Chapter 3: Countermeasure
Ren Fengyao sat before his desk listening to Mo Bai report and said with disapproval, “In other words, the emperor is also very disatisfied with this ‘Zi Yinye’?”
“Not just dissatisfied, he practically feels loathing. Concubine De and Concubine Shu, this Lady Zi’s half sisters, create chaos in the palace as they compete. Right now, whenever he hears the surname Zi, he feels a headache. Originally, he had thrown this Lady Zi’s name away, but when the eunuch was tidying up, he accidentally picked up her name and sent it, which led you to pull her name coincidentally.”
“If he hadn’t attempted to force me, how could that have happened?” Ren Fengyao said coldly.
“Also, young master, the emperor originally favored minister Wang’s daughter, Lady Wang Wanrou. He circled her name specially and even put her name at the very top of the stack! Young master, did you not see?”
“At that time, he was so angry, he didn’t even look, so how could he have seen a circle. He probably doesn’t even remember any of the names.” Nearby, Leng Canxing interrupted coldly.
Ren Fengyao glared angrily at Leng Canxing. “If he had waited to see the result, would this have happened?”
“Right, right! But the emperor was afraid of you, afraid you would convince him in the middle of the night to change his mind, so he hid away early on. Your plan was ruined!” Leng Canxing added oil to the fire.
“And he had instructed eunuch De to write an edict immediately without waiting for him to see the result in case you changed your mind. The emperor himself did not know who you had chosen until the decree was announced!” Mo Bai explained with amusement.
“Right! That’s why at court, his expression had turned so unsightly, correct?” The voice that was neither cold nor warm made Mo Bai shrink back. He didn’t dare to say another word.
“Isn’t that good? He tried to force you and you accidentally retaliated, how hilarious!” Leng Canxing spoke without fear.
“The only one who benefitted is that Lady Zi who was unable to get married,” Mo Bai murmured.
“Hmm?” Ren Fengyao didn’t understand Mo Bai.
“Young master, I learned of new information!” Mo Bai said.
“It pertains to the Zi clan’s seventh lady. I heard that during her childhood, she was infected with a strange disease. Ever since then, she hid away. People who have seen her appearance have said that it is so unsightly, even ghosts would shun her.”
“Rumors should not be believed!” Ren Fengyao said in an aloof manner.
“It’s true, young master. Their descriptions are so vivid, it sounds like they’ve seen her personally. At first, I also did not believe it. With concubine De and concubine Shu being able to be selected as concubines, their appearances must be outstanding and their younger sister should not be too different, but when I inquired at the Zi clan, none of the servants had met their seventh lady. They only knew of her existence, but some didn’t even know. She lives in seclusion in a small courtyard. Even his Lord has rarely met her. Her mother, Madam Zi, is very beautiful though.”
“If you have not seen with your own eyes then do not believe it!” Ren Fengyao said, still unconcerned.
“Aiya, young master, I investigated repeatedly. It’s true! I heard from the Zi clan’s housekeeper that when she was young, she was an adorable, clever child, but after the illness… Even her personal servants said her appearance was ruined afterwards.”
“Enough, Mo Bai. A person’s appearance does not determine who they are.”
“But, young master, you can use this as an excuse to make a request of the emperor, declining the marriage!”
“Decline the marriage? The emperor already made it an imperial decree, how can it be so easily declined? What’s more…”
Leng Canxing cut him off and said calmly, “What’s more, your master, my upright and righteous senior disciple, is not one to judge people by their beauty! He cannot use her ugly appearance as an excuse.” He could watch from the sidelines for entertainment, especially when it was his senior disciple’s situation, but with the rumored to be unwelcome Zi Yinye being married to his senior disciple, it seems his days would be easy any more.
And as expected, the next day, the emperor bestowed two beautiful women from Beiqi to Ren Fenyao. He could treat them as mistresses or servants, but he could not return them. Thus, Ren Fengyao was only able to accept them with a forced smile.
“How awful! My lady!” Xia Yue said angrily. “How could the emperor decree your marriage one day and then bestow two other women the next? You have not married yet, but those two women entered the household first. Isn’t this clearly a slap in the face! With your looks and intelligence, you’re more than qualified to be the empress, not to mention some…”
“Xia Yue!” Zi Yinye scolded softly, a slight frown on her face.
“Xia Yue, our lady is not anxious, so what are you anxious for? It’s not as if you’re the one being married!” Qiu Xing said while wiping a table.
“I-I’m just feeling wrong on behalf of our lady!”
“What are you feeling wronged for? This happening is a benefit to me.” Seeing a few puzzled faces, Zi Yinye smiled. “If I want to get through this marriage unscathed, I need some other people to divert Ren Fengyao’s attention away. Originally, I had been planning on using one of you to deal him. Isn’t it fortunate? Unless…” Zi Yinye said to Xia Yue jokingly, “Xia Yue, you wanted to serve that Ren Fengyao as your master?”
Unable to notice the teasing tone, Xia Yue said immediately, “My lady, of course I wouldn’t want to serve some Ren person as my Master. Don’t throw me away!” Xia Yue was evidently a little anxious after hearing Zi Yinye’s words. But once she saw everyone covering their smiling mouths right after she finished speaking, she immediately understood and stomped her foot. “My lady, you were messing with me again!”
“Oh right, my lady, you hadn’t touched your embroidery needle for two years. Today, why have you…” Dong Chen said with puzzlement.
“Silly girl, haven’t you heard that women must embroider their own marriage clothes?”
How was that possible? The four girls glanced at each other doubtfully, then looked at the white handkerchief she was working on. Although not yet finished, the scene of the duck on water was realistic and lifelike. Even though their lady hadn’t embroidered for two years, her embroidery skills were unconcealable! Perhaps there was no one whose embroidery was as exquisite as their lady’s. Alas! With such talents, how could Ren Fenyao deserve her?
“Alright, it’s finished!” Zi Yinye said with the handkerchief half finished.
With one glance, the four said at the same time, “My lady, it’s not!”
“How could an unfortunate woman whose happy relationship* was destroyed have the heart to finish an embroidered handkerchief?” Zi Yinye smiled seeing the fours confusion. “Listen closely!”
*TL: Play on words. The word for the duck also means happy relationship. Unfinished duck = ruined relationship
After the four heard, they said with mixed feelings, “My lady, would that work?”
“Whether it works or not will depend on your performance. But there should be no problem. After Dong Chen brings back information, we’ll see. The emperor and Ren Fengyao both seem unpleased with our marriage, otherwise there wouldn’t mistresses before we’ve even been married.
Autumn wind rustling, Ren Fengyao was walking from the palace court back home as usual. He preferred not sitting in palanquins and so he always traveled on foot whether to or from court. He could exercise and examine the commoners at the same time. Although he was traversing the streets as usual, he kept on feeling something was going to be different today. Sure enough, a delicate and charming woman in green appeared in his path and said with a low voice, “Lord Ren, may I have a word?”
“Young master, she is Lady Zi’s personal servant, Chun Ri!” Mo Bai said quietly.
With a vague idea of what was going to happen, Ren Fengyao nodded and followed the woman to a private room in a tea house.
Inside the private room was a young girl in white with her face covered, her head low. She was wringing a thin handkerchief. When she heard them come in, she looked up abruptly, gave Ren Fengyao a panicked glance, then look down hurriedly.
After Ren Fengyao sat down, Chun Ri stood behind the girl in white and said quietly, “Lord Ren, this is my lady.”
Not understanding why the Zi clan’s young lady decided to meet him, Rem Fengyao asked, “Why is your lady looking for me**?”
The lady seemed very obviously flustered, panicking as she said, “I….I…” But after saying “I” repeatedly for a while, she was unable to say another word. Next to her, Chun Ri also was evidently hurried. Only after giving the girl in white a light nudge did she blurt out, “I want to decline the marriage!”
Ren Fengyao pondered over the subtle interaction between the two. His eyes flashed, but his voice remained the same. “The emperor decreed the marriage as an imperial edict, but Lady Zi tells me she wants to decline. Does the lady want to resist an imperial decree?”
“No, no, it’s not like that!” The young lady hurriedly waved in refusal. “I-I only….”
Chun Ri hurriedly continued for her, “My lady is not trying to resist the decree, it’s just that she already has someone else in her heart. Please help us, my lord!”
“You are not Lady Zi!” Ren Fengyao said calmly.
Hearing this, the young girl in white fell to the ground with a plop. “Spare us!” Chun Ri kneeled down seeing the change in situation. “My lord, it is true Dong Chen is not my lady. We only wished not to see our lady’s tears.”
“Get up and speak!” Ren Fengyao ordered.
Chun Ri pulled up Dong Chen. “Truthfully, our lady does not know we came to find you, my lord. We could not bear to see our lady’s grief and acted on our own initiative, but because we were afraid you* would not be willing to meet just us two, we impersonated our lady… Apologies, my lord!”
“Our lady has always been unwelcome since she was young, so she has always lived alone in a small courtyard. Nobody payed attention either. Our lady has always been very sorrowful. My lord, you have presumably also heard of the rumors? Our lady does not have any friends. His lordship and Madam only see her a few times every year. We also expected our lady to continue her years like such, but two years ago, our lady unexpectedly became acquainted with a poor scholar by coincidence. Only then did she become a little happier. He, young master Du, did not ever dismiss our lady because of the rumors and treated her very well. The two had even talked of marriage. Young master Du had planned on marrying our lady after passing the imperial exams next year, but…” Chun Ri paused. “Ever since the day of the marriage decree, our lady has been very depressed, tearful every day. She even lost the heart to finish the embroidery she was planning on giving young master Du. My lord, please look at this half finished handkerchief.” Saying this, Chun Ri handed over the half finished handkerchief to Ren Fengyao.
Although the duck was not finished, it was very eye catching. Seeing Chun Ri’s watery eyes, Reng Fengyao felt a bit uncomfortable. “How exquisite!”
Dabbing her eyes, Chun Ri forced a smile. “Our lady is only skilled at this!”
Ren Fengyao suddenly felt the handkerchief was burning to the touch and couldn’t help but secretly curse Dongfang Chao. His unnecessary antics had turned him into the villain who had ruined a future marriage. But it was still not possible to decline the marriage. There were too many negative implications whether for himself, for the emperor, or Lady Zi. With a helpless smile, Ren Fengyao spoke. “I am willing to help, but it is impossible for his majesty to revoke the decree!”
“Please help, my lord!” Chun Ri and Dong Chen kowtowed at the same time. Meanwhile, Zi Yinye’s words flashed through their minds.
Being able to maintain his steady at court at such a young age, Ren Fengyao is not to be trifled with. Moreover, he is rumored to be very cautious and meticulous in his actions, no problems he cannot solve. You two must focus on pleading. He will give a reply. What’s more, if Ren Fengyao has also investigated, he will not be suspicious. He is also not one to wish to ruin a marriage. I have not offended him in the past either, having never met him before. He will most likely explain how to resolve the situation.
Ren Fengyao watched the two pleading piteously and said a bit hesitantly, “I** do have a way, but…”
“Please speak, my lord!”
“Let your lady marry as scheduled. I** promise not to touch her. After the situation settles, one year if quick, three years at the latest, we will have a divorce, allowing her to be free. But, if this happens, your lady’s reputation will…”
He hadn’t finished, but Chun Ri understood his meaning. Thus, she smiled bitterly and said, “It doesn’t matter, there are already so many nasty rumors, my lady has already become accustomed. How could she fear of her reputation being unclean?” Since when was Lady Zi afraid of rumors? The rumors on the streets had originated from her in the first place. If she cared, why would she slander herself purposefully!
“Then what about young master Du? Will he…”
“It’s fine. Young master Du is deeply devoted to our lady. As long as he inform him, he will understand. But this will be detrimental to you, your lord. We deeply apologize!”
“Me?” Ren Fengyao shook his head with amusement. “I’m fine!”
He hadn’t wanted this marriage in the first place, but under such pressure, he was forced to agree. Now, the situation was going to be resolved to everybody’s benefit. He was so happy, he didn’t even have time to apologize himself!