Chapter 338: The pattern of a nightmare emerges
As soon as the empress dowager uncovered the red cloth, she saw...the Medicine Fan she so desperately needed on that plate!
It was an oval-shaped fan, its surface made of a very fine, clean white silk. The handle was made of precious ivory and adorned with a purple tassel. Any part of the Medicine Fan would be worth a fortune in itself, but none of it could compare to the medicinal ingredients sewn on its two sides: incense grass and purple lily. The incense grass was the most effective medicine used to treat insomnia, while the purple lily could revitalize one's spirits. Even the strongest case of insomnia would be cured with one puff of the Medicine Fan. Most importantly, it was easy to use and had no negative side effects!
Its value was incomparable to medicine or acupuncture treatments. The empress dowager was thoroughly delighted with the fan and even leaned over subconsciously to grasp it in her hands. And yet, Han Yunxi picked up the fan first. She slowed fanned the air as she spoke.
"Esteemed Empress Dowager, do you recognize this?"
"Of course!" the empress dowager was very certain. Her eyes hadn't budged from the sight of the Medicine Fan even though her neck had suddenly started feeling itchy. It wasn't much different from a usual itch, however, so she simply ignored it after scratching herself.
"Esteemed Empress Dowager, Gu Beiyue's grandfather once prescribed you this very Medicine Fan, didn't he?" Han Yunxi asked next.
She'd already asked this question before, so the empress dowager simply nodded her head. "Yes, this very same fan."
Han Yunxi refused to hand it over right away, but played with the fan in her hands. "Esteemed Empress Dowager, do you know how to use it?"
"I do. Fan it twice for both sides-one to fall asleep, one to wake up," the empress dowager finally grew impatient. "Yunxi, give it here and let me have a look."
Han Yunxi shot a glance at the empress dowager's hand, which was still scratching an itch, before ridicule flashed in her eyes. She purposely cradled the fan in both hands before presenting it like an offering. "Esteemed Empress Dowager, kindly accept this small gift of mine!"
The empress dowager took the fan impatiently, as if afraid that Han Yunxi would come to regret her actions. She looked over the Medicine Fan from all directions before breathing in the scent of its medicines with an expression of enjoyment. Han Yunxi simply observed her coldly, a slight mocking tilt to her lips.
Take your time and smell it slowly. The best part is yet to come!
Han Yunxi patiently waited for the empress dowager to finish sniffing before she asked, "Esteemed Empress Dowager, this is the genuine article, isn't it?"
"Heheh, Yunxi is still the truly capable one!" the empress dowager replied meaningfully.
"This is the genuine article, isn't it?" Han Yunxi still wanted a confirmation. She wanted to accomplish her task to the very end, which meant there couldn't be any loopholes for the empress dowager to exploit against herself or Gu Beiyue.
The empress dowager had never seen a real Medicine Fan before, much less its incense grass or purple lily. However, she was all too familiar with such contents. The fan she'd recognized at one glance at the birthday banquet couldn't be a sham! Only the Medicine Fan had two different medicinal ingredients embroidered on both sides. Moreover, she'd fanned herself just then and the effects of the purple lily had revitalized her spirits after days of constant exhaustion. Now she was alert and energetic!
"It's not a fake. This is indeed the Medicine Fan," the empress dowager said generously to Han Yunxi. Although many unhappy things had happened in the process of obtaining it, although she'd missed her chance to get back at Han Yunxi thoroughly for the sake of this fan, she was still secretly thankful to the woman for giving her her heart's desire. After all, it had been nearly 20 years since she started looking for this item, but there had been no news of it anywhere! Although the empress dowager didn't want to admit it, the truth was that she might have never seen the Medicine Fan in her lifetime until Han Yunxi showed up.
Of course, her thankful feelings only lasted an instant. In the empress dowager's heart, anyone who owned the Medicine Fan had the right to give it up to her.
"Then that's all well and good. Esteemed Empress Dowager, chenqie won't disturb you any further." Once everything had been clearly accounted for, Han Yunxi took her leave. The empress dowager didn't mind, and sent her off with a few spoken civilities.
But as soon as Han Yunxi was gone, the empress dowager's unconcealed delight rose full to the surface. She was too happy, so much so that her mood improved immensely. She carefully stroked the Medicine Fan before lightly fanning herself a few times. It was such a lovely item that she couldn't bear to part with it. In fact, she couldn't wait for it to get dark sooner so she could use the fan to treat her insomnia and have a beautiful night's sleep.
While she fanned herself, she subconsciously scratched herself too-an itch here, an itch there. Li mama, who had replaced Gui mama's duties, noticed the action and asked in concern, "Esteemed Empress Dowager, what is the matter? Did you touch something dirty by accident?"
"Perhaps my skin's too dry because we've just entered winter. Aiya, my back is itching as well. Hurry and help me scratch!" the empress dowager said as she leisurely fanned herself. She didn't notice anything amiss with her body. Li mama scratched her back for awhile until the itch went away.
Ever since Han Yunxi left, the empress dowager simply held onto her fan and did nothing but wait for nightfall. She had suffered from her insomnia for too long, so much that she'd forgotten what it felt like to be able to fall asleep naturally. After dinner, she and Li mama took a stroll in the imperial gardens before returning to her room. She even took a hot water bath and then retired early to her bed.
"Esteemed Empress Dowager, let this old servant fan for you!" Li mama volunteered.
"No need, you can go on the night watch."
Li mama had already guessed that it'd be impossible to part the empress dowager from her fan, so she simply tucked the woman in and went to stand guard by her bedside. The empress dowager reclined lazily in her bed, a leisurely and carefree expression on her face. There was no trace of her usual anxiety around bedtime. She aimed the Medicine Fan at her face and stared at its incense grass one more time before slowly starting to fan herself. Her movements sent waves of fragrance flitting her way. It was a certain type of scent that soothed the heart and made one feel miraculously relaxed. Gradually, the empress dowager's movements slowed. Her expression changed from one of drowsiness to one to enjoyment, and then a hazy sleepiness.
Soon enough, she fell asleep for real. Her hand drooped, and the Medicine Fan fell with a clatter to the ground, but the noise didn't wake her up at all. Li mama couldn't believe it. She waited long enough to ascertain that the empress dowager was truly asleep, before carefully picking up the Medicine Fan. The empress dowager slept heavily through the entire night, even though she was subconsciously scratching herself by the second half.
Early next morning, Han Yunxi had Zhao mama spend some silver to get news from the Palace of Heaven and Earth.
"Esteemed wangfei, they say the empress dowager slept very early yesterday and stayed asleep until daybreak. All of the servants at the Palace of Heaven and Earth have received rewards!" Zhao mama reported back honestly.
"Aiya, so she's in that much of a good mood?" Han Yunxi's mood was rather excellent as well.
"Could she feel anything else? Sleep is her life! Esteemed wangfei, you...you're letting off that old thing so easily?" Zhao mama was completely unresigned.
"People always say that happiness follows suffering. Actually, it's suffering that follows happiness," Han Yunxi smiled guilelessly.
Happiness? Suffering? What does that have to do with the Medicine Fan? Zhao mama's thoughts were all in a fog.
"Esteemed wangfei, this old servant didn't understand what you meant."
"Ask around for news again tomorrow," Han Yunxi said mysteriously.
The second day, Zhao mama flew back to Han Yunxi's rooms as soon as she got the news. "Esteemed wangfei, everyone's on tenterhooks today at the Palace of Heaven and Earth! I heard that the newly promoted Li mama was sent off for a vicious beating! The empress dowager used the Medicine Fan last night and was going to fall asleep when she was woken up by itching! They say it was her head that was itchy. No matter how she scratched or washed herself, it was still itching, and it didn't recover until daybreak." Zhao mama was very happy. "Esteemed wangfei, did you use any tricks on her?"
Han Yunxi shot her a glance before she said respectably, "Impudent servant. If you try to slander this wangfei again, I'll have you dragged out and fed to the dogs!"
Suffering follows happiness. If she didn't let the empress dowager taste a good night's rest, how could she truly understand the pain of losing sleep again?
Meanwhile, the empress dowager had just woken up. After yesterday's sleepless night, she had no choice but to make up her sleep in the daytime as before. The Medicine Fan was clearly a good item, but she didn't know why her scalp had suddenly started itching last night. It would have been fine if it happened while she was awake, but the itch didn't come until she started using the Medicine Fan at night. Her drowsy state was broken by that intolerable itching, giving her no choice but to get up and wash her hair. How awful! The worst part wasn't being unable to sleep, but to teeter on the edge of sleeping without finding ultimate relief. This was nothing less than a nightmare!
Because the Medicine Fan had been so effective, the empress dowager didn't place her suspicion there. She found countless imperial physicians for consultation, but none of them could give her a clear diagnosis. Her hair had always been clean, so she'd never had a case of itchy scalp for as long as she lived! Moreover, the rest of her body was fine as well. The imperial physicians even considered the things she'd eaten over the past few days, but didn't find any potential allergens. Because of that, the imperial physicians had no choice but to attend on the empress dowager and see what happened tonight.
As before, the empress dowager prepared herself early for a good night's sleep with the Medicine Fan. A light flicker of the fan sent her into drowsiness straight away, but her scalp immediately started itching again. She was extremely sleepy and tired, her mind only half-conscious. A hand scratched absently at her scalp as she fell asleep. But soon enough, her itching started up again, so she scratched her head again.
This time, no amount of scratching could relieve her. Soon enough, her head felt unbearably itchy once again. Still, the empress dowager was so sleepy that she couldn't even open her eyes. Caught between drowsiness and itchiness, her suffering was unspeakable.
"Someone come...someone come..." the empress dowager said listlessly, "Scratch my itch...hurry..."
The newly appointed Xu mama came to help her scratch her itch, but nothing she did worked. In the end, Xu mama had to call for the imperial physicians. The empress dowager had no choice but to get up and change into a set of robes. When the imperial physicians arrived, she was half leaning against her bed, her eyes half-shut. Her temper was flaring but her energy was all gone, making her feel too miserable to even speak. The imperial physicians examined her before they broke into a flutter of varied opinions. Some said she was allergic to the food, others say she'd been infected with something dirty, still others said she was oversensitive to her various medicines. There were those who said she had been poisoned as well.
Still, none of them had an absolute diagnosis. Right now, the empress dowager was too preoccupied with sleeping, so she didn't bother thinking too deeply into the issue either.
"Get out...you worthless lot, all of you get out!" she pointed at the door. Although she was furious, she didn't have the strength to throw a temper tantrum.
Once again, the empress dowager was tormented until day broke. She alternated between washing her hair and scratching her head before the itching finally receded. The utterly exhausted empress dowager didn't make up for lost sleep, but coldly ordered, "Which imperial physician said I was poisoned last night? Send him in!"
Even the stupidest empress dowager could tell that something was amiss. This had to be related to Han Yunxi.
Han Yunxi, if you dare to poison me, you're dead!