Chen Jingyin was young; her face so white that it was almost transparent, and when the sun shone, Xia Xun could see the thin blue veins under her skin.
Her cheeks were scarlet, but her gaze was firm.
Xia Xun did not have the heart to tell her the truth.
He hadn’t told Chen Jingyin that Qi Yan couldn’t have guessed the full picture of what had happened just from some conversation between the girls.
Even if he could figure out that Chen Jingyin had been framed, he had no way of knowing the exact details, so how could he know that the thing Chen Jingyin had in the wooden box was the flower hairpin made for her eldest sister’s wedding?
Duke Chen was his political enemy, someone he was going to get rid of at the emperor’s behest, and he had probably planted spies in Chen Mansion long ago, knowing the Chen family’s recent situation like the back of his hand.
Even his appearance in front of Chen Jingyin might have been planned beforehand.
He had an ulterior motive for approaching Chen Jingyin and saving her.
Just like… he did with Xia Xun in the first place.
He had also saved Xia Xun.
Ever since the emperor appointed a deputy, Xia Hongxi’s mood was getting more and more irritable. He was always worried that his use of the water transportation for personal gain would be discovered, so he was on tenterhooks.
Lady Xia was also very worried.
One day, she summoned Xia Xing and asked him if he was willing to share his father’s worries.
Xia Xing appeared to be eager.
“Of course! If we don’t dispel His Majesty’s doubts, how can our Xia family have a good life in the future? I’m at my wits’ end! Does Mother have any advice?”
Lady Xia was calm and precise in her words.
“It is not difficult at all to dispel His Majesty’s suspicions. As long as His Majesty’s suspicions are proved, all our troubles will disappear!”
Xia Xing was appalled.
“Mother, what are you talking about?! Using official ships for profit is a serious crime! Not only will Father lose his head, but the lives of all of us will be lost! How can Mother一”
Lady Xia glared at him.
“Do you take me for a fool or a lunatic? Don’t I know these things? I said the suspicions are proved, not your father’s guilt!”
Xia Xing thought for a moment and then realized.
“Mother means… find a scapegoat?”
“Exactly! Not only that, if this person is connected to the Xia family, your father will have to find him out himself! It is only by exterminating his own family that he will appear to be righteous! Better yet, if this person is dead, he would not be able to dispute the evidence!”
Xia Shou was worried again, his brow furrowed.
“Where can we find such a person?”
Lady Xia said softly: “We have a ready-made one in our house, don’t we?”
Xia Shou was startled.
“Do you mean… Xia Xun?”
Lady Xia’s plan was simple: to find a way to kill Xia Xun, then put all the blame on him, claiming that he had used his identity as Xia Hongxi’s son to secretly collude with the officials of the water transportation department and commit a number of crimes.
Sensing that His Majesty suspected him and began an investigation, ashamed of his crimes, he committed suicide.
In this way, he would be sacrificed to save the entire Xia family.
Xia Xun was not favoured and had no friends, no one would speak up for him and no one would really care whether he lived or died.
Xia Xing pondered.
“This is indeed a good idea, but… how easy is it to kill someone? And how to do it unnoticed?”
Lady Xia had a good idea and asked Xia Xing:
“The other day, didn’t you go to his place and make a fuss about taking his maid as a concubine? I heard that he strongly disagreed and had a fight with you, and even burned his hand?”
Xia Xing smacked his lips in discontent and said:
“Yes! I threw all his rotten wood into the fire! Who knew he was such a fool that he would stick his hand into the brazier? Do you think he’s out of his mind?”
Lady Xia whispered: “We can just use this matter to get rid of him quietly…”
That afternoon, Xia Xun was teaching Shaobo to read and write.
Shaobo couldn’t read a word and was slow to learn, and after many days of Xia Xun painstakingly teaching her, she hadn’t even learned to write her own name.
When Xia Xun tried to criticise her, she looked so pitiful that he could not say a word.
He scratched his head and sighed.
“Ugh… forget it! Let’s learn it tomorrow!”
Shaobo threw the brush away as if she was granted a pardon.
“My hands are sore from writing!”
It was at this moment that Xia Xing barged in with a group of his subordinates.
As soon as he entered, without saying another word, he told his men to smash everything in sight.
There were no precious objects in Xia Xun’s room, so they came straight to grab the inkstone on the table.
Xia Xun picked up Yuzhu, pulled Shaobo closer to him and retreated, standing under a tree. Shaobo tried to stop them but was told to stay put.
“Let them smash it, let’s just watch the fun! I don’t believe that Xia Xing, that good-for-nothing bastard, will do anything else but smash my things!”
Normally, if Xia Xing had heard Xia Xun’s ridicule, he would have been furious.
Today he behaved very differently. Instead of getting angry when he heard Xia Xun’s words, he even smiled at him.
“You’re right! I’m good for nothing! But I can really do something else besides smashing things!”
He wandered up to them and said brazenly. “I can have a concubine, too! Today, I will take Shaobo away!”
He suddenly grabbed Shaobo and pulled her from behind Xia Xun like a chicken.
Xia Xun punched him in the face. “Are you done? I’ll fight you if you want to!”
Xia Xing let go of Shaobo’s hand and she immediately fled behind Xia Xun.
Xia Xing wiped away the blood from his nose but didn’t fight back.
He said coldly:
“Xia Xun, Father promised me that from today onwards, Shaobo is my woman. I won’t bother with you if you hit me but do you want to disobey Father’s order?”
Xia Xun scolded:
“Bullshit! I don’t believe it! Unless Father himself tells me!”
In fact, he already believed it in his heart.
Xia Hongxi doted on Xia Xing and would do anything he asked; so as long as Xia Xing asked, there was no way he wouldn’t say yes.
Shaobo was the most insignificant servant girl in the house, Xia Hongxi probably didn’t even know who she was. Not to mention being a concubine to Xia Xing, he wouldn’t even care if she died.
The room was all smashed, and Xia Xing’s servants came out to stand in a line behind Xia Xing.
Xia Xun protected Shaobo, but he didn’t know how much longer he could do so.
Xia Xingd looked at his hands and said carelessly:
“Actually, I don’t have to have Shaobo. I can consider letting her go if you do one thing for me.”
Xia Xun glared at him fiercely:
“Would you be so kind? I don’t believe you!”
Xia Xing smiled grimly.
“Don’t rush, I haven’t said yet what I want you to do! If you listened, you wouldn’t say I was being kind.”
He lifted his chin, and several of his men returned to the room, carried out the brazier and placed it in the courtyard.
Xia Xing casually took off a jade pendant from his waist and said to Xia Xun:
“This jade pendant of mine is covered in gold, I knocked it a few days ago and it’s missing a corner. I was thinking of taking it to repair but since you’re here, please do me a favour and repair it for me.”
Xia Xun looked at him warily.
“Is it that simple?”
Xia Xin shook his head and said wistfully:
“Of course not! Although I have never done any lowly craft work, I do know that gold requires a charcoal fire to melt it before it can be shaped.”
With a lift of his hand, he threw the jade pendant into the brazier and the flame immediately engulfed it.
Xia Xing added: “How can such a little fire melt the gold? Someone!”
He hooked his finger and his men brought in several baskets of charcoal and poured them all into the fire.
The fire burst into flames rising several feet high, so big that even from a distance Xia Xun could feel the heat.
The brazier that weighed ten pounds was glowing red from the fire, and Xia Xing’s jade pendant was buried deep under the coals, long out of sight.
Xia Xingd smiled fiercely and said:
“I don’t need you to repair it for me either. As long as you can pick my jade pendant out of the fire, I promise never to touch your Shaobo! But you must do it with your hand, not with tools!”
Shaobo fell limp to the ground.
Without much thought, Xia Xun asked seriously:
“Do you mean what you say?”
Shaobo hugged his legs.
“No! Please, little master, don’t! Your hand will burn! You have a lot of stuff to do! You promised to give Master Qi—”
Xia Xun touched her hand so that she didn’t say anything else.
Xia Xing patted his chest and assured him. “Of course! As long as you can pick it up, I’ll never touch Shaobo again in this life! I won’t even set foot in your courtyard again!”
Xia Xun pulled Shaobo’s arms away and slowly walked over to the brazier.
Shaobo collapsed to the ground, unable to make a sound.
Xia Xun rolled up his sleeve, took a deep breath and plunged his left hand into the hot coals.
He struggled against the heat that was coming to his face, moving pieces of charcoal away with his bare hand to find the jade pendant.
The air was instantly filled with the unpleasant smell of roasting meat, while Xia Xun’s fingers visibly thinned, skin and muscles slowly shrivelling and clinging to his finger bones as they were burned by the fire.
Xia Xun’s forehead was covered in sweat and his body trembled in pain.
But he did not pause in his movements. With the searing heat coming to his face, he did not flinch, staring unblinkingly into the fire until the corner of the jade pendant came into view.
He grabbed it and flung it to the ground.
“That’ll do, won’t it?!”
He breathed heavily, his gaze like a torch as he glared at Xia Xing.
Xia Xing laughed out loud as he clapped his palms.
“Well, well! You’ve got a backbone! Let’s go!”
He turned and left without looking at the jade pendant that Xia Xun had tried so hard to retrieve.
Not only did Xia Xing take his subordinates with him, but all the servants in Xia Xun’s courtyard followed him without a backward glance.
The courtyard door slammed shut behind them and Xia Xun fell to the ground with a thud, holding up his misshapen left hand.
Shaobo burst out in a heartbreaking scream, stumbled to her feet and staggered to the door to go find a doctor.
But the door was locked from the outside and could not be opened.
Shaobo hammered on the door repeatedly.
“Open the door! Open the door! My little master is dying! He needs a doctor!”
No matter how loudly she begged or cursed, the gatekeeper did not move.
Her palms were bleeding, but the door didn’t open.
Shaobo screamed so hard that she nearly fainted.
No one comforted her, not even Xia Xun, who could no longer open his eyes.
After an unknown amount of time, Shaobo got tired of crying, sobbed and stood up, then staggered over to Xia Xun and carried him on her back.
Xia Xun was taller than her, so when Shaobo carried him, his legs still dragged on the ground.
Xia Xun’s weight pressed down on her and her knees creaked unbearably with every step she took. Gritting her teeth, she carried Xia Xun into the house and placed him on the bed.
Now she and Yuzhu were the only ones left standing in the courtyard.
Wiping away her tears, she rushed out of the room and ran along the courtyard walls.
Every one of the four walls was too high for her, she couldn’t climb them. She rushed to the back door but it was also locked and guarded by a servant.
Shaobo took off all her jewellery and handed it out through the door, hoping that the man guarding the door would let her out to find the doctor.
The servant took her things but did not open the door for her.
Shaobo was so angry that she cursed at him, but the man just ignored her and stood outside the door humming a little song.
Tired of cursing, Shaobo returned to the house in shame.
Her little master’s injuries were so frightening and the smell of burnt flesh in the room was so strong that she dared not even look at his left hand.
Yuzhu stood by the bed, not even wagging his tail.
Shaobo stood, gasping for a moment, and then suddenly thought of something
She knelt down, cupped the dog’s face and asked: “Yuzhu, do you still remember the way to Master Qi’s house?”
As if he understood, Yuzhu barked at her.
Shaobo gave him a reassuring smile.
“Good boy, little master’s life depends on you.”