Liu Yu’s face turned pale, as if a heavy slap echoed in the air, landing squarely on her face.
However, she already lost her face the day she was sold to a lowly status in her previous life. This time, the pain was there, but she endured it.
She glanced at Lu Chengxiao, straightening her back slowly. The confusion in her eyes gradually faded, taking with it all her traces of tenderness.
In this moment, she was Liu Yu, but more like Xi Mingyue, before her rebirth – solemn, cold, and armed to the teeth.
Liu Yu withdrew the hand holding the purse, took a step back, creating some distance between them. She faced Lu Chengxiao’s gaze, which she met head-on. There was a hint of a faint smile in her eyes, her voice measured but laden with meaning.
“The three words ‘Lu Chengxiao’ were spoken by Young Master Lu himself. Now, I know I have no right to call you that. Liu Yu will remember.”
“However, before that, I would like to ask Young Master Lu for an explanation, so I can understand where I’ve touched upon the forbidden territory and avoid making the same mistake in the future.”
Lu Chengxiao met the smiling yet slightly cool gaze, and in that instant, he felt that this was the true Liu Yu.
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Jwv yv zlypv pbl tykdle psxl nzyakvu.
Liu Yu was well aware of how difficult it was to change a person’s fixed impression. It’s not that it couldn’t be done, but she didn’t have the luxury of time to spare.
She bowed respectfully towards Lu Chengxiao, “I have learned a lesson. Liu Yu apologizes to the young master for the past. Rest assured, the most elusive thing in this world is fate, and Liu Yu understands this principle. I won’t linger without face or shame.”
With that, she nodded in acknowledgment and, without glancing at Lu Chengxiao again, turned and walked away.
Her departure was so decisive that Lu Chengxiao hadn’t even snapped back to reality. All that remained for him was her determined silhouette.
The girl’s back was straight, leaving without any reluctance. However, each step seemed like a blunt knife, stepping firmly on Lu Chengxiao’s heart.
It was the result he wanted, the one he pushed away with his own hands.
But for some reason, something seemed to have intruded into his chest, as if trying to peel away something that had already taken root in his heart.
An emptiness, a reluctance, and a penetrating pain.
Lu Chengxiao’s hand, hanging by his side, trembled slightly.
Wanting to cover his chest, suppressing the pain and unease, his rationality refused to submit.
He tightly suppressed that instinct, folding his fingertips into a fist so tightly that his nails dug deep into his palm. The slight pain, however, couldn’t compete with the desolation echoing like a storm in his heart.
He stared straight at the departing figure of Liu Yu until that silhouette turned into a small alley, completely disappearing from his sight.
He remained standing still, unmoving for a long time.
Babao huddled in a nearby corner, having somehow managed to watch the entire scene. Now, he regretted not walking farther away, regretted not going even farther. What should he do now?
His legs felt weak, and he wanted to kneel.
Clearly, it was his third young master who had the upper hand, but now, all he could see was the solitary figure of his third young master, and the forlorn implication was just too strong. No matter how he looked at it, it didn’t seem like he had just pushed someone away; it looked more like he was the one who had been rejected.
What kind of situation is this unfolding?
Babao lightly tapped his forehead against the wall a few times. Suddenly, he tapped a bit too hard, snapping back to reality. He touched his forehead and found it covered in dust.
As he lowered his head, looking at the shadows, he realized that the sun was almost overhead—it was noon!
After hesitating for a moment, and still not seeing Lu Chengxiao turn around, he finally moved closer to the wall and cautiously said, “Third Young Master, it’s noon. Should we head back now?”
Lu Chengxiao remained silent, simply turning away.
Following the paths taken by both Lu Chengxiao and Liu Yu, they headed in opposite directions.
Babao hurriedly followed, carefully observing Lu Chengxiao’s expression all the way.
Lu Chengxiao stayed silent until they neared the Lu residence. Finally, he gave the servant walking beside him a glance and said, “Adjust the expression on your face and keep your mouth closed.”
Babao nodded vigorously, wearing a forced, awkward smile.
Lu Chengxiao closed his eyes, unconcerned about whether his family would notice anything. He had no intention of paying further attention.
On the main street of Changfeng Town, there were fewer trees to provide shade compared to the side alleys.
The noonday sun poured down unobstructed.
However, the radiant April noon sun couldn’t dispel the chill in Liu Yu’s body.
Her plump lips trembled slightly, the blood draining away, no longer displaying their usual charm.
Though her face wasn’t devoid of pain or heat when criticized, Liu Yu was painfully aware. She had engaged in wrongdoing, and this humiliation was rightfully hers to bear. She had no capital for embarrassment.
When she made the decision on the day of her rebirth, though she didn’t dwell on it, she was not ignorant of the possibility of facing such a situation today.
However, when it came down to it, she wasn’t as brave as she had thought.
The resolute departure, seemingly determined, might as well have been a form of escape. Leaving with her back straight and dignity intact was the last bit of pride Liu Yu could salvage for herself. Even if this pride might seem like a joke to others, having experienced the events of her previous life, self-preservation had become an instinct.
Liu Yu couldn’t deny that, despite her ill intentions and pretense, she had genuinely placed Lu Chengxiao in a position of redemption and her husband in this lifetime. Consequently, the disdain, pain, and disappointment in his eyes became increasingly unbearable for her to endure.
In Liu Yu’s mind, there was a whirlwind of confusion. One moment, it was Lu Chengxiao saying, “You shouldn’t call my name anymore,” another moment it was “Be careful to invite the least suspicion2 李下瓜田 (under the palm tree, near the melon field,” and “It’s better for Miss Liu to have some self-respect.”
The next instant, she was back to a deep autumn night, standing in front of the brightly lit stage of Liuxian Pavilion, singing and dancing lightly with thin clothes. A group of unscrupulous men, fueled by inappropriate intentions, encircled her with sticky glances on every part of her face and body, discussing and eagerly anticipating paying for her to spend a night.
A cool breeze hit her face, and Liu Yi shivered. The chaotic thoughts gradually faded away. She raised her eyes and realized that in the midst of her jumbled thoughts, she had already walked to the North Town Stone Bridge.
Along the northern edge of Changfeng Town, rows of willow trees were planted along the Yu River. Under the radiant sun, as the river wind picked up, floating catkin began to scatter in the air like snow.
The light catkin followed the wind, drifting towards the sky above Changfeng Town. The river wind suddenly accelerated, flipping the hems of her skirt, and the floating fluff spiraled high into the sky, carried far away.
In Liu Yu’s heart, a sudden clarity emerged like never before.
She shouldn’t be disheartened, and there was no clear right or wrong in this situation. Compared to being sold to a brothel, a life of humiliation and wandering, what she faced now seemed trivial.
Liu Kangsheng and Liu Dalang had already sharpened their knives, and misfortune awaited ahead. At this moment, panic and weakness were fatal. She, in her current state, didn’t have the luxury to feel disheartened; it was genuinely ridiculous to indulge in such sentimentality.
At this time, in the Liu family, lunch had been on the table for a while. As Liu Yu once again hadn’t returned home on time, the head of the household, Liu Kangsheng, had an especially grim expression this afternoon.
His face darkened, and the whole family, from top to bottom, fell silent during the meal, not daring to utter a word.
After returning to their rooms, Wen Shi, who was usually quite astute, whispered to Liu Sanlang, “What’s wrong with your father? I’ve never seen him so concerned about your elder sister before, have you?”
Talking about concern, it clearly didn’t seem like it, but Wen Shi couldn’t quite put her finger on what was wrong.
Liu Sanlang had been busy in the fields all morning, and now he was both tired and sleepy. He just wanted to take advantage of the midday break for a nap. In response to Wen Shi’s words, he casually replied, “There’s nothing unusual; you’re just thinking too much.”
Wen Shi rolled her eyes and poked Liu Sanlang’s shoulder, “No, it’s not that I’m thinking too much. A few days ago, when Elder Sister didn’t come home for lunch and only returned late in the evening, Dad got really angry. He even made you and your elder brother go look for her separately. I always felt something was off. I’ve been married into this family for so many years; I know Dad’s attitude towards Elder Sister. It’s not like him to be so concerned.”
Liu Sanlang was annoyed by Wen Shi’s nagging, so he simply pulled the blanket over his head, covering his ears as well. Irritated, Wen Shi punched him through the blanket and then lay down, putting this matter aside for further consideration.
In the second household, Lin Shi was also shrewd, but Liu Erlang was even more straightforward than Liu Sanlang. She had no way of extracting any useful information from him.
In the main room where Liu Kangsheng was, the official mistress, Wang Shi, was not present. Joining Liu Kangsheng were Liu Dalang and his wife. W Shi stood by the window, watching the wind and, outside, keeping an eye on Wang Shi’s movements near the kitchen. Liu Dalang lowered his voice and asked Liu Kangsheng, “Dad, do you think Liu Yu knows something?”
The couple was unaware that this was already the second time Liu Yu had come home late. However, in recent times, Liu Yu had been going to town too frequently, running errands every day. In Liu Dalang’s eyes, it seemed like eighty taels of silver were flying in and out like white flowers. It was fine as long as she returned home on time every day. However, on the day she came home late, he couldn’t even enjoy his meal. He was afraid that these eighty taels of silver would just fly away with a swoosh, leaving him without a home. Wasn’t that digging into his heart?
Liu Kangsheng also had a serious expression. After a moment, he shook his head, “That’s not possible. She has nowhere to find out.”
His words implied that he hadn’t overlooked the talk even on Wang Shi’s side.
Liu Dalang’s roundabout attempt to inquire was indeed about this matter. Although he had always been aware that his father valued him, the eldest son, the most, and later added his precious younger brother as the eldest grandson, Liu Dalang also had some reservations about Wang Shi. Now, hearing that his father hadn’t informed Wang Shi about the plan to sell Liu Yu, Liu Dalang felt a huge weight lifted off his chest.
He put on a slightly reproachful expression, “Dad, really, I wasn’t talking about that. In our family, you are the most reliable. I wouldn’t worry about anything you handle.”
Liu Kangsheng appreciated these words, and a rare faint smile appeared at the corner of his lips.
Changing the topic, Liu Dalang scrutinized Liu Kangsheng’s expression and probed, “Dad, what do you think about Liu Yu’s embroidery? She’s been learning for about half a month since that Zhou Yápo arrived in Anyi County. If that girl decides to leave now, where could we find someone like her? That Zhou Yapo is said to be generous, and if she’s really exceptional, we’re talking about a considerable sum.” As he spoke, he gestured with his fingers, making a figure eight.
She knew that the eldest son, Liu Dalang, appeared honest on the surface but was the most cunning in reality. However, since the old man valued the eldest son the most, and Wu Shi kept having children, even she dared not utter a single unfavorable word. Consequently, she could only nod along with what Liu Dalang said.
Liu Kangsheng tapped his cigarette holder and said, “Alright, everyone go back and rest for lunch. There’s still a lot of work to be done in the fields this afternoon.”
Taking advantage of the situation, Liu Dalang and Wu Shi left, exchanging a few pleasantries about their parents resting well before exiting the main room together.
Back in their own room, Wu Shi, who had always behaved very calmly in front of Liu Kangsheng, suddenly became more talkative. She lowered her voice and said to Liu Dalang, “Dad is still thinking about that embroidery skill. I feel uneasy about it. Recently, keep an eye on Liu Yu. You should find opportunities to encourage Dad more about it. With Liu Yu’s appearance, going to town every day, I can’t feel at ease.”
“Think about it. If she attracts someone with a prosperous family and is willing to pay a good bride price, then we won’t have any problems.”
As the conversation escalated, Wu Shi herself was suddenly taken aback as soon as the words left her mouth.
Liu Dalang, seated at the edge of the bed while taking off his shoes, suddenly stopped mid-action. He raised his head abruptly, and the couple exchanged a glance, both seeing shock in each other’s eyes. If it was a bride price, that would become a matter involving the entire village, something all three households would be closely monitoring. In that case, what benefits could they gain?
Liu Dalang abandoned the idea of taking off his shoes for sleep. Instead, he paced around the room, deep in thought. How many families in town could afford to pay eighty taels? And what were the chances of Liu Yu encountering such a person? These thoughts somewhat eased his uneasiness.
As Liu Yu approached home, she anticipated some scolding today. However, given her dismal mood, she was not inclined to deal with it. When she arrived, the house was eerily quiet, indicating that everyone had gone to rest after lunch. She chose to move quietly and entered her room without making a sound.
Surprisingly, Liu Yan, who usually enjoyed going out, was peacefully resting in her room today. She hadn’t slept deeply, and upon hearing the door open, she turned to see Liu Yu entering quietly. Liu Yan greeted her with a smile, placing her hand on the bed, “You’re back.”
Her eyes glanced over Liu Yu’s skirt, and she teased, “Did you sprain your foot again today?”
She had purposely stayed at home to witness any drama unfold.
Liu Yu really wasn’t in the mood to deal with her sister and didn’t feel like engaging in conversation.
Liu Yan wasn’t bothered by Liu Yu’s lack of response; she wasn’t waiting for Liu Yu to acknowledge her. She was either hoping for a reaction or ready to enjoy the show.
Deciding against going to sleep, Liu Yan kicked off her shoes and bounced out of bed. “Dad, Mom! Liu Yu is back!”
Liu Yu: “…”
These were not sisters; they were enemies from a past life reincarnated together. This was pure torment.
While Liu Kangsheng was irritated, the fact remained that Liu Yu had returned. At the moment, she was in her own room, and Liu Kangsheng, relying on his status, wouldn’t go over. However, Wang Shi, moving swiftly, swept into the daughters’ room.
Liu Yu didn’t bother concocting any excuses this time. She directly apologized, admitting that she couldn’t resist browsing the stores in town, checking out various hair ornaments, rouge, and fabrics.
Wang Shi was momentarily silenced. A rare guilty expression appeared on her face. After all, most young girls loved such things. Even Liu Yan, from childhood to adolescence, had a small wooden box filled with various hair accessories, and her fabrics were chosen from the vibrant colors available at the town’s fabric shop.
But Liu Yu was different. She had worn clothes made from home-woven coarse fabric from childhood to adolescence. Her best headpiece was a red string she got from the wandering peddler who traveled through the villages. Later, she learned how to make knots and crafted a few things herself. This was already considered a luxurious choice.
Hearing that Liu Yu had gone to these stores, Wang Shi couldn’t come up with words to scold her.
She felt guilty.
So, in the end, Wang Shi raised her voice slightly and said, “In the future, when I let you go to town, it’s for learning, not for leisure. You’re fifteen years old, don’t act like you don’t know anything, not even how to eat at home.”
Then she left.
Liu Yan: “???”
Why did she just say something and get slapped last time, and now with Liu Yu, it’s like this? Just this?
She looked at Wang Shi’s back in disbelief until Wang Shi returned to the main room. Liu Yan’s mentality crumbled.
Her mother indeed favored Liu Yu, so much that she seemed to have disappeare!
Liu Yan glared at Liu Yu, full of anger. Unable to sleep, she turned around and went out to vent her frustration on Wang Shi.
Liu Yu, exhausted, collapsed on the bed, burying her face in the pillow. She emptied her mind of all thoughts and only after a while did she regain some strength to plan for what lay ahead.
In the main room, Wang Shi, after returning to her bedroom, sat blankly on the edge of the bed, lost in thought.
Liu Kangsheng waited for a while but didn’t hear Wang Shi briefing him on the situation. He asked, “So, what happened? Why did she come back so late?”
Wang Shi collected herself, relayed Liu Yu’s words, and hesitated for quite some time before saying, “Kangshrng, I always feel like, these years, I’ve treated her unfairly.”
Liu Kangsheng frowned, sitting up straighter.
The words at the corner of Wang Shi’s mouth stuck for a moment. Finally, with a conscience that hadn’t entirely eroded, she said to Liu Kangsheng, “Because she came with me, I was afraid that the brothers wouldn’t be happy. Since childhood, she has been separated from the other children in the family. Liu Yu is also obedient and well-behaved. In recent years, her knot-making has contributed quite a bit of money to the family. Moreover… moreover, when I came here years ago, I brought some family assets…”
Liu Kangsheng’s eyes suddenly sharpened, and Wang Shi’s words that were about to come out of her mouth retreated.
Liu Kangsheng also realized that he had reacted strongly. With a stern face, he said, “The money from back then, haven’t we used it long ago? Why bring that up now?”
Seeing that he didn’t explode, Wang Shi mustered some courage and whispered, “I didn’t mean to bring that up. I mean, Liu Yu is already fifteen.”
“…and two more years, how about we formally acknowledge her? Look, if she can earn some silver with her embroidery skills, we could give her a little dowry?”
With the latter statement, Wang Shi summoned up the courage to say.
A woman without a dowry would face challenges even if she had a good upbringing when entering her husband’s family.
Liu Kangsheng heard Wang Shi discussing a dowry for Liu Yu with him. His eyes flashed with a hint of surprise, but he quickly averted his gaze, not wanting Wang Shi to sense anything from his expression. He vaguely agreed, “Sure.”
Wang Shi beamed with joy, and her weathered face showed several new wrinkles. “Then, I’ll thank you on behalf of Liu Yu.”
A muscle twitched at the corner of Liu Kangsheng’s mouth. He lowered his eyes, pondering how to handle things more discreetly. To ensure a peaceful future, it would be best if no one in the household, except for the older couple, knew about it.
He thought about what the eldest had said, that Madame Zhou Ya was a wealthy woman who traveled far and wide. She wouldn’t settle for ordinary looks; even when buying someone, she insisted on proper legal documentation at the government office. This made the situation somewhat tricky.
However, glancing at Wang Shi, who was still happily ignorant, Liu Kangsheng felt that if things didn’t work out, it wouldn’t be a big deal. For the sake of the eldest and their precious son, the second and third households needed to tread carefully. Managing Wang Shi was a minor issue.
The midday sunlight passed amidst the contemplations of these individuals. Because Liu Kangsheng had something on his mind, he uncharacteristically refrained from reprimanding Liu Yu today. When he saw that the time was almost right, he got up, drank a cup of hot tea, and prepared to go to the fields.
Naturally, the three Liu brothers got up before Liu Kangsheng. When the father and sons were about to leave, an unexpected guest arrived at the Liu residence.
Sansukini: This chapter is super long so I decided to cut it in half.
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