“Laoye, you are actually not in a hurry at all.” The old servant had followed Song Lian since he was a child, and he had long become like family. At this moment, he said in a low voice while serving the rice, “Traveling thousands of miles over here, but I don’t see any show of regard from the South Bodhisattva…..”
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He felt indignant on Song Lian’s behalf. In his opinion, there was no one more capable and smarter than Song Lian.
Song Lian sat down to eat, and said to the old servant, “What’s there to hurry?”
The old servant sighed again.
Song Lian did not explain to the old servant.
He knew in his heart that there were many people under Lin Yuan who wanted to succeed. If he was rashly entrusted with heavy responsibility, his life would not be easy in the future. The Song Shizhao of today would be Song Lian in the future. Everyone would be staring at the seat under him, wanting nothing more than to replace him.
Lin Yuan asked him to take care of the “spreading literacy” in order to help plate him with a layer of gold. With this layer of gold, he would be able to hand more important duties to him in the future.
Song Lian also knew that he was a signboard, but so what? His starting point was much higher than that of ordinary people. This was a good thing.
All the remaining members of the Little White Lotus Sect were arrested because of Bao Jianghe’s confession.
Most of these people didn’t know one character from another. They were poor people who were originally oppressed. Once they managed to finally gain a little power, they themselves didn’t regard human lives as human lives.
One of them in particular, every room in his residence had locked up captives that included both men and women. They were not given any clothes in order to prevent them from escaping.
The servants serving in his residence confessed that this person would visit different rooms every day, and sometimes several had to serve him together. Those who were still alive were the obedient ones, and those who were not obedient had died long ago.
Recently, Song Lian was thinking of how to settle these victims. Send them home? He was afraid l that they would die as soon as they returned home. This kind of thing could not be hidden. Putting aside their own family, just the stares and finger-pointing from outsiders could kill them.
So Song Lian sent them to the barracks, to be army cooks, or something else such as army nurses. Discipline was very important in the barracks and everyone was exhausted every day, so naturally there was no energy left for gossip.
This solution was actually praised by Lin Yuan, who said that Song Lian had mercy for the people, which startled Song Lian.
Song Lian also noticed that Lin Yuan was like a father to the common people, not at all stingy with his tolerance and benevolence. He had two faces, one reserved for the common people and one for the officials.
It had only been a little more than two months, but already many people in Pingjiang had come to sincerely support him.
The old servant said: “I think that South Bodhisattva may really possess something extraordinary. I heard that he was originally part of the landowning class. There are so many landowners in this world, but there is only one like him.”
Song Lian ate a bite of food: “Fate and circumstances are also important.”
If the world was peaceful, a person like Lin Yuan might be just a landowner his whole life.
Fate and circumstances made him what he was now.
Lin Yuan looked at the frontline battle report. Chen Baisong and Zhu Yuanzhang had set off to Chuzhou together.
Today Lin Yuan had nearly a million people in his army. Even though he included the auxiliary soldiers such as army cooks and logistics, this number was not to be underestimated. Although the number might not be the most crucial aspect, during war, people were the foundation of everything.
The imperial court had already lost any military advantage in front of him now.
Since the imperial court took away Toqto’a’s military power and disbanded his army on the spot, the imperial court had lost its last barrier. Now their military was just for show. They may still have money, but don’t even mention sending troops to attack Lin Yuan, in fact even just making a gesture of goodwill——there was a likely chance that Lin Yuan would just ignore it.
They could only place their hopes on the different rebel factions too busy fighting each other to the death. In this way they could eke out some breathing space.
After having ruled this great and prosperous empire, only to be forced to return to the grasslands. This kind of disparity gap was not something everyone could accept.
Looking at the battle report, Lin Yuan saw that the army’s march went gone smoothly and without any resistance. The wanhu of Chuzhou was surnamed Jiang, who did possess some skills. Despite being trapped in Chuzhou, he still clenched his teeth and persisted in holding off the siege. Daring enough to send out soldiers to directly fight with the enemy, he and Chen Baisong exchanged several rounds, so this time it was not a one-sided massacre.
Lin Yuan’s army was not without losses. According to the reported number of deaths, it was already more than 20,000. Although the casualties on Chuzhou’s side were even more serious, the 20,000 he lost still caused his eyebrows to furrow.
Song Shizhao took the battle report handed over by Lin Yuan and read it carefully before he said, “My Lord don’t need to worry too much. Now the Yuan Dynasty is just a grasshopper at the end of autumn. It won’t be a few days before they are unable to jump up and down anymore. Instead, there are others who we need to focus on now.”
Lin Yuan nodded: “It has been more than two years since Guo Zixing died of illness, and now his power has been inherited by Sun Deya.”
“My Lord…..wants to capture Haozhou?” Song Shizhao knew Lin Yuan’s meaning almost immediately. The days of the Yuan Dynasty were numbered, so if they continue to keep their sights on it now it would be a matter of neglecting fundamentals and concentrating on details. On the other hand, the momentum of the several rebel factions were now soaring, to the point that they had no choice but to guard against them.
Haozhou was Sun Deya’s base.
Lin Yuan wanted to eliminate Sun Deya and the others in one fell swoop, without leaving any chance at all.
Lin Yuan: “I’m only afraid that it is not the right time.”
Song Shizhao broke out in a cold sweat, but his mind was clear and he quickly said: “My Lord has acute foresight, but why not take things slowly? It cannot be captured this year, but next year or the year after next, it will definitely be captured!”
Although Song Shizhao knew that Lin Yuan’s objective was the entire empire, he did not expect that he was preparing to deal with both the imperial court and Sun Deya at the same time.
This caused him to be so excited that he could barely control himself.
Perhaps it was not far from the day when Lin Yuan would conquer the whole empire.
Song Shizhao said: “I wonder where is the Xiao Ming Emperor…..”
Lin Yuan thought for a while: “An Laosi should likely be about to make his move.”
He had An Laosi encourage Xiao Ming Emperor’s ambition and desire for power. There could only be one boss in a country. Liu Futong held heavy power, but Xiao Ming Emperor stood for orthodoxy. If Xiao Ming Emperor really wanted to fight Liu Futong for power, there was no guarantee who would lose or win in the end.
During the Qing Dynasty, Obai held heavy power and controlled the imperial court but didn’t the Kangxi Emperor still manage to pull him from his seat of power?
Because Kangxi was the emperor, he stood for orthodoxy and was the righteous ruler. Therefore, there would always be officials willing to gamble with him. Whereas in the hands of Obai, these people might not be able to succeed in their careers their whole lives. But so long as they won the gamble with Kangxi, they would instantly reach the summit of their careers.
Lin Yuan didn’t mind giving Xiao Ming Emperor a little push.
The fiercer and more chaotic Xiao Ming Emperor and Liu Futong fought, the more benefits he would get.
“What happened to Chen Youliang?” Lin Yuan asked.
Song Shizhao said: “He killed Ni Wenjun and annexed Ni Wenjun’s army, claiming to be a pacification commissioner (TN: high military officials supervising the peace in border regions), or manager of governmental affairs.”
Lin Yuan nodded: “I must leave it to Mister to pay attention to Chen Youliang’s news.”
Song Shizhao didn’t quite understand: “In my opinion, Chen Youliang does not seem to be a very important character now, just only occupying Huangzhou. Above him there is also a Xu Shouhui. I’m afraid he won’t be able to achieve much.”
Lin Yuan smiled and said: “There is a kind of person who is born different from others.”
Next year would be the year for Chen Youliang to shine, and he could not afford to ignore it, allowing Chen Youliang to grow stronger.
He didn’t want to leave it till he finally confronted Chen Youliang to regret not dealing with him in advance.
An Laosi who was far away in Anfeng let out a sneeze. He was currently standing out in the cool breeze while his wife was sorting out invitations. It had been more than half a year since they came to Anfeng. They used money to open the way, and even bought a minor official post. Although An Laosi looked rough and boorish, he was actually a bold and careful man. During the past six months, they had been busy with socializing, money flowing from their pockets like water, but they quickly became acquainted with the minor officials below.
“There is no letter from Pingjiang.” An Laosi sighed, afraid that the South Bodhisattva had forgotten him.
Lady An put away the invitations and took out paper and pen. She was literate and possessed good handwriting. Although she was a woman, she did not use the font favored by most women, but a cursive script that looked like flying dragons and dancing phoenixes. Because she was afraid that people would not be able to make out what she wrote, she could only restrain herself. As a result, the words that came out could only be considered neat.
Lady An wrote while saying: “You don’t have to worry about this. If you have time to sigh, why not go out and walk around.”
An Laosi: ”What’s the use of going out for a walk? The way I see it, if I don’t cut my lower half and become a eunuch, I won’t be able to see Xiao Ming Emperor at all in this life.”
Rather than saying that Liu Futong protected Han Lin’er too well, it was better to say that Liu Futong kept a tight grip on Han Lin’er. Other than special occasions, no one could see him. Except for the servants, the only people who could approach Han Lin’er were important officials. And these important officials were also Liu Futong’s people.
Lady An also sighed: “We have to think of other ways.”
An Laosi shook his head: “How is it that simple.”
But letting the opportunity to get promoted and become rich slip away from him, An Laosi could only feel heartache, wanting very much to beat his chest and stomp his feet.
This time, if he could complete the South Bodhisattva’s task and return later, even if he would not become an extremely important official, he would at least be entrusted with important duties. Wasn’t this exactly what he wanted?
“Isn’t it said that the prime minister wants to select concubines for Xiao Ming Emperor?” Lady An suddenly said, “All the daughters of the officials could attend.”
This was a forced levy. The daughters of high-ranking officials were to be concubines, and the daughters of small officials and minor officials were to be palace maids.
An Laosi: ”…..Give birth to a daughter now? It’s too late.”
Lady An: “We didn’t make any exact statements. The family members we told our neighbors about are on the road, so how about we say that we brought our daughter over here ahead of time?”
An Laosi: ”Where can we find this daughter?”
Lady An smiled and said, “Did you forget? Hong Xiu answered my letter, and I believe she is about to arrive in Anfeng soon.”
An Laosi’s eyes widened: “Wife, did you already think of this solution at that time?”
Lady An: “When you men do things, you don’t bother to hold any regard for women. I am a woman, so naturally I know what women can do.”
Hong Xiu was more restrained than Tian Xiang and the others. So long as she was dressed simpler, she would give people the impression that she was just a flower vase.
Only such a person would not be suspected——unlike Tian Xiang, who possessed a pair of eyes that appeared alluring even when not smiling. Even if she deliberately restrained herself, it was still easy for others to notice that something was out of place.
It was more than ten days later when Hong Xiu finally arrived. There were a few soldiers who were disguised as servants accompanying her, protecting her all the way to Anfeng. Hong Xiu had removed all makeup and when standing next to An Laosi, they really did look like they were father and daughter, the shape of their lips being somewhat similar.
Lady An walked over and took Hong Xiu’s hand. The two women walked ahead, and An Laosi followed them as they walked through the streets.
“A visiting relative?”
“This little lady is quite pretty.”
An Laosi smiled and said: “This is my daughter who was on the way here. Now because the Emperor is selecting concubines, I naturally must send someone to pick her up earlier. My father and mother are still behind.”
Everyone praised Hong Xiu while envying the An family for giving birth to such a fine daughter.
Even if she were to enter the palace to be a little palace maid, based on her looks she would definitely attract the eyes of Xiao Ming Emperor.
Xiao Ming Emperor was a young man, at the age where one had no scruples when it came to the business between men and women.
After walking through the streets, the three finally returned to the small courtyard residence.
Lady An sent An Laosi to get hot water for Hong Xiu clean up. After sitting in the carriage for so many days, no matter how good Hong Xiu’s physique was, it was not so good right now. She first wiped her face before leaning back on the chair and saying to Lady An, “This courtyard is not bad.”
Lady An smiled and said, “It costed three hundred taels.”
Hong Xiu was taken aback.
Lady An said: “How is it that easy to buy a house, finding the right connections, actually buying the house. Just the first part requires two hundred, and there are also the neighbors who we have to give some greeting gifts to. Sometimes, even three hundred taels are not enough.”
Lady An asked Hong Xiu again: “How is Gaoyou and Pingjiang? Although my husband and I are not in Pingjiang, we have always been thinking of the South Bodhisattva in our hearts.”
Hong Xiu took Lady An’s hand: “Our Lord is always thinking of you both too.”
Lady An sighed and said, “We have no choice. I’m afraid we must trouble little sister in the future.”
Hong Xiu: “No trouble.”
She had requested to come here herself, and the South Bodhisattva also promised her that if this matter succeeded, she would also be able to serve as an official in the future.
Even though she was a woman, she also wanted to try seizing this opportunity. What if she won in the end?
People like her didn’t have any illusions about men for a long time. She had seen too many men and knew that men were all like cats, and there were no cats that did not like to steal fish (TN: expression for fickleness). Instead of relying on men, it was better to rely on oneself. There was no opportunity before but now that there was, naturally she must firmly grasp it.
When there were more women who became officials in the future, they would be able to ally with each other and join in an opposition to the same adversary. That way, there would be no fear that there would be no place for them.
At night, Hong Xiu stayed in the same room with Lady An. There were always a lot of things to say between women. Lady An was also worried that Hong Xiu might feel discomfort, it being her first time in Anfeng, so she wanted to personally stay and accompany her.
After they cleaned their faces and washed their feet, they lay on the bed under the same quilt.
“You have suffered on the travel here. I wonder how it is back in Pingjiang.” When they left, the South Bodhisattva was still in Gaoyou.
Hong Xiu said: “Nothing major. Those little thieves below are like always. As long as Our Lord orders for rectification, where is there room for them to speak?”
Lady An looked at Hong Xiu: “When you are called into the palace, you will be a palace maid first. You are beautiful, so I am afraid that the women in the palace…..”
It would be bad if the task was not yet completed, only for Hong Xiu to be killed by those women.
Hong Xiu said with a chuckle: “Sister, don’t underestimate me. I grew up among women since I was a child. What methods do they have that I don’t know? If no one values me after I enter the palace, naturally it will be convenient. If someone values me, I will join the side of her opponent, there will always be a way to guarantee my life.”
Lady An: “Then you have to be careful, because there is a limit in how we can help you outside the palace.”
Hong Xiu nodded: “I won’t hide it from sister, when I think about what I’m going to do, I can’t sleep well day and night, the blood in my veins rushing and unable to calm down.”
She still remembered what the South Bodhisattva said to her: “You are going to be a spy. If you can succeed, you will topple an entire country. Are you afraid?”
She was so excited that she couldn’t even lift her head. She said, “This slave is not afraid!”
So long as she succeeded, even if she was a woman, there was even a chance of being recorded in the history books. Even if it was not fame but notoriety, it would be enough.
It was early in the morning when Hong Xiu was sent into the palace. The old palace maids and the eunuchs in the palace came to lead them away. The young girls got on the carriage, appearing nervous and excited. These daughters of minor officials were also dreaming, once they entered the palace, if they could catch the eyes of Xiao Ming Emperor, they and their families would be able to live a good life in the future.
For girls, marrying was their second birth. Only by marrying a good man would the rest of their days in this life be good.
But no good man could compare to the Emperor.
That was the Emperor, the master of all things, and naturally their masters.
If they could really become the Emperor’s women, they would also become half a master.
The girls were afraid to talk at first in the carriage. After a while, they found that no one bothered with them, so they started chatting.
“Which family are you from?”
“Ah, we have the same surname, maybe hundreds of years ago we belonged to the same family. “
They only started to talk about “business” when they finished making small talk.
“I wonder whether the consorts in the palace are easy to serve.”
“I heard that the Empress is a kind person, and treats the concubines like sisters.”
“I heard that the maids serving the Empress are all stunning!”
“I wonder where we will be assigned.”
Hong Xiu listened quietly.
Some people saw the beauty of Hong Xiu and started a conversation with her, “Which family are you from?”
Hong Xiu said: “The An family in the western part of the city.”
“An family? I haven’t heard of it.”
“I haven’t heard of it either.”
Hong Xiu said: “We just moved here half a year ago, so it is natural that sisters do not know.”
After all, Anfeng was only a county, the palace was not big, but the construction was not bad. For these girls, this kind of building was what they could only look at before. They never had the extravagant hope to actually live inside it. Each and every one wanted to move next to the carriage window. Only when the old palace maid outside gave them a look did they sit back again.
Hong Xiu didn’t feel much.
She had seen many exquisite or lavish buildings, and in truth they were all the same. They were just for living in and after a few days of living in it, there was really nothing all that special.
After entering the palace, the new palace maids first received their palace uniforms, and then their living arrangements were made. They had to learn the rules for a period of time before they could be assigned to serve in the palace.
The old palace maid saw that Hong Xiu had good looks, and she also felt that she would have a good future, so she was extremely strict on her training.
Although strict, Hong Xiu had a good relationship with her in private. Hong Xiu was different from the other girls. Before she entered the palace, Lady An gave her a lot of money which she could use to manage the relationships and connections in the palace. The old palace maid took the bribe and felt that she may not be without good luck in the future, so she began to help teach Hong Xiu even more meticulously.
“This sugar is good, you try.” Hong Xiu stayed in the old palace maid’s room, putting the cane sugar bought from the kitchen next to her with a respectful smile. Cane sugar was rare and even the kitchen did not have much. Hongxiu spent a lot of money just to buy this small piece.
Sure enough, the old palace maid couldn’t look away when she saw the sugar. She swallowed and said, “How can I take your things?” But at the same time she also put the sugar in her mouth and squinted her eyes with relish.
A palace maid like her who was in charge of the new palace maids didn’t have much chance to get any good benefits. Only those who served in front of the imperial family had any position. She herself was reluctant to buy such sweets.
After receiving the other’s benefit, the old palace maid took Hong Xiu’s hand and said: “Of the new palace maids who enter the palace, you are the most sensible and appropriate. The way I see it, everyone else is not as good as you. If you are lucky in the future, maybe you will…..” She glanced up towards the sky.
Hong Xiu quickly said: “It’s all because of your care, this slave is stupid and if not for you, I’m afraid I would not be able to live long. In this slave’s heart, you are this slave’s mother.”
“Ai, good child.” The wrinkles on the face of the old palace maid seemed to all be smiling, “In this case, let us recognize a godmother and goddaughter relationship, how about you calling me godmother?”
Hong Xiu’s eyes immediately turned red, and she knelt down quickly: “Godmother, please accept this daughter’s kowtow.”
The old palace maid helped her up: “Good child, good child, when you are successful in the future, don’t forget your godmother.”
Hong Xiu: “Naturally! This slave might not know anything else, but I know that one must pay back kindness!”
The old palace maid smiled and said: “Next month, I will send you to Consort Li…..Consort Li is the most favored. If you go to her, you will be able to see the Emperor more often. It may be your chance at that time.”
Hong Xiu shook her head: “Godmother, if I go to Consort Li, I’m afraid I will never have the opportunity to succeed, and I won’t be able to repay godmother.”
The old palace maid asked strangely: “Why do you say this?”
Hong Xiu whispered: “Consort Li is the Emperor’s favorite, when the Emperor goes to Consort Li’s residence, how can others enter his eyes, even if there are those who can, it can’t be in front of Consort Li…..”
Old palace maid: “Aiya! I actually forgot something like this!”
Hong Xiu lowered her head: “Godmother, how about sending me to the Empress’s side.”
Old palace maid: “…..They say that the Empress is a kind person but what’s the use of kindness? The Emperor doesn’t love her, so she can only earn some reputation. When you go to her residence, won’t you just wait in vain with her?”
“Godmother, it is exactly because the Emperor doesn’t love her, so I must go serve her.” Hong Xiu whispered, “The Empress is the Emperor’s legal wife, but she has been suppressed by Consort Li this whole time. Only because she is unable to gain favor herself will there be a chance for me.”
Hong Xiu understood women. The Empress had been suppressed by Consort Li for so long, even if it was not herself, so long as someone could suppress Comsort Li, she could also vent her discontent.
If the Empress was really as without wants or desires as in the rumors, then her reputation of kindness would not have spread far and wide.
These women were locked up in a courtyard, waiting for the same man every day. It looked complicated, but in fact it was simple.
As for how to let the Empress see her and be willing to use her, she had her own ways.
Wasn’t it the same in the brothel? They were all vying for the top spot, even if they themselves couldn’t make it, they were willing to support the newcomers to suppress their old rivals.
Sometimes what they wanted was no longer their own benefit, but to make the opponent uncomfortable.
The old palace maid thought for a while: “If you go to the Empress’s side, I’m afraid you can only start in the position of rough work palace maid.”
The Empress had her own confidants and these palace maids took care of the Empress’ internal treasury and daily life, controlling everything around the Empress. Naturally, they would not let other palace maids get ahead. It was really difficult indeed for a rough work palace maid to climb up the ranks.
Hong Xiu smiled and said, “Godmother, we must make the gamble.”
The old palace maid took the hand of Hong Xiu and said with a smile: “Okay, this godmother will wait to enjoy the blessing of our Xiu’er from now on.”
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Hong Xiu’s current pseudonym was An Xiu. The name Hong Xiu was too improper and ordinary girls would not have this kind of name.
The corners of Hong Xiu’s lips curved into a smile: “Thank you godmother.”
She was full of confidence, the Hong Xiu at this moment felt as omnipotent as the gods.
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