Shen Dong was one of the more trusted ministers in court and a skilled businessman. Even a few princes within the court were more or less acquainted with him. Thus, many young ladies from the court ministers’ family were all especially interested in the feast that Shen Linghan had organized. Not to mention that she was supposedly the Eldest daughter of the Shen family, widely considered to be a peerless beauty, and second to none within the capital. It would do no harm in meeting such a famed figure.
The feast today was also highly anticipated due to the return of the former Eldest daughter Shen Ninghua. Though not many would discuss this openly, everyone wanted to know how it would play out. How would Shen Linghan, now the Second daughter, react to this?
Due to the scorching heat, the feast was set up in a pavilion beside the gardens. Shen Ninghua walked in, followed by Qingque and Hongling. From afar, she could see the silk curtains hanging around the pavilion. The curtains swayed gently in the cool breeze, a contrast to the lively atmosphere around it as the beautiful young girls talked and laughed. The whole scene seemed like a wonderful painting.
“Just who have we here? Isn’t she the First daughter of the Shen family? I really couldn’t recognize her but I guess it should be understandable, really, since nobody would have expected the ugly and dirty duckling to turn into a white swan.” someone from the crowd said as Shen Ninghua arrived.
This caused everyone’s focus to be on Shen Ninghua. They covered their mouth with their handkerchiefs and whispered to one another, with their gaze filled with mockery.
Shen Linghan studied the dress Shen Ninghua was wearing and a flash of contempt appeared on her face, but she quickly suppressed her expression.
Hongling tensed up immediately and her face turned slightly red.
However, Shen Ninghua acted as if she had heard nothing. She walked forward unhurriedly and took a good look at the girl who blurted the comment. She was Shen Linghan’s elder cousin, Zhao Ruyun of the Zhao family. She was the current Empress Zhao Huiying’s own niece. Even though she was not comparable to Shen Linghan in appearance, the extravagant accessories she wore gave her an exquisite aura.
“I am rather curious, just where is this ugly duckling that cousin mentioned?”
Zhao Ruyun laughed at the smiling Shen Ninghua, “have you heard of a saying “far away in the horizon, yet right in front of your eyes”*? Oh, I seem to have forgotten. You were abandoned for a long time without any education, your ignorance is to be expected.”
*see TL notes
Shen Ninghua’s smile did not falter at all, seemingly unaffected by the insults. “Like father, like son. Like mother, like daughter. My Father is an imperial minister, with an impeccable character. So naturally, the daughters of our Shen family are all well-educated. Cousin, with your similarly well-educated mind, surely you recognize that as well?”
Zhao Ruyun sneered, “the daughters of the Shen families are all natural beauties and intelligent young ladies. But who can tell if a rotten fisheye bead was mixed among a treasure trove of pearls?” Hmph, born with dark skin that looked like mud on the floor, she might as well not have been Minister Shen’s daughter!
Shen Ninghua’s expression turned dark. With her of cold and unblinking gaze fixated on Zhao Ruyun, she asked, “What do you mean by that, cousin? Zhao family’s status is high, but that doesn’t mean that you can treat the Shen family as trash. I would really like to know where that fish eye bead that cousin mentioned is! That way, if cousin’s words are indeed true, I can report it to Father.”
In her past life, Zhao Ruyun had always looked down on her. She was married to Sima Wen, a young general, and used the Sima family’s influence to make humiliate her. Initially, she restrained herself to help Baili Jinze ascend the throne. Now, there was no need. Zhao Ruyun was vain, and rash. She never controlled what she said. Such a person could not be considered a threat, even with the Zhao family’s backing.
“Report to Uncle? Oh how scary. Go then, tell him. I have things to tell as well. Is this how you have been taught? Not greeting me when you see me?” Zhao Ruyun looked at Shen Ninghua condescendingly.
As a form of greeting, Shen Ninghua bowed immediately, “hello cousin.”
Pleased, Zhao Ruyun turned around and said to the other ladies, “ha, look, the village girl actually knows her manners.”
Shen Ninghua looked up, her gaze cold and deep. She straightened up and said, “cousin, I may be from the village, but you are a proper lady raised from a rich family. Surely your manners are supposed to be of exemplary standards? Are you not going to return my greeting?”
“Return? Who do you think you are? Are you even worth my greeting?”
“Then may I ask, how is cousin of a higher status than me? Do you perhaps have a title, or married to someone with a higher rank? We are both the Eldest daughters of our respective families, so how am I lesser compared to you? Or is cousin trying to say that the Shen family is much below the Zhao family?” Shen Ninghua asked icily.
If one really compared the two families, the Zhao family would inevitably come out on top, since Zhao Huiying was the Empress. But only looking at their ministerial positions, both family heads are First rank officials within the court, their positions were equal. No matter how dumb Zhao Ruyun may be, she knew she could not play the Empress card in front of so many people.
“You…”, Zhao Ruyun’s eyes flashed with anger. As the Eldest daughter of the Zhao family, she was met with praises and respect wherever she went. But this wrench was actually questioning her so brazenly. She raised her hand and brought it to Shen Ninghua’s face.
Qingque’s gaze shot up. Just as she wanted to act, Shen Ninghua’s hands was already on Zhao Ruyun’s wrist.
“Shen Ninghua, you dare!”
“Ha, cousin, do not forget that you are at the Shen house. You have no right to act against this Eldest daughter of the Shen family!” Shen Ninghua gave a light chuckle as she gracefully held Zhao Ruyun’s fingers. She leaned in to Zhao Ruyun’s ears and said, “cousin, don’t ever touch me. What if your fingers were to rot?”
Zhao Ruyun’s eyes widened, she could feel a chill down her spine, and her fingers seem to be itching slightly. With a shock, she tore away from Shen Ninghua’s grip, and stared at her in disbelief, “you… you…”.
Shen Ninghua merely smiled, her expression unreadable.
Seeing that Zhao Ruyun was unable to defeat Shen Ninghua, Shen Linghan felt rather disappointed, but she still decided to ease the situation, “since elder sister is here, why not take a seat. We are just about to start drawing. The topic is “spring”, why don’t you join us, elder sister?”
Shen Ninghua smiled, “cousin has just mentioned that I am not well-educated. I think it would be best for me to just spectate.”
Zhao Ruyun bit her tongue and glared at Shen Ninghua. Wiping her wrist vigorously with her handkerchief, she turned around and walked away. She could not stand to see Shen Ninghua this satisfied. Hmph, she may not be able to defeat her, but there was still her Aunt. Her Aunt could definitely deal with this wench!
Zhao Ruyun walked really quickly and did not expect someone turning from the corner of the man-made mountain. For almost knocking into the person she was just about to take her frustrations out at the person but stopped upon looking up.
The man wore an elegant robe. He had a handsome face and eyes that seemed to contain the warmth of spring.
“Young lady, are you hurt?”
* Far away in the horizon, yet right in front of your eyes (远在天边，近在眼前):
A Chinese saying, meaning that what you are looking for might be right in front of you.
Did you enjoy the small tiny banter in this chapter? I sure did.
Apologies for the slightly (very) late update~ As promised, I have taken your feedback into consideration regarding curse words. (I have also been told that curse words have to be censored or I’ll be in trouble oops.)