Xinnan manipulated the puppet. All of its four limbs were active and even the head could turn. It was an extremely adorable toy. In the past, she would not bear to let it go. However, now she found it dull.
When her Imperial Mother was around, she was rarely stressed. Her brothers, Crown Prince and Prince Han, would always protect her. Although she knew they were fighting, she distanced herself from it. However, everything changed after her Imperial Mother passed away. Both her brothers were now in prison and her Imperial Father was ill. Concubine Yan was controlling the entire palace. No matter how immature she was, she knew that she should try to stay in her own palace. Ever since Grand Prince Liang tried to pick a fight with Chuling for no reason, she understood that if she wanted him to be safe, she had to lay low.
Sheng Chuling saw Xinnan frown. He knew exactly what she was worried about. However, he pulled open his mouth and brought his face in front of her, making a funny face.
“Why? Do you now like it? I know that this tiny thing is not as cute as me. But you should just accept it. It is from Sister-in-law.”
Xinnan’s mood was brightened by him for a moment before she went back to her melancholy state. “I like it. Thank you.”
“If you like it, then don’t give such a sad face. You make me upset.” Sheng Chuling stretched two fingers out and touched the dimples on Xinnan’s face. “Learn from me. Smile brightly.”
“You just look happy but you actually have a lot of worries.” Sheng Chuling had lost an elder sister and a younger brother. Xinnan was afraid that in this chaos, they would lose each other as well. “Chuling, let’s get through any difficulties together. You don’t have to pretend to be happy in front of me.”
Sheng Chuling froze slightly before a flicker of emotion ran through his eyes. He lightly held her. “My Xinnan is so understanding. You understand human emotions so well. I have good taste.”
Xinnan remained in his embrace quietly. “This is my home yet I am feeling more and more afraid to stay here. Every time your roster ends and it is time for you to leave, I am afraid that you will not appear ever again.” What is scarier is that if something like that happens, she would not even know who to ask for help.
“Don’t worry, I am intending to ask my superior to stay in the palace temporarily. Then I can always accompany you.” There have been movements in the palace and he was worried.
Xinnan’s expression was bitter. “Linghu Deguan is dead and Concubine Yan’s men are in charge now. It may not be so easy.”
“Even though they have bad intentions, they are still following the rules. The Emperor has only fallen ill, there is no need to fall out…”
Before Sheng Chuling finished his sentence, numerous footsteps could be heard from outside. There were also astonished shouts from palace servants.
“Chuling…” Xinnan grabbed onto Sheng Chuling’s sleeve. Sheng Chuling smiled, “Don’t worry, I am here.”
The two of them entered the courtyard only to see Yan Zifang leading a group of royal guards. They aggressively push away anyone who was in their way. As soon as Yan Zifang saw Sheng Chuling, he ordered, “He is there, catch him!”
The royal guards moved forward to clamp Sheng Chuling down. Xinnan blocked their way and declared, “Who dares to take him away!”
Yan Zifang was cold. “These are issues of the military. Your Highness should stay out of it.”
Xinnan turned back and glared at Yan Zifang. “Back then, if not for Chuling’s elder brother speaking up for you in front of the Emperor, you would have still been a wanted pirate!”
Yan Zifang was not moved. “I am serving the country. I am fair and will not bring my personal feelings into it. Sheng Chuling has committed a crime. As his superior, I have to discipline him.”
“I would like to know, what crime has he committed?” Xinnan’s eyes were clear.
Yan Zifang held back his laugh. “It is not convenient for me to tell you. If you insist on knowing, you should ask Concubine Yan.”
Sheng Chuling looked stern. “Xinnan, don’t worry. I will be fine!” Yan Zifang waved his hand and they dragged him away.
Concubine Yan looked on coldly as Xinnan panted in front of her. It was obvious that Xinnan had run here. However, she was not Empress Zhangsun. Even if she was an honorary princess, there was no sweet for her here.
“Why did you capture Sheng Chuling?” Xinnan demanded. Concubine Yan did not say anything and simply looked at Yu He.
Yu He understood. “Sheng Chuling has been exposed by two of his colleagues to his superior. Sheng Chuling has acted inappropriately during his duties. He met with you secretly, is careless and promiscuous.”
“Bastard!” Isn’t he criticising her as well? “Imperial Father asked you to support the six palaces. Is this how you support? You despicable person. You tarnished the reputation of royal women and ruined the royal family’s reputation. Not only did you not scold them, you ordered them to barge into my palace to catch someone? When Imperial Father wakes up, let’s see how you will explain it to him!”
Concubine Yan was nonchalant. “I will explain to the Emperor. The one that ruined the royal family’s reputation are not those that reported but it is you, Princess Xinnan.”
Xinnan was furious. “How can you anyhow make a decision just from a few nonsensical reports!”
The corners of Concubine Yan’s mouth curled up. ”Princess, you are wrong. I personally saw the ambiguous relationship you have with Sheng Chuling. Do you remember that one night when I bumped into both of you? If I did not see wrongly, weren’t the both of you holding hands?”
Although Xinnan felt slightly uneasy, she put on a brave front. “Even so, my relationship with Sheng Chuling is not as bad as you think.”
Concubine Yan’s eyes were emotionless. “Xinnan, you are the Emperor’s favourite daughter and that’s why I chose to keep it a secret at that time. But you don’t know what’s good for you and came to make a racket at my place. Don’t blame me for being strict.”
A group of palace maids were dragged in by internal attendants. There were blood stains on their body. It was obvious that they had been tortured. They all started saying how Princess Xinnan would occasionally go missing. After Sheng Chuling became an imperial guard, he would often enter the princess’ palace and Zhenzhu definitely knew about it.
Concubine Yan immediately ordered for Zhenzhu to be captured and be beaten in front of Xinnan. She ordered Zhenzhu to tell the truth on Xinnan and Sheng Chuling’s secret meetings.
Zhenzhu was loyal and refused to admit. However, she was beaten horribly by the internal attendants who did not hold back. Her screams became weaker and weaker.
Xinnan could no longer hold her silence. “Stop! Stop hitting her!”
Concubine Yan did not ask them to stop and sneered, “”Princess, I am listening. You can say whatever you want to say.”
“That’s right. Sheng Chuling and I have an affinity for each other and want to be together for the rest of our lives. However, I have already told Imperial Mother and Imperial Father has promised to grant us marriage. That’s why Sheng Chuling was transferred to become a guard at my place.” Although Xinnan was telling the truth, she did not feel happy.
Concubine Yan’s expression did not change. “Grant you marriage? I have never heard the Emperor mention it. You have no proof and cannot be trusted.”
Xinnan held back her anger and lowered her voice. “I am speaking the truth. When Imperial Father is awake, everything will be revealed.”
“As long as the Emperor is unconscious, I am the one making the decisions. A princess that has yet to be married is actually repeatedly meeting in secret with a guard. You have disregarded all rules and etiquette, shaming the royal family. What is more heartbreaking is that you don’t seem to be ashamed or regretful.” Her tone changed and Concubine Yan looked at her pitifully. “Xinnan, you were raised by the late Empress and the Emperor dotes on you greatly. You should not disappoint them like this.”
Concubine Yan lowered her eyes and looked at Zhenzhu. “As Her Highness’ personal maid, you should be keeping the princess in check. Instead, you allowed her to be bewitched and caused her to make a huge mistake. Zhenzhu cannot be forgiven. She is to be beaten to death.”
“How dare you!” Xinnan wanted to dash to Zhenzhu’s side but was held back by two palace maids. She could not help but shout, “I have already admitted everything, why can’t you let her go?”
“It is only natural for a servant to suffer for her master.” Concubine Yan was determined to deal with Sheng Chuling and was taking the chance to set an example to others. “Who asked her master to be disobedient?”
Xinnan was fuming as she struggled. “Concubine Yan! When Imperial Father wakes up, I will tell him how cruel and brutal you are!”
“Stop!” Fu Rou walked in with a group of female officials. However, Zhenzhu coughed out blood. She had already stopped breathing.
Xinnan struggled out of the palace maids’ grasp and ran to Zhenzhu. She wailed. She never thought that she would implicate Zhenzhu.
Fu Rou frowned as she lifted her eyes to ask Concubine Yan, “Your Highness, may I ask what Zhenzhu has done such that she was beaten to death?”
Yu He answered on her behalf, “Princess Xinnan has been secretly meeting up with Sheng Chuling. They have acted promiscuous in the palace. Zhenzhu is the princess’ confidante and she knew about it yet did not report. She even encouraged them. She has committed a terrible crime.”
Concubine Yan finally spoke, “I am just thinking for the Princess’ future that’s why I punished the people around her.”
Fu Rou was fair. “Princess Xinnan is at fault and should be handed over to the Rites Office to be taught. Zhenzhu has committed a crime and should be handed to the Managerial Department to be punished.”
Concubine Yan’s face fell. However, her gaze fell on the group of female officials behind Fu Rou and she had no choice but to reign in her temper. “Court Lady Fu, don’t you think you are too late?”
Yu He made a play on words. “It is already noon and the sun is right above us.”
Fu Rou played with words as well. “That’s good. Only when the sun is slightly poisonous then can it get rid of demons. Chief Yu, you said Princess Xinnan is at fault, why do you say so?”
Yu He replied, “She met secretly with guards and behaved promiscuously in the palace. Her Highness personally witnessed them.”
Fu Rou tilted her head. “Rites Official Wu, is there a way to examine promiscuity in the palace?”
Rites Official Wu replied carefully, “Depending on different situations, the way to check is different. The princess has yet to be married so to check whether she has conducted wanton behaviour, we can just check her chastity.”
Concubine Yan pretended to be nice. “She is a golden branch after all, there is no need…”
Xinnan suddenly lifted her head. “We have to check!” She immediately got up and pulled open her top.
The people in the place did not dare to look at her straight. Concubine Yan felt that something was wrong and was about to say something. However, Fu Rou cut in front of her. “Your Highness, could it be that because you are the witness, you are not going to allow Her Highness prove her own innocence?”
Concubine Yan sat up straight and took on an imposing manner. “I am trying to protect the Princess’ reputation. Since she doesn’t care, why do I need to try to protect her?”
Rites Official Wu instructed the female officials and they immediately got to work. They moved a screen over and hung up a curtain.
Xinnan entered. Rites Official Wu and a nanny that Concubine Yan arranged were to examine her together. They quickly reached a conclusion, Xinnan was undeniably a virgin.
Concubine Yan’s expression did not change. “Even if it is not true that they were promiscuous, meeting with a guard without regard for the rules is still the Princess’ fault.”
Xinnan was furious. “You are twisting words! Despicable and shameless! You killed an innocent person! Return Zhenzhu to me!”
Fu Rou held Xinnan back and politely spoke to Concubine Yan. “When did I say that Her Highness was not at fault? However, from this scene, is it obvious that there are untruths in this accusation. There was also intention to exaggerate the suspicions. Your Highness is kind, if you had found out the truth earlier and it was not as serious as you thought, I believe that you would not need to be so cruel as to beat Zhenzhu to death, right?”
Concubine Yan pretended to be kind. “Of course. I am not willing to beat palace maids to death as well. However, this issue was huge and I had to be strict. Since it is not as serious as I thought, I am reasonable. I will make amends and give Zhenzhu a proper burial.”
Fu Rou continued, “Your Highness, other than Zhenzhu, this issue also affects Imperial Guard Sheng Chuling. I heard that Sheng Chuling has been captured. In order to prevent another unfortunate killing of an innocent, please allow me and Rites Official Wu to be present.”
Xinnan immediately understood what Fu Rou meant as she gritted her teeth. “You beat Zhenzhu to death and now you want to do the same to Sheng Chuling? I will not agree! Don’t forget that Imperial Father is still around!”
Concubine Yan looked at everyone in the room and felt an unknown pressure. “You can observe Sheng Chuling’s trial. However, only Court Lady Fu is allowed. The Rites Office is in charge of etiquette and should take responsibility for the fact that the princess has acted out. Rites Official Wu is not suitable to manage the Rites Office.”
Fu Rou bit her lip, not willing to give in. Rites Official Wu helped solve the issue. “I am at fault and I am willing to be punished.”
Fu Rou hesitated but understood when she met with Rites Official Wu’s calm gaze. “Superior Xu, Rites Official Wu’s handover shall be managed by your Managerial Department. The punishment should only come after understanding the full story.”
Superior Xu acknowledged and ordered people to capture Rites Official Xu. Concubine Yan knew that Fu Rou was unhappy. “The Rites Office needs to be cleaned up. How is it enough to just punish Rites Official Xu? I have someone in mind, I wonder if Court Lady Fu would agree with me.”
“Who does Your Highness want to recommend?” Fu Rou understood that if she rejected, Concubine Yan would not let this matter go.
Concubine Yan called out, “Official Zhuang.”
A female official stepped forward and kneeled, “Yes, Your Highness.”
Concubine Yan spoke, “From today onwards, you will be in charge of the Rites Office.”
Official Zhuang was delighted as her eyes spun. “Thank you for the promotion, Your Highness. I will clean up the Rites Office properly and not let you down. Since Princess Xinnan has admitted to her faults, the Rites Office will guide her properly so that she will behave appropriately from now on.”
Behind Fu Rou, all the female officials’ expressions were not looking good. Fu Rou fell silent. The more anxious she was, the more her opponent would be delighted. She was not going to let them get what they wanted.
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