“Not bad?” Ban Hua looked at Zhou Changxiao with suspicion. She remembered every good looking man in the Capital, so this ‘not bad’ was the watered-down version of good looking?
“Really not bad.” Zhou Changxiao was afraid Ban Hua didn’t believe him, he pointed at his own face, “Better than mine.”
Ban Hua retorted, “Is there lack of men in the Capital who is better looking than you?”
Zhou Changxiao wasn’t upset to be called unattractive by Ban Hua, being able to talk to a beauty was already good for him, “My five features are quite decent.”
Ban Hua couldn’t help smiling at him, she pointed at Rong Xia who was on her side, “That Yan family son, how is he compared to Count Rong?”
Zhou Changxiao felt the biggest blunder of the day was Count Cheng’an being there. How many men in the Capital could compare to Count Cheng’an? Yan Zhen was an exceptional one in a hundred in their circle of the idle youths, but he simply couldn’t compare with Count Cheng’an.
Manner and looks, none could win against Count Cheng’an. What else could he say?
“Not as good.” Zhou Changxiao was a muddle-head but he was also honest, earnestly said, “Count Rong is graceful, talented and honourable, not many in the Capital could be as good as him.”
But why are you taking Count Cheng’an as a comparison, he wouldn’t marry you anyway! Zhou Changxiao was grumbling inside but he dared not say it, afraid that Ban Heng would beat him up.
Ban Hua nodded, she had guessed this Yan Zhen must not be compare to Rong Xia otherwise she wouldn’t had had no impression of him. Actually when Shen Yu withdrew the engagement, there were already plenty of people come to inquire, interested in tying the knot with Ban family. Ban Hua wasn’t interested at any of them so they could only give up.
An Emperor’s daughter wouldn’t worry about marriage, a granddaughter of the Eldest Grand Princess’ wouldn’t lack interested candidates. Families with lower status or bad customs weren’t worth Ban family’s consideration. It was better to be single the whole life rather than marrying someone unreliable, the Bans were capable enough to love their own daughter. Some rumours outside weren’t enough to push them to marry their daughter off just to let her suffer her whole life.
Yin-shi was sitting on a chair silently listening to the matchmaker’s lavish praises on the gongzi of the Left Minister family. Her face didn’t show much joy about tying the knot with them.
The matchmaker saw Yin-shi’s expression, but as Marquis Jingting looked like having his mind wandered off somewhere, she knew Ban family marriage matter was in Yin-shi’s hand.
The matchmaker said to Yin-shi, “Yan-gongzi has been clever and diligent since young, these few years he has been studying at the academy so he hasn’t been out much. But don’t worry, this gongzi is very handsome, and there isn’t any messy tongfang1* Tongfang 通房 = bed-warmer maids around him. He is a caring man by nature so if Junzhu is willing to marry him, Junzhu will not suffer any grievances at all.”
Yin-shi raised her hand to let the maid pour more tea for the matchmaker.
Coming with the matchmaker was Minister Zhou’s wife. The relationship between Zhou family and Ban family was quite good therefore Minister Yan had asked her to accompany the matchmaker.
Zhou-furen was familiar with Yin-shi, from Yin-shi’s face she knew today’s matter wasn’t going to be fruitful. Actually she was there just to fulfil her social obligation so she wouldn’t say anything that might upset Yin-shi apart from some things to enliven the atmosphere once in a while.
“Marquis and Furen, what do you think?” After three cups of tea, the matchmaker’s throat was about to swell. All possible praises had been said, if she heaped more than that, even she herself wouldn’t believe it.
“Our Ban family is very grateful for Minister Yan’s kindness, but our dog daughter is naughty and mischievous. Her temper has been bad since she was a child, I am afraid she is unable to take good care of Yan-gongzi.” Yin-shi put her cup down, the maid besides her presented a purse to the matchmaker, “We’ve troubled you for this visit.”
The matchmaker silently wept in her heart. She had seen Yan-gongzi, he had thinned down a lot from his desire to marry this Fule Junzhu. How would she account for the rejection with the Left Minister family?
Thinking of this, she had no choice but to turn to Zhou-furen, hoping she could help her plead.
“Elder Sister,” Zhou-furen was gentle, she was a soft-spoken person, “I think this is not to be rushed. It happens that in a few days there is a banquet at the bieyuan2* Bieyuan 别苑 = a park for hunting or recreation hosted by the Right Minister family, how if we let them meet there. Whether it is to be or not, let Hua Hua see him first.”
In her opinion Yan Zhen was a man worthy to be relied on for a whole life, but she had also seen how Ban family loved their daughter, so the success of this matter depended on Ban Hua’s opinion.
“Younger Sister is right,” Yin-shi nodded, “But please take the things back first, I am afraid it is not appropriate to leave it here.”
“This….” The matchmaker hadn’t finish when Zhou-furen interrupted.
“It is still Elder Sister who is thoughtful, then let’s do it that way.” Zhou-furen smiled, “I’ll let them take the things back.”
With Ban family’s status, they wouldn’t soften even if the Yans offered their whole properties. Yan family was quite powerful now, but if scrutinised further down, it was the Yan family who was marrying above their rank.
“I don’t care if it’s a minister or a Wangye,” Ban Heng threw his cup on the table, he said with an awfully stubborn tone, “Whoever my sister doesn’t like, I won’t have her marry.”
Ban Hua threw him a handkerchief, “Wipe your hand, be gentler, don’t break the cup.”
Ban Heng was instantly deflated, for whose sake was he so angry for?
Zhou Changxiao filled up the cup, smiling ingratiatingly, “Brother Ban… Elder Brother Ban, don’t be upset. I won’t mention this again ever in the future, alright?”
Ban Heng felt better at Zhou Changxiao lowering himself, “I was thinking of….”
He felt disgusted to think that some man longed for his sister day and night, not eating not drinking until he shrank thin. But he couldn’t say it out in front of his sister, afraid she would be disgusted too.
The Autumn Hunt was almost a month ago, Yan Zhen should have found a way if he was interested in his sister. Did he think Ban Hua was inadequate for a match with himself, so he had to act infatuated and tormented himself in order to force his family to propose? Had he ever thought what people would think, that she was a femme fatale, a danger to society?
Trying to force Ban family to accept by staging a half suicide? If you want to die, go die away, don’t come near my sister with those disgusting thoughts.
“It is a little inappropriate for Yan-gongzi to do this,” Rong Xia who had been silent suddenly opened his mouth, “I am afraid this has troubled Junzhu again.”
Ban Hua swapped the wine cup in Ban Heng’s hand with a bowl of warm soup, carelessly said, “For me, unimportant things don’t trouble me.” She wasn’t even sure if she would still be alive in five years, why would she care of what others thought of her?
Rong Xia faintly felt something pricked his heart. It was a very light, not painful, an indescribable feeling of sourness and numbness.
After the lunch, Rong Xia was on his horse when he looked at Ban Hua, “Junzhu, will you be at Shi family’s bieyuan banquet?”
Ban Hua shook her head, “I am not sure, maybe I will go.”
“I see.” Rong Xia nodded, “Last time Junzhu has sent me home, so today let me send Junzhu home3T/N – Rong Xia said ‘sending 佳人 home’. 佳人 = beautiful woman, was he trying to flirt?. I have a new and interesting story.”
“Good.” Ban Hua agreed without thinking.
“Brother Ban,” Zhou Changxiao pulled Ban Heng who was about to follow them, secretly pointed at Rong Xia, “Is Count Cheng’an interested at your sister?”
“I don’t think so.” Ban Heng shook his head in certainty. Just a few hours before His Majesty had asked Count Rong, there wasn’t any indication that Count Rong had any interest towards his sister. “He is just looking for a face.”
“What face?” Zhou Changxiao didn’t understand, which gentleman sent a beautiful lady home to find face?
Ban Heng looked around, noone else was there so he jumped off the horse and told Zhou Changxiao that his sister had previously sent Rong Xia home, “Don’t tell anyone about this.”
“Don’t worry, I am tight-lipped, I won’t say anything.” Zhou Changxiao sighed, “Our elder sister is really a woman among women. Count Cheng’an is really…. magnanimous.”
Ban Heng knew he was tight-lipped otherwise he wouldn’t tell him, “Alright, about Yan family proposal, my family isn’t likely to agree. Tell Yan Zhen to let it go.”
Zhou Changxiao shook his head with a bitter smile. Actually he didn’t understand why Yan Zhen made such a fuss. Say he had been successful and Ban Hua entered Yan family, could someone like Ban Hua put up with a mother-in-law?
As a matter of fact Yan family was not having a comfortable time. Yan-furen hadn’t been at ease since Yan Zhen came back from the Autumn Hunt and said he wanted to marry that troublesome Junzhu. She had vehemently rejected but who knew this son was very determined. For this Ban Hua, he refused food and drinks, he didn’t sleep. Yan-furen and Master Yan loved their son, in the end they could only ask a matchmaker to propose on their behalf.
Yan-furen felt her breath stuck in the chest whenever she thought that such an extravagant, arrogant and despotic woman with alluring looks would become her daughter-in-law. Her son had always been diligent and focused in studying since he was a child. He was educated and well-balanced, how did he fall for such a woman?
If only she had known this would happen, she wouldn’t have restricted her son too much. If he had been familiar with women, he wouldn’t have lost his soul when he saw Ban Hua.
“Furen, Zhou-furen is here.”
“Invite.” Yan-furen straightened her dress, after putting a kind smile on her face, she walked out of the courtyard supported by a maid. Just as she reached the main hall, the sound of hurried footsteps came from behind, she turned, it was exactly the family’s little evil creature.
“Mother, is Madam Zhou here?” Yan Zhen’s body was a little weak, just a short distance run had made him gasping for air.
Yan-furen smiled, “You, this child. You can’t meet Madam Zhou this way, why don’t you take care of your clothes?”
Yan Zhen realised he had lost himself, busily smoothed his clothes before following Yan-furen inside. He certainly didn’t notice the anger beneath Yan-furen’s eyes.
As soon as Yan-furen entered, she saw the gifts they prepared had been returned in their original packages, she instantly knew what had happened.
Yan-furen turned to her son, he had paled away and would have fallen down if the maids didn’t catch him. Her heart was anxious and hurt to see her beloved son this way, she ordered the maids to support him back.
“Mother, I am fine.” Yan Zhen pushed the maids away, he bowed at Madam Zhou.
Madam Zhou approved in her heart, this child had manner. She smiled, “What a handsome young gentleman, sit down sit down.”
Yan Zhen sat down and asked, “Zhou-furen, about the Marquis family….”
He refused to see the returned gifts on the floor, he only focused on Madam Zhou as if trying to find some shreds of hope from her.
- 1* Tongfang 通房 = bed-warmer maids
- 2* Bieyuan 别苑 = a park for hunting or recreation
- 3T/N – Rong Xia said ‘sending 佳人 home’. 佳人 = beautiful woman, was he trying to flirt?