Although Ming Huashang was the only daughter of Duke Zhen, because the Ming family had not yet separated, she and the sisters of the second and third branches were arranged in order together making her second in that order.

Zhaocai immediately knelt down to beg for forgiveness.
Ming Huashang explained, “Reporting to grandmother, don’t blame them.
I was the one who saw the snow on the road and stayed a while because I wanted to play.
Just blame your granddaughter for being mischievous.
It has nothing to do with them.”

This was the only daughter of her eldest son.
She even lost her mother when she was born.
It was a tricky situation for Old Madam Ming to handle, so she said, “Since you plead for leniency, then forget it.
Baoqin, bring the hand stove, let the second miss warm her hands with it.”

Baoqing bowed, quickly stepped away, and soon came back with a gold-plated grape-shaped hand stove etched with floral and bird patterns.
She knelt down in a docile manner beside Ming Huashang, “Second Miss, please raise your hands.”

Ming Huashang looked at her grandmother’s most capable maid, and then reflected on the names of her four maids: ushering in wealth and prosperity (“招财进宝” = “Zhaocai, Jinbao”), auspicious and fortunate (“吉祥如意” = “Jixiang, Ruyi”)…she sighed deeply for her uneducated self.1

Ming Huashang raised her fingers, Baoqin brought the stove over and gently massaged Ming Huashang’s fingers which were slightly stiff due to the cold.
In fact, Ming Huashang really wanted to say don’t bother, just pour her a cup of hot tea, but she didn’t dare to be so uncouth in front of her grandmother.
So, she silently endured the maid’s refined and meticulous service.

Before Ming Huashang entered the room, everyone was chatting.
Now everyone was back in their seats; the second madam Zhao-shi, hurriedly picked up where they left off, “Mother, I heard that Taiping Gongzhu2 will hold a banquet in Feihong Garden in another two days, even the imperial grandsons and young masters will attend.
None of our three daughters are married, Mother, how about this Feihong banquet…”

After the second madam Zhao-shi finished speaking, not only did the second branch’s di daughter Ming Yu stop her movements but also the third branch’s mother and daughter pair raised their heads and looked fixedly at old madam Ming with silent expectations.

Taiping Gongzhu was the most prideful princess nowadays.
Not only was she the Empress’s only daughter, but she was also the Wu family’s3 daughter-in-law.
She was highly regarded inside and outside of the gates of the palace; even the crown prince and his concubines couldn’t compare.
A banquet she hosted, the people from Li and Tang clans wouldn’t dare to not support, and the Wu family’s various wangs4 and junwangs5 would also attend.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that it would be the most ideal occasion for the daughters of Luoyang to choose a son-in-law.

The second madam’s di daughter, Ming Yu, was seventeen this year, and the third madam’s daughter, Ming Shuo was younger but was already thirteen.
They were all in their prime period for marital discussions.
If they could attend Taiping Gongzhu’s Feihong banquet and gain the fancy of a certain imperial young master, if they could fly into the imperial family in one fell swoop, then they would be secure for life.

Four pairs of eyes were burning, anxiously waiting for Old Madam Ming to speak.
Even the maids pricked up their ears to eavesdrop.
Among the audience, Ming Huashang was probably the only one who was uninterested in this matchmaking banquet.
Oh, that’s not right, it’s the Feihong banquet that she wasn’t interested in.

She was going to die the next year, so what’s the point of marriage? Could marrying into the imperial family save her life?

No, it couldn’t.
She might even die sooner.
Now that the Empress was in her late years, the court has been arguing endlessly about whether the crown prince’s surname was going to be Wu or Li.
The Empress also never made a clear statement on this matter.
If she accidentally married the wrong person, let alone glory and wealth, she was afraid that the lives of her whole family would be at stake.

Evidently, Old Madam Ming also had this concern.
She already experienced the bloody storm of the Chui Gong period6; she still had lingering fears from those years where beheadings and exiles were instantaneous endings in the event of only a bit of disagreement.
Now that the Empress was old and the Great Zhou dynasty7 had progressed to a critical point, who knew which side would be favored by fate next?

Before the situation became clear, Old Madam Ming was not willing to bet prematurely, but even if the invitation from Taiping Gongzhu was a formality, who would dare not go?

Old Madam Ming felt like she was placed between a rock and a hard place.
She glanced at Ming Huashang, who was examining her nails seriously and looking completely unbothered, and made up her mind in a blink of an eye, “Thanking Her Highness Taiping for her favor and sending an invitation to the Ming family.
But the mountain road to Feihong Garden is narrow, and difficult to travel by carriages and horses.
The young masters can just ride horses, but it’s truly inconvenient for womenfolk.”

The second and third branches all showed regret when they heard this, knowing that they would be unable to go to the Feihong banquet.
Unexpectedly, subsequently, Old Madam Ming changed the direction of her speech and said, “Second young master is very skilled at archery and equestrianism and has a reputation for his talent.
The banquet is an occasion for him to meet some friends.
Second miss, you and your elder brother can go together.”

Ming Huashang was startled, she even thought that she heard wrong, “Me?”

It was also a coincidence that just when Old Madam Ming mentioned second young master, a happy report from the servant girl outside the door sounded, “Old Madam, second young master has arrived.”

The entrance’s curtain was lifted, and the cold wind swept in with the snow, blowing away the heavy fragrance and warmth inside the room.
Ming Huashang turned her head and saw a tall and straight crimson figure passing behind the exquisitely carved window.
A pair of slender and flawless hands held the glass-beaded curtain.
His fingertips were even more radiant than the glazed crystalline beads.

Multicolored glass beads collided with each other producing a constant ring.
The gorgeous bead curtain contrasted the face behind it making it look fairer.
The scene looked like white jade plated with gold rims.
His jet-black eyes swept the room indifferently, filling the hall with splendor and boundless color.

The young man ignored the frozen gazes in the room, let down the bead curtain, and slightly cupped his hands towards the Old Madam at the front of the room, “Your grandson Huazhang pays respects to grandmother.”



Her grandmother’s maid’s name (Baoqin) means to carry the zither…which is much more sophisticated.
The names Ming Huashang came up with would’ve been considered crude back then. 公主 (gōngzhǔ): Princess/Daughters of the Emperor The Empress is from the Wu family 王 (wáng): This position was usually reserved for adult sons of the Emperor. 郡王 (jùnwáng): Given to non-blood-related subordinates who have usually fought valiantly or rendered extreme meritorious service to the country. Chuigong (January 685-December 688) was the title of Emperor Ruizong’s (named Li Dan) reign, but in fact, Wu Zetian manipulated the government and her son, Emperor Ruizong, had no real power This was Wu Zetian’s title for her dynasty, full title is Wu Zhou.
It preceded and succeeded the Tang Dynasty

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