Qi Yan was half lying on the bed, looking weak and breathless like in the days when he had not yet recovered from his injuries.
Chen Jingyin looked at him worriedly, her face full of heartache: “I left the house in such a hurry that I didn’t bring any medicine with me! Did the doctor say what herbs are missing? I’m going to buy them for you! Ah, no… I don’t even have any silver with me…”
She looked downcast, but then perked up again.
“I still have my jewellery! I can trade it for herbs!”
“Miss Chen does not need to bother,” Qi Yan said gently. “I do not lack anything here. Please go back to the capital immediately, Duke Chen must be very worried about you.”
Chen Jingyin bit her lower lip, tears coming out of her eyes.
“Don’t worry about me, hurry up and get well! Looking at you now, it’s really…”
After a pause, she added.
“You don’t have to worry about my father either, I don’t know what kind of trouble he has encountered lately, but he is sulking all day long or hiding in his study and sighing. I can’t help him, and he doesn’t have time to think about me.”
Qi Yan said a few more words, while Xia Xun, unwilling to listen any longer, turned and left.
Xia Xun figured it out.
Qi Yan deliberately pretended to be weak just to arouse Chen Jingyin’s sympathy so that he could pry news of Duke Chen from her mouth.
He had done the same to Xia Xun before, hadn’t he?
With Qi Yan’s attention always on Xia Xun, he noticed him leaving at once. His eyes followed Xia Xun as he talked to Chen Jingyin.
It was only when Xia Xun disappeared from sight that Qi Yan reluctantly withdrew his gaze, slightly dazed, and only after Chen Jingyin called him several times did he come back to his senses.
Xia Xun escaped to the edge of the pond and stared at the goldfish in the water.
Zhi Gui followed him half a step behind, in a trance.
The two of them were each preoccupied with their own thoughts, neither of them speaking.
Not long afterwards, Chen Jingyin came out of Qi Yan’s room.
Qi Hui was taking her and the young man to the other side of the house to rest. When Chen Jingyin passed by Xia Xun, she walked straight towards him.
“Master Xia, I heard from Lord Qi that it was you who saved him from the assassins? You are so brave, I admire you so much!”
Xia Xun paused for a moment and said indifferently, “He lied to you.”
Chen Jingyin froze, not knowing how to respond.
Xia Xun picked up a few fallen leaves and threw them in the pond, causing the goldfish to peck at them.
He asked bluntly, “Why do you like Qi Yan? Because he’s good-looking?”
Chen Jingyin’s face flushed red.
She opened her mouth and stammered, wanting to say something but could not.
After a long time, she pulled herself together and said to Xia Xun, blushing:
“I’ll tell you, but don’t tell anyone else!”
Chen Jingyin was the daughter of Duke Chen’s concubine.
Unlike her sisters, born from his wife and having titles, she had nothing and could be considered at most a young lady from a wealthy family.
Duke Chen had many wives and concubines and many children, with only two daughters from his wife, but a large number of daughters from concubines.
The rivalry between these daughters began at an early age.
Chen Jingyin’s mother was not a high-ranking concubine, she was from an ordinary family, and she was a simple person with no bad intentions, so she was not considered a favourite in the family and no one was jealous of her.
Chen Jingyin was different.
She was beautiful since she was a child, and when she grew up, she was even more beautiful than her sisters born from the Duke’s wife. But those two had titles and were a cut above her, so they naturally didn’t pay attention to her.
Chen Jingyin had encountered a lot of open ridicule and secret harm.
She was generous and forgiving and never took such trivial matters to heart, nor was she angry or vindictive.
After a long time, everyone saw that she did not fight back and felt that it was boring to bully her, so they let her go.
A few months ago, though, she encountered a catastrophic incident.
When she was in a state of panic, it was Qi Yan who came to her rescue.
Chen Jingyin told the story.
“At that time my eldest sister was getting married to the empress’s nephew. My father ordered all the sisters to help sew her wedding dress and make her jewellery. I was assigned the task of making a flower hairpin. In fact, a craftsman had already made the base of the hairpin in solid gold, so all I had to do was make a few silk flowers and decorate it, and it was done.
“It was my first time on such a grand occasion, so I didn’t dare to be slow. I stayed up all night to make the prettiest flowers I could and took it to Lady Chen at dawn to show her. She was very pleased with it and praised my work as the best in the house, and even rewarded me with an unexpected box of pearls.
“Three days before my eldest sister’s wedding, it happened to be my father’s birthday. There was a big feast in the house. Many ladies came too, so as the host family, we naturally had to entertain them to the best of our ability. I accompanied Lady Chen and others to enjoy the flowers in the garden.”
After looking at the flowers for a while, some of Chen Jingyin’s concubine-born sisters suddenly mentioned the silk flowers she had made.
They said that her workmanship was exquisite and that the silk flowers she made were magnificent and of a style they had never seen before.
When the guests heard about it, they were very curious, so Lady Chen ordered Chen Jingyin to fetch the hairpin and show it to the audience for evaluation.
Chen Jingyin did not dare to disobey, so she went back to her room and carefully fetched the bride’s flower hairpin.
Clutching the wooden box containing the hairpin, she walked gingerly towards the garden, as if walking on thin ice.
Before she reached the garden gate, her sisters suddenly appeared in front of her, saying that there were butterflies on her head and that they wanted to chase them away for her.
Several of them surrounded her and kept swinging their fans over her head and whipping her hair with their handkerchiefs.
Chen Jingyin was very cautious; she panicked and dodged but she still begged them respectfully: “Good sisters! Stop messing with me! Watch out for the flower hairpin in my hands!”
However, her sisters became more aggressive, and not only did they not stop, they even started to pull her sleeves.
The wooden box in her hands fell to the ground with a clang as her grip loosened.
The bottom of the box cracked in half and the flower hairpin fell out, scattering silk flowers all over the ground. Even the golden hairpin base was damaged.
Her sisters turned pale and blamed Chen Jingyin, saying that she had ruined her eldest sister’s wedding and that she must have hated her eldest sister for a long time and had broken her flower hairpin on purpose.
One of them held Chen Jingyin’s arm, ready to escort her to Lady Chen for punishment.
Chen Jingyin was so frightened that she forgot her own name; she looked at the scattered silk flowers desperately, unresisting as she was dragged away by her sisters.
Just when the matter was about to be brought to everyone’s attention, a man’s voice suddenly reached them from the other side of the wall.
“I heard everything you did just now.”
The wall was taller than the man’s height, so the girls couldn’t see the face of the speaker, and after a brief moment of panic had passed, the leader of the group said:
“This is the inner courtyard! How dare you, a man and an outsider, trespass? I’ll have you tied up! I’ll have you tied up and sent to my father!”
The man was calm.
“You were so busy bullying your sister that you forgot to look at the road? Take a good look and see if this is the inner courtyard or not.”
Only then did the sisters bother to look around.
They had been so busy dragging Chen Jingyin along that they had walked into the outer courtyard without noticing.
The man spoke again.
“I don’t know why you want to frame her, but I can tell you that once Lady Chen finds out about this, she won’t let any one of you go. The Chen family’s eldest daughter is getting married to the empress’s nephew, a huge event, and you are stirring up trouble? Guess which one of you will be spared by the Chen family’s matriarch?”
The sisters only wanted to take the opportunity to teach Chen Jingyin a lesson and suppress her, and none of them had ever thought about the consequences of this matter.
All of them were dumbfounded by the man’s words; only now did they feel frightened. They looked at each other, not knowing what to do.
The man said indifferently, “There is nothing more for you here. As long as you keep your mouth shut, I will resolve it by myself.”
The sisters looked at each other and quickly reached a consensus. The culprit in this case was Chen Jingyin, so she was the one who should have taken the blame. With their minds made up, none of them made a sound, leaving Chen Jingyin behind and dispersing as if nothing had ever happened.
Chen Jingyin sat on the ground, unable even to cry.
When the man saw the rest of the group scatter, he appeared from behind the wall.
Chen Jingyin raised her eyes and said in surprise, “Lord Qi Yan? Why are you here?”
Qi Yan raised his eyebrows and asked, “Do you know me?”
Chen Jingyin nodded slightly, a little shy.
“I, I once met you… Lord Qi probably doesn’t remember.”
Qi Yan looked at her and then at the silk flowers on the ground. He did not ask her why she was bullied and just said:
“Listen, go to see Lady Chen later, say that the flower hairpin is your sister’s wedding crown, it is too valuable, so you thought about it and decided that it needed to be kept safe. This time you will not show it to the public, but during the wedding banquet in three days everyone will see it.”
Chen Jingyin said dully: “Even if I were to put it off today, it would be impossible for me to make a new one in three days….”
Qi Yan said calmly: “Have you ever heard of the embroideress Raobi?”
The silk flowers made by Raobi were the best in the capital.
When the empress was marrying the princess, she invited Raobi to the palace to make the silk flowers for her hairpin.
Such a person, naturally, Chen Jingyin had heard of her, so she nodded repeatedly.
Qi Yan said, “I will ask Raobi to make a new hairpin for you, and I will have it delivered to you within three days.”
Chen Jingyin could not believe it.
“But, but I have heard that she has an eccentric nature. If she does not like someone, she will not sell her embroidery even if she is offered a fortune.”
Qi Yan said indifferently, “I have some connections with her, she will help you.”
A few months later, in a small county office north of the capital, Chen Jingyin stood facing Xia Xun, her eyes burning.
She said to Xia Xun:
“Lord Qi kept his word. After only two days I received the flower hairpin made by Raobi. Her workmanship was far superior to mine, and I still remember those silk flowers vividly. It was from then on that I liked Lord Qi so much that… I can’t care about anything else!”