Qin Min lowered her head like a misbehaving servant girl. Seeing her pitiful state, Gu Beiyue didn't know how to comfort her and unexpectedly smiled.
"What did you do wrong?" he asked.
"I shouldn't have run about," Qin Min replied, before amending, "At least, not without my ball."
"Ball?" Gu Beiyue was lost.
"The fake stomach!" Shaoyao hastened to explain. "Master, the ball is the fake stomach!"
Gu Beiyue was having trouble keeping a straight face. "Why didn't you take it with you?"
Before Qin Min could reply, Shaoyao said, "It's heavy! Master! Why don't you try running around with a big ball strapped to your waist? It's hard to stand or sit and hurts your back too. Plus, you have to act all careful because you're pretending to be pregnant. Isn't that uncomfortable?"
Qin Min was shooting Shaoyao looks to shut up, but the girl pretended not to notice.
Yet how could anything escape Gu Beiyue's eye? As a silent witness, he asked, "Where did you go?"
"After coming back from a river cruise, I went for some shopping," Qin Min admitted honestly.
Shaoyao could only fret on the sidelines. Immediately she added on, "Master, Madam wanted to make you some pastries so she bought some beans. If we hadn't done that, we could've gotten home earlier instead of running into the emperor and empress."
Once again, Qin Min shot her a look, but Shaoyao feigned blindness again.
"Did you know they were coming?" Gu Beiyue asked.
"No," Qin Min spoke the truth.
"Do you often go out without your ball?" Gu Beiyue asked while knowing the answer. In truth, he knew everything about Qin Min's situation.
Qin Min thought it over before she replied, "I go out three to four times a month, usually for shopping trips and cruises."
"So where was your mistake?" Gu Beiyue went back to the beginning. "Eldest Miss Qin, the ignorant are blameless. It was my fault for not anticipating our masters would head south." He truly miscalculated in thinking those two would head north and find Jin Zi while rewarding the meritorious generals. Who expected them to go south for the autumn?
Qin Min was enlightened. She looked up at Gu Beiyue, only to see him smiling gently. With the sun shining behind him, Qin Min couldn't tell whether he or the light was the warmest thing in her eyes. In any case, the sight warmed her heart. He hadn't blamed her and even used this method to find her an excuse.
"But…" Qin Min wanted to ask. What about that child? Before she could finish, Gu Beiyue turned and noticed the swathes of forsythia blooming in the yard. Autumn in the south was full of golden yellow hues with similar flowers blooming everywhere. But this was the first time he'd seen a garden full of forsythias. He quickly walked amidst the blooms to study them carefully. Not only were these forsythia blooming out of season, they were also a specimen well suited for medicinal purposes. It was hard to keep them alive, much less have them thrive.
He looked back and asked, "Eldest Miss Qin, you planted these?"
"I had nothing to do so I did it to make things more lively," Qin Min hesitated, then asked, "Academy Head Gu, do you like forsythia too?"
On her wedding day, the room had been full of these flowers. She wouldn't forget the sight, but she couldn't fathom him knowing these were her favorite blooms. Perhaps he liked them himself.
"I rather do," Gu Beiyue replied as he waded deeper into the flowers. Soon enough, he circled around a stone wall and saw another miraculous sight: the hydroponic pineapples that Han Yunxi had noticed before. This was his first time seeing such plants and the sight was refreshingly new. He examined one specimen with detail and noted that the flowers had no roots beyond being planted in a dead tree.
"What is this?" Gu Beiyue asked.
"These are hydroponic pineapples. They don't need roots, but take nutrients from water and the air to survive. When they mature, they bloom into flowers." Qin Min surveyed the tree full of plants and only lamented that like them, she was a child without roots into the Qin household after loosing use of her legs. But since then, she'd grown up.
Gu Beiyue gently stroked the blossom in his hands and studied it for a long time. Finally he asked, "Eldest Miss Qin, could you give this one a flower?"
He had forgotten how long it'd been since he became a man without roots, wandering about the lands and busying himself.
"If Academy Head Gu doesn't mind, you can have your pick," Qin Min smiled. She loved sharing good things.
Gu Beiyue wasn't picky and chose the one he was holding right then. The petals and leaves were open, the core a goose-yellow. The size was just right, neither too big nor small. Shaoyao held back as much as she could, but eventually spoke up again.
She chuckled and said, "Master, you can take this flower with you wherever you go and just sprinkle it with water now and then. How about this servant find some thread and sew it to your waist?"
Now Qin Min couldn't help laughing out loud. She hugged, "Stinking girl, what a terrible idea! Do you think this is a jade pendant?"
Gu Beiyue grinned and asked curiously, "I can even wear it with thread?"
"Of course! Madam is deft of fingers and has a bloom on her medical box," Shaoyao looked closely and grew delighted. "Heheh, perfect, the one Madam has is the same color as Master's too!"
Qin Min was very embarrassed and didn't know what to say. She wanted to plant Shaoyao in the ground and change her into her namesake flower! The girl was being too overt with her hints!
Gu Beiyue only intoned, "Since this plant has no roots, there's no need to let it drift about with me. Give it a place to rest its feet and raise it in the house."
Once indoors, Gu Beiyue looked around before placing the water on the paperweight of his study table. The dark tones of the desk made the blossom stand out in its bright hues, quiet and solitary.
"It's truly beautiful." "It's truly beautiful."
Both Gu Beiyue and Qin Min blurted out at the same time before exchanging looks with a smile. At this second, Gu Beiyue suddenly started coughing. He clung to the edge of the table and turned aside as his coughs grew more intense. Shocked, Qin Min could tell with her experience that this was no ordinary cough. If it wasn't a new illness, it must have been an old ailment. She had also heard rumors years ago that Tianning's imperial physician was a chronic invalid who couldn't heal himself. She had assumed it was all rumors, but today seemed to show a shred of truth!
"Academy Head, are you all right?" Shaoyao fretted.
Qin Min didn't ask any questions but had the girl pour out some warm water. She carefully paid attention to Gu Beiyue's coughs until he calmed down and then took his wrist to check his pulse. Gu Beiyue was surprised and tried to refuse, but Qin Min was focused and stern. He always assumed she was a pushover, but this cold severity allowed no rebuke or interruptions. Once, he would get distracted looking at another woman so serious and stern. It didn't happen this time, but he felt an overwhelming urge to interrupt her just to see her reaction. Still, it was just a thought before he quietly sat down.
Besides his grandfather, parents, and old friend Imperial Physician Huang in the Tianning palace, nobody had ever taken his pulse. He knew his body's condition best. With his family long dead, no one else in the world could understood the intricacies of his pulse.
After a long time had passed, Qin Min didn't release him. Her stern expression grew puzzled before she knit her brows. "Academy Head," she asked, "This is an old ailment you've had since young. The disease is mainly in the lungs and affects the liver. You…"
Although Qin Min didn't finish, Gu Beiyue was already astonished. She could see this clearly?
Qin Min had a lot to say, but in the end she only asked, "You aren't treating yourself?"
His medical skills were peerless so he should know his situation best! Saying anything more was pointless. She just wanted answers: could they treat it or not? Her eyebrows were creased into a line, making him want to smooth out her forehead.
"It's treatable. I've been busy recently and forgot to take my medicine," he replied.
Qin Min immediately exhaled and seemed much more relieved. "Thank goodness, thank goodness. You gave me a fright!"
Only then did she sense something amiss and looked up to see Gu Beiyue staring back at her in shock. Embarrassed, she grew mute as her ears turned red. Quickly she sought for a topic to change the subject. "Academy Head, with things as they are now, what of the child you've fostered?"
The foster child was almost one years old now and was with his nurse. Qin Min had never seen him. Gu Beiyue fell silent before sighing softly. If he had known her legs could be cured, he never would've wed her and delayed her entire life. With her medical skills, talent, and looks, she would never have to fret about a marriage partner.
"Eldest Miss Qin, in the end I...wronged you."
Qin Min was astonished, but Shaoyao blurted out, "Master, you don't want Madam anymore?"
Gu Beiyue hadn't paid the servant girl any attention, but now he looked at Qin Min seriously. "Eldest Miss Qin, if you want to leave one day, just divorce me. Jiangnan is a good place. If you want to change your name and continue living here, just give me a word."
Qin Min didn't react or reply.
Gu Beiyue rose to his feet. "His Majesty and the others won't come today. If they do tomorrow, you don't have to say anything. I'll deal with it. And there's no need to leave the gates open for me tonight, I'll return tomorrow." So speaking, he left.
When he was already far away, Shaoyao regained her senses and chased after him. "Master! Master!"
But he was already gone by the time she reached the door. She quickly backtracked. "Madam, where is Master going? Just then, his words were…" Shaoyao was at a loss. She thought Master would stay here for a long time, but who expected this conclusion? "Madam, Master he...what does he mean?" She didn't understand his words.
A long, long time later, Qin Min regained her senses and murmured, "Shaoyao, I think I'm starting to like him. What do I do?"
Shaoyao was ready to cry. "Madam, you already liked Master ages ago!"
"I...I did?" Qin Min looked up as she bit her lip. Gradually, her eyes...turned red with tears.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
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