Chapter 156: The flavor of suffering in silence
After Han Yunxi's scolding, Murong Wanru gave a start before climbing to her feet. She covered her face, shoved Han Yunxi harshly aside, and ran out the door. Frightened, Princess Changping cried, "Someone, quick! Chase after her and make sure she doesn't take things too hard!"
"Princess Changping, what kind of job are your people doing? They can't even look after a drunken man. Now that this has happened, you better personally escort Zhangsun Che to explain things to Grand Concubine Yi!" Han Yunxi reprimanded her. She wasn't worried about Murong Wanru committing suicide with her type of personality. After speaking, Han Yunxi flicked her sleeves and walked off.
She'd already gone some distance away when Princess Changping recovered enough to blurt out, "But isn't this your room?"
Unfortunately, no one answered her. Now that something like this had happened, the Plum Blossom Meet couldn't continue anymore. Everyone took their leave, afraid to meddle in any more matters. Princess Changping's guilty conscience prevented her from too much delay. As soon as she got rid of Zhangsun Che's aphrodisiac, she escorted him to the Duke of Qin's estate to apologize and ask punishment for his crimes.
Zhangsun Che was the most innocent party. He had no idea he'd been drugged with an aphrodisiac, so once he realized what he'd done, he assumed the alcohol was to blame. The remorse he felt was enough to turn his intestines green. If he knew this would happen earlier, he never would have joined that drinking contest.
A saying went that good news were left unknown, but bad news spread far and wide. Princess Changping had just reached the Duke of Qin's gates when she discovered Marquis Pingbei, Zhangsun Zhongde and his consort Lady Xue. Both were kneeling just inside Grand Concubine Yi's rooms, their heads bowed so low that they almost touched the ground.
"Father, mother..." Zhangsun Che cried out.
The two rose to their feet and ran angrily towards their son, dragging him over for a beating.
"You beast, where did you get the guts? Did you eat a bear's heart? A leopard's gallbladder?"
"You always take your old man's words as wind in your ears. Now that you've caused a disaster, see how you'll fix things!"
"Che'er, why are you so foolish?! Miss Wanru is the golden branch and jade leaf, is she someone you can touch? You...do you want your father and I to lose our lives?"
Princess Changping was filled with fear and guilt as she hid away in the distance, not daring to say a word. Suddenly, there was a loud pah! as someone hit the table. Princess Changping looked over to see Grand Concubine Yi sitting in the seat of honor, her delicate features gloomy and somber like the skies right before a torrential rainstorm. How terrifying!
Marquid Pingbei and Lady Xue hurried back to kneel again, Zhangsun Che following their example with a heavy thump as he sank to his knees. He was so afraid that he began to tremble, too timid to even look at Grand Concubine Yi. Princess Changping had started to shiver when she made her way over to kneel as well.
"Grand Imperial Concubine, Changping...Changping brought Zhangsun Che here to offer a humble apology."
Grand Concubine Yi's hand landed heavily on the table before curling into a fist. She really was too angry for words, but pounded the table three times. Bang bang bang! The sound made the hearts of the kneeling people jerk and thump in fear. In the ensuing silence, Changping's head sank even lower.
At this moment, Han Yunxi spoke from her seat beside her mother-in-law. "Changping, exactly what happened? Hurry and tell us the facts!"
As soon as Murong Wanru had come home, she'd ran crying into her room. No matter how Grand Concubine Yi asked or coaxed, she refused to say a word. She'd exploded from anger instead and started breaking things around the house. Grand Concubine Yi doted on Murong Wanru like her own daughter. When something like this happened, Murong Wanru's pain was even more unbearable to Grand Concubine Yi. Moreover, it had happened at the Plum Blossom Meet and was witnessed by everyone there, so even keeping it a secret would be impossible. Most likely, the entire capital city would get wind of the news. This time, the Duke of Qin's estate had truly lost face.
But what was even more frightening was the fact that Murong Wanru was ruined for life!
"I...I didn't know a thing. I was at the banquet the whole time, it was Eunuch Li who said Zhangsun Che went into a drunken fit. Only then did I hurry over, but who knew that..." Princess Changping paused to look at Han Yunxi. "Imperial Qin Aunt, I actually wanted to ask you about this matter. You were the one sleeping in those rooms, so...how did Wanru get inside? And why was she unconscious?"
"You want to ask me? Then who am I supposed to ask?" Han Yunxi retorted angrily before explaining herself. "After resting for awhile, I went to the toilet. By the time I came back, I saw such a thing take place. The side rooms are all guarded by your people, are they really so incompetent? Zhangsun Che went into a drunken fit, so Eunuch Li knew to report it, but not to send people after him?"
Han Yunxi rose to her feet, enraged. "You still dare to interrogate me! It's a good thing I went to the restroom; otherwise...Heaven knows how much face the Duke of Qin's estate would've lost today!"
These words turned Grand Concubine Yi's complexion even ghastlier as she finally spoke, her voice stern and dreadful. "Bring in Eunuch Li!"
Eunuch Li had been kneeling right outside the door when he heard the summons and hastily crawled to his feet. He quickly entered and kneeled on the floor besides Princess Changping. "To reply Grand Imperial Concubine, Zhangsun Che wanted to assault every female he saw after falling into a drunken fit. This old servant couldn't stop him, and in my haste forgot to make arrangements before going to look for Princess Changping. Who knew that...who knew that all those girls hid themselves away, so nobody saw where Zhangsun Che went."
Eunuch Li could only explain things this way. After all, what they had done couldn't see the light of day. It was better if as little people as possible knew about the truth, so he'd given orders for all the servants and retainers to retreat. This was something only he and Murong Wanru knew. Eunuch Li was assigned to Princess Changping by the empress herself, and was an experienced old eunuch. Although he appeared fearful and nervous, he was even more formidable than Princess Changping when it came to giving explanations.
Everything had already happened. Zhangsun Che's aphrodisiac had been cured and he himself was ignorant of anything that had occurred. No matter how much Murong Wanru suffered, she still wouldn't dare expose Princess Changping as the mastermind. In other words, there was no evidence to prove things contrary.
"Then how did Wanru lose consciousness? How did she end up in my rooms? Wasn't she at the banquet? Changping, she should've told you something before she left, right?" Han Yunxi tossed out questions even though she already knew the answers.
These words stirred complications within Grand Concubine Yi's anger. She was a seasoned veteran of court intrigue, so she'd seen all sorts of devious plots and tricks. Originally, she still held suspicions towards Han Yunxi, but hearing her words made her feel much more relieved.
"At that time, everyone was pairing off in twos and threes. I didn't pay attention to her either. I only remember hearing her say she was worried about you and wanted to go have a look," Princess Changping said hastily.
Eunuch Li paused for a second before adding, "Grand Imperial Concubine, Zhangsun Che was so drunk that he had no awareness of his actions. As to how and why Miss Wanru was in the room, that's a question best left for herself."
Grand Concubine Yi's glare at Zhangsun Che was like an incisive knife. She'd rather they could gouge his heart out! The three members of the Zhangsun family kept silent, not even daring to lift their heads. Marquis Pingbei might come from a powerful and influential family, but he was nothing in Grand Concubine Yi's eyes. Even as Marquis Pingbei was seized with terror, he couldn't help the sliver of joy in his heart. Thank goodness his unfilial son had taken advantage of Murong Wanru instead of Qin Wangfei. Otherwise, even if they avoided imprisonment in jail, their relatives definitely wouldn't escape punishment!
The silence in the room dragged on and on before Grand Concubine Yi finally asked, "Wanru, just how did you enter your sister-in-law's room? And how did you lose consciousness?" Her words shocked the people present. Nobody expected Murong Wanru to be here as well. Only, where was she?
Murong Wanru was hiding behind a large folding screen, huddled up and trembling as her teary eyes flashed with sinister resentment. She only remembered seeing Han Yunxi in the little flower garden by the house, but not anything afterwards. She wasn't sure why she'd lost consciousness, or how she ended up in that room. Of course, she knew that everything had to be related to Han Yunxi, but she couldn't say that now!
As soon as she brought up Han Yunxi, that woman's personality would insure that everything was investigated thoroughly. The fact that Han Yunxi could even leave the room that day meant that she already knew what was going on! If she investigated enough to reveal the truth, then wouldn't she become even more of a laughingstock? By the time that happened, Marquis Pingbei's household might even come back to bite her in revenge!
Even Princess Changping would have difficulty saving her own skin, much less hers. Right now, she was tasting the flavor of suffering in silence. She felt wronged, regretful, unreconciled, resentful, ashamed, frightened, and all sorts of other negative emotions mixed into one big mess. She hated Han Yunxi completely, because if it wasn't for her, she wouldn't have fallen to this state. Her future...was gone!
Thinking up to here, Murong Wanru bit tightly on a corner of her robes, but still couldn't muffle the sounds of her crying. Hearing the noise coming from behind Grand Concubine Yi, everyone else realized where she was hiding.
Grand Concubine Yi was already annoyed, but hearing this made her even more wrathful. She couldn't help but roar, "What are you crying about?! Speak! You disgraceful thing!"
Being yelled at only made Murong Wanru's tears fall like rain down her face. Her grievance was so great that she even considered dying. But in the end, she still had to answer. She wasn't content with dying just like this!
"Mufei, I...sobsob, I was going to see sister-in-law, but no one answered when I knocked on the door. So I pushed it open a bit, but...who knew that the door wasn't locked? I went inside, but...sobsob...that beast frightened me so much I fainted. What happened afterwards, I...sobsobsob..." Before Murong Wanru could finish, she burst into tears and ran away.
No one answered when she knocked, the door was unlocked so she went inside, both of these fit Han Yunxi's story about leaving the room for the toilet perfectly. All of the stories from various people all matched up without any inconsistencies. The crucial point was that Murong Wanru had explained how she got inside and fainted. The person concerned wouldn't tell lies about herself, would she?
In the end, there was still a conclusion to the whole thing, and Zhangsun Che was still the chief offender!
As Murong Wanru's sobs faded away, Grand Concubine Yi sat with her hand propping up her head, breathing heavily from rage. The beginning and end of the whole situation had been thoroughly explained, so now it was time to hold people responsible.
Han Yunxi kept silent as she raised her cup of tea.
Grand Concubine Yi shot her a glance with furrowed brows before speaking icily, "Changping, take your cur of a servant and scram back to the palace. Tell your muhou that she has to give me an explanation!"
Leaving aside Changping, even the empress dreaded Grand Concubine Yi. The empress had authorized Princess Changping to host the Plum Blossom Meet, while Eunuch Li was one of the empress's people. Of course she had to be the one to handle matters.
"Yes, yes! Changping understands!" Princess Changping ran off like a streak of smoke. Compared to this grandmother-ranked Grand Concubine Yi, dealing with her mother was much easier! Once she left, there was only Marquis Pingbei's family in the hall.
Han Yunxi's lips curled up into an indolent smile. She knew that this family of three was the true cause of Grand Concubine Yi's headaches.
 Zhangsun Zhongde () - Zhangsun is a two-character surname. Zhong is a character for 'second, middle,' such as the second son of a family, De means 'virtue, moral character.'
 Lady Xue () - Xue is just a surname.