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Guess who’s up for bat? One or three?

Chapter Twenty Five Women

The plum forest of Rui Wang Fu might not be the most beautiful in the City of Jing, but it was the most famous plum forest in the City of Jing. Because these plum trees were personally bestowed by the Emperor. At the beginning when Rui Wang was leaving the palace to construct his fu, he said he liked plum blossoms so the Emperor sent out an imperial decree and picked plum trees for the Ministry of Works to plant.

Therefore, nobody in the entire Jing city would say that the plum blossoms of Rui Wang Fu were not beautiful. Even though there was a mountain full of plum trees in the suburbs where many scholars and literati preferred to compose their poems and paint, nobody dare say that the mountain was the most beautiful plum forest in the city.

Rui Wang Fu’s size was about the same as He Heng’s wang fu. The layout was similar but the style and finer details were drastically different. If Qu Qing Ju had to pick a label to describe it, it would be lavish.

Long stretches of corridors, fake mountains with flowers and grass. Every bit projected the feeling of luxury. Qu Qing Ju was forced to admit, He Heng was actually a good child with his frugality. But this Rui Wang Fu was too ostentatious. It was as though they were afraid that people wouldn’t know that their master was the most favoured by the Emperor.

People said that you could see a person’s taste from the house they lived in. Of course, this only applied to people who had money. If Rui Wang Fu’s style was considered to be lavish, then the house He Heng lived in was low-key tasteful luxury. From this point, it was possible to see the different personalities of the two brothers.

Passing through a moon door, the snow that had gathered on the stone paths had already been swept away so that the people admiring the flowers were not impeded. Qu Qing Ju gazed afar. This moderately sized plum forest, in the midst of the fine snow, did have a sense of beauty. She blinked her eyes and teased Qin Bai Lu: “Dimei is so lucky to have such a large and beautiful plum forest in your own home.”

“Oh, it’s nothing,” Qin Bai Lu returned the smile, “dimei has heard that er sao will have a beautiful lotus pond when the summer comes.”

“If what meimei says is true, then next summer, I will definitely invite everybody there to admire the lotuses,” The cloak that Qu Qing Ju was draped in was a vibrant pomegranate red, edged in silver fox fur. The silver and red contrasted against Qu Qing Ju’s pale face to seem even more fresh and young, “Such a pity that I entered only when it was autumn and didn’t know that the fu had such beautiful attractions.”

At this time, Ning Wang Fei Wei Qing E laughed: “As a little unmarried girl, who would know such things. But saying it now, it can be seen that er shu treats dimei very well. Otherwise, how can there be such free and relaxed days, and to not have to pay attention to what’s inside the fu?”

Qu Qing Ju heard this and knew that Wei Qing E was laughing at Qin Bai Lu for knowing so much as a just married woman and mocked her for not knowing how to run a household. But she said it so beautifully, nobody could pick it out. So she smiled widely and with a voice full of admiration, she pled: “Saosao, don’t tease dimei any more. Da sao is so virtuous and good at running a household. But I’m such a dummy. When I have to deal with the household, I’m always flustered. Luckily, our wang ye is magnanimous and doesn’t blame me. Otherwise, I’ll be too ashamed to leave my rooms.”

“Er sao’s words are a little incorrect, “Qin Bai Lu followed, “You’re more capable than I am. Yesterday, our wang ye laughed at me for mixing many things up. What I think we should do is we should learn from da sao.”

The loving affection that was being boasted off directly hit Wei Qing E’s wound but the smile on her face grew warmer: “This is nothing, you’ll slowly learn.” At this time in a new marriage, it was naturally sweet like honey. But as the days pass and new people come, let’s see if you can still say our wang ye, “When I first married, they laughed at me too. Now that you mentioned it, I’m now thinking about the past.”

The three mutually looked at each other and laughed. They slowly walked towards the Pavilion Overlooking Plums in the middle of the plum forest.

Behind them, the crowd of noblewomen and official’s wives followed with smiles on their faces but their hearts were tense. It looked as though all three of the wang fei weren’t gullible. Especially tense was Luo shi, who was also in the crowd. As Qu Qing Ju’s aunt, she was worried that her niece would accidentally fall into the word traps of the other two wang fei.

The Pavilion Overlooking Plums was a two-level pavilion built specifically for admiring plum blossoms in the winter. The womenfolk sat inside the pavilion to look at the plum trees. They were free from the cold of the wind and snow and could partake in refreshments. The height to look at the scenery was especially good.

Qu Qing Ju loosened her cloak and revealed a head full of hair that had been hidden. Under Mu Jin’s service, she exchanged the cloak for a silver fox skin cape. She waited for Wei Qing E to sit before sitting down herself at the table under the guidance of Qin Bai Lu. Because there were charcoal pans in the corner of the room, even the wind that blew in didn’t cause her to feel cold.

Qu Qing Ju had just been poured a cup of hot tea when she heard Wei Qing E ask, “Isn’t this a very good Long Jing?” She followed the sound and saw the other take a sip of tea.

“As expected from da sao,” Qing Bai Lu smiled and informed, “This is Xi Hu Long Jing. The Emperor bestowed down from part of the Imperial Tribute. It is too much of a waste to drink this on a daily basis but to use this tea to treat everybody, it is most fitting.”

“Rui wang fei’s tea is so good that even us common people find it delicious, “ The Marquess of Bao Rong interjected, “Chenfu[1] is taking advantage of wang fei’s good fortune, to be able to taste such deliciousness.”

Everybody knew that Bao Rong Hou Fu was close to Rui Wang Fu. Seeing the Marquess of Bao Rong’s ingratiating manner, it was sweet enough to make their teeth ache. The people who were able to come admire the plum blossoms were not of insignificant status and most were very careful when speaking. There really weren’t many who were as straightforward as the marquess.

“Bao Rong Hou furen is too complimentary.” Qin Bai Lu didn’t like the over-keen flattery of the Marquess of Bao Rong but knowing that the Marquis of Bao Rong was one of wang ye’s people, she kept a smile on her face as she gazed at the crowd, “The greatest accomplishment it will ever achieve is that everybody enjoys drinking it.”

Each year, not even ten catties of the Imperial Tribute Long Jing were produced. The fact that Rui Wang Fu could serve it to guests, it could be seen just how much the Emperor had bestowed. This was also what Qin Bai Lu wanted everybody present to know. Otherwise, any tea would do. Why did she have to specifically use the Long Jing tea from the Imperial Tribute?

Was it to let everybody feel that the one the Emperor held most important was He Yuan and turn to support He Yuan to succeed the throne? Qu Qing Ju blew on the tea leaves floating on the surface, a smile appearing on her face. Nobody who sat here was stupid. If they really changed sides because of this bit of tea, they wouldn’t have made it to this place in the first place.

“San dimei is so generous,” Wei Qing E took another sip, “to be willing to let everybody have a taste of the tea that fuhuang has bestowed. Da sao here will give her thanks.”

“Da sao, don’t be so polite. We are one family, there’s no need to distinguish so much,” Stopping there, her gaze suddenly landed on the Marquess of Xiang Qing, Luo shi, “Speaking of this, the Marquess of Xiang Qing is part of ersao’s maternal family.”

Qu Qing Ju heard the topic had moved towards her and put down her teacup to look at her aunt. She had seen her aunt, Luo shi, when she had arrived, but it hadn’t been a good place to converse. Since Qin Bai Lu was pushing the focus onto her now, she would naturally accept it, “San dimei isn’t wrong. This is my jiumu. From very little, I have received much care from my jiumu. If I knew earlier that Jiumu was coming today, I’m afraid I would have come to disturb you much earlier.”

“I see that the person ersao wants to see the most isn’t dimei, but the Marquess of Xiang Qing,” Qing Bai Lu covered up a smile and said in a mocking tone, “I can’t compete with the Marquess of Xiang Qing.”

“You and I are part of one family, we will see each other often in the future. There’s nothing special. Jiumu is my relative, we won’t be as intimate as you and I,” Qu Qing Ju said in a confiding tone, “Dimei isn’t sad, you’re laughing at me.”

“I don’t dare laugh at saosao,” Qin Bai Lu hadn’t expected that Qu Qing Ju would say such words and, with a smile, she replied, “saosao is close to her aunt, nobody would laugh.”

Luo shi saw the two had finished and said warmly: “Rui wang fei must excuse us. It’s just that chenfu and Rui wangfei hasn’t seen each other for many days, wang fei is angry at chenfu as her jiumu so she is purposefully saying such things.”

Qu Qing Ju smiled and stood to beg for mercy, “Jiumu, don’t say anymore, if my cousins knew that I wronged you, they wouldn’t let me into the fu in the future.”

Luo shi smiled and half-declined to receive the bow and bowed in reply. They exchanged a few more words before calmly sitting down. She didn’t forget her own position because of Qu Qing Ju’s identity.

The people present clearly saw the intimacy between the two. People had said that aunts usually didn’t treat their nieces well but look at this family. Weren’t they so very close?

Qu Qing Ju knew that Luo shi was worried that she would be bullied by Qing Bai Lu so she had stood out. But she didn’t want to involve the Tian Family into the succession conflict and purposefully put the Tian Family on the position of the stern elder, and not normal people who were relying on the wang fu.

Everybody gradually saw a hint of what really occurred and sighed in their hearts. The Tian Family was really a hard rock. Other than loyalty to the Emperor, they didn’t side with anybody. Even if their niece had married into the wang fu, it didn’t seem their attitude had changed. They didn’t purposefully dissociate themselves but nor did they insincerely flatter. This type of conduct really did seem like what the Tian Family would do.

So sometimes, something that seemed natural wouldn’t cause people to think much of it. Even Wei Qing E and Qin Bai Lu could see that the Tian Family didn’t have the desire to side with He Heng. They couldn’t help but sympathize with Qu Qing Ju. Disregarding the troublesome maternal family, even her uncle’s family wouldn’t change their attitudes for her. How would she continue to live in Duan Wang Fu?

“The snow is getting heavier,” Wei Qing E turned to look outside the window and saw the plum flowers proudly blooming in the snow, “In this white worlds, it is the red blossoms which are the most eye-catching. And they are also beautiful.”

“Of course, the red is the right color. No matter how pretty the other colors are, in the midst of the winds and snow, they don’t distinguish themselves,” Qin Bai Lu smiled and asked: “What does furen think?”

Qu Qing Ju continued her interest in drinking tea. The words on the surface were complimenting the flowers, but underneath, wasn’t it saying that the wife was the right way, and the qie were an embarrassment?

Everybody present was a wife and naturally concurred, full of praise for the red blossoms. A few of the younger ladies who came with their mothers, regardless if they understood or not, smiled and listened as though Qin Bai Lu was really complimenting the plum blossoms.

After admiring the flowers for a long while and the snow get even heavier, the participants were served the noon meal in the pavilion. After the meal, there was tea and conversation. Qu Qing Ju mused that this kind of gathering was boring and at the same time, she defended against the verbal attacks of Wei and Qing. A lot of tea was poured into her stomach in the meantime.

Wei Qing E saw the snow was becoming heavier and heavier so she stood to make her farewells. Seeing the situation, Qu Qing Ju and the others also stood to make their farewells together. But they were persuaded by Qin Bai Lu who said that the snow was too heavy and that the carriages wouldn’t be able to travel easily on the roads to wait for each of the fu to send over their sedans.

Everybody could only agree. They once again sat to chat about hair ornaments and clothes and give mutual compliments.

[1] 臣妇: 臣 means official or “your servant” when speaking to the Emperor/Imperial Family妇 is woman, and used for married women.

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