Her request was euphemistic but she had expressed clearly that she wanted to get married. Cuipiao blushed and lowered her head with embarrassment because she just uttered her wish of getting married in public and realized that her dream could never come true.
“I have served His Highness for a long time. Although he was away from the imperial capital for six years, after he was back, Her Majesty the Empress Dowager sent me back to Duke of Yan’s mansion!” When she recollected the past, Cuipiao’s clenched hands slightly trembled and her feelings were complicated beyond description. “As a trustworthy maid, I should have become His Highness’s concubine, but I never expected the mistress to be tough!”
Song Yixiao quickly broke her dream after being married to Jian Xubai!
Over the past several months’ house arrest, she was well treated. At the beginning of winter, Song Yixiao also sent a tailor to take her measure and made clothes for her.
Apart from being grounded, she was treated like half a mistress, which, however, couldn’t make her relieved. Instead, she felt more and more frightened as time went by!
It was not that she felt remorseful for what she had done but that she recalled all the rumors she had heard in the Palace of Mingren.
“The reason why Song Yixiao placed me under house arrest was that I should reflect on myself for speaking insolently to her!”
“Over my house arrest, she has treated me well without abusing me at all. What she does can never be rendered harsh!”
“In this case, even if I suddenly perish one day, people will only believe that I am too unblessed to live a long life!”
Even if anyone felt doubtful, “No one would offend a first-rank titled lady for a maid.”
In particular, Song Yixiao was well favored by Jian Xubai. “When I am kept under house arrest for half a year or one, she will get pregnant for sure. By then, if she wants to execute me for a random excuse, even Her Majesty the Empress Dowager will play deaf and dumb considering the great grandson!”
Thinking of this, Cuipiao didn’t dare to act willfully anymore.
She didn’t know that Song Yixiao and Jian Xubai hadn’t consummated their marriage yet. By estimate, it had been three or four months since they were married. Given the couple’s young age, if they were healthy and lucky enough, Song Yixiao should be pregnant now!
At that time, thanks to the child, Song Yixiao would be empowered to do a lot.
Song Yixiao could also think of Cuipiao’s concern. Inevitably, she ruminated, “She must be frightened, or she can’t be so meek now. However, a leopard cannot change its spots. Whether she will behave well still remains to be observed!”
Then she said, “One shall get married when it is about time. As you are older than me and Xubai, you should get married too! Nevertheless, I have never dealt with such kind of thing before. I’m inexperienced and also occupied at the end of the year, so I cannot give you any promise for now!”
It was not that she didn’t want to push the boat along with the current to let Cuipiao get married. After all, Cuipiao was not an ordinary maid. No matter what mistake she made, she was a maid who came from the Empress Dowager’s palace and had served Jian Xubai since childhood. If Song Yixiao found a husband for her randomly and unfortunately, the man turned out to be less satisfying, the Empress Dowager would surely blame her.
Even though Jian Xubai was in love with his wife and didn’t want to make her unhappy, he would surely feel sorry for Cuipiao.
Song Yixiao didn’t want to see that happen so she had to make the effort to find a reliable husband for Cuipiao.
As she expressed her difficulties, Cuipiao showed her understanding instantly. Then Song Yixiao rewarded her with a set of gilding head ornaments. “The Spring Festival is coming. Dress yourself up, which can add some happiness to the mansion!”
Jinxun chimed in grinningly, “After the Spring Festival, we will be looking forward to getting some luck from your wedding!”
Cuipiao thanked for the reward with her head lowered and held back her excitement, saying smilingly, “It’s thanks to Her Highness’s kindness!”
Song Yixiao knew that she didn’t give up completely now but she was not expectant of anything and thus didn’t want to see her stimulated by Jinxun. Now it was good enough that Cuipiao could be sent away with a share of dowry only. Yet, if she was irritated somehow, it was possible she might make a big fuss.
Therefore, Song Yixiao interrupted Jinxun with a cough, saying, “Ms. Zhao, didn’t you tell me that you were in need of a helper? Although Cuipiao may not stay in the mansion after the Spring Festival, it is okay to ask her to do you a favor…”
She hedged and looked at Cuipiao.
Of course Cuipiao would love to offer her help.
After she left with the head ornaments, Song Yixiao took a sip of tea and ordered the maids, “Show her some respect in the future. After all, she served Xubai before!”
“Yes, Madam,” Jinxun said grinningly and then argued, “Actually, these days no one has bullied her. Putting aside that bunch of people, our own people have been occupied with learning rules and working after arriving at the mansion. Who has the time to make trouble for her? Otherwise, how can she look so radiant today?”
“That would be the best,” Song Yixiao said with a nod. “Anyway, she was assigned by the Empress Dowager to Xubai. Even out of respect for a senior, I don’t want to see her end in misery. Now it is good to know she finally yields. Then you should be nice to her and it will be a relief for us that she gets married after the Spring Festival!”
The maids all said, “Yes.” And they promised not to create difficulty for Cuipiao by their status.
The problem of Cuipiao was not resolved but some progress had been made, for which Song Yixiao felt relieved. Even if Cuipiao didn’t bring it up, she couldn’t just keep Cuipiao under house arrest any longer. Somehow, she must find a way to smooth things over.
Now the turning point appeared at the busiest time before the Spring Festival, which might be a good thing.
“By the way, is Uncle Limiao still in the mansion?” Song Yixiao put down the tea bowl and suddenly thought of this, asking.
Jinxun and other maids were all with her while she was meeting Cuipiao. Due to the previous Chief House Steward’s assault, even though Cuipiao was only a weak woman, Song Yixiao still made her maids stay with her for the sake of safety. Hence, they had no idea what happened a dozen yards away and then hastened to send a little maid to inquire about it.
After a while, a little maid came back to report, “Master Limiao is still in the side yard.”
“In this case, prepare a few more dishes then!” Song Yixiao nodded her head and looked at the sky, saying, “Maybe Uncle will stay and have dinner with us today.”
It was dinner hour when Jian Limiao intended to leave, but Jian Xubai was temporarily summoned by the Crown Prince to the Eastern Palace for work discussion and didn’t come back. Therefore, Jian Limiao refused to stay for dinner and sent words to Song Yixiao. “When your Great-aunt comes to the imperial capital after the Spring Festival, she may pay you a visit then!”
Song Yixiao didn’t find it a problem at all. “Uncle is being too serious. If she pays us a visit, with an advance notice, we will clean up the mansion to welcome her!”
That evening, Jian Xubai heard of the matter and surprisingly stayed silent for a while after returning home.
“What’s wrong?” Song Yixiao asked in astonishment, “You don’t like her coming to our home? Then shall I make up an excuse to decline Uncle’s request?”
“Let’s play it by ear!” Jian Xubai’s facial expression looked quite complicated. Song Yixiao pondered for a while and couldn’t tell whether he was delighted or angry. She only felt that his voice sounded cold and faintly defensive. “After the Spring Festival, His Highness Prince of Zhao will join the court work, for which, I may get busy.”
Song Yixiao thought that however busy he was, he was only a fifth-rank official. Madam Duanmu couldn’t sojourn in Duke of Yan’s mansion. Why couldn’t Jian Xubai spare half a day or one day?
It was clearly an excuse. Yet, when she attempted to ask him, Jian Xubai said that he felt tired and needed to sleep immediately.
For the following several days, he went out early and came back at dusk. Thus, just like what he did before Nie Wuying’s birthday, he basically didn’t meet with his wife.
Song Yixiao had no idea whether the Ministry of War was really that busy, but she had a gut feeling that he was avoiding her on purpose.
“Is he afraid that I will ask him why his attitude towards Madam Duanmu is so weird?” Actually, she didn’t mean to get the bottom of Jian Xubai’s secret. Now that she always failed to see her husband, she couldn’t help feeling grieved. “Why don’t you directly say that you don’t want to tell me?”
Well, she had forgotten how angry she was when Jian Xubai told her not to mind the business that she shouldn’t mind.
Luckily, the situation didn’t last long before the end of year arrived.
For influential families, it was an extremely busy moment.
Given the special case of Jinguo Grand Princess, being her daughter-in-law was more troublesome than others. Because the Grand Princess was potent and the eldest son’s minor family of the Jian Family was not in the Imperial capital, her children’s family names were different and their surnames were given according to the order of her maiden family rather than her husband’s. However, there was one thing that must be taken seriously. That was, ancestor worshipping.
Commandery Princess Qingjiang and Earl Shouchun had the same father but the former was a married woman, who should be regarded as a member of the Zhuo Family. Also, she had her own son, making her responsible for worshipping the ancestors of the Zhuo Family. Earl Shouchun should worship the ancestors of the Dou Family. As to Jian Yiyou and Jian Xubai, they should worship the ones of Jian Family. Also, in Duke of Yan’s mansion, the mansion left by Jian Pingyu, surely there was an ancestral hall.
Moreover, the ancestral hall was the largest, most furnished, and grandest one in the imperial capital.
Compared with it, that of Jinguo Grand Princess’s mansion and that of Changxing Princess’s mansion were only small yards.
Before Jian Pingyu got retired, the ancestor worshipping rituals were always held in Duke of Yan’s mansion every year. However, the current Duke of Yan was Jian Xubai, a 17-year-old man only. It was reasonable that sons went to their father’s mansion to worship ancestors; yet, it was not appropriate that parents went to their son’s mansion to offer sacrifices to their ancestors!
Therefore, after a deliberate discussion, the rituals would be held in the small yard of Jinguo Grand Princess’s mansion.
Small as the place was, the rituals couldn’t be simplified. On New Year’s Eve, after going through a complete set of tedious rituals, Song Yixiao felt so exhausted!
“Your Highness, please drink some of it. It is good for you!” Having pulled through the rituals, she still couldn’t take a rest. On the way to the feast in the imperial palace, her maids hurriedly offered her some ginseng tea. “Have some desserts too in case you will be too busy dealing with the guests to have time to eat anything!”
When the feast was over, Song Yixiao felt even more tired. Fortunately, Jinguo Grand Princess was a good mother-in-law, who didn’t require her sons and daughters-in-law to stay up late until New Year. Kindly she asked them to go back home for a rest.
The moment Song Yixiao returned to Duke of Yan’s mansion, Song Yixiao just fell asleep, despite Jian Xubai’s reminding her of taking off all the ornaments and makeups.
Yet, she didn’t sleep well throughout the night. Dawn just broke when the sound of firecrackers woke her up directly. Song Yixiao opened her eyes reluctantly and found that the lamp was on in the room. Now Jian Xubai was standing on the ottoman, barefoot, tying the belt with his back against her.
He seemed to notice that his wife had awakened, so he looked back and said softly, “It’s time to get up. We must pay New Year’s calls to my parents, uncles and elder siblings!”
Song Yixiao sighed in secret. When she sat up, she realized that her underwear had been changed and that her makeup had been removed. She felt rather clean and refreshed at the moment. It was conceivable that these must be done by the servants as ordered by Jian Xubai, or just done by him. Nevertheless, she was too tired and sleepy to flirt with him now. Instead, she fetched the clothes passed by Jian Xubai and braced up to get dressed.
Having cleaned themselves up, they had breakfast in a hurry and went to the back hall to receive the New Year’s calls from the servants. In return, they gave the servants red packets. When it was about time, they hurriedly dismissed the servants and left the mansion by carriage.
Conventionally, they went to Jinguo Grand Princess’s mansion to give their parents a kowtow and received the lucky money. Then they gave a red packet to Nie Wuying.
Next was their uncle, Jian Limiao.
Then they had to pay visits to their peers. Since Jian Xubai was the youngest son, he and Song Yixiao must pay a visit to Commandery Princess Qingjiang’s mansion, Earl Shouchun’s mansion and Changxing Princess’s mansion. Having visited all the people on the list, even Jian Xubai had to seize the time to have a rest in the carriage, let alone Song Yixiao!
Song Yixiao was worried that the visit to Changxing Princess’s mansion wouldn’t go well, but Jian Xubai gave her a reminder in time. “The fifth day of the first lunar month is the Qianqiu Festival, the birthday of Changxing’s birthday. How is it possible that she has time to create difficulty for you now?”
His words just reminded Song Yixiao of another issue. “The second day of the first lunar month is the date when a married woman should return to her maiden family for a visit. What shall I do?”