Hearing this, Empress Yang frowned in hesitation: “You mean… sending a few spies to the Eastern Palace under the reason of selecting concubines for the Crown Prince?”
“Yes.” Dou Xiyin leaned forward and lowered her voice, “Aunt, just like the Emperor and his inner palace, the Crown Prince also has a group of women to serve him. Which man doesn’t have concubines? Cheng Yujin puts on the facade of a virtuous woman for the sake of reputation, but she is actually just a jealous wife. It has been almost a year, yet she is the only woman with a status next to the Crown Prince. Aunt, let alone the Crown Princess, even in ordinary people’s family, her behavior is extremely ugly, jealous, and domineering.”
Empress Yang did not say a word, but her eyebrows frowned in deep thoughts. Indeed, although it was said that young couples would have a period of passionate love because of their prior inexperience and the novelty of being married, it was very rare for the man to not even have a single tongfang or concubine even after a year.
That was the case for men from the ordinary official family. As for those from a hereditary noble family, it was even normal for them to have a group of concubines early on. If the family were decent, the man wouldn’t give these women formal status to respect his future wife, but once he married, his wife would be tasked with giving these people formal status. For a man to only have one or two concubines besides his main wife was enough to make him the model of clean living. And these concubines were only the ones given the formal status — as for the tongfang who served in bed at night but still continued to do servant works during the day, they were not counted in the concubine quota.
If it was her son who was a clean living and didn’t play around with servant girls, Empress Yang naturally would be proud, but Li Chengjing’s situation was a bit eerie. He had been married for a year, yet let alone officially selected concubines, Empress Yang had never even heard the news about palace maids who accidentally got favored in the Eastern Palace.
Empress Yang wasn’t sure either. She didn’t know whether it was Cheng Yujin who was strict with her management and had a superb way of dealing with these women, or it was Li Chengjing who really never favored others. Empress Yang didn’t quite believe the latter, but not even she was able to quietly dispose of any palace maid who served the Emperor at night, let alone the Crown Princess who didn’t have the power to rule the inner palace?
Still, Empress Yang was a little moved by Dou Xiyin’s suggestion. In her opinion, there were no men who didn’t like new things. The reason why there was no other woman around the Crown Prince was most likely because Cheng Yujin was keeping a tight grip on him, but the Crown Prince was reluctant to embarrass his wife. If a third party sent ready-made fresh beauties to him, would he still push them away?
Empress Yang began to think of the candidates she could send to the Eastern Palace. As for whether those women could survive under Cheng Yujin… that’s not within her consideration.
Empress Yang finally said in hesitation: “This method is indeed feasible. However, from the moment the Crown Princess entered the palace, her words and conduct have always been flawless. Now that she is pregnant, if This Palace sends beauties to the Eastern Palace, others may begin to gossip that This Palace is malicious.”
Empress Yang was just Li Chengjing’s stepmother after all. On top of that, the situation surrounding the matter of Empress Zhong was indeed a bit unclear. Under Empress Dowager throughout cleaning, no one knew what happened back then, but Empress Yang still felt uneasy every time she saw Li Chengjing.
Dou Xiyin said again: “Aunt, you must not think like that. You are the empress, the Crown Prince’s mother. Now that the Crown Princess is pregnant and cannot serve in bed, isn’t it justifiable that you send people to serve the Crown Prince in her stead? Besides, this is Cheng Yujin’s fault originally. According to the rule, the Crown Prince should have two Xuanshi ladies, four Cairen ladies, and eight Shunu ladies.1 But Cheng Yujin is jealous, occupying the Crown Prince for her own and wantonly suppressing the palace maids. For Aunt to choose and send concubines to the Eastern Palace is clearly to maintain the rules and set examples for all the women in the world.”
Empress Yang was gradually persuaded and finally nodded in approval: “You are right. However, the Crown Prince made a bold declaration during the year-end banquet last year, claiming that he should respect the ancestral rules and plan to only take a concubine when he is still without a son at forty. Now that the Crown Princess is pregnant, if This Palace bestowed women to him during this period, some people may begin to criticize This Palace for corrupting the Crown Prince.”
“Heh.” Dou Xiyin smiled disdainfully, “Aunt, do you really believe it? No matter how glib a man’s tongue, can he still refuse a beautiful woman delivered to his bed?”
With this, Empress Yang’s last trace of concern finally dispersed. “You are right. This Palace seems to be overly cautious for nothing.”
Cheng Yujin stayed peacefully in Ciqing Palace to take care of her pregnancy. Since she was accidentally revealed to be pregnant during Shou Wang’s wedding banquet, Li Chengjing simply took advantage of the situation to admit the fact and then announced that the Crown Princess would be staying in seclusion to focus on her pregnancy. Now that the public knew that the Crown Princess was pregnant, no one dared to say anything when she stopped appearing in public.
The calendar was gradually entering the rainy season. These past few days, the capital was engulfed in several heavy downpours with black clouds hanging between. This morning, Cheng Yujin woke up to the sound of rain outside the window. The raindrops fell from the blue glazed tiles to the stone steps below, making a rhythmic sound in their wake.
In the afternoon, the rain finally stopped. The servants of Ciqing Palace let out a long sigh of relief. Lian Qiao quickly instructed a few palace maids to open the windows to dispel the sullen air inside.
The wind blew inside, bringing in cool and refreshing water vapor. Cheng Yujin leaned against a window to read a book. She had just turned a page when a palace maid came to report that the Empress had sent a messenger. Cheng Yujin raised her eyebrows slightly, knowing that she couldn’t finish this book today.
Cheng Yujin closed the page, sat up properly, and said, “Let the person in.”
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