Within the Jing Duke’s Estate.
The Jing Duke sat in the main hall, his expression gloomy. Around him sat several important people of the Xiao clan’s main branch.
“What should we do? Lady Hui is so timid, she’ll definitely let something slip.” The Xiao clan’s second lord sat to the side, his expression also not looking too well. “This Chengyang Count’s madam is truly too useless. How did she end up confessing so quickly? Furthermore, it was clearly elder brother’s wife who was discussing this with her. Lady Hui was just sitting on the side. How did she end up becoming the co-conspirator?”
Hearing this, the eldest lord of the Xiao clan knit his brows, “So what you’re saying is, your sister-in-law should have been the one taken away?”
“Big bro, your little brother didn’t mean that. My sister-in-law is exceptionally intelligent and responsible. She has managed the household for many years. She has also been part of the discussions on strategy these past couple of days. Lady Hui knows nothing except that our family had collaborated with the Chengyang madam. If she truly ends up confessing, wouldn’t it harm our family?”
The eldest lord also knew the second lord was speaking the truth, and his expression turned even darker.
“It seems that this Chengyang Count’s household isn’t simple. That madam definitely didn’t implicate carelessly. She did it on purpose.” The Jing Duke suddenly spoke.
The Jing Duke nodded bitterly, “She figured that we would do our best to avoid responsibility and shift the blame, and knew that the second lord’s wife is a weak link. Therefore, she purposefully implicated her, catching us off guard and making it easier for her to escape blame.”
The two lords of the Xiao clan both had gloomy expressions. The Xiao clan’s eldest madam sobbed on the side, “How did we forget to tell younger sister-in-law about this. Things truly happened too suddenly….”
“What kind of cowardly woman did you marry? She’s had more failures than accomplishments, and only knows to cry. Your sister-in-law has bitterly instructed her for so many years, but still ended up being useless.” The Xiao clan’s eldest lord vented his anger.
The second lord glared wide-eyed and roared at his brother: “Let me tell you, say what you have to say, just don’t bring my wife into it. What’s wrong with my wife? Aren’t all women timid? Is it wrong to be an honest person? Why don’t you blame your own wife? What did she pull my wife along for? Lady Hui never liked to go outside….”
“Enough! What are you arguing about!? If you have time to argue, why don’t you think of how to get through this situation?”
The fourth lord who had remained silent until now suddenly spoke. “Father, your son feels this situation isn’t that simple. That Jing Emperor suddenly made such a big move, and it definitely isn’t just showing the senior concubine favor. Your son feels like he’s set something up and is just waiting for us to fall in.”
The fourth lord was always the wise character within the Jing Duke’s Estate. Therefore, everyone took his words seriously.
The Jing Duke’s expression sank, “You’re saying this is all the Jing Emperor’s setup? Including the prime senior concubine’s situation?”
The fourth lord muttered for a few minutes before shaking his head, “Doesn’t seem like it. That situation should be real. We ourselves investigated it. The Jinyang Estate truly sold off a batch of people at that time. It’s just—-”
“Just what? Can you not leave things unsaid?” The second lord was impatient and couldn’t help but push.
“The Jinyang madam’s reaction doesn’t seem to be fake, and the Yingguo Duke’s situation is much more serious so it’s natural for them to have thoughts. The Chengyang Count’s situation should also be real. The prime senior concubine is solely favored, so it’s natural for Virtuous Concubine Qiao to try and pull her down. The only abnormal part is—–”
“The only abnormal part is his majesty.” The Jing Duke finished his thought. He had also thought the same thing.
The fourth lord nodded, “Right. The only abnormal part is his majesty. His own woman was blackmailed but he showed no reaction, as though he didn’t care about it.”
“Could it be the prime senior concubine didn’t tell him about it?” The eldest madam interrupted.
She was a woman, and thus understood a woman’s thoughts very well. They would be keen to bury their dark pasts and wouldn’t tell their man about it. No man would be able to tolerate such things, especially one who was the monarch.
“That wouldn’t quite make sense. Sister-in-law, what would you do in such a situation?”
What would she do? She would use her influence to crush those presumptuous people.
“Definitely either sweep things clean or raise an objection. But that prime senior concubine didn’t do anything.”
The eldest madam revealed some doubt, “Well, she doesn’t have a maternal family, and had only been conferred her status recently. How could she go against a marquis’s madam outside the palace….” As she spoke to this point, even she felt something wasn’t right.
“Her status is something sought after by countless people. Any random household with more influence than the Jinyang Estate would be sufficient to deal with them. But she never made a move, and never even invited anyone into the palace.”
“What fourth brother means is that the prime senior concubine and his majesty came up with a scheme together?”
The fourth lord nodded.
“None of those households were acting, they truly had their own schemes. The only issue is the prime senior concubine who acted as if nothing happened and the Jing Emperor who didn’t bother with this situation despite things developing to such an extent.” He fell into his chair and continued speaking: “Once the rumors became wild, his majesty grew enraged and ordered the three departments to hold a joint hearing. Those on trial were none other…than those who “started the rumors”….” As he spoke to this point, he revealed a bitter smile.
No one had forced them to do so. They were the ones who rushed ahead for their own selfish desires. Perhaps this had all been included in his majesty’s calculations. Including the fact that the Jinyang Estate would honestly confess, and that the Chengyang Estate, in order to preserve themselves, would implicate the second lord’s wife instead of the oldest madam who was much more intelligent.
The few men present pretty much understood the situation. Only the eldest madam still had some doubts, “But doesn’t that senior concubine care about others ruining her pure reputation?”
Pure reputation? What was the use of that? First of all, men never cared about such trivial matters when doing great things. Secondly, since the Jing Emperor set up such a scheme, he definitely had a way to clear his own favored concubine’s name.
The Jing Duke said bitterly: “Then what’s his goal?”
There was no need to clarify who he was asking about.
The fourth lord sighed and said: “If this investigation continues, our family will be revealed as the ones causing mischief. The Jing Duke’s Estate will lose a lot of face, though it isn’t quite sufficient to strip our noble status. His goal is probably eldest brother’s command of the capital guard office….”
The capital guard office was responsible for keeping the peace and safety of the capital and its surroundings. The commander was the highest station. If the Jing Emperor managed to gain control of this position, it meant that he would control two-thirds of the capital’s military power.
The eldest lord showed a panicked expression. The Jing Duke collapsed into his chair with a crash, his face ashen.
The hall was scarily silent.
Although the Jing Duke’s Estate had a lot of influence, the eldest lord’s command over the capital guard was the most important piece of their power. If this was stripped away, it wouldn’t just be breaking off an arm, it would also affect all their other affairs and many of their plans that were already in motion.
Thinking of the entire string of events, the Jing Duke felt as if he had fallen into an icy pit, and felt chilled to his core.
The Jing Emperor—-
This person always exceeded expectations. He seemed silent on the surface, but was actually like a poisonous snake hidden in ambush. He was able to unexpectedly bite and leave behind a grievous wound that you couldn’t even complain about.
When the Xiao clan’s second madam came to the judicial hall, she was already crying heavily and unable to form any words.
Seeing this, and seeing the late hour, the three officials gave Eunuch Fu a glance.
Eunuch Fu was also quite considerate. He stood and said: “The three superiors have been busy the entire day, and it’s already quite late. How about we resume tomorrow?”
“That works too. Then we’ll trouble Eunuch Fu to inform his majesty.”
“No trouble at all. It’s the three superiors who have worked hard.” Eunuch Fu cupped his hands. “It seems this second madam is an important witness, so I’ll trouble the three superiors to have someone guard her strictly.”
“That’s for sure.”
Eunuch Fu seemed a little uneasy, and after thinking for a bit he said with a troubled expression: “I won’t keep things from the three superiors. With his majesty’s decree, we naturally have to do our best in this case to clear the senior concubine’s name. How about this one brings along two low-ranked eunuchs and have them remain with the second madam in the judicial department?”
“This—-” The supreme justice revealed a troubled expression.
Eunuch Fu smiled understandingly and said: “Of course, we won’t make things too difficult. After all, we have to compromise. How about the two eunuchs remain on guard outside with everyone else. Count it as a favor to this one, and let them keep an eye on things.”
Hearing Eunuch Fu put it this way, the supreme justice immediately showed a warmer expression.
“Then we’ll have to trouble superior.” Eunuch Fu turned and instructed the eunuchs by his side: “The two of you stay with the Xiao clan’s second madam. After she enters her personal room, you guys stay on guard outside. Don’t let anyone exchange words with her.”
After Eunuch Fu left, the supreme justice showed a hint of a smile. The other two remained silent.
“This official still has work to do, and will take his leave first.”
The next day, the hearing continued.
The second madam was timid to begin with, and after being confined for a night, she honestly confessed the next day. As expected, the Xiao clan’s eldest madam was implicated. With the second madam’s confession, the eldest madam had no choice but to confess as well.
She seemed to have come prepared, and plead guilty to her own actions. However, her final conclusion was that although she had sent people to spread rumors, they couldn’t be seen as slandering the senior concubine.
“This madam admits to doing some unpleasant things out of selfishness. However, spreading rumors is different from slander. May the superiors please see things clearly.”
Everyone present understood the eldest madam’s meaning. Spreading rumors was just passing on the message. Slander was maliciously harming someone. These received different levels of punishment. The former could be punished lightly or harshly, but not with death. The latter undoubtedly deserved the death sentence.
For the sake of preserving her own life, this eldest madam was fighting to the bitter end with the prime senior concubine?
The three superiors seated up high had ugly expressions.
The three of them had privately discussed this matter before. Due to the rumors, his majesty had lost face and thus ordered them to investigate. But the method and extent of the investigation was left up to them to figure out. The Jing Emperor didn’t specify.
According to their thoughts, they could stop after reaching this point.
The Jing Duke Estate undoubtedly wanted to use a scapegoat, and this eldest madam was the best choice. By playing the “women weren’t sensible” card, they hoped to wrap things up. His majesty and the senior concubine would both regain their dignity and this matter would leave behind no scars.
But the eldest madam’s words now not only put her at odds with the senior concubine, but also put the three of them over the fire.
If they went along with her words, they would have to investigate the root cause to see if the rumors were really “slander”. To put it plainly, they would have to investigate whether the senior concubine truly was the way she was described in the rumors.
But this matter involved the senior concubine’s private affairs, and was taboo. Intelligent people wouldn’t get involved in such matters. His majesty would be unhappy no matter how it was handled. Otherwise, the three of them wouldn’t have such ugly expressions.
When immortals fought, mortals suffered calamity. Although they weren’t quite mortals, being pulled into the mix was still quite depressing.
“Eunuch Fu, this situation—-” The supreme justice said with a troubled expression.
Eunuch Fu chuckled a couple of times, and gave the eldest madam an indescribably dark look.
He truly didn’t believe this move was something this woman came up with. What an excellent move. It gave her a life preserving talisman while also allowing her to bite back without repercussion.
If they continued to investigate, his majesty might lose face and the senior concubine would be finished. If they didn’t investigate, the three departments’ joint hearing would become a joke, a sham that his majesty put together. The rumors would be all but confirmed and the senior concubine would lose her pure reputation.
Were these people just so confident in themselves?
“This one will send someone to report to his majesty. If the three superiors could please wait.” Eunuch Fu spoke quietly to a low-ranked eunuch on the side, who quickly left.
In the hall, the Xiao clan’s eldest madam revealed a cold smile.
Eunuch Fu turned his head and happened to catch her doing so.
He let out an inaudible hmph, and then said with a smile: “Since we don’t know how long this will take, how about the three superiors grant the madam a seat? She is a court conferred noble after all.”
The supreme justice slightly froze, and then had a subordinate provide a chair for the Xiao clan’s eldest madam.
The madam sat down aloofly and slightly nodded towards Eunuch Fu. She seemed to be polite, but her brows contained a barely concealed arrogance.
This was because Eunuch Fu’s attitude gave her a good indication.
This was a choice—-
The Jing Emperor had to choose between his own face and his senior concubine.