Chapter 460 - Sweet Target
There wasn’t a single noble matron or maiden in the capital who didn’t envy the relationship between Imperial Prince Jing and his wife . As their son, Zhu Junyang was influenced by their examples . Whenever the prince was in the capital, he always tried to eat all three meals with his wife and would even, from time to time, carve some time out to live with her in the villa . He even promised that when he had free time and when her body was healthy enough, he was going to take her out traveling to complement all of the things he hadn’t done for her .
Zhu Junyang couldn’t help but think of his future with the little lass . He absolutely wouldn’t make the same mistakes as his father, who almost lost the object of his affections before he did his best to make up for all of his blunders . He wanted his little lass to forever stay under the protection of his wings so she could live a leisurely and pleasant life . He absolutely wouldn’t give anyone the opportunity to harm her!
The next day, as soon as morning court ended, Zhu Junyang went directly to the Fang Residence . Along with him came all of the gifts he was going to give to Yu Xiaocao and the people of the Fang Residence . They were prepared on the previous night . When he was attending morning court, he left them outside the palace walls and had his personal servant Zhang Debao and Head Steward Liu keep an eye on them . The officials who were also heading into the palace all saw the chests full of top-notch furs and they couldn’t help but take a second glance . There were even some who asked if these furs would be sold later on .
Recently, the northern borders haven’t been quiet and, from time to time, the outer tribes would try to raid . Thus, the merchants who used to go to the north or the northwest had pretty much stopped their activities . After all, when they had to choose between making money or their lives, the scales tipped towards one and not the other . Consequently, furs that were as good quality as these were unable to be found in the capital .
Winter was here and if these furs were sold on the market, then the officials were planning on buying some for their womenfolk at home to make some warm outerwear so they could be happy .
However, after asking, they found out that the prince had no intentions of selling them as he was giving them to other people . Pretty much the whole court knew that Royal Prince Yang had been sent to the north with troops to suppress the rebellion, but having him reinforce the borders was only something the emperor decided at the spur of the moment . Before Royal Prince Yang returned to the capital, news of his successes had come back in waves .
They didn’t expect that this guy would also have some good ideas to use his free time to buy large amounts of top-notch furs to bring back . It really made people envy him . They heard that the soldiers who had gone to the borders had also bought a lot of good things from the local hunters there . Obviously, the person who made the biggest gains still had to be the great behemoth that was Royal Prince Yang! It was one thing for him to buy these things, but why did he have to bring them out to make other people jealous? Some of the imperial censors felt their hands itch and wondered if they should send up memorandums accusing him of misconduct!
The officials who had daughters around Royal Prince Yang’s generation all wrung their hands now . They didn’t think that the previously gloomy and cold Royal Prince Yang would suddenly do a 180 . He not only finished the tasks assigned to him in a satisfactory manner and received the emperor’s favor and rewards, showing that he had a boundless future, but he also became a lot more gentle and refined . Recently, he would even have a faint smile on his face and the look in his eyes had gentled considerably . He even knew how to send gifts to the person he admired . If they knew about this earlier, then they would have set a betrothal down with their daughters! They weren’t sure if they still had the opportunity to do so now .
As for the little maiden surnamed Yu in the Ministry of Revenue, most of these people immediately forgot about her . She was only a little lass from the rural countryside and had a big gap in background from the prince . Even though she managed to latch onto General Fang’s thigh and become his goddaughter, nowadays, not even biological fathers were reliable all the time, let alone a godfather . If Royal Prince Yang truly couldn’t let her go, then he could just bring her in as a favored concubine instead . What trouble could a little lass from a farmer’s family, with no background or power, cause for the legitimate wife who came from a good family?
There were quite a few people in the capital with these thoughts and there was actually one who actually tried to act on them . This person was the Assistant Commander of the Fifth Army, a second-rank official, Qian Shi . He didn’t care that it wasn’t proper for the girl’s side of the family to make the overtures . As soon as the idea came to his mind, he went to find Imperial Prince Jing to ask about this .
Prince Jing knew the temperament of his youngest son, so he didn’t dare to hide this from him . He gave the excuse that the marriage of his son required the person in question to approve as well . Thus, he called Zhu Junyang in for this meeting . That Qian Shi said everything he should have said and even said things that he should not have mentioned .
The official pompously proclaimed in a voice that hinted that he was conveying a favor that he would allow the prince to marry his daughter while also keeping Yu Xiaocao as a concubine . He also stated that women should obediently stay in the inner courtyard and that letting them show their faces outside was an embarrassing thing! The other man huffed and puffed endlessly in a winding lecture .
Royal Prince Yang didn’t wait for the other person to finish his thoughts before he ordered the official to leave the residence immediately . However, this Qian Shi tried to use his age as a weapon and even started to scold Royal Prince Yang in the manner of an elder . Imperial Prince Jing was not happy by this turn of events . Zhu Junyang was his son and even he didn’t dare to say too many harsh words to him . Why was an unrelated official posturing and gesturing like an elder in front of him, Zhu Junyang’s own father? Did he think that he was dead ah? Right then and there, the imperial prince smashed his teacup and had his subordinates chase this shameless man out of the residence .
Zhu Junyang thought that this wasn’t enough to vent his temper . Thus, on one day, when this official, Qian Shi, finished attending court and was heading home, he passed by a small, remote alleyway . The prince stuffed the man into a burlap sack and viciously beat the older man up . The assistant commander had been born in a military family and had also followed the emperor emeritus around, battling fiercely . Naturally, his skill at martial arts was quite good . However, in Zhu Junyang’s hands, he didn’t have a single chance to fight back . Furthermore, Zhu Junyang deliberately targeted this general’s face and smacked him until even his own mother wouldn’t recognize him .
This Qian Shi thought that this was too embarrassing and asked for some time off from court . For a long time, while he healed, he didn’t attend court and also didn’t dare to go out of the residence to manage affairs . This caused some significant losses to the assistant commander’s estate . Regardless, he didn’t want to go out with the injuries still prominently displayed as he was afraid that other people might laugh at him .
At this time, Royal Prince Yang didn’t know that he had now become the target of everyone . From a calamitous star that everyone tried to avoid, he had now morphed into the ideal son-in-law in most people’s eyes . After finishing court, he went directly to the general’s residence with his eye-catching presents .
At this time, Yu Xiaocao was currently receiving the concubine-born daughter of a high-ranking official in the Ministry of Ceremonies . This young maiden was named Li Mengru and was older than Yu Xiaocao by two years . In this upcoming year, she was going to turn fifteen years old . Since her biological mother had passed away when she was young and she wasn’t very favored at home, she didn’t have the most easy life . Luckily, the legitimate wife of the household wasn’t someone who couldn’t tolerate concubine-born children, so she wasn’t treated too poorly at home .
Although this lass had the same Li surname as Li Meirou, her personality was vastly different . The young maiden was gentle and sweet-tempered and was even a bit timid . When she talked, she very rarely raised her voice . Her interests lay in coming up and mixing up new cosmetics . Thus, her monthly allowance and any extra money she got during the New Years were all used on this hobby . It had been five years since she started this hobby, so she had gained some decent skills by now .
This maiden had an innocent and pure personality, so she always happily gave out any of the cosmetics she made to her legitimate older sister and her other concubine-born sisters when they asked for them . Furthermore, the girls she had good relationships with also received many gifts from her . Her hand-made products were at a point that, if she had the money to buy better quality ingredients, it was likely that all of the well-born maidens of the capital would chase after them .
Even though she wasn’t able to use top-notch ingredients, her fame had still spread throughout these circles . Many of the maidens from official families used their connections with other people in an attempt to buy cosmetics from her . However, this young maiden felt that her skills and products were not up to par to be sold for money . Thus, whenever she made a new batch of cosmetics, she would send some out to other people . Even if she was so poor that she couldn’t afford to buy the raw ingredients, she still refused to take other people’s money .
Li Mengru had had an introverted personality since she was young and wasn’t very good at interacting with other people . If it wasn’t for the fact that she was skilled at crafting cosmetics, it was likely that even her own sisters in the residence would forget about her, let alone the noble-born maidens in the capital .
Such an obscure and unknown person had suddenly received an invitation to go to Count Zhongqin’s residence . The little maiden was quite perplexed by this turn of events . Her legitimate mother  was also very confused . Official Yu, who was currently a mighty figure in the capital, wasn’t even polite to the daughter of an assistant minister . This concubine-born daughter of hers also had a quiet and timid personality and never strove for the spotlight . How did she suddenly get an invitation?
When Li Mengru received the invitation, she had no idea what to do . Her wet-nurse was the one who reminded her that she should ask her legitimate mother what to do . Her legitimate mother also didn’t look highly upon this lass who was born in a farmer’s family and had been titled a small official for her farming ability . However, ever since Assistant Minister Li had such a tragic outcome, she naturally wouldn’t reveal this disdain outside as she wanted to avoid having a similar outcome befall her own family .
Currently, Assistant Minister Li and his family were the butt of all the jokes in the capital . The legitimate daughter of the high-ranking official in the Ministry of Ceremonies had also gone to that Flower Wars banquet . She had remembered her mother’s advice to not be conspicuous and not reveal her true thoughts . Thus, she had managed to connect with a few other young maidens who were of the same mindset as her .
Assistant Minister Li’s daughter, on the other hand, wanted to smash Official Yu to the ground at the flower war banquet yet she was the one who ended up in the mud . It was one thing to lose her own dignity but she even pulled the hatred of Royal Prince Yang onto her family . When the high-ranking official from the Minister of Ceremonies found out, he especially called his daughter in and told her to describe exactly what happened . In addition, he repeatedly reminded her that this young maiden surnamed Yu was currently in the high tide, so she absolutely could not offend the other person . If she truly didn’t like the other girl, she just needed to avoid her . This was to avoid having a similar outcome as Assistant Minister Li’s family . Now they couldn’t even help their patriarch satisfy his cravings for green vegetables, let alone get any out of season melons, fruits, or small tomatoes .
Li Mengru’s legitimate older sister only had neutral feelings towards Yu Xiaocao . That being said, it wasn’t as if their family lacked money and needed to fawn over the other girl for the sake of getting some green vegetables or out of season fruits . However, as the legitimate mistress of the family, she also couldn’t alienate the other person and make her angry at them .
Consequently, when Li Mengru came over with the invitation to let her see, Lady Li very easily agreed to let her go . Furthermore, she instructed her concubine-born daughter to spend more time with other well-born maidens and make some more friends instead of spending all her time cooped at home messing around with a bunch of unrelated stuff .
However, how could she know that Official Yu, who she had no desire to offend, had sent an invitation to her concubine-born daughter exactly because that daughter liked to mess around with a bunch of unrelated stuff?
Early in the morning, Li Mengru arrived at Count Zhongqin’s residence and said her greetings to Lady Fang before Yu Xiaocao brought her back to her own courtyard . Originally, when she found out she was going to meet the legendary Official Yu, she was quite nervous and anxious about the meeting . However, once she saw a girl shorter than her by half a head and around the same age as the younger concubine-born sister who lived in the same courtyard as her, her apprehension had almost disappeared .
When Yu Xiaocao took out a plate of small tomatoes to serve to her, Li Mengru’s eyes became as wide as saucers and she revealed a bewildered expression . These bright red tomatoes, which were small and delicately shaped, were only given to a select few in her family . Out of the younger generation, only her legitimate older sister had the opportunity to try some . In general, such expensive and hard-to-get fruits were saved for serving important guests that came over to the residence .
She recalled the time her legitimate older sister had first tried this type of fruit and had minutely described the taste of these tomatoes: tart and sweet with a light heady fragrance that made a person feel instantly addicted . Just one bite was not enough to satisfy a craving! When her legitimate older sister described the fruits, she even had an expression full of longing on her face . At that time, Li Mengru and her other concubine-born sisters were all so envious that they were swallowing back their saliva that had pooled in their mouths .
 legitimate mother - All concubine-born children had a 'legitimate mother' (嫡母), who was the legitimate wife of their father . They could only call their legitimate mother as 'mother', and she technically had the power to manage them and their lives . Obviously, reality may differ depending on how favored their concubine-mothers were .