TTBE 20

Chapter 20

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

The night had An Chang Qing turning and tossing and by the time he woke up the next day, sunlight had slipped into the room through the windows. It had snowed the night before and outside was a vast expanse of white, causing the sun rays to be particularly glaring to the eyes.

An Chang Qing opened his eyes in a daze and yawned. Anfu who was waiting outside heard the noise and entered to inquire if he wanted to wake up.

“What time is it?” An Chang Qing saw the daylight and asked.

“It’s a little past noon.” 

“It’s that late?” An Chang Qing was surprised as he raised his neck and looked out, “Why didn’t you wake me?”

“Wangye had ordered when he left.” Anfu blinked and replied, “He said that Master is tired from last night and to let you sleep a little longer.”

An Chang Qing: “…”

He looked at Anfu and said, “Fetch some water, I want to take a bath.”

Anfu let out a giggle and left to make the preparations.

An Chang Qing opened the blanket to get out of bed and found that the pain in his legs had disappeared. He lifted his pants to take a look and found that the bruises had turned into a more terrifying shade. Last night, Xiao Zhige had rubbed the bruises with medicinal wine for a long time, causing it to spread and dispel the swelling. Only by pressing hard against the bruise would the pain emerge.

As he was looking, Anfu came back with the water. Seeing his injury, Anfu was like a nosy goose being grabbed by the neck, he gasped and said, “M, m, m, Master… How did you get injured this badly…”

After asking, a sudden realization dawned and he knocked his head, feeling silly for blurting out the question.

How else did the Master get those bruises, of course it’s from last night…

Looking at An Chang Qing with heartache and anxiety, he asked cautiously, “Would you like to call for a doctor?”

Wangye must’ve been too rough last night. He had thought that those were just baseless rumors but it seemed there was some truth to it. His master had very delicate skin, how could he bear to toss him around this much?

Lady Yu would have a heartache should she find out about this.

“…” An Chang Qing saw his face and immediately knew what he was thinking. “Stop thinking nonsense! This is nothing and you’re not allowed to tell mother.”

Anfu reluctantly responded with an ‘oh’ and began assisting him with washing up.

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After his bath, Steward Wang came to give a report regarding the two things that An Chang Qing requested.

One was to gather the accounts of all the shops and properties under Xiao Zhige, the other was the completion of the renovation for the house under Mt. Qin Yun and several maids had also been sent there.

“Move the account books to Wangye’s study. Just place them in the empty side room. Have the maids trained then send them to Qingwu Courtyard.”

Qingwu Courtyard was where Lady Yu and An Xianyu currently resided.

Steward Wang quickly said yes.

An Chang Qing asked, “How are Zhou He Lan and his mother?”

Steward Wang replied, “Dr. Hu had prescribed some medication for Lady Zhou. She’s taking it now and her complexion has improved considerably. Mr. Zhou came to look for you twice but you weren’t in. He made a request to this servant but thinking that he is your guest, I dare not arrange it rashly.”

After he brought them back from Mt. Qin Yun, An Chang Qing let the mother and son live in the guest courtyard and also requested Hu Shifei’s help with their treatment. But after that, he was busy with the trip to the Palace and managed to visit them only once and had left Steward Wang to take care of their hospitality.

An Chang Qing contemplated and said, “I’ll go take a look.”

An Chang Qing went to the courtyard and saw an unexpected scene.

“Mother? Yu’er? Why are you here?”

When An Chang Qing entered the yard, he saw Lady Yu and An Xianyu sitting together with Lady Zhou embroidering. Lady Zhou’s movements were a little clumsy.

The three stood up to welcome him. Lady Yu said, “We were bored so we came to have a sit. What are you doing here?”

“I came to look for He Lan.” An Chang Qing looked at Lady Zhou, “Aunty, how are you feeling?”

Lady Zhou frantically waved her hand and spoke in unfluent Chinese, “I’m called Mu La. Young Master can just call me by my name.”

The Xi Wei aborigines were nomadic. They had no surnames, only first names.

An Chang Qing smiled and shook his head. Although he had helped them and also wanted to reel in Zhou He Lan, he never intended for them to work as servants for the Wang Manor. Zhou He Lan was by no means a man of mediocre talents, it’d be best if he could be his right-hand man. And if this position was too shabby for Zhou He Lan in the future, he could still be of assistance to Xiao Zhige, this way, he could keep the rich water from flowing into an outsider’s field1.

This was why he wanted to treat the mother and son well from the start. 

Lady Zhou saw that he was unwilling and did not force him, “He Lan is reading in the back. I’ll go get him.”

“Let me go to him.” An Chang Qing did not want to disturb them and went to find Zhou He Lan by himself.

Zhou He Lan was indeed reading and only noticed An Chang Qing’s arrival when he had reached the door. He quickly put down the book and went to greet him.

“You don’t have to greet me as such in the future.” An Chang Qing said, “Steward Wang said that you came to look for me?”

Zhou He Lan straightened up and said, “Yes. Young Master had invited a doctor for my mother and even gave us a place to stay. He Lan feels guilty for staying idle all day.”

An Chang Qing smiled and said, “I now have something for you to do.”

Zhou He Lan was filled with enthusiasm, “I’m at your service!”

An Chang Qing asked, “Do you know anything about bookkeeping?”

Zhou He Lan nodded, “Yes!”

“That’s great.” An Chang Qing had assumed that he wouldn’t know and planned to have an accountant show him the ropes. Now that he said he knew, it would be a lot faster. “Come to the main courtyard tomorrow and work out the account books with me.”

After they finished the discussion, An Chang Qing and Zhou He Lan went out together. In the courtyard, they saw Lady Yu showing Lady Zhou some embroidery tactics. Although Lady Zhou still had a pale complexion, she was in good spirits, smiling as she followed Lady Yu’s instructions. An Xianyu sat next to them and occasionally chimed in. The scene was of great harmony.

Zhou He Lan stopped and looked at them for quite a while. He said softly to An Chang Qing, “I have not seen my mother this happy in a long time.”

After he turned ten, his father suddenly disappeared, forcing his mother to take him to Da Ye in search of him. Since then, he had not seen his mother’s smiling face. Having searched for him these many years to no avail, she probably knew that there was little hope and began to turn seriously ill. Not wanting to burden him, she was prepared to die. 

Although An Chang Qing did not know what he had been through, he could somewhat empathize with his feelings. He patted him on the shoulders and said, “Things’ll get better in the future.”

Zhou He Lan smiled and stepped forward, calling out his mother.

An Chang Qing stayed for a while before accompanying Lady Yu back to Qing Wu Courtyard. 

There, An Xianyu left to unbind the embroidery frame. Lady Yu then told the maids to leave and dragged An Chang Qing to one side. She asked in a whisper, “Are you and Wangye… alright?”

An Chang Qing did not grasp the underlying meaning and replied naturally, “Yes, what’s there to worry about?”

Lady Yu patted him and said with concern, “Mother is asking you about that aspect…”

It’s her son’s privacy, she shouldn’t be nosy but there was a worry in her heart and she would not be relieved not knowing.

An Chang Qing’s skin was thin and he blushed immediately. He was too embarrassed to tell her that they had not done it yet and grumbled, “Mother, why are you asking this all of sudden?”

Lady Yu was anxious, “When you’re… together, is there anything unusual?”

“Unusual?” An Chang Qing was stumped, “How can there be anything unusual?”

Judging by his reaction, he was indeed confused. Only then was she reassured, “Nothing… I heard the rumors from outside and was worried that you’re hiding your grievances from me.”

“The rumors are all made up.” An Chang Qing was unhappy every time he heard those rumors, “Please don’t believe whatever they spread outside. Wangye is a good person and he treats me very well.”

Lady Yu smiled and said, “Right, I won’t pay attention to them anymore.”

The two spoke until An Xianyu came in. As the topic was not suitable for girls, they talked about something else.

An Chang Qing, “There’s something that I forgot to mention. I’ve sent several maids for mother and Yu’er. Pick a few to serve by your side and the rest to do housework. After the New Year, I will send you both to live in the house under Mt. Qing Yun.”

“After the New Year?” Lady Yu hesitated, “We’ve stayed here long enough that people are beginning to talk, why not move there earlier?”

An Chang Qing had considered this but he couldn’t bear to leave his mother and sister alone in the house for the New Year. After talking over with Xiao Zhige, they decided to send them there only after the New Year.

“Wangye does not object, who would dare say otherwise?” An Chang Qing said lovingly, “Please don’t worry, everything’ll be fine.”

“And Yu’er should be bored being idle all day. I’ll find a female teacher for you to learn and she’ll continue to teach when you leave.”

The quiet An Xianyu’s face lit up and she enthusiastically agreed.

Lady Yu saw her daughter’s expression and teased, “Your sister is happy as long as she can study. What happens when she gets married in the future?”

An Xianyu blushed and kept her head down.

An Chang Qing remembered the news from Anfu and said, “Now that you mentioned marriage… There is news regarding the Wu Manor.”

The cheerful atmosphere immediately turned stagnant. Lady Yu frowned and said, “What did you find out?”

An Xianyu also looked at him solemnly.

“I’ll know by tomorrow.” An Chang Qing shook his head, “Don’t worry, this marriage will not happen. But Yu’er would have to suffer being slandered for a few days.”

Lady Yu sighed and patted An Xianyu’s head with heartache. But as it turned out, An Xianyu deviated from her timid nature and said firmly, “I’m not afraid of being talked about…I, I don’t want to marry him.”

 Ever since An Chang Qing revealed that Wu Juan Shu might be keeping a mistress outside, An Xianyu’s girlish fantasy about marriage had shattered. Although she had always been submissive and quiet, the support from her brother and mother had given her courage. This was the first time she had dared to speak her mind.

She refused to get married.

An Chang Qing looked at her and thought for a long time. He then rubbed her head and said, “Alright, if you don’t wish to marry, then you don’t have to. Anyhow, I will not let you be wronged again.”


1↪肥水不流外人田(Féishuǐ bù liú wàirén tián) means the good water shouldn’t flow into another’s field to fertilize it, something like keeping the goodies for oneself.

TTBE 19

Chapter 19

Edited and proofread by KitKat

An Chang Qing was not appeased. The man was such a sawed-mouth gourd, it takes a beating just to get a word out of him. If he did not take the initiative, the man would’ve stayed quiet for as long as he could. Had he been a little more eloquent, they wouldn’t have ended up as they did in their previous lives.

Why is there such a silly person in this world who simply does not gloat about all the things that he has done?

An Chang Qing sighed in his heart, thinking that he couldn’t let this go on. He looked at Xiao Zhige with an expression filled with grievances and said in a pitiful tone, “Wangye, can you be frank with me? If Chang Qing was not good enough, you can tell me.”

“I was being frank…” Xiao Zhige never thought that his reticence could upset the person beside him. His Wangfei was facing away from him, half of his face was hidden from view while the other half showed drooping eyelashes like a listless butterfly.

“You did great. The Empress and Empress Dowager both believed it.”

“What about you?” An Chang Qing suddenly turned to look at him, there was a certain sparkle in his black pupils, “Did you believe it?”

Xiao Zhige’s heart softened looking into his eyes. He reached out and placed a loose strand of hair over his ear, “I believe you.”

No matter if it was only to butter him up, as long as it was An Chang Qing’s words, he would believe them.

An Chang Qing’s eyes shone brighter. He rubbed his hand against his palm and said enthusiastically, “Then whatever Wangye had said… I’ll take it for real.”

“The part about you not taking in concubines and having children with another woman.”

“En.”

Xiao Zhige was not a man who would make empty promises. Whatever he had said, he would keep true to his words.

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An Chang Qing felt a rush of happiness like never before. His heart was beating wildly and his body was heating up. He had to bite on his inner cheek to hide the surging joy but even so, his eyes were still shining bright, more beautiful than any star Xiao Zhige had ever seen.

“In this life, it’ll be just the two of us.” An Chang Qing couldn’t help but embrace Xiao Zhige. He rubbed his cheek against his neck before burying his face into it due to embarrassment. He then whispered a promise into Xiao Zhige’s ear, “I will always be with you.”

He will not watch him tread alone on the cold path towards the throne. This time, he’ll accompany him.

Whether it was a glorious life that would leave their names etched in history or a cursed one with a tragic end, as long as Xiao Zhige didn’t let go, he would walk that path with him.

Xiao Zhige was left in a trance. In his mind, a young voice resounded, it had said: “I will keep you company in the future.”

Letting out a soft smile, Xiao Zhige replied as he had many years ago, “Ok.”

But at the same time, the several reports that he had gotten from the spy left in the An manor also came flooding in:

“The third young master is very close to Young Master Li of the in-law family…”

“Young Master Li sent a poem to the third young master…”

“Young Master Li sent a painting to the third young master…”

“Young Master Li is about to return to his hometown to be engaged. Before he left, he gave the third young master a jade pendant. The third young master accepted it and seemed quite upset…”

Xiao Zhige’s eyes fixated on the double-fish jade pendant on An Chang Qing’s waist that had never left his side. His mood sank but he couldn’t help tightening his embrace. Whoever it was that resided in his heart, at least for now, An Chang Qing was his.

He did not long for much, only this illusory affection was something he refused to let go of. From his childhood till now, he was like a moth involuntarily drawn to the fire, unable to take his eyes away.

Now that he was in his arms, even saying that he would accompany him for life, even if he knew it was mere flattery, even if he knew that it would soon be forgotten, he still wouldn’t let go.

…..

By the time they reached the Wang Manor, the sky had turned dark.

An Chang Qing unwillingly pulled his hand from Xiao Zhige’s warm palm to put on the heated fur coat. Even so, the drop in temperature at night still made him shiver the moment he exited the carriage. On the other hand, Xiao Zhige was wearing that thin piece of clothing and stood in the wind like it was nothing.

Eyeing him with jealousy, An Chang Qing devilishly stuck his ice-cold hands to Xiao Zhige’s neck. As expected, Xiao Zhige stiffened momentarily, after which, he pulled his hands down and warmed them thoroughly in his palms, “Behave, it’s cold out here.”

An Chang Qing pouted and allowed himself to be led into the house.

The group of servants held their heads low, whispering to themselves how Wangfei was the only one around who dared to tease Wangye like so.

An Chang Qing did not give much thought to this. Since they had promised to spend the rest of their lives together, he was not going to be a stranger. Having experienced Xiao Zhige’s permissiveness the last few days, An Chang Qing’s behavior was becoming all the more unmindful. To him, Xiao Zhige was simply a wooden post who rarely spoke, there was nothing to be scared of.

Because they had not had dinner, the pair called for several small dishes to be delivered to their room. 

Loathing that his clothes were drenched with sweat from all the crying and kneeling earlier, An Chang Qing changed into a lighter garment and went to take a bath.

Entering the bathroom and taking off his clothes, An Chang Qing realized that his thighs and knees were badly bruised. The bruises on the knees were from kneeling and those on the thighs were from him pinching himself to induce tears.

It did not hurt when he was ignoring it before but now that he had seen the dark patches, the pain had begun to emerge. A tiny movement could easily cause him to ache.

An Chang Qing took a deep breath and slowly eased himself into the bathtub, deciding to clean up before applying the medicine.

He spent almost half an hour soaking in the tub and by the time he was ready to stand up, he found that it was too painful to exert any amount of strength into his legs. He tried to use his arms to prop himself out but accidentally hit his knee against the tub wall and sank back down.

After splashing in the water for some time, An Chang Qing was almost in tears due to the pain. His face turned red and finally, he had no choice but to call for Xiao Zhige.

Xiao Zhige was just in the bedroom and after hearing him call, he came in with a slight hesitation in his footsteps.

There was a brazier burning in the bathroom, creating a layer of vapor. An Chang Qing was sitting inside a tall tub with his hair behind him, only exposing his slender and beautiful neck. Because of the steam, his skin had turned bright pink.

Xiao Zhige had to pull his eyes away and approached with unnatural footsteps. He asked in a slightly strained voice, “What’s wrong?”

“My legs hurt and I can’t get up.” An Chang Qing was also embarrassed. He looked down and said in a soft voice, “Can you carry me out…”

Xiao Zhige instantly felt the string called ‘reason’ tighten in his head as his eyes gazed into the water uncontrollably. He stepped back and cleared his throat, “Wait.”

He hurried to get a clean cloth and wiped An Chang Qing’s hair till it was partially dry then averted his eyes and carefully carried him out of the tub. He then wrapped An Chang Qing in a large towel and brought him back into the bedroom.

After tucking him into the blanket, Xiao Zhige left as though fleeing from a battle.

He stood and took in the cold wind for a few moments before ordering Anfu to bring in another brazier. When he returned, An Chang Qing was still wrapped up under the blanket. He stretched out his neck and looked at him, “Where did Wangye go?”

“To get Anfu to bring in another heater.” Xiao Zhige’s Adam’s apple rolled as he answered. He then took a new towel and continued to wipe An Chang Qing’s hair.

Just as he was almost done, Anfu was at the door with the brazier. Burning in it was high-grade silver charcoal without soot or sparks. Xiao Zhige placed the brazier beside the bed and let it dry An Chang Qing’s hair while he lifted the blanket, “Where is it that’s injured?”

An Chang Qing stretched out his legs and pointed with a pout, “My knees and thighs, they’re all green.”

The bruises now looked a lot more frightening than before. They had turned purplish and slightly swollen. Xiao Zhige only touched it gently and An Chang Qing was already contorting in pain.

Xiao Zhige creased his brows and dispersed the previous mesmerizing thoughts, all that remained were guilt and pity. He softened his touch and said gently, “Bruises have to be rubbed for them to heal. I’m going to get the medicinal wine.”

The thought itself already gave An Chang Qing the jitters. These types of injuries, An Chang Qing was quite familiar with. He was born with sensitive skin and delicate flesh. Back when he was often bullied by his relatives, causing his body to be littered with bruises, he could only endure silently for fear of worrying his mother. 

There were more serious injuries than this which he had braved through but now it seemed he was no longer able to withstand it.

When Xiao Zhige returned with the medicinal wine, An Chang Qing pulled back his legs and curled up into the blanket. He said in a muffled voice, “There’s no need to rub, it’ll be fine in a few days.”

“It’ll get worse if you don’t rub.” Xiao Zhige frowned with disapproval but feeling heartache for his injuries, he dared not speak harshly and could only coax him, “I’ll be very gentle, it won’t hurt.”

An Chang Qing was skeptical but he did not want his injuries to worsen so he stretched out his legs again and said pitifully, “Then do it gently, I’m afraid of pain.”

Xiao Zhige responded with an ‘en’ and poured the medicinal wine into his palm before rubbing it on his knee.

He only used one-tenth of his strength but An Chang Qing was already complaining in a sobbing tone, “You lied…”

Xiao Zhige had to harden his heart to keep his hand from stopping. Seeing his eyes turning red while biting his lips to endure, Xiao Zhige began blowing unskillfully at his wound and tried to coax him clumsily, “Hubby will blow and your pain will fly away…”

An Chang Qing who was on the verge of tears suddenly burst into laughter. He nudged his other foot on Xiao Zhige’s shoulder and muttered, “I’m not a three-year old. My mother only said that to me when I was young.”

“Is that so?” Xiao Zhige was briefly dazed. He said softly to himself, “So it was learned from his mother…”

“What?” An Chang Qing could not hear what he said and asked.

“Nothing.” Xiao Zhige shook his head and his frown disappeared. He continued to blow gently and said, “Bear with it a little longer.”

With the distraction, An Chang Qing’s pain was alleviated. He rested his chin on the thick blanket as he watched Xiao Zhige attentively rubbing the bruises with utmost care.

The man was kneeling by the bed and had on a serious expression; his downcast eyelashes covered up his sharp eyes. Under the dim candlelight, his rigid features were blurred, bringing out a gentler side to him.

The more he looked, the more An Chang Qing felt satisfied and happy. Such a good person was going to be his. 

Why did he think that he was terrifying before?

How blinded was he?!

Clearly this person is incredibly caring..

TTBE 18

Chapter 18

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

After An Chang Qing had said his piece, the hall was in dead silence. The palace attendants all held their breaths and dared not look up.

“Nonsense!” The Empress Dowager clutched the bodhi beads and pounded on the table with adequate strength to make a faint thud.

The Empress also showed a worried expression, almost like a mother who was truly concerned about her son. She looked at An Chang Qing and said, “Your marriage was fairly recent, it’s natural for you to reject good-intentioned meddling. I understand that but Chang Qing, you’re a man after all and it’s detrimental that Zhige continues his heritage. If you both do not like it, I’ll pick someone for you and after she has given birth, you can always send her away. It won’t cause any hindrance to your relationship.”

“… What do you two think?”

Although her words were aimed at the pair, the Empress’s eyes were solely focused on An Chang Qing.

An Chang Qing returned her gaze with an earnest look. The hand that was hidden under his sleeve harshly pinched his thigh until his eyes were bright red with tears forming. Even so, he kept his gaze straight and began to sob, “It’s not like that, Wangye promised me…”

An Chang Qing turned and looked at Xiao Zhige with tears in his eyes, “Wangye had promised to treat me well and in this life, there’ll only be the two of us…”

“Was that a lie? Does Wangye also want to have a concubine who can bear your child?”

Kneeling on the ground with a straight back, An Chang Qing looked like a small tree shivering in the cold winter while refusing to give up. With a desperate look in his eyes, no one would doubt the feelings of this lovelorn young man.

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The Empress decided against confronting An Chang Qing and changed her focus to Xiao Zhige instead.

Xiao Zhige’s eyes were frozen as he clenched his hands, seemingly stunned by the turn of events. He stood up and went over to help An Chang Qing up and comforted him, “I did not lie to you.”

“I will not take in a concubine… Nor will I have children… With other women.”

Xiao Zhige’s voice was strong and adamant; it resonated throughout the hall. The Empress observed him for a while before exchanging glances with the Empress Dowager. She then masked her emotions with a look of slight dissatisfaction and said, “Zhige, why are you this disobedient? Although I did not give birth to you, you’re still raised by me. If you do not have an heir, how could I face your late mother?”

Xiao Zhige’s eyes flickered at the mention of his mother. He lowered his eyes and collected his emotions, “I know my wrong but I really have no interest in women.”

“You… hai…” Seeing them like a pair of desolate mandarin ducks, the Empress sighed, “Alright. You’re all grown up, I can’t control you anymore.”

The Empress Dowager raised her gaze and continued to turn the bodhi beads, “It’s fine that you don’t like women but an heir is a must. If you can’t have children then adopt one to keep any more rumors from spreading. Don’t you think that there’s already enough gossip circulating?”

There was no change in Xiao Zhige’s expression. He simply knelt beside An Chang Qing and said, “Thank you for your grace. In a few years, if we are to find a suitable child, we will adopt him.”

“That’s good. Let the Empress assist you with looking out for any outstanding children,” the Empress Dowager waved her hand, “I’ll take my leave now, you both can go to the Empress’s place.”

“Yes.” 

…..

After leaving Kun Yi Palace, An Chang Qing heaved a long sigh. Seeing that the Empress was walking way ahead of them, he secretly winked at Xiao Zhige. Having just cried, An Chang Qing’s eyes were slightly tainted with a red hue, making his current expression both pitiful and mischievous. Xiao Zhige was rather helpless remembering the scene of his crying while questioning him.

If he was not certain that he clearly had never said such words, he would probably think of himself as a heartless scum.

What a little liar.

The two managed to exchange a few glances before they reached Chaofeng Palace led by the Empress.

They had lunch and spent some time with her. After hearing several perfunctory motherly pieces of advice, the pair could finally leave Chaofeng palace.

An Chang Qing was bored after having to sit for too long and hence, they decided to stroll back to the palace gate instead of riding the sedan.

The snow that had fallen in the early morning was nowhere to be seen on the blue stone floor path. The only signs of snow were left on the tall branches and high roofs. An Chang Qing stretched out his neck and looked back but he could only see a range of white roofs. 

He couldn’t tell which was Qiwu Palace, the place where he had resided in his previous life.

After Xiao Zhige had ascended the throne, regardless of the persistent opposition from the courtiers, he still insisted on making An Chang Qing his Hou [TN: I know I used ‘Empress’ in the title but it still irks me a little to call him Empress so I’ll be using the Chinese pinyin for it instead.] But An Chang Qing was not one bit happy, he only felt unrest. He simply wanted to hide away from Xiao Zhige and the courtiers’ attention, allowing him to live his days in peace. That was why when Xiao Zhige had pointed to the entire royal palace and let him pick his own palace, he did not choose to live in the Empress’s Chaofeng Palace but instead picked the remote Qiwu Palace.

And peculiarly, Xiao Zhige was not upset by it. In fact, he seemed vaguely happy. Since then, An Chang Qing had lived in Qiwu Palace for a long time until his death.

Unfortunately, Chaofeng Palace and Qiwu Palace were too far apart. An Chang Qing tried to seek it out but to no avail. In the end, he could only sigh and casually asked Xiao Zhige, “In which Palace did Wangye use to live in?”

Xiao Zhige did not expect this question from An Chang Qing. After a brief silence, he pointed to an area to the left and said, “I used to live there. When mother was still alive, we had lived together in Qiwu Palace.”

After his mother’s death, Xiao Zhige continued to live in Qiwu Palace all alone until he was brought to Chaofeng Palace to be placed under the Empress’s heed.

“Qiwu Palace?” An Chang Qing looked at him in shock.

Xiao Zhige faced him and asked, “What is it?”

An Chang Qing recovered and shook his head. His eyes followed Xiao Zhige’s finger and landed on a familiar gable. The building was a long distance away and its name plaque could not be seen but An Chang Qing could clearly make out the words from his memory.

No wonder… No wonder Xiao Zhige was not angry at all when he chose to live in Qiwu Palace.

So that was the place he and his mother had lived together.

An Chang Qing felt a tinge of remorse. He had overlooked too many things and never did he once try to consider this person next to him.

Xiao Zhige did not know what he was thinking about but he could sense that An Chang Qing was in a low mood. He hesitated momentarily before reaching out to hold his hand, “Let’s go, it’s getting dark.”

An Chang Qing felt the warm grasp which slowly dissipated the coldness of his hand. He was about to say something when a crisp voice was heard as it approached them, “It seems the rumors are true, Second Brother’s relationship with Wangfei is indeed harmonious. How envious!”

At the source of the voice was a handsome young man standing on the snow. He donned a four-clawed dragon robe and behind him was a group of eunuchs and maids. His eyes stayed on An Chang Qing for a moment before smilingly saying, “I’m not bothering you two, am I?”

Xiao Zhige nodded lightly, “Imperial Brother.”

An Chang Qing followed suit and saluted, “Imperial Brother.”

The Crown Prince Xiao Qi An was an articulate person, cheerfully conversing even without an answer. And as he was familiar with Xiao Zhige’s enigmatic personality, he could only engage An Chang Qing in conversation. 

An Chang Qing did not know much about the Crown Prince except that he was deposed by Emperor An Qing after a drunken immoral conduct. Although the incident was not exposed to the public, it was self-evident that his friendliness was just a facade.

Raising his guard, An Chang Qing refrained himself from speaking to him. He pretended to be timid and shrunk back with his head down, only responding with the occasional nods.

After the Crown Prince was bored with this seemingly monologous conversation, he announced that he was going to visit the Empress and excused himself.

The group parted ways with Xiao Zhige and An Chang Qing heading for the palace gate while the Crown Prince proceeded to Chaofeng palace.

As their distance increased, Xiao Qi An looked back at the dimming silhouettes of Xiao Zhige and An Chang Qing. Retracting his focus, Xiao Qi An blurted, “Say, is he just acting, or has he really taken a fancy?”

The eunuch by his side thought and said, “I’m afraid it’s just a show. I heard that on their wedding night, Wangye had slept in the study…”

Xiao Qi An smiled, “Haven’t you heard of the rumors outside the Palace? My ruthless second brother actually went riding in the street with his Wangfei. Now their relationship has been cooked into various versions and spread across the city, which one of it doesn’t depict how much they love each other…”

The eunuch was confused, not knowing what to think, “In that case… does this mean that the Northern Warlord really likes this unfavored son?”

Xiao Qi An withdrew his smile and looked at him emotionlessly, “Have you ever seen my second brother behave like that? There was never any tale of them having any prior interactions, how can love sprout within a few short days?”

The eunuch was in a cold sweat, not knowing how else to respond.

Lucky for him, Xiao Qi An was not expecting an answer. He placed one hand behind his back and strode slowly over the stone pavement, speaking softly in a bone-chilling voice, “But with that appearance, it’s not surprising that second brother has fallen for him… If it were me… I won’t be able to leave him alone as well…”

The eunuch exclaimed, “Your Highness!”

Xiao Qi An glared at him in warning, “I’m aware of the rules, you don’t have to report this to the Empress.”

The eunuch wiped his sweat-filled forehead and replied, “Yes.” 

After exiting the palace gate, An Chang Qing and Xiao Zhige returned home in a carriage.

There was adequate heat in the carriage so An Chang Qing took off his fur coat only to feel chilly after a while. His eyes looked around and landed on Xiao Zhige. He naturally moved in and glued his body to Xiao Zhige’s, stuffing his hand into his palm at the same time saying, “It’s cold.”

Xiao Zhige heard his words and wrapped his fingers around his hand, warming him with care.

An Chang Qing pursed his lips and smiled to himself. He leaned in and asked, “What does Wangye think of my performance today?”

Xiao Zhige looked at him, “Very good.”

An Chang Qing pouted, thinking that this person had absolutely no finesse. He had put so much effort and yet he couldn’t sing a few more praises.

“What’s good about it?” An Chang Qing squinted his eyes and asked deliberately.
As expected, Xiao Zhige was instantly stumped. He fumbled for a moment before responding, “Everything was good.” To the point that he had almost believed it to be true.

TTBE 17

Chapter 17

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

After acquiring the house under Mount Qingyun, An Chang Qing hired a craftsman to renovate and clean up the place. By the time the house was ready to be occupied, it was already the twelfth lunar month.

As the Laba Festival approaches, the Palace sent out a summon, requesting An Chang Qing and Xiao Zhige’s presence in the Palace.

According to the royal customs, as a Wangfei, An Chang Qing was supposed to enter the Palace to express their gratitude the day after their wedding. But there weren’t many that liked Xiao Zhige and with An Chang Qing being a male Wangfei, entering the Palace would only invoke discontent. And despite the fact that their marriage was favorable to the Emperor, he had crudely exempted them from this tradition.

This was why An Chang Qing had not been to the Palace even till now.

After seeing the eunuch off, a frown was stuck on An Chang Qing’s face. At this time in his last life, there were no such summons. It was in the following year after their marriage that he and Xiao Zhige were invited to the Palace for the New Year banquet.

The Palace had countless rules. The days before entering it, he had had many sleepless nights, worrying that he would make a fool of himself and incur Xiao Zhige’s wrath. In the Palace, he dared not let his eyes wander and had to spend the New Year’s day in fear. 

At that time, the Empress Dowager and Empress had also summoned him but he had only responded with nods and timidly kept his head down. Although he had managed to pull through, he did not even take a good look at their faces.

Now that he had been called to the Palace ahead of time, An Chang Qing was worried that something might have gone wrong. He combed through everything that had happened since his rebirth but still could not figure out what might have caused this.

Without any leads, An Chang Qing could only raise his vigilance. Thinking that there were only two days left, he should at least learn the proper etiquettes of the Palace. The Wang Manor did have a momo who had worked in the Palace but there was no lady in the manor which was why she hadn’t been called forth. Now that An Chang Qing needed her expertise, he had requested her guidance.

“You don’t have to learn all that.” Xiao Zhige stopped Anfu who was about to call for the momo. He looked to An Chang Qing and said, “When the time comes, you can just follow me, they won’t make things difficult for you.”

An Chang Qing frowned, “But… Wouldn’t this leave room for mockery?”

Xiao Zhige smiled and said indifferently, “The more faults I have, the worse my reputation becomes, and the happier they will be.”

An Chang Qing was slightly dismayed. He thought of all the rumors outside that had been blown out of proportion and naturally understood.

A Wangye commandeering a powerful army but did not have any backing or the Emperor’s support, if he were to become a hero with glorious achievements and a splendid reputation, what awaited him would be a swift death.

And the first to put a target on his back would be the current supreme ruler, Emperor An Qing.

Only by having his infamous reputation could Emperor An Qing relinquish any military power to Xiao Zhige and let him guard the Northern border for him.

This was also what the courtiers from different parties wanted to see.

An Chang Qing raised his head and looked at Xiao Zhige. The man was sitting upright and with his back straight as a spear. By just being there, even without speaking, An Chang Qing could feel a sense of dependency strong as a mountain, as though no amount of hardship could crush him.

And yet, An Chang Qing had witnessed his resignation with his own eyes.

Emotions gathered in his eyes and An Chang Qing had finally understood the loneliness felt by the late Emperor of the past. Back then, he clearly could have won but he chose to open the Palace gates; he clearly could have escaped death but he chose to die alone in Qiwu Palace… At that time, Xiao Zhige was probably too tired of it all.

Armed with a weapon in hand, he had defended an entire empire only to be condemned by its people. Even An Chang Qing himself, who should’ve been the one closest to him, had seen him as a monster and avoided him in fear… That was why in the end, he chose to let everything go.

If the nation did not want to be defended by him, then he would not defend it. If the people regarded him as a tyrant, then he will be a tyrant. 

Since the world had forsaken him, he had decided to relieve himself of the burden. 

Finally, he had died in solitude, just as he had lived.

An Chang Qing heaved a sigh filled with sadness. He pushed down the bitterness in his eyes and approached Xiao Zhige. Kneeling down, he held Xiao Zhige’s hand and looked up at him, “But I do not wish to hear anyone speak ill of you. You’re clearly … a wonderful person.”

Xiao Zhige briefly lost his breath as he looked at An Chang Qing with dark eyes. After a while, his Adam’s apple moved slightly and he said in a hoarse voice, “If you don’t want to hear it, then I won’t allow them to say it.”

His words were always overbearing but An Chang Qing had come to find that Xiao Zhige’s stern looks were quite adorable. He rested his head against his knee and said, “En, that is why I have to be presentable so as not to disgrace you.”

Xiao Zhige’s heart was warmed. He curled his fingers and rigidly placed his hand over An Chang Qing’s head, stroking his black hair, “That’ll not happen.”

“That’s why I should still call for the momo. I have to at least know to avoid violating the more serious offenses.”

An Chang Qing stood up and his hair slipped away from Xiao Zhige’s hand. Feeling a little unwilling to let go, Xiao Zhige touched his hand and said, “Alright, I’ll listen to you.”

…..

On the eighth, An Chang Qing entered the Palace together with Xiao Zhige.

An Chang Qing got up early that morning. His li pao had been prepared and because he was not a woman, there was no need to put on heavy headdresses and makeup, only a more formal garment was needed for the audience with the royals.

Xiao Zhige had also changed into a li pao for royalties. While his li pao was red and black, An Chang Qing’s was white and red. Between them, one was tall and strong while the other slender and graceful. The two had such contrasting temperaments but standing together, they looked surprisingly harmonious.

Even Anfu had to softly compliment, “Wangye and young master are such a good match.”

An Chang Qing smiled broadly and although Xiao Zhige did not say anything, his expression had softened considerably.

Having everything in place, they left the manor together.

It was snowing outside. A coachman pulled the carriage in for their use. As Xiao Zhige opened the door, he found that the brazier had just been lit and it was still chilly inside. He stepped out and ordered Steward Wang to fetch his fur coat from the warehouse.

This particular coat was made from a rare silver fox that he had hunted in Yanzhou. The root of the fur was snow white while its tip was gray, under the light, the coat shined with a silver glow. As he practiced martial arts all year round and was resistant to the cold, when the artisan had finished making this coat, Xiao Zhige had kept it in the warehouse. Now was the perfect time to let An Chang Qing use it.

When Steward had delivered the coat, Xiao Zhige shook it open and draped it over An Chang Qing.

An Chang Qing was indeed feeling cold. Although the li pao was a complicated garment, it was not made to keep out the cold. His fingers were freezing and the coat Xiao Zhige put on him had helped to ease the bitter chill.

After fastening the cord of the coat for An Chang Qing, Xiao Zhige said, “Get in.”

An Chang Qing beamed with delight as he stepped into the carriage. Xiao Zhige was not riding a horse today and sat with him in the carriage. Wrapped in a thick fur coat on top of having his hands warmed by Xiao Zhige, An Chang Qing was escorted to the Palace gate in bliss.

After passing two giant gates, they changed to a sedan carriage to enter the Inner Palace. One in front of the other, they were carried towards Kun Yi Palace where the Empress Dowager resided.

No longer having the brazier with him, An Chang Qing rubbed his hands together before opening up the curtain.

The Palace was just as he remembered, only without the dreariness and a lot livelier. As the New Year was approaching, a grand banquet was about to be held and the maids and eunuchs were seen rushing back and forth to prepare for it.

They sat on the sedan for nearly two-quarters of an hour before arriving at Kun Yi Palace.

An Chang Qing rearranged his attire after alighting the sedan. He took off the fur coat and passed it to a maid then stepped into the hall with Xiao Zhige.

Inside, the fireplace had been lit and a warm air enveloped the place. An Chang Qing walked forward firmly with confidence and bowed in salutation after Xiao Zhige.

“Grant them a seat.” The Empress Dowager raised her hand and the maids brought in two chairs. An Chang Qing sat with Xiao Zhige and at last, he could clearly see the faces of the Empress Dowager and the Empress.

The Empress Dowager was nearly sixty but she bore the look of someone in her fifties. She had a kind face and wore a bodhi bead bracelet on her wrist, seemingly approachable. The Empress sat one step below her, smiling amiably. She had a slim build and an elegant face. She looked at An Chang Qing and said, “A few days ago, considering that you two had just wedded, I didn’t want to trouble you with entering the Palace. Now that you’re here, I have prepared a few gifts for you lest you think that I only care for Taizi Fei1.”

The Empress Dowager cast An Chang Qing an inconspicuous glance, observing him while slowly twisting the Bodhi beads.

An Chang Qing looked down and thought to himself, here it comes.

But this time, he was prepared for it. He pretended to be flustered and said timidly, “Chang Qing dare not think so. Taizi Fei is of noble birth and also my senior, your love for her is as it should be. Chang Qing and Wangye are not bothered by it.”

“That may be so but they’re all children that I raised, I still have to be impartial.” The Empress smiled and beckoned the Palace maid to bring in the gifts, “See if you like it.”

An Chang Qing immediately stood up and expressed his thanks. On the tray that was brought in were a piece of jade pendant, calligraphy brushes and various other items, all of which were items generally used by men.

After accepting the gifts, An Chang Qing sat back in place and heard her say, “I have two sons under my care, one is the crown prince and the other is Zhige. The prince had long been married and his child had also already started to walk, leaving Zhige that still worries me. Now that he’s married, it’s time for him to spread his branches…”

An Chang Qing’s heart sank as she continued, “You were only just wedded and I don’t want to be meddlesome but Zhige can be impetuous at times. Chang Qing, as a Wangfei, you have to know what’s good for him. You can’t let him do as he pleases. No matter what, he needs to continue his bloodline…”

An Chang Qing quickly understood the implications of her words. He immediately came up with a countermeasure.

He abruptly got up, lifted his hem, and knelt firmly on the ground. He bowed and said, “Imperial Grandmother, Empress Mother, pardon Chang Qing as I cannot comply.”

“This child…” The Empress was a little surprised. 

She asked the maid to help him up but An Chang Qing refused to get up. He raised his head and said resolutely, “Wangye and I had long made a promise that in this life, we will only have each other, never to part.”


1 Taizi Fei↪Crown prince’s wife

TTBE 16

Chapter 16

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

Zhou He Lan came from a humble background and although he was later inaugurated as the National Chaplain, he was still ostracized by many due to the fact that his mother was from the Xi Wei Empire.

Currently, the Da Ye, Yuze, and Xi Wei Empires were three powerful nations keeping each other in check. However, over a hundred years ago, they were of the same origin, stemming from the Wei Empire that was falling apart due to internal conflicts.

After the collapse of the Wei Empire, the eight Great Generals each ruled their territory separately for a long time until they were united by the Great General of the Zhu State, Xiao Yan Hong, whom the other five Generals later elected to become King, making him the very first Emperor of the Da Ye Empire with Yejing as its capital.

The remaining two Great Generals, Xue Chang and Huai Shu An, refused to accept the new Emperor and excluded themselves from the Da Ye Empire. Xue Chang merged with the nomadic Xi Wei tribe and resided in the Zai Region, forming the Xi Wei Empire while Huai Shu An ruled over the Fu Liang region and established the Yuze Empire.

And hence, over a century later, the Wei Empire ceased to exist and in its place were the tri-pillar nations: Da Ye, Yuze, and Xi Wei.

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Zhou He Lan’s mother was an aborigine of the Xi Wei Empire. After Xue Chang was crowned, he broke the treaty of alliance and began to suppress the people of Xi Wei. Although the country was still called Xi Wei, its citizens were ranked at the bottom, often regarded as untouchables and could be legally sold like livestock.

And someone like Zhou He Lan who had an unclear parentage was of the lowest of the low, anyone could step on him. 

In his previous life, An Chang Qing only knew that Zhou He Lan had been despised his whole life due to his lowly birth and it was the Emperor of Yuze who disregarded his status and put him to good use. And Zhou He Lan had indeed kept to his words of never forgetting to repay his debts, helping the Emperor as his strategist. He told the Emperor to send troops to the North and at the right time, kill the two Great Generals and take over Yejing. After which, they could easily quell the rebellion and establish the Yuze Emperor as the ruler of Da Ye.

Surprisingly, Zhou He Lan would be in Yejing at this time and it just so happened that An Chang Qing had saved him. Thinking back to the time Zhou He Lan had visited Xiao Zhige at the mass grave and said that he had owed him a debt, he had probably been referring to what happened today. Maybe in the previous life, Xiao Zhige had also chased away the farmers and had given medicine, only this time, An Chang Qing had taken a step further and brought him with them.

An Chang Qing’s eyes shone looking at Zhou He Lan, thinking in his heart that this was the opportunity to change everything.

With everything that happened in his last life, he could tell that Zhou He Lan was a man who would honor his debt and predominantly, a talented strategist. The reason the Yuze Empire could swallow the Da Ye Empire was in part due to its civil strife and the rest was Zhou He Lan’s skillful maneuver.

Such a person, he couldn’t possibly let him go to Yuze once again and become Xiao Zhige’s enemy.

An Chang Qing quickly tinkered with his brain and developed a plan. He went to help the boy up and asked, “You’re not of Yejing birth, am I right? What happened on that road?”

Knowing that An Chang Qing had uncovered his identity, Zhou He Lan turned pale. He bit his lips and said, “I… My mother and I came to Yejing to find my father. It’s just that on the way here, my mother fell ill. I didn’t have any money to buy medicine, that’s why I stole… I stole their food…”

As though he was ashamed, Zhou He Lan’s face turned red when he mentioned the theft. Worried that An Chang Qing would misunderstand, he quickly added, “But I will pay them back. Once my mother is well, I will find a job at a restaurant and pay them…”

His voice became soft and he hung his head down like a withered sapling. If it wasn’t for his distinctive appearance, An Chang Qing could barely believe that this child would become the future National Chaplain of Yuze.

The intent to reel him in subsided and gave way to genuine sympathy.

An Chang Qing said, “With your looks, isn’t it difficult to find a job?”

Zhou He Lan looked up at him and said firmly, “I will keep looking. I’m willing to take on any job and I don’t mind hardships…”

An Chang Qing sighed and said with a smile, “Why don’t you follow me?”

“I’m planning to open several stores and am still short of staff. Your salary will be the same as everyone else. Food and shelter will be provided as well, how’s that?”

Zhou He Lan looked at him in surprise. After a long silence, he gritted his teeth and said, “I’m grateful that you’re willing to take me in but… But I’m of Xi Wei birth.” 

What it meant to be of Xi Wei birth, everyone understood, including those from Da Ye. That was why even when his mother and he came all the way to Yejing, they were still being looked down upon. And when his mother fell ill, he couldn’t find a job because no one would hire him. It was as though coming into contact with them would lower their status to the bottom.

However, An Chang Qing did not have the look of disgust that he had expected. He said, “That’s Xi Wei. This is the Da Ye Empire, we’re not alike.”

Zhou He Lan’s eyes widened as he looked at An Chang Qing. His lips shook slightly and he suddenly knelt down and kowtowed to him, “I would like to follow and be of use to you from now on.”

An Chang Qing was shocked by his reaction. He quickly told him to stand up and said, “You should recuperate first. When your injuries are healed, I will call for your assistance.”

Then he remembered him mentioning his sick mother and asked with concern, “Where is your mother? Has she seen a doctor?”

Zhou He Lan’s delighted expression faded, “We’ve seen the doctor but he said that there’s no cure, she could only take medicine to prolong her life.”

No wonder… In his previous life, An Chang Qing only heard about his lowly background but seldom heard about his mother. By that time, she had most likely passed on.

“There is a doctor with excellent medical skills in the Wang Manor, if you’re willing, you can bring your mother there for Dr. Hu to have a look.”

Zhou He Lan’s eyes brightened. He promptly said, “We’ll go!”

An Chang Qing patted him on the shoulder, “Can you walk? If you can, then follow me back to the Wang Manor.”

Zhou He Lan nodded repeatedly. Worried about his mother’s health, he immediately walked two steps to prove that he was fine, “These small injuries are nothing at all.”

An Chang Qing smiled and they left the doctor’s house together.

When they returned to the house, An Chang Qing asked the village chief to find a few older girls and train them so when his mother and sister arrived, there would be someone to look after them.

After he was done with the trivial matters, it was just in time for Xiao Zhige to return. An Chang Qing smiled at him and pointed to Zhou He Lan, “This is Zhou He Lan, he’ll be following me from now on.”

Xiao Zhige cast Zhou He Lan a quick glance but did not say anything. He nodded and said to An Chang Qing, “Let’s go home.”

Because Zhou He Lan was injured, An Chang Qing had let him sit with him in the sedan. On the way back, they passed by a village and Zhou He Lan told them that his mother was staying there. The group tagged along with him only to be led to a dilapidated abandoned temple.

Half the temple had collapsed and the roof was falling apart. A shoddy thatch was made with branches and leaves to provide a small area of shelter. Zhou He Lan’s mother was curled up inside, sleeping with her face covered.

Zhou He Lan called out to her in Xi Wei dialect, prompting her to turn around in joy.

Looking at her from the back, An Chang Qing noticed that Zhou He Lan’s mother had even sharper features compared to him. With a high nose and deep eyes, she had the typical appearance of a Xi Wei aborigine.

Zhou He Lan carefully pulled the grass and branches away. He then spoke a few words to her softly and after hearing them, she struggled to get up and bowed repeatedly to An Chang Qing while expressing her gratitude in Da Ye language.

Seeing that she was incredibly feeble, An Chang Qing told Zhou He Lan to help her into the carriage.

Zhou He Lan smiled gratefully and wanted to say thank you but An Chang Qing stopped him, “That’s enough, no need to offer me these formalities.”

Only then did Zhou He Lan proceed with helping his mother into the carriage. The pair of mother and son did not have much with them, only a shabby-looking satchel which he picked up and carried over his shoulder. They stopped by the village where Zhou He Lan had stolen the grains to let him pay them back with money borrowed from An Chang Qing. After which, the group resumed their course back to the city.

Because he had let Zhou He Lan and his mother sit in the sedan, An Chang Qing had to ride with Xiao Zhige once again.

The burgundy horse shook its tail and trotted happily. Thinking of the countless eyes that would stare at him once they reached the city, An Chang Qing beseeched, “Can Wangye teach me how to ride a horse?”

Xiao Zhige’s eyes drooped as he heard his words. From this vantage, he could see from An Chang Qing’s head to his white neck where a few strands of hair had scattered down, an extremely adorable sight. If he was taught how to ride a horse, he wouldn’t be able to see this scene anymore.

Xiao Zhige said, “I’m not free for the time being.”

An Chang Qing did not mind. He simply said, “I’ll ask Tie Hu or Zhao Shi to teach me then.”

Zhao Shi, who was following behind them, was so stricken with fear that his hair stood up.

Then he heard his General immediately respond with a poker-face, “I’ll teach you.”

An Chang Qing was at a loss, “Didn’t Wangye say that you’re not free?”

Xiao Zhige stayed quiet briefly then said, “I have time.”

“…” An Chang Qing turned back and looked at him suspiciously.

Xiao Zhige kept a straight face as they looked at each other.

Why do you have to learn how to ride? Isn’t it better to ride with me?

…..

Back at the Wang Manor, An Chang Qing told Steward Wang to bring Zhou He Lan and his mother to the guest room and invite Hu Shifei to give her a diagnosis. He then called for the middleman and signed the deed of sale for the house. And hence, the house under Mount Qingyun was officially his.

When An Chang Qing paid for the house, he was a little embarrassed as the money was taken from the Wang Manor’s treasury. Although Xiao Zhige had told him to spend it as he pleased, those were not his to spend. He felt as though he was taking advantage of Xiao Zhige.

Therefore, after the middleman left, he said softly to Xiao Zhige, “I’ve borrowed the gold from the treasury to pay for the house, I will return them when I earn some money.”

“… You don’t have to return them.” Xiao Zhige was looking grim but An Chang Qing did not notice it.

He smiled sweetly and said, “If Wangye continues to be this liberal towards me, I’ll become spoiled and squander away your gold.”

 “En.” Xiao Zhige glanced at him, “The gold we have is enough for you to spend extravagantly.”

An Chang Qing was pleasantly surprised. He laughed with a twinkle in his eyes, “But I don’t want the storytellers to make me into a Wangfei who only knows how to indulge himself in luxury…”

“They wouldn’t dare,” infected by his laugh, Xiao Zhige smiled at him and said, “No one dares to slander the Wangfei of the Northern Warlord.”

TTBE 15

Chapter 15

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

The teahouse in Yejing has been quite prosperous these past few days. The ground floor was filled with guests and the upper floor was occupied by a storyteller running out of saliva as he spread his tale.

As his listeners increased, the storyteller knocked on the table with his fan and began, “This took place at sunset, on Yong Le Street where people were bustling by. From afar came a large steed and on that steed were two people– one was illustrious and domineering, the other had the grace of Pan An…”

The storyteller spread his fan, “Can you tell who they are?”

“It’s none other than the Northern Warlord and his newly wedded Wangfei!”

“It is said that this Wangfei is quite something, a man whose beauty trumps that of a woman by three folds. Word has it that when the Northern Warlord first met him, he was so mesmerized that he had to make him his Wangfei at all costs. But Wangfei is after all a man, what kind of logic is this…”

The storyteller continued his narrative but below came a disapproving voice, “The storyteller’s words are nonsensical. Hasn’t the Northern Warlord’s Wangfei long been dead? It was said that on the second day after their marriage, he was quietly pulled out of the city and buried!”

“Where did you hear that from? It’s ridiculous.” Another listener heard his words and rebuked, “Just the other day, the Northern Warlord had taken Wangfei to Sanweizhai. I heard that because Wangfei likes the plum pastries there, Wangye had specially taken him there to buy them.” 

“That’s right, that’s right,” A nearby aunty said, “Recently, the plum blossom pastries from Sanweizhai are selling like hotcakes. It is said that if you eat them, you’ll be as beautiful as a fairy, just like Wangfei. If it isn’t always sold-out, I’d love to get my hands on a few!”

Someone else joked, “Lady, even at this age you still want a second spring?”

The aunty let out a pei and said, “Don’t be silly. It’s for my daughter!”

The man who had roused this conversion was surprised by the series of comments. At a loss, he turned back to listen to the storyteller but he was already retelling how Wangfei had rejected The Northern Warlord’s advances and in turn, was taken as a prisoner and locked up in the Wang Manor.

The man: “…”

Although the story was absurd, the teahouse guests were highly intrigued. As the end of the New Year approaches, people tend to want to listen to new and interesting gossip. The story of the notorious Northern Warlord abducting the Wangfei and abusing him into submission was more entertaining than the news of yet another servant’s demise in the Wang Manor.

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As the storyteller’s words spiraled into absurdity, a young man dressed in blue sitting at the back stood up to leave. Two men dressed in grey followed behind him.

After exiting the teahouse, one of the men in grey said, “This storyteller’s words are ludicrous.” 

The man in blue said, “But the two riding back home on the same horse is true. Say… Do you think that Second Brother really likes that unfavored son or is he just putting on a show for us?”

The man in grey thought for a moment before replying, “I’m afraid he’s only putting on a show. There have never been any whispers of him liking men. And his temperament, it’s not like you don’t know.”

“You’re right,” the man in blue nodded in agreement, “Whether it’s true or not, I’ll ask Empress Mother to summon them into the Palace and test them.”

The man in blue then said with a ruthless smile, “Although he has long been disqualified, we still need to be on guard.”

As it stands, of all the princes in the Palace, including himself, none had any military power. They had all tacitly approved that he would be the one to inherit the throne but didn’t history show that the throne could always be usurped?

Ferocity emerged in the man’s eyes. He ordered, “Return to the Palace.”

At this end in the Wang Manor, the Northern Warlord’s Wangfei was having a headache.

The last time Xiao Zhige came to pick him up from the An Manor and called him by his nickname, he had not changed this form of address since.

Thinking of how this all-powerful General calling him ‘Nuo Nuo’ with a cold expressionless face simply made An Chang Qing’s hair stand on end.

But no matter how much he hinted at his aversion towards the matter, Xiao Zhige refused to change. After being called ‘Nuo Nuo’ a countless number of times, An Chang Qing finally compromised and let it be. But for the time being, he was still not used to it and each time Xiao Zhige called him, he would blush uncontrollably. As a last resort, he decided to avoid Xiao Zhige for the time being.

Fortunately, Xiao Zhige would leave for the barracks early in the morning every day and An Chang Qing was also busy with finding a house, and hence, the two would turn in early at night. This was how An Chang Qing had managed to not drive the dignified Northern Warlord into sleeping in the study.

Today, An Chang Qing had ordered Anfu to prepare the horse carriage; he was planning to leave the city.

After searching for several days, An Chang Qing had finally found a suitable house. It was located just outside the city at the foot of Mount Qingyun. The surroundings were peaceful and it even had a hot spring, perfectly suited for recuperation. An Chang Qing intended to check the place in person and if it was to his liking, he would buy it as soon as possible.

“Going out?” Xiao Zhige asked as he was about to leave the house as well.

“En, I’m going to Mount Qingyun to have a look at a house.”

Xiao Zhige withdrew his foot out the door and sat at one side, “Let’s leave together, it’s on the way.”

An Chang Qing asked, “Wangye is also leaving for Mount Qingyun today?”

Xiao Zhige, “No.”

An Chang Qing eyed him suspiciously. Mount Qingyun was to the south of the city while the barracks were to its north. How was it ‘on the way’? But Xiao Zhige did not seem to be lying so An Chang Qing assumed he might have some other business to attend to and did not question him further.

After some time, Anfu brought over the carriage for them to leave together.

Xiao Zhige looked at the carriage and slightly pursed his lips before asking An Chang Qing, “Would you like to ride the horse?”

An Chang Qing blinked twice looking at the only horse he was riding and understood what he wanted. He gave him a hard look and said “I’m sitting in the carriage!” before stomping into the sedan.

He could still remember that after the last time they rode together back to the Manor, he had become a popular appearance in many of the stories circulating the city. He refused to be looked at like some kind of spectacle.

The lonely Wangye who rode by the carriage had his lips pursed as he followed the carriage with a blank expression.

The carriage went past the main road and out of the city gate. As it was about to turn left towards the south, a group of people was seen running in the path ahead. At the forefront was a tall and scrawny boy and behind him was a group of farmers chasing him with sticks and hoes in hand.

The youth had exhausted his strength. He staggered for a few more steps before falling to the ground. The group of farmers ran up and encircled him, then began to kick and punch the boy. 

Seeing that the group was about to beat the boy to death, Xiao Zhige spurred the horse and commanded, “Stop!”

The farmers saw Xiao Zhige’s intimidating stature and instinctively backed away. The boy had now laid motionless on the ground. Fearing of being charged with murder, the farmers yelled in defense, “He’s a thief!”

Xiao Zhige ignored them. He looked at the boy from high above and threw him his canteen and a medicinal ointment. He then rode back to the carriage and said to the coachman, “Let’s go.”

“Is it ok to leave him lying there?” An Chang Qing opened the curtain and asked.

Xiao Zhige replied, “He’ll live.”

An Chang Qing hesitated. He looked at the boy lying on the ground with his exposed hands and feet filled with scars and frostbite. As he wavered, the carriage began to move again. Through the window, he saw the boy struggling to gain consciousness as he murmured the word ‘mother’.

The word incited An Chang Qing’s sympathy and he called for the carriage to stop. He looked at Xiao Zhige, “Why don’t we take him back…”

“He’s still a kid…” An Chang Qing explained without much thought, “At least send him to see a doctor.”

Xiao Zhige saw him frown while trying to figure out a suitable reason, probably worrying that he would not agree. Without him noticing, his hardened spirit softened. He called for Zhao Shi, “Bring him over.”

Zhao Shi took a quick glance at Xiao Zhige then at An Chang Qing’s smiling face. Thinking back, he really had to agree with Dr. Hu that Wangye would only listen to Wangfei for he had never seen Wangye meddling in someone else’s business before.

Zhao Shi carried the youth over and An Chang Qing could see that he was shivering. He told Zhao Shi to place him in the carriage and gave him his heating pot. As there was no village, shops, or doctors anywhere nearby, An Chang Qing decided to take him with them to the house at the foot of Mount Qingyun.

There was a barefoot doctor in the hamlet and An Chang Qing told Zhao Shi to bring the boy there while he checked out the house.

Xiao Zhige followed him to the house only to depart again.

An Chang Qing asked curiously, “Where is Wangye going?”

Xiao Zhige replied, “The barracks.”

An Chang Qing thought about it and it finally dawned on him that Xiao Zhige had specially come to accompany him. His heart warmed and he couldn’t help muttering to himself, “Isn’t it troublesome running back and forth?”

Xiao Zhige did not hear his murmurs. He nodded and said that he would pick him up later before riding off.

…..

An Chang Qing looked through the house and was quite satisfied with everything, concluding that he would sign the deed of sale when he got back. After accomplishing what he came here to do, he remembered the boy and inquired about the doctor’s residence to look for him.

Zhao Shi was at the door when he arrived and reported, “The doctor has already examined the boy, there’s nothing serious, only minor injuries.”

An Chang Qing nodded. He entered the room and saw the boy sitting on the bed drinking a bowl of medicine. He already had a change of clothes, most likely provided by the doctor, making him look a lot brighter. Seeing An Chang Qing, he quickly kneeled down and bowed, “Thank you savior, this debt, I’ll never forget.”

Although he had tried to disguise it, An Chang Qing could still tell that he did not have a Yejing accent. Taking a closer look at his face, An Chang Qing found that it was a little familiar.

An Chang Qing helped him up while observing him and inquiring, “What’s your name?”

“Zhou He Lan,” the boy lifted his head, showing a youthful face with a high nose and deep eyes, features of someone from a foreign land.

To think it was really him. An Chang Qing was bewildered and did not respond for quite some time.

Zhou He Lan, Yuze Empire’s Chaplain, was someone he had met in his previous life in the mass grave where Xiao Zhige’s body lay.

At that time, after Xiao Zhige’s death, he had roamed the mass grave without any knowledge of time. One day, two people visited the grave, the one in the lead was Zhou He Lan.

Zhou He Lan donned a black gown and had a grim expression. He had with him a pot of wine as an offering – an offering dedicated to Xiao Zhige.

Xiao Zhige lived his life on the battlefield and died without a complete body. Before and after his death, he had been called many hateful names, this was the first time An Chang Qing saw someone come to worship him. He then followed him back to Yejing and discovered that many things had happened since Xiao Zhige died.

One example was that Xiao Qi An, the dethroned prince, had died of poisoning only one month after his ascension to the throne. The two remaining Great Generals each had their own interests at heart and began to dispute against each other, plunging the country into chaos right after the short-lived peace. At this time, the Yuze Empire, a neighboring country, had taken advantage of this situation and launched a massive attack. Like a knife through butter, the capital city was conquered in one fell swoop.

The Emperor of Yuze, Huang Ru Yu, came to rule over Yejing and honored Zhou He Lan as the National Chaplain.

TTBE 14

Chapter 14

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

The doctor turned pale as his eyes lingered on the string of Bodhi beads. He then turned away and replicated the apothecary worker’s words denying their involvement.

“You say that it has nothing to do with you but the poison couldn’t have come from nowhere,” An Chang Qing took a sip of tea before slamming the teacup on the table with a loud thud, “Why don’t I interrogate you both separately? From the beginning of Lady Yu’s diagnosis to the source of the medicine, it’s best if what you two said matches but if there is any discrepancy between your words…”

An Chang Qing cast them a chilling stare, “I can always pull out the truth in the Wang Manor’s torture chamber.”

The two men kneeling on the ground slammed their heads onto the ground and begged, “We have told you everything! Everything we said is the truth!”

Madame Li raised her eyes to look at them. She lowered her sight and moved the Bodhi beads at a slightly faster pace.

“Wangfei, this is the An Manor, not the Dali Court,” An Zhi Ke who had been silent finally spoke up. With a displeased look, he said, “They might not be the culprits, is there a need to scare them with torture?”

An Chang Qing did not back down, “If father thinks that I’m being unreasonable then bringing this matter to the Dali Court is also a viable option.”

“You!” An Zhi Ke choked. He naturally would not want to involve the Dali Court into this. The An family would become a laughingstock… And if this crime involved someone in the family, it could tarnish their reputation.

“Do as you want,” An Zhi Ke flung his sleeve disgruntledly. 

“Tie Hu, take them to the side rooms.”

Tie Hu received the order and escorted the doctor into the next room, leaving the apothecary worker in the hall.

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The apothecary worker was kneeling in the center of the hall with An Chang Qing on one side and the rest of the An family on the opposite. He was drenched in cold sweat as over a dozen pairs of eyes focused on him. Whatever Hu Shifei asked, he would answer to the tiniest detail.

When the inquiries ended, half an hour had passed and the paper in Hu Shifei’s hand was fully written. He folded and passed it to An Chang Qing and prepared for the next round of interrogation.

The doctor’s surname was Wang and he was already in his early fifties. After spending half an hour alone in the next room, his legs had turned soft and he had to be supported by Tie Hu.

Hu Shifei began his interrogation once again. Although his tone was mild, with his experience working with the military for a long time, his questions were critical and aimed straight at the heart of the matter, leaving the doctor little room to recover. After answering a few questions, Dr. Wang was covered in sweat. In his panic, he erratically glanced at Madame Li several times, only to be returned with a bone-chilling stare on her end. 

Madame Li watched the proceeding with cold eyes as her sharp nails clawed over the Bodhi beads, leaving a clear scratch mark on them.

Hu Shifei continued to hound Dr. Wang with questions, one more difficult to answer than the other. However, Dr. Wang’s mind at this point was only focused on the familiar string of Bodhi beads – the same one his aged mother carried with her all the time. 

With sweat dripping all over his forehead, he raised his head and looked around in a trance. Gathering all his strength, he abruptly stood up and rammed head-on into a pillar.

In an instant, blood was gushing out of him, turning the hall chaotic.

Dr. Wang fell to the ground. His body twitched a few times before becoming motionless. Hu Shifei hurriedly went to check his breath. He turned back to look at An Chang Qing and shook his head, “He’s dead.”

The women were all shocked and moved away from the body.

The old matriarch pinched her forehead and chanted a few Buddhist prayers. She then told the servants to carry the body away. 

An Zhi Ke helped her walk while turning to An Chang Qing and said with discontent, “The culprit is dead, is Wangfei satisfied now?”

An Chang Qing did not expect that the doctor would choose to kill himself.

His original plan was to force the doctor into admitting his crime. The poison in Lady Yu’s medicine today was planted by Zhao Shi at An Chang Qing’s command. This was to provide substantial evidence and take them by surprise.

If they had gone with the angle that the qian chong jin could cause poisoning and started accusing the doctor, he could simply feign ignorance and blame his inadequate medical skills. And as the mastermind, Madame Li would be void of suspicion because, how could she, a simple housewife, know what a doctor didn’t?

After much contemplation, An Chang Qing chose this plan out of desperation to pin the doctor and Madame Li for the crime. As long as the doctor confessed to the poisoning, even without revealing the mastermind, An Chang Qing could still force An Zhi Ke to let him take his mother and sister away. As for Madame Li, he would then plant a little thorn to deal with her.

What he did not expect was that Madame Li was many times more tricky than he thought. To think she could force the doctor to commit suicide on the spot…

He looked at the frightened Madame Li who was being cared for by a servant girl. An Chang Qing said, “He is a doctor with no qualms against Lady Yu, why would he poison her? I’m afraid there is a mastermind behind this. Now that he has committed suicide, the only lead is gone. Instead of living in suspicion, let’s just request the Dali Court to investigate this.”

“You dare!” An Zhi Ke flared with anger, “The culprit is already dead and Lady Yu is also fine. If this matter spreads, the An family will be a joke to everyone in Yejing!”

An Chang Qing’s expression turned stoic as he discarded his politeness, “What becomes of the An family has nothing to do with me. My only concern is that as long as the main culprit is not found, Lady Yu’s life will continue to be in danger!”

“Nothing is more important than the century-old namesake left by the ancestors!” An Zhi Ke snapped.

“Then Minister, you can keep your reputation,” An Chang Qing said in a tone filled with sarcasm, “I will have Lady Yu recuperate elsewhere. And Yu’er will go with her.”

An Zhi Ke looked at An Chang Qing with a slight sense of suspicion, as though he could not recognize him. After a long pause, he finally said the word ‘good’ three times.

“Well, it seems you’ve been aiming for this since the beginning. I would’ve never known that you could be this conniving.”

“There is much that Minister An does not know,” An Chang Qing locked eyes with him and smiled, “So, what will it be?”

An Zhi Ke flung his sleeve, “Lady Yu can go with you to recuperate but Yu’er cannot. She will be married off next Spring and has to stay at home. It’s simply unorthodox for her to go with Lady Yu.”

An Chang Qing was sure to disagree with this reasoning. Marriage? That had yet to be decided. And leaving his sister in this cannibalistic place was out of the question.

“The wedding is still far off. Yu’er has been living with Lady Yu all this time, now that the real murderer has yet to be caught if something were to happen to her when she is alone…” An Chang Qing lowered his eyes and said slowly, “I still think we should invite the officers from Dali Court to investigate this. This is the only way to ease my worries.”

This was the very first time An Zhi Ke had been forced into a dead-end. And the one who had ensnared him into this contrived situation was the disregarded son of a concubine. He stared grudgingly at An Chang Qing as though he was not his son but an enemy. In a heavy tone, he declared, “So be it! Go ahead and take her!”

“Thank you Minister,” An Chang Qing finally smiled sincerely, “There’s much to be done back in the Wang Manor, I’ll be taking my leave with Lady Yu and Yu’er then.”

After which, he nodded to the crowd and left the hall together with Lady Yu and An Xian Yu under the escort of Tie Hu and Zhao Shi.

When he got to the gate, An Chang Qing caught sight of a particular person. He stopped and greeted, “Second Aunt.”

Madame Sun had tidied up her looks and her temperament. She was not present in the hall previously but it was likely she knew what had transpired.

An Chang Qing was just thinking about how to use this ‘thorne’ when she had delivered herself to him. He grinned and approached her, conversing in a low voice, “De Ren Hall is under the management of Madame Li’s family, do you know that?”

Madame Sun stared hard at him, “I do, what of it? Don’t even think of using me!”

An Chang Qing laughed, “It’s not so much as using but we have the same enemy. Lady Yu was poisoned for no reason and cousin has also died without an apparent cause… We can’t just let the murderer get away with it…”

At this point, Madame Sun remained silent.

“Dr. Wang’s family lives in Tong Yun Lane,” An Chang Qing added before turning to leave.

After they had exited the main gate of the An Manor, An Chang Qing heaved a long sigh. He then turned to his still-in-shock mother and sister and said with a smile, “You both no longer have to suffer any more persecution from this ghastly place. I will support you from now on.”

Lady Yu looked at him and her eyes turned red. She touched his cheek and said, “It’s been hard on you.”

Without her realizing it, her weak and innocent son had grown into a big tree that could shelter them from the storm.

“Not at all,” An Chang Qing blinked and tried to suppress the sourness in his nose. He smiled and said, “Let’s go. We’ll return to the Wang Manor for now. Mother, sister, you will live with me until I find a suitable place for you to stay.”

Although An Chang Qing would love to live with his mother and sister, letting them stay too long in the Wang Manor would invite unwanted gossip. And then there was also the matter regarding the Wu family.

Lady Yu and An Xian Yu boarded the sedan and An Chang Qing was about to enter with them when he realized that the small carriage he brought today would be too crowded for three people. Just as An Chang Qing was contemplating if he should ride with Hu Shifei, a deep voice called him from behind, “Nuo Nuo?”

An Chang Qing’s ears turned red. He turned back and scowled, “You’re not allowed to call me by this name!”

This was a subconscious reaction and when An Chang Qing realized it, he saw that everyone around him had their eyes downcast, staring at their feet awkwardly. He then saw Xiao Zhige with his usual expression reaching out his hand to him, “I’ve come to pick you up. Let’s go.”

An Chang Qing’s heart softened. His anger disappeared in a flash, leaving him with only embarrassment.

An Chang Qing looked back at the carriage before gritting his teeth and took the man’s hand.

Xiao Zhige held onto him and helped him up the horse, allowing An Chang Qing to sit in front of him. Today, Xiao Zhige was riding a stout red mare which was much stronger and larger than his other horses, enough to accommodate two people.

An Chang Qing had his back right against Xiao Zhige’s chest. Feeling the sneaking glances from his surroundings, An Chang Qing clutched the horse’s mane and urged, “Let’s hurry back.”

“En.” Xiao Zhige wrapped his arms over An Chang Qing’s waist and pulled the reins. Feeling the gestures, the red horse neighed and began its throttle back to the manor.

The group of onlookers including Tie Hu and Zhao Shi were dumbfounded. They stood and stared for a long time before Hu Shifei had to slam on the sedan and urged, “What are you standing there for? Let’s go!”

The two snapped out of their daze and quickly maneuvered the horse carriage, following behind An Chang Qing and Xiao Zhige.

TTBE 13

Chapter 13

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. 

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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.

TTBE 12

Chapter 12

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

Hu Shifei stretched his neck and looked out the carriage window. He saw An Chang Qing getting into another carriage and Xiao Zhige rode his horse beside it. The two were whispering to each other through the window. He couldn’t help clicking his tongue and mumbled, “If I weren’t a doctor myself, I would’ve thought that someone had put Wangye under a Gu spell.”

(TN: Gu is a mythical parasitic insect capable of manipulating its host’s mind.)

Tie Hu, who was acting as a coachman, vaguely heard his words and exclaimed, “Who dares to touch the General? Old Hu will kill that person!”

“…” Hu Shifei sneered, “If it’s Wangfei, I’d really like to see you try.”

Tie Hu was speechless. He scratched his head and said, “Wangfei doesn’t look like someone who practices witchcraft…”

“Looks like you’re not that dumb after all,” Hu Shifei rolled his eyes then banged on the carriage wall and urged, “Hurry up and move!”

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The two carriages headed back to the Wang Manor. When they arrived, Tie Hu placed Hu Shifei’s wheelchair on the ground before placing him on it. He then carried them both and walked into the gate.

Hu Shifei flared up and slapped the armrest of his wheelchair in anger, “Put me down! Do you think I can’t walk by myself?”

Tie Hu put him down and scratched his head, “Your leg has been broken for so many years, of course you can’t walk…”

“Does this wheelchair look like furnishings to you?” Hu Shifei yelled at him in anger.

Tie Hu: “…”

An Chang Qing was laughing at them from behind. He looked at Xiao Zhige and said, “Are all your underlings this… Interesting?”

“Just this one. He’ll be following you from now on,” Xiao Zhige said stoically, “Although Tie Hu is simpleminded, his martial arts is unrivaled and he’s very loyal. Take him with you whenever you go out. I’ve assigned two others under him. If you need anything done, just tell Tie Hu and he’ll handle it.”

“Will that hinder your work?” An Chang Qing thought that it was good enough that Xiao Zhige would give him a low-rank bodyguard like Zhao Shi but to think that he would assign Tie Hu under him.

Tie Hu may seem dimwitted but seeing his strength and familiarity with Xiao Zhige, An Chang Qing could tell that Tie Hu was not just a common soldier.

“No. There’s nothing to be done in Yejing. Keeping him idle is just a waste,” Xiao Zhige replied.

An Chang Qing was relieved after hearing that. They proceeded to the Flower Hall in the front courtyard when Hu Shifei said that he had not bathed for days and instructed Tie Hu to push him to the guest room for him to wash up.

By the time they had reached Wang Manor, it was almost dinner time. Thinking that both Tie Hu and Hu Shifei were Xiao Zhige’s close subordinates, An Chang Qing ordered the kitchen to prepare a large dinner for them and the four would dine together in the Flower Hall.

Hu Shifei waited for the maids to finish setting up the table before coming in. While pushing his wheelchair, Tie Hu said, “Doctor Hu, if you could groom yourself this way every day, you wouldn’t still be single at this age.”

An Chang Qing looked over and found that Hu Shifei was wearing a dark blue outfit and had shaved and bundled up his hair neatly. Only now did Hu Shifei resemble a scholarly middle-aged man.

Hu Shifei let out a pei and shouted at Tie Hu, “What do you know?!”

Tie Hu kept quiet and continued to push Hu Shifei to greet An Chang Qing and Xiao Zhige, “General, Wangfei.”

Hu Shifei followed suit and politely greeted them. He continued to ask, “Where is the patient Wangfei wanted me to treat?”

“She’s not in Wang Manor.” After giving him a brief account of Lady Yu’s situation, An Chang Qing continued, “Doctor Hu, please wait for a few more days. I will make arrangements for you to treat her.”

Now that he had already been abducted here, there was nothing Hu Shifei could do except to agree.

The group finished their discussion and had dinner together. After which, the maids led Hu Shifei and Tie Hu to the guest rooms for the night.

As for An Chang Qing, he couldn’t sit still and paced about in the room. What Xiao Zhige told him before weighed heavily in his mind – An Changqi will not live past tonight.

Xiao Zhige would not deceive him but without personally hearing the news, he could not rest his heart. What if An Changqi survived? This would ruin everything he had planned.

If An Changqi died tonight, not only could he use this to plant a seed of doubt and create a grudge between Madame Sun and Madame Li, but also drive apart An Zhi Ke and An Zhi Zhou. Amidst the chaos that ensued, An Chang Qing could then easily take his mother and sister away from the An Manor.

The moment Hu Shifei told him that there was something wrong with the prescription, the immediate person that came to mind was Madame Li. Qian chong jin was not a rare plant, the wealthy usually found them too ordinary for their taste and yet, they were planted abundantly at the An Manor. Particularly the land behind Rainbow Garden, a vast area was used for the Qian chong jin plantation. Every time the flowers bloomed, the petals floated with the wind, carrying its fragrance across the field. Who knew that behind the beautiful scenery was a hideous plot to kill his mother.

Madame Li was the second daughter of Count Yong Xin. Although the count did not enter the court, he was widely respected for his good deeds. Even his two daughters were quite well-known in Yejing. The eldest married the eldest son of Marquis Kang Le and the youngest married An Zhi Ke, the Marquis of Jing An and also the Prime Minister of Da Ye Empire.

After Madame Li married into the An family, she had instantly become the lead maternal figure of the An household. She was magnanimous and well-liked by all. On top of that, she was blessed with a son. No one could shake her position until Lady Yu came into the picture.

Lady Yu entered the An family after Lady Liu and as far as An Chang Qing could tell, An Zhi Ke had favored Lady Yu for a long time. During those years, the two were a harmonious couple and An Zhi Ke even neglected Madame Li and Lady Liu. By the time Lady Yu gave birth to a son and daughter, the winds were blowing her way.

But the good days did not last long. When An Chang Qing was four, Lady Yu did something that had incurred An Zhi Ke’s wrath. Since then, he had never taken another step into Rainbow Garden and Lady Yu had lived inconspicuously, trying her best to stay out of trouble and raise her two children. 

Although those years of Lady Yu being favored disappeared in a flash, it had lingered in the memories of many people. An Chang Qing thought that Lady Liu was the only one who had hated them since she had always openly mocked the mother and child. But as it seemed, the reputable Madame Li also held a deep-seated grudge against his mother. Her kindness and generosity were nothing but a front.

If it really was Madame Li… 

A plan took shape in his mind but at the same time, he had gotten more anxious. He kept glancing at the door. 

They had sent someone to watch the An Manor. The moment An Changqi died, they would immediately get wind of it.

“You will get the news in about an hour.” Xiao Zhige was leaning on the bed reading a book on warfare. Seeing An Chang Qing walking back and forth, he said, “Impetuosity is a big taboo in any tactic.”

An Chang Qing could only hear his previous sentence. He rushed to the bed to confirm, “Really? How can you tell?” 

Being distracted, An Chang Qing was not aware of his current posture. He was kneeling over Xiao Zhige on the bed with his arms at his side. He was barefooted and his belt was loosened, opening up the neckline of his robe. Xiao Zhige’s eyes were pulled towards the white fair skin that was exposed.

He held his breath and sighed mentally at An Chang Qing’s unintentional seductive pose. He reached out to fasten up his collar then hugged and dragged him into bed. He covered him with the blanket and said, “Earlier in the evening, the two remaining doctors in De Ren Hall had been invited to the An Manor.”

It was self-evident for whom the doctors were invited to treat. It must be that the current doctors had given up and the An family had called in the rest to give a second opinion. 

Only then was An Chang Qing relieved. He laid quietly in bed for a while before sitting up again. He sulked and said, “I still can’t sleep.”

He was like a kid who had listened halfway through a story and could not sleep till he got to the end.

Xiao Zhige looked at him and sighed helplessly, “Don’t sleep then.”

An Chang Qing gave a smug smile. He leaned against Xiao Zhige’s arm and probed at the book in his hand, “Why don’t you tell me a bit about warfare?”

Xiao Zhige grimaced awkwardly. He had read countless books on war but had never had to read it to anyone. Facing An Chang Qing’s expectant eyes, he remained silent briefly before flipping to the first page and began to read it word by word.

An Chang Qing had wanted him to tell him a story but unexpectedly, the man recited the book to him. An Chang Qing was dumbfounded for a while only to realize that it would’ve been even more absurd if this person could tell a story.

He rested his head casually on Xiao Zhige’s broad chest with his eyes closed as he listened to his reading. Xiao Zhige’s voice was low and clear. One could detect the attentiveness in his moderately slow reading speed to accommodate An Chang Qing’s understanding.

An Chang Qing listened and eventually dozed off.

Seeing that he had closed his eyes, Xiao Zhige put down his book and gazed at him.

The youth was leaning against his chest with half his face covered by his long hair. Only the curly long eyelashes and straight nose were revealed. Even so, he was too adorable.

Xiao Zhige stuttered on the words of the book which he had memorized by heart. Seeing An Chang Qing deep in sleep, he couldn’t control himself and reached out to touch the quivering eyelids and the lovely little nose. 

Being disturbed, the youth in his embrace hummed twice discontentedly before burying his face into his chest.

Xiao Zhige withdrew his fingers and secured An Chang Qing with one arm. There was a soft smile on his lips. Although the posture was a little awkward, he did not want to let go. An Chang Qing slept in Xiao Zhige’s arms for about an hour when Anfu came to report at the door.

Xiao Zhige covered An Chang Qing’s ears and said softly, “Come in.”

Anfu who had just returned to Wang Manor with the news from the An Manor walked briskly in. He was about to give his report when he saw the pair embracing behind the screen and his words were stuck for a long time. When he snapped out of his daze, he quickly reported, “An Changqi is dead.”

“Got it. You can leave.” 

Seeing that An Chang Qing was sleeping soundly, Xiao Zhige put out the light on the table. 

Whatever it is, let’s leave it to tomorrow.

TTBE 11

Chapter 11

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

After he left the last clinic, An Chang Qing almost thought that after his rebirth, he had become overly paranoid and that there was no conspiracy regarding his mother’s death; she really had died of natural causes.

He had been to every renowned clinic in the whole of Yejing but to no avail. An Chang Qing sat in the carriage and pondered. He finally decided to make one last-ditch attempt, “Go to Yong Le Lane.”

Yong Le Lane was a remote area in Yejing and the clinic An Chang Qing sought was situated in the innermost part of an alleyway. This clinic was much smaller than those in the main street and did not even have a name. It was mostly frequented by peasants. From the rumor An Chang Qing had heard, the doctor here had a strange temperament but was highly skillful. Those he had treated had all recovered to the pink of health.

The carriage stopped right at the entrance of Yong Le Lane. The path was narrow with dilapidated houses on both sides. The evening sun was not enough to brighten the place and a moldy smell filled the air. 

“Wangfei, the carriage can’t go any further,” Anfu alighted and said with a frown, “Is there really a clinic here?”

Apart from them, everything in this place seemed run-down and impoverished. How could someone earn a living from running a clinic here?

An Chang Qing hesitated but now that they were already here, there were only a few more steps to go, “Let’s just go in and have a look.”

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An Chang Qing and Anfu left the carriage and walked deeper into the alleyway. At the end of the road, they saw a house with a red broken door. A piece of cloth was pasted on it with the word ‘clinic’ written in messy handwriting.

It really did not even have a proper name.

Anfu knocked on the door. In the quiet neighborhood, the sound echoed loudly but no one answered. Instead, it was the rusty old door that creaked and opened by itself. Anfu was startled as he turned to look at An Chang Qing.

“Let’s go in and have a look.” An Chang Qing walked past him and entered the clinic.

Inside was a small yard without much gardening. Instead, there were many pots with winter herbs being planted. Beyond the yard was a hall for consulting patients.

An Chang Qing raised his voice and asked, “Is anyone here?”

There was a long silence before a lazy voice from somewhere replied, “Who is it? I’m off today, no consultation.”

An Chang Qing bowed his head and said politely, “It won’t take long. I just need you to take a look at this prescription.”

A middle-aged man with a scruffy beard popped his head out of a small window of the house and said lethargically, “I can take a look but pay up ten silver taels first.”

Anfu was furious, “Even the doctors from De Ren Hall dare not ask for this price!”

“Too expensive for you?” The man grinned, “Then why don’t you just go to De Ren Hall? This is the price I charge all the rich people who come here. Accept it or not is up to you.”

Anfu choked up and stared at him in rage.

An Chang Qing, on the other hand, remained unchanged. He took out ten taels of silver and placed them on the counter together with the prescription, “Sir, please have a look.”

The man turned his head and once he saw An Chang Qing’s face clearly, his eyes lit up. He immediately turned his wheelchair and came out of the house, all the while scanning An Chang Qing rudely. 

An Chang Qing frowned and asked patiently, “Sir?”

The man withdrew his sight and took a quick glance at the prescription. He grinned and said, “I don’t want the money but you have to let me draw a portrait of you.”

“Please sir, do not make fun of me,” An Chang Qing was getting uncomfortable. He knew the man was rumored to be eccentric but his request was highly inappropriate.

He was about to refuse but the man continued, “No one has been able to tell you what is wrong with this prescription, am I right?”

An Chang Qing hesitated, “…Yes.”

“Let me draw you and I’ll tell you how to detoxify it,” The man tapped on the table while his eyes were fixed on An Chang Qing’s face.

“Detoxify? There’s really poison in this prescription?” An Chang Qing turned pale with shock.

But the man did not say much, he kept knocking on the table and said, “Portrait.”

An Chang Qing inhaled heavily. Thinking of his mother’s health, he bit his lip and cast aside his pride, “What is your purpose for drawing me?”

“It’s for my collection of course,” he smiled, “I’ve been collecting portraits of beautiful people, and someone as good-looking as yourself is a rarity.”

An Chang Qing looked down and considered. After thinking of how all the other clinics could not find fault with this prescription, he could only bite the bullet and accept: “Tell me what is wrong with this prescription first.”

The man moved his wheelchair closer to An Chang Qing. He sniffed and said, “There’s nothing wrong with this prescription…”

An Chang Qing was about to flip when the man continued, “But if combined with the fragrance of the qian chong jin that’s on your body, it will become poisonous. Where have you been the last three days?”

Qian chong jin?” An Chang Qing recalled the unknown flowers in Rainbow Garden that were always in bloom even in the winter, “Is the flower lavender in color and has six petals? Its stalk can grow up to two feet tall and blooms all year round?”

“That’s right. Qian chong jin looks like a flower but it’s actually a medicinal herb. There’s an ingredient in this prescription that conflicts with the properties of qian chong jin. The poison only manifests itself when the person who takes this medicine comes in contact with the pollen or inhales the fragrance when the flower is in bloom. This property of qian chong jin is rarely known, ordinary people would not even notice this.”

An Chang Qing thought of the qian chong jin field behind Rainbow Garden that was growing in excellent condition. This herb had been planted all over the An Manor. An Chang Qing had assumed that it was due to An Zhi Ke or Madame Li’s special fondness for the flowers but it turned out that it had been to hide an intent to murder. 

But who could it be? Does An Zhi Ke know about this?

An Chang Qing clenched his fingers and tried to calm himself, “Do you have a cure?”

“That goes without saying,” The man said, “But you have to let me draw you first.”

This time, An Chang Qing did not continue to haggle with him. Since the man could spot the problem with the prescription, he would most likely be able to remedy it. Between saving his mother and allowing someone to draw a portrait of him, the choice was obvious.

“Alright.” An Chang Qing agreed, “Where would you like to draw? After drawing, can you come with me for a few days to treat my mother? I’ll be eternally grateful.”

The man waved his hand, “Keep quiet and sit still in the yard.”

“…” An Chang Qing sat on a stool in the courtyard. The man rang a small bell and a boy came to deliver a few painting tools to him. He then sat and drew An Chang Qing with utmost seriousness.

The session lasted almost half an hour. In the open yard, the chilling winter breeze had been blowing and An Chang Qing did not have on his warm clothes. By the time the portrait was done, An Chang Qing had turned white from cold.

As soon as the man put away his brush, Anfu hurriedly gave him a hand warmer. An Chang Qing’s lips trembled as he spoke, “Can you come with me now?”

The man was about to answer when his expression suddenly changed. He turned his wheelchair backward and said, “What’re you doing here?”

This sentence was obviously not addressed to An Chang Qing but he still turned back to find a familiar figure standing at the door.

Xiao Zhige was also surprised to see him. Seeing that his hands had turned purplish due to the cold, he took off the cloak on his back and draped it over An Chang Qing, “Wear more layers when you go out.”

The warmth from Xiao Zhige’s body still lingered on the cloak. An Chang Qing shrunk himself into it, raising the collar over his cheeks, he responded with a soft ‘en’.

The middle-aged man had his mouth wide open. He looked at Xiao Zhige then back at An Chang Qing with eyeballs that were almost dropping off, “You two know each other?”

“An Chang Qing, my Wangfei.”

“Hu Shifei, a military doctor.”

Xiao Zhige briefly introduced them before his eyes landed on the portrait that had yet to be hidden. His eyes squinted and he questioned, “What is this?”

Hu Shifei instantly tried to pull back the painting but he was one step behind. In a flash, Xiao Zhige had gotten his hand on the painting.

Xiao Zhige unfolded the scroll and looked at it carefully. He then turned to Hu Shifei and said coldly, “Oh? You even know how to paint.” His voice was low and anyone familiar with his temperament like Hu Shifei could tell that he was in a bad mood.

But Hu Shifei did not give up, “This is the consultancy fee Wangfei paid me.” He turned to wink at An Chang Qing and with a drastic change in attitude, he spoke politely, “Wangfei, isn’t that right?”

An Chang Qing remained silent while smiling back at him devilishly. He then turned to Xiao Zhige and looked at him with innocent eyes.

Hu Shifei pulled a black face and said, “Then I will not be examining the patient.”

Xiao Zhige carefully put away the painting and glanced at him with a blank expression. He called out, “Tie Hu.”

Through the door came a muscular man like an iron tower. He bowed to Xiao Zhige, ready to receive his orders, “General.”

“Take him away,” Xiao Zhige instructed.

Tie Hu immediately took big strides towards Hu Shifei. He carried his wheelchair with him still sitting in place and walked out, “Doctor Hu, the General has ordered, please bear with it.”

Hu Shifei, “…” Pei!

An Chang Qing was stunned by Xiao Zhige’s dictatorial moves. He asked softly, “Is it alright for you to do that?”

Xiao Zhige reached out to button up his cloak and said, “He owes me a favor.”

After which, he thought briefly and added, “Tell me next time.”

An Chang Qing did not respond right away. After following him a few steps, An Chang Qing finally grasped what he meant: tell him if he needed anything. Thinking back, the man had come here instead of the Wang Manor right after returning from the barracks, it must’ve been to find Hu Shifei in regards to his mother’s illness.

An Chang Qing felt touched and reached out to hold his hand. He looked at him sweetly and said, “Next time, you’ll be the first to know.”