Xia Xun was lying on his bed, his forehead burning.
His hand ached, or rather his whole left side ached.
It was as if his body had been split in two, one half placed in the fire and scorched by the blazing flames, while the other half lay on the bed, held tightly by Shaobo.
Shaobo sat on the footrest, holding Xun’s right arm, changing the wet towel on his forehead so many times that the water from it soaked Xia Xun’s hair and dripped on the bedding.
Shaobo kept patting the back of his hand, telling him that it was all right, that someone would soon come to save him and that he would soon stop hurting.
In fact, Xia Xun didn’t cry out in pain; he didn’t even make a sound. He endured the pain in silence, just like he had done so many times before.
He hoped the grinding pain would pass soon, so he gritted his teeth and tried not to say anything.
Shaobo patted him for a while, and when she saw that he was still in pain, she was distressed and tears began to well up in her eyes again.
She had lost her parents at a very young age and had never been coaxed by anyone or cared for.
She didn’t know what else she could do to ease Xia Xun’s pain.
She shed a few silent tears and suddenly remembered something hidden deep in her memory.
It was the only memory of her mother that she had.
She was very young at the time; she seemed to be ill and was held in her mother’s arms.
Her mother was gently rocking her while singing a song to coax her.
What she sang was probably a children’s song of the Hu people.
Shaobo could not remember the lyrics, but vaguely remembered the melody.
She knelt down on Xia Xun’s bed and, following her mother’s example, took Xia Xun’s head in her arms and hummed the song gently.
Her voice was out of tune and her breath was uneven, but it was the last thing she could think of.
No, it wasn’t right.
She wiped the tears from her eyes.
She had another idea.
It was because Xia Xun didn’t agree with Xia Xing taking her as a concubine, so he tried his best to protect her. If she went to Xia Xing and said she was willing to be his concubine, Xia Xing might be able to let her find a doctor.
This thought in Shaobo’s mind grew stronger and stronger.
She thought, if Qi Yan didn’t come now, it might be too late. She couldn’t wait any longer.
Since she was a child, Xia Xun had been the best person for her.
For him, she would do anything.
She carefully put Xia Xun down, jumped from the bed, ran to the mirror and reluctantly freshened up.
It was raining heavily outside, the sky splitting with lightning and shaking with thunder, but she was oblivious to the rain and rushed to the courtyard gate.
“Open the door! Open the door! I’m going to find the second young master! Open the door!”
No matter how loudly she knocked on the door, no one answered.
Shaobo looked through the door and saw that the guard who had been standing outside was no longer there.
Her heart racing, she shouted: “How can there be no one there? How can there be no one there? Someone open the door for me! Somebody open the door! Open the door!”
She called out several times, but no one answered. As she became anxious, she suddenly saw the guard.
It turned out that the man had not gone far away but had fallen to the ground, his figure blocked by the threshold, so Shaobo did not see him at once.
Shaobo was shocked and frightened.
“Is that—? Wake up! Wake up, you! Get up and open the door for me! My little master is dying!!!”
A familiar voice suddenly reached her:
“Shaobo, stand back, I’m going to break down this door.”
—It was Qi Yan!
Overjoyed, Shaobo hurriedly backed away and stumbled, falling on her buttocks.
She couldn’t care less about the pain and crawled backwards on her hands and knees to make room for Qi Yan.
With a loud clang, the locked courtyard door burst open and Qi Yan appeared in front of her with Qi Hui and the steward, like a divine soldier descending from heaven.
Shaobo burst into tears.
“Master Qi! You have come at last!”
The three men were dressed in straw raincoats, with black masks covering their mouths and noses, revealing only their eyes.
Led by the steward, they entered Xia Mansion through a side door and found their way to Xia Xun’s courtyard.
Thanks to Xia Hongxi, there were not many people left in the house, so their journey was unhindered.
The guard outside the courtyard gate was knocked unconscious by them; Qi Yan had hoped to find a key on him to unlock the door.
He groped all over his body and could not find it.
The steward reminded him that there was a back door to the courtyard, which was also guarded, so they might as well take care of the man first not to let him start the alarm and cause more trouble. He also might have had the key.
They ran along the wall to the back door, but there was no one there; the original guard had probably followed Xia Hongxi into the mountains.
They did not stop and quickly returned to the front door.
In a nearby garden, Qi Hui found a sturdy log used for a fence, and the three of them used it to break down the door.
Qi Yan asked Shaobo sharply:
“There’s no time to talk, where’s Xia Xun?”
Shaobo replied: “Just inside the house! He’s badly hurt!”
Without looking back, Qi Yan rushed in: “I know! Why else would I be here?”
He ran to Xia Xun’s bed, stunned by the horrific burns on his hand.
However, he quickly regained his composure, discarded the straw raincoat that was in the way, picked up Xia Xun and rushed out of the house.
Shaobo followed close behind him.
Qi Hui entered the room, kicked over the wardrobe, pushed over the candlesticks, dropped some tea cups and took out a sack and dumped all the valuable things on the antique shelf into it.
He had to make it look like a thief had entered the house so that the steward could tell the story later.
Qi Yan was already outside the courtyard. He talked to the steward, telling him to stay put tonight and report to the authorities in the morning, saying that thieves had broken into the house and took away all the valuable things, also taking away Xia Xun.
The steward was still a little apprehensive.
“But… I always thought that Xia Hongxi was not that easy to fool, in case一”
Qi Yan carried Xia Xun on his back, stepping into the rain without any hesitation.
“You can rest assured that when Xia Hongxi returns, he will definitely have no time to worry about Xia Xun!”
Shaobo and Qi Hui followed him, all together disappearing into the depths of the night.
Xia Xun looked at his left hand, gradually coming back from his memories.
His burns had healed and he had kept his life, but his left hand had been burned so badly that after it healed, the skin on his palm had shrunk so tightly that for a long time his fingers could only remain in a curled position, unable to straighten.
But after he arrived in Lingnan, he did many, many jobs to stay alive that often needed him to use his left hand.
Over time, his skin slowly stretched and his fingers were finally able to straighten.
Still, his hand became very unsightly, covered with hideous scars; he had much less strength in it than in his right hand and could not do fine work.
So, for many years now, he had refrained from carving small figurines out of wood.
It was clearly his favorite hobby when he was a child, but now he could no longer do it.
While Xia Xun was dazed, Chen Jingyin had already left and returned to her room.
It was just as well, because Xia Xun had something to tell Qi Yan.
He entered his room.
Qi Yan was talking to Qi Hui about something, but Xia Xun interrupted them, asking straightforwardly: “What do you plan to do with Duke Chen?”
Qi Yan was startled, waved his hand, told Qi Hui to go out first, then turned to Xia Xun and said:
“It’s not what I plan to do with him, it’s up to His Majesty to decide whether he should be convicted. The will of the Son of Heaven is unpredictable, and I have no right to interfere.”
Xia Xun said: “Then let me ask it differently. If His Majesty wants to dispose of Duke Chen, what will happen to his children? Especially… what will happen to Chen Jingyin?”
Qi Yan looked up at him, the expression in his eyes unfathomable.
He did not answer directly but only said, “Duke Chen has committed a great crime.”
Xia Xun asked relentlessly, “A greater crime than my father’s?”
Qi Yan said, word for word: “A far greater crime than Xia Hongxi’s.”
Xia Xuan murmured in a low voice: “Then Chen Jingyin will never escape the sentence. She likes you so much, unfortunately… have you thought of a way out for her…?”
Qi Yan’s face sank and his eyes suddenly narrowed.
“No.” He enunciated every word very hard, “I also do not care about her affection.”
Xia Xun was silent.
Qi Yan closed his eyes and breathed deeply.
“I have never hesitated while doing anything. I have never considered my own safety, let alone others’. The only time in my life I have acted cautiously was all for the sake of—”
He closed his mouth and said no more.
Xia Xun shook his head unconsciously and asked with a sigh:
“There is a question I asked you before and you didn’t answer, now I’m asking you again… my second brother Xia Xing, did you kill him?”
Qi Yan’s harsh gaze shot at him.
Xia Xun averted his eyes and did not meet his gaze.
He thought Qi Yan would not answer.
Who knew that after a long silence, Qi Yan would admit.
Xia Xun looked up abruptly with an incredulous expression.
“Why? He was just a child when your parents died, so did you have a grudge against him too?”
Qi Yan’s expression was complicated, as if he had something difficult to say.
Xia Xun was stunned for a moment, then asked him:
“Are you going to tell me that you killed him for me?”
Qi Yan’s eyelashes fluttered.
The death of his parents had caused Qi Yan so much grief that he did not want to think about it.
His revenge against the Xia family was another insurmountable obsctacle between him and Xia Xun.
He had intended to bury this story in his heart and never speak of it again.
For the rest of his life, all he wanted to do was to make amends for Xia Xun. He didn’t dare to expect too much, he just wanted them to go back to the way they used to be.
He didn’t expect that one Chen Jingyin would appear halfway through.
Qi Yan knew why Xia Xun always mentioned her.
It was because she was so much like Xia Xun.
Qi Yan also thought so.
That was why he had come to her rescue in the first place.
All the love and affection he had felt in his life had vanished with Xia Xun’s death.
After his death, he felt that he was a paper-thin shell, barely alive because of his endless obsession and longing.
When Xia Xun came back to him, no one could understand his feelings.
A phrase like “lose something and regain it” was not enough to explain a single part of his state of mind.
Now, faced with Xia Xun, whose memories had been stirred up by Chen Jingyin, Qi Yan was determined.
After settling down, he spoke quietly:
“Not exactly, I would have killed him sooner or later, but because of you, I have moved his death forward.”
Xia Xun was not wrong, Xia Xing was still just a child when the Qi family suffered its demise.
Sometimes, children with evil intentions can do infernally bad things.
Back then, Xia Xing was such a little boy.
Qi Yan had an elder brother, and after their parents were framed and imprisoned, the two brothers had a chance to escape, but it was because of Xia Xing that they were captured again.
His brother died tragically, while Qi Yan survived.
At the mention of Xia Xing, fire burst out in Qi Yan’s eyes.
“Xia Xing was vicious when he was a child, and when he grew up he became even more vicious, capable of using such insidious tricks to hurt you so badly! Do you think I could have left him alive? I just hate that I let him die so easily!”
Xia Xun had never seen Qi Yan like this. His heart was full of anger, his chest seemed to be filled with endless bitterness and remorse that burned him day in and day out.
Xia Xun asked in a trance, “What did… Xia Xing do?”
His voice was trembling.