The dawn of a new day arrived unnoticed. Outside the Lu family’s main gate, Babao was prepared and waiting with the horse. Lu Chengxiao came out. Mother Lu, Chen Shi, brought her eldest daughter-in-law and young daughter to send him off. The Eldest sister-in-law carried a bundle of things, which were the new spring clothes she had made for her husband. Lu Chengxiao was heading to the county, and he would take these spring clothes with him.
Chen Shi couldn’t bear to part with her son. She accompanied him from the third courtyard, continuously expressing her concerns, “You’ve become so thin. It wasn’t easy to get you back, and you won’t even take a good rest. You’re always running around the shops, and now you’re in such a hurry to go to the county…”
Seemingly aware that her constant nagging wouldn’t make a difference, she changed her tone and advised, “Don’t stay away for too long. Share your experiences with your father during this trip, then come back home promptly. Take a good rest for a while; it’s the right thing to do.”
Lu Chengxiao chuckled, “I haven’t really lost weight. Throughout this trip to Suzhou with my adoptive Father and Brother, we’ve been eating well. It’s only you, Mother, who thinks I’ve slimmed down. If I’ve indeed lost weight, it’s probably a kind of thinness called ‘Mother thinks I’m thin.'”
Lu Shuang couldn’t help but burst into laughter at her third brother’s last remark. Chen Shi playfully patted her son’s arm and said, “Well, you are indeed sturdy, not thin. It’s amusing. Anyway, come back soon. I can see your two brothers more often, but you, I only get to see a few times a year. There’s nothing more worrisome than that.”
They continued talking until Lu Chengxiao finally begged for mercy.
Outside the Lu family’s main gate, he rode off into the distance.
Chen Shi stood by the door, gazing until the horse turned the corner and disappeared. She then sighed and led her daughter-in-law and daughter back into the main residence.
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“Zlp, ulp, ulp, vbkp ulya, Mbkae Jasvbla osd’v byhl vs ts vs vbl ynyelxu yduxsal. Wasx dso sd, usw nyd ldfsu uswa vkxl okvb bkx…”
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“You’re saying that Lu Sanlang rode towards the main road?”
Liu Yu had just arrived on the North Town Stone Bridge and heard this news from the two younger siblings.
She furrowed her brow. Originally, this was a psychological tactic to make him miss her more by keeping him waiting for a couple of days. Could it be that she had miscalculated and kept him waiting too long, causing him to lose interest?
She thought it was unlikely. She had deliberately sought to entice someone, and if that person lost interest after just two days, it would not justify the significant resources Lady Hong2The red lady, the mama-san had invested in her. Furthermore, it would invalidate the peaceful life she had enjoyed and the profit she made at the Liuxian Pavilion for nearly two years.
Considering that the Lu family had a shop in Anyi County and the route to Anyi County and Yuanzhou City was the same, she asked more specifically, “Did you hear where they were heading outside the Lu family’s gate? To the county or Yuanzhou City?”
Both children shook their heads. The older one replied reasonably, “Lady Lu did send him off, but we didn’t hear where he was going or when he would return.”
Liu Yu couldn’t do much more. She thought it over and realized that even though the Lu family in the town was well-off, the land prices in town were cheap, and they probably had at least a third-courtyard residence. They had likely informed him of anything important during the journey.
She reluctantly paid for the information they had gathered today and instructed the young siblings to keep an eye out for any updates.
Liu Yu was not in a good financial situation at the Liu family, and she couldn’t keep her secretive embroidery work with her. As usual, she made a trip to the embroidery shop.
The female shopkeeper at the embroidery shop was no longer surprised to see her selling a newly made purse every day. Liu Yu’s embroidery work was exquisite, and the shopkeeper didn’t mind these occasional transactions. Moreover, a beauty like Liu Yu was a rare sight, even for a woman like her, so she was delighted to see her every day.
However, after the exchange of money and goods this time, the shopkeeper became a bit more curious. She subtly inquired about Liu Yu’s village and wanted to know more about her background.
Liu Yu was cautious about her family’s watchful eyes and the secretive nature of her embroidery work. She didn’t dare let the female shopkeeper pry too much into her background. She responded with a somewhat embarrassed expression, keeping her words vague.
Once the customers had left, the embroiderers working in the shop started teasing the female shopkeeper, “This young lady is truly beautiful, and she has such skillful hands. What’s the story, are you considering playing matchmaker for someone?”
The female shopkeeper did have the idea of finding a match for her younger brother, but she had no intention of sharing this thought. Thinking of her brother’s rather plain appearance and the fact that he might not be a suitable match, she realized her impulse was ill-advised. So she waved her hand and said, “I don’t have the time for that. I was just making casual conversation.”
Liu Yu was unaware of the casual conversation between the female shopkeeper and the embroiderers. By the time she returned to the Liu family’s village, it was already midday. As she caught a whiff of the enticing aroma of cooking from the kitchen on the other side of the courtyard, she sensed that something was amiss.
Sure enough, when she entered the courtyard, she discovered that the Liu family’s father and sons had returned earlier than expected.
Liu Yu thought for a moment and realized what might have happened.
During the busy farming season, the women in the household appeared diligent, but each found excuses to be lazy or evasive. This year, Liu Yu had been excused from heavy labor, with her main responsibilities being tending to the melon and bean plants in the fields, and only Wang Shi supported her in this work. It seemed like the father and son of the Liu family would have a lot to do around the house for a while.
The Liu brothers were in the courtyard, organizing the tools they used for their woodworking. Upon seeing Liu Yu return, Liu Dalang and Liu Sanlang didn’t react much. However, Liu Erlang stopped the work in his hands, wiped his hands, and called out, “Ah Yu,” then walked over to her with a plain purse he had taken from his pocket. He handed it to Liu Yu, saying, “This is for you.”
Liu Yu looked at him with confusion and didn’t reach out to take it.
Liu Erlang seemed a bit embarrassed. “The hired worker finished all the tasks today, and they gave us some sugar cubes. I shared some with Daya and Sanya. There are still two pieces left, and they’re for you.”
Liu Yu hadn’t said anything yet, but she felt a piercing gaze upon her. Following her instinct, she turned around and saw Lin Shi staring at her through the kitchen window. Lin Shi had a calm expression on her face, but her eyes seemed to be lit with a fiery intensity that could almost set Liu Yu on fire.
Liu Yu always thought her second sister-in-law was good at pretending. With a naturally smiling face, she always seemed to carry a hint of cutting sarcasm beneath her smile.
Liu Yu was puzzled. Two sugar cubes, what for?
She turned back to Liu Erlang and shook her head, saying, “Thank you, Erlang, but I’m too old for these. Let Daya and Sanya have them.”
Without lingering any longer, Liu Yu grabbed a cloth that had been drying on the windowsill, dipped it in water, wrung it out, and went into the main room to clean the table. She had established her place in this household very clearly, and she knew that idling around would only attract attention.
After spending a long time under the sunlight, her eyes needed a moment to adjust to the change in lighting when she entered the room. As she raised her eyes, they met the dark and brooding face of Liu Kangsheng.
He sat at the Eight Immortals table, one hand resting on the tea cup’s handle, and the other holding a tobacco stick. He fixed his gaze on her with an intense, unwavering stare.
This gaze sent shivers down Liu Yu’s spine, making her feel as though she was not in the presence of a person but a venomous snake hanging from the rafters, hissing and spitting venom.
She wasn’t sure what had provoked Liu Kangsheng, but she felt a palpable sense of malice. She dared not show any unusual behavior and greeted Liu Kangsheng as usual. She then focused on cleaning the table, and once that was done, she turned to the kitchen to get some dishes and utensils.
As she stepped out of the main room, the oppressive atmosphere that seemed to creep into her bones finally dissipated somewhat under the midday sun.
Since the day when Wang Shi had relaxed her stance, Liu Yu had genuinely been having lunch with the rest of the Liu family every day. No one seemed to object, and the midday meals passed quietly without much conversation.
Liu Yu’s intuition was indeed correct. It was true that she went to the town every day, but seeing his stepdaughter return home only around midday was a different matter. The feeling of discomfort in his heart was hard to contain. If he hadn’t harbored thoughts of selling her, he would have confronted her much earlier to avoid any complications.
After a meal with a gloomy expression, he detained Liu Dalang, who was about to return to his room, and said, “Come to my room for a moment.”
The entire family, apart from the young children who didn’t understand the situation, looked over at Liu Kangsheng as he called his eldest son into the room for a private discussion. No one dared to ask any questions or intrude on their conversation. The family members who were originally preparing to return to their rooms halted their steps, and the women who were tidying up the table did so with less noise, their ears pricked up, eager to catch any fragments of the conversation.
Liu Yu’s anxiety heightened, and it was only when Liu Dalang emerged from the room and instructed Wu Shi to prepare some dry rations for their trip to the county that her suspicions began to crystallize.
Time had passed, and she could hardly recall many details from her past life. However, it was true that Liu Dalang and his wife had made a trip to the county town in those days. The explanation back then was that there was a small task to be done in the county town, which Liu Kangsheng had assigned to Liu Dalang, and Wu Shi went to help him.
Today, when Liu Dalang explained the situation to his two younger brothers, he reiterated the same story. But Liu Yu didn’t believe a single word of it. She couldn’t fathom why they would keep this work secret from the rest of the Liu family and have a private conversation with Liu Dalang.
Her intuition told her that this was somehow related to her potential sale, and she even suspected that Liu Dalang’s trip might be connected to investigating the situation and finding a slave trader.
Liu Yu’s face turned pale, her heart raced, and it pounded like a relentless drumbeat in her ears. She couldn’t afford to let anyone notice her fear, so she retreated to her room.
By this point, she was starting to regret her decision to keep Lu Sanlang waiting for two days to improve her chances. She now wondered whether he had gone to the county town or to Yuanzhou City. Counting the days, today was the fifth day since her rebirth. The days were passing, and the Liu family felt like a tiger and wolf’s den[/mfn]dangerous place[/mfn] for her, causing her to endure every moment of her stay. Staying longer will only become torture.
Liu Yu’s heart was heavy, and it was her own life that she was hanging, not Lu Sanlang’s.
During that afternoon, Liu Yu held her embroidery frame, but she couldn’t find the heart to work on her embroidery.
As the evening approached, the sounds of horse hooves on the unique stone pavement of the secluded alley where the beggar siblings sought refuge began to echo.
“Dadada,” the sound approached, getting louder with each strike, resonating on the eardrums of the siblings who huddled together beneath the eaves in the dark alley.
The boy peeled back a tattered piece of cloth that covered his body, concealing himself at the entrance of the alley.
Lu Chengxiao heard a slight movement, and as he turned his head, his gaze met the face of the beggar child peeking out from the narrow alley. He raised an eyebrow, and in an instant, the child had already shrunk back “whoosh” into hiding.
Sansukini: Poor Liu Yu. It’s really a race against time. If you find any typo or any mistake, please comment here.
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