Yan Zifang came to Belle Shop to ask Ma Hainiu something. He was shocked to see a long queue in front of the shop. He never expected Ma Hainiu and Lian Yan’er’s business would end up doing so well.
When Ma Hainiu caught sight of Yan Zifang, she quickly handed over her customers to the shop’s helpers. She pulled him to the tea house opposite the shop to talk. As soon as they sat down, the shop owner greeted them enthusiastically and even arranged for the best tea master to serve them tea. It was obvious that Ma Hainiu was a regular customer.
“You don’t like Sheng Chumu anymore?” From what Yan Zifang observed, Ma Hainiu was handling transactions even winking at the tea master. She looked completely free of problems.
“I still like him.” Ma Hainiu said it so casually that even she herself was slightly taken aback. She broke into a smile. “He belongs to himself and I belong to myself. Leader, do you have something for me?”
“I heard from Ah Hu that you frequently visit the houses of nobles. Do you know what happened between the Crown Prince and Prince Han?” To anyone with a discerning eye, they could tell that the Crown Prince’s move to give command to Prince Han was not for Prince Han’s benefit.
“The relationship between the Eastern Palace and Han Mansion is not as harmonious as it seems from the outside. The Crown Prince recommended Prince Han as the main commander and Consort Han is furious because of it. She even complained. Unexpectedly, her complaints were heard by the people in the Eastern Palace and the Crown Princess found out. During the family banquet, the Crown Princess harped on the fact that she gave birth to a son to mock Consort Han. Consort Han is not someone who takes things as they are and she talked back to the Crown Princess.” Sure enough, Ma Hainiu knew the details.
Yan ZIfang asked plainly. “Did they fight?”
“How can they.” Ma Hainiu pursed her lips. “The Empress coughed and the both of them immediately stopped arguing.”
Yan Zifang nodded. “With the Empress around, everything is still stable. How is the Empress’ condition?”
Ma Hainiu answered smoothly. “She’s barely surviving.”
Yan Zifang raised his brows. “Is your source reliable?”
“Physician He, who is from the Imperial Physicians, has a favourite concubine and she was the one that said it. I made her an Agate Peacock-patterned long chain and only charged her half the price. We are now sisters who do not hide anything from each other. Now, the madams and ladies from all the noble and wealthy houses in Chang’an are our Belle Shop’s loyal customers. Is there anything that they can hide from me?”
“Then how about Grand Prince Liang’s residence?” This was the real reason for Yan Zifang’s visit.
“I was about to tell you about Liang Residence’s biggest secret.” Ma Hainiu lowered her voice. “Consort Liang is not favoured.”
Yan Zifang was not surprised. “What kind of big secret is this? To a frivolous and fickle man like Grand Prince Liang, it is normal for his wife to not be favoured.”
Ma Hainiu raised her index finger and waved it. “Grand Prince Liang treats Consort Liang like a lowly-servant. He abuses her by whipping her three times a day, as if they were meals.”
Yan Zifang’s eyes hardened. “What?”
“Grand Prince Liang forbids anyone in the residence from talking about it. Anyone who spills the secret will be killed. The more secretive they are, the more curious I became. Hence, I used several beautiful jewels to bribe a maid from the Liang Residence to tell me the secret. Don’t look at how glamorous Consort Liang may appear on the outside. She is actually severely abused in the Liang Residence. She has numerous scars on her body. Everything she eats and wears are worse than what is given to a normal servant.” Ma Hainiu had just opened her mouth before she recalled an etiquette she learned and she lifted her sleeve to cover her mouth as she laughed. “Oh, it makes me so happy to think of how unlucky Lu Yunji’s daughter is. Isn’t this retribution? Ha--hehehe!”
She laughed for a while before realising that her leader, sitting in front of her, was emitting cold air. She stopped laughing. “Leader, are you okay?”
“Why does Grand Prince Liang treat his consort this way?” Was it his fault?
“She slept with a man.” She never thought that the noble daughter of a duke would do something like that.
“Slept with a man?” It was his fault!
“A wild man.” Ma Hainiu shrugged. “The maid told me that when Grand Prince Liang was consummating their marriage with her, he found out that she was not a virgin. He was so furious, and beat her up on the spot. When Grand Prince Liang was hitting her, that maid happened to be guarding the door and heard everything clearly. When Grand Prince Liang asked who the bastard was, she gritted her teeth and refused to say. Even after Grand Prince Liang beat her half to death, she did not rat him out. General, who do you think is the male adulterer that slept with Lu Yunji’s daughter?”
Yan Zifang suddenly raised his voice. “How would I know?”
Ma Hainiu did not take notice. “To be able to steal the virginity of a duke’s daughter and even make her willingly keep it a secret. This male adulterer is not simple. I think he’s…”
Yan Zifang stood up. “That is enough! You keep talking about male adulterers here and there. You are a woman that has yet to be married, how can you blabber on like this?” He took out a pouch from his sleeve and threw it at Ma Hainiu. “This is for you.”
Ma Hainiu opened it and saw gold glistening at her. “Wah! Leader, you are too generous. We are a family. You shouted at me slightly and gave me so much jewels to compensate me. How can I accept it?”
“Who said that I was giving it to you?” He even had a share in Belle Shop. Why would he give her money? “Isn’t your Belle Shop best at making jewellery? Help me make a pearl dress. Use high quality pearls.”
“This little bit of money is not enough.” Business was business.
“I will get you enough.” Yan Zifang instructed, “Continue finding out more from the Liang Residence.”
Like what Fu Rou said, Lu Yingying was innocent. No matter how drunk he was that night, he was the one that wronged her and turned her into who she is now. He could not watch her get tortured. At least, it cannot be because of him.
Outside of Qi City, huge tents were set up, filled with troops ready to suppress Prince Zhao. They looked like white mushrooms covering the entire area. Except that under this organised exterior, people’s feelings were not in sync; especially the two lead commanders. Sheng Chumu and Lu Qi were fighting over everything, arguing with each other at every sentence. Prince Han, who was caught in the middle, was so exasperated that he just wanted to directly die in battle.
They were currently discussing how to attack Qi City. Lu Qi pointed at the sand table. “Here, here and here. We have to place soldiers at these three places to cut off Prince Zhao’s reinforcement army.”
Sheng Chumu just wanted to point out his faults. “You missed out this point.”
Lu Qi was stunned as he realised Sheng Chumu was right. Lu Qi merely rubbed his nose and continued, “Your Highness, you have to send two thousand people here as well.”
“Okay.” Prince Han felt that it would be best for him to talk now. “Then what about Qi City?”
Sheng Chumu volunteered, “I will take charge of Qi City.”
Lu Qi went against him. “Sheng Chumu, we haven’t even started fighting and you are already trying to fight for merits?”
Sheng Chumu had to argue back. “The fact is I am better than you in attacking cities.”
Lu Qi snorted, “Wasn’t it just Nine Pillar City? You act so arrogantly. Those that don’t know would have thought that you defeated Chang’an.”
Sheng Chumu faked a laugh. “What do you want?”
Lu Qi sneered, “We have to at least attack with two routes.”
Sheng Chumu came to a realisation. “So the one who wants to fight for merits is you?”
Lu Qi was not willing to appear weak. “It is the Emperor’s intention to use both the east and west route to converge the attack. Why? Do you want to defy him?”
“Yes, yes, we should listen to the Emperor. Then let us use both the east and west route to converge the attack.” Prince Han pointed at the sand table, sticking to what was originally planned. “How about this? Lu Qi, you will be in-charge of the eastern route while Sheng Chumu will take the western route. You will each take five thousand soldiers and attack Prince Zhao’s rebel army from the east and west. Will this be possible?”
On an extremely rare occasion, Sheng Chumu and Lu Qi both gave the same expression as they looked wordlessly at Prince Han.
“Why? Are you both still not satisfied?” Prince Han thought that it was very fair.
“Brother-in-law….” Sheng Chumu looked helplessly. “You are pointing in the wrong direction.”
“Oh. This sand table has so many bumps, it is easy to get confused. Normally, when I look at maps on books, I am very clear.” Prince Han hurried to point at a side. “Lu Qi, you will take charge of the western route and Sheng Chumu will take the eastern route.” He snuck a look at Sheng Chumu’s face.
Sheng Chumu laughed dryly and nodded.
After Lu Qi left, Prince Han held Sheng Chumu back. “Now that the outsider is gone, let us have a private word.”
Sheng Chumu asked. “What word?”
“Two important things. The first thing.” Prince Han took out a thick letter and handed it to Sheng Chumu. “A letter your sister wrote to you.”
Sheng Chumu took out the letter and read it quickly. He then put it away properly. Prince Han commented, “There are so many pages and you are already done reading them?”
Sheng Chumu sighed, “After writing so much over and over again, she was only talking about one thing. If you do not reach back home in one full piece, my sister will take it out on me.”
Prince Han laughed. “That’s right. Your sister cares about me the most.”
Sheng Chumu nagged, “You both are already an old couple. Can you not be so cheesy?”
“It is natural for a man and woman to love each other. In the future, when you get married you will understand. Chumu ah, when we return to Chang’an after this battle, you can’t be discouraged just because of a woman and keep going to the borders. Look at you. You are tanned and have gotten skinnier. You don’t look like how you were back then…”
Sheng Chumu cut him off. “I thought that you had two things to say? What is the second thing?”
“Oh, the second thing.” Prince Han spoke lightly. “My Imperial Mother emphasised that we must capture Prince Zhao alive.”
Sheng Chumu was stunned for a moment before shouting, “Why are you only saying such an important thing now?”
Prince Han felt like Chumu was making a big deal. “It is not too late to say it now. After all, we haven’t attacked yet.”
Sheng Chumu was flabbergasted. “Whose stupid idea was it to make you the main commander? Capturing alive versus capturing regardless whether he is alive or dead is two completely different stories. We have to reconsider our plans and formations.”
However, upon considering further, Sheng Chumu knew why the Empress emphasised that Prince Zhao needed to be captured alive. This time, it was Prince Han that was leading the army. If Prince Zhao were to die, despite Prince Zhao having committed a crime, Prince Han would still have to bear the burden of killing his younger brother.
Seeing him in deep thought, Prince Han waited a while before asking. “Chumu, is it more difficult to capture him alive?”
Sheng Chumu stared at his Brother-in-law. This person’s appearance must follow his heart. They were both big and fat!
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lol Prince Han can't tell the difference between west and east.
Hmm. I wonder what Yan Zifang is going to do now that he knows Lu Yingying is being abused!! Do you think he regrets it?