An Laosi and the others didn’t know what happened in Ru Ning. In fact, they hadn’t communicated with Gaoyou for a long time. He wasn’t sure if Gaoyou had given up on them. Even if he kept comforting and persuading himself, he still couldn’t help but be afraid. It had been more than two years since he came to Anfeng. He spent almost all his time socializing with people, and he was very close to running out of money.
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There was almost no rice left at home, and it was Hong Xiu who entrusted someone in the palace to bring them money so that An Laosi would not be reduced to having to go out to the streets and beg for food.
Although he became a minor official in Anfeng, he actually didn’t even use much money to buy the official position. It was just that his circle of associates only became a bit wider and it helped him to get closer to other minor officials. However, there was no monthly salary at all.
After all, Liu Futong was not that stupid. One could buy an official position, but one couldn’t buy a high-ranking official position or any real power. These officials were actually just buying face, which only looked good on the surface.
Although it was not allowed to buy official positions on the surface, Liu Futong looked the other way on this matter, which could be regarded as a source of revenue for the Anfeng treasury.
An Laosi sat on the chair and sighed. He felt that he had a clever head, but there was nothing he could do in Anfeng. Compared with him, his wife Lady An was much calmer, and everyday she would take the needle and thread and go chat with the female family members of their neighbors nearby. The women sat together drinking hot tea, embroidering, and chatting about new things that happened recently.
And An Laosi suddenly discovered that his wife actually enjoyed this kind of life, but what she enjoyed was not doing needlework in a warm room, but enjoying what she could hear from her female partner every day.
Then at night, she would share it with An Laosi. An Laosi felt that he and his wife had been married for so many years, but the words his wife spoke the most was during their time in Anfeng.
This night, Lady An wrote down the news she inquired with a secret code and put it in the cupboard. After she climbed into bed, she said, “I wonder how Hong Xiu is doing in the palace. She always sends us money so the days in the palace shouldn’t be to bad.”
An Laosi thought about Hong Xiu’s lovely and endearing looks, and said to his wife: “A woman like her is the one who will live the longest. Our business is to gather even more information.”
In the eyes of An Laosi, Hong Xiu was a woman who had climbed through piles of men. She was tougher than most women locked up in the inner courtyard, and smarter than the women who work in the fields. To put it bluntly, she knew how to talk to people no matter what kind of person they were. This was also a kind of skill. How many people were clearly capable and yet couldn’t climb up the ladder because of their mouth.
At this time, Hong Xiu was serving next to the Empress. She relied on flattering and ingratiating herself to the big palace maids as well as clever words, tactful manners, and generous actions. In just one year, she was promoted from a tea-making palace maid to a personal palace maid. Nowadays, her job was to dress the Empress, and she also usually followed at the side of the Empress.
The Empress was not old at all, only in her early twenties. She was spoiled and raised in luxury, kept in the inner courtyard since she was a child. She had fair skin, well maintained hair that was black and smooth, but there was only one thing that she lost out on—— Her looks could only be called mediocre. She had a square face, small eyes, almost no bridge of nose, and her nostrils were also slightly turned upwards.
Concubine Li was different from the Empress. She did not have the delicate fair skin of the Empress, nor the dark and smooth hair, but her face was beautiful. In the harem, status and position was often empty. Only the Emperor’s favor was real. No matter how low the position was, if the Emperor loved her, then the servants dared not be scornful. No matter how high the position, if the Emperor did not love her, then the servants always had a bunch of excuses to shirk work.
Even the eunuchs and maids want a good future, but they had to at least know where to put in the hard work.
The Empress was sitting on a chair while Hong Xiu was dressing her up. The Empress looked at herself in the bronze mirror. The reflection was not clear from the bronze mirror so the face seemed to be fogged, but the Empress could still see her appearance. She was not beautiful, and family members always used to tell her, “Women do not stand by their looks, but by virtue and kindness, only then can they be invincible.”
She touched her face.
Was she virtuous? She never asked about the Emperor’s court affairs. She regarded the Emperor as her heaven, her everything. From the first day she entered the palace, she made up her mind to live only for her husband in the future. Perhaps this was virtue.
Was she kind? She never cared who the Emperor favored, in fact when the emperor favored a concubine and forgot to give a reward, she had to make up for it, go over and give comfort, maybe this was kindness. (TN: by ‘favor’ it means to sleep/have sex)
But the Emperor still didn’t love her, and he didn’t even want to share a bed with her.
Even when they were in the same bed occasionally, the Emperor was reluctant to look directly at her face. If he saw it, the Emperor would even have a look of disgust on his face.
When her mother entered the palace, she told her that she must give birth to a prince early. So long as there was a prince, her status would never be shaken.
She dared not tell her mother that the Emperor did not want to touch her.
What woman could give birth to a son on her own?
“Niangniang (TN: term of respect for the empress and imperial concubines), this is this year’s new hairpin.” Hong Xiu turned around and picked up a tray. On top of it was exquisite jewelry that dumbfounded ordinary people, something they could not afford to buy in a lifetime, but the Empress just glanced at it, her tone indifferent as she said, “These are too fancy, change it to ones normally used by Ben Gong.” (TN: broad term of appellation for royal members, including the empress, princes, and princesses)
Hong Xiu said softly: “Yes.”
After Hong Xiu had dressed up the Empress, she found that the Empress was sitting in front of the mirror, tears falling down from her eyes. Well bred ladies from noble and aristocratic families were never allowed to sob loudly and messily. Their tears were only to be used to turn into weapons and could not be shed for themselves.
Hong Xiu did not make a sound, and it was not her turn to make a sound at this time either.
It was the big palace maid who came in and saw the Empress crying alone, so she hurriedly pulled Hong Xiu, who dared not move, and knelt down.
“Niangniang, take care of your health.” The big palace maid had grown up with the Empress since they were children. So only she dared to say such a sentence, her tears falling, “We can’t let that side have a chance at ridicule.”
The Empress’s voice was hoarse: “In the entire palace, who doesn’t know that Ben Gong is a joke?”
Those people secretly say that she was incompetent and ugly, yet she stubbornly occupied the position of the Empress. After all, didn’t the Emperor visit the Empress’s palace less than a handful of times in the past months?
But she couldn’t even refute this.
She never thought about being the Empress! When still in the boudoir, she thought that she would marry her father’s disciple, and her husband would respect her. Putting aside affection, at least they would respect and support each other as a married couple.
But when she became the Empress, she couldn’t even ask her husband why he wouldn’t even give her the most basic respect.
She was crushed under Consort Li’s foot and couldn’t move one bit.
The big palace maid tried to smile: “Niangniang, that Consort Li is like Baosi, she is a witch. Niangniang is the Empress, and she is just a concubine.” (TN: Baosi concubine of King You of Zhou and one of the famous Chinese beauties. Equally famed for her immoral conduct.)
The Empress looked at the big palace maid: “She is pregnant.”
The big palace maid did not dare to speak anymore.
The Empress’s voice was very soft: “And I have no children yet.”
“This child cannot be born.” The Empress said, “If she really gave birth to a prince, I will have no place to stand.”
The big palace maid bit her lower lip, didn’t she also know this very well? The mother ‘s status rises with the son. If Consort Li had a son, this child would be the only child of the Emperor, or the eldest son. It was not like there was no faction supporting Consort Li in the court. At that time, if the Empress was found guilty of any wrongdoing, her seat would be in jeopardy. The Empress was walking on the edge of the cliff, if she took a wrong step, there would only be an abyss waiting below her.
Consort Li’s child could not be born, and even if he was born, he could not live.
The Empress said: “I don’t have anyone I can use now.”
The big palace maid did not dare to speak. She was a little timid when it came down to it and especially when the target of murder would be the emperor’s child. This was a major crime, enough for the whole family to be executed.
At this moment, Hong Xiu raised her head suddenly, her face was full of tears, which made her look very sorry indeed, her nose was running but she didn’t dare to wipe it, and her voice came out choked: “Niangniang, let this slave go. “
The Empress looked at Hong Xiu, and she asked, “Aren’t you afraid of death?”
Hong Xiu trembled: “This slave is afraid.”
Empress: “Then why are you l still willing to…..”
Hong Xiu sniffled: “Niangniang, this slave is also pampered at home, and my brothers and sisters-in-law also love and care for this slave. But after entering the palace this slave realized the strictness of the rules of the palace. Everyone has a clever mouth and a vicious heart. Only Niangniang treats this slave well, this slave is willing to share the worries for Niangniang.”
The big palace maid breathed a sigh of relief, and there was also a little bit of pity in her eyes when she looked at Hong Xiu. She thought this Hong Xiu was a restless person. After all, she had a pretty face, but after getting along for a long time, she realized that this person just had a pretty face but was actually a fool. Whoever talked a few more words with her or showed a bit more friendliness towards her, she would willingly give away the things she have.
Niangniang also felt that she was too pitifully foolish so she always gave her some money, but unexpectedly managed to gain this little fool’s loyalty.
The Empress was also a little moved. She said to Hong Xiu: “Come closer.”
Hong Xiu walked over on her knees, and the Empress took her hand: “You are a good one. If you are successful, I, Ben Gong, will promote you to be a grand female official.”
Hong Xiu hid her face and cried: “This slave is not after this, this slave’s brothers and sisters-in-law taught this slave to know gratitude.”
The Empress finally couldn’t help sobbing: “Even you understand, even you understand this!”
The big palace maid also cried, and the three cried together in the room. The people outside heard the movement inside, so they could only guard the door of the room and not let outsiders come close.
Hong Xiu cried with all her heart, but her head at that moment turned through countless thoughts.
Although she was not the most used by the Empress, many people also knew her, so the Empress would definitely not send her over to Consort Li to be a palace maid.
The most feasible way was for her to be favored by the Emperor, be conferred with a concubine title, and to live in Consort Li’s palace.
At that time, the Empress was likely to pretend to have a fight with her, showing that it was she who seduced the Emperor regardless of the Empress’s previous kindness towards her.
Whether Consort Li would believe it or not depended on the abilities of the Empress and herself.
This was one way, and another way was for the Empress to punish her and throw her out directly. Then, if Consort Li wanted to know inside news about the Empress, she would come to win her over.
But this method was not so easy to implement. There were too many uncertain factors. With Consort Li being so favored, she probably no longer had any regard for the Empress in her eyes. The Empress had no favor and no children. When she gave birth to the eldest son, she would be able to do whatever she wanted with the Empress at that time.
Hon Xiu thought about it for a while, and felt that the Empress would probably choose the first method.
This was the safest way. If she was favored, Consort Li would naturally find ways to get close to her.
If she was not favored, the Empress would only lose a maid.
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With Consort Li pregnant, she would be unable to shiqin (TN: lit. translate to serving someone in lying down, an elegant way of referring to bed affairs, often used to refer to the emperor sleeping with his wives and concubines).
It was most reasonable for the Empress to choose the first method.
Which just so happened to be exactly what Hong Xiu wanted.
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