Beginning of Winter
During this morning, nobody in the Lu family was idle. Lu Yan and Ge shi had come up with the idea of making a deal with Feng Yu Heng. As or Lu Song, he had once again requested an audience with Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu.
Unfortunately, he gloomily walked out with a dejected expression. The gloominess in his expression could practically be wrung out with a cloth. Inside the tent, Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu had a sneer on her face, as she said to her servant Yue Xiu: “The Lu family isn’t even able to protect its own family’s wealth and ranking. With just this bit of ability, they say that they want to support His Highness the Eighth Prince? It’s already good enough that they don’t drag him down.”
Yue Xiu quietly asked her: “Is Imperial Concubine planning to give up on the Lu family?”
Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu said: “It’s not this One giving up. Instead, it’s their own lack of competence. Time and time again, they’ve only shown this One that they can fail, and this One has never seen them succeed in anything. How should this One introduce this sort of person to His Highness the Eighth Prince? That is this One’s own son. This One can’t just watch such a failure appear at his side. But…” She furrowed her brow, “With everything being said, the Yao family’s influence is quite large. In any case, Lu Song is still the left prime minister of the court, yet he is being suppressed by the Yao family to the point of not being able to make a recovery?”
Yue Xiu thought for a bit then analyzed: “In truth, Imperial Concubine mentioned it two years earlier. The Yao family being banished to Huang Zhou at that time was not really because of the death of an imperial concubine. This servant thought about it later on, and it’s very likely that the death of that imperial concubine was not even related to imperial physician Yao Xian, but it was just an excuse to allow the Yao family to leave. Based on the situation at that time, the Yao family leaving was considered a form of protection. And it’s precisely because it was not a true banishment that they lived freely in Huang Zhou and were still able to build on their own power. After a few years, they finished growing. The Lu family naturally would not be able to match up to them.”
“That’s right!” Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu sighed bitterly and said: “Although I very rarely see the Emperor, I am neither blind nor deaf. The Emperor and that Yao Xian get along extremely well in private. As for the Lu family, they underestimated their opponents by too much, and they also happened to be too weak and too stupid. Their fall to their current state also serves them right. It’s just that the root cause of all this is that incident caused by Feng Yu Heng. if this imperial daughter continues to remain, she will end up becoming a great impediment for Mo’er. Yue Xiu, say, should we deliberate over this matter properly?”
Yue Xiu bowed: “Everything will be as Imperial Concubine says.”
After dawn passed, the first day of the hunt officially began. The hunting ground had a special viewing platform. The Emperor and the Empress sat in the main seats, while the imperial concubines, princes and imperial family members sat on the two sides. Further below, the officials and their families sat in a giant group, and it was extremely lively.
The Emperor was in a rather good mood. Looking at the hunting ground that he had not seen for a long time then at his sons and subjects, he could not help but get emotional: “If Old Sixth, Old Eighth and Old Ninth were all here, it would be best.”
The Empress collaborated with him and said: “The children are all grown, and they need to protect the family and the country. They need to work hard for the country and cannot remain at Your Majesty’s side at all times. But Your Majesty can be at ease. The Xuan family’s children are all very thoughtful. Although they might be in the border regions, they must be thinking of the capital and thinking about their Father Emperor.”
After the Empress spoke, the princes and their imperial concubine mothers also spoke up. All of them echoed what was said, especially Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu, the birth mother of the eighth prince. As she spoke, she even began to wipe away tears, saying through sobs: “Before His Highness the Eighth Prince headed to the South, he advised this Concubine to take good care of Your Majesty. What can be done about this Concubine not having an affinity with Your Majesty… Fortunately, Her Highness the Empress is always at Your Majesty’s side. With Her Highness taking care of Your Majesty, we sisters can be at ease.”
The Empress glanced at Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu then faintly said: “Today’s Winter hunt is a lively event. In a moment, the princes and other men will be going to compete in hunting. Why bother with crying and sobbing at a time like this and disturbing everyone’s joy?”
Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu’s sobs were immediately stuck in her throat. With the Empress saying such a thing, she nearly rolled her eyes from being shut down. But in the end, it was the Empress that had spoken. It was not convenient for her to say anything and she could only awkwardly acknowledge it then fall silent.
As for the Emperor, his mood did not suffer much from this. In his emotional state, he began to reminisce about the past: “We have already forgotten just how many years it has been since We first came to this hunting ground. It’s something from many decades ago. At that time, the late emperor was still alive, and it was during that first visit that We won first place and received great acclaim. After that, the late emperor personally handed Us the Hou Yi bow and told Us that this bow had to be granted to Da Shun’s first divine archer that was worthy of its value.”
The Emperor was speaking emotionally, and his words were coming out quite slowly. Imperial Concubine Gu Xian picked up the conversation at this point, reminiscing at the same time: “That’s right! At that time, Your Majesty really was Da Shun’s first divine archer. The Hou Yi bow was handed to Your Majesty, and it received quite a great deal of support. Your Majesty held onto that bow for many decades, and we concubines thought that Your Majesty had no plans to hand it to anyone else.”
The Empress carried on: “That’s right! Perhaps Your Majesty did not think that Da Shun would suddenly have someone like Imperial Daughter Ji An. Speaking of Imperial Daughter Ji An’s archery, it really does cause people to applaud.”
The Emperor nodded, “A-Heng’s contributions to Da Shun do not stop at just archery.” As he spoke, he looked toward Feng Yu Heng with a wide smile. That sort of smile caused some other people to also look toward Feng Yu Heng; however, who knew just how much kindness and how much hypocrisy was in these gazes.
“I wonder if Imperial Daughter brought along the Hou Yi bow to this hunt?” Suddenly, Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu spoke up once more. With a deliberately mystifying tone, she left everyone feeling uncomfortable.
Feng Yu Heng just faintly said: “I just came to watch the liveliness. Hunting is something that men do. Naturally, I did not bring the bow. Moreover, the Hou Yi bow is a national treasure. Does Imperial Concubine think that a national treasure is something that can be brought out at any time?”
Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu giggled and said: “Imperial Daughter really must be joking. A national treasure naturally must be enshrined. This One just heard that Imperial Daughter Ji An is exceptionally valiant and really wanted to witness it. How about Imperial Daughter also goes to give it a try? It will also open our eyes a bit.”
“Oh?” She looked toward Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu, “Is Imperial Concubine talking about us? Is it something that Imperial Concubine wishes to see, or is it something that all the imperial concubines wish to see?” While she spoke, she looked around at all of the imperial concubines. With this glance, the few that had also been a bit interested lowered their heads. As for ones like Imperial Concubine Gu Xian, they shook their heads, expressing that they did not think such things. Feng Yu Heng smiled, “It seems that not everyone wishes to see me hunt, but since Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu is so insistent on wanting to see, I invite imperial concubine to change into horse-riding attire and enter the hunting ground with everyone else.”
Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu was stunned: “What do you mean? Why would this One enter the hunting ground?”
“Didn’t Imperial Concubine wish to see A-Heng hunt?” Feng Yu Heng was puzzled and asked her: “The hunting ground is very large, and the beasts are further inside the grounds. They will disappear in the blink of an eye. All that you will see are the settling of dust and blowing of snow. You won’t even be able to hear anything.”
Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu coldly snorted: “With so many people, including His Majesty and Her Highness, coming to watch the hunt, could it be that you want for them to all enter the hunting ground?”
Feng Yu Heng shook her head, “Not at all, not at all. Father Emperor and Her Highness the Empress, as well as all of the imperial concubines did not come to see the hunt. Instead, they just came to see the end result. As for the process, that is not something that everyone is concerned with. It seems now that only Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu is interested in the process of the hunt! Also…” She paused for a moment and said with a smile: “Hunting was something always done by the men. This is the first time A-Heng has ever heard of an imperial concubine calling for an imperial daughter to go onto the hunting ground. Normally speaking, even if I took the initiative to make an appearance, should you not be advising me against it, for fear of a girl getting hurt? Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu really does treat A-Heng in a peculiar manner.”
“This…” Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu once again experienced Feng Yu Heng’s silver tongue and was left completely speechless.
At this time, the Emperor also spoke up, scolding her: “A-Heng is right. How could an imperial concubine mother call for a girl to go onto the hunting ground? Imperial Concubine Shu, you really are becoming more unreasonable with age!”
The Emperor’s words caused Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu’s face to turn red. Unable to hold back, tears began to fall, and they were falling for real this time. Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu’s heart also felt bitter. Your Majesty, in any case, we were a couple, and I even gave you a son. Can you not be so antagonistic? To call her old, what face would she have left? The more Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu thought about it, the sadder she became, and her sobs eventually could not be held back.
The Empress could no longer bear to watch and had to remind her once more: “Today is the first day of the hunt. Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu, how many times do you intend to cry? If you really think your tears are more important than this hunt, just have your servants bring you back to your tent. You can cry as much as you like.”
Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu was unable to breathe and awkwardly stopped crying. She then heard the Emperor announce that all of the princes and the young men from the officials’ families should prepare to head down to the hunting ground. In an instant, a boisterous group stood up and mounted their horses. In addition to the servants that would be following to pick up the hunted beasts, the lively spectating platform suddenly had much fewer people, and it became much quieter.
Palace maids brought tea and pastries up. On this icy day, the tea became cold very quickly, and it was just there for show. Nobody would truly go and drink it. As for this hunt, the people with experience all knew that it would continue for at least two hours, thus nobody just sat around to wait. They began to idly chat.
The Emperor sat in the highest seat and looked down at everyone. His expression was a bit gloomy, and muttered from time to time: “Why are they all so irritating? Back when imperial concubines were selected to enter the place, who exactly chose them?”
The Empress helplessly said: “Either way, it was not this One that chose them. The majority were sent in by aristocratic families. Their statuses were more or less enough, and personalities were fine. That was enough.”
The Emperor pointed at Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu and asked the Empress: “That’s considered a fine personality?”
Zhang Yuan could not bear to continue watching and tugged the Emperor’s sleeve, “Keep your voice down.”
“What? Could it be that We should fear being heard?” This was said in quite a loud voice. The people down below that had not really heard much were now able to hear everything. They immediately looked up and had dazed expressions. They did not know what sort of temper tantrum the Emperor was throwing now.
But the Emperor was still pointing at Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu, and Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu felt a chill fill her entire body. She feared that the next words from the Emperor’s mouth would truly be directed at her. As a result of the Emperor’s moodiness, she was really quite moved.
Fortunately, after a long period of waiting, the Emperor did not begin a tirade. This allowed Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu to let out a sigh of relief, but just as she let it out, she suddenly heard Feng Yu Heng raise her voice, and the ease that she had begun to feel disappeared once more.