Early next morning, Zhao Jie woke up, washed his face, and rinsed his mouth. He was without any ailments as usual.
Soon after he had breakfast, as he had expected, he received Empress Chen's imperial decree that ordered him to enter the palace immediately.
He changed into a light green robe decorated with a bamboo pattern. Instead of riding a horse, he entered the palace in carriage that had a green canopy and arrived at Zhao Yang Hall's entrance. Before he even entered the hall, he could feel the deep gloomy atmosphere that was inside. He curved his lips and walked inside in a few steps. He saw Empress Chen sitting on a rosewood arhat couch. She was expressionlessly drinking tea.
Seeing that he had entered, Empress Chen put down the lid of her lotus flower pattern teacup. She looked at him without changing her expression, “You can sit down."
Zhao Jie removed his cloak and sat down across from her.
She had the palace servants bring out the items. The table was soon filled with silver longevity charms, silver waist accessories, happiness necklaces and other similar items... She deliberately asked Zhao Jie, "Last month, Duke Zhen's younger paternal cousin Duke Ding's had his first grandson. The child will be one month old in a few days. This empress was thinking about what to give the child as our first meeting gift. Help me select a gift. See which gift would be better."
The meaning in her words was obvious. Duke Ding's son was twenty-one years old this year and he already had a son. Zhao Jie was twenty-two years old and he didn't even have a wife. How could Empress Chen not feel anxious?
Zhao Jie smiled and bluntly said, "Imperial mother, just directly say the words that you want to say.”
Empress Chen glared at him. She held her teacup as she went straight to the point, "I sent you two women last night. What were you unsatisfied with? Why did you have to drive them out of your residence?"
He just knew that it was because of this. He looked up at Empress Chen's questioning eyes, "Imperial mother didn't ask about my opinion before stuffing two women at me. In your heart, is your imperial son the type of person that's so hungry that he'll eat anything indiscriminately?"
Zhao Jie not only rejecting her accusation, but also counter attacked with his own accusation. Empress Chen was stifled. Her tone wasn't as unreasonable as before when she said, "When did I have such a thought? It was only that you don't have any woman at your side and I was worried, so I though of this method."
Last night, the palace had been locked. Liu Jiang and Ye Mei stood outside the entire night with only thin clothing. When they entered the palace the next morning, they were so cold that their entire bodies were shivering. They were also scared that Empress Chen would punish them, so they didn't go back to their rooms. Early in the morning, they kowtowed and begged for mercy outside of Zhao Yang Hall. They cried until Empress Chen's heart softened. This was when Empress Chen decided to call Zhao Jie into the palace so she could carefully interrogate him.
What was he thinking? Did he actually have any interest towards women?
Seeing that he wasn't saying anything, Empress Chen was too impatient and couldn't resist adding, "You're not young anymore. If you don't marry soon, how much long are you planning on dragging this out? Dan Yang has waited five to six years for you. She's already waited until she's an old maid now. You're not anxious, but Duke Zhen and your maternal aunt are very anxious. What exactly are you thinking? What are you unsatisfied about with Dan Yang?"
(T/N: Just in case it was too long ago, Duke Zhen and Zhao Jie's maternal aunt are Gao Dan Yang's parents.)
Zhao Jie calmly said, "I only have sibling affection for her. There isn’t any romantic affection.
Empress Chen had never met such a stubborn person. So what if he only had sibling affection for her? After he married her, he could properly cultivate their relationship. Wouldn’t there be romantic affection then?
She tried to persuade him, but these words had been so many times. Even if she wasn't tired of saying them, he was already tired of hearing them. Zhao Jie furrowed his eyebrows and changed the topic, "What has Liuli been doing lately? I haven't seen her in a while."
"She's in Chen Hua Hall. Lately, she seems much calmer and hasn't been fussing over leaving the palace," Empress Chen casually said. She still didn't forget the previous topic and continued, "The day after tomorrow is Duke Ding's grandson's one month old birthday. Deliver the present on behalf of imperial mother. When you meet Dan Yang, say a few more extra words with her. I heard that her mood hasn't been good recently."
Duke Ding was Duke Zhen's younger paternal cousin and their two families were close. Gao Dang Yang would definitely also attend.
Zhao Jie reflexively refused. He wasn't good at dealing with this type of occasion.
Empress Chen had already known his way of thinking, so she rushed to say, "If you don't go, you'll be forbidden from entering Zhao Yang Hall.”
He laughed involuntarily and helplessly said, "Is imperial mother using that to threaten me?”
Empress Chen rather magnanimously admitted, "Yes."
He lowered his eyes and didn't say anything. He considered the silver longevity charms on the wooden table. His thumb slowly stroked the wood grain. After a moment, he nodded and said, "Okay, I'll go."
Duke Ying's residence had also received Duke Ding's invitation.
Duke Ying had a good relationship with Duke Ding. Their relationship was honest and generous. When they were younger, they mutually helped each other and were close friends. Now that Duke Ding had his first grandson, Duke Ying would definitely go the celebration. In addition to Duke Ying (Wei Zhang Chun), the members of first, second, fourth and fifth branch were also going. Only third branch's Liu-shi was deferring the invitation with the excuse that she wasn't feeling well.
Everyone knew that Liu-shi's parents' home had declined and wasn't able to make ends meet. The majority of her remaining dowry had been sent back to subsidize her parent's home. Now, she couldn't even bring out a decent gift for a one-month-old baby's birthday, so naturally she wouldn't be willing to go out and disgrace herself.
On the day after tomorrow, early morning, Wei Kun properly arranged everything and brought his son and two daughters to Duke Ding's residence.
At the same time, at Prince Ru Yang’s residence, as Prince Ru Yang and Elder Princess Gao Yang Zhang were preparing to leave to go to Duke Ding’s residence, they heard from a servant that their son had returned. Li Song had been fooling around outside during the previous two days without coming home at night. Prince Ru Yang had ordered people to look for him twice, but Li Song had been completely drunk and driven the people away.
Prince Ru Yang had been extremely angry and threatened that he would ignore him in the future. They were surprised that Li Song had returned on his own today.
Elder Princess Gao Yang was worried about her son and had Li Xiang go over to his room to look, "Xiang-er, see how your older brother is doing. If he's sober, have him come with us.”
Li Xiang adjusted her eight-treasure jade necklace, stood up, and said, "Okay."
Li Xiang left the receiving room and walked towards the back of the residence. She passed a long path on her way to Li Song's courtyard. She stood outside his door and called out, "Older brother." But, she didn't hear any response. She could only push the door open and enter his inner room. A pungent smell of alcohol assaulted her nose. She took out a thick silk handkerchief to cover her nose and mouth and called out in a low, muffled voice, "Older brother, are you here?"
There was movement behind the bed's curtains. She stepped forward to open the curtain. As expected, there was a person lying there. It had only been a short period of two days, but Li Song seemed to have become thinner and there was beard stubble growing on his chin. He seemed like a completely different person than his previous charming and handsome self. Li Xiang was extremely surprised. She hurriedly shook him awake, "Older brother, what happened to you? Wake up. Father and mother want you to come with us to Duke Ding's residence. Don't keep sleeping."
Li Song frowned and finally slowly opened his eyes. His eyes were dark and muddled. There was a moment of confusion, but soon his eyes turned and landed on Li Xiang's anxious little face. He hoarsely said, "Li Xiang?"
Li Xiang nodded, "It's me. Older brother, why are you like this?"
He only felt his head aching. He had drunk too much during the past two days to the point that he wasn't clear-headed. He held his head as he slowly sat up. His eyebrows were pinched as he said, "I was in a bad mood, so I drunk some wine." He thought of her anxious appearance and asked, "What happened?”
Li Xiang could only repeat the words she had just said, "It's Duke Ding's grandson's one-month-old birthday today. Father and mother had been invited to his birthday. Since you're back, come with us?"
He fell back down on the bed and declined, "Go without me. I'm going to sleep here for a bit."
He had come home around 3-5am today. He hadn't slept for a long time before she woke him up. At the moment, his head ached and he wasn't in the mood to go outside.
But, Li Xiang's following words jolted him awake, "How can you still sleep? I heard that Duke Ying's family is also going. Wei Chang Hong had previously been injured at the hunting range. If you don't go, wouldn't that make us look guilty?" She tugged at him and said, "Older brother, get up."
He opened his eyes. His body had become as stiff as a corpse's.
(T/N: Advance chapters have been updated on Patreon.