Chapter 1239: [YeXi] Status

Not a single courtier brought up the birthday banquet during morning court on the 9th. Some didn’t dare; others were staying quiet on purpose. The focal point of the court session was still on the snow disasters of Northern Li. They also debated on tax reforms as it involved a broad range of parties and their interests. 

Long Feiye was in no rush to change taxes, so this was simply throwing a stone on the surface of a still pond to gauge its depths. After the court adjourned, he headed as usual to the imperial study. The so-called morning court was simply to let the courtiers raise issues while the emperor mentioned topics he wanted dealt with. The true decisions took palace in the imperial study, away from the royal court. As soon as Long Feiye entered the study, a stream of courtiers came chasing after him and requesting an audience. 

At this time, Han Yunxi and little Rui’er had just woken up. In truth, Rui’er had built up a good rapport with Tang Tang despite his habitual avoidance of company. The two managed to play together, even if each of them was doing his or her own thing. Han Yunxi and Ning Jing left their children to the servants before starting inspection work. 

To prepare for the birthday banquet, Han Yunxi had secretly busied herself for days. Last night she and Ning Jing had stayed up very late before they went to bed. Although she wore the empress crown now, Han Yunxi had yet to exhibit the aura of a sovereign. Since so many people looked askance at her, she would seize this chance to let them see whether she was worthy of her title as Great Qin Empress!

As the birthday banquet was scheduled to be held at the great hall in the western wing of Yunning Palace, it was the second largest area besides the main hall. Circular in shape, it was open on all sides and could accommodate a hundred people. Han Yunxi and Ning Jing arrived just in time to see the servants had already set up the area. By custom, the hosts sat in the east and their seats were framed with large folding screens. On their left and right were a few seats on the sidelines, and beyond those laid three rolls each capable of seating 10 individuals. There was no other ornamentation in the hall. 

Ning Jing counted it over and murmured, “There are seven secondary seats. What kind of regulation is this?” 

Typically speaking, a banquet was full of formalities, to say nothing of a birthday one held for the crown prince. Those with the right to sit at the secondary seats had high ranks in the court. Even she and Tang Li weren’t guaranteed a spot.

Han Yunxi looked back and said, “Long Feiye.”

It took Ning Jing a second to process her words. She still didn’t get it until Han Yunxi pulled her to the kitchens. In short, Han Yunxi was saying that these were Long Feiye’s regulations!

Delicious foods and delicacies were all finished in the kitchens. Han Yunxi opened a covering for a peek before replacing it quickly with a satisfied smile. She told the cooks, “Serve the dishes according to the order I provided. Don’t make any mistakes.”

The eunuch in charge immediately nodded. “Esteemed Empress, don’t worry. This old servant understands!”

The two most important parts of a banquet were 1) location and 2) food. Han Yunxi found no problems with either one. She found Zhao mama and muttered, “How is the situation so far? Make sure you got things right.”

“Esteemed Empress, don’t worry. This old servant is best at dealing with such matters. I knew that lass was trouble as soon as she walked in!” Zhao mama wore a devilish grin.

Ning Jing looked at her from the sidelines and privately wondered how evil Zhao mama would’ve turned out if she followed a wicked master! Han Yunxi could definitely sit back and relax after leaving the court ladies under her care! 

The birthday banquet was to start at evening, but the guests started arriving as soon as it was dark. Who would dare to come late to the emperor and empress’s gathering? Although there were many protestors outside towards the event, many of the guests brought grand gifts with them. As the time drew close, mostly everyone had arrived. It was very lively inside the hall. The courtiers, madams, and young ladies all gathered in groups of three or five to warm themselves and chatter. Despite this, everyone’s eyes were on the seven empty secondary seats flanking the royal hosts’ chairs.

According to custom, the emperor and empress were the head of everyone else. Even those with status, such as royal relatives, princes, nobles, and ministers, were merely considered courtiers of the court. The Great Qin only had five distinct ranks for nobility: Prince (), Duke (), Marquis (), Count (), and Baron ().[1] Of these, only the Prince and Duke ranks had the right to be invited into the palace proper. 

Amongst the Princes, or wang, there were Qinwang and Junwang. (亲王,郡王) Qinwang were also known as princes with the same surname, and typically consisted of the emperor’s blood-related brothers. Junwang were mostly unrelated to royalty and simply people who had earned their position through merit or great contributions. Dukes were also divided into the two classes of Guogong and Jungong (国公, 郡公) and also awarded to those with meritorious service. By ranking alone, Qinwang surpassed Junwang, Junwang surpassed Guogong, and Guogong surpassed Jungong.

Typically speaking, it was the Qinwang who held the highest rank. Even Junwang might have difficulty scoring one of the coveted high seats, much less Guogong or Jungong. But things were different in the Great Qin! In this kingdom, only Gu Qishao had a status equate to Prince as the Qinwang, or Prince of Yu. The Junwang position was currently unoccupied. This made the status of Prince even nobler in name. 

The Great Qin also had four Guogong of Duke rank in Baili Yuanlong of Zhen (国), Xiao An (萧安)[2] of Cheng (成国), Qi Chu (齐楚)[3] of Zhou (周国), and Ke Lin (柯林)[4] of Ding (定国). Besides Baili Yuanlong, who was part of military command in the central region, the other three held no positions in court despite wielding great influence.

Xiao An was none other than the Xiao Clan Head of the Jiangnan regions and uncle to the southern general Xiao Dong. He had given the armies of the south central region both financial backing and grain as well as contributed the most supplies to the disasters in Northern Li. 

Qi Chu of Zhou was once a Marquis of Western Zhou, but was given his title when he led the soldiers to surrender instead of fighting. Meanwhile, Ke Lin of Ding was one of the great rulers of the Northern Li grasslands who reigned over its finest meadows. When the plague broke out, he had voluntarily surrendered and helped with aiding the victims, thus earning his rank. 

Status like this wasn’t just awarded to one individual, but bestowed by the sovereign to his clansmen, along with status. The matter of conferring such titles was not only a reward for meritorious deeds, but also a form of reassurance, alliance, and manipulation. For example, Long Feiye might harbor intentions to eliminate the Xiao Clan, but he had to gift them a title first to soothe their tempers so he could stabilize the Jiangnan region. According to custom, the secondary seats were reserved for people with titles. If you applied that to Great Qin’s hierarchy, then the four Guogong had guaranteed spots along with Gu Qishao.

However, Baili Yuanlong and the other Guogong were actually assigned to seats below the secondary positions. Currently, he and Xiao An were both staring at the seven empty spots with unhappy faces.

“Announcing the Tang Clan Head and Lady Jing!” 

The eunuch’s loud voice abruptly sounded through the hall, quieting the crowd. The Tang Clan Head was a special existence. First, they had no official status; secondly, they had no post at court. Despite being in charge of manufacturing weapons, they had no military rank, either. In truth, the Tang Clan was in an awkward spot. Moreover, when Long Feiye enshrined his ancestors, he didn’t make his mother the Empress Dowager, thus leaving her a Grand Concubine status at best.

As the family clan of a Grand Concubine, the Tang Clan wasn’t very impressive. Even if no one else said anything, Baili Yuanlong himself deeply disdained them. 

In the ensuing silence, the Tang family trio walked into the hall under countless stares. Despite the formal setting, Tang Li was still holding hands with Ning Jing while carrying little Tang Tang. Many of the older members present creased their brows and silently cursed him for having no propriety!

Tang Li brought Ning Jing and little Tang Tang straight to one of the coveted secondary seats and sat down with a carefree air. The silence thickened as everyone exchanged looks. Many of them shot glances at the four Guogong. After all, Tang Li’s family was seated at a spot that clearly belonged to the Guogong by rank!

Baili Yuanlong was getting restless and ready to rise when Baili Lixiang stopped him from behind. “Father,” she murmured, “Calm down, look at the Xiao Clan Head.”

Baili Yuanlong finally settled down and politely asked, “Tang Clan Head, why is your father not present?”

Tang Li was currently playing with his daughter. He glanced over and feigned ignorance, “Your Excellency Baili, do you need my father for something?”

“Heheh, this old man saw that the emperor left a spot for the imperial uncle, so I assumed he’d come!” Baili Yuanlong laughed.

Many others laughed at the mention of “imperial uncle.” At this moment Xiao Dong, who was sitting across from Baili Yuanlong, turned to look at His Excellency Chen of the Ministry of Personnel under the Department of State Affairs. “Your Excellency Chen, since when did we add another first-rank member? Why didn’t you make an announcement? It’s not good to hide such things from the public!”

“Imperial Uncle” was not only a namesake, but a first-rank official. From the name alone, it was clear that Tang Zijin was Long Feiye’s uncle, so calling him “imperial uncle” wasn’t wrong; however, from an official standpoint, Long Feiye had never conferred him the title, so using “imperial uncle” was also inappropriate. 

Baili Yuanlong was mocking Tang Li for lacking the qualifications to sit in a secondary seat!

If Tang Zijin was here tonight, he’d be filled with humiliation, but Tang Li only saw these people as sowing discord. His big brother had only made Gu Qishao Qinwang and left the Junwang spot empty. He must have his reasons for making Baili Yuanlong and the rest Guogong as well. There had to be a reason why the Tang Clan received no titles, either! Although Tang Li didn’t know the reasons, he trusted his elder brother absolutely!

Ning Jing was furious, but remained mute. First, it was inconvenient for her to speak out with her Ning Clan background; next, it was difficult for her to talk in this environment as a woman. Meanwhile, Tang Li could see through the machinations of the crowd, but he couldn’t find a fitting retort. After all, he couldn’t very well say his father wasn’t invited to the banquet at all. 

No matter how fierce the internal struggles of the Tang Clan were, those were strictly private affairs. Faced with enemies from outside, they had to show a united front! Tang Li wouldn’t be so stupid as to screw over his father before strangers.

His Excellency Chen from the Ministry of Personnel dared not speak, causing Baili Yuanlong to laugh boisterously. “Well! Looks like the imperial uncle isn’t coming. This old man was hoping to drink a cup with him, heheh!”

Xiao Dong was quick to play along. “General Baili, then it looks like you were mistaken. The emperor didn’t reserve that seat for the imperial uncle after all!”

Tang Li had never faced off against these old schemers before, so he was ready to lose his temper before such direct confrontation. However, the eunuch soon raised his voice again.

“Announcing His Highness Crown Prince!”

“Announcing the Prince of Yu!”

1. Translations taken from peer ranks of the Zhou Dynasty.

2. Xiao An (萧安) - same surname as Xiao Dong from last chapter. An means “peace.”

3. Qi Chu (齐楚) - a name that means “neat and smart”

4. Ke Lin (柯林) - this is actually how you could write “Colin” in Chinese, but I digress. Lin means “forest.”

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Ruyi's Thoughts

how bout them fancy ancient titles, huh?

by the way, i have something fun planned for you guys around chinese new year. er no, it's not bonus chapters (still getting back to my groove, see), but it will feature a potential gift for readers. stay tuned this wednesday/thursday for a special announcement! ^-^