Edited and Proofread by KitKat
An Chang Qing slept soundly all the way till dawn. When the winter sun pierced through the screen and landed on his face, he jolted up and the first words from his mouth were, “Is An Chang Qi dead?”
Xiao Zhige just happened to come back from his morning practice. His footsteps quietened as he entered the room, “He died in the middle of the night.”
An Chang Qing took in his answer and murmured his complaint, “Why didn’t you wake me up last night?”
“You were asleep. It wasn’t anything important,” Xiao Zhige responded.
By now, An Chang Qing was familiar with Xiao Zhige’s unstated words. He understood that Xiao Zhige must’ve thought that An Chang Qi’s death had been determined and did not see the need to wake him up.
Putting the matter behind, An Chang Qing got up and washed. After having Anfu assist him in changing, he asked, “Have they sent someone to deliver the news?”
Right as he asked, Steward Wang came in with a servant boy from the An Manor.
The servant had a piece of white linen over his waist. He bowed and relayed the news that An Chang Qing had been expecting.
An Chang Qing said that he would attend the funeral and sent the servant back.
The funeral was in seven days and An Chang Qing was not going to let his mother’s illness drag out that long. After the third day of An Chang Qi’s wake, he arranged everything before going to the An Manor with Tie Hu and Hu Shi Fei.
The visit to the An family this time was a steep contrast from the last time he was here. Maybe it was because of the chanting and mourning in the West courtyard that the whole mansion seemed to be covered in a dark cloud.
The servant boys and girls were all wearing a piece of white linen and had their eyes downcast. Even Madame Li was wearing plain clothes and looking haggard.
On his way to Rainbow Garden, An Chang Qing passed by the ominous West Courtyard. He glanced inside and saw several monks sitting cross-legged while chanting unintelligibly. Madame Sun had disheveled hair and a haggard-looking face. She was kneeling in prayer and when she lifted her head, her eyes met with An Chang Qing’s.
On the day of his homecoming, he had already locked horns with the second branch and hence, did not bother to put up a polite front. When their eyes met, An Chang Qing paused his step and nodded lightly.
But Madame Sun’s eyes widened. She got up abruptly and charged at him while screaming, “Whore! Give me back my son!”
An Chang Qing was unfazed. He stood in place as Madame Sun closed in. As she was just two steps away, she was held back at the neck by Tie Hu. She continued to struggle but Tie Hu did not relent. Even towards a lady, he did not hesitate when he kicked her at the back of her knee, forcing Madame Sun to kneel down. He exclaimed forcefully, “You’re supposed to show your respect before Wangfei!”
Madame Sun was still resisting. She glared at An Chang Qing with bloodshot eyes and shouted furiously, “Just you wait! Retribution will befall you!”
An Chang Qing looked down at her and laughed, “I didn’t kill him. Why would I get retribution?”
“If it wasn’t for you, my son would not have died!” His denial aggravated her anger. If she wasn’t held back by Tie Hu, she would’ve avenged her son with her own hands.
“I thought Wangye had made it clear the last time. Hadn’t I interceded, An Chang Qi would not have lived past the last two days,” An Chang Qing raised his brows, “If I wanted him dead, why would I risk going against Wangye just to plead for him?”
Madame Sun continued to stare at him while gasping weightily.
An Chang Qing rubbed the jade pendant on his waist and continued, “There are many people with broken hands and legs who are still alive. An Chang Qi’s death, shouldn’t you question the doctors instead? Besides, there’s a possibility that someone doesn’t want him to live. Whatever it is, his death gets me nothing.”
Madame raised her head and asked, “What are you trying to say?”
Madame Li, standing nearby, frowned and said, “The doctors said that Chang Qi died from blood loss due to the severe injuries.”
“The doctors’ words are not always true,” An Chang Qing glanced at her and smirked, “Didn’t the doctors say that Lady Yu’s illness can be remedied with supplements. She has been taking them all these years and I haven’t seen her get any better. On the contrary, her health is deteriorating…”
“This is why sometimes, the doctor’s words aren’t trustworthy,” An Chang Qing turned to look at Madame Sun, “Second Aunt, don’t you agree?”
Madame Sun’s tear-drenched eyes shifted back and forth between An Chang Qing and Madame Li. She staggered back and called out, “Someone, go get me Fei Cui!”
Madame Li’s heart jumped but she managed to speak calmly, “Wangfei’s speculation is too absurd.”
An Chang Qing replied with deliberation, “Absurd or not, let Doctor Hu here have a look and decide.”
Madame Li’s fingers trembled. She cast a quick glance at the maid beside her before adjusting her frame of mind and followed An Chang Qing to Rainbow Garden.
Rainbow Garden was quiet as ever. The only difference was that the unkempt front yard was now cleared of snow and weeds and warmth was exuding from inside the house.
The occupants inside heard the movements and quickly came to the door. An Xian Yu saw An Chang Qing in the front and joyously called out to her brother but she froze immediately after seeing Madame Li. She greeted in a small voice, “Mother.”
An Chang Qing gently patted her on the head and followed her in, “How is Mother Yu doing? Where is Zhao Shi?”
An Xian Yu replied, “Mother Yu is the same as always and Zhao Shi is preparing her medicine at the back.”
When she said that, An Xian Yu was a little embarrassed as that was originally her chore. There were no servants assigned to Rainbow Garden and so it had always been An Xian Yu who handled the housework. It wasn’t until An Chang Qing left Zhao Shi for them that things had gotten easier on the mother and daughter. The sarcastic banter had disappeared and even the monthly consignments that had regularly been embezzled were timely delivered in full.
The room was kept warm by the burning charcoal and Lady Yu’s cough had alleviated considerably, reducing her workload and allowing her more time for her studies.
An Chang Qing saw the joy in her eyes and smiled, “Where is Mother Yu?”
Just as he asked, a woman dressed in a thickly padded gown came from behind the partition. Seeing An Chang Qing, she instinctively called out ‘Nuo Nuo’ but stopped halfway the moment she noticed Madame Li’s presence. She quickly changed her form of address, “… Third Young Master, you’re here.”
“Lady Yu, I’ve invited Dr. Hu here to have a look at your illness, “An Chang Qing stepped forward to help her sit down. The mother and son looked at each other with an unspoken understanding.
Hearing his cue, Hu Shi Fei cleared his throat and stepped forward to salute. Lady Yu returned the greeting with a subtle nod before holding out her wrist for him to read her pulse.
Hu Shi Fei closed his eyes and studied her pulse while An Chang Qing and Madame Li took a seat and waited for the results.
Proceeding with the plan, Hu Shi Fei pretended to read Lady Yu’s pulse before opening his eyes and declared, “Lady Yu is inflicted with poison. Show me the dregs of her daily medicine.”
An Chang Qing’s expression turned grim, “Poisoned? What makes Dr. Hu say so?”
Madame Li was also in shock. She exclaimed, “That’s impossible!”
Her reaction was so overly incongruent that several pairs of eyes turned to focus on her.
“Mother Li, you’re not a doctor, how do you know it’s impossible?” An Chang Qing lowered his eyes and said callously, “Let’s listen to what Dr. Hu has to say.”
Madame Li also knew that her reaction was abnormal. She squeezed her handkerchief and quickly calmed her voice, “What I meant is, this is the An Manor, no one here would dare to poison anyone.”
“Whether there’s poison or not, we’ll know after testing it.” An Chang Qing ordered for Zhao Shi to bring out the medicine which he had just finished concocting.
A strong medicinal fragrance filled the room as Zhao Shi brought out the medicine. Hu Shi Fei took out a silver needle and dipped its tip into the medicine. Not long after, the needle turned black.
Hu Shi Fei presented the needle to An Chang Qing, “Wangfei, please look at this, it is indeed poison.”
An Chang Qing turned to look at Madame Li with a stern expression, “To think someone dared to use poison in the An Manor! I have to tell father and the old matriarch to get to the bottom of this.”
There was a twitch in Madame Li’s eyes but she maintained a dignified front and said, “Of course, we have to investigate this thoroughly.”
And so, they proceeded to the main courtyard to find An Zhi Ke and the old matriarch.
An Chang Qing slowed his steps to support Lady Yu. He looked at Madame Li’s stiff back from behind and commanded in a clearly audible voice, “Lady Yu’s medicine has always been brewed by Yu’er so it was most likely tampered with by the physician or the apothecary. Tie Hu, follow Anfu to De Ren Hall and bring back the doctor and apothecary worker.”
There was an indiscernible pause in Madame Li’s movement before she quickly moved ahead as naturally as she could.
Both An Zhi Ke and the old matriarch were invited to the main courtyard. The old matriarch had just lost a grandson and when her mood was down in the dumps, her presence was urgently requested. She looked at the group of people and frowned with annoyance, “What is it now?”
Madame Li was about to reply when An Chang Qing beat her to it.
“Today, I brought the Wang Manor’s Dr. Hu to have a look at Lady Yu’s illness. Unexpectedly, he told me she wasn’t sick but had been poisoned.” An Chang Qing then gestured for Zhao Shi to present the bowl of medicine and the blackened needle.
An Chang Qing continued, “This medicine has always been brewed by Yu’er. There are also no maids in Rainbow Garden so the problem could only stem from the physician or the apothecary. I’ve already ordered them to be brought here from De Ren Hall.”
The old matriarch’s momentum deteriorated. She frowned and said, “Could it all be a mistake? Who would poison Lady Yu?”
An Chang Qing looked at An Zhi Ke with cold eyes, “I also want to know… Who would want to poison Lady Yu?”
An Zhi Ke grimaced but stayed silent.
Before long, the doctor and apothecary worker of De Ren Tang who had treated Lady Yu were brought in. An Chang Qing swept a glance at Madame Li and as expected, by her side was an additional maid who had appeared out of nowhere.
He smirked subtly and turned to look at the two men with critical eyes, “Lady Yu’s daily medicine is poisonous, does this have anything to do with you?”
The apothecary worker was frozen with shock before he could react with loud outbursts. When the physician saw the scene, he quickly bowed low, only lifting his head to study An Chang Qing’s expression.
As he lowered his head again, he secretly looked at Madame Li with his peripheral vision.
Madame Li was sitting upright with an unfazed demeanor. The only movement came from her right hand as she nudged a string of Bodhi beads on her wrist.