Bidding Luo Kuangyuan farewell, the group walked slowly on the street.
“Would you tell me why you want to see Piaoxue?” Lin Haihai asked, suddenly intrigued by how the man arrived at his change of heart.
Bai Muyang smiled weakly, panting too hard to say anything. Lin Haihai stopped walking and told Zheng Feng, “Charter a horse carriage. He can’t walk any longer!”
“Didn’t you say you were visiting Huang Wensheng?” Zheng Feng asked after a pause. “Are you still going?”
Bai Muyang’s expression hardened, his eyes blazing as he bit out, “He isn’t a good man, either. Physician Lin should keep your distance from him!”
Lin Haihai wasn’t at all surprised. Huang Wensheng and Bai Muyang were of the same breed. They shared the same malicious streak.
“Visit them with my invitation letter, Zheng Feng, and have Huang Wensheng come to the North Court. Tell him an old acquaintance of his would like to see him. If he refuses, just knock him out and take him!”
Lin Haihai had an idea. She was going to give Piaoxue justice anyway. Might as well take this opportunity to stir up trouble. Perhaps she would be able to force the old fox to make an appearance to save his son-in-law.
“Alright, I’ll go right now. Be careful while you ride with him!” Zheng Feng gave her a worried look. Things were different now. She had another life within her.
“I’ll be fine,” Lin Haihai said calmly. “Go find a horse carriage!”
Zheng Feng turned to Bai Muyang and warned, “Don’t try anything, or I’ll make you wish for death!”
Bai Muyang shook his head and said sickly, “What tricks can I possibly pull in this state?”
Lin Haihai laughed. “He won’t be my match even if he tries anything. Stop faffing about, Zheng Feng. Go find us a carriage!”
Zheng Feng had no choice but to oblige her.
As the horse carriage made for the North Court, Lin Haihai considered Bai Muyang’s darkened face. Curious, she asked, “Who poisoned you?”
Bai Muyang coughed, his face flushed. He took a moment to steady his breaths before he said, “The poison has been in my system for long. It acts up every three months. If I can get an antidote before that, I’ll be safe for another three months.”
“What would happen if you don’t?” It seemed whoever developed the poison was trying to gain full control over him.
“Then I’ll die while my body rots away within half a month!” Bai Muyang’s face turned ashen with despair, his eyes shining with regret. The sorrow radiated from him made it impossible not to pity him.
“Who was behind it?” Lin Haihai’s eyes flickered.
“Shouldn’t you know, Consort Lin?” Bai Muyang smiled with difficulty. “He has much more influence than you expected. With you as his opponent, though, Prince Pingnan will suffer a terrible defeat!”
“You’ve overestimated me. However, I won’t stand by and do nothing while he begins his treacherous crusade!” Lin Haihai said gravely. The last thing she wanted was for a war to break out. Her duty was to save people rather than kill people. If one day she had to kill enemies on the frontlines for him, would she be able to harm the enemy soldiers, who had once been regular folks? Was there no other way than to squash violence with violence?
“As long as you intervene, Prince Pingnan won't get what he wants!” Bai Muyang showed traces of satisfaction, his greyed eyes shining with glee.
“Why did you do what you did to Piaoxue?” Lin Haihai wanted his side of the story.
The smile on Bai Muyang’s face dropped and hardened into a stilted mask, his gaze growing distant in reminiscence. “I never thought I would meet a beautiful and kind woman like her. Before leaving for the exam, I promised to become the principal scholar and take her to the capital to marry her. That night, we pledged ourselves to each other in the garden and spent the night in each other’s embrace.”
A dreamy look passed through his face before it was quickly replaced by panic and terror. “However, my illness acted up again the day before the exam, and the opportunity slipped from my fingers. When the results of the exam were announced, I was surprised to find Huang Wensheng as the principal scholar. He took me to Grand Councilor Yan, stating he was doing it for the sake of our friendship. The grand councilor preserved an official position for me. However, he poisoned the tea he gave me, telling me to follow his orders from then on.”
“Huang Wensheng was the one who had the antidotes. He forced me to fool Piaoxue into coming to the capital and set up a false banquet to get her onto his bed. That night, I sat on the stairs outside the door, listening to her high-pitched screams. Eventually, her calls for help died down, until not even her low wails could be heard. There was only silence. I curled into myself on the stairs, fighting the pain of the poison, waiting for Huang Wensheng to give me an antidote.”
“Later, Piaoxue sought me out for help. To save myself from possible trouble, I pushed her away and told her to return, lest the easily jealous Huang Wensheng become suspicious of me. Unfortunately, Huang Wensheng showed up right then. I was afraid that he wouldn’t give me antidotes in the future, so I hurt Piaoxue to prove myself to him.”
“But then I heard that Piaoxue had passed away from illness after a few days. At that moment, my heart hardened into ice. I hated myself, Huang Wensheng, Grand Councilor Yan, and yet I was forced to commit atrocities for them. I know my crimes are too grave to be forgiven, and I’ll end up in the eighteenth level of hell once I die. I’ll never see Piaoxue in my afterlife. Before I go to hell, I simply want to meet her in person and tell her I’m sorry!”
He broke into tears, beside himself with grief.
Lin Haihai sighed. She wasn’t an official. She was in no place to judge Bai Muyang for the crimes he’d committed. As an outsider, she resented him for his wrongdoings. At the same time, though, she felt some sympathy for him. He had hurt the woman who loved him dearly for his own life, while Lin Haihai had hurt Yang Shaolun for her belief. Would that lead to such regret in the future? The thought terrified her and made her break into cold sweat.
She reached out to seal Bai Muyang’s meridians. “I’ve blocked your meridians to slow the spread of the poison. After meeting Piaoxue, I’ll take you to the hospital and try to cure you.”
“Thank you, but I don’t want to be free of this poison. I want this life to end as soon as possible to make amends for the innocent people I’ve hurt!” His life was a mess. The only woman he loved was no longer alive. He didn’t want to struggle to live just for the sake of it.
“Dying isn’t the best solution,” Lin Haihai said seriously. “If you know what you’ve done wrong, you should pay for your crimes for the rest of your life!”
“I’ll tell Official Luo about everything Grand Councilor Yan has done. I’m sure you aren’t interested, Consort Lin. However, I must tell you that Prince Pingnan has ordered for the empress dowager of Rong to be caught in exchange for military support from the nation. Once he starts his coup, Rong’s army will march down from the north and engage Chen Luoqing’s army. While Chen Luoqing is occupied, Prince Pingnan will go straight to the capital.”
“The sixth prince’s army of a hundred thousand and the emperor’s personal soldiers will be enough to face Prince Pingnan. However, there will be a terrible battle. Lives will be lost, and people’s livelihoods destroyed. Considering the circumstances, Prince Pingnan will have the upperhand!”
Bai Muyang’s voice was filled with emotions. He had once been an accomplice to their atrocities.
Lin Haihai fell into a deep thought. She didn’t want a war to break out. How was she going to prevent it? She must not allow Prince Pingnan to find Rong’s empress dowager, or he would be able to do what he wanted to do without reservations. However, the empress dowager had gone missing a long time ago. Where was she? It would be difficult to track her down. Lin Haihai could only hope to find her before Prince Pingnan. Without the support of Rong, Prince Pingnan would at least be more cautious and think twice before making any move.
The horse carriage stopped at the door of the North Court. Xiao Ju rushed out to answer the door when she heard Lin Haihai knocking. “It’s been a while, Elder Sister!” Xiao Ju complained. The sixth prince had told her and Tangtang to move into the Prince Residence, but Lin Haihai stopped them. Thanks to that, they were able to lead a peaceful life.
“It has. I miss you. I’ve been too busy to visit you!” Lin Haihai was happy to see them. She had been thinking of visiting them in the North Court, but had been unable to make the time. If Chen Birou hadn’t poisoned her today, she wouldn’t have a day to herself.
“Who is this?” Xiao Ju looked at Bai Muyang curiously. Her elder sister never brought anyone here.
“Take me to Piaoxue!” Lin Haihai said in a lowered voice.
Xiao Ju threw Bai Muyang a glance before leading them inside with a serious expression. Bai Muyang felt conflicted emotions rise in his heart. He never thought that he would have a chance to see her again, that he would be able to apologize to her in person. Once he resolved that regret, he would be able to leave this world in peace.
“Get in,” Lin Haihai said. “Piaoxue is in the room.”
Bai Muyang nodded and gave her a grateful look.
He pushed the door open. The room was dark and humid, filled with tendrils of tremendous grievances. Bai Muyang couldn’t help but shudder as someone from the living world.
“Sir Bai,” called out a resentful voice.
Bai Muyang turned to see Piaoxue’s pale face twisted by grudges and grief, his heart clenching painfully. He knelt before her and said with regret, “I’m here to apologize to you in person. I wronged you. I was the reason why you died with such grievances. I’m not asking for your forgiveness. I only wish to see you for the last time before I leave this world. That’s more than enough for me!” His eyes were bright with remorse.
“Apologize? Do you think that’s enough for what you’ve done to me?” Piaoxue glared at him, both furious and hurt. She had been suffering from piercing pain for days and nights, and it was all because of him.
“I pushed you into a living hell for my own life that day. Although I was forced to do so, it was an unforgivable betrayal!” He shed tears of regret and bowed down at her feet, his voice hoarse from crying.
“Forced? What excuses can you possibly make?” Piaoxue’s face became twisted. The tremendous hatred in her heart threatened to tear her apart. “Huang Wensheng told me that you’d given me to him in exchange for his favors. When I sought you out for help, you joined him in beating me. I was beaten to death by the both of you.”
“I was wrong. There’s nothing I can say to make things right. I only wish for you to become free of your grievances and go into your next life. I’ll serve you in my next life and do whatever you say without regret!”
“Go! I don’t want to see you anymore. If not for you, I wouldn’t be separated from my father by death, and my father wouldn't spend the rest of his life alone and unhappy!”
She was filled with hatred and regret. Loving the wrong person had led to the tragic end of her old father. She had been a terrible daughter. She should kill him to vent the anger in her heart. However, she had chosen this path herself. There was no use in hating him.
“This matter must be resolved,” Lin Haihai said as she entered the room. “There was a third person who was involved, Piaoxue. Let us wait for Huang Wensheng to come!”
The mention of his name sent a shudder down Piaoxue’s spectral body, and her appearance became unstable. Her obvious fear stabbed Bai Muyang in the heart, the pain overwhelming. The man must have tormented her terribly, or she wouldn’t be this terrified of him. Bai Muyang balled his hands into fists. Veins popped out of his forehead, and his breathing grew heavy. He would make the man pay!
Meanwhile, Zheng Feng had arrived at Huang Wensheng’s residence. The man was the Minister of Revenue, a principal second-grade official, which was the equivalent of Vice-Premiere in the modern day. He was in charge of the land, taxation, registry, military supply, salary, food supply, and income and expenditure in the nation.
Zheng Feng visited Huang Wensheng and told him why he was here. Huang Wensheng warily asked, “Why would Consort Lin invite me to the North Court?” His father-in-law had told him that the sixth princess consort was not to be underestimated.
“This lowly guard is simply following orders and doesn’t know anything else,” Zheng Feng said impassively.
“Then please tell Consort Lin that this official has court affairs to attend to, Commander Zheng. I’ll visit her another day. Please ask for her forgiveness for me.” Huang Wensheng turned Zheng Feng down calmly. He wasn’t going to play her game.
Zheng Feng stared at the well-dressed minister and said, “Apologies. Consort Lin is adamant about inviting Minister Huang.”
“And this official has said that I’m busy with official work!” Huang Wensheng scowled, his brows creased in worry.
Zheng Feng ignored his outrage and remained as calm as ever. “That’s Minister Huang’s business. Please make the time, Minister Huang. This lowly guard will be waiting!”
“Don’t test my patience when I’m still preserving your face, Zheng Feng!” Huang Wensheng growled, his expression dark.