Chapter 327: The person that Emperor Tianhui fancies
Xiao Zhengxin immediately rebuked the second imperial prince for his impudence. "Tianqing, you cannot be rude to esteemed wangfei!"
Xiao Zhengxin was the second imperial prince's maternal grandfather. If not for family hierarchy, he should be referring to his grandson as Second Imperial Prince. That was his usual custom, but everything had changed. If not for Xiao Zhengxin and the Duke of Qin's backing, Noble Consort Xiao would definitely come to grief much sooner, much less this second imperial prince.
"Grandfather, we're all supporters of the Duke of Qin. Of course she has to save mufei!" the second imperial prince said unhappily. He used to be the most favored imperial son and more popular than the crown prince. But now his status had dropped drastically, so he found things intolerable. Like his Imperial Father, he'd long harbored dissatisfaction towards His Highness Duke of Qin. It was the Crown Prince Long Tianmo who'd respected that man. And yet someone, his family had ended up on the Duke of Qin's side thanks to his grandfather's declaration!
He and mufei had suffered much, thanks to his grandfather concealing everything from them!
The second imperial prince was thoroughly discontent. If possible, he'd choose his Imperial Father, because Emperor Tianhui already had plans to get rid of the crown prince. As for pledging loyalty to the Duke of Qin-he'd already made a fool of himself at the birthday banquet, so how could the man ever let him stand out again?
"Tianqing, you cannot be impudent!" Xiao Zhengxin was stern.
Long Tianqing felt resentful. "In any case, she still has to save mufei!"
Han Yunxi had no idea why a man like Emperor Tianhui had once cast Long Tianmo aside in favor of this idiot! Despite Long Tianmo's long-term illness, his IQ and EQ were better than Long Tianqing's by leaps and bounds!
Of course, when Han Yunxi better understood Emperor Tianhui's choice after she found out about the powers backing up the imperial uncle, Noble Consort Xue's father. But these are words for the future.
"May esteemed wangfei forgive me. For the sake of His Highness, I ask that you save Yuru!" Xiao Zhengxin entreated piteously.
Actually, Long Tianqing's words were completely wrong. It wasn't the Xiao Clan who had helped the Duke of Qin. Rather, the only reason the Xiao Clan had their status and position today-with Xiao Zhengxin as the Prime Minster of the Left and Noble Consort Xiao as a favored consort-was due to the Duke of Qin's help. Han Yunxi knew they were part of Long Feiye's sphere of influence, so of course she'd help even without Xiao Zhengxin asking.
"Don't worry. As long as she's really innocent, I'll definitely reveal the truth!" Han Yunxi said before getting on the palace sedan chair. She didn't argue with Long Tianqing or blame him a bit. Xiao Zhengxin couldn't help but sigh with emotion. Such a tolerant woman, it's no wonder she's the Duke of Qin's proper consort!
Han Yunxi was taken straight to the scene of the crime, Noble Consort Yun's sleeping quarters. There were quite a few people there already: the empress dowager, Noble Consort Xiao, Emperor Tianhui, and a few court ladies. Unexpectedly, Han Yunxi saw Duanmu Baiye, Chu Tianyin, and Chu Qingge there as well!
These were Emperor Tianhui's household matters, so why were these Western Zhou outsiders mixing themselves up in the mess? Wasn't Emperor Tianhui afraid that news of his family scandal would spread?
The empress dowager joyfully received Han Yunxi as she entered. "Yunxi, you've finally come. Everyone's been waiting for you!"
This old empress dowager. Every time she sees me, she's wearing that kindly smile. People who don't know any better might even think we're on close terms!
But Han Yunxi was used to it. She smiled and greeted the old woman. "Yunxi respectfully greets esteemed empress dowager and Your Majesty."
At this, the empress dowager went to support her by the arm. Even if she acted usually acted affectionate in public, she'd never been so intimate before! The chances of her framing Noble Consort Xiao in the first place seemed to rise to 80 to 90 percent possibility. With evidence and a witness on hand, shouldn't the case be wrapped up right again? Why was she even asked to investigate this in the first place? Strange!
Could it be that she'd greedy for the Medicine Fan? What kind of traps has she set?
"Yunxi, the evidence and witness testimony are all here. Noble Consort Xiao is the true culprit behind the poisoning. But Miss Chu here says that's not the case, and that something's wrong about the poison. It's not that I don't believe Miss Chu, just that..." the empress dowager trailed off into a helpless smile. "I can set my worries at rest if I find you."
As it turned out, Noble Consort Yun had succumbed to poison at the same time Emperor Tianhui was meeting with Duanmu Baiye and the Chu siblings in the imperial gardens. When Eunuch Luo made the report, he carelessly allowed Chu Qingge to overhear. Immediately, Chu Qingge professed that she knew the poison arts and volunteered to come have a look. By the time they arrived at the scene, the empress dowager was about to pass the final verdict on Noble Consort Xiao. But Chu Qingge stated that there was a problem with the poison, so they couldn't pass judgment just yet.
Emperor Tianhui had given Noble Consort Xiao the cold shoulder, but he hadn't made any actual moves against her person. Under these circumstances, it would make sense for him to stand with the empress dowager and get rid of Noble Consort Xiao once and for all. Instead, he'd given merit to Chu Qingge's words and wanted her to investigate the case.
The shrewd empress dowager immediately caught a whiff of something suspicious between Emperor Tianhui and Chu Qingge. If her guesses were correct, her lecherous son fancied Chu Qingge!
Chu Qingge was from a high-ranking general's family in Western Zhou. If Emperor Tianhui took her as a wife, she'd definitely be a Noble Consort, if not the empress. That was due to the existing alliance between Western Zhou and Tianning, as well as the fact that she came from a Great General's family. The empress dowager had the reins of the imperial harem tightly in her hands, so she wasn't afraid of anyone doing investigations. Her goal was to push Noble Consort Xue into the position of empress, so how could she allow anyone else to compete with the woman for favor? As a result, the empress dowager thought of Han Yunxi, the very woman who'd thoroughly shamed Chu Qingge at the birthday banquet, to deal with this potential competitor.
Actually, Chu Qingge hadn't volunteered to investigate the case to ingratiate herself with Emperor Tianhui. She was completely ignorant of the fact that Emperor Tianhui had already grown smitten with her when she first played the qin. Neither did she knew about the complicated relationships in his imperial harem. Her reason for wanting to help was simple: she wanted to cause a stir somehow, so Long Feiye would know she was still in the capital. So that Long Feiye would get news of her, somehow!
Han Yunxi might know the poison arts, but so did she!
What Han Yunxi didn't have, she did!
If Long Feiye could gain the support of Western Zhou's Chu Clan, he'd have even more counters against Emperor Tianhui!
Meanwhile, Han Yunxi was still digesting the empress dowager's words when Emperor Tianhui spoke up. "Muhou, Miss Chu's poison skills are consummate. Erchen has confidence in her skills."
Han Yunxi felt even more confused by these words. What were the empress dowager and Emperor Tianhui playing at?
Now it was Chu Qingge's turn to speak. Her voice was cold. "Esteemed empress dowager, the poison found in Noble Consort Xiao's quarters indeed match the one that killed Noble Consort Yun, but it'd take an entire bottle to take someone's life! There's still half a bottle of poison left here. It's obvious that someone was trying to frame Noble Consort Xiao!"
Han Yunxi darted a glance at the poison in question and recognized it as red-hued Snowpenny.1 As Chu Qingge said, only a entire bottle was capable of causing fatal effects. It was definitely fishy that there was still half-full bottle here.
"Miss Chu, do you mean to say that I've framed Noble Consort Xiao?" the empress dowager said bluntly.
On the side, Noble Consort Xiao was kneeling with the servant girl who'd given testimony. Neither of them made a sound. Chu Qingge was a type that kept aloof from politics. If not for their differences in status, she wouldn't have spared the empress dowager a second glance. She already despised the old woman for her actions at the birthday banquet.
"Qingge doesn't dare. Qingge only speaks the truth," Chu Qingge replied simply.
"Yunxi, what say you?" the empress dowager turned to ask Han Yunxi.
Though Han Yunxi had no idea what the empress dowager and Emperor Tianhui were planning, she did have a clear motive: to save Noble Consort Xiao.
"There's definitely something strange about this half-full bottle of poison." Compared to Chu Qingge's accusations of framing someone, Han Yunxi was more prudent with her words. This made her seem more intelligent as well. The empress dowager felt pleased to hear her words, but Chu Qingge disdained the reply and gave a light snort.
"Scaredy cat," she muttered.
Han Yunxi didn't mind and asked with a smile, "Esteemed empress dowager, do you want to hand the case over to Yunxi?"
"Of course. If there's anything strange, a thorough investigation is needed. We cannot allow the true culprit to go unpunished and frame an innocent person!" the empress dowager said righteously.
"Then, irrelevant parties should..." Before Han Yunxi finished, Emperor Tianhui spoke up.
"Muhou, since it was Miss Chu who discovered the discrepancy, Zhen thinks she should take the case instead. Zhen would like to see Miss Chu's poison skills firsthand as well."
Han Yunxi couldn't help but suspect whether Emperor Tianhui had eaten some sort of love potion from Chu Qingge. Why was he leaning in Chu Qingge's favor? But after observing him for awhile, Han Yunxi realized that Emperor Tianhui was looking at Chu Qingge with a different sort of gaze. She could hazard to guess what was going on, but she wondered if Chu Qingge had noticed anything.
"Emperor, this is..." the empress dowager was about to protest, but Chu Qingge cut in.
"Esteemed wangfei, how about this? We'll both do our own investigating and see who figures it out first!"
"Heheh, that's a good idea! Then that's exactly what we'll do," Emperor Tianhui couldn't wait to agree.
A cold smile flickered past the empress dowager's eyes before she said, "Since that's what the emperor says, you can go on with your independent investigating."
Han Yunxi was in a bad mood. Chu Qingge had already failed before her twice, but why wouldn't she give up? Did she think this was all a game? What was there to compete over? If it wasn't Noble Consort Xiao's life at stake, she wouldn't want to join in at all!
Chu Qingge saw that Han Yunxi didn't reply, so she hastened to ask, "Esteemed wangfei, what do you plan to do if I find out the truth first?"
"Whether or not Noble Consort Xiao is innocent and Noble Consort Yun can die in peace all depends on finding out the truth. If you can uncover the mystery, the empress dowager and His Majesty will naturally reward you. What else do you want?" Han Yunxi asked seriously.
Chu Qingge was left speechless. However, she recovered quickly enough. Even if this gamble had no chips or rewards, she could squash Han Yunxi underfoot as long as she found out the truth first! Han Yunxi's poison skills were already renowned across Tianning Country and all of Cloud Realm Continent. As long as she could beat Han Yunxi, her fame would spread as well.
"Qin Wangfei, how about we set a time limit of three days?" Chu Qingge asked.
"As you like," Han Yunxi didn't care either way.
Meanwhile, Duanmu Baiye had been observing Emperor Tianhui's gaze the entire time. If the man really did fancy Chu Qingge, then his mission to apologize for Duanmu Yao's actions should go very smoothly. Chu Tianyin was paying attention to Emperor Tianhui as well. Though he detested his little sister's stupid actions, he realized it might not be a bad thing if she stayed in Tianning!
Because of the three-day time limit, both Han Yunxi and Chu Qingge were arranged to stay at the palace for the convenience of investigating the case. After Long Feiye got wind of the news, he immediately sent Zhao mama to wait on Han Yunxi, telling her to always stay by her side. The first day started with Chu Qingge and Han Yunxi commencing their respective investigations at Noble Consort Yun's quarters. Meanwhile, Emperor Tianhui made his way to the scene as soon as he adjourned his imperial court session...