Empress Chen celebrated her birthday on this day, the 8th of May.
In recent years, the relationship between the Empress and the Emperor was getting increasingly worse, coming to a deadlock. Everyone, without exception, was aware of the situation. Even the banquet this time couldn’t compare to the splendor of the past. The birthday banquet was set up in Wild Goose house and Riverside house, beside the great lake in the Imperial palace. These two buildings were situated at the foot of a hill and beside a stream. They were richly decorated. Dazzling glazed tiles on a red roof, raised eaves, and two gaping hornless dragon sculptures lying on both ends at the very top. Looking from afar, the view was like a fairyland from a drawing, out of reach. Coming closer, one was able to see the auspicious colorful carvings of a dragon and phoenix on the two buildings, the dragon on top, and the phoenix below, twisting and turning, mounting the clouds and riding the mist.
The two houses separately received the Imperial court’s ministers and officials. Wei Kun personally saw off the several children to Wild Goose house, handing them over uneasily to the fourth madam Qin: “I’ll trouble you to watch over these few children, fourth sister-in-law… If you can’t handle them, you can also request for a servant to look after them.”
Madam Qin already had three sons, adding in Wei Luo, Wei Zheng, and Wei Changhong, it was really too much of a stretch. To begin with, Madam Du would have normally been brought to attend this sort of occasion. However, she had just committed a huge blunder. No one could convince Wei Kun to take her along, thus she remained home. Wei Zheng was without her mother, and she was still young. Arriving at the Imperial palace, she got timid, and followed blindly behind Wei Kun. She even spoke less than usual.
Madam Qin took over the group of children, and teased with a smile: “What is fifth brother-in-law saying? This isn’t such a difficult thing, you can rest assured and just leave them to me.”
Duke Ying’s family had arrived early. At this moment, there was still nobody in front of the two buildings except for the eunuchs and servant girls bustling about, bringing fruits and pastries inside. Wei Kun saw that Madam Qin had brought three servants along, and the three children each had their Nurse with them. He was confident it was unlikely for some major event to happen, thus he nodded his head and turned around to head to the Riverside house.
Watching Wei Kun walk away, Madam Qin sighed softly.
Madam Du wasn’t a good match for him. Though he was surrounded by children for so many years, his heart was missing one person, letting him feel lonely the whole time. If Jiang Miaolan was still around, Madam Du wouldn’t stand a chance.
She led the children into the building while she was thinking. It looked really lively around her. With six children in total, each one speaking could drown out a person’s voice. The eldest madam watched from the side, and asked with a smile: “Will you manage to take care of them all? If not, why don’t you give Ah Luo and Changhong to me?”
The eldest madam only had a son, the eldest young master Wei Changyin. She didn’t have a daughter, so she was very fond of the residence’s young ladies.
Madam Qin pursed her lips in a smile, tactfully declining: “It’s usually me looking after Ah Luo and Changhong. Most likely, there won’t be any issues now.”
Her voice barely fell, when Wei Zheng broke free from Madam Qin’s hand and ran to the third madam Liu, “I want third aunt!”
Madam Liu was suddenly pulled by her. Surprised, she turned around to take a look, and quickly understanding what happened, smiled at Madam Qin, then brought Wei Zheng upstairs. Madam Liu had always been close to Madam Du, and she was also more affectionate with Wei Zheng. Thus, Wei Zheng would rather be close to third aunt than fourth aunt.
Madam Qin was started slightly, but soon smiled rather helplessly. She used her freed hand to hold onto Changhong, softly saying: “Let’s also go upstairs.”
Wild Goose house had altogether three floors. The first floor was an area for people to enjoy the sights. Upright screen murals were set up all around. At each of the four corners stood an enamel vase with flowers and birds painted on. An eight treasure lustrous couch was placed on the east side, scarlet pillows embroidered with flowers on top of it. Once Empress Chen arrived, she would sit precisely there. On the second and the third floors, several small red lacquered tables with conch ornaments were arranged in the middle. Melon seeds, peanuts, peaches and other fruits were put on these tables as snacks.
Wei Luo had just walked in following behind Madam Qin, when she caught sight of a seated little girl in a purple half sleeve silk vest over an embroidered yellow dress, focused on peeling peanuts. She peeled the shells of the peanuts in front of her, yet she didn’t eat a single one, neatly arranging the peeled red skins into a goose shape. She was also around six or seven years old, with round cheeks and almond eyes. When she laughed, her cheeks would show two dimples.
Wei Luo heard the maidservant at the girl’s side calling her “second Miss”, and just as she intended to try and figure out which family’s second miss it was, she was called over by Liang Yurong, who stood in front of her.
Liang Yurong was wearing a green short jacket weaved with gold over a white silk skirt, and her hair was styled in a round bun. She looked exquisite. The delicate manner of dress made her appear even more polished, bright and modest. She partly sat on a short couch, supporting herself on the carved rosewood armrest as she looked outside and pointed full of enthusiasm, “Look, Ah Luo, you can see the view over there.”
Wei Luo accompanied her and walked over to sit down by her side. They could really see inside of the opposite side’s Riverside house. Riverside house didn’t have blue curtains covering everywhere like them, but was rather out in the open. The two buildings weren’t far from each other, it was even possible to clearly see the actions and appearances of the people inside. Liang Yurong was quite at leisure, so she started looking for any familiar people – this one was her daddy, that one was her big brother, even found some uncle she knew… She suddenly pointed at a spot and asked: “Ah Luo, isn’t that your eldest brother?”
Wei Luo followed the direction her finger was pointing at, and really seemed to see her eldest brother’s figure by the lakeside. Wei Changyin was sitting in his wheelchair far in the distance, his expression couldn’t be seen clearly. In front of him was standing a youth dressed in large sleeved clothes. The youth had his back to them, with his arms crossed behind him, and they couldn’t see who he was.
Wei Luo nodded and was just about to speak, when she suddenly paused.
This time’s Liang Yurong had barely seen her eldest brother a few times, and only held some sympathy towards him. Wei Luo recalled the deadly tragic conclusion of their story from her previous life, and leaned on her cheek as she thought. Was it possible to prevent their story from ever starting in this life? The previous life’s Liang Yurong had tried so hard, but it was all useless. Rather than suffering again this time, it was better to cut off the source of these feelings from the very beginning.
She pulled Liang Yurong back, and grabbed some peanuts from the plum colored plate on the table, handing them over, “It’s so far, I can’t see clearly… Let’s stop watching. Just eat peanuts.”
Liang Yurong accepted the peanuts, and barely peeled one to eat, when she sensed someone shooting them a not too friendly look from across. She raised her head to look, and found a small girl staring at her from the other end of the table. She was confused, so she blinked her eyes and generously offered the well-peeled peanut, “Do you also want to eat?”
Who could have imagined, the opposite party didn’t want to eat, rather the “Picture of a Wild Goose in Flight” was not yet finished. A bunch of peanuts had been seized by Wei Luo from the plate, thus there weren’t enough now. She pushed the pile of peanuts before her in a huff, and the drawing arrangement she had spent half a day on instantly disappeared without a trace. Pouting, she said: “I won’t draw, won’t draw!”
It turned out, this little miss was the second miss from Duke Zhen’s house, named Gao Qingyang. She was close in age to Wei Luo and Liang Yurong, as she was also six years old. Duke Zhen’s wife was Empress Chen’s younger sister. She didn’t have any sons, only two daughters. However, because Duke Zhen’s wife was related to Empress Chen through her maternal line, her position couldn’t be threatened. In these many years, Duke Zhen only accepted a single concubine, and even if the concubine gave birth to a son, the child would be fostered under her own name. Duke Zhen’s wife doted on her two daughters. Besides the little one, there was also the older daughter named Gao Danyang. Gao Danyang was 14 this year, rumored to be incomparably charming, a first-class beauty.
Right now, Gao Qingyang was angry. Liang Yurong wasn’t fawning over her like others, instead she was curiously asking her: “Do you still want these peanuts?”
She humphed, “Don’t want.”
Seeing Liang Yurong wrapping a bunch of peanuts in a silk handkerchief, Gao Qingyang thought she wanted to eat them. Just about to say a few mocking words, Liang Yurong opened her mouth to speak: “Ah Luo, let’s go feed kittens in the back. When I came here a moment ago, I saw there were many kittens, very pretty, behind this building.”
Anyway, there was nothing to do upstairs, and they didn’t know when Empress Chen would arrive. Wei Luo nodded her assent and asked the standing nearby Madam Qin, “Fourth aunt, can I go down to play awhile?”
Madam Qin was speaking with some people from Marquis Dingling’s residence. When she heard the question she hesitated, but then she saw the little girl’s hopeful face. Moreover, others also had their children go downstairs, so she ended up agreeing. She still didn’t feel assured, so she let two older servants go along with them, and urged Wei Luo: “Don’t go far, you must come back soon.”
Two dimples appeared as Wei Luo smiled and sounded a crisp ‘okay’.
Left behind, Gao Qingyang couldn’t say a thing, and choked instead, as she angrily stared at them departing. She was just about to grab the peanuts set on the table and throw them, when a person suddenly stopped in front of her. Changhong’s small face looked strict. A pair of pitch-black eyes below long eyelashes were looking at her, as he blocked her hand saying: “You can’t.”
Gao Qingyang hadn’t seen him before, and asked automatically: “Can’t what?”
He didn’t speak, as he truly was a person of few words. However, he very earnestly pried her hand open, took the peanuts she held, and dropped them onto the table. After that, without even glancing at her, he turned around to follow after Wei Luo down the stairs.
Gao Qingyang was watching him walk away, when her reaction finally caught up. Fine, they’re all just a bunch of kids!
Wei Luo followed Liang Yurong downstairs and along a cobblestone lane. Not far in the distance, there really were two or three snow white kittens under the dark red scarlet banana flowers.
The kittens were very small, evidently only a few months old. Lying on top of the fresh green grass, they evoked some tender feelings. There weren’t any palace maids around, who knew whether anyone was taking care of these cats. Liang Yurong crouched in front of them and couldn’t help but reach out to pet them, “Ah Luo, these cats are so pretty, their fur is completely white. Quickly come look.”
Wei Luo wasn’t that fond of furry little things. She had only come out, because staying behind in the house would be too boring. Hearing Liang Yurong speak, she hesitated for a long time, then slowly approached to crouch in front of the kittens. The three kittens were really very pretty, the eyes were sapphire blue, the whole body was snow white. Seemingly aware that she was looking at them, they were eagerly gazing back at her.
Those eyes were too innocent. Looking at them for a long time could make a person captivated.
It was the first time Wei Luo got interested in a kitten. She reached out a hand wanting to touch its ears, but it unexpectedly extended its claws and pounced on her arm. Wei Luo had a scare and immediately jumped up, subconsciously wishing to throw off that cat. But knowing those cats showed up in the palace, and were furthermore such a rare breed, it was certain that there was someone raising them, whether it was an Imperial concubine, or a princess. If the cat got injured by getting dropped, it would likely lead to trouble. With no better options, her body stiffened up as she tried to put the cat back to its original place, but the kitten stuck to her. Closely clinging on and not letting go, and even stretching its tongue to take a lick of the back of her hand.
…She was not tasty!
Wei Luo called out to Liang Yurong: “Help me take it off…”
Her whole arm was covered in goosebumps. She really wasn’t fond of small furry animals, after all.
Seeing this, Liang Yurong howled with laughter. She not only didn’t help, but actually got comfortable to watch the show. Wei Luo thought of asking Changhong for help, but soon after he had come out, Changhong had been called over by some people around Wei Kun. She couldn’t do anything about it, and was licked by this small kitten again. This was what isolated and helpless felt like!
Liang Yurong noticed Wei Luo’s eyes reddening slightly, and restrained her laughter as she got ready to help her. Right as she was about to move, she heard a clear and sonorous female voice coming from the front: “Who are you two? Why are you here?”
Liang Yurong raised her head, only to see a young lady dressed in a cherry colored gilded dress standing not too far behind the scarlet banana flowers. She was watching the white kitten on Wei Luo’s arm with wrinkled brows. She was about 13 or 14 years old, with black hair and snowy skin, clear eyes and white teeth, both charming and delicate, stirringly beautiful.
“We…” Thinking she was the cat’s owner, the dazed Liang Yurong was about to answer, when that girl walked up to Wei Luo and reached out to take the cat off her arm.
The girl said: “This cat isn’t yours to touch.”
She turned to look behind and spoke discontentedly: “Cousin Jing, how can you raise the cats in this kind of place? I gave them to you, don’t you care at least a little about them?”
Ten steps behind her was Zhao Jie, wearing a weaved with gold azure robe with clouds pattern brocade, his stature tall and straight. He remained unmoved by her words, as his vision actually fell on the frowning little face of Wei Luo, who stood beside her.
Correction: The eldest miss was apparently not the eldest madam’s daughter. In her introduction, the sentence was saying she was out with the eldest madam in preparation for her wedding, but I took the words to mean something else. It’s been corrected now. I’ll do the family tree later. Since I’ve started translating, I gradually got more used to it and avoid making errors. I was still unsure of many things in the beginning chapters…
Note: Munchkin helped a lot with translating and editing the first part of this chapter. There might be a sudden appearance of grammatical mistakes after that, since I was in a hurry to post the chapter (after making everyone wait for months) and I haven’t let her go over everything yet. I wonder how mad she is at me…
Here’s a scarlet banana flower if you’re curious: