Chapter 148: Marriage talks are so suffocating
The succeeding days were all filled with snow until the weather finally cleared up. It felt as if the skies had been cleansed as they shone a beautiful, azure blue. After her bet, Mu Liuyue hadn't stepped a foot outside her door, but hid away at home in depressed spirits, her temper growing worse and worse.
With a bang, another priceless vase shattered on the ground. The servant girls all cowered by the door, none of them daring to go inside. In the beginning, General Mu and Mu Qingwu would both come over to check on her, but now they'd long grown numb to her antics. They were more concerned with her ugly reputation in the capital since it'd be a big problem to marry her off in the future.
"Someone, come! Come!" Mu Liuyue yelled irritably. A servant girl timidly ran inside, but kept her distance.
"Has Princess Changping dropped by? Did she come without me knowing?" Mu Liuyue asked.
Her only hope was Princess Changping, but after everything had happened, the princess hadn't come by even once. It was almost time for the Plum Blossom Meet, but she still hadn't gotten an invitation. Had she been completely cast away?
"No..." the servant girl stammered, before trying to comfort her. "Miss, perhaps the princess is too busy and will come by a few days later."
"Busy with what? The Plum Blossom Meet? Who did she invite? Did she invite Han Yunxi?" Mu Liuyue hastened to ask. She'd long gotten wind that Princess Changping was hosting the meet this year, so she would be the one in charge of invitations.
How could a mere servant know so much? She instantly found an excuse to escape. "Miss, please wait a bit. Your servant will go find out right away!"
Mu Liuyue's namesake was in tatters, so Princess Changping naturally wouldn't come. Right now she was precisely preoccupied with the Plum Blossom Meet and had sent the first invitation to the Duke of Qin's estate for Han Yunxi. These days, Han Yunxi had been busy flitting between the Han estate and the Duke of Qin's, helping the Han Clan deal with problems. After that night in the snow, she'd never seen Long Feiye again. She'd also locked up the garret windows facing his quarters, so she had no idea whether he came back at night or was truly busy.
As for news of the Western Zhou princess, she didn't investigate that either, but spent her life just so. Occasionally, she'd visit Grand Concubine Yi and "expel poisons to nourish her skin," chatting a few lines in the meantime. Although they still weren't very close, their relationship was much better than before. Over this period of time, Gu Qishao found someone to gift her multiple canisters of exquisite Red South Peak tea leaves. She tossed them all away. Nobody else knew that she hadn't gone picking for those leaves in the mountains for her own sake.
She had just come home today when Steward Xia found her. "Esteemed wangfei, esteemed imperial concubine told you to go over."
"What is it?" Han Yunxi was perplexed. She'd just treated Grand Concubine Yi this morning. Aside for acupuncture and moxibustion, the woman wouldn't find her for anything else.
"Your subordinate isn't clear. But the imperial concubine is waiting, so esteemed wangfei should hurry over," Steward Xia replied.
Were there developments on Lady Xu's side? She made multiple references to her, but Grand Concubine Yi had ignored them each time. She'd also tried to find out details from the justice courts without leave to try and figure things out. Han Yunxi hurried over post-haste. But as soon as she stepped in the doors, she saw an unexpected figure...Murong Wanru!
What was going on? Why was this white lotus here?
Had Grand Concubine Yi never suspected Murong Wanru from the start, or...did she know the truth, but tried to cover things up for her sake, anyways? She was just a foster daughter, so was she really worth it?
"Sister-in-law, you've finally come. It's cold outside, so hurry and drink a cup of hot tea." Murong Wanru acted as if nothing had happened at all. She was eagerly attentive and enthusiastic as she helped Han Yunxi to a seat and poured her tea.
Han Yunxi politely told her there was no need before asking earnestly, "Mufei, Steward Xia said you were looking for me urgently?"
Grand Concubine Yi knitted her brows before handing over a pink invitation card, its double-layered paper sporting a cut-out design that depicted a thin, exquisite branch of plum blossoms. Han Yunxi accepted it with a glance and immediately understood. This was an invitation to the Plum Blossom Meet. Unlike other invitees, she felt no thrill. Instead, she wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry.
This was a banquet with no good intentions, a sitting mat with no good seats.
She didn't dare risk going to such events. The so-called Plum Blossom Meet was a gathering of the wealthy and respectable, most of them young women. Though the intent was to enjoy the plum blossoms, it was really just a group of competing females that formed cliques to trample on each other. Each time there was a Plum Blossom Meet, the events would be spread throughout the capital to become fodder for gossip amongst the nobility. It really was boring and senseless.
Han Yunxi paused before she spoke. "Mufei, chenqie's body is unwell. I'm not sure whether I can attend..."
Yet Murong Wanru cut her off before she could finish. "Sister-in-law, you can't not go! The empress is in bad health, which is why Princess Changping will be hosting it this time. If you don't go, what will Princess Changping think?"
Han Yunxi started, surprised that things had turned out this way. If that was the case, then this gathering was even worse. She could still remember the scene from when Mu Qingwu came out of the general's estate and ran around the streets. If Princess Changping was still holding a grudge, Heaven knows what kind of pitfalls she'd be planning for her this time!
"Mufei...chenqie is rough and unrefined, completely lacking in talent and learning. My body's not well at the moment, either, so I worry that I'll lose face for you if I go," Han Yunxi refused again.
It was easy for her to reject Princess Changping by not going altogether, but the effects of such an action would send waves. She had to bypass Grand Concubine Yi first.
Grand Concubine Yi still didn't speak, so Murong Wanru piped up again. "Sister-in-law is too modest. Isn't it just a gathering to admire the plum blossoms? What kind of talent and learning do you need? If sister-in-law doesn't go, then won't Wanru be left out? Moreover, sister-in-law represents the Duke of Qin's estate. If you don't go, then Wanru might as well stay, too."
Han Yunxi suddenly understood why she hadn't sensed any omens. Murong Wanru's solitary confinement had been lifted because she had been invited as well. She opened up the invitation card and saw that the date was set for three days later. Han Yunxi creased her eyebrows and didn't speak, but the silent Grand Concubine Yi spoke up.
"Yunxi, if you don't go then I'll have even less face. A few days ago the capital was discussing whether or not Changping would invite you. Do you dare to go?"
With a crash, Murong Wanru's teacup slipped from her hand to fall on the ground. She was scared! Mufei was calling Han Yunxi's name in such an intimate tone. More than that, she was actually negotiating with her so gently? Murong Wanru's face turned ashen pale as she was caught unawares. She still thought that mufei would get angry and lecture Han Yunxi, but mufei was actually acting like this.
What happened between mufei and Han Yunxi while she had been confined? She'd just come out, so there was no time to find a trusted subordinate and understand the current situation.
Seeing her, Grand Concubine Yi asked unhappily, "What's going on with you?"
Han Yunxi was secretly laughing inside. Although Murong Wanru was out now, things still weren't serious. There'd be plenty of things for her to cry over in the future.
"Mufei, chenqie heard that unmarried girls who get rewarded at the Plum Blossom Meet can get famous enough to attract a crowd of matchmakers to trample their doorways flat. Are the rumors really so exaggerated?" Han Yunxi asked seriously.
Grand Concubine Yi smiled. "It may be so, but there's a hint of truth to this, too."
If a girl could win a stunning bout at the Plum Blossom Meet, she'd have earned the admiration of countless young men and their marriage proposals. As a result, this sacred gathering was the dream goal of many a girl in the capital city.
"Is that so. Then I should accompany Wanru. She's reached marriageable age by now," Han Yunxi said with a smile.
These words made Murong Wanru's heart thump! This slut Han Yunxi wants to marry her off? It wasn't her business who she married!
"Wanru, you have to perform well. Mufei, you should tell Steward Xia to bulk up our doorway by a few more layers," Han Yunxi teased.
A complicated look flitted past Grand Concubine Yi's eyes, but she said nothing.
Instead, Han Yunxi kept speaking. "Mufei, could it be that you've already thought of a match for Wanru?"
Grand Concubine Yi immediately shook her head. "There's no such thing, don't spread such rumors around."
"Mufei, Wanru's not young anymore. If she's not anxious, shouldn't you be anxious for her sake?" Han Yunxi asked again.
Murong Wanru felt like her lungs were about to explode as she listened on one side. Neither mufei nor her were in a rush, so why was this slut in such a hurry? What was it to her?!
But Grand Concubine Yi only said mildly, "Of course I'm anxious. But you can't rush such matters. Something that lasts for a lifetime requires slow and careful consideration."
Murong Wanru's heart seemed to stop at these words. How could mufei say such things? She was an adopted daughter, not the Duke of Qin's little sister by flesh and blood. Hadn't mufei said repeatedly in the past that she'd make a match between her and the Duke of Qin? Mufei once said that as long as the Duke of Qin agreed, she'd instantly make her his concubine. This way, she could stay by her side forever.
Was mufei changing her mind?
All her years of hard work was so that she could stay by the Duke of Qin's side. She couldn't be an official wife because of her birth background, but she didn't mind being a concubine. Mufei should understand her heart best, so how could she act like this?
"Indeed, it has to be slowly and carefully considered. If mufei has anyone in mind, don't hide it like a secret. Chenqie could help you think it over as well," Han Yunxi was very earnest.
Grand Concubine Yi nodded without saying a word. But this simple action was enough to break Murong Wanru's heart. Filled with feeling, she hastily grabbed Grand Concubine Yi's hand.
"Mufei, daughter won't marry! She won't! Daughter wants to stay at home and serve you for the rest of my life!"
She was clearly dropping a hint to Grand Concubine Yi. Marrying the Duke of Qin meant she could stay home and serve her for life as well.
But Grand Concubine Yi hadn't even spoken before Han Yunxi said, "What a silly girl, how can mufei keep you for the rest of her life? You'll be ruining both her and yourself! You're not little anymore. If you don't marry, what will the people outside say about you? Or about mufei?"
Murong Wanru looked at Han Yunxi, eyes filled with hidden bitterness. Immediately, her voice turned into a sob. "Sister-in-law, do you dislike Wanru? You want to chase Wanru out?"
"This is mufei's house, what are you talking about? Sister-in-law is doing this for your own good," Han Yunxi explained clearly. How could she be ignorant of Murong Wanru's feelings toward the Duke of Qin?
"Mufei, I..." Murong Wanru wanted to continued, but Grand Concubine Yi waved a hand to cut her off.
"All right, all right, it's more important to focus on the Plum Blossom Meet first."
She looked at Han Yunxi and said, "Yunxi, prepare three sets of acceptable clothing worthy of public scrutiny. You'll wear one on the day of the gathering and save the other two just in case. Use these three days to figure out the circumstances of the Plum Blosson Meet with Wanru. Remember that you're Qin Wangfei and Princess Changping's senior. Don't lose face for me."
Han Yunxi studied Grand Concubine Yi carefully. She knew there was no avoiding this meet, but it was rare for the imperial concubine to remind her of precautions without admonishments or rude remarks.
All right. Just by Grand Concubine Yi's manner today, she'd go. Forget about some Plum Blossom Meet, she wouldn't be afraid even if this was the Hong Gate Banquet!
"Yes, chenqie understands," Han Yunxi replied seriously.
Murong Wanru's heart was terrified. She couldn't accept the things she'd witnessed no matter how she tried. The very same night, she went to understand the situation from Gui mama and a few servant girls.
What a Han Yunxi. It's only been a few days, but you managed to get rid of all hostility towards you from mufei. If you stay around any longer, how am I, Murong Wanru, supposed to keep my foothold in the Duke of Qin's estate?
The next day, Murong Wanru immediately arranged to secretly meet Princess Changping!
 Plum Blossom Meet () - meihuayan, an exclusive gathering held by Princess Changping every three years to enjoy the plum blossoms while chatting and drinking together. First mentioned in chapter 88.
 Hong Gate Banquet () - a historical reference to a feast held by Xiang Yu () for his rival Liu Bang () in order to try and take his life.