Chapter 311: Empress Dowager's birthday banquet (5)
Technically speaking, Mu Linger didn't have the qualifications to represent Medicine City this time. Because she'd disappeared halfway to Medical City last time, everyone had been waiting for her to show up again. She never did show up in Medical City and even forced its people to search for her everywhere. Leaving aside the Wang and Xie Clans, there were many voices of dissent coming from her own Mu Clan as well.
For Tianning's Empress Dowager's birthday banquet this time, the three main clans of Medicine City had come to an agreement to let the strong Mu Clan represent them again as a delegate of the city. Mu Yingdong had been so unhappy after his row with Han Yunxi that he didn't want to see either her or her husband. Originally, the plan was to have the Mu Clan eldest son Mu Chaoran[1 Mu Chaoran () - Chaoran means "aloof, detached."] be the representative, but Mu Linger had insisted on having a chance to go, and wouldn't even leave the capital city because of it. In the end, Mu Yingdong came to a compromise. It wasn't appropriate for a little girl to act as delegate for Medicine City at banquet for the entire nation, but everyone had heard of her genius pharmacy skills in Cloud Realm Continent. At the very least, that reputation could give her ample grounds to attend the gathering.
Mu Yingdong personally handed the prepared present into Mu Linger's hands, telling her to keep it safe. She was also supposed to say a few extra words of congratulations at the banquet. This gift had been agreed on by all three great clans of Medicine City, a life-saving pill that came from their own Medicine Forest. Even though it was called a pill, it hadn't been created through burning and refining. Instead, it had been picked from the tree it was growing from. A single tree would only produce one pill every 30 years. In an emergency, a pill like this could preserve the heart and vitality of its user, thus grabbing valuable time for a doctor to treat the patient. Medicine City had prepared such a hefty gift, first and foremost to express their goodwill and give themselves face. For the Mu Clan, it was a chance to get on friendly terms with Tianning as well. Although Mu Yingdong had a secret alliance with Jun Yixie, he still wanted to on friendly relations with Emperor Tianhui, at least on the surface. He'd favored Emperor Tianhui even more after Han Yunxi and Long Feiye had made him suffer losses.
When the empress dowager saw Mu Linger stand up, her pent-up discontent and flustered heart finally gave way to a spark of vitality. She knew that Medicine City was on fairly good terms with Tianning, and that their present would definitely be exceptional. Foreign guests always maintained a moderate stance and gave them gifts as usual. They would never interfere with Tianning's domestic disputes. This was especially true for a complicated power like Medicine City. A single delegate had no way to decide on the city's stance. The empress dowager was confident that Mu Linger would give her a big present. Finally, she felt a sense of anticipation.
Emperor Tianhui had regained his confidence as well. He didn't believe that Long Feiye was capable of drawing foreign powers to his side as well! He wanted Long Feiye to know that he was the true master of Tianning. The foreign guests would only recognize him! A few of them had already offered up large gifts, but their strength couldn't be compared to Medicine City. Now that their representative had stood up, he was planning to show off in front of Long Feiye. See there, Mu Linger hadn't even identified herself before Emperor Tianhui was already opening his mouth.
"This must be the Mu Clan's famous genius pharmacist, Miss Linger?"
Any other representative would be floored by his favor, but Mu Linger's expression remained calm. "Precisely."
"Why didn't the head of the Mu Clan accompany you?" Emperor Tianhui long knew that Mu Yingdong wasn't coming, but he asked her on purpose just so Long Feiye could hear, too. Medicine City had ample power. They were just any ordinary ally!
"My father wasn't feeling well, so I'm here to represent him," Mu Linger said, before adding on hastily, "And to represent Medicine City."
Chu Qingge felt unwell all over at these words. She couldn't even sit comfortably, and her hands balled into fists beneath the table. Still, she couldn't help but admit that her status wasn't comparable to that damned girl. Did big brother save her without revealing himself at the restaurant because he didn't want to offend Medicine City? She'd asked him multiple times, but only got eyerolls in return. Chu Qingge next looked at Han Yunxi, wondering what her relation with Mu Linger could be. Han Yunxi and Mu Linger didn't seem to be on good terms, but the woman had obviously saved the girl on that day. All she saw was Han Yunxi quietly observing Mu Linger, her flickering gaze deep and complicated. Beside her, Long Feiye didn't seem to care a whit.
"Give Zhen's regards to your father for his health," Emperor Tianhui said seriously.
"Alright," Mu Linger nodded, before turning towards the empress dowager. The empress dowager was all smiles, while flowers had long blossomed in her heart. She was trying to guess what kind of present Medicine City had prepared for her sake. It'd have to be some sort of medicine, but she couldn't fathom the type. Actually, everyone else was guessing as well. Medicine City had always provided exceptional gifts. Under the gazes of everyone present, Mu Linger stepped out from her seat and walked forward. When she passed by Han Yunxi, she purposely glanced at her from the corner of her eye. Han Yunxi allowed her to provoke her without a single change in expression.
Mu Linger reached the empress dowager and gave a bow that was neither haughty nor humble. "Mu Linger greets Tianning's empress dowager!"
"Rise, rise!" the empress dowager was hard-pressed to hide her excitement, her face as pleasant as a spring breeze.
Mu Linger made another bow, one more formal and grand this time. "Linger represents the Mu Clan and Medicine City to congratulate Tianning's empress dowager. May your life be as long and flourishing as the sun and moon, as eternally youthful as the pine and crane. May happiness be your constant companion and boundless blessings find you in your old age. May your lips part often in smiles, and the bonds of your family remain eternally unbroken!"
She spoke her words loudly, each word reverberating through the quiet audience hall. Emperor Tianhui and the empress dowager were both extremely satisfied with her speech.
"Good, good, good! This child, she speaks such sweet words!" the empress dowager was smiling broadly as she looked towards Emperor Tianhui, who nodded to show his approval.
"Esteemed Empress Dowager praises wrongly," Mu Linger said humbly.
"See there, she's even being modest," the empress dowager said with a smile. "Hurry and rise."
Mu Linger straightened up, then...then turned to walk back to her seat before sitting down. And then...and then that was it!
She didn't give a present!
What was Medicine City thinking?!
The empress dowager's smile had turned completely stiff, her eyes staring blankly forward as her expression turned terrifying. This had happened completely out of the blue. Everyone else exchanged glances in the silence as the atmosphere turned strange.
Medicine City had actually meddled in Tianning's domestic disputes at a banquet like this! They'd shown public support for His Highness Duke of Qin! Heavens, what's happened to Medicine City? Could it be that all three clans in the city supported His Highness Duke of Qin?
Very soon, all sorts of suspicions and envious speculation rose from the crowd. The empress dowager's breathing slowly turned labored as she curled her hands into fists. She suppressed the anger in her heart, but she was close to bursting.
Despicable! Absolutely despicable!
That damned girl's actually not planning to give a present? Then why did she walk all the way up here and say so many words of congrats? Why?!
The empress dowager's face had turned white with anger, her entire body stiff. Emperor Tianhui's complexion had long cycled through a variety of hues. His ever-changing expressions were a sight to behold. He'd never expected Medicine City to publically support Long Feiye like that! What was Mu Yingdong thinking? What were the Wang and Xie Clans thinking?!
Mu Linger allowed the questioning looks to come her way as she leisurely sipped at her tea. She looked as if nothing extraordinary had happened at all. Han Yunxi's tightly pursed lips slowly rose into an arc. She lightly patted Long Feiye with her hand. "I told you that girl was a cutie."
Long Feiye didn't reply, but spared Mu Linger one of his rare glances. Actually, he could've shown Emperor Tianhui and the empress dowager the full extent of his foreign influence even without Mu Linger. But since Mu Linger had impulsively represented Medicine City as standing on his side, he decided not to explain.
As Mu Linger drank her tea, she shifted her gaze to Han Yunxi, who was looking at her with a grin. Immediately, she averted her eyes and ignored her with a haughty air. Han Yunxi simply gave a lazy yawn and went back to drinking her own tea. She didn't spare Mu Linger any more glances, either. They were probably the only ones who truly understood the complicated relations behind everything. Anyways, everyone was already discussing the meaning behind Medicine City's stance. Emperor Tianhui was finally looking at Long Feiye in a new light, too. He had to consider how Mu Linger's actions would affect his standing in the eyes of his foreign guests.
Could the birthday banquet still proceed smoothly at this rate?
No matter the case, it still had to go on. This concerned the face of Tianning's imperial clan. The empress dowager was so furious that she wanted to throw her things aside and leave, but she was still an empress dowager in the end. Holding back her temper, she remained sitting in her seat. Emperor Tianhui was extremely ill at ease, but he had to calm himself down to re-assess the powers behind Long Feiye. It looked like he'd have to temporarily give up on causing Long Feiye difficulties during this banquet. If he pushed his imperial brother too far, the man might really call out his troops and rebel! Tianning seemed peaceful and flourishing under his rule, but it had plenty of problems at home and abroad. If Long Feiye really made a move, it wouldn't benefit him whatsoever. Though Long Feiye had won this game of chess, Emperor Tianhui was unresigned. But after weighing the odds, he had no choice but to endure it!
"Your Majesty, I heard that the dancers prepared a Flourishing Peach Blossom1 dance for muhou. Why not have them come in and liven things up?" Noble Consort Yun2 seized the chance to resolve the situation.
The empress had gone insane, and the most favored Noble Consort Xiao, mother to the second imperial son, was probably going to come to grief thanks to her father Prime Minister Xiao's stance. Naturally, Noble Consort Yun had to take advantage of the situation to pave a road for her own son, the seventh imperial prince.
Emperor Tianhui nodded his head. "Mm."
A group of dancers as beautiful as flowers appeared from both sides of the hall with floating steps. Their faces were as pretty as peach blossoms, their pink gowns lightly fluttering in their wake. Their arrival at once captured the attentions of everyone present. Even though everyone was still speculating over the recent events, the atmosphere seemed to have eased at last. The empress dowager silently exhaled as a sinister look came into her eyes. If I can't make trouble for the Duke of Qin today, I can at least give grief to Han Yunxi. Otherwise, I won't be able to swallow my temper!
While enjoying the dance and song, the other foreign guests presented their gifts as well. There were no more standalone acts like Mu Linger. Duanmu Baiye represented Western Zhou to give the empress dowager a hefty gift that finally fell within everyone's expectations. Even though Chu Qingge wanted to support Long Feiye, she knew there was no way she'd be able to convince Duanmu Baiye. She couldn't help but give Mu Linger an envying look.
If I could represent Western Zhou, or even just Western Zhou's Chu Clan, I'd definitely stand on Long Feiye's side.
There were some people who were destined to be bound by duty and obligations all their lives. There were others who persisted in their own ways no matter what others said!
Once the foreign guests finished with their gifts, things had settled down. Everyone quietly enjoyed the beautiful peach blossom dance.3 It really was a lovely piece, enough to entrance many of the audience members. The empress dowager sat in her seat, looking as if she was enjoying the dance as well. But she was secretly thinking of ways to deal with Han Yunxi.
Han Yunxi had no idea what the empress dowager was thinking. She was currently eating the delicious snacks at her table while observing the dance. She had been so busy recently that this was a rare chance to enjoy herself!
But it was then that Chu Qingge suddenly spoke with a smile, "Qin Wangfei..."
1. Peach blossoms were traditional symbols of longevity, and so very appropriate for a birthday celebration.
2. Yun () - "charm, rhythm, musical/pleasing sound."
3. Peach blossom dance - I wanted to find a sample video for this, and I think actress (Lü Yi) fits the gentle, courtly, classical Chinese dance aesthetic very well. Look for the flower dance segments in the this video, especially the cut from 2:17-2:37. There's even an end shot of a empress dowager reacting to the dance ahaha~ ^-^ You can also see the full version of the flower dance starting from 7:15 in this video. Just mentally replace the lotus flowers with peach blossoms! uwu