It’s Better to be the Empress Dowager
Chapter 107 Inducement
The next day, Tang Shishi got up early in the morning, put on Jingling’s new fashionable white gold woven long coat with a pale pinkish-purple colored horse-faced pleated skirt, and went to the Imperial Palace courtyard to pay respects to Empress Dowager.
Empress Dowager Yao was the grandmother of the current emperor and should be called the Grandma Empress according to etiquette. However, Empress Dowager Yao gave the Emperor’s birth mother to death as she did not want to be called the Grandma Empress, but still used the status of the Empress Dowager to govern the politics from behind the curtain. All the imperial court officials and commoners also called her the Empress Dowager Yao.
Tang Shishi handed her identity nameplate and soon someone came to welcome her. A gugu who looked in her twenties dressed in a green palace dress with her hair combed neatly saluted Tang Shishi gently and asked, “Dare to ask, is this Jing Wangfei?”
Tang Shishi avoided the gugu’s salutation and nodded, “It’s me.”
“Empress Dowager has been waiting for Wangfei for a long time.” The gugu smiled and stepped aside, “Wangfei, please follow me.”
Tang Shishi followed the gugu to Cining Palace. Tang Shishi was no stranger to Cining Palace. When she first entered the palace five years ago, she lived in Chuxiu Palace with many beauties and practiced four arts, zither, chess, calligraphy and painting, and etiquette every day. Chuxiu Palace was full of beauties with serious internal fighting. If one wanted to have a good life among the many beauties, the performance was actually the second. The most important thing was to please Empress Dowager.
Tang Shishi had walked back and forth many times of this corridor in front of the Cining Palace. However this time, Tang Shishi took another way to enter the Cining Palace from the outer place courtyard.
In the Cining Palace, Empress Dowager Yao was teasing the parrot. Feng Momo stood outside the curtain to report, “Niangniang, Jing Wangfei is here.”
“Oh, she’s here already.” Empress Dowager Yao slowly took back her nails, washed her hands under the service of a palace maid, and said calmly, “Announce it.”
Tang Shishi stopped in front of Cining Palace. The palace maid opened the thick door curtain, and a heatwave of ambergris swept out from the inside which made people dizzy and light-headed. Tang Shishi composed herself and stepped across the doorstep. She kept her eyes down all the time, vaguely saw a figure swaying behind the floor-to-ceiling wood carved shade, and immediately bowed to salute, “Pay respect to Empress Dowager Niangniang.”
No one answered in the hall. Tang Shishi was not in a hurry, staring at the seams between the bricks on the ground and keeping the action of salutation steadily. After a while, a gentle and slow female voice came from the warm room, “Jing Wangfei is here, why didn’t you report it? Please ask Jing Wangfei to get up.”
“I dare not.” Tang Shishi still hung her eyes and said, “I have admired Empress Dowager for a long time. Fortunately, I was promoted by Empress Dowager and was able to return to Jinling this year. I arrived in the capital yesterday and rashly asked to see you today. I was very anxious and ask Empress Dowager to forgive me.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong. What crime to forgive?” Empress Dowager Yao said slowly, “It’s cold outside. Let’s talk inside the warm pavilion.”
Tang Shishi secretly felt relieved, saluted once more, and said, “Thank you, Empress Dowager.”
Tang Shishi walked toward the floor-to-ceiling shade and passed the wooden carved door, the fragrance inside was stronger, and there were obviously more maidservants too. When the palace maids and momos saw her, they all smiled, “Jing Wangfei.”
Tang Shishi responded with a smile and saluted, “Feng Momo, Sulan Gugu.”
In front of the heatable brick in the west window, a middle-aged woman wearing a navy-blue vest and an ochre green long coat leaning in front of the heatable brick table was peeling chestnuts. Several palace maids kneeled on her knees and quietly beat the woman’s legs. Tang Shishi immediately recognized that this was the famous Empress Dowager Yao. She bowed her head to greet Empress Dowager Yao, “Pay respect to Empress Dowager Niangniang. Niangniang is blessed with happiness, health, and peace.”
Empress Dowager Yao pried off the chestnut shell with her long fingernails, slowly peeled off a piece of skin, and said, “Jing Wangfei is a rare guest. Sit down quickly.”
The little palace maid moved an embroidered stool for her. After Tang Shishi expressed her thanks, she gently sat on the edge of the embroidered stool occupying less than one-third of the space, “Time flies so fast. In a blink of an eye, I have left the palace for more than two years. How are Niangniang doing these past two years?”
“Everything is good with me.” Empress Dowager Yao put down a piece of chestnut skin and said with a smile, “Speaking carefully, there are only two things that I can’t stop worrying about. One is Emperor, and the other is Jing Wang. These two people are my favorite. Unfortunately, none of them have abundant children. How can I see His Majesty Sejong when I go to the underworld in the future?”
No one dared to respond to Empress Dowager Yao’s words. Tang Shishi said with a smile, “Empress Dowager worried too much. You are in your prime and the Emperor is also in high spirits. Both the grandparent and grandson still have a long way to go. Moreover, Emperor and Empress are childhood sweethearts with deep feelings. After the New Year, Empress Dowager will be able to hold her great-grandson.”
Empress Dowager Yao completely peeled off the chestnut shell, carefully cleaned up the crumbs on it, and sighed, “Actually I’m looking forward to having good news next year. Unfortunately, Emperor was not in the mood for love and only think about fighting and killing all day. I’m very worried about him.”
Tang Shishi consoled, “A hero come out of young man. Emperor has a grand plan for hegemony with achievement in literature and morality in martial arts which is truly the enlightened monarch. So, what does Niangniang worry about?”
Empress Dowager Yao laughed after being told, “I don’t expect him to make great achievements in literature and morality in martial arts. If only he can make me worry less, I will burn incense and pray to Buddha right away. I don’t know when Emperor will grow up and settle down like his uncle Jing Wang with both accomplishment in success and recognition.”
Empress Dowager Yao’s words today were full of thorns everywhere. Tang Shishi did not dare to answer them and said with a smile, “Empress Dowager’s words are too unfair to Emperor. Emperor is the monarch of the country. No matter how trivial the matter, the Emperor has to decide on all things in this world. Whereas Jing Wang is just a vassal monarch who just follows the arrangement of the Emperor and Empress Dowager. How can he compare with the Emperor?”
Empress Dowager Yao smiled. She put the chestnut meat on the jade plate and said, “You are very eloquent. You haven’t changed at all since you left the palace. Give this chestnut to Jing Wangfei to eat.”
Feng Momo responded, bent down to hold the jade plate, and placed it in front of Tang Shishi. Tang Shishi stood up to thank for the favor. She picked up the chestnut meat with her fingernails and put small pieces into her mouth.
The things that Empress Dowager peeled by herself were not poisonous, right? But Tang Shishi changed her mind and thought that even if it was poisonous, she had to eat it. Thus, she was relieved at once and put the chestnut in her mouth with ease. Seeing that Tang Shishi ate without hesitation, Empress Dowager Yao have a small smile on her lips and asked, “Why are you the only one who came today?”
Empress Dowager Yao stopped saying grandiose things and began to chat with her about family life. This was a good thing, at least it meant that Tang Shishi has passed the first few hurdles. Tang Shishi covered her mouth with her hand, swallowed the chestnuts completely, drank the tea to moisten her throat, and said, “I also wanted to bring Zhao Zigao to have Niangniang’s blessing, but the child is prone to sickness and has many troubles. He has been crying on the journey and cried all night yesterday. I was afraid that he might infect Empress Dowager Niangniang, so I let him recuperate in the mansion and will bring him to pay respects to Empress Dowager when he was stronger.”
After all, Empress Dowager Yao was a person who had given birth to children. Seeing this, she said, “Perhaps the changed in the environment that he’s not used to it. When children are young, they are prone to sickness and have many troubles. If they are a little unhappy, they will get sick. He will be fine when he got used to the climate in Jinling.”
Tang Shishi looked relieved and said, “Thank you, Empress Dowager. Empress Dowager is the most blessed person in the world. I hope he will get better as soon as possible in response to Niangniang.”
Empress Dowager Yao and Tang Shishi talked about parenting again with mutual exchange and it was very harmonious. Although Empress Dowager Yao summoned Zhao Chengjun and Tang Shishi returned to the capital in the name of Zhao Zigao, she actually did not care about Zhao Zigao’s situation as he was not her grandson. What did he have to do with Empress Dowager Yao?
Empress Dowager Yao asked Tang Shishi, “How have you been in Jing Wang’s mansion these years?”
Tang Shishi sighed softly and said, “Thanks to Niangniang’s blessing, I was lucky to be favored. However, I was not able to protect the other sisters which make me ashamed to face Niangniang.”
“What’s to be ashamed of?” Empress Dowager leaned on the heatable brick table and said casually, “Life and death are destined, and riches and honor lie in Heaven. Whether they can be favored, three points depend on themselves, and seven points depend on their fortune. If they can’t be favored, then it can be seen that there is no blessing in their life and can’t blame others.”
Tang Shishi responded and could not help but feel sad. She originally wanted to find out what happened to the beauties who were sent back to Jinling, but now listening to Empress Dowager Yao’s tone, seemed like she did not have to inquire anymore. The ten young ladies who were just in their youth and these ten lively lives were completely destined in the mouth of the Empress Dowager Yao.
She, Zhou Shunhua, Ren Yujun, and Ji Xinxian have enough of the good life, so they survived. If they did not survive, then they deserved it.
Empress Dowager Yao asked again, “How did Jing Wang treat you? I remembered that when Jing Wang was still the prince, he was very picky and despised everything. I had lamented with Nanyang before that I don’t know what kind of woman can enter Jing Wang’s eyes.”
Nanyang in the mouth of the Empress Dowager was the Eldest Princess of Nanyang, the daughter of Empress Dowager, and the birth mother of the current Empress. Later, Princess Nanyang married back to the Yao family and was in the same boat as Empress Dowager completely.
Tang Shishi said thoughtfully, “Jing Wang is kind to me for the sake of his child.”
Empress Dowager Yao said with a smile, “You don’t have to be modest. I heard Feng Momo mention before that Jing Wang dotes on you, cherish and pamper you a lot. He favors you very much. Looks like Jing Wang will love someone dearly when he grew up. If he still had those cold tempers in his early youth, I’m afraid I would have a headache.”
Tang Shishi docilely said, “Empress Dowager praised me too much that I don’t deserve it. I came from a humble background. With the support of Empress Dowager that I can become Jing Wang’s legitimate wife now. I’m already content and dare not expect more.”
“Why don’t you dare to expect more?” Empress Dowager Yao said indifferently, “You are his legitimate wife and deserve to enjoy the honor and glory of Jing Wang’s mansion. I remember that your son’s name was decided on the word Gao, right?”
Tang Shishi’s heart moved. It turned out that the word was chosen by Empress Dowager Yao. Tang Shishi became more and more alert and replied, “Yes.”
“That’s right. This is the actual eldest son of the legitimate wife. He should take the position of Shizi. What right does a son of a peasant woman of unknown origin have to block in front of your son?”
Tang Shishi thought that Empress Dowager Yao and Zhao Chengjun deserved to be from the same tier of the palace fighting class. They had the same stable, accurate and vicious means to sow discord in people’s hearts and hit straight to the key point. Empress Dowager Yao wanted to continue to use Tang Shishi to monitor Zhao Chengjun, but she was afraid of Tang Shishi would change sides, so she even thought of using her son to induce Tang Shishi. As a mother, naturally hope her child to be good in every possible way. Who could not be tempted with the readily available title of nobility?
With the identity and ability of Tang Shishi, Zhao Zixun’s status could not be shaken at all, so Tang Shishi could only rely on Empress Dowager Yao. With Zhao Zigao, Empress Dowager Yao did not have to worry about Tang Shishi’s disobedience at all.
Apart from admiration, Tang Shishi could not say anything else. Tang Shishi showed her hesitation at the right time and said, “But after all, Shizi grew up with Wangye and has been Shizi for more than ten years. There has been no mistake in these years…”
“So what?” Empress Dowager Yao dismissed it and sneered, “To put it bluntly, he’s nothing more than an adopted son who is not worth mentioning. Although it depends on Jing Wang’s intention to make someone Shizi, it also needs the consent of the imperial court. Do you understand what I mean?”
Tang Shishi lowered her eyes and said, “I understand. However, I’m stupid and don’t know how to do these things. I’m loyal and devoted to Empress Dowager and have no two hearts. Empress Dowager, please give me advice.”
Empress Dowager Yao smiled with satisfaction and said, “Don’t worry. No one knows everything right after they were born, just learn slowly. Men are unreliable and only your son is your own. Only when your son becomes Jing Wang, you are able to enjoy your twilight years, be respected, and die in peace in the future. At that time, isn’t it just a matter of your words to take care of the Tang family’s business?”
Tang Shishi answered, “I have benefited from Empress Dowager Niangniang’s advice.”
“You were born with good fortune and destined to bring prosperity to your family, brothers, and father.” Empress Dowager Yao changed her voice from coercion to inducement, “The Tang family has moved to Jinling. Haven’t you met your family yet? If you have time in the future, go back to your natal family home. Unfortunately, Qi Jingsheng didn’t pass the exam last year, but he’s still young. It’s not a problem to take part in the next one after another three years. At that time, the Tang family will have you as Wangfei and a Jinshi as a son-in-law, prosper in your generation all at once.”
It was really a bright prospect, but there was no fluctuation in Tang Shishi’s heart. What did it matter to her when the Tang family prosper? Could it be to let Tang Shishi struggle harder so that she could continuously support the Tang family and then let concubine Su’s son inherit a large amount of family property in the end?
She did not even think about having such grand dreams.
Tang Shishi could not help rolling her eyes in her heart, but she looked sincere on the surface and answered with “En”. Empress Dowager Yao put her clan as the most important thing all her life and regarded herself as one of the Yao family. She never expected that there would be a selfish person like Tang Shishi in the world. Empress Dowager Yao gave both kindness and power and felt that she had completely grasped Tang Shishi. Then, she picked up the teacup which showed her intention of seeing off the guests.
Tang Shishi was very tactful, so she took the initiative to resign before Empress Dowager Yao spoke. After Tang Shishi walked out of the palace gate, she found that it was still early. The sun had just hung in midair and still a long time before wushi (11 pm – 1 pm) that she and Zhao Chengjun agreed on.
Zhao Chengjun has an appointment at the Ministry of Appointments today and could not come out early. Tang Shishi looked at the sky and was too lazy to wait, so she asked someone to send a message to Zhao Chengjun in the central government saying that he did not have to pick her up at the palace gate. After that, Tang Shishi boarded the mansion’s carriage and instructed the coachman, “Go to the North Gate Bridge.”
The current dynasty has strict etiquette like women were not allowed to appear in public but also must be accompanied by men when they go out. However, there were not many regulations on going back to their natal family, as long as they obtained the consent of their mother-in-law would do. Tang Shishi’s parents-in-law were both in the ancestral shrine and she just met her legitimate mother-in-law. Anyway, no one dared to say that it was Empress Dowager Yao’s fault. Tang Shishi did not care about those regulations and restrictions and planned to go back by herself.
The coachman responded and asked, “Wangfei, why are you going so far?”
Jinling city was surrounded by mountains on one side and river on the other, and the Qinhuai river ran across from the east to the west. Along the west section of the inner Qinhuai river was the residence of meritorious officials and noble relatives. There were many princes, princesses, and dignitaries on both sides of the river. The mansion of Jing Wang was near the new bridge with the best scenery. But the North Gate Bridge was a little remote.
Tang Shishi refused to comment, gave the address of the Tang family, and said, “Just go.”
“Yes.” The coachman replied, turned the horse around, and said diligently, “Wangfei sits properly. I’m going now.”