Chapter 159: Poison Flaring
Elder Statesman Cao looked back and forth, confirming that the door were tightly shut and that no one was peeking in. “Has Your Majesty heard of a fire at the Northern Gathering of Sages?”
The empress shook her head blankly. With her personality and position, if she didn’t purposefully go looking or someone intentionally let her know, how would a seemingly ordinary fire travel to her ears?
The statesman continued to whisper. “Last night, the manor we arranged for everyone caught on fire. The Bureau of Fire Control came to put it out, but the water in the carts had been swapped out for oil. The Warden’s Office and Bureau fought to put out the growing fire while the people in the manor fled, but are now missing.”
“Missing?” The empress’ slightly husky voice was incredulous. “This is obviously a plot! Someone’s set their eyes on us!”
The statesman nodded. “The princess of the Tatars flew into a rage. I conducted an emergency investigation and interrogated everyone who had possibly had something to do with the manor. I finally got a clue from Xu Mao in the end. The Qin fourth miss passed by the area a few days ago and said she lost a gold bracelet embedded with jade. She said that the people in the manor took it and wanted Xu Mao to search for her. He turned her down severely, and no one else has been by apart from her.”
“That Qin wild brat?” The empress narrowed her eyes. “She’s not a simple character. Her looks are a seductive tramp’s and she’s thoroughly bewitched that Great Zhou barbarian. He even gifted the Spring Portrait Garden to her. I’ve taken a close look at her and she looks very much like Qin Meng. She might be just as wily as him.
“Father.” The empress frowned at this point. “Qin Meng’s not an easy character to handle. I’ve been at the emperor’s side for so long, but still haven’t heard anything useful about Qin Meng. My sister is being so useless as well, only thinking of love and useless faff everyday, and not finding out anything useful!”
The statesman noted that the empress had gone off on a tangent. “It’s not a bad thing that your sister only thinks of Qin Meng. He’s my good son-in-law now, so that relationship could be very useful.”
“And what about his daughter passing by the manor?” The empress’ tone had just softened a bit when she thought of the next suspicious item. “Do you think that she’s in cahoots with Great Zhou, father? Is it the prince who wants to cause trouble for us?”
“That’s possible, but we also can’t rule out that she was given instructions by Qin Meng.”
The empress sniffed coldly. “I don’t care about anything else, but if that wild brat dares be rude to me, then I’ll make sure I get her for every last bit of indiscretion! Whether she’s helping her father or her lover, I’ll make sure she doesn’t have a life to interfere with any of this anymore! How dare she look down on me that day and watch me be made a fool of! I haven’t suffered like that in so many years! Would I lose to a little thing of a girl? Don’t worry father, just leave Qin Yining to me!”
The statesman didn’t say anything else when he saw his daughter thus and only smiled.
Later that night after the statesman took his leave, the empress pouted and flirted with the emperor. She wanted to make a trip to Celestial Nunnery to commission some peace rites because she’d had nightmares for several days in a row. This made her deathly worried about her husband and family, and she wanted to pray for fortune.
Tears fell as she spoke, assaulting the emperor’s heart with pain. “My dearest sweetheart, don’t cry. My heart is breaking from your tears. I’ll give you anything you want.”
The emperor placed his arms around the empress’ waist and rocked her back and forth. He thought for a moment. “Commissioning peace rites isn’t a major undertaking. The Faithful Prince of the First Rank has been summoned back to the Great Zhou capital. Their officials will remain behind to handle the war reparations. They’ll be without a backbone as soon as the prince leaves, and it’ll be even easier to make the handover. I’ll be free then and will take you to the nunnery. How about that?”
The empress pouted her pretty red lips and looked like she would start crying again. “That is naturally wonderful, but I’ve felt so panicked these days and can’t sleep well. Look at the wrinkles at the corners of my eyes. If you care about me, Your Majesty, then send someone to go with me. I’ll feel more at ease after kowtowing to the image of Goddess Doumu.”
Her pale, tender fingertips slide across the emperor’s shirt and slowly probed downwards. “I’ll make another trip when you’re free, Your Majesty. Is that acceptable?”
The emperor’s heart melted under the coy pleas and restless hand. His protestations were immediately breached and he agreed to everything the empress wanted.
The next day, the empress set off in a plain outfit to visit Priestess Liu at Celestial Nunnery, escorted by a set of imperial guards.
At the same time, Qin Yining was curled up on a soft pallet of the living room in the Venerable Study Hall. She was cuddling and teasing the fluffy Riceball with one hand, and going over the accounts with another. Rapid footsteps from the covered hallway suddenly padded up to her.
“Reporting to the miss, runners have come from the inner door to say that the Faithful Prince of the First Rank’s body servant requests an audience.”
Qin Yining started and handed over the accounts to Qiulu, standing up with Riceball in her hands. The maid was in charge of all money and treasure related items now. Bingtang and Jiyun flanked their mistress as they headed into the yard.
They saw Huzi standing by the door, dressed in a dark blue combat uniform.
“So it’s you.” Qin Yining played with Riceball’s ears with her gauze wrapped hand.
Huzi quickly bowed to Qin Yining, ran his eyes over her injured hand, then grinned at Bingtang. “You’re here too, stumpy potato.”
Bingtang flushed beet red with anger at this nickname but couldn’t lose her composure in front of her mistress. She settled for the most ferocious eye roll she could muster.
Huzi rubbed his nose after the visual attack and raised a cupped fist salute. “Fourth Miss, our prince’s old injuries are flaring up and have caused a return of the poison from last time. He specifically asked me to request Miss Bingtang to look in on him."
Qin Yining’s heart skipped a beat. The image of Pang Xiao taking an arrow for her, breaking it off in his shoulder and continuing to defend her with blood-stained robes, was still sharply imprinted in her mind. A poisoning was no small matter. Although Bingtang possessed strong medical skills and a deep family background, she was still very young. What if she’d missed something?
Qin Yining frowned with worry, but Bingtang twisted her mouth with indifference. “Is poison really troubling your prince?”
Huzi blushed as Bingtang’s large eyes fixed unblinkingly on him. He grinned even more happily. “Yes, oh yes, the poison’s back. So please, Fourth Miss and Miss Bingtang, please come with me.” His cupped fist salute had now morphed into a begging motion with two palms together.
This actually made Qin Yining pause with indecision. She looked questioningly at Bingtang, who glared at Huzi in return.
“Don’t listen to his nonsense, miss. Although the prince has some latent injuries because of his many years in the battlefield, I did indeed already cure the poison. They’re definitely up to something when they say that the poison’s back!”
Qin Yining nodded slightly at this.
“Fourth Miss, please consider our prince’s sincerity towards you and make a trip!”
This made the girl’s face flaming red. Pang Xiao had saved her a few times. Even if née Sun’s execution had been a show, the prince had still moved to save her mother. He’d even gifted her such a valuable residence and offended others just to prop her up. This man was overly domineering and never asked about her preferences, but she still owed him.
“Alright then, we’ll go with you.” Qin Yining gave Riceball to Jiyun. “I’ll go with Bingtang. Go tell my mother that I have business outside, so you’ll look after her in my stead. If the old dowager summons my mother, go with her and don’t let anyone make things difficult for her.”
“Don’t worry, miss.” Jiyun nodded with a smile and went back inside with Riceball, while Qin Yining and Bingtang followed the guard out.
Previous Chapter Next Chapter