Chapter 166: The Duke of Qin's heavy price
The empress was rendered momentarily speechless by Long Feiye's words, leaving the room to fall in silence. Long Feiye carried Han Yunxi down from above the pot. It wasn't clear whether she'd been curled up too long, or if she was still suffering from fright, but Han Yunxi's legs collapsed beneath her as soon as they touched the ground. She couldn't stand straight and fell directly against Long Feiye's body.
Of course, she was quick to straighten up. She knew this fellow had a severe case of mysophobia and especially hated people pressing up against him. But Long Feiye grabbed ahold of her by the waist and simply said, "Don't move."
Han Yunxi immediately turned motionless. His voice was still cold, but she loved the sound of those two words. Meekly, she stayed shamelessly in his embrace as she was slowly enveloped in his distinctive scent. For a moment, all of her fear vanished as she relaxed, allowing him to bear the brunt of her weight.
Long Feiye simply lowered his head, his hooded eyes cold as he lifted up her skirt and tore off the hems that had dipped themselves in oil. Only now did Han Yunxi realized that a large section of her dress had gotten soaked. If the fabric accidentally touched her skin, the temperature of the oil would definitely be enough to burn her. After Long Feiye ripped off the edges of her dress, he carefully checked all other areas of her clothing. She saw his concentrated look and felt dazed by the sight, forgetting where she was. Her eyes and her head were filled with nothing but the sight of this man's silent, icy face and his careful, meticulous movements.
She never imagined that this Giant Ice Cube could be so attentive. Was she dreaming? Giant Ice Cube, if this is a dream, then am I allowed to love you inside it?
After ascertaining that Han Yunxi's dress was free from oil, Long Feiye immediately pushed her aside with his usual cold, concise words. "Stand on your own!"
Tch...fine. This immediately shattered Han Yunxi's beautiful dream. Loving him was just asking for trouble. How was it possible? Her legs were weak, but she still managed to stand upright as she took a few steps. Then she spoke. "Your Highness, I've been wronged. The empress forced me to confess, saying that she'd burn me alive if I didn't!"
Caught red-handed, the empress had no way to defend herself. She stared coldly at Han Yunxi as her hands curled into fists.
"Empress, you're in such a rush to make her confess under torture. Could it be that there's something you don't want others to know?" Long Feiye asked.
"I don't! Han Yunxi is the murderer! Only she knows how to use poison! It has to be her!" the empress howled, completely losing control of herself.
Long Feiye didn't plan to waste words with the empress. "Your lordship is following His Majesty's verbal orders to bring Han Yunxi out of jail to investigate Princess Changping's cause of death. We won't be keeping you company, then." So speaking, he darted a glance at Han Yunxi before turning to leave.
Han Yunxi was startled. How did this fellow manage to convince the emperor to let a suspect assist in the investigation? The one who had died was none other than his own daughter. Wasn't this really pushing it? Actually, she would've already been satisfied with him coming in to save her and ensure her protection in jail. Of course, her body reacted before her mind, and she was already half-jogging after Long Feiye as he left.
But very quickly, the empress rushed out with an angry cry. "Duke of Qin, you stop right there!"
How could Long Feiye be so obedient? He kept walking like the last time he'd left the palace after paying respects to the empress dowager. Han Yunxi followed, neglecting the raging empress behind them.
"Someone, detain the Duke of Qin! It's impossible for the emperor to set such a decree! How could a suspect investigate the case? I won't accept it!"
"Someone, the Duke of Qin broke the prisoner out of jail! Hold them back! Didn't you all hear me?!"
Yet no matter how the flustered empress shouted, none of the guards from the palace or the prisons made a move, including the ones she'd brought herself. The Duke of Qin wasn't breaking anyone out of jail at all. He was walking out step by step, elegant and aristocratic. In Tianning Country, it was well known that anyone who tried to block the Duke of Qin's way was headed for death.
The empress watched with her own eyes as Long Feiye took Han Yunxi away, her heart unsatisfied. The more she thought, the more her eyes filled with fear. She immediately returned to the palace to seek out the imperial study.
Emperor Tianhui was currently sitting in front of his desk, staring in shock at a gold seal in his hands. This was the command tablet left to the Duke of Qin by the previous emperor when the duke was very, very young. Emperor Tianhui often wondered if someone else would be sitting in this study in his place if the previous emperor had lived on for a few more years. Seeing this command tablet was equivalent to seeing the late emperor himself. It was given to the Duke of Qin so he could have the prerogative to defy the emperor's orders for a single time. In other words, it was a one-time lifesaver. In all these ten years, the Duke of Qin had tread his path carefully, keeping watch as he gained his present position of power and respect. Yet he'd never used this command tablet.
This time, he'd given up his one-time lifesaver for Han Yunxi's sake.
Thinking up to here, Emperor Tianhui's lips drew up into a cold smile. Long Feiye, have you really taken a liking to that woman?
Very well, so even the invulnerable you has his weaknesses.
It was about this time that the empress burst in to bow before Emperor Tianhui despite Eunuch Xue's protests. "Your Majesty, the Duke of Qin took Han Yunxi away and said you ordered her to investigate the case? How could a suspect be an investigator?"
Emperor Tianhui withdrew his cold smile and said mildly, "Empress may rise."
"Your Majesty, Changping died so unjustly! If Your Majesty won't give Changping an impartial explanation, then chenqie will kneel here until you do!" Instead of rising, the empress fell to her knees. Impatience flashed through Emperor Tianhui's eyes. Before she came, the empress dowager had long dropped by for the exact same thing. Both the empress and empress dowager despised Han Yunxi to the bones for Changping's death. He too, was distressed with grief.
Even if he took 10,000 steps back and put everything in perspective, he still wanted to use the chance to kill Han Yunxi. He already dreaded Long Feiye, but the appearance of a Han Yunxi had placed him even more on guard. How couldn't he take precautions against the benefits she'd bring him?
Poison skills could save a person as well as kill one; save a country as well as destroy one!
Madame Li's parting words would appear in his head again and again, leaving him uneasy even when he ate and slept. And yet, Long Feiye's command tablet forced him to yield a step. Even so, it was just one chance. He wouldn't believe that Han Yunxi could prove her innocence within such a short time!
"Zhen only gave her a day's time. If the Duke of Qin can't provide proof of Han Yunxi's innocence by tonight, Zhen will convict Han Yunxi as the murderer immediately!" Emperor Tianhui said icily.
The empress never expected such an arrangement to exist. What could Han Yunxi do in just one day? The corpse had been laid out for five days already, and she'd refused all coroners to see it within that time, much less anyone who tried to get close to Changping. Right now, there were absolutely no clues for Changping's death! Meanwhile, Han Yunxi had been locked up the entire time. Although there was no conclusive evidence to convict her, although she refused to confess, this time limit was enough to ensure her death!
After thinking things through, the empress stood up in excitement. "Your Majesty is wise and brilliant! Many thanks to Your Majesty! Changping will be able to die content soon!"
When the empress returned to Earthly Peace Hall, she immediately summoned Qian mama, who was in charge of household affairs. After dismissing the other court ladies, she asked in a low voice, "Did you take care of that thing?"
"To reply niangniang, your servant took care of it last night. Besides your servant, no one else knows."
Within the five days following Princess Changping's death in the western wing of the palace, another person had lost her life. There was no injury, wound, or illness, but she died just like that, making everyone uneasy. Everyone was saying that the Duke of Qin's estate hadn't poisoned Princess Changping; instead, there was something dirty in the western wing. But the empress suppressed all news of the affair, so none of the servants dared to say a word. Even the empress dowager was unaware of this matter. Everyone could guess that the empress had steeled her heart and seized the opportunity to have Qin Wangfei die this time!
Last night, the empress had ordered her to take care of a certain item that was wrapped up tight. Its size wasn't very big, but it was very heavy, though Qian mama had no idea what it was.
"Have you taken care of the body?" the empress asked again.
"I've disposed of it and a new person's come to take her place," Qian mama replied honestly. It was relatively normal for one or two court ladies and eunuchs to die within the palace. Taking care of them was a simple matter.
Only then did the empress exhale in relief. She looked at the skies outside and fell into silence. Qian mama couldn't help but find her conduct strange. Still, when she considered that she'd just lost her daughter, it didn't seem so odd after all. She didn't dare disturb her anymore.
Right now, it was around noontime, and the weather was filled with bright sunshine.
"A day's time?" Han Yunxi almost spat out her water at these words. She stopped her steps and looked at Long Feiye with furrowed brows. "Your Highness Duke of Qin, how are you sure I'll be able to find the truth within a day?"
But Long Feiye only coldly replied, "It's not that your lordship distrusts you, but that you should simply die in a straightforward way if you're destined for death. It'll cause less trouble for your lordship."
"You!" Han Yunxi was gloomy. She'd taken this man as an angel, but realized her eyes were bad. He was an evil demon!
Of course, Han Yunxi didn't know anything about the command tablet. She only thought that it was no wonder Emperor Tianhui agreed for her to investigate otherwise. But Long Feiye's words had merit. She was hard-pressed to escape death in the prisons with the empress's attitude. Long Feiye could protect her once, but not ten times.
The one day time limit was a gamble with her life.
Seeing Han Yunxi's silence, Long Feiye glanced at her disdainfully from the corner of his eye. "If you regret it, you can go back."
Han Yunxi snorted in contempt, her smile more brilliant than the sun. "Since this wangfei's already come out, I won't be planning to return! Let's go, take me to see the body right now!"
After being shut up for five days, Han Yunxi's complexion was ashen and devoid of blood. Her body was abnormally weak as well, but she radiated a forceful splendor beneath the sunlight. Long Feiye's gaze rested on her face for a long time without moving away.
Han Yunxi, your lordship paid a heavy price this time. Don't disappoint your lordship!
Long Feiye and Han Yunxi arrived at Flowing Splendor Hall at midday, the place where Princess Changping's body was being kept. The empress dowager, empress, and Long Tianmo all hurried over when they heard the news. The wintry temperatures, combined with a crystal ice coffin, had preserved Princess Changping relatively well. However, the body had already undergone livor mortis, allowing the poison to fully manifest.
Although Princess Changping had caused her no end of grief and harm while she was still alive, seeing her corpse lying here at the prime of her life still made Han Yunxi unhappy. She stood for a while before saying, "Open the coffin."
The empress had been looking hostilely at Han Yunxi the entire time. Now she jumped up from her seat in protest. "Don't you dare!"
 Earthly Peace Palace () - Kun is the female/earth principle in the Eight Triagrams, Ning is "peaceful, tranquil."
 Qian mama () - Qian is a surname that also means "copper coin, cash."
 niangniang () - a form of address for an empress or imperial concubine.