Chapter 296: Xiaozhou (IV)

Zhou Xiaolian bit her lip and studied Qin Yining. She could feel the big sister’s affection and sincerity. The child nodded in the end. “I, I will, listen to big sister.”

“Alright.” Qin Yining smiled. “Then you must promise to always listen to big sister in the future. You’ll remain by my side after we leave. I’ll teach you how to read, how to live in the outside world. You also have to promise that you’ll stay close, okay?”

“Okay.” Zhou Xiaolian nodded heavily.

Qin Yining thought for a moment. “We cannot forget our roots. Your name shall be Lian Xiaozhou in the future, alright?”

“Lian Xiaozhou?” Zhou Xiaolian widened her eyes. “Same. Sound. Lotus congee.” [1]

Qin Yining didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “It’s the character for the surname Lian, not lotus. If anyone asks you in the future, say that your surname is Lian. Your father was a hunter in the mountains, but he’s passed away. I ran into you in the mountains and brought you out with me. Your name is Xiaozhou, the Zhou of your original surname. Big sister actually just flipped your name around.”

“Surname Lian, my surname Lian. Daddy, is hunter. I am, Xiaozhou. Like lotus congee. Lotus congee is yummy. I am Lotus Congee.”

Qin Yining felt utterly defeated. Just how much did this child like lotus congee? 

Well, since she liked the name, what harm was there in going along with it? Since Northern Ji lay in ruins, Princess Yongfu no longer existed in this world. The little princess that the tyrant so doted on was no more.

This heavy past would only be chains and shackles for the child. Since they were starting anew, then it’d be best to use a name that had nothing to do with the past. Forgetting those memories might not be such a bad thing for her.

“Alright then, so you’re Lian Xiaozhou in the future. Lian of the surname Lian, Zhou of well, congee.” 

Zhou Xiaolian, or rather Lian Xiaozhou at this point, nodded emphatically, her eyes crinkled in a smile.

This drew an answering smile from Qin Yining. “Alright, let’s eat first. When we finish lunch, big sister will boil some water for you to take a bath.” She’d discovered a large, wooden tub in the rear of the cabin—likely specially prepared by the ‘uncle’.

Lian Xiaozhou munched busily on the perfectly seasoned sparrows, nodding rapidly when she drank rabbit stew.

Qin Yining had no idea how the child had survived the years. When the latter slipped into the readied bathwater, the water instantly turned black.

Just washing the hair took three large tubs of water, to say nothing of wiping off the body. All Qin Yining knew that she kept piling more firewood into the clay stove and repeatedly fetched snow back. When the water grew dirty, she wrapped Xiaozhou in her cape and had the child wait until the new tub of water heated up.

After an afternoon of exertion, a fresh-faced, pink-cheeked, adorable little girl stood in front of her.

Due to malnutrition, she looked more like seven or eight years old than nine. Her hair looked a bit sallow, but was very soft and smooth. Her face was pale-skinned and tender, sporting a pair of bright, round, and expressive eyes. Her eyes creased into crescents whenever she smiled, and there was a pair of dimples on her cheeks—just like Qin Yining’s.

To those who didn’t know any better, they’d believe it if they were told Lian Xiaozhou was Qin Yining’s biological sister.

Qin Yining rummaged through the bundle to pull out a few of the uncle’s shirts, turning them into temporary clothing for the child. She put her own double-layered jacket to ensure Xiaozhou would stay warm, turning the child loose to play in the cabin.

The Qin fourth miss then washed every last inch of Xiaozhou’s original clothes, also cleaning herself up in the process.

Night had fallen by the time this was all complete. The two sat down to dinner with re-warmed rabbit stew, Qin Yining used her hand as a comb to brush Xiaozhou’s hair. 

The child’s hair was soft and smooth, making it easy to care for. She tied Xiaozhou’s hair into two braids, undoing two decorative, baby-blue silk ribbons on her skit to tie around the ends of the braids.

Xiaozhou was utterly obsessed and besotted with her hair. That night when they laid down to sleep, she burrowed into Qin Yining’s arms and wrapped her arms around the older girl, refusing to let go and repeating, “Big sister nice. Like big sister.”

The Qin fourth miss’ heart melted. She reaffirmed to herself that she would hide Xiaozhou’s identity well and never let the slightest hint of danger threaten the child!

After two more days, Lian Xiaozhou’s clothes had fully dried out. Qin Yining dressed her and topped it off with wrapping clean animals pelts around the child. Bundled up against the cold, the two ventured forth to hunt in the woods.

When Qin Yining roved with Xiaozhou, she paid close attention to her surroundings and searched to see if anyone had left footprints behind. When she was certain that her pursuers were nowhere nearby, she made several trips touring to bring back the ‘uncle’ and the other three men, burying them in the woods, downwind of the cabin.

“Xiaozhou, it’s time for us to leave.” On this morning, Qin Yining made a solemn declaration to Lian Xiaozhou. “Before we leave, I need to burn everything here, including the secrets of your identity. I can’t leave behind the possibility that someone will be able to find out about your past.”

Lian Xiaozhou nodded as she didn’t have much of an opinion. She’d spent a very happy couple of days with Qin Yining and knew that the big sister was genuinely doing this for her own good.

As the two girls packed, the Qin fourth miss decided to burn the letter that the tyrant had written to his brother. She used the machete to laboriously hack a hole in the frozen ground in the corner of the cabin, burying the imperial seal inside. Finally, she set fire to the entire structure with a torch.

Lian Xiaozhou pulled urgently on Qin Yining’s hand. “Big sister, on fire.”

“Mm. Don’t be afraid. The snow’s falling thickly right now, so the fire won’t burn down the forest. Plus, I note that the wind’s been blowing to the northwest lately. It won’t burn us if we walk into the direction of the wind. Big sister’s been in the mountain for so many days that there must be people looking for me outside. The bad guys who want to catch me should’ve left by now. When my family sees all this smoke, they’ll know I’m here. We just need to wait nearby.”

Lian Xiaozhou only half understood this, but she still nodded docilely.

The flames spread from the log cabin to the woods where the four bodies were buried, finally setting Qin Yining somewhat at ease.

Though she felt very guilty toward about the animals in the mountains, destroying everything related to Lian Xiaozhou’s past had to be done if the child was to remain safe. The general, the soldiers, the uniforms, the letter, and the imperial seal.

Well, the seal couldn’t be burned, and neither could Qin Yining take it with her. If they didn’t need it in the future, having the seal remain on the mountain might not be a bad thing. And if they did need it, it wouldn’t be too hard to find a patch of burned ground. They’d be able to retrieve the seal if they dug through the cabin.

Having planned through everything and satisfied herself that there were no loopholes, Qin Yining hid with Lian Xiaozhou.

At the same time, having searched the meandering mountains for six days, Pang Xiao looked in the direction of the billowing smoke and finally flashed a relieved smile.

“Huzi, sound the whistling arrow. We’ve found her.”

1. The characters for her new name sound the same as the ones for lotus congee, but they’re different.

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etvolare's Thoughts

This is why why we've had four chapters titled Xiaozhou. XD