Shen Linghan’s heart soared. It took her entire focus not to make her grin seem too obvious. Ever since Shen Ninghua returned, she had overheard all sorts of chatter among the servants. They whispered behind her back, saying how Shen Ninghua was more beautiful and graceful, and how the “Beauty of the Capital” should be Shen Ninghua instead…… Hmph, there shall be no such competition now that she would soon be gone!
Shen Dong frowned, his brows furrowed with frustration, “open it!”.
“Crrk”, the heavy cover of the trunk protested as it was being forced open.
Shen Linghan closed her fists, her heart pumping with excitement. Shen Ninghua, today shall be your death day!
A loud shout was heard, bringing her senses back to reality. Shen Linghan looked at Shen Dong’s expression. But his reaction was not what she had expected.
“What…… what is this?”
What they saw in the trunk wasn’t the expected corpse of Nanny Zhou, but rather a roll of fine silk cloth, and those cloth seemed to be hiding… books?
Shen Ninghua walked in front of the trunk, her expression icy than ever, “Father, this silk cloth bag contains an embroidery which I sewed and was meant to be a gift for Father. Other than the daily greetings to Grandmother, there was no chance for me to talk to Father at all. Qing Que, Hong Lin, open it for Father to see.”
Qing Que kicked aside the guards who were blocking her. With Hong Lin taking the other side of the nearly four meter long embroidery, they unfurled it, revealing a sewing of the sunrise over a river. The sewing was extremely intricate, it was meant to let the sun’s rays through to make it seem as if the sewed sunrise was really shining, the river really flowing, the trees and mountains looking almost real enough to be touched. If one did not study it carefully, they would never believe that such a thing was actually sewn and not painted.
At this point, Shen Dong felt rather conflicted. This embroidery must have required a lot of time and effort. This act of filial piety from Shen Ninghua truly deserved a praise.
As Qing Que and Hong Lin kept the embroidery, Shen Ninghua continued, “the rest of the trunk contains scriptures that I had copied by hand, a total of eighty-one books. I wanted to gift them to Grandmother on her birthday since she is a buddhist……”
Shen Ninghua did not shed a tear from the unjust treatment, but her voice still sounded rather tight. The onlookers could not help but feel pity for her as her efforts to be filial were not only in vain, but they were even suspected to be a plot to harm the family.
Observing the crowd, Shen Ninghua’s lips curled slightly. It seems the time used to prepare all these were not wasted. The First lady was very thorough in her schemes, using Nanny Zhou to do most of the “dirty work”. Now that Nanny Zhou was no longer of use, the First lady would definitely not take the risk in keeping Nanny Zhou alive.
Yet, by chance, Shen Ninghua herself had forced the First lady to return her Mother’s dowry. The First lady would definitely not take that sitting down. Hence, she found a use for the discarded chess piece. To take down Shen Ninghua using the life of a single servant, it was definitely a very profitable trade.
At this moment, Zhao Yunxiang was still staring at the trunk in disbelief. She had clearly given the order for Nanny Zhou to be strangled to death and placed into this trunk, so why was the corpse not there? She turned her gaze to Nanny Qin, whom she gave the order to, and saw that Nanny Qin also had a dumbstruck look on her face.
Nanny Qin was the servant that she brought along when she was wedded to the Shen family. Compared to Nanny Zhou, she placed more trust in Nanny Qin. She was always reliable, and had never made any mistakes in her tasks. Then who was it? Who could have done this? The First lady studied the people around her and her sights finally landing on Shen Ninghua. Could it be…… this wench? She couldn’t possibly be this devious… could she?
“Nanny Qin, you have searched my courtyard, are there any other problems with it?” Shen Ninghua asked, expressionless.
Nanny Qin jolted upright. She paused before answering, “No…no other problems.” That was definitely an understatement. If she were not serving in the Shen family, she would have believed that the courtyard was unoccupied. She was the one who cleaned Jingxin courtyard before Shen Ninghua moved in. The state of the courtyard was kept almost unchanged except for the addition of a few clothes and baggage. Everything else was still in its old position, even the vases and tea set were seemingly untouched.
Shen Ninghua turned towards Shen Dong, “Father, am I innocent now?”
Shen Dong’s frown eased and gave a slight nod.
After all that meticulous planning and thinking to come up with a plan, it was beginning to shatter into pieces in front of them! The First lady did not show much emotion aside from a rather tight expression, but Shen Linghan’s expression was already twisted with anger.
“Elder sister, if the things inside your trunk were supposed to be gifts, then shouldn’t you have just showed it to everyone. Why did you try to hide it and cause everyone to misunderstand your intentions?”
“Ha,” Shen Ninghua scoffed, “younger sister sure is funny. Where do you think you are? This is the courtyard of the Shen family’s eldest daughter! Do you think I would just let anybody search my courtyard? If I don’t at least put up some resistance, people would start to think that I just a pushover.”
“You clearly had some guilty conscience earlier…” Shen Linghan tried to argue.
“Explaining myself means that I have a guilty conscience? How was sister so sure that this trunk had any problems earlier? Could it be that you can forsee the future?” Shen Ninghua mocked.
Shen Linghan opened her mouth to rebuke, but was stopped by Zhao Yunxiang. They had already lost the chance to frame her. With the guise of being filial, they couldn’t possibly pin anything on her at this point.
“Father, Ninghua’s courtyard has already been searched but the crows are still circling overhead. We should search the other areas of the household too.”
Shen Dong fell silent. Things were already spiraling out of control but there was no need to show this ugly side of the Shen family to the Fifth Prince and the other onlookers.
Sensing his hesitation, Shen Ninghua’s smile gradually turned cold, “my courtyard has been searched and deemed safe, but the courtyard of my other siblings have yet to be searched. It would be bad if something had slipped in and cause trouble for us.”
Shen Dong nodded, “Mm, madam, go assign someone to conduct a search.” Zhao Shi knew her limits, and knew she could clean this up easily. Not to mention, Shen Linghan was still of value to him as she was still a proper daughter of the Shen family and also the niece of the current Queen. Being a bearer of good fortune (since she was born with a twin brother*), she could definitely be more useful in the future. He did not wish to undo all the investments he had made on her.
*see TL notes
Shen Ninghua understood the meaning behind his words. Shen Dong definitely knew something was wrong, but he did not wish to hurt Shen Linghan. Asking Zhao Shi to search the courtyards, it would be a surprise if something was actually found!
Zhao Shi sighed with relief upon hearing those words. Her sight flickered to Shen Ninghua for a moment as frustration build in her heart, “yes, master, but the incident at the forecourt has yet to be resolved. Please bring the Fifth Prince and Mister Chu to the forecourts while I settle the courtyards properly.” She may have escaped the scheme of Nanny Zhou’s death, but she couldn’t possibly get herself out of the poison incident! Zhao Shi did not believe that Shen Ninghua would still have anymore tricks up her sleeve.
Twins are a very important aspect in this story (and in olden times). Since twins are rather rare, they are seen as symbols of good fortune. Among twins, there are also “rankings”. A male-female twin was considered the most auspicious among the 3 possible gender combinations (maybe because they are the rarest?). They even have a special term “龙凤胎”, literally translated to: dragon-phoenix children. In this story Shen Linghan has a twin brother, making her a literal symbol of good luck. So her “value” as a wife increases tenfold.
This poor translator does not know how to properly convey this in the story. So here we are in the TL notes section. Forgive me 🙁