The weather had only cleared up for a short while, and when the third day of the lunar year arrived there was another heavy snowfall. After one night passed, the entire capital transformed into a vast expanse of whiteness, until it was hard to tell the difference between the sky and the earth from a distance.
It was just past 8 am,  but the usually deserted eastern main street was bustling with noise and excitement. Every family and household dispatched someone to clear the thick snow from their entryways so that it would be more convenient for the imperial procession to pass through.
Yes, today was the day that Virtuous Consort was to return home and visit relatives, personally accompanied by the Emperor.
Without exception, those who lived on the eastern main street were noble, well-established families. Even if the Emperor was only passing through, no family dared to show the slightest negligence.
As for the meaning hidden behind Virtuous Consort’s visit to her parents, some were envious while others remained unconcerned.
Hadn’t Gracious Consort also been personally accompanied by the Emperor to return home and visit her relatives? What was the result? Just a few days later, she had been banished to the Cold Palace and the Shen family’s ten degrees of kin had been put to death. Therefore, it was hard to say whether this visit was lucky or unfortunate.
Imperial Duke Meng had a clearer understanding than others of the principle that luck and misfortune were interdependent. Therefore, the household was lowkey from top to bottom, from the masters to the servants. The sky had still not brightened when the whole family had already opened the gates of their manor and spread out a scarlet rug in front of the door, braving the cold to respectfully wait for the Emperor’s arrival.
The bright yellow-coloured imperial palanquin galloped speedily through the heavily-guarded and cleanly swept eastern main street.
On both sides of the street, all of the rich and meritorious noble families opened their main gates and knelt in welcome. Only once the long procession passed them did they dare to get up.
They quickly arrived at the Imperial Duke’s manor. Under the strict surveillance of the imperial guards, the young, handsome monarch lifted the curtains and alighted the imperial palanquin in a few large strides. After that, he personally lifted the palanquin curtain and extended a hand towards Virtuous Consort, who was sitting inside.
A fair and delicate lily-white hand was placed in his palm. The monarch unconsciously exposed a gentle smile before tightly gripping the proffered hand and helping the beautiful woman out of the palanquin. His attitude was attentive in every way.
The two people stood side by side, hand in hand. One was peerlessly handsome and the other was incomparably gorgeous. From head to foot, they exuded a noble, threatening aura. In the blink of an eye, they truly looked like a match made in heaven.
Glancing at the newly appointed commander of the Forbidden Dragon Guards, who had sent over a sullen gaze, the light in the young monarch’s eyes turned satisfied in a flash.
"This humble official respectfully greets Your Majesty. Long live Your Majesty!" Imperial Duke Meng took two steps forward and half-knelt in salute. The Meng family behind him kowtowed in an orderly manner.
"You may rise. Please quickly get up, Imperial Duke." The Emperor stepped forward to support Imperial Duke Meng. His attitude was very amicable.
Imperial Duke Meng bowed and extended an arm, making an inviting gesture. The procession stepped on the felt rug and headed towards the main entrance.
However, unexpectedly, a thirteen or fourteen-year-old young lady suddenly rushed out of the crowd. She knelt in front of the Emperor and loudly cried out her grievance, immediately freezing the scene.
Imperial Duke Meng abruptly turned his head to look back, and his dagger-sharp gaze ruthlessly zeroed in on Meng Rui’zhu. Meng Rui’zhu, who had snuck outside without permission to broaden her horizons, returned an embarrassed look before hiding behind Aunt Wen and shivering.
As she caught sight of the noble households who had surrounded their entrance to welcome the Emperor, whether they were indulging in schadenfreude, didn’t concern themselves, or sympathized with the Meng family’s anxious gazes, she knew that she had caused a massive disaster.
"You dare to alarm His Majesty! Someone come and drag her away!" Chang’xi used his horsetail whisk to brush away the young lady as he raised his voice to yell at the nearby imperial bodyguards.
The young lady tightly gripped the felt rug on the ground. From her sharp, piercing voice, which could fully be heard from far away, it was clear she wanted to deliberately cause a big scene. "May Your Majesty bring justice for this common girl’s father. This common girl’s father was killed by Meng Chang’xiong. His death was unjust!"
The surrounding noble families cried out in alarm and began to talk among themselves. They craned their necks after another to see what was going on.
It was likely it wouldn’t even be a day before this matter spread widely throughout the capital. Even if they wanted to suppress it, it would be impossible. The Emperor had accompanied two concubines to visit their relatives, and two visits had ended in chaos. This was too much of a coincidence!
Meng Sangyu narrowed her eyes and looked askance at the young girl kneeling before her. Her eyes were incredibly cold.
This young girl was her younger female cousin on her father’s side, the second branch’s legitimate daughter, Meng Yan’yu. She had been haughty and imperious as well as impulsive and reckless since she was young.
This hadn’t improved much during these last few years when she had lived in the borderlands. It seemed that the second branch wouldn’t be willing to leave matters alone until they had caused the death of the main branch! 
She unconsciously tightened her grip as she thought this, and the Emperor, who was holding her hand, immediately sensed her unease and anger. He lightly patted the back of her hand to comfort her.
After that, he dismissed the imperial bodyguard who had stepped forward and leaned over to take a look at the battered and exhausted  young lady. If they dragged her away now, it would only bring shame upon the Meng family. Why not resolve this while everyone was watching?  He clearly understood why Meng Yan’yu was crying out in grievance.
"Who are you?" Though he spoke gently, his firm voice hinted at his majestic presence, making Meng Yan’yu feel intimidated. 
Everyone in the Meng family observed that the monarch intended to investigate, and everyone’s faces revealed panic. This made even Imperial Duke Meng, who could command an army of thousands unperturbed,  unconsciously grind his teeth.
Today’s incident was too fishy. How could a young girl have the courage to obstruct the Emperor? There had to be someone inciting her. If this person was His Majesty…
As he thought this, a bone-chilling cold crept upwards from the soles of his feet. No wonder His Majesty hadn’t accepted his tiger tally! It was because his prestige within the army was too great, and he wanted to feel assured by eradicating the problem from the root. 
Imperial Duke Meng shut his eyes, feeling desolate in his heart.
Meng Sangyu had the same thoughts as her father. Her lowered eyes were filled with unwillingness and hatred. Her hand slightly trembled in the man’s grasp.
How could Emperor Zhou’wu not be able to guess the thoughts of this father-daughter pair and the suffering they felt from having to hold in their thoughts? His expression darkened even more.
Fixing her gaze on the monarch’s hard-to-fathom expression, Meng Yan’yu continued to kowtow forcefully.
She lamented, "Reporting to Your Majesty, this common girl is the daughter of Left General Meng Chang’zhi, Meng Yan’yu. This one’s father did not die in battle, but was secretly ambushed by Meng Chang’xiong before the troops began to march! May Your Majesty please seek justice for this common girl’s father!"
"How do you know that your father was secretly ambushed by Imperial Duke Meng? As his blood-related elder brother, why would he do this?" Emperor Zhou’wu asked heavily.
"Replying to Your Majesty, Meng Chang’xiong did this in order to steal this girl’s father’s military achievements. This matter is the absolute truth!" Meng Yan’yu’s words held conviction, seeming as if she was just shy of making a vow to the heavens.
Meng Sangyu sneered coldly and she let out a rarified huff. Emperor Zhou’wu squeezed her ice-cold fingertips, raised his eyebrows, and said, "As far as Zhen knows, firstly, your father had no ability, nor any courage or insight. It was only thanks to his connection with Imperial Duke Meng that he was able to be promoted to the rank of Left General at all. This claim that Imperial Duke Meng wanted to steal your father’s military achievements and killed him for it, putting aside whether others believe it, do you even believe it yourself?"
Imperial Duke Meng’s valour was unparalleled and his military achievements were outstanding. All of Great Zhou’s people knew this. If one said that he wanted to steal his own blood-related younger brother’s military achievements, it would undoubtedly be a farce.
Meng Yan’yu was very clear about her father’s capabilities. Right now, her expression looked especially awkward. Her mouth opened and closed, unsure how to reply.
At this moment, an approximately thirty-year-old woman wearing mourning clothes walked out of the main gate, supported by a sixteen- to seventeen-year-old youth.
She knelt before the Emperor, and after heavily kowtowing, said, "Reporting to Your Majesty, this official’s wife is Meng Chang’zhi’s wife from the Wang clan. This is this official’s wife’s eldest son, Meng Yan’qi, and second child, Meng Yan’yu. Regardless of why Meng Chang’xiong wanted to harm this one’s husband, it is indisputably true that he did. This official’s wife has a witness. He has hidden in a village on the outskirts of the capital, and this one can bring him to present his account in front of Your Majesty."
Who would have thought that there would actually be a witness? The person behind this must have great influence, to be able to exploit an advantage right under Imperial Duke Meng’s nose. Emperor Zhou’wu silently pondered, his brows furrowing.
Noticing Meng Sangyu’s face becoming increasingly pale and that even her fingertips were trembling, he couldn’t bear to loiter any longer. Emperor Zhou’wu waved a hand and said, "There’s no need for a witness." He turned to look at Chang’xi. "Go and invite Commander Yan. Tell him to bring over the evidence collected previously."
Hearing this, Imperial Duke Meng’s heart constricted. He raised the hem of his robe and took the initiative to kneel before the Emperor. Upon seeing this, everyone in the Meng family knelt along with him.
Evidence collected by the Embroidered Uniform Guard was naturally irrefutable. The only thing that they could do right now was wait for His Majesty’s ruling.
Meng Sangyu’s body stiffened and chilled from head to foot. She wanted to extract her hand from the monarch’s grip, but he firmly held onto her.
Madam Wang bowed her head and wiped her tears. Her expression was full of bitter resentment and elation. If the accusations against Meng Chang’xiong were proven, the second branch of the family would be the masters of this Imperial Duke’s manor.
Yan Jun’wei arrived quickly and deferentially presented the stack of secret reports.
Emperor Zhou’wu took the reports and threw them in front of Madam Wang. He said coldly, "It’s true that Imperial Duke Meng killed Meng Chang’zhi. These documents show the reason behind his actions."
Madam Wang and her son and daughter swiftly picked up the secret reports and read through them. Once they had read through all of the content, their pleasantly-surprised expressions were replaced with absolute panic.
"Meng Chang’zhi colluded with Xie Zheng’hao and Shen Zhong’liang. They desired to eliminate Imperial Duke Meng and seize control of the military. This is the crime of treason, punishable by the execution of one’s nine degrees of kin. Owing to the fact that Imperial Duke Meng placed righteousness before blood ties, Zhen originally thought of letting this matter rest. But you insisted on digging to the bottom of this affair, so Zhen has no choice but to indulge you."
Saying this, Emperor Zhou’wu paused and squeezed Sangyu’s slightly tepid fingertips before continuing, "Imperial Duke Meng destroyed Yehulan Wang’s imperial palace. His meritorious achievements are great enough to counteract the punishment of executing all nine degrees of kin. However, your immediate family’s capital offence cannot be excused. Someone come! Throw the Meng family’s second branch into the Celestial Prison! Execute them after the Lunar New Year!"
The Imperial bodyguards sounded their agreement and advanced forward to detain the three people. Madam Wang and Meng Yan’yu had long fainted from fright.
Although Meng Yan’qi was unlikely to go as far as to faint, his whole body convulsed with fear while tears overflowed.  He pulled at Meng Chang’xiong’s trouser leg, shouting "Uncle! Save us!" Only just now did he understand the meaning of regret. 
Meng Chang’xiong had already shown the utmost benevolence  to the second branch, and had long sorely understood their ungrateful nature.  He had no desire to help them plead for leniency, but the surrounding people were watching them, so he couldn’t cut them off too cleanly.
He immediately kowtowed on the spot and said, "May Your Majesty spare their lives for the sake of this humble official." His tone was indifferent.
Everyone in the Meng family kowtowed along.
Among the Meng family, parents knelt equally with children to spare the lives of the second branch. With so many eyes upon them, even if they were unwilling in their hearts, they still had to model benevolence and righteousness.
Meng Sangyu [finally] extracted her hand from the Emperor’s grip, raised the hem of her skirt, and unhurriedly knelt before him, saying mildly, "May Your Majesty spare them from death."
Even though she said this, her lowered eyes were filled with killing intent. If His Majesty truly spared the lives of the second branch, in the future, she would be sure to think of a way to make her father eliminate them completely.
As the saying went, never bully a poor youth.  Although Madam Wang and Meng Yan’yu were of no consequence, Meng Yan’qi was still extremely shrewd and full of schemes. He wasn’t weak, either. Leaving him alive would bring about disaster sooner or later.
Moreover, there was definitely someone pulling the strings behind today’s matter. Otherwise, how would Madam Wang’s family of orphans be able to bring back a witness from the frontier and hide them in a village on the outskirts of the capital?
After today, it was necessary to ask her father to ferret out the one behind this and return an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth!
Emperor Zhou’wu grasped Meng Sangyu’s chin and raised her small face. Catching sight of the killing intent that she hadn’t been able to hide in time, he lightly smiled. He recalled what Sangyu had said before: Never underestimate anyone, especially your enemies.
Sangyu was dreadfully callous towards her enemies but unimaginably soft towards those she cared about. It was precisely this contradictory yet unfiltered characteristic of hers that made him completely enchanted by her, to the point where he couldn’t free himself from her spell. Since Sangyu was unwilling, he needed to satisfy her intentions.
"Even though Our beloved consort is pleading for leniency…." He pulled Sangyu up strongly. Catching the flash of nervousness on her face, he smiled with interest, but his manner of speaking abruptly turned cold. "Zhen still must not be excessively tolerant. Someone come, drag them away!"
Meng Sangyu subtly let out a breath of relief, but her face showed a sorrowful expression.
Imperial Duke Meng was supported to stand by the Emperor, and he hesitantly opened his mouth to speak. "Your Majesty, today’s visit to one’s relatives…." After this kind of event had happened, he was afraid that the Emperor wouldn’t be in the mood to stay.
"Let’s go in. Sangyu hasn’t returned in a long time." Emperor Zhou’wu wrapped an arm around Sangyu’s shoulder, his voice indescribably gentle and dripping with indulgence.
Imperial Duke Meng promptly nodded in agreement. Thinking back to how he had doubted the Emperor, he felt extremely ashamed. Since the person behind this was not His Majesty, he was determined to make that person suffer with no hope of reprieve.
Seeing the gates of the Imperial Duke’s manor shut tightly behind them with the imperial guards on alert outside, all of the spectators from noble and meritorious families vexedly returned to their homes.
They had thought that this imperial visit was spoiled, but they never imagined that the Emperor wouldn’t be the least bit concerned. It was apparent that Virtuous Consort weighed heavily in His Majesty’s heart!