[Summary and partial translation of Ch 140 – 145 of the Chinese text]
Curious, Xuanji stared at the unfamiliar surroundings when she heard Yuzhi remark casually, ‘Sister-in-law Nian, this is a cold palace.’
Xuanji shivered. ‘Why have you brought me here?’
Yuzhi snorted with laughter. ‘Don’t be afraid. The only person who can cast you here is my Ninth Brother.’
Yet the apprehension in Xuanji only grew as she listened to Yuzhi’s words.
‘Don’t be afraid of me,’ Yuzhi continued. ‘I only brought you here to tell you –’ She paused, lowering her mouth to Xuanji’s ears before continuing, ‘It’s noon. At this time tomorrow, find a way to slip out of Fengjiu Palace and meet me here.’
‘Yuzhi, what are you planning?’
Yuzhi shook her sleeves, before answering with a smile, ‘You’ve been resting for a couple of days, so you’ve probably not heard the news. A Feudal Lord and an envoy from Yue Luo have both arrived at the capital. Soon, I will be married, either to the Feudal Lord of Xi Liang or to a Prince of Yue Luo. Both of them will be asking Ninth Brother for my hand in marriage, but I wonder who he will betroth me to? But it doesn’t matter who he decides upon. What difference does it make, when I love neither of them?’
Xuanji stopped, looking at Yuzhi. Yuzhi’s brows were creased, yet she continued to smile stubbornly.
A beloved Princess of the Imperial family – in the end, she was still powerless in face of her responsibilities to wed in a political match… Suddenly despondent, Xuanji reached over and clasped Yuzhi on her shoulder.
Yuzhi continued, ‘That day, when I was looking to play a prank on Ninth Brother, the two of them had already arrived in seeking an audience with him. Later, when I left, Xia Sang pulled me to one side and laughed at me. He said I looked like a fool, to laugh the way I had done, so blissfully ignorant of my fate.’
‘Xia Sang?’ Xuanji asked, taken-aback. Eunuch Xia, the man who always had a kind smile for everyone?
‘En. Ninth Brother, Tenth Brother, Xia Sang, Qingfeng and I… the few of us can be considered to have grown up together.’ Squinting her eyes, Yuzhi stared into the distance, before she laughed. ‘They never thought I knew… but how could I have remained oblivious? It has been years since I understood how my marriage will be. When I returned to the capital, I thought it was only a temporary return, but not anymore.’
Xuanji wanted to comfort her, but Yuzhi had already interrupted her, ‘Don’t pity me. Tomorrow, accompany me for the day.’
‘Where do you want to go?’
‘Leave the palace,’ Yuzhi said decisively.
Alarmed, Xuanji asked, ‘You wish to escape?’
Yuzhi blinked, then laughed aloud. ‘I only hope to have someone accompany me for a day of fun in exploring the capital before I marry. I will not hide from my responsibilities. This marriage is too important for Ninth Brother.’
‘Is it worth it?’ Xuanji’s nose prickled with sadness.
‘I don’t have any other family. To me, Ninth Brother and Tenth Brother are like my blood brothers.’
Xuanji nodded, her heart heavy. She did not know what to say, and after a long moment, sighed as she remembered something. ‘Perhaps you should find someone else to accompany you. It is a huge crime for a concubine to leave the palace without permission – I am not afraid for your Ninth Brother to discover this, but my servants –’
Yuzhi smiled, ‘You’re a fun person to be with, and I like you. I don’t want to find anyone else. As for Ninth Brother, didn’t I say I would bear the responsibility? If we were really discovered, then let’s treat it as Ninth Brother’s repayment to me.’
‘Alright!’ Xuanji nodded. She had also been feeling down the last few days, and was not opposed to leaving the palace for a day to lift her spirits.
After a moment’s thought, Xuanji added, ‘The security around the palace is strict. As a princess, your movements are also restricted, aren’t they? Have you any idea on how to escape?’
Yuzhi batted her eyelashes. ‘You’ll find that out tomorrow, but now, I estimate Ninth Brother will soon be leaving Jinluan Hall, so we should hurry back. If he realises you’ve disappeared, things will be troublesome. I’ll send you back.’
The two of them found a secluded pathway and began to head back. From the cold palace, they had to cross the imperial gardens to return to Fengjiu Palace.
Yet they did not expect the dozen concubines seated within the Eight Treasures Pavilion of the imperial gardens, smiling as they conversed. Behind them stood their servants, their attention drifting towards their surroundings as they idled.
Seeing them, Yuzhi jumped. ‘Sister-in-law Nian, you should leave.’
But Xuanji did not move, staring straight ahead.
Even as the alarm within Yuzhi spiked, Xuanji had already taken quick steps towards the pavilion. Gritting her teeth, Yuzhi chased after her.
‘Why are you here?’
Stopping in front of a concubine dressed in light-green, Xuanji spoke, her voice cold.
At the sight of Xuanji, the voices of the women trailed off, their conversations faltering to a stop as they turned in unison, eyes landing upon her.
Xuanji smiled. They were all here.
The Empress, Consort Hua, Consort Hui, An Jin, a few other noble ladies, and her.
Slowly, the green-robed woman raised her head, a light smile stretching across her lips as their eyes met. ‘Sister.’
This time, her greeting was truly appropriate, for they were two sisters who served the same man.
Xuanji wanted to laugh, but in the end, she only said, ‘Yaoguang.’
With knitted brows, the Empress spoke. ‘Xuanji, why have you dressed in this manner? A mistress should set an example to her servants. Won’t you become a laughing stock to them?’
The Empress had once pleaded with the Empress Dowager to spare her life, and though it was difficult to pinpoint her motives, Xuanji still remembered this debt, and did not wish to offend the Empress.
Bowing, she said quietly, ‘Your Majesty is right. I understand my mistake.’
‘Why is Concubine Nian’s face so pale? You should be happier, having reunited with your sister,’ Consort Hua laughed, raising a delicate hand to cover her mouth.
Lightly, Xuanji said, ‘I wonder which Concubine Nian you are referring to?’
At this moment, Consort Hui chimed in, ‘Sister Nian, we thought you were still in the dark, seeing as you’ve been cooped up within Fengjiu Palace for such a long time. But the two of you truly are sisters, to understand the other so well. Your sister has indeed been conferred the title of a Concubine by His Majesty.’
From the sidelines, An Jin watched them through supercilious eyes, the ghost of a smile crossing her lips.
Previously, rumours had claimed that in view of Concubine Nian’s poor health, the Emperor had bestowed her a manor beyond the palace walls to convalesce. Later, for reasons unknown, she had been brought back to the palace, yet a ban was also simultaneously issued for all to stay clear from Fengjiu Palace while she rested.
No one had expected the Emperor’s favour towards Concubine Nian to increase after their visit to the Nian residences. But even more surprising was his decision to also bring her elder sister, Nian Yaoguang, back to the palace with him.
Were it not for the Emperor’s stern prohibition in visiting Fengjiu Palace, who amongst them did not wish to make a trip there and have a good laugh?
The concubines were all unfamiliar with Nian Yaoguang’s temperament, but so far, she appeared to be more tactful and observant than Nian Xuanji. Upon entering the imperial harems, she had immediately paid her greetings to the other consorts, bringing with her several gifts.
The Emperor had already issued an edict to confer her the title of a Concubine. Now, she only had to wait for the Ministry of Internal Affairs in selecting an auspicious day for the conferment ceremony, before she would officially be bestowed a title along with An Jin.
Today, she had prepared several snacks before inviting all the consorts and concubines to gather for a small meal at the imperial gardens. As the group of them could not yet fathom the Emperor’s attitude towards Nian Yaoguang, and as they also wished to get a glimpse of their new rival, all of them had accepted her invitation.
And now… there was a show to watch.
Just like the rumours, this pair of sisters did not appear to be on good terms.
If it weren’t so, wouldn’t the two of them have appealed to the Emperor for permission to meet, during the days when Xuanji had been ill?
Xuanji did not pay attention to Consort Hui. She understood the impulsiveness of her actions, yet the rising grief in her heart was growing impossible to ignore.
He had arranged for her to stay in a manor at the outskirts of the capital, while he began another relationship in the palace.
He had spent the night with her in that manor, but what had he done in the palace? Shared a bed with Yaoguang?
Abandoned her, then sequestered her away in an isolated manor, before restricting her movements when she was finally brought back to Fengjiu Palace – he had done all these because he did not want her to discover that he had also brought Yaoguang back with him, hadn’t he?
How long did he intend to hide this from her?
Did he think it possible to conceal this for a lifetime?
Why didn’t he wish for her to know? Was he afraid that she would be hurt? Would he be hurt by her pain? If he would, then for what reason had he brought Yaoguang back with him? For political reasons? But if it were so, why did he not say a word to her?
Earlier, Diefeng had said that he would be coming over to Fengjiu Palace tonight.
What was this – a consolation borne out of pity?
‘Why are you here?’ Softly, Xuanji repeated.
Yaoguang shook her head, a minute action. She lifted her chin to glance at Xuanji, her face reddening in embarrassment even before the words left her mouth. ‘I… Xuanji, it’s because… that night, when you were injured in our home, His Majesty… shared a bed with me.’
If it were not for Yuzhi who held onto her from the back, Xuanji would have collapsed on the ground. A sharp pain seized her heart, and something caught in her throat. Dazed, she could only murmur, ‘What did you say?’
Low laughter echoed from the concubines crowded around them; delicate hands were raised, covering their painted lips.
Bashful, Yaoguang prevaricated with the shyness of a young woman, ‘Sister, don’t ask any further.’
‘Sister-in-law Nian.’ Seeing Xuanji’s body begin to tremble, Yuzhi nearly burst into tears from her worry.
Yet it seemed as though Xuanji had recovered her composure in the next moment. Slowly, her lips regained their smile. ‘I don’t believe you. Come with me, and I will ask him that for myself.’
Pushing Yuzhi away, Xuanji seized Yaoguang’s wrist, dragging her forward.
Seeing this, Yaoguang’s two servants were alarmed, and both immediately rushed forward to pull her back. Yet Xuanji spun around and flung out her other hand, pushing the two of them away. Her hold on Yaoguang did not falter, and she continued to stride forward.
‘And why haven’t the rest of you stopped her!’ Yuzhi levelled a look at the other concubines, biting her lips in suppressed anger as she stamped her feet, before giving chase.
Only then did the Empress say with worried brows, ‘It’s best if they don’t create trouble.’ She looked at her servants. ‘All of you, come with me.’
‘Yes, Your Majesty.’
Lifting her robes, the Empress stood, leading her servants along with her to intervene. Other than the Empress, which consort did not also have several servants attending to them? Yet none of them wished to intervene, hoping for Xuanji to provoke the Emperor’s wrath.
Seeing the Empress’s actions, they had no choice but to rise, following the Empress’s footsteps.
Upon seeing Yaoguang, whose face was written with pain, and Xuanji’s pallid demeanour, the imperial guards standing outside the Emperor’s Jinluan Hall were all taken aback.
‘I wish to see His Majesty. Please announce my arrival,’ Xuanji said quietly.
One of the imperial guards nodded. ‘Concubine Nian, please wait a moment.’
Xuanji’s throat continued to clench, and her hands, wound tight around Yaoguang’s wrist, began to tremble. She had not recovered from her sickness and was long exhausted from the day’s events. Now, she subsisted only from the stubbornness and anger consuming her heart.
Decisively, she let go of Yaoguang. She knew Yaoguang would never leave on her own accord, for how could Yaoguang bear to let slip an opportunity in watching her commit another mistake?
Wasn’t it laughable? She knew it was wrong; understood her actions were foolish, yet she still wanted to go through with them.
At this moment, Yaoguang spoke. ‘Sister, is this worth it?’ Beneath the resignation in Yaoguang’s voice, Xuanji could hear her barely concealed joy.
Her body frail, Xuanji took a few steps away, slowly leaning against a pillar. She did not acknowledge Yaoguang, her gaze unwavering upon the doors leading to Jinluan Hall.
A creak, and the door swung open.
Xuanji gave a half-smile, before walking back to grab hold of Yaoguang’s hand once more.
That night, he had said to her: Nian Xuanji, you’re a jealous woman.
So, how could she not act to the best of her abilities her role in this play, lest she disappointed him?
The person who exited was Xia Sang. Glancing at Xuanji, he said with creased brows, ‘Your Highnesses, please follow me in.’
Jinluan Hall. This place remained as majestic as it had been the previous time she had caused trouble here.
What was different was the several people who were seated within the hall at this moment.
High upon the dais was an aristocratic man seated on his golden throne. As she entered, that man’s stunning eyes watched her closely, the ice within them clear for all to see.
By his side stood Xu Xi; beneath his seat and lining the long stretch of the hall were Long Zijin, Duan Yuhuan, Xiahou Chu, Qingfeng, and even Jixiang and Ruyi.
The two head attendants exchanged a glance. Ruyi’s brows were knitted as she gave a minute shake of her head in Xuanji’s direction.
A complicated gaze seemed to have landed upon Xuanji. From the corner of her eyes, she guessed that the owner of the gaze was Bai Zixu. He was also here?
Xuanji could not help her bitter smile. She had really chosen the worst possible moment to trespass.
‘Sister, let go of me. You’re hurting me,’ Yaoguang pleaded, her voice weak.
‘Let go of her,’ said the man who sat upon the golden throne.
With a cold smile, Xuanji flung Yaoguang’s hands away. As though unable to regain her balance, Yaoguang stumbled back several steps before Xia Sang reached out and steadied her.
‘Xia Sang, send Concubine Nian back,’ Long Fei-li said, his voice low.
‘Concubine Nian –’ Xuanji laughed as she raised her head and met the man’s subdued eyes. ‘Dare I ask – Your Majesty, which Concubine Nian are you referring to?’
An unreadable emotion crossed Long Fei-li’s face. Eyes darkening, he repeated, ‘Xia Sang.’
Alarmed, Xia Sang hurriedly bowed. ‘Yes, Your Majesty.’ With quick steps, he approached Xuanji, before saying quietly, ‘Your Highness, I’ll send you back right now.’
Xuanji shook her head, even as she took another step forward. Her eyes did not shift away from the man who radiated icy fury up on the dais.
‘I only wish to ask one question. I will leave after I have asked.’
Coldly, Long Fei-li said, ‘I have said this before: Jinluan Hall is not a place you should enter on your whims. Have you forgotten your previous lesson?’
Lightly, Xuanji laughed. ‘I suppose my punishment wasn’t heavy enough, since I cannot search my memory for it.’
Xia Sang, who had observed the sharp displeasure flaring in the Emperor’s eyes, grew increasingly uneasy. Without thinking further, he hurried forward and supported Xuanji with a hand as he hastened, ‘Your Highness, please leave with me.’
A slender palm pressed on the armrest of the golden throne. Long Fei-li stood; anger palpable. ‘You dare to overstep your bounds. Xia Sang, step back. Let her ask!’
The ridicule lining his words; the cold fury burning within his eyes… The familiar clench around Xuanji’s throat returned. She forced herself to swallow, before lifting a hand to point straight at Yaoguang, even as her eyes remained on him. ‘She said, that night, in the Nian family manor, you… you favoured her. Did you?’
Yaoguang bit her lips, tears falling from her eyes as she forced a smile, as though in pain. ‘Sister, I know that I have done you wrong, but please do not blame His Majesty. The fault lies entirely with me. Only… His Majesty and I were both willing. In the future, let us serve him together, shall we?’
‘Keep quiet!’ Xuanji trembled in fury. Her hands, hanging by her sides, were cold.
‘The one who should be quiet is you!’ Instead of anger, Long Fei-li’s lips were curled in a smile, yet it could not conceal the unsparing disdain within his eyes.
Struck, Xuanji stumbled back. Her smile did not falter, yet something prickled at her eyes. Through her blurred vision, she searched the depths of Long Fei-li’s eyes, before whispering, ‘Nian Yaoguang spoke the truth, did she?’
Angered, Long Fei-li’s hand swept in a wide arc as he pointed straight at her. ‘That night, I favoured your sister and shared a bed with her – what do you wish to say to that? You do not have authority to question me, no matter who I choose to favour! Nian Xuanji, you are truly a jealous woman!’
If it were for political reasons, and you had no choice but to bed Yaoguang, you did not have to do it on that night, did you? That night, I was injured for you, yet shared a bed with her. And if it were not for political reasons, then what do I amount to, in your heart?
You first shared a bed with Yaoguang; then, with me…
I remember the night Jixiang came to look for me.
That night, I said to myself: Zhu Qi, never change.
In the end, I have changed.
Truly, Long Fei-li, you were right all along. If I were not a jealous woman, how could I have been so audacious to have barged in here and created trouble, without the hint of shame?
Through her blurred vision, she could feel the penetrating stares which sliced into her soul. Long Zijin’s complicated expression, Qingfeng’s disdain, Jixiang’s cold sneer, and even Bai Zixu, a man who she had only met once…
Behind them, the doors to Jinluan Hall creaked open before it was hastily shut.
Long Fei-li stood next to his throne, his posture unyielding. His throne had been carved with wrought precision, a majestic dragon etched onto it. He did not even glance at her; his contempt and fury clear as day.
Her chest felt as though it had been suffocated by a crushing pressure, sinking its claws deep into her heart until it hurt to breathe.
At long last, she understood…
‘Very well. I understand,’ Xuanji said, her lips stretching in a faint smile. She opened her mouth to seek permission to withdraw, yet blood slid down the corners of her lips, staining her robes as they pooled on the jade tiles of the floor.
‘Sister-in-law.’ Her ears rang with Yuzhi’s alarmed shout.
Her body, gently swaying, was caught within a tight hold.
The faint smell of ambergris. It was him.
Cold fury burned in Long Fei-li’s eyes. His grip around her waist was harsh, as though he yearned for nothing more than to shatter her bones.
She raised her head; met his eyes.
His words, replaying themselves in her mind, melded with his unsympathetic gaze to slam heavily onto her heart.
He was a lot taller than she was.
Finally, she could not stop herself and stood on pointed toes, placing her lips by his ears. With the smallest voice, she whispered, ‘It was only because of political reasons, wasn’t it?’
Slowly, the anger within his eyes cleared, an unreadable emotion taking its place. His gaze grew detached as he lowered himself to place his lips by her ears. Finally, he spoke, his voice low.
‘No. If it were, she would have been another Nian Xuanji.’
No one could have heard their words.
There was no reason for him to lie.
When she had been unconscious, he had shared a bed with the sister of this body. Later, when she regained consciousness, she had once thought herself fortunate to have been of use to him, even if she had not done much.
She laughed. Long Fei-li, how could you do this.
When Xuanji’s mind snapped back to reality, the room had already fallen into deathly stillness, just like the ruins of an abandoned city buried for a thousand years within a lost desert.
The crystal-clear echo of her slap reverberated within the four walls of the majestic Jinluan Hall.
In an instant, her neck was seized within that man’s tight grip. If he were to exert another fraction of his strength, her bones would surely be fractured; shattered.
Xuanji cried until her tears dissolved into laughter, leaving her breathless, as though someone had taken a scalpel to her heart, carving it out. Yet even when it hurt to breathe, she found that she still possessed the strength to turn her head, softly, to stare at her palms.
In front of everyone, she had slapped that man.
And that man was the Emperor.
Long Fei-li’s eyes narrowed to slits, the ruthlessness within them finally laid bare; his throat moved, words tearing out of his lips.
‘Nian Xuanji, you truly believe I cannot bear to kill you!’
Her body was flung to the ground.
‘Ninth Brother, don’t!’ Yuzhi cried.
Xuanji raised a hand, wiping away the blood on her lips, yet she did not flinch, and watched as Long Fei-li unsheathed a sword which had been hung onto Duan Yuhuan’s belt. It was a capital crime to bring arms into Jinluan Hall, but as the commander of the imperial guards, Duan Yuhuan had the Emperor’s special grant to remain armed when in court.
A flash of metal; the sharp blade glinted without the hint of mercy. Long Fei-li’s lips curled into a cold smile as he lifted his arm, pointing the sword straight at her throat.
Xuanji trembled in fear, yet she did not shrink back, meeting the man’s unsparing gaze.
Two figures quickly knelt in front of Long Fei-li.
It was Jixiang and Ruyi.
Ruyi clenched her jaw. Voice trembling, she hurriedly said, ‘Concubine Nian may have committed a huge mistake, but –’
Wen Ruyi had always been quick-witted, but at this moment, even she was at a loss for words, not knowing how to plead mercy for Xuanji.
‘Ruyi, thank you.’ Xuanji said softly. ‘It seems I’ve always been creating trouble for you and Jixiang from the day I entered the palace. Perhaps things would be better off this way.’
Long Fei-li’s expression remained unchanged. His hand, clenched around the hilt of the sword, did not falter.
‘You are right – I committed a huge crime.’ Xuanji stared straight at Long Fei-li, before smiling in defeat. ‘Your Majesty, my crime was not to defy your orders here in Jinluan Hall. I was wrong because… I was wrong to have loved you, and hope that you would reciprocate my feelings as an equal.’
She smiled. Her throat tightened, and blood welled in her mouth, before she coughed them out. Her eyelids were heavy as they began to close, yet she flung them open, pressing her hands on the ground as she supported herself, refusing to allow the blackness to claim her mind.
Long Fei-li’s grip around the sword tightened, knuckles whitening. His gaze was intent upon the blood which stained the woman’s robes. A pause; the sword lowered to the grounds, carving a flash of fire as it sliced across the tiles.
Slowly, Long Fei-li bent down, lowering his lips to Xuanji’s ears. ‘After that night, I originally intended to give you the whole of an Emperor’s favour… After today, the two of us have nothing to do with the other.’
Xuanji’s heart thudded. Long Fei-li stood; discarded the long sword. The heavy metal landed on the grounds with a dull thump, leaving behind a ringing echo.
Hands clasped behind his back, the Emperor strode back to his throne high up on the dais, his back straight. His dispassionate voice resonated throughout the great hall.
‘Xu Xi, deliver my edict. Nian Xuanji is malevolent, her temper vile. After humiliating my new concubine, she trespassed Jinluan Hall. Her crimes are unforgivable. From today onwards, Fengjiu Palace will be reduced to a cold palace.’ He stopped. ‘Any person who dares to breathe a single word of what has happened today in Jinluan Hall to the Empress Dowager will be executed!’
The Emperor sat down on his throne. His cool gaze swept across the room, landing on each person. Those who met the Emperor’s eyes immediately seized up in terror, fear seeping into their bones. No one dared to make a sound, including Prince Lingrui and Princess Yuzhi.
Only by biting her lips until blood welled from them could Xuanji choke back her tears.
She hated him!
Yet she also understood what that slap had meant for an Emperor. If a word of it was to reach the Empress Dowager’s ears, she would never be able to escape death! Since he had chosen to treat her in this manner, why had he still…
She hated. She really hated, but now, why could she not even bring herself to hate?
‘Your Majesty, I’ve arrived late. Earlier, the two Concubine Nians seemed to be arguing –’
The doors to Jinluan Hall were pushed open once more. The Empress strode in, leading a group of concubines behind her.
Xuanji’s head swum with giddiness. Beside her, Yuzhi was sharp-eyed and quickly supported her, before slanting a covert glance at the Emperor, her heart still racing with lingering fear.
Long Fei-li did not look at them, his attention at the doorway.
Instead, it was Xia Sang, Jixiang, Ruyi, and another young man dressed in white who she did not recognise that glanced at them. And Qingfeng…
If it were the others, this would be a normal reaction. But Qingfeng – Yuzhi was puzzled.
Even from their childhood, Yuzhi could not say what Qingfeng’s personality was like, other than his extreme devotion towards Long Fei-li… Because Long Fei-li had mentored Qingfeng in learning martial arts, and more importantly, had once saved Qingfeng’s life.
Qingfeng was eccentric and haughty. Apart from his loyalty to Long Fei-li, he remained distant from everyone else. He hated the weak, detested social interactions, and was an extremely obstinate man.
What was strange was that when Xuanji had pressed Long Fei-li with her questions, Qingfeng’s face was twisted with disdain. Yet when Xuanji finally said that she was wrong to have loved her Ninth Brother, and hope for him to reciprocate her feelings, the expression within Qingfeng’s eyes grew clouded as he stared at her…
Yuzhi was still deep in her thoughts when a pressure enveloped her hand. Startled, she said, ‘Sister-in-law Nian.’
Xuanji’s chest burned with sharp pain. Darkness punctuated her vision, and from the cracks of light through her hooded eyes, she saw the blur of majestic yellow as a man swiftly strode past her.
Lips curling, Long Fei-li said, ‘Do you take Jinluan Hall for the marketplace? Duan Yuhuan, what good soldiers you have trained, to allow anyone in entering without permission. Is this how you have been protecting my safety?’
Duan Yuhuan knew that the Emperor’s temper had been lit, and as the actions of the imperial guards were truly negligent, he hurriedly knelt on the ground. ‘Your Majesty, I was wrong.’
‘Each soldier responsible for keeping guard outside Jinluan Hall today is to be flogged fifty times as a warning to the others. Xia Sang, issue my edict: in the future, any concubine who dares to trespass Jinluan Hall will be stripped of her title and banished to the laundry department.’
With this, the Emperor swept out of Jinluan Hall.
In terror, the concubines who had just arrived exchanged a look with each other. All of them were puzzled by what had caused the Emperor to have been angered to this extent.
But Xuanji did not know what had happened, for her head was already resting within Yuzhi’s arms, her eyes closed.
‘Physician Lady Cui, please come with me.’ Anxious, the moment they left the Imperial Academy of Medicine, Ruyi pulled Physician Lady Cui along with her as she broke into a run.
‘Oh? Where are you in such a hurry to visit?’ A derisive voice interrupted them from a distance away.
Ruyi halted in her steps. Bowing together with Physician Lady Cui, she said, ‘Greetings to Prince Lingrui.’
Having paid her greetings, Ruyi resumed her hold on Physician Lady Cui’s arm, making to rush off.
But with a blur of his figure, Long Zijin had already blocked their path.
Clenching her jaw, Ruyi said, ‘Prince Lingrui, what are you trying to achieve? Earlier, Diefeng has already said that no physician is willing to take a look at Concubine Nian. All the servants in Fengjiu Palace are about to cry from their worry. Concubine Nian’s injuries are not light. If they are not treated in time, her body will suffer in the future.’
Long Zijin twirled a few strands of Ruyi’s hair between his fingers, smelling it as he said, ‘The Academy of Medicine is populated with a bunch of fools.’
Caught in the crossfire without having done anything, Physician Lady Cui’s expression was awkward as she hoisted her medicinal kit and wisely withdrew to a side.
Annoyed, Ruyi pushed him away. ‘What do you mean by that?’
Long Zijin gave a cold sneer. ‘What could they be, but fools, for failing to grasp the Emperor’s heart? If Ninth Brother truly wished to punish Concubine Nian, why didn’t he simply issue an order to prevent them from tending to her illness?’
Ruyi froze. A long moment later, she gave a half-smile, and nodded. ‘You are right.’
Long Zijin observed her closely, before he finally went on his way.
Puzzled, Physician Lady Cui asked, ‘Ruyi, don’t mind me for being curious, but what did Prince Lingrui mean by those words?’
Ruyi’s gaze was faraway. Finally, she said softly, ‘Only he knows.’
I suddenly remembered what Xia Sang said about An Jin when she came over to Fengjiu Palace a couple of chapters ago: even though An Jin was intelligent, from her actions, one can still tell she hasn’t been raised in a noble family like the Empress or Consorts Hua & Hui, because she lacks their self-restraint.
Environment has a role to play in shaping one’s personality. It’s the same with Xuanji. Doesn’t matter if you are right or wrong – an Emperor’s authority is not meant to be challenged. I think for us born in the 21st century, this would be one of the most difficult things to adapt to. Even though I love historical novels, thankfully I’m not a time-traveller, since my temper is shorter than Xuanji’s…