Edited and Proofread by KitKat
The Northern Warlord’s reputation was known to all who lived in Yejing, or rather, the whole of Da Ye Empire. Naturally, Lady Yu would also have heard of his infamous temper.
The Northern Warlord had made great accomplishments but did not receive any love. It was said that on the day he was born, the sky showed omens of great disasters, causing the Emperor to demand his death. It was thanks to his mother, Concubine Li, who begged for his life in exchange for her death that the Emperor had spared Xiao Zhige but since then, the mother and son had been cast aside. Losing the Emperor’s favor, they lived a difficult life and several years later, Concubine Li committed suicide due to the hardship.
After his mother’s death, Xiao Zhige’s situation deteriorated. No other concubines were willing to raise him and in the end, he was left under the care of the Empress. But as though his fate was meant to be bitter, he could not get along with the Empress and the Prince. It was also at this time that the rumor of him being disqualified for the throne began.
The rumors also said that because he knew he had been cast aside, the Northern Warlord had turned unruly ever since, killing his servants at will. In Yanzhou, the corpses of people who died at his hands piled as high as his mansion’s walls. Even the lanterns were made with human skin…
All this information, Lady Yu had heard from Lady Liu’s handmaid. She had been out of favor for many years but Lady Liu would still find ways to upset her.
Now that her only son had been forced to marry the infamous Northern Warlord, she had deliberately sent her personal maid to talk about him right outside her yard.
Lady Yu was not an illiterate and ignorant woman; she knew that rumors were not to be trusted. But even so, with An Chang Qing’s timid nature and the Northern Warlord’s notorious temper, she had never dared to hope that they could get along. The day An Chang Qing had been forced into the sedan, she did not even get to see her son one last time. The torment had aggravated her illness and only waiting for his homecoming could give her solace.
Seeing An Chang Qing leading a tall man over with a blushing face and void of any visible wounds, Lady Yu was partially surprised but at the same time slightly alarmed. She hurriedly stood up to salute Xiao Zhige and reprimanded An Chang Qing, “How could you bring Wangye here to see me? This is not customary.”
“Chang Qing’s mother is also my mother,” Xiao Zhige rushed to help her up. The allegedly ruthless warlord with lanterns made of human skin tried to smile kindly at her. Although his features were still fierce, it did not make one feel unapproachable, “We’re a family, there’s no need for these formalities.”
After being helped into the room to sit down, Lady Yu could then take a closer look at Xiao Zhige.
She found that the rumors were very much exaggerated, more than she could have ever imagined. Although, at first glance, Xiao Zhige always had a ferocious expression that repelled most people, the occasional glances he cast at An Chang Qing were kind and gentle. She was raised in a brothel and could easily judge a person’s gaze. After carefully observing Xiao Zhige for a while, her heart was mostly at ease.
In contrast, seeing her haggard appearance and frequent coughing, An Chang Qing was incredibly concerned, “Have you seen a physician? Did you take your medicine?”
He could still remember that in his last life when he had been married off, his mother’s illness had taken a turn for the worse, and not long after, she had passed away. When he had heard the news, it had already been too late for he hadn’t even gotten to see his mother one last time.
An Chang Qing lowered his eyes and said softly, “You’ve taken the same medicines all these years but never gotten better, why don’t I ask another physician to check for you?”
“It’s been the same old sickness, changing another physician would not change anything,” Lady Yu smiled, “As long as you and your sister are well, I’ll be fine. I still have to see your sister get married.”
“Mother!” An Xian Yu sitting next to her called out shyly. Only in front of her close ones did she express herself freely.
“The date has already been set? Isn’t it a little early?” An Chang Qing clenched his fingers looking at An Xian Yu. Although timid and weak, she was still delicate and lively like a peony about to bloom, very much unlike the last time had seen her in his previous life, withered and decadent.
“It’s already been fixed for the fifth day of March,” Lady Yu touched her daughter’s head lovingly, with some reluctance, she said, “Your sister will only be fifteen after the New Year, I wanted it to be later… But the Wu family was anxious, they said that there won’t be any more auspicious days for another half a year. Your father and the old Matriarch had also agreed.”
An Xiang Yu’s fiance was Wu Juan Shu, the third son of Marquis Wu and currently a third-grade officer. Although his position was not high, he was charming with a good reputation for being a gentleman. They seemed to be a good match. Furthermore, the Wu and An families were in the same circle, marrying within themselves was the perfect choice to prevent any secrets from slipping out. As a result, the two families had made this arrangement a long time ago, they were just waiting for An Xian Yu to come of age.
In his last life, An Chang Qing had also assumed that An Xian Yu had found a good husband but he regretted it when she had died less than two years later because of a miscarriage. At that time, An Chang Qing had once again been too late and could only see her one last time before she had passed away. According to the people from the Marquis’s Manor, an ignorant servant had tripped An Xian Yu over on an icy path in the winter, resulting in her miscarriage.
But An Chang Qing had never believed any of it. His sister, although six months pregnant, had been skinny and pale, he could clearly tell that her life in the manor had been difficult.
An Chang Qing had then begun to investigate and found that Wu Juan Shu had a concubine that he treasured above all else. Because she was of common birth, he hadn’t been allowed to make her the lady of the house. Shortly after marrying An Xian Yu, he had brought his sweetheart into the main house, pampering her to the sky and ignoring his wife. The concubine had eventually become obnoxious and had no respect towards An Xian Yu. Her miscarriage had also been orchestrated by her.
An Xian Yu had always been honest and esteemed, she had no knowledge on how to curry favor or compete for her husband’s attention. Living in the bitter environment, she had never once cried to her mother and brother. It was only after her death that An Chang Qing had known of her grievances.
But at that time, An Chang Qing had been powerless. He could only watch as Wu Juan Shu’s concubine replaced his sister as the main wife. It was after Xiao Zhige’s ascension to the throne that he had punished the Marquis’s family for disrespecting the royal family and had his whole family beheaded.
After hearing about their execution, An Chang Qing had been elated for a long time.
In his opinion, Marquis Wu and the An family were all birds of a feather– Respectable in appearance but under those masks, they were all poisonous snakes, none more decent than the other.
Back then, they had let An Xian Yu die and used a servant girl as a scapegoat, protecting a murderer. In this life, An Chang Qing would not let An Xian Yu enter this fire pit. Moreover, he still wanted to pay them back for what they had done to her.
After brainstorming, he came up with an idea. Seeing An Xian Yu blushing, he believed he had to put this plan into action immediately lest she developed feelings for a worthless scum.
An Chang Qing threaded carefully and said, “This marriage would have to wait. I heard…A bad rumor regarding Wu Juan Shu.”
Lady Yu was in doubt, “How’s that possible? I had asked Anfu to make some inquiries before. Wu Juan Shu has no concubines, he doesn’t go to the brothels and is always busy with his duties. And Marquis Wu’s family has always been void of scandals.”
“I was uncertain so I asked Wangye to check on them,” An Chang Qing looked at Xiao Zhige with guilty eyes. He stayed strong and kept to his story, “It turned out that Wu Juan Shu has been secretly keeping a lover. The both of them meet regularly and are extremely intimate. I’m afraid that Yu’er will be bullied after she marries.”
It wasn’t that he had wanted to use Xiao Zhige’s name but Wu Juan Shu was just too proficient at pretending and covering his tracks. If he did not see it with his own eyes, he would never believe that the honorable Marquis Manor was a place filled with such evil. And Wu Juan Shu, the seemingly upright scholar, was an incredibly prejudiced person who would unconditionally pamper his mistress and mistreat his wife.
If An Chang Qing had told this to his mother out of the blue, she would not believe him entirely but if it came from Xiao Zhige, then things would be different.
Sure enough, Lady Yu grimaced and said, “Is that so? But everything’s been decided, your father will not agree to annul this engagement.”
An Xian Yu had turned pale. She nodded in silence while twisting her handkerchief.
“I have a plan,” An Chang Qing assured An Xian Yu, “I will never let Yu’er marry into the Wu family.”
Lady Yu was about to say something but seeing his determined look, she only touched his head gently, “Nuo Nuo has grown up and can protect your sister now.”
An Chang Qing hugged her and said softly, “Mother, look after yourself. I won’t let anyone bully you and Yu’er again.”
Lady Yu patted him on the back and smiled. When they separated, both their eyes were slightly red. An Chang Qing still had much to say to his mother but annulling An Xian Yu’s engagement was more pressing. He had to put everything else aside first.
Before leaving, An Chang Qing had left Zhao Shi behind.
An Chang Qing saw Lady Yu’s puzzled look and decided to tell her a little about his meeting with An Changqi. Now that An Changqi had lost an arm and the possibility of having any descendants, An Zhi Zhou and his wife would never let this matter go. They dare not touch Xiao Zhige and An Chang Qing and so the only way to have their revenge was against the helpless Lady Yu and An Xian Yu.
With Zhao Shi around, their safety was guaranteed.
After bidding his mother farewell, An Chang Qing left for the front yard with Xiao Zhige. The two walked side by side in silence. Xiao Zhige was quiet as always while An Chang Qing kept glancing at him with uneasiness. After a long while, he stopped walking and finally voiced his concerns, “Aren’t you going to ask me?”
Xiao Zhige raised his brows and looked at him, “About what?”
“About investigating Wu Juan Shu, and also regarding Zhao Shi.”
An Chang Qing had never asked Xiao Zhige to check on Wu Juan Shu for him. Furthermore, as they had only reconciled last night, even if Xiao Zhige was willing to help, it would still be too late.
“I’ll assign a few more people for you to use. The secrets of the Wu Manor are darker than you think.” Xiao Zhige raised his hand to touch An Chang Qing’s head and coached, “Always strike where it truly hurts. Wu Juan Shu is backed by Marquis Wu, if the Marquis doesn’t fall, you cannot hope to destroy him.”
An Chang Qing looked at him in surprise.
Xiao Zhige took his hand and continued walking. The hand around his wrist was rough but powerful. Xiao Zhige continued, “As for Zhao Shi, I’ve already assigned him to you, you don’t have to seek my approval.”