TIGR Chapter 47
The Imperial Guard’s Revenge
Chapter 47 Guilty
Yesterday Xiu Yao guarded until midnight in the empress’ palace, and today it was time for her to be on duty for the second half of the night. Xiu Yao was thinking about changing shifts and fell asleep early, but strangely, she slept very deeply at night. She didn’t realize that she had fallen asleep until she was awakened by a chill, when it was Wugeng outside.
|| Wugeng (五更) ranges from 3-5am.
Xiu Yao secretly thought that this was bad, and quickly jumped up from the bed. While she was randomly putting on clothes, she wondered in her heart that if she overslept and delayed her shift, why did no one remind her?
Xiu Yao didn’t even have time to put on her jacket, so she hurriedly straightened the front of her shirt and ran out. However, when she opened the door, she found that the Ciqing Palace was quiet. At this hour in the past, someone should have gotten up and started cleaning.
What was going on?
Xiu Yao was terrified, not knowing whether she was dreaming or if she had run into a ghost. Xiu Yao didn’t dare to go out, she stopped at the door and hesitated, and only then did she notice that her roommate was also asleep.
There were four of them in the room, two who were on watch for the first half of the night and two for the second half of the night. She and her companion didn’t replace them and those on night watch didn’t come back. While she was busy going out just now, she didn’t find anyone in the room.
Xiu Yao didn’t dare to go by herself, so she stepped forward to shake her companion awake. Her roommate was shocked and scared when she found out that she had fallen asleep. Xiu Yao told her companion about the situation, and the two walked to the main hall together.
The doors and windows of the main hall were closed, and no movement could be seen inside. Xiu Yao and her companion dared to knock on the door. They held their breath and waited for a while, but there was no response from inside. The two of them were frightened and quickly pushed open the door, only to find that everyone was sleeping on the ground, slumped and motionless.
Xiu Yao clenched her companion’s hand tightly and nervously walked over to check their breath. Fortunately, they were still breathing. Xiu Yao and her roommate went inside to see Empress Zhang who also slept peacefully on the bed and Xiu Yao did not dare to check Empress Zhang’s breath.
Xiu Yao was confused by this development. Everyone had fallen asleep. There was no trace of rummaging in the hall and nothing was lost. Could it be that the palace maids and empress just slept past time and forgot to change shifts? It was understandable that one person would sleep, but with so many people staying together, how could they all fall asleep?
No matter how this was framed, even if the palace maids forgot the time, there would still be Aunt Qin.
At this time, Xiu Yao suddenly realized that not everyone was there. Aunt Qin and Miss Wang were gone.
At this moment, Wang Yanqing was already waiting in front of the palace gates. As soon as it was time to unlock the gates, she followed the leading eunuch out of the Donghua Gate, boarded the carriage, and drove outside the palace.
After entering the Lu Mansion carriage, Wang Yanqing breathed a sigh of relief. Yesterday, Wang Yanqing had no Chinese medicine, but after Qin Xiang’er was taken away, Wang Yanqing didn’t dare to sleep anymore, so she endured for the rest of the night. Lu Heng probably guessed that she wouldn’t be able to sleep. It was dawn this morning, when a eunuch knocked on the door quietly, saying that they were ordered by Lu Heng to take Wang Yanqing out of the palace.
The eunuch carried a note. After Wang Yanqing checked it, she recognized that it was indeed Lu Heng’s handwriting, so she followed the eunuch. The eunuch knew the road to and from very well and even calculated which road was the least crowded and how much time would be spent on the road. After Wang Yanqing walked to the Donghua Gate, she hardly waited long before she heard the sound of drums opening the palace gate.
Wang Yanqing leaned against the wall of the carriage and closed her eyes tiredly. The sound of the drums gradually ceased outside, and after a short moment, the second wave of vigorous drum beats sounded from the city gate.
Today, the ninth day began with morning court. After three waves of drums, the south gate opened and the official army flag school entered and arranged in a row, while the civil and military officials were arranged in front of the east and west gates in order of rank. Fu Tingzhou was standing in the ranks of the nobles. He quietly looked back and found that Lu Heng had come much later than usual and had just arrived.
With Lu Heng’s caution, it was impossible to make such a mistake. Fu Tingzhou frowned secretly, wondering what Lu Heng was up to this time.
Fu Tingzhou was absorbed in his thoughts, and he didn’t know that while he was speculating about Lu Heng, a carriage drove out of the east gate and rumbled toward the east court gate. The mighty south city gate rang the bell, and Fu Tingzhou quickly gathered his mind and followed everyone to the palace. At this time, Wang Yanqing’s carriage also passed through the east court gate safely and merged into the city streets.
The sun rose in the east, and the sky was bright, but the two of them ran in opposite directions.
Wang Yanqing leaned on the carriage, and wanted to close her eyes for a short rest, but fell asleep when she was no longer attentive. When the carriage stopped, the carriage rushed forward, and Wang Yanqing woke up in an instant. She rubbed her brows with in headache. Someone tapped the wall of the carriage twice, and a familiar female voice sounded outside: “Miss, you have arrived at the mansion. Are you still awake?”
It was Ling Xi, they finally arrived. Wang Yanqing blinked her eyes hard, endured the sourness, got up, and walked off the carriage: “I’m fine.”
Wang Yanqing spent two days and two nights in the palace, and while it didn’t seem long in the palace, after coming out and seeing the furnishings of the Lu Mansion, it all seemed like a lifetime away. No matter how it looked, it seemed comforting, even the weeds on the roadside looked cute. Wang Yanqing returned to her courtyard, and as soon as she entered the house, she said: “Prepare water, I want to take a bath.”
Ling Xi and Ling Luan received news last night that Wang Yanqing was coming back this morning, and already prepared refreshments and hot water in the room. Ling Luan slightly gave her blessings and went inside to check the soup. Ling Xi waited on Wang Yanqing to take off her outside clothes and asked: “Miss, you haven’t rested well for a few days, and the kitchen has brought pastries, do you want to eat some first?”
Wang Yanqing shook her head: “I don’t have an appetite right now. Maybe after I take a shower.”
After Wang Yanqing took a hot bath, she felt refreshed. She changed into new clothes, and her long wet hair naturally scattered. Ling Xi had already prepared breakfast outside, and when Wang Yanqing came out, she greeted her and asked: “Miss, the commander asked you to eat something before going to bed. Do you…”
Wang Yanqing knew that Lu Heng said something to the people in the mansion. Everyone was afraid of him and she didn’t intend to embarrass the maid. Besides, taking a bath took a lot of energy, and when she came out and smelled the aroma of warm food, she was also a little hungry. She didn’t want to be shy in her own home so Wang Yanqing sat down, finally let go of her voice, and said: “I’ll just do it by myself, you guys can go down and rest.”
She left the palace at Yinshi, and when she arrived, there was hot water and hot food. When did these maids and cooks start preparing? It was not easy for everyone but it surely showed their consideration and understanding.
|| Yinshi (寅时) refers to 3-5 am.
Ling Xi and Ling Luan answered yes, but did not leave. They waited for Wang Yanqing to finish eating and dry her hair before gently assisting Wang Yanqing to rest in bed. Wang Yanqing loosened her hair and lay in the warm quilt, finally understanding what it felt like to be at home.
Of course, the Lu Mansion was not as exquisite as the palace, but she could talk freely, move around freely, and eat and drink without worrying. This was far more comfortable than the palace. Wang Yanqing just walked around the palace for a while and understood a little of why Lu Heng was always so tense that he didn’t even dare to eat spicy food in his own home.
He often worked in that kind of environment, no wonder he became like this.
Wang Yanqing’s thoughts landed on Lu Heng and she put her hand on the edge of the bed. She closed her eyes unconsciously and fell into a deep sleep. She didn’t know if calming ingredients were added to the breakfast, but Wang Yanqing slept for a long time, and when she woke up, it was dark.
She moved a little, and when a maid from outside heard the movement. She came in to roll up the bed curtain and light the candles. Wang Yanqing had slept for too long, her body was sore and weak. She sat up with difficulty, and when she was seated, she asked: “Is Second Brother back?”
She hadn’t drunk water for a long time, so her throat was dry and hoarse, and these words came out weak. Ling Luan greeted her and replied: “Miss, the commander just returned to the mansion.”
When Wang Yanqing heard this, she got up at once and immediately got out of bed to find Lu Heng. She changed into a green jacket and skirt, while Ling Luan brought her a cloak. Wang Yanqing couldn’t wait to fasten it, so she took the cloak and rushed out, dressing as she walked.
By the second day of the second month, the snow had thawed, and the weather was getting warmer day by day, but the wind at night was still cool. Wang Yanqing ran quickly to the main courtyard while Ling Luan chased behind, and said anxiously: “Miss, you can’t stand the cold, be careful of getting sick.”
Wang Yanqing didn’t have the heart to listen to these words and she ran into the main room with her clothes on. The person inside heard her movement early and turned around calmly: “Qing Qing, what’s the matter?”
Wang Yanqing was relieved when she saw that it was indeed Lu Heng. Lu Heng looked like he had just returned, and didn’t even have time to change his clothes. Wang Yanqing folded her hands together, gave her thousand blessings, and asked: “Second Brother, have you eaten yet?”
Lu Heng thought that Wang Yanqing might ask about where Qin Xiang’er went, how the haunted case was tried, and what happened in the chamber after she left. Lu Heng did not expect that when Wang Yanqing hurried over, the first sentence would turn out to be asking about whether he had eaten yet.
Lu Heng was surprised and said with a smile: “Not yet. I heard from them that you slept all day, did you sleep well, do you want to stay with Second Brother for dinner?”
Wang Yanqing nodded, she wasn’t actually hungry, but she wanted to accompany Lu Heng to eat something, and then quickly have him go to bed. Wang Yanqing concentrated her energy for a while last night, but Lu Heng had been busy all day. Today was the beginning and the end, and it had been a full day of tossing. Even his sturdy body couldn’t stand such spending.
The kitchen was already ready. After learning that Wang Yanqing was also going to eat, they quietly added a pair of bowls and chopsticks and added a few dishes that Wang Yanqing liked. Wang Yanqing sat down and quietly observed Lu Heng. His face was tired, but his eyes were bright, and he looked in good spirits.
It seemed that this case went well. Wang Yanqing thought silently for a while, then took the initiative to scoop a bowl of soup for Lu Heng, and asked: “Second Brother, was it really Qin Xiang’er who pretended to be a ghost?”
Lu Heng took Wang Yanqing’s bowl, glanced at her, and sighed: “I thought Qing Qing was here to care for me, but it turns out to be for the case.”
“How can that be.” Wang Yanqing frowned and said, “I’m afraid that your body will not be able to bear it if you endure for too long.”
Lu Heng laughed, turned the spoon with his fingers, and said slowly: “You’re being silly. With your words, it will be worth it even if I die of exhaustion.”
“Don’t say these ominous things.” Wang Yanqing stopped Lu Heng’s words with a serious face, “Words are powerful, you cannot say these kinds of things.”
She lectured Lu Heng with a stern face, and Lu Heng also let her instruct him. After Wang Yanqing finished speaking, while there was nothing to do at the dinner table, she asked: “Second Brother, why did she do that?”
Lu Heng took a light sip of the soup and spoke unhurriedly: “It’s a long story, this is the bitter fruit planted thirty years ago.”
Wang Yanqing looked at Lu Heng seriously, waiting for his next words. Lu Heng did not continue to speak, but suddenly asked: “Qing Qing, do you still remember what I said to you on the day of the Lantern Festival?”
Wang Yanqing thought about the span of the last thirty years and asked tentatively: “You mean about Emperor Hongzhi?”
“Right, it happened during the Hongzhi period.” Lu Heng put down the soup bowl and sighed slightly, “At that time, there was a eunuch who offended Empress Zhang by preventing the Zhang brothers from wearing the imperial crown, and was put in prison by Emperor Hongzhi. Later, Empress Zhang ordered him to be beaten to death. That eunuch was called He Ding, and what Qin Xiang’er did had something to do with him.”
Wang Yanqing guessed: “Were they brother and sister? However, Qin Xiang’er’s surname is Qin, could it be that she used a pseudonym?”
“That is her real name.” Lu Heng said calmly, “The identity of female officials who are sent to the palace are checked repeatedly, and if there is any little thing, they fail. Her surname is indeed Qin, from Huaian, and she had an older sister.”
Wang Yanqing seemed to sense something, and a pair of clear autumn water cut pupils stared motionlessly at Lu Heng. Lu Heng nodded, confirming her guess: “Qin Xiang’er’s elder sister also entered the palace. She was not a female official, but a palace maid. On the day of the conflict between He Ding and Zhang Heling, there was a banquet in the palace. Zhang Heling and Zhang Yanling drank too much. Zhang Yanling raped a palace maid while drunk and afterward, he returned to the banquet and saw the emperor’s crown. His hands were itchy, so encouraged by Zhang Heling, the two picked it up and wore it. He Ding and the palace maid were working in the same palace. He discovered Zhang Yanling’s brutal act, and when he got to the front, he found that they had no intention of repenting, and what more, they wanted to wear the imperial crown. He Ding was immediately furious and wanted to kill the two with a golden gourd. He Ding’s actions made a lot of noise and alarmed Empress Zhang. At that time, many people pleaded with Emperor Hongzhi, but Empress Zhang couldn’t swallow this and insisted on imprisoning He Ding. Emperor Hongzhi couldn’t bear to let his beloved wife suffer, so he asked the Imperial Guards to take He Ding away. No one knew whether Emperor Hongzhi wanted to kill He Ding at the time, but later, He Ding did die.”
Wang Yanqing’s eyes revealed how disturbed she felt. As if dark clouds had covered the moon, and smoke had enveloped the cold water, making people feel sorry when they looked upon them. Lu Heng took her wrist and clenched it tightly: “That palace maid was Qin Xiang’er’s sister — Qin Ji’er.”
Wang Yanqing’s heart fell heavily, only the place where Lu Heng held her was warm and powerful, her only support in a vast ocean. Wang Yanqing asked: “What happened to Qin Ji’er?”
“She died.” Lu Heng’s words were direct and cold, and there was no emotion in his eyes.” The record in the palace was that Qin Ji’er was frozen to death that night because of the cold weather. But the old eunuch who handled the matter said that when Qin Ji’er’s body was thrown out, there were bruises on her neck.”
The ending was unfortunate, but not surprising at all. Empress Dowager Zhang didn’t even let go of He Ding who was placed in prison, let alone a palace maid? Qin Ji’er died silently, even if everyone could see that she did not die naturally, no one would investigate the cause of her death. He Ding was a eunuch, he had no family descendants, and no one to seek justice.
The two of them were like a speck of dust on the gorgeous floor tiles of the Forbidden City, obstructing the master’s eyes. They were swept away lightly, and no one cared where they landed. Only Qin Xiang’er, the sister of Qin Ji’er who was also a speck of dust, gave up marrying and entered the palace. She served as a servant for twenty years, just to find out the cause of her sister’s death that year.
Wang Yanqing finally understood why Empress Zhang was so resistant to talking about encountering the ghost, and she finally understood why Qin Xiang’er shouted “so cold” outside the door when she was pretending to be a ghost. Qin Xiang’er’s sister ended up “frozen to death”, so it’s no wonder that Qin Xiang’er took these troubles to heart.
Wang Yanqing asked: “She investigated?”
“She explained in the prison today that she found some traces, but she was not sure that it was Empress Zhang. She pretended to be a ghost to scare Empress Zhang, wanting to know if her sister’s death had anything to do with Empress Zhang.”
Needless to say, Empress Zhang was so frightened that it was obvious that she was involved.
Wang Yanqing sighed deeply and asked about the thing that had troubled her for a long time: “The first time she gave Cui Yuehuan medicine, no one saw her pretending to be a ghost. But the second, third, and fourth times they met the ghost, she was always beside Empress Zhang. How could she make noise outside the window? The night before, I could see clearly that she was in the hall, lying on the empress’ bed before the incident and sleeping. Even if she pretended to be asleep, the knocking on the door and the screams were clearly coming from outside. How could she be divided into two halves?”
Lu Heng slowly rubbed Wang Yanqing’s fingertips, and when he heard this, he smiled meaningfully: “Who said it must be a human?”
Wang Yanqing was stunned, but when Lu Heng was about to explain, he suddenly stopped. He shook her hand and said: “Qing Qing didn’t take my words to heart. I was worried that you would be wronged in the palace, and I especially taught you the secret code, but you didn’t care at all.”
“No.” Wang Yanqing was quite aggrieved, and hurriedly defended, “I remembered it, but it was useless.”
Lu Heng took a good time to repond, and asked back without haste: “Really? Then why didn’t you notice the bird calls?”
Wang Yanqing was stunned for a moment. At this time, she recalled that when she went out the night before, she didn’t see anyone, but it seemed that some birds were flying over.
Seeing that she understood, Lu Heng said with a smile: “You don’t like those cockfighting and horse riding acts, so naturally you don’t know. There is a high-quality bird in the bird market, called a mynah, with a clear voice and the ability to learn human language. If taught well, they can learn more than a dozen commands.”
Wang Yanqing slowly connected the whole thing. After Qin Xiang’er found out the cause of her sister’s death, she suspected that it was done at the hands of Empress Zhang, so she pretend to be a ghost to deceive her. Qin Xiang’er was a female official, and Empress Zhang couldn’t finish the all cakes she had. Qin Xiang’er choose pastries that Cui Yuehuan liked to eat, and put a drowsiness medicine in them, coaxing Cui Yuehuan to eat them. When Cui Yuehuan really fell asleep that night, Qin Xiang’er put on the female ghost’s clothes to scare the empress. Qin Xiang’er and Qin Ji’er were sisters, her hair was loose and the light was dim, it was almost unreal. After seeing it, Empress Zhang thought it was Qin Ji’er’s manifestation and was so shocked she fainted.
After that, Empress Zhang scolded everyone like crazy. Qin Xiang’er saw it and became more and more sure that the person who killed her sister was Empress Zhang. It was ridiculous that Empress Zhang killed a young and beautiful palace maid, and she didn’t even remember the maid’s name. If Empress Zhang knew that the woman was called Qin Ji’er, she would never have put Qin Xiang’er, whose name was obviously related, by her side.
After Qin Xianger finally determined the real murderer, she didn’t have to take the risk herself. She stayed by the empress’ side openly, and after everyone fell asleep, she quietly whistled and called the mynah to imitate the human voice. If the people inside pushed the window open or the Imperial Guards from outside broke in, the mynah would naturally flutter and fly away, so Qin Xiang’er didn’t have to worry about it at all.
The mynah had black and purple feathers, and it was impossible to see it when it was dark, not to mention that everyone’s attention was on a person, who would care about a bird. Neither Imperial Guard nor Wang Yanqing found a black bird in the courtyard. When the Imperial Guards patrolled, outsiders were not allowed to approach the Ciqing Palace, but they certainly couldn’t take care of the birds in the sky.
In this way, Qin Xiang’er just pretended to be a ghost right under everyone’s noses. If she hadn’t run into Lu Heng, she was afraid the Imperial Guards would have been played around by her.
Qin Xiang’er used a whistle to control the bird, but she didn’t know that the Imperial Guards also had a secret code inside, and Lu Heng was an expert in this area. Wang Yanqing was amazed, and once again realized that there was a reason why Second Brother was promoted so quickly.
However, Wang Yanqing was still puzzled by something, and she hurriedly asked: “What about the second time? I always thought the lanterns under the eaves of the Ciqing Palace were weird, but I couldn’t tell what…”
Lu Heng was never been hesitant to praise his sister. He nodded and affirmed Wang Yanqing’s thoughts: “Yes, there was indeed something wrong with those lanterns. You don’t go to the palace very often, no wonder you can’t see the difference. The first thing I noticed when I walked in was that the lantern had been adjusted and hung too low. The second time the so-called woman’s cry was the mynah. As for the female ghost with disheveled hair behind the window, it was actually a shadow cast by a lantern, similar to that of a shadow puppet show.”
Wang Yanqing’s eyes widened, and she asked very studiously: “How does that work?”
Lu Heng looked at Wang Yanqing’s big clear eyes and wondered how the Zhenyuan Marquis Mansion raised this girl. Wang Yanqing was not familiar with flowers and birds, and it could be said that she had a strict upbringing and was not allowed to play with objects, but why was she not even familiar with shadow puppetry?
Lu Heng said while despising the Zhenyuan Marquis Mansion: “It’s not advisable to play all the time and lose your mind, but you can’t devote yourself to studying hard, and not have any time to relax. The combination of work and leisure is…”
Lu Heng paused suddenly when he said this. He realized that the person who didn’t care about Wang Yanqing’s hobbies, focused on his own affairs so Wang Yanqing didn’t dare to play at all. But now, that person was him.
Lu Heng’s lips moved, he pursed his lips and gritted his teeth secretly. Finally speaking to Wang Yanqing with a smile: “It’s all my fault, I was so busy practicing martial arts that I forgot to take you out to play. Second Brother will definitely accompany you more in the future.”
Wang Yanqing nodded slowly, her eyes still sullen. Lu Heng couldn’t bear to see that she was unhappy, and immediately said: “Ling Xi, bring shadow puppets.”
Wang Yanqing was stunned, and said hurriedly: “Second Brother, you have been busy for several days, so hurry up and rest…”
“It’s no bother.” Lu Heng said lightly, “It’s easy to do, and it doesn’t take much effort.”
After Lu Heng and Wang Yanqing finished eating, Ling Xi also prepared the things. Lu Heng took Wang Yanqing to stand in front of the window, hung a fishing line tied to a wooden stick past the window, and adjusted the shadow puppet to a suitable angle. Lu Heng asked someone to raise the light, and a lifelike shadow immediately appeared on the window paper. Lu Heng gestured casually and said: “This was likely how it was done. She may have adjusted it a little more finely, but the logic is similar.”
Wang Yanqing saw with her own eyes how a small paper-cut object was magnified into a black shadow on the window, and the last mystery in her heart was solved. The second time they encountered the ghost, the palace maids saw the ghost’s shadow. Coupled with the intermittent cries outside the window, they naturally thought it was from a ghost, but they would have noticed that the “shadow ghost” had not moved. Moreover, Wang Yanqing remembered that Yu Wan said Qin Xiang’er came forward that day and took the initiative to open the window with a wooden stick to drive away the ghost.
In fact, Qin Xiang’er was not trying to exorcise ghosts at all but to take away the fishing line and paper cut out. At that time, both the palace maids and Empress Zhang were so frightened that they dared not approach the window at all.
Seeing that Wang Yanqing’s wish was over, Lu Heng put down his things and signaled Ling Xi and Ling Luan to take them away. Wang Yanqing realized that she had disturbed Lu Heng for a long time, and hurriedly said: “Second Brother, are you in a hurry to rest? It’s all my fault, I came here to remind you to go to bed early, but I’ve been pestering you for so long.”
Lu Heng didn’t care about this. He and Wang Yanqing were relaxed when they talked, so this was considered a rest. However, Lu Heng was always compliant in these kinds of matters and he immediately showed a look of exhaustion and said: “I’ve been in prison all day today. I have a headache and can’t sleep.”
Wang Yanqing felt more and more guilty, and said cautiously: “Then I’ll leave now?”
She was indeed very clever. Lu Heng couldn’t help it, he could only say clearly: “If someone helped me rub my acupoints, maybe it will be better.”
Wang Yanqing said in an upset tone: “It’s a pity that I don’t know how to massage.”
If this was someone else, Lu Heng would definitely feel that the other person was pretending to be confused, but this was Wang Yanqing and Lu Heng was full of patience: “It’s okay, I’ll teach you.”
|| Author’s Note:
Lu Heng (disgusted): Some people are very selfish and don’t know how to take care of their younger sister at all.
Lu Heng: Yes, that person is me.