Chapter 212: The Yellow Register
The tree that had once been stained with blood was uprooted, its roots completely removed from the earth. In its place, several peach trees were planted in the courtyard.
Peach blossoms in March, they bloomed early but withered quickly. After being confined to the palace for a few days, he could watch the petals go from vibrant to faded.
Qu Chenzhou reclined in the Taishi chair, the flower branches swaying in the gentle breeze, casting dappled shadows that alternated between brightness and dimness before his eyes.
This should have been an opportunity to enjoy a leisurely half day, but his mind was restless, and he had no inclination to appreciate the beauty of spring.
Being placed under house arrest was an outcome he hadn’t anticipated, and he even felt some regret about it—so much suffering endured, so why couldn’t he have gritted his teeth a bit longer and simply gone along with the Emperor’s wishes to acknowledge the situation?
But he knew that was just wishful thinking. No matter how many times he stood in front of those two people, he couldn’t convince himself.
All he could do was wait for the outcome within the narrow confines of this courtyard.
Liu Zhongming had been extremely busy recently. Without his cooperation, he had to handle everything himself, occasionally sending messages to him. But he hadn’t seen him in person.
Since Huai Wang knew about their connection, he was likely keeping a close watch on them. Even if there was that secret passageway, meeting wouldn’t be so simple anymore.
Footsteps approached from the direction of the hanging flower gate, stopping not far away. The person didn’t dare to disturb him.
He recognized the sound and squinted his eyes before greeting, “Steward Lin.”
Steward Lin walked up briskly, speaking softly as if afraid to disturb him, “Chenzhou, since you have some time, wouldn’t it be better to rest for a while?”
“I’m fine, can’t sleep.” He draped his cloak and stood up, motioning for the attendants to follow him to the study. Once inside, he watched as Steward Lin closed the door before extending his hand.
Steward Lin had always only passed on messages and didn’t know the content. But seeing Qu Chenzhou’s brow furrowing more and more, he couldn’t help but ask with concern, “Chenzhou, is there something not quite right?”
Qu Chenzhou smiled, “It’s nothing.”
Steward Lin knew his habits. He stood by the writing desk for a moment and only left when he saw Qu Chenzhou motioning for him to. He exited quietly.
No divination cast.
Qu Chenzhou reclined in the chair, covering his face with the letter.
Currently, he had limited interactions with people, and he didn’t dare to scheme and manipulate the Emperor while caught in this turmoil. Even Steward Lin had no divination to offer, and if that were the case, he truly couldn’t be of any help.
Although he had been confined within these walls for some time, today was the first day he felt like he was truly wasting time. He paced back and forth in the study, ultimately unable to resist returning to his bedroom and activating the mechanism.
The previously empty space was now filled with various items of different sizes. Qu Chenzhou lit the oil lamp on the wall, picked up a piece of soft cloth, and hadn’t even wiped down a few items when the ground beneath him trembled slightly.
Dropping the cloth, he suppressed his restlessness and excitement, focusing on the approaching light. At the end of that light, as he expected, stood Liu Zhongming.
After several days without seeing him, it felt like years had passed, yet the embrace still offered warmth like the first time.
However, they both understood that now wasn’t the time for tender embraces.
“Just received the letter. Why did you come in person after just sending the message?”
“Missed you. Did you see the message?” Liu Zhongming held him tight, reluctant to let go even for a moment. He whispered by his ear, “About Consort Yu?”
“Saw it. Thankfully, we have Sister and Consort Xian,” Qu Chenzhou’s hand smoothed their hair, and he sighed softly, “We have to act quickly too. How’s the situation with Zhiwei?”
Liu Zhongming rested his head against Qu Chenzhou’s neck, his eyes half-closed, as if he were about to fall asleep from exhaustion.
“I’ve been talking to him a little every day during this period. He’s gradually becoming less fearful. Now, we’re just waiting for the day of the inner palace examination. Is there a possibility that Mu Jingyan won’t send Three Blessings?”
“Unlikely. With what happened before with Second Uncle, even if we know Three Blessings’s origin, we can’t provide any evidence. If we bring it up to the Emperor without solid proof, it will at most be stirring up trouble without any benefits. If Mu Jingyan insists on pursuing this unnecessarily, there might be fears of giving others a handle to use in the future.”
Liu Zhongming also agreed with this viewpoint, but hearing a definite answer made him feel more at ease.
“If he can go, that’s good. I’ll handle the next steps. Mu Jingyan still doesn’t know about Zhiwei, so we’re taking the lead.”
“Zhongming,” Qu Chenzhou hesitated for a moment before asking, “Has Fang Wuyang returned? If he hasn’t, can I have Big Brother take me to the Chaoyang Palace at night…”
“Entering the palace isn’t difficult. The challenge is doing so without alerting Mu Jingyan. I’ll have Shiyan look for an opportunity. Just don’t be hasty.”
Liu Zhongming bit his earlobe. “Don’t act like I haven’t thought of this. But Mu Jingyan would definitely anticipate that. The security around Chaoyang Palace is tight. If we rush in and he catches you red-handed, that would play right into his hands.”
Qu Chenzhou had nothing to say. He was essentially exposed to Huai Wang now, and it wasn’t advisable to act recklessly.
“Fang Wuyang hasn’t returned to the capital yet, but he’s on his way back. It should be a matter of these few days.”
He was intrigued, “From Wuan Prefecture?”
“Yes, it’s settled,” Liu Zhongming didn’t want Qu Chenzhou to feel too guilty, so he briefly explained, “Whether we win or lose, it is inconsequential to Mu Jingyan. He didn’t exert much effort, focusing his energy elsewhere.”
The previous messages had indicated everything, and Qu Chenzhou understood where that “elsewhere” was.
“Zhongming, do you remember how Mu Jingyan was like before…?”
In their previous life, neither of them could forget how Mu Jingyan had pushed Liu Zhongming to the brink of death just to take him down, even opening up the borders and bringing in wolves to trap him. He was attacked on both fronts, forcing Liu Zhongming to allocate half his forces to fend off external threats.
If it weren’t for Qu Chenzhou’s assistance, they might have been pushed into a dead end.
This time, once Mu Jingyan noticed their secret alliance, he employed the same tactics. The Bai’s army was swiftly gathering, readying for battle in just ten days.
Bai Shining and Bai Shilei commanded troops outside, a portion of the North Bureau defended Guanshan Pavillion, and another part followed the usual practice of overseeing the main camp. If anything unexpected happened, they wouldn’t be able to swiftly gather.
Just as they had dashed the hopes of the Ten Li Pavillion stationed troops causing palace turmoil, Mu Jingyan had seized their most influential power.
“Mu Jingyan… is indeed a formidable opponent.”
Even Qu Chenzhou couldn’t help but admit it. In the previous life, he had schemed in the shadows for a lifetime, but the opponent had deflected and countered every move. Although the circumstances were different this time, Huai Wang still had means to contend with them.
“He’s also a tumor of Dayu. We can’t leave him be,” Liu Zhongming rubbed him a few times playfully and pushed him towards the entrance unwillingly, saying, “And also, the two kids from the Qu family have been found. They were frightened but aren’t hurt.”
He didn’t want to refer to those people as the blood relatives of the little fox. Qu Chenzhou understood his intentions and responded with a gentle “Mm.”
This way, their opponent would be more certain about their relationship.
Fortunately, Mu Jingyan couldn’t stand up and say that he orchestrated the Qu family matter. He couldn’t claim he was withholding the two Qu family kids, and thus he couldn’t bring these matters to the Emperor’s attention.
“Go back up. I’ll come see you when I have the time.”
Qu Chenzhou took a few steps forward but turned back and asked, “How long will that be?”
“You’re acting as if you’re wronged,” Liu Zhongming caught up and sent him off, whispering in his ear, “We’ve seen each other less frequently lately. When can we have a proper meeting?”
Qu Chenzhou’s ear tickled from the warmth, and he tugged at Liu Zhongming’s nape, asking, “Now?”
“You wicked fox.”
They both knew they didn’t have enough time right now.
Qu Chenzhou’s foot entered the room, and he saw Liu Zhongming pursing his lips, waving at him with an aggrieved look. Suddenly, he crooked his finger at him.
“Zhongming, you’ve been working hard recently…” Qu Chenzhou’s tongue moistened his beloved’s earlobe, his smile carrying a seductive charm, “Next time, I might reward you however you want…”
“Do you mean it?” Liu Zhongming’s spirits were suddenly lifted, exhaustion forgotten.
“A reward for the Shizi is something I won’t go back on.”
With a tinkling sound, the bell behind Liu Zhongming swayed, and both of them looked over.
“I guess… Fang Wuyang should have returned.”
Indeed, Fang Wuyang had returned. Alongside him, the people he had been covertly escorting had brought back the yellow registry book from Wuan Prefecture. The contents were clear and straightforward—back when the river flooded and breached its banks, the towns including Changshui were affected by the disaster. Wuan Prefecture and the neighboring prefectures downstream immediately dispatched personnel to search and provide assistance along the route, but unfortunately, the number of survivors was limited.
—The remains of several Qu family members had been found, verified through autopsy and identification by neighbors, and they were properly buried and memorialized.
—To be cautious, those who went to Wuan Prefecture went to the mountain to personally see the Qu family’s tombstone. There would be no mistake.
Everything from here on would proceed naturally.
To outsiders, this unexpected incident that ended in an unexpected way seemed to be nothing more than shameless scoundrels trying to leverage a resemblance to Qu Sitian to seek wealth and status.
Naturally, the Emperor wouldn’t insist any further. However, he was quite annoyed by this— if everyone dared to be so audacious, wouldn’t the realm descend into chaos?
Coincidentally, the individual was now in the hands of Liu Shizi, so he decided to not bother with multiple authorities. The person was taken straight to Jinxiu Ying, and results from interrogation quickly came forth.
The man called Qu Zhiye had the original surname of Xu. Upon hearing from someone that Qu Sitian, who was gaining favor in the capital, bore a strong resemblance to his wife, and also learning about Qu Sitian’s background, he harbored an unwarranted idea.
While everyone believed these few people were doomed, Qu Chenzhou, who had been wrongfully detained for several days, was currently kneeling in the Imperial Study.
“Congratulations, Qu Sitian.”
He nodded slightly, acknowledging Yu Dexi’s congratulations, then bowed deeply, “I humbly implore Your Majesty to spare the lives of the Xu family members.”
Emperor Yu didn’t even lift an eyelid, “Why?”
“While their actions were vile, they haven’t committed capital offenses according to Dayu’s laws. I beseech Your Majesty to either send them to the Dali Temple or Ministry of Justice, or send them back to Wuan Prefecture for the local authorities to handle.”
“I understand that Your Majesty shows compassion towards me, but acting according to the law will help educate the people about the majesty of the law. Your Majesty is wise, which will discourage insignificant people from acting recklessly.”
“Moreover, Your Majesty is in mourning at the moment. It’s not appropriate to witness bloodshed. The Empress Dowager is benevolent; she surely wouldn’t wish to see Your Majesty’s emotions stirred for such matters.”
Only then did Emperor Yu lift his gaze to him, pausing for a while before asking, “People used to say that you have a narrow mind, but from what I see, their prejudice was unfounded.”
Qu Chenzhou lowered his head and kowtowed, “I am fearful. Since the esteemed noble Emperor speaks thus, I will surely self-reflect more prudently.”
Emperor Yu smiled, “Chenzhou, those scoundrels took advantage of your isolation and impersonated your family. They caused you suffering here in the palace, yet you harbor no resentment against them. Instead, you forgive their past grievances and intercede on their behalf. You indeed possess the heart of a sage.”
“I dare not…”
Qu Chenzhou’s heart skipped a beat, keenly sensing Emperor Yu’s displeasure in his words.
Although everyone believed this turmoil was over and things between ruler and subject would return to harmony…
However, he and Zhongming knew that the real discord didn’t lie between Qu family and him, but in Qu Chenzhou’s disobedience to the Emperor’s wishes this time.
The Qu Chenzhou who had always been obedient to the Emperor’s every command actually defied his holy intent. This was something the Emperor could hardly tolerate.
And Yu Dexi wouldn’t miss this golden opportunity; he would undoubtedly fan the flames.
“Your Majesty, when wicked people commit crimes, regardless of whether they are against this humble subject, there are laws in place to punish them. If Your Majesty, out of pity for this humble subject’s grievances, were to disregard the rules, how could this humble subject bear it?”
Trivial lives weren’t something Emperor Yu wished to expend much effort discussing. He casually glanced at Yu Dexi, who was standing at the side, as if in passing.
“Fine, I’ll go along with your suggestion. There’s no need to bother with transferring them to the Dali Temple. Whatever decision you make, go directly to Jinxiu Ying. Tell Zhongming it’s my intention and that he should listen to you.”
Qu Chenzhou expressed his gratitude and withdrew.
Yu Dexi stood by with his hands hanging, remaining silent the entire time, seemingly oblivious to what had just transpired, continuing to meticulously grind his ink as usual.
Only when he went to light the candles on the table did the aged voice speak up slowly.
“Yu Dexi, Chenzhou is young. If he strays off course, take a closer look.”
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