Chapter 70 : Without Any Sense of Shame (Part I)
At noon on the second day, Xia Yan had Jiang Su Su accompany her to Ruan Ju.
Jiang Su Su wore a white veil which completely covered the lower half of her face so that only her eyes were visible.
Xia Yan had said, "Ruan'er, tomorrow we will visit your maternal grandparents' fu. You ought to tidy yourself up. Your maternal grandmother has not seen you both for a long time, and I fear she misses you terribly."
 Waizumu ( 外祖母 ) – maternal grandmother.
Behind her back, Lian Qiao eyed Xia Yan with disdain. Xia Yan spoke so affectionately, but in the end, these were Jiang Su Su's maternal grandparents who had nothing to do with Jiang Ruan.
"Of course. Second Younger Sister and Second Elder Brother have so much going on, it would ease their hearts to go out," Jiang Ruan said with a slight smile. On hearing her words, Jiang Su Su and Xia Yan's faces immediately froze.
"Then, let us not trouble Ruan'er any further," Xia Yan said gently. "I'll visit your Second Elder Brother. I'm afraid this situation is the result of someone's entrapment, and he was also born under an unlucky star."
"Mother must advise Second Elder Brother well. He has been beset by setbacks after failing the examinations, which is a great cause for worry," Jiang Ruan said concernedly.
Xia Yan froze once more and forced herself to smile. "Second Elder Brother will be gratified to hear of Ruan niang's concern." After saying this, she stood up. "Mother will not tarry any longer; Su'er, let's go."
When the mother-daughter pair left, Bai Zhi looked at their backs and said, "Miss, why would you suddenly want to visit Marquis Xia's fu for no rhyme or reason? I'm afraid that some unforeseen mishap may occur."
Although Bai Zhi's way of thinking was upright and proper, she was by no means stupid. Jiang Ruan shook her head and said, "I merely want to take advantage of the influence and power of Marquis Xia's fu, that's all."
As she said this, Lu Zhu entered the room and said, "Miss, Master Gu has sent you a letter by way of his servant to say that General Guan will be returning to the capital next month. It may be that the resolution of Young Master's situation is just a matter of waiting."
Jiang Ruan's eyes lit up. She smiled slightly as she said, "This is indeed good news. Next month is not too late."
"If Young Master returns, Master will presumably not treat you this way." The manner in which Jiang Quan treated Jiang Ruan was due to her only being a daughter, while Jiang Xin Zhi was the eldest di son. At present, Jiang Chao had wasted his slight advantage. It was to be assumed that Jiang Quan would once again give prominence to Jiang Xin Zhi, who would also protect Jiang Ruan from being bullied by others.
"That's not definite," Jiang Ruan smiled coldly. "My eldest brother and I are thorns in the side of those in this fu. You must not divulge the slightest hint of the news about him to anyone outside."
Bai Zhi and Lu Zhu looked at each other in dismay, but they saw that Jiang Ruan was already frowning slightly, and her expression was more severe than they had ever seen before.
In her previous lifetime, she had been in the countryside residence when she received news of Jiang Xin Zhi's death on the battlefield. That time just so happened to coincide with the Xia family's rise in status. If one thought about it carefully, at present there were ulterior motives and hidden secrets everywhere. If Xia Yan had done some ruthless pruning for the sake of Jiang Chao's status, it was not improbable that she had secretly eliminated Jiang Xin Zhi. Perhaps Jiang Quan had even known about it, but, first, he had never had any fatherly affection for Jiang Xin Zhi and, second, he had to rely on the power of the Xia family. Thus, it was highly likely that he had given his tacit approval.
Thinking of her gentle and kind eldest brother, Jiang Ruan clenched her fists. If Jiang Xin Zhi was still alive, she would expend all her energy to protect her beloved flesh and blood, no matter what the cost.
What about Marquis Xia's fu? Her eyes turned cold; there were some people there that she had not seen for a long time.
"Lu Zhu, for the next few days, you and Bai Zhi stay in the fu and keep watch on the activities and movements here, especially pertaining to Fifth Yiniang," Jiang Ruan said. "Lian Qiao, you stay with me. Ask Shu Xiang to come here."
"Shu Xiang?" Lian Qiao frowned. "Miss, that girl does not have good intentions, she may cause us some trouble."
"If so, it will be her own trouble." Jiang Ruan smiled faintly as she said, "Go on, I have made my own arrangements in these matters."
Early the next day, Shu Xiang and Lian Qiao were waiting outside. Compared to before, Shu Xiang had clearly lost some weight, and when she looked up at Jiang Ruan, her eyes contained a hint of fear. When Jiang Ruan looked at this servant girl kneeling before her with her head bowed, she found it very difficult to associate her with the gentle and self-confident palace maid in her memory, who always appeared before Jiang Ruan with concern upon her face.
She put on her outer coat, smiled and said, "Let's go."
Jiang Su Su and Xia Yan had already been waiting in the horse carriage for some time. When Jiang Ruan entered, she discovered that Jiang Li and Jiang Dan were also there. Jiang Chao was in another carriage. Jiang Li looked at Jiang Su Su's veiled face with derision, but, since Xia Yan was present, she did not dare to say anything. Jiang Dan was sitting right in the middle of the carriage and looked extremely uncomfortable. When she saw Jiang Ruan arrive, she smiled timidly at her. Jiang Ruan returned the smile and sat down next to Xia Yan.
Xia Yan looked at her and smiled. "This is Ruan'er's first visit to your maternal grandfather's residence. The last time he saw you was five years ago. In the blink of an eye you have become a young lady."
 Waizufu ( 外祖父 ) – maternal grandfather.
Jiang Raun smiled faintly. "Ruan niang also misses maternal grandfather very much."
The first time she had met Old Marquis Xia was when Zhao Mei died. As she knelt in the mourning hall in her white silk mourning robes, she had seen that elderly man with an amiable face move forward to chat with Jiang Quan. Not long later, Xia Yan became the legal wife.
Later, when she entered the palace, she often saw Old Marquis Xia and his womenfolk at the palace banquets. The Xia family's utter lack of shame was vivid in her mind. At that time, the granddaughter of the Xia family, Xia Jiao Jiao, had entered the palace together with her. She had been conferred the title of 'Mei Ren', and had tripped up Jiang Ruan many times, both covertly and overtly. Ultimately, Xia Jiao Jiao had received the Emperor's favour, and even though no one knew whether this 'favour' was authentic, Xia Jiao Jiao used her power to humiliate Jiang Ruan continually. She could only remember, at the end, when she was disgraced and imprisoned, that Xia Jiao Jiao had emerged unscathed, and had been sent back to the fu by Old Marquis Xia.
 Mei ren ( 美人 ) – lit., beautiful lady, one of the ranks of the imperial concubines. Depending on which dynasty this story is set in, mei ren could be a fairly high rank.
As soon as Jiang Ruan said those words, Xia Yan felt an inexplicable chill seize her. She examined Jiang Ruan's expression carefully, but was unable to decipher the meaning behind her words. She thus smiled and said, "Then, has Ruan'er already decided what present to give?"
"Present?" Jiang Ruan looked at her in puzzlement.
Xia Yan broke into laughter. "This child, don't you know that you must offer a token gift when you visit your maternal grandfather's residence? However, you are not to blame; you were at the countryside residence for so long without anyone to teach you the ways of the world."
Jiang Li seemed to be smiling mockingly at her from the side, while Jiang Dan remained silent.
"Mother has spoken truly," Jiang Ruan smiled slightly as she said, "Today, I will receive instruction; in future, when visiting, I will no longer give reason for ridicule." She paused before continuing, "However, I have not prepared any gifts at this time. What have my younger sisters prepared?"
"I have embroidered handkerchiefs for everyone." Jiang Su Su's face was veiled, but her eyes were just as beautiful as in the past. "Although they are simple and crude, they are still hand-sewn and convey my affection."
Jiang Li initially did not want to say anything, but she was afraid of Xia Yan, and she also wanted to show off. Thus, she said complacently, "My gift is a facial powder sent by the palace. Just by applying a little, one's face will be incomparably fair, and no scars can be seen."
Her words were said without deeper intent, but they caused Jiang Su Su to stiffen under her veil, and Xia Yan also squeezed her palms together. Only Jiang Dan's voice was heard, saying, "I, I have personally made a bottle of honey."
"My sisters' gifts are all so wonderful," Jiang Ruan said in a low voice, "but I did not prepare anything."
"Silly child," Xia Yan said as she patted Jiang Ruan's head affectionately. "How could mother forget you? I knew that you might forget about this courtesy so, this morning, I asked the kitchen to prepare a fresh basket of dianxin. It's so cold at the moment, the dianxin will last for several days. The dianxin is exquisite, so it will not lose out in terms of etiquette."
Jiang Ruan was somewhat astonished and said immediately to Xia Yan, "Mother has taken so much trouble over this and is so considerate to think on Ruan niang's behalf. Ruan niang is ashamed."
"You and I are mother and daughter, why would I mind that? Don't talk nonsense. Afterwards, when we meet your maternal grandfather, remember to present the gift yourself."
Jiang Ruan nodded. Seeing her like this, Xia Yan relaxed and Jiang Su Su smiled without saying anything. Being impatient with their conversation, Jiang Li had earlier closed her eyes to rest. Jiang Dan saw Xia Yan's expression and became more pensive.
Marquis Xia's fu and the Jiang fu were far from each other. The road was wet due to the rain, and the sky was gloomy. When they reached Marquis Xia's fu it was not even evening yet, but because of the thick layer of dark clouds, it felt like it was already night.
At the entrance, the elderly maidservant, Xiao Si, welcomed them and invited them in. As she walked with them, she said, "Miss has finally returned, Old Master and Furen have been waiting for you in the hall for some time."
Xia Yan was full of smiles and praise. When they reached the grand and glittering great hall of Marquis Xia's fu, there was indeed a man and a woman awaiting their arrival. The man was beyond sixty years of age with a round, amiable face and a mouth that was continually uplifted at the corners, making him look like the Maitreya Buddha. The woman looked to be in her early forties with a rosy complexion. She was bedecked with jewels, but also looked extremely cordial.
 Mi le fo ( 弥勒佛 ) – Maitreya Buddha. According to Buddhist tradition, Maitreya is a bodhisattva who will appear on Earth in the future, achieve complete enlightenment, and teach the pure dharma. According to scriptures, Maitreya is the successor to the present Buddha, Gautama Buddha (aka Śākyamuni Buddha). The prophecy of the arrival of Maitreya refers to a time in the future when the dharma will have been forgotten by most on the terrestrial world. In some Chinese Buddhist temples, Maitreya Buddha is depicted as being bare-chested, big-bellied, and smiling.
Standing to the side were another man and woman. The slightly older man was of average appearance, with a solemn expression. The woman by his side was, on the contrary, as lovely as a flower. This was the Young Master of the Xia family, Xia Tian Yi, and his wife, Shen Rou. There was another, younger pair. The man was handsome and bright, and the woman by his side, while not as pretty as Shen Rou, could also be said to be delicately pretty. However, she had a long face and thin lips, which made her look somewhat mean. This was the Second Young Master, Xia Tian Cai, and his wife, Yu Ya.
There was yet another pair standing between the two previous pairs, a young man and lady. The young lady was dainty and wore a sky-blue skirt of soft satin, patterned with phoenixes and misty flowers, which gave her the appearance of a gentle and charming beauty. The young man's skin tone was slightly darker than was common, but he was still handsome. His expression was exactly the same as that of the Second Young Master.
The young lady was Xia Jiao Jiao, born of the first wife. The young man was Xia Jun, born of the second wife.
 T/N – The first (legal) wife is referred to as the 大房 (main room), and the second wife is the 二房 (second room).
At this moment, when everyone was standing in the great hall, Xia Furen was the first one to call out, "Yan'er."
Xia Yan responded with a smile, "Mother." Then, she nudged Jiang Chao and Jiang Su Su and said, "Why haven't you greeted your grandmother?"
With a smile on her face, Xia Furen beckoned with her hand and said, "Chao'er, Su'er, come here and let Grandmother take a good look at you."
Jiang Chao and Jiang Su Su obediently stepped forward. Xia Furen patted their heads, but when she took in Jiang Su Su's veil and the gauze wrapped around Jiang Chao's right hand, her gaze darkened.
"Younger Sister-in-law is finally back, Mother has been constantly nagging over the past few days," Shen Rou, the wife of Eldest Young Master, took the lead to say. "It has been such a long time since we've met; Su'er has become even more beautiful."
 Shaonainai ( 少奶奶 ) – young lady of the house / wife of the young master.
When these words were uttered, Xia Yan could not prevent her expression from stiffening, and within her sleeves, Jiang Su Su's hands clenched tightly. Xia Tian Yi glared at Shen Rou for a moment, while a hint of schadenfreude glittered in Xia Jiao Jiao's eyes.
Xia Furen did not respond either, and it was Xia Tian Cai who said, "How many days does Younger Sister plan to stay this time? Why don't you stay for a few more days?"
"I've just brought Su'er and Chao'er home to visit Father and Mother, that's all," Xia Yan smilingly said.
Suddenly, Old Marquis Xia, who had remained silent up till now, spoke. "Isn't Eldest Young Miss also here? Which one is Eldest Young Miss?"
Xia Yan smiled as she said, "Ruan'er, come here and greet your maternal grandfather."
It was only then that Jiang Ruan, who had been standing in the shadows, said softly, "Yes," before moving forward slowly.
Previously, in order to put on an obvious display of their power to the remaining daughters of the Jiang family, all the members of the Xia family had deliberately ignored everyone else, electing to speak only to Xia Yan and those identified with her. Now, with only a soft and gentle response, a young girl clad in red emerged from behind Xia Yan and slowly lifted her head.
Red lips and white teeth- one had to linger to take it all in. Although she was still young, her appearance exuded elegant grace, without an iota of timidity or childishness. Like a well decanted refined wine, once the jar was opened, a strong fragrance drifted across the air.
Xia Cheng narrowed his eyes slightly. Although there was a smile on his face, there was an inexplicable pressure making itself felt. However, the expression of the young girl before him did not falter. She continued to smile slightly, and it seemed as if no one could jolt her even the slightest degree from her erect bearing.
Xia Cheng was flabbergasted. Currently, he occupied a high-level position, and his every act and movement carried with it the weight of his power and authority. Although he did not shake the earth with every step, an ordinary girl would at least be scared when she witnessed him in action. However, Jiang Ruan was acting as if nothing and no one of significance was present. Was she ignorant, or was this part of a carefully devised, formidable scheme?
Remembering the words in Xia Yan's letter, he gained a deeper understanding of Jiang Ruan and abruptly smiled. "She is indeed Eldest Young Miss, such that our fu's Jiao Jiao cannot compare."
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Translated by : Shl
Edited by : Anks & Ely