The Feast – 286 – Inner Court Investigation (Part 7)

The Feast – 286 – Inner Court Investigation (Part 7)

Chapter 286: All is Revealed?

 

Translated by Gumihou

Edited by Vinisha

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“Yes, First Madam, please ask your questions.”

Cai Sang turned away, a flash of hatred in her eyes as her hands clenched into fists. Within her mind’s eye, she replayed the scene from the last time she was at Autumn Rain Pavilion. She and Long Yan had arrived just before lunchtime. The table had already been set, missing only the mistress of the court. Feng Xian was directing the low-level maids, allocating some to stand-by and serve Madam Yun while the rest to go on for their lunch. She was speaking to Cui Bing, Long Yan was just coming out of the room after speaking with Madam Yun.

Cui Bing’s back was to Long Yan and did not see her coming out. Cai Sang was about to call out to Long Yan when she noticed her hands. White hands quickly picked up the blue and white porcelain cover and scattered something in and covered it back up again. Cai Sang quickly turned her head away and only looking back at Long Yan when the girl called her with a smile and both left the room together…

This scene had been replayed so many times in Cai Sang’s mind that she half believed that it was real. The reality was, the person who had lifted the lid, the one who had scattered the lotus root powder into the blue and white bowl, had been Cai Sang herself.

She had entered the room first, took the first opportunity when no one paid attention to contaminate the contents of the porcelain bowl with lotus root powder and then deliberately engaged Cui Bing in a conversation. While Feng Xian had been allocating workload to the lower-level maids, that was when Long Yan came out. Cai Sang made to call her, pausing only to be noticeable before turning her attention back to Cui Bing. If Long Yan had not appeared at that critical time, she would still have made some suspicious gesture and draw Cui Bing’s attention. It was all too easy.

As the atmosphere grew heavier, Cai Sang slowly raised her head. Su Nuan Nuan felt that this maid’s action was a little odd. Just now, she had been skittish, almost frightened but why had she suddenly calmed down? Nor did it look like forced calm. This was real composure. That’s right, the impression Su Nuan Nuan got from her was an athlete priming herself to perform superhuman feats. This is bad, she might not be able to rattle anything useful out of her.

However, now that she had called her out, Su Nuan Nuan could not just leave her hanging. She pretended to take a sip of her tea, attempting the delaying tactic again. However, when Cai Sang did not waver, she abandoned that move and proceeded with the questioning. “What is the true reason you and Long Yan came to Autumn Rain Pavilion, yesterday?”

“In reply to First Madam, this maid came to ask Cui Bing for some embroidery patterns. Long Yan… had been sent by our mistress to give Madam Yun two side dishes and to ask for two types of medicines.”

“Do you know what medicine she asked for?”

“This maid… doesn’t know.”

“Did Long Yan managed to get the medicine before you return?”

“This maid… c- can’t remember. This maid did not notice…”

“Oh? Aren’t both of you personal maids of your mistress? Aren’t you even a little curious? Are you seriously telling me that you did not inquire what she had been asked to collect?”

“This maid… did not ask…”

Sweat beaded on Cai Sang’s nose: First Madam is clearly not simple. Her interrogation tactics are too tricky. Unfortunately, she cannot reveal everything at once. The ‘truth’ must be pried out of her to be believable.

“What was Long Yan wearing that day?” Su Nuan Nuan deliberately changed her line of questioning. She intended to try the repetitive swift question-and-answer tactic that lawyers often employ in courtroom dramas. The ancient people should not have a deep understanding of oppressive psychological pressure. She did not believe that this girl would be able to hold out against her subconscious reactions.

“She wore a dark green top and a white moon skirt.”

“What time did you arrive at Autumn Rain Pavilion?”

“It was about noon. Normally, Madam Yun would be having her lunchtime now.”

“What kind of dishes was served?”

“This maid cannot remember well. There was some kind of sautéed Chinese sausage, and a bowl of steamed eggs.”

“Who was the first person you saw when you enter? Where were they?”

“Feng Xian was speaking to some low-level maids outside, Cui Bing was inside the room.”

“What was Madam Yun wearing yesterday?”

“A light yellow brocade embroidered with bamboo leaves. Her skirt was a bright red pleated butterfly skirt.”

“Who placed the lotus into Madam Yun’s bowl?”

“Long Yan was the- I mean, no. I-”

Cai Sang’ face paled, and she flapped her hands agitatedly. However, there was no use. The words were out, no amount of hand flapping could disperse it into the thin air. All eyes were on her. Even Xue Zhi Lan and Long Yan were staring at her incredulously.

However, the gaze in their eyes were different from others. Others looked on with either mock or pity in their eyes, while the two of them, the ones supposedly in the know were genuinely shocked. Even in their dreams, they never would have expected such words to leave Cai Sang’s mouth.

“What… what nonsense are you talking about, you stupid girl?”

When it came to matters of life and death, how could anyone calm down? Long Yan rushed forward to scream at Cai Sang, who dramatically collapsed to her knees and began to cry. “I… I was wrong. It- it’s not Long Yan… it’s not her. It was me. It’s was all me… Madam, please… it’s all my fault, I’m the one in the wrong…”

“Now that matters have come to this, you still refuse to admit it?” Duan Tingxuan’s eyes were aimed at Long Yan, who also went to her knees and beginning to babble, “Master is wise, this maid never… this maid never did such a thing, ah. That maid is just trying to… to entrap me. I’ve never done such a thing.”

“Yes, it’s not Long Yan who placed the lotus root. It’s… it’s me… I was the one who did it.”

“Why did you want to harm Madam Yun?” Su Nuan Nuan’s eyes were solemn as she stared down at Cai Sang.

The maid continued to cry and wave her hands, “It’s not me… it’s, it’s… I hate Madam Yun… she, she used to scold me a lot, she scolded me and I hated it. I… I had a grudge and, and when I heard what Concubine Jiang said, I…”

“My Lord, you heard it? First Madam, you heard it too? This deadly slave did it all on her own and tried to slander me…”

“Quiet, Long Yan.”

Xue Zhi Lan snapped once, stopping whatever Long Yan was attempting to say. She already had a niggling feeling that something was not quite right earlier on, but now the ominous feeling loomed over her like a black shadow. It’s better to stop now. Stop whatever it was that’s happening. It’s better to sacrifice one Cai Sang and retreat and recoup the best she can. At any rate, from the look of things, this maid had clearly been incited to entrap her. However, this was not the time to properly investigate matters. Better to cut her losses now and not let herself be burned.

Xue Zhi Lan had always been clever, it was a pity that Long Yan’s brains were less developed. All she heard was her mistress sternly scolding her, not even defending her when she was so wrongly slandered by Cai Sang. If she did not defend herself properly, wouldn’t she have to wear this black pot on her head?

Indignantly, she straightened up and cried stubbornly, “Madam, did you not hear how that cheap maid slandered me? Clearly, she has been incited by someone to entrap us. Madam, if we don’t quickly force her to reveal the person behind her…”

“Enough.” Xue Zhi Lan snapped one more time. No matter what, she was the mistress, in the end, Long Yan could only quiet down out of habit. However, when she turned to stand up, her eyes flashed upon Cai Sang’s tearful face and an evil spirit rose in her heart. Long Yan turned to Su Nuan Nuan and said, “First Madam, you must use whatever method you can and make that cheap maid confess.”

It was only then that she returned to her place behind Xue Zhi Lan. All the while, she kept her face averted, unable to face her mistress’ wrathful eyes. The only thought roiling in her mind were the tortures Cai Sang would go through to force a confession out of her. While she was still entertaining these delightful thoughts, Cai Sang gave a thin scream, “Con-confess! I’ll confess now. Madam, this maid is willing to confess.”

Long Yan looked up, she never imagined that Cai Sang would be so weak as to confess at just this little threat. First Madam had not said anything yet and here she was, collapsing to pieces. She heard her mistress’ stern voice said, “Enough, are you still not satisfied with the trouble you’re causing? Come back here now.”

“Sister Lan, don’t be impatient. I’d like to hear what this maid has to say. Surely it would do no harm to hear what she has to say?”

Su Nuan Nuan frowned at Xue Zhi Lan. When the other woman did not protest, she turned to Cai Sang, “Speak, just what is going on?”

“Yes, in answer to madam. That day this maid and Long Yan came to Autumn Rain Pavilion together…”

Cai Sang’s voice was soft as she told her rapt audience everything as it had played out within her imagination. When she finished speaking, the entire visitor’s hall was silent. Suddenly, a sharp cry came from Xue Zhi Lan who rushed over to kick Cai Sang, screaming. “Cheap slave, you shameless cheap goods. It’s bad enough that you’re a hussy who tempts their masters, who on earth gave you such a great incentive to betray your mistress? How dare you blackened your heart and frame your mistress? Who did this? You tell me now!”

Cai Sang fell when she was kicked and did not resist. All she did was howl and cry, “From the time Long Yan and I came to serve mistress, you only trusted her. You never trust me with anything. You only see me as an eyesore and even wanted to give me to the first young master as a bedroom maid. You know what a beast he is. Even though Concubine Jiang is mistreated by Madam Yun, she still treated her as a human. It was you! You’re the one who whispered those evil ideas into Madam Yun’s head to harm her maid’s flesh and blood.

Badly as Concubine Jiang was treated, I am even lower than her. I am nothing but a beast. If madam is ruthless, am I to treat you with gratefulness and benevolence? This maid is ready to die for the crime of betraying her mistress, but at the very least I shall do one good deed and expose your evil. Once I reach hell, I shall admit all my crimes as well as yours to the King of Hell for his judgement.”

Every word came from the tortured soul of Cai Sang as she cried and howled her confession. The blood and tears on her words shook Xue Zhi Lan to the core. For a while, she just stood there, no longer dare to kick her maid anymore.

Just then, Count’s Heir Xu stepped out from behind the screen. He looked at Duan Tingxuan and said, “Brother-in-law, the facts of the case have been cleared up. The battles within your inner court is brutal indeed. It looks like the life of the people here really did not matter. A count’s daughter is killed just like that. Now that we know the truth, I shall wait for the justification from brother-in-law.”

“Brother-in-law may be at ease. I shall certainly give you the justice you seek.” Duan Tingxuan clenched his fist, clearly serious in his promise.

Count’s Heir Xu nodded, “Very well, now that you have given your word, I am reassured. For now, I shall bring concubine mother with me and not interfere with your household matter. We shall come again tomorrow for the memorial service.”

“Lord Heir, surely it can’t just end like this, ah? Just because the one who harmed her is a daughter of Duke of Zheng?”

Jiang’shi dashed out from behind the screen, in time to see Count’s Heir Xu turn to glare at her. “Enough. I shall report the matter to my father. The next decision would be left in his hands. Mother concubine should stop making trouble here and come with me.”

Jiang’shi was not happy with this, but she could not disobey a direct order from the heir. In the end, she could only curse the world in her heart as she trailed after him.

Once they left, Duan Tingxuan turned to Xue Zhi Lan.

Xue Zhi Lan was standing right next to Cai Sang, her face looked haunted and lifeless. When she felt the eyes of her husband, a sudden flash of an idea hit her and she turned blank eyes at the little marquis. Then, with a sudden cry, she threw herself before Duan Tingxuan’s feet and sobbed pitifully.

The careful makeup she had put on was washed away by her tears, she tugged at Duan Tingxuan’s hem and cried, “My Lord, this lowly one has been wronged. If it was done by me, why would I have Feng Xian and Cui Bing make a big fuss before the people from the Earl’s mansion? Am I so confident as to make a big show of my crime? Am I not afraid that My Lord would discover my crimes? My Lord, clearly someone seeks to harm me. My Lord, please tell me you see it too, ah.”

 

[Gumihou: Woah, this Xue Zhi Lan deserves to be called a ‘clever character’]

 

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