Published at 11th of April 2019 08:27:53 AM

Chapter 66

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Chapter 66: One-day Tour Around Marquis Xiangyang’s Mansion (4)

Translator: Flying-Lines

The zigzagging paths and corridors came, seemingly endless, one after another. Minglan felt depressed so she decided to just get out of the corridors and stride along the stone-paved byway scattered with snow, but she didn't manage to shake off the depression on her mind.

It was approaching noon. The sun climbed higher towards its peak and shone bright after snowing. Near or far there planted many plum trees. The plum flowers’ subtle fragrance, accompanied by the coldness of icy snow, slowly seeped into Minglan’s nose. She took a deep inhalation of it which then suffused her chest with cool freshness, making her a little better and slow down.

As Minglan walked bowing her head, sounds of footsteps came over and a deepened male voice sounded from above her head, “Sheng…sixth young lady?”

Minglan was taken aback and instantly looked up. What she saw was a man coming cover from behind an old thick plum tree. He was wearing a dark-red long robe embroidered inconspicuously with cloud and bats. The edges were wrapped up with two-finger width golden brocade and over the robe he wore a brown fur coat. He took a few steps forward in the opposite direction of the sun, and a huge shadow was cast down, locking Minglan up in it.

Minglan stepped aside and finally saw clearer his face. He was around twenty years old. The straight nose left on the fair cheek a small patch of shadow. His eyes were squinted into a line which were unexpectedly slim and long but with a little impatience and cruelty.

Something occurred to Minglan and she finally remembered, asking tentatively, “Second…Uncle?” Just now when Sheng family’s daughters did their greetings, the addressing terms were based on Junzhu Pingning.

The man nodded and said in a low voice, “You’re familiar with eldest young lady Yu?” He looked a bit unpleasant and resentful and his eyes were as sharp as nails. Though the sentence ended with a raised tone, it didn't sound like a question.

Minglan’s heart beat so fast that she hardly calmed herself down and greeted him with respect, replying, “Old Madam Yu and my grandmother went worship Buddha together, and Miss Yu also often visited me.” She said nothing informative.

The man sneered twice, “How well Prime Minister Yu has put on airs! Now that his family has promised to make a match with Duan family in Dali, why didn’t he send a letter there first but only began to ‘remember’ when Duan came and questioned them?” The tone was full of oppressed anger and grievances.

Minglan, lowering her head, was thinking fast to herself. She knew the candidate for Yanran’s marriage was the second young master, Gu Tingye, son of Marquis Ningyuan. Though the son had a far-reaching bad fame, he was well-behaved during the time he proposed to Yu family and demonstrated his sincerity while visiting Yu Mansion. However, after all this effort, he didn't get the legal eldest daughter but just a second daughter of a concubine.

He was not a good-tempered person and had been tortured by his own resentment until now, but he just couldn't figure out why when he was just about to agree on the marriage, they had changed their minds and married the daughter to Yunnan lightening-fast.

“It seems that Cabinet Yu is a person who keeps his word! But why he didn't tell me earlier. You have to know I don't have to marry just her!” Gu Tingye sounded sarcastic, punched his fist onto the plum tree and shook off a pavement of petals from old thick branches.

Minglan stepped a few steps back, still feeling his suppressed outburst of rage. She, terrified and trembling, saw tendons standing up on his fist, a scene somehow reminded her of Officer Lu Punches Zhen Guanxi, a story in middle-school textbook. She could feel the trembling of her heart, and thinking for a while, she knew that this man wouldn't buy the words she had used to deceive Lian. 

She fell into silence for a while before looking up and said briefly, “In early September this year, a girl named Manniang, taking with her two young children, went to Yu Mansion. After that, Cabinet Yu spat blood and fell ill, then came the news about the marriage with Duan family in Dali.”

In fact, things weren’t that serious. Cabinet Yu became more active physically after spitting out the long-accumulated blood. Yu family made the incident known to no one. It was Lord Yu (Yanran’s father) who insisted on the marriage and ignored the letter Cabinet Yu sent. Obviously, he didn't make it public for fear of embarrassment.

Gu Tingye’s face changed dramatically, and his voiced raised up much higher, “Really?”

Minglan nodded and couldn’t help retreating another a few steps back because this buddy’s reaction was indeed scary. Believing that he would definitely ask about it afterward and that if Mangniang was eloquent, things could be turned around, she added, “I heard that the young lord Duan suffers disease in his legs. If it wasn't…Cabinet Yu wouldn't have done so.”

Amitabha, the Supreme Lord of Taoism please help me. She just hoped no one knew that she had made a show of authority in front of Manniang.

Gu Tingye bowed down his face which was gloomy and seemed to be immersed in contemplation. Seeing this, Minglan hurriedly bowed to him and said respectfully, “Second Uncle, I’m leaving. Please enjoy your appreciation of plum flowers.”

The moment she finished, not waiting for him to respond, Minglan pulled up her legs and left. She didn't dare to run and could only, lifting up her dress, carry her little short legs as fast as she could. Thinking about what Lian told her just now that the performance would be at the west side of the Marquis Mansion, Minglan looked up at the sun, figured out the direction and rushed to the west. 

Probably, under thrilling danger, the potential of a human being would be triggered out. Minglan , surprisingly, wasn’t lost in the twisting and turning woods corridors and headed straight to the west. Then there were more people. She picked a girl servant to ask the way to the performance and was then taken there safe and sound.

Tweedle of musical instruments and melodious singing of a female role performer could be heard, suggesting the performance had already begun. Minglan hurriedly walked to the audience shed.

The so-called shed was actually a hall with open doors. Inside of it were crowds of people and a full house of jewelry brilliance. The female guests had already taken their seats. Sitting in the middle was of course Junzhu Pingning and sixth Princess. Then on the two sides were rows of stools and benches with a dozen of Ruyi square table made of cinnabar-lacquered spectabilis wood. Eight servants dressed up in dark blue brocade gowns were serving among the tables, preparing tea, fruits and refreshments for the female guests.

Minglan cast her gaze around the crowd, noticing that Wang shi was sitting at the forth table on the right and talking with a woman who was in a purple-pink wide-sleeved gown while Molan was with a group of girls; taking the gaze back, she saw that Lian and Rulan took seats at the corner of the first row on the left which was closest to the stage but farthest from the central main seats. One of the two girls held a cup of tea and the other a handful of melon seeds, quite enjoying the performance and discussing with each other from time to time.

Minglan tiptoed there and sat next to them, pretending nothing had happened, “Oops, I’m still late. I suppose the show started some time ago.”

Lian was indulged in the performance and replied without looking at Minglan, “Doesn't matter, doesn't matter. It just started the opening and the main roles don't get on yet.”

Rulan frowned, “How come it takes you so long to just wash hands? Where did you wash your hands?”

Minglan forced a smile, “If it was just me, I’ve washed my hands long before, but rules here are stricter. The girl servant took quite a while to fetch water, soap and dry cloth, so it took so long.”

Rulan snorted and said in a low voice, “You’re so troublesome. From now on, stay here and don't run around in case you may embarrass yourself…”

Rulan’s speech was barely finished when a long loudly laugh rang from across the hall. Even Lian, a big fan of opera, was distracted by it and looked around, annoyed, “Who laughed that loud? I didn't hear clear the last sentence Master Hu sang!”

Everyone turned around and saw at the main seats Junzhu Pingning sit near by Xianzhu Jiacheng. The two chitchatted intimately like a mother and a daughter. Xianzhu Jiacheng raised her chin up high. Her movement displayed pride like a colorful phoenix as she chatted and laughed with no scruples for manners or courtesy.

Lian frowned and turned back to continue to watch the show. Rulan pouted her lips and leaned over, whispering to Minglan, “How undisciplined this Xianzhu Jiacheng is! If Kong Momo is here, she will definitely give her a good lesson. What kind of royal member she is? Right, I heard sixth imperial lady is from the Emperor’s maternal clan. Her original family is a butcher’s family.”

Minglan smiled to herself. This dynasty stipulated that the descendants of imperial maternal relatives mustn’t take governmental positions of power. In the imperial court, their position couldn't surpass the fourth level. The husband of Princess could only be entitled to a position of no real power. Thus, princesses would often marry to a marquis family or a family of hereditary military commander because the offspring of these families didn't care about the Examinations. On the contrary, real scholar families tried all their means to avoid marrying a princess because it meant the end of their political careers.

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Old Madam Sheng mentioned that fifty years ago there were two princesses. One had a crush on the second-scorer of that year’s exam while the other on the son of the Prime Minister. Both young men had elegant demeanor and noble family background. Even the empress dowager was interested in them. However, when the two families got the news, they coincidently acted quick. One suddenly had an in-law family with a daughter engaged to their son when they were infants. The other soon leaked the news that their son’s Eight-Characters would do harm to his wife. Therefore, the plan to forge marriage with them had to be cancelled, though any wise man could figure out the real reason. 

It was fair to say that a princess was a kind of flashy high-end consumer goods which looked beautiful but of no use. Kinships in the imperial family was weak and few emperors cared about his sisters. But for they had the same mother, many even never met with each other. Marrying a princess was just icing on the cake. The husband mustn’t take concubines and got nervous when sleeping with a lover. Other people in the family like his parents, siblings and in-laws should act to please the princess with exhausting courtesy.

The wonderful point about marrying this Xianzhu Jiacheng lied in that as the only daughter of sixth imperial lord, after her younger brother transferred from the small clan to the bigger one if things went well, she wouldn’t have to undertake all the taboos of being a princess but could enjoy every privilege of it; her husband could still take positions with real power and even a picky historiographer couldn’t blatantly attack him in terms of ritual or law.

No wonder Junzhu Pingning treated her with such hospitality.

“Ah!” Rulan suddenly called out gently, pulled Minglan and pointed in the direction of the Junzhu, “Yuan…Brother Qi shows up.”

Minglan took a look at Lian, and, seeing that she was too concentrated on the show that she didn’t noticed that, made a gesture to hush Rulan before looking away. She saw Qi Heng was greeting to sixth imperial lady who examined Qi Heng enthusiastically from head to toe and then said something to Junzhu Pinging all smiling.

Minglan was able to do voice-over for them because they must be praising how handsome and outstanding Qi Heng was.

Junzhu Pingning was a person of high self-esteem. Since she didn’t have any brother to prop her up, she always tried all means to fare better than her in-laws, so she raised and educated Qi Heng with strictness ever since he was a little boy. Other young lords like him would long before hang around, appreciating flowers or riding horses or raising birds or going cockfighting, but Qi Heng quite enjoyed sitting down in his study room, either in the capital or Deng Prefecture, and spent all his day reading and learning, be it scorching summer or severe winter. 

Qi Heng had been a cute boy with an honest and filial nature at a young age. It was inevitable that female relatives asked about Qi Heng when visiting one another. Junzhu Pingning was afraid that her son might be dazed by them, so she even didn’t allow much contact between her son and relative girls and repeatedly instructed him to guard himself against those eagerly attentive girls. As for girl servants in his room, the Junzhu guarded even tougher as if they were thieves. Anyone who dared to be just a bit frivolous would be either punished with beating up or sold out. There were times when someone lost her life for this.

When he was in Deng Prefecture, Qi Heng half joked Minglan, “Sixth younger sister is the girl I talked most to.”

Rulan looked there, gently biting her teeth, and satirized, “Look how eager Xianzhu Jiacheng is! Think about how she treated the one in our family. Yet, brother Qi seems not well.”

Minglan looked up, not able to tell what Junzhu Pingning was saying but just saw Xianzhu Jiacheng smile shyly by her with a pair of big eyes looking, with unconcealable admiration, right into those of Qi Heng’s.

However, Qi Heng looked indifferent, answering her questions standoffishly. His face was pale with depressed impression. The faint shadow of flowers decorated on the ceiling cast down under sunrays onto his delicate face, making it as charming and exquisite as a hairpin of a young lady.

Minglan was a little lost in thought.

When they were young, he liked to pinch her hair knot. As they got elder, he liked to pinch her ears. If Minglan hided in the Hall of Peaceful Age, he would greet Old Madam Sheng there every morning and evening, and when no one noticed, he fooled around with her. Since Minglan moved to the House of Clear Dusk, he found all excuses to visit her together with Changbai. She cherished her safety and life and wanted to avoided troubles, so she deceived or satirized him, but he still came whenever there was a chance.

Things she liked, once known to even Changbai, would be sent over a few days later in the name of Changbai. Though she tried to send back, he continued. Later on, even Changbai wasn’t willing to help him…

Minglan took a random glance at him who lightly looked up. Her vacant gaze screened around as if searching for someone and suddenly met with her eyes across the hustling crowd. Minglan looked away immediately and turned around to stare at the performance, maintaining her composure.

Qi Heng could only saw Minglan’s profile—a little jaw with soft and delicate silhouette. He didn’t dare to linger his gaze on her and immediately turned away, feeling a flood of burning blood rushing up towards his head. Every sentence said by Xianzhu Jiacheng turned oblivious to him and his pale face flushed all in a second. He stood up at once and left after saluting seriously to his mother and sixth imperial lady.

Xianzhu Jiacheng seemed a bit frustrated and Junzhu Pingning was also a little embarrassed. Sixth imperial lady remained calm. While still talking and joking with her, Junzhu Pingning ordered servant to follow up, “I suppose this stupid boy is exhausted from the preparation of birthday feast. Hurry! Follow him and let him take a good rest!” This sentence sounded especially loud as if explaining on purpose to all females who were eavesdropping.

Before Qi Heng was a few steps away, a crowd of servants followed up after him, expressing great concern about his health condition. Sixth imperial lady specially sent him a governess who knew medication to make a diagnosis for him.

Minglan sat there, her head bowed and hands cold.

—He was at the center of the crowd, like a moon surrounded by stars; she sat alone at the corner, like a flower whose fragrance was known to no one.

The road was wide enough for them to take separate paths.

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