The sunset was fiery red.
In the garden, Fu Rou was working on her embroidery. Fu Yin came over with a bowl of white fungus lotus seed soup.
“Second Sister, what are you embroidering?” Fu Yin looked over curiously before sputtering out a laugh. “Isn’t that Brother Chumu? Why does he look like he just fell from the tree?”
Fu Rou covered her embroidery with a cloth. She took a sip of the white fungus lotus soup. “This is your mother’s specialty. How can you bear to give this to me?”
“My mother knows that you like to eat this but feels embarrassed to give it to you herself. She told me that she made too much as an excuse.” Fu Yin suddenly lowered her voice. “My mother is actually still very grateful to you for saving her.”
“We are a family.” Fu Rou finished the white fungus lotus seed soup but saw how reluctant Fu Yin was to leave. She smiled. “You look like you have something else to say, what is it?”
Fu Yin swallowed. “Second Sister, can you lend me some money?” Fu Rou looked at her seriously. “How much?”
Fu Yin lifted three fingers. “Three months’ worth.”
Fu Rou raised her brows. “How can a bowl of lotus seed soup be so expensive?” She intentionally narrowed her eyes. “Tell me. What do you want it for?”
Fu Yin blushed slightly. “It is going to be Du Ning’s birthday soon and I want to prepare a gift for him. He taught me calligraphy and painting. Furthermore, he knows how to do a lot of things. He knows how to fish, play music, write poems and pitch pot . He is incredible!”
Fu Rou made an oh sound. “Does your mother know that you like Du Ning?”
Fu Yin did not realise that Fu Rou was trying to test her and waved her hands awkwardly. “I wouldn’t dare. Du Ning is just a scholar and no one in his family is a high-ranking official. Mother nags at me all day to find a wealthy husband. She keeps going on about how a pheasant can become a phoenix and how I should ride on my husband’s success. Aiyo, I am about to be bothered to death. How did I get such a mother? Second Sister, you definitely cannot tell my mother about me and Du Ning.”
Fu Rou laughed. “Rather than remind me, you should be careful. You keep calling Du Ning’s name casually, if you accidentally slip up in front of Third Madam then you are going to be in trouble.”
“Okay.” Fu Yin replied obediently. She continued to ask, “When is Brother Chumu returning?”
Fu Rou shook her head. “I don’t know. The place he is at now is extremely closed off. Even Junhui cannot enter.”
“Every time Brother Chumu leaves, he will come back as a different person. I wonder whether it will be the same this time.” Fu Yin looked forward to Chumu’s return.
“Maybe darker, skinnier and stronger.” Fu Rou was even more expectant. She then kept her embroidery materials. “It is getting dark, let’s head back. I will give you the money. You don’t have to return it to me, just teach me how to make your mother’s white fungus lotus seed soup.”
“Second Sister, you are the one that said this.” Fu Yin was delighted as she held onto Fu Rou’s arm.
Both sisters did not know that that very night, Sheng Chumu returned.
Sheng Chumu could not even remember what he had gone through under Niu Wudi. Although he still looked dashing and charming on the outside, internally he had turned into an iron wall. This time, however, he did not utter a single word of complaint. He was completely willing. Not only that, he had requested for all sorts of additional training, causing Niu Wudi’s jaw to drop. Before Sheng Chumu left, Niu Wudi even fished a precious item from his trunk – a Chinese Chess Manual. However, Sheng Chumu could not understand why it was precious.
“Chumu.” Someone called out to him. Sheng Chumu turned back to see Lu Qi riding towards him on a Five Blossom Horse.
A cold look entered Sheng Chumu’s eyes. However, he still greeted him with a smile. “Lu Qi.”
“What a coincidence.” Lu Qi immediately dismounted. He threw the reins backwards as his guard immediately caught it. “Since we have met, there’s no day better than today. Let’s go for a drink.”
Sheng Chumu stiffened as he did not let Lu Qi move him even an inch. “I am not going. I am scared of your tricks.”
It was too coincidental. As soon as he entered the city, he bumped into Lu Qi. It was as if Lu Qi was waiting for him.
Lu Qi laughed out loud. “Haha, so direct. You remind me of Duke Lu. You are looking down on me. Since I made a deal to compete with you, we will settle this in Chang’an. I won’t resort to underhanded means.”
“So we are really going to drink?” Sheng Chumu was moved. He did not get to drink at Wudi Manor and the alcoholic side of him was calling for a drink.
“Of course.” Lu Qi’s eyes shifted. Of all times, Sheng Chumu came back on the exact day he wanted to make a move on the Fu family. He was not going to let Sheng Chumu ruin his plans. “As the saying goes, ‘You learn more about your opponent through fighting’. Even though we already know each other, we must fight. As men, we have to fight and drink. Who knows? Maybe after our fight, we will understand each other better and can even be friends. Don’t you think so?”
“Yes, we cannot be like the women. When something is not right, all they do is show a dark face and never talk to each other ever again. So petty.” Sheng Chumu relaxed and allowed Lu Qi to drag him along. Ultimately, he gave in to his urge to drink.
Grabbing onto Sheng Chumu’s shoulder, Lu Qi murmured, “I heard that the Swallow House’s famous courtesan, Yan’er, has feet as smooth as jade. Her foot is snow-white and delicate. Rumours say that it does not even fill a person’s palm. I wonder how smooth her foot feels. Will it be smoother than the daughter of the Assistant Minister of Works, Official Chen? The one that blushes super easily?”
Sheng Chumu was extremely serious when he replied, “I have never touched Lady Chen’s foot before.”
Lu Qi pretended to be surprised. “How come? But you are famous in Chang’an for knowing all about every courtesan’s feet.”
Sheng Chumu shook his head. “Let’s not talk about my ridiculous past. “ The two men headed to drink.
Third Madam was restless in her sleep. She had dreamed about pirates burning down their ship and she was trapped under the deck with nowhere to escape. All of a sudden, Fu Rou appeared from nowhere and pulled her to escape. However, as she neared the exit, Fu Rou suddenly disappeared.
“Ah!” Third Madam was jolted awake. The moonlight shone into the room, illuminating the smoke that filled it. The house was on fire!
Third Madam got up in a frenzy. She did not bother wearing her shoes as she dashed out of the room. However, she suddenly turned back. She headed to the dresser and grabbed her jewellery box before running out once again. Fire was blazing all around her.
Third Madam muttered to herself as she moved, “There have been so many calamities this year. I better go to the temple to pray.”
“Is there anyone out there? Please help me!” Fu Rou’s voice floated out of the kitchen.
Third Madam was startled. However, she saw that the entire kitchen was engulfed in flames. She gripped her jewellery box tighter to herself and gritted her teeth as she ran towards the main door.
“Ah!” Fu Rou let out a scream before falling silent.
Third Madam came to a stop as her expression changed. Eventually, she placed the jewellery box between a crack in the fake mountain, making sure that the fire would not get to it. She then turned back and broke down the door to the kitchen.
Smoke filled the interior as Fu Rou lay on the floor unable to get up. As soon as Third Madam dashed into the room, the smoke engulfed her, making her choke. She coughed and pulled Fu Rou along.
“Third Madam?” Fu Rou was surprised and forced herself to look at Third Madam.
“You still dare to call me Madam? You brat!” Third Madam realised that Fu Rou’s leg was trapped under a pile of burning wood as she quickly helped to shift it off. “What are you even doing in the kitchen in the middle of the night?”
“I was making white fungus lotus seed soup…”
Third Madam shouted, "Aiyo! If you want to eat, just get Yin’er to tell me.”
Fu Rou could not bring herself to say that she had stolen Third Madam’s recipe in order to personally make the dessert for Sheng Chumu.
The fire was still blazing outside the house and smoke had started to appear from a pile of ash. It was suffocating them and Third Madam’s actions started to slow as she shifted the broken wood.
“Third Madam, leave me behind. Hurry and get out of here!” Fu Rou shouted. Fire was about to engulf the only exit.
However, Third Madam did not stop. “I am saving you this time. In the future, you have to double my allowance.”
Fu Rou laughed bitterly, “As long as we can get out of here alive, I will give you triple of your current allowance.”
The skin on Third Madam’s hand was starting to peel off. However, the raise motivated her to continue. “You better not lie to me. I am going to believe you.” She finally managed to move the firewood out of the way.
“Third Madam, you know that I always keep my – Watch out!” Fu Rou shrieked.
The roof beam suddenly collapsed. Fu Rou wanted to push Third Madam away but was instead shoved aside by Third Madam. Fu Rou escaped the danger but Third Madam was trapped under the roof beam and could barely breathe.
Tears immediately flowed from Fu Rou’s eyes. She crawled beside Third Madam and sobbed. “Third Madam, don’t worry. I will save you!” She did not care that the wood was on fire and pushed at it with her bare hands.
However, Third Madam knew that she was not going to make it. “In the fake mountain outside, I hid my jewellery box in one of the cracks. There are two pairs of bracelets in it and –” She pulled off the ring she was wearing. “This was given to Yin’er by her grandmother. You must give this to Yin’er. Don’t you dare to keep this to yourself.”
Fu Rou’s tears blurred her vision. “Third Madam, stop talking. Nothing will happen to you.”
Third Madam grabbed onto Fu Rou’s hand with all her might as her gaze shifted frantically. “Tao’er, my dear Tao’er. I won’t be able to see you for the last time. I miss you. You better return safely.” All of a sudden, she seemed to realise what she was doing as she shoved Fu Rou away. She shouted angrily. “What are you doing? Leave now!”
As Fu Rou fell backwards from Third Madam’s push, a tile fell onto her leg.
Third Madam screamed, “Go! Help Yin’er find a good husband and hand over the family business to Tao’er. You better do as I say or I will haunt you in the afterlife—”
Fu Rou wore a pained expression; she was reluctant to leave. However, the falling tiles forced her to leave and she watched as Third Madam became engulfed by the fire. Each step she took was breaking her heart. She had never treated Third Madam particularly well, believing that Third Madam was shrewd. However, Third Madam was not evil. Her cowardly side was even slightly adorable. Unfortunately, it was too late for regrets, she should not have fought with her over everything.
Fu Rou was crying as she ran out of the main door. As she saw Fu Yin come up to her anxiously, she was filled with guilt. “Second Sister, have you seen my mother? She is the only one left.” Fu Yin asked, not understanding the situation.
“In order to save me, Third Madam sacrificed herself and got knocked by a roof beam…”
Holding onto Fu Yin's hands, tears streamed down Fu Rou’s face. “Sister Yin, I am so sorry.”
Fu Yin covered her mouth and burst into tears. Her legs seemed to lose strength and she fell to the ground.
Having received news of the fire, Sheng Chumu immediately rushed back. From afar, he could hear the sound of Fu Yin’s cries. His heart jumped in anxiety as he scanned the crowd frantically. He only breathed a sigh of relief after he saw Fu Rou standing in a daze.
“Rou’er!” He called out loud. Jumping off his horse, he ran towards Fu Rou.
Fu Rou’s gaze was slightly delayed as she turned to look at Sheng Chumu. She remained expressionless. Sheng Chumu’s heart tightened as he slowed down and spoke gently. “Rou’er, it is me” All of a sudden, Fu Rou’s blank and dry eyes were filled with tears.
“Third Madam…is gone.” She would actually have been overjoyed at his return but now all she felt was sorrow.
Sheng Chumu was startled as grief filled him. Although they were fake relatives and Third Madam was trying to take advantage of him, she had treated him extremely well. He could not believe that she was gone just like that. Sheng Chumu reached out and pulled Fu Rou into his arms. Fu Rou tilted her head and buried her face in his chest, crying to her heart’s content.