Chapter 101: Consort Zhuang

Lihua hurriedly walked in and saluted. “Your Majesties, the young ladies are waiting in the front hall. All that’s left is for Your Majesties’ arrival!” The empress dowager glared at Yang Shaolun before she unhappily said, “Send all the unmarried scions of the imperial family over. This Empress Dowager is going to matchmake!”


They were to be the mother of her future grandsons, but her son gave away the proverbial cooked duck on the grounds of prioritizing state affairs!


Lin Haihai looked up at Yang Shaolun in shock. Looking at him through the haze of sunlight, she saw his cloudy expression and flaming eyes, and his lips were pursed in anger.


Had she misunderstood him? She felt regretful. She should've trusted him. She glanced at Yang Hanlun before quietly moving away from him, but he held onto her waist. Stunned, she looked up at him. He gave her a mischievous smile and said, "Don't be embarrassed. Everyone's used to it. Look, Second Elder Brother's holding Second Sister-in-Law as well!"


Lin Haihai looked over. The second prince’s arm was indeed around Xiao Jueran’s shoulder. The prince was taller than his wife, but they moved forward at the same pace.


Yang Hanlun chucked, putting his arms around Lin Haihai’s waist before walking forward. Lin Haihai looked back uneasily. Yang Shaolun was expressionless, while the empress walked beside him with a look of resignation. 


Yang Shaolun pretended to be calm, but he wanted nothing but to grab Lin Haihai and spank her to teach her a lesson. How dare she flirt with another man in front of him! Anger rose in his heart, and the veins in his forehead became visible. Jealousy burned in his stomach like the most potent acid.


It didn’t take more than a few steps for Lin Haihai to feel the urge to throw her platform shoes off. She had walked in heels before, but those shoes had heels in the back, while this pair of shoes had wooden platforms attached to the middle of the soles. Not only did it prevent her from walking fast, she also staggered every few steps. This was practically a torture device for women! 


However, Yang Hanlun seemed oblivious to her dilemma and kept dragging her forward. She had no choice but to lean on him for support. From behind, it seemed as if the two were deeply in love and were showing off! The intimacy stung the pair of fiery eyes behind them.


The empress watched the silent war between them unfold with horror. Walking shoulder-to-shoulder with the emperor, she could practically feel the jealousy radiating from him.


In the front hall, a group of beautiful young ladies stood. Seeing the empress dowager and the emperor, they knelt and kowtowed to them with practiced ease.


The empress dowager smiled. "Ladies, no need for the formalities. Today is the Sixth Princess Consort's birthday. This Empress Dowager took the opportunity to invite you all here for a flower viewing gathering. This Empress Dowager knows that you all are well-known for your talents, so let's create some poetry while enjoying these flowers. You are to come up with a poem each with ‘Flowers’ as the theme. Now, let's have lunch first before we head to the Imperial Garden. Have a seat. Lunch will be ready soon!"


"Thank you, Empress Dowager! Thank you, Your Majesty!" 


The ladies took their seats according to their stations. Lin Haihai was the main character of today's banquet. As such, she and Yang Hanlun sat beside the empress dowager. Yang Hanlun's hold on her hadn't loosened. Lin Haihai couldn't shake him off in front of everyone and could only stare at him angrily, but he acted like he didn't notice.


The dishes were catered to the empress dowager's taste. Some were spicy. Ever since she found out Yang Shaolun had begun eating spicy food, she ordered the imperial cooks to make several spicy dishes every day. Many people of the Daxing Dynasty loved spicy food; the emperor was the minority. To cater to everyone's taste, there were also non-spicy dishes.


Yang Hanlun finally released Lin Haihai's hand and kept putting food in her bowl. Of course, her favorite stir-fried broccoli also was included. Seeing how close they appeared to be, the empress dowager smiled and said, " You have to work harder to give birth to a grandson for this Empress Dowager. Next year is the year of tigers. Nothing would be better than if you give birth to a tiger baby!"


Lin Haihai froze and forgot to swallow the rice in her mouth, causing it to become stuck in her throat. She tried to swallow but ended up coughing. Yang Hanlun dotingly patted her back. "How can you choke while eating? I can’t take my eyes off you for one moment, can I?"


Lin Haihai looked at him with a red face. She wanted to say something, but couldn't stop coughing. Yang Hanlun picked up the cup of tea he had sipped and put it by her mouth. Lin Haihai took a few gulps before she could finally breathe properly.


Yang Shaolun was the picture of indifference and kept on eating like he had been starving. The empress looked over at the food in his bowl and sighed sympathetically. Seems like there’s gonna be a show!


Lin Haihai also realized Yang Shaolun was eating spicy food nonstop. His forehead was starting to sweat, but he kept eating as if he was enjoying it. While eating, he even stated, “Imperial Mother, this Emperor finally understands why you like spicy food so much. From now on, this Emperor will have these dishes every day. I will become a spicy food lover!”


The empress dowager looked at Yang Shaolun’s gluttonous expression and laughed, “Emperor, you just started eating spicy food. You can’t have too much at once, or your stomach won’t be able to take it!”


“No problems! This Emperor enjoys it now. Imperial Mother, Sister-in-Law, why don’t you guys have some too?” He said enthusiastically, looking at Lin Haihai


Yang Hanlun laughed, “Imperial Elder Brother, she likes blander food. How about you eat more!” 


Lin Haihai gave Yang Hanlun an awkward smile when he put more broccoli in her bowl and said to Yang Shaolun, “Imperial Elder Brother, your constitution isn’t suited for too much spicy food. Know your limits!” She then glared at him to urge him to stop.


Yang Shaolun smiled and teased with a touch of sarcasm, "Younger Sister-in-Law is mistaken. There are things worth doing despite one’s physical condition being unsuitable for them. Besides, I think I’m made for eating spicy food. Even though Younger Sister-in-Law is a physician, this Emperor knows my body better!"


Lin Haihai became angry. Her blazing eyes warned him to not take it too far, or there would be serious consequences. Yang Shaolun didn't show any signs of backing down and buried himself into the bowl, occasionally throwing her a provocative look. Lin Haihai picked up the teacup on the table and drank it in one sitting. Then she raised her voice and said, "Imperial Mother, today is my birthday. How come there isn't any wine? Lihua, bring some up. I want to drink wine!"


The empress dowager smiled and said, "What's the hurry? There's plenty of time for you to get drunk this evening. It's only lunchtime right now. We still have to go appreciate the flowers with the young ladies later. How will you appreciate the flowers if you're drunk? If you want to drink, this Empress Dowager will drink with you tonight!"


Xiao Jueran, like others, looked at Lin Haihai with curiosity. Today was her birthday, but everyone knew that while the celebration was held in her name, it was actually organized to find concubines for the emperor. However, the emperor changed his mind suddenly, and flower appreciation became the main activity of the day rather than an excuse. This is July! How could there be flowers to appreciate in the Imperial Garden? Even if there are, they would only be shades of their beauty. What is there to appreciate?


Yet, the empress dowager was still very cheerful. Even when faced with the Consort Lin's rudeness and impertinence, she was still gentle and kind with none of her usual seriousness and indifference.


Yang Hunlun looked at her unhappily. "It seems you've forgotten the pain once your injury healed. Don’t you remember that you fell off the roof the last time?" How dare she talk about drinking again.


Yang Shaolun stared at her coldly. He’d been eyeing Luoqing suspiciously for such a long time. It turned out she wasn’t drinking with Luoqing the time she got drunk and fell off the roof, but with his Imperial Brother! And she dared claim that she had nothing to do with Yang Hanlun? If that was the case, why would they drink together on the rooftop late at night?


His expression darkened to the point that his smile could no longer be maintained. He ordered someone to bring over a bowl of hot and sour soup before finishing it in one go. 


The empress watched their childish behavior helplessly. One was the ruler of a country, and the other was a well-known doctor in the capital. He was so childish and ridiculous, eating so many spicy foods and harming his health, just to make her heart ache for him. On the other hand, she obviously couldn't drink and would become drunk with a cup of alcohol, but she drank to forget her worries like others just to get back at him. 


Is this what love is? Does it always change the kind of person you are, turning you into the immature child you once were?


After finally finishing the meal, Lin Haihai left the gathering and angrily walked towards the lotus pond. Yang Hanlun was held back by several princes, so he had to stay and chat with them.


"Consort Lin, are you angry?" Guihua anxiously questioned.


"I'm so furious!" Lin Haihai forcefully kicked a small stone but ended up kicking her shoes off. Fuming, Lin Haihai took off her other shoe and threw it as far as she could.


“Consort Lin, what are you doing? If you’ve been wronged, just say it. You can be angry towards me, but don’t harm yourself!” Guihua said in a panic.


“Precious Guihua, this has nothing to do with you. I’m just in a bad mood,” Lin Haihai explained with frustration. “Help me invite the empress over. Just tell her I have something to discuss with her.”


“Alright. Allow this servant to walk you over to that pavillon and pick your shoes up first! Then this servant will invite Her Majesty over!”


“No need. Invite the empress over first. I will pick up the shoes myself!” Lin Haihai urged. Thus, Guihua could only leave. After she took a couple of steps, Lin Haihai called out, “Give her this bottle of medicine to the empress for me. Tell her it's a pain reliever!” 


Guihua took the bottle from her and said, “Understood, then this servant will go now. Please wait over there for this servant to return!”


Lin Haihai nodded. She watched Guihua walk away with a tangled mess of emotions before starting to look for the shoes she had thrown away. She found one in the bushes, but couldn’t find the other one anywhere! She sat in the pavilion with one shoe, frustrated. Her court attire made her feel very stuffy. She missed the shorts and tank tops from the modern era.


The lotus had already wilted. One by one, the lotus pods reached for the sky. The green lotus pods were covered in droplets of water, which glittered as they reflected the sunlight, blinding her.


She felt a sharp gaze staring at her with strong hatred and resentment. She had to conceal her surprise. She hadn't entered the palace that many times; how did she keep offending these people?


She stayed calm and waited for the owner of that gaze to appear. It was rare for her to be alone; how could this person let the opportunity slip? To be with him, she had to be mentally prepared to face constant danger and accusations. How is that idiot now? Eating so many spicy things, his stomach must've turned inside out. 


After calming down, she knew that her actions were childish. He would never ask for more concubines. Everything must've been that old lady's doing. Yet, she became so jealous that she harmed herself and him!


A wind suddenly blew through the fallen leaves and caused the still water to ripple. Lin Haiha closed her eyes, feeling the wild murderous intent. Only a woman, or rather a resentful woman, could be this mad.


“Consort Lin, do you like lotus flowers?” A gentle voice suddenly rang out. A beautiful and dignified woman dressed in palace attire[1] appeared.  Lin Haihai’s lips curved into a smile. “What if I do, and what if I don’t?” She didn’t have the patience to chat with this scheming woman.


“This Consort has to thank you for being such a great help. So, if Consort Lin likes this lotus flower pond, this Consort will consider making this your resting place, accompanied by these lotuses. Wouldn’t that be a poetic way to go for you? It can also be counted as this consort returning your favor!” Consort Zhuang had a gentle smile, but her eyes were cutting into Lin Haihai


“Regarding the ‘favor’ I did you, I’ve always felt very aggrieved about it. I don’t care how you women scheme and fight among yourselves. The imperial harem has always been the world’s most insidious and cruel place to begin with. However, you shouldn’t have dragged Empress Chen into that muddy water. I understand you want to silence me, but are you sure that you can?” Lin Haihai’s eyes blazed. This Consort Zhuang had set her up to get rid of a large part of the imperial harem through her. This wasn’t something she could just let go.


“You’re very intelligent and also very beautiful. It’s no wonder that His Majesty fell for you. However, women shouldn’t be too smart, especially beautiful women. Otherwise, they might not even know how they end up dead!” Consort Zhuang’s eyes flashed with viciousness as she sneered.


1. Worn by consorts and princesses on informal occasions.

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