The big boss truly had evidence of Yan Ting’s dealings, but Yan Ting wasn’t aware of it.
It wasn’t much, just a token.
Yan Ting was naturally not dumb enough to reveal something to a merchant. All the dealings with the “Broad Justice Band” were done by his trusted aide. This included the discussions with the northern barbarians. However, a minor character could naturally not be the representative for such a major matter. No matter how dumb they were, the barbarians wouldn’t just randomly listen to a Chinese person. Yan Ting had given his token to his subordinate as proof of his identity.
The barbarians were very cunning and requested for the token to be left behind until Yan Ting sent their goods over before they would return it.
Yan Ting undoubtedly knew this was not beneficial to him, but he was also extremely confident. He didn’t think anything would go wrong.
The goods were delivered by the “Broad Justice Band” as agreed upon and they brought Yan Ting’s token back. However, in a clever twist the big boss had made an almost identical copy and had given it to the person who came for the token. Yan Ting naturally wouldn’t let someone who knew his secrets live. After receiving the token, he had killed off that “big boss”. He naturally didn’t realize the “big boss” was not the real one. After his plans fell through due to being forced back to the capital, Yan Ting assumed he had cleaned up after himself. In reality, that wasn’t the case.
The big boss wouldn’t have revealed he had such a thing if it weren’t for him being afraid Shen Dong wouldn’t believe his words.
This was truly causing his own downfall. The saying that excessive scheming ended up causing harm instead referred to this.
The big boss naturally wouldn’t be allowed to live and he also knew this in his heart. However, he also knew there was no use in struggling. He might as well give up his own life to protect the rest of his family.
Luo Huai Yuan also managed to get his marriage money back.
Apart from that, he also managed to get the blood money earned by the big boss over the many years. They left the big boss’s clueless family the amount befitting “Philanthropist Hao” and everything else was swept clean.
Apart from giving the troops that came along some of the money, everything else was handed over to Shen Dong. The big boss’s ill-gotten wealth had come from smuggling, and should naturally be used for the Pingsha Pass. This was a sort of compensation for the troops that protected the country there year round.
The entire matter seemed to have been perfectly wrapped up. Although the means weren’t too honorable, at least no innocents were harmed.
Due to various reasons, the cause of this calamity hadn’t been punished. However, he had also aroused the hatred of two households. One was the Shen household and the other was Luo Huai Yuan who was almost screwed over by his cheap father-in-law.
Being targeted by both of them, Yan Ting would clearly not have a good ending. However, that was something for the future.
The news was sent from the Pingsha Pass back to the capital, and allowed the Zhenguo Duke Estate as well as Shen Yi Yao to relax. At the same time, Luo Huai Yuan, Yan Yan and Shen Qi also set off for the capital after a final round of investigation.
On the way back, Shen Qi split off and departed for the Fu Province.
He had decided to follow Luo Huai Yuan’s advice and planned to make a trip there. Apart from giving Luo Huai Yuan and Yan Yan some pretext, the reason he came this time was also to give himself an excuse.
This won’t be mentioned for now. Luo Huai Yuan and Yan Yan took around two months before they finally returned to the capital.
Yan Yan naturally snuck back to the Weiyuan Marquis Estate. Shen Yi Yao held her and cried for a long while. Yan Mo was also teary-eyed as he stood on the side.
His mom and sister always treated him as a child, and there were many things they didn’t tell him. The day his mom tried to hang herself and his sister left the capital, Yan Mo only found out everything after the fact. He was naturally dejected and discouraged, but Yan Mo also knew he could only do his best to grow stronger. He had to grow strong enough to be able to block the wind and rain before he could escape the situation he was in.
Nothing seemed to have happened during the time Yan Yan was gone.
The old madam was still her old self, lying in the Rongan Hall muddling around waiting to die. The eldest branch’s Xue-shi was secretly preparing all sorts of things for Yan Ru’s marriage and was extremely busy. The third branch’s Chen-shi had been very quiet recently. She had finally finished copying down the scriptures and was no longer confined. The first thing she did when going out was to admit her mistakes to the old madam.
She seemed to have changed, and had returned to the taciturn person of the past. She also started getting along with Concubine Cui, seemingly aware that it would be hard for her to get pregnant again at her age. She spent her time watching Concubine Cui’s stomach, praying daily that she would give birth to a boy.
Therefore, Chen-shi got herself back into Yan Qu’s good graces.
Yan Yan heard all of this from Matron Zou and the maids under her, but she felt things weren’t that simple. However, since this matter didn’t really have much to do with her, she didn’t think too much about it.
While Yan Yan had been gone, Shen Yi Yao had covered it up by saying she had stayed at the Zhenguo Duke Estate. No one in the estate had any doubts. The second day Yan Yan returned, Yan Ru and Yan Ling came to visit.
Seeing Yan Yan, Yan Ru was shocked: “How did you get so tanned? It’s not even summer yet!”
Yan Yan had truly tanned quite a bit on this trip. She was born beautiful so although she wasn’t as fair as before, she couldn’t be called swarthy. However, since Yan Ru had always been envious of Yan Yan’s snow-white skin, the difference was naturally very apparent.
Yan Yan smiled: “It’s different living at grandfather’s place. No one fusses over me so I went riding every day. It’s only natural I got darker.”
Yan Ru regretfully stroked her wrist, “You’re about to marry and it’s better for a bride to be fair.”
Yan Ling winked naughtily at Yan Yan, “Eldest sis was always envious of third sis’s fair skin. Now that third sis got darker, she doesn’t seem too bothered by it but instead it’s eldest sis who feels it’s a pity.”
After all her efforts over this period of time, Xue-shi could be said to have forgiven Yan Ling.
That matter wasn’t caused by Yan Ling after all, and after so many years the two of them knew each other well enough. They were both intelligent and naturally wouldn’t self-destruct. Xue-shi had already arranged everything so there was no need to let it go to waste due to being upset. Once her anger faded, her treatment of Yan Ling returned to normal.
“Great! You’re making fun of me again, you scoundrel!”
Yan Ru went to tickle Yan Ling out of embarrassment.
Yan Ling laughed and shirked away, “Hey, I’m just telling the truth. I’m also very envious of third sis’s skin. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, so why not say it?”
Yan Yan also laughed and scolded: “It seems the two of you came just to make fun of me!”
The three of them laughed together.
Time passed by like flowing water.
After Xue-shi finished arranging Yan Ru’s dowry, she put all her efforts into teaching Yan Ru the art of being a wife. She told her everything there was to know and Yan Ru’s head was about to explode.
She had initially entertained some beautiful fantasies about marriage, but after being fussed at by her mom, they all vanished. All that was left was fear. Therefore, she frequently came to look for Yan Yan.
They were both about to get married, but why did third sis not seem worried at all?
Yan Ru expressed her envy.
Yan Yan said comfortingly: “It’s not the same. I’ve known the fourth prince for a long time so my mom naturally isn’t worried about me. You have to get to know each other until you can live in harmony which requires quite a lot of effort. It’ll naturally be different from living in our chambers. Eldest aunt is naturally teaching you these things for your own good.”
“I also understand. But it’s still really irritating to listen to her telling me how to control chambermaids and concubines and what not.” Speaking to this point, Yan Ru’s face turned red and she lowered her voice. “Oh right, my mom said she’ll pick a few maids as part of my dowry. Has your mom chosen yours yet?”
Yan Yan froze and shook her head.
There were several maids in the room including Mei Xiang and Mei Xue. When they heard this, they didn’t reveal anything on their faces but they secretly perked their ears up.
“I heard my mom say that some preparations are needed for dowry maids. Their contracts must be held in your hands so you can be at ease in using them.” Yan Ru mumbled quietly.
Yan Yan hadn’t thought too much about it at first, but hearing this she started thinking more.
Could it be that dowry maids weren’t just dowry maids?
Yan Yan had heard that when girls from major households married off, they would have maids in their dowry. These maids had several uses. Some were personal servants and in the future would become the managing matron. Others were used as chambermaid candidates for the husband.
Yan Ru was a young lady and was embarrassed to talk about this to begin with. Seeing Yan Yan struggling to understand the point, she was even more embarrassed to mention it. She decided to let her second aunt tell Yan Yan herself.
The two people were just chatting idly to begin with so they dropped the matter. However, this made Mei Xiang’s group feel restless.
Without mentioning Yi Yun and Yi Meng, Mei Xiang and Mei Xue had served Yan Yan since they were young. Now they were no longer young. Normal convention in wealthy households was that personal maids could be released at eighteen to be married. The two of them were already eighteen but the miss and madam didn’t show any indications. Seeing that the miss was getting married within two months, they didn’t know what was being arranged.
Mei Xue wasn’t worried for now because her marriage was set early on. Her future husband had a similar background to her. He was born into the Zhenguo Duke Estate and his dad was a small manager there. Their families lived next to each other and could be said to be extremely familiar.
In theory, a personal senior maid of the miss wasn’t allowed to set her own marriage. However, this marriage had been arranged when the two were just babies. Yan Yan was also aware of this matter.
Mei Xiang didn’t have this sort of arrangement. However, Mei Xiang was also steadier than Mei Xue. She wasn’t prepared for marriage anyway, and she also wanted to serve the miss for a couple more years. She didn’t want the miss to have no one when she went to the prince’s estate.
This sort of question wasn’t something for the maids to ponder about anyway. The masters would make the arrangements. But these people also knew what being part of the dowry implied because the low-ranked maids under them were already gossiping about it.
No matter what the senior maids thought, others felt that it would be an honor to become dowry maids for the fourth prince estate. If they were really elevated to a concubine in the future, their ancestors’ tombs would be giving off green smoke.
This wasn’t just an ordinary household. It was the royal family!
The senior maids were all preoccupied for several days.
Yan Yan saw everything but didn’t say anything about it.
Actually it wasn’t just the senior maids that were flustered. The junior maids under them had their own thoughts as well.
Mei Xue’s marriage was already set and Mei Xiang was too old. They were naturally not up for consideration. Yi Yun and Yi Meng were the perfect age, but normally a dowry included eight to twelve maids, each with their own purpose. For example, there would be those good at needlework, those who were good at making food and snacks, and of course some who were decent looking for other purposes. Even if Yi Yun and Yi Meng took up two spots, there were still some openings.
Therefore, the servants were secretly excited.
However, the Zhenguo Duke Estate’s training was still present, so despite each having their own thoughts, they didn’t reveal any signs.
Due to Xue-shi’s actions, Shen Yi Yao also remembered this matter. She hurriedly started making preparations. At the same time, the list of maids for the dowry was put together.
Shen Yi Yao called Yan Yan over. It wasn’t clear how the discussion went, but after returning, Yan Yan called all her senior maids over.
“I’m about to get married soon. You have all served me for many years with both merits and hard work. Mei Xue has a marriage set already, and it’s due to me that you were delayed. You can find some time to hand your duties over and return home. I naturally won’t mistreat you for your wedding, and will prepare a dignified dowry for you.”
Mei Xue knelt and kowtowed twice to Yan Yan, “Thank you, miss.”
“Mei Xiang, what are your thought? If you have someone in mind, you can tell me. I will make the arrangements for you.”
Mei Xiang shook her head, “This servant doesn’t have parents, and there’s only my older brother in the Zhenguo Duke Estate. He’s already established his own family and has a job. This servant doesn’t want to marry for now, and wishes to serve the miss for a couple more years.”
Yan Yan nodded and turned to Yi Yun and Yi Meng. “You both have also served me for several years. I’ve seen your efforts and sincerity. I treat you the same way I treat Mei Xiang. If you have someone in mind, don’t be shy and tell me directly. If you wish to continue serving me, it is also fine.”
The two were younger than Mei Xue by over two years. They weren’t ready to marry yet, and both shook their heads, wanting to continue serving the miss.
“Alright, you guys aren’t outsiders. I won’t keep anything from you. You don’t have to worry if you become maids as part of my dowry. Although I will have maids in my dowry, they won’t be used for that sort of purpose. You should also tell those little lasses under you that my dowry maids won’t be elevated to chambermaids or concubines and what not. If they wish to follow along, they won’t be mistreated if they serve properly. If they have other thoughts, they should put them to rest early on.”
It seems Yan Yan was still aware in her heart.
After she spoke, whether any of them had other thoughts, they were all put to rest.
Concubine Cui was now a respected person at the third branch. Everyone was aware of this.
Not only was she respected at the third branch, she was also extremely respected at the Rongan Hall. Even though the old madam couldn’t get out of bed, she still instructed Matron Zhao to send Concubine Cui nourishing soup every now and then. She was hoping for her to give birth to a chubby grandson.
Concubine Cui was six months pregnant and her stomach was bulging. She became clumsier and clumsier and her entire shape had changed.
Yet the third lord was happy and the old madam was happy.
Why? Because there were signs that Conucbine Cui was carrying a boy.
Concubine Cui ate a lot of sour foods recently, which corresponded to the saying “sour for boys and spicy for girls”.
Chen-shi was also all smiles during the day, but this made Concubine Cui nervous. Not only was Chen-shi pampering her, she seemed to wish that she could carry this pregnancy for her.
However, Concubine Cui started looking worse. In the past she would look smug or happy, but now it was rare to see her smile.
This was due to Chen-shi’s drastic change in attitude, as well as some of the things said by her maids, grannies and even her old parents.
Concubine Cui was born into the Weiyuan Marquis Estate. Her entire maternal family worked there. Her dad was Steward Tian from the front court and her mom was a managing granny in the rear residence. Her older brother worked in one of the estate’s offices and her younger brother was an errand boy in the stables. She was a proper estate-born servant.
The entire Tian family was happy about Concubine Cui being able to serve the third lord. Everyone knew that the third madam hadn’t been able to bear any fruit. If Concubine Cui could give birth to the third lord’s only son, her status would obviously be high.
Concubine Cui had truly ended up getting pregnant and the Tian family was ecstatic. They were all servants so they naturally understood the undercurrents of the rear residence. Using the complicated relationships in the estate, the grannies and maids by Concubine Cui’s side were all their own people.
Therefore, servants shouldn’t be underestimated at times. A family that could operate within the estate for several generations had more influence than expected. For example, the third lord being angry at Chen-shi previously also had a little to do with these people. However, Chen-shi also wasn’t simple. Her efforts recently had gradually pulled the third lord back on her side.
While Concubine Cui’s stomach grew larger, Chen-shi and the third lord’s relationship returned to what it used to be. The two would often visit Concubine Cui together. Chen-shi acted virtuous and magnanimous in front of the third lord. She would often stroke Concubine Cui’s stomach and say to the third lord that she would have no more worries if it turned out to be boy. She said she was willing to lose ten years of her lifespan in exchange.
In the third lord’s eyes, Chen-shi had returned to the wife from the past who shared his worries. Even though she had strayed a little, she had now returned back to the proper path. He was naturally very gratified to see such a Chen-shi.
However, Concubine Cui was extremely unsettled.
This was because when the madam felt her stomach and spoke, it made her feel like she wasn’t a person, but rather an incubator. In Chen-shi’s eyes, she only saw a stomach, or perhaps the potential son inside?
This sort of feeling terrified Concubine Cui. She wasn’t the only one who felt this way. Her two personal maids also felt this way more or less.
After the madam and the lord left, the remaining mistress and servants grew more and more frightened.
Concubine Cui had mentioned this matter to her parents. Steward Tian and Granny Tian had initially told her not to overthink things. However, after she brought it up repeatedly, even the two elders couldn’t help but think a little more. After all, there were many cases of surrogate pregnancy, and it wasn’t like they hadn’t seen cases where the mother was eliminated afterwards.
Before the Tian family’s elders could come up with something, calamity struck.
Concubine Cui started bleeding.
Her emotions were already unstable, and she lost her head in fear when she saw blood. She cried with all her might that the madam wanted to harm her.
There were no doctors at the estate any more. Concubine Cui’s maids went to report to Chen-shi. Chen-shi also anxiously ordered for a carriage to get a doctor and personally arrived at Concubine Cui’s room to watch over her.
But they waited and waited and the doctor still hadn’t showed up.
The Tian family had quite a few helpers and the news was spread to the front court. Steward Tian couldn’t worry that he shouldn’t interfere in this matter himself anymore and ordered his own people to call for a doctor.
But the pity was that due to this delay, Concubine Cui’s fetus was lost. The fetus was only six months old and was naturally not ready to be born. The doctor arrived and took her pulse. He shook his head and sighed, saying it was not possible to stop the bleeding. They could only force the birth.
No one had any hopes that the child would survive the birth. After all, it was premature by a lot. No baby had survived being born so early.
After taking medicine that forced the birth, Concubine Cui gave birth soon after. She gave birth to a baby boy. He merely cried once and then stopped breathing.
The third branch seemed to collapse overnight.
Concubine Cui’s crying could be heard throughout the estate.
Chen-shi was filled with shock and the third lord was depressed. The servants were all quiet and tiptoed around. The maids by Concubine Cui’s side cried as though their mom had died. Along with the pale and howling Concubine Cui, the scene inevitably made one tear up.
Granny Tian knelt on the floor a mess of tears. “Third lord, you must mediate for the concubine. The concubine suffered a grievance. Such a good young master is gone just like that. The young master’s hands and feet had already formed, but it’s impossible for a six-month old fetus to survive. The young master was ripped from the concubine’s womb. Oh, my daughter, my poor little young master….”
Every word was filled with implication.
The third lord thought of his poor son. That little purple body filled with wrinkles, which looked like a little monkey.
The third lord knew that if it had grown another three months, his son would have looked perfect. He would have grown to be like those boys from the eldest and second branches. His face would have been flushed and full, like a little peach. After a few days, the peach would have transformed, becoming tenderer by the day, and becoming a chubby little baby.
The third lord wanted a son. It was all he dreamt of.
In the past he hadn’t felt that strongly about it. However, every time another boy was born into the estate, he would use the excuse of congratulations to hold and look at the newborn. He always felt that since Chen-shi could give birth, it was not a problem. It would only be a matter of time. Furthermore, his relationship with Chen-shi had always been good. She was also good at coaxing him so the third lord never considered using a concubine to get a son.
Only when Chen-shi changed the last few years and repeatedly made mistakes did the third lord think of punishing her and raised a concubine.
Afterwards, the concubine got pregnant and the third lord’s desire for a son grew fiercely. This way, there would be someone to look after him when he grew old. He wouldn’t have to pitifully rely on the boys in the other branches.
Now, everything was ruined!
“Tell me, did you have something to do with this?” The third lord’s usually genteel face was scarily twisted. His eyes were bulging as he glared at Chen-shi as though she were an enemy. “Things were fine just yesterday. The two of us had even visited Concubine Cui and she didn’t feel any discomfort. But she ended up bleeding today! Also, where did the people you sent to find a doctor go? Are they back yet? Are they waiting for both mother and child to die before the doctor will arrive?!”
“I, I didn’t….”
At this moment, Chen-shi’s personal maid Liu Yue came running with a bearded old man in tow.
“The doctor, the doctor is here!”
The third lord’s face looked bleak and disappointed. He nodded and pointed at Chen-shi: “Great, you’re really great!”
After speaking, he turned and left.
Chen-shi pounced over and grabbed his arm, “Husband, this really has nothing to do with this one. I also don’t know why the doctor only came now.”
Liu Yue hurriedly said: “Granny Han and the carriage driver Third Dog ran over someone on the way there. That person refused to let them leave, which is why the doctor only came now….”
But was this sort of reason believable?
The third lord pulled his arm away forcefully and left, ignoring the weeping Chen-shi behind him.
“Third lord, I really didn’t….”
Chen-shi fell to the floor crying.
“That Chen-shi was screwed over by someone!” Xue-shi said to Shen Yi Yao.
The other two branches knew everything that had happened at the third branch. However, Chen-shi wasn’t a nice person so the two merely sent people over to check on things and send Concubine Cui some medicine without inquiring further.
Shen Yi Yao was a little startled, “Why does eldest sis-in-law say so?”
Xue-shi put her teacup down and said: “If you were Chen-shi, would you make a vicious move at this time?”
Shen Yi Yao choked up and wasn’t able to give an answer.
Xue-shi realized that it was hard for Shen Yi Yao to imagine herself in that situation. This second sis-in-law of hers was kindhearted and wasn’t scheming. Otherwise, Concubine Pei wouldn’t have been able to get in the door back then.
“Well, if it were me, I wouldn’t be so foolish as to make a move at this time. Think about it. Chen-shi isn’t young anymore and she has tried all sorts of methods to get pregnant again. She’s also seen many doctors but nothing has been working. What does she want most right now? Probably the same thing as the third lord. Since this is the case, why would she work so hard to get into his good books only to do such a thing? She could easily wait for the child to be born, confirm that it’s a boy, before getting rid of the mother or just raising him as her own.”
Shen Yi Yao thought about it and felt Xue-shi made a lot of sense.
“But if it wasn’t her, who else could it be? It’s truly quite a pity. He was already six months old.”
Xue-shi smiled meaningfully, “Take a guess.”
Shen Yi Yao blinked and seemed at a loss.
Yan Ru, Yan Ling and Yan Yan were present as well. Yan Yan had come with her mom to see the wedding dress Yan Ru had made. Xue-shi was there so she had started chatting with Shen Yi Yao.
Yan Ru was also wondering who it was but she was also at a loss. Yan Ling had figured it out but didn’t want to stand out so she pretended to be clueless.
Yan Yan didn’t need to worry about anything so she spoke her thoughts out loud.
“This matter was probably done by Concubine Cui herself. Even if it wasn’t, she definitely knew about it.”
Xue-shi revealed a praising glance. Shen Yi Yao and Yan Ru looked startled. Yan Ling didn’t seem surprised.
“Concubine Cui? How could she make a move against her own child?!”
Xue-shi patted Shen Yi Yao’s hand and then looked at her surprised daughter. She sighed in her heart and said: “Haven’t you noticed how third sis-in-law and her husband’s relationship had gotten better recently? It’s almost like they were newlyweds again. Concubine Cui’s parents aren’t fools and she herself isn’t one either. Could they be unable to tell? If things continued developing this way, even if Concubine Cui gave birth to a boy, that child would have to be given to Chen-shi. Furthermore, if Chen-shi decides to get rid of the mother, the Tian family isn’t confident in being able to stop her. After all, Concubine Cui lives under Chen-shi’s nose. If that happens, the Tian family would lose both daughter and grandson, and waste all of their efforts.”
“Now look what happened. Third brother now thoroughly hates Chen-shi. Even though Concubine Cui lost a child, she didn’t suffer irreparable harm. It’s possible to give birth after recuperating. She managed to win third brother’s sympathy in the meantime. If she gives birth again, who would be able to steal the child away? Could Chen-shi still interfere?” Xue-shi smiled and clicked her tongue: “This Tian family is also quite ruthless. They actually made such a vicious move. Chen-shi has no hope of coming back from that.”
Although Xue-shi seemed to be speaking to Shen Yi Yao, she was also speaking to Yan Ru and the other girls.
Life after marriage was different from living in their chambers. They would be on their own without any protection.
The hidden schemes in the rear residences were numerous. No matter how good the relationship between husband and wife, it couldn’t prevent the plans of unscrupulous people. Chen-shi was one such example. Of course, it was partly her own doing as well. However, her relationship with Yan Qu would probably have been reconciled if it weren’t for the schemes of others.
This fresh example made Yan Ru ponder deeply.
“You don’t need to do such things, but you must be aware of them. Only then can you defend yourself thoroughly. Women spend their entire lives in the rear residence, and will see all sorts of demons and monsters. Often times, it’s necessary to be overly cautious and overly alert. Take your third aunt as an example.”
Xue-shi concluded her speech.
The saying that children don’t know how much their parents do for them referred to this.
Yan Ru’s wedding was fast approaching.
Spoilers in author’s notes.
Yan Ru gets married tomorrow and Yan Yan follows soon after. Scummy dad gets bullied to death after the wedding, don’t be hasty. The little fatty is desperate to marry his wife. If the scummy dad was killed off before the wedding, the little fatty would probably do everything in his power to stop it. Three years!1