The annual new year banquet for the imperial clan members was exquisite and luxurious . But because he didn’t have many brothers, after Emperor Chengxuan had ascended the throne up until now, such banquets weren’t as lavish as the ones from the previous emperor .
Since it was the new year, Zhuang Laoyan put on the fine clothes the emperor had bestowed her in a very tactful manner . Before the mirror, she slowly put on her makeup, making her complexion rosy to the max .
“Master, why are you putting on this kind of makeup?” asked Yunxi, looking at the glamorous Zhuang Laoyan . She didn’t understand why her master had changed from her previous plain appearance .
“In the blink of an eye, one year has passed . ” Zhuang Laoyan touched up her brows . Smiled . “Everyone wants to be happier today . Why should I make myself look like that and cause others upset?”
At that moment, realization struck Yunxi . A delicate appearance made others pity the person . However, as women of the imperial harem, they must also know the general principles to garner good fortune during the New Year . Who would feel happy seeing such a sour expression?
The New Year Banquet was to be held at Taihe Hall as well . Apart from the imperial clan members, the guests consisted of envoys from the surrounding subsidiary states . It was bustling with noise and excitement to the extreme . Just as Zhuang Laoyan had stepped foot within Taihe Hall, she encountered the dressed-to-the-nines Noble Imperial Concubine Yan .
“This concubine greets Xiuyi Zhao . ” Noble Imperial Concubine Yan performed a light curtsy . “Xiuyi Zhao’s complexion has improved . It seems your condition has recovered a lot after the miscarriage . ”
Just how badly did this Noble Imperial Concubine Yan want to hurt her feelings? Quite suitable for the occasion, Zhuang Laoyan stiffened her expression . “Noble Imperial Concubine Yan’s complexion seems decent today as well . ”
Noble Imperial Concubine Yan smiled as beautiful as a blossoming flower . “You as well, you as well . ”
Ontop the dragon throne, Feng Jin held a wine cup . Swept his gaze toward the corner of the hall . He beckoned for Gao Dezhong . “Gao Dezhong, We remember that a few months ago, we said we would not promote Noble Imperial Concubine Yan for two years . ”
Gao Dezhong bowed . “Reporting to Your Majesty, your honored self has indeed said such words . Because your honored self is always busy, this matter seems to have been forgotten . It is this slave that did not do my duties well, and forgot to remind Your Majesty . May Your Majesty forgive this slave . ”
“Enough . You also have many things to attend to every day . ” Feng Jin waved . Tone tranquil, he said, “Since this is the case, let’s have the Department of the Palace cancel the bestowment for Noble Imperial Concubine Yan . Because she neither has the merit of birthing a son, nor the virtue of governing the harem, letting her remain as a noble imperial concubine is enough . ”
The emperor did not say these words too loudly . However, it was loud enough for the empress, who sat next to him, to hear . Expression not changing, she looked at the Noble Imperial Concubine Yan who wore a pink blouse and wrap-around skirt . Ridicule flashed in her eyes .
In this imperial harem, the list of people who would be promoted had already gone out to the public . If word came out in public that the emperor cancelled Noble Imperial Concubine Yan’s promotion now, she would lose all her face . That Noble Imperial Concubine Yan was stupid . She just had to do something the emperor disliked . Even if he had still favored her a little, she squandered it all .
The women in the imperial harem ought to bring their brains when they left their residences .
Noble Imperial Concubine Yan did not know that her destiny in the imperial harem had already been set . After she had provoked Zhuang Laoyan, she returned to her seat in a good mood . Her expression carried content .
Zhuang Laoyan’s seat was to the left of and next to Xiuyi Su’s . Just by seating position, one could tell whose status was higher . After they each greeted the other, Zhuang Laoyan sat down, adjusting the golden dangling hair ornament by her temples in the shape of a butterfly spreading its wings . She tilted her head, sizing up the imperial clan members and envoys of other countries across from her .
Zhuang Laoyan covered half her face with her handkerchief, asking the Tingzhu behind her in a soft voice, “The Crown Prince of Changfeng Country?”
“Responding to Master, that is the case . Two days ago, this Crown Prince of Changfeng Country sent a few chests of rubies to our palace,” said Tingzhu purposely near whisper . “The person who delivered the items even said they hoped Master would say a few good words about his country in front of His Majesty . ”
“What do they take me for?” Zhuang Laoyan sneered . “Just a few small boxes of gems and they think I’d help them?”
She felt as though she’d been looked down on .
What’s more, she wasn’t a fool . She clearly knew how that scum emperor thought . So why would she let these few small boxes of gems affect her career as an imperial concubine?
Definitely no .
Tingzhu choked from her master’s impolite words . From her memory, her master was a more lenient person . So to hear such harsh words all of a sudden, she started to wonder how the crown prince of Changfeng Country had dissatisfied her .
Perhaps Master didn’t like rubies?
As servants, it was difficult to understand the thoughts of their master . As such, up until the start of the banquet, she still did not comprehend why things were like so .
Everyone in the court knew that Xiuyi Zhao had miscarried . However, many did not know the reason . That said, they saw how much importance the emperor attached on Xiuyi Zhao . The Zhuang family had grown more and more prestigious in the capital . What a pity that the Zhuang family only had a scholarly background and was quite low-profile . Those who wanted curry favor with them couldn’t find a gap to slither through .
Ever since Emperor Chengxuan had ascended the throne, he kept the imperial clan members under his control until they were submissive to him . No one wanted to bring forth bad luck for themselves . For this reason, they never talked much about the imperial harem . Why should they interfere with the business of the emperor’s family?
As such, when everyone saw Xiuyi Zhao in such splendid and appropriate attire at the banquet, and not a hint of sickness and weakness on her face, they all thought the following while feeling moved: no wonder the emperor favored her so much . To understand the general principles and not grow arrogant due to favor was hard to come by .
Perhaps this Xiuyi Zhao might become the next Noble Consort Shu . In the future, they must pay attention to anything that had to do with her . Although they were members of the imperial clan, in the emperor’s eyes, how could they compare in importance to a favored concubine?
At times, the pillow talk of these women had a more formidable power than a petition or memorial .
Naturally, Zhuang Laoyan didn’t know what the imperial clan members were thinking . When it came to the women of the harem, what others thought might not be the most important . What was important was what the emperor thought .
Although the banquet for the imperial clan members was exquisite, one thing stood as inauspicious: she was only able to pick up a few pieces of the current dish before it was exchanged for the next . She preferred the banquets of her previous life, where the dishes were placed out in the open .
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Yunxi and Tingzhu carefully attended to Zhuang Laoyan in her meal . They even checked for foods that couldn’t be eaten by a woman who had just suffered a miscarriage . After all, it hadn’t even been one month since their master had “experienced” one . So they had to be careful .
Yunxi blocked a dish a palace maid brought over . “This dish is too spicy . No need to bring it over . ” If one must act out a play, one must act until the end . And at least convince people that their master truly did miscarry .
Zhuang Laoyan ate a piece of light refreshments . Watched as the dancers on the stage performed the dance called The Joy of Heaven and Earth . In a somewhat exhausted manner, she blinked, pulling the fur cloak closer to her body .
Upon seeing this, Tingzhu hurried to present a handheld brazier to Zhuang Laoyan .
After the dance had ended, another dance started that used pipa music for accompaniment, called Celebration of Spring . Zhuang Laoyan looked at the lead dancer . And she found her somewhat familiar . After a good while of thinking, she recalled that on the day the emperor had allowed her to see the promotion list, this dancer had been present .
“Your Majesty, this dancer’s posture and movement are lithe and graceful . She truly doesn’t lose to the Noble Consort Shu of the past,” said the empress with a smile . “This concubine remembers that back then, Noble Consort Shu’s dance was so prepossessing it could topple nations, could make countless flowers ashamed . Ever since this concubine saw Noble Consort Shu dance, in so many years this concubine has not seen such an outstanding dance like this one . A dance that could compare to hers . ”
Noble Consort Shu’s expression wasn’t good . However, she said, “Your Majesty the empress is praising this concubine too much . ”
Feng Jin looked at the two women, then shifted his gaze to the lead dancer . “Since Empress thinks this person is decent, then let’s confer her the rank of cairen . We also think her dance posture and movement can compare to those of Noble Consort Shu . ”
After Zhuang Laoyan had heard the trio’s words, the corners of her lips raised a hint . These words of the emperor were truly ruthless . He actually attacked both the empress and Noble Consort Shu .
“She’s merely a dancer . ” Xiuyi Su snorted softly . And she had not spoken too loudly either . If it weren’t for Zhuang Laoyan being so close, she wouldn’t have even heard this grumble .
Zhuang Laoyan examined the dancer . Beautiful brows slightly raised, bright eyes and white teeth . A soft waist that could be held in two hands . Truly stunning . However, for the emperor to compare this dancer to Noble Consort Shu was making her lose face .
Although the Su clan wasn’t that distinguished in the capital, Noble Consort Shu had used her dances to attract the emperor’s favor . In any case, they were considered a family that had been influential for many generations . Who knew what kind of poverty-stricken family this dancer hailed from?
Once the dance had concluded, the emperor summoned the dancer forward . “What is your name?”
With amorous emotions that were not put into words, the dancer curtsied . “Reporting to Your Majesty, this slave is Emei¹ . ”
“A beautiful woman folds a pearl curtain . A deep frown on a beautiful face²,” muttered Feng Jin to himself . “It’s a good name . Then let’s bestow you the position of Cairen Zhen³, and have you move to Linyue Pavilion’s side hall . ”
The dancer called Emei showed a happy and bashful expression, rushing to kneel in thanks .
Zhuang Laoyan couldn’t help but look at the newly-promoted Cairen Zhen . It truly wasn’t a good thing that the emperor had recited this poem . A beautiful woman folded a pearl curtain . A deep frown on a beautiful face . Though one saw wet tear stains, one did not know whom she lamented in her heart . Such was a poem about the resentment of an abandoned woman . For the emperor to use this poem to describe this dancer, whether he was treating her as a plaything or had a different intention was anyone’s guess .
Seeing the emperor add another stunning woman into the imperial harem, the imperial concubines felt somewhat upset . They could not taste the subsequent dishes in the banquet .
Upon Zhuang Laoyan’s face was loneliness that could not be concealed . But she didn’t slow down her pace in eating . No matter the situation, she would not refuse culinary delicacies .
At this moment, the person most upset was Noble Consort Shu . Her gaze fell upon that Cairen Zhen, and she felt that the emperor was embarrassing her . However, to protect her status, she could only force herself to endure it .
The empress’ expression had long since recovered . She smiled with insipidness . “Since Your Majesty is fond of her, this concubine will not slight her . Heyu, bring the bolt of red Suzhou embroidery⁴ from this palace’s storeroom and bestow it to Cairen Zhen . It seems that only Cairen Zhen’s good looks can match this bolt of red Suzhou embroidery . ”
Once the empress had finished speaking, Zhuang Laoyan indeed caught sight of a few imperial concubines present with poor expressions . The empress’ scheme of recruiting hostility against her enemy was truly brought to the point of perfection .
Smiling, Noble Consort Shu followed that topic by saying, “Since the empress praises you so much, we cannot compare to you . This palace should bestow you something . ” She beckoned to Lingsha . “Bestow this palace’s red jade hairpin to Cairen Zhen . ”
Was this act shifting the hatred to the empress? Zhuang Laoyan found this act of Noble Consort Shu to be decent . She lowered her head and placed a piece of tangerine into her mouth . She watched the show in delight .
Who would have known that after the two had bestowed the items, the other higher-ranked imperial concubines would start bestowing things as well? Zhuang Laoyan looked at the Cairen Zhen whose face was full of smiles . She wiped clean the corners of her mouth before saying, “I don’t have any rare things . Let’s just give the jadeite bracelet I received previously to Cairen Zhen . ”
“Thanking Xiuyi Zhao for the bestowment,” said Cairen Zhen in a kneel, face rosy from happiness .
Expressionless, Zhuang Laoyan averted her gaze . To be taken into the harem in this kind of situation, who knew if glory or sadness stood at the end?
Xiuyi Su looked at the Zhuang Laoyan whose head was lowered . All of a sudden, she smiled . “Xiuyi Zhao seems to be in a bad mood?”
Zhuang Laoyan turned to look at Xiuyi Su . Did she just try provoking her?