The Rebirth Of An Ill-Fated Consort

千山茶客

Chapter 153

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Chapter 153 : Framed

Early in the morning of the next day, Jiang Ruan received a message from Princess He Yi inviting her to Mu Feng Pavilion. Bai Zhi was a little surprised when she handed the invitation over- she didn’t know what Jiang Ruan had ordered Tian Zhu to do- but a.s.sumed that Princess He Yi must have been planning something again. Therefore, she couldn’t help giving a reminder. “Miss, for Princess He Yi to look for you now, she must have some hidden intentions[1]. You must not fall for it.”

[1] 醉翁之意不在酒 (Zuì wēng zhī yì bùzài jiǔ) – wine-lover’s heart is not in the cup (idiom); a drinker not really interested in alcohol / having an ulterior motive / to have other things in mind / accomplishing something besides what one set out to do.

Lian Qiao nodded along. “Currently within the palace there are many eyes pinned on Miss; we mustn’t have an accident at this juncture. Why don’t I return the invitation and say it’s not convenient for Miss?”

“No need.” Jiang Ruan smiled slightly. “You just need to help me pack my clothes.”

Lian Qiao and Bai Zhi looked at one another, and when they saw that Jiang Ruan seemed to have her own plans, they could only do as they were told. While they were busy, Lu Zhu quietly slipped over and asked, “Miss, isn’t Princess He Yi already… Unless nothing happened to her?”

Dead people couldn’t send invitations, and there were no such things as ghosts. Unless Princess He Yi was still alive, there was no way that such an invitation would appear for no reason.

“Impossible,” Jiang Ruan replied. Tian Zhu had already inquired — after Princess He Yi left last night, she didn’t even visit Shu Fang Palace. Princess He Yi had witnessed such a big thing yesterday, yet didn’t mention it? The palace maids also said that her behaviour was strange and she didn’t seem to want to talk much.

In that case, the ‘Princess He Yi’ who returned to the palace likely wasn’t the real Princess He Yi. Then this message must have also come from the imposter — of course, the one who wanted to invite her wasn’t actually the fake Princess, but the person behind them.

Since the invitation was already sent to her hands, why wouldn’t she go? It would save quite a bit of trouble. She raised her eyebrows, then reached into her sleeve and took out a letter which she handed to Tian Zhu. “It’s not suitable for you to show your face, so find an opportunity to send this letter to Great Master Hui Jue.”

Tian Zhu nodded. Jiang Ruan changed her clothes, then let Bai Zhi and Lu Zhu accompany her to Mu Feng Pavilion.

Although Mu Feng Pavilion was beautiful, it was located quite close to the cold palace, so few people visited. The consorts rarely visited for fear of being contaminated by misfortune, the eunuchs and maids had too many tasks to do to spend time appreciating the scenery, and since their masters weren’t inclined to come there was naturally no reason for them to be there either. Only Princess He Yi enjoyed coming here regularly.

Once Jiang Ruan arrived at the corridors leading to Mu Feng Pavilion, from a distance she could see a figure resting against a table. From the adornments on their body, this could only be Princess He Yi; and indeed, the two maids next to her were Princess He Yi’s personal maidservants. Lu Zhu frowned when she saw this scene, wondering if Princess He Yi hadn’t died after all. Was Bai Zhi right, and they were planning to do something nefarious to Jiang Ruan?

Bai Zhi, who was more attentive than Lu Zhu, found that Princess He Yi’s body looked a little strange, although she couldn’t say how. Her posture was as stiff as a puppet stuffed with cotton, and even the lines of her shoulders were unnatural. For some reason, Bai Zhi felt a sense of unease. She couldn’t help wanting to say something to Jiang Ruan, but then she saw Jiang Ruan walk towards Princess He Yi without a sideways glance.

Her pace wasn’t hurried at all, as if this wasn’t something worth being vigilant about but was actually just an ordinary meeting between friends.

As they approached, the two maids beside Princess He Yi uniformly lowered their heads and called out, “Greetings to Hong’an Junzhu.”

Jiang Ruan glanced mildly at Princess He Yi. Since coming closer, it became clear that Princess He Yi had her head buried within her arms and her face wasn’t visible; at the same time, she could detect a strong fragrance wafting from her body.

It was commonplace for n.o.ble ladies within the palace to use scented creams, but typically, the more luxurious the cream, the less discernible the scent, because it was considered more elegant. The current Princess He Yi more resembled a lady from a brothel.

Lu Zhu looked doubtfully at Princess He Yi — then, as if thinking of something, she suddenly lowered her head for fear of the two palace maids discovering her shock. How was it possible for Princess He Yi to use such a strong fragrance? She usually wouldn’t be able to think of anything, but Jiang Ruan’s words from yesterday gave her a revelation. A scent as strong as this wasn’t like a perfume, but more like it was being used to cover something up.

What was it covering up? It must be covering up the smell of blood, the smell of rot!

Lu Zhu’s heart skipped a beat. The dead Princess He Yi was sitting here yet at the same time someone had sent an invitation to Jiang Ruan in her name. The goal was obviously to set a trap for Jiang Ruan!

“Miss,” Lu Zhu suddenly called out.

When Jiang Ruan turned and glanced at her, the calmness in her eyes surprised Lu Zhu. For some reason, this one look wiped away all her agitation. She slowly calmed down, thinking that her Miss had always been strategizing and more than likely had already expected this turn of events, so she might as well wait and see.

Bai Zhi also didn’t know what was going on, only feeling that with her invitation Princess He Yi was acting strangely today. However, she’d always had a calm temperament, so she only kept her eyes on Jiang Ruan without making any extraneous moves.

The two palace maids didn’t move an inch. Jiang Ruan, smiling, raised an eyebrow. “Princess He Yi is asleep?”

One of Princess He Yi’s personal maidservants nodded. “Yes, we servants dare not disturb Princess.”

“Then how about I wake her up?” Jiang Ruan asked rhetorically with an insincere smile. Her inexplicable words seemed to shock the two palace maids who hadn’t expected her to be so casual about it, but this also saved them quite a bit of trouble. However, Jiang Ruan’s tone also made them feel uncomfortable, as if someone was spying on them. The two looked at each other then lowered their heads.

Jiang Ruan slowly stretched out her hand and pressed it against Princess He Yi’s shoulder. As she expected, it was rock-solid. A trace of a smile appeared at the corner of her lips, then she suddenly pulled Princess He Yi backwards.

Princess He Yi fell from the stone stool with a thump, rolled, and finally lay on her back on the ground. Now, a delicate dagger with bright blood stains was revealed to have been stabbed into her abdomen- covering up the original crime. And Princess He Yi, with her eyes wide open and lips ash-pale, had obviously been dead for quite some time.

Lu Zhu was prepared and only flinched, while Bai Zhi cried out in fright. Princess He Yi happened to be facing Jiang Ruan, and seemed to have suffered great pain and shock just before her death. With her pair of wide eyes full of resentment and fear, she looked like an evil ghost out for revenge.

“Junzhu!” the two palace maids called out in unison. Their expressions changed, and one pointed at Jiang Ruan. “You actually murdered our Princess!”

Jiang Ruan was neither excited nor angry, only saying mildly, “Oh, did you see it happen?”

Up until now, even after seeing Princess He Yi’s corpse, Jiang Ruan’s expression hadn’t shifted. She either had a deep mind or had already expected this outcome — both options were equally terrifying, however her nonchalant att.i.tude was even more incomprehensible. The two palace maids, although frightened, could only follow the script and perform to the end.

“Hong’an Junzhu is so cruel,” one of them said angrily. “We two slaves personally witnessed Hong’an Junzhu acting against Princess He Yi. Even if you go before His Majesty, Hong’an Junzhu would still be declared the murderer!”

“Did you see it with your own eyes?” Jiang Ruan smiled wryly. “You have two people, but I also have two people. You saw me kill Princess He Yi, but I’m afraid my two maids saw something a bit different.”

After overcoming her initial fear, Bai Zhi understood the situation. But when she heard the palace maids speak nonsense without blinking an eye, she felt furious that they wanted to frame Jiang Ruan. She instantly followed Jiang Ruan’s words, saying, “Exactly. Your words are very strange — Princess He Yi had already pa.s.sed away when our Miss arrived.”

“Indeed,” Lu Zhu added, “You can say what you like, but our three pairs of eyes aren’t wrong either.”

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The palace maids didn’t expect Jiang Ruan to be so calm even now, to the point that she had the heart to verbally spar with them. Just as they were confused on how to proceed, a voice came from behind them. “Junzhu is very brave, even daring to laugh, it really makes this prince admire you.”

“Junzhu must not belittle yourself,” Xuan Lang smiled. “To Eighth Brother, no one is as precious as you.”

Jiang Ruan subtly froze, because this was something Xuan Li often said in her previous life. At the time, when she lived deep within the palace and rarely saw the light of day, she would sometimes feel inferior when faced with Xuan Li’s overwhelming care. Xuan Li always said: “You don’t need to look down on yourself like this, because to me, no one is as precious as you.”

Now that these words came out of Xuan Lang’s mouth, Jiang Ruan only felt that it was ironic. In this life, she didn’t look down on herself, but Xuan Li had grandiose misconceptions of his place in her heart. She only saw him as a maggot crawling in the dirt, therefore how could he evoke anything other than disgust?

“Fourth Prince is skilled at flattery.” A soft smile emerged on Jiang Ruan’s face. “Although, I don’t know if you’ve been a lapdog for so long that you only know how to say nice things.”

“You–” Xuan Lang’s pallor changed. He really didn’t understand why Jiang Ruan, who’d been so receptive earlier, suddenly changed her att.i.tude. Her words directly pierced his soft underbelly. If it weren’t for her status, he would have already acted against her. Maybe it was because he thought Xuan Li had a bright future at hand that he was also self-confident in his own ident.i.ty, otherwise he would have simply responded perfunctorily with a cowardly smile as he did in the past. But now things were different, perhaps because he successfully murdered Princess He Yi. Once the darker side of human nature was stimulated, it was exceedingly difficult to suppress it.

Xuan Lang’s face was ashen as he said to Jiang Ruan, “This prince had good intentions, but it’s a pity that Junzhu is ungrateful, making such harsh comments in return.”

“I don’t think it’s a pity.” Jiang Ruan gave the corpse a casual glance. “It doesn’t matter if you tell people that I killed her, at any rate, I will not marry Xuan Li.”

“What did you say?” Xuan Lang looked at her in disbelief. “Do you know what you’re talking about?”

“I would like to hear the details.” Jiang Ruan made a gesture of listening intently, but no matter how he looked at it, Xuan Lang felt that her smile was a sarcastic one.

“In the eyes of the public, you have committed a serious crime by killing Princess He Yi. Princess He Yi was Imperial Father’s most favoured daughter, and you’re just a minister’s daughter who was conferred a Junzhu’s t.i.tle — there is no way Imperial Father will help you. Even Imperial Grandmother won’t be able to protect you this time. And with Deputy General Jiang’s accident at the border, what do you think the courtiers will say?” Xuan Lang’s tone was a bit aggressive as he said this. “You and Jiang Xin Zhi have long held rebellious hearts and cooperated to trample on the royal family’s dignity, to betray our Great Jin! You can walk into prison on your feet but can only come out on your back!”

Lu Zhu and Bai Zhi’s faces twisted as soon as they heard these words. Although they hated Xuan Lang’s shamelessness, they also had to admit that he was right. It would be very difficult for Jiang Ruan to escape the stain of this matter if the crime of murdering Princess He Yi were ever pinned on her head.

“Many thanks to Fourth Prince for your suggestion,” Jiang Ruan said, as if she hadn’t heard what Xuan Lang said at all. She nodded lightly. “It has really broadened my horizons.”

“Do you still refuse to change your mind even now?” Xuan Lang changed from feeling disbelief to derision, and now only thought that Jiang Ruan was a lunatic. In his opinion, choosing any other road was to choose the road to h.e.l.l. As to the fact that Jiang Ruan would rather die than marry Xuan Li… it could only be that her brain was damaged.

“Fourth Prince, you can do whatever you want, whether that be sending me to jail or suing the imperial court. In short, it’s impossible for me to marry Xuan Li,” she stated. “I said it before. Why would you think that I’d change my mind?”

Xuan Lang looked at Jiang Ruan for a long time. Finally, he asked, “Tell me one thing. Why do you refuse to marry Eighth Brother? Why do you harbour grievances against him?”

“Perhaps it is due to a hatred from a previous life,” Jiang Ruan said lightly. “More importantly, it’s too disgusting.”

“Disgusting?” Xuan Lang was stunned.

“Yes. Disgusting.”

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