Huang Rang returned to her dormitory, grumbling, only to find an unexpected guest waiting inside. And that guest happened to be someone familiar.
“Mother?” Huang Rang widened her eyes, suspecting she might be seeing things. “When did you arrive? And what happened to your face?”
Xin Yin hurriedly covered her face with her hands and said, “The Celestial Court sent me here. I had no idea… this is where you live.”
“Celestial Court?” Huang Rang quickly understood the situation. “You went to find Huang Shu, didn’t you?”
Xin Yin nodded in response. Mother and daughter had rarely spoken to each other when she was younger, and now their reunion was somewhat awkward.
“What did you go to him for?” Huang Rang sneered. “You’re not thinking of rekindling your old flame with him, are you?”
Upon hearing this, Xin Yin flared up. “You little brat, watch me shut that mouth of yours!”
She charged at her, but Huang Rang saw this coming and quickly turned to run. Xin Yin was not one to show mercy when she used to discipline Huang Rang in her younger days, so she didn’t have the fondest memories of her.
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“I prepared several New Year feasts for the Chief.”
Huang Rang headed straight for the official residence where Di Yiqiu lived without any hesitation. She raised her hand and knocked on the door, making a loud noise.
Di Yiqiu, who was already a light sleeper, was immediately awakened by the disturbance. He put on his clothes and asked, “Who is it?”
Huang Rang’s voice was blunt. “It’s me. Open the door.”
The chief had no choice but to open the door. “Why are you still awake at this hour?” he asked.
Huang Rang replied irritably, “What do you think? Can I even sleep?”
She entered the room, took a seat at the table, and even poured herself a cup of tea.
Di Yiqiu sat across from her, letting out a yawn, and asked, “Why can’t you sleep? When a mother and daughter reunite, shouldn’t they have a heart-to-heart conversation?”
Huang Rang waved her hand dismissively. “What a joke! I have nothing to say to her. If I had to choose, I’d rather have a heart-to-heart conversation with you.”
Di Yiqiu loosely draped his outer robe over his shoulders, wearing only a white undershirt. His long, jet-black hair flowed down to his waist. Unlike his usual meticulous appearance, tonight he exuded a hint of laziness.
He patiently said, “In the past, she wasn’t a loving mother, was she?”
“A loving mother?” Huang Rang almost burst into laughter when she heard this. “She used to dream of having a son. After hoping for years, she ended up with me. How could she be a loving mother? My sister made all my clothes when I was little, and she would scold and beat my sister every day. Since I was a child, I longed for her to die early.”
Di Yiqiu held the handle of the teapot and realized that the tea had gone cold. He called for a servant to bring fresh tea.
Then, the Chief asked, “Was there no good aspect to her at all?”
The mocking expression on Huang Rang’s face gradually disappeared. She thought for a while before saying, “There was one. When I used to fight with Huang Zeng, well, Huang Zeng is my older half-brother. He was strong and had some strength. I couldn’t beat him. His mother was always there, cheering him on and telling him to beat me to a pulp.”
Huang Rang squinted her eyes and, for once, recalled an old memory. “On that day, I bled a lot. My mother rushed over and told Huang Zeng’s mother that if I died, she would kill both of them to pay for my life. She looked crazy and vicious at the time. After that, Huang Zeng didn’t dare to go too far when he beat me.”
Di Yiqiu didn’t ask why Huang Shu didn’t intervene. After hearing Huang Rang’s description of Huang Shu, he had no such questions.
“Later, I was unconscious for a long time. When I finally opened my eyes, I saw a disheveled, red-eyed monster in front of me. I cried in fear, thinking I had arrived in the underworld.” Huang Rang dove into the old memories, her lips slightly curling up. “I cried for half a day before realizing it was her.”
“Who would’ve thought you, the old salted fish, had moments of such foolishness” the Chief chuckled, but in his laughter, he also sensed the tenderness and coldness of past times.
“What did you say?” Huang Rang’s eyes turned progressively menacing upon hearing his words.
The Chief immediately said, “I shouldn’t have called you a foolish one!”
Unexpectedly, Huang Rang rushed over suddenly and seized him. “You dare to call me OLD. SALTED. FISH!!”
She pressed the chief against the table, her face twisted with fury. “Say it again!”
The chief, with his back against the tabletop and his gaze looking upward, let his hair fall freely. She pretended to be fierce, but her high, petite nose and full, red lips made him involuntarily retreat.
“Little salted fish…” he carefully corrected himself.
Huang Rang coldly snorted, “Still not good enough!”
The Chief allowed her to grip the collar of his undershirt, saying, “An intelligent, beautiful, young, lively salted fish…”
The guards at the door shuddered when they heard this—too cheesy. Several of them involuntarily moved a considerable distance away.
Satisfied, Huang Rang let go of his collar, sat back down, and casually asked, “What did you do to my father?”
“Do you still remember that he’s your father…” The chief sat down beside her, equally at a loss for words. After a while, he said, “He’s been imprisoned in the White Tiger Bureau. How do you want to handle it?”
After speaking, he added, “We can’t let him die too soon. After all, he’s from a branch of the Huang family. If Clan Leader Huang Shiyi insists on investigating, it will damage your sisterly filial piety. It’s better to keep him here and slowly fulfill—filial piety.”
He emphasized the last two words significantly.
Huang Rang was astonished. “How is it that you’re so astute and considerate at such a young age?”
The Chief corrected her unhappily, “I’m not that young.”
“Oh, I see,” Huang Rang said tactfully. “You haven’t been the Chief for long; how come you’re so shrewd and considerate?”
Only then did the Chief say, “I’ve seen plenty of palace intrigue in the palace.”
He didn’t seem inclined to explain further, and Huang Rang wisely didn’t press for more information. She simply said, “Well, now that she’s here, I can’t go back. This is all your fault, so you have to take responsibility.”
The chief resisted a laugh, finding it rare that even this salted fish felt challenging. He asked, “Do you really dislike her that much?”
“Not really,” Huang Rang replied, her arms crossed as she rested her head on the table. “Later, I had a dream where she died. She died in the same year that I was very young. I kept telling myself that she had a good death. Since then, my sister and I have been relieved from suffering.”
She re-entered that year outside of the dream, into the small courtyard, observing the splatters of blood on the ground and walls. Her gaze eventually lowered, fixating on the zelkova wood table, and tears fell silently. “But that dream was too cold and too long. It made me go from applauding to gradually understanding and being forgiving. In the end, old grievances scattered like windblown clouds, leaving only repetitive memories.”
She took a deep breath and continued, “So now, I think I might not hate her that much anymore.”
Of course, that didn’t mean she liked her.
Di Yiqiu reached out and gently stroked her hair, saying after a while, “It was just a dream. At least for now, she’s still alive. My birth mother passed away very early, and she became the Emperor’s Empress. There isn’t even a painting of her in the palace. I can’t even remember her appearance.”
“I remember!” Huang Rang perked up at this. “Come on, get some paper and ink.”
The Chief was skeptical, but Huang Rang gave him a nudge and said, “Come on, let’s go to your study.”
The two of them left together, riding on the summer evening breeze, and arrived at Di Yiqiu’s study.
Huang Rang spread out the paper and said eagerly, “Come on, grind the ink.”
The Chief had no choice but to take the inkstick and start grinding the ink.
Huang Rang dipped her brush into the ink and began to paint.
Di Yiqiu realized that she had quite a talent for it.
“You… don’t seem much like a salted fish either,” the chief muttered to himself.
Huang Rang, looking down on that term, said disdainfully, “Salted fish? That’s because you haven’t seen me when I’m putting in effort. Humph, I’m not boasting, but if I put my mind to it, you’ll have to kneel down and be the younger brother.”
“Don’t talk nonsense!” The Chief was particularly sensitive about being teased for his youth, just as Huang Rang disliked it when people called her old.
Huang Rang humored him and quickly changed her tune. “Alright, alright, if I put my mind to it, you’ll have to admit defeat. Humph.”
The Chief snorted and retorted, “In my opinion, your boasting skills surpass your painting.”
Huang Rang chuckled and said, “I can’t be bothered to banter with you.”
With a brush in hand, she seemed inspired, and a portrait of a lady slowly took shape on the paper.
Di Yiqiu watched as the figure in the painting became clearer and clearer, feeling momentarily lost.
The woman in the painting was dressed in traditional attire, wearing a phoenix crown and a forehead protector often worn during the postpartum period. She had a gentle smile and an elegant beauty befitting a mother of a nation.
The Chief pointed to the baby in her arms and asked, “Why is she holding a baby?”
“Oh, you’re asking about that!” Huang Rang explained enthusiastically. “That’s you! You see, it was right around your one-month celebration. The Empress invited my uncle and aunt to the palace. Oh, many people surrounded you, all praising your auspicious appearance.”
As she spoke, her hand kept moving on the paper, and the chief’s expression gradually changed.
Huang Rang continued triumphantly, “Speaking of which, I also drank your one-month celebration wine! It’s a good thing I went; otherwise, if you wanted to see your mother now, it would be incredibly difficult…”
The Chief fixed his gaze on her and, after a while, said in a soft voice, “Well, I appreciate it, Aunt Huang.”
“Uh…” Huang Rang’s expression froze slowly.
After a while, a high-pitched scream rang out from the study: “What did you call me? You ungrateful bastard! Call me that again and see what happens!”
Followed by a series of thumping and banging sounds.
The guards in the study silently moved about a yard away from the room.