The Rebirth of an Ill-Fated Consort

Chapter 201

Chapter 201 : To Stand on Trial

Xiao Shao quickly returned from fetching water while at the same time seemed to have given some instructions to those outside. Realizing that it would either be the Jinyi Guards or Lian Qiao and the other maids, Jiang Ruan was somewhat embarrassed. Thus Jiang Ruan was startled when Xiao Shao walked to the edge of the bed and was about to bend over to pick her up. She asked, “What are you doing?”

“Since you don’t want the maidservants to serve you, I’ll carry you over to freshen up.” Xiao Shao replied good naturedly.

“No need.” Jiang Ruan lifted the quilt and was about to step down. “I’ll just wash myself.” If she wanted to wash her body in front of Xiao Shao like this, no matter how much she feigned a calm composure, she might not be able to remain so. However, who knew that as soon as she moved, she would feel sore and weak all over, so she stopped immediately.

Xiao Shao looked at her in a calm and collected fashion, then smiling genially said, “I won’t do anything.”

Jiang Ruan knew that at this moment, it would probably be difficult for her to wash up by herself and it would be hypocritical and even coquettish for her to refuse. So she nodded and Xiao Shao bent over and carried her over to the wooden barrel behind the screen. After their earlier physical intimacy, Jiang Ruan was already very tired, yet Xiao Shao looked refreshed and full of vitality, carrying her effortlessly. Once he had settled her into the barrel, the soothing warm water was so comfortable that Jiang Ruan allowed herself to relax. Soon her eyes grew heavy and without knowing it, she gradually fell asleep and by the time Xiao Shao had taken great care to dry her body, Jiang Ruan was already sound asleep. With a smile, he once again carried her back to bed and gently tucked her in.

Since it was their first time, he was concerned that Jiang Ruan had been overly exhausted and knew that he had to be more considerate towards her. And so, when he saw how soundly she was sleeping, compassion arose and he felt a tad apologetic. Leaning over, he kissed her lightly on the forehead. Just then, Lian Qiao entered carrying a bowl of medicine, and he silently shook his head at her. She immediately understood and took her leave smiling discreetly.

On this night, it was unknown how many people in the Jinying Wangfu were aware of the charming scene, but more than likely only those guards hidden in the tree limbs, eaves and rafters knew. And, in regards to the bet Jin Si had made, the final winner was the banker herself. Consequently, Jin Si very generously took the gambling money and treated everyone to eat and drink. When everyone was tipsy and merry, several hidden guards began to weep with joy. It was as if they were already seeing the next little master of the Jinying Wangfu already rushing forward to make his appearance at the Wangfu.

When Jiang Ruan woke up, it was already the morning of the next day. Even after sleeping all night, her body still felt as if she had been run over by something, somehow aching more than the night before. The quilt around her was flat and Xiao Shao was not on the bed. She propped herself to sit up when the door opened with a ‘squeak’ and Xiao Shao came in with a bowl of medicine. Seeing that Jiang Ruan was awake, he put the medicine bowl on the small table on the side, and reached out to feel her forehead. He asked, “Is your body still hurting?”

Jiang Ruan: “…”

Xiao Shao couldn’t help laughing. These days, he laughed frequently. His naturally handsome appearance combined with that laugh made him exude a charming presence like a peach blossom blooming in spring, and probably because he had eaten his fill the night before, he was in a cheerful mood. Jiang Ruan compared herself to him, stretched out her own hands to pick up the medicine bowl, blew on its contents, and drank the medicine down in a few gulps.

Xiao Shao had presumably instructed someone to find a physician to prescribe this medicine for her as it seemed immediately effective. After taking it, she felt her body become warm and comfortable, and it even relieved much of the soreness.

After she finished drinking, Xiao Shao took the empty bowl from Jiang Ruan’s hand and suggested, “You should just rest at home today.”

“No.” Jiang Ruan shook her head, “Today, there is a hearing at the investigation department, so I need to make a trip there.” After thinking about it, she added, “My body is much better after drinking the medicine. It will be alright for me to just listen to the case on trial. You don’t have to worry.”

Xiao Shao had always known that Jiang Ruan had her own opinion, and she had a good attitude when admitting when mistakes were made. Therefore, he was sure that she would not neglect herself again. It all came down to the word ‘risk’ and even though he loved her dearly and couldn’t bear to see her suffer, he could not help relenting, “I will let Jin San and the others follow you. The people at the investigation department will certainly not make things difficult for you.”

His words implied that he had already communicated (i.e. exchanged hands) with the official in charge of the case. Jiang Ruan looked at him, and said, “Because I sued my own biological father, it is inevitable that people in the capital will have something to say– this will even hurt your reputation. I have placed Jinying Wangfu in a compromising situation. Do you, by any chance, feel that I did something wrong?”

“He is not your father.” Xiao Shao said lightly, “You have nothing to do with the Jiang fu now.” Jiang Ruan was slightly taken aback, only to hear Xiao Shao continue, “You married into the Jinying Wangfu, which means you are now a part of my Xiao family. Whether it is revenge or overturning the case, the Xiao family will always have your back.”

His expression was resolute yet his words were gentle. He was clearly the coldest person around, but his heart could always bring warmth and joy into her life. Jiang Ruan smiled. “Xiao Shao, thank you.”

It was not a perfunctory thank you, nor was it a transactional gratitude between allies. This thanks of hers was truly from the depths of her heart. In life, it was hard to come across someone who would stand behind you, no questions asked, wholly supporting you regardless of what you do, someone who would journey alongside you. This was love and devotion.

“No need.” Xiao Shao smiled. “If you truly want to thank me, it would be nice if you were even more enthusiastic at night.”

Jiang Ruan: “…”

* * *

In a corner of the palace, Xuan Pei listened to the information that Ming Yue had returned to report, then with a sneer he responded, “Jiang Quan’s good life is probably coming to an end. Over the past few years, he has dared to scheme against her and it is time for him to bear the consequences of his actions. Just because Xia Yan and the siblings- Jiang Su Su and her brother– are dead does not mean that all is right and well in this world. Does he truly think that he still has a sliver of a chance left at life? Ridiculous.”

Ming Yue stood silently by the side. She knew that her young master had a special kind of relationship with Jiang Ruan, and it seemed that theirs was a unique one. But if Xiao Shao couldn’t find out the link between them, then naturally a hidden guard like her would not be able to discover anything either. Although she was puzzled, she knew that Xuan Pei was protective of Jiang Ruan. Now Jiang Quan’s deeds–that as her father, he could be so merciless to his own daughter –had been spread throughout the capital. Even ordinary citizens rebuked him for being so cruel and unscrupulous, let alone Xuan Pei, who was in a close relationship with Jiang Ruan.

“Have you communicated clearly with the person at the investigation department?” Xuan Pei played with the night pearl that was the size of a pigeon egg in his hand. It was the gift that the Emperor rewarded him the day before because he was extremely impressed when he saw his excellent policy advice essay. Even in the palace, this night pearl was so rare that even Xuan Hua would be jealous if he saw it. Yet it was now something that Xuan Pei played with like a meaningless toy. It truly spoke at length about Xuan Pei’s current status in the imperial court. The once useless, unfavoured prince that anyone could bully was nowhere to be seen, and now no one would dare to despise nor hold him in contempt anymore.

“Your Highness,” Ming Yue asked in puzzlement, “Xiao Wangye’s people must have already spoken with the investigating officer. Even if Your Highness does not act, the people from the investigation department will not allow Jiang Ruan to suffer any losses. Why should Your Highness go to such lengths?” Xuan Pei’s every move was under the watchful eye of insidious people and if someone discovered that he had meddled in the investigation department regarding Jiang Ruan’s case, who knew what other rumours would begin to spread. In the palace, a wise man looked after his own hide[1]; especially since Jiang Quan’s case could be solved satisfactorily without his intervention.

[1] 明哲保身 (míngzhébǎoshēn) – a wise man looks after his own hide (idiom); to put one’s own safety before matters of principle.

“What Xiao Shao is doing is what he ought to be doing, and what this prince does is my business. Moreover, is there any need for me to obtain any benefits from him just to do what I wish?” Xuan Pei snorted coldly. “The people from the investigation department have always been crafty. Jinying Wang will have put pressure on them, and if this prince were to add additional pressure, they would realize that this is no small matter. As a result, they would leave no margin for error and come down harder to prosecute Jiang Quan. In any case, as long as Jiang Quan receives a heavy sentence, this prince will be exceedingly pleased.”

Ming Yue could only helplessly shrug– Xuan Pei’s hostility towards Xiao Shao would never diminish. But as an adult, in Ming Yue’s eyes, it seemed even a bit childish of him. For someone like Xuan Pei, who always seemed mature, it was a behaviour that rarely surfaced. In addition, she had always felt that there seemed to be some undertones of rivalry between Xiao Shao and himself. Naturally, the pot of vinegar that they were vying for was over Jiang Ruan, however, Xuan Pei was still too young, and so Ming Yue felt that this was just overthinking on her part.

* * *

The entrance to the investigation department had long been surrounded by a crowd watching the excitement. The department had always been known for its fair hearings, and every time the trial concerned the private matters amongst the noble families of the capital, people would naturally want to join in the bustle and witness the exposé of the dirty secrets of the aristocracy. As such, unless they were truly being forced to their wits’ ends, most people would not take their matters to the court. After all, a family’s shame should never be spread about, and no one would actually want to expose their own family secrets and scandals out in public to become the talk of the town.

When Jiang Ruan arrived, it naturally caused an uproar. It was the first time in Great Jin’s history that someone had taken their biological father to court. Yet, it was once again Jiang Ruan who happened to do this: from her meteoric rise from being an unremarkable person in the Jiang fu to the Empress Dowager’s favoured Junzhu. And now, she was the Wangfei of that notorious rebel of the court. Every status of Jiang Ruan’s could not help but make one sigh and indeed, amongst those present were many jealous gazes. But even more were those of envy.

What Jiang Quan did was naturally unpardonable, but what Jiang Ruan had done was basically severing ties with her own family[2] and the people were divided into two clear factions of separate and distinct opinions. Some insisted that Jiang Quan deserved death, that although Jiang Ruan’s actions were outrageous, they were understandable. However, others believed that Jiang Ruan violated the social norms and customs that had been established since the founding of the Great Jin dynasty and it was considered absolutely unfilial to take one’s own father to court.

[2] 六亲不认 (liùqīnbùrèn) – not recognizing one’s family (idiom); self-centered and not making any allowances for the needs of one’s relatives.

Regardless of how others might perceive her, Jiang Ruan never cared. Stepping down from the carriage, she had adorned herself in an outfit with intricate patterned designs of composite flowers[3]. Amongst them were certain patterns that were complex yet dignified, casting an aura of utmost nobility upon her person. As an overcoat, her outer attire consisted of a vibrant fox fur cloak with pleated silk satin folds, radiating a fiery and passionate hue like a warm, burning fire. Despite the overnight snowfall blanketing the surroundings in a foot-high layer of glistening silvery white, with only her fluttering red resplendent outfit, she stood there as captivating and coolly poised. Her striking beauty almost compelled onlookers to hold their breath.

Traditional Chinese patterns | Ambilight [Baoxianghua]_Art_Buddhism_Chinese Tradition_Lotus_Guofeng

[3] Composite flowers

Although people from the investigation department had always treated all who came to the courtroom impartially, in front of Jiang Ruan, they could not help but show a little respect. This daughter of the Jiang family should not be underestimated. Their chief judge, Sun Xu, had specially instructed his subordinates last night to be more polite to her. Even Sun Xu, who had never been afraid of those in power and status, treated her with such importance. Therefore, one should not underestimate the powers that were behind this di daughter of the Jiang family.

In comparison, Jiang Quan’s treatment was far worse. Sun Xu was known for his eccentric temper in the imperial court, and it would seem that there was no one he feared. Even when facing his former colleagues, he was impartial and would not be deferential to anyone and what Jiang Quan cared about most was his pride. Unfortunately he had fallen short before Sun Xu because now, it was as if he was a criminal being tried by him, and needless to say, his anger had long since been ignited.

On this day Jiang Xin Zhi was discussing military matters with the former General in the barracks so he was truly unable to rush over. Jiang Ruan entered the main hall and found that Zhao Guang and the three brothers from the Zhao family were also present. When Zhao Yuan Feng saw her, he warmly greeted her, “Ah Ruan.”

After all, Zhao Mei was from the Zhao family. Although she said to sever ties with the family many years ago, and the Zhao family said that they didn’t raise an unfilial daughter, the truth of the matter was, familial ties could never be truly severed. Especially since she was the pearl held in the palm of the Zhao family. Consequently, the Zhao family flew into a rage when they learned about the charges that Jiang Ruan had levied against Jiang Quan. If it wasn’t for Jiang Xin Zhi’s help and persuasion, Zhao Guang would have long since rushed into the Jiang fu, beheaded Jiang Quan and buried him with Zhao Mei.

The Zhao family had always protected their loved ones in spite of their shortcomings, and today’s visit to the investigation department had undoubtedly expressed the Zhao family’s attitude. Zhao Mei was the daughter of the Zhao family, and if Zhao Mei’s death was not a coincidence, and even had something to do with Jiang Quan, then the Zhao family would definitely not take things lying down.

Jiang Ruan went up to greet the Zhao family one by one, but none of the Zhao family’s female family members or numeros grandchildren were present. Li-shi had already regretted what had happened to Zhao Mei and if she learned the truth in court, her emotions would inevitably be depressed. Despite greeting the Zhao family, Jiang Ruan deliberately ignored Jiang Quan and standing to the side, Jiang Quan felt the eyes of those around him pressing in. Feeling extremely indignant, he angrily cursed, “Unworthy descendants!”

Zhao Guang immediately glared and wanted to scold back, but who would have expected that Jiang Ruan would speak up before he did. She asked Jiang Quan, “I wonder who Minister Jiang is talking about?”

Jiang Quan did not expect that her first words would be without reservation and spare any niceties. Immediately he furiously roared , “To address your own father with an attitude like this, who knows where you learned your sense of propriety, justice, integrity and honour!”

“I’m afraid that Minister Jiang may have forgotten.” Jiang Ruan smiled. “Yesterday, I cleared that debt of having any blood relations with you. I no longer have anything to do with the Jiang fu. Where did ‘father’ come from?”

Jiang Quan was at a loss for words. Everyone recalled how Jiang Ruan decisively cut the back of her own hand with a dagger in the snow the day before, and Jiang Quan’s old face flushed red. On that normally elegant and dignified face, an ugly contorted look appeared.

“Silence!” The judicial aide, who started the court proceedings, sang in a long voice as the guards on both sides stood silently. Dressed in court robes, the chief judge, Sun Xu, walked in with long strides and he sat down on the highest seat in the centre. Sweeping his gaze down, he handed the petition letter to the judicial aide at the side. The aide took the petition letter, cleared his throat, and loudly began to read the contents of the indictment.

The content of the charges claimed that Xia Yan and the Xia family plotted to murder Zhao Mei, and her son and daughter. This included the ambush against Jiang Xin Zhi in the woods, and the vicious methods used on them when they were young, all of which made people’s blood turn cold as they listened. Furthermore, everyone was flabbergasted at Jiang Quan’s indifferent and callous attitude while all of this happened. In most large, noble families like this, fighting and scheming within were not unheard of, however, what was uncommon was the status of Jiang Ruan and Jiang Xin Zhi as di daughter and son of the Jiang fu. As Jiang Quan’s own flesh and blood, he had actually not been the least bit concerned and even had an apathetic attitude towards Xia Yan’s schemes. The judicial aide was only human and this petition letter was truly written in a way that filled one with resentment. He even had to choke back his emotions as he read aloud what was written. The petition truly made the men in the crowd roll up their sleeves, fervently wishing to beat Jiang Quan up themselves this instant, whilst the women dabbed their eyes with handkerchiefs in a desperate attempt to wipe their tears away.

Although Zhao Guang and the three brothers of the Zhao family had long known that Zhao Mei’s life in the Jiang fu was not well off, as each line in the petition letter was read aloud, they could not help but feel their hearts being clawed. No one in the world understood more than Jiang Ruan how painful and perilous their lives were in the Jiang fu as they faced dangers from all four fronts. Due to her earnest prose, the more the Zhao family listened, the angrier they became, until their eyes were bulging in anger. They hated that they could not instantly rush forth to kill Jiang Quan.

Jiang Quan frowned. Now, no one present looked at him with the slightest bit of kindness, so he became the target of public criticism. He didn’t know since when Jiang Ruan had gained such influence but at the same time he was very clear about Sun Xu’s temperament since they had been colleagues for many years. Yet, when facing Jiang Ruan, he was deferential and humble. To think that Jiang Ruan had such capabilities? By now, all his well thought out plans were replaced by uneasiness, and Jiang Quan’s expression lost its earlier confidence and self-righteousness.

Whilst all the charges and facts in the petition letter were, up until now, circumstantial, once the reading got towards the ending, the focus took a turn. The subject moved onto the matter of Zhao Mei’s poisoning. The petition letter clearly stated that Xia Yan was responsible for the poison and Jiang Quan was complicit because even though he knew about the matter, he simply stood by without intervening and even went so far as to support and encourage it!

After the petition letter was completely read, Jiang Quan couldn’t help but stand up angrily and declare, “Utter nonsense! What a whole lot of nonsense! What poisoning? I didn’t let anyone poison her at all! Zhao Mei died of illness. How dare you use such a mouthful of slander to smear me!” Whilst he hated Jiang Ruan, he hated Zhao Mei who had long since passed on even more; he felt that Zhou Mei was the root cause of this whole debacle .

All of a sudden Zhao Guang stood up from his seat, and roared, “Jiang Quan, do you think I dare not take your life right now?” With his hardy body tempered through the battleground, he could already scare a child into tears at a glance on any given day. But in this split second, he was really furious, the bloodthirsty imposing manner of his emanating forth and Jiang Quan trembled. Anything else that he had wanted to say was suddenly swallowed back.

A trace of disdain flashed in Zhao Yuan Ping’s eyes, and he continued with a light smile, “Minister Jiang, why are you so anxious? You haven’t been convicted yet, maybe things will turn around. If you really want to voice out any grievances, you might as well wait until the end to speak up.”

There was a faint chill in these words which made one tremble in the depths of their heart. Jiang Quan still wanted to speak, but he heard Jiang Ruan’s smiling voice: “That’s not all, I have evidence. So, Minister Jiang, how about we request for Sun Daren to have a look at the evidence before you speak any further.”

Jiang Quan was surprised because he didn’t expect Jiang Ruan to actually have evidence. After all, so many years had passed and he thought that Jiang Ruan would not be able to make any big waves even if she managed to rummage through the old affairs. Therefore, what would the final result of an old case be without evidence? But as soon as Jiang Ruan talked about the evidence, he couldn’t help but feel a little guilty, and yet he still stubbornly insisted, “What are you making up?”

Sun Xu slapped the wooden gavel and shouted, “Bring in the witness!”

The subordinates quickly brought in the so-called witness. She was a thin young woman, and she could even be called delicate and pretty if one looked carefully. Yet for some unknown reason, she seemed somewhat wan and sallow. Perhaps due to her arduous life, her appearance looked much older. When Jiang Quan saw her, he sneered and mocked, “I don’t know this person. If this is the so-called witness, then you ought to have invited someone from the Jiang fu.”

The woman raised her head when she heard the words, and said in a hoarse voice: “It has been a long time and Master doesn’t recognize this servant, but this servant still recognizes Master.”

Jiang Quan was startled, and looked at the woman carefully for a long time before he asked in surprise, “You are… Hu Die?”

Hu Die smiled lightly, “It’s rare that Master still remembers me.”

“Why are you here?” Jiang Quan pointed at her with a trembling hand. In the past, he heard about how Jiang Su Su had banished Hu Die out of the fu for the reason that as a maidservant she had not done her tasks seriously. She had failed to recognize that the placenta she bought at the medical shop was the miscarried fetus from their fu. This in turn had ruined Jiang Su Su’s reputation and traumatized her. Accordingly, it would not have been an exaggeration to have such a maid beaten to death. Only, Jiang Su Su had already sold her and Jiang Quan had assumed that such a maid would have died long ago, so he didn’t understand how she suddenly appeared here.

Hu Die smiled, but that smile was a bit weird, and a trace of hatred flashed across her eyes when she looked at Jiang Quan. “This servant came here due to one’s self conscience and condemnation. So it is natural that this servant personally stepped forward to serve as a witness to testify for the innocent Eldest Young Master and Eldest Miss.”

“Nonsense!” Jiang Quan’s face turned blue when he heard the words. “What are you talking about?” He turned his head to look at Jiang Ruan who was smiling slightly, and suddenly realized. “What benefits did she give you, for you to slander me in such a manner? Hu Die, do you know how serious the crime is for slandering a court official?”

Jiang Quan seemed to have lost his mind, and the people in the hall were watching intently, including the chief judge, Sun Xu. The more Jiang Quan was flustered and became undone, the more obvious the disgraceful situation he was in. Sun Xu had already been bribed by someone beforehand and seeing that Jiang Ruan and the Zhao family were happy, naturally he would not obstruct it.

Facing Jiang Quan’s frantic questioning, Hu Die shook her head and said, “Eldest Miss didn’t give me any favours. Master ought to be most aware of what it is that he has done, so why bother to feign innocence? There will always be unexplainable situations beyond man’s control in this world that are said to be left up to destiny. Heaven is watching what people are doing, and when doing things one ought to think about the day when the truth will come to light.”

“You… Why are you going to such lengths to cause me trouble!” Jiang Quan said angrily.

Hu Die lowered her head as if to turn a deaf ear. Jiang Ruan, who was sitting to the side, smiled slightly. Hu Die would of course come out to testify for her, not only because of her promise, but the truth of the matter was, Hu Die deeply hated the Jiang family. Because Jiang Su Su had sent Hu Die to be sold off because of the placenta mishap, one could say that this was Jiang Su Su’s own comeuppance. After all, this was a maidservant who had been with her since she was a child, but she had even gone to the extent of directly selling her off to a ninth grade brothel. What kind of place is that sort of brothel? For a young woman to enter there was like throwing them into a living hell. One could only imagine what sort of days Hu Die had gone through. But, after Jiang Su Su had sold her off, Jiang Ruan preemptively bought off the brothel owner and secretly kept track of her movements. So while she did not let her die, she did not let her get off too easily either. After all, Hu Die had been by Jiang Su Su’s side for many years, and what Xia Yan and Jiang Su Su had done, she would have some degree of knowledge of. Fully aware that she had such an exceptional chess piece in her pocket, Jiang Ruan finally found a day to put it to use.

For example, at this moment, the appearance of this chess piece had already caused Jiang Quan to lose more than half of the battle. She had appeared in front of Hu Die and promised to save her from her life’s miseries as long as Hu Die was willing to testify. Perhaps when Hu Die was first sold, she would not have agreed to this condition. As Xia Yan was a shrewd person, she had chosen an extremely loyal maidservant for Jiang Su Su. But after such a long time, Hu Die who had long been tormented without a rest, could barely sustain her own life so how could she care about loyalty? After all these years, what remained was the deep hatred she had towards the Jiang family. If it wasn’t for Xia Yan and Jiang Su Su, if it wasn’t for Jiang Quan, how could she have been sold to such a lowly place? Time was truly a wonderous thing, hate could turn into love, love could also turn into hate, so once Jiang Ruan had set her conditions before Hu Die, and without saying a word, she had agreed.

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