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Chapter Ninety-Three: Layers of Conspiracy
While Hua Xi Wan knew of the affair between the Emperor and the Crown Princess, she only showed slight sorrow in her expression. She used her handkerchief to wipe at her slightly reddened eyes and said sadly, "Then, thank you for your trouble, Ma gonggong. The Crown Princess's passing really makes the heart hurt."
"Please, Wang Fei, do not grieve so much. If the Crown Princess knew how sad you are, she would not be able to rest in peace." Ma gonggong also had a regretful face, but in front of the grieving Hua Xi Wan, he still tried to appear comforting.
"You are right." Hua Xi Wan gave a forced smile. "Then you will be busy in the next while."
"This servant doesn't dare." Ma gonggong was still respectful on the surface but was surprised inside. He had originally thought that Xian Wang Fei would be of a simple mind since she had been spoiled from birth by her father and brothers, and then cared for by Xian Wang after she married. But who knew that her speech and conduct was perfect?
As expected of a woman who had managed to establish herself as Xian Wang Fei and made it so that there wasn't a concubine in the entire fu. How could she not have any skill at all at scheming? It was just that other people only looked at her appearance when they saw her.
Princess Rui He who had been ignored in the corner and was silent all this time looked on coldly at Ma gonggong and Hua Xi Wan's attitude as they talked. Her brow creased slightly. There were many womenfolk present, and Hua Xi Wan was not the only qinwang fei. Then why did Ma gonggong go to greet her?
The more she thought, the uglier Princess Rui He's expression was. She couldn't help but turn back to look at Min Huai Junzhu in the other corner. She touched the white flower in her hair and calculation flashed through her mind.
The Empress had been deposed, and the Empress Dowager had passed away, so there wasn't anyone in charge of the inner palace. The other imperial consorts had status but no children, so they were not able to stand up to arrange the inner palace. Therefore, after the Crown Princess died, some of the palace attendants who did not have brains started to have all kinds of thoughts, and the rumors that came out were unable to be stopped and were extremely lowly. Someone even said that the Crown Princess and the Emperor had had an affair. This enraged the Emperor and he had many people beaten to death.
Before the Crown Princess was even buried, rumors filled the world, and even passed among the common people. There was a daring person who had constructed a story about the Emperor and the Crown Princess called "Everlonging Song" that many people applauded.
The Guard Office wanted to investigate, but it was not easy to do so. These common novels had always existed, and this story was written to be extremely romantic as well as expressing love for the country and loyalty to the monarch. What reason could they use to stop the spreading of the story? Say that this story was parodying the Imperial Family? Or that it was not a good influence?
Wasn't that confessing to its veracity?
Some rumors were ones that no one would take as the truth, but if one went to stop them, the rumor would spread even faster in private, and even those who did not believe the rumor before would believe it.
It was a pity that Qilong Emperor, who had such a good reputation for most of his life, ended up with such a name in his later years. Qilong Emperor also knew that he could not openly stop the spreading of the rumors among the people and, in the end, did not do anything. He turned and decided to marry the daughter of the famed scholarly Zhang Family's cadet branch as empress.
The people quickly had new rumors. The Emperor privately visited the Zhang Family and happened upon the daughter of the Zhang Family. She was like a goddess from the heavens, and so the Emperor immediately asked to marry the daughter of the Zhang Family as empress.
As to how the Emperor had seen a daughter of a cadet branch when visiting the Zhang Family, and how could a normal girl see the Emperor who was heavily protected—the people did not care about these details. Many people swore that this daughter of the Zhang Family was devastatingly beautiful and even Xian Wang Fei could not compare to her.
Hua Xi Wan who was set up as the comparison felt speechless when she heard the rumors. What did the beauty of this Zhang Family daughter had to do with her?
She had originally thought that she could relax when the first week after the Crown Princess' death had passed. But the old emperor was about to marry again, and someone from Second Aunt's paternal family. This was really interesting.
The Zhang Family daughter who was about to enter the palace as empress in two months had the name Qing Yan. Hua Xi Wan had never seen her before, but before her marriage, she had heard Second Aunt praise this girl for her beauty. She didn't know anything else.
Given Qilong Emperor's age, he shouldn't be someone who was unable to move after seeing a beauty. But the rumors among the people were all about how the Emperor had fallen in love at first sight with Zhang Qing Yan. Did Qilong Emperor want to wash away the stain of adultery?
What was more interesting to the people than the most noble man in the world falling in love at first sight with a beauty?
Regardless of whether the Emperor had truly fallen in love or not, for his own reputation, he had to fall in love.
If the Emperor really had something with the Crown Princess, how could he easily fall in love with someone else? So the affair was just a rumor. It was some villains who were slandering the Emperor and the deceased Crown Princess.
This kind of people really lacked virtue to target someone dead.
The people liked to follow the crowd, or rather, they liked to gossip. The reality was not important to them. As long as the gossip was interesting, it was enough.
"Yan Bo Yi really does have skill to push the Emperor to this step." Yan Jin Qiu looked at the rumors that his subordinate had gathered from among the common people. He threw the information to the side and his face suddenly darkened. He said, "But what is this Zhang Qing Yan? What does she have to compare with my wang fei?"
Mu Tong silently buried his head deeper.
A stack of papers landed by his feet. He bowed even deeper.
"Observe Yan Bo Yi closer. If he is going to act, we will give a helping hand." Yan Jin Qiu inhaled deeply and stood from the desk. "To Wang Fei's."
Hua Xi Wan did not know that her man was being petty because of rumors, as she felt that Yan Jin Qiu would not pay any attention to matters that even her family would not pay attention to. So it was only after the two had finished eating the noon meal and were alone that she detected something was wrong as Yan Jin Qiu's words were full of displeasure about the daughter of the Zhang Family.
Was it that, because Second Aunt's younger brother had offended Yan Jin Qiu, he disliked every member of the Zhang Family, and even Zhang Qing Yan of a cadet branch was affected?
"How do you know what this Miss Zhang is like—did you see her?" Hua Xi Wan lazily leaned on his shoulder and looked suspiciously at him from the corner of her eye. "Otherwise, how do you know so much about her?" Her Hua Family and the Zhang Family were in-laws, but she didn't know as much as he did about a miss from a cadet branch.
"What are you thinking?" Yan Jin Qiu smiled helplessly. "It's merely that this Zhang cadet branch really isn't perceptive. Their daughter is just going to be a decorative empress in the palace, and they actually dare to use you as a stepping stone. They really think that my Xian Wang Fu doesn't know what they are thinking?"
The Zhang Family had a good reputation of a few hundred years, but by now, only the main branch had some of the conduct that their ancestors did. The conduct of the cadet branches really could not enter the eye. If it wasn't that the Emperor was old and was marrying a second empress, how could it be their family's turn to ascend the seat of the empress?
Also, the Zhang Family and the Emperor in secret…
Who in the main branch didn't know what skill the Emperor had—who would bear to send their innocent daughter into the palace to be a puppet that could not talk or do anything?
"What thoughts?" Hua Xi Wan asked in puzzlement.
Yan Jin Qiu sneered and patted the back of her hand. He sighed and said, "The cadet branch of your Second Aunt's paternal family is not a peaceful one. Where do you think those rumors that use you as a comparison come from?"
Hua Xi Wan immediately understood. "They are using me to elevate her?"
Yan Jin Qiu sighed and seemed to admit it. A moment later, he said, "I did not want to tell you because I worry you will think too much. Now that it is like this, I have to say it."
Hua Xi Wan saw that his expression was solemn and sat up straight to prepare to listen to Yan Jin Qiu speak of the secret of the Zhang Family.
"The Zhang Family is a prestigious family that countless scholars revere but think—is the Zhang Family as high and noble as the rumors say?"
Hua Xi Wan thought of her second aunt and the great actions that the Zhang Family had taken in the previous dynasties and eras. She suddenly found that the great reputation that the Zhang Family had in the last few decades seemed to have been "promoted" by the Imperial Family.
"Rather than say that the present Zhang Family is a famed scholarly family, it's more accurate to say that they are the loyal dogs of the Imperial Family. They appear to not compete for anything, but in truth, they are the eyes of the Emperor. Not only do they gather the scholars of the world, they even hold many secrets of prestigious families for the Emperor." Yan Jin Qiu smiled coldly. "If it were the Zhang Family of a hundred years ago, they'd be worth being respected, but now…"
"That's not right. If that's the case, how come the Emperor really thought that I had no beauty?" Hua Xi Wan shook her head and said, "My second aunt knows how I look."
"You think that any member of the Zhang Family works for the Emperor?" Yan Jin Qiu sighed and said, "Your second aunt is not very friendly towards you and desires that news detrimental to you would spread outside. How could she return to her paternal family and argue for you? She probably also contributed to the rumors about you in the past." How could he say to Hua Xi Wan that with the Hua Second Aunt's mind and skill, the Zhang Family would not feel safe to let her do such mentally-intensive matters?
No matter how unlikable Zhang shi was, she was still a woman of the Hua Family. He would leave some face for his in-laws's family.
Hua Xi Wan immediately had no words to respond with. Should she be grateful to Second Aunt for her selfless dedication?
"But it is fortunate that she was jealous of you. Otherwise, how could I marry you?" Yan Jin Qiu said with a smile. "It seems that even the heavens helped me. The will of heaven tells us we are a perfect match."
Rather than say it was the will of heaven, it was more like a string of accidents. If Second Aunt hadn't felt jealous, if Third Aunt hadn't been discontent with the marquis fu, and if Eldest Tangjie hadn't implied to Min Huai Junzhu out of jealousy that Hua Xi Wan had no beauty, then she and Yan Jin Qiu would not have this marriage.
Or maybe if her parents and brothers had not protected her so and spent so much effort, then she and Yan Jin Qiu would not have come to this.
…Is it possible that it really was a match fated in heaven?
She was a determined atheist. So she really felt it was a slap in the face to encounter something like rebirth.
"No wonder the Emperor gave Old Master Zhang a title after Second Aunt's younger brother died, and also allowed the adoption of a child from a cadet branch. At the time, I thought that the Crown Prince had something to do with the death of Master Zhang. I didn't think that there would also be such a cause," Hua Xi Wan said emotionally. "I knew that that one isn't that generous."
Hearing Hua Xi Wan mention Master Zhang, Yan Jin Qiu's eyes shifted slightly and then he said with a smile, "No matter what the Zhang Family plans, when they reached an agreement with the person above in the past, they also had to take the risk. The early passing of Master Zhang can only be blamed on their greediness."
Hua Xi Wan scratched her chin and sighed inwardly. No wonder the members of the Imperial Family died early—their brains died from overwork!
Translator Ramblings: I think there's a saying somewhere about men overworking and losing their hair from stress … … Hua Xi Wan, you will have a bald husband soon.