Liu Yu returned home late.
Because of this, the Liu family had already been in an uproar. After Liu Kangsheng lost his temper, he ordered both Liu Erlang and Liu Sanlang, the two brothers, to go to the village and town respectively to search for her.
In fifteen years, and this was the first time the family had seen such a commotion over Liu Yu’s return. Not to mention Wang Shi and Liu Yan, even Wen Shi, who had only been married into the family for a few years, was bewildered.
She couldn’t understand what the fuss was about. Wasn’t it just coming home a little later? In the past, when Liu Yu went into the mountains to gather firewood, it was completely normal not to return at this hour. Father-in-law wouldn’t even bother to ask, let alone get so worked up today.
Liu Erlang and Liu Sanlang were both puzzled, privately thinking that Liu Kangsheng was making a big deal out of nothing. However, neither of them had the courage to defy Liu Kangsheng. After a long day of work, they left one after the other to search for Liu Yu.”
“Just as they had recently left the house, she saw Liu Yu coming back from a distance, carrying a bundle of herbs. Liu Erlang sighed in relief and walked a few steps towards her, asking, “Did you go to the mountains?”
Liu Yu nodded, curious about why her two siblings were out at this time. Liu Sanlang quickly briefed her on the situation at home, saying, ‘You’d better keep a low profile. Dad hasn’t been this angry in a long time. I almost had to go to town to look for you. Fortunately, you came back, so I don’t have to make that trip.’
Liu Yu furrowed her brow. Was Liu Kangsheng suspecting her of running away?
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Mbl vball pkczkdtp alvwadle vs vbl Nkw qyxkzu’p nswavuyae vstlvbla. Nkw Iydtpbldt oyp rynkdt kd vbl uyae okvb y pvlad lmralppksd. Ebld bl blyae vbl nsxxsvksd, bl vwadle vs pll vblx alvwadkdt.
Jlqsal bl nswze lmrzsel, Nkw Oazydt prsjl wr, “Pye, Gb Zw oldv kdvs vbl xswdvykdp vs tyvbla blacp.”
Nkw Iydtpbldt tzydnle yv vbl blacp Nkw Zw oyp nyaaukdt, pdsavle, yde wzvkxyvlzu alpvaykdle bkxplzq qasx pnszekdt bkp nblyr eywtbvla.”
“Tl vwadle yde ldvlale vbl xykd assx. Eydt Fbk iwknjzu yrrasynble, takrrkdt Nkw Zw’p yax yde pyke, “Ebyv’p tskdt sd? Zsw eked’v nsxl cynj qsa zwdnb, yde kv vyjlp vball sa qswa bswap vs tyvbla vbkp pxyzz yxswdv sq blacp kd vbl xswdvykdp?”
Nkw Zw cawpble sqq Eydt Fbk’p takr, qllzkdt ekptwpvle cwv dllekdt vs rzyu yzsdt. Fbl alrlyvle vbl pyxl lmrzydyvksd pbl bye tkhld vs bla casvbla, Nkw Ubldtmkys.
“R oyp qaktbvldle cu y pdyjl kd vbl xswdvykdp yde vokpvle xu ydjzl. Rv sdzu pvsrrle bwavkdt y obkzl yts, ps R eyale vs nsxl cynj.”
Eydt Fbk kdprlnvle bla qssv kd vbl ekx zktbv, dsvknkdt xwe sd sdl pkel sq bla aktbv pbsl, alyzkgkdt bla xkpvyjl. Fbl ekprzyule y bkdv sq lxcyaayppxldv sd bla qynl.
“Gal usw sjyu?”
Liu Yu didn’t have much to say and replied, “I’m fine.”
She took the herbs to the kitchen, placed them on a bamboo tray, and began arranging them one by one. As she worked, she pondered the conversation she had overheard from the woman at Zheng’s house in the village earlier, thinking about how to extract information from Wang Shi.”
Wang Shi had just squeezed her arm without reason, and she felt somewhat guilty. The rest of the family had gone to the main room for dinner, leaving Wang Shi to carry a basin of water to the kitchen for Liu Yu. She said, “Wash your hands before eating. You didn’t have lunch, and I’ll prepare something later.”
Liu Yu’s hands paused in their movements.
Wang Shi was a contradictory person, seemingly like two entirely different individuals. Sometimes Liu Yu felt that Wang Shi detested her immensely, as she had shown in the past two days. At other times, Wang Shi displayed motherly kindness and gentleness, like she was now.
Liu Yu couldn’t fathom how a person could switch between these extreme emotions. She could only relate it to the past events involving her father’s generation. With this in mind, Liu Yu turned her head and looked at Wang Shi, then suddenly said, “The reason I came back so late isn’t entirely because of my twisted ankle.”
Wang Shi paused and glanced outside the kitchen door. She asked, “Then why did you come back so late?”
Liu Yu lowered her gaze, and as if rehearsing some ghostly story in her heart, she suddenly turned pale, as though she had remembered something terrifying.
“The snake that crawled onto my foot came out of a tomb mound, and I got so scared that I fainted,” she said, trembling as she continued, raising her eyes to look at Wang Shi’s expression, “I had a strange dream, all I could see was fog, and I couldn’t make out anything. There was a man… no, he could float, and he said… he said he was my father…”
Wang Shi suddenly looked at Liu Yu, her pupils shrinking.
Liu Yu seemed startled, but more than that, she appeared uneasy. “I couldn’t wake up, my father said no one worships him.”
With a loud “thud,” Wang Shi suddenly got up, overturning the basin of water placed on the bench, spilling water all over the floor, and soaking her skirt and shoes.
The Daya in the hall ran out to see what had happened, and Wang Shi lowered her head to avoid Liu Yu’s gaze. She said she needed to change her shoes and then quickly left.
She hurriedly left, escaping in haste.
Liu Yu watched her retreating figure, lost in thought.
After this, Wang Shi was clearly distracted, but she never asked Liu Yu again about that dream.
In fact, she deliberately avoided Liu Yu.
Time passed quickly, and two days had gone by since Liu Yu’s fabricated ankle injury. During these two days, she hadn’t ventured into town.
It was the eleventh day since Liu Yu’s rebirth, already into the fourth month.
Liu Dalang and Wu Shi, who had been away from home for several days, returned to the Liu family village on this evening. Liu Dalang carried the tools of a woodworker on his back, while Wu Shi held a bundle, their clothes dusty but not showing signs of exhaustion.
Liu Dalang was sly; he tried to hide his immediate excitement over the prospect of getting rich, but he couldn’t resist the temptation of the offer made to him. He had been excited throughout the journey but composed himself as they neared the ox cart. He thought he had concealed it well, but traces of it still showed around the corners of his eyes and eyebrows.
After finishing their dinner for the evening, Liu Kangsheng and his son Liu Dalang couldn’t resist having another private conversation behind closed doors. Wu Shi stood in the living room, while the other family members in the second and third rooms, despite their curiosity, dared not eavesdrop on the discussion.
Liu Yu, however, knew what they were discussing – how to exchange her for silver coins and how much silver they could obtain.
Her fingertips trembled slightly as she thought about her progress with Liu Chengxiao, gradually suppressing her fear. She was also well aware that her time was running out.
Early the next day, while it was still dark outside, Liu Yu quietly got out of bed and made her way to the kitchen.
In this household, the one who usually woke up earliest was the housewife, Wang Shi. She had to oversee the morning meal for the large family and manage the household’s daily affairs.
Wang Shi followed her usual routine and got out of bed at the crack of dawn. However, when she entered the kitchen, she was startled by the shadow crouched in the corner, exclaiming, “Oh!” in fright. Her heart nearly skipped a beat.
She took a step back, preparing to scold or raise her voice, but the shadow hastily called out first.
“Mother, it’s me.”
It was Liu Yu. Wang Shi’s body went limp in relief, and she steadied herself by holding onto the door. “It’s not even daylight yet. Why are you crouching here to scare people?”
She was a little irritated but still kept her voice down. She walked to the stove, grabbed a handful of dry grass to kindle the fire, and the flames illuminated the kitchen. When she turned around, she noticed tears streaming down Liu Yu’s face.
Wang Shi was taken aback. “What’s the matter with you?”
Liu Yu wiped away her tears and choked back her sobs. “For the past three nights, I’ve had the same dream, just like that day, Mother. I’m too scared to sleep. Every time I close my eyes, Father enters my dreams.”
In the pre-dawn morning, Wang Shi shivered with a start.
Meanwhile, Liu Yu continued to sob and whimper, “Mother, is my father… Is he buried somewhere? Could you burn some paper and offer incense to worship him, please?”
Wang Shi’s lips trembled, and for a while, she couldn’t find the words to respond.
After a long pause, she looked at Liu Yu, examining her with a scrutinizing gaze, locking eyes with her.
Liu Yu’s heart skipped a beat, but she maintained her composure despite the tears in her eyes, defiantly locking eyes with Wang Shi.
Wang Shi finally relented, thinking that Liu Yu might not be lying.
Perhaps it was truly a haunting presence in her dreams.
She pulled out a low stool, sat down, and silently kindled the fire.
Just when Liu Yu thought Wang Shi might not say anything further, she began, “Your real father passed away fourteen years ago. This year marks the fifteenth anniversary.”
After saying these words, Wang Shi fell into a silent contemplation.
The firewood crackled, and Wang Shi snapped back to reality. She glanced at Liu Yu and pulled a handful of copper coins from her sleeve, placing them in Liu Yu’s hand.
“Today, when you go to town, buy some incense, candles, and paper money. Offer them by the side of Yushui River,” she said. She paused and added as she rose to refill the pot with water, her back to Liu Yu, “From now on, in this household, do not mention your father again. You now have only one father, and that’s Liu Kangsheng.”
Her voice was devoid of emotion, revealing nothing.
Liu Yu stared at the copper coins in her palm, unable to express the feelings inside her.
She had finally heard about her real father from Wang Shi, but in this manner.
The truth was, her biological father had long passed away, leaving her still without any real family or support. It was unbearable. With a “crack,” a large tear fell onto the pile of copper coins in her palm.
In Changfeng Town, just as the day was breaking, Lin Huaigeng arrived at the Lu family residence in search of Lu Chengxiao.
When Babao saw Lin Huaigeng, he practically saw him as a savior and immediately led him to the western wing of the Lu Chengxiao’s living quarters.
Lin Huaigeng was puzzled and kept his eyes on Babao for a while. He raised an eyebrow and said, “I say, Babao, why do you seem unusually excited to see me today?”
“Really?” Babao denied, “No, absolutely not. When have you ever seen me less enthusiastic when I see you?”
Lin Huaigeng shook his head, “Well, that’s true.”
But today, Babao’s eyes seemed to shine brighter, and his steps were somewhat hurried.
Babao grinned, “It’s just that our Young Master doesn’t have to go to school these days. He’s been reading in the house for two days. Your visit coincides perfectly. Let’s have some fun together.”
Lin Huaigeng understood now and laughed, “Well, you might be disappointed today, Babao. I’m here to borrow a horse from your young master. Once I’ve borrowed the horse, I have to leave.”
Babao let out an “ah,” and his enthusiasm vanished instantly.
Lin Huaigeng found it amusing, and the two of them had already entered the second courtyard. There was no need for Babao to call out because Lu Chengxiao was already practicing martial arts in the courtyard. He had put an end to his exercises as soon as he heard Lin Huaigeng’s voice and turned to face him.
“So early in the morning, I heard you’re borrowing a horse. Where are you going?” Chengxiao asked.
With this open-hearted response, Lin Huaigeng didn’t even need to ask directly. He chuckled and replied, “I’m heading to the county town. Snow mushroom pastries from Wuzhi Pavilion are only available once a month. If I don’t line up early, I won’t be able to buy them.”
Lu Chengxiao understood immediately. Lin Huaigeng had been fond of his cousin for quite some time, and he didn’t need to think twice about who he was buying these pastries for.
“You’ve got your priorities straight. Regarding you and your cousin, has your mother given her consent?”
Lin Huaigeng’s expression stiffened, and the cheerful demeanor from before disappeared. He hung his head and mumbled, “Consent? Given my mother’s and my aunt’s relationship, why would she help me raise the subject (of marriage)?”
Whenever he talked about this matter, he would get a headache. Even though she was referred to as his aunt, she was actually his cousin’s aunt. Their family ties were quite distant, but somehow, his mother’s relationship with this particular aunt was exceptionally strained. It was a typical case of neither side holding the other in high regard. In recent years, his aunt’s family had become quite prosperous, which only made the situation worse, with them looking down on his family even more.
Lu Chengxiao patted his shoulder and then turned to instruct Babao, “You accompany Huaigeng to the stables and prepare a horse for him.”
Babao reluctantly agreed and waited gloomily to accompany Lin Huaigeng, earning several glances from Lin Huaigeng in the process.
Lu Chengxiao’s gaze swept over, and Babao composed himself, smiling as he asked Lin Huaigeng to accompany him. Despite Lin Huaigeng’s further inquiries, Babao remained tight-lipped, not saying a word.
After seeing Lin Huaigeng off, Babao returned to the second courtyard. Lu Chengxiao had already retreated to his own room.
He tiptoed into the room and indeed, Lu Chengxiao was holding a book once again.
It had been two days since he returned from the Liu family village, and this was the state of their Young Master.
At a glance, he appeared to eat when necessary, drink when necessary, practice martial arts, and read books. However, apart from maintaining a smiling appearance in front of Madame and Miss, there had been no sign of their Young Master ever smiling when he was alone.
Babao poured a cup of tea and cautiously asked, “Young Master, the items that Young Master Zhongjue asked you to find, haven’t been found yet. The weather is nice today. Would you like to go today?”
Lu Chengxiao finally lowered his book, glanced at Babao, looked out of the window for a moment, then placed the book on the desk and got up.
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