Since last night, when his character design almost collapsed, Chu Xie had a restless dream early in the morning.
In his dream, he was being escorted to the execution ground, his hands bound. A dense crowd surrounded him in the drizzling autumn rain. Jiang Yanchi sat high on a platform not far away, his eyes cold.
“Execute the sentence.”
Chu Xie saw someone next to him raise a sharp little knife, which stabbed into his chest, causing blood to gush out.
*the death of a thousand cut
Blood gushed out, and he knelt on the ground, hearing Jiang Yanchi’s icy voice from above.
“Does it hurt?”
“I want you to die bit by bit, slowly.”
With a sudden start, Chu Xie opened his eyes, and it was already mid-morning. He realized that his whole body was soaking wet, and he was panting heavily.
The wind entered the room and blew on his exposed thighs, sending a shiver down his spine. He pulled his legs back under the thin blanket and called for Tao Li to come in and clean him up.
“Oh, my lord, why do you have so much cold sweat? Is there something wrong? Shall I change the medicine for you?”
Chu Xie propped himself up and took a moment to catch his breath.
“Summon the steward.”
Chu Xie’s voice sounded weary. “Is there still no news from the Ministry of Punishments?”
“No, but it should be coming soon. I heard last night that there was some commotion at Duke Rongguo’s residence. It’s likely they found something.”
While Tao Li wiped his arms with a wet cloth, Chu Xie seemed fatigued and lowered his head. He asked again, “How is Duan Se… doing?”
“She’s doing well. According to the latest letter that arrived, she has recently started cultivating a small piece of land to grow fruits. She even asked if she should send you some… but it seems they don’t taste good.”
“Just send them anyway; they might rot before they arrive. Write a letter to her and ask her to send the items through the Xu family to the Eastern Palace in eight days. Don’t arrange any meetings inside the capital to avoid being caught… As for what happens afterward, I can’t control it anymore; let Jiang Yanchi handle it.”
As Tao Li continued to clean him up, she chuckled. “My lord, are you planning to retire and return to your hometown? Why do you say you can’t control it anymore?”
However, the steward’s expression was somewhat grave.
Lord Zhu had mentioned more than once that his health was now extremely fragile. With the recent string of incidents and challenges, his days might be numbered.
Tao Li, on the other hand, wasn’t fully aware of these matters and continued with a smile, “If my lord is planning to return to his hometown, please take Tao Li with you. Tao Li has had enough of staying in this capital city; it’s not interesting at all.”
Chu Xie half-heartedly agreed and, after taking his medicine, felt incredibly tired. He turned over and fell asleep.
Four days passed in the blink of an eye. It was the day when Duke Rongguo’s residence was exposed.
On the first day of the royal banquet, the Dali Temple reported progress on the case of poisoning in the Eastern Palace, which directly pointed to Duke Rongguo’s residence. It was said that poison matching the one found in the Eastern Palace dishes had been discovered during the search of the residence.
The evidence was irrefutable, and it caused a great sensation.
The Ministry of Punishments acted swiftly, and all eight members of Duke Rongguo’s direct lineage were taken into custody and awaited trial. The rest of the family was placed under house arrest.
Chu Xie, who had been lurking for half a month, remained the center of attention at court. People speculated that this was another trick played by the powerful eunuch who was used to underhanded methods.
This morning, the only legitimate grandson of that Duke had just been transferred from the Ministry of Punishments to the Zhao Prison, and he was bound to go through some tough times.
As for Chu Xie, he still appeared as composed as ever. Over the past half month, there had been plenty of rumors circulating about him, with most suggesting that he had almost been beaten to death by the Crown Prince in the Zhao Prison.
Now, it seemed like those rumors were likely false, judging by his relaxed demeanor.
How does he resemble someone who had suffered severe injuries.
Xu Chunmu sat in the second row on the left, and to his right was Grand Tutor Su Mingan. Chu Xie sat on the left side of the front row, the highest-ranking position.
Xu Chunmu’s deputy, who had just received an imperial order to come to the capital, was seated behind him. He observed the Lord Zhangyin, who the young Marquis had as the center of his attention for the past six months.
He is truly a striking beauty.
It was the first time the deputy had seen a man who could be considered more beautiful than their young Marquis.
How did such a delicate and beautiful man climb to such a high position?
The deputy couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable when he noticed the small crimson mark on the young Marquis’s left pinky finger.
“Young Marquis, your hand…”
Showing such a conspicuous mark to others was bound to become a laughingstock. Still, Xu Chunmu appeared completely unfazed.
He must have a woman.
The deputy commander pounded his thigh with a fist. His young Marquis must have found a girl he liked here in the capital! This kind of thing, aside from women who applied makeup and adorned themselves, who else would mess around with men?
The young Marquis was known for his high standards in the Northern Border. No one expected that he would be deceived by a woman as soon as he arrived in the capital!
He drank a cup of wine in frustration.
The Crown Prince was absent today. When he went to the Ministry of Punishment to oversee the case involving Duke Rongguo’s mansion, for some reason, the Crown Prince seemed quite certain that the one responsible for poisoning the Eastern Palace was not the Chen family. He had initially intended to provide protection, but the evidence was overwhelming.
Today, when he went to sit in on the trial, it was to ensure a fair investigation and to prevent any foul play that might lead to an innocent person being wrongfully convicted.
As Chu Xie looked at the empty seat, his peripheral vision glanced lightly at Grand Tutor Su sitting directly across from him.
Grand Tutor Su raised a glass of strong wine, took a sip, and then gave him an almost imperceptible nod.
A heavy stone in Chu Xie’s heart finally dropped.
Su Mingan had served as Grand Tutor for four reigns and held a position equal to that of a chancellor. He had also served as the imperial tutor for two reigns.
If Su Mingan nodded, it meant that even if Jiang Yanchi decided to intervene, the case would be difficult to overturn.
During the banquet, when it was already halfway through, the Crown Prince, with a somewhat displeased expression, entered the hall and immediately downed two cups of osmanthus wine to suppress his emotions. His gaze swept over to Chu Xie’s side.
“Lord Chu seems to be in a good mood.”
Chu Xie guessed that the Crown Prince wanted to protect Duke Rongguo. Just like last time, when he tried to protect the Minister of Personnel.
The Crown Prince knew very well that Chu Xie was responsible for the poison.
But Chu Xie had found a way to completely evade the accusation. And then, in the blink of an eye, he shifted the blame to Duke Rongguo’s residence— In retrospect, when Chu Xie was taken to Zhao Prison, Duke Rongguo’s mansion had also vouched for him.
He had become a rabid dog, not caring about any feelings, biting anyone who dared to approach.
How could he be kept?
Just as they were speaking, someone brought new evidence from the investigation into the poisoning of the Eastern Palace at Duke Rongguo’s residence. Chu Xie was familiar with the script. He knew that it was a confession from the steward of Duke Rongguo’s residence, who voluntarily admitted guilt to reduce his sentence. Jiang Yanchi’s face grew darker as he saw the report.
When his eyes passed over that person, they were like hooks digging into Chu Xie’s flesh.
After that act, Minister Xue spoke in a calm tone, his words directed at Chu Xie, “Dismemberment? The Ministry of Punishment has been hasty in its handling of the case, and the punishment is excessively cruel. It might be better to change it to exile for now, and consider the fate of his family…”
Chu Xie coldly rejected, “Poisoning the Crown Prince, falsely implicating high-ranking officials, he deserves such a severe punishment.”
Jiang Yanchi clenched his fists, his fingernails digging deep into his palms.
Who poisoned the Crown Prince?
Who falsely implicated high-ranking officials?
Don’t tell me you have no idea.
However, unexpectedly, before the Crown Prince could speak, Young Marquis Xu on the opposite side stood up first and said, “No matter what, hastily concluding the case in four days is not appropriate. This matter involves the Duke of a Hundred Years’ residence; how can we be so reckless in deciding people’s fates…”
“Just his life, we won’t strip his title. This is already a very lenient punishment,” Chu Xie said, lifting his eyelids slightly, his eyes filled with hidden meaning. “What’s the matter, Young Marquis Xu? Do you think the crime of regicide can be ignored, or do you believe that, in your eyes, regicide is not a serious offense at all?”
The last sentence carried a clear sarcastic tone.
Who didn’t know that the Xu family had earned too many merits, always suspected of being too influential?
Xu Chunmu’s face turned pale, but before he could say anything, another general who had been with the Xu family for many years, General Huo, stood up and pointed directly at Chu Xie. “How dare you speak like this! We have shed blood and fought to defend the country. Those were all matters of risking our lives and shedding blood! How can you, a eunuch who has never set foot outside the capital, understand the loyalty and courage it takes?”
Every word he spoke was resolute, and the hall fell into complete silence.
Chu Xie held a small teacup in his right hand, took a sip, and then calmly placed it down with his little finger supporting the base of the cup, making no noise.
His composed demeanor was in stark contrast to the impulsive nature of the military general.
“General, you’ve toiled in warfare for many years.”
“I’m afraid it’s because the general has been stationed at the border for so long, far from the emperor’s eyes, that you’ve forgotten the rules of the capital over time… If the crime of regicide is not severely punished to serve as a deterrent, how can our future monarch entrust tens of thousands of troops to someone like the general, who is known for his loyalty and courage?”
Chu Xie skillfully twisted the words, leaving General Huo perplexed, while Xu Chunmu remained clear-headed.
He immediately retorted, “General Huo’s intention is not to spare those who commit regicide, but to ensure a fair judgment for the crime of regicide! In Duke Rongguo’s residence, poison was indeed found, but it is evident that this evidence alone is insufficient. Why rush to execute Duke Rongguo now?”
“How did it become my hurry to execute him?”
Chu Xie did not stand up, but instead looked genuinely puzzled as he gazed at Xu Chunmu. “Isn’t it his own wrongdoing, relying on being the Duke of a Hundred Years’ residence, that he wants to support his nephew as emperor? His heart is condemnable, and his intentions merit death.”
“Then he should be imprisoned for life, not—”
Chu Xie placed the cup in his hand back on the table with a heavy thud, as if he had exhausted his patience. His voice lost its false courtesy.
“The case has been concluded, Young Marquis Xu.”
The look in his eyes was clearly a warning, as sinister as a venomous snake coiled and ready to strike.
What’s going on?
Xu Chunmu looked at Chu Xie, who now appeared cold and resolute, and remembered the person who had meticulously polished his nails with a basin of flowers a few days ago. He felt a sense of unease.
Staring into that person’s eyes, Xu Chunmu bent down slightly and lowered his voice. “Ah Xie, what’s gotten into you… You’re not like this, you…”
“Call me Lord Chu.”
Chu Xie slowly stood up. A perfectly good palace banquet had once again been disrupted.
All because of Chu Xie.
As long as he was present, things always seemed murky.
Jiang Yanchi’s gaze darkened, but he saw the man bow respectfully and say, “Your Highness, how do you think we should rule on this?”
The words sounded respectful, but the cold glint in his eyes and the upturned corners of his mouth suggested otherwise. It was as if he was warning Jiang Yanchi:
“If I didn’t die in Zhao Prison, I will definitely break each of your arms one by one. I will pull you down from the throne, and you will never be reborn.”
Listening to the back-and-forth arguments, the Crown Prince felt his chest growing tighter, and anger simmered within him, ready to burst into flames at any moment.
He clenched the petition tightly in his hand, almost crumpling it in his anger, and beneath that anger, a strong sense of powerlessness surged.
Just as he was about to retort, his gaze suddenly fell on the hand extended to him in a bow.
Under the long sleeve, the little finger of his left hand was wrapped in white cloth, as if it had been injured.
His words were caught in his throat.
His gaze shifted from the hand to the person, and as he looked at Chu Xie’s self-satisfied smile, Jiang Yanchi’s heart skipped a beat.
His face turned paler.