Chapter 151 : Princess He Yi
Jing Zhu Yuan had remained immaculate for many years.
When Princess Yuan Rong was fourteen years old, the late Emperor opened up a parcel of land in the palace and turned it into a magnificent courtyard that was later given to her as a gift for her hairpin (coming-of-age) ceremony.
Even after she died, the garden remained though it had not been not completely renovated before Princess Yuan Rong was married off to another kingdom. Yet, its landscape remained in excellent condition – following the late Emperor’s pa.s.sing, Empress Dowager Yi De had continued to send workers to keep it in pristine condition.
However, despite the beauty of the garden, Empress Dowager Yi De had never set foot in it; seeing it might make her miss its owner, instilling guilt and remorse in her heart. As a result, Jing Zhu Yuan had become a one-of-a-kind presence in the palace: it was tended to every day but remained desolate.
The desolation of Jing Zhu Yuan was changed by the arrival of Jiang Ruan, who inherited many of Princess Yuan Rong’s privileges including the ability to freely stroll the Jing Zhu Yuan. It should be noted that the late Emperor was very fond of Princess Yuan Rong. Every spot in Jing Zhu Yuan was exquisite: there was even a book pavilion, a study, and a small courtyard for people to relax in.
Even though the princess palace was only a short distance away from Jing Zhu Yuan, Jiang Ruan only went there on rare occasions.
At present, a palace maid walked towards Jing Zhu Yuan, holding a small basket. Seeing her heading towards Jing Zhu Yuan while holding it, she most likely wanted to go there to pick flowers. Jiang Ruan had recently learned how to blend incense and frequently requested that the maids of the princess palace go into Jing Zhu Yuan to collect some flower petals. Occasionally, young eunuchs and palace maids a.s.sisted and received rewards.
Today, the palace maid was halfway there when she was abruptly stopped by someone. “Stop!”
When the maid looked back, she probably didn’t recognise the other person. It took the maid a moment to realise that the person was none other than Princess He Yi.
Princess He Yi rushed over, inspecting the flower basket in the hand of the palace maid. “Where are you going?” she asked, frowning.
“Hong’an Junzhu gave this servant the task of collecting petals in Jing Zhu Yuan.” The palace maid answered with her head bowed.
“Oh, Jing Zhu Yuan.” Princess He Yi’s expression suddenly changed. “All right, go then.”
The palace maid gave Princess He Yi a surprised glance. She had not antic.i.p.ated how easy the domineering princess would be to deal with today. However, it was a blessing in disguise, and she quickly scooped up the flower basket and bowed to Princess He Yi before leaving.
The palace maid was unaware that Princess He Yi had not left, but instead remained in place observing the direction of her departure, and followed discreetly until the palace maid turned down a long corridor, went inside a manor and disappeared from view.
Princess He Yi smoothed her dress. Today, she wore a simple blue brocade gown. This was already quite simple for her, who had always favoured golden and resplendent attire. Her face was bare and completely unlike her usual appearance. Thus, at first glance, she was not easily identifiable.
She straightened her dress with an odd smile on her face and followed the palace maid to enter the courtyard.
The courtyard appeared to be unguarded. It was exquisitely decorated, just as stated in the rumours. Princess He Yi was unable to conceal her resentment. She overheard the women in the palace discussing Jing Zhu Yuan when she was a child. She had pleaded with the Emperor for it, but the Emperor, who had always indulged her, declined. Princess He Yi had a resolute temper. She never returned after learning that Jing Zhu Yuan was off-limits and pretended that there was no such place in the palace. Who knew that even though Jiang Ruan did not receive the garden, Empress Dowager Yi De allowed her to come inside and take a stroll? Wasn’t it, in Princess He Yi’s view, a humiliation? Her hatred for Jiang Ruan grew stronger. Jiang Ruan had always robbed her of everything she liked and desired.
The garden was large and full of lovely sights. She’d never been here before and hadn’t seen its scenery. The more she saw its beauty, the more she desired it. She desperately wished that she could enter this garden.
However, for some reason, there was not even one palace guard in sight and she had no idea where the study was. Her walk was lengthy and exhausting. When Princess He Yi was on the verge of losing her patience, she noticed a bamboo house in the distance flanked by a large camphor tree.
The bamboo house appeared to be brand new and was tucked away amid the trees. It exuded an indescribable grace. This should have been the study in the rumour. Looking at the shadows of trees dancing in the breeze while drinking tea and reading books here would be very pleasant.
Princess He Yi’s eyes flashed with rage. She had a sudden urge to set fire to the bamboo house. However, when she touched the envelope in her sleeve, her fury subsided and was replaced with a smile.
The envelope contained nothing more than proof of Jiang Ruan’s betrayal and complicity with the enemy. Although Imperial Consort Shu had promised to charge Jiang Ruan with treason and sentence her to an ignominious death, Imperial Consort Shu had yet to find the perfect time. Imperial Consort Shu was willing to wait, but Princess He Yi was not. After all, what if the Emperor conferred the marriage that would absolve Jiang Ruan of her sin if they waited any longer? Perhaps executing the plan then would be much more difficult because Xiao Shao would be protecting her at the time.
Imperial Consort Shu had personally arranged all of the people close to Princess He Yi. Thus if she asked her people to act, Imperial Consort Shu would immediately know. Because Imperial Consort Shu had forbidden her from acting rashly, she had to avoid upsetting Imperial Consort Shu. It’s just that Princess He Yi wasn’t the type to bear things patiently. She couldn’t take it any longer, so she stole the “incriminating evidence” from Imperial Consort Shu’s room, intending to carry out the act herself.
The d.a.m.ning evidence was supposedly correspondence between Jiang Ruan and someone from Tian Jin kingdom. The letter addressed Jiang Ruan extremely cordially and made a pa.s.sing reference to Jiang Xin Zhi’s safety. It even had the seal of Tian Jin’s Grand Councillor.
Now that Jiang Xin Zhi was defeated, he was in a very dangerous situation. As long as this letter was discovered, it would both be unforgiveable and immediately substantiate the accusations against Jiang Xin Zhi. Furthermore, the crime would appear even more heinous- Jiang Xin Zhi and Jiang Ruan, this pair of brother and sister, conspired with the enemy and betrayed the country, becoming spies for Tian Jin and committing sins against Great Jin. Thus, Great Jin’s court would imprison Jiang Ruan. Even if Jiang Xin Zhi did not die, he would never be able to survive in Great Jin in the future.
To be chased and killed like a stray dog was the best punishment for Jiang Xin Zhi and since she loved her elder brother dearly, she(Princess He Yi) would destroy him also.
Princess He Yi contemplated this idea with pride. She had inquired a long time ago. The princess palace was carefully guarded like an iron drum, making it impossible to attack, yet it was relatively easy in Jing Zhu Yuan. Jiang Ruan did not frequently visit, but she often sent her maid there to pick some flower petals, which made acting very convenient for her. However, using her own people would cause Imperial Consort Shu to become alarmed, so she could only do it herself. Princess He Yi was not afraid. If her plot failed, as a princess, nothing could be done to her as long as she was not caught with the evidence. Thus she followed this maid to the Jing Zhu Yuan today. As long as she concealed the incriminating evidence in the study while no one was there, allowed word of Jiang Ruan’s collusion with the enemy to spread, and the evidence was discovered during the search of Jing Zhu Yuan, how could Jiang Ruan deny it?
Princess He Yi had planned meticulously, but she had not antic.i.p.ated how difficult it would be to locate the bamboo house. There was some trepidation in her heart; how come not a single palace maid or eunuch could be seen here? Normally, several servants were in charge of keeping this place clean. At present, not to mention guards, even the person sweeping the courtyard was not present.
She didn’t see any flowers as she walked along the path either. Didn’t Jiang Ruan usually send her maids here, so why weren’t there any flowers? What was the palace maid’s purpose in bringing the flower basket here? She was not here to pick leaves, was she?
Princess He Yi sensed something was amiss and suspected she was going in the wrong direction. But the palace maid did come here just now. Princess He Yi made her next decision after only a brief pause. So what if she made a mistake? She was the princess of the Great Jin dynasty. Except for the Emperor’s bed-chamber, she was free to go wherever she pleased in the imperial palace. This location was unguarded. It wasn’t a forbidden area of the deep palace. If she didn’t find what she had come here for, wouldn’t she have come in vain?
Princess He Yi, who was always conceited and unwilling to admit defeat, didn’t pay attention to her surroundings. She was so determined to kill Jiang Ruan that she didn’t focus on the details. One blinded by hatred, no matter how astute, would be unable to think clearly about the benefits and drawbacks in the moment.
She lifted her skirt and walked up to the bamboo house. It was meticulously restored. Princess He Yi walked up the steps, but when she reached the seventh one, not knowing what she stepped on, she only heard a whooshing sound of wind and with it, a sharp, pointed blade appeared. Princess He Yi immediately screamed. Before she could react further, she heard a familiar voice in the bamboo house. “Who is there?”
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“I–” Before she could finish her sentence, Princess He Yi noticed the bright light of a sharp blade on her face, but then the steps beneath her feet collapsed, causing her to fall straight down.
Princess He Yi felt a layer of panic in her heart as she observed Xuan Lang’s unusual reaction- it was very different from that in the past. However, she had always been able to pretend, and so her face revealed nothing.
Xuan Li cast a glance at Xuan Lang. “What do you mean, Fourth Brother?”
“The consequences are huge. We cannot make a single error.” Xuan Lang murmured, “Only the dead can keep secrets.”
“You’re crazy, Xuan Lang!” Princess He Yi opened her eyes wide in disbelief. She would not have believed it if she hadn’t heard it with her own ears that the terrible man in front of her was the incompetent prince who had always been rejected by everyone in the palace. She wriggled uncomfortably, but her injury prevented her from standing, so she could only threaten him with words. “Do you dare to kill me, Xuan Lang? Aren’t you afraid that Imperial Father will find out and cut off the heads of both you and your mother ? How dare a useless prince like you—”
It would have been better if she hadn’t said that. Xuan Lang’s expression darkened as Princess He Yi spoke. Turning to Xuan Li, he said sincerely, “Eighth Brother, please consider.”
Xuan Li observed Xuan Lang’s unusual behaviour, yet he did not immediately refuse. Instead, he suddenly smiled. “Fourth Brother is right. Fourth Brother, it’s better for you to deal with it this time.”
His smile was like a spring breeze as if he were casually discussing a picture. An antique ink slab was naturally sophisticated and cultured, but his chilling words induced a terrifying sense of dread in everyone who heard them.
Xuan Lang was taken aback. He couldn’t help but admire Xuan Li’s clever scheme. In light of today’s incident, Xuan Li showed that he planned to eventually kill Princess He Yi, and so since he brought it up, agreeing with him was natural. Moreover, this was a test for him: follow through even if this meant becoming discovered. Now Xuan Li would have more leverage that could be used against him, and in the end, if the matter was uncovered, Xuan Li would have nothing to do with it.
Princess He Yi was shocked. Now, she was extremely terrified. She continually stated, “No, it’s not my fault. I did not hear anything. Don’t kill me. I saw nothing…”
Xuan Lang’s eyes narrowed. Even if Princess He Yi didn’t hear anything today, she had already seen his vicious side and knew he intended to kill her to silence her. Keeping her alive would result in even more disasters in the future. Moreover… Xuan Lang felt a faint pleasure in his heart as he looked at Princess He Yi, who was crawling at his feet. A dark thought flashed through his mind: he wanted to see that beautiful body full of scars and that contorted expression to be forever frozen in time. It was as if witnessing this would bring back his lost dignity.
Slowly, a strange smile appeared on his face. “All right, Eighth Brother, leave it with me to take care of.”
“No -” Princess He Yi screamed. In a state of panic, she wanted to call for help, but there were no palace guards in the deserted and uninhabited garden. Even if the guards were there, they might not come to her aid. Those slender hands were weakly grasping at the air. In the next second, the hands drooped down as if suddenly drained of strength. A splatter of blood ran along the tip of the sword.
Xuan Lang drew his long sword slowly. His mediocre and cowardly eyes twinkled with an exciting light that had never been seen before. The expression was strange, like a mouse peeping at delicious food, and it made people feel appalled for no reason. If someone pa.s.sed by, they would be surprised, because Xuan Lang’s expression at the moment was like a person possessed by a demon. Xuan Li took a small step back as if worried that the blood would stain the corner of his robe, but his expression remained unchanged.
Blood poured steadily down and saturated Princess He Yi’s sleeves. The “incriminating evidence” in her sleeve was likewise stained crimson by the blood spots, and the letter became so blurred that perhaps the seal would no longer be distinguished in the end. Princess He Yi’s face was filled with disbelief. Perhaps she had not antic.i.p.ated that the incompetent prince to whom she had paid no attention would eventually kill her. Perhaps she had no idea that this exquisite garden would one day become her burial site.
The last thing she saw was the clean clothes of the two people in front of her, which stood in stark contrast to her b.l.o.o.d.y and sticky body.
The last thing she heard was Xuan Li’s casual question, “How did she end up here?”
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