The girls flocked over to pick up Shaobo, who, with her face still wet with tears, shouted quickly:
“Do not come over! Everyone out! Close the door, no one is allowed to come near!”
When everyone retreated as ordered and the door was closed tightly, Xia Xun picked her up and sat her down on the couch.
Shaobo clutched his arm, too excited to control herself.
Xia Xun looked around and said with relief:
“It seems you are doing well. The decorations in this room are even more opulent than in the former Xia Mansion, and those people have been disciplined by you so well that no one dares to disobey a single word from you.”
Then he carefully examined her face.
“And you have grown so beautiful. You’ve become a real beauty.”
Shaobo, with tears in her eyes, raised her hand and gently brushed Xia Xun’s face, then spread his left hand for a closer look.
“Little Master has not changed… is still so thin, and his hand… has not grown… well,” she said, the tears that had just stopped rolling down her face again. “But, Little Master, everyone said you died in exile, how did you… how did you survive?”
Xia Xun told her as briefly as he could:
“I, together with my big brother Xia Wen, got out by faking our deaths, changed our names and lived in Lingnan all these years. And you? How come you became an embroideress?”
Shaobo dried her tears with a handkerchief and said:
“This slave almost died back then. But I was determined to avenge Little Master and crawled out from the grave.”
Seven years ago, Shaobo, like most of the servants in Xia Mansion, after a month of house arrest in Xia Mansion was sent to prison.
They, a group of underlings without status, naturally could not be sent to the imperial prison of the Judicial Review Court, and men and women together, all went down to the capital city prison.
The annual funding for the city prison from the imperial court was not much, and now dozens of prisoners were imprisoned at once. The head of the prison calculated the costs; just to feed these people would swallow a large sum of money.
He deliberated for a short while and simply cut off the food for these people. If they starved to death in prison, anyway, they were just some guilty slaves, who cared about their lives.
In this way, Shaobo, who did not have a drop of water for several days, fainted from hunger in the cell.
The head of the prison thought she was dead. She was put in a cart together with the rest of the people who died and thrown to the mass grave outside the city, buried under a heap of gravel.
Fortunately, that night, heavy rain fell from the sky and drops of water trickled between the gravel, hitting Shaobo’s face.
Shaobo was so thirsty that she licked the rain on her lips instinctively.
In the pouring rain, she regained consciousness several times and fainted several times again, but one thought in her mind kept her from dying:
—She wanted to kill Qi Yan and avenge Xia Xun.
In prison, she heard people say that Xia Xun had died halfway, not even reaching exile, and the one whose fault it was could only be Qi Yan.
Hatred gave her strength; she took advantage of the little bit of rain that fell on her lips to finally come to her senses.
She pushed away the gravel with her bare hands, even though the sharp edges of the stones cut her palms.
Under the curtain woven by the rain, she escaped from the pile of dead people buried in the crushed rocks.
She ran forward recklessly, until she was stopped by a stream. She was so thirsty that she rushed to the stream and knelt down, drinking from the stream like an animal.
She was unkempt and ragged. She appeared in the mountains among thunder and lightning, looking like a female ghost of a recently deceased, shocking a peasant woman who walked up to the stream.
Hearing footsteps, Shaobo immediately turned her head: “Who is there?!”
“Aigoo, scared me to death!” The peasant woman repeatedly patted her chest: “I thought I had met a ghost! Luckily, it is a living person who can talk! Little girl, why are you here in the middle of the night? And why are you in such a mess?”
Shaobo did not answer.
The peasant woman kindly offered:
“Why don’t you come to my house? At least I can give you a change of clothes. Look at you, your skirt is torn into rags!”
Shaobo did not say yes; her mind was wandering until finally she said:
“…big sister, do you have a knife?”
The peasant woman looked at the firewood basket behind her back.
“There is a woodcutting knife, but it is too dull, not good!”
Shaobo asked her, “Can you give it to me?”
The peasant woman saw that she was young and thin, so she probably would not be able to harm her. She also saw that her eyes were full of sorrow and realized that something must have happened to her. Without saying a word, she took out the woodcutting knife and threw it a bit farther away.
Shaobo picked up the knife, said “thank you”, and walked along the stream towards the capital.
The peasant woman thought she was strange.
“Forget it, why bother with other people’s business. The rain is getting heavier, so it’s better to go home as soon as possible.”
She wrapped herself in her straw raincoat tightly and walked in the opposite direction.
Shaobo, drenched in rain and holding the knife, walked all night long.
When she saw the city gate, the rain stopped, and she looked like a real lunatic.
Her face was hidden under her messy hair; rainwater and mud soaked her torn skirt. She had not eaten for several days, her face was deathly pale and she was holding a long rusty knife in her hand.
The guards at the city gates did not dare to question her for fear of being chopped up by her knife, and once it was the time to open the gate, she was immediately let in.
Shaobo was so hungry that her vision was going dark and bright alternatively; there was no single conscious thought in her mind and her feet were moving, relying only on instinct.
Her body firmly remembered the location of Xia Mansion, just as it remembered where Qi Yan’s home was.
She hobbled and staggered along the streets and knocked on Qi Yan’s door at dawn.
The door was opened by Qi Hui, who did not even recognize Shaobo at first, but when he finally realized that she was Xia Xun’s servant girl, he immediately closed the door.
Shaobo shoved the handle of her knife into the door and tried to push her way through.
When Qi Hui stopped her from entering, Shaobo shouted:
“Qi Yan! Come out! Give me back my little master—!”
Qi Hui hurriedly covered her mouth.
“Quiet! The lord is recovering from a serious illness and cannot bear such a fuss! If you have anything to say, come at me!”
Shaobo raised her knife and was about to cut his hand. Qi Hui was shocked. As soon as his hand loosened, she took advantage of the gap and rushed directly into the courtyard.
When Qi Yan heard the shout, he got up from his bed and walked to the door slowly.
When the news of Xia Xun’s death reached him, he had a sudden heart attack and was very ill for ten days, having the strength to stand up only in the past two days.
His hair was scattered over his shoulders, his eyes sunken and his face looking no better than Shaobo’s.
Shaobo saw him and stood still for a moment, then held the knife with both hands and walked straight towards him.
Qi Yan did not dodge, met her gaze and stepped over the threshold.
Qi Hui appeared in a hurry and was about to hold Shaobo down when Qi Yan said softly:
“Qi Hui, let her go.”
Qi Hui did not dare to disobey and ran to Qi Yan’s side again, shielding him.
“Shaobo, if you really want to kill someone, kill me! Don’t touch my lord! Xia Hongxi was the one who owed him in the first place!”
“If Xia Hongxi has done something wrong, what does it have to do with my little master?! Why— why did you kill him?!”
Qi Hui painfully explained, “My lord never wanted to kill Young Master Xia, he did it to save him—”
Shaobo choked with anger: “Shut up! You think I will believe your bullsh*t!!!”
Qi Yan said in a cold voice:
“Qi Hui, back off.”
Qi Hui refused, “My lord, go back and lie down! Your health—!”
Qi Yan took a few steps forward and pushed Qi Hui away.
“I said, stand down.”
Qi Hui gritted his teeth and finally retreated half a step.
Step by step, Shaobo walked up to Qi Yan, until they were so close that if Shaobo swung hard enough, the foot-long wood chopping knife would cut Qi Yan’s neck.
But she was too weak, she was panting like a dying old cow, and had no strength to swing the knife.
She drained her last bit of strength to raise the knife, trembling, and slashed down.
The blade did not hurt Qi Yan, just landed softly on his shoulder.
Shaobo was frozen in this position, panting and repeating:
“Where is my little master…? Give me back my little master…”
Qi Yan gripped the blade and placed it against his heart.
“Do it, Shaobo, I’m not going to resist. My heart is hurting too much, so I might as well give it to you.”
Shaobo was clearly doing her best, she felt she was putting in a lot of effort, but the wood chopping knife just rested loosely against Qi Yan’s clothes, not advancing even an inch.
She realized that she had no more strength.
Her vision went black; she could no longer lift the knife and it clattered, falling on the ground, while she also fell forward, on Qi Yan.
Qi Yan’s weak body could not support her, and the two fell to the ground together, unconscious.
When Shaobo opened her eyes, she was no longer in Qi Yan’s courtyard; she propped herself up and looked around.
She was in a beautifully decorated room and her tattered clothes had been replaced with new ones.
Only one candle was lit in the room, its light dim.
In the corner where the candlelight did not reach, Qi Yan was sitting, staring forward, his eyes dazed and unfocused.
Shaobo sat up and felt a violent bout of dizziness. She clutched her forehead, resisting the urge to dry heave, and slowly lay back down.
Qi Yan’s eyes moved and his gaze found her face.
“…You’re awake? Your clothes were changed by the embroideress here, I have nothing to do with it… You can stay here from now on, the owner of the embroidery workshop promised to teach you embroidery. When you learn the skill, you will be able to support yourself.”
Shaobo swallowed the acid that flooded her stomach and said in a hateful voice:
“No need for you… to be a good man!”
Qi Yan did not seem to hear, his eyes looking hollow in the darkness.
“You can’t be called Shaobo in the future either, you need to change your name.”
“Never! This name was given to me by my little master! It’s the last thing he left me!”
Qi Yan was shaken, and for a moment there were tears in his eyes:.
“The last thing…? But he did not leave me anything… what can I do…”
Shaobo’s eyes were hot and her heart was aching too much for her to speak.
After a long time, Qi Yan said gloomily:
“Change it, otherwise you won’t survive in the capital. If anyone knows your identity, I’m afraid you will be in danger… Shaobo… harmonious wave… twilight spring beauty, wind and clouds, gleaming reflection of waves in sunlight, the lake in spring that looks like foggy jasper, how about… you will be called Raobi, swirling blue jade…”
Seven years later, in the embroidery workshop, Shaobo said to Xia Xun:
“This is the origin of the name Raobi.”
“It is very nice.” Xia Xun said gently as he tucked away the loosened strands of her hair, “Very nice, such a name is only worthy of you.”
“I don’t like this name because it was given to me by Qi Yan, but I like this name because it is related to your original intention of naming me Shaobo.”
She turned her head sideways and gently pressed her cheek against Xia Xun’s palm, saying with sadness:
“Little Master’s hand has become so rough, but it’s still… as warm as always.”