The Devious First-Daughter

Chapter 650 - Paper Had Become Expensive in the Capital

Chapter 650 Paper Had Become Expensive in the Capital

Ning Xueyan was surprised that Heng Yuqing was invited as well.

The poetry exchange at Wu Manor was a bigger event than she thought, and the guests more influential than she expected. These people formed what felt like a politically-neutral faction of people and leaders who dared to criticize the monarchy. Some noble families and off-shoot imperial families sent their daughters as guests as well.

Unlike the typical guest list full of rich, honorable, and beautiful ladies, the women invited to the poetry exchange were known to be talented. One could say that most of the guests were from noble families, but some ladies weren’t invited despite their honorable families.

For a moment, people in the capital took pride in receiving Madam Wu’s invitation.

Someone even said that this was the most meaningful gathering in the capital for the past tens of years. The lack of an invitation meant that the lady was vulgar and boorish. Initially, the ladies who didn’t receive an invitation were fine with it as they didn’t have much talent.

The rumors and speculations, however, made them desperate to obtain Madam Wu’s invitation.

The entire capital seemed to be swept into a commotion caused by the poetry exchange. People could be heard discussing the gathering that was about to happen very soon. Everyone felt that Madam Wu Yao was a woman with insight indeed, to be able to host such a gathering. The magnificent and unprecedented gathering turned out to be such a grand occasion.

The capital seemed to have buried its nervousness over the war. It used superficial peace to sweep away the tension that came with the war. The most popular topic was, of course, Wu Yao’s gathering.

To make themselves famous at the gathering, all the ladies crowded places like the book store. Even book stores stocked with leisure books for the literary became as packed as a marketplace, and the customers were all noble ladies who tended to stay home.

Paper had become expensive in the capital—a saying that meant everyone was making copies of popular books. This used to be a legend, but everyone in the capital had come to experience it.

“These ladies aren’t taking the palace examination, anyway. Why are they working so hard?” Cheng Yu looked at the carriages coming and going below while shaking the fan in his hand. Now and then, a carriage would stop and a lovely, pampered lady would climb inside with the help of a maid. Their voices were sweet, high-pitched, and pleasant.

After the incident last time, he no longer dared to call himself a distinguished talent. He ranked fairly high in the competition this time and earned himself the title of Third-ranked Laureate. His talent wasn’t beneath that of the First-ranked Laureate, but the latter was simply much older than him and the title of the Third-ranked Laureate must go to someone with better looks. Thus, he ended up with the title.

He was waiting for a position from the Ministry of Appointments at the moment. The main problem was the recent war. Otherwise, the distribution of positions would have been completed a long time ago.

However, he was pretty sure that he would be sent to the Hanlin Manor. After all, it was a prerequisite for a scholar to graduate from Hanlin Academy if he wanted to be the Prime Minister.

Therefore, even if the Hanlin Manor was a politically-neutral government office, it would have a bright future.

“They’re noble ladies who have come to read books.” Xia Yuhang was sitting on the other side of Cheng Yu. He looked rather gloomy, lacking the vitality unique to young men, and gave off an almost-sinister impression.

He met Cheng Yu when he visited Jiangnan. Back then, he was a reputable scholar from the capital while Cheng Yu was similarly known in Jiangnan. They became fast friends. It was also thanks to him that Xia Yudong managed to befriend Cheng Yu. Otherwise, a talentless man like Xia Yudong would appear to be a complete good-for-nothing in front of Cheng Yu.

Back then, Cheng Yu was arrogant and aloof. He wouldn’t have bothered to befriend someone like Xia Yudong.

When he fell into Xia Yudong’s trap, he had run away in a fit of anger but lost his heart to the-then Fifth Young Lady of the Lord Protector’s Manor, Ning Xueyan. However, she had become the Crown Princess and his ruler. He didn’t dare to fantasize about her anymore.

He had also become much more careful in his affairs than before.

Xia Yuhang might have lost his reputation, but he was still a smooth-talker as always. He easily convinced Cheng Yu that he was framed and that one day, everyone would know that he was innocent.

Cheng Yu had known Xia Yuhang for a long time, and the latter’s elegance and charm were ingrained in his memory. He believed Xia Yuhang when the latter said so.

He was accompanying Xia Yuhang to the bookstore to not only check out new books but also to relieve boredom.

“A woman’s virtue lies in having no talent. They shouldn’t be disturbing others and causing trouble,” Cheng Yu said rudely. He had always prided himself on being a gifted scholar, so he looked down on the ladies competing to show off their talent. “I heard Madam Wu Yao used to be a noble lady of the previous dynasty known for her talent. During those troubled times, she would be considered talented if she could recite a few poems!”

“I heard that Madam Wu Yao is quite talented. Some of her poems were spread around in the past. They’re quite good.” It went without saying that he would support Madam Wu Yao. He knew that Madam Wu Yao arranged for the poetry exchange after he sent her that letter.

“It’s outrageous that a sheltered woman, and a widow at that, would have the mood to write such romantic poems.” Cheng Yu sneered. He had read those poems too. Suddenly, he went up to the window when he saw the person coming out of a carriage on the road below. He stared at the person carefully.

“What’s wrong?” Xia Yuhang asked, looking at Cheng Yu in confusion. He continued to sit in his chair.

Cheng Yu blinked and carefully observed the maid who was walking into the bookstore below. “That maid looks familiar,” he replied, somewhat bewildered.

“You probably haven’t met many maids in the capital. If you think about it carefully, I’m sure you can remember who she is,” Xia Yuhang said nonchalantly, with a hint of teasing in his expression. “Do you perhaps have a noble lady that you’re familiar with, Brother Cheng?”

It was true that Cheng Yu hadn’t met any noble lady since coming to the capital. Xia Yuhang’s teasing reminded him that the maid was Fifth Young Lady Ning’s personal maid.

Suddenly, he became filled with anticipation. Even so, he knew that he shouldn’t continue the line of thought because he shouldn’t be fantasizing anything about someone of Fifth Young Lady Ning’s status. The Crown Princess wasn’t someone that he could easily meet.

No matter how rational he tried to be, he couldn’t help but feel excited. “I think it’s a maid that I know. I’m going to take a look.” He couldn’t stop himself anymore and stood up. Even though he didn’t have a chance to meet the lady of his dreams again—perhaps it was more accurate to say that they had never met before—he thought it was possible to ask about her current situation.

The carriage was still parked there and only a maid had come out of it. There must be someone else inside. Could it be her?

The idea of this made him even more excited. He didn’t notice that Xia Yuhang was looking at him expressively, with his eyes filled with malice.

By the time Cheng Yu returned to his senses, Xia Yuhang was smiling again. “Since it’s a maid that you know, the lady must be from a noble family. It’s normal for you to go over and ask about it.”

When Xia Yuhang spoke to Cheng Yu, he looked like he didn’t know anything. He easily dispelled the last of Cheng Yu’s misgivings. Cheng Yu stopped hesitating and put his folding fan on the table. He straightened his clothes solemnly and then walked away from where they had been reading in.

This was a small space, separated from the public by only a screen. With fully-stocked bookshelves around them, it looked like a refined place. It was the favorite place of some elegant scholars.

They could chat, read, and even drink tea here. This place made them feel like elegant scholars from ancient times.

That was a major reason why Cheng Yu would immediately come over when Xia Yuhang brought it up nonchalantly. Even though the competition was over, he was still an outsider in the capital and didn’t have other business to attend to. When Xia Yuhang invited him, he didn’t turn him down. When he finished straightening out his clothes, he rushed downstairs.

Even though he wasn’t going to do anything, his heartbeat sped up and his cheeks reddened at the thought of the lady of his dreams sitting in the carriage at this very moment. Even his breathing was becoming hitched.

Ning Xueyan was indeed downstairs. It was rare for her to be here. She had come to find a certain book that was an encyclopedia of sorts.

She came to find the book because she heard that it featured a broad range of topics and that Madam Wu Yao would likely use it as the basis of her competition at the poetry exchange.

She didn’t want to get involved in such activities, but Heng Yuqing happened to visit her and mentioned it. Thus, the two of them stopped by the bookstore to pick out books together. They could take the chance to look around and dispel boredom.

She didn’t leave the carriage because she wasn’t interested. She stayed inside with Heng Yuqing to chat, leaving the task of finding the book to Lanning.

Lanning was literate as she used to be Ning Ziying’s principal maid.

She answered the order and left the carriage. She was about to enter the bookstore when she saw a lady, seemingly of high birth, and a few maids walked past her like the wind. A handkerchief fell from the lady’s hand and landed beside Lanning’s foot.

Lanning was a sharp-eyed person. She could immediately tell that the handkerchief was made of superb material. It wasn’t something an ordinary family could afford. This meant that the lady earlier was a noble lady from a particularly distinguished family.

Usually, Lanning would have picked up the handkerchief and returned it to the lady from earlier. Maids of noble ladies, especially principal ones, tended to be very courteous. Picking up the handkerchief, chasing after them, and returning the handkerchief was an incredibly normal matter.

However, Lanning looked at the handkerchief near her foot and picked it up. She turned around and returned to the carriage, where she respectfully told Ning Xueyan, “Master, a handkerchief fell next to me. It belonged to a noble lady that I don’t recognize.”

Ning Xueyan was talking to Heng Yuqing inside the carriage when she heard the voice outside. Something flickered in her glistening eyes and she asked Xinmei to lift the curtain.

“Is it a noble lady that you’ve never met?” The lifted curtain allowed Ning Xueyan to narrow her eyes at the handkerchief in Lanning’s hands. Her eyes darkened with an unreadable emotion.

A handkerchief, and a familiar-looking one at that.

She found it familiar because she had handkerchiefs made from a similar material, and several at that.

The Empress had bestowed the material to her when she visited the palace in the past. It was said that few in the palace had the material. It wasn’t something that an ordinary noble lady could afford to use.

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