Qinglian Chronicles - LightNovelsOnl.com
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At last, the banquet officially began. The family's women were indoors, and the men were outside setting up thirty tables. There are two main tables located at the east and west; the one to the east is mostly made up of bigshots from the Court, the foremost position taken up by Shao Qing, while the western one has many of the old-money families from the North along with relatives both distant and close, all headed by Shao Min.
I'm seated at the eastern table, naturally, but I'm not adjacent to Shao Qing, qith several other seats between us. Li Minguo, Gu Yunzhi, Zhou Zizhu, and my G.o.dson are all here. There's also several other Ministers from every department, Dukes and higher officials of all three ranks, the Imperial Censor, and so on. Zhou Zizhu has the lowest rank out of all, so he sits at Shao Qing's side.
When Shao Qing finally came out, the sky-shattering sound of good prayers and well wishes engulfed everything, and when he took his seat, the the big festival commenced, the sound of birthday congratulations and flatteries ceaselessly falling on the ears one after the other. Shao Qing is smiling at the endless flow of his contemporaries from beginning to end.
But something feels off about him to me. He seems like he's lost weight in these brief several days and looks a bit haggard, his chin sharper and face a bit pale. Even if his smile is as gentle as it always is, I find it always has a somewhat dispirited overtone. He seems unlike a famed general right now, and more like an unrestrained, down-and-out rich family's son.
He didn't look at me at any point. When our gazes sometimes met, he consciously lowered his.
As he's the birthday boy, it's natural that everyone wants to offer him wine (aside from Gu Yunzhi the teetotaler). This bloke went so far as to turn no one away and accept all the alcohol like he was a non-injured person. He drinks every cup clean in exchange for cheers.
The more he drinks, the brighter his eyes are and the paler his face gets, his figure finally getting a little unsteady – a bit of a deliberate intention to get drunk, in my opinion. Seeing this shocking spectacle, I secretly pull on Gao Yushu's sleeve to prevent him doing another toast.
Shao Min was at the table over yonder, looking anxious. He repeatedly focused his gaze on me, hinting that I should mediate. I didn't want to interfere at first, but later on also felt like I couldn't take it anymore. I finally spoke up when he took another cup, “Minzhi, you were ill a few days before. Your health isn't good, so don't drink anymore – that cup, should I take it for you?”
Hearing this, the people around expressed their surprise and concern towards his health one after the other. Shao Qing laughed loudly, gulping down the whole cup. “A real man would be drunk and lying on the battlefield, reading to be buried in a horse's hide. This trifling little sickness, how could it hinder my pa.s.sion for spirits?”
There are many troop commanders in the tables around Shao Qing, as well as other military leaders; just like the literati, there's no shortage of the arrogant here, and they erupt into applause.
Even Gu Yunzhi praised him as “a good man with good mettle”. Zhou Zizhu immediately poured him some more wine, saying stuff like “General Shao's a man's man, the true fortune of the land, the luck of the state, the admiration of lower officials” and so forth, which is less like Zhou Zizhu's penmans.h.i.+p and more like my G.o.dson's.
As a result, another wave of toasts arose, Shao Qing's cup being constantly refreshed. I shot Shao Min a look to say that I had no power in this. He taps his feet in anxiety, also unable to think anything up. Even so, after Shao Qing was rapidly getting drunker, I stealthily blocked a few cups for him.
When Shao Qing ultimately took the initiative to get fully intoxicated, he was helped by a child maid to go to bed, the birthday party scene seeming to arouse the excitement of both host and guest. The various stage troupes began to get animated, the fireworks and firecrackers were taken out, and the Shao family was unusually lively now.
I also was aware that I had slightly too much to drink, so I returned to my room in advance to rest.
Hong Feng had a young maid from the Shao family bring in hot water, helped me bathe my feet in it, then went to her adjacent room. I thought of Shao Qing's extremely bizarre mannerisms, not know what to think of them as I tossed and turned, unable to sleep.
The exceedingly vigorous noise of music and merriment outside gradually could not be heard anymore, and all that time I haven't felt a bit of drowsiness. Now I can only here the occasional loud calls and soft cries of early-arriving summer insects here and there.
After about three hours, there hadn't been any human voices coming from the courtyard for a long time. I had been slowly getting near sleep when I suddenly heard a something not unlike a scream in the distance, following by what vaguely sounds like blades colliding.
Someone shouted about there being an a.s.sa.s.sin, but it was awfully far away and I couldn't hear it clearly. Bewildered, I sat up, when the door was unexpectedly bust open and a figure staggeringly fell in.
As I stared, I could see the figure was a particularly tall woman dressed in tight-fitting black clothes, her hood having fallen back with her long dark hair scattered about. She covered the left side of her ribcage with her hand, blood seeping from between her fingers. She swiftly swiveled her head up, startling me. That face has a deathly pallor from blood loss, but its shape is profound, and it has two beautiful black pupils with flames burning inside them. I remember this.
The a.s.sa.s.sin is the Huihu Princess from that day.
I opened my mouth to speak, but I heard a s.h.i.+ng sound, and a long sword emitting a cold light was pressed against my neck.
“Hide me! Now!” She commanded. Because what's she's saying isn't her mother tongue, her accent is inevitably a bit rugged, but her lightly hoa.r.s.e mezzo-soprano voice is very pleasant to the ears. If this were the modern era, she's very much have the potential to be a popular singer, and the commentary would say that her voice is br.i.m.m.i.n.g with magnetism.
“Now!” She urges once more, the sword near my neck getting closer.
I snapped back to reality, rapidly looked in every direction at my surroundings, then speak with a level head, “Get in the bed.”
Her face turned red. I couldn't tell if she was embarra.s.sed or indignant, but she gnashed her silver-gleaning teeth, pointed her willowy eyebrows downwards, and scolded furiously under her breath. “Scoundrel!”
The sword is getting tighter, bone-chillingly cold. I fear that I'll see blood this time.
Yet I'm still quite calm. It's just like if you encounter a thug or robber with a deadly weapon in modernity; the most, most important thing is to stay calm. Only when you are calm is when you might be able to calm the other party down. The mugger themselves are often terribly nervous and worried, so you'll want to do everything you can to placate their mood, or they might very well use that weapon to ‘accidentally' injure you from the nerves.
This pretty ‘thug' in front of me isn't nervous, but is very angry, so I hurriedly use an entirely calm tone to say to her, “There's nowhere for someone to hide in this room. The bed is the easiest to find, but if I'm in there with you, I'll wrap you in a quilt, and they won't dare to reach over me to search. — Whether you want to or not, you have to be quick, the people chasing you are coming!”
As if to verify my words, the sound of people and footsteps outside came close, the light from torches s.h.i.+ning through my paper windows.
The a.s.sa.s.sin clenched her jaw, leapt into my bed, and dove under the covers, taking her sword with her.
The sword away from my throat, I sigh in relief. I take the blanket and cover her head, leaving only her long hair in view, though when doing the motion I likely wasn't being careful and b.u.mped against her wound. She jolted, but said nothing. I'm afraid of my hand being coated in sticky, greasy liquid will eventually expose us, and I don't dare to smear it elsewhere, so I just wipe my fingers clean on her.
Her body is pressed up against me, her mild warmth coming through the thin layers of her clothing. The slight s.h.i.+vering of the clothed form under my hand makes me think of an injured wild animal hiding in the dark.
As expected, someone knocked loudly on the door. I call for them to ‘come in'. Shao Min and a few others burst in, with others still waiting outside. He's only wearing his middle clothes with a robe draped around his shoulders, panting, the state of his mind indeterminable.
“What happened?” I say. I deliberately shoot a glance at several of the men, composedly turning my body somewhat protectively toward the a.s.sa.s.sin Princess's own. Nothing but her hair is showing, looking every bit like a concubine who doesn't want to expose herself in front of other men.
Sure enough, Shao Min and the others awkwardly deflected their eyes.
Shao Min spoke, “I'm very sorry for disturbing you so late at night, Qinglian, but this is an urgent matter. I hope you can forgive me. — Someone tried to a.s.sa.s.sinate my younger brother, and the a.s.sa.s.sin fled in this direction. I feared that they'd bring harm to you, Qinglian, so we rushed to check on you.”
I feign surprise, saying, “Is Minzhi alright? Who's the a.s.sa.s.sin?”
Shao Min smiled bitterly. “Second Brother was wounded — if he wasn't drunk, how could he have been hurt so easily? The a.s.sa.s.sin ran away. I don't know who it is, but they seem to have also been wounded. I saw blood on Second Brother's sword.”
I purposefully mumbled. “There were too many different people in this courtyard today, trying to verify which chancellor they came in with won't be easy to check, I fear… I was half-awake just now, and only vaguely saw a shadow go to the west, but I don't know if that was a trick of the light…”
Two small courtyards to the west is where Li Minguo is. I'm doing a little experiment to see if I can move the trouble downstream.
Shao Min's expression morphed on cue. He thought about it, then stomped his foot and said, “So that's how it is!” He rushed out soon after. I called out to him, “Brother Shao!” He stopped and looked at me.
I slowly shake my head at him, tone serious. “Don't alert the one you're looking for.”
Shao Min looks apprehensive. “I know.” He then looked at me, and said with hesitation, “Qinglian, my Second Brother is…”
I get what he's trying to say. I get off the bed and put on my clothes. “I'll look after him. Only I don't know if the women are there…”
Shao Min shakes his head with a fake smile. “Which of them would dare to disturb? A woman shouldn't see this. She'd wail and panic, and my Second Brother would have to coax her first…”
Having fastened my belt, I turn to the person in the bed and say, “You sleep here. I'll be back.” I then leave with Shao Min.
“a woman shouldn't see this” Little Does He Know……