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A saying I still remember from another novel is “too many monks, too little meat.” *cough*. Anyways, when someone threatens the established order, no one likes it.

Also, really bad conditions if you are a concubine.

Chapter Nineteen Choices

He Heng wasn't the most favored by the Emperor of the four wangs but there were still many invitations that were sent on a daily basis to Duan Wang Fu. Today there would be somebody presenting tea, tomorrow somebody would offer the new fruits from their farm, then the day after somebody would send over a famous piece of art.

All invitations for the females of the household would be given over to Qu Qing Ju. Some people, she would meet. Some people she would put aside the invitation and could be satisfied by a meeting with those under her.

It was truly "the gatekeeper of the Prime Minister's residence was a fourth rank official." Not just her as a wang fei, there were many who wanted to ingratiate themselves with the maternal families of the qieshi. So when she saw the card that the family of Han Qing He sent in, Qu Qing Ju hesitated before saying: "Let somebody meet this person, then tell him the rule of the fu is the qieshi can receive their family during the festivals[1] or if pregnant, but not otherwise." This wasn't just that this was a wang fu, even in normal families, there wasn't the tradition of a qieshi's family being invited if it wasn't festival time.

"This family is very rude. Wang fei, even your relatives know to not ask for an invite when there are no important matters, but this yiniang has to be special," Yin Liu looked disdainfully at the unremarkable card, "Nubi still remembers that attitude that Han yiniang had in the beginning, just because she was the first ever to serve wang ye."

"Alright," Qu Qing Ju looked calmly at Yin Liu, "Get somebody to send the gifts this person presented to Han shiqie. Tell Han shi, it isn't that I am not accommodating, but the rules of this house has to be respected."

Presently, several of the wang ye were all thirsting for that position. It would be best for the wang fu to not interact with strangers. If something went wrong, Duan Wang might just strangle her to death. Her arrogance could lead to her death but that was better than being strangled by somebody else.

In Xi Yuan, Han Qing He looked at the things on the table. It was just a few playthings that wasn't worth much. She didn't know how hard those watching from the doorway were laughing on the inside. She forced out a hint of the smile and said to Shu Kui in front of her: "My thanks to Shu Kui guniang, and please give my thanks to wang fei ."

"Yiniang doesn't have to be so polite. Before nubi came over, wang fei had said that it was a woman's good fortune if her relatives thought of her. It is just that the wang fu has rules and cannot allow you to meet them so hopefully you can understand." Shu Kui had originally been one of the wang fu's servants. She was now a first-rank yahuan serving wang fei and was well respected by other servants in the fu. So upon seeing the respectful attitude of Han shi, her expression was normal, but her actions still carried the appropriate level of subservience for a servant as she kept her head lowered in respect of Han shi.

"Wang fei is too kind. It is truly nu's family who is nagging and wang fei was benevolent to keep their things. Wang fei's virtues, nu will remember in her heart." Han Qing He was quieter now. She understood very well. Originally, these things wouldn't have been brought in front of her. Wang fei was able to let her keep these things. Regardless of if wang fei was true or false in her intentions, she had to admit she felt gratitude towards wang fei.

Her maternal family was of low status and could never sent over anything good. These things were plaything she had liked before she had entered the palace. But when she had followed wang ye into the wang fu, she had never received anything from home. Looking at it now, her family most likely sent something every year, but the servants never delivered it inside. Remembering that before wang fei had married in, the most favoured had been Feng Zi Jin, Han Qing He laughed icily inside.

She hated that her maternal family wasn't of significance and was ashamed to mention them, but looking at the gifts, she felt very complicated. Something sour and bitter manifested in her heart.

The second of the twelfth month, it was an auspicious day. Qu Qing Ju sat on the center seat. Sitting under her was Feng, Jiang, Luo, and Han. At the moment, all four didn't have their eyes on Qu Qing Ju but were inspecting Yun Qing who was standing in the middle of the room in a pale pink dress.

Leaning on the armchair, Qu Qing Ju used a hand to hold her head up. She lazily sipped at a cup of tea and looked at the five women underneath her. She said slowly: "Since wang ye wants to raise you to become a tong fang, we have no objections. Tong fang cannot compare to a yiniang, we can't hold a banquet. I couldn't bear to let you enter wang ye's house without even a sound so you should perform a greeting to ben wang fei and these seated hear. This is to let those under you know that you are not a guest of this house anymore, but one of wang ye's women."

"That's so true. At the beginning, I had thought that wang ye would elevate you, but who knew that you weren't willing and became a guest of this house. But good things come to those who wait, you have finally entered this fu," Feng Zi Jin smiled as she looked at Yun Qing, "Look at this face, it's so tender a touch will squeeze out water. No wonder wang ye likes it." Everybody in the wang fu knew what had happened. Feng Zi Jin's voice was full of scorn and clearly wanted to embarrass Yun Qing.

Yun Qing's face suddenly paled. She bit her lip and replied: "Feng ce fei is joking, Yun Qing is of low birth. It is just that wang ye has taken pity, I cannot compare to how much wang ye favors wang fei and those here."

"It seems Yun Qing guniang still doesn't understand the etiquette of this wang fu," Feng Zi Jin laughed coldly, "This tong fang, in front of the zhuzi, have to call themselves nubi. Even how their limbs are placed, how they stand, there are rules. If you don't understand, we can have some of the mamas of the fu teach you."

"Nubi will remember." Yun Qing hesitated before bending her legs, her head hanging even lower.

Qu Qing Ju sat on her elevated seat and saw how pale her lips turned and the tightly gripped hands hidden under the sleeves. This was like the teacher at the podium and the student of the past life. The student believed that their little movements were concealed but didn't know that the teacher could see everything clearly.

Feng ce fei, seeing Yun Qing's state, snorted in disinterest and didn't speak further.

Jiang Yong Xu and the others were never overly talkative in front of Qu Qing Ju and at this time wouldn't speak at all, so they bent their heads and drank tea.

"Alright, then start the salutation." Qu Qing Ju slightly straightened her body and smiled down at Yun Qing standing at the bottom.

A tong fang giving the full greeting of three bows and nine kowtows to the wife, that was the generosity of the wife and a glorious honor for the tong fang. But this type of event occurring on Yun Qing, it was a humiliation, not an honor.

When qieshi performed their saluations, they just had to offer tea. She was a tong fang and she had to bow three times and kowtow nine times, what honor was that? But even so, she had to bear the humiliation and knelt down. She slowly bowed, knock, knock, and knock. She stood and did the greeting three times before opening in a trembling voice: "Nubi greets wang fei."

"En," Qu Qing Ju nodded and handed a gold hairpin to her from a tray that Jin Zhan held, "In the future, serve wang ye well."

Yun Qing knelt and took the gold hairpin with two hands. She kowtowed to Qu Qing Ju again before walking to Pin Zi Jin and performed a one bow and three kowtow greeting: "Nubi greets Feng ce fei."

"I'm not as wealthy as wang fei and I heard before that you distain gold for being too vulgar and silver too blinding. You are multi-talented. You can flip though this book "Fan Hua Ji" for your amusement." Feng Ji Zin held the book to Yun Qing and smiled, "I think you would like this book."

"Fan Hua Ji" was a story that spoke of a rich young man who fell for the schemes of a huakui and almost lost his true love in the form of a noble young lady. In the end, the rich young man and the noble young lady married but the huakui, due to her many despicable actions, was detained in jail and sentenced.

Qu Qing Ju looked at that book that was wrinkled as Yun Qing held it and silently drank tea. It was only when Yun Qing finished greeting the other two shiqie before she opened: "Now the fu has three tong fang. Ban Xia was from my side, Bai Zhi and Yun Qing were sent in from outside the fu. I don't have many rules and I don't need you to come to zhen yuan to serve me. In the future, if wang ye doesn't call for you to serve, you should stay in your rooms to rest and not worry about other matters."

Hearing this, the other four sitting felt a spurt of joy. Everybody in this fu knew that wang ye didn't like yahuan to serve him on a daily basis. And those yahuan were now of a greater age with two of them already engaged to others in the fu. Now that these three tong fang couldn't appear daily in front of wang ye, they had no place to enact their wiles.

"Wang fei is kind to treat them so. In any other fu, couldn't they escape holding the teapot or the drapes?" Jiang Yong Xu smiled and followed the topic, "Yun Qing guniang, shouldn't you thank wang fei?"

Yun Qing knelt again: "Nubi thanks wang fei."

Qu Qing Ju looked at her and waved a hand, "Stand up, I feel tired just walking you kneel here and kneel there. If there isn't anything else, you can all leave." She was too lazy to bother with watching the drama.

After the noon meal, Qu Qing Ju saw the sun come out from the clouds and headed to the gardens. A walk would help her digest and get some sun.

There was no time that the wang fu's gardens would be withered. Even in this twelfth month, the garden was still green and there were many blooming flowers. Many of those flowering shouldn't bloom in this season. Most likely, it was the servants who came up with ways to force the flowering.

"Go away, worthless scum, you can't search my body!"

"Ban Xia guniang, I think you should return it. Otherwise, if others knew that a thief came out of here, it wouldn't be good."

Walking past a flourishing wall of flowers, the place was dark and out of the way. Qu Qing Ju saw a young woman wearing an embroidered dress surrounded by a few yahuan and pozi. Her hair was down and tangled, almost as though a physical altercation had occurred.

"You're the thief. I'm wang ye's women, how dare you search me? Also, if something went missing, why aren't you suspicious of others and only accuse me?"

"Oh, Ban Xia guninang really believes she's a zhuzi?" A slightly chubby mama sneered: "Just a tong fang, still a servant. You really believe you are one of those on top? Look at yourself in the mirror. Only you went into the room that it was placed in, other than you, who else would have taken it?"

"Pah!" Ban Xia spat, "It's just all of you saw that wang fei is favored now so you come over to make things difficult to put yourselves in her favor. Do you think that wang fei would pay attention to you. Just a worthless servant pretending to be a detective! When wang fei falls out of favor, see who else you can curry favor with!"

Mu Jin, who was following behind Qu Qing Ju heard this and called out icily: "What act is playing here today? Such a beautiful garden, look at what you've done!"

The women turned to look and their faces changed color due to fright. They quickly knelt down with a bang, leaving only the woman called Ban Xia standing.

Qu Qing Ju expressionlessly examined this Ban Xia. She raised an eyebrow and said: "What is going on?"

The road one picked, even if they had to kneel they still had to carry on to the end. That was true for Yun Qing. The same was true for Ban Xia. When Ban Xia betrayed her mistress at the beginning, she had to think that this day would come. When she, as wang fei, was favoured, there would be others that would seek favor with her through harassing a tong fang that wasn't a true mistress.

Some choices, once made, couldn't be undone. Qu Qing Ju looked at the still standing Ban Xia. Was she regretful now?

[1] There are two major festivals: The Spring Festival (Chinese New Year, first month of the lunar year) and the Mid-Autumn Festival (fifteen of the eight month of the lunar year)

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