IBTBTED Chapter 85
It’s Better to be the Empress Dowager
Chapter 85 Concubine
In the Yan’an courtyard, Tang Shishi sat on the circle armchair with auspicious patterns embossed on the backrest while Lu Yufei stood behind at the side, surrounded by a circle of women. Ren Yujun, Ji Xinxian, and other living beauties from the imperial court were among them. Everyone remained silent, quietly watching another woman kowtowed to Tang Shishi.
“Thanks to Wangfei for your kindness. Shunhua dare not forget Wangfei’s kindness and virtue all my life.”
Zhou Shunhua wore a blue cloth dress with a plain face without face powder. There was no other trinket on her except for a pale jade hairpin. She knelt in the middle of the formal hall, her knees together, her back straight, her forehead close to the back of her hands, and her kneeling end straight and unambiguous.
Tang Shishi looked down at her feet and did not say anything for a long time. Zhou Shunhua’s posture was still submissive with her forehead kowtowed on the ground without any displeasure or embarrassment at all.
Tang Shishi and Zhou Shunhua were at the same level not long ago. A little further, Tang Shishi was a merchant’s daughter, but Zhou Shunhua was the legitimate daughter of an official. In terms of identity, Tang Shishi was far less than Zhou Shunhua. But now, Zhou Shunhua kowtowed to thank a person who was not as good as herself with no oddity.
This itself was the biggest difference. Tang Shishi always felt that after Zhou Shunhua had been exiled to the mountain villa for some time, something seemed to have changed in her. Although Zhou Shunhua was smart before leaving the mansion, her eyes twinkled with stars and would be desperate for her sweetheart, but now her eyes became gentle and cold.
Tang Shishi seemed to have picked up a solemn person.
But so what? Tang Shishi thought nonchalantly. Anyway, she had left the circle of imperial palace fighting. No matter how evil Zhou Shunhua was, it would be Lu Yufei who was going to have a headache. What did it have to do with Tang Shishi?
She was their legitimate mother-in-law. As long as Zhao Chengjun did not die one day, these concubines even including Zhao Zixun’s future were in Tang Shishi‘s hands. Tang Shishi might not be in charge of Zhao Zixun, but it was more than enough to send a concubine to him.
Tang Shishi had not asked Zhou Shunhua to get up for a long time, and everyone around them drooped their eyes, but they secretly peeked at Tang Shishi. Tang Shishi put her hands on her knees, stroked the pleats on her sleeves, and said softly, “Get up.”
Only then did a maid come forward and help her. Zhou Shunhua held the maid’s hand and slowly got up from the ground.
Tang Shishi raised her hand to gesture to Dujuan to pour tea. At this time, Zhou Shunhua stepped forward, took the teapot in Dujuan’s hand, gracefully poured water three times, raised the teacup to the center of her eyebrows, and handed it to Tang Shishi respectfully, “Mother, please drink tea.”
The whole room was suppressed by this development. Lu Yufei who stood at the back was stunned for a while, suddenly reacted and suddenly became furious, “Presumptuous! How can you call mother?”
“It doesn’t matter.” Tang Shishi raised her finger to stop Lu Yufei’s action and said with a smile, “It’s difficult for beauty Zhou to have filial piety. Beauty Zhou and I are about the same age, but I feel ashamed to receive your tea.”
“I don’t deserve mother’s words.” Zhou Shunhua lowered her eyes and said, “Mother is Wangfei and also my mother-in-law. The sage said that mother-in-law is like my own mother. I just wish to serve mother like the thirty-six filial sons. What does serving tea to mother count as?”
Tang Shishi secretly sighed that educated people were indeed different. Look at what she said, Tang Shishi could not even pick out any criticism even if she wanted to. Since Zhou Shunhua’s attitude was so low that Tang Shishi had nothing to be picky about. She took the tea in Zhou Shunhua’s hand, took a sip, and said, “Good tea. She is worthy of being a talented woman in Jinling. She is even three points better than others in serving tea. The ground is cold. Get up quickly.”
Tang Shishi’s attitude could be regarded as pleasant. Lu Yufei looked at her from behind and could not stand it anymore.
What did Zhou Shunhua mean? What did Tang Shishi mean? Was not these two used to challenge each other? Why were they so close together now as if they were about to form an alliance?
Lu Yufei’s heart was alarmed. After Tang Shishi got married, she still followed the old practice of Jing Wang of greetings every ten days. Lu Yufei was unwilling to flatter Tang Shishi, hence she only came at the designated time and did not bother to see Tang Shishi at all for the rest of the day. Lu Yufei knew that most people in the mansion thought the same as her, and did not take Tang Shishi seriously, so Lu Yufei became all the more relieved.
She thought that others would have the same attitude. Who would have thought that Zhou Shunhua as soon as she came back would make such a flattering brazenness and called “mother” to a woman younger than herself, was not such a disgrace? However, one had the nerve to call and the other had the nerve to respond. Lu Yufei suddenly had an awfully bad premonition.
Mother-in-law was equivalent to one’s own mother in etiquette, but “mother” was not something anyone could call. This was the power of the legitimate wife. Whose concubines dared to call the mistress of the mansion “mother” in the public?
But Zhou Shunhua dared. Lu Yufei knew that this was a demonstration against herself. She immediately stepped forward and chided, “Presumptuous. Wangfei is a title conferred by His Majesty, and every move has etiquette standards. You are an inferior concubine without status. How dare you offer tea to Wangfei?”
Tang Shishi leaned on the armrest and said calmly, “Shizifei is right. According to etiquette, only the daughter-in-law can offer tea to the mother-in-law. However, I haven’t seen Shizifei offer tea to me at ordinary times. The most thing I want in my life is to be carefree and enjoy the blessing of my daughter-in-law. It’s rare that someone is willing to be filial to me and Shizifei still wants to stop me?”
Lu Yufei was stopped. She suppressed it for a long time and then bent down to salute without any emotion or unwillingness, “I don’t dare.”
Seeing the opportunity, the maid hurriedly poured a cup of tea and offered it to Lu Yufei. Lu Yufei took the tea and submissively gave the tea to Tang Shishi, “Presenting tea to Wangfei.”
Tang Shishi only glanced at it but did not answer, “I just drank beauty Zhou’s, and I’m not thirsty now. I have to trouble Shizifei to wait a little longer.”
Lu Yufei was embarrassed and could only maintain the bowing action, waiting stiffly. Not long after, Lu Yufei’s body began to sway, and the tea in her hand also kept trembling.
Tang Shishi tutted in her heart that she could not hold on for long. Thinking back to the time when she was in the imperial palace, Tang Shishi could maintain the half squatting action for an hour.
Lu Yufei’s foundation skills were too poor.
Dujuan at the back looked frightened and could not help reminding, “Shizifei’s hand must be steady. There is boiling hot water inside. Wangfei is pregnant. If by chance Wangfei is scalded, Shizifei can’t afford it.”
Dujuan had the potential to be a vicious sidekick. Tang Shishi smiled with satisfaction, pretended to be helpless on the outside, and said, “Never mind. Shizifei just put down the tea. Shizifei is a noblewoman with a delicate body, and I dare not order you around. Dujuan, help Shizifei to sit down.”
Dujuan responded with an “oh”, came forward to take the tea from Lu Yufei’s hand, and brought an embroidered stool to Lu Yufei. Lu Yufei was embarrassed and angry. Ji Xinxian, who was on at the back, saw it and said, “Shizifei has a noble body. When it comes to serving tea and water, she is naturally no better than a maid. There are plenty of people around Wangfei. As long as Shizifei has filial piety, why care about the formality?”
Ji Xinxian was promoted by Lu Yufei, and even if she had a little brain, she still had to side with Lu Yufei overall. Ji Xinxian secretly satirized Zhou Shunhua as a maid. However, Zhou Shunhua’s expression remained unchanged, and she lowered her eyes, “Since Shizifei is not good at it, then let me do it for you. I was able to return to the mansion by the grace of Wangfei. When Shizi brought me back, he specifically said that Wangfei is kindhearted and has to show filial piety to Wangfei in the future regardless of past hatred. Shizi is busy with outside affairs and cannot stay in the rear courtyard all day long. As Shizi’s person, I naturally want to think of what Shizi wants and do what Shizi can’t do. Since it’s inconvenient for Shizi, then I should do his filial piety on his behalf. It’s a blessing to be able to serve Wangfei.”
Tang Shishi once again lamented that literate people could really talk, and they were so elegant at the expense of others. Ji Xinxian said that Zhou Shunhua was like a maid and then Zhou Shunhua said that others were unfilial. It looked like who could pressure who more.
Moreover, only a wife could fulfill filial piety on behalf of her husband. In these words, Zhou Shunhua regarded herself as the representative of Zhao Zixun from the rear courtyard. The best way to win a battle was to deter the opponent psychologically. Zhou Shunhua’s move was extremely vicious.
Lu Yufei, Ji Xinxian, and Ren Yujun were all stabbed on the sore spot. Yes, no matter how shabby or disrespectful Zhou Shunhua was, no one could hold back Zhao Zixun’s heart. On the third day after Jing Wang’s wedding, Zhao Zixun ran to Nanshan to personally pick up Zhou Shunhua back.
This degree of attentiveness made all the womenfolk in the Yinian courtyard felt sour.
Lu Yufei and Ren Yujun kept their eyes down and did not speak, and even the noisiest Ji Xinxian had nothing to say. Tang Shishi took a sip of tea with a smile, and said leisurely, “Well, it’s a happy event for beauty Zhou to come back. What are you arguing about? A few of us set off from Jinling and came to Jing Wang’s mansion after a lot of hardships. It’s rare for the convoy to gather today. Why don’t all of you care about beauty Zhou, instead of having the mood to quarrel?”
As soon as Tang Shishi opened her mouth, she was using a superior tone. The women were panicked, but they still had to salute Tang Shishi, “We will follow the lesson that Wangfei has taught us.”
As soon as Tang Shishi finish speaking, the others were not sour anymore. They gathered around to ask Zhou Shunhua warmly, “Sister Zhou, you have lost a lot of weight, and your chin has become sharp.”
“Yes, Sister Zhou. You didn’t eat well in the village? How can you reduce so much?”
These people were worthy of being beautiful plastic sisters. These words seemed to care about Zhou Shunhua, but they were actually exposing scars everywhere. Zhou Shunhua was very calm and replied calmly, “The conditions in the village are naturally not comparable to those in the prince’s mansion. I went to the mountains every day to pick wild herbs and sometimes helped feed the livestock. I walked a lot and gradually lost weight.”
The beauties sighed, and their distressed sounds were endless. Ren Yujun stood outside the crowd, looked at Zhou Shunhua from a distance, and slowly start to talk, “Sister Zhou once said that she liked the countryside the best when she was a child, but unfortunately, the etiquette did not allow it. Now she has lived in the mountains for half a year and finally fulfilled her wish.”
Ren Yujun was not close to Zhou Shunhua, but Zhou Shunhua heard her as soon as she spoke. Zhou Shunhua turned her head and smile lightly, “I’m used to being naughty, not as dignified and decent as my Sister Ren. Sister Ren is not only better in etiquette, but also better than me in terms of worldly wisdom. I heard that Sister Ren is now the right-hand person of Shizifei and has a very close relationship with Shizifei. Congratulations.”
The relationship between Ren Yujun and Zhou Shunhua was worse than enemies. They used to be sworn sisters but the closer they were, the more hurtful when they split. Ren Yujun said indifferently, “Thanks to Shizifei’s generosity who is willing to support me. I am a person who has clear conscience. If someone treats me well, I will repay them ten times. Since Shizifei treats me sincerely, naturally I am bent on Shizifei.”
Sharp words were hidden in these two people’s conversations. Tang Shishi was listening to them enthusiastically, but her stomach unexpectedly became uncomfortable. Tang Shishi held her handkerchief and quietly covered her mouth.
Tang Shishi’s movements were exceptionally light, but since she was the person with the highest status present, everyone paid attention to her every movement. Her movements were soon discovered, and a beauty asked, “What’s the matter Wangfei? Are you uncomfortable?”
As soon as she said it, everyone looked at Tang Shishi. Tang Shishi calmly put down her handkerchief and said as if nothing had happened, “It’s all right. I just felt a little uncomfortable in my stomach. This kind of thing often happens. I’m used to it.”
Everyone in the room was suddenly quiet. People who were pregnant would have all kinds of symptoms. Tang Shishi felt uncomfortable, but other people were eager to suffer for her. They were fighting here for a few benefits, while Tang Shishi was already pregnant with a child and had status. She had leisurely climbed ashore.
Everyone came from the same place at the same time. Who would not hate her? Who would not be jealous of her?
A beauty looked worried and said, “Wangfei has a particularly strong reaction during pregnancy. Before I entered the imperial palace, I saw my sister-in-law have morning sickness during pregnancy. Like Wangfei, my sister-in-law vomited very badly for a few months. When she was five months pregnant, she had cramps and got up at night, and can’t rest the whole night. In order not to disturb my brother, my sister-in-law and my brother slept in separate rooms from early on. Since Wangfei suffers from morning sickness more severe than my sister-in-law, isn’t it even worse at night?”
“It’s really hard for Wangfei.” Another beauty sighed, “It’s a pity that I have no talents and virtues and can’t share Wangfei’s worries. Since Wangfei is unwell, why not accept a few more people by your side? Not only can accompany Wangfei to relieve boredom but also to take care of Wangye when Wangfei is inconvenient.”
The smile on Tang Shishi’s face gradually weakened. Her eyes were cold, and her expression was indifferent. No wonder so many people were here. It turned out that they were waiting for her here.
These beauties had been fighting inside since they arrived at the mansion. Unexpectedly, they even stood on the same front to deal with Tang Shishi this time. Tang Shishi was promoted from a maid to Wangfei. Her position jumped three steps in succession which undoubtedly set a readymade example for everyone. Yes, what was the use of internal fighting? What was the use of fighting over Shizi’s favor? What else could climb faster than to please Jing Wang?
If Tang Shishi could do it, why could not they?
After the beauties said these words, Lu Yufei also remained silent. From Lu Yufei’s perspective, she certainly hoped that there would be few more favored concubines around Jing Wang, at least not dominated by Tang Shishi. Zhao Zixun was an adult, but the child in Tang Shishi’s belly was not yet born. If this was a boy, Zhao Zixun’s situation would become very delicate. However, if there were not only Tang Shishi’s child, but also other newborns, the more concubines’ born children, the more beneficial it would be for Zhao Zixun.
All the beauties forced Tang Shishi to accept concubines for Jing Wang. Lu Yufei did not say anything. Zhou Shunhua, who just offered to Tang Shishi, did not say anything. Ren Yujun, who tried not to offend anyone also did not say anything. After a short silence, Tang Shishi smiled gently and brushed off the floating dust on her skirt with her handkerchief, “This is my family affair with Wangye. I will discuss it with Wangye, so you don’t have to worry about it.”
The beauty who spoke first smiled and slowly said, “Wangfei is newly married, so naturally you are unwilling to accept concubines for Wangye. However, the imperial household attaches importance to customs. After the daughter-in-law of an ordinary family is pregnant, she even has to take the initiative to accept concubines for her husband, let alone imperial family?”
Another person looked at Lu Yufei and said with a smile, “Shizifei is the daughter-in-law chosen by Jing Wang himself which should best reflect Jing Wang’s attitude. Shizifei accepted two concubines for Shizi as soon as she entered the door. It can be seen that in the heart of Wangye, a good wife and loving mother like Shizifei are the perfect matches for the imperial household.”
Now that someone mentioned Lu Yufei, Lu Yufei was no longer courteous and said, “I don’t deserve your praise. I just did what I should do. Wangfei taught me earlier that a woman should be virtuous, and wives and concubines should be in harmony, and marital harmony. So Wangfei made the decision to bring back beauty Zhou from Nanshan. Wangfei is so highly principled and will not do anything contradictory. I think Wangfei has arranged it a long time ago.”
Tang Shishi chuckled and slowly said, “Shizifei is in charge of so many things. Does Shizifei still wants to arrange the personal affairs of Wangye?”
Lu Yufei shut up instantly. As a daughter-in-law, if words got out that she interfered in which woman his father-in-law favored, what would this be called? After Tang Shishi blocked Lu Yufei’s mouth, she looked at other menacing beauties who were united to force her, “Although the affairs of the inner courtyard are managed by the mistress, to put it bluntly, Wangye is the master of this mansion. I have to listen to Wangye about accepting concubines. I know what you said, and I will relay it to Wangye later.”
Tang Shishi’s words were purely tai chi. She said she knew, but she did not give any promises. The beauties tore their faces and made a scene. How could they willingly go back empty-handed? “Wangfei, Wangye has to deal with major events of military and national affairs. You really shouldn’t bother Wangye with such trivial things in the inner courtyard. We all know that during this period, Wangye obeys Wangfei’s words. Since Wangfei is in charge of accepting concubines, Wangye will certainly never say a word.”
Many beauties who were not accepted to be concubines were pressing step by step. No matter what fraction the people of Shizi’s rear courtyard were, they looked down at the ground at the moment. Tang Shishi looked at these people in front of her and became angry in her heart. She slapped the table hard, and stood up angrily, “Presumptuous!”
As soon as she finished speaking, she suddenly became dizzy, and her vision went dark instantly. Tang Shishi fell to the side uncontrollably. Dujuan quickly supported her and said in a panic, “Wangfei, what’s the matter with you? What are you doing in a daze? Go invite Wangye to come over!”