Chapter 1242: [YeXi] Tableware

Rows and rows of court ladies filed out to serve each guest food and wine. All of them were dress in identical festive hues and had clearly been trained, their steps like dancing and their lines quiet and neat. As they entered and exited, their movements elegant and orderly. 

The simple and unadorned hall immediately turned lively and cheerful with their appearance. Long Feiye and Han Yunxi sat up high. His cold face was wreathed in a light smile, which meant he was in excellent spirits. Han Yunxi wasn’t a person who liked smiling, but after becoming empress she would wear a perfectly guileless one when out in public. With so many people wanting to see her cry, why wouldn’t she smile instead? 

Currently, Han Yunxi’s smile was brilliant as she watched the court ladies file in and out, as she saw the empty tables fill up with dishes. Her expression grew extremely satisfied. She looked back at Gu Qishao and asked with a grin, “Prince of Yu, what do you think of this scene? I made detailed preparations days in advance, and also spent a lot of…” 

As Han Yunxi trailed off, all of the courtiers looked over. People were waiting to say she’d spent plenty of silver, but Han Yunxi simply continued with, “...and spent a lot of thought!”

“Great! Excellent!” Gu Qishao replied as he applauded. If this was anyone else, he’d turn up his nose at the less grand arrangements. It wasn’t bustling or splendid enough. But since it was Poison lass, this had to be the best setup in the world. 

“Imperial Uncle Li, what do you think?” Han Yunxi asked next.

“Esteemed Empress’s taste is peerless,” Tang Li chuckled.

“Of course. How could the crown prince’s one-year birthday be anything less?” Han Yunxi put on a self-satisfied air.

Leaving aside Baili Yuanlong and the Xiao Clan, the other two Guogong and a few officials who had always respected the empress and shielded the empress were left displeased by her words. The Northern Li people were still suffering and the national coffers were running low on disaster supplies of grain. The common people had already organized relief funds of their own, but how could Han Yunxi, as the mother of the nation and the crown prince, be so lively and cheerful enough to throw a big party under these circumstances?

Naturally, everyone kept their angry thoughts solely to themselves. When they saw the empress look towards Gu Beiyue next, the crown grew hopeful that she would ask for his opinion as well. All of them wished that the Grand Tutor would point out the rage simmering in their hearts and even dissuade the empress from her pampering.

Baili Yuanlong’s old face was gloomy as fury burned in his chest. If it wasn’t for his daughter holding him back again and again, he would have stood up and censured her as soon as she arrived. Right now, he was staring coldly at Gu Beiyue. He’d like to see how the man would judge this banquet. If Gu Beiyue rejected the empress’s efforts, he would stand up and support him instantly. 

Meanwhile, Baili Lixiang was feeling puzzled. The emperor might have fallen to Han Yunxi’s pillow talk and held this banquet, but was Gu Beiyue bewitched by her too?

Knowing Gu Beiyue’s personality and style of doing things, he would have tried to dissuade the empress long before the banquet even started! Baili Lixiang resolved to wait patiently. She didn’t forget to tug on her father’s sleeve in secret to remind him to sit still and watch for developments. There was something strange about this whole thing, so she had to make sure Han Yunxi wasn’t setting traps for them. After all, Han Yunxi had tricked quite a sum of grain from the empress dowager’s birthday banquet in Tianning for the disaster refugees back in the day. 

The crowd waited for Han Yunxi to ask Grand Tutor Gu for his opinion, but she only stared at him a while before turning to look below her. Immediately, everyone lowered their heads, afraid to meet her eyes. The seats were arranged on two sides in order of descending rank from nearest to furthest. The four Guogong, three generals, and leaders of the other five ministries (besides the Ministry of War) all sat in the first row. Nearly all of them had brought their wives, who sat beside their husbands on the side. 

Baili Yuanlong was an exception as his original wife had long since died. His companion was instead Baili Qiyu, who had also been conferred a general rank. Behind him was his eldest daughter Baili Lixiang, while next to her was Baili Qiyu’s wife. Han Yunxi’s gaze eventually rested on their family. Of the ten red envelopes she’d sent out, three of them were for the Baili Clan. Although the wife of Guogong Baili had passed away, she still prepared her share. It was an act of sincerity as well as remembrance and respect towards the late madam, rather than the Baili Clan itself. As a form of special treatment, it highlighted the differences between the Baili Clan and the madams of the other three Guogong. 

And yet, Baili Yuanlong and Baili Lixiang hadn’t understood Han Yunxi’s intentions. Their indignation only grew after receiving empty envelopes instead. Besides the late madam, the other two were given to Baili Lixiang and Baili Qiyu’s wife! After Baili Lixiang returned from Northern Li, her merits over the years had earned her a title as a first-rank lady. This too, was an example of the imperial clan’s specialized treatment towards the Baili Clan.

A first-rank lady was the highest rank for a madam and received excellent treatment. Only the mothers and wives of high officials were eligible for the title. As the Northern Li emperor’s former noble consort, Baili Lixiang technically didn’t qualify for such an honor. Long Feiye could have made her a Junwang or given her a heap of rewards, but he used this method to highlight the unique existence of the Baili family. 

While establishing his kingdom, Long Feiye was faced with strong factions in the south and restless ones in the west. He could have used force and military might to crush them under his authority, but that would leave Cloud Realm Continent to suffer at least three more years of discord before stabilizing enough for foundational work. The common people would need five to six years to return to their lives, thus making it impossible to grow wealthy in the next 10 to 20 years!

Long Feiye didn’t want to waste time, as it wasn’t his to spend, but the people’s as well! Before conferring rewards or titles, he spent countless days in careful consideration while discussing matters with Gu Beiyue and a few trusted aids throughout sleepless nights. In the end, they decided to wrong the Baili Clan and confer Guogong titles to them and the southern, western, and northern family heads. Like this, there was no matter of better or worse between them. At the same time, he could use the Baili Clan as an example of their unique treatment amongst the other families. This way, the remaining three clans would wholly accept the arrangements without complaints. 

Long Feiye didn’t share his reasons with Baili Yuanlong despite wronging them of their right to higher honors. He was also using this chance to test the man since he’d been a disappointment in the past. Regretfully, Baili Yuanlong still hadn’t understood the two special exceptions that he and Han Yunxi had given them. Instead, he ended up colluding with the southern generals instead. 

Han Yunxi recovered from her reverie and restored her usual smile. Her eyes drifted to Baili Lixiang as she asked, “That must be Lixiang right?”

Baili Lixiang quickly rose to her feet. “Your subject Baili Lixiang greets esteemed empress.”

Han Yunxi studied her. She had never seen Baili Lixiang before so this was their first face-to-face meeting. It had to be said that Baili Lixiang was much lovelier than her sister Mingxiang. Even though she was older, she was still a beauty. Still, Han Yunxi spotted the difference between the sisters at a glance. Baili Lixiang’s gaze lacked the compassion of Baili Mingxiang’s, replacing it with something more ruthless. 

Han Yunxi had witness Baili Yuanlong’s temper and wits many times. She had always talked with Long Feiye why he seemed to have changed into a different man in the past year. When did he become so calm and shrewd? Moreover, his dealings with the southern general had been unusually covert. Even now, they had no evidence to use against him. All of this started after Baili Lixiang’s return, so Han Yunxi naturally suspected the woman.

“Lixiang, you’ve experienced much and have likely seen even bigger events than the one here today. Tell me, I haven’t lost face for the crown prince by holding this birthday banquet, right?” Han Yunxi asked with a smile.

Baili Lixiang had indeed seen much. She had wanted to wait a little longer, but with Han Yunxi giving her this chance, she didn’t mind explaining to the crowd exactly how much silver Han Yunxi had spent on today’s proceedings. From what she’d seen so far, Han Yunxi’s biggest expenses came from the tableware before them!

“Yes, your subject obeys,” Baili Lixiang nodded and spoke earnestly. “This birthday banquet looks simple but was meticulously planned out in all aspects. I can see the empress’s care in its arrangements. This subject shall speak of the tableware as an example.”

Han Yunxi smiled and gestured for Baili Lixiang to go on.

“The emperor and empress are using the extremely rare seven-hued dragon and phoenix porcelain. The entire set is divided between a dragon and phoenix motif and consists of 69 separate pieces,” Baili Lixiang said loudly.

Shock filled the faces of many faces in attendance.

Seven-hued dragon and phoenix porcelain! Everyone had heard of the name, but none of them had seen the real thing. So these treasures were in the imperial clan!

Guogong of Ding, Xiao An, gave Baili Lixiang an admiring glance. He had suspected as much after spotting the emperor and empress’s tableware, but only ten of the pieces were set out, so he couldn’t guess for certain. Baili Lixiang’s eyesight and breadth of experience was indeed impressive. 

Han Yunxi clapped in joy. “How rare for someone to recognize them, hehe!”

Although everyone was stunned, it was only that. After all, it was perfectly within the emperor and empress’s rights to own such things. However, Han Yunxi’s next words soon had them unsettled.

She said, “I’ll let everyone bask in the crown prince’s glory today and broaden their horizons. Later, we’ll have the complete set of seven-hued dragon and phoenix porcelain brought out!”

If that was the case, then all 69 pieces of the set would be used, including bowls of different sizes, plates, bowls, spoons, chopsticks, eating plates, and soup ladles! 

Just how many delicious dishes were they expecting to eat tonight? In Northern Li, soldiers were still going hungry while providing disaster relief while starving  herdsmen were struggling to find shelter in the cold. As empress, how could Han Yunxi spend so much silver on a single meal?

Everyone exchanged glances while those with more upright personalities had already started discussing amongst themselves. Baili Lixiang’s eyes flashed with cunning before she added, “Qinwang Yu and the others are using special tableware as well. The empress is generous and has provided implements of considerable origins for everyone…”

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