After waiting for four entire hours in the heated pavilion, Old Madam Zhou’s bottom was aching and her heart a mess. Yet as soon as she saw Esteemed Empress enter, she calmed down. Quickly rising to her feet, she respectfully bowed to the woman while leaning on her cane.
“Many felicitations to Esteemed Empress.”
“Zhao mama!” Han Yunxi raised her voice. “Zhao mama, quick, help the old madam up.”
There were plenty of court ladies in attendance but no Zhao mama in sight. In the silent room, no one answered Han Yunxi. The place was so spacious that a person could see everything at a glance, so how could she not know Zhao mama was missing!
She was doing this on purpose!
Han Yunxi lifted her arm and rested it in the hand of a servant girl as she leisurely strolled past the kneeling Old Madam Zhou, her aura of an empress complete. Actually, she didn’t like putting on airs, but there would always been certain kinds of people who didn’t respect her as an empress unless she acted the part.
It wasn’t until Han Yunxi sat down that she put on a surprised expression and asked, “Where is Zhao mama?”
“To reply Esteemed Empress, Zhao mama went to look for tea,” a court lady replied.
Han Yunxi immediately grew incensed. “What, and she still hasn’t found it yet?”
The court lady lowered her head and didn’t dare to speak.
“This old thing! She always like to act lazy and make mischief. Because she’s advanced in years, I don’t want to nitpick her, but now she’s more and more wanton! If I don’t teach her a good lesson today, how can I still reign as the master of the inner palace? How will I ever reign in the harem if the emperor takes concubines in the future?” Han Yunxi huffed.
Naturally her words were all meant for Old Madam Zhou, calling her names with mockery and threats!
Zhao mama and Mu Linger were just outside the door. The former understood at once and almost laughed out loud, while the latter was still clueless. She had just come to talk with her big sis about matters of Medicine City when Zhao mama pulled her back. Mu Linger could tell that Han Yunxi was “pointing at the mulberry while cursing the locust tree,” but she didn’t know the whole picture.
“What’s going on?” she asked in a low murmur, “Why are you smiling so happily?”
Zhao mama chuckled before resting a hand on her hip, the other pointing at Old Madam Zhou inside the pavilion. She imitated the empress’s tone and declared, “Old Granny Zhou, you old thing, don’t think I have no idea of the mischief you’ve been up to on the sly. I don’t want to nitpick you because you’re advanced in years, but now you’ve gotten more and more wanton! You even dare to plot against me and sent the Baili Clan’s two empty red packets to Northern Li’s Musi! If I don’t teach you a good lesson today, how am I supposed to maintain my status in the inner palace? If you old lot force the emperor to take concubines in the future, wouldn’t that mean I have no say whatsoever?”
Zhao mama couldn’t stop laughing when she finished, but Mu Linger was stunned. “They were sent to Northern Li’s Musi?”
“Isn’t that so? Fortunately Jin Zi found out by chance or else it would’ve caused a lot of trouble,” Zhao mama replied.
Mu Linger was surprised. Old Madam Zhou could do things like this? But she was more curious about something else. “Jin Zi went to Musi in person?”
Jin Zi was busy beyond belief, so why would he go there? Moreover, the Musi were in charge of managing donations for disaster relief while Jin Zi was the overseer for all of Northern Li’s affairs. He should avoid them in case potential problems implicated him severely.
“I heard he went there to give donations, quite a lot too,” Zhao mama said.
“Donations?” Mu Linger’s first thought was does Jin Zi have any money? Doesn’t he owe a heap of debts? But she quickly recalled how she had returned his money. “So he ended up donating that money? All of it?” Mu Linger muttered to herself.
She wondered if she should check how much he’d donated from her gold card. If she was willing, she could track down every single piece of purchase history from Jin Zi. But in the end she hesitated. “That’s no good, those are his private affairs…”
While she was deliberating, the kneeling Old Madam Zhou inside the pavilion suddenly keeled over on the ground. Shocked, Mu Linger was about to dash in when Zhao mama held her back. “It’s faked! Don’t panic!”
Inside, Han Yunxi had already risen to her feet. Ice flashed through her eyes before she shouted, “Someone, summon an imperial physician!”
She had a court lady go help Old Madam Zhou up, but who knew the old woman had pretended to faint away too! Her original plans were to wrap things up quickly, but she didn’t expect the other to have such fighting spirit. Very good! Then I’ll satisfy you thoroughly!
The court ladies carried Old Madam Zhou to a warm couch on the side while an imperial physician quickly appeared. He inspected the woman but found nothing wrong. Old Madam Zhou simply refused to wake.
“Esteemed Empress, perhaps Old Madam Zhou is simply too elderly and fainted from exhaustion. Have her rest a while,” the physician said sincerely.
“If it’s nothing serious, then I can treat her myself. You may leave,” Han Yunxi said coldly.
The imperial physician could tell there was something off with her tone, much less the “fainted” Old Madam Zhou, who was now starting to fret. But after the doctor left, Han Yunxi only told the surrounding court ladies, “All of you are dismissed. I shall look after her personally.”
Old Madam Zhou’s heart shook when she heard the court ladies walking away. When the door shut next, her breathing grew rapid.
Heavens! I’ve already fainted, what does the empress want to do?
I am the mother of a first-rank official and a titled first-rank lady. My status in Jiangnan is extremely high! There’s no evidence of the matter with the red packets, so even if the empress suspects me, she can’t do anything to me!
Does she have no sense of sovereignly ethics at all?
Old Madam Zhou’s nerves were taut as she listened for movements around her, but Han Yunxi simply sat without a word. As the silence stretched on, Old Madam Zhou grew more and more anxious but didn’t know what the empress was planning.
Silently, Han Yunxi took out an acupuncture needle and stuck it in an acupoint on Old Madam Zhou’s face. Now the old woman was completely tense. Han Yunxi thought she’d wake up after that, but the woman was still holding on.
This time, Han Yunxi stuck a needle into the woman’s hand. It was extremely painful!
Old Madam Zhou shuddered visibly but still remained with her eyes shut. She knew that as soon as she woke, it’d be difficult to leave the palace again based on the empress’s current attitude. If she could hold out being unconscious, perhaps the empress would get sick of her and order someone to send her away.
Still, after waiting for a while, Old Madam Zhou didn’t feel a third needle. Instead, her entire body began to itch more and more. Pain she could endure, but itchiness…
Although Old Madam Zhou tried her best, she still succumbed to scratching her neck in the end. Han Yunxi simply sat watching without a word.
Old Madam Zhou began scratching with just one hand, but soon enough it turned to two. Before long, she had turned on her side to scratch her back. Unfortunately, that only worsened the itching, making her scratch harder as if addicted. She couldn’t stop at all. Subconsciously, she even sat up because her feet had started to itch as well.
At last, Han Yunxi said, “Old Madam Zhou, so you’ve woken up.”
Old Madam Zhou gave a start before she looked back and realized she was sitting up.
Her expression looked lost as she wondered how to answer the question. She had no idea why she’d sat up out of the blue either. Han Yunxi would never tell the old woman she’d just poisoned her with a toxin that made the victims itch so much they lost awareness of anything except assuaging that itch.
She handed her an antidote and said, “Here, it’ll stop itching after you eat this.”
At this, Old Madam Zhou finally realized what had happened. She looked at Han Yunxi in a mixture of shock and rage, but didn’t dare say anything else. Han Yunxi didn’t know what she was so mad about. So you can fake fainting but you won’t allow others to poison you at the same time?
She stuffed the pill into Old Madam Zhou’s mouth and said, “If there’s nothing else, come down. I said I’d invite you to tea. By now, Zhao mama should be back with the leaves.”
At those words, Zhao mama immediately entered the pavilion.
“Esteemed Empress! Esteemed Empress, this old servant knows her wrongs. I searched the entire palace but couldn’t find the old tea leaves,” Zhao mama said loudly.
“Isn’t there a pile of them in the emperor’s study?” Han Yunxi shot back.
Old Madam Zhou was so frightened by those words that she immediately got off the couch. “Esteemed Empress, this madam is fine with just water, just water!”
Everyone in Cloud Realm Continent knew the emperor loved tea. His old tea were simply collector’s editions! Even if the empress brought them here, Old Madam Zhou wouldn’t dare to drink it! Her previous patience was all but shattered under Han Yunxi’s ruckus. She would rather this mistress hurry up and talk about the empty red packets so she could deny it to the death already.
But how could Han Yunxi ever bring that up?
With the empty red packets sent out under Baili LIxiang’s name, the matter had already become public affairs instead of something related to the inner palace. She had invited Old Madam Zhou here only to talk about palace matters.
“Old Madam Zhou, have a seat. You’ve just woken up, so don’t be so flustered. If you faint away again, I don’t know what methods I’ll have to use to wake you up a second time,” Han Yunxi said seriously.
Old Madam Zhou quickly sat down.
“Zhao mama, it’s getting late isn’t it?” Han Yunxi asked.
“It’s already dark, so it’s not early,” Zhao mama replied truthfully.
“Since you won’t take tea, at least have a meal before you leave?” Han Yunxi smiled. “Go, have Xia He carry over the noodles I made so Old Madam Zhou can have a taste.”
Xia He? Old Madam Zhou’s ghastly complexion turned paler at the name.
Xia He...isn’t that the court lady I took pains to hide in the palace? The empress is ordering Xia He to bring the noodles here, so does this mean…
Old Madam Zhou didn’t dare to continue the thought. She had trained Xia He personally and the girl had only been in the palace for months. She refused to believe that she’d been exposed already. She grasped her hands and told herself to calm down.
While they waited, silence returned to the pavilion once more. Han Yunxi glanced at the nervous old woman and smiled. “Zhao mama, it was Xia He who helped me pack those red packets, right?”
“Exactly so,” Zhao mama replied.
Old Madam Zhou’s heart nearly stopped at those words. She finally knew why Esteemed Empress had called her into the palace…
2. There’s really no clear way to translate Musi besides something like...Shepherd Department which sounds fitting for the nomadic northerners but also kind of silly. I just stuck with the pinyin this time (it’s shorter too, haha).
now this is female lead scheming i can get behind. HYX, i love it when you use your brains!