The Reborn Noble Girl is Hard to Find | Chapter 16: Setting the Stage

If the connection between Lin, the steward, and Li, the old maid, existed before Concubine Zhou entered the mansion, there might be information related to her Mother that could be investigated.

In the Jin Luang Hall, the Emperor, dressed in bright yellow, sat on the high seat. The civil and military officials stood with bowed heads, and there were no official reports to be made. Emperor Xianzong seemed to be in a good mood, perhaps due to the joyful news of a great victory in the northwest border reaching him. A faint smile adorned his face.

“I have heard of the great victory on the border, and I am pleased. I plan to hold a night banquet in the palace in the coming days. Do any of you have suggestions?” The Emperor’s words were met with unanimous approval from the officials. It had been a long time since the Emperor had been in such a good mood. The northwest military campaign had been a lingering concern since the previous Emperor’s reign, and this significant triumph over the foreign invaders was indeed cause for celebration.

“Yunxi,” the Emperor addressed a man among the officials, “this General Cheng is trained under your command. If we are to reward for merit, you should remember his outstanding achievements!”

The young man in a deep red and white embroidered official robe, with patterns of dark gold on the edges of his glazed leather boots, and a white jade at his waist, stood in the center of the hall. His face, handsome and expressionless, exuded a cold aura that contrasted with his youth.

The man bowed respectfully, “This humble subject dare not accept such an honor.”

Despite his seemingly audacious demeanor, the Emperor didn’t appear displeased. “Don’t decline so quickly. I was thinking of rewarding you handsomely. Considering your age and your intention to marry, how about gifting you a few beautiful women?”

The young man arched an eyebrow and replied calmly, “I have no intention of marrying.”

The Emperor laughed heartily, seemingly amused by the young man’s stoic response. The other officials, however, displayed various expressions.

Wei Wang, Wei Jing, furrowed his brow. When he turned his head, he met the disapproving gaze of Zhuang Shiyang, and the two exchanged a subtle nod before lowering their heads discreetly.

Xuanqing Wang, Fu Yunxi, and the current Emperor were full brothers, and their relationship was exceptionally good. While it was commonly believed that royal families were heartless, this statement did not apply to these two brothers.

Fu Yunxi, now twenty years old, had gained recognition not only for his military achievements but also for his charisma. At the age of fourteen, during the invasion of the Tartars into the Central Plains, he volunteered to lead the charge despite the Emperor’s objections. In front of the civil and military officials, he wrote a military oath and faced the battlefield, becoming famous in a single battle.

After the invaders retreated to the northwest, almost the entire army was annihilated. General Cheng, at that time a subordinate officer, occupied the position of vice-general. It was during that period that the deep bond between them was forged.

Fu Yunxi’s popularity, however, extended beyond the military. As a handsome young man with both literary and martial talents, he naturally became the object of affection for many young ladies in the capital. Unfortunately, he remained uninterested and maintained a cold demeanor. Rumors circulated that he was uninterested in women, fueling speculation about his sexual orientation.

The rivalry between Wei Wang and Xuanqing Wang stemmed from family matters. After General Cheng’s aunt married Wang Wei, she died shortly after difficult childbirth. Following this tragic event, the relationship between the two families soured. Although the exact reasons were unknown, it was widely understood that there were many twists and turns in the affairs of the large families in the capital.

General Cheng, loyal to his friend Fu Yunxi, naturally stood on his side. Thus, the enmity between Wang Wei and General Cheng was inevitable. Zhuang Shiyang, always siding with Wang Wei, shared the same sentiments.

The Emperor, praising General Cheng and elevating Fu Yunxi, naturally caused displeasure for Wang Wei. Zhuang Shiyang, consistently on Wang Wei’s side, would also not be pleased.

From his elevated position, the Emperor smiled and subtly observed the reactions of the officials. After saying a few more words, he raised his hand, and the eunuch at the side respectfully announced, “Dismissed.”

“Congratulations, Your Highness,” Zhuang Shiyang offered his congratulations as he passed by Fu Yunxi.

Fu Yunxi glanced at him and replied indifferently, “It’s the fortune of the kingdom. A Shared joy.” He then turned and walked away.

Zhuang Shiyang felt frustrated and embarrassed. He glared at the retreating figure of Fu Yunxi and muttered under his breath, “An immature yellow-mouthed brat dares to be so arrogant! Thinks he’s the center of the universe!”

Wang Wei approached, patted Zhuang Shiyang on the shoulder, and chuckled, “Your Highness has achieved great success. The Emperor’s generous rewards are well-deserved.”

Zhuang Shiyang quickly turned around, flattered, and said, “When it comes to great achievements, who can surpass Your Highness? As a veteran of two dynasties, even Xuanqing  Wang must consider your influence. These rewards might not catch the eye of someone as distinguished as Your Highness.”

Wang Wei just smiled, saying nothing. However, as he watched the retreating figure of Fu Yunxi, his expression became somewhat heavy.

Fu Ling Courtyard, in the inner room, sat a young woman. She wore a delicate water-green sandalwood top, paired with a silver-bottomed scattered emerald lantern skirt. Her jet-black hair was styled into a flowing cloud bun, adorned with a layered golden peony hairpin. With meticulously enhanced beauty, her lotus-like face appeared even more stunning.

Zhuang Yushan rushed into the arms of Concubine Zhou, resentfully saying, ‘Mother, that vile woman has been bullying us all along. Today, she humiliated me in every possible way. I, as an ignored illegitimate daughter of the Zhuang family, am inferior even to a concubine’s daughter. Should I just swallow this humiliation?’

Concubine Zhou looked at the distressed expression on her daughter’s beautiful face, a trace of heartache flickering in her eyes. She stroked her daughter’s head and said in a deep voice, ‘Mother misunderstood. I thought Zhuang Hanyan would be as useless as Furen Wang. I didn’t expect her to be clever.’ She sneered, her finely drawn willow eyebrows revealing a sharp edge. ‘Don’t worry, my dear. That Lady Wang was defeated. How could I fear a little wench? After all, she’s just twelve. No matter how clever she is, she can’t turn the world upside down.’

Li Mama beside them chimed in, ‘Madam, don’t worry. Fourth Miss is not favored, and the master doesn’t like her. She doesn’t hold much status in the mansion. Unlike our young miss, who is doted on by the master.’

Concubine Zhou nodded and pointed to Zhuang Yushan’s forehead, ‘Be more obedient in front of the master. Don’t be impulsive like today. How have I taught you? Gain the favor of the master, and we, mother and daughter, will have a better life in the mansion.’ Pausing, she added, ‘I see that Zhuang Hanyan is not favored. Those two in the Fuyong Garden, one has no son, and the other’s daughter is dull. They’re not worth fearing.’

Li Mama hesitated, looking at her young miss, and said, ‘What about the young master? After all, he is the legitimate son of the Zhuang family…’ Before she could finish her sentence, Concubine Zhou interrupted with a cold laugh, ‘Legitimate son? The master doesn’t treat him as an legitimate son. You don’t need to worry about this. He’s insignificant. Not as important as that flatterer in the Fuyong Garden. Now that we’re in the mansion, let’s go and see that young master. Caiming, bring out the gift for the young master.’

Zhuang Yushan was stunned and asked, ‘Mother, isn’t that gift precious? Is it okay to give it to him like this?’

Concubine Zhou glared at her daughter, ‘You’re so useless. When will you become smarter? That gift is carefully prepared by me. What’s the value of being precious? The young master will surely like it.’ Zhuang Yushan wanted to say more, but seeing her mother’s expression, she reluctantly kept quiet.”

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