Chapter 149 : Their Own Att.i.tudes
The next day, the news of Xiao Shao hugging and kissing Jiang Ruan while drunk had spread throughout the Jinying w.a.n.gfu. The servants once again admired their master’s actions. Look, this is called courage! Although none of them had actually seen a drunk Xiao Shao before, after looking at the results, everyone concluded that their w.a.n.gye had amazed them all with his brilliantly executed move.
Jiang Ruan knew about none of this. Last night, after Xiao Shao fell asleep at some point, Jiang Ruan asked Tian Zhu to help him to his room. Throughout the night, she had been plagued with a myriad of thoughts and emotions, resulting in a sleepless night. Thus, the next day there were hints of dark shadows below her eyes when she left the Jinying w.a.n.gfu.
After she left the Jinying w.a.n.gfu, she decided not to return to the palace. Instead, after some thought, she ordered the coachman to turn about and head back to the Jiang fu. Now that Jiang Xin Zhi’s affairs were known throughout the city, it was impossible for the Jiang fu to not have received any news. In addition, it just so happened that she was also keen to see if the net she had set out had nettedsome rewards.
* * *
Surprisingly, it was out of the ordinary for Jiang Quan to be in the Jiang fu today. In the study, Jiang Chao was sitting across from him with a grave expression.
“You’re saying Eighth Highness wants to marry little Ruan?” Jiang Quan frowned. “How could Eighth Highness have taken a fancy to her?” If the girl in question was Jiang Su Su, then Jiang Quan wouldn’t be so unreconciled, and it would actually be exactly what he would have hoped for. But now he was informed that Xuan Li wanted Jiang Ruan, and this made him feel troubled.
An imperceptible trace of darkness flashed in Jiang Chao’s eyes. “This is indeed the intention of His Highness.”
“Then what about Su Su?” This unforeseen circ.u.mstance clouded Jiang Quan’s expression. “She’s also reached marriageable age. A while back, didn’t Eighth Highness tacitly agree to marry Jiang Su Su, and even though the betrothal has not been settled, how could he suddenly change the person now?” His words now clearly showed dissatisfaction with Xuan Li.
Several years ago, the Jiang family wanted to align themselves with Eighth Prince, so they’d both intentionally and underhandedly probed into his intentions. Between his two di daughters, Jiang Quan was partial to Jiang Su Su, and naturally hoped that Jiang Su Su would be the one to marry Xuan Li and become his royal consort. It was because of this intention that her marriage had been delayed all this time. If it dragged on any longer, Jiang Su Su would become a spinster! They’d all a.s.sumed this was a sure thing, and even if it wasn’t, considering their relationship with Xia fu, she could at least be a concubine. Why did it suddenly change to Jiang Ruan?
In Jiang Quan’s eyes, even the brainless Jiang Li was better than Jiang Ruan. For some reason, Jiang Quan had always been a little afraid of his ever-smiling eldest daughter. Maybe it was because he felt guilty about Zhao Mei, or maybe it was because Jiang Ruan had piercing eyes that seemed to probe the very hearts of men. He’d never once felt comfortable meeting her eyes. For Jiang Quan, Jiang Ruan and Jiang Xin Zhi always stood opposite him, and would never fall under his control.
If Jiang Ruan truly married into Eighth Prince’s w.a.n.gfu, with her abilities, who knew if she would bring about a catastrophic disaster upon both the Jiang fu and himself. Jiang Quan just could not trust her.
Jiang Chao threw Jiang Quan a mocking sneer but it was so well concealed that the latter didn’t notice. “The one who Eighth Highness chose is Eldest Sister. No matter how dissatisfied Father is, did you think that you could negotiate with him to replace her with Second Sister?” he asked.
It wasn’t as if Jiang Chao had no grievances against Jiang Quan. He understood as early as Xia Yan’s incident that Jiang Quan was a hypocrite who would not take any unnecessary risks as soon as his life was involved even though he professed to love them. He knew that Xia Yan had been slandered, yet as a husband, he preferred to believe others. So although Jiang Chao was currently favoured by Eighth Prince, his colleagues always looked at him with a bit of ridicule, undoubtedly because of his father’s actions. How could he be reconciled!
Ever since the Xia Yan debacle, the relationship between Jiang Chao and Jiang Quan had grown estranged — there was politeness, but no intimacy. Jiang Quan himself might or might not be aware of the problem. Maybe he knew in his heart, and just pretended otherwise to keep the peace.
“You–” Jiang Quan also heard Jiang Chao’s subtle sarcasm. Just as he was about to burst into anger, he suddenly remembered something and calmed down. “What are you talking about, Su Su is also your sister. Don’t you want her to live well?”
Jiang Chao didn’t reply, because he also knew that considering Jiang Ruan’s relationship with them, her marriage to Eighth Prince would only bring harm and no benefits. However, he saw and understood the situation clearly, and the truth was that Xuan Li was dead set on Jiang Ruan. Apart from the fact that she brought with her the added leverage of both the Zhao family and Jiang Xin Zhi, as a man, he naturally understood the kind of look Xuan Li had towards Jiang Ruan. He already had an interest in her, the type of interest that a man had for a woman.
Jiang Chao smirked. “No need to be anxious, Father. If Eighth Highness wants Eldest Sister and the Emperor agrees, we can’t do anything but obey. If Father is concerned that she will speak out of turn before Eighth Highness, then there truly isn’t any reason for your concern. Moreover, if she were to marry the Eighth Highness and because of her brother’s incident develop a deep animosity towards him, then even if she has entered the royal household, their resentment would escalate to a breaking point.”
“You mean…” Jiang Quan’s eyes lit up.
Jiang Chao smiled unhurriedly, stretched out a hand with only four fingers, and slowly gestured on the table. “Eighth Highness wishes to marry Eldest Sister, and also to win over my eldest brother. It’s just that if Eldest Brother truly joins Eighth Highness, it may not be the best thing for our Jiang fu.”
Jiang Quan’s expression froze. Jiang Xin Zhi and Jiang Ruan were of one mind, and neither could stand seeing him well. Moreover, if Xuan Li was able to form an alliance with them, and Jiang Xin Zhi was able to evade the current predicament, then that would bring added glory and splendor upon them. They would have within their grasp immense power and authority, and this would be unlike before, resulting in the Jiang family becoming an indispensable a.s.set. However, if push came to shove, between Jiang Xin Zhi and the Jiang family, Xuan Li wouldn’t necessarily choose the Jiang family and abandon Jiang Xin Zhi. The very existence of Jiang Xin Zhi was a great threat to them.
Jiang Quan looked at Jiang Chao. Jiang Chao’s face was gloomy, but his next words were shocking. “If anything happens to Eldest Brother, an investigation might well reveal that Eighth Highness was involved. As soon as Eldest Sister finds out, she will inevitably grow distant from Eighth Highness; Jiang Xin Zhi will be dead and thus of no use, and with the hatred between them, Eldest Sister will have no reason to ask the Zhao family to help him. In this way, if Eighth Highness still wants to win over the Jiang family, he will need another bond.” He smiled slightly. “At that time, it would be a simple matter to send Second Sister into the royal household.”
Jiang Quan was somewhat stunned at the unfamiliar expression on Jiang Chao’s face, which held hints of cruelty that even he seemingly wasn’t aware of. It took a while before he could react. Then he said, “You say it like it’s so easy, but how can you ensure that he will meet with an accident? What’s more, you’re even planning to implicate Eighth Highness into this nefarious plot! This is preposterous.”
Jiang Chao felt contempt for his father’s words and disdained his inherent weakness. With him (JQ) being overly cautious and always second-guessing himself, how could he (JC) have a good future? Besides, regarding this matter Jiang Chao had long made his own plans, and it was irrelevant whether Jiang Quan agreed or not. At this, Jiang Chao felt it was pointless to stay any longer, so he spoke a few offhand words of a.s.surance. Although Jiang Quan felt a little annoyed at his inattentiveness he also knew that this son of his was a trusted aide of Xuan Li whom he could neither beat nor scold. Thus he could only go along with it and send him off after talking for a little while longer.
* * *
The carriage stopped outside the Jiang fu, and the guards there opened the gate. Jiang Ruan was greeted as usual when she went in, but everyone was sizing her up, obviously wondering how long this junzhu could keep being proud.
When Jiang Ruan was first conferred the junzhu t.i.tle, her status did rise, but the decision-maker in the household was ultimately still Jiang Quan. Therefore, the servants wouldn’t go out of their way to please Jiang Ruan at the risk of offending Jiang Quan. Now that Jiang Xin Zhi was in trouble, it seemed clear that Jiang Ruan, Hong’an Junzhu, would sooner or later run out of luck and favour. Many servants secretly rejoiced that they’d chosen correctly back then and didn’t rush to curry favour with the eldest young lady, otherwise their lives would be much harder today.
Previously, Hong Ying would greet Jiang Ruan every time she came back from the palace. However the one who came out today was First Yiniang in rough-spun clothing. She was very apologetic towards Jiang Ruan. “I’m sorry, Eldest Miss,” she said, “Fifth Yiniang is heavily pregnant and it’s inconvenient for her to move around. Please excuse her.”
Bai Zhi frowned and Lian Qiao pouted her lips. Initially, when things were smooth sailing for her, she would move about with such enthusiasm that if one didn’t know any better, they would have a.s.sumed that she was Jiang Ruan’s biological mother. However, upon accessing the current unfavourable situation, for her own self preservation, she was quick to alienate them. It was no wonder that there was a saying that prost.i.tutes were without emotions and Opera performers were unloyal. But then again, she was born and bred in a brothel, and so no matter how genteel she pretended to be, she was unable to conceal that instinctive nature to act pragmatically and only react to a situation that would be in her favour.
But since First Yiniang had said so, what more could they do about it? Jiang Ruan smiled softly. “It doesn’t matter, Fifth Yiniang should take care of herself. I would definitely feel guilty if my little brother gets hurt.”
First Yiniang’s smile turned brighter. Jiang Ruan glanced at her, and commented, “Now that Fifth Yiniang is heavily pregnant, she must be resting much more. That would also mean that she does not have much time and energy to manage the household. It’s been hard for you.”
“This concubine doesn’t dare claim any merits,” First Yiniang said, as humble as ever, “I merely help out wherever I can.”
As they walked, Jiang Ruan said, “First Yiniang is too modest.”
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First Yiniang waved her hands again, and led them all the way to Ruan Ju before leaving with a smile.
“Da Jiejie,” Jiang Dan called as she entered with a smile curled around her lips. Today she wore a light orange coloured gauze robe decorated with plum flowers, which gave her a refreshing and exquisite appearance, yet also carried a charming hint of pitifulness.
She sat down across from Jiang Ruan and put on a distressed expression. “Da Jiejie, I heard that Eldest Brother… is there any news from the palace, how is he now?”
At this point, Jiang Ruan didn’t bother to tangle with her, and merely smiled at her without speaking. Jiang Dan soon caved and nervously asked, “Da Jiejie, did I say something wrong?”
“Naturally.” Jiang Ruan poured herself a cup of tea and said, almost casually, “Information about skirmishes on the border are cla.s.sified. How can just anyone find out? And if someone with an ulterior motive were to spread that information, wouldn’t it be a disaster?”
“Da Jiejie,” Jiang Dan said, looking sullen and sounding aggrieved, “I’m not someone with ulterior motives, and besides, what would I even do with the news?”
Jiang Ruan smiled slightly. “It’s actually not hard for Fourth Sister to gather such information, moreover you are entering the palace in three days.” Her smile turned meaningful. “Fourth Sister can find out a lot there. If you can get His Majesty’s favour, you might even be able to hear more recent news, and maybe then, it will be I who might have to ask for news from you.”
After Jiang Dan heard this, her expression became rather complex, and she smiled a little strangely. “Da Jiejie, you’re making fun of me. There are so many talented ladies in the palace, whereas I’m just an ordinary shu daughter,” she said, looking towards Jiang Ruan. “Instead, if it were Da Jiejie, then that would be the Jiang fu’s blessing.”
“Never mind,” Jiang Ruan smiled. “Since Father wants you to enter the palace, you must have your own uniqueness. Entering the palace represents your affluence. It doesn’t matter if others were born more n.o.ble than you — as long as you are favoured, they will have to stand aside. Besides, you have the Jiang fu and Father supporting you.” In her previous life, when she had learnt that she was to enter the palace her so-called relatives in the Jiang fu had comforted her in the same manner. But now that the wheel of fortune had turned, she was able to reciprocate those sentiments and return those very same words verbatim to Jiang Dan, though she wondered how Jiang Dan felt hearing those words.
There was a bit of sincerity in her words, and Jiang Dan couldn’t be sure of what Jiang Ruan actually thought, so she could only force out a reluctant smile. “Da Jiejie, did you know that Furen went crazy, and has been brought to the countryside to recuperate by Second Brother. Also, Second Sister has visited the Xia fu, saying that Xia Furen is sick.”
“Second Brother is kind,” Jiang Ruan said. “Xia Furen has always been in poor health, so it is right for Second Sister go visit.”
Jiang Dan frowned, a little disappointed that she didn’t get the reaction she imagined. Just a few seconds later, she said, as if unintentionally, “Why would she be sent to such a place to convalesce, especially in her current state and poor health.. The road to the countryside is so b.u.mpy, I don’t know if she can take it…”
“Second Brother has his own opinion.” Instead of responding, Jiang Ruan directly blocked her words. Jiang Dan also helplessly recognised that Jiang Ruan refused to keep talking about this topic, so she could only chat for a bit longer before getting up with a smile. “I still have some things to prepare for entering the palace, so I won’t bother Da Jijie any more. I’ll go back first and will visit you again.”
After Jiang Dan was sent off, Lu Zhu approached Jiang Ruan to pour more tea, and said, “She really is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. As soon as she got a tiny bit of power, her eyes flew to the sky.” In the maids’ eyes, Jiang Dan only came to Ruan Ju today to show off, and to take the opportunity to trample on the downtrodden, wanting to see Jiang Ruan in her current predicament. In all the world, there was probably no one who could embody the phrase ‘petty-minded’ like Jiang Dan could.
However, Jiang Ruan’s mind wasn’t on Jiang Dan. Just now, Jiang Dan’s words either intentionally or unintentionally revealed something. Her long awaited prey had finally stepped up to the edge of hertrap; now the question was if she should wait for them to fall into it by themselves or should she give them a little push?
Jiang Dan wanted to use her as a borrowed knife, and mistakenly regarded everyone in the world as fools. It’s just that she hadn’t expected Jiang Chao to be the one to become impatient first.
She slowly took a sip of tea, then said, “Tian Zhu, go check which village Xia Yan was taken to. Jiang Chao is about to make his move.”
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