In a blink of an eye, autumn had arrived.
No one in the Fu family knew exactly what had gone down between Fu Rou and Sheng Chumu but they did not dare to ask. The atmosphere in the entire residence was silent, like still water.
However, one day, Third Madam’s shriek caused the still water to start bubbling. Without bidding his farewells, Fu Tao had left a note saying that he had gone to join the army.
Ever since Third Madam handed over the accounts book, she had given up trying to step over Fu Rou. All she wished was for Fu Tao to take over the family’s business so that she could live a happy and prosperous life. Back then, when Fu Tao wanted to learn martial arts, she was already unhappy. Now, the news of him enlisting was enough to break her heart. Although the country was peaceful now, there was always trouble at the borders. With war, there would always be deaths.
Fu Rou came over as soon as she heard the news. She looked on indifferently as Third Madam kicked up a fuss. Third Madam suddenly glared at Fu Rou. “Tao’er has always listened to you. You must have instigated him!”
Although Fu Rou did not instigate Fu Tao to enlist, it was true that she already knew about this. Fu Tao had actually gone to bid farewell to her. “Men aspire to make their own mark. Brother Tao has his own goals and wishes to pursue them. It is not necessarily a bad thing for him to leave.” Though she wanted to stop him, she was not able to.
Third Madam grinded her teeth. “I knew it! I just knew it! You are hoping that Fu Tao will meet with misfortune! You evil demon!” As she said this, she pounced forward but was blocked by Ziyun.
Old Master Fu reprimanded her, “Third Young Master is old enough to make his own decisions. This has nothing to do with Rou’er. Stop making a fuss and leave!”
Third Madam was still indignant as she was escorted out of the main hall by Old Maid Chang. However, instead of heading back to her residence, she turned and hid behind a wall to eavesdrop.
Fu Rou remained expressionless as she reported to her parents, “The dye ingredients are about to be transported from Zhanzhou and I wish to head over personally to ensure that everything goes smoothly. Firstly, Uncle Song has fallen sick and will not be able to go. Secondly, this shipment is huge and any mistake will cause our family to suffer a huge loss.”
Second Madam was unwilling. “The conditions on board the ship are tough, and the seas are not safe. How can a girl like you travel so far away?”
First Madam had a different view. “When it comes to the business, Rou’er knows best. Moreover, our family frequently travels the same route from Guangzhou to Zhanzhou. There shouldn’t be any accidents.” She then added on a more serious note, “Second Madam, take it as a trip to allow Rou’er to take a breather.”
Second Madam came to a realisation. Ever since Sheng Chumu left, her daughter has been depressed and lost weight as a result. She had no choice but to agree.
Old Master Fu added, “Speaking of Zhanzhou, I heard that they have been recruiting men for their army. Maybe Third Young Master headed over there. Rou’er, do keep a lookout when you are there.”
Fu Rou agreed to his request.
Outside the hall, Third Madam heard everything and thought of a plan.
Under the scorching sun, amidst strong alcohol and horses, Chang'an had a completely different summer vibe from Guangzhou. It was bustling and flourishing.
The Duke Lu Residence was, however, silent. Something was not right.
The two brothers, Chuling and Chujun stuck their heads into Sheng Chumu’s room.
Sheng Chumu sat behind his desk with a book opened in front of him.
“Elder Brother, why are you reading <<Analects of Confucious>>?” As the middle child, Sheng Chuling was the best at sensing people’s emotions. “Something is wrong! Something is very wrong!”
“Second Brother, you don’t understand.” Sheng Chujun had the craftiness and intelligence of the youngest sibling. “He must be using the cover of <<Analects of Confucious>> to hide what he is actually reading – Hehe—Chungong drawings.”
Sheng Chuling’s eyes filled with respect. “Elder Brother, you are the smartest. Even if father is in front of you, there is nothing to fear. Why have I never thought of this before? I thought something happened to you on your last trip. You didn’t look excited when you went to the brothel and came back home without spending the night.”
Sheng Chujun rubbed his chin. “Not really. Didn’t you see? Elder Brother’s new image has got all the beauties head over heels for him. Second Brother, should we also work out?”
Sheng Chuling rolled up his sleeves. “Let’s go!”
The two brothers did not see the frantic expression in Sheng Chumu’s eyes nor how distracted and fidgety he was.
Meanwhile, Madam Sheng was discussing the change in her eldest son with Sheng Xiaojing. Sheng Chumu had been spending his days in his room studying. At this rate, he might even pass the Imperial examinations in the following year.
Sheng Xiaojing burst out in laughter as he called for Junhui. “I have been fooled by that lad for so many years. If I fall for his tricks again, I will be the biggest pig head in Chang'an.”
Madam Sheng was displeased. “When Chumu returned, didn’t Prince Han meet with him? Prince Han tested Chumu on the military tactics and even praised him for his huge improvement. There is no reason for Prince Han to help lie for him.”
“Why not? Prince Han is his brother-in-law.” Sheng Xiaojing had a different opinion. “Furthermore, do you know why Prince Han tested him? It is because I brought up the matter of marrying Chumu off to Princess Xinnan to the Emperor a while back. His Majesty did not give me a clear answer but went to talk to the Empress about it. The Empress then mentioned this to Prince Han, asking Prince Han to guide Chumu.”
Madam Sheng snorted, “No wonder they are suddenly concerned about Chumu. Ever since they were young, Consort Han could never bear to scold Chumu.”
“That is because you spoilt him.” Sheng Xiaojing became agitated. An overly kind mother would result in weak sons.
“What’s wrong with spoiling him? You spent half your life fighting for the country and finally got to where you are. What is wrong with letting our children enjoy themselves? I told you before that my children will not go to war.”
Sheng Xiaojing nodded lightly, brushing her off. “Then you shouldn’t care if he changes or not.”
Junhui entered at this moment.
Madam Fu still wanted to clarify. “Junhui, did something happen when you and Chumu went to Guangzhou?”
Junhui thought carefully, making sure to only mention the positive things. “We met Old Master Niu Wudi, he…”
Madam Fu’s expression fell. “Don’t bring him up! I get angry as soon as I think about how he tortured Chumu in the past.”
Sheng Xiaojing prompted, “Who else did you all meet?”
“We also met…” Should he say? How should he say it?
Sheng Xiaojing immediately knew what was up. “Did he meet a girl?”
“Mmhm…yes.” Junhui thought that it wasn’t anything new anyway. “But…” She is different from the rest of the girls that Chumu usually fell for.
Sheng Xiaojing had already given up on his son. “Does he spend his days only thinking about and following women around?”
“Mmhm…yes, but not…” Not only did he follow, he had suffered quite a bit this time.
Sheng Xiaojing could not be bothered to waste anymore energy. “Ha! His behaviour is the same as before! I am going out; I have an appointment with Fang Xuanlin to drink.” He kicked Junhui’s butt lightly. “Get lost boy.”
Madam Fu plopped down angrily.
On the day of her departure, Fu Rou arrived at the dock early in order to personally oversee the transportation of goods onto the ship. Beside Fu Rou’s ship, there was another ship in the midst of loading goods as well. Dark red boxes were being loaded on the ship and a line had formed. Each box required two men on each side to lift and each pair took turns to quickly load their boxes on the ship. Fu Rou did not pay any attention to them as she was focused on her own goods. This trip was going to decide the future of the Fu family’s dye workshop. It was extremely important and there was no room for error.
Wearing a cloth skirt and a hat with a veil, Third Madam hid herself amongst the crowd as she watched the Fu family’s boat closely, waiting for a chance to get onto the boat. Third Madam was afraid of being discovered by Fu Rou and kept darting around to avoid being seen. In the midst of her skirting around, she accidentally knocked into one of the workers that was transporting goods on the neighbouring boat. The worker lost his balance and the shoulder pole slipped off his shoulder as the box tilted and fell onto the floor. Jewels fell out onto the ground. Third Madam stared at the jewels.
The worker fumed, “Are you blind!”
The other worker became frantic. “Don’t talk so much. Hurry and pick them up!”
Hearing the commotion, Fu Rou looked over and was blinded by the jewels. As a result, she did not notice Third Madam by the side. As soon as Third Madam saw that Fu Rou’s attention had been drawn over, she immediately hid away from Fu Rou’s sight.
Lu Hanxing saw what had happened and immediately stepped forward, scolding them in hushed tones, “Clumsy fools. Hurry and pick them up. If you dare to say anything about this, I will come for your heads!”
All these valuables had been plundered from the rebels by Lu Yunji and Lu Qi when they led an army to subdue them. They had kept the valuables to themselves and planned to send it back to Lu Hanxing’s home region. If they were caught, the consequences would be disastrous.
Therefore, Lu Hanxing was being extra careful as he looked around warily. He caught sight of Fu Rou’s back view but did not see her face. Slightly concerned, he then ordered his men to investigate and found out that the ship belonged to the Fu family.
Fu Rou did not know that her moment of curiosity had caused her to become the recipient of ill-intentions. She also did not know that Third Madam had bribed a worker to sneak onto the ship and was currently hiding amongst the goods. All Fu Rou hoped for was a smooth journey and for the Fu family’s dye workshop to have a bright future.
The first night on board the ship went smoothly. On the second day, the sky was clear without a cloud in sight. Schools of fishes swam beside the ship, occasionally jumping out of the water.
Leaning against the railing of the ship, Fu Rou looked curiously at the fishes.
In the days after Sheng Chumu disappeared, she had been furious before her anger turned into pain. After her emotions had finally settled, she was left with a slight bitterness and ache in her heart. She felt bitter because she knew that she was also at fault. Thinking back, she had not really understood him. The ache was because she missed the good parts of him.
As she remembered his mischievous ways to make her laugh, she could not help but smile.
Third Madam had gotten thirsty and came out of her hiding place in order to get a sip of water. However, when she saw Fu Rou smiling and enjoying the sea breeze, her blood started to boil. Fu Rou instigated Tao’er to go through hardship but continued to enjoy herself. Third Madam narrowed her eyes as a sinister look appeared on her face. Silently, she made her way up to Fu Rou and extended her hand. As long as Fu Rou dies, the Fu family will be hers!
“Pirates!” A frantic cry filled the air.
Fu Rou became alert once again as she turned to look into the distance. All she saw was a black boat. It was heading straight for the Fu family’s ship. A gang of boorish looking pirates stood at the front of the boat. They held huge knives and metal rods in their hands, looking barbaric.
Third Madam was frightened out of her wits. She no longer thought about harming Fu Rou as she ran frantically to the lower levels of the ship.
Although Fu Rou was afraid, she kept calm. She knew that there was no point in hiding and made her way to the kitchen in order to find some ash. She used the coal dust and ash to dirty her face and skirt. Just as she was done, the pirates entered the kitchen to ransack the area. Seeing how dirty Fu Rou looked, they did not pay much attention to her and forced her to go to the deck.
Who would have known that as she stepped onto the deck, she would see Third Madam getting pulled by the boss of the pirates, Du Long. Third Madam was about to be forced onto the pirate’s ship. Du Long was just thinking that the goods on this ship were not worth much. He was hoping that there would be a lady from a rich family on this ship that he could kidnap and demand ransom for. Third Madam was extremely unwilling and desperately struggled to break free. Her resistance started to get on Du Long’s nerves as he took out his whip and was about to hit her. Fu Rou dashed up and took the hit for Third Madam.
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In case you guys are confused, Prince Han is Chumu's brother in law. Chumu's sister is Consort Han. Prince Han is one of the princes of the current emperor.