Kangning followed Ban Hua to a small courtyard. This courtyard was exquisitely built and had exotic flowers and plants, it looked like a young lady’s living place. But the Grand Princess lived by herself, how come there was such a courtyard here?
“This is my resting place, inside there are clothes that I have never worn.”
The Grand Princess’ attendant opened the door, Kangning saw the room was very clean and completely furnished. It was more refined than her own place at the Wangfu, and this was just a resting place for Ban Hua?
“Ban Hua,” Kangning called Ban Hua who was turning away to leave, “The maid who spilled tea on me, was that your doing?”
“So when you go out and slip, it must be because I dig a hole under your door?” Ban Hua felt Kangning Junzhu’s logic was strange, “It’s my grandmother’s birthday banquet, what good it is for me to let a maid splash tea on you?”
“Because you want to make a fool of me in front of everyone.” Kangning Junzhu had long seen through Ban Hua’s nature, she sneered, “So what if you are a Junzhu now. Your surname is not Jiang but Ban, I am the true royal family.”
Ban Hua couldn’t help but roll her eyes, what’s wrong with this Kangning, was her brain working. Besides, the current Emperor’s surname was Jiang now, but who could tell what it would be in the next few years.
Too lazy to argue, Ban Hua turned to walk out. She didn’t want to talk with a muddlehead.
“Kangning Junzhu,” The Grand Princess residence’s momo had been smiling all the way, “Please come with This Slave.”
Seeing the lack of warmth on that momo’s smile, Kangning’s heart was full of unspoken resentment. Thanks to the Grand Princess, her father hadn’t been the crown prince so the throne was out of reach, and today their whole family still had to don their best attire to congratulate the Grand Princess, had to maintain the warmest attitude while lowering themselves around others.
The winner is the king, the loser is the bandit!1* The winner is the king, the loser is the bandit 成王败寇 – the winner in the struggle for the throne will become the ‘rightful’ ruler whose words are law, while the loser will be branded with ‘illegal, traitor, thief’ stamps without a chance to defend themselves.
If she had been a gongzhu, what would Ban Hua this little thief be?
“Kangning Junzhu, what kind of clothes do you like?”
Kangning turned to look into the room, there was a long row of wardrobe in the room. A variety of colourful palace dresses hang on the wardrobe, the embroideries on each of them were extraordinary. She was stunned, staring at the momo without understanding the question.
“These are all the clothes that our Junzhu hasn’t worn yet. This Slave looks after them.” The momo looked at Kangning and pulled a purple palace dress out. “Junzhu has fair skin and distinguished countenance, this piece would be a good fit.”
That palace dress was very beautiful, the skirt’s tail had a flying peacock embroidered in dark stitches. It looked brilliant and the colouring was vibrant, the dress was absolutely luxurious.
Kangning was tempted but she knew she couldn’t wear it. Everyone in the Capital knew Hui-wang was an advocate of frugality and a practising Buddhist, his wife and children never wore anything luxurious.
“No need.” Kangning averted her eyes, she pointed at a sombre coloured ruqun, “I like the simpler one.”
The momo pulled the dress out and handed it to Kangning as requested. However after putting it on, she found the ordinary looking dress was made of tributed snow satin. It wasn’t easy to produce so the quantity was limited, only the empress and the empress dowager used this material, unexpectedly the Grand Princess residence had it made into a dress.
“What a heavenly goddess.” The momo said with admiring eyes, “Junzhu has good sight, this dress is really worthy for Junzhu.”
Kangning stood in front of the full-body copper mirror looking at the dashing image of her elegant self, she couldn’t make herself ask for a change. This dress…. it was the Grand Princess residence’s attendant who told her to wear it, she didn’t disobey her father’s rule, did she?
Walking out of the courtyard, Kangning felt that everyone was astonished to see her so breathtaking. As she sat down for tea, she couldn’t resist wondering if Count Cheng’an would notice her?
“Count Rong, it’s a good idea!”
“What a wonderful way to say it!”
The wastrel youths on good terms with Ban Heng were of high status so they were also at the Grand Princess’ birthday. At first they thought someone like Rong Xia must be forever spouting mouthful of of literary phrases, rules, and etiquettes. After talking to him for a while, they discovered unexpectedly he was a real gentleman instead of a pedantic scholar, they immediately felt closer to him.
Those around Ban Heng weren’t bad people, they just generally didn’t follow the convention. After forming good regards of Rong Xia, they became like brothers with him, busily showing off their persona as ‘the imperious generals of cock-fights’ or the ‘valiant commanders of cricket-matches’. Even without wine or tea these people could be very lively whenever they were together
In the eyes of everyone else, Count Rong was really an accomplished person for being so tolerant to the wastrels instead of indiscriminately avoiding them or being impatient with them. A true gentleman was true, whatever he did was always thorough.
The wastrels and the ambitious were of different views but still got along well.
When the guests were seated for the banquet, Rong Xia happened to be on the same seating with Jiang Yuchen. Ever since Rong Xia helped Ban Hua at the hunting ground that time, the two of them had never been privately in touch again. Jiang Yuchen’s expression wasn’t very good at finding them at the same table.
Rong Xia looked to have forgotten it, he was getting along well with everyone except for Jiang Yuchen who was a little out of the place. Jiang Yuchen hadn’t been in the Capital for a few years, and with the time passing, he had grown distanced with some of the friends from his youth, there was some sort of awkwardness of having nothing to say to each others with everyone.
“Shizi, as you have seen the customs and traditions outside the Capital, are there any interesting things you find?” Rong Xia poured some wine into Jiang Yuchen’s cup, “Tell us about it so we can open our eyes too.”
“Count Cheng’an has vast experience and knowledge, has read a wide variety of books. Is there still anything you don’t know about the world?” Jiang Yuchen finished his wine in one go, “I’d rather not making a fool out of myself.”
Others at that table was thinking about asking him some questions like Rong Xia did, but they shut up when hearing Jiang Yuchen’s response, they weren’t going to invite a rebuff onto themselves.
As if Count Cheng’an didn’t notice the rude tone in Jiang Yuchen’s words, he smiled and filled up Jiang Yuchen’s cup again before turning to make a small conversation with the person on his right. Everyone witnessing this scene felt Jiang Yuchen was arrogant and had noone in his eyes.
Actually the words Jiang Yuchen said before leaving the Capital that year had offended many people. By saying the Capital was a filthy place, what did he think of those who remained in the Capital?
If you were the unsullied one, if you were so pure and have high moral integrity, then what are you doing returning to the Capital, why had you cried and begged to keep your Shizi position? If you were competent then just don’t come back.
Having eaten your words, how are you not embarrassed for calling others dirty, how shameless you are.
Originally Jiang Yuchen was just someone who everyone felt was awkward to meet, but his attitude towards the highly respected Count Cheng’an had turned the awkwardness into anger. Treating Count Rong the gentleman this way, how would you treat the rest of them?
So what if he was a prince’s son, weren’t all of them sitting there from noble family? Who didn’t know what Hui-wang did that time, everyone in the Court knew, from top to bottom. Otherwise today Hui-wang wouldn’t have acted as if he was a devout Buddhist, acting frugal and keeping low-profile.
Everyone was a thousand-year old fox, everyone knew about others, Hui-wang from that time wasn’t any better than the notorious Second Prince today.
Even though in terms of etiquette there was nothing to pick from, Jiang Yuchen quickly sensed that everyone at that table was giving him the cold shoulder. He swept the faces of these hypocritical gentlemen with a mocking smile on his eyes.
Rong Xia stroke the wine cup on his hand, the smile on this face had turned even gentler, so gentle as if you could squeeze water out of it.
Others felt that Count Cheng’an was really as good natured as expected, he didn’t take issue with such rude behaviour.
The Grand Princess’ birthday banquet was a lively affair with congratulatory gifts from the palace, and even the Crown Prince himself came to celebrate her birthday, it was a highlight on her status in the royal family. And with the Crown Prince’s affectionate attitude towards the Ban family, the smile on people’s faces when they farewelled the Bans was extra polite and earnest.
Wearing the snow silk ruqun, Kangning attracted quite a lot of attention as she walked out of the gate. Gazing around the yard, she saw Count Cheng’an was heading this way, she stopped walking and was about to speak when Count Cheng’an walked towards someone else.
“Junzhu,” Count Cheng’an bowed to Ban Hua, “Many thanks for the invitation, today I have really enjoyed myself.”
“It is good that the host and the guests all had a pleasant time.” Ban Hua curtseyed in return, “Master Count no need to be too polite.”
“Is that a peony?” Rong Xia suddenly asked.
“Ah?” Ban Hua was stunned, pointed at her own forehead, “Do you mean this one?”
Rong Xia didn’t expect himself to be suddenly asking that either, his smile was paused for a slight moment but turned even brighter in the next moment, “Very beautiful.”
“That’s right.” Ban Hua nodded with a wide smile, her face lit up, “This is a peony.”
The noble and rich flower among others…. 2T/N – Peony is called 人间富贵花 = ‘the noble and rich flower among others’.
Turned out there was a kind of flower that befitted this stunning beauty.
After bidding farewell to the Grand Princess and Ban Huai, Rong Xia turned to walk out of the gate.
Turning around, Rong Xia saw a woman in snow white ruqun embroidered with red plum flowers. The dress was very pretty, but the hairpin and the yellow forehead accessory didn’t fit the dress, what a pity.
“Kangning Junzhu, farewell.” He saluted towards her, turned back to jump on his horse and left without looking back.
Kangning watched his departing back and got on the carriage in a daze. As she leaned against the carriage wall, the hand stroking the silky and soft ruqun slowly clenched into a fist.
If only she had been a princess, she could have made Count Cheng’an her Fuma3* Fuma 驸马 = emperor’s son-in-law.. She could make him live a good loving life 4* 与他过着对镜画眉，临窗作画的美好日子 = facing the mirror drawing the eyebrows, in front of the window painting a picture. I put it just as ‘living a good loving life’, but the description was quite a romantic one, which will need both parties to participate. Keep dreaming, Kangning! with her.
However when she returned to Wangfu, all that awaited her was her father’s rage and her mother’s sobs.
“How dare you to be so careless. Didn’t I tell you not to wear luxury or to be extravagant, have you thrown Benwang’s words to the back of your brain?” Hui-wang was so angry that his eyes were thoroughly red as he looked at Kangning’s snow silk ruqun, “Change it now!”
“Why?” Kangning looked at Hui-wang aggrievedly, “Ban Hua that Marquis daughter can wear luxury. I am the daughter of a prince, and I am less than her?”
“I am a royal family Junzhu, what is she?”
“Pa!” A slap hit her face.
“Are you saying your father is useless?” Hui-wang withdrew his trembling hands, bitter hate coloured his words, “I am a fish on the chopping block now. You can resent, you can have delusions, but you still must endure it!”
Jiang Yuchen was Hui-wang’s Shizi (heir), brother of Kangning Junzhu who left the Capital 8 years ago. This is why he left the Capital: Chapter 14
Ruqun is the combination of ru and qun. Ru is the top, which is like a short jacket above the knee, and qun is the skirt. There are various kinds of ruqun, for example based on waistline (on the waist, high waist, chest-line), based on collar (crossed or just straight down the neck) and so on. The lady on the right combined her qun with a lace top.
- 1* The winner is the king, the loser is the bandit 成王败寇 – the winner in the struggle for the throne will become the ‘rightful’ ruler whose words are law, while the loser will be branded with ‘illegal, traitor, thief’ stamps without a chance to defend themselves.
- 2T/N – Peony is called 人间富贵花 = ‘the noble and rich flower among others’.
- 3* Fuma 驸马 = emperor’s son-in-law.
- 4* 与他过着对镜画眉，临窗作画的美好日子 = facing the mirror drawing the eyebrows, in front of the window painting a picture. I put it just as ‘living a good loving life’, but the description was quite a romantic one, which will need both parties to participate. Keep dreaming, Kangning!