The Rebirth of an Ill-Fated Consort - Chapter 162
Chapter 162 : Xiao Shao Enters the Jiang Fu
It can be said that the conferment of marriage by Empress Dowager Yi De’s imperial decree was nothing short of impressive. With Xiao Shao’s impending departure to go into battle, it was imperative to have this marriage arranged, sealed and settled as soon as possible. And although Jiang Ruan was still in the mourning period and unable to have the marriage ceremony, this decree nominally declared that she was Xiao Shao’s.
While commoners were not overly concerned about the various complicated entanglements resulting from the decree, they were envious of the Jiang fu for having a daughter that was able to marry into the Jinying Wangfu. In some circles, it may even be said that the reputation of Jinying Wangye was not that good, but this was not something the commoners were aware of or concerned about; they could only see what was on the surface. Furthermore, the “rebel” Xiao Wangye was the hottest cake* within the imperial courts; for someone to be so young and yet wield such power and authority, Xiao Shao was the first.
* 香饽饽 (xiāngbōbo) – delicious cake / popular person / something that is in high demand.
Currently, the Jiang fu had three daughters and each of them were beautiful. Even though the eldest daughter was raised in the country, her brilliance was outstandingly unmatched. Later, it was unknown as to how she became fortunate enough to not only become a Junzhu but was now considered to be marrying up but inevitably the Jiang fu was rising according to the changing tide.
With such an outstanding person like Jiang Ruan at the forefront, this had caused many to begin to muse over the future of Jiang Su Su. In truth, Jiang Su Su had always held the designation within the capital as a remarkably stunning beauty, and her many talents were renowned far and wide. If Xia Yan had not met with a mishap, one was afraid that the amount of people who would come to propose marriage would have tramped over the main door. However, just because of her mother’s misfortune, ultimately Jiang Su Su was also implicated. Presently, those noble families looked down their noses at her, but there were also those who lusted only after her beauty and hence were despised by Jiang Quan as beneath them. In the course of time, this had resulted in her marriage being delayed.
No matter what, since the Empress Dowager had issued the imperial decree, even if Jiang Quan was inwardly sullen and disgruntled, outwardly he had to present himself as happy and pleased. Not only that, he had to make sure that his happy performance was to the point that no one could find anything amiss as Empress Dowager Yi De had eyes on him; she would not tolerate or allow him to try any form of deceit or treachery. Fortunately within the fu, he still had another beautiful treasured flower. Hong Ying had agreed to undertake the task of managing Jiang Ruan’s marriage, and all proceedings were left in her hands to organise with Eldest Yiniang assisting. As such there were no flaws in any of the etiquette. So much so that Jiang Quan was very pleased with Hong Ying, and because Hong Ying was still pregnant with the Jiang family’s offspring, he was exceptionally considerate and thoughtful towards her.
In actual fact, Hong Ying was concerned about Jiang Ruan as ever since the Empress Dowager’s imperial decree, Xiao Shao had not formally come to visit the Jiang fu. In terms of etiquette, this was not right, but Xiao Shao had no parents, so it was impossible for his parents to do it for him. For him to personally come visit, based on Xiao Shao’s temperament, that was also quite an impossibility. Even if Xiao Shao were to continue procrastinating, due to Jiang Quan’s official position he didn’t dare to speak out of turn.
Hong Ying was helping Jiang Quan straighten out his collar when she brought up this matter, “ Xiao Wangye ought to visit our fu. This concubine feels that whether Xiao Wangye comes or not, the proper etiquette needs to be observed. How about sending him an invitation, requesting that he make a trip to the fu to talk about Eldest Miss’ nuptials?”
The mere thought of this marriage was sufficient for Jiang Quan to immediately develop a severe headache, however this conferred marriage was not something that they could afford to offend. Subsequently, he rigidly said, “You do as you see fit.”
“This matter ought to be the job for Furen,” Hong Ying lowered her head, “However, currently Furen is convaslacing in the rural residence, so we can’t trouble her. I just hope that Xiao Wangye wouldn’t despise this concubine because of her humble low-born status, and think that we are insulting him.”
“What low-born status?” With the mention of Xia Yan, Jiang Quan could not help thinking of those unpleasant matters, and his mood instantly worsened. Right away, displeasure was evident in his tone of voice, “Currently in the fu, you are the mistress. Although Xiao Shao intends to marry my daughter, Jiang Ruan ultimately still bears the name ‘Jiang’, so he has to observe the customs and practices of my Jiang family. You can go ahead and send out the invitation and it doesn’t matter if he comes or not. After all, if news were to spread, then it is he who would be said to be ignorant of the proper etiquette. Even if the matter was to be brought right up to the Empress Dowager, the person at fault would still be him.”
“Laoye, please don’t be angry.” Hong Ying gently cajoled, “I’m sure Xiao Wangye isn’t a person to be ignorant of these social etiquettes. This concubine will go and make arrangements. And if after a few days, should Xiao Wangye be willing to pay a visit, this concubine hopes to be able to appropriately attend to him. After all, we can’t afford to be careless and lax with Eldest Miss’ wedding, especially with the Empress Dowager personally overseeing.”
“These are mere trifling matters, you don’t have to go overboard with it.” Jiang Quan knitted his brows utterly unwilling to hear any more things pertaining to Jiang Ruan. Switching the topic, he charged Hong Ying, “If you have so much free time, why don’t you put more effort into Su Su’s marriage. Considering that Su Su is also of marriageable age, and currently in the fu, you are the one attending all the social events. You should keep an ear out for the gentlemen that are of suitable age within the capital, and help select a family to arrange marriage for Su Su.”
“Yes, Laoye.” A smile appeared on Hong Ying’s face, though her heart secretly mocked because Jiang Quan’s best intentions were going to be for nothing. Jiang Su Su was not someone who was easy to deal with, and there was definitely no need to seek out whatever strapping or handsome young man since Jiang Su Su was wholeheartedly set on climbing into her brother-in-law’s bed. But then again, this made things easier for her to act on her plans.
* * *
When the invitation card from the Jiang fu was handed over to Xiao Shao, Steward Lin was intently paying close attention to Xiao Shao’s countenance. Noticing that there weren’t any changes to his expression, he couldn’t resist reminding, “Young Master, do you wish to accept or decline this invitation?”
“What is the difference?” Xiao Shao sat before a table, and in front of him was spread out a copy of the map of the outlying territory of Tian Jin kingdom. On the map were a myriad of notations. The campaign to go into battle was imminent and this time their operation was highly complex and fraught with life and death situations, so every detail had to be well prepared.
“Aiyoh, my master, of course there is a big difference.” Steward Lin was harried, “Although this was the imperial decree issued by the Empress Dowager, Young Furen is set to be our fu’s mistress. But this show of extravagance and setting must not be neglected. If Old Furen were still alive, right at this moment, she would be on her way to the Jiang fu to personally meet her daughter-in-law and exchange formalities with the in-laws. However, our fu doesn’t have such a person, so it is best if Young Master personally go visit.”
Noticing that Xiao Shao had lifted his eye to look at him, Steward Lin continued his effort, “If you were to go, then what would it mean. It would mean that Young Master really values Young Furen. With Young Furen currently at the Jiang fu, everyone would have to look up to her, and no one would carelessly bully her. Young Master, this servant will add another thing- with young ladies, you have to coax and cajole. If Young Master feels that Young Furen is not passionate towards you, this is all Young Master’s fault. As a man, you need to be a tad more proactive, especially as you will soon be heading out into battle. Aren’t you doing so because you want to give your support and backing for our Young Furen. If Young Furen were to see you act, then naturally her heart will be moved. At this point, Young Master just has to say a few words that will make her happy. Then, wouldn’t you be assured that Young Furen is loyal and will remain unwavering towards you?”
Somehow Steward Lin’s tirade seemed to have penetrated into Xiao Shao’s heart. Only a slight frown could be seen as he pensively scrutinized the map before him, although his expression also indicated that he was in fact pondering over other things. He was silent for a while before nodding his head, “Reply to the invitation, saying that in three days’ time, Xiao Shao will be coming to pay a visit.”
“Alright –” Steward Lin had made such an eloquent speech, but it was rare for Young Master to be so accommodating. His heart felt a sense of accomplishment, as he silently added that the lad was indeed teachable. Diligently, he left the room happily in search of a nice looking card.
“Be more proactive? He lowered his head and muttered to himself, his eyelashes drew an intoxicating arc, but his eyes seemed to be curved, smiling.
* * *
Jiang Ruan was totally unaware of the exchange of correspondence between the Jiang fu and Jinying Wangfu. These days the Jiang fu was experiencing a rare moment of peace and tranquility. Although it was unclear if it was because of Jiang Quan’s orders, but the servants all seemed to have totally disregarded the news concerning her marriage to Xiao Shao. No one had come to offer their congratulations, or even asked after her as though they were intentionally giving her the cold shoulder.
Whenever Bai Zhi and Lian Qiao were to make mention of this matter, their bellies harboured their grievances and anger. Afterall, Jiang Ruan was the Jiang family’s eldest di daughter, and for Jiang Quan to take matters to such an extreme was really causing them immense indignation. Lian Qiao was styling Jiang Ruan’s hair, “I heard that Second Miss has been going to Fifth Yiniang’s courtyard daily and with each visit she spends the whole afternoon there. I really can’t figure out when those two became close. Moreover, Fifth Yiniang is someone who has blatantly destroyed the bridge after crossing the river and now she has turned around and pretends not to know us. The imperial decree from the Empress Dowager has been issued for quite some days now, yet we don’t even see her coming over to ask after you. Does anyone even know what is happening with the dowry and wedding plans?
Normally, all of the formalities and marriage protocols were taken care of by the mother of the bride. If Zhao Mei was alive, over the past few days she would have been busy all day until she was famished. Meanwhile, Hong Ying was obviously very idle, and up until now she had not shown any interest in the matter. However, it was not proper to have the soon to be married lady go about asking these questions.
“What has she done wrong. The most she will say is that she is merely a concubine and the di daughter’s marriage is not something she can interfere with. In the end, she is not in the wrong.” Jiang Ruan tepidly replied. “If there was anything amiss, the Empress Dowager would not sit by and do nothing. She has already made an accurate assessment of this situation and this is why she has not purposefully taken any interest in the matter.”
Afterall the Empress Dowager would see to everything pertaining to the marriage, thus Hong Ying would not be willing to do anything that was hard work or in her (JR)interests. Presently, the person wielding the authority within the fu was none other than Hong Ying, and to have Hong Ying take funds from the family coffers to give her as dowry- it was obvious that she would not be willing. There was no way a person who has had a taste of power and authority would be willing to casually give it up. Moreover, Hong Ying had gotten used to the feeling of being raised up to the pedestal within the fu, so having to face a di daughter who was of higher status than her, how could she be happy about it?
“No matter what, this Fifth Yiniang is totally unreasonable. She should think carefully about how, if not for our Miss’ help back then, she wouldn’t be able to live comfortably and safely in the fu, not to mention the luxurious lifestyle she is living in now. Did she really think she was expecting…”
“Lian Qiao,” Jiang Ruan interrupted her chatter, “You’ve said too much.”
Lian Qiao was taken aback as she realised her indiscretion and instantly replied, “Your servant has spoken out of turn.”
Jiang Ruan shook her head, “It’s okay, but don’t let others hear. Go select a few bolts of material that were sent over from the palace. Later, Bai Zhi and you can embroider some pouches; there are many people coming from the palace and we can’t be negligent and offend them with our giftings.”
Since the marriage decree was issued, just about every other day, Empress Dowager Yi De would commission someone to send things over. These were mainly jewellery and accessories that most young ladies who were soon to be married would make use of. The only thing was, Jiang Ruan personally wasn’t interested in such things and if it weren’t for Bai Zhi repeatedly reminding, most likely these items would be tossed into a chest never to see the light of day.
Lian Qiao poked her tongue out as she went as instructed in search of those materials. Lu Zhu who had been sitting to the side embroidering, saw her action and blinked, “Miss, when are you going to begin embroidering your wedding dress?”
“Wedding dress?” Jiang Ruan was slightly stunned.
“Of course,” Lu Zhu had a cheeky smile on her face as she looked at her (JR), “Doesn’t a wedding dress need to be made and embroidered before the wedding day? Even if the wedding ceremony isn’t until next year, isn’t it still possible to start working on the dress? Although, there is a possibility that Xiao Wangye might arrange for someone to deliver one. But don’t most girls prefer to sew their own gown? With both Xiao Wangye and Miss looking so stunning, just thinking of the both of you dressed up in your wedding attire, this servant believes that the eyes of everyone in the entire capital will be dazzled.”
Her words were charming and adorable but they caused Jiang Ruan to sink into deep contemplation. In her previous life, she had been sent into the palace so naturally she did not have the opportunity to become a bride. Indeed, as a young girl she had thought about being beautifully clothed in a resplendent and majestic phoenix-like dress. But sadly she wasn’t able to experience such a moment in her previous life. The happiness of an ordinary young lady was something she had never considered at all. In this life, if it weren’t for Xiao Shao seeking the marriage decree, she would never consider what marrying someone would entail.
If she were to marry some other person, it was possible that she would still be able to remain cold and detached. But with Xiao Shao as her groom, there was something strange happening with her heart. The act of sewing a wedding dress was done out of love for one’s lover, but what was Xiao Shao’s position in her heart currently- this was something Jiang Ruan had never reflected upon. Obviously their relationship had gone beyond friendship, but it had not quite yet reached the status of lovers. They were definitely just missing that last little bit.
It was just that little bit, but it was sufficient enough to tangle her heart in knots, and she wasn’t sure if this knot would ever be untangled within this lifetime. With this line of thought, she could not help feeling an insipid sense of guilt towards Xiao Shao.
“We can talk about it more when I have some free time.” She shook her head, totally absentminded. Lu Zhu noticed her distraction and preoccupation, so she didn’t continue asking and obediently continued with the chores at hand.
* * *
Sure enough, Xiao Shao arrived at the Jiang fu three days later to pay a visit. He had come together with just one additional person, Steward Lin. Xiao Shao was clothed in an ink black jacquard weave brocade outfit, and the outer collar was carefully embroidered with cyan coloured bamboo leaves motifs. The cuff of the sleeves were embroidered with a dark golden qilin that was making a threatening gesture as if protecting the wrist, overall giving a formidable appearance. As he entered the Jiang fu, his expression was icy and indifferent, his eyes like cold stars, so much so that no one dared to meet his eyes. His body permeated a penetrating biting cold, imperious and introverted, yet at the same time it seemed to display a sense of ostentatiousness.
The maidservant who was leading the way was blushing all the way, yet she was too afraid to lift her head to admire the young man’s beautiful face. From the beginning till the end, she quietly led the way. Along the way, they passed many maidservants and attendants who became distracted and enamoured by him. Steward Lin could not help feeling exceptionally proud of himself, as he straightened his body with pride.
When they arrived at the main hall, as expected, they saw that Hong Ying together with Eldest Yiniang were awaiting their arrival. With the support of a maid in attendance, Hong Ying gave Xiao Shao a curtsy with a cordial smile on her face, “This concubine greets Wangye. Because Furen is presently not in the fu, this humble concubine has been attending to the household matters. Therefore, I hope that Wangye will not disdain this concubine should I do things inappropriately.”
Xiao Shao gave a nonchalant “hmm” in response, before sitting himself on the chair that was prepared for him. Steward Lin stood by his side and without waiting for Xiao Shao to speak, said with a big smile, “Fifth Yiniang need not stand on ceremony. Obviously you are our Young Furen’s maternal family, so there is no need to go overboard. Our Master does not have too many customs and protocols, so you can be at ease.”
Steward Lin seemed jovial and affable, but every sentence spoken had not been amiable. Although he had said that there weren’t any customs or protocols, in actual fact, their standards were above anyone else. Eldest Yiniang stood silently at the side, but the surrounding servants could blatantly see that the situation was awkward. The master and servant from the Jinying Wangfu had not come in peace, and it was evident that they had intentionally done so in support of Eldest Miss. Immediately, they lowered their heads even deeper, hoping not to attract any attention to themselves.
The smile on Hong Ying’s face froze, but she had been brought up in the common market place, so she was an expert at mingling and socialising. Consequently, she was once again able to marshall her smile and warmly reply, “Then it couldn’t be any better. Eldest Miss is the di daughter of our fu and our Laoye is deeply heartbroken. Seeing as how Wangye has shown to care so much for our Eldest Miss, Laoye will be very happy about it.”
Xiao Shao did not reply and instead Steward Lin spoke, “Fifth Yiniang’s words are too modest. Since the Empress Dowager has issued the imperial decree, then Young Furen is now the mistress of our fu, so it is inevitable that she has the Master’s affections and protection. The purpose of our visit today ,besides these matters, is that our Master has requested that I bring along the itemised list of all the betrothal gifts. We only have to wait until Young Furen enters our fu before these betrothal gifts and dowry are placed in our Young Furen’s hands. The Empress Dowager has also taken a look.” Then he took out from his sleeves a golden silk seal envelope containing the list of betrothal gifts and handed it over to Hong Ying.
Initially, when Hong Ying heard Steward Lin first speak, she was rather pleased but when he came to the second part of his statement, her complexion turned wretched. Thus, when she opened the itemized betrothal gift list, her face fluctuated from red to white, then white to red, and it could be said to be extremely brilliant. Shortly thereafter, she closed the gift list, inhaled a deep breath and reluctantly smiled, “Indeed Wangye truly loves our Eldest Miss very much. This gift list can be said to be beyond extravagant and substantial. Seeing as such, this concubine is genuinely and sincerely happy for our Eldest Miss.”
As she was speaking, her hands were tightly clenched as if she would wring the gift list into shreds. As a matter of fact, Hong Ying had come from the brothels, and what kind of a place was a brothel. It was a money squandering establishment, and there wasn’t any wastrel that she had not seen before. To stake one thousand pieces of gold on one throw all for a beautiful woman was a common sight for Hong Ying. Thus her attitude towards silver, gold and precious jewels were to see them as merely worldly possessions, unlike Second Yiniang who was so shortsighted. But now that she had seen the betrothal gift list that the Jinying Wangfu delivered, she was unable to resist taking another deep cold breath.
Rare treasures, rare animals, residences and businesses, gold and banknotes for silver. Immeasurable wealth and honour, umpteen amounts of precious stones and jewels, and it was a minute little betrothal gift list, yet it was sufficient for everyone to see that this was merely the tip of the iceberg of Jinying Wangfu’s ostentatious wealth. Though Hong Ying could be considered to be experienced and knowledgeable, at this moment she could not help being dazzled by the sheer grandness of the riches and honour, and her heart secretly began to turn jealous and hatred arose against Jiang Ruan.
But most importantly, this hard to come by riches and honour had not even reached her hands before it was immediately whisked away. Xiao Shao had made it crystal clear when he said that the betrothal gifts were to be handed directly to Jiang Ruan, and that Empress Dowager Yi De was also clear on the matter. This obviously meant that she didn’t have a chance to intervene. Initially she had thought to sponge off some benefits from amongst Jiang Ruan’s betrothal gifts but now she could only look on helplessly as those riches slipped out from her hands. To know that just with this betrothal gift, it was more than sufficient to buy a few ministers’ fu, how could she resign herself to that?
The more her heart was unresigned to the fact, the more Hong Ying was resolute in her decision, determined to send Jiang Su Su into the Jinying Wangfu. Jiang Ruan was not easy to manipulate, while Jiang Su Su was able to determine who was the decision-maker in the Jiang fu now. If she was able to seize hold of Jiang Su Su, then once Jiang Su Su entered the Jinying Wangfu, those riches would naturally and continuously flow into the Jiang fu. And at that time, the days in the fu would become more and more comfortable.
Once Hong Ying’s heart had set upon this idea, her smile also became warmer while Steward Lin knitted his brow as he looked at the gift list being mangled out of shape by Hong Ying, “Fifth Yiniang, do be careful with that, this betrothal gift list is the only one besides the other one with the Empress Dowager. It would be terribly troublesome should it be damaged.”
“This concubine has not been careful.” Hong Ying awkwardly smiled apologetically. Only to hear Steward Lin add, “Not sure where Young Furen is currently, but she ought to come out and meet Wangye.”
Hong Ying smiled slightly, “Of course Eldest Miss should come out, but young ladies tend to be shy and I’m afraid she is currently getting groomed and dressed. This concubine has already sent someone to inform her and shortly Eldest Miss will go to the tea pavilion within the flower garden. Lin Lang, why don’t you usher Wangye over there. You young people definitely have things to talk about, and since the Empress Dowager conferred the marriage, it would be great to get to know each other better earlier.” The words she had just spoken sounded astute and magnanimous.
Her words appeared to be different compared to the other pedantic and inflexible aristocratic families. It was just that Xiao Shao had no change in expression, and he still looked at her indifferently.
Facing such an expressionless person, even if one had a glib tongue they would still feel a sense of helplessness. It seemed that Steward Lin had come today specifically to be Xiao Shao’s spokesperson, and immediately he smiled, “Then that couldn’t be better. Please hurry and lead the way.”
At present, everyone in the Jinying Wangfu had placed Xiao Shao’s nuptials as a top priority. Their Master had not used enough effort in his pursuit of their Young Furen, so naturally as subordinates they had to put in some effort too. Steward Lin was always wishing that they could create more opportunities for Xiao Shao and Jiang Ruan to have some time together alone, and since Hong Ying was so tactful and discreet, Steward Lin was very pleased.
“Steward Lin has misunderstood.” Hong Ying covered her mouth and laughed, “This concubine still has some matter regarding the nuptials that I wish to further discuss with Steward Lin and seeing that Wangye has entrusted this marriage to Steward Lin to manage, then this concubine wishes to discuss the matter in detail with Steward Lin. If Steward Lin does not mind, I would like to request that you stay behind to have a discussion with this concubine.” She looked towards Xiao Shao and chuckled, “As for Eldest Miss and Wangye, it would be more convenient for them to converse.”
If one thought that everyone in the fu appeared to be sophisticated, Steward Lin would have almost given his praise and approval to this educated beauty who knew the right etiquette.
“That’s true, Master, what do you–” Steward Lin turned to ask Xiao Shao, his eyes lit with anticipation.
Xiao Shao indeed didn’t disappoint Steward Lin’s anticipation, and tepidly nodded his head, “Good.”
Hong Ying gave a true smile, “Lin Lang, hurry along and take Wangye over there.”
Lin Lang obediently walked over and gave Xiao Shao a curtsy, “Wangye, please come with this servant.”
* * *
Xiao Shao followed Lin Lang as they made their way across the Jiang fu’s courtyard and flower terrace, passing through the long corridors until they arrived at a tea pavilion within a landscaped garden. The tea pavilion was nested within a forest of trees, tucked away from sight and very secluded. If one were to be tired from wandering the gardens, they would come here for a short rest, sample some nice tea and take a breather; this was indeed a very suitable place. It may be assumed that this was the Jiang fu’s most renovated and refined place, as the area was considered rather big and if seen from afar, a person could almost mistake it for a lady’s courtyard.
Lin Lang was silent throughout the journey, focusing only on leading the way, so she missed the look in Xiao Shao’s eyes. His expression was calm, yet within his calm and sanguine appearance, he had completely surveyed the place. This was not the first time that Xiao Shao had come to the Jiang fu. In the past he would come whenever the opportunity permitted, so he had a good grasp of the layout of the fu. Moreover Jin Er and Jin San were monitoring the place, and had presented the Jiang fu’s map for him to peruse, so he naturally knew of this tea pavilion.
Normally this tea pavilion wasn’t used to entertain guests. On the contrary, while the setting was quiet and secluded, it was too far from the ladies’ courtyards and since Xia Yan had left, very few people would come here to relax and savour their tea.
Yet, Hong Ying had arranged for him to meet up with Jiang Ruan at such a place.
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