Madam Xie immediately led Chu Jie as they walked ahead and made their salutations to Ji Shu Yu. They paid their courtesy to each other and then took their seats beside Ji Shu Yu.
Qu Fei Qing then pulled Yu Qian Meng’s hand and sat down beside Ji Shu Yu. They then raised their eyes to look around palace hall. Seeing that many women from officials’ households were already here and that the majority of them had familiar faces. However, this time around Su Qian Yue, Yun Ruo Xue and the others were not around and even Hai Tian was absent.
However, with Hai Tian being absent, the atmosphere inside the palace hall seemed to be harmonious. With the addition to the upcoming New Year all the women from different distinguished families were busy sending their congratulatory remarks to one another. The competitive atmosphere was not yet intense.
“We were initially planning to pay a formal visit to Lao Tai Jun and Hou Ye at Hou Fu, but since we just returned home from You Zhou few days ago, my husband had been occupied with the political matter concerning the imperial court. And me and Jie’er are still familiarizing ourselves with the things inside Wang Fu. Therefore we have been delayed by these things. Please do not take any offense from our negligence.” Madam Xie’s both eyes were smiling as she looked at Ji Shu Yu while speaking in a very sincere tone of voice.
Ji Shu Yu simply smiled as she listened to Madam Xie’s modest remarks, little by little expressing her fine upbringing from the simple smile on her face. When Madam Xie finished talking, she then politely spoke “Second Furen, you are being too courteous! Governor Chu is quite busy with his official businesses. Madam and xiaojie you two were also travel-worn, of course you needed to rest more! Besides, in the future Meng’er might need your help, please don’t feel troubled by her.”
“You must be joking, Hou Furen, Meng’er is clever and quick-witted, everyone loves her deeply. How can we feel troubled by her!” While speaking, Madam Xie’s gaze gradually shifted towards Qu Fei Qing, who was sitting upright beside Ji Shu Yu. She exclaimed in admiration and could not help saying in praise “Qu xiaojie is indeed a real beauty, her nobility is really unforgettable! How unlike our Jie’er, who is a naughty one ever since she was small, she really resembles a boy, which is truly a headache for me!”
Qu Fei Qing was sipping tea together with Yun Qian Meng at this time. Hearing Madam Xie suddenly praise her, she could only put down her teacup and replied with a smile “Many thanks for your compliments, Second Furen Xie! But Chu xiaojie is also an unusually beautiful lady, you are being too humble, Second Furen!”
Hearing Qu Fei Qing’s response, Madam Xie turned her head and glanced at Chu Jie beside her. Seeing her still being well-behaved at this time, she smiled and glanced back as she smiled and joked “This child is truly an active one inside Chu Fu, but she had never gone out of Youzhou since she was young. Today seeing this spectacular occasion, she seemed to be a bit shy. Please do not tease her Hou Furen and Qu xiaojie.”
Hearing her own mother’s words, Chu Jie could not help but slightly lift up the handkerchief in her hands. Facing the few persons in front her she smiled shyly. Her eyes looked dazzling containing the sweetness of the honey, adding the fondness of the people towards her. Even those upper-class women sitting in the far corner of the room were also discussing about this well-bred young lady while covering up their mouths one by one, although her looks could only be classified as above average, but her smiling expression looked quite impressive, which could not make people despise her.
“You are being too humble, Second Furen, I consider Chu xiaojie to be well-behaved and appropriate. I wonder, how old is she now? Is she already betrothed to anyone?” Among the upper-class women, all they knew were to ask about these things. Although these things seemed to sound like idle gossip, yet they contained quite a lot of information and intelligence. Ji Shu Yu naturally noticed all the reactions of the people beside her, in that case she just smiled and asked this question seemingly inadvertently.
Yet unexpectedly, with this question being raised, Madam Xie shook her head, forcing a smile. After which she seemed to have a bit headache as she said “This silly girl is very naughty. Now that she is already fifteen she is still staying single in her chamber, it seriously concerns me!”
Having heard what was said, Ji Shu Yu laughed having the same feeling. After which in a slightly delighted tone she said “As a matter of fact, it is quite like our foolish girl Fei’s situation over here!”
Qu Fei Qing was talking privately with Yun Qian Meng, hearing her own mother talking about her like this, her face slightly blushed. Afterwhich it quickly turned pale, a frustrated expression streak across her eyes. The smiling expression in the corner of her mouth had slightly turned weak, she appeared to have a heavy load in her mind.
Yun Qian Meng was somehow worried, for the fear that Qu Fei Qing might lose her self-control in a situation like this. She lifted up her head and looked outside the window of the palace hall, sighed and said “Didn’t expect that in a blink of an eye, the snowflakes outside had already turned into big heavy snowfall, it was truly a rare beautiful scenery!”
Yun Qian Meng’s voice was not that loud, but it echoed throughout the entire not-so-noisy palace hall, causing everybody to look outside. Although this wasn’t the first snowfall of the current year, but as for those females of the aristocratic families it will be their first time to witness such beautiful scenery of snowfall, everyone was pleasantly surprised. Some of the vivacious young ladies had already taken quicksteps as they approached the entrance of the palace hall, appreciating the beauty of the snowy scenery outside!
Yun Qian Meng diverted all the people’s attention. Qu Fei Qing smiled at her, her eyes exposed a thankful expression. Yun Qian Meng pulled Qu Fei Qing to stand up, smiling as she notified Ji Shu Yu “Aunt, Meng’er and cousin will leave now, we will be back soon!”
Ji Shu Yu looked at Yun Qian Meng with a rare inquisitive face. Her heart was slightly astounded, yet she did not stop them, she just smiled and nodded her head.
“Sister-in-law, can Jie’er join both of you?” During this time, Chu Jie also stood up, approaching Yun Qian Meng as she pulled her sleeves and asked her permission.
Yun Qian Meng just laughed and shook her head, lifting her finger she tapped the tip of her nose, laughed as she said “If you are not afraid of the cold, then you can come with us!”
Seeing Yun Qian Meng nodding her head, Chu Jie held Yun Qian Meng’s arm delightedly, as the three of them proceeded towards the main gate of the side palace hall.
“Look at the blooming winter plum flowers inside the courtyard, let’s pick up some!” Watching the snow outside gradually covered up the original walk way in the courtyard, those honored ladies were beaming with happiness in their faces, particularly when the fragrance of the plum flower faintly floated in the air of the snowy scene in front of their eyes, causing everyone to have thought of plucking them, one by one they summoned the palace maids to fetch their cloaks, waiting for the right time to take a stroll in the snow.
“Sister-in-law, let’s also go out!” Putting on the cloak, Chu Jie took the lead to step out of the side palace hall, holding a light pink palace satin umbrella she rushed inside the world of snow, being the first person to approach in front of the few winter plum flowers, lifting her hand she plucked off a fully blossomed winter plum flower, after which she placed it beside her nose then smelled gently, the corner of her mouth exposed a satisfied simple smile.
“Hey, let’s also go out to appreciate the beauty of the snowy scene!” For the fear that Chu Jie might pluck off the winter plum flowers in front of their eyes, the few young ladies who were left behind immediately put on their cloaks, allowing the palace maids to assist them holding up their umbrellas. They rushed inside the courtyard using the fastest speed, one by one the young women wearing different colors and designs of brocade cloaks standing among the vast area of snow. For a moment this quiet snowy place became full of lively spirit, which looked pleasing to the eyes.
But in the blink of an eye, the winter plum flowers courtyard was full of noble and superior famous ladies. Yet Qu Fei Qing and Yun Qian Meng who were standing beside the doorway of the side palace hall did not even proceed ahead.
“Oh, there’s a lot over there!” Watching the scene overcrowded with people, Qu Fei Qing glanced all around. Then she discovered the garden inside the side palace hall were also planted with winter plum flowers. She joyfully dragged Yun Qian Meng along with her as they hurriedly passed through the ledge, crossing over the arched door, directly proceeding towards the direction of the winter plum flowers which bloomed alone in that area.
It was exactly the blooming season for the winter plum flowers. The spot where they stayed was filled with the fragrance of the winter plum flowers, the faint fragrance was floating around in the air, lingering on the tips of their noses, the comfort they felt was truly indescribable.
“Cousin, this is part of the imperial palace, it will best for us not to wander around all over the place!” Seeing Qu Fei Qing’s delighted looks, Yun Qian Meng was reluctant to spoil her good mood.
But this was actually an important area of the imperial palace after all, it will still be better for them to be more careful, so as not to bump into some other noble imperial concubines, causing a lot of trouble.
“It’s alright! This place is still very far away from the harem. In addition to it being just a side palace hall with not so special sceneries. During ordinary days basically no one ever comes here. Moreover, we are just appreciating the beauty of plum flowers, we are not doing anything bad!” Being too well behaved, Qu Fei Qing seemed to behave differently today, as if she wanted to break through her usual image. She then pulled Yun Qian Meng’s hand as they proceeded to the corner of courtyard where the winter plum flowers bloomed the most.
Yun Qian Meng glanced at her worriedly, afterwhich bearing an inquisitive expression on her face, looking at the palace maids following closely behind them. Seeing them nodding their heads back at her, she gradually laid down her worried heart, but she was still staying beside Qu Fei Qing protecting her, for the fear that she might encounter any accidents.
Standing under the winter plum tree, the rich fragrance assailed the nostrils, Yun Qian Meng lifted her hand to lower down a branch of winter plum tree and laid it in front of her eyes, carefully observing branches of winter plum blossom, experiencing its courage for blossoming alone in the midst of the cold winter.
“Meng’er, look, there are still a lot of winter plum over there, come, let’s go over there to take a look!” At this point, Qu Fei Qing’s gaze was fixated on the winter plum blossoms in another distant side palace hall, Yun Qian Meng looked following the direction her finger was pointing to. Indeed she saw another tree of winter plum blossoms stood proudly straight in the middle of another courtyard, being used to seeing the elegance of the other kinds plum blossoms, although this winter plum tree seemed far less noble than the other types of plum blossoms, but it was still considered to be a rare precious type, which was truly eye-catching!
But seeing Qu Fei Qing intended to proceed further, Yun Qian Meng pulled her back with one hand, reminding her in a low voice “Cousin, we must not get too far! The palace feast will soon begin, be careful as aunt might be worried if she can’t find us!”
Yet Qu Fei Qing just approached beside Yun Qian Meng, half embracing Yun Qian Meng as she acted coquettishly and said “My good Meng’er, I know you are concerned about me, but the winter plum blossoms were indeed beautiful, after we’ve seen this tree, we will then return back, is it okay with you?”
After speaking, her both eyes opened wide pleading as she looked at Yun Qian Meng, her expression seemed very pitiful.
Watching her pitiful appearance, Yun Qian Meng simply smiled, she could only nod her head. Qu Fei Qing immediately walked towards that winter plum blossom tree, but before she approached the doorway of the courtyard where that plum blossom tree had been located, Qu Fei Qing suddenly exclaimed with ‘oh!’, then her entire body directly fell ahead……
Seeing this situation, Yun Qian Meng was greatly surprised. She immediately went ahead, before Qu Fei Qing’s body fell to the snowy ground she exerted efforts to grab her wrist. Pulling Qu Fei Qing’s body back to stand up straight, yet she discovered her brows were tightly knitted up, with a painful expression on her face, she immediately asked “Cousin, are you alright? Are you hurt?”
Qu Fei Qing seemed to have really got herself bumped by something. Her upper body slightly bent down, her both hands caressed her own bare feet, clenching her teeth she responded to Yun Qian Meng’s question “My feet hurt!”
But, even if the pain was excruciating, with her ladylike discipline Qu Fei Qing could only endure it with hardship, or else if someone saw her embarrassing condition, it could only just bring shame to Fu Guo Gong Fu’s reputation.
“Is it because you were in a great rush, that you are unable to see your path clearly? Now that the ground has been covered with a layer of snow, even if there was a rock under your foot, perhaps you will be unable to see it too! It would be better for us to return back now.” Seeing Qu Fei Qing half squinting her eyes due to the pain, Yun Qian Meng was somehow suspicious, but with the presence of the two palace maids behind them, she could only say these words. But both her eyes shrewdly observed all around. This uninhabited courtyard being covered by several thin layers of snow. This was a passable reason to cause Qu Fei Qing to fall in her haste.
But, Yun Qian Meng’s both eyes suddenly shot out a sharp gaze, tightly staring at the two soybean-size rocks beside Qu Fei Qing’s feet. They were unlike the pathway under their feet which was already covered by snow, but instead they seemed to have rolled down beside Qu Fei Qing’s feet, and the snowy ground which had never been trampled on by anyone still had the traces of lines in the area where these rocks had rolled down.
Yun Qian Meng became alarmed in an instant. The roads inside the imperial palace were all made from bluestones and cobblestones. During the normal days the people inside the palace were able to clean them all up, because they would not permit such minor accidents to happen, or else once the noble masters inside the palace got hurt, they certainly would not let these servants live their lives!
Especially today having the feast of the New Year's eve, the people of the palace would not allow such kind of negligence. Although Qu Fei was somehow in a rush earlier, she would not be so careless as to not look where she was going. Perhaps somebody was preventing her from entering this courtyard.
Watching the two palace maids supporting Qu Fei Qing up, the sharp gaze in Yun Qian Meng’s eyes faded away and was replaced with her usual calm composure, She quickly glanced around the surroundings. Her heart suddenly felt suspicious towards the man-made rock formation behind this courtyard, but her face still looked calm, as she plainly advised “Let’s head back now.”
Seeing Yun Qian Meng giving her a meaningful glance, Qu Fei Qing followed. Knowing that the accident was caused by not listening to her persuasive words earlier, she no longer refused the two palace maids’ assistance as they returned back.
“Oh no, my handkerchief is lost!” But halfway through, Qu Fei Qing suddenly exclaimed. She discovered the loss of her handkerchief then deliberately searched through her sleeves for a very long while. She was not able to find the square silk handkerchief that she was using, for a moment her facial expression became anxious.
Although it was simply a silk handkerchief, but if it was being found by someone who had ulterior motives, perhaps it will become a huge factor, as it might ruin Qu Fei Qing’s dignity!
“Perhaps it was left behind in the doorway of the courtyard earlier! The two of you please escort my cousin back to the side palace hall, I will be back soon after I checked the area!” Yun Qian Meng slightly nodded her head at Qu Fei Qing, afterwhich she turned around and walked back to the courtyard.
The two palace maids also knew about the importance of the woman dignity. They didn’t stop Yun Qian Meng, they simply just allowed her to go.
But before they reached the arched door, they saw the back figure of a familiar person who was standing in the hallway outside of the courtyard, silently watching the scenery inside.
That slim and slender, graceful figure, aside from Hai Tian, who else could it be?
Her back was facing Yun Qian Meng, with a huge peacock feather cloak draped all over her shoulders. Her silky black hair was worn in a chic hairbun, several pieces of priceless delicately designed beaded hairpins, even for those who had not seen her face, will perhaps be attracted to her beautiful back figure.
During this time Hai Tian was standing alone in the hallway. Although the surrounding area seemed to be abnormally quiet, Yun Qian Meng was able to discover that her left hand was clenched into a fist while leaning against the corridor, those white knuckles forming a distinctive contrast to her quiet back figure. Perhaps Hai Tian had seen something that made her mad, or else how could she easily expose her anger, being someone who was used to concealing emotions?
A soft voice echoed from the snowy ground. Yun Qian Meng immediately dodged as she quickly hid herself behind the wall of the side palace, yet it was just a palace maid inviting Hai Tian inside to attend the feast. But before hearing Hai Tian’s response, only a series of footsteps resounded, presumably Hai Tian had already left following behind the palace maid.
As for safety precautions, Yun Qian Meng stepped out again after a long while, facing that mysterious corner of the courtyard. Her brows knitted up, but this time she did not risk herself to go up front, but she just took a glimpse of it once again. Then she turned around and headed back to the side palace.
“Did you find it?” Seeing Yun Qian Meng came back, Qu Fei Qing pulled her back to sit down with her, using the soft voice that was loud enough for the two of them to hear while she asked.
In order for Qu Fei Qing not to feel worried, Yun Qian Meng just pursed up her lips and smiled, then she shook her head.
This time, the eunuch in charge walked in leading a group of palace maids. He respectfully bowed down before all the madams and ladies, afterwhich he permitted the palace maids to lead everyone to the imperial garden.