Late autumn nights in the Capital were extremely cold. Yun-niang sat on the frozen wooden stool, her whole body shivered uncontrollably.
“Miss, don’t be afraid,” Du Jiu put a cup of hot tea in front of the girl, “I am here just to ask, today why did you drop the window rod, how if you accidently hurt someone?”
“Sor…, sorry. I really didn’t mean it.” Yun-niang dared not drink the steaming hot tea. Her shoulders were trembling so her voice was trembling as well, “I have just come to the Capital, I rented this house yesterday, please Daren1* daren 大人 = title of respect, similar to Sir in English. forgive me.”
” I am relieved that Miss didn’t mean it.” Du Jiu scanned the room, it was in disorder. A luggage basket sat in the corner, several cosmetic items were scattered on the dressing table, it was clear she really had just moved in.
“I can see Miss is someone with manner. But what was the reason that after almost injured someone, Miss had rushed to close the window instead of coming down to apologise?”
“I….. ” Yun-niang wrung the clothing on her knee until it creased, “It’s not that I didn’t want to take responsibility, but I didn’t dare to meet Ban-xiangjun2* xiangjun 乡君 = a women’s title”
Du Jiu twirled the cup in his hand, “Do you mean Fule Junzhu who was with the Count today?”
“So she is a Junzhu now?” Yunniang suddenly realised, she laughed, “That’s right, she is such a charming lady, a Junzhu title suits her.”
Du Jiu saw this woman who called herself Yun-niang had the air of a working girl3* working girl 风尘气 – women with dubious occupation.. She didn’t look like a virtuous woman, how was a woman like this acquainted with Fule Junzhu?
He put the cup down and rose, “So Miss is an old friend of Fule Junzhu’s, I have offended.”
Yun-niang laughed bitterly, “A peasant like me isn’t an old friend of Junzhu’s. A few years ago I eloped with Xie-gongzi. I have made Junzhu lost face, but when she caught us, instead of blaming me, she gave This Slave a hundred liangs. She said men could be unreliable, but money was reliable.”
She didn’t expect Junzhu’s words to come true. Not far from the Capital, Xie-gongzi was already unable to bear the hardship. One night he left a letter and a banknote then disappeared without a trace. In the letter he said that he would come to pick her up after obtaining his family’s forgiveness. She knew he wouldn’t come back but she still waited for two years.
This time she came to the Capital to ask him one question, what was she in his heart? He gave her hopes, why did he abandon her so heartlessly? Were woman like her deserve to be discarded like an old shoe?
“Are you the flower girl who eloped with Second Master Xie?”
Du Jiu looked at the girl in front of him, she was quite good looking, slender like willow with a face like hibiscus. But comparing her with Fule Junzhu, it’s like a firefly compared to the moon. He didn’t understand Second Master Xie’s standard on appreciating women, or rather, he didn’t get scholars’ eyesight.
Yun-niang looked a little uncomfortable at the words ‘flower girl’ but she nodded.
“It is good that the misunderstanding is clear now. It’s getting late, we take our leave.” Du Jiu and the several guards walked out of the house.
Yun-niang stood up to close the door, she found her legs so weak. The visitors were very gentle and treated her politely, but she still felt as if she was watched by a snake.
Or probably….. because the night was too cold.
“Are you saying that Ban Hua caught them when Xie Qilin was eloping with the flower girl?” Rong Xia’s finger was playing with the jade chess piece in his hand, “Something like that happened.”
“I saw that Yun-niang can’t even compare to half of Fule Junzhu. Really, what was Second Xie Son was thinking, he let a countrywide-famed beautiful Junzhu slipped out of his hand to elope with a working girl, stirred troubles for the two families. Then after eloping, the girl was abandoned in the middle of the road,” Du Jiu shook his head, “A man shouldn’t be like that.”
“That kind of man, it’s a good thing that Ban Hua wasn’t married to him.” Rong Xia threw the chess piece into the basket, he said with a bland expression, “Not playing.”
Du Jiu saw that Master Count was in a bad mood, he put the chess pieces on the board away.
The second day of the tenth month was the birthday of the most honourable Eldest Grand Princess Dening. The residence’s gate had been opened at dawn, water poured on the street, awaiting the arrival of distinguished guests.
As the child and grandchildren of the Grand Princess, the four Bans arrived the earliest. The Grand Princess was happy to see her beautifully dressed granddaughter, she reached out to pull her to sit besides herself, “Hua Hua, don’t let yourself be busy, the servants will take care of things, you just sit down.”
“En.” Ban Hua obediently shifted closer to the Grand Princess. She happily drank tea and ate snacks, kept up the smile on her face and listened to guests paying fancy compliments to herself. She was very clear, these laughing and praising madams and misses might have been saying bad things behind her back, only in front of her that every one of them was very eager and polite.
“Junzhu your bracelet is really good,” One random official wife laughed, “Most people don’t suit this colour, but Junzhu looks good wearing it.”
Ban Hua’s eyes swept over the crowd. Some people quietly pulled their sleeves as if they had been trying to cover their arms.
“Don’t flatter her, my unworthy dog son has spoiled her,” The Grand Princess said with a smile, “He said something like a daughter has to be raised like precious gold and jade, she is never to bear any grievances.”
Some of the unmarried girls in the audience sneered inwardly. What precious gold and jade, it was just pulling the the air of a Junzhu, how many people would dare to mess with her? However they were also envious, how wonderful it would be if their fathers had been like that too.
“Count Cheng’an has arrived!”
All men and women turned in unison, a man in blue brocade robe with a jade headband in his hair walked in. His appearance attracted the attention of many ladies.
“Wanbei4* wanbei 晚辈 = This Younger Generation (referring to self) Rong Xia pays his respect to the Eldest Grand Princess. Wishing Grand Princess a blessing as vast the East Sea, a life as long as the South Mountain.”
Rong Xia walked up to the Grand Princess with his arms raised in salute all the way to the end, “Longevity, safety and good health.”
“Sit down, sit down.” The Grand Princess smilingly invited Count Cheng’an to sit, “How have you been lately?”
“Thank you for Her Highness’ concern, wanbei is all fine.” Count Cheng’an replied with a slightly bowed back, “Has Her Highness been well?”
“Good good good.” The Grand Princess was very happy seeing Rong Xia’s attire today bore auspicious meaning. Such a courteous young person, it’s just that his fate….. was somewhat bitter.
The Grand Princess knew a thing or two of Rong family’s past but as a royal family member she could only act blind and deaf, and she didn’t interract much with Count Cheng’an either. She was a little surprised that today Count Cheng’an could come to her birthday.
Ban Hua sitting next to the Grand Princess gave Rong Xia an inconspicious wave. Noticing her small gesture, the upside curves on the corner of his lips lifted higher.
The Grand Princess noticed them but feigning ignorance, she ordered a eunuch to lead Rong Xia to the male guest side. Seeing some of unmarried ladies were distracted, she couldn’t help but sighing in her heart. It was said that good looking women were the source of calamity, were good looking men the cause of sin?
“His Highness the Crown Prince has arrived!”
At this announcement even the Grand Princess hurriedly stood up, the other guests were also scrambling with thoughts. The other days after hurting Ban Hua’s arm, His Majesty punished the Second Prince with detention and copying books. Today the Crown Prince had personally attend the birthday, the Grand Princess this Emperor’s aunt obviously had a high status in His Majesty’s heart otherwise she wouldn’t had made it this far.
“Greetings to Great Aunt.” The Crown Prince walked up to the Grand Princess and gave her a wanbei salute, “Wishing Great Aunt a long life and an everlasting youth.”
“Crown Prince please rise.” The Grand Princess moved two steps forward and reached out to personally support him. “We are family, no need to be so polite.”
“Cousin.” Jiang Zhang saluted to Ban Hua who curtseyed to return his.
“Before I left the Palace, Father Emperor has repeatedly instructed me to be filial to Great Aunt,” The Crown Prince raised his hand to let the palace eunuchs bring congratulatory gifts inside, “These are my Father Emperor’ and Mother Empress’ regards, please Great Aunt accept it.”
“His Majesty is benevolent, I am very appreciative.” The Grand Princess’ eyes reddened and her expression showed she was moved.
Like the gentlest elder, she held onto the Crown Prince’s hand and asked him about the Emperor’s health and appetite. Anyone else doing that would be suspected of trying to pry into royal family, but this was the Grand Princess who cared about the Emperor, who made the Emperor pleased without reserve. Naturally the Crown Prince replied that the Emperor was all fine, he was eating well and sleeping well, the Emperor was just worrrying about his aunt.
In front of everyone they put a show of royal family affection, the Crown Prince sat down after drawing praises from the audience.
On male guests’ area, everyone also bowed to greet the Crown Prince. The Crown Prince wasn’t someone who liked to put on air, he sat down on the seat of honour after excusing everyone’s salutes.
Ban Heng was not good at riding, archery or literature, but he had no problem at coaxing people happy. Very soon the Crown Prince was laughing endlessly at his coaxing, they were calling each other ‘cousins’ in front of everyone.
Everyone couldn’t help but sighed, seeing how close the Crown Prince to Ban family was, it was obvious that after the Crown Prince ascended to the throne, Ban family would continue to thrive for decades, it was better not to offend them.
As he listened to the voices of people currying favour with the Crown Prince, Rong Xia’s gaze passed through the curtain and fell on the woman opposite him.
Today Ban Hua wore an aqua-red coloured court dress that revealed her white neck, and with the baihe hairstyle, she looked delicate to the utmost. Whenever Rong Xia lifted his head, he couldn’t stop from peeking with the corner of his eyes.
“Junpo,” The Crown Prince initiated a conversation as he saw Rong Xia was sitting silently, “I have a blank fan, I wonder if I could ask Junpo for a treasured painting?”
“It is an honour for weichen5* Weichen 微臣 = This Humble Official.” Rong Xia put his cup down, saluted the Crown Prince, “Whenever the Crown Prince needs anything, just summon weichen any time.”
The Crown Prince had always admired Rong Xia’s talent, he then asked Rong Xia some questions about poetry.
They were in a keen discussion when suddenly there was a clamour from the female guests side, followed by the sound of plates being broken. The Crown Prince rose from his chair, beckoned a eunuch, “Have a look what is going on there?”
Very shortly the eunuch returned, “Your Highness the Crown Prince, the Eldest Grand Princess is fine but one of the lady guests has accidently broken a cup.”
The Crown Prince breathed a sigh of relief, “It is fine then.”
On the female guests side, Kangning Junzhu looked at the tea stain on her dress. She had to take some deep breaths before she managed to forcefully suppress her anger.
“Hua Hua, take Kangning Junzhu to the rear courtyard to change her clothes.” The Grand Princess lightly smiled. Her graceful and natural poise was a full display of the majesty of a princess.
T/N – Baihe hair style 百合髻. In case you wish to try it on your hair, check this.
- 1* daren 大人 = title of respect, similar to Sir in English.
- 2* xiangjun 乡君 = a women’s title
- 3* working girl 风尘气 – women with dubious occupation.
- 4* wanbei 晚辈 = This Younger Generation (referring to self)
- 5* Weichen 微臣 = This Humble Official