Chapter 24 Face Powder; Ning Ziyan's Present
Ning Xueyan walked up to the table and opened one of the boxes. She used her sharp fingernail to scrap the powder and placed them near her nose for a sniff. It was a light, natural fragrance. It was the type of face powder most popular among young ladies, whether in terms of texture or fragrance. She smirked. "Keep this and put it in the drawer. We can talk about it after I return."
The face powder was a top-notch product and exactly what she needed right now. Her monthly allowance wasn't even enough to pay for a box of it. Ning Ziyan's present had come at just the right timing.
This could be considered as a case of preparation averting peril. She would strike Madam Ling where it hurts at the right timing and use the face powder that her eldest daughter sent to ruin her second daughter. She wondered if Madam Ling would go mad over this.
"Young Lady, you must refrain from using cosmetics now or people will talk." Mother Han thought that Han Ziyue was nursing a woman's sense of vanity. After thinking about it, she pitied her master for never having the chance to use such face powder since young. Thus, she merely warned her instead of stopping her.
"Relax, Mother Han. I understand. Just put it away for now." Ning Xueyan nodded. Since she didn't plan to use the face powder herself, she naturally wasn't concerned.
"I'm glad you understand." Mother Han was relieved.
"Mother Han, do you know when Uncle is arriving in the capital?" Ning Xueyan took a seat at a nearby table. Under the light, her palm-sized face appeared contemplative. She didn't look like a carefree 14-year-old girl at all. This upset Mother Han even further. Without Second Madam sheltering her in the future, her days would be even harder.
Simultaneously, she also vowed to protect Ning Xueyan from now on!
"We just delivered the letter the night before yesterday. It will reach him 10 days later at the soonest."
Madam Ming never exchanged letters with her Eldest Brother stationed in the border army. It was Ning Xueyan who wrote the letter. However, she couldn't remember her maternal uncle very well and her mom didn't seem to have a good relationship with him. It had been more than 10 years since they met and Madam Ning never wrote to him during that time. If not for Mother Han mentioning his name in a moment of desperation, she would have forgotten that her mom had a brother.
Mother Han stammered through a vague explanation of past events and concealed quite a few details but when it came to her uncle's adoration for her, she wasn't at all ambiguous. She was very sure that he would rush over if Ning Xueyan wrote him a letter, prompting the latter to draft one on the spot and ask her to send it that very night.
Regardless of when this uncle of hers shows up, she could tell from Ning Zu'an's reaction that day that the former had quite the influence over him. She hoped that her uncle truly cared for her and would be able to return to the capital in a month.
"Mother Han, are the servants from Eldest Sister's manor still here?"
"They were here moments ago. Do you have a need for them, Young Lady?" Mother Han stopped in her tracks.
"Tell them to relay my gratitude to Eldest Sister and tell her that she doesn't have to hurry to the temple. I'm fine with having Qingyu and Lanning for company."
Lanning was a maid that the Lord Protector's Manor assigned her. The day Madam Ling barged into the Cloud Reflection Courtyard with her people, Lanning happened to be away. Ning Ziyan said that Lanning was the one who claimed that Ning Ziying was having an affair with a man. She never believed this! Even if she had her reservations, she became convinced after seeing Lanning remaining in the Cloud Reflection Courtyard alone and Madam Ling's intention to kill her.
She wondered if Ning Ziyan would feel pressured when she sees Lanning again.
Auspicious Clouds Courtyard.
Mother Chen frantically pushed open the door to a bedroom. "First Madam! I went over with a group of servants but no one is there. The Cloud Reflection Courtyard is deserted and I can't find Old Servant Ling anywhere. I asked around at the Bright Frost Garden and heard that Lanning has returned with Fifth Young Lady, safe and sound."
"Crash!" The teacup in Madam Ling's hand crashed into a nearby small side table. Her exquisite, pale face was contorted into an ugly expression. "That damned old servant actually failed her task. Give her a good beating when you see her."
Mother Chen was supposed to catch Ning Xueyan in the act. Once she saw the wench Ning Xueyan and the dead Lanning together, Ning Xueyan would have no room to argue her innocence. To her surprise, she saw no one, not even Old Servant Ling.
"First Madam, please remain calm. With Second Madam gone, Fifth Young Lady's fate is in your hands. We can take it slow." Mother Lu placated her with a soft voice. "The Marquis is already suspicious about Second Madam's death. It's best if you stay put for the time being. Otherwise, we will risk his anger."
"As long as that wench is alive, there will never be peace in this manor." Madam Ling gnashed her teeth in resentment.
Her injuries meant that she could only lay on her bed. Even though she didn't know that it was Ning Xueyan's work, the latter was nevertheless the reason for it. Naturally, she hated the girl down to her bone. Her greatest desire was to tear that wench to shreds. How dare a low-class slut like Ning Xueyan reduce her to this state.
"First Madam, we might not be able to act but we still have Eldest Young Lady. If something happens to Fifth Young Lady in the Cold Mountain Temple, it has nothing to do with us," Mother Han said contemplatively while pointing outside. "The Marquis won't be able to put the blame on us then."
Madam Ling's eyes brightened and a thoughtful glint appeared in her pupils. She nodded with force. "Fine. Inform Yan'er later."
Whatever happened to that wench in the Cold Mountain Temple would have nothing to do with her. No matter how the Marquis investigates, he wouldn't be able to implicate her.
Ning Xueyan departed from the Lord Protector's Manor early in the morning. Aside from the servants that Madam Dowager Liu sent to see her off, there was no show of familial affection from Ning Zu'an and Madam Dowager. The entire manor knew that she was an unfavored child and thus sent her off on a random carriage from the side door.
It was still dark out. Ning Xueyan, Qingyu, and Lanning were all stuffed inside the same carriage. Mother Han, the housekeeper of the Bright Frost Garden, stayed behind to watch the house.
"Young Lady, can I meet you there later...? I think I saw my aunt earlier!" Lanning, who was about to enter the carriage, seemed to have spotted someone. Surprise flickered in her pupils and the hand that was holding the reins trembled. She turned around with a pale face and asked Ning Xueyan for permission.
"Your aunt?" Ning Xueyan looked away from the window with a faint and indecipherable smile. The smile was barely there but it wasn't cold.
"Yes, it's my paternal aunt. She came here from the city outskirts a while ago. I heard she was being bullied outside and came to seek shelter with relatives. However, my family's house is too small and she's forced to rent a place outside. Just now, I saw her waiting anxiously outside the manor. I fear that something serious has happened," Lanning explained, biting her lower lip.
"Since it's your aunt, go ahead. Who knows if something serious might happen later? Those hooligans are troublesome; they might pursue her all the way here. Tell her to be careful. I have some money here. Take them and find her a place. I'm sure she didn't bring much with her since she was in a hurry," Ning Xueyan said softly.
"Many thanks, Young Lady!" Lanning felt a hint of embarrassment. When she looked up and saw Ning Xueyan's sincere smiling face, she felt a sting in her eyes and nodded fervently. She didn't reject the offer because it was true that she didn't have much money and wouldn't be able to find Mother Wang a good home. For the time being, she must not allow First Madam to find Mother Wang.
Ning Xueyan ordered for the carriage to keep going after seeing Lanning off. Subconsciously, a faint smile was playing on her lips. Her long-time worry and longing finally subsided. Her wet nurse had finally returned. Not only that, she detected that something was off and didn't immediately enter the manor. Otherwise, First Madam would definitely silence her. With Lanning's protection, First Madam wouldn't be able to pin this on her for now. Once her roots became firm, she would be able to settle Mother Wang down even more securely.
It was now late autumn. Dead leaves were scattered all over the road. The small carriage draped with green cloth traveled down the road inconspicuously, shaking all the way to the Cold Mountain Temple. They arrived at the temple about four hours later. The monk that greeted them at the door was soon replaced by a young novice monk who led them to the female quarters. Then, out of the blue, the sound of the flute reached their ears. The tune sounded melancholic in the quiet, desolate temple.
Ning Xueyan stopped in her tracks. When she heard the first note of the tune, it was as if lightning had struck her.
Misunderstanding that her master was enjoying the tune, Qingyu quietly stopped behind her. The young novice monk also cleverly stopped at the corridor and didn't disturb Ning Xueyan's peace.
The sound continued to linger after the first song ended. The tune was filled with sorrow and anxiety. Coupled with the withering trees in the autumn season, one couldn't help feeling emotional and suffering quietly from a broken heart.
Finally, Ning Xueyan moved. The corner of her lips lifted to form a faint but lovely smile. However, one couldn't sense any warmth from her smile, only endless coldness that followed the end of autumn.
In her past life, the sound of this flute had repeatedly appeared and lingered endlessly in her dream. The tune was accompanied by that delicate, handsome face. However, she now found it laughable. That was her former fiance and Ning Ziyan's current husband. He was Xia Yuhang, the Eldest Young Master of the Minister of Justice with little reputation and talent.
For a moment, memories of all kinds from her past life hit her like the tide crashing on the shore. Nothing but deep, cold, and biting resentment remained!
Slowly, Ning Xueyan resumed walking and concealed her emotions. She asked nonchalantly, "Little monk, who's the one playing the flute?"
"It's the Eldest Young Master Xia of the Minister of Justice's Manor. He came here two days ago and has been playing his flute on top of the mountain ever since. He sounds like he's in a sorrowful mood," the young novice monk answered deferentially.
"Eldest Young Master Xia?" Qingyu was stunned. She asked nonchalantly, "Didn't he just get married a few days ago? Why is he staying on top of the mountain?"
"I'm not sure myself. I heard that he's grieving the death of a friend. He came here the day after his wedding and has been here since," the young novice monk said while scratching the back of his head in confusion.
Ning Xueyan raised her hand to point to the mountain and asked in a leisurely manner, "What a coincidence. Is he staying there?" The coldness concealed in her pupils were several degrees lower in temperature than the autumn season. Xia Yuhang and Ning Ziyan were the ones who gave the order. He had watched blankly as they drowned her in the lotus pond and yet he was now putting on a show of being melancholic.
If she was still the same Ning Ziying of the past, she would surely be moved and believed that he harbored a deep, undying affection for her. But the simple and kind Ning Ziying was now dead. The one who survived was Ning Xueyan, the Fifth Young Lady of the Lord Protector's Manor who had climbed out of hell.