Phoenix’s Requiem - Chapter 70
Chapter 70: Entering The Palace
In the blink of an eye, it was already June. The days began to heat up, but the phoenix orchids only bloomed all the more beautifully. Their pale pink petals slowly turned a vibrant crimson, and fields containing large swathes of such orchids were so resplendent that it hurt to look at them directly.
In the middle of June, after a week filled with rain, the stuffy, stifling heat had finally dissipated a little.
That day, while Yun Ruoyan was cooling herself off in her grandmother’s quarters, Yun Lan himself came by to inform Yun Ruoyan that the empress’s flower-viewing party would occur in two nights.
He handed an ornate, gold-embossed invitation to Yun Ruoyan. As soon as she opened it, eight words jumped out at her: “Daughter of the Yun family, Yun Ruoyan.”
She was a little mystified: hadn’t Li Qianxiao been scared enough by her appearance that night? Yet the invitation had still showed up.
As soon as it was noon the next day, Peony began to rush about preparing to help Yun Ruoyan dress up. Her dress was, once again, supplied by her grandmother. It was a splendid design, a veridian silk dress, lightweight and airy, perfect for summer. Patterned in gold embroidery were butterfly designs of all sorts, interwoven with fresh flower petals. When Yun Ruoyan wore the dress, it made her appear both dignified and adorable.
Because she hadn’t yet reached a marriageable age, her hair was still tied up loosely behind her back.
“Miss, what gauze patch would you like to use today?” Peony asked.
Although Xi Lan was responsible for much of the manual labor in her quarters, she was skilled at handicraft. In the past month or so, she’d made all sorts of multicolored patches for Yun Ruoyan, none losing out in color or design to Lin Qingchen’s.
Yun Ruoyan inspected the dizzying array of patches all laid out in the table in front of her. She thought back to that night when the crown prince had been so scared that he’d dropped to the ground, smiled, and picked out a phoenix-orchid patch for herself.
That evening, Yun Ruoyan and Yun Ruoyao departed for the palace in the same carriage.
They’d greeted each other superficially when they met outside the Yun matriarch’s rooms, but didn’t converse with each other at all afterward.
Although Yun Ruoyao spent much of the journey looking out the window, she couldn’t help glancing at Yun Ruoyan a few times. More specifically, she couldn’t help looking at one of her hair ornaments. It was a thin rod, and a few pieces of colored glass dangled off one end.
Last year, she’d seen this exact ornament in her grandmother’s jewelry box, and she’d pleaded with her mother to get it for her.
Madam An had told her that it had been part of the Yun matriarch’s dowry, and it would be passed down to the next female heir. Once Yun Ruoyao took Yun Ruoyan’s place, it would naturally be hers.
At the time, both mother and daughter had expected that Ruoyao would soon ascend to Yun Ruoyan’s position. But, even a year later, that gilded rod was clearly hanging from Yun Ruoyan’s hair.
“Sister, if you’re tired, why don’t you rest a little?” Yun Ruoyan suddenly murmured.
“I had an afternoon nap, so I’m not tired,” Yun Ruoyao replied, embarrassed. A little shocked that Yun Ruoyan had noticed her envious gaze, she buried her negative emotions more deeply.
As the sun began to set, the carriage finally arrived at the eastern gate to the palace.
The Li kingdom’s palace had four entrances. The northern one was the official entrance, meant for royalty and high-ranking officials. The western and southern gates were for trade and shopping and for palace maids and eunuchs respectively, whereas the eastern gate was for ladies.
Quite a large group of carriages had gathered by the eastern entrance, all waiting to enter the palace for the flower-viewing party. Yun Ruoyao bade farewell to Yun Ruoyan, got off the carriage, and began to mingle with familiar faces.
Yun Ruoyan stayed in the carriage a little while longer. As soon as she got off the carriage, she saw Pei Ziao in a long, moon-white robe, with his hair secured in a white jade headband. He was beaming as he walked toward her. “Ruoyan, you were here? I’m glad I found you so easily!”
He’d long since arrived at the palace and had combed through the carriages looking for her. Only moments ago had he noticed the Yun family carriage and hurried over, just in time to see Yun Ruoyan preparing to descend. After one glance at Yun Ruoyan, he found that he couldn’t look away.
“Oh?” Yun Ruoyan’s brows were arched. “Young Master Pei, are you here to hand me the promised high-grade pills, or to inform me that my tiger-canine arrowheads are ready?”
Pei Ziao stilled, his face a little embarrassed. “Sister Ruoyan, you know how precious high-grade pills are. I mentioned your request to Father, but he was unwilling to part with them. As for the arrowheads, they’re being forged at the moment.
Yun Ruoyan scoffed. “So your words as Young Master Pei aren’t trustworthy, I take it. Why did you agree to my request so easily back then? Were you simply teasing me?”
“I…” Pei Ziao’s face began to turn red. In a hurry, he continued, “As long as it’s anything but high-grade pills, I’ll do anything I can for you.”
“Truly?” Yun Ruoyan’s smile was clearly mocking, but it was so pretty that Pei Ziao couldn’t bring himself to hate it.
“Good!” Yun Ruoyan continued, clearly enunciating each and every word. “From now on, except to hand me high-grade pills and my tiger-canine arrowheads, please stay far, far away from me. I don’t want to look at you!”
Pei Ziao’s thumping heart suddenly fell silent, as if it had been thrown into a frozen cellar. He really didn’t understand why Yun Ruoyan hated him so!
Based on status, although the Peis weren’t an aristocratic family like the Yuns, their position within the capital had been growing year after year under Pei Yingxiong’s guidance.
Yun Ruoyan was a full daughter of the Yun family, and he was the sole heir of the Peis. As long as she married him, she would be able to inherit the entire Pei family, without worrying about any sibling feuds that were so common among the aristocracy.
In terms of appearance, he believed he was near the top. On the other hand, no matter how beautiful Yun Ruoyan looked, she couldn’t wipe away the birthmark that disfigured her face.
So why did she refuse to treat him like a potential suitor? On what grounds did she stomp on his efforts?!
As these thoughts rampaged through his mind, he couldn’t help but clench his fists tightly, a complicated mix of emotions welling up in his heart.
Yun Ruoyan couldn’t care less about Pei Ziao’s emotional changes. For someone who would die at her hands sooner or later, wasting any thoughts on him would be pointless.
“Brother Ziao, you’re here! I’ve been searching for you for so long!”
At this moment, a female voice that Yun Ruoyan hadn’t heard for quite a while piped up, and she couldn’t help but turn toward the source of the voice.
Yi Qianying, decked in a summer gown, was slowly and sinuously walking toward the two of them. Her sparkling eyes were fixated on Pei Ziao by her side.
“Young Master Pei, since your good sister’s here, I won’t bother the two of you any longer.” Yun Ruoyan smiled coolly before walking toward the palace entrance.
“Sister Ruoyan!” Yi Qianying hurriedly rushed to Yun Ruoyan’s front. “Why did you leave as soon as you saw me? Are you still mad about last time?”
Yun Ruoyan could smell a faint flowery fragrance emanating from her, a hint of cloying sweetness mixed into the scent. Who knew how many bees and butterflies would be attracted to her figure this night?
It was rare that anyone would manage to snag a prince or princess at the flower-viewing party, but this was a rare chance for the young scions of the noble families to meet each other. Who wouldn’t want to show off?
Yi Qianying’s gaze was still fixed on Yun Ruoyan, and she had no choice but to reply coolly. “Why would I blame you, my dear sister? Weren’t you also kept in the dark by He Xiang? If there’s a person to blame, it’s her!”
“Of course, sister, you’re absolutely right. He Xiang has been dealt with, and I’m sure you feel better now,” Yi Qianying replied impassively.
“Sister Qianying, how are you here?” Pei Ziao walked over and asked somewhat curiously. It had been a long while since he’d last seen Yi Qianying, but as far as he was aware, she didn’t have the qualifications to be invited to such an event.
Yi Qianying’s smile was resplendent. “My second uncle helped me secure an invitation.”
Although Yi Qianying was indeed a full daughter of the Yi family, her parents had both passed away early. Fearing that she would be ostracized in the Yi household, the Yun matriarch had kept her by her side, and the Yi family had almost forgotten about the existence of this daughter of theirs.
But of the two daughters of the current head, one was ugly and the other talented, and the only presentable daughter they could send to this party was Yi Qianying.
The crowd suddenly fell silent as a eunuch approached the eastern gate and announced the commencement of the party.
Under the supervision of the palace maids and eunuchs, Yun Ruoyan fell in line with a group of thirty young scions and entered the Li kingdom’s palace, a location that she’d never yet had a chance to enter in both her lives.
Night had settled, and the imposing palace looked all the grander in the dark.
Some among the group had been at the party last year, and they were less affected by the magnificent sight ahead of them. The ones who hadn’t, however, were murmuring quietly between themselves as they gasped in admiration.
After passing a ten-foot-long stone statue, Yun Ruoyan couldn’t help but stop for a moment.
It was a statue of a qilin wreathed in fire, its hind legs against the ground and front paws reaching for the sky, as if it were about to start flying.
Yun Ruoyan raised her head, following the sinuous body of the qilin up to its large head, its protruding maw, two large, copper eyes staring into the night sky.
The statue looked as though it could come alive at any moment. The image transfixed her, and she simply stood still, admiring its grace and strength.
“This is a fire qilin!” Qiuqiu’s voice piped up from Yun Ruoyan’s mind, its voice yearning.
“A fire qilin?! The legendary spirit creature that’s said to be able to swallow the sun and the moon?”
Suddenly, a stern, sharp voice interrupted her thoughts. “Which family is that girl from? Don’t you know the rules? Keep up!”
Yun Ruoyan turned to see a white-faced, middle-aged eunuch reprimanding her. The group that she’d been in had long since moved on.
“Eunuch Hao, she’s my friend.” A familiar male voice spoke up from behind Yun Ruoyan.
Before she had a chance to turn around, a black-clad figure appeared in front of her.
“Wow!” Li Qianhan stared at her figure, his mouth agape. “It’s only been a few days, but it seems like the ugly girl has morphed into a phoenix!”
“Ha.” Yun Ruoyan began laughing at his exaggerated expression. “On the other hand, you haven’t changed at all, Third Prince. Even in your own home, you still wander around sneakily.”
Eunuch Hao stood behind the two of them. As they began to converse, he couldn’t help but bow and interrupt, “Third Prince, this miss, if you don’t keep moving, you’ll be late for the empress’s party.”
Li Qianhan suddenly tugged at Yun Ruoyan’s hand as he turned toward the pale-faced eunuch. “Eunuch Hao, I’ll be right back with my friend.”
Yun Ruoyan felt as though a gust of wind had enveloped her body as he steered them through the air. The wind whistled by her ears, and the structures and buildings to either side of her seemed to be retreating rapidly.
“Miss Yun, my uncle’s here tonight, and I’m sure he’ll be happy to see you in person.”
“What did you say?” Dazed by the sudden motion, Yun Ruoyan couldn’t hear Li Qianhan clearly.