When Huangfu Wu Shuang dismounted from the carriage, Hua Zhu Yu and Jixiang were also forced out. The official presiding over Nei Cheng Yuan stepped out to welcome them.
Wearing a grim expression, his face did not contain the slightest hint of compassion. Perhaps he had presided over this prison far too long and met far too many distinguished individuals for when he saw the Crown Prince escorted from the carriage, his face did not change in the slightest.
Leading the group of prison guards, he walked up to Huangfu Wu Huang and said in a detached voice, “This official, Zhou Quan, is the one in charge of Nei Cheng Yuan. Hope Your Highness excuse my rudeness but once you step through that door, you will be regarded as a criminal, charged with the crime of attempting to assassinate His Majesty. I will no longer pay you my respects henceforth. It’s not that I don’t take heed of rules and customs but this is His Majesty’s orders. No matter what your status is, whether you’re the Crown Prince, prince or princess, once you are here, you will be treated as a prisoner. Does Your Highness understand?”
“You spoke so clearly, how could I not understand?” Huangfu Wu Shuang looked at him without the slightest hint of anger. If this was before, he would’ve bestowed him with a kick. He was the grand Crown Prince, how could he put up with such disrespectful words?
Yet he conceded, though Hua Zhu Yu could make out his slightly trembling hands hidden beneath his sleeves. Not long ago, he was once the imposing, haughty Crown Prince,yet tonight all he could do was tolerate.
Since birth he had never had to suffer any grievances. At the tender age of 5 he was bestowed the Crown Prince title. Perhaps going through this ordeal may not be all bad, for it would force him to mature. It was just uncertain if he would be able to survive this ordeal unscathed. The crime pinned on him was grave and would be difficult to clear. It was no wonder Zhou Quan wasn’t the least bit courteous.
“I’m glad Your Highness understands. Great, please put on the shackles, Your Highness. That is the rule!” Once he spoke, two prison guards stepped forward, one holding a cangue and the other with the shackles.
Gritting his teeth, he slowly raised his hands forward. With a crisp click, the shackles were securely fastened, restraining him.
Hua Zhu Yu could not escape the shackles either.
Because of Huangfu Wu Shuang, she experienced what it was like to be chained up like this for the first time in her life. The shackles restraining her hands felt heavy upon her wrists. The biting coldness of the metal assaulted her skin, encroaching all the way towards her heart.
On their journey here, the thought of taking Huangfu Wu Shuang and escaping had crossed her mind. She was already a fugitive so becoming one again didn’t really matter. But if she were to escape, they had no chance of turning the situation around.
Based on her martial arts and An Xiao Er’s help, it wouldn’t be too difficult to escape from this prison.
Escorted by the guards, they entered Nei Cheng Yuan.
Although Nei Cheng Yuan was a prison designed to detain members of royal family, a prison in the end was still a prison. As soon as they entered, they could feel the desolation and coldness reeking from within. Lining the long corridor were but a few dim oil lamps that were barely enough to illuminate their faces.
Huangfu Wu Shuang, Hua Zhu Yu, and Jixiang were segregated and detained in separate prison cells.
Huangfu Wu Shuang’s cell was furnished with a table, chair and bed. As for Hua Zhu Yu’s, there was only a pile of haystack that served as her bed but she didn’t really care for she had endured far worst on the battlefield.
Surveying the cell, she noticed the small oil lamp affixed on the wall with its dim light, seemingly about to extinguish at any moment. The stone walls, having soon been pervaded by moss, was greedily soaking up the surrounding moisture and condensing it into droplets of water that idly dribbled down, giving the cell a drearier impression.
This was the perfect place to avoid the summer heat, why ever did they go all the way to Qing Jiang Palace, Hua Zhu Yu laughingly thought to herself.
“What are you laughing at? If it wasn’t for the Crown Prince, would a lowly eunuch as yourself be able to stay in such a good cell? The prison housing criminals with serious criminal offense always has its doors open. If you’re not well-behaved, you’ll be transferred there at once!” the Chief prison guard coldy chided upon seeing her laugh.
The smile on her lips gradually froze as she turned around to shoot him a glance, sneering, “This servant didn’t know a little prison guard also had such power!”
The prison guard did not anticipate that a little eunuch would dare talk back to him in such a manner. Even the Crown Prince appeared somewhat apprehensive upon entering Nei Cheng Yuan. The prison guard carefully sized up Hua Zhu Yu. Uupon seeing her beautiful features, he suddenly gave a hearty laugh. “Oh, you wouldn’t be that evildoer, Yuan Bao, who seduced his master right? Even in this remote place we have heard of your infamous name. Lao zi (I, your father) heard that you’ve got quite the sharp mouth, but let me tell you a little something. In this prison, there’s a lecherous old prince that’s particularly fond of delicate boys around 16-17 years old with tender skin as yourself. This place is for members of the royal family, it’s uncertain how long the Crown Prince will stay here, who knows, maybe he’ll be sent off to meet the King of Hell in a few days. How about this, if you agree to serve me ,lao zi shall let you live a little longer, if not, lao zi will present you to that old, lecherous prince. Lao zi heard that once he takes a liking to someone, he’ll play them all night long. When they faint, he’ll just wake them up and continue playing them till they take their last breath. Lao zi on the other hand can be quite tender, how about following me?”
This was a prison after all.
Facing this type of humiliation was a first for Hua Zhu Yu. Prison was also a place of oppression and she was only a little eunuch whose master was branded a criminal, unable to protect her. If a little eunuch were to turn up dead in this prison, it wasn’t going to be a big deal.
Hua Zhu Yu never had to tolerate such vulgar words. If this was in the past, she wouldn’t have had to act. Her four guards would have already finished him off.
She was furious but she could only endure it. She knew that he wasn’t saying that just to give her a scare and that anything was possible in this dark prison cell.
With a faint smile, Hua Zhu Yu replied, “Daren, you’re right, this servant also wishes to live longer. But due to the gravity of the crime that the Crown Prince is involved in, there will likely be a trial. In which case this servant will surely need to give testimony, so until then nothing can happen to me!”
“Alright, alright!” Enthralled by Hua Zhu Yu’s smile, the prison guard reached out with his burly hands to touch her face.
Turning her head to the side, she avoided him but he was still nevertheless satisfied as he took a whiff of his fingers. Smiling, he said, “Oh such a delicate face, I can’t help but want a feel, ha ha, I shall wait, ha ha…”
He departed with light-hearted laughter but noticing the other guards still watching Hua Zhu Yu, he gave one of them a slap across the face. “What are you looking at, this person is mine. You’re forbidden to look!”
Covering his cheek with a hand, the small prison guard replied, “Yes, Chief Zhao!”
Her eyes flashed with coldness as she thought, ‘Chief Zhao, I shall remember this.’
The night was late and the oil lamp had at last consumed its last bit of oil, slowly extinguishing. The room was immediately enveloped in pitch darkness, so dark that she couldn’t even make out her own hand. Naturally, no one was going to come and replenish the oil for this lamp. Moving towards the haystack near the wall, she slowly sat down, cross-legged on the ground.
Employing her internal force, the shackles around her wrists and ankles immediately loosened and she removed them with ease. Sleeping with these shackles on were very uncomfortable. Tossing them to the side, she leaned her back against the wall and closed her eyes to rest.
After spending a whole 2 days and nights on the ship, Hua Zhu Yu was exhausted.
This time she slept for quite a while. Upon opening her eyes, she noticed that, though the cell was still dark, there were faint rays of light seeping through from the roof tiles, dappling the cold, mossy stone wall.
Hearing the approaching footsteps, she quickly put on her shackles.
With the opening of the cell door, the Chief prison guard from yesterday entered with a smile plastered on his face, within his hands, a set of prison uniform. Since they had arrived late yesterday, they did not receive their uniforms. Little did she expect that Chief Zhao would personal come and deliver them early this morning.
“Little beauty, I’ve come. With those shackles on, it’s probably inconvenient for you to change clothes. How about I lend you a hand?” His smile was full of lewd intent as his eyes were fixed rapaciously on her face. His gaze slowly moved down her body towards her waist, and then even lower. It seemed as though his mere gaze could penetrate through her clothes. If eyes could defile a person, it seemed as though she had been violated a thousand times over.
Her fury was ignited and she had to restrain herself from digging his eyes out. He really doesn’t know what’s good for him, Hua Zhu Yu thought. Slowly approaching, he reached for her clothes.
With a slight twist of her body, she avoided his grasp and lightly said in a voice with suppressed anger, “Chief Zhao, I can change my own clothes. I dare not disturb you.”
But he was too enamored by her to notice the murderous undertone in her voice. Last night, beneath the dim light of the oil lamp, he merely thought that Hua Zhu Yu was charming, he did not discover just how beautiful she was until today. Early this morning he originally planned to assist her change her clothes and conveniently take advantage of her. But who would’ve thought the person in front of him today was so beautiful, especially that body, even with clothes on, was still alluring, arousing him.
When he came today, he deliberately did not bring the other guards along.
At this moment, he quickly closed the cell door and threw caution to the wind. Flinging the set of prison uniform to the side, he began to quickly disrobe, his movements unexpectedly quick and nimble. But fortunately he still had a sense of shame and didn’t completely take everything off, otherwise, Hua Zhu Yu really didn’t know where to put her eyes.
A sense of apprehension began to rise within her. She really didn’t know if she should castrate this man or just kill him off. Castrating him would surely dirty her hands while killing him would undoubtedly bring trouble.
What should she do?
While she was contemplating over this, Chief Zhao made a move towards her.
Lightly twisting her body, she avoided the hungry beast who ended up slamming into the wall. He did not expect Hua Zhu Yu to move with such grace and agility, but instead of getting angry, he laughed and said, “Such vigor, Lao zi likes!” Once he spoke, he turned around and made a move for her again, his arms outstretched.
Hua Zhu Yu was somewhat frustrated, she thought that with an eunuch identity she would be safe from such humiliation yet she was proved wrong.
This time she did not avoid him.
He pressed her against the wall, one hand reaching out to tear her clothes at the shoulder, exposing her delicate collarbone, while the other reached for the jade band around her waist.
This Chief Zhao was clearly a brute, panting like a beast with blood-thirsty eyes glinting from the thrill, like he was going to swallow her whole.
Hua Zhu Yu sighed. She really despised having to dirty her hands by killing such a person but he was really going overboard. She was just about to take aim at his vital spot when a voice rang out.
“Who’s inside?” a cold voice rung from the entrance of the cell, scaring Chief Zhao til he was frightened stiff, seemingly forgetting how to move.
The cell door was once again pushed open. Hua Zhu Yu quickly retracted her hand, stealthily putting back on the shackles before lifting her head to see who it was.
Several people stood outside the door, among them was the official presiding over the prison, Zhou Quan, and around ten additional prison guards. They stood surrounding a man, Left Chancellor Ji Feng Li.
No one expected that once he returned from Qing Jiang Palace, the first thing he did was head over to the prison to preside over the trial.
Adorned in a red official brocade robes embroidered with countless clouds on his sleeves and an official headdress on his head, he stood there, graceful and poised. Perhaps he also did not expect to witness such a scene as his eyes flashed with a hint of surprise and callousness.
Hua Zhu Yu inwardly sighed, her clear eyes gradually turning cold.
How could she be so unlucky!
Her current miserable state was actually witnessed by her enemy, Ji Feng Li. How happy he must be to see her like this!
Frozen in fright, Chief Zhao was still in the position of pinning Hua Zhu Yu against the wall. Witnessing this scene, Zhou Quan paled in shock. He stealthily took a quick glance at Ji Feng Li before loudly shouting, “Zhao Si, what are you doing?”
Seeing Ji Feng Li present, Zhao Si limbs began to tremble and he instantly collapsed on the ground, continuously kowtowing as he begged, “Left Chancellor, have mercy. Left Chancellor, have mercy. This humble one was bringing this prisoner his prison uniform. Who would’ve imagined that this evildoer, he..he seduced me. He’s the devil, he confused me, my mind was unknowingly muddled. Fortunately, Lord Chancellor came at the right time otherwise I would’ve been sullied by this evildoer.”
Hearing Zhao Si’s nonsense, Hua Zhu Yu couldn’t help but burst into laughter.
Black and white was reversed by a man like Zhao Si.
Her laughter was a mix of derision and helplessness.
She came to realize that her clothes were currently a torn mess and her collarbone was exposed so she quickly grappled at her clothes, trying to cover up as she ambled towards the corner of the wall. She neither looked outside the door nor gave an explanation for the current situation. Her lashes were downcast, concealing the look in her eyes.
She knew that anyone with eyes could see the truth of the situation. But naturally even if Ji Feng Li had eyes he would twist black and white.
“Zhou Quan, I don’t want to look at this person any longer!” His voice was cold yet calm, without a hint of anger yet Zhou Quan still shuddered in fear at his command.
Hastily giving orders to the prison guards, Zhou Quan said, “Quickly, drag him out.”
“Yes!” they responded in a hurry and took a step towards Hua Zhu Yu, intending to take her away.
“I’m not talking about him,” he said in a voice, light as the wind.
“Ah!?” Zhou Quan exclaimed with his mouth wide open. After a long while he finally got a hold of himself and berated in a loud voice, “What are you doing you fools! I’m talking about Zhao Si! Take him out!”
The prison guards quickly turned to Zhao Si and dragged him out of the cell.
Zhao Si’s arrogant, despotic demeanor had long since vanished and he cried out, “Have mercy Lord Chancellor. Have mercy….,” His miserable cries gradually fading into the distance.
Slowly, Hua Zhu Yu opened her eyes. Little did she expect Ji Feng Li to punish the guard on her behalf.
Calmly standing at the cell door, Ji Feng Li’s lips were lifted in a graceful smile. His eyes casually swept over the prison uniform scattered on the ground and the clothes Zhao Si had taken off.
“Zhou Quan, bring him over after a while!” Ji Feng Li indifferently said and turned to leave.
Through the open cell door, his departing figure could be seen, getting farther and farther.
Along the dark corridor, the faint flames of the torches that were lit every ten steps casted a hazy light upon his clothes. With each sway of his sleeves, the flames lightly flickered.
In any age and time, there will exist a person that shines as gloriously as a shooting star. If he or she isn’t the beloved treasure of Heaven, then they’re either a gifted individual or a peerless genius.
Ji Feng Li, who’s made his name known at the age of 15 is without a doubt one of them.
His robes lightly swayed with his every step. The brilliance of his slowly departing silhouette pricked Hua Zhu Yu eyes so she closed them, trying to suppress the hatred at the bottom of her heart.
Standing up, she slowly went to close the door and change her clothes. Her clothes were already torn so she couldn’t continue wearing them even if she wanted to. However, the prison uniform was a bit oversized, making her appear even thinner.
After a while, two prison guards came to escort her to a large room. Once inside they pushed her and she fell to the ground.
The coldness of the ground seeped into her body. With the cangue around her neck, she struggled up to a kneeling position.
She felt it was quite laughable. The Emperor sent his own son to Nei Cheng Yuan so what was the need of a trial? With Ji Feng Li presiding over the trial does Huangfu Wu Shuang still have a chance?
She slowly raised her head. Inside this room were two windows. The sunlight illuminated half of the spacious room, leaving the other half in darkness.
At the interrogation desk was Minister of Justice, Zhang Qing. Beside him were two people, Left Chancellor Ji Feng Li and Right Chancellor Nie Yuan Qiao.