Chapter 35.1: Internal Struggle

Du Ning walked out of a wine shop and looked at the street full of people. He suddenly hated the bustle of Chang’an. This city was too big and there were too many people. Finding his lover was like finding a needle in a haystack. Even if he sought her for a lifetime, he might not even encounter her once.

He did not understand why Fu Yin left. If she had despised his background or official status, she could have said it bluntly, and he would not have continued to pester her. If she was worried about losing her freedom after marriage, she should have at least talked to him to give him a chance to straighten things out. Now, he was facing the worst situation. One where he had to guess, with nowhere to start nor end. With feelings that were hard to explain, his gaze swept over the mass of people. He wanted to see her yet he was afraid of finding her.

“Du Ning!” 

Du Ning immediately turned to look, only to see a small shopkeeper holding a child. A woman pushed through the crowd to stand in front of the shopkeeper, and they seemed to be arguing. Because of this, it became even more crammed on the streets. He could not locate Fu Yin. Eventually, he suspected that he had missed her too much and imagined her voice. He laughed bitterly to himself before walking in the opposite direction. 

He did not see that at a nearby alley, Fu Yin was leaning against a wall. With tears streaming down her cheeks, she covered her mouth tightly.

Fu Yin was out to buy perfume powder for Ling Long and did not expect to see Du Ning. She could not help but call out for him. However, she knew that she could not let herself be found. Because if he had asked, she would have definitely disregarded everything and left with him.

In a single breath, Fu Yin ran back to Duke Chen Residence. She dashed into her room, only to be shocked to see Lu Qi. 

Lu Qi saw how her face was red, full of sweat and that she was panting. He laughed, “Where have you gone? You made me wait for so long.”

Fu Yin recovered her breathing and saw that Lu Qi was in a good mood. “I went to help Ling Long buy perfume powder.”

“Lu Hanxing mentioned you and said that you were tidying up your drawings and said that I instructed you to show them to me.” Lu Qi looked at her red face and shiny eyes. So this was what it meant to have clear and bright eyes. “When did I say I want to see your drawings? But your drawings are quite nice; especially this drawing of me.” 

Fu Yin glanced at the drawing that Lu Qi was holding and felt extremely guilty. When she first met Lu Qi, she had casually drawn that so that she could curse at it everyday.

“In Chang’an, there are many women who admire me. However, this is the first time I have seen someone draw me to admire all day.” This was why Lu Qi was in a good mood. “Seeing how this painting has more or less demonstrated my handsomeness, I will accept it. I will not punish you for the broken ink slab. Tomorrow, come to the study room to serve me.”

Fu Yin’s mouth gaped open but she could not say anything. She had once thought that Brother Chumu was crazy. However, Lu Qi was even crazier. His skin must be extremely thick for him to be able to say something like that.

“Have you fallen in a daze again from joy? Aren’t you going to say anything?”

Fu Yin hesitated for a while before saying, “Thank you for your appreciation…”

Lu Qi treated her like a fool. “Not clever enough. Although you are lacking talent, you can be taught.” He picked up the painting and happily walked off.

Fu Yin wanted to cry and laugh. Surprisingly, the ache in her heart lessened. 

 

In Lizheng Palace, Empress Zhangsun sat in her seat. Wei Song stood behind her while Fu Rou stood by her side.

A palace maid was kneeling in front of her. She was frightened and wanted to cry but did not dare to. She had passed by the Imperial Garden in a frenzy. Fu Rou and Sheng Chuling bumped into her and a packet of rat poison fell out. Sheng Chuling was alert and realised that something was off. He immediately picked up the packet. Everyone knew that it was against the palace rules to bring poison in.

“Your Majesty, I did not have a choice. I am working in the warehouse and there have been a lot of rats recently. I don’t dare to kill them and have broken a lot of pieces of porcelain out of fright. These rats are extremely disgusting and will run around at night. They have broken quite a few pieces of porcelain. I have been beaten numerous times because of this. Chief Cao said that if I break any more things, he will break my legs. When I was young, my house had rats too. We always used white arsenic poison to kill them, so I asked someone to bring a little into the palace just to deal with the rats.”

Empress Zhangsun was expressionless. “Without an Imperial Decree, no one is allowed to bring poison into the palace. When you were learning palace rules in the Office of Rites, did no one teach you this?”

“I...did hear the sisters at the Office of Rites mention it, but...but I really did not intend to harm anyone. If I let the rats continue to roam in the warehouse and break more things, I will be beaten to death. I really did not have any other choice.” The palace maid lifted her sleeve, showing the numerous scars on her arms.

Fu Rou could not stand it. “Your Majesty, there had indeed been an infestation of rats in the palace. Numerous embroideries and accessories in the Seamstress Department have also been affected. I heard them say that the rat infestation in the warehouse is even more serious. When things are broken, the palace maids have to be punished. This palace maid is speaking the truth.”

Empress Zhangsun’s tone did not change. “Tell me. This white arsenic poison was brought in from outside the palace. Who else has seen this?” 

The palace maid spoke truthfully, “Internal Attendant Yang from the Internal Attendant Department.”

Fu Rou thought of Yang Bo and her heart skipped a beat.

Wei Song spoke sharply, “In front of Her Majesty, say the full name.”

The palace maid quickly replied, “Understood. It is Internal Attendant Yang Lu. I gave him some money and requested for him to help me when he left the palace. This is really only to deal with the rats. If not, he would not have dared to help me.”

Empress Zhangsun’s expression softened. “I can tell that you are speaking the truth. Given your age and how timid you are, you would not dare to use this poison to harm anyone.”

The palace maid thought that she had averted a crisis and immediately kowtowed. “Thank you, Your Majesty. Thank you, Your Majesty.”

Empress Zhangsun announced calmly, “Since you did not intend to harm anybody, I will reward you with a whole corpse.”

Fu Rou was stunned. “Your Majesty…”

Empress Zhangsun threw Fu Rou a look. Her expression was calm but her eyes were piercing. Fu Rou immediately swallowed what she wanted to say. Her eyes were wide as she watched the palace maid struggle and cry as she was dragged out.

Empress Zhangsun then instructed Wei Song. “The internal attendant, Yang Lu, cannot be spared as well. Flog him to death. Instruct the internal attendants to watch the punishment. Poison is strictly prohibited in the palace. Whoever that wants to touch poison shall have to evaluate how many lives they have to lose first.”

Wei Song politely acknowledged before heading out to convey her instructions. 

Empress Zhangsun then turned to Fu Rou, “Fu Siyan, you did well today. There are tens of thousands of people in the Royal Palace. Everyone will have their own thoughts. Rules have to be abided by strictly. In the future, if you notice that something is wrong, report it to me immediately.”

“Understood.” Fu Rou mustered up her courage. “Your Majesty, if I may be so bold to ask…”

“You want to ask why I still took her life even though I knew she did not intend to do any misdeed?” Empress Zhangsun knew what Fu Rou wanted to ask. “In the future, you will understand. Now, I really miss Official Situ. I was angry at that time and punished her to be caned a hundred times without consideration for her age. She died as a result. Every time I think about it, I am filled with sadness. In such a big palace, it will be impossible for me to find another person like her who follows the rules and is not afraid to offend people. She does things by the book.”

Fu Rou did not say anything. In her heart, she believed that life is precious. Be it the palace maid or Official Situ. A person’s life could be ended so easily. Was this right or wrong?

Previous Chapter Next Chapter