If they were sure the poisoner was on intimate terms with the general's estate, then they couldn't rule out this situation, either!
Han Yunxi's words finally cleared up Mu Qingwu's understanding. "Esteemed wangfei's thoughts are indeed meticulous, this humble official understands."
Han Yunxi discussed a few more particulars with Mu Qingwu before leaving the general's estates. Unknown to her, she'd barely left when Long Feiye arrived in her wake. This was the second time he'd come to General Mu's estate after investigating the matter of the Northern Li Country spies. Dressed in black, he sat authoritatively upon the seat of honor within the main hall, his gaze cold. Those arrogant eyes that looked down upon everything resembled that of a sovereign of the world. The entire hall was empty except for General Mu, who stood in attendance.
A short while later, Mu Qingwu hurried over to pay his respects with an official military bow. "This humble official greets Your Highness, Duke of Qin."
Long Feiye raised a hand to excuse him, asking coldly, "Han Yunxi just left?"
Both General Mu and his son felt strange hearing these three characters from the Duke of Qin's lips. In their memory, the Duke of Qin had never called that woman by name. Of course, it was even more impossible for him to call Han Yunxi his aifei. But in the past, he'd called her Qin Wangfei just like everyone else. Since when had he changed his habits?
Curiouser and curiouser. Whether it was General Mu or Mu Qingwu, neither had the guts to ask. a"Esteemed wangfei just left, these are the new clues she delivered," Mu Qingwu said, hastily handing over the prescription sheet. He added as explanation, "These are the three poisons that esteemed wangfei didn't mention last time. They're supposed to be very rare, so only a few would possess them in all of our Cloud Realm Continent."
Long Feiye nodded and asked, "Have you gotten any results from investigating the suspects of the household?"
General Mu figuratively flushed with shame. "To reply Your Highness, currently we have not."
"Expand the range for your suspects and keep investigating," Long Feiye said, his gaze turning keen as he lowered his voice. "Especially the women."
Upon hearing this, General Mu and the Young General were both startled. The Duke of Qin had followed the emperor's orders to hunt for Northern Li Country spies, but all of the ones they'd found so far were female. In other words, Mu Qingwu's poisoning might be connected with that case; moreover, the general's estate might have hidden Northern Li spies since long ago. The general's estate was a very sensitive location that was the source of countless military secrets!
Things had turned serious!
How could General Mu have time to worry about Mu Liuyue now? He'd long shoved her bet with Han Yunxi to the back of his head and promptly agreed. "May Your Highness Duke of Qin set your worries at rest. I shall broaden the scope of my investigations for the suspect, regardless of kin!"
Mu Qingwu knew that his father favored Liuyue. Seeing his chance now, he jumped in, "Father, Qin Wangfei suspects that the poisoner might have used someone else's hand to do the deed. As your child sees it, we can't rule out those female cousins that visit often, either." He paused for a bit, before adding, "Of course, we should look into Liuyue's side as well."
If this was any other day, Mu Qingwu's words would be met with an angry rebuke from General Mu. How could his own little sister have any malicious intent against him? How would she be so careless? But under these circumstances and in front of the Duke of Qin, General Mu didn't dare to lose his temper. He lost himself in thought before looking towards the Duke of Qin.
"Esteemed wangfei's words are logical."
Long Feiye looked pensive before quickly nodding his head. He collected the prescription and said, "Your lordship will take care of these three snake poisons. As for everything else, speed is of the essence."
"Yes!" the Mu father and son chorused in unison as they respectfully obeyed.
Long Feiye rose to leave, but stopped suddenly at the door. He didn't turn around, but his voice was cold as he spoke. "Your lordship heard...that Han Yunxi and Mu Liuyue have a bet?"
His Highness Duke of Qin even knew about Han Yunxi and Mu Liuyue's bet! General Mu had tried to reduce the effects by prohibiting gossip of the event, but how did His Highness Duke of Qin find out?
"To reply your highness, there is indeed such a thing. My daughter acted disobedient and presumptuous, so I will make sure to discipline her well," General Mu explained hastily. No matter what, he'd try to prevent such a thing from happening. Worse came to worst, he'd force Liuyue to apologize. He couldn't afford a bet that made both sides suffer losses!
"Please trust me, your highness, I will definitely..."
Before General Mu could finish, Long Feiye cut him off with a mild remark. "Your lordship is very much anticipating the results." He didn't ask for details but strode away, disappearing into the courtyard beyond.
General Mu was stunned in place, unable to recover for a long while. He slowly turned to look at Mu Qingwu. "You...just then, did you hear...did you hear what His Highness Duke of Qin said?"
Mu Qingwu was filled with doubts as he muttered, "His highness said, he was 'very much anticipating' the results."
General Mu's face turned white as he grew anxious. "This...what does this mean?"
It couldn't be that His Highness Duke of Qin wanted to see Liuyue take off her outer robes and run around Xuanwu Street? General Mu immediately discarded the thought. He must be overthinking things. No matter what, how could His Highness Duke of Qin be leisurely enough to make things difficult for a single girl like Liuyue?
Then...he wanted to see Qin Wangfei lose, take off her outer robes, and run around instead?
General Mu slapped his forehead. This was even more impossible! If Qin Wangfei really did end up running around like that, then it'd be His Highness Duke of Qin's face that was getting slapped! Anxiously, General Mu turned his sights on Mu Qingwu. "What is his highness anticipating?"
"The results of the bet..." Mu Qingwu said timidly.
"Whose results?!" General Mu asked again.
Mu Qingwu had no answer for that question. General Mu raged and fretted before turning aside to whip viciously at the air. "Mu Liuyue! That damned girl, when will she stop causing trouble!"
If His Highness Duke of Qin had already spoken, regardless of what he actually meant, then General Mu had no way to force Mu Liuyue to apologize. Nor could he plead with Qin Wangfei to rescind the bet. How were they supposed to clean up the mess afterwards?!
Mu Qingwu saw that his father was really angry and said, "Father, Liuyue's all grown up now. She should take responsibility for her own troubles. The affair of the enemy agents is very important-if these really are Northern Li spies and the emperor blames us, it'll be hard to explain."
The situation had already developed to this point, so what else could General Mu say? He gave Mu Qingwu an agitated look. "Immediately draw up a list of names and investigate each suspect! If it's really one of our people, I won't forgive them!"
Meanwhile, Mu Liuyue was completely clueless about her father's anger. She was currently in a famous teahouse outside the capital by the Celestial Fragrance tea plantation, meeting with a friend. Of course she was invested in the results of the investigation, but neither her father nor her brother had told her anything. Still, seeing her father wearing a long face everyday was enough for her to guess that they hadn't made much progress.
Ten days had already passed, leaving 18 days left. From this alone, she could tell that Han Yunxi's prospects were fraught with grim possibilities! Moreover, even if there were new developments in the next 18 days, she wasn't afraid. With her father and big brother on the case, she was sure they wouldn't stop caring for her sake. No matter what, there were ways to drag the investigation out to the last day.
This time, she not only wanted Han Yunxi to eat her own bitter fruit, but to also have cruel reality teach her a lesson: the empty title of Qin Wangfei was nothing compared to a good family background! She had nothing to be proud of despite marrying into the Duke of Qin's household! Thinking up to here, Mu Liuyue chortled to herself. At the same time, Han Ruoxue carried over a teapot and smiled in response.
"Well, well, my eldest young Miss, what are you thinking of that's made you so happy? Tell little sister so I can be amused too." As she spoke, she placed the teapot on the table and sat down cross-legged, resting her chin on both hands as she waited for Mu Liuyue to speak.
Mu Liuyue glanced at her and laughed a few more times before calming down. "Nothing, how can there be anything?"
Han Ruoxue gave her a dubious glance. "You're laughing so much that your face is blooming. You couldn't be thinking of some household's..."
Before she could finish, Mu Liuyue grabbed the teacup before her and made to smash it over, but Han Ruoxue quickly blocked her. "Fine, fine, fine! I won't ask, then! I'll slap my own face instead!"
Han Ruoxue exaggerated slapping herself lightly a few times. Before she came, she worried that this eldest young Miss would refuse to meet her on account of Han Yunxi. But she didn't expect her attitude was the same as before. However, this was within expectations. Mu Liuyue liked to interact with her in the past, not only because Han Ruoxue gave her generous gifts, but because she could ask about lots of details regarding Han Yunxi.
Mu Liuyue darted a glance at her now before laughing again. "That's better."
Seeing that her mood wasn't half-bad, Han Ruoxue decided that today was the right time to meet her.
"Come come, your servant will steep another pot of good tea as apology to young Miss," Han Ruoxue joked, pretending to talk like a servant.
Mu Liuyue raised an eyebrow. "All right, your ladyship shall wait."
The pair burst out in laughter before Han Ruoxue opened her canister of tea leaves and handed it over. "Take a sniff, see how fragrant it is."
The people of Tianning were addicted to tea, especially those in the capital. Multi-storied teahouses large and small peppered the streets of the city, while the outskirts were filled with various tea shops. People like Mu Liuyue and her, who were very particular about the Way of Tea, rarely visited teahouses. Their own tea leaves and spring water were much better than those sold by shops. If they were in a leisurely mood, or had things to discuss outside of home, they usually arrange to meet at tea shops at the outskirts of the city. They'd choose tea leaves that were freshly picked and dried, with water from mountain springs to steep their tea. That level of fragrance and flavor was yet another level higher than home-brew tea.
Strictly speaking, Mu Liuyue and Han Ruoxue could be considered tea friends. Whenever the two of them met, it was always at a tea shop, and Han Ruoxue had gifted Mu Liuyue many priceless teas worth the value of several cities.
Mu Liuyue took a light sniff of the tea, finding it clear and refreshing. She closed her eyes and inhaled the scent while signaling Han Ruoxue to start brewing. Even the exact same tea leaves, water, and kettle could produce different tea under the hands of different people. Han Ruoxue was an expert in this field, so Mu Liuyue liked to drink her personally brewed tea. She had no idea, however, that Han Ruoxue had learned her Way of Tea from her mother, Madame Li.
Very soon, a cup of lightly tinted tea was delivered before Mu Liuyue, who smelled the fragrance first before tasting a tiny sip. Only afterwards did she drink it in earnest. Once she'd savored the aftertaste for a while, she was all praise.
"Excellent! Exquisite! I think I'll have to invite along Princess Changping next time so she can try some too."
Hearing this, Han Ruoxue was secretly delighted. She'd long wanted to form connections with Princess Changping through Mu Liuyue.
 aifei () - literally 'beloved concubine/consort,' an ancient equivalent of 'darling/beloved' for a lord's wife.
 eat her own bitter fruit () - zhishi eguo, meaning to suffer the consequences of one's own actions, to stew in one's own juice.