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Chapter 666 Fear and Panic
These scholars might be famous and distinguished. They might look down on many rules and societal norms as men in the prime of their youth, but they were still ordinary people at the end of the day.
When something threatened their lives, even the lives of their families, they would still panic and do something unexpected.
The cowardly scholar was a good example.
When he saw Wu Yao refusing to let them go, he panicked and cried, “Once the Crown Princess finishes her performance, we’ll all die with her! We must leave now!”
His voice was loud, and the men and women were only separated by a short distance. They used a path near the women’s area on their way out, and the commotion they made had drawn the women’s attention. Therefore, everyone at the banquet heard his words.
When the women processed those words, they exchanged looks. They didn’t know what the scholar meant. Could there be another meaning to Ning Xueyan’s performance?
“What… What do you mean?” Wu Yao looked confused, too. She looked at the scholar who spoke to her, and then at the scholars behind him.
Suddenly, they heard a sharp and clear sound from the stage, forming a sharp contrast to the mournful zither tune. It was as if something had snapped. The sound frightened the scholar so much that he nearly fell. “The Song of the Witch! It’s a witch song, the kind that sets a curse! Madam Wu, are you asking us to stay here and not leave until the end of the performance so that we can bring down our entire families with us?”
The scholar shouted and glared at Wu Yao.
His voice was urgent and sharp. He was so impatient that he couldn’t hide anger from surfacing on his face. He was even tempted to forgo etiquette and push Wu Yao aside so he could leave.
Unfortunately for him, Wu Yao was surrounded by her maids and older female servants. They happened to block his path. Even if he managed to push Wu Yao aside, he still wouldn’t be able to leave immediately.
The women were stunned to hear him mention the Song of the Witch. Then, a few of them who had heard the rumors stood up in a jolt. With a panicked expression, they turned to look at Ning Xueyan on the stage and picked up the hem of their skirts. They were in such a hurry that they nearly fell.
A couple of women who didn’t know what happened were asking around. “A witch’s song? What’s that?”
A young lady who knew about the song of witches replied in a trembling voice, “Don’t… Don’t you know about the Case of Jinghuai?”
The women present were all well-educated. Hearing the young lady’s reminder, they remembered what happened and stood up in a panic. A few even knocked over the tables and the cups of tea on them, but they didn’t even pay attention to their wet clothes.
The Case of Jinghuai was one of the biggest cases ever recorded. The reason that the case was so well-spread throughout history was that not only did it involve n.o.ble families, but that all of those involved in the case were dead because of it.
It was the case of the-then Crown Princess placing a curse using an antique zither. She had played a song at a banquet to curse the-then Emperor, in hopes that the Emperor would die an early death and the Crown Prince would ascend the throne sooner. One of the zither strings snapped, signaling the success of the curse. The Emperor had indeed died an early death.
However, the-then Empress was also a powerful person in her own right. She managed to find out the truth the night before the Crown Prince took the throne. She immediately ordered for the arrest of the Crown Prince and Princess. Eventually, more and more people were drawn out. It was said that everyone who heard the Crown Princess’ Song of the Witch was implicated in the matter. There were also those whose entire clans were exterminated because of it.
The Empress was as ruthless as she was capable. The Crown Prince wasn’t her son, so she didn’t show any mercy on him. The case caused a few n.o.ble families to be exterminated. The nation’s power weakened and the entire court was overturned. One could argue that without the Crown Princess’ witch’s song, the country wouldn’t have ended up being destroyed.
Because of this, the founding imperial family of the subsequent States became fearful of the Song of the Witch. They concealed the truth and destroyed the zither piece in question. They forbade anyone from using witchery to harm people.
Even though the Song of the Witch had led to the extinction of an imperial family, some hid records of it because of how serene and beautiful it sounded. The zither piece continued to show up in the inheritance of certain n.o.ble families. Everything happened a long time ago, so people’s fear of the Song of the Witch wasn’t as strong as it used to be.
At the beginning of the performance, some of the scholars even discussed how the Crown Princess was using the legendary antique zither, Mark of the Moon. The creator of the zither was State Preceptor Xuan Yin. He had used a secret technique to make the zither sound even nicer and even carry a mysterious force. It was said that one of the strings of the Mark of the Moon had snapped because of the Crown Princess in the Case of Jinghuai, not Xuan Yin.
It was the Crown Princess who snapped the string and turned the mysterious force in the zither into a strong curse, causing the Emperor to die a quick death.
Even though most thought that the mysterious force was just a rumor, it didn’t stop some from spreading stories about it. More and more felt uneasy about the wors.h.i.+pping of supernatural beings.
When people talked about the Mark of the Moon, most would talk about its beautiful legend. Even so, many still held a deep fear of the zither. In such circ.u.mstances, everyone at the banquet couldn’t help but remember that legend.
Whether or not the legend was true, everything happening at the moment coincided with what happened in the past.
The Crown Princess playing the zither at a banquet, the ill Emperor in the palace, the childless Empress, the inauspicious Mark of the Moon, the sharp snap of the zither string that everyone heard earlier, as well as the strange zither piece all the scholars recognized to be the Song of the Witch fitted the bill.
Did this mean that everyone at the banquet was on the verge of death…
The thought of death pushed everyone who knew the case and legends into action. They began to run away. It wasn’t just their lives in danger, but the lives of their entire clans. Back then, many n.o.ble families with hundred years of legacy were exterminated overnight, with their people beheaded.
That was because the Empress didn’t know who was in collusion with the Crown Princess. She acted decisively to capture everyone and counter the Crown Prince and Princess with a ruthless method. Many of the victims and their families were innocent.
“The Crown Princess is playing the Song of the Witch! Quick! Capture her!”
“She’s trying to kill the Emperor! Fast! Servants, quick!”
“Help! The Crown Princess is playing the Song of the Witch to curse the Emperor…”
Everyone was running away. Some were so panicked that they ran into each other. A few n.o.ble ladies even fell after cras.h.i.+ng into each other. They were so frightened that they yelped out loud.
The tables were knocked over and the chairs were flung aside. The fruits fell and rolled on the ground, collecting a layer of dust.
Cups of wine rolled down and crashed on the ground, soaking the earth with wine.
Ning Xueyan had stopped playing a long time ago. She watched the commotion under the stage with a slight smile.
A group of imperial bodyguards rushed in from the outside. When they saw the commotion, one of them yelled, “What happened? We’re imperial bodyguards from the palace! Did someone try to a.s.sa.s.sinate the Crown Princess?”
The guard waved his hand as he spoke, stopping the guests from leaving.
“No one is trying to a.s.sa.s.sinate the Crown Princess! It’s the Crown Princess trying to curse and a.s.sa.s.sinate the Emperor!”
“The Crown Princess is using the antique zither, Mark of the Moon, to a.s.sa.s.sinate the Emperor as an ancient person did!”
“Yes, it’s the Crown Princess! The Crown Princess is trying to harm the Emperor!” Everyone’s panic deepened after seeing the imperial guards. To prove their innocence, they began to explain the situation in loud voices and express that they had nothing to do with the Crown Princess.
On the stage, Ning Xueyan continued to watch the commotion underneath calmly. Her lips were curved into a slight smile as she accepted a handkerchief from Lanning. She didn’t look unperturbed as if what the guests were saying had nothing to do with her.
“What? The Crown Princess is trying to harm the Emperor?” the leader of the group of imperial guards shouted. He raised his head and looked at Ning Xueyan on the stage. He gritted his teeth as if about to order his men to capture Ning Xueyan.
Ning Xueyan was just a newly-appointed Crown Princess. Compared to the Emperor, her importance was negligible.
It was reasonable for him to order for Ning Xueyan’s capture. But before he could make the command, a burst of rustling sounds resounded as a large group of imperial guards in the same attire burst in. The new batch of guards rushed forward and surrounded the stage, forming a protective circle around Ning Xueyan.
Both groups of guards knew each other. The new batch of guards belonged to Prince Yi’s Manor and now worked at the Crown Prince’s Palace. The first group of guards was from the palace. However, with the Emperor being too ill to see anyone, their real master wasn’t the Emperor. They were, in fact, Ao Mingyu’s men. They were transferred out of the palace just to capture Ning Xueyan.
However, they didn’t expect Ao Chenyi’s guards to arrive so quickly. Ao Chenyi’s guards weren’t like regular imperial guards. All of them were veterans who had survived countless battles. Their gazes were sharper than that of the regular imperial guards. Seeing them here and remembering Ao Chenyi’s ruthlessness, the imperial guards were thinking of retreating.
The imperial guards looked at their leader. Were they supposed to rush up the stage and capture the Crown Princess or not?
The guards from Prince Yi’s Manor were far superior to imperial guards who usually lived a good life.
In an actual battle, they wouldn’t be able to stop Ao Chenyi’s guards.
When one of Ao Chenyi’s guards saw that there were guests still trying to run away, he brandished his sword and slashed a young lady who was screaming in fear. Blood immediately gushed out from her chest. He said coldly, “If any of you run or scream, this is what will happen to you.”
A strange silence fell over the banquet. Everyone’s eyes were on the n.o.ble young lady. Her face was contorted into a malevolent expression as she succ.u.mbed to death. There was still disbelief in her eyes. Even when she died, she looked like she didn’t believe that the guard would kill her.
Standing amid the crowd, Commandery Princess Muling couldn’t help trembling. The dead young lady had been sitting beside her just earlier. The lady didn’t even know what the Song of the Witch was, so she “kindly” explained it to her. She never thought that the lady would lay dead in a pool of blood in front of her in minutes.
“Commandery Princess, we… we should go back.” Her maid was also trembling as she tugged at her hand.
“No, let’s wait and see.” Commandery Princess Muling gritted her teeth. She must not leave at this time. No matter how brave Ao Chenyi’s guards were, the truth was apparent to everyone. Ning Xueyan wouldn’t be able to bury this gossip. No matter how powerful the Crown Prince was, he wouldn’t let himself get into such trouble for Ning Xueyan’s sake!