Edited and Proofread by KitKat
The delicacy in his hand had a clear amber surface with crushed pine nuts in the center and emitted a sweetly burnt fragrance. An Chang Qing put one candy in his mouth and felt the mild sugary taste filled with the delectable scent of pine nuts invigorating his taste buds. He closed his eyes briefly and said, “It’s so sweet.”
Xiao Zhige was watching attentively. When he heard his compliments, his brows eased up and he smiled. An Chang Qing saw that he was looking his way and took the opportunity to place a piece to his mouth. Copying him, he said, “Your reward.”
Looking at the candy handed to him, Xiao Zhige hesitated before opening his mouth to eat it. The tasty candy was spreading in his mouth but he only found that the point where the tender finger had touched his tongue was enticingly sweet.
Even after the candy had melted, the sweetness remained.
An Chang Qing carefully stuffed the paper bag into his sachet and hung it at his waist. He then handed Xiao Zhige his sachet, “These are from mother and Yu’er, one for each of us.”
The sachet was embroidered with twin carps, one gold and one red, circling each other. At the bottom right, the word ‘Xiao’ was embroidered on it. Xiao Zhige glanced at the sachet filled with pine nut candies at An Chang Qing’s waist. It also had an ‘An’ word at a corner.
Quietly adjusting the straps, Xiao Zhige also tied his sachet to his waist.
Before dawn the next day, An Chang Qing ordered Anfu to find a beggar and wait for the Imperial Supervisor to leave his house to deliver the letter to him. According to the beggar, after receiving the letter, the person did not make any inquiries and went on to attend the court session.
On the way back from the streets, Anfu found that the story of the Wu uncle and nephew fighting over a widow had spread to every corner of Yejing.
It wasn’t just the general masses who were gossiping, even the storytellers had begun spinning tales with regards to this scandal. In no time, the reputable Wu family was shoved into the mud. How respectable they were before, after this event, they could not escape from being turned into a laughing stock.
After the court session today, Marquis’s Wu face was three points darker than the bottom of a pot. He did not speak to anyone and grumpily shook his sleeve and left. His adversaries in the court were scoffing while speaking to the Imperial Supervisor, “The mask that had been perfectly erected all these years finally has a crack.”
The Imperial Supervisor, a tall and thin middle-aged man, thought about the covert letter he had received this morning and his eyes lit up, “It’s not over yet, wait and see.”
In less than two days, the Marquis’s house had become the talk of the town.
In the beginning, it was just a spicy gossip about a dispute between an uncle and nephew over a woman. The people were lamenting for the Marquis’s good name which had been ruined by two imbeciles. However, from somewhere came murmurs that offset the discussion into another direction: “You can’t exactly blame everything on the two of them. As the saying goes, the fish rots from the head down. I’ve heard that Marquis Wu himself is not as upright as one would think. Did you know that long ago, he had another wife? People said that his first wife died of an illness but there were also rumors that he had beaten her to death!”
The listeners gasped and looked at one another in surprise. They then went on to spread the story, adding a bit of salt and pepper along the way.
By the time it reached the Marquis’s ears, the story was already bent out of shape. But upon hearing the part about him killing his first wife, the Marquis turned light-headed.
It had been so many years, even the evidence was destroyed, who was it that had dug this up?
Thinking of the Imperial Supervisor’s stoic face, Marquis Wu shuddered with fear. That year, after the funeral of his first wife, his in-laws broke off from him. At that time, his father-in-law was only an Imperial Historian, he was not a threat to him. But now…
The more he thought about it, the more restless he became. He stood up decisively and stomped towards the woodshed with a whip in hand.
Wu Liu and Wu Juan Shu had been locked up in the woodshed for several days now, starting from the time when they were escorted back to the Wu Manor by the officers. Wu Liu’s ear that had been bitten by the crazy woman was wrapped in a bandage.
The duo had been starved for a few days and hence, did not have the strength to argue with each other. They were leaning feebly against a pile of wood when the door opened with a bang.
Marquis Wu entered forcefully and roared, “Get up!”
Wu Liu and Wu Juan Shu were appalled. They sat up and knelt on the ground. Marquis Wu had a nasty look on his face. He raised the horsewhip in his hand and whipped them mercilessly, “The reputation I’ve built up over the last ten years has been ruined by you ingrates!”
The harsh lashes broke the skin and cut into the flesh. Wu Juan Shu’s body was shaking and his jaw was trembling to the point he couldn’t close his mouth. As his elder, Wu Liu was scared but unconvinced. He hid in a corner and howled, “Get mother here! I want to see her!”
Marquis Wu smiled with ridicule, “Not even mother can save you today!”
When he came out of the woodshed, Marquis Wu had mostly vented his anger. He regained his composure, straightened out his garment, and strode back to the study while his page walked silently behind.
“What happened to that widow?”
“My lord, she has lost the child and is currently at the doctor’s.”
“Find a chance to shut her up, don’t let anyone find out. And one more thing, go tell the chief that it’s about time he deals with those nonsensical storytellers on the street.”
“Wait…” Marquis Wu stopped walking and said, “Have someone prepare a generous gift for the An Manor and inform them that I will personally bring my sinner of a son to apologize to them in a few days.”
After the matters of the Wu family broke out, An Chang Qing had ordered the tailors at Tian Yi Fang to make new garments for Lady Yu and An Xian Yu. The infamous incident regarding the Wu uncle and nephew was widely discussed on the streets but An Chang Qing had given strict orders not to talk about it in the Wang Manor. As such, An Xian Yu was oblivious to whatever that had happened.
Seeing her lively and innocent look, An Chang Qing considered and said, “I will go to father today and ask him to annul the marriage.”
Lady asked with concern, “Will he agree?”
An Zhi Ke and Marquis Wu had a good relationship. Although the Marquis’s household was hit with the nasty scandal, its status remained unchanged. On the other hand, withdrawing from the marriage at this time would create unnecessary tension between the two families.
An Chang Qing had also thought of this but the things that had been happening until now were just appetizers. It would be great if An Zhi Ke complied but if he doesn’t… There were always ways to make him do so afterward.
He reassured her, “I have a way, just wait for my good news.”
Lady was still doubtful but An Xian Yu held her arm and comforted her, “Since brother has said so then he must’ve had something planned. Mother, you shouldn’t worry anymore.”
After leaving Qingwu court, An Chang Qing had someone prepare the carriage and he departed for the An Manor.
Ever since he took his mother and sister away, he had not returned to the An Manor even once. An Chang Qing got off the wagon and briefly looked at the plaque above before entering.
An Zhi Ke had gotten back from court and was looking through some documents in the study. He heard a servant report that Wangfei was visiting and his mood immediately dampened. Ever since he was married off to The Northern Warlord, every time he came back, disaster would follow.
In the Flower Hall, Madame Li was already hosting An Chang Qing.
An Chang Qing took a closer look and saw that she had a pale complexion. Even in heavy makeup, the fatigue in her eyes couldn’t be hidden.
It seemed… Madame Sun had been giving her quite a bit of trouble.
An Zhi Ke arrived after An Chang Qing’s teacup was half empty. He looked the same as always, upright and elegant, a self-disciplined gentleman.
“Why didn’t Wangfei inform me of your coming so I could better prepare?”
“Don’t bother,” An Chang Qing got straight to the point, “Did father hear of the rumors outside?”
The smile on An Zhi Ke’s face faded, “A little.”
“Since you’ve heard it, then you should know that Wu Juan Shu is not as he seems. His virtue is a cause for concern, this marriage is not a good match. We might as well take this opportunity to annul it,” An Chang Qing appealed, “What does father think?”
An Zhi Ke’s eyes turned cold as he began to assess An Chang Qing. After a while, he said, “Was this your intention from the start when you insisted on taking Yu’er away?”
He looked at An Chang Qing intensely with his sharp eyes that could pierce through someone’s heart.
“Now that’s just ridiculous,” An Chang Qing was not fazed, “This mistress was kept by Wu Juan Shu. Fighting him for her is also his uncle, Wu Liu, what have they got to do with me?”
An Zhi Ke’s expression turned heavy. He realized he could no longer read this unfavored son of his. An Chang Qing sat there with his back straight and brimming with confidence, a disparate image of the timid son in his memory.
Before, he would never have to doubt anything about An Chang Qing, but now, he found that he had to be constantly alert around him.
He looked at him with a small sense of approval and felt a little pity. His mind floated back to a long time ago. An Chang Qing was his youngest son and was born when his feelings for Lady Yu were the deepest. He was adorable from the moment he was born and An Zhi Ke had once held and doted on him. If it weren’t for what had happened later…
Shaking away the reminiscence of the past, An Zhi Ke gave a reply that aligned with An Chang Qing’s conjecture, “The Wu Manor had sent someone to deliver gifts as an apology. The An and Wu families have been friends for generations, it is unnecessary to wreck this amity over such a minor incident. Juan Shu was a little out of line but which man doesn’t have a fling once in a while? The Wu manor will deal with that woman, Yu’er can peacefully prepare for the marriage.”
Madame Li chimed in, “That’s right. Compared to the other noble children of Yejing, Juan Shu is the most upstanding. As long as he doesn’t bring anyone into the house, no one can usurp the wife’s position.”
The husband and wife continued to sing Wu Juan Shu’s praises as though he was such a good catch that one could never find a better groom if they passed him up.
An Chang Qing sneered and said to Madame Li, “Let me worry about my sister’s marriage. Mother, don’t you have better things to concern yourself with? I heard De Ren Hall has changed ownership?”
From the report that he received, after An Changqi’s funeral, Madame Sun had returned to her maternal home for a few days. After she got back, De Ren Hall’s ownership had changed hands. De Ren Hall was the Li family’s most profitable business. Now that it was taken by Madame Sun, one could guess the heartache that Madame Li had suffered.
On top of that, Madame Sun had given her a serious amount of stress in the house by refusing to provide them with any financial subsidiaries, causing the funds they had left to run dry. No wonder Madame Li had turned this haggard.
Being stabbed at the right nerve, Madame Li had a look of annoyance on her face. She forced a smile and said, “You father and son can talk this out. I have to tend to the kitchen.”
After Madame Li left, An Zhi Ke snorted, “You don’t have to bring this up anymore. The wedding date has been set and will not change.”
An Chang Qing was not roused after hearing his words. He got up and said, “I hope that you will not regret what you’ve said today.”
Looking at his back when he left, An Zhi Ke’s expression changed into that of abhorrence. This child was clearly born to be his bane. If he had had prior knowledge that this day would come, he should’ve just drowned him when he was young.
On the way back, passing by Yong Le Lane, the usually bustling street was a little quiet. Even the teahouses and restaurants were deserted. On the street were several officers marching about.
“What’s going on?” An Chang Qing lifted the sedan curtains and looked out.
Anfu was also curious. He stopped a passerby who was leaving in a hurry and asked, “What happened?”
The passerby was a little annoyed but when he saw the familiar Wang Manor carriage and thinking that Wangfei could be sitting inside, he delightfully answered, “I’m not sure either. This morning, the chief brought several officers to detain people in the teahouses and restaurants. All the storytellers were taken away. The big businesses dared not stay open and everyone left to go home.”
The storytellers? It must be related to the Wu Manor. Looks like the rumors couldn’t be stopped and he could only resort to such drastic measures.
An Chang Qing waved his hand to thank the man and let him leave. He then signaled the carriage to return to the Wang Manor.
Back at the manor, An Chang Qing quickly went to find Xiao Zhige. He pushed open the door and happened to see him speedily hide something under his desk. An Chang Qing stopped and asked suspiciously, “What is Wangye doing?”
Xiao Zhige made eye contact with him briefly before turning away and replied calmly, “Reading.”
After responding, Xiao Zhige saw that An Chang Qing was still eyeing him with doubt. He coughed lightly and tried to divert the topic, “How did it go at the An Manor?”
Even though he knew that Xiao Zhige was trying to avoid the subject, An Chang Qing did not press on as there was a more pressing matter to discuss, “Nothing unexpected. He refused to annul the marriage.”
Xiao Zhige said, “Wait a few days, even without your urging, he will try to cut all ties with the Wu family as soon as possible.”
“But…” An Chang Qing was still doubtful, “There is still no movement from the Imperial Supervisor. When I came back just now, the officers had taken the storytellers away. If this goes on, in two days, no one will dare to speak ill of the Marquis anymore. Will the Imperial Supervisor tread this muddy water?”
“The Marquis was simply digging his own grave.” Xiao Zhige shook his head and said to An Chang Qing, “You’re too impatient. When two armies are at an impasse, what sets them apart is patience.”
The first to panic and make a foolish move would have lost half the battle.