The reception pavilion was packed with people. Duke Ding's wife had her younger daughter, Gao Yi Yu, lead the women to the back courtyard's octagonal pavilion to sit. Gao Yi Yu was eighteen years old this year and had married at the beginning of the year. Today, she had returned to her parent's home to see her small nephew. Before she was married, she was very close with Gao Dan Yang. At the moment, the two of them were walking in the front and leading the women the octagon pavilion.
Wei Chang Mi wouldn't be obedient. He insisted on following along. Qin-shi didn't have any ideas and could only inconvenience Wei Luo with watching over him.
The group of people arrived at the pavilion. There were stone benches and stools and also benches next to the fencing in the pavilion. Gao Yi Yu warmly found a place for each of the women. Wei Luo had a little tagalong, so it was inconvenient no matter where she went. So, she could only have Jin Lu and Bai Lan watched over him.
"Younger sister Ah Luo, come here to sit." Gao Dan Yang called out to her in a smile.
Wei Luo looked around. There wasn't seating elsewhere, so she pulled Liang Yu Rong with her to sit at the stone table. She sweetly laughed, "Then I'll have to bother older sister Gao."
Gao Dan Yang was very attentive towards her. Someone that didn't know would think their relationship was very good. In reality, they had only privately met and talked one time. Gao Dan Yang's good feelings towards her were an unfathomable mystery. Because it was mystery, Wei Luo was extra careful when talking with her.
Gao Dan Yang ordered the servant girls to serve tea and introduced Wei Luo and Liang Yu Rong to Gao Yi Yu, "This is Duke Ying's fourth miss, Wei Luo. This is Marquis Ping Yuan's eldest miss, Liang Yu Rong."
Gao Yi Yu smiled and nodded. It could be counted as a greeting.
Gao Dan Yang placed a white glazed tea cup with a plum blossom design in front of Wei Luo and with an unhurried tone, she said, "The last time we met at Jin He Villa, I happily talked with younger sister Ah Luo as if I was meeting an old friend. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough time and we couldn't talk to our heart's content. Since we're both here at Duke Ding's residence today, we must have a good long chat."
Wei Luo thanked her, accepted the teacup, and politely said, "Older sister Gao is right. I haven't met a kindred spirit like older sister in a long time."
The two people chatted back and forth with exceptionally sincere expressions.
Liang Yu Rong wasn't suitable for this type of situation. She silent sipped her tea. Since she couldn't help Wei Luo, she wouldn't impede her either.
Several words were said and Wei Luo dealt with them perfectly. Her words weren't overly fond, but her words didn't give off a cold feeling either. Her every word and movement was above reproach. Gao Dan Yang's expression didn't change. She continued smiling and suddenly asked, "Does younger sister Ah Luo like to listen to musicals?"
Wei Luo drank a mouthful of tea and leisurely said, "I listen to musicals ocassionally. My favorite musical is Rong Chun's Phoenix Also Nests."
Gao Dan Yang said, "Oh. What a coincidence, I also like to listen to that musical. When I went to Rong Chun to listen to a musical last time, as I was leaving, I think I saw younger sister Ah Luo. I was about to call out to you, but unfortunately, you disappeared in a blink of an eye.”
Wei Luo blinked and casually asked, "Does older sister Gao remember the date?"
"It was probably around three days before the hunting competition." She pondered and acted as if she had just realized something, "At that time, older cousin Jing and Liuli were also in the street. I heard from older cousin Jing that younger sister Ah Luo had went there with them."
Wei Luo made a sound of agreement and didn't express an opinion.
Gao Dan Yang covered her smiling lips and said, "No wonder. I always had the impression that older cousin Jing didn't like to listen to musicals. To see him at a place for musicals, it was outside of my expectations."
On the side, Gao Yi Yu was currently drinking tea. Hearing these words, she showed a surprise expression, "You said that you saw older cousin Prince Jing going to listen to a musical."
"Yes." Gao Dan Yang also found it hard to believe. She turned her head and said to Gao Yi Yu, "Do you remember that I had invited older cousin Jing to go outside to listen to a play on my fifteenth birthday? No matter what I said, he wouldn't agree. In the end, I was angry and threatened to never talk to him again. Later, I didn't forgive him until he gave me a pair of jasper bracelets as an apology."
As she said this, she raised her embroidered moon white sleeve to show that pair of translucent jasper bracelets. "It's this pair. I've always been wearing them since then. Look, aren’t they beautiful?”
Gao Yi Yu made fun of her, "You've already had me look at them so many times. How could they not be beautiful?"
Gao Dan Yang pursed her lips, smiled, and lowered her eyes. She behaved rather like a charming and pampered young girl.
In reality, these bracelets weren't from Zhao Jie. That year, after she had tearfully complained to Empress Chen, Empress Chen had used Zhao Jie's name to give these bracelets to her. Perhaps, Zhao Jie didn't even know about the existence of these bracelets. Or, perhaps he knew but didn't care. But, she highly regarded them and had been wearing them for the past several years. She couldn't bear to take them off.
Wei Luo held her cheeks and looked at those bracelets. They weren't especially special and didn’t even look as good as the turquoise squirrel waist accessory she was wearing.
A moment later, the servant girls served several types of fruits and pastries for the women to sample.
Gao Dan Yang looked up, suddenly stood up, and looked across the octagonal pavilion.
Wei Luo wasn't sure about her actions, so she followed her line of sight and only saw two people passing through the lakeside. One person wasn’t familiar. The other person was wearing an embroidered sky blue robe. It was Zhao Jie.
Zhao Jie and Duke Ding's heir, Gao He were walking on the path to the front courtyard. In private, the two of them were friendly with each other and their discussion was harmonious.
As they were walking, they suddenly heard a voice from behind, "Older cousin Jing!"
Zhao Jie subconsciously furrowed his eyebrows. He originally hadn't want to linger here, but Gao He stopped and said, "Young cousin, Dan Yang is coming."
Holding up her skirt, Gao Dan Yang arrived at their side. Because she had hurriedly walked here, her face was slightly pink. After she had stabilized herself, she smiled and asked, "Why did you two come here? Did something happen in the front courtyard?"
Gao He took out a handkerchief, handed it over to her, shook his head, and said, "Look at you. You shouldn't be so anxious and impatient at your age." Then he answered, "A servant spilled wine on His Highness, Prince Jing's clothes, so I brought him to the rear courtyard to change into clean clothes. We were just about to return to the receiving room."
Goa Dan Yang's face showed that she realized something. Shortly after, she smiled and said, "Did older cousin give you this clothing? The sleeves are too short."
Gao He looked embarrassed. This was indeed his clothing. His stature wasn't short. He was the tallest person in their family. Unexpectedly, when Zhao Jie wore his clothes, it was a bit too short. When this set of clothing was newly made this year, the size was slightly too big and he hadn't worn it before, so he took this out to give to Zhao Jie to change into. It was fine in the other places, only the sleeves were a bit too short and revealed Zhao Jie's wrist. It wasn't too conspicuous. As long as people weren't meticulously looking, they wouldn't find it strange.
Gao Dan Yang looked at him and suddenly found something wrong. She pointed at his wrist and asked, "Older brother Jing, why do you have a bite mark here? I haven't seen it before. Who bit you..." As she said this, she prepared to take a closer look.
Zhao Jie expressionlessly took his hand away from her view and coldly said, "It's nothing. It was from a long time ago." Then, he turned to look in the direction of the octagonal pavilion. There were many girls in the prime of their youth wearing a wide variety of colorful clothing there. From far away, they looked like brightly colored decorations.
In a single glance, he saw Wei Luo sitting on a stone seat. Her back was facing him. Her petite body was wearing a cherry blossom colored robe embroidered with flowers and birds. Her exquisite and slender body attracted the most attention.
Her servant girl was whispering something into her ear. He didn't what she said, but Wei Luo suddenly stood up, left the pavilion, and walked in the direction of the bamboo forest.
Bai Lan had been looking after Wei Chang Mi. In only a short period of time, they had both disappeared!
This wasn’t their home. They were at Duke Ding's residence. If something happened, it would be troublesome. Hearing from Jin Lu that the two of them had went to the bamboo forest, she thought that they had gotten lost, so she had Jin Lu go to the reception pavilion to inform Qin-shi, and went to the bamboo forest to look for them herself.
The bamboo forest wasn't large, but the inside felt deep. The emerald green bamboo leaves were dense and blocked the sunlight from above. It wasn't easy to search for people inside here. Wei Luo pushed away the bamboo leaves in front of her face and continued walking deeper into the bamboo forest. As she walked, she called out, "Wei Chang Mi, Bai Lan, where are you?"
The bamboo forest was silent. There was only the sound of the bamboo leaves being blown by the wind. As she walked deeper into the bamboo forest, she didn't hear any response and frowned. She thought that those two people were probably not here and lifted her skirt to go back. However, just as she turned around, a person suddenly appeared and blocked her way!
Surprised, she subconsciously retreated until her back was against a bamboo. At first sight, she saw the other person's familiar face and her eyes lowered, "Li Song?"
Li Song turned a blind eye towards her loathing. He raised his eyebrow and walked to her front in a few steps, "It's me."
Wei Luo looked up and said with a cold voice, "Why are you here? Are you behind Wei Chang Mi and Bai Lan's disappearance?"
He seemed as if he didn't hear her question. He stepped closer to her. If he lowered his head, it would be right in front of her forehead. Eye to eye, he said, "Wei Luo, why aren't you asking me if my injury has healed?"
This position was too intimate. Wei Luo stretched out her hand to push him away. However, he held her shoulder in place and wouldn't let her move. There was naturally a large contrast between a man's and a woman's strength. In addition, he had been practicing martial arts since he was a child. Wei Luo naturally wasn't his match when it came to strength. Her heart was jittery, but her lips showed a smile, "Why would I ask you this? Could it be that you don't know that I'm longing for you to die sooner?"
Li Song gaze fixated on her as if he wanted to see beyond her façade and understand her thoroughly.
But it was useless. No matter how he looked, when she looked at him, her gaze was still full of hatred and loathing.
The pit of his stomach felt as if had been blocked by something. It had felt stuffy and uncomfortable. He had thought a lot during the past two days. Why did he keep thinking about her? It couldn't be because she never showed a pleasant face in front of him? It couldn't be because every time he bullied her, she would viciously bully him back? Or, was it because when she smiled, it looked better than everyone else? He couldn't figure it out.
He stared at her, then he conceitedly smiled, "Didn't you ask me if I liked you? If I died, there wouldn't be anyone who liked you."
Wei Luo hadn't expected that he would actually admit it. She was stunned at first, but soon her lips curved. She wanted to laugh at him.
But, in the next moment, she couldn't laugh.
He held her shoulder, leaned over, and bit her lip without hesitation.
The author has something to say:
Zhao Jie: Are you acting as if I’m dead?
(T/N: Advance chapters have been updated on Patreon.)