How could she possibly not remember Ma Junfeng? Back then, this middle-aged man had put on a large-scale lovemaking show with Sheng Peiyin in the forest. Shen Ziqiao always stayed on alert towards people by Sheng Peiyin’s side. She knew better than anyone that the reason why Sheng Peiyin succeeded was because of the people besides her.
He Chen had already deviated from the plot but that didn’t mean another male supporting lead wouldn’t come to replace He Chen, sacrificing himself for Sheng Peiyin and helping her reach the highest in the social ladder.
“He’s the one that helped Sheng Peiyin?” After what happened, Shen Ziqiao ahd someone investigate Henghui Bank. There was more to Ma Junfeng than meets the eyes. He didn’t come from a wealthy family. He was just a merchant when he was young but then got rich through his overseas business. He took only a decade to bring Henghui Bank to the position of the top bank of Dazhou.
“Before this man became a merchant, he used to work in a Daoist temple. Coincidentally enough, the temple was in the Tianxuan Sect.” After he entered the palace today, he heard that Sheng Peiyin was personally released by the emperor and he was sure that she wasn’t Sheng Peiyin but rather Ma Beirong. He had already become suspicious. He couldn’t help but think back to when he forced Sheng Peiyin out of the capital. While he was at it, he found information on Ma Junfeng’s background.
He was almost sure in the first moment. Ma Junfeng really did seek Spiritual Master Zhou out.
Since when did the Sun Family and Ma Junfeng collude together? There were no rumors about it. Even the crown prince’s spies didn't find anything. This meant that the Sun Family had hid this deeply.
“The emperor believed her just like that?” Shen Ziqiao thought it was a bit incredulous. Was she being a bit too careless? Even if Sheng Peiyin’s appearance changed, there was no way there weren't any clues.
And what exactly happened at the Plum Appreciation Banquet?
Could it be that she had nothing to do with Beitang Zhenjing being almost framed on the Plum Appreciation Banquet and the crown prince being almost drugged?
“The emperor believed this. The empress and the crown prince can’t change the emperor’s decision at all. The palace servants that were prompted on the Plum Appreciation Banquet were already sentenced to death. There was no proof that Ma Beirong was Sheng Peiyin or that she drugged them...Ma Beirong said that she was framed.” Qi Zheng told Shen Ziqiao about all these bizarre things in the palace.
The empress and the crown prince were strongly against the emperor releasing Sheng Peiyin and then bestowing her the title as sorceress. Even more, she told her about what happened at the Plum Appreciation Banquet. The emperor wavered at first but not only wasn’t Ma Beirong afraid, she acted calm and nonchalant. In the emperor’s eyes, she looked charming and gorgeous.
Ma Beirong explained that she only attended the Plum Appreciation Banquet because she received an invitation. After drinking some wine, she felt unwell and a palace maid led her to rest. It was unclear how she encountered the crown prince. She didn’t know how to react to what happened afterwards.
She had no idea how she got imprisoned in the hidden prison.
In the end, it was unclear what Spiritual Master Zhou had said to the emperor but he stopped listening to the empress, and kept Ma Beirong in the palace forcibly. He even forbidden the empress from approaching Ma Beirong’s palace hall.
The Ninth Prince had come just in time. He said that there’s only one way to verify whether Ma Beirong was Sheng Peiyin or not. That was for the nanny in the palace to inspect Ma Beirong’s body. If she was still a virgin, then it wasn’t Sheng Peiyin.
Before the emperor could refuse, the empress brought Ma Beirong over for an inspection.
Scared that something may happen, the empress ordered four nannies for inspection. They were all her people so she wasn’t worried that they’d be bribed.
In the end, Ma Beirong was indeed a virgin.
“How is that possible?” Shen Ziqiao shouted in shock. She didn’t believe that these people knew to recover the layer of hymen as it was too advanced for their time period. How could Sheng Peiyin still be a virgin?
“Could they have been bribed?” Shen Ziqiao was suspicious of the people inspecting Sheng Peiyin’s body.
Qi Zheng shook his head and laughed bitterly. “The Ninth Prince had the same reaction as you earlier. But...the nannies were the empress’ people.”
The Ninth Prince knew Sheng Peiyin most. Since he thought that Ma Beirong was Sheng Peiyin, then she must be. But the emperor didn’t believe in their words at all.
Just what sort of evidence did they need to prove that Ma Beirong was Sheng Peiyin?”
“Then, then what should we do now? Sheng Peiyin is going to stay in the palace?” Shen Ziqiao asked.
Qi Zheng nodded. “I think the emperor...wants to keep her by his side.”
“Isn’t the emperor going to cultivate? It can’t be that he also likes Sheng Peiyin right?” Shen Ziqiao said sarcastically. Cultivators feel no desire towards anything. Is the emperor going to treat Sheng Peiyin as an alchemy furnace and cultivate like that?
Did he really think he could cultivate into a deity?
It can’t be! Shen Ziqiao suddenly got enlightened. She suddenly understood why the emperor had decided to find a woman with gold phase when he was water phase.
He really...Shen Ziqiao wanted to call the emperor muddle-headed.
“I know. That damned daoist must’ve said something to the emperor. He must’ve told him that he needed a woman with gold phase in order to cultivate and bring the pill into effect. That’s why the emperor kept Sheng Peiyin in the palace.” Shen Ziqiao grabbed onto Qi Zheng’s sleeves and said.
Qi Zheng guessed this already.
“We need to consider this at length. Since Prime Minister Sun brought Spiritual Master Zhou to the emperor's side, there's probably more to it than just keeping Sheng Peiyin at his side. Let’s wait and see.” Qi Zheng said in a low voice.
That’s all they could do for now.
She just wanted to be on alert against Sheng Peiyin. As for the crown prince and Qi Zheng, they just wanted to be vigilant against Sun Family and Ma Junfeng.
The next day, Qi Zheng left after eating breakfast, saying that he was going to discuss something with Shen Xiao.
Shen Ziqiao was called over by Xiao Gu however.
One couldn’t tell that Xiao Gu was furious yesterday. She wore a normal expression but looked a bit harsh between her brows. She pointed at the seat next to her and said faintly, “Since the Old Madam wants you to help manage the household, then stay here and listen. You can ask later on if you have anything you don’t understand.”
Shen Ziqiao nodded obediently and walked to the tutor chair and sat down. Yet, she was a bit suspicious. Why would Xiao Gu take the initiative to have her help manage the household? This didn’t suit her style.
Could it be that she wanted to stir trouble for her?
Shen Ziqiao was actually not interested in managing the household at all. She never thought about taking control of the household before. She just wanted to find a chance for her to move out of the residence with Qi Zheng. That way, they can live their own lives and wouldn’t need to be on alert every day, afraid that someone might hurt her and Qi Zheng.
But their parents were still here and there was the Old Madam as well. They probably wouldn’t be able to move out that easily.
There were five total housekeepers in the lounge. One was in charge of regulating the inner courtyards while the others were in charge of their own respective departments. They subconsciously looked towards Shen Ziqiao when they replied to Xiao Gu.
Shen Ziqiao smiled and listened, ignoring their gazes.
“...It’s going to be the New Years soon. We’re going to continue the tradition. There’s lots of things to prepare and you guys need to be careful. We need to start purchasing items as well. Don’t leave it until the end and rush everything.” Xiao Gu said. “And the account books too. My head’s been hurting lately so leave this year’s account books for the First Madam to check.”
At the end of the year, they always needed to go through the expenses they accumulated throughout the year in case anyone tried a fraud. Xiao Gu actually gave the First Madam these account books?
Could it be true?...The eldest master was going to the heir sooner or later and the First Madam would be in control of the household?
Everyone was shook.
The maid, Si Ji’s expression changed right then. She was in charge of the outfits of the residence. She had purposely made things difficult for Qianlin Courtyard in order to kiss up to the madam. This...she already offended the First Madam. Her days won’t be good in the future now, will it?
“Okay, if there’s nothing else, you guys can leave and do your own things.” Xiao Gu caught their expressions and wore a sneer.
Shen Ziqiao stood up and exclaimed, “Since mother isn’t feeling well, this daughter-in-law won’t disturb your rest.”
Xiao Gu picked up the teacup and scraped the lid against the body. She smiled. “Don’t you know why I have a headache?”
“Mother must be too exhausted.” Shen Ziqiao looked down and tried her hardest to act obedient and humble, not letting Xiao Gu pick any faults.
“Right. I am quite exhausted. I have to prevent you from hurting my child. How can I not stay on alert? I naturally am a bit tired.” Xiao Gu said coldly.
She didn’t even want to act polite? “Mother, I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
“You’re smart. How do you not know?” Xiao Gu laughed. “Let’s not beat around the bush. Shen Ziqiao, what exactly do you want to do?”
“Don’t call me that. You’re calling me mother now but you must be cursing me out inside your heart.” Xiao Gu glared at Shen Ziqiao. She felt smothered whenever she thought of Qi Rui falling in her trap.
“What does mother want me to do?” Shen Ziqiao asked faintly.
“How dare I teach you? But First Madam, you should be careful in the future. Don’t accidentally do something wrong.” Xiao Gu’s gaze darkened and exclaimed calmly.
Shen Ziqiao got up and exclaimed, “Mother, thank you for reminding me. I’ll be sure to be careful and think before acting.”
Xiao Gu hmphed and placed the teacup on the table, walking out of the lounge with Nanny Su.
“First Madam?” Hong Yu walked over to her worriedly.
“I’m fine. Let’s go back.” Shen Ziqiao said. It seemed like Xiao Gu fully hated her because of Qi Rui.
She returned to Qianlin Courtyard and Mo Zhu brought an invitation over. “Young Miss Luo sent someone to bring this over.”
Luo Zhaohua invited Shen Ziqiao to the Luo Family tomorrow in order to appreciate the plum.
Shen Ziqiao narrowed her eyes. Luo Zhaohua had arranged this for her, no?...Should she go tomorrow? There were some things she wanted to ask too.