Chapter 84

Concubine Wu saw the eldest madam and the second madam going over to the Jinse Pavilion and tactfully didn’t tag along. She merely returned to the Lanyue Pavilion.

The madam had changed quite a bit after coming back. It wasn’t just in her relationship with the third miss, but also in her actions. Concubine Wu naturally noticed.

If it were before, the old madam wouldn’t even need to mention it. The madam would have made all the appropriate arrangements and no one would have been left out.

But this time……

Concubine Wu felt things weren’t as simple as the eldest madam made them out to be, but it was also hard for anyone to refute her.

Especially since Concubine Wu no longer dared get close to the madam after the time Concubine Pei tried to frame her. She could feel the madam’s gaze was very complicated when she looked at her. She didn’t know whether this matter would some day blow up, so she could only remain low-key and do her best no to catch any attention.

Unfortunately her daughter would end up suffering!

Giving the obedient Yan Chan a glance, Concubine Wu kind of regretted her past deeds.

The fifth miss was no longer young. If the madam didn’t care about her in the future, what should she do about her marriage?! But ever since she took the first misstep, her following steps became more and more crooked. She could only end up in this situation.

When they entered the pavilion doors, the maids reported that the second miss had been waiting inside for a while.

After entering the residence, they saw a cute and delicate girl sitting in a chair in the hall.

Yan Qian looked more and more like Concubine Pei. The delicate physique along with her facial features, oval face, fine nose and cherry lips made her seem very similar to Concubine Pei when she was young.

“Is the second miss at the Lanyue Pavilion for something?” Concubine Wu spoke as she sent Yan Chan into the inner room.

Yan Chan looked worriedly at her but still went inside obediently.

“What could I be here for?”

Concubine Wu smiled rigidly, secretly gritting her teeth: “The madam has changed. It’s not like you haven’t noticed. That nana was invited by the eldest madam using her own silver. Even the third branch’s two misses were left out. As for second miss, the madam didn’t mention you. This one feels miss might as well go ask the madam to make an allowance for you instead of wasting your effort here. It might be more effective.”

Concubine Wu didn’t know what the second miss was thinking. As a concubine born daughter who depended on the principle mother for a living, and whose concubine mom completely offended the madam, she still dared to act unwell and not welcome the madam when she returned.

She did embarrass Shen Yi Yao, but Shen Yi Yao didn’t take it to heart. “Since she isn’t feeling well, have her recover properly at home.” Now she couldn’t even go to the Rongan Hall, and could only come bother her.

Concubine Wu naturally didn’t know Yan Qian hated Shen Yi Yao to death, as well as Yan Yan. She clearly knew she should yield, but she wasn’t able to get over it in her heart. She did regret it afterwards, but there was no use in regretting!

Yan Qian gave a smile, her gaze sharp. “It’s not just me who doesn’t get a part. Yan Chan also doesn’t, right?”

Concubine Wu lowered her gaze. “The fifth miss is still young and doesn’t need to worry about this for the moment.”

But Yan Qian was older than Yan Yan by a few months, and was already fourteen.

She could no longer maintain her calm expression, and shrieked: “Concubine Wu, don’t you forget what I know. If my concubine mom didn’t help cover for you, do you still you can remain sitting here? You probably would have been sent off to the Qingpu Nunnery as well.”

“If it weren’t for your concubine mom threatening me, this one wouldn’t have the guts to offend the madam. Considering our lowly positions and the fact we have daughters, only complete idiots would go against the madam. Look what the outcome was! She doesn’t have to lift a finger to deal with someone like me!”

These mocking words which also contained some self-mockery actually made Yan Qian unable to say anything.

Concubine Wu added frost onto snow and continued speaking: “Not only you, that brother of yours as well. Only clinging onto the old madam is shortsighted. Apart from giving you some food and drink, what else is she good for? Looking a little further, how many more years does she have left to live? If you don’t get in the lord marquis and madam’s good books, you might not even become a daughter-in-law in the future.”

As she spoke, Concubine Wu revealed an obscure smile, “Of course, the household mistress is magnanimous. She’ll definitely let you get married off, and will do the same for the concubine born sons. There are many marriages that look good on the surface but are bitter inside. Any one of those households would be sufficient to make you suffer.”

“You don’t have to provoke me with these words. If I can’t avoid this, can Yan Chan?”

“The fifth miss naturally won’t end up well either. It’s my fault for being muddled and listening to you guys and harming the madam. But this is her fate for being stuck with a concubine mom like me.”

Concubine Wu’s appearance of having nothing to lose made Yan Qian’s heart tighten. A sort of irrepressible terror arose in her heart. “How can you…..”

“Therefore, everything is left to fate now. We can only burn incense and pray the madam can be a little merciful.”

Yan Qian was still too young after all. Being frightened like this, she started babbling: “Concubine Wu, you can’t be like this. You promised my concubine mom to take care of me.”

Concubine Wu laughed mockingly, “As a concubine, I’m not even counted as a mistress. How am I supposed to take care of you? Aren’t you always full of great ideas? Why come pressure the pitiful me with my past deeds?”

“I, I…..” After stammering for a while, Yan Qian finally said: “I will obey concubine in the future.”

Concubine Wu gazed at her. She sighed deeply and after a while said: “We’re all grasshoppers on the same string. If I end up suffering, you will naturally end up the same way. Ever since the madam returned, she never spared us a thought. However, while she’s able to do so, we cannot. Tomorrow, you must go pay respects to her. Be more diligent in the future, and see if you can improve things a little. Don’t let up on your brother’s side either. Luckily you’ve been having him bring you up in front of the old madam every now and then. Based on the situation, the madam will probably take the third miss out to socialize soon. It’s best if the old madam can say something and have her take all the estate’s misses along.”

Yan Qian wanted to speak but stopped herself. She tore up her words and stuffed them back inside. Her mouth was bitter, the same bitterness she tasted when her concubine mom was sent off. This bitterness had remained within her heart.

“Spend some effort on Matron Zhao as well. See if stuffing her some silver can make her help a little. The third madam’s side cannot be left out either. Hopefully she will have the sixth and seventh misses’ marriage in mind. I will handle these things. Everything combined should bring about some results.”

Yan Qian hurriedly nodded, her emotions extremely complicated.

……

Shen Yi Yao didn’t know her paying them no mind would result in such an outcome.

Her thoughts had actually been really simple. If she didn’t like them she wouldn’t see them.

After Xue-shi enlightened her, Yan Ru on the other hand had started interacting with Yan Yan more frequently.

As Xue-shi said, Yan Yan was actually a very straightforward person. Good is good, bad is bad. If others came with good intentions, she wouldn’t reject them.

After a couple of times, the two started getting closer.

Yan Yan had grown up after all. Even if this eldest sister had different tastes, it wasn’t a big deal to get along with her. Like Shen Yi Yao said, there were many types of people. You cannot project your own likes and dislike onto others. Just like how she liked martial arts and others didn’t. It was merely a difference in personality, and cannot be forced.

They could be said to have grown up together and were also sisters related by blood. The quarrels and arguments they had when they were younger seemed a little laughable now.

People more or less did some bad things when they were young, but it was ultimately harmless.

Yan Ling stuck especially close to Yan Ru recently, and her attitude had changed quite a bit. In the past she rarely spoke with Yan Ru when it was just the two of them. Now, she would also chat a bit with her. She also diligently ran over to Yan Yan as well. It seemed Xue-shi’s words that day had affected her after all.

She certainly had some small ulterior motives. After all, Xue-shi wouldn’t help her with everything. If she wanted to have a better marriage, she could only get help from Yan Yan and Shen Yi Yao. If Shen Yi Yao could help her out a little in the future, it would be a major change in her circumstances.

It had to be said, Yan Ling was a very intelligent person. Perhaps it was due to her experiences gowing up. While Yan Ru was being pampered in Xue-shi’s arms, Yan Ling had already learned to analyze people’s thoughts.

Yan Yan didn’t reject Yan Ling’s goodwill. Perhaps she wasn’t really in favor of it at first, but seeing that pitiful little lass gifting her some self-made things, she inevitably softened a bit.

As time passed, Yan Yan could see what Yan Ling was planning. But just based on how she refused to be discouraged, it was hard to refuse her.

Yan Yan knew about Yan Ling’s history. Back when she was younger, she noticed Yan Ling only getting Yan Ru’s hand-me-downs. She had asked her mom out of curiosity. Her mom said with a complicated expression that it wasn’t possible to do anything about it.

There truly wasn’t anything that could be done.

It wasn’t even easy to decide who was in the right and who was in the wrong!

Was Xue-shi wrong?

From her perspective, an ambitious maid had climbed into her husband’s bed while they were in their honeymoon phase. Not only did she climb the bed, but she also got a child out of it. To get rid of the child went against the heavens and Xue-shi wasn’t able to do so in the end. As the child grew older day by day, she was a needle that stabled Xue-shi’s heart day by day. How could she treat her nicely!?

Was Yan Zhi wrong?

Perhaps he was at fault for being drunk and getting the people mixed up. But it was extremely clear he felt guilty. Even if he pitied Yan Ling, he never showed any signs of it. He knew his wife had anger in her heart and was very sullen. Every time Yan Ling appeared in front of Xue-shi, it was a reminder of what had happened.

To say there was someone in the wrong, it would have to be that Concubine Wang. She shouldn’t have lusted after wealth and status.

But she had already been punished. As a concubine in name only, she had to rely on the eldest madam for a living and would never have it easy. She was very submissive, and basically acted like a kitten or puppy. She fell just short of saying all she wanted was a bite of food.

Someone hateful yet tragic like this made it hard for Xue-shi to even hate her.

She could only vent her anger on Yan Ling. Actually Yan Ling’s life wasn’t bad. At least Xue-shi had never abused her, starved her or let her freeze. At most, she wasn’t treated like a miss from the Yan household, and had to eke out a living under her principal mother and sister’s noses.

At that time Yan Yan had only listened to the story out of interest. Only after Xue-shi and Yan Ling’s attitudes changed recently did she understand its significance.

Everyone had difficulties in their lives that wouldn’t go away just because they wanted it to. Life was also complicated, and wasn’t all black and white. Often times, it wasn’t possible to decide what was right and what was wrong.

Just like Xue-shi and Yan Ling. Also just like Shen Yi Yao and her.

Because of these realizations, Yan Yan’s distance with Shen Yi Yao improved a little more. Others wouldn’t be able to tell. Only Yan Yan herself knew.

***

Yan Qian listened to Concubine Wu after all. She went to the Jinse Pavilion bright and early the next day.

Although the maids didn’t give her pleasant expressions, they didn’t overstep their bounds. When they announced her, Shen Yi Yao allowed her to enter.

Yan Qian looked bashful and timid. She said softly that she hadn’t been feeling well recently and delayed in paying respects to the principal mother. She begged for forgiveness.

Shen Yi Yao’s gaze was complicated when she looked at her. Yan Qian looked too much like Concubine Pei, making her involuntarily recall how that frail and respectful person manipulated her.

She couldn’t bear to recall the past. Shen Yi Yao’s expression was dull. “It’s good that you’ve recovered. Second miss came a little early so sit for a bit. Wait for Ah Yan and the rest to come before we head over to pay respects at the Rongan Hall.

After speaking, she got up and went to the inner room, not wanting to remain a second longer.

After entering, Cui Qiao said quietly: “Madam, why are you being so nice? She can be sick when she wants to and come when she wants to? Who gave her such face?”

Shen Yi Yao smiled, “She’s just a child, no need to bicker with her.”

“But….” Cui Qiao’s face was full of worry. “This servant is reminded of that Concubine Pei whenever I see the second miss. Madam mustn’t be softhearted and let your guard down. The second miss knows why Concubine Pei was sent to the nunnery. She definitely hates us!”

Shen Yi Yao was amused by Cui Qiao’s expression. “Enough, it’s not as serious as you think. Do you know why she came and put on a show of weakness?”

Cui Qiao shook her head.

Shen Yi Yao smiled and didn’t answer. Perhaps she hadn’t figured it out before, but after seeing Yan Qian run over to the Jinse Pavilion in an unprecedented display, she figured out what was going on.

Having gotten along with Shen Yi Yao for a while now, the maids had grown rather gutsy. Cui Qiao sidled over and acted coquettishly, “Madam, hurry and say it. This servant is about to die from curiosity.”

“Do you know what’s most important for a girl?”

“What?”

“Marriage.”

Wasn’t the reason Xue-shi helped her so much for the sake of her daughter’s marriage? It was an exchange of favors. In a similar vein, she wasn’t the only one who was getting anxious.

Just then, they heard the maids outside calling out greetings followed by Yan Yan’s voice.

“What are you doing here?!”

Yan Qian’s voice contained some grievance, “I’m here to pay respects to mother.”

Shen Yi Yao was afraid that her daughter’s stubborn temper would cause her to start arguing with Yan Qian. She hurried out. As expected, Yan Yan had a disgusted expression, though she withdrew a bit after seeing Shen Yi Yao.

“Ah Yan, Ah Mo, have you eaten breakfast?”

Yan Yan opened her mouth to say something but was stopped by Shen Yi Yao’s gaze.

Yan Mo said: “Sis and I have already eaten.”

He now practiced martial arts every day with his sis to train the body. Waking up so early, they naturally ate breakfat so they would have the stamina.

“Let’s go to the Rongan Hall.”

Seeing that Concubine Wu and the fifth miss hadn’t arrived yet, Shen Yi Yao instructed the maids to have them go directly to the Rongan Hall. She then took Yan Yan and left first.

“Mom, why is she here?”

“She came to pay respects. It’s not like mom can drive her out.” Seeing her daughter’s unhappy expression, Shen Yi Yao said comfortingly: “Alright, mom knows what you want to say. Mom understands she has ulterior motives. If she wants to come over then let her. It’s fine to ignore it.”

Only then did Yan Yan stop speaking.

After getting back from the Rongan Hall, Shen Yi Yao ate and changed before hurriedly leaving the estate.

Having remained in the rear residence all these years, the friends she had in the past had mostly stopped keeping in touch. Only two of her closest friends had remained in contact. Since she had to go socialize, it was right to reconnect with them.

These days Shen Yi Yao left the estate every day and participated in the various gatherings, weddings, birthdays and flower viewings at different estates. Everyone knew she had a frail son and had also been ill herself for several years. They assumed she had finally solved all the issues and was reentering the social circles.

Since Shen Yi Yao had the Zhenguo Duke Estate behind her, even if her husband’s household wasn’t outstanding, others were still very friendly towards her. When noblewomen socialized, they weren’t just chatting and drinking tea. There would often be some political motivations.

For example, if one lord wanted to get connected with another, it may not be convenient to do so. However, their wives may get to know each other first and a path would be made available. Another example would be when officials wanted to curry favor with their superiors. Their wives would naturally get guidance from that superior’s wife. Furthermore, every estate had young daughters. When it came time for marriage, they had to choose from suitable matches. This sort of marriage also involved two families becoming allies after all.

Men busied themselves in their careers while women worked for the sake of the household. This saying wasn’t wrong.

Shen Yi Yao had naturally come for the sake of her daughter’s marriage, and also helped Yan Ru keep an eye out. This sort of thing didn’t need to be brought up explicitly and investigated. Those households with children of similar ages would know about it, and there would be a tacit understanding. Success would follow soon after.

Shen Yi Yao had to consider more which is why she put in so much effort.

Yan Ting had been very busy recently and he was almost never seen in the rear residence. He was still using Xu Xiang Rong as the link to Senior Concubine Xu’s side, and naturally had to pay attention to their mvements.

He believed that the Zhenguo Duke’s granddaughter should be extremely attractive to Senior Concubine Xu. But what if there were other options?

These days he left early and returned late. Apart from showing up at his job, he would be hanging out with Xu Xiang Rong’s group the entire time.

On this day, Yan Ting went to Xu Xiang Rong’s private residence once again.

This residence was outside the city, and wasn’t very eyecatching from the outside. But the inside was richly ornamented and extraordinary.

Yan Ting had been mixing in with these people for a while and naturally understood their characters. None of them were the most important within their households. They each had parents and elders above them. Whenever they wanted to engage in debauchery, they naturally couldn’t do it at home. To do so outside was even more impossible. Recently it was the norm for imperial censors to impeach people. Even if they weren’t afraid, they still had to mind their image.

Xu Xiang Rong’s private residence was rather hidden. Those who weren’t extremely close with him wouldn’t know about it. Before Yan Ting arrived, the party had already started. By the time he entered, things were already wrapping up. Everyone was drunk and in high spirits.

There were quite a few young masters who were interested in men. Therefore, business was pretty good in the capital’s male brothels. The performers with lithe physiques and valiant brows were all widely sought after by these young masters.

The Begonia Troupe had a crossdresser in charge called Zi Qi. Xu Xiang Rong had recently been extremely heated about this performer. If he was on stage, Xu Xiang Rong would reserve the entire place and tip generously. A few days ago, Yan Ting had seen Xu Xiang Rong taking this performer out for drinks. Unexpectedly, he was now here at his private residence.

The significance of this didn’t need to be mentioned.

The performer Zi Qi was sitting next to Xu Xiang Rong pouring alcohol for him.

“Lord Yan is late.” Someone greeted Yan Ting.

Yan Ting cupped his hands and downed three glasses in punishment before taking a seat.

Some impatient people had long since hugged onto their own male prostitutes and started making merry. These prostitutes were all young, around thirteen or fourteen. Their brows were delicate and their skin tender. After being rubbed a few times, their faces turned red. For those who were into such things, they naturally appeared unspeakably wonderful.

But in Yan Ting’s eyes, they were exceptionally disgusting.

His eyes were half shut as he lowered his head for another drink. Xu Xiang Rong looked over and then looked at Zi Qi next to him. He laughed and scolded the licentious group at the scene: “Enough, you’re all like starving wolves. The rooms are all prepared, go on in. Don’t pollute the eyes out here.”

Someone who was rather close with him teased: “I know Lord Xu has gotten himself a treasure. No need to covet ours.” As he spoke he glanced at Zi Qi.

Those who liked such things naturally all liked the tender and lithe ones, but not a lot were interested in Zi Qi’s type. But seeing Xu Xiang Rong who was a connoisseur express such interest in this performer, they understood he definitely had his unique points. Their hearts all grew fiery but no one dared struggle with Xu Xiang Rong over him.

Zi Qi half lowered his head, withdrew his gaze and drank his alcohol. This Zi Qi didn’t appear gentle. Insetad, his eyes were deep and his nose was high. He was rather handsome, and was filled with a heroic air. He wasn’t like those normally feminine male prostitutes. However, he did have something in common with them. He had fair and tender skin. Especially his face, which was like a white jade sculpture.

Of course, this was after removing his makeup. When he sang “The Drunken Beauty” on stage, he was equally feminine and charming.

The people all left one after the other.

Xu Xiang Rong held Zi Qi, his fingers rubbing his face as he said to Yan Ting: “I’ve asked the senior concubine’s opinion. She is extremely interested. There’s just one thing. The second prince must approve as well.” Seeing Yan Ting nod, he continued: “This nephew of mine has one bad espect. He’s a stickler for perfection.”

His words were extremely clear. If the second prince didn’t like what he saw, it would naturally not succeed.

“My daughter takes after her mother.”

Shen Yi Yao was a famous beauty in the capital back then. Hearing this, Xu Xiang Rong relaxed.

“Good. When things are arranged, I will contact you.”

After speaking, Xu Xiang Rong wrapped his arm around Zi Qi and stood up. He glanced Yan Ting up and down, his gaze seeming lecherous. When Yan Ting raised his head, that gaze disappeared without a trace.

Yan Ting cupped his hands and said his farewells. As he left, he could still hear the teasing sounds behind him. There was Xu Xiang Rong’s roaring laughter as well as the performer called Zi Qi’s coy voice.

Yan Ting couldn’t help but shiver. It was hard to believe that rather heroic looking person could let out such a cute voice.

He swiftly left the residence as though chased by a starving wolf.

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