Soon after, Duke Ying came out. He shook his head when he heard her words and disapprovingly said, “Ah Luo, don’t say such nonsense.”
He and Zhao Jie had been discussing matters about the imperial court. Because the contents were top-secret, the two of them wrote out their discussion, so that they wouldn’t have to worry about someone eavesdropping on their conversation. Afterwards, they burned their writing papers using an oil lamp.
During the past two years, the Emperor had become increasingly harsher towards the Chen clan. If Empress Chen wasn’t in between them and the Emperor, perhaps the Emperor might have already eliminated them.
Zhao Jie had visited him because of this matter.
Duke Ying had always been upright and honest. He never participated in any political disputes. But, after their discussion, he thought highly of Prince Jing and started to waver. He was only a seventeen-year-old youth, but his mind was meticulous and his actions were decisive. He didn’t hide his thriving ambitions from Duke Ying. During the past two years after he had return to the capital, he had prepared well in established his own sphere of power and influence while concealing his own strength and biding his time.
If he were to support Prince Jing, it wouldn’t be a bad thing. Based on Prince Jing’s abilities, he would definitely become great in the future. At that time, Duke Ying’s family would also rise in power and status with him.
Wei Zhang Chun kept internally assessing whether or not he should stay neutral, so he didn’t pay attention to Wei Luo and Zhao Jie’s conversation.
Zhao Jie resisted smiling and patiently asked her, “Where do you want to go?”
Wei Luo glanced at Duke Ying, and then looked at him. She gestured at him to lower his head, and then gestured at him to lower it more. After he did that, she stood on her toes and quietly said into his ear, “Somewhere outside the capital.”
Zhao Jie was surprised by her words and couldn’t help looking at her directly. He had originally thought she would say a place in the capital. He didn’t expect that she would want to leave the capital. He didn’t agree, but he didn’t refuse either.
He turned towards Wei Zhang Chun, “Duke Ying, thank you for your hospitality today. This Prince will take his leave now. I’ll come back to visit another day.”
Wei Zhang Chun’s response was in accordance to customs, “Your highness is too courteous.” As he said, he prepared to send Zhao Jie off.
But Zhao Jie gracefully declined, “This Prince will leave by himself. It’s very cold outside and Duke Ying is advance in his years. It would be better if you stay here.”
He accepted the black satin cloak embroidered with cranes that Zhu Geng handed to him and draped it over his shoulders. Intentionally or not, he looked at the little girl before leaving the verandah.
Wei Luo couldn’t help feeling anxious. Did he agree or not? Taking advantage of when Wei Zhang Chun wasn’t paying attention, she ran off after Zhao Jie. She very naturally grabbed his hand and stopped in front of him.
She raised her head and impatiently asked, “Okay?”
Zhao Jie stopped walking. Snow had fallen off the top of the pine trees and a snowflake had landed on Wei Luo’s eyelashes. He used his other hand to gently wipe away the snowflake. “Why do you want to leave the capital?”
Wei Luo had already thought of a good reason in advance, so she answered naturally, “I have to go save someone.”
Zhao Jie couldn’t resist smiling, “Who are you saving?”
She held onto his hand a little bit tighter, “If big brother brings me out of the capital, I’ll tell you.”
Zhao Jie stared back at her. When he smiled, his eyes were gentle and soft. When he wasn’t smiling, it was difficult to tell what he was thinking from looking at his eyes. He looked at her for a while. His thin lips curved as he thought her question over, then he asked, “When do you want to go?”
Wei Luo counted the days. She couldn’t continue to wait. Based on what Ah Dai had said when she asked, Ah Dai would turn fifteen in the next few days. If she continued to wait, Ah Dai might be buried alive by that couple. “Tomorrow.”
By coincidence Zhao Jie was free tomorrow and would be able to help her. He didn’t know why, but he wanted to tease her a little bit, so he intentionally said, “It can’t be the day after tomorrow?”
Wei Luo repeatedly shook her head and begged with her limpid eyes, “Can’t it be tomorrow? Are you busy tomorrow”
The smile in Zhao Jie’s eyes deepened. He paused, “It’s not that tomorrow isn’t good…”
“Let’s agree to that then!” Wei Luo made the final decision. She took out a melon seed from her pocket and stuffed into his hand to express her thanks, “Thank you big brother. Big brother, you’re the best.”
After she said this, without waiting for his reaction, she brightly smiled at him, and then ran off to her room. Her small figure that was wrapped in a red cloak was especially noticeable in the world of snow and ice. Her steps were light and graceful. In a short time, she had disappeared form his sight.
The little girl’s actions were abrupt and had caught him off guard. Zhao Jie’s hand held the fragrant melon seed that she had given him. After he looked at it for a long time, he laughed involuntarily.
The next day, Prince Jing’s carriage stopped outside in front of Duke Ying’s residence.
Wei Luo finished washing her face, rinsing her mouth, and putting on her clothes. Then, she told Wei Kun that Zhao Jie was taking her out of the capital. Wei Kun was originally doubtful, but after Prince Jing’s personal servant talked with him, he consented to let her go and repeatedly warned her to come home early and to not to go overboard with playing.
Before she left for her journey, at the front gate, Chang Hong disappointedly asked her, “Ah Luo, why I can’t come with you?”
Wei Luo smiled as she patted his head, “What do you want? I’ll bring it back for you.”
Chang Hong didn’t want anything. He just wanted to go with her. In the end, he shook his head, “Be careful.”
Ah Luo nodded once, then she turned around after smiling.
She wasn’t going outside to play. She had to accomplish an important thing. If it wasn’t because of her past life’s experience, she could watch Ah Dai’s misfortune with folded arms instead of interfering. After all, there were too many tragedies in this world and she didn’t have to the free time to fix all of them.
But, she had suffered through this before and could sympathize. Also, Ah Dai had helped her in her previous life, so she couldn’t brush this aside. After she settled this, she would no longer be connected to Longshou village or that couple. She didn’t care if that couple lived or died.
After she sat down in the carriage, Wei Luo said to Zhao Jie, “I want to go to Longshou village.”
There was a basin of charcoal burning in the carriage. Although it was freezing outside, it was nice and warm inside the carriage. Zhao Jie was a holding a book titled “Canon of Supreme Mystery” that he had been reading. His eyelids were slightly hooded and his tall posture was dignified. After he heard her words, he asked the driver outside, “Zhu Geng, did you hear her? Go to Longshou village.”
(T/N: “Canon of Supreme Mystery” was a divinatory text written by a Confucian writer, Yang Xiong.)
Zhu Geng’s voice came from outside, “To respond to his highness, I heard.”
The carriage slowly started to move and started its journey. Zhao Jie didn’t ask what type of place Longshou village was or why she wanted to go. He went along with whatever she said. His indulgence towards her was to the point of excessiveness.
The inside of the carriage was the same as last time. On the small, lacquered table, there were pastries and dried nuts. At the first careful glance, walnuts and melons seeds had taken up most of the space. There were also some exquisite and cute snacks that had been made in the palace and were greatly liked by girls.
Wei Luo’s heart was filled with concerns. She didn’t have any interest towards the snacks, instead she kept look through the window. She didn’t relax until the carriage slowly left the capital’s gate.
Their travel went smoothly without any obstructions on the flat official road and the carriage’s speed increased after leaving the capital. In a moment, she saw pure white snow on both sides of the road. The snow was sparkling and clear. However, watching the snow for a long time would tire the eyes and Wei Luo stopped looking. She lowered her head to rub her eyes. Her mood became increasingly serious.
When she opened her eyes, Zhao Jie had already put down his book and was looking at her curiously.
Ah Luo put down her hands and said, “Big brother, when will we get there?”
Zhao Jie considered and said, “We should get there before nighttime.”
Too slow! It wasn’t even noon yet. She calculated the time. It would still take another six hours of sitting. Ah Luo impatiently asked, “Could we get there a little faster?”
He wasn’t in a hurry. He thought she had wanted to come out here to relieve her boredom. “Why are you in a rush? What are you planning on doing there?”
She was only a seven or eight year old girl who rarely left her home. She shouldn’t know such a distant place. Zhao Jie wanted to know what she was she was planning. But, this little girl guarded her mouth like a closed bottle. Even if he asked, she would only tightly seal her lips and wouldn’t reveal her thoughts.
Zhao Jie smiled, “If you don’t tell me, then we’ll get there even later.”
Wei Luo froze, then she looked at him. Her small form was somewhat vexed. Even thought she was pushed to this point, she still didn’t say anything.
As a result, he was even more curious.
The sun gradually rose up. The carriage didn’t take any breaks as it continued to move forward.
Wei Luo ate a few pastries to fill her stomach. By the time it was noon, she had fallen asleep on a blanket. When she woke up again, it was dusk. The afterglow of the sunset spilled over the poplar trees that were on the side of the road and the trees wore a layer of rosy, red clouds. The snow reflected the glowing orange red light.
She promptly sat up as she somewhat sleepily said, “Are we there?”
Zhao Jie was still reading. He seemed as if he had been in this posture the entire time, “There’s still one more hour.”
Wei Luo could only sit back and restrain her emotions.
Longshou village was between two mountains and surrounded by woods. Its narrow paths and remote distance made it an inconvenient and difficult to find place.
After an hour, Zhu Geng finally stopped the carriage at the entrance of the village and said, “Prince, we’re here.”
Wei Luo impatiently lifted up the carriage’s golden embroidered curtain, then she stepped down the carriage using the steps. She turned around in a circle to look at this place. It truly was her familiar Longshou village. At the entrance to the village, there was a large stone. On the right side, there was an irrigation canal. On the left side, there was empty land. She looked inside the village. The land was vast and the houses were in the same places as she remembered.
She had lived here for ten years and her memory of this place was deeply entrenched. Even if she wanted to forget, she wouldn’t be able to.
She walked forward without needing anyone to guide her. She cleared remembered where Lin Huilian’s house was located. The sun was setting and there weren’t many people walking around. Every household was coming back from the fields to prepare and eat dinner. Smoke rose up in spirals from the cooking fires.
She picked a small path and meandered forwarded. She turned back to look and saw that Zhao Jie was leisurely following her. She let out a relieved sigh, and continued walking. In a short time, she stopped in front of a shabby house.
In her previous life, she had resided in this home with Lin Huilian couple. The walls were made of compressed dirt, the path was muddy, the door was wooden, and the courtyard was so small it was pitiful. But, it had once been her only home.
By this time, it was dusk. The moon had slowly risen up and was suspended in a remote place.
Wei Luo looked inside. The central room was pitched-black and there wasn’t smoke coming from the kitchen. No sound was coming from inside.
Her heart had a faint feeling of bad premonition. She gently pushed the front door, but the door was locked and she couldn’t push it open.
Her heart thumped. She had confirmed that no one was home, but right now was dinnertime. If they weren’t home, where did they go?
Wei Luo thought of the worst possibility. Her pink lips were tightly clenched and her eyes were gloomy in the darkness. Her small face was stretched taut. A thousand things were hidden in her heart that she had never said to anyone else.
Zhao Jie was silently watching her from a few steps away. He didn’t step forward to disturb her or ask her any questions.
She finally unfroze and raised her head. Then, she walked towards the neighbor’s house. The next-door neighbor had just come outside to pour out water.
Wei Luo walked to her and hesitantly asked with a soft, milky voice, “Madam… Do you know where this family went?”
This woman’s last name was Wang. She had been a neighbor with Lin Huilian for several years. Ah Luo was familiar with her and knew that she was an honest woman, so she decided to ask her.
After the woman had finished pouring out water, she held the wooden bowl as she dazedly looked at Wei Luo. Longshou village was a remote and desolate place. It was rare for outsiders to pass-through. It was even less likely that someone from the capital would come here to look for someone. Wan-shi had never seen a little girl dressed like her. In the twilight, she looked like someone who had stepped out a painting. Her body had a noble aura and was completely incompatible with the villagers.
“Madam?” Wei Luo called out again.
Wang-shi returned to her senses. She thought about what Wei Luo had just said and the expression on her face changed slightly. She looked at her left and right as she said, “Little girl, why are you looking for them? They’re not home.”
Wei Luo stubbornly continued to ask, “Where did they go?”
Wang-shi thought about what Lin Huilian and Bai Yang were doing, and then looked at how Wei Luo was dressed. She guessed that Wei Luo was someone from the capital and was afraid of being involved in this. She retreated into her home, closed the door, and said, “Their daughter is getting married today and they went with her!”
Wei Luo’s face paled. She started at the closed door in front of her without moving.
Hearing that woman’s words, she thought of her past life. On the day she had turned fifteen, she had worn a red wedding dress. It was the first time she had worn makeup and put up her hair. She had been dressed up beautifully. Lin Huilian and Bai Yang had helped her walk outside their home.
From a distance, the familiar villagers watched them with complicated expressions. There was sympathy and pity in their eyes… but no one stepped forward to stop them. The boys that had previously asked for her hand in marriage were being held back by their parents and could only look at her sorrowfully. They couldn’t do anything for her.
Then, she was brought to halfway up the mountain. Lin Huilian and Bai Yang dug out their son’s coffin and forced her to kneel and pressed her head down towards the coffin.
The villagers clearly knew that she wasn’t getting married. She was going to be killed. But, why was Ah Dai the only person that helped her?
The more she thought about it, the more scared Wei Luo became. Her heart trembled from icy fear. She didn’t feel any warmth from her hand warmer.
Wei Luo thought of the plight that Ah Dai was facing. She quickly flung down the little cloisonné enamel hand warmer and ran off in the direction of the mountain.
She moved too quickly. Zhao Jie called out, “Ah Luo!”
She couldn’t hear him. The warmth in her eyes had been blown away by the cold wind, only the coldness remained.