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   Chapter 78 The Performance

Eight-year-old Princess: Phoenix Reborn By Lan You Ruo Characters: 20984

Updated: 2018-08-26 14:45

This unexpected request had taken Prince Jing by surprise. He shot a glance at Yun Shang and saw her nodding at him. Then he looked towards the Empress who was sitting next to Emperor Ning. The Empress? Prince Jing squinted and stood up, "Your Majesty, this is unfair since I don't have the silk ball in my hand."

Emperor Ning laughed heartily, "Lady Shu was right. It should be you."

Prince Jing had no choice but to sigh in agreement. "Since it is also Your Majesty's wish to see me play, I will play the xiao* for Lady Meng to dance. But I will require one more person to join us. Will Your Majesty permit my request?"

(*TN: xiao is a Chinese vertical end-blown flute, which is generally made of bamboo.)

Emperor Ning nodded, "Since it's a request from you, as your brother, I would not disappoint you. So tell us, who is this person? You can name anyone here."

Prince Jing gave a nod in response. His eyes swept the hall from one end to another. Then he pointed at a girl, "Your Majesty, may I request Princess Hui Guo's assistance to perform a melody together?"

Yun Shang raised her head in surprise. She saw a mischievous glint in Prince Jing's eyes.

All guests turned their eyes to Yun Shang. Emperor Ning said with a smile, "As promised, I would grant your request. But as far as I know, Shang'er knows nothing about music. So, are you still sure that Shang'er should join you?"

Prince Jing turned around to look at Yun Shang, "It must be her. She must play alongside me."

It must be her? Yun Shang sank into a trance. She remembered the name of the melody in her plan, and felt as if her heart was about to jump out of her throat. What did Prince Jing mean when he said those words?

"So, Shang'er, are you willing to play together with your uncle?" Emperor Ning turned to Yun Shang and asked.

Yun Shang stayed silent for a while before uttering a gentle "Yes."

Prince Jing always carried his xiao with him. It was a beautiful one as green as an emerald. And the guqin* was in the Hall, as Lady Lan had played it a moment before. Yun Shang stood up, walked toward the guqin, and sat down before it.

(*TN: guqin is a plucked seven-string Chinese musical instrument of the zither family. It has been played since ancient times, and has traditionally been favored by scholars and literati as an instrument of great subtlety and refinement.)

As soon as Yun Shang sat down, the xiao sounded.

The melody, however, surprised everyone in the Hall. Popularly known as Courting A Phoenix, it was a melody usually played when a man expressed his love towards his lover.

Yun Shang's hands began to pluck the cords of the guqin when the melody from the xiao was getting weak. The sound of the guqin flew as smooth and fluent as a merry creek, and meshed perfectly with that of the xiao.

Qin Meng walked to the middle of the Hall, bent a little, and began to dance. She showed her charm and grace with every movement of her body. She looked like a phoenix about to fly. Her carmine dress shimmered as she danced to the music.

As the melody and the dancing were intoxicating, all guests were holding their breath even after the performance had finished.

"I am so fortunate to have Prince Jing and Princess Hui Guo play for me. Thank you very much." Qin Meng swept a graceful courtesy towards Prince Jing and Yun Shang.

Regaining his composure, Emperor Ning applauded heartily, "Wonderful!" Nobody could figure out whether he applauded for the dancing or the music.

Emperor Ning glanced at Prince Jing, and noticed that he had set his eyes on Yun Shang. Emperor Ning frowned. He wondered if there was something between Prince Jing and Shang'er...

Now, almost all the guests were racking their brains to figure out what had Prince Jing meant when he said, it must be her. After all, Courting A Phoenix was a melody used for winning the heart of lovers. And Prince Jing said it must be her when he selected Yun Shang.

Although everybody thought the same thing, none of them dared speak it out.

"Lady Meng's dancing was quite excellent. I think no one else could dance as good as her. But what surprised me most is that Princess Hui Guo played the guqin so well. It is said that Prince Jing is a master performer of the xiao. But Princess Hui Guo's show of the guqin just now was no inferior to his. The sounds of the guqin and xiao were quite harmonious. How wonderful they were."

"Yes. It was also beyond my expectation. Shang'er has learned quite a lot at Ning'guo Temple. I should extend my gratitude to Master Wu Na." Emperor Ning thought of Lady Jin while looking at Yun Shang, who resembled her mother very much while playing the guqin.

Lady Shu said with a smile, "After the marvelous dancing by Lady Meng, I don't think there would be any fun in the game as no one else could present us with a better performance. Fortunately, I have prepared some special dishes for today's banquet. So, Your Majesty, shall we begin our banquet?"

Emperor Ning nodded, "All right. Today's banquet is prepared by you. So, it's up to you."

Lady Shu clapped her hands and a group of maids came in, each holding a plate in their hand. In the middle of the plate was a bowl painted with cute babies, and the bowl was filled with gruel boiled with slongan, lotus seed, and peanuts*. Lady Shu said with a smile, "Your Majesty, today's banquet is being held to celebrate the pregnancy of the Empress and Lady Jin. So, I have prepared this gruel boiled with slongan, lotus seed, and peanuts. I'm hoping that the Empress and Lady Jin will bear sons for Your Majesty."

(*TN: in China, gruel boiled with slongan, lotus seed, and peanuts is a sign of blessing for women who wish to be pregnant and bear more children in the future.)

Emperor Ning laughed heartily at those words, "Good. It seems Lady Shu has made elaborate preparations for the party. Both of you should have a try of the gruel."

Lady Shu waved at a maid. Before long, the gruel had been placed on the tables. Then another group of maids entered. They carried mandarin fish boiled with Chinese-date.

"As Prince Jing is going to war, I have prepared mandarin fish for Prince Jing to wish him good luck and an early victory." Lady Shu looked at Prince Jing with a smile in her eyes. Then she turned around to look at Emperor Ning, "There will be more dishes served later. I hope Your Majesty will be satisfied."

Emperor Ning said with a smile, "That's very nice. As you have prepared two special dishes, everyone should try both. You cannot disappoint Lady Shu." Then he raised the wine cup on the table, "I'm very happy today, because both Lady Jin and the Empress are pregnant. Although Prince Jing has not yet left for battle, I believe he will return with a victory. So, let's cheers for them!"

The guests cheered at the Emperor's words, and downed their wine in a gulp.

Yun Shang tasted the mandarin fish and tried a little of the gruel. She seemed upset. She stood up and whispered something in Qian Yin's ear. With a nod, Qian Yin withdrew to the last of the queue, and then left Jinxiu Palace.

There was jubilant music in the Hall. Seeing the Emperor indulging himself in drinking, all the guests started to enjoy the fun and proposed toasts to each other. In an instant, Jinxiu Palace became a sea of noise.

After the guests had drunk several cups of wine, they heard the merry laughter of Emperor Ning. They looked at the Emperor, and found that he was chatting with Prince Jing. It seemed both men were in a cheerful mood. Prince Jing proposed several toasts to Emperor Ning before returning to his seat.

Emperor Ning descended from his seat and walked toward Lady Shu. He held her hands in his, "I'm very happy today as the Empress is also pregnant. She must get ample rest for her pregnancy. It would not do to have her worry about trivial issues in the imperial household. Therefore, Lady Shu, you shall share her burden and take this responsibility for her. And, Empress, please give your seal to Lady Shu. It's more convenient for her to do her duties with the Empress's seal in hand."

The clamor and noise in Jinxiu Palace quenched at once. The Empress was drinking the gruel. She was so startled at the Emperor's words that she inquired, "What did you say, Your Majesty?"

Emperor Ning replied with a smile, "Lady Shu has held a nice banquet today. And she also runs things well at the imperial household. As you are pregnant, you'd best not bother yourself with trivial things in the imperial household. When the baby is born, you can take back your seal and manage the imperial household again."

The Empress felt as though a heavy bolt had struck her heart, but she still squeezed out a smile at the Emperor, "Your Majesty is quite right. My body is getting more and more heavy as time goes by. It is true that I will feel more and more stressed when managing the imperial household. So, I'm very glad that Lady Shu will share my burden."

Lady Shu's eyes sparkled. She walked to the middle of the Hall in a hurry, and said, "Thank you for your trust, Your Majesty. I will try my best to manage the imperial household well."

Yun Shang shot a glance at Prince Jing, who was sitting opposite her. She wandered what role he had played to make this happen. At this critical moment when he was going to leave the Imperial City, Lady Shu was awarded with this fantastic opportunity to run the whole imperial household. This would make it easier for him to do something in the imperial household if he wanted.

In the imperial household, it is an everlasting rule to lick the shoes of those in power and spit at those out of power. Maybe, everything in the imperial household would change tomorrow when the sun rises again.

The Hall was getting noisy again. Some ladies were walking towards Lady Shu in a calm manner. Yun Shang grinned at them, and downed her cup of wine in a gulp. Catching Qian Yin standing at the entrance, Yun Shang pondered as she looked around the Hall to make sure she was not being watched. Then she and Qin Yi walked out of the Hall.

"Your Imperial Highness, I have ordered a maid to put the medicine you gave me into Lady Jin's food. The maid said she had watched Lady Jin eat all of it. So, I think Lady Jin will have no problem." Qian Yin whispered.

Qin Yi wrapped a cloak around Yun Shang's shoulders, and the Princess nodded at her as a response. Then they walked out of Jinxiu

Palace. "That's good. Though I have provided mother with some medicine to protect her unborn baby, I'm still worried. Today, Lady Shu poisoned in a way so secret that it was hard to notice. So, I'm afraid..."

"There was no poison in Lady Jin's bowl." A muffled voice suddenly wafted into Yun Shang's ear. She was astonished. Upon looking back, she found Prince Jing standing right behind her. She gazed at his face and heard Qian Yin and Qin Yi giggle. But just in an instant, the two maids disappeared from view.

Prince Jing curled his lips a little, "I have told Lady Shu that Lady Jin is pregnant and cannot be poisoned. She planned to poison the Empress today as well, but I have stopped her."

Yun Shang was so surprised at Prince Jing's words that she had lost the ability to speak.

"You are quite smart. Lady Shu poisoned in a secret way, but you still tasted the poison." Prince Jing said gently.

Yun Shang lowered her head. There was a grin on her lips. "Lady Shu is quite skillful in this. No wonder she has never failed before. His Majesty is already in his forties, but still has no son. When the silk ball was passed to me, I smelt the faint fragrance of saffron crocus, though there was a heavy odor of incense to cover it. Besides, there was angelica in the gruel, and motherwort in the mandarin fish, both of which are herbs helpful for activating and nourishing the blood. But if they are eaten together with saffron crocus, there would be only one consequence - sudden miscarriage without any foreboding. And, people poisoned in this way would show no sign of foul-play. They would only look like they are physically weak..."

Prince Jing applauded Yun Shang, "That's excellent. It seems that I have underestimated you." He continued after a pause, "As Princess Hua Jing is out of the Imperial City, you will have less threats in the Palace. But you should also be on alert, as the Li family will not stop finding fault with you. If I run into Hua Jing on the border, do you need me to eliminate her for you?"

Yun Shang giggled at Prince Jing's words, "Uncle, she is also your niece. Anyway, I should thank you for your kindness. As for Hua Jing, I swear I will end her life with my own hands."

"I've done some investigations. It seems that there is no rooted hatred between you and Hua Jing. Then why do you..." There was a hint of confusion in Prince Jing's eyes.

Yun Shang grinned, "Who says there is no rooted hatred between her and me? I can only find peace when she breathes her last."

Prince Jing shook his head, "You look terrifying when you are angry." Then he paused and sighed, "I will leave tomorrow. You are alone in this Palace, so you'd better take care of yourself."

Yun Shang was at a loss at Prince Jing's words. While deep in thought about Prince Jing's irregular behavior today, she heard, "This is the first time that I am reluctant to go to the battlefield. All right. It's getting cold. You'd better go back."

He walked off leaving a stunned Yun Shang behind.

Yun Shang was still in a trance, trying to figure out why Prince Jing had said such things to her today. After Prince Jing had disappeared into the darkness, Yun Shang finally came to realize that there was one more question that she needed him to answer. She wanted to ask him why he had said those words during the banquet in Jinxiu Palace. What had he meant by saying, it must be her?

On their way back to Qingxin Palace, Qin Yi and Qian Yin kept peeking at the Princess. Whenever Yun Shang looked at them, the maids were swift enough to move their gaze away.

"Why are you throwing sneaky glances at me? Both of you started when we began walking back. So, tell me, what's the matter?" Yun Shang inquired in anger.

However, Qin Yi and Qian Yin were at ease in spite of Yun Shang's anger. Qin Yi said with a smile, "Prince Jing is a little bit cold, but he is a good man. Though he is no longer young, he still lives alone as a bachelor. He doesn't marry, nor finds for himself a concubine. Last time when I went to his mansion with Your Imperial Highness, I noticed that there wasn't a single maid in his mansion. If such a man falls in love with somebody, there is no doubt that he would be a loyal lover."

Qian Yin also chimed in, "I agree. I have heard that Prince Jing is an expert at Kung Fu. And he is also smart in military tactics. I think Prince Jing and Your Imperial Highness are a perfect match."

As Yun Shang had been troubled with Prince Jing's abnormal behavior all day, she no longer had the patience for the maid's jokes. So she said with a frown, "What are you talking about. He is my uncle. My uncle."

Qin Yi said with a chuckle, "You are not biologically related. So there is no problem."

Looking into the sparkling eyes of the two maids, Yun Shang had no choice but to wave at them, "Go. Go. Go. You'd better go off. What nonsense you two think about. Are you pushing me to find a husband for each of you?"

The two maids were so scared that they earnestly begged for Yun Shang's mercy.

Putting aside the earlier talk of love, Yun Shang retired to bed quite early. But she could not fall asleep as she could not help but think over what Prince Jing had said today.

And Yun Shang was quite aware that she would not be the only one in want of sleep. At least, the Empress might also lose sleep over what had happened today.

Despite the late hour, Qiwu Palace was brilliantly illuminated as Yun Shang had assumed. The Empress was sitting on a chair, and all her maids and servants were kneeling before her.

"Well done, Lady Shu. I thought she had done all this to distinguish herself in the Emperor's presence. I didn't expect that she would aim for my seal. Is she also planning to take my place as the Empress? What smart tricks! What a clever brain!" The Empress thumped the table in rage. All maids and servants kneeling before her were so sacred that they kowtowed again and again, "Please calm down, My Lady..."

"Calm down. How can I calm down after His Majesty ordered me to handover my seal to Lady Shu? It won't be long before Qiwu Palace welcomes its new hostess. As Lady Shu is so virtuous, she will spare you the trouble of kneeling down before her to beg for mercy and request her to calm down. All of you would be happy to welcome her as your new master, right?" The Empress sneered and her eyes swept over everyone kneeling before her.

All the maids and servant replied in a trembling voice, "How dare we do so?"

"Hum, " the Empress continued, "All of you, get out. We still have a guest living in Qiwu Palace. If she hears about this incident, she would take pleasure in my misfortune. So, all of you get out. Hurry!"

Everyone scurried out of the chamber. Only Xiu Xin stayed to serve the Empress.

Xiu Xin stood up after letting out a sigh. She held the Empress' hands in hers and rubbed them gently. Then she said, "My Lady, I have been in your service for over two decades. I know what you have contributed and what you have gone through to achieve what you have today. But, My Lady, do you remember how many obstacles we have overcome? And this time, the obstacle is only an ordinary one. So, like what we have done before, all we need to do now is face it and stride across it. It's not an easy job to run the imperial household. So, there is no need for you to be so upset. His Majesty will be impressed by your generosity if you handover your seal to Lady Shu as His Majesty ordered. But, if Lady Shu is incapable of managing the imperial household well once she has the seal in hand, not only will her plan be messed up, His Majesty will also feel disappointed in her. Then, His Majesty will never give Lady Shu such an opportunity to run the imperial household again. Isn't that to you advantage, My Lady?"

The Empress touched her forehead and said, "I know what you mean. But I still feel distressed in my heart."

Xiu Xin walked behind the Empress and started to knead her shoulders. "I think you should feel happy, My Lady. His Majesty cares so much about you, as His Majesty gives priority to your pregnancy..."

The Empress put her hand on her belly and burst into a bitter smile, "But I..."

However, she paused and, instead of finishing her words, she let out a sigh, "OK, I'll swallow the humiliation this time. At any rate, the thorn in my side right now is Lady Jin and the baby growing in her belly. As long as I can get rid of them, it doesn't matter what humiliation I need to submit to. As for Lady Shu, let's wait and see. I will take care of her once I am done with Lady Jin."

It seemed as if the Empress had used all her strength to finish those words. She felt so dizzy that she had to support her forehead with her hands. Then she asked, "Has father sent you a letter? How about Jing'er?"

Xiu Xin replied immediately, "The Grand Councilor has sent me a message. We have sent people to pick up Prince Hua Jing, and we also have men waiting at the border to take care of Her Highness."

The Empress nodded, "Father must be angry with Jing'er this time. He hasn't liked Jing'er since she was born, because she is a girl. Girls turn out to be useless for their fathers. A good marriage is the only way they can make a contribution. But Jing'er has messed up her marriage. No wonder father is upset this time."

Xiu Xin gave no response to the Empress' words. After a moment, the Empress continued, "In the past, I could not find any chance to wipe out those people I disliked, because I was in charge of the imperial household. I could not exonerate myself from the charge had anything happened to anyone in the imperial household. Besides, Lady Jin is living with us. She might get wind of my plan. But now, as Lady Shu is responsible for the imperial household, it's more convenient for me to find a proper opportunity."

Xiu Xin's hands trembled a little, but she spoke with a smile, "You are right, My Lady."

A ray of shimmer flashed in the Empress' eyes. She said, "Tomorrow you shall summon masters of the Imperial Household Department, Shangxiang Bureau*, Shangyi Bureau, and Shangshan Bureau* to see me. I will arrange some jobs for them, and order them to carry out every order from Lady Shu..."

(*TN: in some dynasties in China, Shangxiang Bureau was the imperial department responsible for arts and decoration, and Shangshan Bureau was responsible for the food.)

Xiu Xin nodded, "Yes, I understand."

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