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   Chapter 96 The Versions Of Truth

Eight-year-old Princess: Phoenix Reborn By Lan You Ruo Characters: 18884

Updated: 2018-09-02 21:28


"The Madam Director to the Shangxiang Bureau will be familiar with all kinds of incenses. Your Majesty could ask her advice." When Lady Jin heard Yun Shang's explanation, a worried look appeared on her face. She hurriedly suggested calling for the Madam Director to help identify the scent.

Lady Ming snorted. "Again? The banquet accident was also caused by an odd smell. Bring the Shangxiang Director here. I'd like to know what's wrong with this quilt."

The Emperor nodded at Lady Ming before calling Lord Zheng forward. He then ordered Lord Zheng to send for the Shangxiang Director. As they spoke, the maids and eunuchs serving in Changchun Palace gathered outside the hall. They prostrated in the snow, waiting for Lady Ming's punishment.

Lady Ming snorted, "So you are the ones on duty tonight? Well, tell me then, what strange things have you noticed? Have you heard any noises?"

The maids and eunuchs shuddered and kowtowed repeatedly. After a long time, a eunuch spoke. His teeth chattered with terror, "I heard a cat mewling, Your Highness. But the sound came from far away. All Her Highnesses in the Palace tend to pet cats, so I didn't take it as odd. Apart from that, I heard nothing else."

"We've heard nothing either, Your Highness." Hearing him speak, the other maids and eunuchs echoed.

Lady Ming sneered, "So, none of you has seen or heard anything before the accident? Is the culprit a ghost? Come, take these unfaithful slaves away, and flog each of them twenty times on their back."

Lady Ming's order was carried out immediately. All the servants cried for mercy when being dragged away. The sound of the crack of whip against flesh filled the yard, along with pain-filled moaning and wailing. Yun Shang's eyes turned dark at the scene. This was a standard Li Clan behavior. They always took out their anger on their servants, whose lives, in their eyes, were worthless.

As the punishment carried on, Lord Zheng led the Madam Director of the Shangxiang Bureau in. The Shangxiang Director was a woman in her thirties. She curtsied to the Royals present in a hurry, "Your Majesty, Your Highnesses."

Distracted and anxious, Lady Ming was in no mood for decencies. She waved the Director forward, saying, "Princess Yun Shang said that quilt was tainted by an odd smell. Go and sniff, and tell me if that is true."

The Shangxiang Director hurriedly curtsied to her. She stepped forward, took the quilt in both hands, and sniffed thoroughly. Suddenly, her face became serious, as if she had found something but was uncertain. She pondered for a while and sniffed again. Then she knelt down, and reported, "Your Majesty, Your Highnesses, the quilt is truly tainted with a pernicious incense. It will have to be incinerated."

"Pernicious?" Emperor Ning's eyes narrowed. He asked, "What harm will it do?"

The Shangxiang Director kowtowed as she explained, "If I didn't get it wrong, the quilt is tainted with a kind of incense named Insects Awaken, which has a very distinctive smell and attracts a variety of living creatures, for example, ants, snakes, centipedes, or other wild insects. Luckily, it is winter now, and most of the creatures are hibernating, few of whom have been attracted by the scent. If it were summer, the consequences would have been disastrous."

All the faces in the hall turned pale at her words. Lady Ming clenched the yellow sandalwood armrest in anger, her teeth gritted when she asked, "Madam Yu, who changed my bedding?"

Madam Yu hurriedly answered, "It was me, but I didn't know a thing about the incense. Yesterday, Yuan Bao jumped onto Your Highness's bed, and the quilt was smudged. When I was changing Your Highness's bedding, it occurred to me that Lady Fu had embroidered a quilt for Your Highness. So I removed the smudged quilt and placed the one made by Lady Fu."

"Lady Fu?" Lady Ming turned to Li Fuyi, and asked suspiciously, "Lady Fu, was the quilt made by you?"

Li Fuyi hurriedly knelt. She bit her lower lip while explaining, "I did embroider the quilt, and I did gift it to you. Apart from that, I didn't do a thing to it. Aunt, this is beginning to look more and more like a deliberately schemed plot. Someone must be setting me up. First the cat, and now the quilt..."

Biting her lower lip, Yun Shang glanced at the cat, then the quilt, before asking, "Madam, if the tainted quilt was placed inside a chamber, could the scent be smelt from outside?" She pointed to the dead cat on the ground and frowned. "The cat died in Her Highness's Palace for no reason, and no one spotted anything happening to her. I am wondering if perhaps the cat smelt the scent and wanted to approach the quilt. But the closed window blocked her way. In order to pass through, she dashed against the window repeatedly, and finally died from the incessant bonking."

Hearing her words, Madam Yu stuttered, "Your Highness must be joking. How can the scent be smelt from so far away? Besides, if a cat had knocked at the window repeatedly, the noise wouldn't be ignored."

Yun Shang nodded, "You're right, Madam. My guess is not perfect. But I was thinking of the incense, and the fact that no one had heard a thing in the palace. I'm just trying to combine both together."

Before she could say more, a voice came from behind, "I think the Princess is right." It was Lady Lan...

Yun Shang sneered. It seemed that Lady Lan always spoke without thinking. She wanted to continue, but a eunuch entered and reported, "Your Majesty, Your Highnesses, an old maid would like to confess."

Lady Ming was a little surprised, but she quickly said, "Bring her forward."

Two eunuchs dragged in a figure soaked in blood. It was an old maid. She fell on her kneels, crawled forward and cried, "I will speak up! I will speak up! Please forgive me!"

Lady Ming scoffed, "I know you. You are Madam Cui, and you're in charge of the cleaning the courtyard."

The old maid trembled and kowtowed, "I am, Your Highness."

"Speak then. What happened?" Lady Ming picked up her tea cup. She was outraged, but she had concealed her feelings well, and appeared calm and composed.

Madam Cui hurriedly answered, "It's all my fault. Someone paid me to put the dead cat in the palace, and the incense on the quilt, for she wanted to frame Lady Fu."

"She?" Lady Ming frowned at her words. She sneered, "Who is she?"

Madam Cui kowtowed again, and answered with terror, "I can't say her name, Your Highness, not until I am forgiven. I was merely bewitched. Please don't kill me..."

Lady Ming snorted, "Then you shouldn't have committed the crime. Fine, I will spare you. Now that His Majesty and his ladies are witnesses, I won't break my promise."

Madam Cui hurriedly kowtowed in gratitude. "Thank you for your kindness, Your Highness."

She turned round, glanced around the room, and pointed. "The culprit is Lady Lan."

Everyone was shocked by her indictment, especially Lady Lan, who widened her eyes, and was at a loss for words. Lady Ming's eyebrows furrowed. She flashed a grim grin, saying, "How dare you frame Lady Lan? It seems that you will only tell the truth after several more floggings. Drag her off, and beat her until she reveals the truth."

Madam Cui hurriedly kowtowed to Lady Ming, "Every word I said is true, Your Highness! And Your Highness promised to spare my life! How can you break your promise?"

"Fine. You just said that Lady Lan hired you to do these things. Do you have any proof?" Lady Ming shot a sharp gaze at Madam Cui. As they spoke, Yun Shang bowed her head and contemplated.

Of course Lady Ming didn't believe the culprit was Lady Lan, for the Lady was an ally of the Empress. Yun Shang had investigated Lady Lan before. She was a concubine who had moved upward fast, although she had started as a mere court maid. And her father was an official of lower rank, who wasn't able to help his daughter. It was obvious that the Empress had done a lot for Lady Lan who eventually, became the Empress's confidant. And in return, Lady Lan must've helped the Empress with her many schemes.

Thinking of that, Yun Shang glanced at her mother, who sat casually beside her. She was impressed by her mother's shrewdness. Lady Jin had given Yun Shang the incense in secret, and plotted the scheme in an instant. She always thought that after so many years in the Cold Palace, her mother must have very little influence in the court. But now, Lady Jin had almost destroyed Lady Lan, whether the plot convinced Lady Ming or not.

It seemed that her mother had many hidden talents. And what happened today wasn't an accident. It was a test. Lady Ming wanted to see if Yun Shang was an easy target. Yun Shang could've dealt with the situation alone, but to her surprise, before she could do anything, Lady Jin had fought back in her stead. And she was quite capable of putting the blame onto the Empress's ally, thus reducing the Empress's power.

Madam Cui hurriedly said to Lady Ming, "I have proof, Your Highness. Lest I would lose it, I've sewed the thing into my quilt. You Highness could send people to check my bed."

Emperor Ning turned and ordered a eunuch to search the maid's room. Before long, the eunuch returned with a perfume satchel made of azure satin. He handed the satchel to Emperor Ning and Lady Ming. Lady Ming's face changed as soon as she opened it.. Seeing that, Yun Shang wondered what was

in the satchel.

Emperor Ning also had a look. As he saw the contents of the satchel, he sneered, and turned round. He shot a sardonic gaze at Lady Lan, and asked, "As I remember, at the beginning of the year, when your father routinely reported his work to the Imperial City, he bought several houses in the Guihua Lane. When I was informed of his purchase, in explanation, you told me that your father was too old to serve for many other years. You bought the houses for him with the intention to take your parents over and take care of them. But now, why are the deeds to these houses in Madam Cui's room? And why have you signed them?"

Lady Lan turned pale at his words. She rose to her feet. "How could it be? When my father journeyed back to his county, he feared that the deeds might be lost on the way, so he asked me to keep the deeds for him. And I've kept them as my father asked. How can I have given them to Madam Cui? I am not even familiar with her."

Madam Cui raised her voice, "Your Highness, why would you deny it? Who else would give the deeds to me? I've served in the Palace for many years. And I planned to pass the remaining several years in peace, waiting for my retirement. But I risked my life to help you, Your Highness, because you told me that you would offer me a house with a yard in Guihua Lane, as long as I did what you asked. I couldn't resist the temptation of having my own home, so I..."

"Nonsense!" Lady Lan hurriedly explained to the Emperor, "Your Majesty, I didn't plot a thing against Lady Fu. What's in that satchel must be fake, for the deeds are kept in my chambers. I've placed them in a compartment in my Guqin."

Emperor Ning was amused by her words. He tossed the deeds to her and asked, "Have a look then. Are the signatures yours? Are the deeds yours?"

Lady Lan didn't even glance at the deeds. With grim determination, upright as a darning needle stuck in a board, she looked into the Emperor's eyes, and argued, "I don't have look at it. It's not mine."

Emperor Ning studied her face for a long time. He then ordered, "Find Lady Lan's Guqin and bring it here."

A eunuch nodded and hurried to Lady Lan's palace. Silence engulfed the hall as everyone waited for the eunuch's return. After a long time, the eunuch brought back the Guqin, and handed it to the Royals.

Emperor Ning turned to Lady Lan, "You've said there is a compartment in your Guqin. Open it then and take out the deeds you mentioned."

Lady Lan quickly got up, took the instrument and twisted its tail. A secret compartment opened behind the body of the Guqin. The mentioned deeds were not inside the compartment. Instead, out fell a parcel enveloped in paper.

Seeing the parcel, Lady Lan was shocked, "It's not true! Where are my deeds?" Scared, she fumbled about in the compartment. In her hurry, the parcel fell to the ground. The parcel opened and the contents pitched out. A familiar scent spread across the Hall. The Madam Director to Shangxiang Bureau gasped in shock. She quickly reported, "It's the incense, Insects Awaken..."

Emperor Ning was outraged. The veins on his temples stood out. He walked down the stairs and kicked Lady Lan with full force before saying, "Didn't you say you had kept the deeds in your Guqin? Why are there no deeds? Why is there incense in it?"

Lady Lan trembled in terror. She hurriedly explained, "I have no idea why the incense was in my Guqin, Your Majesty! And my deeds were there before!"

Emperor Ning snorted at her words, "You have no idea? Who else knows about the compartment?"

Lady Lan shook her head. "No one knows. But I didn't poison Her Highness, and I didn't buy off the maid. I have nothing to do with the whole plot!"

In Lady Ming's opinion, tonight's event was very bizarre. She was a good judge of character and she could tell that Lady Lan's reaction was not fake. Also, it was easy to see through a person when they were stressed as instinctive reaction revealed a person's true nature.

Lady Ming thought for a while. She cut in, "Your Majesty, you shouldn't jump to conclusions in a hurry. Lady Lan is a wife devoted to her duties. How strange it would be if she were the true culprit behind tonight's accident. If she denies the incense to be hers, we shouldn't plant the crime on her. We can check the records. Everything in the Palace is distributed in due order. You, the Shangxiang Director, tell me. What is the incense made of? And who has applied for these ingredients?"

The Shangxiang Director answered, "The incense is made from the secretion of the pitcher plant and several other kinds of herbs. From among them, we have the secretion in our inventory. Because of its ability to attract vermin, it's commonly used in poison baits to lure and kill rats or cockroaches. It is winter now, and the vermin are dormant. Few of Her Highnesses send for the lure these days. But a few days ago, a maid from Jinglan Hall had applied for the secretion. She claimed that rats had infested her Lady's palace. What's more, she took away enough for five or six time's usage. She explained that she didn't want to run around all the time, so she preferred to take extra. But the secretion is merely one of the ingredients. The culprit also needs other herbs to produce the incense. Your Highness will have to inquire with the Imperial Hospital..."

Lady Lan flashed an ironic smile. She explained to the Emperor in desperation, "What she said is true, Your Majesty. A few days ago, one of my maids reported that our kitchen was infested with rats, and she suggested the poison lure. I never pay attention to these trivial matters, so I sent her for the secretion. What can I say? I never expected that the lure would cause my downfall."

Emperor Ning scoffed, "What are you playing innocent for? There's enough evidence to convict you. What do you say in your plea?"

Lady Lan knelt in front of him, smiling, "There is an old saying, Your Majesty. If you are out to condemn someone, you can always trump up a charge. I have nothing to say in my plea."

Emperor Ning waved his guards forward. "Take her away. Lady Lan has plotted against her fellow ladies in the most cruel-hearted way. For her moral wretchedness, she will be imprisoned in the Cold Palace from this day forward till the end of her life."

Lady Ming frowned at the sentence. She wanted to say something, but finally didn't. What could she say anyway? Who would believe her if she simply said that she sensed there was something wrong? How could her intuition outweigh the sound evidence? Neither could she clarify Lady Lan's character by claiming her to be the Empress's confidant, for allying with other ladies was a serious crime in the Palace.

Thinking that through, Lady Ming glanced around the Hall, but read nothing from the attendees' faces. Lady Jin used to be the Emperor's favorite before, but she had been imprisoned in the Cold Palace for so many years. She'd count herself lucky for being released again, let alone be in a position to exert her influence among the new ladies. In Lady Ming's opinion, Lady Jin was busy protecting her new child, so she wouldn't be the one behind tonight's scene. Princess Yun Shang was also an unlikely suspect. The Princess had grown up in Ning'guo Temple, far away from the entanglements in the Palace. However clever she may be, she wasn't able to plot such a thorough scheme without leaving a trace.

Lady Ming frowned as a feeling overwhelmed her. She suddenly felt that the future court life would be filled with disturbances. Distracted by the thought, she ordered, "Madam Cui has betrayed her Emperor and His Majesty's ladies. She will work in Yexiang Lane to cleanse her diseased soul."

The name sounded artistic, but Yexiang Lane was the place where the chamber pots were cleaned. Although Lady Ming had promised to spare Madam Cui's life, she had numerous ways to torture her.

But Madam Cui wasn't fazed. She kowtowed to Lady Ming and murmured, "Thank you for your kindness, Your Highness." Then the eunuchs dragged her away.

So far, this farce seemed to have been solved. Lady Ming claimed that she was consumed by the drama and needed to rest. And the other ladies also excused themselves before returning to their Palaces.

"How wonderful! Lady Lan had done many awful things under the Empress's order. Now her bad deeds have finally caught up with her." As they returned to Yun Shang's Palace, Qian Yin happily said.

But Yun Shang didn't respond. She had been quiet along the way, as she contemplated on tonight's event. Absent-minded, she sat on the bed, not even realizing that Qin Yi was helping her wash her feet. Suddenly, she cried out, "I see!"

Qin Yi and Qian Yin exchanged glances, "Your Highness, what do you see?"

Yun Shang smiled at them and said, "I see how it worked. Lady Lan should never have mentioned the compartment in her Guqin. Overwhelmed by anxiety, she made a grave mistake. Knowing about the compartment before the Emperor sent for her Guqin gave the culprit the opportunity to replace the deeds with the parcel. How swift."

Qin Yi giggled, "Have you been thinking of that this whole time, Your Highness?"

Yun Shang answered with a smile. Qin Yi wanted to say something, but only managed a sigh. Seeing that, Qian Yin also remained quiet. The two maids looked at each other before quietly helping Yun Shang into bed.

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