The guard's brows furrowed and sized up little Chu Qiao. Since when does the old master prefer girls that are not fully grown? he thought. Confused, he asked, "Who asked you to go there? Do you know the location of the old master's outer quarters?"
"I have the address." The child rummaged through her bag and took out a small piece of paper and started to point out the directions. She mumbled, "Once you exit the house, turn left at the third junction. Fu Xiang Restaurant would be right in front…"
"Okay," the guard snapped in annoyance. "Who told you about it and why isn't anyone bringing you there?"
The child replied honestly, "Lady Song told me all this. She was supposed to bring me there, but when we were crossing the stone bridge, she slipped and fell over, smashing the ice on the lake. I saw her drown. So I guess she can no longer bring me there."
"What?" The guard gasped and grabbed Chu Qiao by her shoulders. He shouted, "Who did you say fell off the stone bridge?"
"Lady Song, the one in charge of the slaves in the backyard."
With a tight slap, the guard's palms landed forcefully on the child's face. He raged, "You brat, why didn't you tell me earlier? Come on guys, we have to rescue her!"
Chu Qiao fell to the ground with the blow, her ears ringing. Looking at everyone rushing out frantically, her lips waned and a heartless smirk emerged.
She would remember this slap.
Chu Qiao stood up in no time. Holding her bag in her hand, she walked towards the main gate without looking back. The gates were plated in gold and were enormous. A pair of ferocious stone lions stood at either side of the gate, with their eyes painted red, both radiating a vicious aura. The name of the Zhuge household was engraved on top of the door and was painted in sparkling gold, dazzling under the sun.
Chu Qiao walked with short strides and needed quite a bit of effort to climb over the sill. When she was halfway through the door, the sun shone brightly onto her and even the air seemed a whole lot fresher. From then on, her life would have a new start. The humiliation and pain she suffered, she would always remember it.
The child pressed her lips together and took a deep breath. Raising her leg, she began to step out of this rotten prison.
At this moment, a familiar piercing cry could be heard by the well to the right side of the front garden, followed by the horrendous wail of a child. The gates on the right side of the garden opened wide, and the dull thuds of planks landing on a child's bared bodies filled the household.
The servants that walked by snuck gazes at the scene, wondering who was the person who had the "honor" of deserving that. Chu Qiao stood at the main gate and was extremely close to leaving this savage courtyard, but the continuous screams kept ringing in her ears.
Her brows tightly knit, she finally stopped shuffling forward. She turned and ran to her right.
Fate would always give people the opportunity to choose. A single step could make a worldly difference.
Zhuge Yue was dressed in light green clothes that were of the finest quality. There were several green lotuses stitched onto them and his black hair laid loosely on his back. His complexion was as white as jade and he had jet black eyes, his lips a shade darker than the rest. Although he was just thirteen to fourteen years old, he looked wicked and cold. With both his eyes half closed, it seemed that nothing was worthy of his gaze. He was as cold as the snow atop the peak of Long Dong Mountain during mid-winter. He lay on his side on a reddish gold cushioned seat, with both his arms behind his head. He had two female servants kneeling by his side, with incense in their hands, occasionally peeling fresh lychees for him that had been rushed over from the Tang Dynasty by their quickest horses.
Barely twenty steps before him, a child in the servant's uniform was battered until her flesh was showing, her cries started to weaken. A little female servant who was only six to seven years old knelt at the side, repeatedly kowtowing and begging for forgiveness. Her forehead was already grazed and there was blood flowing down past her teary eyes.
The sun started to rise. The city of Zhen Huang was located in the Hong Chuan Highlands, and even though it was well into winter, the sun was still merciless. Zhuge Yue raised his head and frowned, squinting at the bright light. Seeing this, the two female servants frantically opened their umbrellas to cover his head. Zhuge Yue sat up straight and waved off the servants beside him, resting his back on his chair.
Two strong and burly men shuffled forward respectfully, taking up their positions in front and behind Zhuge Yue's chair and lifting it, walking towards the door to the right.
The girl that was kowtowing for forgiveness gasped in shock. She frantically crawled forward and cried, tugging at Zhuge Yue's clothes. "The fourth young master, please let Lin Xi go. He will not survive if you continue hitting him."
Zhuge Yue raised his brows and lowered his gaze, looking at the girl's blackened hands which were dripping with fresh blood.
The child felt an uncontrollable rush of coldness sweep through her body, freezing her mind. She saw five bloodstained fingerprints on Zhuge Yue's white boots, strikingly obvious.
With a kick, one of the guards carrying the palanquin knocked the child to the floor. The two female servants rushed forward instantly, removing his dirtied boots. Zhuge Yue glanced at the child and turned back, looking emotionless throughout.
One of the female servants said coldly, "Cut off one of her hands."
The child sat shell shocked on the ground, her cries stopping in an instant. Rushing over with rigor, a guard drew the sword by his waist, and a stream of blood spewed out. A tiny white hand had been chopped off!
Piercing screams shot out, startling the ferocious vultures circling the sky. The teenager sat comfortably in his chair, being silent, and closed his eyes as if he saw and heard nothing.
Chu Qiao stood in a daze at the door. As if she was carved from stone, her hurried footsteps stopped instantly. Her eyes widened and covered her mouth tightly. She froze in fear.
"Fourth young master, this child has stopped breathing."
Zhuge Yue looked over at Lin Xi's tiny body with a sweeping gaze. Rubbing his temples, he said cooly, "Throw him into the pond in the back and feed the fish."
The strong men raised the palanquin that Zhuge Yue was on, moving forward slowly. Everyone got on their knees when they passed, not even raising their heads.
"Wait," Zhuge Yue suddenly whispered while passing the right gate. Turning his head, he gazed at Chu Qiao, who was glaring at him. He frowned and said, "Which house are you serving, slave? Why didn't you kneel when you saw me?"
The morning breeze blew, blowing up specks of dust at the corners of the wall. Sunlight pierced their eyes like thousands of sharp needles. There were white birds soaring through the sky, flapping their wings which were as white as snow. Chu Qiao took a deep breath and bit her lip, suppressing her anger and pushing it down her throat inch by inch. She plopped onto the ground and looked straight towards the brick floor with her eyes open wide. With the voice of a child, she frantically said, "Yue Er is a slave in the backyard. May the fourth young master forgive my lack of knowledge. This is my first time seeing you, Young Master, and I thought I saw a fairy."
Zhuge Yue's expression calmed. He saw that the child was adorable and young, but not very good with her words. This aroused his interest and he continued asking, "How old are you? And what is your name?"
"Fourth young master, Yue Er is seven this year, and my surname is Jing."
"Jing Yue Er?" Zhuge Yue said, "Change your name and follow me in the future. Let your name be… Xing Er."
Chu Qiao instantly knelt on the ground and said loudly, "Xing Er thanks the fourth young master."
Zhuge Yue retracted his gaze. His men lifted up his palanquin and turned around the corridor. They disappeared from view.
It was quite a lively finish, but there had been the death of a lowly slave. The men in the Zhuge household had already grown accustomed to this sight, parting ways without a word. A few cleaners lifted the child's body and threw it into a sack, tying it up. They dragged it towards the lake in the backyard.
The child was still young. His bones had been completely broken, and fresh blood flowed out of the sack. Sticky drops of blood stained the brick floor, leaving a long trail behind.
Chu Qiao was still kneeling on the ground, with her back heaving up and down, her teeth clenched tightly onto her lower lip, as though they were weaved shellfish. She looked straight ahead, with her tiny fists clenched tight. Looking at the sack being dragged away before her, with glaring blood spreading all over the floor and covered in dust and dirt, a huge tear welled in her eyes and fell onto the back of her hand with a splash.
Sorrow and hatred surged through her, but she knew that she could not cry. She could not show even a tiny bit of resentment at this time. She wiped her face with the back of her hand and stood up quickly. At the spacious area beside the well, Xiao Qi had already lost consciousness, with blood spewing from her wrist, but no one cared.
Chu Qiao quickly tore her clothes and pressed Xiao Qi's acupuncture points, wrapping up the wound to stop the bleeding with her superior techniques. After everything was done, she clenched her teeth and placed Xiao Qi on her back, walking towards the backyard.
When she set foot outside of the gate, a cold voice suddenly muttered, "Stop! Who gave you permission to carry her away?"
Chu Qiao looked up and saw Zhu Shun, the one that had locked her up for three days. She frowned and said with a calm tone, "The fourth young master didn't say he wanted her killed."
"Master also did not say where to place her." Zhu Qiao glared at Chu Qiao and said coldly, "Speculating what is on the master's mind on your own, you are looking for death. Men, take her down!"
Two servants came forward at once, reaching out to grab Chu Qiao's arms. She scurried backward as she avoided their hands. When they struggled to grab her, Xiao Qi let out a grunt. The wound that was wrapped up started to bleed again.
"How dare you come near me! I am working at the fourth young master's side. Do you want to be killed?"
Zhu Shun sneered and said, "You barely received any recognition, and yet you use it to command us. I don't think the fourth young master will even remember your existence by tomorrow morning. How dare you use that to scare me?"
Chu Qiao picked at her brow. Carrying Xiao Qi, she retreated as though she was a leopard, sharpening her gaze while frowning. "Butler Zhu, I thought you were sending a message from my Royal Highness to Young Master Huai. Why are you badgering me with such affairs? You seem to be very free to me."