TIGR Chapter 46
Chapter 46 Caught
Xiu Yao cried for a long time until her emotions finally calmed down. Wang Yanqing learned about the secret, but she didn’t feel at ease at all.
She indeed knew the crux of the matter, but then what?
The Marquis of Jianchang was still the younger brother of Empress Zhang, and Xiu Yao was still a maid in the Ciqing Palace. With Empress Zhang present, no one could stop the Marquis of Jianchang from entering the palace. If the Marquis of Jianchang really wanted to do something to Xiu Yao, Xiu Yao could hide the first day, but could she still avoid him on the fifteenth?
She was a palace maid with an ordinary background and ordinary ability. Like thousands of women in the world, she was neither super good nor super bad. She was mediocre but worked hard to live. In the eyes of her superior, she was probably not as important as a pair of vases. A girl like her was very common and had no value in the harem, no one would pay attention even if she died. What would she use to resist the Marquis of Jianchang? The other party was Empress Zhang’s younger brother. Once there was big trouble, Empress Zhang would definitely favor her younger brother, and she might even be killed.
No wonder Xiu Yao was depressed. With Xiu Yao in this state, she could no longer be questioned. Wang Yanqing did not continue the topic, but sent Xiu Yao back to Ciqing Palace to rest. When they returned, there was movement in the main hall, and it was likely that Empress Zhang was awake. All the palace maids ran in to serve her and Xiu Yao didn’t dare to neglect her duty, and hurriedly carried her skirt to fetch water.
No matter what was happening, she was still a palace maid.
The palace maids shuttled back and forth, carrying pots and boiling water. Wang Yanqing didn’t want to cause trouble, so she stood away to avoid them. She wandered around where she heard the sound yesterday. It was dark yesterday and she couldn’t see clearly. She decided to check it again today, maybe she could find new clues.
Wang Yanqing paced back and forth, and walked in front of the window for a long time, but unfortunately she did not gain anything. She was disappointed in her heart and was about to take a look somewhere else, when she raised her head and suddenly let out noise of surprise.
She stared at the lantern above her head, unable to explain why she felt a sense of something out of sorts. Wang Yanqing watched for a long time under the lamp. Qin Xiang’er came out of the hall, and when she turned around, she saw Wang Yanqing stopped under the porch. Qin Xiang’er waved to the palace maids behind her and motioned them to go first. Alone, she walked behind Wang Yanqing and said: “Miss Wang.”
Wang Yanqing turned around, saw Qin Xiang’er and nodded a greeting: “Female officer Qin.”
Qin Xiang’er gave her a thousand blessings and asked: “What is Miss Wang looking at?”
Wang Yanqing shook her head: “Nothing. I didn’t slept well last night and my neck is a little stiff. Since there is no one around, I was stretching my muscles and bones. But now I have embarrassed myself in front of female official Qin.”
Qin Xiang’er’s face was as rigid and dignified as before, and she said: “Miss Wang came to the Ciqing Palace to help, but as a result, Miss Wang can’t sleep peacefully. I am deeply ashamed, and I hereby apologize to Miss Wang…”
Wang Yanqing hurriedly avoided: “What is female officer Qin saying? It is the duty of the officials to share the worries of the king. The empress is precious, and if the empress is disgraced, the court is disgraced. There are strange forces in the Ciqing Palace, and it is because we officials have not guarded well.”
Qin Xiang’er nodded and said: “Miss Wang’s loyalty and courage is admirable. Master Lu seems to value Miss Wang very much. Is there any connection between the Miss and Master Lu?”
Wang Yanqing was nervous. Could it be that her actions yesterday aroused suspicion from others? Wang Yanqing kept her fake identity in mind, and said: “Master Lu is a commander of the third rank, and I am just an ordinary woman. How can there be any connection? It’s just that there is some intersection from the ancestors. It happens that there is a haunting in the empress’ palace. Commander Lu, thinking that I had lived in a Taoist temple and was a woman, sent me over to check the situation. Nothing more.”
Qin Xiang’er responded lightly and said: “Thank you for your assistance last night, Miss Wang. You are a distinguished guest of Master Lu and you cannot be neglected. Miss, please follow me to the side hall to rest.”
Wang Yanqing could not find a reason to refuse, so she had to go to the side hall. After such a delay, the morning passed. When Wang Yanqing was having lunch, she noticed the eunuch who delivered the meal, and suddenly had an idea. She ate in silence, and waited for a while after the meal. Sure enough, two little eunuchs came to pick up the leftovers.
Delivering meals to the empress was a beautiful job, and was controlled by the big eunuch above, but it was dirty and tiring work to clean up the garbage after the meal. It had always been thrown to the small eunuchs who had no qualifications and no backing. Wang Yanqing pretended to be drinking tea, but in fact she kept her eyes on what was happening around her. After the little eunuchs collected the leftovers, the two of them carried the wooden bucket together to go out. Wang Yanqing quietly followed them out while the others were not paying attention.
“Eunuch, there is no need to see me out…”
When the two little eunuchs who were carrying the bucket turned around and saw Wang Yanqing, they quickly put down their things and bowed in fear: “Miss Wang. What are your orders, is the food not to your liking?”
The two little eunuchs were trembling when they said these words. Wang Yanqing waved her hand and said: “It is not. The meal was very good, thanks to you two eunuchs. I came out today because I have something to ask.”
There were still Imperial Guards outside the Ciqing Palace and at this time, several people had swept by their direction. Wang Yanqing glanced around and asked in a low voice: “Are you two eunuchs busy going back, would it be convenient to talk in another place?”
The two little eunuchs looked at each other. This was someone brought by Commander Lu, and it had to be convenient even if it was inconvenient. The two little eunuchs parked their things on the side of the road and followed Wang Yanqing to a shady place.
Here, they stayed in sight of the Imperial Guards but they would not hear their voices, it was just right for questioning. Wang Yanqing said: “Eunuch, don’t misunderstand, I just want to ask you about something. Do you both often deliver meals to the Ciqing Palace?”
These two eunuchs were in charge of the meals, but they were in different systems from the palace maids. Regardless, as long as they were in the palace, they were somewhat connected. One of the eunuchs remembered the haunting in the East Palace that had been making a lot of noise during this time, felt nervous, and nodded slightly: “It has been us. We have been in charge of carrying and receiving meals for the Ciqing Palace. Is there anything wrong with this meal?”
“No.” Wang Yanqing first reassured the two eunuchs, and then asked, “The eunuchs often come in and out of the Ciqing Palace, so they must know the people inside, right? Do you two remember a sister named Cui Yuehuan?”
The two eunuchs looked at each other with hesitant expressions: “This…”
They were eunuchs, and they wanted to avoid raising suspicion with the palace maid, but Wang Yanqing asked, should they say they know or not?
Wang Yanqing didn’t need to wait for their answers. As soon as she saw their expressions, she already understood the result. Wang Yanqing continued: “Don’t misunderstand, this is actually the situation. Yesterday, Sister Cui Yuehuan helped me a lot, and I want to send something to thank her. I remember she mentioned yesterday that she had a plate of delicious pastries a few days ago. I can’t remember the name of the pastry, only that it was delivered at the end of the last month. Can the two of you help me think about it, at the end of last month, did anyone in the Ciqing Palace request any pastry on their own? It doesn’t matter who it is, they often give each other food to eat. Maybe another palace maid ordered it, and Sister Cui Yuehuan stopped and ate two pieces along the way.”
Wang Yanqing’s words are half true and half false. It was now certain that Cui Yuehuan was lying. Empress Zhang was stunned by a female ghost on the night of her watch and Cui Yuehuan had the most time to handle the case. But if it was really her, she chose to do it on the day she was on duty. Even if she succeeded, she would be held accountable. How could she use this as an act of revenge? This was completely inconsistent with the meticulousness she showed when she committed the crime. Therefore, Wang Yanqing guessed that Cui Yuehuan was not the real culprit, but she knew a little bit of the inside story and knew she was protecting the person who was really hiding behind the scenes.
In this way, the person who gave her pastries and made it so she was unable to wake up from her sleep that night was especially suspicious. It was difficult for Cui Yuehuan to open her mouth, so Wang Yanqing wanted to try it with the Shangshan supervisors.
“Pastry?” The two eunuchs frowned. They thought about it for a while and one of the eunuchs said, “The empress has fashionable pastries every day, but it doesn’t seem that anyone else requested pastries from the Shangshan supervisors.”
The other eunuch replied: “There are rules for dishes in the palace, and if you want an exception, you have to pay for it. Who would be willing to use money to buy a snack during a day that is not New Year or a festival.”
Wang Yanqing realized that she regarded the palace as the Lu residence and neglected that the rules here were far harsher than the outside world. Ordinary palace maids would not have so much extra money, and favored maids with financial resources would not be in the limelight.
Wang Yanqing was not without disappointment in her heart, but she still thanked the eunuch in a soft voice: “Thank you for your trouble, eunuchs. Blame me, delaying the two of you for a long time will not delay the time for the two of you to return, right?”
The two eunuchs naturally shook their heads and said it was fine. After paying their respect to Wang Yanqing, they picked up the bucket and left. Wang Yanqing sent the eunuchs away and slowly returned to the Ciqing Palace. After she entered the palace gate, an Imperial Guard, who was staring at her secretly, withdrew their gaze.
This was the commander’s woman. If something went wrong in the palace, the commander would skin them.
Wang Yanqing originally wanted a breakthrough in the pastry, but the Shangshan supervisors said that no pastry was given to the maids of the East Palace, and the line of pastry was cut off. After the questioning in the morning, Wang Yanqing temporarily ruled out suspicion of Xiu Yao. Xiu Yao was almost raped by the Marquis of Jianchang, and there was no doubt that she had a motive for committing the crime, but she was cowardly and muddled, and she really didn’t look like someone who had the guts to pretend to be a ghost to scare the empress. Yesterday’s two suspects were cleared, and Wang Yanqing could only re-examine the relationships in the Ciqing Palace.
While Wang Yanqing was questioning aimlessly in the Ciqing Palace, Lu Heng left the palace and stepped into South Fusi. When the people from South Fusi saw Lu Heng coming back, they immediately followed up and said: “Commander, what you ordered has been found.”
Lu Heng took the file and turned a few pages, with a decision in his eyes. He closed the file and said with a half-smile: “It’s really hard to find a place to break through the iron shoes, but it takes no effort to get it. Send a message in and collect the net.”
These days, because of the haunting, when the sky has just turned dark, there was no one near the East Palace. The Imperial Guards have kept guard for several nights, cold and tired, and they could not help but complain. The corridor was quiet and empty, so the two Imperial Guards relaxed as they stood behind the wall chatting: “It’s been a whole day and I haven’t had a sip of hot water. When will these kinds of days end?”
“Be patient and soon we will be able to report back.” The companion advised, “Today the commander is out of the palace, it seems that he is going to invite Master Shaotian to the palace to exorcise ghosts.” The emperor has agreed to let the empress move the palace. This palace may have bad energy which is beckoning those unclean things. When the empress moves to another place and has Master Shaotian do a few rituals, it should be fine.”
The Imperial Guard breathed a sigh of relief and sighed: “It will finally be over. I feel horrified seeing the weird things from the past few days. The empress has a noble status, how can she be so frightened like this. Simply change to a place where the sun is heavy.”
“Right.” The companions responded with envy, “These days, the empress is so frightened that she has fallen ill. The emperor felt very guilty and gave the Zhang family a lot of gold and silver jewelry. The positions of the Duke of Chang Guo and Marquis of Jianchang have already been sealed, and it would be inappropriate to seal them again. I heard that the emperor intends to promote the Duke of Chang Guo and Marquis of Jianchang, and then change the palace for the empress. With these two happy events, maybe the empress’ illness will be healed.”
“The Duke of Chang Guo and the Marquis of Jianchang are going to be promoted?”
“Yeah, I heard from the second-rank governors…”
The two Imperial Guards talked about the promotions in the officialdom very happily, and they did not notice that behind a side door, a pair of shoes retreated quietly.
After having dinner, Wang Yanqing went to the main hall to keep a watch as usual. Qin Xiang’er was giving lectures in front of the hall and Wang Yanqing sighed silently as she looked at the numb-faced palace servants who had been tortured by fright and exhaustion.
She had only stayed in the palace for two days and one night and already felt out of breath. How did these palace maids persevere in this environment all year round?
In this gorgeous cage, there was no hope and that was the most terrifying thing.
After Qin Xiang’er’s remarks, she had the palace maids cheer up and didn’t allow the slightest mistake. Wang Yanqing entered the hall among the palace maids, and quietly found an inconspicuous place to stand.
The process after that was the same as yesterday. Empress Zhang entered behind the veil and rested. The maids were exhausted and lifeless. Even though Qin Xiang’er said they were not allowed to sleep, the palace maids stayed up for several nights, and their fear was no match for their instincts. Not long after, the palace maids swayed and fell into a stupor.
Qin Xiang’er got up, closed the door to the inner hall, and walked to the next hall with a sullen face: “The empress just fell asleep, why did you all sleep? Be alert.”
The maids laboriously opened their eyes, Qin Xiang’er saw their sullen appearance, picked up a pot of tea from the table, poured it into a cup, and brought it to them: “Drink a sip of tea to wake up. Be sure to guard the empress tonight, no one is allowed to sleep.”
Wang Yanqing was not sleepy at first, but Qin Xiang’er refused to favor anyone and handed Wang Yanqing the tea. Wang Yanqing was stunned for a moment, and then hurriedly said: “I don’t dare to bother female officer Qin, I’m not sleepy.”
“Miss Wang stayed up for two consecutive nights for the safety of the empress, and this cup is my tribute to Miss.”Qin Xiang’er said, handing over the tea cup with both hands, “Miss Wang, please.”
At this level, if Wang Yanqing refused again, she would be unappreciative. She took the tea cup, nodded, and smiled at Qin Xiang’er, drinking it slowly.
Qin Xiang’er waited for Wang Yanqing to finish drinking, then took back the tea cup and went to the other side to remind the other sleepy maids.
Qin Xiang’er used strong tea to refresh everyone, but as time passed, the palace maids fell asleep one by one. Wang Yanqing also leaned on the armchair, resting her face on the back of the chair, and fell asleep with her eyes closed.
The night wind was quiet, the cold moon was melting, the lights in the hall were bright, but the people inside were motionless, and the gorgeous palace was as silent as death. Empress Zhang was lying on the couch. Although her eyes were closed, her body trembled slightly, and she obviously slept very restlessly. She seemed to hear a shrill bird chirping, and she wondered who would be so bold as to keep birds in her bedroom. But no matter how hard Empress Zhang tried, she couldn’t break free from the nightmare.
After a while, a person in the hall woke up. She called people one by one, but there was no answer. She walked towards the door of the palace lightly, and when she pushed the door, she was caught off guard by the cold wind outside.
When the woman regained her sight, she saw a person standing under a tree in the dark courtyard. He didn’t light the lamp, lowered his head, and fiddled with things in his hand, like a silent shadow, terrifying.
The woman settled down and asked: “Who is trespassing in the empress’ palace?”
The man lifted his feet and walked calmly under the palace lanterns hanging from the eaves, his posture was superior to the leisurely courtyard stroll. He stood still on the edge of the halo of light, the lines on his face were cold and sharp, half awake and half asleep. A sense of oppression grew and became more and more astonishing.
“Female Official Qin, what are you looking for coming out late at night?”
Qin Xiang’er stared at Lu Heng and refused to speak. Lu Heng laughed softly, raised the cage in his hand, and showed her the black and purple bird inside: “You’re not looking for this, are you?”
Qin Xiang’er knew that everything had been exposed when she saw Lu Heng. The Imperial Guards returned without success for two consecutive nights, and she felt that the rumored master Lu Heng who could solve any case was nothing more than that. However, it turned out that she had underestimated Lu Heng.
He may have noticed it long ago and waited until today to act, but once he made a move, he would get the stolen goods. In the evening, when she heard the Imperial Guards chatting, it was also deliberately told to her.
He was forcing her hand.
These skills were no match for her and there was nothing to say. Qin Xiang’er still held her neck high, even if she failed, she would not lose her dignity: “Master Lu figured out the scheme, I concede. If you want to kill or slash next, you can do whatever you want.”
The gates of the Ciqing Palace were already guarded by the Imperial Guards. Lu Heng raised his hand, and an Imperial Guard who was immediately behind stepped forward and took the birdcage in Lu Heng’s hand. Lu Heng straightened his sleeves and strode into the hall: “If you are smart, keep quiet. You’d better pray that the people inside are all right.”
Lu Heng crossed the threshold and walked directly to Wang Yanqing’s side. Qin Xiang’er knew his intention in her heart and said: “Don’t worry, Master Lu, it’s just some sleeping aids, it’s not harmful to the body.”
Lu Heng was suspicious by nature, how could he believe the prisoner’s words? He walked to Wang Yanqing’s side, leaned over, and gently shook her shoulder: “Qing Qing…”
After he spoke these words, his voice stopped suddenly. He saw Wang Yanqing’s eyelashes move quickly, and her eyes rolled under her lids, but she still closed her eyes.
Lu Heng stared at her for a few breaths and slowly straightened up.
The teacher may not be able to pass the examination of their students as they could recognize their lies and it would only end in a complete mess.
Fortunately, they weren’t stupid.
Lu Heng didn’t bother to expose her trick. He turned around, walked into the darkness with his hands behind his back, and after he passed Qin Xiang’er, he lightly explained: “Tie her up and wait for interrogation.”
The Imperial Guard who was hidden in the dark, clasped his fists in a low voice: “Yes.”
Wang Yanqing leaned back on the chair and pretended to sleep with difficulty. She heard a rustling sound at the door, and then, there was a muffled crashing sound, and the night wind that was constantly drilling into the collar stopped. Wang Yanqing waited for a while, opened her eyes quietly, and found that Empress Zhang’s bedroom was quiet again, everything was as before, except that one person was missing from the room.
It turned out to be her, and it really was her.
Wang Yanqing sighed silently. She asked the Shangshan supervisor at noon and learned that there was no maid in the Ciqing Palace that asked for pastries. In order to prevent fires in the palace, there were only a few places where they could cook, and open fires were prohibited in other places. Food in the inner court could only be obtained from the unified large kitchen.
The Shangshan supervisor had no relevant records, so the line of pastries was temporarily interrupted. But today, when Qin Xiang’er poured tea for her, Wang Yanqing suddenly realized that there was no record of pastries in the palace maid’s food, but what about the empress’?
Empress Zhang had fresh pastries delivered every meal and she couldn’t finish so many things. Who would distribute the remaining pastries?
All the clues were connected in an instant, and the truth was almost revealed. Wang Yanqing wanted to see what Qin Xiang’er was going to do, so she kept silent, pretended to drink the tea, and then spit it out after Qin Xiang’er turned around. Afterward, Wang Yanqing pretended to be lethargic, but in fact, leaned on the back of the chair and secretly observed Qin Xiang’er.
Qin Xiang’er also fell asleep beside the empress’ couch, but Wang Yanqing heard a bird chirping from the inner room, like a whistle to greet birds. Wang Yanqing wanted to know how Qin Xiang’er acted like a ghost, so she didn’t say anything and waited with a bated breath. However, after waiting for a long time, there was no movement outside. Qin Xiang’er finally couldn’t hold back and got up to check the situation.
As a result, as soon as she pushed the door, she saw Lu Heng outside.
When Wang Yanqing heard Lu Heng’s voice, she had been hesitating about how to wake up naturally. She hadn’t found the right time and suddenly heard Lu Heng say to Qin Xiang’er, if you are smart, keep quiet.
Wang Yanqing understood in an instant why Lu Heng waited until now to act.
Judging by Lu Heng’s performance, he had already guessed it this morning, but he waited until late at night to arrest Qin Xiang’er silently. This showed that Lu Heng, or the emperor, wanted to keep this matter private.
Wang Yanqing didn’t know what Lu Heng and the emperor had in mind. She only knew that she couldn’t wake up, and she mustn’t be involved in the turmoil that followed. The haunting of the East Palace was a trivial matter, but what Lu Heng had to do next was definitely a major event. She was the safest if she didn’t know anything.
When Lu Heng stood in front of her, Wang Yanqing was so nervous that she couldn’t breathe anymore. She thought he should have seen it, but didn’t reveal it, indicating that he was willing to turn a blind eye.
Only then did Wang Yanqing finally breathe a sigh of relief.
Wang Yanqing looked at Empress Zhang, who slept in the inner room and knew nothing and then at the little palace maids who were lying on the ground. She wondered if they knew that while they were dreaming, a new storm started again. When dawn breaks tomorrow, the guillotine will fall.
Wang Yanqing silently wished a good dream for Empress Zhang.
If nothing else, this would be her last peaceful night of rest.