Chapter 272: The Stab
Translated by Gumihou
Edited by Vinisha
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Rong’er looked at her mistress with admiration in her eyes. Just ten days ago when Concubine Jiang said that she was going to hurt Xu Ran Yun, Rong’er thought that she was just venting nonsense. After all, it was impossible to hurt a stone with an egg. Even if you have some special weapon that could smash the stone to powder, as a fragile egg, how would you even protect yourself? Aren’t you just daydreaming?
However, Rong’er had long since abandoned such thoughts.
It all started three days before Su Nuan Nuan returned to her maternal family’s home, when Cai Sang suddenly came over to borrow money. Concubine Jiang acted as though she was seizing a great opportunity and immediately had her inquire into the reason for Cai Sang’s need to borrow money. She had also revealed her plan to Rong’er, though it was more of an outline than a real plan, the details were slowly filling up, the more information Rong’er gathered. One thing that really stood out and amazed Rong’er was the fact that for five years she had served this woman, she only saw her mistress as someone rather cowardly, and maybe even a little stupid. She never thought that the cow-like expression would hide such a scheming brain. Is this what they call a low-profile person who only attracts attention when they act?
The next day dawned bright and sunny, autumn was coming to an end at the gardens of the estate and the Chrysanthemums were not as lush as before. However, what blooms there clung to life brilliantly, as though refusing to give up on life just yet. Prompted perhaps by a fretful heart, Xue Zhi Lan had taken a liking to stroll around the estate gardens. Today, she was here, as usual, admiring the few stubborn blooms when she encountered Concubine Jiang.
Though Xue Zhi Lan and Xu Ran Yun had allied to take down Su Nuan Nuan, the honeymoon period of their alliance cannot last. Because enemies were still enemies despite the temporary alliance, they would inevitably return to being enemies once it was over. Madam Lan understood this matter very much and therefore had no qualms about being friendly with Concubine Jiang. Even though she had yet to make Su Nuan Nuan lose a single eyelash, her mind was already running ahead with plans on what she would do once Su Nuan Nuan was taken down. Though of course, these plans were all vague outlines rather than any fully formed plans.
The two ladies headed towards a pavilion and sat down together. Xue Zhi Lan gently expressed some concerned words for Concubine Jiang and her son’s health, sighed a few times, but merely said that Xu Ran Yun was too reckless and uncaring. If Concubine Jiang had not known this woman’s true face, she might have been deceived by her gentle act.
Concubine Jiang had no wish to hear her hypocritical words and changed the subject. After going through some small talk, she feigned sadness and said, “There’s something I wish to consult First Madam, but unfortunately she’s not around for me to speak to. I have spoken to Concubine Jing, but she informed me that, as this is my own household matter, I should make the decision myself. If I could have done so, I would not have consulted her, don’t you think? At any rate, this is not something that I can just speak to anyone about. Madam Lan, since you’re also from a noble household, your knowledge must surely be vast. This maid wishes to consult something with you.”
When Madam Lan heard this, her heart soared. She had been looking for a way to assist Concubine Jiang out of a ‘difficult situation’ for some time now. Even so, nothing inappropriate showed on her face aside from some faint doubt, “What kind of vexing matter are you facing? Why don’t you tell me about it first?”
Here, Concubine Jiang sighed. She turned to Rong’er and said, “Go and stand guard over there. If you see anyone coming, let us know immediately.” Rong’er bobbed in acknowledgement and quickly ran off. Finally, she turned to Xue Zhi Lan with a worried frown and said, “Surely Madam knows that this maid’s parents have long since gone, but I still have a few brothers and sisters at the Earl of Cheng Ming’s estate. The First Madam had been very kind and granted me a few things. Now that I have some leisure time, I visited them with gifts. While I was there, one of my male cousins took a fancy to Rong’er. He’s a widower who had yet to remarry and talked to me about taking Rong’er on as his wife.
To be fair, Rong’er is at the age where she should be matched, but after having her by my side for so long, I felt a little hesitant. But then I thought, he is my cousin, after all, surely I should not ruin familial relationships over a mere maid? Though my status has risen, it’s not like I’ve done much for my family, so shouldn’t I grant him this little favour? But still, Rong’er is my trusted aide and someone I rely on a lot. It would certainly be a pity to allow others to benefit while I take a loss. This dilemma had been plaguing me for a while. Madam, what do you think I should do?”
Concubine Jiang understood Xue Zhi Lan’s character all too well. Her fake ‘warm character’ tended to go along with whatever the other person was speaking and subtly encourage them to make herself seemed more agreeable. Concubine Jiang had deliberately worded her argument to lean towards letting Rong’er go and thus achieved the desired result when Xue Zhi Lan laughed brightly and said. “How silly you are. What’s a maid no matter how loyal or helpful? That cousin of yours is family, and it’s her fortune to assist the Jiang family to spread its branches. That aside, once your cousin is married, he will probably trouble you less as well. If you refuse to let him have your maid, why, he might come and pester you every two or three days giving you no peace.”
From the side, Long Yan also laughed and said, “Speaking of which, for Rong’er to marry a cousin of Madam Concubine is not bad at all. If Madam Concubine is really unwilling, you may give her a few more gifts as compensation. Oh yes, if Madam Concubine really could not be parted with Rong’er, perhaps you could have your cousin and his family move in and work within the estate. That way, you would also have your own set of loyal people within the estate.”
This remark was certainly calculated to incite disharmony within the estate. Xue Zhi Lan said nothing but flashed her personal maid an approving look. As both maid and mistress worked together to convince Concubine Jiang to go along with their ‘happy plan’, neither noticed the stark white face of Cai Sang who was standing just behind Xue Zhi Lan.
Concubine Jiang smiled, “Miss Long Yan’s words made sense. However, I have another thing bothering me. I’m afraid my cousin and his brothers are all rather spoilt by my uncle. Oh, nothing serious, of course. They don’t rob or cheat people, they are just a little… footloose and romantic. Take my cousin, for example, his previous wife was one of the managers of the estate and had quite a bit of authority. As for him, after he married her, he immediately had his way with the two maids serving them. Madam Lan, surely you know First Madam’s temperament. If I bring someone like him into the estate… if something happens… wouldn’t First Madam have me beaten to death? No, I had better not.”
At this, Xue Zhi Lan’s eyes became even more brilliant. She was already praising the heavens for putting this opportunity into her way, her smile sparkled brightly as she said, “You’re too cautious and timid, First Madam might be difficult to deal with, but even she has no right to punish you over such trivialities. You’re also someone who had served in a large estate, don’t tell me you don’t know the rules? As for those two low-level maids, weren’t they meant to serve in your cousin’s bedchamber? As the master, it is up to your cousin how he wished to treat them. Isn’t this common sense? As long as he keeps his wits about him and doesn’t tease those he shouldn’t, he would be safe. Be at ease, as long as your cousin doesn’t provoke the people he shouldn’t, why on earth would First Madam punish you? If she dares to, I shall speak up for you.”
Concubine Jiang cheered up, “As expected of Madam, clearly the insight of a young miss of a large estate is more worldly. After many years of being a concubine, I still have yet to shed my servant’s mindset. As for my cousin, he’s still a servant himself, so how would he dare to tease the women of the estate? Now that I think about it, what Madam said made sense, though he might be a servant, he is still the master of those girls. In fact, they might be the ones who had deliberately enticed him. After all, they would not lack good food and clothing if they manage to get their little claws on him.”
When Xue Zhi Lan heard this, she thought that she had finally managed to gain control over Concubine Jiang’s heart. Hehe, had she actually been worrying over whether she would be able to approach this woman in the future? To give an illusion of solidarity, she feigned anger and said, “Madam Concubine is right, those two maids may have been the ones to instigate something. You must have seen all kinds of tricks pulled by vixens like that, right? Take my brother, for example, I’m afraid his name has been ruined by those loose moral women in the Capital. Everyone assumed that he is too lustful and that not even the maids of the estates escaped his clutches.
Outsiders have no idea that it was those maids with swollen heads and ideas of seeking to scale the social ladder were the ones to make use of my brother to climb up the social branches. I’m afraid my brother is too foolish and thought that everyone just liked him very much. It is just too vexing, even now the entire estate is in a turmoil over the matter. That is why, though the master might be at fault, there are also times when those below them who harboured deep motives in their hearts are even more hateful.”
“It is as you’ve said, Madam is very wise and observant.”
Concubine Jiang’s heart bloomed with glee. Though she had a good understanding of Xue Zhi Lan’s character, she never thought that the other woman would be so cooperative to act in concert with her in this little play of theirs. She said everything that Concubine Jiang wished her to say and with such enthusiasm too. Suddenly, Long Yan broke their little harmony with a sharp, “Cai Sang, what’s the matter with you? Why are you suddenly crying?”
“Who’s crying?” Cai Sang’s voice was perfectly normal. She patted her eyes with a handkerchief and even smiled. She stamped her foot and said, “I was just tearing from the wind blowing into my eyes. I have no idea how you stand it, but that gust of wind just now chilled me to the bones and made me teared up. Madam, Madam Concubine, it is getting a little chilly. Perhaps it’s better to continue the chat inside? You might catch a cold sitting here, the weather is quickly heading towards winter after all.”
Long Yan, too, began to smile, “That’s right. I had forgotten this odd little quirk of yours.”
Just then, Concubine Jiang said, “That’s right, now that I think about it, both Long Yan and Cai Sang are at the marriageable age now. Have you any matches? If not, why don’t I help you out? Though I do not have much power, there are quite a few good male servants I can introduce you to.”
Xue Zhi Lan’s face went rigid, but then she quickly recovered and smiled, “There’s no need for you to spend your effort on them, I already have some arrangements in mind.”
Concubine Jiang said regretfully, “Is that so, ah. That’s too bad, especially for Miss Cai Sang. With her looks and temperament, she could marry into a wealthy family and be a young madam of the house. I wonder which young man caught Madam Lan’s eye? I’m going to warn you now, you may have your pick of any young man for Miss Cai Sang, but you must not touch Matron Liu’s younger son. Otherwise, there will really be no law in heaven anymore. Her older son is about to marry First Madam’s highest-ranking maid, Hong Lian. If Cai Sang also marry into that household, I’m afraid too much luck for one household is too unfair.”
Xue Zhi Lan sneered, “As you’ve said, with our Cai Sang’s appearance and temperament, she’s good enough to be a young wife of a wealthy household. So, why should I let her simply marry a random male servant? I cannot be careless about her future. I must make sure to match her into a good marriage where she could spend the rest of her life in silks and gold, and not let her spend her youth in vain serving me.”
At this, she stood up and smiled down at Concubine Jiang, “I am feeling rather cold now, what about you? If you’re cold, how about we head over to my Autumn Cloud Pavilion for a while?”
Concubine Jiang knew that though Xue Zhi Lan wishes to befriend her, she would not be willing to make a big spectacle out of it. When everything’s said and done, the other party was openly strolling about the gardens with Xu Ran Yun. Anyway, all her goals for the day had been achieved, and so she laughed lightly and said, “That’s fine, I think I had better not go. What if I accidentally encounter Madam Yun? Who knows what she might attempt next? Madam, please return first, it’s time I return to Spring Breeze Court too.”
With that, she stood up and bobbed a greeting and stepped deferentially to the side to let Madam Lan leave first. As she left, she ‘accidentally’ met Cai Sang’s eyes and saw that though the maid’s face appeared tranquil, waves of great unease brewed within those eyes. Concubine Jiang could not help but sighed deep within her heart and thought: After being completely broken up by Madam Yun, did I look like that when I decided to break off all relationship with her?
Heheh! These masters and mistresses of ours are so high up above us, would they really care if one or more of us died under their machinations? Very well, I shall let you see the powers of a slave. Speaking of which, you cannot blame us slaves for rebelling. You call us trusted aide, a trusted aide, but if you don’t treat us like properly trusted aides, could you blame us for devouring you?
As she pondered over the matter, Xue Zhi Lan’s form eventually disappeared around a corner. She and Rong’er left by a different route.
Only two more days of planning, and then, I shall carry out my plans.
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