Ah Luo drove the carriage hurriedly through the city gate, but slowed down when she stepped onto the pontoon bridge. She turned around and took out a canister of oil from the carriage, then drizzled it all the way along the edge of the pontoon bridge. After crossing the bridge, she charged forward again for two hours along the highway. The mountains on both sides gradually turned steep and tall. Here, she drove the carriage into the depths of the forest beside the road. She untied one of the horses, took off the saddle and with a hard whip, the horse ran away in pain.
Without even pausing to take a breath, Ah Luo took down a small bag and tied it onto herself. She messed up the clothes inside the carriage, dripping blood and sprinkling soil bit by bit onto them. She imitated the scene of a robbery and it didn’t matter if it didn’t look too believable. People would more or less be able to imagine what happened and it would be enough to make them confused, delaying them for a while. Ah Luo carefully tied the canisters of oil and blood onto the other horse and wrapped its hooves in cloth. Then she mounted, turned around, and ran back to Feng City. When she was about a quarter of an hour away from the abandoned carriage, she smashed the canisters and threw them far away. Looking at the colour of the sky again, she calculated the time to be around 8:30 am and she quickly rode towards Feng City.
At that moment, Minister Li had learned that they were gone, leaving behind a deserted Begonia Garden. Minister Li personally went to the Begonia Garden. The leaves and branches of the begonia tree in the courtyard swayed as it stood gracefully tall. The Begonia Garden was quiet and peaceful. Minister Li kicked open the door to Seventh Mistress’ room and saw the bed neatly made, with not a single piece of clothing in the cabinet. Minister Li stared blankly at the empty courtyard and muttered to himself, “Very good Yu Tang, what a good daughter you have raised! Ah Luo, very good, not only did you hide your talents, but you hid your plans to escape marriage! How did they leave the residence?!”
The servants around Minister Li were startled by his sudden roar. They looked fearfully at Eldest Mistress. Eldest Mistress said fiercely, “When the servants searched the residence, they discovered that the rocks had actually been stacked in the bamboo forest in the backyard and could be used to climb over the wall! Looking at the moss on the rocks, it seems like they have been there for a long time! That wretch from the brothel actually learned to leave the residence secretly by using such a dirty trick!”
If Seventh Mistress and the others suddenly appeared in front of Minister Li right now, he wasn’t sure if he would kill them or not in spite of the marriage with An Qing Palace.
Soon after, everyone in the Minister’s residence learned of this shocking matter. All six mistresses and Qing Fei gathered in the main hall of the Minister’s residence. They all watched Minister Li with uneasy expressions.
Minister Li’s complexion was ghastly pale as he sat on an old-fashioned wooden armchair, his undulating chest and shaking beard revealing that he was half dead from anger. The residence was full of festive spirit with red silk lanterns and fresh flowers everywhere showing that today was Minister Li’s auspicious day as he was marrying off a daughter. Yet not a single bit of joy was on anyone’s face. Qing Fei’s face was pale and she was unsure if Minister Li would cancel the marriage in his rage. Eldest Mistress broke the silence warily, “Master, quickly call someone to chase after them!”
“Chase for what?!” Minister Li slapped the table and roared, “Do you want everyone in Feng City to know that the Seventh Mistress and Third Miss of our family has escaped? Do you want everyone to look at us like we’re a joke?!”
“But are you just going to let them run away like this? How will this be explained to An Qing Palace?” Eldest Mistress sighed.
Sixth Mistress said, “Master, the An Qing Palace will find out sooner or later. I think that this matter should not be delayed any further and that it would be better to let the Young Prince know earlier. It’s possible that with the palace’s power, they will be able to chase them down and bring them back. If it’s too late and they run too far away, the palace may blame us even more!”
Minister Li gave a long sigh, “Nevermind, find someone to report to the palace! Just say that when I woke up, Seventh Mistress and Third Miss had mysteriously disappeared. Ah Luo was promised to the palace and if they can’t bring them back, the palace would also be greatly embarrassed. With the combined power of our families, how far could they run?”
The family looked at each other. With a smile, Fourth Mistress said, “Master, then today…”
Minister Li slowly regained his calm. “Today, we will hold the banquet and marriage as planned, and it will be lively with excitement! Qing Fei, make sure to dress up nicely and just be the bride. After today, I will report to the local authorities that the Seventh Mistress and Third Miss of our family suddenly disappeared and that there were signs of fighting in the room. Since we can’t hide it, we’ll offer a reward directly. If anyone leaks the slightest bit of information, don’t blame me for being ruthless! Madam, gather our servants and bring them to the study, I need to explain the situation to them.”
With that, Minister Li went to the study and carefully wrote about ten letters, then handed them to the guards and said, “Give these to the governors personally, act without fail! Use my authority to travel fast by horse.” Minister Li considered the direction that Ah Luo could have gone which would have only been to the west or south. With the plains in the west, they couldn’t have gone far so south was the most likely. He believed that the three women wouldn’t have been able to travel far before being stopped. All the governors who would receive his letters were previously his students. By offering a reward and searching for them secretly like this, how far could the three of them be able to run? Minister Li only needed to think about how he should confess to the palace and punish the three of them.
Liu Jue shook with anger when he received the urgent report from the Minister. What mysterious disappearance and signs of fighting in the room? He thought back on Ah Luo’s words and actions, and was 100% certain that this little girl had long ago made preparations to run away!
He had treated Ah Luo with sincerity and had not expected that she would have already arranged to take advantage of her sister’s wedding to run away with her mother. Yet he had thought that he was becoming closer to her, understanding her, and having her slowly fall in love with him. Ah Luo was escaping marriage, she didn’t want to marry him! This thought crashed onto Liu Jue’s heart again and again like sea waves. He only felt bursts of pain, anger, unwillingness, disappointment, and sadness lingering in his heart. At this moment, he was extremely regretful that he had recalled the man watching her just because he had wanted to give in to her.
All the times she laughed and chatted with him were all an act! She was just pretending to be gentle and meek in his arms! Liu Jue remembered when Ah Luo had asked what he would do if she let him down one day. Liu Jue gritted his teeth and thought that when he caught her, she would know! He tightened his hands so much that he broke a corner of the desk.
Liu Ying looked at him with a grim expression, “My Lord, three forces of the black-clothed cavalry are ready to go.”
Calmly, Liu Jue ordered, “Chi forces will head west, An forces to the east, and the Xuan forces will follow me south. Liu Ying, go personally to all three gates under the control of Feng City’s governors and investigate Feng City thoroughly! Ge forces will deliver letters to the secret sentries in each city of the Ning Empire!”
The palace’s main gate opened and the black-clothed cavalry quickly charged in all directions. When Liu Jue reached the South Gate, he listened with a dark expression as the guard stammered that as soon as he opened the gate that morning, he saw a young man in white clothes rush out of the city with a carriage. Liu Jue shouted, “Chase!”
At this time, Qing Luo had just arrived at the pontoon bridge. She lit it up. The oil ignited instantly when it touched the fire. Coupled with the wind, the fire instantly burned and became a flaming dragon on the surface of the river.
From a distance, Liu Jue caught a glimpse of Ah Luo’s petite figure across the river. Then when he saw a horse gradually heading south, he felt a burst of anger and rushed onto the bridge, disregarding the fire. After only a few steps, he was forced back by the fiery wind and he was so angry that he punched a stone lion’s head until it shattered. The men of the Xuan forces were terrified upon seeing this. This was the first time they had seen Liu Jue’s boxing style. They felt a hostile aura radiating from their master and the atmosphere surrounding them felt unbearably imposing. The aura emitting from Liu Jue’s body caused his robe to flutter and his face was frighteningly livid.
The Xuan forces dismounted from their horses and knelt down in front of Liu Jue, “Master, knowing that she is heading south, she won’t be able to run away. It will be the same if we stop her on the way.”
Liu Jue felt heartache and humiliation. His fingers trembled, yet even though he was clearly incredibly angry, he chuckled. The Xuan forces of the black-clothed cavalry glanced at each other and secretly thought to themselves that this Third Miss of the Minister’s family was done for.
On his horse, Liu Jue looked on the other shore of the river, his eyes as cold as ice as he whispered to himself, “Ah Luo! You better not let me find you!” He turned around and ordered in a low voice, “Quickly prepare the boats on standby and rebuild the bridge!”
The South Gate was blocked and not even a drop of water could pass through. Everyone’s mouths were open wide as they watched the flaming dragon on the river.
Under the cover of the misty smoke on the river, Ah Luo had already slipped into the water. While everyone was busy fighting the fire and rebuilding the bridge, she kept close to the pontoon bridge and relying on a bamboo pipe to breathe, she slowly swam to the dock on the other side of the river. She was very glad that she was fairly good at swimming. She quietly waited for the boat in the dock to be rowed out. After the first boat was rowed out, she slowly swam in the opposite direction under the bottom of the boat towards the dock. When the tenth boat was rowed out, she had already entered the dock. She quietly poked her head out between the docked boats.
Sure enough, all of the people had gone to build the new pontoon bridge. Ah Luo quickly leapt out of the water. Untying the baggage on her back, she took out clothes that had been wrapped in tarp and changed into them. Then she messed up her hair and smeared mud on her face and hands. She looked just like a little beggar. After that, she sneaked into the city through the entrance and exit used by the dockyard workers.
Zi Li quickly learned of the news after the black-clothed cavalry had set out in force. Si Shi had travelled through the spaces between the residences to deliver the information in person. He laughed, not believing that anyone would enter the Minister’s residence and capture three people without a sound. As if Ah Luo would marry so obediently, she truly had her own methods and plans. He seemed to understand why Ah Luo loved money so much. He slowly unrolled the painting scroll in his hands and looking at the eyes, the corners of his mouth couldn’t help but rise in a smile, “Si Shi, you have done a good job. Even I hadn’t known that the princess’ eyes weren’t like this.”
Si Shi knelt on the ground, “Si Shi just doesn’t understand why the Young Prince painted a new one. I thought there was something strange about the original painting, so I risked danger and swapped the bags.”
Zi Li sighed and said, “I presume he was reluctant to part with these eyes. What about the new painting?”
“I looked at the painting by the Young Prince and it looked exactly like the princess so I thought it was useless. When I swapped the bags, it was inconvenient to carry it too so I destroyed it.”
“You’ve really done a good job, I should reward you well.”
“Si Shi doesn’t want a reward, but just wants to request to be beside Your Highness.”
“Oh? Are you really willing for my sake?”
“Yes, I would even be willing to die if it’s for Your Highness.”
Zi Li looked over his shoulder at Si Shi. She really was a young and beautiful girl. Zi Li sighed and with a gentle tap on her chest, he stopped her heart’s pulse. Si Shi fell down in horror. Her lips trembled as though asking why.
Zi Li whispered, “You tried to be clever and changed the paintings, yet you failed to inform me, this is the first reason. This caused me to unintentionally inform Liu Jue that I had planted an informant in his residence. You exposed my intentions, this is the second reason.” Zi Li’s eyes revealed a kind of sorrow, “You sent the original painting, yet it made me think day and night until I became crazy and the heartache was unbearable, this is the third reason. Now go, I will bury you well.”
Zi Li closed Si Shi’s eyes and looked at the painting for a while. He then rolled it up and put it away. He ordered, “Bury her well and inform the secret sentries everywhere that we must find the Minister’s Third Miss before Liu Jue. Be careful, she must not be hurt.”
Ah Luo returned to the house carefully and taking out the flute, she played a few notes. Xiao Yu rushed to open the door. Wearily, a smile appeared on Ah Luo’s dark and dirty face, “It’s done, we can leave after half a year.”