After Zhang Quan concluded his report of Jing Rong and Jing Yi’s recent activities, the Qizheng Emperor asked, “So what is the current situation? Has there been any progress with the case?”
“The Ministry of Justice have not received any additional information, aside from the portraits that they have sent in respectively. There will be some time till their next report.”
“Hm?” A tiny valley formed between the Qizhen Emperor’s brows. “You said... both of them have submitted portraits? Isn't Teacher Ji the only person that could paint portraits from skeletons? The person that Jing Yi brought in is also capable of such feats?”
“Yes, reportedly so.”
Oh? “Who is this?” The Qizhen Emperor's curiosity hid his slight worry. In his heart, he hoped that Jing Rong would solve this case instead of Jing Yi.
Zhang Quan readjusted his belt and replied, “Prince Yi invited that man to the capital. He is said to be an expert at solving cases as well. That man has solved several cases throughout the country and the people there regard him as a Living Buddha. This time, for Prince Rong to solve the case before Prince Yi does, it may be…” Rather difficult. Zhang Quan swallowed those last two words.
The Qizhen Emperor grew worried as well, his slightly wrinkled hands tightened into fists beneath his sleeves and a throbbing sensation grew at his temples.
Zhang Quan immediately reassured the monarch. “You need not be so worried, Your Majesty. Even so, Prince Rong still has a winning chance. Teacher Ji is very capable and intelligent; he will surely help Prince Rong uncover the truth of this case.”
Qizhen Emperor remained silent, his eyes closed in deep thought. After a long pause, the tension in his brows eased and he opened his eyes, “Continue to monitor the situation at the Ministry of Justice, report to me the moment there has been new developments.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
The Emperor pondered, then suddenly asked, “I heard Concubine Xiao is sick?”
“Yes, she has been sick for some time. But the Imperial Physicians have already seen her and said that she is well. All she needs is rest.”
Qizhen Emperor pushed himself to his feet, his wide sleeves brushed across the desk and knocked over that bowl of ginseng soup. The soup spilled over the half-read memorial.
“Oh dear.” Zhang Quan exclaimed and rushed to clean up the mess. Fortunately, the soup only got to one side of the memorial.
Qizhen Emperor stopped Zhang Quan. “Forget it, leave it be. Come with me to Zhangzhi Hall and visit Concubine Xiao.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
At Zhangzhi Hall
Concubine Xiao perked up the moment she heard that the Emperor was coming to visit her. Ever since Jing Yi married the first daughter of the Ji family and the ministers nominated Jing Yi as the crown prince, Qizhen Emperor had stopped coming to her place and summons for her company at night had grown rare as well.
Their relationship had slowly soured. Now that she received news that the Emperor wants to visit her, she quickly summoned her maids to help her get ready. Her maids helped her dress and applied her make-up. Halfway through the process, she stopped her maid and ordered, “Make my face paler.”
“Your Ladyship?” Her maid’s hand froze in mid-air as she looked at the concubine.
Concubine Xiao glanced at her through her reflection, “Just do as I say.”
“Yes.” The maid obeyed.
Concubine Xiao’s face was already rather pale from her illness; after a liberal application of powder, her face had turned a ghastly shade of white. She looked like she was on the brink of death as she laid down on her bed and waited for her target to arrive.
Soon, the sound of her maids and her eunuchs came from outside. “We greet Your Majesty.”
He’s here! Once he stepped in, Concubine Xiao held her handkerchief over her mouth and coughed as she slipped out of bed with difficulty. “Your Majesty.”
The instant she tried to bow, Qizhen Emperor rushed to her side and supported her. “Since you’re unwell, there’s no need for you to get up.”
“Forgive me, I did not know Your Majesty was coming.”
“I told them to keep it from you, or you would be fussing over things.” Qizhen Emperor said as he helped her sit back down on her bed before he summoned a blanket and draped it over her legs.
“You should rest more.”
“I’m sorry, Your Majesty, I’m afraid I would not be able to serve you in my sickness.”
“I’m just here to visit you, so you don’t have to serve me. Besides, I’ll be leaving soon.”
Leaving soon? Concubine Xiao’s heart sank. He still wants to leave? Then I have to act even more sick and pitiful.
Her lashes fluttered as her eyes drooped, as though she was trying to stay awake, and she panted before lifting her gaze to the Emperor. “Your Majesty, you’re so busy governing the country. Your concubine has just caught a minor cold, why waste your time and visit me in person?”
“I should scold you instead! Why did you not send anyone to tell me just how sick you’ve become?”
She smiled weakly as she snuggled against the Qizhen Emperor. She has become rather thin over time. “My illness is nothing compared to the country. Your Majesty is busy with taking care of the nation and its people, of course I won’t dare to disturb you over something so trivial. Besides, this is just a small flu, I will recover after a bit of rest. The Imperial Physicians have also prescribed me with lots of medicine that I’ve been taking diligently. I will be fine.”
After she finished her sentence, she coughed violently, looking as if she was about to cough up blood. There was barely any colour on her ghostly pale complexion.
The Qizhen Emperor had been upset with Concubine Xiao for suggesting the marriage between Prince Yi and the first daughter of the Ji Family. If she had not suggested that, he would not have made a wrong decision that allowed Jing Yi to become so audacious with his ambitions. That was a deeply embedded thorn in his heart. But his heart softened when he saw how sick she had become.
He held her thin hand gently and said, “I have been busy and have neglected you. And yet, even after you’ve become so sick, you refuse to disturb me. You have left me with such heartache.”
“Don’t say that, Your Majesty, the matters of the state are far more important than me.” She spoke so sensibly, yet tears glistened in her eyes. The Qizhen Emperor went silent as he patted the back of her hand.
Then, the Emperor turned to the maid in the room, “What are the Imperial Physicians doing? Why has she not gotten better even after so many days?”
The maid bowed and replied, “Your Majesty, the Imperial Physician has come by several times, but they came to the same conclusion everytime. They said that Her Ladyship’s body is too frail, and that she had caught a chill because of that coupled with the recent poor weather. But it was nothing grievous, so they simply prescribed her with a daily dose of medicine to help nurse her back to health.”
“Who gave her this prescription?”
“It was Imperial Physician Chang and Imperial Physician Liu.”
The two of them were old, experienced physicians. Qizhen Emperor’s face darkened and with a hmph, he waved his sleeve and ordered, “By my word, summon Imperial Physician Gao at once.”
His voice echoed through the room.
The maid shrank away and answered with her eyes glued to her feet, “Yes!” Then, she left and scurried off to summon the Imperial Physician in question.
Concubine Xiao tugged at the emperor’s hand. “Your Majesty, why have you summoned for Imperial Physician Gao?”
Her physicians had always been Imperial Physician Chang and Imperial Physician Liu, so the Emperor should summon them instead. Why summon Imperial Physician Gao instead?
Qizhen Emperor explained, “Imperial Physician Chang and Imperial Physician Liu may be experienced, but they are also old. Their eyes may have grown weak and their brains muddled with age; they may thus have overlooked something. Best to bring in Imperial Physician Gao and let him have a look at your illness right in front of me.”
“Your Majesty, I’m really fine.”
“Look at you, you’re so pale, there’s hardly any strength in your voice. Now that I’m here, there’s no way I would ignore this. I will find out what you’re sick with, so that they can treat you accurately.” He answered sternly. Concubine Xiao’s eyes reddened and she looked away to dab away a tear. She was very touched.