Chapter 339: Clever people may be victims of their own cleverness
It was Imperial Physician Lin who'd guessed poison last night. He was on close terms with the empress dowager and one of her trusted subordinates, as well as a compatriot of Imperial Physician Chen.
"You're the one who diagnosed me with poison?" the empress dowager asked coldly.
Of course Imperial Physician Lin knew what the empress dowager was thinking. He had mentioned poison so as to target Han Yunxi and get revenge for Imperial Physician Chen. After all, Imperial Physician Chen had remained kneeling at the Duke of Qin's estate for three days and three nights. And in truth, the empress dowager's symptoms really did invite suspicions of poison.
Imperial Physician Lin was quite prudent. "Esteemed Empress Dowager, this official isn't familiar with poisons. It was just a guess."
The empress dowager grew unhappy upon hearing his response. "Useless thing. What's the use of me raising people like you?"
Imperial Physician Lin immediately changed his tone. "Esteemed Empress Dowager, as this official sees it, there's an eighty to ninety percent possibility that your ailment comes from poison. In order to verify the diagnosis, it'll be better to invite a poisons doctor for a look."
Naturally, it was the clever and quick-witted types who made their living in the palace. Imperial Physician Lin knew that the empress dowager wanted him to blame Han Yunxi, but he couldn't make a decisive statement without any proof. Otherwise, he'd end up as the most wretched party. Han Yunxi wasn't someone easy to provoke, much less so the man behind her.
The empress dowager looked hesitant, so Imperial Physician Lin hastily crept closer and murmured, "Esteemed Empress Dowager, this official knows a poisons doctor with consummate skills. Why don't we have him come take a look?" He checked her expression and saw that she hadn't reacted, so he lowered his voice even further. "Esteemed Empress Dowager, you mustn't startle the snake in the grass!"
Finally, the angry Empress Dowager calmed down. Of course she understood very well what he meant. Han Yunxi had been framed multiple times this year, but she turned her bad luck upside down each and every time. Everyone had firsthand experience of her skills. If she blamed Han Yunxi outright, it would be all too easy for the girl to get out of it. After all, none of the imperial physicians understood poisons like she did. She could only take it slow and gather evidence before striking against Han Yunxi. Then she could send her to her death!
"This is a chance..." the empress dowager muttered to herself.
"Esteemed Empress Dowager is wise and brilliant!" Imperial Physician Lin hailed as he silently sighed in relief.
"Hurry, go find that poisons doctor you mentioned. I want to see him today!" The empress dowager was extremely impatient. If possible, she'd kill Han Yunxi this instant. Of course, she was even more preoccupied by the problem of her insomnia. How was she supposed to sleep with such an itchy scalp? Her previous insomnia simply stemmed from an inability to sleep, but she always managed to knock out by the second half of the night. Sometimes, she'd even sleep a little longer. Now she was plagued by an itchy head every time she lied down. It kept her up until daybreak!
Nightmare, this is simply a nightmare!
Imperial Physician Lin was anxious as well. He quickly left to find the specialist in question. On the afternoon of the very same day, the poisons doctor named Zhu Zhengyang1 -colloquially known as Elder Zhu in the poison circles-arrived. He was a man of some repute.
"Commoner Zhu Zhengyang greets Esteemed Empress Dowager. May Esteemed Empress Dowager live for thousands and thousands of years!" Zhu Zhengyang made the most formal bow upon entering the palace.
The empress dowager quickly bade him rise. "Has Imperial Physician Lin told you of my condition?"
"Yes, yes, Esteemed Empress Dowager's-"
"Hurry and have a look," the empress dowager cut him off impatiently.
As the saying went, those who break the ground where Taisui resides2 dare to act recklessly. Zhu Zhengyang didn't decline the invitation, but strode forward to inspect the empress dowager's hair and scalp in detail. As the imperial physician mentioned, there was a high possibility that the empress dowager was poisoned. However, Zhu Zhengyang didn't discover anything after his examination.
"Esteemed Empress Dowager, would you allow this commoner to take your pulse?" Zhu Zhengyang asked respectfully.
The empress dowager immediately offered her wrist, but once again, Zhu Zhengyang found no signs of poisoning. He looked hesitant, and stole a glance at Imperial Physician Lin. The imperial physician didn't get the hint and asked instead, "Zhu Zhengyang, how is it?"
"Esteemed Empress Dowager, judging from your scalp and pulse, you haven't been poisoned at all. It's just..."
"What is it?" the empress dowager asked.
Zhu Zhengyang glanced at Imperial Physician Lin again before he said, "It's just that we may be able to find something if we take a blood sample."
The empress dowager was frightened by the words. "Could it be that I've been afflicted with a severe poison?"
"No, no!" Zhu Zhengyang hastened to refute. "Esteemed Empress Dowager, some poisons are harder to detect than others. We have to look for them in the blood instead."
The empress dowager was relieved. "How much blood do you need?"
"A small cup," Zhu Zhengyang replied truthfully.
The empress dowager had assumed only a few drops taken from a needle to the finger would suffice. The reality left her face pale. Neither Zhu Zhengyang or Imperial Physician Lin dared to speak, and the room fell silent. Actually, anyone proficient in medicine or poisons knew that if one really did find poisons in such a large amount of blood, then the poison had to be a potent one.
Despite her fear, the empress dowager had no other choice. She furrowed her brows and said unhappily, "Then take it!"
Zhu Zhengyang didn't dare to do the deed himself, so he kept sending Imperial Physician Lin meaningful looks. In the end, the imperial physician had no choice but to step forward with a small knife. "Esteemed Empress Dowager, please hold out your index finger."
"Lightly!" the empress dowager's face already resembled an old tangerine before the blade even touched her. She turned away, unwilling to look. Imperial Physician Lin's hand shook before he finally sliced down with his knife!
"Ouch!" the empress dowager shrieked as her features scrunched up. Because she had to maintain her image, she didn't cry out any further, but she vowed to repay the pain of this knife ten times over when it came Han Yunxi's turn.
The cut was quite extensive, so the cup of blood was collected rather quickly. Imperial Physician Lin didn't dawdle after that, but quickly bandaged the injury.
"Zhu Zhengyang, hurry and check the blood. I'll be waiting!" the empress dowager pressed.
Zhu Zhengyang felt rather at a loss. "To reply Esteemed Empress Dowager, even the quickest results won't turn up until tomorrow."
"What?" the empress dowager blurted out in a fit of surprise, "Can't Han Yunxi recognize the presence poisons in seconds? What's wrong with you?"
Zhu Zhengyang felt both helpless and somewhat embarrassed. It wasn't that he was incapable, but that the empress dowager's poisons might be any one of a seldom-seen type. Things weren't so simple! He had existed in the poisons community for years, but this was his first time taking such a massive blood sample.
"Esteemed Empress Dowager, it's possible that you've been afflicted with a more complicated poison. With this official's skills, there's no way for me to reach a conclusion so soon." Zhu Zhengyang explained, before he added, "Esteemed Empress Dowager, why not have Qin Wangfei give it a try?"
Mentioning Han Yunxi in front of the empress dowager now would only earn her ire! And yet, Zhu Zhengyang had dared to speak of that woman! Immediately, the empress dowager's expression shifted. She glared resentfully at Imperial Physician Lin, who could only act innocent! How was he supposed to tell outsiders about the empress dowager and Qin Wangfei's private tussles in the palace? Even though Zhu Zhengyang was his good friend, he wouldn't blab. He only told the man about the empress dowager's condition.
Meanwhile, Zhu Zhengyang himself was dedicated to his poison craft. How would he know any of the complicated relationships in the palace? Thus, Imperial Physician Lin could only silently hang his head. Because Zhu Zhengyang was completely out of the loop, the empress dowager could only keep a straight face and hold back her temper. She kept it all pent up until her entire person was unwell.
The blood sample was done now, so what else could she do? She ordered coldly, "Someone come, arrange living quarters for Poisons Doctor Zhu!"
For the sake of collecting evidence to incriminate Han Yunxi, she could just suffer through another night. Once Zhu Zhengyang left, the empress dowager turned her temper on Imperial Physician Lin. "Useless thing, this is the so-called formidable poisons doctor that you invited?"
"Esteemed Empress Dowager, anyone who could poison you can't be someone easy to deal with!" Imperial Physician Lin said hastily.
The empress dowager could admit that was true. Han Yunxi's poison had to be one of a kind. She heaved a long sigh and hoped that the poisons doctor wouldn't disappoint her. Her eyes drifted to the sun hanging in the western sky before she felt a thread of fear creep into her heart. Most likely, she'd be unable to sleep tonight, either. Washing her hair for two nights in a row had left her with a healthy sense of dread...
Han Yunxi spent her time at the Duke of Qin's estate waiting for Gu Beiyue to wake up while she asked about news from the palace. As soon as it got dark, Zhao mama gleefully came back with more gossip.
"Esteemed wangfei, the empress dowager had another sleepless night yesterday. I hear she summoned a poison specialist today, but I'm not sure about the details."
"That's news enough!" Han Yunxi grinned coldly. The empress dowager had made an intelligent decision by not finding her first. Unfortunately, she'd become a victim of her own cleverness! Had she, Han Yunxi, ever fought a losing battle?
"Esteemed wangfei, just what's going on? Come on and tell this servant," Zhao mama had no idea what Han Yunxi had done, but she was confident in her mistress's skills. His Highness Duke of Qin had such a discerning eye. Would any woman he took a fancy to be merely ordinary?
Han Yunxi didn't reveal a thing, but only asked, "When will Imperial Physician Huang3 arrive?"
"Tonight." It was Chu Xifeng who replied. Even since receiving the Duke of Qin's latest orders, he'd been closely guarding Gu Beiyue. Of course, Lil Thing kept an even closer watch on the good doctor.
Because esteemed wangfei refused to spill the beans, Zhao mama had no choice but to wait for the show. "Esteemed wangfei, when will Imperial Physician Gu wake up?" she asked next. In truth, she was still worried over the man.
Han Yunxi had helped sign out Gu Beiyue for sick leave, then secretly reserved Imperial Physician Huang to treat him. She didn't have much confidence in her own medical skills, after all. Imperial Physician Huang was a doctor of the Imperial Physician Courtyard whose skills were only inferior to Gu Beiyue's. He was on good terms with the man as well, but few people knew of this fact. Han Yunxi had only found out after she went to the Courtyard herself. Imperial Physician Huang's treatment, combined with Lil Thing's timely medicine, gruel, and water feedings, had helped Gu Beiyue to just about recover. Unfortunately, he still had yet to wake up.
Imperial Physician Huang wasn't sure when he'd wake, while Han Yunxi feared that he might never wake up again. Because of this, she'd spent the past few days doing nothing but watching over Gu Beiyue. After Imperial Physician Huang finished his nightly acupuncture treatment of Gu Beiyue, Han Yunxi personally saw him to the door while they talked in soft voices. As to what they talked about-even Su Xiaoyu, who was tailing the pair, had no idea.
The same night saw one new sleepless denizen of the imperial palace: the poisons doctor Zhu Zhengyang. He had spent hours disseminating the empress dowager's blood, but hadn't found any trace of poison. He went to see her again early next morning.
"Esteemed Empress Dowager, as this commoner sees it, you may not be poisoned at all," Zhu Zhengyang replied honestly.
The empress dowager's finger was still aching beneath all her bandages! She lost her temper instantly. "Zhu Zhengyang, explain yourself. Otherwise, I'll take a bucket of blood from you!"
1. Zhu Zhengyang () - Zhu is a surname that means "vermilion, bright red," Zheng is "righteous," Yang is "sunlight."
2. those who break the ground where Taisui resides () - Tai Sui toushang dongtu, a saying that those given protection by a greater force (such as the god Tai Sui used in the example) can act without fear. In this case, the empress dowager is giving Elder Zhu full compunction to act as he wishes.
3. Imperial Physician Huang () - Huang is a surname that means "yellow."