Chapter 14

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Roll with the Punches

The imperial guard brought forward two bracelets which were the same as the one on the table.

"How?" Yun Shang frowned and looked at Emperor Ning. "Father, my bracelets are unique. Why then are these two bracelets the same as mine?"

"Where's the maid?" Emperor Ning asked.

The imperial guard beckoned to his subordinates to bring the maid forward. Looking pale and dispirited, the maid fell to the ground limply. She shivered and said, "Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, may you enjoy long lives and blessings..."

Yun Shang stared at the maid before speaking, "Father, I know her. She is in charge of cleaning my Hall."

Emperor Ning nodded and snapped at the maid, "How did you get these bracelets?"

The maid said in a trembling voice, "Your Majesty. I stole them from Her Royal Highness's bedroom."

Yun Shang frowned and said, "Why did you steal my bracelets?"

"I..." The maid gritted her teeth and said, "It was at the instigation of Hua Jing! The Princess Hua Jing confined my brother and threatened me to steal Princess Yun Shang's bracelets. I didn't dare to disobey. However, Princess Yun Shang has been so kind to us so that I didn't want to betray her. In order to save my brother, I took the bracelets to my family's jewelry store and had copies made. Since then, I haven't had the chance to put the bracelets back."

Hua Jing became infuriated with the accusations. She argued, "Nonsense!"

Hua Jing knelled in front of the Emperor and explained, "Father, they slander me..."

"Oh, " she suddenly exclaimed and pointed at Yun Shang. "Father, it's her. It must be her who set a trap for me..."

No longer silent, the Empress took the opportunity to support her daughter. "Your Majesty, that's queer indeed! I'm afraid that it's beginning to look more and more like a plot against Hua Jing... Your Majesty..."

Before the Empress could finish her sentence, the maid interrupted. "Your Majesty, my family's jewelry store is to the East of the Imperial City. A few days ago, my parents came to tell me that my brother had been caught by someone serving Princess Hua Jing. That's why I went to see Die'er secretly. You can order your guards to check whether I am lying."

The maid knew what she was about to say would seal her fate. However, given Princess Yun Shang's kindness, she took the risk. She clenched her teeth and closed her eyes. After letting out a defeated sigh she said, "I know that Xiang Lan was taken by Princess Hua Jing's attendants!"

Hua Jing couldn't bear to hear this nonsense any more. She stood and screamed, "You are a lowly servant. No more of your lies!"

The Emperor Ning frowned and forcefully put down his tea cup. The clatter of porcelain quieted the bickering women. Emperor Ning looked at his daughter, Hua Jing. "Shut up!" he said.

Hua Jing was shocked. She bit her lip and fell to her knees in silence. Despite her obedient and subservient posture, she was anything but. She glared at Yun Shang maliciously.

"As a princess, you know how to behave. Be quiet now." Then the Emperor turned around and said to the maid, "You. Go on."

The maid nodded and continued her story, "Because of stomach-ache, I slept late last night. When in bed, I heard some noise next door. I went to the windows and saw Xiang Lan leaving Qinxin Hall with another maid. Even though it was dark, I could recognize that the maid worked for Princess Hua Jing. Seeing that Xiang Lan did not return, I went to sleep. Today morning, however, I heard that Xiang Lan had drowned..."

The maid kowtowed repeatedly to the Emperor before continuing. "I was too scared to speak out until I heard that Her Royal Highness, Yun Shang had been taken away. Even though I have not worked in the Palace for long, I am not willing to plot to murder anyone. I am in a way, responsible for Xiang Lan's death. Your Majesty, I'm willing to accept your punishment."

Finishing her statement, the maid continued groveling on the ground.

Emperor Ning stared at Hua Jing for a while before he finally opened his mouth and said. "Jing'er, what do you have to say for yourself? It's very obvious that this murder was planned by you and that you intended to shift the blame to Shang'er and Lady Shu."

Glancing at the Empress, Emperor Ning said, "I'm really surprised that my daughter, not yet of marriageable age, has become so scheming! How surprising...My underage daughter... Your Majesty, you have taught her well!"

Rising and dropping one knee on the ground, the Empress said softly, "It is indeed my fault.I'm willing to receive any punishment you see fit." The Empress looked so calm, as though nothing had happened.

The Emperor studied Empress Yuan Zhen before announcing his punishment. "Hand over your seal to Lady Shu temporarily. Hua Jing and you will be grounded for three months. My final decision will be made after three months." Then the Emperor stood and left in a huff.

"Father..." Hua Jing looked resentful as she watched the Emperor leave.

Lady Shu approached Yun Shang and said with a smile, "It is not very pleasant here. Why don't you come to my Palace? I'll have my maids cook mung bean soup for you. It will help you relax."

Looking at the Empress timidly, Yun Shang spoke hesitantly, "I get up so early today that I feel very tired now. Defending myself has been very exhausting as well. I'd would prefer to just rest."

Lady Shu stared at the young princess. "Well, under the circumstances, I won't insist..." Then she turned and left with her servants. Yun Shang heard her mutter, "What an unappreciative girl."

Yun Shang closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

"Mother, I'm sleepy. Please allow me to leave for the time being." Then she bobbed a quick curtsey and turned for Qinxin Hall.

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