Chapter 99 : Empress Dowager Yi De (Part I)
Yu Ping hall was already packed with furens and young misses; almost all of them were the relatives of high-ranking officials and nobility. Since there were many nobilities, everyone gracefully exchanged greetings in low voices as they couldn’t appear to be either too prudish or too presumptuous.
The Empress sat on the high seat in the middle, while to her right, the four imperial consorts took their respective places according to their ranks. She was looking at the furens and young misses below with a smile, occasionally exchanging pleasantries, and looking very cordial.
The little eunuch tasked with announcing orders called out loudly, “Minister Jiang fu’s furen has arrived—”
Everyone’s sight turned towards the door in unison.
Jiang Quan, the Defense Minister, had been in the limelight in the capital recently. The reason was none other than Eldest Young Master Jiang, who had just recently returned to the capital. He was now the fastest to be promoted in the Great Jin dynasty as well as the youngest Deputy General. Besides, he had also performed many meritorious deeds as soon as he returned. Based on hearsay, His Majesty liked him very much, thus, one might assume that this giant among men would have a bright future and an unobstructed path to officialdom. The furens in attendance had heard their husbands occasionally speak of him. There were many young misses present who were of marriageable age and some of them wanted to get married into the Jiang family. So now that they heard Minister Jiang’s family had arrived, they would naturally cast their eyes on them.
Xia Yan and several others in her company actually thought that those furens were looking at her. She walked firmly with her back even straighter and her smile gentle and dignified.
The crowd watched in silence. Xia Yan and Jiang Su Su both looked gentle and graceful. Jiang Li, though vivacious, looked slightly frivolous. Jiang Dan had a delicate and timid appearance, but it was out of place in this big scene. Then there was Jiang Ruan, who was behind Xia Yan, and walked steadily with a smile on her lips. With a bright and charming smile, her every move showed the noble elegance of someone who naturally belonged to the imperial palace.
Seeing this, everyone remembered that Xia Yan was not Jiang Xin Zhi’s biological mother after all, but Jiang Ruan and Jiang Xin Zhi were real siblings. If Jiang Xin Zhi was promoted and gained wealth in the future, Jiang Ruan would follow suit, since a rising tide lifted the boats. They also saw that Jiang Ruan had proper manners -knowing how to advance or retreat in front of superiors- and didn’t reveal any nervousness even while facing such a big event as this palace banquet for the first time. She was nothing like a person who had been brought up in a rural mountain village. Some of the furens also started having other ideas. They were thinking about going home and settling on this Eldest Jiang Miss as early as possible.
水涨船高 (shuǐzhǎng-chuángāo) – (idiom) when the river rises, the boat floats high; fig. to change with the overall trend / to develop according to the situation.
Xia Yan and the others came forward to salute the Empress and the nobility. Though the Empress was already over 40, she was healthy and didn’t look aged. She’d sat in a high position for many years, but had no air of lofty aloofness about her. She was not favoured and only received the Emperor’s respect as her son was the Crown Prince. Therefore, at first glance, she looked no different from an ordinary official’s furen. The Empress smiled as she commanded Xia Yan and others to get up, looking very sincere and kind.
 T/N: This is based on the idiom 不惑之年 “can discern truth and are confident.” Usually those of 40 years old.
Imperial Consort Xian was a bit younger. She appeared charming and naive with a kind of artless innocence. Thus, it was no wonder that she had given birth to a mediocre son like Fourth Prince, Xuan Lang. Imperial Consort De was older. She sat in a dignified manner, worthy of the title, “virtuous”. In the royal courts, Fifth Prince, Xuan Hua, was reputed to be a very reliable man, loyal and filial, as well as brave and resolute. At the very least, a virtuous man.
Imperial Consort Shu was beautiful and flirtatious. If Imperial Consort Chen was a misty rain in one corner of Jiangnan, Imperial Consort Shu was a touch of bright colour on the exotic grasslands. Her temper was also headstrong and passionate. Princess He Yi had inherited her beauty as well as her temperament, similarly wilful and domineering.
Sitting beside the Empress, looking the most beautiful and gentle, was the Imperial Consort Chen. If the Empress and other imperial consorts had the elegant poise of the palace nobles, she was just like an ordinary female. Without the slightest bit of polish, she seemed incompatible with the imperial palace. It was as if she had brought this area into the misty rain of Jiangnan.
Jiang Ruan kowtowed with a smile, but her heart stayed still at this very moment. Those people sitting at the top were old acquaintances of her past life though her position had been so humble that she couldn’t see these imperial consorts often. However, Imperial Consort Chen was an exception.
Instead of mocking and belittling her like other imperial consorts, she had often called her to Si Meng Palace to talk. Imperial Consort Chen always had a gentle temperament and since she was Xuan Li’s biological mother, in her last life, Jiang Ruan regarded her like her close friend or aunt- a trusted relative in the cold palace.
However, what Imperial Consort Chen had done behind her back ultimately made her feel that everything was just a joke. She was like an insidious female snake, hiding a deadly trap behind her gentleness. Imperial Consort Chen and Xuan Li were both the same type of people, thoroughly cold to the core. They both used people without any reservation and after their prey was no longer useful, they would be immediately abandoned and killed.
Imperial Consort Chen looked at Xia Yan and others, then suddenly opened her mouth. “You must be Eldest Jiang Miss. Come up and let bengong have a look at you.”
The Empress was startled and glanced at Jiang Ruan thoughtfully. Jiang Li looked towards Jiang Ruan unwillingly, and with unconcealable jealousy, while Jiang Dan bowed her head and dared not look up. Jiang Su Su’s face stiffened as if she was in disbelief. Jiang Ruan raised her head slowly. As she raised her head, she retracted her smile and put on a slightly indifferent look.
Imperial Consort Chen observed her carefully as if she didn’t see Jiang Ruan’s unhappy look. With a smile, she said, “What a beautiful young lady!”
Seeing this scene, all the furens around them started talking in low voices. Dong Yinger, who sat by them, was a little uneasy. She recalled her mother saying that Imperial Consort Chen had the intention to choose a consort for Eighth Prince, so she couldn’t help but break out in cold sweat for Jiang Ruan.
Jiang Ruan answered indifferently, “Thank you for your extravagant praise, Imperial Consort. Ruan niang doesn’t deserve it.”
There was no warmth in her words, not even the basic respect, but only an indifferent resistance. Her attitude made Imperial Consort Chen pause. After a moment, she smiled more kindly. “Jiang Furen, does Eldest Miss have a marriage arrangement yet?”
Xia Yan froze. An irrational fury suddenly broke out in her heart. Jiang Ruan, Jiang Ruan again! This Imperial Consort Chen, currently the Emperor’s most favoured woman in the palace, is inquiring about Jiang Ruan, not Jiang Su Su. Were these people blind? Jiang Ruan has the face of a sly fox. With just one look, one would know that she’s unruly.
And yet, in spite of turning this idea over a thousand times in her mind, there was not even a hint of it on her face. She still humbly replied, “To answer Imperial Consort, Ruan niang is still quite young and hasn’t been promised to anyone yet.”
“Ah, that’s good.” Imperial Consort Chen’s smile became even more sincere. Her flawless and fair face seemed to be covered with a faint mist, and at the moment, it was hard to predict her mood. She then spoke with surprise, “Such a lovely young lady shouldn’t be married off carelessly. Bengong likes Eldest Jiang Miss so much that bengong would like to set her marriage personally.”
Her words were too blatant. All the furens couldn’t help showing complicated expressions of surprise and understanding. Imperial Consort Xian looked at Jiang Ruan with interest, Imperial Consort De didn’t bat an eyelid, the Empress kept smiling faintly, while Imperial Consort Shu opened her mouth to speak. “Chen Jiejie, since it’s marriage, it depends on who the Young Miss likes. As you get older, do you also love to matchmake?”
Imperial Consort Shu and Imperial Consort Chen had always been at odds. Imperial Consort Shu disliked Imperial Consort Chen’s appearance of taking a low posture as if she were removed from the desires of mortal life. Of course, more importantly, she was jealous of Imperial Consort Chen’s brilliantly talented son, Xuan Li. Unfortunately, the one crawling out of her belly was a daughter, which meant that no matter how much she was favoured, she wouldn’t have a son to inherit the throne. Although Fifth Prince had been popular, Imperial Consort De was not favoured at all and was considered to be very low-key. In comparison, Imperial Consort Shu was most annoyed with Imperial Consort Chen. Whenever Imperial Consort Chen said something, she would choke out a reply.
Imperial Consort Chen listened to Imperial Consort Shu’s reply without anger. She merely looked at Jiang Ruan with a smile and said nothing. Her facial features were innately gentle, and when she looked at her with such a gentle smile, it appeared as if she really loved Jiang Ruan and couldn’t bear to part with her.
Jiang Ruan’s eyes were lowered, so she didn’t meet Imperial Consort Chen’s gaze. Outsiders saw her as being shy, but no one knew that she was now filled with extreme hatred. For a few minutes, they were like experts exchanging blows. All the furens and young misses present could see nothing. Only Jiang Ruan knew what she was currently thinking. Who said that Imperial Consort Chen’s gaze was gentle? It was clearly the posture of a viper that had taken a fancy to her prey..
Viper? She had a way to deal with it herself.
Xia Yan was very dejected to see Imperial Consort Chen’s “sincere concern” for Jiang Ruan. Thus, her reply was somewhat perfunctory and still revealed her reluctance. In the past, when Master Hui Jue clarified the false claim about Jiang Ruan being born under a cursed star, people had begun to have doubts about her perceived virtue and generosity. Seeing her conduct now, everyone was all the more sure that she, the Defense Minister’s Furen, was actually a sweet-faced but bitter-hearted person. Otherwise, why wouldn’t she be ecstatic and even look somewhat displeased when Imperial Consort Chen especially inquired about Jiang Ruan?
Imperial Consort Chen asked a few more questions, then the Empress waved Jiang Ruan away to withdraw. As Jiang Ruan sat down in her seat following Xia Yan, Dong Yinger got up and sat down next to Jiang Ruan. She whispered, “I was so worried about you just now. Are you all right?” Then she said with some admiration, “Ruan Meimei, you are so bold. I just saw you were not at all nervous talking to Imperial Consort Chen. If it were me, I would have been too scared to speak.”
Jiang Ruan smiled. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. I didn’t do anything, so I won’t be punished.”
Dong Yinger hesitated a bit. “But… Imperial Consort Chen seems very fond of you. Does she intend to marry you to Eighth Prince?” Realizing that her speech was a bit out of line, Dong Yinger glanced uneasily at Jiang Ruan. Seeing Jiang Ruan’s expression hadn’t changed, she was somewhat relieved and said, “Imperial Consort Chen is very rarely so attentive to others. Yet, she talked to you for a long time today. Ruan Meimei, don’t blame me for being suspicious. I’m afraid all the furens here have the same thought as me. If that’s really the case, what should you do?”
“What about it?” Jiang Ruan asked in reply. “It won’t happen.” Her tone was not as gentle as usual but carried a faint chill.
Dong Yinger’s heart palpitated when she heard it. It seemed Jiang Ruan was angry and didn’t want to marry Eighth Prince. She said hurriedly, “Don’t worry too much. It’s all a wild guess. Maybe Imperial Consort Chen simply likes you. You are still so young now. Even if it’s true, there’s no need to rush. “
Her consolation was too weak, and Dong Yinger felt guilty. It’s just that from beginning to end, Jiang Ruan didn’t show any distinct emotion. She was acting too detached as if it was someone else’s affair.
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Translated by : Mazu
Edited by : Anks & Ely