Chapter 13

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Yun Shang widened her eyes and trembled. Turning to Hua Jing, she whined, "Sister, why do you have to say that? It frightens me how you've framed me for this murder. I don't know who she is, and I have no idea why she had my bracelet. Moreover, it doesn't mean I am the murderer. Sister, even the Ministry of Justice requires evidence to convict a prisoner. I do not know what happened, or why you are happy to condemn me. I feel greatly wronged."

"Your bracelet is the proof!" Princess Hua Jing dropped the bracelet back onto the table.

Yun Shang stepped forward, and curtsied to the Emperor, "Father, my bracelets are lost. I'm afraid that someone deliberately took them to set a plot against me. They killed this maid, and put the bracelet in her hand. Father, can you have someone lead an investigation? This bracelet is from a pair. What if we look for the other lost bracelet?"

The Emperor studied Yun Shang for a long time. He noticed that her eyes were clear and her expression was calm. Thinking that she was only eight years old, and couldn't be so calm if she had killed someone, Emperor Ning nodded. "What Shang'er said makes sense. Let's launch an investigation then. I would also want to know who is trying to deceive me."

Emperor Ning then sent for the Commander of the Yulin Guard, and ordered him to lead several men to search every house and yard. He asked Yun Shang to wait in front of the pavilion. Suddenly, her stomach growled. Yun Shang was embarrassed. She apologized, "When Her Majesty sent her messenger, I had just gotten up. I haven't had the chance to eat anything."

Emperor Ning couldn't help but laugh out loud. He waved at Yun Shang, "Come, sit beside me." Turning to a chamberlain, the Emperor said, "Go and get some food for the Princess. The search will take time. She might as well eat while we wait."

The eunuch bowed and left. Yun Shang smiled, walked into the pavilion, and sat down beside Emperor Ning. Her eyes flew to Hua Jing's face. Her smile deepened as she saw Princess Hua Jing biting her lips. Yun Shang enjoyed watching her sister. Hua was a great actress, and Yun Shang had learned how to play cute and innocent from her talented sister.

But something bothered Yun Shang...

Yun Shang continued studying Hua Jing. She had thought that a scheme would unfold at Hua Jing's Coming-of-age Ceremony in front of all the officials and their ladies. In doing so, Yun Shang wouldn't have been able to defend herself. She had been known to think that a person's life was as worthless as a straw. But they didn't wait that long... What was so urgent?

Yun Shang quietly glanced around, and saw the Empress frowning at Hua Jing. She looked displeased. And her eyes seemed to say "ineducable" to Hua Jing.

Yun Shang quickly understood. If the Empress wanted to frame her, she would have carefully planned the crime. And all evidence would have led to Yun Shang. But now there seemed to be nothing other than a bracelet. Hua Jing had been so desperate to frame Yun Shang for the murder that she had even behaved aggressively in front of father. Yun Shang now understood that Hua Jing did not have her mother's help in planning this murder.

It seemed that Hua Jing had been discovered.

The eunuch returned with some desserts. Yun Shang picked a lotus-leaf cake, and giggled, "Father, you are so nice to me. You always remember my favorite food. This one is for you, father. Let's eat together."

Then she noticed that the Empress was staring at her. Then Empress Yuan Zhen fixed her eyes on the lotus-leaf cake. Her stare was cold and calculating.

Before she could comprehend the Empress's reaction, Emperor Ning took the lotus-leaf cake and smiled at her, "Do you like it, too? It is tasty, I agree."

Yun Shang giggled, and took another cake from the plate. While eating, she chatted with Emperor Ning.

The sun had begun to rise. After a few hours, the Commander hurried back with a bracelet and reported, "Your Majesty, we found it in Her Highness Lady Shu's jewelry box."

Emperor Ning took it, and frowned, "Lady Shu? Bring her here."

As soon as the Emperor had finished speaking, he heard a soft voice. "Your Majesty, I'm already here. There's no need to bother the Lord Commander again."

Yun Shang turned around and caught sight of a woman in a purple gown walking towards them. She had thin arched eyebrows, and a small nose and mouth. While her features lent her a delicate appearance, Lady Shu's moon-shaped eyes and thick lashes were her most attractive feature. Yun Shang could see why her father, The Emperor had been drawn to Lady Shu.

Lady Shu was from the Lin Clan. Her title, Shu, suited her as it meant kind and gentle.

Yun Shang smiled. Lady Shu was as powerful as the Empress in His Majesty's imperial household. How stupid of Hua Jing to frame her.

Lady Shu stopped in front of them and curtsied, "Your Majesty. Commander Shen and other members of your guard have been searching everywhere since early this morning. And they've found this bracelet in my jewelry box. I have no idea why it was there, because it is not one of mine. My maid Zhu Yun* is in charge of my jewelry, and she seems to know about the bracelet. I have brought her here to speak with you." (*TN: The rustling of bamboo.)

A maid stepped out from behind Lady Shu and hurriedly knelt on her knees. She sobbed as she spoke. "Your Majesty! Pardon me, Your Majesty! I put the bracelet into Her Highness's jewelry box. Yesterday, Princess Hua Jing's maid, Die'er brought the bracelet to me and said it was a reward from Your Majesty to Her Highness, Princess Hua Jing. Since Lady Shu had taught Princess Hua Jing how to play the Guqin*, she wanted to give it as a gift to Lady Shu. Die'er also said that the Princess was worried that Her Highness, Lady Shu would refuse the present because they have been distant these past few years. So Her Highness, the Princess wanted me to put the bracelet in Lady Shu's jewelry box secretly. (*TN: Chinese Zither.)

The maid kowtowed to Emperor Ning repeatedly. She banged her forehead on the ground so hard that it was bruised and bleeding, "I thought it was a gesture of goodwill from Princess Hua Jing, so I put the bracelet in Lady Shu's jewelry box...Pardon me, Your Majesty!"

Princess Hua Jing turned pale. She pointed at the maid and shouted angrily, "Utter nonsense! When did Die'er give the bracelet to you? She was by my side the whole day. All my servants were witness to her whereabouts as well."

Lady Shu lowered her head and said softly, "Your Majesty, I'm afraid there is a deeper conspiracy behind this. The two princesses and I, are being framed. Your Majesty, please find the true murderer and prove our innocence."

At the time, another guard rushed back, and bowed to Emperor Ning, "Your Majesty, I found two bracelets in a maid's room. She serves at Princess Yun Shang's palace."

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