The next day, I personally oversaw the maids pushing a brand new cart. I watched them while carrying a jar of wine myself; circling around restaurants in the bustling streets of the capital. That morning alone, we made 15 liang.
I knew the emperor would be unhappy with the news, so I bought 500 coins worth of pastry and ordered E Huang to personally send it to the palace.
“One ought to reciprocate another’s action; this box of pastries represents this commoner’s heart for His Majesty. Please inform him of my deep gratitude.” I said to her.
E Huang went to the palace with collapsed shoulders, completely different from the quick way she took my pendant last night.
When evening came, she dejectedly returned to our residence. She stood by my window, refusing to get in.
I was sitting on my long couch and when I saw her, my heart was immediately lifted. I happily beckoned her over, “Come in, E Huang. What did His Majesty said?”
Was he furious? Did he flip his table out of anger? Did he smash his expensive brand new ink stone to the ground? His Majesty who refused to part from 2 liang of silver ought to treasure that ink stone……
E Huang carefully raised her head to look at me, “His Majesty said…. His Majesty said Miss is wasteful. Even a mountain of fortune will diminish if one eats without working…..”
I lie back down in disappointed, continuing reading my book.
The way His Majesty scold people was not refreshing at all.
E Huang shrank backwards, “His Majesty has personally come……” She raised her head to look at me for a moment before saying, “This servant retreat first.” In the blink of an eye, she disappeared.
I laid on my long couch, thinking. I suddenly remembered something and immediately put on my shoes and ran to the kitchen. I hid all the beef and fish we just bought and only displayed our vegetables. Then, I made my way to the front courtyard.
His Majesty was sitting in the shade of a tree in the courtyard, chatting with Uncle Tong. Tian Bing Qing was standing beside him.
Seeing me, Uncle Tong stood up, “I will go to the kitchen and see if there are any good dishes we can serve His Majesty.”
I warmly stepped forward, “Uncle Tong, I already put all the good dishes on the food tray. Tell E Huang and the rest to be quick, His Majesty must be hungry.”
After Uncle Tong walked away, I touched the teapot on the table, “This E Huang didn’t even serve Your Majesty warm tea. Your Majesty, you sit over here while I go to the kitchen to look for hot water.”
Feng Zhao Wen had a tall, impressive physique. He did not look awkward at all, sitting on that stool. He casually spoke, “Are you going to the kitchen to remind them about your beef and fish?”
“How did you know?” I covered my mouth the moment I said that. I really wanted to bite my own tongue.
Feng Zhao Wen coldly stared at me before giving me a murderous smile, “Zhen has never mistreated you while you were in the palace. All of your meals are prepared according to your liking.”
My legs turned soft, suddenly remembering that arrow in Jin Xiu Pavillion.
“Your Majesty, there isn’t anything like that! I wanted to go to the kitchen to remind them to not hold back! It is rare for you to come here!”
He beckoned me with his hand, “Come here and sit. Let Tian Bing Qing takes care of the tea.”
Tian Bing Qing who was standing near him took the teapot from my hand and walked away.
I braced myself and sat opposite him. He gave me a glance, “Come closer.”
When I moved closer, he trapped me in his arms and buried me against his chest.
I stole a look from where I was at and our eyes locked. He pinched my nose, “Why won’t you return to the palace?”
I looked around. Uncle Tong left me in the hands of the enemy; he didn’t even give me a helping hand. I moved his hand away from my nose, “The palace is not my home.”
He suddenly gave me a brilliant smile, “You are right. You have just reminded zhen; zhen needs to release the marriage edict soon. You will enter the palace through the Dan Feng Gate while riding a phoenix chariot. Turns out Xiao Yi went home to prepare for her wedding-ah!”
I stared at him, completely impressed by his ability to misunderstand things.
He wrapped his arm around my waist, muttering to himself, “Who should we use as our matchmaker? Should we use the Grand Tutor or the Duke of Xiao Yao? Should we use the Great Qi’s officials or the Great Chen’s elders? Why don’t we use both?”
(TN: The Duke of Xiao Yao was the former Rui Wang, the father of one of his consorts.)
“I think all the options are bad.”
“What do you mean by bad?” His Majesty waved his arm in dismissal. “Zhen finally has the chance to decide zhen’s own wedding.”
I buried my head deep against his chest, breathing in his warm scent. I could not stop myself from coming up with a retort, “I cannot afford wedding dowry.”
He pulled my head out of his chest and rested his chin against mine. I could see the sincerity in his eyes, “I will handle the dowry.”
“Why should you? You are not my Father!”
I bit my tongue. I really hate how my self-resistance gradually turned weaker in front of him.
His Majesty glared at me unhappily. He bit my lips. That didn’t seem to be enough to quell his anger, so he pulled open my collar and bit my neck next.
………. Your Majesty, are you a dog?
I remembered Tian Bing Qing telling me how the late emperor kept pushing women to the then Crown Prince’s side. Honestly, having a too capable Crown Prince might not be a good thing for an emperor. Moreover, Feng Zhao Wen had a sinister stepmother.
The emperor was so happy, I did not had the heart to upset him.
But not long later, when the meals were served, his face darkened once more.
As we all knew, the Great Qi was located in the colder part of the land. Because of that, His Majesty liked to eat meat. The menu in my house today comprised of; stir-fried radish, stir-fried veggies, stir-fried melon and radish soup….. I must have hid the beef and fish too well. They could not find it.
E Huang carefully served the dishes before retreating away once she was done. As for Tian Bing Qing and Uncle Tong, even their shadows could not be seen.
I became the receiving end of his condemning eyes. He fed me a lot of radish while speaking in sympathy, “Xiao Yi is too thin. You have to eat more, otherwise, you will not be a pretty bride.”
Actually, I was just like him… I could not eat in joy without meat-ah….
When I sent him away later on, Uncle Tong’s face was full of smile while I quietly sob to myself. E Huang and the rest did not even show up.
I just knew nobody would talk about loyalty this year. Betrayal was a norm in the society.
Once Feng Zhao Wen was far away, I pinched Uncle Tong’s chest as I gritted my teeth, “How can you be laughing so happily, Uncle Tong? His Majesty forced me to sign a contract worth 2000 liang! 2000 liang ah! Where am I going to get that from?”
He smiled happily as he nodded, “I know. I was the one who grinded the ink.”
“Why didn’t you stop Tian Bing Qing when he went to take the paper and ink? We might have to sell all of Father’s wines this time.”
Uncle Tong patted my head as he earnestly said, “His Majesty said that the wines will be exchanged with the money of the food. It will be used to pay some part of the debt. You cannot sell them.”
I actually heard him saying this too, back then.
I really wanted to cry. I grabbed onto Uncle Tong’s sleeves, “What should we do, then?”
Uncle Tong patted my head again, “Be good! His Majesty said that the contract will be terminated if you enter the palace.”
I jumped up, furiously shouting, “What do you mean by that? Isn’t that basically locking me up in the palace? I really have not heard of an emperor as stingy as he is.”
Uncle Tong continued laughing, “Our family’s Xiao Lang is not that bad either, refusing to part with even a mouthful of meat. Don’t say Uncle Tong didn’t remind you…. The weather is hot lately, those meats will rot if you keep them for too long. You know that our residence isn’t like what it used to be…. We no longer have as much money.”