For the Side Consorts and concubines who had arrived to the wonderful scene of authority being played out, they were slightly puzzled as looked at the Prince Consort and the kitchen servants who had just been punished. All of them were wondering what had happened.
As they saw the Prince Consort walking back into the palace, the four of them did not care about priority and simply followed behind Qu Qing Ju without any respect. When Feng Side Consort passed by the kitchen servants who were still kneeling on the floor with pained expressions, she ordered the other servants present to carry them back. However, none of the remaining servants gave any heed to her instructions, making her expression turn black as she continued making her way into the palace.
With their heads lowered, Yin Liu and Jin Zhan guided the Side Consorts and concubines, opening the curtains for them to enter the room. From a distance the both of them saw Mu Jin and Yu Zan arrive with meal boxes. So they paused and waited for Mu Jin and Yu Zan to approach. Seeing the bewilderment on Mu Jin and Yu Zan’s faces, the four maid servants exchanged glances between themselves before they entered the room, as they looked at the servants who had suddenly become more obedient.
The room had already been cleared of the previous dishes and the greasy smell of meat was being covered up with fragrance being burnt. However, even with the fragrance masking the meat smell, Qui Qing Ju did not like the fragrance and casting her glance at the brazier adorned with a flying crane and golden beast which was burning away.
Noticing her expression, Rui Xiang immediately took the initiatively and extinguished the burning fragrance, replacing it with something lighter in fragrance. Only when Qui Qing Ju’ expression soften did Rui Xiang breath a sigh of relief.
Bowing slightly, Feng Side Consort said with a upturn of her mouth, “Look at how attentive Prince Consort maid servant is. It is no wonder that even His highness complemented your maid servant.” Inside her heart however, she was ridiculing Qui Qing Ju as just a few days earlier the prince had taken one of the Prince Consort’s maid servants’ as a lesser concubine; a rank lower than a normal concubine.
At the end of her comment, Qui Qing Ju simply ignored Feng Side Consort and looked through her as if she was invisible. A heavy awkward silence soon enveloped the room as Qui Qing Ju held Shu Kui’s hand and sat down on a chair. Looking over at Mu Jin and Yu Zan with the meal boxes in their hands, she instructed, “Serve the food.”
Soon the meal boxes were served: various types of porridges were displayed, along with a few light vegetable dishes and desserts; the food was exquisite yet light. Steam rose from each dish and with just a glance one could tell how much effort had been put into them.
As she held a delicate ceramic spoon and took a sip of porridge Qui Qing Ju said, “At least there seems to have some kitchen servants who have skills. Reward those kitchen servants who had prepared this 5 taels of silver each.” Looking at the side stood Han Qing He, Madam Han, a concubine whose status was low but her good point was that she was obedient and low-key.
“I heard that His Highness mention that you were good at serving. So for today you will serve the food.”, Qui Qing Ju stated as she was in a good mood with the food. Seeing that there was no reply, Qui Qing Ju was not irritated but asked in a slow tone, “Oh, is Madam Han unwilling?”
“You servant does not dare, your highness”, Madam’s Han face blushed from embarrassment and humiliation. She was but a lowly concubine and it was in the natural order of hierarchy that she was to serve the Prince Consort who was the primary wife and mistress of the household. Even if she did not want to, she did not have a choice.
The other two Side Consorts and concubine looked in disbelief at Qui Qing Ju, who was lowering her head to drink the porridge. They were thinking in their hearts, “Has her highness gone mad?”. Even if Madam Han was a lowly ranked concubine and not very favoured by His Highness she was still the one that had taught the prince on certain matters. The Prince Consort, on the other hand, only had the position in name only, she was not even favoured by His Highness at all and she dared to order Madam Han to serve her food.
Disregarding the opinions of others, Qui Qing Ju declined the piece of vegetable that Madam Han was about to place into her bowl, “I do not like this dish, Remember not to serve this the next time.”
Madam Han’s face froze slight as Qui Qing Ju said that, her hand holding the chopsticks tightened but she did not argue with the Prince Consort. She stiffly bowed and pleaded, “Have mercy our maid servant your highness. This lowly one has served His Highness for a long time and assumed that Your Highness would like the same dishes as His Highness. This lowly servant was wrong.”
Qu Qing Ju smiled without speaking while thinking to herself, “So this was reminding her of her seniority with the prince?” Turning her attention to a dish of lettuce stems with pig stomach.
The silence was like a slap to Madam Han’s face. It was obvious that the Prince Consort totally disregarded Madam Han and treated her no different from the other lowly ranked concubines who had to serve the food and attend to the primary wife in noble families.
Qu Qing Ju took quite a long time to finish her morning meal. Feng Side Consort and the other concubines were standing throughout and by the time Qu Qing Ju had finished her meal, their legs were wobbly. But as there was no instructions for them to sit, they could only stand at the side looking at Qu Qing Ju as she ordered Madam Han to serve her food.
Seeing that the Prince Consort was about done with her meal. Feng Side Consort, Feng Zi Jin, could no longer tolerate and blurted, “Is there a reason Your Highness has called us over? Or were were called over just for conversation?”
Not answering immediately, Qu Qing Ju took tea that Jin Zan held to rinse, and washed her hands in the rose and lemon water. After drying her hands with a piece of absorbent cotton fabric , Qu Qing Ju looked at Feng Side Consort and said, “It would seem that the rumor is true. Feng Side Consort’s personality is as gentle as water, rush as river and impatient as boiling water.”