Chapter 125 : Xiao Shao’s Concern
Trigger Warning: suicidal ideation.
Within the imperial palace, in the Si Meng Palace, Imperial Consort Chen reclined on her couch, but long gone was the leisurely ease that she usually displayed. The multi-coloured knotted pouch she was working on was carelessly tossed to one side only partially done. The interwoven silk threads had become tangled; looking at them made her feel irritated.
Example of an ancient Chinese knotted pouch.
“Lao Chen, how’s the situation on my father’s side?” Imperial Consort Chen asked as she pressed her hands to her forehead.
Eunuch Chen lowered his eyes and said, “Old Master’s situation . . . is not too good. Over the past few days the Ministry of Revenue and the Ministry of War have come up with many ways to oppose him, and so Old Master is very angry.”
Losing control, Imperial Consort Chen smashed to smithereens a snow-jade porcelain vase in front of her as she said, “Zhao Guang, that old lout!” In recent days, Imperial Duke Chen had had to deal with a series of adverse situations, and anyone with a working brain cell could tell that this had Zhao Guang’s stamp all over it. The Ministry of Revenue and the Ministry of War were generally on friendly terms with the General fu; they were a group of stubborn old fogeys, who in the past had loved to contradict the Chen family. That they would be so out of character in openly instigating trouble these past few days must be due to Zhao Guang’s prompting.
Eunuch Chen frowned as he did not fully agree with Imperial Consort Chen’s line of thought. Hesitantly, he asked, “From this humble servant’s perspective, this may not be the General fu’s doing.”
“Eh?” Imperial Consort Chen glanced at him from the corner of her eye. “Apart from him, who else in the imperial court would dare to step on the Chen family so brazenly?”
Only that bunch of obstinate, military men in the General fu would set themselves against the Duke fu in all aspects. Did they not consider that, in future, the world would belong to her son, and if they wanted to crush the General fu, it would be as simple as crushing an ant.
“The General fu has always been straightforward and impulsive when taking action, but they lack careful consideration. Judging from what Old Master has said, the incidents that he has encountered were all executed flawlessly and have been absolutely ruthless and overpowering. At the moment, Imperial Consort may have her suspicions, but you are unable to offer a solution to this situation. The General fu can not come up with this kind of scheme. If this humble servant were to be so bold as to make a guess, this is the work of His Highness, Jinying w.a.n.g.” Thus was Eunuch Chen’s a.n.a.lysis of the situation.
“Jinying w.a.n.g?” Imperial Consort Chen’s voice sharpened without warning, much unlike her usual gentle and subdued tone, and she unconsciously displayed signs of agitation as she said, “Impossible!” Relaxing slightly, she continued, “Jinying w.a.n.g has always taken a neutral stand in court, there’s no reason why he should change. Why would he want to set himself up against the Chen family?”
Eunuch Chen sighed; was Jinying w.a.n.g really neutral? All these years facing challenges in court had seasoned him. In the end, Imperial Consort Chen was a woman, and women were weaker at understanding the situation and power balance in the imperial court. Although Xiao Shao had gained a name as ‘The Rebel, the Emperor regarded him highly, and did not, at all, treat him as one should, like the surviving family member of a traitor. Although he did not know why, over the years, Xiao Shao looked as if he had distanced himself from the affairs of the imperial court and had never shown any bias or courted any favours. In truth, his power and influence were unfathomable. Who could understand the workings of his mind? Judging from the events a few days ago, Xiao Shao seemed to treasure the eldest di daughter of the Jiang family. When Imperial Consort Chen had taken action, that Xiao Shao should command someone to send Xuan You’s decapitated head to her clearly demonstrated his att.i.tude – he wanted to protect Jiang Ruan. If this were the case, this repression of the Chen family, wasn’t it simply to allow Hong’an Junzhu to vent her anger?
If Eunuch Chen could come to this conclusion, so could Imperial Consort Chen. After staring blankly for a moment, she gradually calmed down. When she realised that Xiao Shao was acting on Jiang Ruan’s behalf to move against the Chen family, an unexpected sense of melancholy surfaced in her heart. Fiercely, she said, “Such an amazing Jiang Ruan, to be able to stir up Jinying w.a.n.g to treat you with such special care!”
Eunuch Chen bowed his head and remained silent. In the palace, Imperial Consort Chen was known as a person who hid her thoughts and intentions well, but in his position as the court eunuch closest to her, Eunuch Chen was privy to those secret thoughts. From the time she found out that Xiao Shao and Jiang Ruan had a close relationship, Imperial Consort Chen had often lost her grip on herself, which was not a good thing for her. He wanted to mention this, but Imperial Consort Chen had always had her own ideas, and would not listen to his words.
* * *
The person who had caused those in the Si Meng Palace to lose control was at present hiding in a corner of the palace. The palace was full of people who harboured evil intent and were unpredictable, as Jiang Ruan had learned the hard way in her previous life. In this life, she had been granted a new lease of life as the junzhu, following which, those imperial concubines who had stepped on her in her previous life now had to bow before her. Jiang Ruan herself did not care about these sorts of things, she merely felt that everyone in the Jiang fu was bad, but there was even greater danger in the palace, and it was very difficult to find a tranquil place.
The Empress Dowager knew that Jiang Ruan was fond of tranquility, so she had Princess Yuan Rong’s side palace, where she had resided before she got married, tidied up, so that Jiang Ruan could take up residence there. Not only was this convenient, this action of Empress Dowager Yi De also caused people who liked to watch the excitement in the palace to consider this occurrence more deeply, for it indicated that Hong’an Junzhu was now truly favoured by the Empress Dowager.
After Jiang Ruan had taken up residence, she had not changed anything at all about the interior; it looked exactly the same as before. Although Empress Dowager Yi De appeared cold and aloof, in actual fact, she had never been able to forget her daughter who had died too early. Even though many years had pa.s.sed, the items in the residence were still bright and clean, as if new.
Lu Zhu and Tian Zhu had followed Jiang Ruan to wait upon her. After Tian Zhu had recovered from her injuries, she began to practise her martial arts skills even more diligently every day, and had taken to concealing a large weapon on her at all times in order to guard against sudden mishaps. This day, Lu Zhu had gone out first thing in the morning to pluck flowers, but she had not been out for long before returning.
Tian Zhu asked, somewhat baffled, “What about the flowers?”
Lu Zhu’s hands were empty. She scratched her head and stammered, “Flowers . . . flowers . . . Miss, Xiao w.a.n.gye has arrived.”
Jiang Ruan almost spat out a mouthful of tea. True enough, she caught a glimpse of a figure behind Lu Zhu, dressed in black brocade with a silver belt. Who could it be if not Xiao Shao?
Tian Zhu was also taken aback. Lu Zhu rubbed her nose and said in shame, “Miss, this servant was unable to stop him.”
With Lu Zhu’s feeble ability, it was utterly fantastical to think that she would be able to stop Xiao Shao. Jiang Ruan put down the book in her hand and said, “I know.”
 天方夜谭 (tian fang ye tan) – lit. The Arabian Nights. How interesting that it should be used as a symbol of what fantasy is!
Lu Zhu locked eyes with Tian Zhu, who then hurriedly said, “These servants will take our leave first.” Without waiting for Jiang Ruan’s reply, she left with Lu Zhu.
As the door was closed, Jiang Ruan glared at the retreating backs of her two maidservants who had left her without any hesitation, feeling highly annoyed – nowadays, these two paid less and less attention to her, their mistress. Her gaze then rested on the handsome young man before her. Was this man insane to enter the palace so daringly? What if he was seen by others? Moreover, they were a single man and a single young lady together, alone, in a room, and yet he actually walked in and out with ease.
Without looking at Jiang Ruan’s expression, Xiao Shao walked to sit in front of the small table, paused momentarily, then fished out a little bag from his robes and set it on the table.
“Medicine for wounds,” Xiao Shao responded. “If you’ve finished the Yu Ji Gao (lit. Jade Flesh Ointment), apply this herbal remedy, it will also prevent scarring.”
Jiang Ruan was taken by surprise. It had never crossed her mind that he would specially visit her to deliver her medicine, so she was at a loss for words for a moment.
Xiao Shao frowned, but remained collected. In truth, he had not actually come to give her the medicine, but when he heard Jin San’s words, some unknown impulse had sent him here. Fortunately, he had not encountered Liu Min, so he was in a relatively good mood. After dwelling in silence for a while, he said, “The Grand Selection of the new batch of imperial concubine candidates is about to begin; Jiang Quan has prepared Jiang Dan’s portrait.”
 秀女 (xiu nu) – The daughters from high-ranking n.o.ble families would be drafted in the selection for imperial concubines that occurred every three to five years. The women had to undergo a rigorous elimination process to be chosen. More here.
When Xiao Shao thought about the report his spies had given on what Jiang Quan had said while in the fu, his entire body turned cold. Jiang Quan had said, if not for the fact that Jiang Ruan was already junzhu, she would have been the best choice to enter the palace. In this selection process, the Emperor had already clearly indicated that he wanted a candidate from the Jiang family. Jiang Su Su was his most beloved daughter, and he would definitely not allow her to suffer hardship while Jiang Li and Jiang Dan were shu daughters. Since Jiang Ruan was the di daughter, and Jiang fu had nurtured her for so many years, she ought to reciprocate by entering the selection.
However, the will of the heavens is hard to fathom. Now, Jiang Ruan had been elevated to junzhu, and could not partic.i.p.ate in the selection. Jiang Su Su’s reputation was in ruins, and even if the royal family were willing to overlook this, they would never accept her scarred face. Jiang Li was already married, and so, after considering all options, only Jiang Dan was left to be of use. There was no alternative but to submit Jiang Dan’s portrait.
Xiao Shao knit his brows tightly. He knew that Jiang Ruan’s life in the Jiang fu had not been good, otherwise she would not have been sent off to the rural residence as soon as her mother died. However, he had never imagined that Jiang Quan would be so hard-hearted and ruthless; how could someone treat his own child, his flesh and blood this way.
Jiang Ruan said, “Fourth Sister is about to enter the palace. Thinking about Fourth Sister’s abilities, she should have good future prospects in the palace.”
Jiang Dan was used to acting humble and flattering others while being vicious and merciless. Looking at her, one would think that she was incapable of scheming, but the truth was that she was the most repulsive of them all. This kind of person was most suited to surviving in the imperial palace. A hint of a smile surfaced on Jiang Ruan’s face. Jiang Quan had personally released a wolf cub, but he did not realise that a day would come when he would be bitten to death by a ferocious wolf.
Xiao Shao glanced at her and said, “Imperial Consort Chen now regards you as a thorn in her side. I will send Jin Er and Jin San to stay with you.”
Jiang Ruan was startled. Frankly, this was undoubtedly very tempting. Due to the previous situation, she had considered matters and realised that, although she appeared to have gained the upper hand at present, when all was said and done, she was still unable to vie with Imperial Consort Chen in her current position. Moreover, she had no one by her side she could rely on for aid, much less had the ability to send people out on a.s.signments. If things got rough, she had no way to guarantee a favourable outcome. Tian Zhu, alone, was clearly not enough. If she also had Jin Er and Jin San, at the very least, if something bad were to happen, they would be able to figure out a way to get the news out, and would therefore be an additional safeguard.
She owed Xiao Shao too many favours. Hesitantly, Jiang Ruan asked, “I have something I would like to ask you.”
Xiao Shao looked at her with some suspicion in his eyes.
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“At that time, you said that you owed me your life. What did you mean by this?”
She rolled her eyes and thought, ever since Young Furen’s arrival, it was as if spring had also arrived for the entire Jinyi Guard.
* * *
In complete contrast to the light-hearted cheer in this corner of the palace, some places were under a cloud of gloom. Such as . . . Langzhong fu.
In a room in the courtyard, Jiang Li sat quietly on a chair. A maidservant placed the medicine she was holding onto the table, turned to her and said, “Furen, time to take the medicine.”
The maidservant wore a pink short jacket, her waist was slender, her make-up was delicately done, and, all this, together with her hair, gave her a fresh and tender appearance. However, she projected a somewhat disrespectful att.i.tude, and the nails on all ten fingers were painted with red nail polish. She placed the bowl of medicine on the table, eyed Jiang Li, and said, with a voice dripping with charm, “Furen, it’s better for you to quickly drink the medicine. If Master returns later and sees it still there, he will be very annoyed.”
 水嫩如葱 (shui nen ru cong) – lit. as tender or inexperienced as a scallion/ green onion.
Jiang Li put all her effort into glaring daggers at her and said, hoa.r.s.ely, “You, get lost.”
The maidservant eyed her angrily and made to leave after a barely respectful greeting. As she left, she whispered, “What kind of thing is she, still thinking that she’s the mistress of Langzhong fu, when she’s actually just a s.l.u.t . . .”
 破鞋 (po xie) – lit. worn-out shoe.
Her words, faintly discernible, reached Jiang Li’s ears. She lost her temper and smashed the bowl of medicine on the floor!
That maidservant was the one whom she had brought over from the Jiang fu as part of her dowry. Who would have expected that such a situation could occur not even a few days after the marriage: Zuo Jiang loathed her, and this personal maidservant had taken the opportunity to climb into bed with him. If not for the fact that Jiang Li was pregnant, it was very likely that Zuo Jiang would immediately make this maidservant his concubine!
Pregnant. Jiang Li gave a bitter laugh and dropped her gaze to the an tai medicine that had spilled all over the ground. To be pregnant so soon after entering the fu should be a tremendously happy occasion, but it had unfortunately been the result of that night. She did not know whether the baby she was carrying was Zuo Jiang’s, or Third Prince, Xuan You’s.
 安胎 (an tai) – generally, medicine to prevent miscarriage and to ensure a healthy foetus.
Whether it was Zuo Jiang’s or Xuan You’s, she did not dare to lose it, and knew she had to protect this seed in her belly well. It was imperative that the imperial family should not be provoked to anger, and the people of Langzhong fu knew this well. They fed her an tai medicine, yet willfully insulted her. Old Zuo Madame wanted her dead for having ruined Zuo Jiang’s future prospects and reputation. There was no need to talk about Zuo Jiang, the look he gave her everyday was akin to that given to an enemy. That man was a devil; he appeared genteel and scholarly, but he transformed into something else as he tormented her.
Jiang Li smiled bleakly. How did things come to this? It should not have been this way. She struggled to retrieve a copper mirror from the side of her pillow. The person in the mirror was wan and sallow, clearly a young girl in the bloom of life who looked like a thirty-year-old woman. Her skin was dry and dull, she was so thin as to have lost all shape, and her eyes were dark and l.u.s.treless. One look at her emaciated face would cause anyone to feel disgusted; where was the exuberant beauty of before? She threw the bronze mirror to the ground with loathing and sobbed loudly.
She had thought that marrying into the Langzhong fu would lead to her being an official’s wife, able to step on everyone else, and finally able to thoroughly cast off her status as a shu daughter. Who knew that, nowadays, a mere maidservant would be able to bully her!
It should not have been this way, this should have been Jiang Dan’s life. Jiang Li curled up into herself. If she had not s.n.a.t.c.hed this marriage from Jiang Dan, Jiang Dan would be the one married into the Langzhong fu now, and Jiang Dan would be the one so terribly ruined. She thought that she had seized an opportunity for a blissful marriage, but who knew that it would turn out to be the road to h.e.l.l!
She hated Jiang Dan, hated Zuo Jiang, hated Xuan You, hated her personal maidservant, and hated the person who had caused all this to happen – Jiang Ruan. At present, giving birth to this child would still be a death sentence. What’s more, she did not even want to give birth to this vile sp.a.w.n who represented her humiliation.
Jiang Li’s eyes gleamed with a feverish light. If she died, the child in her belly would also die, and the imperial family would definitely not let the Langzhong fu off the hook. Zuo Jiang would also never be able to lift up his head again. If this were the case, if this were the case . . . it would be so much better than the current situation. At the very least, it would destroy Langzhong fu’s happiness, it would destroy Zuo Jiang’s happiness . . . she felt a slight sense of elation.
She rolled off the bed. Trembling, she picked up a shard of porcelain from the floor and muttered, “If there is an afterlife, I will never let you go . . .”
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