It was New Year’s Eve in a blink of an eye. The Emperor usually held a public banquet on New Year’s Eve, inviting his close courtiers to drink and have fun together, seeing off the old year and welcoming the new. Both the Empress Dowager and Empress were also here, surrounded by many imperial clan members and titled madams.
Many people gathered around Empress Dowager Yang, laughing and chatting while trying to amuse Empress Dowager with witty words. It was very lively.
However, despite the seemingly harmonious atmosphere, there was a visible discord within the Yang family. Although Empress Yang sat on the side and listened to the conversation with a smile, her face was stiff, and she did not look in the direction of Empress Dowager. As for Yang Yan who sat next to Empress Yang, her cold face was even more obvious.
Cheng Yujin thrived among the crowd, fulfilling her duty as one of the hostesses with a smile. But her eyes were never still for a moment, as she quietly observed the people around her. The crack between Empress Dowager Yang and Yang Yan fell into Cheng Yujin’s eyes from the beginning. Not only that, but she also found that Dou Xiyin was absent today.
It was indeed unusual, as Dou Xiyin usually couldn’t wait to claim the palace as her home. In the past, whenever there was an occasion to show her face, Dou Xiyin would definitely attend with a proud face. But this time, on such an important opportunity to accompany Empress Dowager Yang on the New Year’s Eve, so many imperial clan wives and daughters gathered together, but Dou Xiyin was not here.
Cheng Yujin smiled without saying a word and continued watching leisurely from the side.
Cheng Yujin noticed that Empress Dowager Yang had already seen several young ladies. Meanwhile, Empress Yang was sitting aside, unable to intervene. Looking at her face, she was obviously unhappy.
In fact, for Cheng Yujin and Li Chengjing, it was in their best interest for the Second Prince to marry Dou Xiyin. There was no difference whether Dou Xiyin’s surname was Dou or Yang, so it was much better for them to see the Second Prince marry Dou Xiyin rather than gain a powerful in-law family.
Cheng Yujin feigned ignorance as she entertained the guests with a smile.
In the evening, many guests bid farewell and left. Those who could accompany the Emperor and Empress Dowager to attend the imperial family’s private New Year’s Eve banquet were all super-rank dignitaries, and this invitation was an absolute greatest honor. Usually, Yang Yan and her daughter also stayed behind glamorously, but this year, Yang Yan left the palace with a sullen face before the banquet even began.
After she left, Cheng Yujin, who had been observing the Yang family quietly, silently glanced in Yang Yan’s direction. She then soon turned her gaze again, as if nothing had happened.
The private banquet in the evening was also divided by gender. Men’s and women’s seats were separated in two halls, with a connecting corridor for the palace maids and eunuchs to come and go busily. There was an open square in the middle, where a stage was erected and filled with endless singing and dancing.
Empress Dowager Yang was already old and couldn’t stand the fatigue. After briefly showing her face at the evening banquet, she and her entourage soon returned to Cining Palace to rest. After Empress Dowager Yang left, Empress Yang and Cheng Yujin were the main protagonists. However, there was not much fun for women when watching music and dances. Cheng Yujin and Empress Yang also didn’t make any conversation either and spent the time mostly silent. Since the Empress and Crown Princess were like this, the guests below also didn’t dare to be too lively.
Compared to the women’s banquet, the men’s banquet was much more lively, with laughter and applause from time to time. The banquet lasted until the arrival of the New Year, which took a very long time. In the later period, the womenfolks found excuses to leave their seat and take a breather outside.
Cheng Yujin was very patient and sat steadily for a long time. It was only after Empress Yang left to change that Cheng Yujin took her servant girls to the inner room to relax for a while. Lian Qiao followed behind Cheng Yujin, full of admiration. Sitting on one of the main seats in the hall was actually much harder than simply standing, because one had to maintain a straight sitting posture and smile perfectly all the time. Just looking at it made Lian Qiao feel tired. However, the Crown Princess lasted for four hours. This kind of concentration and perseverance was truly awesome.
Inside the inner room and far from scrutinizing eyes, Cheng Yujin was finally able to take a bit of a breather. However, even when there was no one around, Cheng Yujin never slacked in her posture, as maintaining the perfect manners had become routine for her.
Lian Qiao brought a bowl of hangover soup for Cheng Yujin and said, “Crown Princess, do you want this servant to massage your waist?”
Cheng Yujin shook her head: “No need. When we came out just now, I saw some eunuchs moving out fireworks. They must be setting off the fireworks soon. I’ll just take a bit of rest here, as it won’t do if my clothes get wrinkled.”
Lian Qiao nodded. Cheng Yujin drank the hangover soup and two cups of tea to refresh herself. After her fuzzy brain gradually sobered up, she got up and took a walk outside. The palace was very lively at this moment, with eunuchs busy moving and setting up fireworks, the acrobatic troupe showing off their skill at the square, and a large number of palace maids outside the fence, watching and pointing excitedly at the performance. Looking ahead, bright candles had been lit all the way, reflecting on the bright yellow tents as if it were daylight. At this time, this place was already crowded with people.
Presumably, the Emperor had moved outside, bringing all the guests with him. It was not yet the New Year, so firecrackers still couldn’t be set off, but some quick-witted young eunuch set off flame torches and dashed them up and down to make the guests happy.
The imperial concubines and consorts also gathered in a large group at this moment. Clad in beautiful gowns and headdresses fitted with gorgeous pearls and gemstones, they stood with hand warmers in hands, laughing giddily while enjoying the entertainment.
When Cheng Yujin approached, all imperial concubines and consorts backed away and gave her a curtsy. Cheng Yujin gave them a light nod and stopped a bit for some niceties. It was late at night. The wind was dry and cold, and the sky was surprisingly dark. The air was filled with the unique smell of gunpowder, which was typical of the New Year.
The atmosphere made Cheng Yujin dazed a bit. She remembered how she was still in the Yichun Marquis Manor at the same time last year, lacking interest in joining the festivity. Who would have known that just a year later, not only did she get married, but she even celebrated the New Year in the imperial palace?
When Cheng Yujin turned her head, she just happened to meet Li Chengjing’s eyes. The man was standing beside the Emperor, but his gaze was fixed on her.
At this moment, a loud sound of firecrackers suddenly blasted, and the fireworks in every corner of the palace were lit simultaneously. Cheng Yujin was startled and subconsciously raised her head to look at the sky. At the same time, the sky was lit up and burst into flashes of colorful light.
Time did not discriminate. At this moment, the New Year came to the entire world.
Cheng Yujin suddenly felt moved. She turned her gaze at Li Chengjing, but found he was no longer in his previous position. Everyone was mesmerized by the fireworks at this moment, and the sound of crackling firecrackers was also deafening. Cheng Yujin silently retreated from the crowd, turned around, and walked away quickly.
Cheng Yujin was just halfway there when she met Li Chengjing. Seeing him, she broke into a smile and quickly ran in small steps. Li Chengjing opened his arms and steadily caught the girl.
Cheng Yujin was wearing an auspicious red robe with a snow-white cloak today. Like a red plum in the snow, she was extremely beautiful. When Cheng Yujin jumped into Li Chengjing’s arms, she was glowing with happiness: “Happy New Year, Your Highness.”
Li Chengjing also smiled and embraced her tightly: “Happy New Year.”
“Am I the first to give you New Year’s greeting?”
“Yes.” There was a deep smile in Li Chengjing’s voice, “I wish that you will always be the first every year.”
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