Chapter 359: Is there anything more tragic than this?
There were two types of weddings for members of Tianning's imperial clan. One was treated as a national affair-such as when the emperor appointed an empress, or the crown prince appointed a princess consort. The same pomp went on when it was a marriage made to cement relations between two countries. The other was an internal marriage within the imperial clan itself. There were no grand ceremonies involved beyond the elders of the family witnessing the marriage rites.
By the time Han Yunxi and Long Feiye arrived at Eastern Palace, Emperor Tianhui, Empress Dowager Li, and Qinwang Rong were all already present. Even members of the imperial clan needed to perform the traditional wedding bows towards their parents and elders. The crown prince had his status, but he was no sovereign. Long Feiye and Qinwang Rong were both ranked ahead of him and counted as his elders. In the hall, Emperor Tianhui and the empress dowager had taken the seats of honor, while Qinwang Rong was situated on their left. The space on the right was reserved for Long Feiye and Han Yunxi.
Han Yunxi could feel Emperor Tianhui and Empress Dowager Li's death stares as soon as she entered the room. Anyone else in their place would be furious and pained from the results of that charity auction. Han Yunxi understood their feelings, so she simply ignored them in favor of all the silver she'd gotten instead! They'd fought and contended with each other, but they still had considerations of face. Rulers and subjects alike kept their masks intact. After a few courteous bows, Emperor Tianhui invited them to sit down.
Han Yunxi thought that they'd be sitting for awhile, but it didn't take long before the wedding procession returned. So fast. Did Long Tianmo run all the way back?
Is he feeling anxious, or simply impatient?
No matter the case, Mu Liuyue was close to crying inside the sedan chair. The whole trip had been so rocky that she'd nearly thrown up! She hadn't gotten a single one of her betrothal gifts, so she'd done her best to endure. It was already bad enough that her grand wedding ceremony had been reduced to the simplest of marriage rites, but why was the bride escort party so paltry and rude as well? After getting into the sedan chair, she'd stolen peeks outside on the way to the palace, feeling stifled with every minute. Soon after, the sedan chair went faster and faster, changing her depression into outright fear. What would happen if she fell out of the carriage? She was bringing General Mu's support to Long Tianmo, which was a great advantage for his contention for the throne. Couldn't he treat her a little more tenderly?
The joys of getting married had long vanished, to be replaced with resentment. She didn't even know that Han Yunxi was to blame for the entire affair. All she could do was silently curse the fact that there was a severe famine going on. Why had His Highness Duke of Qin chosen this of all times to hold a charity auction? And why did the crown prince have to show off his skills when he clearly had insufficient silver?!
Even when Han Yunxi had gotten married, she'd caused a sensation throughout the capital just by delivering herself into the Duke of Qin's gates!
Before Mu Liuyue got off the sedan chair, she adjusted her wedding veil with a heart full of dissatisfaction. She assumed that Long Tianmo would take her hand, but it turned out to be the wedding nanny instead. Fine, then. Despite her stifled heart, she remained calm. After all, she had entered the palace now, so everything would be different from now on. She'd heard of the palace wedding rites before, but she wasn't wholly familiar with them, so she had to rely on the wedding nanny to give her pointers. After the wedding nanny finished her long liturgy of auspicious words, she handed Mu Liuyue over to the crown prince.
Mu Liuyue couldn't help but speculate in silence. Everything else had been done so simply, but there should be at least some pomp for the ceremony itself, right? Unfortunately, all they did was bow towards their parents, Heaven and Earth, and each other. Thus, the wedding nanny guided her to bow with Long Tianmo towards Emperor Tianhui and the empress dowager, Heaven and Earth, and each other.
"The wedding rites are complete!" the wedding nanny said in a loud voice as Mu Liuyue's heart plummeted in disappointment!
Typically speaking, the bride should be sent to the nuptial chambers after this. But Tianning's imperial clan had an extra custom in place, and that was for the new couple to pay their respects to their elders with tea. Han Yunxi had to do the same on the second day of her marriage to Grand Concubine Yi and then the empress dowager within the palace. She even needed to present the drop of blood on a white handkerchief.
As a princess consort, Mu Liuyue only needed to pay a call to the empress dowager and Emperor Tianhui tomorrow. But today she'd have to serve tea to all the elders present. This would allow the senior members of the imperial clan to acknowledge her new status as an imperial daughter-in-law.
By now, Mu Liuyue was already completely listless. She allowed the wedding nanny to drag her around like a rag doll as she and Long Tianmo offered up their teacups, paid their respects, and drank their tea. Together, they called Emperor Tianhui imperial father, the empress dowager imperial grandmother, and Qinwang Rong their great imperial uncle. After that, the wedding nanny brought them before Long Feiye and Han Yunxi. Mu Liuyue was already in a bad mood, but when she heard Long Tianmo call out 'Imperial Qin Uncle,' she felt unwell all over! Her heart was in such pain that breathing became difficult!
Imperial Qin Uncle. So he came as well. The man she'd crushed on for so many years and wanted to wed with all her heart was now actually her uncle. Was there anything more tragic than this?
When Long Tianmo next called out 'Imperial Qin Aunt,' the absent-minded Mu Liuyue finally regained her senses. She nearly raised her wedding veil in a moment of impulse! She finally realized that Han Yunxi had became her imperial aunt! Long Tianmo had already finished paying his respects, but Mu Liuyue was still standing in place, unmoved. A few days ago, she'd even bragged in the alley that she'd never call Han Yunxi her imperial aunt, but now...
Still, how could a bride make a fuss here? She'd become a laughingstock. It wasn't until the wedding nanny tugged at Mu Liuyue's robes that she recovered her wits.
"The princess consort should pay respects to Imperial Qin Aunt with tea!" the wedding nanny still wore her professional smile as she pressed a teacup into Mu Liuyue's hands. Mu Liuyue gritted her teeth and felt, for a brief second, regret for marrying here at all.
She offered the tea with both hands and said, "Imperial Qin Aunt, drink tea."
"Aye..." Han Yunxi responded sweetly, but her answer was filled with meaningful words. She could imagine the expression of the bride behind the veil.
This damned girl, perhaps she's finally learned how to be docile today.
Han Yunxi accepted the tea and finished off all its contents before she handed over a red envelope filled with traditional gifts of money for the newlyweds. "Liuyue, give birth to a son soon."1
Han Yunxi's words were truly venomous. Her 'give birth to a son soon' was filled with hidden meaning as well. Judging by Long Tianmo's personality and his performance today, it was unlikely that he'd ever touch Mu Liuyue. Even if he did and Mu Liuyue got pregnant, there were plenty of people in the imperial harem now who wouldn't want her to have any male offspring. The empress dowager looked at Han Yunxi and had to rejoice that she was from the Duke of Qin's estate, not the imperial harem.
Mu Liuyue had tit for brains and didn't understand the meaning behind Han Yunxi's words. She only felt like she'd had enough! Sobsob, I want to go home...
After serving the tea, the ceremony was over. The wedding nanny sent Mu Liuyue off to the nupital chambers, while Long Tianmo followed behind them. When he reached the door, he couldn't resist glancing back to see Han Yunxi sitting beside that ancient revered god. Dressed in white, she looked both pure and sacred, her eyes filled with laughter even as they glimmered slyly.
The mountains have their trees, yet the trees have their branches.2 My heart yearns for Yun, yet Yun knows not. The falling flowers have already danced away on the winds, and the flowing waters stream ever onwards to the east...
Han Yunxi, how wonderful it would be if you were the one wearing the phoenix coronet today?
After the newlyweds left, everyone else remained seated.
"General Mu only has one daughter and the young general just this little sister. Zhen had long hoped to give her to the crown prince. Muhou, you must take care to guard Liuyue well after she's entered the harem. She mustn't be bullied," Emperor Tianhui seemed to be chatting idly with the empress dowager, but his words were meant for Long Feiye.
What he meant to say was that General Mu wouldn't dare to make a move while Mu Liuyue was in their hands. Even if the general wasn't truly loyal to the throne, he wouldn't favor Long Feiye, either. That truly was a worthy threat to Long Feiye, but all he did was drink his tea, his gaze unreadable. Han Yunxi kept silent as well, finding the whole thing laughable. Emperor Tianhui really was thick-skinned! Mu Liuyue had already been bullied by that paltry wedding before she even married into the family!
"Naturally. That child Liuyue was on good terms with Changping. If Changping was still alive, how great it would be!" the empress dowager said, before pulling sorrowfully at her handkerchief. She even cast a glance at Han Yunxi before she added, "None of that now. If Liuyue heard me, she would feel sad as well."
Han Yunxi only pretended she hadn't seen a thing, but the empress dowager then remarked, "Liuyue and Changping both hold equal places in my heart. I won't forgive anyone who bullies her in the future!"
So were those words meant for me? Han Yunxi mused. But I've already bullied her! While she was secretly rejoicing over the fact, Emperor Tianhui took another swing at Long Feiye.
"Duke of Qin," he said, "The Duke of Qin's estate has made a great contribution with the charity auction. Such care for the famine victims is their fortune. Zhen had a discussion with a few officials yesterday and have decided to send you to the disaster areas to oversee relief efforts. How is it?"
Long Feiye's hands stiffened minutely around his teacup, finding this rather unexpected. Still, he was quick to reply with a single, calm word. "Alright."
Han Yunxi creased her brows. She hadn't expected him to agree so fast. With those embezzling officials behind the scenes, it'd be useless to for anyone to oversee the relief efforts. Tianning's famine situation was so severe this time that someone like Long Feiye wouldn't be able to make a big difference even if he found and caught all the corrupt officials stealing grain. Famines in the past could be relieved with grain stores that lasted from six months to a year, but the problem was too widespread this time. Moreover, it was already approaching winter. There wasn't enough grain to begin with, even with the stores from the capital, Long Feiye's private supplies, and contributions from the surrounding prefectures, counties, consortiums. At most, they'd be able to feed the country for one month.
Grain in ancient times needed the right time, climate, and population to grow and thrive. Where were they supposed to get more grain with winter on the horizon?! If Long Feiye couldn't resolve such a thorny issue, then Emperor Tianhui would have plenty of excuses to cause him difficulties. More importantly, it'd make the common people lose faith in the Duke of Qin.
Despicable! Han Yunxi cursed to herself. If Emperor Tianhui had paid attention to the crop failures earlier and relieved the disaster areas while digging out the corrupt officials, things wouldn't look so bleak now. He actually pushed all the responsibility onto Long Feiye's shoulders instead. If that was the case, why not give Long Feiye the crown, to boot?
It was obvious that Emperor Tianhui hadn't expected Long Feiye to agree so readily, either. However, he would've found ways to make him accept regardless. After all, news of the charity auction had already pushed the Duke of Qin's namesake to the summit. It would've been easy to make him accept.
"Duke of Qin, Zhen is handing the lives of our people into your hands," Emperor Tianhui spoke with such a sincere and earnest tone that it made Han Yunxi feel sick.
She knew that Emperor Tianhui wouldn't have missed this chance even if they didn't hold a charity auction in the first place. In contrast, Long Feiye was quite serene. He didn't even speak, merely nodded his head to accept. Han Yunxi began to grow suspicious.
Did he already plan for this ahead of time?
1. give birth to a son soon () - zaoshengguizi, a propitiatory compliment to a newlywed couple.
2. the mountains have their trees, yet the trees have their branches () - shanyoumu xi muyouzhi, not as nonsensical as it appears, this is a direct verse taken from a short song from 528 BC called "Song of the Yue Boatman." Long Tianmo has adopted it to express his unrequited love for Han Yunxi. You can click on the link in this footnote to see the relevant wiki article, or go back to the link to the story to hear a music rendition of the melody.