Chapter 88: Moving the tiger away from the mountain
Today it was the day of the full month of Qiong Yue’s Third Prince thus there were decorations everywhere and was especially lively. The heavens was kind that although it was cold for quite some days, early this morning, the warm light shone on the earth through the white paper on the window into the house, bringing warmth to the room.
Qing Feng gently opened the door and took a deep breath. She had been stifled in this house for an entire month that she felt so stuff up. If it wasn’t the little fellow who gave her trouble all day, she cannot think of how she would felt if she stayed in the house for an entire month. Qing Feng was about to carry the child to walk around the shade under the big tree when she felt wind rush. Ru Yi rushed over from the outside and said, “Your Ladyship, the Empress Dowager sent someone to convey to you to bring the Little Prince to Dong Sheng Palace at Sishi (modern timing: 9 – 11 am).
Qing Feng who was still smiling immediately stopped. The officer of Rites had already came over seven or eight days before to inform on today’s schedule. At that time, it was just listening and she was almost dead of boredom. Thinking that the rest of the day would be this tired, Qing Feng could only howl in grief in her heart. Seeing Qing Feng frowning, Ru Yi thought that she had timed it too early and quickly explained, “Because the abbot of Yu Quan Temple has specially wanted to pray for the Little Prince. After the blessing ceremony, it is still required to go to the Imperial Mausoleum to pray and there is still the banquet at night…”
Ru Yi did not finish when Qing Feng waved her hands and feebly replied, “I know…”
Knowing that her Mistress was always afraid of these tedious rituals and explanations, Fu Ling smiled, “The rules of the Palace is like that. It would be fine after today.”
Qing Feng would not believe Fu Ling’s words of comfort. If one were to live in the Palace, one would need to adapt oneself to it. “Alright.” Qing Feng lamented loudly and gave a look of resign as she carried the tightly and warmly wrapped little guy. She forced a smile, “Come on my obedient son. Let’s us suffer today.”
Naturally the little fellow did not know what Qing Feng was talking about, only that his mother carried him and he immediately grinned. This smile instantly erased the boredom in Qing Feng’s heart. Gently patting the little fellow’s head, the edges of Qing Feng’s lips also flew up.
Taking advantage of Qing Feng’s mood turning well, Ru Yi quickly reminded, “Your Ladyship, it is almost time.” The Little Prince was her Ladyship’s happy pill, no matter what troubles her, as long as the Little Prince smiles, her Ladyship would immediately cheer up.
When Qing Feng carried the child to the door, she suddenly remembered something and said to Fu Ling who was behind her, “Go and pa.s.s a message to the Prime Minister’s residence to my Eldest Sister. Say that there are a lot of events in the Palace today and don’t let her or Youngest Sister come to Qing Feng Hall to look for me. After this busy period is over, I will receive them in the Palace for a gathering.”
Qing Feng walked out of the door of the hall when an Imperial Guard stood by the door. Qing Feng’s heart slightly jump a beat as she looked over to discover that that person was not Ming Ze. Was he transferred away? Or was it… Qing Feng was secretly guessing when the old mama, who was sent over by the Empress Dowager to pick her up, was impatient, “Your Ladyship, it would not be good to miss the auspicious time.”
Never mind. If he left then he has left. After putting down her chaotic thoughts, Qing Feng carried the baby and heading to the direction of Dong Sheng Palace.
Qing Feng thought that during the blessing ceremony and the ceremony for the ancestors, she would be able to see Yan Hong Tian but at the end he did not appear at all. After that she heard Fu Ling explained then she only knew that Qiong Yue regulation was as such. When a Prince had reached to his full month, it was always the Empress Dowager that would preside over the blessing ceremony and other matter. Qing Feng did not know why there was an indescribable feeling in her heart, maybe it was disappointment.
As the long and lengthy ceremony dragged on, the adults were very tired and the little child was already fast asleep due to exhaustion. After the entourage of people came back from praying the ancestors and just returned to the Empress Dowager’s Dong Sheng Palace for some tea, Xiao Yu’s pretty figure appeared in the hall. In the living room with a house full of mistresses, Xiao Yu greeted every single one with detailed and reasonable manner. From the elegant way it was done, it was better than a lady in a n.o.ble family. Qing Feng especially like Xiao Yi, the Empress Dowager seemed to be satisfied and only the Empress’s face had a look of unconcern, it would seem that she usually do not see her.
After the greetings was completed, Xiao Yu said softly, “Empress Dowager, the hundreds of officials and wives are already in the Imperial Gardens. The Emperor let this servant come here to invite you, Empress and Imperial Concubine to Zhen Yan Palace, so as to go to the banquet together.”
“Good.” It could be seen that Lou Su Xin’s mood was extremely good today. Even though it was a tiring day, she was still full of energy, “Empress and Imperial Concubine Qing, follow Aijia over.”
Qing Feng sighed in her heart, she did not know how late will it be before she could rest in this large banquet for hundreds of officials. The only consolation and good thing was that she would be able to see Eldest Sister and Youngest Sister.
An entourage of people walked to Zhen Yang Palace. Perhaps Yan Hong Tian had heart the report and came out at the same time. After not seeing for many days, he seemed to be thinner. It was almost the twelfth lunar month but he still clad in that dark black robes, not losing the airs of a monarch and was even more refine and superior.
“Long live the Emperor.”
“Dispense the ceremony.” Yan Hong Tian slightly raised his hands and walked to the Empress Dowager’s side and smiled, “Imperial Mother, it is almost time. Let’s go.” The child today was being carried by the wet nurse trusted by the Empress Dowager all the time. Yan Hong Tian’s sight swept over the child’s little face and finally landed on that little clenched fist. Yan Hong Tian’s sharp brows raised and his lips unconsciously hook up slightly. Previously he did not notice but now he noticed that that hand was really small.
Although Yan Hong Tian only took a quick glance that even Qing Feng may not have noticed, but it did not escape the eyes of Xin Yue Ning, the person who was always concerned about him and was his wife for ten over years. When Jing-er was little, the Emperor never look at him with this type of eyes. She previously thought that the Emperor did not like children but now it seems that it was not the case.
No way. This child cannot stay! Because of Jing-er position as the Crown Prince, she was more determined to take the next course of action.
The officials and family members were invited for the banquet today thus it was not possible to fit everyone in a normal palace. As the winter in Qiong Yue was not considered cold, the full month banquet was held in the Imperial Gardens. There was no more green or red colours in spring or autumn but it was not desolate as there were lush clumps of evergreens which added a lot of vitality into the winter. There were many people here tonight, almost all officials from the third rank and above were present and they had brought their wives and daughter. As far as the eye can see, it was only people that were seen with beautiful robes and toasting to one another. Gu Yun and Su Ling was arranged to be at the right of the main seat, facing Lou Xi Yan and Zhuo Qing. Both men nodded their heads in understanding before looking away while Gu Yun and Qing Feng had a look of boredom on their face.
“The Emperor has arrived.” From afar there was a shrill cry from a eunuch and silence fell over the garden. Gu Yun squinted her eyes as she look and saw Yan Hong Tian walking with a well maintained middle-aged female clad with jewels and had an air of arrogance. The Empress and Qing Feng walked behind them. To be able to push the Empress back in line, that middle-aged female must be official main Empress Dowager, Lou Su Xin, that Su Ling had mentioned. (FYI… There is always an official/main and side/secondary position. Official/main position is for the official wives while side/secondary position meant that they are the concubine. In this case it meant that Lou Su Xin was the official wife and Empress of the late Emperor. And it also meant that Xin Yue Ning & her son are in the official/main position, while Qing Feng & her son are in a side/secondary position. Usually… USUALLY, the oldest or the official/main Prince can inherit the throne as they are considered the ‘legitimate’ line. If there is no surviving eldest Prince from the main/official position, then the throne is up for grabs.)
“Long live the Emperor. Long live the Empress Dowager. May the Empress and Imperial Concubine Qing have innumerable fortune and safety.” As Yan Hong Tian walked to the main seat, the organised and loud voice gave Gu Yun a shock. There were at least a few hundred of people in this garden, to be able to actually greet in unison, it would mean that they were trained on it on normal days.
“All raise.” Yan Hong Tian’s mood was especially great as he waved his hands and sat down on the main seat.
“Thanking the Emperor.”
Everyone went to their respective seats and Gu Yun looked towards Qing Feng. The Empress Dowager and the Empress was sitting to the left and right of the Emperor respectively and she could only sit by the side of the Empress. The child was held by the wet nurse but was not sat behind her but by the Empress Dowager’s side. The Empress Dowager kept teasing the child frequently and Qing Feng could only watch from afar. Originally the intention for entering the Palace today was to look at the child and chat with Qing Feng but now it would seem that it was not possible.
“It’s the Prince’s full month today and a banquet is hosted for the officials. May all the officials dispense on ceremony and accompany Zhen to drink this cup.” Yan Hong Tian lifted his cub and everyone followed to cry out their toast, “May the Emperor be filled with exultation, may the Imperial Concubine Qing filled with exultation and may the Third Prince have innumerable fortune.”
As her child was not by her side, Qing Feng was very much idle and her gaze fell onto the crowd. Eldest Sister and Lou Xi Yan was whispering and as they were newlyweds, it was a very sweet sight. Qing Feng look at the other pair and saw Su Ling was as usual, drinking quietly and alone while Youngest Sister had propped up her chin as she stared at a direction in a daze. Following Youngest Sister’s line of sight, it was a scene of a lake. Under the light of the lanterns by the lakeside, the water surface was sparkling as the palace maids at the lakeside placed little paper boats by their feet. There was a small candle in the middle of the small boat as it was floating on the lake. As the little paper boats floated on the lake, the candle flickered making it look beautiful. Qing Feng smiled, with this kind of beautiful scene, no wonder Youngest Sister was not interested in anything else.
Qing Feng’s sight was not met by both sisters but she felt her heart warm. Seeing them living in bliss made her happier than anything else. Qing Feng was immersed in her own mind when she suddenly heard Yan Hong Tian exclaimed in his hearty voice, “Recently there are pirates on rampant in the East Sea and General Su will be bringing the army to wipe them out. Zhen will take the opportunity in today’s banquet to bid farewell to General Su. Till when General Su come back in triumph, Zhen will throw a celebration for the General.”
After a night of silence, Su Ling stood up and faintly replied, “Thanking the Emperor.”
“Wishing that General Su will return earlier victoriously.” The voices of well-wishes came from all sides but everyone’s attention was focused on the pet.i.te female beside General Su. All the officials are aware that General Su did not indulge in the opposite gender and that female sat by his side. General Su did not portray any expression of irritation and also took the initiative to pick the dishes for her. That female also had scars on her cheeks and should be one of the Qing family’s sisters. This three sisters were not simple. Qing Ling was already the Prime Minister’s Furen, Qing Feng was bestowed the t.i.tle of Imperial Concubine Qing and now had a Prince and this youngest sister would most likely be the General’s Furen in the future.
The hundreds of official had a small abacus (ancient calculator) in their heart and seeing that the three Qing family sisters appearing on the same banquet, that abacus had already rang loudly.
“Miss Qing would presumably follow the army to battle during General Su’s expedition. It is really enviable for such marital harmony.” It was fairly enjoyable in the banquet, thus when a clear female voice suddenly sounded, everyone was slightly stunned and looked at one another but did not say anything. Since ancient times there was no basis for a wife to follow her husband to battle but the person who spoke was the Empress. The officials who were just toasting quieten and sat down as they waited and observed.
With a cup of wine in his hands, Yan Hong Tian’s dark eyes had a strong interest on Su Ling’s slightly changed expression and Qing Mo whose head was lowered. Zhuo Qing and Lou Xi Yan exchanged a looked and each look was filled with thoughts.
In this group of people, the person whose facial expression changed drastically was not the parties involved but Qing Feng, who was standing behind the Empress. Youngest Sister was weak since childhood, how would it be possible to travel with the army into battle. For the Empress to suddenly speak those words, she must have ill intentions.
The open air garden was unusually quiet as Lou Su Xin said accusingly, “This is absurd. The Empress words are scandalous. How can a female follow the army to battle.”
Xin Yue Ning did not only not stop but she continued speaking, “Imperial Mother, the Emperor had already promised to bestow marriage between General Su and Miss Qing. For the General’s Furen to follow the army to battle and face the enemy together, it would definitely be a deed to be told.” When the words were spoken, the entire venue of officials were secretly surprise and Qing Feng was also jump in fright. So Yan Hong Tian had already bestowed marriage for Youngest Sister and Su Ling! This was really great. Since the Emperor had already bestow marriage, even if they are not married yet, Youngest Sister is the future General’s Furen and the Empress should not be able to make things too difficult for her.
Lou Su Xin had a face of displeasure as she looked towards Yan Hong Tian and asked, “Emperor, what is the matter about a marriage bestowment?” Su Ling was a high ranking official with a large military power and if a marriage was bestowed, it should be bestowed to a Princess (of the Imperial lineage) or Princess (of a prince) and not a female from a foreign nation.
Yan Hong Tian slightly lifted the wine cup and the eunuch standing behind immediately came forward to pour more wine. Lightly swirling the golden liquid in the cup, Yan Hong Tian laughed, “Su Ling and Qing Mo have an affinity with one another and the Su family elders look favourably on it. Since General Su is the country’s pillars, his marriage should naturally be bestowed by Zhen.”
Su family elders was actually satisfied with her? Lou Su Xin finally look directly that the female who kept her head down throughout while standing beside Su Ling. She was too thin and she had two scars on her cheeks like her sisters. It was good that she was quiet and delicate. Since the Su family elders acknowledge this kind of daughter-in-law, she had nothing else to say.
Recovering her sight, Lou Su Xin arrogantly said, “Even if it is the General’s Furen, since ancient times there was no precedent of a wife will follow her husband to battle. If she go, does it meant that all the wives of men in army can go? It would simply be chaos if the physically weak females go.”
Xin Yue Ning leaned forward and pretended to be mysterious as she smiled, “Imperial Mother may not know that Miss Qing is different from normal females.”
Lou Su Xin frowned, “How different is she?” So thin and skinny. Not even better compared to Qing Ling and Qing Feng!
“Not only Miss Qing is familiar with the art of war, her martial arts skills are high. Not only will she not hinder General Su, she would be able to give the General a helping hand. The last time if it was not Miss Qing’s rescue, Gao Daren would not be able to escape from danger.” Turning back, Xin Yue Ning artificially pat on Qing Feng’s hand and pretended to complain, “Younger sister is at fault. If your own youngest sister is that capable, why not explain it earlier.”
Qing Feng’s face got paler. Sure enough it was about the matter on Gao Hong Jian. The Empress has always been narrow-minded and she had already tried her best not to let Eldest Sister and Youngest Sister enter the Palace. She thought it was possible to avoid it and did not think that the Empress would mention it during the banquet. Qing Feng forced herself to calm down to reply, “Older sister is too flattering, Qing Mo is hyperactive during childhood but did not have martial arts. Some flowering punches and kicks are not considered any martial skills at all. With regards to the art of war, she would not understand. Perhaps it’s her like of chess that she mention about the military verbally. She is still young and do not know of the etiquette. May the Empress Dowager and older sister not take offense of it.”
Xin Yue Ning softly coughed once and said, “Younger sister is exceedingly modest. Bengong had seen Miss Qing’s abilities and the Emperor too witness it. Is younger sister saying that Bengong and the Emperor had seen wrongly?”
Qing Mo has a timid character, her body was also not very good and did not have any martial arts training at all. Seeing her Youngest Sister so scared that she dare not lift her head up, there was a wave of anger that was raised in Qing Feng’s chest that the sentence, “Chenqie don’t dare” was said between gritted teeth.
Lou Su Xin waved her hands as both of them interacted with one another with hidden speech and impatiently said, “Alright. A female should be composing poetry, painting, playing chess and practising Qin. How to compete against men in brandishing swords and fights.”
Qing Feng was secretly relieved as she thought that the matter has ended. Who knew that Xin Yue Ning was steadfast and refused to let Qing Mo go and gently fondle Lou Su Xin and fawned her, “Imperial Mother, Miss Qing is a female that is better than a man, else how did General Su view her favourable and have deep-rooted feelings for? Today is a joyous day and also the full month of the Third Prince, why not let Miss Qing present a performance to Imperial Mother?”
Female that was better than a man? Lou Su Xin looked again at that thin figure but she still did not believe it. Seeing the Empress putting her in such high esteem, she replied in accordance to her, “Alright, Aijia would also want to know how a female is better than their counterparts.”
After getting the Empress Dowager’s approval and seeing that the Emperor did not have any intention to stop it, Xin Yue Ning started to smile arrogantly, “Chenqie also heard that Miss Qing’s fighting technique is so amazing that seven or eight muscular guys would not be able to get near her.”
“Is it true?” Lou Su Xin curiously said, “Then Aijia would want to see it!”
“Someone come.” Xin Yue Ning call out lightly and eight burly guards stepped forward. For these eight person, a man would not be able to withstand the punches from them, let alone a female. The Empress was clearly out to get Youngest Sister’s life! Qing Feng did not care about anything else and walked to the Empress Dowager and half knelt to plead, “Empress Dowager, Mo-er is only a young girl, how would she withstand such a spar.”
At this time, Lou Su Xin also had some hesitation but before she could speak, Xin Yue Ning had already stepped forward and pull Qing Feng up from her arms and consoled, “Younger sister had worried too much. See how unperturbed Miss Qing is, you as an elder sister should not be this modest.”
Qing Mo kept her head down, thus to Qing Feng, she must have been frightened but to Zhuo Qing, Yun should have other plans so she did not speak even though Qing Feng kept giving her looks to help her, Zhuo Qing only shook her head lightly, hoping she can calm down.
Zhuo Qing was aware of Gu Yun’s capabilities but Qing Feng did not know. Seeing that Eldest Sister refused to save Youngest Sister, Qing Feng could only bite her tongue and see help from Yan Hong Tian. Throwing Xin Yue Ning’s hands aside, Qing Feng walked to Yan Hong Tian and took a deep breath before she knelt down, “Emperor –“
Unfortunately when she just open her mouth to speak, Yan Hong Tian had already grabbed her arm with one hand and held on to her waist with the other to lift her up, “Zhen also want to see a female exceeding her counterparts.” He wanted even more to know how much and to what degree would Su Ling do for Qing Feng and what other unknown abilities that skinny female had.
The eight burly guards walked to the center of empty s.p.a.ce in the middle of the banquet and each one of them seemed to have strength to break a human arm. When the eight of them looked over at Qing Mo, Qing Feng’s heart almost jump right out but her waist was tightly held on by Yan Hong Tian, restricting her from moving. Unless she die, no one can touch Mo-er. Qing Feng did not care about the pain at her waist and desperately struggled when Yan Hong Tian calm voice sounded by her ear, “As long as Zhen is here, nothing will happen to her. You need not worry.”
Qing Feng was surprised for a moment. What was the meaning of his words? Just as Qing Feng wanted to inquire, Su Ling suddenly got up but his wrist was pulled down by the slightly cool hand of the figure beside him. Su Ling look towards Gu Yun who was quiet all the time beside him and saw that she got up slowly to stand by his side and slowly lifted her head up.
The pet.i.te figure stood beside Su Ling and she got more prominent. With a sober face, the two scars not only made her look hideous but also make one feel pitiful. The Empress to actually let this kind of young female to compete against these eight brawny males, was just too vicious. It was common for the women in the Inner Palace to fight but to use other’s younger sister to vent her anger was indeed excessive.
After Lou Su Xin saw clearly Gu Yun thin body, she also determined that she cannot compete with the eight brawny opponents and just as she wanted to cancel the compet.i.tion, she saw a pair of firm eyes that should not be on a weak female. When she looks at you, one would feel a surge of vigour from the heart and make one unconsciously scared. A female should not have such eyes.
Gu Yun’s cool eyes swept across the eight person not far away as an ironic smile appear on her lips. She looked towards the different expressions near the main seat and broke into a smile, “As what my Elder Sister said, Qing Mo do not have any teacher and playing with style without any substance. Only managed to save Gao Daren the last time because the Su army is a well-trained troop and Su Ling was providing guidance. Would never dare to claim to be better than male counterparts.”
Qing Feng was secretly relieved, it seemed that Youngest Sister was living in the General’s residence well. At least over this one year, she can be eloquent in front of so many people. Gu Yu’s humility however gave Su Ling a bad feeling, and sure enough, Gu Yun changed the subject and looked into Yan Hong Tian’s inscrutable eyes and asked with a slight provocation, “But Qing Mo have the intention to follow the army expedition. If today I am able to prove that I am not a physically weak female, will the Emperor grant Qing Mo to follow?”
Yan Hong Tian laughed readily, “If you can win these knife welding guards, Zhen will approve of you following the army expedition!” She was not physically weak but it was not possible to win the eight guards. If he remembered correctly, she had a life threatening injury a month ago and most of the Imperial Physicians in the Palace was invited over by Lou Xi Yan. Recovering from a serious injury and coupled with the power disparity between the genders, even if she could win, it would not be any harm to let her go.
What a crafty argument. It meant that if all eight of them was defeated, she would still lose? Gu Yu smiled indifferently, “That’s settled then?”
“A monarch’s words are not jokes!”
Gu Yun was filled with confidence and walk up to the middle of the empty s.p.a.ce. Standing by the side of the eight guards, the thin figure of hers could only reach to their chest. Gu Yun nodded calmly to them with an outstanding demeanour. The eight of them was somewhat embarra.s.sed and the crowd of officials started discussing. This need not even to compete. If each one of them throw a punch, would this little lady have any life left?
Gu Yun stood across them but was not in a hurry to start. She turned around to face the man sitting at the main seat to say, “As today is the full month of the Third Prince and there are so many Furens and Misses on site, it would be ugly to have fights and loss of lives. Moreover if eight of them come on together, it would not be very fair and if they come up individually, it would be a waste of time. I have a better way to test that not only all eight of them will able to be tested at one time and also prove that I am not a week female without strength to even truss a chicken.”
With a hand clutching on the continuously struggling Qing Feng and the other hand holding a cup of wine, Yan Hong Tian laughed, “How would you like to compete?”
Pointing to the lanterns floating afar at the lake, Gu Yun replied, “The floating lanterns on the lake are so beautiful. It would be better that the eight guards and I compete in archery skills. I would be in a team and the eight of them would be in a team. Taking the main seat as the midpoint and order others to put one hundred floating lanterns into the lake from the right and left. The overall timeline is a quarter stick of incense. When the time reaches, whichever side have lesser lanterns lit will considered the winner. What does the Emperor think about it?”
“Eight of them together? You are sure.” He had seen her archery skills during the rescue of Gao Hong Jian and his family and there was nothing to compete. But she actually spoke such conceited nonsense to compete one against eight? This pike up Yan Hong Tian’s interest. He did not believe that a person would be able to use a bow and arrow to such extreme proportions.
Qing Feng’s hanging heart was still dangling without a moment of peace. It was difficult to turn the fight into an archery compet.i.tion so even if she misses the shot, she would not be harmed but why did she say to compete one against eight? She did not understand this Youngest Sister of hers anymore.
Her insolent proclamations indeed evoked the curiosity in Yan Hong Tian and Gu Yun knew that he would definitely agree and thus continued to reply, “Of course sure. But I am used in using the crossbow. The difference in length of the crossbow and bow can be easily differentiated, making the outcome easier to see. Would the Emperor loan the crossbow that Su Ling sent in today for it?”
The small crossbow that Su Ling sent over do reduce the effort required for a female. Yan Hong Tian did not think more and spoke frankly, “Someone come and bring the crossbow from the study.”
“Yes.” The guard who received the order immediately ran towards the direction of the Imperial Study.
The atmosphere in this Imperial Gardens could only be describe as so tense that a sword can cut through. Everyone were waiting quietly to see what happen next. Shui Xin had been standing behind the Empress and her eyes were on that skinny female. She had often heard the name Qing Mo but only saw this person the first time today. She seem to be a skinny young female but to have such an imposing manner and capabilities, one indeed cannot judge by appearances. Among the three Qing family sisters, the person that one should be fearful of was her. Seeing the confident of a victory look, Shui Xin guessed that the outcome should not be beyond her expectation.
Shui Xin nodded her head slightly at the eunuch behind her. That eunuch understood and slowly stepped back before running into the depths of the Inner Palace.