C21 – How Dare You!!!
After Zuo Shao left, he proceeded straight to his study. His study was arranged according to the preferences of Master Zuo, featuring three large bookcases filled mostly with books they had already perused. However, he couldn’t help but feel perplexed: what was the purpose of constant reading?
Was he expected to emulate his father, who remained an idle scholar in his middle years? Spending his days with these so-called literati, carousing with courtesans, and reveling in the splendors of the world? If he were destined to live this way for the rest of his life, why bother with studying? Why practice? Why take the examinations?
The Zuo family had accumulated great wealth, possessing abundant fertile land and thriving businesses. With no concerns about sustenance or clothing for three generations, what was the point of his studies?
“Bam!” Zuo Shaoyang brushed aside the ink and paper on his desk, knocking over the enamel two-eared bottle nearest to him.
“Uncle, what’s wrong?” A slender girl entered, gently pushing the door open. She was the same girl Zuo Shaoqing had glimpsed earlier, the one named Purple Bamboo. She cried out in alarm, “Master, even if you’re not feeling well, you shouldn’t take your anger out on a vase. Madam was looking for that.”
Initially, Mrs. Xue had intended to assign this servant girl to her eldest son to establish a conjugal chamber. However, Zuo Shaoyang had not immediately yielded to his wife’s wishes, leaving the girl in the study as a top-tier maid.
Mrs. Xue held a rather low opinion of this county magistrate’s daughter who had married into their family. Nevertheless, Zuo Shaoyang still needed to use his wife’s connections to secure a position as the yamen’s chief.
Only as a ninth-rank official could he hope to avoid the scrutiny of the imperial court. However, he couldn’t bear the thought of spending his life confined to such a limited role.
As the fire within him continued to smolder, Zuo Shaoyang seized Purple Bamboo’s arm and forcefully pinned her to the desk, roughly disrobing her.
“Master…” Purple Bamboo moaned, her face reflecting a blend of reluctance and desire. She tentatively pressed her hands against Zuo Shaoyang’s chest, conveying her reservations even as she welcomed him. Soon, the sounds of their amorous encounter resonated throughout the study.
Beneath the night sky, a figure stumbled toward the backyard, unmistakably a woman. She turned about nervously after three steps, choosing the quietest path.
A contented sigh escaped him as he listened to Luo Xiaoliu’s ceaseless complaints. “Back when I was wounded, Nanny Liu went to the kitchen, imploring them to make soup for you. In the end, they ignored us. Yet now, with just a word, they’ve prepared this chicken soup. It’s truly…”
Zuo Shaoqing understood the sentiment behind Luo Xiaoliu’s words—it was the way life worked. “In the eyes of those beneath the Zuo Mansion, the entire Zuo Family will belong to my elder brother in the future. Would they dare to defy him? Weren’t you the same back then?” After all, that’s why he had become the pawn Mrs. Xue had placed before him.
Luo Xiaoliu hesitated before emphasizing, “Master, this servant had no choice!”
“Alright, cease your complaints and help this old man pack up the remaining half of the Gu chicken soup.” Zuo Shaoqing rose, donning a thick cloak adorned with a tuft of grey rabbit fur at the collar, which covered his chin.
Luo Xiaoliu felt a pang of sympathy. San Ye truly had a tough life. Not only did he have to care for himself, but he also had to tend to Third Master Zuo.
Zuo Shaoqing brushed aside the matter of Young Master Lu tasting his saliva. He contemplated, “Since I didn’t prepare roast chicken for him today, it shouldn’t violate his orders to bring half of a stewed chicken, right?”
Zuo Shaoqing ventured out into the night’s chilly breeze, opting for the most secluded route. As he circled the backyard’s lotus pond, he abruptly halted and inquired, “Who’s there?”
A shadowy figure darted off into the distance, prompting Zuo Shaoqing to give chase. If word got out that not only was the Zuo Family’s Third Master unharmed, but he had also slipped out in the dead of night, even Zuo Yunwen might not be able to shield him from the consequences.
“Ah… Ugh…” Zuo Shaoqing muffled the short cry with his hand as soon as it escaped.
“Violet Bamboo?” Zuo Shaoqing had initially presumed it to be some naive girl. To his surprise, he had crossed paths with an old adversary. This maidservant had once heaped insults upon him and served as Mrs. Xue’s lackey.
“What brings you here in the middle of the night?” Zuo Shaoqing stood so close that he could detect the potent musky fragrance of violet bamboo. It wasn’t difficult to deduce her recent activities, especially since her attire remained disheveled.
“I can let you go, but you have to promise not to yell.”
“Woo woo…” Violet Bamboo nodded.
Zuo Shaoqing stepped forward, closely inspecting the unusual appearance of the purple bamboo. Even though the person had lowered their head, the wounds on their face and neck remained evident.
Zuo Shaoqing narrowed his eyes. He hadn’t anticipated such a peculiar interest from his good friend. He mused to himself, “Well, isn’t this an opportunity handed to me on a silver platter?”
Zi Zhu swiftly regained composure, raising her head to meet Zuo Shaoqing’s gaze. “Isn’t Third Young Master injured?” she inquired. “Why have you come here in the middle of the night? If I were to report this to Madam, Third Young Master might find himself in dire straits.”
“Oh? And what would you tell her?” Zuo Shaoqing tilted her chin, appraising the red and swollen countenance before him. “Will you tell her you’ve been mistreated? That the Zuo Family’s Master has peculiar inclinations?”
A trace of anxiety flickered in Zi Zhu’s eyes, but she endeavored to maintain her composure. She replied, “If Madam were to learn that Third Young Master maliciously framed Second Young Master, it would certainly lead to dire consequences for Third Young Master!”
“Third Lord, just pretend you didn’t see me tonight.”
Zuo Shaoqing gradually released his hold, offering a sincere smile as he remarked, “Indeed, it seems we’ve only met tonight.” With that, he swiftly manipulated her acupoints when the purple bamboo momentarily relaxed her guard, then guided her toward the lakeside.
“Have you considered what might happen if your lifeless body were discovered in the lake tomorrow?” Zuo Shaoqing speculated, his tone tinged with dark amusement. “The spectacle would undoubtedly be quite sensational. In that event… Well, the entire Zuo Mansion, and even the entire Youuxi Town, would become privy to the unique predilections of the Zuo Family’s Master. I cannot let such a golden opportunity pass me by, given this second lease on life.”
The pupils of the violet bamboo constricted. She couldn’t fathom that the menacing figure before her was the same timid Third Master she once knew. Her lips quivered as she attempted to seek aid, only to discover she couldn’t produce a sound.
No… She still didn’t want to die!
Zuo Shaoqing extended his hand and gently pushed it. Moments later, he heard a “splash” as something hit the water.
“You’re just a little brat, daring to challenge me!” Zuo Shaoqing patted his sleeves, picked up the pot, and calmly left the house. It was as though he had pushed a rock into the lake, not a person.
In fact, Zuo Shaoqing was taken aback by his own actions. When he pushed the person into the water, he did so without hesitation. In his eyes, life no longer held any significance.
Upon reaching the mountainside, Zuo Shaoqing poured out the warm chicken soup and offered it to the still-conscious Lu Zheng. “I’ve sought the doctor’s advice for tonight. Spicy and hot foods aren’t suitable for your injuries. This chicken soup should be just right. Give it a try.”
Lu Zheng quickly consumed the soup and the chicken in a few mouthfuls. Zuo Shaoqing understood that this half of the chicken would serve as an appetizer at best. So, he retrieved some sesame seed cakes made by Nanny Liu.
The sesame seed cakes were substantial and weighty. Zuo Shaoqing could manage to eat at most two, but judging from Lu Zheng’s demeanor, he would probably devour all five in one go.
Such an appetite! Were all martial artists like this? No, that couldn’t be right. He, Zuo Shaoqing, could be considered half a martial artist at best. The key difference was that the former was a legendary war god whose name resonated worldwide, while the latter was merely an ordinary individual.
Lu Zheng halted after consuming the first two sesame seed cakes. He likely realized that eating a full meal would lead to starvation later, so he lay down obediently.
“Your surname is Zuo?” It was Lu Zheng’s first time speaking tonight.
“Yes.” Zuo Shaoqing lowered his eyelids, and his long eyelashes reflected a shadow under the light.
“Who is Zuo Houshun to you?”
Zuo Shaoqing took a step backward, feigning reluctance as he replied in a hushed tone, “He’s my great-grandfather.”
Zuo Houshun was the most illustrious figure in the Zuo Family’s lineage, responsible for the family’s prosperity and success.
His father had once been a pupil of Tutor Zuo, and had it not been for his subsequent promotion to the position of crown prince, the current Zuo Family would have remained far from the reach of ordinary courtiers.
Observing that Lu Zheng harbored no ill will, Zuo Shaoqing inquired, “I still don’t know your name, my friend.”
Lu Zheng raised his head, a faint smile gradually forming at the corner of his lips. Had Zuo Shaoqing not been closely scrutinizing his changing expressions, he might have missed it entirely.
“Didn’t you already know?”
“Boom…” With a loud explosion, his heart beat faster and faster, his entire body chilled from head to toe. “I… I was born late, so I didn’t understand what your brother meant.”
Zuo Shaoqing’s hands and feet were cold. Even though he was wrapped in the cloak, he still felt a chilly wind blowing into his neck. In order for Lu Zheng to be able to see that the bag was still there, he even put it on top of his clothes.
Although he didn’t understand how Lu Zheng found it, he still obediently handed the bag to him. He thought to himself: “Did Lu Zheng already notice that the note in the bag is missing?”