Joy of Life - Chapter 316[Updated at: 2021-01-12 01:48:18]
Chapter 316: A Garden Tour with Unease (3)
Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio
Hong Zhu did not think that the Commissioner even knew his name. He immediately felt honored and replied cheerfully, “I am. Thank you, Commissioner, for knowing my name.”
“Servants close to the Emperor can be dangerous,” Fan Xian said. “Since I am the Commissioner of the Overwatch Council, I must be vigilant… besides, there was an assassin among the ranks of the eunuchs in the Taiji Palace not long ago…”
Hong Zhu was startled and did not dare to reply. Fan Xian continued, “Since the Emperor trusts you, then, naturally, I trust you too… ah yes, I heard that Old Dai is currently doing hard labor?”
Hong Zhu glanced at him and tentatively replied, “Yes, he is very miserable.”
“Hm.” Fan Xian nodded his head. “I’m not bothered with such things as taboo. I’ve had dealings with Old Dai before—he’s not a bad person. I hope you will be able to help him out now and then.”
Hong Zhu cheered in his heart. He had been hoping to work his way into the good graces of the official in front of him through Eunuch Dai. With this order, it meant that he had hope. He immediately replied respectfully, “I dare not forget your orders.”
Fan Xian gave a slight smiled and said, “Then I’ll have to trouble you. If your family ever has trouble in the future, let me know.” He didn’t have to make himself too clear; the eunuch should know to contact him through Yi Guiping.
In a huge coincidence, Fan Xian ran into the Great Princess of Northern Qi whom he hasn’t seen since September as he returned to Yi Guiping’s residence, Shufang Palace. The Great Princess was just returning from visiting the empress dowager and was now living in the palace after her marriage. She was startled to see Fan Xian seated in the wheelchair. However, as this was not the place to talk she only paid her respects and retreated.
Yi Guiping glanced at Fan Xian and commented, “You traveled all the way from Northern Qi together—why are you like strangers?”
Fan Xian was conscious at all times to make extensive allies and plant agents. How could he possibly pass up such an important person as the Great Princess? However, in front of everybody, he needed tp pretend to be less than friendly with her and so he replied, “Our statuses are not the same. Besides… there must be distance between males and females.”
Yi Guiping laughed and said, “You, my child, are prettier than all the beauties… I’m not worried that you will bother others. I’m worried they will come bother you.”
Fan Xian’s heart jumped in surprise and he said, “Aunt, don’t say such things.” Turning his head, he saw the Third Prince working diligently at his studies and felt a strange anger rising. He shook his head and asked, “The Dowager Empress has allowed this?”
His tone held a sense of disbelief. Yi Guiping watched him and nodded her head.
Smiling she said, “I also only heard the Emperor allowed this today. However…this is a good thing. Why would she be against it?”
Fan Xian smiled self-deprecatingly and thought to himself, This matter is not so simple. After some thought he asked seriously, “I’m going to Jiangnan, and the Third Prince is going with me… you are willing to let him go?”
“Jiangnan has good water, good air, and good people. Why would I not be willing?”
Yi Guiping suddenly beckoned him closer. Fan Xian obeyed and leaned in. When he was only a hands breadth away from her, and could smell her orchid scented breath, it he could hear her lowered voice speaking through clenched teeth, “Take him as far from the palace as possible; take him away for as long as possible.”
Fan Xian was slightly surprised. He only now knew Yi Guiping’s passive plan. He shook his head and said, “Constant retreat is not a plan… besides, the Jiangnan treasury will not need much work. I am only going to have a look. I can’t keep dragging it out.”
Yi Guiping thought about this and saw the truth he spoke. She sighed with disappointment, “What you say is true. The Emperor would also not allow you to always be away from Jingdou.”
Fan Xian thought for a moment and then said comfortingly, “The Third Prince is still very young, it is too early for you to start worrying… besides, the empress dowager is in the palace looking after her grandsons. They won’t dare do anything too outrageous…” He paused for a bit then added, “After all, we are not quite the same as the other palaces. Minister Gang’s words still carry some weight, and Father is not retiring any time soon… and there is still me, is there not?”
Hearing these words, Yi Guigping finally relaxed. Given how things were developing, Fan Xian’s influence in the palace was growing larger and larger. The court and the palace were often two circles that affected each other. As long as she had someone in court, she and Li Chengping would have an easier life in the palace.
Having spoken to this extent, both parties had already made most things very clear—in the eyes of the happy and straightforward-thinking Yi Guiping, it was best for her child to tie himself as close as possible to the Fan clan.
“Allowing the Third Prince to go to Jiangnan with me… I hope you will give me permission for one thing.” Fan Xian glanced at the Third Prince, who was eavesdropping in vain.
“What thing?” Seeing Fan Xian was very serious, Yi Guiping also became nervous.
“I’m not very good at being a teacher. You know of the students I left out in the states, their successes are the results of their many years of hard study on their own.” Fan Xian spoke seriously, “I can only treat His Highness like a younger brother… at times I may not be respectful enough.”
Hearing the phrase “treat like a younger brother,” Yi Guiping’s brow cleared and she smiled happily. She could not imagine the misery Fan Sizhe was currently suffering in the north. She nodded eagerly.
Fan Xian stared at her like she was a ghost, thinking, Why does she look like she’s won the lottery? Tentatively, he continued, “Perhaps… sometimes… I’ll… raise my hand to him.”
“Hands, feet, it’s all up to you!” Yi Guiping spoke very straightforwardly. She laughed aloud and said, “As long as you don’t injure him seriously, you can do what you like.”
She immediately let out a long breath and said, “You have no idea how scared I was after that brothel matter a few days ago. I know he is close to the Second Prince usually, but who knew the Second Prince, this… brute, actually encouraged Ping’er to do such things. Ping’er is so young, what does he know? He’s only being used as a tool by other people… luckily you quickly took care of this matter. Otherwise, who knows how angry the Emperor would have been?”
Fan Xian smiled to himself and thought, Your son is not a kind one either. Although he’s only eight, his mind is full of complicated things. He heard Yi Guiping lower her voice and say, “Teach him to be an honest man… even if he turns into someone useless like King Jing, at least he will have a peaceful life.”
Hearing these words, Fan Xian was deeply moved. “Mothers are the best in the world.” The lyrics to this song were correct. “A child without a mother was like a single strand of grass.” His own life experiences had proved the accuracy of this song.
There was still some time before dinner and there was still no message from the empress dowager’s palace. Fan Xian liked peace and quiet so he stayed at the Shufang Palace and spoke casually with Yi Guiping. They were family so there was far less taboo between them. Furthermore, in this cold Royal Palace, it seemed that only Yi Guiping’s residence had some… humanity.
“Greetings to Princess Chen.”
Following the crisp greetings of the serving girls, Lin Wan’er walked in rubbing her hands. Today, she wore a layered emerald silk skirt and a crimson, damask, silk coat. Two lines of fox fur embellished the openings of her sleeves; the fluffiness was very cute.
Sitting in the wheelchair, Fan Xian stretched out his hands.
Wan’er went forward and naturally, without thought, placed her hands in his warm grasp.
Fan Xian gently rubbed her cold hands and asked, curiously, “You came like this?” This outfit was green and red, the crimson deep and vivid, the emerald clear and noble. It looked very good on Wan’er. However, it was more appropriate to be dressed more extravagantly when invited to have dinner in the palace.
Lin Wan’er pouted and said, “I waited for you at home for a long time and you didn’t come back. Su Wenmao sent someone and only then did I learn that you’d been summoned to the palace. I had just taken Dabao back to the manor when I was stopped by a eunuch… and brought to the palace. I first went to see the empress dowager. Luckily, some of the imperial concubines were there, so I didn’t have to visit each palace. I spoke a little with them and then came to see you. I was rushed the entire time. I didn’t have time to change.”
“Oh right—where is Dabao?” Fan Xian was most concerned about his absent-minded uncle.
“Don’t worry, Ruoruo is at home.” Lin Wan’er accepted the hot towel the serving girl offered her, wiped her hands carelessly and sat herself down next to Yi Guiping. She tilted her head and smiled, “What are you talking about?”
Yi Guiping didn’t rush to answer her. First, she scolded the serving girl for bringing a hot towel for the princess—what if she gets blown by the cold wind later? After this, she smiled and turned her head to relate the Emperor’s plans.
Lin Wan’er glanced at Fan Xian in surprise. “It’s all decided?”
Fan Xian nodded and shrugged; there was nothing he could do. Burdened by a family, it seemed that there would be interesting times ahead on the Jiangnan trip.
A eunuch came to invite the five people of eminence to have dinner at the Hanguang Palace. Yi Guiping immediately dragged the Third Prince to wash up, as well as to change her own clothing.
Taking this opportunity, Fan Xian lowered his voice and asked, “The matter I asked you to discuss with the empress dowager… how is it going?”
Lin Wan’er looked around. “You want to break the engagement,” she replied quietly, “but you didn’t discuss this with me earlier… you did this so suddenly, how could the empress dowager agree? Besides, I am, after all, a junior—it is not correct for me to discuss it.”
Fan Xian sighed, “If Ruoruo doesn’t want to, what can I do as an older brother? You’re right, I did tell you a bit late. I wanted to use the Baoyue Brothel matter, while Hong Cheng is out of favor with the palace, to sort this matter out. Who ever thought it would be this complicated?”
“You can’t just break a royally appointed wedding on a whim.” Wan’er frowned. “You spoil Ruoruo too much.”
“I have only this one baby sister,” Fan Xian chuckled, “who else would I spoil if not her?”
“I think Father needs to come in.” Wan’er kept her eye on the back of the room to make sure no one was listening in, and quietly said, “Have Father talk directly with the Emperor. We don’t carry enough weight.”
Worried, Fan Xian replied, “Even though our two families have argued, Father still likes Hong Chen a lot. Even though Hong Chen frequents brothels every day, he still doesn’t think it matters. He always says that he watched him grow up and our families are close, that we can’t sever the two families’ connections just because of the Second Prince.”
Lin Wan’er gave a tittering laugh. “In his time, father was the most famous person on the Liujing River. Of course he doesn’t think this is a big deal.” Having said this, she felt that it was not appropriate for a daughter-in-law to mock her father-in-law; she chuckled to hide her words.
Fan Xian was feeling anxious about Ruoruo’s problem and did not laugh at the joke. Hopelessness was written all over his face. Recently, Ruoruo had made a bit of a name for herself in the Royal Hospital. Hopefully Haitang would be able to deal with it well, and at least drag out the wedding for a while.
“Why did Uncle summon you to the palace?” Lin Wan’er asked what she was most curious about. “I’m afraid it’s probably more than just the issue with the Third Prince.”
Fan Xian gazed at his wife quietly. Suddenly he stretched out a hand to gently stroke her jaw. He smiled and didn’t say anything. Could he tell her that? Your dearest uncle wants your dearest husband to use all his power to sink your own mother into poverty?
Fortunately, at this moment, Yi Guiping and others were ready to go.
The cotton curtain was lifted and the room was suddenly flooded with light. Fan Xian turned around to see Yi Guiping and the Great Princess of Northern Qi walk out arm in arm. The two women had made themselves up with great care and skill, and beauty glowed from their faces. Their brows were like art, dignified and noble. He couldn’t help but praise them in his heart. It was as if they were glowing.
The Great Princess gave him a slight smile, but walked out of the palace shoulder to shoulder with Wan’er, whom she knew from before.
The Winter Solstice was a celebration as important as New Years. On this day, the Qing Kingdom rested. The court stopped, the army rested, the borders closed, and the merchants took a break. This was not limited to Jingdou—it involved the distant Northern Qi as well. On this day, everyone enjoyed their happy lives.
It was the custom of the Qing Kingdom to eat lamb on the Winter Solstice. Up and down the streets of Jingdou, whether in spacious or cramped kitchens, warm scents floated around the pots before finding the only way out was through the gaps between the windows. In these warm scents there was the spice of peppers, the smell of mutton, the strange smells of medicinal herbs, and the sweetness of daikons. The scents all mixed and were perfect beyond compare, floating through countless courtyards and streets and forcing all who smelled them to covet them.
In the Hanguang Palace, behind the last few teapots, Fan Xian stared with a pair of sleepy eyes at the ear-shaped mutton at the tips of his chopsticks and at the mushrooms and vegetables floating in his white soup. He could not stop a sigh—truly, the mutton in the palace was not the same as that outside. The cooking was far more delicate, but it did lack a feeling of warmth.
Without tofu and daikon, how could he eat this mutton? The biggest problem was that the mutton was already warm. What was the point if he couldn’t burn his lips until they were numb?
So he forced himself to finish the soup in the bowl and picked up some of the sauce-covered rice. He chewed very carefully and slowly, dragging out this boring “family feast.” His eyes focused on his nose, his nose focused on his lips, and his lips wrapped around the tips of his chopsticks: he was intensely focused. The rest of his attention did not slip out of the feast; he sat and quietly listened to the conversations of the royalty, but did not add anything. He was as lonely as the orphaned wheelchair behind him.
Hanguang Palace was one of the empress dowager’s palaces. It was one of the most expansive structures in the Royal Palace. Although it was very plain compared to the wastrel’s palace in Shangjing, in Northern Qi, it was still very opulent. The candle light lit the interior as bright as day and sent the decorations around the room sparkling.
The various royal persons all ate quietly. No one dared to meet the gaze of the old woman sitting at the very top, or that of the Emperor and Empress beside her. Today was the Winter Solstice and everyone had arrived, including the family of King Jing, and the Second Prince who was under house-arrest. When the Second Prince and Hong Chen entered and saw Fan Xian, they were only slightly surprised, and did not rush up like shrews screaming for blood.
Fan Xian used the rest of his attention to glance up at the old woman sitting on the dais. This was his first time seeing the empress dowager. Her hard heart and methods from her early years could still be seen in the wrinkles between her brows. The tiger was old and sick, but her might remained. With her sitting on top, even the usually rowdy King Jing was a lot more quiet today.
Although he was not familiar with the person, he was familiar with this palace. He had snuck into the palace before by using incense to put everyone to sleep and had stolen some things. Remembering this, he drew back his gaze and ate some of the sauce-covered rice. From the dais there came the sound of an elderly person’s weak cough.
Fan Xian lowered his head once more and said nothing. In his glance just then, he saw the droop to the old woman’s face and knew that she did not have many years left.
“Young lady Chen, come sit next to me.” The empress dowager looked at her granddaughter sitting at the far end of the feast, then looked at Fan Xian, who was hidden in the shadows. “Come here,” she called.
Wan’er rose gently and smiled as she walked over. She leaned close to the empress dowager’s ear and whispered something and then glanced at Fan Xian who was eating his rice with a forlorn expression. She was probably telling a joke to make the old woman laugh. As expected, the empress dowager laughed and jokingly scolded, “It seems that you feed him well in the Fan Manor—he doesn’t even have an appetite for palace food.”
Although her voice was low, the words were clearly heard by all, and everyone knew she was talking about Fan Xian.
Fan Xian thought quickly and the trace of a smile floated on his lips. He thought, Wan’er is indeed well-loved in the palace—it seems that is true. As long as the empress dowager and the Emperor like her, her position in the palace is naturally outstanding.
But he still felt a nervous. Today was his first time seeing the empress dowager. The occasional glances the old woman sent his way made him feel slightly fearful. Logically, grandmothers shouldn’t even use this gaze on their wildest grandsons—that gaze was very complicated. It was one part happiness, two parts pride, three parts doubt, and the last four parts were warnings and coldness!
When the empress dowager began speaking, everyone stopped eating to hear what the old woman had to say at the Winter Solstice family feast.
“Today, most of us have gathered together… I was not well last year, and so we did not have a gathering. Today, I am also happy to see what the prince consort looks like.”
Although the empress dowager said she was happy, her face was completely expressionless. She turned to the Emperor and said “It is just your sister that is in Xinyang; that cannot go on. All these daughters and son-in-laws are in Jingdou, yet she remains so far from the palace. I don’t like it.”
Fan Xian gave a cold laugh in his heart, and knew they had finally arrived at the main topic. The empress dowager’s meaning was clear: if a prince consort like him could take part in a royal feast, why could the Eldest Princess not?
Something deep flashed through the Emperor’s eyes and he replied, “It is cold now, and travel is not easy. When spring arrives, I will have Yunrui return.”
Hearing these words, the empress dowager nodded with satisfaction. Fan Xian noticed that the sleeve of the Second Prince across from him was shaking unnaturally. Fan Xian thought that this brother, who has been so tormented by him, was overly excited that someone who could rescue him was about to arrive in the capital.
However… why did the Crown Prince appear so strange?
Fan Xian did not care about what was said after. Royal feasts were truly boring. He only revealed small self-deprecating smiles whenever the empress dowager occasionally brought him up and purposely let a trace of coldness into her voice.
He had once heard that when he was injured, the empress dowager had prayed for him and he also received a pearl from her as a gift. He had thought the old woman was kind hearted and felt that his hard heart was slightly moved. Unexpectedly, seeing today’s scenario, it was clear he had just been making wild guesses. Ah well, then let us compare whose heart is harder. Royalty are naturally born with cold hearts, but I’m a twice born creature and my heart is not that soft either. At least, it is three-folds harder than this mutton in cold soup.
Since rulers were not acting like rulers and ministers were not acting like ministers; since fathers were not acting like fathers and sons were not acting like sons; since grandparents were not acting like grandparents and grandchildren were not acting like grandchildren: why should he care about the thread of familial blood between them?
Although he was a “poet” guilty of plagiarism, Fan Xian truly was someone who loved literature. He could not put aside the threads of pride in him. In this desolate Hanguang Palace, he actually stood straight and stiffened his back. Although he smiled slightly, his replies were not designed to appease the empress dowager. Furthermore, he would not thrust out his face to imitate being a junior for the old woman to be joyful of her grandsons. For a moment, the conversations in the Hanguang Palace appeared to be awkward and cold.
Other than the empress dowager, all the imperial concubines and princes in the palaces were very familiar with Fan Xian and knew that this prince consort was not a simple man. Making others laugh was something he was very good at, and so they were confused as to why he didn’t use this family feast as an opportunity to leave a good impression on the empress dowager.
The Emperor did not react. He believed that Fan Xian was angry because his mother-in-law was soon going to be returning to the capital, and had simply forgotten himself. The empress dowager assumed that he’d been born proud, and the dislike for him grew in her heart.
Looking at the situation, the empress did not understand what Fan Xian was doing, and misgiving hovered in the corners of her eyes. Under the slightly-angry gaze of the empress dowager, Ning Cairen drank deeply, and Lady Shu pursed her lips. Yi Guiping laughed empty-headedly to make the empress dowager smile and helped divert some of her attention from Fan Xian.
His First Highness was confused, His Second Highness laughed secretly, and His Third Highness watched with admiration. The Crown Prince was not paying attention. Only King Jing guessed something of the truth. He secretly shook his head and thought, Men of words—sure enough they will show a pedantic air.
Sitting next to the empress dowager, Wan’er glanced at Fan Xian with worry.
In the cold and dark night, snow began to fall again, spilling everywhere one snowflake after another. At the corner door of the Royal Palace, Fan Xian sat in his wheelchair with his head lowered and a blank expression. Lin Wan’er was slightly worried and asked, “Husband, are you alright?”
“I’m fine.” Fan Xian continued to bow his head. “I am just imitating Di Feijing.”
The Tiger Guards and the Qinian Unit arrived. Husband and wife boarded the carriage and the carriage drove toward the Fan Manor. Inside the carriage, Lin Wan’er asked, curiously, “Who is Di Feijing?”
“A man who spent his life with his head bowed.” Fan Xian smiled. “Let’s not talk about him. Let’s hurry home to eat mutton—Father and the others should still be waiting.”