Liu Jue went to the Right Minister’s residence and asked Ah Luo out to ride horses again. Ah Luo thought inwardly that this person was just like an invulnerable cockroach. She wondered how she could discard him today.
Riding across the grass plains, Liu Jue led Ah Luo eastward of Yu Cui Mountain. Ah Luo remembered that this was the direction where Princess Hu Guo’s villa was located. They passed the plains, galloping over the slopes of the hills that slowly rose and fell felt like the gentle breathing of a woman lying on the earth. After riding for a while, Ah Luo yawned and said, “The sunlight is strong and I’m sleepy. I won’t accompany you anymore, I’ll head back to the Minister’s residence.”
Liu Jue turned his head to look at her, “Are you going back to the Minister’s residence, or are you going to shop alone?”
Ah Luo was so shocked that she almost fell off her horse. She turned her face to the side, “How are you this shameless? Having someone follow me?”
Liu Jue smiled and said, “I originally wanted to know the secrets of the girl who was able to teach Prince Li’s chef such first rate vegetarian dishes and was claimed by him to be a treasure. It unconsciously became an addiction, it was really fun to watch you and Zi Li meet in the backyard all day long.”
If he continued to find someone to keep watch over her like this, then she really wouldn’t be able to leave. Ah Luo looked at Liu Jue seriously and said, “If you ask someone to follow me again, I will definitely never marry you! I hate having people watch over everything I do, this is an invasion of other’s privacy! I’ll hold you in contempt!”
Liu Jue also put away his cynical attitude and looked at Ah Luo, saying, “Alright, I won’t make someone watch you. Ah Luo, I didn’t want to watch you, I was just curious at first, but now it’s unnecessary.” Having said this, he laughed, “No matter who I changed it to, it would be uncomfortable.”
Ah Luo sighed in relief, “I believe you, so don’t let me down.”
Liu Jue jumped off his horse and stretched out a hand towards Ah Luo, “Come down! Let’s sit by the stream for a while.”
Just as Ah Luo was about to dismount, Liu Jue furrowed his brows and said, “Actually, forget it. It’s almost noon and the sunlight is harmful, go home first.”
Since Liu Jue changed his mind suddenly, Ah Luo looked at him suspiciously. Liu Jue’s face darkened, “Go quickly!” He slapped the horse’s butt and with a whinny, the horse ran forward. The horse ran only a few steps before its front hooves weakened and it toppled forward. Ah Luo fell off the horse with a cry of alarm. She closed her eyes and thought that this was the end. Immediately, her body felt light and a pair of powerful arms wrapped around her. She heard Liu Jue yell loudly, “Get up!” Her body flew up as though she was treading clouds. She heard the sound of the wind and the clash of swords whizzing past her ears. When they landed on the ground, she saw a dozen black-clothed people waving and slashing their swords. The situation was ten times more dangerous than the attack on Zi Li the last time. Seeing the glint and flash of the swords and the darting shadows of the people, Ah Luo’s vision blurred. Karate was like child’s play in comparison to this level of martial arts.
Liu Jue stood in front of her, leaping right and left. While she was stunned, she heard a breeze behind her and Ah Luo instinctively dodged the person who had attacked from behind. Liu Jue turned and blocked with his sword, his other hand holding onto Ah Luo tightly. She heard him whistle long and clear. The dark-clothed Xuan forces from the An Qing Palace instantly appeared. Caught unaware, the black-clothed people were unable to defend themselves and killed. The situation reversed and the battle soon ended. Not a single black-clothed person escaped and three of them were captured alive.
Liu Jue resheathed his sword and stood tall. With a chuckle, he said, “Speak, who instructed you! Of course, you would usually be unwilling to speak like this. Having to suffer a lot is also not something smart people do. How about this, if you tell me, this prince will let you die painlessly. Naturally, if you don’t tell me, then you won’t be able to die even if you wanted to. For ten or eight years, I’ll wait patiently.”
Three lack-clothed people glanced at each other then said, “It’s the same whether we speak or not, Young Prince should just do whatever he wants.”
Liu Jue smiled and said, “What do you mean, I can’t scare my little princess.”
Ah Luo blushed and turned to the side, thinking to herself, how could this Liu Jue interrogate a prisoner while being so playful? Just when she had turned her head, she heard a muffled hum. The moment she was about to turn back, Liu Jue’s large palm covered her eyes, “Be good, don’t look. That’s the way, just look at the scenery.”
Liu Jue took away his palm. Ah Luo truly didn’t want to look. All the sounds she heard behind her were muffled, though she could imagine what was happening. She couldn’t help but cover her ears. More than half an hour passed. Liu Jue took her hands away and turned her around, the empty hillside appearing as though nothing had ever happened.
There was a broad smile on Liu Jue’s face. When he saw Ah Luo’s eyes wide with terror and doubt, he couldn’t help but sigh. He held her face and said, “Ah Luo, don’t be afraid. Look into my eyes, look at me. Remember, as long as I’m here, you will be safe. Unless, unless I die in front of you.”
Liu Jue’s eyes showed sincerity and firmness. Ah Luo was caught in a momentary trance and nodded unconsciously. Feeling reassured, Liu Jue hugged her. His chest was strong and warm. She heard Liu Jue whisper, “Trust me, Ah Luo, I will treat you well and protect you for life.”
The two of them cuddled for a while. Suddenly, Ah Luo asked, “Who wants to kill you? You seem prepared.”
Liu Jue replied lightly, “It’s either the Crown Prince or Prince Li.”
Startled, Ah Luo pushed Liu Jue away, “How is that possible? What good would it do to offend you?”
Liu Jue said, “This is the problem. No matter which family offends me, it would do them no good, so they hope that the opposite party would offend me. The side that the An Qing Palace is biased towards will have the greatest chance of winning the battle for the throne in the future. Although a moment ago, the Qing Yi sentry had confessed that it was the Crown Prince after being tortured, I don’t believe them. I believe that there is a bigger chance that it was Prince Li. His commands are strict so it’s entirely possible for the death soldiers to choose their most painful moment to frame the Crown Prince.
Yet, I won’t completely rule out the possibility that it’s the Crown Prince deliberately putting the blame on himself to appear more innocent. You know, I am his future brother-in-law. With the Crown Prince’s current power, the An Qing Palace helped him a lot just by being neutral. On the surface, he would have no need to deal with me for now. However, he’s afraid that the palace would support Prince Li and I cannot rule out this possibility, so I won’t believe a word from the black-clothed people. The only thing that could be confirmed was that once Emperor Ning passes away, the imperial court would be thrown into chaos.”
The more Ah Luo listened, the more terrified she became. She thought, there was still half a month left, half a month until she could avoid this kind of situation. She made a resolution to not become mixed into this mess.
Liu Jue looked at Ah Luo tenderly, “Are you willing to be with me? Ah Luo, together in life and death?”
Without even thinking, Ah Luo replied, “No!”
Liu Jue’s expression changed instantly and he stared at her bitterly, “I really don’t know what your heart is made of! So ungrateful, without conscience!”
Ah Luo looked at Liu Jue and said, “I don’t like those kinds of power struggles and it’s none of my business. Why should I be with you?”
Liu Jue sighed, “Ah Luo, it’s the same everywhere. It won’t be calm and peaceful.”
Ah Luo lowered her head for a while then raised her head and said, “I think that there will always be a place in this world that’s peaceful and tranquil, where you can live a simple life.”
Li Jue looked towards the distance. When he turned back, his expression had softened, “I hope there will be. You had a great fright today. Prince Li had recently left the palace to start building his own residence. The wind will rise soon in Feng City. You should go back, stay in the residence if you have nothing to do and don’t run around.”
Ah Luo said, “Yes, it’s been very busy in the residence recently. All the female relatives are happily helping Qing Fei prepare her dowry.”
Liu Jue remembered the night the Crown Prince held a banquet for Zi Li. He suddenly asked, “Ah Luo, are you having a hard time in the residence? Just because your mother was born in a brothel?”
“Yes, since you know that, you still want to marry me as your wife?”
Liu Jue chuckled and said, “My mother was a prisoner of war captured by my father, yet wasn’t she just as good? It was a pity that she passed away early. My mother was beautiful and my father kept thinking about her, never marrying another.”
“Then wasn’t your father the Emperor made fun of by the ministers of the imperial court? My father is proud of having seven wives. It seems like the Ning Empire is like this, the more you marry, the more face you have.”
“Who would dare? Even Emperor Ning pays great respect to my father the Emperor.” Liu Jue’s tone was full of arrogance, “Moreover, it’s enough for one to know oneself! Ah Luo, I believe in you, so don’t let me down.”
“If I let you down and don’t marry you, what will you do?”
“You will know when that day comes.”
Since returning that day, Liu Jue never came to find Ah Luo again. During the day, the mistresses would call Ah Luo for everything. Ah Luo could only climb over the wall every night to take care of things.
In Begonia Garden, Seventh Mistress, Ah Luo, and Xiao Yu were waiting excitedly and nervously for Qing Fei’s marriage. Madam Zhang had left the residence a year ago under the pretense of her aging body. She left Feng City and according to Ah Luo’s arrangements, went to Lin Nan City located at the border of Chen Empire.
They counted the passing days. Ah Luo warned Seventh Mistress and Xiao Yu not to be nervous and to leave the residence like they usually did when going out to play. Ah Luo told them, “Absolutely no one will know what you’re thinking and even if they can guess, it would just be a guess. As long as you don’t admit to it, then it’s as if nothing happened.”
The day finally arrived, the day before Qing Fei’s marriage. Ah Luo and Seventh Mistress gave her a gift with beaming smiles and said their blessings, after which they returned to Begonia Garden like usual. Xiao Yu locked the courtyard door and the three of them quickly changed into men’s outfits. They only took silver notes and jewellery, heading to the bamboo forest in the backyard. They climbed over the wall and left the Minister’s residence without a hitch. Ah Luo led the way to the river where there was a carriage she had hired. After Ah Luo handed over the silver taels, she took the reins and took the carriage on a detour towards the eastern part of the city.
Seventh Mistress sighed in relief after leaving the Minister’s residence and seeing Ah Luo driving, she asked, “San’er, when did you learn how to drive a carriage?”
Ah Luo smiled, “After I learned how to ride a horse, I was curious and had Zi Li get a carriage for me to drive. I also told him this was called a travelling wagon and that you could put several things on it. Two people could rest wherever they went. After that, I slowly learned.”
Seventh Mistress sighed, “Prince Li is truly sincere to you from the bottom of his heart.”
“Mother, I only think of him as an elder brother. However, he told me never to believe him again. I don’t know, maybe I’ll never see him again.”
Ah Luo sighed without another word and focused on driving. When they arrived at the residential area of the southeast part of the city, she carefully dismounted and covered the horses with blankets, then they walked quietly through the streets. It took them a full two hours before they reached the house that she had previously bought.
Xiao Yu helped Seventh Mistress dismount the carriage and Ah Luo accompanied them into the yard. She took out the things from the room that she had prepared earlier and said to Seventh Mistress, “Mother, Xiao Yu and I have prepared half a year’s worth of food, clothing, and other things in this small house. I’ve already dismissed the person who was guarding the yard. You and Xiao Yu can keep the courtyard gate closed and rest here. Xiao Yu has been here before and knows the situation inside. I’m going to go and make some arrangements.”
Seventh Mistress spoke in a choked voice, “San’er, you must be careful!”
Ah Luo glanced at the colour of the sky. The city gates would open in two hours. She nodded, “I’ll come back safely.” Then she drove the carriage straight to the South Gate.
Ah Luo waited carefully in an alley half a li away from the city gate. It was Feng City’s law to open the city gates at 5.45am. When there was no war, the garrison would not question anyone once the gate was opened. Ah Luo had deliberately changed into an eye-catching silver and white robe. She thought that everyone would be able to see it clearly.
Usually, between 7 to 9am, Seventh Mistress would go and greet the others. Today, Seventh Mistress was supposed to put makeup on Qing Fei during that time. If Seventh Mistress didn’t arrive, the maids would find out and report to Minister Li. Being busy with Qing Fei’s marriage and having to entertain hundreds of ministers and family friends, it was likely that the Minister’s residence would be in turmoil. When the decision was made to look for them, it would not be publicised. The only thing to be afraid of was Liu Jue and Zi Li. Zi Li would be too eager for her to run away and by the time Liu Jue received the news, it would be around 9 to 11 am so there would at least be four hours in between.
Ah Luo had calculated the timing carefully and looking at the things on the carriage, she smiled confidently. She looked at the brightening sky. The east side was white like the belly of a fish, and she drove the carriage towards the South Gate.
At the moment, the garrison opened the city gate with a yawn. Only a few villagers transporting food and other items passed through the gate slowly. They heard a rush of horse hooves and saw a handsome young man in white charging over in a carriage, shouting urgently, “There is someone sick in my family and I’m in a hurry to return, please let me through!”
It was a custom of Feng City that when someone in the family was seriously ill, they would want to return to their hometown before their final breath. The guard watched sympathetically as the carriage rushed out of the city and was moved by the filial piety of this young man. He secretly prayed that he would be able to send his mother home safely!