The Gaungping manor was built close to the Imperial palace and took up half of the Fuxing district. The front door was merely two kilometres from the Anfu gate of the palace.
Like all the other Prince’s Manors, it was separated by a wall that separated the east side from the west and the inner wing from the outer wing. The outer wing was where Prince Guangping handled his political work. There was a specific area where he handled military affairs, the Huande building where he would meet his advisors. That particular building had an outer, intermediate and inner wing. It had seven rooms, three designated to the outer wing, two for the intermediate and two for the inner wing. In the intermediate wing, there was also two square pavilions in either side. North of the pavilions in the inner wing were two towers, the Yufeng tower and the Feiyun tower. The office in which he handled his military affairs was in the Feiyun tower and it was also where the accommodation for the guards were located. There was a covered overhead walkway which headed south to the two pavilions and each pavilion also had a sky-bridge which linked it to the top level of the intermediate wing. With these three overhead walkways, the three wings were one of the grandest structures in the manor. The separating wall had a door that led to the inner wing of the manor. This part of the manor was greater in size that the outer wing and was split into three main parts. In the eastern side was where Prince Guangping and his wife and concubines resided. The biggest building, Qing Yi court was where Shen Zhenzhu’s new quarters. Next to it was Prince Guangping’s study. The Liuli Court, Wenjin court, Xiuyun court etc, were the next grandest. Cui Caiping was given the Liuli court and the other buildings were vacant. However, the Qingyi court and Liu Li court were on opposite sides of the wing, one in the north, the other in the south, far away from each other. To the west were the rooms of the maids, footmen, seamstress etc. In the central area of the wing was the dining area, the leisure area and the inner meeting rooms, all linked together by corridors and walkways. Right in the centre of the inner wing was a large garden and pavilions built for leisure and a vast lake filled with clean spring water.
On the morning after the wedding, according to custom, the Princess and Prince of Guangping should have entered the palace to pay their respects to the Emperor, the Noble Consort and the Crown Prince and Princess. But who knew that at dawn the palace sent a decree ordering Prince Guangping to join His Majesty, the noble consort and the Crown Prince and Princess to the eastern capital Luoyang . Not only did that mean that it delayed the tea ceremony, but it also meant that Li Chu would not be home for at least a month.
Despite the fact that Li Chu was not at home but there was an endless stream of people who came to congratulate him. They were all dealt with by Butler Liu, Shen Zhenzhu just had to meet the servants, study the servant records, read books and listen to Su Ci and Hong Rui’s reports. Although both Hong Rui and Song Chu were new, but they were brought to the household by the Princess Consort. In addition to that, they were both intelligent and adaptive so who dared to make things difficult for them? Within two days, they had found out almost everything about the household. Liu Run, the butler and estate manager was an eunuch and had worked for the Crown Prince before. A few years after the construction of the Guangping palace, he joined the household. Dugu Jin was the deputy estate manager and Prince Guangping’s personal handmaid and extremely capable and intelligent. All the guards and servants in the household was afraid of her. However for the past couple of years, she would often leave the manor early and return late and was less involved in managing the affairs of the manor.
As for Cui Caiping, she could not put up with the boredom and within ten days of marrying Prince Guangping, she had already returned to her maiden home three times. Each time she did not request permission from Shen Zhenzhu first as she was supposed to. But Shen Zhenzhu did not say anything and only told the record keeper of the inner household to record it.
It was on a bright, clear day after breakfast when an unexpected event occurred. Shen Zhenzhu was about to take a stroll with Hong Rui when Su Ci suddenly came in to tell her that Liu Rui requests an audience from her. When they reached the outer meeting room, Liu Rui was already waiting for them who bowed when he saw Shen Zhen Zhu. In his distinctive high pitched squeak he told them, “Your old servant did not initially want to disturb the peace of Your Highness, however this is a grave matter so I felt that I had to report it to you.” However when Shen Zhenzhu looked at his sagging face, he seemed relaxed so she slowly made her way to the chaise and sat down before replying, “What is the matter? Butler Liu just tell me slowly.”
“Your Highness, Lady Cui’s personal maid Yin’e has disappeared! Lady Cui had demanded for me to find her and bring her back.”
“That is a minor matter, can you not handle it yourself Butler Liu?” Shen Zhenzhu enquired, a little surprised as she picked up the tea that Su Ci had handed to her and took a sip out of it.
“Your servant did not dare as this maid’s disappearance was a little strange.”
“Oh? What happened? Tell me, when did she disappear? Did you investigate it properly?”
“I found out this morning. Last eve after Yin’e put Lady Cui to bed, she went to rest up. The maid who she shares a room with is a deep sleeper so she didn’t know if she went back or not. This morning when Lady Cui called her over but could not find her. They found that the bed was all made up and unslept in, so she clearly did not sleep in her room last night. I did not pay attention at first, I thought perhaps the young girl was being idle and was hiding somewhere to loaf around. But Lady Cui sent someone to usher me to find her again and again so I searched everywhere I could, but she was nowhere to be found. When I asked the guards who was on sentry duty on the back door last night they also said that they had not seen her. When we searched through her belongings but none of her clothes, jewellery and money were missing. Your Highness, do you not find it strange?” Liu Run reported in detail.
“No matter how strange it is, it is no difficulty for you Butler Liu,” Shen Zhenzhu commented mildly. A maid’s disappearance can be serious or a minor matter. Yin’e was Cui Caiping’s maid. If it got serious Prince Guangping could be accused of torturing and murdering a maid and disposing her body to destroy evidence. That was a serious matter. But seeing how calm Butler Liu was, Shen Zhenzhu knew that he already knew what to do. She silently cursed him for his slyness and knew he had more to say. As expected he continued, “Your servant is afraid. It is a minor matter but Lady Cui’s other personal maid told me that Yin’e was murdered!”
“But she’s just a mere maid, who would murder her without good reason?”
“She said…it was your maid Hong Rui who murdered her,” Lin Run replied carefully. As soon as the words left his mouth, Hong Rui immediately spoke up, “That’s absurd! Nothing has happened, why would I kill Yin’e for?!” she protested.
“Hehe, Miss Hong Rui yesterday afternoon, did you not argue with Yin’e in the laundry room? Did you not promise that you would beat Yin’e to death?” Liu Run continued with a smile that did not reach his eyes.
Hong Rui stopped to think and replied. “So what if I did? She purposefully poured dirty water on my clothes and used some degrading words to mock me. As for why I promised to beat her to death, that was only because I was furious. I have always been direct and hot tempered. If I beat up everyone to death for such a reason I would have been thrown in prison long ago and not here in the Prince’s manor!” she spoke quickly and anxiously but Liu Rui maintained his calm steady speed and continued to question Hong Rui with a smile. “As you said that Miss Hong Rui of course I will believe you and Her Highness will definitely believe you too. But I don’t know if Lady Rui will believe you or not.”
“Heavens! Why has my maid disappeared?” As they spoke, Cui Caiping suddenly barged in, sobbing as she did so. As soon as she saw Shen Zhenzhu she grabbed her sleeve and cried, “Elder Sister you must seek justice for me! Yin’e has served me since I was young and understands me the best. I hope that she has not been murdered by someone who doesn’t like her! Who could be so cruel?” As she spoke, she pulled out a handkerchief before glaring at Hong Rui. Shen Zhenzhu watched her antics silently and marvelled at how Cui Caiping managed to squeeze a few drops of tears.
Although Cui Caiping spoke without tact but her maid, Yushu realised that the situation was not right and quickly advised her, “Mistress, please do not say anymore!”
Before anyone could react, Yushu’s face had already been slapped. However that was not enough for Cui Caiping, despite being stopped she still tried to continue. “You shameless vixen, do you have a place here to speak?!”
 Luoyang: This city has been the capital during different dynasties and was the capital of the Tang dynasty briefly during the reign of Empress Wu who is Emperor Xuanzong’s (Li Chu’s grandfather) grandmother. It was the second biggest city after Chang’an at the time and constructed the tallest palace in Chinese History.