Chapter 428: Han Yunxi finally stumbles Original and most updated translations are from volare. If read elsewhere, this chapter has been stolen. Please stop supporting theft.
Chu Qingge had always been a cold, proud woman, so her usual manner of looking at someone was filled with scorn. But when she truly disdained someone, her eyes turned even more contemptuous. Both her gaze and her expression were extremely distasteful to Noble Consort Xue.
If the empress dowager hadn’t explicitly instructed her beforehand to avoid direct confrontation and to borrow Han Yunxi’s strength instead, she never would have left Chu Qingge so much face during today’s meeting. What does that stupid woman mean by looking at me like that? Does she really think she’s so noble just because the empress dowager’s flattering her with false compliments? Does she really think His Majesty’s going to make her the head of the Noble Consorts without fail?
What an absolute idiot!
Chu Qingge had already shown her utter stupidity from her behavior during the empress dowager’s birthday banquet and Noble Consort Yun’s poisoning case. If not for the Chu Clan’s sheer military strength, no one in the harem would have treated her seriously even if the emperor favored her highly!
Their position against the woman was merely antagonistic to begin with, but after Han Yunxi had publicly exposed their feud, a seed of hatred took firm root in Noble Consort Xue’s heart. Perhaps Chu Qingge had no idea, but Han Yunxi was very clear that the “head of the four Noble Consorts” was a taboo phrase, not to be spoken in Noble Consort Xue’s presence. It was her fatal weakness!
In the past, Noble Consort Xiao had been the head, but after she lost the emperor’s favor, no one took the title seriously anymore. Noble Consort Xiao had status, yet no power now, so she never participated in any of the events held in the palace, nor did anyone ever think to invite her. After she’d lost favor and Noble Consort Yun died from poisoning, Noble Consort Xue was the one who rose to favored status in their place. She relied on the strength of the empress dowager to be ‘one above many, and under one’ in the world of the imperial harem. Although she had no right to become empress, she could still be the head of the Noble Consorts. That in itself had been her long-lived dream.
Naturally, it wasn’t one she took threats to lightly! In the end, mere antagonism versus hatred especially when combined with a grudge were two completely different things. If it was simply the former, Noble Consort Xue would just be vying with Chu Qingge for the emperor’s attentions. Now that it was developing into the latter, Noble Consort Xue was even entertaining thoughts of sabotaging Chu Qingge. Even if it wasn’t for the sake of vying for favor, she didn’t want Chu Qingge to pass her days so easily!
Chu Qingge didn’t think that deeply. She really did scorn Noble Consort Xue, but she simply went to her seat when she was done looking over at Noble Consort Xue. Her chair was right under Noble Consort Xue’s. Mu Liuyue looked between Noble Consort Xue and Chu Qingge as she inwardly smiled coldly. She silently rejoiced at the fact that she’d rejected Noble Consort Xue in the past when the woman had suggested they join forces. Otherwise, both of them would be feeling the sting of contempt from Chu Qingge today.
Since Chu Qingge had already sat down, any further explanations from Noble Consort Xue would be even more useless. She ended up sitting down as well. After drinking a few cups of tea, the empress dowager ordered her servants to give Chu Qingge some gifts. There weren’t very many things, nor were the objects especially rare, but each item was delicate and exquisitely made. Chu Qingge feigned happiness as she accepted the rewards before offering a pre-prepared gift of her own. It too, was no rare treasure, but still worthy of notice by those present here.
The customs of the imperial harem dictated that new concubines needed to give presents to their fellow sisters on the first meeting, and vice versa. In other words, it was a gift exchange. After the empress dowager was finished, Noble Consort Xue and the rest all took out their presents. Even Mu Liuyue had prepared her share. When the fuss and fanfare died down, all the presents were exchanged. Only Han Yunxi remained sitting on the side with no gifts at all!
“Noble Consort Chu, what present did you get Imperial Qin Aunt? Hurry and let us have a look!” Mu Liuyue couldn’t wait to see, since she was certain Chu Qingge had prepared nothing.
Chu Qingge began to like Mu Liuyue a little more. She was waiting for those very words. “Aiya, I thought I wouldn’t have a chance to see esteemed wangfei in the palace, so I didn’t prepare a thing. Esteemed wangfei, you don’t mind, do you?” Chu Qingge put on a face of apology. Naturally, she was insinuating that Han Yunxi, as a wangfei, had no right to show up at a gathering of imperial concubines in the first place, much less receive a gift. Everyone else had presents here, but Han Yunxi was the odd one out. Being disregarded so much should only make her feel inferior to the rest.
After six months, Chu Qingge’s getting better at talking, too. Unmoved, Han Yunxi said loftily, “It’s all right. This wangfei wasn’t planning to accept your present, either. Let’s forget about it!”
Deathly silence fell on the hall again at that bombshell! Han Yunxi, ah, Han Yunxi, could your words be any more cutting than this? Chu Qingge found herself utterly unable to retort thanks to her stifled rage. She was almost choking to death on her anger! Mu Liuyue felt even worse. None of her attempts to help Chu Qingge had yielded results at all! Empress Dowager Li couldn’t bear to keep watching this anymore. How great it would be if the empress was still here. Both Noble Consort Xue and Mu Liuyue are utterly and completely witless fools!
Her eyes gleamed coldly before she said, “Judging from Qin Wangfei’s tone...you seem unhappy?”
“How could that be?” Han Yunxi smiled slightly.
“You must be unhappy, I can tell!” Empress Dowager Li said, not giving her a chance to deny it. “I’m to blame for this as well, inviting Qin Wangfei here without telling Noble Consort Chu ahead of time. Greeting gifts are an old tradition of the palace and cannot be forgotten! Since Qin Wangfei is here, you must give a gift as well!” As she spoke, she stood up and pulled Han Yunxi and Chu Qingge to her side. “I’ll be the judge this time. Since neither of you prepared a present, you can exchange a piece of jewelry to express your sentiments!”
The oldest ginger was the spiciest, after all!
Everyone present could see that Han Yunxi was only wearing one piece of jewelry on her body---the white jade hair hairpin holding up her hair. The empress dowager wasn’t stupid enough to insult Han Yunxi’s sparse getup like Mu Liuyue. Her true motive for the arrangement was to make Han Yunxi take out her hair hairpin! She too, believed that Chu Qingge wouldn’t be stupid enough to offer up her own hair hairpin for Han Yunxi’s own. Moreover, Han Yunxi would have no way to find another ornament to keep her hair in place in the palace. In other words, she’d be forced to take her hair out in front of everyone.
Letting down your hair in public was a serious offense for a woman. It was equivalent to stripping one’s clothes, an absolute taboo outside out the bedchambers! If news of this spread, everyone would laugh at her for the fact. Even His Highness Duke of Qin’s reputation would be smeared. Coldness flashed through Han Yunxi’s eyes, while Chu Qingge suddenly grew energized in turn. She really had to thank the old dowager for making such a brilliant move!
“Chenqie accepts the empress dowager’s decree!” Chu Qingge purposely made a grand bow, elevating the empress dowager’s words to that of a supreme command. Han Yunxi was very clear that the dowager’s instructions wasn’t a suggestion but an order. If the empress dowager said such things, she had no way to refuse her.
Although the Duke of Qin held immense power, enough to make Emperor Tianhui yield three steps to him, the relationship between sovereigns and their subjects were immutable. They had yet to take off the masks of their roles, so they had to follow imperial will. Sometimes they’d win their battles, and sometimes a loss was unavoidable. Han Yunxi knew that today’s trial would be very difficult to avoid.
She had never liked wearing too much jewelry, thinking it a nuisance. Aside from the ornament on her head, she only had the white jade crystal bracelet hidden in her sleeves. That was the first gift that Long Feiye had ever given her. Even if it wasn’t so valuable, she still wouldn’t part with it to give to another woman!
What to do?
She could hardly tear off a corner of her sleeves to make a makeshift hairtie in a place like this. Nor was it appropriate to borrow a hairpin from her servant girl, Su Xiaoyu. Although neither of these things was a big deal to her, these imperial harem women would definitely spread gossip about it if she did them. When the world’s people heard about Qin Wangfei being left in such a pathetic state after exchanging jewelry with Noble Consort Chu, she’d lose enough face to last ‘til modern times. Who knows how far Long Feiye’s prestige would fall with it?
By now, Chu Qingge had already taken off one of her bracelets. She presented it to Han Yunxi with both hands and said, “Qin Wangfei, this is a purple gold [1. purple gold (紫金) - zijin, another name for copper. Pure copper appears purplish in appearance, so in Chinese it’s call ‘purple-gold.’ More information on the origins of the name can be found here.] bracelet handmade by the famous Jiangnan craftsman Yan Ruyu[2. Yan Ruyu (颜如玉) - nice pun here, the name literally means “jade-like face.”]. It’s also my favorite bracelet, but I’m giving it to you. I do hope you won’t mind our old grudges and instruct me in the future.”
Because Chu Qingge was in a good mood, her words had even turned modest and self-effacing. Han Yunxi stared at the bracelet for a long time without accepting the gift. By now, everyone else was staring at the bracelet too, waiting for her to make a move.
Soon enough, Mu Liuyue said coldly, “Imperial Qin Aunt, you’re really putting on airs in front of Imperial Grandmother. What, are you bullying Noble Consort Chu because she’s new to the palace?”
Here was the dangers of battles in the imperial harem. One second, Han Yunxi was on top; by the next, she was the one struggling. There were only two paths before her now: either accept the gift and return it with one of her own, or be accused of bullying and humiliating Noble Consort Chu and get punished by the empress dowager instead. Han Yunxi knew that the second option was infinitely worse!
She resolutely accepted Chu Qingge’s bracelet with a smile. “It’s very beautiful, thank you, Noble Consort Chu.”
The silence around her was almost frightening now. It seemed hard to even breathe, because now it was Han Yunxi’s turn to return a gift. Everyone was waiting anxiously for the results. Behind Han Yunxi, even Su Xiaoyu subconsciously felt nervous for her mistress’s sake. For a high and mighty Qin Wangfei to lack even a single jewelry to spare as a gift and be forced to let down her hair in public like this was truly shameful.
“Imperial Qin Aunt, what do you plan on giving Noble Consort Chu? Hurry and let us see!” Mu Liuyue smiled happily. This was the first time she’d called Han Yunxi by her title so willingly.
“That’s right, Qin Wangfei, everyone’s waiting! We know you have something good, so don’t keep us in suspense,” Noble Consort Xue was smiling too. Chu Qingge was anticipating the moment, her cold face cracking into a rare grin. This was the first time she’d felt so glad in the past six months.
Han Yunxi, I, Chu Qingge, want you to taste the flavor of humiliation today!
Han Yunxi’s eyes were gloomy. She deeply regretted the fact that she hadn’t decked herself in jewelry. She’d already sailed past countless tempests and waves, only to trip over a little mishap like this? Soon enough, a few more idle concubines gathered to see the show. Han Yunxi was very clear that there was no getting out of this now. She looked towards Su Xiaoyu. Although borrowing a hairpin from a servant girl could only lower the status of her title, it was the best choice in this situation. Compared to ripping her own sleeves to make a hair tie, it’d be less shameful to ask Su Xiaoyu, right?
As soon as Han Yunxi turned around, Empress Dowager Li, Noble Consort Xue, Chu Qingge and Mu Liuyue all began to grow excited. Finally. We can finally make Han Yunxi stumble this time! However, none of them expected an announcement right before Han Yunxi asked for the hairpin.
“His Highness Duke of Qin arrives!”
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