Correlates with Ch 178
Feng Jiu Palace.
Amid the fourth and fifth night watch, Xuan Ji slowly stirred awake. It was usually at this time when Long Fei Li would get ready for court each morning. When she was still resting at Chu Xiu Hall, he would wake her up at this time and get her to bind his hair and help him get ready. Unhappy that her peaceful sleep had been disturbed, she had been unwilling but still went through with the motions. Yet he did not find fault and left perfectly content as always. Soon after he left she would drift back to sleep and wouldn’t wake until after his return.
Yet now she had stirred awake all on her own and no matter how long she laid there, she couldn’t fall back asleep.
This was the first day since she had left Chu Xiu Hall. It was also the day that he and Xin Yi had planned to meet.
To go or not to go was a matter of life or death. This must be how Hamlet must’ve felt she thought as she pulled the blanket over her head and let out a muffled groan.
If she went ahead and hid in the dry well where Cui Ya had hid, she would have to share the same space alongside a corpse. Just the thought of it alone made her shudder. But if she were to hide elsewhere, given how vigilant and alert Long Fei Li is, he would surely notice her.
She wanted to go but at the same time she was afraid of being discovered. She wanted to know who Xin Yi was but at the same time she was afraid to learn the truth.
With her mind occupied by various thoughts, she could feel a headache coming. In the end, she decided to get up and get dressed. After washing her face, she headed for the door.
Walking around the courtyard, she didn’t know how much time had passed when she could suddenly spot the break of dawn.
Standing out here, she felt a great impulse to head to Bi Xia Palace. She didn’t know why but ever since the first time Yu Zhi had brought her there, that place had given her a strange sense of unease.
If she wanted to head to Bi Xia Palace, passing through the Royal Garden was the only way.
In the end, she made a decision and was already strolling through the Royal Garden when all of a sudden she could hear a clamor of laughter.
Before she even had the time to look back, another sound came from the pavilion alongside the lake.
“Isn’t that Nian mei mei(younger sister)?”
Even if she didn’t want to look back, she no longer had the chance to escape. That voice had belonged to Consort Hui who was currently gazing straight at her with a brilliant smile on her face. Around her stood more than a dozen palace beauties, as well as a large number of servants. From the Empress to even concubine An Jin and Yao Guang, all were present.
Xuan Ji smiled bitterly as she thought these women really love having gatherings. Just as she was about to open her mouth and say a few words and leave, the Empress smiled and said, “Concubine Nian is also here. It’s true how the saying goes, ‘To come early is not the same as to arrive on time’. The Emperor’s birthday will be in a few days and us sisters have gathered to come up with ideas on what gifts to present to the Emperor at the birthday banquet.”
She then paused for a moment before adding, “I(Bengong) should’ve informed you earlier but since you were at Chu Xiu Hall these days, I feared I might disturb you(mei mei) and the Emperor….”
Consort Hua flashed an exquisite smile as she reminded, “Your Highness(Huang Hou jie jie= older sister Empress), didn’t Nian mei mei return to Feng Jiu Palace yesterday already?”
The Empress appeared slightly taken aback before she said, “Look at where my head’s at, I wasn’t aware you’ve gone back to your palace. You(mei mei) mustn’t blame me now.”
Laughter rippled through the pavilion. How could Xuan Ji not recognize the mockery laced between their words….They wanted to say that she had been dismissed by the Emperor! The Empress wasn’t aware? How could that be?
Xuan Ji smiled lightly and said, “Your Highness(Huang Hou Niang Niang),your words are too serious. It was Xuan Ji’s mistake. I was not careful and had disturbed your conversation. Everyone, please continue on. Your Highness, Xuan Ji will withdraw first.”
“It’s rare to catch a glimpse of Nian mei mei, you should come and join us,” Consort Hui said as she raised a brow and continued, “Or is it you don’t like us sisters?”
Xuan Ji silently cursed. Discussing gifts? Hmph, you’re just nosy to see what present everyone else had prepared.
“Yes, come join us younger sister,” Yao Guang said, even going so far as to come to her side and pull her towards the pavilion.
Xuan Ji truly hated that she couldn’t just knock Yao Guang unconscious with the slice of her hand behind her neck. As soon as she was pulled over to the gathering, a concubine asked, “Nian jie jie(older sister) is adored by the Emperor, I wonder what gift you have prepared for him? Quickly tell us Nian jie jie so we can have an idea.”
Everyone else echoed after with smiles on their faces as they pressed her to quickly tell them.
Consort Hua glanced at her and remarked, “Yes, Nian mei mei’s gift must be particularly special. After the birthday banquet, if the Emperor’s pleased, who knows, perhaps he’ll let you serve him again in Chu Xiu Hall.”
Laughter erupted once again.
An Jin chimed in, “Whether that will happen is yet uncertain. Concubine Nian niang niang(Your Highness) don’t keep it a secret, do tell us sisters.”
Xuan Ji gave a silent laugh of contempt. Aren’t these women tired? They keep on bringing the subject back to her being dismissed from Chu Xiu Hall. As for Long Fei Li’s gift, she really hadn’t prepared anything. She only found out that his birthday was coming up from the conversation she overheard between Xia Sang and Yu Zhi. Afterwards, she had been cooped up in Chu Xiu Hall. The fun of giving a gift was the surprise but he had been by her side day and night. When he held morning court, she was busy sleeping. When he returned, they were busy ‘sleeping’ together. When he reviewed the memorials, she would be held in his arms and bored to death, she would fall asleep…
Although their words were full of mockery and ridicule, only she was the one that was aware of what truly happened yesterday at Chu Xiu Hall which on second thought made her find this situation quite funny. She was just about to open her mouth and give a cordial response so she could quickly leave when suddenly she felt off-balance. Just then, Yao Guang had pulled her to stand next to the lake and once everyone saw her body shaking as if she was about to fall into the lake at any moment, they all stammered in shock. Yao Guang lightly scolded, “Xiao(Little) Lin, aren’t you going to quickly help Concubine Nian niang niang(Your Highness)?”
Xiao Lin was Yao Guang’s maidservant who was standing behind Yao Guang and between her and Xuan Ji. She answered and quickly stepped forward to assist Xuan Ji.
Seeing this, the corner of An Jin’s lips lifted and she gave A’Shi, who was standing nearby, a look. A’Shi was standing beside Xuan Ji and she shuddered and quietly took a step back. Stretching out her foot, she gave Xiao Lin a kick behind the ankle. Xiao Lin cried out in pain as she fell forward into the lake while holding onto Xuan Ji.
Exiting Jin Luan Hall, the ministers’ expressions were heavy and dark. They had just heard the reports sent from several prefectures that in the midst of late spring and early summer there was an onslaught of heavy rain. This caused the Leyang River which flowed through those prefectures to overflow, leaving multiple villages flooded overnight and resulting in a number of casualties.
Upon hearing this news, the Emperor was furious and denounced the local officials for their incompetence in handling affairs. Originally, the levee should’ve been reinforced long ago. Moreover, the officials should’ve assessed the situation and evacuated those in close proximity to the river but they had done nothing, which resulted in such a disaster.