Chapter 26 The Woman Who Selfishly Lingers in the Cold Mountain Temple
The ladies chatted as they walked. Ning Ziyan didn't realize that Ning Xueyan was "accidentally" leading her down a trail.
The winding path in the rear mountain of the Cold Mountain Temple was full of trails. Those who rarely came here would have no idea where these trails lead to.
"Was Ning Ziyan threatening Lanning earlier?"
Ning Xueyan glanced at Lanning. Sure enough, her maid's expression had changed. Even her face turned pale. However, she soon raised her head, deferentially saluted Ning Ziyan, and retreated behind Ning Xueyan. She was making it clear that she now belonged to Ning Xueyan.
Ning Xueyan gave her a subtle nod. She had long known Lanning to be a clever girl. Lanning's refusal to speak had effectively ruined Ning Ziyan's plans. If Lanning really had to say something, she must at least get her master's permission. Ning Ziyan's abrupt arrival was prompted by her talking about Ning Ziying. Not even in a million years would Ning Ziyan expect that the girl she drowned would be reborn in a different body.
Thus, Ning Xueyan knew where Xia Yuhang was and what he was doing at this very moment. The nefarious smile hidden in her pupils turned even colder.
Her aim was to draw Ning Ziyan over and take her to see a good show. As for what would happen next...
Well, she had no idea what would happen next!
Hadn't Xia Yuhang kill her for Ning Ziyan? Wasn't he deeply devoted to Ning Ziyan? Then she looked forward to seeing the couple's "lovefest"!
Despite sneering inwardly, her mask of gentleness stayed put. Mirth filled her beautiful eyes as she slowly said, "Eldest Sister, let's put that aside. I heard Eldest Brother-in-law is here as well. Why didn't you come with him? The monk at the temple said that he has been staying here these few days."
A curious-looking Ning Xueyan blinked at Ning Ziyan. She sounded so innocent, yet Ning Ziyan felt like it pierced her heart. Xia Yuhang had been away from the Xia Manor aside from their wedding night. In fact, he left for the Cold Mountain Temple the morning after. Ning Ziyan was furious but she couldn't complain. People had been criticizing her ever since the death of Madam Ming of the Lord Protector's Manor was revealed. Minister Xia and his wife were also terribly unhappy about her. Their every word suggested that she was bringing their family misfortune.
To her chagrin, they didn't even question their son about leaving the manor the day after the wedding and leaving his bride to safeguard an empty bedroom. Even though he obeyed the tradition of accompanying her to the Lord Protector's Manor yesterday afternoon, he urged her to return straight after lunch. By the time the carriage was halfway through the journey, he was nowhere to be seen. It wasn't until she questioned the young manservant that she learned that he was already returning to the Cold Mountain Temple.
If not for the fact that she had to return to the Xia Manor to pack, she would have headed straight for the temple.
Ning Ziyan considered this a great disgrace and her smile nearly faltered after hearing Ning Xueyan bring it up.
"Brother Yuhang will be taking part in the preliminary round of imperial examinations in the spring, so he needs peace. Ambitious men aim far, after all. How can I, his wife, restrict him? It's tranquil here; it's just the right environment for one to study in. That's why he's here." Ning Ziyan tried her best to act the part of a noble wife as she took a seat nearby. She looked like she was acting in nothing but consideration for Xia Yuhang.
With a turn of her mind, Ning Xueyan flashed a brilliant smile and said curiously, "I see. So, Eldest Brother-in-law is taking the imperial examinations soon. I have long heard of his talent. There wouldn't be any problems with your visit home in the coming spring, would there? The examinations next year are still far away. Don't tell me that he's going to stay here until then."
Ning Xueyan's facial features were exquisite but they typically didn't stand out due to her young age, poor complexion, and pale lips. However, her exhaustion after the climb had dyed her pale face with a reddish tint. She looked like she had been revitalized. She was so lovely that she nearly took one's breath away. Though her smile was faint and placid, there was a coquettish quality to it.
She looked so beautiful that the madams walking down the mountain path couldn't help turning around to steal second looks. They wondered which family she belonged to. How could she be so beautiful and ethereal? Subconsciously, they began walking toward her.
Ning Ziyan didn't notice all these for rage was rising in her chest. Regardless of how she diverted the topic, Ning Xueyan would somehow draw Xia Yuhang "abandoning his new bride" into their conversation. The girl sounded like she was comforting her but her words sounded like mockery to Ning Ziyan's ears. She suppressed her fury and scuttled forward like a raging inferno.
Trying her best to restrain herself, she said, "Fifth Sister, let's not talk about your Eldest Brother-in-law. Men think differently than women. Besides, us women need only to keep their inner courtyard in order."
"Is that so… But…" Ning Xueyan paused. She looked as if she was holding back and it made Ning Ziyan terribly curious.
"What is it?"
"Eldest Sister, look. Isn't that Eldest Brother-in-law? The one next to him…" Ning Xueyan acted as if she had just spotted Xia Yuhang. She blinked and pointed to a pavilion nearby. The mountain path was winding. Had they not walk to this area, they wouldn't have discovered a small pavilion here.
The handsome, blue-robed gentleman standing in the cloister of the pavilion was none other than Xia Yuhang. The one leaning against the railing with him was a beautiful lady dressed in a yellow and green dress. From afar, they looked like a handsome couple who had walked out of a painting. They were laughing while chatting, not realizing that they had caught someone's attention...
Watching Xia Yuhang so elegantly chatting and laughing with a woman, Ning Xiyan's face instantly darkened.
After taking in the scene, Ning Xueyan subconsciously took a couple of steps backward with a small smile. Ning Ziyan believed that she had won Xia Yuhang's heart but never expected that a newly-wedded Xia Yuhang would act so intimately with another woman. Moreover, she even insisted that Xia Yuhang had merely neglected her for his studies in front of Ning Xueyan. However, barely any time passed before she saw him with another woman. It was a hard slap on her face.
Ning Ziyan's face instantly turned ashen after seeing her husband. She looked drastically different from her typical image of a sweet-tempered young lady from a wealthy family.
Ning Xueyan, who had become Xia Yuhang's fiancee at a young age, naturally knew a lot of things about him that Ning Ziyan didn't. Take this woman in front of them for example. Xia Yuhang had always insisted that he wasn't close to that woman. In her previous life, she trusted his words and believed that they had a platonic relationship. He said that the woman was just a damsel in distress that he happened to rescue and settled in the Cold Mountain Temple.
A precious young lady ran to the capital to escape a forced marriage but discovered that her relatives were away. In a moment of desperation, she entered a forest somewhere to hang herself. Xia Yuhang happened to pass by, saved her, and settled her in the Cold Mountain Temple. He even ordered his men to search for this woman's family but the search was fruitless even after half a year had passed. Thus, that woman remained in the temple until now.
Ning Xueyan once met this woman by chance. Back then, she was coincidentally in the Cold Mountain Temple as well. The woman had sought her out, apparently to thank Xia Yuhang for saving her. She insisted on returning the favor and expressed her willingness to be Ning Xueyan's servant. She was willing to do anything as long as she could repay his kindness.
It was also the same woman who told her of this spot!
The woman was so agitated that she knocked Ning Ziying into the creek that she was standing next to. She fetched Xia Yuhang while weeping like the world had ended. She acted as if she was prepared to jump into the water to save Ning Ziying. Xia Yuhang hugged her tightly out of fear that she would truly jump, all while delaying Ning Ziying's rescue.
It had been a cold winter day with the wind blowing from the northwest. Lanning happened to be away to fetch something while the woman held onto Xia Yuhang. It wasn't until Lanning returned and jumped into the water while sobbing that she was saved. She was so cold that she was stammering through her words. Fortunately, Abbot Mingyue of the Cold Mountain Temple was a medical expert or she wouldn't have survived. Even so, her recovery took nearly half a year.
However, she had been terribly naive. After hearing Xia Yuhang's explanation and the woman's repeated tearful apologies, she instantly trusted in their innocence. She believed that the woman was only trying to repay his grace and the subsequent incident was merely an accident. Since it was an accident, then no one should be blamed.
But from the looks of things now, it was evident that something was going on between them. That woman was obviously vicious. Back then, she had tried to kill Ning Ziying but the admiration and gentleness in her eyes now were evident for all to see!
Xia Yuhang was much taller than the woman and would lower his head to talk to her. His action was so gentle that Ning Ziyan became red-eyed with fury. She glared at the woman in resentment.
Noticing someone looking at her, the woman looked up. She became frozen with shock after seeing Ning Ziyan and reached out to tug on Xia Yuhang's sleeve as if she got a fright. She said softly, "Young Master Xia, who… who's that woman? She looks so fierce!"
Xia Yuhang swiftly turned around and saw Ning Ziyan. He was surprised to see her here but he didn't panic. He got up and walked over to her. "Ziyan, why are you here?"
Even though she was raging inside, Ning Ziyan forcefully suppressed her emotions and put on a faint smile. "I came here to accompany my Fifth Sister. Why are you here, Brother Yuhang? Who is that woman? She looks like the one we saw at Cousin Brother's place. Don't tell me that you deliberately invited her from one of those places."
Her words sounded like a nonchalant joke but she was nonetheless comparing the woman to a brothel lady. Ning Ziyan's cousin was a frequent visitor of brothels and would have flings with courtesans every now and then.
"No, she's a damsel in distress that I saved. She's not from a brothel," Xia Yuhang said earnestly. His gaze went from Ning Ziyan to Ning Xueyan. Her pair of limpid, cold eyes were as dark as ink and filled with indifferent mockery and scorn. Inexplicably, his heart raced. When he wanted to get a closer look, she made a small bow at him. She addressed him somewhat placidly, "Eldest Brother-in-law!"
"Oh, so you're Fifth Sister." He felt disappointed for no particular reason.
Ning Ziyan watched the woman shyly walk over to them and cried in feigned surprise, "Damsel in distress?" After sizing the woman up, she turned to smile at Xia Yuhang. "Brother Yuhang, I think she's rather pitiful. Why don't we take her in? That way, it will be easier for us to care for her in the future."
Mirth was dancing in her eyes as if she was truly going to give Xia Yuhang a concubine. She looked just like a wise and virtuous First Madam of a manor.