Chapter 332: Warmth like an April spring breeze
If this was any other time, Emperor Tianhui's 'victory or defeat' would be a source of great comfort to Chu Qingge. As it was, she couldn't help but shiver and back away a few steps. Fortunately, the empress dowager was still here. Otherwise, she really wouldn't know what to do! She didn't have any weapons and this was Tianning's imperial palace. If Emperor Tianhui wanted to, he could keep her here indefinitely.
"Miss Chu, have you thought over the matter from last time clearly?" Emperor Tianhui pressed. He didn't seem to mind that the empress dowager was right there.
A mother knew her son. The empress dowager could guess what Emperor Tianhui was asking after. Strictly speaking, she should withdraw, but she insisted on staying put. She'd like to see exactly how Chu Qingge would reply.
"Your Highness has accorded me an undeserved kindness. Qingge already has someone in her heart," Chu Qingge declined tactfully. She vowed that she'd never enter the palace again because she didn't ever want to see Emperor Tianhui. The shadow he cast on her heart was too great. Emperor Tianhui seemed rather confident in himself. Although his eyes flickered with unhappiness, he didn't express it publicly.
"It looks like Zhen was late by a step," he smiled optimistically.
Chu Qingge lowered her head without saying a word. Emperor Tianhui studied her for a long time before he said, "Someone come, send Miss Chu out of the palace."
Chu Qingge was surprised by the summons. She never expected Emperor Tianhui to be so agreeable. As if relieved of a heavy load, she spoke without thinking, "Many thanks to Your Majesty!"
Chu Qingge was all too anxious to leave the empress dowager and Emperor Tianhui then and practically flew from that scary place. The empress dowager watched her retreating form before a cold smile rose to her lips. No wonder that Miss Chu lost to Han Yunxi. She's simply a girl with no brains at all!
How could Emperor Tianhui simply let her go? Duanmu Baiye and Chu Tianyin had sold her to the emperor long ago. A stupid girl like that could never compete with the likes of Han Yunxi!
(And yet, not long after Chu Qingge entered the palace as a consort, the empress dowager would realize that she'd been the true fool.)
"Your Majesty, since the case has been concluded, it should be time to bury Noble Consort Yun," the empress dowager said carelessly.
Emperor Tianhui was clearer than anyone else on the truth behind Noble Consort Yun's death. He was also clear that she wanted to push Noble Consort Xue to the forefront.
"Muhou can handle the matters," Emperor Tianhui's tone was clearly careless as well. He even walked away as he spoke.
As soon as Chu Qingge left the palace, it was to gallop on her horse to her living quarters in Tianning. Currently, Chu Tianyin and Duanmu Baiye were both discussing matters in the house. Chu Qingge opened the doors and hugged Chu Tianyin with a cry.
Chu Tianyin soundlessly pushed her aside. Even though she was his sister, he wasn't used to such intimate contact. "What is it now? Did you lose?"
Chu Qingge sniffled and was about to explain when the sight of Duanmu Baiye shut her up. The crown prince's eyes flickered coldly before he smiled. "Qingge, if you've lost, then you've lost. There's nothing serious about that. I'm going to tell you some good news, do you want to hear?"
Chu Qingge would rather tell Chu Tianyin everything that had happened in the palace instead, but she could only endure in the face of Duanmu Baiye. She resumed her cold, lofty air. How could she shed tears so easily before outsiders? Rubbing her face, she quickly resumed her cool.
"If Your Highness Crown Prince has good news, speak to spread the good cheer."
"Heheh, I need to congratulate you," Duanmu Baiye laughed.
"Congratulate? What do you mean?" Chu Qingge didn't understand.
"Tianyin, why don't you tell her instead, heheh," Duanmu Baiye was in an excellent mood. He'd acted under orders to come here and explain Duanmu Yao's conduct. He assumed that Emperor Tianhui would cause him trouble, but everything had gone very smoothly thanks to Chu Qingge's hard work.
"Big brother...what's there to congratulate?" Chu Qingge asked curiously.
"The emperor decreed that you're to make a marriage alliance with Tianning by marrying Emperor Tianhui. Tomorrow, we'll set out for Western Zhou to prepare for the wedding."
Compared to Duanmu Baiye's joy, Chu Tianyin looked far more sedate. Chu Qingge gave a start at his words before shoving her brother back. "You guys sold me out!" she cried. She felt like an idiot! No wonder Emperor Tianhui had let her go so easily. As it turned out, everything had already been pre-arranged. The decision was set! Western Zhou's emperor even set a decree ordaining her marriage. Why did Emperor Tianhui ask her what she wanted in the first place? What did he mean?
Chu Qingge not only felt disgusted, but afraid from the bottom of her heart!
Chu Tianyin didn't speak. Chu Qingge shoved him again, nearly enough to topple him, and demanded, "Are you still my brother?"
Now Duanmu Baiye was unhappy. Coldly he said, "Chu Qingge, how impudent. This is an imperial decree. Are you saying that the emperor sold you out? There are plenty of people willing to make a marriage alliance with Tianning. Don't be ignorant of your own good fortune!"
"Then why don't you find someone else? Why me?" Chu Qingge argued, her face pale. Tears threatened to fill her red eyes.
"Impudence! What kind of attitude is this?" Duanmu Baiye slapped the table as he stood up. Even though he was on close terms with the Chu siblings, it didn't mean they could treat him with disrespect. Chu Qingge was about to flip out when Chu Tianyin held her back.
"Qingge, this is what father wants, too. The Chu Clan will prosper because of you."
Chu Qingge grew still. Chu Tianyin's words were like a pail of ice water that soaked her down to her toes, turning her frigid all over. She couldn't help but involuntarily shiver. Neither her nor her brother had ever defied what their father wanted. Ever since they were young, their father's words had been untouchable. All they could do was submit! Obey!
Duanmu Baiye humphed at Chu Qingge's reaction. "What, do the emperor's words count for nothing in front of Great General Chu's wishes?"
"We wouldn't dare!" Chu Tianyin hastened to explain. "Your Highness Crown Prince, we'll set out for Western Zhou first thing tomorrow. Everything shall be done according to His Majesty and Emperor Tianhui's wishes." As he spoke, he gave Duanmu Baiye a meaningful look. Immediately, Duanmu Baiye recalled the legend of the hidden treasure trove in the Poison Sect's poison grounds and stopped arguing over Chu Qingge.
"Then that's good. Have her prepare herself well!" Duanmu Baiye said as he left. Chu Qingge was still standing stunned in place, her eyes blank. Despair had overtaken her utterly. Chu Tianyin didn't pay her much attention, but began to pack up their things.
After a long time, Chu Qingge finally spoke up, her voice choked with sobs. "Big brother, did father get mad because I didn't listen to him and provoked Han Yunxi?"
Chu Tianyin had a long pause before he replied. "I don't know. But you don't have to worry. Once you marry over here, I'll be staying in the capital city by your side."
No matter how foolish Chu Qingge was, she could still smell a plot in his words. "Big brother, just what are you and father planning to do?"
"If you have any questions, you can go back and ask father himself." Chu Tianyin looked like a warm and gentle big brother, but he was actually quite ruthless. "Clean up your things. We're setting off tomorrow."
After packing up his own things, Chu Tianyin paid no more attention to Chu Qingge. When he left the room, he instructed the guards, "Watch over young Miss well. If she escapes, it'll all be on you!"
Han Yunxi was in a great mood after winning over Chu Qingge. She was planning to leave the palace, but took a detour to the Imperial Physician Courtyard instead. After being appointed as an imperial physician, she had free reign over the Courtyard's store of medicinal ingredients. For that, she had to give her thanks to Emperor Tianhui. She assumed that Gu Beiyue would be around, but asking around revealed that his whereabouts were unknown. Han Yunxi left as soon as she got her medicinal ingredients. She had no idea that Lil Thing had arrived at the Imperial Physician Courtyard as soon as she departed.
Thanks to its experience from the Medical Materials Association, Lil Thing was much more cautious. Fortunately, the Imperial Physician Courtyard was very large and filled with lots of doors. Few people were idle enough to stare at the ground and catch it. Lil Thing sniffed at the air as soon as it arrived. Though it was a glutton, it rushed past all the storehouses this time, not even sparing them a peek.
Finally, it stopped at a little building at the back courtyard of the Imperial Physician Courtyard. The air was filled with the scent of medicine, but it could still pinpoint that unique, peculiar fragrance in the air that smelled somewhat like vanilla. Only the body of a person who'd taken medicine since they were young could emit such a fragrance. Lil Thing's sensitive nose was probably the only one who could pick up on this scent amongst all the others. It stood on its hind legs and raised its head high, thoroughly enjoying the delicate fragrance in the air. Its fat, fluffy tail gently wagged back and forth as if in a drunken stupor.
How it loved this scent! If it could die while surrounded by this smell, it would be so happy!
As it sniffed and sniff, it started to dance in place and dart about in circles, as if lost in a blissful, intoxicated dream.
Suddenly, there was a creak as the door to the little building opened.
Lil Thing gave a start and darted into hiding, only to see none other than the Head Imperial Physician Gu Beiyue emerge from the door.
"Chee chee!" Lil Thing was delighted as it kept chittering.
Gu Beiyue looked over and was shocked to see Lil Thing. How did it find him here?!
Lil Thing felt even happier when Gu Beiyue looked his way. It immediately scampered up into his shoulders and chittered away randomly. After a few squeaks, it jumped down to the ground again and ran into the little building. Gu Beiyue's gentle eyes flickered with curiosity before he followed it inside. But Lil Thing stopped moving once he entered the room.
Gu Beiyue squatted down and asked warmly, "Lil Thing, what's wrong?"
Lil Thing glanced at Gu Beiyue, then at the door. Gu Beiyue didn't understand, but simply stroked its little head softly. "What do you want to do? I don't understand."
Lil Thing wanted to close the door, ah. But it didn't have enough strength to push it shut by itself. If it could, it'd change back to its original form and slam it shut with its paw, but it didn't want to. Its original form was too fat and not a bit cute! Anxious, it started pushing against the door with its tiny body.
"Lil Thing, you want to shut the door, is that right?" Gu Beiyue finally got it. He smiled and took Lil Thing in his hand, closing the door with his other. Lil Thing sat in his palm and grew dazed while staring at Gu Beiyue's smile. How could a man have such a sweet and gentle smile? It was like the warmth of an April spring breeze gently billowing across its heart.
After closing the door, Gu Beiyue found a place to sit down and grew serious. "Lil Thing, what did you find me for?"
That's right. Why did Lil Thing suddenly seek out Gu Beiyue?