“Ruoyan, you’re here!” Madam An smiled at Yun Ruoyan as she approached. “Quick, sit down.”
“I heard Grandmother would be coming, so I wanted to join in the fun. Is she still not here yet?”
“She was planning on coming, but as soon as she stepped out of her rooms, the heat made her dizzy…” Yun Ruoyao jumped in.
“Oh, is that so?” Yun Ruoyan was still smiling prettily. “Mother, it’s so warm and stifling today, and there aren’t even breezes. What made you think of hosting the gathering at this pavilion?”
“Ah!” Madam An sighed. “It’s because of Ruoyu, of course.” She looked toward the sullen and silent Yun Ruoyu by her side. “According to Ruoyao and Qianying, on the day that the crown prince came over to visit, it was at this pavilion that Ruoyu made you mad. These last few days, she’s been pestering me for an opportunity to reconcile with you.”
Madam An handed a cup of cool tea to Yun Ruoyan. She took it and held it for a moment before placing it back down on the stone table.
“We’re all sisters, and there’s no need to be so formal,” she replied coolly.
“You’re a generous girl, Ruoyan, but there’s such a wide gulf in status between the two of you that Ruoyu surely has to apologize formally. The Yuns have always been strict on decorum, after all.”
As soon as Madam An finished speaking, Yun Ruoyu stood up and walked to her sister’s side. She lowered her forehead and spoke, “I brewed this honey bayberry tea for you myself, Sister. If you really don’t blame me anymore, then please have a sip.”
Her eyes were glued to the teacup in her hands. It was a glazed porcelain cup on which a white lotus had been painted, and on one of the petals was a bright red dragonfly.
Yun Ruoyu couldn’t help but think back to that night, when Madam An had handed her an equally red bottle.
“This is a poison made from the Wu kingdom to the west. It’s a slow-acting poison that’ll slowly seep through one’s body. Within a day, symptoms will appear on her body: her skin will turn swollen and itchy, and her organs will slowly fester away. Within two weeks, she’ll die with her body all but turned to mud.”
Upon hearing Madam An’s introduction of the poison, Yun Ruoyu immediately felt the bright red bottle burn up, scalding her skin.
“That girl’s birthmark had already festered once. Even if it’s better now, there’s sure to be some scarring left behind, and it’ll be the most sensitive and weak part of her body.” Madam An spoke casually, as if she were discussing the latest fashion. “Once the poison strikes, it will spread starting from the birthmark on her face. Even she would think that there were a problem with the birthmark, let alone others, so you don’t have anything to fear. Simply be warned that, if the poison ever comes into contact with your skin, it’ll almost certainly leave a scar!”
“Ruoyan, if you don’t drink the tea, does that mean you won’t forgive Ruoyu?” Madam An sighed when she saw that Yun Ruoyan had no intention of picking up the teacup once more. “If that’s the case, then I can only punish her according to our family rules.”
Yun Ruoyan smiled, her hand moving as if to pick up the teacup but ending up patting her hair instead. “Then, Mother, please punish her.”
Madam An hadn’t expected such a response, and she stalled.
“If there’s nothing else, Mother, I’ll be leaving now.” Yun Ruoyan stood up and prepared to leave, but Yun Ruoyu couldn’t let her do so! She’d struggled long and hard before finally deciding to go with the plan, and it had to come to fruition. Furthermore, the empress’s flower-viewing party was in a few days. If she missed this opportunity, there wouldn’t be anything else she could do.
“Sister Ruoyan,” Yun Ruoyu immediately picked up the teacup and followed after her.
As if knowing that she would chase after her, Yun Ruoyan suddenly turned around, the thin summer dress she was wearing gyrating with her. It flared as she sent a pulse of spiritual energy at Yun Ruoyu: struck by what felt like a sudden gust of wind, she lost her grip on the teacup in her hands, and its contents spilled toward her body.
Cold, sticky tea dripped down Yun Ruoyu’s neck.
“Ahhhhhhhh!!” She screamed violently. In the still, summer heat, Yun Ruoyu’s terrified voice travelled far into the distance.
The Yun matriarch rested on a palanquin. She had just been brought through the entrance to the gardens when she heard the shrill scream. She frowned as she looked toward Peony, who was holding a parasol for her by her side.
The Yun matriarch had just had her lunchtime nap when Peony went looking for her. She informed the Yun matriarch that her mistress wished to invite her to the back gardens for a show. The Yun matriarch acceded without asking any questions, but she hadn’t expected to hear the commotion before she saw it.
“Mother, mother, quick, help me wipe it off! It’s sticking to my skin!” Yun Ruoyu jumped up and down, tears streaming down her face as she ran toward Madam An.
“Don’t come over, don’t come over!” Madam An’s face shook as she hurriedly ran from her.
“Sister, sister, save me! I don’t want any scarring!” Yun Ruoyu turned toward Yun Ruoyao instead.
“No, no, stay away!” Yun Ruoyao’s expression was pallid as Yun Ruoyu chased after her, making loop after loop around the pavilion.
“Eldest Miss, are you alright?” The servants that had accompanied them were all greatly confused by the commotion, and the heavy summer atmosphere turned raucous.
“What’s going on?!” It had been a long time since the Yun matriarch saw such improper behavior in her own household, and she thundered in rage. She tended to speak softly in her advanced age, but this shout was so loud that everyone within the pavilion stilled.
“Grandmother, save me!” Yun Ruoyu hurriedly ran in her direction.
Yun Ruoyan took two steps forward, stepping between her and her grandmother. With both hands clasped behind her back, she raised a foot and kicked at Yun Ruoyu’s chest.
Yun Ruoyu felt a strong force push against her body. It didn’t particularly hurt, but she couldn’t control herself as her body flew up into the air and landed in the pond with a great splash.
In the center of the pavilion, the Yun matriarch sat on a stone bench. Yun Ruoyu knelt by her feet, her clothes drenched.
“Grandmother, please summon a physician to save me!” Her skin felt incomparably itchy where the tea had made contact with it, and she couldn’t help wanting to scratch herself.
The current Yun Ruoyu cut a sorry figure. Her clothes were damp, her hair loose and matted, and she kept on scratching at her chest.
The Yun matriarch couldn’t bear to look at her. She had her maid Xiao Lan summon a physician before turning to Madam An and asking coldly, “Tell me what happened!”
“Mother, I don’t know either!” Madam An’s face was the epitome of worry and anxiety. She claimed that she’d only wanted to help the two girls reconcile, and that she had no idea what was going on either. In a few sentences, she’d absolved herself from the fiasco.
Yun Ruoyu’s chest was numb, her heart pounding. With teary, incredulous eyes, she looked at the mother who had always doted on her, not daring to expose the truth.
Ever since she was small, she had been stubborn and strong-minded. Her birth mother didn’t have the power to protect her, and she’d always been shielded by Madam An. She didn’t dare imagine what her life would be like in the Yun family if she didn’t have Madam An’s protection, nor her sister Yun Ruoyao’s support.
“Ruoyu? What’s going on?” The Yun matriarch pinned her with a gaze.
Yun Ruoyu only trembled as she bowed her head, unable to say a single word.
“Ruoyu, why don’t you admit it?” At this point, Yun Ruoyao spoke up. “Grandmother, Ruoyu was temporarily blinded by her emotions. Please spare her.”
Yun Ruoyu turned toward her good sister, a series of complex emotions welling up from her heart and turning into tears. Nevertheless, she grit her teeth, not speaking a single word.
“If she won’t say anything, then you do it, Ruoyao!”
Yun Ruoyao looked bleakly at Yun Ruoyu. “Last night, Ruoyu said she had an interesting thing to show me.”
“A red bottle containing powder that would make one’s body itch. I hadn’t expected that she would pour that powder into the tea she made, and I imagine she only did it to play a prank on Ruoyan.”
“Oh, is that so? Itching powder?” Yun Ruoyan laughed coldly. “Where’s the powder now? Ruoyu, can you show it to me?”
“Th-there’s no more,” Yun Ruoyu stammered as she raised her head. “There wasn’t much to begin with, and I’ve used it all up. Grandmother, I know I’ve made a mistake,” Yun Ruoyu began to cry softly as she knelt once more by the Yun matriarch’s knee. “I don’t dare to do it again, Grandmother.”
“Again?!” The Yun matriarch’s face turned red. “I really haven’t been as disciplined on all of you as I should have been. How dare you try to drug your own sister! This time, it might have been a prank, but what next? Something that’ll poison her to death?!”
“I don’t dare, Grandmother, I don’t dare!” Yun Ruoyu continued to moan, her hands still incessantly scratching at her neck. Her originally slender, white neck was now pitted with bloody impressions.
“Mother, Ruoyu’s still young,” Madam An pleaded. “She’s also suffered consequences for her own action, so please calm down and spare her this once.”
“As her mother, you also have to take responsibility.” The Yun matriarch glanced askance at Madam An. “She didn’t harm me, but rather Ruoyan. Why don’t you ask Ruoyan if she’s willing to spare her?”
“Ruoyu, quick, apologize to your sister!” Madam An commanded.
Despite her unwillingness, Yun Ruoyu still turned around and knelt in front of her sister. “Sister, I apologize for my mischievous behavior. Please, won’t you spare me this once?”
Yun Ruoyan continued smiling coolly, her gaze sweeping over Madam An and Yun Ruoyao. “You’ve played similar pranks on me more than once or twice. If I forgive you each time, won’t it mark me as someone easy to bully?”
She turned to her grandmother. “Grandmother, please don’t blame me for being careful. The Yun family emphasizes decorum, and if this were to continue…”
Yun Ruoyan turned to Madam An. “Mother, don’t you agree?” Her clear, limpid eyes seemed to sparkle.
Madam An couldn’t help but frown. This had been her excuse for bringing Yun Ruoyan here, and the odious girl was now countering her based on exactly that! “Ruoyu did overstep her bounds, but she is still young. Mother, I hope you won’t hurt her too badly.”
Yun Ruoyan turned to look at Yun Ruoyu once more, seeing the bloody streaks on her neck. “Well, I suppose I am the older sister,” she sighed and turned to the Yun matriarch. “Why not send Ruoyu to her cottage for solitary confinement?”
The Yun matriarch patted Yun Ruoyan’s hands, thinking that this punishment really couldn’t be any lighter.
“Alright, Ruoyan.” She glanced at her appreciatively. “I’ll let you decide how long your sister should be confined for, and you can let her out when you feel appeased about this whole affair.”
Yun Ruoyu’s hands, which were still scratching her neck, suddenly trembled. Didn’t that mean that Yun Ruoyan could choose to lock her up for life if she so chose?
She was just about to speak when Madam An glared at her, and she couldn’t help snapping her mouth shut once more.
“Grandmother, it’s too hot here. Why don’t I send you back to your rooms?” Yun Ruoyan obediently helped support the old matriarch.
“Alright, let’s go back.” She smiled. “It’s been too long since you came over to my place. Do you like the fruits I had Xiao Lan send you?”
“Of course! I’d even considered seeking you out to ask for more, Grandmother.”
“Good, good. Have as many as you want.”
Yun Ruoyan walked out of the pavilion with her grandmother, shrugging off the icy stares at her back and standing even straighter. It’s too early for any of you to try to catch me unawares. In this life, it’ll only be me harming you, not the other way around. Just you wait!Previous Chapter Next Chapter