They’d been married for six years, but Wei Kun had never questioned her in that tone.
Among the different masters of Duke Ying’s residence, Wei Kun’s disposition was the gentlest. Not quick-tempered like the eldest master (Wei Kun’s oldest brother, first family branch), and not as impulsive as the second master, he was mild-mannered and refined. Because she liked that about him, Madam Du disregarded the fact that his mind was set on Jiang Miaolan, in order to get married into Duke Ying’s household.
After getting married, Du Yueying did her best to please him in every possible way. Including in the bedroom, she had racked her brains to think of how to make him happy. She had believed she could gradually replace Jiang Miaolan in his heart. After all, that woman was gone, while she had the rest of their lifetime with him. But she slowly discovered that she couldn’t enter Wei Kun’s heart. He was good to her out of civility, rather than affection. They treated each other with mutual respect during the day, and the night activities resembled fulfilling a duty — once he was done, he wouldn’t even say a few intimate words, but would just turn over and fall asleep.
That much, Du Yueying could still endure, until the day she found an old sachet under Wei Kun’s pillow.
The sachet was embroidered with mandarin ducks playing in the water, a very common pattern, with an unskilled needlework, obviously the work of someone, who had just started learning embroidery. Du Yueying thought he was using a bad sachet, and didn’t give it much consideration. In any case, it was old, and the Duke’s residence had plenty of better ones, so she let the servants throw it away.
But later that day, after Wei Kun came back to find the sachet gone, instead of getting angry, his complexion turned ashen. His appearance was worse, than if he’d actually gotten angry. He asked where the servant had thrown away the sachet, and when the maidservant answered somewhere in the rear court, he didn’t bother with her further, and rushed to the rear court to search.
So desperate and crazy, as if that sachet was his lifeblood. Without that sachet, he wouldn’t be able to live.
Afterwards, Du Yueying came to know it was Jiang Miaolan, who’d given him that thing. At that time, Jiang Miaolan had been pregnant and could only embroider a little bit each day. Just as she’s finished the sachet, the children had been born. That was the last and only thing she’d given Wei Kun before she left, no wonder it was his treasure.
That was the first time Madam Du clearly realized Jiang Miaolan’s importance in Wei Kun’s heart.
That issue was like a thorn lodged deep into her heart. She gradually found traces of Jiang Miaolan everywhere in her life. For example, he’d frequently look lost in thought as he stared at that sachet; or he’d laugh joyfully when he saw Wei Luo and Wei Changhong; or he’d be better to Wei Luo than to Wei Zheng… As time passed, she hated Jiang Miaolan more and more, and couldn’t wait to remove her pair of daughter and son. Out of sight, out of mind!
So she secretly prepared all these plans.
Only when all traces of Jiang Miaolan were gone from his life, would he notice her and Zheng.
She thought the preparations were flawless, certain that there wasn’t the smallest miscalculation. Who’d have expected that little girl Wei Luo would suddenly change midway, like a different person, and upset all her plans. She gritted her teeth. Not wishing to reveal her guilty conscience on her own, she smiled unhurriedly, and asked perplexed: “Why are you asking such a question? I brought Ah Luo to Huguo Temple to burn incense today, as everyone here knows. Did you forget?”
It was precisely because he didn’t forget, that he was asking her. Wei Kun gripped the armrests, trying to control his emotions, “Is that why Ah Luo came back first? She went out together with you, but you didn’t look after her well. If she had come across some danger, how would you explain this to me?”
Madam Du was getting reprimanded in front of all these servants, she felt thoroughly disgraced. She defended herself subconsciously: “A bodyguard with excellent martial arts took her. Who knows what his reason was…”
Not waiting for her to finish speaking, Jin Gu lost her patience by the entrance, shoving two maidservants aside and rushing in. She dropped on her knees in front of Wei Kun, “Master, this servant girl (referring to herself) has heard everything. Begging master to do right by the fourth Miss!” Her eyes red, she looked angrily at Madam Du, and stated: “The madam didn’t return directly to the residence from Huguo Temple, but brought fourth Miss into the woods, where two slave traders were waiting… This servant girl heard with my own ears, the madam told them to sell Miss as far as possible. If Master doesn’t believe me, you can send people to search in the woods. Those two should still be nearby!”
Wei Kun clasped his hands and looked straight at Madam Du: “Is she telling the truth?”
Madam Du was leaning on Nurse Dou, holding her breath and gritting her teeth: “Utter nonsense! There’s no way I know such people. You said you heard us talk, where’s your evidence? If you can’t produce the evidence, you should be ready for the consequences!”
While in the woods, she’d said the slave traders were a hunting couple. Returning to the official’s residence, it turned out she didn’t know them. Jin Lu really hated her brazenness. For a while, she couldn’t take into account the different status between masters and servants, as she wished to expose her mask immediately: “The Nurse and me are both witnesses, the fourth Miss was also present. If Madam wants to quibble, better call the fourth Miss here to personally ask. Little children never lie!”
Long before they came back, Wei Luo had told Wei Kun everything.
Wei Kun felt truly sad for his daughter, and refused to involve Wei Luo even a tiny bit. He only said: “Ah Luo came back crying and told me that the madam didn’t want her, that she wanted to sell her. She also asked what she did wrong.” Saying this, his eyes reddened and he glared at Madam Du, “I also want to ask what she did wrong that you can’t tolerate her, when she’s only six years old.”
His eyes were full of anger, so unfamiliar. A firm look that made Du Yueying’s legs go soft.
She opened her mouth, but couldn’t say a word.
Yes, she simply could not tolerate them, really wishing to see the two siblings immediately disappear. That way, her world would be tranquil. She also had Zheng with Wei Kun, the three of them made a whole family. Where did those two children fit in?
Why were they blocking her happiness?
Nurse Dou heard Wei Kun’s words and seemed to find a lifeline. She quickly followed up: “Master, you just said Miss had returned ahead of time. If Madam really wanted to sell her, how could she get away so easily? It must be that bodyguard who influenced her. The fourth Miss is young and naïve, she learned to say this from him…”
Wei Kun threw her a cold glance, “Are you making fourth Miss out to be a fool, or me?”
This simple question left Nurse Dou dumbfounded.
Wei Kun added: “What relation does that bodyguard have to you that he would frame you? If Ah Luo wasn’t rescued by him, she also wouldn’t have come back!”
Speechless, Nurse Dou suddenly knelt on the ground and cried: “Master, if you don’t believe us, send people to Huguo Temple to look around whether there really are slave traders as that maidservant said… If they’re not found, I’m begging Master to restore my madam’s innocence.”
The reason she could say that, was because they had arranged everything before coming back.
Madam Du had given the married couple a lot of money, rushing them to leave the capital and go away to Liulin county, never to return. Wuzhou hadn’t gotten what he’d come for and his face was ruined by Ah Luo, so he didn’t want to let them go easily. But looking at the sum Madam Du had offered, that would be enough to feed them for three to five years without working, he had agreed without a fuss. That’s why Nurse Dou was so bold. After so long, that couple was certainly far away. Even if Wei Kun searched, he wouldn’t find them.
“Good, good.” Wei Kun nodded angrily, and called eight guards over. Pointing at Jin Lu, he said: “Go with her to Huguo Temple, and find the people she talked about. If you don’t find them today, don’t come back!”
Duke Ying’s guards were well-trained and worked very efficiently. Hearing his orders, they complied immediately, and followed Jin Lu to go out.
Just as the guards left, two women waked in from outside.
Leading the way was the third madam, Madam Liu. Her hair combed in a cloud bun, jade hairpins with golden cicadas at her temples and pearls coiled around, it was really luxurious. Combined with her bright, showy tunic, the ensemble was actually consistent with her temper. Passing through the gate, she exclaimed with surprise, “What is going on? Such a huge commotion, did fifth sister-in-law do something wrong that let fifth brother-in-law get so angry?”
Walking behind her was the fourth madam, Madam Qin. She was comparatively low-key. She had two golden butterfly hairpins tucked in her bun, and was wearing a honey-colored dress with peony patterns, she looked beautiful and gentle.
A while ago, Madam Du had signaled for Ning Xue to bring the third madam over as her ally. When Ning Xue went to the Pear courtyard, she had found the fourth madam in the third madam’s room, so she had invited them together.
Duke Ying had five sons and three daughters. The daughters were all married, and only visited on holidays. From the remaining five masters, the eldest, third and fifth were from the main wife, the second and fourth — from a concubine. Duke Ying’s position was quite high, so even if the second and fourth sons were born of a concubine, the young ladies they married weren’t bad. The fourth madam’s family was from Marquis An Ling’s house. She was a daughter of the main wife. The young lady from Marquis An Ling’s house was known in the capital as delicate, graceful, and virtuous, with splendid manners. That marriage could be considered the fourth master’s moving up in society.
After getting married, the fourth master and madam were close and affectionate, their days passed in satisfaction. Madam Qin already had three sons. She’d always wanted a daughter, but never got one. Since the fourth master, Wei Yan, and Wei Kun had their duty in the Imperial Academy together, the two’s families visited each other diligently. So Madam Qin frequently saw Wei Luo and loved that little girl, who was beautiful and smart, like a little fairy. Moreover, Wei Luo didn’t have a mother, so Madam Qin was compassionate and grew increasingly fond of her over time.
From the several madams in the residence, only the fourth madam treated Ah Luo wholeheartedly well.
When she saw Madam Qin enter, Wei Luo, who had been hiding behind the blue screen, hurriedly pushed the screens open and ran up to her, dragging her soft voice in a spoiled manner: “Fourth aunt, hug.”
Madam Qin smiled and picked her up, flicking her little nose, “How come Ah Luo’s here? Are you feeling better now? I had to visit my parents yesterday. You won’t blame your aunt for not coming to see you, right?”
Ah Luo burrowed in her neck. Leaning her head, she saw Madam Du glowering at her. She lowered her head, so that no one saw the corners of her mouth bending in a smirk, then her two slender arms tightly hugged Madam Qin: “Ah Luo is alright… Fourth aunt, Ah Luo is afraid.”
Madam Qin was puzzled, “What are you afraid of?”
Ah Luo’s voice was faint, with a hint of fear, it sounded exceedingly distressed, “Afraid of madam…”
While Madam Qin was speculating, Madam Du angrily cut in: “Ah Luo!”
The girl in her bosom cowered, body slightly shivering, and Madam Qin realized that her ‘madam’ referred to the fifth madam.
Didn’t Ah Luo call her mother before? Why did it change?
Madam Qin looked at Wei Kun. Although he didn’t want to speak of it again, he repeated everything from earlier today.
Madam Qin and Madam Liu only now learned that such a big incident had taken place. Madam Qin was quite shocked, even her impression of Madam Du had changed. As for Madam Liu, she assumed a natural demeanor and actually laughed: “How can fifth brother-in-law trust the maidservant so easily? What if she intentionally framed fifth sister-in-law out of malice?”
However, what would the maidservant Jin Lu gain out of framing Madam Du?
Wei Kun didn’t feel like speaking, and only requested for Madam Qin to bring Wei Luo back inside the blue-screened room, as he didn’t want Wei Luo to tarnish her mind listening to this nasty affair.
Two hours later, the guards returned together with Wuzhou and Wang.
Hearing that Wuzhou and Wang were brought back, Nurse Dou’s body went soft and dropped to the ground, unable to get up.
Didn’t she send them away? How did the guards find them?
Wei Kun saw her reaction and could mostly guess the reason. His heart froze over. He asked the guards: “Where are they?”
One of the guards bowed and performed a greeting, then said: “To answer the Master, those two are still outside the courtyard, they don’t dare come in. We seized two things from them. Please take a look, Master.”
Wei Kun nodded, letting him hand the objects over.
Nurse Dou and Madam Du had an idea what those were. They looked at each other, feeling coldness seeping in.
Note: More names popped up. I’ll draw the family tree when most of the relative’s names have shown up. Basically, they all live in one huge residence headed by Duke Ying Wei Zhangchun; his five sons are heads of the five family branches. Each branch/house has their own place, and the wives and concubines (if any) live in separate courtyards inside.