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Li Guang Ji did not expect His Majesty to mention Wu shi, and took a long time to answer. “Your Majesty, my wife is just a woman; it is likely not appropriate for her to come.”
“How is it not appropriate?” Jin Yang waved his hand, and clearly ignored Li Guang Ji’s words. “Regarding such a thing concerning children, a mother will know more.”
He glanced at the people of the court, and said, “This matter is settled—the court is ended.”
The officials looked with some regret at Li Guang Ji and His Majesty. They had wanted to stay and watch the spectacle. But His Majesty seemed to want to protect Li Guang Ji’s face. Even though they wanted to watch, they had no opportunity.
Li Guang Ji was covered in a cold sweat, and left with a dark expression. He suddenly remembered back when he had been laughing at Sima Hong. Now, he just found it ironic. Right now, what was the difference between him and Sima Hong?
He did not understand. He had done things so carefully back then. Even Wu shi had not noticed it. So why was it exposed now?
And Prince Rui…
The more he thought, the more he felt something was not right. None of the people who helped him back then were alive now. How could the dead speak?
Who else would know what had happened back then?
Just as Li Guang Ji was confused, He Ming walked next to him. “Prime Minister Li, His Majesty invites you to the imperial study.”
Li Guang Ji felt his heart shake slightly. He looked with suspicion at He Ming. Back when Sima Hong had passed from illness, he had deliberately stopped the news from passing into the palace, and made the outside world feel that His Majesty disliked the Sima Family. The emperor neglected the Sima Family, so he had only reacted nearly a day after Sima Hong’s passing.
That way, the people who had originally been on the side of the Sima Family would feel more terrified, and switch allegiance to the Li Family.
Once this matter started, the emperor sent people to protect the accuser. He himself did not even see that person’s shadow. Now, the emperor was summoning him to the imperial study. Was he going to try this case now?
Although suspicious, Li Guang Ji did not dare to show it on his face. Who in the court did not know that He Ming was His Majesty’s most useful eunuch, and even Bai Xian who had been by His Majesty’s side had been pushed down?
When he came to the imperial study, he saw that Zhang Zhong Han, who was in charge of the case, was also present.
“This subject greets Your Majesty.” Li Guang Ji went forward and bowed to Jin Yang.
“Official Li does not have to be so polite.” Jin Yang nodded at him, and then indicated for him to sit down.
Li Guang Ji sat down next to Zhang Zhong Han. The two nodded at each other, but they did not speak.
The room was very quiet. Li Guang Ji only saw His Majesty writing something on the memorandum, and not having any intentions of speaking. He was irritated, but he could not speak up to ask. After a while, palace maids came with fresh pastries, but he had no appetite at all. Sitting next to him, Zhang Zhong Han started to drink tea and eat pastries. He heard the sound of the other using the lid to scrape the tea foam, and felt even more anxious.
After about half an hour, the tea by Li Guang Ji’s side had cooled. Jin Yang finally spoke. “Officials, please wait a few moments.”
Wait for who?
Li Guang Ji had a bad feeling, but he could not see any emotions from His Majesty’s face.
After a while, the sound of footsteps came. He could not help but look out, and then saw Bai Xian leading his wife in.
“This subject greets Your Majesty.” Wu shi made a steady bow to Jin Yang after entering the room, and did not even glance at Li Guang Ji.
The feelings between husband and wife had long disappeared in all but name. Others saw that they respected and loved each other, but they just performed for others to see.
Li Guang Ji had not expected His Majesty to bring Wu shi in so quickly, and some emotion appeared on his face.
“Madam Li, please be seated.” Jin Yang gave Li Wu shi a seat. She sat down at a spot where she could coincidentally meet Li Guang Ji’s gaze. Li Guang Ji saw that Li Wu shi wore dark outer clothing, so dark in color it was almost black. He frowned. Li Wu shi liked to wear clothing of such colors in the recent few years, and she had no vitality at all.
But Li Wu shi was his wife, and managed the Li Family well. Although he no longer liked to go to her courtyard, he would not express dissatisfaction with her attire. That was not what a gentleman did, or a husband did.
Husband and wife faced each other and had nothing to say. The air became awkward again. Zhang Zhong Han glanced at the Li couple, and continued to drink tea.
Jin Yang had someone go to invite the empress, likely out of worry that Li Wu shi was the only woman in the imperial study.
Li Wu shi heard the emperor invite the empress, and her eyebrows moved slightly, but she still sat upright.
But rather than Gu Ru Jiu, Li Huai Gu was the first to arrive. When he entered the imperial study, he first looked at his expressionless mother. Seeing that she did not react greatly to his arrival, his heart sank.
In the imperial examination this time, he had ranked third. While not as good as the young master of the Yang Ducal Establishment, he had some reputation among the scholars. When this matter appeared, he felt like the sky was crashing down.
The others comforted him by saying that this was just nonsense from a common person, or someone wanting to stain the Li Family’s reputation. But a voice in his heart seemed to tell him that everything was true.
Back during childhood, he did not feel it. While his mother was strict with him, he felt it was for his own good, and never blamed his mother. Later, when his younger sister fell from horseback and died in an accident, Mother no longer liked to see him. Sometimes, when he went for morning greetings, his mother would not meet him, saying she was ill. In the last few years, he had seen his mother only a few times.
In the past, he thought that his mother was excessively sad, and was not willing to think more deeply. But upon careful thought, Mother’s actions were strange everywhere. As a mother, if a child died in an accident, they would be better to the other child, and more careful to them, concentrating on one child the feelings towards both children. Why would they avoid the remaining child?
Feeling very sad, Li Huai Gu bowed to Li Guang Ji and Li Wu shi.
Li Guang Ji wanted to say something, but in this situation, everything he said was futile, and may even be worse for him. So he just maintained his silence. His only worry right now was Li Wu shi.
He had been husband and wife for so many years with Li Wu shi. He knew that she was not a person who had no brains and who bowed to everything. It would be good if Li Wu shi did not believe this matter, but if she believed…
“Your Majesty, the empress has arrived.”
Li Huai Gu heard the eunuch’s announcement and could not help but turn to look back. He saw Gu Ru Jiu standing framed by the light in the doorway, wearing light palace robes. This caused him to suddenly think back to a few years ago. Back then, Gu Ru Jiu was only a young girl of thirteen or so. She did not have this majestic presence, but was exceptionally adorable.
When she walked into the hall, he lowered his head and then bowed respectfully. Most people in the world were unsatisfied. There were many unsatisfactory things in his life. He did not lack for this one more.
He was not too sad, just slightly… uncomfortable.
He Ming put a chair next to the imperial table, and Gu Ru Jiu sat down before looking at everyone in the room. She turned to Jin Yang. “Your Majesty, was there an important matter in asking for this servant to come here?”
Jin Yang smiled at her. “Women are involved in today’s case, so I had you come and see.”
Gu Ru Jiu smiled in understanding, and her gaze paused over Li Huai Gu slightly. She had not seen Li Huai Gu for about two years. This noble young master that many young misses were in love with looked slightly fragile, but the proud air on his face had not faded at all.
Noticing Jiu Jiu’s gaze lingering a moment longer on Li Huai Gu, Jin Yang scanned Li Huai Gu, and then said, “Prime Minister Li, someone accuses you of passing your illegitimate son as your legitimate—do you admit your crime?”
“Your Majesty, my son is born from this subject and this subject’s wife—how can he be illegitimate? This is nonsense.” Li Guang Ji stood up and said, “This is just nonsense. Your Majesty, please investigate.”
Jin Yang nodded to indicate that he remembered the words. Then he turned to Li Wu shi. “Madam Li, what do you think of the matter?”
Li Wu shi stood and bowed to the emperor and empress. Then she said unhurriedly, “Twenty years ago, this subject was finally pregnant after marrying into the Li Family for three years. This subject was overjoyed. Afterwards, because of a fall, this subject’s child was born prematurely.”
Her words did not answer the question, but Jin Yang and Gu Ru Jiu did not interrupt her. However, Li Guang Ji’s expression grew ugly.
“When this subject’s child was born, he was premature, but he had a dense head of hair, and needle-like holes in his ears. I heard the common folk saying that men who have such little holes in their ears are fortunate people.” Li Wu shi showed a hint of a smile as she said this. “Back then, he was just a little ball, very warm and soft in my hands.” At this, Li Wu shi even used her hands to indicate the length of the child.
Li Huai Gu felt extremely ashamed at this point. He knew he did not have these holes in his ears. He was not the child that Mother spoke of.
He suddenly turned to look at Li Guang Ji. If his mother was not Li Wu shi, then who was it?
Li Wu shi‘s smile suddenly disappeared. “One day, my child suddenly stopped crying and fussing. Master said he was ill, and I was unable to care for him in my confinement. Master worried that the child would pass the illness to me, and persisted in moving the child out of my rooms.”
When Li Wu shi said this, her eyes turned red. “Later, I had Chu Rou. I spoiled her from birth, and she could not avoid being unreasonable and willful. Fortunately, Huai Gu protected her, so nothing major happened.”
“Wu shi!” Li Guang Ji interrupted Li Wu shi‘s words. “Why mention such trivial matters to Their Majesties?”
Li Wu shi turned to look at Li Guang Ji with an odd expression. “If I do not say, then how will I know how stupid I was back then?”
If she had not been stupid, would she have insisted on marrying this so-called jade-faced young master? If she had not been stupid, why would she have tolerated him bringing a child back from outside to pretend to be her son? He did all he could to make her think this was her child, so she pretended not to know because she loved this man.
People would pay a price for being stupid. She pretended to be deaf and dumb half of her life, but in the end, her daughter was gone, her husband was not faithful, and her life was a joke.
If she had known that today would come, why would she have done all she could back then to marry into the Li Family?
Back then in the capital, there had been a woman who liked Li Guang Ji, and Li Guang Ji had some positive feelings for the woman. She schemed to divide the two. In the end, the woman married to a distant place, and she became the true Madam Li.
She heard that woman seemed to have been good childhood friends with the empress dowager. So in these years, the empress dowager had not been warm to her.
People would get retribution after making a mistake. Her retribution had come. When would the Li Family’s retribution come? If the Li Family had not treated her daughter like a tool, how would her daughter have been schemed into losing her life? And her child who passed away from illness not long after birth—she did not even know where he was buried. How could she call herself his mother?
Gu Ru Jiu understood the meaning in Li Wu shi‘s words. The other did not clearly state that Li Huai Gu was not her son, but the meaning was clear.
She thought of the gossip that the empress dowager had once talked to her about. For example, that Li Guang Ji had been praised as the jade-faced young master of the capital. That Li Wu shi had been secretly in love with him, and used all means in order to marry into the Li Family.
She could see that Li Wu shi regretted it, so she spoke so much of the past. Rather than her mocking herself, she resented Li Guang Ji.
“Your Majesties…” Li Wu shi‘s gaze swept across everyone in the room. In the end, her gaze landed on Li Huai Gu. A moment later, she looked away, and said, “Li Huai Gu is not of this subject’s flesh and blood.
“This subject also has evidence here of the Li Family, Prince Rui and Gaoluo’s contact.” Li Wu shi suddenly took out a pile of things. “Your Majesties, please investigate.”
The hall was silent. Even as accustomed as he was to acting, Zhang Zhong Han changed expression.
“Wu shi, you are mad!” Li Guang Ji had not expected that Li Wu shi had found so many secret things, and even took them out in front of the emperor and empress.
She wanted to ruin the entire Li Family.
Li Wu shi saw Li Guang Ji’s panic, and smiled, in a good mood. She touched the hair pins in her hair, and her expression seemed to grow charming. “Women who marry into the Li Family, if they are not mad, they will be forced to become mad.”
In the eyes of the Li family members, women were tools, and could not count as people.
But had they ever thought, they women did not want to be just tools?