Amid her mental journey Meng Fuyao proceeded to grab a shovel, but before she could uproot the plants, a crisp shatter filled the air.
Following it was a lady's panicked cry that traveled from the flower pavilion outside of the herb garden.
Meng Fuyao extended her head out and caught sight of a female servant, Qiao Ling, through the flower shade, squatting on the ground and frantically picking up fragmented porcelain pieces. Guo Pingrong was sitting on a chair behind and opposite of King De, berating, "What a stupid girl. Get lost!"
Shivering from fear Qiao Ling quickly retreated. Meng Fuyao sighed noiselessly. Guo Pingrong had been in a jittery mood recently, and it was anyone's bad luck to bump into him. Come to think of it, it was Meng Fuyao who had implicated Qiao Ling.
Qiao Ling discreetly wiped her tears away as she flashed past Meng Fuyao's field of vision. The latter observed her but suddenly stopped in shock.
The lady was pretty, her face the size of a palm and her eyes no different from a set of crystals. She hadn't noticed them on usual days, but now that they were tear-washed and glossy, Meng Fuyao actually found them familiar.
"Eh?"--- Before she could identify the source of that familiarity Guo Pingrong had uttered and taken a step forward. He reached a hand out to clasp Qiao Ling's chin, forcing her to turn her head toward him.
He squinted his already narrow eyes, looking her up and down. At 16, had she never been ogled so presumptuously by youthful males? Yet, Guo Pingrong was big-built and had a steeled expression on his face, his long, phoenix eyes carrying a somewhat demonic air. He was after all a charismatic man. Qiao Lin's neck had turned red from shyness, which enhanced her naturally graceful charm.
Meng Fuyao noticed Guo Pingrong's gaze, which reminded her of Yuan Zhaoxu's comment. That man was a lecherous fellow.
'Not good,' she uttered inwardly, a thought made worse by the sudden epiphany - Qiao Ling's eyes... they resembled her own. Though not as bright, those eyes did share a similar gaze when moist, which must have been the cause of Guo Pingrong's interest.
Her guess was right indeed. He had unveiled her on that fateful night, but it was too dark to make out her features. All he could register was a pair of resplendent eyes, somewhat willful, menacing yet elegant at the same time.
In that moment Guo Pingrong had almost forgotten all anger, as his mind was thrown into shock. He had almost abandoned his plan to destroy Meng Fuyao and seriously considered taking the bold and crafty girl captive. How much ecstasy could he derive from having her under him, with her intelligent eyes looking only at him, her clear yet delicate moans drifting only into ears, and her lithe thighs wrapping tightly around his waist...?
Didn't men climb up the status ladder in order to wake up, intoxicated, to a bed of beautiful women?
As for the man who had taken on his concealed weapon and compelled himself to fall off, Guo Pingrong could only sneer. Did he really think that the Splendor of Heaven and Earth could be challenged this easily? The highly poisonous substance on his skin was Guo Pingrong's main weapon, and that fellow was probably already dead, if not reduced to a state worse than death. If he could seek that fellow out, he would most definitely dismember his corpse. He must know, even upon death, that a disciple of one of the most powerful men in the continent wasn't one to be provoked by any Tom, Dick or Harry.
Guo Pingrong's expression changed as he subconsciously tightened his grip around Qiao Ling's chin, evoking a soft cry from her. Only then did he release his hand and lewdly sized her up once more, before turning back to King De, commenting, "Can't believe that even a clumsy servant has such good looks."
King De, who was sitting on the master's seat, appeared majestic and tall, with prominent facial features to match. What stood out was a long and narrow scar running diagonally across his forehead, essentially disfiguring him. It was said that he had gotten it during the rebellion of Linjiang's king when Crown Prince Zhangsun had killed a reputable assassin Shu Ying, whose wife then avenged his death by taking on his role. It was King De who had received a blow from her deadly sword, fused with a mixture of jade and stone, on the crown prince's behalf, hence permanently owning this scar. He was regarded in the whole of Wuji Nation as a brave and loyal Marquis.
At that moment he smiled at his trusted man, casually replying, "You set expectations so high that it's rare for anyone to catch your fancy. Take her if you'd like."
"Really?" Guo Pingrong asked, eyes lighting up.
King De laughed heartily. "It's just a servant, why not?"
"You may think she's just a servant, but to me, she's a gem." Guo Pingrong turned back to Qiao Ling, giving her a meaningful smile. "Such fate is hard to come by, and I don't plan to do her wrong. I'll bring her back as a concubine."
"It's her good fortune, to have someone like you take a liking to her. Since that's the case, I shan't delay you further," responded King De. "Men, take this lady to the princess and start all the necessary preparations. Let's get her ready for a glorious marriage tomorrow!"
Guo Pingrong smiled in gratitude, and a joyfully surprised Qiao Ling was escorted down. Seeing her enter the back garden, face full of marvel, Meng Fuyao clenched her fist. 'Darn it!'
As night fell, one lamp after another was lit in the De Residence. Apart from the guards on duty, there were no other movements and sounds. Sometime later, winter-rain started drizzling down, gently hitting the stone floor. Reflections of the dim, faraway lights and the figures of patrolling guards were made blurry.
Amid the hazy scene, a lithe yet agile silhouette could be seen shuffling through the house-filled residence, her shadow reflected off the glossy ground. Like a black flash, she easily slid past the patrolling guards.
She was there, in that dimly lit night, to break a couple up.
Meng Fuyao had had already heard about Guo Pingrong even before she had arrived there. He had no concubine of sorts. In fact, any woman that stayed by his side had ended up committing suicide. Having only resided and served deep within the De Residence, Qiao Ling had no idea what she was in for.
On the other hand, the people on the outside were well aware of it, and every daughter was ordered to go around the doors of the Guo Residence. Now that Qiao Ling had, through eyes that resembled Meng Fuyao's, piqued the interest of Guo Pingrong, there was no way she would be treated kindly.
Dressed in black and well-veiled, Meng Fuyao utilized her memory of the layout and martial arts footwork to get her into the back garden quickly.
Qiao Ling had, in one night, been transformed into a phoenix and moved to the Lotus Fragrance Residence, located in the back garden. The bride-to-be was ready for the ceremony the next day, but perhaps due to the jitters, the lights within the house were still on.
Meng Fuyao made her move, swiftly crossing over the half-opened window before landing lightly like a ball of cloud.
The girl sitting before the makeup counter was startled. She shot her head up, the light shining down on hair, giving it a radiant color. It was Qiao Ling, who was already dressed in a Madam's outfit.
She was about to scream, but Meng Fuyao darted forward like an arrow to cover her mouth. "I'm here to save you, don't shout," she informed in a low voice.
Qiao Ling opened her eyes wide. Meng Fuyao's words seemed to have jolted a certain idea in her head, and she started trembling.
"Hey, hey, why are you afraid?" asked Meng Fuyao kindly. "I'm not here to deflower you. You're not a beautiful man."
She patted Qiao Ling's shoulder, adding, "Let's make it short. Come with me, quick. You can't marry that man."
At that Qiao Ling pushed her hand away, glaring. "Why not?"
"How do I explain this...?" Meng Fuyao muttered urgently. "He's up to no good," she highlighted.
"I'll serve whoever I marry. Plus, General Guo is a prominent figure. How could you defame my husband like that?" she retorted, pricking her brows up. She was angered.
"Your husband?" Meng Fuyao raised a brow. 'No way, aren't you getting into character too quickly?"
"Don't tell me you're ready to follow by his side just like that? You've seen him only once."
"Why not?" she waved, lifting her brows. "I'm the lowliest of servants and a clumsy one at that. I was sold into this house when I was 5, and have been working day and night since. How much do I get? 3 silvers a month. I'll need to save for a long, long time before I can even think about going home. What do I do then? I starve myself even while working. Do you know how many times I've mended my old clothes? In the house, Master orders me around, Sister bullies me, the senior servants rip me off, and even the little servants in the courtyard look at me with contempt."
Then, bared her forearm, revealing a scar on her wrist. "See this? Sister gave it to me. Now that I'm able to leave all this misery behind, to become a high-grade general's first wife, am I crazy enough to forgo it?"
Meng Fuyao remained silent, briefly at a loss as to how she could clarify things with that girl as she wasn't wrong. The life of a lowly servant was tough, and now that a life-changing opportunity had presented itself, did it make sense for her to give it up?
Of course, while Qiao Ling appeared eager and full of hope, Meng Fuyao simply couldn't watch her marry a lecherous tyrant. She wouldn't be able to forgive herself if she were to allow such an unpredictable and tragic fate befall that girl.
After a long time, Meng Fuyao went for what she believed would be effective. "Do you know that Guo Pingrong is a sadist?"
"Sadist?" Qiao Lin repeated, opening her eyes wide, roughly figuring out what this rather modern term meant. Suddenly, she lowered her head, as if abashed, and started twirling her waist ribbon. "Mother taught me that whatever a husband does in bed... a girl should just comply and endure... it will be over in a bit."
Meng Fuyao threw her head up, frustrated and helpless. She had forgotten that women in ancient and modern times had absolutely different concepts of family and marriage.
"Aye, I don't care anymore." Meng Fuyao clenched her teeth. What was the point in talking nonsense? Wouldn't it be easier to knock and drag her out? Qiao Ling might hate her, but it was better than leaving her to suffer. Plus, rescuing her would feed her own conscience.