When they went downstairs, little Chen Xiang exclaimed, "Mistress, you've become muddleheaded!"
"What's wrong?" Han Yunxi asked lazily.
"Mistress, you're the Qin Wangfei, ah. You...you..." Chen Xiang always thought that Mistress was very smart, but now she was fretting over the state of her brain. She tugged at her mistress's hand before murmuring in her ear, "You're a married woman and the Duke of Qin's official wife! If news of this gets to the Duke of Qin's ears, you'll be done for!"
Little Chen Xiang might be a bit stupid, but she was still sensitive to certain matters. Han Yunxi had no choice but to roll her eyes. Of course she understood these things, so it's not like she was going to have an affair. She only thought that Gu Beiyue could be a friend to meet for conversations. Moreover, she wasn't flirting or chatting as a pastime, but because she needed help with certain matters. What's more, she and Long Feiye were a couple in name but not reality. Long Feiye had even embraced and saved another woman in front of her eyes, casting her aside!
Every time Han Yunxi remembered the incident with Duanmu Yao, it'd stick in her head.
"Mistress, have you taken it to heart?" little Chen Xiang was very earnest.
"It's not like I did anything. Don't be so nervous, all right? You're talking like I've overstepped the boundaries," Han Yunxi almost couldn't bear it. She really did see Gu Beiyue purely as a friend.
Who knew that while she spoke, her steps came to a stop before she almost fell. She saw a very familiar, imposing form come through the teahouse entrance...Long Feiye!
Although he was dressed in a subdued manner, Han Yunxi still recognized him at a glance. The level minded Han Yunxi suddenly turned around and ran up the stairs, followed by Chen Xiang. Upstairs, she peeked down sneakily and exhaled in relief when Long Feiye didn't climb the steps.
Little Chen Xiang was astonished. "Mistress, why are you afraid of being found out?"
"I...I...there's too many people like you with flights of fancy, so I'm just taking precautions," Han Yunxi made up an excuse. Actually, her reaction just then was her body acting before her head. In hindsight, why had she run?
Gu Beiyue hadn't left yet, but took in everything with his eyes. He didn't approach, but smiled faintly as if a little helpless. After Han Yunxi calmed down, she remembered that Gu Beiyue was still upstairs as well. Only, when she turned to look for him, he was already gone.
"Where is he?" Han Yunxi was puzzled.
Chen Xiang scanned around them in a circle but saw no one as well. "Mistress, that can't be right. We were the first to leave."
There were only one set of stairs, and they'd been blocking the way ever since coming back up. How could Gu Beiyue have gone downstairs? Han Yunxi was full of doubts, but glanced at the stairs leading to the third floor. She didn't think much, but assumed that Gu Beiyue must have gone upstairs.
Unbeknownst to her, Gu Beiyue at that moment was standing right at the entrance of the teahouse, looking back at the second floor with a smile. Then he turned around, his body flickering before he suddenly vanished from sight.
Since she retreated, Han Yunxi simply decided to wait until Long Feiye left before going back downstairs. On the carriage ride back home, Chen Xiang wanted to laugh, but didn't dare. Han Yunxi wore a pout as she looked out the window. The surrounding atmosphere between master and servant was very strange.
Back in the Hibiscus Courtyard, she saw Long Feiye's quarters lit up with lanterns. Seeing her mistress look over, little Chen Xiang couldn't hold back a peal of laughter. But as soon as she started, she couldn't stop laughing.
Han Yunxi was shamed into anger and pinched her. "You darn servant, what are you laughing about?! Hurry up and go back!"
Even then, Han Yunxi left Chen Xiang behind before the latter took a single step. The entire night, Han Yunxi couldn't fall asleep, but wrapped herself in covers as she leaned against the bed, looking at the lights from Long Feiye's quarters.
Actually, she'd taken Chen Xiang's reminder to heart. Although she'd been married into the Duke of Qin's for quite some time, only today did she realize she was a woman with a husband. Even though they were a couple more in name than reality, this status would bind her up for the rest of her life. Long Feiye could wed someone else, but she would never be able to marry again. She thought and thought before shaking her head. Why think of these things? If she could keep her life and be safe, then all was well. Why think any further?
Han Yunxi didn't fall asleep until it grew light, and then she slept until the afternoon. Days had passed. Although the Han Family's matters were still being discussed in the streets, it wasn't a trending topic anymore. Han Yunxi felt the storehouse key in her sleeve and thought it was time to pay them a visit. But as soon as she prepared to leave, Young General Mu Qingwu came to ask for an audience.
Seeing him, Han Yunxi couldn't help but tease. "Young General, I heard that Princess Changping has been very busy recently?"
After Princess Changping's face was cured, she was afraid of being made a laughingstock and used the excuse of having a winter holiday to play in the south. Otherwise, she might've clung to Mu Qingwu all the way to his visit here.
Mu Qingwu had no choice but to laugh. He didn't answer but said earnestly, "Qin Wangfei, this one came because..."
Hemming and hawing wasn't this Young General's style. Exactly what kind of words were stuck on the tip of his tongue?
"If there's anything Young General needs to say, by all means go ahead," Han Yunxi watched him in puzzlement. For him to come searching all the way to the Duke of Qin's residence meant there was something major at play.
"There is indeed a matter that concerns my poisoning with the Ten-Thousand Snake Poison. Esteemed wangfei said that this was a slow-acting poison that accumulated over the course of months and years. But father and I already made an inspection and couldn't find the poisoner, so...today I've come to respectfully ask Qin Wangfei to have a look around our estate."
Mu Qingwu was magnanimous military official, but when it came to asking people for favors, he suddenly turned into a bashful little boy.
He had a guilty conscience!
First, because he came to ask for a favor. Secondly, because he told Han Yunxi to find him if she ever needed anything, but now he was troubling her again without ever having helped her first.
So that was it. Han Yunxi didn't think it was a big deal. Actually, she was pondering the issue before as well. After all, Ten-Thousand Snake Poison wasn't easy to administer. She'd only forgotten about everything in light of being so busy.
Han Yunxi paused before asking, "How did you investigate?"
"We interrogated the kitchens, personal servants, and attendants," Mu Qingwu said honestly. He lived a simple life between the house and military barracks. People that kept close to him were the primary poisoner suspects. Although interrogation wasn't the best method, it was still an investigation method in the end.
"Were there any changes in personnel in the house or barracks recently?" Han Yunxi asked again. The news of her curing Mu Qingwu's poison had long spread. Add that to the interrogations within the general's house and the poisoner would definitely hold some amount of fear and take action.
"Not at all, so..."
Mu Qingwu really wanted to tell Han Yunxi that the Duke of Qin had inquired into this matter as well. But the Duke of Qin said to keep it a secret, so he decided not to say anything. "So in the end, we could only find you for help."
"I'm not some master sleuth," Han Yunxi had no choice but to grin.
He was already embarrassed to find her in the first place, but Han Yunxi's words made Mu Qingwu a little speechless. He shook his head, his feelings clearly written on his face. Seeing him act like a little boy, Han Yunxi couldn't help but imagine him fighting enemies courageously on the battlefield. The contrast must be huge.
Han Yunxi could only speak up to end his awkwardness. "Then what would you like me to do by inviting me over?"
She really wasn't some detective. The poison had been administered, then cured. Even if she went, it wasn't a favorable position to use her skills.
"Ten-Thousand Snake Poison is a seldom seen toxin. You're more familiar with it than we are, so maybe you can find some traces of it," Mu Qingwu said seriously. Actually, finding Han Yunxi was their last shot. But his words reminded Han Yunxi of something, and a complicated gaze flitted past her eyes.
She pondered for a while before frankly agreeing with her requests. "How's this? Tomorrow morning I'll go take a look. Just treat it as though I'm coming for a consultation and don't make things public, in case we startle the snake hiding in the grass."
Han Yunxi couldn't help but think that it wasn't easy to poison anyone within the military. To find any clues, she'd have to look in the general's estate; after all, the people there were much more varied than the rank-and-file soldiers in the barracks.
Her words made Mu Qingwu rejoice. He rose to cup his fist in a respectful bow, extremely earnest. "Many thanks to esteemed wangfei, if there's anything you need, would esteemed wangfei please..."
Before he could finish, Han Yunxi had to cut him off. "Young General, if you say anymore we'll be regarding each other as outsiders. Is this some sort of business deal between us?"
After all, he'd said the same thing the last time he visited.
Mu Qingwu never had to ask many people for favors before. For a moment, he felt embarrassed again before making a slight bow. "Qin Wangfei, this official absolutely didn't mean it in that way. It's just...aye...I've troubled Qin Wangfei again!"
The more Han Yunxi saw him, the more amused she felt. She wasn't trying to get on good terms with Mu Qingwu on purpose, but since he'd come knocking at her door, it was still possible to be on friendly relations. After all, the general's estate was still a powerful influence in the capital. In this time period, birth and status determined one's fate. Her maternal family was already such a mess, so it was no harm to find a few friends and backup forces.
After Mu Qingwu left, Han Yunxi went over his words: if there's anything you need, please say it, and couldn't help but laugh. She didn't take these words to heart, but Mu Qingwu used the rest of his life to fulfill his promise. Of course, these are just words for later.
Morning the next day, Han Yunxi took little Chen Xiang with her to the general's estate and went directly to Mu Qingwu's courtyard. General Mu was there to especially wait for her.
"Qin Wangfei, this poisoner has to be a traitor within our ranks!" General Mu sounded dignified and imposing.
"If not for the fact that the Young General's poisoning caused the Ten-Thousand Snake Poison to react, this poisoner might have had a few more years before it reacted," Han Yunxi said mildly.
To find the culprit, there were two things to consider: one, the method of poison and its administration; two, the source of the poison itself.
Let's talk about the first part first.
Ten-Thousand Snake Poison might be hypertoxic, but it was also slow-acting. The reason it was hypertoxic was because it could kill a person within two hours of reacting within the body. The reason it was slow-acting was because Ten-Thousand Snake Poison needed to sink into the body over the course of multiple years before it acted up. So someone who could administer the poison to Mu Qingwu months after years had to be someone close to him.
Mu Qingwu took out a name list. "Qin Wangfei, have a look. These are the servants who can approach me in the estate and a list of their names. We've interrogated all of them, and they're currently all locked up."
General Mu had deep affections for his late wife and took in no other concubines, so besides General Mu and Mu Liuyue, there were only these servants who could get close to Mu Qingwu. Han Yunxi skimmed past the name list and saw that there were only about seven or eight people if one included the kitchens.