Third night watch. Feng Jiu Palace.
When Xuan Ji had returned in the afternoon, she had later gone to visit the princess. Noticing that she hadn’t returned in such a long time, Die Feng grew concerned. She was intending to head over to the Princess’ palace along with 2 maidservants when suddenly Princess Yu Zhi arrived. The princess handed Cui Ya to her and informed her that Xuan Ji had gone to see the Emperor.
It was already late in the evening yet Xuan Ji still hadn’t returned. An uneasiness descended over the people serving in her palace once again. However, Eunuch Xia Sang came and informed them that their Mistress would be resting at Chu Xia Hall for the night.
Upon hearing this, a surge of relief swept over them. But in the next moment, they quickly rejoiced. Never before has a woman rested in the Emperor’s quarters. Yet their mistress, after disappearing yesterday, had returned and spent the night at Chu Xiu Hall. And again today…… The servants in the room couldn’t help but discuss this matter happily.
Subsequently, Die Feng proceeded to inform Cui Ya of the palace rules as well as Xuan Ji’s habits and preferences. It was at this time that everyone present discovered that in fact their master was truly different from others. She was neither arrogant nor haughty. She did not have any taboos that must be avoided at all cost. Except for sleeping, she didn’t seem to care much for anything else. The servants laughed as they discussed.
That night, Cui Ya could not fall asleep. Feeling restless, she got dressed and went outside for some fresh air. She had yet to grow accustomed to this new foreign place.
Standing in the courtyard, she stared up at the night sky in amazement.
Never in her life did she think she would one day enter this place, a place she had only heard of from the stories told by those storytellers on the streets. From them, she learned that this place was where the noblest of nobles resided, a place with the best clothes, the best food, a place where people had reign over the life and death of a person.
But the storytellers would often let out a long sigh after their story.
She never understood the meaning behind their sighs. Wasn’t it good enough already to have all the best things in the world?
After her mother passed away a few years ago, her father’s health gradually began to decline. He held on for some time but in the end he still passed away. At that moment, all she could feel was despair and loss. She had even made up her mind to leave with him.
Though the Imperial Capital was prosperous, along the outskirts in the far distance, there were poor villages like the one she was from. Many of the people there would often make long journeys to the capital to make a living.
She lived her life making bean curd and needlework to sell on the streets. She lived a poor man’s life. There were days where there was food to fill her belly and there were days she could only endure the hunger. But there was the warmth of family and someone to depend on as she still had her father. But the day he passed away, it was as if everything had left her along with him.
She had no money for his burial. In the village, there were only elderly and young women, no one to help her. She finally thought of selling herself for some change, something she would often hear about in the stories those storytellers told.
Along the streets, many people watched in amusement but no one was willing to extend a hand until Nian gongzi appeared….
Though his money was stolen, he still tried his best to help her. She knew that without him, except for Feng gongzi, those other noble gongzi would not spare her a glance. When they arrived at her village and saw the state of her humble abode, she could see the look of disgust and estrangement in the eyes of those gongzi even with her head bowed. At that moment, a sudden anger gave rise in her humble heart. If you were born in such a place, If you were born here–
But Nian gongzi suddenly told her not to give up hope, that as long as she preserved, life would only get better.
When he spoke, his eyes shone with such clarity like the stars in the skies.
At that moment, she wanted to cry aloud.
The other gongzi were also watching him. Among them, Yun Yang gongzi’s eyes were the brightest.
When they entered her house and saw her father’s body, disgust was written all over their faces. Even Nian gongzi’s complexion had grown pale. It was evident the smell had made him uncomfortable but he insisted on staying to help her.
There was also Feng gongzi. She knew Feng gonzi had a sincere heart but she didn’t understand why she preferred Nian gongzi. A storyteller had once spoken of the word ‘reverence.” She and the other children in the village didn’t understand his teaching but when Nian gongzi said he would stay, she seemingly could understand a bit.
When she saw Feng gongzi look at Nian gongzi, his eyes were so calm and gentle, making her feel that Nian gongzi should always be treated as such.
Later, they all had left. She remembered Nian gongzi mentioned in the carriage that he and his younger brother were heading to Yan Yu Tower. Having been to the capital multiple times, she was well aware what kind of place that was, it was certainly not a place people from proper households would visit.
Her heart was heavy with dejection; she didn’t understand why he didn’t want her? She could do housework, needlework, moreover she had some strength and could help him as his servant. Why didn’t he want her? Why would he go to such a place like that?
A storyteller had once told her, a debt in this life was better off paid in this life so that in the next, you could be free. Her father had once said that if one received a favor, one must return it.
Thus she decided to go find him and ask him to take her.
After paying respects to her father once again, she locked the door to her house carefully. Though she knew no one would steal from such a desolate place, this house still held a special place in her heart, no matter how broken and tattered, it was a place of her own. After locking the doors, she had set off for the capital.
When she arrived at Yan Yu Tower, she had no way of getting inside. Even when she offered what little money she had left to the gatekeepers, seeing that she was a woman donned in old, shabby clothes, they would not let her in.
She could only find a place to hide and wait nearby. Though it was summer, there was still a chill in the night air. Standing there, she was not only cold but hungry. When she saw Na Ming and Yun Yang gongzi come out, a group of soldiers quickly surrounded them. She wanted to rush forward and ask them about Nian gongzi but the sight of the soldiers frightened her. In her moment of hesitation, they had already entered their respective carriages and left.
She was upset but had no other choice but to continue waiting. She didn’t even know how long she had waited when a handsome young man and Nian Yu gongzi came out. Nian Yu gongzi was seemingly anxious but the young man beside him seemed to have whispered words of reassurance. The way he looked at Nian Yu gongzi was similar to the way Feng gongzi had looked at Nian gongzi.
She quickly ran over to Nian Yu gongzi and told him her purpose for coming. Her words came out in a stammer as she fell to her knees and pleaded for his help. Nian Yu gongzi helped her up with a frown and said he and his sister-in-law had no problem with it but that he must see what his ninth brother had to say.