Chapter 6

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A Haunting Dream

Qingxin Hall turned out to be everything that Yun Shang had hoped it would be. Happy and content she had even commanded her servants to build a swing on the tallest tree in the courtyard. In her free time, the little girl would swing leisurely under the towering tree.

"Your Highness.." Yun Shang, asleep on the swing, were awoken by Qin Yi's voice. Covering a yawn with her hand, Yun Shang addressed Qin Yi sleepily, "Why did fetching some embroideries take you so long?"

Qin Yi carefully glanced around the courtyard be walking behind Yun Shang. Pretending to push the swing, she stooped to the little girl's ear and whispered, "On my way there, I met with Xiu Xin. She took me to see the empress."

"Oh." Yun Shang seemed unaffected by the news. She lifted her eye brows slightly and repeated, "The empress… Is she trying to buy your loyalty?"

Qin Yi nodded gravely, surprised at how perceptive the young Yun Shang could be. "The empress has done her research. She seems to know the whole story of my life. She even knows that my uncle is my only living relative,. Though she doesn't know that we don't get along. After all, it was my uncle who sold me to the palace when I was a little girl. The empress' servants seem to have made a mistake. They lured my Uncle's family to the palace by saying I had done well as a servant. Foolishly, my uncle's family fell for the trick. The empress is trying to use my uncle to threaten me. Though, to be honest with you, I couldn't care less what happens to them. I've always thought about getting back at them anyway.

Yun Shang remained silent, listening. Qin Yi continued, "The Empress promised me great wealth and a high position in her assembly if I work for her. She promised to give me 'everything I've always wanted'… So I promised to help her." Both Qin Yi and Yun Shang broke into laughter.

Through her laugher Yun Shang remarked, "In this case, maybe you should serve her."

Having served Yun Shang for a few days, Qin Yi was already beginning to enjoy the girl's dark-humored disposition. Contrary to the rumors, Qin Yi found the little girl to posses a razor-sharp intellect and a mature soul, well beyond her years. Qin Yi knew that Yun Shang already knew what she would do. "The empress must really hate you. There doesn't seem to be anything she won't do to. Luckily, this time she just tried to bribe me. Who knows what murderous treachery she has in store for us." Qin Yi leaned closer before telling Yun Shang's the details of the empress' plan.

Yun Shang frowned and said indifferently, "It's a good plan, really. But it is only going to work if there is someone helping on the inside. The empress must have bribed someone else. She must think it's so easy to control me and buy my people. I need you to watch the other attendants closely in the following days. If you hear anything at all come to me immediately. I'm not going to roll over for her anymore; we'll make sure she know's she can't control everything in the imperium."

After an afternoon enjoying the courtyard swing, Yun Shang enjoyed a lavish dinner. Just as she was preparing to sleep, her attendant Lin appeared and asked to speak with her privately. "Your Highness, can I please talk to you privately? …With out the other attendants around"

"What is it, Lin Yun Shang stopped and turned around to address the attendant. Lin was a talkative, straightforward man, and had made a good impression earlier with the young princess.

Glance him over again quickly, Yun Shang ordered the other maids to make her bed in the inner sanctuary before sitting in a chair and the end of the room. Lin seemed nervous and hesitant to speak.

Yun Shang chuckled and asked him, "Lin, why so quiet? This isn't like you."

Yun Shang puzzled at the man in front of her. With Lin, she still needed to act like a child. She could only be herself with Qin Yi.

After a long silence, Lin suddenly spoke up, "Your Highness, the empress is plotting to murder you."

Yun Shang was shocked to hear the same thing from Lin's. She quickly calmed herself before replying to Lin. She shook her head, trying to sound childish and naive. "That's impossible! You could get beheaded for saying something silly like that. I don't believe you. The empress is like my mother and has always been so nice to me. She has always sent me the most wonderful food and has never made me study poems or the lyre like the mean attendants back home."

Lin, clearly uncomfortable, hurriedly replied, "Please, your Highness, you are my master. You have to trust me. The reason I say this is because, last night I was captured by bandits. But just as I thought they were going to beat me to death, I was throw in front of the empress. She promised to save me if I put something in your meals. She wants to send Taoist priests to perform an exorcism."

"Put something in my food?" What could it be? The empress loves me. I know it must be a big surprise." Yun Shang further concealed her feelings behind an ear-to-ear smile.

"Oh… my princess.. Fearing the other attendants might be working for the empress, I have only told you. I also fed what the empress gave me to a few chickens.." Lin looked uncomfortable, his brow was glistening with sweat as he spoke.

Eyes wise, Yun Shang looked at him and asked, "What.. What happened?"

"They were fine at first. Then, after about three days, something changed. The chickens began to run madly around their pen. They would attack and peck at each other's eyes!" The poison will not immediately cause madness. It is slow-acting. The empress is sending the Taoist priests in just two days. Just enough time for the medicine to show effect." Lin looked down and frowned.

After a few long moments of silence, Yun Shang spoke, "Thank you, I understand. Please give me the poison. Oh, and did the empress threaten you? How did she plan to make you poison me?"

Li took out a small bag and handed it to Yun Shang. He laughed as he spoke, "I'm an orphan, I have little to be threaten. The empress promised to give me gold and other riches, of which I have no need. I thought everything through carefully on the way back from the empress' palace. I have made my decision to help you."

Moved at his show of loyalty, Yun Shang smiled, "I know you enjoy working with food and drink in the kitchen. Tell me your favorite dish and I will have the chef prepare it at once!"

Expectantly, Lin smiled happily and nodded, "Your Highness, I love sweet wine rice dumplings."

Yun Shang nodded. "Then sweet wine rice dumplings it is! It's already late Lin. You'd better head back. I need to have a rest. Yun Shang tucked the poison away in her robe and left for the inner sanctuary.

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