Li Wei Yang flinched, lifting her eyes to look at Li Xiao Ran . She had thought that Li Xiao Ran would attempt to beat around the bush, but he was unexpectedly frank . Was this an indication that her attitude towards Fourth Yiniang was making him uneasy?
Shadows lined Li Xiao Ran’s face; obviously, he was in a bad mood . Li Chang Xi had been driven mad, Li Chang Le had embarrassed herself in public, and Li Chang Xiao was not a useful pawn . The only daughter he had left by his side was Li Wei Yang; with this sudden marriage proposal from the Jiangs, he was in fact, deeply unwilling .
“Ever since your Muqin died, the relations between our two houses have drifted apart, but we are still a family . If we could fix the relationship, it would be for the best . You have seen Jiang Nan before, he is young, athletic, smart and decisive . Although His Majesty had stripped him of his military powers, but the Jiangs are still…”
Li Wei Yang gazed at him coldly, interrupting him for the first time . “Father, what is the meaning of this!”
She had never felt so much hate from him in that moment .
In the past, he had never enquired after her when she was in the countryside, and she had not resented him for it . For so many years, he was surrounded by his beautiful wife and concubines, blessed with offspring, so naturally he would not miss a daughter who was said to be his curse . Li Wei Yang also had no feelings towards him, so of course she was not upset at someone who was largely unimportant in her life . Ever since her return, he was neither good nor bad to her; although sometimes he was unfair to her, he had not shunned nor plotted against her . To Li Wei Yang, that was considered living in harmony already . She felt that between father and daughter, there was at least this amount of mutual affection .
Today, she suddenly realized that Li Xiao Ran was completely cold-blooded . He would feel guilt, unease, and even pity, but for power and position, he would still willingly sacrifice his daughters and wives as his stepping stones .
Yes, he hated the Jiangs, but he did not have the confidence that he could deal them a fatal blow, so he could only offer himself up to appease the Jiangs . When the opportunity arose in the future, he would choose to eradicate his enemies mercilessly, but who knew how long he’d have to wait? Although Li Wei Yang did not see the Jiangs as a threat, she was not about to use herself as bait to get revenge; she was not going to follow such a foolish idea!
Li Wei Yang carefully watched Li Xiao Ran’s expression, breaking into a cool smile after awhile .
“Father, have you forgotten how the new Furen entered our family? The Jiangs are up to their tricks again, are you going to drink it up happily just like that?”
“Li Wei Yang!” Li Xiao Ran had been hit on his weak spot, and in his fury, he picked up his tea cup, wanting to splash the contents onto her . Upon seeing her amused, unsmiling expression, he realized that forcing her would not work .
“Yatou, you are my own daughter, Fuqin would of course hope that you could have a good marriage; don’t you think that my heart would ache for you? But if you think that you can be stubborn to get your way every time, then Fuqin has misjudged you . I know that the Jiangs’ request for you has malicious reasons behind it, but Fuqin believes in your ability, you will definitely be able to handle your husband and stop him from creating troubles . Additionally, your wedding was decided by the Emperor, so no one can go against it . They would also have to respect you for that, so what more can they do to you?” He lowered his voice before continuing . “Fuqin will also stand on your side, I will not let anyone bully you . As long as I am the Prime Minister, they will not dare to harm you!”
He watched Li Wei Yang’s bland expression; thinking that she had relaxed her stance, he continued his persuasion . “I know you are still remembering everything that happened with your Muqin, but she is dead already, so why bear hatred? You are a smart girl, you should know the relationship between the Li Residence and the Jiangs; even if you break the bones, the tendons remain attached . That night at the banquet, if I did not speak on their behalf, the others will call me ungrateful, forgetting that Grand Duke Jiang had a hand in helping me climb up to where I am today . . . The families have such good relations; it should not be ruined because of Jiang Rou . While the relationship can still be mended, we should act first to benefit both sides . Do you really think they would allow you to marry over just to torture you? Then you’re underestimating Jiang Dan . He is using you to express his goodwill, as a way of giving in to me…”
Li Wei Yang maintained her cool gaze, her respect for him diminishing by the second . With everything in such a messy state already, he still hoped not to fall out with the Jiang Family . In his heart, his political gain was still the most important… Indeed, Li Xiao Ran did speak up at the banquet, but it served to allow Jiang Dan to realize that Li Xiao Ran was still influential in the Emperor’s heart . The punishment meted out by the Emperor also let Li Xiao Ran know that he alone could not impact the Jiangs . With such outcomes, both men were ready to give in to each other . Li Wei Yang sniggered; so Fourth Yiniang did not come over to test the waters, but it was Li Xiao Ran who asked her to . Fourth Yiniang had also wanted to sell such information to get on her good side as well . The men thought that this marriage was a show of goodwill and repairing or relationships . The women felt that this was a declaration of war . Ha, such completely different interpretations .
“Fuqin, let’s not discuss court matters first . Muqin is the first daughter of the Jiangs; for a certainty, they would hold her death against me . Now that they are demanding for me to marry into the family; perhaps Uncle is truly doing it for goodwill’s sake, but to Grand Duke Furen, she has lost her daughter . Only demanding for a concubine’s daughter as compensation? I don’t think anyone would believe it if she said she wasn’t seeking revenge . ” Her voice was clear and calm . “Why does Fuqin feel that sacrificing me is enough to dissipate the feud between the two families?”
Li Xiao Ran’s brow jumped; he was trembling in anger, till even the corner of his mouth twitched . “Wei Yang, how can you be so immature! Fuqin has wasted so much words on you, all because I thought you had the ability to understand! If they had asked for Li Chang Xiao, I wouldn’t have hesitated to send her over!”
Li Wei Yang only smiled in response; the more Li Xiao Ran was shaking in fury, the gentler her smile .
Looking at her composure, a chill filled Li Xiao Ran’s heart .
What a mess of matters! If they were to continue bringing up past issues, it could only lead to a loss . He was not completely ignorant of Li Wei Yang’s temperament; a girl who dared to demand for a reward from the Emperor, who would really dare to expect her to lower her head before anyone? Even the Emperor had privately commented that this Yatou was someone special, who dared to do what she wanted .
It was too bad that Li Wei Yang wasn’t a son . If she was, with her innate capability and his influence, great things could be expected from such an individual in court . Li Xiao Ran softened a little . “The Jiangs have mentioned another reason – Grand Duke Furen is seriously ill, and they are not sure if she can make it . Jiang Nan is fourth in the family, but in the future, his brothers will ascend to higher positions and move away from the capital city with their families . Once you have finished your one year of mourning, the Jiangs will go through with the wedding . When that happens, so long as you handle it appropriately, the Jiang household will belong to you . ”
Li Wei Yang nearly burst out laughing, what did the Jiangs mean by this? Handing over the household to her? Even if the Grand Duke Furen passed away, there was still Da Furen; how would she tolerate an illegitimate daughter like herself to control the Jiang household? This kind of thinking was absurd .
“This marriage would implicate everyone in the Li Household; it would benefit our family greatly in court, and it is also our duty to uphold the family name . Whatever you may think, I have already agreed to this marriage . The Emperor is still angry; when he has cooled down in another one to two days, I will enter the palace to formally ask for permission . After the one year of mourning, the wedding will be held immediately . I believe with your capabilities, you will know how to survive well . ” Li Xiao Ran was resolute, his tone brooking no further argument . He might have sounded warm, but he was as sharp as an icy knife .
Li Wei Yang was not flustered; she sipped her tea leisurely, offering a small smile . “Fuqin, there is no free lunch in this world . ”
Li Xiao Ran’s expression froze .
“I understand Fuqin’s decision, of course . But I still reject—”
“Are you afraid?”
“Afraid? No, Fuqin probably does not know this, when I was sent to the countryside, when I was beaten up by the villagers, when I was starved and frozen, when Muqin and Older Sister ganged up on me, and even when the fire had singed my eyebrows, I was never afraid, never feeling a shred of fear . The Jiang family, even if they are all wolves, I am neither fearful nor afraid! It’s only that the timing of their marriage proposal is selected surprisingly well . ” Li Wei Yang’s smile was as thin as ice on the lake, emanating a cold aura . “By rights, they were just admonished by the Emperor and should be reflecting on their mistakes behind closed doors, but instead, they immediately sent someone to propose marriage . It doesn’t seem logical . ”
She had voiced out Li Xiao Ran’s doubts perfectly . This was what he thought initially as well; they could have done it earlier or later, but why propose marriage now, of all times . . .
“To outsiders, they must think that the Li family is very daring; helping a family which His Majesty had just decided to punish…” Li Wei Yang mused .
Li Xiao Ran’s face darkened .
“The Emperor is frequently practicing his cultivation in his palace now, leaving most matters in the hands of the Crown Prince . In the past, the Jiangs have relied on their military power to establish deep roots in the court, not siding anyone else . But it is different now; they have just encountered a setback, and urgently require someone who would speak up for them in front of the Emperor . Or in another point of view, they require the support of someone who could ascend the throne one day . Right now, by creating strong ties by marriage, this could act as subtle warning!”
Choosing to back a royal prince was a common practice in the continuous struggle for power . The Li family never viewed the Crown Prince favorably, which Li Wei Yang was well aware of . Li Xiao Ran strongly believed that the Emperor would assign the Seventh Prince as his heir . However, for the Jiangs, if they backed Tuoba Yu, they would come up short against his staunch supporter, Duke Luo . If Tuoba Yu were to ascend the throne, the Luos would definitely be awarded with military power! Where would that leave the Jiangs! But with the Crown Prince, it was a different scenario; his camp required such veterans for support .
With the loss of favour from Emperor, the Jiangs were attempting to reverse their luck by supporting the Crown Prince, which was nothing unusual . But the more Li Xiao Ran thought about the situation, the more fearful he felt . From this point of view, the Jiangs’ timing made sense now . An additional marriage would bind the two families closer, and serve as a message for outsiders, including the Emperor: even the Li Family is supporting the Crown Prince . This would then force His Majesty to reconsider his decision to replace the Crown Prince with the Seventh Prince!
Li Xiao Ran could not help but feel cold and annoyed . Li Wei Yang was right; even the messenger from the Jiang residence was the Crown Prince Consort’s relative, Grand Duke Min . From this angle, it was clear that the Jiangs did intend to throw their support behind the Crown Prince! Even scarier was the fact that they were also prepared to implicate the Li family into this as well . He could judge that the Crown Prince did not truly have the capability to be an emperor, so His Majesty’s prime candidate for the throne could not be him . Couldn’t the Jiangs see as clearly as he did? What were they plotting? Or perhaps they were operating under some pretense and plotting an even darker scheme…
Wearing an expression as calm as still water, he mused for moments . “Forget it, since there is still a year to go, there is no rush . You can leave first, and I will slowly consider it . ”
He had originally intended to request for the Emperor’s blessing for the marriage in a few days, but now, he flipped it around to say that there was no rush . It was clear that he wanted to carefully think about the machinations and schemes behind this marriage . What a sly old fox . Li Wei Yang fixed a chilly glare on her father, accompanied with a mocking smile . “I will take my leave . ” She replied, in an uncannily calm voice .
When she entered He Xiang Courtyard, Lao Furen’s attitude was completely different . She leaned back against her bed1, indicating that Li Wei Yang should sit next to her as well . She got to the point directly .
“I will never consent to you marrying over . ”
In comparison with Li Xiao Ran, Lao Furen was more direct, not wasting her breath on empty words .
“Why, has your Fuqin punished you?”
Li Wei Yang knew that Lao Furen did not like people who were too sharp-witted, hence she pretended to hesitate, acting flustered and helpless .
Lao Furen smiled warmly at her, clapping her on the back of her hands .
“This is not a good match, I will advise him to reject it . ”
Li Wei Yang smiled in return . “I’m afraid… Fuqin will not change his mind easily . ” In the end, Li Xiao Ran did not care about this daughter of his . He knew clearly that they were on bad terms with the Jiang family, but still hoped to use her as a token of goodwill .
“Don’t worry, there is no need to rush this . Moreover, since you are still in mourning, so there are plenty of reasons to reject them . ”
Li Wei Yang was surprised that Lao Furen would support her outright .
“Let go of your worries, your Fuqin’s character is something I understand very well . ” Lao Furen noticed her dazed expression and felt a dart of pity for her . “He is someone who views his pride as greater than the skies, but he won’t really force anything on you!”
Li Wei Yang smiled in agreement . “Lao Furen is right! Your granddaughter is just worried, amidst the dark and intense struggle for power among the princes, the Jiang family chose this time to propose marriage . The drunkard’s real intent is not the wine, but something else(2)…”
Lao Furen’s eyes flashed . She had been pleased with Li Wei Yang so far, but when it came to politics, this child was quite clear-sighted and admirable .
If only she had been born legitimate, her son would not choose to sacrifice her . Even now as he deliberated over the matter, he would send her over to the Jiangs in the end… Displaying a smile laced with deep meaning, she said, “In my opinion, if you want to cut off your Fuqin’s idea, the best way is to get the Seventh Prince to propose marriage . ”
Li Wei Yang was stunned; with her intelligence, how could she not understand the meaning behind Lao Furen’s words . Lao Furen knew that she did not want to marry into the Jiang family . As an illegitimate daughter, if she aspired to achieve a position in the Jiang residence, she could not rely on her family’s backing and cleverness alone; she had to obtain the favor of her mother-in-law . However, Grand Duke Furen had already formed a grudge against her, so it would be a miracle if she did not exact torture . As for the Jiangs’ Da Furen, it wouldn’t be any much better . So, if they wanted to object to this match, then they needed to let Li Xiao Ran realize Li Wei Yang’s worth . If she could become the Seventh Prince’s wife, or even his concubine, then his gamble could pay off .
However, it was easier said than done… Li Wei Yang was not that naïve to think of herself as highly valuable, but she had no intention of selling herself off just to resolve an awkward situation, and certainly not to Tuoba Yu .
In her heart, Tuoba Yu was just a friend, an ally, but not someone she could entrust her entire future to . Especially not with a mother such as the constantly wary Virtuous Consort Zhang . For so long, the Seventh Prince had yet to choose his princess consort as Consort Zhang was very selective . Not to mention his princess consort, even his concubines would have to be of high birth and able to help her son; she was seeking perfection . She would dislike this choice of daughter-in-law, not even as a concubine . This problem was vexing indeed .
Li Wei Yang lowered her gaze at Lao Furen’s suggestion . “Grand-daughter knows what she should do . ” Her reply was appropriate; she seemed to have accepted it, but in reality, she did not make any promises at all .
As she stepped out from the courtyard, Li Wei Yang smiled at Luo Mama . “Luo Mama, was Muqin here just now?”
Luo Mama was usually a neutral party, but in the recent years, as Lao Furen’s health declined, her status on the fence seemed to have shifted . Especially after the new Furen entered the household… Li Wei Yang’s smile seemed to take on a deeper flavor .
Luo Mama’s heart tightened as she saw Li Wei Yang’s small smile . Even though Laoye had never doted on San Xiaojie like he did with Da Xiaojie, with Third Xiaojie’s current power and status in the family, Da Xiaojie could never hope to win her . Even after encountering these problems with her marriage arrangements, Third Xiaojie could not be shaken . She definitely was no longer the newly returned young yatou, who had to be polite to everyone! She held her head up and replied to her . “Yes Third Xiaojie! Furen was indeed here just now…” she seemed hesitant to speak .
Li Wei Yang simply smiled . “Just speak your mind, why is Mama being a stranger to me now?”
“Third Xiaojie, Furen came here to try to persuade Lao Furen to agree to this match…” Luo Mama replied slowly and hesitantly .
Jiang Yue Lan had finally made her move .
After her wedding, she had not contributed anything towards the Jiangs . This time, she needed to display some loyalty, if not her father would suffer in court . She might have been married to another family, but she was still honor-bound to obtain glory for her maiden home . However, for everyone to be so worked up over this matter, it did not bode well .
“Actually, from Nubi’s point of view, Third Xiaojie is talented and is able to survive anywhere . It is just that they are too anxious right now . ”
Li Wei Yang looked at her in the eye, speaking calmly . “This water is getting more and more cloudy, but we need this excitement to make it fun . Mama, don’t you agree…”
Luo Mama’s heart froze .
Serving for these years at Lao Furen’s side, what she should know or pretend not to know was clear to her . Regarding Li Wei Yang especially, she was crystal clear… Those enemies who had opposed Third Xiaojie had met with mishaps one by one . The first Da Furen had lost her life, Da Xiaojie and Fifth Xiaojie had suffered fates worse than death; they could never hope to make a comeback . Who would have believed that such a demure and beautiful lady hid such a cruel heart deep inside her?
She might have seemed trapped in impossible situations, but each time, the unlucky one would be someone else…
“Yes, Third Xiaojie! In the future, if you have any tasks for me, Nubi will definitely carry it out for you . ” Luo Mama changed her attitude in an instant, schooling her face into one of willing obediences .
“Of course, Lao Furen’s care is in your hands . ” Li Wei Yang’s returning smile was gentle and humble .
Luo Mama felt conflicted, thinking of all those golden ingots that Furen sent over . She couldn’t help but reconsider, perhaps she shouldn’t write off Lao Furen for now, but wait and watch if it would be the new Furen or Third Xiaojie who had the tenacity and willpower to last till the end… She should just watch the battle between masters, instead of getting herself involved and ending up as an incomplete corpse . Da Furen’s lesson had taught her fear and ingrained it deeply .
When Li Wei Yang returned from He Xiang Courtyard, it was already time for lunch . She saw the lavish spread on her table, all presented on delicate ceramic plates . The food was mouth-watering and appealing . There were still 3 to 4 types of broths not yet ladled and served, as well as a few plates of pastries . “Why is there so much food today?” she asked in surprise .
Each courtyard received their meals prepared by the central kitchen, but if the owner was wealthy, he/she would also have their personal kitchen on their premises, all the better to suit their cravings . Li Wei Yang had her own kitchen of course, and other than Lao Furen, her chef was the best, skilled in preparing delicate dishes . However, she had left instructions to prepare only 3 to 4 dishes today, so what was the chef doing?
The curtains parted, and a richly-dressed and handsome Gong Zi walked in .
Mo Zhu lowered the curtains and stepped back, admiring the side profile of Li Min De’s attractive face . Her heart skipped a beat; it was a familiar face, but the more she gazed upon it, the faster her heart drummed wildly in her chest . She felt that such an elegant and beautiful person was a rarity, and she would never in her life be able to meet someone like that again . However, she felt that under his perfect façade, his thoughts were deep and fathomless; she couldn’t help but lower her head . Other than Li Wei Yang, she had never seen Third Shaoye smile at anyone else . Mo Zhu did not dare to harbour any wishful thinking .
“Did you instruct my kitchen to prepare more food so that you could feed off me?” Li Wei Yang chided with a smile .
Li Min De only grinned back in return . Bai Zhi had already cleaned and prepared a pair of chopsticks, so he washed his hands and replied cheekily, “Nowhere in this entire household has more fragrant delicacies than here . Why, do you not welcome me?”
You’re not unwelcome, but I have no idea what kind of attitude I should adopt to handle you! Li Wei Yang sighed internally . “Of course, you’re welcome, you’re such a hard guest to invite!”
During the meal, both were silent . Li Wei Yang broke it first . “Min De, you keep staring at me, do you have something to say?”
Li Min De was stunned; subconsciously, his eyes kept straying on Li Wei Yang, and he was caught off guard by her sudden question . It was awkward, but as she gazed at him with misty, questioning eyes, he became flustered . A flare of heat filled his heart, and his first thoughts escaped from his mouth . “I’ve heard that the Jiangs have sent a matchmaker . ”
A gentle smile appeared on Li Wei Yang’s lips, and she suddenly pointed at Zhao Yue . “Quickly bring this little traitor away, she couldn’t wait less than a minute to inform you of any news at my side . ”
Zhao Yue quickly fell to her knees, but Li Min De only smiled . “You’re afraid of me knowing? Do you really want to marry him?”
A small cough, and a glare . “Who says that I want to marry into that family!”
Of course he knew that she was not a willing party, if not he wouldn’t be able to sit there so calmly . “Then, have you thought of a way out?”
“Everything happened so fast, I need time to think about it . ”
Li Min De’s bright and sharp eyes danced on Li Wei Yang, an unreadable smile on his lips . “Wei Yang, I have an idea –”
This was the first time he had called her name, and it stunned Li Wei Yang . In the past, he’d always addressed her as “Jiejie Jiejie” (older sister), but thinking carefully about it, he seemed to have stopped addressing her as sister for the past half a year… In truth, he was not actually younger than her anyway . Today, his manner of speech was cool and calm, and she could not bring herself to correct him . This was also not the time to ponder; she frowned and asked, “What ideas do you have?”
His grin narrowed . “If they want you to be their daughter-in-law, they naturally will have to pay a price . However, it’s a matter of if they can afford that price . ”
Li Wei Yang could see his determination and confidence, but there was still a shred of uncertainty in her heart . “The crux of the problem is not the Jiangs, but Fuqin himself . ”
“Then how do you look upon this man?” Li Min De had a small smile on his face as he asked her .
“Since he does not treat me as his daughter, I cannot respect him as well . So long as we don’t make things hard for each other, I’ll will not bestir myself . ”
“A girl will not be with her Fuqin forever, so it should not matter if he is good or bad . ”
Li Wei Yang sighed deeply . “In the Li household, I seemed to have spent my entire life here, and such a sorrowful life . ” She was referring to her past experience, but she realized with a start that she had blurted it out .
Li Min De simply lowered his head, giving no sign that he had heard her . Only then did she breath a sigh of relief .
After a few moments, Li Min De glanced back up at her with a smile, selecting and serving a portion of vegetables for her . “Those people are nothing, and an eternity is still a long way to go . I will be with you, slowly walking down that road . ”
Li Wei Yang was startled, but try as hard as she might, she could not figure out what he meant . She felt very comforted . “Back to our main topic at hand; my wedding matters are entrusted into your hands, be careful not to mess it up . ”
“Yes, I will arrange it, don’t you worry . ” Li Min De found this line to be funny and horrendous at the same time .
“Hmm, no, I think I’d better not miss the chance to witness Jiang Nan’s doom, I’ll be happier if I get to see it with my own eyes . ” Li Wei Yang laughed .
Li Min De remained silent . Actually, he was quite worried about the Jiang’s Fourth Master . Anyone would love a pretty bride, but such a formidable one? He might not be able to withstand her .