Stunned, Grand Councilor Yan cursed inwardly. Everything must have been part of their plan. And Huang Wensheng was their target.
They turned to wait for the emperor’s arrival. Lin Haihai stood upright bracing the wind, watching him approach at a deliberate pace. The yellow dragon robe he wore accentuated his magnificent presence. Under his ink-black brows were deep, dark eyes. The heat in his gaze was a language only she knew.
He doesn’t hate me anymore, does it? At the end of the day, he still understands me. He understands my belief. Overwhelming emotions rose in her heart. She hadn’t fallen in love with the wrong person!
Yang Shaolun turned to Lin Haihai. It’d been a month since he last saw her. She’d lost weight. Her gaze landed on him with familiar adoration. He’d faltered too easily. Why would he doubt her feelings for him? Everything she did, she did for him. Warmth spread through all parts of his body, and his eyes crinkled with a hidden smile. They were still able to understand each other with a single glance. He was glad that their connection remained intact; glad that she still looked at him with love in her eyes.
“You’re here as well, Official Yan,” Yang Shaolun said coolly, his expression schooled into one of impassiveness and showing no discernible emotions. The well hidden flames in his eyes were the only indication of his delight and excitement.
“In response to Your Majesty, this old official...” Not even the sly old fox was able to talk his way out of this. The princess consort was on her own, while he had brought a large group of guards to intimidate her. No excuses could make it right!
“I asked Grand Councilor Yan to come because his son-in-law had murdered someone in the North Court. I sent a messenger to notify the grand councilor. He’s indeed a great official of integrity. As soon as he learned about the situation, he brought an army here to arrest the culprit. How admirable! I’m deeply touched by his righteousness! With a great official like Grand Councilor Yan in the imperial court, there’s no need to worry about laws not being implemented properly. You should reward Grand Councilor Yan well, Your Majesty!”
Lin Haihai’s backhanded compliments made Grand Councilor Yan flushed with suppressed anger. Yan Lirong scowled at Lin Haihai, her eyes shooting daggers at the princess consort. She wasn’t a reckless woman. She knew she had to remain silent when the wind wasn’t blowing their way.
Yang Shaolun’s eyes shone with appreciation. Then he turned to Huang Wensheng with furrowed brows and an icy gaze. “Is Consort Lin telling the truth, Huang Wensheng?”
His chilling gaze made Huang Wensheng’s knees weak. He dropped down to the ground, panicked. He was about to defend himself when Piaoxue appeared before him, staring at him with grieving eyes. In a moment of abject terror, he hurriedly kowtowed and begged fearfully, “It’s my fault. I got you killed. I am to blame… Please forgive me!”
Yan Lirong glared venomously at Lin Haihai. She must have poisoned Huang Wensheng to make him lose his senses and spout nonsense nonstop! However, she didn’t have any evidence. She could only gritted her teeth, her gaze boring holes into Lin Haihai. She wanted nothing but to tear Lin Haihai into pieces.
“Hmph, this Emperor held great expectations for you, and yet you disappointed this Emperor. Guards, arrest him! Take him to the imperial prison to await his judgment!”
Yang Shaolun played the part of an enraged ruler, his brows knitted closely in anger. Chen Luoqing cheered silently at the turn of events. He hadn’t expected things to go so smoothly. It was unimaginable that Huang Wensheng would admit to murdering someone himself, which made it impossible for the old scoundrel to get him out of this! What had Lin Haihai done to make this possible? His eyes shone as they settled on her.
The imperial guards immediately went up to tie Huang Wensheng up. Grand Councilor Yan almost threw up blood then and there. It was critical for them to have their own people be the Minister of Revenue. That was why they went to great lengths to put Huang Wensheng in office.
The man was cautious, and he never abused his position to attract attention. He was prudent in personal life as well, and he was excellent at playing the part of a respectable official. For years, the emperor had been unable to find faults in him and get rid of him. What happened today must be dealt with carefully. If Huang Wensheng ended up in prison, it would be impossible for them to get him out. He had to do something despite the risks. Losing Huang Wensheng now would make things difficult for them.
After a long stretch of bemused silence, he bowed to the emperor and said, “Your Majesty, this old official finds the matter suspicious. Who was the victim of the murder? Why were they in the North Court? Why would Huang Wensheng come here to kill them? There are many questions to be answered. A detailed investigation is necessary!”
Lin Haihai smiled. “It is true that the murder case must be investigated in full, Grand Councilor Yan. Your Majesty, why don’t we entrust the matter to the Court of Judicial Review? Official Luo is a man of integrity. Grand Councilor Yan should be able to rest easy with him on the case!”
“Forgive Lirong for the offense I may cause you, Consort Lin,” Yan Lirong couldn’t help but interject, her tone dripping with thinly veiled accusation. “Why did Consort Lin force my husband to come to your residence? My husband came to the North Court only half an hour ago, and he supposedly murdered someone during the short time. There must be something else going on!”
“I wouldn’t say I forced him, Madam Yan. When did I ever do that? Why would I force Minister Huang to come if he wasn’t willing? Perhaps there was a reason why he had no choice but to come to the North Court. Why don’t you ask Minister Huang about it? It is true that there is more to the murder he committed, but I’m afraid Minister Huang may be unwilling to tell you the full story!”
Lin Haihai remained as calm as ever, her tone soft and gentle. Prince Pingnan’s people must not be allowed to do as they pleased. They had to be knocked down a peg so that they would think twice before making a move. Then Brother Yang and his people would have some time to prepare. Once they found the empress dowager of Rong or re-established diplomatic ties with the nation, they wouldn’t have to fear whatever Prince Pingnan did!
“Aren’t you going to explain yourself, Minister Huang?” Lin Haihai stared at Huang Wensheng and said seriously. The man’s expression darkened with hopelessness. His wife might be snooty and overbearing, but she always prioritized his needs. Consort Lin was not to be underestimated since she had the ability to summon the dead. She had clearly set up this trap to deal with him. If his wife insisted on going against Lin Haihai, she might be dragged down into this mess as well.
Forget it. It didn’t matter if this was a trap. He had wronged Piaoxue and Bai Muyang. Both of them had ended up dead. One of them had been his closest friend, while the other had been the woman he loved. He killed them both himself. Perhaps this was his retribution!
“I did committ murder, my love,” he turned to Yan Lirong and said mournfully. “You and your father needn’t waste time on me. I deserve to be punished. My greed was to blame for pushing me into committing a great crime. Today is the day I pay for my deed. It’s the end. I’ll give them my life since I’ve taken theirs!”
He ended up choking out sobs rather than words at the end of his confession. Yan Lirong shook her head at him in disbelief with tears covering her face. “That can’t be! You won’t kill anyone! Did someone threaten you? Did someone frame you? Tell me! I’ll prove your innocence even if I have to risk my life!”
She turned to Lin Haihai with venom in her eyes. “It’s you, isn’t it? You framed my husband, you bitch!”
She rushed toward Lin Haihai to hit her, but a few men blocked her way before she could even get near. Yang Shaolun was naturally the first to react, with Chen Luoqing and Zheng Feng close seconds.
“Whatever the truth is, Official Luo will get down to it!” Yang Shaolun growled furiously. “You’re in no place to run your mouth. This Emperor will forgive you this time, but if you dare disrespect Consort Lin again, this Emperor will not let you off the hook easily!”
He wouldn’t allow anyone to attack Lin Haihai, not even verbally!
Grand Councilor Yan immediately dragged his daughter behind his back and knelt down to beg him. “Please show mercy, Your Majesty. This official’s daughter has lost her self-control due to overwhelming emotions and said what she shouldn’t say. Please forgive her for the mistake!”
“This Emperor knows that there are things you will not heed even if this Emperor is the one to say them, Grand Councilor Yan. However, this Emperor still has to remind you again: The past three grand councilors have all come from the Yan Family. You hold the highest position among the imperial officials, and you enjoy the greatest glory and respect. You should be satisfied with that!”
Grand Councilor Yan broke into cold sweat and said in a trembling voice, “This official understands. This official is more than content!”
For the longest time, he had been manipulating state affairs and creating his inner circle in the imperial court. The emperor had been turning a blind eye to his actions. He had thought that the emperor made the compromises due to the influence he held, but he should’ve realized that it was the faction supporting him that the emperor dreaded - Prince Pingnan! If he dared overstep again now, he would be caught in the mess as well!
“Return with your people, Grand Councilor Yan,” Chen Luoqing said. “You won’t be able to do anything about Huang Wensheng. He’s admitted to his crime. I would give up on him if I were you!”
The plan was perfectly executed. Even the suspect had confessed. It wouldn’t take much for the investigation to be concluded after the case was entrusted to the Court of Judicial Review.
Yan Lirong looked at her husband with a pale face and quickly analyzed the situation. She knew there was no turning the tide now. She must not do anything reckless. It was better to return to their residence to come up with a plan. Perhaps there would still be a sliver of hope.
“This official will take my leave!” Grand Councilor Yan swallowed his pride and tamped down his frustration after thinking through the situation. He took his men and left, while the imperial guards departed with Huang Wensheng in tow.
Once Grand Councilor Yan had left with his people, Lin Haihai let out a silent sigh of relief and hurried back into the room. She then unblocked Bai Muyang’s meridians by sending her vital essence through his death point. If his fake death lasted too long, there might be side effects.
Yang Shaolun and Chen Luoqing rushed in after Lin Haihai. She checked Bai Muyang’s breathing and pulses. To her relief, there were no abnormalities to his condition.
Bai Muyang gradually regained consciousness. When he opened his eyes, he was met with the sight of the emperor standing before him. He hurriedly got up to kneel before Yang Shaolun. “This guilty official Bai Muyang greets Your Majesty!”
Yang Shaolun sat down to consider the man. There was a dagger in his side, and both his clothes and the floor were bloodied. Any bystanders would assume he had died after being stabbed. He wondered who had come up with this plan.
“This Emperor has been informed of everything you’ve done. Although you’ve committed great atrocities in the past, this Emperor would allow you to live since you’ve come around at the last moment and provide us with information to acquire medicines that would help the general public. However, you still have to pay for your crimes. The Head of the Imperial Physicians needs manpower at her plantation. You’ll work there as a servant to make amends for your guilt!”
Lin Haihai couldn’t ask for a better resolution to the matter. Bai Muyang teared up and lay on the floor, choking out with trembling lips, “Your Majesty is too kind. It’ll be this guilty official’s fortune to serve Physician Lin for the rest of my life. However, this guilty official has been afflicted with a strange poison. It won’t be long until I die!”
Yang Shaolun’s dark eyes flickered, and he hurriedly asked, “Are many of you under the control of poison?”
Bai Muyang nodded. “We were poisoned soon after we became officials. This guilty official isn’t sure exactly how many of us have fallen victim. However, I remember the time when Huang Wensheng failed to return the day the antidotes should be handed out due to his work. The second day the poison came into effect, more than twenty officials had dragged themselves to the Huang Residence to wait for him, suffering from great pain. This guilty official was one of them!”
Yang Shaolun looked at him seriously. “Do you remember who they were?”
“I do. I remember all of them!” He had waited at the Huang Residence with those officials for a day, suffering from the same pain and torment. The memory had practically been burned in his mind.
Yang Shaolun laughed softly. “Good. List the names of all the officials for me. Xiao Yuan, take him away and give him a writing brush and some ink!”
Xiao Yuan followed his order. Noting the urgency in Yan Shaolun’s gaze, Chen Luoqing instructed his men, “Follow me to search through the area. Don’t let any of that scoundrel’s people infiltrate the North Court!”
He understood his friend. He knew Yang Shaolun must have many things to tell Lin Haihai. He had sworn to do everything he could to help Yang Shaolun when he was ten, and he had never once broken his promise over the years. That was how true brothers should act.
The door was shut. Everyone other than Yang Shaolun and Lin Haihai had left. Silence descended upon the room. Yang Shaolun had spent the past month ruminating over what had happened. All his anger and resentment faded away, leaving behind only the deepest yearning. He met her gaze, his expression both sorrowful and joyous. He then walked up to her to pull her into his arms, and finally, he felt the emptiness in his heart lifted. She was his everything, his whole world. Nothing else mattered with her in his arms.Previous Chapter Next Chapter