The quiet interior of the carriage had been completely eradicated, instead suffused with bubbly laughter and giggling.
When An Fei finally opened her eyes, the young girl noticed before her, two maidens and one empress seated around the table, exchanging jokes and stories without any regard for social distinction of an empress and her subjects.
One maiden was an attractive belle around the age of fifteen years, dressed in a begonia spring dress with long sleeves trailing onto the floor. The black hair was strung in a single ponytail that coiled around the right shoulder, exuding a mesmerizing aura.
The other was more refined in appearance, with her hair carefully gathered around her waist. Dressed in a white robe, the maiden sat with her back facing An Fei as she chatted with the empress, her elegant fingers fluttering in small movements.
“Oh? Your Imperial Highness, the girl woke up!”
The maiden in the begonia spring dress called out after noticing that An Fei’s eyes had opened.
Faced with three pairs of eyes that bored holes into her body, the young girl gently sighed to herself before climbing off of the couch, sitting at the unoccupied side of the table.
After expending half of a day asleep, the young girl was naturally hungry. Her hand trembled as it reached for a piece of candied apple, her mouth watering at the mixed fragrances of the delicious snacks.
Her free hand tugged at the veil covering her face, but paused as Wei Xuan’s cautionary words floated into her ear.
You must not let anyone make contact.
Her left hand deftly raising the slightly lowered veil to cover her countenance once more, An Fei awkwardly chewed on the piece of candied fruit underneath the gaze of two maidens and one empress of Great Yong.
In an attempt to distract herself, the young girl rapidly chewed onto the shard of candied apple, closing her eyes and swaying her body in satisfaction.
“This…” the maiden dressed in the white robe raised her voice in a cautionary and curious tone.
“The young girl over there, can you… tell us your name?”
An Fei froze at the sudden suggestion, and the pair of scarlet irises gazed deeply at the maiden who had just spoken.
Before the maiden could feel uncomfortable, the young girl had opened her mouth, three words fleeing from her lips with great fervor.
“Wei… An Fei…”
The maiden dressed in white paused for a moment at the unexpected answer, her countenance displaying a look of utter confusion.
Upon realizing that the young girl before her had actually spoken in such a quiet voice, the maiden revealed a warm smile, her hands reaching out to clasp An Fei’s.
“Wei An Fei, was it? An Fei… for a peaceful heart jade, and Wei as in Uncle Wei’s surname… you’re his daughter?”
The maiden murmured in a soft voice, before displaying an awkward smile to the girl. Placing her left hand above her bosom, the maiden introduced herself in an unhurried tone.
“I am Luo Xi, xi for warmth, and Luo… Luo as my surname. Uncle Wei should have talked to you about me…?”
“Oh? Since Sister Xi has introduced herself, let this Young Miss pitch her name in as well, ah! Zhang Yuewen, remember it well!”
The belle in the begonia spring robe waved her hands in an energetic manner towards the young girl, her voice light and exuberant.
Flabbergasted by the direct difference in the manner of speech employed by the two maidens, An Fei could only blink her eyes as she raised her right hand in a hesitant manner, awkwardly mimicking the belle’s movements.
Zhang Yuewen broke into joyful laughter at the sight of An Fei’s stiff movements, before pushing forward a bowl of candied hawthorn as a token of apology.
“Sorry, that was a little too startling that I couldn’t help it,” the belle in the begonia dress wiped at her eyes with her fingers.
“That’s right, you should call just call me Sister Wen or Yuewen, no need to be formal like this Sister Xi over here.”
“Sister Yuewen, you’ve startled Sister An Fei,” Luo Xi gently wiped her fingers with a silk cloth, chastising the belle in a soft and collected manner.
“Eh? Then, I’m sor – why am I apologizing? Maybe it is just you who scared Sister Fei with your usage of formal speech, ah!”
“Sister Yuewen, we may not be around our elders at this present moment, but there is an elder presiding over our elders just across the table, no?”
“So?” the belle twirled the right sleeve around her finger in boredom.
“Her Imperial Highness herself commanded us to be relaxed and carefree even amongst her presence, so why bother maintaining a polite distance? We’re all women here, why act as if you’re around a handsome male?”
The elegant and collected Luo Xi then engaged into another argument with the carefree Zhang Yuewen, causing another storm of laughter and giggles to arise within the imperial carriage.
“Wei An Fei, as Xiao Wen has just spoken, we are all women here,” Feng Yu Xin suddenly spoke in a gentle voice, her eyes carefully examining the young girl aside from her.
“…why do you… still have the veil on?”
The two maidens ceased their argument, their ears carefully primed towards An Fei even though they maintained their careless attitude.
The target of the matter simply continued to play with the nut clasped in her fingers, before a soft murmur escaped her lips.
“Ah?” the empress gaped in disbelief.
“Minister Wei gave you that sort of order?” Zhang Yuewen blurted.
“Since he’s not here, why not just take it off? That veil seems rather uncomfortable to wear all day long, wouldn’t your countenance become creased and suffer deformation?”
The young girl shook her head in response.
Wei Xuan had carefully constructed the veil to wrap around her face and neck and held together by a jade clasp instead of a string, removing the problem of the material pressing into her skin at its core.
“What about your clothes?” the reserved maiden suddenly raised her head.
“Such a thick linen coat, wouldn’t your body become overheated indoors?”
The young girl continued to shake her head in response, her hands toying with a larger shard of candied pear.
Tapping the caramelized surface with her finger and realizing that the candied delicacy was in no fashion capable of maneuvering through the veil without creating a large mess, An Fen reached towards the back of her neck, her fingers fiddling with the clasp.
A slight tug, and the silken cloth covering her neck drooped down, no longer making contact with her skin.
Under the bemused gazes of the empress, Zhang Yuewen, and Luo Xi, the young girl continued to nibble on the candied pear.
Finally, Feng Yu Xin was unable to restrain herself anymore. Her hand reached out to lid the jar of candied chestnut that An Fei’s fingers had scrounged for, before affixing a stern gaze onto the young girl.
“…did Minister Wei instruct you not to talk unless absolutely necessary?”
The young girl replied with her customary nod, the aura of ignorant bliss emanating from her figure causing veins to pop on the empress’ countenance. Feng Yu Xin took a deep breath to calm her nerves.
“Why did Minister Wei declare such an order?” she asked, her eyes narrowed in scrutiny.
“This trip is a divine opportunity for you to establish connections and make yourself acclimated with – “
The girl’s voice drilled directly into Feng Yu Xin’s ears, and though An Fei’s voice was quiet as usual, the empress could detect a faint sing-song tone within.
Shaking her head whilst rolling her eyes to the heavens, the woman retracted her hand from the lid, permitting the young girl to collect her prize.
One day, this lass, ah!
On that spring day, three thousand carriages departed from the capital city of Great Yong in the direction of the Taiyi Sect. Divided into convoys of ten carriages each, the roads of Great Yong were destined for a rambunctious stampede.
The convoy with the imperial carriage, was by far, the most envied and jealousy-attracting group amongst them all.
Being in such proximity with the Empress of Great Yong, a figure usually hidden from the masses’ or even the prestigious officials’ view, who could pass up on such honor?
Ducal houses, marquis manors, duchesses attempting to spoil their children one last time in a long while, all attempted to fight for the nine spots available for the convoy using all available means possible.
…alas, a mere fourteen hours was insufficient for any major political schemes, and thus, the imperial carriage rolled out of Jiang’an with nine carriages from respective ducal houses and prestigious officials’ manors.
All in all, a rather rowdy group of affluent Young Misses, ah!
The only three people dissatisfied with such an arrangement were naturally those who were confined in the same carriage as Feng Yu Xin herself.
Left Imperial Censor Zhang and Right Imperial Censor Luo had been rebuffed by the empress numerous times, and naturally did not wish to dispatch their daughters to pioneer a path of cultivation that was most certainly bound to be immersed with danger.
As for Wei Xuan… the minister was automatically dissatisfied with anyone who dared to relocate An Fei from the Flowing Wind Residence…
Since the empress had mobilized the forces of the Imperial Palace to enlist their names without their consent, the Young Misses of the Zhang and Luo families naturally obtained their ‘revenge’ in the form of coercing the empress to join them in silly games and chants.
…disregarding the fact that the empress was in fact, actually enjoying such ‘revenge’, and that a glutton was eyeing their food reserves with a baleful gaze.
Forget it, this Young Miss shall vent on the herbs and plants in the Sanctum!