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Chapter 72: The Empress’s Suspicions (Part 2)
The first night of winter came especially early. The moon has yet to be in the sky but the sun had already set. The sky was grey and the initially magnificent zigzag bridge cast a dark shadow. There was a dark shadow sitting on the railing of the bridge holding a bun, casually breaking into small pieces and throwing it down the pond a little at a time. There were many Kois gathering around the person’s foot, creating ripples as they fight got the small pieces of bun. Under the darkening sky, the jumping red figures in the pond was especially interesting to look at but it was a pity that that person’s mind was not on appreciating the fishes. The cool eyes was staring far off at the distant calm waters, turning a blind eye to the beauty.
“Ming Ze.” There was a slightly pleased male voice sounded from behind. Ming Ze held his bun in one hand as a touch off helplessness and frustration crosses his eyes. He threw the steam bun in his hands into the pond nearby. The Kois in the pond gathered in the small area to snatch for the food causing the water to spray out and splashed onto the person’s clothes.
“Not on duty today?”
Ming Jian only casually asked and Ming Ze coldly replied, “Just about to go.”
Finishing, Ming Ze turn around and wanted to walk past the person. Ming Jian had early expected that he will do so, thus he lift his hands to stop the person from leaving.
Ming Jian’s heart had some grievances and unwillingness to resign. To this younger brother, he was truly sincere but he had never gotten a better expression from him. Even after so many years of understanding, Ming Jian knows that when talking to Ming Ze, he needs to speak to point and not any nonsense, thus he bluntly said, “This time during the celebration the Imperial city was heavily guarded and was in an orderly manner. The Emperor was very satisfied and will reward accordingly with one’s contribution. I intend to transfer you to Qian Yang Palace to protect the Emperor closely. Even though there will not be any change in rank, but your future would be better than your current position. If you are not willing to be bound, then you can be the lead of the squad guarding the Palace gates. There is already someone selected for the East Gate but for the rest of the gates, you can choose from it…”
“Not needed.” The ice cold voice interrupted Ming Jian’s words and before Ming Ze could lift his feet to walk away, an obviously hasty and anxious female voice cried out, “Jian-er, don’t listen to his nonsenses.”
Accompanying the low cry was a female around her forties with a well maintain face had deep dimples on which made her seemed like she was always smiling. She was wearing an unsuitable peach blossom colour dress for her age. She came running from the other side of the zig-zag bridge with light steps. When she was in front of the both of them, she faced Ming Jian with a big smile on her face. Ming Jian took a step back and called out lowly, “Aunt Shi.”
The female have a fawning smile on her face, “Jian-er, don’t care about him. You are the eldest brother, naturally he should listen to your arrangement. Ze-er’s future will be depended on you…”
The female was eagerly speaking and that curry favouring attitude made Ming Ze’s non changing face add many layers of frost over. The female seem not to care about Ming Ze’s frosty attitude and continue to gush, “Ze-er had been working in the Palace for so many years and is long overdue for a promotion. If there is such a good thing like this, you must definitely guide and help him!”
Ming Jian’s brows slightly knitted. It seems that the conversation today cannot be continued. If Aunt Shi did not come over, there was still some possibility of him convincing Ming Ze. Now, it would seem that it was impossible. Seeing the veins on Ming Ze’s clenched fists almost bursting, Ming Jian quickly said, “Think about the things that was discussed with you. This is a good opportunity. You must think of your future career.”
“Don’t need you to be so nosey.” Each word seems to be coming out of his teeth. Ming Jian did not not feel bothered and there was still a smile on her lips. As compared to the previous cold indifference, this was also considered another mood right? Haha…
“Ming Ze!” Seeing that Ming Ze’s words becoming more agitated, that female glared at him before turning to Ming Jian and used a gentle voice with somewhat flatteringly, “Jian-er, he has this bad temper. Don’t pick on it. Aunt Shi will apologize to you…”
Ming Ze’s face got completely black and with a movement, he leap up and out of Ming Residence. He cannot stay even for a moment in this home.
Zishi (modern timing: 11 pm – 1 am) was over and the surrounding was silent. On the palace roads, there was a team of guards patrolling. when they faced a tall figure approaching, everyone was nervous as they clenched their swords but once they saw who was it, they relaxed. Instead they nodded politely at the dark figure and continued to head forwards without further communication.
That person numbly walking alone was Ming Ze who ran out of the Ming Residence. His duty only starts tomorrow morning and he was here at this moment because… He had nowhere to go. Other sons of aristocratic families will not mix around with a shu (born from a concubine) son like him, other shu sons like him dislike his cold and arrogant attitude and the public dared not befriend him as he was a son from the Ming Residence. It was indeed funny, not only he does not have a family, he did not even have a friend or a place to hang around.
Today he did not drink a drop of win and was abnormally awake thus was acutely aware of how pathetic he was. There was only one reason he could not stay in that home and that reason was – That female. If she was contented with her part, perhaps he would be able to be like the rest of the shu sons, living a humble but carefree life. If she could forsake the Ming family, even it was just both of them, mother and son, and lived a normal ordinary life, it would have been great. Unfortunately what she wanted was wealth, status, identity and honour. Her skills other than being calling herself beautiful, was him as her son. It was hilarious that this person was his own mother.
Without him even knowing, he actually walked to Qing Feng Hall. Qing Feng… She was pregnant. What kind of mother will she be? Will she also be like the rest of them who use their own child for that position in the Palace?
There was a light sound from the direction of the side door which interrupted Ming Ze’s thoughts and he turned to his side to blend into the trees at the side of the palace road. The side door was pushed open lightly and a slender figure walked out, carrying a basket in her arms. After observing the surroundings for a while, she then lightly close the door and quickly headed to the other direction of the palace road.
Seeing that physique and appearance, it should be her female official – Fu Ling. It was already this late, where would she be going? The first time when he saw her, she was also running out in the middle of the night. Ming Ze was considering if he should follow her when another figure came out from the side door and cautiously followed behind Fu Ling.
If they were together, why was there a need to leave one after another, unless the female behind was following Fu Ling? What was exactly going on? Thinking about the blood dripping from the sedan, was it possibly hers? Ming Ze pondered for a moment and picked a thumb sized stone and threw it at the female who was following. It hit her pressure points and her entire body stiffen, and she stopped there motionless.
Ming Ze bypassed the female and saw Fu Ling from afar. Seeing her footsteps getting quicker and her walking further away, the direction she was heading towards was… The Cold Palace?
Indeed, Fu Ling stopped in front of the Cold Palace and lightly knock on that huge door. The door immediately open from inside and Fu Ling quickly entered before the door closed. What was she doing here? Ming Ze gently leap onto the big banyan tree outside the Cold Palace and peered behind the leaves. He was able to see clearly the small courtyard in the Cold Palace. Fu Ling gave the basket in her hands to another palace maid and exchanged some words before leaving in a rush. That palace maid carried the basket and entered the house.
She came to the Cold Palace to give Imperial Concubine Hui some things. This was her own intentions or was it Qing Feng’s orders?
Looking down, Fu Ling came out of the Cold Palace and was about to jog back when Ming Ze leap and landed about three zhang (1 zhang = 10 feet) away, just in front of her.
Fu Ling was scared by the figure that appeared and gave a soft cry. She even step back several steps. Seeing this person not chasing over and also not moving, Fu Ling’s mind became settled as she looked intently. That person stood under the shade of the tree, with the darkness of the night, she cannot see anything clearly. Fu Ling asked hesitatingly, “Who.. Are you?
“You were just followed by someone.” The cold voice sounded in the silence of the night which was a scary and fearful thing, but Fu Ling was relieved. This voice… Is him. She recognised it.
Her already relaxed heart became tensed because of Ming Ze’s words
“Followed?” Fu Ling nervously looked around. In the dark palace road, other than both of them, there was no one else. Fu Ling thought for a while, since he appeared to tell her that she was followed, naturally he would have settle the person who was following.
Why? “After the fear in her heart has passed, it left behind many deep doubts. Taking steps towards the silhouette in the shade, Fu Ling asked with confusion in her heart, “Why? Why… Did you help me repeatedly?” Yes, even though it was not deliberate each time, but she could felt that Ming Ze was always helping her. But why? There was no interaction between them right?
Ming Ze seemed to be shocked by her sudden question and closeness and wanted to turn to go.
“Wait!” Fu Ling did not have time to think when her hand had already stretched out and grabbed onto Ming Ze’s sleeve, “You still have yet to answer my question.”
Suddenly his hand got heavier and Ming Ze’s cold eyes darken, “Let go.”
Even though she was unable to see Ming Ze’s cold expression, Fu Ling was able to felt his displeasure. Thinking for a while, Fu Ling eventually let go of his sleeves but still stubbornly continued to ask, “Why?” She did not know why was her heart anxious to know the answer but she just wanted to know.
Why? Because he never thought about this before, his brows started to tighten. After a long time, he then replied coldly, “It was just a coincident. Moreover, I was not helping you.” Not helping her then who was he helping? That person in Qing Feng Hall? Being shocked by the idea in his heart, this time without any hesitation, Ming Ze leaped and fled away.
“Hello?” Staring at the figure that had disappeared without a trace, Fu Ling’s mind was blank for a moment. Was it… Only a chance encounters only? Were there truly so many coincidences? Fu Ling gave a self-deprecating smile, if it was not an coincidence then what was it? What was she hoping Ming Ze to say? That very complicated heart eventually let out a sigh.
The Imperial Gardens during Chenshi (modern timing: 7 – 9 am) in winter was slightly bleak looking thus at this timing, there would not be anyone braving the cold to come to enjoy the scenery. It was fortunately that there was still someone who loved the desolateness in the early winter morning. A purple clad figure stood by the ever-green trees by the lake, with eyes landed on a calm area of the lake at a distance. The lotus had already withered away and there weren’t any good views on the lake. The female however seemed to be engrossed with it, like the broken stems of the lotus were the most beautiful scenery in winter.
Don’t know since when, a palace maid clad in a light blue palace uniform quickly came and stood behind the female, yet did not say a single word until the female whispered, “During these days, was there anything strange at Imperial Concubine Qing’s place?”
The palace maid slowly raised her head and it was Xia Yin from Qing Feng Hall. But her devotion to the person she was facing, seemed like another person, “Ever since that day of the celebration after she came back from the sedan, she did not take one step out from her room. Even when Steward Gao came to enquire, it was Fu Ling who came out to answer.
Confine herself at home? Even though it was not a clever thing to do, otherw sill not be able to find an opportunity to dig things out, “Were there any changes to her diet or medication?”
There were some hints of weariness in Xia Yin’s pretty face but she forced herself to reply attentively, “There was no changes. The meals were served by Ru Yi, into the chamber. When mid-afternoon comes, Fu Ling will also head to the Medical Court to bring the medication over and will not let another one else do it.
“Did the Emperor go over?”
“Yes, two days ago after dinner but he only sat about the time of a cup of tea (about 15 mins) before leaving.” Like she had thought about something, Xia Yin looked around and lowered her voice, “Even though Imperial Concubine Qing did not leave the room, Fu Ling was somewhat strange. She did not serve much during the day and at night she sneaked out. Last night, this servant originally wanted to follow her to check out but… Not long after leaving the main doors of the hall… My pressure point was hit.”
“Your pressure point was hit?” Shui Xin stared at the slight ripple at the lake, “Who was it?”
With her head bowed, Xia Yin sheepishly replied, “This servant did not see anything as I suddenly could not move when I was walking. After half a shichen (1 shichen = 2 hours) the pressure points were released naturally.”
She did not even see anyone. Was it that someone had hit her pressure point from a distance? In this Palace that was filled with high martial personnels, there was someone like this protecting by Qing Feng’s side? Just as her mind was wrapping around this possibility, Shui Xin whispered, “You go back first. If there is anything out of the ordinary, then report it to me.”
Unable to see Shui Xin’s expression, Xia Yin paused several times but still plead softly, “Older sister Shui Xin, Imperial Concubine Qing has long suspicious of this servant. This servant is afraid that she will not be able to get detailed news. Please let this servant return back…”
“Do you think it is possible? You and I are just a pawn and should know our own role and position then we can live a long life, understand?”
Just a simple sentence and the gentle voice sounded appealing but Xia Yin was so scared that her entire body trembled as she quickly replied, “Under… Understand. This servant will retire.”
Not caring of the figure fleeing behind her in panic, Shui Xin’s thoughts were all on Qing Feng. She entered the Palace with Xin Yue Ning for so many years and had never met a prey that managed to slip out of her hands. Qing Feng only entered the Palace for less than a year but had actually escaped from her repeatedly.
Well, this time she need to spend more effort and thought. She wants to see if Qing Feng was thoroughly tough to handle or if the person protecting her was that good.
This person can protect her in the dark but can that person protect her in the open?