Chapter 172: Bi Hongzi
For several consecutive days, Qu Chenzhou could only fall asleep after midnight. He had too many worries but couldn’t come up with a solution. He was anxious and unable to sleep.
Now, he no longer had the courage or the ability to sacrifice everything. In fact, it was even more difficult for him than before.
The purpose of Emperor Yu sending him to Liu Zhongming and sending Ning Wang and Huai Wang to pick him up was clear.
At that time, he knew that it was not a good thing for him to leave Jinxiu Ying in such a hurry. The red mark on his neck was insignificant to others.
When Liu Zhongming first encountered him, he at least knew to investigate who was behind him, let alone the Emperor. Now, he was testing the waters with Liu Zhongming, and he would go to Huai Wang in the future.
His fear and disgust were inescapable shadows. Just thinking about being alone with that person made him tremble and vomit uncontrollably.
But this was a hurdle that he couldn’t avoid.
If he crossed it, he would advance by leaps and bounds. If he couldn’t overcome it, countless others would be affected.
When he was in Jinxiu Ying, he never had the opportunity to smash a teacup or self-harm with porcelain shards. Liu Zhongming only gave him the freedom of one hand and came to feed him spoonful by spoonful during mealtime.
At first, he could remain cold as ice, but a few mouthfuls of food nearly broke him.
The plate of deboned spring river crucian carp was overturned on the ground, and the crisp sound of it shattering on the plate was accompanied by a slap landing on Liu Zhongming’s face.
Liu Zhongming let him do as he pleased until his tears fell onto the brocade quilt, and then another portion of food was brought in.
“Chenzhou, don’t hurt yourself. I’ll figure everything out.”
He had become utterly helpless, sobbing as he finished the meal, and he never had the thought of harming himself again.
But this hurdle still had to be crossed, and even he couldn’t think of any solutions. He didn’t know what other methods Liu Zhongming could come up with.
It was already late spring, and the days were getting brighter.
Today was the day he was supposed to perform divination. He got up at the usual hour of Mao and, just as Chen Shi arrived, breakfast was already laid out downstairs.
Since the night guard eunuch had also encountered a problem, the soldiers outside the door had been replaced with Southern Bureau guards personally selected by Bo Yan.
When exchanging the roster, Qu Chenzhou saw Bo Yan nodding at him ever so slightly.
The palace servants who served him knew he preferred quietness, so they quietly exited after finishing their tasks. On the table, besides the usual porridge and side dishes, there were also seasonal fruits and vegetables. The cut melons and fruits revealed a slight yellow edge of oiled paper.
Qu Chenzhou glanced at the figure standing outside the door and discreetly pulled out the folded paper, about the width of a finger.
On it were handwriting that he was all too familiar with, and what made his eyes slightly red was not just the handwriting.
He had lived two lifetimes for decades and had always known the feeling of tearing himself apart to pave the way for others, but no one had ever protected and supported him.
What he had once yearned for was now being offered to him, but he didn’t dare reach out and take it.
The future was uncertain, and he could hardly see his own path. Why provoke someone he shouldn’t provoke? He didn’t want to relive it again, nor did he want to see those bloody sheyuan nails.
No matter how passionate a heart was, there would always be a day it turned cold, especially when faced with someone as cold as iron and stone like him.
Liu Zhongming would eventually be disappointed and leave.
But no matter how he comforted himself, walking out of the Star Gazing Pavillion with the people who usually guided him, walking on the familiar path every day, Qu Chenzhou’s heart still thumped loudly. And as he approached that door, he forcibly suppressed it.
Unlike before, besides Emperor Yu and Yu Dexi, there were many people sitting lively in Qingxin Residence. In addition to the three Wang Yes, there were Bo Yan and Ling He.
And of course, Liu Zhongming.
Sure enough, everyone had gathered, just as the note had said.
Qu Chenzhou bowed to Emperor Yu, “I greet Your Majesty.”
Then he slightly turned around, “I greet the three Wang Yes.”
“Chenzhou, have a seat and let’s talk.”
Emperor Yu gestured to the empty seat between Huai Wang and Liu Zhongming. Qu Chenzhou sat down without looking at the gazes focused on him from all sides.
Normally, when others should have withdrawn, Emperor Yu did not speak, only signaling for Yu Dexi to hand over a scroll.
Qu Chenzhou quickly glanced through it, his expression slightly changing, showing surprise.
Yu Dexi explained with a smile, “Congratulations, Qu Si Tian. The Shizi has already investigated the whole matter and cleared your grievances.”
Qu Chenzhou’s gaze flickered to the left and then returned to the scroll. Yu Dexi’s tone was filled with joy, as if he genuinely felt happy for him.
“Both Xiao Liangzi and the other person have confessed. They admitted that they forged the imperial decree and brought you into the harem in the middle of the night with ulterior motives. Unfortunately, we haven’t found the mastermind yet, and the Shizi is vigorously investigating.”
“Wen Lan’s case is another matter.”
In front of Emperor Yu, Yu Dexi didn’t say much, as the affair of their secret rendezvous was clearly written in the scroll. Wen Lan had discovered that her beloved young captain, Gao Pan, had found a new lover and exchanged love letters with them. Unable to bear it, she disregarded the palace’s restrictions, sneaked out in the middle of the night, confronted them after their intimate encounter, and it escalated into a heated argument.
——The captain was afraid that Wen Lan would cause trouble and ruin his promising future, so he lost his mind for a moment and strangled her in the artificial mountain.
The evidence was conclusive, and the confessions were true. That was how Wen Lan’s case ended.
Qu Chenzhou flipped through the scroll twice, pursing his lips in silence.
“Chenzhou,” Emperor Yu called him, “this time it was all thanks to Zhongming’s efforts. Shouldn’t you thank him?”
Qu Chenzhou lowered his head slightly and immediately stood up to kneel and bow, “Thank you, Your Majesty, for clearing your humble subject’s innocence!”
Emperor Yu was momentarily startled but couldn’t help but laugh, “They said you have a difficult personality, and I didn’t believe it at first. I didn’t expect you to truly have a temper. You should learn from Zhongming, look at him.”
If someone else had said these words, Liu Zhongming might have stood up and exclaimed, “What are you looking at?” But now he had to suppress his temper and move aside.
Qu Chenzhou looked at him directly for the first time and noticed the crutch beside Liu Zhongming’s seat.
Ning Wang, who enjoyed watching the spectacle, chuckled, “Zhongming, you never listen to advice. Qu Sitian has already spoken, yet you still dare to go horse racing with Shiyan. You’re lucky, if it weren’t for Shiyan, you would have lost your leg.”
“What advice? Does he think he’s a living immortal?” Liu Zhongming restrained himself, his face turning pale with anger. “I ride my own horse, and if I fall and break my leg, what’s it to him? Should I kneel and beg him to spare my life if he curses me to death one day?”
“Zhongming! Stop talking nonsense,” Emperor Yu reprimanded in a stern voice. “Chenzhou’s words have proven effective. Next time, listen to what you should listen to.”
Liu Zhongming pouted, feeling somewhat wronged. He glanced at Qu Chenzhou, and both of them turned their faces away simultaneously.
Emperor Yu, observing their childish behavior, could no longer maintain his seriousness.
“Look at the two of you, one’s a needle and the other’s a stalk of wheat, and yet you’ve both reached such positions. So many people are watching, what’s the point of throwing tantrums?”
Only Ning Wang sneered, but seeing the calm expressions of those around him, he coughed awkwardly.
“Qu Sitian remembers Your Majesty’s admonition. I will keep it in mind,” Qu Chenzhou stood up and bowed, asking, “How should I divine today, Your Majesty?”
“Qu Si Tian, I have something to discuss,” this time, it was Ling He who spoke after receiving Emperor Yu’s signal.
Qu Chenzhou looked at Emperor Yu in confusion, then nodded at Ling He, “Minister Ling, please ask.”
“According to Qu Si Tian’s account, on that night, he was called out by someone. According to his statement, the path he took led to Yuxiu Palace, which is not on the way to either the Star Gazing Pavillion or Cining Palace. How did Qu Si Tian end up at Cining Palace?”
As soon as Ling He spoke, those who understood the situation immediately realized why everyone had gathered today. Even Ning Wang held his breath and stared at Ling He.
“It was dark at night, and the lights were dim. I was not familiar with the harem, and in a moment of panic, I chose the wrong path and unknowingly ended up at Cining Palace.”
Qu Chenzhou maintained a calm gaze as he looked at the person. “Minister Ling must have heard that as a spiritual speaker, I never lie.”
Ling He’s perpetually cold indifference seemed glued to his face.
“In my years as the head of the Dali Temple’s criminal department, I’ve had many people initially claim they didn’t lie.”
He opened the box beside him, stood up, and approached Qu Chenzhou, showing him three porcelain bottles embedded in brocade fabric. “If Qu Si Tian truly hasn’t lied, would you dare to try this?”
Qu Chenzhou glanced at Emperor Yu before taking one of the bottles and running his fingers over the words on it: “Bi, Hong, Zi.”
“These are the Bi Hongzi from my Jinxiu Ying. Qu Si Tian, I suppose you haven’t heard of them.”
Liu Zhongming instinctively wanted to shift his body, but the pain caused him to hiss, making his complexion even worse.
“Even if someone has a body of steel and iron, it can bring forth their ancestors. So, Qu Sitian, what do you say? His Majesty initially forbade me from interrogating you, but now it’s His Majesty’s intention.”
Qu Chenzhou clenched the porcelain bottle tightly, his fingertips turning white. He turned his head and softly called out, “Your Majesty…”
Yu Dexi, who was attending to Emperor Yu, sniffed his snuff without receiving a response. Time seemed to stretch infinitely, as if a knife slowly sliced from his head to his feet.
He knelt at the base of the steps and bit his lower lip, pleading, “Your Majesty, I truly haven’t lied. I wouldn’t lie.”
Emperor Yu exhaled deeply after a long time and spoke in a gentle tone.
“Chenzhou, I believe you. But living within the palace is already against the rules, and now you’ve been wandering around at night, with many accusations against you. I should provide an explanation.”
He bent down and touched Qu Chenzhou’s head. “There are some things, let Ling He ask you. Go with him.”
Qu Chenzhou’s eyes reddened, he pursed his lips, and bowed down. “I will heed Your Majesty’s words. I haven’t lied, and I won’t disappoint Your Majesty.”
Bo Yan, who had been standing by the door, extended his hand outside. “Qu Si Tian, please.”
Ling He followed closely, holding a scroll in his hands. Huai Wang raised his eyes slightly, his gaze sweeping over Yu Dexi, and then stood up and followed them.
It was only after Mu Jingchen also left the room that Ning Wang finally snapped out of his daze.
Liu Zhongming was about to grab the cane by his side when Emperor Yu spoke with a smile, “Zhongming, it’s not easy for you to walk, just sit here with me for a while. It’s been a long time since we played a game together.”
Yu Dexi supported him as they went to the chair by the bed, and brought a chessboard over, standing by the side.
Liu Zhongming first covered the black pieces’ basket and held it in his arms. “Your Majesty, let me play with the black pieces.”
“Sly little rascal,” Emperor Yu chuckled, “your chess skills are not bad. Ah Zheng has praised you before. Why do you always hold on to the black pieces?”
“I’m just a subject, Your Majesty. I’m afraid of losing. Please let me have the black piece.”
Liu Zhongming stood up to adjust the chessboard but forgot about his limp leg, causing him to gasp in pain.
“Stay seated,” Emperor Yu gestured for him to sit and scolded, “You’re reckless because you’re young. You should be more careful. I heard Jingyan say that Chenzhou provoked you and said something. Why don’t you take it to heart?”
With the black piece held in his hand, Liu Zhongming took a long time before placing it on the board.
He said dejectedly, “Your Majesty, I don’t want to serve in the same court as him. Why not take back my waist token and let me continue my business?”
“Nonsense!” Emperor Yu scolded with a smile. “You clashed with Ling He at the Dali Temple, and now that you’ve been promoted, you’re at odds with Chenzhou. Do you really think this court is a place for your mischief?”
Liu Zhongming was rendered speechless by the reprimand and hesitated for a while before answering, “Your Majesty, perhaps you have been deceived by him.”
“What do you mean?”
“I pitied him initially and softened my heart, spending a large sum of money to treat his face. But after he recovered, he became restless.”
“Wang Yw and others say that I mistreated him, but in reality, it was because he tried to swindle money from me several times and even attempted to seize my store. That’s why I punished him.”
“I’m not afraid to embarrass myself in front of Your Majesty, but only after he entered the palace did I find out that he even attempted to entangle himself with the three Wang Yes.”
With a stifled air, a black piece landed on the chessboard.
“Since Zhongming is so clever,” Emperor Yu asked him, “and you manage the Jinxiu Ying of thousands of people so well, how did those around you fail to keep an eye on him?”
Liu Zhongming coughed awkwardly. “I… I rarely see him during the day, only at night…”
Emperor Yu chuckled heartily. “Indeed, he did mention it to me, saying that due to his humble background, he desired wealth and wanted to climb up. It’s a common human desire.”
“He…” Liu Zhongming clenched his fists in frustration. “Your Majesty, you’re too biased towards him. I raised him for several years, and even if he were a dog, he should have known gratitude. Instead, he used me as a stepping stone and casually moved past it. I… I refuse to accept it!”
Emperor Yu calmly made his move. “It’s understandable for you to be angry. I can see that you have put a lot of effort into Chenzhou. I must say, his handwriting is quite good, almost identical to yours.”
Liu Zhongming scratched his head. “My father always punished me by making me copy the family rules over and over again. I let him… Your Majesty, please don’t tell my father.”
Emperor Yu nodded, unable to suppress his laughter. “You sly little rascal.”
“Your Majesty, even if you scold me, I have to say, Qu Chenzhou… “
Before Liu Zhongming could finish his sentence, a piercing scream came from a nearby side hall. “No… no…”
The chess piece in his hand landed firmly on the board, as if he hadn’t heard anything.
“I will never forgive him in my entire life…”