Su Shi could barely control her excitement . A myriad of emotions welled up in her heart as she embraced Jiang Ruan and said, “My poor Mei’er led a bitter life and died early, Ruan’er has grown so much, and must have suffered a lot . All of this is the fault of this old woman . ” On seeing that Su Shi was about to burst into tears once again, Zhao Guang hurriedly came forward to pat her on the shoulder and say, consolingly, “Furen, isn’t it a good thing that Ruan’er has returned, why are you thinking about such sad things?”
Zhao Yi also urged her, “Zumu, now that our biaomei has returned, this should be a happy occasion . ”
The two mistresses of the Zhao family also consoled her . Su Shi wiped away her tears and smilingly said, “Look at me, wasting precious time like this . Ruan’er, please don’t fault this old woman . ”
Jiang Ruan smiled faintly but did not say anything .
With the arrival of Su Shi, Zhao Guang and Zhao Yi did not continue inquiring into the matters of the Jiang family, but, together with Su Shi, started asking Jiang Ruan how she had managed all these years . Jiang Ruan told them the details, but concealed the Jiang family’s ill treatment of her . Despite this, her indifference towards them was evident, and Su Shi was able to pick up on this . Since Jiang Ruan was unwilling to say more, she also did not press her for the details, but looked at Jiang Ruan with eyes full of love and regret .
Zhao Guang and Zhao Yi had previously had some understanding of Jiang Ruan, as well as of her past situation . Now, watching her attempt to lighten Su Shi’s guilty conscience with nice-sounding lies, they came to love Jiang Ruan even more . Zhao Yulong and Zhao Feizhou had never met Jiang Ruan before, and they only knew that a biaomei whom they had never heard of before had suddenly appeared at the General fu, so they a.s.sessed Jiang Ruan with a lot of curiosity .
After Jiang Ruan’s conversation with Su Shi, Su Shi decided she wanted to go to the kitchen to personally cook a meal for her, so she called several of the Zhao family’s old maidservants to go with her, and all of the remaining womenfolk left the room .
Jiang Ruan looked at Zhao Guang and said, “I have something else to say . ”
Zhao Guang waved his hand . “Come to the study . ” He turned his head to look at Zhao Yuan Jia and the others, saying, “The few of you come along, too . ”
Zhao Yi was considered an adult, so he naturally followed behind . Zhao Yulong and Zhao Feizhou wanted to go, too, but Zhao Yuan Feng stopped them, so they left discontentedly .
In the study, Zhao Guang sat down before asking Jiang Ruan, “What is Jiang Quan planning to do with your elder brother?”
His first words were not about the distribution of congee, nor were they about Chong Xin farmstead, but about Jiang Xin Zhi . Slightly stunned, Jiang Ruan smiled and said, “Does this mean that Maternal Grandfather is agreeing to help me?”
Zhao Guang stared at her as he replied, “He is our Zhao family’s grandson, how can I just stand by and watch without doing anything?”
 Wai sun ( 外孙 ) – grandson from the maternal line; daughter’s son; 袖手旁观
 Xiu shou pang guan ( 袖手旁观 )- (idiom) look from the side with folded arms; to look on without lifting a finger,
Jiang Ruan bowed her head slightly . At the beginning, she had been unsure what the Zhao family’s att.i.tude would be, and thus had brought Jiang Quan and Xia Yan into the conversation . In reality, the statement she has made earlier about the maidservant overhearing Jiang Quan’s plan was just a groundless a.s.sumption . It’s just that, in her previous life, Jiang Xin Zhi had met with a vicious attack and lost his life . On thinking about it, this would be the most likely outcome again, so even if it meant that all the Zhao family’s plans came to naught, she could not take this risk with Jiang Xin Zhi’s life . She said, “It will probably take another five days for dage to reach the capital . On his way back to the capital, he will undoubtedly meet with an accident . ” She paused and looked at Zhao Guang . “Even though I don’t know what method they will use, they have sufficient means to plot against dage’s life . ”
 Kong xue lai feng ( 空穴来风 ) – lit . wind from an empty cave; fig . baseless, unfounded .
Zhao Guang clenched his fist . “So arrogant!”
“However, the Jiang family doesn’t yet have this kind of power . Nowadays, the Jiang family’s accounts are bare, and Jiang Quan’s official career has suffered one obstacle after another . The Jiang family is nothing more than an empty sh.e.l.l . The real force behind all these things is the Xia family . ”
“The Xia family?” Zhao Yuan Ping frowned as he spoke . “Xia Yan’s family?”
“Indeed,” Jiang Ruan said lightly . “The Xia family and the Jiang family are related by marriage . Even though there may be conflicting views, if dage is not around, then Jiang Chao is the future head of the Jiang fu . Once he is the head, there will be an unbreakable connection with the Xia family . If dage is the head, the relationship between the Jiang family and the Xia family will not last long . Whether due to emotional ties or logic, if the Jiang family seeks the help of the Xia family, the Xia family has no reason to decline . ”
Zhao Yuan Feng said, “Isn’t this to compel someone to their death? The Jiang family is truly inhuman! Father, let me kill that dog of a Jiang Quan!”
Zhao Yuan Feng had had the closest relationship with Zhao Mei, and he had never, not in the slightest, approved of Jiang Quan . Today, hearing from Jiang Ruan how Zhao Mei had been so badly bullied by Jiang Quan, and thinking about how his beloved elder sister had suffered in silence for so long, he was unbearably furious with Jiang Quan . At this moment, after hearing of Jiang Quan’s attempt to plot against Jiang Xin Zhi, the itch to do something straightaway in order to avenge Zhao Mei was almost intolerable .
“Listen to your father and sit down!” Zhao Guang exploded . “As if you haven’t caused enough trouble!”
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Jiang Ruan smiled faintly and said, “Third Maternal Uncle, the Xia family definitely has a hand in this matter . However, there is another family which may be involved . ”
 Zhang yi mei duo tu gou bei, fu xin duo shi du shu ren ( 仗义每多屠狗辈，负心多是读书人) – a famous couplet by Ming dynasty poet, Cao Xuequan (曹学佺); 狼心狗肺
(lang xin gou fei) – lit . heart of a wolf and lungs of a dog .
She said this in a light-hearted manner, as if she was talking about an exceedingly ordinary matter, but within those gentle tones a thread of rancour was clearly revealed, which caused one to feel an inexplicable chill . After a pause, Jiang Ruan said, “To ambush someone along a road would undoubtedly require many men and horses . Maternal Grandfather, could I trouble you to send for your troops, and a.s.sign some men to monitor the movements of the Xia and Li families . The instant there is unusual activity, the men should follow behind, and in this way protect my brother’s life . ”
“Must we really take the step of sending out the troops?” Zhao Yuan Jia said hesitatingly . “Since Xin Zhi is a Deputy General, he will be returning with his troops . With so many troops, would they dare to attempt an a.s.sasination in broad daylight?”
“I don’t know what method they will use,” Jiang Ruan said, “but I do know that if we don’t send sufficient manpower, my dage is headed for disaster . They must take action before dage reaches the capital; once in the capital, under the nose of the Emperor, it will be much harder to make a move . Therefore, they will definitely think of a way, plan a way, to take my brother’s life . Eldest Maternal Uncle, please do not doubt me . ”
Her tone was slightly cold . Zhao Yuan Jia was taken aback and said, “I do not doubt you . ”
“Maternal Grandfather, do you agree to my requirements?” Jiang Ruan asked .
Although Zhao Guang was a General, he was not one to rush into action impulsively; ordinarily, in battle, he would ascertain that there was guaranteed success before he took action . At this moment, however, without a second thought, he said, “I agree . He is my grandson, the Zhao family will definitely protect him . ”
Jiang Ruan said, “My heartfelt grat.i.tude, Maternal Grandfather . ”
Zhao Guang looked at Jiang Ruan . The young girl standing before him was calm, and her speech and conduct were no different from that of an adult . In their Zhao family, on an ordinary day, 13 and 14-year old Zhao Feizhou and Zhao Yulong would occasionally still display a childlike innocence . However, Jiang Ruan showed not even a hint of juvenile behaviour . She certainly appeared sweet-natured and gentle, but there was also a kind of cold indifference in her manner . There were evil tendencies which only those who had undergone the baptism of bloodshed on a battlefield would develop, and these tendencies had already seeped deep into Jiang Ruan’s bones . He heaved an inward sigh . Su Shi could not see them clearly, but he had met many more people . After the initial shock, he had seen the tendencies in Jiang Ruan . The entire time, she had never shown the usual excitement most people had when visiting one’s kin . Her heart was firm and unyielding, and he was afraid that every word she had spoken to the Zhao family had undergone much careful deliberation first, and every word had a particular intention .
She had a.s.sessed the entire Zhao family and included them in her plan, but the method she had used was not to conspire against them or to compel them . Instead, as a well lubricated wheel makes no sound, she had spoken so that no one could deny her request for help . Even though they had been manoeuvred into being involved, they were perfectly happy to do so .
Jiang Ruan was so precocious, in all likelihood her years of living in the Jiang fu were ten thousand times more dangerous than what she had described . When all was said and done, she was a descendant of the Zhao family . Additionally, when Zhao Guang thought about the deceased Zhao Mei, there was no way he could remain indifferent . After pondering these things, he now no longer wanted to inquire further about the congee distribution and Chong Xin farmstead . He said, “Your maternal grandmother should have prepared the meal by now – cough – let’s go out together . ” Saying this, he stood up and walked out slowly . Perhaps because he had been hard hit by the news of Zhao Mei’s situation, his tall and st.u.r.dy back seemed to have become somewhat frail .
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