It’s Better to be the Empress Dowager
Chapter 106 Suspicion
Tang Shishi returned to the prince’s mansion. As soon as she entered the second gate, she saw the maid next to Zhao Zigao waiting at the gate. With a thump in her heart, Tang Shishi quickly lifted the curtain of the carriage and asked, “Gao’er is awake?”
When the maid saw that Tang Shishi had returned, she jogged all the way to the carriage and said, “Yes. Little Junwang woke up and was clamoring for Wangfei.”
Tang Shishi was anxious when she heard that. As soon as the carriage stopped steadily, she hurried to get off the carriage holding her skirt. Unexpectedly, the horse leaped forward for a while before standing still. Tang Shishi stood on the edge of the carriage, suddenly slipped under her feet and she almost fell off the carriage.
The maids were frightened and shouted in panic, “Wangfei, be careful!”
However, the maids were also womenfolk who wore skirts and could not run over in a hurry even though they were worried. Zhao Zixun was arranging the reins at that time. He turned his head when heard the scream behind him and saw Tang Shishi standing on the edge of the carriage on the verge of falling down. Zhao Zixun’s heart jumped and subconsciously strode forward to hold Tang Shishi’s arm, “Be careful!”
Zhao Zixun realized that it was inappropriate after holding Tang Shishi’s arm. Tang Shishi was his nominal legitimate mother and was still very young and beautiful. A young mother and a strong son, so he should avoid it the most. But at that moment, he was like possessed by a ghost, and he stepped forward to hold Tang Shishi before he could regain his senses.
There were many maids around watching at it while Zhao Zixun was absent-minded in such an emergency situation. Zhao Zixun had always kept a distance from Tang Shishi because of Zhao Chengjun. This was the first time he touched Tang Shishi’s body.
Zhao Zixun could encircle Tang Shishi’s arm with one hand even though she was wearing so many layers of winter clothing in her already slender body. Her dangling headpiece dangled in Zhao Zixun’s ear and made clear jingling sounds. The dangling beads seemed to have brushed off Zhao Zixun’s ear. The jade beads were warm and slightly cold, like the perfume on her body which was light and deeply hidden. This could arouse a person to continuously find out where the source of the fragrance was.
Zhao Zixun was slightly stunned. He clearly knew that many people were watching. He should let go of Tang Shishi at once and step away from her seamlessly which showed that he was doing it out of filial piety and put aside his position. However, Zhao Zixun did not know what was going on, his body reaction was extremely slow, and he could not recover for a long time.
Zhao Zixun was stunned, and his palm loosened unexpectedly. Tang Shishi broke away from Zhao Zixun’s hand. Without looking at Zhao Zixun, she ran toward the inner courtyard while holding her skirt, “Where is Gao’er? How long has he been awake?”
The scene just now took place at the speed of lightning. The maids only saw that Wangfei almost fell off the carriage, Shizi helped her, and soon Wangfei pulled back her arm, and Shizi also regained the appearance of an elegant nobleman. The maids were terrified to see that Tang Shishi was still running, “Wangfei, be careful. Little Junwang has wet nurse and momo watching him and didn’t cry.”
But where could Tang Shishi hear it? She did not pay attention to her surroundings at all and rushed back to the main courtyard as quickly as possible. As soon as she entered the door, she asked anxiously, “Where’s Gao’er?”
“Pay respect to Wangfei.” The wet nurse and maid found that Tang Shishi came back and saluted together. The momo carried Zhao Zigao out and said with a smile, “Wangfei, don’t worry. Little Junwang is here. Little Junwang is very obedient and didn’t cry all afternoon.”
Tang Shishi held Zhao Zigao in her arms and felt relieved after she touched his little round hands and feet. When Zhao Zigao saw Tang Shishi, he promptly became excited and started to babble. Tang Shishi sat on the couch with him and asked the wet nurse about the child, “When did he wake up? Has he been fed?”
“He woke up at shenshi (3 pm – 5 pm) and has been fed.”
Tang Shishi asked a few more questions and calmed down slowly. Nowadays, Zhao Zigao could crawl already, and his movements were very nimble. When he saw Tang Shishi’s dangling headpiece shaking behind her, he cried out twice and reached out with his hands to grab Tang Shishi’s dangling ornaments.
Zhao Zixun followed Tang Shishi and entered the room. Since Tang Shishi was asking the wet nurse questions, he could not intervene and it was not good to leave without saying goodbye, so he could only wait quietly. For some reason, Zhao Zixun’s eyes fell on Tang Shishi’s dangling headpiece and even recalled the gentle touch just now.
It was exactly due to this that Zhao Zixun saw when Zhao Zigao moved. His heart tightened and promptly said, “Wangfei, be careful of his hands.”
Tang Shishi turned her head and saw Zhao Zigao was about to grab her dangling headpiece, and hurriedly stopped his hand. Tang Shishi patted Zhao Zigao’s little hand lightly, and groaned, “You don’t learn your lesson yet and still dare to grab my hair? Believe it or not, I will tell your father and let him sort you out?”
Zhao Zigao seemed to understand Tang Shishi’s words, and his momentum was obviously dispirited with a pair of grapes-like eyes looking at Tang Shishi pitifully. The maids laughed when they saw him like this, “Little Junwang is afraid of Wangye. Once Wangye is mentioned, he quiets down.”
Tang Shishi could not help laughing and gently squeezed Zhao Zigao’s chubby face, “Bully the weak and fear of the strong. You only know how to bully me.”
Zhao Zixun watched the scene quietly. It was obvious that Tang Shishi was sitting not far away, but he felt that she was so far away. Tang Shishi and Zhao Zigao seemed to be in another world while Zhao Zixun could only look at them, but he could not touch them or blend in at all.
The maids pleaded with Zhao Zigao when they saw this. While they were chatting and laughing, Zhao Chengjun came back from the outside. Zhao Chengjun was thinking about other things in his mind and did not pay attention to his surroundings. As soon as he entered the door, he saw Zhao Zixun standing in the room staring at Tang Shishi attentively and his heart thumped suddenly.
Zhao Chengjun did not know why he has this emotion, but this sense of rejection was so urgent and so strong that Zhao Chengjun could not ignore it. Zhao Chengjun stopped outside the door, and the maid at the doorway turned around and saw Zhao Chengjun, and hurriedly saluted, “Pay respect to Wangye!”
The voice of the maid roused everyone in the room. Seeing Zhao Chengjun’s return, everyone greeted one by one, “Greetings Wangye.”
Tang Shishi also put down the child and got up to salute, “Wangye.”
Zhao Chengjun suppressed those emotions in an instant. He calmly walked into the room, glanced at the things on the floor, and asked, “What is this?”
Tang Shishi replied, “Empress Dowager requested me to enter the palace tomorrow for greetings. I was afraid that the clothes I brought were different from those in Jinling, so I went to the ready-made clothes shop to buy a few sets.”
This was simply nothing to Zhao Chengjun. Jing Wang’s mansion was a big household with big businesses, and a few sets of clothes were not counted as money in Zhao Chengjun’s eyes. When Zhao Zigao saw Zhao Chengjun, he clapped his hands happily on the couch and thudded his hands and feet to get Zhao Chengjun to hold him. Zhao Chengjun leaned over, carried Zhao Zigao, and held him firmly in his arm, “You are getting more and more solid. You’re almost 20 catties, right?”
“Yes.” Tang Shishi smiled and sat beside Zhao Chengjun and complained, “He can crawl everywhere now. He can crawl to the bedside without paying attention and without worry.”
Liu Ji interrupted and said, “Little Junwang is in good health, and he is one step faster than the other children in everything. In my opinion, it will not take long for little Junwang to start walking.”
Tang Shishi has a headache just by thinking about it. It was already so troublesome that Zhao Zigao could crawl now. If he learned to walk on his own, it would be impossible to live in peace for a moment? When Zhao Chengjun heard this, he showed a thoughtful look. He put Zhao Zigao on the couch, held his hand, and said, “You’re almost a little fatty now. Don’t always let others hold you. Stand by yourself for a while.”
Zhao Zigao’s legs and feet have grown very well. At this moment, he could really stand firm with the support of Zhao Chengjun. Zhao Zigao looked at Zhao Chengjun curiously, and Zhao Chengjun motioned him to walk in the direction of Tang Shishi, “Walk by yourself. Find your mother.”
Tang Shishi clapped her hands and said warmly to Zhao Zigao, “Come to mother.”
The maids gathered around to cheer. When Zhao Zigao saw Tang Shishi, his eyes became vivid. His legs stepped one after another, and he actually walked over with Zhao Chengjun’s support. With Zhao Zigao’s last little chubby leg pushed, he threw himself towards Tang Shishi.
The maids applauded together, cheered, and laughed. Tang Shishi quickly caught Zhao Zigao and happily picked him up, “Gao’er is really great. You can walk now.”
Zhao Zigao was lifted up by his mother and giggled happily, revealing his four big front teeth. Zhao Zigao was no longer a baby who was just born. Once he got excited, Tang Shishi’s arms could not hold him well. Zhao Chengjun hurriedly protected Tang Shishi and said, “Be careful. He’s not light now. Don’t injure your lower back.”
Looking at the interaction between Zhao Chengjun and Zhao Zigao, Zhao Zixun felt more and more out of place.
As if the three talented people in front of him belonged to one family and he was just an outsider. In fact, he was really an outsider.
Seeing that Zhao Zixun did not speak, one of the momos was afraid that Shizi was left out, so she quickly said, “If Shizi likes children, then give birth to one as soon as possible. When the two children start running at home next year, it will be very lively.”
After the momo finished speaking, the atmosphere was delicate for a moment. Tang Shishi smiled and continued on, “Yes, concubine Zhou has been pregnant for four months, right? In another six months, there will be another child in the mansion. I said before that whoever becomes pregnant will be bestowed as Cefei. Now concubine Zhou has passed four months, it’s reasonable to say that the baby is stable and there is no danger. Just taking advantage of the festival, let’s hold concubine Zhou’s bestowment banquet altogether.”
Unlike Wangfei, Shizi’s Cefei did not need to inform the Ministry of Rites at all, just having a meal at home would do. Although the ceremony was simple, Tang Shishi was not a charitable person after all. Of course, she said these words with a purpose.
First of all, when they returned to the capital, Zhou Shunhua always went to see the people from Duke’s mansion, and both sides would look good after the bestowment of Cefei. Secondly, with Zhou Shunhua’s ambition, she would never be idle after returning to Jinling.
With Tang Shishi pressuring her now, Zhou Shunhua could only have a faster and even better accident.
The more Zhou Shunhua calculated the more Zhao Zixun side with her, and then the more disappointed Zhao Chengjun would be with them. When that time comes, Tang Shishi would push his son to the throne, and it would be a matter of course of action.
Zhao Chengjun frowned slightly when he heard these words but did not say them. He actually did not agree as Zhou Shunhua was a woman with two faces, disgusting tricks, and also lied by nature. If it were not for Zhao Zixun’s face, Zhao Chengjun would have executed this woman long ago. Keeping her life was already Zhao Chengjun’s bottom line and now still wanted to bestow her Cefei?
Zhao Chengjun disagreed. However, now was different from the past as he has to consider the current political situation to some extent. In Xiping province, Duke’s mansion was far less useful than the Lu family, so Zhao Chengjun did all he could to push for Zhao Zixun and Lu Yufei’s marriage. Now in Jinling, the Zhou family could be used for a while.
Therefore, even though Zhao Chengjun did not agree, he also tacitly agreed. Zhao Chengjun did not comment which meant it was good. Zhao Zixun was quite flattered and quickly agreed, “Thank you, Wangfei. Thank you Wangfei for the favor. When I go back, I will surely remind her so that she will do her best to honor Wangfei.”
Tang Shishi with a smile on her face, “It’s enough for Shizi to have such a heart. Cefei Zhou is pregnant now and will give birth in the sixth month next year. She is uncomfortable herself, so how can she serve me? I don’t lack people here. Just let Cefei Zhou nurse herself properly and give birth to a child safely in the sixth month will be the greatest filial piety to me.”
Tang Shishi kept reminding the period that Zhou Shunhua was now “pregnant” for four months, and she should give birth in the sixth month next year. It was normal for ordinary people to give birth ten days and eight days late, but if two or three months late could not be justified, right? Zhao Zixun also had a headache when he heard about the due date, but what could he do as Zhou Shunhua was his own woman? Zhao Zixun could only bite the bullet and helped Zhou Shunhua to cover up, “Thank you Wangfei for your concern. I’ll tell her to pay attention.”
Zhao Chengjun had been listening silently, and then suddenly asked, “Why do you call her Wangfei?”
Zhao Zixun and the servants were stunned. Zhao Zixun hesitated and asked, “Otherwise, how should I address her respectfully?”
Zhao Chengjun’s tone was indifferent and could not distinguish what he meant, “She is my wife. You should call her mother.”
Since Zhao Chengjun’s tone was calm, Tang Shishi did not notice the clue and blurted out, “No, call me mother sounded so old.”
Zhao Chengjun raised his eyebrows and glanced at Tang Shishi gently, “Do you think I’m old?”
“No.” Tang Shishi’s arrogance suddenly faded, and reluctantly changed her previous remarks, “That will do too. Just call it if you want.”
Tang Shishi did not understand the reason why, but Zhao Zixun could hear something was wrong. Zhao Chengjun never did anything for no reason. When he said this, he did not mention it casually.
Zhao Zixun did not understand Zhao Chengjun’s intention, but he instinctively got a chill on his back.
Zhao Zixun and Zhao Chengjun have been together for eleven years and have a deep experience of Zhao Chengjun’s ruthlessness and heartlessness. When Zhao Chengjun said this, did it mean that he was suspicious of him?
For what reason? Was it because of a young and beautiful woman? Back then, Diaochan* was able to divide Dong Zhuo* and Lu Bu*‘s entire interest group by herself. Now that the person has changed to Tang Shishi, and Zhao Chengjun could not avoid conventionalism too?
(Diaochan* – Diaochan (-192), one of the four legendary beauties that break-up the Han dynasty, given as a concubine to usurping warlord Dong Zhuo to ensure his overthrow by fighting hero Lu Bu)
(Dong Zhuo* – Dong Zhuo (-192), the top general of late Han, usurped power in 189, murdered empress dowager and child emperor, killed in 192 by Lü Bu)
(Lu Bu* – Lü Bu (-198), general and warlord)
Zhao Zixun could not tell whether he was afraid or disappointed. He lowered his eyes and said respectfully, “Wangfei is my father’s legitimate wife and naturally is also my mother. If father likes it, then I will change my way of addressing Wangfei.”
Tang Shishi clearly showed her reluctance. When Zhao Chengjun saw it, he asked, “What’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing,” Tang Shishi said dumbly. “I like to hear people call me Wangfei.”
Women loved to be young. Who wanted to listen to a man about the same age call them as a mother? It sounded like an old mother.
Zhao Chengjun sighed. He did not know why he made a fuss about the title. He just did not know what was wrong and suddenly cared about these details. Zhao Chengjun relaxed his tone and said, “It’s all right. I just thought of it and mention it casually. There’s no other intention. Everything, as usual, will suffice.”
Zhao Zixun responded but he did not believe it at all. Zhao Chengjun said that he had no other intentions and just mentioned it casually, but who would believe it?
Sure enough, he was mocking himself. Those people were right. No matter how pleasant Zhao Chengjun’s words were, once he has his own son, he would still prefer his own heir.
Those words that Zhao Chengjun said earlier were just to pacify Zhao Zixun so that he could continue to use him. Zhao Zixun sneered in his heart, but he still kept the respectfulness on the surface, he saluted to Zhao Chengjun and Tang Shishi and withdrew slowly.
The maid sent Zhao Zixun out. After Zhao Zixun walked out of the main courtyard, he asked unexpectedly, “What perfume does Wangfei always use?”
“What?” The maid was stunned and did not keep up with the pace. “Wangfei doesn’t use perfume. Little Junwang is crawling everywhere nowadays and wants to taste everything that he sees. So, Wangfei is afraid that the incense burner will burn little Junwang and told us to remove the incense.”
“I see.” Zhao Zixun smiled at the maid and said politely, “Many thanks.”
Zhao Zixun was very handsome, and the maid was dizzy when she saw Shizi smile gently at her. Zhao Zixun was accustomed to seeing a woman’s gaze like this. He was a modest nobleman on the surface, but there was no fluctuation in his heart, he turned and left indifferently.
After walking for a while, Zhao Zixun muttered in a faint voice, “Don’t use perfume?”
Then, where did the scent he smelled today come from? At this time, Zhao Zixun suddenly remembered that when he was in the mountain villa at Nanshan a year ago, Zhao Zixun went to look for Zhou Shunhua, and when he pushed the door, he accidentally ran into Tang Shishi grooming herself after bathing. At that time, this faint fragrance was floating in the room.
As it turned out to be her body fragrance.
In the main courtyard, Tang Shishi dismissed the maid. She talked to Zhao Chengjun while playing with Zhao Zigao, “I’m going to the palace to see Empress Dowager tomorrow and won’t be bringing Zhao Zigao along. If the people in the palace ask, I’ll say that he has not acclimated yet and is unwell, so he can’t enter the palace.”
Zhao Chengjun thought the same way too. Children were fragile and entering the palace was full of uncertainty. Zhao Chengjun has been away from the capital for twelve years, and many connections in the palace have become estranged. If something really happened, he might not be able to take care of them.
Zhao Chengjun said, “Agreed. Then let Liu Ji watch him in the mansion tomorrow, and I’ll accompany you into the palace.”
“No need.” Tang Shishi carried Zhao Zigao, who crawled to the edge of the bed inside and said, “Today, Empress Dowager only said to let me enter the palace alone. If Wangye goes with me, I’m afraid Empress Dowager will be unhappy. After all, I’ve lived in Chuxiu Palace for three years, and it’s not that I don’t know the way in the palace. It doesn’t matter if I’m alone.”
Zhao Chengjun was still uneasy, but some things were justified. Both he and Tang Shishi were well aware that Empress Dowager Yao already announced that Tang Shishi would enter the palace, and the real purpose was to straighten up Tang Shishi as well as conventional greetings. If Zhao Chengjun followed, there would be no way to say these things.
In this way, Empress Dowager Yao would be suspicious. It was better to go openly which could not only calm Empress Dowager Yao’s heart but also give herself to gain some buffer time.
Neither Zhao Chengjun nor Tang Shishi clarified these things. Zhao Chengjun felt like a snow cave in his heart. Even if he was worried, he could only agree with helplessness at this moment, “Good. You must be careful. If there is danger, don’t worry about your reputation, and get out of the palace quickly.”
“I know.” Tang Shishi said with a smile, “It’s not a secret that we entered the capital. Empress Dowager Niangniang personally announced for me to enter the palace. What accident can happen to me? Empress Dowager will definitely send me out of the palace in one piece, so Wangye can rest assured.”
Of course, Zhao Chengjun understood this principle. Although he understood, when it involved the most important person in his heart, he just could not rest assured. Zhao Chengjun said, “Tomorrow I’ll go to the Ministry of Appointments and the Imperial Clan’s mansion. The Imperial Clan’s mansion is not far from the palace. I’ll pick you up at the gate of the palace at noon.”
“No need.” Tang Shishi said, “You have a lot of things to do tomorrow. You don’t have to run back and forth because of me. The road from the palace gate to the mansion is not far, and it’s enough for me to come back by myself.”
Zhao Chengjun shook his head. Although he did not say anything, his attitude was very firm. When Tang Shishi saw that she could not persuade him anymore, she no longer pressed further. She suddenly blinked cunningly and asked Zhao Chengjun with a smile, “Wangye, guess who I met today?”
Zhao Chengjun was stunned for a short while and remembered that she had gone out of the mansion to buy clothes in the ready-made clothing shop in the afternoon. Zhao Chengjun had already guessed who it was combining the ready-made clothing shop with Tang Shishi’s mood, but he pretended not to know and asked cooperatively, “Who is it?”
“Tang Yanyan.” Tang Shishi raised her chin and said with a smile yet not a smile, “It’s really happy to meet an old friend as soon as I entered Jinling. Today’s clothes were all paid for by my good sister.”
Zhao Chengjun’s eyes narrowed slightly. He scanned the boxes piled from the ground to the cupboard and slowly raised his eyebrows, “Someone else’s paid with their money?”
“Yes ah.” Tang Shishi was very happy and happily shared her happiness of cheating with Zhao Chengjun. “It’s an idiot not to take advantage of it. I just said something casually, and she rushed to be the spendthrift. Oh, she deserved it.”
Zhao Chengjun could not understand Tang Shishi’s happiness. He looked at the clothes on the ground and sighed inwardly. He thought these were bought by Tang Shishi, but it turned out that someone else paid for them. Zhao Chengjun was a prince as soon as he was born and became Qingwang at the age of ten. He has never let anyone else pay wherever he was. Not to mention, Tang Shishi was still his wife. Zhao Chengjun asked, “Where does your second sister live?”
“Qi family.” Tang Shishi looked at him blankly, “What do you ask this for?”
Zhao Chengjun choked and swallowed the rest of the words immediately. He originally wanted to take Tang Shishi to visit Tang Yanyan and repay Tang Yanyan twice the money for the clothes. He just wanted to return the gift, but actually forgot that Tang Yanyan replaced Tang Shishi and married Qi Jingsheng.
Then, just forget it. Zhao Chengjun silently gave up on this plan. He would ask Liu Ji to drop by to return the gift on another day. The money could be paid back, but the person did not have to go.
Zhao Chengjun looked at Zhao Zigao, who was crawling thoughtlessly all over the bed, and sighed in his heart. How did he forget that not only the Yao family, the Guo family, and the central government were in Jinling, but Qi Jingsheng was also here?