Chapter 5: Imperial Banquet Pt. 1
A simple yet elegant carriage slowly mde its way to the imperial city. Sitting inside the carriage were Ren Fengyao and Zi Yinye. Zi Yinye had not attempted to dress elaborately, still wearing her usual simple and elegant white dress, her long hair tied without any ornaments except only a rather refined phoenix hairpin, and this had been forced on by Chun Ri! Ren Fengyao made no comments about how she had dressed and only ordered someone to fetch an arctic fox cloak for her to wear because the winter was extremely chilly.
Inside the palace, the numerous officials were for the most part present. Once Ren Fengyao entered the entrance, two eunuchs came to lead the way. Ren Fengyao was already very familiar with the palace, but this was the first time Zi Yinye had visited the palace. The officials’ family members were separated from the officials and had to go to the inner palace with the imperial consort. Ren Fengyao watched as Zi Yinye followed an eunuch into the palace, a little worried. He said with a low voice, “Be careful!”
Zi Yinye did not make a sound. She only nodded and followed the eunuch to the harem chambers. Watching as her figure disappeared into the distance, Ren Fengyao suddenly felt the woman was not as weak as he had thought, but exactly what feeling she gave off, he could not say.
Zi Yinye’s arrival at the harem chambers did not cause any disturbance because she was currently just a nameless woman. Compared to the elaborately decorated married women with pearls and jewelery, Zi Yinye was unremarkable. She quietly sat in a corner and listened to women discuss their daily lives, bored senseless, but at the same time, she couldn’t leave.
“Her highness has arrived!” A eunuch announced, his voice long and drawn out. The room fell silent. One after the other, they rose to bow. Zi Yinye also bowed, but her lustrous eyes secretly sneaked a glance at the empress* and her entourage.
*it’s really rude to do this, she could get punished if caught
The woman leading donned an apricot yellow imperial dress, her entire body emitting natural grandeur. She must be the empress and the beautiful women behind her must be the emperor’s concubines! And the two in crimson dresses with haughty expressions were no other than her elder sisters. Compared to the empress’s natural grace and the numerous other concubine’s bearings, these two sisters of her seemed much more tasteless. Zi Yinye lowered her eyes, an amused glint in her eyes. No wonder the emperor had disliked the Zi clan! Although they were very beautiful, their personalities were very lacking, almost intolerable!
The imperial banquet continued with a harmonious atmosphere, but Zi Yinye sensed it wasn’t so. It was as if everyone had on a mask, cautiously maintaining a gentle appearance, fearing that if there was even a slight mistake, they would bring a disaster to their husband.
After Zi Yinye finally finished scanning the seemingly relaxed yet actually tensed dinner with the indifferent eye of an outsider, she had finished eating. With a deep sigh, Zi Yinye motioned towards a maid to exchange her plate for tea and refreshments. She couldn’t help but sigh again in her heart. It seemed she still had to stay for a while. If the men’s side did not finish, then she could not leave.
She directed her gaze to the dark trees and distant mountain outside, listening to idle gossip subconsciously. She did not want to attract attention, so she had deliberately sat far away, but she could hear them word for word. It was not time for her to show her true abilities yet, so she had to conceal herself. But suddenly, she felt an intense gaze boring a hole into her back. She turned to look and found the owner of the burning gaze immediately. Princess Ping?! Why was she using such a gaze to look at her?
Zi Yinye sensed that the gaze was definitely filled with resentment and envy. Why? Zi Yinye had never crossed paths with princess Xie before, so there couldn’t be any bad blood between them, but… the hate in her gaze was so intense, so intense Zi Yinye felt apprehensive. They seemed to be total strangers, but why would she, a woman of high, untouchable status, the wife of the emperor’s brother, hold a grudge and moreover envy her? Envy?! There could only be one reason. It was because of him! She only wondered what was the relationship between him and the stately princess.
There was another gaze that Zi Yinye did not understand. It was a very complicated gaze, containing unreconciliation and bitterness and a few other emotions Zi Yinye could not say. How strange, this concubine who was favored by the emperor, concubine Rou, also had a relationship with him?
This one banquet, Zi Yinye had attracted two probing gazes and these gazes revealed hidden information. Zi Yinye was sure they were absolutely not good will. A thoughtful glint in her eyes, Zi Yinye wanted a laugh. An imperial concubine and a princess. Two women of such high status had special relationships with him. It seems her “husband” was not so simple. She sure was “lucky”.
Although Zi Yinye was not willing to interact with anyone, she was a bit curious towards the two who had exposed ill will in their gazes. But at the same time, she was not willing to purposefully provoke the two. If she was correct, the reason of their enmity was that person — her current husband. What a pity there were only a few days before she would leave, so what was the point in provoking them? What she should really be worrying over is how to escape.
But trouble came anyways. Zi Yinye’s peace was destroyed by the arrival of the emperor’s younger sister, princess Rongfei.
Princess Rongfei was very beautiful, young. She wore a colorful dress, a high headdress donned with her beautiful hair. Phoenix eyes, red lips, her face was extremely beautiful, but her arrogant aura destroyed it all.
Zi Yinye had already heard long ago that this princess Rongfei liked her current husband, but she hadn’t anticipated that Rongfei would try to make trouble for her the moment she arrived.
“Are you Zi Yinye?” Rongfei asked haughtily, her eyes full of disdain.
She did not want any trouble, but trouble came looking for her. Zi Yinye slowly rose up and bowed. “Yes, princess.”
Dongfang Rongfei sized up Zi Yinye’s simple style of dress disdainfully. Seeing how unremarkable Zi Yinye was, her disdain grew deeper. She humphed haughtily. “You don’t suit him!”
Zi Yinye kept her head low, not uttering a word. And would could she say, silence was golden! She would merely indulge a willful little girl, that’s all. What was the point in making a fuss over such a small matter? Moreover, she was currently unable to justify whether or not she suited him, or else she would expose her secret, and so what? It wasn’t like she had married willingly. Although her head was lowered, she could tell from the silence that all the women were watching, waiting for entertainment. Especially those two, they must be taking great joy in her misfortune! Public morals are degenerating every day. But she would let sleeping dogs lie. She hadn’t expected anyone to help her anyways. Attending a banquet was so exhausting. She received trouble for no reason and had to act like a pathetic, weak woman, how annoying… She was speechless! If she had known that there would be such trouble, she would have faked illness. Why was she receiving anger for no reason! When had she ever accepted such a compromise? Whatever, whatever, right now, she had to avoid making the problem bigger so that it would be easier to escape later on. She would just let the princess have her way for now. She just had to remain silent and pitiful.
“Are you mute? Why are you not talking?”
“Yinye* does not know what to say,” Zi Yinye said bashfully, her head lowering ever more.
*Referring to self in third person is self-depreciative.
“Don’t know what to say?” Rongfei raised her voice slightly. “I said you don’t suit big brother Ren, do you not understand? Ugly witch!
Ugly witch?! Her?! It seems the rumors on the streets had even reached the palace. It seemed now everybody knew that Ren Fengyao’s wife, the wife of the stately prime minister, the Zi clan’s seventh lady, was ugly! She only wondered whether there were more ministers who thought he was pitiful or whether there were more who thought this was funny.
Thoughts flying, her head still drooped, her eyes were thoughtful and amused, but she appeared completely like a pitiful woman, not saying a word of resistance.
This made princess Rongfei even more angry. She did not come to see Zi Yinye’s pathetic appearance, she had come to vent her anger. The man she had admired had been conferred a marriage to by her brother, the emperor, but the bride to be was not her. It was actually an ugly witch who couldn’t appear in public. This made her both angry and joyful. She was angry that her brother had carelessly conferred a marriage to her beloved Ren Fengyao, displeased that Ren Fengyao had never taken her seriously, but at the same time, she was happy that her Ren Fengyao would probably not take notice in this ugly woman. And her informants told her that this “Zi Yinye” had been ignored by Ren Fengyao ever since the marriage. Another woman of the Zi clan, humph! Just look at her sisters’ attitudes. She was even too ugly to be in public. Just by appearance alone, she was better a hundred percent. Why was the purpose in fighting this woman?
But although she thought this, she still had to vent out her anger, otherwise how could she get forgive Ren Fengyao for hurrying away from her? Ever since she was thirteen, she stopped going to the harem chambers for the imperial banquet because the inner palace only had a few tasteless old women, whereas her beloved big brother Ren was at the outer palace. Today, she came from the outer palace to the inner palace specifically to confront Zi Yinye, but this Zi Yinye was not as she had expected at all, so timid she was boring. Just look at her two older sisters, oppressive, condescending. If only she had half of her older sisters’ insolence. That way, taking her down would be more interesting. But currently, she looked like a pitiful wife who had been beaten down by a malicious mother in law. Dongfang Rongfei felt a little of her anger drain away. She would not have the end result she was looking for, how dull. But at the same time, she could not let her off just because she was pitiful.
“Just look at yourself. Why were you married to big brother Ren?”
“His highness conferred…” Zi Yinye spoke, her tone timid. She was implying that the emperor’s orders could not be disobeyed.
“So what if my brother did that, you just had to not marry him!” But at these last few words, Dongfang Rongfei’s voice turned small. She was fully aware of the fact that imperial edicts could not be disobeyed.
Who dared to disobey the emperor? Zi Yinye did not dare and she, Dongfang Rongfei, also did not dare!
“Please not be so angry, princess*. Since his majesty has already conferred Lady Zi to minister Ren, Lady Zi must be very talented in the zither, Go, poetry, and art!”
Just as she had expected! There was going to be some hasslers. Her head hung low, the derision in her eyes thickened. Humph! The four arts? She was proficient in them all, but so what? Nobody here was worthy of hearing her play the zither nor see her paint.
Shaking her head, Zi Yinye remained her timid appearance. Her voice was only slightly more embarrassed. “Zi Yinye is untalented. Master did teach me before, but Yinye failed to learn anything.”
There were a few ridiculing whispers in the crowd of women. Zi Yinye lowered her head even more. Dongfang Rongfei completely lost her interest. How was this a confrontation, she didn’t vent her anger at all.
“Madam Ren has kept her white veil on this whole time, are you unwilling to show your true appearance perhaps? The husbands of everyone here are also officials. Madam Ren, would you be willing to remove the veil and let us see your exceptional appearance?
What was that for? Zi Yinye shot a quick glance at princess Xie Chuqiu, the person who had just spoken. Everybody had heard the rumors by now and believed them. Clearly, she knew that the veil was to hide an ugly appearance, but she purposefully wanted her to take it off. “Exceptional appearance”, she had said, ridiculous. But really, she wondered what expression the princess would have if she saw her true appearance. Zi Yinye was truly curious. These past seven years, she had remained aloof from the world and acquired the habit of living simply. Very few things aroused her interest, but after she had been married off, there were quite a few people she wanted to mess with. Had she left worldly affairs for too long?
But after thinking for a bit, she knew very clearly that her appearance would bring quite a bit of trouble. It was best to not let them see her true appearance.
“It is not that Yinye is unwilling to show her true appearance, but that Yinye is afraid of shocking her highnesses.” She wasn’t lying in anycase, she truly was afraid they would get shocked.
“How can that be? Everybody here has seen the wide world, how could we be shocked by someone’s appearance!”
“Why not? If she’s too ugly, perhaps not only will we be shocked, we’ll lose our appetite for days. I really wonder how big brother Ren put up with her?”
These cold, malicious words were naturally from the unruly Dongfang Rongfei.
Zi Yinye gave an unheard sigh. This spoiled woman who was overly indulged to the point that she did not understand overstepping boundaries was truly unsuitable for Ren Fengyao. Even if she was actually ugly, she shouldn’t have attacked so maliciously. She had to have ethics and be willing to forgive others in order to be respected by other people. If this princess was married off to Ren Fengyao in the future, not only would he try to avoid her, she would also offend many people and cause trouble for him.
After Dongfang Rongfei said these words, princess Xie stopped talking. She raised a teacup and took a graceful sip. What qualifications did such a pathetic, useless woman have to marry him? The emperor was blind!