The pitter patter of the drizzle went on for a whole night.
As dawn broke, the official residence was shrouded amidst a misty rain. The black clouds hung heavily in the low alt.i.tude, as if they were about to destroy the entire city. The twigs and branches in the courtyard had become greener after going through the scourge of the night’s rainfall and it was evident that they had become verdant, glistening and replete with moisture.
There was a chill in the spring air and the maidservant that had gotten up early could not help but shiver as she pushed open the windows with a smile, “Miss, it is almost time.”
The person nestled in the blanket only shot out an arm. Looking at that pure, white and perfect arm, it was tender and adorable. As one’s gaze swept upwards from that arm, one could precisely see an incomparably clear and attractive complexion. However, when she tossed over and revealed her other side profile, there was a long scar that was quite ugly and fierce as if a large centipede had crawled onto it.
The look on the maidservant’s face was faintly startled while Jiang Su Su had already begun speaking by questioning, “Dawn has arrived this quickly?” She laughed lightly as half of that ugly countenance immediately revealed a strange smile, “I really can’t wait to see this good show.”
Hu Die had found a pure-white blouse with detailed, golden embroidered water caltrops on its V-neck collar and tiny, hidden patterns on its blouse. The long skirt that almost touched the floor hada light yellow embroidery of a rounded design filled with scattered flower blossoms. Draped over her body, the coat had a discreet lotus pattern that was embroidered on the damask silk. With such quiet and light coloring, it contrasted with her looks, making her look exceptionally lucid and elegant; all of this set her apart except for that blemished face. A streak of hatred flashed through Jiang Su Su’s eye as Qing Ting handed over the white muslin veil to her. Jiang Su Su put on the veil over her head properly and only after this, did she act to push the door, “Let us go.”
The Marquis Xia fu was one-fold bigger than the Jiang fu and it’s garden had been renovated in an extremely refined manner too. In all aspects, the Xia fu thoroughly exhibited the owner’s n.o.ble position. The ancestral hall was in the last room at the very end of the garden’s hallways. From it’s exterior, it looked rather tastefully and thoughtfully planned out. If one was in the garden, they would immediately be able to see it at a glance. In the early spring, there were still some decomposing remnants of the flourishing plum flowers left on the plum tree’s branches. Although the weather had been constantly overcast and rainy; with such an appearance, on the contrary, it still had a special charm to it.
A few figures appeared in the garden, they were headed by a person dressed in fluttering white clothes whose figure was long and slender. To the side of that person was someone whose body build was slightly plump, an amiable smile graced their face. Also, around these few people, there were still two more figures, one was in black brocade clothes and the other was in a magnificently brocaded garment. Amidst the foggy mist, one could not see their appearances clearly at all.
Presently Jiang Su Su was walking with Hu Die in the direction of the hall; during this journey, she had to pa.s.s by the garden. By chance, she met with a group of people that were walking towards her from the opposite direction. She saw Xia Cheng and from afar, greeted him, “Maternal Grandfather.”
Xia Cheng’s complexion stiffened as the male in the brocaded clothes beside him immediately spoke up, “So as it turns out, it’s Second Jiang Miss.”
Jiang Su Su was startled, as by now those people had come closer and she could clearly see their appearances. She could not help but feel great alarm in her heart because among the three remaining people she had yet to greet, there was one person that she did not recognise. As for the other two, they were Xuan Li and Xiao Shao.
At the edge of his lips, Xuan Li had a cultured, refined smiling comportment as he looked at her with a smile. Showered with a glance from that pair of gentle eyes, Jiang Su Su’s face, which had been covered by the veil, could not help but flush slightly. However, as she met the gaze of Xiao Shao’s clear and cold eyes, she could not help but feel the violent palpitations of her thumping heart.
Xia Cheng had initially wanted to reprimand Jiang Su Su, yet, after seeing the look on Xuan Li’s face, that very thought ceased. Recalling those words in Xia Yan’s letter, his furrowed brows immediately unfolded as he smiled, “Su’er, aren’t you going to greet His Highness the Crown Prince, His Highness the Eighth Prince and w.a.n.gye.”
At first, Jiang Su Su had many suspicions about the ident.i.ty of the male in brocade clothes. After hearing what Xia Cheng said, she could not help but be alarmed; she did not expect that the other party could actually be the crown prince. Lifting her head, she took a look at the male in the centre as she sized him up. She saw that the man had a youthful appearance of about 20 years old or so while also inheriting the good appearances that were a part of the Heavenly family’s (the royal family’s) lineage. Therefore, he could also be considered as handsome. Only, in comparison to Xiao Shao and Xuan Li’s presence, he had fallen short by much more than the tiniest bit. In the eyes of the beholder, one could faintly see the fickleness and impatience that he tried to hide. Inwardly, Jiang Su Su could not help but be somewhat disappointed. As she thought of some of the matters in the Imperial Court that Jiang Quan had occasionally told her about, that colour of disappointment in her heart had gradually faded too. She then stepped forward and gave a curtsey, “Jiang family’s Su niang greets His Highness, Crown Prince, Your Highness, Eighth Prince and w.a.n.gye.”
The Crown Prince laughed out loud, “Bengong has heard about Second Jiang Miss’ national grace and divine fragrance; truly an outstanding beauty. Why have you concealed your face, could it be that you are afraid of being eaten up by bengong?”
Hearing this, Jiang Su Su jumped in fright as Xia Cheng chuckled, “Your Highness, a few days ago, Su’er was injured by a kitten that had scratched her face and it left a scar. In fear of it catching wind, she has covered it with a veil. We would like to ask Your Highness to show leniency.”
 Jiàn fēng (见风) – A concept founded in traditional chinese medicine, wind is said to often carries environmental factors into the body, and wind causes disturbances, literally moving the pain from joint to joint. The characteristics of wind invading the body are sudden symptoms, pain that moves from one place to another and, in some cases, paralysis. Here, they are afraid of her injury becoming worse and scabbing over because of the wind.
The Crown Prince frowned, “If it’s thus, then it’s rather a pity. Who knows which family’s kitten would act in such a reckless manner and scratch Second Jiang Miss’ face.”
“Many thanks to Your Highness’ concern,” Jiang Su Su spoke softly, “that kitten has already been caught and put to death.”
“Then that is good. Bengong has always had tender, protective feelings for the fairer s.e.x, and to know that Second Jiang Miss’ face was damaged by a kitten like this, one would also feel distressed.”
Jiang Su Su lowered her head and seemed to have been bashfully taken aback, her face was flushed red by this absurd speech. While she was talking to the Crown Prince, Xuan Li had been constantly smiling as he looked at her. That smile was like a fresh spring breeze but upon a closer look, one would notice that it had yet to reach the depths of his eyes.
“That’s right, Maternal Grandfather.” Jiang Su Su seemed to have suddenly thought of something as she continued, “Da Jiejie has been kneeling and praying for blessings in the ancestral hall since yesterday evening, I am not sure how she is doing right now? If the maidservants had forgotten to call her out of the hall, then it would be extremely serious. Now that it is still raining, the ancestral hall must be doubly gloomy and cold. To have kneeled for an entire evening, I’m afraid would be harmful for her body. It would be best that we go to see her now.”
With her deeply concerned expression and words that in all aspects, seemed to be thinking in consideration of Jiang Ruan, she truly seemed like a generally good and kindhearted younger sister. Xia Cheng was startled and afterwards, something came to his mind. After hesitating for a moment, he then remarked, “There are guests present, it would be good enough to instruct some maidservants to do so.”
“Maternal Grandfather, Da Jiejie is my elder sister, naturally I would feel distressed for her.” Jiang Su Su earnestly replied, “Even if you told me to leave in such a way now, I would still be concerned. Moreover, these esteemed Highnesses are all benevolent people and naturally, will not mind these matters. Moreover, once His Highnesses sees Da Jiejie’s sincerity whilst kneeling for a whole night in the ancestral hall to ask for blessings for the Xia family, would Da Jiejie not be the pride of our Xia fu?”
Xia Cheng wanted to decline once more, yet the Crown Prince seemed to be in high spirits as he commented, “Your eldest sister is the Eldest Jiang Miss? That person who had danced astonishingly on Ling Long Boat?”
“That is her.” Jiang Su Su’s voice seemed normal but the corner of her lips had stiffened under her veil.
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“Then how opportune as bengong had wanted to take a closer look at her. Hearing you mention that she had kneeled in the ancestral hall for a night, this girl’s sincere filial piety is indeed something rare. Bengong wishes to take a look as well.” He spun around to look at Xuan Li and Xiao Shao, “Eighth Younger Brother, Ah Shao, you won’t disagree to this, right?” After saying this, he then laughed heartily as he looked at Xia Cheng, remarking, “Old Marquis Xia, please lead the way then.”
On the ground, there was a pair of a man and woman sentimentally intertwined and were maintaining themselves in such a becoming position. They were actually entirely naked from tip to toe. The woman’s long hair was messy and the man had drawn her into an embrace on his chest. Spots of murky dark red traces were on the female’s body and with her back facing everyone, it was very clear that the night before had been rather wild.
Jiang Su Su appeared to be extremely frightened, ashamed and embarra.s.sed and regardless, she had hidden her head into Xuan Li’s arms. Cooly, Xuan Li’s brows slightly frowned yet he still reached out a hand to warmly pat her on the shoulders.
In front of so many people present, Xia Cheng could no longer mask this situation and at once, he yelled in anger, “Preposterous!”
To have done such a sordid and filthy thing in his own fu’s ancestral hall and to even be seen by the finest esteemed and honourable n.o.bility in this capital, even if he did not feel any sense of embarra.s.sment, he too could not help but feel like he had no prestige left.
“Da Jiejie, how could she have… with biaoge?” Jiang Su Su spoke in doubt and fright as she hid in Xuan Li’s arms, “This is the ancestral hall!”
Xia Cheng ruthlessly stared at Jiang Su Su now that his own plans had been entirely thrown into disorder. This granddaughter of his, she did not have the ability to do anything right and yet had more than enough faults to bring about a disaster!
“Unfilial son! Unfilial son!” Xia Cheng was infuriated as he angrily pointed at the man and woman in the ancestral hall, “To think that my Xia fu has raised you for more than ten years and for you to actually not cherish one’s good name like this! To have done such a filthy and sordid thing in the ancestral hall, where has the sense of honour, propriety, justice and integrity that I have taught you gone to? To have no one teaching and becoming this uncultured! In the days ahead, how can the Xia fu rely on you to bring honour to our family!”
Repeating himself over and over again, he seemed to be finding fault with Xia Jun, but what he had implied inwardly and outwardly with his words were all about Jiang Ruan who had no sense to cherish her own reputation and ridiculing her for having no mother to teach her and thus, had this sort of wretched moral character. He had pinned all of the wrongdoings onto Jiang Ruan as the ways of this world had always been particularly more harsh on women. Raising his head to survey the expressions of everyone present, Xia Cheng knew that Xuan Li would still aid the Xia fu. However, he was unsure about Xiao Shao and the Crown Prince.
The Crown Prince was somewhat curious and rather teasingly remarked, “This is actually a first for bengong to see such a spring scenery in an ancestral hall. Old Marquis Xia’s fu has truly gone above and beyond, this is too amusing.”
While they had been speaking, the man and woman on the floor had yet to awaken. With a wholly unconcerned and careless posture whilst lying on the floor, the aforementioned gentleman who was naked from head to toe was taken into measure. Jiang Su Su could not resist but remark, “Da Jiejie appears to have lost consciousness, why hasn’t she awakened yet? Hu Die, go and find a set of clothes for Da Jiejie and have her brought back to the house.”
Accepting her orders, Hu Die left and Jiang Su Su ignored Xia Cheng’s knife-like gaze and murmured softly, “This matter, I hope that Your Highnesses will not spread this out. In any case, my elder sister is also a well-bred young lady from a prestigious family too. As for now, she has yet to marry, if this was found out, then her life would be ruined.”
These words were clearly spoken in consideration for Jiang Ruan, yet it also reminded everyone present that Jiang Ruan was a young girl that had yet to reach a marriageable age. However, at such a young age, she had already done such sordid acts, it truly was something that made one extremely disgusted with her.
 Jí jī (及笄) – This refers to a young girl’s 15th birthday as in Ancient China’s customs, a young girl becomes a marriageable young lady at the age of 15 where they are conferred a coming-of-age ceremony where they will have someone of n.o.ble status and importance to help them put on a hairpin to signify their marriageable status. A fun fact: young ladies below the age of 15 aren’t allowed to use pins at all, they can only use ribbons or have their hair let down.
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