After Shen Yi Yao left, Concubine Pei came out from the inner room.
“Are you satisfied? This time that lass will have to shed a layer of skin before she’s able to come out.”
Concubine Pei sidled over to the old madam, considerately grabbing a massage stick and pounding her legs for her. She smiled and said: “What are you saying, aunt? Isn’t your niece helping you vent your anger? That little lass actually dared threaten you. Your niece found it hard to swallow this grievance all night.”
The old madam patted her hand. “Your idea is good, and will also teach her a lesson. However, you mustn’t make any moves yourself. Otherwise, we may end up worse off than before.”
“Your niece naturally knows.”
Concubine Pei understood the old madam’s meaning. It was naturally fine to let her suffer a little, but if things got out of hand and provoked the people from the Zhenguo Duke Estate, things wouldn’t be easy to clean up. It was still that same saying about murder with a blunt knife being the best. It also prevented others from seizing any evidence.
As for who the third miss will hate when she gets released, that wasn’t their problem. After all, the orders had all come from the madam. Thinking of this, a meaningful smile blossomed on Concubine Pei’s face.
Old madam Yan looked at her niece who was obediently massaging her legs and let out a soundless sigh.
She had watched Yu Jin grow up. She was obedient and cute, clever and quick-witted. She had always been her ideal candidate as a daughter-in-law. She had planned on waiting until she grew older before marrying her to her eldest son, the future successor Yan Ting. However, her calculations were foiled by the old marquis who had still been alive back then.
Old Madam Yan understood what the old marquis was thinking.
The Weiyuan Marquis Estate looked glorious, but their nobility title had already been passed down to the final generation. In the Grand Xi, titled nobility ended after five generations. As for the old marquis, he was the fourth generation to inherit the title. It was necessary to find some powerful in-laws, and the Pei family’s influence was insufficient. They merely had a few average-ranked officials.
Although the old madam didn’t say it, she knew in her heart no influential family would come to them. Those below naturally felt that a marquis estate was wealthy, but those with potential naturally wouldn’t let their daughters marry over.
Unexpectedly, the old marquis was able to arrange a marriage for Ting’er with the first daughter of the Zhenguo Duke’s household. At that time, the old madam was truly overjoyed.
What kind of household was the Zhenguo Duke Estate?
They were part of the emperor’s inner circle!
The first generation Zhenguo Duke, Shen Hen, contributed towards the founding of the dynasty along with the ancestral emperor. Of course, contributions weren’t all the same. At that time, even someone walking the horses counted as having contributed.
But no one could dispute the first generation Zhenguo Duke’s contributions and his title.1
Shen Hen’s qualifications ran deep, and he had fought by the ancestral emperor’s side during the rebellion. Afterwards, he continued to wage war for more than ten years. Not only was he in charge of a third of the ancestral emperor’s troops, he had also saved his life countless times. The two of them had a deep friendship.
Once the ancestral emperor ascended the throne, things had been chaotic. The rewards had yet to be bestowed and rumors had it that the ancestral emperor was going to burn his bridges after crossing the river. Many generals didn’t dare relinquish their military authority. At that time, Shen Hen stood forward and without saying anything, handed all his troops over.
The ancestral emperor was moved and said their relationship was as close as brothers and that he definitely wouldn’t mistreat him in the future.
The ancestral emperor had lived up to his word. During the conferral of titles, he went against popular opinion and conferred Shen Hen as the Zhenguo Duke. This title would be passed on through his descendants perpetually without falling in rank.
This was the only conferred merit title that could be inherited perpetually. All the other titles had term limits. Additionally, he bestowed upon the Zhenguo Duke the Grand Xi’s first engraved insignia of pardon.
The cinnabar engraved metal insignia was also known as the gold engraved metal insignia. It was a tile shaped piece of metal engraved with golden words. It was conferred to those with military merits who were bestowed titles of duke, marquis and count. There were two types of insignias. One was merely a mark of meritorious achievement conferred by the court. Those who were bestowed nobility by the emperor received this most common type of insignia. The other type came with all the benefits of the common insignia, but also had the special privilege of immunity from capital punishment. This was known as the insignia of pardon.
Although it didn’t pardon one from treason, it was able to pardon all other crimes that would result in death. This could be counted as an extra life-preserving talisman.
It was said that the ancestral emperor had told the Zhenguo Duke in private: “Little bro Hen, you’ve saved me thrice. Once was during the uprising, once was when we were besieged in Taicang and the third time was during the battle of Mohe, where you took an arrow for me and nearly lost your own life. When I ascended the throne, many were afraid I would burn the bridges after crossing the river, but you handed over all your troops to me. This pressured the rest to do the same. Although I’m the emperor, a day will come when I will pass away. The world is unpredictable. Who knows if my descendants will follow my lead and treat your descendants well? That day I promised I wouldn’t mistreat you. Today, I bestow upon you this engraved insignia. It can be used as a pardon for capital crimes four times. Treat this as my, Luo Zi Tao’s protection towards your, Shen Hen’s descendants.”
The Zhenguo Duke burst into tears on the spot and hugged the ancestral emperor’s leg, unable to speak due to his crying.
As for that insignia of pardon, it remained hidden within the Zhenguo Duke Estate and became an object of pressure towards all the other titled households.
After the ancestral emperor and Shen Hen passed away, every generation of Zhenguo Duke became part of each emperor’s inner circle. They didn’t join any factions nor take any sides, remaining steadfastly loyal to the emperor. Furthermore, because the Shen household spawned many heroes and talents, their contributions towards the nation were too numerous to count. As of today, those households who had also helped found the nation had all declined. Only the Zhenguo Duke Estate became more prosperous by the day, and was extremely dazzling.
If it wasn’t for the fact that the Zhenguo Duke Estate’s daughters never entered the palace and became consorts, having an empress in their family would be entirely possible. Therefore, Old Madam Yan was naturally overjoyed at being able to have the Zhenguo Duke’s daughter marry into their family.
The first year Shen Yi Yao married over, the entire estate cherished her and spoiled her to the extreme. Then, something happened that changed the entire situation.
The old marquis’s health had never been good. After arranging Yan Ting’s marriage, he fell ill. He became bedridden and couldn’t recover for a long while. At that time, someone suggested using a wedding’s blessings to drive away the misfortune of illness. Since there were no men of marrying age at the time, Yan Ting took his own cousin Pei Yu Jin in marriage.
No one knew that Yan Ting had planned this for a long time. Initially, he thought he would have to coax Shen Yi Yao into it, but unexpectedly the heavens helped him. Pei Yu Jin was brought into the Weiyuan Marquis Estate as the senior concubine.
As for Shen Yi Yao, she had been raised in a large noble household and understood that men had harems. Since it also helped her father in law bring some good fortune, she agreed despite her discomfort.
When Pei Yu Jin married in, she was respectful towards the principal wife and filial towards the old madam. She didn’t fight over affection and didn’t make any trouble. No one could pick out any faults. At that time, the old marquis had become muddled. Otherwise, he definitely wouldn’t have agreed to it. Unfortunately, although his thoughts were good, he was helpless against Yan Ting and the old madam’s schemes, as well as Pei Yu Jin’s manipulation. Since they had been related to her for many years, the two naturally looked more and more favorably upon her.
Of course, Yan Ting and the old madam didn’t forget that behind Shen Yi Yao was the Zhenguo Duke, and that their household’s prospects depended on their in-laws. They still treated Shen Yi Yao extremely well, but this treatment was a little different than before. Because Concubine Pei resented Shen Yi Yao for stealing her spot as the principal wife, she would secretly incite Yan Ting and the old madam to turn against her. As this accumulated over time, their treatment of Shen Yi Yao became more and more superficial.
Shen Yi Yao was also a foolish one. Concubine Pei was always well behaved in front of her and she couldn’t tell anything was fishy. Instead, she treated Concubine Pei as her own sister. After a couple years of this, she even allowed Concubine Pei to help her manage the household. Due to her period of weakness after giving birth to Yan Mo, at Yan Ting’s suggestion, she let Concubine Pei take over in managing the household.
Since Yan Mo was born frail, her time was spent worrying and taking care of her son, and she had even less time to manage the household. Therefore, the household manager role fell into Concubine Pei’s hands. Concubine Pei did a great job in keeping up appearances, and would occasionally ask Shen Yi Yao for instructions. Shen Yi Yao saw that Concubine Pei managed things well and didn’t want to trouble herself over these things. She gradually stopped getting involved.
Thus Shen Yi Yao remained the Weiyuan madam in name but had no power or influence. Because Old Madam Yan always favored Concubine Pei, the servants naturally knew where they should lean. As for Shen Yi Yao, she still remained in her marital bliss and the illusion of her mother-in-law’s affection.
Yan Yan was tired and hungry. According to the duration of the light, she estimated it was around lunch time, but no one had come.
Her mom was a little foolish but she had always cherished her. After such a long time had passed, her anger should have faded. Yan Yan thought someone would come free her soon, but no one appeared.
It wasn’t clear how much time passed when footsteps sounded outside the door.
No matter how stubborn Yan Yan was, she still couldn’t help but reveal a happy expression. She stroked her hair, used her sleeves to wipe her face and went over to sit on the prayer mat.
The doors were opened and light filled the room.
Yan Yan thought she would see Matron Qin or her own maids, or perhaps one of her mom’s people. She didn’t expect that it was a granny, a fierce-looking plump granny.
“Third miss, this servant is here to give you water and food.”
That granny looked around and placed the tray in her hands onto the floor.
“This small worship hall is a little crude. Try and put up with it.”
There was nothing one could point out about her words, but her tone contained a hint of mockery. Yan Yan was able to tell.
“Is my mom going to let me out?” She said firmly.
That granny twitched her lips and put on a fake smile.
“Third miss won’t be able to leave for a while. Madam said you’re too hotheaded, and wants you to cool off properly in here. She ordered you to be shut in here for half a month.”
Yan Yan was in disbelief and said: “You’re lying to me?”
“Woah, woah. How could a servant dare lie to the third miss? Wouldn’t you hit this servant with your whip later? The madam personally said it. It’s fine if you don’t believe it.”
After speaking, that old granny left hurriedly, closing and locking the doors.
Yan Yan stood frozen and said: “You’re lying, you’re lying, you’re lying. My mom wouldn’t treat me like this…..”
She repeated this for a while before suddenly rushing to the doors. She struck the door with her whip. “You’re lying to me. My mom wouldn’t treat me like this!”
No one responded and the surroundings were silent.
She cried as she whipped the door. Suddenly, she lowered her head and let out a couple of laughs. “Yan Yan, it’s not a lie! If someone were to have led her on, wouldn’t she have been convinced to do so?! She has always been like this. Especially since she hated how you never obeyed her to begin with. No major household’s daughter is this way…..”
As she spoke, Yan Yan threw the whip in her hand aside, her face completely expressionless. She looked at the tray on the floor. In the past, she would never have eaten something brought by a stranger. Now, however, she picked it up and took a seat on the prayer mat.
She first took a sip of the water in the jug and then broke of pieces of the bun and stuffed it into her mouth. She finished eating the two buns and drank over half of the water.
She sat there silently for a long time, before suddenly laughing coldly and mumbling: “The one surnamed Pei, you’re still not daring enough. Why don’t you try and kill me off?!”
I swear Shen Hen and the ancestral emperor weren’t gay lovers. Believe me. Look at my wide and innocent eyes…..