Chapter 172: Pestilence, popular anxiety
Seeing Zhao mama so anxious, Han Yunxi assumed that there were developments in the palace, but the mama only shook her head as she panted for breath.
Han Yunxi grew impatient. "Zhao mama, say something!"
Zhao mama heaved for breath. "Esteemed wangfei, Grand Concubine Yi she...she wants...to write a letter asking Princess Rongle for help!"
"What?!" Han Yunxi was stunned, afraid to believe her own ears.
"Really! A mama from the Peony Courtyard said so... Esteemed wangfei, we can't do things like this, it's too disgraceful!" Zhao mama was both anxious and angry.
Han Yunxi was even more furious and went to the Peony Courtyard without another word. If even the servants understood this as losing face, Grand Concubine Yi must have gone crazy or stupid. She actually thought of such an idea. As a man, even a common citizen would find it humiliating to be forced into marriage, much less a lofty figure like Long Feiye. He'd already refused the decree, so if Grand Concubine Yi brought up the matter with Princess Rongle, wouldn't she invite dishonor?
Suppose Princess Rongle publicized the news? Then it wouldn't just be Long Feiye losing face, but Tianning Country as well. If one took 10,000 steps back and assumed Princess Rongle agreed to drop the matter of marriage, would Long Feiye accept her sentiments? Would Emperor Tianhui easily let him go? In the end, it'd still be Long Feiye bearing the brunt of the insult!
Han Yunxi rushed into the Peony Courtyard in a huff, where Grand Concubine Yi was actually writing a letter in her study. She had no time to bother with details as she burst in through the doors. "Mufei, don't harm His Highness!"
Grand Concubine Yi's hand trembled as she drew a large black streak across the papers, ruining her letter.
"Mufei, His Highness definitely wouldn't agree to such a thing. He might've been forced to marry, but now we're asking the other party to give it up? What would that count for?" Han Yunxi said, panting with rage.
Grand Concubine Yi set down her brush, simmering with anger. "Han Yunxi, what did you just say? Exactly who was the one to hurt Feiye? You actually ran over here to find fault with me?"
"Just who was it that hurt Feiye?!"
As Grand Concubine Yi spoke, she walked out and drew closer to Han Yunxi. "Tell me! Who hurt Feiye?"
The furious Han Yunxi finally sobered up and dropped her gaze in silence. Grand Concubine Yi suddenly shoved her away before tottering back, almost tumbling down herself.
"Han Yunxi, it's all because of you! You shameless woman! If you had some integrity and didn't barge into our house, none of these things would've happened!"
"Han Yunxi, do you know? The emperor will lock him up for the rest of his life. His Majesty's been waiting for the chance!"
Grand Concubine Yi had already staggered back significantly after her words. She bumped into the table behind her and used it to support herself, her other hand pinching her forehead in agony. She wasn't an idiot. Of course she knew that asking Princess Rongle for help was a stupid idea, but she had no other ways. Right now, she didn't even have a way to see the Duke of Qin. The situation was completely unclear. If Emperor Tianhui really resolved to lock him up there forever, then he might go even further in the future.
The Duke of Qin's power would slowly disintegrate, and the Duke of Qin's estate would gradually lose its position in the imperial house. She couldn't bear any of that happening. The late emperor had already passed away. Besides her and the empress dowager, all of the other concubines were either buried alive with the dead or sent off to watch his tomb. The only person she could rely on was her son.
Han Yunxi saw the despair in the ever elegant and poised Grand Concubine Yi, and couldn't help but feel bad in her heart. Mother-in-law and daughter-in-law stood in silence before Grand Concubine Yi raised her head. "Han Yunxi, do you have any other ideas besides asking Princess Rongle?"
Han Yunxi really wanted to answer, but she couldn't say anything after opening her mouth.
Did she have an idea?
In both this life and her last, she'd never given considerations to positions of birth or family background. She disdained those who used such things to get what they want. But even so, she deeply desired to have such respected positions of her own-to have a strong family as her backup and a path to accomplish things!
Unfortunately, she didn't. She didn't have anything...
Her own family needed her support to exist in this world!
Grand Concubine Yi didn't rebuke Han Yunxi any further. She turned around to rip up the letter, before leaving with a soft laugh. Han Yunxi left in a daze, wandering aimlessly in the courtyards until Steward Xia ran over in a rush.
"Esteemed wangfei, esteemed wangfei!"
Han Yunxi had no reaction. Grand Concubine Yi had already said that much. Besides Long Feiye compromising, what other good news could there be? But how could that fellow possibly relent with his type of temper?
Steward Xia hastily ran in front of Han Yunxi. "Esteemed wangfei, something's happened, something big. Your servant couldn't find esteemed imperial concubine, so I can only find you!"
"What's happened that's so big?" Han Yunxi finally asked.
"His Majesty's maternal uncle's second wife paid a visit to her parents on the 15th of the new year. But she caught the plague and brought it back. Meanwhile, that Imperial Uncle's family's been secretly quarantining themselves until yesterday, when their third son fell ill as well. I heard he was infected!"
Han Yunxi had finally recovered her senses by this point. In the past, the one thing more frightening that war, famine, or flood was pestilence! Actually, even people in the present would turn pale at the mention of such a thing.
"There's a plague outside the capital? Why hasn't anyone heard of it yet?" Han Yunxi asked.
"Esteemed wangfei, the Imperial Uncle's second wife's family is from Jun City, some distance away from the capital. I heard there's a small village there that had an epidemic years ago. But they caught it early enough to contain the disease, so the imperial court already secretly..." Steward Xia didn't finish his sentence, but motioned with his hands to indicate a "massacre". Han Yunxi immediately understood.
In the modern day, infectious diseases were contained with quarantines. Patients could even enjoy specialized treatments and nursing care free of charge. Though quarantines existed in the ancient past as well, the victims were rarely rescued. Instead, they'd be burned alive. Even those who came in contact with them without being infected fell prey to the same fate. This was the lamentable fate of medicine science that was behind the times. There was no other choice. That old infected village was probably nothing but ashes by now. Since the second wife caught the disease, it was proof that its vestiges still remained to infect other people.
"Steward Xia, how did you hear about this?" Han Yunxi asked seriously.
"Esteemed wangfei, that third young master is the Imperial Uncle's only son and heir! He's the empress's nephew on her sister's side! Since he's already sick, could a piece of paper still hide the fire? Last night, they even sent over the imperial physicians!" As Steward Xia spoke, he took out a few bundles of medicinal ingredients and added in a low voice, "This is something Imperial Physician Li secretly sent over to make into a decoction. Everyone in the estate must drink it. Also, Imperial Physician Li said over and over again to clean out the rooms and keep them ventilated. It's better to stay home if there's no official business! And definitely do not go to the Imperial Uncle's area!"
Every noble household had its own specially assigned imperial physician. Since Imperial Physician Li had tipped them off with secret information, it was likely the other physicians had done the same. In the end, news of a pestilence couldn't be hidden forever.
The incubation of a pestilence virus varied between different individuals. The duration of the disease followed similar principles, but it usually lasted no more than ten days. Since the pestilence started from the Imperial Uncle's house, it was likely that others beyond the third young master had been infected. In addition, all the places that the second wife and third young master had passed through, along with all the people they met, carried the risk of infection. If one person could infect ten people, ten could infect a hundred more. Who knew how many more would fall ill in the coming days? If it couldn't be controlled, the entire capital would be at risk. Right now, the imperial physicians must be working themselves into a frenzy.
"Do we know what disease it is?" Han Yunxi asked.
Steward Xia was nervous. "Imperial Physician Li didn't say. But esteemed wangfei, since it's a plague, then it's certain... It's better that we report to esteemed imperial concubine right away so our household can make preparations early!"
Han Yunxi examined the medicine that Imperial Physician Li sent over, but couldn't make much of it. After all, she wasn't an expert in such things.
"Mufei's in the back courtyard, go on."
She didn't think much, being too immersed in Long Feiye's affair. To her, that was the truly important event. After dawdling for a while, she told Steward Xia to secretly send a letter to the Han estate before going deep into the flower gardens. As it turned out, things went beyond Han Yunxi's expectations.
A few days later, a duke ranked estate, the North and South Marquis's households, the Xiang estate and a few other old and well-known noble families, along with the palace itself, had news of people falling ill to the plague. It was basically impossible to cover up the information, especially when signs of an epidemic were breaking out amongst the populace as well. Pestilence had spread throughout the capital, going beyond the controllable boundaries for the imperial physicians. Even Gu Beiyue had no way of knowing what disease this was. All of Tianning's capital city seemed shrouded in a dusty hazy as the populace lived on tetherhooks, afraid to go out.
Due to the plague, news of the Duke of Qin's house arrest faded as well. Emperor Tianhui observed the status of the Three-Way Battlefield on one hand while trying to fix the terrible plight of plague in the capital on the other. Although Long Feiye hadn't budged a step in his decision, Emperor Tianhui had no time to worry about him anymore. Right now, he was lost in thought in his study, one hand supporting his forehead. Eunuch Xue suddenly announced his presence before he even entered the room.
"Your Majesty, it's no good! Bad news!"
Emperor Tianhui looked irritably at the door, only to seem Eunuch Xue half stumble inside. The emperor didn't even have time to flip out before Eunuch Xue reported, "Your Majesty, a court lady from the empress dowager's palace lost her mind and died!"
"What?!" Emperor Tianhui seemingly leapt up in shock, then rage. "Hurry and call over Gu Beiyue!"
"Your Majesty, Imperial Physician Gu is at the empress dowager's palace right now," Eunuch Xue said truthfully.
Emperor Tianhui wanted to go over immediately, but Eunuch Xue held him back. "Your Majesty, you mustn't. Imperial Physician Gu is currently burning medicine to sanitize the Peace & Wellness Palace. It's already unclean there!"
Once a sick person appeared in one area, it was proof that the place was dangerous. But this matter concerned his mother's safety, so how could Emperor Tianhui not go look? He hurried towards Peace & Wellness Palace, asking for details along the way. "Everything was fine, so why would there be plague?"
After all, the infected people from the palace had all come back from the Imperial Uncle's estate. They'd long been quarantined away.
Eunuch Xue paused before replying. "Your Majesty, esteemed empress dowager secretly visited the Imperial Uncle's household the day before yesterday. She brought along a court lady with her, the very one who got infected."
That Imperial Uncle was family to both the empress and empress dowager. The empress was none other than the empress dowager's niece on her brother's side. Even the Imperial Uncle's third young master had to call the empress his aunt and the empress dowager his grandmother, both from his father's side!
Although the Imperial Uncle's estate was the last place one should go now, the empress dowager couldn't bear the thought of its own son and heir lying on his deathbed from illness!
Hearing this, Emperor Tianhui's rage towered to the skies. "Ridiculous! It's completely nonsensical!"
When Emperor Tianhui arrived at the Peace & Wellness Palace, Gu Beiyue seemed to be speaking with the empress dowager. When he saw the emperor come in, he stopped talking. Meanwhile, the empress dowager furrowed her brows as her expression turned reluctant.
 Jun City () - Jun means "dredge."
 piece of paper still hide the fire () - zhi hai baodezhu huo, or "could something so flimsy hide something so obvious?"
 Imperial Physician Li () - the imperial physician specially assigned to treat patients from the Duke of Qin's estate. Once treated Han Yunxi after she was nearly starved to death by Grand Concubine Yi.