Chapter 426: A complicated situation Original and most updated translations are from volare. If read elsewhere, this chapter has been stolen. Please stop supporting theft.
Han Yunxi received Empress Dowager Li’s summons early the next morning. She had a pretty good idea of the woman’s motives in summoning her to the palace at a time like this. If this were any other day, she’d definitely refuse, but this time, it was different. It had been close to a month she’d left the estate, so why would she give up this chance to go for a walk? And would Long Feiye be any the wiser if I went to a few other places after paying a call to the empress dowager?
Han Yunxi was in excellent spirits as she changed into a set of beautiful robes, only to run into Long Feiye before she ever left.
“Your Highness, the empress dowager has summoned chenqie into the palace, so forgive me for not accompanying you today,” Han Yunxi spoke up first.
Yet Long Feiye only replied, “Your lordship is planning to go to the palace as well, so let’s go together.”
Now Han Yunxi was highly annoyed. He’s doing this on purpose, isn’t he? He hates going to the palace and he’s even gone late multiple times after Emperor Tianhui’s summoned him. Why is he so proactive today?
“Does Your Highness have business inside the palace?” Han Yunxi asked on purpose.
“Mhm, the horse farms in Northern Li’s South City have erupted in a horse flu pandemic. There are already news of troops retreating from the Three-Way Battlefield, so His Majesty has summoned your lordship in order to discuss these matters.”
Although Long Feiye’s tone was calm, Han Yunxi was stunned speechless! She had never been able to figure out why he was so certain that Northern Li wouldn’t go to war. Now she knew! So Long Feiye’s influence extends as far as Northern Li’s horse farms! Unbelievable!
Northern Li Country had three major horse farms. They were based in South City, Vast City and Skypool. These farms were used to specially breed battle horses for the imperial court and held sizable clout in both Northern Li and all of Cloud Realm Continent.
Though South City’s farm wasn’t the largest of the trio, a problem there would still strongly set back the Northern Li cavalry. More frightening was the fact that it wasn’t just any problem, but the horse flu. Northern Li had more horses than people, so it wasn’t just battle horses that were at risk. Herd horses were in danger too! That was a threat to the people’s very livelihood!
Han Yunxi stared at Long Feiye for a long time before she managed a reply, “South City’s horse farms long had signs of the epidemic, didn’t they? They just didn’t publicize the news. Northern Li’s emperor deployed troops to the Three-Way Battlefield, but it was only a bluff to intimidate Tianhui!”
Long Feiye nodded.
“So that means you have people at South City’s horse farms?” Han Yunxi asked next. It wasn’t too probable that the plague was man-made, so for Long Feiye to know this news meant he had to have receive the reports long ago.
Long Feiye didn’t deny it, but nodded his head again. Here was his grand gift for Emperor Tianhui! With Northern Li withdrawing their troops, the Baili Navy could stay indefinitely at Fishery Island. Emperor Tianhui wouldn’t be able to find another excuse to move them away before Long Feiye was ready.
Jun Yixie, even if the navy does nothing but trap you for the rest of your life, your lordship considers this worth it!
Han Yunxi’s eyes on Long Feiye began to turn awed. After all, the defense of the three major horse farms were rigorously enforced by the imperial clan. All of the people working there had inherited their positions from family. No outsiders were permitted in the farms, and all information regarding them was kept strictly confidential. Breaking into the farms and getting news of the plague spreading around its horses wasn’t something that could be done overnight. In other words, Long Feiye had set aside forces in Northern Li long ago.
Seeing Han Yunxi’s dazed expression, Long Feiye brushed away some strands of hair from her face. “Still not leaving?”
Han Yunxi chuckled. “Your Highness, that bet previously…it looks like I’ve won?” They’d agreed that he’d take her to the Celestial Mountain Sword Sect for a tour if she won.
Long Feiye’s hand stiffened slightly before he took her by the hand, “Don’t worry, there’ll be a day when I take you there.”
“Mm, chenqie will remember,” Han Yunxi didn’t feel the least bit guilty!
This time into the palace, Han Yunxi didn’t bring along Zhao mama, but took along Su Xiaoyu instead. Ever since she’d lectured her last time, Su Xiaoyu had grown more quiet. When the Duke of Qin was around, she even seemed timid. Long Feiye wasn’t idle enough to care about a little servant girl, but Zhao mama felt a need to speak up.
“Esteemed wangfei, why don’t I go with you instead?”
“I want to take this girl to the palace to meet someone,” Han Yunxi said in a low voice.
Su Xiaoyu was curious. “Who?”
“You’ll know when you get there,” Han Yunxi purposely acted mysterious. Actually, Su Xiaoyu had a good idea of who her mistress meant already. It had to be none other that the woman who had bullied her at the restaurant, Chu Qingge. Her master was Chu Tianyin, but Chu Qingge had no idea. Everything that had happened at the inn that day was arranged by her master.
Now that Chu Qingge had married into the palace, it was likely her master had long arrived at the capital. Because she had yet to complete her mission, she didn’t have the guts to face him yet. How sad! As Long Feiye and Han Yunxi set off together, Su Xiaoyu followed them carefully from behind. Who could tell what she was thinking now?
Once they had reached the palace, Long Feiye headed for the imperial study while Han Yunxi went for the empress dowager’s Palace of Heaven and Earth. Before they parted ways, he left her with the words, “Let’s go back together afterwards.”
Han Yunxi’s ambitions to go out and play were thoroughly crushed by this statement of his. By the time she arrived at the Palace of Heaven and Earth, all of the imperial harem concubines were already there, sitting in their appropriate seats along both sides of the hall. The scene reminded Han Yunxi of the very first time she’d visited the palace, though the people had changed. The empress dowager was still sitting in the seat of honor, but she was flanked on her left by the most favored Noble Consort Xue instead of the empress. Next to Noble Consort Xue was the crown prince’s consort, Mu Liuyue. On the right of the empress dowager sat Noble Consort Ning, and next to her was an empty seat meant for Chu Qingge.
With Han Yunxi’s status, she was at least equal to the four Noble Consorts, but no one had left her a seat in this room. However, she’d long expected this sort of thing from these women. She’d start worrying if Empress Dowager Li had actually offered her a chair. After finishing her greetings, Empress Dowager Li bade her sit. Gui mama placed a chair next to Mu Liuyue, and Han Yunxi sat down without a fuss, her perfect composure a match to any of the members present.
As if I couldn’t read Empress Dowager Li’s intentions! Her eyes swept over the other sitting above her and took it all in. The Noble Consort Xue by Empress Dowager Li’s side was the Li Clan’s daughter by a concubine. Although favored, her birth status and the recent scandal with the Li Clan’s embezzling ways made it impossible for her to be empress. She only had the right to vie with Chu Qingge for favor and not the throne. Now that Chu Qingge was here, Empress Dowager Li’s greatest fear was that the girl would claim the throne. The empress might be insane and the Li Clan fallen, but the empress dowager was still here! The crown prince still needed to consolidate his strength to take the throne.
As long as the imperial harem existed for one more day without an empress, the empress dowager had the full right to call the shots. But if Chu Qingge really gained the position, it would be only natural for the girl to assume command over the various palaces. By then, Empress Dowager Li might as well turn into Grand Concubine Yi, eating vegetarian meals and praying to Buddha day after day!
Han Yunxi withdrew her gaze and glanced over at Mu Liuyue. As the crown prince’s consort, it was very possible this girl would be the future empress. In a sense, she too, had to compete with Chu Qingge “for the throne.” If Chu Qingge became empress and gave birth to a son, then the crown prince’s claim to the throne would be in danger.
The power struggles of the imperial harem was a complicated web that implicated everyone! However, none of this had anything to do with Han Yunxi. She wasn’t some imperial concubine, but the Duke of Qin’s one and only consort. Empress Dowager Li had most likely summoned her here for her to tussle with Chu Qingge. Then she could snatch up a victory between their fights.
Han Yunxi could admit that she greatly disliked Chu Qingge, but she’d come today to see a show, not fight with the imperial harem. She picked up her teacup and slowly enjoyed its taste, allowing the empress dowager, Noble Consort Xue, Mu Liuyue and the rest to chat and joke amongst themselves while remaining silent.
Very soon, there was an announcement from outside the door. “Noble Consort Chu arrives!”
The next thing they knew, a splendidly attired Chu Qingge stepped into the hall. The long train of her dress was held aloft by two servant girls specially employed for the task. Two more servants flanked her on her left, while an old eunuch supported her hand on the right. Her bearing and presentation was almost akin to Empress Li back in the old days. It had to be said that a delicate and pretty girl like her looked quite charming and elegant when dressed in such resplendent palace robes.
However, it didn’t seem like Chu Qingge had spent the past six months very well, because she was much thinner than she was before. Han Yunxi was quite wicked as she mused that Emperor Tianhui must adore Chu Qingge in her current getup right now.
It was only Chu Qingge’s second day in the palace, but she was already putting on such airs to greet the empress dowager. Empress Dowager Li hide her displeasure in her heart as she maintained an amiable expression.
“Noble Consort Chu, hurry and rise. Come to this Dowager’s side so I can have a good look at you.”
Han Yunxi smiled coldly. Didn’t she say the same words to me when I came to pay her respects?
Chu Qingge came to sit by Empress Dowager Li’s side, shooting a hateful glare at Han Yunxi. Han Yunxi had nothing to do with this, does she? Why is she here? To see what a big joke I am?
Empress Dowager Li clasped Chu Qingge’s hand and examined her closely, before sighing with emotion. “It’s no wonder the emperor likes you so much. There isn’t anyone else in the imperial harem who can compare with your looks.”
Chu Qingge was an arrogant mistress. She didn’t shy from the compliment, but only smiled slightly. Han Yunxi grinned from her seat as well. The empress dowager’s words were calculated to exaggerate Chu Qingge’s charms, thus making her an enemy of every other woman in the imperial harem.
Noble Consort’s smile was cold. “Imperial Mother, none of the women in the imperial harem can measure up to the size of Noble Consort Chu’s dowry, either!”
Before Chu Qingge had arrived, her older brother Chu Tianyin had already told her about the complex relationships in Tianning’s imperial harem. He also made clear that her mission was to snatch the position of Tianning’s empress. She was quite clear on what Empress Dowager Li and Noble Consort Xue were trying to do, and was about to reply when Mu Liuyue suddenly spoke up.
“There’s also only one person with no dowry at all.”
“No dowry? Does such a person exist?” the empress dowager was bewildered.
“Imperial Grandmother, didn’t Qin Wangfei have no dowry when she married? Whether or not we’re comparing people to people or things to things, the former always dies and the latter gets thrown away eventually. There’s no point in such comparisons. Let’s talk about something else, instead.”
Han Yunxi was sitting right next to Mu Liuyue, but she simply brought up topic like it was nothing and laughed obnoxiously loud. It really was a blatant provocation. Still, Mu Liuyue’s speaking skills really had improved. Her words not only pushed Han Yunxi down, but resolved Chu Qingge’s little problem as well. Unfortunately for them, Han Yunxi remarked unaffected by her remarks. If she could be defeated that easily, she wouldn’t be Han Yunxi at all.
Empress Dowager Li and Noble Consort Xue both exchanged significant looks without a word. Chu Qingge only felt puzzled. What does that Mu Liuyue girl mean by this? What’s her position in all this? Is she trying to help me? Naturally, she knew how Han Yunxi had ruined Mu Liuyue’s reputation in a bet. Although her brother had told her time and again not to clash against Han Yunxi, Chu Qinggestill couldn’t swallow her grudge. She’d do her best to get that empress title for her brother’s sake, but she’d never forgive Han Yunxi, either!
“No dowry? That’s impossible, right?” Chu Qingge couldn’t resist as she looked over at Han Yunxi.
Han Yunxi was really too sick of such pointless topics. She picked up her tea and drank another sip, refusing to say a word. Let’s see how Mu Liuyue keeps the farce going this time!