Yun Ruoyan was ready to break off all relations with Madam An.
In the past, the schemes that Madam An and the other girls drew her into were all small, petty things, nothing which would merit more than a mild punishment. Of course, the overall goal was more insidious: to discredit her and depose her of her position in the family.
However, as Yun Ruoyan grew more and more talented, Madam An and the others began deploying ever more malicious plans.
The attempted poisoning at the pavilion, followed by this claim that Yun Ruoyan was a demon… either of these ploys could easily have killed her if she had fallen into Madam An’s trap.
In the past, Yun Ruoyan had focused all her attention on cultivation, and had all but ignored Madam An and the other girls. However, now that Madam An was getting more and more crafty, she couldn’t guarantee that she would be safe. If not for Li Mo’s timely arrival, she really might have died.
This wasn’t something she would let happen again!
“Grandmother, I know you truly care about me—that’s why I’m asking you to hear me out.” Relentless, Yun Ruoyan continued, “Otherwise, what’s the point of staying in the family?!”
The Yun matriarch and Yun Lan had never seen Yun Ruoyan so angry, and they were momentarily at a loss for words. They naturally knew that Yun Ruoyan wasn’t lying. Over the past few years, countless small incidents had launched themselves at Yun Ruoyan, most of which they had overlooked.
What was fairness? As long as she was useful to the family, she could have redress for her grievances. Otherwise, she would only be dismissed with a few words of consolation.
The Yun Ruoyan of the past surely didn’t deserve such fairness, but although she now had that right, Yun Lan and the Yun matriarch didn’t want to dig up the past. They would certainly punish minor transgressions, but it simply wouldn’t do to hurt the harmony of the family at large. Yun Lan and the Yun matriarch held the family above all, even if that family was only held together by superficial ties.
Madam An’s face was ugly. Ever since Yun Ruoyan was abducted, Yun Lan hadn’t given her a pleasant look. And although he didn’t chastise her, the Yun matriarch had forced her to kneel in the ancestral hall the entire night. There had never been precedent for punishing the female head of the household in the Yun family, and Madam An had stewed in her negative emotions from sunset to sunrise.
And now, Yun Ruoyan was even trying to heap more punishment upon her, as if she wouldn’t be satisfied until she was stripped of all her authority.
Why? I was supposed to be the wife of the Yun household, until that damned Lin Yuemei showed up! What right did she have to snatch away my status and position? And now that she’s finally dead and I’ve reclaimed what’s mine, what right does her useless, ugly daughter have to take my daughter’s position?!!
Madam An’s guilt morphed into a whole slew of grievances in a single moment. “Mother,” she choked out, “everyone tells me how hard it is to be a stepmother, and I truly see why now. A single misunderstanding, and now I’m treated like a villain, a murderer!”
“A misunderstanding?” Yun Ruoyan scoffed. “Three years ago, when I was badly injured at the family academy, Peony begged you to find me a physician. Although you agreed, you kept dragging the process out. If not for Madam Qin’s care, I would likely have perished due to my injuries.”
Madam An wanted to defend herself, but Yun Ruoyan barrelled on. “And in the past three years, during every holiday and event, each of the young misses of the household were given cloth and money for new clothes. However, without fail, the plainest fabrics would be sent to my residence, and I wouldn’t even get half the money that the other misses did! Is that also a simple misunderstanding?”
“There are so many scions in the household that I certainly can’t guarantee equal portions each time, Second Miss,” Madam An hurriedly began, now that Yun Ruoyan had finally stopped speaking over her. “That’s why I’ve always had Housekeeper Wu emphasize that you should reach out to me if you feel like you’ve been shortchanged. The other scions complain to me from time to time, and I’ve always given them the materials or money they’ve asked for. But you’ve never come talk to me about this, Ruoyan, so isn’t this quite a bit of a stretch?”
In the past, Yun Ruoyan was timid and fearful, so she wouldn’t speak up even if she received unfair treatment. This was why Madam An was able to discriminate against her so blatantly.
“Alright, let’s drop that matter for the moment,” Yun Ruoyan continued. “Last year, as is tradition, I went to pay my respects to Grandmother during the first day of the Chinese New Year. However, I met Hong Yu halfway. She told me that Grandmother was unwell, that she didn’t want to see anyone, and to return to my cottage and await further news. In the end, every other member of the Yun family paid their respects except for me!”
Given the Li kingdom’s emphasis on formality, Yun Lan had flown into a rage when he heard about the matter. Without giving Yun Ruoyan a chance to explain herself, he’d sent her to kneel in the ancestral chambers for three days and nights.
“Mother, who else would have commanded Hong Yu but you?!”
“Is this true?” The Yun matriarch looked shocked. She too remembered that all her descendants had indeed gathered at her chambers to pay their respects to her during the New Year, all save Yun Ruoyan.
The Yun matriarch had always thought Yun Ruoyan a timid girl, but one who was at least familiar with proper etiquette. That incident had left her quite dissatisfied with Yun Ruoyan.
She turned toward Madam An. “Is this true?”
Madam An’s face shook slightly before she called out, “Hong Yu!”
Hong Yu, who had been standing by her side, began to tremble as she bowed down. “Yes, Madam.”
“Did the second miss tell the truth? Did you lie to her?” Madam An’s tone was sharp and acerbic.
“I… I…” Hong Yu’s stammers filled the silent room.
“Well? Yes or no?!”
“No, Madam, I didn’t!” Hong Yu bowed even lower, her head shaking.
Yun Ruoyan glanced askance at her and asked coldly, “Hong Yu, if you truly didn’t lie to me, then why did you stammer so much just now?”
Hong Yu was Madam An’s aide and trusted confidante, who had carried out a large number of her ploys. She would be far harder to catch off-guard than a regular servant.
Except at the very beginning, when she had been suddenly called out by Madam An, she hid her anxiety very well.
“Miss Ruoyan,” Hong Yu bowed and replied, “because it’s been so long, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to remember the incident clearly, so I needed a moment to think. On the madam’s orders, I spent the entire day in the small warehouse helping to organize the gifts that were sent to the residence. I didn’t step out of the warehouse until very late at night, and I surely wouldn’t have crossed paths with you, Miss. Could there be an error in your recollection?”
“That day, I did task Hong Yu with helping out in the small warehouse,” Madam An affirmed. “As for whether or not she did anything elsewhere, I can’t say. If you don’t believe Hong Yu’s words, I can send for some of the other women working with her to testify.”
Yun Ruoyan sneered grimly in her mind. Right by the side of the small warehouse was a path leading from her quarters to the Yun matriarch’s, and it was there that Hong Yu intentionally waited for her before reporting to the warehouse.
The other women working there were all Madam An’s subordinates, and they clearly wouldn’t provide a damning testimony.
Madam An had really set up some intricate plans against her!
The Yun matriarch was about to ask Madam An to send for the other women when Yun Ruoyan interrupted her. “Grandmother, it’s alright. Since Madam An was prepared for this, nothing will come out of having more servants attest.”
Yun Ruoyan had stopped calling Madam An Mother, and Madam An had also stopped calling Yun Ruoyan Ruoyan.
“Yun Ruoyan, aren’t you being too overbearing?” Yun Ruoyao, who had remained silent ever since Yun Moxiao scolded her, finally began speaking up again. “How can you accuse Mother like that without any evidence?”
As Yun Ruoyao spoke, she turned to Yun Ruoyu. Usually, Yun Ruoyu would be clawing at Yun Ruoyan by this point, so why was she remaining silent?
“Shall we talk about you too, Ruoyao?” Yun Ruoyan turned to her sister. “Ignoring your repeated attempts to plot against me, you should be expelled from the Yun family just for your antics during the imperial expedition! When the saber-toothed tiger attacked me, you fled with Yun Ruoyu and Yi Qianying! When you later found my group safe and sound, you even tried to lead us into a snake’s den to kill us all!”
“You’re lying!” Yun Ruoyao anxiously shouted, not expecting her to dredge up the past. “Stop trying to pin all these crimes on Mother and I! As long as you don’t have evidence, these are just empty words. Since we’re all in front of Father and Grandmother now, I’d really like to ask you why you keep trying to frame us!”
“Second Miss, if you’re dissatisfied with my performance as the head of the household, you need only direct your attention at me. There’s no need to bring your sisters into this too.” Madam An’s tone was disappointed and hurt. “Ruoyan, I can’t believe you thought this of m—”
Yun Moxiao snorted from the side. As he heard Yun Ruoyan’s recounting of what had happened to her while he was gone, waves of fury shook his core. He clenched his fists tightly in order to suppress his rage. Interrupting Madam An, he yelled out, “When I was small, Mother didn’t treat either of you badly. Who could have expected you to repay her kindness in this manner after her passing?!”
Yun Moxiao knew that Yun Ruoyan had been introverted because of her birthmark, that she never dared to look someone in the eye despite her status as the sole wife-born daughter of the Yun family. But he had still underestimated the extent of her bullying in the household.
Yun Moxiao turned to Yun Lan, who had remained passive throughout the argument. “Father, you forbade me from writing to my sister, telling me that it would influence her cultivation. You promised to take good care of her—is this what that promise looks like to you?!”
Yun Lan sat at the head of the table, as immobile as a marble sculpture. Only when Yun Moxiao directed his anger at him did he finally speak. “These are all one-sided claims from Yan’er. She doesn’t get along well with her mother, so you can’t trust her words.”
Yun Moxiao was clearly taken aback by his father’s curt response. “Father, if you don’t believe her, I will! And if you can’t take care of my sister, then I’ll take care of her myself.” He took Yun Ruoyan by the hand and announced, “I’m bringing Yan’er to the barracks with me.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter