"Is it?" Liang Shaoqing crept to the front and staring outside. "Why can't I see it?"
"If you could see it, a three-year-old kid could." Chu Qiao rolled her eyes impatiently. She thought for a while before frowning. She added, "It's very strange though. If the Zhan family did not have such power, those officials would not need to welcome them. Why are the senior figures from those counties here?"
"Maybe they were held up by other matters."
Chu Qiao did not take his words into consideration. Mumbling to herself, she said, "They don't dare to appear here and they are careful not to appear overly warm. This means that the Zhan family has a certain level of power, but due to some unknown reasons, they do not dare to overdo it. This means…
"Oh, I know already," Chu Qiao sat up and said to Liang Shaoqing. "The Zhan family lives in Tang Jing. They must have a powerful enemy here. These officials can offend neither party, hence they have to put on this show. The Zhan family should have been a noble family in the Tang Empire. However, they were exiled due to unknown reasons and defected over to the Xia Empire. They are still recognized as a noble family in the Tang Empire. This explains why they are unknown in the Xia Empire, but well-treated in the Tang Empire. Their journey this time should not be just to congratulate the Tang Prince, but to return to their homeland instead. That's why they brought so many servants and slaves along with them. That's why the families of all the siblings' spouses are here too. Also, although the Zhan family appears to be prosperous, they are but an empty shell underneath. That's why they purchased all these slaves at low prices on the market."
"Xiaoqiao, since you are so energetic, why don't you go outside to enjoy the sun." Liang Shaoqing stood on the ground, straightening his clothes. He was wearing an outfit meant for a slave, but treated it as if it was a royal outfit made of valuable silk. "You're trying to analyze others' family background. People who were not aware might think you have ulterior motives."
"What motives do I have? I want to crack your head open and see if there's grass or water inside!" Chu Qiao frowned and got to her feet. Her wound was still painful, but her condition had improved considerably from a few days ago.
"Are you alright? Is it very painful?"
Chu Qiao retorted impatiently, "Do you want me to stab you so you can try?"
"No need." Liang Shaoqing chuckled. "It's painful, I wouldn't be able to take it."
The deck was windy. As Chu Qiao stepped out of the cabin door, she felt invigorated. At this moment, the bell for lunch rang. She had taken her meals in the cabin for the past few days. Now that she was able to walk, she followed Liang Shaoqing to the dining hall to dine with the other slaves.
The dining hall was not really a dining hall. On the rear deck, the servants formed an orderly queue, scooping their rations up. Chu Qiao leaned on the side of the ship and sat down, looking at Liang Shaoqing in line behind a group of other slaves. Given his old luxurious lifestyle, he demonstrated a great deal of adaptability. The people in front of him turned back and greeted him with smiles. Chu Qiao smiled, finding this sight interesting. She had not been so carefree for many years. She leaned behind and looked up, seeing a few white birds circling in the sky. Their chirps were smooth to the ear.
At this instant, she felt an ice cold feeling on her head. Shocked, she stood up and saw a few well-built men standing in front of her. One of the men was holding a bowl, staring viciously at her. It was him who had just poured the bowl of water onto her head.
"What are you doing?"
"Nothing?" the man replied nonchalantly. "I want to sit here and eat. Move."
"Xiaoqiao! What's wrong?" As Chu Qiao was about to speak, Liang Shaoqing ran back and asked, "What happened?" Before he had reached her side, another of the men suddenly outstretched his leg to block Liang Shaoqing's path. Liang Shaoqing, who was holding three bowls of food with two hands, lost his balance and fell on the ground with a cry of agony!
Chu Qiao rushed to help the scholar who was sprawled on the ground. "What are you doing?" she berated.
"This lad has a big temper! What's wrong? Your brother does not know how to walk properly, yet wants to blame it on other people?"
"That's right. Given their unkempt looks, they must be gigolos." The group of men burst out in laughter. Another one of the men added, "Given their boorish looks, they must be so fragile. Adept in literature? To hell with that. They think that they are top scholars."
Chu Qiao squinted, just like a civet cat. Liang Shaoqing cleaned himself up angrily. However, the anger on his face dissipated upon seeing Chu Qiao's expression. Hurriedly, he said, "Xiaoqiao, I'm alright. Don't be angry."
"Little idiot! Learn from your elder brother and know your place. Don't think that you are of higher status even though you live in a better cabin." The group of men gave her a parting sentence and left, still cursing.
Chu Qiao helped Liang Shaoqing to his feet. He appeared messy. The broken bowl had cut his hand and blood oozed out of the wound. Liang Shaoqing gritted his teeth in pain, but did not say anything for fear of angering Chu Qiao.
"That's Chen Shuang. He operates the carriage, and he's under Big Missy. He rebuts Uncle Qing even. You must be careful in future as you've offended him," Liang Shaoqing said.
"There's a Big Missy in this family?"
Liang Shaoqing nodded in reply, "Yes. I've heard that she is beautiful. It's just that she is cold. She had a twin sister, but she is deceased now."
Chu Qiao broke out in a smile, revealing her red lips and white teeth. The servant was stunned. Chu Qiao helped Liang Shaoqing to his feet and said in a low voice, "Follow me back."
Liang Shaoqing gave an agonising look, saying cautiously, "Xiaoqiao, I have not eaten yet."
Chu Qiao looked him in the eye and brought him back to their cabin. She took out the medicine that the physician had given her a few days ago, and sat on the bed while giving treating him.
Liang Shaoqing, searching for a topic to start a conversation, asked, "Xiaoqiao, are you hungry?"
Chu Qiao frowned and said, "You're Liang Zhongtang's son after all. You're the young master of the Liang family. How are you so open-minded, able to stomach everything you're given?"
"What could I do if I didn't eat?" Liang Shaoqing said with a long face. "I know that the food sucks, but I'll get hungry if I don't eat."
With a thud, Chu Qiao threw away the roll of bandages she held in her hand. She stood up to walk towards the outside of the cabin. Liang Shaoqing was shocked, thinking that she wanted to settle the score with the group of men earlier. He dashed in front of her, blocking her path. "Xiaoqiao, a powerful dragon cannot crush a snake in its old haunts. It's not worth it to offend them over such a trivial matter. We won't be spending much time here anyway. Once we're in Tang Jing, we can visit my father's friends, and we can…"
"I'm going to get some food for you," Chu Qiao said helplessly. "Didn't you say you were hungry?"
"Ah?" Liang Shaoqing widened his eyes, giving her a silly look. After a while, he nodded and replied, "Oh. In this case, go, go on."
The sky had darkened. Chu Qiao made her way from her cabin to the deck. Upon reaching the deck, she saw that things there had been tidied up. There were no traces of food left. As she was worrying, the man who had struck up a conversation with them earlier approached her. He handed her two big bowls of food, smiled, and said, "I know that both of you have not eaten. I left this specially for you guys."
The two bowls were filled to the brim with white rice, topped with vegetables and small slices of salted fish. Chu Qiao's heart felt warm. With sincerity, she replied, "Thank you, Big Brother."
"Don't mention it. We will be living together in future, it's only natural for us to look after each other. I noticed that both of you don't seem like slaves though. What happened? Has your family suffered difficulties?"
Chu Qiao nodded and replied, "Nothing can escape your eyes, Big Brother."
"Don't worry," the man patted his chest and said, "I can't help with anything else, but if you're hungry, come find me anytime. I work in the kitchen."
"In that case, thank you, Big Brother." As she and the man went their separate ways, she made her way back to the cabin.
As she approached the corner of the deck, a familiar voice echoed out from the other side of the deck. Chu Qiao stopped in her tracks and walked forward along the walls of the deck.
"What were you singing just now?" A clean, crisp voice echoed behind her. Chu Qiao looked in the direction of the voice, seeing a man sitting on a wooden wheelchair, staring at her silently.
Chu Qiao was stunned. She asked, "Who are you?"
The man found it funny and smiled. "Who are you then?" With a motion of his hand, the wooden wheelchair made its way forward along the deck.
"I'm Xiaoqiao, a new servant."
"Xiaoqiao?" the man whispered. After a long while, he smiled and said, "It's easy to remember." His smile was soothing, just like the spring winds in the month of March. "I'm Zhan Ziyu."
Chu Qiao was stunned, not expecting that the master of this family was a cripple. She stepped back hurriedly and bowed, "It's First Master. I'm sorry for the impudence."
Zhan Ziyu nodded lightly. He turned around, looking towards the river.
Chu Qiao stood at her original position, appearing slightly awkward. She was unsure whether to stay or to leave. As she weighed up her decision, Zhan Ziyu interrupted her train of thought. "This song is nice. What's its name?"
Chu Qiao suddenly realized that she had subconsciously hummed a tune. She blushed and said, "It's a tune from my hometown. I sang it casually."
"Hometown?" Zhan Ziyu whispered. "Where's your hometown?"
"My hometown is far away. I might not be able to go back in my lifetime."
"Oh." Zhan Ziyu smiled slightly, not probing further.
"First Young Master, it's windy out here. Shall I push you back?"
Zhan Ziyu looked up and laughed. "I spent so much effort to get out here. I just got here, and you want to push me back?"
The light from the rear end of the ship shone on Zhao Ziyu's head. Chu Qiao realized in this instant that his hair appeared white under the reflection of the light. She did not know how to reply, and chose to stand silently at the side.
"Do you know how to ride a horse?" After a while, Zhan Ziyu suddenly turned around to ask this question. Chu Qiao was confused. She nodded in reply and said, "Yes, I'm pretty good at it."
Zhan Ziyu laughed and said, "I had a fine horse when I was younger. It was a present to me by my wife."
Chu Qiao answered, "That must have been one fine horse."