The judicial hall was unusually silent.
Because there hadn’t been many opportunities to rest these past two days, some low-ranked officials served tea to the people seated.
Around the time to brew two pots of tea later, the eunuch sent to the palace returned. With him was someone who appeared to be a palace maid.
He whispered a few words to Eunuch Fu, whose brows knitted and relaxed repeatedly. This made the Xiao clan’s eldest madam nervous from watching.
After he was done speaking, that eunuch retreated to the side.
The supreme justice asked: “Eunuch Fu, so—-”
Eunuch Fu stood up and cupped his hands at the three seated superiors before saying with an awkward expression: “Heh Heh, this one has misunderstood his majesty’s intentions. His majesty said that since we’re here to clear the senior concubine’s name, things should be thoroughly investigated.”
After speaking, he glanced at the eldest madam and happened to see her astonished expression. He smiled brightly and spoke once again to those in the main seats: “This is the senior concubine’s personal palace maid. Since it isn’t convenient for the concubine to appear, she had this palace maid come in her stead. The senior concubine has told her everything that happened back then, so she can confirm or object to things as necessary.”
The supreme justice clasped his hands and bowed, saying: “The senior concubine is wise.”
Seeing his majesty’s attitude and the senior concubine’s actions, he already felt relieved. The other two superiors also exchanged looks of understanding.
In comparison, the Xiao clan’s eldest madam revealed the first hint of restlessness since entering the hall.
Eunuch Fu smiled evilly at the eldest madam, “Since this is the case, the eldest madam should take her leave.”
The supreme justice nodded his head in agreement and had his subordinate invite her out. Under Eunuch Fu’s suggestion, he had someone bring in a screen to conceal that palace maid.
Next, the hearing continued. The one brought forward was the source of this mess: Tian-Shi.
Tian-Shi had already been confined for several days in the judicial hall, though it was merely a normal room and not a prison cell. She didn’t know what had happened outside, and being called forward by herself once again, she naturally felt some pressure. When she appeared, she clearly looked more haggard than she did the day before.
The supreme justice began his routine questioning, and Tian-Shi repeated what she had said before. A scribe on the side was quickly recording down her words. These notes would be kept for his majesty to reference in the future.
When the supreme justice questioned a little deeper with an awkward expression, Tian-Shi found it hard to keep her calm. Her pale face showed a trace of panic.
Although she quickly suppressed this emotion, she wasn’t aware that the three seated above had clearly seen it.
The three people immediately felt at ease. This was the first time they completely relaxed.
Tian-Shi was naturally not a fool. She clearly understood the point of the questioning. To put it plainly, she was extremely clear whether the senior concubine had done anything immoral back then. She was also extremely clear what the rumors had turned into outside.
Plausible sounding rumors only worked as long as they sounded plausible enough to obscure the facts. If no one investigated, then they were as good as confirmed. But if one were to investigate, they wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny.
Due to her chaotic state of mind, Tian-Shi chose to explain things in a way that was extremely beneficial to herself. She said that the matter had been handled by her subordinates at the time, and she had merely listened to the report after. Although she gave the orders, she wasn’t quite clear on the details.
These words were said after some consideration. After all, five years was quite a long time. The subordinates from back then had come and gone and had pretty much been switched out. She purposefully said that the person responsible had been someone called Matron Qu. Matron Qu was her personal aide, and would naturally know what to say at this point.
The supreme justice nodded and had someone bring Matron Qu over.
Matron Qu was brought forward.
She wasn’t treated as well as Tian-Shi, and had been confined together with the other subordinates. However, since she had been Tian-Shi’s trusted aide for several decades, she still had quite a good understanding of things. She was naturally on the same wavelength as Tian-Shi. These days she had solely focused on finding the old and young maids involved back then and getting their stories straight.
What story? Naturally the fact that all three maids who were sold off back then had done immoral things.
There weren’t many left who had been involved back then. The only ones were Matron Rong and Xiu E. A few others knew about the situation, but hadn’t been present at the time and only heard rumors.
After coming forward, she first glanced at Tian-Shi, and seeing her expression she knew what she should do.
As expected, Matron Qu stubbornly insisted that all three maids back then had crawled into the fourth young master’s bed. According to the estate’s rules, they should have been beaten to death. The madam had been generous and kind-hearted, and merely sold them out of the capital.
Seeing Matron Qu act as she had expected, Tian-Shi immediately let out a breath. She covered her face with her sleeves and acted aggrieved as she started crying.
Matron Qu didn’t let down her role as personal aide, and played along as she also started crying. She said it was lucky that the madam was generous back then, otherwise if those people had been beaten to death there wouldn’t be the senior concubine today. She also denounced the senior concubine for forgetting favors and turning on her benefactors the moment she rose up in status.
The hall was filled with the sounds of their crying. The three superiors even felt the urge to cover their faces. Eunuch Fu’s face was filled with disdain and mockery.
At this time, a person walked out from behind the screen. Her expression was angry and extremely disdainful.
This was Xiao Hua’s personal palace maid Chun Cao.
Chun Cao first saluted the people in the hall, and then angrily rebuked Tian-Shi for lying and Matron Qu for slander. She then said sternly: “This madam and matron, you should properly reconsider. Did things truly happened as you described?”
Tian-Shi had seen Chun Cao before and knew she was the senior concubine’s palace maid.
She didn’t expect the senior concubine to have sent a palace maid to the hearing, and felt angry, panicked, and sullen, but also a trace of satisfaction. Looks like the senior concubine was finally anxious. But there was no use in being anxious. The three superiors were watching, and even the senior concubine couldn’t threaten her. If she had listened to her recommendations early on, this wouldn’t have happened!
“Of course this madam is sure she’s telling the truth!”
Matron Qu agreed on the side, “This palace maid, even if you are the trusted aide of the senior concubine, you can’t threaten us in front of the court. Everything we said was the truth. The madam spared the senior concubine’s life back then, who would have thought she would be so ungrateful….”
Eunuch Fu cleared his throat and spoke, “The three superiors, don’t you feel this old grandma is purposefully obscuring the facts? We’re asking about the concubine’s matters, which has nothing to do with anyone sparing anyone, or anyone biting the hand that fed them.”
The three superiors nodded. They actually felt these two were too laughable. Especially that old grandma in servant attire, who merely agreed with everything Tian-Shi said and also accused the senior concubine of being ungrateful. Without considering whether her actions truly counted as ungrateful, the three were quite clear about the actions of these two.
They were clearly trying to obscure the facts, suppress the senior concubine with their words while putting on a performance for others. They fell just shy of saying that if anything happened this time, it was the senior concubine purposefully retaliating against them.
Although these noble women didn’t have enough understanding of the overall picture, they were still rather shrewd. Their words were filled with traps, and they were sometimes harder to deal with than men.
“This Grandma Qu, don’t mention irrelevant things anymore. Otherwise this official will have you leave.”
Matron Qu’s unreasonableness was really just an act. The moment Eunuch Fu opened his mouth, she started shaking all over. Now that the supreme justice had spoken as well, she hurriedly lay prone on the floor and didn’t make another sound.
Chun Cao snorted coldly and said disdainfully: “Who is the ungrateful one here? The concubine chose to ignore your initial attempts at blackmail, and gave you chance after chance. This is you asking for death, don’t blame others!”
After speaking, Chun Cao reported a few names, and said these were all people who knew concubine from before. The superiors could call them in for questioning one by one.
The supreme justice perused the Jinyang Estate’s name list and ordered for those people still present to be brought in.
Those that came were all young and old maids. This included Matron Rong who had her eyes lowered as well as Xiu E, who was no longer dressed as a maid.
These people all had ordinary expressions. Those who weren’t present at the scene back then merely offered up some hearsay, whereas Matron Rong and Xiu E naturally said what they had agreed upon.
At this time, the testimonies were not beneficial to the prime senior concubine. The three superiors knit their brows.
Chun Cao had been silent the entire time. Just as Tian-Shi relaxed, she gave another person’s name, making Tian-Shi no longer able to keep her calm.
Matron Qu cried out in her heart. That Granny Wang hadn’t been confined with her, and was confined elsewhere this entire time.
At this time, they could only hope that Granny Wang would give the same response she had given to their subordinates, and say she couldn’t remember anything due to her age. But for some reason, Tian-Shi felt an irrepressible terror rising in her heart, as though something bad was about to happen.
“Superiors, this person was very close with the concubine back then. According to the concubine, when she was promoted back then, many people shunned her, and only this old granny treated her well. Back then, when the concubine was about to be sold off, this old granny had visited her in the middle of the night. Not only did she help her get some information about being sold off, she even gave concubine a few dozen taels of silver and some pastries, giving her some measure of safety.”
The supreme justice nodded and ordered for Grandma Wang to be brought forward.
Soon, the doddering old Grandma Wang was brought up.
Chun Cao stepped behind the screen once again to recuse herself.
“This old granny. Do you remember a little lass called Xiao Hua five years ago?”
Grandma Wang looked blankly at the few officials and said after some thought: “This old grandma has some recollection.”
Tian-Shi shrieked on the side, “Grandma Wang, you better think carefully before you speak.”
Grandma Wang was frightened by Tian-Shi’s shriek, and fell shivering to her knees with a thud.
“Tian-Shi, please watch your words. Otherwise, this official will have you taken out.” After the supreme justice finished speaking, he looked at Grandma Wang, “This granny, don’t be frightened. With us officials here, as long as you speak the truth, no one will dare make things difficult for you.”
Grandma Wang gave Tian-Shi a look with some lingering fear and stammered: “Is superior telling the truth?”
Grandma Wang nodded, and put on a reminiscing expression before slowly speaking.
After listening to her words, the truth of the matter was revealed.
From what the aged Grandma Wang said, that lass called Xiao Hua was very honest and low-key. Because she had gotten into a high position at a young age, many people shunned her. The few senior maids also used her as a common maid. But she did her work without being overbearing or servile, and never provoked anyone. She also never tried to get close to the master.
Tian-Shi had been helpless back then regarding the fourth young master’s feelings towards his wife, and was about to let her son choose a chambermaid. The senior maids started fighting amongst themselves like cocks in the ring. The lass called Xiao Hua was helpless, and could only play dumb and hide in the small kitchen all day. Things got out of hand and Qiao-Shi tried to hang herself. To placate her anger, Tian-Shi sold everyone off, including the innocent lass Xiao Hua who was implicated.
After saying what she had to say, Grandma Wang blinked her turbid eyes and asked blankly, “Superior, why are you asking about Xiao Hua? Do you know where she is? When she was sold off back then, this old granny even went to see her, and secretly gave her some food and coins….a servant who gets sold off lives a hard life, who knows how she’s doing now…..”
Saying this, Grandma Wang pulled out a handkerchief and wiped her tears.
The supreme justice looked embarrassed. He wasn’t going to tell Grandma Wang that this little lass she was talking about isn’t having a hard life at all. Instead, she had fallen into wealth, and was now the lofty senior concubine.
He pounded his gavel and had someone lead Grandma Wang outside.
Tian-Shi was currently limp on the floor. Matron Qu was the same way.