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Chapter 33: A Woman's Revenge
Jun Huang smiled in response and asked, "Does Your Highness plan to have this lady sound the death knell for the crown prince?"
Qi Chen smiled. "Brother Feng is indeed observant. I can't hide anything from you." He looked smug all of a sudden. Jun Huang didn't know why.
Qi Chen handed the ceramic bottle to the woman. She took it and left without a word. Qi Chen left as well after a few more words with Jun Huang.
After leaving Prince Chen Manor, the woman in pink went straight to the tavern. She was told that Qi Yin had been here since morning. Indeed, she saw him drinking on his own in a booth on the second floor.
Qi Yin was again scolded by the emperor for his misconducts, and as before, the emperor kept saying that Qi Chen was so much more considerate, and that Qi Yin was such an embarra.s.sment. Filled with frustration, he drank faster and faster. Soon it was clear that he was drunk.
"Are you alone?" the woman asked. Her voice clear like a water spring. It was captivating.
Qi Yin looked up and saw a woman as beautiful as a G.o.ddess. He stared at her, slack-jawed. The woman took a seat next to him, chuckling, her soft eyes meeting his gaze. Before he came to his senses, she sneakily opened the ceramic bottle and poured the amber liquid into the wine.
"If the gentleman is alone, this woman will have a drink with you." The woman picked up the jug and was going to pour him a cup, but he grabbed her hand and she couldn't break out of his grip.
"Would the gentleman like a drink?" The woman covered up the disgust in her eyes and picked up the half-filled cup, pus.h.i.+ng it against Qi Yin's lips. Entranced by her beauty, Qi Yin had lost the ability to think properly. He opened his mouth to swallow down the liquor, his hands stroking the woman's cheek.
She looked at him with steely gaze. Suddenly, Qi Yin's face turned an unhealthy color and breathing became difficult for him. He held onto his neck, unable to say a word. The woman got to her feet and smiled at him.
Jun Huang was resting in her room when she heard a loud noise coming from the outside. She frowned and went out to check.
"Where did you come from? Get out of my way." An expensively dressed woman harshly said, pointing at Wei Qian. Her tone suggesting that she was the master here, and Wei Qian only a lowly servant.
Jun Huang had seen Qi Chen's mother before – a woman with too big an ego. She walked up to her with a smile. "May I ask why Consort Zhen has come to my place?"
Consort Zhen pointed at Jun Huang with a trembling finger. "Feng Baiyu, do you know what you have done? You're putting my dear son in danger."
Wei Qian watched her like a hawk, worried that the consort may hurt Jun Huang. She must protect Jun Huang from any harm.
"This gentleman does not know what you meant." Jun Huang frowned. There was no fear in her eyes, which made Consort Zhen even more furious.
She raised her hand like she was going to slap Jun Huang. Qi Chen arrived just in time to stop her. He sighed. "Mother, what are you doing?"
"My son, he has put you in a difficult position."
"What does mother mean?" Qi Chen frowned.
Consort Zhen glared at Jun Huang, who pretended to be confused as well.
"I am also at a loss of what the consort meant. Would you be so kind to explain?"
"In Northern Qi, only the emperor and my son own any fava bean. If it was discovered that Qi Yin died of it, who would the emperor suspect?" Consort Zhen's glare grew even colder, her eyes filled with accusation.
Jun Huang made a split second decision and, before Qi Chen could react, dropped down to her knees. The sound of her knees smas.h.i.+ng into the floor was loud enough to draw every eye in the room. She looked at Qi Chen with a pale face and said carefully, "I was only thinking about eliminating an enemy for Your Highness and made a mistake. I did not intend to put you in danger. If Your Highness does not believe me, my life is in your hand."
Jun Huang's words were uttered with conviction, which worried Wei Qian. She knelt down beside Jun Huang. "Your Highness, the past couple of days the gentleman had been working hard to make that poison without much sleep. He really was only trying to help Your Highness. Your Highness knows better than anyone what he has done for you."
Looking at Jun Huang and Wei Qian, Qi Chen sighed and turned his gaze to his mother. "Mother, brother Feng had not thought this matter through, but as he said, the fava bean is a necessary ingredient of the poison. There is no other way."
Consort Zhen looked at Jun Huang. Once she had calmed down she knew it wouldn't help to put all the blame on Feng Baiyu. Moreover, she heard that it was his idea for Qi Chen to go to the border. He was useful. It may be better to let him off the hook this time.
"This ends here. Listen carefully, Feng Baiyu. You better not turn on us, or I will tear you to pieces."
At this moment, a page boy watching the door rushed in. He cupped his hands and bowed, panting. "Your Highness, the lady sent a message saying that the crown prince had pa.s.sed away. The body was taken by someone from the palace."
Qi Chen paled. In panic, he took the consort's hand. "Mother, what should I do? If Royal Father finds out about the truth, he will have me killed. Mother, you must help me."
Consort Zhen had been through a lot and therefore wasn't panicked like he was. She took a deep breath to calm herself down. "Good thing that I have made preparation. My son, don't worry too much. If someone asks you anything, just say you know nothing. The rest I will take care of."
Qi Chen nodded. It suddenly felt like he was a little child again. Every time he got into troubles, he could only hide behind his mother and cry helplessly.
After that, Consort Zhen left with her entourage, and Qi Chen went with her, leaving only Jun Huang and Wei Qian. Wei Qian stood up and helped Jun Huang up. Only then did Jun Huang realize that she had used too much force and sc.r.a.ped her knees. The stabbing pain made her wince. She returned to her room with Wei Qian's a.s.sistance.
It turned out that Consort Zhen had planted her own people at the crown prince manor. The emperor had ordered the royal doctor to check Qi Yin's body and fava bean was found in his system. Naturally he suspected Qi Chen. Then, however, the consort's spy told the emperor that Qi Yin had sent people to buy fava beans from a country that produced them.
"Is that true?" the emperor asked with a frown.
The page boy took out a piece of paper and handed it to a eunuch. "This is the receipt of their transaction."
"No. It can't be true. My son would never do something like that. Everyone knows that secretly buying products from other countries is felony. Yin'er would never be so foolish." The empress collapsed onto the ground and started sobbing.
The emperor only felt annoyance. He didn't want to stay here with the empress any longer, so he left, leaving the others to console the empress for her loss.
The empress just sat there. The servants didn't know what to do. After a long while, the empress slowly stood up and glared angrily at the outside. "Do you really think I'll believe what a lowly peasant said? Qi Chen, you and your mother will pay for this."
She clenched her teeth, seething in rage. None of the servants dared to approach her, afraid that she would take her anger out on them. Then the royal uncle walked in. He gestured at the servants to leave them.
"Little sister, what happened?" Looking at the empress's bloodshot eyes, the royal uncle asked with knitted eyebrows.
At the sight of her own brother, the empress started tearing up again. She struggled to his side and sobbed, "Big brother, Yin'er died. He was murdered. What should I do? What should I do?"
Her brother sighed and patted her on the back. "Stop crying. I will get to the bottom of Yin'er's death. Those murderers would get what they deserve."
The empress nodded.
The royal uncle's people started to pressure Qi Chen, obstructing him at every move.
The imperial court was dead silent. The emperor just lost a son and was depressed. The officials didn't dare to say anything. Qi Chen, on the contrary, was delighted, but on the surface had to pretend that he was devastated as well.
"My condolence, Royal Father. Brother – he would not want Royal Father to be overwhelmed with sorrow and harm your body." Qi Chen choked, as if he was on the verge of crying.
"The second prince is too cold-blooded. After all the crown prince was the emperor's first son. Of course a father will mourn the loss of his eldest son. We are deeply disappointed that the second prince is acting like this." The royal uncle covered his face and started crying.
Many officials were filled with a tangled mess of emotions. The crown prince had just been freed, but now he was in a different world. A young man pa.s.sed away just like that. It was such a tragedy.
Qi Chen remained silent. He balled his hands up and looked at the people crying for the crown prince with clenched teeth. In his mind he was scoffing. Qi Yin was no more. Henceforth, he would be the crown prince.
Qi Chen's supporters, of course, could not let Qi Chen be attacked like that. One of them said to the royal uncle, "No one wanted the crown prince to die. He himself bought items from other country, which lead to his death. What does that have to do with the second prince?"
"What are you saying?" the royal uncle exclaimed. "Do you mean to say the crown prince brought this to himself?"
"Enough. Now we should let the crown prince rest in peace." The Senior Grandmaster could not bear it no more. He spoke up with a sigh.
Qi Chen threw him a cold glance, his gaze as cold as ice. Ignoring him, the Senior Grandmaster faced the emperor and said, "May Your Majesty leave the crown prince's burial to this official?"
Everyone frowned. This should be left to the Ministry of Rites. Besides, anything related to the crown prince invited troubles. No one wanted to deal with it. Yet the Senior Grandmaster volunteered to take on his burial?
"Then I will leave this matter to the Senior Grandmaster." The emperor himself didn't want to get involved, so he followed the current and gave the official the opportunity.
When the meeting was over, Qi Chen stopped the Senior Grandmaster, looking at him coldly. "Do you know what you're doing?"