C18 – My Name Is Zuo Shaoqing
Following dinner, Nanny Liu carried the now-empty lunchbox to the kitchen for chopstick retrieval. Zuo Shaoqing directed Luo Xiaoliu to bring in the purchased items and proceeded to take inventory.
Luo Xiaoliu’s curiosity surged within him, nearly overwhelming his restraint. However, he recalled Zuo Shaoqing’s earlier caution: “Do not inquire into matters that do not concern you.” Thus, he could only stand by, silently observing Zuo Shaoqing’s bustling activity.
Zuo Shaoqing examined the man’s suit that Luo Xiaoliu had procured. It was not a particularly high-quality garment, somewhat coarse and stiff. It couldn’t hold a candle to the suit worn by Lu Zheng, but presenting excessively lavish clothing under their circumstances would surely raise suspicions.
A few basic toiletries were part of his purchases. Given the mountain’s chilly temperatures, Zuo Shaoqing also instructed Lil’ Liu to acquire a hand warmer. Unfortunately, procuring a proper blanket proved difficult, leaving him to hope the man could withstand the cold night.
Upon consolidating everything into a bag, Zuo Shaoqing included the uneaten soup as well. After some contemplation, he advised Luo Xiaoliu, “Later, sneak into the kitchen and secure some fresh food.”
Luo Xiaoliu hesitated and grimaced, “But… if that crazy old lady in the kitchen catches me, she’ll break my legs!”
Zuo Shaoqing merely cast a casual glance in his direction and said, “Then ensure she doesn’t catch you.”
During the night, Zuo Shaoqing lay on his bed, watching the minutes pass by. Despite his fatigue, he couldn’t bring himself to close his eyes. When the time was right, he sprang up, grabbed his packed bags, and hurriedly left his room.
This time, he didn’t keep anything from Luo Xiaoliu. He handed him a dark brown pill and said, “This month’s antidote. Remember, don’t let anyone discover that I’ve left before dawn.”
Nervously, Luo Xiaoliu accepted the antidote, vigorously nodding his head. “This servant will diligently guard the premises!”
Zuo Shaoqing dashed towards his destination, wishing he had three legs to move faster. However, upon reaching the entrance of the thatched cottage, he hesitated to go inside. He was filled with a mix of fear, nervousness, excitement, and conflicting emotions.
Zuo Shaoqing stood at the doorstep for the time it took to drink two cups of tea. He contemplated every conceivable scenario and devised strategies to address them before summoning the courage to take a step forward.
“Creak!” The aged wooden door produced a loud noise in the dark night, startling Zuo Shaoqing to the point where he nearly considered fleeing.
He inhaled the crisp night air deeply, carried his bag into the room, lit the oil lamp he had placed on the table the previous night, and gazed at the bed.
In the dim illumination, the person wrapped in the blanket was in a deep slumber. The faint, rhythmic sound of their breathing reached Zuo Shaoqing, offering him a sense of reassurance.
“It’s a relief that he’s still alive. I was genuinely worried I might have treated Lu Zheng to death.”
Zuo Shaoqing discreetly placed the bag containing the clothes he had changed into last night. As for the note he had burned, he acted as if he hadn’t noticed it.
Zuo Shaoqing breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing the person on the bed remain completely still. He approached the bed and studied the man before him carefully.
Given that he had never met Lu Zheng before, Zuo Shaoqing couldn’t be certain if he was the sole possessor of that wooden plate. What he did know was that the title of Duke Zhen Manor had been passed down through five generations, and the old Duke had passed away the previous year.
Furthermore, considering his knowledge from his past life, Zuo Shaoqing was about 90% certain that Lu Zheng had visited Youuxi Town before.
When the new emperor ascended the throne, Young Eunuch Lu had rightfully inherited the title of Duke Zhen, becoming the most renowned young talent in the entire Great Yang. Thus, when Lu Zheng sought to marry a relatively unknown young woman, it caused a significant stir throughout the Great Yang Kingdom.
Shifting his gaze, Zuo Shaoqing noticed that the two steamed buns he had placed beside his pillow had vanished. He resolved to capture that troublesome rat and skin it!
He retrieved a pot of soup from his bag, though it had grown cold. Zuo Shaoqing kindled a fire and poured the soup into a teapot to reheat it.
Fortunately, he had a personal fondness for making tea. Otherwise, it would have been quite a challenge for a young master like him, who didn’t even need to use the Yang Spring Water, to brew tea.
After pouring himself a cup of soup, Zuo Shaoqing settled on the edge of the bed, gazing at his pale and parched lips for an extended moment.
Perhaps his gaze had been too fixated on Lu Zheng’s lips, causing him to overlook the trembling eyelids.
Before Zuo Shaoqing could reach a decision, a rugged hand clamped around his throat like an unyielding vice. His skin compressed tightly, and he could sense the palpable menace emanating from the other person’s presence.
Zuo Shaoqing was gripped by fear. Despite his advancement in the Mind Cleansing Technique, his senses had yet to catch up, failing to detect his adversary’s swift movements.
He harbored no doubt that his life hung by a thread, poised to be extinguished by this hand at any moment. Desperately, he clutched the man’s wrist, laboring to utter a few words, “Release… Let go! I’m the one who saved you!”
His life held immense value, and he had no intention of surrendering it, especially when he nursed a desire for revenge.
Zuo Shaoqing fixed his gaze unflinchingly upon Lu Zheng, utilizing his eyes to convey his innocence and dread. Despite the chilly, lethal glint in his eyes, Zuo Shaoqing dared not withdraw.
The grip on Zuo Shaoqing’s throat gradually slackened and then hung lifelessly by the bedside. Zuo Shaoqing seemed to have been granted a second lease on life, stepping back cautiously, remaining vigilant.
“Where are we?” Lu Zheng, upon speaking, sensed a burning sensation in his throat. His entire body felt feeble and sore.
Zuo Shaoqing dared not withhold an answer, “We are in the backwoods of Youuxi Town, at Green Tooth Academy.”
“Who are you?”
Upon arriving, Zuo Shaoqing stood up straight, gave a respectful bow, and replied with a firm tone, “I am Zuo Shaoqing, a student of Green Lu Academy.”
Zuo Shaoqing ceased speaking further. He didn’t feel the need to reiterate that he had saved Lu Zheng’s life, confident that Young Master Lu’s intelligence would draw that conclusion.
Lu Zheng refrained from pressing for more answers and instead issued a request, “I’m quite parched, fetch me some water.”
His words were uttered with an air of assurance and poise. Were it not for Zuo Shaoqing’s awareness of his identity, he might have been tempted to serve him the teapot across the face.
Suppressing his frustration, Zuo Shaoqing extended the teacup in his hand, saying, “This is a special broth prepared by my family. After the loss of blood last night, Young Master, I believe it’s beneficial to replenish your strength.”
Rather than accepting the cup immediately, Lu Zheng locked his gaze onto Zuo Shaoqing with a stern expression.
A twitch developed in Zuo Shaoqing’s mouth as he discerned the skepticism in this individual’s eyes. Clearly, Lu Zheng harbored suspicions regarding potential poison in the broth.
What an insufferable character! Should he fail to extract adequate benefits from Lu Zheng in the future, he swore he would toss this man into a ravine to serve as sustenance for the beasts.
Zuo Shaoqing understood that the prudent course of action was to drink a sip of the broth to demonstrate its safety. However, as he portrayed the role of an honorable scholar, he couldn’t tolerate such an affront.
“Young Master, do you doubt my integrity?” He slightly raised his chin, meeting Lu Zheng’s gaze with a wounded expression. “Although my background is modest and my knowledge limited, I still consider myself an honorable and forthright individual.”
Lu Zheng scrutinized this young man in silence. Zuo Shaoqing possessed the distinctive refined features typical of Southern Scholars. Despite the dim lighting, his good looks were unmistakable.
Lu Zheng had little patience for these overly cautious scholars. The civil officials at the imperial court seemed to relish lodging accusations against him at the slightest provocation. They’d even regard executing a few prisoners as a trifling matter, all a bunch of narrow-minded fools!
Nevertheless, being a meticulous scholar, he would never stoop to committing such a malevolent act as poisoning.
“Pass it here!” Lu Zheng extended his hand, taking the cup and downing its contents in a single gulp.
The teacup was so diminutive that Zuo Shaoqing had to replenish it on the side. Only after a substantial portion of the soup had flowed into Lu Zheng’s belly did his lips finally brighten somewhat.
Upon finishing the medicine, Zuo Shaoqing retrieved the pastries he had brought along. To his astonishment, Luo Xiaoliu, with his exceptional culinary talent, had managed to produce an entire platter of horseshoe cakes from the kitchen without any suspicion.
Zuo Shaoqing’s initial plan was for Lu Zheng to consume a couple of pieces to settle his stomach, with the remaining treats set aside for the following day. However, in the blink of an eye, the entire plate of horseshoe cakes vanished.
“While it might be a tad too sweet, I can manage to swallow it,” Lu Zheng remarked with an impassive expression.
Zuo Shaoqing struggled to maintain a composed visage, refraining from displaying a hint of disdain. He muttered to himself, “You can manage to gobble them all down in one go, can you?”
Fortunately, his Second Uncle had arranged for 50 taels of silver to be sent to him in banknotes beforehand. Otherwise, he’d be hard-pressed to avoid resorting to theft in the days ahead.
After ensuring the elderly man had consumed enough food and beverages, Zuo Shaoqing proceeded to fetch some water from the back of the house. He obtained a basin of warm water to cleanse Lu Zheng’s body and prepare him for the new attire.
The upper half of Lu Zheng’s body remained unclothed, and his pants had sustained a considerable tear. It could be said that, aside from his underwear, the rest of his clothing was in tatters.