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本宫 ben gong: lit. “this palace”; illeism for members of the Imperial Family and imperial consorts 妾 qie: a self-deprecatory appellation used by women 妃 fei: a higher-ranked imperial concubine
Chapter One Hundred: Second Empress
Three days later, Qilong Emperor welcomed Zhang Qing Yan into the palace as the empress with the rites for a second empress. The entire country celebrated.
The third day after the new empress entered the palace, all noblewomen in Jing above third grade had to go into the palace. As a super-ranking qinwang fei of the Imperial House, Hua Xi Wan was part of the first group to visit the Empress. There were other qinwang fei who came into the hall with her, but she was the youngest of them all.
"Xian Wang Fei, please be careful of the stairs." The taijian leading the way carefully guided them. While there was no fawning to be seen from how he treated Hua Xi Wan, still his actions and movements were filled with respect.
"Many thanks." When Hua Xi Wan passed through the door into the hall, she saw two old qinwang fei sitting inside and went forward to give them the bow of a junior.
"Please, sit." Xu Wang Fei smiled harmoniously as she motioned for Hua Xi Wan to sit beside her. She said as she raised a teacup, "The Empress is most likely going to get up late today."
Hua Xi Wan felt that something wasn't right with the words. Not fifteen minutes later, all of the qinwang fei were in the hall, but Empress Zhang was still not here. The qinwang fei present did not show any displeasure, and their expressions were normal.
Empress Zhang's actions were not appropriate for one who had just entered the palace. While the empress was said to be the mother of the country, those present were all super-ranking noblewomen. Empress Zhang should not let them wait for this long. Did she think that this was a fight in a normal home, and making the other wait for a while was a show of strength?
What the women of the Imperial House did not lack for was acting skills and courage. This level of skill was only enough to displease the noblewomen, and could not intimidate them.
After another fifteen minutes, Empress Zhang finally appeared dressed in the phoenix robe, with a group of servants and taijian. Hua Xi Wan and the other qinwang fei stood up to give a curtsy.
Zhang Qing Yan sat on the phoenix throne and carefully examined the noblewomen present at the bottom of the stairs. In the end, her gaze landed on a young woman with inky black hair and pale skin. Because the other's head was down, she could not see the other's face, but just that beautiful body and the hands that were exposed out of the robe were enough to enchant a person.
Was this the rumored devastatingly beautiful Xian Wang Fei?
After the super-rank noblewomen finished giving their full curtsies, the palace attendants hurriedly helped these noble personages up. Zhang Qing Yan allowed them to sit, and took the chance to glance at Xian Wang Fei. Long narrow eyebrows, expressive eyes, a flower of a mouth—she did have some assets to tempt people. But even so, the other had to docilely kneel in front of her.
"Ben gong has troubled everyone; ben gong really feels very apologetic. Please use some tea and refreshments to rest." Zhang Qing Yan curled her lips slightly and showed a perfect smile. After courteously exchanging a few words with the older qinwang fei, she finally pulled the topic to Hua Xi Wan.
"People say that Xian Wang Fei is devastatingly beautiful. Ben gong has never had the luck to see, and having seen you today, it really is true that seeing once is better than hearing a hundred times. Xian Wang Fei's beauty can be said to be devastating." Zhang Qing Yan jerked her lips. "Even ben gong feels affection when looking at you."
The eyebrows of the older qinwang fei moved slightly. Empress Zhang was just sixteen, but these words were too… Saying that Xian Wang Fei was devastatingly beautiful in front of the people of the Imperial House—they really didn't know if this was praise or something spoken with other intentions. No one was stupid. When they thought of the rumors this recent while, about how Empress Zhang was more beautiful than Xian Wang Fei, they immediately understood. Empress Zhang was comparing herself to Xian Wang Fei.
In terms of appearance, Empress Zhang was outstanding, but not as lively as Xian Wang Fei. In terms of presence, Empress Zhang was from a cadet branch of the Zhang Family—how could she compare to Xian Wang Fei whose parents were both from prestigious families? So the only aspect in which Empress Zhang was better than Xian Wang Fei was that phoenix robe on her body.
Also, this advantage in the future…
Ning Wang Fei coughed and then said with a smile, "Xian Wang Fei is naturally virtuous and beautiful." In this phrase, what was emphasized was virtue and not appearance.
Zhang Qing Yan could hear that Ning Wang Fei was helping Hua Xi Wan. She couldn't help but frown. Didn't the rumors say that Ning Wang was not close to Xian Wang? Why was Ning Wang Fei helping Xian Wang Fei?
Noticing the change in Zhang Qing Yan's expression, Ning Wang Fei snorted inside. As expected of one from a minor family. She didn't even have brains for this. How could she survive the imperial palace in the future?
Xu Wang Fei was also shaking her head inwardly. This Second Empress Zhang was too rash. She didn't even know what the state of the court was now and yet dared to move. She didn't know whether to praise the Empress for being open of mind or for lacking brains.
Others did not know that Ning Wang had been trying to show goodwill to Xian Wang, but she did. The present situation seemed peaceful, but it would explode at any touch. The Crown Prince had died suddenly, and the imperial grandson was fated to not be able to ascend the throne given the rumors and the time of his birth. The Emperor clearly disliked Sheng Junwang. While he was just so-so to Xian Wang, considering Xian Wang's support among the people, the likelihood that he could take the throne wasn't small.
When Ning Wang had been supporting the Crown Prince, he had formed terrible relations with the people of Sheng Junwang. Now that the Crown Prince was gone, he could support anyone but Sheng Junwang. It was normal for him to lean towards Xian Wang.
Empress Zhang couldn't even see this, yet she dared to show on her face what she really thought in front of the noblewomen of the Imperial House. She really was too shallow.
Hua Xi Wan also detected that Zhang Qing Yan seemed to be targeting her. She did not show anything in her expression. She stood and made a shallow curtsy towards Zhang Qing Yan. She said with a faint smile, "Empress is too complimentary. Qie is just a common person and cannot support such a beautiful reputation."
"Xian Wang Fei does not need to be so humble," Zhang Qing Yan said with an insincere smile. "Everyone in Jing knows this."
The smile on Hua Xi Wan's face did not change. "There are not many in Jing who have seen qie. That is just people's talk. Also, beauty is something that does not last. A hundred years later, we all will be dust."
"Xian Wang Fei is really open of mind." Zhang Qing Yan gave a mocking laugh. "No wonder Xian Wang is so in love."
Hua Xi Wan glanced at Zhang Qing Yan and then said in a light voice, "We are husband and wife, loving and never separated. His Majesty had created this for qie and Wang Ye. Qie and Wang Ye are extremely grateful. How can we not love each other?"
Seeing Hua Xi Wan pulling out the Emperor in her words, Zhang Qing Yan did not dare to speak more. She raised her teacup and said in a cool voice, "It is late. Ben gong will not keep you. Take care."
Hua Xi Wan had a smile on her face as she curtsied with the other qinwang fei towards Empress Zhang before leaving.
After Hua Xi Wan's group left, Zhang Qing Yan angrily slammed the teacup down. She gritted out in a curse, "Frivolous thing."
The servant girls and taijian in the hall did not dare to breathe or lift their heads. They stood silently where they should, as though they did not hear Empress Zhang's words.
Two hours passed. The words that Zhang Qing Yan said in the hall reached Qilong Emperor's ears. After Qilong Emperor heard the palace servant's report, he frowned with slight dissatisfaction. Moments later, he said neutrally, "From a small house; we cannot ask too much."
These words did not seem to be a great criticism, but they pushed Empress Zhang into the mud. Originally, the Zhang Family could be considered a prestigious family. While Empress Zhang was not of the main branch, she was of the cadet branch. Now that the Emperor said this, it was as though he looked down on Zhang shi's birth.
The cadet branch was the cadet branch—how could it compare to the main branch?
"Didn't the little countries in the east give some novel things in tribute? Have someone deliver a share to Xian Wang Fu." Qilong Emperor closed the painting scroll in his hands with some impatience. "The second empress is young now. Zhen does not bear for her to work too hard. Have Shu Fei take care of the matters of the inner palace. She is an experienced person, gentle in personality, and definitely can take care of these matters." He thought and then added, "Have the phoenix seal stay there. It will be easier to do things."
An empress who could not manage the inner palace or hold the phoenix seal. In this palace, what kind of awkward position was this?
Shu Fei was stunned for a long time after she received the decree from Qilong Emperor. After the taijian left and she had someone investigate, she learned what had happened in the morning. Empress Zhang had been inappropriate in speech in front of the noblewomen?
Did she want to die or did her brains not work?
A second empress who had just entered the palace did not try to learn to be gentle and generous, but started to act as though she was the empress. Did she really think that the other people in the Imperial House were just decorations? Was she, a second empress of insignificant birth, one who could mention the love and relationship between Xian Wang and Xian Wang Fei?
Even the demoted empress Fang shi had been extremely polite when she received the imperial noblewomen. Who was as frivolous as Empress Zhang?
No wonder the Emperor did not want Empress Zhang to hold power. If such an empress managed the inner palace, she didn't know what could happen.
"Xian Wang Fei was slighted. As an elder, ben gong cannot pretend that nothing has happened." Shu Fei thought the matter through and had someone take things from her private stores and find an excuse to deliver them to Xian Wang Fu. While nothing specific was mentioned, those who had knowledge of the matter knew that Shu Fei's actions represented the Emperor's intentions.
This also proved what everyone was thinking—the Emperor placed great importance on Xian Wang.
Many people who were watching the spectacle had thoughts. However, Sheng Junwang Yan Bo Yi was unable to remain calm and still. Because of Hou shi, many of the people in power in prestigious families had distanced themselves from him. Adding on the fact that the Emperor was finding all kinds of excuses to suppress the power he had in the shadows, he worried that, if this continued, he would not have any chance of victory.
Looking in the direction of the palace, Yan Bo Yi thought for a long time before turning to the person behind him and saying, "After the Crown Prince passed away from illness, the Emperor has not been in a good mood. What do you think about him being heavily ill and unable to get up soon?"
The person behind him was silent for a moment before slowly speaking. "The Emperor's body has been weak for a long time. It is normal if he suddenly falls sick."
Yan Bo Yi nodded. "Then we will seize the opportunity."
He could not put on a play like Yan Jin Qiu, nor did he have such good luck to encounter an outstanding family for in-laws. However, he had more resolve than Yan Jin Qiu. If a man wanted to achieve something, he had to be vicious enough.
That Yan Jin Qiu who was not vicious enough, who was just a good actor and had a good family for in-laws, was just smashing a teacup.
"What is that Zhang shi—she dares to harass Xi Wan?!"
Mu Tong silently took a step back and swallowed his following words.
He hadn't had the time to tell Wang Ye that Wang Fei had given the Empress a few stabs later on.
"This servant Bai Xia greets Wang Ye. Wang Ye, Wang Fei invites you over." Bai Xia's voice sounded outside.
Yan Jin Qiu's hand that was reaching towards the other teacup stopped. Then his tone recovered its usual calm. "Return and tell Wang Fei that I will be there immediately."
The sound of Bai Xia's footsteps gradually faded. Mu Tong looked at the dark-faced wang ye and sighed inside.
Translator Ramblings: All of the foreshadowing is fading to action as the story progresses towards its end.