Lihua returned with someone else’s support. Seeing the crowd that gathered in the dining hall, her heart sank into a deep well of panic. The empress dowager rushed to her and asked, “Are you alright, Lihua?”
Lihua nodded and said worriedly, “This servant is alright, but has something happened to Consort Lin?”
“Why were you knocked out?” Yang Shaolun glared at her with blazing eyes. “Shouldn’t you stick to Consort Lin’s side?”
She’s sick and pregnant with a child, dammit! What would happen to her if she was kidnapped?
Yang Hanlun went up to shake Lihua by the shoulders, his eyes red. “Where is she? She’s pregnant! Why haven’t you been keeping an eye on her?”
His heart pounded painfully in fear, which didn’t happen even when she disappeared the last time. This time, however, he felt as if the sky was falling.
Yang Hanlun’s revelation hit the empress dowager hard, and she blacked out then and there, collapsing to the floor. Chaos ensued. Defu went off to summon an imperial physician, but all of them were on leave. Only a few practitioners were on shift. Yang Shaolun hurriedly sent out Zheng Feng to find some imperial physicians. Everyone had lost their calm and ran around helplessly like a swarm of headless flies. Chen Luoqing had long left with an army of guards, and Wangchen had gone off to search for the missing person with a large group of men.
The second prince and Xiao Jueran left the palace in a hurry to divert more manpower. Yamen was under the prince’s command. He made the order for the four exits of the capital to be blocked off. Anyone coming and going would have to be checked thoroughly. In their anxiety and fear, they failed to notice the slight smile on Chen Birou’s face.
Tears streamed down Lihua’s face. She tried her best to stop herself from wailing. “Consort Lin had some soup and threw everything up. This servant was scared and wanted to find her some help, but Consort Lin didn’t want to scare the empress dowager and asked this servant to fetch her a bowl of milk to fill her stomach. This servant followed her order at once. When passing the fake mountain, someone called out for this servant, and this servant was knocked in the back of the head as soon as I turned around. This servant didn’t know what happened then!”
She knelt on the floor, filled with heavy guilt. She would throw her life away if something happened to the empress dowager!
Yang Shaolun felt a dagger twisting in his heart. She was hungry. She hadn’t eaten anything today. He had told her to have two bowls of rice every meal. Why didn’t she listen? He would punish her once she returned.
Where are you, Lin Haihai? He wanted nothing but to rush out and look for her, but what about Imperial Mother?
“Go,” the empress told Yang Shaolun. “Hanlun and I will stay here. It’s fine!”
Yang Shaolun gave his brother a conflicted look, silently telling him to take care of Imperial Mother. His gaze hit Yang Hanlun like a physical blow. His imperial elder brother’s eyes were shrouded by such despair!
Yang Shaolun flew out of the palace with Xiao Yuan close behind him. Don’t be afraid, Xiao’hai. I will follow you through life and death!
While the capital was scrambling to find one person, the horse carriage had long left the city, heading toward Yangzhou. The rider followed the eunuch’s instructions closely and made haste to sell Lin Haihai to a brothel. Worried that Lin Haihai might regain consciousness too soon, he had knocked her out with medicine again. Usually, Lin Haihai would’ve regained her power in a few hours, but this time she remained unconscious even after two days of arduous travel in the horse carriage.
Once they crossed the border of Yang, the horse carriage went straight to the most famous brothel in the province - Nestling Beauty. The procuress of Nestling Beauty was a woman who maintained her charm despite being in her forties.
The procuress inspected Lin Haihai. Even in deep slumber, her beauty was visible for all to see. The procuress nodded in approval and said calmly, “How much?”
“A thousand silvers!” responded the carriage rider.
The procuress scoffed. “Five hundred silvers! Take it and leave her!”
She wasn’t so inexperienced that she wouldn’t notice the signs of the victim’s nobility. The dress the woman was wearing alone cost a great fortune. Such commodities often came with trouble. Losing some money was merely the least serious of the possible outcome. Worst case scenario, she might bring destruction and death to the procuress.
Someone as beautiful as this woman would earn the procuress a great deal of silvers, though, and she was a risk-taker when profit was concerned. Thankfully she had someone powerful protecting her. She could make any trouble go away as long as the victims weren’t some royalties from the palace.
The carriage rider frowned. “This is a woman of the highest class. She’s worth more than that!”
The procuress scoffed. “When I, Mother Qin, say she’s worth five hundred, that is what she is worth. You may take her away if you wish, but do you think there will be any other brothels in the area that will take in someone even I don’t dare accept?”
She wasn’t exaggerating. Among the brothels in Yangzhou, Mother Qin was famous for her iron fist. The women working under her resented and feared her. There was some sort of relationship between her and the local government. Whenever someone started trouble in Nestling Beauty, they would be arrested without any question asked. In the end, they all ended up kowtowing to Mother Qin to beg for mercy. No brothel in the city would dare take anyone Mother Qin had turned away!
“Since you’re so generous,” the rider bit out, “Five hundred it is then!”
A faint smile broke through Mother Qin’s icy mask. “Big Head, take him to the treasury for his payment!”
In came a tall and burly man, telling the carriage rider to go with him. The rider cracked a smile and told Mother Qin, “Thank you, Mother Qin! Thank you!” Then he went with the burly man.
Lin Haihai didn’t know how long she had been unconscious. When she finally came to, she was momentarily lost about the situation she was in. She was in an extremely luxurious room, but at the same time it was completely tasteless. Pink canopy, offensively red silk blanket. There was a screen with the drawing of an alluring, half-naked woman, next to which was a big round table with a bouquet of fresh flowers on it.
Lin Haihai rose and got off the bed. When her feet came into contact with the cold floor, a shudder ran down her spine as realization hit. This place looked just like the brothels she had seen on television. Had Chen Birou sold her to a brothel?
The door was pushed open. Then a middle-aged woman entered. She was still attractive. It was clear how beautiful she must have been in her youth. Following behind her was a group of burly men. Their thuggishness and tremendous strength were on full display.
Mother Qin chuckled at the confused Lin Haihai. “You must be wondering where you are.”
Lin Haihai shook her head. “This is a brothel!”
There was no need for her to ask. The woman must be the procuress here!
Mother Qin paused, surprised that she could guess it. The woman’s composure was another surprise. “Why aren’t you crying or struggling?”
“Why should I? I’m not going to be a prostitute. Let me go!” Lin Haihai frowned. Were there women forced to become prostitutes in the ancient times?
Mother Qin laughed with mocking eyes. “Do you think I’ll let you go? This is a brothel, and you are someone I bought. You will be earning a fortune for me from now on!”
Lin Haihai stared at her. “You’re making me sell my body through force? That’s illegal!”
Mother Qin sat down and calmly met Lin Haihai’s gaze. “There’s nothing I won’t do in Yangzhou. Illegal? Do I look like I care?”
Yangzhou? Lin Haihai was stunned. Is there a Yangzhou City in ancient times, or have I transmigrated again? Hurriedly, she asked, “Is this Daxing?”
Mother Qin frowned. She hoped she hadn’t bought a lunatic. She gave Lin Haihai a onceover and said, “This is Daxing, and we’re in Yangzhou, a few hundreds kilometers away from the capital. Do you really not know what dynasty it is?”
A few hundred kilometers? Then it’ll take two or three days to travel from the capital! This is bad. If I’ve been missing for so long, the capital must be in chaos!
Lin Haihai stomped and was about to dash outside. Mother Qing growled, “Stop her!”
The burly men got into Lin Haihai’s way. One of them cackled and said, “I suggest you stop struggling, and you’ll spare yourself a world of pain!”
Lin Haihai glared at Mother Qin. “I have a husband! How much did you pay for me? I’ll pay you twice as much!”
“You’re married? What a waste. I’ve paid the price for a virgin courtesan. Teach her thoroughly today, Big Head. We’ll have her seeing customers tonight!”
Mother Qin’s expression darkened, her eyes frosty. If she wasn’t a virgin, she should learn how to please their customers!
With that, she turned to leave the room after giving the burly men a loaded glance. Without missing a beat, the men advanced upon Lin Haihai with threatening faces. Lin Haihai was furious. What was this, a television show? She glared at the men coldly and demanded, “It’s far from the first time you force women into prostitution, am I right?”
The leading man laughed. “The disobedient ones in Nestling Beauty all fell victim to me and my brothers. I suggest you surrender yourself. It’ll be much less painful!”
“Are all the women here forced to sell their bodies?” Lin Haihai’s eyes shone icily. If that was the case, they deserved whatever she would do to them!
“Cut the crap. Brothers, let’s enjoy the woman thoroughly!”
Another man marched toward Lin Haihai with a repulsive smile. Lin Haihai raised her right hand and struck all of them across the face like lightning. Disgusting. Slapping them made her hand dirty!
The men were stunned. They could barely see Lin Haihai’s lightning fast movement zipping among them. It was only when their faces began to hurt that they realized they had been hit. She must be a martial artist!
“Tell Mother Qin to return!” demanded Lin Haihai.
The burly men looked at her in fear. Her presence was more formidable than Mother Qin’s!
“It seems that you aren’t completely powerless, but even the strongest ones will yield once they enter Nestling Beauty!” Mother Qin walked slowly into the room. She had been staying outside the door, watching everything unfold.
“You’re the procuress, aren’t you?” Lin Haihai smiled faintly. “Release all the women in the brothel, or I’ll tear down this establishment!”
“Summon Sir Chu, Big Head!” Mother Qin sneered. “Tearing this place down? I’d like to see you try!”
Big Head rushed out in a flash. Lin Haihai was starving. She hadn’t eaten anything the past couple days. How did she get here anyway? She looked around and found nothing to eat in the room. There was water on the table, though. She quickly poured herself a cup.
Mother Qin stared at her. Who was she exactly? She didn’t look afraid at all. In fact, she looked completely at home. Was she from some impressive background?
Lin Haihai crossed her legs leisurely. There was no changing the fact that she had ended up in a brothel. She might as well rescue all the women here. Then at least something good would come out of this mess!
1. Yicui, literally translated as nestling/leaning/snuggling emerald, is a euphemism for canoodling/having sex with women/prostitutes. Cui, which can refer to the dark green makeup used by women in ancient times as brow liners, can refer to beautiful women or prostitutes.