Phoenix’s Requiem - Chapter 103
Chapter 103: A Calm Veneer
How could Yun Ruoyan not be upset by the humiliation? It was simply that she had died harboring such a deep resentment for Pei Ziao and Yi Qianying that this matter paled in comparison.
Of course, Yun Ruoyan knew full well that the Yun matriarch and Yun Lan would readily discard her if the family would benefit from doing so. Although she would mock them for doing so, she wouldn’t be particularly surprised or hurt.
Perhaps her hard work had raised her status in the Yun matriarch and Yun Lan’s hearts, but she was nothing compared to the integrity and longevity of the family as a whole. At most, they would feel a little guilty about sacrificing her as a pawn.
Yun Ruoyan was very clear that harboring grudges wouldn’t bring her anything good: Rong Yuehong was a perfect example of this. Only when she used her grievances as a driving force to propel herself forward in cultivation, when she grew so strong that no one could control her, would she truly be free.
“Good girl.” The Yun matriarch reached out and helped smooth Yun Ruoyan’s somewhat tangled hair.
Yun Ruoyao, Yun Ruoyu, Yi Qianying, and the other scions of the Yun family stood not far away from their grandmother. When the three sisters saw how much their grandmother cherished Yun Ruoyan, their faces were all somewhat ugly. At the entrance to the Yun manor, they had been carefully scrutinizing Yun Ruoyan’s actions, and were almost certain that Yun Ruoyan had killed Rong Yuehong with her demonic arts.
Despite the fact that Rong Yuehong’s death had incited Rong Tianling even further, the Yun matriarch and Yun Lan stood in front of Yun Ruoyan without hesitation. If this were to happen in the past, Yun Ruoyan would surely have suffered, but now…
That demon’s ridiculous! It seems like Grandmother and Father have been wholly bewitched by her. If we don’t get rid of her, we’ll never have peace and quiet in the Yun household again! Why isn’t Mother here yet? Didn’t she say that she’ll bring someone over to get rid of her? The three sisters all thought the same thing, and they all craned their necks as they tried to search the crowd for any sign of Madam An.
“Old Madam Yun, may you enjoy boundless longevity,” the crown prince greeted the Yun matriarch as he entered the great hall.
“Crown Prince, you’re too polite.” The Yun matriarch hurriedly got up and bowed to him.
“Old Madam Yun, please sit. You’re the star of the show today!” Li Qianxiao quickly replied. No matter his character, he had perfected the art of etiquette after an entire lifetime of training. “I’m simply here to join in the celebration, so please, there’s no need to be overly courteous, everyone.”
Dressed in a light purple robe and adorned with a jade crown on his head, the crown prince smiled effusively. He looked the part of a gentlemanly young master, and it was almost enough to make one forget his wretched appearance at the flower-viewing party.
“My greetings to you, Crown Prince.” When Yun Ruoyan saw that Li Qianxiao had turned to stare at her, she couldn’t help bowing.
“Please be at ease, Ruoyan.” Li Qianxiao stepped forward, his face full of smiles as he helped her up. Yun Ruoyan was unaware that Li Qianxiao, thinking that her birthmark was slowly vanishing, had once again been enticed by her stunning beauty.
She found it exceedingly strange that he was so attentive to her: after all, she had thoroughly scared him that night at the pavilion. Even during the flower-viewing party, this crown prince hadn’t dared to give her a single glance. What had changed between then and today? While she was lost in her thoughts, Li Qianxiao’s hand had ended up on her wrist. She immediately stepped back, disgust flashing through her face.
Yun Ruoyu nudged Yi Qianying, motioning at the sight. Yi Qianying glanced at Li Qianxiao coolly before lowering her head once more, her face remaining impassive all the while. Yun Ruoyu frowned, very much displeased by Yi Qianying’s lack of attention to her would-be groom.
Ever since Li Qianxiao entered the room, Yun Ruoyu’s gaze had been plastered on him. Seeing that Li Qianxiao seemed to be interested in Yun Ruoyan, she guessed that Yun Ruoyan had made him infatuated with her demonic arts. But her word would hold no weight, so she nudged Yi Qianying in an attempt to have her make a move. She hadn’t expected Yi Qianying not to care at all.
“Crown Prince, now that your betrothal with Qianying has been settled, do come by the Yun family more often to cultivate your relationship with her,” the Yun matriarch began.
Li Qianxiao glanced at Yi Qianying, her head still studiously fixed to the ground. A sudden sense of vexation came over him—having already had sex with her, he now found her as interesting as a dish of stewed mustard greens.
Naturally, he wouldn’t reveal his vexation. A smile still on his face, he replied, “Of course, Old Madam Yun. I’ll definitely head to the Yun manor more often in the future.”
Going to the Yun manor would certainly be necessary, but as for whom he would cultivate a relationship with… well, that would be up to him.
Li Qianxiao could hardly imagine Yun Lan minding if one of his daughters were to end up the crown princess. If she were without that ugly, disturbing birthmark, Yun Ruoyan would have been the perfect bride. Her strength, her status, her beauty—honestly, Li Qianxiao couldn’t find any fault with her!
“Ha, haha.” Just then, a young master with a folding fan in his hand laughed behind Li Qianxiao. He bowed toward the Yun matriarch. “Old Madam Yun, I’m honored to be able to attend the festivities.”
After staring at that young man for a moment, the Yun matriarch smiled even more broadly. “Second Prince, when did you return to the capital?”
“Just yesterday, Old Madam Yun. I rushed to make it back before your birthday, and it looks like I’ve succeeded,” he replied familiarly.
This was the first time that Yun Ruoyan had seen Li Qianyuan, and she couldn’t help sneaking a few additional glances at him. He looked very much like the current emperor Li Xiu, especially with regards to his almond-shaped eyes. Unlike Li Xiu, however, he seemed to look a little feminine. Perhaps because he had had a strong female influence in his life, his mannerisms and expressions took on a gentler, softer aspect. In his case, it was subtle enough that it added to, rather than diminished, his charm.
As Li Qianyuan greeted the Yun matriarch, one of his servants brought out a long, rectangular case, which he presented to her himself. “Old Madam Yun, this is a present for you.”
He opened the case slowly in front of the Yun matriarch, revealing a jade-white scepter.
It was well-known that the Yun matriarch was very appreciative of scepters. The present that Yun Ruoyan prepared for her birthday was a brocade quilt with a scepter motif, precious more in the design and implementation than the actual item itself. However, in comparison with this pristine, pure-white scepter in front of her, it seemed like an insufficient gift.
Li Qianyuan lifted the scepter out of its box and placed it in the Yun matriarch’s hands. “Old Madam Yun, do you like this gift?”
The scepter was as lustrous as jade, but didn’t seem to have the right texture for it. Indeed, when she picked it up, it even felt somewhat cool to her hands. With some shock, the Yun matriarch looked toward Li Qianyuan. “Is this made of pearl?!”
When the crowd heard her exclamation, everyone appeared equally shocked. Even Yi Qianying, whose head had been drooping like that of a dead chicken, craned her neck for a better look.
“Old Madam Yun, you’re really quite discerning.” Li Qianyuan folded his fan up and tapped it against his other palm. “While I was on an ocean voyage in the Chen kingdom, I caught a gigantic mussel spirit. I had a jade scepter placed inside it, and then retrieved it a year later.”
“My goodness! What a rare, precious gift! My deepest thanks, Second Prince.” The Yun matriarch’s face seemed to turn into a chrysanthemum as her face wrinkled when she smiled broadly.
“Naturally, Old Madam Yun.”
Yun Ruoyan hadn’t expected that the second prince would be on such good terms with the Yun matriarch. In her past life, she hadn’t been close with her grandmother. During this eightieth birthday celebration, she had shown her face once or twice before hiding in a corner. As to what else had occurred during the celebration, or who else had shown up, she wasn’t clear.
When Li Qianyuan felt Yun Ruoyan’s gaze, he turned toward her. His narrow, gleaming sent shivers down Yun Ruoyan’s spine, but by the time she reacted, his eyes revealed nothing but mirth.
Yun Ruoyan only hesitated for a moment before smiling back at him.
After greeting the Yun matriarch, Li Qianxiao and Li Qianyuan headed to a side of the reception hall and began speaking with court officials, while the Yun matriarch allowed the scions from the Yun family to disperse and intermingle. In the end, only Yun Ruoyan, Yun Ruoyao, Yun Ruoyu, and Yi Qianying were left by her side.
For Yun Ruoyan, by the Yun matriarch’s side was the safest place for her to be; the other three girls had to stay by Yun Ruoyan to prevent her from running off before Madam An could finish her preparations.
As afternoon came, another group of guests showed up to the Yun manor. Feeling that the reception chamber was too loud, the Yun matriarch retired to a side chamber to rest, and the four girls followed suit.
Just as the Yun matriarch had settled herself on a comfy couch, Pei Ziao suddenly walked in. As usual, Pei Ziao had a steel scepter for the Yun matriarch, even more finely crafted than the one he had previously presented to her. In comparison to Li Qianyuan’s pearl scepter, however, it was nothing interesting.
The Yun matriarch instructed Xiao Lan to store it without giving it a second look before exchanging a few pleasantries with Pei Ziao. He said that his father was engaged in conversation in the main reception chamber, so he was here to bottle up some of her wisdom and good luck on his father’s behalf.
As he spoke, he constantly looked towards Yun Ruoyan, who ignored him.
Ever since the flower-viewing party, Pei Ziao had sent a few servants in search of Yun Ruoyan. Allegedly, the tiger-canine arrows had been crafted, but Yun Ruoyan would have to pick them up from the Pei household herself.
She knew that Pei Yingxiong and Pei Ziao likely thought her too meek to reveal the secret about the thousand-herb valley, since she hadn’t already done so. After all, that was a secret precious even to the imperial family. If she were to reveal it, then she would be held accountable along with the Pei family.
From the beginning, Pei Yingxiong had realized this point. In order to be safe, however, he’d tasked Pei Ziao with ensuring that Yun Ruoyan would keep mum. Now that he’d all but confirmed this, he had nothing left to fear.
Yun Ruoyan had no intention of stepping back into the Pei household. She had plenty of ideas as to how to let Pei Ziao—even Pei Yingxiong himself—bring her the items that she’d bargained for, but it wasn’t yet the right time to use those tricks.
Yun Ruoyan turned to glance at her three sisters, all sitting together. Although they tried to calm themselves down, Yun Ruoyan could clearly make out their fidgeting and slight expressions of unease, as if they were plotting something.
If they wanted to put on a show to embarrass themselves, Yun Ruoyan would naturally cooperate.