Chapter 127 : The Woman in Power Kills the Monarch
Trigger Warning: suicide
“Your Majesty . . .” Imperial Consort Chen looked at the Emperor. Although she said nothing else, her bright eyes conveyed a sense of worry, as if she was concerned for the realm. The Empress pursed her lips, and a helpless expression flitted across her face briefly while she remained silent.
“All right, we will watch you burn the incense now!” the Emperor said to the Astronomical Bureau Supervisor.
The Astronomical Bureau Supervisor lowered his head and ordered his subordinates to bring forward the xiyuan incense. This stick of incense was exceedingly bulky, almost like a small pillar. The Emperors of past dynasties had only lit the xiyuan incense to inquire of the heavens when the omen of great evil appeared. Once the incense was lit, the astronomical observatory and its surroundings was wreathed in warm smoke.
The Astronomical Bureau Supervisor knelt down facing the xiyuan incense and heavily kowtowed thrice before saying, “May the heavens grant us favour, may a warning descend from the heavens. Twin stars with the moon are in the sky, the demon star has made an appearance. We beseech the all-knowing heavens, reveal this demon star to us!”
Green smoke spiralled upwards, gradually suffusing the pitch-black curtain of night. A slight smile hovered over Jiang Ruan’s lips, her arms were crossed over her chest, and the breeze lightly ruffled her long hair. Her plain white clothes were wrapped tightly around her and her appearance was alluringly beautiful. However, it was as if she were a beautiful evil spirit in the midst of h.e.l.l, materialising gracefully before them while bearing great hatred.
Xiao Shao’s gaze rested on the kowtowing figure of the Astronomical Bureau Supervisor, and his expression changed subtly.
Without warning, cries of alarm sounded from the crowd.
Imperial Consort Chen’s pupils slowly enlarged, like the clear spring water of the Yangtze spilling over its banks, full of the soft warmth of joy.
“w.a.n.g Jiejie, why does your body have . . .” The sound grew louder.
The mirth in Imperial Consort Chen’s eyes disappeared abruptly.
She saw the womenfolk falling into a panicked flutter, each one retreating backwards, leaving w.a.n.g Meiren all alone in the centre of a widening circle. At that moment, her plain clothes were transforming from white to bright red, starting from the top and moving downwards. The colour was as shocking as blood, and the blood-red colour was spreading continuously, staining her chest area then moving gradually to the rest of her body. As the stained area increased, she looked like someone who had been dredged up from a pool of blood. Losing their heads in fear, the palace folk scrambled to flee, abandoning w.a.n.g Meiren, who was slapping at her clothes in a frenzy while mumbling, “How could this happen . . .no, no, how can this be happening?”
Imperial Consort Chen lowered her head to glance at Jiang Ruan, standing next to Empress Dowager Yi De. Jiang Ruan, seeming to feel the weight of the gaze, turned her head to lock eyes with her and smile minutely. That smile was gentle and self-possessed, lighting up her charming face in an instant. However, there was endless mockery and provocation in her eyes. Jiang Ruan nodded at Imperial Consort Chen, who stiffened.
The Emperor said, angrily, “Demoness! Catch hold of her!”
The imperial bodyguards surged forward and took hold of her without any effort as w.a.n.g Meiren had never antic.i.p.ated such an occurrence would befall her, and was already in a state of total confusion. When seized, unwilling to be thus treated, she hollered, “Your Majesty! Your Majesty! This concubine has been wrongly accused, this concubine has been wrongly accused!”
Imperial Consort Shu clutched her heart and said, “What do you mean, wrongly accused? All of us here are witnesses to this warning from heaven, you are clearly this demon star who will cause calamity. Truly frightening.”
“Your Majesty, your Majesty.” w.a.n.g Meiren knew that if she were confirmed to be the demon star, the consequence would be so terrible for her. Her eyes fell upon the figure who stood next to Empress Dowager Yi De, not far from the Emperor. Jiang Ruan’s clothes draped neatly around her, pristinely white, with nary a trace of blood.
How could this happen? It should have been Jiang Ruan, how could it be her?
w.a.n.g Meiren experienced a sudden flash of understanding. It had to be Jiang Ruan, she must have done some sleight of hand, some trick with the clothes, otherwise, how could this mishap have fallen on her instead?
“Your Majesty, it was Hong’an Junzhu who set up this concubine!” w.a.n.g Meiren gritted her teeth and said, “It was Hong’an Junzhu! She played some trick on this concubine’s clothes! Your Majesty, this concubine has truly been unjustly accused!”
“Be quiet.” It was Empress Dowager Yi De who had shouted. She sneered coldly, “Such nonsensical babbling, what has this to do with Hong’an!”
“This has to do with Hong’an’s innocence. Naturally, w.a.n.g Meiren has her theories, but Hong’an is not afraid to confront w.a.n.g Meiren.” Jiang Ruan bowed respectfully to the Emperor, seated on the highest level, and said, “Imperial Father, yesterday, w.a.n.g Meiren brought the clothes from the Imperial Household Department to this subject’s residential hall, and this subject received the clothes. According to w.a.n.g Meiren, this subject framed w.a.n.g Meiren. But, w.a.n.g Meiren’s clothes have never pa.s.sed through this subject’s hands.” A vague half-smile rested on her lips as she looked towards w.a.n.g Meiren and said, “Hong’an wants to ask w.a.n.g Meiren, how was she set up? w.a.n.g Meiren’s clothes have nothing at all to do with Hong’an. From the time we entered the astronomical observatory until now, Hong’an has stayed far away from w.a.n.g Meiren. w.a.n.g Meiren talks about being framed, please produce the evidence. Otherwise, this is purely slander!”
Faced with this barrage of questions, the beleaguered w.a.n.g Meiren was rendered speechless. Afterall it was true, when she brought the clothes to Jiang Ruan, Jiang Ruan had never touched her own clothes. Then, how did it come about that the mishap had fallen on her? Was it possible that . . . w.a.n.g Meiren abruptly wrenched her gaze to Imperial Consort Chen. Was it her?
Imperial Consort Chen read w.a.n.g Meiren’s expression perfectly clearly. Silently, she cursed her for being a moron, and returned her gaze coldly. As w.a.n.g Meiren faced that pair of icily indifferent eyes, she could not help but shiver. Her entire family would have to depend on Imperial Consort Chen’s a.s.sistance to survive this firestorm; if she offended Imperial Consort Chen, then everyone in the fu would not have a future to speak of. Thus, she had no choice but to swallow her grievances, though it was truly bitter.
She knelt down, thinking that since she was going to die anyway, she would rather have the satisfaction of taking her own life than being tortured to death as the demon star. Without warning, like a crazed woman, she bit the imperial bodyguard who was holding on to her. That guard, having observed her gradually quietening down, had relaxed his vigilance. Thus, he was caught off guard by the bite and was unable to stop w.a.n.g Meiren as she seized the sword hanging from his waist and drew it across her neck.
No one antic.i.p.ated that she would make such a sudden move. Blood sprayed forth and w.a.n.g Meiren slowly sank to the ground. Her eyes were as huge as saucers, and they were staring in Jiang Ruan’s direction.
In this way, everyone present found themselves staring at Jiang Ruan with the feeling that w.a.n.g Meiren had died with unresolved grievances. Even though Jiang Ruan’s line of questioning just now had been flawless, at this point in time, it was inevitable that there would be some degree of suspicion directed towards her.
 死不瞑目 (si bu ming mu) – lit. dead, but not closing one’s eyes in contentment. Fig. to die with an unresolved grievance.
Xiao Shao’s expression turned cold. That had been precisely w.a.n.g Meiren’s objective, to gamble her life in order to splash dirty water on Jiang Ruan. Perhaps, when Imperial Consort Chen saw her heartfelt effort, she would be willing to help the w.a.n.g family a few times after w.a.n.g Meiren’s death.
The imperial bodyguard came forward to check if w.a.n.g Meiren was still breathing, then knelt down to seek forgiveness. The Emperor was in a rage. First, they had gathered peacefully to observe the celestial bodies but blood had been shed; and second, this demon star had appeared in the nation. It was truly inauspicious. He looked at the Astronomical Bureau Supervisor, who was standing transfixed and utterly stunned, and said, “What are we going to do about this situation?”
The Astronomical Bureau Supervisor startled at being spoken to and came back to his senses, while his entire body trembled uncontrollably. Today’s events should not have turned out this way. From the time the so-called demon star had been revealed to be w.a.n.g Meiren, the situation had spiralled out of control. He had never antic.i.p.ated that something like this could happen and had no idea how to bring about a satisfactory conclusion. However, the show had to go on, so he said, in a tremulous voice, “To answer Your Majesty’s question, the demon star has already died, the heavens will indeed bestow good fortune on Great Jin and its people.”
The Emperor was evidently not pleased with this answer, so he directed his question to Hui Jue, who had been standing quietly to one side all this time. “What is the opinion of Grand Preceptor?”
Hui Jue sighed, and an expression comprising both sorrow and pity crossed his face. He walked slowly to w.a.n.g Meiren’s body and stroked w.a.n.g Meiren’s eyes with both hands. When he removed his hands, those open yet unseeing eyes were finally shut. In silence, he closed his eyes and put his palms together, as if chanting an incantation for rebirth.
It was only after he had finished the incantation that he bowed his head towards the body and intoned, “Amitabha.”
Imperial Consort Shu, however, did not like what she was seeing, and cried out, “Although Grand Preceptor is merciful at heart, how could you pay respect to this demon star? This kind of demon star deserves no pity on death. Grand Preceptor said a rebirth incantation, wouldn’t that bring disaster to Great Jin?”
“Shut your mouth!” The Emperor was incensed. He had always had great trust in Hui Jue, and naturally would not denounce Hui Jue’s behaviour. Hui Jue merely sighed before turning to face the Emperor, bowing, and saying, “Your Majesty, this benefactor is not the demon star.”
“What are you saying?” the Emperor queried urgently.
The Astronomical Bureau Supervisor, on the ground, could not stop his shoulders from quaking. From her seat, Imperial Consort Chen paused and lifted her eyes to look at Jiang Ruan.
Jiang Ruan calmly stood next to Empress Dowager Yi De. There was no change in her expression when she heard what Hui Jue said, as if she were deaf. Her gentle and guileless smile seemed to be carved onto her face, a chilling sight. Imperial Consort Chen’s heart sank as she had a bad premonition.
Hui Jue shook his head wordlessly and his sorrowful expression deepened.
Before he could say anything, the screech of an owl resounded in the night sky. The astronomical observatory was always well looked after, with people appointed to sweep and tidy it daily, so how could there be an owl? Everyone was bewildered. Then, they saw a black shadow flash across the sky. It was incredibly fast, and brushed the tops of the people’s heads as it swept past. Even if there had been an archer at the astronomical observatory, he would not have been able to bring down that object.
“Ah!” Imperial Consort Shu exclaimed. That black shadow had the form of some kind of bird, with something tightly clutched in its claws. When it reached Imperial Consort Chen’s head, it released the object, which dropped into her lap, eliciting a fearful shriek from Imperial Consort Shu!
There was a shift in the Empress’ expression, and she said, “Hurry, protect Imperial Consort!”
*** You are reading on https://webnovelonline.com ***
The imperial bodyguards rushed forward to remove the object. Imperial Consort Chen had indeed received a shock, but she had always had impeccable self-control. Thus, although some panic was visible on her face, she was still able to get a grip on herself, and did not create any embarra.s.sing situations.
As if feeling the weight of someone’s eyes on her, Jiang Ruan turned her head and met Xiao Shao’s gaze. Xiao Shao pursed his lips and nodded imperceptibly once.
Jiang Ruan nodded lightly. She had shown very little of herself in today’s events, only said a few words from the rear. However, she had a whole new level of respect for Hui Jue. When all was said and done, if he were not so capable, he would hardly have climbed to his present position. These past years, she had indeed underestimated Hui Jue.
In bitter anguish, the Emperor waved his hand, and several imperial bodyguards came forward to take Imperial Consort Chen away. He was only banishing her to the Cold Palace, not demanding her life, but the Emperor clearly still cherished this long-time love. However, the Cold Palace had always been intrinsically known as a place littered with piles of dead bones. Therefore, if one wanted to ensure secrets were kept, a person would be very easy to deal with there. What exactly the Emperor’s move meant, or what would the future hold, was yet to be known.
As Imperial Consort Chen walked past Jiang Ruan, she paused, smiled, and said, “Junzhu truly looks beautiful today.”
“Imperial Consort flatters me,” Jiang Ruan said as she smiled lightly. The mockery in her eyes caused Imperial Consort Chen, who was maintaining a serene appearance, to give in to a moment of crazed madness, such that she was barely able to keep up her slight smile.
Watching someone who considered herself to be clever caught in a net, how could one not smile beautifully?
“If only Junzhu could continue to always be so beautiful,” Imperial Consort Chen said through gritted teeth.
“If only Imperial Consort could see that day,” Jiang Ruan retorted, refusing to back down.
Imperial Consort Chen’s behaviour caught Xuan Li’s attention. Startled, Xuan Li narrowed his eyes as he sized up Jiang Ruan, slowly clenching his fists.
* * *
A perfectly proper ritual finally came to a close, although no one could have foreseen the unfortunate incidents that occurred midway. w.a.n.g Meiren had died a violent death, and Imperial Consort Chen had suddenly been exposed as the reincarnation of the demon star in this lifetime and been banished to the Cold Palace. Imperial Duke Chen and his family knelt outside Jing Yang Palace the entire night; eventually Imperial Duke Chen had fainted as he was physically weak, but Xuan Li carried on.
The Emperor seemed to have hardened his heart and, together with the Empress, paid no heed to what was happening outside the palace. On the other hand, Imperial Consort De and Fifth Prince, Xuan Hua, were totally over the moon. The Empress was not someone to fear, and Imperial Consort Shu only had a daughter. Xuan Li had lost Imperial Consort Chen as his patron, and his power was almost weakened by half. For the son of a demon star, wanting to vie for the throne was nothing more than a pipe dream. If a day should come when the Crown Prince was changed, the position of the heir apparent would naturally be in Fifth Prince’s pocket.
It was not only Xuan Hua who thought this way. Many people in the imperial court, who had earlier been hesitating over which side to take, had, one after another, made known their intent to stand with Fifth Prince after witnessing that day’s misfortunes. Even several of those who had sided with Xuan Li threw their lot in with Xuan Hua after this incident.
The seizure of the imperial consort had set off ripples of change in the blink of an eye. The downfall of the highly favoured Imperial Consort Chen opened up many opportunities among the consorts of the Inner Palace. In addition, the palace was currently conducting the selection of consort candidates, so the court officials had all started a.s.sessing their own daughters.
Furthermore, the Astronomical Bureau Supervisor as well as the Chief Astronomer and others had all been dismissed from the palace for dereliction of duty, as well as fined a goodly amount of silver. The unfortunate situation was all due to the poor supervision of the Imperial Astronomical Bureau; if the Grand Preceptor, Hui Jue, had not been present that day, the situation could have descended into chaos.
Additionally, after this occurrence, Hui Jue had entered into seclusion in the Buddhist temple, claiming that he had divulged too much of the will of heaven. The Emperor’s regard for him had grown, and his position had inadvertently become more secure.
Lu Zhu conveyed all the information that she had dug up to Jiang Ruan, saying, “In short, all the people from the Imperial Astronomical Bureau have brought trouble upon themselves, which is truly delightful.”
The Imperial Astronomical Bureau worked hand in glove with Imperial Consort Chen for her nefarious purposes. That day, they had sought to sully Jiang Ruan’s reputation, but had not expected that Hui Jue would intervene. The bi luo essence on her clothes had been washed off by Tian Zhu using a counter-essence. As for the essence on w.a.n.g Meiren’s clothes, Jiang Ruan had given Jin Er and Jin San the a.s.signment of giving w.a.n.g Meiren a ‘gift’. Jin Er and Jin San were way more capable than the imperial bodyguards stationed at the consorts’ residence, and they were especially skilled at handling such secret matters.
Imperial Duke Chen had knelt at Jing Yang Palace overnight. On the surface, he was the picture of deferential respect as he pleaded for leniency on behalf of Imperial Consort Chen. In reality, in the eyes of the Emperor, it was nothing less than an overt provocation. Perhaps Imperial Duke Chen had not yet realised that the Chen family had already angered the Emperor, but there would come a day when he would regret what he had done.
Imperial Consort Chen was out for her blood, but Jiang Ruan did not want Imperial Consort Chen to die so early. Just like Xia Yan, if Imperial Consort Chen remained alive, she would always be a stain all Xuan Li’s life. Xuan Li was such a filial son, but no one could tell if he would be like the Jiang siblings, intent on killing their biological mother by their own actions.
In her previous life, Xuan Li’s conduct and deeds had clearly revealed the depth of his affection for Imperial Consort Chen. In this life, if he was still as filial, he would definitely not engage in matricide. Then what Xuan Li could only do was hasten his plans to usurp the position of crown prince.
Without Imperial Consort Chen to back him up, it was hard to tell if he would be as successful as before. However, with the sudden change in the current situation, Xuan Li ought to be more p.r.o.ne to making mistakes.
*** You are reading on https://webnovelonline.com ***