but her attitude seemed to have changed a little.
She felt a little apologetic in her heart, but she knew that she had too many things to deal with recently. She herself didn’t have any foundation and Ding Xiang doing what she did truly was for her own good. Only after those around her were organized could she focus all her attention on guarding against outside attacks. After all, those she could trust were really too few.
Xiao Hua didn’t have a lot of capacity in her stomach. She drank a jar of soup, ate a bowl of rice, and ate a couple servings per dish before she was full.
After eating, she washed her hands and rinsed her mouth with Ding Lan’s help and drank half a cup of tea.
“Share the rest amongst yourselves, let’s not waste the food. I’m going to sleep for a while, you guys go eat. Otherwise the food will get cold.”
After speaking, Xiao Hua went to her inner room.
“Madam, let me help put you to bed.” Chun Cao followed to the side and spoke. Compared to her past immature self, her face seemed to have gotten a little steadier.
Xiao Hua gave her a meaningful glance on the side and smiled: “Am I such an unreasonable person? Hurry and go eat.”
These words made Chun Cao’s nose feel a little sour. She felt that big sis Xiao Hua, oh, no, Madam Hua hadn’t changed, and was still her old self.
It was as big sis Ding Xiang said after all: her attitude had been wrong. The madam’s current circumstances were difficult at the moment, and everyone should be united in performing their own roles well.
“Alright, everyone hurry and go eat. Madam is being considerate, and is afraid that if we eat cold food in the winter it’ll harm our stomachs.”
Ding Lan already brought in lunch for the three of them. Ding Xiang divided the dishes on the table up and had Chun Chao deliver it to the other four low-ranked palace maids.
Only after the three of them sat down did Ding Xiang say: “The two of you need to stay alert these next few days. I feel that the consort’s side isn’t that simple.”
Ding Lan nodded her head. Chun Cao also understood a little and nodded along as well.
Ding Xiang looked at the two of them, her expression stern: “The three of us are basically madam’s closest people by her side. Therefore we have to perform our jobs well, so that the madam can feel at ease about everything. Right, Chun Cao. You’re still living with those four low-ranked palace maids. Don’t move out yet. Help keep an eye on them a little.”
“Big sis Ding Xiang don’t worry, I’ll watch them closely.”
“Those four were all brought in from different places. We aren’t clear yet if anyone amongst them had been bribed. It’s better to keep an eye on them.”
Based on his usual convention, today was the day the Jing Prince came to sit at the Changchun Pavilion.
The Jing Consort woke up early, ‘respectfully greeting’ those who came to pay respects every morning, and had them all disperse without delay.
After leaving the Changchun Pavilion, Yu Jiao spoke with a pinched voice: “We really can’t be compared to this consort. His highness goes to see her on a regular basis after all.”
It wasn’t clear whether these words were directed towards Senior Concubine Qiao or Xiao Hua. Regardless, both of them ignored her and each returned to their own pavilion.
The Jing Consort apprehensively waited an entire morning, and ate lunch a little absentmindedly. Only in the afternoon did she hear her subordinate report that his highness had arrived.
It was still the same old apathetic expression, and he still completely ignored her. She would feel bottled-up anger every time, but this time her anger could almost not be contained, and due to her thinking of certain things and a certain person, the anger even threatened to surge out.
The Jing Consort wasn’t someone good at maintaining her outward appearance to begin with. Often times she would force herself to do so. With the sudden appearance of this Madam Hua these days making her mood chaotic, seeing the apathetic expression on the Jing Prince who was sitting there suddenly made her wonder if he was still so detached when he was with that person.
Her sight suddenly became a little blurry and her heart was extremely stuffed up. The Jing Consort squeezed her fingers tightly and spent a huge amount of effort to resist the urge to smash something.
The hall was extremely silent. Chun Xiang, Nana Li and the others stood nervously to the side. They were deeply afraid the consort would start causing a ruckus in front of his highness. Seeing the consort’s expression undergo a dramatic change, Nana Li even considered doing something to interrupt, but she saw the Jing Consort take several deep breaths and force her emotions down.
The Jing Prince saw that the Jing Consort hadn’t made a sound in a while and stood up, taking steps towards the outside.
The Jing Consort was left sitting with a profound expression on her face. Only after a long while did she smash a teacup to the ground.
Weirdly, she did not become hysterical this time. The Jing Consort spoke with a low voice: “Nana. The things I spoke about last time, put them all into motion.”
“Don’t make this consort say it again.”
The Jing Province’s winters were always long. Spring had clearly arrived yet the snow showed no signs of melting, and it even started snowing again today.
In the afternoon, Xiao Hua sat on the warm kiln. Chun Cao was peeling pine nuts for her to eat when suddenly her subordinate announced the arrival of Senior Concubine Qiao.
Xiao Hua was very surprised that she would suddenly visit in this weather. Although she was surprised, she still had to receive her guest.
Senior Concubine Qiao was the senior concubine whereas Xiao Hua was only a madam. She naturally couldn’t put on airs and sit in the main seat. After Xiao Hua invited Senior Concubine Qiao to sit down, she herself sat in the chair opposite her.
Ding Lan served tea and there was silence in the hall.
Senior Concubine Qiao was dressed extremely neat and simply today. She wore a pale bluish white lined jacket and a skirt, appearing very beautiful. Compared to her usual charming sort of beauty, she appeared much more approachable.
“I always wanted to pay little sis a visit, but couldn’t find the opportunity. I was free today and so came uninvited.”
Xiao Hua smiled a little and didn’t know what to say.
The relationship between the two wasn’t good. Although they couldn’t be said to be complete enemies, they also weren’t completely without grudges. It was unexpected that she would come today with such an appearance, and with such a familiar tone of voice.
“There’s been a lot of snow recently. I kept intending to come when it wasn’t snowing, but couldn’t find such a day.” Senior Concubine Qiao lifted her teacup, stirred her tea a little and took a sip.
Xiao Hua’s eyes flashed. She smiled and said: “That’s right. It’s cold and there’s a lot of snow. If it wasn’t for having to pay respects to the consort, this servant concubine wouldn’t be willing to go outside.”
“The Jing Province’s climate happens to be like this. The winters are long, and during winters the days are cold and the snow is heavy. Although winter has left and spring has come, spring here still comes a little later than anywhere else.”
Xiao Hua noticed Senior Concubine Qiao’s warm tone and apparent kindness, so continued chatting with her about the Jing Province’s weather and what not.
After speaking for a while, the room fell silent once more.
Senior Concubine Qiao smiled amicably as though not noticing the slightly awkward air and spoke again: “This Jing Prince Estate’s rear court doesn’t have many people, and also doesn’t have much to do. I normally also don’t have anyone I can talk with. Today, chatting with little sis felt natural right away. In the future I will come find little sis to chat if I’m idle. You definitely won’t refuse, right?”
“From what big sis senior concubine is saying, this servant concubine naturally welcomes it but merely didn’t have the time to express it yet.”
Senior Concubine Qiao stood up. Die’er who was on the side draped her cloak over her.
“Having bothered you for so long, I will take my leave first. Little sis doesn’t need to see me out, it’s cold outside.”
Although she said this, Xiao Hua still stood up and respectfully saw her out the door before indicating Ding Lan to see her out of the pavilion.
Ding Lan sent her away before returning to the western room and saying: “Did this Senior Concubine Qiao eat the wrong medicine today?”
“You can say such things in front of us, but when we’re outside you have to be more cautious.” Ding Xiang was always strict, and never relaxed whether she was inside or outside.
“This servant is naturally aware. Madam, what do you think Senior Concubine Qiao was here for?”
Xiao Hua was already laying on her side on the kiln.
These days Ding Xiang had ordered her subordinates to focus on needlework. The previously empty kiln surface not only had an autumn colored, peony embroidered thick soft gauze mattress, but also a couple of pink cushions embroidered with silver lined peony trees. Now, Xiao Hua really enjoyed lazing on the kiln and burying herself into the cushions. It was soft and cozy.
“What else could she be here for? On the surface she’s trying to rope us into an alliance, but in reality there are still other intentions.”
The Jing Consort wasn’t trying to deal with Senior Concubine Qiao, so there was no need for her to form any sort of alliance. This meant that she had another goal. She could guess what it was even if she used her toes instead of her brain.
In her past life in the 4th young master’s rear court, she had seen too many people like this. When they couldn’t win openly and wasn’t favored themselves, they would try and get close to those who were. Of course they did have the intention of developing a good relationship, but their main goal was to appear more often in front of the master. If they could leave an impression, it would be easier to rope him to their own place.
While she had been a little bewildered at first by Senior Concubine Qiao’s intentions, after their parting discussion Xiao Hua had pretty much figured it out.
Was there a need to do this? It wasn’t like she was very favored at the moment.
But thinking of how the Jing Prince would barely come to the rear court once a month, she then thought about the number of times he had come to her place. Although it was a small number, it was still outstanding in comparison. To outsiders, she indeed seemed to be that little bit more favored.
From Xiao Hua’s words, not only Ding Lan but even Chun Cao understood the meaning behind Senior Concubine Qiao’s actions.
“She couldn’t really be trying to borrow our place to meet his highness, and then trying to rope him back to the Rongxi Pavilion, right?” Ding Lan was a little worried. Her own madam was already favored little enough, how was it going to work with the addition of Senior Concubine Qiao?
Xiao Hua could only let out a chuckle and roll over in her nest of soft cushions.
Chun Cao looked at Ding Xiang’s furrowed brows, and then glanced at Xiao Hua: “Then what should we do?”
Ding Xiang didn’t say anything. Xiao Hua spoke: “What else can we do? She’s the senior concubine. I’m just a small madam. If she wants to come in the doors, could I refuse? She can come if she wants. In any case, his highness only comes once in a while. Who knows if she could chance upon it?”
“What if she happens to chance upon it?” Chun Cao worried a little too much.
Xiao Hua rolled her eyes and didn’t say anything, and suddenly felt extremely annoyed.
It wasn’t like she hadn’t suffered from this in her past life. The 4th young master had also been drawn away a couple of times. At that time she exploded with anger, angry at that person’s shamelessness and also angry at the 4th young master’s lack of self-control. Mostly angry because she felt she had lost all her face.
Especially since Bi Yuan was still struggling with her at that time, and would constantly bring it up mockingly to stab at her heart. She had stabbed until Xiao Hua stomped her feet with fury and was ready to stab her back, but with a knife instead.
In this life, facing the same situation, she could definitely not shoo her away. After all her status was higher than Xiao Hua’s. Furthermore, she was already having a hard time dealing with the Jing Consort’s crude methods. If she offended Senior Concubine Qiao, the result of a two-pronged attack would be hard to predict.
She didn’t know if it was because Senior Concubine Qiao spoke very little normally, but Xiao Hua always felt that this person wasn’t simple. The Jing Consort’s tricks were only threatening because she used her status to her advantage, whereas Senior Concubine Qiao was much more scheming. The Jing Consort would definitely not be able to come express goodwill at this lowly madam’s residence.
“Let’s take it one step at a time,” Xiao Hua gave her conclusion, “Even if you guys aren’t satisfied you should be a bit more restrained. Don’t make it obvious to others.”