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Chapter One Hundred and One The Trust of the Emperor
“Niangniang,” Fine sweat beaded Huang Yang’s forehead as he looked in trepidation at the Empress who was partaking in her meal. He didn’t even dare to breathe hard, as though any movement would enrage the Empress.
“What is it?” Qu Qing Ju slowly ate a bowl of chicken porridge. Matched with the crisp pickled cabbage, it was flavourful. She saw Huang Yang refraining from speech in a panicked manner as she rinsed her mouth with the tea that Jin Zhan handed over and wiped her mouth with a handkerchief from Yin Liu, “Say it, what has made you so panicked?”
Huang Yang dropped to kneel at Qu Qing Ju’s feet: “Han liangdi was found this morning in the lotus pond of the Imperial Garden, already swollen.”
Qu Qing Ju stilled. Han Qing He died?
“How can you mention such a matter in front of niangniang?” Mu Jin’s brows furrowed. Now that niangniang was pregnant, this kind of matter would scare niangniang and the small Highness in her belly, “Shut your mouth.”
“It’s fine,” Qu Qing Ju’s left hand slowly caressed her slightly upraised belly, “Your expression wouldn’t be this terrible for this kind of minor matter. Is it related to the cause of Han liangdi’s death?”
Huang Yang saw niangniang’s calm composure and could only say through gritted teeth: “The people of the Department of Household Affairs found a white jade hairpin on Han liangdi’s body. Someone recognized that it was niangniang’s.”
When Jin Zhan and Yu Zan heard the words, their faces paled in fright. The clothing and hair ornaments of niangniang were under their management. If niangniang’s things were lost, the most suspicious people would be them. The two knelt down, faces terrible as they said: “Niangniang, nubi wasn’t able to look after the ornaments properly and begs for mercy.”
Qu Qing Ju laughed out loud, motioning for the two to stand up. Then she stood, uttering: “Such a cold and desolate month but such a good play. They could even find the white jade hairpin that ben gong had lost half a month ago. Since right now, it’s the two muhou who are in charge of the hougong, let us go visit Fu Shou Palace. Ben gong is very curious about this matter.”
Huang Yang looked in puzzlement at the Empress. Niangniang didn’t even seem to be the slightest bit angry.
Mu Jin was perplexed and then recovered, “That’s so true. Huang Yang, go prepare the phoenix carriage. From last night, the snow had been coming down. Zhuzi is pregnant with His Highness. She can’t endure the wind.”
“Yes,” Huang Yang cheerfully stood and turned to let the servants prepare the phoenix carriage.
In Fu Shou Palace, the two Empress Dowagers, He Heng, Jin An Princess Royal, the three other feipin and the main and assistant supervisor of the Department of Household Affairs were gathered for the matter of Han liangdi’s drowning.
Empress Dowager Wei’s expression finished listening to the report the palace maid kneeling had reported. With a grave face, she repeated: “You mean to say that yesterday in the late evening, Han liangdi went out of her residence alone. An hour later, you felt that it was strange, and started to search with the other servants and eventually found Han liangdi’s corpse?”
“Yes,” The one that answered was Han liangdi personal maid. She looked frightfully at the room full of powerful people, “Before zhuzi left, she said … …”
“What did she say?”
“Said that if the Empress could put importance on her, then in the future, she would receive the Emperor’s favor.” When the palace maid finished speaking, she pressed her forehead to the floor, so afraid she trembled all over.
“According to what this palace maid says, the one who invited Han liangdi out was Empress, and then the Department of Household Affairs found the Empress’ hairpin on Han liangdi’s body,” The corners of Empress Dowager Wei’s lips drew back, her voice scornful as she concluded, “Meaning that the Empress murdered Han liangdi?”
He Heng’s brows furrowed as he asked: “Muhou, Qing Ju is the Empress of a country. Why would she try to kill an unimportant minor feipin?” Last night, he had slept in the front hall of Tian Qi Palace, and hadn’t been together with Qing Ju, but he believed that Han liangdi’s death had nothing to do with Qu Qing Ju.
Hearing her son unconsciously call out her erxi’s name in front of so many people, Empress Dowager Wei raised an eyebrow at him before responding; “Aijia is very suspicious of the matter as well.”
“Empress Dowager, Emperor,” The palace maid’s voice shook: “It was because half a month ago, zhuzi had sung for the Emperor in the gardens, and had been found out by the Empress. Not long after that, people started to shortchange zhuzi’s allowance. Zhuzi went out last night to see the Empress because there was no other way for her to survive. Please, Empress Dowager and Emperor, give zhuzi justice.”
“Yesterday in the evening, it started to snow. The Empress is already three months pregnant. She would go visit Han liangdi in the snow and somehow managed to push Han liangdi into the lotus pond,” Jin An Princess snorted, “After doing all that, she wouldn’t have detected that she had lost something, just returning to rest in the rear hall of Tian Qi Palace. She is too vigorous.”
“Nubi didn’t say that the Empress did it,” The head of the palace maid shrunk back as she stuttered, “And nubi thinks that it could have been a servant … …”
“Outrageous. How can zhen not be clear about when someone enters or leaves zhen’s residence?” He Heng slammed the table, “Tian Qi Palace has guards and secret bodyguards at all times. Not just the Empress, even the normal palace maids and taijian’s entry and exit would be recorded. You couldn’t slander the Empress so you turn to slander Empress’ people. What is your purpose?”
The palace maid clearly hadn’t thought of that flaw. She had been taken into the palace by Han Qing He from the wangfu and didn’t know that the security of Tian Qi Palace was that stringent. A beat later, she started to bang her head continuously: “Nubi doesn’t mean anything, and asks for Empress Dowager and Emperor to investigate thoroughly.”
Empress Dowager Wei raised a teacup as she looked icily at the kowtowing palace maid. She didn’t care that the maid’s forehead was bleeding and turned to say to Muhou Empress Dowager: “Not even these people, even us sisters had entered the palace for a few years before knowing of the matter. The daring villain, who has plotted to harm the palace fei and slander the Empress, is truly evil.”
“That’s so true. Aijia had been Empress for more than a year after entering the palace before finding out that there are hidden guards in Tian Qi Palace to protect the Emperor,” Muhou Empress Dowager smiled mockingly as she raised her head, her gaze sweeping over the three of Jiang, Feng, and Luo. “But in the past, no one dared to frame aijia. The younger generation is much more courageous.”
Jiang, Feng and Luo couldn’t sit and walked together to kneel at the center of the hall. Until the matter had been solved, all three of them were suspects. But the consequences of the enormous crime of plotting to harm the Empress and the palace fei would reach even their families. Could they bear to suffer the outcome?
“Alright, you three don’t have to kneel,” Empress Dowager Wei set down the teacup, “Regarding Aijia’s erxi, aijia is very clear. She isn’t a person who would do such a thing. Even if she did, she wouldn’t act so stupidly. Aijia doesn’t care why the person is so reckless, but if they could admit it themselves, aijia won’t act against her family. But when aijia finds out personally, don’t blame aijia for being ruthless.”
The main and vice supervisors of the Department of Household Affairs, by this time, had realized that the two Empress Dowagers and the Emperor were protecting the Empress. The three had worked together for many years and didn’t need to exchange a look to know what the others were thinking.
The main supervisor of the department stepped forward; “Emperor, Empress Dowagers, nucai has just found that Han liangdi showed traces on the back of the head from being hit with something heavy. From the impact and the location, the criminal must be shorter than Han liangdi, and is a female. The Empress is slightly taller than Han liangdi, and pregnant women cannot lift heavy objects so the criminal cannot be the Empress. Nucai has also looked at the record from yesterday to today of the entrance and exit records of Tian Qi Palace. There are no suspects among the palace maids and taijian that attend the Empress. From this, it can be concluded that the Empress is certainly unconnected to the matter of Han liangdi.
He Heng nodded, his face softening: “It seems someone wants to hit two birds with one stone.” His gaze swept across the three feipin, his gaze landing on Luo Yin Xiu and Feng Zi Jin who were shorter than Han Qing He, his face darkening again, “Catch all of the palace maids and taijian that serve Luo guipin and Ping cairen, and interrogate each one.”
“Emperor!” Feng Zi Jin crawled forward, “Qie is innocent, Emperor!”
Luo Yin Xiu looked at the overly excited Feng Zi Jin and continued to keep her head down.
“Emperor, the Empress asks to see you.” Ming He came in to report.
“Allow,” He Heng’s fierce expression instantly became gentle. When Qu Qing Ju entered, he couldn’t resist standing and supporting the person to sit beside him, “It’s snowing outside, why did you come?”
“Just heard that Han liangdi passed away, and qie’s hairpin was coincidentally on her body. Qie couldn’t stay away,” Qu Qing Ju frowned slightly, “Qie’s hairpin was lost half a month ago. It was that time when qie fell asleep in the Imperial Gardens. The location was unknown. Emperor had then specially bestowed qie a set of cat’s eye hairpins as a replacement. Who knew that it would be found at Han liangdi’s body.”
He Heng remembered. Half a month ago, he and Qu Qing Ju heard Han liangdi sing and then Qu Qing Ju feel asleep. Afterwards, he had carried her back to Tian Qi Palace before they had discovered that two hairpins had fallen off. On the second day, he had gotten Ming He to deliver a box of hair ornaments decorated with cat’s eye stones to the rear hall of Tian Qi Palace. It seemed that the white jade hairpin was one of the two that had fallen off before.
“Don’t be angry, zhen knows you aren’t connected with the matter,” He Heng patted the back of the hand, “Zhen will definitely send someone to investigate and clear your innocence.”
Qu Qing Ju sighed and nodded her head slowly. She looked in apology at the two Empress Dowagers: “Erxi is extremely unfilial to have made both muhou worried.”
“This matter has nothing to do with you,” Muhou Empress Dowager said, “Empress, you are just too naïve. This hougong always have those of malicious and daring thoughts. Aijia and your muhou have been in the hougong for so many years, but really haven’t seen tactics as stupid as this one. To keep such a person in the hougong, aijia wouldn’t feel safe.”
“That’s so true. You are pregnant, don’t waste attention on such matters. Aijia is here for anything and won’t let them slight you.” When Empress Dowager Wei finished talking, she said to He Heng, “Take the Empress away quickly. Such unlucky matters shouldn’t dirty one’s ears. You two, don’t worry, aijia and jiejie will certainly uncover the truth. You should leave here now.”
He Heng stood and bowed to the two, “This son has no attention to spare for the matters of the hougong and has to trouble the two muhou.”
“Leave, leave,” Empress Dowager Wei waved her hand, shooing them off like she was hurrying away ducks. After the Emperor and Empress left, she gave a cold smile, calmly ordering: “For anyone suspicious, use heavy torture. Aijia doesn’t believe that it can’t be found out.”
She swept a cold gaze at He Heng’s three feipin: “This hougong will not tolerate women who think themselves clever!”
The three of Jiang, Feng and Luo couldn’t help but shudder. Jiang Yong Yu’s face was solemn as she bowed respectfully: “Thanks Empress Dowager for instructing.”
Empress Dowager Wei slightly nodded her head at her, and then said to Feng and Luo who were still kneeling: “Before the matter is solved, you two will stay in the Sheng Shen Zhai behind Fu Shou Palace to reflect, and will save aijia from having to put people to watch you.”
“Yes.” Luo Yin Xiu respectfully gave a kowtow. She was clear that the Empress Dowager was cutting off their escape route. But since she didn’t do it, what did she have to be afraid of?