Chapter 46: The Cold Arrow Behind (Part 1)
Choushi (modern timing: 1 – 3 am) has passed and it was deep in the night. The nights in the summer did not feel warm and it was the perfect weather to have a good night sleep. The Emperor did not come over this night thus there was only a red lantern in the entire Qing Feng Hall. The palace maid that was on night vigil was napping and the courtyard was so quiet that one can only hear the rustling of leaves in the breeze.
In the darkness of the night, a lone slim figure slowly opened the door and walked softly towards the side doors. When she walked out the door, another slender figure followed her out.
In the middle of the night on the palace road, there was only a lantern that was lit. Fu Ling watch the figure lightly running and her brows were knitted tightly. That day after she brought back that silk brocade bag, Mistress had her monitor for any suspicious activities from anyone in Qing Feng Hall. Lan-er and a few palace maids curiously asked a few question but only Xia Yin stay away and dare not look at all. She has monitored her for a few days and finally she moved tonight.
Xia Yin was being very careful and as she ran, she kept looking at her surrounding. Fu Ling was afraid that she would discover her and dare not follow her too closely. After following for a while, Fu Ling gradually found out the direction that Xia Yin was heading towards… Seemingly Ling Yun Palace?
Fu Ling conjecture was indeed correct, seeing Xia Yin stopping at the back door of Ling Yun Palace, she knocked softly twice before the door opened. Xia Yin immediately entered and the door closed again. As she was too far from her, Fu Ling could not see clearly who was it that opened the doors for Xia Yin and just as she wanted to get closer so that when Xia Yin leaves, she would be able to see who was meeting up with her, a sudden male voice sounded, “Who is it?”
The sudden fierce voice made Fu Ling jump in shock. Before she could respond, a sword has blocked her path. Although it was not removed from its scabbard, the killing intent by that person scared Fu Ling into not moving a muscle.
“Who are you? Which palace do you come from?” An indifferent male voice sounded again and Fu Ling looked up to see the owner of the sword. It was a man clad with the guard’s uniform and that tall figure overshadowed her without her knowledge. His black eyes stared at her, without giving in to the dark black night.
This person… Seems familiar, but where did she see him? Fu Ling didn’t seem to remember.
The male was impatient and glanced at the palace placard hanging on Fu Ling’s waist. Fu Ling felt a sharp pain on her waist and the palace placard was pulled off.
Ming Ze looked at the delicate white jade palace placard in his hand, is this a placard for female officials? Upon taking a closer look at the carved words, it was indicated Qing Feng Hall and the back of it engraved with ‘fifth grade – Fu Ling’.
Qing Feng Hall? She is the female official by her side? Ming Ze look once over at this female called Fu Ling, clean outlook, calm eyes and even facing his sword, her face only slightly change and did not lose her grace. Sheathing back his sword, Ming Ze coldly asked, “It is already so late, what are you doing here?”
Fu Ling secretly took a deep breath and calm herself down before faintly replying, “Was walking around as it was too hot to sleep.”
Too hot? This excuse was clearly not smart at all but it also render one speechless. A normal palace maid or eunuch would not be able to walk around in the Palace after Xushi (modern timing: 7 – 9 pm) without their mistress instructions. But Fu Ling rank is higher than his fifth rank third class and for her to walk around to “enjoy the cool air”, it is not for him to manage it. With a self-depreciating thought, Ming Ze handled the white jade placard back to her and said in a cold expression, “It is late, do return back.”
With her eyes glancing over the closed door, Fu Ling was worried that Xia Yin would come out to see her and the guard and it would definitely arouse her suspicions. Taking the placard from Ming Ze, Fu Ling quickly walked away.
Fu Ling walked ahead while Ming Ze followed behind. He was taller and bigger in size but his footsteps were very light. If it was not the long shadows cast by the moon, Fu Ling did not feel that anyone was behind her. After the shadow has been following her for a while, Fu Ling finally stop her steps and turned back to ask, “Why are you following me?”
Ming Ze coldly retorted, “This guard is on night patrol.”
Fu Ling started to get angry but she could not flare it out. It would seem that if he does not see her entering Qing Feng Hall, he would not rest. Fu Ling was thinking of getting rid of Ming Ze and her steps were quite urgent when she suddenly trip over herself. “Ah!” Fu Ling cried out and before her cries finished, she was lifted up by her arms by someone. After staggering for a bit, Fu Ling manage to stand up.
She seems like a very calm person, how would she trip over when walking? Unless it is true that whatever Mistress would have the same kind of servant? Thinking about that rainy night, Qing Feng was drenched and was in a sorry state. Ming Ze could not help but raised his lips.
Fu Ling wanted to give her thanks but when she looked up, she saw a smile between his eyebrows. Even though it was light but he was smiling. That smile broke the coldness and loneliness on his face making him look much softer. What was exactly so funny about her?!
Struggling off Ming Ze’s hand, Fu Ling accelerated her pace and almost ran back, not caring if that person behind was following or not. Upon reaching the side doors of Qing Feng Hall, Fu Ling wanted to push it open but only realise that it was locked from the inside. Xia Yin has came back? Or was it the eunuch who was patrolling found that it was not lock and thus locked it? Fu Ling was pondering about it when that long shadows appeared behind her. Fu Ling silently cursed, this person seriously cannot stop lingering around her like a soul!
With lack of a better option, Fu Ling could only gently knock on the door. After a while, a palace maid voice sounded from the inside, “Who is that?”
“It is me, Fu Ling.”
The doors quickly opened and the palace maid’s head popped out to verify that it was her before she quickly opened the door and asked, “Older sister Fu Ling? It is already so late, why are you still out?”
“Just go in.” Fu Ling naturally did not answer her and pushed the palace maid in. As she stepped in, Fu Ling turned her head to look back but there was no one behind her? Where is… He?
Fu Ling stood at the doorway to look around, the palace maid also looked curiously out the door and only saw the wane shadows of the trees that was cast by the moon that were gently shaking and the lanterns that were lit afar. There was no one in the palace road. The palace maid asked, “What is older sister Fu Ling looking at?”
“Nothing.” Recovering herself, Fu Ling closed the main doors.
Fu Ling did not enquire from the palace maid if Xia Yin had came back or not and went straight back to her room under her puzzled look.
Entering the room, Fu Ling lightly lean against the window frame and wanted to see when will Xia Yin return. Upon waiting for half a sichen (modern: 1 sichen = 2 hours) she still did not see her at all. Fu Ling yawned and her placard fell from her sleeves. Seeing the cooling white jade, that cold face appeared in her mind and his faint smile on his lips too. Who is he? Why did she think that he is familiar?
The begonia was not as delicate as the peony and could adapt to the new soil quickly. It grew to be more verdant and greener, turning the condensation into dew in the morning. It was such a beautiful sight.
Half opening the window, Qing Feng sat in front of the bronze mirror and with a hand propping her cheek, she was staring at the begonia outside in a good mood. After a long time, the usually deft Fu Ling have yet to comb her hair. Qing Feng look at Fu Ling bowing her head down through the bronze mirror and could not help but notice her thoughtful look and did not notice that Qing Feng has been looking at her for a while.
“What are you preoccupied with?” A clear voice suddenly sounded and Fu Ling gathered her thoughts and saw Qing Feng’s smiling eyes in the bronze mirror. Fu Ling embarrassingly shook her head and said, “Nothing.”
Qing Feng’s brows slightly raised, indicating that she did not believe what she just said. Fu Ling avoided eye contact and as she was styling her hair to a bun, she spoke, “This servant heard from the Weaving Department that those silk material were made from the jade silkworms (a breed of silkworm). It is extremely expensive and only the Empress Dowager and the favoured mistresses will be eligible to receive some. Within these two seasons, only Ling Yun Palace picked up three bolts of it.”
“And there is one more thing… Xia Yin went to Ling Yun Palace last night.” After being hesitant for a moment, Fu Ling only then continued, “She entered from the side door. As the night was too dark, this servant was unable to see clearly who she met up with.”
“Continue to observe her, see if other than going to Ling Yun Palace, who else is she close with.” After being in contact with Chen Zhen in these few days, Qing Feng felt that she is a gentle but aloof person. Will such a person use such a vicious way of not allowing her to be pregnant? Even though Qing Feng did not believe it, but she also did not relax at all.
“Oh yes, these few days you should go and find out about which Darens are looking into the matter of my Elder Sister drowning and what of the four eunuchs related to it.”
“Yes.” Fu Ling softly replied back. Seeing that she was like in a trance the entire morning, Qing Feng took the comb from her hands and softly said, “You must not have slept well last night. You do not need to accompany me here. Go back and sleep.”
Seeing Qing Feng’s worried look, Fu Ling felt her heart warmed. Picking up the golden hairpin and placing it into her hairstyle, Fu Ling smiled, “This servant is not tired.” She was just thinking if she should inform Mistress about her being stopped by the guard last night. Never mind. He seems like one who would mind their own business and one less thing is better than one more thing to worry about.
It seems that there are some things that Fu Ling did not want to talk about and Qing Feng did not ask more about it. When she finish styling her hair, Qing Feng walked to the painting she was working on for the past few days and softly instructed, “Help to prepare the ink.”
Fu Ling prepared the ink and placed it at the side. Qing Feng stared at the painting for a long time without picking up the brush. Usually she like to paint the entire thing in one go and she would not mind if there is any flaws but she has been painting this for a few days just to show the best effect of the ink. The brush was soaked with the black ink but it was quickly dipped into clean water. When Qing Feng use the brush to paint, the water and ink left a trace of light ink which gave a misty feel when it overlap yesterday’s work.
When the final brush was completed, Qing Feng took a deep breath. Finally it is completed. Fu Ling look at the painting on the large table and sighed, “This painting drawn by Mistress should be mounted instead of passing it to the Weaving Department, as they would not be able to replicate the charisma of it.” Even though she has not much knowledge about paintings or books, her embroidering skills are also average but she was able to tell. The way the ink strokes set the mood of the painting will not be captured by the embroidery stitches.
She wanted it impossible to be embroidered! From the beginning when she suggested a joint gift for the ceremony with Imperial Concubine Hui, it was only for the opportunity to approach her. Qing Feng had never wanted her painting to be hand over to the weaving department. She put in so much effort so that she would be able to seize the attention of Yan Hong Tian too. Towards her, be it be a prey or some novelty, she did not care about what Yan Hong Tian view her. What she wanted was not his love anyway.
“Let’s take this to Imperial Concubine Hui to assess if it can be embroidered.” Qing Feng has been confident with her painting all along and she is now looking forward to what kind of remarks will Chen Zhen give.
When the ink was finally dried, it was already in the afternoon. When Qing Feng and Fu Ling reached Ling Yun Palace, a male clad in an official attireIs younger sister painting finished came out. When the man saw her, he froze for a bit before standing at the side to bow at her. Qing Feng saw that he had a medicine box in his hands and stopped in front of him to ask, “You are the physician who is taking care of Imperial Concubine Hui?”
The male half knelt to greet, “This official Lin Feng greets your Ladyship Concubine Qing.”
“Physician Lin, what kind of illness is the Imperial Concubine Hui is suffering from that there is no sign of improvements for almost a month?” And it seems to be getting worse these few days. Chen Zhen almost could not get out of bed and spent most of the days lying down.
“Her Ladyship Imperial Concubine Hui’s… Health is very week and the wind has already seep into her body thus it require a longer time to recuperate.”
Qing Feng only causally asked but Lin Feng’s cautious and hesitant answer made her suspicious. Lin Feng was still half kneeling on the floor and Qing Feng did not call him up. On the contrary, Qing Feng squatted down to be able to see him at eye-level and she said lightly, “You should know that Imperial Concubine Hui has a delicate body, if her Ladyship’s health is affected, it would be useless to have many heads on top of your shoulders.”
Lin Feng never would have imagine that Qing Feng would have squatted down to speak to him. He did not dare to look at Qing Feng and quickly bowed his head to his knees. Hearing Qing Feng deliberately emphasising the word “heads”, he could not help but shivered.
“Younger sister don’t make things difficult for him. I know my health, slowly recuperate will be fine. Physician Lin, you can withdraw.” The soft female voice sounded behind him allows him to heave a sigh of relief. He quickly performed the greeting and retreated out of the room.
Why is he that terrified? Qing Feng look at the direction where Lin Feng have left when Chen Zhen went up to her and gave a rare enthusiastic expression and smile to her, “Is younger sister’s painting finished?”
“Yes it is. I have brought it to older sister to evaluate it. If it is good, it would be sent to the Weaving Department.” Qing Feng recovered her sight and entered the courtyard together with her.
Two palace maid rolled the painting and it was more than ten feet in length. When the painting was fully presented to Chen Zhen, she who has seen numerous number of paintings could not help but be amazed. It was indeed a grand painting of magnificent mountains. From a distance, one could see a ridge between the misty clouds. Chen Zhen sighed in her heart, Qing Feng really deserve her reputation. Just by relying the different shades of ink and with simple and casual strokes of the brush, she was able to draw such a magnificent piece.
Chen Zhen sounded really convincing as she spoke lowly, “Younger sister do not need to give.”
Qing Feng gently raised her eyebrows and asked, “Why not?”
“This kind of masterpiece they will not be able to embroider it out. It is best for younger sister to frame it up. The Emperor will definitely like it.” The Emperor always like magnificent things, and a rare masterpiece like this would definitely catch the Emperor’s heart. Qing Feng was that thoughtful and talented that no one was able to resist it. Feeling that her chest was a bit constricted, Chen Zhen staggered and Qing Feng reached out to support her. It was only then when she found that Chen Zhen’s hand was extremely soft and cold. Qing Feng asked, “Are you all right?” It was already in the late summer afternoon, why was her hands that cold?
Chen Zhen quickly withdrew her hands and Wu-er quickly stepped forward to support her. “I am tired. May younger sister leave.” Chen Zhen turned and walked back into the house, not bothering if Qing Feng was in the courtyard. Wu-er even shut the door after them.
Looking at the tightly shut doors, Qing Feng lost her smile. It was her first time being “chased” out like this. What illness is Chen Zhen suffering from? This illness does seem a little strange?
Hall of the Ministry of Justice
“Prime Minister Lou.” Liu Hong, who was the Justice Official in charge of investigating the incident in the Imperial Gardens, gave a respectable bow. Even though Lou Xi Yan’s face was gentle and smiling, Lui Hong was so tense that he swallowed again. After taking over the case he then knew that the person that fell into the water was Prime Minister Lou’s wife to be and the target of the investigation was the Inner Palace. With the Emperor’s decree to mange it strictly, if this case was not settled properly, losing his position would be a small problem, he was only afraid that he would offend someone that he should not be offending and lose his life in the process.
With a cup of clear tea in his hands, Lou Xi Yan was neither slow or quick when he asked, “How was the investigation?”
Liu Hong quickly replied, “Among the four eunuch, one had committed suicide by biting off his tongueShe is indeed stayed in the Palace and the remaining three denied the attempt of murdering Miss Qing Ling. The four of them were originally working in the Imperial Household and were Liu Zhi Hai’s lower ranked eunuchs. Normally they were tasked to do small errands and seem not the type to create trouble.”
Commit suicide by biting off their tongues… A trace of coldness flash across Lou Xi Yan’s eyes as he lightly tap his finger on the teacup and asked, “Who else do they have in their family? Where are they now?”
“Two of them were sold into the Palace by human traffickers thus there are no family registers for them in the Imperial Household. As for the other two, the family members are currently missing.”
“Search! I don’t want to hear that the news of other three died ‘without cause or reason’. All the related personnels that enter or exit the Imperial Gardens must all be interrogated. If there are any suspicious activities, immediately report it up.” The one without family will bite their tongue to commit suicide and those with families would not admit till their death? It would have seem that she clean up very quickly and thoroughly. She indeed stayed in the Palace as a mistress for a long time.
“Yes.” Lou Xi Yan’s voice was not high but Liu Hong was able to feel his displeasure. He did not dare to look up with that type of pressure.
Gently placing the teacup down, Lou Xi Yan walked out of the discussion hall and was still refined and gentle but Liu Hong was already soaked in sweat.
Within Zheng Yang Palace, Yan Hong Tian was playing with the deep-sea red coral that Northern Qi gave as tribute and smiled, “What is the progress of the case?”
Lou Xi Yan lowered his head to read the list of tributes that were sent by the various countries and without looking up, he replied, “The Emperor wishes for this official to investigate or not.”
“Zhen has already handled the matter to you. You have the ability to investigate it through so just continue your investigation.” He was actually happy to see his mother and his favourite official battle with their wits and Lou Xi Yan obviously could not take it lying to and wanted to tell everyone just how important Qing Ling is to him. As for the Empress Dowager… It was also necessary for someone to let her know that there were a lot of things that cannot be done just because she wishes to.
Lou Xi Yan only smiled and did not continue the topic. Instead, he took a red card out from his sleeves and place it in front of Yan Hong Tian.
What is that thing? Yan Hong Tian took it and open to see. His face sank at first before he helplessly laughed out, “You really cannot wait?” Originally once the celebration is over then they will get married but now, he wants to get married before the celebration.
Throwing the red booklet on the table, Yan Hong Tian leaned his back on the throne and with a gloating look, he laughed, “How about old General Lou’s and Empress Dowager’s opinions?”
The narrowed smiling eyes looked at Yan Hong Tian’s light-hearted ones and Lou Xi Yan chuckled as he replied, “This official told them that this is the date that was granted by the Emperor.”
The smile on Yan Hong Tian lips stiffen, “Lou Xi Yan!” He actually used him as his shield! No wonder there is no comments from Lou Mu Hai and these few days the East Empress Dowager did not look good to him and when he went to give his greetings, she rejected it. So it was Lou Xi Yan who played it behind his back!
With the gauze drapery, the scent of incense was filled in the air as a golden statue of a Buddha with a compassionate quietly stood. The muyu (the wooden instrument that devotees use for praying) sounded as each knock produced a clear and calm sound. Coupled with the light scent coming out of the red sandalwood prayer beads, it calms one down.
In front of the statue of Buddha, Yang Zhi Lan’s eyes were closed and her face was peaceful and calm.
The old mama stood outside the veil and waited. When the sound of muyu diminished, Yang Zhi Lan’s faint voice could be heard from in the room, “How are the things handled?”
“May the Empress Dowager rest assure. The arrangements had been completed and they dared not speak nonsense.” The old mama suddenly fell to her knees and softly confessed her wrongdoings, “This time it is all this servant’s negligence which allow the matter to be brought to light. May the Empress Dowager melt the punishment.”
The veil was gently lifted up and Yang Zhi Lang slowly walked out. The old mama quickly got up and stepped forward to support her. Her face did not show how angry she was but instead showed a faint smile as she sighed, “Let the matter drop. It was her luck that Qing Ling did not die. This “accident” was not all unfruitful. At least Aijia found out that the always impeccable Lou Xi Yan has weakness too.”
Xi Yan ah, Lou Xi Yan, you should not have bullied Xuan-er. You should not be the good nephew of Lou Su Xin. You even more should not go against with Aijia!
Supporting Yang Zhi Lan to the wooden chair to sit, the old mama softly said, “Yu Xiang is here.”
A thirty something guys followed the old mama into the room and knelt down to greet, “May the Empress Dowager be always safe.” Being simply clad and possessing an average body type does not make him stand out, only except for the pair of radiant drooping eyes.
“Raise.” Yang Zhi Lan took out a bronze coloured secret letter and coldly directed, “Take this and head to the northwest territories in the fastest speed and bring it to the Mu Cang chieftain. It must be personally handed over to him.”
“Yes.” Taking the secret letter, the male tucked it into his chest and greeted back before leaving the place.
Yang Zhi Lan picked up the Buddhist scriptures and flip though it with a kind expression which was totally different from her cold calculated look before. The old mama stood behind Yang Zhi Lan for a long time and kept hesitating before she finally voice out her concerns, “Empress Dowager, recently the Emperor favours Qing Feng which causes the other concubines in the Inner Palace to be upset. Qing Feng’s arrogance has been increasing and in the long run, it is feared that she will not even respect you.”
Yang Zhi Lan smiled gently and calmly replied, “With regards to who the Emperor favours, it should be left to the Empress to worry about it.”
Hong Tian favoured Qing Feng only because Xin family was victorious and he used Qing Feng to balance off the Inner Palace. Once Lou Xi Yan is toppled, Qing Feng would naturally unable to stir up any trouble.
The moon on the fifteen was especially bright which allows Qing Feng to lie on the bed and watch the moonlight coming through the window and shed a flurenscence glow when it hits the window paper. Yan Hong Tian has not been coming over for the past few nights and she was happy to be idle. It is just that from the afternoon, she felt that her abdomen hurts and she did not pay much attention to it but now it seem to have worsen.
When she just couldn’t fall asleep, Qing Feng lightly press down her abdomen with her hands and wanted to call Fu Ling from the side hall to take a look. Just as she was about to get out, a shadow flew from the window quickly and disappeared from the windows. Qing Feng was alarmed and dared not move a single bit. Just as she was deciding if she should call someone, that black shadow open the windows again and left…