The emperor suddenly became easy to bully.
Tian Bing Qing put on a grateful look, maybe because I redempted His Majesty in front of those officials who kept waiting for imperial children (and kept sending their daughters to the palace to pay respect to whoever they can think of.)
I heard, after it was announced that I was pregnant, a lot of rumors about His Majesty’s hidden disease disappeared overnight.
Truth spoke louder than words.
Even E Huang had became a lot more obedient, no longer spewing lies to flatter His Majesty. She would stare at my flat tummy while fussing over the smallest things; “Your Ladyship, be a little more careful. What if something happens to the little prince or princess inside your tummy….”
As for the concubines, they seemed to have memorized the palace’s rules within one night. I had only gotten quiet for a couple of days and they would dress up prettily to visit me. They would look at my tummy lovingly as though the child in my stomach was their’s. They wouldn’t go away even if they got shooed away.
I kept trying to send them away, but they would pretend to be dumb and kept drinking tea and chatting.
After a few days, I could no longer stand everything. The noble madams outside the palace had their own restriction and the emperor had relieved me of that worry. However, the concubines were only a couple of steps away with loads of time to squander. They treated Zhong Hua Palace like it was their entertaining room, looking like they wanted to drag me to play with them until the sun sets.
I heard, pretending to be sick was a trick that always worked. However, it unexpectedly failed me this time.
I rested inside the hall, pretending to be sick. They, on the other hand, stood outside under the hot sun, looking as though they weren’t willing to lose to one another.
It was very messy.
“The empress is pregnant with the dragon seed, how can we simply sit at ease at own palaces? We must stay at Zhong Hua Palace to tend to her. Even if we cannot personally tend to her, we should at least stay here so that our hearts will be at peace.” They looked like they were willing to do anything for the safety of the dragon seed.
E Huang went out to persuade them, only to return begrudgingly, “All of them are calculating foxes….. They are hoping that the emperor would speak to them once he returned from the morning court.” She looked at me in worry.
I had the utmost trust for Feng Zhao Wen.
As expected, when His Majesty returned from the morning court, he released a verbal decree. He ordered them to observe vegetarian diet in their own palaces as a way to pray for the unborn dragon child.
The expectant concubines almost cried on the spot.
I laughed happily; jokingly telling him that we should build a temple to accommodate those concubines. He glanced casually at me while reading a memorial, saying, everything in the back palace was up to the empress.
I once heard that the world’s most difficult and inescapable enemy was one’s own spouse. You do something shady to me, and I would do the same in return.
Lucky for me that although the emperor had a lot of shortcomings, he had never tried to pull off anything despicable in the dark. If I really sent those concubines to a temple, the court would be in an uproar. Why should I do something that stupid?
I should better just take care of my own health properly.
After the first snow during the 11th month, my morning sickness finally disappeared. My appetite got better. Just as I made a promise to myself to regain all those weight that I lost during the early stage of my pregnancy, a news arrived from the Marquis of An’s manor. Uncle Tong had fallen ill.
When the news arrived, Feng Zhao Wen was still in the morning court. I was panicking and was insisting to go to the Marquis of An’s manor.
Coincidentally Wu Ke was the one in charge of guarding the palace’s gate today. He could not stop me, so he could only follow me.
I rushed into the manor. Before I even reached the entertaining lounge, a bunch of people came out to greet me. The person with the white beard at the very front, was none other than Uncle Tong.
He walked down the stone-steps. Just as he was about to kneel, I stopped him. “You are going to make Yi Er feel bad, Father. I heard you are sick, so I rushed here, but from the look at it, you are completely healthy.” I could finally sigh in relief.
He waved his hand off, “My health is very good, there is nothing to worry about!” He turned around and pointed at two people, “Do you know who they are?”
Those two tall lanky guys looked at me in familiarity, but none of them dared to step forward.
I immediately pointed at them happily, “It has been years, how are you doing, brothers?”
They were Zhao Yong and Su Ren.
They seemed like they were having a surreal experience. They looked at each other before saying, “The rumors are true!” They outstretched their arms habitually, intending to slap me in the shoulders, but they stopped halfway.
Zhao Yong and Su Ren were friends who shared a special bond with me; we went through life and deaths together, but now, after the initial joy sank in, they looked at me with unfriendly expressions. Before I even got the chance to ask, Su Ren spoke first, “Xiao Lang is now the esteemed empress, I wonder if you will care now that something has happened to the late General Huang Jie’s family?”
He was still as temperamental as ever.
Zhao Yong glared at him in frustration before gently speaking in an apologizing tone, “We wouldn’t have come had we have any other way.”
I stared at him before speaking in a weirded out tone, “Both of you are the brothers that went through hell with me, why are you speaking to me like we are strangers?”
Both of them looked relieved when they heard that.
Turns out, General Huang Jie’s family only consisted of his old widow and two of their children; a son and a daughter. After General Huang Jie’s death, the family moved elsewhere.
After the Great Chen perished, Feng Zhao Wen arranged some land for the former soldiers in the suburbs so that they could be self-sufficient. After the two of them moved there, they began searching for General Huang Jie’s widow. They brought the family to where they lived and began taking care of them.
And now, something had happened to General Huang Jie’s daughter.
Although the late General was strong and uncouth, his wife was elegant and well-learned. The girl grew up following her mother’s grace, becoming a beautiful and elegant maiden. Since she grew up in the countryside, she never encountered any problem. However, Yan Wang’s heir recently stumbled upon her while hunting. He fell for her and took her away.
General Huang Jie’s son fought with Yan Wang Manor’s guards and lost. Yan Wang’s heir used his power to hold him captive in a prison. Perhaps, he thought the emperor would not pursue this matter; he even ordered 2000 people to surround that neighborhood, forbidding people from leaving and entering. General Huang Jie’s widow fainted from the shock.
Zhao Yong and Su Ren rack their brain to figure out ways to slip out and once they succeeded, they hit a dead end. They were from poor families and were from the previous kingdom’s army to boot. Who would be willing to help them? They finally remembered a rumor about how the previous dynasty’s regent’s daughter was raised as a son and was now the empress of the Great Qi. They came to the Marquis of An’s manor to ask about that matter.
When Uncle Tong was in the army years ago, General Huang Jie was a mischievous newbie who happened to crossed path with him. Though Uncle Tong pitied Miss Huang, the Yan Wang’s manor was too powerful and the Marquis of An’s manor had never been one to hold any power in the capital. They could only send a letter to the palace.
In my opinion, a trip to Yan Wang’s manor was a must.
Yan Wang was a fat, round man nearing his fifties. He looked so kind when he smiled. He did not appear aggrieved at all, after being blocked by me at the entrance of his manor right after he finished the morning court,. In fact, he invited me in with a large grin, as though I frequently visited his house every other day.
——— I heard, he was in charge of the Punishment Bureau; his line of work and that smile of his sure was different.
Yan Wangfei used to come to the palace to greet me. She seemed gentle and kindhearted, but apparently too gentle and kindhearted; that was why her son behaved like that.
Now that I was the empress; I had to teach Yan Wang’s heir for them since they didn’t seem to be able to do that.
Yan Wang, Yan Wangfei and their huge burly son paid their respect to me as I sat in the entertaining lounge, drinking tea. I asked them in an interested tone, “Bengong heard that Yan Wang’s heir had invited bengong’s meimei to be a guest here, after meeting her in the countryside yesterday. Bengong came here today to visit her.”
Yan Wang exchanged a look with his Wangfei. He suddenly had a hard time controlling his expression and ended up scolding his son, “You wretched child! Did you create trouble again when going out, yesterday?”
His Majesty had warned the imperial clan to not run rampant in the capital.
Yan Wang’s heir appeared aggrieved as he tried to shrug off blame, “Father, do not listen to the empress’ nonsense. That chick’s surname is Huang, not An!”
—– I was waiting for you to say that!
I clapped happily, “Shizi may not know this, but bengong was the daughter of the previous dynasty’s regent. Bengong used to be in the army, under the command of General Huang Jie. He was very fond of bengong and almost promised his daughter to bengong. However, bengong was a woman myself, how could I harm the innocent Miss Huang? In the end, bengong and her only became sworn-siblings.”
Spouting lies without a change in expression was my expertise.
Yan Wang and his wife knelt on the floor, “Please forgive us, Your Ladyship. Please forgive us!”
He looked at his heir fiercely, “What are you waiting for? Go and bring the Miss here!”
Yan Wang’s heir reluctantly looked at the servant standing by the door, “Go and invite the Miss over.”
After being tugged harshly by Yan Wang, he finally got over his manly pride and knelt down.
When Miss Huang was escorted over, she appeared very aggrieved.
I beckoned her over as I sat in the entertaining lounge, “Come here, meimei! Let bengong take a good look at you!”
She stood at the doorway in hesitance. When she saw Zhao Yong and Su Ren who were standing behind me, she immediately appeared overjoyed, “Uncle Zhao! Uncle Su!”
I wiped the sweat that had accumulated on my forehead; feeling really fortunate that I was such in a hurry that I didn’t change my official palace dress. Had I been wearing a man’s clothing, would she, who only appeared five or six years younger than me be calling me ‘Uncle An’?
Before leaving Yan Wang’s manor, I took special care to praise Yan Wang, “Yan Wang is now in charge of the Punishment Bureau, His Majesty frequently praised you in front of me, saying that you did well by upholding our laws. The way you handled this matter today was really good as well.”
Upholding justice towards one’s own family member was only good in writing; actually applying in in real life was really hard. I heard, Yan Wang had quite a reputation in court. Upholding justice towards his own son ought to lift him even higher.
Yan Wang glared at his own son while wiping his sweat before nodding in agreement, “This official thinks this wretched son should be sent to the Punishment Bureau as a lesson!”
The Punishment Bureau was under his care, it was easy for him to be lenient. The really pitiful one here was General Huang’s son.
I gave him a simple smile, “Bengong usually kept to my own business in the palace, not really paying attention to political matters. Today, bengong heard that your heir had dispatched 2000 people to surround a little suburban town. Has His Majesty given you special permission to raise secret troops?”
Yan Wang’s face immediately changed.
I heard, imperial clans could only have 300 personal guards at most, and now, Yan Wang’s manor had at least 2000. The consequences could be big or small.
Being able to press Yan Wang to a dead end just with a simple sentence, I felt very proud.
Back at the Marquis of An’s manor, Uncle Tong and An Le were already waiting for me at the entrance.
Miss Huang was a laid-back girl. During our journey back, I’ve asked her what had happened. She told me that since she had a fierce personality and kept cursing them on the way to Yan Wang’s manor, Yan Wang’s heir ordered people to lock her up in their firewood store room without food and water to teach her to be obedient. Then, he went to tend to the fight in her hometown.
Other than feeling a little hungry, she was mostly alright.
Uncle Tong and An Le led me into the manor. Tian Bing Qing was waiting outside the entertaining lounge, looking really worried, “Your Ladyship, you are with the dragon seed, how could you be running here and there without a care for anything else? Do you know how anxious His Majesty was when you were not there, after he returned?”
I gently knocked him in the head, “You nag too much….. I don’t believe it; His Majesty will not be anxious like that.”
He motioned towards the entertaining lounge with his mouth before shaking his head; meaning, I should not talk nonsense.
I poked my head into the hall and saw handsome man with an icy face sitting inside. He had not even changed out of his official court robe. He must have hurried over right after the morning court. The tea cup in his hand did not move. I jumped backwards when his eyes looked over. Lucky Tian Bing Qing was really quick in catching me, or else, I would have been really miserable.
……… Did I do anything wrong?
Uncle Tong and An Le had a deep father-and-son bond. They were clearly right behind me, yet after seeing the emperor’s darkened face, they immediately excused themselves. “There are so many guests in the manor today, the both of us will just go and check out the kitchen. We will prepare something good for all of you.”
…… I was sure that going to the kitchen to order the servants around only required one person.
Perhaps, their deep-rooted fear for the emperor led them to that.
I watched as the pair walked away, not hesitating for even a moment.
Su Ren pulled Miss Huang whom I was holding hands with, “It is better for Your Ladyship to meet His Majesty. Our little miss here is not good at etiquette, we will just stroll around in the backyard for now. This poor girl must be starving. Let’s stop by the kitchen first, to get some soup….”
Zhao Yong and Su Ren brought Miss Huang away, following the footsteps of An Le and Uncle Tong.
Spirit of loyalty between brothers must had been something distant for them.
His Majesty trained his stern phoenix eyes at me as he beckoned me over, “Come in.”
I could feel sweat forming on my forehead.
I had been living at peace for far too long that I had forgotten what hardship felt like.
I mistook His Majesty as a virtuous gentleman that I forgot how threatening he could be if he chose to.
The frosty expression on his face was the sign of an incoming rage.
Serene: This chapter was brought to you by Meropi!