Bairuo gently tied Shen Ninghua’s hair. Bizhu assisted by holding up a bronze mirror, giving Shen Ninghua a view of her hair fastened with a hairpin*.
*If you watched those ancient Chinese/Korean drama, then yes it’s those jewelry stick things that they put in their hair.
“With this dress up, young miss almost looks like a fairy.” Honglin commented.
Shen Ninghua’s mind was elsewhere. She tried to investigate what Chu Junyi had said about her black jade pendant, but her search turned out fruitless. She was brought back to reality by Honglin’s words and smiled, “you have become better at sweet-talking. Don’t tell me you’ve been spending all your time thinking of ways to praise me?”
“No way, young miss has accused me wrongly. Young miss a natural beauty, I can sing praises about it for 3 days straight.” Honglin smiled, but quickly turned serious after receiving a glare from Bairuo. “I have not forgotten the task you have assigned to me, young miss. I’ve obtained the information in the House. Master is on leave today. You can meet him when you greet* the Old Madam.”
*see TL notes
“After coming back for so long, I have not paid my respects to Father yet. I guess today is a perfect opportunity for me to offer my apologies.” Shen Ninghua said with a tone of ridicule. She had tried to greet Shen Dong multiple times but was rejected due to various reasons. This was a clear display of dislike from her Father.
In Shen Dong’s eyes, he had only one daughter — Shen Linghan. Shen Ninghua was like dirt on the ground, even sparing a look at her was as if he had dirtied his eyes. In her past life, she was deeply hurt by this treatment. After she became Queen, she tried to help the Shen family secretly, giving Shen Dong plenty of chances to shine in the court. Yet, Shen Dong treated her goodwill for granted and his attitude towards her remained unchanged. In the end, when she was thrown aside, the first person to support Baili Jinze was also Shen Dong! How could Shen Ninghua not hate him?
“Young miss, the preparations are done.” Bairuo reminded gently.
Shen Dong’s actions had caused all the House servants to treat her indifferently. Luckily, Shen Ninghua came prepared, or her life here would be difficult.
Shen Ninghua touched her hairpin to suppress the rising emotions within her and headed towards Song Tao Garden.
As she entered the courtyard, she could here laughter travelling from the halls. A sweet-sounding voice cut through the noise:
“Grandma, you have not aged a day. Only you can put on this pearl necklace*, if it were anyone else, the beauty of this pearl necklace would seem overwhelming!”
*it’s not the white pearl necklace(those are the western ones). it’s very oriental-like. Search “东珠”
Shen Ninghua walked into the main hall and saw old madam Xiao Shi listening to Shen Linghan with a bright smile on her face. The atmosphere dampened considerably as she walked in. Shen Ninghua could feel everyone’s gaze towards her.
“Shen Ninghua greets her Grandmother, greets Father, Mother, and also her aunts.” Shen Ninghua bowed, her voice steady and calm, as if she did not notice the strange mood in the hall.
Shen Dong frowned and studied the foreign-looking girl in front of him. He was shocked by her change, yet did not show any emotion, “you show such sloppiness even when greeting your Grandmother?”
Shen Ninghua glanced at the silent First lady. It seemed someone had been bad-mouthing about her already, “do forgive me, Grandmother, Ninghua was busy admiring the blossoming flowers in the garden and was delayed a little.”
“You were late for your greeting because of mere flowers? Who taught you your manners?” Shen Dong replied icily, with clear disgust in his voice.
“Don’t be angry, Master. Ninghua was away from home for a long time, it is understandable that she would be ignorant of some manners. Meng Nuan and Yu Lan needs a few Nannies to train them in a few days, we can just hire an additional one for Ninghua.” the First lady spoke up.
Shen Linghan also tried to console him, “Father, elder sister has not seen our garden for a long time, she must have been fascinated by it and forgot about the time. Once she has gotten used to it, she will not be late again.”
Shen Ninghua sneered mentally, the mother-daughter pair could really never take a break. With a few simple sentences, they gave her an unfilial and unmannered reputation.
“Bairuo, bring it here.”
Bairuo held up a tray, and walked to Shen Ninghua. She took off the red cloth covering it, and revealed a white jade bottle.
“What is this?” Shen Dong asked.
“Grandmother, Father, the flowers in the courtyard are in full blossom so Ninghua took advantage of it and collected the dew drops before sunrise. After collecting the fresh flower petals, I made them into the perfume in this bottle as a gift for Grandmother.”
The Second lady, who had been silent till now, asked, “It is currently summer, the sun rises very early. If you collected them before sunrise…. how early must you be up?”
Shen Ninghua turned to look at the lady wearing a honey-coloured long dress. The Second lady Su Shi came from a well-to-do family as well. Her beauty, coupled with her straightforward personality and open-mindedness has earned her plenty of attention from Shen Dong. She was extremely skillful with her words and old madam Xiao Shi would often seek for her company when she was bored. But most importantly, Su Shi’s eldest son, Shen Xuanhua, was only younger than Shen Xuanye by a year. Xuanhua was a trustworthy, sensitive, and smart boy. With such a talented son, why wouldn’t the Second family want to compete for authority with the Eldest family*?
*do you honestly want a breakdown of politics in ancient Chinese families?
Su Shi’s response would mean that she would currently be on Ninghua’s side for now. Shen Ninghua smiled, “Aunt, surely you jest, Ninghua noticed that Grandmother looked very tired yesterday and learned that Grandmother has some trouble sleeping these few days after asking around. Ninghua wanted to be of help to Grandmother so Ninghua specially made this perfume.”
“Oh? You said this is specially made?” Xiao Shi finally replied, “let me see.”
Shen Ninghua held the tray and delivered it to Xiao Shi personally.
Xiao Shi opened the bottle slightly and a pleasant scent filled the room. With just a whiff, Xiao Shi felt so much more invigorated. “What is this?”, she asked, slightly shocked.
“The previous home did not have a lot of entertainment, so I took up learning how to create perfumes. It’s a shame that I am not talented enough, and could only understand the basics, I hope Grandmother does not mind.”
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The First lady’s face darkened and her gaze turned cold. The first Emperor of Great An had a concubine who was skilled at making perfumes. Later, the Emperor cast aside his Queen and First Prince, and supported the concubine’s son to be the next Emperor. Hence, the skillset of a perfumer was very respected. When did a wrench like her learned it?
“Old madam, Eldest miss is truly filial. To wake up so early to collect dewdrops and petals to make perfume, she must have worked for a long time.”
The First lady’s mood darkened again and she looked up before giving Shen Linghan a glare.
“Elder sister, why didn’t you say that you were making a perfume for Grandmother? We almost misunderstood you.” Shen Linghan said upon receiving a signal from Zhao Shi.
“It’s just a perfume, so long as Grandmother likes it, there’s no need for such a hassle.” Shen Ninghua replied. She turned around and bowed to Shen Dong, “Father, Ninghua has tried to greet you multiple times these few days, but my timing was not right and could not greet Father personally. Ninghua asks for Father’s forgiveness.”
Shen Dong looked at the First lady, and frowned, “hm.”
Xiao Shi poured out a few drops of perfume, and praised, “Ninghua’s skill is the best that I’ve seen before.”
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“Of course, no matter where she is, Ninghua’s heart is pure. She is definitely above the rest.” the Second lady agreed immediately.
Shen Ninghua smiled but remained silent. The Eldest house and the Second house had never gotten along. The Second lady’s words were like a slap to the face on the First lady.
“Huh, this jade bottle is really finely crafted, and it looks really familiar. Ninghua, is this jade bottle from your Mother?”
The First lady jerked her head, and stared at Ninghua intensely.
Greet (请安) is a custom in ancient Chinese families(not sure if its only the rich and royal ones), where the younger generation people, has to greet their elders twice per day. Once in the morning and once at night. It is seen as a sign of respect since you are there to wish her health and stuff. To skip this custom intentionally would be seen as a sign of disrespect and people would be punished. Of course, if you are injured/pregnant you would be excused beforehand.
Customs are very important in this novel and many schemes (huehue) would involve people manipulating and talking about these customs as a means of destroying each other.