The Rebirth of an Ill-Fated Consort - Chapter 161

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Chapter 161 : Return of The White Lotus

The imperial decree from the Empress Dowager had come all of a sudden, almost like a precipitous clap of thunder. Everyone who had some form of relation to this matter had begun to postulate the rationale behind the Empress Dowager’s actions. Some that were more forward thinking speculated that it was because of Xiao Shao’s arrogance. The royal family’s dignity would not tolerate such impudence indefinitely which was why the Empress Dowager had conferred Jiang Ruan to be married to him. To most people this might be considered as good news, but for a person labelled as a “rebel” like Xiao Shao, this was like being thrown a hot potato. But, continuing on, there were some who believed that this was the royal family’s warning to Jinying Wang. And finally, there were still others with great foresight who had surmised that the Empress Dowager was in actual fact paving the way for Jinying Wang. If one were to consider that should Jiang Xin Zhi, who was at the frontlines, were to return victoriously, then the union between these two would be the confluence of influential families. Consequently, the imperial court of the Great Jin would find itself hard pressed against a strong and solid force.

However, the thoughts and machinations of the royal family were not that easy to fathom, and the Emperor’s intentions were hard to predict. On the flip side, the young ladies of the Great Jin were essentially simple and pure. Most of them were feeling that it was such a shame for their handsome dashing Xiao Shao to end up marrying a mere Minister’s daughter.

When the news eventually reached the Jiang fu, Hong Ying was speaking with Jiang Su Su.

Over time, Jiang Su Su had increasingly become more beautiful and elegant, with even an aura of exquisite elegance that contained a trace of faint seductiveness. Unlike Jiang Ruan’s distinct features, which were charming and gorgeous, Jiang Su Su’s charming beauty came from her comportment and gestures, as if she was a youthful madam who had been nourished with a sort of undeniable fragrance and charm. Even Fifth Yiniang, Hong Ying, who had been born in the brothel district, couldn’t help but become slightly absent-minded when she looked at Jiang Su Su’s expression.

“Fifth Yiniang?” Upon seeing how dazed Hong Ying was, Jiang Su Su’s eyes revealed a trace of disdain but outwardly, she displayed a light smile as if she was a dewy white lotus flower that bloomed in the morning mist found in the mountains with its flower buds trembling and shaking- arousing one’s desires.

At her light call, Hong Ying was aroused from her reverie and she could not help but feel a sliver of shock. Until now, she did not know what this Second Miss in the fu was doing everyday as she remained in her courtyard. Now that Jiang Chao’s official position was rising steadily and he had once more regained Jiang Quan’s trust, she could no longer make things difficult for Jiang Su Su. Furthermore, Jiang Quan had also made it clear- Hong Ying must get along with Jiang Su Su as it has always been. On the surface, living together in harmony. Except, now that Jiang Su Su had come to her courtyard for the first time, Hong Ying discovered that somehow, unexpectedly during this period of time, Jiang Su Su no longer had any traces of scarring on her face. On the contrary, it seemed as though she had become even more charming than before.

Jiang Quan had originally been blessed with good looks, so naturally, all of the sons and daughters in this Jiang fu had also inherited the good looks of the Jiang family. Currently, of Jiang family’s three daughters, Jiang Ruan’s appearance was brilliantly gorgeous and moving, Jiang Su Su’s was pureness and elegance seemly entrenched into her bones, and although Jiang Dan’s countenance was somewhat inferior to the others, she surpassed them in appearing purely fresh and lovable. It’s just that, from the perspective of an experienced person like Hong Ying, even though all men say they love a woman like Jiang Su Su who seemed untouched by the embers of life; in truth, they always favoured those with brightly gorgeous appearances. Thus, Jiang Ruan’s appearance was the best to be used to one’s advantage to get what one desires at the least expense possible.

Now, in appearances, Jiang Su Su still appeared like a natural beauty without the slightest use of powder on her, yet, strangely, she had a somewhat seductive glance that was alluring to the eyes. Even she could not help but be taken in, thus, Hong Ying was somewhat baffled. Yet, once she noticed Jiang Su Su’s contemptuous glance at her, with such good looks and amorous bearing, compounded with flirtatious means, as long as Jiang Su Su could properly use her body, she was afraid that in the future, she too would be able to get everything she wanted with ease.

As her thoughts reached this conclusion, Hong Ying then smiled, “Now that I see how Second Miss is blossoming into an even more alluring beauty, it makes even this concubine be at loss for words. I have made Second Miss see my laughable behaviour.”

“What are these words from Fifth Yiniang?” Jiang Su Su smiled lightly as she habitually comported herself like an immortal fairy, only now there was a gratuitously added amorous flavour in her mien, with a light raise of her hand and a lowering of her head, it made one’s gaze fall on her. “I’ve merely heard that at first, when Fifth Yiniang entered the fu, Father was extremely loving and protective. Moreover, Fifth Yiniang was graced with national grace and divine fragrance as an outstanding beauty and made numerous people in the capital come forth to the fu’s gates to take a look. Now, thinking back, although your grand occasion has long passed, Fifth Yiniang remains this youthful and is even about to birth a little brother, and despite that, your graceful bearing and charm is even better than before. It’s little wonder that Father remains so loving and protective.”

Upon hearing these words, Hong Ying couldn’t help automatically placing her hands on her lower abdomen. In actual fact, there wasn’t a child in there, however, at this point of time, if she were to insist that there was a child within her, then there was a child. Currently within the Jiang fu, she wielded the most power as she had Jiang Quan firmly grasped within the palm of her hand to the point that he would believe anything that she says without any shadow of a doubt. Even up till the delivery date, she had everything well prepared, and until the baby had wailed his first cry without a hitch. In days to come after, he will be the young master of the fu.

A modest heartfelt smile appeared on her face as she looked again towards Jiang Su Su, feeling somewhat pleased. This Second Miss has begun to be more discrete. Back then, she was well acquainted with Xia Yan’s modus operandi, but now that Xia Yan had fallen, even Jiang Su Su had to come to her to curry favour with her. Hong Ying felt a self enlightening sense of honour and prestige.

“Second Miss has placed this concubine up on a high pedestal. This concubine is merely one from servitude, how can I afford to uphold these two words- graceful and charming. On the other hand, Second Miss,” Hong Ying adoringly continued, “you have blossomed exquisitely before my eyes. In the entire capital, I’m afraid I can’t pick out a second person who stands out like this. In the future, I’m sure you will marry into a good family. By that time, a life of luxury[1] awaits you and you’ll be adored by everyone. Now that is truly having the favour and honour, graceful and charming beyond measure.”

[1] 锦衣玉食 (jǐnyī yù shí) – brocade garments, jade meals (idiom); a life of luxury / extravagance.

“Fifth Yiniang, surely you jest.” Jiang Su Su let out a sigh as her disposition darkened, “Now with Mother seriously ill, Father busy managing the matters of the imperial court every day, and Fifth Yiniang heavily pregnant, it is not quite appropriate for my maternal grandparents to interfere with Su Su’s affairs. Who in this fu would even think of Su Su…” She wiped away the tears from her eyes that were threatening to burst forth. Softly she said, “Moreover, Su Su is not as fortunate as Da Jiejie, with the Empress Dowager conferring her marriage, and the ability to marry the godlike person Jinying Wang, Xiao Wangye.”

Hong Ying sneered within her heart. So it was because someone was unable to eat sour grapes that they came in full of jealousy. However, presently that someone had come to her to pour out her grievances, and no matter what, she had to perfunctorily offer a few words of consolation. Immediately she smiled, “Second Miss must not belittle yourself. Eldest Miss is merely lucky, and if one were to say something unpleasant to the ears, then in terms of talents and beauty, how are you any less than Eldest Miss? If it weren’t for an imperial marriage edict, I’m sure with Second Miss’ accomplishments and capabilities, it would not be impossible for you to gain entry into the main door of the Jinying Wangfu.”

These words spoken were slightly exaggerated. To gain entry into the main door of the Jinying Wangfu wasn’t going to happen just by saying that one wanted to enter. Previously, there were some imperial court ministers who had divulged that the Emperor had his heart set on conferring the Governor Yao of Binhai’s daughter in marriage to Xiao Shao. With Miss Yao’s qualification and calibre, her prestige and clout was more than capable to be on par with a royal princess. For the Emperor to look upon Xiao Shao with such favour, one such as herself, a mere Minister’s daughter, how could she even gain the Emperor’s notice. This time, if it wasn’t for the imperial conferment from the Empress Dowager, this opportunity would not have been given to Jiang Ruan.

Jiang Su Su’s heart filled with indignation, but she spoke in humility, “Many thanks to Fifth Yiniang for your consolation. I am well aware of my lowly status, and is in no way comparable to Da Jiejie’s elegant manner and beauty. I have never laboured under a delusion that I would be like Da Jiejie and marry into Jinying Wangfu and become a Wangfei. It’s just that….” as she spoke her voice became slightly choked with emotions and her eyes reddened; there wasn’t any trace of feigning from her expression as she continued, “it’s just that for a long time, Su Su has regarded Jinying Wang as my beloved, and had hoped that I could admire him from afar and be satisfied, but I did not think that I would never be able to continue with this wishful thinking.”

Hong Ying was taken aback as never in a million years would she have expected Jiang Su Su to be so forthright as to reveal such secret matters of the heart to her. Hong Ying had known that her relationship with Jiang Su Su had never been close enough for them to share matters of the heart like mother and daughter. Moreover, based on Jiang Su Su’s personality, she wasn’t one to easily put her trust in others. There was definitely some hidden agenda and Hong Ying wasn’t letting her guard down. Instead she became more alert. With a superficial smile, she said, “Is this really true, Second Miss? Please do not make a mockery of your reputation.”

“Even Fifth Yiniang does not believe me?” Jiang Su Su faintly sighed. With her frown, her eyes too seemed to be shrouded with a misty haze, which made people feel as if they were seeing flowers in the fog. But as one began to peer closer, one would seem to fall into a deep chasm. Those small pale lips were glossy and plump and were obviously moving as if speaking, and those seeing it would feel as if they were at a loss for words.

Hong Ying did her utmost to push down the impatient intentions that she had, as her eyes fluttered close, only to hear Jiang Su Su continue, “If Fifth Yiniang does not believe it, then it’s fine. Three years ago, on that very day of the Lantern Festival at the Ling Long Boat, after Xiao Wangye had helped Su Su to get out of trouble, my heart had already fallen for him. Initially, I had not the thoughts to become his wife and it would be alright to just look from afar. But who knew that due to an unexpected turn of events, he would actually become my sister’s husband.

The more she heard, the more Hong Ying felt it sounded ridiculous but she still thoughtfully replied, “Since Second Miss already knows that now the both of you have no fate, then it would be best to let go earlier; choose another good son-in-law, and it may be another good predestined fate too.”

Aggrieved, Jiang Su Su glanced at Hong Ying with a lit gaze, making one feel as if they were looking at a beautiful snake slowly undulating, and making one unable to look away.

“Su Su has also tried to forget him, however, I have found that it can be done. Now I have sought out Fifth Yiniang because I am desperate, and am hoping that Fifth Yiniang will look at Su Su’s pitiful state and help me.”

Hong Ying inwardly scolded Jiang Su Su for being manipulative, beating around the bush when actually, wasn’t she requesting help? Only, Hong Ying did want to hear what kind of plans Jiang Su Su actually had. If the gains truly did not make up for the losses, then naturally she would not step into this puddle of dirty water. If there was really some promise in this, then it wouldn’t be too bad to do her a favour at little cost.

After coming to a decision, Hong Ying smoothed out her expression as she lightly spoke, “This concubine is being persuaded by Second Miss’ words, but I’m not sure how Second Miss wants this concubine to help you?”

“It is nothing much if Fifth Yiniang is willing to help me.” Jiang Su Su smiled, “I am truly infatuated with Xiao Wangye, but the position of the main wife[2] is now definitely occupied by Da Jiejie. Su Su does not presume to think of competing with Da Jiejie, only merely wishing to occupy a spot beside Wangye. That’s all. Just even being his concubine is fine too.”

[2] 正妻 (zhèngqī) – principal wife.

“Being his concubine?!” Hong Ying was at a loss for words before she cried out in surprise. A proper minister’s di daughter wanted to be a concubine for someone else. If this was spread out, she would be a laughing stock. This Jiang Su Su truly had deep feelings towards Xiao Shao that she would go this far, to even be able to bear lowering herself to becoming a concubine. But even if she could withstand doing so, Jiang Quan might not necessarily allow it to happen.

“My dear Second Miss, it really isn’t that this concubine is not willing to help you.” Hong Ying sighed, “But what Second Miss is asking is too difficult. Laoye loves Second Miss beyond measure, how could he bear to let you become someone else’s concubine and to have to suffer the despise of others. Should Second Miss do this, then what about the reputation of the entire Jiang fu? Although these words may be preposterous, this concubine still needs to say this. Second Miss, if you have the Jiang family in your heart, then you cannot follow this line of thinking.”

As her admonishment came to an end, Jiang Su Su was weeping uncontrollably, “Fifth Yiniang, if there was even a sliver of an opportunity, Su Su would not want it as such but no one would willingly choose to be a concubine. Moreover Su Su has grown up in the fu pampered and adored by all, so naturally Su Su knows that this is an embarrassing matter to speak of. But, Su Su has really set her heart solely on Xiao Wangye, and if I am unable to marry him, I won’t be able to marry anyone else in the future.”

She looked towards Hong Ying, her eyes glistened and brightened, “Moreover, what was it that Fifth Yiniang said earlier? Su Su may not be as beautiful as Da Jiejie, yet I am not without virtue or talents. Then maybe someday I might be able to earn the favour of Xiao Wangye. And should Wangye be happy and promote Su Su, then Su Su and Da Jiejie will both be mistresses of the fu. With both sisters working in tandem with one husband, and should such proceedings were to spread out, it would be the stuff of fairytales.” She reached out her hands to grasp Hong Ying’s hands, her voice filled with entreaty, “I beg of you Fifth Yiniang, lend Su Su a helping hand. Should Su Su be fortunate one day to receive Xiao Wangye’s favour, I would alway remember your grace and kind affections.”

Hong Ying’s gaze sharpened. This matter had absolutely nothing to do with her and she ought not to even meddle in it, but Jiang Su Su’s words had somehow caused her heart to waver. In the past, she had indeed thought to peacefully live out her life within the fu and when Xia Yan was around, she had been cautious and treaded gingerly in all things, afraid of giving anyone a handle of her. For many years, even though she had the favour and love of Jiang Quan, she had lived prudently. Now there was no Xia Yan in the fu, Second Yiniang had died and Eldest Yiniang was so lacking that there was nothing to be fearful, thus within the fu, she alone wielded the most power. Once a person had had a taste of power, it was not that easy to relinquish it. Though Jiang Ruan had once helped her out, ultimately, Jiang Quan and Jiang Ruan were at odds. So, now that she wanted to secure her position firmly within the fu, she could no longer have any involvement with Jiang Ruan.

Besides, Jiang Ruan’s scheming were fathomless and she wasn’t able to control her. The Hong Ying of today had long grown accustomed to be the one issuing orders, so how could she be willing to lower herself before Jiang Ruan. Most importantly, Jiang Ruan knew her secret- this was essentially like an impending disaster just ticking away within Hong Ying’s heart, causing her to lose precious sleep every night. If it was possible to send Jiang Su Su into the Jinying Wangfu, and she had established good relations with Jiang Su Su, then possibly there would be a way from within to somewhat control Jiang Ruan. Well, at least a means to prevent Jiang Ruan from having the gumption to act rashly against her.

Hong Ying took stock of the girl before her. Jiang Su Su looked refined and outstanding dressed in white, metamorphosing and disseminating a kind of alluring charm, almost like that of a fox-spirit. Her every movement seemed capable of dazzling and blinding the eyes of men. This was vastly different from the beauty of appearance, instead, it was a kind of flirtatious expression and amorous mien that could penetrate and engrave itself right into the bones. Even if Hong Ying, who had lived in the brothel those many years, had seen Jiang Su Su’s graceful bearings at that time, she would not have resisted in her heart and acknowledged that she(JSS) was splendid. Truthfully, if Jiang Su Su had been born years ago, it would have been inevitable that the brothel’s favoured red card would have seen a change of hands.

Men could not help but shower their ardent love upon such a girl. Even a stone-cold person like Xiao Shao, when faced with such beauty, could not help but be attracted. Men were creatures who would go with their natural instincts and urges, and with the machination of the skilled Second Miss, for her to capture and secure the famous cold-hearted and emotionless young Wangye with the palm of her hands would definitely not be too difficult a task for her. By contrast, while Jiang Ruan was an exquisite beauty, upon careful consideration, her personality was overtly cold and cheerless, austere and harsh. Men mostly loved those who were warm and soft, and sought out women who were soft and weak. Whereas Jiang Ruan was so intense and dominant, how could she compare to a drop of Jiang Su Su’s tears.

The more Hong Ying looked, the more she felt that should Jiang Su Su and Jiang Ruan both entered the Jinying Wangfu, in the end, it would be Jiang Ruan who would suffer the cold shoulder and be desolate, while Jiang Su Su would be highly favoured. Jiang Su Su currently no longer had the support from her own mother, so if she wanted to survive and live well within the fu, then it was necessary for her to align and rely on her(HY). It seemed like Jiang Su Su was well aware of this, and was more malleable compared to Jiang Ruan. Her heart came to a decision, this offer of help was not without its advantages, so Hong Ying tried to make things difficult by stating, “This…. This concubine was also once a young girl and regarding Second Miss’ infatuation, I totally understand your heart. However, whilst this matter appears to be simple, it is definitely not as easy to execute as one would have it. If this plan were to fall apart and incur Laoye’s wrath and punishment, Second Miss, as the di born daughter, naturally would escape unscathed. But this concubine is only one of the yiniangs, and if we were to make Laoye unhappy, it is possible that he could kick me out of the door. For the other, that’s still alright, but this concubine is pregnant with a child and doesn’t want the child to suffer such punishment upon his birth, becoming a child without status….”

The message was laden with innuendos, and Jiang Su Su was obviously not stupid, and responded immediately, “Fifth Yiniang doesn’t have anything to be concerned about, I’m just hoping to gain Fifth Yiniang’s help with this matter. Once it has been settled, and in order to repay Fifth Yiniang’s grace and affections, Su Su will definitely personally intercede with Father and my maternal grandparents to open the family ancestral shrine and request that Father promote Fifth Yiniang to the position of pingqi[3].”

[3] 平妻 (píng qī) – Literally translated as equal wife, after the late period of Emperor Qianlong (6th Qing Emperor’s name) rule, he legally allowed this double ancestral marriage system in which this became another appellation for a wife who married into the ancestral hall again. But between the zhengqi and the pingqi, they are considered as paternal wives/sisters-in-law who have the same husband. A pingqi does not need to do concubine etiquette to the matron of the household although their status is truthfully not equal (as she still has the status of a concubine), but a pingqi needs to still adhere to seniority and call the main wifeMadam as the elder sister.

In East Asia, relative to concubines, the social status of a pingqi is equal to that of the main wife, and the children born are regarded as direct children with the right to inherit the inheritance. Pingqi also have the right to be listed on tombstones or ancestral tablets after death.

Xia Yan was still not dead so he could not rashly abandon his previous wife, but he could raise Hong Ying to the rank of pingqi. In this fu, this was tantamount to her using a hand to hide the sky[4]. This was exactly what Hong Ying desired because Jiang Quan could no longer trust that woman who had no chastity. Hong Ying smiled in satisfaction as she patted Jiang Su Su’s hand, “Second Miss truly is thoughtful, but I’m not sure what you intend for this concubine to help with?”

[4] 手遮天 (yīshǒuzhētiān) – lit. to hide the sky with one hand / to hide the truth from the masses.

Jiang Su Su lowered her head as she stood up and in a soft voice, “This…. Requesting that Fifth Yiniang take a look, and at a later time, Su Su will come visit Fifth Yiniang again to discuss the details.” In saying, she gestured for her personal maid to present a letter. Hong Ying took the letter and gave Jiang Su Su a cursory look before smiling, “That’ll be good. This concubine’s body isn’t very comfortable, so I won’t see you off.”

“Do take care and rest well for the baby. Su Su will take her leave now.” With these words, Jiang Su Su gave Hong Ying a nod of her head and walked out of the courtyard.

After walking out of Hong Ying’s courtyard, Jiang Su Su then slowed her footsteps as she reached the foot of the garden. Upon looking at the courtyard’s entrance, a cold smile gradually grew. Merely a lowly, despicable woman from a brothel, yet she was thinking of flying and perching on a high branch to become a phoenix. To have ambitions to become the pingqi of the Jiang fu, that needed the qualifications to be one. As for Jiang Ruan, Jiang Su Su’s eyes flashed with fury and hatred, she was but a coarse, wild woman who had been raised in a rural residence, on what grounds did she have the right to marry into the Jinying Wangfu that was filled with glory, splendour, wealth and rank?

But if Xiao Shao was not a fool, he would not easily put her aside to choose Jiang Ruan. Jiang Su Su lightly caressed her face. Now that she had perfected her charming technique, all of the men in this world would fall before her pomegranate skirts. It was precisely so that she could vie for whatever Jiang Ruan cared for, and whatever Jiang Ruan owned, she wanted to grab them all. Even if it was her husband too.

She would always be the final winner.

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