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    Chapter 71 - Admonition

    Shen Danzhu never expected that her encounter with the palace maid would still have repercussions by nightfall. After Shen Pingye was instructed by Yuan Jun to keep the matter confidential, he passed on the message to Shen Anlin.

    Shen Anlin, well-trained and disciplined, didn't think much of it. After bidding "Young Master Rong" farewell, he informed his sister about the incident. "About the princess's maid coming over today, you mustn't mention it to anyone else. You asked me earlier why I switched shifts, so I casually mentioned it. Who knew you would go and talk to her? Father scolded me for it, saying that this is a highly confidential matter and not to be discussed."

    Shen Danzhu felt a pang of injustice. "I just happened to pass by the garden and saw a young lad walking around, which startled me. Upon closer inspection, although the youth was dressed as a man, their appearance was exquisite. That's when I remembered what you told me about meeting Father with the princess's maid today. Concerned for my cousin, I approached her to inquire about her well-being. Was it wrong for her to leave hastily after our brief conversation?"

    Shen Anlin was puzzled. "Didn't you used to dislike Princess Yi Yang? I remember you even warned me to stay away from her to avoid trouble. Now, why are you suddenly concerned about the princess?" He straightforwardly added, "That maid has actual battlefield experience and holds military merits. She's greatly valued by the princess and the crown prince. You won't have anything in common with her, so don't provoke her anymore. Focus on your embroidery." With other matters to attend to, he quickly left after giving his advice.

    Shen Danzhu's face flushed red with anger, leaving her speechless. Only after Shen Anlin left did her tears start rolling down. Her maid, Si Jin, came to comfort her. "Don't be upset, Miss. Eldest Master isn't good with words. Most likely, Lord Hou is worried that any breach of confidentiality might affect our family, especially since the crown prince is currently being held captive..."

    Shen Danzhu wiped her tears. "Our family's fate is intertwined with the crown prince and princess; we have no choice. All I wanted was to know how the princess is doing. Besides, Prince Jingbei has a reputation for brutality. How can Brother speak that way, making it seem like I'm no better than a maid, only capable of embroidery at home?"

    Si Jin dared not complain about Eldest Master in front of her mistress. Instead, she tried to reassure her. "Miss knows that Eldest Master speaks his mind. From my perspective, it was probably that maid who provoked the situation. Look at how she dressed in men's attire and didn't even pay proper respect to you. Clearly, she takes advantage of her position in the princess's favor. Father, considering the princess and the crown prince, had no choice but to let her off."

    Shen Danzhu, close to her older brother, didn't genuinely blame him or their father. Thinking about that maid, her frustration grew. "No matter what, she's just a servant. Working for the princess, she's adopted that brazen attitude of those who wear men's clothes without fear. Does she not realize that the princess is royalty and can afford such audacity, while she, as a servant, should know her place? How could she expect to marry into a good family with such disregard for propriety?"

    Si Jin agreed. "Indeed. Her behavior might have been shaped by her time with the princess. Eldest Master mentioned that she leads troops in battle, mixing with soldiers. How shocking! No wonder I found it strange. With her looks, why wasn't she kept by Prince Jingbei instead of being sent on missions?"

    Shen Danzhu was taken aback for a moment before she suddenly laughed. "You don't know this, but my cousin is more capable than any man. Her wit and strategies are top-notch. A woman of such beauty, if she were to stay by Prince Jingbei's side, would only become more difficult to control. Nowadays, everyone says the prince and princess are deeply in love. How could the princess keep such a beautiful maid by her side? No wonder she arranged for her to return to the capital. It must be that they plan to have this woman serve the crown prince, hoping to secure their future."

    With some concern, Si Jin said, "Serve the crown prince? Wouldn't that mean...?"

    Shen Danzhu sneered. "Now that His Majesty doesn't mention the crown prince's marriage, Empress Luo is happy to pretend ignorance. Even the second prince has already married, yet everyone seems to have forgotten that the heir apparent, with no crown princess, is the eldest. Rumor has it that the empress keeps sending palace maids to serve the crown prince. This is to make him father children from a lowly concubine. Our noble Crown Prince would never fall for that vixen's scheme."

    Si Jin replied, "But if things continue like this, Miss will grow older..."

    Shen Danzhu's face turned cold. "Watch your words! When it comes to marriage, parents make the decisions. Father and Mother would never harm me."

    Si Jin said, "Although Lord Hou has such intentions, Lady seems worried..."

    Shen Danzhu remained expressionless. "Mother never agreed to my becoming the crown princess. After all, the crown prince is now confined within the palace. If I were to enter, I'd be confined too. But with the current state of the Shen family, there aren't many suitable suitors. We can only wait and see."

    Si Jin hurriedly comforted, "Now that Yan Yun is under Prince Jingbei's control, and Princess Yi Yang has received an imperial title, our family has gained some leverage. I've noticed smiles on Lord Hou and Lady's faces these days, and the palace hasn't ceased its New Year's rewards."

    Shen Danzhu fell silent for a moment before whispering, "That's precisely why I want to meet the maid sent by the princess today. If there's truly hope for the crown prince to escape his predicament, then our Shen family might have a chance to break free... Otherwise, we'll just waste away. Father is considering selecting a talented scholar from a humble background in this year's spring examination for marriage negotiations."

    Si Jin was startled. Shen Danzhu continued softly, "Even if one were lucky enough to pass the examination and become an official, it would only be a sixth or seventh-rank position. It would take another dozen years to rise to the fourth or fifth rank. They'd likely rely on the support of their family to obtain a position in the capital. Once they have children, they'd wait for an imperial title... Just like Huang Jia's Fifth Miss, even as a daughter of an earl's mansion, when she married, she had to serve her peasant-born in-laws. After exhausting her dowry, she had to shamelessly ask her own family for more support. Recently, I heard that her sister-in-law was getting married, and her mother-in-law actually asked her to contribute money for the wedding."

    Princess Jin clearly knew of this situation too. She sighed and said, "Miss Huang's husband is too weak. Lord Marquis will definitely find someone more capable for you. Lady Marquis and Young Master care about you deeply, so your dowry will be the finest in the capital. You don't need to worry too much, Miss."

    Shen Danzhu shook her head. "Once Elder Brother marries Eldest Sister-in-law and they have a nephew, I'll be an outsider when I marry out." If she were to truly marry into a humble family, she would have to watch her sister-in-law's expressions every time she returned home...

    She fell silent, lowering her head as memories of Huang Wuren's tears welled up in her mind. Back when they were both still unmarried, Fifth Sister had been very close to her. Due to the decline of their noble household, they couldn't match with better families. Thus, Fifth Sister married a young and talented scholar.

    Her husband was also handsome and had great talent, writing beautifully and holding a good reputation as an official. But only a woman would know how their life was behind closed doors. Her maid had been taken in by her husband, her dowry had been drained, and she had to curry favor with her sister-in-law and nephew when visiting her own family, yet she couldn't even afford a proper gift. Dealing with her father-in-law, mother-in-law, and several sisters-in-law had proven to be difficult.

    It was said that a daughter should be married off with pride, while a wife should enter her husband's family humbly. The old saying about marrying up and taking a lower status husband made sense. Even if her husband respected her, it would only be on the surface. Marrying down meant starting from scratch with her husband and children, struggling anew. No matter how talented she was, it would be extremely challenging to attain a noble title.

    Indeed, she used to disdain Princess Yi Yang's notorious reputation for keeping male consorts. Now, it seems her attendants behave just as recklessly and disregard rules. If Princess Yi Yang sent such an enchanting lady official to the capital and contacted her father, could it be that she intends to present this woman to the Crown Prince as a companion?

    Shen Danzhu softly curled her lips, perhaps this explained why that female official held such apprehension towards her, refusing to accept the reward or even respond, and instead went to complain to her father and elder brother. After all, Princess Yi Yang was aware that her father had previously intended to betroth her to the crown prince.

    However, no matter how audacious she was, her status as a servant girl ultimately couldn't compare to her own noble birth. So what if she had military accomplishments? In the end, a woman's glory still relied on her father, brothers, husband, and son. That ridiculous military achievement was likely bestowed upon her by Princess Yi Yang to elevate her status. Otherwise, could a young maiden truly ride into battle and slay enemies?


    Unbeknownst to Yuan Jun, his mere act of avoiding his cousin had fueled Rong Bi's suspicions. His mind was preoccupied with various schemes. Upon returning home, he instructed Bai Ying to deliver a letter to Duke Zheng's residence, planning to seize this brief window of freedom to settle all necessary affairs. A visit to Duke Song was also on the agenda, and naturally, arrangements needed to be made for the former Crown Prince's Chief Historian and others. Additionally, there was Daoist Chong Xiao... this piece on the chessboard would surely prove instrumental in a crucial moment.

    Devotedly, he labored over writing letters late into the night, ensuring that should he return to the palace unexpectedly, Rong Bi would have his written words to contact his trusted confidants.

    In the depths of the palace, Rong Bi now found herself in a perilous situation.

    Piled on the table were the memorials sent by Li Dongfu, who stood by with a smile, conveying the Emperor's words. "His Majesty has been feeling somewhat weary lately. Therefore, Your Highness the Crown Prince will have to alleviate His Majesty's burden by reviewing and approving these documents."

    Rong Bi felt helpless. She had merely dozed off comfortably in her small courtyard, basking in the sun. When she opened her eyes, she found herself meditating in a purification chamber. Could it be that the Crown Prince truly possessed the means to switch souls?

    Fortunately, the Crown Prince had a notebook hidden in his sleeve. After a quick glance, she understood that he wanted her to remain indifferent to everything and only portray an appearance of being devoted to spiritual cultivation, with no interest in politics.

    Not interfering with affairs also meant not dealing with the memorials, as the Crown Prince had advised her before to ignore them if possible.

    She slowly unfolded the documents, scanning their contents. Some were impeachments, while others were miscellaneous reports. She placed them back and candidly told Li Dongfu, "I feel dizzy and exhausted today, with weak wrists. I fear I might hinder state affairs. Please, eunuch, return these memorials."

    After pretending to be unwell, she retreated to her bedroom. Li Dongfu seemed startled but did not insist on the Crown Prince reviewing the documents. Instead, he silently took them away.

    Yuan Zixu was surprised. "Did the Crown Prince read the memorials and then claim illness, or did he not read them at all?"

    Li Dongfu answered respectfully, "Your Highness went through each memorial, then mentioned genuinely feeling unwell, fearing that he might mishandle state affairs. He instructed this servant to return them."

    Yuan Zixu pulled out the impeachment against the Grand Tutor, Ge Chengxuan, and glanced at it again, chuckling. "Does he think I wouldn't dare to hold him accountable?"

    He took up the red-ink brush and drew a circle around the draft of his approval, saying in a cold voice, "We shall see whether he truly does not care."


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