After the ice-skating finished, according to tradition, would be the turnover-like banquets and feasts.
Exchanging cups and such in between was all fake flattery, while oily stews and stiff and fake smiles made for fine contrast, truthfully making people annoyed.
He Xuan borrowed the excuse of being injured and rejected the afternoon’s banquet, but the royal family banquet at night could not be missed no matter what.
“Your Highness.” It was said that He Xuan long planned on having Ling Xiang go to Xiao Zuo’s residence, but as it got closer to the end of the year, he got busier with the courts and was never able to get the free time, so Ling Xiang was still staying in the crown prince residence.
She was obedient and wise, and currently, also often went in and out of the bedchambers, and was an important personal maid.
Seeing He Xuan place down the book and how they should be moving right now, Ling Xiang carefully shook open the folded and neat new clothes, flattened the slight wrinkles, then went over to help He Xuan put it on.
The crown prince residence’s sedan chair was already waiting outside the residence, so Ling Xiang helped tied his hair, then put a warming stove into his hands, then orderly withdrew.
There was nothing for her to do here, them small servant girls were unable to enter the palace, only Li Fu Hai was permitted, and could follow He Xuan to the banquet.
He Xuan’s legs still hurt a bit, so he slightly stiffened half his body to enter the sedan chair.
The servants long already added a thick soft cushion inside, all to prevent the journey’s tremors touching his elbow’s injuries.
He Heng was also considerate this time too, and did not have him get down from the sedan, and had him directly sit in the sedan chair and enter the Zhao Declearly virtuous Hall where they were holding the banquet.
He Xuan saved the strength of getting up and going down, and arrived a bit earlier as well, so He Yang would definitely not arrive yet- other imperial relatives also came in few numbers, but all of them were just some relatives of concubines, and did not dare to put on airs.
They wisely long sat in the corners, conversing from time to time.
Once they saw him come in, they hurriedly got up to bow.
He Xuan slightly smiled as a response, then picked a spot he normally sat at.
The palace maids knew what he liked, and already put his favourite foods on the tea table, while the wine was also just heated up, and when poured out, it was still warm to the touch.
Li Fu Hai stood at a spot behind him, and the two people occasionally spoke, then He Yang and them arrived as well.
“Brother has arrived early today” He Yang was dressed in trimmed new clothes, and looked to be much more lively today.
Behind him were other princes, he stepped into the hall with big steps, and even asked thornily, “How is Brother’s injuries”
He Xuan coldly lifted his eyes to look at him, raised his head up to pour the wine in the cup down, then slowly used a handkerchief to wipe his mouth.
He Yang felt a bit awkward from being ignored by him, but the other princes behind were all still looking- in that moment, he did not want to demean himself and let these people watch him make a fool of himself, so he took a step forward in slight irritation.
Just when he was going to say something, He Xuan lightly laughed, and interrupted him, “How mygu injuries are, aren’t you the most aware”
“You……” He Yang paused, unknown if it was because he was exposed in front of everyone and got angry, he fiercely glared at He Xuan, and had a slightly frank tone, “What Is your Highness the Crown Prince suspecting me”
“His Majesty, her Majesty has arrived!”
He Yang originally wanted to continue talking, but was forced to retreat back from the sound of Lu De Sun pinching his throat.
Empress Liu was dressed in a vermilion-red court clothing embroidered with gold phoenixes, her head was wearing a heavy phoenix crown, swaying with every step.
The long end of the dress symbolizing honour dragged along the stairs spread with a Persian rug, while Empress Liu had her head up high, entering the hall slowly behind He Heng who was helped by a small eunuch.
Seeing He Yang’s rage-filled look, Empress Liu looked at him in the eye, and He Yang immediately stopped, just like a quail shrinking its neck, then flung his sleeves and returned to the opposite seat.
Once He Heng and Empress Liu got seated, the dancers and musicians then came in, and immediately, the inside of the hall was whirling with willowy dancing dresses and flourishing sounds of instruments.
He Xuan saw it many times, and long lost interest in it.
Though the imperial doctor instructed him to drink less wine since he was injured, he seemed to take these words and throw them out the ear.
He wilfully poured wine out cup after cup, to the point the mouth already could not taste anything.
This palace banquet sounded bustling with human sound, yet was the most solitary and cold.
He Xuan had one hand propped on the chin, and narrowed his eyes as he watched the palace maids dance a group fan dance, and faintly felt a bit drowsy.
When all was said and done, in this kind of banquet, he was always like an outsider.
But it was not always like this- when the former empress was still here, He Xuan probably enjoyed banquets.
During the New Years banquets of that time, he was still a small little one, wrapped tightly in cotton clothes, sitting on He Heng’s legs.
As long as he said some lucky words that the wet nurse taught him before, He Heng would laugh loudly and hang a long-life lock cast from gold on his neck.
But time had passed by far too long- like it was old paper from tens of years ago, yellowed and wrinkled, breaking into many pieces with a light touch.
He did not know if it was a delusion he was comforting himself with, perhaps there really was a time he had no worries whatsoever, but how would he dare to look into it
At least, right now, he did not like it.
He Yang sat beneath Empress Liu, his nature was straightforward, and was accustomed to saying some lucky words- at this time, he was smiling and offering wine to He Heng and Empress Liu.
Empress Liu was also very sly, and with a few words, got He Heng to be full of merriment and narrow his eyes while laughing.
Only He Xuan held up wine and sat to a side- his seat was just beneath He Heng, the highest place beneath the skies other than the throne, yet he felt like a silver river was separating between them, but there wasn’t even a magpie bridge [to connect them].
“Your Highness, you will be drunk if you drink anymore.” Li Fu Hai sighed, and bent down his waist and spoke quietly.
Each year at this time, He Xuan always liked making himself drunk.
Beneath the brushes of many poets, wine was always a good item.
Though it said it could not cut off one’s melancholy, but if one was asking for a moment of joy, wine was the best there could be.
He Xuan lifted his head to look at him, and did not insist on it anymore.
Li Fu Hai then called a maid from the side to go bring some sobering soup, He Xuan did not stop it either, he simply leaned on the seat and distantly watched He Yang and Empress Liu.
In the past, he did admire it.
He remembered not long after Mother left, each year during the New Years banquet when he saw He Yang be held in Empress Liu’s arms, he also once had some delusional hope that Empress Liu would slightly part some love she had for He Yang for him, just a bit would be enough.
But along with age, many things he did not understand in the past were all understood.
That strange yearning from the past was like a bronze mirror no one wiped, and accumulated too much dust.
That thick layer over layer would wrap his heart all hard, and no longer would he have those growing bothersome delusions.
One song then finished.
That leading dancer had bare mellow, fair and soft legs, her legs wore many gold bracelets, and would ring and echo along with her dancing steps.
She wore a pink dress, the hem of the dress was layered, like a lotus that used all its entire life only to wait for this moment to bloom.
Her forehead was stuck with fine flower ornaments, and she bowed with a soft tone, “This servant greets your Majesty [the Emperor], your Majesty the Empress.
[I wish] great luck and health upon your Majesties.”
This group of dancers from the imperial Music Office practised every day and night, all just to be able to reveal their faces in front of He Heng at the eve of the new year, say some lucky words, and if He Heng was happy, the little toys he granted would be enough for them to be spared of worries over food and clothing for an entire lifetime.
This dancer looked beautiful, and had a pair of alluring peach blossom eyes, while her neck was slender, where each movement of hers all carried some seductive allure.
He Heng’s heart beat, and lifted his head to look at her with some interest, and asked, “Wonderful, wonderful ,wonderful, you danced quite well.
What is your name Where are you from”
“Answering your Majesty, this servant is Jiang Ni, my family lives in Xing Yang.”
“Mm.” He Heng narrowed his eyes and nodded his head satisfactorily, “Take a step forward.”
That dancer did not get nervous, she took one step forward as told, and lowered her head waiting, and revealed half a snow-white neck.
“Jiang Ni, is it It is a good name.” He Heng smiled as he said, “Stay in the palace from now on, to be bestowed title of Beauty.”
“Thank you, your Majesty.”
Empress Liu was originally smiling, but at this time, her face stiffened, and secretly clutched at her palm- taking a dancer into the palace at New Years Eve made Empress Liu lose face immediately.
She held it in and said a few congratulatory words, then used the excuse of being tired and returned to the palace.
Since the empress left early, He Heng did not have any qualms anymore.
His heart was also yearning for the lovable little dancer just now, and did not have any reason to stay any longer, so he granted pouches [of coins], then had everyone disperse.
“Duke, the outside is putting on fireworks!” Zi Wan’s hands held a small bunch of burning fireworks, and the crowded sprouts of fire illuminated her face with a red colour.
Xiao Zuo was sitting in the room with De Qing around a fire, and seeing her happily run in, he then got up and walked out.
“Let’s go look.”
The residence’s kitchen was preparing dinner, the corridor was coming and going with servant girls and boys dressed in new clothes and holding piping hot dishes, making the originally slightly empty residence have some more humanness to it.
The ducal residence was at the southwest side of the imperial city, and when standing in the courtyard, one could clearly see the pitch-black skies split open with streaks and streaks of fireworks, all bright, fervent, resplendent assortment of colours bearing the wishes of the tens of thousands of commoners hoping for a calm winds and rains, and peace of the country for the new year.
They all lifted their heads up, hoping that these fires would rise a bit higher, just a bit higher, all the way to let those divine armies sitting in heaven’s courts, as well as the kings and queens see clearly, and hear clearly.
Xiao Zuo wrapped in a cloak and stared at those fireworks that were sliding down like meteors, and in an instant, felt his eyes ache a bit, unknown if it was because he looked for a long time, or if he had some sorrow from yearning for his home.
In this bustling of family reunions, he, for no reason, had some sorrow of staying in a foreign land.
On the other side, Zi Wan, in her busying, got some time to come finish seeing the fireworks, then ran back to the kitchen to see the progress of the dinner.
At this time, she made a small run and rushed over to call Xiao Zuo to eat.
“Duke, dinner is prepared, come eat.”
The ducal residence’s proper owner was Xiao Zuo alone, but celebrating New Years with just him at the table was a bit too lonesome, so he called Zi Wan, De Qing, as well as some normally lively servant girls and boys to sit at the table, then ten or so pairs of chopsticks rose and fell, and really had a look of a reunion.