Chapter 189: Hatred, it's all because of you
Murong Wanru gave a start as the empress dowager looked her way and quickly knelt down. "Esteemed empress dowager, Wanru's lost face for you. Wanru really was too careless, may esteemed empress dowager mete punishment!"
The empress dowager coldly looked over Murong Wanru, her sharp phoenix eyes filled with displeasure. Not only did this matter fail to topple the Han family, it gave Han Yunxi a chance to viciously strike back. The justice courts had to pay reparations for damages. Once such a preposterous thing spread, people wouldn't just be laughing at the justice courts, but at her as well! If not for Murong Wanru's suggestion, she wouldn't have fallen to such sullen circumstances.
Why wouldn't the empress dowager resent Murong Wanru?
Murong Wanru didn't dare to raise her head. After a long while without the empress dowager speaking, her heart began to grow flustered. Her last route of retreat was by the empress dowager's side. She was the last person she could count on, so no matter what, she couldn't lose this chance. Just when she was about to speak, the empress dowager's eyes flashed calculatively before she spoke up first. "Stand up and speak."
Murong Wanru found this unexpected. The empress dowager had actually held her temper in check and let her up just like that. She timidly raised her head, her expression pitiful. "Esteemed empress dowager, Wanru know she's done wrong. Wanru cannot get up."
"Han Yunxi's skills aren't something ordinary people can match up to. For you to lose at her hands, aye...is still considered normal," the empress dowager said mildly. Her sigh extolled Han Yunxi at the same time it negated Murong Wanru. Murong Wanru couldn't believe it. Han Yunxi had just showed her impressive strength against the empress dowager, but after getting over her temper, the latter still affirmed her worth.
What did that woman count for? Was she really so capable?
She refused to recognize that, much less accept it!
Han Yunxi simply knew some poison skills, that's all. She just happened to be lucky. Besides poisons, what else did she know? The issue with the Kuigen this time was just a coincidence, so why was the empress dowager so certain of her skills?
Murong Wanru felt stifled and unsatisfied as she spoke in an earnest tone. "Esteemed empress dowager, please give Wanru another chance. Wanru will definitely ferret out a hold on her."
Didn't the empress dowager precisely want Murong Wanru to possess such fighting will? Instead of personally duking it out with Han Yunxi, why not have Murong Wanru find trouble for her instead? Although the girl was Grand Concubine Yi's foster daughter, she was still the treasure in Grand Concubine Yi's palm. The last thing the empress dowager wanted to see was Han Yunxi and Grand Concubine Yi getting along!
The most troublesome, delicate, and volatile relationship in the world was that of mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. No matter how talented Han Yunxi was, what could she do to Grand Concubine Yi? No matter how good Han Yunxi was, as long as she made a mistake, wouldn't Grand Concubine Yi bear a grudge all the same?
To sow discord between this mother and daughter-in-law pair, Murong Wanru was still the critical point.
"A chance..." the empress dowager seemed to mutter to herself. "Of course there's still chances, just that..." As she spoke, she helped Murong Wanru up and had her sit by her side.
Murong Wanru was very nervous. "Esteemed empress dowager, as long as I'm under the same roof as her, I won't make her days easy."
The empress dowager made mental calculations. Murong Wanru's heart naturally had its own share of troubles. Her main motive for seeking refuge with the empress dowager was none other than her marriage. Though she was already engaged, she still didn't want to marry! Not long after the New Year's, Marquis Pingbei went to the Duke of Qin's estate to urge on the wedding. If not for the empress dowager making waves behind the scenes to see the play at the Duke of Qin's, would Marquis Pingbei's estate have the guts to ask for marriage so soon?
Under the same roof?
The old and shrewd empress dowager could understand Murong Wanru's meaning instantly. She gently took up Murong Wanru's hand and patted it. "Just yesterday, I told Marquis Pingbei that there's no rush for this wedding. After all, his son Zhangsun Che still doesn't hold any sort of official post yet. He spends all his days carelessly and casually, idling about like a loafer. Marrying over there would definitely cause you grievances..."
Murong Wanru was extremely touched by these words. She never expected the empress dowager would consider so much for her sake. These were exactly the things that she was worried about. In comparison, Grand Concubine Yi hadn't mentioned any of these things to her.
Leaving aside the fact that Zhangsun Che was an amorous man, his current situation relied on his family for food, clothing, and other aspects of life. He didn't have any means to make a living; in short, he was an idler! A wife depended on her husband. Once she married over, her status would fall even without mentioning anything else. If her prospects were good, a temporary drop in status was a minor issue, but the key point was that Marquis Pingbei's body was still very strong and healthy. If she had to wait until Zhangsun Che earned the title of marquis, how many years would that be?
Even if she could think things through and was willing to marry, how was she to spend her married days?
The empress dowager wore a compassionate expression as she looked at the nodding Murong Wanru. The girl's lips pursed pathetically as she seemed about to cry, making anyone who saw her feel sympathy and affection. But the empress dowager had seen many of her type in the imperial harems. Though they appeared pitiful at first glance, their hearts were cold. Very soon, she shifted the thread of conversation and said, "Aye, it's just that delaying the wedding's no solution at all. After all...your situation is too unique. Marquis Pingbei said the right thing. If the wedding isn't wrapped up soon, Heaven knows what sort of gossip will spread. When that time comes, wouldn't you be even more wronged?"
Murong Wanru's hand turned stiff at these words as she looked at the empress dowager's kindly face. A chill ran down her back. She too, showed a mask when she spoke with others, but how could she forget that this old empress dowager wasn't anyone simple? No matter how affectionately she smiled, it wasn't to be trusted! The empress dowager's opposing words were spoken so beautifully. In truth, they were a punishment and a warning!
If she had settled matters with the Han family clinic this time, the old empress dowager would naturally help her delay her wedding. But since everything had been spoiled, the empress dowager was determined to have her marry!
Murong Wanru's palms turned cold as the empress dowager held her hand as gently as before, her smile intimate and amiable. "Wanru, you're a smart child. In the days to come, help me manage well my affairs and I naturally won't ill-treat Marquis Pingbei's estate. No matter how influential a woman's family is, she'll still have an unsteady foothold in her husband's family without some contributions. Don't you think so too?"
The empress dowager had finally made her views clear, while Murong Wanru felt her heart skip a beat. She'd finally understand what she meant!
"Go back. Return and prepare well, don't refuse any further. Marquis Pingbei picked a good date at the end of the month, I think that'll do just fine," the empress dowager finally released Murong Wanru's hands as she spoke. By now, they were covered in sweat.
The empress dowager had treated her with both favor and impressive might. She had no way to escape...
And yet, she'd never planned to escape after stepping into the Peace & Wellness Palace. It's just, she wasn't reconciled!
The whole way back to the Duke of Qin's estate, Murong Wanru's hands were tightly clenched together. If not for Han Yunxi this time, she wouldn't have outsmarted herself and ended up with a blunder. Nor would she have been penalized by the empress dowager! The empress dowager already said her piece. Even if mufei tried to delay things, she'd still have to speak up and agree to the marriage. It made her want to throw up!
All of this had been caused by Han Yunxi!
Ever since the Plum Blossom Meet, all of her troubles had been created by Han Yunxi. It was Han Yunxi who ruined her future!
The more she thought, the angrier Murong Wanru got. Her docile little face gradually twisted into a savage ferocity. Right at this moment, she saw Han Yunxi and Grand Concubine Yi strolling past in a nearby walkway, both of them talking and smiling. Those who didn't know better might even believe they were mother and daughter! A frightful enmity flashed from Murong Wanru's eyes.
"Han Yunxi, even if I'm married off, don't think you can have peaceful days in the Duke of Qin's estate!"
Han Yunxi was currently accompanying Grand Concubine Yi and making small talk when she felt a chill behind her head. Unconsciously, she looked back, only to see an empty courtyard with no one in sight.
"What is it?" Grand Concubine Yi asked.
Han Yunxi smoothed down her hair. "Nothing much."
Grand Concubine Yi sat down on one side, signaling Han Yunxi to join her as she spoke. "Yunxi, Marquis Pingbei's estate already set a wedding date for the end of the month. They even delivered the date to the empress dowager for approval. I'm afraid the notice will reach us in a couple of days..."
"Wanru...does she know?" Han Yunxi hastened to ask. It was impossible to say that she didn't take pleasure in the other's misfortune.
Young members of the imperial family needed to ask the empress dowager before picking a wedding day. It was one of the long-existing unwritten rules. If the empress dowager had a fancy, she'd offer a large gift to the newlyweds; if not, she'd lock the doors and refuse to see them. When Marquis Pingbei came to hasten the wedding last time, she'd guessed that the empress dowager wouldn't miss such a chance to disgust Grand Concubine Yi.
The indolent and leisurely Grand Concubine Yi heaved a sigh, extremely vexed. "She doesn't know yet, aye...that girl has a stubborn temper, I don't know how to tell her."
"Mufei, she'll need to marry sooner or later. The earlier she does it, the less gossip there will be," Han Yunxi could only comfort her this way.
"That Zhangsun Che, though he's the son of the first wife in the estate, still...he didn't even get an official post or another in the dynasty. All day long he idles about with his amorous personality. I was thinking to delay the wedding until a year or so later and find a way to give Zhangsun Che an assignment or similar. This way he won't wrong Wanru!"
In actuality, Grand Concubine Yi had thought over many things, but since Murong Wanru had started hating her from the day she agreed to the wedding, they'd grown estranged. Her foster daughter had no idea what Grand Concubine Yi was thinking.
Seeing Grand Concubine Yi's face filled with troubles, Han Yunxi mused that she must adore Murong Wanru from the bottom of her heart and truly treated her as her own daughter. Otherwise, would someone who placed so much emphasis on saving face reveal such a helpless expression?
A pity that Murong Wanru couldn't escape from her sins.
As Grand Concubine Yi predicted, a few days passed before Marquis Pingbei had a wedding nanny deliver the details of the wedding day and auspicious hour. Since the empress dowager had already given consent, Grand Concubine Yi had no more ways to delay the inevitable. Murong Wanru shut herself up in her room, acting difficult and sulky as she refused all visitors. Nevertheless, she didn't refuse to marry, so the marriage was set after her reluctant yielding. Grand Concubine Yi busied herself preparing Murong Wanru's dowry and finding a post for Zhangsun Che. However, with the empress dowager exerting pressure from above, it wasn't easy to get things done.
This day, Han Yunxi was preparing to go out when Grand Concubine Yi called her back. "Yunxi, have the Duke of Qin find me in my rooms when he returns. Just say there's something I need to discuss with him."
Undoubtedly, she was planning to hand Zhangsun Che's future prospects to him. Han Yunxi merely opened her mouth to agree. She didn't bother to explain that she didn't even know when the Duke of Qin would return. He seemed to have busied himself for the past half month. In truth, Han Yunxi herself was very busy as well.
Today's trip was because the justice court's reparations had already arrived, a total of 10,000 taels of gold. She had already found good shopfronts in the west, north, and east sides of the capital city and was planning to use this money to open three charity clinics. Under the Han family's name, they'd treat the poor and provide medicine free of charge. There weren't enough hands at the Han family, so the decoration of the shop facades, selection of medicine, and employment of doctors and assistants, along with various kinds of publicity promotions, were all waiting for her input!
Of course, there were the Li family and Madam Chen's child as well. Han Yunxi had never considered herself to be a good person. In fact, she could admit she had a vindictive streak and was very stingy. But still, she had compassion. Both Madam Chen and the Li couple had been in the wrong, but both were innocent as well. Their families were even more so. In the end, Han Yunxi pulled out some money as relief aid for the Li family and that child. She also left a message that as long as they were willing, they could come help out at the charity clinic.
Author's note to readers: The Duke of Qin's very busy, mm, he'll be back soon.