The Reborn Noble Girl is Hard to Find | Chapter 21-28

Chapter 21: Intrigue

“You are mine, and Yuer is my daughter. Who dares to say otherwise! Moreover, who said you’re just a concubine? I’ve promised to elevate you to my wife, and sooner or later, you will be!” 

With assurance, Zhou Shi couldn’t contain her joy and buried her face into the man’s bare chest. “Whatever you say, my lord.”

Feeling the softness of her body against his, he couldn’t resist pressing her down again, and the courtyard was filled with ambiguous sounds.

Outside the room, the maid sweeping by the bedside tightened her grip on the broom handle, then hurriedly left the courtyard.

Meanwhile, Han Yan was writing in her room after dinner. It was rare for Zhou Shi and her daughter to be so quiet, and she didn’t want to disturb the peace.

However, just as she had written a line, a maid came to report that Concubine Mei had arrived.

Han Yan raised an eyebrow. She hadn’t gone to seek her, but Concubine Mei had come on her own, which saved her the trouble.

Setting aside her pen and paper, she warmly said, “Concubine Mei is here? Please, bring her in quickly.”

Concubine Mei, dressed attractively, entered Han Yan’s chamber. Her brows furrowed at the simplicity of the furnishings; as the legitimate daughter of the Zhuang family, Han Yan’s room was unexpectedly plain compared to Zhou Qin, the illegitimate daughter.

However, Han Yan stood timidly by the door, clutching her clothes, seeming a bit at a loss. “Why did Concubine Mei think of Yan’er? “

Concubine Mei carefully examined Han Yan. Seeing her innocent and cautious demeanor, she felt her own status had risen considerably. Despite the recent unpleasantness with Zhou Shi and her daughter, she found Han Yan more pleasing now. She reached out and patted Han Yan’s hand, saying gently, “Of course, concubineie naturally thinks of Fourth Miss. Fourth Miss has just recovered from a serious illness. concubineie is worried that you might not be feeling well, so I brought some food.”

Han Yan suddenly felt a chill in her heart. Her mother had passed away, and Concubine Mei had never shown her such kindness before. But now, with Concubine Mei’s apparent goodwill, Han Yan found it difficult to speak.

Concubine Mei, thinking Han Yan was timid, no longer looked down on her. She felt Han Yan was easy to manipulate and decided to improve their relationship.

Han Yan, with a sweet smile, said, “Thank you for your concern, Concubine Mei. Concubine Mei and Sister Zhou have been very kind to me during my illness, and I am touched.”

Her words were sincere, but Concubine Mei was secretly furious. She knew that if Zhou Shi and her daughter gained Han Yan’s favor, it would give them an advantage. However, she couldn’t reveal her agitation and instead wore a solemn expression, saying, “That Zhou Shi has evil intentions. The gifts she sends hide ulterior motives to harm you.”

Startled, Han Yan looked up. “How can Concubine Mei say such things? Concubine Zhou and Sister Yushan have been kind to me. Please don’t misunderstand them.”

Concubine Mei glared at her and touched Han Yan’s forehead affectionately. “You are so kind-hearted, but they want to corrupt your brother’s mind with these gifts. You mustn’t be fooled by their false kindness.”

Han Yan was taken aback, clutching Concubine Mei’s hand gratefully. “What should I do then? Fifth Brother is about to take the imperial examination.”

“Don’t worry. With this concubine here, I won’t let them have their way.” Concubine Mei reassured her, and Han Yan’s lips curled up, finally able to utter those words.

Grasping Concubine Mei’s hand in gratitude, Han Yan spoke, “Yan’er and Fifth Brother thank Concubine Mei. But…” She hesitated, then continued, “I heard that Father has decided to take Concubine Zhou to the palace for the evening banquet.”

“What?” Concubine Mei was taken aback, unable to contain her anger. Han Yan’s father, as the legitimate daughter, was expected to take her to such events. Now, hearing that Zhuang Shi planned to take Zhou Shi instead, Concubine Mei was livid.

“Fourth Miss, it’s getting late today. concubineie won’t delay your rest. I’ll leave first.” Concubine Mei said, her brows furrowed with urgency.

Han Yan smiled innocently. “Then let Shu Hong escort concubine Mei. If Father likes concubineie Zhou, Yan’er can only accept it. But…” She chuckled, “Yan’er prefers concubine Mei. concubine Mei is more beautiful!”

Children’s praises are the most genuine, and Concubine Mei couldn’t help but smile. But soon, her heart tightened. Han Yan was only a twelve-year-old child after all, and Concubine Mei needed to do something to make her aware of the possibility of becoming the legitimate lady of the mansion.

As she left with Shu Hong, Jiao Meng kept a close eye on her mistress’s expression. If Zhou Shi and her daughter were allowed to enter the palace, it would be a victory for them. 

“The foxy woman!” Concubine Mei stood in place, gritting her teeth in anger.

Jiao Meng approached her, whispering, “Mistress, we can’t let the residents of Fu Ling Courtyard enter the palace. They are too arrogant, and if they succeed, they will no longer respect you.”

“How can I let them have their way?” Concubine Mei snorted and her eyes flashed with malice. “Help me send a message to the Lin family.”

Chapter 22: Unforeseen Events

Jiao Meng nodded knowingly before swiftly disappearing into the obscurity of the night.

Inside the residence, Han Yan leisurely peeled an orange, popping a slice into her mouth, its faintly bitter taste causing her to squint.

After a moment of silence, Chen Mama couldn’t hold back any longer. “Miss, is it your intention to have Concubine Mei enter the palace?” she asked, furrowing her brows. “But Concubine Mei isn’t an easy one to deal with either. Are you driving out one trouble only to invite another? How do you plan to handle this?”

Han Yan let out a yawn. “Concubine Mei wants to win me over, so she won’t harm me for now. However, Concubine Zhou is too conniving; we cannot allow her entry into the palace this time. Mama, just observe. Concubine Mei won’t let Concubine Zhou enter the palace. She will undoubtedly create obstacles for her. Even if Concubine Zhou fails to enter, Father won’t allow Concubine Mei, a lowly concubine, to degrade herself by going to the palace. At most, he might let Concubine Wan accompany him.”

Chen Mama wanted to say more, but Han Yan had already started eating her orange, murmuring, “Let’s just watch the show.”

However, the following day brought an unexpected turn of events that disrupted the entire situation.

Early in the morning, Han Yan went to pay her respects to Zhuang Shiyang. With her illness now fully recovered, she couldn’t afford to neglect her duties. Moreover, she needed to maintain a facade of filial piety towards Zhuang Shiyang.

Entering the main dining hall, Han Yan spotted Zhuang Hanming seated on one side, with Zhuang Shiyang beside him and Zhuang Yushan leaning against him. Beside Zhuang Yushan sat the elegantly attired Concubine Zhou, while Zhuang Qin, Concubine Wan, and Concubine Mei sat on the opposite side of the table. Han Yan inwardly sneered at the clear seating arrangement, indicative of their positions within the household.

However, she remained silent and respectfully greeted Zhuang Shiyang. “Respects to Father.”

Concubine Zhou immediately chuckled, “Fourth Miss, please take your seat. Master has been patiently awaiting your presence for quite some time.”

Her remark served both as a reprimand for Han Yan’s tardiness and as a critique of her perceived arrogance in keeping them waiting.

Perplexed, Han Yan looked at Concubine Zhou. “Father has been here for so long? That’s odd. I always wake up at the same time. Jilan, you silly girl, didn’t you wake me on time? You should be reprimanded!”

Jilan understood and quickly replied, “Miss, there was no mistake in the timing.”

Relieved, Han Yan smiled innocently. “You scared me. So Father woke up early. I apologize for my lack of diligence. I will do better.”

Before she could finish her sentence, a shrill scream pierced the air, followed by a loud crash. Zhuang Yushan fell off her chair, clutching her stomach. “It hurts! My stomach hurts!”

Han Yan was taken aback, and Zhuang Shiyang quickly picked up Zhuang Yushan. “What’s wrong, Yushan? Why is your stomach suddenly hurting?”

Concubine Zhou rushed to Zhuang Yushan’s side, tears streaming down her face. “Husband, quickly summon the doctor!” Then, turning to Zhuang Yushan, she cried bitterly, “My poor Yushan, you were fine just a moment ago. Why would your stomach suddenly ache? Could it be that you’ve eaten something bad?”

Zhuang Shiyang was stunned, his gaze dark as he scanned the dining table, finally fixing on the plate of white rabbit-shaped pastries.

Han Yan also hadn’t expected such a turn of events and instinctively glanced at Concubine Mei, only to see her gaping in shock. However, she quickly regained her composure, though the tightly clenched handkerchief betrayed her nervousness.

This reaction appeared genuine; if Concubine Mei were behind this, why display such a surprised expression? Han Yan doubted it, suddenly turning her head to look at Concubine Zhou and her daughter. She observed Zhuang Yushan’s pale face, tightly closed eyes, and a slight tug at Concubine Zhou’s dress. Concubine Zhou still had tears on her face, but there was a faint smile at the corner of her mouth.

Han Yan’s heart raced. It seemed Concubine Zhou had caught wind of Concubine Mei’s plan and decided to turn the tables. Concubine Zhou was more cunning than she had initially thought. Evidently, Concubine Zhou had discovered Concubine Mei’s scheme and had outmaneuvered her. Now Concubine Mei was in trouble.

“Go and summon the cook who prepared these pastries!” Zhuang Shiyang was furious, comforting Zhuang Yushan in his arms while casting suspicious glances at everyone in the room.

Han Yan glanced at Zhuang Hanming’s disappointed expression, feeling a pang of sorrow. Despite her own lack of hope for her father, Han Yan couldn’t help but feel disappointed for her eleven-year-old brother, who idolized their father and was now being treated so coldly. Doubt, sorrow, disappointment—every emotion washed over her. Would he be able to bear it?

Chapter 23: Scapegoat

While still in a daze, the cook was already being brought into the hall, his hands bound by two burly men. Upon seeing Zhuang Shiyang, he shouted loudly, “Master, it’s a mistake! I didn’t poison the food, I don’t know anything!”

Zhuang Shiyang just glared at him menacingly, instructing the servants, “Take him out and beat him until he confesses!”

The cook, a middle-aged chubby man, turned pale at these words and immediately begged for mercy, but unexpectedly, a shiny object fell from his chest as he bowed. Li Mama, beside Concubine Zhou, quickly picked it up and examined it. “It’s a golden hairpin for women.” She then hurried to Concubine Zhou’s side and said, “Madam, this hairpin doesn’t seem like something an ordinary maid could afford…”

Han Yan suddenly understood what was happening. It seemed like the whole drama had been set up today. Concubine Mei was probably in trouble now. As she turned her head, she saw Concubine Wan staring fixedly at the hairpin in Li Mama’s hand, her face as white as paper.

The doctor quickly arrived, and Concubine Zhou immediately laid Zhuang Yushan flat on the soft couch in the room. After examining her pulse, the doctor said, “Miss is poisoned, but fortunately, she didn’t ingest much. I’ll prescribe a medication and prepare some herbs for her to take. With rest for two days, she should recover.”

Zhuang Shiyang hurriedly ordered someone to fetch the medicine and had the doctor inspect the plate of rabbit-shaped pastries on the table. Being in a wealthy household, even ordinary doctors would have some understanding of such matters. After hesitating for a moment, he broke open the pastries and sniffed them, frowning. “There seems to be a considerable amount of poison in these pastries.”

Zhuang Shiyang understood and quickly paid the doctor before sending him away. Han Yan noticed that as the doctor was leaving, he exchanged a meaningful glance with Concubine Zhou.

After seeing the doctor off, Zhuang Shiyang returned to the hall and had the cook, who had just been given twenty lashes, brought forward. In a low voice, he said, “Now you tell me, who ordered you to poison the pastries?”

Although the cook was just a servant, he had always been well-fed and well-cared-for. He had never experienced such suffering before. After being lashed twenty times, he was barely conscious, blood oozing from the corners of his mouth as he said, “Master, I swear I didn’t poison them.”

Concubine Zhou quickly stepped forward, expressing her distress, “You didn’t poison them? Then why did the doctor say there was something wrong with the pastries? Not to mention the golden hairpin in your possession. Could it be someone bribed you? How could a servant like you afford it?”

Zhuang Shiyang glared at the servant with cold eyes. “Tell me, who gave you that hairpin?”

The cook, crying out in protest, said, “Master, I truly don’t know. It was given to me by Xing’er, the maid by Madam’s side. She said it was a reward for my hard work.”

Li Mama narrowed her eyes. “That hairpin is worth several dozen taels of silver. How could you, a servant, receive such a reward? Don’t try to shift the blame onto Madam!”

Han Yan had been observing the situation unfold, but now she saw Zhuang Qin biting her lip tightly, and Concubine Wan’s face turning as white as a sheet, nearly fainting.

Zhuang Shiyang turned to Concubine Wan and asked coldly, “Is this your hairpin?”

“Yes, Master, it is,” Concubine Wan replied, her voice trembling.

Meanwhile, Concubine Zhou began to sense that something was amiss. She had already bribed someone in the lotus garden and knew what Mei was up to. She had decided to counter Mei’s plan by framing her, but now this hairpin, how had it ended up with Concubine Wan?

Feeling somewhat anxious, she decided that while she could deal with Concubine Wan later, she needed to take down Concubine Mei now. So she stepped forward and tried to persuade Zhuang Shiyang, “Master, I’ve always seen Sister Wan as kind-hearted, and she treats Yushan well. There must be some misunderstanding. Don’t let someone take advantage of her.”

Han Yan squinted her eyes and looked at Concubine Mei. She had already relaxed, indicating that she knew what was going on from the start.

“Whose hairpin is this? How did it end up with a servant?” Zhuang Shiyang stared at the timid woman, his anger barely contained.

“It’s mine, Master,” Concubine Wan answered tearfully.

At this point, the cook, who had been protesting his innocence all along, suddenly shouted, “It’s her! That day, she said Madam cared for me and rewarded me with this hairpin. I was delighted and couldn’t wait to ask its price. I left the kitchen at that moment, and only this maid was there! It must be her who poisoned the pastries!”

Han Yan’s eyes flashed with contempt. Just now, she was helpless and pitiable, but suddenly she changed her testimony. This was a blatant attempt to shift blame!

Zhuang Shiyang was furious. “Is what you’re saying true?”

The cook spat out a mouthful of blood before saying, “I dare not deceive Master.”

With a loud bang, Zhuang Shiyang smashed the teacup in his hand and glared at Concubine Wan. “Given the circumstances, do you have anything else to say?”

Concubine Wan’s eyes showed a hint of despair as she looked at the cook lying on the ground and then at Zhuang Shiyang, closing her eyes suddenly.

Then came a thud as Zhuang Qin knelt down. “Father, it couldn’t be yiniang. If she really wanted to poison someone, why would she leave evidence like the hairpin? Besides, yiniang has never fought for anything…”

Han Yan sighed inwardly. Concubine Mei had been used as a pawn, Concubine Zhou had manipulated everything, and in the end, the innocent were the ones being punished.

Zhuang Shiyang knew that Zhuang Qin had a point. He knew the character of his own household staff very well. Although Concubine Wan was not favored, she had been quiet and unassuming for so many years, never making any mistakes. Now, to suddenly accuse her of poisoning his daughter… he couldn’t believe it. But Zhuang Qin’s words also questioned his authority as the head of the household, which he couldn’t tolerate. So he was very displeased. “Stop speaking up for her! She’s just a lowly concubine, what does she think of herself!”

Zhuang Qin trembled, biting her lips tightly, her face full of tears, but if one looked closely, they could see the resentment in her eyes.

Han Yan felt uncomfortable, a sense of shared suffering arising within her. Zhuang Hanming had already left under the pretext of going to the Imperial College, and she didn’t want him to see such a mess.

After a moment of contemplation, Zhuang Shiyang had already thought through the situation. He knew something was amiss today, likely manipulated by someone. Han Yan and her brother were still too young, and Concubine Wan was gentle and had never caused any trouble. The only one who could have caused trouble was Concubine Mei. Although he was angry, he couldn’t bring himself to confront her. After all, she had been favoured for so many years and he couldn’t do without her. What’s more, he needed Concubine Mei to balance the power in the household; he couldn’t let Concubine Zhou dominate everything alone.

Chapter 24: Calming the Storm

In the blink of an eye, something unexpected happened, as Xinger, who had been kneeling silently on the ground, suddenly exclaimed loudly, “Master, this matter has nothing to do with Wan yiniang. It was I who couldn’t stand seeing Zhou yiniang being favored alone and sought poison to harm her. The hairpin was stolen by me to distract the kitchen staff!”

Concubinen Zhou was stunned. “You’re lying!”

Her words seemed somewhat urgent, and the others looked at her meaningfully. Feeling flustered, she became annoyed with the maid’s interference and slapped Xinger hard, knocking her to the ground. “You wicked girl, daring to commit such a treacherous act! Someone, give her twenty lashes and sell her to the brothel!”

Hanyan was startled. Xinger was indeed loyal, but being sold to a brothel meant a life of misery and shame.Concubine Zhou’s cruel methods stirred anger in her heart.

Before Concubine Wan could say anything, a thin figure in the hall suddenly dashed towards a bronze pillar. The movement was too fast for anyone to react. By the time they realized and tried to stop her, there was only a figure lying in a pool of blood on the ground.

“Oh, Xinger!” Concubine Wan screamed in horror, pushing aside the people around her and rushing over. Xinger was the personal maid who served the old lady alongside her, and they were like sisters. After the old lady gave Xinger to the master, she became Concubine Wan’s personal maid. Despite never enjoying a good life with her, there was never jealousy or resentment between them. Now, her dear friend Xinger had been forced to death by these people!

“Master.” Xinger opened her eyes, blood flowing down her forehead, making her look fierce and terrifying, yet she smiled faintly. “In this mansion, only the master has been kind to Xinger. There’s nothing Xinger can repay, only one life.” Her voice gradually softened. “I beg you for one thing, take care of my mother…”

Concubine Wan tightened her grip on Xinger’s hand, sobbing uncontrollably. “I promise you.”

A sense of relief finally appeared on Xinger’s face as she looked at Concubine Wan gently. “Wan’er… Let’s be sisters again in the next life. Let’s not be born into wealthy families…”

It was the name Concubine Wan used when she served as the old lady’s maid. Through teary eyes, she seemed to see the spring blossoms of that year again, two innocent girls laughing and joking in the courtyard, thinking they would have a splendid life, but fate had other plans. One tragically died, and the other would forever be trapped in this cruel mansion, never seeing the light of day again.

The person in her arms finally took her last breath. Concubine Wan gently laid Xinger’s body flat on the ground and showed a sorrowful smile to the people in the room.

Perhaps no one in the hall expected Xinger to suddenly crash into the pillar and take her own life. Initially, Hanyan was just watching with a spectator’s attitude, but now she was genuinely angry. With Xinger’s blood spilling everywhere, Concubine Mei’s lips began to tremble, while Concubine Zhou, wearing a resentful expression, seemed to have more to say.

Zhuang Qin took two steps towards her mother and suddenly collapsed. Chaos ensued once again, and Chen Mama quickly said, “Master, don’t let the blood disturb the young ladies.”

Only then did Zhuang Shiyang remember his two daughters in the hall. He waved his hand and instructed the servants to take them back to their rooms.

Before leaving, Hanyan glanced at concubine Wan and couldn’t help but feel sympathy for her distressed appearance.

Chen Mama escorted Hanyan back to the courtyard and instructed the kitchen to prepare a bowl of ginger sugar water to calm her nerves. Then she led Hanyan into the house and closed the doors and windows.

Hanyan’s mind was in turmoil, feeling that there were many inconsistencies in today’s events. Concubine Zhou clearly knew about Concubine Mei’s plan, and Zhuang Yushan pretended to be poisoned. The doctor was probably in on it as well. However, no one expected Concubine Meiyi to have another trick up her sleeve, framing Concubine Wan with the hairpin and causing Xinger to sacrifice her life to protect her mistress.

Thinking of Xinger, memories of Jilan and Shuhong’s fate in her past life resurfaced. Hanyan unconsciously clenched her fists, and her whole body began to tremble.

Shuhong had noticed Hanyan’s silence and absent-mindedness earlier, feeling worried. Now, seeing her in such a terrified state, she quickly approached and held Hanyan’s hands. “Miss, is there anything wrong?”

Hanyan snapped out of her reverie, looking at Shuhong’s concerned eyes, feeling as if she were in a different world for a moment.

After checking on the kitchen, Chen Mama was even more determined not to let anyone else handle Miss’s food. Seeing Hanyan’s condition, Jilan hurried over to comfort her. “You must have been frightened by what happened just now. Don’t worry, we’re all here.”

With Jilan and Shuhong by her side, Hanyan gradually calmed down. She said, “Later, find out what happened outside and how it was resolved.”

Jilan nodded. “I will, Miss.”

Hanyan sighed deeply. “What a pity for Xinger, she was quite courageous.”

Jilan and Shuhong exchanged glances and said in unison, “Don’t worry, Miss, everyone has their own destiny. Perhaps in the next life, Xinger will be born into a wealthy family.”

Hanyan smiled bitterly at their words. “Next life? I am someone who has been reborn. I know how precious life is. We can’t pin our hopes on the next life. With the ambition I’ve accumulated in this lifetime, I must compensate for everything I missed out on in the past.”

As her demeanor softened, Hanyan said softly, “If I were the one on trial today…”

“Don’t say such things, Miss.” Shuhong was startled and, for once, showed a hint of panic on her usually composed face. “We won’t let such a thing happen. Please don’t worry, Miss.”

Hanyan shook her head. “If I were the one on trial today, you must believe that I have the ability to protect myself. Don’t follow Xinger’s example. Although loyalty to one’s master is commendable, exchanging one’s life for it will only make my life restless.”

Jilan anxiously said, “Miss, please don’t say such things. We won’t let anything happen to you. We will always be with you. Madam said before that we would accompany Miss even after you get married.”

Hanyan chuckled and rolled her eyes at them. “You’re shameless, talking about marriage when unmarried girls. Aren’t you afraid of being laughed at?”

Seeing Hanyan smile, Jilan finally breathed a sigh of relief. For some reason, Hanyan’s expression just now had made her uneasy, as if she were distant from her young mistress.

Meanwhile, Chen Mama had already inquired about the situation. Zhuang Shiyang followed Xinger’s words and placed all the blame on the maidservants. Concubine Wan’s mismanagement of the servants led to her voluntarily taking Zhuang Qin to the temple to pray for seven times seven days.

The cook was later revealed to be hired by Concubine Meiyi, and Zhuang Shiyang blamed Concubine Meiyi for her lack of discernment in hiring people and restricted her movements. Only Concubine Zhou and her daughter were exempted due to their illness. Precious supplements and medicinal materials were continuously sent to Gongtong Court. Hanyan was ignored. This is another story and will not be mentioned.

Chapter 25: Palace Night Banquet

Chen Mama face was filled with resentment as she spoke, “Who doesn’t know she’s feigning illness? Yet she still picked up the scorebook. Truly despicable! After all, Miss is the legitimate miss of the mansion.”

Hanyan simply smiled upon hearing this and asked, “What about Xinger?”

Xinger wasn’t born to the family; her mother worked as a seamstress in a manor. Concubine Zhou ordered the servants to throw Xinger’s body on a makeshift grave, but Hanyan had someone find a coffin to bury her properly, albeit without a tombstone. She also had someone send a package of silver to Xinger’s mother, claiming it was from Xinger.

Chen Mama glanced at her young miss and said, “Miss, you’re too softhearted. She’s just a servant girl. If Master finds out…”

“Mama,” Hanyan looked at her seriously, “I’m not doing it for her, but for Concubine Wan.” And this, she owed to Concubine Wan.

If it weren’t for her instigating things in front of Concubine Mei, Concubine Mei wouldn’t have thought of poisoning, Concubine Zhou wouldn’t have plotted, and Xinger wouldn’t have died innocently. Hanyan felt a pang of sadness; in this life, for the person she wanted to protect, she had caused the loss of an innocent life.

Chen Mama sighed and thought for a moment, “Aunt Wan is also a pitiful person, all because of Concubine Zhou,” she said indignantly, “She’s just a concubine, yet she dares to pretend to be sick and not come to see our miss. Such coldness is truly hateful!”

Hanyan replied nonchalantly, “Don’t worry, she wants to keep her distance. I’m afraid she’ll come to curry favor soon.”

Chen Mama was taken aback, looking somewhat puzzled at Hanyan, but Hanyan began to focus on reading a book.

At this moment, Concubine Wan was in seclusion in the Buddhist hall, while Concubine Mei was under house arrest. Three days later, at the palace night banquet, only Concubine Zhou would be able to attend, right?

Although Xinger’s death was an accident, it still fulfilled Concubine Zhou’s intentions. Concubine Mei couldn’t compete for favor anymore. With Concubine Zhou’s ambitions, how could she miss the opportunity to shine at the banquet?

As for Hanyan, the legitimate daughter of the Zhuang family, she had seen more of the world than Zhuang Yushan. Concubine Zhou would surely come to curry favor, hoping to extract some information about the palace from her. Those noblewomen’s social circles, topics of interest, proper behavior, they all naturally wanted to know.

But how do they know that I will definitely comply and obey?

Zhou’s family in this life, not only can’t stand out, but probably will make a fool of themselves.

Three days later, early in the morning, Hanyan was awakened by Chen Mama from her warm bed.

Seeing that it was still early outside, Hanyan, reluctant to leave the warm covers, mumbled, “Let me sleep a little longer, it’s still early…”

Chen Mama urged anxiously, “My dear miss, you seem to have forgotten that today is the day of the palace banquet. You must get up and prepare properly.”

Upon hearing the words “palace banquet,” Hanyan became slightly more awake. But after rubbing her eyes, she shrank back into her bed, muttering, “There’s nothing special to prepare.”

However, Chen Mama persisted, “Miss, don’t say that. The palace banquet is important. Noble ladies from the capital will all attend. You must leave a good impression.”

Indeed, these connections in the palace were what she lacked. Thinking of this, Hanyan understood that she couldn’t be careless. Reluctantly, she slowly got out of bed.

Jilan and Shuhong had already prepared the warm stove and were waiting for her. Seeing her approach, they helped her wash up and handed her a hand warmer. Hanyan sat in front of the dressing table, feeling drowsy, while Jilan was at a loss behind her.

“What hairstyle would Miss like?” asked Jilan.

Hanyan replied, “Just the same as usual.”

Jilan became anxious, “But that won’t do. We can’t be careless for the palace banquet, Miss, how about a Feixian bun?”

Hanyan sighed with a wry smile, “I’m not going to sing or dance. What’s the point of such an elaborate style? This palace banquet is to celebrate the victory in the northwest. If I stand out, it might displease others.”

“But Miss,” Jilan objected, “The Zhou Mother and daughter has been busy since yesterday. I heard they went to Ruyilou to order elaborate clothing and accessories. Won’t Miss be outdone by them?”

Hanyan smiled and said, “The more carefully they dress up, the more ordinary and dignified we should be. They want to prove their status in the Zhuang family, right? Let people know that the concubines and illegitimate daughters of the Zhuang family are even more luxurious than the legitimate daughters. There will always be clever people who want to test us.”

Jilan was taken aback, then smiled and said, “Miss is indeed clever, it’s me who is foolish.”

On the other hand, Shuhong suddenly spoke up, “This palace banquet is very ordinary for noble young ladies. Only those who haven’t seen the world before are so concerned. It’s naive!”

Hanyan was surprised by Shuhong’s outspokenness, but after a moment of surprise, she laughed, “Even more daring. After all, she is also the mistress of the mansion. If she is found out, you’ll have a hard time!”

Shuhong lowered her head and stirred the charcoal fire in the stove, saying, “My mistress is only Miss.”

Hanyan smiled and didn’t say anything.

In the end, Hanyan let Jilan style two round buns for her. She was petite and her facial features had developed later than other girls’. This look made her look even more like a delicately carved doll, innocent and lovely, unexpectedly harmonious. Hanyan felt that the palace was not an easy place to get along with. This grooming was to make others see her as a little girl, avoiding unnecessary trouble. Moreover, if Concubine Zhou dared to make things difficult for her at the palace banquet, this appearance would be more advantageous in gaining the trust of others.

Although Jilan did as she was told, she still felt somewhat unwilling. She creatively added a braid around the edge of the buns, making them look even more delicate and exquisite. Although Hanyan didn’t like those heavy head ornaments, she understood that she couldn’t neglect the etiquette of the palace banquet. So she let Jilan pick a pair of turquoise butterfly hair accessories from the makeup box and placed them on both sides of the buns, complementing her fair skin with a touch of brilliance.

With her hair done, choosing clothes became difficult. Hanyan didn’t want to attract attention, but she couldn’t neglect etiquette either. In the end, she chose a honey-colored jacket, a rose-colored squirrel fur coat, and a brocade cotton skirt of the same color as the jacket. The colors were bright and lively, yet not frivolous. She also wore a jade necklace, which was very pleasing.

While Jilan fussed over her own face, Hanyan didn’t know how long had passed. She heard Shuhong’s smiling voice, “Miss, it’s done.”

Hanyan opened her eyes and looked at herself in the mirror.

The young girl in the mirror had skin as white as snow, with two black, soft buns of long hair neatly tied up. Below her tidy bangs were a pair of shiny black almond eyes, with a hint of redness on her nose due to the cold, and truly red lips and white teeth, looking petite and lovely.

At this moment, Chen Mama pushed the door open and saw Hanyan’s attire. There was a hint of amazement in her eyes, followed by a smile that captivated, “Our young miss is indeed a beauty. Although it’s a bit plain, her facial features are excellent, and the more you look, the more you like.” There was uncontrollable joy in her tone, but she didn’t find fault with Hanyan’s attire.

Chapter 26: A Small Warning

Understanding the stakes, Hanyan intentionally pouted, dissatisfied, “Why do I look the same as a few years ago?”

Chen Mama chuckled, “Miss is unhappy because she’s growing slowly. Don’t worry, I’m sure our fourth miss will be as beautiful as the madam in the future, hundreds of times more beautiful than Miss Yushan!”

Although these were words of comfort, Hanyan felt genuinely happy. Thinking of the mother and daughter from the Zhou family, she said, “Let’s go see Concubine Zhou. They’re probably busy and flustered right now.”

Jilan chuckled and draped a squirrel fur cloak over Hanyan, saying, “Okay.”

As Hanyan approached the Gung Tong Garden, she heard the voices of Concubine Zhou and Zhuang Yushan: “This won’t do, it’s too plain. Fetch the hairpin with red rubies and pearls for me.”

The servant outside was about to announce Hanyan’s arrival, but she gestured for her to step aside, and with Jilan and Shuhong following behind her with smiles, she stepped into the room and sweetly greeted, “Concubine Zhou!”

Concubine Zhou was personally dressing up Zhuang Yushan. Upon hearing Hanyan’s voice, she was startled and turned around. Seeing Hanyan’s attire, she was slightly surprised to find her more radiant than usual. Zhuang Yushan also caught a glimpse of Hanyan in the mirror. Her rosy face showed a hint of jealousy, but when she inspected Hanyan’s clothes, she immediately felt a hint of superiority.

Concubine Zhou smiled and said, “Fourth Miss, you’re here early today.”

Hanyan didn’t say anything, just smiled and stared at Concubine Zhou. Concubine Zhou was wearing a golden silk brocade robe with pearls and gems all over. Although she was beautiful, Hanyan felt dazzled by the golden light. She couldn’t help but feel a hint of ridicule. Concubine Zhou dressed herself up so extravagantly, she might be in for a show at the banquet.

She smiled gently, “Concubine Zhou, your outfit looks beautiful, but is it too extravagant for the palace banquet?”

Concubine Zhou was extremely satisfied with her attire. Upon hearing Hanyan’s words, she felt dissatisfied. Seeing Hanyan’s relatively plain clothes, she thought Hanyan was deliberately saying this out of jealousy. Feeling challenged, she replied softly, “After all, it’s a palace banquet. If you dress too casually, it will discredit our Zhuang family.”

Hanyan sneered at her words inwardly. Discredit the Zhuang family? Could a lowly concubine like her represent the Zhuang family? What a joke.

Jilan was about to speak, but Hanyan gently pulled her sleeve and smiled, “Yiniang, whatever you wear looks good.”

She had already given her a warning. If Concubine Zhou embarrassed herself, she would be more than happy. And if Zhuang Shiyang pursued the matter later, it wouldn’t be her fault.

“Fourth Miss, do you like my outfit?” a sweet and charming voice came. Hanyan raised her eyes, and her pupils suddenly contracted.

In Hanyan’s memory, Zhuang Yushan’s beauty left no impression. The most memorable moment was on her wedding night, when Zhuang Yushan, dressed in her wedding gown, played the role of the usurper and personally handed her a cup of poisoned wine.

That was her nightmare, unforgettable for eternity.

Looking back now, whenever Zhuang Yushan appeared before her, she was always dressed plainly. Her stunning features couldn’t be highlighted with such attire, so Hanyan never paid much attention to her.

But this time, as Hanyan looked at the young woman standing before her in full regalia, her eyes were deep, surging, and turbulent, but eventually calmed down and turned into a clear spring.

“Yushan, you look truly beautiful,” she said softly, masking the hint of resentment between her brows.

Zhuang Yushan smiled slightly, “Fourth Miss, you praise me too much.” Although humble, there was still a hint of pride in her tone.

She wasn’t dressed as extravagantly as Concubine Zhou, nor as cute as Hanyan. Zhuang Yushan was a year older than Hanyan, but her development was far superior. With a slender waist, long legs, and fair skin, she wore a pink chiffon dress with lilies trailing to her ankles. Embroidered delicately on the chest were layers of deep red peonies, enhancing her beauty. Her jet-black hair was styled into a cloud bun, adorned with an agate tassel hairpin. The sparkling pearl and gemstone earrings gently swayed by her delicate ears, making her skin appear translucent.

With a face as radiant as silver, eyes like apricots, and a graceful demeanor, she was as charming as spring flowers and as captivating as autumn moonlight. She possessed the allure of a fairy, with an added touch of sophistication compared to a dancer. She was undeniably a budding beauty, with a graceful demeanor beyond her years.

Even Hanyan couldn’t deny it inwardly and silently praised her.

Perhaps Hanyan’s admiration in her eyes delighted Zhuang Yushan even more, as her attitude was warmer than usual. “I think Fourth Miss looks quite lovely today,” she said.

Hanyan tilted her head and said, “Nowhere near as lovely as you, Yushan.”

Zhuang Yushan was even more pleased, and Concubine Zhou, seeing her daughter, became increasingly satisfied.

Although it was a night banquet, the madam and her family were to enter the palace early. In the afternoon, the empress would accompany the ladies to the palace garden to admire the plum blossoms, adding some amusement.

After getting dressed up, Hanyan and the others were ready to enter the palace.

Concubine Zhou found a sparkling emerald cloak from the trunk, which surprised Hanyan, feeling somewhat familiar. Concubine Zhou smiled as she saw Hanyan staring at it, “This is called peacock gold. It’s woven from peacock feathers and brought back from a foreign country. Master gave it to me, but I’m too old to wear such bright colors, so I let Yushan wear it.” With that, she draped the cloak over Zhuang Yushan’s shoulders.

Hanyan squinted her eyes, recalling an incident from many years ago.

When Hanyan was eight years old, a colleague of Zhuang Shiyang asked him for a favor, and among the gifts he received were many novel items brought back by seafaring merchants, including a peacock gold cloak. The cloak was extremely warm and beautiful, and her mother had expressed a desire to have it. Unexpectedly, Zhuang Shiyang gave it to another superior as a gift. At the time, her mother felt disappointed for quite some time, but she also understood that the cloak was very precious.

Now, this very precious cloak was worn by Zhuang Yushan. Regardless of where it came from, since Zhuang Shiyang gave it to Concubine Zhou, it seemed to indicate Concubine Zhou’s current favor. This left Hanyan feeling somewhat bewildered.

Zhuang Yushan noticed Hanyan’s strange expression, feeling delighted, she boasted without hesitation, “Yiniang, what’s there to say? It’s just a peacock gold cloak. Father said, as long as I like it, he’ll give me anything.”

Hanyan envied, “Father is really good to Yushan!”

Concubine Zhou humbly said, “Master is also very good to Fourth Miss.” Smiling, she glanced at the squirrel fur cloak Hanyan was wearing, the implication was clear.

Hanyan shook her head with a playful air, “Of course! After all, I’m father’s legitimate daughter!”

She emphasized the words “legitimate daughter” heavily, and indeed, Concubine Zhou and her daughter’s expressions changed. Identity was a sore spot for Concubine Zhou and her daughter, and Hanyan intended to twist the knife at their wound to see who was more formidable.

Chapter 27: No More Than Twice

Concubine Zhou forced a smile. “Let’s hurry and leave for the palace.”

The carriage from the Zhuang estate was already waiting outside. Originally, there was only one carriage. Hanyan waved her hand and instructed a servant beside her, “Go and find another carriage.”

Concubine Zhou was about to board when she heard this and was taken aback. “Why does Fourth Miss need to find another carriage?” She then told the servant to stop the one looking for a carriage.

Hanyan looked puzzled. “I want to ride in a carriage!”

“Fourth Miss, why don’t you ride with us?” Zhuang Yushan asked.

Hanyan pouted. “Three people in one carriage is too crowded. I’m not used to it.”

Concubine Zhou frowned. “Fourth Miss, this is unreasonable.”

Hanyan glanced at her. “Before, it was just me and Mother, so naturally, I didn’t feel crowded. But now, with Aunt and Yushan, I really can’t stand it.”

Was it unbearable to be with three people, or was it unbearable to be with them, mother and daughter? Hanyan’s words carried deep implications, and the surrounding servants lowered their heads, secretly starting to calculate. The young lady of the estate seemed to clash with this new concubine. 

Concubine Zhou was nearly bursting with anger at the comment.

Seeing the situation becoming tense, Hanyan felt wronged. “I am a legitimate daughter of this family. Now, even finding a carriage depends on others’ faces. What will people say if this spreads? My name is already added to the invitations. If anything goes wrong at the palace banquet, if it angers the Emperor, who will be responsible?!”

Her words were severe, causing the servants to shudder, and one quickly went to find another carriage. Concubine Zhou was furious, and Hanyan smiled slightly, showing understanding. “Yiniang, please get in the carriage with Yushan quickly. It’s windy outside, and Yushan is dressed lightly. If she catches a cold and has to stay in bed for several days, without Yiniang’s care, who knows how long it will take her to recover?”

Zhuang Yushan stiffened, and Concubine Zhou glared at Hanyan fiercely, gritting her teeth as she helped Zhuang Yushan into the carriage.

Once Zhuang Yushan sat down, she stared at her mother’s unfriendly face and said, “Mother, it’s a good thing she doesn’t want to ride with us. I don’t want to see that little bitch!”

“Shut up!” Concubine Zhou snapped, startling Zhuang Yushan, who then shrunk into the corner of the carriage, not daring to speak.

Meanwhile, another carriage was quickly found. Hanyan cheerfully jumped into it, calling out loudly, “Jilan, Shuhong, hurry up and get in!”

Her voice was clear, especially audible at the Zhuang estate’s gate, causing the servants to show surprised expressions. The Fourth Miss actually preferred to ride with two maids rather than with Madam Zhou and her daughter?

Hanyan intentionally shouted so loudly, satisfied when she achieved the desired effect. But over there, Concubine Zhou’s eyes were already turning red with fury.

The carriage found by the servants was quite nice, spacious and warm, with soft wild mink fur lining the interior. Hanyan held a small hand warmer and nibbled on some snacks nearby.

Jilan chuckled, “Madam Zhou must be fuming.”

Shuhong looked worried. “Openly opposing them like this, Miss, you should be careful.”

Hanyan waved her hand dismissively. “I want to make them angry. It’s best if they forget their manners and cause trouble at the palace banquet. The noble ladies there are very poisonous.”

In her previous life, Hanyan hadn’t attended this palace banquet at all because she was still immersed in the sadness of losing her mother and had no interest in socializing. Moreover, Concubine Zhou had visited her and often emphasized how strict the noblewomen at the palace banquet were and how easy it was to offend them, potentially causing trouble for the Zhuang estate. Although Hanyan had accompanied her mother to social events before, the palace was a first for her, and she felt fearful. Eventually, she feigned illness and stayed home instead. Reflecting on it now, it seemed that after every banquet, Zhuang Yushan would come back complaining about how boring the event was and how difficult it was to get along with the other young ladies, and how much she had suffered. Over time, banquets had become something to avoid at all costs in Hanyan’s mind, like a ferocious beast. Because of her foolishness, she gradually distanced herself from the eyes of the noblewomen in the capital, allowing Concubine Zhou and her daughter to slander her, and ultimately reaping what she had sown!

Fortunately, heaven has shown mercy and given her a second chance. In this life, she will slowly destroy Concubine Zhou’s plans and stand above them, looking down on them. Whatever they owe her, whatever they owe her mother, she doesn’t mind taking it back step by step!

In the other carriage, Concubine Zhou twisted the handkerchief in her hand angrily. “That bitch!”

Originally, her plan was to sit with Hanyan in one carriage. With such a long journey, she could have extracted information about the palace banquet from Hanyan’s mouth. Concubine Zhou herself came from a low background, originally being a concubine’s daughter. Later, she met Zhuang Shiyang by chance and had Zhuang Yushan. She didn’t expect Zhuang Yushan to follow her old path, enduring the stigma of being a concubine’s daughter for her whole life. From that moment on, she was determined to help Zhuang Yushan break free from this identity and become the legitimate daughter of the Zhuang family.

However, things didn’t develop as she had imagined as soon as she entered the estate. The daughter left behind by that bitch was not easy to fool and dared to confront her openly. This time, she had finally seized the opportunity to enter the palace. She almost made up her mind to enter the circle of noblewomen and pave the way for Zhuang Yushan’s future.

However, she rarely had such opportunities to attend banquets in the past, so she was not very clear about the details. She also didn’t know the noblewomen in the capital. She thought she could get some useful information from Hanyan and use it to establish connections without making mistakes. As long as she asked, Hanyan couldn’t refuse to answer, otherwise it would be disrespectful and against female virtue. In front of the servants, Hanyan naturally wouldn’t do anything to lose face.

But unexpectedly! She easily avoided it on the grounds of not riding with her. And she even let two maids get on the carriage with her. Where did that put her?

The more Concubine Zhou thought about it, the more unwilling she became, a hint of fierceness flashing in her eyes. Inadvertently, she glanced at Zhuang Yushan sitting beside her, and was slightly stunned.

Zhuang Yushan was growing more and more beautiful. With such a appearance, any man would be unable to resist pampering her. Various young masters from noble families would also be present at the palace banquet. If one or two outstanding ones took a liking to Zhuang Yushan…

No, Zhuang Yushan still had the identity of a concubine’s daughter. Even if she was chosen, according to the status of those young masters, Zhuang Yushan could only be a concubine.

Zhuang Yushan must abandon this identity. Concubine Zhou’s eyes flashed with an inexplicable light, and her voice suddenly softened. “Yuer, mother wants to tell you…”

After more than an hour’s journey, the carriage finally stopped. Hanyan was helped down from the carriage by Jilan and Shuhong, and she immediately saw the majestic palace walls in front of her.

The royal buildings were grand and magnificent, but from the outside, they already seemed noble and extraordinary. However, Hanyan felt a sense of confusion in her heart. Such exquisite and luxurious places seemed like a birdcage. Square and restrictive, they confined people’s lives.

Chapter 28: The Deng Family’s Young Lady

Zhuang Yushan had also followed Concubine Zhou off the carriage and stood before the towering palace walls. She looked delicate and fragile, like a blooming pink peony.

“Yiniang, this is the palace, it’s so beautiful!” Zhuang Yushan stared inside, showing an impatient expression. “Let’s go in quickly.”

Concubine Zhou glared at her. “Yuer, have you forgotten what mother told you?”

Zhuang Yushan was taken aback and quickly suppressed her emotions, smiling. “I’m just a little excited, mother.”

Hanyan watched the interaction between the mother and daughter, silently amused. Zhuang Yushan was still young and didn’t understand how to control her emotions. Compared to her, who wasn’t much to be feared, Concubine Zhou’s methods were much more sophisticated.

Thinking this, she approached them. “Yushan is right, let’s hurry inside.”

Although Concubine Zhou was surprised by her tone, she needed to play along with the act at the moment. She affectionately said, “Alright.”

However, her hand was only holding onto Zhuang Yushan’s, and it wasn’t clear who she was doing it for.

Hanyan didn’t comment and led Jilan and Shuhong to follow the palace maid guiding them inside.

Everywhere in the royal grounds was extraordinary. Exquisitely carved orchids, unique and delicate gardens, bright yellow glazed tiles, and crimson pillars. It was wealthy yet dignified, grand yet elegant. Just after the snow, the accumulated snow on the ground, combined with the chilly air, gave a cold but lively sensation, touching people’s hearts.

Although Zhuang Yushan and Concubine Zhou were trying to remain calm, they were still shocked and envious, especially Zhuang Yushan. Her eyes were spinning around the gilded window frames, and this level of opulence almost blinded her. She used to think that the Zhuang Manor was endlessly wealthy, so she eagerly wanted to replace Hanyan and gain wealth. However, compared to the royal family, the Zhuang Manor was just a drop in the ocean. At this moment, she suddenly developed an obsession. In the future, she also wanted to live in such a luxurious mansion and be such an honorable person!

Hanyan noticed the greed in Zhuang Yushan’s eyes, and the smile on her lips took on a hint of mockery. What was there to covet about wealth? However, human hearts were unpredictable. Once greed arose, it was difficult to return to one’s previous mindset.

But who knew what methods Zhuang Yushan would use to seize all this?

The palace maid guiding them seemed to have noticed the strange atmosphere among them, so she didn’t say much. After turning through several corridors, they entered a huge palace garden, and Hanyan looked up to see the three characters “Rainbow Phoenix Hall” written above.

“Miss Zhuang has arrived.” As soon as the palace maid announced this, the noisy hall gradually quieted down. Hanyan raised her head and met the sharp eyes of the Empress Dowager.

Hanyan’s hand tightened, and a warm smile appeared on her face as she stepped forward to bow. “Your Majesty, Zhuang Hanyan pays respects.”

The people in the hall were dressed in golden embroidered satin robes, holding a cup of fragrant tea in hand. Although the Empress Dowager was over fifty, her eyes were sharp and shrewd. However, her whole body exuded an irresistible royal aura, giving people a sense of pressure and intimidation for no reason. Hanyan half-knelt and bowed, and the Empress Dowager remained silent for a long time before saying, “You may rise and let me have a look at you.”

Hanyan was stunned. She didn’t have much contact with the Empress Dowager, so her current attitude was truly intriguing. However, there was no refusal to stand up, so she quickly stood up and walked to the Empress Dowager’s side with a sweet smile.

The Empress Dowager glanced at her face and saw that Hanyan looked innocent and lively. Then her gaze shifted, and she spoke kindly, “She’s a good child.” With that, she took off the jade bracelet on her hand and handed it to Hanyan. “You’re also quite beautiful.”

Hanyan accepted the bracelet in her hand, and countless thoughts flashed through her mind. With a hint of anxiety, she declined, “Your Majesty, this is too precious. I am unworthy of it.”

The Empress Dowager smiled, “Just keep it. I reward you for being obedient.”

Hanyan calculated in her heart and pretended to be anxious before reluctantly accepting it.

Concubine Zhou and Zhuang Yushan, who saw this scene, couldn’t sit still. Who would have thought that the Empress Dowager would suddenly look at Zhuang Hanyan with favor? Especially Zhuang Yushan, who stared at the jade bracelet in Hanyan’s hand, her heart filled with hatred that could almost emit flames.

Why should that little bitch be favored by the Empress Dowager?

Concubine Zhou had already led Zhuang Hanyan forward to offer their respects. “Your servant pays respects to Your Majesty.”

Zhuang Yushan had just seen the Empress Dowager favoring Hanyan with a jade bracelet, and her eyes were filled with envy. She made up her mind to please the Empress Dowager, perhaps she could get an even higher reward. She said in a sweet voice, “Your servant pays respects to Your Majesty.”

Her voice was already pleasant to the ears, but at this moment, intentionally softened, it sounded like a gentle breeze blowing over people’s ears, causing a ripple on the calm lake, making people feel itchy.

As soon as Zhuang Yushan spoke, the other women in the hall turned their attention towards her. They were already surprised by Hanyan’s reward from the Empress Dowager, and now, the other young lady from the Zhuang family speaking up immediately drew their notice. In an instant, all eyes in the hall were on Zhuang Yushan.

Hanyan sighed inwardly. Zhuang Yushan’s behavior might seem charming to men, but unfortunately, the audience consisted entirely of women from prestigious families. These noble ladies valued virtue and morality above all. Zhuang Yushan’s sweet words and flattering tone were perceived as a violation of feminine virtues and deemed vulgar by their standards.

Sure enough, as Zhuang Yushan continued to revel in her moment of glory, the Empress Dowager turned her gaze towards Concubine Zhou and slowly asked, “Are you the new concubine of Lord Zhuang?”

Concubine Zhou hadn’t expected the Empress Dowager to suddenly inquire like this, and for a moment, she clenched her lips tightly. She had attended the palace banquet to be seen as the new mistress of the Zhuang family by everyone. However, with the Empress Dowager asking such a question, she couldn’t lie. Admitting to her position as a concubine would make the banquet meaningless!

In the end, she gritted her teeth and replied, “This concubine is not a concubine but… a consort.”

The women around her suddenly understood, and when they looked at Concubine Zhou and her daughter again, there was no hiding their disdain. No wonder they couldn’t hold themselves with dignity; they turned out to be a concubine and her illegitimate daughter. Seeing how the daughter was dressed so provocatively, they couldn’t help but wonder where she learned such seductive techniques. Truly incomparable to legitimate daughters who were refined and graceful in their demeanor.

Concubine Zhou suffered a setback, and upon hearing the Empress Dowager’s indifferent response, “Oh, I see. You may rise,” she had nothing more to say. Her face turned red, and she pulled Zhuang Yushan to sit on the side.

Although Zhuang Yushan didn’t understand what was happening, she keenly sensed the strange gazes of the people around her. Seeing that the Empress Dowager had no intention of rewarding her, she felt resentful and angry. She decided to vent all her grievances on Hanyan. Just as she was about to say something to Hanyan, she saw Hanyan sitting next to a girl in yellow, holding hands and chatting with a smile on her face.

The “Rainbow Phoenix Hall” was the Empress Dowager’s residence, usually used to entertain the palace concubines and consorts. At this moment, the women were chatting and laughing, each finding familiar faces to catch up with, and the atmosphere was harmonious once again. The minor disturbance from earlier had passed, and everything returned to calmness.

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