Just based on the phrase “plans failed”, Ding Xiang could tell that madam’s actions last night weren’t due to drunkenness. She could only sigh about madam’s farsightedness, while thinking how the result was actually by design and not by chance.
What made her happiest of all was that his highness had actually tacitly approved madam’s actions. No matter the reason, at least Senior Concubine Qiao didn’t succeed in pulling his highness away. Everyone would have to reevaluate Madam Hua’s position in his highness’s heart.
Tearing off a tiger’s skin to use as a banner was something Xiao Hua was very well versed in during her past life.
She also knew that this was drinking poison to quench her thirst, but she still had to do it. The difference between struggling and not struggling was just so hard to grasp, especially since from an outsider’s perspective she was already quite favored by the Jing Prince. She would rather take the risk and seek out favor rather than allow Senior Concubine Qiao to take the Jing Prince from her place, and let others mock her while trampling her ruthlessly. It didn’t matter if this “favor” truly existed as long as those on the outside thought it did.
As for offending Senior Concubine Qiao and the reaction from the Jing Consort, Xiao Hua could only play it by the ear. After all, the situation was already bad enough. It wouldn’t make much of a difference if it got a little worse.
Xiao Hua made countless preparations, but unexpectedly the Changchun Pavilion was extremely peaceful today.
In a rare display, not only did the Jing Consort fail to make an appearance, even Senior Concubine Qiao acted as if nothing had happened. There was even less need to mention Yu Jiao and Yu Rong. Having been left hanging for over an hour, Yu Jiao had long since gotten impatient. If it wasn’t for the Changchun Pavilion’s restrictions, she would probably have flipped out already.
Xiao Hua looked at her surroundings out of boredom.
The Changchun Pavilion’s main hall was magnificently decorated. In the center stood the Jing Consort’s seat of honor. The two seats beneath it on either side were used to entertain guests. Each chair had an embroidered seat cushion. The ones they sat on was indigo blue embroidered with words of fortune. The Jing Consort’s seat had a crimson mattress padding embroidered with golden threaded peony trees, seeming soft and comfortable, giving off a luxurious air.
The hall was arranged with several fixed treasure display shelves, upon which were all sorts of rarities. To the right was the reception, which was partitioned with a peacock green jade pearl curtain. Last time’s banquet was set in that area. In the center of the room stood a flowing gold phoenix engraved incense furnace that was half the height of a person. A faint pleasant aroma permeated throughout the hall.
Rich households had always been fond of incense. Men and women, old and young alike were fond of it, so Xiao Hua wasn’t too surprised. Even in her residence Ding Xiang would use some light fragrance.
After sitting for another while, the Jing Consort still didn’t show signs of appearing.
Xiao Hua slowly relaxed. Looks like the Jing Consort was going to leave them hanging. It was better this way. She wouldn’t have to waste her energy figuring out how to deal with things.
After sitting until it was almost time for lunch, the Jing Consort had still not appeared. Yu Jiao couldn’t hold her temper in any longer and asked a palace maid: “What’s wrong with the consort today? It’s already so late but she’s still not out.”
That palace maid respectfully bowed and said: “This servant is just responsible for serving tea, and isn’t sure of the consort’s situation.”
“Then don’t you know how to go ask? Leaving us hanging here, it’s already almost noon.” The last line was mumbled by Yu Jiao, but she had still clearly expressed her impatience.
Yu Rong didn’t prevent Yu Jiao from speaking this way. Forget about Yu Jiao, even she herself felt things were a little off today.
“Yes, yes.” That palace maid bowed and left.
After a while, Nana Li came out.
“The consort sent this old servant to relay her words. You are all free to go.”
In the past the Jing Consort would still have an excuse for leaving them hanging. Today, she didn’t even offer one, seeming overbearing to the extreme.
Yu Jiao endured and endured some more, not saying anything before standing up and heading out. From her body language, it was clear how indignant she felt in her heart.
The remaining three didn’t say anything and also filed out one by one.
From beginning to end, Senior Concubine Qiao hadn’t said a word to Xiao Hua or even made eye contact. The recently formed sisterhood had fallen apart due to last night’s events, as though nothing had ever happened between them.
The two of them maintained their calm appearance, but as for what their thoughts were, only the heavens knew.
Once everyone had left, Nana Li had all the palace maids within the residence take their leave.
She closed the main gates before calling Chun Xiang and Xia Xiang over.
“Hurry and clean it up. Be careful with it.” After speaking, Nana Li went inside the house.
Using handkerchiefs to cover their noses, Chun Xiang and Xia Xiang went over to the flowing gold phoenix furnace, working together to lift the lid and douse the burning incense.
After, they took out the incense ash. Xia Xiang went to deal with it while Chun Xiang went to the window. She cracked the patterned window open, and then went and opened the doors.
After taking care of everything, Xia Xiang revealed a worried expression and walked to Chun Xiang’s side.
“Big sis Chun Xiang, this will cause a huge commotion.”
Xia Xiang didn’t dare express any doubts in front of the Jing Consort, but in front of Chun Xiang, she was unable to maintain her calmness and her face turned pale.
“The consort has gone insane….” Her voice seemed to have been squeezed out from her throat.
Since the day his highness left the Changchun Pavilion, the Jing Consort had gone insane. After hearing that Senior Concubine Qiao had returned last night from the western pavilion in low spirits, her insanity had become more extreme.
Chun Xiang covered Xia Xiang’s mouth, “Stop speaking nonsense at once!”
Xia Xiang couldn’t help her tears from flowing, and trembled all over from fear.
Chun Xiang patted her shoulders and muttered, “It’ll be fine. Our consort was conferred the Jing Consort by his royal majesty, and is also the empress’s niece. Nothing will happen.”
Nothing will happen to the consort, but what about them?
These words Xia Xiang didn’t dare say out loud. She could only use her sleeves to wipe her face roughly, revealing a forced and fixed smile.
“Don’t overthink it. The consort had set her heart on doing this, none of us could prevent it. We can only do our best to go along with it. The consort is still waiting for our service, let’s hurry and go inside. Don’t delay anymore.”
Xia Xiang wiped her face again before entering the inner room with Chun Xiang.
The sweeper area would send people every day to sweep the snow in various areas. The western pavilion was one of those areas.
Only the eastern wing was currently inhabited. Ding Xiang would send someone to clear the area by the eastern wing’s doors and walkways, but the rest of the pavilion was the sweeper area’s responsibility.
After Qiao Lian left the Hall of Splendor, she had returned to the sweeper area. Returning to where she once came, it could be said that she got what she deserved.
Of course from Qiao Lian’s perspective, she had been treated unfairly. Having been relocated like the others, they had all more or less been assigned to easy roles whereas she ended up in extremely dire straits.
Eunuch Fu, who had some understanding towards certain things, thought that this peaceful place was extremely suitable for this low-ranked palace maid Qiao Lian. Grandpa Fu had always been good at using people.
Like Xi’er, Qiao Lian had been deeply scared by Eunuch Fu’s ruthless means at the time. After returning to the sweeper area, she was depressed for a long time.
She couldn’t help but be depressed. The sweeper area’s chores had become extra strenuous due to the winter. Clearing the snow was something that had to be done every day. The hard work kept everyone busy, leaving them no time to think about anything else.
As time went on, the entire Jing Prince Estate was circulating with rumors regarding the madam in the western pavilion.
It was said that this madam had also started out as a low-ranked palace maid in the sweeper area. Due to her etiquette being good, she was moved to the Hall of Splendor where she one day caught his highness’s eye and ascended into the skies to become someone above everyone else.
Qiao Lian naturally knew who that person was. What was there to not understand? The rest of them had either been beaten to death or driven out. The one who benefitted was none other than that person!
Every time she thought of “her”, Qiao Lian would grit her teeth in hatred.
On this day, Qiao Lian was picked as one of the palace maids responsible for sweeping the western pavilion. Su Yan took them over to the western pavilion with broom and shovel in hand.
After respectfully letting the palace maids at the door know what they were here for, the people filed into the western pavilion one by one.
Everyone else’s thoughts were the same. Those who had once known Xiao Hua or those who were familiar with her would inevitably think of the past when they came here. Because Su Yan was a steady person and it wasn’t her first time working here, she was naturally better off than the others. But she would inevitably sigh, sigh over her life, and sigh over how Madam Hua’s fate was truly great.
There wasn’t anything else.
This was Qiao Lian’s first time coming to the first western pavilion. Her emotions were naturally complicated. After entering, her eyes glanced over at the eastern wing.
It didn’t snow today, and the air contained a soul-piercing chill. For the group of low ranked palace maids from the sweeper area, this weather was really loathsome. But for those who were holed up in their house with burning kilns and roasting charcoal basins, they would inevitably feel the house was too stuffy.
Xiao Hua wasn’t such a delicate person to begin with, and liked to come out for fresh air and revitalize her energy after staying inside for too long.
Under Chun Cao’s brushing aside of the curtains, Xiao Hua walked outside. She didn’t walk far, taking a deep breath in the walkway outside the door. Her eyes wandered idly over the scenery inside the pavilion and happened to see the bustling figures in the distance.
“Today the sweeper area is clearing out the snow in various places.” Ding Xiang spoke on the side.
Xiao Hua spaced out a little, letting her thoughts wander. She remembered her days back at the sweeper area, which seemed to be a lifetime ago.
Xiao Hua didn’t look closely, and naturally didn’t see her past roommate. But Qiao Lian whose thoughts were focused on the eastern wing naturally saw the curtains being pulled apart and her gaze fell directly onto Xiao Hua.
She saw her fair and tender skin, her exquisite and delicate figure, and her palm-sized face containing her pair of gleaming limpid peach blossom eyes.
At this moment, “Madam Hua” was vastly different from Qiao Lian’s image of Xiao Hua in her heart. At that time, although it was hard to conceal Xiao Hua’s good looks, she didn’t have such an appearance. She currently seemed like a caringly raised flower who suddenly became tender, beautiful and alluring. Her light pink narrow-sleeved jacket and pale bluish white satin skirt made her figure seem especially lithe. Her chest bulged outwards but her waist and limbs were extremely slender.
Qiao Lian didn’t know when the frail low ranked palace maid in her memories had transformed into an extremely beautiful woman. It had merely been a few months, but this person seemed to have become ripe. She seemed like a juicy, sweet peach that would leak water with a single prick.
Qiao Lian’s face was shockingly pale, and her knuckles had also turned white from gripping the broom. She glanced at her own indigo blue and ginger outfit. The colors were still the same ugly colors from before. The thin jacket and skirt had merely been exchanged for cotton-padded versions suitable for the winter.
She suddenly felt ashamed of her inferiority, but what she felt most was jealousy.
“Qiao Lian, don’t space out. Big sis Su Yan glared at you a couple of times.” A low-ranked palace maid had her head lowered and never ceased her actions, but she spoke to Qiao Lian.
“Oh.” Qiao Lian paused before lowering her head, no longer looking in that direction. Her hands which were red from the cold grabbed the wooden shovel and shoveled the ground. Only after the snow was loosened did she grab the broom and start sweeping.
Xiao Hua let out another breath of stuffy air and went back inside the house. She had wanted to stay outside a little longer, but was helpless in the face of Ding Xiang, who urged her several times to go back inside in case she caught a cold.
After entering the house, Xiao Hua spoke while walking, “Let’s have some light and refreshing dishes today. Always eating clay pot dishes makes it hard to have any appetite.”
Ding Xiang nodded yes to the side and committed everything to memory.
Ding Xiang personally fetched the meals every day. She kept a close watch on the food.
In the courtyard, Qiao Lian lowered her head and worked for a while, but still couldn’t resist glancing at the western wing. She saw the empty hallway and the thick curtains over the door.
It wasn’t clear if she was disappointed or frustrated as she slowly squeezed the broom in her hands tightly.