Edited and Proofread by KitKat
“I remember Ge’er has reached the age to be betrothed, hasn’t she? She is not a child anymore,” An Chang Qing looked at his half-sister who was younger than him by four years without any affection.
He remembered the winter when he was ten, the doll-like and innocent An Xian Ge had giggled as she pushed his sister, An Xian Yu, who was one year older than herself into the lake.
Like him, An Xian Yu had been bullied since childhood which had caused her to develop a timid and weak personality. And because they were not well-provided for, she was much skinnier and weaker than the younger An Xian Ge who had shoved her into the lake effortlessly. An Chang Qing was lucky to have witnessed it and jumped down to save her, almost drowning in the process. After that, he was inflicted with a high fever and it had been since then that his body became averse to the cold.
As for An Xian Ge, An Zhi Ke only said that she was still young and did not pursue the matter.
An Chang Qing lowered his head and sneered, he was not going to swallow this insult in silence. Bestowed with a second chance, he was not going to let anyone trample over him.
“If she is still this insolent after entering her husband’s family, I’m afraid she would implicate her in-laws with the crime of disrespecting the royal family.” He looked towards An Zhi Ke and smiled faintly, “Father, as a minister serving in court, you should know the danger of thoughtless words and how it could bring disaster to the whole family.”
Looking at the An family’s distorted looks, An Chang Qing daintily sipped his tea, “Although we’re a family, we should still maintain a separation of status. Even if I’m not bothered by it, Wangye, who has always attached great importance to rules might be angered should he find out about this.”
“Wangye’s temper… I’m sure you’re all aware,” An Chang Qing fixed his gaze upon the pale-faced An Xian Ge and smiled deviously, “If Wangye’s wrath was incurred and he wanted to pass out punishment, even I dare not stop him. Ge’er, do you think I’m right?”
An Xian Ge looked at him in disbelief. She opened her mouth to retort but was pinched by Lady Liu sitting next to her. She bit her lips and almost tore off her handkerchief before grudgingly saying, “Wangfei is right, Ge’er was wrong.”
An Chang Qing nodded. He then ignored her and turned to talk to An Xian Yu. At present, only his sister, An Xian Yu was present. His mother, Lady Yu, had stayed in the backyard and did not come.
According to the rules, his mother could be present but she wasn’t. As An Chang Qing’s biological mother, the An family would’ve let her come if they had respected him as a Wangfei. But no one in the An family took him seriously and naturally, they did not call for Lady Yu to attend his homecoming.
An Xian Yu was just as he remembered, quiet and shy. She was obviously beautiful like their mother but she always held her head low and never dared to speak up. An Chang Qing sighed and touched her head with much heartache and asked about her studies.
The An family came from a long line of scholars. Even the misses were all academically equipped before they were married off. An Xian Yu was quiet by nature. Her only hobby was reading and writing which she had excelled in.
But when An Chang Qing raised the question, she drooped her head and answered skittishly, “I… I’ve stopped going to the classroom.”
An Xian Ge finally found the right nerve to poke at. She interjected with a sneer, “An Xian Yu cheated in a test and was expelled by the teacher,” She continued, “It’s true that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
She was referring to the fact that An Chang Qing had also once been expelled from class. The An family’s classrooms were divided by gender and separated by a brick wall. The male students were all from prestigious backgrounds and were taught by famous scholars to be specially trained for the imperial exams.
Although An Chang Qing loved to read, his choice of books were all on medicine and agriculture, he had little interest in learning the eight-part essay. This along with his background had made the teacher look down on him. Later, he had been framed by An Chang Duan and a female student for cheating and without even hearing his side of the story, the teacher had expelled him from the class.
An Zhi Ke knew about this and had found out the truth. But between the second son who was clever and likable and the third son whom he hated, An Zhi Ke had chosen to protect his second son’s reputation. It was also then that An Chang Qing’s feelings towards his father turned stale.
An Chang Qing glanced at his father and An Chang Duan, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree… Ge’er’s words are very reasonable, what do father and second brother think?”
Their expressions immediately turned a shade darker.
As a high-ranking official, An Zhi Ke had only enjoyed the flattery of the people around him. Never before had he received such mockery and it even came from the son he despised the most. An Zhi Ke was deeply insulted by the sarcasm in his tone but there was nothing he could do. In the end, he diverted his anger towards An Xian Ge.
“What happened to the rules that you’ve learned? If you can’t so much as learn that then don’t you dare leave the house!” His words were overly harsh for An Xian Ge to bear. She had been pampered since young and had never been publicly reprimanded. The brim of her eyes turned red. She did not see the fault in her words and continued to stare at An Chang Qing with a hatred that she was powerless to act on.
Being continuously smacked with An Chang Qing’s show of authority, the An family came to realize this: the once unfavored son had grown a pair of hardened wings. He was no longer the boy they could bully at will like in the past. Being protected by him, even the timid An Xian Yu had become someone untouchable.
As the hours went by, it was time for lunch but An Chang Qing did not budge, making the old Matriarch pull out a long face. She leaned on her crutch and gently reminded him, “Chang Qing has now grown up and so has your endurance.”
An Chang Qing looked down and responded nonchalantly, “Having lived here all these years, the things I had to hear and see every day, I was bound to learn something from them. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have been able to see your grandson sitting here today.”
The old Matriarch’s face turned unsightly but she did not say another word. After all, she was not blind so how could she not see the bullying An Chang Qing and his mother had to put up with through the years? It all came down to the fact that she had been prejudiced against An Chang Qing’s mother due to her lowly background that she had allowed their mistreatment to go on.
The maids brought in the dishes just in time to save her from the dreary conversation.
After eating, An Chang Qing requested a visit to his mother who was living in the backyard. At this point, An Zhi Ke had become increasingly agitated the longer he had looked at An Chang Qing. He told him that his mother was ill and let Madame Li accompany him to the backyard while he himself went to his study in the front yard.
Hearing that his mother was ill, An Chang Qing became worried. He did not need Madame Li’s company and went straight to the backyard.
The mother and son had been living in the Rainbow garden which was located in the farthest corner of the Xiang Manor. The road leading there twisted and turned. Because no one tended to it in the winter, it was overgrown with weeds and had become desolate. An Chang Qing had left this place for many years but he had never forgotten this path.
He eagerly strode forward but someone stopped him in his tracks.
“Third brother is looking impressive today.” The speaker was leaning on a tree and with his beady eyes, he looked at An Chang Qing from head to bottom. Like a poisonous snake, he slithered his tongue to lick his lips.
An Chang Qing froze in place and looked at him with disgust, “What are you doing here?”
“Waiting to see my good cousin of course. Have you turned your back on me now that you’re a Wangfei? You’re not even willing to call me brother?” An Changqi sneered and stood up straight, “Before, you wouldn’t have dared to behave as such.”
An Chang Qing straightened his back. He looked unfazed but his body was tense. He caught a glimpse of the big and muscular Zhao Shi standing behind and only then did he relax. This was the guard Xiao Zhige had left for him.
“Times are different now and people will change.”
An Changqi smiled, “Looks like you’ve done a good job serving the Northern Warlord. How was it? I heard that the Northern Warlord has peculiar interests, do you think you can stand it?”
The words he said were explicit and unpleasant. Seeing that An Chang Qing’s face, although pale, enhanced his eyes and brows to look more beautiful. He couldn’t help but take a step forward and reached out to touch it. But before his finger even reached his cheek, a long and cold blade was pointed at his neck. The tall-built Zhao Shi had moved in front of An Chang Qing and cast him a deathly look. He issued a cold warning, “On Wangye’s orders, those who disrespect Wangfei are to be killed without amnesty!”
“Oh, it’s only been a few days and you’ve already learned how to bark with your master’s power1?” An Changqi said with a distorted look and vileness in his eyes, “Third brother is quite skillful…”
“Zhao Shi, do it!” Refusing to hear another foul word from him, An Chang Qing gave Zhao Shi a direct order.
Having received the words, Zhao Shi exerted his arm’s strength and thrust the blade at An Changqi’s neck without hesitation.
An Changqi fell backward and after the pain had kicked in, he touched his neck and saw that his hand was filled with blood.
His eyes widened and his expression turned twisted as he glared at An Chang Qing. He grit his teeth and screamed, “Little whore! How dare you!”
Thinking of An Chang Qing, Xiao Zhige immediately left the barracks for the Xiang Manor right after his work there had concluded. Having heard the news, An Zhi Ke went out to greet him in person.
When Xiao Zhige said that he wanted to see An Chang Qing, An Zhi Ke was a little surprised. “Wangfei went to visit Lady Yu in the back garden.”
“I want to see him,” Xiao Zhige said, “Lead the way.”
Xiao Zhige’s commandeering attitude gave An Zhi Ke great annoyance but he dared not disobey and led Xiao Zhige to the backyard.
Halfway there, they could hear someone speaking in a sarcastic voice, “Looks like you’ve done a good job serving the Northern Warlord. How was it? I heard that the Northern Warlord has peculiar interests, do you think you can stand it?”
An Zhi Ke’s face had a drastic change. He wanted to rush over and stop that voice but was held back by Xiao Zhige.
Xiao Zhige’s complexion had turned ghastly pale and his eyes gleamed with a powerful killing intent.
But the person speaking was still oblivious to his looming demise and continued, “Oh, it’s only been a few days and you’ve already learned how to bark with your master’s power… Third brother is quite skillful…”
Xiao Zhige’s figure disappeared from An Zhi Ke’s side. And while he was pondering on how to smooth out this matter, a bitter cry pierced his ears.
The voice was very familiar. An Zhi Ke froze and realized that the owner of that voice seemed to be An Changqi, his nephew from the second branch. He ran forward and saw that Xiao Zhige was holding An Chang Qing with one hand while whispering something to him. On his other hand was his black and gold spear with blood stains on its tip. And in the withered grass not far from them was An Changqi clutching a broken hand, wailing and rolling in pain.
An Zhi Ke knew that this would not end well.
If only the person who had spoken ill of An Chang Qing was anyone else but the one in their family lineage, he could have easily dealt with him and let this matter be closed, but unfortunately, it just had to be An Changqi!
An Changqi was the only son of his second brother, An Zhi Zhou. Although An Zhi Zhou did not follow the path of an official, he had become a successful businessman. His wife was also the apple in the eyes of Xuchang Prefecture’s largest merchant. With the backing from his wife’s family, An Zhi Zhou’s businesses had all flourished in a large-scale. Although An Zhi Ke was the eldest son and an appointed minister, his salary alone could not support both the expenses of the massive Xiang Manor and the fees to maintain his social connections. All these years, it had been the second branch that had handled these expenditures.
This was why even though An Changqi was a first-rate lecher, An Zhi Ke was still quite fond of this nephew.
But now that An Changqi had expressed indecent thoughts towards his cousin while also in the presence of the Northern Warlord, An Zhi Ke couldn’t possibly smooth this out when he was not even sure he could help preserve An Changqi’s life.
Countless calculations swirled in his head as An Zhi Ke looked at his third son being covered by Xiao Zhige. He calmed himself and bowed to Xiao Zhige, “Wangye please have mercy. Chang Qing and Changqi have always been close since childhood. Their jokes could get a little vulgar but by no means was it meant to disrespect Wangye. Please forgive him this once. I will make sure to give him a good scolding and will not let this happen again!”
An Zhi Ke had a silver tongue, used to twisting the truths to his liking. Clearly it had been An Changqi who had harbored improper thoughts for An Chang Qing but in his mouth, it had become a mere joke between cousins.
He eyed An Chang Qing and deliberately slowed down his speech and added a hint of authority to his tone, “Chang Qing, you’re well aware of your cousin’s temperament. He had always been good to you when you were young. Although you both had a little misunderstanding and his words are unpleasant to hear, he is not a bad person. You won’t let your cousin be killed over a joke, right?”
An Chang Qing was trembling with anger. He turned his face from Xiao Zhige’s embrace and looked at An Zhi Ke with ominous eyes, “Father wants me to spare him?”
An Zhi Ke’s face twitched but he continued to persuade humbly, “You’ve always been special to Changqi.”
“You knew?” An Chang Qing had a sinister smile on his face. His eyes were filled with hatred and even his voice started trembling, “So you’ve always known!”
1 狗仗人势 is directly translated as a “dog acting on its master’s influence.” It means someone being haughty because of their powerful backer.