Chaos Of Beauty

Chapter 19 — Storm In The Back Palace
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Chapter 19: Storm In The Back Palace

Clearly knowing not to but still resorting to such, calling it “courage”, clearly knowing not to but still resorting to such, what it should be called, do you know?

It is called “sin”……

Lou Che places down the brush in hand, gazing down at the official document on the desk, his thinking somewhat blank, constantly thinking back to that night they returned from the palace, those vague words of Gui Wan’s. A bundle of irritation shoots up his heart, and with a sound of “pa” the document is slammed shut, he closes his eyes, entering deep thoughts, but is disrupted with a wave of hurried steps, gradually closing in from afar, coming to a sudden stop outside the door.

“My lord?” The old housekeeper sounding a little breathless, tentatively calls out.

His eyelids doesn’t lift in the slightest, silent to the point it seemed like he heard nothing, after a while, Lou Che slowly opens his eyes, “What’s the matter?”

“My lord, outside, the Imperial Physician Hall’s Qing Xun, Lord Qin is requesting an audience.” The housekeeper’s tone is still as courteous and respectful as ever, a long waiting time has already become a custom.

The corner of his lips hooking up, tracing a playful smile, Lou Che deeply emits a laughing tone: “Did he say what it’s about?”

“My lord, he says there’s an extremely important matter to report.” His master’s thoughts and mood has always been very difficult to make out, but according to a decade of serving experience in the estate, his master today, definitely cannot be considered to be in a good mood.

“Extremely important?” He softly sounds, accompanied by laughter, those who come here in request of an audience, which one of them dares say it isn’t important, after a moment of consideration, his voice recovers its gentle warmth, “Allow him in.”

The footsteps once again distances away, and a while later, they return with two sets of steady steps, an elderly voice sounds from outside: “This old minister Qin Xun greets Prime Minster.”

The old housekeeper walks up, opening the room doors, Lou Che is still maintaining his leisurely seated position, his elegantly handsome face carrying a smile like that of the spring breeze, yet those eyes containing deeply imbedded chill, does not lighten in the slightest, “Lord Qin please.”

Qin Xun nods his head, slowly stepping into the room, not daring to show any disrespect towards the well refined man in front, he sits a seat down from the first guest seat, only soiling half the chair, as he solemnly sits.

A maid serves up hot tea, the steam gently rising, and its tea fragrance instantly overflowing the room, a ghostly flavour diffusing into the air.

Lou Che takes a sip of the tea in a leisurely manner, under a glance of his eyes, Qin Xun grows restless with great unease, his behaviour so nervous, it gives rise to a trace of suspiciousness, slowly placing down the tea cup, a light sound of collision between cup and saucer lures in Qin Xun’s attention, “With even such clear fragrant tea not suiting Lord Qin’s appetite, could it be something is troubling you?”

Taking a look all around, finding that the housekeeper, the maid, have all withdrawn, only Lou Che and himself is in the room, he unconsciously gulps down a mouthful of saliva, speaking up with difficulty: “Prime Minister Lou, this matter, don’t know whether it’s proper or improper to speak of.”

His smile lines unravelled, eyes appearing even darker, Lou Che slightly straightens his body, revealing an expression of interest, “Exactly what is the matter?”

Extending his hand to wipe away the sweat on his forehead with his sleeve, Qin Xun appears fearful, his heart met with slight struggles. Showing a recollecting expression, he slowly starts speaking: “Prime Minister Lou, two months ago, Lady Consort Ying had a miscarriage, at the time this subject I was the Imperial Physician Hall’s attendant to this, responsible in taking care of Lady Consort’s body. According to the rules, all prescriptions issued from the Imperial Physician Hall should all be disposed of afterwards, that day, I went to find Lady Consort Ying’s miscarriage prevention prescription, only to find that the prescription had actually disappeared, I immediately grew anxious……if the prescription is not to be found, then I’m unable to complete my job, so I could only go to the place where we make prescriptions, hoping to be able to write out the prescription from looking at the situation of the medications, once this old minister I arrives at the place where medication is prescribed, I found that, the placement spot for eucommia bark, had actually been swapped with saffron……” His voice getting quieter and quieter, trembling as he rises to his feet at the end.

Hearing up to this point, Lou Che also couldn’t hold back a change of expression, gloomy and unpredictable, with his brows knitting together, he asks in an icy cold tone: “Are you certain?”

Qin Xun’s entire body violently shudders, hurrying to his own defence: “Of course, this matter, I have already kept everything in my heart for over a month……eucommia bark and saffron are originally two completely different things, I have been an imperial physician for many years, how could I possibly get this wrong? After that happened, I was also very worried, but couldn’t find anyone to speak of this matter to, after that, I went to find the eunuch in charge of assorting medications--Xiao Lin Zi, wanting to ask about this matter, only to find he has been transferred elsewhere, but just three days ago, he suddenly died, even the cause of death had yet to be made clear, and his corpse was towed away.”

Towards this confidential inner court news, he is growing more afraid, the more he thinks about it, unable to swallow down his food, unable to sleep peacefully at night, for two whole months, he has been tortured by this matter, hearing the death news of the medicine assorting Xiao Lin Zi three days ago, he was almost scared to death, thinking it over for half a day, he had only just summoned up the courage today to report this matter to Prime Minister Lou. Regardless of anything else, someone who can take control over this matter, other than the Emperor, Prime Minister Lou is the second ideal option, not to mention, this matter cannot be recklessly reported to the Emperor, afraid that under the dragon’s rage, he too will be dragged into this, in the end, he could only come find Lou Che.

Having thoroughly listened to this entire matter, Lou Che’s face did not actually show any emotions, graceful to the point it seemed as though he didn’t hear any of it. Yet Qin Xun senses great pressure ten times heavier than before, a feeling that makes him dare not to even make a sound of breathing, a cutting ice-like air overflowing from the wordless Lou Che’s body.

Unable to withstand the immense pressure within the room, Qin Xun speaks up: “Prime Minister Lou……”

“Lord Qin,” Deeply speaking up, Lou Che side glances Qin Xun, sharp eyes forcing him to lower his head, “This matter, how many people knows of it as of now?”

Sweat once again rolling down from his forehead, yet he can longer sense it, all of his attention gathered on the man in front, with the appearance of a noble gentleman, he dares not to show the slightest of negligence, hurriedly answering: “As of now, this matter is known only to you and I……but, a few days ago when I went to find the prescribed medicine, the medicine delivering eunuch has inquired, and even tried finding the prescription, I’m only afraid those with the intention……is able to vaguely guess it.”

A cold humph sounds, Lou Che lowly laughs, those with the intention? Those with the intention can be found all over that palace, to receive a request from Qin Xun like this, looks like there is already someone who guessed the hidden secret behind all this.

“Lord Qin, this matter, you are half in the correct, half wrong……keep your own mouth sealed, do not allow for others to know.”

Once Lou Che’s words were spoken, Qin Xun immediately knew that his own life has been saved, and couldn’t help but to rejoice, the huge boulder within his heart has been lifted, he can now return and finally get a good night’s sleep, hurriedly bowing down to waist level, dropping a few words of flattery, he hurriedly leaves the Prime Minister Estate.

Waiting for his figure to disappear, Lou Che reveals a look of difficulty, letting out a deep sigh, he stands up, walking into the courtyard, calling out: “Housekeeper.”

As soon as the words were said, in a hidden area of the courtyard, the housekeeper had already walked out, bowing as he says: “My lord.”

“Have someone to send a letter to the ministry of punishments, tell the Minister of Punishments to immediately pay a visit, then send another letter into the palace, in the evening of today, I need to enter the palace, let the one in charge of the inner courtyard Li gong-gong to await for his assignment.” Concise yet strongly given commands, Lou Che appears as though he is ready to face any problems.

After a word of acceptance, he was just about to turn around, when Lou Che suddenly calls him to a stop again, turning his head, he actually sees Lou Che’s eyes set on the garden, after a while of gazing, he asks: “Where’s Gui Wan?”

“Madam went out early this morning, said she will be back before dinner.”

After hearing this answer, he reveals a puzzled expression, unable to see Gui Wan, he immediately feels uneasy, turning around, throwing aside his distracting thoughts, he says: “Go attend to your matters.”

The problem between him and Gui Wan, shall have to wait till this matter is over to solve it, after all, they still have an entire lifetime……

******

Madam of the Qu Zhou rest inn, Fiery Xi Shi, is sat in the horse carriage right now, her mind drifting far away, repeatedly thinking over everything that has happened over the past few months, ever since two months ago, having come across that peerlessly elegant “gentleman”, her destiny seems to have also turned down a weird path.

Just who could that “gentleman” possibly be? Suddenly shows up, mysteriously goes missing. Because of her disappearance, the entire Qu Zhou suffered an official restriction ban, because of this matter, she herself has been speculating for a long time, but has still yet to guess the actual identity of that “gentleman”. A few days ago, she actually received an invitation from the “gentleman”, due to the questions and confusion held in her heart, impossible to solve, she decides to come to the Capital City to see this “gentleman” again.

Ears suddenly catching the noise of carriage wheels coming to a stop, Fiery Xi Shi’s brows lightly jumps, before she even got to speak, a clear voice has already travelled into the carriage: “Is it San Niang of the Qu Zhou rest inn?”

Upon lifting the carriage curtains, Fiery Xi Shi looks outside the carriage, the horse carriage is parked in a secluded street corner, a house with east and west wings connected to it stands before her eyes, a peaceful environment, a faint fragrance of wisteria lingering in the air, it does not look like a luxury noble residence, but an ordinary businessman’s house, at the red lacquer main doors, stands a maid in yellow, bright and delicate, with extraordinary charm and bearings, smiling over at her.

Jumping off the horse carriage, Fiery Xi Shi greets in her own uniquely frank way: “Young lady, this place is……”

Slowly taking a few steps forward, Ling Long performs a simple bow, “Are you San Niang? Please follow me inside first.” Seeming to know that she will follow after her, with a nod of a head, she courteously leads the way forward.

Fiery Xi Shi quickly observes the surrounding environment, before hurriedly following after her. Upon entering the doors, the scent of wisteria rushes into her face, in between breathing, her inhaling and exhaling completely filled with this fragrance, and before her, a scene of purple catches her eyes, circling around the east and west wings within this property, is actually wisteria planted all around. The current season is the perfect time to see the blooming of wisteria flowers, with a blow of the cooling summer breeze, they gently drift down, descending to the ground. Entering this property, is just like walking on purple clouds.

Inner praises arising from the very bottom of her heart, she follows Ling Long and passes by the side wings, arriving at the inner courtyard, where oriole-like singing flows into her ears, her eyes follows the sound, steps coming to a sudden stop, no longer able to move.

“Reluctant to part, reluctant to part, unlimited lingering love confessed through the zither strings, the zither strings sounding cóng cóng like flowing water, resenting my darling’s leave this time, will have no return……” [1] The oriole-like singing graceful, resonantly smooth, the back of a woman’s figure faces San Niang and Ling Long, that one person standing alone in the middle of the inner courtyard singing an opera play.

A cool breeze surrounds them, stirring up the wisteria petals, circling around in the air, before slowly falling, like a set of stained clothing descending upon the singing person’s head, shoulders, and skirt. The petals scattered on the ground also appears to have come to life, following the singing person’s movements, fluttering, bouncing, yet the one singing opera does not seem to realise this, dancing on her own, performing waves with her water sleeves, singing in solitude. Although only the back view can be seen, that posture, that charm of graceful beauty like water, bit by bit ripples out from her figure, purity, agility, and elegance, all of which have been woven together into an invisible net, luring the unwitting audience into place.

One step, one sway, one swing of the sleeve, “The person leaves this house empty and lonely, leaving only the sweet memories of the past behind……” [2]With a turn of her head, Gui Wan sees the arrival of others, grinning gracefully, the water sleeves spins in circles, leisurely swaying it gently, shaking off the purple petals scattered all over her body, and heads towards the two people, “San Niang has come from afar, yet I have been inattentive.”

Fiery Xi Shi who just had her soul captured by the beautiful scene before her, leisurely sighs, laughingly saying: “To this very day, I really have to give it to you……no wonder you were able to gain control of the words of mouth in Qu Zhou so freely.” She has thought hard for many days, and only then did she understand one of the mysteries, why “gentlemen” found students to discuss literary with, why after she disappeared, Qu Zhou was suddenly hit with a wave of students writing up a petition, thinking about it now, all of this is the masterpiece of the person in front right?

“San Niang is a clever person, as expected I could not hide from you.” Walking to the side, taking off the outer performance gown, Gui Wan does not hold back her praises.

Hearing her admit to it so openly, Fiery Xi Shi was somewhat suspicious, “You……exactly who are you?”

“Who does San Niang think I am?” A trace of teasing, Gui Wan turns her head displaying an expression of humbly asking for advice.

Fiery Xi Shi remains silent for a while, finally giving up, she sighs saying: “I don’t know, could you be someone tied to the palace?” Thinking of her opposing inner palace matters, could she also be one tied to affairs of the palace?

Neither admitting nor denying, Gui Wan laughs it off, sitting down at the veranda, signalling for San Niang to sit with her, only after seeing her seated, did she speak up again: “San Niang, I have matter I would like to request for your help in, don’t know if this is possible?”

“Gentleman, you have everything in your reach, if even you have something you cannot do, how could I possibly help you?” Although not knowing exactly who she is, but she is able to work out, the one before her, is no ordinary person.

“This matter, only San Niang is capable of,” Gui Wan sighs and says, seeming to hold unlimited frustration, “San Niang has an extensive web of contacts, I’d like to invite San Niang to live in this house, recruit talents, gather intelligence, and become the eyes and ears within the Capital City.”

Inviting San Niang here is also of last resort, the net of intelligence within the Prime Minister Estate can only carried out under the command of Lou Che, the things she has to do now, is running in opposition of Lou Che, the only way out, is to cultivate her own wings (assistants).

Seeing Fiery Xi Shi say nothing, Gui Wan indifferently smiles, “What is San Niang afraid of, are you afraid of the unforeseeable future?”

“I am not afraid of the future,” Fiery Xi Shi slowly speaks, suddenly seeming to have thought of something, asking: “What opera play was gentleman singing just now, it was really nice, young masters also knows how to sing opera?”

Seeing her continue to address her as “gentleman”, Gui Wan knows she is one who greatly values feelings and old friendships, not forcing her, Gui Wan smiles and replies: “I was singing {{Peacocks Flying Southeast}}. My mother has taught me to sing opera since young, saying, life is like an opera play, only when you can sing out the feelings within the play, can you face life with a smile, and also cultivate the beauty of actions.”

An expression of sudden realisation is shown on Fiery Xi Shi’s face, secretly speculating, no wonder why this “gentleman’s” every move is able to carry a leisurely beauty, so this is how it was cultivated, she also inevitably grows curious towards her mother, what kind of a mother is able to raise such an extraordinary woman? At the same time, a surge of impulse rushes up her heart, wanting to stay here, is a decision of a lifetime, not to mention she cannot take back her words later.

Seeing her expression appear complex, Gui Wan was also able to vaguely guess her thoughts, continuing to say: “What I want San Niang to do, is only rounding up a web of contacts, it is not anything bad, San Niang has also gotten fed up of being in Qu Zhou, why not try a change of environment?”

Almost completely persuaded by her, San Niang still has some final hesitations: “But my family……”

“Ling Long.” Gui Wan understands what to do as soon as she hears this, softly calling out to the maid beside her. Ling Long walks up front, taking out a stack of banknotes from a box placed at the side, and places it before San Niang, gently saying: “San Niang’s family has already been picked up in Qu Zhou, and shall be arriving in the Capital City in two days, here is thirty thousand liang funding for San Niang, for you to recruit talents and gather intelligence here.”

Completely stunned, Fiery Xi Shi develops a sense of unpredictable feeling towards Gui Wan who is always holding a smile, everything appearing blank before her. With the hardening of her heart, she reaches out and accepts the banknotes, promising: “Rest assured, this matter I will do a good job with it.”

Seeing her accept it, Gui Wan also sighs in relief. Looking at the box beside her, she feels her heart jump and turn, the asset her mother has left her, is beginning to come to use now, to be able to contribute in helping out the Empress in the palace, this should also be her mother’s wish right?

This is also my bottom line, what I can help with, what I can do, this is the bottom line. Secretly sighing to herself, Gui Wan faintly smiles as she looks over the courtyard, yet her vision has lost its focus.

All of a sudden, someone runs up from the entrance, hastily charging in, whispering into Ling Long’s ear, and stuffs a small note in her hand at the same time, Ling Long waves her hand, allowing him to withdraw, before slowly walking up to Gui Wan’s side, passing her the note as she softly says: “De Yu gong-gong’s urgent message.”

Fine jade-like fingers opens up the note, after thinking for a moment, Gui Wan gathers together her smile, voicing out her shock: “Saffron……”

******

“Madam……” Seeing the arriving person, De Yu strokes at his waist belt, neatening out the wrinkles on his outfit caused by a long time of waiting, and then approaches her. Having just been promoted to the head of Zhang Ning Hall, changing from purple robes to blue silk clothing, due to his naturally clear skin, as well as his courteous and refined bearings, his entire being beams with an air of youthfulness, blooming with radiance.

Gui Wan clear off rouge and powder, in a body of ordinary palace outfit, a simple glazed hairpin inserted into her done up hair, exhibits the elegance of washed away magnificence, seeming to be hiding her nervousness as she thinly smiles, stepping through the Xuan Yu Doors, having looked all around, with no sighting of other figures, she finally speaks up: “Gong-gong, your note was saying, Consort Ying’s miscarriage had something to do with saffron?”

Lightly nodding his head, De Yu walks up to Gui Wan’s side, standing shoulder to shoulder with her, looking at them from afar, they do not look out of ordinary, lowering his voice, he speaks next to Gui Wan’s ear: “Madam, Prime Minister Lou has already entered the palace through the Xuan Ji Doors, currently investigating at the Imperial Physician Hall, your presence within the palace right now is of utmost inconveniences, do you want to change into a different outfit first?”

This De Yu’s thinking is indeed very thorough, Gui Wan thinks to herself, secretly entering the palace this time, her objective is to investigate this case before Lou Che, of course she needs to avoid the eyes and ears of others, smiling, she turns her head to the side, a face of cunningness, wondering: “What will be good to change into?”

“Dress as a palace maid……” De Yu seems to carefully look over Gui Wan, shaking his head, “Not too suitable, better to just dress up as a gong-gong.”

“Are there no other choices?” Acting as though it was unintentional, Gui Wan thinly smiles as she asks.

……

After a while, stepping out from the side hall of Zhang Ning Hall, Gui Wan finds it difficult to adapt to her outfit as she pulls at the clothing, seeing De Yu’s intently watching her, she cannot help but to laugh, asking: “Is it looking too strange?”

Awkwardly turning away, De Yu takes a step back, slightly lowering his head, humbly saying: “No, Madam.”

Stepping down the stairs, looking left and right, Gui Wan asks the person beside her: “What people has Prime Minister Lou seen after entering the palace?”

“As soon as he entered the palace, he summoned Li gong-gong, then went to the Imperial Physician Hall, and then respectively entered the medicinal herbs room as well as the side hall used to decoct the herbal medicines, right now, they seem to have headed to the prohibited area of the palace.” Faithfully reporting with concise details, not a single point missing.

Gui Wan lightly knits her brows, “Really is making sure not a single drop leaks out, this is bad……” Lou Che link after link, linking connections together as he investigates, how is there possibly any other places he can set his hands on?

“Madam,” Noticing Gui Wan’s look of difficulty, De Yu reminds, “If Prime Minister Lou has already found something right now, then he would not have to continue investigating further. Not to mention there is a lapse of two months between the happenings of this matter, some of the clues have been blurred, everything still requires planning in a long-term perspective.”

Giving him a look full of praises, Gui Wan nods in agreement, remaining silent for a moment, before speaking yet again: “Consort Ying’s miscarriage two months ago, other than Imperial Physician Qin, were there no other attending imperial physicians?”

“There was, there was also Imperial Physician Zhang, unfortunately a few days after the matter, he already retired and returned home.”

Originally a problem with answers they are already unsure of, thus becomes even more complicated and confusing as of now, Gui Wan only feels as though a scene of boundlessly white fog lies before her eyes, carefully thinking it over, she lightly asks De Yu: “Regarding this matter, what do you think the chances are of it being the Empress’ doing?”

De Yu sinks into deep silence, not daring to answer this question with casual ease, after careful consideration, he speaks up: “Little chance, the Empress at the time was already affected by the ‘Hu Guo Temple’ crisis, under semi-house arrest in the palace, there should be no energy spare to do this.”

Although this was also the answer she held deep inside, to hear this from someone else seems to add a cetain confirmation to it, thus feeling like hearing a different answer, her heart grows slightly put to ease, but cannot refrain from giving rise to doubts, exactly who could have possibly acted so recklessly in the back palace?

The two of them talk as they walk, although they came across a few eunuchs and palace maids along the way, there were actually no fright, no danger. Wandering into the back palace courtyard, a little eunuch runs up, whispering a few words into De Yu’s ears, and quickly leaves. De Yu turns his head back, seeming to speak with concern: “Prime Minister Lou has now headed to Jing Yi Palace to see Lady Consort Ying.”

Gui Wan indifferently smile as she listens to his report, secretly full of praises, she has indeed not found the wrong person, this person works very cautiously, and also understands how to accommodate to circumstances, give it a little more time, and he will definitely become the dark horse[3]within the palace. Unfortunately the news that made its way into her ears, is not in fact anything pleasant, Gui Wan softly mutters: “Lost the opportune moment……”

“Madam, there’s still one more place, we can go take a look.” De Yu’s refined face appears concerned, and thus advices.

“What place?”

“All medicine concocted for an imperial consort, will require having another to taste it first, thus an extra bowl would be prepared, only after the taste tester has consumed it without any problems, would the medicine be sent to the imperial consort.” Someone who often taste medicine all year round, should already have become familiar with the medicinal properties, why is it that they didn’t realise the medicine contained saffron?

“Your meaning is……”

“The one who taste tested Lady Consort Ying’s medicine, should be at the side hall of Yu Gan Palace.”

“Let us quickly go then.” A beautiful smile blooming like a flower, Gui Wan’s feelings of joy emerges, in that sweet moment, a bewitching charm is hidden within that extremely elegant beauty, making De Yu fall into a trance upon seeing it, pulling himself together, Gui Wan had already walked a few steps ahead, he hurriedly follows after her.

They had only just arrived in front of the corridors of Yu Gan Palace, when De Yu suddenly jumps forward, desperately calling out in a low tone: “Madam, ahead.”

Gui Wan instantly glances over, walking over from not too far away is actually Lou Che’s party, with him were also the likes of a few officials and eunuchs following behind, a chill overcomes her heart, didn’t think that even this place, did not escape him, simply not a single leakage. At the same time she was slightly panicking, the disguise she’s in can get past others, but cannot possibly slip by Lou Che’s eyes. Fortunately this spot is the corridors’ turning corner, they don’t seem to have looked over here.

“Madam,” In a moment of haste, De Yu acts quickly within times of emergency, pulling Gui Wan’s hand, gently saying, “Follow me to Yu Gan Palace for shelter.” The two people follows the corridor, arriving at the main hall of the Yu Gan Palace, they did not think too much, and push opened the doors, stepping inside.

The Yu Gan Palace was built by the late emperor who was luxurious by nature, usually used by the Emperor to rest here and deal with certain matters, forbidding the ordinary people from disturbing, right now it is very quiet, not a single person is here, the interior of the hall adopts a design of natural lighting, sunrays beaming into the room, glass crystals, also used to attract the outside lighting inside. Gui Wan has seen countless treasures before, but upon entering this room, she still falls into a dazzling feeling, indeed exquisiteness that rivals nature, such design as resplendent as jade, as magnificent as gold.

Not allowing for her to fully appreciate her surroundings, a voice suddenly sounds from outside, seems like someone is entering the hall, Gui Wan was absolutely surprised. This place does not allow for casual intrusion, exactly who could be coming here right now? And how is she to explain her reason for being here? Turning her head back, she faces De Yu’s deeply serious expression, the two of them exchange glances at loss, whilst the sound of footsteps and voices is already getting closer and closer.

The main doors of Yu Gan Hall opens with a “zhi” sound.

Three palace maids files in, the first one seemingly shocked as she speaks up: “Why have the curtains not been drawn in the hall, how do you get the job done, could you have forgotten Nanny’s scolding last time?” The two palace maids behind, dares not to answer, submissively responding to her, not long later, the glass crystals are covered by the curtains, the brightly lit hall just now suddenly turning absolutely dark.

Crouching between the wall and the dragon throne, Gui Wan carefully breathes, her eyes rolls to the side, seeing De Yu, he also holds a trace of nervousness, inevitably finding it laughable, she reveals a slight smile, secretly rejoicing, their luck really isn’t bad, this is the renowned gorgeously magnificent palace, even the distance between the dragon throne and the wall holds an air of particular grandness, actually able to hide two people. If she is the emperor, she’s afraid that the first thing to do every day, will be to check whether anyone is hiding behind this seat.

The inside of the hall suddenly becomes as dark as night, falling into dark hours, the sound of the palace maid’s footsteps seems to be walking in circles in the palace hall, other than that palace maid with an especially fierce tone, the other two did not utter a single word, finally waiting till they stopped busying, the opening of the doors sounds again, and only then did Gui Wan sigh in relief, a supporting hand placed on the ground, she raises her knees, was just about to stand up, when the three palace maids suddenly halts in closing the doors, lowering their bodies as they kneel on the floor, speaking in unison: “Greetings Lady Consort Li.”

Secretly lamenting, Gui Wan felt begrudged at heart, yet she could only lower her body once again, withdrawing into her original spot. Since Consort Li and others are stood in the hall, and Gui Wan could not possibly poke out her head to watch, only a few words vaguely drifts past her ears. After waiting for a while, the closing of doors, once again sounds, and peace is finally restored in the hall.

The silence continues for a long time, and they did not hear anymore sounds, De Yu has also just let out a sigh in comfort, recalling how they found this spot in a moment of panic just before, it can be considered a frightful situation but no danger, a smile slowly climbs his face, he gets up first, before extending his hand to help Gui Wan up. The two of them meet eyes, in face of the current situation, they both find it rather funny, lightly laughing out loud.

Smiles running deep, Gui Wan glances from the corner of her eyes, finding De Yu seemingly looking at her in a daze, gathering her smile, she turns around saying: “Let us quickly leave whilst we can now.”

With her light reminder, his heart receives a shock, nodding his head, he keeps his movement light, making his way to the doors, his hands has just caught the door handles, when sound of footsteps can once again be heard, retracting his hands, he looks back at Gui Wan, Gui Wan also appears grave, with unspoken understanding, the two of them can only choose to go back the usual place, hiding away.

Annoyance rising, Gui Wan laments, could it be that they have hide behind the dragon throne all day today? Matters of the back palace is rapidly changing, wasting half a day of time, don’t even know what other tremendous changes could occur……just when she was deeply thinking this, someone had already entered Yu Gan Hall, the sound of a gentle women’s voice can be heard: “Did you get the job done?”

Gui Wan was suddenly shocked, this voice is clearly Consort Li’s, why would she leave and come back?

“Lady Consort, this servant I have already sent the poisoned wine over. But, ran into Prime Minister Lou along the way, this servant was scared……so……Lady Consort please show some mercy ah……” The one answering seems to be a palace maid, her voice right now actually carrying a crying tone, sobbing for mercy.

Hearing up to here, she can vaguely guess what is going on, Gui Wan busily listens on attentively, but what followed was just silence, only the palace maid’s weeping can be heard, still suppressed, seeming to not dare cry out openly, such sound overflowed the entire space. All of a sudden, the palace maid suppresses a quiet cry, this sound drills into the chest, overwhelmingly shrill, actually sounding even more shocking than that of crying out loud, hearing this also made Gui Wan’s heart jump, not knowing what exactly happened inside the hall, yet the miserable cries of the palace maid, bitterly crying in pain, soundlessly, continuously, tumbles past her ears.

“Cheap servant, can’t even carry out such simple task, what’s the point in keeping you?” Upon hearing Consort Li’s voice right now, it sounds like her tone has turned twisted, the usually gentle voice has actually changed into a sharp tone.

The palace maid’s voice gradually decreases, struggling movements has also decreased, as though all have returned to the usual calm, all of a sudden, an ear-piercing sound can be heard, on contact of a surface, presumably the silent woman’s nails vigorously scratching against the floor, followed by Consort Li’s low cry like that of a being scratched by a cat, screaming out: “Cheap servant, how daring of you……” Carelessly kicking at the palace maid, only then did the large hall once again calm down.

Gui Wan’s heart runs cold, although Gui Wan was able to see this Consort Li is far from gentle as she appears to be at first glance, but she definitely did not think she would be vicious to such extent. Gui Wan herself is not a kind-hearted person, she too also plays with political trickery, at times of need she will also treat human life like grass, but to be directly face this right now, her heart still leaps up in anger.

Consort Li ah Consort Li, wait till I leave this place, I’ll make sure you will suffer this tenfold.

This open and empty grand hall does not restore its previous brightness and extravagant beauty, instead it carries a suppressive gloom, no sound can be heard any more, nor was there the sound of Consort Li leaving. Gui Wan turns to look at De Yu, he also appears doubtful and aghast, seeming to not dare believe the truth he has just heard.

Could it be she need to deal with a corpse? This thought had just leapt over Gui Wan’s heart, when Consort Li’s voice can be heard again, her voice this time, tones down a lot, seeming to lose her composure, her voice trembling, speech incoherent, muttering to herself: “What to do? What to do……he would definitely want me dead……no, no……I don’t want to die……” In the end, she too was actually carrying a weeping tone.

Her panic and helplessness disperses into the air, Gui Wan carefully listens to her disorganised words, suddenly feeling suspicious, didn’t think that behind Consort Li there’s also an accomplice, that’s not right, rather than saying accomplice, it is more like a mastermind. Carefully taking this into consideration, Consort Li may be jealous of Consort Ying, but it has not reached such extent to strike a murderous blow. Listening to Consort Li’s tone, the one behind this may terribly be one who stands above Consort Li, her thoughts starts spinning, Gui Wan tries to think what person holds this condition.

To have both, power as great as the skies, and also able to easily access the back palace? Just exactly who……

“So this is where you are……” All of a sudden, an additional voice sounds within the grand hall, the indescribable gentleness in this voice, contains a long drawn out tone of luxurious laziness, a playful tone like playing hide and seek with someone, within this idle tone, there actually harbours a devilish nature, seeming as though eerily distinctive coldness lies behind those words.

No noise……still no noise, Gui Wan feels as though even her own heart had stopped beating, her breathing becoming a heavy burden, in a moment of panic, she looks at De Yu, but only sees a bean sized droplet of sweat slide down from his forehead, heart in fright, Gui Wan feels her spine run cold.

Just when exactly did the owner of this voice enter? Before Consort Li came in, only she and De Yu gong-gong were in this grand hall, and when Consort Li came in accompanied by her maids, this person clearly wasn’t here, the hall’s doors were already closed, before this voice sounded, there were no sound of the doors opening, how could someone have possibly shown up so suddenly within the grand hall?

Not to mention this voice is very familiar, exactly where did she hear it before? Gui Wan remembers from learning opera plays with her mother since young, people’s behaviour and voice, can all form a visual memory, why does this voice actually feel so familiar yet unfamiliar at the same time? Such distinctive voice, anyone who hears it will not be able to forget, so why is it that she’s finding it difficult to recall?

The floor sounds “putong”, Consort Li seems to have already dropped to her knees, losing all her senses as she cries out: “I don’t want to die……don’t want to die……” The arrogance and tyrannical behaviour towards the maid just now has completely disappeared, right now appearing absolutely pitiful and tragic.

No longer caring for Consort Li, Gui Wan’s heart constantly pounds, silently struggling, waiting for this person to speak again.

Time passes by bit by bit, the hall sinks into silence, Consort Li’s one draw one twitch of uneven breathing and depressive weeping, setting off a strange atmosphere within the silence, her patience is gradually fading within this atmosphere infected with sorrow, yet that man no longer speaks again.

Gui Wan’s tensed feelings did not calm down along with the silence in the hall, instead, her nerves tightens the more it is stretched, her rational chord is being highly raised, a feeling like that of the heart jumping up to the throat, her knees have long lost all it feelings, her arms have also turned numb, she subtly adjusts her breathing, allowing her crazily beating heart to calm down a little.

“Done crying?” A shallow laughter diffuses into the air, like a naughty child’s mockery after he’s seen enough drama.

Consort Li does not seem to dare say anything, only suppressing weep after weep, suppressing it into a barely audible sob, after while later, did she finally answer: “It is this cheap servant’s incompetence……I……I already……tried my best……” Even her words of pleading sounds delicate, such lowly attitude, weak and wretched to the point it’s able to evoke sympathy from anyone.

“Did your best?” A voice like that of a ghost sounds again, clear like a light breeze blowing over the lake’s surface, “Since matters have already gotten to this point, you carry on trying your best in doing a final thing.”

Such warm and gentle voice, entering the ears, instead makes Gui Wan feel her hair stand on end, a cold chill washing over her heart.

Consort Li seems to be stupefied, the sound of weeping suddenly stops, a little while later, a sweet and gentle laughter sounds, one word one cry, laced in unlimited desolation, “I just knew it……towards her, you still……you heartless person, you’re a demon……”

The one who was called a demon did not get angry and instead laughs, gentle like the curve of a willow branch, filling the entire hall.

“Three years ago……that day three years ago, it was you who plucked a flower from the peach tree for me, saying face wins over the peach blossom, it was really beautiful at that time ah……that peach blossom……why? It has once again reached the season of blooming peach blossoms, yet you feel no sentimental attachment, do you have no heart?” The words of complaints grows a little shrill, like the struggling before death.

“Three years ago, your face indeed won over peach blossoms, but now, do you need to take another look in the mirror?”

Consort Li once again sinks into silence, all of a sudden, another sound of clothes and something heavy plunging to the ground can be heard within the hall again, just when Gui Wan was absolutely startled, a round of clapping resounds throughout the hall.

“Without doting grace, could it be that even one’s self-respect and body all have to be brought out in a show of humiliation?” Such scorning contains a frost cold tone, spitting out vicious words, yet her voice itself is infinitely gentle, like the whispering of sweet nothings between lovers.

Her sobbing sounds once again, the difference being, her crying contains laughter, crazily, insanely, murmuring: “That’s right, you will never feel sentimentally attached, you are a heartless person……ha ha ha ha, you even murdered your own child, how could you possibly have a heart?” Bitter laughter continues to sounds from Consort Li’s mouth.

“Oh? How are you so certain that is my child, and not Lou Che’s vile spawn?”

A view of darkness before her eyes, such boundless absence, Gui Wan abruptly freezes, unconsciously lifting her numb hand, resting it on her chest, feeling the slight beating, and only then did she believe the entire truth she had just heard, the one speaking is actually the current emperor---Zheng Liu.

Not even in her dreams, would she have even imagined, the one who secretly added saffron into Consort Ying’s medicine would actually be the one who gave Consort Ying three thousand worth of doting love. Why did it have to be like this?

In her impression of him, the Emperor is a weak and cowardly person, with no air of courage and no dominance that a monarch should have. Yet it just happens, that listening to his voice alone right now, would make her sense a highly inscrutable overcast of oppressiveness. Two years ago, Zheng Liu was able to stand victorious over the other princes, relying on this one word of “benevolence”[4], could it be that this is all but a fake image?

Thinking up to this point, no matter how strong Gui Wan’s calm mind can be, she too cannot refrain from dripping in cold sweat, turning her head to look at De Yu, whose face is also pale white, lips as thin as paper.

Gui Wan bitterly laughs inside, suddenly recalling a word of warning her mother had told her since young: Beyond people there are more people, beyond the sky there are more skies[5], the art of trickery is vast with boundless reaches. One who sits in a high position, must hold some tricks up his sleeves, and should never be overlooked.

Hand clenching into a fist, and only when her nails dug into her skin, inflicting pain, did Gui Wan gradually get rid of that feeling of fear and panic, calming herself down, she gently presses her lips together, whilst silently hiding within the darkness.

“Lou Che holds great power, Prince Duan is greatly domineering, I being able to forbear to this day, is already the absolute bottom line limit, how could I possibly further tolerate her giving birth to this vile spawn?” His responding question seems to be filled with a matter of fact tone.

“You have no heart……you are clearly uncertain whose child that actually is……in fact, you are also very pitiful, in order to sit on the dragon throne, you are unable to live as yourself, even when facing one who shares the same pillow as you, you still need to put on an act……could it be that placing such pain and suffering onto others will make you happy?” Consort Li’s laughter ripples, seeming to have restored her usual gentle grace, but all those within the hall understands, her spirit is already on the verge of collapsing.

“As someone who is already about to die, there is no need to overthink anything, just enjoy the rest of your time.”

The hall once again sinks into silence, Gui Wan feels as though a stone is stuck in her chest, her body feeling suddenly cold suddenly hot, alternatingly striking her, and her thoughts are rather jumbled up, such gloomy mood like her body has sunken into the boundless darkness.

“Your majesty……” Consort Li’s grieving voice once again sounds, softly yet sorrowfully asking, “Have you ever loved me?”

A light sound of scoffing, as though what he heard was a joke, “If you still had little use, I believe I would still love you for some time.”

“Then do you love Consort Ying?”

“Love, of course I love her, she is but a great chess piece that I can use to keep Lou Che in control, as of now, I do not have any thoughts of discarding her.”

Consort Li laughs, laughing savagely and insolently, seeming as though something great just happened, not at all like one who is about to die.

The laughter is abruptly choked off, the voice of devilish charm asks with overflowing tenderness: “What you laughing at?”

Her breathing having been cut off, can only draw in little amounts of air with great difficulty, disjointedly breathing out the words: “Your majesty……you’re so pitiful……you actually……don’t……don’t understand……don’t understand love.” Finishing that one sentence, all breathing completely disappears, clothing comes in contact with the ground surface, the body slowly slides down, only the hate and resentment left behind before her dying breath, seems to have remained in the hall, feelings of mourning lingers, such that even the perpetrator seems to have frozen on the spot, not speaking a single word, not making a single move.

Didn’t think Consort Li would end her life here just like that, towards her, Gui Wan feels disgust but at the same time, she also gave rise to feelings of compassion. Before she died, she had still revealed a slight show of goodwill, not to mention her own fate is this tragic……

“Eavesdropped enough?” Footsteps slowly paces near, gently asking.

Behind the dragon throne, her heart resists from beating, Gui Wan’s entire body turns ice cold, like being thrown into an ice pit.

Within a moment, Gui Wan’s mind produces an illusion, the one gradually approaching does not seem to be the current Son of Heaven, but a demon, that sort of abnormally demonic sense she gets just from hearing his voice, persistently lingers in her mind, indirectly affecting her judgement. If beside this dragon throne, both sides are open, she would definitely choose to sacrifice one amongst the two, pushing De Yu out without hesitation, but the dragon throne in this Yu Gan Hall, one side is attached to the glass crystal pillar, only Gui Wan’s side is open spaced.

Zheng Liu seems to be deliberately torturing them, his steps paced very slow, rhythmically closing in, very lightly, very lightly, like dust refusing to sticking to the surface. Gui Wan’s heart pounds crazily fast, for the first time, she feels so close to death, even when her body along with the horse fell into the valley at Feng Qi Slope, when the Nu Tribe’s long arrow skimmed past her sleeve, she has never felt as alarmed as this before, hundreds and thousands of fleeting thoughts flashes past her mind, yet not one is able help her escape this.

The footsteps suddenly stops, separating herself from the back of the seat, Gui Wan seems to hear his light chuckle at close proximity. Once her mind spaces out, a hand had already grabbed onto her shoulder, her body forcefully yanked out from the back of the seat, stumbling, all that could be heard was a “si” sound from her collar, and Gui Wan falls in front of the dragon throne.

When being pulled up, Gui Wan’s eunuch hat had already fallen, a head of elegant silk hair falls loose from the binding of the glazed hairpin, spreading like the highest quality of black silk. The glazed hairpin hits the ground, creating an impact against the marble floor, clear sounding like the breaking of jade, shocked by this breaking sound, Gui Wan immediately pulls herself together, heart calm as a mirror, mind clear like water, raising her head, she looks at the Son of Heaven.

Hair held up in a golden coronet, inner clothing of white Confucian robe, with a yellow robe very casually layered on top, don’t know whether he did not pay any attention, or whether he did not organise himself after the pestering of Consort Li just now, his skirt is slightly wrinkled, beside his forehead, there are a few loose strands of hair hanging, the usually well-refined emperor carrying three points of evilness right now, filled with an air of arrogance, the noble air of the imperial family strongly exhibited, his eyes carrying a look of slight surprise, carefully looking over Gui Wan.

Originally thinking it was a little eunuch who trespassed this Yu Gan Hall, after pulling the person out, it actually turned into a little fairy, elegant to the point of extremely graceful bearing, one glance and he was able to recognise the one in front as ----- “Madam Lou?” His words contains a light chuckle, seeming as though he found something interesting.

Casually throwing back her sleeves, not even taking notice of how at ease and elegant this one action was, Gui Wan’s hand presses against the floor, was just about to get up, but only just realises her waist belt had been released, with that one strong pull from before, her clothing from the back collar to the left waist hooked onto the decoration of the dragon throne, tearing a huge hole, right now with her movements, the clothing opens up, revealing her jade back and fragrant shoulder. Merely making a light frown, she then smiles it off, Gui Wan stands up, not caring for the clothing that slipped off her shoulder, thinly smiling, she looks back at Zheng Liu, respectfully saying: “Greetings your majesty.”

“Tranquil like water, black hair like silk, smile like light plum blossoms, moon-like white skin, truly a beauty hard to come by.”

Thin lips singing praises, Zheng Liu’s eyes circles around Gui Wan’s body, the words he has yet to say being, Gui Wan’s presence carries an indescribably unique charm and also such casual and carefree nature, such view makes his heart ripple in thrill.

“To receive such praises from your majesty, Gui Wan dares not be worthy of such.” So calm as though the two just happened to run into each on the streets.

Brows raising, a sharp look flashes past his eyes, “What was Madam Lou doing behind the seat? Could it be that you also grew greatly interested in this land of dragon origin?” (Dragon origin - symbolises Han Chinese nation)

Today she just found out just how formidable this monarch is, a completely different man compared to the emperor who usually relies on Lou Che to make decisions, if not for this coincidental opportunity, seeing it with her own eyes, Gui Wan would really not dare believe it. Lips delicately parting, a resonant voice saying: “The imperial family’s air of vastly grandness, Gui Wan greatly admires, taking advantage of no one being here, I came in to enjoy the sight, disrupting your majesty’s aesthetic mood, is my sin.”

Acting as though she is unintentionally looking all around, she sees a few beams of light penetrating the inside of the hall, looking further to glance at the dragon throne area, she was secretly shocked, so this is how it is.

She has been having her doubts, the emperor is also an ordinary person, how did he know someone was hiding behind the dragon throne, only now did she find out, there is a lot more to the lighting within the Yu Gan Hall, using the effect of the glass crystals as a mirror, right now, the light coming in from the outside, perfectly shines on the glass, reflecting the situation of half the space behind the dragon throne.

Secretly astonished by her own finds, she does not dare to look behind the dragon throne again, scared Zheng Liu will find out there is still another person there, Gui Wan once again returns her eyes to the Son of Heaven. Right now, as long as she is able to find a chance to let De Yu gong-gong leave the hall, then half her life will undoubtedly be saved.

“Madam’s aesthetic mood is very great, don’t know what you saw, what you heard?” Zheng Liu smiles sceptically as he lightly says this, tenderness as vigorous as ever, yet those clear cold eyes were deadly locked onto her, refusing to let her go.

This question is undoubtedly most difficult to answer, her heart stands firm, Gui Wan gradually reveals a smile, “Heard everything, saw absolutely nothing.” Words sounding playful, yet all said were the most honest of answers.

“Madam’s honesty truly is of most noble moral character, making things difficult for me also, such virtuous human nature, to actually disappear before my eyes.” A smile like the spring breeze, but in it, there harbours killing intent.

Her heart really wants to back away, yet she can only force herself to grit her teeth, slightly taking half a step forward, Gui Wan tucks the strands of hair that had fallen to her cheek side behind her ear, “Your majesty, why should you panic, Gui Wan is not the person you must hurriedly eradicate, could it be, your majesty believes that all that has happened today were all wrongdoings?”

“How could I possibly be wrong?” Looking down on all the arrogance within the world.

“Only those who have done wrong, would need to cover up their wrongdoings, since you have done no wrong, then why must your majesty feel uneasy at heart?” Questioning him back, Gui Wan’s eyes were leisurely light, no anger, no panic, looking just as though she is speaking facts.

“Madam’s remarks has allowed me to see the light ah,” Raising his hand, he pulls Gui Wan close up to his side, his face displaying an expression of half admiring, half complex emotions, “Making me almost cannot bear to see you dead.”

Hand fiercely locking onto her neck, slightly exerting a bit of force, Gui Wan’s neck tightens, immediately finding it difficult to breath, raising her eyes, she notices the faint look of vast haziness within Zheng Liu’s eyes, although it disappears in a flash, it was indeed real, no matter what, this is a glimmer of hope. Gui Wan’s hand grips onto Zheng Liu’s, seeming to have seen something unexpected, a shrill voice saying: “Lady Consort Li”

Neck suddenly loosens, Zheng Liu’s face turns dark, although he does not look back, but in that very moment he heard the surprised cry, he loosened his strength, a cold face watching Gui Wan slowly adjust her breathing.

Lightly breathing in and out a few times, Gui Wan gradually catches her breath, although she is secretly resentful inside, the Zheng Liu she raises her head to see, still has a smile like that of orchids spread across his face, “Your majesty is not actually an emotionless person, Lady Consort Li did not die unjustly.”

“You think that I didn’t kill you because of her? Truly laughable, she didn’t even have such skill when alive, so what is there to fear when she’s dead?”

“Although there’s nothing particularly taboo of a dead person, but words that have already been spoken, cannot actually be erased, even when sitting high up on the dragon throne, there are still some extent of helplessness right?” She melodically says with a cold gaze.

“As long as you’re dead, everything that happened today, who else could possibly know?” Emitting a laughter, horrifying to the bones, Zheng Liu steps forward half a step, once again covering Gui Wan’s figure.

Gui Wan stands on the spot unmoving, till the very moment Zheng Liu’s breath came right before her face, she still makes not a single move, only he closes in, his hand once again placed on her neck, she looks into his cold eyes, whilst carefully looking at him, she speaks up doubtfully: “With me dead, could it be that your majesty is able to forget all those words just like that? I’m afraid not right?” Voice so soft sounding, as though penetrating right through the heart.

Movement rigidly comes to a halt, Zheng Liu’s action of clasping onto the neck remains unchanged, yet not a single bit of strength is used, pausing for a moment, his thin smile once again appears: “Interesting, interesting……” Acting as though it was unintentional, the moment his fingers parts from her neck, they glide across Gui Wan’s exposed shoulder, causing the tattered robe to slip down to her waist, the waist belt has long been loosened, with Zheng Liu’s very light action, it descends onto the floor, thus shedding off the outer robe, inside, she is only wearing a very thin undershirt, skin like that of snow, a delicately exquisite figure, and also that unchanging face of casual and carefree nature, attractive to the extreme, an extremely demoness-like charm.

Eyes slightly darkens, the Son of Heaven’s eyes wanders around Gui Wan’s body repeatedly, sighing: “Madam’s calm makes me very envious.”

Seeing the depths of his eyes clear and calm, she was secretly surprised by just how unpredictable this person is, knowing his killing intent has dropped right now, Gui Wan relaxes quite a bit, “Your majesty holds the entire world, what is there that’s not yours, so how could you possibly be envious of others?”

The distance between the two people were already extremely close, Zheng Liu does not care for the words that passed by his ears, his finger wraps around Gui Wan’s hair, spinning it round and round on his finger, as though this action seems like great fun, he doesn’t get tired of it. Black hair winding, trapping his two fingers, he shallowly laughs out loud, with one pull of the hair, he pulls Gui Wan into his arms, one hand tightly locked on her waist, one hand wrapped in her hair, caressing her tender and delicate shoulder, he gently says: “You’re so intelligent, take a guess, in the end will I kill you or not kill you?”

Right now, she has already come to understand this person’s moral character a little, extreme brutality, malicious and insidious, what’s more terrifying is, he has concealed all this under a well-refined outer appearance, causing people to be struck with chilling terror. Gui Wan’s lips parts, lightly saying “Then why don’t your majesty play a bet with me?”

“Do you think, you have a stake worthy enough to bet with me?” Zheng Liu lightly ridicules, hand actually loosening her confinement, wrapping around Gui Wan’s waist, allowing her to speak comfortably.

“The outcome is still uncertain, why fear whether there is a worthy stake or not?” A melodious voice graceful and sweet.

A burst of lightly wild laughter rings throughout the hall, a fire lights up deep in Zheng Liu’s eyes, loftily yet sceptically, he softly whispers: “I also really want to know, what Madam and I will be betting on?”

Gui Wan’s heart feels as though it slightly broadens, knowing he temporarily wouldn’t lay down murderous intent, the corner of her lips hooks up, drawing a beautiful curve……

“With a period of two years, to see whether your majesty will get what you want.” Gambling on the entire country, casually coming out of her mouth.

Zheng Liu finely squints his sharp eyes, adding an additional three points of evil air to his character, a seeming yet un-seeming smile surfaces on his lips, the hair wrapped around his finger let loose, fingertip lightly touches Gui Wan’s neck, her icy skin of sparkling pure white composes a scenic painting with his fine and slender finger, clearly a situation of wandering between life and death, yet because of her open and casual personality, pure leisurely nature like water, a trace of cunning brilliance emerges.

“Is Madam trying to use a stalling tactic?”

Gui Wan light laughter resonates, holding in her mouth, an implication of a funeral invitation, she shoots back sarcastically: “Since your majesty knows, why not kill me?”

With the Son of Heaven’s pride, even if he knows this is a stalling tactic, he would definitely still accept it, besides, this is originally a battle of persistence within the war of wits. The Emperor’s greatest menace, is the two greatest power holders within the imperial court, which is none other than Lou Che, Prince Duan. To centralise imperial power, number one, remove the two obstructions, or number two, utilise the two powerhouses, but with Zheng Liu’s true character today, she is only afraid that it will most likely be the former option.

His gazing eyes furrowed, the frostiness under Zheng Liu’s eyes gradually melts, his hand leaves her fine neck, landing on her jade shoulder, he lightly lowers his head, the loose hair besides his cheek touches that bright and delicately elegant face, eyes meet eyes, nose to nose, only half an inch distance between the lips, even when inhaling and exhaling, they could feel one another’s breath, a faint touch of entangled fragrance slightly deluding her willpower by a few points, then further leaning in a bit his lips grazes past her cheek, softly whispering next to Gui Wan’s ears: “This game indeed has a quite a bit of meaning. Say, regarding today’s matters, the thing that is deluding my mind, in the end is it this interesting bet or is it……you?”

Hot breath coming in contact with her ear, Gui Wan knows that his killing intent had completely disappeared, softly sounding a little laugh, “Your majesty’s deepest implication, how could the average person possibly measure up to it?”

As soon as those words were spoken, bright lighting suddenly penetrates the hall, with a light sound, an eunuch open the doors and walks in with light movements, kneeling on the ground, softly saying: “Your majesty” Hearing no answer whatsoever, he raises his head to take a look, and is rendered speechless, Li gong-gong freezes.

Within the dimly lit hall, there are only a few beams of light, using the outside lighting shining in, right now the two people in front of the dragon throne can be seen before his eyes, Li gong-gong carefully identifies the two people, heart starting to chaotically pound, deep down he asks himself, whether he has found the wrong timing to enter. The Emperor in an extremely ambiguous manner, has his arm wrapped around a woman in dishevelled clothing, the woman’s clothing is half ripped, exposing a huge area of a shoulder, ice clean with snowy white skin, across the grand hall, he can also recognise, that type of devilish beauty and unique charm, once seen difficult to forget, clearly the wife of Prime Minister Lou.

Hurriedly lowering his head, acting as though he saw nothing, Li gong-gong respectfully kneels at the entrance of the hall. Doors slowly closes, an additional presence resides within the hall, which once again returns to silence. Zheng Liu slightly loosens his strength, the hand wrapped around Gui Wan’s waist wanders downwards, pulling up the tattered clothing, concealing Gui Wan’s back, covering her jade shoulder, then picks up the descended waist belt with embroidered patterns, gently lining it around her waist. His actions appear very orderly and methodical, filled with great patience.

Somewhat surprised as she watches his movements, Gui Wan soundlessly leaves him to it. Turning her head towards the still absolutely motionless Li gong-gong she secretly laments, originally thought the main head eunuch within the palace, Li Yu is someone Lou Che had sent to monitor the Empress, looking at it now, he is also one of the observers planted by the Emperor. She inwardly cries out “so risky”, this palace holds so many rights and wrongs, people’s hearts sinister, truly is absolutely unpredictable.

Zheng Liu lets out a deep laugh, looking at Gui Wan, eyes sharp, yet his words holds unlimited warmth and gentleness: “What? Is it very surprising?”

Slightly gathering up her expression, so that when she turns her head, it loosens up a bit, Gui Wan seemingly smiles, “People’s hearts are unfathomable, makes me deeply realise this……” A seeming lamentation, yet it is spoken in a playful way, causing Zheng Liu to give rise to a gentle sound of laughter.

At last, the waist belt is tied up, hands coming to a stop, Zheng Liu turns around and makes his way down the steps, slowly paced steps heading towards Li gong-gong, the head eunuch kneeling on the floor seems to be extremely fearful, shrinking back a little as Zheng Liu approaches. Up till the very moment Zheng Liu comes right before him, he can only stand up, as he quietly reports, Zheng Liu seems to be getting happier and happier, his smile thickening quite a bit.

“Madam, are you willing to make a small bet with me right now?” Containing a calculative chuckle, Zheng Liu’s eyes were locked onto Gui Wan, carefully observing her behaviour.

Simply having no power to refuse, Gui Wan lets it go with a smile, a clear view like the moon, leisurely sighing, she slowly replies: “Your majesty’s aesthetic mood, how could I dare disrupt it?”

Figured that Gui Wan will answer as such, a smile reaches the bottom of Zheng Liu’s eyes, walking up to the right side of the huge hall, the most inconspicuous pillar inlaid with a square piece of glass, he reaches out and lightly presses the glass, then turns it half a circle to the left, in the left side of the Yu Gan Hall, there is actually another door, Gui Wan silently watches, her state of mind slowly settles down, she thinks back to when she was hidden behind the dragon throne, that moment Zheng Liu’s voice suddenly sounds, making her receive a fright, so it is by the means of sophisticated machinery, comforted by this revelation, she is now feeling much more at ease.

“Your majesty” Desperately called for the Emperor, Li gong-gong lightly asks accordingly, “This Lady Consort Li and palace maid’s corpses……” Not daring to arbitrarily make the decision himself, he sees that the Son of Heaven’s mood today is not bad, and therefore boldly asks this.

Glancing at Li gong-gong with a frown, Zheng Liu appears impatient, he has yet to open his mouth, when a clear and leisurely voice had already snatched the opportunity, “Consort Li was jealous of Lady Consort Ying, and actually added saffron to the miscarriage prevention medicine, because this matter was about to be brought to light, she has no face to face his majesty, and thus hung herself in apology of such offense, the maid followed her master through her suffering, in remembrance of past graces, his majesty shall not delve into the matter, keeping both master and servant’s bodies whole.”

Gui Wan neither hurriedly nor slowly makes her way down the steps from the dragon throne, gentle voice, smiling eyes, like the elegance of the moon, the tattered clothing opens a little along with her movements, further adding a casual sway to the person, elegantly distinguishable and admirable, walking up to the grand hall, her tone makes a change, looking at Zheng Liu: “The current Son of Heaven rules the world with ‘benevolence’, such lenient demeanour further graces the four seas, widely distributing across the world, what does your majesty think of this?”

Zheng Liu’s eyes darkens, appearing still and bottomless, his smile steadily blossoms, with one wave of a hand, Li gong-gong understands the meaning, quietly saying: “Yes, your majesty is benevolent.” And then bows his body, withdrawing out of the hall.

Towards her abrupt decision making just now, he does not seem to be angered, Zheng Liu’s lips curls into a smile, playfully saying: “Within this one day, just how many more surprises does Madam have to give me?” Leisurely letting out a long sigh, he seems to feel regretful.

“The light of a firefly, how could it compare to that of the moon, the shock your majesty has given me, is truly something that Gui Wan cannot forget in this lifetime.” Firing back a light ridicule, in the end she just couldn’t hold back from soothing the stuffiness in her heart.

Leaning on the secret door, with the show of a Son of Heaven’s luxuriously lazy attitude, listening to Gui Wan’s words, Zheng Liu just laughs it off, smiling at Gui Wan, “If others said those words, I would definitely hold a grudge, today Madam sayys such words, yet I cannot bring myself to hate you ah.”

“The ‘broadness’ of your majesty’s heart and mind also puts Gui Wan to shame.” Seemingly praising, seemingly degrading, she says this in between a playful laughter.

Once the last word was spoken, Gui Wan had already come up to the entrance of the secret door, her eyes exploring the secret passage, her original image of a heavily dark passage turns out to be tremendously bright, the glass neatly lined along the walls uses the principles of reflections, attracting the outside light into the secret passage. Whilst admiring this, she also could not help but to sigh, the secrets within this imperial palace, sure is greater than the average, especially one like today’s, being the greatest of them all.

All of a sudden, an additional sparkling crystal piece appears before her eyes, Gui Wan frowns in puzzlement, a surprised expression looking at Zheng Liu.

“Did Madam forget about our little bet?” With the secret passage being so narrow, the two people are practically pressed against each other, as Zheng Liu meaningfully says this in a soft tone right beside Gui Wan’s ears.

Not understanding his intent, she does not inquire, Gui Wan accepts the crystal piece, continuing to walk through the secret passage, she does not know how long she has been walking for, when she suddenly sees a black wall in front, presumably they have walked up to the end now, smiling, she was just about to turn back and softly call out to him, when Zheng Liu suddenly extends his hand, covering both of Gui Wan’s eyes, turning her body into his arms, her entire body completely fitting in. Gui Wan was startled, originally wanted to push him away, but because she remembered his identity, she had to think twice about it, and could only choose to silently stay unmoving.

Yet again, that clear fragrance sits in his nose, Zheng Liu suddenly smiles thinly, releasing his hands. Gui Wan opens her eyes and takes a glance, the black wall has already been opened, and yet another grand hall appears before her eyes, attentively looking at the four walls of the secret passage, not knowing how many finely divided glass pieces are inlaid there, not knowing which one is the secret button that opens the secret door, just now Zheng Liu covering both her eyes, is also because he’s afraid of her being able to explore the mechanisms behind the secret passage right? This way, even if she knows of the entrance to the secret passage within the Yu Gan Hall, what point is there? Secretly lamenting inside, both scared and worried, this person does things with such meticulousness, keeping everything in the dark, away from all the officials, rain or shine indeed unpredictable, a bottomless pit. (Rain or shine meaning good or bad)

Within this imperial palace, everyone is truly of outstanding character, those who lives here are all extraordinary, this thought skims past her mind, Gui Wan sarcastically smiles, walking into the hall.

Completely different to Yu Gan Hall, this hall has not even the slightest touch of glamour, no golden brilliance, no glass adornments, the interior exudes an air of scholarliness, simple and elegant, spotlessly clean. The imperial palace is filled with surprises, to actually still have such a quiet place like this, Gui Wan turns her head and looks all around, observing with full concentration.

Zheng Liu wanders towards the desk within the hall, pushing open the windows, the light fragrance of green grass instantly flushes up the nose, a gentle breeze blows, caressing her face. Gui Wan follows after him, watching Zheng Liu’s movement, until he turns around, leisurely saying: “What we’ll be betting on is over there.”

Her eyes follows the direction he points in, entering her vision is actually the Prime Minister Estate’s garden, Gui Wan was secretly surprised, only after a short moment of deep thinking, did she recall that this is Consort Ying’s Jing Ye back courtyard, exactly the same as the Prime Minister Estate’s courtyard, turning her head, displaying a tender beauty of careful pondering, she contains a smile as she asks: “Betting on this courtyard?”

“Of course not,” Zheng Liu raises the crystal piece within his hand, holding it in front of his eyes, he looks into the courtyard, lightly smiling as he says, “Betting on the one within the courtyard.”

Note:

Gui Wan is singing songs from a Yue Opera called Peacocks Flying Southeastor Kǒng Guè Dōng Nán Fēi / 孔雀东南飞. Many are familiar with the story of the Butterfly Lovers, but this internationally lesser known story is yet another famous tragic love story, similar to that.

“A Peacock Flying to the Southeast was a tragic love story of a young man named Jiao Zhongqing and his wife Liu Lanzhi. Although the newly weds loved each other very much, Zhongqing’s widowed and perhaps morbid mother could not stand Lanzhi coming between her and her son. Eventually she broke up the marriage. The young couple’s dream of coming together was shattered when Lanzhi’s mother and brother forced her to marry someone else. As a protest, they took their own lives, fulfilling their vow of living together in the other world.”

[1] The first song sang by Gui Wan here is called Reluctant To Part.

[2] And the second song is called The Person Leaves This House Empty And Lonely.

[3] The dark horse or the hidden talent, is called cáng long wò hǔ / 藏龙卧虎 in Chinese, literally translating to hidden dragons and crouching tigers, referring to talented people remaining in the shadows.

[4] The word for benevolence here is a tricky one to translate — rén / 仁 — yes it can mean benevolence but it can also mean to be humane, the foundations of being human which goes on about having a good heart, a loving nature…basically Zheng Liu is regarded as a very down to earth royalty which earned the most sincere respects from the commoners

[5] Beyond people there are more people, beyond the sky there are more skies or rén wài yǒu rén, tiān wài yǒu tiān /人外有人,天外有天 - people cannot outdo people, as there are no limits in this universe, in other words, no matter how strong or talented you are, there will always be another above you.

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