Chapter 163: Take Care
“Whose side is he on?” Consort Yu was puzzled. “Are you suspecting that he’s on Jingchen’s side?”
“Jingchen? Everyone thinks he’s on Jingchen’s side, and if that were the case, there wouldn’t be any need for suspicion,” Mu Jingyan chuckled. “I’m afraid it’s someone else.”
Mu Jingchen was far removed from them, always by Consort Xian’s sickbed, unfamiliar with political struggles. If he was feeling anxious at the moment and happened to encounter this peculiar-looking child seeking help, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for him to act on it.
Furthermore, when he observed the recent developments in the palace, Qi Wang’s downfall had already been determined. The Emperor had visited Consort Xian’s palace five times in the past two months, seemingly with the intention of bestowing the crown on Mu Jingchen.
According to common sense, this speculation was reasonable.
However, precisely because things were going too smoothly, too naturally, and coupled with the Emperor’s current trust in Qu Sitian, Mu Jingyan couldn’t help but feel a sense of unease.
Although the three of them would send their own people to infiltrate openly or covertly, they all knew very well that it was merely a means to accomplish their goals. No one expected any Si Tian Guan to live for long.
A Si Tian Guan who lived too long and received too much favor would instead be detrimental to them, just like the current situation with Qu Sitian and Mu Jingchen.
Mu Jingchen sent a half-grown child up there, and with the Liang family’s attitude, what could they achieve?
Did he really believe from the beginning that Qu Sitian could sway the Emperor? Did that child truly possess some kind of prophetic ability?
If that were the case, hadn’t Mu Jingchen considered that the more the Emperor trusted Qu Sitian, the further Mu Jingchen himself would be from the throne?
Is making a bridal dress for someone else just for the sake of a Wang Ye title worth it? Is it enough for Mu Jingchen?
Mu Jingyan propped his forehead with his hand, feeling as if he had fallen into a maze with no way out. Whichever direction he took seemed to be a dead end.
Consort Yu’s most cherished heart was her son, and seeing him furrowing his brow at this moment made her even more anxious.
“Jingyan, it doesn’t matter whose side he’s on. What should I do now if he really possesses that ability?”
“Why panic?” Mu Jingyan frowned. “Even if he does possess it, so what? How many people in this palace are innocent? Why are you the only one so afraid?”
“I…” Consort Yu had a persistent worry deep in her heart, even if she knew it would anger her son. “Jingyan, I haven’t been able to sleep well for a long time. Can you… take him… to your place?”
Her subsequent words disappeared in her son’s gaze.
“Are you scared, Royal Mother?”
Consort Yu was naturally afraid, but her fear didn’t start from that one night. It began when her son found that person.
Since then, her wariness and calculations toward her son had been laid bare before him. She didn’t know what kind of sinister creature she had given birth to.
“That place is the safest, so that neither of your uncles will have any ideas,” Mu Jingyan looked up at her. “I go to see him often. Isn’t that filial enough?”
Consort Yu’s scalp tightened, and almost instinctively, she looked out the window.
Mu Jingyan smiled. “As long as you don’t say anything, no one will know. Don’t scare yourself. It has been several years, and you should understand him by now. He is incredibly foolish, considering his descendants more important than anything else. He only has me now, so he will naturally listen obediently.”
Consort Yu didn’t dare to say anything further and hesitantly asked, “What about Qu Sitian… won’t he cause us trouble?”
“He should take care of himself first.”
Mu Jingyan calmly brewed tea. “The Empress had a disagreement with him over the Emperor, and there was also the incident at the palace banquet. Will she be willing to let it go easily?”
“Not to mention Consort Liu. When has the Liu family ever suffered such a loss? Their fight with Qu Chenzhou is far from over. Are you implying that you’ve just met the Emperor today, do you think he would focus solely on one person?”
“And he also gave an accurate divination for Consort Ming. Once Mu Jingde recovers from this setback, how could he let him off easily?”
Upon hearing his words, Consort Yu’s anxious heart finally calmed down.
“That’s true. I heard that the Emperor wanted Qu Sitian to apologize to Consort Liu. Yesterday, he kneeled in front of Lijing Palace for an hour but didn’t even enter the palace gates. Liu Qingru intends to support Liu Zhongming. It won’t be easy for Qu Sitian for a while. It seems the Emperor still favors the Liu family.”
“The Emperor isn’t favoring the Liu family,” Mu Jingyan sneered. “He elevated two people at the same time. He’s playing both sides. If he sincerely wanted someone to apologize to you, why would he grant the Xuan Mang Woven Gold Robe? He’s afraid that the Liu family, because of the child in their womb and the position in Jinxiu Ying, will become too arrogant.”
“That’s good…” Consort Yu settled down and patted her chest. “That’s good.”
Mu Jingyan glanced at her with disgust. “You’re settling down too early.”
Consort Yu looked bewildered.
“Last year, when the Left Valiant Camp had an incident, losing Ren Rui that would have been fine. But those crazy dogs were biting and clawing to save their own lives. I lost several valuable people on my side.”
Consort Yu asked timidly, “Can’t you just win them over? As long as your uncle has money…”
“That’s where the trouble lies,” Mu Jingyan paused.
Although he advised his mother to calm down, there were some things that couldn’t be bypassed, especially with the newly appointed Si Tian Guan.
To the point that he had gradually come to believe that this Qu Chenzhou truly possessed extraordinary prophetic abilities.
“Royal Mother, you’re in the palace, but you’re not well-informed about court news. Because of Qu Chenzhou, the Emperor paid particular attention to the salt and iron smuggling and discovered the loopholes in the salt trade in Jiangnan.”
“I heard it was a divination mentioning ‘sprinkle salt as snow, gold mountain falls.’ When it mentioned salt, the Emperor sent people to investigate, and it has already implicated uncle.”
Consort Yu’s face turned pale. “Will there be consequences?”
“Fortunately, I received some information in advance and alerted uncle. He can quickly revise the accounts, maybe even get through this, but it’s not convenient to spend a large amount of money the next little bit.”
“We don’t know to what extent the Emperor intends to investigate or whom he will send.”
Mu Jingyan’s recent string of frustrations made him even more impatient when he saw his mother overreacting to trivial matters.
Everyone around him seemed foolish, only dragging him down.
“Now, even Rong Jiuan, who drafts edicts for the Emperor, is tight-lipped, and I can’t gather any information. It is said that he had a close relationship with Mu Jingde before. I don’t know if this time he will help Mu Jingde turn the tide.”
He anxiously pinched his brow. He had thought he had gathered quite a number of people, but now he realized that unless they occupied that position, there would always be unforeseen setbacks.
Looking at the sun, it was almost time.
Consort Yu personally unfolded the cloak and draped it over her son. Somehow, she felt relieved.
Emperor Yu practiced filial piety and allowed his sons to regularly enter the palace to serve their mother. She didn’t know whether to anticipate this moment or fear it.
“Royal Mother, rest for a while,” Mu Jingyan stood at the steps, waiting for her to fasten the belt. He continued, “When you’re in good health, you can serve the Emperor well and say something that he can listen to. Currently, the most important thing is to handle Mu Jingde’s situation carefully and not give him a chance to turn the tables.”
These words added even more pressure on Consort Yu.
“I… I know, but what you mentioned earlier might not be easy. Liu Qingru is extremely cautious, and recently, the Emperor has been showing sympathy towards her, claiming that she was mistreated by Qu Chenzhou. He visits her daily, so how can I do anything without raising suspicion?”
Mu Jingyan put on his snow hat and was about to leave when he heard her words. His footsteps suddenly halted.
“Jingyan? What’s wrong?”
“It’s nothing, but your words just made me suddenly think…”
Mu Jingyan felt a twitch in his eyelid and muttered to himself.
“After Qu Chenzhou entered the palace, Liu Zhongming took over Jinxiu Ying, Liu Qingru received the Emperor’s favor and protection, Mu Jingde was dragged down because of Ren Rui, the Empress Dowager had a dispute with the Emperor, and even on my side, I lost several people. And now, my uncle is under close scrutiny…”
“Among all the people involved, the only one who came out unscathed… is the Liu family. Not only that, they gained a lot of benefits.”
His gaze flickered. “Do you think… Qu Chenzhou could be siding with the Liu family?”
“How is that possible?” Consort Yu laughed at his wild idea. “Can’t you see how Liu Zhongming treats him? Even Liu Qingru is causing him trouble.”
He felt a subtle unease in his heart, as if he had experienced this unfounded panic before.
Not to mention the distant past, during the Spring Banquet, that drowning incident… it was too coincidental. If Liu Weiying hadn’t died, the Bai and Liu families would have descended into chaos. How could the current situation have occurred?
“And what happened to Liu Qingru causing trouble for him?” he asked himself softly. “The Emperor rewarded him with the Xuan Mang Woven Golden Robe.”
Consort Yu also became anxious. “But how is that possible?”
“What if they are playing a cat-and-mouse game?” Mu Jingyan muttered to himself. “Qu Chenzhou’s background… indeed, it should be thoroughly investigated.”
Qu Chenzhou knelt below the steps, his gaze fixed on his moving shadow.
The palace maids moved silently around him as if they hadn’t seen him at all.
The cotton curtain fluttered once again, and he once again cupped his hands and spoke aloud, “Minister Qu Chenzhou requests an audience with the esteemed Consort.”
He had thought that he would be ignored once again, but the hem of the palace dress stopped not far in front of him.
“Qu Sitian, the Consort is calling you inside.”
It took less than half an hour, a short time, but his sister’s heart was still soft after all.
He stood up, lightly tapped his knee, glanced at the sun, and followed the senior palace maid through the palace gate.
As the cotton curtain fell behind him, a warm hand warmer was placed in his embrace. The palace maid pointed behind the gauze curtain and said, “Qu Sitian, the Consort is waiting for you inside.”
He stood outside without moving.
The gauze curtain was thin, allowing both individuals inside to see each other clearly.
“Chenzhou,” Liu Qingru softly called him, “come in. Let me have a look at you, alright?”
That familiar figure approached step by step, lifted the gauze curtain, and quietly waited.
His breathing quickened, but he didn’t glance sideways. He moved forward step by step, brushing past someone, and bowed to Liu Qingru. “Minister Qu Chenzhou pays respects to the esteemed Consort.”
Liu Qingru glanced at Liu Zhongming and called out to him, “Chenzhou…”
Qu Chenzhou understood what she wanted to say when she hesitated. His gaze remained fixed on the ground. “As the Consort commands.”
“Zhongming said he has something to say to you,” Liu Qingru glanced at him and sighed softly. “If you don’t want to listen now, I can send him back. When you’re in the mood to see him, I’ll have him come over another day. How about that?”
Qu Chenzhou pursed his lips slightly, sensing the lingering gaze behind him. After a moment, he replied, “As the Consort wishes.”
Liu Qingru anxiously glanced at the two of them and turned to the inner room.
Instead of cooling down, the air inside the room suddenly became hot. The sound of someone’s increasingly heavy breathing could be heard.
He stood in place, eyes cast downward, waiting for a moment. Then he nodded slightly. “If there’s nothing else, please return Shizi.”
“There… there is something!” Liu Zhongming suddenly seemed to awaken and blocked the gauze curtain. He knew they didn’t have much time today and it wasn’t a time for reminiscing. However, he had a lot on his mind and didn’t know which words to start with.
“I… I remember everything now…” He looked at the narrow and thin shoulders in front of him, his soul intertwined with memories, but ultimately, he didn’t dare to reach out. He trembled slightly and repeated, “I remember everything from the past.”
Qu Chenzhou closed his eyes and responded, “Congratulations.”
Liu Zhongming felt as if a knife had pierced through his heart with those two words, leaving him somewhat at a loss. “You… you should sit down first.”
Qu Chenzhou took a seat on a nearby chair.
“It’s cold outside…” a cup of tea was placed in front of him. “Have something hot to drink.”
His gaze slowly lifted from the tea, finally meeting the other person’s eyes.
“If the Shizi doesn’t have urgent matters, please take your leave. The Consort and I still have things to discuss.”
Liu Zhongming awkwardly withdrew his hand, knowing that if he didn’t say something now, he wouldn’t be able to stay any longer.
“The hairpin that Shiyan gave you… you… have you seen it?”
Before waiting for the other person to nod, he hurriedly explained, “That’s a hairpin I recently had made. It’s not yours. Yours…”
“Throw it away,” Qu Chenzhou flicked his fingers in his sleeve, his gaze lowered as he spoke indifferently, “There’s no meaning in keeping it. Or does Shizi want me to return to servitude?”
Liu Zhongming’s throat tightened. He didn’t dare to reach into his embrace and could only dryly return to the previous topic. “Huai Wang… placed Zhou Huaishan in Chaoyang Palace, replacing the previous Gonggong named Three Blessing.”
Qu Chenzhou nodded.
“The Song family kept Zhou Huaishan to guard against Huai Wang. Huai Wang made the first move and snatched him away, causing a rift between the two sides.”
“If he’s kept outside, the Song family might not hesitate to make a move. Now that Zhou Huaishan is alive, he poses an even greater threat to the Song family. With Huai Wang’s personality, if he wants to go all out, the Song family won’t be able to keep a single person.”
“If Zhou Huaishan dies, the Song family loses the leverage to intimidate Huai Wang, and Huai Wang will truly break ties with the Song family, losing the best backing he had.”
“It depends on who between them is more desperate, neither can afford to lose.”
“But Consort Yu is different. She has a timid and cautious personality, naturally afraid to take risks. With Zhou Huaishan under her watchful eyes, it’s the safest and most reliable option. However… the person can’t leave Chaoyang Palace. It won’t be easy for her to meet him one time.”
He spoke up, and Liu Zhongming’s heart gradually settled.
In their illusion, it felt as if they were still sitting in the reception hall of the courtyard, calmly discussing matters. But Liu Zhongming knew that those times might never return.
“Yes,” he responded softly, “I asked my sister. She said this Three Blessings is primarily responsible for cleaning the inner courtyard and rarely leaves Chaoyang Palace.”
“If I could go to Chaoyang Palace to divine for Consort Yu, perhaps I could find an opportunity to meet…”
“Chenzhou!” he immediately interrupted, then quickly softened his tone, “Huai Wang is definitely keeping a close eye on that place. Don’t let him catch on. Besides, the palace is not a place for long stays. You can’t live here forever.”
Qu Chenzhou caressed the hand warmer without saying a word.
Liu Zhongming felt anxious, but entering the palace was difficult, and leaving was even harder. He had no clue, so he had to lower his voice and console, “If you have any ideas, we’ll be waiting outside to support you. Just don’t act recklessly.”
The other party was like a tofu fallen into an ash pit, he didn’t dare to touch or provoke him.
“Fortunately, the matters involving Qi Wang are currently blocking their view of you.”
“My sister and I will do our best to take care of things, but it’s not easy to act within the palace. You must be cautious and not be impulsive.”
“According to Jiuan, the Emperor has made up his mind after seeing your divination. He plans to send Qi Wang to his fiefdom next month.”
Qu Chenzhou’s heart skipped a beat. “What’s the likelihood?”
“Over seventy percent,” the cup of hot tea remained in his hand. Liu Zhongming thought of offering it several times but only sat in place. “The Tang family and Huai Wang are probably aware as well. Everyone is waiting for the opportunity when Qi Wang sets off. During this time… perhaps I won’t be able to enter the palace frequently…”
“The Shizi must be busy,” Qu Chenzhou said indifferently. “I will do my utmost to protect the esteemed consort.”
Liu Zhongming didn’t mean it that way. After a moment of silence, he barely regained his voice.
“There’s one more thing… I remembered it. The garrison stationed near Ten Li Pavilion was once the main force for Huai Wang’s palace coup. I’ll make sure Shi Yan pays attention to it, but just in case, we should consider striking first.”
“There’s nothing else… I’ll take my leave,” he looked at Qu Chenzhou’s calm expression, then lowered his head. “Take care.”
The heavy cotton curtain outside swayed and made a sound as it hit the door frame. The cold wind that seeped in through the gap was instantly enveloped by the warmth inside the room.
Qu Chenzhou slowly lifted his eyes.
“Zhongming… take care.”
Author’s Note: The Emperor and Huai Wang are both meticulous and suspicious, so Chenzhou has to be ruthless to himself.