Chapter 216: Take a trip with your lordship
The empress dowager wanted the imperial edict to be sent to Murong Wanru's hometown, but Murong Wanru's family members had all been disposed of by Grand Concubine Yi. No, it was more accurate to say that Murong Wanru's home was none other than Tianning's Imperial Family. The empress dowager's unusual way of doing things put both Grand Concubine Yi and Han Yunxi on alert. Mother-in-law and daughter-in-law exchanged glances briefly, afraid to linger long as they came to a tacit understanding.
Had this old empress dowager discovered the thread of a spider and the trail of a horse1? Did she call on them today just to test Grand Concubine Yi?
Faced with such a test, nobody would be more flustered than Grand Concubine Yi herself, yet she wasn't so easy to deal with. Even if her heart was filled with terrifying waves, her face didn't show a hint of her unease. She didn't even bother replying to the question, but asked back, "Wanru is now one of Marquis Pingbei's estate's people. It's not proper to send the imperial edict to her hometown, is it?"
But the empress dowager was even more ingenious with her reply. "That's what I thought as well, but the emperor insisted so. The emperor must have his considerations as well, so I didn't think to pry into his thoughts."
Emperor Tianhui's thoughts?
Han Yunxi was even more amazed by these words. She could ascertain that both him and the empress dowager had to know something about Murong Wanru's origins. Even if they didn't, they suspected something. Otherwise, the empress dowager wouldn't say her words so bluntly here today. This wasn't sounding them out at all, but threatening them outright.
Grand Concubine Yi was as steady as Mt. Tai as she laughed softly. "Since it was the emperor's idea, then we'll do as the emperor says. But back then, I took Wanru from the empress's hands. I don't know much about her family. Now that she's in a coma, it might be better to ask the empress instead."
Han Yunxi secretly admired Grand Concubine Yi. At this critical juncture, she not only held onto her nerves, but purposely brought up the empress again. This made the empress dowager's smug smile stiffen a few degrees.
"What's this? All these years and Wanru's never met with her family before?" the empress dowager questioned.
"Those are her own matters. You know as well that I detest those vulgar farmer and peasant types coming here to claim ties of kinship. The Duke of Qin's estate has its own established rules, so even if Wanru had contact with her family, she would've done it in secret." Grand Concubine Yi wore an expression of disdain, leaning back stately against her chair. Her careless and casual manner made it impossible for the empress dowager to question her closely.
The empress dowager and Grand Concubine Yi were both shrewd old women who could keep their cool. Yet on the side, Li mama couldn't hold back and hastened to ask, "Since that's the case, we'll have to have the palace people look into the matter."
Grand Concubine Yi nodded her head, indicating that she had no objections. A complicated look flitted past the empress dowager's eyes. She didn't ask any more questions, but spoke a few more niceties before rising to return to the palace. As soon as she left, the staid and steady Grand Concubine Yi felt her legs shook right after she stood up. She fell back in her chair with a white face as she stared dazedly at Han Yunxi. A long time passed before she managed to speak.
"How did she suspect?"
"Now isn't the time to find out why she's suspicious. We need to figure out where Mama Su is!" Han Yunxi could be considered clearheaded in spite of the situation.
The empress dowager must have investigated Murong Wanru's family and found no people before coming over to feel them out. She must have grasped some sort of information to have the guts to warn them so aggressively. This wasn't the most frightening thing. No, what was more terrifying was that the empress dowager's words had hinted without a doubt that Emperor Tianhui was fixated on this issue as well. As soon as she recalled that cold, cruel, and serious emperor, Han Yunxi had to shiver. She and Long Feiye had already offended him half to death. If he had some sort of advantage of them, the consequences would be unthinkable. Right now, Mama Su was the only person who knew of the events from that year. She was living evidence!
"Have you found her?" Grand Concubine Yi asked hastily. She had no idea that it wasn't Han Yunxi, but Long Feiye, who was doing the searching.
Han Yunxi hadn't seen Long Feiye for days now, so she wasn't sure of the situation. After some hesitation, she comforted Grand Concubine Yi, "Keep calm. Even if they know of Mama Su's existence, there's no guarantee they can find her."
But this only made Grand Concubine Yi more anxious. "No, she has the 《Daily Records of the Imperial Harem》as well as the 《Record of Personnel》. Mama Su was a servant in the palace for so many years that she must have left plenty of information behind. She'll have a much easier time finding her than me."
Grand Concubine Yi had thought of looking through the 《Daily Records of the Imperial Harem》and 《Record of Personnel》 as well, but these items were in the empress dowager's hands. She didn't dare to startle the snake by striking the grass. Moreover, after the late emperor's death, such archives were taken care of by the empress dowager. She couldn't get her hands on them even if she wanted to. She always thought that no one suspected Wanru's origins. So many years had passed that she assumed everything had sank like a stone in the sea, but as it turned out, the best laid plans of Men were nothing before the Heavens. Wanru had even teamed up with the empress dowager. When she calmed down to think, she realized that it wouldn't be odd for the empress dowager to suspect Wanru. With the empress dowager's personality, she'd definitely investigate Wanru to the end before making use of her.
Han Yunxi had no idea about 《Daily Records of the Imperial Harem》or the 《Record of Personnel》. But by now she had realized the seriousness of the situation. After leaving Grand Concubine Yi with a few comforting words, Han Yunxi didn't dare delay. She ran straight to the Hibiscus Courtyard to find Long Feiye, but didn't catch a hint of him. Instead, she discovered that her Leisurely Cloud Pavilion had been dismantled! Han Yunxi had always thought she would be unmoved by great changes, but her heart couldn't help but tighten in pain at the sight.
Was that fellow drawing a line of demarcation between them? Would he never let her move back and tell her to give up on him forever? If he didn't care, why tell her about his secret with the Tang Clan and let her closer to him? Han Yunxi stood by the front yard of the Leisurely Cloud Pavilion for awhile before quickly ignoring everything. Then she rushed to the Solitary Enclosure. She was neither tardy nor early, because she arrived just as Long Feiye was preparing to leave. Though they hadn't seen each other for days, he was still the same as always: cold and detached, haughty and aloof, venerable without compare. She didn't treat him as a stranger, but launched straight into a concise summary about the empress dowager's visit.
"They've definitely gotten hold of something. Otherwise, the empress dowager wouldn't act so rashly." She was very impatient.
In contrast, he wasn't in a rush at all. Coldly he said, "You're even more worried than Grand Concubine Yi."
Han Yunxi felt uncomfortable hearing such words, but readily admitted, "Of course I'm worried. Dozens of lives within the Duke of Qin's estate rests on this matter, including mine. I don't want to fall into Emperor Tianhui's hands."
"That's reasonable," Long Feiye nodded in satisfaction. He didn't bother to explain himself, but said, "Go back and wait for news."
"Then I'll be waiting for Your Highness's good news." She didn't ask much or say anything superfluous, but left as soon as she turned around, leaving the image of her natural and unrestrained back. Yet just as she was about to step out the gates, Long Feiye suddenly called her back.
Han Yunxi turned around. "What other instructions does Your Highness have?"
"Since you don't want to fall into Emperor Tianhui's hands, take a trip with your lordship," Long Feiye said coldly, his mood unreadable.
Go with him to find Mama Su? He got information?
Han Yunxi was still deep in thought by the time Long Feiye got on his horse and reached her side. He didn't explain a thing, but extended a hand towards her.
Fine, she'd go then. It's not like she was afraid of him.
Without the slightest hesitation, Han Yunxi gave her own small hand to his. Her hand was very cold, slender and nearly boneless. But his hand was even colder, its fingers clearly defined. When their hands met, it created a mysterious mutual attraction that made both of them very comfortable. As soon as she got on the horse, he let go of her hand to wrap around her waist, the other holding the reins. They then sped along on his horse. Against his warm embrace, Han Yunxi felt that she could stay cool and collected, but in the end she was overwhelmed. Submerged in that familiar scent, her mind gradually drifted away until she lost all sense of how they eventually arrived at Medicine City.
Finally, Han Yunxi grew curious. "What are we doing here?"
"We got news that Mama Su is a servant at Medicine City's Mu Family. The palace will be taking her away tonight," Long Feiye said simply as he went to a shadowy ambush spot by the city gates.
Han Yunxi found this very unexpected. Mama Su had somehow found her way to a spot in Medicine City. She was even more surprised by the fact that they'd gotten the intel so quickly. No wonder the empress dowager had been so arrogant when she visited the Duke of Qin's estate. But on second thought, that wasn't right either. If the empress dowager hadn't gotten her hands on the person, why would she act so lofty? Wasn't she afraid of startling the snake by hitting the grass?
Han Yunxi sensed something off about the whole affair. She was about to ask more questions when the city gates opened to reveal a carriage slowly rolling out. A few black-robed experts flanked it in front and behind the vehicle. At one glance, one could tell that the carriage came from the palace.
As soon as the carriage left the city gates, it sped up. Long Feiye had his horse give chase and quickly left Medicine City behind them as they entered into a patch of dark woods. Making a move here naturally wouldn't alert the denizens of Medicine City. Han Yunxi expected Long Feiye to start anytime now. Unexpectedly, the carriage before them suddenly came to a stop. All of the black robed experts turned to face them, as if they expected them to follow long beforehand. Han Yunxi was astonished, but Long Feiye was unperturbed as he slowed to a halt.
What's going on?
She only saw a black robed expert prostrate himself by the side of the carriage, while the person inside used his back as a footrest to gracefully descend. As it turned out, a cold and elegant beauty had arrived. She was a head taller than Han Yunxi and dressed in a fiery red qipao that hugged her body. Its high collar accentuated the graceful curves of her neck, while the slit on one side nearly stretched to her thigh. A casual step was enough to hint at the long, shapely legs within, making one restless from the sight. This woman not only had fine proportions, but a beautiful and charming face that stirred the senses.
Someone once said that a qipao was a restrictive piece of clothing. Those with slits lower than the knee were worn by unmarried daughters of wealthy families or noble houses who never left their homes or took a step into others' houses. The dress limited their mobility so that they were forced to take small, quick, lotus-flower steps. As policies on qipao relaxed, their slits reached up to the knees. Those were worn by women such as the lady of the house or a housewife for the pure reason of convenience while doing work. But a qipao like this one with slits up to the thigh were usually reserved for prostitutes greeting their guests.
Despite that, this red-robed woman didn't have the air of a prostitute at all. She was icy and refined, emanating an innate sense of superiority. Her prideful eyes and self confidence were enough for Han Yunxi to realize her origins weren't ordinary. There was no way this woman was Mama Su. Immediately, Han Yunxi understood that this was a trap. The empress dowager had intentionally leaked the news to lure Long Feiye here!
Still, she wasn't much worried after seeing Long Feiye's calm reaction.
The red-robed woman gave a disdainful glance at Han Yunxi before her eyes rested on Long Feiye. Her cold expression immediately turned warm and soft as she bantered, "Your Highness Duke of Qin is actually sharing the same horse with a woman. Is Shuang'er2 having a nightmare?"
Han Yunxi was originally planning to standby and watch how Long Feiye dealt with the situation, yet the other party not only recognized him, but criticized her directly. She could see the mix of love and hate in the woman's eyes. In reality, she and Long Feiye just happened to be riding on the same horse. That didn't mean anything.
Still, since the woman had already spoke such words, how could she back down in exchange?
1. thread of a spider and the trail of a horse () - zhusi maji, idiom meaning clues, traces.
2. Shuang'er () - Shuang means "frost," Er is a diminutive that means "youngster, child," or added to a name to denote a cute nickname.