Chapter 113: Two Birds, One Stone
Jun Huang's heart started pounding as she browsed through the accounting book. Qi Chen dares to embezzle sovereign funds through the Ministry of Rites?!
Because of the investigation on corrupt officials, Qi Chen did not dare to use the money he had so boldly stolen. He wanted Jun Huang to help him produce a fake record that would quell others' suspicions. If one day the emperor decided to ask him for the accounting book, he would have something to give the emperor.
He had made up his mind. Jun Huang couldn't say no to him. However, she deliberately made a few mistakes in the record that were difficult to notice at first glance.
Qi Chen then started talking about the interrelationships among the courtiers with Jun Huang. Whenever two officials appeared to have become closer, Qi Chen would try to figure out what the reasons might be. Jun Huang didn't realize that Qi Chen paid such close attention to the courtiers.
The door creaked open, interrupting their lively conversation. Wei Lanying walked in dressed in a thin layer of silk. It was obvious that she didn't expect Jun Huang to be here. The fabric draped loosely over her shoulders, revealing her fair skin. She immediately pulled her robe tighter around her body when she saw Jun Huang.
Jun Huang scoffed when she noticed a flash of annoyance in Qi Chen's eyes. She was not a man, but she knew men found nothing more insulting than seeing their wives and concubines expose their body to another person, especially when that person was a man.
Jun Huang was Qi Chen's most valued strategist. He wasn't going to put the blame on Jun Huang. Wei Lanying, on the other hand, had been poorly-behaved. She had made many mistakes during the past few days.
"Who let you in?" Jun Huang demanded in a steely voice, keeping an eye on Qi Chen's expression. "The guards were told to not let anyone in."
As she expected, her words tipped Qi Chen over the edge. He pointed at the door and snarled at Wei Lanying, "Get out! You are an embarrassment!"
Wei Lanying didn't expect Qi Chen to be this harsh with her. Her hands shook under the plate of snacks she was holding. She ground her teeth together with tears in her eyes, on the verge of losing her composure.
Qi Chen did not show her any sympathy. He didn't even spare her a glance. With her dignity trampled, Wei Lanying shot Jun Huang a venomous glare before stomping outside.
Frustration threatened to burst out of her chest. She threw the osmanthus cake in her hand onto the ground. It broke into pieces and scattered everywhere.
"What happened, Lady Wei?" asked Wei Lanying's maid, as if Wei Lanying's angry expression wasn't enough to deter her. She could be obtuse at times.
Wei Lanying glared at her and said, "Nan Guyue's insults I can endure. But a mere strategist dares to speak so harshly to me?" She tightened her fists, oblivious to the fact that her nails were digging into her palms.
It didn't take long for the maid to figure out who Wei Lanying was referring to. Among all the strategists in this manor, Jun Huang is the only one who will go against Wei Lanying.
"Lady Wei should ignore lowly man like him," the maid said with a worried frown. "Don't let your bad mood harm your body."
"I will not let Feng Baiyu and Nan Guyue off the hook easily," Wei Lanying said through clenched teeth, her eyes shining with malicious intents.
The maid was smart enough to know that this wasn't the place for such conversation. She helped Wei Lanying back to her room and shut the door behind them. In her rage, Wei Lanying failed to notice her actions.
Once the door and the windows were shut, the maid came to Wei Lanying's side and said quietly, "Lady Wei must not let them walk over you again. You have tried being diplomatic, but they never showed you the same courtesy. Who knows what they have been saying behind your back? Maybe they have been mocking you for being weak!"
The maid's words stoked the fiery anger in Wei Lanying's heart. She bristled.
"Oh? Do you have an idea for me to take them out?" she asked with her eyes narrowed.
The maid broke into a smile and leaned into Wei Lanying. "When the princess got pregnant, gentleman Feng was still living in the manor. And the first person to notice that she was pregnant was gentleman Feng rather than a doctor. Doesn't Lady Wei find it curious?"
"The crown prince had been busy with work at the time. He often stayed out and didn't return until late at night…"
Wei Lanying widened her eyes. "Do you mean…?"
"The child has not been born yet. No one could say for sure who the father is. Even if it really is the crown prince's child, we can still plant the seed of suspicion in his heart. What do you think will happen then?" The maid pulled her lips into a devious smile.
Wei Lanying wasn't convinced however. "No, that won't work. Feng Baiyu is persuasive, and the crown prince trusts him too much. If Feng Baiyu takes the opportunity to fight back, I might lose the prince's favor once and for all."
The maid lowered her head in contemplation. After the time for a pot of tea to brew, her eyes glinted and her smile turned sickeningly sweet. "Does Lady Wei remember that the prince's birthday is in a few days? We can plan for him to catch Feng Baiyu and Nan Guyue in bed together. Even if the plan is later discovered, all the guests attending the celebration will become the suspects. It won't be easy to trace it back to us."
Wei Lanying's heart started racing in glee. It would be a way for her to get revenge, and more importantly, to take out the biggest threats to her. It seemed obvious what her answer should be.
She nodded and shared a knowing look with her maid. The maid knew what had to be done. At night, she sneaked out of the manor and bought some medicine in an apothecary located in the west side of the city. Once the preparations were made, she waited for Qi Chen's birthday to come.
Time passed as quickly as a running river. It was Qi Chen's birthday. Nan Guyue was pregnant with his child, but she still woke up early and helped organize the celebration.
Jun Huang arrived at the manor early in the morning. There would be something she could help with. The moment she stepped in, she saw Nan Guyue directing servants to hang the lanterns along the hallway with a swollen belly.
Jun Huang walked up to her and cupped her hands in greeting. "There's no need for the princess to get your hands dirty. You can simply appoint a servant to oversee the others."
Nan Guyue turned to Jun Huang and greeted her with a nod. "It's my first time holding a birthday celebration for the prince. It reassures me to supervise the preparations myself. Some servants can be careless. With me here, they would be more focused and less likely to slack off."
"But your health – "
"The doctor has checked on me this morning. He said I've been recovering well and my body isn't as weak as it was. He also told me that taking some walk is good for the child." Nan Guyue's smile was tender and soft. When she talked about her unborn child, her eyes darted down to her belly and her hands came up to smooth over the skin, as if she was trying to feel the child's presence.
A sense of serenity spread through Jun Huang's heart. She looked up at the servants on the ladders. It wasn't safe for Nan Guyue to stay here. "This gentleman can help. You shouldn't take the risk that one the servants may fall on you."
Nan Guyue hummed. She was going to check on the servants in the kitchen anyway. She nodded and turned around.
Seeing a puddle on the ground, Jun Huang extended a hand to steady Nan Guyue without thinking, muttering, "Be careful." Nan Guyue smiled at her and didn't pull away.
At a distance, Wei Lanying and Qi Chen took notice of their interaction. Wei Lanying had talked about her plan with people from her family. One of her servants deliberately commented on how much Jun Huang and Nan Guyue looked like a couple. Qi Chen's face darkened. He whirled around and left.
A hint of satisfied smile tugged at Wei Lanying's lips. She followed after Qi Chen. Before she left, she gave her maid a pointed look. The maid broke off from the group and walked into the kitchen.
Jun Huang left after walking Nan Guyue to the outside of the kitchen. Nan Guyue entered the room on her own. There was a big demand for manpower today in the manor. Nan Guyue had sent her personal maids to deal with the purchase. That was why she didn't have a maid with her.
Wei Lanying's maid had spotted Nan Guyue when she was sneaking out of the kitchen. She lowered her head and quickly made her escape. Nan Guyue had not noticed her.
There was a strong scent of cooked oil in the kitchen. Nan Guyue felt nauseous as soon as she walked in. A servant gave her a cup of tea and she readily accepted. It made her feel a lot better.
Soon, her eyelids grew heavy. She thought that she was simply tired. With a yawn, she walked out of the kitchen. She could barely open her eyes when a maid came out of nowhere and led her to a room.
It was Wei Lanying's maid. She had been waiting outside. When Nan Guyue showed up, she rushed to take Nan Guyue to a room she had prepared for her plan. She quickly took off Nan Guyue's dress, leaving her in only her inner garments. That was enough to mislead anyone.
Nan Guyue lay on the bed, unconscious. The maid scoffed and left. Now what was left was for their people to take Jun Huang here.
Jun Huang started feeling a little thirsty when the lanterns had all been hung. Looking around, she didn't see any teapot. She was going to look for something to drink when a page boy brought a teapot to her.
"Is the gentleman thirsty?" the page boy asked earnestly.
Jun Huang nodded without thinking too much of it. The page boy poured her a cup and respectfully hand it to her.
It only took one sip for Jun Huang to realize that something was wrong. Her head snapped up, and the page boy's wolfish grin came into her view. She cursed under her breath.
She tried to move, but she was soon hit by a wave of dizziness. The purple sand teacup1 in her hand dropped to the floor. It was sturdy enough that it didn't break. After a couple rolls, the cup landed upright.
"You… you…" Jun Huang tried to get a good look at the page boy's face, but the more she tried to focus, the blurrer her vision became. Soon, the world faded into darkness and her consciousness slipped away.
Also known as Yixing clay teapot/teacup. Made of clay from the city Yixing. The teapot can retain the aroma of the tea overtime and enhance the flavor of the freshly brewed tea. ↩