TOTLS Chapter 81: Arc 5.11

Arc 5: Harem Competing Strategies Chapter 11

After the preparations were quickly completed by Xu Gonggong, Xiao Junye reached out his hand to Tao Yuan and walked forward.

The two of them wrote their names on red paper, which Xu Gonggong received on a tray and placed into the brazier.

Xiao Junye personally poured two cups of wine, handing one to Tao Yuan. He raised his own cup and looked at Tao Yuan, saying, “I am willing to share joys and sorrows with you, growing old together.”

“I am willing to stand side by side with Your Majesty, growing old together,” Tao Yuan also raised his cup and said.

Their eyes met, filled with deep affection. In this moment, it was as if no one else existed, and they only had each other in their eyes.

Xu Gonggong had already lit the fire, and the two of them poured the wine from their cups into the brazier.

Xu Gonggong buried the ashes in the soil and personally took two clean red strings. He placed them on the tray he held.

Carrying the tray, Xu Gonggong walked to Xiao Junye and Tao Yuan. They tied the red strings around each other’s wrists.

The concubines watched their actions, feeling jealous and wanting to cry in their hearts. The Emperor belonged to all the concubines in the harem, how could he only share joys and sorrows and grow old together with one person?

The most complicated emotions were felt by Ye Rong. He had to forcefully maintain his composure, suppressing the envy and resentment in his heart without showing it on his face.

Ye Rong felt that if Tao Yuan was the legal wife, then he was the side wife. This act, which could have involved all three of them, was deliberately excluding him. Xiao Junye only prayed for growing old together with Tao Yuan, leaving him with no face in front of everyone. Moreover, his grandfather and father were also present, yet Xiao Junye didn’t give any face to the Ye family. It made him feel both angry and hurt.

Xiao Junye led everyone to continue exploring the back mountain of Luo’an Temple, gradually moving deeper into the serene environment.

They reached an area with a large grove of fruit trees, and Xiao Junye asked everyone to take a rest. He took Tao Yuan and the concubines to a simple wooden pavilion about ten meters long to relax, while the ministers rested outside the pavilion.

Many of the fruit trees nearby were filled with ripe fruits, not only looking beautiful but also emitting a delightful fruity fragrance. The young eunuchs went to pick some fresh fruits, first serving the best ones to Xiao Junye and Tao Yuan, followed by the concubines, and finally the ministers and noblewomen.

Although they were common fruits, the novelty and freshness of eating freshly picked ones added to the enjoyment.

Tao Yuan looked at the fruits in the tray but didn’t find anything he felt like eating.

Xiao Junye picked up a beautiful apple and offered it to him, but Tao Yuan shook his head, indicating that he didn’t want to eat.

The concubines were astonished to see Tao Yuan rejecting the apple given by the Emperor himself, while they didn’t receive such treatment despite wanting the Emperor to personally give them fruits. It filled them with bitterness.

Tao Yuan turned his head and pointed to the only tall apricot tree a little further away, instructing the eunuchs to pick some apricots.

The young eunuchs quickly picked a small plate of apricots, washed them, and brought them to Tao Yuan.

Tao Yuan took one and took a bite. It was extremely sour, but he found it delicious.

Seeing Tao Yuan relishing the plate of apricots, Xiao Junye felt a chill run down his spine just by looking at him. However, he was puzzled because Tao Yuan seemed to eat them without any sourness.

“Do you like it?” Xiao Junye asked, looking at him.

Tao Yuan turned to him, not answering directly, and handed him the half-eaten apricot, gesturing for him to try.

Xiao Junye took a bite of the apricot from his hand and immediately frowned at its sourness.

Tao Yuan covered his mouth and chuckled, then said seriously, “Does Your Majesty find it sour? It’s fine for me.”

“It’s so sour, I can’t believe you can eat it,” Xiao Junye remarked, seeing that Tao Yuan had already eaten several. “Eat less, or you might sour your teeth and be unable to eat anything else.”

“I just want to eat these,” Tao Yuan turned his head and instructed the eunuch, “Go and pick more, bring them back to the imperial villa for me to enjoy.”

“Yes,” the young eunuchs standing nearby promptly left to pick more apricots for Tao Yuan.

“You really love eating sour things?” Xiao Junye asked, taking a sip of tea.

“Yes,” Tao Yuan nodded. “I have loved eating sour things since long ago.”

Tao Yuan extended his hand with the apricot and said, “Would Your Majesty like to try it? After eating a lot, it won’t taste sour anymore.”

Seeing the mischievous look in Tao Yuan’s eyes, Xiao Junye knew he wanted to playfully tease him again. With a helpless yet doting gaze, Xiao Junye said, “I won’t eat it, and you’re not allowed to eat too much either. Otherwise, even drinking congee will make your teeth sour.”

“I won’t eat more after finishing these few,” Tao Yuan said, looking at the remaining apricots on the plate. He genuinely feared that excessive sourness would affect his teeth, making it difficult for him to eat anything.

The two of them displayed intimacy and closeness in their demeanor, making the onlookers feel that they resembled a happily married couple, ordinary and blissful. The others felt irrelevant, as the Emperor didn’t spare them a second glance.

Their hearts were devoid of jealousy, but instead, they felt heartache and sadness, lamenting their own fate. It was said that the competition for favor depended on having favor in the first place. What chance did they have to compete when they lacked favor?

It was evident that Tao Yuan held the upper hand now, and they could see that Xiao Junye didn’t have much interest in Ye Rong either.

With the improving situation at the border, Xiao Junye had found a reliance, so he no longer bothered to conceal his indifference towards Ye Rong. In other words, he didn’t even want to pretend anymore. Not directly killing Ye Rong was already the extent of his patience.

After the rest, Xiao Junye led everyone back outside. The vegetarian dishes at Luo’an Temple were famous, so they naturally wanted to have a meal before leaving.

In a large courtyard at Luo’an Temple, there stood a centuries-old towering tree. The young eunuchs had already set up low tables and seats beneath the tree, waiting for Xiao Junye to bring the concubines and ministers to have the vegetarian meal.

After Xiao Junye and Tao Yuan took their seats under the tree, the others paid their respects and also took their seats.

Tao Yuan scooped up a piece of tofu cooked in various vegetable soup, finding the taste delightful. He understood why the vegetarian dishes here were renowned. He quickly finished a bowl of tofu soup and asked the palace attendant next to him to serve him another bowl. He also sampled other dishes.

Tao Yuan had walked a considerable distance earlier and had eaten a plate of apricots, so his appetite was now wide open. Although these dishes were all vegetarian, they suited his taste perfectly—light and refreshing, without being greasy. He quickly finished all the dishes in front of him and drank several bowls of vegetable tofu soup.

Seeing Tao Yuan’s hearty appetite today, Xiao Junye asked, “Do you like these dishes?”

Tao Yuan looked at him and nodded. Although he ate a lot, he did so gracefully. Only Xiao Junye noticed that he had finished all the dishes on the table and even had two bowls of rice.

“In that case, I’ll have someone learn to make these dishes and prepare them for you when we return to the palace,” Xiao Junye said. Seeing Tao Yuan’s enjoyment of the food made him inexplicably happy. If Tao Yuan liked to eat them, he wanted to ensure he could have them regularly when they returned to the palace.

“Okay,” Tao Yuan happily agreed. He was thinking that when they returned to the palace, he would have someone make these light yet delicious dishes that weren’t greasy.

The abbot personally carried a tray and walked quickly, bowing before saying, “Your Majesty, in the lotus pond of the Child-bestowing Guanyin Hall, a pearl mussel suddenly opened its shell today, revealing two smooth and round pearls inside. I believe this is an auspicious sign, a manifestation of Guanyin Bodhisattva, sending two children to the mortal realm. Only the royal family can invoke the manifestation of Guanyin Bodhisattva for childbearing. Therefore, I present these two pearls to Your Majesty.”

“Oh? Bring them over for Us to see,” Emperor Xiao Junye gestured for Xu Gonggong to bring the pearls. Upon hearing the host’s words, he was delighted. He had been desiring a son, and now, not only did the Child-bestowing Guanyin manifest, but there were also two pearls. Naturally, he was overjoyed.

Emperor Xiao Junye picked up one of the pearls and carefully examined it. These pearls were large and perfectly round, a rarity even within the palace. Their smooth and lustrous appearance was very pleasing.

Emperor Xiao Junye handed both pearls to Tao Yuan and called out, “Xu Ming.”

“I am here,” Xu Gonggong stepped forward and responded.

“Allocate ten thousand taels of gold as an offering to the Child-bestowing Guanyin Hall. Make the preparations, and tomorrow, the Empress and I will come to offer incense to Guanyin Bodhisattva,” Emperor Xiao Junye commanded.

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

Although these two pearls were large and of good quality, they were not inherently worth as much as ten thousand taels of gold. However, the auspicious omen and symbolic meaning were rare, and Emperor Xiao Junye was delighted, hence the addition of ten thousand taels of gold as an offering.

Emperor Xiao Junye handed both pearls to Tao Yuan as if it were a matter of course. The concubines couldn’t help but cast their gaze towards Ye Rong, and even they couldn’t help but feel a bit sympathetic towards him. They certainly had no share in those two pearls, and even if they were jealous, they didn’t dare to imagine that they could obtain them. But since there were two pearls, there should have been one for Ye Rong as well, yet he didn’t even get to touch them.

After returning to the imperial residence, Emperor Xiao Junye leaned against the bed, with Tao Yuan nestled in his arms, playing with the two pearls.

“Are these two pearls indicating that Guanyin Bodhisattva is telling us that we will have at least two sons?” Emperor Xiao Junye looked at the two pearls in Tao Yuan’s hands and said.

“Am I only capable of giving birth to two?” Tao Yuan touched his own belly. He knew that he already had one inside, but it was too early in the pregnancy, and the imperial physician wouldn’t be able to discern it. So he didn’t plan on revealing it now. However, he was clear in his heart that the appearance of these two pearls had a reason behind it. He couldn’t possibly be limited to only two children.

Emperor Xiao Junye also touched his belly and said, “Why is it slightly bigger than usual? Could it be that you’re already pregnant?”

“It’s because I ate more today, that’s why it’s bigger. The imperial physician only checked my pulse for safety yesterday,” Tao Yuan said.

“Since there is an auspicious sign, the child will come soon,” Emperor Xiao Junye kissed his cheek and said.

“Yes, they will come soon,” Tao Yuan rested his head on Emperor Xiao Junye’s shoulder.

Ye Rong sat on the bed, vigorously pounding the bedding to vent his emotions. This was not the palace, so he didn’t dare to throw things for fear of Xiao Junye finding out. Otherwise, he would have smashed everything in the room.

His chest ached with anger, all because of those two pearls, which were also significant in the game’s plot. According to the game’s setting, the two pearls should have been one for him and one for Mu Xi. He was supposed to conceive the crown prince first and then give Mu Xi drugs to prevent him from getting pregnant, so that Xiao Junye would think that the auspicious sign only worked on the children he fathered. This would make Xiao Junye dote on him even more and value the children he sired.

Later, he was supposed to become the Empress Dowager and have significant influence with this interpretation of the auspicious sign. But now, Xiao Junye gave all the pearls to Tao Yuan without giving him a single one. How could he not be angry?

After venting his frustration, Ye Rong felt exhausted and breathed heavily. He placed his hand on his belly and thought to himself that even if he didn’t have the auspicious pearls, he must conceive a child first. He had to give birth to the crown prince.

But this time, Yu Wang didn’t accompany him. He was worried that Tao Yuan might conceive before him. The only way he believed Tao Yuan wouldn’t be able to conceive was by giving him drugs. He had thought about giving him drugs a long time ago but hadn’t found the right opportunity. He felt he needed to think of another way.

The next day, Xiao Junye and Tao Yuan went to Luo’an Temple again, specifically to offer incense at the Guanyin Hall, and they didn’t bring any concubines or ministers with them.

They leisurely explored various parts of the temple, this time without a large entourage. They appeared just like an ordinary couple enjoying themselves. They even held hands and walked together when climbing slopes and stairs. When they got tired, they found a place to sit down on a cushion and rest for a while.

They took their time admiring the scenery, flowers, plants, and rocks. If something caught their interest, they would spend more time looking at it, and if not, they would move on.

They found shade in a bamboo pavilion and leaned against each other. The gentle breeze made them feel extremely comfortable, and Tao Yuan suddenly felt sleepy. Worried that he might catch a cold if he fell asleep here, Xiao Junye took him back to the imperial residence.

A few days later, Xiao Junye personally took the ministers to see the Zhongjiang Stone. Although the engraved characters were not as well-written as Tao Yuan’s, they were still impressive.

Xiao Junye looked up and felt satisfied, and the ministers were full of praise as well.

Zhao Xiu earnestly studied the contents of the stone. He still couldn’t let go of the poem Tao Yuan had written personally. For the past few days, he had been consumed by thoughts of it, unable to eat or sleep properly. His heart felt restless without that poem. If the person who wrote the poem was the emperor, he would have the courage to plead for it repeatedly. But unfortunately, it was written by the emperor’s lawful wife, the Empress.

Ke Mingji glanced at the dejected Zhao Xiu. Although they didn’t see eye to eye, he could understand his feelings. He also wanted the poem written by the Empress, but as the emperor had said, the poem could only be cherished by himself. Even if it were written by the wife of an ordinary minister, he couldn’t go after it, let alone the Emperor’s Empress.

Tao Yuan gained many fans because of the Luojiang Tide poem. After reading the poem, those literary scholars copied it down, repeatedly read it, and even circulated it among others. The number of people who knew about it kept increasing.

Originally, this was an important task that Ye Rong, as the protagonist, had to complete. This task would help him gain popularity and prestige among literary scholars, which would benefit him after he successfully became the Empress Dowager. However, Tao Yuan once again obstructed his task, and he couldn’t help but feel angry. He had already decided to take action against Tao Yuan.

After another two or three days, they set off back to the imperial city.

After Tao Yuan and the concubines returned to the palace, their first task was to pay respects to the Empress Dowager.

Tao Yuan described the spectacular scene of the tidal waves to the Empress Dowager in vivid detail, allowing her to imagine the scene just by listening.

The Empress Dowager was delighted and suddenly remembered the tribute items that had been recently brought into the palace. She instructed Liu Gonggong, “Go to the tribute warehouse and bring the two pieces of fabric made from silkworm cocoons.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Liu Gonggong acknowledged and left to fulfill the order.

Silk fabric made from silkworm cocoons was extremely rare and precious, with only two pieces produced every three years. Since it had just been brought into the palace two days ago and they had returned, the Empress Dowager planned to give one piece to Tao Yuan and one to Ye Rong.

After Liu Gonggong left the room, Tao Yuan slowly pressed on his stomach, acting dissatisfied.

Noticing that he seemed uneasy, the Empress Dowager asked with concern, “A-Xi, are you feeling unwell?”

“No, it’s just some discomfort in my stomach, probably from sitting in the carriage for too long…” Tao Yuan replied, but before he finished speaking, his body swayed, nearly falling off the seat.

“Quick, summon the imperial physician!” Upon seeing his almost fainting appearance, the Empress Dowager immediately ordered.

Ye Rong, sitting across from Tao Yuan, observed his discomfort and didn’t feel happy about it. Instead, he had a bad premonition because he hadn’t taken any action yet, so he knew that Tao Yuan’s discomfort couldn’t be due to the poison he planned to administer.

The imperial physician arrived quickly and after carefully examining Tao Yuan’s pulse, he reported to the Empress Dowager, “Reporting to Your Majesty, the Empress is pregnant, approximately two months along.”

The Empress Dowager was stunned for a moment, then excitedly asked, “You said Ah Xi is pregnant?!”

“Yes, the Empress is approximately two months pregnant,” the imperial physician repeated.

“That’s wonderful!” The Empress Dowager stood up in excitement, walked over to Tao Yuan, and held his hand. She said, “Regardless of whether it’s a boy or a girl, it will be the legitimate heir of the Emperor. Take good care of your health and focus on nurturing yourself.”

Tao Yuan also stood up, his face filled with joy, and earnestly replied, “Yes, I will take good care of my health and ensure the birth of a healthy and lively child.”

“Congratulations to the Empress Dowager! Congratulations to the Empress!” The concubines and palace maids all knelt down and offered their congratulations in unison.

Suppressing his dissatisfaction and anger, Ye Rong stood up and walked to Tao Yuan and the Empress Dowager. With a respectful bow, he said, “Congratulations to the Empress Dowager, congratulations to the Empress. This is truly a joyous occasion.”

Tao Yuan looked at him and smiled, saying, “Imperial Noble Consort Ye, you should also strive harder and try to conceive a dragon seed as soon as possible to bring prosperity to His Majesty’s lineage.”

Upon hearing Tao Yuan’s words, Ye Rong felt like he had been struck by an arrow, the pain piercing his heart.

“Indeed,” the Empress Dowager agreed. “If both of you become pregnant, I can’t even imagine how overjoyed I would be.”

Xiao Junye had never slept with anyone else in the harem since his marriage, which the Empress Dowager certainly had objections to. She had talked to him several times, both directly and indirectly, urging him to visit the other concubines. Xiao Junye didn’t want to sleep with anyone else and only wished to sleep with Tao Yuan at night. The Empress Dowager’s constant pressure to comply was becoming increasingly annoying for him. Finally, he decided to explain to the Empress Dowager that due to his health issues, he was already struggling to visit Tao Yuan and Ye Rong, and he simply didn’t have the energy to visit the other concubines.

Upon hearing that his health was the reason for not sleeping with the other concubines, the Empress Dowager regretted pushing him so hard. From that point on, she never mentioned anything about him visiting the harem. The Empress Dowager had been worried that his health issues might make it difficult for him to conceive, but now that Tao Yuan was pregnant, she couldn’t contain her happiness.

“Starting from today, you will rest and recuperate in the Fenghua Palace. You don’t need to come here daily to pay respects,” the Empress Dowager said as she held Tao Yuan’s hand and led him towards the exit. “Come, I’ll personally escort you back to the Fenghua Palace for rest.”

“Empress Dowager, I can return on my own. How can I let the Empress Dowager accompany me?” Tao Yuan quickly replied.

“I can only rest assured if I see you safely back,” the Empress Dowager insisted. She turned her head and noticed Liu Gonggong carrying two batches of silk fabric made from silkworm cocoons. She immediately said, “Give Tao Yuan one piece of this silk fabric, and the other piece is for your child. This type of fabric, when used for undergarments, is beneficial for the body.”

“Thank you for your gracious gift, Empress Dowager,” Tao Yuan said. “But it would be best if I return on my own. It would be burdensome for the Empress Dowager to accompany me.”

Tao Yuan knew that the Empress Dowager was overly excited and her mind was still overheated, which was why she wanted to see him off. However, they were not an ordinary mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Being part of the imperial family came with many rules and regulations. If the ministers were to find out that the Empress Dowager personally escorted him back to the palace, they might criticize him in a letter to the Emperor.

“Very well, then return on your own and be careful on the way,” the Empress Dowager said. “I’ll personally go to the storage room and select some items that you and the child will need. I’ll have them sent to you.”

“Thank you, Empress Dowager. I take my leave.” After bowing, Tao Yuan turned and left at a slow pace.

The two pieces of silk fabric made from silkworm cocoons were clearly intended for Tao Yuan and Ye Rong, but now both pieces were given to Tao Yuan. The concubines felt a mix of jealousy, sympathy, and even schadenfreude, but when they thought about not having anything of their own, their hearts were filled with bitterness.

Ye Rong struggled to maintain a composed expression. In reality, when the Empress Dowager mentioned giving both pieces of fabric to Tao Yuan, he couldn’t control his anger. However, he still had his reason, so no matter what, he wouldn’t show any dissatisfaction or unhappiness here.

The Empress Dowager, too preoccupied with her own thoughts, dismissed them after Tao Yuan left. She immediately took her attendants to the storage room and diligently selected items that Tao Yuan would need.

4 more chapters before this arc is done! Happy Reading!

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