She stayed with little Junli until the break of dusk. The sky was covered with the gradient of orange glows, casting long shadows that integrated itself with the handful of trees and plants in the eastern courtyard of Penglai Pavilion.
There was a shadow of looming discontent in Feng Mian's heart as well with each second she waits. Junli had already been put to sleep some time ago by 555's playlist of nursery rhymes.
The plate of water chestnut cake by her side was left half-eaten and had long cooled. She remained seated as the front door to the courtyard creaked open for the first time since afternoon. It was wet nurse Lu.
Wet nurse Lu's eyes widened by a margin upon seeing there was someone in the receiving room and stalled. It took her a split second to recognise that the young woman inside was Concubine Zhou's first-ranked maid, Wan Mei, and was quick to release a fawning smile.
"Aiyoo, if it isn't head maid Wan Mei. Why didn't you let someone inform this old lady that you were coming? Made you wait here in vain!"
Feng Mian didn't bother biting into her play. Nurse Lu felt the temperature in the room drop by two celsius. "Where were you?" Feng Mian's tone was cold as glacier.
"P-pardon miss?" Nurse Lu stuttered an answer.
"In my life, I had seen many a brazen people. Those that steal food from the kitchen when they think no one's looking, those that shirk sweeping the yards to go dating, I have even witnessed those that accept bribes from other courtyards."
Feng Mian's fingers tapped the armrest. "But none of them are as brazen as you. I truly had my eyes opened today."
Feng Mian's smile made Nurse Lu's hands sweat profusely. She let out a chuckle that even sounded constrained to her own ears.
"Miss Wan Mei, today- this nurse was really muddleheaded. I went out for a while and forgot about the time. This isn't really anything major. The young prince has always been good."
"Un, I know he's good. The one that's not good is you."
Nurse Lu's face instantly changed to show her discontent after that rebuke.
Seeing that a soft approach was useless, Nurse Lu changed tactics. She stood straighter and raised her voice.
"You don't know how hard it is for us wet nurses and maids. The prince is sick and only knows how to cry day in and day out. Besides, even the noble concubine doesn't care, why do you? I've been eating rice longer than you've been alive young miss, I know better how the palace works. Take this advice and let's mind our own business."
'Ohoh? On the offensive now is she?.'
"You have good eyes Nurse Lu but you clearly don't see. Who says the concubine doesn't care? Did you hear it from her own mouth? If not, you're slandering an imperial concubine!"
Feng Mian rattled on. "Even if Her Highness doesn't care, the prince doesn't just have one parent. Do you know who his daddy is? It's the emperor bah! You sure have big guts."
Nurse Lu's face immediately turned paperwhite. But Feng Mian wasn't about to let her off.
"The fifth prince's mother is heavily favoured, and who's to say that Fifth Prince will forever remain mute? I don't believe that not one physician in the whole of Song dynasty is unable to cure His Highness' illness! Nurse Lu, you have overstepped your boundaries!"
This time the blow was too hard and Nurse Lu fell to her knees. She finally realised the gravity of her mistake.
"Do you know what the punishment for the crime of mistreating a direct royal descendant is!?" Feng Mian slapped the tea table hard. Nurse Lu felt as if the slap had landed on her face instead.
Feng Mian bent down to Nurse Lu's ear and whispered ill-naturedly, "Quartered and fed to the dogs."
Nurse Lu gasped in a cold breath. She shook her head fiercely, tugging the hem of Feng Mian's dress until it crumpled.
"Nubi- Nubi was wrong! This servant knows it now," Nurse Lu wept.
Her head kowtowed the floor like a rapid pendulum. "Miss Wan Mei, please don't let the concubine know! This servant won't dare to do it again!"
Feng Mian let her prostrate herself until the anger in her heart somewhat dissolves and only then did she move her mouth to say, "I won't bicker with you over this issue anymore. You should know yourself that a sick tiger is still a tiger in the end and you should know who you can afford to offend and who you can't."
"Y-Yes, yes. This servant was blind. Thanking miss for enlightening this old lady."
"In the future, I'll come here more often to see how well the Fifth Prince is doing. If His Highness is so much as missing a strand of eyebrow, I won't care which maid or nurse did it, I'll wait to burn joss paper for you at the dog pen."
Nurse Lu nodded even more vigorously. "Don't worry miss. This one will keep an eye out for the young prince."
System 555: 'Where did its' host find all those joss papers from?'
System 555: "What's wrong Xiao Mian? Didn't we solve little Junli's issue?"
System 555 observed as they were walking on the way back that its' host had been somewhat preoccupied. Feng Mian's eyebrow knitted together.
Feng Mian: "Say, 555. If you were in Wet Nurse Lu's shoes, would you dare mistreat a prince? Even a sick one?"
System 555: "Of course not. This system is not as stupid as Nurse Lu. Even if that Zhou Yunqin doesn't like him, isn't there still big daddy emperor on his back? Why?"
Feng Mian frowned. "No, you're absolutely right. No one in their right mind would invite such big trouble. For a mere wet nurse to do this… she has to have some kind of backing."
System 555 gasped, "Are you suspecting a conspiracy?"
Feng Mian shook her head. She had been suspecting something odd since Junli's condition upon birth and thought of how bold those few dozens of maids and wet nurses are.
"Someone's been pulling the strings."
A second-ranked maid stopped Feng Mian before she stepped foot into Penglai's main courtyard. The maid has seemed to have rushed all the way here and had only stopped to catch her breath after catching up to Feng Mian.
"Wan Mei jiejie, the concubine is looking for you," she huffed.
Feng Mian halted. 'Is this good… or bad?'
She nodded at the maid. "Do you know what Concubine Zhou needs me for?"
"Eunuch Zheng came by earlier."
Sure enough, she continued on. "The emperor is spending the night at Penglai Pavilion."