Wei Luo immediately closed her mouth, her eyes opening wide as she watched him rather vigilantly.
She wasn’t at home now, nor were the elders beside her, so her attitude towards him changed? Zhao Jie found her very interesting. Obviously a small child, yet different from the average child in all respects. Now that her front tooth had fallen out, she looked more like a little girl instead, both funny and cute.
Song Hui didn’t know they were acquainted, and furthermore wasn’t aware the person in front of him was Prince Jing. Zhao Jie hadn’t returned to the capital for many years. When he had left, Song Hui had still been a child younger than ten years old. Now he had come back to the capital for more than a month, but hadn’t made any public appearances, so it was normal for Song Hui not to recognize him.
Out of courtesy, Song Hui stepped to the side to make way, but seeing that the opposite party didn’t move, he led Wei Luo towards a private dining room. However, they just took a step, when a guard dressed in cyan clothes easily blocked their path. Song Hui was a little startled, not understanding his intention, “This elder brother, is there something the matter?”
Zhu Geng didn’t speak, he was merely following Zhao Jie’s orders and nothing more.
Zhao Jie strolled toward Wei Luo, stopping in front of her. He bent down and lifted her chin with a smile in his eyes: “Open your mouth.”
Wei Luo kept her mouth closed. He said to open, but if she immediately opened, wouldn’t she lose face? Moreover, it looked like he was going to make fun of her. She definitely wouldn’t listen to him.
The more she disobeyed, the more he wanted to make her obey. He was in a good mood today and didn’t mind wasting some time with her here, so he used his other hand to pinch her little nose. He didn’t use much strength, afraid that a pinch would break her. Initially, the little girl could still endure, but her cheeks gradually flushed as she held her breath. Her fine small face filled with indignation, she finally opened her mouth to say: “…Let go!”
Unfortunately, with a missing incisor, the words she spoke weren’t too clear, but slightly unnatural. Zhao Jie’s smile deepened more and more. Letting go of her tiny nose, he raised her chin to thoroughly look over her front teeth for a long time, and asked: “Will you still bite me now?”
Wei Luo lost face considerably, small children also had their dignity! She tightly pursed her soft pink lips and refused to acknowledge him.
From the side, Song Hui observed the two’s familiar manner with each other, and couldn’t hep but ask: “Excuse me, your excellency is?”
Zhao Jie released Ah Luo at that moment, and straightened up to look at Song Hui. He restrained the laughter in his eyes, and spoke with no arrogance: “Zhao, named Liqing.”
Zhao was the country’s surname, Liching was namely ‘Jing'(peaceful). In the capital Sheng, very few could be called with the word ‘Jing’. It was practically needless to ponder too much. Song Hui guessed his identity right away, and hurriedly performed a deep bow, saying: “So it turns out it was the Prince. I am Song Hui of Count Zhongyi’s house. Forgive me for being dull, not recognizing the Prince.”
His attitude was respectful and prudent, but he was a bit confused all along.
How did Ah Luo come to be acquainted with Prince Jing? In addition, looking at Prince Jing’s behavior, he seemed very close to her. But Ah Luo was usually shut at home, rarely going out. How would she have the opportunity to meet Prince Jing?
Zhao Jie didn’t answer his greeting. He lowered his head to shoot a glance at the little girl silently rubbing her nose, his lips raising as he asked: “Did young master Song bring this little sister out to for a meal?”
Song Hui nodded, leading Ah Luo to stand beside him, “Exactly. Today is the Dragon Boat Festival, so I brought her out to sightsee.”
Zhao Jie wasn’t too clear about the relationship between the houses of Count Zhongyi and Duke Ying, and didn’t ask about it. He spoke to Wei Luo, who was hiding behind Song Hui: “The medicine you gave to this Prince last time is finished, do you have any more?”
That medicine’s effect was truly not bad. He had only used it a few times, and the purple bruise on his wrist had faded away, leaving behind the distinct tooth marks. The Imperial physician had said the bite was too deep, and estimated that the marks would remain for life. Zhao Jie was angry at first, and wanted to teach this little girl, who didn’t know the immensity of heaven and earth, a lesson. Later, when he learned she had bitten him in order to attract his attention, he got a little interested in her. Now, rather than angry, he was more curious, wishing to find out what she was thinking about in that head of hers. He was also baffled with himself. He was clearly the most impatient when dealing with small children, yet he had this much patience for her. If it was someone else, he definitely wouldn’t have stopped at the stairs of the restaurant for them.
Wei Luo’s eyes glinted, the young milky voice speaking bluntly: “Don’t have any!”
Amusement flashed in Zhao Jie’s eyes. He wanted to say more, but had no time. If he kept standing there, it would be too conspicuous. Thus he ended the conversation, and bidding goodbye to Song Hui, stepped down the staircase.
Zhao Jie sat in the black-roofed carriage of the Jing royal residence, and instructed the coachman to head home. The carriage had traveled midway, when he suddenly called out: “Zhu Geng.”
Zhu Geng discretely lifted the black curtain lined with gold embroidery, and walked beside the carriage as he asked: “What commands does the Prince have?”
He was leaning back inside the carriage, the thick curtains keeping the interior dark. Only a little bit of sunshine was let in through the lifted corner, illuminating his slender white hands. His voice was slow, as if he thought over his words as he spoke: “I’ve been away from the capital for a long time, so there are some things I’m not too clear about. How are the households of Count Zhongyi and Duke Ying connected?”
As his personal bodyguard, Zhu Geng didn’t only need his martial arts to be good, but also needed to have some ability to gather information. To Zhao Jie’s question, he could answer almost immediately: “The Prince has forgotten, five years ago Count Zhongyi and Duke Ying’s families became related through marriage. The niece of Count Zhongyi’s Madam got married to Duke Ying’s fifth master as his second wife…” He paused, suddenly guessing that wasn’t what Zhao Jie wanted to hear about, then added: “The Duke residence’s fourth miss and Song Hui are arranged to be married from childhood.”
No wonder Song Hui took such care of that little girl, so they were in that kind of relationship. Zhao Jie contemplated casually, that little girl’s nature was peevish, she would definitely grow up to be like a hot chili pepper one day. Looking at Song Hui, he seemed to be a mild-tempered person. It was unknown whether he would be able to withstand her spirit in the future.
Zhu Geng saw that he had no more questions, so he softly dropped the curtain, thinking to himself that he had apparently guessed right.
Inside Zhen Cui Zhai, after the waiter laid down all the dishes saying “customers, take your time”, he went down. Song Hui raised the silver chopsticks, picked up an osmanthus fish bone from the celadon crackle saucer, and placed it in front of Wei Luo, then asked: “Ah Luo, how did you get acquainted with Prince Jing?”
Wei Luo took a bite of the egg yolk, then another bite of the fish bone. One soft, the other crisp, the flavor was salty and delicious. It was no wonder so many people came here to eat this dish, the flavor was indeed pretty good. It was only a pity that she had just swallowed a tooth, and also got mocked by Zhao Jie, now she wasn’t in any mood to appreciate the taste. She puffed up her cheeks, saying: “When we went back from burning incense in Huguo Temple, madam wanted to sell me to a slave trader. I asked him to save me, thus we got acquainted.”
She downplayed the story, however Song Hui got a great shock, the raised chopsticks remaining midair for a long time, “What did you say? What madam?”
Wei Luo blinked, seemingly completely unaware that her news had caused someone shock, her young voice saying childishly: “Wei Zheng’s mother, my father’s wife.”
Her speaking out wasn’t without reason. Letting Song Hui know of Madam Du’s nature, was the same as letting Count Zhongyi’s people know. Madam Du had done such an outrageous thing, if the time came that the Count’s people wanted to plead for leniency on her behalf, they still wouldn’t be able to open their mouths.
Song Hui’s expression was heavy. Just then, he had heard Wei Kun in the entry, when he said Madam Du had made a mistake, but he didn’t expect it was such a huge blunder. Wei Luo was unlikely to tell lies, and adding on the strange atmosphere in the Duke’s residence, this matter was certainly real. He was suddenly stumped for words, how could Madam Du be so muddle-headed? What did Ah Luo ever do to her? As a small child who didn’t know anything, her eyes would curve when she smiled, especially moving. How did she have the heart to do it?
Song Hui quickly started feeling both guilty and sorry to Wei Luo. Madam Du had come from their family, so their family wasn’t able to escape some responsibility. From that point of view, they didn’t have the right to say anything. Regardless of how Duke Ying’s family decided to punish Madam Du, they didn’t have the qualifications to interfere.
It could be said that they had arrived to eat in high spirits, but left disappointed. For Wei Luo, it was because she had met Zhao Jie, while Song Hui was thinking of Madam Du’s matter, and didn’t know whether he should tell his parents.
After coming out of the restaurant, neither of them was in the mood to continue their stroll. Just as they were about to return to the residence, Wei Luo suddenly remembered something, pulling Song Hui to a stop as she said: “Big brother Song Hui, I still haven’t bought a longevity bracelet.”
Song Hui broke out of his daze. Raising his lips in a forced smile, he stroked her head and said: “Good, I’ll bring Ah Luo to buy a longevity bracelet.”
At the Dragon Boat Festival, longevity bracelets were sold everywhere. Holding Song Hui’s hand, A Luo pulled him along to one side of the street to have a look. Both sides of the streets were full of peddlers selling all types of trinkets, so dazzling, she couldn’t take it all in. Having walked for a while, they eventually stopped in front of a peddler, who had hung five-colored strings all over his stand.
Her body was short, and being in front of the vendor’s stand, she simply wasn’t able to see any of the display above, so Song Hui held her up by the legs, making it easier for her to sort through the strings. The little girl was very pragmatic, she chose the string that looked the thickest and most durable, and picked it up saying: “I want this one!”
Smiling, Song Hui completed the transaction, and turned his head to indicate for the bodyguard to pay. He was about to tie the bracelet around her wrist for her, not expecting her to shake her head in refusal: “It’s not for me to wear, it’s for Changhong.”
Song Hui was stunned, as he believed she was buying it for herself. So young, yet she was thinking of her younger brother, it was clear she was particularly thoughtful. Recalling how such a sensible little girl had almost gotten sold, his heart couldn’t help but squeeze painfully, “Do you know what this is used for?”
Ah Luo nodded with a smile, “Nurse said the longevity bracelet lets a person live long.”
It was actually a very practical statement.
Song Hui was amused by her, his overcast mood from before had improved to some extent. He carried her as he walked towards the carriage, “Our Ah Luo is truly sensible.”
Wei Luo was hugging his neck with a smile on her small face, but she didn’t think so in her mind. It wasn’t that she was sensible. She remembered the previous life Changhong’s bitter experiences. The longevity bracelet might not necessarily be able to ensure his long life, she was merely seeking a little peace of mind. In any case, she wanted Changhong to grow up healthy and steady in this life.
The two persons’ clothes were luxurious, their appearance uncommon. A youth in an indigo robe with golden persimmon stem brocade that underlined his tall and straight physique, a splendid boy with many prospects; in his embrace a little lady whose looks were even more exquisite, with red lips and white teeth, one look was enough to tell she wasn’t a child from an ordinary household. Especially the silver longevity locket with blue jewels around her neck dazzled people’s eyes with its brilliance. One big and one small figure were walking on the street, attracting many gazes.
A woman, carrying a wicker basket over her hand, made a move, taking out a pink silk flower as she stepped forward to ask: “Young lady, you’re so pretty, this silk flower suits you the most, why don’t you ask your big brother to buy one?”
Song Hui’s arms protected Wei Luo’s body from being touched. Following the voice, Wei Luo took a look. When she saw that woman’s face, the happy expression in her eyes froze immediately, turning ice-cold.
The woman was wearing apricot yellow garments, the attire was plain, a green worm silver hairpin in her cloud bun hairstyle. Her looks were ordinary, lips slightly thick, above the corner of her mouth was a black mole. It was exactly this black mole that Wei Luo deeply remembered. In both lifetimes, she wouldn’t be able to forget it.
In her previous life, Wei Luo had washed down the river, and into a village named Longshou village. Longshou village was almost 10 li (5 km) away from the capital Sheng, its position remote, life there was also comparatively poorer. She was adopted by a family of two. The husband was called Bai Yang, and the wife Lin Huilian. She was like a biological daughter to them, they never treated her ill, meeting such people was already very rare in such an impoverished village. Wei Luo initially thought herself fortunate to have this pair of kindhearted foster parents. Rather than going back to the Duke’s residence to be mistreated by her stepmother, it was better to stay here as their daughter.
But the truth was different.
This couple had once had a son many years ago. The son had drowned and perished in the same river, that she had originally floated down from. They adopted her not to raise her as a daughter, but as a daughter-in-law. They wanted to marry her to him after she grew up, so their son had someone to take care of him in the underworld. When she first learned of this matter, Wei Luo had been shocked for a long time, not knowing what to do. They saved her and brought her up, now that they mentioned this kind of request, should she comply?
At that time, she was already 14, the prettiest young woman in Longshou village. There were many young lads who wanted to take her as a wife, and were discussing marriage offers with the Bai household. They weren’t looking for a good match, were they really going to make her into a ghost bride for their son?
But the Bai Yang couple pleaded, saying they were childless, and didn’t have the heart to let their son be alone in the netherworld. Based on their mutual affection for so many years, they asked her to agree to this marriage. After she got married, they would treat her the same way as before, they absolutely wouldn’t be unfair to her, and would consider her as their own child.
Wei Luo considered this for three days, and still agreed in the end.
That was what she owed them for their kindness.
The wedding was decided to take place on her 15th birthday, when she reached marriageable age. Who knew how many people in the village wrung their hands in regret for this reason, saying some things behind her back, but never letting her hear. On the day she got married, she wore the red bridal clothes, believing she would have to perform the wedding ritual in front of the memorial tablet, but didn’t expect the Bai Ying husband and wife to bring her to the graveyard halfway up the mountain behind the village, wanting her to kowtow to a coffin. The person was dead for many years already, the corpse had rotted long ago, only a pile of bones remained. She was suppressing her fear in order to complete the courtesies, while her legs felt weak at the knees. Just when she was ready to return home, that pair of husband and wife went as far as to push her into the coffin, intending to bury her alive with their son.
Wei Luo was scared out of her wits. It turned out all their nice words were false, adopting her was for this purpose from the beginning. So when the villagers wanted to speak but hesitated, it was because of this.
She didn’t know where she got the strength at that time, she struggled free, and fled down the mountain, taking advantage of the night’s darkness. She ran away from this village called Longshou.
She couldn’t stay at this place anymore. What she had to pay back was all paid back, the kindness was also repaid. She didn’t owe them anything. She wanted to return to the capital and the Duke’s residence to meet her relatives, but didn’t anticipate that neither place could serve as her shelter. No matter where she went, it was a dead end.
The woman in front of her now, was precisely Bai Yang’s wife, Lin Huilian. Her previous life’s foster mother.
Zhao Jie: The first time we met, wifey left her mark on me.
Ah Luo: →_→ What are you thinking ne? Such a strong distress signal, weren’t you able to sense it??
Notes: The above was a small extra I missed within the author’s notes after the third chapter, when Ah Luo bit Zhao Jie. That mark was for life, haha, she’ll have to take responsibility now…
‘Zhao was the country’s surname’: assume they mean the dynasty or the surname of the Emperor’s family.
As a side note, here’s one of the gems I encounter when I put the text through some machine translating sites: Song Hui then held her groin area to hug her. I was like O_O What! Dude…No! Should actually be ‘holding the back of her knees’ lol. MTL always entertains me. (Imagine a closeted perv Song Hui.)