Chapter 45: The Emperor's Birthday
Before Rou'er could finish, Qi Chen helped her get to her feet and put an arm around her waist. "I hereby announce Rou'er as my new concubine," he said to the fuming Wei Lanying. "If anyone dares to hurt her, I'll have them killed. And I meant anyone."
Wei Lanying collapsed onto the ground. He can't possibly mean it! It was only after Qi Chen and Rou'er had left that she pointed at the door and shouted hysterically, "Qi Chen, don't you dare forget who it was that helped you become the crown prince! How could you treat me like this?"
"The emperor's birthday is near," Jun Huang said. It made her pause seeing Rou'er leaning against Qi Chen. She didn't expect Rou'er to be this good. She gained Qi Chen's favor in only a few days! "Has Your Royal Highness come up with a good gift?"
Ever since his fight with Wei Lanying, Qi Chen had not stepped foot into her palace. He wasn't even willing to see her. Wei Lanying couldn't possibly hate Rou'er more than she did right now.
Qi Chen ate the grape Rou'er pushed against his lips and shook his head. He couldn't think of anything. "I never know what to give Royal Father," he said with a sigh. "Everything in Northern Qi is his. No gift will be of any value to him."
"That's not true. It's been said that even giving a feather as a gift can mean the world to the receiver1; what matters is the intention. Whatever you give to the emperor, he will like it."
Qi Chen arched an eyebrow. "What if I really do give him a feather? Will he be happy?"
Jun Huang looked at him with bright eyes and curved lips. "There are many kinds of birds in the world. A phoenix's feather is one of the most valuable. If you can get your hands on one and give it to the emperor, he will be happy."
Qi Chen jumped to his feet and didn't respond immediately. "I've heard that phoenixes were only seen in Western Que, and after the country's destruction, no one knew where they'd gone. None have been seen since then."
Sorrow flashed through Jun Huang's eyes, but she quickly recovered and pulled out a small bag. "When I was young, I used to travel a lot. Once I was in Western Que and happened upon a phoenix. As it flew into the air, this feather dropped to the ground."
Qi Chen took the bag and opened it. There was a golden phoenix feather inside. His breath hitched. It was so vibrant he could not take his eyes off it.
Rou'er narrowed her eyes and gave Jun Huang a questioning look. After Qi Chen had left to search for a decorative box to hold the feather, she stopped Jun Huang from leaving.
"What do you want?" Jun Huang looked back at her.
"You know that Qi Chen is the prince's enemy, miss. Why are you helping him?"
Jun Huang was taken aback. Qi Yun told her about me? She shook her head. "I don't have an answer for you, Rou'er. Hasn't Qi Yun told you that everything I've done, I've done on purpose? You don't have to worry that I will harm your prince."
Jun Huang was about to leave again when Rou'er murmured, "It's from Western Que, then it must be the one piece of home you have on you. Don't you feel regretful for giving it to Qi Chen just like that?"
Jun Huang stopped in her tracks. She was silent for a long while. Just when Rou'er thought that she would not say anything, she opened her mouth. "That's for me to decide. If I feel like it's not worth it, then it's not." She paused before continuing, "There are many pairs of eyes in this manor, Rou'er. You should be more cautious now that Wei Lanying sees you as an enemy. Don't give her anything to threaten you with. And don't call me miss."
Rou'er stood there thinking about what Jun Huang had just said. Who could say Jun Huang was wrong? She let out a sigh, sorrow pulling her eyes downward. She couldn't figure out why Jun Huang did what she did.
When she turned around, she saw Wei Lanying coming towards her.
Wei Lanying looked at her, then she looked around. Qi Chen was nowhere to be seen. Her smile deepened as she walked up to Rou'er.
"What happened? Why is little sister Rou'er standing here on you own? Has the prince gotten tired of you already?"
Rou'er greeted her. "Big sister should ask yourself that question."
Wei Lanying sneered, "You really are a spoiled girl. You only just gained the prince's favor and now you are acting like a savage."
Rou'er looked at her without a word. Her silence riled up Wei Lanying even more, and Wei Lanying raised her hand to slap her. Rou'er cut her off with a chuckle and said, "Big sister should think twice before you act. If you really do slap me and I tell the prince about it, he will get mad at you again. Then you'll never be able to regain his affection."
Wei Lanying seethed with anger, but she knew she could not lay a hand on Rou'er. She balled up her hands into fists and laughed lightly.
"You probably don't know, but you can't go to the emperor's birthday. You are only a serving concubine after all.2" She smiled widely at her, her face as vibrant as the cherry blossoms in March.
Rou'er did not want to waste any more time arguing with Wei Lanying. Besides, why would she care who Qi Chen took to the palace? She gave her a smile and took her leave.
Wei Lanying watched her go. In her eyes Rou'er seemed upset, which made her feel a little better. She went off to find Qi Chen to talk about the emperor's birthday gift.
She was stopped by Wei Qian when she reached the study. Wei Lanying was smart enough to figure out that Jun Huang must be inside. Qi Chen was most likely talking business with Jun Huang.
After about the time for an incense stick to burn, Jun Huang pushed open the door and walked out. She immediately saw Wei Lanying. It seemed like she had been waiting here for a while. "This gentleman is here to greet Lady Wei."
Wei Lanying paid her no attention and went straight into the study. Jun Huang glanced at the door with a smile before taking Wei Qian back to her building.
"The gift has been prepared." Qi Chen didn't even look at her as he spoke. "You don't need to worry."
Wei Lanying knew that Jun Huang must have given him some advice, so she didn't dwell on it. She thought carefully about how she should word it. "Ying'er had sent for the most prestigious tailor in the imperial city. Royal Father should have new clothes to wear on his birthday. I came here to ask if you'd like to get yourself measured as well. Then we can have both outfits delivered here."
Qi Chen turned to look at her. Such a hopeful look. He scoffed inwardly.
"Why don't you stay in the manor this time?"
"You are only my concubine," Qi Chen said coldly, disregarding their marriage entirely. He collected the paper and ink on the desk and left. He had things to discuss with his mother, so he arranged for a visit to the palace.
Once he arrived at the palace Consort Zhen lived in, he saw the consort playing with some sparrows. She cut a relaxed picture. He approached her and greeted her. "This son is here to visit mother."
Consort Zhen put down the bailey in her hand. She didn't expect Qi Chen to visit so suddenly. "What is Royal Son here for today?"
"There's something I'd like to discuss with mother."
Consort Zhen sat down on the divan, waiting for Qi Chen to speak.
"I had a discussion with brother Feng today. He mentioned the princess of Southern Mu. He said that if I can win over her heart and have her support me in becoming the emperor, I'll have a higher chance of succeeding."
Consort Zhen gave the plan some thoughts. It seemed viable. Even though Qi Chen was now the crown prince, the emperor's heart remained unpredictable. It was always a possibility that he may take away Qi Chen's title one day. If Qi Chen had something else to depend on, it'd help him greatly in his pursuit of the throne.
She pushed aside her own biases against Jun Huang and nodded to herself. It could work. But still, a hint of worry remained in her heart. "It's said that the princess of Southern Mu is difficult and stubborn. Will you be able to handle her?"
"Do not worry, mother. I have a plan."
On the emperor's birthday, the other two countries naturally had to send delegates to Northern Qi to attend the celebration. Southern Mu sent Nan Jihan3, their first prince, and Nan Guyue, their beloved princess. The two went straight into the palace to attend the banquet.
Qi Chen gave Nan Guyue a double take when he saw her. He didn't expect the snobbish Nan Guyue to be so beautiful. It seemed that there was a reason for her difficult personality. He was even more determined to marry her now.
Qi Chen's gift pleased the emperor greatly, who praised him in front of everyone. Qi Chen pulled his lips into a open smile, but he kept his eyes on Nan Guyue. He gazed at her so openly that Nan Guyue noticed him immediately and threw him a glare.
When it was time for toasting, Nan Guyue approached Qi Chen with a winecup. Qi Chen was pleasantly surprised. Before he could smile at her, however, she splashed the wine all over his silk robe and black hair.
Everyone was stunned silent. They didn't know what Nan Guyue meant by doing this. Seeing that his sister had made a scene, Nan Jihan quickly got to his feet and cupped his hands. "Please forgive us, Your Royal Highness. My sister did not mean to offend you."
Qi Chen waved his hand and took the handkerchief one of the servants gave him. He wiped away the wine on his face and smiled. "It's fine."
"What the hell is wrong with you?" Nan Guyue lashed out with her hands on her hips. "You kept staring at me. Do you really think Southern Mu is such easy prey? To think the crown prince of Northern Qi can be so lecherous!"
For the sake of the relation between the two countries, the emperor frowned but didn't say anything. Nan Jihan, however, went pale immediately and forced Nan Guyue to kneel down with him.
"Your Majesty, my sister doesn't know what to say and what not to say. Please forgive her. She really didn't mean the prince any harm."
Qi Chen could see that the emperor was offended, so he got up to bow at him. "Please forgive her, Royal Father. I was curious because Princess Nan Guyue was said to be as beautiful as the goddess Chang'e4, so I looked at her a little longer than I probably should have. It is I that have offended her, and the princess is right to teach me a lesson."
As stubborn as Nan Guyue was, she still knew to back down when it really mattered. She lowered her head and dared not to rouse any more trouble. The emperor didn't condemn her further.
From a poem written in the Song dynasty. A goose feather can mean the world if you travel miles and miles to give it to someone. ↩ Serving concubines are considered to be inferior to concubines. They may be women bought by the man himself, or a concubine's maid that was married to the man along with the concubine. ↩ Literally means either "South pole is cold" or "South where it's really cold". Fun name. ↩ Goddess of the Moon, who ascended to the moon after drinking the elixir of immortality, forced to be separated from her husband. ↩