Chapter 329: No need for the original arrangements
The declaration was enough to cast Chu Qingge into the lowest 18th level of Hell! Even Han Yunxi and Zhao mama were in disbelief. Long Feiye's here? Is it true? Or false?
Each of the trio was wearing different expressions when Long Feiye strode through the gates by himself. Today he was wearing palace robes of white brocade, and a jade pendant hung by his waist. His black hair had been tied up in a knot above his head, giving him a fresh, refined air. He was simply walking towards them with no ostentation or pomp, but his noble, sovereignly air gave off the impression that he was master of the entire palace. Han Yunxi's lips subconsciously drew into a happy smile, while Chu Qingge's face was burning hot beyond belief. She'd just finished satirizing Han Yunxi before Long Feiye himself arrived. It was a slap to her face!
Why did he come?
Once, Chu Qingge had nearly gone crazy tracking down every bit of information about him. She knew about all his likes. From what she understood, Long Feiye had left the palace as soon as he was made a duke. He'd never like entering the palace, so he'd rarely come unless it was a summons from the emperor or empress dowager. Sometimes, pressing matters would demand his presence too. Otherwise, he never stepped a foot beyond its gates.
Did he come just for Han Yunxi's sake?
As Long Feiye walked their way, Chu Qingge dearly wished that he was coming for her instead. But Long Feiye went to Han Yunxi instead.
"What time is it now? You're still here?" he asked mildly, his low voice as mesmerizing as ever.
Han Yunxi didn't quite understand him at first, but Zhao mama reacted quickly. "To reply Your Highness, the sedan chair is late. This old servant was about to accompany esteemed wangfei back on foot."
Now was the time for eating lunch and an afternoon break. Long Feiye had actually gone to Han Yunxi's temporary living quarters in the palace first to look for her. When he didn't find her, he came here instead.
"Zhao mama, go find out which servants were in charge of carrying over the sedan chair," Long Feiye said coldly.
"Yes, this old servant understands!"
Zhao mama would've done the same even without Long Feiye's instructions. Even the emperor and empress dowager had trouble keeping track of all the concubines' matters deep within the palace, much less matters regarding the servants. Zhao mama had spent half her life here, so she naturally had her own connections and power too. As long as the masters and mistresses didn't interfere, she could easily track down the source of the problem.
"Han Yunxi, accompany your lordship for a meal outside the palace." Long Feiye's words were an order, not a suggestion. As soon as he finished speaking, he took Han Yunxi's hand and began to leave.
This fellow, he's always so simple and blunt. He never wastes words. Han Yunxi didn't even have time to reply, but she liked what was going on anyways! She followed after Long Feiye, but didn't forget to glance back at Chu Qingge with a very smug smile. She was showing off and provoking the girl at the same time! And since she hadn't said a word, her silent smile appeared to be even more mocking.
The sight of her grin hurt Chu Qingge's eyes until she shouted, "Your Highness Duke of Qin!"
How could Long Feiye ever pay her any attention? Before Han Yunxi appeared, he'd never paid attention to any woman; after Han Yunxi arrived, he paid them even less attention.
An unresigned Chu Qingge shouted again, "Your Highness Duke of Qin, esteemed wangfei needs to investigate the case. She has to stay in the palace for the next few days!"
"Who said we can't leave the palace? Miss Chu can find His Majesty to take you out as well," Han Yunxi couldn't resist speaking up. Chu Qingge had been showing off Emperor Tianhui in her face the entire time. Once again, she failed to catch the implication in Han Yunxi's words. Instead, she chased after the pair a few steps, furious.
"Han Yunxi, aren't you afraid you won't find out anything?"
Investigating a case was much more complicated than using or treating poisons. This woman might have good poison skills, but it didn't mean she was good at solving mysteries.
"Nothing's more important than accompany His Highness Duke of Qin for a meal!" Han Yunxi answered with a smile. Chu Qingge had been showing off for so long. Of course she had to show off, too!
Well, okay. Maybe she was just too happy. Instead of controlling herself in front of Long Feiye, Han Yunxi had completely exposed her natural self. Long Feiye gave a small start and looked her way, only to see Han Yunxi happily engaged in her war of words. The sight cause him to unconsciously slip into a doting smile before he turned back, allowing her to argue as she wished.
Chu Qingge had no desire to fight Han Yunxi after that. She'd already lost utterly! She wanted to curse Han Yunxi for being shameless, but the woman was Long Feiye's proper consort. It was perfectly normal for Han Yunxi to say such things, so Chu Qingge had no reason to scold her! If possible, she'd tell Long Feiye how much she'd loved him over the past few years, but her haughty self-respect and upbringing prevented her from such actions.
A lady should be restrained and dignified. No matter how much they liked someone, they couldn't be the one to make the first move! She'd tried her best to show him how much she wanted his attention, but Long Feiye hadn't spared her a glance ever since he'd stepped through the gates. Even after she'd gone to such lengths to argue with Han Yunxi! Chu Qingge could only stare at Long Feiye and Han Yunxi's retreating forms, completely unsatisfied!
And yet, Long Feiye and Han Yunxi hadn't stepped out the doors before Emperor Tianhui arrived. Actually, the only reason he'd left in the first place was because Long Feiye had entered the palace earlier on. Emperor Tianhui had summoned Long Feiye to discuss matters relating to the Northern Li. He assumed that Long Feiye wouldn't show up until evening, but the man had come ahead of time instead.
As soon as Chu Qingge saw Emperor Tianhui, she went to lodge a complaint, "Your Majesty, the investigation was set for three days. Qin Wangfei's anxious to leave the palace already, so perhaps she's already solved the case?"
"Your Majesty, we agreed on three days for investigating, but there was never any mention of confining us to the palace during that time, right?" Han Yunxi immediately countered.
Truly, that second stipulation had never been put in place. The power to decide was in Emperor Tianhui's hands.
"Your Majesty, everyone had an understanding since the start," Chu Qingge insisted. With Emperor Tianhui here, there was no way that Han Yunxi was leaving.
Unexpectedly, Emperor Tianhui simply wore a friendly smile and said, "How could I confine you two? Duke of Qin, Zhen thought that you two were still at the Sweet Nectar Palace. As it turned out, you're planning to leave the premises instead."
How could Emperor Tianhui send Chu Qingge lunch without his own motives in mind? He estimated that Han Yunxi would leave to eat her own lunch and rest. That would be the perfect chance for a private meeting between him and Chu Qingge. Last night, he'd invited Duanmu Baiye and Chu Tianyin for drinks and hinted at marrying Chu Qingge. Neither of his guests made any complaints. Duanmu Baiye was the representative of the Western Zhou imperial family, while Chu Tianyin stood for the Chu Clan. If they didn't have any objections, then the matter was all but set. He didn't know that the sedan chair servants would be audacious enough to delay Han Yunxi's ride, but it was fine even with Han Yunxi and Long Feiye here. Weren't they planning to leave right away?
"Mm," Long Feiye replied an affirmative.
"Qin Wangfei, the deadline's in three days. Don't forget it," Emperor Tianhui reminded her helpfully.
"Many thanks to Your Majesty for the reminder," Han Yunxi said, before shooting Chu Qingge a meaningful look. "Then, we shan't disturb you two."
Chu Qingge finally realized something was off with Han Yunxi's words. What does she mean? Emperor Tianhui knew what Han Yunxi was implying, but he didn't mind. Chu Qingge would be his, sooner or later. Han Yunxi left in high spirits with Long Feiye, while Zhao mama departed gleefully to teach those sedan chair servants a lesson. Aside from the servants watching over the coffin in Noble Consort Yun's palace, there was only Emperor Tianhui and Chu Qingge left.
"Does Miss Chu want to leave the palace as well?" Emperor Tianhui asked with a smile. He was already approaching 40. Despite his good health and looks, there were obvious wrinkles around his eyes. His kind and gentle smile reminded Chu Qingge of her father. But she was so busy with the case that she had no desire to leave.
"No, Qingge still has to investigate," she replied simply, before moving towards the palace hall.
Emperor Tianhui followed her inside before signaling with his eyes for the servants to withdraw. Immediately, Chu Qingge sensed something wrong.
"Your Majesty, this is?" she asked him guardedly.
"Miss Chu, what have you discovered after investigating Consort Yun's case? Come give Zhen a thorough explanation," Emperor Tianhui smiled. When he wasn't being stern, he had quite the scholarly air.
Chu Qingge didn't lack in caution, but she'd never thought Emperor Tianhui would have other designs towards her. She simply assumed the man had different ideas regarding Consort Yun's case. Emperor Tianhui sat down before indicating that she should do the same. But as soon as Chu Qingge settled into her seat, he grasped her hand.
Alarmed, Chu Qingge recoiled before leaping to her feet and pushing him aside. "Your Majesty, you!"
She suddenly realized what was going on! Emperor Tianhui, he actually...
Even the thought of it terrified her! Emperor Tianhui was old enough to be her father!
Emperor Tianhui more or less expected her reaction. Since he was interested in her, he had looked into her every detail. This woman had a proud and aloof personality and no end of suitors, but none of them had ever entered her eye.
"The spring equinox draws near. On boughs warbles of blue birds move the heart. Wasted are arias all over in vain, giving way to the twilight that fades,"1 Emperor Tianhui recited to himself.
"Aria. Qingge..." Emperor Tianhui sighed with emotion as he rose and walked towards Chu Qingge. "Qingge, won't you give the aria of your heart to Zhen?"
It was such a poetic confession, and yet Chu Qingge only felt repulsed by it all. She even reached for her bow before she remembered that weapons were prohibited in the palace. Her bow and arrows weren't here! She backed away step by step, her entire body shaking. Chu Qingge had no idea how to answer Emperor Tianhui's question.
She didn't want this!
She backed into a chair before she sank into its seat, alarmed. "Your Majesty, where's my big brother? Where's Crown Prince Ye? I want to see them! I want to get out of the palace, I want to see them!" Chu Qingge was close to tears. She had no way to accept Emperor Tianhui's sudden declaration of love.
Fortunately, Emperor Tianhui didn't force the issue. Faced with a white-faced, frightened, and speechless Chu Qingge, he only took two steps forward before he stopped.
"It looks like Miss Chu needs more time to consider the issue. Zhen will give you two more days. After Noble Consort Yun's case has been put to rest, Zhen will find you again." Emperor Tianhui might be a lustful man, but he wasn't the forceful type. After all, he was all too clear on Chu Qingge's status and position. Still, he was confident that she wouldn't escape from his clutches.
As soon as he left Noble Consort Yun's palace, he instructed Eunuch Luo, "Summon Qinwang Rong into the palace. Zhen has matters to discuss."
Leaving aside his personal desires, Emperor Tianhui was all too aware of the threat of Long Feiye. As soon as he finished discussing Northern Li with the man, he made another appointment with Qinwang Rong. He was still looking into the birth origins of the Duke of Qin. Meanwhile, he'd been exerting pressure on General Mu as well to make sure the infantry division was firmly under his thumb.
It was a long time later that Chu Qingge finally recovered from her initial shock and horror. When she recalled Han Yunxi's parting words, the rage made her taste blood in her mouth. If she knew this was going to happen, she would have refused to investigate anything with Noble Consort Yun, much less come to Tianning!
What to do now?
She couldn't help but wonder what Long Feiye and Han Yunxi were doing now. When she thought of them together, tears began to stream down her face.