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Published at 12th of September 2020 06:41:47 PM
Chapter 66

Zhuang Laoyan followed the crowd to the empress’ side palace hall . The empress and Noble Consort Shu were already present . Her brows twitched . After everyone had paid respects together, she sat down in her seat .   

“Today you all were invited because this palace has a question for Cairen Zhen . ” The empress blew at the surface of her tea . She merely looked at Cairen Zhen from the corner of her eye . As though she were something that could not be seen in public .   

Once Cairen Zhen had heard the empress’ words, an ominous premonition rose in her heart . Her feet turned, and then she knelt on the ground .   

“What’s wrong, Cairen Zhen? This palace has yet to ask anything . Why have you been frightened into kneeling?” The empress set down her teacup . She still did not so much as glance at Cairen Zhen’s timid appearance .

“Your Majesty is the master of the imperial harem, the Mother of the World, and possesses a majestic presence . This concubine… this concubine…” Cairen Zhen was not very educated . For a moment, she could not think of a suitable adjective . The more anxious she felt, the less she knew what to say .     

“Are you saying that this palace is very frightening?” Arching a brow, the empress looked at Cairen Zhen . She snorted coldly . “This palace actually finds Cairen Zhen very daring . Otherwise, why did you make use of phosphor to stir up havoc in the palace?!”  

“Your Majesty, this concubine doesn’t know what Your Majesty means . ” Cairen Zhen widened her eyes, not understanding why blame suddenly fell upon her .

“Your birth is humble and cheap . It’s only because you have a bit of Noble Consort Shu’s talents that the emperor conferred you the position of cairen . Who would have known you would envy the favored imperial concubines, causing the death of a palace maid and trying to frame someone for it? If it weren’t for the fact that the phosphor betrayed you, this palace would still be in the dark about this: that not only can Cairen Zhen dance, but she can also scheme . ”  

No matter how one looked at the empress’ words, there was a sense of wanting to inspire the hatred of Noble Consort Shu and Consort Rou . In passing, Zhuang Laoyan looked at those two . Speaking of which, Consort Rou was also very suspicious . Back then, the palace maid the empress dowager had caned to death had been a servant of Consort Rou . And the palace maid who died at the pond side had also been hers . If it wasn’t for the fact that Zhuang Laoyan didn’t think Consort Rou was this stupid, she would be suspicous of her for both deaths .     

“Your Majesty, this concubine was wrongly accused! This concubine doesn’t know why someone would die at the pond side, and knows even less why such a strange thing occurred . May Your Majesty investigate clearly!” Even if Cairen Zhen was stupid, she would still understand that the empress was talking about the occurrence at Xihe Palace’s lotus pond . However, what did that have to do with her?  

“You shout that you’ve been wrongly accused, but one would fear you are wondering how this matter was exposed . ” Then the empress lazily asked, “Since you say you don’t know, then why are you aware something strange happened at the lotus pond? The emperor had placed a gag order on this matter . An ordinary imperial concubine would be unaware of what happened . So why are you so clear on this?”  

“After this concubine left my residence, this concubine coincidentally heard two palace maids talking about this from behind an artificial mountain,” blurted Cairen Zhen . “This matter has nothing to do with this concubine!”     

“Previously, some palace maids discussed this in secret . And they’ve already been caned to death . How could there be palace maids who don’t care about living discussing such things where people often passed by? Cairen Zhen, your excuses are rather clumsy,” said the empress . “This palace has already investigated . The blue flames on the palace maid’s body were made from phosphor . The imperial concubines would not know such tricks from the lowest professions . Only you, who have a humble and cheap birth, would know those sideshow performers in the palace . As such, this palace investigated you . Just as expected, you are involved . ”  

Then, without letting Cairen Zhen explain, the empress had people escort a palace maid with an average appearance into the room . “This sideshow performer named Hongyao already confessed to everything . Cairen Zhen, do you have anything else to say?”  

Zhuang Laoyan watched as Cairen Zhen continued to explain and cry out grievances . In the end, as everyone was silent, Cairen Zhen’s crime was determined .     

The cause of the “ghost fire” was phosphor . Zhuang Laoyan knew this . However, what the empress said was correct . The average person wouldn’t have this knowledge . For this reason, Cairen Zhen, whose birth was humble and who interacted with the sideshow performers, was the person most worthy of suspicion . And she was also the best scapegoat .      

Using a lowly cairen as a scapegoat, a cairen without a powerful background and who wore gorgeous attire, was the most suitable .  

Zhuang Laoyan looked at the Cairen Zhen who knelt in the middle of the room . In just a few short days, she had once again fallen to the ground . However, it was unknown whether her life would be forfeited this time .     

“Since the investigation has already been settled, this concubine will return,” said Noble Consort Shu, rising to her feet . A smile on her lips, she looked at the kneeling Cairen Zhen . “Those of humble and cheap birth are after all lowly . ” Then she performed a bow to the empress, slowly leaving the side palace hall .   

Consort Rou also stood and saluted to the empress . “This concubine’s people have died tragically without reason . Fortunately, Your Majesty the empress’s investigation has been successful . This concubine thanks Your Majesty the empress for the great grace . ”  

With a gentle expression, the empress said, “This palace is the leader of the imperial harem . Such things are this palace’s duty . ”  

Once the still-present Consort Ning and Noble Consort Xian had heard her words, they did not reveal much of an expression .

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Zhuang Laoyan was not interested in continuing to listen to such words . She found an excuse to leave . Before she could take more than a few steps outside, Zhaorong Xu followed her out . “Has Xianrong Zhao ever wondered why Cairen Zhen would try to frame you?”  

Zhuang Laoyan performed a slight curtsy toward her . “Does Your Highness have an idea?”  

A smile blossomed on Zhaorong Xu’s lips . “Xianrong Zhao is intelligent . How could you not be able to figure it out? What a pity about that young palace maid . ”  

“Your Highness is benevolent . However, this concubine isn’t . Previously, when the emperor had ordered death by caning for her, this concubine should have pled for leniency for her . ” Zhuang Laoyan showed a guilty expression .   

The look on Zhaorong Xu’s face changed . Those words had involved the emperor . And she realized she had chosen an inappropriate topic . She forced a smile on her face . “But for a slave to dare and offend a master by using her name is indeed extremely disrespectful . His Majesty felt upset for Xianrong Zhao, so caning the palace maid to death wasn’t excessive . ”        

Zhuang Laoyan revealed another smile . She did not refute her or agree . Zhaorong Xu hated her in secret, yet she could not let it show . She could only endure it with much difficulty . She had no other choice; at present, the emperor favored this person more than he favored herself .  

After the two had separated, the smile on Zhuang Laoyan’s face gradually disappeared . Yunxi and Tingzhu, who were by her side, glanced at her in worry . Following a moment of hesitation, Tingzhu said, “Your Highness, Zhaorong Xu is not as favored as she was in the past . Your honored self should not mind her words . ”  

“Why should this palace be concerned?” A long sigh left Zhuang Laoyan’s lips . “After the start of spring, there will be new beauties entering the palace . At that time, who knows what will happen?”  

Yunxi smiled . “No matter who enters the palace, this slave believes that Your Highness will have a place in His Majesty’s heart . ”

“A place…” Zhuang Laoyan forced a smile . Then she realized they were still not far from Jingyang Palace . As such, she said, “Let’s return . ”

Qianzheng Palace .  

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After Feng Jin had heard the empress’ words, he took his time to say, “So Empress’ words point to Cairen Zhen being the culprit?”  

“Reporting to Your Majesty, the investigation has already been completed . The witnesses have already confessed . Indeed, it is Cairen Zhen without a doubt . ” A pause . “Does Your Majesty have some misgivings?”  

“Since it’s Empress handling the affairs, We will naturally be reassured . ” Feng Jin broke into a smile . He reached for her hand and pulled her to sit . “Recently, there have been many things to attend to in the imperial harem . You’ve worked hard . ”     

“Your Majesty is this concubine’s monarch and husband . This concubine is Your Majesty’s wife . Husband and wife ought to be pieces of one whole . This concubine did not find those things hard . ” The empress smiled in a sweet-tempered manner .   

Feng Jin looked at her . Patted the back of her hand . “We understand what you mean . ” Then he turned around and ordered Gao Dezhong, “Have the staff of the imperial kitchens make the auspicious lily soup that the empress likes . Today, the empress and Us will share a meal together . ”   

 “Yes,” said Gao Dezhong, before retreating . Only after he had reached the door did he lift his head . By accident, he caught sight of the two . They were obviously far away, yet seemed very close .     

“Outside the curtain, snow begins to drift . On the emerald curtains,  the fragrance of incense has yet to vanish…” Zhaorong Xu stood by the side of the window, gazing at the fluttering snowflakes as they tumbled gracefully to the ground . Upon her expression existed a trace of unspeakable loneliness . “Liuxu, His Majesty hasn’t come by Changtian House in a while . ”    

“Your Highness…”  

“I remember that back then, the emperor said he was the Son of Heaven, and that he felt happy whenever he was with me . Because I like to admire sceneries, he bestowed this residence to me and personally granted it the name of Changtian House . ” She peered through the window toward the direction of Qianzheng Palace . “But in a short period, the Zhuang Laoyan who is lower in rank than me already has a palace . Whereas I am still living in this place, and the emperor is starting to gradually forget about me . ” Zhaorong Xu smiled bitterly . “Perhaps not long from now, the emperor would completely forget about me . ”    

“Your Highness, this won’t happen . His Majesty is recently more busy since court has just resumed—”   

“Your Highness,” said an eunuch that just entered the room . “His Majesty just flipped a name tag . It’s… Xihe Palace’s . ”   

“Xihe Palace again . ” Zhaorong Xu’s expression changed a shade . “At that time, in the bamboo forest, I found that Zhuang Laoyan to be an opponent . Judging by today, it seems like she truly is . ”  

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“Back then, wasn’t Noble Imperial Concubine Yan also as favored as her? Now, she is still a lowly noble imperial concubine,” consoled Liuxu . “Perhaps this Xianrong Zhao is the next Noble Imperial Concubine Yan . ”

“If she is, why would His Majesty let her live independently in her own palace in one short year? Not to mention, she is only a mid-tier second-rank xianrong . ” All of a sudden, Zhaorong Xu’s gaze grew fierce . “One would fear she would become the second Noble Consort Shu . ”   

If it wasn’t for Su Ruizi, she herself should have been a mid-tier first-rank consort now . How could she still be a proper second-rank zhaorong?  

Zhuang Laoyon and the emperor lay in the same bed . A few times before, the emperor had flipped her name tag . But taking into consideration her miscarriage, they had yet to do anything . Now, more than a month had passed . And the emperor finally did not play the role of Liu Xiahui .   

After fully and delightfully indulging in the matters of the flesh, the emperor hugged Zhuang Laoyan’s waist in satisfaction . “Everytime We hold Beloved Concubine, We always feel perfectly satisfied . ”

Actually, Zhuang Laoyan wanted to say that she was also satisfied . However, on the surface, she still put on a competent bashful expression .     

“The day after tomorrow, all the envoys from the vassal states will take their leave . There will be a banquet held tomorrow evening . You should attend . ” Then the emperor specially added, “We have already determined the bestowment for Changfeng Country . It will be according to their tribute, half of what they gave . After all, it doesn’t make sense for a monarch to present a gift in return to his subject larger than what was received . ”    

At this moment, Zhuang Laoyan found the emperor pleasing to the eyes . She said, “This concubine also thinks that it’s better if a subordinate is treated like a subordinate . ”  

“Looks like We and Beloved Concubine are of similar thoughts . ” Feng Jin smiled, kissing her forehead . “From Our childhood, We have never liked these countries with hidden agendas . Beloved Concubine is therefore Our favorite . ”    

Then you definitely have a large heart . Otherwise, it wouldn’t be able to house this many favorites . Zhuang Laoyan held disdain for the emperor’s casual sweet talk . However, she said, “Your Majesty has acute foresight . It’s just that there is some unwillingness in this concubine’s heart . ”  

“Beloved Concubine, did you know that We also felt unwilling back then?” Feng Jin was very satisfied about Zhuang Laoyan’s bit of willfulness . His tone held sorrow . “At that time, We were still young . We watched as envoys carelessly sent items for tribute that weren’t precious, and gave a few words of flattery . And Our Imperial Father, who had craved greatness and success over his ability, would bestow them piles of treasure . Although I didn’t agree with those actions, I had no power to oppose it . Now, I can decide things on my own . ” He heard the woman in his arms laugh softly because of his words . And Feng Jin embraced her even tighter, warm and pleased with himself .

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