“Imperial sister, the envoys of Jiu Xiao Kingdom and Mo Dai Kingdom sent a memorial. They want to follow us to Tian En Temple,” Yu Jian is unhappy. He is going to Tian En Temple for another purpose, now that there are so many people following them, how is he supposed to do what he needs to do?
“You are upset because of that?” Yun Qian Yu raises her eyebrows as she looks at Yu Jian.
“So many unforeseen matters keeps happening,” Yu Jian appears stressed out.
“What you said is right, but this will also give us a benefit, no?” Yun Qian Yu calmly says.
Yu Jian looks at her with large eyes. He blinks rapidly before understanding what she is implying. He gives her a secretive smile, “As expected, only imperial sister thinks that far.”
“You only lack experience. You must not judge things from the surface. If something has an advantage, it also has it’s own disadvantage and vice versa.” Yun Qian Yu steadily says.
Yu Jian nods.
“Mistress, Duke Rong’s manor sent an invitation,” reports Feng Ran as he walks in.
“Oh, who sent it?”
“It’s Princess Ming Zhu. She invites you over to their manor for dinner.”
Yun Qian Yu reminisces about the conversation she had with Princess Ming Zhu the other day. After that, she went out of the palace and by the time she returned, Princess Ming Zhu had already returned to Duke Rong’s manor.
“Prepare some gifts. I should have visited them to pay my respects long ago,” Yun Qian Yu gets up and goes to change.
No matter what, Princess Ming Zhu is the primary princess of the kingdom. She is her aunt by name. She has been in the capital for a while but has not paid her any respect, it is indeed a loss of conduct on Yun Qian Yu’s part.
After Yun Qian Yu finishes changing, Chen Xiang and the rest have finished preparing the gifts. These gifts had been prepared even before they left Yun Valley.
Duke Rong’s manor is only second to the imperial clan in Nan Lou Kingdom and since she is paying respect to Princess Ming Zhu, Yun Qian Yu brings Chen Xiang and the other girls with her along with Feng Ran and 8 other Yun Guards.
Yun Qian Yu’s carriage is in front while her maids’ are behind her’s. Feng Ran is riding a majestic white horse and is trailing close to her. His eight subordinates on the other hand, are following the carriages from behind while riding white horses as well. Those guards are carefully selected, so they are all exceptional in terms of appearances and skills. Each and every one of them appears outstanding and heroic, creating a beautiful scene in that street.
The womenfolk, married or not, of all age group, stares at them in a trance.
The guards on the other hand, continues looking forward, completely unruffled by the attention.
Before long, the news about Princess Hu Guo heading to Duke Rong’s manor are spread throughout the capital.
Duke Rong’s manor is full of hustle and bustle at the moment. Princess Ming Zhu orders her servants around; telling them to clean the manor and spreading a red carpet from the entrance to the entertaining lounge.
The moment Yun Qian Yu disembarks from her carriage, she becomes speechless. She really cannot understand this make-shift aunt of hers. However, she can see where Hua Man Xi got his personality from. In the entrance, the servants lines up into two lines, with the housekeeper leading them.
Yun Qian Yu speechlessly steps inside. The housekeeper is very friendly as he leads her the way; though honestly, she doesn’t need to be led. She only needs to follow the red carpet to get where she needs to be.
Princess Ming Zhu has already gathers all the family members of Duke Rong’s manor in the entertaining lounge. Their clan is very complicated; after all, the family has existed since the founding of the kingdom. Although the old master of the manor is still alive, his wife has passed, so Princess Ming Zhu is the one who handles the manor’s affairs.
Duke Rong has five brothers; with him being the eldest one. Other than his 3rd brother who has passed away, the rest of the brothers are still living there. Just imagine how large their family is.
Princess Ming Zhu welcomes Yun Qian Yu the moment she sees her. As for the others, since their ranks are not as high as her, they kneel on the floor to greet her.
“You are here, Qian Yu. This is the first time bengong is welcoming someone from bengong’s maiden family. Even Yu Jian, that little child has not been over. Qian Yu is the first one.” Even though she is saying that while smiling, the alert Qian Yu can sense the sadness in her tone.
“If imperial aunt doesn’t mind, Qian Yu shall come frequently in the future,” Yun Qian Yu says without any pretense.
“Aunt will definitely welcome you! But don’t force yourself if you don’t have time. You are busy enough with Yu Jian!” Princess Ming Zhu says with a laugh.
“Since I want to come, I will definitely make some time to.”
“You are right. Aunt will welcome you!”
Yun Qian Yu quietly eyes the crowd. Princess Ming Zhu purposely speaks with her so she would not have time to immediately dismiss them from kneeling. Seems like the people in Duke Rong’s clan are not likeable. And seems like Princes Ming Zhu is not an easy target either.
One of the women in front seems to be around Princess Ming Zhu’s age. She is wearing a luxurious set of clothing. She coughs a little and immediately panicked, “Please forgive me, princess.”
Yun Qian Yu looks at the woman, simply saying, “It is bengong who was negligent. Bengong accidentally forgot everything else upon seeing imperial aunt. All of you may rise.”
That woman’s lips curls up as she stands.
Yun Qian Yu walks in front of her, “Imperial aunt, who is this?”
As the woman gets up, she kneels back down when she hears Yun Qian Yu addressing her.
Princess Ming Zhu smiles as she walks over, “This is the 3rd brother’s widow, Li shi. The 3rd brother encountered an accident and passed away, years ago. The 3rd brother died unmarried and Li shi was pregnant at the time, so the old master took her in to continue the bloodline of the 3rd brother. The heavens have eyes; Li shi successfully gave birth to a boy. He was a day older than Xi Er.” Princess Ming Zhu purposely explains everything in details. Li shi can only continue kneeling there, listening to them.
(TN: The ‘shi’ (氏) here means maiden name. If a lady is regarded as Li shi, it means her maiden family name is Li. If she is regarded as Fang shi, her maiden family name is Fang.)
Yun Qian Yu glances at Li shi in pity before sighing, “How pitiful. An orphan and a widow.”
Li shi fists her hands and lowers her head as to hide the displeasure in her eyes.
“But, if you look at the way she dresses up, she does not look like a widow.” Yun Qian Yu eyes the gorgeously-dressed Li shi from head to toe.
Since Princess Ming Zhu does not like this Li shi, Yun Qian Yu intends to help her vents a little.
Li shi trembles when she hears that. All the other madams who have gotten up whispers to each other in secrecy. Her face becomes a little unnatural.
Yun Qian Yu kindly advises her, “Imperial aunt, Li shi is not born in this family, so she naturally does not understand the rules. Imperial aunt must not be so gentle to her just because she becomes widowed at such a young age. She needs to know the rules, it will reflect on the reputation of Duke Rong’s manor. It will affect her son’s future as well.”
“What Qian Yu said is right. Aunt was too simple-minded. 3rd sister in law, please think of Yun Xi. From now on, do not wear such flashy clothing anymore. It will affect Duke Rong’s manor’s name and your son’s future,” Princess Ming Zhu says in concern.
“Yes. Thank you for your teaching, sister-in-law,” Li shi replies while biting her lips.
Yun Qian Yu looks as though she has only realized she is still kneeling, “Oh, hurry and get up. Bengong has allowed all of you to stand up long ago, why are you still kneeling?”
Li shi gets up, looking a little aggrieved. She stands by the side before she gets reprimanded by Princess Ming Zhu again, “3rd sister—in-law, it is better for you to go back and change your clothes. Qian Yu is from bengong’s maiden family, she naturally will not make fun of us. But there will be other guests soon, do not lose conduct.”
“Yes,” Li shi replies softly before turning around and walking away.
Only then does Princess Ming Zhu drags Yun Qian Yu into the entertaining lounge good-naturedly.
“Aunt has also invited some noble madams and a couple of young maidens your age. They will be here soon, it will be merry.”
“It is hard on imperial aunt.”
Upon entering the entertaining lounge, Yun Qian Yu instructs Chen Xiang and the rest to bring in the gifts. They walk in carrying a large box.
Chen Xiang opens the box and takes the gifts out. Everyone from the old master to the manor’s 3 year old child have their own gifts.
Everyone are pleased, they didn’t think they too will receive presents.
Princess Ming Zhu’s present is prepared separately. The gifts for her are a couple of boxes of Yun Valley’s tea. Princess Ming Zhu is extremely pleased. She couldn’t even bear to drink the jasmine tea she got from Yun Qian Yu from last time.
Princess Ming Zhu instructs her servants to sends the gifts to the owners’ respective rooms. As for the old wangye’s gift, Yun Qian Yu instructs Feng Ran to personally send them.
Since dinner is still far affair, Princess Ming Zhu instructs everyone to return first while she takes Yun Qian Yu to her own courtyard.
Princess Ming Zhu’s courtyard is very luxurious. Every single flowers and every single trees are rare. Her chamber is intricately engraved and ornamented. The main gate is constructed with chinese redwood and the furnitures are made of yellow rosewood. Beside the window, aromatic smoke curls out from an exquisite incense furnace. The curtains are made of brocade, signifying how powerful the owner is.
After all, Princess Ming Zhu is the emperor’s only daughter. No matter whose family she marries into, she will be treated as good as one would treat their ancestors.
Princess Ming Zhu waves her hand, signalling all the maids to leave. “You can all go. Qian Yu and I will chat for a moment.”
“Yes.” All the maids retreats after brewing tea.
Yun Qian Yu signals Chen Xiang and the rest to leave as well.
After all the maids retreated, a man in black appears in the room and performs a simple matrix formula so that the people outside cannot hear what they are talking about inside.
Yun Qian Yu looks at Princess Ming Zhu in surprise, she is so cautious even in her own room. Just how deep is the waters in Duke Rong’s manor.
“Other than Man Xi, he is the only other person I can trust,” Princess Ming Zhu helplessly says.
Yun Qian Yu is quiet. Is she saying that she doesn’t trust even Duke Rong, her own husband?
“Bengong will follow you to the temple, tomorrow,” the joyful look on her face is no longer there.
Yun Qian Yu nods, “Aunt should come with us and relax a little.”
Princess Ming Zhu gives her a bitter smile, “Qian Yu must think it is funny of me to be so calculating over a widow, right?”
“If Qian Yu finds it funny, Qian Yu wouldn’t have helped you bully the person,” Yun Qian Yu shrugs.
Hearing that, Princess Ming Zhu laughs, “This child!”
After that, she composes herself before solemnly saying, “Can you check my pulse for me?”
Yun Qian Yu is taken aback, “You are ill, imperial aunt?”
Princess Ming Zhu does not reply her, simply signalling Yun Qian Yu to check her pulse. The rest can be said later.
After checking Princess Ming Zhu’s pulse, Yun Qian Yu looks at her in surprise, “You took an infertility drug?”
“So it is true.”
Princess Ming Zhu’s face dims down before she asks again, “How long has it been?”
Yun Qian Yu thinks for a while before telling her like it is, “For around 6 to 7 years.”
A storm brews in Yun Qian Yu’s heart. Princess Ming Zhu was fed with infertility drug after giving birth to Hua Man Xi, that’s why she cannot bear any more children. She first saw Princess Ming Zhu in the palace feast. Duke Rong seemed to have treated her really well; their family seems so harmonious. But why was she fed with infertility tonic? Who administered it to her? Does Duke Rong know?
At that moment, the man in black suddenly breaks that matrix formation and hides himself.
She can hear the voice of the housekeeper from outside, “Shizi has returned.”
Hua Man Xi’s voice follows suit, “Has the girl arrived?”
“Answering shizi, Princess Hu Guo is here. She is chatting with the wangfei.”
“What are you doing here anyway? I will relay whatever it is you need to say to my mother, you can tend to your own business.”
“Alright. Please tell the wangfei that the guests are here and that the 2nd madam is entertaining them.”
“Alright.” The sound of Hua Man Xi’s footstep gradually becomes closer. “Mother, I am here.”
“We heard you from miles away!” A warm expression emerges on Princess Ming Zhu’s face.
“Little girl, you are here. Why didn’t you tell me earlier? I would have gone to the palace to fetch you!” Hua Man Xi’s red robe billows as he strides into the chamber.
“I only found out about the invitation at noon.” Remembering about the red beans that Hua Man Xi gave her yesterday, Yun Qian Yu’s eyes flash.
“The guests have arrived in the entertaining lounge, Mother. 2nd aunt is keeping them company.”
Princess Ming Zhu laughs, “I will entertain them first. As for you, please help me keep Qian Yu company. Stroll around the courtyard if you must. If she goes there too early, Qian Yu might not have a good time.”
“Alright. Rest assured, Mother!”
After Princess Ming Zhu walks off, Hua Man Xi joyfully turns to her, “Let’s go. It is rare for you to come over, this shizi will show you around!”
Yun Qian Yu agrees before getting up. The two of them walks to the courtyard and slowly strolls around. Hua Man Xi explains some landmarks to her while Chen Xiang and the rest follows them not far behind.
Duke Rong’s manor has been around for 100 years. Everywhere they go is a feast to the eyes. As they reach a spot in the courtyard, Yun Qian Yu can hear the sound of someone hitting something while cursing outside.
“You waste of space! Why are you still alive? Look at other people’s shizi, there is nothing he cannot do. What about you? What can you do? You only knows how to eat!”
“Mother, please stop hitting me!” A voice pleads.
“Why should I? I should hit you to death today!”
“Mother, please, I am begging you. Please stop hitting me!”
Yun Qian Yu turns to Hua Man Xi only to find him training his eyes on whomever it is on the other side of the wall. Something flashes in his eyes. When he senses Yun Qian Yu’s eyes on him, he regains his composure.
“That’s my 3rd aunt. She has been hitting my cousin, Yun Xi, ever since he was young.”
“No mother will have the heart to treat their children like that; he is her only child at that,” Yun Qian Yu replies in wonder.
“Maybe, she thought he is not her real child!” Hua Man Xi casually says.
After saying that, he immediately laughs, “I was just joking.”
Yun Qian Yu’s face hardens a little before she speaks, “It is time for dinner.”
Hua Man Xi points forwards, “It is faster if we go this way. Besides, we will pass the bamboo forest if we head this way. They are currently blossoming so beautifully.”
“Okay.” Yun Qian Yu particularly likes bamboo. Gong Sang Mo’s Qian Yu Pavillion coincidentally has her favourite type of bamboo, the nan bamboos.
And true to his words, they come across a forest of mo bamboos not long later. The tall and lush forest blocked the sky from view. When the wind blows, the bamboos billow gracefully. The thick forest is impenetrable to the eyes, giving it a mysterious air.
“It is a lot larger than the bamboo forest in Gong Sang Mo’s Qian Yu Pavilion!” Yun Qian Yu mutters in appreciation.
Hearing that, Hua Man Xi’s eyes flash; he turns to look at Yun Qian Yu. Her beautiful face greets his eyes and it softens. As Yun Qian Yu raises her hand to arrange her hair that is currently dancing around, her wrist becomes visible to Hua Man Xi’s eyes.
At first, Hua Man Xi is pleased, then, he freezes.
These red beans are not the ones he had given her. Because of time limitation, he did not had the chance to pick based on size. And the ones in Yun Qian Yu’s bracelet are uniform in size. He has seen the heart-shaped pendant that is hanging from the bracelet before. He has seen it hanging from Gong Sang Mo’s neck. There was a pair of them.
A stone seems to be weighing down Hua Man Xi’s heart; does the girl likes the smiling fox? Is he too late?
“Why does your manor plants such a huge bamboo forest?” Yun Qian Yu asks pleasantly.
“It is already here by the time the manor was built. The forest itself is 100 years old,” Hua Man Xi places his dispirited eyes back to the forest.
“No wonder. It is so big,” Yun Qian Yu says in appreciation.
“The imperial palace is located behind the forest. The forest blocks the view, so you cannot see it,” Hua Man Xi’s eyes looks at that forest as though he can see through it.
Yun Qian Yu’s eyes flash. What is wrong with the mother and son today? Why does everything they says seem to contain deeper meanings? Yun Qian Yu looks at the forest, no longer as interested in it as she was earlier on.