“Your Majesty, this is the green chrysanthemum sent by the Cai Duke Manor. Please take a look.”
Cheng Yujin just glanced at it lightly, then nodded and said, “This Palace knows. Just put it in the garden.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
It was now the ninth month of the first year of Yuanxi. Almost a month had passed since the new Emperor ascended the throne on the ninth day of the eighth month. Following the tragic death of the previous Emperor, His Majesty was heartbroken, but the country couldn’t be without a ruler for a day. Under the heavy persuasion of the court ministers, His Majesty finally relented and ascended the throne, changing the name era to Yuanxi.
The Crown Prince followed the mandate of heaven and ascended the throne as the new Emperor. His wife and Crown Princess, Cheng Yujin, also became the Empress. Because the previous Emperor died unnaturally and tragically, Li Chengjing and Cheng Yujin, as a son and daughter-in-law, should observe mourning for a full three years. However, the country couldn’t be without a ruler to oversee it for so long, so the cabinet advocated for the imperial couple to observe the mourning for 27 days before ending their mourning rituals and resuming normal duties.
Cheng Yujin took off her mourning clothes at the beginning of the ninth month, and soon, the Double Ninth Festival was approaching. This was the first festival after Li Chengjing’s ascension to the throne, so the court advised holding a grand ceremony to commemorate the beginning of a new reign. However, Li Chengjing felt that it was not necessary. Some time ago, a fake Taoist priest confused the Emperor and caused chaos in the court, robbing imperial wealth and burdening the treasury in the name of seeking immortality. Even common people started to complain as a result. Although Li Chengjing immediately scrapped the construction of the White Deer Pagoda as soon as he came to power, the expense that had been spent so far could not be recovered. As the new Emperor, Li Chengjing understood the hardship of the common folks. The treasury was currently in dire need of money, so he didn’t want to make unnecessary extravagance and ordered all the celebrations during his new reign to be simplified.
His Majesty had made his order, so the people below naturally had nothing more to say. Seeing that the Double Ninth Festival was approaching, Cheng Yujin, as the new Empress, personally presided over the preparation. This was her first public appearance since her coronation as the Empress, and everyone in the capital couldn’t wait to curry her favor. However, His Majesty did not allow precious gifts to be sent, so all major families in the capital racked their brains to the fullest to come up with inexpensive but memorable gifts for Her Majesty.
The chrysanthemum sent by the Cai Duke Manor was one such gift, and a very unique one. Double Ninth Festival was also known as Chrysanthemum Festival, so the gift fit the occasion. Because ordinary chrysanthemums were far too common, the Zhai family took great care to find a rare breed of green chrysanthemum, cultivated them carefully, and sent the best pot to the palace as a tribute for the Double Ninth Festival.
It was a pity, though. Despite all the thought and efforts Cai Duke Manor put into the chrysanthemum, Cheng Yujin just gave it a light glance before ordering the flower to be carried to the garden. It was very different from Old Madam Zhai’s expectation, who envisioned the Empress liking the gift so much that she praised it lavishly. Dowager Consort Shu, who was by Cheng Yujin’s side when the flower was delivered, couldn’t help but ask, “Such a breed of green chrysanthemum is rare and the timing is perfect for the Double Ninth Festival, but Your Majesty sent it directly to the garden. Do you perhaps dislike green flowers?”
Cheng Yujin shook her head, chuckling, “All flowers are the same in This Palace’s eyes. This Palace treats them equally and won’t deliberately target anyone. However, His Majesty has openly said that the treasury is empty and the common people’s livelihood is in danger; thus, the officials are not allowed to be extravagant and wasteful. As a leader of the inner palace, This Palace should lead by example. Although this green chrysanthemum is merely a plant, a tremendous amount of manpower and money was needed to procure and cultivate it, all for a single flower that will wither in ten days. This is the kind of extravagance that His Majesty has explicitly forbidden.”
The current Dowager Consort Shu was formerly the Shu Consort of the late emperor, known in her girlhood as the eldest young miss of the Cang Duke Xu family. After the previous emperor passed away, all his consorts and concubines became dowagers. Thankfully, the new Emperor was sympathetic and spared them from the brutal custom of burying concubines alive. The dowagers were then allowed to stay in the imperial palace for the rest of their lives.
Indeed, Dowager Consort Shu originally thought the Empress disliked the gift due to the past grudge against the Cai Duke Manor. Dowager Consort Shu’s natal family was an in-law with the Empress’s natal family, giving her access to inside gossip. It was vaguely said that back before the late Emperor gave the marriage edict for the current Emperor and Empress, Cai Duke Manor actually wanted to marry Her Majesty as the widowed duke’s second wife. Words had it that the Old Madam of the Cai Duke Manor was almost scared to death when the marriage edict was first announced.
After that, every time a member of the Zhai family saw Her Majesty, the then Crown Princess, they were as timid as a mouse and always very courteous, for fear that Her Highness would pursue the old grudge. Later, the Crown Prince ascended the throne, and the Crown Princess became Empress, which frightened the Zhai family even more. This Double Ninth Festival was the first major event hosted by the new Empress, so they couldn’t wait to rush out to please her.
After Dowager Consort Shu heard Cheng Yujin’s reply, she was stunned for a moment. She then smiled, “It seems that This Consort is too short-sighted. Your Majesty is right; this kind of behavior shouldn’t be encouraged. The Emperor has disallowed extravagance, but not for them to take advantage of. Your Majesty is wise.”
Dowager Consort Shu had only a really limited understanding of Cheng Yujin. She was now the Empress, the only woman in the new Emperor’s inner palace, with a son and daughter under her knees. Where did she still have extra attention for petty grievances of yesterday? Cai Duke Manor’s move was actually backfiring — by doing this, they not only looked down on the Empress but also on the Emperor.
When His Majesty was still the Crown Prince, he was wise and just and had never wronged the current Duke Cai Zhai Yanlin. Zhai Yanlin had indeed once wanted to propose to the Empress, but he had never gone through with it. In contrast, the Huo family of the Jingyong Marquis Manor had once had a marriage contract with the Empress but later withdrew it. This matter was once well-known throughout the capital and immediately became a taboo after the late Emperor bestowed the marriage edict. Even so, back when His Majesty was still the Crown Prince of the Eastern Palace, he had never once done something to Marquis Jingyong because of personal grudges.
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