A few days later, Han Yunxi's family of three reached Ning Prefecture. She had brought along a bunch of presents to surprise Qin Min and Gu Beiyue. Long Feiye had no such interests and held Rui'er while stating coldly, "Rui'er and I will be at the teahouse at the end of the alley. If Gu Beiyue's free, he can come over for tea."
Han Yunxi would rather he stay away since none of her friends could relax with that giant iceberg around.
"Rui'er, remember not to drink too much tea. If you're hungry, tell your daddy," Han Yunxi instructed.
It wasn't good for little kids to drink tea, but Rui'er liked it after following Long Feiye for so long. If she hadn't stopped him, he'd drink tea at every meal!
Rui'er was riding on Long Feiye's shoulders when he nodded seriously. "Erchen obeys the decree!"
"Shh…!" Han Yunxi quickly shut him up. "If you expose us, you can go back to Yunning yourself!"
Rui'er giggled. He was only teasing his mother! Seeing him so mischievous, Han Yunxi felt helpless. If he's so naughty at two, what will happen when he grows up? Still, she liked Rui'er being more open with his personality and laughing more. It was better than being an ice-cold bore like Long Feiye!
With father and son gone, Han Yunxi turned towards the street and followed Xu Donglin's instructions to find Gu Beiyue and Qin Min's home. It was a modest-sized courtyard but still caught her eye since the outside walls were covered in green grape ivy despite the coming autumn season. The main residence was located further within the walls, but this was the only house on the block so decorated with its walls. It made the entire street seem more quiet and serene.
Despite its small size, the dwelling was surrounded by extremely high walls, making it impossible to see inside. Han Yunxi went to knock on the door and was soon met by one of Gu Beiyue's young medical assistants who recognized her on sight. He was terrified and tried to pay respects, but Han Yunxi stopped him in a low voice. "No need for formalities."
The little assistant quickly invited her in, where Han Yunxi was stunned by the scenery that greeted her. She couldn't help but exclaim, "How beautiful!"
Inside was a small flower garden with paths paved of multicolored cobblestones. A large swath of the grounds had been planted with forsythia with each bush about half the height of a man and a fanning arbor wide enough for two to three people to encircle. All of the bushes were covered in golden yellow flowers, bright and blooming prettily. From a distance it looked like the entire courtyard was covered in a golden glow. Han Yunxi couldn't resist approaching the blooms to sniff their sweet, medicinal scent as if she was in a sea of them.
Forsythia was a medicinal ingredient and usually bloomed in spring, but some varieties bloomed in autumn and winter too. Han Yunxi often ran into these flowers in her studies of of medicine because it was a common ingredient in antitoxins, particularly with removing heat, subduing swelling, and dissipating toxins. Still, this was the first time she'd seen someone use the flower as a decorative centerpiece and plant them so attractively.
"Who planted these, Qin Min or Gu Beiyue?" Han Yunxi asked with a smile.
Back at Medical City, Gu Beiyue hadn't decorated the wedding room the day before his marriage. It was Mu Linger who did it up with forsythia after asking him about Qin Min's favorite flower. Han Yunxi learned of that fact that day too.
"It was the madam that did," the little assistant knew of his master and mistres's secret, but he didn't hide this fact.
"Wasn't she pregnant? But she still has the strength to manage gardening?" Han Yunxi asked doubtfully.
"The madam instructed the servants to do it," the assistant amended hastily.
Han Yunxi didn't press, but asked quietly, "Where are they now? In which room?"
Internally, the assistant was panicking. The master hadn't returned until this morning but didn't see the madam or servant girl Shaoyao at home. Currently he was out looking for them both. Who expected the empress to suddenly show up when she was supposed to be in the north? Suppose she found out the truth? What were they to do?
"Master and Madam both went out. Esteemed Empress, please rest inside, I'll go find them right away," the assistant was a quick thinker after working in Gu Beiyue's employ.
Han Yunxi didn't think much of it since she never worried with Gu Beiyue. "Go ahead and look, I'll stroll around the garden," she said.
She realized the place not only had forsythia flowers, but lots of other green plants, all of them strange and unusual. Some of them were even hard to raise succulents. Han Yunxi was utter mesmerized by Qin Min's garden. If she had bothered to browse the couple's rooms she might have noticed they were living separately, but instead she spent all her time in the garden. She even discovered a few rare medicinal plants in pots! Then she headed for the western part of the garden and circled around a rock formation to spot yet another beautiful scene.
It was a completely dead tree, but atop it rested a very unique air plant tillandsia. It didn't need water or soil to survive, just nutrients from the air. It didn't even grow roots. There were many different varieties of the plant with strange shapes and all sorts of colors on the tree, giving it the impression that it was blooming.
"Who planted these!" Han Yunxi truly wanted to bring back the gardener to study their skills. She was so wrapped up in admiring the plants that she lost track of time until Xu Donglin appeared before her. Only then did she realize that the assistant had been gone for quite a while.
"Esteemed Empress, Grand Tutor Gu ran into His Majesty at the teahouse. They're chatting right now and His Majesty asked me to inquire if you would like to join them?" Xu Donglin asked.
"Where's Qin Min?" Han Yunxi asked.
"Doctor Gu said Madam Qin went out and has yet to return, she'll probably take a while," Xu Donglin replied honestly.
Han Yunxi shrugged her shoulders and left for the teahouse instead. This establishment was the first two-storied building in the lane and had one entrance facing the street while the other faced an alley. Long Feiye chose a seat on the second floor overlooking the alleyway which allowed him to see everyone going in and out. When Han Yunxi arrived, Rui'er was in the middle of eating a pastry. Although he was alike Long Feiye in every aspect, he differed from his father in his love of sweets. Long Feiye claimed his son would grow out of that eventually, but Han Yunxi refused to believe him.
Gu Beiyue began to rise to pay respects, but was cowed back into his seat with one glare from Han Yunxi. She picked up Rui'er and placed him in her lap before asking with a smile, "Where is the madam? The two of us came a long way to see her."
"I only arrived this morning myself and has yet to see her. The servants say she went on a river cruise and I was sending people to find her!" Gu Beiyue intoned. He had arranged for some guards to protect Qin Min from the shadows, but who knew they'd all drank too much last night and overslept today? After arriving today, he saw no sign of Qin Min or her servant Shaoyao.
He had heard the guards mention Qin Min's love of river cruises and how often she went out. No one in Ning Prefecture knew what the grand tutor's wife looked like, so people didn't recognize the pair. He had sent out a search party this morning to look up and down the river without success. He himself went searching as well with no luck. He wasn't restricting her movements, but he was concerned about her safety. He never expected the emperor and empress to be right here and knocking on their front door instead of touring up north. Now he could only accompany them for tea and have the servants split up between the house and the hunt. He was afraid of Qin Min suddenly coming back without her fake stomach for the duo to catch her!
For once, even his calm was faltering!
As they drank and chatted, Gu Beiyue calculated the time until he was sure the assistant had arranged the living quarters appropriately back home. Then he murmured, "Master, why not sit at home? There are some matters of Medical City inconvenient to talk about in public."
Long Feiye saw that Rui'er was contently snacking away and was in no rush. He simply said, "Then we can discuss them tonight."
Gu Beiyue couldn't say much and ended up accompanying them some more. At this time, Qin Min and Shaoyao were actually in the same teahouse not far away. Qin Min was not only lacking her fake pregnancy stomach, but also wearing a rather form-fitting dress. She and Shaoyao had long finished their river tour and knew Gu Beiyue was expected back within these few days. She decided to buy some ingredients so she could personally make him some pastries to eat. Who knew that the first thing she saw upon entering the lane was Han Yunxi's family of three standing in the street? Shocked, her first reaction was to hide in a teahouse. The first floor didn't feel safe enough, so she ran to the second. But she never expected to look down and see Han Yunxi head for the house while Long Feiye and Rui'er enter the same teahouse themselves.
At that moment, Qin Min was even considering jumping off the building. Although Long Feiye had only seen her once or twice, she wasn't confident about escaping his scrutiny. She could only find a secluded place to sit down. Now not only Gu Beiyue, but Han Yunxi had arrived as well.
"Madam, let's sneak away quietly so they won't see us. They're talking right now!" Shaoyao couldn't help whispering.
"The emperor always brings shadow guards with him when he goes out. If we're caught, how is the Academy Head and I to explain ourselves?" Qin Min asked.
If not for fear of the shadow guards, Qin Min would have slipped away ages ago! Even if the guards weren't guaranteed to recognize her, she couldn't afford to risk it. She didn't mind what happened to her if she was caught, but she couldn't implicate Gu Beiyue! He had done so much to make this fake marriage work, so what would happen if he was exposed? Even though she still couldn't guess his motives or why he wanted her to foster a child, she had chosen to be his wife in name and should work with his plans.
A worried Qin Min had no choice now but to wait! Wait until Han Yunxi and the rest left before she left too. Unfortunately, things didn't go as planned. Soon enough, a playboy-looking gentleman settled into the seat across from her.
"Miss, what's your name?" he asked with a lewd smile.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Happy Mid-Autumn Festival tomorrow, guys!