C27 – I Can’t Live This Long
The night was shrouded in darkness, and the rain had ceased, yet the cloudy sky offered no glimpse of starlight.
Lu Zheng’s eyes snapped open, his vigilance intact. He then shut his eyes and concentrated his inner energy on the palm of his hand, recalling that the young man had promised not to come tonight.
Gradually, the faint sound of footsteps drew near. Lu Zheng detected the familiar aura and retracted his power into his dantian. He turned his body and called out, “Yinyi.”
The shadowy figure hesitated briefly before hurrying to the bedside and kneeling down on one knee. With a tired and raspy voice, he said, “Master, I arrived late!”
“What about the others?”
“They’ve fanned out across Changping County to search for your whereabouts, Master. It’s been three days.”
“And what news do we have from Soong Hanlin?”
“This morning, I received a message from a messenger pigeon. Vice General Song successfully quelled the traitors with his troops.”
“How is the situation in the imperial court?” Lu Zheng sat up, supported by the pillow that Zuo Shaoqing had procured for him. His demeanor appeared relaxed, belying the fact that just three days ago, he had been at death’s door.
“The First Prince has met his end. The Third Prince and the Fifth Prince have returned to the capital. General Ni has pledged his allegiance to the crown prince, and the Emperor has abdicated in favor of the crown prince.”
“Ah, so the old Emperor has passed away?”
“Indeed, news of our Duke’s Mansion’s decision reached the capital swiftly. It will take another two days for the nation to observe mourning here in Changping.”
“Very well, send a message to the capital, instructing Zhan Yuanfeng to spare the lives of the Third and Fifth Princes.” Lu Zheng’s eyes glinted with determination. He wouldn’t let this opportunity slip away after having set his plan in motion.
“Of course.” Yinyi paused and then looked up. “Mistress, the Crown Prince has issued an order to this subordinate, stating that he will return to the capital as soon as he finds you.”
A sly smile, devoid of warmth, curled on Lu Zheng’s lips. “The die has been cast. If I return, he won’t find a moment’s peace. So why bother?”
“Include a message in your letter, stating that I am still recovering from my injuries and will need to remain bedridden for about a year to ease the Crown Prince’s concerns.”
Yinyi grasped the essence of the situation and, after a moment of contemplation, remarked, “The Crown Prince’s rise depends entirely on the support of his mentor. Does he intend to burn bridges after crossing them?”
“Why let others share the bed’s edge? Zhan Yuanfeng may not want to destroy bridges, but he must remain vigilant. Rather than returning to the capital to engage in a conflict with him, it’s wiser for him to stay here in tranquility.”
“Indeed, I’ll send messages to all the departments simultaneously, instructing them to maintain a low profile during this period.” Yinyi had been by Lu Zheng’s side for the longest time. While he couldn’t completely fathom Lu Zheng’s intentions, he knew how to handle such situations.
Lu Zheng expressed his satisfaction with a nod, “Also, send another message to the estate, and have preparations commence for my grand wedding.”
Yinyi’s surprised gaze met Lu Zheng’s. Although he typically wore an impassive expression, he couldn’t hide the confusion on his face this time. However, he refrained from pressing further.
Yinyi could sense that Young Eunuch Lu was in high spirits. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have made such a significant decision. Could it be that Master had located the Madam during his absence?
He couldn’t help but admire the new mistress’s influence. Throughout his time serving, he had never seen his master influenced by anyone.
Unbeknownst to Lu Zheng, his closest subordinate had misinterpreted his intentions. In reality, he only wanted to find a woman from an ordinary family to pacify the other person’s heart. After all, getting a wife held little significance to him.
After concluding his affairs, Lu Zheng furrowed his brow and ordered, “Fetch some food.”
The mountain was serene and tranquil, but Zuo Shaoqing only came once a day, leaving him hungry for half the day. Moreover, the rations left by Zuo Shaoqing were barely enough to satisfy his appetite.
What he didn’t realize was that Zuo Shaoqing had prepared the provisions according to his doubled hunger.
Zuo Shaoqing was roused from the brink of slumber by the commotion. He dispatched Luo Xiaoliu to investigate and then settled back under his blanket. However, sleep continued to elude him.
Upon Luo Xiaoliu’s return, there was no need for Zuo Shaoqing to inquire; he could easily deduce the situation.
“Master, it unfolded just as you had anticipated. There’s been quite a stir at the Wuhan Institution,” Luo Xiaoliu reported with a glint of satisfaction.
In stark contrast to Luo Xiaoliu’s excitement, Zuo Shaoqing remained composed, “I see. Who was the instigator?”
Luo Xiaoliu recounted the events in meticulous detail, “It was Zi Zhu’s father, who had indulged in alcohol and was taken out for a late-night drink. Upon his return, he overheard some disparaging comments, leading to a heated argument. Initially, it seemed like a mere standoff, but when the few women we recruited joined forces, chaos erupted within the servants’ quarters.”
“They demanded to know, ‘Which of the maids who perished in my chambers is without a father?’ With Zi Zhu’s mother at the helm, they asserted that they needed the mistress’s judgment. However, even before they could leave the premises, the mistress got wind of the situation and ordered the troublemakers to be restrained.”
“Will the mistress remain at the Buddhist hall tonight?”
Luo Xiaoliu blinked, “Rest assured, I’ve already arranged for a report to reach the Buddhist hall. They’ve selected a sister who shares a close rapport with Zi Zhu and won’t cast suspicion on us.”
The corner of Zuo Shaoqing’s lips curled into a knowing smile as he regarded Luo Xiaoliu. No wonder this servant had managed to operate in his vicinity for so many years; he possessed a shrewd intellect.
“Well done. I shall fulfill my promise tomorrow.”
Luo Xiaoliu breathed a sigh of relief and promptly knelt down, “Thank you, Master San! Lil ‘Six will remain loyal to you for the rest of his life.”
“Loyalty is not something to be spoken but demonstrated through actions. I shall await your performance.”
Zuo Shaoqing yawned and dismissed him with a wave, “Now, go get some rest. Let them stir up trouble; tomorrow morning will bring resolutions.”
While Zuo Shaoqing peacefully slumbered nearby, tumultuous activity stirred within Wuliang Yuan’s confines. Zuo Yunwen, eager to address matters within the inner court, adjusted his attire and retired to a concubine’s chamber for the night.
Suppressing her ire, Mrs. Xue directed her anger at the woman causing the commotion, saying, “Do not rely on your pride, a group of servants attempting to disrupt the peace? Consider your social standing!”
Zi Zhu’s mother, her voice trembling, approached Mrs. Xue, clutching the hem of her garment and tearfully pleaded, “Madam, this servant has truly been pushed to the brink. I can hardly face the world anymore… I’ve become an object of ridicule whenever I step outside. As for Violet Bamboo… Zi Zhu, her life was tragically brief. This servant doesn’t ask for much, but hopes that Madam can grant her an honorable status as a gesture of gratitude for my past service…”
Hearing her words, the other wives who had lost their daughters also began to weep.
In the past, they had all been timid and hesitant to voice their grievances, but tonight they found solidarity, emboldened by the presence of Zi Zhu’s mother, an experienced steward of the household. Their courage surged.
The loss of their daughters weighed heavily on their hearts, but what good would mere heartache do? Sacrificing their lives for the sake of a daughter was not feasible. However, if they could secure a place for their deceased daughters, it could be seen as a mother-daughter bond.
Zi Zhu’s mother wept until her voice grew hoarse, tears and mucus streaming down her face. “There are malicious rumors circulating outside. For the sake of the lord’s reputation, Madam, please grant me my freedom…”
Mrs. Xue, with a scornful sneer, kicked her away. “Are you attempting to blackmail me? Not only does this matter have nothing to do with you, even if it did, it’s beyond your capacity to handle! These servants have no concept of their own value; they would rather wed an elder!”
However, upon the demise of a legitimate concubine, she would earn a place in the Ancestral Hall. With the birth of a son, she would secure the support of the Joss Flame for generations to come.