The Rebirth Of An Ill-Fated Consort

千山茶客

Chapter 106 - A Night Visit to the Jiang Fu

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Chapter 106 : A Night Visit to the Jiang Fu

Trigger Warning: mention of disturbing violence towards an animal.

As soon as Xiao Shao returned to Dong Feng Lou, a maidservant on the lower floor informed him that someone was waiting for him in his private room. When he reached the hidden chamber on the second floor and walked in, he saw Ye Feng staring at the person in front of him tensely.

On seeing Xiao Shao, Ye Feng quickly stood up, lowered his head, and said, “Master.”

Xiao Shao waved his hand, whereupon Ye Feng bowed and left the room. As Jiang Ruan raised her head, Xiao Shao seated himself opposite her and gazed at her while he asked, “What’s wrong?”

“Is there any kind of medicine that can restore one’s complexion? Or is there some method to cause a person to become more . . . charming, like a seductive fairy,” Jiang Ruan asked, getting straight to the point.

There were really too many things about Jiang Su Su that were strange. Even if one only took her appearance in consideration, it was enough to give rise to suspicions. The face that had been badly lacerated by thorns and thistles no longer bore a single scar, furthermore, Jiang Ruan had clearly seen that Jiang Su Su had not applied any cosmetics on her face that day. To say that she had been miraculously healed was about right. Moreover, Jiang Su Su’s every movement had been deliberately executed to draw attention, which was even more strange. Since Xiao Shao had medical expertise, and was also experienced and knowledgeable, it was possible that he could shed some light on the matter.

Xiao Shao looked at Jiang Ruan with slight misgivings. After a moment of deep thought, he nodded and said, “Yes, there is.”

Jiang Ruan was taken aback. “What is it?”

“A kind of black art,” Xiao Shao said. “South Xinjiang[1] women are good at meishu[2], and the circ.u.mstances you’ve described are very possibly the result of practising this kind of secret technique.”

[1] 南疆 (nan jiang) – could refer generally to the southern border, or specifically to South Xinjiang (the southern half of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, located in the northwest of China, near Central Asia).

[2] 媚术 (mei shu) – 媚 = charm, flatter; 术 = method, technique. Seems to refer to the method for women to cultivate charm to tempt or fascinate men, especially in the expression of the eyes and subtle body language. In a way, to be a femme fatale. It requires exercising one’s qi (life force) and nourishing the blood.

Jiang Ruan’s heart sank. “South Xinjiang?”

When Xiao Shao saw her reaction, he said, thoughtfully, “Is there such a person like this by your side?”

“I want to ask Xiao w.a.n.gye, what does someone who practises this kind of technique have to do? What is the price? For example, does it require blood, or something along those lines?” Jiang Ruan asked.

“Not necessarily. There are many kinds of South Xinjiang black arts, but in regards to meishu, the people who practise it are all different, so the price varies as well. In general. Think of these secret techniques as a kind of medicine which fuses with the pract.i.tioner, and the deeper and stronger the fusion, the more remarkable the results. However, the price one has to pay will correspondingly be greater. The people who practise meishu behave differently from ordinary people. Some of them require the replenishment of a little fresh blood, or it could be something else. However, it’s really hard to say for sure,” Xiao Shao said as he patiently responded to her questions.

Jiang Ruan’s eyebrows gradually met in a frown. If she had been suspicious to some degree earlier, this suspicion had now grown significantly larger. In fact, Jiang Su Su’s abnormal behaviour and her smooth and fair face mirrored some of the points that Xiao Shao had just spoken of. However, she had only gone to the private temple to recuperate and restore her temperament, so how had this happened? The more Jiang Ruan thought about it, the more confused she became.

As Xiao Shao observed Jiang Ruan’s frown, he naturally also began to ponder the matter. The South Xinjiang people seemed to be planning a ma.s.sive conspiracy, and Jiang Ruan never asked questions about pointless matters. Her manner of questioning just now indicated that someone practising meishu must have appeared near her. If this were really the case, then they must start taking action now.

Thinking along these lines, Xiao Shao said, “I want to see the person you are talking about for myself.”

Jiang Ruan began plotting how to bring Xiao Shao into the Jiang fu to see Jiang Su Su; indeed it was best for him to personally confirm if this situation had anything to do with the South Xinjiang. She was also slightly startled by Xiao Shao because his words had caught her off guard; she had not expected that Xiao Shao would actually want to handle this situation alongside her. She did not know that Xiao Shao had been directed to deal with matters related to South Xinjiang; she simply thought that Xiao Shao was acting very considerate. A faint emotion arose in her heart. It was not quite grat.i.tude, but she increasingly felt that Xiao Shao was not the cold-hearted and callous person that rumours made him out to be.

She smiled faintly and said, “Of course that would be good. However, that person is not hidden, but in the Jiang fu.”

Xiao Shao looked at her, his elegant eyes as deep as the milky way. He said, “Jiang Su Su?”

“How did you know?” Jiang Ruan asked in astonishment.

“Among the ladies of the Jiang fu, only Second Jiang Miss is described as being as beautiful as a fairy, so it has to be her,” Xiao Shao replied.

Jiang Ruan was dumbfounded. She curled her lips in a smile and asked, “Xiao w.a.n.gye also considers Second Sister to be as beautiful as a fairy?”

It seemed as though Xiao Shao had been caught off guard by such an abrupt question from Jiang Ruan. He frowned, looked at her seriously and said, “Not as much as you.”

This kind of reply from Xiao Shao truly went beyond her expectations. Although Jiang Ruan was generally at peace with herself, to hear such a cold and detached person say such words put her into something of a daze. For a while, she did not know what to say in response. When she looked up at him again, she discovered that he was looking at her with interest, with a teasing glint in his eyes.

Since he was still smiling, was this . . . a joke?

After a moment’s blankness, Jiang Ruan smiled and said, “So, it turns out that Xiao w.a.n.gye also knows how to crack a joke.”

Xiao Shao raised his eyebrows and asked, “When should I go to your residence?”

Jiang Ruan felt that this conversation seemed to be a little weird, so she thought briefly before saying, “Why not tonight?”

Ye Feng, who was standing outside the private room with his ear pressed to the door, nearly had to sit down because his legs had turned soft. The delicate and pretty maidservant next to him also could not stop herself from signalling to him with raised eyebrows. Where was the Master who was ordinarily pure in heart and mind? The first thing he did upon returning was to visit a young lady’s residence, and this future young furen was also a heroine who was not the slightest bit bashful, and even fixed the time as tonight. Were they about to ‘become husband and wife’?

Xiao Shao said, “Fine. Tonight, between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., I’ll come and look for you.”

Jiang Ruan looked at him as she asked, “How will you get into the fu?”

Although Xiao Shao had said that his martial arts skills were outstanding, the Jiang fu was not like a ‘play house’[3]. Moreover, to meet with someone in the dead of night in her own home, who was in fact a young man, would naturally be seen as not quite acceptable. However, both of them were not ordinary people. Although Jiang Ruan felt a little strange, she was definitely not going to act as pedantic and inflexible as she did in her previous life. Besides, she was eager to figure out what exactly was going on with Jiang Su Su.

[3] 过家家 (guo jia jia) – a children’s role-playing/ make-believe game, ‘playing house’.

“No need to worry. At the appointed time, I will come and look for you,” Xiao Shao said.

Jiang Ruan thought for a moment before nodding and saying, “In that case, many thanks to Xiao w.a.n.gye.”

Lian Qiao and Bai Zhi, standing to the side, did not make any sound or movement, but exchanged glances. Their young miss was trusting Xiao w.a.n.gye more and more. As her personal maidservants, they knew her temperament the best. From the moment she had regained consciousness after falling into the water at the rural residence, she had become extremely vigilant, and had never easily trusted the people around her. She was still slightly reserved even when interacting with the family of her own maternal grandfather, Zhao Guang. Even though this Xiao w.a.n.gye could be said to be somewhat cold and detached, he had helped Jiang Ruan tremendously countless times. Both maidservants reckoned that if the two of them could marry, it would undoubtedly be much better than being married off to someone else.

Jiang Ruan had no idea that her personal maidservants had already unceremoniously ‘sold’ her off. She lowered her head and drank her tea, thinking that as long as she could figure out Jiang Su Su’s secret, the haze which had clouded her heart recently would be lifted substantially.

* * *

“To bring this kind of makeup that’s not fit for public view to me, is this missy so foolish? Get lost!” A round container was flung out, landing with a loud ‘pa’, whereupon the finely ground powder within was scattered all over the ground leaving minute traces suspended in the air. With great destructive force, Jiang Li swept all the items off her table, yelling, “Bunch of useless fools!”

Xi Liu, her maidservant, consoled her by saying, “Miss, don’t be angry. In a few days, the people from Zuo Langzhong’s fu will arrive. At that time, Miss will be so beautiful, and will go with them happily.”

It was better not to have said anything. At her words, Jiang Li erupted in anger and said, “I really don’t understand, how is it that I’m not good enough, such that the Zuo family is still so dissatisfied? They are still acknowledging that sickly, useless seedling.”

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Xi Liu persuaded, “Zuo Langzhong is a good person who always abides by his promises. I believe he is merely showing respect for the promise he made to Fourth Miss. When Miss is married to him, he will naturally treat Miss well.”

“You’re very happy?” A cold, detached voice, slightly hoa.r.s.e, reached her ears. At the same time, she smelled the faint, masculine scent of green bamboo. While Jiang Ruan started a little in surprise, Lian Qiao exclaimed, “Aiya!”

Although Jiang Ruan was startled, she was able to conceal it and there was no trace of panic in her expression. She simply looked Xiao Shao up and down in a.s.sessment, blinked, and said, with a hint of disappointment, “Ah, not really.”

“Is that so?” Xiao Shao shot a look at Lian Qiao, who hurriedly lowered her head and left the room.

Jiang Ruan observed the man opposite her. He was clad in pitch-black, form-fitting clothes which allowed for agility of movement, made of tianxiang silk. Encircling his waist was a golden belt made of rhinoceros horn, patterned with sea tigers. Upon observing the neat outline of this outfit, he looked much younger than his usual everyday appearance. In the lamp light, Xiao Shao’s facial features stood out as being both gentle and beautiful, and his jet-black eyes shone so brightly, they were even more resplendent than the star-filled night sky. An enigmatic little smile played on his thin lips, which were tightly pursed, and his Adam’s apple moved slightly.

Compared to all the beauties one could view by lamp light, this young man was more handsome than anyone she had seen. But feeling as if an evil spirit was whispering in her heart, Jiang Ruan tore her gaze away. How could she have imagined that he would be dressed as a flower-plucking thief[9] or suchlike? Since he was visiting a lady’s chamber at night, he would be more cautious and reserved in his appearance. This Xiao Shao was not at all like ordinary people, who would act in such a way as to cause alarm. Moreover, from the beginning until now, his elegant grace had never been diminished. He definitely did not appear to be here to probe secrets, but to be a guest.

[9] 采花贼 (cai hua zei) – lit. flower-plucking thief; fig. rapist

Xiao Shao checked the exterior and said, “Everything looks fine, let’s go.”

Flabbergasted, Jiang Ruan stared at him and said, “I’ll walk over there with you just like this?”

“No need.” Having said this, Xiao Shao reached out his hand, grabbed the back of Jiang Ruan’s collar, and leaped out of the window before she could utter a sound. Completely startled, Jiang Ruan unconsciously wound her arms around his waist. The wind whistled by her ears and her heart was full of tension. This type of tension was not the sort she experienced daily as she schemed against others, which was a sort of pressure that built up gradually and became more palpable with each step. It was a kind of pure emotion, a slight fear felt because one had encountered the unknown. It was the kind of tension she had experienced when Zhao Mei was still alive, when Jiang Xin Zhi had surrept.i.tiously slipped out of the fu with her to visit the temple fair, the kind of tension that came from the fear of discovery as they squirmed through the dog hole they had dug.

Within that tension was a little frisson of excitement, as if returning to the time when there was no need to be worried about anything. That long-absent kind of stimulation caused her to forget the fear of being ‘carried’ through the air, and she was left slightly dazed.

Xiao Shao noticed Jiang Ruan’s unusual silence and could not help but lower his head to carefully look at her. He saw that her charming and lovely little face looked a little bewildered and helpless, but a sense of cautious longing was also present. This was poles apart from the customary quiet and peaceful appearance, and was what a young lady her age should look like. He had so rarely seen Jiang Ruan this way, and was momentarily somewhat taken aback. His eyes fell on her arms tightly encircling his waist; her soft and slender fingers were closely gripping his pitch-black clothes, which made them appear even more like white and l.u.s.trous jade. For some unknown reason, he felt that his waist, encircled by those arms, was inexplicably hot.

In the blink of an eye, Xiao Shao used his martial arts skills to transport Jiang Ruan along with him as he dropped into the middle of a courtyard. When Jiang Ruan had steadied herself enough to release her hands and take in their location, she was dumbstruck. They were in Su Xin Yuan.

She glanced at Xiao Shao suspiciously and said, “How did you know how to get here? Is it possible that you’ve been here before?”

Xiao Shao found his way in and out of the Jiang fu as if he were merely wandering into an uninhabited land, and he was able to locate Jiang Su Su’s courtyard with ease. All this readily led to one having misgivings about him.

Xiao Shao: “………”

Although this was actually not the first time he had visited Su Xin Yuan, the previous time had been when Jiang Ruan had castrated Li Yang. He had watched the entire scene unfold from a tree, and in the end, had even helped her. However, right now was not a good time to disclose this.

“Jin Yi checked and drew a map for me,” he explained.

Jiang Ruan nodded and said, “So, it’s like that.” Her expression showed that she did not fully believe him, and Xiao Shao felt even more helpless.

Both of them walked to a corner of the courtyard. Behind Jiang Su Su’s room was a small, empty room. As they went round the back of the empty room, they suddenly heard a peculiar sound. The unexpected sound undulated somewhat in the night air, but it was still possible to make out that it sounded like something was struggling vigorously, and flopping around on the ground, giving rise to a loud noise.

Xiao Shao frowned. He picked up a pebble from the ground and shot it through the window, noiselessly leaving a small hole behind. Xiao Shao moved forward to look and his expression gradually became grave. On seeing this, Jiang Ruan patted his shoulder, whereupon he moved back and Jiang Ruan placed her eye to the hole. Then, she saw such a scene that she found it hard to breathe.

A faint light was shining in the room, but it was enough for her to see what was happening. Someone was holding something and was gnawing at it with a lowered head. When this person turned her head, everything became clear. The item in her hand was a hen with its feathers all in disarray. The hen’s neck was almost broken through, and its feathers were drenched in blood as it died. That person’s fair skin was almost supernaturally pale and her eyes were trance-like. She wore white clothes, and her appearance was exquisite, like that of a fairy. However, her mouth was stained with blood, like a malicious ghost feeding on a corpse.

It was Jiang Su Su.

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