Chapter 189 : Pei’er
As Jiang Xin Zhi rushed over to the Jinying Wangfu, ‘visibly alarmed’ could barely be used to describe his expression. It was the middle of the night, and someone had suddenly broken into his room. And if that person hadn’t revealed his identity in time, he would have been treated as an assassin. This person, who had come in a hurry, quickly relayed the news that something had happened to Jiang Ruan and urged him to go to the Jinying Wangfu immediately. Jiang Xin Zhi became anxious after listening and without caring about anything else, rode his horse towards the fu. The more he thought about it, the more vexed he became. How did something happen to his meimei who had been fine, and had just gotten married the day before? But the person had been vague and didn’t elaborate. However, Jiang Xin Zhi knew in his heart that if it wasn’t something important, Xiao Shao would not have invited him to come at this time.
Sure enough, as soon as he entered the gate of the main courtyard, he saw Bai Zhi and Lian Qiao waiting for him with tense expressions. Jiang Xin Zhi’s heart sank, and he strode in; at a glance, he saw Xiao Shao hugging his sobbing meimei.
Ever since Jiang Ruan was brought back from the rural residence, she had never cried with such anguish. Even in front of Jiang Xin Zhi, she was always calm and composed. Jiang Xin Zhi knew that his meimei had been tempered to be extremely tenacious over the years. Thus when he saw her show of emotion, he was in a daze. The girl in front of him overlapped with the soft and weak girl from the past when Zhao Mei was still alive.
But he just lost his mind for a moment. Jiang Xin Zhi soon came back to his senses, and walked up to Jiang Ruan in two or three steps before asking in anger, “Ah Ruan, what’s wrong with you? Did he bully you?”
Jiang Ruan was crying so hard that Jiang Xin Zhi’s heart was agitated. He knew of no one in this world who could make her cry like this, but if it really was Xiao Shao…. Jiang Xin Zhi raised his head coldly. Ye Feng was a little nervous because if Jiang Ruan actually said yes, it seemed as though Jiang Xin Zhi would immediately strike Xiao Shao.
“She has been poisoned,” Xiao Shao said lightly. “Now she is troubled by her inner demons, and is unaware of anything. Thus I called you here to ask you something. Did the Xia family conspire to kill you two siblings? Did she ever fall into someone’s trap?”
“Poisoning, what are you talking about?” Jiang Xin Zhi frowned, not understanding what Xiao Shao was alluding to. However, seeing that Jiang Ruan didn’t seem to be aware of his arrival, he realized something was wrong. So he took a step forward, bent down and approached Jiang Ruan, saying, “Ah Ruan?”
And yet Jiang Ruan remained in her muddled state, her eyes empty like a deep pool, but her words were clear, like a thunderbolt from the blue sky, exploding in Jiang Xin Zhi’s ears. She said, “Dage, don’t die, don’t leave me alone.”
Jiang Xin Zhi froze on the spot. Xiao Shao lowered his eyes and said, “Now you realize why I called you over.”
“What’s going on here?” Jiang Xin Zhi was not a fool, and seeing Jiang Ruan in an abnormal state, he already understood a little bit. He examined Jiang Ruan up and down but didn’t see any wounds on her body, so he felt a little more at ease. Looking at Xiao Shao with a very unkind gaze, he demanded, “What’s wrong with Ah Ruan? Why doesn’t she even recognize me? It looks like she’s been possessed.” Then, recalling what Xiao Shao had just said, Jiang Xin Zhi was startled. “You said she was poisoned?”
“Yes.” Xiao Shao looked at Jiang Ruan in his arms. She had been in such panic for too long, and the words she spit out from time to time contained endless secrets, each of which was heart-pounding and extremely shocking. As for himself, he now had many questions as a result of her revelations. Jiang Xin Zhi was Jiang Ruan’s elder brother. He thought that Jiang Xin Zhi knew at least a little about some of these things, but now it seemed that these two siblings did not share everything with one another. Jiang Ruan had always sealed herself in a small space that no one could enter because of the deep secret she guarded.
“How could she be poisoned?” Jiang Xin Zhi grabbed Xiao Shao’s lapel, but perhaps because he was afraid of hurting Jiang Ruan, he only used a little bit of strength. He lowered his voice, but his eyes were a little red, and his tone was full of anger, “Xiao Shao, you let her be poisoned in the Wangfu right under your nose after only one day of marriage? This is how you take care of her! If I had known that this place was such a den, I would have kept her in the Jiang fu for the rest of my life and would never have allowed her to marry you!”
Jiang Xin Zhi had always been protective of those closest to him, unflinching even if they were in the wrong, but Ye Feng, who was listening, spoke up against this unjustified attitude towards his master, saying, “Young Master Jiang, what you said is inappropriate. Young Furen was not poisoned in our Jinying Wangfu. It has been investigated- she was exposed to the poison in the womb, and it has accumulated in her body since then. Therefore, the source is not the Wangfu. You want to blame Master, but aren’t you acting too unreasonable?”
The Jinyi Guards treated Xiao Shao with complete reverence, but they didn’t pay much attention when speaking to others, and so Ye Feng was not polite when he spoke. Jiang Xin Zhi was stunned when he heard this, and replied, “Was she really poisoned in the womb?”
“That’s what I want to ask you.” Xiao Shao looked at him coldly. “Someone who felt at a disadvantage by her presence in the Jiang fu harmed her. Who is it?”
Jiang Xin Zhi was slightly startled, and then sneered. He had always been kind and polite to others, and he rarely showed such a gloomy expression. He stated, “Ah Ruan and I are thorns in everyone’s eyes in the Jiang fu. If you want to ask me who is not good to us, that would be too easy to tell. Ah Ruan has been mistreated by others since birth. Back then, there was Mother and I who tried our best to protect her well, and at the very least, she lived in peace. If you didn’t mention it today, I would have been kept in the dark about her being poisoned.” Jiang Xin Zhi clenched his fists. “If I knew who that person was, I would shred them into pieces!”
“My mother was also poisoned,” Xiao Shao said. “It’s because of this that she passed away. Yet you don’t seem to have been harmed.” Xiao Shao glanced at Jiang Ruan in his arms. “Only you know the people of Jiang fu best. You need to find the person who poisoned her. After finding that person, there is no need for you to step in, I will let them live a life worse than death.”
He spoke in a calm and flat tone, yet the temperature in the room abruptly dropped, and his last few words were delivered with a faint killing aura, earth shatteringly intent on engulfing all in sight. One would not think that such a beautiful and elegant young man could turn into a bloodthirsty and ruthless person in a moment.
Jiang Xin Zhi looked at him steadfastly, and Xiao Shao calmly returned the look. After a while, Jiang Xin Zhi said in a deep voice, “If you ask me who our biggest enemy is, it must be Xia Yan’s family. From the beginning, she wanted to be the mistress of the Jiang fu when she was clearly just a concubine. She always made trouble for my mother, but she still pretended to be generous, and Jiang Quan always protected her.” Jiang Xin Zhi’s expression seemed like he had swallowed a fly. Whenever he recalled those days, and the humiliation that Xia Yan brought to the three of them- a mother and her two children- it made him feel sick from the bottom of his heart. Now he was not even willing to call Jiang Quan ‘Father’, and it could be seen that he had no affection for the Jiang fu.
“Xia Yan is already dead, so she can’t be the one to stimulate the old poison in Jiang Ruan’s body,” Xiao Shao said. “I will investigate this matter thoroughly. Now…” He looked at Jiang Ruan in his arms. “You watch over her.” He let go of her hand. Jiang Ruan had calmed down a little after being coaxed by him, and there was no longer any hysterical questioning, but she still looked terrified and quite miserable, as if she had experienced some extreme despair.
As soon as Xiao Shao got out of the way, Jiang Xin Zhi stepped forward and hugged Jiang Ruan. Jiang Ruan’s eyes were already red and swollen. Although Jiang Xin Zhi had answered Xiao Shao’s question before, he was still full of doubts when he saw this scene, so he hurriedly asked, “How did Ah Ruan become like this?”
“By some stroke of unprecedented misfortune, the poison stimulated in her body awoke her inner demons.” From Xiao Shao’s words one could not hear any emotion, but a person could feel the slight distress contained in those calm words. He stood up and glanced at Jiang Ruan, “These are her inner demons. Jiang Xin Zhi, she is immersed in such fear every day. I can’t understand it, and you don’t understand it, but there are some things that I think you should know.” He lowered his eyes, his long eyelashes seemed to tremble slightly, and his tone was calm like waves. “Your meimei, Hong’an Junzhu, is not as fearless as she appears on the surface. She is always afraid. It’s just that you and I didn’t know.” After saying this, he opened the door and walked out, leaving Jiang Xin Zhi rooted to his spot.
After being stunned, Jiang Xin Zhi seemed to understand, and he lowered his head to look at Jiang Ruan. She didn’t respond to his presence even though Jiang Xin Zhi was by her side, and her eyes seemed to be looking at someone else through him. He noticed her little fingers were clenched tightly and his eyes turned red immediately. Jiang Ruan was very timid when she was young, but whenever she was extremely scared, she would always do this little action unconsciously. However, later, when Jiang Ruan came back from the rural residence, she was smart, calm, agile and bold. She seemed to have nothing to fear, and he never saw her make such an action again. He thought it was because she no longer had anything to be afraid of, and she no longer kept this habit, but when he saw her today, it turned out that she was still the same little girl as before. How did he let his meimei fall into such a situation? What Xiao Shao said hit his heart like a heavy hammer. Jiang Ruan was immersed in fear day and night, but he didn’t know? He didn’t even know what she was afraid of? Jiang Xin Zhi gritted his teeth and punched the headboard of the bed fiercely.
The vase on the headboard shattered, and blood slowly overflowed from between his fingers. Jiang Ruan trembled, and when Jiang Xin Zhi looked at her, she grabbed Jiang Xin Zhi’s hand and murmured, “Bleeding! Dage is bleeding, Dage is dead… Dage died in battle, Dage didn’t die in battle, he was murdered! Dage!” Her originally stable mood was suddenly agitated, and her eyes were filled with madness, but every word she said was about Jiang Xin Zhi. Although Jiang Xin Zhi didn’t understand what she said, his nose turned sour when he heard it, and he couldn’t help but hug Jiang Ruan into his arms, like how he used to comfort his meimei many years ago, and softly coaxed, “Ah Ruan, Dage is fine, Dage will not abandon you, don’t be afraid. I’m not going anywhere…”
In the tranquility of the night, the movements of this brother and sister could not be ignored even if they wanted to, and their words were clearly heard by everyone outside the door. Lu Zhu covered her mouth, her eyes filled with tears, and whispered, “I never knew that Miss’ heart was filled with such bitterness and grief.” Ever since she followed Jiang Ruan to the rural residence, Jiang Ruan had never shown her aggrieved side. She had her own thoughts but amongst all of the emotions she had shown, the only exception was fragility and vulnerability.
Jin Er patted her shoulder. “Young Furen has a resolute heart and she will definitely get better.”
Tian Zhu remained motionless, just looking at the room quietly. She once admired the tenacity and means of the young woman in that room, and wanted to work hard to become as strong as her. Seeing Jiang Ruan’s current appearance now, Tian Zhu was also confused.
“She must have suffered a lot.” Steward Lin said suddenly. It was rare for everyone to see him so serious, and in a flurry, they all turned their heads to look at him. Steward Lin stood outside the room, his shrewd eyes seeming to contain some strange emotions, and he looked exhausted and sorrowful for a moment. He said, “Young Furen’s resolute mind is different from ordinary people, and it is not some extraordinary talent that is innate. But whatever she endured in her childhood cannot be endured by ordinary people. For her methods to be this skillful, to be so unafraid of everything, it must be because a long time ago, she must have been at the brink of utter despair as she watched innocent people being harmed by others.”
Was she really so badly hurt by someone? Everyone looked at the pair of silhouettes under the lights in the room again. The woman seemed extremely sad. Under the shadow of the shaking lights, her shoulders appeared surprisingly weak, which was really unbearable to look at. At first these people thought she was strong and indifferent, but to think that her heart was dealt with such pain. All at once, towards this young furen of the Wangfu, everyone felt an added layer of lamentation to the sorrow that they already felt for her.
“Where did Master go?” Jin San looked around. Xiao Shao had disappeared after leaving the room.
Jin Si was stunned. ” Master wouldn’t go directly to Jiang Dan, right?”
Everyone looked at each other in blank dismay.
* * *
As the end of the year approached, everyone was beginning to buy things in preparation for the new year, and even the palace was very lively. Additionally, the weather had been very good over the past few days. Even if there was some light snow, the presence of the sun was always lovely. The Emperor was happy, all the concubines in the palace were happy, and since the master was happy, the servants below were of course the same. All of the previous depression was swept away in the palace, and it had become cheerful and lively.
In a corner of the palace, Ming Yue was serving breakfast because Xuan Pei had just woken up. The young man was valued by the Emperor now, so much so that even Xuan Li and Xuan Hua did not appear to have much strength nor favor in front of him. Although the courtiers still felt that it was risky to hedge their bets on a prince who had no background, judging by the Emperor’s attitude towards this prince, they were left a little uncertain about which sails to favour.
Thirteenth Prince, Xuan Pei, was familiar with the Four Books and Five Classics, and wrote policy advice well. Even Liu Min, the always strict Imperial Grand Tutor, was full of praise for him. He was neither arrogant after receiving favour nor did he rely on it, and even though he was still young, he had a lot of opinions on the affairs of the court. Every time the Emperor used the official affairs of the court to test him, Xuan Pei could come up with several good ideas.
The sky had just turned bright. Xuan Pei ordered someone to light the lamps before casually taking a few bites of breakfast, and then after washing up, he walked to his desk, on which there was a thick stack of records. He was always like this, getting up when the cock crowed. Everyone only saw his achievements, but they didn’t see the hard work he put in behind closed doors. He never talked about this to anyone but Ming Yue was secretly amazed, and the longer she stayed by Xuan Pei’s side, the more she felt that this delicate and beautiful young man was really incredible. At such a young age, he knew how to hide his strength and bide his time. His self-control was so amazing that he hardly needed to be reminded by others. He always knew exactly what he wanted to do and worked hard for it. Even the Emperor’s favour for him was within Xuan Pei’s step-by-step plan. For example, at this moment, his painstaking effort to study was to enable him to answer fluently before the Emperor asked a new question.
Xuan Pei was at his desk, and Ming Yue got up to clean up the leftover dishes. While she was still in the middle of clearing, she heard the panicked voice of Chao Yang, another maidservant of Xuan Pei’s, from outside. “Xiao Wangye, why are you here? Your Highness is still resting, you…” Before the words finished, there was a loud ‘bang’ as the door was pushed open, and there the young man in black stood, his eyes cold, but his expression was faintly haggard.
Chao Yang rushed in, looking at Xuan Pei with some fear. “Your Highness, this servant couldn’t stop…”
Although Xuan Pei always seemed to be very easy going-he never seemed to say a harsh word to his servants- once he was angered, the aftermath would always make one’s blood run cold. Therefore, even though Chao Yang knew her master was always beaming and sunny, she treated this master with all her heart and soul. Chao Yang’s words reminded Ming Yue that she had been originally arranged by Xiao Shao to remain next to Xuan Pei, but Xiao Shao was ultimately her master. On a normal day, she was given various tasks to do by Xuan Pei without any trouble. However, at this moment, she definitely had no intention of stopping Xiao Shao.
Fortunately, Xuan Pei was not angry at all, he just glanced at Xiao Shao, and said to Ming Yue and Chao Yang, “This prince wants to read books, both of you withdraw.” The underlying meaning behind these words was to conceal Xiao Shao’s presence, so Ming Yue and Chao Yang quickly stepped back and closed the door. After the two left, Xuan Pei walked to the table and sat down unhurriedly. Today he was wearing a court robe with pine green brocade and gold trim. Now that the Emperor was treating him well, the clothes were no longer shabby or ill-fitting. With his silhouette finely adorned, his clothes were very suitable for Xuan Pei’s temperament. He was born with a delicate and elegant appearance, but now he was filled with the air of nobility, and had a special aura that oscillated between a soft and tender youth and a mature man.
He leaned back in his chair. His voice was still immature and clear, but his tone was filled with panache, similar to adults, “For Xiao Wangye to have broken into my palace early in the morning, you may as well speak directly if you have something to say.” As he spoke, he picked up his pen, as if wanting to practice calligraphy.
“What’s your relationship with Jiang Ruan?” Xiao Shao asked coldly.
Xuan Pei paused, and a large drop of ink dripped from the writing brush and condensed on the paper. He put down his brush, concealed the deep meaning in his eyes, and then slowly said, “Oh? Why does Xiao Wangye ask that?”
“Answer my question first.” Xiao Shao stared at him without giving in.
Xuan Pei turned to look at him, and his gaze slowly fell on Xiao Shao’s arm. Jiang Ruan had bitten him last night, and Steward Lin had bandaged him up. The wound on his arm was covered, but the scratches as a result of Jiang Ruan’s muddled state were left on the back of his hand. Xuan Pei saw the scratches clearly, and immediately stood up, his expression changed. “What did you do to her?”
Xiao Shao was cold and arrogant, and besides Jiang Ruan, there was almost no other woman who could get close to him, but now he was married and Jiang Ruan was also the one who had the closest relationship with him. The scratches of a woman’s fingernails appeared on the back of his fine hand, it was really hard not to think of how it might have happened.
It’s not that Xiao Shao had never met Xuan Pei, and he also knew that this young boy was also a master at disguising his emotions, but now his emotions were so clearly exposed, which was truly an eye opener. Fortunately, his attitude towards Xiao Shao was so clear that it could be seen that he cared about Jiang Ruan. At least this would never be disadvantageous to Jiang Ruan.
Seeing Xiao Shao remain silent and not speaking, Xuan Pei felt anxious, so he stepped forward a few steps and said, “Quickly answer me, what did you do to her?”
Hearing this, Xiao Shao looked at him thoughtfully. Xuan Pei was stared at by those deep eyes that were as black as ink, and suddenly realized his blunder. However, it was too late. Xiao Shao asked lightly, “Why do you care so much?”
“I…” Xuan Pei was at a loss for words for a moment, and then seemed to think of something, and immediately said, “Hong’an Junzhu is now at least half the elder sister of this prince. Since we are siblings, we should take care of each other. If you bully her, you would be humiliating the face of the royal family. This prince is not afraid to tell you clearly today that if you dare harm even a slightest strand of her hair, even though this prince is small and weak, even if I have to risk my life, I will seek justice for her!”
Although this young man never expressed his emotions nor anger on his face, he became extremely persistent when speaking about Jiang Ruan’s affairs. When push came to shove, even if his words were a little bit childish, one could still see his determination. Those words were not fake, but sincere. If Xiao Shao really bullied Jiang Ruan one day, Xuan Pei would really desperately find justice for her. Such a relationship was really unusual, after all, Jiang Ruan was only a princess in name, and had never been in contact with Xuan Pei for any length of time. What’s more, he had also investigated: the interactions between Jiang Ruan and Xuan Pei started when she helped Xuan Pei out of the conflict with Princess He Yi. It was just a trivial thing, so how could such a deep friendship have fostered from that? But since then, Xuan Pei had even testified for Jiang Ruan in the throne room at the imperial trial. Moreover, Xuan Pei played a part in the Crown Prince throwing his hand in to assist in the matter and also in inviting Xia Qing to the capital. In addition, Xuan Pei’s congratulatory gift on the day of marriage was so generous, that it went over and beyond the very rich dowry of ordinary official daughters.
No matter how you looked at it, they were not just nodding acquaintances, and Xuan Pei’s expression just now confirmed Xiao Shao’s conjecture. Even so, there were still many nonsensical things, and even though it was clear that the two of them had not had much contact, last night Jiang Ruan…
He lowered his head and looked down at Xuan Pei. The boy’s stature was still small, and his delicate appearance complimented him very cutely, but there was deep hostility in his eyes. Xiao Shao said lightly, “I didn’t do anything, she was poisoned.”
“Poisoned?” Xuan Pei was taken aback, and hurriedly asked, “Then how is she doing now? Is she still okay?”
“Not good.” A hint of deep meaning flashed in Xiao Shao’s eyes as he continued, “She is deeply immersed in the chaos and conflicts stirred from the inner demons of her own world, muttering to herself, and can’t hear the words of others at all.”
“What should I do?” Xuan Pei lost his usual precocious composure, and asked, “Aren’t you Jinying Wang? Why didn’t you invite the imperial physician? By the way, isn’t Jinling Divine Physician still in the capital? Why don’t you invite him? This prince can immediately send someone to invite him with an invitation!”
“No need,” Xiao Shao interrupted his movements, and his voice became cold for a moment, “He is at the Wangfu. It’s just that Ah Ruan mentioned a name while muttering to herself, and this prince thought it sounded familiar.”
Xuan Pei was stunned.
Xiao Shao said slowly, “She said, Pei’er.”