Chapter 141 : Xiao Shao is Injured
Trigger Warning: mention of domestic violence.
By the very next day the news that the Xia family’s Eldest Master had been given a green hat to wear by his own younger brother had spread throughout the capital. Xia Cheng himself felt so humiliated that he asked the Emperor to excuse him from court, claiming illness. Concurrently, the Imperial Censor’s request for his impeachment landed on the Emperor’s desk, stating that Marquis Xia fu was a hotbed of chaos, and since Xia Cheng was unable to govern his own wife and children it was clear he was unfit to be a court official.
Marquis Xia fu had already been discredited by Xia Yan’s adultery, but when the news of the Xia family’s Second Master’s affair also came to light, the common folk suddenly realized why it was no wonder that the people in Jiang fu acted the way they did. To put it simply, the younger generation was merely emulating their seniors’ vices*.
*上梁不正下梁歪 (shang liang bu zheng xia liang wai) – lit. if the upper beam is not straight, the lower beam will be crooked. Fig. subordinates imitate their superior’s vices.
All kinds of rumors were being spread which were too vile to repeat by the time they reached Xia Cheng’s ears. In addition, since the matter was made known, Xia Tian Yi had remained in his residence, only sending out his maidservants to buy wine. Then, he would proceed to become dead drunk, nothing at all like his former solemn and self-disciplined self, and no different from a drunkard on the streets. Xia Cheng berated him constantly, but Xia Tian Yi became agitated on each occasion, so in a fit of anger Xia Cheng decided to stop trying, thinking that Xia Tian Yi would eventually get over it soon.
Shen Rou’s own family had come to visit her, but when they found out what had happened, they too had felt ashamed. As a result, they p.r.o.nounced that Shen Rou had married into the Xia family, and therefore belonged to the Xia family; even if she died, it would be of no concern of theirs. Thus, they had effectively given her over to the Xia family and washed their hands of her completely.
However, at present, everyone in Marquis Xia fu was fussing over Xia Jiao Jiao’s injuries, and no one cared whether Shen Rou lived or died. Since the day that Xia Jiao Jiao had been kicked by Xia Tian Yi, resulting in her face being splashed with scalding hot soup, Xia Furen had invited a good number of doctors to tend to her, all of whom had said it was a hopeless situation. Xia Jiao Jiao would not be able to escape having a huge burn mark on her face. With this kind of facial injury, there was no need to talk about entering the palace anymore because even marrying an ordinary person and becoming his furen was already difficult enough. In any case, now that Xia Jiao Jiao had been exposed as a child born of adultery, not only would the licentious scions of the capital’s rich or n.o.ble families not deign to marry her, but it was equally useless to even consider marrying into a good family.
Xia Jiao Jiao had always been vain, and had always regarded her face as being more important than anything else. After she realized she had been disfigured, she spent her entire day hysterically proclaiming that she wanted to die causing Xia Furen a headache like none other.
As for Yu Ya and Xia Tian Cai, no one knew if it was due to the provocation of this unhappy situation, but Yu Ya’s temperament underwent a marked change, and she made no effort to even attempt to imitate the subservient att.i.tude she had displayed in former days. She argued with Xia Tian Cai regularly, and had transformed into a ferocious tigress. Now, without fail, Xia Tian Cai sported fresh red scratches on his face, and Yu Ya’s body was also marked with green and purple bruises; it was truly a horrifying sight.
In the end, Marquis Xia fu could certainly be said to be a total mess both internally and externally, and the common people were eagerly waiting to see the newest excitement. When Lu Zhu relayed this news to Jiang Ruan, she was laughing so hard she could barely stand up straight. “This time, the Xia family is indeed reaping what they have sown. Let’s just let them fight with each other.”
Lian Qiao was also laughing as she remarked, “Isn’t there a saying, ‘What goes around, comes around’*? Because the families of the eldest and second sons of the Xia family have committed such disgraceful acts, they were bound to be exposed by someone one day.”
 天道有轮回 (tian dao you lun hui) – this seems to be a version of the saying, 天道有轮回 苍天饶过谁 (tian dao you lun hui, cang tian rao guo shui). The gist of this seems to be that both good and bad deeds are remembered by heaven and rewarded accordingly. Just because there is no immediate consequence, it does not mean that heaven has not noticed. When reincarnation finally takes place, it will become clear that heaven has not allowed an evil-doer to go unpunished, or failed to reward someone who has done good.
Outside, the sky had turned dark. Bai Zhi used a pair of scissors to trim the wick of the lantern, causing the light to shine more brightly, without flickering erratically. Bai Zhi then draped a thin cloak over Jiang Ruan’s shoulders, saying, “Miss, it’s getting colder, be careful not to fall ill.”
It was already early autumn. In the daytime, there was no discernible difference, but at night, the autumn chill could be felt. Jiang Ruan closed the book in her hand and her gaze inadvertently fell on a whistle on the table. The whistle was so exquisitely made, and she could not help but reach out a hand to pick it up, cup it in her hands to examine it closely.
This was the whistle that Xiao Shao had given her in the prison that day. At that time, she had been unable to take the time to look at it carefully. Now, even while looking at it, she was unable to determine what it was made of, and it carried a very faint scent. On the body of the whistle was engraved a golden qilin striding through flames and wind. When Jiang Ruan leaned closer, she could discern a clean, clear scent.
Xiao Shao had been gone for more than twenty days; something must have happened to him. Jiang Ruan put down the whistle and was just thinking about lying down when she saw Tian Zhu, who had been sitting outside, abruptly shoot to her feet with an extremely grave expression.
Jiang Ruan was slightly alarmed, but then in the warm yellow light of the gently swaying candle flame, a tall, slender figure slowly appeared. That person walked forward a few steps until he could be clearly seen; elegant and distant, who else could it be but Xiao Shao?
Tian Zhu called out in a low whisper, “Master!” Her face was full of anxiety, which was uncommon for her, and it was only then that Jiang Ruan smelled the reek of blood coming from Xiao Shao’s body. Another look at Xiao Shao revealed that even though his expression seemed as usual, his face was several degrees paler than it normally was, and his lips were verging on being colourless.
“Are you hurt?” she asked with a frown.
“I’m fine.” Xiao Shao pursed his lips as he said this, but hardly had the words been uttered before he collapsed – right on the soft couch of Jiang Ruan’s outer chamber.
Tian Zhu dared not say anything else except to whisper anxiously, “Miss, Master . . .”
Jiang Ruan stared at the unconscious figure on the couch for a moment before finally saying, “Close the door and windows, and ask Lian Qiao and Bai Zhi to boil a pot of water and bring it here. Lu Zhu, guard the door. Tian Zhu, do you have any medical skills?”
Tian Zhu shook her head and replied, “This subordinate can only recognise a few poisons.”
Jiang Ruan felt a slight headache coming on. “Then, what did you all do when you were injured in the past?”
“Endure it,” Tian Zhu replied. “Endure it until we could return, and then a doctor would come and tend to us.”
It was not possible for a.s.sa.s.sins to worry about the condition of their injuries all the time. If they really valued their lives that much, then they were in the wrong line of work. Jiang Ruan looked down in thought, then said. “Put him on my bed, it is too easy to leave traces elsewhere.”
“This . . .” Tian Zhu was somewhat amazed at this – to allow a man to lie on one’s own bed, wasn’t this giving tacit approval . . . but on looking at Jiang Ruan, she did not seem to be especially close to Master.
“Move quickly.” Jiang Ruan did not give her time to ponder the matter. “If you don’t get going your master will bleed to death.”
Only then did Tian Zhu restrain the conjecture in her heart and moved Xiao Shao to Jiang Ruan’s bed.
Outside, Lu Zhu stood at the courtyard gate, faithfully keeping guard so as to avoid unexpected incidents. However, her mind was constantly thinking about what might be happening within, and she kept urging Jin Er, who was perched on the rooftop to look in, “What on earth is happening?”
Jin Er leisurely sat on the roof. He prised up a roof tile to look in, and clicked his tongue before saying, “Nothing much, just that your young miss has carried Master to her bed.”
“Ah —” Lu Zhu covered her mouth. “How could Miss allow a man to lie on her own bed so casually?”
“In my opinion, your miss is making use of this opportunity when my master is unconscious to behave indecently towards him.” Jin Er continued clearly and logically, “It is a moonless night, and the wind is high- indeed the perfect occasion. See, she’s even let the curtains down. Isn’t this . . .”
“Shut up!” His increasingly outrageous words were the last straw for Lu Zhu, who burst out, “You Dengtu Zi with your mouth full of bullsh*t, don’t you dare sully the innocence of my Miss! What’s so amazing about your young master? My Miss is naturally beautiful and intelligent so why would she have any need to do something like this? On the contrary, it is your young master who came to my Miss’s residence, without rhyme or reason, to faint, instead of going somewhere else. What kind of evil intentions does he have?
Lu Zhu stunned Jin Er into silence with her gift of offhanded ramblings, but the reason for this was something which could not be talked about with outsiders. He was momentarily unable to come up with an acceptable justification for his Master’s actions.
Meanwhile, Jin San, who was sitting in a tree watching the show, huffed in laughter. She thought that Jin Er and Lu Zhu were a couple of buffoons who were made for each other, and it was great fun watching the two clowns interact for her entertainment everyday.
* * *
Within the room, Tian Zhu had examined Xiao Shao and found that the source of his injury was a wound that had been poisoned. However, Xiao Shao himself had medical knowledge, so he had taken the antidote and was feeling better at present. The wound still had to be seen to, though.
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Following the method used by Tian Zhu and her comrades, Jiang Ruan had to carefully remove the cloth to expose the wound before rebandaging it to stop the bleeding. Although this was convenient for a short period, after some time, the wound would be p.r.o.ne to putrefaction. Seeing as Tian Zhu was unreliable, Jiang Ruan undertook to tend to the wound herself.
Although Bai Zhi and Lian Qiao were mildly critical of Xiao Shao’s fainting in their young lady’s courtyard, when they saw him this way, they could not help admiration for him from welling up. There were not many men in the world who could endure pain and suffering, and those who could endure pain such as that Xiao Shao had to suffer were even more rare.
At last, Jiang Ruan completed the final st.i.tch and tied a knot in the silk thread before tossing the needle into her sewing box. She then sprinkled some medicinal powder to inhibit bleeding onto Xiao Shao’s wound. Tian Zhu offered her a clean strip of white cloth. Jiang Ruan looked down, glancing between Xiao Shao’s bare chest and the strip of cloth.
Jiang Ruan took the cloth and said to Tian Zhu, “Help him to sit up.”
Tian Zhu did as she said. Jiang Ruan threw Xiao Shao’s blood-soaked clothing to one side and asked Xiao Shao to lower his head a little.
Xiao Shao was taken aback for a moment, seeming to come to a sudden realization. His handsome face reddened, and he turned his head aside with a sense of discomfort.
Jiang Ruan did not notice his expression. Using both hands, she brought the cloth around his back and then back round to his front. In this way, it looked like Xiao Shao was embracing her, and if she raised her head, she would touch his chin.
Jiang Ruan kept her head bowed as she tied the ends of the cloth strip together. Xiao Shao pursed his lips as he looked at Jiang Ruan who was only a whisker away from him, and the fragrance of a young lady flooded his senses. That strange emotion once again emerged, and he felt an irresistible urge to draw the young lady before him into his arms.
Bai Zhi and Lian Qiao averted their eyes shyly and stayed absolutely still. After Jiang Ruan had finished bandaging the wound, she paused in thought, then asked Lian Qiao to boil some brown sugar water. Brown sugar water would strengthen the blood, and even though it was a tonic usually taken by women, it would not do to raise suspicions at this point in time. Xiao Shao’s expression had stiffened slightly.
After everything had been managed, Jiang Ruan heaved a sigh of relief; she had not expected that it would be so extraordinarily tiring to treat and bandage Xiao Shao’s injury. Sitting beside the bed, she finally asked, “How did you come to faint here?”
“There were ambushes all along my journey, and this place was the nearest,” Xiao Shao said. When he left the capital to handle matters, the South Xinjiang people had become increasingly bold. He had already been injured, and he was ambushed constantly en route. The South Xinjiang people excelled at using poison, and the people who had ambushed him tonight had all used miao gu, confirming his suspicions. Since those people in the capital had already formed an a.s.sociation with the South Xinjiang people, he was sure to be waylaid on his way to Jinying w.a.n.gfu. Not wanting to beat the gra.s.s and scare off the snake, and seeing that Jiang fu was right in front of him, he headed for Jiang Ruan’s courtyard without second thought.
In actual fact, his whereabouts should not be divulged to outsiders, but for some unknown reason, he felt that Jiang Ruan was someone he could trust. Thus, he had no qualms boldly entering Jiang Ruan’s courtyard and allowing himself to faint there. Truthfully, his injuries were not a major issue, for he would be fine after some rest. However, observing Jiang Ruan bandage his injury in such a serious manner, he had simply decided to play dumb.
At this time, Xiao Shao still did not understand why his behaviour was totally different from that in the past, and he also had no clue as to the meaning of this peculiar feeling. He had matured at an early age, but in matters of the heart, he was no better than a fifteen or sixteen-year-old youth, allowing these sour, painful feelings to ferment in his heart.
Jiang Ruan looked out of the window, and then at the hourgla.s.s to one side; it was already midnight. After ensuring that Xiao Shao drank all of the brown sugar water, she lowered the drapes and said, “You had better sleep. I’ll go outside.”
Xiao Shao made as if to get off the bed. “There’s no need, I will be fine outside.”
Jiang Ruan eyed him before saying, “If you are not afraid to implicate me, then go ahead and sleep outside. There is no shortage of informers in my courtyard, and my younger sisters are all dying to get their hands on any information which can be used against me. If you want to give them this information sooner, I owe you several favours, so I can say nothing.”
Xiao Shao was slightly abashed in the face of Jiang Ruan’s reprimand. On further consideration, it did seem that he was splitting hairs if he were to decline her invitation. It was just that it was somewhat inappropriate for a dignified man to occupy the bed of a lady in the inner chamber. However, since Jiang Ruan didn’t find it wrong, he could only drop the subject.
After Jiang Ruan had withdrawn from the room, Tian Zhu, who had remained silent all this while, came forward and bowed deeply to Jiang Ruan in grat.i.tude while saying, “This subordinate expresses boundless grat.i.tude for Miss’ benevolent grace in saving a life.”
Jiang Ruan said nothing so Tian Zhu continued, “From this day onwards, this subordinate’s life belongs to Miss.” The situation today had been terribly risky. Perhaps Bai Zhi and Lian Qiao had been ignorant of this, but she, as a member of the Jinyi Guard, was well aware of the danger. For Jiang Ruan to have braved the hidden forces in the capital to hide Xiao Shao in her chamber and treat his injuries required immense courage. Moreover, from beginning to end, Jiang Ruan had stayed calm and collected, as if what she was involved in was no more than an everyday affair.
Tian Zhu reiterated, “From this day onwards, this subordinate’s life belongs to Miss.”
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