Arc 5: Harem Competing Strategies Chapter 7
As the wedding day drew closer, the palace became increasingly busy, but the court proceedings continued as usual, progressing step by step.
Xiao Junye was reviewing memorials in the study when he suddenly slammed the table and stood up, exclaiming, “A discussion after the wedding? Is the Ye family threatening me?!”
“Your Majesty, please calm down and take care of your health,” Xu Gonggong said. Although he didn’t know why Xiao Junye was angry, he knew that every time the emperor got angry, he would immediately suffer from a headache. So whenever he saw Xiao Junye getting angry, he would immediately advise him to take care of his health.
Xiao Junye’s head throbbed, and he took a deep breath. After his emotions calmed down, he walked to the window, pondering who he should go to on the night of the wedding.
Regardless of whether Xiao Junye would compromise with the Ye family this time, his favorable impression of Ye Rong had greatly diminished. Those in high positions didn’t like to be threatened, especially the emperor. The dignity of an emperor was not to be trifled with.
Although Xiao Junye had been patient when he was the Crown Prince, now that he had become the emperor, there were times when he had to endure. However, his mentality had changed compared to when he was the Crown Prince. Even if he could still endure on the surface, he couldn’t endure it in his heart anymore.
By leveraging the power of the Ye family to threaten Xiao Junye, Ye Rong made a grave mistake. However, Ye Rong himself didn’t see it as a threat. He only wanted Xiao Junye to know that as the legitimate grandson of the Prime Minister, giving up the position of Empress to Mu Xi was already a compromise on their part. The emperor should compensate them in other aspects, such as showing more appreciation and favoritism towards them. The night of the wedding was the best opportunity for such a display.
The Ye family also didn’t consider it as a threat. They were simply reminding the emperor in a subtle way that their family had made sacrifices to support him, and they hoped the emperor would give them more confidence, such as showing more imperial favor to Ye Rong and the Ye family.
Tao Yuan also understood that not every emperor had an easy time in their position. In ancient times, emperors often had to compromise with their ministers, and some emperors found themselves in situations where they had little control over their own actions. Sometimes, an emperor’s favor towards a person in the harem was not necessarily due to genuine affection, but rather to show favor to that person’s family.
Emperor Xiao Junye had just ascended the throne not long ago, and his position was not yet firmly established. There were still many powers that he had not fully regained, and there were forces lurking in the shadows, eyeing his throne.
Therefore, even if he were to go to Ye Rong on the wedding night, Tao Yuan wouldn’t truly be angry about it. He also knew that even if Emperor Xiao Junye went to Ye Rong, nothing would happen between them. In fact, Ye Rong, in order to ensure that he conceived the child of Yu Wang, would not engage in any intimate relationship with Xiao Junye before becoming pregnant.
The day of the grand wedding arrived quickly. Tao Yuan woke up early, washed up, and with the assistance of palace maids, put on layer after layer of the wedding attire.
Emperor Xiao Junye had to go and offer sacrifices to the heavens in the early morning. The wedding ceremony itself would not begin until close to noon, and there were many steps and procedures to be completed. Today would be an exhausting day.
After having a light meal to fill his stomach, Tao Yuan styled his hair and put on makeup. Once everything was ready, he would go to the Empress Dowager’s palace to pay respects. After Emperor Xiao Junye finished offering sacrifices, Tao Yuan would depart from Jingshou Palace with the Empress Dowager and proceed to Cheng Tian Hall for various wedding rituals with Emperor Xiao Junye.
Starting from today, Tao Yuan would be the Empress, dressed in the formal attire for the Empress’s wedding. As he appeared in Jingshou Palace, the concubines and consorts who were waiting to pay respects to the Empress Dowager all knelt down and greeted him.
Ye Rong had also changed into the formal attire for the Imperial Noble Consort. Tao Yuan walked straight toward him and looked at him.
Ye Rong respectfully knelt down on one knee and paid his respects, “Greetings to the Empress.”
Tao Yuan intentionally waited for a moment before saying, “You may rise.”
Ye Rong clenched his fist inside his sleeve because from now on, he would have to perform such salutations to Tao Yuan for quite a long time, and he was unwilling to accept this. In order to change the current situation, Ye Rong planned to conceive a child as soon as possible and quickly obtain Emperor Xiao Junye’s exclusive favor.
Everyone entered the main hall to pay respects to the Empress Dowager. From today onwards, Ye Rong could no longer walk alongside Tao Yuan, but instead had to walk behind him, just like the others.
“Greetings to the Empress Dowager,” everyone saluted together.
“Thank you, Empress Dowager.”
The Empress Dowager looked at Tao Yuan and Ye Rong, and spoke words of guidance to them, emphasizing the importance of maintaining order in the harem together and striving to be exemplary consorts. She also instructed them to serve the Emperor diligently and so on. Then, she gave instructions to the other consorts, urging them to be well-behaved, not to cause disturbances in the harem, and to bear sons for the Emperor, and so forth.
“We will faithfully abide by the Empress Dowager’s teachings and will not disappoint her expectations,” everyone answered in unison.
The Empress Dowager nodded. Although she appeared satisfied with their response, she knew very well that while they might say these words, it would be impossible for each of them to strictly adhere to them. As someone who had come out on top in the palace struggles, she understood their true intentions.
When the time was approaching, a eunuch came to report to the Empress Dowager that the auspicious moment was nearing.
After paying respects to the Empress Dowager, Tao Yuan set off for Cheng Tian Hall, under the watchful eyes of everyone. The others remained in the Empress Dowager’s palace, waiting for the completion of the ceremony in Cheng Tian Hall before accompanying the Empress Dowager to the palace banquet.
Although it was Ye Rong and Xiao Junye’s wedding day, and the day Ye Rong officially became the Imperial Noble Consort, only the Emperor and Empress’s wedding would have various ceremonial procedures. In this world, the system followed a monogamous marriage with multiple concubines, where only the Empress or Imperial Noble Consort was the Emperor’s legitimate wife. Even though the Imperial Noble Consort could be considered as a principal consort, strictly speaking, she was still a concubine.
If it were in a game, the scene would transition directly from the Emperor’s offering sacrifices to the evening banquet, followed by the bridal chamber, to see whom the Emperor would choose. However, in this real world, time flowed continuously, and every event that should happen would truly occur.
After the completion of the ceremony, Xiao Junye held Tao Yuan’s hand as they stepped up the stairs, standing at the highest point to receive the kneeling bows and congratulations from civil and military officials.
At the moment when Xiao Junye held Tao Yuan’s hand, there was a sudden sense of receiving the most precious and cherished person in his life. The two gazed into each other’s eyes, their gazes intertwining. It was the first soulful connection between them in this lifetime.
After the ceremony concluded, Tao Yuan returned to Feng Hua Palace. After taking a short rest, he changed into the formal attire for the Imperial Noble Consort and prepared to attend the evening banquet.
Today was the day of the Emperor’s grand wedding, and the entire imperial city was filled with lively and joyous atmosphere, akin to a festive celebration. Not only were the civil and military officials attending the banquet, but the officials’ families also entered the palace to congratulate and join the evening banquet.
The Emperor sat in the middle of the high platform, with the Empress Dowager sitting to his lower left, Tao Yuan to his lower right, and Ye Rong below Tao Yuan. The next layer consisted of the royal relatives, followed by the high-ranking officials of the court, and the bottom layer comprised other officials and their families.
The court musicians and dancers from the palace music hall performed on a round platform at the bottom, playing melodies with flutes, pipes, zithers, and drums. They sang and danced, creating a festive atmosphere of peace and harmony.
Ye Rong’s confidence in Xiao Junye choosing him grew stronger, so even though he had to sit below Tao Yuan, his mood remained good.
He turned his head and glanced at Xiao Junye’s handsome face, and couldn’t help his heart racing. Even with Yu Wang, he had never felt this way. He felt regretful because he couldn’t truly have any intimate moments with Xiao Junye tonight. He had to ensure that he conceived Yu Wang’s child and make Yu Wang believe that he had not been involved with Xiao Junye before conceiving his child. This way, he could gain Yu Wang’s full support after Xiao Junye’s death.
Ye Rong had already planned it out. Once he gave birth to Yu Wang’s child, he would no longer administer aphrodisiacs to Xiao Junye. Even if the people arranged by Yu Wang in his palace found out about his relationship with Xiao Junye, he could say that Xiao Junye seemed to have sensed something. In order to avoid arousing further suspicion and to protect their children, he had no choice but to comply with Xiao Junye. It pained him greatly, but this way, Yu Wang would cherish him even more.
The Empress Dowager couldn’t hold on any longer and left for Jingshou Palace early. Before the end of the banquet, Xiao Junye also got up and returned to Qian Yang Palace to change his attire. Tao Yuan and Ye Rong also stood up and left separately, followed by the other concubines.
Tao Yuan returned to Feng Hua Palace, enjoying a comfortable bath in the bathing pool. Then he changed into a red silk robe and sat on the large wooden bed adorned with a red bridal canopy, waiting for Xiao Junye to arrive.
To be honest, Tao Yuan himself wasn’t entirely certain whether Xiao Junye would come to his chamber or not. Although he knew that even if Xiao Junye went to Ye Rong, Ye Rong would definitely use aphrodisiacs to avoid any intimacy, just in case, Tao Yuan had also given Xiao Junye some medicine a few days ago. This medicine ensured that even if Xiao Junye went to Ye Rong, he would be unable to engage in any intimate acts.
The palace concubines couldn’t sleep peacefully tonight. Although they would feel jealous no matter whom the Emperor chose, they were still extremely curious about whom the Emperor’s heart would lean toward on this important night.
Ye Rong had finished grooming himself and changed into his clothes. He was sitting by the bedside, waiting. Not only did he put aphrodisiacs in the wine and tea, but he also applied some to his lips and body, ensuring that Xiao Junye would be unable to stay awake and would experience hallucinations.
The doors of the bedchamber suddenly opened, and Xiao Junye walked in with big strides. The attendants and palace maids inside the palace all kneeled and paid their respects.
Tao Yuan stood up and took a few steps forward to greet Xiao Junye.
Xiao Junye personally helped him up and then said to the kneeling palace maids, “You may all leave.”
“Yes, Your Highness,” they replied.
As the palace maids withdrew, they also lowered the layers of silk and gauze curtains in the chamber.
The two of them sat down by the bed, and Tao Yuan looked at Xiao Junye with eyes full of reassurance and gratitude.
“Do you think I wouldn’t come?” Xiao Junye raised his hand and caressed Tao Yuan’s smooth face.
Tao Yuan lowered his head and said, “I understand, Your Majesty. Even Your Majesty has moments of helplessness.”
Xiao Junye embraced him and kissed his forehead. “Since I promised to come, I won’t break my word. You are my rightful wife, and tonight is our wedding night. How could I let you spend it alone?”
Tao Yuan looked up, his eyes shining brightly. “Your Majesty…”
Xiao Junye lowered his head and kissed his lips, his hand slipping inside Tao Yuan’s clothing to caress him.
With closed eyes, Tao Yuan returned the kiss. They both lay down on the bed, and when Xiao Junye removed Tao Yuan’s pants, Tao Yuan lifted his hips to cooperate.
Tao Yuan bit his lip, feeling a slight pain despite it not being their first time. It was because Xiao Junye’s pace was slow, and Tao Yuan had waited for a while before he was fully inside.
Xiao Junye held Tao Yuan tightly, kissing his lips and face while starting to move rapidly.
Tao Yuan let out a sound, a mixture of restrained pleasure. It encouraged Xiao Junye, who gradually lost control of his actions and became even faster.
The exquisite pleasure and the perfect connection of their bodies made Xiao Junye understand why some people become addicted to beauty and desire, unable to resist. At this moment, the most beautiful person was in his arms, and he was experiencing the most wonderful sensations in the world.
Despite being poisoned, Xiao Junye had a strong and robust body due to his continuous martial arts training. He also had considerable strength. Tao Yuan’s ger body couldn’t withstand Xiao Junye’s endurance and gradually became exhausted, eventually falling asleep.
Ye Rong had been sitting by the bed for over two hours, but Xiao Junye still hadn’t arrived. He grew increasingly restless and paced back and forth in the palace.
The palace maids stood with their heads lowered, afraid to advise him to rest. If they were to do so, it would imply that the emperor wouldn’t come. They feared provoking his anger.
It wasn’t until the sky outside the window began to brighten that the emperor still hadn’t come to him. Ye Rong then sat back on the bed. Absentmindedly, he wondered how he had failed. He had put so much effort into gaining the emperor’s favor, even resorting to using the power of his family. Yet, in the end, the emperor still hadn’t come to him. Why did it turn out this way?
As soon as the sky brightened, Xiao Junye woke up and prepared to get up for his martial arts practice. It had been a habit he maintained for many years, waking up at this time every day. In order to minimize the effects of the poison and live a little longer, he had to exercise his body daily and prevent it from being overwhelmed by the toxicity.
Xiao Junye had already dressed when he saw Tao Yuan half-opening his eyes, still looking drowsy. He sat down beside the bed and said to him, “It’s still earl. You 1 can sleep a little longer.”
“Mmm…” Tao Yuan was extremely tired. He nodded and closed his eyes, quickly falling asleep again.
Xiao Junye gently touched his face, knowing that Tao Yuan had been exhausted last night. He hadn’t expected himself to lose control like that. He had thought that by marrying a gentle and virtuous consort, he would be satisfied. However, no one could truly enter his heart. But the person before him had pushed open the tightly closed door of his heart and was now standing outside, about to enter.
A dozen palace maids came in carrying washing utensils, and Xiao Junye washed and changed clothes under their service.
Tao Yuan slept for another half an hour. Although he was still a little sleepy and reluctant to wake up, he had to because he had to pay respects to the Empress Dowager.
After Xiao Junye finished his martial arts practice, he returned to the chamber because there was no need for an early court session today. He would go with Tao Yuan to pay respects to the Empress Dowager.
Upon entering, Xiao Junye saw Tao Yuan sitting on the bed in a daze, looking adorable with a confused expression on his face.
Xiao Junye sat down by the bed and touched Tao Yuan’s face, asking, “Awake?”
Tao Yuan didn’t say a word. Instead, he immediately threw himself into Xiao Junye’s arms and rubbed his face against his chest.
Xiao Junye was momentarily taken aback, but he lowered his head to look at him. He saw Tao Yuan, like a beautiful and noble little cat, rubbing against him, irresistibly adorable.
Initially, Xiao Junye felt somewhat unsure how to respond to Tao Yuan’s actions, but when he caught a whiff of the enticing fragrance emanating from him, he couldn’t help but raise his hand to embrace his body. He buried his face in Tao Yuan’s neck, taking deep breaths, inhaling the intoxicating scent that made him feel relaxed all over.
Realizing that he hadn’t experienced a headache since last night, when he had been inhaling Tao Yuan’s fragrance, Xiao Junye knew it must be due to that.
Xiao Junye’s chest muscles were firm, and as Tao Yuan continued to rub against him, he gradually regained his clarity. Then he looked up at him.
Their eyes met, and Xiao Junye was melted by Tao Yuan’s clear and slightly seductive gaze, feeling his heart heat up involuntarily. Even though Tao Yuan had a somewhat youthful face when he first entered the palace, the experience they had shared during their intimacy had added a touch of charm to the corners of his eyes.
Without further delay, Tao Yuan, who had regained his clarity, got up from the bed, washed and changed clothes, and then went with Xiao Junye to Jingshou Palace to pay respects to the Empress Dowager.
When the concubines who came to pay respects to the Empress Dowager saw Xiao Junye and Tao Yuan approaching, they immediately knelt down and greeted, “Paying respects to Your Majesty, paying respects to the Empress.”
“Rise,” Xiao Junye said to them.
“Thank you, Your Majesty.”
After everyone had risen, Ye Rong looked up at Xiao Junye, his eyes filled with tearful grievances. Coupled with his otherworldly beauty and the charm emitted by his protagonist aura, it was hard for anyone not to be moved.
Unfortunately, Xiao Junye didn’t even look at him and walked straight in. It was Tao Yuan who, as he passed by Ye Rong, cast a provocative glance at him.
Ye Rong clenched his fists tightly and quickened his pace to catch up. In his mind, he thought, What’s there to be proud of? This battle for favor has only just begun. The more proud you are now, the more miserable you will cry in the future.
After everyone entered to pay respects to the Empress Dowager, Tao Yuan and Ye Rong received many rewards from her. The Empress Dowager had some matters to discuss privately with the Emperor, so they were quickly dismissed for the day.
Being able to leave Jingshou Palace early was exactly what Tao Yuan desired because he was exhausted from last night. It was the perfect opportunity for him to return and take a nap before getting up again for breakfast.
“Did His Majesty visit Fenghua Palace last night?” In fact, the Empress Dowager had already learned about this early in the morning. The matter she wanted to discuss with the Emperor was related to this.
“Yes,” Xiao Junye put down his teacup and said, “The child knows what the Empress Dowager wants to say. As the Emperor, if I can’t make my own decisions even regarding the matter of visiting the concubines, it would make them think that I am an Emperor who can be easily manipulated.”
“As for court affairs, His Majesty surely doesn’t need me, a grieving woman, to say much. However, there are a few words I still want to remind His Majesty of. The Ye family is loyal to His Majesty, and Your Majesty must not chill the hearts of loyal subjects,” the Empress Dowager said.
“Although I currently need the support of the Ye family, and I know they are loyal to me, I must also make them understand that my favor towards Ye Rong is my own choice. It’s one thing for me to willingly bestow favor upon Ye Rong, but it’s another matter if they try to manipulate me through threats to favor him. If I were to always comply with their demands and let them become conceited, they would soon begin to take advantage,” Xiao Junye explained.
The Empress Dowager responded, “Naturally, Your Majesty must maintain authority before your subjects, making them aware that your power cannot be offended. However, as the newly ascended Emperor, you must also strike a balance between firmness and flexibility.”
“Rest assured, Mother, I understand,” Xiao Junye assured her.
The Empress Dowager nodded in acknowledgment.
In truth, the Empress Dowager didn’t have any objections to the Emperor’s visit to Fenghua Palace last night. However, she had noticed recently that the Emperor seemed to have a stronger preference for Tao Yuan compared to Ye Rong. Although this was completely unexpected to her, she understood that the Emperor’s personal affections were his own to decide. However, how he treated someone would be influenced by the political situation in the court. Thus, she simply wanted to remind him not to lean too heavily towards one side before firmly establishing his reign. If the Emperor had visited Ye Rong instead last night, she would have also reminded him not to neglect Fenghua Palace during this crucial period.
Indeed, being an Emperor wasn’t easy. In the harem, he could choose to sleep with whomever he pleased, but he couldn’t simply refuse someone he didn’t want to sleep with.
Tao Yuan could naturally help Xiao Junye with the poison he was afflicted with, but the fact that Xiao Junye was poisoned was kept confidential, known only to the Empress Dowager, himself, and a few trusted individuals. Furthermore, the poison couldn’t be detected through pulse diagnosis. If Tao Yuan suddenly offered to help him detoxify, Xiao Junye would certainly be suspicious of how he knew.
Although Tao Yuan could secretly assist in detoxifying Xiao Junye, if Xiao Junye miraculously recovered without explanation, it would raise suspicions, and Tao Yuan would undoubtedly become a primary suspect.
Moreover, the most important thing was that Tao Yuan had a habit of not doing good deeds anonymously. Even though he was Xiao Junye’s lover, he would want recognition for curing him. Therefore, the matter of helping Xiao Junye detoxify had to be postponed until the most appropriate time.
While Xiao Junye needed to establish his authority, as the Empress Dowager said, he also needed to strike a balance between firmness and flexibility. It meant that even when delivering a slap, he must also offer a piece of candy.
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- 你 ni: informal you