The Rebirth of an Ill-Fated Consort - Chapter 111.2 - Slander (Part II)
Chapter 111 : Slander (Part II)
Trigger Warning: mention of a miscarriage.
In the main hall, Jiang Quan was talking with Xuan Li and Xia Cheng. Xuan Li had worked diligently over these past few years, making outstanding achievements and always conducting himself with integrity. The Emperor, previously indignant due to Li An’s matter, gradually changed his attitude towards him. In addition, Imperial Consort Chen catered to the Emperor and became even more favoured. As Fifth Prince gradually fell at a disadvantage during this time, Xuan Li’s voice became even more prominent. The Crown Prince had made many mistakes and the statute to depose the Crown Prince was about to be proposed sooner than later. Therefore, the matter of changing the Crown Prince had become a major worry for court officials. Those who could choose sides had already done so. Needless to say, the Xia and the Jiang families were on Eighth Prince’s side.
Xuan Li smiled gently. His words were modest yet ambitious. Xia Cheng and Jiang Quan felt increasingly convinced of their choice; Xuan Li had the talent for statesmanship. Soon he would be the only ruler in the world.
Meanwhile, Xia Yan was talking with Shen Rou, the Xia family’s eldest mistress. Shen Rou looked at Xia Yan’s belly and said with a smile. “Younger Sister-in-law’s pregnant belly is becoming more noticeable. When I was pregnant with Jiao Jiao, mine wasn’t so big. Perhaps, you’re having twins.”
Xia Yan’s face froze and in her heart she gave a bitter laugh. What twins, her child had already died. How did this talk of twins come about? Whenever she recalled her miscarriage that night, Xia Yan wanted to tear Hong Ying and Jiang Ruan to pieces. Although it was not known how the two bolts of chou-yu silk were swapped, she was certain that those two women must have tampered with them. Xia Yan’s eyes flashed. Go on, laugh. She would let them laugh. Later on, they wouldn’t even be able to cry.
Even though Shen Rou had already borne children, her appearance had become even more beautiful and voluptuous, having the air of a young woman. In contrast, Xia Yan, who had just recently suffered a miscarriage, looked sallow as if she had drastically aged overnight.
Shen Rou looked at Xia Yan suspiciously. Xia Yan should have been living well in the Jiang fu now, yet she looked so haggard. None of her past elegance and indifferent appearance remained. Shen Rou remembered the rumour that Jiang Quan currently preferred the fu’s yiniang who came from a brothel and concluded that Xia Yan couldn’t keep a hold on her man’s heart. Shen Rou couldn’t stand Xia Yan’s lofty and magnanimous looks, thus she comforted her on the surface but gloated inwardly.
A young woman seated on the other side suddenly spoke, “Why hasn’t Jiang Ruan arrived yet? Is this how the Jiang fu treats guests?”
The girl was dressed in a light purple cloud patterned moire crepe silk gown and a smoky butterfly skirt. She was beautiful, her face was like a flower and her features like the moon. But, it was a pity that she was short-tempered. This was Xia Jiao Jiao, Shen Rou’s daughter from the Xia’s eldest son.
“This junzhu didn’t receive Furen’s invitation earlier nor did (she) hear that she must come to give people company. If you don’t know that guests are coming, how can you treat them with hospitality?” The voice came from outside the door. Several people in the room looked up and saw Jiang Ruan coming leisurely.
Xia Jiao Jiao bit her lower lip tensely. Her eyes were fixed on Jiang Ruan, who was dressed in a simple Suzhou embroidery’s Yuehua brocade jacket. Her skin was fairer than snow with red lips and white teeth as well as a pair of alluring eyes. Xia Jiao Jiao’s beauty originally could be rated at seven points, but when compared with Jiang Ruan, she was barely a one. Xia Jiao Jiao was exasperated. What made her even angrier was Jiang Ruan’s ridicule. Firstly, it was true that they had come without sending out an invite, and secondly, they had not made a request for Jiang Ruan to keep them company. So for them to criticize her for her late arrival was quite preposterous.
“Ruan’er, you are here. Jiao Jiao has wanted to meet you for a long time.” Xia Yan smiled and changed the topic while complaining inwardly. She previously thought that it would take some effort to invite Jiang Ruan to come out. Thus, she had come up with many different reasons that would ensure that Jiang Ruan would come, but before she could make use of any of them, Jiang Ruan had agreed to make an appearance. Nonetheless, this certainly facilitated her next move.
Xia Jiao Jiao curled her lips, not caring about Xia Yan’s words. Shen Rou was also examining Jiang Ruan carefully. When Jiang Ruan came to the Xia fu, she only thought Jiang Ruan was an easy-to-handle orphan girl. However, it was precisely this girl, who had appeared to be easily manipulated, that unexpectedly caused Xia Jun to suffer a loss. Now, she had transformed anew and become a Junzhu. She heard that Jiang Ruan had won the Empress Dowager’s favour and should have also been rewarded with a lot of silver. Shen Rou started scheming in her heart. Xia Cheng intended Jiang Ruan for Xia Jun. On one hand, Xia Jun was bitter about what had happened and had vowed over the previous years to marry Jiang Ruan to torture her. On the other hand, Jiang Ruan had a strong backer. Whoever married her would receive great assistance and might also gaina generous amount of silver.
However, Shen Rou had always had difficulties dealing with Yu Ya, the second mistress of the Xia family. The relationship between the two was very poor. Naturally, she didn’t want Xia Jun to have a good life. Shen Rou thought, rather than giving an advantage to Xia Jun, it would be better to let her own brother benefit. Shen Rou’s maternal family also had a nephew whose age was suitable to marry Jiang Ruan. If it was successful, it would be regarded as keeping all benefits within the family.
 肥水不流外人田 (Féishuǐ bù liú wàirén tián)- lit. don’t let one’s own fertile water flow into others’ field; fig. reserving the best stuff to be kept within the family (proverb)
While Shen Rou was still making the plan, her gaze towards Jiang Ruan was filled with surprising enthusiasm. Tian Zhu frowned. Jiang Ruan gave a faint smile. “You should be Eldest Xia Furen.”
“Exactly. Ruan’er, I didn’t expect you to grow up in a blink of an eye,” Shen Rou replied warmly.
“Impudence! You didn’t bow when meeting Junzhu!” Tian Zhu shouted with a grim face, startling Shen Rou.
Jiang Ruan spoke gently, “It doesn’t matter, Eldest Xia Furen and I met once. I think she was too excited just now. Forget it, there’s no harm done.”
This answer instantly caused the blood to drain from Shen Rou’s face before indignancy caused it to flush red again. Everyone still remembered the mishap involving Jiang Ruan in the ancestral hall. So to have this old score brought up again- it was essentially an insulting slap on the Xia family’s face.
Xia Yan was very embarrassed. Xia Jiao Jiao’s lungs nearly burst with anger. However, when she recalled her grandfather’s instructions before she left, she restrained herself.
Xia Yan suddenly bent down, covered her mouth with a handkerchief, and retched twice. Lin Lang came hurriedly and gently patted Xia Yan on the back. “Furen, are you feeling unwell again?”
Xia Yan shook her head. “Perhaps it’s because this room is too stuffy. I feel a bit suffocated in my chest.” She smiled. “Jiao Jiao, Eldest Sister-in-law, Ruan’er, why don’t we stroll around the garden? The air outside is fresh.”
Jiang Ruan looked out of the window. It was a cloudless and hot day. Going out at this time of day would result in a breakout of heat rash, but she smiled and said, “Yes, it just so happens that I want to stroll in the garden, too.”
Shen Rou and Xia Jiao Jiao were guests. Naturally, they wouldn’t refuse. The three of them stood up and walked towards Yan Hua Yuan’s garden. To be honest, although the weather was sizzling hot outside, Xia Yan didn’t dare to use ice because she was pregnant. So, she had no other alternative but to make an excuse to go into the courtyard. The courtyard was clean and tidy. Every hour, someone would haul cold water from the well and sprinkle it on the stone slab and with the shade from the trees, the courtyard was somewhat cooler. Compared to being in the room, this was much more refreshing.
As they walked, they reached a pavilion next to the small pond in the courtyard. This pavilion was Xia Yan’s proudest work. Xia Yan was once revered as a talented woman in the capital. After entering the Jiang fu, she renovated the courtyard herself. The pavilion was next to the pond, and in summer it epitomized the “moonlight over the lotus pond” scenery . The cool wind blew gently on the summer’s night, and with green lotus leaves filling the pond alongside the beautiful lotus flowers, the addition of moonlight reflecting on the water made the scenery look extremely elegant. After the pavilion was renovated, Jiang Quan loved it very much. He often had a drink with Xia Yan in the pavilion at night. A loving couple indeed.
Jiang Ruan sneered silently in her heart. This was the place where Jiang Quan and Xia Yan’s affection began. However, it was also the place where Zhao Mei’s heart was broken. When Jiang Xin Zhi was young, he contracted smallpox. Zhao Mei relentlessly guarded Jiang Xin Zhi for days and nights. After Jiang Xin Zhi woke up, he asked where his father was. Zhao Mei’s heart was full of grievance so she had gone seeking out Jiang Quan, only to find him drinking and making merry with Xia Yan. At that time, Jiang Ruan was still a child who didn’t understand anything. However, upon seeing Jiang Quan and Xia Yan laughing happily, she understood the source of her mother’s tears even more acutely. Jiang Ruan looked at the pavilion and spoke with a faint smile. “Silk skirt with lotus-leaf patterns of a pure colour and good cut, lotus flowers bloom on both sides of the picker’s face.”
 荷叶罗裙一色裁，芙蓉向脸两边开 – Song of Picking Lotus Seeds, Wang Changling, taken from this blog: Poetry Chinese: Picking Lotus Seed-Pods. Chinese has a long tradition of picking the lotus seeds, apparently for a healthy recipe. This tradition has involved into a culture, which has hatched many symbolic chicks. Lotus is grown mostly in the southern part of China, or the “watery region,” where the girls are said to be “watery” and spirit-ful (quick-witted). For the image-loving ancient scholars, the girls in bright colors amid the green leaves and pinkish white flowers provide a palateful sight, and it is not surprising to for them to write songs.
When Zhao Mei came to Yan Hua Yuan with the young Jiang Ruan, she heard the confident and debonair Jiang Quan proudly reciting these lines to the gentle and graceful Xia Yan. The tenderness and affection in his eyes was something that neither of them had ever seen before.
Xia Yan was slightly stunned and then smiled. “Ruan’er, your father likes to recite these two lines the most.”
Shen Rou rolled her eyes, then grinned. “I’d say, Younger Sister-in-law really knows how to enjoy life. Such a good place is hard to find in our fu.”
Xia Jiao Jiao chimed in. “Of course, Aunt was once one of the capital’s most talented women. Naturally, she could not be compared with a common wild girl.” Xia Jiao Jiao’s had always believed that since Jiang Ruan had grown up in the countryside, and her childhood was spent beside Zhao Mei who wasn’t proficient in poetry, it was natural that she would be uncultured and illiterate.
Jiang Ruan acted as if she didn’t hear her. She still had a faint smile on her face. When Xia Jiao Jiao saw it, her heart got even more irritated.
Xia Yan suddenly became a little sentimental. “It has been more than ten years in the blink of an eye. When Jiejie was still around, she also praised the beauty of the pavilion. Ruan’er, now that you’ve grown up, you have almost reached the age to talk about your marriage. Since you were raised in the rural residence, I’m afraid that no one has properly taught you proper etiquette and deportment. So is it alright if Mother looks for an etiquette momo for you?”
Jiang Ruan turned her head and fixed her gaze at her, then suddenly said with a smile, “What are you talking about, Mother? Is the momo around Empress Dowager not a proper one?”
Xia Yan was stunned. She had not taken this point into consideration and was suddenly at a loss for words. However, since she had already started, she couldn’t help but continue. She grabbed Jiang Ruan’s hand and advised her gently. “Mother knows that you are good and smart. But the momo inside the palace only teaches you the rules of the palace. Since you will marry in the future, naturally you should learn the rules.”
Jiang Ruan looked at her with a shadow of a smile. Xia Yan was flustered being stared at with that kind of faint smile. She suddenly opened her eyes wide and spoke loudly. “Ruan’er, what are you doing!?”
Suddenly Xia Yan’s body fell back, as if Jiang Ruan had pushed her hard. She happened to be facing the stairs of the pavilion and as her voice rang out, Xia Yan cumbersomely fell down the flight of steps.
“Aah!” Xia Yan screamed. Her lower body was immediately dyed red and her clothes were soaked with blood.
“Jiang Ruan!” An angry and frightened voice came from the opposite side. Jiang Ruan looked up and saw Jiang Quan, Xia Cheng and Xuan Li standing opposite the pavilion. Jiang Quan’s eyes were vicious and indignant as if he were going to eat her alive.
Jiang Ruan stroked the bracelet on her hand and her lips curved into a mysterious smile.
The turtle had just stuck its neck out.