Feeling the familiar atmosphere, Cheng Yujin couldn’t help but relax. She sat opposite Li Chengjing. Li Chengjing picked a piece of osmanthus cake and placed it on the plate in front of Cheng Yujin. Cheng Yujin took a bite and said: “It’s pretty sweet. A few days later, when I have free time, I will make some pastries. It’s just in time for the lotus flower to start blooming. If we wait too long, the flowers will no longer be fresh.”
Li Chengjing nodded. What Cheng Yujin just said was his preference. He didn’t like to eat things that were too sweet or dry. Before, when the two still lived in Yichun Marquis Manor, Cheng Yujin frequently came to Li Chengjing’s yard to curry favor with him by bringing her handmade pastries. Over time, the pastries eaten by Li Chengjing were mostly provided by Cheng Yujin, which gradually raised his standard. Now, Li Chengjing could hardly bear to eat the pastries made by imperial chefs.
Cheng Yujin didn’t think much when she said this. After all, this was how they got along in Yichun Marquis Manor. When she and Cheng Yuanjing were together, they often did their own things without talking to each other. Yet, they could naturally talk about the details of food and daily lives, as if they were an old couple who had been getting along for years.
Cheng Yujin probably didn’t even realize how natural she was when she spoke to Li Chengjing just now. Even her preference of food had become similar to him without her noticing it.
The feeling of being pampered was so good. When Li Chengjing heard that Cheng was going to cook for him, he suddenly felt nothing on the table was palatable. He poured Cheng Yujin a bowl of pine nut porridge and said: “We are going to return late tonight. It’s not easy to eat during the banquet. Pad your stomach now so that you won’t be hungry later.”
Cheng Yujin nodded. Tonight, the Emperor held a banquet the celebrate the Crown Prince’s wedding. The scale of this banquet was naturally enormous. Officials of the fourth rank and above were all invited. As for the female side, Empress Yang as the head of the inner palace also hosted a separate banquet to entertain the titled madams. Two grand banquets were held simultaneously to celebrate and announce to the whole world that the Crown Prince had successfully married. It was also Cheng Yujin’s first public appearance as the Crown Princess. The scene was obviously very grand. Despite being a banquet, none of the people attending would have a mind to eat. At most, they would symbolically take one or two bites of the exquisite dishes presented on the table. As the Crown Princess and the main protagonist of the banquet, Cheng Yujin was even more so.
It was actually ridiculous. These imperial and noble dignitaries spent half of their time hosting banquets for various occasions, but no one would really eat when the banquet was finally open. Before going out, women would pad their stomachs at home to avoid showing unsightly behavior in public.
As Cheng Yujin slowly stirred the porridge with a spoon, she asked, “Your Highness, I don’t know much about the imperial concubines and consorts in the palace. Can you teach me?”
Li Chengjing had been absent for too long. In fact, the time he spent in the palace after adulthood was barely longer than Cheng Yujin. Even so, he was born in the palace and naturally knew much more about its intricacies compared with Cheng Yujin.
He proceeded to give a simple explanation about the imperial consorts. As for those whose ranks were below the four consorts1, they had no qualification to talk to Cheng Yujin, so there was no need to know.
Cheng Yujin nodded while listening and noted down the names of several important people. Among them was an acquaintance, Shu Consort Xu.
Shu Consort was Chang Duke Manor’s eldest daughter, and also Xu Zhixian and Xu Nianchun’s eldest tang2 sister. Previously, because Xu family produced a daughter who became an imperial consort, Cheng Min’s marriage to Chang Duke Manor’s younger son was a social climb. The people of Chang Duke Manor were proud of the fact that they had Shu Consort in the palace. Because of this reason, the Cheng family curried favor with the Xu family in every possible way, hoping to take a dip of Shu Consort’s bright light.
Cheng Yujin grew up listening about Xu family’s Shu Consort, but she never expected that their first meeting would turn out to be her wedding banquet.
Indeed, one never knew what life would bring.
When the banquet finally began, Shu Consort Xu looked around as soon as she entered the hall. When she saw Cheng Yujin arrive, she raised a cup from her seat. Seeing this, Cheng Yujin also raised her cup in courtesy and smiled slightly.
Other imperial consorts and concubines sitting on both sides of the hall saw this scene with mixed feelings. With Empress Yang sitting firmly above, none of them could even wish of being favored by the Emperor. It was even more a daydream to think about giving birth to a prince or princess. Precisely because everyone understood this fact that the struggles in the inner palace were never serious.
Without a prize to contend, why bother struggling?
The high-ranking consorts depended on their seniority or family background to achieve their current position. As for Shu Consort Xu, she was not particularly favored, nor did she have a powerful father or brothers. The only reason she could be promoted to the position of four consorts was that her natal family, Chang Duke Manor, was an old peerage with a rich history. This, however, put her in a very awkward situation. Among the four consorts, Shu Consort Xu ranked the last.
But today, the new Crown Princess on her first public debut gave Consort Shu a courtesy in front of many female dignitaries. Consort Shu was very proud and drank a few more cups of wine that night. The other three imperial concubines looked down at her, but they couldn’t do anything.
Who let the natal family of Crown Princess and Consort Shu be in-laws? Some people were angry; others were jealous. Nevertheless, the battle between the Second Prince and the Crown Prince had nothing to do with them. As imperial concubines, their fate had long been determined. They couldn’t give birth to imperial children and thus had nothing to rely on for their old age. When the next emperor ascended the throne, they would enter the nunnery for the rest of their lives. Therefore, whether the final winner was Yang family or the Crown Prince made no difference to them.
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