Chapter 110: Raising Expectations
Translated by Gumihou
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There was a tug at his sleeves, and Duan Tingfang’s anxious face appeared in front of Duan Tingxuan. “Elder brother, your face. Your expression is too unsightly, no matter what you must smile.”
“That’s too difficult, ah. How could I when a bunch of hooligans who called me a wolf is about to enter my house?” Duan Tingxuan muttered hatefully. He looked up at the heavens again, the sun shone down bright and hot. He suddenly grinned hurried over to stand in front of the crown prince. A fake smile bloomed on his face as he said, “Today is terribly hot, isn’t it? Why have your highness, the crown prince come? Don’t you normally don’t leave your palace during the summer months? I heard that even the empress excused you from your daily greetings in summer. This is only maternal grandmother’s 68th birthday, so why have you personally come?”
The crown prince smirked as he snapped his fan open and waved it slowly. Though he was fat, and a little clumsy, the noblest of blood still run through his veins and confidence practically oozed from his pores. He laughed, “Speaking of which, I must credit Tingxuan for my presence here. Thanks to you coming over to the East Palace everyday for the past two days, well, though I don’t appreciate it at the time and nearly spit foam from exhaustion, I must say my body has been feeling better than ever. Look, I came all the way from the East Palace and barely sweated. Speaking of the heat, let’s go inside now and you can give me two bowls of cooling drink. Make sure the bowls are large.”
Duan Tingxuan staggered, and nearly fell flat on his face. Is this the feeling of ‘Dropping a rock onto one’s own feet’? Crown prince, you’re the heir to the throne, ah. How could you be so evil? Where did you learn this bad habit from?[Gumihou: Lol, what the heck Tingxuan? Where do you think?]
Jiang Changning laughed, “That’s right, that’s right, since it’s so hot, it’s the best time to drink cousin-in-law’s cooling drink. Also, you should get us a private room, so as not to attract too much attention. It’s best that not too many people knew that we’re here.”
“IS the second prince worried about too many people knowing you’re all here?” Duan Tingxuan sneered, “well, too bad. Your presence is too charismatic and amazing, how could you not attract attention just by wishing it?”
He hadn’t finished speaking when inquisitive faces poked themselves out from the reception area and soon, people were all rushed out to rub shoulders with the princes. For a moment, it was incredibly noisy at the gate, laughter rang out in the courtyard, and it was a long while before the greetings eventually petered out. It was then that Duan Tingxuan caught sight of a few servants laughing and chatting with each other coming round a corner. Seeing these carefree servants, he was so shocked that he did nothing for a few moments. Then, he angrily strode over and growled, “Come here, you. What are you doing laughing and talking there? You, go to the inner court and inform them that the princes are here. Get your madams to send more people out to serve tea and drinks.”
“Yes.” the servant who had been singled out vanished like smoke, leaving the others to awkwardly exchange glances with each other. Duan Tingxuan began to order them about, “The princes carriages are still outside, get some others to see to that. That’s right, what were you talking about just now? What’s going on at the inner court?”
One of the servants quickly bobbed a greeting and answered, “To answer master, we had been sent by Auntie Lu to Spring Breeze Court. First madam had made something really huge. Something called Birthday Cake that is seven tiers tall. This lowly one haven’t seen it yet, all we did was help move the thing onto a small wheel barrow. It is probably being wheeled to the north court right now.”
The crown prince called out eagerly, there was a mad gleam in his eye. It was really impossible to see the ‘Steady, Wise and Farsighted Man of Matchless Benevolence and Righteousness’ praise granted by the emperor. This unsteady fatty swivelled his neck over to look at Duan Tingxuan, “I think there’s no need for us to find a private area to rest. Since we are all here, we might as well go and give grandmother a very happy 68th birthday greeting. We can also have a look at this Birthday Cake thing made by cousin-in-law. Seven tiers? Is she trying to build a pagoda?”
The rest of the guest have also heard about how this notorious shrew of a wife had turned a new leaf and was now unrivalled in her cooking skills. Most of them came in hopes catching a glimpse of this woman, and perhaps taste some of her unusual cooking. After hearing the servant’s announcement, they all itched to find out even more. Now that the crown prince had openly declared his intention, they all gathered around him like eager clouds around the eye of a storm. Even the old marquis was urged by this mob and could only hustle his three sons along with 70 or 80 guests towards the north court.
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At this very moment Su Nuan Nuan, Concubine Jing, Duan Xinqi as well as a few other maids were heading towards the north court, unaware of what was happening on the other side. The mistresses of the family watched with anxious eyes as the maids slowly pushed the towering cake along. Hong Lian kept pace, interjecting with the occasional ‘Be careful!’ or ‘Watch your hands!’. Even though the cake was supported by frames, it was incredibly tall and it was all too easy to imagine a disaster happening now.
“Calm down, Hong Lian, you don’t have to be so anxious. Everyone is moving at a very steady pace. If you keep nagging them like this, even the steadiest hearts would tremble.” Su Nuan Nuan flapped her round fan at Hong Lian, shooing her away from the harassed maids. The maids looked like they were on the verge of bursting into at tears any moment.
“Was this ‘Cake Frame’ something that the lord had custom made outside?” Concubine Jing could also tell that the maids’ state of mind were not good, and sought to change the subject. Quite a few of the maids immediately heaved a sigh of relief at the change of subject.
“That’s right, your lord is terribly unreliable. He said he’ll make it himself five days ago, but then got involved with something and couldn’t do it. Luckily, he’s good friends with the fourth prince and managed to get the craftsmen from the Imperial Household Department to make this frame for me. Though it’s a little different from what I expected, it is sturdily built and quite elaborated. If not for this frame, we won’t be able to achieve this impact.”
“Sister-in-law, I really can’t wait to see everyone’s reaction to this Birthday Cake. I’ve lived so long and yet have never seen flour made into something like this, it’s just too amazing.”
“Not only second miss, even I… well, madam should know my background. It is a world where wealth, excess and beauty reigns, and the wealthy indulged in every imaginable luxury, but I’ve never seen food turned into sheer delicacy and art like this.”
Even the normally calm and collected Concubine Jing was moved to speak in such flowery tones. Su Nuan Nuan laughed lightly, “No need for all that praise. You should know what kind of person I was in the past. The lord called me an arrogant woman with extravagant taste, now you know just how extravagant and excessive I am. I am disguising my desire for extravagance as filial piety, how clever is that?”
“Is that so?” Concubine Jing really didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at this. She blinked, and… no, it was not her imagination. Several maids were rushing over to them, the look on their faces were joyously welcoming as they cried, “Why is madam so slow? Old madam’s north court is bursting with people. The north court is so packed that not even water could trickle in. Everyone is waiting to see madam’s Birthday Cake.”
Su Nuan Nuan was shocked. “Why are there so many people? Didn’t they say there would only be about a hundred or so guests? I’ve already estimated the amount of food, surely the noble ladies in the Capital can’t be that many?”
The female servant laughed , “There certainly is about a hundred female guests, but when the princes came, they insisted on personally greeting the old madam. With them were the male guests, heirs of noble houses, officials, marquis and dukes of other houses also came and another hundred is added on top of that. That’s about all that can fit into the north courtyard.”
For a moment, Su Nuan Nuan only stood there like a boat without sails. She felt confused and harried: Your mom, another hundred guests? This cake… is there enough for everyone? Have pity on me, ah. My shoulders are all stiff, ah. Don’t tell me that stupid Duan Tingxuan can’t control his own guests? For so many guests to suddenly appear, even an immortal won’t be able to deal with it, ah.
“Who told them first madam made Birthday Cake?” Concubine Jing caught onto the crucial point of this whole insanity. The female servants smiled awkwardly, “How could this lowly one dare ask? Anyway, it’s best for first madam to go there quickly, old madam is waiting anxiously for you.”
When Concubine Jing heard this, she started: How could they let the old madam wait for them on her birthday? She turned to Su Nuan Nuan and said, “Sister, since the situation is like this, we should hurry.”
Su Nuan Nuan shrugged, spreading out her hands, “I, too, wish we could go faster, but we can’t go faster than we have been, ah.” she waved the huffing and puffing servants pushing the cart. “They’re already walking like they’re on thin ice. If we increase the speed, what if something happens?”
Concubine Jing didn’t know what to say to that. The servants cried out over each other, “We can’t go any faster, ah. Madam, what if this giant Cake thing falls over?”
The newly arrived servants blinked stupidly at them, and Su Nuan Nuan laughed, “If you want us to be faster, go and tell your masters to come and help us. Otherwise, just sit there and wait, ba.”
The servants nodded and left to carry out her order. Less than 10 minutes later, they saw the little marquis come flying towards them. He muttered and grumbled all the way, “I’m so furious I could die. I thought I’d get to eat something good today, but that crown prince, second prince and fourth prince brought the whole gang of princes over. I still haven’t seen their birthday gift yet, but nothing they bring could possibly make up for this. Some of those so-called adults even shed their dignity at the mention of Birthday Cake and stretched out their necks to look about like country yokals. Nuan Nuan, where’s your Cake thing… oh, my heavens. That’s tall! Is it really seven tiers?”
Su Nuan Nuan rolled her eyes and snapped, “Of course it’s seven tiers. Since there are so many guests today, I deliberately made extra. This would just about allow one piece per guest. However, now that you have another hundred guests over, well, I don’t care anymore. You can split it out yourself.”
Duan Tingxuan immediately smiled ingratiatingly, “No, no, if Nuan Nuan is the one who allocates it, nobody can say anything. If I were to split it, well, I still have to face half of those people in court, you know. Some of those stuffy officials could be really petty, it would be a headache to decide who gets what. So, would you please do the honours? Wu! Also, there’s no such thing as too many people, ah? They are all our honoured guests. As long as Nuan Nuan is fair and not serve the ladies only and forget about the men, all is fine! Jing’er, please don’t smile like that… this is part of your secret plan, right?”
Concubine Jing had been maintaining her Mona Lisa smile through the exchange. Who would have thought the little marquis would suddenly target her? Her mouth dropped opened and she turned to Su Nuan Nuan, “Madam… I… the lord, he…. I … When did I smile? I was just… it’s just my normal smile, ah… Do you want me to cry on such a day?”
“Look how you cause Sister Jing to stammer,” Su Nuan Nuan laughed out loud and said kindly to Concubine Jing. “It’s alright, don’t fret. Our lord is just hangry, that’s why he’s so anxious.”
“That’s right, I’m just too anxious. If I had known, I’d have asked her to make a seventeen tier frame…”
He hadn’t finished speaking when Su Nuan Nuan’s foot kicked at him. The little marquis dodged out of instinct, and was treated the sight of his wife glaring at him. “You try and say that again? Seventeen tiers? You think we’re playing with building blocks here? For just seven tiers we’ve busied ourselves all morning, even with second miss, Concubine Jing and the rest of the maids helping we barely made it. We’re already exhausted and you still dare ask for seventeen tiers?! You want me to die?!”
[Gumihou: Ohoho, little marquis, some things are better left unsaid.]
Translated by Gumihou from kitchennovel dot com.
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