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Zhu Kongshan’s background was not particularly good. As the daughter of a lowly sixth rank official’s family, and as just the daughter of a concubine, it was fortunate that the Zhu family treated her well to give consideration to the two members of the imperial harem and the two princes in the Imperial Palace. At the very least, she could also learn from the teachers that had been brought in to teach the daughters of the first wife how to read and write, as well as the five arts. But she was not too interested in the five arts; however, she had read and studied how to be a person quite thoroughly. In the Zhu manor, she once helped her father resolve a number of difficult problems by coming up with a number of ideas. It was such that in Peng Zhou, the Zhu family’s reputation was greater than that of Peng Zhou’s prefect.
When she spoke with the eighth prince today about what had happened in the palace, she expressed her own point of view, saying: “Cousin Feng might also be a prince; however, I heard that he does not pay attention to the matters in court, nor does he desire to remain in the capital. Over the past few years, he has either gone to hide near the border or in Ji An Prefecture. To have this sort of person fight for the throne, I figure even he himself wishes to avoid it. Moreover, I have visited second aunt. To exaggerate a little, even if she had that ambition, she does not have the ability. Cousin, don’t ask how I can tell. It’s just based on my intuition, and Kongshan’s intuition has always been very accurate. That’s why, as Kongshan sees it, this matter will not be difficult. Tomorrow, Kongshan will go into the palace to congratulate second aunt. Since she has been given that position, we need to think of a way to have her help us.”
Xuan Tianmo felt that speaking with someone like Zhu Kongshan was very enjoyable, and the two were always able to think along the same lines. This girl was also smart enough and always thought about how to help him. Having this sort of cousin helping him from the side really did help him a great deal. He could not help but begin to look forward to Noble Lady Yuan’s plans. Once they had succeeded with this matter, if this girl took the position of empress, he really would be saved a lot of energy when managing the world. After all, this was his cousin. No matter how one looked at her, she was reliable and would be better than placing some other girl in that position. As for whether or not he liked her, this was not important. Either way, he could not possibly only have one woman at his side. If there was one to help him keep peace in the world, there would need to be ones to speak gently and keep him company. As long as the world belonged to him, what was there that he could not obtain?
Zhu Kongshan did not guess at what Xuan Tianmo was thinking. She knew that bringing up anything like succeeding was too early at the present time. There were some things that would become harder to obtain the more one coveted it. It would be better to calm down and take things one step at a time. There would eventually come a day when things would come around.
After Xuan Tianmo left, she began to prepare the gifts that would be necessary for when she visited the palace. As for the money that had been prepared for the victims of the fake medicine, it was handed to the treasury to do a final calculation. It would be left there, where she could personally deliver it after leaving the palace.
After Zhu Kongshan came to the capital, she had come to learn about her two aunts from an objective point of view. What she had just said about Imperial Concubine Li having the ambition but no ability was still being generous. As she saw it, in truth, Imperial Concubine Li was just completely inept. She was only capable of quietly tearing things down. Once things really began, it was game over! But since they wanted to try and gain a bit from her side, they could not choose to not curry favor with her.
She knew that Imperial Concubine Li was a rather poor member of the imperial harem. Although the sixth prince was not completely devoid of businesses, he could not compete with the other princes in terms of wealth. In the inner palace, the Emperor completely disregarded her, and he had not awarded her with anything for over 20 years. The members of the imperial harem were relying on the foundation that they originally had to survive, or they would receive financial assistance from the princes. Imperial Concubine Li could not rely on anything. Now that she had returned to the position of imperial concubine, there should have been quite a few people before her to have gone and congratulated her. Thinking about it, she would need a large number of small items as gifts.
Zhu Kongshan really was especially smart. She did not have the treasury prepare banknotes worth a large amount. Instead, she had them trade them for banknotes worth five and ten taels each, and she did this for a total of one thousand taels. There were also some even smaller amounts, and they were all placed in small cloth bags. All of this would be prepared for Imperial Concubine Liu to give to others. Aside from this, she found three sets of accessories and head ornaments that were suited for someone of the imperial concubine’s position. These sets of ornaments were very exquisite, and they really were quite presentable. She also took quite a large amount of fabric from the treasury. Among them, there were two bolts of refined cloud silk that were also brought along.
The next day, Zhu Kongshan entered the palace with some imperial guards under the eighth prince’s command helping to carry the chests of silver, as they headed toward Zhang Ning Palace.
Zhang Ning Palace had been extremely lively over the past few days. First to visit was the Empress followed by the other members of the imperial harem. All of them had given gifts to express their congratulations. There were many that visited themselves, while there were also some that sent their servants. Imperial Concubine Li accepted gifts until her arms began to feel weak, but it was unfortunate that she could not send the palace maids and eunuchs off with sufficient amounts to pay them back, and this caused her to get called cheap.
Zuo’er helplessly suggested to Imperial Concubine Li: “Either way, we’ve already accepted so many things. How about this servant finds a way to send some out of the palace to sell for a bit of money! The demon lord is easy to fight, but the imps are hard to deal with. Those masters don’t care about that bit of money, but the people below are relying on it to survive. What’s worrying is that the people with the task of sending gifts here in the future will be happy, as there will be a reward. Unfortunately, we finished handing out the bit of shattered silver yesterday. We can’t possibly use banknotes worth large sums as rewards.”
Imperial Concubine Li had also been worrying about this matter, but taking things from the palace to be sold, this was easy to say but sounded quite bad! Once it was discovered by someone, it would be spoken about by others. That would be a bad thing. She shook her head and did not approve of this method.
Zuo’er also knew that this was not a good idea. Master and servant sighed, neither knowing what should be done.
Zhu Kongshan entered Zhang Ning Palace at this time. When reporting who had come to visit, she said that she was the cousin of the Liu family, and the servants of Zhang Ning Palace immediately went inside to report. When Imperial Concubine Li heard this, she did not find it too surprising. She just quietly went to fetch a box from a cabinet. Reaching out, she rubbed it a bit and said with a bit of reluctance: “This contains the best thing that I could bring out. After all, I relied on her to climb back to the position of imperial concubine. To not award her with something nice, if it were to be found out by someone, I fear that things will be hard to explain to His Majesty.”
Zuo’er quickly advised: “Your Highness, quickly stop feeling distressed over these things. Just look at the things that we have received over the past few days. Not to mention the others, but just look at the nice things that His Majesty and the Empress awarded. You haven’t suffered a loss.”
Imperial Concubine Li also understood this, thus she did not say anything else. She just handed over the box to Zuo’er then personally went out to receive the guest.
Zhu Kongshan once again met this second aunt; however, her status had undergone a massive change. From noble lady to imperial concubine, she would need to kneel and kowtow when meeting her.
She respectfully knelt and kowtowed toward Imperial Concubine Li, saying: “Kongshan heard that second aunt regained the position of imperial concubine and is extremely happy, thus I was unable to sit still this morning and begged cousin Mo for his identification plate to come and congratulate aunty! Kongshan greets aunty, greets Your Highness Imperial Concubine Li!”
Imperial Concubine Li put on a professional smile. After all, she had survived in the imperial harem for so many years. She still understood at least this bit. She quickly stepped forward to help her up before saying: “We’re all family. There’s no need to be so courteous. To speak of it, me being able to return to the position of imperial concubine was thanks to Kongshan’s contributions.”
“What sort of thing is second aunt saying? Kongshan was not able to fulfill my filial duties in the past. Now that I managed to come to the capital, sharing some of aunty’s burdens is something that should be done.” While the two chatted, they walked inside the main hall. When they sat down, the imperial guards, with the servants from the Sheng Palace and Zhu Kongshan’s two servants, brought in the congratulatory gifts. Zhu Kongshan said: “Because I am living in cousin Mo’s place, I have been unable to bring too many nice things. These were all the things that were chosen from the Sheng Palace’s storage. Cousin Mo said that it was inconvenient for him to come, thus he had me choose some nice things, thus they can be considered some of his consideration. Cousin Mo even had me bring the only two bolts of refined cloud silk in the storage, advising Kongshan to bring it in for second aunt.”
Her repeated mentions of cousin Mo made Imperial Concubine Li feel irritated, but no matter how irritated she felt, it had been suppressed by the two bolts of refined cloud silk. It was one of the five treasures. Even for the masters of the palace, it was very hard to obtain. For her, she had never even felt it before, yet she now had two bolts. How could she not feel emotional about this?
Imperial Concubine Li quickly motioned for Zuo’er to bring the box to Zhu Kongshan then said: “Aunty also did not know what to give you. Life in the palace looks glorious, but the truth is that it’s not as grand as it appears. Inside this is the best thing that aunty has. Don’t dislike it.”
Zhu Kongshan quickly stood up to give thanks. Without exchanging any polite remarks, she just said: “Kongshan thanks aunty for the concern. Kongshan will definitely make sure to take good care of this. When I return to Peng Zhou, I will give it to Mother. Mother really missed my two aunts. When she sees this, she will have a keepsake.”
She brought the discussion to family relations, and this caused Imperial Concubine Li to sob a bit. Thinking back to her time as a young girl in the manor, she could not clearly remember that younger sister born of a concubine, but she still remembered that such a person existed. Thinking like this, she recalled the people in the Liu manor. There were her father, her mother, and Noble Lady Yuan, her elder sister, which made it hard for her to calm down.
“Aunty.” Zhu Kongshan saluted then said: “Aside from some head ornaments, accessories, and the refined cloud silk as congratulatory gifts for aunty, Kongshan also made the decision to bring along some small denominations of money.” As she spoke, she had the servants open up the chests. Inside were pieces of silver. They were not large, and they were all around five to ten taels. At the same time, A-Huan and A-Ruo opened up the pouches that they were carrying. Inside were smaller bundles of even more shattered silver. Zhu Kongshan said: “This silver is not worth that much. Kongshan brought it in for aunty to hand out as rewards. It’s not easy to trade things for money in the palace, thus Kongshan swapped them all out for smaller amounts. In the chest, the smallest amount is five taels, and the largest is ten taels. The shattered pieces have one and two tael pieces. I do not hope that they will be used in larger situations, but aunty can use them regularly.”
They really were getting what they were lacking. Imperial Concubine Li and Zuo’er looked at the small denominations of silver and let out a sigh of relief. At present, the servants were out in the yard and receiving people. Imperial Concubine Li gave Zuo’er a look, and Zuo’er stepped forward. She first saluted to Zhu Kongshan before taking a bundle of shattered silver along with some pieces of silver worth five to ten taels and shoved them into her sleeve before quickly walking outside.
Zhu Kongshan saw this reaction and knew that her gift had hit the mark, thus an even brighter smile appeared on her face. As for Imperial Concubine Li, she felt even closer with Zhu Kongshan as a result of this gift that was like the arrival of charcoal on a snowy day, saying: “It really is you who is most thorough!”
The two sat down and chatted for a little while longer, and Imperial Concubine Li asked about many of the Liu manor’s matters. Zhu Kongshan responded to all of the questions while inquiring about Xuan Tianfeng and how he was. It was as though they were family, and their conversation was entirely about family.
Finally, as they chatted, Imperial Concubine Li casually brought up her own idea: “Recently, this One has returned to the position of imperial concubine and received so many gifts. This One was thinking of conducting a banquet in a few days. It will not be too grand, and not too many people will be invited. It will just be in Zhang Ning Palace. In any case, it will be for the sake of prosperity. This One had been demoted to noble lady, and your cousin Feng had also suffered because of this. Now that I can hold my head high, I can’t allow your cousin Feng to be looked down upon by others!”
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