Chapter 96 : Xuan Li’s Scheme (Part II)
After comforting Jiang Chao and settling him down to sleep with difficulty, Xia Yan went to change her clothes. She seemed to have aged ten years overnight. She no longer had the previous beautiful and gentle looks; with her hands pressed to her forehead, she looked just like an ageing middle-aged woman.
Lin Lang spoke with concern, “Furen…”
“She had the gall to treat Chao’er like this,” Xia Yan’s heart was in pain when she thought of Jiang Chao. “I will return it to that bi*ch a thousand,no, ten-thousand times over!”
She knew that Li An was the one she should be blaming, but he had already been put into prison, so she could only lay all the responsibility at Jiang Ruan’s door. If it weren’t for her, this wouldn’t have happened to Jiang Chao.
“Furen, the silver is ready. The account books in the treasury also need to be reviewed.” Lin Lang reminded her.
Xia Yan was sullen again when this matter was mentioned. Previously, in order to pay Jiang Chao’s debt at Bai Hua Lou, she spent a large amount and had even taken out a hefty amount from her own dowry. This time, rescuing Jiang Chao from prison had required her to hand out bribes everywhere, thus spending a lot of silver. The remainder of her dowry was set aside for Jiang Su Su’s future dowry, but the remaining silver in the common treasury (for the household’s public use) was not much. So, she had turned her mind towards Old Jiang Madame’s dowry. Old Jiang Madame was a daughter of the n.o.bility and possessed a generous dowry. Since everything would be set aside for Jiang Quan eventually, she hadn’t thought about it. Until now. After Jiang Chao’s mishap a few days ago, Jiang Quan had begun to ignore her in his anger so she had no other option but to seek help from Old Jiang Madame. Except, her plea was refused without the slightest hesitation. And while she used to be able to ask for help from Xia Cheng, recently, Xia Cheng and the Jiang family held a lot of grievances. Xia Yan was helpless. Except, while she couldn’t pry silver out of Old Jiang Madame’s hands, all the country estate and farmlands that bore her name were still hers. So Xia Yan sold those shops and farmlands without telling anyone, and rescued Jiang Chao in exchange for money.
Now that Jiang Chao was back, she still had to find a way to figure out the problem with the account books. Xia Yan felt lightheaded. She always appeared uncaring about worldly affairs, but was in fact extremely shrewd. But recently, problems came rushing in one after another and she was pushed to her wits’ end.
She shook her head and told Lin Lang, “Help me walk to the courtyard.”
Lin Lang complied. When they reached the courtyard gate, Jiang Ruan and Lian Qiao were pa.s.sing by. Jiang Ruan saw Xia Yan and stopped to give her a bow. “Mother.”
Xia Yan reluctantly smiled and nodded. She was not in the mood to perform a show of loving mother and the dutiful daughter with her. At present, her eyes could not hide her hatred. However, Jiang Ruan took a few steps back and said with a smile, “Mother, what is this odor? You’d better go back and clean up first. Ruan niang will go back to the courtyard now.” With that, she left with Lian Qiao.
Xia Yan looked at Jiang Ruan’s departing figure. When she thought of her dishevelled appearance due to Jiang Chao’s vomiting all over her body, she almost crushed her teeth.
* * *
As soon as Jiang Xin Zhi came back, he first went to Jiang Ruan’s courtyard. Jiang Ruan was instructing Lian Qiao and Bai Zhi to replace the damp items from a few days ago. When they saw Jiang Xin Zhi coming, Lian Qiao rushed to brew a cup of tea while Jiang Ruan sat opposite him.
After a pause, Jiang Xin Zhi got straight to the point. “Ah Ruan, Li Dong and his two sons died in prison yesterday.”
Jiang Ruan raised her eyebrows slightly. “Oh?”
“The jailer found them this morning and said that they committed suicide to escape punishment. His Majesty was so enraged that he ordered their corpses to be torn limb from limb by five horses.” Jiang Xin Zhi was furious. “It is the will of the heaven’s that the good receive their blessings and the bad, their retribution. Therefore, it’s not that we didn’t want to get our revenge, but that it wasn’t our time to act. Likewise, they wanted you to marry into their family, but unexpectedly they didn’t have that fate.”
Jiang Ruan smiled faintly and pondered in her heart. Li Dong and his sons’ “suicides” to escape punishment should have been Xiao Shao’s handiwork. Although she had no idea exactly what method he used, even Jiang Xin Zhi found nothing wrong. Naturally, it was done without any flaws.
She smiled with her head bowed, but Jiang Xin Zhi’s eyes caught it and he was moved. With a gentle voice, he said, “In a few days, His Majesty will hold a palace banquet to reward the officials who have made great contributions to the flood control. You will accompany me since you are my family. At that time, dage will seek a future prospect for you.“
 T/N: Future prospect here can mean marriage or career.
Jiang Ruan naturally understood what he meant by this. Jiang Xin Zhi wanted to elevate her status in exchange for his meritorious service so that the Jiang family could no longer dare to bully her so easily. Jiang Xin Zhi continued, “Presently, the greater my achievements, the more His Majesty will favour me. The Western region is not so peaceful, so I will inevitably lead troops to battle one day. It would be great if you had a guardian.”
“A guardian?” Jiang Ruan smiled faintly. “Dage, is this how you will protect me? By giving me the Junzhu’s status? Don’t forget that the thunder and the dew are all the Emperor’s grace. The fact that His Majesty values you presently means that this is your opportunity. But, if Dage uses His Majesty’s intentions rashly and proceeds with this bartering stance, I’m afraid it will make His Majesty unhappy. As for the status of Junzhu, I don’t mean to say this, but Dage’s meritorious service is still not enough.”
 郡主 (Junzhu) – Commandery Princess. First mentioned for Princess Rongya (ch.58). Although the t.i.tle is same, the position in reality is different, one is born a princess and the other is conferred the t.i.tle.
 T/N: It means whether it is punishment (thunder) or reward (dew), it is the grace given by the Emperor.
Jiang Xin Zhi was at a loss for words. He understood that what Jiang Ruan said was indeed true. To him, riches and wealth had no value; he only hoped that Jiang Ruan had a good life. The kind of place the Jiang fu was, as well as its people’s att.i.tudes- he could see it all very clearly. He only felt fearful about how Jiang Ruan would pa.s.s the days when he went into battle. How could he be at ease, leaving Jiang Ruan in a treacherous place such as this?
Jiang Ruan smiled at him. “Aside from changing my status, there is still a way to protect me.”
“What is it?” Jiang Xin Zhi asked.
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“It’s very simple. Betroth me to someone with great power. Once the engagement is made, I will be only a half Jiang family member. If that party is very powerful, people here won’t dare to make things difficult for me.”
Although he had made up his mind to eventually abandon the Grand Councillor fu, this was not the right time. Xuan Li would always squeeze anything in his hands dry until its last drop of usefulness. Even if the Grand Councillor fu was to be destroyed, it should have still held some value to pave the way for his progress. Yet, unexpectedly, Li Dong and his sons died in prison for no reason. The dead couldn’t bear witness. Those suspicions concerning him would become thorns that p.r.i.c.ked deep into the Emperor’s heart and were impossible to pull out.
How could he not be indignant!
The subordinate at his side came to report. “Your Majesty, after a thorough investigation, that day, the person Second Young Master Li was about to deal with was Eldest Jiang Miss. Then, somehow the officials and soldiers were brought in. Even the Chi Lei army was annihilated in one fell swoop.”
Jiang Ruan, it’s Jiang Ruan again!
Xuan Li stood up all of a sudden and then sat back again, feeling stuffy in his chest. Li An complacently thought that he had concealed the true strength of the Chi Lei army. In fact, everything was under Xuan Li’s control. He had thought that at a certain point, he would take the Chi Lei army for his own use. Who would have known that in a period of great change, the Chi Lei army would become a political hot potato? He could only watch helplessly as it was captured by the officials and soldiers.
As he recalled the days when quite a few of the Chi Lei army’s locations were suddenly destroyed, he started to suspect that those officials and soldiers were members of the Zhao and Guan family. Needless to say, the Guan family, but the Zhao family’s involvement was too coincidental. When he heard from his subordinate that Li An originally wanted to deal with Jiang Ruan, the light gradually dawned on him.
If everything that happened was truly Jiang Ruan’s doing, she was really terrifying.
He remembered that before Li An was arrested, they had a chat. Li An once said, “Eldest Jiang Miss’ wisdom is unrivalled. If there’s a chance, Your Highness can consider taking it for your own use. If not, she must be killed. Otherwise, she will pose a great danger in the future.”
He had scoffed at it at first, but now his face turned grave at the thought. What exactly did Li An imply by that remark? This time, if Li An really fell into Jiang Ruan’s hands, he would have to examine Jiang’s family’s Eldest Miss closely.
If even Li An was not Jiang Ruan’s match in talent and wisdom, she would indeed be a great help. In any case, he wanted to win over both the Jiang and the Xia family to his side. It made no difference to him whether that meant he must marry Jiang Ruan or Jiang Su Su. While Jiang Su Su was currently in disrepute, Jiang Ruan was very smart…When he thought of Jiang Ruan’s young but charming face, his heart swayed, and he suddenly sighed comfortably.
If he could use her for his own purpose, if he could do so… He smiled all of a sudden. The previous gloom was all swept away. “Get ready, I will enter the palace to see my imperial concubine mother.”
 母 妃 (mu fei) – mu– mother, fei– imperial concubine
It remained to be seen who would emerge as victor in the end.
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