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The weather got colder. Situated in the southwest of Qi, though, West Xia welcomed snow in November due to its geographical location. It was snowing heavily with the height of snow on the ground reaching people’s ankle. White snow piled up on the low red wall. It seemed as if the plain courier station had put on a piece of white fox-fur robe.
A scarlet sedan chair that came out of the east district in West Liang was quite eye-catching against the white snow. It passed by the streets and arrived at the palace gate. Looking up at the sedan chair top, the doormen immediately bowed to it obediently and cautiously opened the gate. They didn’t look up until the sedan chair went through the gate.
“Ho, who’s that? So lordly. I haven’t seen any official of the first rank has been greeted in this way.” A new guard knew little about royal members.
“Brat. Shut your mouth up when you know nothing.” An elderly soldier scolded him. “The sedan chair top is painted with red color, a symbol of Prince Shun’s Mansion. You can’t take the consequences if you offend anyone related to Prince Shun’s Mansion, from Prince Shun to Princess Shun to the infanta.”
The young soldier seemed not convinced and murmured, “Even so, we should check them up as required by rules.”
“Ho, check up?” The veteran kicked him on his calf and said in a seasoned but arrogant way, “You should want to check it up. Are you asking for your death?”
“Ho, who is asking for his death?” A slightly feminine and flattering high voice came from afar. “Look at our Commander Ding. It’s been less than a month since you were punished to guard the palace gate. You’re relapsing into putting on airs?”
The veteran’s surname was Ding, and he was a commander of the sixth rank before. After seeing clearly who was talking, he took a reverent attitude, “Eunuch Meng, thank you for your care. I have had a peaceful life and met no trouble here since I was appointed to guard the gate. I only hope you can speak up for me before Prince Yuanchu. After all, I was a scapegoat for…” While speaking, Commander Ding got closer to eunuch Meng who had wrinkles around his pale face and red lips, and whispered to him, “After all, I was a scapegoat for Prince Yuanchu.”
“How dare you!” Eunuch Meng squinted at Commander Ding and then took out a pink handkerchief to wipe his mouth. He smiled and said, “Commander Ding, I remember that the granary caught fire because of your neglect of duties so that the fugitive who hid himself there was burnt to death. This has nothing to do with our prince.”
Commander Ding became anxious. “This is not true. How can Prince Yuanchu do this to me? The person who was intentional to kill the Seventh Prince is…”
“Eunuch Meng, I ask you to inform my father of my arrival, not to chat with guards here.”
A pure black carriage showed up at the gate. Everything on it, from the shaft to the horse, was black so that the sentence sounded more dreadful.
The man sitting inside reached out to pull back the curtain a bit. He was the Thirteenth Prince who eunuch Meng and Commander Ding talked about just now. It seemed that he was smiling. “Eunuch Meng, hurry up to finish your task. I didn’t inform father of my visit in advance this time, so you’d better tell him now.”
Eunuch Meng bowed and scraped to Jing Yuanchu, completely putting away the swaggering manner he had just now. But Commander Ding couldn’t reconcile himself. He cupped his hands to Jing Yuanchu and asked, “Your Highness, do you still remember me?”
Taking a glance at eunuch Meng, Jing Yuanchu answered, “Of course. Don’t worry. I have kept what you did in my mind. But everything is just settled. Father punishes you to guard the gate for three years, and now, it’s merely been a month. So I can’t rush to transfer you to other positions. But don’t worry. I’m fair to everyone, and I have kept everything you did for me in my mind.”
Commander Ding felt relieved and replied, “If so, I’ll feel at ease. I’ll wait for your appointment.”
When the carriage passed the gate, Jing Yuanchu got out of it to walk. Eunuch Meng walking by his side asked, “Your Highness, that commander…”
Jing Yuanchu, who lowered his head and put his hands in the fox-fur hand warmer, slightly raised his hand and showed his neck. He dropped a hint and uttered one word, “Kill.”
Eunuch Meng looked down and replied, “I’ll get this done as soon as possible.”
Meanwhile, outside the Jingren Palace, the eunuch in charge, who reported Mu Qingyu’s arrival to the emperor, came out and walked downstairs to pass on the emperor’s message. He curtsied to Mu Qingyu in a polite way and said when lowering his head, “Your Grace, the emperor just woke up and invited you to come in.”
“Alright.” Mu Qingyu turned around and ordered servant girls behind her. “Suer, go with me, and others, wait here.”
No one dared to disobey her, so all servant girls obediently did what she ordered. Mu Qingyu raised her head to a servant girl who looked older than others. “Follow me.”
A strong smell of herb medicine, mixed with the ambergris which only royal members could use, permeated the Jingren Palace. Through layers of curtains, they could vaguely see three eunuchs were helping a man lying on the bed to take medicine. Most people who served the emperor were eunuchs, and only a few women worked here as tailors. It was said that the emperor loved his deceased wife so much that he didn’t want to stay close to other women. But in fact, he did this for another woman.
“Your Highness, Infanta Mu is here.” The eunuch in charge reported cautiously.
“Alright. You all, leave.” A slightly weak and old voice came behind the curtain. Hearing this voice, people would worry about the owner’s health.
“Uncle.” Mu Qingyu didn’t see Jing Donghua who reclined on his bed until she pulled back all layers of the curtain. He was thinner now. Although the imperial kitchen cooked all varieties of herbal cuisine for him, and the Imperial Hospital also developed new drugs for him, he didn’t recover. Strangely, however, a Taoist master who came out of nowhere two weeks ago completely cured him.
He was still weak now, but two weeks ago, all imperial doctors agreed that he was going to die. However, after taking several pills the master gave, Jing Donghua, who originally couldn’t open his eyes, now could sit up.
“Are you feeling good?” Mu Qingyu often went to the palace to visit Jing Donghua, which gratified him very much.
“Yes. But I can’t stop coughing. I felt much better this morning but keeping coughing counteracts my recovery.” Thin as he was, he was still handsome with his chiseled features unchanged. In the past, the Elder Princess loved his well-defined chin most.
“My mother says people who have a well-defined chin will live for long.” Time was flying. Plus, Jing Donghua became ill, so he looked ten years older than he really was.
Jing Donghua looked sideways and saw Suer, the servant girl who followed Mu Qingyu in a servile manner. He noticed that and asked, “You usually took another servant girl with you. Why do you take a new one this time? I think the previous one is decent and resourceful. She’s rather good. If you’re going to marry North Di’s princess, she can help you. But this one, she is a bit timid.”
“Uncle.” Hearing that she was going to marry a prince in North Di, Mu Qingyu felt bitter. “Have some water.” Then, Mu Qingyu looked back at that servant girl, and she sounded out Jing Donghua, “Do you really not know her?”
“What?” Jing Donghua was confused. “Should I know her?”
“Take a closer look. Actually, she’s not my servant girl but your acquaintance. Someone pleased me to take her to see you.”
Jing Donghua blinked. His acquaintance? He knew clearly that Mu Qingyu wouldn’t cross the line, so this woman must be his acquaintance.
But when Suer walked closer and sat on his bed, Jing Donghua still couldn’t recall who she was as if he had lost his memory.
“I forget one thing.” Mu Qingyu stepped forward and tore off a whole human-skin mask from Suer’s face along the seam near her ear. When seeing what Suer exactly looked like, Jing Donghua felt a warm current flowing to his throat. He couldn’t express how joyful and astonished he was. It was so incredible.
His hands were trembling. He wanted to reach out to stroke that pretty face, but an unspoken sense of guilt stopped him.
“Qinghe.” Jing Donghua said out the name he called many times in his dreams. Now looking at the woman who he could only meet in his dreams before, he asked, “Are you Qinghe?”
Meanwhile, the Elder Princess, who dressed up as Mu Qingyu’s servant girl, already had tears in her eyes. She took the antidote Lu Wuyi made, so the nepenthe didn’t work on her anymore. At the same time, Qin Yunuan helped treat her in secret, so her memory and mind had been gradually restored. But to avoid being found out by Jing Yuanchu, she tried hard to behave like a fool. Thankfully, Jing Yuanchu didn’t find out.
“Yes, it’s me.” The Elder Princess came closer to Jing Donghua. She still had a voice as warm and tender as before. Every time when Jing Donghua came back to the hut on the Yueya Mountain, he could hear the Elder Princess, who waited for him under the oil lamp, called him with such a voice. “Donghua, I’m back. I’m still alive.”
“Qinghe…” Jing Donghua wanted to tell her how much he missed her these years. But suddenly, the Elder Princess put on another look, a vicious look. She took out a dagger behind her waist and tended to stab it into Jing Donghua’s chest. She shouted, “I didn’t die. Because you are the love rat who should go to the hell.”
Right at this time, Jing Yuanchu shouted outside, “Guards, protect the emperor. There’s an assassin inside.”
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