IBTBTED Chapter 1
It’s Better to be the Empress Dowager
Chapter 1 Wordless Heavenly Book
The sixth month of Shentai’s fifth year.
This year’s rain was particularly heavy. When Tang Shishi set off from the capital in March, Jinling was misty and rainy. The roads were bumpy all way to the north and it was still raining when they arrived.
After the rain, the road was particularly difficult to walk on and they had taken frequent breaks in between. The original two-month-long journey was prolonged to a three-month-long journey. Fortunately, they just entered the fief, an estate held by military service, of Jing Wang* which was not far from their destination.
(Wang* – used as a title for a ruler, king, prince)
The imperial family sent Tang Shishi and her entourage of beauties to serve Jing Wang by order of Empress Dowager Yao. However, looking at the appearance of no one on the road, she was afraid that Jing Wang did not expect them so much.
Also, how could a well-known prince who was outstanding and prowess in the military be willing to be stared at by those court beauties as spies from the Empress Dowager?
Since entering the fief, Tang Shishi clearly felt the atmosphere change drastically compared to the previous journey. The refugees on the road were not visible, and even the roads were much smoother. Tang Shishi was thinking while looking at the scenery outside, no wonder Empress Dowager was not at ease with Jing Wang.
The little Emperor of Jinling was only eleven years old this year, and uncle Jing Wang of the Northern region was at his prime, guarding the fortress and holding half of the world’s military forces. Who was able to relax?
When Tang Shishi was in a trance, the beauties in the same carriage smiled and said, “Sister Tang, what are you looking at that you are so fascinated?”
Tang Shishi returned to her senses, lowered the curtain of the carriage, and said, “It’s stuffy, nothing more than just taking a breather.”
The person who spoke was Ji Xinxian, the same beauty who was sent to Jing Wang’s mansion, who was not convinced that Tang Shishi was taking a breather. In fact, out of the five people in the carriage at the moment, Tang Shishi’s family background was the lowest. Even if compared to all the beauties on this trip, including the beauties in the other carriages, no one would have a lower status than Tang Shishi with a merchant family background.
Anyway, Ji Xinxian was the daughter of the Prefectural Magistrate of Yangzhou, so why was she jealous of Tang Shishi? Regarding this matter, Tang Shishi could not help but sigh and wonder what was going to happen next.
Empress Dowager favored Tang Shishi because of her good looks and personally ordered Tang Shishi to be the leader of these beauties’ entourage. Among the beauties, Tang Shishi would be the first.
Ji Xinxian was furious when she saw Tang Shishi’s good fortune. She leaned against her companion while holding on to her handkerchief and said, “It is not proper for a noble lady to raise the curtain on the road. Just look at Sister Zhou, she will not do this kind of improper behavior.”
Zhou Shunhua kept silent until she heard this, she lifted her eyes and glance at everyone, “What is it got to do with me when you argue among yourself? Let’s be less noisy. If Feng Momo hears, she will scold us.”
Feng Momo was a trusted aide of Empress Dowager. She was nearly forty years old and had never married. She was rather vicious and merciless. Ji Xinxian was scared and shut up right away when she heard the name Feng Momo, but Tang Shishi did not mind. Who made Tang Shishi the best looking? Feng Momo could not wait to take care of Tang Shishi because of her beauty. How could she be willing to punish Tang Shishi?
There were a total of five people sitting in the carriage. Although they ate and slept together for three months, they did not have much affection for each other. After this incident, none of the beauties wanted to speak, and the rest of the journey was dull and silent.
Fortunately, they were lucky enough to catch up with the relay post station today. Madam Feng let the beauties get out of the carriage. Tang Shishi used the shaft of the carriage as support when descending the carriage. She could not help but let out a long sigh of relief when she saw the gate of the relay post station.
Other beauties also showed a relaxed and delighted look. It was too bothersome to go on the road in such haste. They could not help but be hopeful that they were able to sleep well tonight, and maybe even take a bath, both precious things.
The beauties happily took their sisters to the relay post station. Tang Shishi had no sisters and walked gracefully towards the entrance alone. At the entrance of the relay post station, Feng Momo divided the rooms between the beauties with a stern face. Although these beauties were sent to serve Jing Wang, they were also divided into high and low status. Tang Shishi had good looks, a good figure was appreciated by the Empress Dowager, and was the main bargaining chip. Zhou Shunhua’s family was high and powerful, also another bargaining chip.
The two of them did not have to squeeze with other people and always had their own rooms. However, this time the rooms in the relay station room were lacking. Tang Shishi and Zhou Shunhua would have to share a room and Feng Momo occupied a room by herself on the upper floor. The rest had to squeeze four or five people into a room on the lower floor.
When Tang Shishi heard that she had to share a room with Zhou Shunhua, she instantly lost interest. Zhou Shunhua folded her hands and bowed to Feng Momo in front of everyone, “Thank you, Momo.”
Tang Shishi rolled her eyes secretly and walked towards her room passing everyone. As she passed the corridor, Feng Momo called to stop her, “Tang Shishi.”
Tang Shishi stopped and when she turned her head to face Feng Momo, she immediately put on a nice and gentle smile, “Greetings Momo, I wonder if Momo has any instructions?”
Feng Momo looked up and down at Tang Shishi. She had been with Empress Dowager for a long time, and instinctively did not like beautiful and extravagant women, especially the type like Tang Shishi, but she could not deny that Tang Shishi’s appearance was excellent.
Black hair and snowy skin, perfectly shaped eyebrows with almond eyes, a high nose bridge, and red lips, especially the corners of the eyes were exquisite, slightly raised and the voluptuousness made her very seductive.
No wonder Empress Dowager had high hopes for this woman. From a man’s point of view, who could resist such stunning beauty? Feng Momo also felt her beauty was stunning, let alone a man.
Feng Momo thought, with a gentle face and even a smile appearing on her lips, “We will reach Jing Wang mansion in a few days. This old woman has been with you all every day, I really can’t bear to separate from you. Tonight, you might as well move to this old woman’s room, and this old woman would like to say something to you.”
Tang Shishi was feeling good when the old woman mentioned the separation, but she was startled when she heard the second half of Feng Momo’s words.
To her surprise, Feng Momo actually let her stay in her own room. This was not a small matter. Tang Shishi held herself steady, and immediately showed a surprised and honored expression, “Really? Thank you, Momo.”
The other beauties did not go far when they heard this. They were surprised and envied when they heard what Feng Momo said. Many people stared at Tang Shishi with jealousy. Zhou Shunhua glanced at Tang Shishi with a look of disdain and sympathy. Tang Shishi accepted it happily and bid goodbye to Feng Momo and went back to the room to pack her bag.
Tang Shishi’s bag had been moved to the relay post station room by a male servant. Tang Shishi cleaned up her items and went to stay overnight in Feng Momo’s room. As she was packing her things, a book fell out of her hand.
The book was a little bit old. Although it has been carefully preserved, the sides of the pages were yellowish, and it had been seen for some years now.
Tang Shishi looked at the familiar indigo cover, slightly stunned. She has been away from home for three years now and did not know how her mother was. Her mother was weak and soft-hearted, so how could she beat concubine Su and many young and beautiful concubines alone in the backyard?
Tang Shishi was a merchant’s daughter, whose ancestral home was in Linqing. Although the status of merchants was low, merchants were wealthy. Ninety percent of the country’s money came from Linqing and ninety percent of the country’s money in Linqing was in the Tang family, and the Tang family was inevitable Linqing’s richest family.
In the beginning, the richest man in Linqing was not the Tang family, but the Lin family. Tang Shishi’s mother, Lin Wanxi, was the only daughter of the Lin family. The Old Man Lin has been growing his business without an heir. Later, the Old Man Lin had no desire to sire a son. He eyed a young man and felt that Tang Mingzhe would be of great use, so he betrothed his only daughter to Tang Mingzhe and wanted to find someone to take care of his daughter, Lin Wanxi, for the rest of her life.
In fact, the Old Man Lin had an unusually vicious vision. Tang Mingzhe took advantage of the Lin family’s relationship and really showed his glory. In just a few years, he expanded the Lin family’s business several times. Not only did he control the canal business, but he also had a good relationship with the government.
Old Man Lin had no children in his life, but he found a good son-in-law. He died of illness with a smile on his face, but after the death of the Old Man Lin, Tang Mingzhe held a huge amount of fortune and slowly other thoughts started to immerge.
Nine months after the death of Old Man Lin, Tang Shishi was born. Lin Wanxi focused on her daughter. When Tang Shishi was about to turn a hundred days old, Tang Mingzhe came back from socializing outside and requested to take a concubine.
Lin Wanxi was surprised. However, at this moment, Linqing was completely Tang Mingzhe’s world, and everyone only recognized Tang Mingzhe, who still remembers Lin’s family. Lin Wanxi’s current identity was only Tang Mingzhe’s wife, so she had no right to oppose her husband taking in a concubine. Within a month, concubine Su came in and in the fifth month of the following year, concubine Su gave birth prematurely to a second daughter named Tang Yanyan.
Concubine Su said that she was born prematurely at seven months, but according to Tang Yanyan’s appearance, she was born full-term. Concubine Su did not even finish breastfeeding yet, barely out of the confinement period, she got pregnant again and successfully gave birth to a boy the following year.
Concubine Su’s position was completely stable so far. Lin Wanxi was weak in character and delicate, and she was quickly sidelined. Later, when Tang Mingzhe’s women entered the door one by one, Lin Wanxi had no sense of existence at all.
When Tang Shishi was very young, those old maids told her in a regretful voice that it was very unfortunate she was born as a girl. If she were a boy, the eldest lady would not be reduced to this.
Everyone was sorry that Lin Wanxi’s first child was a girl. Later, it became more and more difficult for her to get pregnant because she was not favored, so her status as a legitimate wife also plummeted. Lin Wanxi’s temperament was weak, so when others gossiped, she only concentrated on her daughter’s wellbeing.
For the rest of Lin Wanxi’s life, she poured all her hope and love on Tang Shishi. She yearned for Tang Shishi to marry a good family and prepared a dowry for Tang Shishi since she was ten years old. Once, Lin Wanxi took Tang Shishi to a monastery up in the mountain to burn incense, and the monk looked at Tang Shishi for a long time, saying that she was born under an unlucky star and dreaded that something bad might happen to her.
At that time, Tang Shishi felt that the monk was cheating on her money, but Lin Wanxi believed him completely and panicked. After all, Lin Wanxi was the eldest daughter of Lin’s family. The private property left by the Old Man Lin was enough for her to live for several lifetimes. Lin Wanxi donated half of her fortune to the monk to change Tang Shishi’s fate. Later, the monk could not help but give Tang Shishi a wordless heavenly book, saying that Tang Shishi should take it and worship it wholeheartedly, when the fortunate time came, she would understand what to do.
Tang Shishi opened the book and found that the book was blank from the cover to the inner pages.
Was there a worse scam than this? However, Lin Wanxi believed and thanked him and bid the monk farewell. When they returned home, she made Tang Shishi worship and pray from the morning to the evening in the shrine.
Tang Shishi could only comfort herself, taking it as spending money to buy peace of mind for her mother. She reluctantly worshiped for several years. However, the blessing of the Buddha did not seem to work.
When Tang Shishi was ten years old, Lin Wanxi’s old friend Madam Qi came to the Tang family as a guest. Madam Qi felt sorry for the miserable fate of her childhood friend and she liked the appearance of Tang Shishi, so she arranged a betrothal between her son, Qi Jingsheng and Tang Shishi.
Qi Jingsheng was a well-known child prodigy in Linqing. He showed extraordinary talent at a young age. It was said that the Qi family has already planned for Qi Jingsheng to take the preliminary round of the imperial examination in the future. Lin Wanxi was extremely satisfied with this marriage and happily prepared a dowry for Tang Shishi.
Later, heard that Qi Jingsheng became more and more hardworking. When Tang Shishi was a fourteenth-year-old, he passed the county-level imperial examination. Linqing has many merchant-based families, even Tang Mingzhe praised Jingsheng when he immerged as a scholar. During that time, Tang Shishi and Lin Wanxi’s unfavorable situation changed for the better.
Unfortunately, they regarded Qi Jingsheng as their son-in-law, and others thought the same way. When Lin Wanxi embroidered the wedding dress for Tang Shishi, a message suddenly came from outside saying that Tang Shishi was caught by the Flower and Bird Emissary* and received the imperial kindness to have the privilege to enter the palace.
(Flower and Bird Emissary* – selection for the Emperor’s concubines and court ladies)
Lin Wanxi was struck by lightning, and no one dared to snatch people from the imperial family. Thus, the marriage between Tang Shishi and Qi Jingsheng would naturally be invalidated. However, Tang Mingzhe did not want to give up this son-in-law who might become an official in the future. Under the persuasion of concubine Su’s mother and daughter, Tang Shishi’s marriage was transferred to Tang Yanyan.
The news came at night, Lin Wanxi was anxious and fell into a coma on the spot. After she woke up, regardless of her ill health, she struggled to fight with Tang Mingzhe and concubine Su.
Tang Shishi stopped her mother. Everyone said that Lin Wanxi had a bad life, the first half of her life was very fortunate and the second half of her life was bleak and desolate, it was a pity that she did not give birth to a son.
It did not matter. If the mother was weak, then Tang Shishi would be strong. If the mother did not want to fight, then she would fight.
As a woman, Tang Shishi could not take the imperial examinations to become an imperial official, could not join the military, or return home to support her mother. So, she entered the palace, she must make a name for herself in the palace and make Tang Mingzhe and concubine Su kneel and kowtow to her mother.
Tang Shishi quickly retracted her mind and picked up the yellowed book. Tang Shishi almost forgot about this book completely since she entered the palace three years ago. A blatant scam that emptied half of her mother’s wealth, and had to carry it with her, who would be in a good mood after seeing this kind of thing?
Tang Shishi was very annoyed with this so-called “Wordless Heavenly Book”. She simply stuffed her things into the bag, when suddenly a flower appeared and the book seemed to have words on it.
Tang Shishi was shocked and thought she had read it wrong. She turned over and looked again, and found that there were indeed words on it. The three characters “Biography of Shunhua” appeared on the originally empty cover.