The snow in the western pavilion was very easy to handle. Everything was cleared after around two hours of busy labor.
The courtyard floor glistened with moisture after the snow was cleared. The snow was piled under various trees to water them.1
Su Yan reported to the western pavilion’s palace maids before taking her group of low-ranked palace maids back to the sweeper area. After they returned, they first ate their lunch. Because they didn’t have any work in the afternoon, Qiao Lian returned to rest in the palace maids’ room.
There were four people to a room. The others were all there, but none of them spoke with Qiao Lian. Qiao Lian was already used to it, and minded her own business as she lay on her bed.
She touched the object in her sleeve and her mind was a mess.
After a while, another low-ranked palace maid from the sweeper area walked into the room. “Qiao Lian, there’s someone looking for you outside.”
Qiao Lian’s brows rose subconsciously. She endured a little but still ended up saying “got it” before walking outside.
“Why are you here again?” Outside the doors of the sweeper area, Qiao Lian saw the unfamiliar palace maid whom she only met twice before and couldn’t help but frown and say.
“How is your task coming along?”
“You’re the one who’s asking me to help, what are you rushing me for?!”
Qiao Lian’s tone had never been good. That ordinary looking palace maid spent a lot of effort before suppressing the fire in her heart. She said in a low voice: “Don’t you want to change jobs? You know very well how hard working in the sweeper area is. If you complete your task, someone will help you change jobs.”
Qiao Lian sneered a little, “Do I need you to tell me this?”
“Then did you do it today?”
When this was mentioned, Qiao Lian revealed hint of hesitation in her expression, and then spoke in an extremely ugly tone: “How can it be that quick? There were people all around, there wasn’t any opportunity today.”
That palace maid’s face revealed some disappointment.
“Just who is your master? Stop speaking half-truths! Also, I don’t even know you, why would you trust me to do this?” Qiao Lian said with raised eyebrows.
“All you have to know is that we have a common enemy.” That palace maid didn’t give a straight answer.
Qiao Lian’s expression was complicated and she sneered in her heart.
Seeing Qiao Lian not respond, that palace maid spoke: “Could it be that you don’t hate that person? Aren’t you jealous? She’s the same as you, but why were you assigned to the sweeper area while she became someone above others in a single leap…”
Qiao Lian’s face immediately twisted, saying impatiently: “Stop speaking, how annoying!” She gave the person a side glance, “You can leave. I will keep the task in mind, so stop seeking me out for no reason.”
After speaking, Qiao Lian turned and left.
That palace maid stared angrily at her back, secretly plotting in her heart: Just wait, wait until the task is complete. I’ll come back and deal with this hateful thing.
Chun Cao kept Ding Xiang’s words in mind.
She kept in mind her task to keep a close eye on the other low-ranked palace maids in the room.
When Chun Cao got serious, she would be extremely diligent, and often when night after night without sleeping. It was Ding Xiang who realized something was wrong with her. After finding out the reason, she let her take naps inside the residence during work hours.
Chun Cao would often reminisce and be deeply moved about that day when madam said the words ‘Am I such an unreasonable person? Hurry and go eat’ along with her extremely natural attitude, seemingly unchanged from her time at the Hall of Splendor. She didn’t truly understand, but she knew that madam’s situation was very difficult. She was determined to put in more effort to help.
It was already late at night. Chun Cao who had gotten used to staying up lay on her bed. She looked to be asleep, but her eyes were actually open.
After a long, long time, around what Chun Cao thought to be past midnight based on her habit these last few days, she heard a very quiet noise.
Someone was calling Chun Lan with a very quiet voice. Chun Cao could tell it was Chun Zhu’s voice.
Her heart froze and she didn’t move. After another while, she heard someone get off their bed over by Chun Zhu’s side before heading outside the door. She heard a ‘creak’ before the door was shut again.
Chun Cao’s eyes gleamed brightly in the dark. She pulled on her jacket and lightly got out of bed and followed.
The moon outside was very bright, illuminating the snow in the distance and making it possible to see the situation outside. Chun Cao followed the sounds, slowly creeping over as she saw Chun Zhu kneeling by the hallway flowerbed doing something.
“What are you doing?”
Chun Cao’s voice wasn’t loud, but it rang like a clap of thunder in Chun Zhu’s ears. She was nervous to begin with, and fell over in shock.
“Chun, Chun Cao.” Under the nightscape illuminated by the snow, Chun Zhu’s pale face was faintly visible.
“What are you doing?” Chun Cao looked at the small pit dug in the soil, “What are you trying to bury?”
“Nothing, it’s just something of mine. I didn’t want it anymore so I decided to bury it….”
“Who are you trying to fool? Running over here to bury something in the middle of the night. Come, follow me to see big sis Ding Xiang.”
Chun Zhu was frightened to tears, “Chun Cao, please spare me. I was just momentarily confused….if Ding Xiang finds out about it, she’ll definitely not let me off….”
The constantly stern Ding Xiang seemed capable of warding off ghosts in the eyes of these low ranked palace maids.
“You still dared to do it despite knowing the consequences would be severe.”
Ding Lan and Ding Xiang had already heard the commotion on this side and gotten up.
Ding Lan and Chun Cao dragged the limp Chun Zhu over into a room on the side. The other three low-ranked palace maids had also heard and gotten up, their faces bewildered as they stood staring at Chun Zhu who was paralyzed on the floor.
Chun Cao summarized the situation, and placed the pouch she picked up onto the table.
“This was the thing, though I don’t know what it is.”
Ding Xiang grabbed it and took a look, and her face instantly turned dark.
“Speak. Just who was it that had you bury such harmful things in the courtyard.” Ding Xiang was extremely gloomy.
Chun Zhu still tried to quibble. Ding Lan walked up and gave her a huge slap.
“Speak honestly. Don’t force us to use any means to make you talk, or it wouldn’t be good for you.”
Chun Zhu’s face was full of snot and tears. She was young after all, and it was her first time doing something like this. Her heart was already shaken to begin with, and being scared like this in succession she was already frightened out of her mind, and spilled everything in great detail.
Chun Zhu actually didn’t know who it was that wanted her to bury this thing. Someone had given her silver to perform this task. The amount of silver was large, and in a moment of obsession she had agreed.
As for who it was that gave her the silver, she didn’t recognize the person. It was someone dressed as a palace maid. She was first given twenty taels of silver for the task. Afterwards, she was told that they knew where her family lived and who was part of it. If she took the money without doing the task, they would suffer the consequences.
Chun Zhu had already mounted the tiger and couldn’t get off. She hesitated for many days before deciding to wake up in the middle of the night and follow that person’s instructions to bury it in the hallway’s flowerbed. Who knew she would get caught by Chun Cao who was keeping an eye out for rats.
The scheme wasn’t really brilliant. First they used incentives and then they used threats. Towards the astute Ding Xiang such schemes naturally wouldn’t work, but towards Chun Zhu who was only fifteen it was more than sufficient.
“We’ll wait for madam to wake up tomorrow, and have her decide your fate.”
Ding Xiang had the few palace maids tie Chun Zhu up and threw her back into their room. It was cold, and if they left her outside she would freeze to death overnight.
Ding Xiang wasn’t that ruthless, but she didn’t plan on letting Chun Zhu off. Especially since the pouch contained nothing good, making her grit her teeth in anger.
Those in the room with Chun Zhu couldn’t sleep the entire night. They really couldn’t believe Chun Zhu would be so daring. Ding Xiang also didn’t sleep. She was pondering how to deal with this traitorous low-ranked palace maid during this sensitive time.
The next day, Ding Xiang reported what had happened the night before to Xiao Hua after getting back from paying respects.
As for what was in the pouch, according to Ding Xiang’s investigation it seemed to be one of the palace’s shameful medicines but she wasn’t completely certain. To be on the safe side, she didn’t take it out for Xiao Hua to see.
Chun Zhu had been tied up for the entire night, and her face had long turned pale. Her appearance was a mess, seeming all sorts of pitiful.
“Just what on earth is that thing? Ding Xiang, do you know?”
Ding Xiang hesitated a little and spoke: “This servant isn’t familiar with it. Regardless, it’s nothing good. It looks like some sort of harmful medicine.”
Xiao Hua’s face instantly darkened.
Great, really great!
Although the scheme wasn’t brilliant, the materials used were all of high quality. What sort of medicine could harm others just by being buried in the dirt?! If Qiao-Shi in her past life had such things, Xiao Hua reckoned she wouldn’t have even known how she died.
Her heart suddenly felt restless, filled with an inexplicable sense of vexation.
“Madam, how do you want to deal with Chun Zhu?”
Hearing these words, Chun Zhu cried for mercy, “Madam, spare this servant. This servant was just briefly muddled, and didn’t know this thing was harmful. If I knew I definitely wouldn’t have done it. She used my family to threaten me….my parents are both old, my younger brother is only a few years old….”
Xiao Hua didn’t respond to Chun Zhu’s cries, and muttered irresolutely to Ding Xiang, “How does the estate usually deal with such matters?”
“Madam, there are two ways of dealing with traitorous servants like this. One is to directly have her beaten to death. Another is to hand her over to the office of education.”
Seeing Xiao Hua’s confusion, Ding Xiang spoke again: “The office of education isn’t only for training newly entered palace maids. It also handles palace maids who have broken the rules. You don’t have to worry. Handing her over to the office of education is definitely not a better outcome for her than being beaten to death. After all, death is a form of release, but after entering the office of education it would be hard for her to die even if she wanted to.”
Ding Xiang’s expression and tone were both dull, but her words made others shiver all over. Even the few low-ranked palace maids on the side were scared pale, let alone Chun Zhu who was shaking uncontrollably on the floor.
“Madam, please spare this servant. This servant won’t dare to do it again….”
If Xiao Hua spared her, who would spare Xiao Hua?
Xiao Hua looked at the extremely pitiful Chun Zhu on the floor before moving her gaze away.
“You really won’t dare anymore?”
Chun Zhu seemed to catch a glimpse of hope in Xiao Hua’s attitude, and knelt on the floor kowtowing with all her might.
“Madam, this servant really wouldn’t dare do it again. This servant was just momentarily misguided. I beg madam to be magnanimous. I beg madam to be magnanimous.”
After these kowtows, Chun Zhu’s head was already bruised. She had clearly used all her strength.
“Ding Xiang, do you know how to write?”
Ding Xiang blanked out for a bit, “Yes, madam.”
“Write down what she did, and have her sign it. We’ll observe her behavior for now, and decided her fate later.”
Ding Xiang immediately understood madam’s intentions. They didn’t have time to deal with so many things at the moment. If they got rid of Chun Zhu, according to the estate’s rules someone new would be sent over. They would still have to keep a close watch on the new person, so they might as well let Chun Zhu remain for now.
Saying they would observe her behavior was just putting the thought in her head that just because her punishment was postponed, it didn’t mean they would let her off.
Seeing Chun Zhu kneeling there expressing her thanks with a grateful expression, Ding Xiang let out a sigh. She thought this was for the best, and was very appropriate.
Of course, this type of person couldn’t be allowed to stay for long. But it had to wait until they had more time on their hands.
It was the middle of the night, but Xiao Hua had trouble falling asleep.
Ding Xiang was on night duty and sat on a small couch outside the palanquin bed. The room was very silent.
“Ding Xiang, do you have an understanding of the situation in the estate?”
Xiao Hua had never taken the initiative to ask Ding Xiang about these things, but her mind was recently a little chaotic. She inexplicably felt a sense of crisis, making her restless for no apparent reason.
“What sort of situation is madam referring to?” Ding Xiang’s voice came through the canopy curtains.
“For example, his highness and the consort’s situation, as well as his highness’s attitude towards the rear court, those kinds of things.” The Jing Prince’s thoughts were too hard to see through, making Xiao Hua feel restless.
After a moment of silence, Ding Xiang’s voice faintly sounded from outside.
“This servant doesn’t really understand much.” She paused and continued: “Despite being by Auntie Qi’s side since coming to the Jing Prince Estate, this servant has never been to the Hall of Splendor before. The Jing Prince is used to going straight back to the Hall of Splendor after returning from the front court, and would rarely go anywhere else. Therefore, apart from those old fellows, others are also not clear about his highness’s personality.”
Xiao Hua heard this and sighed countless of times in her heart.
That’s right, the period of time she spent in the Hall of Splendor wasn’t short, but she still knew very little about his highness. She only understood a little of his daily habits, or some superficial things.
“As for his highness’s relationship with the consort or the rear court, how should I put it, it’s a sort of disregard. He doesn’t pay attention to it and he doesn’t ask about it. When the estate first opened, his highness ruled that internal affairs would be handled by Eunuch Fu and Auntie Qi. No one else could interfere. Normally Auntie Qi handles the majority of the affairs, and she put forth a very thorough system which she follows rigorously. She didn’t really encounter any setbacks doing things in this manner. Auntie Qi is a——”
Ding Xiang paused for a second before finding the right adjective, “Very smart person. She only manages internal affairs within her jurisdiction. Things that she shouldn’t interfere in she never touches. On the surface, the consort is the estate’s mistress. She is given the prestige she should possess…..nothing had occurred before on Senior Concubine Qiao and the Madams Yu’s sides either…..”
Saying it was one thing, but these people had all been floating underwater in the past. The moment she arrived, they all surfaced.
Was she lucky or unlucky?
Not asking made her feel restless, but after asking she felt even more restless.
Xiao Hua sighed, “Let’s sleep, it’s quite late.”
Just as Eunuch Fu once described Xiao Hua: this low-ranked palace maid is good in all aspects, but she’s too reserved with her words and actions. To put it plainly, she’s too cautious and too aware of her own situation. This author wants to add one more thing: Hua Hua, Repressed Jing isn’t as bad as you think he is.