This chapter has been brought to you by me, Adnana, and Vivie.
Chapter Eighty-Two: Presents
"Junwang Ye…" Hou shi stood at the Door of Drooping Flowers and looked at Yan Bo Yi who was smiling at a concubine. She pushed down the soreness she felt and forced herself to show a smile.
The concubine next to Yan Bo Yi curtsied when she saw Hou shi and moved to the side with a lowered head. She seemed exceptionally docile and well-mannered. But even the most docile and well-mannered concubine was, in Hou shi's view, a woman who was displaying docility and trying to take her man from her. However, Hou shi was skilled in enduring, and even though she felt discontent inside, she did not show it on her face. She sedately walked in front of Yan Bo Yi and said in a gentle voice, "Pardon my intrusion of your pleasure."
Seeing Hou shi, Yan Bo Yi's smile disappeared. After having the concubine leave, he said, "I see that your complexion has not been well these days. The medicines that the grand doctors have prescribed are not of use."
"Sickness leaves slowly, so how can recovery be so quick?" Hou shi smiled and didn't care at all about her own illness. "After a few days, it will be the Empress' birthday. Qie really doesn't know what kind of birthday present to send into the palace. Junwang, what do you think?"
When the Empress was mentioned, Yan Bo Yi''s expression was not well. Thinking about his own plans, he said, "Two-tenths more than in the past years, but avoid anything to do with pomegranates and grapes, so as to not remind the Empress."
Pomegranates and grapes had the meaning of lots of children. But right now, the Empress did not have a son, and the child inside the Crown Princess was not the Crown Prince's. Wouldn't sending in those things increase the Empress' displeasure? He could guess that the child inside the Crown Princess was the Emperor's, and so could the Empress. If he could team up with the Empress, it would be good for him. If he could not, at least, the Empress might have a good opinion of him.
"Qie understands," Hou shi responded. After the two of them said this, they didn't have anything else to talk about.
As the mood cooled, Yan Bo Yi suddenly spoke. "I heard that Xian Wang Fei does not like to manage affairs, so she may not know what is most appropriate to give to the Empress for a birthday present. If you have the free time, you can chat with her. That will be of great help to her."
"You mean…" Hou shi's expression changed slightly. After a long pause, she said, "Xian Wang Fei doesn't like to attend to matters, but she is not stupid. I'm afraid that she will not believe what I say."
"If she isn't willing to believe, think of a way to get her to believe." Yan Bo Yi's tone carried unconscious disdain. "She's just a woman, and spoiled by Yan Jin Qiu—what can she do?"
Hou shi heard the mockery in Yan Bo Yi's voice. Her gaze was complex when she responded.
Two days later, Hou shi was copying the Book of Dao when she saw her personal servant girl come in. She put down the brush in her hand and said in a calm tone, "What is the progress on the matter?"
"Mistress, do not worry. Today, the procurer from Xian Wang Fu purchased that jade statue of the immortal goddess holding the pomegranate. I heard that Xian Wang Fei is very satisfied with it and has already added it to the list of presents."
Hou shi nodded and sighed. Hua shi might be intelligent, but in the end, she had been spoiled by Xian Wang.
In Xian Wang Fu, Hua Xi Wan played with the immortal goddess and pomegranate jade statue that Hou shi talked about. She sighed. "Such good skill—even the wrinkles on the goddess' robe can be seen clearly. I just don't know if it will be smashed after it is delivered to the Empress' palace. It is such a pity."
"If you like it, then keep it. We can find another one that has the same meaning to replace it," Yan Jin Qiu said with a smile. "I have in my stores a jade statue of an immortal goddess throwing flowers. Later, I will have the servants deliver it to you to play with."
"I just like to see the novelty of these things, not play with them." Hua Xi Wan put down the jade statue. With a hand propping her cheek, she said to Yan Jin Qiu, "Since we need the other to believe that we took the bait, we have to be professional."
Yan Bo Yi's move was malicious and cunning, but he had missed one thing. If one was thinking rationally, if a woman didn't have her son, and her grandson was about to be born, a woman who wanted her son to have a descendant would pray every day for this grandson to come out safely and healthy. Their Xian Wang Fu would cause the Empress displeasure because they had such a jade statue among the gifts, but this would be enough for the Emperor and Empress to believe that they did not know the child inside the Crown Princess was not the Crown Prince's. They would not know that the Empress disliked the child inside the Crown Princess and was just enduring it.
Otherwise, if the Empress knew that the child inside the Crown Princess was not the Crown Prince's, how could she tolerate it? Only if the father of the child was someone she could not offend.
The Empress was above thousands of people and below just one, the mother of the people. Which kind of person could cuckold her son yet she did not dare to voice it?
These questions that could not be thought about were something that Xian Wang, someone who only studied poetry and drawing, would not think about. She, the Xian Wang Fei who did not like managing matters, would be even more ignorant. Therefore, it was normal for there to be a jade statue among the gifts, to wish the child inside the Crown Princess well.
It was better to invoke dislike than hatred.
The imperial clan had several funerals this year. Even though there was no rationale for those senior to observe mourning for those younger than them, the Empress' birthday was much more low-key compared to previous years. The Fang Family that had been guarded by the Imperial Guard was finally let out of their fu for the Empress' birthday, but the guards did not leave and still stood at the gates of the Fang Fu.
The lists of presents from various places were continuously delivered into the Empress' palace. These lists were mostly sparser than in past years. The Empress laughed coldly on the inside and put these lists that were sparser than those in the past to one side. Then she picked up several other lists and made a closer examination.
When she saw there was a jade statue on the list from Xian Wang Fu called the Ninth Heaven Mystical Goddess Holding Pomegranates of Happiness, her expression darkened. She took a few deep breaths before she slammed the list onto the desk. She said with a cold laugh, "Such a good Xian Wang Fu—are they laughing at ben gong for not having a son?"
The servant who had served her for many years looked at the palace attendants and taijian who had knelt in fear and said after hesitating, "Niangniang, this servant thinks that the wang fu will not be so daring. This jade statue has auspicious meaning. Maybe… maybe it is for the imperial grandson."
"Imperial grandson…" The Empress paused slightly, and hate could be discerned from her eyes. A beat later, she sighed. "All right, what does a young girl know of ben gong's matters?"
The servant agreed. "This Xian Wang Fei has been spoiled by Xian Wang too much. She doesn't even know what niangniang likes; she really is daring."
"It's all right, all right; she is very young. When ben gong was her age, ben gong was innocent too." She had once been innocent, but the environment taught her that kindness and innocence were the things that the inner palace could not tolerate. It was the good fortune of a woman if she could be kind for her whole life. But if they could not, then it was better to make themselves invincible to all poison. Otherwise, the one who ended up wounded would be oneself.
Hearing this, the servant perceptively stopped speaking when she saw the Empress reach for the list from Sheng Junwang Fu.
Just like Xian Wang Fu, Sheng Junwang Fu's gifts were even more than in the past year, and great care had been taken with the presents. They had deliberately avoided things that could displease the Empress. No wonder Sheng Junwang Fei had such a virtuous reputation; she was much better than Xian Wang Fei. In her view, other than Xian Wang Fei's appearance that was better than Sheng Junwang Fei's, there was nothing at which Xian Wang Fei was better than Sheng Junwang Fei.
It was a pity that all the men in the world liked beauty. Even if a beauty was stupid, she was still a treasure in the eyes of men. Didn't Sheng Junwang take a few concubines even with such a virtuous and able Sheng Junwang Fei?
"The people of Sheng Junwang Fu really have good thoughts." The Empress' hand was white where she gripped the paper, her eyes murderous. "Ben gong underestimated them."
She lightly put the list onto the table. The Empress had no interest to keep looking at these lists and said as she rubbed the corners of her eyes, "Help ben gong back to the room to rest. Ben gong is tired."
The servant did not understand why the Empress' mood was not right, but seeing the Empress' pale face, she did not dare to ask. She carefully helped the Empress walk back into the inner rooms.
After the Empress slept, the servant lightly came out of the room. She felt some hatred towards the prestigious families that were dismissing the Empress and weren't even willing to pretend otherwise. Not only were the birthday gifts not as carefully thought out as in past years, they had even decreased in number.
Even if niangniang did not have the Crown Prince, she was still the Empress. How did these people dare?!
The day of the Empress' birthday, the Ministry of Rights and the Department of Internal Affairs set up a banquet in the Chao Yang Hall, but only at seven-tenths of the stature of previous years. From how the tables and chairs were set up, to things as minor as what lamps were used in the evening banquet, all of these were strictly laid out in rules. It was a great crime to go over or below.
There was still more than an hour before the birthday banquet would begin, and the nobility that were qualified to attend started to arrive. The first ones who came were imperial clan members without much status, or prestigious families that had declined. The more powerful and noble would arrive later.
Hua Xi Wan and Yan Jin Qiu did not arrive early, but they could not be said to be late. They arrived almost at the exact same time as Ning Wang's family. Ever since the Crown Prince had died, Ning Wang had called in sick and not gone to court. He didn't see outside guests and was very low-key. The public reason was that he was ill from the pain of the Crown Prince's passing, but in Hua Xi Wan view, this old man was just hoping the new emperor would not remember him and take revenge. As for grieving over the Crown Prince's passing… maybe he was grieving. He had supported such a sad being for over two decades, and then the scum had pulled the inner palace along and ended himself. This was like playing through a dungeon, and even though the teammate was stupid, they almost succeeded in killing the big boss. But at the most crucial moment, the teammate had gone offline and you were kicked out of the dungeon… Thinking about this, she felt bad on behalf of Ning Wang. She really didn't know what Ning Wang had been thinking in the past to have supported the Crown Prince. Now he ended up like this.
"The weather has been changing recently. Uncle, please take better care of your health." Yan Jin Qiu bowed elegantly towards Ning Wang, his actions containing the respect of a junior towards his elder.
"Virtuous Nephew is too courteous." Ning Wang reached out in a motion to help Yan Jin Qiu up and then fisted his hand at the corner of his mouth to cough. He stood. "My body hasn't been well recently; Virtuous Nephew must have worried."
"It is a matter of joy for Nephew that Uncle is healthy."
Hua Xi Wan listened to the pair of uncle and nephew being lovey-dovey together and silently moved her gaze away.
These two were both Oscar winners.
Translator Ramblings: I love how Hua Xi Wan is treating this like an actual job. "Be professional."