427 I“ll Do It Alone
Li Xueyue felt foolish for even thinking he would be disgusted, just because of a mistake that wasn't even her fault. She exited his private study, wondering if it was simply because he wanted to give her a much-needed break.
Li Xueyue quietly walked down the hallways, accompanied by Xiao Hua and the rest of the servants. Their footsteps were light and soft, so much so that she didn't even think they were still following her.
'I didn't tell him…' she held back a sigh.
Li Xueyue was reluctant to share the information about Marquis Qin. She wanted to be the one to deliver the final blow. She wanted to make him as miserable as she had been.
The first step was to irritate him to no avail. "And I know exactly what to do."
- - - - -
"Xu Jiaqi most likely had an accomplice," Lu Tianbi explained. She placed the confiscated oils on the table. She pointed at the bottle of Jasmine and Rosemary oil.
"I thought it was strange that the bottles are all in the exact same style as the ones you can find in Hanjian," she said.
"So, I consulted a merchant friend of mine, and confirmed that this particular oil is extremely expensive and difficult to obtain. They're only sold in Hanjian, but there are so few bottles being sold, it's easy for Xu Jiaqi to lie."
Yu Zhen curtly nodded his head. "I am already aware of this."
Yu Zhen picked up the bottle. Holding it in his hands fueled his rage. It took everything in him to not smash the evidence into pieces. Calmly, he placed it back down, deciding it was better not to touch it.
He peered at the bottle, seemingly harmless, but took a life. "Saying this was a gift from Nanhui is practically asking for a declaration of war."
"Yes, I agree," Lu Tianbi said. "Her statement alone would be enough to provoke you. Everyone knows you cherish the Crown Princess, so much so that starting war for her sake would not faze you."
Her eyes drifted to Hu Dengxiao who was seemingly focused on a scroll. He was leaning against a bookshelf, pretending to read. But she was certain he had fallen asleep.
Lately…both of them had been losing sleep. It was more evident on him, given the dark circles under his eyes.
"And if we had declared a war, then all of the Crown Princess's hard work that day would've gone to waste. The compliments about her would die down, and eventually, she would've been blamed for the war."
Lu Tianbi hated to admit it, but it was a strategic plan. Just a simple lie like "a present from Nanhui," could potentially cause this butterfly effect.
"But back to my first point," Lu Tianbi said. "The Rosemary and Jasmine oil, like I said, is difficult to get your hands on. With Xu Jiaqi's meager income as a lady-in-waiting, she would have to work for at least five years and save up all of her money to afford this."
Yu Zhen didn't need her to elaborate, he already knew this.
"It could've been the collaborative work of the ladies-in-waiting," Lu Tianbi whispered. She cupped her chin, lost in thought. "But we don't know who."
"I doubt it."
Lu Tianbi was startled by the voice of Hu Dengxiao. He was now standing near them, but with an exhausted look on his face. He let out a loud yawn before stretching his tired limbs.
"You said it yourself," he said. "It would take five years of income to even afford the oil, which means at least five ladies in waiting must place a year's worth of savings into buying this bottle."
Lu Tianbi slowly nodded at his words, her brows knitting together. "Go on."
"I doubt all of them were eager to go along with this plan, much less, have the guts. And Xu Jiaqi wouldn't risk her life to tell everyone about this plan."
"Hu Dengxiao is right," Yu Zhen stated. "However, not all of the ladies-in-waiting rely solely upon their income for their needs, for the majority of them hail from wealthy families."
Hu Dengxiao was so tired, he couldn't even perk up at being complimented by the Crown Prince. He scratched his nape. It felt like there was a missing piece of the puzzle.
"The thing is," Lu Tianbi interjected. "Even if you have the money to buy this, it is still difficult to place an order for it. Not many regular merchants have this in stock. Connections must be strained just to source for it."
Yu Zhen raised a brow. It was just a bathing oil. Why did people prize it so much? "In that case, Xu Jiaqi would need the backing of a powerful and wealthy merchant."
"I agree," she said. "But the thing is, how could Xu Jiaqi even have access to these types of connections? She is just a simple lady-in-waiting, and the daughter of a fallen aristocratic household. No one would be willing to become acquaintances with her since there are no benefits in doing so."
"Hmmm…" Hu Dengxiao tilted his head. "Then, Xu Jiaqi would need the help of an influential, yet wealthy lady-in-waiting."
A name instantly came to mind. But he briefly glanced towards the Crown Prince, wondering if he should say it.
"And who else would that be but the one closest to the Empress who has ties with nearly every powerful official of the Kingdom?" Lu Tianbi spoke up.
Hu Dengxiao's lips curled downwards. He did not like where this conversation was going…especially when Yu Zhen had grown up with that lady-in-waiting.
Many people complimented that Yu Zhen and that woman would make a great couple, should they ever marry in the future. She was stunning, even at a young age, captivating many adults. At that time, her personality was a lot more genuine, and she was a much more energetic woman.
"We shouldn't make assumptions so quickly," Hu Dengxiao hurriedly said for the sake of the Crown Prince. Everyone knew he had a soft spot in his heart for her. When his childhood was grim, that woman made it a little bit better.
Hu Dengxiao recalled a story he had overheard from Lu Tianbi, who had grown up in the palace as well, but just not alongside Yu Zhen until a few years later.
Lu Tianbi had mentioned the woman would share pastries with Yu Zhen, forcing him to eat it when he was glum after a beating. The little girl had claimed sweets would make anyone happy, so Yu Zhen had quietly ate it. Ever since then, she would bring him a pastry daily, hoping to make him happy.
It was a sweet story. Too bad, they would never get together and have their happily ever after.
"I already know whom both of you are suspecting." Yu Zhen's attention drifted from the conflicted Hu Dengxiao to the hesitant Lu Tianbi. Both of them knew the impact that she had upon their childhood.
But what they had forgotten was—Yu Zhen hated sweets. He hated it as a kid, and still hated it as an adult.
"Don't be hasty and capture her without evidence," Yu Zhen concluded. He knew his mother would cause a ruckus, and then Li Xueyue would somehow be dragged into this.
If he'd have it his way, Yu Zhen would keep her away from the palace until the Emperor finally drew his last breath. That way, Li Xueyue would be safe. She wouldn't be subjected to so much trouble and pain. But she would not have it. As well as many other people.
"Instead," he said. "Bring me a list of the most influential merchants of our time. One who would be powerful enough to obtain this oil."
Lu Tianbi didn't need to be told twice. She nodded her head and nudged Hu Dengxiao to do the same.
"I will do it," Hu Dengxiao volunteered before she could say anything. Lu Tianbi gaped at him, offended that the mission was snatched away in front of her.
Hu Dengxiao took a step to the side, creating a distance from her. "I'll create the list."
"No, give me this mission—"
"I'll do it alone." Hu Dengxiao could feel her furious glare. She was not going to forgive him for this. But it was his intention.
Yu Zhen pressed his lips together, glancing from his advisor to his right-hand woman. They were such a troubling pair. He knew what was running through Hu Dengxiao's mind. An orphan and a Prime Minister's daughter. It was a pairing that would cross the Heavens.
Hu Dengxiao bowed his head "Thank you, Crown Prince." Without another word or glance in Lu Tianbi's direction, he hurried out of the private study, as if chased by evil spirits.