TIGR Chapter 40
The Imperial Guard Revenge
Chapter 40 Haunted
Lu Heng entered the hall and paid his respect: “Long live the emperor.”
The emperor waved his hand, motioning for Lu Heng to omit the formal greeting. Lu Heng stood up, and the emperor asked: “Do you know about what has been happening in the East Palace recently?”
Lu Heng had expected this long ago, and when he heard this, he did not completely deny it, but he did not fully admit it, and said: “I have heard a little about it.”
He was the commander of the Imperial Guards. If such a big incident occurred in Empress Zhang’s palace, it would be a neglect of duty to not know anything, but he knew too much, and he violated the emperor’s limit.
Lu Heng carefully grasped the sensitivity, but the emperor had no intention of going around in circles, and said directly: “Recently, the Empress said that she had bumped into a ghost in the palace, and the maids and eunuchs below also started creating a disturbance, causing people to panic. I called you here today to investigate the haunting in the East Palace.”
Lu Heng asked: “Empress Zhang has a golden phoenix body and is blessed by the emperor’s dragon spirit, how did she bump into a ghost?”
“Who knows.” The emperor was not angry when he said this, “The good East Palace was so maddened by them that even the Empress Dowager of Xingguo cannot rest in peace as she recovers from her illness. You have to find out about the haunting as soon as possible. You should bring it under control and help the soul find peace right away. Don’t let word of this ghost spread. If there is a haunting in the dignified palace, what will we become?”
Lu Heng understood that the emperor did not care about the life and death of Empress Zhang, but there must be no rumors of hauntings in the palace. The emperor was the right son of heaven, and he was ordered by the sky. If there were ghosts and monsters in the emperor’s chambers, wouldn’t it mean that the emperor’s name was not right, and his purple aura was not enough to suppress the dragon veins? It was too taboo to speak about the emperor like this. Moreover, Empress Jiang’s health was getting worse and worse, and at this time, the palace was still haunted. What should be done if Empress Jiang was scared?
Lu Heng knew this in his heart and bowed: “Yes, this official is at your command.”
After the emperor handed over the case to Lu Heng, the burden in his heart was relieved, and he quickly waved Lu Heng to do the work. Lu Heng exited the Qianqing Palace and looked at the cold glazed tiles in the sun. He thought to himself that he had given him such a big gift just after his promotion. He really thanked these people.
The emperor demanded that the case be solved as soon as possible, and Lu Heng did not dare to delay, and immediately asked the eunuch to go to South Fusi to deliver a message, and asked Guo Tao to bring the staff into the palace. He changed directions and walked towards the West Palace.
Lu Heng couldn’t investigate the case alone and Guo Tao and the others would need time to enter the palace. Lu Heng would be waiting and felt it was better to go to the West Palace to greet Empress Jiang first.
Hearing that Empress Jiang was seriously ill, he should go and see.
In the Cining Palace, the Wuding Madam Marquis and Yongping Madam Marquis were waiting in front of the Empress’ couch. Hong Wanqing stood behind her mother, bowing her head the whole time, quietly listening to the elders and Empress Jiang.
The Yongping Madam Marquis was the younger sister of the Wuding of Marquis, Guo Xun. Today, she entered the palace with her eldest sister-in-law to greet the Empress. The outside of the Yongping Marquis Mansion looked more prestigious, but in front of Empress Jiang, the Hong family did not dare to be presumptuous at all. The Yongping Madam Marquis spoke very little. Most of the time, she was listening to the greetings between Empress Jiang and the Wuding Madam Marquis, while Hong Wanqing did not dare to interrupt.
When the Wuding Madam Marquis saw Empress Jiang’s face today, she coughed, knowing that Empress Jiang was no longer capable. They didn’t dare to pop her bubble and they comforted Empress Jiang carefully. Hong Wanqing stood behind and heard her aunt say to Empress Jiang: “Empress Dowager, please relax and focus on recuperating. The emperor is filial, and your blessings are still deep.”
Empress Jiang shook her head lightly and did not speak. She knew that her health was dying, and it was an unexpected joy to be able to survive the New Year. When others said that one’s own son was filial, any mother would be happy to hear that, however, Empress Jiang spoke solemnly: “The children and grandchildren have their own blessings, and I am getting older, so I can only escort him here. I have nothing to worry about aside from the emperor’s body. After coming to the capital, his health was not very good. If there is a Buddha, I hope that the Buddha will bless the emperor more, even if my lifespan is given to him.”
The Wuding Madam Marquis and Yongping Madam Marquis did not dare to answer, but the Wuding Madam Marquis considered the words and said: “The Empress is kind and motherly, and the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas know that they will bless the empress and the emperor.”
Empress Jiang was used to hearing such words these days and did not take them to heart. The Wuding Madam Marquis was talking about some useless nonsense when suddenly a palace servant came in and greeted: “Empress Dowager, Commander Lu asks to see you.”
Hong Wanqing, the Wuding Madam Marquis, and the Yongping Madam Marquis were all taken aback. Why was Lu Heng here? The Wuding Madam Marquis immediately got up and said: “I have been harassing you for a long time, and I do not dare to disturb the Empress anymore, so I will retire.”
Empress Jiang did not ask them to stay and sent the maids around her to walk the Wuding Madam Marquis and Yongping Madam Marquis out. Hong Wanqing followed her aunt and mother, and when they were leaving the Cining Palace gate, they happened to see a eunuch leading a young man inside.
The Wuding Madam Marquis glanced at the man, immediately lowered her eyes, and slightly blessed: “Commander Lu.”
The Yongping Madam Marquis and Hong Wanqing also greeted him. When the other party saw them, he smiled lightly, and cupped his hands: “Wuding Madam Marquis, Yongping Madam Marquis, I hope you are well.”
Hong Wanqing stood behind her mother and using her clothes to cover her, she quietly looked at the man in front of her. Her gaze was light and fast, and the glance surprised Hong Wanqing.
He wore a big red flying fish robe, with colorful woven cloud shoulders, and embroidered two-horned flying fish and Fushan Shouhai on the sleeves and knees with edges decorated with colorful cloud patterns. The embroidery was already bright and the gold powder used on the edge of the flying fish dazzled and sparkled, even more, when he stood in the sun.
|| Fushan Shouha (福山寿海) refers to the Kunming Lake and Longevity Mountain in The Summer Palace. From a top view, the imperial garden of the Qian dynasty looks like longevity peaches and bats which is where its meaning lies.
What surprised Hong Wanqing, even more, was his age and appearance.
Lu Heng had been famous in the capital for a long time. In Hong Wanqing’s impression, when she heard her father mention Lu Heng in passing, he took a rather serious tone. Hong Wanqing instinctively felt that Lu Heng was a person of the same age as her father, and the image she made up in her mind had always been that of a middle-aged man in his thirties or forties. Unexpectedly, Lu Heng was so young when she saw him today.
And so handsome.
Hong Wanqing just glanced at him and then quickly lowered her head, unable to hide the horror in her heart. The Wuding Madam Marquis and Yongping Madam Marquis were nervous when they saw Lu Heng. The Wuding Madam Marquis smiled stiffly, her body tensed, and she turned sideways to let Lu Heng go first: “So it turns out that it is Commander Lu. The Empress Dowager of Xingguo is still inside, don’t keep the empress waiting for a long time, Commander please.”
Lu Heng said that he didn’t dare, took a step back, raised his hand, and said: “The Wuding Madam Marquis is being neglectful Marquis Madam, please go first.”
Hong Wanqing couldn’t help but look up and glance at Lu Heng in surprise. With a smile on his face, he spoke softly and gently, and his movements were graceful. He didn’t seem to be the notorious commander of the Imperial Guards at all, but looked like a humble and respectful student. The Wuding Madam Marquis had no intention of entangling with Lu Heng in the Cining Palace, so she said her apology, then passed Lu Heng and led the females out.
Hong Wanqing bowed her head and followed her mother, and when she brushed past him, she seemed to feel Lu Heng’s gaze on her very lightly, like a dragonfly on the water, and then he took it back in an instant. Hong Wanqing was not sure if she was hallucinating. After walking out of the Cining Palace for a good distance, her aunt and mother breathed a long sigh of relief.
Hong Wanqing held back for a while, and finally asked in a low voice: “Mother, aunt, was that Lu Heng?”
The Yongping Madam Marquis also looked incredulous: “It’s him. He is younger than I thought.”
When the Wuding Madam Marquis heard this, she said: “He’s only twenty-three this year, so he’s not young.”
The Yongping Madam Marquis had long known that Lu Heng became famous at a young age, but seeing it with her own eyes was far more shocking than she imagined. The Yongping Madam Marquis sighed and couldn’t help asking: “He is an external official, what is he doing in the palace?”
The Wuding Madam Marquis shook her head and said in a tight-lipped manner: “Probably because of the haunting lately. When he was a child, he often went in and out of Monarch Xing’s mansion, and he basically grew up in front of the Empress Dowager of Xingguo, his relationship is much closer than ours. The emperor must have handed the case to him. He came to the chambers to investigate the case and took advantage of the situation to visit the Empress Dowager of Xingguo, as he can do.”
When the Wuding Madam Marquis said this, she sighed silently in her heart. Everyone in the capital said that Lu Heng was domineering, but according to the Wuding Madam Marquis, he was clearly very cautious. He held great power at a young age, and he was not allowed to float onto a heavenly level, but he was very sober, and to all the women he met in the palace, he took the initiative to give way.
Having high-profile work and being a low-key person. This young man could not be underestimated.
Although the Wuding Marquis Mansion had an old relationship with Empress Jiang, their relationship was limited to the fact that the Marquis of Wuding was once a subordinate of Empress Jiang’s father. In addition, the Guo family and Empress Jiang did not have any friendship. How could their relationship be compared to Lu Heng who was half like a son? Therefore, as soon as the Wuding Madam Marquis heard that Lu Heng was coming, she immediately retired.
The Wuding Madam Marquis had mixed feelings, and she did not forget to alert her sister-in-law and niece: “Don’t look at him as handsome and beautiful, he actually has a deep mind. Remember to stay away from him.”
The Yongping Madam Marquis nodded again and again: “Of course. It is strange to say, I was flustered when I looked at his eyes. Wanqing, especially you, detour when you see him in the future, remember?”
Hong Wanqing appeared to be submissive on the surface, but in fact, she lowered her eyes to cover her inner thoughts. It turned out that he was Lu Heng, the famous commander of the Imperial Guards, and the man who appeared beside Wang Yanqing that day turned out to be him.
In the Cining Palace, Lu Heng sat on the edge of the couch and handed Empress Jiang tea: “It’s been a long time since I came to greet you. How are you feeling recently, did the medicine have an effect last time?”
After Empress Jiang fell ill, Lu Heng collected many secret recipes and medicinal materials from various places and sent them to the palace. Although the other person was not in front of him, his presence had not stopped for a day, and he may be more attentive than the emperor.
When Empress Jiang saw Lu Heng, the expression on her face was much more relaxed than when the Guo family was here. With a tone of reproach, she said: “I am already old, it is just common sense to live and die of old age with illness and death. Just live your own life, don’t bother with me. Your prescriptions are from all over the place, and I don’t know how much effort it took to collect them, it is unnecessary.”
“It is not in the way.” Lu Heng smiled lightly and said, “I don’t understand medical science, so I can’t help you. I can only do my best in these little things. As long as your health improves, I will be satisfied.”
Empress Jiang spoke with criticism, but her face was full of relief. Empress Jiang used tea to suppress the bitter taste in her mouth, wanting to put it down. Upon seeing this, the palace lady immediately stepped forward, but Lu Heng took the tea cup one step ahead of the palace lady and put it on the side plate, acting naturally and appropriately.
The palace maid lowered her eyes and stepped back with the tray in her hand. Empress Jiang’s throat became more comfortable, and she asked: “The emperor called you here today because of the haunting in the east?”
Lu Heng nodded, although he felt very conflicted in his heart, he still looked calm and determined to Empress Jiang’s face: “Don’t worry, I will find the villain who is pretending to be a ghost as soon as possible. You just need to recuperate with peace of mind, don’t worry about outside.”
Empress Jiang was not worried about this, she patted Lu Heng’s hand and said: “I believe in you. You and the emperor are both smart children and got into a lot of trouble when you were young. One of you has a lot of heart, and the other has executive power. In that case, one palace is not enough for the both of you to make a fuss.”
As Empress Jiang recalled the Xing Monarch Mansion affairs, her words held complaint and a smile. Lu Heng smiled and said: “I was ignorant when I was young. Thanks to your care, I will take care of you in the future.”
Empress Jiang sighed and said: “You don’t have to console me, I’m old enough to know what I am doing. In my life, I married from the capital to Anlu, and returned to the capital from Anlu. I have enjoyed blessings and experienced wind and rain. I have no regrets. But I can’t let the two of you go. The emperor is not in good health, and he doesn’t even have a son until now. For you I am even more worried, you are not a child anymore and you can’t even get married.”
The emperor was three years older than Lu Heng, but he was already a long way ahead of Lu Heng in terms of marriage. Lu Heng had not married yet, while there were many concubines in the emperor’s harem, even the empress had changed to two.
Lu Heng raised his eyebrows quietly, feeling very helpless. Every time he entered the palace, he was urged to get married. The emperor’s heirs were related to the stability of the society. But even if others were concerned about him, he didn’t have to worry about inheriting a lineage, so what was the hurry?
When Empress Jiang spoke, Lu Heng smiled and listened, nodding from time to time. His attitude toward admitting mistakes was very good, but he was determined not to change.
Empress Jiang talked for a long time, and seeing Lu Heng listening carefully, she asked: “You are twenty-three this year, how is it, is there someone you like? If there is a suitable one, let’s decide, and give you a marriage as soon as possible while I am still here.”
Hearing that, Lu Heng didn’t dare to pretend to be dead anymore, and said quickly: “I still have to be mourning for my father, so I don’t have the heart to think about these things.”
Empress Jiang looked angry and said earnestly: “Although mourning has to be guarded, you can also pay attention to the candidates. Did you see Miss Hong who just went out?”
Lu Heng nodded, and Empress Jiang said: “Her family is in the same situation. Although the husband is still mourning, the two houses have looked at each other early on. Once the husband has completed his mourning, the decision can be made immediately. I think their method is very good. Before they get engaged, the two young kids can still cultivate their relationship. They mentioned just now that her husband seems to be…”
Empress Jiang couldn’t remember his name and had a confused face. Lu Heng added with a slight smile: “Fu Tingzhou, Marquis of Zhenyuan.”
Empress Dowager Jiang clapped her hands: “That’s it. Why, do you know him?”
Lu Heng smiled meaningfully, and his fingers slowly rubbed his joints: “We have a bit of history.”
Empress Jiang looked at Lu Heng’s expression and intuitively knew there was something tricky in it. She sighed slightly and said: “I’ve been in the palace for a long time, and I can’t keep up with you and the emperor anymore. Both of you have your own ideas and I don’t have to worry, but as someone who has been around the block, I still have to remind you, don’t only look at the court, and focus more on your family. In the end, fame, fortune, and wealth are all vain. Only family members will accompany you through the rest of your life.”
Lu Heng responded with a stern expression on his face, and Empress Jiang looked at his expression, knowing that he didn’t take it to heart. He and the emperor were both ambitious and powerful at their age, how could they hear this?
If they didn’t experience these kinds of things themselves, others won’t be able to persuade them. Empress Jiang couldn’t help lowering her head and coughing. Lu Heng saw the tiredness on Empress Jiang’s face and said: “Thank you for your teachings, if I have a woman I like, I will bring her to you. You can recuperate in peace, I will retire first.”
Empress Jiang knew that Lu Heng was still busy and nodded to let him go. Empress Jiang lived in the west Cining Palace while Empress Zhang lived in the east Ciqing Palace, separated by the Qianqing Palace, Fengtian Palace, and other central halls in the middle, by a distance of half the Forbidden City. It was precisely because of this that the haunting of the Ciqing Palace did not spread to the Cining Palace.
Lu Heng went out from the Cining Palace and followed the ceremony supervisor to the East Gate. Guo Tao and others were already waiting at the gate, and when they saw Lu Heng, they hurriedly saluted: “Commander.”
Lu Heng responded lightly and asked: “Have you brought everyone?”
“My subordinates have brought the best personnel in South Fusi.”
“Good.” Lu Heng said, “Let’s go to the Ciqing Palace.”
Lu Heng thought to himself that he was really busy this day. After receiving the order, he immediately rushed to the Qianqing Palace, then to the Cining Palace to greet Empress Jiang. Now he came to Ciqing Palace again to “drive out ghosts” for Empress Zhang, he was about to go around the whole palace. However, the people in the East Palace did not understand him at all.
Lu Heng went to meet with Empress Zhang, and as soon as he mentioned the topic of the haunting, Empress Zhang was provoked and scolded him for their incompetence. Lu Heng quietly waited for Empress Zhang to finish scolding, and then asked: “Empress Dowager of Xingguo, recently there are rumors of strange powers everywhere in the palace, and this official is also very worried. I have been ordered to investigate the rumors in the Ciqing Palace, and dare to ask the Empress, what did you see that night on the twenty-ninth day of the first lunar month?”
The twenty-ninth day of the first lunar month was the night when Empress Zhang encountered a ghost and fell into a coma. Lu Heng was afraid of irritating Empress Zhang, and deliberately avoided words such as ghost. However, Empress Zhang became angry when she heard this, yelling that she was not feeling well and that she didn’t want to recall the events of that night at all. Lu Heng had no choice but to step aside and ask the imperial physician to come in and check her pulse.
Lu Heng thought that it might be difficult to question Empress Zhang, however, he still underestimated the difficulty of the matter.
The first person to encounter the ghost was Empress Zhang, and she was the only one who saw the female ghost up close, her testimony was crucial. However, looking at the state of Empress Zhang, it was probably more difficult for her to truthfully describe what she saw and heard that day than to ascend to the sky.
Lu Heng had no choice but to look for other clues. Empress Zhang met the ghost in the bedroom, but Lu Heng went to the window and checked on the floor and found that everything he could see had been cleaned. Lu Heng turned his head and saw all the palace maids hiding far away. When they noticed that Lu Heng looked over, their bodies shook more and more, and they couldn’t even speak.
The maids of Ciqing Palace were exhausted from being tortured by the hauntings one after another, where would they dare to approach the haunted place. Lu Heng swept over them coldly and asked: “Who among you is in charge?”
Palace maids shirked the responsibility and no one dared to come forward and answer. Finally, a well-dressed woman in her thirties stepped forward and gave Lu Heng a greeting: “Commander.”
Lu Heng swept over the person and asked: “Who are you?”
“I am Qin Xiang’er, a female official of the Shangyi Bureau.”
Lu Heng pointed to the marks on the ground and asked: “Why remove the traces?”
Qin Xiang’er said: “Commander, the empress fell ill that day after she encountered something unclean. We did not dare to frighten the empress again, so we cleaned all traces.”
Lu Heng remained calm and asked: “Who ordered it?”
Qin Xiang’er paused for a moment, then lowered her head and said: “It was me.”
Lu Heng nodded, walked around the window, and asked: “Where was the empress in a coma?”
Qin Xiang’er stepped forward to direct him, and after Lu Heng looked at it, he asked: “Who first discovered the empress?”
Qin Xiang’er ordered someone to call the maid who discovered the empress that day, and Lu Heng took the person to the side hall for questioning. However, the palace girl was trembling with fright, and she didn’t know what to do with the three questions.
She didn’t know what happened that day, and she didn’t know if there was any sound that night. Seeing that Lu Heng couldn’t ask anything, he waved his hand and asked someone to take the palace girl down first.
Guo Tao came in from outside and his face was quite speechless. Seeing this, Lu Heng asked: “Have you found any clues?”
Guo Tao shook his head and said helplessly: “They said that this is the Empress’ Palace, not to be turned over, and not allowed to be touched…how will we check with this?”
The only eyewitness refused to recall what happened that night, and the crime scene was cleaned up. Guo Tao’s head was big, but he finally understood what it meant when they said a clever woman can’t cook without rice. Guo Tao waited eagerly for Lu Heng to make up his mind, Lu Heng thought for a while and asked: “According to what they said, on the twenty-ninth day of the first lunar month, the empress ran into the female ghost, and the empress was frightened and fell ill. Since then, the palace maids have been keeping watch together, and the eunuchs have been arranged outside the Ciqing Palace. On the fifth day of the second lunar month, when the five maids were drowsy, they suddenly heard a woman crying outside the door, but there was no one when they went out, right?”
Guo Tao nodded: “Right. Commander, do you want to call the five palace ladies who met the ghost for the second time over for questioning?”
Lu Heng got up, shook his head, and said: “No need. The first question is the most important, so there is no hurry now. The palace gate is about to be locked, and it is inconvenient for us to stay any longer. Tell everyone to withdraw, and at the same time instruct them to have everyone in the Ciqing Palace, regardless of whether maid or eunuch, return to the palace, lock up at night, supervise each other, and do not allow anyone out without permission. Arrange a few alert people to patrol outside the Ciqing Palace. No matter whether it is a ghost or a human, you cannot let anything approach the Ciqing Palace.”
Guo Tao took the order and immediately went out to make arrangements. This was the only way at present. All the evidence had been destroyed. They couldn’t follow the clues to check the previous two ghost encounters. They could only control the Ciqing Palace first. People inside were not allowed to come out, and people outside were not allowed to enter. If there were no more hauntings in the future, it would mean the people in the Ciqing Palace had made mischief. At that time, they would investigate them one by one, not afraid that the culprit would not be found.
Lu Heng went to the main hall of Ciqing Palace, but Empress Zhang had already taken her medicine and fallen asleep. Lu Heng could only talk to Qin Xiang’er, the current head of the Ciqing Palace, about the Imperial Guard’s arrangements. Qin Xiang’er said nothing, immediately recalled the staff, handed the key to the patrolling Imperial Guards for safekeeping, and locked the Ciqing Palace door from the inside in front of Lu Heng.
There were two keys at the gate of the Ciqing Palace, one was kept by another eunuch, and the other was in the hands of the Imperial Guards. After Lu Heng checked that it was correct, he told the Imperial Guards to be vigilant at night and left the palace.
As a commander of the third grade, Lu Heng, the actual person in charge of the Imperial Guards, it was not his place to patrol, so he could go back to the house and rest in peace. However, things backfired. In the middle of the night, news suddenly came from the palace and Lu Heng returned to the palace urgently. After all, he didn’t sleep well.
The Ciqing Palace had encountered a ghost again. This time, several palace maids and eunuchs heard ghosts screaming, and there were sounds of “knock knock knock” as if ghosts were about to come in. Empress Zhang was going crazy with fright, yelling to move the palace, and resolutely refusing to live in the Ciqing Palace.
The palace was not an inn, where anyone could move if they want to. Lu Heng went to the palace to deal with Empress Zhang, and after a long time of comforting her, Empress Zhang finally fell asleep, and his temples were left throbbing and hurting because of the noise.
When Lu Heng went out, the Imperial Guards who were guarding outside immediately surrounded him: “Commander.”
Lu Heng waved his hand to abstain the courtesy, and asked: “Was there be any movement last night?”
The patrolling Imperial Guard shook his head with a ghostly expression on his face: “My subordinates were watching closely, making sure that no one approached the Ciqing Palace. Suddenly there was yelling in the second quarter of the night, and we immediately opened the door and ran in, but we didn’t see anything.”
Lu Heng asked: “How long did it take you to run in from hearing the sound?”
“We came in right away when we heard the screams, not even the time to drink half a cup of tea. However, the Ciqing Palace was empty, and there was no trace of the place where they were shouting about being haunted.”
The Imperial Guards who were patrolling were also very puzzled. When they unlocked the door to check, there were still patrolling people outside the wall. If someone really pretended to be a ghost, it would be impossible to disappear out of thin air? Could it be that there was really a ghost?
Lu Heng asked about the time and situation, but said nothing, only letting them continue to guard. After this commotion, when Lu Heng returned to the mansion, it was already four o’clock.
Lu Heng entered the door, found Wang Yanqing in the main courtyard, and said in surprise: “Why are you awake?”
Wang Yanqing’s long hair was unkempt, and she draped a garment over her shoulders which she obviously just threw on. Seeing Lu Heng coming back, she quickly stepped forward and asked: “Second Brother, what happened in the palace?”
When Lu Heng entered the palace in a hurry, Wang Yanqing was awakened by the movement when he left. After learning that Lu Heng went out, she couldn’t sleep again and insisted on waiting for him in the main courtyard. After almost an hour of waiting, Lu Heng finally came back.
Seeing her thin clothes, Lu Heng quickly ordered someone to bring her a cloak. He pulled Wang Yanqing to sit beside the charcoal fire, and sighed in a low voice: “Qing Qing, there is one thing I might need your help with.”
|| Translator’s Note: I hope you are having an amazing week 🙂 I’m rooting for you!