He Cong was shocked.
“Why is he here?? How does he know you are with me?!”
Xia Xun was also surprised. He obviously sneaked out but Qi Yan managed to find out that he was gone so quickly? Could he guess right away that he was in He Cong’s house?
He asked He Cong:
“Lord Qi wouldn’t have any official business to discuss with you, would he? Otherwise – I didn’t tell him where I was going.”
He Cong’s face was ugly.
“No, since you faked your death, he would not even look at me when he met me in public, let alone come to my house. For so many years, he would not say a word to me unless it was absolutely necessary. He must have come for you.”
He put on his official hat:
“I’m going to meet him now! If you want to run, run quickly! I’ll stop him! I don’t believe he will dare to break into the residence of a court official!”
He rushed out aggressively. Xia Xun followed him, saying hurriedly:
“I can’t go, don’t go either! You have a wife and children, and to be a court official, you can’t offend him!”
He Cong didn’t look back:
“What ‘can’t offend’, I’ve offended him many times! What are you afraid of? Even if you can’t leave, I’ll go out and back you up! Don’t let him think no one can protect you!”
He pointed at Xia Xun to his servants.
“Stop him for me! Don’t let him go out of the house!”
Qi Yan didn’t get out of the carriage and didn’t even look out. Only Qi Hui, his personal guard, stood beside the carriage with his back straight.
Furious, He Cong pointed at the carriage and scolded angrily:
“Qi Yan! Have you forgotten all the etiquette inherited from our ancestors? If you come to visit me, come down and salute me respectfully! Who are you putting up this show for?”
There was no sound.
Qi Hui saluted to him, but Qi Yan didn’t reply at all.
He Cong became even more furious and punched the carriage door.
The wooden door was rattling as he banged on it, and if he kept this up, it was going to break.
His servants strictly obeyed He Cong’s order and stood in front of Xia Xun.
Xia Xun said:
“Let me go, or your lord is going to be in trouble.”
The servants looked back and forth a few times, hesitated for a while and finally gave way.
Xia Xun calmly walked out of the house and slowly went to the carriage.
He Cong was so angry that he scolded him, too:
“Who told you to come out?! Good for nothing!! ”
Xia Xun smiled helplessly.
The carriage door opened slightly, and Qi Yan stretched out his hand from the inside with his palm upward, meaning to help Xia Xun get into the carriage.
Xia Xun avoided his hand and climbed into the carriage.
The carriage immediately moved forward, and the voice of He Cong who continued berating them outside couldn’t be heard anymore.
Ever since he got into the carriage, Qi Yan’s gaze never left him, watching his every expression intently.
Xia Xun didn’t want to be stared at, so he sat as far away as possible and turned his face away.
No matter how big the carriage was, even if he did his best to avoid Qi Yan, he was still in his sphere of influence.
As long as he stretched out his hand, he could grab Xia Xun.
Xia Xuan was wary, tucking his hands in his sleeves and pretending to look ahead, noting Qi Yan’s every move out of the corner of his eye.
Qi Yan was wearing official clothes. He must have heard that Xia Xun had disappeared as soon as he returned to the mansion. He went to look for him before he had time to change his clothes.
His right hand was wrapped in a bandage, and the wound was still oozing blood, showing that the cut was not shallow.
He raised his hand towards Xia Xun, held it in the air for a while and slowly put it down on his knee.
He seemed to want to say something, was about to say it several times and stopped.
Eventually, Xia Xun was the first who couldn’t bear it:
“I hadn’t been out for long but Lord Zhongshu already knew I was missing? And he could accurately guess that I was at He Mansion? My lord is truly clever, I am ashamed of myself.”
Qi Yan’s hand on his knee suddenly clenched tightly.
“Don’t call me ‘lord’…” After a while, he slowly relaxed his hand, “Don’t call me ‘lord’ and I’ll tell you how I found you.”
Xia Xun said coldly:
“Then I don’t know how to call you.”
“…back then,” Qi Yan paused, his eyes vaguely revealing his longing: “Back then, didn’t you always call me by my name?”
Xia Xun expressed his unwillingness with silence.
The atmosphere quickly cooled.
Qi Yan was unrelenting, looking straight at him as if he would never give up unless he heard his name from his mouth.
In the end, Xia Xun gave in.
“Then I’ll call you, you are now——”
Qi Yan’s expression became colder, and Xia Xun had to change his words:
“You are in a high position now and it is inappropriate for me to call you by your name. Forgive me for not obeying your orders.”
Qi Yan sighed, his tight posture gradually relaxing.
Xia Xun asked, “Please also answer the doubts in my mind.”
Qi Yan took a long breath, slowly stretched his body, leaned against the carriage window, and a playful smile gradually appeared on his face.
Xia Xun looked at him, slightly startled.
There were complicated grievances and entanglements between them, as well as many years of unretrievable past.
Even so, he had to admit that Qi Yan was indeed very handsome. The way he moved, the way he looked, everything about him was so beautiful that it could easily make you forget yourself.
At that time, Xia Xun was fascinated by his appearance and the sound of his voice and fell in love with him almost effortlessly.
Now, Qi Yan said softly:
“Because you call me Lord Zhongshu.”
Xia Xun was taken aback: “Why do you mention it again ——”
Qi Yan fiddled with his cuffs and looked at him sideways:
“I was promoted to Zhongshu Shilang only three months ago. It takes months for the news to reach Douzhou. Yesterday was your first day in the capital. You didn’t have contact with any outsiders. But when you saw me, you could accurately name my latest official position, indicating that there must be someone in the capital to exchange news with you.”
Xia Xun was stunned:
“Then… how do you know that He Cong is the one who communicated with me?!”
Qi Yan did not rush and explained calmly:
“Back then, you didn’t like to socialise. Among the noble young masters of the capital, He Cong was the only one who knew you well.”
In addition to being surprised, Xia Xun felt extremely regretful.
He had let his guard down.
In front of Qi Yan, no flaw was small enough to escape his eyes.
After a moment of silence, Qi Yan suddenly asked:
“Have you been in contact with He Cong? Did he… know that you were not dead from the beginning?”
Xia Xun gritted his teeth and admitted: “…yes!”
Qi Yan’s expression suddenly dimmed, the light in his eyes receding like a tide.
His hand didn’t seem to feel any pain as he slowly clenched it hard enough for his knuckles to turn white.
His tone was heavy and he spoke laboriously: “Why… didn’t I know…”
He lowered his head, closed his eyes tightly, his face disheartened.
Xia Xun stopped looking at him and cast a sideways glance out the window. The bustling crowd on the street appeared like vague shadows through the window screen.
He said to Qi Yan:
“He Cong learned of my death and wanted to bury my bones. His father said that if he had anything to do with the Xia family again, he would sever the father-son relationship with him. But he still came, and when he came, he found out. You are much sharper than him, if you’d come, you would’ve also found… unfortunately…”
Xia Xun’s expression was calm, his tone bleak:
“Presumably, you didn’t have interest in such effort at that time… what were you doing then? I guess that since you took down the Xia family, you should have been promoted to nobility. Flushed with success, in the limelight in the court, you have probably forgotten that there was Xia Xun, right?”
Qi Yan suddenly raised his head as if he wanted to explain something. He hesitated repeatedly, not knowing where to start. After struggling for a long time, he finally said nothing.
The sleeves covered his hands, so Xia Xun didn’t see that Qi Yan’s fingernails were embedded in his palms. The cut from the last night reopened and blood soaked through the bandage and flowed all over his hand.
The carriage turned around the corner and drove into a quiet street.
There were only two families’ mansions on this street. After passing the dilapidated house of the Xia family, the carriage stopped at the main entrance of Qi Mansion.
Xia Xun couldn’t stand the dull atmosphere in the carriage and jumped down without waiting for it to stop.
Qi Yan wanted to help him, hurriedly stretching out his hand, his fingertips brushing over Xia Xun’s sleeve.
Qi Hui did not go to help Xia Xun but took a few steps forward and carefully held Qi Yan’s arm, so that he got off the car without swaying in the slightest.
Beyond the stone lions by Qi Mansion, the gates of Xia Mansion were clearly visible.
The wooden beams at the Xia family’s main gate were cracked and peeling, covered with cobwebs.
There was a seal on the door, the ink completely faded, so it was impossible to see what was written there.
Xia Xun looked at the door of his home and asked Qi Yan:
“I heard that Your Majesty gave you a new residence, so why do you still live here? My house is so decayed, are you not afraid of affecting the feng shui of your house?”
Qi Yan’s figure froze.
Xia Xun continued: “Or do you look at the abandoned Xia Mansion every day and recall your previous feats?”
Qi Yan hadn’t said anything yet but Qi Hui couldn’t hold back.
“Young Master, you are wrong to blame my lord! You don’t know! You don’t know how my lord survived these years——”
Qi Yan raised his hand and forbade him to say any more.
Xia Xun looked away: “No matter how difficult life in the capital is, can it be more sad than life in exile?”
Qi Hui wanted to say something but was held back by Qi Yan.
Unwilling to argue with Xia Xun, he walked up the steps.
Xia Xun turned around and faced the Qi family mansion that looked no different from seven years ago. He didn’t want to go in.
Seeing that he was slow to move, Qi Yan stopped at the top of the steps and said to him:
“You should know that He Cong now entered the court as an official and achieved the sixth rank. He is married and has a son and a daughter.”
Xia Xun didn’t understand what he meant: “So what?”
Qi Yan told him: “If you want him to live a peaceful life, don’t meet him again and don’t go out of the house to walk around.”
As dumb as Xia Xun was, he could recognize the threat.
He snorted coldly, brushed his sleeves, strode around Qi Yan and walked into Qi Mansion.
Early the next morning, someone knocked on his door. It was the maid from yesterday.
Yesterday, Xia Xun used the opportunity to leave when she was sent away with an excuse. He wondered if she was punished by Qi Yan.
He thought for a while and asked, “What’s your name?”
She replied with a smile:
“This slave is called Zhi Gui. I was specially sent by my lord to serve Young Master.”
Zhi Gui was here to bring him breakfast.
As the dishes were laid out one by one, Xia Xun felt more and more irritated.
The dishes he ate a few extra bites of yesterday were here again today; the ones he didn’t touch were not served.
His every move was watched by Zhi Gui. She was observing his likes and dislikes, always trying to figure out the meaning behind his actions.
This was her duty as a servant, and presumably… it was also Qi Yan’s order.
She was called a servant, but she was actually monitoring him.
And all the results of her observations would be reported to Qi Yan.
Xia Xun’s mood suddenly turned extremely bad, and he put down the chopsticks he had just picked up.
“I can’t eat when someone is staring at me.”
He tried his best to control his tone and not to sound too aggressive. He knew that he was resentful.
Zhi Gui just followed the orders, there was nothing wrong with it.
Hearing his words, she immediately apologized and retreated outside the house.
However, this time she stopped at the door and refused to go further.
On the table, the lentil porridge exuded a seductive aroma.
Xia Xun scooped up a spoonful and put it in his mouth, chewing with interest.
But he was full of worries and couldn’t feel the taste at all. It was a waste of food.
He thought back of the days when he and his eldest brother were in Lingnan, toiling in the rice field for months in the fierce sun to grow a small handful of rice.
Neither of them could bear to eat it, so they put it all in the rice jar.
Who knew that the climate in Douzhou was too humid, and the rice developed mildew within a few days.
Looking at the white fur growing out of the rice, the brothers didn’t dare to eat it and threw it away with the jar.
Right now, he could eat good refined rice, but it felt tasteless.
Xia Xun smiled at himself and shook his head.
There was a lively movement outside the courtyard. Before he had time to raise his eyes, he heard a woman’s sweet, clear laughter coming from somewhere.
He asked Zhi Gui: “Are there any female relatives in the mansion?”
Zhi Gui was startled and said:
“No, there are no women in my lord’s mansion except for the maidservants. The person who came is the fifth young lady of the Duke of Zhangning County’s family. Her name is Chen Jingyin.”