Chapter 691: Victory and Defeat (II)
Translated by: Hypersheep325
Edited by: Michyrr
Suddenly, the carriage came to a halt.
The woman's eyes widened as she shouted, "What's going on? Why have we stopped moving?"
"Milady, someone is barring the path," the driver outside said.
"Who is it? Don't they know that it's forbidden to stop carriages here?"
As her eyes widened and she voiced her anger, she hear a familiar voice at her ear.
"Since you want to leave, why don't you come down and say goodbye?"
The woman's body began to tremble, and she seemed to have been struck by a lightning bolt.
It was quiet outside the carriage. The woman said nothing, and the person outside silently awaited her answer. With no one saying anything, all that was left was deathly stillness.
The complexion of the woman's face constantly shifted, as did the expression in her eyes. After some time, perhaps finally understanding that she could not escape, she gave a soft sigh and regained her composure.
The door to the carriage opened and the woman walked out with a composed expression. A golden carriage was parked in front, sumptuous and ornate, blocking the avenue. The dragons decorating the carriage were proof enough of the carriage owner's esteemed status.
A row of people stood in front of the carriage, and in the very center of them stood a young and handsome prince, Fifth Prince Li Heng.
Du Zhiqi gave a slight bow to Li Heng, her attitude natural and unpanicked. It was like all this was a mere happenstance.
"You shameless woman! At this stage, you still want to pretend? Our Highness always treated you sincerely, but you wanted to harm him! Truly no better than a beast!"
Before Li Heng could speak, Li Jingzhong rushed forward in rage and rebuke.
If looks could kill, Du Zhiqi would have died countless times already.
"Uncle Jing!" Li Heng suddenly shouted, but his gaze had never once left Du Zhiqi.
Li Jingzhong's body shook. He immediately knew that he had lost control of himself and fell quiet.
No matter what sort of person Du Zhiqi was or what she had done, she was still the Fifth Prince's woman. Moreover, the Fifth Prince had treated her with deep affection, and since the Fifth Prince was here, it was not Li Jingzhong's turn to speak.
Li Heng looked at her.
"Your Highness, what has happened? Why are you here?" Du Zhiqi asked in surprise.
"Why?" Li Heng once more asked, no change in his voice or expression.
"Your Highness, has Zhiqi done something wrong? Your Highness, don't be angry. Tell me and I'll definitely correct it!" Du Zhiqi fearfully replied.
"Even at a time like this, you still want to deceive me?"
Li Heng looked forward and then closed his eyes, his body trembling in pain.
The person he had trusted the most, the one who slept at his side every night, someone he would even be willing to take out his heart and offer it to, had actually been a spy sent by someone else.
Her mouth had been full of words of love and affection, yet at every moment, she wanted nothing more than to push him into a dead end. And even at this stage, she was still trying to deceive him.
"Your Highness, are you blaming Zhiqi for leaving without saying farewell? I know that I'm wrong, but Zhiqi received a letter from my sister. Mother has come down with a serious illness and I must return as quickly as possible," Du Zhiqi said, lowering her head as her face became stricken with grief.
"I have three thousand books in my study, and on that day in my study, only you saw that I had placed that list beneath that board in the corner.
"When Imperial Father sent people to retrieve the list, they did not touch one of the three thousand books, only took the list under the board, not even breaking the board. Someone unfamiliar with the room would never be capable of this feat. Tell me, besides you, who else could do it? Who else would know where that list was?" Li Heng said with closed eyes.
Du Zhiqi's body shuddered, and for a moment, she had nothing to say. She had never imagined that the people sent by the Sage Emperor would be so stupid that they wouldn't even flip through the books, instead immediately taking the list.
"Your Highness, I know nothing. Someone must be framing me!" Du Zhiqi said in anguish as she kneeled to the ground.
"This woman, she's still so tight-lipped, even now!"
Li Jingzhong clenched his fists, his heart brimming with rage.
"Even if you don't confess, there's no problem. Tell me, where is the letter your sister wrote you? Since so little time has passed, it should still be on you!"
Li Heng's voice ringing in her ear, Du Zhiqi trembled, her beautiful face turning ghastly pale and devoid of blood.
Her sister sending a letter about her mother taking ill was just an excuse she had thought up on the spot, and there was no letter to speak of. Even if she had wanted to write one, there had been no time.
"Hmph, you're too clever for your own good. Do you still have anything you want to say!"
Li Jingzhong reacted with a sneer.
The Fifth Prince had been the more quick-witted one, immediately grasping the flaw in her lies.
"It was the Third Prince who sent you, right?" Li Heng asked.
"Since Your Highness is already sure that it was Zhiqi, Zhiqi has nothing to say. Your Highness can do whatever you wish, whether it is killing me or cutting my flesh!"
Du Zhiqi clenched her teeth and dropped her hands, waiting to be arrested.
"Rise! Don't kneel in front of me!"
Li Heng closed his eyes once more in disappointment.
"Our love ends here. From this moment, I do not know you, and you do not know me. Everything will have just been a dream. I can only treat this as my making the wrong judgment of a person. Leave!"
Du Zhiqi continued to kneel on the ground, her body trembling and her face even paler than before.
Li Jingzhong was disconcerted, never expecting this response from Li Heng. He had originally believed that Li Heng would at least arrest her, but he would have never believed that Li Heng would let her go consequence-free.
"Uncle Jing, there's no need to say anything. I can make my own decisions!"
Li Heng extended a hand and stopped Li Jingzhong, his voice and expression allowing no objection. Stunned, Li Jingzhong found it impossible to speak.
Despite all the years he had attended upon Li Heng, he had never seen such dignity and bearing.
His Highness has matured!
Li Jingzhong had a flash of insight and immediately drew back.
In contrast to a woman, the lessons and maturity that Li Heng had gained from this incident were far more precious.
From this perspective, this experience wasn't all that bad.
It seems like the Lord Marquis already predicted all this!
Li Jingzhong recalled that a few days ago, Wang Chong had said that he shouldn't stop the Fifth Prince no matter what decision was made.
"Your Highness, I know that it's too late for me to say anything. Zhiqi would not be able to repay Your Highness's favor with her life, and I will engrave this memory in my heart. Zhiqi bids farewell!"
A complicated look in her eyes, Du Zhiqi stood back up. She did not return to her carriage, but walked past Li Heng and out through the palace gate.
Until she finally disappeared, Li Heng kept his eyes closed, never turning his head. When the final palace gate rumbled as it opened, his body shuddered.
Li Jingzhong coldly watched from the sidelines and couldn't help but sigh. In the end, Li Heng could not deny his affections, could not strike the final blow.
"Your Highness, we truly must thank Young Master Wang this time. If not for him, we would still be completely in the dark, unaware that that woman was a spy sent by another prince. If not for Young Master Wang's vigilance and plans, we truly might have been in danger. The Third Prince and the others would have had an eighty or ninety percent chance of success."
Li Jingzhong's face showed fear as he imagined the consequences.
He only knew that his prince was in love with a woman and thus sought Wang Chong's aid. But he had never expected the Young Marquis to be even warier, immediately seeing through Du Zhiqi.
At the very start, the Fifth Prince stubbornly refused to believe, but when he did as Wang Chong said and left early to see his master, everything was exposed.
Truthfully speaking, even the mentally prepared Li Jingzhong was given a fright when he saw Du Zhiqi's movements through the crack in the study.
The Du Zhiqi in the study had been lithe, agile, vigilant. She was completely different from her usually refined and dignified self.
Li Heng nodded and raised his head. There was a flicker of emotion in his eyes, and then he had regained his composure and serenity. Whether it was leaving the palace, returning to the palace, seeing his master, leaving the list out, and even finding someone to imitate his handwriting and correspond with the border general…
All of this was planned out by Wang Chong.
In the end, not only had he emerged unharmed, Third Prince Li Ju had been sent to the Imperial Clan Court. Moreover, his understanding of the Directors of the Palace Library had greatly pleased his imperial father, and he had won the Sage Emperor's favor and good graces. Not even Li Heng had expected this result.
Disaster could be caused by fortune, and fortune could be hidden in disaster. No matter how many books he read or how long he practiced martial arts, he would have never been able to achieve this result.
But now that he carefully thought about it, this road had been fraught with danger. The slightest lack of caution would have led to a complete loss and terrible risks.
"Tell the Young Marquis that I am deeply grateful for his warnings and that I owe him a favor. In addition, inform Du Hongjian, Wei Shaoyou, and the others that I would like to see them. With the matter of the fake list having just happened, even if I did meet with them, no one would dare say anything.
"Besides that, I plan to devote myself to my studies and martial arts for a time. Don't disturb me unless it's for something important."
As Li Heng spoke, his eyes shone with resolve and wisdom.
"Yes, Your Highness!"
Li Jingzhong was inwardly ecstatic. The Fifth Prince's relationship with Du Zhiqi had resulted in him basically abandoning his studies.
This was the first time he had heard Li Heng mentioning his studies on his own initiative.
Moreover, Li Heng had clearly matured from his experience. He now understood that this was a chance to get close to Du Hongjian and the other officials.
The Li Heng of the past would have never done such a thing.
"Your lowly slave will do as ordered!"
The cheerful Li Jingzhong quickly took his leave.
A figure emerged from the Imperial Palace. Standing in the middle of the vast and crowded street, Du Zhiqi finally turned to glance at the lofty golden walls of the palace.
With no one to watch, Du Zhiqi finally showed a little sorrow and confusion. But she quickly vanished, merging with the crowd and setting off in a different direction.
"Lord Marquis, are we really just letting her go?"
In a nearby restaurant, a frowning Old Eagle and Wang Chong stood side by side and watched Du Zhiqi.
In his opinion, a double-crossing woman who had attempted to do harm to Fifth Prince Li Heng could not be allowed to survive. This was only nurturing a tiger so that it could cause a future calamity.
"Since the Fifth Prince was not willing to kill her, and let her leave the Imperial Palace alive, what right do we have to touch her?"
Wang Chong leaned on a rail and watched, his voice indifferent, his expression calm.
"Moreover, humans are not made of wood and grass, and who can truly remain emotionless? Although she was dispatched as someone else's spy, after spending so many nights and days with the Fifth Prince, there's no guarantee that she had absolutely no affection for him. Perhaps she's already been punished, so what need is there for us to do anything?"
Old Eagle was momentarily surprised, only half-understanding Wang Chong's words.
"Okay, let's put this matter aside. The matter regarding His Fifth Highness is over, so it's time that we got to work on other things."
Smiling, Wang Chong quickly left the restaurant.
As I understand it, this round of political intrigue went like this:
- Wang Chong creates forged documents with Li Heng and plants them in the study.
- Du Zhiqi searches the study, finds the forged documents, and makes a copy that she sends to the First Prince, along with the hiding spot.
- The First Prince, not noticing the error in the document, passes this information to the Third Prince, who also fails to check that every name on the list is legitimate.
- The Third Prince uses this info to tip-off the Sage Emperor, leading to the court audience.
- Li Heng points out the error that was planted in the documents, and the Third Prince, having no idea that Li Heng would actually forge his own handwriting to frame him, ends up with a raw deal.
Of course, if the error was noticed at any point, then the other princes would have gotten suspicious and Wang Chong would probably have to think of another plan to expose Du Zhiqi, perhaps leading to more political intrigue!
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