Ji Shuhan was not ready to give up. “Please, Prince, I beg you to consider the fact that I have been a functionary for this many years. Please make this an exception.”
“I have thought of you wrongly, Ji Shuhan. To think that you would dare say something like that. I ought to correct the way you and your family think.” Jing Rong turned around and ordered, “Bring him to the yamen now.”
Jing Rong’s bodyguard dragged Ji Yuanzhi against his struggles into the thin rain, towards the yamen.
Chaos reigned in the Ji family, some were crying, others knelt down, and the rest were still stricken by bafflement.
Ji Shuhan smashed the ground in frustration. He was angry at Ji Yuanzhi, but also at the cold-bloodedness of Jing Rong and his daughter.
Ji Muqing was unable to hold it in anymore. She sobbed and raised her teary eyes to look at Ji Yunshu, “Luan’er was but a lowly maid, it matters little if she dies. Besides, she was sold to the Ji Mansion as a child, so we ought to have the final say over her life. Third Brother might be unreasonable, but he didn’t kill her with his own hands; she hung herself. You can’t put the blame on him just like that.”
‘A pathetic clown she is. Eager to make her presence noticed at every opportunity. I have but the strongest of dislike and the deepest of disdain for people like her. What does she seek? A way to display her own superiority through the misfortune of others?’
Ji Yunshu glanced at her scornfully and answered, “Is the knife the sole weapon of the murderer?”
“But he did it for you, if it wasn’t for him, you would still be in jail right now.”
“On this you are wrong; he did it for you. He did it for the prestige of the Ji family. He did it so you can become a princely concubine.”
Ji Muqing could not find a retort to Ji Yunshu’s words.
Ji Wanxin pulled on her arm lightly and said, “Elder Sister, Third Brother is in the wrong for this.”
“...You!” Ji Muqing was seized with anger. She turned to the side and was about to hit Ji Wanxin. She had barely raised her hand when Jing Rong’s caught hold of her wrist and pushed her into the sandalwood chair on the side.
“Elder sister,” Ji Wanxin looked worried. She approached Ji Muqing, but had barely grazed her sleeve before the latter pushed her away and cried, “Get away!”
Perhaps it was it due to her frailty, she lost her balance and fell back into Jing Rong’s arm. She raised her head and her eyes collided with Jing Rong’s frosty irises. Ji Wanxin bit her lips and a flush climbed up her face. She lingered until she felt a pair of hands - Jing Rong’s, pushing her from the back, and she sensibly decided to back away. She kept her head lowered and remained silent; nobody seemed to have noticed this small detail.
The flame of anger within Ji Yunshu’s heart, which had been concealed until now, until Ji Yuanzhi was brought to the yamen, finally ignited and now burned fiercely within her heart. ‘Don’t worry, Luan’er, I will make them pay for every single bit of it.’
Old Madame Ji was whimpering with her hands on her chest. She called out to Ji Yunshu, “Yuanzhi was your third brother, how could you be so cruel?”
‘How could I be so cruel? I’ll show you how cruel I can get.’ Ji Yunshu swept across the hall with a saddened look and said with a low voice, “When I saw Luan’er’s corpse, my sadness was many folds superior to the one you are feeling right now. I died of hunger five years ago in the West Side courtyard. When I woke up, the only person I saw was Luan’er. She was only eleven years old and wore nothing but a thin robe on her to protect her against the biting cold of the winter. Nevertheless, she gave everything she had to me. For the last few years, she’s been the only one to keep me company; I’ve come to see her as my own sister. You, on the contrary, would still let me die despite the same blood flowing through our veins just because I was a bastard child. This is the only love you’ve bestowed upon me. This cruel treatment, colder than a winter night.”
Ji Yunshu’s every word resonated within the minds of her family. Jing Rong’s heart ached at the learning of such a difficult past in her own home; he did not know any of it before.
Ji Shuhan shook his head in an exasperated frustration. “So you bore that hatred for this long.”
“Yes, I did, I remembered all the cruel treatment you have subjected me to.” Ji Yunshu no longer felt the need to hide it. Her brows suddenly took on an air of sharpened knives as she confronted him, “Do you remember when you whipped Ji Pei thirty times? Do you remember the words he said as he laid in a pool of his own blood?”
Ji Shuhan froze at the mention of the question; everyone else followed.
This name was a taboo for two years: no one had ever mentioned it, and no one was ever to be allowed to do so.
“Shut up! I forbid you to talk about it!” Ji Shuhan bellowed.
Each word came out of Ji Yunshu’s mouth slowly. “He said, ‘close are the bonds; thin is the blood. Today you are my father; tomorrow you shalt be my slave.’”
“Quiet!” This time it was Old Madame Ji.
“He is dead, you hear me? Dead!” She smashed the desk energetically.
‘Dead? Yes… I saw Ji Pei die with my very eyes, I saw his body carried out of the Ji Mansion. Dead with not a single corner of his body left intact; whipped to death by thirty lashes.’
Ji Yunshu’s lips quirked into a bitter smile. “He’s not dead. He mustn't have died. I searched that hill upside down and still, I couldn’t find his body. He told me that he would come back after two years.” She sounded irrevocably certain of herself, enough so to make everyone wonder at the reason.
Ji Yunshu resumed her expression of coldness, turned around and left the Ji Mansion without turning back even once. She plodded into the thin rain with an unusual determination. She took the front gate, just as she did when she entered the mansion.
Jing Rong caught up to her before she could realize it and extended an umbrella over her head in silence. He simply walked by her, not asking any questions, despite his interest being piqued by this new Ji Pei.
Ji Yunshu headed for the Memorial Hall, and she arrived just when Fu Bo finished putting Luan’er’s corpse into an old, tattered coffin. He mumbled something about burying her in a place with a nice Fengshui. Ji Yunshu eyes were slowly losing their focus as she stared at the object, and she uttered words of thanks and nodded her head.
She removed her hairpin and placed it into the coffin. “Luan’er, please rest in peace. May you live happier and better in your next lifetime.”
The coffin was sealed, and Ji Yunshu bid farewell to Luan’er by burning a stick of incense.
She stood under the roof of the entrance to the Memorial Hall with her head raised, looking at the dripping of rainwater as it ran down the eaves, just like sand in an hourglass. Jing Rong kept her company; he looked at her slowly unclenching brows and felt the same relief for the worry which preoccupied his heart. He dared not disturb her.
Ji Yunshu was as tranquil as a painting and cleaner than the rainwater who had yet to touch the ground.
For a moment, Jing Rong earnestly wished that he had not been born in the royal family. He longed for a simpler existence amongst common people, one devoid of the calculations and schemings for the sake of the throne. What joy would it be, to share every sunrise and admire each sunset with the one he loved!
After a long time, Ji Yunshu finally shifted her eyes from the corner of the roof to somewhere in the raining distance.
She narrated, with a dispirited voice, “He’s called Ji Pei. He’s an orphan my second brother brought back from the battlefield.”
Grenn's Rants Corner
More about Ji Pei, the emotional knot in Ji Yunshu's heart.