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Ning Xueyan had committed the crime of trying to assassinate the Emperor. One careless mistake, and even Ao Chenyi might be implicated. Everyone knew that they must steer clear of her at this time.
The situation was finally under control. No one dared to run after seeing the noble young lady lay dead on the floor without knowing why. They were afraid that the blood-thirsty troops from Prince Yi’s Manor would kill them too. These people had killed the lady without asking questions. That was enough to prove how bold they were.
Even though most people at the banquet were educated people, they knew they couldn’t do anything about the armed guards in front of them.
A more courageous scholar tidied his robe and stepped forward to talk to the first batch of guards. “Sir, the Crown Princess performed the Song of the Witch to curse the Emperor. We tried to run away because we didn’t dare to stay behind. We wanted to report the matter.”
After all, the first batch of guards seemed much kinder.
“The Crown Princess wants to curse the Emperor?” The leader of Ao Mingyu’s men had regained his composure as well. His expression sank as he looked at the second batch of guards. He looked at Ning Xueyan on the stage and said sternly, “How dare you do such a disgraceful and unfilial thing! What do you take the Emperor and Crown Prince for?”
Ning Xueyan finally stood up and looked calmly at the commotion underneath. A smile appeared on her face when she heard the guard’s stern rebuke. When everyone’s attention was on her, she asked, “How did you know that I want to curse the Emperor? What makes you think I did something disgraceful and unfilial?”
Another scholar couldn’t help but chime in, “You used the antique zither, Mark of the Moon, and played the Song of the Witch! We even heard the sound of a zither string snapping earlier! That would only happen in a curse on the Emperor’s life! Why else would one of the strings in the Mark of the Moon snap all of a sudden?”
They stood up and ran out after hearing the snapping of the zither string. Though they were panicking, they could still hear the zither producing a broken sound. The string must have snapped. In other words, Ning Xueyan’s curse had worked. Just the thought of it bolstered the scholars’ courage. They were so desperate to prove their innocence that they didn’t even care for Ning Xueyan’s status.
Ning Xueyan’s expression turned cold. She looked at the crowd below and asked, “I wasn’t playing the Song of the Witch. What made you so certain that I was?”
From where she was, she was able to notice things that others couldn’t.
Wu Yao didn’t say anything but she would lower her head and move her lips now and then. Then, the scholars around her would speak up one after another.
It went without saying that Wu Yao was provoking the scholars into saying something. It was simple considering how frightened the scholars were.
The scholars might be famed for their intelligence. They were usually shrewd too. But under such circumstances, they had lost their usual wisdom and allowed Wu Yao to control them as she pleased.
“Do you think that no one knows about the Song of the Witch? Many of us here could tell that you had performed the Song of the Witch earlier! Your Highness, we don’t know what you’re up to but we have nothing to do with you. This is your scheme. Don’t drag us into it.”
The scholar beside Wu Yao pointed to Ning Xueyan and scolded her in a fit of anger.
On the stage, Ning Xueyan towered over them. A trace of coldness appeared in her eyes. If Ao Chenyi’s guards hadn’t arrived so swiftly and controlled the situation, the unified testimonies of the guests here would have been enough to warrant her capture. In the chaos, no one would be able to investigate if she had really performed the Song of the Witch.
And she would have to bear the crime, whether she liked it or not.
The worst crime in the nation was the crime of rebellion. History had recorded countless Crown Princes who died in the name of rebellion, and sometimes with their families too. Even their children would be killed. Emperors might be fathers, but they were never soft-hearted when it came to killing sons who tried to kill them.
Ning Xueyan’s face darkened. She pointed to a few of the guards below and said, “Go and bring the scholars here. Let them see if I have truly performed the Song of the Witch.”
The guards accepted the command and dragged a few of the scholars beside Wu Yao up to the stage.
That immediately left a space around Wu Yao. Besides the maid behind her, other people were several steps away from her. She felt as though someone had suddenly put the spotlight on her, especially when Ning Xueyan was staring at her from the stage. Ning Xueyan’s gaze was as sharp as a knife.
It was almost as if Ning Xueyan could see into her soul.
Wu Yao subconsciously shut her mouth and stopped speaking.
The scholars were brought to the stage all the way to the zither and book containing the zither piece.
The Mark of the Moon was right before them. The scholars were zither connoisseurs in their own right. When they saw the mark on the zither, they knew that the zither was the genuine Mark of the Moon. Their expressions turned darker.
Upon closer inspection, they noticed that the strings on the zither were fully intact. This filled them with doubt. They had clearly heard the sound of a string snapping earlier. Was there something amiss? Had they mistaken the sound?
With the shred of doubt taking root in their minds, they turned their attention to the zither piece and examined it carefully.
Most of the scholars that Wu Yao had invited were well-learned academicians. They had studied this very zither piece themselves. Due to its infamy, a few even tried playing it in secret. That was why they were able to remember its characteristics so well.
After they saw Ning Xueyan’s zither piece on the table, their doubt deepened.
“No, this tune shouldn’t be here.”
“No, this isn’t how you play this verse.”
“There are a few wrong notes here. This is similar to the original piece, but they’re not the same…”
The scholars fell over themselves in their eagerness to voice their thoughts. The more they talked, the happier they looked. It wasn’t until they pointed out every mistake that they realized how different this piece was from the original. The pieces might as well be two different works altogether. They had been alarmed by the initial similarities, only to be led into a misunderstanding after. That was why they didn’t notice the differences.
The scholars relaxed and exchanged looks. Then, they took two steps backward and bowed deeply to Ning Xueyan. “We apologize for misunderstanding you, Your Highness. You weren’t playing the Song of the Witch. You continued this piece yourself, didn’t you? The beautiful tunes you made proves how extraordinary you are at the zither.”
“Yes. Your talent and skills are impressive. They’re not what a regular well-bred lady can hope to have.”
“Your Highness, you’re as smart as you’re beautiful…”
The scholars offered Ning Xueyan a plethora of compliments mostly because they felt as if a huge burden had been lifted from them, but also because they were sincerely impressed by her talent and skills.
This damaged zither piece was a well-known one. It might look simple but it was a challenge to finish it. Many had tried but their results always felt short of expectations. When the scholars saw Ning Xueyan’s continuation, they couldn’t help but feel amazed. It was so exquisite that they felt as if there was no room for criticism.
Upon careful inspection, the styles corresponded well despite being of different styles. The continuation fitted the original piece very well.
When they saw the fresh ink that formed the continuation, they knew that it was just recently left there. Ning Xueyan’s talent was enough to gain their sincere acknowledgment.
The Crown Princess was more impressive than she looked. Her beautiful poem that garnered their praise was enough to monopolize the limelight. Who knew that she would be able to continue the damaged zither piece in such a graceful and natural way?
The drastic change in the attitude of the scholars on the stage stunned everyone below.
Ning Xueyan accepted the scholars’ bows openly with a smile. She looked at the leader and said, “Sir, please explain the truth to everyone. I don’t want to put everyone in danger.”
“Yes, you’re right. I’ll do as you ask, Your Highness.” The scholar nodded repeatedly.
Indeed, they weren’t in danger since Ning Xueyan hadn’t played the Song of the Witch. This was a misunderstanding that needed to be solved.
He picked up the zither piece that Ning Xueyan had put aside and walked to the fringe of the stage. He held the zither piece above his head and said loudly, “The Crown Princess wasn’t playing the Song of the Witch and her zither strings didn’t snap either. If you don’t believe me, you can come up here and see for yourself. Whoever dares to speak nonsense will be punished severely.”
The scholars present were very well-known in the capital. Those who went up to the stage, in particular, were the cream of the crop and the pillars of the politically neutral faction. They were held in high esteem by many. The one who spoke had not just proven Ning Xueyan’s innocence, but also warned everyone.
Wu Yao was confused. She had spared quite the effort to invite these scholars here because of their reputation. She knew that their words would gain everyone’s approval. But why were things going out of her control? Weren’t both the zither piece and Mark of the Moon sent to Ning Xueyan?
Why didn’t Ning Xueyan play the Song of the Witch?
The strings of the antique zither had been tampered with. Ning Xueyan wouldn’t have noticed anything if she plucked it lightly, but the string would easily snap after countless plucking, especially when she was panicking. One was most likely to make mistakes when one was nervous.
Ning Xueyan wasn’t a skilled zither player. Even if she poured her heart into practicing recently, she would still be prone to mistakes. Coupled with the commotion of the guests below, she should have caused the zither string to snap. Moreover, Wu Yao also heard the snapping of a string loud and clear earlier. Yet, why were the scholars on the stage saying that the zither strings were intact? Why wasn’t Ning Xueyan playing the Song of the Witch that she had “gifted” her?
However, she knew that it was inconvenient to say anything now. There weren’t many people near her and Ning Xueyan seemed to be staring at her coldly all this time. She couldn’t help but break out in cold sweat on her forehead. She never thought that the seemingly mild-tempered Crown Princess would have such a sharp and cold gaze.
Fortunately, she had another card up her sleeve. She hoped that her last trap would ruin Ning Xueyan’s reputation for good…
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