Edited and Proofread by KitKat
Watching the man leave without looking back, An Chang Qing was both depressed and aggrieved. There was also a tinge of anxiety.
He had poured himself into getting intimate with him and even had the cheek to kiss him but as it turned out, they still followed the same track as his last life – they did not consummate their marriage and Xiao Zhige had still slept in the study.
Following this development, this matter would spread the next day and everyone would come to the conclusion that the Marquis’s Third Young Master was just a decoration who was rejected by the Northern Warlord on the night of their wedding. Even the servants of the Wang Manor did not have him in their eyes, blatantly throwing sarcastic words in front of him.
An Chang Qing used to disregard these things, but for some reason, the thought of Xiao Zhige leaving without looking back just made him upset. He wondered if it was just his wishful thinking and that Xiao Zhige might not have liked him at all. As his thought snowballed, he wondered if god was punishing him for failing Xiao Zhige in his last life. Xiao Zhige had indulged him so much and yet he had turned a blind eye. Now that he had opened his eyes, Xiao Zhige no longer liked him.
He was even more afraid that despite his second chance at life, he could not fix their ending; he would still die of poison and Xiao Zhige would turn into a tyrant and die alone in Qiwu Palace, holding on to his jade pendant.
Tossing and turning in bed, An Chang Qing only managed to doze off at midnight. But even in his sleep, he saw the events from his past life play out on a loop. He had returned to the time of his death and felt his insides twisting and stirring, the pain was too horrible that he just wanted to die.
When Anfu came to call him in the early morning, he found that An Chang Qing was drenched in sweat like a fish just out of water. His face was pale and his eyes were red with dark patches underneath them, looking completely haggard.
“Young Master?” Anfu certainly knew what had happened last night. He anxiously said, “Wangye had someone pass on a message, you don’t have to go to the Palace today.”
An Chang Qing showed him a soothing smile and rubbed his temples, “Have someone fetch some water, I’m taking a bath.”
Anfu received his order and immediately went to carry it out. An Chang Qing sat for a while before entering the bathroom. The hot water was ready and two maids were standing by with his clothes. An Chang Qing was not used to being served so he sent them out.
When no one was left, he stripped and entered the water.
Soaking in the warm water, the swelling pain in his head was lifted considerably. An Chang Qing then changed into a new attire and went back to the main room. A maid helped him dry his hair and used a red coral embedded crown to gather his long hair. An Chang Qing gazed at the person in the mirror. Although looking much more lively, there were still traces of weariness.
After straightening up his clothes, he took Anfu to the study to find Xiao Zhige yet there was only the old steward, Wang Fu Gui, in the room. Xiao Zhige was nowhere to be found.
“Wangye is not in?”
Wang Fu Gui bowed respectfully and replied, “Wangye went to the barracks in the outskirts early in the morning.”
An Chang Qing was upset. Xiao Zhige definitely did it on purpose! Who would leave for the barracks right after their wedding?
“Did Wangye say when he’ll be back?”
Wang Fu Gui: “No.”
The housekeeper had a neutral attitude and An Chang Qing could not get any more information out of him. He could only leave in vain.
As he was leaving with Anfu, a clear voice was heard nearby, “Did you hear? Wangye left for barracks very early this morning.”
Another voice chimed in, “I heard. And Wangye also slept in the study last night. Did you see Wangfei’s face this morning?It was so scary, we didn’t dare to say anything.”
“What do you have to fear?” The previous voice spoke again, “Wangye obviously does not like Wangfei, it’s just an empty title. What’s more, he’s a man, he can’t even give birth…”
“He can’t even be compared to us servant girls. We get to serve Wangye every day. Who knows, maybe one of these days, Wangye will come to notice us and we’ll have a good life after giving birth to his children…”
After she finished speaking, a series of laughter entailed.
An Chang Qing’s expression remained unchanged but Anfu could not hold back his anger, he raised his voice and said, “The audacity! Who are you to discuss the masters’ affairs?”
The giggling maids were startled. They immediately knelt down and looked at An Chang Qing cautiously.
An Chang Qing walked slowly over and swept a glance at the row of maids. In a light voice, he said, “Raise your heads.”
The row of maids lifted their faces. They were all young and attractive, slim and graceful. Especially the one amongst them who wore a green skirt with a red cotton waist sash. She had a pair of bright and shimmering eyes that could soften anyone’s heart.
An Chang Qing smiled. He knew this girl was the one who initiated this conversation. It had been such a long time and he could not remember the trifling things of his previous life but after hearing the sweet bird-like voice, he recalled a particular person –
Xiao Zhige’s head maid, Yan Hong.
In his last life, she was also the first one to spread words that he and Xiao Zhige were not getting along. And assuming that he was not favored, she even dared to make things difficult for him. Back then, he had always been estranged from Xiao Zhige so even when he was wronged in the Wang Manor, he could only bear it in silence. Later on, although Yan Hong could not get into Xiao Zhige’s bed, she managed to marry the old steward’s godson and took to it like a fish in water. When the civil war broke out between Xiao Zhige and the Crown Prince, having received a ludicrous amount of bribery, she had sold a lot of the Wang Manor’s secrets to the enemy.
An Chang Qing observed her silently.
Yan Hong was feeling a little weak being watched by him. But she remembered that he was not in favor and she was Wangye’s person, whatever he wanted to do to her, he had to go through Wangye first.
The thought emboldened her and she asked An Chang Qing in an aggrieved tone, “May I ask what wrong have we done?”
An Chang Qing saw that her tears had already started flowing. Her behavior was nothing like a maid, more like a concubine competing for favors with trickery. He knew she had thought that because she was Xiao Zhige’s maid that there was nothing he could do to her.
Smirking, An Chang Qing ignored her. He instead said to Anfu, “Go get Steward Wang.”
Anfu did not understand his intentions but he still promptly complied. A moment later, he came back with Steward Wang.
Steward Wang, full name Wang Fu Gui, was a man in his fifties with a thin face and small build. He always had his hands together and walked at a decent pace, the image was just like that of his last life. He was the person next to Xiao Zhige and in the Wang manor, it was his job to take care of the internal affairs. He had absolute loyalty towards Xiao Zhige but everyone had their own set of ideas. He had assumed that Xiao Zhige did not treasure this Wangfei and hence, had treated him half-heartedly.
Especially if it was a valued servant girl like Yan Hong who had insulted the Wangfei, as long as he didn’t blow up the matter, he would just keep one eye closed.
But times have changed and so had An Chang Qing. Now that he knew his place in Xiao Zhige’s heart, he planned to have a good life with him. Naturally, he could not be the laughing stock both inside and outside the manor that brought shame to Xiao Zhige.
“For what reason might Wangfei have called for this old servant?” Steward Wang bowed and said. On the surface, there was nothing wrong but every little gesture was too perfunctory.
An Chang Qing was not offended. He lifted his hem and sat down on the chair Anfu had brought over. He said coldly, “What are the punishments for spreading rumors about their employers in the Wang Manor?”
Steward Wang was taken aback. He glanced at Yan Hong and hesitated, “Wangfei, this…”
“If you don’t have any regulations yet, then I’ll make one,” An Chang Qing interrupted. The pair of phoenix eyes were looking straight at him, “From now on, servants who dare to discuss their employers’ affairs will receive thirty slaps to the mouth. A repeated offender will be sent off. This time, I don’t mind the fellow conformists, just make them do some extra labor, but the ringleader, Steward Wang, you can directly send her away.”
Steward Wang’s expression stiffened. He said cautiously, “About this…Why don’t we wait for Wangye to come back and make a decision…?”
“Steward Wang feels that when Wangye is away, I can’t do so much as throw out a maid?” An Chang Qing’s tone turned harsh as he fixed his eyes on him.
“I dare not,” Steward Wang quickly knelt down and explained, “But these maids are used to serving Wangye, if it’s not them, I’m afraid Wangye will not be pleased…”
“You only need to cast her out. I will explain to Wangye,” An Chang Qing did not give him room to argue. After saying his piece, he immediately got up and left with Anfu.
Steward Wang could only look at him leaving and said with reluctance, “Yes.”
When no one else was in earshot, Yan Hong rushed over to him and cried, “Godfather, I don’t want to be sent away…”
Steward Wang fidgeted his hand and looked at her, “Please behave yourself from now on. When Wangye returns, I will talk to him on your behalf.”
Xiao Zhige left the Wang Manor early in the morning for the barracks in the outskirts of the city. He couldn’t sleep last night and decided to take off with his horse in the wee hours of dawn. However, his body might have left the Wang Manor but his heart still lingered back there. Even during his training, he was somewhat absent-minded.
He stayed in the barracks until noon passed and when he realized it, it was almost time for dinner. Xiao Zhige changed out of his armor and prepared to head back.
As he was about to leave, General Zhao Yue entered the camp. The moment Zhao Yue saw him, he smiled broadly and greeted, “It’s just the second day after your wedding, why didn’t you spend more time with Wangfei?”
Xiao Zhige frowned and ignored him. He gently tugged the horse’s reins and led it out.
Zhao Yue did not relent. He continued to poke, “Did Wangfei make Wangye unhappy? Just nice, I happened to know some new beauties in town, why don’t I send them to your place tomorrow?”
As one of the twelve generals, Zhao Yue and Xiao Zhige had never liked each other.
The Da Ye Empire was divided into a capital city and twelve prefectures. Six great generals, namely Zhao, Chu, Xue, Shi, Xia Hou, and Shen Tu were in charge of two prefectures each and under them were twelve generals, one for each prefecture.
Zhao Yue’s grandfather, Zhao XinChong was one of the six Great Generals.
The Zhao family was the Empress Dowager’s maternal family and the current Empress was a distant niece of hers. As such, the Zhao family had always sided with the Crown Prince, Xiao Qi An. Since Xiao Zhige and Xiao Qi An were at odds and coupled with his outstanding achievements, Zhao Yue had always found him an eyesore. He would taunt and jab at him whenever the opportunities arose.
Any other day, Xiao Zhige would’ve been too lazy to be bothered with him but today, he was in an especially bad mood. His sword-like eyebrows closed in as he stared at Zhao Yue coldly.
Zhao Yue laughed out triumphantly, “Oh? Or is it that Wangye doesn’t like beautiful women and prefers someone more manly? I’ve heard that Wangfei has an exquisite…”
Before Zhao Yue could finish, a double-bladed black and gold spear pierced the ground at his feet, causing a humming vibration.
Xiao Zhige rode over and pulled up the spear which was three inches into the ground. He warned discreetly, “Weapons do not have eyes. General Zhao should watch out.”
Xiao Zhige rode off as the horse kicked up dust in Zhao Yue’s face.
After exiting the barracks, the horse trotted towards the capital. The east gate of Yejing was connected to ChangLe Street. The two ends of ChangLe Street were filled with shops and restaurants. In the east were the marketplace and boutiques while the west housed brothels, teahouses, and taverns.
Yejing had no curfews and even before the sky had turned dark, the place was already bustling with people and varied sounds.
But as Xiao Zhige rode by, only silence ensued. And when he was far away, the place turned lively again. This was something Xiao Zhige was used to. As he was passing a pastry shop, he hesitated and stopped. The shop was called San Wei Zhai, the only shop in Yejing that sold a variety of unique snacks. Every day, many queued up to buy from them including the servants sent by high-ranking officials and the royalty.
After mulling over, Xiao Zhige decided to go in. The people lining up saw him and moved aside. Xiao Zhige did not mind. He said to the shopkeeper, “A box of plum blossom cakes.” He remembered his vice general once said that the plum blossom cakes from San Wei Zhai were the best. His wife loved them and whenever he made her angry, buying her a box of these would surely help in coaxing her.
The shopkeeper packed the cakes in a box and handed Xiao Zhige with trembling hands. He dared not even ask for money. He forced a smile and said, “Would Wangye like something else?”
Xiao Zhige threw him a small silver ingot as payment and rode away.
Back at the manor, Steward Wang went to greet him and Xiao Zhige handed him the box of pastries, “Deliver this to Wangfei.”
Steward Wang was stunned. He carefully observed Xiao Zhige. It’s just that Xiao Zhige rarely showed his emotions and it was difficult to tell what his likes and dislikes were. Steward Wang could only rephrase what he wanted to say, “I’ll have someone send it over right away. This morning, Wangfei went to the study to look for you.”
There was an untraceable twinkle in Xiao Zhige’s eyes, “Wangfei… How is he doing?”
Steward Wang bowed his head, “Today, Yan Hong and the others were careless, they upset Wangfei and he wants to send them away…”
Xiao Zhige responded with a ‘hmm’.
Seeing that he was not going to say anything else, Steward Wang couldn’t help but speak up, “Yan Hong has been waiting on you for many years, sending her away like this is a little inappropriate…”
“Isn’t it just a few servants?” Xiao Zhige looked at him with dominance, “Do as Wangfei says.”
Steward Wang’s heart jumped as he reassessed An Chang Qing’s status. Not daring to say another word, he nodded in compliance.