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   Chapter 80 A Lesson For Lady Shu

Eight-year-old Princess: Phoenix Reborn By Lan You Ruo Characters: 22919

Updated: 2018-08-27 17:01


Ever since she had made up her mind to teach Lady Shu a lesson, Yun Shang sought the perfect opportunity. One day, she ran into Lord Zheng and heard from him about the Winter Solstice* Sacrificial Ceremony. According to Lord Zheng, the Winter Solstice Sacrificial Ceremony was supposed to be hosted by the Empress, but as Her Majesty was pregnant, the Emperor considered Lady Shu as an alternative to avoid exhausting Her Majesty. The Emperor even mentioned the idea to Lady Shu who then began preparations for an appropriate dress for the Winter Solstice Sacrificial Ceremony*. Since then, Yun Shang had become a frequent visitor to Lady Shu's Palace.

(*TN: Winter Solstice is an astronomical event that indicates the arrival of mid-winter. It marks the day with the least amount of daylight and the longest night in the year. It is called the December Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, and referred to as the June Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere.)

Whenever she was free, Yun Shang would pay her respects to Lady Shu and chat with her. This surprised Lady Shu a little. However, since Lady Shu had started running the imperial household, more and more people had come to visit her. She didn't think much of Yun Shang's irregular behavior. As a result of Yun Shang's frequent visits, Lady Shu even got more opportunities to see Emperor Ning in her Palace.

Before long, Emperor Ning became curious. One day, the Emperor smiled at Yun Shang and asked her, "You come here so often. Why?"

Yun Shang grinned and glanced at Lady Shu, who was busy supervising the servants as they prepared lunch. Lady Shu also glanced at Yun Shang after hearing the Emperor's question. Yun Shang said in a soft voice, "I have spent many years at Ning'guo Temple, so I am not familiar with the ladies in the imperial household. As a result, I am hesitant to share intimate problems with them. I have heard many things from Your Majesty about the good qualities and virtuousness of Lady Shu. I feel comfortable in her company. Now, as Lady Shu is running the imperial household, I am very eager to learn from her. It would not reflect well on His Majesty if I'm ignorant about issues in the imperial household."

Lady Shu turned toward Yun Shang and smiled at her, "You flatter me too much, Your Highness. In terms of feminine virtues, I'm no match for the Empress. As you were brought up by Her Majesty, there is no denying that you must have learned a lot by watching and listening to Her Majesty's virtuous conduct and instructions."

Emperor Ning shook his head. "Shang'er, you don't tell us the whole truth. I believe you told us part of your reasons, but not all the facts. If what you said is true, why didn't you come here before? I have noticed that you've only started coming here recently."

Yun Shang was happy that Emperor Ning had taken the bait after hearing her unconvincing story. She giggled and said with girlish shyness, "Alas, I'm a bad liar in Your Majesty's presence. I come here so often because..."

Yun Shang raised the cup in her hand and said with a smile, "Because of the sophora flower honey. The imperial cooks are very good at making delicious sophora flower honey. I once drank it at Qiwu Palace. The Empress knows it's my favorite. So Her Majesty has sent me some honey for several times. But I cannot drink the honey at Qiwu Palace now. I dare not bother the Empress with such a trivial matter. So I asked the imperial cook for some honey. The imperial cook told me the sophora flower honey is brewed from the sophora flower powder, and is a tribute from the Lu Family in the Sanmen Gorges. But we only get a few jars of sophora flower honey from the Lu Family each year. Her Majesty had such honey at Qiwu Palace before, but now, it is solely supplied to Lady Shu. I just come here to enjoy my favorite drink."

Lady Shu was startled at Yun Shang's explanation. She had not expected the Princess would say such words. What would the Emperor think of Lady Shu after hearing that explanation? His Majesty would probably think that she, Lady Shu, had taken advantage of her position as in charge of the imperial household. He would think that she supplied herself with luxuries to such an extent that even Princess Hui Guo had to pay Lady Shu a visit to get a drink of her desired honey. Lady Shu was frightened at the thought. She cast a hasty glance at Emperor Ning and saw him watching her coldly.

"Really? Is the sophora flower honey so tasty?" Emperor Ning moved his gaze away from Lady Shu in a casual matter. Though he was a little suspicious that this was Yun Shang's ploy to uncover Lady Shu's misconduct, he let go of the thought as soon as he saw her innocent face. Although the women in the imperial household were often found scheming against each other, Yun Shang was indeed an exception. After all, she was Lady Jin's daughter, and had spent most of her life at Ning'guo Temple. At any rate, Master Wu Na was a respectable person deserving of his trust, and there would be no intrigues and trickery at the Temple. So Yun Shang was simply a naive girl who dared to speak the first thing that came to her mind.

Yun Shang nodded and flashed her most innocent smile, "The sophora flower honey is especially delicious in Lady Shu's Palace."

Emperor Ning's eyes darkened a little. Spotting the change on the Emperor's face, Lady Shu walked toward him in haste and said earnestly, "That is quite surprising. The honey was sent by an eunuch from the Shangshan Bureau. He said it's a tribute. It helps women maintain their beauty and stay young. I thought every lady in the Imperial Palace would have a portion. After all, no woman would refuse a gift that would help her grow more beautiful. It is also my wish that Your Majesty would look at me more often once I have taken the honey and become prettier. So, I didn't refuse the honey."

Emperor Ning nodded while hearing Lady Shu's explanation. It was clear that since it was a gift from the eunuch of the Shangshan Bureau, Lady Shu might not be involved in this matter. It must be a personal gift from some eunuchs who wanted to please her after hearing that she was in charge of running the imperial household.

However, Yun Shang frowned at Lady Shu's words and spoke, "Why? I thought Lady Shu would also be in charge of Shangshan Bureau, Shangyi Bureau, and other bureaus once she had taken over the whole imperial household. Is that untrue?"

Emperor Ning smiled and said, "Of course she is. To manage the imperial household is to manage all matters such as eating, clothing, spending, and alike. Although trivial, it is quite exhausting to efficiently manage all these matters."

"Aha? So the eunuchs from Shangshan Bureau didn't submit the account book to Lady Shu? I remember that when the Empress was in charge of the imperial household, she would keep an account book for each bureau to record everything, no matter what it was. Everyone would understand what was going on in the account book just by looking at it. I also remember that the Empress praised the Shangshan Bureau for its detailed records in the account book. Those eunuchs are so audacious! They must want to feather their own nests by stealing from the Shangshan Bureau. As Lady Shu has only recently been responsible for the imperial household and is, perhaps, unfamiliar with the rules, they have played a trick on Lady Shu and hushed up about the matter of the account book."

Emperor Ning frowned again at Yun Shang's words. He could not disagree with Yun Shang. There would be a record for every spend in the imperial household, no matter how small the amount. As Lady Shu was running the imperial household now, she must have the account book in hand. But Lady Shu said she had no idea how many jars of honey there were and thought every lady in the Imperial Palace would be supplied with a share. In that case, either Lady Shu secretly arranged for all the honey to be sent to her Palace, or she was incapable of managing the imperial household as she could not even read the account book carefully.

Lady Shu was furious at Yun Shang. She was so enraged that she wished Yun Shang's mouth could be zipped as soon as possible. She wondered what was wrong with the Princess today, as she seemed to find fault with Lady Shu on purpose.

Then Yun Shang continued, "Your Majesty, you must punish those eunuchs in the Shangshan Bureau today. Lady Shu is fulfilling Your Majesty's charge to run the imperial household, but they dare play such a trick. It is fortunate that this sneaky matter has come to Your Majesty's attention. It would be awful for Lady Shu to be misunderstood and wronged if people knew of the honey matter."

Emperor Ning glanced at Lady Shu. Upon catching sight of her flushed face, he realized what Yun Shang had said might be true. Therefore he said with a nod, "Of course. They must be punished."

Lady Shu's heart missed a beat after hearing the Emperor's words. However, she didn't dare scold Yun Shang in the Emperor's presence. She had to squeeze out a smile and reply in a gentle voice, "Yes. Your Majesty is quite right."

Yun Shang was so happy to see Lady Shu embarrassed that she downed the sophora flower honey in her cup in one gulp. Then she stood and said to Emperor Ning, "It is getting colder. And it's already dark outside even though it's not even five o'clock in the afternoon. I have to return to Qingxin Palace. It would be hard for me to walk in the darkness. So I will leave, Your Majesty." She rushed out of Lady Shu's Palace with Qian Yin before anyone could stop her.

Silence dominated the Hall as soon as Yun Shang left. Emperor Ning spoke after a long while. There was a touch of coldness as well as casualness in his voice. "Are you preparing the ceremonial garment for the Winter Solstice Sacrificial Ceremony? It is important. The dress must be magnificent."

Lady Shu was relieved at the Emperor's words. Her heart had been in her throat as she waited nervously for the Emperor to inquire about the honey. She hadn't been able to think of an ideal answer in all this time. She was delighted that the Emperor asked about the garment and felt secure again. It seemed that His Majesty didn't pay any attention to Yun Shang's words.

"It is almost done. According to tradition, the dress has to be black, the gravest color of all. The ceremonial garment for the Blessing Host is ready, but the one for the Blessing Hostess is being prepared..." Lady Shu said while smiling at the Emperor.

Emperor Ning nodded. Then, almost as an afterthought, the Emperor said to Lady Shu, "Well, considering the pregnancy, the Empress will get bigger around her belly in the days to come. Remember that the garment needs to be loose so that the baby won't get hurt."

Lady Shu was taken aback at the Emperor's words. What did His Majesty mean? She still remembered how His Majesty had mentioned the complicated procedures in the Ceremony and his worries about the baby if the Empress took part. Wasn't it an indication to let her partake in the Ceremony on behalf of the Empress? She had ordered the Blessing Hostess's ceremonial garment according to her measurements. But today, the Emperor unexpectedly mentioned the Empress's bloated belly and the loose garment for the Empress. What did he mean?

Lady Shu realized that Emperor Ning must have changed his mind after hearing Yun Shang. Lady Shu clenched h

er teeth hard to suppress her rage. Then she said to the Emperor in a gentle tone, "Yes. I understand, Your Majesty. Please don't worry."

Qian Yin helped Yun Shang take off her cloak once they had returned to Qingxin Palace. She took a cup of hot water from a maid, handed it to Yun Shang, and said with a smile, "Your Highness, you are so smart. The honey story was a lie, but His Majesty assumed a different attitude toward Lady Shu after hearing you. I saw with my own eyes how His Majesty was getting angrier with Lady Shu. I believe she must be having a tough time now. But, Your Highness, we have provoked Lady Shu so openly that she will definitely nurse a grudge. The Empress poses a big challenge already. If Lady Shu starts to find fault with us as well, it will become even more difficult to manage. Should we be more careful while making decisions?"

Yun Shang warmed her hands with the cup before putting it aside. She walked to a couch and sat on it. A maid came in carrying a basin of hot water. She took off Yun Shang's shoes and tested the water temperature before gently sliding Yun Shang's feet in it. The water was so warm that Yun Shang sighed. She grinned at Qian Yin and said, "It is certain that Lady Shu will report today's incident to Prince Jing. But she dares not provoke me without permission from Prince Jing. If a war breaks out between Lady Shu and me, I am not the only person who will face a new enemy. So will she."

Qian Yin studied Yun Shang for a while. Then she put her hands on her mouth and burst into laughter. "You are so naughty, Your Highness. Prince Jing is spoiling you so much that you are not willing to spare a thought for him."

Yun Shang was surprised at Qian Yin's words. But she swiftly moved her gaze away from Qian Yin and murmured, "What did you say? Are you out of your mind?"

Qian Yin uttered several "yeses" in succession, but the sparkle in her eyes still betrayed that she was in a good mood and willing to make fun of the relationship between Yun Shang and Prince Jing. Yun Shang stopped talking with Qian Yin as she was fully aware that the more she tried to downplay the relationship between her and Prince Jing, the more exaggerated it became.

At last, Qian Yin checked her laughter and spoke, "I don't think Lady Shu will have any chance to host the Winter Solstice Sacrificial Ceremony in place of the Empress. But, Your Highness, why did you do the Empress such a favor?"

Yun Shang sneered, "Did her a favor? Is it possible for me to do her a favor? I am forcing the Empress to take part in the Winter Solstice Sacrificial Ceremony as I have prepared a plan for her. How would my plan work if the leading lady was absent on the day of the Ceremony?"

It then dawned on Qian Yin that Yun Shang had mischief planned for the day of the Ceremony and needed the Empress to be present. So she said to Yun Shang, "I understand. Your Highness is prepared. No wonder you dare to challenge Lady Shu at this moment."

While they were talking the door curtain was pulled open. Qin Yi looked quite worried as she entered.

Yun Shang lifted her eyes to look at Qin Yi and inquired, "What happened? Did you go and see Lady Jin? Just look at yourself. It seems as though someone has wronged you. What is it?"

Qin Yi spoke after letting out a sigh, "When I arrived at Qiwu Palace, I happened to see a maid serving Lady Jin with the medicine conducive to her pregnancy. But Lady Jin dumped it without even casting a glance at it. So I persuaded Lady Jin to take the medicine for the good of the unborn baby. But Lady Jin sighed and said it was OK even if the baby was gone."

Yun Shang sank into silence after hearing those words. She sighed and said, "My mother is a smart woman, but her heart was broken by His Majesty. She once dreamed that she and His Majesty would spend their whole life together, as man and wife, the only pair in the imperial household. But, His Majesty married again and again. She forced herself to believe that as Emperor it was His Majesty's responsibility to marry for political reasons such as securing balance in court. However, she never dreamed that more and more ladies in the imperial household would be impregnated by His Majesty. Mother was so disappointed in His Majesty that she pleaded with His Majesty to send her to the Cold Palace. Now, she has released herself from the Cold Palace because of me. But once back at the Imperial Palace, she has to see and hear about His Majesty's affairs with other ladies every day. No wonder she feels sad and depressed."

Qin Yi nodded, "His Majesty and Lady Jin were an admirable couple when they loved each other heart and soul many years ago. His Majesty always treated Lady Jin gently and would not refuse any request by Her Ladyship. How could His Majesty betray his love to such an extent?"

"His Majesty doesn't betray his love. You saw with your own eyes how His Majesty reacted at Jinxiu Palace the other day. His Majesty is still in love with mother. But mother is by no means the only woman His Majesty has fallen in love with. His Majesty loves many women and mother is just one of them."

Those words were beyond Qian Yin's comprehension. She uttered, "That is so unfair for women. If a man is unsatisfied with his wife after marriage, it is convenient for him to divorce his wife. If he is not allowed to do so, he can still marry several concubines. But if the woman is dissatisfied with her choice of husband, the only thing she can do is bear the pain and grudge in silence."

"A wise man chooses a right occupation, and a wise woman chooses a right husband. That's a popular saying worldwide. So, Your Highness, you must be particular in choosing your husband. He must be good-looking, talented, and, most of all, faithful. Your Highness cannot marry an unfaithful man. A faithful man will respect his wife even if he marries concubines." Qin Yi sighed and spoke again.

Qin Yi's words reminded Yun Shang of her previous life, in which she thought she had married a good husband. However, the seemingly good marriage eventually turned out to be a flaming hell. Her husband visited brothels day after day, and married concubines one after another. But the only thing she could do was suppress the hate and hatred in her heart. However, it was because of her silence that Mo Jingran was getting more and more vile and cruel. He even colluded with Hua Jing to set her up and killed his own baby.

As for marriage? That would be the last thing Yun Shang would aspire for in this life. She had been reborn with hatred and vengeance. She wouldn't think of marriage before she enacted her revenge on her enemies. Even if her vengeance was complete, she was too frightened to try marriage again as the nightmares from her previous life still haunted her.

With that thought in mind, Yun Shang smiled and said, "Both of you talk about ideal husbands every day. Do you want to get married now?"

Both the maids shook their heads and replied, "No. What we want is to keep Your Highness company forever."

Yun Shang smiled at them and said, "It doesn't matter who you marry. What matters is whether you are capable enough to tame him. If he is obedient to you in every way, he wouldn't dare invite romantic affairs even if he wants to in his heart of hearts. But don't worry. As both of you are my maids, I will definitely find for each of you an ideal husband who will make you very satisfied. Besides, they must be in sheer obedience to you and dare not sneak a look at another woman."

Both Qin Yi and Qian Yin were teenage girls. They were so young that they had seldom heard about relations between a man and woman. They flushed at Yun Shang's words and begged for her mercy.

Yun Shang smiled and dried her feet with a towel. She lay on the couch for a while and continued speaking, "I will try my best to help mother deliver the baby. I will also find a chance to talk with her. I have been observing His Majesty since I have returned to court. His Majesty is a good Emperor, but not a good husband. Although His Majesty is still in love with mother, His Majesty is also fond of the Empress and Lady Shu. If it is mother's desire to live somewhere rather than at the Imperial Palace, I will take her out no matter what the cost might be."

Both Qin Yi and Qian Yin were silent after Yun Shang had finished speaking.

The silence lasted for a while before Qin Yi spoke, "Your Highness, I have readied everything for the Winter Solstice Sacrificial Ceremony. The person Qian Yin arranged for at the Shangyi Bureau made my task easy."

Yun Shang nodded, "Just three days left. This time, I will present the Empress with a nice gift in the presence of all courtiers."

Three days went by quickly, and the Day of the Winter Solstice Sacrificial Ceremony arrived. The onset of the Winter Solstice was heralded with incessant snowfall. Yun Shang awoke before dawn. She dressed for the Ceremony and was carried to the Temple of Heaven in a palanquin.

The bell tolled from the Bell Tower at quarter past four in the morning. Yun Shang saw Emperor Ning and the Empress enter the Temple of Heaven from the gate on the left. Then they walked toward the Heavenly Alter. They stopped halfway to kowtow before the Heavenly Alter. At this moment, the stoves on each side were lit and the music began playing. Then, Emperor Ning rose to his feet and walked with the Empress to the top of the Heavenly Alter. They knelt before the Holy Shrine in the middle of the Heavenly Alter and presented the incense. Yun Shang watched as they moved aside to present incense before the memorial tablet* of each ancestor, and kowtowed before them. After a moment, they returned to the middle of the Heavenly Alter and conducted the three-kowtow-and-nine-prostration etiquette, the most solemn and most grand rite in ancient China when people prayed to the Heavenly God and ancestors.

(*TN: In China, the memorial tablet is a wooden tablet on which the name of the ancestor is written. It is used as a means to memorize the ancestors and to show respect toward the ancestors from their offspring.)

Yun Shang stared at the Empress who had dressed in the black ceremonial garment. She hadn't forgotten to wear her beloved Phoenix-shaped gold hairpin. Walking closely behind the Emperor, she looked quite grave and solemn and behaved particularly proper in her kneeling and kowtowing. However, upon careful observation, one would notice that the Empress had to straighten her body as much as possible in a rigid posture while walking and kowtowing. She was slow in her movements and seemed quite exhausted.

An eunuch waiting outside walked onto the Heavenly Alter with a tray in his hands. There was a jade and a roll of silk on the tray. Emperor Ning and the Empress picked up the jade and the silk respectively and presented them before the Holy Shrine. As they stepped aside, eunuchs carried forward the sacrificial vessels filled with meats of livestock. And Emperor Ning and the Empress presented them before the Holy Shrine, one by one.

The Empress had put the sacrificial vessel on the table and was about to straighten her body, but she paused for a little while before she could stand straight again. Emperor Ning was so impatient that he turned to check on her. Yun Shang was watching them. She could not help smiling heartily as a good show was about to begin.

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