Chapter 331: He laughed
Long Feiye still had things to take care of, so Han Yunxi naturally wouldn't dawdle. She left Baili Mingxiang with a few words before leaving. But she had no idea that the woman had trailed after her as soon as she reached the guest hall. Baili Mingxiang hid herself behind the wall outside the building and waited. Soon enough, she saw His Highness and Han Yunxi emerging into the courtyard, one after the other. Once they reached the gates, His Highness grasped Han Yunxi's hand.
She knew that His Highness treated Han Yunxi different from everyone else, but she never knew it was to such an extent. He held her hand so naturally that it felt like he'd done it for years.
"Your Highness, from the first moment I saw you, I thought you'd never love anyone in the world," Baili Mingxiang murmured as a bitter pain filled her heart. Despite this, she was still wearing a soft smile. She kept smiling even as the person she'd thought of for the past ten years disappeared long out of sight.
"Xiang'er, why make yourself suffer like this?" an unhappy voice spoke up behind her.
Scared to death, Baili Mingxiang turned to see none other than her father, Baili Yuanlong. "Father, I just came over. Has His Highness and the rest left?" she feigned ignorance.
"You're still pretending, even in front of your father?" Baili Yuanlong rebuked her.
"Father, Mingxiang doesn't know what you mean," Baili Mingxiang wore a lost expression.
"Towards Your Highness, you...girl, you should know your place!" Baili Yunalong's tone softened.
"Don't worry, fathe. Mingxiang has always known her place and duty. Mingxiang won't disappoint you or His Highness," Baili Mingxiang's voice was steady, enough to make Baili Yuanlong second guess himself. He couldn't say anything else, so he strode away. Baili Mingxiang recovered from her sadness as well, enough to dash to the gates in hopes of catching another glimpse. She really wasn't sure whether she'd get the chance to see His Highness again before the Beauty's Blood was completed.
Unfortunately, Long Feiye's carriage had long gone by the time she went to look.
Inside the carriage, Han Yunxi struggled with herself a bit before she asked piteously, "Your Highness, I want to go back to the estate. Can you send me there?"
Even though Emperor Tianhui and the empress dowager hadn't forbidden them from leaving the palace, the latter had already arranged rooms for them in the palace. It was obvious that she wanted the two women to stay there. If Han Yunxi didn't want to, then Long Feiye was her only way out.
Long Feiye simply looked at her expressionlessly without saying a word.
Han Yunxi waited, but when he still didn't react, she only dropped her gaze. Soon enough, Han Yunxi lifted her head and said again, "Your Highness, I don't want to go back to the palace."
But Long Feiye still ignored her. Han Yunxi withered completely at his reaction. It looked like she'd be better off not trying her luck.
However, when the carriage finally stopped, Han Yunxi got off and discovered that there weren't in front of the palace, but the Duke of Qin's front doors. She was really caught off-guard. Surprised and pleased, she didn't even know what to do beyond sporting a foolish smile. Long Feiye had his icy face as always as he said, "Is there anything worth laughing about? Why aren't you going in yet?"
"Oh!" Han Yunxi stopped smiling, but her joy was painted all over her face.
Once Long Feiye made sure that Han Yunxi had gone inside, he turned around to hide a soundless chuckle.
Han Yunxi loitered at home until the third day before returning to the palace, but the empress dowager and Emperor Tianhui didn't cause her any trouble. Heaven knows how Chu Qingge had spent her last three days, but her stare on Han Yunxi was enough to murder a man.
"Miss Chu, have you found out the culprit?" Han Yunxi asked with a grin.
Though they still had an entire day left for their investigation, Han Yunxi didn't want to waste any more time. If Long Feiye hadn't shown up the day before yesterday, she would've revealed the truth right there and then. A small case like Noble Consort Yun was obvious with a glance. Chu Qingge hadn't overestimated her own skills, but underestimated Han Yunxi's abilities. By now, Chu Qingge had already collected all the information from Noble Consort Yun's palace. She even had evidence that Noble Consort Xiao had been framed. Now she needed to figure out just who framed the consort in the first place. Even though Emperor Tianhui had scared away all her enthusiasm for the case, she still kept her cold and haughty attitude on before Han Yunxi.
"Esteemed wangfei only came back today. I supposed you've long known the truth already? Why don't we call over the empress dowager and His Majesty now to hear you explain how Noble Consort Yun died?" Chu Qingge sneered.
But Han Yunxi only replied generously, "Sure! Let's invite them."
"You!" Chu Qingge grew fearful. "Han Yunxi, stop joking with me!"
"Who's joking with you? Someone come, invite the empress dowager and emperor here. Tell them that this wangfei's already found the real murderer!" Han Yunxi said loudly.
Chu Qingge shook her head in disbelief, but it wasn't until the empress dowager and Emperor Tianhui arrived that she realized this was really happening.
"Yunxi, I knew you had the skills," the empress dowager was as kindly as ever, but only towards Han Yunxi. She had no affection for Chu Qingge.
Chu Qingge felt like throwing up. She was completely mixed up. Tianning's empress dowager was someone who clearly loathed Han Yunxi. The old woman should be on her side! Emperor Tianhui was certainly her ally, but right now she didn't even dare to look at him, much less sing his praises. She only kept silent, waiting to see what kind of truth Han Yunxi would show them all. Could she really discover anything within the span of a single day?
Han Yunxi disliked every single person standing in front of her right now. She wanted to finish up this palace business so she could leave and do her own things. First, she took the bottle of poison found in Noble Consort Xiao's palace.
"This is red-hued Snowpenny. Only a full bottle of this poison is capable of killing its victim, but Noble Consort Xiao still has half a bottle left. Firstly, Noble Consort Xiao wouldn't be stupid enough to keep the poison by her side after finishing off her victim; secondly, Noble Consort Yun wouldn't die if she only ingested half a bottle. The court lady framed the consort, but she didn't understand the principles of such a poison. As such, it wasn't the court lady who poisoned Noble Consort Yun, either."
"Obviously!" Chu Qingge laughed coldly. She'd already said these things on the first day. It was Noble Consort Xiao's court lady, Baozhu,1 that had produced the bottle of poison. She said that Noble Consort Xiao had instigated her to use the poison on Noble Consort Yun. But judging by the contents still left in the container, Baozhu was lying.
Han Yunxi ignored Chu Qingge and continued. "The state of Noble Consort Yun's body indicates that she was poisoned with a full bottle's worth of red-hued Snowpenny-no more, no less. In other words, there's still another half-bottle of the poison lying around somewhere."
Chu Qingge gave another cold laugh. She had known about that long ago as well. For the past two days, she'd been trying to track down the other half bottle of poison. Once again, Han Yunxi ignored her and kept talking.
"Why does Noble Consort Xiao only have half a bottle? Where could the other half have gone?"
"I suppose you've already found it," Chu Qingge said. She didn't believe that Han Yunxi was capable of finding the missing bottle in as little as one day. It was even possible that the other half had already been destroyed. Even if it still existed, no one could find it that quickly.
"Mm, I've found it. It's in Li Changzai's2 palace. Of course, I'd need to take a look before I can tell you where exactly it's hidden," Han Yunxi replied seriously.
An unrelated person's name had suddenly been connected to the case, leaving everyone stunned. Only the empress dowager was steady and calm. Coldly, she order, "Someone come, search through Li Changzai's Rosy Cloudflight Courtyard."
Soon enough, a half-full bottle of red-hued Snowpenny was discovered in Li Changzai's Rosy Cloudflight Courtyard. Chu Qingge found the entire thing inconceivable. She almost asked Han Yunxi how she'd done it, but her pride made her hold back. Li Changzai was brought to the scene, where she started to cry injustice.
"Esteemed Empress Dowager, Your Majesty, chenqie doesn't know anything! If chenqie understood poisons, I wouldn't leave half a bottle of poison in the palace, either! Chenqie and Noble Consort Xiao were both framed!"
"Framed? You certainly have guts, doing things like this under my eye. Are you sick of living?" the empress dowager raged.
At this moment, the court lady Baozhu suddenly burst into tears. "Esteemed Empress Dowager, have mercy, have mercy! This servant confesses, this servant confesses everything! It was Li Changzai who made this servant frame Noble Consort Xiao! This servant was afraid that she'd frame charges against me too, so I secretly left half a bottle of poison in her palace. This servant really doesn't understand poisons. This servant didn't poison Noble Consort Yun; it was all Li Changzai!"
Chu Qingge listened to all of this while feeling rather shocked. She never expected this, but she was still bewildered as to how Li Changzai's palace still had a half-bottle of poison! But Han Yunxi simply smiled coldly. It was obvious that the true culprit behind the crime was the empress dowager. Li Changzai was simply the innocent scapegoat. The empress dowager was an old hand who had created countless false charges against others. She was shrewd enough to keep them spinning in circles with this case. Most likely, she'd bribed both Li Changzai and the court lady Baozhu to her side and left the half bottle of poison in the girl's chambers. That was to leave her a way out in case someone looked into the case.
Unfortunately, Chu Qingge and Han Yunxi actually came to investigate. Even if they uncovered Li Changzai as the culprit and failed to ruin Noble Consort Xiao, the empress dowager would have gotten rid of Noble Consort Yun, at least. That was still to her advantage. Han Yunxi was planning to search around the entire palace for the other half bottle of poison, but as it turned out, the Rosy Cloudflight Courtyard was located conveniently between Noble Consort Yun's quarters and her own living arrangements at the palace. She was quite familiar with red-hued Snowpenny, and her detox system had sensed the toxin from far enough to show her that it was in Rosy Cloudflight Courtyard.
Now, the true culprit and evidence had come to light. It would be impossible to pin anything on the empress dowager, and neither would Li Changzai and Baizhu try to foist the blame aside. They didn't dare to sell out the old woman.
It was a flawless plan. Han Yunxi wasn't refusing to investigate further-she simply would be unable to find any more evidence even if she tried. There laid the true horrors of the imperial harem.
"How could you? A trivial Changzai and a trifling court lady actually dared to frame another Noble Consort! What gall! Someone come, drag them out first and beat them 30 times!" the empress dowager was furious.
Li Changzai and Baizhu naturally begged for mercy, but it was all an act at most. Very soon, both of them were dragged out of sight. Han Yunxi stared at the empty doorway and felt that the harem was like an endless abyss that'd swallow a person right up.
"Esteemed Empress Dowager, Your Majesty, since the case has been concluded, Yunxi shall take her leave."
The empress dowager was quite satisfied. She even hoped that Han Yunxi could leave sooner. On the other hand, Emperor Tianhui had no interest in the case to begin it. No matter how much he favored Noble Consort Yun, she couldn't compare to a new candidate for his harem! By the time Han Yunxi left, Chu Qingge was still standing shellshocked in place. She had no idea how Han Yunxi had discovered the missing poison! Finally, she realized the true extent of that woman's poison skills.
"Your Majesty, I've lost!" it was rare for the ice beauty to admit her own defeat.
Still, Emperor Tianhui didn't mind in the least. "Victory or defeat is a common thing for the soldier, so there's no need for Miss Chu to be unhappy. Have you thought over the matter from two days ago?"