Rong Xia was frozen for a moment, he never thought the Emperor would ask such question. Without thinking he looked up at the Emperor while the corner of his eyes swept on Ban Hua.
Ban Hua was lightly smiling with the air of watching something unrelated to herself. Her eyes were curiously directed at him as if waiting to hear his answer.
“Your Majesty, weichen….. haven’t thought of marriage yet,” Rong Xia bowed, “This sort of thing can’t be rushed.”
“Zhen heard many ladies in the Capital are interested in you, is there noone who can move you?” Emperor Yunqing totally didn’t get it, getting a wife was very easy with Rong Xia’s appearance, status and identity. When he was at Rong Xia’s age, the eldest princess had been born.
Rong Xia bowed deeply but didn’t answer.
As he didn’t seem to be wanting a wife, Emperor Yunqing decided not to pursue a topic the other person disliked. But he still couldn’t bear to see a valued official stayed a bachelor with noone caring for him. “Tell zhen when there is a girl you like, zhen will help you to make a match.”
“Weichen thanking Your Majesty.”
Daye dynasty’s emperors wouldn’t blindly bestow marriages. It was a lesson they learned from the previous dynasty who lost the world because an idle emperor had casually bestowed a marriage. Unfortunately the husband was partial towards his concubines1* Spoil the mistress and neglect the wife 宠妾灭妻 and the wife eventually died of abuse. The wife was from an influential family, and being angry at the emperor for not punishing the husband, they joined hands with a vassal prince to rebel. The huge chaos that followed the incident had allowed their Jiang family to take advantage of the situation.
Actually Emperor Yunqing wanted Rong Xia to marry Shi family girl, but reflecting on the past history he wisely held back on this idea. It’s a pity since he had already thought it out so well.
Rong Xia was talented and capable, he was the valued official chosen for the Crown Prince. If Rong Xia and the Crown Prince became relatives by marriage, in the future Rong Xia would be even more loyal.2* T/N – Shi Chonghuai is the Right Minister who was close to the Emperor. The Crown Princess was Shi Feixian’s sister. He had seen that younger sister of the Crown Princess’, she had both talent and beauty. She was the suitable for Rong Xia, the two of them together should be in perfect harmony with matching interests.
Rong Xia didn’t seem to feel strongly about man and woman matter, while his second son appeared to have some unspoken attention towards the second miss of Shi family. Shi family had produced a Crown Princess so they shouldn’t have a Wangfei as well, this Shi Feixian totally couldn’t marry his second son. It was also for this reason that he decided on Xie family girl for him.
Fine, fine. Good thing that Rong Xia was an upright man, there was no need to use marriage to bind him. When the Crown Prince had ascended to the throne, he would certainly do his best to support him.
Exiting the Great Moon Palace, Rong Xia turned to the Ban brother and sister who were walking behind him, “Junzhu, Shizi, we are fated to meet. How about a meal together at Hundred Flavours restaurant?”
Ban Heng looked at Ban Hua, after she nodded, Ban Heng said, “Thanking Master Count then.”
Out of the Palace gate after the eunuch seeing them off had left, Ban Hua asked in lowered voice, “Did His Majesty call us today because of the incident at His Highness Changqing-wang place?”
“Junzhu, don’t mention this matter to anyone outside the Palace.” Rong Xia said in serious tone, “This is not a good thing.”
Ban Heng and Ban Hua nodded in unison. Ban Heng turned to the towering palace walls,3* High walls and deep palace = 高墙深宫 shook his head, “I really don’t understand, what’s good in there.”
Ban Hua didn’t find it difficult to understand, “Wealth, beauties, and power beyond your dreams in there, how is it not good?” If it hadn’t been good, how come so many people wanted that seat, was it due to the love for common people?
In her opinion, every human being was greedy. Some were greedy for beauty and lust, some for wealth, others were power-hungry, and some desired to carve their names in history. However nice they said it, in the end it was all for themselves.
Rong Xia saw the disapproval in her eyes, his heart moved, “Junzhu, what makes you think so?”
“Even the Emperor, it’s just one person,” Ban Hua puzzledly looked at Rong Xia, “Everyone is selfish, the ones without selfishness are the deities in the temple.”
“Junzhu is a rarely-seen discerning person,” Rong Xia laughed, “It is a valid statement.” No wonder the Emperor favoured her so much, her status, her age, her attitude and action, everything was pleasing to the Emperor.
Ban Hua: I said such a groundbreaking thing, why is Rong Xia’s expression that way?
“I feel something is missing,” Ban Heng looked at both of them, “Something is odd.”
“What is missing?” Ban Hua glanced around, “Where is Changqing-wang?”
“He is paying respect to the Empress Dowager.” Rong Xia and the siblings got on their horses, “We don’t need to wait for him.”
Since Changqing-wang had decided to submit to the Emperor, he definitely wouldn’t miss visiting the soft-hearted Empress Dowager. When Changqing-wang’s parents were still alive, they had helped the Empress Dowager and the Emperor many times, so Empress Dowager wouldn’t let anyone playing tricks on him. Regardless whether the Emperor was really going to investigate or just paying lip service, this matter would have to be handled properly.
At least Changqing-wang could borrow this to convince the Emperor of his loyalty, and to show everyone that even though he was only cousins with the Emperor, but the royal family valued him very much. Having been able to maintain a comfortable life across the chaotic two dynasties, Changqing-wang and his father weren’t just relying on beauty.
But of course, relying on beauty was also possible. The previous Changqing-wang had really ‘died on top of a beauty’s belly skin’. This cause of death no matter what was quite dishonourable.
“Count Cheng’an, Fule Junzhu, Ban Shizi.” Shi Jin was running his horse past them, he slowed down and saluted.
“Shi-daren.4*大人 Daren = title of respect, similar to Sir in English.” Rong Xia patted his horse’s neck to calm it down. The horse neighed twice, kicked up and turned sideways to block Ban Hua’s horse. Ban Hua moved her horse a step backward.
Shi Jin glanced behind Rong Xia, “I wonder where the three of you are going?”
“We are having a meal.” Rong Xia was smiling slightly, but there was no invitation in his words.
Shi Jin’s hand on the reign tightened, he raised his hand and said to Rong Xia, “Dining is a big matter, so I won’t bother you.”
Following that was, “Fule Junzhu, in a few days my sister and I are hosting a banquet at Bieyuan.5* Bieyuan 别苑 = a park for hunting or recreation At that time I hope Junzhu, Master Count, and Shizi would honour us with your attendance.”
“Me?” Ban Hua patted her horse’s back, it moved forward so Shi Jin could see her, “Another poetry gathering?”
Shi Jin explained, “Poetry gathering is just one thing. It is more a get-together for fun, there will also be a horse polo match for exercising.”
“Horse polo?” Ban Hua was quite interested at horse polo, but she wasn’t interested at meeting Shi Feixian. “Many thanks for gongzi’s invitation, if I have time I will definitely come.”
Shi Jin smiled, “I will be waiting for your arrival.”
Ban Hua added, “Don’t wait, I may not come.”
“Ahem.” Rong Xia smiled, he said to Shi Jin, “Shi-gongzi please feel free, we take our leaves.”
Shi Jin controlled the expression on his face, bowed to Rong Xia, “Take your time.”
When Shi Jin had left, Ban Hua asked Rong Xia in low voice, “Are you two not getting along?”
The smile on his face stiffened, “Why does Junzhu say so?”
“Do not underestimate a woman’s power of observation,” Ban Hua smugly lifted her chin, “I saw flying daggers in the eyes of the both of you.”
Rong Xia laughed lightly, “You saw wrong.”
“Tsk.” Ban Hua shook her head, “I know it, you men aren’t honest, just like my brother.”
Ban Heng looked at Ban Hua with confusion, “Sis, why are you talking about me again?”
“Because you are the only young man close to me,” Ban Hua said as a matter-of-fact, “Who else can I use as example if not you?”
Ban Heng: ………
The three of them arrived at Hundred Flavours restaurant. A purple-clad gongzi was coming out of the door, he looked surprised to see Ban Heng and Ban Hua.
“How are you two still here?” This gongzi was scoundrels-in-arms with Ban Heng so he didn’t bother to salute, “Isn’t someone proposing marriage at your place?”
“Proposing?” Ban Heng was startled, turned to Ban Hua, “Who?”
“I say, how come you two still have the mood for eating out,” He saluted Rong Xia, then continue to talk to Ban Heng, “It’s Yan Zhen!”
He pulled Ban Heng into a corner and continued in low voice, “Don’t say I didn’t tell you. I heard since Yan-gongzi came back from Autumn Hunt, he was so enchanted by your sister’s valiance that he couldn’t eat or drink, he had lost a lot of weight.”
“He is a bookworm, what was he doing at Autumn Hunt checking out my sister?” Ban Heng shook his head repeatedly, “No way, no way. A bookworm always talks about classics6* 之乎者也 = four common characters of classical Chinese. In short: talking nonsense., duties and virtues7* 仁义道德 = compassion, duty, propriety and integrity. In short: hypocritical.. My sister can’t stand his kind.”
Ban Heng turned back to leave.
“Hey hey hey, don’t rush.” The gongzi pulled Ban Heng back, “I feel this Yan Zhen is not bad. He is decent, upright, and have ambitions, he doesn’t look like a womaniser. Plus being infatuated with your sister, she will not suffer if she marries him.”
“If he’s not a womaniser, then how come he is interested at my sister?” Ban Heng impatiently said, “My sister has ugly temper, are you saying Yan Zhen likes her inner-self?”
The gongzi was speechless. It was the truth, what Ban Heng said was correct. But what brother could say that about his own sister?
“Zhou Changxiao, tell me honestly. Are you helping Yan Zhen speak now?” Ban Heng looked at him with great suspicion, “Your elder brother married Yan family’s eldest daughter, didn’t he?”
“We have been brothers for so long, why would I cheat you?” The gongzi noisily patted his own chest, “Your sister is my sister, why would I harm our sister?”
“Bah, my sister doesn’t have a brother like you.” Ban Heng didn’t bother to continue with him, he turned to Ban Hua, sulkily said, “Let’s go, upstairs to eat.”
“Who is Yan Zhen?” Ban Hua saw Zhou Changxiao running to catch up to her brother. Her head was tilted as she thought, she had no impression whatsoever of this Yan Zhen.
Ban Heng’s face was gloomy, didn’t answer.
Zhou Changxiao rushed over, told her in great eagerness, “He is the son of Left Minister Yan Zhen. He is upright and talented.”
“Is he good looking?”
Zhou Changxiao was stunned. Looking at Rong Xia who was standing next to her, “Not, not bad?”
At first he was about to say Yan Zhen’s face was as refined as jade, but seeing Rong Xia’s face, he would feel guilty to say so.
* 死在美人肚皮上 = ‘died on top of a beauty’s belly skin’. One example of a licentious emperor who died this way was Emperor Cheng of Han. Have a look at this Wikipedia entry for Zhao Feiyan / Empress Xiaocheng, a former dancing girl who with her blood sister Consort Zhao Hede managed to wrap Emperor Cheng around their little fingers. Just like novels… dancing girls climbing to royalty, the story of rags to riches, rear courtyard backstabbing, babies killing, poisoning, forced suicides, etc. See this in google translate to English for their story.
- 1* Spoil the mistress and neglect the wife 宠妾灭妻
- 2* T/N – Shi Chonghuai is the Right Minister who was close to the Emperor. The Crown Princess was Shi Feixian’s sister.
- 3* High walls and deep palace = 高墙深宫
- 4*大人 Daren = title of respect, similar to Sir in English.
- 5* Bieyuan 别苑 = a park for hunting or recreation
- 6* 之乎者也 = four common characters of classical Chinese. In short: talking nonsense.
- 7* 仁义道德 = compassion, duty, propriety and integrity. In short: hypocritical.