In the middle of the night, Xia Xun woke up.
He opened his eyes and was stunned for a long time before he remembered where he was.
The fire had already been extinguished and the cave was pitch black.
He calmed down. His sleep was not restful, but he didn’t actually feel cold.
Then the moonlight filtered through the clouds, shining into the cave.
In the faint light, he saw Qi Yan’s face only a few inches away from him.
He was so shocked that he immediately sat up. It turned out that he had been lying on Qi Yan’s arm just now.
It was because of his body heat that Xia Xun didn’t feel cold.
Qi Yan seemed to be disturbed. Although he didn’t wake up, he stretched out his arm instinctively and hugged Xia Xun’s waist firmly.
“Xia Xun, don’t go…”
Xia Xun stiffened and let him hold him until he fell asleep again and the arm around his waist gradually loosened.
He moved Qi Yan’s arm away and put it aside, looking at his face involuntarily.
Qi Yan was very thin, much thinner than when Xia Xun first met him.
Even when he was asleep, there was a heavy layer of depression floating between his eyebrows, as if he was unable to sleep peacefully.
There was a deep furrow between his brows, visible even when he didn’t frown.
Xia Xun didn’t understand.
He had avenged his great hatred and was promoted to an official and given a title. He should have been proud of his success and radiant with delight.
Why was he so sad?
He Cong already had two children and even his eldest brother was married, but Qi Yan was still a bachelor.
He moved, as if to reach and hug Xia Xun again.
Xia Xun got up and lay down farther away from him.
He turned his back to Qi Yan, shook his head and stopped thinking about him.
Using his own arm as a pillow, Xia Xun drifted off to sleep again.
It was the sound of birds that woke him up.
There was a bird with a strange voice in the nearby forest and it began to chirp before dawn.
There were many of them, their chirping coming from all directions.
Xia Xun sat up, blinked, and his mind gradually became clear.
He was alone in the cave and could hear faint voices outside. He pushed away the robe Qi Yan had covered him with, got up and walked out.
The carriage of Qi Mansion already stopped outside the cave and Qi Hui was talking to Qi Yan about something.
His demeanor was very solemn, and Qi Yan also listened seriously.
Xia Xun took a step in their direction and accidentally stepped on something that hurt his foot.
He picked it up and saw that it was tassels from a jade pendant on a red string.
The string was bright and eye-catching, not faded at all. It could not have fallen here a long time ago.
Qi Yan would not use a string of this color, so it could not be his.
It meant that, apart from the two of them, there were others who had passed by here last night.
Xia Xun felt strange, but when he raised his eyes, he suddenly saw a jade pendant on Qi Hui’s waist.
——The piece of jade was still there, but the string and the tassels under the jade were gone.
He paused, slow to react.
He walked towards them with the tassels.
Seeing Xia Xun, Qi Hui immediately shut up and bowed to salute him.
Qi Yan turned his head, saw that it was him and opened his mouth to say something.
Xia Xun ignored him, raised the tassels and asked：
“Qi Hui, is it yours?”
Qi Hui looked at it and then at his belt.
“It seems… it’s really gone! How could it – how can Young Master have it?”
Xia Xun said, “I picked it up.”
Qi Hui thanked him and wanted to take it.
Xia Xun didn’t give it.
“Qi Hui, when did you find this place?”
Qi Hui replied confidently:
“Earlier today, I led people to search this place and saw footprints on the ground. Along the footprints, I found the lord and you in the cave. ”
Xia Xun asked again：
“When did the rain stop last night?”
Qi Hui told him that it rained intermittently for a while, and stopped late at night.
Xia Xun put the tassel in his hand：
“So… you found us last night, right?”
Qi Hui pretended to be surprised：
“Why does Young Master say that? This subordinate only arrived this morning. ”
Xia Xun looked at the ground and said leisurely：
“It rained for a short while last night and the soil on the ground is almost dry, but your tassels are wet and even stained with soil. If you arrived this morning, how could it be wet? How could there be wet soil? ”
Qi Hui was taken aback, speechless for a while.
Qi Yan finally spoke：
“When did your eyesight become so good?”
Xia Xun ignored him and persistently asked Qi Hui：
“You found this cave last night, why did you come to pick us up only this morning? ”
Qi Hui glanced at Qi Yan, made up his mind and said：
“Young Master doesn’t know, but yesterday ——”
Qi Yan interrupted him:
“It was my order. I wanted to stay alone with you for a while and made them come back at dawn. Don’t blame him, blame me if you want.”
When he spoke, Qi Hui stopped speaking.
Xia Xun sneered coldly:
“I can’t understand your master and servant games. I just didn’t expect that Lord Zhongshu had such refined tastes? Liking to eat and sleep in the open? If there is such an opportunity next time, don’t take me with you!”
He bypassed the two of them and got straight into the carriage.
Qi Yan said a few words to Qi Hui and soon also sat in.
On the way back to the city, Qi Yan was uncharacteristically silent, not saying a word to Xia Xun, nor explaining anything to him.
He looked out the window all the way, deep in thoughts.
When the carriage arrived at Qi Mansion, Xia Xun jumped out but Qi Yan didn’t move.
“I have something else to do, you go back first and have a good rest.”
He instructed Zhi Gui to look after him carefully and left in the carriage, taking Qi Hui with him.
Xia Xun didn’t sleep well last night. When he returned to his rooms, he felt sore and chilly all over.
Zhi Gui immediately asked someone to bring a bowl of ginger soup. After Xia Xun took a few sips, Yuzhu rushed over and put his paws on his knees, begging to be picked up.
When Xia Xun hugged him and put him on his lap, he curled up and lay down.
His breathing still carried a ragged, raspy sound. Xia Xun touched his back and he turned over, exposing his belly.
In the afternoon Yuzhu slept soundly, snoring so loudly that he couldn’t be pushed awake.
At night, he became energetic, running around the room, constantly changing places.
At first he decided to lie down on the footrest in front of Xia Xun’s bed, but after lying down for a while, he stood up again, sniffed his way to the door and finally crawled behind it before he was satisfied.
He didn’t plan to sleep either, lying with his head on his paws, his eyes wide open in a daze.
At the third quarter of xushi (7-9 p.m.), when Zhi Gui entered the room to blow out the candles, Qi Yan hadn’t returned yet and Yuzhu hadn’t fallen asleep yet.
Xia Xun was lying on the bed, watching Zhi Gui put down the bed curtain. His eyelids were getting heavier and heavier, and before he knew it, he fell asleep.
While half dreaming and half awake, he vaguely heard some movement in the room.
He thought it was Yuzhu who wanted to go out and was using his paws to open the door, but he didn’t pay much attention.
After a while, he heard a faint sound of footsteps approaching softly, so it had to be Qi Yan.
He didn’t want to look at him, closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep.
The sound of footsteps stopped in front of the bed, followed by the sound of rustling clothes and then the sound of the bed curtain being lifted.
Xia Xun’s eyelids were closed but he could feel a faint light, as if Qi Yan was shining something on his face.
He suddenly opened his eyes.
He did not see Qi Yan, but directly confronted a pair of light brown eyes.
The owner of the eyes, masked, was holding up a small night pearl in front of his face, identifying his features in the darkness. (night pearl/luminous pearl, a sphere of a rare kind of glow-in-the-dark fluorite)
The man was dressed in black and a few strands of brown curly hair peeked out from the edge of the mask.
It was not Qi Yan! It was – a Hu man?! (ethnic group in the north and west of China in ancient times, mainly nomads on the Eurasian steppe)
Xia Xun sat up abruptly and questioned sharply:
“Who are you?!”
The man didn’t panic at all and his eyes looking at Xia Xun curved.
Xia Xun was startled. He was actually smiling at him under his mask.
He shouted loudly: “Someone——!”
The Hu man raised his index finger and put it on Xia Xun’s mouth:
“Hush… don’t scream, did I make a mistake? Didn’t you leave this thing?”
He took out a piece of cloth and put it in Xia Xun’s palm.
Xia Xun paused.
He tore this piece of cloth from his belt.
After waking up in the cave this morning, he thought about it and felt that Qi Yan was behaving strangely.
From his insistence on taking him out of the carriage and going for a walk, to his determination to stay in the cave, every decision was clashing with his usual style.
At first, Xia Xun thought that he hadn’t seen Qi Yan for so many years that he didn’t know him anymore. Perhaps after a lapse of seven years, he was no longer the Qi Yan he knew.
Maybe he just liked hiking in the countryside, or maybe he just wanted to sleep in a cave on a whim.
Xia Xun said to himself that he thought too much.
It wasn’t until he picked up Qi Hui’s tassels that he realized that Qi Yan’s unorthodox behavior must have had other meanings.
He recalled Qi Yan’s every move that was weird inside and out.
Once Xia Xun thought carefully, he realized that all of that started when Qi Yan glanced out of the carriage window.
Xia Xun guessed that he might have seen something.
He probably didn’t know the purpose of the men who followed him, but he must have thought that the men knew his carriage, so he deliberately separated from Qi Hui and asked Qi Hui to go on while he took Xia Xun to walk the forest path.
Could it be the one who hid the note in the pastry?
By the time Xia Xun figured out what was going on, he was already standing in front of Qi Yan and Qi Hui. He had no time to think further, so he pretended to be angry and asked Qi Hui when his tassels had fallen off.
While the attention of the master and the servant was distracted by his question, he used his sleeve as a cover to secretly tear off a piece of cloth from his belt and throw it far behind him.
His belt was dark green, with black Hui patterns on it.
Different from the ordinary Hui pattern, the Hui pattern on his belt was embroidered in the opposite direction in the upper half of the belt.
Xia Xun was taking a blind bet.
He betted that his guess was not wrong and he also betted that the man who followed Qi Yan was nearby.
If that man was there, he would definitely notice Xia Xun’s movements.
If he came to search nearby after Qi Yan left and found the sign left by Xia Xun, he would know that Xia Xun was trying to contact him.
That night, in the main house of Qi Mansion, Xia Xun looked at the Hu man who broke in and raised his eyebrows:
“On the way to Wuyuan, was it you Qi Yan saw? Were you following him?”
The Hu man didn’t answer his question, just said:
“You are very smart, what is your connection with Qi Yan?”
He spoke the official language so well that you couldn’t hear the accent unless you listened carefully.
“It should be my turn to ask.” Xia Xun looked at him vigilantly: “Why did you follow Qi Yan and break into Qi Mansion at night?”
The Hu man thought for a while and then suddenly changed to a particularly sincere tone, saying heartily:
“Why? Of course I did it for you! Although I don’t know what relationship you have with Qi Yan, I don’t think you are his ally, otherwise you wouldn’t find a way to leave a sign for me. So what now? Shall I take you away?”
Xia Xun remained unaffected:
“If you don’t tell the truth, I’ll call someone. ”
The Hu man waved his hand again and again:
“Don’t! If my words are not enough for you to trust me, it’s fine. I will give you something. ”
He took out a small medicine bottle from his belt and threw it to Xia Xun.
Xia Xun caught it.
“What is this? ”
The Hu man announced proudly:
“It’s my special incense, just a little bit of it will knock out a room full of people! If you give it to Qi Yan, he’ll be so drunk he won’t even wake up from a hailstorm! Then you can run away if you want to, but if you want to kill him, you can stab him to death! How’s that? Am I sincere enough?”
Xia Xun pretended to think.
“——it’s not impossible, it’s just…”
He moved his lips without making a sound.
The Hu man took a few steps closer and asked:
“What are you saying? Speak louder.”
Xia Xun said, “I mean——”
He didn’t finish speaking. While the Hu man was close, Xia Xun grabbed the night pearl in his hand and threw it out the window with as much force as he could.
The night pearl fell onto the outer porch with a crisp cracking sound.
Xia Xun shouted:
“Someone! There are assassins!!!”
His voice alarmed Yuzhu, who got up and looked around vigilantly.
The Hu man suddenly drew a short sword from his boot, its sharp blade catching the dim light.
Yuzhu was instantly alert, let out a low growl, baring his teeth, and rushed towards the man with a roar.
Undaunted, the Hu man raised the sword high and turned to meet the dog’s attack.
Horrified, Xia Xun got up with a start. He was in too much of a hurry to watch his step and tripped over the low hanging bed curtain, falling heavily to the floor.
The fall was so hard that he felt dizzy and his vision turned black.
He didn’t have time to recover. He rolled over and crawled on his hands and knees, rushing to Yuzhu in a daze and shielding him behind his back.