Chapter 312: Empress Dowager's birthday banquet (6)
Everyone was tasting the fine wine while enjoying the song and dance. Groups of twos and threes broke out in scattered conversation throughout the hall. Chu Qingge's loud voice wouldn't have attracted much notice, but she got everyone's attention as soon as she said 'Qin Wangfei.' There was no helping it. Han Yunxi was a central figure in everything. Moreover, the person by her side had caused such a ruckus at this banquet that it'd be hard-pressed to find anyone not interested in her name. Once again, the lively audience hall fell silent. Emperor Tianhui and the empress dowager looked at Chu Qingge as well. This was exactly what she wanted!
Han Yunxi found herself somewhat at a loss. She knew Chu Qingge would find a chance to get revenge for what had happened at the restaurant, but she never expected the girl to call her out here. She had no idea what she was thinking. This might be the empress dowager's birthday banquet, but it was really a place for men to talk. Why was she, as a female, making such a fuss?
"What is it?" she asked coldly.
"Qin Wangfei's talents are the top in Tianning. Even our Princess Duan was defeated at your hands. Nowadays, all of Cloud Realm Continent says that Princess Duan's talents can't be compared to Qin Wangfei," Chu Qingge said with a smile.
By her side, Duanmu Baiye's face immediately turned dark. What is this woman doing? Why is she bringing up Yao Yao now of all times? Hasn't Yao Yao lost enough face?
Chu Tianyin furrowed his eyebrows and tugged harshly at Chu Qingge, but she simply ignored him to keep talking. "Such talents include things like poetry, singing, qin playing, calligraphy, and painting. It's a pity that esteemed wangfei only bested Princess Duan in poetry composition."
Duanmu Baiye's expression cleared up at these words, like a moon breaking out from behind the clouds. He suddenly realized that this was a prime opportunity to recover Yao Yao's face! After all, the ice beauty Chu Qingge typically disdained competing in martial arts skills or going to female get-togethers. But her talents vastly exceeded that of Yao Yao's. She could be considered the true number one gifted female of Western Zhou. Her words were clearly meant as a challenge for Han Yunxi!
Han Yunxi would definitely lose against her!
Han Yunxi remained looking coldly at Chu Qingge without saying a word in reply. Chu Qingge simply pressed her on with each sentence. "Qingge invites Qin Wangfei to play a piece to showcase Qin Wangfei's qin skills. It could be considered a gift to amuse Esteemed Empress Dowager on her birthday as well!"
A mocking lilt rose in Han Yunxi's lips. It was obvious that this girl wanted to compete in the qin with her to seek revenge for Duanmu Yao! Look at her skilled words. In the space of a few sentences, she's even pulled the empress dowager to her side. Moreover, the empress dowager was currently distressing over the fact that she couldn't get back at Han Yunxi. Chu Qingge's suggestion interested her immediately.
Before Han Yunxi could speak up, the empress dowager slapped the table. "Good! A fine idea. I've heard of Qin Wangfei's talented name spreading throughout the world as well. Today, I'll use this chance to see for myself."
"Esteemed Empress Dowager, how about the two of us take turns to play accompaniment to this Flourishing Peach Blossom dance?" Chu Qingge quickly suggested.
"Perfect, perfect!" the empress dowager was very happy. If there were two performances, there could be comparisons, and with that, judging. Naturally, she'd give Han Yunxi a poor score. It wasn't easy to perform together with an ensemble, either. One of the hardest qin skills was to play accompaniment to a live performance. This not only tested the player's qin skills, but her musicality and artistic style as well. A qin player had to reach a certain high level before they could accomplish the feat. Typical players started studying the instrument while they were still primary-school age. They also needed professional instruction from court musicians, or else they wouldn't know what to do. Of course the Chu Clan could afford to hire music teachers of their own, but as for Han Yunxi's family...heheheh. Both Chu Qingge and the empress dowager were certain that Han Yunxi didn't know how to play a qin!
Truly, Han Yunxi had no idea. Forget about playing accompaniment, she couldn't even read notation for music from the past.
"Yunxi, come, come. Play a tune to cheer me up," the empress dowager said, half-joking, half-commanding. She had no way to throw aside her face and ask for presents outright, so she had been helpless against Long Feiye and the other guests who hadn't given gifts. But no matter how strong the Duke of Qin was, or how rebellious Han Yunxi turned, there was no way either of them could disobey a direct command at her birthday banquet.
Han Yunxi hesitated for a long time before she replied, "Esteemed Empress Dowager, how about Miss Chu goes first!"
Both Chu Qingge and the empress dowager were secretly delighted with her reply. If Han Yunxi was in such sore straits now, there was bound to be a show to see later.
"Esteemed Empress Dowager, Qingge will have to display her poor performance," Chu Qingge said modestly, though she couldn't wait to show off her skills. Since Long Feiye was here tonight, she'd seize the chance to attract his attention. She'd been waiting for this opportunity since forever. Today, I'm going to let Long Feiye know that I'm tons better than Han Yunxi!
A precious zither was carried to the audience hall. Once Chu Qingge took her seat, all the other musicians stopped playing. The group of pink-robed dancers surrounded her on all sides. Chu Qingge was dressed in ethereal white robes that gave off a chilly air. The contrast between her clothes and the pink dresses of the dancers were like an illusory dream. She seemed fresh and refined amongst them like a celestial fairy who had descended from the Heavens into a grove of peach blossom trees. Everyone who saw her were intoxicated with the sight. Even Emperor Tianhui found himself interested in the girl. As always, Long Feiye was the sole exception. He poured himself some wine, seemingly lost in his own world as he completely ignored the beautiful scene of the girl and her instrument.
When Chu Qingge saw that Long Feiye wasn't looking at her, she resentfully started playing. Today, she was definitely going to attract his attention! With a single note, the dancers came to life. Chu Qingge was wholly absorbed in her music. She didn't have the dancers accompany her melody, but used her music to accompany their movements. It was the same Flourishing Peach Blossom dance as before, but the music was completely different. It took its listeners from a frigid winter with its dreary, desolate air into the joyful warmth of spring and its blossoming flowers. The joyous melody continued until spring came to an end. Flower petals scattered and fell, leaving a sentimental, yet sorrowful tune in the air. Together, the dance and music made a stirring combination, creating something far superior than the original score.
Everyone grew entranced as they watched and listened. After Chu Qingge finished her final note, the dancers stopped. Slowly, the people recovered their senses as well. The empress dowager clapped her hands together and exclaimed, "Good! Most excellent!"
There were sighs of admiration and spoken praises from the crowd. But Chu Qingge only had Long Feiye in her eyes-the same man who hadn't spared her a glance throughout the entire song. She was extremely disappointed! Standing up, she faced Han Yunxi and said, "Esteemed wangfei, it's your turn now."
Maybe Long Feiye will only know how well I played if there's someone else to compare with.
"Heheh, don't you lose face for me or our Tianning Country," the empress dowager couldn't wait.
Currently, Han Yunxi was sitting indolently in her seat, a hand propping up her chin. She had no intentions of getting up at all as she grinned. "Miss Chu is indeed formidable. I even lost myself in your music just then. You played very well."
"Esteemed wangfei praises wrongly. Esteemed wangfei must be an even better player than Qingge," Chu Qingge purposely acted modest.
Han Yunxi wore an expression filled with worry. "How could that be? You and the dancers make for a splendid match. That's not something this wangfei could ever accomplish."
Chu Qingge could tell there was something odd about those choice of words, but she wasn't clear on what.
"Yunxi, hurry and play a piece," the empress dowager urged.
But Han Yunxi simply laughed. "Esteemed Empress Dowager certainly knows how to jest! Yunxi isn't some servant! How could I play accompaniment to these dancers? What sort of proper decorum is that?"
These musicians, singers, and dancers were all servants in the end. No matter whether they sang, danced, or play tunes, they were all there for the purposing of catering to their master so he would be happy. Han Yunxi was a proper and upright Qin Wangfei. How could she ever display her skills at the same level as a bunch of court dancers?
Certainly, she'd let Chu Qingge go first, but she'd never agreed to perform herself.
After she spoke, Han Yunxi openly commended Chu Qingge. "It really is a pity that Miss Chu didn't become a musician instead!"
Her words were like a vicious slap against Chu Qingge's face. How could Han Yunxi do this? The thing she took pride in was simply servant's work in Han Yunxi's eyes! What about Long Feiye? Is that what he thinks too? Chu Qingge was infuriated. Yet when she saw Han Yunxi dressed in violet robes sitting next to Long Feiye, she couldn't help but fear inferior to them both.
Instead of answering Han Yunxi, Chu Qingge turned to look at the empress dowager instead. She was certain that the empress dowager wouldn't let go of this chance to beat back Han Yunxi. Indeed, the empress dowager hated Han Yunxi even more than Chu Qingge! How could she simply give up?
"Yunxi, you agreed to the terms just then. Don't make me unhappy," the empress dowager said with a smile, but there were daggers hidden behind her grin.
"Esteemed Empress Dowager, Yunxi only agreed to let Miss Chu play first. When did I ever agree to play myself?" Han Yunxi intentionally acted like a spoiled child.
"Since she's played her piece, you should go next," the empress dowager remained stubborn.
"I didn't say I'd follow her! She played the first piece, so why not have her play the next as well?" Han Yunxi said reasonably despite being a rascal all the while. At this, many of the people present laughed. Mu Linger was the one who laughed the loudest.
Chu Qingge was a proud type. How could she take the abuse? Huffily, she demanded, "Esteemed Empress Dowager, is Qin Wangfei going back on her words?"
Finally, the empress dowager turned serious as her voice grew cold. "Yunxi, I want you..."
At the same time she spoke, Han Yunxi lazily withdrew a fan from behind her body. First she twirled it around a few times in her hands, then began to calmly fan herself. As soon as the empress dowager saw this fan, she shut up.
That was the Medicine Fan. She'd been on a painstaking search for that very fan for decades. Every day, she wished the moment it'd fall into her hands, so she could recognize it at a glance. The Medicine Fan was the ultimate cure for insomnia! She'd suffered from insomnia since she was young and found it difficult to go to bed every night. She'd have to toss and turn for at least four hours before she finally fell asleep, but any little noise could wake her up. When that happened, she'd be stuck with her eyes open until day broke. Naturally, she'd eaten no end of medicine, or else she wouldn't have survived to this day. Her mood was none too good in the daytime, either. But every medicine had its side effects, so she'd long grew fearful of eating so many pills.
The former Head Imperial Physician had prescribed a medicine that could cure her without daily intakes or harmful effects to the body, the Medicine Fan. But she hadn't found any trace of it until today. She never expected the item to end up in Han Yunxi's hands! Only someone who suffered from insomnia could understand her sufferings. The empress dowager stared at the object in Han Yunxi's hands. Why would she bother causing Han Yunxi trouble now? She was so moved that she could simply cry from joy.
There were few people who could recognize the Medicine Fan at a glance, and Chu Qingge wasn't one of them. Neither was she aware of the empress dowager's condition. When she saw that the woman hadn't spoken, she quickly added, "Esteemed Empress Dowager, don't your Tianning wangfei's words count for anything?"