王妃 wang fei: princess consort; the official wife of a wang or prince
王 wang: short for qinwang or first-rank prince; also called wang ye, i.e. “His [Your] Royal Highness”
郡马 junma: the husband of a junzhu; also called junma ye
郡主 junzhu: titled daughter of a qinwang (first-rank prince)
府 fu: compound or estate; wang fu: prince’s estate/compound
本宫 ben gong: lit. “this palace”; illeism for high-ranked denizens (usually female) of the Imperial Palace
世子妃 shizi fei: the official wife of a shizi
世子 shizi: heir apparent to a qinwang (first-rank prince)
氏 shi: clan/maiden name
郡王妃 junwang fei: the official wife of a junwang (second-rank prince)
堂嫂 tang sao: father’s brother’s (older) son’s wife
嬷嬷 mama: old female servant
哀家 aijia: lit. “grieving one”; illeism for a widowed empress
Chapter Forty-Eight: Heavy Doubts
There was a kind of rumor that one believed before other people did.
At some unknown time, there were rumors spreading in Jing that Xian Wang Fei was actually a great shrew. The noble misses that used to like Xian Wang would also complain. Some men felt that Xian Wang was not strong enough so his wife did not obey him, but more men felt that if they could marry such a beauty, so what if she did not listen?
Half a month had passed since the assassination of Lin Ping Junma. No other assassinations had occurred in Jing. Many people sighed in relief and started to believe that the person who killed Lin Ping Junma was one at odds with him. Otherwise, why would they allow the matter to become known far and wide?
The Judicial Office was also thinking the same, so they started to investigate Luo Zhong Zheng and the Luo Family. It would have been fine if they did not investigate this, but when they did, they found that this Luo Junma was not a good person. The Luo Family also used their power to bully others in Jiang City and abused the citizens.
For example, this junma ye wanted to take a prosperous store and actually made the owner’s wife die from anger. And his younger brother also forcibly took a commoner female as a concubine. This was lawless behavior.
The more they investigated, the more the people of the Judicial Office felt that while Luo Zhong Zheng himself did not have many faults, his relatives really attracted hate. Such a crude and ignorant family was able to attract the junzhu to marry down. Luo Zhong Jing really had good moves.
The information even showed that Luo Zhong Zheng’s mother had once tried to act as the mother-in-law in front of Lin Ping Junzhu. However, the junzhu was not a soft one. After a few lessons, the Luo Family was much more obedient in front of the junzhu. It was a pity that this junzhu did not do much to manage the conduct of the Luo Family and caused many innocent people to be harmed by the Luo Family.
The Luo Family had caused many broken families. If they had to investigate from this angle, it really was not easy to start. However, they still reported the things that the Luo Family did to the Emperor. What was going to happen next would be the problem of the Emperor.
“Junior Official Zhang, this case is full of doubts everywhere and there are many places that it is related to. This lowly official does not know where to start.” The Judicial Office deputy finished organizing the evidence of the case and was filled with worry. Disregarding the things that the Luo Family had done, just this matter of the junma having a flirtation with a certain seductive singer, and being found out by Lin Ping Junzhu, was a very suspicious matter. For example, could Lin Ping Junzhu have felt hate and found someone to kill the junma?
Zhang Hou had been working in the Judicial Office for over a fortnight. Because the Emperor was paying attention to this matter, not many in the Judicial Office tried to deliberately make things difficult for him. After half a month of exploration, he had basically learned the network inside the Judicial Office and was even better at taking care of matters. What he had to worry about now was being able to conclude Lin Ping Junma‘s case. Otherwise, his career would really end.
Even though he had been summoned in the morning by the Emperor and scolded, Zhang Hou’s mental strength was the same as his name.[i] Taking the list of evidence the deputy presented, he took a rough look and said disdainfully, “A little Luo Family has committed so much sin.”
The deputy sighed. “It really is so. However, when the people from the Junzhu Fu sent someone to ask about the progress of the case, this lowly official heard the person’s tone was not good.”
“Do not pay attention to them. Investigating the case is the main matter.” Zhang Hou could see it clearly. This Lin Ping Junzhu only had an empty position as she did not have Xian Wang Fu‘s support. They, the Judicial Office, did not need to consider her.
The deputy heard the meaning hidden in his words. He said with a smile, “This lowly official will remember.”
“I will report these things to the Emperor tomorrow.” Zhang Hou’s brow creased. “Get someone to investigate the ambiguous connection between Luo Zhong Zheng and that singer.”
If he had to give his opinion, this junma wasn’t a good person, and the world was better off with him dead.
In the Imperial Garden inside the Imperial Palace, the Crown Princess was supported by a servant girl as she listened to the servant tell of the interesting things that happened in Jing. She finally showed a smile that had not appeared for a few days. “When have these people ever seen Xian Wang Fei? What shrew? Bengong feels that Xian Wang Fei is not someone like that.”
“It is just the ignorant people saying nonsense, not many would take it as true,” the servant girl responded with a smile.
Just as they were speaking of the person, the person arrived. The Crown Princess raised her head and saw the procession come. The one at the front was the Xian Wang Fei who they had just mentioned. Walking together with Xian Wang Fei was the Shizi Fei of Xu Wang Fu. She felt slightly surprised. How had these people gotten together?
She remembered that Xu Wang Fu‘s Shizi Fei was a daughter of a famous clan in the South, and one most noble. She did not interact much with the noble ladies in Jing, but because she was going to be Xu Wang Fei in the future, the noblewomen in Jing would all give her some face. No matter what their relationship to her was, if they met, they would exchange courtesies.
“Your Highness, Crown Princess.” When Hua Xi Wan and the shizi fei, Ning shi, came in front of the Crown Princess, they made steady curtsies.
“Please, quickly stand up.” The Crown Princess made a movement to help them up and then returned half of a curtsey. “Are you two going to visit the Empress Dowager in Fu Kang Palace? How about we go together?”
Hua Xi Wan smiled and nodded her head. She had seen the Crown Princess from a ways off. But because there was a shizi fei next to her, she pretended to not see the Crown Princess. She did not interact much with this shizi fei. This one was also not a chatty person. Fortunately, her personality was serene, so when the two of them walked together, she did not feel awkward silences.
“I have not seen Sheng Junwang Fei recently.” The Crown Princess walked at the front, and Hua Xi Wan walked a deliberate half-step behind her.
“Tangsao is pregnant, which is the time to rest. It is normal that she does not come often into the palace,” Hua Xi Wan said with a smile. “I have not been pregnant before, but I hear that the first few months are the ones where the most care needs to be taken.”
“Yes, giving birth is a great matter for women; one cannot mess around.” The Crown Princess thought of her belly that had no stirrings and felt bitter inside. She and the Crown Prince had been married for almost two years, but there was no joyous news. It was not just her. Even the concubines of the Crown Prince did not have any good news. She could not remain calm. “It is a good event to be pregnant. A married woman will always hope for this.”
Hua Xi Wan became silent. She could not judge and say if the Crown Princess’ words were right or wrong. But she had to say that, as the Crown Princess, it really was a headache not to have a child. If she was the Crown Princess, she would not be as open-minded. Not just now, but even in the world in her past life, when men and women were equal, there was a group of people that thought it was the natural way of life for women to marry and have children. If the women could not do it, they were not women—they were pitiful beings who no one would marry. Even if you had an accomplished career, there would be perverts who would suspect that your glory came from using improper methods.
The world was much more difficult for women, so it was so hard to be a woman. In reality, as there wasn’t even one child being born on the Crown Prince’s Fu, she suspected that there was a problem with the Crown Prince. Otherwise, with this person’s lusty desires, how could not one woman get pregnant?
It was a pity that the world would only suspect that a woman could not get pregnant and that it was not a problem of the man.
Thinking about this, Hua Xi Wan comforted, “Things like children are a matter of fate, and one cannot demand this. Maybe if one does not desire it, it will come.”
The Crown Princess squeezed out a smile. “Maybe that is the case.” The Crown Prince was not Xian Wang and would take care of her, spoil her. So she could not be as carefree as Hua shi. She could only swallow all the hardship inside. Right now, Sheng Junwang Fei was pregnant and Mother-Empress was even more impatient. She frequently had the Grand Doctors prescribe medicine for her to drink like it was water. But no matter what medicines she drank, there was still no child.
She knew how dissatisfied Mother-Empress was with her, but the Grand Doctor’s diagnosis was that there was nothing wrong with her body. To whom could she express her dissatisfaction?
Ning shi walked silently beside the two people as though the conservation of the two people had no effects on her even though she only had one daughter.
When the three people were led in by a mama into the hall, it was slightly awkward as no one had expected a consort to be sitting and crying in front of the Empress Dowager.
Hua Xi Wan glanced at the figure who hurried away and felt suspicious. There was clearly someone in the hall, yet the Empress Dowager’s attendant had directly led them in. Wasn’t this purposefully creating an awkward state?
“Aiyaya.” The Empress Dowager saw them and a shining smile appeared. “I was just wondering why the songbirds were singing without rest this morning. So it is that this old lady will see the three grandson-wives at once. Quick, sit.”
The three went forward and curtsied to the Empress Dowager before sitting down on the benches. No one mentioned the consort who had just fled.
“There has been much rain recently. It has stopped today, but the ground is slippery. It was a hardship for you to make the trip.” After the Empress Dowager said this, she had a servant present some good bolts of cloths and divide it among the three people. “Originally, I wanted people to deliver this, but since you have come today, it will save aijia‘s people from making the trip.”
“Imperial Grandmother is generous, and grandson-wife will not refuse it.” Hua Xi Wan touched the cloth with a smile. There was joy in her eyes. “This cloth is very comfortable to touch. Imperial Grandmother, why don’t you be more generous and give me a few more bolts?”
“I just knew you would be the greediest.” The Empress Dowager was made very happy by Hua Xi Wan’s words. “When you leave, you should take two more bolts. The same with you two as well—take two more bolts. Do not have them benefit her alone.”
The Crown Princess and Ning shi both showed a smile. Ning shi followed along in flattering and made the Empress Dowager even happier. She then bestowed a pair of jade bangles to each person.
When the three bid farewell, the Empress Dowager said with a smile, “Go quickly, otherwise, you will empty out this old woman’s stores.”
“Imperial Grandmother, you are fooling us again. The Emperor and Empress are so filial to you—what good things do they not give to you?” Hua Xi Wan blinked her eyes and said, “Even if grandson-wife intends to take everything, I do not have the strength.”
“Smart mouth.” The Empress Dowager teased Hua Xi Wan before waving her hand for the three people to leave together.
Ning shi walked with a bowed head at the back with a clear mind.
The rumor was that out of all the grandsons’ wives, the Empress Dowager liked Xian Wang Fei the most. Today, it really did seem so.
[i] 厚 (hou) means thick