Ban Hua didn’t like being too harsh to people who feared her, it made her feel as if she had been a bully abusing the weak. The respect Shi family people showed her was tinged with fear but she was too lazy to put up a show, she told her maids to give them some broken silver as reward, then entered the gates supported by a maid.
Kangning had intended to let Ban Hua went first, she only slowly got off her carriage after Ban Hua did. She watched Shi family people crowding around Ban Hua with an indifferent gaze without any remarkable expression on her face.
The servants at the gate were very happy to be rewarded, but when turning their heads and found Kangning Junzhu had been standing at the gate, they became quite scared. Stuffing the broken silver into their purses, they rushed up to Kangning. “Lowly Servants have met Junzhu, the banquet is the inner courtyard, Junzhu please follow.”
“Don’t worry, there are many guests today,” Kangning gave them a slight smile, “I have been here several times, you don’t need to show the way, I will go in myself.”
How would the head of the servants momo dared to let Kangning walk by herself, she hurriedly moved forward to apologise and led Kangning inside.
The momo’s respectful attitude couldn’t stop the scene playing in Kangning’s mind of how all the servants had surrounded Ban Hua as if Kangning didn’t exist.
Yes, the first Junzhu was the Emperor’s favourite, while the other Junzhu was from a family that the Emperor was suspicious of. Even servants in village estates knew which Junzhu was more important, let alone the servants of a major family in the Capital such as these ones.
The daughter of Count Zhongping was going to marry the Second Prince, but the eldest son of Xie family was still in prison on an alleged crime of preying on common people. This kind of crime, if it was judged to be a major crime, the offender could lose their head, if it was judged to be a minor offense, then only the offender’s subordinates would be punished. However since the Emperor was dragging on the matter, Xie eldest son still couldn’t be released.
It was possible the Emperor was using it to suppress the Second Prince who had been too active recently, or another possibility was, Ban family was involved in blocking it up.
Shi Feixian’s elder sister was the Crown Princess, the future Empress, but even Shi Feixian didn’t dare to disrespect Ban Hua, why was it?
Because the Emperor was biased towards Ban Hua, and the Crown Prince was very close to Ban family. The Crown Princess had to be nice to Ban Hua if she wanted to stay close to the Crown Prince. Shi family also had to be polite to Ban family to prevent anyone thinking Crown Princess’ family disliked Ban family.
She had heard the rumours that the Crown Princess didn’t like Ban Hua, but she had never seen the Crown Princess losing manner in front of Ban Hua. The Crown Princess was a smart person, she knew that prior to herself becoming the Empress she couldn’t show the slightest dissatisfaction towards Ban Hua, she had to treat her well so noone could accuse her of any wrongdoing.
In the end it was all about power, power was the thing that moved people.
Shi family’s and Yan family’s relationship was a bit of a wonder. One was the Left Minister1Left Minister Yan Hui, the other was the Right Minister2Right Minister Shi Chonghuai, it was unlikely for the two families to have very good relationship. If their relationship had been good, the Emperor wouldn’t have made them the Left and the Right Ministers.
The youths of both families would attend gatherings to be polite but they wouldn’t interact much. Today’s situation was a bit strange as the most loved young gongzi of Minister Yan’s family had appeared early at Shi family gate. Dressed in a rich attire, his enthusiasm almost threw Shi youths out of balance.
Since the person was there, they could only receive him properly, serving him good tea and good snacks, assigning companions for him, so noone could say their Shi family had no manner.
“Big Brother is back!” The second room’s son who was on entertaining duty released a big breath when he saw Shi Jin appeared, he hurriedly moved forward with a salute, “Yan-gongzi is here.”
Shi Jin untied his sword and handed it to the page boy behind him, he walked into the room and exchanged salutes with Yan Zhen. They had not been talking for long when he found Yan Zhen had been quite distracted, kept looking outside as if waiting for something.
“Yan-gongzi,” Shi Jin glanced outside twice, “Are you waiting for a distinguished guest?”
Yan Zhen’s cheeks reddened, there were only servants in the room so he bowed to Shi Jin, “I have made Shi-daren laughed, I am waiting for someone.”
Shi Jin saw the expectation on Yan Zhen’s face was mixed with some embarrassment, guessing that it was a woman, he didn’t ask the name as to avoid ruining the lady’s reputation. Shi Jin said gently, “Yan-gongzi, there is a pavilion outside, sitting in the pavilion while sipping tea is very enjoyable.”
Yan Zhen gratefully smiled at him, “Then I’ll have to trouble Shi-daren.”
His eager expression had Shi Jin wondered which stunning beauty made Yan Zhen behaved that way. The pavilion they were walking to was opposite the gate so anyone passing could be seen right away.
Right after the two of them sat down, guests started arriving one after another and the courtyard became more and more lively. Yan Zhen was still looking so Shi Jin knew the one he was waiting for wasn’t there yet.
The Capital’s various famous beauties had been appearing, Shi Jin became even more curious about Yan Zhen’s beloved so he stayed there waiting with him.
“Count Rong arrived.”
Shi Jin was astonished to see Rong Xia. What a good day it was, the young master of Yan family had rushed over this early morning, and now Count Zheng’an who normally didn’t attend social activities had also came. Was their Shi family’s face that big?
After the two of them greeted each other and everyone else, Rong Xia sat down at Shi Jin’s right side. “Yan-gongzi seem to have lost some weight?”
“Is… is it?” Yan Zhen tried to straighten his robe, worrying that it didn’t fit him well. “I was unfit some days ago, I have made Count Rong laugh.”
“Yan-gongzi don’t say so, everyone has experienced sickness, there is nothing wrong with it.” Rong Xia lowered his smiling face, picking up a cup from the table for a sip. “I asked just because I saw you don’t look as well as usual, I hope Yan-gongzi don’t think I am being too intrusive.”
Yan Zhen couldn’t resist touching his own face. Somewhat panicking, was his face really not as good looking as usual, how if Fule Junzhu didn’t like what she saw?
Shi Feixian didn’t realise her steps had turned faster when she saw Count Cheng’an at her brother’s side. Barely able to suppress her excitement, she slowed down only because there was a crowd there. Maintaining the proper walking speed, she stopped in front of Shi Jin and slowly curseyed, “Elder Brother, greetings. Gongzi’s and Xiaojie’s3Xiaojie = young ladies, greetings.”
Another round of noisy exchange of salutations took place, everyone was busy greeting each other that noone saw someone passed through the gate.
“Peng!” Yan Zhen abruptly stood up, the tea cup next to him spilled some on his robe without him noticing, his stare was focused on one single target at the gate.
His sudden movement attracted Shi Jin’s attention, he curiously turned to look the gate too.
Dainty steps of the slender one, her exquisiteness was unparalleled.
Before, he didn’t understand what was called ‘unparalleled exquisiteness’, but now he felt it was the phrase made for the woman who was walking over.
“Ka-cha!” Rong Xia’s teacup made a loud crisp sound against the stone table. Cupping his hand towards the crowd, he apologetically said, “Apologies, This Rong Person slipped his hand, and have disturbed everyone.”
The crowd of mesmerised people was jolted awake, they turned to each other to continue their conversations while trying hard to prove to others that they were not a bunch of vulgar perverts. Just now…. just now they were only accidently staring a bit too long.
Count Rong was a good person, he had reminded them not to lose their manner.
“Fule Junzhu.” Yan Zhen was still dazed when he walked up and bowed deeply to Ban Hua and Ban Heng.
Ban Hua looked at the youth who suddenly appeared in front of her. He was in a purple robe, a little on the thin side and with a face that didn’t attract attention, he was like a dull goose rushing out of a flock of ducks. Being saluted so grandly by someone unfamiliar, she could only return the salute and moved back two steps, “And this Gongzi is?”
Yan Zhen froze, she didn’t even know who he was?
“Sis, be careful.” Ban Heng recognised Yan Zhen, but he couldn’t do anything under everyone’s eyes.
“En.” Ban Hua held out her hand so Ban Heng could support her, she walked pass Yan Zhen towards the crowd.
“Junzhu,” Shi Jin stood up, “Please take the seat.”
“Shi-daren doesn’t need to be too polite.” Ban Hua’s eyes swept through the crowd and sat down not far from Li Xiaoru. Li Xiaoru had a heartfelt fear of Ban Hua, she sat straighter and retracted her feet.
“Miss Li.” Ban Hua gave Li Xiaoru a faint nod.
“Jun… Junzhu,” Li Xiaoru stood up and gave Ban Hua a deep curtsey on bent knees. Her face looked quite excited, in the past Ban Hua had twice asked who she was and today she finally recognised her. Li Xiaoru felt strangely touched.
Lower expectations made a happier life, it was a proven fact.
Not few people wanted to be on Ban Hua’s good side, so even though many, or perhaps all, of the ladies disliked her, they still couldn’t give a cold shoulder on her face.
As Yan Zhen realised Ban Hua didn’t give him even a single glance at all from beginning to the end, he dazedly sat back on his original seat and became oblivious to everyone.
Rong Xia didn’t bother about this Yan-gongzi anymore. During the entertainment show, he properly clapped when he should clap and smiled when he should smile, his elegant demeanor attracted numerous secret glances from the ladies.
After the noon banquet, some people went to play horse polo and some others gathered for a poetry session. Ban Hua was satisfied that she had successfully dazzled the crowd today, she was prepared to bid farewell to the hosts when someone called.
Ban Hua turned, that dull goose in purple robe again? She tilted her head, her dangling hairpin lightly swayed.
“Junzhu, This Lowly One is Yan Zhen, please forgive me for bothering Junzhu.” Ban Hua tilting her head was so beautiful that Yan Zhen’s face and ears turned red. He was loss for words, “I… I am……”
“You are Yan Zhen?” Ban Hua looked at his thin and weak body, so it was true this person had been on a hunger strike at home.
Yan Zhen was very excited that Ban Hua knew his name, “It is This Lowly One, does Junzhu know me?”
“I have heard some.” Ban Hua felt she had been given him enough polite attention, “Yan-gongzi has any matter?”
Yan-gongzi looked at this woman who was as beautiful as the Goddess of the Luo River. A thousand feelings simmering in his heart but he didn’t know what to say.
“Apologies, am I interrupting the two of you?”
Rong Xia was leaning on the red pillar at the end of the nine-curved corridor. The golden sunlight shone on his figure, autumn wind suddenly rose accentuating the romantic sight.
The Goddess of Luo River is attributed to Lady Zhen from The Three Kingdom era (T/N – although it’s a false account).
Lady Zhen was originally Yuan Xi’s wife. After Yuan Xi’s father Yuan Shao was defeated by Cao Cao, she was taken by Cao Pi (Cao Cao’s son) due to her beauty.
When Cao Pi became an emperor, Lady Zhen eventually lost his favour due to Concubine Guo and was forced to suicide. She was buried with hair covering her face and her mouth stuffed with husk.
Lady Zhen’s son Cao Rui succeeded to be the next emperor, while Concubine Guo rose to be the Empress Dowager. Cao Rui forced Empress Dowager Guo to kill herself. He buried her with her hair covering her face and mouth stuff with husk — just like how his mother was buried.
- 1Left Minister Yan Hui
- 2Right Minister Shi Chonghuai
- 3Xiaojie = young ladies