As a close minister of the emperor, Marquis WenYuan was regarded as a sycophantic official who only followed the emperor’s orders with no care towards being impartial. At this critical juncture, there was no doubt that his current actions were a deliberate attempt in alienating the Yin family, which many people found unusual.
For Zhuang Zhong to be entered into the family register, he would become the marquis’ eldest son. So, although he was not established as the successor, it showed the marquis’ stance regarding the current situation. Moreover, it was public knowledge that Zhuang Zhong was one of Prince Si Zhao’s men, and the marquis has been lukewarm to the son he picked back. It was only two years later that Zhuang Zhong was finally admitted into the register, which undoubtedly made people ponder. Did Emperor Qian Xing really have intentions to make Prince Si Zhao emperor?
Such a conjunction was not impossible, as the emperor had always favored Prince Si Zhao, even to a greater extent than his own biological sons.
As Zhuang Zhong officially became Marquis WenYuan’s eldest son, many people calmed down, and the Yin family, with people bursting through their threshold previously, was immediately desolate. Even if someone wanted to approach them, they did not dare to be too blatant and form connections secretly. Many ended up adopting a wait-and-see attitude.
In the end, despite being in a critical state, the crown prince fortunately managed to hold onto his life, causing the court to settle down.
Because the Zhuang family was small, there were only two brothers left, so the admittance of Zhuang Zhong into the family register was not an extravagant event. Zhuang Zhong only had to enter the ancestral hall to pray, add his name to the register, and report it to the Yamen. Compared to the storm caused by the marquis’ announcement, the real process was really not worth mentioning.
“Sister-in-law, congratulations. You finally got what you wanted.” With a fawning face, Cao DaHua’s last sentence was full of meanings.
Wei YuHua, who was in a good mood today, did not bother much with Cao DaHua and said lightly, “It is all thanks to the blessing brought to me by sister-in-law.”
Not hearing the sarcasm in her words, Cao DaHua smiled even more brightly, “Isn’t it? If it were not for me, how would you obtain a son…”
Before she could continue, Zhuang Ping hurriedly shoved Cao DaHua and glared at her harshly.
It was only here that Cao DaHua knew she had said something wrong and gave a laugh before shifting the conversation topic.
“Sister-in-law, I heard that the XiNing governmental household is holding a banquet at the end of this month. Lian’er has been in the capital for some days, and she has not been to such a banquet yet. Since you do not have a daughter, why not you take her to experience it tomorrow?”
Wei YuHua became furious, and her pretty face became distorted. Seeing this, Cao DaHua was unhappy. “It is just such a small matter, wouldn’t sister-in-law agree? At that time, I had even…”
“Enough. On that day, just bring her here.”
Cao DaHua smiled brightly. “I just knew that sister-in-law would be amenable. Alas, for such an event, I am unsure what is the appropriate dressing. After all, we are from a small family. If we wear the wrong clothes, we will not only lose face but embarrass our sister-in-law too.”
Wei YuHua suppressed her anger and said helplessly. “I will prepare her clothes.”
“Then I would have to thank sister-in-law. If Lian’er finds an appropriate husband, she will give you a kowtow first to express her thanks.”
Wei YuHua was extremely fed-up. She was initially happy because Yin YueHan was humiliated, but now, there was no such joy left. Cao Lian’er was not young and should have been married long ago. However, she had grandiose aims despite her lacking qualities, causing her to perceive everyone as subpar. Born into a small family, she became ambitious after entering the capital. She not only wanted her husband to be influential but also young and dashing. Essentially, even though Cao Lian’er was somewhat beautiful, she was nothing in the capital. Influential families paid more attention to finding someone of equal status to be a good match, and she was already inferior just because of this. Nonetheless, despite that, Cao DaHua thought that Lian’er would definitely marry a good husband so as to help their Cao family and her son climb up.
The XiNing governmental household only held a banquet once a year, which also allowed young men and women a chance to blind date. As only people with extraordinary status would be invited, Cao DaHua asked Wei YuHua to bring along Cao Lian’er, and her ambitions were obvious.
If Wei YuHua had her own children, she would not have been coerced like this!
Zhuang Zhong, who felt Wei YuHua’s mood shift, glanced at the proud Cao DaHua standing beside her and understood something. As Zhuang Zhong rubbed the Buddha beads on his hand, he thought: YuanJue, give me some time, I will definitely give you a fair answer.
Although Zhuang Zhong officially became a member of Marquis WenYuan’s household, the marquis’ attitude towards him was still lukewarm and incomprehensible to others. Despite that, he did not make any additional efforts. In order to avenge YuanJue, he would still have to rely on himself.
After the prince became seriously ill, Zhuang Zhong did not see Feng Huan for more than three months and felt that something was missing. Originally, he thought they were just using each other, but now it seemed that Feng Huan had unwittingly been included in those he perceived to be “his own people”.
When they next met, the corners of Zhuang Zhong’s mouth could not help but curl up.
“Let’s go and drink.” With Feng Huan’s gloomy disposition, others around him had not dared to approach.
Zhuang Zhong patted him on the shoulder. “As a man, why are you upset about the lack of a wife? With your qualifications, there is no need to be anxious.”
Feng Huan glared at him harshly. “Don’t you dare say those words to me!”
Previously, Imperial Concubine Xian had found another woman for Feng Huan, but in just a few days, she became seriously ill and died. With two consecutive fianceés suddenly falling ill and dying, people started speculating, and it caused the rumor that Feng Huan was bringing misfortune to his fiancées1The term used here is “克妻”. It is based on an old superstitious belief that certain couples are not compatible and the husband might bring “misfortune” to the wife which could sometimes even lead to her death. to spread.
Zhuang Zhong rubbed his nose. Aware that Feng Huan was feeling bad, he stopped talking and only drank with him silently.
When Feng Huan saw him like this, his dark face eased a lot. “I do not care about the two women. I am just unhappy that something happened.”
“It is all a coincidence. You do not have to take it to heart.”
“Some people say that my life is difficult, and it will not be easy for me to get a wife.”
“That is just nonsense.” Zhuang Zhong also knew about these rumors, but he never took them to heart. Notwithstanding materialism, ever since he was acknowledged by Marquis WenYuan, many people have found fault with Feng Huan. If it were a big matter, it would have been inevitable. However, small matters like this only disgust people.
Such an identity might seem to be of no importance, but it was not so if one thought deeper. With Feng Huan finding it difficult to find a wife, how could the country fall into the hands of such a person? This would make Feng Huan more hopeless than the sick crown prince. Besides, after his illness, the crown prince became more clear-minded than before, and many people felt that it was possible for him to have children in the future.
Feng Huan suddenly said, “I also think that it is meaningless to marry a woman.”
Zhuang Zhong smiled. “That is because you have not met the right one. These women are chosen by your mother, not you, so you find it meaningless.”
“Not in the future.”
Feng Huan glanced at Zhuang Zhong deeply. “This time, my mother made the decision behind my back, and I had already planned to break off the marriage. However, something happened which saved me a lot of effort. In the future, my mother would not have a chance to intervene in my marriage. I will only marry the person I like.”
“En, it should have been like this. You and the other party should be accountable to each other.”
“I will protect the person I like. I will not let him be like those two women.”
To that, Zhuang Zhong only nodded. When Feng Huan saw that his attitude was cold, he became unhappy. “Why do you have no reaction?”
Zhuang Zhong was temporarily at a loss. “What reaction should I have? Shouldn’t it be like this? A man is supposed to protect his beloved woman. But then again, it is hard to foresee a sudden illness, so you should not be hung up on it.”
“Who says that I was hung up on those two women?!” Feng Huan was furious, and his voice suddenly rose, startling Zhuang Zhong.
Zhuang Zhong, who thought that he had poked Feng Huan’s sore spot again, quickly pacified him, “That’s good, it is good that you are not hung up on them. Otherwise, you would have been sadder.”
Feng Huan was taciturn for a moment. Just when Zhuang Zhong thought that Feng Huan was going to explode again, Feng Huan put a jar of alcohol in front of him.
“Drink it all!”
Zhuang Zhong did not know whether to laugh or to cry. “Why are you torturing me for your failed relationships? After drinking this, it will be the end of my life.”
Zhuang Zhong was unhappy. This alcohol was very strong, and it would really be fatal to down a jar. He also knew that Feng Huan was in a bad mood, as anyone who encountered such a thing would be upset and angry. However, even then, Feng Huan should not deliberately torture him like this. Who would make friends in such a way? Not only that, if he did not agree with him, Feng Huan would put on the airs of His Royal Highness and order him. Like this, how could they still be friends?
“Are you ordering me as Prince Si Zhao? Fine, I will drink.”
Zhuang Zhong ripped open the mud seal and picked up the jar. Just as he was about to pour it into his mouth, Feng Huan stopped him, but Zhuang Zhong did not comply.
“Let go. Didn’t you want me to drink? I will drink it.”
With a snatch, Feng Huan grabbed the wine jar and harshly threw it to the ground.
“It is you who says you want me to drink, and it is also you who would not let me do so. Are you playing with me? You wasted such a jar of good wine!” Zhuang Zhong was furious. He did not know whether it was because he was angered by Feng Huan’s indecisiveness or he was just heartbroken over the waste of such expensive alcohol.
“I was wrong.” Feng Huan rarely showed weakness. With such words, he was like a boy in school, and his majestic bearing was gone.
Hearing that, Zhuang Zhong’s original anger suddenly dissipated a lot. After all, Feng Huan was still a prince, and he was used to being lofty. For him to do so was not easy.
Zhuang Zhong did not speak. He poured a cup of wine for Feng Huan, who drank it. As their eyes met and they smiled towards each other, this minor issue could be considered resolved.
“Did you secretly investigate?” It was only when Feng Huan calmed down that Zhuang Zhong started asking questions. For two women to suddenly fall ill and die after they were engaged to Feng Huan made Zhuang Zhong feel that it was too coincidental and strange.
Feng Huan paused and did not reply.
Zhuang Zhong frowned, “Even if you do not like them, they are still your fiancée. So if there is something fishy, it must be related to you, and it is not appropriate for you to remain indifferent.”
“Would it be heartless if I do not care?”
“That is not totally true, but don’t you think that it should be investigated? Aren’t you curious? Besides, if it is related to you, it must be someone who secretly plots against you. You should investigate clearly to save yourself endless trouble in the future. What if you really find someone you like and they die in such a doubtful way?”
Feng Huan was silent for a moment before he said, “The first ran away, and the second killed herself.”
Feng Huan was displeased. “What are you yelling about? Those two women did not want to marry me and disliked me. Are you happy?”
“What am I happy about? They have no eyes!” Zhuang Zhong cautiously asked, “Is it really because they do not want to marry you? Is there any misunderstanding?”
Although Feng Huan had a bad reputation with people saying that he was eccentric and cruel, he was still considered the best husband in the hearts of many women because of his appearance and his status. It would not have reached the state of him being despised, right? Or did Imperial Concubine Xian have a good eye and found him women who were not willing to be bound by the constraints of the feudal system?
However, Feng Huan instead asked, “You think I am not bad?”
“Of course! If I were a woman, I would definitely marry you!”
Feng Huan raised his eyebrow. “Really?”
Zhuang Zhong nodded heavily with a face of sincerity.
The corners of Feng Huan’s mouth raised, and it was like the clear weather that came after the rain.
It was here that Zhuang Zhong felt that something was not right.
- 1The term used here is “克妻”. It is based on an old superstitious belief that certain couples are not compatible and the husband might bring “misfortune” to the wife which could sometimes even lead to her death.