Edited by Halley & Larkspur
Chapter 4: Paying Respects
It was a troubling matter when a bride met the elders. Before entering the city, I had already dressed up in the inn.
YiZhuMu, Empress Dowager Liu, had treated me very well and personally conferred my dowry before her death. All the jewelries were items from the Palace. I did not use any gold or pearl hair ornaments as they were too eye-catching. One could not show off nor be too unadorned. Instead, one had to show one’s family influence in a low profile manner.
I chose a hawksbill turtle comb ornament with intricately carved flowers, phoenixes and birds, which at a glance, was not at all common. A lot of thought was also put into the clothes that one was wearing. It was brocade from a few years back. Even though the colour was not eye-catching, it was a rare material in this troubling period.
Wei Tan and I were married during the course of the expedition. Now that I was here in the Prime Minister residence, this was the first time the elders saw the new bride.
The hall was filled with people, be it men, women, young or old. Other than the males that were on expedition, the rest of the Wei clan that was in Yong capital, was all present. Upon entering, all sorts of gazes landed on me and there seemed to be a moment of silence where a pin drop could be heard.
My back was as straight as a ramrod and I took out the most dignified attitude and collected myself before walking forward.
“Furen. This is Young Furen, Madam Fu.” Madam Zhang, who was guiding, went up to give her greetings.
“Young Furen, come forward,” said a voice slowly.
I slightly lifted my eyes and saw that there was a woman sitting on a higher ground and silently thought that it was probably the matriarch of the Wei family, Madam Guo.
I had a general idea of the Wei family’s situation. Wei Tan’s mother, Madam Wu, was Wei Jue’s YuanPei (original first wife) and Madam Guo was initially Wei Jue’s concubine. Though from a poor and humble family, she was Wei Jue’s favourite. Six to seven years ago, Madam Wu passed on due to an illness and Madam Guo became a JiShi (official wife of a widower), thus becoming my current Mother-in-Law.
There was an embroidered mat in front and I folded my hands together in front of me and bowed towards the woman, “This Daughter-in-Law, Madam Fu, greets Madam Guo.”
There was a smile in Madam Guo’s voice, “Young Furen must be fatigued due to travels. Do get up quickly.”
Madam Zhang supported me and unsurprisingly, my gaze met with Madam Guo’s measuring one.
She was neither old nor young and seemed to be in her prime years. It could be seen that she attached great importance to this meeting as her clothes were starched until creases were not seen. Her dark black hair was styled in a towering way but there were not many ornaments on it. The powder on her face and eyebrows were drawn so that others would not be able to see her expression.
“One heard that there are frequent rains in the East. One does not know if the journey was smooth?” Madam Guo pulled my hands over and asked amiably.
I smiled gently, “Thanking Mother-In-Law for the care. The journey was not bumpy.”
Madam Guo nodded, still maintaining the amiable smile. After exchanging conventional greetings, she then introduced the rest of the Wei family clan in the hall to me.
The Wei family was from HeXi and although it was considered to be one of a higher social status, it was not a big clan. Wei Jue did not move the entire clan from HeXi to Yong Province, only bringing a few nephews. All their wives and children stayed together and presently, they were all in this room.
There were a male and female of similar age standing by Madam Guo’s side, wearing embroidered clothes and with clear brows and eyes, like a pair of children in paintings. When Madam Guo called out, they came to greet me.
The boy was called Wei An, twelve years of age and had the same Mother as Wei Tan, both birthed by Madam Wu. The girl, Wei Rong, fourteen years of age, was by Madam Guo. Wei An called me Eldest Sao softly and quickly withdrew his gaze. Wei Rong however kept on looking at me, full of curiosity.
In addition to Wei Rong, Madam Guo also gave birth to the Second Young Master, Wei Zhao. During the journey, I had heard Madam Zhang saying that Wei Zhao also followed Wei Jue in the expedition and the children left in the Wei residence were Wei An, Wei Rong and two babies that were still in swaddling clothes.
“The Eldest Sao is like an older brother when the Eldest Brother is out campaigning. You all have to bear filial piety in mind and do not disobey,” Madam Guo said to the children seriously after the customary introduction ceremony.
“Respectfully promise.” Wei An and Wei Rong bowed.
Wei Tan’s living quarters was at the east side and it had a very spacious courtyard. There were a total of two entrances, one in front for the hall and the back for the sleeping chambers. When I moved in, one only saw that the greeneries in the courtyard were lush yet the furnishing in the room was simple. There was some furniture like, the bed, couch and desk but there was only one of each type. The sheets on the bed and the dressing table were still new.
According to the servant, it had not been many years since the Emperor chose Yong Province as the capital and Wei Tan would often be away all year round. As such, this room was not used often.
I felt a sense of déjà vu. No matter where this person was, his things were all very simple and there would not be any additional unnecessary items.
I did not have many chests and only those few items. However, Madam Guo had added a number of items and thus, the servants were bustling in and out of the room. I was so busy putting up all the items that I seemed to be running around in circles.
My new Youngest Sister-in-Law, Wei Rong, had no fear of strangers and was not willing to leave as she found this place novel. She kept looking around at the things in the room and seemed to find it interesting that I was so tired that my brows were beaded with sweat.
“Oldest Sao is really good looking and is more beautiful than all those other noble ladies from ChangAn.” She leaned over a new desk and looked at me.
I smiled, “The noble ladies from ChangAn? Who does Younger Sister recognise?”
Wei Rong drew out her hand and counted, “Many. Xin Fang, Ru Hui and Yu Zhu. Their families are all officials of ChangAn. Mmm, and Older Sister Xu.”
“Older Sister Xu?”
“That is the Empress.” Wei Rong said, “Her maiden name is Xu Ping and she is the daughter of the Superintendent of the Lesser Treasury.”
I remembered. I indeed knew this person.
Xu Ping, born into the Xu family of FenYang, followed Xu Jing, her Father, to Chang An at a young age as he took an official position in the capital. It was said that Xu Jing and Wei Jue had a friendship during their youth and when Wei Jue offended influential officers in the Northern Military Department that was appointed to Luo Yang, Xu Jing, who was Superintendent of the Lesser Treasury, had even spoken for him before.
Even though Xu Ping and I knew of each other, we were not on familiar terms. Firstly, there were some gaps in our age and secondly, when females played together, there would be cliques and she belonged to another circle. However, she had an extremely elegant appearance and would never offend others. Thus, she had an outstanding reputation.
One had not expected that she would become an Empress.
“Does Eldest Sao know her?” Wei Rong asked.
I nodded, “Yes.”
Wei Rong’s lips were half opened, as if she wanted to say something but then took it back. After a moment, she smiled and spoke mysteriously, “Eldest Sao, do you know where my Mother is taking you to tomorrow?”
“One does not know. Where would it be?”
She moved closer to my ears. “Tomorrow she will be taking you for an audience with the Emperor.”
It seemed that the Wei family was very eager to show me, this Daughter-in-Law, to everyone. On the night when I met the Wei clan, Madam Guo sent Madam Zhang to inform me to prepare as I would be having an audience with the Emperor the first thing the following morning.
Truth be told, even though I knew about the power Wei Jue currently held in court, I was still a little surprised when I heard this information from Wei Rong.
When one was in ChangAn, it was not a trivial matter to have an audience with the Emperor. Like the Late Emperor, he was considered a diligent Emperor and would be burying his head in government affairs and sometimes would not even have time for drinks or beauties. Thus when there was an audience, it must definitely be an important matter that could make the Emperor stop everything on hand and take the effort to look at your face or listen to your words. I still remembered those years ago, how many people had sought Father for help, just to see the Emperor once.
However, the current Wei family could arrange this matter as easily as one was entering one’s backyard. I then deeply understood that the circumstances had changed for the Emperor.
The lacquered carriage had fragrant incense hanging at four corners as it rode through the streets. The troops called out to open up the road and the pedestrians quickly walked away.
When the carriage was about to arrive at the Palace, I looked out from the carriage. The fine bamboo curtain had cut the scenery into strips and when it was lifted up, there were only gray and motley old Palace walls. No matter the structure or the area, the Palace in Yong capital could not be compared with the tall luxuriousness of ChangAn. However, those magnificent sceneries had been destroyed by the fire and the Emperor could only follow Wei Jue’s opinion and remain in Yong capital.
The guards at the Palace Gates were very respectful to the people from the Prime Minister’s residence and without any delays, the carriage entered the Palace.
After alighting, an attendant came over and guided Madam Guo and me to the main hall of the Inner Palace.
The Heavenly One was sitting at the highest seat of the hall, wearing the official robes and the crown on his head seemed to make his young face thinner. Sitting beside him was a female with splendid robes and that was his Empress, Xu Ping.
“Your Majesty. Empress.” Madam Guo led me to bow and greet the Emperor.
“Furen is excused of courtesy.” One only heard the Emperor speak and the voice was clear and familiar. Upon lifting my head, his gaze landed here and a little arch appeared on those lips.
I looked at that face. Even though countless moons had passed, sadness appeared in one’s heart.
If it was said that I was acquainted with Empress Xu, then the friendship between the Emperor and I could be regarded as half a good friend.
The Emperor’s name was Chen. When he was twelve, his mother, Empress Gao, passed on and he was thus raised by the Empress Dowager.
We had an age gap of two or three years. As the Empress Dowager was my YiZhuMu (aka paternal Grandaunt), I would often enter the Palace to visit and was familiar with Prince Chen.
Back in those years, I was not considered mischievous but was very gluttonous and loved to take small advantages. Prince Chen’s food was often very exquisite. Thus, I would drool incessantly and thicken my skin to take his snacks for my own.
Prince Chen did not mind it and even asked me what I liked to eat. He would specially instruct the kitchens to specifically prepare them whenever I went over to play.
This happy eating guest relationship continued until Empress Dowager Liu passed away. At that time, Prince Chen was weak and powerless, and after losing the Empress Dowager’s protection, one was unable to even eat snacks.
Not long after, the Late Emperor married me off to LaiYang. I still remembered when I left, Prince Chen was still wearing mourning garbs for Empress Dowager Liu, his eyes red.
Formerly playmates, we had not expected the turn of events and to see one another again under such circumstances.
After the formal greetings, Empress Xu attentively watched me with a gentle smile on her lips but did not say anything.
The Emperor was after all an Emperor and his expression had always been calm. When one was seated, one only heard him speaking to Madam Guo, “The Prime Minister managed the country and there are rebels in the surrounding areas, making Zhen’s heart worry. In the previous days, one heard that the Eldest Young Master had married and one had not congratulated yet.”
Madam Guo smiled and gave a bow on the spot, “The matter of one’s child reaching adulthood and marrying is a natural matter, how can one to bear to receive the Emperor’s congratulations.”
Even though that was said, it was only in courtesy. Since Madam Guo brought me here for an audience, it was naturally so as to receive the congratulatory gifts from the Emperor. After the cursory greetings were exchanged, the Emperor ordered the attendant to bring a chest over. Upon opening it, one could see that there were pearls, jade and fabric and right at the top, was an exquisite fragrant agarwood, holding a golden jade hair ornament.
“This belonged to Zhen’s birth Mother, Empress Gao. Back in those years, Young Furen liked it a lot so Zhen will use this item as the congratulatory gift.” The Emperor said.
When Madam Gao saw it, her face was filled with smiles as she gave her thanks. For the Emperor to use the late Empress’s item to reward the new bride of an official, the value was secondary but the honor was unparalleled.
My gaze landed on that dangling ornament and was frozen for a moment.
The gold strings were twisted together to form branches and the gold sheets were made into leaves surrounding the blooming flowers carved from white jade. When the ornament was inserted to one’s hair, as one walked, it would sway like branches of flowers, making it look exceptionally beautiful. That year, I had seen Empress Gao wearing it and had loved it so much that I kept begging Mother to look for craftsmen to make one for me.
At that time, Mother had laughed at me for being insensible as one could not replicate the things that the Empress owned.
I remembered that I had told the then Prince Chen of the matter and did not know if it was a coincidence that he bestowed this item to me.
“Thanking Your Majesty for the reward.” I followed Madam Guo and thanked the Emperor.
The Emperor gently smiled.
Empress Xu, who was beside him, gazed at me quietly.