“How was it? Was the First Lady angry?” Hong Lin asked Bi Zhu excitedly when she returned to Jingxin courtyard.
Bai Ruo frowned at the sight and gave a slight cough, “Hong Lin, your manners?”If this girl continues to be so imprudent, she will eventually cause trouble for the Young Miss.
Hong Lin hurriedly retreated, and took a glance at Shen Ninghua, who was looking at her with a smile. Embarrassed, Hong Lin went to Shen Ninghua’s side and started massaging her shoulders, “Young miss, this servant was wrong…”
Shen Ninghua gave her a smile, “It’s fine, but I don’t think the rash on my shoulders can handle your massage.”
“Ah, Young miss, I forgot about it, are you hurt?” Hong Lin’s face turned bright red.
“It’s fine,” Shen Ninghua shook her head. Hong Lin had a cheerful and bubbly personality, and disliked being restricted by rules. In a way, she was really similar to Si Qin. Everytime she recalled Si Qin’s brutal demise, she could feel her heart grow cold. Hence, she was willing to cut Hong Lin some slack in her behavior. Although it doesn’t relieve her guilt, it did make her feel more at ease.
“Young miss, the two lists has been delivered to the First Lady,” Bi Zhu reported after laughing silently at the side.
“Good.” With the list as evidence, there would be no way for Zhao Yunxiang to fool anyone. Let’s see how she’s going to complete this task now!
Bai Ruo approached Shen Ninghua with a jade bottle of medicine, and applied it on Shen Ninghua’s shoulders with a clean cloth. “Young miss, there are plenty of ways to plot against the First Lady without need to harm yourself like this.” The rash covered her entire back and was a terrible sight. Even though she knew that it was part of the Young miss’s plan, she was still worried.
Shen Ninghua took the cloth from Bai Ruo and placed it on her own neck. “Don’t underestimate the First Lady just because we are successful this time. She may not be the Eldest, but she is still a daughter of the Zhao family. We were successful because she didn’t treat me seriously. She will only be more careful next time. Not to mention, Grandmother does not want me to be too powerful.” Shen Ninghua said calmly.
Xiao Shi and Zhao Shi were in a deadlock for many years. Now that she has acted against Zhao Shi, Xiao Shi was definitely happy. But if Shen Ninghua were to gain too much influence, Xiao Shi might feel threatened. After all, as one of Xiao Shi’s “chess pieces”, she needed to be docile. Hence, she had to remain passive and appear weak, so that she could observe the First Lady and keep Xiao Shi happy at the same time.
Bai Ruo’s brows furrowed at the thought, her expression turning worried. The Shen family was truly filled with danger. The Young Miss would only face more difficulties in the future.
After applying the medicine, Shen Ninghua excused Bai Ruo and laid down on the bed. Her consciousness drifted away slowly, and in her dreams, she began to see memories from her past life. Her dreams brought her to Fengyi palace, where she used to live as the Empress. It was still as beautiful and haunting, but it felt like a cold steel prison, restricting her inside.
The image before her shifted, Shen Linghan stood before her, and her clear voice rang, “sister, I did not want to enter the palace, but now I’m pregnant with the Emperor’s child. Since you can’t bear any children, I’m willing to give this child to you. Father has spoken too, you can remain as the Empress, I would be satisfied with being a Royal Concubine.”
Her dream shifted again. Baili Jinze was holding her hand, his expression earnest and kind, “even if we are unable to have children, I will not marry another person. There are plenty of candidates to be our successor within the royal family, but I only have one of you.”
The two people faded away slowly, replaced by the a sudden heavy downpour. She was kneeling on the floor, and a delighted laugh came from Shen Linghan:
“By order of the Emperor: the wretched Shen Ninghua has been found guilty of murdering members of the royal family and disrupting political affairs within the country. She shall be stripped of her title of Queen, and cast into the Cold Palace…”
The scene that played after were her torturous days in the Cold Palace…
“Ah.” Shen Ninghua woke up from her nightmare, her body covered in cold sweat. Her back felt chilly, and the air around her was tense. Today marked the beginning of her retaliation, it was also her first time actually succeeding in gaining some advantage against Shen Linghan and Zhao Shi. As much as it was a joyous thing, it was all still new to her. Her time in the Cold Palace had erased much of her emotions, so much so that she could only scream and cry within her dreams.
The room was dark, the pitter-patter sound of rain could be heard.
Shen Ninghua took a while to catch her breath, and put on a coat* before opening the window. The humid air blew into the room. It was the middle of July, and even with the rain, the weather was still unbelievably wet and suffocating. She reflexively held her arms. When she was cast into the Cold Palace, they had broken her bones in her limbs. And everytime it rained, her limbs felt as if there were thousands of knives stabbing into them. Hence, she had a strong hatred for rainy days. Even though she was uninjured now, the rain still reminded her of the memory and the phantom pain would act up.
*TL note: she was wearing her inner wear (it’s very thin) so this is like the “outer clothing”. No she wasn’t naked.
The rain blew into her face as she stared blankly into the darkness, her eyes turning unfocused. Battered by the raindrops, her eyebrows quivering slightly. Lonely, vulnerable, abandoned…
“Miss Shen really knows how to enjoy herself, enjoying the view of rain at night does seem like an elegant interest.” a voice rang out in a playful tone, breaking the silence of the room. Shen Ninghua spun around in shock, carefully observing the pitch black darkness in front of her, her weak, hopeless demeanour disappearing immediately.
“Has Mister Chu become addicted to trespassing?” she recognized Chu Junyi’s voice.
Chu Junyi walked out from the dark corner he had been hiding in, and looked at Shen Ninghua. The room was too dark, so he could only make out a pair of clear calm eyes staring at him. “I have helped you a lot today, do I not get any word of thanks?”
Shen Ninghua lighted a candle, and sat down by her bed. “Thank you for your contribution today, Mister Chu.”
“That’s all?” Chu Junyi arched his brows.
Shen Ninghua looked up, “what else do you want?”
Chu Junyi walked towards her, gently lifting her chin, and studied her expression carefully, “how about your hand in marriage?”
A bright smile spread across Shen Ninghua’s features as she looked at Chu Junyi intently, her eyes shining as if it was reflecting the moonlight. “You want to marry me?”
Chu Junyi gave a pause, his attention flickering for a moment. Her eyes seem especially beautiful today, they seem to reflect a special kind of intention. He understood the meaning behind “Ninghua” now, he meant those words as a joke, but now he couldn’t muster the energy to reply.
“You want to marry me?” Shen Ninghua repeated.
Her voice was clear, and sounded rather icy, but to Chu Junyi it was warm, and it wrapped around his heart like smooth silk. He found himself wanting to agree to her words.
“You want to marry me?” Shen Ninghua said for the third time, her smile ever radiant.
Chu Junyi frowned slightly, he had just seen her staring at the rain with such a sorrowful expression, how could she be smiling so radiantly now? How many sides of her has he yet to discover? Intelligent, calm, distant, vulnerable……cunning! With that thought, Chu Junyi bit his tongue and came to his senses:
“I don’t think I can handle such a responsibility.”
“Hehe”, Shen Ninghua chuckled, but in her mind, she was quite shocked at the sight. She had used some trance-inducing perfume earlier, but she did not expect Chu Junyi to snap out of it so easily. “Mister Chu is indeed an extraordinary person.”
“Thank you for the compliment,” Chu Junyi answered with a slight huff. What a cunning brat, and he was pitying her a while ago.
Shen Ninghua felt much better after the exchange, “so what is your purpose for visiting today?”
“I’m here to give you a gift.”
Chu Junyi raised his hands and extinguished the candle flame. He took out a small jade box from his sleeve, and slowly opened it.
Light spilled out from the box and a gentle glow brightened the entire room.
“A Lunar pearl*?” Shen Ninghua exclaimed. Lunar pearls were able to emit light, but such brightness was still unheard of.
*TL notes: it’s a stone that can glow in the dark because it contains fluorite. Due to it’s rarity, it is seen as a treasure. It’s kind of pretty? You can google image 夜明珠 and see for yourself.
Chu Junyi smirked, his handsome features even more striking under the gentle radiance, “this is one of the treasures of the Xia family. The great-grandfather of the Xia family was one of the founding members of this country. This pearl was given to him when he took down Ming City. The Emperor then gave it to him as a reward for his achievement. After being passed down for many generators, this pearl became part of the dowry for the late Miss Xia.”
“What are you expecting in exchange?” Shen Ninghua’s eyes shone.
Chu Junyi smiled, “look at you, I have already said it earlier, didn’t I? I’m here to give you a gift.”
“Don’t lie to me, if you don’t tell me your intentions, I won’t accept this.” Shen Ninghua was not convinced.
“Haha, the Eldest miss is indeed clever, but there is nothing I can ask from you currently, I will tell you when the time comes.” He closed the box and tossed it at Shen NInghua.
Shen Ninghua caught the box hurriedly. When she looked up, Chu Junyi had already gone. Pausing for a moment, she then called out:
“Qing Que? Hong Lin?”
Receiving no reply, Shen Ninghua lighted up a candle and kept the box carefully. She rushed to the outer courtyard and found Qing Que and Bi Zhu unconscious. After ensuring it was just Menghanyao, she heaved a sigh of relief, and fed them the antidote.
“Young miss……this servant requests punishment!” Qing Que woke up and realised the situation. Bi Zhu followed suit, kneeling on the floor, her face pale.
Shen Ninghua knew that Chu Junyi wasn’t an ordinary opponent, and did not plan to punish them at all. “It’s not your fault, you can get up.”
“Please punish us, Young miss.” Qing Que did not budge. In her heart, Shen Ninghua’s safety was above all else. It was fortunate that nothing happened this time, or she could never forgive herself.
Shen Ninghua knew Qing Que’s personality and said, “I have a task for you later, its completion shall count as redemption for your mistake. Don’t let this happen again.”
“Yes, Young miss.” Qing Que and Bi Zhu got up and followed Shen Ninghua into the room.
Shen Ninghua took out the box, and studied the Lunar Pearl inside it. A smile curved at her lips, “Bi Zhu, if I remember correctly, there was a Lunar Pearl in the list of my Mother’s dowry?”
“Yes, Young miss.” Bi Zhu replied.
“Good, they spent quite some effort trying to plot against me, I should send them a gift in return as well.”