Mother Qin’s viciousness infuriated Lin Haihai, but she had to admire them for their devotion for each other. She looked at Mother Qin and said, “Gather whatever money you have and give it to the girls!”
Mother Qin immediately rushed out of the door and told Big Head, “Go, tell the bookkeeper to take all my money here and summon the girls to the room!”
Big Head left to carry out her order. Not long after, the bookkeeper came, followed by a large group of timid women. They were all wearing heavy makeup, but traces of quiet dignity remained in their eyes. Most of them were women from clean backgrounds who had been kidnapped and sold into prostitutiton, forced to sell their bodies for money.
Mother Qin ordered the bookkeeper, “Calculate my total asset and split it equally to the girls. Don’t leave out any silver!”
The bookkeeper was stunned. The women, even more so. They couldn’t believe their ears.
“Do it!” growled Mother Qin, her eyes shining with wild abandon. She turned back to Lin Haihai. “I’m giving my money to them. Let Zijun go. I’ll be yours to deal with!”
The bookkeeper immediately took out his abacus and started calculating in vigor. Once he was done, Lin Haihai shifted her gaze and said, “Give them the money now. Girls, I know you’ve been kidnapped here. Take the money and go start a business in the countryside or buy a house to settle down in. You should stay far away from Yangzhou from now on!”
The women dropped to their knees and bawled. Their only hope while working in Nestling Beauty was for Mother Qin to let them go once they had lost their beauty in old age. Freedom was more precious to them than anything!
Chu Zijun looked at the pain on their faces. The miseries they had suffered were too great to put into words. He had known what Xiao’qin did was wrong, but the gravity of her wrongdoing became unbearable when he was seeing it with his own eyes.
Some of them were pure-hearted girls from the countryside. Some were young mistresses from wealthy families. Others were impoverished girls from humble backgrounds. All of them had been kidnapped here.
He knew. He knew what she had been doing, and yet he provided her protection, allowing her to victimize the once young and beautiful girls until they became weathered women with stilted smiles. How could he, an accomplice, ever rid himself of his guilt?
The women took their shares of silvers. They straightened their backs and looked at Lin Haihai before kneeling down in gratitude. Lin Haihai hurriedly helped them up and said, “I know you’ve been forced into this life. Take the money and go. Go back to your family!”
The women bowed to her again before taking their leaves.
Lin Haihai turned to the girl she had rescued from the fat man. “Why are you still here?”
The girl suddenly dropped down to her knees. “This peasant Yu Suqiu greets Consort Lin!”
“Yu Suqiu?” Lin Haihai didn’t recognize the name.
“This peasant’s cousin is an imperial physician in the capital,” said Yu Suqiu. “He’s become Princess Consort’s disciple!”
“You’re Chen Hanshen’s cousin?” Lin Haihai blurted out in surprise. “You’re the fiance he’s waiting for to get married in the capital?”
“That’s right. Cousin hired armed carriers to escort me to the capital, but we ran into bandits halfway there, and we were all caught. That was how I ended up here. I wonder what happened to the carriers.” Yu Suqiu sobbed. She would never forget the experience.
Lin Haihai shot to her feet. Fate sure worked in a mysterious way. Now she was glad that Chen Birou had sold her to this brothel. Otherwise, Suqiu would’ve ended up as another victim.
After a pensive moment, Lin Haihai asked Chu Zijun, “Is there a bandit den in the area, Sir Chu?”
Chu Zijun’s eyes darkened, and his expression grew serious. “I eliminated those thieves last month with my men. Some of them survived and fled to the mountains more than a dozen kilometers away from the city. I didn’t expect them to return to their old habit and get into human trafficking!”
“You’ll have a chance to make up for your crimes,” Lin Haihai said seriously. “Deal with those surviving bandits and rescue the carriers!”
Chu Zijun looked at Lin Haihai with pleading eyes. “This lowly official won’t disappoint Princess Consort, but would Princess Consort please grant this lowly official a request before departure?”
Lin Haihai knew what he wanted to say. “Wait til you’re back. I’m not going to do anything to her in the meantime.”
“Thank you, Princess Consort!” He rose to his feet and gave Mother Qin a meaningful look. There seemed to be a myriad of thoughts he couldn’t put into words in his eyes.
Face covered in tears, Mother Qin whispered, “Be careful!”
He nodded and turned to leave.
Lin Haihai sighed inwardly at the pain and regret on Mother Qin’s face. If she had learned to cherish her lover earlier, none of this would have happened today!
“Do you know that you’ve dragged him into a great mess, Mother Qin?” Lin Haihai said ruefully. “He had a bright future ahead, but you took that away from him!”
Mother Qin knelt down in despair. “Please save him, Princess Consort. I had stopped him from pursuing happiness in youth. He ended up an unmarried man who never had a child. I owe him a lot. Now, I’ve implicated him with the great crimes I committed. There’s no paying the debt in this lifetime!”
She broke down in tears, lying prone on the floor overwhelmed with emotions. “Kill me, Princess Consort, and please have mercy for him! Have him fight for the nation! That’s what he’s been dreaming of his whole life. He wanted to fight on battlefields. Because of me, he was unable to spread his wings and pursue his calling. It’s all because of me!”
“That’ll be for His Majesty to decide. I can only promise you to put in a few words for him. Perhaps His Majesty will give him a chance for the sake of Old General Xie!” The old general had lived his life with unbending integrity. He would be furious and saddened if he knew what happened.
“Thank you, Princess Consort!” Mother Qin’s eyes shone with gratitude. To think that she had resented the princess consort just a moment ago!
“But you can’t be spared from your crimes, Mother Qin. Otherwise, His Majesty will lose his credibility as a ruler!” She was saying that for her own benefit. She must not break the rules because she pitied Mother Qin.
“I wouldn’t dream of it. I’ll be content as long as he gets out of this mess unscathed!” Mother Qin smiled wistfully. Her crinkling eyes exuded such sadness that Lin Haihai couldn’t help being moved.
She fell silent. One should be punished for their wrongdoings. No sob stories could justify the harm done to other people!
Ci’an Palace, Imperial City
The empress dowager woke up to find half of her body paralyzed. Yang Saholun and Yang Hanlun stayed close by her side. She widened her dim eyes and asked, “Have you found her yet?”
Yang Shaolun managed a smile. “This son has ordered everyone in the city to look for her. She will be found soon. Don’t worry!”
The empress dowager stared at him. “Find her no matter what you have to do. Promise this Empress Dowager!”
“This son promises to get her back!” Yang Shaolun choked up. It’d been three days and three nights. It was as if she had disappeared from the world. There had been no clues about her whereabouts.
The empress dowager let out a long sigh and said, “You should leave for now, my son. I have things to say to your sixth brother!”
Yang Shaolun gave Yang Hanlun a bitter look. His brother looked no less worried than he was. He nodded and slowly walked out of the room.
Yang Hanlun met his mother’s gaze and asked quietly, “What is it, Imperial Mother?”
The empress dowager held his eyes for a long while before saying, “If Yuguan returns, would you be willing to let her go to your Imperial Elder Brother?”
Yang Hanlun was stunned. He gaped at his mother and said with difficulty, “Imperial Mother, did you...”
The empress dowager sighed. “Your Imperial Elder Brother can’t hide his feelings from me. He’d never fallen in love with anyone before. His inexperience in matters of the heart made him love passively, with great difficulty and resignation. This Empress Dowager has been there before. Of course I would notice.”
“In the beginning, this Empress Dowager was furious as well, but I began to see their relationship as what it was. I knew they had struggled because of you. They hesitated and even broke up. This Empress Dowager’s heart broke for them as an observer.”
“You abandoned Yuguan first, my son. You were the one to send her away and cause her to commit suicide. She left your residence and found the man she loved. Why couldn’t you give her your blessings with a smile?”
She wasn’t a fool, and she had in fact been the one with the clearest eyes. Shao’er had visited her with a cup of tea late at night, and he looked like he had fallen suddenly into a chilling pit when he saw the princess consort staying with her wasn’t Yuguan. The empress dowager knew her child too well to miss it.
“You knew, Imperial Mother?” Yang Hanlun’s heart clenched. That’s right, I cast her aside first. I’m in no place to complain!
“This Empress Dowager knows. They are fated to be together. Remember the ring? You lost it in the past, and it ended up on Yuguan’s finger. She couldn’t remove it no matter how hard she tried. That ring was our forefather’s gift to Shao’er. He was meant to give it to his future bride!”
The empress dowager persuaded him from both the rational and sentimental angles. Yang Hanlun looked up at her with a lost look before determination quickly overtook his gaze. “I promise you, Imperial Mother. I will let her go to Imperial Elder Brother should she return safely!”
Even if she served Prince Pingnan, he would do everything he could to make her break free of the man!
“You must support your Imperial Elder Brother, my son. We’re facing both internal and external threats, which leaves him with a world of concerns. Yuguan going missing now only makes things worse for him!” The empress dowager weakly reached out with the hand that could still move. Yang Hanlun hurriedly caught it. “This Empress Dowager only hopes for you and your brothers to fight enemies together. Then this Empress Dowager will be able to pass away in peace!”
Two drops of tears streamed down her face. She worried for her two sons, and she worried for Yuguan.
“Don’t say that, Imperial Mother. You’ll be alright!” Yang Hanlun tightened his grip around her hand in panic, his voice caught in his throat. “I will support Imperial Elder Brother, and I will give them my blessings! But I wish for you to stay by my side, Imperial Mother. I can’t live without you!”
He was the younger brother, and he had always been dependent on his mother. He couldn’t imagine a world without her!
“Silly boy, Imperial Mother can’t stay with you forever!”
Quietly, the empress dowager prayed, If you can hear me, God, I’m willing to exchange my life for my daughter-in-law’s!
Yang Shaolun’s heart burned with worry. Time passed quietly, and they still heard nothing about Lin Haihai. She was ill. She was pregnant with a child. She said she was hungry and wanted some milk. She never had her milk before getting kidnapped. Were her kidnappers hard on her? Was she calling out for him in fear? She was hungry. Was she given any food? Was it food she could stomach?
Where are you, Xiao’hai? Where are you? Yang Shaolun looked up at the sky with tears stinging his eyes and nose. It felt as if someone had cut his heart into a thousand pieces!Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Dun dun duuuun! She knew!
Would be nice if she had talked some sense into Yang Hanlun earlier