When the horse carriage stopped, Xiao Yuan lifted up the curtains. Horse carriages crowded the surrounding area by the entrance of Princess Jin Shu’s manor and all the people arriving were wealthy and respectable people.
Just as Xiao Yuan was thinking of looking away, she saw an especially eye-catching white crescent figure standing in the middle of the crowd.
Just as Zhao Zun stepped out, he had coincidentally bumped into Lian Jiming. Lian Jiming thought to himself that he should make sure to get on Zhao Zun’s good side and so he adopted an exceptionally polite attitude while talking to him.
The two of them were so caught up in their heated conversation that they had accidentally walked all the way to Princess Jin Shu’s manor. The guard at the door recognized Lian Jiming and Zhao Zun followed him in. The butler immediately shouted, “The Great Prince has arrived!” and let the two of them pass.
The corner of Zhao Qi’s mouth twitched. Why did his lord go through all of this trouble? He had ripped up a perfectly fine invitation and now had to rely on the Great Prince to get in.
Seeing Zhao Zun’s smiling expression, Xiao Yuan couldn’t help but feel in low spirits. How unlucky she was! No matter where she went, she ended up running into him!
Before she had time to react, she heard someone shout something.
“The old madam of the Right Minister’s manor has arrived!”
The Princess’s butler had extraordinarily good sight and had spotted the Minister’s carriage from very far away. He walked to the front of the carriage to personally welcome her.
When the old madam entered the manor, Princess Jin Zhu escorted her up.
Princess Jin Shu was the Emperor’s sister and was considerably doted on. Presently, the Empress Dowager’s first daughter had returned to the capital from a fiefdom this year. If it had been any another princess, she would have only returned for the Empress Dowager’s or the Emperor’s birthday. From this, it could be seen just how spoiled and pampered Princess Jin Shu was.
The old madam was taken aback from the amount of favor being shown to her, “This old body pays respect to the Princess.”
Princess Jin Shu rushed to wave her hand, “The old madam is too polite. This temple is already very happy that the old madam could come. There’s no need to be over courteous. Please come inside.”
Princess Jin Shu was forty years old but had taken good care of herself. The previous emperor’s son-in-law had already passed away. The current one was the eldest son of Marquis Chang Yang. Coincidentally, this Lord Liu had never had a first wife before. Princess Jin Shu could be considered his second wife.
Lord Liu also had a daughter, who was the same age as Princess Jin Shu’s eldest daughter. They were both 14 years old. Liu Qingwu was older than Qing Le by half a month.
Xiao Yuan looked at the two young ladies standing behind Princess Jin Shu. The one on the left had an elegant bearing that was appropriate for the occasion. They faced Princess Jin Shu and carefully fawned over her. Their appearance was beautiful and their figure charming. They looked so delicate it seemed as if a gust of wind would be enough to blow them away.
They were completely unlike Qing Le, who looked formidable and carried herself with confidence. She had an overwhelming aura of outspokenness and forthrightness. Her appearance was clearly mostly inherited from Princess Jin Shu. She was an eye-catching beauty. She tilted her head to look at Xiao Yuan and coquettishly batted her eyelashes at her.
Xiao Yuan followed suit and gave Qing Le a smile.
Princess Jin Shu would from time to time look at Liu Qingwu and her eyes would contain a smiling expression. She would occasionally look at Princess Qing Le but her gaze changed to one filled with the utmost disgust.
Xiao Yuan could see the whole situation clearly but was somewhat puzzled. Princess Jin Shu didn’t care for her own flesh and blood child but rather doted on someone who had no blood relation to her. Xiao Yuan couldn’t think of a reason for why this was.
“Mother, your daughter is going to bring a few friends to the garden.”
Princess Qing Le didn’t mind and looked like she was already used to it. She immediately dragged Xiao Yuan away.
Princess Jin Shu shot a glance at Liu Qingwu, “Wu, why don’t you go along with them. There’s only adults talking here. It’ll be very boring.”
Liu Qingwu shook her head, “Mother, daughter wants to keep mother company.”
When Princess Jin Shu heard this, the smile at the corner of her mouth deepened and she patted the back of Liu Qingwu’s hand a few times, “Good girl but you should go. It’s rare for so many young girls to come by like they have today. Take advantage of this opportunity to go make some friends. In the future, the more you walk around, the less bored you’ll be.”
The old madam lowered her head to drink some tea and her eyes flashed. The rumors were true; Princess Jin Shu treated her stepdaughter as if she was her own flesh and blood and was exceptionally doting of her. A few days ago, Princess Qing Le asked for a fief to be granted to Liu Qingwu. The matter was only dropped after she was heavily reprimanded on the spot by the Empress Dowager.
It wasn’t clear what Princess Jin Shu was thinking about and how she could not care about her own biological child.
Liu Qingwu nodded her head and obediently said, “Yes, Wu will take her leave then.”
Xiao Yuan was dragged the entire way to the garden by Qing Le. Quite a few noblewomen walked up to her and surrounded her but seeing Qing Le’s impatient expression, the crowd of them finally ended up dispersing.
Qing Le waited for everyone to leave before stretching out her back and curled her lips.
“Oof, finally made it out. You don’t even know how close I was to being bored to death. Shooing them away was like trying to shoo away flies! Just looking at them makes me annoyed.”
As Qing Le spoke, her face looked quite relaxed. While Princess Jin Shu didn’t care for her, the Emperor and Empress Dowager still loved her dearly and even granted her a substantially sized fiefdom, which was even better than some other Princess’s. Because of this, there was never a lack of flattery and sweet-talking by Qing Le’s side. Qing Le’s only partner in crime was Xiao Yuan.
Xiao Yuan, at her age, had never seen someone give her a bad look. With the Right Minister at her side, who would dare to bully Xiao Yuan?
Xiao Yuan lifted her chin, “Why pay her any mind? It’s not like it’s been like this for only one or two days besides I have some things I want to tell you.”
Xiao Yuan smiled delicately, clutching her stomach and almost laughed herself into stitches. At this, Qing Le became quite curious.
“Princess, Miss Xiao Ninth.”
A voice interjected itself their conversation, freezing the smile on Qing Le’s face. She unhappily asked, “Why did you come?”
Liu Qingwu was carrying a tray filled with fruit in her hands. She shyly stood to one side and looked unsure about what to do.
“I came by to deliver some fruit. I didn’t have any intention of troubling you Princess.”
Qing Le spoke with disgust dripping from her voice, “Don’t we have maidservants? If you don’t have anything to do, don’t hang around in front of this princess. Just looking at you makes me annoyed.”
Qing Le made no attempt to disguise her disdain. Liu Qingwu was frozen in place. She lowered her head and looked extremely pitiful, which caught the attention of quite of few people.
Xiao Yuan raised her eyebrow, “Why doesn’t this miss take back her tears? Today is the Princess’s birthday, a joyous occasion. If you sob and wail, bad luck will certainly come. If the news of you crying were to make it to the Princess’s ears, that would spell bad news. Qing Le is filled with only good intentions. What is Miss Liu crying for? Might as well say it out loud and all of us can help you talk it out?”
Liu Qingwu was taken aback and rushed to stop her tears, not daring to cry anymore. She bit her lip, “It was me who made the mistake. Don’t be mad Princess. I’ll just leave then.”
“Wait, wait!” Xiao Yuan called after Liu Qingwu, “You haven’t even finished speaking. What did the Princess do to you? If you leave just like this, won’t other people have a misperception of the Princess?”
Liu Qingwu paused and noticed more and more people were surrounding them. Her face flushed bright red.
Liu Qingwu was already used to using this maneuver in the past and no one had dared to speak on Qing Le’s behalf. After every banquet, Qing Le couldn’t avoid enduring yet another punishment. How come Xiao Yuan was this forceful and domineering?
Liu Qingwu was temporarily unsure about what to do and stamped her feet before she covered her face and ran off.
Qing Le curled her lip, “Don’t pay her any mind. She always acts like that, always ready to cry. Such a disappointment!”
Qing Le nodded her head, she would have to wait to teach Liu Qingwu a lesson later.
Zhao Zun searched through the garden. The courtyard was filled with women and anyone looking would have been dazzled. However, there was one figure still to be seen.
All of a sudden, a laugh like the sound of silver bells floated into his ear. The sound made him feel happy in spite of himself. He took a few steps forward.
“Hey! Weren’t you calling me prodigal the other day for wanting to spend 200,000 tael to hear one song. Ha! Ha! But you don’t know! That person spent a million tael and yet, all night the sound of a zither playing never stopped coming from the beauty’s room.”
Xiao Yuan laughed herself silly. Qing Le was taken aback. She hadn’t been paying attention to outside matters these past few days. She abruptly broke into peals of laughter and couldn’t even straighten her back.
“No way! Who would be that stupid to spend a million tael just to listen to a song?”
“Not stupid, but rather…” Xiao Yuan was surprised and for awhile couldn’t find an appropriate word, vexing her.
“Incompetent!” Xiao Yuan suddenly said out loud.
A certain person temporarily stopped walking, his expression as dark as the bottom of a pan. He tightly pursed his lips and badly wanted to step forward to strangle the heartless Xiao Wan.