Chapter 160: Divination
“Where is Concubine Yu?” The Empress took her seat on the warm couch, looked around, and asked, “Why hasn’t she come?”
A palace maid outside the door quickly replied, “Replying to Your Majesty, Concubine Yu caught a cold a few days ago, and her condition has worsened these past few days. She’s also afraid of infecting others with the illness, so she reported her illness to you the other day.”
After hearing a few words from Min Yue, who was by her side, the Empress smiled and said, “I was only thinking about today and completely forgot about her request for leave. Since she’s ill, she should rest well. Moreover, even Qingru is out for a walk today. It wouldn’t be good to spread the illness.”
Liu Qingru, sitting below her, still had a faint smile on her face. “Thank you, Empress, for your care. These days, I am able to move around, but I can’t go too far, so I won’t be able to greet you frequently, Empress.”
Her figure had already started to show, and her dress bulged slightly at her lower abdomen.
“This is your first time, so you should be more careful. There will be plenty of opportunities to greet me in the future, no need to rush. Listen to the imperial physician’s advice. If there’s anything you need, just let me know.”
“Thank you, Empress.”
Liu Qingru was about to bow and express her gratitude but was stopped by the Empress.
“No need for too much courtesy.” Taking the hand warmer, the Empress instructed, “Let them come in.”
The gazes of the concubines in the room all focused on the swaying bead curtain of the door.
Once inside the palace gates, except for occasional encounters with their own families, they rarely had the opportunity to see other men.
They had heard before the New Year that the newly appointed Si Tian Guan lived in the palace. After witnessing the fate of Wen Jieyu, they no longer had the chance to meet with the person. At most, they could catch a glimpse from afar during palace banquets.
The palace was full of gossip, and although people dared not speak openly, private conversations had long spread throughout the various palaces.
The Emperor’s favoritism towards Qu Sitian goes without saying, and those chatty palace maids only gossip about trivial matters.
— Yesterday, Qu Sitian stood on the learning path for a while. Look at him, he looks good and far from being indifferent. He even smiles at people. His smile… they felt embarrassed just looking at it.
— Have you seen Qu Sitian during meals? I don’t know when I’ll have the chance to visit the Stargazing Pavilion again.
— Serving meals isn’t an everyday opportunity but I’ve even seen Qu Sitian divining! He’s like a deity. With just one glance, he knows everything. He’s much more impressive than those previous charlatans!
— When will he ever look at me like that?
— Stop daydreaming. Even if he looks at you, what’s the big deal? Do you expect him to be interested in an ugly girl like you?
Amidst the laughter and banter, there were also people who sneered disdainfully — He’s just a low-born, if it were in the past, who would have bothered to give him a second glance?
Someone immediately retorted with sharp words — What’s wrong with being low-born? In the palace, except for the masters, who isn’t serving someone? Why should they be considered superior?
The once-silent palace now had a new topic of discussion, and the palace ladies naturally heard about it. Since the Emperor had sent word that Qu Sitian would come to divine for them today, their curious minds couldn’t resist the temptation to witness the spectacle.
After a short while, footsteps entered from outside the door. A young eunuch whispered a report behind the bead curtain and then stepped aside. Someone emerged from behind and bowed down. It was a young man with a slender figure.
“Official Qu Chenzhou pays respects to all the Niang Niangs.”
“Come in,” the Empress said thoughtfully, glancing at Liu Qingru, and smiled, “We’ve all been waiting for you. How can we look if you’re outside?”
The bead curtain parted, and Qu Chenzhou entered the warm chamber, bowing his head slightly. “Greetings to all the Niang Niangs.”
Most of the concubines in the room were of similar age to the Empress, but there were also some who were younger than Liu Qingru. When they caught sight of Qu Chenzhou’s profile hidden by scattered hair, they couldn’t help but laugh behind their handkerchiefs.
The Empress’s gaze swept over, and upon seeing their improper amusement being suppressed, she spoke in a calm voice, “Rise.”
Qu Chenzhou stood up and said softly, “Today, under the Emperor’s orders, I am here to divine for all the Niang Niangs. I apologize if it is presumptuous, and I hope the Niang Niangs can forgive me.”
“If it is the Emperor’s order, there is no question of presumption,” the Empress nodded at him. “Please proceed.”
This was not the first time she had seen Qu Chenzhou. Previously, she hadn’t heard about his enchanting eyes, but now, in the instant their gazes met, an uneasy feeling surged within her heart. It was as if all those past events were manifesting beneath those eyes, dragged from the dark corners into the public eye, about to be exposed to everyone in the next moment.
Before the Empress could change her expression, Qu Chenzhou took a step back. The palace attendants brought forward a brush, ink, and a tray, spreading out floral stationery.
The Empress watched as he dipped the brush into the ink, his strokes steady and flowing, completing the calligraphy effortlessly. Unable to hold back her praise, she said, “Qu Sitian, you have excellent handwriting. You seem like a scion of a prestigious family.”
Qu Chenzhou continued to write without pause, calmly responding, “Your Majesty overestimates me.”
After a moment, the floral stationery was presented, displaying two characters – “Feng He” (Phoenix and Harmony).
It was just a common auspicious phrase, but it suited the occasion.
The weight in the Empress’s heart finally lifted, and she smiled, saying, “The Emperor mentioned that Qu Sitian can discern good and bad fortunes. Why did you choose only these two words? To be vague about my situation?”
Qu Chenzhou stood in his original position, his hands hanging down, and replied, “Your Majesty, I dare not claim to be able to glimpse the celestial mysteries. I can only rely on these eyes to see some divinatory signs. Without such signs, it indicates harmony and happiness. I dare not be vague with Your Majesty.”
As he was appointed and trusted by the Emperor, the Empress didn’t want to say much. The palace attendants then led him to Consort Liu’s presence.
Their gazes met with the same calmness, as if nothing separated them.
Qu Chenzhou raised his brush again, and this time, the floral stationery had a few more characters – “On the sixth day of the sixth month, clouds obscure the moon.”
The Empress sat close by, glanced at it, and asked, “Qu Sitian, what does this divination mean?”
All eyes focused on Consort Liu, as this divination clearly pertained to her unborn child. “Clouds obscure the moon” was not a pleasant phrase.
When others said it, it was fine, but when these words were written by Qu Chenzhou’s brush, it seemed to carry a hint of gunpowder.
Consort Liu lightly smiled, holding the floral stationery. “It’s a coincidence that it falls on the sixth day of the sixth month. The imperial physician said the child is expected to be born in June. May I ask, Qu Sitian, what is your interpretation?”
“Forgive my ignorance,” Qu Chenzhou bowed, “I can only divine but not interpret. I apologize if it disappoints the two Niang Niangs.”
“You can’t interpret?” The Empress seemed quite interested in this remark. She chuckled and asked, “Did Qu Sitian say the same thing to the Emperor? What I heard is not the same.”
Qu Chenzhou arched his hand and said, “The Emperor is gracious and benevolent towards me, allowing me to speak freely. I took the liberty to make a guess. If the ladies don’t blame me…”
The faint smile at the corner of the Empress’s mouth had yet to fully form when she heard him continue, “This official troubles Niang Niangs to seek confirmation from the Emperor’s instructions. I dare not evade them.”
It was evident that he was using the Emperor as a support—wanting him to be obedient and compliant, then they also need to seek the Emperor’s approval.
Indeed, the fact was as such. As the Emperor’s trusted attendant, Qu Sitian had always followed the orders of the Emperor alone.
Setting aside whether his divinations were truly accurate, as long as he held this position, no one dared to go against the Emperor and ask the Qu Sitian to do something inappropriate.
The Empress didn’t expect her punch to feel like hitting cotton. The gazes of those around, each harboring their own thoughts, seemed to be watching a play, waiting for her to cause another scene with the Emperor because of Qu Sitian. She could only suppress her frustration.
Just as she was about to wave her hand to continue, she saw Liu Qingru tremble the floral stationery.
“Qu Sitian’s handwriting is quite good. It looks familiar.”
Compared to the Empress, Liu Qingru’s words drew even more attention.
Inside the palace walls, if there was one person who could openly make trouble for Qu Sitian, it was none other than Liu Qingru, who was carrying the Dragon Child.
Moreover, everyone knew about the conflicts between Qu Sitian and Liu Shizi.
Liu Qingru loved her younger brother dearly, and with this divination, it was impossible for her to remain silent.
Qu Chenzhou turned towards Liu Qingru, lowering his brows and meeting her gaze with the same calmness as when he answered the Empress, “It was taught by the Shizi.”
“Zhongming has indeed paid enough attention to you,” Liu Qingru smiled lightly, her expression frosty, “It’s fortunate that he did so. Qu Sitian, at such a young age, articulate and presentable, can hold his own in any setting without embarrassment.”
Qu Chenzhou’s brows and lashes flickered a few times. He lowered his gaze and said, “Thank you for your praise, Niang Niang.”
“Thank me?” Liu Qingru pointed at him as if lecturing, “I’m not the one who taught you. However, our Zhongming is still young and ignorant. He doesn’t know that one’s appearance and eloquence are far less important than one’s character. Even if someone is of humble origin, they should understand the principles of propriety, righteousness, integrity, and honor.”
The room fell into silence, even the Empress smiled and remained silent, refraining from interjecting.
Qu Chenzhou stood quietly for a moment, a hint of redness seeming to appear at the corner of his eyes. He did not meet Liu Qingru’s gaze, but only pursed his lips and softly replied, ” Shizi did teach me that. Without experiencing hardship, one cannot advise others to be virtuous. Does the Noble Consort know this?”
All eyes were fixed on him. His tone was gentle, but the meaning behind his words carried a sharp edge. No one had ever dared to speak to Liu Qingru in such a manner.
Liu Qingru tightened her grip on the armrest, curling her lips into a smile. With the support of the palace attendants, she rose from her seat and approached him, pointing her slender finger at his shoulder.
“Silver-tongued, you speak well.”
Her body felt heavy. Since the divination was over, she bid her farewell and left.
The Empress naturally did not stop her. She immediately sent someone to escort Liu Qingru out, her feelings a mix of joy and worry.
Since Liu Qingru entered the palace, she had never encountered such a setback from anyone. Being criticized and sent away made her feel somewhat relieved.
However, when she looked back, she saw the Si Tian Guan, who was highly favored by the Emperor. She gained no benefits from him and instead spent her days in unease due to past events. It didn’t seem like something worth celebrating.
Although Liu Qingru had left, the divination on the other side had to continue.
With Consort Yu absent, the divination from Consort Ming was quickly written on floral stationery and brought over by palace attendants.
“Peaches leave the branches in March.”
Consort Ming took just one glance before covering her face with a handkerchief and burst into tears.
The room became even quieter than before.
Ever since the incident in the Left Valiant Camp, the fire had spread to the Qi Wang.
It was said that Ren Rui’s indiscriminate killings were all at the instigation of the Qi Wang. It was even revealed that Feng Yu, a trusted general under Qi Wang, was involved. They said that Qi Wang had long relied on his military power to commit wanton killings, causing public resentment to boil.
It was said that after Liu’s Shizi obtained the testimonies, he even avoided suspicion and handed over the people involved in the Left Valiant Camp incident to the Dali Temple for interrogation.
Shao Qing Ling He of the Dali Temple personally conducted the interrogation.
Although no one knew what was stated in the submitted testimonies, the Emperor’s attitude indicated that Qi Wang was likely to be severely punished, if not killed.
No one knew what had happened, nor did they understand why the Emperor was so furious.
Consort Ming used every means possible to plead with the Emperor, citing Qi Wang’s unwavering loyalty, and begged for another chance for Qi Wang to reform. However, she never received a clear answer from the Emperor.
Now, this seemingly ambiguous divination had pierced through her stubborn persistence like a sharp sword.
Qi Wang, Mu Jingde, was indeed born in March, and his childhood nickname was Peach.
“Niang Niang… Qu Sitian…” Consort Ming suddenly fell to her knees, crying so intensely that she couldn’t speak, “I beg… I beg the Emperor…”
Qu Chenzhou was caught by her grabbing onto his clothes, but he saw the palace attendants pull Consort Ming’s hand away and help her up.
He took a few steps back and stood by the beaded curtain, silently observing the chaos inside the room. Before being led away by the palace attendants, he glanced at the empty seat next to Consort Ming.
Consort Yu had indeed not come.
As he walked along the corridor, guided by the palace attendants, he played with the wooden hairpin in his sleeve. It seemed that it was still there, one side engraved with the character “Ming” and the other with the character “Zhou.”
When the wooden hairpin was handed to him by Bai Shiyan, he keenly sensed that it was not the one Zhongming had given him before.
In that moment, mixed emotions overwhelmed him, and he couldn’t tell whether it was love or hate, bitterness or sweetness. He felt suffocated, as if he couldn’t catch his breath.
Returning to the palace, everything seemed to blur together. His past life felt like it had just happened yesterday, while the two years of entanglement with Zhongming in the separate courtyard after his rebirth felt like a beautiful dream in his hopeless life.
Since his return to the palace from the Jinxi Academy, Zhongming often used this method to deliver letters to him. Those seemingly inconspicuous little things were all made by Zhongming’s own hands.
By weighing the hairpin, he could guess what was inside. The broken hairpin was destroyed in the fire, and the familiar handwriting was on the paper hidden inside.
“Consort Yu, the three blessings in the palace refer to Zhou Huaishan. He knows the whole truth. If there is an urgent matter in the palace, seek help from Sister.”
Although this news was unexpected, it was not impossible.
Bai Shiyan had told him before that Zhongming had regained his memories. But what shocked him was that Zhongming even knew about this matter.
Considering all this, based on his understanding of Huai Wang, it was almost self-evident what had happened after his death.
Moreover, today’s confrontation with Consort Liu was undoubtedly at Zhongming’s request. By completely opposing the Liu family within the palace and the court, Zhongming was protecting him.
However, he no longer had a way back.
That being the case, as two people from different lifetimes, with so much love, hatred, emotions, and entanglements, he didn’t know how to turn back or how to face others.
As he walked along a corridor that led to its end, just passing through the Moon Cave Gate, he saw two people walking towards him. They were chatting and laughing, but as soon as they made eye contact with him, they fell silent instantly.
After several months, they unexpectedly met again, just a few steps away.
Author’s note: A few words to say. Shizi is steadfast in pursuing his career and won’t let anyone down or hold back progress. Both characters have disappointed each other, but deep down, they still have feelings for each other. It won’t turn into a one-sided groveling situation. Zhongming will become gentle and resilient, never disappointing again. Chenzhou’s reckless and self-sacrificing nature also needs some consideration. Trust me, if we’ve made it through over 150 chapters without breaking, we won’t break in the future.