The Rebirth of an Ill-Fated Consort - Chapter 142 - Shielding Xiao Shao
Chapter 142 : Shielding Xiao Shao
When the rooster’s crowing signalled daybreak, the young man on the bed tidied his clothes and stood up. After a night’s rest, when coupled with Xiao Shao’s natural speed of recovery which was faster than most, he looked as if nothing was amiss.
Jin San jumped into the room through the window. Still slightly concerned about Xiao Shao’s injury, she asked, hesitatingly, “Master . . .”
Xiao Shao waved his hand and Jin San immediately shut up. Then after a moment’s thought, she said, “Miss Jiang has already woken up and is outside.”
After Jin San left the room, Xiao Shao took a good look at his surroundings. The previous night, everything had unfolded with such haste that he had not been able to take in anything. Today, upon waking, he discovered that a faint scent seemed to linger throughout the entire room. It was then that he realised that this was indeed a young lady’s chamber.
From the time that Xiao Shao took over the Jinyi Guard, he had received all kinds of assignments, thus it was not as if he had never seen a young lady’s inner chamber. However, before, it had just been a place, like any other, no different from a garden or a lake. Yet today was the first time that he realised that not all places were the same, so Xiao Shao, this arrogant man who never wasted his time on inconsequential things, looked carefully and seriously around a lady’s inner chamber for the very first time.
Although it was an inner chamber, it didn’t seem much like one. It was different from that of other ladies’ – there were no flowers or plants, bright and gaily-coloured drapes, or exquisitely beautiful ornaments. For a young lady who had recently reached marriageable age, it was all too austere. Even a man like Mo Cong paid more attention to his residence than Jiang Ruan did.
Xiao Shao had heard something about the bleakly miserable circumstances which Jiang Quan had sent Jiang Ruan into at the rural residence. Therefore, it could be surmised that the practice of thrift which she had cultivated then still remained, and so she was unwilling to have resplendent decorations around. But, these dark, gloomy colours were really rather unusual.
The Jiang family’s eldest di daughter loved to wear red, and she was naturally lovely. When looking at her, she should burn with passion as fiercely as a red fox, but actually she was like a green snake- cold and detached. Deep black was the dominant colour all around the room – what ordinary female would like the colour black? Xiao Shao himself liked black, but this was because he was both cold by nature, and had also matured earlier than his peers. However, Jiang Ruan was just a young lady. Xiao Shao was slightly surprised; it was almost as if he could delve into the secrets of Jiang Ruan’s soul through these gloomy colours.
There was a stack of books on the table. Xiao Shao casually flipped through them; they were mainly books on the Great Jin’s laws and the art of war. These dry and boring topics were mostly read by old men, but the manual on war had been thumbed through so often that the pages were starting to yellow, clearly demonstrating that its owner read it frequently. Xiao Shao also discovered that none of the books on law were current. They were at least a few years’ old, with some stretching as far back as more than ten years. He honestly could not fathom what Jiang Ruan was doing reading such books.
He silently stood where he was with his head lowered in thought. After a while, he averted his gaze and walked slowly out of the door.
In the outer hall, Jiang Ruan was sitting in front of the window, but the book on the table was unopened. One hand propped up her chin as she stared out in contemplation. It was impossible to tell what she was thinking of, but her expression was a little cold.
When she heard footsteps, Jiang Ruan turned and saw Xiao Shao walking in. She asked, “Why aren’t you resting more?”
At present, it was as if Ruan Ju was separated from the rest of Jiang fu by an ‘iron fence’, for no one dared to poke their noses into Ruan Ju’s affairs. Jiang Ruan disliked laying down regulations excessively, and so her maidservants and older female servants were somewhat more brazen than those of other courtyards. At this time, while she was awake, some of the maidservants and older female servants in Ruan Ju were still asleep.
Xiao Shao also had some misgivings. However, the rooster had just crowed, and looking at Jiang Ruan, she must have woken up earlier. His gaze landed on the faint smudges of black under Jiang Ruan’s eyes, and he came to a sudden realisation. With an apologetic note in his voice, he said, “You . . . have worked hard.”
These words, coming out of nowhere, almost caused Bai Zhi to laugh aloud. She lowered her head and made an excuse to leave the room so that Jiang Ruan and Xiao Shao could talk privately.
Jiang Ruan nodded. She had always been a light sleeper, and in reality, after she had been reborn into this lifetime, although she ordinarily looked calm and detached, when it came to night time, the nightmares of her previous life refused to leave her alone. Then, once she was jolted awake by the nightmares, she was unable to go back to sleep. If she had things on her mind, then she would sleep even more lightly.
The previous night, Xiao Shao had suddenly appeared. After she had settled her emotions and gone outside, there were still many thoughts weighing heavily on her mind. If it were not for Bai Zhi and Lian Qiao persuading her constantly, she would not have slept even a few hours.
Xiao Shao sat opposite Jiang Ruan. Her eyes moved to his chest and she asked, “Is your wound better?”
Xiao Shao nodded and replied, “I will leave in a while.”
“You don’t have to be so impatient,” Jiang Ruan said, looking at him. “Drinking a bowl of brown sugar water before you leave will not cause you much delay.”
Xiao Shao’s expression slightly stiffened on hearing the mention of brown sugar water. It was not that he did not know of its efficacy. Jiang Ruan must have been drinking it recently because her period had started, but he was a hearty young man. If news of him drinking the brown sugar water reached the ears of the Jinyi Guard, how could he command them in future?
Jiang Ruan noticed his unnatural appearance and found it quite funny. She changed the topic and asked, “How long will you be staying in the capital this time?”
On hearing this, Xiao Shao’s expression turned grave, and Jiang Ruan understood why to some extent. He said, “Of late, the capital has been uneasy. You should be more careful in the fu, and if anything happens, use the whistle I gave you.”
Jiang Ruan stared at him and asked, “The South Xinjiang people are about to make their move?”
Xiao Shao was taken aback. This was classified information within the palace. For ordinary women, even if they knew about it, they would not think about it further. However, it seemed as if Jiang Ruan was very sensitive towards this particular topic, and his eyes as he gazed at Jiang Ruan held unconscious admiration as he said, “Yes.”
“I understand.” Jiang Ruan did not speak further on the topic. She paused, then said, “You are already being attacked on all sides. Since the South Xinjiang people are on the loose in the capital, they will most probably come for you. You must also be careful.”
In her previous life, the name of Jinying Wang, Xiao Shao, had always been linked with South Xinjiang. In her previous life, when the previous Emperor died of poison and Xuan Li claimed the throne, Xiao Shao had been in South Xinjiang and was unable to hurry back at a moment’s notice. No one knew how the situation might have unfolded if Xiao Shao had been in the capital at that time. On thinking about this, Jiang Ruan felt somewhat frustrated, but when she noticed Xiao Shao watching her, she steadied herself. Although she had no clear idea of the reason, she felt that Xiao Shao and South Xinjiang were related in some way. Whether it was due to a feud, or something else, whenever Xiao Shao interacted with South Xinjiang people, he always had a faint air of hostility about him. It was almost imperceptible, but because Jiang Ruan was a person who had died once, she understood that feeling very clearly.
Xiao Shao smiled faintly and his eyes softened as he said, “All right.” After a beat of silence, he said, “What are you planning to do with the Xia family? Do you need my help?”
After Jiang Ruan left the room the previous night, Tian Zhu had entered and reported on everything that had occurred, both big and small, in minute detail. Xiao Shao was greatly annoyed when he heard that Yu Ya had planned to entrap Zhao Feizhou; these people were really like flies, constantly buzzing around and being disgusting. If Jiang Ruan agreed, he could think of many ways to exterminate Marquis Xia fu and eliminate future troubles forever.
“No need, I have my own plans,” Jiang Ruan replied. In matters of revenge, there was no need to rely on others to do the work. If she actually exterminated the family as Xiao Shao was offering, wouldn’t that be letting them off too easily?
Xiao Shao did not insist, instead replying, “Fine.”
The two of them conversed a little more about trivial matters, such that Lu Zhu, who was plastered to the window spying on them, felt like bashing her head against the wall. It was at this time that Bai Zhi hurriedly opened the door and said anxiously, “Miss, Fourth Miss is coming towards our courtyard.”
It was so early, and Jiang Dan would never ordinarily visit Ruan Ju; this turn of events was certainly fishy. Jiang Ruan smiled slightly and said, “Since she pays so much attention to me, she must have gotten wind of something about last night. Consequently, she’s hastening here right now to block off all the possible ways out.”
She looked at Xiao Shao and said, “I’m afraid you won’t be able to leave at present.”
Xiao Shao stood up and said, “I will go now.”
“Why should you?” Jiang Ruan smiled and said, “This Fourth Sister of mine, when you look at her, you cannot clearly see who she really is. She’s a delicate little flower, but what she does will surprise you.”
 不显山不露水 (bu xian shan bu lu shui) – lit. to not show the mountain or reveal the water; fig. to hide key facts.
“Your reputation will be affected if she discovers I am here.” Xiao Shao pursed his lips. He understood very clearly how significant reputation is to a young lady’s family. In addition, Jiang Ruan was now the Hong’an Junzhu, and many pairs of eyes always followed her, no matter where she went. If something actually did happen, she would likely drown in the accumulated saliva of the citizens’ sputtering.
“Do you really think this Fourth Sister of mine only wants to sully my name?” Jiang Ruan laughed as she shook her head, then said, “I’m afraid the people outside who wanted to harm you last night also want an excuse to conduct a search. I think they must have said they were searching for an assassin and if my guess is right, Jiang Dan has been suspicious of my courtyard since last night. Right now, Jiang fu is probably surrounded by several rings of people waiting for you to emerge. As for me, the crime of both harbouring an assassin and being involved with one, is indeed very serious.”
Because of her association with Empress Dowager Yi De, if she were to engage in a relationship with an ordinary man, she would still be able to defend herself, but to be involved with an assassin – even if the ordinary people were able to tolerate this, the imperial family definitely would not. When the people who were attempting to entrap Xiao Shao colluded with Jiang Dan, they must have thought that he was so severely injured that they could forcibly capture and whisk him away when he emerged before he could reveal his identity. It was hard to decide whether this was excessively naive, or plain stupid.
Xiao Shao frowned. Last night, he had not thought about the matter from this angle because he never would have imagined that a shu daughter would have such complex thoughts that she would target Jiang Ruan and plot her downfall. Even as he felt faintly enraged at this, he also felt a certain tenderness towards Jiang Ruan. He paused before lowering his eyes to say, “So, I have to seize and then threaten you outside to prove that you have nothing to do with all this.”
“Rather, why don’t you just go out there and slaughter all those people?” Jiang Ruan countered.
Xiao Shao was stunned. It was not that he had not thought of this, but killing people at the door of Jiang fu might cause a lot of trouble in future. If nothing else, some affairs could not be brought into the open at this time in order to avoid alerting the enemy prematurely.
Jiang Ruan patted his arm and said, “No need to worry. Since I was willing to risk letting you stay here last night, I have already made preparations.”
Xiao Shao stared at her. His guilt towards her deepened even further; he never thought that a moment’s rashness would bring Jiang Ruan so much trouble. He had a thousand and one ways to get away, but not one of them was foolproof. He would inevitably leave traces behind, which would cause trouble for Jiang Ruan at some point. Nevertheless, on hearing Jiang Ruan say this, he reckoned that she must have a good solution and was all ears.
Jiang Ruan walked to the front of the bed in her own room and lifted the thick mattress, exposing the sturdy, heavy bed frame. Stretching out her hand, she knocked against the bed board, then felt around the edge. The bed board was seemingly without crack or crevice, but as she felt around, a crack amazingly appeared in a corner of the bed board. She pulled upwards and the solid-looking bed board lifted up, revealing a small metal door with a little lock.
Jiang Ruan retrieved a silver key from the foot of the bed on the other side, unlocked the door, and after lifting it up, instructed Xiao Shao, “Get in.”
Surprisingly, it hid a small, secret path?
“It’s not a secret path.” Observing Xiao Shao’s dumbfounded expression, Jiang Ruan went on to explain, “I don’t have the ability to achieve that; it’s just a storage space. Go in and stay there for a while.”
She had constructed this storage space bit by bit after she had returned to the fu. In her previous life in the palace, she had, by fluke, seen one of the nobles do this, except that he had dug a secret passage. She was surrounded by enemies on all sides in Jiang fu, so it was inevitable that someone would take the opportunity to ransack her room when she was not around. Although she would not leave any incriminating information or item around, this storage space would be useful in the occasional emergency.
Xiao Shao was thoroughly astounded by Jiang Ruan’s unexpected revelation, but at Bai Zhi’s urging, he hesitated no longer and jumped in straightaway. Jiang Ruan closed the door and restored the bed to the way it had been before. Then, she let down the curtains of the canopy.
Lian Qiao’s voice sounded somewhat anxious as she said, “Fourth Miss, Miss has not woken up yet. Please wait for Miss to freshen up and come out, she has not even applied her make-up yet . . .”
“We are all sisters,” Jiang Dan’s voice could be heard saying in the distance. Although her voice was as soft and tender as it usually was, on listening carefully, there seemed to be a joy that was being concealed.
As Jiang Dan took in Lian Qiao’s anxious appearance, she felt a greater sense of surety. The night before, her personal maidservant had gone to throw out water, and had witnessed the neighbouring Ruan Ju’s Lian Qiao scurrying out in the dead of night, in the direction of the little kitchen. Curious, the maidservant had followed her, whereupon she overheard Lian Qiao ordering the little kitchen to prepare a bowl of brown sugar water for her.
There was nothing really unusual about this. Jiang Ruan’s period had started, and it was good to drink a bowl of brown sugar water if she felt uncomfortable in the middle of the night. However, this was not the only curious matter, as Bai Zhi had also ordered clean, hot water to be brought over. The maidservant had simply thought that Jiang Ruan wanted to take a bath in the middle of the night, and innocently mentioned this to Jiang Dan later. Jiang Dan had been stirred to thought: Jiang Ruan had never liked to make a fuss about anything, and had never once been uncomfortable due to her period. All these happenings at night also made a lot of work for the maidservants. Suspicious, Jiang Dan had sent someone to investigate. Sure enough, after bribing an old servant who swept Ruan Ju and also served as gatekeeper, they found out that Bai Zhi had thrown out water reeking of blood.
Jiang Dan had a gut feeling that there was a reason for all of this, and it just so happened that her personal maidservant, Yu’er, had an elder brother who was on duty at the gatehouse. Later, she ran into the young manservant from the gatehouse, who had told her that the leader of the capital’s City Gate troops, Yan Dong, was leading his men in a hunt for an assassin. As if she had received divine enlightenment, Jiang Dan immediately guessed that this assassin was in Jiang Ruan’s residence at present.
 醍醐灌顶 (tu hu guan ding) – lit. to anoint one’s head with the purest cream; fig. to enlighten people with purest wisdom
Although she had no clue as to why Jiang Ruan would want to help that assassin, the brown sugar water and the clean, hot water should have been prepared for that reason. Jiang Dan personally conjectured that Jiang Ruan was being forced to help, but, no matter what, this was still a rare opportunity for Jiang Dan. Every day that Jiang Ruan lived peacefully was a day of extreme unease for Jiang Dan. Right now, opportunity had come knocking at her door; why would she not seize it? In a trice, a plan had come to mind.
However, Jiang Dan had never given in to hasty action or emotion, and she was unwilling to startle Jiang Ruan into a state of alert. Moreover, looking for the City Gate leader would take some time. If something unforeseen should occur and the assassin escaped, it would all be a wasted effort, and she would also incur the unhappiness of the City Gate leader. After turning it over in her mind, Jiang Dan decided it would be best to keep quiet for the moment and let everything calm down; she would make plans at daybreak.
 竹篮打水 (zhu lan da shui) – lit. drawing water in a wicker basket i.e. wasted effort.
When it was still early, she secretly sent someone to casually ‘alert’ the City Gate leader that someone seemed to have seen the assassin outside Jiang fu. The leader, Yan Dong, was not stupid. He knew that he did not have the authorised documents to immediately enter Jiang fu to seize anyone. Moreover, Jiang Quan’s rank was much higher than his own. Although this was the situation, he could still wait outside Jiang fu and seize his easy target as soon as it appeared.
If everything had been as usual, all this would have been observed by Jin Er and Jin San, and nothing would have come of these plans. However, it happened that, due to Xiao Shao’s injuries the previous night, the two of them had been sent out of the fu to do his bidding. Tian Zhu had been busy helping Jiang Ruan, and so unknowingly a loophole had been created for Jiang Dan to exploit. The gatehouse guard had kept watch, and no one had left Jiang Ruan’s courtyard. Thus, it was increasingly certain that the assassin was still in Jiang Ruan’s room.
Jiang Dan was elated. Harbouring an assassin, hiding an assassin in her own private bedchamber . . . even Empress Dowager Yi De would not be able to protect Jiang Ruan, and would even have to remove her from the royal genealogy. Then, this Jiang Ruan with her despoiled reputation – what future could she have?
 玉碟 (yu die) – lit. jade disc. Apparently these discs recorded the imperial genealogy, starting from the Tang Dynasty.
On thinking of this, she hastened her footsteps and arrived at Jiang Ruan’s door. Not waiting for Tian Zhu and Lu Zu to speak, she pushed aside the curtain at the door and said, with a smile, “Da Jiejie.”
The room was extremely quiet. From the mouth of the uniquely shaped copper deer figurine at the corner of the table issued forth the distinct fragrance of pollia japonica. The dark canopy of the bed was swaying faintly, causing the silhouette of the figure within to shift accordingly; one could faintly discern that it was a woman’s figure.
Pollia japonica Seed
Jiang Dan swept a glance across the burning incense and the corners of her mouth ticked upwards. Everyone knew that Jiang Ruan hated using incense; Ruan Ju had always refused the incense that was distributed every month. Today’s unprecedented use of pollia japonica had an abundantly clear reason – wasn’t it to mask the smell of blood?
With these thoughts, Jiang Dan walked further into the room and called out, “Da Jiejie?”
“Fourth Miss,” Lu Zhu said as she blocked her way, “Miss is still resting. She felt uncomfortable last night, so she is getting up later today.”
Jiang Dan laughed. “What kind of joke is this? Just now, Lian Qiao said Da Jiejie was already awake but had not put on her make-up yet, so how is it that she is lying down once again? It can’t be because she doesn’t welcome Dan niang.” As she spoke, she attempted to move forwards, but Lu Zhu stood in front of her. Jiang Dan smiled, whereupon Yu’er grabbed Lu Zhu with surprising force and said, smilingly, “Eldest Miss and Fourth Miss are sisters, how can it be that such a small matter would make people upset?”
“Exactly.” By now, Jiang Dan had already reached Jiang Ruan’s bed. Her eyes flashed radiantly as she immediately stretched out her hand to lift the dark canopy.
As soon as the dark canopy was lifted, the inner scene was revealed. An elaborately decorated pouch hung at each corner, heavily scenting the room with fragrance. Jiang Ruan reclined on the bed wearing light-coloured inner garments, with her hair loose and her eyes closed in repose.
Hearing movement, Jiang Ruan opened her eyes. A pair of clear black eyes, which glimmered like a limpid mountain spring, stared fixedly at Jiang Dan. Yet, these eyes also harboured an indecipherable, deeper meaning.
Jiang Ruan’s voice was somewhat frosty as she said, “Fourth Sister truly does not consider herself an outsider since she dares to lift my canopy so casually.”
Jiang Dan was rooted to the ground, her eyes wide in disbelief. Apart from Jiang Ruan, the bed within the canopy was empty. Where could anyone hide?