Chapter 14: To Goad
Translated by Gumihou
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Every single time Duan Tingxuan visited his mother it was to rehash this very same conversation time and again, until he could hardly stand it any more. However, he knew that his mother was truly worried about his future, and so he swallowed his annoyance and said. “Mother, I have my own plans for this. Father may favour Lin Yi Niang and younger brother, but he’s not not senile. Furthermore, I have the emperor and the empress on my side. This heir of yours will not be so easily discarded. Don’t worry about it, alright?”
Madam Yang sighed, and shook her head sadly. “Silly child, how would you know the hearts of these people…” She stopped at this, unable to continue. After all, it was still indecent to mention pillow talk to her son.
Mother and son fell silent for a while. Finally, Madam Yang’s personal maid, who had accompanied her from her maiden’s house, appeared and broke the silence. “Madam, old madam will be having a vegetarian meal today, so it is not necessary for Madam to send your daily greetings. The kitchen wishes to know if there if Madam would like to eat anything else. If there’s any special request, they will be able to prepare it in the afternoon.”
Madam Yang said coolly, “Since old madam is going vegetarian, I shall do so as well. It is not necessary for the kitchen to waste their energy. Just bring the food in when it’s ready.” So saying, she turned to Duan Tingxuan. “Since you’re up so early, I suppose you haven’t had breakfast yet. Why don’t you have a meal here before you leave?”
Duan Tingxuan smiled, “Your son has eaten his fill today, I’m stuffed with soy milk and You Tiao, mother need not worry about me.”
Madam Yang was surprised and confused.“Soy milk and You Tiao? Why are you eating these things so early in the morning? Isn’t it just too oily? Which ingratiating person gave you these rubbish for breakfast?”
Madam Yang thought that it was one of the concubines who, in order to gain favour with her son, did this ‘good thing’. The competition for Duan Tingxuan’s affection was fierce, coupled with his own shrewd nature, it was not easy to gain his favour.
These shameless women will resort to all kinds of tactics, both overt or underhanded. Using food as a way to lure a man was a common tactic, Xu Ran Yun also favoured this tactic, seeing as her court always has duck soup available all the time. This was because Duan Tingxuan loved eating duck. In fact, many ducks had been sacrificed at An Ping Mansion for his sake, it would not be an exaggeration to say that this place is a duck’s hell.
“It has nothing to do with them. I’ve just had breakfast at Mei Yue Lou.” Duan Tingxuan informed her absently. He truly did came just to greet his mother, however the changes in his wife made something change in his heart as well. Because of this, he did not wish to see Su Nuan Nuan treated with the same casual contempt and hatred. Otherwise it would cause trouble when he try to move her back to the inner court.
As expected, Madam Yang was shocked, her face changed colour and she sternly said. “Mei Yue Lou? Didn’t you throw that woman away? I thought you hated that woman, why are you dining there now? My son, you’ve always been steady in your thinking, how could you do such an improper thing? You cannot approach that woman rashly. These days, I thank Buddha that she had not caused any trouble lately, but you have gone to her of your own will. Isn’t this giving in a mile once she had taken an inch?”
Duan Tingxuan was about to explained when a servant appeared at the door to say. “Madam, Si Ping is at the second door with news, a messenger from the crown prince is asking for the master to see Him.”
At these words, Madam Yang stopped her line of questioning. She hurriedly made Duan Tingxuan leave for the Imperial Palace immediately. As for Duan Tingxuan, despite having a stomach full of words, there was no chance for him to voice them out, and allowed himself to be shooed away.
It went without saying that the little marquis left under a black cloud as he hastened his way towards the Crown Prince’s palace. He quietly swore that if the prince had called him in for a trivial matter such as fishing or catching birds, he will turn the crown prince into a stew and feed it to the birds and fishes. As for Madam Yang, after sending her son off, she made for the dining hall with a heavy heart facing a table full of food without much appetite. A few mouthfuls of porridge later, she bade the servants bring both Xu Ran Yun and Xue Zi Lan over.
Both of ladies arrived very quickly, they appeared at the entrance joking and making insinuating remarks at each other. Madam Yang heard them from her room and felt a little annoyed, and a little helpless. It could be said that the inner courts of most large houses were quite similar, as long as the intentions stopped at the lips, it could be considered good enough.
It was when jealousy and competition escalates to backstabbing with actual knives, when evil tricks filled the inner court with murder and unexplained accidents. It made her sick. If only that Su family girl was not here to cause chaos, her son’s harem could be considered not bad, although there was jealousy aplenty to make the air sour, Madam Yang satisfied as long as there were no evil tricks abound.
Both women entered and made their greetings. Madam Yang saw that even in her everyday clothes, Xue Zi Lan’s unparalleled classical beauty and gentle movements made quite an impact and felt happy and refreshed before such a wondrous sight. Xu Ran Yun noticed her expression, and could not help but felt unsettled, knowing that in her mother-in-law’s eyes, her beauty was rather lacking.
Swallowing her unease, she rushed to support Madam Yang to her seat, and said with a bright smile. “Since Madam has called us, is there anything you wish us to do? If it’s something trivial, please just inform this daughter-in-law. Ever since little sister Lan has entered the inner court, she has already given birth to three children, it’s best to let her rest quietly.”
Madam Yang smiled. “You have guessed correctly, I’m very happy with your concern.” Saying this, she allowed them to sit, before frowning. “You have served Xuan’er well these few years, and I have nothing much to complain. However, have the two of you been a little inattentive these past few days?”
Xu Ran Yun and Xue Zi Lan exchanged a glance, not understanding Madam Yang’s words, and said together. “Daughter-in-law would not dare, may we know the reason for Madam’s question?”
“If neither of you have been neglecting your duty, then why is it that neither of you have realized that Xuan’er has been visiting Mei Yue Lou? This was unknown to me until this morning when Xuan’er mentioned that he breakfasted at Mei Yue Lou. He even said this with a bright smile on his face.”
At this, both ladies were shocked. Xu Ran Yun glanced towards Xue Zi Lan, and said with a frown. “Yesterday night, the lord rested at your place, do you not know of this matter?”
Xue Zi Lan answered. “The lord left when it was still dark out without alerting anyone, when I woke up there was no trace of him. When I questioned the servants, they said that the lord informed them not to wake me up, and left after washing his face. I thought that he may have some urgent business to perform, who would have guessed that he had left for Mei Yue Lou?”
Xu Ran Yun was about to say more, when she heard Madam Yang said. “Enough, having this discussion in front of me is pointless. It’s better to focus your energy on figuring out how to capture Xuan’er’s heart. You of all people should understand that woman’s character best. Once she enters the inner court, there will be no peace for me and endless trouble for you.”
Both agreed to this. Seeing Madam’s unhappy air, they did not dare to say anything more and took their leave.
Once outside, Xue Zi Lan said to Xu Ran Yun. “It’s been said that Madam Yun’s is good with strategies, but how is it that up till now the people in Mei Yue Lou are still hopping about happily? I never expected you to have such a merciful heart. Unless you have some other plans in line, do take care. Be careful not to drop the rock you have lifted onto your own feet.”
After saying this, she left without waiting for Xu Ran Yun’s answer. Flouncing off towards her own courtyard. Xu Ran Yun’s maid, Ling Long said. “Madam, you’ve always been warm hearted, although Madam Yun is not in the right, but we have endured it all these while. Why have you suddenly decided to antagonize her? This Madam Yun has an uneasy temper, who knows how angry she’s going to be.”
Xue Zi Lan smiled coolly. “That was deliberately done. If she can’t treat people nicely, there’s nothing much I can do since our lord has so many people in his harem. If we continue to hide our abilities, I’m afraid we’ll only be stepped on. We should show our teeth every once in a while. Moreover, there’s something fishy about this matter, why did the lord still wish to hang about that woman in Mei Yue Lou? Since I cannot question the lord directly, let others figure it out for us. Madam Yun is a proud woman, she probably won’t be able to swallow this insult. I have just provoked her, she is now the rock that will open a path for us. Let’s just wait and observe the development.”
Once Ling Long heard this, she became entirely convinced of her mistress’ greatness and was about to shower her with praises when her mistress suddenly smiled and said. “Jing Yi Niang is here, from her happy expression something good must have happened. Come, let us go and find out for ourselves.” Saying this, she immediately left to meet with the woman.
Meanwhile, Xu Ran Yun, having swallowed Xue Zi Lan’s words, felt angry and restless as she returned to her room. Her trusty maid Feng Xian poured tea and soothingly said. “Missy, Madam Lan is usually so gentle and amiable, who knows what happened today to make her say those unpleasant words. Missy must guard against such behaviour in case she starts to rebel.”
Xu Ran Yun drank the tea, and felt its cooling effects on the fire inside her belly. She slammed the cup heavily onto the table and said with a cold sneer. “Even you saw it. Hmph! Think I did not know she’s trying to provoke me into doing her dirty work? Heh! Gentle and warm in front of others, hiding a calculative and vicious heart, there aren’t many that could fight against her. Even I have suffered a loss under her hands, had I did not prepared myself to guard against her, my body would have been buried in an unmarked grave somewhere without my own knowing.”
Hearing her mistress’ words, Feng Xian relaxed a little and smiled. “Madam Lan played a good hand, fortunately Missy is sharp-eyed and clear-headed and would not fall into her trap. Let her walk this road on her own. Didn’t the master stayed over her place last night? She did not see the master leave, and had the cheek to be angry at Missy, she’s really shameless.”
Xu Ran Yun’s facial expression changed a few times, finally she sighed and shook her head. “Whatever, don’t mention it any more. Even if she had not provoked me earlier, I would have gone to Mei Yue Lou all the same to have a look.”