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"What? Concubine Orchid is dead?"
Just as Tang Xia heard about the news, Chu Tiankuo also heard about it from his servants.
"I want to know who is so bold to commit murder in my harem! Let's go to Concubine Orchid's place!" Chu Tiankuo said as he rushed to the scene with his servants.
When Chu Tiankuo arrived, Tang Xia arrived too.
"Your Majesty, did you come here to see Concubine Orchid too?" asked Tang Xia even though she already figured it out from Chu Tiankuo's look.
"Yeah! I want to know who is provoking me in secret!"
And then Chu Tiankuo and Tang Xia walked in together.
There was only Concubine Orchid in the chamber. She was lying on the bed without anyone beside her bed. Tang Xia and Chu Tiankuo walked over and checked her appearance. Her face was deadly pale, and her lips were partly purple with bloodstains at the corners. Her eyes were gaping and fixed at the ceiling.
"Ah!" Tang Xia let out a cry of fear after she walked over and saw Concubine Orchid's pathetic look of death.
Chu Tiankuo took the chance to hold Tang Xia in his arms, patted her back and comforted her, "Well, well, nothing to fear. It's just a dead person. Nothing to fear."
Hearing Chu Tiankuo's voice, Tang Xia regained her composure. Her panic abated. She broke away from Chu Tiankuo's embrace and stared at Concubine Orchid's face.
For quite some time, they looked at each other and remained silent. Then they walked out of the chamber.
"Your Majesty, with Concubine Orchid like this, I'm afraid..." asked Tang Xia hesitantly at Chu Tiankuo. She felt Concubine Orchid must have been murdered.
Chu Tiankuo touched Tang Xia's head and said, "Concubine Orchid's lips were purple and her face was distorted. It must be murder!"
"Then... Your Majesty, are you going to investigate this matter thoroughly?" asked Tang Xia fearfully with hindsight, "What if someone else gets murdered in the harem?"
Looking at Tang Xia, Chu Tiankuo took and stroked her hands, and then said, "There must be someone behind these happenings. I will have them thoroughly investigated and find out the facts!"
Chu Tiankuo's expression was a little grim, but he still said kindly to Tang Xia, "Don't worry. Whatever happens, I will protect you at all costs."
Tang Xia was moved by his words and nodded. Then Chu Tiankuo sent some servants to escort Tang Xia back to her place.
Chu Tiankuo returned to his study. The more he thought about it, the angrier he became. There must have been a plotter behind Concubine Lan's and Concubine Orchid's death. Who could it be?
"Someone, come here!" Chu Tiankuo summoned a servant and said, "By my order, investigate Concubine Orchid's death thoroughly! We must capture the mastermind!"
Just at that time, Minister Bai, a minister from the previous emperor's court, came to the imperial study to discuss with Chu Tiankuo about a national affair. After hearing about the deaths of two concubines, he said to Chu Tiankuo, "Your Majesty! You should not order the investigation!"
"Em? Why?" Chu Tiankuo was in fury and his words were curt. Minister Bai wasn't discouraged and continued, "Your Majesty, in my humble opinion, you should not do anything unnecessary with such matters."
"Minister Bai, two concubines were killed in my harem. If I don't interfere, my harem will be plunged in turmoil!" said Chu Tiankuo firmly as he looked at Minister Bai.
"Your Majesty, it's kind of a harem scandal. If it should leak out and get heard by the public,"
"The reputation of the imperial family will be remarkably tarnished! You should not carry on the investigation!" After saying these words, Minister Bai paused for a while and then continued.
"Besides, please think carefully, Your Majesty," counseled Minister Bai, "Concubine Orchid was perfectly well the previous day. How could she be dead overnight while confined to her chamber? Perhaps she committed suicide for fear of punishment!"
"Suicide for fear of punishment? What do you mean, Minister Bai?" Chu Tiankuo turned his back at Minister Bai and his face turned grimmer. Minister Bai, however, had no knowledge of that.
"That's right. It must be Concubine Orchid who murdered Concubine Lan, and she feared the exposure of her crime. Your order to confine her added to her panic."
"She was afraid that you would send her to death after finding out the facts, so she committed suicide to escape the verdict!"
Minister Bai raised his head to check Chu Tiankuo's reaction, only to find him standing there calmly without any reaction. He thought his advice was taken by Chu Tiankuo and was gratified.
"Oh? Is it?" said Chu Tiankuo as he sneered, "Minister Bai, you even devised such plausible excuse and leeway for me! Shouldn't I reward you something?"
Chu Tiankuo's face turned extremely dark, but Minister Bai didn't notice at all. He was still enjoying his smart advice.
"You don't need to reward me anything, Your Majesty. It's my duty as your servant to share your worries and help with your troubles. I don't need any reward for that."
"Hehe, but I'm very willing to reward you, Minister Bai!" said Chu Tiankuo as he laughed softly, his face turning even darker outside Minister Bai's sight.
"Then... I'm obliged to accept your reward, Your Majesty." Minister Bai still didn't understand Chu Tiankuo's real meaning, and he started to dream about getting a promotion.
Chu Tiankuo's voice turned colder still. He grabbed a teacup and smashed it heavily in front of Minister Bai, which took him by surprise.
"Someone, come here!" exclaimed Chu Tiankuo towards the outside of the study.
Only by then did Minister Bai find something went wrong. He raised his head and looked at Chu Tiankuo confusedly, only to find Chu Tiankuo glaring at him as if it was something dead. His face turned pale with fear, and his body started to s.h.i.+ver.
Chu Tiankuo looked at Minister Bai coldly and said, "Minister Bai, you broke the ritual law by poking your nose into the affairs of the harem. Since it's your first time, I won't give you a heavy punishment. Just go home and confine yourself for a few months."
"Your Majesty, Your Majesty, you shouldn't treat me like this!" said Minister Bai aggrievedly, "I said all those things only for your sake!"
"For my sake, well said! Minister Bai, you're acquiring a great aspiration!" said Chu Tiankuo coldly as he looked at Minister Bai.
"No, Your Majesty, I'm not!" Minister Bai knelt down on the floor, edged forward a few steps and grabbed the bottom corner of Chu Tiankuo's robe, "Your Majesty, I have always been loyal and nothing but loyal to you!"
"I know," said Chu Tiankuo as he looked at Minister Bai's awkwardness. "That's why I want you to have a good rest at home!"
Minister Bai knew it was beyond redemption. He cursed inwardly. If he hadn't meddled with this matter, he would never be confined.
"Minister Bai, what are you waiting here? You don't want to accept my decision?" said Chu Tiankuo casually as he looked at Minister Bai.
Minister Bai felt aggrieved, but there was nothing he could do now. He kowtowed slowly to Chu Tiankuo and said, "Thank you for your benevolence, Your Majesty!"
Then he stood up, his fingers still trembling from anger or fear, which no one knew for sure. He stepped out of the imperial study and looked at the sky outside. After a while, he heaved a great sigh and slowly walked home.
In the meantime, after Tang Xia returned to her chamber, she still felt horrified at the thought of Concubine Orchid's dying face with her eyes gaping. She only managed to calm down after quite some time.
Chu Tiankuo was also mobilizing personnel. First of all, he reinforced the guard of Tang Xia's palace for fear that she might be the next target of the murderer. Then he sent officials of the Central Judicial Office to investigate the case. After all, it was better to trust it to the professionals.
Tang Xia was deeply moved by Chu Tiankuo's devotion to this matter all these days.
One day, she went to the kitchen and prepared a meal herself. Then she sent for Chu Tiankuo to dine with her. At table, she frequently picked up food with her chopsticks for Chu Tiankuo.
"Your Majesty, please eat more of the dishes. You've been working hard all these days for my trouble, and you've really been exhausted. You should eat something good to refresh your body," said Tang Xia as she kept putting food in Chu Tiankuo's bowl.
Chu Tiankuo's bowl was almost overflowing with food, but Tang Xia continued to put in more food as if she didn't notice at all.
Chu Tiankuo was only too happy to see his empress being so cute, and he was eager to see her picking up more food for him. So he kept quiet and didn't remind her.
After a while, Tang Xia finally realized she had put too much food in Chu Tiankuo's bowl. She looked at Chu Tiankuo and found he was looking at her closely. She lowered her head in embarra.s.sment and stopped her hand from picking up more food for him.
"Empress, why do you stop? I thought you liked to pick up food for me!" Chu Tiankuo gave an evil smile and stared at Tang Xia joyfully.
The blush on Tang Xia's face deepened. She slowly lowered her head, almost burying her head in her bowl. After a while, she said to Chu Tiankuo, "Your Majesty, thank you so much for your hard work with my trouble. I can't thank you enough!"
Chu Tiankuo looked at Tang Xia's peach flower face and watery eyes, and he felt a stir in his blood. He beckoned to Tang Xia and said, "Come here."
Tang Xia was confused, but she obeyed Chu Tiankuo's instruction and walked over to him. Before she realized, she was pulled over by Chu Tiankuo and seated on his laps.
The blush on Tang Xia's face deepened further.
Chu Tiankuo picked up a tad of food from his bowl with chopsticks and raised it to Tang Xia's mouth. Tang Xia looked at him in amazement. Chu Tiankuo was amused at Tang Xia's awkward expression and said gently to her, "Come, open your mouth."
Tang Xia opened her mouth obediently and ate the food as if she had lost control of her own body. After she realized what she was doing, she wriggled on Chu Tiankuo's laps and said, "Your Majesty, let me go."
"Sit still! Otherwise, I don't know what action I might take from now on!" said Chu Tiankuo softly at Tang Xia's ear, "It's not for you that I set up the investigation! But..."
"But what?" asked Tang Xia curiously.
"If you want to know, you should do something more special. I won't mind, you know."