"It's urgent business, isn't it? If it's that important I won't blame this girl. Whatever has happened?" Grand Concubine Yi feigned an expression of amazement.
The empress only pretended not to hear as she continued to school Princess Changping. "Since Qin Wangfei and the Duke of Qin are both out, you should look for your father, the emperor. Have him summon the Duke of Qin back, surely he has ways to find him." When she finished, the empress gave Grand Concubine Yi a significant look. "Wouldn't you say so, Grand Imperial Concubine?"
One side menaced with the Duke of Qin while the other side put on pressure with the emperor. All the people present quaked where they stood as their hearts pounded. Princess Changping seemed to have woken up from her muddled thinking with pleasure. "Right! I'll ask imperial father, this time he'll definitely help me!"
Grand Concubine Yi understood the empress's personality. With her status, she never spoke impulsively. To mention the emperor in this conversation meant that Princess Changping's business really was very serious; at least, she had enough certainty to bother the busy emperor with her affairs.
"Muhou, let's go! We'll take the carriage and find father immediately!" Princess Changping was very excited as she tugged at the empress.
With that Grand Concubine Yi grew anxious. If this had been any other day, it wouldn't matter; any excuse would do to surrender Han Yunxi. But right now Han Yunxi was locked in the woodhouse, nearly starved to death. If news of this spread and made their family scandal public, where could she show her face afterwards?! Just when Grand Concubine Yi was about to speak up, Murong Wanru opened her mouth instead.
"Esteemed Empress, Princess Changping, please wait!"
The empress had long expected this and tugged Princess Changping back to wait. She did her best to keep harem matters away from the emperor-one of the main reasons why he favored her so much. Murong Wanru hastily went forward to pay her respects.
"Esteemed Empress, Princess Changping, actually the Qin wangfei returned last night. Except, mufei only came back from her other estate today and wasn't aware. I didn't tell her in time, so this is all my fault."
With Murong Wanru giving her the chance to get out of an awkward situation. Grand Concubine Yi was no longer so embarrassed. She hastily said, "She's returned? Why didn't you tell me so earlier? Princess Changping has urgent matters, what if we delayed her?"
"It was daughter's oversight," Murong Wanru lowered her head, looking appropriately remorseful and conscience-stricken.
Grand Concubine Yi didn't even give the empress and Princess Changping a chance to speak as she hurried on, "Empress, Changping, sit awhile. I'll find her for you personally."
Princess Changping wasn't satisfied, but the empress silenced her with one look. "Then we'll have to trouble Grand Imperial Concubine."
When Grand Concubine Yi turned back, she was still smiling and self-possessed, but after leaving with Murong Wanru her face was drenched in anxiety, such an ugly and horrific sight! If it wasn't for Murong Wanru just then, she might've never had the chance to get off her high perch. Who knew how much disgrace she might've suffered?
"Just what is going on here?!" Grand Concubine Yi fumed as she sped along.
"Mufei, why do I feel like sister-in-law knew this would happen?" Murong Wanru asked in a low voice. If possible, she'd prefer for the empress and Princess Changping to go find the emperor, all the better to give her more time for her murder plot. But right now, Han Yunxi's death would only stir up more trouble and cause her the most worries.
Very quickly, they reached the woodhouse where Han Yunxi was on her last breath. She was so, so tired, her heavy eyelids about to fall off from their weight. But she still managed to open her eyes and stare at the door. She was waiting, not only for her chance to live, but the opportunity to strike back against this white lotus, Murong Wanru. Seeing Grand Concubine Yi and Murong Wanru appear in the doorway, her pale lips shifted into a smile before slowly shutting her eyes.
In response, Grand Concubine Yi and Murong Wanru were terrified!
"Someone! Someone come! Send for the imperial physician, quick!" Grand Concubine Yi screamed in fear. At this critical juncture, there was no way Han Yunxi could come to harm. Murong Wanru was especially sullen, but had no choice except to support Han Yunxi as she pinched her renzhong acupoint and fed her some warm water to drink. Soon enough, the Duke of Qin's household's summons for a doctor brought in Imperial Physician Li, who deduced after seeing the scene and checking her pulse that Han Yunxi had weakened due to starvation. He hastily took out a pill and told Murong Wanru to help Han Yunxi wash it down, before pressing acupoints here and there on her hand.
All these efforts finally woke her up.
Grand Concubine Yi heaved a deep breath. She originally meant to punish Han Yunxi, but never expected they'd end up trying to save her instead. Murong Wanru didn't feel the least bit well and couldn't even pretend to care for her sister-in-law. The most she managed was silence. Han Yunxi appeared hazy and confused, but a sliver of intelligence shone deep within her eyes. Actually, she hadn't even fainted in the first place. While these people were hurrying to save her, she was 'looking' at them all with cold, calculating eyes!
Seeing her conscious, Imperial Physician Li immediately told Murong Wanru to feed her sugar water. These cautious ministrations finally allowed Han Yunxi to recover some of her energy. Grand Concubine Yi's heart finally stopped rising in her throat as she asked, "Han Yunxi, what does Changping need you for?"
Han Yunxi shook her head, seemingly too tired to even speak.
Grand Concubine Yi was angry, but couldn't show her temper and endured it. "Then can you see her right now?"
Han Yunxi was so weak that she didn't even shake her head, only cast a glance towards Imperial Physician Li. He was put in a tight spot. "Grand Imperial Concubine, if it's not...if it's not anything urgent, then the esteemed wangfei should rest. Boil her some millet congee to eat."
"It's urgent!" Grand Concubine Yi hollered. "No matter what you do, make her energetic right now!"
"Grand Imperial Concubine, that...this, this official's abilities are limited!" Imperial Physician Li was frightened.
"Mufei, why don't I bring sister-in-law to my rooms first? We can tell esteemed empress that she caught a cold and fell ill, so they can condescend to visit us instead," Murong Wanru suggested.
Grand Concubine Yi could only agree. "Hurry and bring her over, quickly! Don't let them discover our weak points!" She was about to turned around but gave Han Yunxi a warning glance first before hurrying away.
"Sister-in-law, you've suffered these few days. Come to my place." Murong Wanru's eyes took on a calculating glint before she called for Little Fourth to carry Han Yunxi away.
Murong Wanru lived in the Orchid Enclosure, located near the flower gardens next to Grand Concubine Yi's Peony Courtyard. She didn't bring Han Yunxi into her bedroom, but arranged for her to stay in one of the empty wings in her little courtyard instead. Right after Han Yunxi was put to bed with the curtains drawn around her, the empress and Princess Changping arrived. Han Yunxi made to get up and pay her respects, but the empress stopped her and sat by the edge of the bed, holding her hand. "Forget it, you're excused. A small chill like that has made you so ill! I see that your body needs to be well-nourished!"
"Many thanks...for being on esteemed empress's mind," Han Yunxi replied weakly.
Princess Changping stood to one side, unable to bear it any longer. She called her 'imperial aunt,' but her tone was commanding. "Imperial Aunt Qin, I...I have urgent business, hurry back to the palace with me."
Han Yunxi caught a glimpse of Grand Concubine Yi jerking in surprise on one side, her face extremely sullen. She didn't know what sorts of temper Grand Concubine Yi endured from mother and daughter, but she knew this was her chance to set herself free. That frigid lord the Duke of Qin had only paid her back for a favor. He couldn't protect her all the time. If she couldn't leave this house, then she should try her best to gain the approval of its high-and-mighty mistress.
Now was an excellent chance!
Han Yunxi didn't answer Princess Changping, but docilely looked towards Grand Concubine Yi as if to say it was her decision. It was at this moment that Princess Changping felt her face starting to itch again. Impatient, she hastily went to beg, "Grand Concubine Yi, just agree to it. Let imperial aunt go with me to the palace, I promise she'll return safe and sound in good condition."
If this was any other day, the empress wouldn't allow Princess Changping to beg this way, but seeing her daughter anxious made her realize the itching had started again. With no other choice, she could only add to the pleas. "Grand Concubine Yi, it's a private matter between these children. Let's just let them do as they will."
Grand Concubine Yi expected Han Yunxi to use this chance and flaunt herself and give her looks. Who knew that this little daughter-in-law actually gave her this much face to take charge of the decision? She was suddenly much less sullen, feeling as if the empress and Princess Changping were here to beg her instead. Her smug glance traveled to Han Yunxi before she seized the chance. Like she'd let off the empress and princess so easily!
"Yunxi, aye...look at how ill you've gotten. If you catch a chill on the way to the palace again and grow sicker, how will mufei explain things to the Duke of Qin? Wouldn't he blame this mother-in-law for not looking after you?"
This...since when did Grand Concubine Yi learn to care for her daughter-in-law?
Hearing this, the empress's face grew dark. Grand Concubine Yi was obviously seizing the opportunity to bully them! The smart Han Yunxi saw through Grand Concubine Yi's wishes and added, "Mufei is just saying things. Chenqie knows of His Highness's temper. He only listens to you and the emperor and would definitely respect all your wishes. How could he dare to blame you? Mufei's care, chenqie will remember in her heart."
Tsk, look at how powerful Han Yunxi's words were. She was mentioning both the Duke of Qin and the emperor before the empress. Not only did she avoid disrespecting the emperor, she got to flatter Grand Concubine Yi in the same breath.
Han Yunxi really had no idea that the empress had used the emperor to force Grand Concubine Yi's hand. But the truth was that her words sounded incomparably sweet to Grand Concubine Yi's ears, even better than 100 of Murong Wanru's usual sentences.
On one side, Murong Wanru stood with her heart in a flurry, wondering exactly what Han Yunxi was up to. The angry empress smoothed her lips into a flat line, unable to speak. Princess Changping had no time to watch them give tit for tat and hide words beneath their words. Her itchy face was already getting unbearable.
"Grand Concubine Yi, if her illness gets worse, I'll take responsibility! Just let her come back with me!" Princess Changping was nearly choked with sobs.
But Grand Concubine Yi kept at a leisurely pace, looking at Han Yunxi with a light sigh. "Aye...this..."
"Muhou!" Princess Changping was really crying as she pulled at the empress's hand. "Muhou, help me convince her, hurry!"
The empress had been holding herself back so much that she was quick to erupting, but still she had to speak. "Grand Concubine Yi, Changping really does have urgent matters. Our carriage is waiting just outside the gates, and I can promise that Yunxi's illness won't get worse. There's Imperial Physician Gu at the palace too-he can examine her right there and then. Just let Yunxi go with her, all right?"
Truthfully speaking, Grand Concubine Yi wasn't the compassionate type at all. Even with the empress like this, she still looked like she was hesitating. Finally, Princess Changping broke out in sobs and cried out, "Grand Concubine Yi, I'm begging you! Begging you!"
Excellent. This 'begging' was exactly what Grand Concubine Yi wanted. Finally, she nodded her head. "Yunxi, just go to the palace with the empress."
"Un," Han Yunxi nodded her head obediently.
The empress immediately had people raise Han Yunxi into a sedan chair and carry her out of the gates. Before she boarded the carriage, Grand Concubine Yi gave her a look. Unfortunately, Han Yunxi acted as if she didn't see. Her mouth held the piece of ginseng that Grand Concubine Yi had given her, thinking to herself, Grand Concubine Yi, Murong Wanru, just wait until I return!
 renzhong acupoint (???) - renzhong xue, located in the vertical groove above the middle of the upper lip, AKA the philtrum. Pinching it can revive people from fainting, relieve back pain, and sometimes restore the sense of smell. Its pathway originates between the kidneys, goes up through the spine, and around and over the head to end just above a person's gums.
 Little Fourth (??) - xiao si, another servant of the Duke of Qin's household.
 muhou (??) - imperial mother, the variation on mufei; in this case, the mother is an official consort/empress rather than a concubine.