Chapter 9: Dinner Party
Surveying over the luxurious and ornate dress she had on, Zi Yinye said with a little unease, “This dress is too ostentatious and feels uncomfortable. Why don’t I change into another one?”
“No, it’s very pretty. Violet* suits you very well.” Xie Zhiqiu smiled as a maid dressed Zi Yinye.
*Zi = violet and only aristocrats were allowed to wear purple in the past
“But…” Zi Yinye muttered, “Isn’t this too much for the dinner party? It’s your sister’s birthday, she’s the one to shine today.”
Xie Zhiqiu slowly walked into the room. He picked up the phoenix pin Zi Yinye had set on the table and stuck it back in her hair, smiling gently as he said, “Don’t have any qualms about others. Girls should cherish themselves. Let’s go, I’ll lead you to the dinner party.”
With no alternative, she allowed Xie Zhiqiu to lead her away. She had a few second thoughts. How come this Xie Zhiqiu was unaware of avoiding arousing suspicious? Fortunately she was still someone else’s wife!
“Does brother Ren treat you well?”
Zi Yinye paused for a moment, sensing Xie Zhiqiu was a bit on edge. She frowned slightly. “Not bad!”
Xie Zhiqiu’s suddenly swiveled his head back. His profound eyes locked with hers, catching her off guard, and seemed to see through her inner heart. She glanced away a little desperately and said, “Between me and my husband*, actually…”
“I understand!” Xie Zhiqiu broke her off, then continued to advance quietly. Zi Yinye blinked, unable to make heads or tails of it. She didn’t understand the joy in his voice, but she did not ask. The young man was a bit queer!
Entering the hall, Zi Yinye attracted attention as she had expected, but she was shocked to discover that her husband, the emperor, and Princess Rongfei were there. Sensing his inner ire when catching his eyes, she drooped her head immediately. What had happened? Why did she feel the mood in the hall was strange?
“My lady, you’ve finally appeared.”
Just as she heard Chun Ri’s tearful voice, another woman’s piercing voice said loudly, “Didn’t I already say she was fine? Isn’t she perfectly fine? Was there really a need for minister Ren to forcefully enter and ask for her as if I was going to harm her?”
Ren Fengyao’s eyes flickered. “Madam, are you alright?”
Zi Yinye nodded. “I’m fine.”
“Madam, where have you been all this time? Chun Ri thought you had disappeared, making all of the servants look for you.” Ren Fengyao’s tone carried faint censure, but it was not malicious. With her head drooped, she failed to see the worry in his eyes. Head lowered meekly without speaking, Zi Yinye seemed so weak, it was as if she would fall over if wind blew, her cowardly appearance arousing pity. Sitting next to princess Xie, only prince Dongfang Xi’s calm and cold eyes flickered subtly as he pondered.
“Brother Ren, please don’t blame Lady Qi, she was just lost a moment ago.” Xie Zhiqiu walked over to Ren Fengyao with familiarity as he explained.
“Enough, everybody sit!” Dongfang Chao was evidently a little impatient.
Supported by the arm by Chun Ri, she was seated next to Ren Fengyao. Glancing at the man in the dragon robe, Zi Yinye was bemused. It was simply Princess Xie’s birthday banquet, but the emperor himself had come. She had thought her clothes would have drawn too much attention and resentment, but unexpectedly, the one to draw away the spotlight was not her.
The originally lively banquet had become heavy due to the emperor’s presence. Dishes were brought out one by one and Zi Yinye suddenly realized a large problem. If she wanted to eat, she had to take off the veil!
Goddammit, how could she have overlooked this? Zi Yinye lowered her head with an ugly expression, but before she could think of a countermeasure, Princess Xie spoke. “What, do these dishes not suit Madam Ren’s tastes? Why is Madam Ren not eating?”
Rubbing salt on the wound! Zi Yinye knew that today would not be easy. She gritted her teeth. “Yinye’s table manners are unsightly, she was afraid of alarming everyone.”
“Does Madam Ren think we are all sheltered people? Right, I’ve known Madam Ren for so long, yet I still have not seen your true appearance. Your highness, aren’t you curious?”
It seems she was deliberately trying to make things difficult for Zi Yinye. Dongfang Chao’s face darkened. “Take off the veil!”
With a helpless smile, she took in the immediate surroundings with derision. She slowly reached out. Fortunately, she had prepared in advance. The moment the veil fluttered off, there was the sound of multiple drawn breaths. Red rashes covered her face, so ugly it was indescribable. Even Dongfang Chao and Dongfang Xi who rarely showed change in expression sucked in air sharply. Out of all of them, only Ren Fengyao’s eyes flickered with pity. Silently, he gripped her hand underneath the table. Startled, Zi Yinye turned towards Ren Fengyao and was met with his apologetic eyes. In that moment, a faint flash of warmth existed in her heart.
Chun Ri opened her eyes with difficulty, forcing back her tears. Her lady had never suffered such humiliation, judged and gossiped. Originally when her lady had appeared in the gorgeous violet dress, she was an elegant sight, but with the veil off, the dress only served as unbearable contrast. If it weren’t for her fear of ruining her lady’s plans, she really would have told them all to look carefully at her countenance.
Enduring multiple piercing gazes, Zi Yinye finally finished eating, expressionless. Although she always kept a low profile and maintained a cold affront, that did not mean she did not have a temper. She did not want to attract any more attention, but that did not mean she was not willing to resist if she had to. If only no one else would try to irritate her.
Setting the veil back on, Zi Yinye finally felt a sense of safety. It wasn’t that she was afraid of people seeing and judging her appearance like this but that with the veil on, it was easier for her to hide herself. Today, she had faced too many injustices and even revealed her anger at one point. She was afraid that if she wasn’t careful, her mood would reveal itself on her face. She did not want a second person to see her true nature.
The banquet did not stop once the feast ended. Rather, it had just started. She watched as they drank merrily, heard a fake sounding congratulations, glittering yet also fake smiles. Then she lowered her head calmly.
Her artificial attitude was simply too fake. If that woman was not the princess, if that woman’s husband was not the emperor’s younger brother, if that woman’s elder sister did not join the harem, then would she have been fawned on as she was right now with an aloof expression? In truth, she was only a pitiful person with a gilded appearance. Afterall, she would never obtain what she truly wanted. She could only endure jealousy and swallow back her unwillingness.
Thus, Zi Yinye gradually stopped her disliking of the exaggeratingly laughing woman and even felt a little sympathy.
Raising her head, her limpid eyes glancing towards the pitiful woman once more, but noticed that at the side, the calm and cold man’s eyes empty. Perhaps he too was finding it hard to take. What did he feel when he discovered that another man was in his wife’s heart? No wonder his eyes were so vacant, it turns out…
Dongfang Xi’s eyes suddenly sharpened, as if he sensed someone was inspecting him. His gaze shot through the crowd towards her. Zi Yinye quickly lowered her head, her long and curved eyelashes hiding her ponderance and sympathy. What sharp senses! With such sensitivity, how could he not know the object of his wife’s affection? But even if he sensed it, so what? He couldn’t do anything and could only be left unresigned!
With this conclusion, Zi Yinye stealthily turned her head slightly and started to cautiously size up her husband. Ren Fengyao was wholeheartedly focused on the singing and dancing. His profile appeared more gentle and refined under the flickering of the light, emanating the elegant aura of high quality, ancient jade. Watching for a while would leave one captivated! The man was very gentle and courteous. His dense, scholarly aura was like that of an ancient book, long and meandering, unable to be understood.
With a slight frown, Zi Yinye started to become lost in thought. Why did she have such a feeling? He was clearly just a weak scholar, as dull as water, gentle as jade. But for a moment, she felt that he wasn’t as simple as he appeared. He was like water, but not ordinary water. He was like a creek, a tiny stream. He was also like a well, old without ripples. He was even more like the ocean, able to raise waves in an instant. She secretly sighed. In the future, it would be best not to tease him so much. There were some people she could mess with, but some she could not. It was her acumen speaking.
“Your highness, today is little sister’s birthday. You previously promised her a wish, do you remember?”
The singing and dancing stopped as Concubine Rou’s voice gently sounded. It immediately caught Zi Yinye’s attention. The two sisters both harbored resentment toward her. The younger one had wasted her whole day away, so there was no reason the older one wouldn’t let her go either.
“I remember, I remember.” Dongfang Chao laughed. “What does Princess Xie desire?”
The princess and Concubine Rou glanced at each other, and then the princess said, “I** am not lacking in anything, and don’t have any wishes. Ah, right, I** actually really want to listen to a special someone here play the zither. Would your highness permit it?”
“That’s nothing. If little sister wants to hear the zither, so be it. Everyone here is of high birth, so there’s no reason they can’t play. What do you say, your highness?”
They should be referring to her. But she had clearly stated at the imperial banquet she could not play, so what were they doing? Were they trying to test if she really knew how to play and then seize the opportunity to mock her for lying? Or did they want to lower her status? Whose status were they trying to lower with the stately prime minister’s wife playing the zither in such a public setting?
She secretly sneered in her heart. Dongfang Chao nodded, smiling. “Who does sister in law want to hear play? I’m* curious to whose extraordinary playing it is that is so tantalizing.”
“Madam Ren.” Princess Xie’s burning gaze shot towards Zi Yinye, smiling as she spoke, but a menacing flicker of rancor in her eyes. “Madam Ren, do you really not know how to play? There are few ladies from great families who are unable to.”
Sure enough, they were targeting her. Did they think she was a pushover? Everyone’s gazes shifted to Zi Yinye, causing her to become displeased. With a deep intake of breath, Zi Yinye slowly walked forward.
“Alright, I’ll play.”