Shi Lian had only come because of her stepmother’s instructions. Because of her quiet nature and Sang Wan’s unfamiliarity towards her, Sang Wan was left in an uncomfortable situation. Similarly, as a girl who put her own safety first, there was nothing she could say to her sister-in-law. But luckily, with the chirpy little girl, the awkwardness between the two was not that bad; they were at least able to have a few conversations with each other.
Except for Shi Rui, the visit was torturous for both Sang Wan and Shi Lian; it was an act that they both had to go through.
But not long after, Gu Fangzi came in with a broad grin on her face. Seeing the three in the chamber, she clapped and laughed. “Wow, Cousin Sang Wan, it’s so lively here! My cousin-in-law sure is easy to get along with; to become so familiar with my two other cousins, who are rarely seen together, so soon after getting married into the family!”
Gu Fangzi’s voice was both delicate and clear; it was sweet like the chirps of an oriole. Once the three heard Gu Fangzi’s voice, the atmosphere within the chamber brightened.
“Cousin Fangzi,” Sang Wan greeted her before inviting Gu Fangzi to a seat. The other two cousins went on to greet Gu Fangzi. With that, the chamber became more lively and comfortable.
“That isn’t the case! Cousin Fangzi, I’ve always wanted to play with you! But unfortunately, Cousin Fangzi is always either busy handling the family’s business with Cousin Fengju or accompanying Aunt Wang! By the time cousin returns, the sky is always dark, so Shi Rui wants to go but can’t go! Shi Rui has long heard that Cousin Fangzi has a pet oriole. Shi Rui really wants to see it!” Shi Rui blinked her large sparkling grape-like eyes and smiled, oblivious to the fact that her words brought about embarrassment to a certain person.
Gu Fangzi’s face suddenly flushed and her expression turned sluggish. Although there wasn’t a person in the Shi Family who didn’t know about her relationship with Shi Fengju, which Wang Shi had tolerated, she couldn’t help but feel a little odd when a little girl talked about her and Shi Fengju in front of Sang Wan.
While Shi Rui’s mouth was moving, Shi Lian had been holding the teacup tightly as she admired the blue and white flowery designs. Her gaze was so focused on the teacup that she was in a world of her own.
Shi Lian might be able to act foolish, but Sang Wan, on the other hand, was not as fortunate. Acting as if interested, Sang Wan smiled at Shi Rui. “I’d love to go and see the flowers. Although I’m not sure which flowers bloom at this season, why don’t we go and take a look when the weather is good?”
Shi Lian raised her head slightly and glanced at Sang Wan before dropping her head down to carry on admiring the teacup.
Relieved, Gu Fangzi added, “Yes! Just as Cousin Sang Wan said, when the weather is great, let us all go to the flower garden! The flower garden in the Shi family has lots of different flowers that bloom beautifully every year!”
The little Shi Rui loved a lively atmosphere, so hearing Gu Fangzi’s words, Shi Rui laughed and applauded. After a few moments in deep thought, she suggested, “Yesterday, Shi Rui walked past the garden and saw that the cape jasmine was blooming beautifully in the Fragrant Garden! A whole lot of them, big and as white as snow! Also, the fragrance could be smelled from far away! Big Sister Sang Wan and Cousin Fangzi, why don’t we go there and play tomorrow?”
Tomorrow? Tomorrow was Sang Wan’s homecoming!
The thought of Shi Fengju accompanying Sang Wan to the Sang family early in the morning made Gu Fangzi’s heart feel somewhat sour. But immediately, she got over it. Lifting her slender white fingers, she knocked softly on Shi Rui’s forehead and laughed gently. “You, ah, you only know how to play and care not for anything else! Tomorrow will not be possible. Your big sister has to go for her homecoming tomorrow!”
“Homecoming? What is homecoming?” Shi Rui was startled and asked cluelessly.
The maidservants in the corner giggled among themselves. Sang Wan and Gu Fangzi couldn’t help but laugh. As for Shi Lian, she had finally had enough of the teacup and rested it on the table before laughing with the rest of them. Seeing that everyone except her was mysteriously laughing, Shi Rui glanced to her right, and then to her left before asking, with a perplexed look on her face, “Did I… did I say something wrong?”
“What does a kid know?” Gu Fangzi glanced at Sang Wan intimately before smiling. “Homecoming means returning to the parental home. Tomorrow, your big sister has to return to her parental home! Why don’t we wait a few days until the weather becomes a little warmer and pick a sunny afternoon to enjoy ourselves in the garden? We can fly a kite too! What do you say?”
Gu Fangzi took the initiative to help her out of a predicament. Sang Wan naturally thought the least she could do was show some sign of gratitude. With that, she nodded her head slightly.
Shi Rui gave an “Oh,” to show she understood, but once she heard that she could also get to fly a kite, she was so overwhelmed with excitement that she couldn’t stop grinning and clapping, and immediately started talking about the big swallow kite in her chamber.
“We’ve sat for quite a while already; let’s not trouble Big Sister Sang Wan any further and head back now.” Shi Lian smiled tiredly as she spoke.
“That is so!” Gu Fangzi hurriedly smiled and nodded. Turning to Sang Wan, she continued, “Cousin Sang Wan still has to prepare dinner later on, so we should take our leave soon! Before that, let me give a huge hint. Aunt Wang loves to eat winter melon soup. He he, if Cousin Sang Wan were to prepare it, I’m sure Aunt Wang will be pleased!”
“Is that so? Hēhē, many thanks to Cousin Fangzi for the advice!” Sang Wan’s eyes glistened and her lips hooked into a smile. However, the hand that clutched her handkerchief was rather tight.
In her past life, Gu Fangzi had also shown her kindness by giving her advice. And sure enough, she had heeded her advice and made winter melon soup. However, that soup had been tampered with, and once Wang Shi had eaten it, she developed red rashes all over her face and was mocked by that Old Mistress Zhuang. And because of that, Wang Shi no longer wanted to see her again as she was so furious at her that her teeth itched!
“Cousin Sang Wan, you’re welcome!” Gu Fangzi giggled and mischievously winked at her before leaving together with Shi Lian and Shi Rui.
Sang Wan secretly sighed. Winter melon soup… winter melon soup!
Now that Gu Fangzi had announced it in front of so many people that Wang Shi’s favorite dish was winter melon soup, if she were to not make it, it would look like she did not consider Wang Shi of high importance and was deliberately rejecting Gu Fangzi’s good heart! The winter melon soup… even if she didn’t want to prepare it, she would still have to.
Although it was said that the new daughter-in-law would prepare the dishes, in actual fact, the kitchen staff came out with a lists of dishes and the new daughter-in-law simply had to pick enough dishes for the table. Aside from one or two dishes prepared by the new daughter-in-law, the rest of the dishes would be prepared by the kitchen staff. To have the daughter-in-law prepare an entire table of dishes, where would she have the energy to do so?
For this dinner in her past life, she had made winter melon soup and steamed mandarin fish. Since there was no way of escaping from preparing the winter melon soup, Sang Wan decided to simply go with those two dishes again.
After she ticked off the dishes from the list given to her and discussed it with Servant Jian from the kitchen, Servant Jian clapped and smiled. “What a coincidence! Just today, two big and fresh mandarin fish arrived. I was about to suggest to Young Mistress to prepare the steamed mandarin fish! And also the winter melon soup; that is a dish that the Shi family’s old mistress likes, so preparing it will be great!”
Sang Wan smiled and nodded. “Then I’ll go ahead with these two and leave the rest of the dishes to you!”
“No problem, Young Mistress! That is within my duty!” Servant Jian smiled back.
With that, Sang Wan’s mind was set on preparing the two dishes. Immediately after putting on her apron, she rolled up her sleeves, and together with Liu Ya, she began working on the dishes.
They were both used to doing the housework back in the Sang family and so the kitchen was no stranger to them. Methodically, one scaled the mandarin fish and the other scooped the seeds out from the melon before rinsing it.
Not long after, the fish was rinsed and Sang Wan seasoned it with salt before laying it firmly on a large oval tray. She then went on to scatter thinly sliced onions and ginger over it. With all of that done, she carefully settled the tray into the steam basket and covered the basket with a lid. Liu Ya then brought a small stool in and sat down to keep an eye on the fire. Under Sang Wan’s instructions, the dish was not to leave Liu Ya’s line of sight from the moment it entered the steam basket to the dinner table.
Moving on to the next dish, the winter melon was already prepared. The spare ribs, chicken meat, red dates, dried mushrooms, wolfberries, bamboo shoots, ham, and more were diced into smaller pieces; each of the ingredients were personally prepared by Sang Wan.
Once the steam basket containing the winter melon soup was placed above another stove, Sang Wan relaxed and sighed.
“Young Mistress, the kitchen is a very warm and smoky place. Why don’t you take a rest outside? The kitchen staff will help look after the fire!” Servant Jian smiled.
It had only been a short period of less than two days since she had been married into this family and already so many provocative incidents had happened. With the past life’s lessons in mind, other than Liu Ya, Sang Wan trusted no one. And so she smiled and shook her head. “It’s alright. I’ll look after the fire myself. Do carry on with your work.”
Servant Jian insisted no further and smiled as she praised Sang Wan for her diligence and dutifulness before carrying on with her work.
The firewood beneath the stove burned moderately and steadily. Sang Wan felt a soothing sensation as she gazed silently at the dancing fire. Surely, nothing would go wrong this time around with her sitting and watching until the end!
Moments after the thought surfaced in her head, Zhide called her from outside the kitchen. “Young Mistress! Young Mistress!”
Sang Wan’s heart sank and she felt anything but reassured.
“What’s wrong?” Although Sang Wan heard Zhide’s calls for her, she remained in the kitchen and did not let the dish out of her sight. Unless the kitchen was on fire, she would never take a single step out of the kitchen!
Seeing that Sang Wan hadn’t come out to receive her, Zhide entered and greeted Sang Wan before proceeding to tell her the news. “Young Mistress, Young Master has returned and said he needs the keys urgently!”
The keys… yes, Sang Wan remembered. Early in the morning, Shi Fengju had left in a hurry and dropped a pair of keys looped on a string. From what Zhide said, the keys were very important to him; as such, no one dared fiddle with them. Sang Wan, without a choice, had to hold on to them until Shi Fengju returned at night. But who would have thought that he would need them urgently at this time?
“If that is the case, why don’t you return them for me?” Sang Wan smiled and scooped the keys out to hand them to Zhide.
“Young Mistress!” Zhide rejected the keys and took a step back before smiling. “This… it would be better if Young Mistress returns these to Young Master personally! These are keys to his most treasured items. All of us servants do not dare to touch them!” Of course, such important items were not something Zhide dared to touch as it might arouse suspicions.
Sang Wan almost choked to the point where she would have fainted on the spot! How could her luck be so good? Did this mean that there was no way of escaping from heaven’s will? She had tread cautiously and persevered forward, she was just one step away. Was it all for naught?
“Young Mistress, it’d be best to head there quickly. Young Master is still waiting for it! Oh, this servant will look after the fire here!” Sensing Sang Wan’s hesitation, Zhide spoke sensibly.
Since their exchange had reached such a point, there was no reason to justify her hesitation. Shi Fengju was her husband; a husband was like a god, and his words were the heavenly edict. One does not comply only when one does not wish to live to see another day.
And that god could determine her life and death. He was a being that she could never provoke.