Chapter 53 Accountability
When they were far apart before and when she was angry, she didn’t pay much attention. Now that the two of them were so close did she realize something was wrong.
“What is that smell on your body! What is that smell!” She pushed her son to the ground, covered her nose with a handkerchief, and asked angrily.
Min Yue, who was beside her, hurriedly touched the mint satchet from her sleeve and put it under her nose to sniff it.
Seeing her like this, Mu Jingzhao reacted immediately. He grabbed his sleeve and sniffed it, and hurriedly took out the box of lip rouge from his arms.
He changed into the palace clothes in the carriage, but he didn’t take out the items in his arms. Even though he knew about his Royal Mother’s asthma, it didn’t smell like gardenia, so he didn’t think about it much.
The maid on the side hurriedly came up and fanned, and a Momo took the lip rouge from Mu Jingzhao’s hand, put it on the back of her hand, smelled it, and affirmed: “This thing contains gardenia, but the smell of ground lotus is stronger, covering the gardenia incense.”
Mu Jingzhao was so frightened that he hurriedly said: “Royal Mother, calm down! I didn’t mean it! This is… this is…”
He couldn’t say that this was what he took from his lover as a token of longing, so he could only retort: ”I’ll take it out and throw it away!”
“Wait,” the Empress frowned, gasping for breath against the suffocation in her chest. After a while, she ordered softly, “Find someone who is smart and reliable, then throw this thing to Chaoyang Palace.”
“Little Xiang Gong (male prostitute) really wants to carve the characters in the middle?” The old man put down the carving knife and gestured at the wooden hairpin in his hand: “If it is carved in the middle, the hairpin’s words will be blocked and can’t be seen.”
“You don’t need to see it, just engrave it in the middle.” Qu Chenzhou replied softly.
What he needed to do was coming to an end for the time being. Today, he didn’t make himself smell fragrant, and only put a piece of coral red flower mark under the end of his eyes.
There were many ways to identify a slave like him who was raised by nobles to seek pleasure, and sticking a flower mark in this position was one of them.
Walking outside like this, outsiders will know his identity at a glance. Even if he was a slave, many people will look at his master’s face and would not make it difficult for him.
The old man wrote down his request on a piece of paper, and then asked: “One side is engraved with the word ‘Ming’, and what is the other side engraved with? How about peach blossoms? Many little Xiang Gong’s like it.”
Qu Chenzhou’s lips and teeth mouthed the word “Zhou”, but after thinking about it for a long time, he said: “No need to carve anything, just leave it empty.”
The old man responded, wrapped his hairpin with paper, put it in the drawer on the side, and said, “Come and pick it up tomorrow.”
Qu Chenzhou bent over to thank him, then went out. Steward Lin was waiting for him outside the door. This place was not far from the courtyard, so they could walk back.
Before taking a few steps, they heard the sound of hurried horses’ hooves. A gold clothed guard cleared the way, pedestrians avoided him, and the two hurriedly stepped back and found a safe position by the wall.
Soon several horses passed by and disappeared on the other side of the street.
“Chenzhou,” Steward Lin was surprised, but asked softly in a low voice, “The person who just passed by… wasn’t that the Shizi?”
“En.” Qu Chenzhou replied softly, standing still, just looking in the direction of Liu Zhongming’s disappearance.
The end of that road was naturally the place he was most familiar with.
Last night, he had already greeted Liu Zhongming in advance. When he entered the palace this time, if he was questioned, he would answer truthfully, and if he was blamed, he would just admit his mistake.
Just… admit his fault, right?
Liu Zhongming knelt down on the ground, quietly waiting for the person above to speak, but his heart was so tight that he felt as if he was being grasped, not understanding what happened.
In addition to him and his sister kneeling here, there was also Concubine Yu of Chaoyang Palace, the biological Royal Mother of Huai Wang, Mu Jingyan.
Thinking of Qu Chenzhou’s reaction the day he met Huai Wang, he felt a little uneasy. He couldn’t even let go of his brother’s death, so could Qu Chenzhou face Huai Wang with peace of mind?
He was a little regretful.
He had gradually blindfolded his eyes voluntarily and allowed Qu Chenzhou to lead him, just like the situation in moonlight that day but reversed. Will Qu Chenzhou really lead him to walk safely this way?
But maybe it’s because his brother had been gone for too long, for him, whether he was to be trusted or not, it was a luxury that cannot be stopped. He couldn’t bear throwing away the hand that was leading him.
A shadow was cast over his head, and someone knelt down in front of him, holding a porcelain box on a tray in his hand.
“Shizi,” Yu Dexi called to him, “Does Shizi recognize this thing?”
Liu Zhongming didn’t dare to take a look at his sister who was kneeling beside Your Majesty.
“I do.” Liu Zhongming replied quickly. The vague doubts in his heart were vaguely drawn by the box of lip rouge, but it was still intermittent. He couldn’t understand the clue: “This is a lip rouge that my, Qin Xiang Yuan, had only started selling a few months ago.”
Yu Dexi was pleased with the answer, and covered the porcelain box: “Does Shizi know what kind of material is used to make this lip rouge?”
Liu Zhongming acted as if he was in a difficult position. His shops had a variety of items and he was able to recognize the lip rouge’s origin and sell period through Qin Xiang Yuan’s symbol.
Although there was a manager who would report things before they go on the market, he was not a woman who needed to use these things, so why would he remember such trivial details?
“I’m ashamed, I’m not skilled at this. But, there are records of all the items sold.I hold a copy in my study and one with the steward of Qin Xiang Yuan.
“Then, I will have to bother Shizi.” Yu Dexi hinted to the person on the side to bring ink and paper, then after Liu Zhongming wrote on the letter, that person immediately left the palace.
Liu Zhongming had not been called to stand up yet and it took a long time to hear Emperor Yu slowly ask: “Zhongming, do you know why you were called to the palace today?”
“This subject is stupid.”
“The empress has had asthma for a long time. The palace is not allowed to grow gardenias. Before today, she hadn’t had an attack for more than ten years.”
Liu Zhongming’s heart was tense, and he slowly got a hint. Knowing how this matter was related to himself, the nervousness just now finally dissipated.
Qu Chenzhou was right, just admit his mistake properly.
“How is the Empress?” he asked carefully.
Emperor Yu casually hummed, then closed his eyes and regained his senses.
The people who went out of the palace acted quickly, and it didn’t take long before they handed in the booklet from outside the palace and passed it all the way to Yu Dexi. Yu Dexi flipped through the pages then bowed down to Emperor Yu: “Your Majesty, the two main ingredients are ground lotus and gardenia.”
Liu Zhongming showed grievances on his face, secretly pinched himself, and his eyes turned red. He hesitated before kowtowing.
Emperor Yu looked down from the booklet, then looked down at him: ” Zhongming, why did the things in your shop enter the palace?”
His thoughts were clear. His sister kneeling here was because of him. With Concubine Yu kneeling here, there was only one possibility – the opportunity for this lip rouge to be discovered is related to Concubine Yu.
On his side, Qin Fang Yuan (might be a spelling mistake by author; but I assume it is the same place mentioned earlier) had sold hundreds or thousands of lipsticks in the past few months, so Your Majesty could not blame him for this.
“Your Majesty, this minister had asked people to check the accounts for the past few months. Some people have bought this lip rouge.” He recalled for a moment, then affirmed: “This lip rouge is a thin layer, just unable to see the bottom. They will need to buy another soon, and this minister will find this person.”
Emperor Yu looked at him quietly for a moment, then smiled: “Zhongming, I heard that you are recruiting refugees to work and you have been busy outside the city recently, is that right?”
“You have been so busy, you are losing weight, and getting a bit darker,” Emperor Yu looked at him: “Is Jingyan also losing weight? I haven’t seen him for a few days.”
“Replying to Your Majesty,” Liu Zhongming answered truthfully: “The refugee staff is crowded, and this subject has been living at the foot of the mountain to the north outside the city these days. I have not seen Huai Wang. But about ten days ago, I had a gathering with Ning Wang and Huai Wang. The two Wang Ye’s are doing well, Your Majesty does not need to worry.”
Yu Dexi nodded slightly to Emperor Yu— Liu Shizi indeed had just been recalled from the northern suburbs of the capital.
Emperor Yu’s expression softened a little, and asked slowly, “The Empress is ill, what do you have to say?”
“Replying to Your Majesty, this minister is not talented and the doctors of my shops are also not particularly skilled, however, if the Empress needs any medicinal materials, this minister will try his best to find it.
Liu Zhongming paused for a while, then kowtowed again: “Although I don’t know who liked this product and brought it into the palace by accident, when I go back today, I will have the shop not to sell this lip rouge again!”
“What words are those?” Emperor Yu was amused by his seriousness: “What medicine does the palace not have that I need to take from you?”
Liu Zhongming said indifferently, “I’ve made a mistake, I know I’ve…”
“You little thing, you can sell it if you want to sell it.” Emperor Yu, of course, also knew that gardenia is fragrant, and it is a common ingredient in cosmetics. If this is banned for this reason, there will only be a few things left on the market.
After saying this, he half-squinted his eyes like he was dozing off. No one dared to move below, even if the soreness and pain drilled out from every bone in their knees, the three kneeling people remained motionless.
It was unclear how long it took before Emperor Yu recovered from his mental wandering, as if taken aback: “Why is Zhongming still here?”
Liu Zhongming bowed: “Your Majesty ordered it.”
“Go,” Emperor Yu looked at Liu Qingru, who was kneeling: “You’ve been busy for so long, and Ah Ru misses you in the palace. You guys should go chat.”
“Yes.” Liu Qingru replied softly, as if it was just an ordinary meeting.
Liu Zhongming endured the pain in his knees, stood up from the ground, and helped his sister up. The two were led out of the palace gate by the little eunuch, and the voice of Emperor Yu came from behind.
“Yu Dexi, go and invite Chen Si Tian.”
When the palace gate was about to be locked, Liu Zhongming was sent out of the palace. Seeing that he couldn’t get out before the city gates were closed, he turned his horse’s head and went directly back to his courtyard.
He also happened to want to discuss today’s affairs with Qu Chenzhou.
Although he thought that those strange eyes were extraordinary, he never dared to think that Qu Chenzhou, who was in his courtyard, could reach out his hand silently into the palace.
No matter what happened today, at least he didn’t believe it had nothing to do with Qu Chenzhou.
When he was not at home, Qu Chenzhou moved to the east wing, so people naturally wouldn’t turn on the lights in the bedroom. And unlike usual, someone was sitting and waiting for him on the steps in front of the bedroom, as if he knew he would be back today.
He was also not surprised that there was a person there. It seemed as if they had been in harmony with each other for many years.
The two entered the bedroom one front, one back, and the servant brought tea in. After closing the door, they were alone again.
“You know everything that happened in the palace today?” Liu Zhongming asked straight to the point.
“Not very clear,” Qu Chenzhou said sincerely, “I would like to ask Shizi to give comments.”
“I don’t dare to give comments.”
Liu Zhongming answered calmly, but he was shocked. The other party did not avoid the fact that he had participated in this event. Even if someone didn’t know the whole story, they would still be sufficiently shocked.
If this is the case, even if he controlled the other party’s fortune-telling, his estimated reliance on Qu Chenzhou was still underestimated.
He made up his mind and truthfully explained the whereabouts of these days and the events of entering the palace.
Qu Chenzhou held the teacup and listened silently, until Liu Zhongming stopped talking and asked him “What do you think”. He slowly said: “The Empress has allergies to gardenia, and today became ill because of the lip rouge in your shop. The box of lip rouge was found on the body of a little maid in Chaoyang Palace.”
“The two palaces are the closest, and the palace maids and eunuchs have contact with each other. His Majesty is suspecting that the people in Chaoyang Palace deliberately brought gardenia into Kunning palace, causing the Empress to fall ill.”
“Yes,” Liu Zhongming affirmed: “His Majesty blaming my shop of selling this lip rouge was fake. Instead, he wanted to know if it’s true that I have a close relationship with Huai Wang.”
He couldn’t help but be afraid of breaking out in a cold sweat after saying up to this.
Huai Wang was low-key and benevolent, and he and Shi Yan secretly praised him. They even thought about how the Bai and Liu family would be affected by Huai Wang’s ascension if his sister did not have any children.
If it wasn’t for the sudden appearance of Qu Chenzhou…
Even though he interacted with the three Wang Ye’s as usual, His Majesty was still keenly aware and watching his intentions.
His Majesty in his high seat… was always looking down at them.