Cunning fox Zhuge Yue! Chu Qiao thought to herself. She nervously kneeled down and hastily said, "Xing'er doesn't dare to tell lies."
"Really?" Zhuge Yue tilted his head down and chuckled softly to himself. "Well, explain it to me then."
"On the fourth of the previous month, Xing'er and a group of girl slaves were brought to the hunting grounds by young master Huai. In the end, only Xing'er survived. When Xing'er came back, Xing'er was very scared. While waiting for my wounds to heal, I took the chance to pack my belongings and plan to run away."
"Run away?" Zhuge Yue raised his eyebrows and asked, "Where were you planning to run away to?"
Chu Qiao softly replied, "I don't know. I just didn't want to wait there and die. Young master might think that Xing'er is being rebellious for thinking that way, however, we only get to live once. Xing'er's life might be deemed worthless in others' eyes, but to Xing'er, her own life is very precious. However, when I was about to run away, I was caught by the Guard Song. He then beat me up harshly. Today Guard Song saw me, he must be afraid that I would take avenge on him. Hence, he was trying to harm me to silence me."
"Oh really? I understand now. He is still very daring." Zhuge Yue drank a mouthful of tea and said with a calm voice, "Do you remember if he ever hit you?"
Chu Qiao stunned as Zhuge Yue's stare was sharp like a snake. Chu Qiao immediately bowed her head and said, "It happened not long ago. That's why Xing'er still remembers."
"Your memory is not too bad." Zhuge Yue nodded his head and said, "Well then, do you remember how Jin Si and Jin Zhu finessed me to kill Lin Xi? Remember when Zhu Shun sold your family members away? Remember when someone killed your sisters?"
Chu Qiao's heart stopped for a moment and knocked her head on the floor. She said as tears rolled down her face, "Young master, Xing'er remembers everything. She is also clear about her own identity and knows her duty as well as her powers."
"What you are trying to say is that the day when you have the same abilities as her, you will also get your revenge, right?"
Chu Qiao looked up in horror and exclaimed, "Fourth young master!"
"There is no need to deny it. When I first saw you, I already knew you were not a normal child. I saw that your eyes were hiding a lot of things."
With tears welling up in her eyes, Chu Qiao pursed her lips and said, "What did the Young Master think Xing'er would do? Did he think Xing'er would kill people? Or did he think Xing'er was the one who harmed Jin Zhu and Jin Cai? Xing'er is still young. Even though she is filled with hatred, she still knows what to do and what not to do. Xing'er's family and thousands of clansmen were killed. Xing'er was a highly respected person and became a slave overnight. If there really is hate, wouldn't Xing'er hate the Sheng Jin Palace's emperor, the Presbyterian church who gave the order, and Huang Tian Army who copied her family? Young master, Xing'er does not have that great of an ability. I only want to live happily. Those things are too serious, Xing'er cannot assume the responsibility."
Chu Qiao knelt on the ground with her spine straight and head firmly upright, her shoulders trembled continuously as if she was extremely scared, and even tears would not come out.
Zhuge Yue looked back and forth at the child with intense stares which started to soften whilst listening to the child's pitiful sobbing. Zhuge Yue put down his teacup, leaned on the couch and said slowly, "Get up."
Chu Qiao tightened her lips, her reddened and watery eyes widened.
Zhuge Yue looked at the child in front of him. Looking at her small frame, flushed face with her small fists bunched nervously as if she was trying very hard not to cry, Zhuge Yue let out a sigh. Zhuge Yue had experienced many betrayals, hence he started to become very suspicious of everything that happened around him so much so that he even suspected a small child.
"Okay. I have wronged you. Just cry out loud." To Zhuge Yue's men, this was already considered an apology as he had never been so polite to others, except to the child who was standing stubbornly in front of him, with her big, round, and watery eyes.
Zhuge Yue suddenly felt irritated for no particular reason. He waved his hands and said, "Go away. Don't stand here and stare at me."
Without saying a word, Chu Qiao turned around angrily and started to leave.
"Stop right there!" Zhuge Yue suddenly shouted. Chu Qiao obediently stood there, with her back facing him.
Zhuge Yue took a small bottle made out of porcelain out of the side drawer and slowly walked down towards Chu Qiao. He grabbed Chu Qiao's shoulders and wanted to turn her around. However, his fingers felt the tension in her shoulders. Zhuge Yue raised his brow while Chu Qiao struggled to remain facing forward and refused to turn around. Since Zhuge Yue was older than her, with some force, he managed to turn her body around. A teary-faced child stood in front of him. At the sight of Zhuge Yue, more tears ran down her face.
"It's okay. Stop crying. I only scolded you a bit." The young master said while frowning, "You yourself made a mistake and was not expecting others to blame you?"
"I didn't do anything wrong. It was the young master who told me to ride the horse. I was learning well and no one said anything." The eight year old finally released her temper and talked back to her master. While talking, she was continuously sobbing and mucus was running into her mouth.
Zhuge Yue frowned slightly and took out his handkerchief to wipe the tears off the child's face. While wiping her tears, he said, "You still have the guts to cry? You lost my horse the other day, and today a precious pony from the west also died because of you. You still don't admit you are at fault?"
"It's not…it's not like I was the one who wanted to ride the horse. In addition, Prince… Prince Yan had also returned the lost horse. I heard the news." The child was very stubborn and argued her point to death, as tears fell down her cheek, wetting Zhuge Yue's handkerchief.
Zhuge Yue was about to take another handkerchief, but the child took it and rubbed her nose to wipe her snot. Surprised, Zhuge Yue stared blankly at the dirty and sticky handkerchief. The child continued and said, "Even that precious pony was killed by the young master yourself."
"So, you meant you didn't do anything wrong?"
The child lowered her head and murmured, "What I said was the truth."
The sunlight shone in from the corner of the window onto their shoulders. Since the child was small, even when she was standing upright, she was only at the Young Master's shoulders. Her face was red like an apple.
"This is for you." Zhuge Yue placed the porcelain bottle in her hands and said, "Go back and rub it on yourself."
After all, the attention span of the child was short and she was easily distracted. Zhuge Yue smiled coyly while looking at the child, who held up the porcelain bottle and asked doubtfully, "What is that?"
"Medicine to heal the wound."
Earlier, when the horses were galloping too fast, Chu Qiao's palms were scratched. The child bit her lip, nodded and said, "The fourth young master, may Xing'er be excused now?"
The young master went back to his seat with his head down and with a expression as if he did not want to see her any more. He waved his hand while saying, "You can go now."
Chu Qiao was just about to open the door when Zhuge Yue suddenly shouted, "Xing'er, the next time you see Prince Yan, don't go near him."
Chu Qiao tilted her head and stared back at him with a puzzled look.
Zhuge Yue frowned frustratedly and shouted, "Do you understand?"
"Understood!" The child replied loudly and turned to leave. Her small body crossed over the high door sill, causing her to almost fall over.
This child was starting to get more and more daring. The young master's face was had a gloomy face while breathing deeply.
Right after she opened the door, she saw Zhu Cheng's worried face. He hurriedly ran over, saw Xing'er's teary face and asked worriedly, "What did the young master say? Is he angry?"
Chu Qiao looked at him, nodded her head and went back to her room.
Zhu Cheng entered the room frightened and saw Zhuge Yue with his head bowed down. He didn't dare to make a sound and just stood there quietly. After a while, something flew towards his head suddenly. Zhu Cheng was terrified. He didn't even dare to hide and thought to himself, I am dead. However, the object that hit him as soft, and hence Zhu Cheng's head did not even hurt. He looked down and saw that it was actually a dirty handkerchief with a word "Yue" sewn on it.
"Throw it away."
Zhu Cheng suddenly remembered Chu Qiao's teary face, and he remembered something. After a short pause, Zhu Cheng nodded and replied, "Yes, master."
However, as he was about to leave, he heard Zhuge Yue say, "Wait a moment." Zhu Cheng turned his head and waited for his instructions like a slave.
The Young Master's face turned red without any warning. Zhuge Yue thought for a long time but did not say anything.
Zhu Cheng carefully raised his head and saw Zhuge Yue's frowning expression, as if he was going to make a huge decision. Zhu Cheng recognized that this was the expression that the Young Master usually had when he was resolving a difficult problem, so Zhu Cheng became very alert, waiting for the command. Finally, an authoritative voice said to Zhu Cheng, "Go and wash it now. Bring it back to me after it is cleaned."
"What?" Zhu Cheng shouted, surprised.
Zhuge Yue's anger started to rise. "What? Don't you understand me?"
"I understand. I will do it now."
Chu Qiao walked along the corridor with her head down and ignored everybody she walked past. Right after she shut the door, her face no longer looked wronged. Her face was very calm and eyes were very bright. With her hand on her chest, she sat on a stool and poured a cup of tea but did not drink it.
At last, today's challenge was over. No matter how much Zhuge Yue trust her, it should be safe for now.
When the strong winds blew against her wet clothes, she felt a cold chill down her back. After drinking some tea, she started to calm down. She closed her eyes and gave out a huge sigh of relief.
Whatever it was, her plans had to go on as there was not enough time.
This year's winter had been extremely cold, as the winds cut the skin.
In the midst of the dark sky, the bright stars shone on the earth. Winter was here and there was snow everywhere. The Yuan festival had just passed and Zhen Huang City celebrated the start of misfortune.
Zhen Huang City was covered in ice. The roads in between the palace and the Presbyterian homes were lit up with lights and was busy with horse carriages. The army that went to the west to fight in the war was defeated and their blood could be smelt from the river flowing down from the hill. Everyone knew about the defeat.
The Quan Rong army came to provoke the country, causing the noblemen to be very angry. They felt like their power was challenged and they felt threatened, causing a new war to be started. Before that, someone needed to be responsible for the previous defeat to maintain the dignity of the empire.
The gold-plated decree was sent out from the Sheng Jin palace, past the Presbyterian homes' ruling and through Zi Wei square, Jiu Wai main street, Cheng Tian altar, Qian Kun main door towards the borderland.
The night before the chaos, the people were oblivious to the start of a war and were sleeping soundly in their homes.