Chapter 114 Part 2: Imperial Examination, Cousin is Grounded

    The next morning, Yun Qian Meng dressed herself up like a yatou using the clothes on the table. Mu Chun wrapped up her usual dress in a cotton cloth. Holding it in her hands, she followed behind Mu Chun as she left from a corner gate on the northwest side of xiangfu since there were  fewer people.

    It was early morning this time. Servants of xiangfu started to awaken to work; because fewer people were living on the northwest side, it was easy for the two of them to leave from the corner gate and, according to Yun Qian Meng's request, Xi Lin had already parked the horse carriage outside of the corner gate waiting for her.

    When both of them entered the horse carriage, Xi Lin personally drove the carriage as they rushed towards Fu Guo Gongfu.

    This time the horse carriage did not enter through the main gate of Fu Guo Gongfu; on the contrary, it picked the west side gate where  Le Yao had already been waiting inside the side gate. Seeing Yun Qian Meng descend from the horse carriage wearing the clothes of a yatou, Le Yao's expression turned slightly blank. Afterwhich, she quickly recovered and went out to greet her, "Greetings, xiaojie."

    "Let's talk inside." In response, Yun Qian Meng nodded and lead Mu Chun into the side gate, immediately sitting inside the soft palanquin towards Ting Yu Xuan.

    "How is my cousin these days?" Yun Qian Meng lightly lifted up the curtain; her delicate eyes observed the inside of Fu Guo Gongfu, seeing everything else was normal. Ting Yu Xuan, the residence of Qu Fei Qing, being the only exception. The guards made it seem like a prison.

    "Our xiaojie has missed you so much." Le Yao cleverly responded as they approached Ting Yu Xuan.

    Yun Qian Meng released the palanquin curtain and, during that time, the palanquin had changed directions, now proceeding towards a room which was usually used to entertain guests.

    "Xiaojie, we humbly request you to change into the clothes of our yatou." Yun Qian Meng stepped down from the palanquin and was led into the guest room by Le Yao. A set of third rank yatou's clothing laid on top of the clean table with ornaments and cosmetic cases, as well as a tray holding a plate of fruits.

    "Go and keep watch by the doorway, I have Mu Chun here to help me." Not being used to undressing in front of strangers, Yun Qian Meng sent Le Yao away. She picked up the clothing on the table and, with Mu Chun, they entered the inner room to quickly change clothes.

    Mu Chun helped Yun Qian Meng arrange her clothes, then she assisted Yun Qian Meng to sit down in front of the dressing table. Mu Chun untied the originally fixed hair bun on Yun Qian Meng's head and arranged her hair into a bun that the yatou of Houfu usually wear, only picking some simple hairpins and ribbons. She then tied them up in Yun Qian Meng's hair quite successfully.

    Yun Qian Meng opened the cosmetic case to try disguising herself. After a while, an unfamiliar face appeared before the copper mirror, a face that even Mu Chun was not able to recognize.

    "Xiaojie, you are?" Amazed, Mu Chun felt that Yun Qian Meng's makeup skills were indeed without rival that even she herself was not able to recognize Yun Qian Meng as her xiaojie anymore.

    Yun Qian Meng gave Mu Chun a light smile through the copper mirror as she instructed, "Just wait here. I shall go and meet my cousin. I will be back after a while."

    Hearing the familiar voice of Yun Qian Meng, Mu Chun nodded head. Afterwhich, she proceeded to the outer room and opened the door, allowing Le Yao to come inside.

    At first, Le Yao was startled, seeing a completely unfamiliar person, then she immediately and doubtfully asked, "Yun xiaojie?"

    "Don't just stare like that, let's hurry!" Yun Qian Meng knew why she was curious, but this was not the time to explain everything. Holding up the fruit tray from the table, Yun Qian Meng took the lead out of the room with quick steps as they proceeded towards Ting Yu Xuan.

    Aware of the situation, Le Yao knew that they were running out of time. As the two of them approached the doorway of Ting Yu Xuan, Yun Qian Meng deliberately slowed her steps and stayed behind Le Yao.

    "Who's here?" The guards by the doorway obstructed Le Yao and Yun Qian Meng.

    "According to the xiaojie's command, we have brought some fresh fruit from the kitchen. Do you need to inspect them?" Le Yao stood in front of Yun Qian Meng, not allowing the guard to see her face.

    Although not many would be able to identify Yun Qian Meng, these guards belonged to the Empress Dowager. They were all trained to have discerning eyes; additionally, Le Yao was worried that in the event that she was recognized, it might ruin her reputation.

    The guard indifferently glanced at Yun Qian Meng, and saw her as a third rank yatou of Houfu with her hands merely holding some ordinary fruit, so he nodded to let them pass.

    It was not until they reached Qu Fei Qing's pavilion that Le Yao discovered her palms were already wet with cold sweat, the handkerchief she was kneading in her hands was drenched in it. Her heart was beating wildly and from time to time, she worriedly turned her head to look at the doorway. Only after seeing that the two guards did not suspect them did she exhale in relief.

    Yun Qian Meng thought it a funny, seeing her like this. Afterwhich, with smiling eyes, she shook her head.

    The two of them went inside Qu Fei Qing's inner room. At this moment, they saw Qu Fei Qing sitting beside the window staring at the blue sky with a grim expression that would look very pitiful to others.

    "Xiaojie, we have brought the fruit that you requested." Le Yao announced in a soft voice, seemingly afraid of disturbing Qu Fei Qing.

    Qu Fei Qing immediately regained her focus and, with a happy expression, she stood up and approached where the two of them were standing. Yet, she saw an unfamiliar yatou, lowering her head, holding a tray of fruits. Qu Fei Qing's eyes suddenly became disappointed and regained their frustrated light. She indifferently spoke, "Just put them on the table, you may leave now."

    Yun Qian Meng quietly laid the tray of fruits down on the small round table in the inner room and mischievously responded, "Cousin, is Meng'er unwelcome here?"

    She then blinked her eyes at Qu Fei Qing. They resembled two inverted triangles, causing Qu Fei Qing to stare at her with wide eyes and with some confusion, asked, "Meng'er?"

    "How can you not recognize me, cousin?" Yun Qian Meng sat sadly beside the round table with her chin resting on her hands, gazing at Qu Fei Qing; her eyes looked pitiful.

    Qu Fei Qing did not believe it was really Yun Qian Meng so she quickly approached and dragged Yun Qian Meng closer to observe her from head to toe, clicking her tongue in wonder. "You silly girl, you're quite clever and proficient; if it wasn't for your voice, I really wouldn't recognize you!"

    But, when Qu Fei Qing saw the clothes on Yun Qian Meng's body, her brows creased and she immediately instructed Le Yao beside her, "Go to the cupboard and get a set of new clothes for my cousin to change into it."

    Yet Yun Qian Meng stopped Le Yao and dragged Qu Fei Qing over to sit them both down, then she smiled and said, "There's no need for the trouble. When I go back, I still need to switch back to these clothes, right? Today I especially came to see you, cousin, how are you doing these days? Did laotaijun and aunt come to see you?"

    Qu Fei Qing waved her hand, sending Le Yao to watch the doorway as she approached the window to shut it. She then sat down again, with a serious face, she said, "Mother will come over everyday and sit for a while; laotaijun also had people send me greetings. But after being trapped in this Ting Yu Xuan, I have lost my freedom and have become unaware of things that are happening in the outside world."

    Yun Qian Meng thought of the guards watching outside the gate. She nodded, making the long story short, she immediately said, "Some things were too inconvenient to write in the letters delivered by the homing pigeons, that's why I didn't mention them. Perhaps you are still unaware, Xiao Nie daifu was recently granted the title of an eighth rank imperial physician. It was before he proceeded to Luo City with Chu wang and Chu xiang."

    "What?" After hearing the news from Yun Qian Meng, Qu Fei Qing forgot herself and stood up from her seat. With incredulous eyes staring at Yun Qian Meng, seeing an affirmative glance, Qu Fei Qing suddenly became worried.

    "How could he go to such dangerous place?" Mumbling to herself, Qu Fei Qing was somewhat dazed as she sat down again, her eyes drooping and pitiful.

    Yun Qian Meng sighed and consoled her. "He is a physician; moreover, he is superb in the art of healing. You must trust that he will return safely. Besides, he was also travelling with other imperial physicians from the palace. I believe they will be safe."

    Qu Fei Qing's eyes still look worried. She lifted her eyes to look at Yun Qian Meng, seeing crystal clear and bright eyes flickering with the usual calm and confidence regardless of the situation, Qu Fei Qing's heart eased a bit, and she nodded. She then mocked herself: "If I had the same temperament as you, I wouldn't be guarded by the Empress Dowager like this."

    Yun Qian Meng only smiled and shook her head. How could she not worry about Chu Fei Yang? But in her heart, she trusted Chu Fei Yang's ability even more, and as a result, the worry in her lightened and was less obvious than Qu Fei Qing's reaction.

    Yet she was still a normal person, equipped with the same emotions a normal person would have. Only, she was used to facing everything with her usual cold face because in her heart she knew that even if she stamped her feet in fury, it still would not change the situation. It was better to adapt to it as soon as possible to make it easier on oneself.

    "Could it be the Empress Dowager has discovered something? Is that why she commanded her people to watch over you?" Qu Fei Qing had a simple and pure nature; she usually expressed her thoughts on her face, so it was not unlikely for other people to be able to see through her thoughts.

    Qu Fei Qing slightly shook her head, and forced a smile. "Luckily, I haven't entered the palace to meet the Empress Dowager these days, or else I might have exposed some loose ends in front of her. I believe the Empress Dowager did this to separate us, so as to avoid me declining the marriage she is preparing for me."

    Yun Qian Meng's expression shifted at Qu Fei Qing's analysis. She felt that Qu Fei Qing was becoming more matured now that she reflected on the problems more thoroughly.

    It was likely that she was the primary reason that the Empress Dowager prohibited Qu Fei Qing from stepping out of Ting Yu Xuan.

    After all, the Empress Dowager naturally would not risk having someone like her, who had a previously declined a marriage, around.

    Judging by the attitude the Empress Dowager had shown her, the Empress Dowager did not seem to like her at all. At the bottom of the Empress Dowager's heart, she must be unwilling to see her and Qu Fei Qing growing close. Hence, the Empress Dowager thought of a way to separate them, so as to avoid any manipulation of Qu Fei Qing by the rebellious Yun Qian Meng.

    "Since that is the case, then you should take good care of your health. Currently, there is a huge uproar due to the plague, then the imperial examinations began just yesterday. In addition to the crown prince and princess of Northern Qi being our guests in the capital, the civil and military officials are busy preparing for everything else. The Empress Dowager and the Emperor would not have the time to focus their attention on you, so you just need to relax. If Xiao Nie daifu is able to find a way to control the plague in Luo City, providing good service to our country and the common people, when the time comes he will be rewarded by the Emperor. Once the conditions are right, would you still worry that success will not follow naturally?" Even though Yun Qian Meng was aware that even if Xiao Nie daifu returned to the capital after attaining meritorious deeds, at most, he would assume a position of a fifth rank physician. The Empress Dowager would never involve a minor imperial physician with the eldest xiaojie of Fu Guo Gongfu.

    But for the current plan, she could only pacify Qu Fei Qing so as to avoid her making a mess of the situation. This would not only get her caught up in the dilemma, but also bring danger to Xiao Nie daifu.

    Qu Fei Qing recognized Yun Qian Meng's intentions, then nodded without speaking.

    At this time, Le Yao ran inside, panicked. Seeing the two of them still having a heart-to-heart talk, she immediately reported: "The Empress Dowager's close personal attendant, Lan gugu, has arrived!"

    The two suddenly looked at each other. With sharp eyes and agile hands, Yun Qian Meng lifted the teacup in front of her, then quickly dodged behind the screen and stayed hidden.

    Just as she hid herself, Lan gugu walked inside along with a few yatou.

    "Nubi is here to meet the eldest xiaojie." Lan gugu faced Qu Fei Qing and greeted when she saw that only Qu Fei Qing and Le Yao were in the room.

    "Gugu please stand up. What brings you here today?" Qu Fei Qing said proudly; though, her nervous hands hidden under the table were clenched into fists.

    Lan gugu did not mind Qu Fei Qing's waning enthusiasm and looked away from Qu Fei Qing to point at the items in a palace maid's hands. "The Empress Dowager knew that the eldest xiaojie is fond of embroidery. Consequently, these popular palace satins were especially hand picked to be sent over for you to pass the time. We also have here the new pastries from the palace, also from the Empress Dowager. We hope that xiaojie will like them."

    After following the direction Lan gugu gestured to, Qu Fei Qing glanced at Le Yao, who then assisted her to walk in front of Lan gugu, blocking off the screen from Lan gugu's sight. Qu Fei Qing's delicate hands lightly caressed the soft palace satin that contained new patterns; afterwhich with a smile, she said: "Many thanks for the Empress Dowager's gifts. I naturally love them. I have troubled gugu for personally coming here to deliver these. I heard that the Empress Dowager has gone to Pu Guo Temple, how come you didn't accompany her?"

    After the gifts were accepted, Lan gugu smiled and replied, "The Empress Dowager has returned to the palace an hour ago, but she had me come to Fu Guo Gongfu to give these to you."

    Lan gugu suddenly leaned closer to Qu Fei Qing. Keeping her voice low, she said: "The Empress Dowager went to Pu Guo Temple to light incense. On one hand, she was praying for blessings for Western Chu. While on the other, she sought your fortune, eldest xiaojie."

    "My fortune? I was already born into an influential family, and have also received the Empress Dowager's love; my fortune is already quite superb. Why would the Empress Dowager still bother to do that for me?" They seemed like words of compliment, yet when Yun Qian Meng heard it, it only sounded like some insipid mockery.

    Lan gugu did not know what was happening in Qu Fei Qing's mind, so she naturally would not be able to hear the resentment in the words. Therefore, she enthusiastically smiled and said, "The Empress Dowager wanted nubi to relay this message to the xiaojie: Xiaojie's fate is fabulous. These palace satins were especially allocated to the Empress Dowager by the Emperor. Xiaojie need only focus your heart on embroidery and you will definitely be able to achieve the best results.'

    "The hour is getting late, so nubi shall hurry back before the palace gates close. Xiaojie you must rest well, nubi shall leave now."

    Lan gugu instructed a palace maid to put everything down. Facing Qu Fei Qing, she paid her courtesies again, then left Ting Yu Xuan. When Le Yao returned to the inner room after sending Lan gugu off, Yun Qian Meng stepped out from behind the screen.

    "Meng'er, you see the Empress Dowager's intentions?" Looking at satins piled up on the table like a mountain, Qu Fei Qing frowned and complained. "Having nothing better to do, she would go as far as Pu Guo Temple to seek some inscribed stick for my marriage, really!"

    Yun Qian Meng held a brightly colored piece of satin, her fingers gently sliding over its smooth surface as her thoughts guessed at Lan gugu's word. In an instant, the expression slightly transformed, and her eyes looked over the satins on the table once again. They were mostly red colored, giving birth to a lot of assumptions in Yun Qian Meng's mind.

    "Cousin, these kinds of colors seemed like they are only qualified for the Empress Dowager, the Emperor, and the Imperial Consort's use." Yun Qian Meng prudently said, pointing at a red satin with dark flower patterns,.

    Qu Fei Qing's lips suddenly opened; her eyes had an incredulous expression. After a long while, she slowly asked, "What you mean to say is that the Empress Dowager has intended for me to enter the palace?"

    Seeing Qu Fei Qing comprehend her thoughts, Yun Qian Meng retracted her hand and nodded seriously. "Perhaps the Empress Dowager is thinking of it. Currently, among the four most influential families, the Rong family has already sent their daughter to become an imperial consort. The Ruan family's daughter is already the Empress, while the Yuan family is continuously enticing influential families within the imperial court. Only the Qu family hasn't done anything. Last time, when cousin was framed, if anyone inside the palace had been able to help, perhaps he wouldn't have needed to take that trip to the prisons of the Ministry of Justice. I believe the Empress Dowager might have already sensed that the balance between the four influential families has somehow broken, so she urgently needs you to enter the palace."

    "Humph! For the sake of the Qu family? Perhaps only for saving her own position! Now that the imperial concubines inside the palace are from different factions, the Empress Dowager probably thinks that she will not be able to control them. For the fear that the mutual affection of mother and child between the Emperor and her were to fade away, she urgently looks for someone to help strengthen her position." Qu Fei Qing said mockingly. Although she was unsophisticated, after living in such a family from young, how could she not understand the Empress Dowager's thoughts?

    "Don't be angry, cousin. Anyhow, we just need to wait until the imperial examinations have ended and for the plague to be contained. The Emperor will then have the mind to think over matters inside the harem. We just need to think of some countermeasures to handle matters in the meantime." Yun Qian Meng thoroughly comforted Qu Fei Qing while gripping her hand.

    Yet unexpectedly, though their conversation had been in low voices, it had been overheard by someone outside...
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