With that, Imperial Consort Li threw her blanket away and was about to get off the bed. Noble Lady Ling hurried to the bed to stop Imperial Consort Li. “Don’t do anything foolish, Elder Sister! His Majesty will give you justice!”
Then she turned to Yang Shaolun and said, “His Majesty, this Concubine and the other sisters witnessed everything! Imperial Consort Li was impolite to Her Majesty the Empress, but she has been abiding by the rules and quietly nurturing her unborn child in her palace since Empress Dowager’s birthday banquet. She spent her time tending to flowers and taking care of fish to mellow her temperament. She told us that she had been immature, which resulted in one trouble after another in the harem, preventing His Majesty from focusing on the state affairs. That was why she decided to improve her temper and develop a harmonious relationship with us sisters. Then His Majesty won’t have anything to worry about. Today, it was Empress Chen who was in the wrong. She slapped Sister Imperial Consort just because she didn’t kneel and bow to her! We can all attest to that!”
Noble Lady Ling got to her knees and knocked her head hard onto the floor, her tone made her seem like a martyr. Then Noble Lady Yu took a step forward and inclined her back, echoing, “This Concubine can testify to Sister Ling’s statement as well, His Majesty!”
“So can I!”
The consorts and concubines all took their stands against the empress. The empress smiled wryly. It seemed she had really been easy to hate. All of them banded together to frame her! However, what they hated the most was her status. Perhaps, if she were a regular Lady of Talent, she wouldn’t have been targeted like this.
Lin Haihai found it tiresome listening to the women’s blatant lies. She turned to the empress and saw her calm and fearless expression. She must have long stopped caring about her own safety. However, Lin Haihai couldn’t possibly allow her to be framed for something she didn’t do.
With a scoff, the empress dowager looked at the empress with disappointment and anger. “What else are you going to say for yourself, Empress?”
The empress bowed and responded, “This Empress would say only one thing: I didn’t do it. Would Imperial Mother believe me?”
The empress dowager angrily slammed her palm on the table and raged, “You know no remorse! This Empress Dowager has taught you to be mellow and kind. I had such high expectations for you. Who would have thought you would resort to such cruelty?! Now that your deed was exposed, you tried to get yourself off the hook by leveraging this Empress Dowager’s affection for you. My heart is broken! This Empress Dowager wouldn’t take one person’s words against you, but all these consorts and concubines couldn’t possibly get together to make false accusations against you, could they? Would Imperial Consort Li sacrifice her own child just to frame you?”
She lost her balance and gulped for air before letting Lihua help her sit down.
Yang Shaolun knew the empress didn’t have a good relationship with the other consorts and concubines. The root cause was the indifferent way he had been treating the empress. Even when he visited her bed chamber, he had treated her with nothing but respect. The entire harem was already in the know. The empress had nothing but an empty title. He had thought it was her wish. Was he wrong?
She wouldn’t have clashed with Imperial Consort Li for something as trivial as etiquettes in greetings. She had always preferred to let unimportant things slide to avoid trouble. There must be more to this matter. Turning to Lin Haihai, Yang Shaolun noted the thoughtful look on her face. She had been sneaking glances at the empress. What are you thinking? he wondered. You were there as well. Were the consorts and concubines telling the truth?
The empress’ eyes flashed with worry as they landed on the furious empress dowager, but she quickly schooled her expression back into impassiveness and said, “If you’ve decided that this Empress is guilty, Mother, this Empress has nothing else to say!”
A devious look flashed through Imperial Consort Li’s eyes. She said in a pitiful tone, “This Consort has planted the seed for today’s matter, His Majesty. This Consort dares not begrudge the empress for her retaliation. However, this Consort has lost the will to live after losing my child. Let me go accompany my poor son!”
Then she began whimpering in tears. The arrogant and prideful woman was rendered into a sobbing mess, as weak as a willow swaying in the wind. Her sorrow didn’t seem like an act, and she appeared to be crying real tears. Lin Haihai considered her carefully. She was unlikely to be faking her outburst of sadness. From the way she behaved, she shouldn’t be shrewd enough to come up with all this. There must be someone else instigating and instructing her. Who could it be?
Someone who was able to stage such a well-thought-out show must be shrewder and more clever than most. Lin Haihai scanned the consorts and concubines. Most of them were glaring at the empress with seemingly justified anger, while one woman stood quietly behind them, neither seeking attention nor starting any trouble, behaving like an obedient consort. However, Lin Haihai could see a trace of sneer behind her calm mask.
The empress dowager couldn’t help feeling sympathetic after hearing Imperial Consort Li’s words. She might not like this woman, but losing a child was the most terrible tragedy of all. As a mother herself, she understood Imperial Consort Li’s pain. What the consort needed the most was the emperor’s attention, so she told Yang Shaolun, “Go comfort her, my son. You’re still young. You can have another child. Please don’t burden yourself with this!”
Imperial Consort Li looked up at Yang Shaolun with tears and a hopeful look in her eyes. “Is that true, His Majesty? Can we have another child?”
Yang Shaolun couldn’t help the sympathetic pang in his heart. This woman was his wife. Him having no feelings for her didn’t change that. He sat down by the bed and wiped tears away from her face. Imperial Consort Li threw herself into his arms and sobbed.
Yang Shaolun didn’t dare turn to Lin Haihai. He could imagine what this would make her feel. Gently, he put her hand on Consort Li’s back like a half embrace.
The empress wasn’t worried about herself, but about Lin Haihai. Her face was sheet pale and her lips trembled. The empress sighed inwardly. This may be a blessing in disguise. Then she will give up on him!
The empress dowager got to her feet and walked up to the empress, her tone icy as she said, “This Empress Dowager would ask you this the last time. Why would you do something so cruel?”
The empress met the older woman’s gaze. Her expression remained fearless, but there was a trace of sadness between her brows. “This Empress insists on what I’ve said, Mother. If Mother doesn’t believe me, this Empress has nothing else to say!”
Everyone had accused her. There was no use in defending herself. She would take whatever punishment awaiting her. The only thing she was worried about was Chuting and her Imperial Father from her home nation. Without the protection she provided as the empress of Daxing, Chen would be in danger!
Slap! Red handprint burned into the empress’s cheek. The empress dowager trembled as she said, “This Empress Dowager has misplaced my trust and affection in you! You refuse to own up to your crime! Guards, take her to the Cold Palace. No one is to visit her without my decree!”
A few guards entered to grab the empress. Without a hint of struggle, the empress allowed the guards to take her away. Yang Shaolun did believe his empress, but there was something very wrong with what happened today. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for the empress to stay in the Cold Palace for the moment. Then whoever had been behind everything might relax their guard. Thus Yang Shaolun didn’t put a stop to this.
“Wait!” Lin Haihai rose to her feet and stopped the guards. The guards turned to the empress dowager for instruction, who said, “Don’t plead for her, Yuguan. This Empress Dowager knows what I’m doing!”
Lin Haihai had figured out what the person behind this wanted. She was trying to get rid of Imperial Consort Li! Yet the silly woman had foolishly done her bidding. Lin Haihai threw a fleeting glance at Consort Zhuang. There was a faint smile on her face. She’d gotten what she wanted. Once Lin Haihai stepped in, Imperial Consort Li would have no chance of getting out of this. That was her real goal: She wanted to take down Imperial Consort Li through Lin Haihai! That woman must not be underestimated.
“I know I’m close to the empress and you would think I am lying to protect her, Imperial Mother, but the truth isn’t what it appears to be.” She turned to Lihua and said, “Summon all the imperial physicians in the imperial hospital, Lihua!”
Imperial Consort Li blanched and grabbed Yang Shaolun’s hand. “This Consort is tired, Your Majesty. Tell everyone to leave me alone, would you? All the physicians in the world wouldn’t resurrect my child. This Consort doesn’t want to be treated when there’s no hope!”
Lin Haihai stared at them coldly. “No, we must wait for them to come!”
Imperial Consort Li scowled and pointed at Lin Haihai as she snarled, “Since when are you in charge here? You’re but a lowly princess consort. How dare you bark like you own this place in my territory? Please throw her out, Your Majesty. This Consort doesn’t want to see her!”
“That’s enough, Imperial Consort!” The empress dowager lost her temper before Yang Shaolun could say anything. She would forgive her this time since the woman was mourning for her child. She didn’t understand why her son would put all his affection into this woman. It must have been his favoritism that drove the empress to such a foolish act.
Yang Shaolun disliked her as well. Besides, the truth hadn’t come out yet. He let go of her and said to Lihua, “Do as the princess consort said!”
Lihua made a sound of assent and left. Yang Shaolun turned to Lin Haihai, but she wasn’t looking at him. She had turned to observe the consorts and concubines. These women had been used. They had thought they were helping Imperial Consort Li, but they ended up hurting both her and themselves.
Li Chaomin was still on his knees. Lin Haihai hated it when people knelt down, but she didn’t plan to tell him to get up. Instead, it was the empress dowager who said, “Please rise, Imperial Physician Li. It’s not your fault!”
The imperial physician remained on the floor. “Please allow this official to stay like this, Your Majesty!”
Lin Haihai threw him a look and saw how ashen and still his expression was. Although she did pity him, she remembered what her professor in the medical school had said that ethics were the most important thing to a doctor. Li Chaomin had completely forgotten about ethics when he decided to help the tiger eat its prey! With a sigh, she asked, “Were you serious when you called me your master?”
Li Chaomin burst into tears and knocked his head onto the floor, saying nothing. His behavior confused the empress dowager and revealed the truth to Yang Shaolun. The empress dowager looked at Li Chaomin, then at Lin Haihai’s pained look. “Yuguan, what happened today...”
“I told you there is more to it, Imperial Mother. You may not believe what I said now, but you will understand everything once the physicians arrive and diagnose Imperial Consort Li!”
Lin Haihai didn’t want to waste her breath. She had been used just like the other women. Damn her! It feels like shit to be played like a pawn! The consorts and concubines lost their bearings, exchanging helpless glances. Consort Zhuang was the exception. She snuck away with a faint smile tugging at her lip.
Lin Haihai had been watching her. It was the first time she felt such resentment for a person. She had been staying at the very back, unnoticed by the empress dowager and the emperor. No punishment would thus fall on her. Such an insidious plan! Most women in the harem would end up on the blacklist because of her manipulation. Then she would be able to get rid of the remaining ones later. The woman was incredibly shrewd and cunning. Lin Haihai felt a sudden urge to play this game with her!
The empress dowager was still confused, but the expression on Imperial Consort Li’s face and the panic the consorts and concubines showed told her the truth. It seemed the empress was innocent. The sadness in her heart evaporated, but her fury continued to build.
Yang Shaolun sat down with his hands on his stomach, his face slowly covered in sweat. Lin Haihai didn’t notice. She couldn’t help recalling how he had held Imperial Consort Li when she looked at him. She couldn’t help imagining how the couple had been loving to each other, doing what people in love would do.
Meanwhile, the empress did notice Yang Shaolun’s condition. He had told her how his stomach would cramp after having anything spicy. The emperor’s love could be moving at times. But alas, he and Xiao’hai are never meant to be!
Lin Haihai approached the bed and looked at the panicking Consort Li. Lin Haihai sighed. This poor woman still hadn't realized that she had been used. When did she lose her child? Her swollen belly must have been a disguise. What would happen to her once the truth was revealed?
However, she couldn’t possibly go easy on her. Imperial Consort Li had to pay for what she had done. She wouldn’t have been used and gotten herself into this mess if she hadn’t wanted to get rid of the empress.
Imperial Consort Li stared at her with venom in her eyes. She looked so vicious, it was as if she wanted nothing but to tear Lin Haihai in half. Lin Haihai sat down on the stool by her bed and asked, “What else do you have to say?”
Imperial Consort Li spat and bit out, “This Consort knows what you’re thinking, bitch! The imperial physicians are all loyal to you. They’ll say whatever you want them to say. The empress and you have gotten my child killed. What else do you have for me, hm?”
Yang Shaolun was in enough pain. Hearing her insult Lin Haihai again and again made him lose his temper. He slammed the table and growled, “Shut up! Say that again and I’ll cut you down!”
Imperial Consort Li jumped and shuddered in fear, her eyes brimming with tears. She wanted to protest, but she didn’t dare. She had never seen the emperor this enraged.
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Ohh... shit is about to go down!