Chapter Fourteen: Undercurrents
Halfway through the banquet, Hua Xi Wan had pretty much filled her appetite. She took the opportunity to examine the members of the Imperial House and found that, no matter the gender, these people all had good appearances. If the wives of these qinwang and dukes were not beauties, they were dignified and flawless.
Just sitting there, the people exuded a presence unique to nobility. This was like when she had been acting in her past life. People in different strata needed to speak and move differently; even the inner self changed along with the environment. When these things came together, it was called acting technique and was a kind of energy.
The present dynasty had gone through a few generations. Even if the appearance of the first emperor was average, after the addition of several generations of beautiful consorts, it was normal that the average level of beauty was high.
“It is the first time Xian Junwang Fei is attending a family banquet at the palace. Do you have anything you are unused to?” The Empress was sitting on the phoenix seat. Seeing Hua Xi Wan put down her chopsticks, she said with a smile, “Everyone present is a part of our family. If there is something you are unaccustomed to, state it—everyone will forgive you.”
娘娘 niangniang: respectful title used for the Empress and/or imperial consorts
The Empress’s words were ambiguous. Hua Xi Wan saw the faces of some Imperial House members were not right. She stood and curtsied. “Many thanks, Empress niangniang for the concern. The banquet is very good. Nephew-wife is not unaccustomed.” This was the birthday banquet for the Emperor. If she, a junwang fei, really didn’t feel comfort here and was unaccustomed, then that was just seeking death.
Hearing this, the Empress nodded in comfort. “It is good that you are used to this. Ben gong sees you liked the dish Goddesses Spreading Flowers, and had the palace attendant go get another plate for you. If you like to eat it, do eat more.”
“Nephew-wife thanks Empress niangniang.” Hua Xi Wan felt the gazes of some womenfolk land on her body. Her smile carried hints of fear at being singled out, and slight panic at being paid attention to by the Empress.
A portion of the smart womenfolk moved their gazes away. This Xian Junwang Fei was too young and really took the Empress’ conduct as good intentions. Such an innocent personality—if Xian Junwang did not protect her well, she really wasn’t suited to a place like the Imperial House.
The Empress swept her gaze across everyone seated and then said a few more words to Hua Xi Wan before letting her sit. Inside, her opinion of Hua Xi Wan dropped slightly. The girl had an outstanding appearance but not enough intelligence. If this was any other of the womenfolk, they definitely would know how to respond without offending her while also not attracting the dislike of other people. Hua Xi Wan actually accepted this special treatment without a word. Yi’an Marquis Fu really raised a good daughter.
The Emperor didn’t seem to have noticed the Empress’ scheme and gave a few words of praise for Yan Jin Qiu. He let everyone present see his high opinion of Yan Jin Qiu before he listened in satisfaction to the flattery of others.
Hua Xi Wan had heard that the Emperor was a very charismatic and ambitious ruler in the first years after ascending the throne, but in her eyes, he was now just a slightly old, extremely suspicious, lavish and average emperor that liked hearing flattery.
Unrivaled power could easily lead one to lose sight of the path. Qilong Emperor had lost his strength and moves when he took the throne, and right now, he was more like an old man hugging the gold. Anyone who passed by him was a thief that wanted to steal his gold.
Someone who was in a position of power long enough and did not have a strong resolve would easily gain the flaw of being arrogant. They would always think that they would forever be the winner. When they considered and treated other people, they would unconsciously look through a layer of ego.
If Qilong Emperor hadn’t been so egotistic, and spent some effort to investigate Yi’an Marquis Fu, he might not have pushed her towards Xian Junwang Fu. The Empress had been the same when she looked at Hua Xi Wan. In the eyes of many people, beautiful women were mostly without brains, so unconsciously, the Empress had a low opinion of her.
She never worried about people underestimating her—she was just afraid of people overestimating her.
“Junwang Ye?” Hou shi found Yan Bo Yi had glanced at Hua Xi Wan. Her smile did not change as she poured a cup of wine for him and raised it up to his mouth. “I heard that each table only has a small jug of this. You like wine, do not miss this. If you pass this village, there isn’t another store like this.”
Taking the wine cup and draining it, Yan Bo Yi said indifferently, “Good wine is rare, but it is not impossible to find. Drinking it is for the freshness.”
“Junwang Ye is right.” Hou shi took the empty wine cup but did not pour any more of this wine for him.
“Aijia’s grandson-wives are all good, beautiful and of good personality,” the Empress Dowager said. After she spoke, she gazed at the Emperor. “Emperor, isn’t that so?”
“Mother-Empress is right.” The Emperor put down the wine cup and responded to the Empress Dowager.
“En.” The Empress Dowager nodded in satisfaction and praised all of the wives of her grandchildren’s generation. But when she mentioned the Crown Princess, she only said “dignified and steady,” and nothing else.
良娣 liangdi: the highest rank of Crown Prince’s consorts below the Crown Princess. The Crown Prince is allowed two liangdi.
The Crown Prince and Crown Princess had been married for a year, but there hadn’t been any joyful news yet. Due to this, the Empress was unable to stay composed and arranged two liangdi for the Crown Prince. It was a pity that these three women who had status did not have any news. As for the other women the Crown Prince had played with, there was also no news. The Empress and the Emperor were slightly panicked.
The Crown Prince was without ability and unwise. The Emperor did not have any other children and naturally hoped that the Crown Prince would have more children. But while the Crown Prince put great effort into sowing his seed, there was no seed germinating as he only watered.
The Crown Princess had an expression of visible awkwardness. The other women had appeared together with their husbands, but she had to come alone because the Crown Prince had left early. Now the Empress Dowager did not seem to have much satisfaction with her and made her feel even worse.
She looked at the Crown Prince who hadn’t detected anything, and lowered her head with a grimace. So what if she had become the Crown Princess? Married to this kind of man, what hope did she have in her life?
The noblest women of three generations didn’t have harmonious relations. While the majority of womenfolk could not detect it, some clever ones could see that something was not right. For example, the Empress Dowager was extremely poor to the Empress this year. Princess Qing He who usually followed the Empress had not appeared, and the only member of the princess fu who appeared at the banquet was Min Huai Junzhu who was close to Princess Rui He.
Hua Xi Wan didn’t understand much about the matters of the Imperial House, but she felt that the Imperial House was a mess. The common saying was right—the place with the least amount of etiquette in the world was not the rural countryside, but the Imperial House.
“Have you eaten well?” Yan Jin Qiu saw Hua Xi Wan had been silent all this time and said in a low voice, “After the banquet, we will eat after returning to the fu.”
Hua Xi Wan said with a smile, “I’m already full. Are you trying to raise me as though I’m a pig?”
“Pigs will not get such good treatment,” Yan Jin Qiu said jokingly. “No pig in the world can be this beautiful.”
“Maybe in the eyes of pigs, we people who do not have hair on our bodies and walk on two feet are the ugly ones.” Hua Xi Wan covered her mouth with her handkerchief and yawned. She said lazily, “Animals with fur are well-liked.”
Hua Xi Wan: “…”
“I thought normal people would think of cats and dogs.” Hua Xi Wan propped her chin on her hand and looked at Yan Jin Qiu. “At least, dogs and cats have a lot of fur on their tails. How much fur is there on a mouse’s tail?”
Their conversation was gradually veering off topic. Yan Jin Qiu heard Hua Xi Wan mention cats and dogs and said, “How about I get someone to find a gentle and obedient little cat for you?”
“No, one has to give emotion to raise dogs and cats. I worry that I will not be able to persist from beginning to end, or that I will be unable to accept if they leave first. It’s better not to have them.” Hua Xi Wan refused directly. “Without hope, there is no disappointment. Giving the other some feeling and then indifferently taking it back is the most heartless act.”
After Yan Jin Qiu heard this, he looked at her and didn’t mention the dogs and cats again. At this time, a female member of the Imperial House dressed in a long blue dress suddenly asked, “Xian Junwang Fei, have you heard the rumors about you?”
Once the words came out, the hall instantly quieted greatly.