In the dead of night, Ming Jingzhou helped Shen shi remove her hairpins: “Wife, was Jiuzhu wronged when she entered the palace a few days ago?”
Shen shi shook her head: “I saw that she was very happy when she came back, so I didn’t inquire further. Presumably she got along quite cheerfully with Noble Consort Su.”
Being favored all these years, Noble Consort Su did not have an easy temper. Jiuzhu marrying into Chen wang’s residence was already set in stone. Now, her only wish was for Jiuzhu to gain the Noble Consort’s affection.
“Don’t know who led our beloved daughter astray, letting her think that Chen wang is a one in a million good person…”
“Probably Noble Consort Su?” Shen shi sat down beside the bed, sighing under her breath. “Jiuzhu has a pure personality and Noble Consort Su is someone who can monopolize the Emperor’s love, I’m afraid it would only take her a few words to deceive Jiuzhu.”
At this point, Shen shi lightly knitted her brows: “Is there really no room to negotiate with His Majesty?”
Ming Jingzhou tidied up the blankets and reclined onto the bed with Shen shi. “The Board of Astronomy has already begun divining an auspicious day for the wedding, this matter has reached the point of no return.”
“If the young lady of the Sun family, on the eve of her engagement with Chen wang, hadn’t stirred up all sorts of rumors by going boating with Qi wang on the lake, our family’s Jiuzhu wouldn’t need to marry that fiend in human form.” Parents were often unreasonable when shielding their own children. Shen shi was unwilling for her daughter to marry Chen wang, and even blamed the young lady of the Sun family.
Knowing that his wife was speaking these words in anger, Ming Jingzhou didn’t refute them. An intelligent man, whether he was in agreement or not, would never play the role of a principled nobleman when his lady complained about others. Otherwise, the price would be too disastrous.
Women were the best teachers in instructing men on when to stoop or stand.
Jiuzhu was completely unaware that her parents were lying in bed worrying about her marriage. Leaning against the window sill, she tilted her head up at the vast sky full of stars. Wondering what the two shifus were up to at this moment?
Were they squabbling over who should wash the dishes, or were they admiring the full moon?
The day she left, she’d asked Sixth Brother to leave behind ample silver. The shifus likely wouldn’t be short on money to spend anymore.
“Young Miss.” Lantern in hand, Chunfen stopped outside the window. She whispered a reminder: “The autumn night is cool, you should go to rest early, tomorrow you still have to climb high and peer far with Madam.”
“Chunfen jiejie, don’t worry, climbing a mountain is a trivial matter.” Jiuzhu proudly raised her chin. “Don’t even speak of climbing a mountain, even if it were climbing a tree it wouldn’t be a problem.”
The Daoist temple she’d dwelled in was deep in the mountains and the forest. On ordinary days when she was not busy with work and didn’t want to read books, she would secretly climb up to the peak of the mountain and enjoy the sunrise and sunset while listening to birdsong.
“I know that climbing mountains is definitely not a challenge for Young Miss.” Chunfen explained with a small smile: “Your complexion will be better if you sleep earlier. Tomorrow there will also be young ladies from other families. The first time Young Miss meets these noble daughters, your complexion and appearance cannot be outdone by them.”
Jiuzhu rubbed her own cheeks. The people of the capital were too conscientious – they were so particular even when climbing a mountain.
“Chunfen jiejie, it’s meaningless to compare yourself to others all the time.” Sniffling, Jiuzhu tugged the cloak draped over her body. It was a bit cold tonight.
Chunfen laughed. Putting down the lantern, she reached out a hand to help Jiuzhu fix up her cloak: “Young Miss, you are the future Chen wangfei. Wherever you go in the future, there will be countless people paying attention to you.”
“So if I lose face, would Chen wang lose face as well?” Jiuzhu obediently stretched out her neck to make it more convenient for Chunfen to straighten out the cloak.
Chunfen's movements momentarily paused. She had no idea what Chen wang’s face looked like, but based on the news and criticisms of Chen wang flying around the capital, she was afraid that he wouldn’t be concerned one bit with Young Miss’s actions.
A preposterous prince who named his cricket “General Changsheng,” who named his dog “General Zhen’an,”* what would he care about losing or not losing face?
*镇安将军 - general who guards or protects the peace
“Chunfen jiejie, I’m going to sleep now, you should also quickly return to your room.” Jiuzhu pulled her head back inside, but before Chunfen could react, she had poked her little head back out again. “Sweet dreams.”
Chunfen smiled and shook her head. Recalling that such a good Young Miss was about to marry Chen wang and receive who knows how much grief, the perked up corners of her mouth drooped down again.
Mount Feixia was located to the east of the imperial gardens. Every Double Ninth Festival*, when it was time to stand tall and see far, the imperial family would dispatch soldiers to guard this place and ensure the safety of everyone who came here to climb the mountain.
*重阳 - Double Ninth or Yang Festival, on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month. During the Double Ninth Festival, it is customary to climb to high places as it is believed this can prevent disease.
On this day, no matter if it was the nobility or the common people, everyone could come here to ascend the mountain and look over the landscape.
The Ming family’s horse carriage stopped at the base of Feixia Mountain. Jiuzhu stroked the cornel* sachet at her waist and followed Shen shi out.
*茱萸 - the zhuyu plant, also known as the Japanese cornel or Japanese cornelian cherry. During the Double Ninth Festival, it is traditional to wear the cornel plant as it is believed to have cleansing qualities.
At the foot of the mountain, some people were selling cornel garlands, and others were selling cornel embroidered handkerchiefs, cloaks and other such things. It was a bustling scene.
Children surrounded the aristocrats' horse carriages peddling cornel branches. The nobles were not miserly with their silver and nearly everyone bought a few twigs. Obtaining money, the children repeated a few auspicious words and left in high spirits.
Jiuzhu also bought a few cornel bracelets to give to Shen shi and the accompanying maids.
The brilliantly red cornelian cherry was visible when worn on the wrist; it looked very nice.
Jiuzhu slowly turned her wrist. A gust of wind blew past, sending her cloak flying into her face.
“Greeting Your Highness Qi wang.”
“Madam Shen need not be overly courteous.” Qi wang lifted up Shen shi with a slight smile . He was originally good-looking; when he smiled, he became even more elegant. “The weather is good today, the surroundings are also good, Madam Shen and your treasured daughter can slowly appreciate the scenery.”
Jiuzhu pulled down the fabric obstructing her face, but it was too late to get a clear look at the new arrival. She also bent her knees in a curtsey.
“Wangye speaks the truth.” Shen shi smiled shallowly. “My humble daughter has just returned to the capital city, chenfu* also wants to take her to see more of the capital’s landscapes. His Majesty’s rule is enlightened, the country is flourishing, every place in the capital city is picturesque. Looking so curiously at everything, she’s caused wangye to laugh.”
*臣妇 - lit. this official’s (this servant’s) wife
“Among us several brothers, Fifth Brother is the greatest expert at admiring the scenery.” Qi wang cast his gaze at Jiuzhu: “Once your treasured daughter…”
The young girl wearing a goose-yellow skirt and jacket raised her head to look at him. Within her eyes was a sense of curiosity and naïveté.
“This humble girl greets wangye, greets Madam Shen.”
Qi wang looked towards the newcomer, slightly nodding his head. “Miss Sun.”
Sun Caiyao wore an expression of bashfulness. She made a slight curtsy at Qi wang.
Jiuzhu looked at Qi wang, then looked at this Miss Sun who’d immediately headed towards them after getting out of her carriage, and suddenly realized, this was called “bashfully knitting one’s brow, the prudent lord knows the concubine’s thoughts.”
“Chenfu’s feet are slow, we will walk ahead, asking wangye and Miss Sun for forgiveness.” Shen shi was familiar with the facts of the situation and knew how to be tactful. Qi wang and the Sun family’s young lady were future husband and wife, naturally they had tender regards to confide with each other, it was not decent for them, these outsiders, to intrude here.
“Please go as you will, Madam.” Qi wang smiled warmly.
Sun Caiyao watched Ming Jiuzhu’s departing back. Pearly white teeth nibbling her lip, she hung her head to hide the sentiments in her eyes.
“Mother.” Jiuzhu supported Shen shi’s arm, whispering: “I feel that Miss Sun’s gaze towards me is somewhat strange.”
Shen shi let out a sneer: “A few months ago, His Majesty intended to facilitate Chen wang’s marriage with the young lady of the Sun family, but unfortunately Sun family’s young lady and Qi wang had been in love for a long time. How could His Majesty be willing to let a woman with someone else in her heart marry Chen wang? Thus, he could only change his mind and let the young lady of the Sun family get engaged to Qi wang.”
“So it was like this.” Jiuzhu nodded her head in understanding.
“What are your thoughts?” Shen shi regarded her daughter.
Jiuzhu hesitantly opened her mouth: “Miss Sun and Qi wang...are very compatible?”
Shen shi: “...”
It was her bad. She shouldn’t have opened this mouth.
She should instead begin to consider, after her family’s daughter marries into the imperial family, how she can resist eating her elder sister-in-law’s abuse. This candid and straightforward temper must definitely come from her dad.
All along the path, people would occasionally come up to chat with Shen shi. Almost everyone looked her up and down from the top of her head to the tip of her toes, as if they were looking at a rare and uncommon object.
If she could charge a fee for staring at her, the money she’d earn would fill her purse to the brim.
Climbing to the pavilion halfway up the mountain with much difficulty, Shen shi and several mutually acquainted madams sat together to sip tea and chat. Jiuzhu sat by the side to keep them company, smiling and nodding her head, but her heart was already like a sparrow on the branch, flying towards the mountain top.
“The madams and I will drink tea here, you head to the mountain top and help us pluck a few twigs of the freshest cornelian cherries.” Shen shi glanced at Jiuzhu, who sat obediently but whose two feet would from time to time stir, and smilingly said: “Young girls have good physical strength, this matter should be handed over to you.”
“Alright.” Jiuzhu stood up and curtsied. “Mother and Madams, please wait a moment, Jiuzhu will go and quickly come back.”
That said, she lifted her skirts and scampered out of the pavilion.
The few madams looked at Jiuzhu’s departing back, sighing with emotion. “Your treasured daughter’s countenance is truly indicative of her character.”
It was just that the person she was to marry was not quite ideal.
“Sisters are erroneous in your praise, she, ah, she has the disposition of a little child.” Shen shi pursed her lips in a slight smile. “As the older generation, I only hope for her to be healthy, that is more important than anything.”
The madams also nodded their heads. Which parents wouldn’t hope for their children to have neither illness nor calamity, for everything to go according to their wishes.
Chunfen knew that her family’s young miss could climb mountains, but had never imagined that Young Miss could climb so well. She sat on the ground, panting, unable to pay the least heed to her deportment.
She looked once again at the soft and tender Young Miss, whose face was not even flushed, as if nothing was happening.
“Chunfen jiejie, you sit there and rest for a bit, I will go pick the cornels.” Jiuzhu passed the silk cloak draped over her arm into Chunfen’s hands, shaking her head and sighing: “Chunfen jiejie, your body is too feeble.”
Young Miss, please recognize a fact, it’s not that my body is too feeble, it’s that your physical strength is too good!
The cornel tree was not very tall. Clusters of red fruits hung on the branches, beautiful and eye-catching. Jiuzhu lightly climbed up the tree, selecting the reddest and most beautiful branches of cornelian cherries.
“Little girl, it’s you again.”
Jiuzhu pried open the tree branches and looked down. It was the purple robed gongzi she’d seen before. Today he wore a black brocade robe embroidered with red patterns, in contrast to which his face appeared like white jade.
He raised his head to look at Jiuzhu, pointing at the cornelian cherry branch beside her. “How about you help me pluck this branch?”
“This branch?” Jiuzhu extended her hand, and in one snap, with a ka-cha, the tree branch as thick as her thumb was easily snapped off. “You stand a bit farther away, I will throw it down to you.”
Looking at the clean break on the cornel branch, Chen wang retreated a few steps in silence.
In one whoosh, the cornel branch smashed to the ground.
The autumn wind came, blowing the tree into shaking and swaying back and forth. It seemed extremely dangerous. Chen wang once again walked below the tree: “Little girl, come down.”
“What?” The wind sent the tree branches rustling; Jiuzhu couldn’t hear what the other person said clearly. She straightforwardly stepped on a tree branch and jumped down, patting the dust from her palms. “What did you say just now?”
Chen wang: “...”
Which family’s dim-witted child was this, so wild in her actions?
The wind halted, and there came the faint sound of a few men speaking.
“The Young Miss of the Sun family has good fortune, to be engaged to His Highness Qi wang.”
“And the Ming family’s young lady has fallen into misfortune. From young she was raised in Lingzhou, not only was she far from her parents, upon returning to the capital she was betrothed to Chen wang. It’s said that after this young lady returned to the capital, she didn’t leave the house for a full month, but she still couldn’t escape the destiny of marrying Chen wang.”
“You guys should stop. If by any chance Chen wang’s people hear this, there will be trouble. Who doesn’t know that Chen wang seeks revenge just for an angry look and is an awful bully who is not amenable to reason?”
Chen wang finished scoffing and glanced at Jiuzhu who was pulling up her sleeves: “Little girl, what were you snorting at?”
Jiuzhu continued to roll up her sleeves, and moreover began heading in the direction of the voices.
“Hey!” Chen wang reached out a hand, grabbing the little girl’s collar. “What are you going over there to do?”
T/L Note: Happy New Year! Let's hope 2022 will be better than 2021 for us all. And I hope you all enjoy this chapter – we finally meet some of the other significant characters!