"You had the mind to accuse me, so what explanation can I have?" Muhe Nayun snorted and slowly replied, "If you so wish to, you can bring it to the Emperor. With his wisdom, he will naturally arrive at a fair judgement."
"But, I still wish to hear Sister's explanation," Lady Shu said.
Slowly turning back, Muhe Nayun's gaze was already below freezing. Squarely staring at Lady Shu, her elegance and royal aura were suddenly unleashed. Arrogantly, she smiled and said, "If I were you, I would definitely not do that today."
Stunned, Lady Shu was taken aback. That was definitely unexpected.
Muhe Nayun continued to speak, "The women in the palace are ranked first by lineage, second by the Emperor's favor, and last, by offspring. Lady Shu, we both entered the palace in the same year and started off as lowly maidservants together. In every aspect, you were in no way lesser than me, but why is it that I have been the Empress for ten years, but until now you were just another concubine? Have you ever thought of the reason?"
Lady Shu's face froze up, with not a single trace of a smile left on her face. Muhe Nayun continued, "The reason for that is because you are dumb. Quibbling over small stuff, you have a short vision and were merely being arrogant to satisfy your inner ego. Ultimately you are unable to achieve anything great. You are just lucky to have been born into a good family with good elders."
"How dare you!" a maidservant beside Lady Shu spoke aloud.
Fiercely shouting back, "How dare me? How dare you! The Empress is speaking to your Mistress. Since when was it your turn as a lowly servant to speak up?"
"The Muhe family has already fallen. If I were you, I would not be standing here at this time. Compared to me, don't you think that the person from Lan Xuan palace is more of a threat?"
Muhe Nayun smirked."You think that the emperor will still tolerate the Wei faction to become the next Muhe family? Although the Muhe family has fallen, I am actually the best person to counterbalance everyone else. In this life, you could never be the Empress. No matter how reputable the Wei family is outside of the palace, you are just another concubine in the Xia palace. My advice to you is to learn manners and courtesy, learn about when to advance and when to lay low, and even the basics of hierarchy. The Empress of Xia Empire will only be me, Muhe Nayun, alone. This will hold true in the past, in the present, and in the future. You? Forget it."
The wind blew, lifting up the corners of Muhe Nayun's clothes. She had a face of pride and confidence, with long silky hair like a waterfall. She seemed like she was merely 30 years old, every motion filled with elegance and dignity.
Lady Shu stood still at her spot as she glared at Muhe Nayun's silhouette walking away, her face filled with gloom. Just as she was about to turn around and leave, she spotted the servant who had kneeled down in deference to the Empress prior. "Bring him away and behead him."
"Lady! Spare me!" utterly shocked, the servant fell on his fours again and shouted.
Without turning around, Lady Shu speedily walked out of the courtyard. The corridor once again resumed its tranquility, with sparrows chirping, and the lake reflecting the soft bask of sunlight.
Opening the door, sunlight lit up the room. Chu Qiao narrowed her eyes as she turned her gaze at the person beside her. The man was lean and lanky. He donned a dark red costume that was embroidered with a black eagle. His gaze was firm and his lips crimson red. He slowly turned his head towards her.
A cold wind blew between them and brought about a chilly atmosphere. The man's gaze remained frigid, lacking a single trace of emotion. This man always seemed emotionless, like a statue. Gradually taking two steps back, Chu Qiao indifferently stared at the man in front of her, as if she had no recollection of this person.
The spring wind blew and sent much of the dust lying on the ground into the chilly air. Then, the duo took their gazes off each other simultaneously, and stared into the space in front of themselves. Brushing shoulders with each other, they spared no further attention to each other. From the start to the end, they did not share the same path. Even if destiny arranged various encounters, almost as if teasing them, those were but temporary meetings. Like comets in the vast space, they would rush past each other only to follow their own paths.
Meanwhile, in the dense bamboo forest, dark red clothes fluttered. "Master, everything is ready," a servant walked up and informed him quietly. Zhuge Yue frowned a little but hesitated to speak. The weather was not exactly hot, but the servant was so anxious for acknowledgement, he was already covered in perspiration. After a good two minutes, Zhuge Yue finally nodded and said, "Go ahead."
In the cold wind, the smell of blood reeked in Sheng Jin palace. Just as Chu Qiao reached the front hall, many people darted about. The square was filled with purple coneflowers. Yan Xun stood upright, waiting for her from afar. Chu Qiao hastened her pace. Noticing her, Yan Xun smiled and also approached her.
"Qiaoqiao!" Li Ce was also nearby. Wearing a bright red mandarin robe, he eagerly waved at Chu Qiao. Before Chu Qiao's expression of disgust could spread across her face, a piercing bell rung out. Everyone raised their head in shock and fear, looking at Xie Fang palace.
"Assassins! The Empress is dead!" The sharp voice of the eunuch, tinged with sadness, reverberated through the air like a death knell. Everyone instantly turned pale. Servants who wore black military dresses dashed across the courtyard like a flood, heading towards the place of the incident. The silence lasted for a few moments, before sounds of wailing broke out all over Sheng Jin palace.
"Empress Muhe Nayun, born in what used to be the most powerful family, the Muhe Family, entered the palace at age 13. She took the Empress's seat at 30 years old. As the bearer of the Phoenix Stamp for ten years, she ruled over the six palaces. Only subservient to the Emperor, no one dared to disobey her," the eunuch declared.
Chu Qiao's face was pale like a ghost. She turned, only to see that Yan Xun's face reflected the same fear. At this very moment, that palace in question was the place she had just walked past. If the assassination had been a few minutes earlier, she would definitely not be standing here alive!
Death knells chimed, once, and then again nine times. These nine chimes were short, but it seemed like an eternity. All walking and standing, whether they were they soldiers or maidservants, eunuchs or officials, everyone turned towards the Imperial Harem and prostrated. The inner palace was left with a deafening silence, and even the bustling front hall lost all the murmuring of conversations. The chiming paused for a few moments, before continuing. This time, even louder than before. And then, one person, two people, ten people, and then a hundred, a thousand. All kneeled in succession and kowtowed in the direction of Xie Fang palace.
Chu Qiao's mouth was left agape, but no words came out. Her mind had nothing but that iron-fisted lady who represented the Muhe family who stood tall in her position as the Empress and controlled half of the Xia Empire for ten years. She thought of the firm words that were left behind by that lady: The Empress of Xia Empire, will only be me Muhe Nayun alone and that will hold true, regardless if it was in the past, in the present, or in the future. The words still resounded in her ears, but the person who said it was already gone. What other dangerous powers did this beautiful palace conceal?
The loud sounds of wailing pierced through the skies, coming from even beyond the Zi Jin gate.
Year 773 of the Bai Cang calendar, on the 9th of May, the Empress died. Hundreds of officials cried in sorrow outside the Zi Jin gate, with tens of thousands of civilians joining the mourning across the whole empire. On the 16th of May, the funeral procession began, starting from Tai Qing Street, the carriages were lined up for several miles. The Xi Huai King, according to customs, followed the casket the whole way, until the royal graves in Jiu En Mountain.
In historical records, the descriptions of Muhe Nayun were but a few rough lines. Behind such glorious facades, there were not even additional titles after death. Regarding the cause of death, apart from the word "died", there was no other description. This represented the setting of the last remnants of the once powerful Muhe family on the historical stage. The elders meetings now only had six participants instead of the usual seven, and with the death of Muhe Nayun, those hoping to rise to fill the gap would only become more active.
On the day of the funeral procession, Chu Qiao stood on the clock tower in the southwestern corner of the royal palace, and observed the white decorations that seemed to extend into infinity. The entire procession seemed to be a facade to a prosperous dream scene. Yan Xun stood beside her, his gaze indifferent as usual, with undecipherable emotions. But as he turned to leave the area, Chu Qiao noticed that the railing he grabbed was left with a clear mark of his five fingers.
How could he forget that the first cavalry that stepped into the Yan Bei grass plains belonged to that of Muhe, and how could he forget, the eyes of humiliation that Yan Hongxiao had, even upon death. As the Muhe family fell, one by one, the hatred between Yan Bei and the Muhe family finally ended amidst all the bloodshed.
On the return trip to Ying Ge court, Chu Qiao unexpectedly saw the Seventh Prince Zhao Che. The young prince wore light green clothes. Only the waist belt and sleeves were white. This streak of green was in stark contrast to the pure white that filled the entire city.
Zhao Che's face was emotionless as he stood tall in the round pavillion atop the hill. The drizzle brought about mist, obscuring his facial features. Chu Qiao, with her umbrella open, lifted her head up to look at him. As a result, the drizzle wet the side of her shoe, along with the corner of her dress.
Zhao Che raised his head as he stared into the distant sky towards the west. Chu Qiao knew in that direction was the highlands of legends, where the ancestors of the Xia Empire came from. They rode horses and waved blades. With blood and faith, they united all the tribes on the plains and formed this great country. When they died, their spirits would return to their home, to forever rest in the peace of that red soil.
The Xia Empire's royal graves were also located under the Jiu En Mountain. According to the words of common folk, there was a huge temple atop that mountain with torches made of whale blubber that burned both day and night through the millennia.
The drizzle drifted sideways, hitting the umbrella. The young lady's figure was concealed within the bushes of flowers and leaves, with only the white corner of her dress flutter visible.
To prevent the Muhe family from being too powerful, upon being born, the Seventh Prince Zhao Che was given to the daughter of the Elder Scholar in Wen Hua Chamber, the Yuan concubine. As one of the only concubines in the Xia Emperor's life to have really gained his favor, Lady Yuan was a tad bit special. Following Master Scholar Yuan from the Tang Empire, although she had no special lineage, she was favored deeply by the Emperor for as long as seventeen years. But on the 17th birthday of Zhao Che, in front of many, she jumped into the lake and commited suicide.
Regarding Lady Yuan's death, no one knew the true cause. The rumors claimed that it was the Empress who was behind it all, forcing Lady Yuan to commit suicide, but the Emperor did not react in any way. After Lady Yuan's death, he continued the daily court hearings and continued in his responsibilities as a ruler, completely compliant with the image of a wise ruler. Although, since that incident, he had not even accepted a single new concubine.
Zhao Che was also distanced from his biological mother due to his step mother's death. Eventually, due to differences in political views, he turned against his family and was eventually sent to the borders with no aid. But when the Muhe family fell, his brother, the Xi Huai King and his sister, Princess Chun, naturally got involved and their reputation took a heavy blow. Only he was not the affected in the slightest, and as usual, held heavy responsibility and great power.
Many times, what is on the surface may not be true. Chu Qiao turned around and walked away from the young prince who had achieved so much, despite being alienated from his family.