Chapter 326: Homicide, the empress dowager's invitation
Su Xiaoyu might be small in years, but her voice was quite loud. She'd only climbed halfway up the stairs when Han Yunxi heard her beyond the door.
"Who?" Long Feiye woke up immediately.
"A little girl I rescued, her name is Su Xiaoyu," Han Yunxi replied truthfully.
Chu Xifeng should've told Long Feiye about Su Xiaoyu after investigating her origins, but he had forgotten because he'd been too busy recently. Long Feiye let go of Han Yunxi and rose to his feet, with Han Yunxi following him hastily off the bed. By now, Su Xiaoyu had already reached the door.
"Esteemed wangfei, it's time to get up. This servant's brewed tea for you."
Han Yunxi had a habit of getting up early, so she should be drinking tea in the courtyard by this time. Naturally, Su Xiaoyu had no idea that Long Feiye was here, but her good intentioned interruption really left Han Yunxi depressed.
Of all the times to pick, she chose this one! She'd have to make sure and tell the girl not to come as she pleased.
"Carry it to the courtyard and prepare an extra cup," Han Yunxi said from behind the door.
Su Xiaoyu gave a start and asked doubtfully, "Prepare an extra cup?"
Who was it?
She really didn't react in time. Her original plan was to seize a chance help Han Yunxi change her clothes since she'd gotten up later than usual. That way, she could check her body at the same time. Unfortunately, she lost her chance once again.
Su Xiaoyu could only resentfully descend the stairs. But when she saw Long Feiye and Han Yunxi coming out together, she shuddered involuntarily.
The Duke of Qin!
Rumors had said he doted on Han Yunxi. When Su Xiaoyu first came to the estate, she was terrified at the prospect of meeting him. It was only after she came to Leisurely Cloud Pavilion that she realized Han Yunxi and Long Feiye lived in separate buildings.
But when did the Duke of Qin arrive? Was he sleeping upstairs last night?
Perhaps it was her guilty conscience at work, but Su Xiaoyu narrowly knocked over one of the teacups. Fortunately, she caught it in time. Long Feiye's icy gaze rested on her as soon as he stepped out the door. He took every one of her movements into consideration, so he naturally noticed her nervousness. Despite being flustered, Su Xiaoyu was still well-trained. She decided to make a mistake to make the best of it. Her hand trembled, and the teacup fell to the ground.
Immediately, she fell to her knees without even daring to lift her head. "Your Highness Duke of Qin, have mercy! Have mercy! This servant didn't do it on purpose! May Your Highness Duke of Qin have mercy!"
Long Feiye stared at her coldly without a word. Han Yunxi quickly stepped forward and said, "You can rise. Hurry and clean this up, it's alright."
Su Xiaoyu timidly lifted her head to look at Han Yunxi, shaking her head to show that she didn't dare.
"If I say it's fine, then it's fine. You can withdraw." Han Yunxi didn't think much of Su Xiaoyu's behavior, because the girl was always frightened when Long Feiye was brought up. Han Yunxi would be more suspicious if Su Xiaoyu was acting normally right now.
Su Xiaoyu seemed to breathe a sigh of relief when she heard the word 'withdraw.' She stood up but kept her body bowed and retreated without even turning her back. Yet Long Feiye suddenly spoke up.
Su Xiaoyu seemed to go weak at the knees and crashed to the ground. She began to cry. "Esteemed wangfei, save me..."
Han Yunxi didn't know whether to laugh or lose her temper. Lil Thing's behavior was embarrassing enough, but here was someone even more embarrassing than her pet. "Your Highness, this girl's heard of your temper before. She's afraid of you," Han Yunxi said with a grin.
"What, does your lordship have a bad temper?" Long Feiye asked coldly.
Su Xiaoyu was trembling nonstop. Her head was bowed so low that it was nearly touching the grass. She didn't utter a peep. By now, Zhao mama had arrived as well. When she saw Long Feiye, she grew puzzled.
"Your Highness, you've come so early!"
Han Yunxi didn't explain. Long Feiye would never explain either, while Su Xiaoyu simply hung her head without daring to say a word. Zhao mama finally noticed the girl kneeling in the grass and laughed out loud. "Your Highness, this child gets frightened easily. It's better if you don't make things difficult for her."
Zhao mama cleaned up the dropped teacup and brewed a fresh pot of green tea, before she said, "Your Highness, esteemed wangfei, please have a seat." At the same time, she murmured next to Long Feiye's ear, "Master, Chu Xifeng's already looked into this girl. She's clear."
Finally, Long Feiye sat down. Zhao mama hastily waved at Su Xiaoyu, hinting that she should withdraw. But Long Feiye simply said, "Have her wait on us."
Zhao mama felt conflicted as her gaze swept over to Han Yunxi.
"Give her some time to get used to things. Chenqie can wait on you!" Han Yunxi said, half-joking, half-pleading. She didn't know why Long Feiye was taking this little girl so seriously. Long Feiye was about to speak up when a sudden sound came from the bushes.
Everyone was astonished. Whose cat is this?
Han Yunxi glanced at Zhao mama, who immediately waved her hands. "We didn't raise any cats."
In the midst of their confusion, a single cat stuck its head out of the bushes. It seemed to be starving, because it kept mewling piteously at the people. Now everyone was stunned.
Isn't this the Persian cat that Emperor Tianhui gave the empress dowager on her birthday? Why is it here?
"Lil Thing! Come out!" Han Yunxi yelled. Who else could have done it but Lil Thing?
Lil Thing had disappeared. No matter how Han Yunxi dug through the covers and boxes upstairs, she couldn't find it. Instead, she found chests full of treasures from the palace. All of them were the empress dowager's presents, including Qinwang Rong's giant luminous-night pearl and the crown prince's blood lingzhi mushroom. Han Yunxi couldn't help but burst into laughter. She didn't know what to say.
Mm, I'll give Lil Thing 32 'Likes!' What a beautiful job! The old empress dowager must be depressed to death right now!
The corner of Long Feiye's mouth twitched at the same sight until it almost resembled a smile. Naturally, they could keep all the gifts there, but the cat had to be sent back! If anyone caught them with it, they'd be pinned with a sizable crime. Emperor Tianhui might have given up on sending Han Yunxi to the western mountains, but that didn't mean he and the empress dowager would drop the matter. As long as there was a chance to pin them with a crime, they'd do it without mercy. After all, Tianning was still under Emperor Tianhui's reign. He only feared Long Feiye, but that didn't mean he couldn't move against him. Throughout history, countless powerful, capable, wealthy types had opposed the sovereign, but few of them had met with good ends.
Very soon, Long Feiye had a guard return the stolen Persian cat. Han Yunxi generously kept the other treasures for Lil Thing. As long as Lil Thing didn't eat them all, what was its was hers! Thanks to the interruption, Zhao mama had a chance to take away Su Xiaoyu. Long Feiye didn't ask many questions, but simply told Han Yunxi, "Don't let her wake you up so early in the mornings."
Han Yunxi gave a start before she laughed. So that's why you were unhappy!
Long Feiye pretended not to notice, his expression as cool as ever. He was supposed to be the awkward party, but Han Yunxi soon felt herself turning embarrassed from her laughter.
"Chenqie obeys," she replied seriously. She wouldn't know, but Long Feiye found Chu Xifeng later that day to ask him all about Su Xiaoyu.
Thus, the matter of the western mountains passed. Han Yunxi would only go to the Imperial Physician Courtyard if she needed to get some medicinal ingredients. With her status and Gu Beiyue's support, she could take as many ingredients as she wanted. No one dared to complain. Aside from raising the highly corrosive poison plants in her courtyard, Han Yunxi spent the rest of her time researching Beauty's Blood. She had visited General Baili's estate a few more times. Baili Mingxiang was the same as ever, though one of her poisons had flared up during a visit. Since Han Yunxi couldn't help her with anything, she ended up going back to the Duke of Qin's estate.
Today, she was going to General Baili's estate as well, but someone came from the Imperial Physician Courtyard to tell her that someone had died in the palace. The cause of death was poison, so they wanted her to have a look. Because it was the Imperial Physician Courtyard extending the invitation, Han Yunxi knew she was being summoned in the capacity as one of their doctors. If that was the case, she had no room to refuse.
Still, she was puzzled. What kind of person had died from poison to merit her attention? On the way there, she found out that the victim was the bold and celebrated Noble Consort Yun. The empress dowager wanted her to personally uncover the culprit.
Emperor Tianhui had a total of four Noble Consorts: Noble Consort Xiao, Noble Consort Xue, Noble Consort Ning, and Noble Consort Yun. Noble Consort Xiao was the mother of the second imperial prince and the daughter of the Prime Minister of the Left. Noble Consort Xue was the daughter of the emperor's maternal uncle by his concubine as well as the empress's close sister. Noble Consort Ning was the younger sister of the Great General of the Calvary. Of the quartet, Noble Consort Yun had the humblest background, being a daughter of a senior provincial official. Despite this, she'd always been more favored than either Noble Consort Xue or Noble Consort Ning. That was because she was braver than either of them and dared to say and do things that no one else would. Her unique character had attracted Emperor Tianhui, so that she skipped multiple ranks from Talented Lady (, or cairen) to Noble Consort.
At the empress dowager's birthday banquet, the Prime Minister of the Left had publicly supported Long Feiye, making the most favored Noble Consort Xiao lose all her imperial favor. In her place came Noble Consort Yun. Han Yunxi's strongest suspicions went to Noble Consort Xiao as soon as she knew that Noble Consort Yun had died of poison.
Of course, things couldn't be that simple. If that was the case, it wouldn't be an imperial harem matter at all. She should rejoice that Long Feiye hadn't taken any concubines. Otherwise, she'd have to face the fierce struggles of a harem as well! Han Yunxi's carriage reached the palace, where she descended to switch over to a sedan chair. At the same time, the second imperial prince and Prime Minister of the Left, Xiao Zhengxin both came over to meet her.
"Esteemed wangfei, Yuru's1 been framed! Esteemed wangfei, for the sake of His Highness, you must support Yuru!" Xiao Zhengxin said, his face filled with anxiety. Yuru was the name of Noble Consort Xiao.
"Isn't the investigation still ongoing? They've discovered something already?" Han Yunxi asked, bewildered.
"Esteemed wangfei, they discovered poison in Yuru's palace. Her servants confessed everything as well. The evidence and witness testimony are both there!"
Emperor Tianhui had no way to touch Xiao Zhengxin directly, thanks to his power in court and his backing by the Duke of Qin. However, Xiao Zhengxin couldn't bear to see his only daughter banished to the Cold Palace! He'd already told Yuru three times, but she was still careless. In the end, enemy agents had been planted in her own palace. The evidence had obviously been planted there on purpose, and the witness testimony was none other than one of the planted moles. After the empress had lost her mind, the empress dowager had assumed control over the imperial harem again. Would the empress dowager let Yuru off lightly, now that she had evidence and testimony in hand?
The second imperial prince competed with the crown prince for the emperor's father, but the empress dowager long had designs against the Xiao Clan. Add that to their behavior at her birthday banquet, and she could hardly wait to get revenge. Moreover, once Noble Consort Yun was dead and Noble Consort Xiao banished to the Cold Palace, there would only be Noble Consorts Xue and Ning left. Noble Consort Ning had a placid personality to begin with, and spent most of her time praying to Buddha. She didn't compete for favor, so that meant only Noble Consort Xue would have any real power in the palace. Thanks to the empress's insanity, there were multiple people eyeing her now-vacant position. The empress dowager naturally wanted a daughter from her own family to take the seat.
Han Yunxi was naturally aware of such complicated relationships. She was about to speak when the second imperial prince suddenly cried out, "Esteemed wangfei, nothing can happen to my mufei. Otherwise, His Highness will definitely blame you!"
1. Yuru () - Yu is "jade," Ru is "endure, bear."