In the quiet hall, Huangfu Wu Shuang’s footsteps were sometimes slow, sometimes urgent, like the beating of Hua Zhu Yu’s heart at the moment. Ultimately, they must meet again. This time they were no longer comrades-in-arms on the battlefield, but political enemies with irreconcilable differences.
Hua Zhu Yu was clear of the magnitude of Ji Feng Li’s influence in court. He was not be underestimated. It won’t be easy to take him down but even if the path in front of her was hopelessly dark, she still must take it, step by step.
“Xiao Bao’Er?” Huangfu Wu Shuang suddenly called, jolting her back from her thoughts. Hua Zhu Yu looked up but at some unknown moment, he had walked over and was standing right in front of her now. He observed her with his eyes narrowed. “What are you thinking about that you’re so lost in thought?”
Hua Zhu Yu quickly lowered her head. “Nothing, Your Highness,” she replied and changed the topic as she asked, “What does Your Highness plan on doing now that the Left Chancellor has led the troops back?”
Huangfu Wu Shuang went back and took a seat on the dragon throne. Crossing his legs, he leisurely leaned back against the seat. “Fortunately Xiao Bao’Er had reminded this prince. Since this prince isn’t ascending the throne, the Left Chancellor can’t start a war without just cause so there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Still with her eyes lowered, she continued, “Presumably, the Left Chancellor has already heard of Your Highness detaining Emperor Kang, it’s just that he doesn’t have any concrete evidence. Therefore Your Highness must act with utmost caution. Once he has obtained conclusive evidence, it will be troublesome.”
Huangfu Wu Shuang nodded and muttered, “Xiao Bao’Er is right, it seems this time I must ask the Retired Emperor to personally step in.”
Hua Zhu Yu agreed, “This is a good approach.” As long as the Retired Emperor Yan personally steps in and speak a few words, there was nothing Ji Feng Li could do. In fact, Hua Zhu Yu had always thought that the Retired Emperor Yan had high hopes for Huangfu Wu Shuang. It’s just that at that time, he had no other choice but to imprison Huangfu Wu Shuang in Nei Cheng Yuan.
“Left Chancellor daren defeated the invading Northern Army. We ought to hold a celebratory feast to welcome him back.” Huangfu Wu Shuang called the Minister of Rites and instructed him to make preparations for the celebrations.
On the 28th of November, Left Chancellor Ji Feng Li returned in triumph from his expedition to the north with the army which was temporarily camped 50 miles from the capital. At the hour of the dragon (7-9am), an imperial edict arrived at the military camp from the palace. It stated that the Retired Emperor Yan was sick and wished for Ji Feng Li and the high ranking military officials to enter the palace and have an audience with the Retired Emperor.
Inside the military tent, Ji Feng Li and a few others were present to receive the edict. After the departure of the palace eunuch, Tang Yu and Lan Bing’s expressions were heavy and solemn.
Lan Bing furrowed his brows and said in a somber voice, “Lord Chancellor, I thought that Huangfu Wu Shuang would surely seize this opportunity to ascend the throne. I didn’t expect him to have such restraint. Now it seems everything must be carefully considered before we make a move.”
“For Huangfu Wu Shuang to suddenly change his mind at the last minute, I fear it must be related to Yuan Bao,” Tang Yu said with his gaze lowered.
Ji Feng Li’s finger lightly tapped the table as his lips curved into a frosty smile. In the end, it was like what that person had said, once they met again, if not you die then I die.
“Lord Chancellor, why should we listen to the will of the Retired Emperor. We can just lead the troops…” Tong Shou said but abruptly stopped when Ji Feng Li shot him a cold glance.
“Lord Chancellor, if we enter the capital with only the high ranked military officials and leave the troops behind, will we be in danger?” Tang Yu wondered.
“No, the military power is currently in our hands, they won’t dare to make a rash move,” Lan Bing reassured.
Ji Feng Li nodded and stood. With his hands clasped behind his back, he stepped out of the tent, his cold gaze lingering in the far distance as he ordered, “Prepare the horse.”
At that moment, Jin Se suddenly walked over from her tent and said, “Lord Chancellor, Si’Er will go with you.”
Ji Feng Li brows slightly knitted but then he smiled and said, “You can’t. Stay here. Wait till I enter the palace and see the Retired Emperor. Afterwards, I will send someone to come pick you up.”
“Then you must be careful,” Jin Se said with worry. She then stepped closer and reached out to tighten the band of Ji Feng Li’s cloak.
Ji Feng Li smiled softly then turned around to mount the horse brought forth by his subordinate.
translations at peachblossomgrove . com
On the outskirts of Yu City, a long arched bridge built above waters connected the banks of Mei Lin. This bridge was the largest and widest among the 7 bridges.
Early in the morning, there was a large crowd present at this bridge with banners and imperial canopies. Huangfu Wu Shuang had led a group of officials with him to welcome the Left Chancellor and military officials on their triumphant return.
Standing beside Huangfu Wu Shuang, Hua Zhu Yu was dressed in a vermillion eunuch attire, fastened with a jade belt. Her stature was tall and outstanding.
On this beautiful sunny day, not a single cloud was in sight. The plum blossoms along the sides of the riverbanks were in full bloom, exuding a fragrant scent that was carried in the fleeting wind. Standing on the bridge looking ahead, one could see more than a dozen on horseback approaching. Leading the group was none other then Left Chancellor Ji Feng Li. In a body of white robes, he was bathed beneath the warm sunlight, exuding a faint golden radiance. Against the backdrop of the vast blue skies and seas of brilliant plum blossoms, he slowly approached.
Hua Zhu Yu’s gaze drifted pass Ji Feng Li to the beautiful scene behind him.
The plum blossoms were a fiery red, blooming with a radiance that could burn one’s eyes.
As Huangfu Wu Shuang saw the approaching group, he stepped out from the shadows of the imperial canopies and the officials followed behind him in accordance to their ranks.
Ji Feng Li urged his horse forward and saw the group of people that came to welcome them back. He dismounted from his horse and gracefully approached the group.
Huangfu Wu Shuang welcomed him with a smile. Ji Feng Li’s eyes deepened and his footsteps halted. Facing Huangfu Wu Shuang, he paid his respects. “Your official Ji Feng Li kowtows in salute of Your Highness.”
Before Huangfu Wu Shuang was imprisoned in Nei Cheng Yuan, his Crown Prince title was abolished so currently the officials all refer to him as His Highness and not Crown Prince His Highness.
Huangfu Wu Shuang smiled and leaned over to take Ji Feng Li’s arm and assist him to rise. “Left Chancellor daren need not be over-courteous. Left Chancellor daren had defeated the Northern Army this time, protecting my mountains and rivers, protecting my people. You truly are the pillar of support for this country.”
Ji Feng Li faintly smiled and replied, “Your Highness overpraise. This official merely did one’s duties. General Wang Yu is the one with the great merit. He did not feel at ease so he remained behind to defend and guard the northern border.”
Huangfu Wu Shuang smiled and said, “Wonderful.”
Ji Feng Li’s eyes looked straight at Huangfu Wu Shuang as he said in a somber voice, “This official heard that His Majesty’s health is not well. Don’t know exactly what illness is His Majesty suffering from?”
Huangfu Wu Shuang sighed softly and said, “Younger brother Emperor has been weak since young. His illness this time is very serious. All the palace maids and eunuchs who waited on him also got infected. The Imperial Physicians are still unclear of what disease it is.”
Ji Feng Li furrowed his brows and suggested, “If that’s the case, why not let the physicians outside the palace take a look. Perhaps they can find a way to cure the disease.”
“Left Chancellor is right!” Huangfu Wu Shuang agreed with a smile.
The other officials present simultaneously proceeded to come forward and congratulate Ji Feng Li on his victorious return. Ji Feng Li nodded and smiled in response as his eyes inadvertently swept over Hua Zhu Yu. Afterwards, he followed Huangfu Wu Shuang and the other officials as they returned to the palace.
After entering the palace, Ji Feng Li went to see the Retired Emperor first. Afterwards, he wanted to visit Emperor Kang but was tactfully rejected by both the Retired Emperor and Huangfu Wu Shuang so he did not press the issue.
That night, the palace held a large and grand feast in celebration of the triumphant return of the troops.
Kang Ning Palace was decorated in vibrant colors and brilliant lights as the beating of the drums and melodies of the flute drifted in the air. Inside the main hall of the palace, numerous officials had gathered. On the table before them displayed various delicacies and savory wine.
In the middle of the hall was the imperious dragon throne, glimmering with a golden light. The Retired Emperor, who had not been seen for some time, had taken his seat there. Ever since he was injured by the beast at Qing Jiang Palace, he was bed-ridden and had not been overseeing court affairs. He had abdicated and passed the throne to Huangfu Wu Shang.
He appeared much thinner than before. Those previously sharp eyes were now somewhat cold and reticent.
Sitting beside him was a woman dressed in a body of beautiful red robes. It was his prior imperial concubine(pin) with the title of Liu Pin. After Emperor Kang ascended the throne, she was promoted to a consort (Fei) and was now called Lui Fei. Judging by her appearance, she had yet to reach 30 years of age. She was currently at the time of her life where a woman was delicate as a flower and refined as precious jade (mature age). With a beautiful countenance paired with a charming smile, she sat beside the Retired Emperor, diligently filling his wine cup as she whispered words in his ear every now and then.
Standing behind Huangfu Wu Shuang, Hua Zhu Yu silently assessed the Retired Emperor. Originally, the Retired Emperor had a solemn and slightly harsh countenance. Ever since he was sick, he appeared more ill at ease. Even though Ji Feng Li returned victorious, not a hint of joy nor happiness was seen on his face.
On behalf of the Retired Emperor, Huangfu Wu Shuang gave a speech to commend the high-ranking military officials who made great contributions to the war. He then proceeded to bestow rewards. All the military officials were promoted by 3 ranks whereas Ji Feng Li was awarded a thousand liang(unit of weight =50 grams) of gold a thousand hu(measuring vessel = 50 Liter)of pearls and jewels. After Ji Feng Li and the military officials gave their thanks, the feast formally began.
In the middle of the hall on the vibrant red carpet, female singers and dancers took the stage at the sound of the music. Their colorful clothes fluttered in the air as they danced. Their slender waists swayed gently causing the ornaments on their belts to jingle as their long sleeves moved with liveliness. Adorned in their luxurious brocades, it was a scene as stirring as a dream.
Watching this performance, Hua Zhu Yu’s thoughts drifted to the battlefield. The scene of luxury and affluence was exchanged with the blood of thousands of soldiers on the battlefield.
Once the performance came to an end and the next act was making preparations to take the stage, Ji Feng Li took the time to make a toast. He stood and held up his wine cup, stating, “Retired Emperor’s health had not been well but now it seems there is nothing more to worry about. This is the blessing of the heavens and the people. For the Retired Emperor to put together such a grand feast, this official is deeply appreciative. With this cup of wine, this official wishes you happiness and longevity.”
Hearing this toast, Hua Zhu Yu cast a side glance at Ji Feng Li. He was dressed in his court attires and his lips carried a faint smile as he raised his cup in the Retired Emperor’s direction.
Meanwhile the Retired Emperor was smiling and leisurely chatting with Consort Lui, seemingly unaware of Ji Feng Li’s toast. After a long while, he finally nodded slightly in acknowledgement. He raised his wine cup and drained it with an expressionless face and coldly said, “This time my dear official has made great contributions in the northern border, truly the nation’s pillar of support. Now, I’m feeling a little tired. Everyone should slowly enjoy the feast.” With that said, he stood and left with the assistance of Consort Lui. Seeing his departure, everyone stood and bowed in respect.
Inside the hall filled with beautiful scenery, Hua Zhu Yu didn’t know why but she felt downcast.
Noticing this, Huangfu Wu Shuang looked at her and asked in a lowered voice, “Xiao Bao’Er what’s wrong?”
“Your Highness, this servant feels slightly stuffy and would like to step outside for some fresh air,” Hua Zhu Yu said with her head lowered.
Huangfu Wu Shuang’s brows knitted as he asked, “Are you sick? Once the feast ends, this prince will call the Imperial Physician over to take a look.”
“Hua Zhu Yu bowed and said, “No need, Your Highness. This servant just need some fresh air, that’s all.”
Huangfu Wu Shuang still felt apprehensive but said, “Alright, you may leave then. Yu City is having a fireworks show tonight. How about this prince take you out for a stroll later on?”
“No need Your Highness. Nevertheless, court affairs is most important. This servant can go by oneself,” Hua Zhu Yu replied.
Huangfu Wu Shuang sighed and reluctantly waved his hand and allowed her to leave.
Hua Zhu Yu smiled and turned to leave, inadvertently noticing a few mocking glances her way.
It suddenly dawned on her that the interaction between her and Huangfu Wu Shuang just moments ago was very ambiguous in the eyes of bystanders. Perhaps if it had been another eunuch, they would not carry such thoughts. However, ever since that time when she was branded as ‘evildoer bewitching his master’, as long as it was anything involving her and Huangfu Wu Shuang, it would make people have strange thoughts.
Hua Zhu Yu coldly sneered in her heart. She fearlessly raised her head to welcome their gazes but her cold piercing eyes made those officials hastily avert their gazes.
Hua Zhu Yu was just about to leave but from the corner of her eyes she noticed another cold gaze her way. Looking up she only saw Ji Feng Li draining his cup of wine with his head tilted backwards.
Hua Zhu Yu quickly withdrew. Outside of Kang Ning Palace, the darkness of the night was hazy. Taking a deep breath, the fresh air dispelled the unpleasant feelings in her chest.
Strolling down the long corridor she noticed a group of palace maids. As she walked by, she inadvertently heard them talking. “Today’s feast isn’t any less grand than the feasts held for the former general Hua Mu.”
Hearing these words, Hua Zhu Yu abruptly stopped in her tracks and the passing wind was seemingly colder than at the northern border.
It’s been so long.
Whether it’s the palace or the army, no one dared to speak those words, ‘Hua Mu.’ People avoided those words like the plague. Yet tonight when these 2 palace maids were casually conversing, they did not expect someone to suddenly come out from the main hall. Their hearts were gripped with fear.
Hua Zhu Yu calmly walked away but her heart was beating intensely, no less compared to those 2 maids.
She continued down the long corridor and stopped at a nearby tree. She stood there silently as her lips lifted in a faint sneer.
“Bao gongong sure is idle. Such a grand feast yet you do not need to serve anyone. Truly invokes a bystander’s envy!” Ji Feng Li frosty voice arrived with the fleeting wind.
“Left Chancellor daren has achieved great merit and glory. Truly invoking a bystander’s envy!” Hua Zhu Yu coldly replied as her eyes faintly swept by Ji Feng Li who was standing in the shadows of the trees. Her voice was equally frosty as the winter snow.
Slowing emerging from the shadows, Ji Feng Li’s tall figure faced the wind as his robes faintly quiverd. At this moment, all he felt was the coldness of the air.
He slowly walked pass Hua Zhu Yu and in that moment, his low cold voice entered her ears with the passing wind. “Today, this Chancellor realized that Bao gong gong actually eats both male and female!”
Hua Zhu Yu head throbbed in annoyance. Eat both male and female?
She wanted to burst out laughing facing the sky with her head back but suddenly her throat felt uncomfortable. She tried to suppress the nauseous feeling in her stomach and responded with a smile, “Left Chancellor just found out today? You’re slower than expected!”
Ji Feng Li stopped but he did not look back. He coldly humphed in a tone that was slightly disdainful, scoffing and cynical before quickly leaving, his figure disappearing in the darkness of the night.
Hua Zhu Yu quickly bolted towards the trees and threw up. Eating during tonight’s feast was all useless, she had vomited it all out. Her head was spinning and it felt as though she was vomiting even bile. Her mouth was left with a sour and bitter aftertaste.
Hua Zhu Yu leaned against the trees and stood up gasping for air.
She had been feeling healthy and fine so why did she suddenly vomit so much?
As she was trying to figure this out a sudden thought pass through her mind rendering her motionless, like she had been enchanted, her face was pale with fright.
In the past, she had once saved a woman on the battlefield. That woman had been 2 months pregnant and would constantly vomit every day. She heard from that woman that morning sickness was a common thing for pregnant females. That woman had said that during her first pregnancy, she could barely keep anything she ate down.
As Hua Zhu Yu remembered this, suspicion began to sprout in her heart. It can’t be that because of that night, that crazy, ridiculous night that she is pregnant? Thinking of this she suddenly realized that her period this month had not come yet.
Her heart sunk and her body became frigid cold.
She hoped with her all that it wasn’t the case. Getting a grip of herself, she quickly turned to leave.