Chapter 22 Secret; The Link between the Past and Present
When everyone turned around, they saw an ashen-faced Ning Zu'an and an elderly eunuch standing behind them.
After sizing Ning Xueyan up, the beaming eunuch turned to Ning Zu'an. He said with a laugh, "Marquis, your First Madam is sure impressive to execute a slave and then deliver the body to your first wife's daughter as a demonstration of power. To think a mere slave dare to yell and reprimand her master! What a novel experience!"
His words were direct and spared Ning Zu'an no respect.
Ning Zu'an's face went from green to purple, and finally black, after hearing Prince Yi's head eunuch taunting him. Unable to vent his anger on the eunuch, he focused it on the older female servant instead. He approached her and kicked her to the ground without a word. The servant coughed up blood. She was so badly injured that she couldn't even stand. "Damned slave! How dare you bully your master!"
Thanks to the previous incident, court reports condemning him had already piled up on the Emperor's desk. If rumors spread that Madam Ling bullied a fragile young girl and his manor's servants were acting like masters, he would be charged with failing to govern his household and indulging his wife's vicious acts. People might even dig up the incident from all those years ago and call him a man who favored his concubine over his wife! That would spell even bigger troubles for him!
These few days, he had been unable to raise his head in the court after it was known a funeral in his household had been concealed in favor of a wedding. He must not allow a bullying rumor to spread at a time like this! Moreover, this eunuch was the keeper of internal affairs of the all-powerful Prince Yi. He couldn't afford to offend both the master and his servant. When they were in the mourning hall earlier, Prince Yi had already learned of Madam Ming's death by poisoning.
He must absolutely conceal this matter!
Ning Zu'an's mind was made. He looked at the servant on the ground who was oblivious that her time of death had arrived. He said coolly, "Drag this mad slave who bullies her master away and beat her with a rod 30 times!"
It was impossible for an old female servant to endure 30 rod beatings. Ignoring the blood trailing down the corner of her mouth, the alarmed servant immediately looked up. "Marquis, it's First Madam..."
"First Madam ordered you to beat to death the maid who harmed Second Madam and inform Fifth Young Lady. Yet you tried to act clever by carrying the body to the Bright Frost Garden. Whose order are you executing?! How dare you act on your own accord! People, come and drag her away!" With a wave of Ning Zu'an's hand, two servants stepped forward and dragged the older female servant away.
The other servants immediately dispersed after seeing that disaster was looming!
However, they also came to understand that Qingrui was beaten to death for harming Second Madam and that First Madam was the one who wanted her body delivered here. When they thought about it, it was evident that First Madam's intention was twofold...
Ning Xueyan stood quietly on the side with her lowered head concealing the sneer within her pupils. As expected, he was protecting Madam Ling. Even though he couldn't reveal how Qingrui harmed Madam Ming, he nevertheless revealed Madam Ling's role with just a few words. He made it clear that Madam Ling was merely avenging Madam Ming and the current situation was the result of the older female servant acting on her own accord.
The elderly eunuch was smiling but his pupils were tainted with a hint of darkness as he looked at Ning Xueyan. In a manner that suggested a deeper meaning, he said, "So this is your family's Fifth Young Lady. She's a pearl-like character, as expected."
"You're too courteous, Eunuch Ling. This is indeed my daughter," Ning Zu'an said. He then awkwardly diverted the topic, asking, "Yan'er, do you have any of your mom's designation tablets left?" It was rather embarrassing to have something like this happen and for Prince Yi's servant to catch them in the act, to boot.
"I have one. Please wait for a moment, Father, I will fetch it immediately." Ning Xueyan nodded. She turned around and asked Qingyu to retrieve the tablet from their courtyard.
Designation tablets were tablets inserted into the pile of sacrificial offerings sent by other families. The tablets were wrapped with a snow-white cloth with the deceased's name written on it. They were typically designed with great detail as a form of respect to the deceased's family.
Of course, the Lord Protector's Manor had prepared a few for when there were other needs for them.
However, Ning Xueyan was the only one in this manor who sincerely put effort into making the tablets for Madam Ming.
Soon, the tablet reached Ning Zu'an's hand. The bamboo tablet was wrapped with a white cloth. It was intricately made whether in terms of materials chosen or needlework. It was obvious at first glance that the maker of this tablet had poured her heart and soul into it. The calligraphy of Madam Ming's name was fine but extremely beautiful.
"Great work!" Eunuch Ling nodded with satisfaction and his gloomy expression faded a little. He glanced at the fidgeting Mother Han behind him before turning around and walked away with large strides.
Ning Zu'an didn't follow after him. Frowning, he unhappily asked Ning Xueyan, "Why didn't anyone receive Prince Yi's sacrificial offerings at the door?"
Had he known earlier that Prince Yi's Manor would be delivering sacrificial offerings, he would surely send servants to receive the offerings at the door. Then, the offerings wouldn't have toppled over in a moment of chaos and the tablet on top of it wouldn't be knocked down to the muddy ground, dirtying its white cloth. The eunuch wouldn't have been upset either.
Desperate to find an intricately-made tablet to appease Eunuch Ling's anger, Ning Zu'an took him to the Bright Frost Garden in a moment of panic. Little did he expect such a scene.
"When the older female servant came to relay your message, I told her to inform you that the Prince's sacrificial offerings are on their way and ask that you send servants to receive them," Ning Xueyan replied calmly.
After thinking about it, Ning Zu'an realized that the older female servant earlier served in Madam Ling's courtyard. Right now, she must be reporting to Madam Ling without paying him any mind. How dare she ignore him just to curry favor with Madam Ling.
"So this is how Madam Ling governs her servants." A flash of anger crossed his face.
He dropped the conversation and left hastily with a flick of his sleeves. He was heading in the direction of Madam Ling's Bright Clouds Garden...
Ning Xueyan sneered inwardly as she watched him leave without showing her any regard. This useless father was indeed a good-for-nothing. It was one thing for him to say nothing about Madam Ling beating the maid to death and dumping the body at her door, but he was even forcing her to suffer in silence. Fortunately, she had already come up with a countermeasure.
If he were to investigate, he would find Madam Ling at the root cause of his terrible embarrassment today.
Ning Zu'an wouldn't reproach Madam Ling just because an unfavored daughter was bullied. But if his honor as a court official and the prestige of his manor were threatened...
Those coming to send offerings to the funeral weren't merely people from the manor!
Madam Ling was so focused on subduing Ning Xueyan that she forgot that secrecy was difficult if too many people share it. It would be the manor's reputation that she was ruining!
Ning Xueyan was sure that the string of incidents must have given Ning Zu'an a massive headache. His mood must be even worse after all that chaos earlier. No matter how much he trusted Madam Ling, the truth was before his eyes. This time, there wouldn't be a good outcome for Madam Ling.
Everything went as expected. In the evening, Mother Han reported the chaos in the Bright Clouds Garden and the argument between Ning Zu'an and Madam Ling. Ning Zu'an was so furious that he smashed a piece of chinaware and angrily left for Concubine Ma's courtyard. Madam Ling kicked up a fuss and wept in her own courtyard. She was so upset that she didn't eat dinner.
"Young Lady, First Madam is still fussing and crying in the Bright Clouds Garden. I heard she smashed quite a few things," Mother Han said quietly.
"Is that so? She's still crying now?" Ning Xueyan chuckled. She took off her outer garment and entered her bedroom. Qingyu was already inside with hot water ready for her.
"Madam Ling, I fear you won't even be able to eke out tears in the future."
Even though she was smiling faintly, Mother Han inexplicably detected a hint of sinister coldness...
Ning Xueyan was the only one inside the bedroom. The vapor rising from the hot water gradually filled the room, making her skin look like as pure-white and translucent as snow and her ink-black pupils look even darker.
Standing in front of a copper mirror, she tugged the sleeve of her underwear and turned sideways. She could clearly see the distinct spot on her pale shoulders in the reflection. Instinctively, she covered it with her fair hand. Staring into her eyes in the mirror, she saw a hint of coldness and contemplation reflected in them. She never thought that she would see this "pattern" again after being reborn as Ning Xueyan!
Back when she was still Ning Ziying, her mother had repeatedly warned her to never reveal that imprint. Therefore, she always bathed on her own. Not even her personal maid, Xiang'er, knew this. Now, she was seeing the same imprint on a person with zero connection with her previous self.
"Why would this happen? How could this happen..."
The same spot, the same pattern. She subconsciously reached out to cover it. It was as if she could conceal everything by doing so.
The unfamiliar feelings of fear and trepidation came to her. For a long time, she couldn't calm her rapidly beating heart.
This must be Ning Xueyan's secret, as well as her own. She thought that her previous self had carried this unsolvable secret to the netherworld and yet this secret remained on her body. How she could not feel fear?
She would never forget how frightened her mother had looked when she told her this in her previous life. That fright was something that her mother couldn't hide.
It seemed that everything was fated. In her previous life, Madam Ling subdued her and she ended up drowning in the lotus pond. In her current life, Ning Xueyan wept to death in the mourning hall. After being reborn as Ning Xueyan, she came to discover the latter's secret.
Everything indicated that this matter wasn't so simple!
She put down her hand and her young, tender face regained its mask of coldness. She knew what she should do now. Before she got to the bottom of matters, she would guard this secret...
"Young Lady, is the water still warm? Should I add more water?" Qingyu's voice came from outside her bedroom.
"It's fine. The temperature is just right," Ning Xueyan answered placidly. She turned around and stepped inside the bathtub. The heat of the warm water surged into her from her four limbs, giving her a sense of being revived. However, she was still ill at ease even as she was staring at the water. The drowning sensation from that day suddenly became vivid in her mind.
The bright red blood, the choking sensation that was so terrible that it felt like her chest was bursting, the fruitless struggle, the hands that pressed her into the water!
She subconsciously reached for her chest. Her face turned chalk-white and cold sweat formed on her fair forehead. Still, she continued to sit upright inside the bathtub. She gnashed her teeth and made no sound. Her bitten lip was initially white but soon became stained with blood.
After drowning to death, she inexplicably developed a fear of water after her rebirth. She could feel the choking sensation of drowning even though she was merely stepping inside the water inside a bathtub.
But she wasn't willing to let this be her weakness, so she must overcome it. Leaning against the wall of the tub, she tried her best to ignore the water enveloping her body and its rippling surface. Following a pained grimace, she slowly regained her calmness. She was now Ning Xueyan, not the Ning Ziying who drowned to death.
She was now bathing, not being pressed under the lotus pond...
After hearing no sound from the bedroom for a long time, Qingyu asked nervously, "Mother Han, why isn't Young Lady out yet? Should we go in and take a look?"
"It's fine. Young Lady has always preferred to bathe on her own. Maybe she's exhausted today. Let's wait a little longer. It's not too late to ask later if she's still not out yet!" Mother Han sighed. When she thought of how her Young Lady had lost her support at such a young age, she couldn't stop the rim of her eyes from reddening.
"Young Lady must be exhausted after the past few days..."