She looked at empress dowager and spoke with bitterness hidden in her tone. "How can the emperor, my own brother, choose the Fan family, out of all the possibilities? He knows darn well about the relationship between the Fan family and the prime minister…"
"You may leave." The empress dowager’s eyes flashed open as she spoke in a low, authoritative voice. The housemaids left quietly with no expressions.
"SLAP!" The sound reverberated, and a painful red handprint appeared on the eldest princess’s cheeks. She looked at her mother in fear. The empress dowager spoke icily through gritted teeth, "How many times have I told you not to mention that man’s name in front of me? The royal family wishes to remain reputable, even if you don’t. If you hadn’t protected him with your own life, I would have made sure he was dead long ago!"
"Not once did I allow him to visit Chen’er all these years, but I never gave him a hard time either." Empress dowager’s kindness had vanished and her expression was as cold as ice. "I knew that he wanted to marry you, but you were afraid of ruining his career. That’s fine by me… Don’t get married. You wanted him to have a career, I gave him a career, and now he is head of hundreds of officials. You probably want to go forward with your wish but… I will not allow you to have anything to do with him. He will have absolutely no say Chen’er’s marriage. Do you understand me?"
The eldest princess wiped her tears and smiled forcefully, though her voice trembled as she answered.
The empress dowager then continued as she looked at the queen queen and spoke lightly, "Since the emperor is busy with government affairs, you should be handling the kind of things like the marrying off the girls in our family. However, as the emperor has already decided upon Chen’er and Fan Xian’s marriage, you do not have to worry about them."
"Yes." The queen bowed her head quickly. She was still in shock from the scene she had just witnessed.
"You shouldn't be by my side all the time serving me. You should keep the emperor company when you’re free and help him de-stress." The empress dowager spoke much more softly than before, and it was clear that she was encouraging her.
The queen smiled wryly and promised her, though frowned suddenly as a thought came to her mind.
Of course, no thought went unnoticed by empress dowager, who asked, "What’s on your mind?"
The queen glanced at the princess, who was still wiping her tears, and spoke in a low voice, "Hong Gonggong sent word about a case in the capital’s office today"
"Huh? What sort of case could that old dog possibly have taken interest in?"
The queen laughed awkwardly, "Actually mother, everyone is interested in this case. This is because the court case had started this morning and has gone on all day. Only just there was there any sort of conclusion… I heard that it’s the only son of Guo You the high official from the Board of Rites that took someone from Fan mansion to court.
Apparently, the culprit recited a poem as he beat up Guo Baokun. The poem he recited… is the one you read before, Mother."
"Huh?" Empress dowager exclaimed in surprise, "The sorrowful visitor from afar assaulted someone?"
Hearing this, the queen could not hide her laughter, and even the eldest princess sniffled, saying, "My mum is quite quirky."
The empress dowager laughed and said, "It’s me that’s quirky- it’s Fan Xian. How could he beat up the high official’s son right after arriving in the capital a couple of days ago? Tell me, what was the situation in court like?" She frowned as something came to her, "Surely the capital’s court did nothing to punish Fan Xian. How will he get married in October if he’s sullied?"
The queen burst out laughing, "What are you talking about mother? Even if Fan Xian did not have a legitimate identity at birth, he’s still Count Sinan’s well-educated son and a scholar. He can’t be punished."
"That’s fine then." Empress dowager continued, "Does Guo Baokun not hang around with the crown prince?"
For some unknown reason, the queen’s expression turned uneasy and she agreed in a low voice. Empress dowager then tutted, "Those rascals; they know only how to strut around and have nothing but bad intentions. It goes without saying that Fan Xian must have been in the right."
The eldest princess’ face was frozen, but her mind was full of thoughts. She had never expected her mother to not question the story behind the case and assumed straightaway that Fan family’s illegitimate son was in the right.
However, she kept quiet due to the painful slap she had received earlier. Fortunately, the queen added as an afterthought, "Guo Baokun does have a bit of reputation. It’s not logical to have him beat up in the middle of the streets."
The empress dowager did not react to their differing opinions. She continued to speak, "How did the case end?"
"Fan Xian called out Prince Jing as a witness, so the capital's court could do nothing but delay the case for another retrial."
"Hong Chen agreed to be his witness? Looks like this Fan Xian is quite the popular boy."
The queen was secretly pleased. Although the empress dowager had not revealed her thoughts, the queen knew that she detested government officials with close relationships to members of royalty. The queen then turned the conversation around, being careful so as not to cross a line. "I heard that on the day Guo Baokun was assaulted, he was playing… On Liuhe River with Prince Jing, so the assault probably had nothing to do with him."
The palace garden became silent and the atmosphere heavy. Just then, the empress dowager sat up and said, "I’m a little tired." The housemaid waiting outside helped her up and accompanied her back to the palace.
The queen and the princess stood up and watched as the empress dowager slowly retreated to the palace. They looked at each other and the corners of the queen’s lips curled into a wry smile, "Looks like the empress dowager is not pleased about Fan Xian’s visits to the whorehouse, but she’s kept her mouth shut about it, so it looks like Chen’er will be getting married in half a year's time."
The eldest princess exhaled and said, "I’m only worried about Fan Xian’s personality, however…" She looked at the queen, her eyes emitting a strong sense of fragility. "The Fan family and Prince Jing are quite close to each other. You would do well to be careful."
The queen’s heart clenched. She knew the princess was reminding her that if Fan Xian really married Chen’er and the emperor handed him the responsibility of the national treasury, it would mean that the Fan family had both the Ministry of Revenue and the national treasury under their control. This was the equivalent of handling the entire wealth of the Qing Kingdom. If the emperor became biased towards the second prince because of a Fan family relationship with Prince Jing, she was afraid that the crown prince… She frowned at her son’s lack of potential. Did the emperor have hidden intentions behind this decision?
"Don’t think about it too much." The eldest princess comforted her. "Even you know that for the past two years, I haven’t done much in the managing of the nation's treasury. There’s always someone from The Overwatch Council who does it. Besides, the Fan family does not have a strong enough reputation, so even if Chen’er married him, he still wouldn’t be able to control the nation's treasury himself.
The queen frowned, "I’m just wondering what kind of drug that old man had fed the emperor to change his mind."
The eldest princess smiled, "Has it been awhile since you invited Lady Liu to visit?"
The queen's face was icy as she spoke," That women married Fan Jian to become his wife. She may seem like a fool, but in reality, she’s as sly as a fox. When you came up with the idea to assassinate the illegitimate son in Danzhou four years ago, we let Lady Liu take the blame. She must hate us. It would be very hard to entice her to be our cover again."
"So what?" The eldest princess smiled openly, her skin was well maintained for someone in their thirties. "What would she dare say? I’ve known her since I was little, and I know she likes to make a fuss over nothing.
The queen suddenly frowned, "It’s actually kind of weird. Why did the emperor decide four years ago to let Fan Xian be responsible for the nation's treasury? If it hadn’t been such a dire situation, we wouldn’t have had to take such risks."
The eldest princess spoke feebly, "The emperor dislikes us being too close, so he had already planned to take the responsibility of the nation's treasury off my hands. That's why he had the director stationed with me right from the beginning."
She continued with a sigh, "All of the government officials can be controlled one way or another, regardless of their intelligence. The only exception is Director Chen, who is loyal to the emperor. He has managed his council so that there are no weaknesses. It’s impossible for to plant a spy in their premises."
Hearing this, the queen frowned unconsciously, "It’s normal to be faithful to the emperor. The sole reason for planting spies is purely to look out for the emperor by finding corrupt government officials. It goes without saying that Director Chen is loyal to the emperor."
The eldest princess knew that she had said the wrong thing, saying softly, "That’s right. However, The Overwatch Council has been investigating the assassination attempt in Danzhou ever since, and they are under strict instructions from the emperor to do so."
"Well that’s only natural. The emperor was drunk when he first saw your daughter. He liked her so much that he took her in as his adopted daughter and appointed her marriage to the Fan family. This is something that very few people in the palace knew about."
The queen remembered back to the scene four years ago and continued coldly, "Within a month, there was a hitman in Danzhou. Although the assassination attempt was never broadcasted, the Overwatch Council was well aware of it, so of course the emperor knew about it. It’s obvious that he does not care about the survival of the illegitimate son, but does care about someone in the palace who dare leak his commands."