Chapter 199: Older ginger is spicier
With Gu Beiyue personally here to give free treatments, the Han family's south clinic grew explosively popular. Aside from the wealthy types in the queue, many high officials and noble lords, as well as relatives of the imperial family, hurried over in hopes of getting a turn. The fact that Gu Beiyue was doing this under the Han family's name was basically overlooked.
He was the head physician of the Imperial Physician Courtyard and Emperor Tianhui's personal court physician. Without Emperor Tianhui's appointment, who else could invite him out unless he himself hadn't honored the person with his presence? The empress dowager got the news even before Murong Wanru had arrived. Her scouts had sent her constant updates of the hustle at the south clinic, angering her to the point that she couldn't even sit still. Her fury grew and grew until she cracked.
"Someone, call Gu Beiyue. Just say I'm feeling, very, uncomfortable, and want him here immediately!" the empress dowager ordered between gritted teeth.
An eunuch was about to run off when Li mama hastened to stop him. "Mistress, you can't, it's impermissible!"
"How is it impermissible? He's turned his elbows out1 and is getting an official salary from the palace while helping the Han family. Don't think I'm afraid to touch him just because of his superb medical skills!" the empress dowager had been angered to her breaking point.
"Esteemed empress dowager, they're treating patients for free. All of the city's citizens are watching. If you summon Imperial Physician Gu back just like that, it'll leave a bad impression!"
Li mama's reminder finally calmed her down. Her words were right. It was free treatment for all patients, so if she pulled Gu Beiyue back in public eye and Han Yunxi took the chance to smear her name, the citizens' mouths wouldn't spare the empress dowager. Rising to her feet, the empress dowager began pacing back and forth. She couldn't act rashly, but she wasn't willing to reconcile to this, either.
"Is this Gu Beiyue really an idiot, or just pretending to be one? See how I'll put him in his place when he gets back!"
In the midst of her anger, Murong Wanru arrived. She was about to report as she entered, but the empress dowager's dark face told her that this situation wasn't a good time. Still, she was anxious and wanted to explain.
"Esteemed empress dowager, Wanru already prepared everything in advance. This time, Han Yunxi was supposed to lose her reputation, completely suppressing the Han Clan, but I didn't expect Imperial Physician Gu to actually..."
Since empress dowager couldn't call back Gu Beiyue right now, she changed the topic. "Get rid of your rudimentary acting! Han Yunxi isn't so easy to deal with. Don't underestimate her, understand?"
Murong Wanru was very unconvinced, but she didn't dare retort. She knelt down hastily. "Wanru has always bore esteemed empress dowager's teachings firmly in her mind. Neither have I ever underestimated the enemy, but this time..."
"So what if it's this time? You've seen Han Yunxi's poison and medical skills, but you still wanted to plot against her during her free treatments. I was the one who overestimated you. Or is it that you've grown lax and stupid after getting married?" The empress dowager's tone of voice, along with her question, obviously carried implications of different meanings. Murong Wanru had only recently married, so how could she have gotten "lax?"
Murong Wanru's heart trembled in terror. She was trying to figure out how to reply when the empress dowager turned the topic away with a ridiculing sneer. "The vice-president of the Ministry of Personnel is a cushy job. A few days ago, Marquis Pingnan's2 estate and third-rank minister's estate both brought this matter to me. I was still hesitating over who to grant the post to, but who knew...hehe, your older brother is really quite capable!"
As expected, this old empress dowager had been closely following the matters of Marquis Pingbei's estate!
"Esteemed empress dowager, set your mind at ease. Wanru knows what to do. Please give Wanru a bit more time. As long as I find a chance, Wanru definitely won't..."
This was already the third time that Han Yunxi had blocked the empress dowager. But this time, she didn't denounce Wanru angrily. Instead, her lips curled up into a mocking lilt as she beckoned the girl to come closer. Truthfully speaking, this old woman was far harder to serve than Grand Concubine Yi. Murong Wanru couldn't see through her at all, much less gain her favor. She rose and quickly walked over, but the empress dowager just grabbed her hand and pulled her closer.
This was the first time they'd been so close to each other. What did the empress dowager want to tell her? Murong Wanru's heart hammered in her chest as she was filled with a terrible premonition.
"Wanru, how about I point out a clear path for you?" the empress dowager's voice was very, very soft, yet oozing threateningly.
A clear path? Does the empress dowager have a good idea on how to deal with Han Yunxi?
Though Murong Wanru was flustered, she felt a tiny trace of joy and hastened to reply, "Wanru is slow-witted and stupid, may esteemed empress dowager give me guidance."
The empress dowager's smile deepened as her voice grew even lower. "Wanru, suppose that Grand Concubine Yi...were to die by Han Yunxi's hands. Would the Duke of Qin forgive her then?"
Murong Wanru abruptly backed away at these words, her face turning pale in an instant. She covered her mouth, afraid that she'd cry out, startling the people in the surrounding area. She never thought the empress dowager would be so direct and ask for Grand Concubine Yi's life!
Seeing her shock, the empress dowager simply picked up her tea and leisurely took a sip. "What is it, are you frightened?"
Murong Wanru could admit that she really was scared. She'd already betrayed Grand Concubine Yi by seeking refuge with the empress dowager, but she had never thought of truly threatening Grand Concubine Yi's life. After all, she'd been adopted by her when she was six years old. Without Grand Concubine Yi, she didn't even know if she would've lived until this day, much less where she'd be. She might resent Grand Concubine Yi now, but her ultimate target was still Han Yunxi! Murong Wanru stared blankly at the empress dowager without saying a word.
A flash of unhappiness flitted past the empress dowager's eyes, though she maintained her calm demeanor. It almost seemed like she was making light talk. "The Duke of Qin might have given the position at the Ministry of Personnel, but I'm also capable of revoking Marquis Pingbei's title..."
Murong Wanru's legs turned weak as she collapsed to a kneeling position. "Esteemed empress dowager, have mercy! Have mercy!"
The empress dowager couldn't stop the Duke of Qin from giving Zhangsun Che the position of vice president of the Ministry of Personnel, but she had ways to make the emperor remove Marquis Pingbei's title. Without the hereditary position of marquis or its accompanying family properties and fields, they'd be able to beat Marquis Pingbei's estate to death! Would the Duke of Qin interfere in court matters against the emperor just for her sake then? Even Murong Wanru didn't believe it. The fate of Marquis Pingbei's estate was tied to her own fate. Their honor and disgrace, rise and fall, was her honor and disgrace, rise and fall. She couldn't afford to shoulder such consequences!
"You're a smart child. Since I've pointed out a clear path for you, go back and think well on how you plan to walk it." The empress dowager didn't give Murong Wanru any more chances to speak and waved a hand, dismissing her. She sighed and said, "Aye...remember well, my patience is limited. I'll only give you three months' time. Only success is permitted, not failure..."
Murong Wanru didn't even know how she made her way out. Her ears echoed with the empress dowager's words. Revoking Marquis Pingbei's title...revoking Marquis Pingbei's title... It was only after the cold wind hit her face out the door that Murong Wanru recovered her senses. But as soon as she did, she shook her head. No, she definitely wouldn't let such a thing happen!
"If Grand Concubine Yi died by Han Yunxi's hands...if Grand Concubine Yi died by Han Yunxi's hands?" she muttered to herself. All of a sudden, she realized her schemes and plots were really as rudimentary as the empress dowager had said. They were nothing more than cheap tricks. The empress dowager's method hit two hawks with one arrow. This was truly scheming.
In the end, old ginger was spicier!
A sinister smile rose on Murong Wanru's face. By now, she'd pushed all thoughts of Grand Concubine Yi's kindness to back of her head. She only had three months' worth of time. Confront a person with the danger of death and he or she would fight for the chance to live. She wouldn't allow herself to fail!
It looked like she'd have to spend plenty of time visiting the Duke of Qin's estate in the coming days.
Murong Wanru's lackeys didn't make their move, and Gu Beiyue was there as well, so the free treatment day passed by smoothly. Fortunately, Seventh Madame had the foresight to limit the number of patients and refuse the people at the end of the queue. Otherwise, Han Yunxi and Gu Beiyue wouldn't even be able to finish by tomorrow night. This time's free treatment was a resounding cannonshot. Han Yunxi didn't know that her success this time would spread her name deep into Cloud Realm Continent's medical community. Even the classrooms of Cloud Realm Medical Academy would mention her.
The free treatments had just ended when people started making reservations for the 15th of next month. Some asked whether the other three clinics would hold the same event and which doctors they'd invite. Han Yunxi busied herself with cleaning things up as she glanced at Gu Beiyue, asking in a low voice, "Imperial Physician Gu, will there be a next time?"
Gu Beiyue smiled silently, but Han Yunxi knew that next time would definitely come. She gave him an especially sweet smile. Seeing her so happy, Gu Beiyue felt happy as well. Actually, it wasn't just next time, but next next time as well. If possible, he wished that Han Yunxi could keep up her philanthropic project forever.
"Esteemed wangfei, you can stick up the proclamations tonight. In the future, this one will accompany you for free treatments on the 15th of every month."
"Gu Beiyue, you've got some courage. You really don't fear that your master in the palace will find trouble for you?" Of course Han Yunxi wanted him to come, but she didn't want to hurt him.
"Esteemed wangfei, be at ease. I have ways to deal with it." Gu Beiyue's smile was very warm, but gave off a soothing aura of strength.
This probably counted as "executing first, reporting to the emperor later"-to act first and then tell afterwards. Putting up the proclamations would inform the whole city of the news. If the empress dowager or emperor wanted to stop him then, they wouldn't find it so easy. As to what he'd have to deal with after returning to the palace, it wasn't something he wanted to consider at the moment.
"Then let's make sure to see each other next time!" Han Yunxi said, her worries at rest.
When little Yi'er heard these words, he thought that Gu Beiyue was leaving and ran over to hug him. "Beiyue gege3, my mother said you've worked the hardest today. She wants to invite you home for dinner, so you can't leave!"
Han Yunxi raised her eyebrow at this little brat, but asked seriously, "When did you start calling him Beiyue gege, why don't I know? He worked the hardest, does that mean I didn't work hard?"
Little Yi'er was still bashful and flushed, before darting to hide behind Gu Beiyue. Today he'd helped out at Beiyue gege's side and found him to be the warmest, most amiable person in the world. He dearly wished that Beiyue gege could be his brother-in-law, but unfortunately, he already had one. He'd never met his brother-in-law before, but he heard many other people say that that person was the proudest, most unfeeling and aloof fellow in the world.
Gu Beiyue smiled without speaking, so little Yi'er carefully stuck out his head and said, "Big sis, mother was afraid that Beiyue gege wouldn't honor us with his presence, so she wanted you to invite him."
Han Yunxi couldn't ridicule such words, while Gu Beiyue laughed out loud. He pulled Yi'er in front of him and rubbed his little head to tease him. "Then ask your big sister whether or not she's inviting me."
Little Yi'er was earnest as he turned towards Han Yunxi. "Big sis, hurry and invite Beiyue gege, mother prepared a lot of yummy things to eat!"
This child, was he more smart or more foolish?
Han Yunxi smiled helplessly. "Gu Beiyue, will you honor me with your presence?"
"This one will be privileged to." Of course, Gu Beiyue accepted.
1. turned his elbows out () - gebozhou wangwai guai, a saying that someone's helping out outsiders/other people rather than insiders/his own people.
2. Marquis Pingnan () - pingnan hou, first mentioned in chapter 149, also known as the South Lord. His son Li Muge attended the Plum Blossom Meet with Marquis Pingbei's (North Lord) son Zhangsun Che, Murong Wanru's current husband.
3. gege () - literally 'older brother,' also used as an affectionate address to refer to slightly older males that the speaker knows well, even if there is no familial relation.