Feeling Shen Ninghua’s gaze on him, Chu Junyi gave her a smirk when nobody was looking and waved the fan in his hand leisurely.
Shen Ninghua decided to shift her attention, and ignored the enigma behind Chu Junyi. She was already beginning to see the plot that the First lady had set up for her.
This batch of wine was specially made as a gift and nothing special was added to it. But it turned lethal when the First lady and Shen Linghan brought it out. And somehow, it was only found out through the death a single maid. Other than the maid, no one else was affected. The scheme was truly clever. Shen Linghan’s earlier complaints were probably to earn some time for the First lady to prepare what was needed to reveal the culprit behind the poison.
To conspire against the prince was a capital offence. Shen Dong was sure to push all the blame on Shen Ninghua no matter how suspicious things were. Not to mention that she had spent the better half of the year away from home, it was not far-fetched to assume that Shen Ninghua may harbor some resentment. As long as the Shen family stayed safe, a daughter or two was a small price to pay.
Before Doctor Chen could arrive, the First lady had arrived, bringing with her a few maids and nannies.
The First lady looked anxious, but visibly relaxed when she saw Shen Dong. After greeting the Fifth Prince, she then nervously said, “Master, I don’t know what’s happening as well, but a few crows are circling the west side of the Shen court, cawing non-stop. We tried everything to chase them away. The old madam was also disturbed and is resting now.”
Shen Linghan seemed to be frightened as well. “Everything was going well, how did all these troubles happen?” she murmured quietly.
Shen Ninghua’s eyes flickered towards her. Ha, looks like they plan to pin all these misfortunes on me.
In the Da-An dynasty, crows were considered birds of misfortune. Everytime one was spotted, it would be chased away immediately. Now that crows were circling the Shen court, wasn’t that a sign of bad luck?
Liang Yu, who had been kneeling all these while, suddenly let out a cry, “my poor mother must have suffered a great deal… Master, isn’t the Jingxin courtyard located at the west side? My poor mother must have been tortured to death. These crows must have been a sign that my mother had passed away. Oh forgive me mother for this son has not been filial…”
Liang Yu’s voice pierced through the evening air, and his cries were getting louder and louder. Shen Dong’s face darkened even further, resembling the dark clouds before a storm. “Fifth Prince, I would like to solve one case at a time, since Doctor Chen has yet to arrive, I shall go and investigate Jingxin courtyard first.” Shen Dong said with his teeth clenched.
“Do as you please, Minister Shen.”
“Do forgive this officer’s rudeness. Guards, to Jingxin courtyard!” Shen Dong ordered. He gave Shen Ninghua a cold glare, and left.
After everyone left, Shen Linghan slowly made her way towards Shen Ninghua and spoke in disdain, “elder sister, the Shen family doesn’t accept just anybody. Before trying to advance upwards, it’s best to check one’s own aptitude so you won’t fall and hurt yourself.”
Shen Ninghua sighed as she suppressed the growing hatred bubbling from her heart. Her eyes, not betraying any emotion as she got up and gave Shen Linghan a small smile. Her long, dark hair was like a flowing river at her back, and her eyes shone brightly, “since sister is so clear about that, why don’t you look at your own state? After all, you are the one with your head above the clouds. If we are talking about falling, I would think you should be more careful.”
“Hmph, your tongue may be sharp now, but it can’t save you. Shen Ninghua, the Shen court only needs one Eldest miss, and it will be me!” Shen Linghan argued angrily, her eyes burning bright with the promise of power.
Shen Ninghua gave a chuckle. She turned her attention to swiping the dirt off her dress, as if the dirt on her dress was more important than Shen Linghan’s words. She then turned around and walked out of the main hall.
With her insults seemingly landing on deaf ears, Shen Linghan felt extremely frustrated while glaring at Shen Ninghua as if trying to burn her with her eyes. Yet after a while, a slight smile appeared on her lips. Hmph, Shen Ninghua, let’s see how you are going to beg for your life later!
Towards the west of the court, a few crows were circling above the courtyard, squawking incessantly. Shen Ninghua paused to look at them momentarily before continuing her path to Jingxin courtyard.
Outside Jingxin courtyard, a group of servants surrounded the courtyard entrance, Wan Xiang and two other maids that were previously brought over by Zhao Yunxiang were kneeling on the floor, their faces pale and shaking with fear. Seeing Shen Ninghua’s arrival, Wan Xiang rushed forward, she stretched her hand towards Shen Ninghua’s dress, but instead received a kick to her wrist from Qing Que.
“Ah……” the sharp pain almost caused Wan Xiang to black out, and cold sweat formed on her face rapidly. She did not want to offend the Eldest miss if possible, but the lives of her family were in the hands of the First lady. She didn’t have much of a choice. “Young miss, it’s all this servant’s fault. This servant could not perform her duties properly, and caused others to notice that you have called for Nanny Zhou. This servant has failed young miss.”
Shen Ninghua lowered her head to look at her, her eyes cold and distant, “you are a servant under me, yet your loyalties lies elsewhere*, I have no use for a maid like you.”
*see TL notes
Wan Xiang withered under Shen Ninghua’s gaze. The Eldest miss seem to know all her thoughts and a small sense of regret settled in her heart.
Hong Lin, who was following behind, gave a cold glare as her lips twitched slightly. Let’s see how this Wan Xiang will pay for her actions later.
Shen Dong stood there, and nodded at Zhao Yunxiang.
Zhao Shi nodded in reply, and turned to Nanny Qin, “Nanny Qin, bring these people with you and search the courtyard.”
Nanny Qin nodded politely, “yes, milady.”
Zhao Yunxiang smiled, her eyes flashing with satisfaction. Jingxin courtyard was where Shen Ninghua lived. No matter how angry Shen Dong was, he couldn’t possibly ask the guards or the male servants to search a lady of the Shen family’s courtyard. Hence, she had already asked some people to be present nearby before hand. Hmph, she would have Shen Ninghua’s head for sure. The daughter of that accursed Xia Shi, Zhao Yunxiang would not let her off easily!
Nanny Qin brought a group of people and left quickly. Shen Dong frowned as he observed Shen Ninghua. Her calm composure betrayed no signs of any panic or frustration. He could not help but be reminded of a certain woman. She used to be like that too, smiling even in the face of death, as if life and death held no difference to her…
It was a pity that fate was not kind to her daughter. If she were to die today, perhaps a huge and majestic funeral should be enough to repay her.
“Reporting to the First lady, this servant has found this trunk on the west side of the courtyard.” Nanny Qin said as she brought a group of people carrying a huge trunk to them.
The trunk was about half a person tall, it was sealed tightly with a huge lock that was the size of a person’s palm.
Seeing the trunk, Shen Dong narrowed his eyes. “Open it!”, he ordered Shen Ninghua.
“Father, this trunk contains my personal belongings. Although they are not especially important, but they are still a girl’s possessions. It’s best not to open it.” Shen Ninghua frowned slightly, looking rather embarrassed.
The First lady looked at her disapprovingly, “Ninghua, why are you still being so difficult? Don’t anger your father any further. Master, it’s all my fault. Sister left this world early and Ninghua should have been my responsibility, but……”
“It’s not your fault, she has always been this stubborn.” Shen Dong said darkly, “Shen Ninghua, open the lock now.”
Shen Ninghua scoffed at them mentally. Zhao Yunxiang was hinting that Ninghua was not properly educated, while Shen Dong followed up by saying that she had attitude problems. What a couple. “Father, ever since Grandmother chased Nanny Zhou away, I have never seen her again. This trunk really contains a few of my belongings. Do you not believe me?”
Zhao Shi looked at her, “Ninghua, if you are really innocent, Master will definitely believe you. Just open the trunk.”
“Yeah, elder sister, a clean hand needs no watching. Even though you were not at home for some time, we are still family. Father will definitely protect you.” Shen Linghan held Shen Ninghua’s hands, preventing her from hindering the guards from breaking the lock.
Shen Ninghua raised her head and looked at Shen Linghan, “sister, I have already said, that trunk only contains my belongings!”
Shen Linghan sneered mentally. Belongings? Foolish. This trunk was specially arranged by Mother. It only contains Nanny Zhou that had already been strangled to death. Hmph!
As the guards were getting ready to break the lock, Shen Ninghua grew more restless, “Father, this trunk really doesn’t contain anything suspicious.”
Seeing the guards trying to force the lock open, Qing Que stepped forward but was kicked aside by the guard. She turned around and blocked the trunk with her body, glaring at the guards around her.
The First lady frowned, she turned around and gave Liang Yu a signal with her eyes.
Almost immediately, Liang Yu started wailing, “Eldest miss, you have already murdered this servant’s mother, are you going to keep her corpse as well? Isn’t it bad karma? Even though this servant is from a humble background, but I still know how to be filial! Shen Ninghua, you are a daughter of the Shen family, there is nothing I can do to avenge my mother. I have no reason to be live any longer. Oh mother! Your son is going to visit you soon. If the heavens has eyes, they would definitely make sure that justice is served!”
“Stop him!” Shen Dong cried as Liang Yu rushed towards the wall headfirst. Baili Jinze and Chu Junyi were present. If news that the Shen family drove a servant to suicide were to spread, how would he be able to show his face in the royal court?
Seeing that the guards had successfully restrained Liang Yu, Shen Dong heaved a sigh of relief. “Open that trunk now. If that servant dares to stand in the way, beat her to death and throw her out!” he ordered.
“Father, why won’t you trust me?” Shen Ninghua stood in front of Shen Dong, her face full of sadness.
Shen Dong disregarded her entirely. But Shen Linghan went forward and held her hands tightly, preventing her from obstructing the guards. “Sister, innocent or not, it would be clear once they finished investigating. Stopping them is just a waste of time. If people didn’t know better, they might even think it’s your guilty conscience at play.”
The surrounding guards charged in at once. Even though Qing Que was a skilled fighter, she could not hold off all the guards. Once she was subdued by a few guards, another went to the trunk and struck at the lock with a rock.
The lock dropped to the floor with a loud clang.
*you are a servant under me, yet your loyalties lies elsewhere:
the original text says “身在曹营心在汉”, literal translation: live in the Cao camp but with one’s heart in Han. The saying originates from the story of Three Kingdoms. Guan Yu (a famous general of the Han faction) was captured and imprisoned in the Cao camp. Cao Cao (leader of the Cao faction), wanted to make use of his great martial prowess and asked him to fight for the Cao faction instead. After some negotiation, Guan Yu agreed, but his loyalties still stayed with Liu Bei (leader of the Han/Shu faction). As the story progressed, Guan Yu returned to the Han faction without hesitation when given the chance. This is supposed to be a story praising the fierce loyalty of Guan Yu, but the saying itself has evolved to be used in more “negative” situations, such as double-crossing and betrayal.
Cliffhangers are really bad 🙁