If you have something to say, speak slowly.
Jiafu’s suspicions were confirmed that night.
The carriage stopped, and a sturdy middle-aged woman climbed up with a lantern in her hand.
Although the lighting was dim, upon seeing her face, Jiafu instantly determined that she was a woman from the Yunzhong Prince Manor whose surname was Zhu.
She was skilled at martial arts and had such enormous strength that beating two adult men was a facile task to her.
Because she was one of the people closely serving the late princess consort, she was revered as a senior among the servants of the Prince Manor.
In her previous life, when Xiao Yintang had taken her back after defiling her, she was emotionally maladjusted for quite a while.
At that time, Xiao Yintang had been married to the heiress consort,1 Zhang Fengtong, who later became the empress.
After learning that Xiao Yintang had been keeping a woman in secret, not at all was she displeased that her husband had taken her in, but rather, because she had heard that Jiafu refused to submit to him, she personally appeared before Jiafu to persuade her with earnest patience over and over.
She had even ordered the woman to keep an eye on Jiafu for a length of time in the event that Jiafu would commit suicide.
When the woman ascended the carriage, she initially said nothing and only surreptitiously appraised Jiafu with her eyes.
Examining the girl closely, she truly was a born beauty that could captivate even the birds and beasts, fair as a flower and beautiful as the moon.
She called to mind the command she had received before she set forth, fully aware that if a mishap were to occur along the way, she feared that she would be unable to justify herself upon her return.
She decided to give the girl an initial show of strength to cut off any thought of escaping.
Thus, she first hung the lantern, fished an old walnut from her sleeve, nestled it in the palm of her hand, and toyed with it.
With the sound of cracking, the walnut shattered into pieces.
Her expression stern, she spread out her hands and placidly threatened, “In this carriage, you must behave yourself well.
If you disobey, take care not to suffer.” After which, her visage broke out into a smile.
“Young Lady, you naturally have nothing to fear.
When you get there, you will know that a great blessing has befallen you.
No one else can expect such a good thing to happen to them.
My surname is Zhu.
You can just call me Zhu momo.
I will be serving Young Lady throughout this trip.”
Jiafu cowered in the corner of the carriage, not moving a muscle.
After the woman’s ascent, the carriage continued to travel until deep into the night, once again came to a halt, and landed at an inn.
Before getting off the carriage, the woman untied the ropes that bound Jiafu’s feet, but she retained the ones around her wrists and left her mouth gagged.
She then completely shrouded her head and face with a cloak and intermingled in a crowd of people, pulling her inside.
When daybreak came, they set out on the road once again.
This group of seven to eight people masqueraded themselves as masters and servants of a family traveling on the road, coercing Jiafu along with them all the way to the west without so much as a brief respite.
Initially, during the day, they would sometimes shy away from the official road and instead traverse on remote and bumpy paths.
When night fell, they would settle at a small inn or at someone else’s home.
However, half a month later, they veered back to the official road, their whole journey henceforth smooth and unimpeded.
In the evening, they stayed at a posthouse that boasted the best quarters.
The posthouse official was extremely sycophantic to this group of people and waited upon them with great consideration.
Jiafu knew that they ought to have entered Yunnan.
Presumably, after a few more days of journeying like this, she would be sent to the Yunzhong Prince Manor in Wuding prefecture.
Nevertheless, this Zhu momo did not relax her vigilance at all.
Although she no longer bound Jiafu’s hands and feet at night as Jiafu had requested, she still took Jiafu’s clothes away and pressed them beneath her pillow while sleeping, returning them only after she awoke at dawn to prevent Jiafu from escaping while she was deep in slumber.
After being taken captive, now farther and farther away from Quanzhou, it had actually never occurred to Jiafu to escape halfway through.
Even if she had been lucky enough to grasp an opportunity to flee, the risks she might encounter as a lone traveler on the road would be beyond her anticipation.
The only way she could think of was the same old method from her previous life: to look for Pei You’an as soon as possible.
Only through his help could she attain the deliverance she longed for.
She was absolutely certain that Pei You’an ought to have settled in Yunnan for the past several years, and that he had a rather extraordinary relationship with Prince Yunzhong.
But she had no clue whether or not he was here at this point in time, and she also could not inquire about this to Zhu momo, who closely followed her every step day and night, lest it would arouse her suspicions.
Jiafu reckoned that they should soon be arriving at Wuding prefecture, and it seemed that Zhu momo was eager to arrive there as promptly as they possibly could.
They had been on the road for the entirety of the day, and when night fell, they rushed on persistently until they eventually ceased.
Judging from her experiences these past days, Jiafu became cognizant of the fact that they ought to arrive at the posthouse where they would dwell for the night.
Someone from the group traveling with her would go in and arrange the quarters first, and Zhu momo would thereafter directly take her inside through the side door.
Zhu momo’s stomach was already rumbling with hunger, yet she did not partake of the rations stored in the carriage.
Seeing that the imperial bodyguard who had gone in did not yet come out, she grew impatient.
She sprung up and pushed the carriage window open, craned her head out to survey around, and synchronously saw someone walking out.
She inquired, “What’s the matter”
The imperial bodyguard returned, “There is only a single courtyard in there, which has been reserved for another.
I asked the posthouse official if he could give it to us before that person could arrive, yet he said nothing!”
”Who is it for”
The imperial bodyguard strode over and whispered to her ear.
Zhu momo froze.
The posthouse official then took a gander at the nameplate and identified that this group of people belonged to the Yunzhong Prince Manor.
They appeared as though they were in the middle of an errand, but since they were from the Prince Manor, how could he dare to neglect them He personally followed the bodyguard outside, rushed to the front, gave a bow, and said with an obsequious grin, “Granny, even if a demon were to lend me courage as big as the sky, I would not dare to disrespect Granny.
Only that, unfortunately, that single courtyard has been set aside for Master Pei.
I have another main room here that has side rooms to its left and right, and there are no other quarters adjacent to it.
Apart from not having a courtyard, it lacks nothing and is extremely quiet all around, which is suitable for your group.
How about I lead you all inside so you can stop for some repose”
Throughout their journey after setting foot on Yunnan’s premises, even if other officials had already made prior reservations, all the quarters allotted for them in the posthouses had been the finest.
Upon learning that another important person from the Prince Manor had also come, they were left without a choice but to yield.
Zhu momo was inwardly displeased, but it was inappropriate for her to assume great airs, and she also was not so impertinent as to forcibly occupy that man’s quarters.
More than that, she was famished.
She frowned and dismissed, “Well, so be it.
Quickly settle everything and serve us some hot dishes!”
The posthouse official heaved a sigh of relief and acceded with a bow.
Just as he was about to make arrangements, Zhu momo called out to him once more, lowering her voice as she said, “We will leave early on the morrow.
Do not mention a word about me and this group to Master Pei!”
The posthouse official was slightly puzzled, but he repeatedly acquiesced and turned around to go inside.
Zhu momo jolted her head to the side and handed over the cloak, telling Jiafu, “Come down.”
Jiafu received it and conscientiously covered her head.
She did not utter a single word, but her heart suddenly began beating violently, her hands shaking marginally that she could not properly tie the string to secure her collar despite several attempts.
Just now, she very clearly heard the posthouse official mention “Master Pei”.
As far as she knew, apart from Pei You’an, there was no other man surnamed Pei within Prince Yunzhong’s sphere of influence who could evoke some fear in this imperious Zhu momo of the Prince Manor.
If she was not mistaken, it was highly likely that this “Master Pei” was Pei You’an.
While on the road, she had mused countless times over what method she ought to employ to relay her message to Pei You’an as promptly as possible.
What she did not expect was that she no longer had to expend any effort, because before they could even reach Wuding prefecture where the Prince Manor was located, she actually heard news of Pei You’an being present here right this moment.
More importantly, he would lodge in the same posthouse this very night!
Zhu momo waited by the side.
Noticing that it had taken her quite a while to fasten her collar, she peered at her.
Fearing that she would be able to infer anything, Jiafu made a supreme effort to gather her wits.
She finally finished fastening it and softly replied, “I am ready.”
Zhu momo examined her and pulled the hood of the cloak down to obstruct most of her face, and then unlatched the carriage door.
She first made her descent before helping Jiafu down.
It was quite deep into the night.
Two luminous lanterns hung in front of the gate of the posthouse, which had the two gargantuan words “Chengjiang Residence” prominently displayed above it.
The night wind breezed past, and the lanterns swayed back and forth along with it, casting a faint golden halo on the ground.
Jiafu’s legs softened.
She had just alighted the carriage and stood for a while before she could steady her foothold.
Zhu momo urged her to move, and just as she was about to lift her feet, a group of about five or four figures on horseback emerged on the posthouse pathway in the dark of the night.
Those men galloped towards where they were, the distinct clatter of horse hooves announcing their arrival.
Shortly after, they shifted their steeds towards the front and slackened their speed.
Several black shadows passed by the carriage and stopped at a close distance, about ten steps away from Jiafu.
The man leading in the middle unmounted his horse, handed the reins to the attendants, and stalked forward to the main gate, the lantern illuminating half the outline of his profile.
Despite the dim lighting, Jiafu was still able to distinguish who he was at a glance.
Zhu momo also recognized the man, never expecting for the devil to appear as soon as she spoke of him.2 Not wanting him to espy her and her party, she immediately dragged Jiafu back and shielded herself by means of carriage.
The instant she saw Pei You’an, Jiafu’s whole body and blood seethed with excitement all at once.
Her heart thumping wildly, she was unable to contain herself and subconsciously began squirming.
She jerked around and was about to call out to him, but Zhu momo whisked her away and pinched her mouth close, yanking her back with unbelievable ferocity.
The woman’s eyes had an ominous glint to them, and she bent both her arms towards her back.
Jiafu drew a gasp of cold air into her lungs as immense pain overcame her, and her entire person was rendered powerless.
The woman moved close to her ear and tersely questioned under her breath, “What do you want to do”
Jiafu was aghast.
Even if she continued to struggle free and her movement attracted Pei You’an’s attention, this Zhu momo would never give her another opportunity to open her mouth, much less let Pei You’an see her.
Jiafu ceased struggling.
Pei You’an had already trod to the main gate, paused in his tracks so abruptly, and looked back, perceiving only an ordinary carriage parked silently on the roadside, which looked roughly similar to a dark mass of shadow.
”Master Pei, has your honored self arrived”
Upon detecting him, the posthouse official scurried out to greet him.
Pei You’an nodded slightly to the posthouse official, turned his head and glanced behind him again, and finally stepped inside.
Zhu momo only knew that this girl hailed from Quanzhou and was the daughter of a merchant family.
She never dreamed that Jiafu and Pei You’an actually knew each other, or that the two even had such a connection.
She was extremely dissatisfied with Jiafu’s behavior just now.
After taking her into the room, she could not even stomach any food and instead stared at the other with a dismal expression on her face.
“What did you want to do just now Did I really just see you attempt to call out to that man Do you know that man”
They were already so close, but she could only look on helplessly as he walked past her.
Having just missed the most opportune time, Jiafu completely sank into great dismay.
But it was not over yet.
If she failed to dispel this woman’s misgivings, once he left, she would be delivered to Xiao Yintang’s clutches.
The next time she wanted to seek the opportunity to deliver her message to him——she had no idea when that would be.
Jiafu cried out, “He is my brother! I used to have two older brothers, but one of them had gone missing when I was a child.
I recognized that man as soon as I saw him! I cannot be mistaken.
He is the older brother who had gone missing when I was much younger! Momo, no matter how good that place you mentioned is, I do not want to go! Please, I just want to go home! Please be so kind as to take me to see my brother! I want my brother to send me back to Quanzhou!”
She covered her face, teardrops streaming down the spaces between her fingers.
Zhu momo had since been suspicious, and after hearing her outburst, she snorted out of disdain, thinking to herself that this girl was still young after all.
She had been sheltered and kept in her boudoir all her life, but she had somehow caught the Heir’s attention.
Having been entangled in such matters, she must have been scared witless throughout their course, going so far as to claim just about anyone she laid eyes on as her older brother.
Since when did Pei You’an become the son of a merchant family in Quanzhou She then sneered, “Young Lady, I have been very considerate of you throughout this entire trip, and I have only spoken good words to you.
I advise you to stop entertaining all sorts of ideas.
We will arrive in two days.
I’m telling you, we are in Yunnan.
This is not a place where you can behave atrociously.
If you dare to cause trouble for me again, you will have to face the consequences!”
Jiafu huddled by the bedside, hugged her knees, and sobbed uncontrollably.
The woman dismissed her doubts, and as she was hungry, she no longer bothered about her and ate her meal.
When she was finally satiated by half, she looked askance at Jiafu.
Seeing that she had gradually quelled her weeping and simply sat there lost in thought, she beckoned her over to partake of her meal.
Jiafu plodded over to her.
The woman stared at her and noticed that her eyelids were red and swollen from crying, appearing rather pitiful beneath the lantern that even she could not help but feel sorry for her.
Mulling over how this girl might someday gain the Heir’s favor, she figured that it would not be advantageous to offend her too much at present.
For the first time ever, she personally prepared a bowl of rice, pushed it towards Jiafu, and said with an unctuous smile, “We have already arrived at the Chengjiang Residence.
In two days, we will reach that place.
When we get there, you will know that what I told you earlier contains not even a modicum of deceit.
This great blessing that has befallen you, many women in this world long for it but fail to obtain it.”
Jiafu inwardly sneered, yet she still probed, “Dare I ask momo, where do you plan on taking me”
Zhu momo replied, “You will know when you arrive.
You need not ask.”
Jiafu no longer opened her mouth and only bowed her head to dine in silence.
The woman called for someone to enter and tidy up, then ordered another to fetch water and use it to wipe haphazardly all over the place.
After which, she stalked out and commanded the guards to take shifts keeping watch.
From inside the room, Jiafu could faintly discern muffled voices drifting inside, “……will arrive in two days.
You must all raise your spirits for me! If something goes wrong, none of us can afford to take responsibility!”
Traveling during the day was also rather exhausting.
The woman set her affairs in order and wanted to lie down and rest early.
When she returned to the room, she bid Jiafu to strip her outer clothes, leaving only her inner garments, and placed them under her pillow.
She then ordered Jiafu to lie down, snuffed out the lantern, and settled herself on the outer side of the bed.
Deep into the night, the posthouse was finally engulfed in silence.
A streak of ghastly pale moonlight shone in through the lattices.
Zhu momo slept as soundly as the dead and expelled peals of thunderous snoring.
Jiafu slowly opened her eyes, turned her head, and peered at the hazy silhouette of the woman lying on the outer side.
The urge in her heart grew increasingly fervid.
She and Xiao Yintang had stayed in this Chenjiang Residence posthouse several times before.
She knew the location of the single courtyard Pei You’an was occupying for the night.
On her way to this room, she deliberately committed the path to memory, realizing that the distance was not very far from where she was.
Upon stepping outside, one only had to pass through a long corridor to reach his abode.
Such an opportunity, she could not just watch unfeelingly and let it slip by.
In any case, she ought to try.
Even if she would end up unsuccessful, the worst outcome was that that woman surnamed Zhu would catch her and keep a closer eye on her.
Jiafu no longer hesitated and quietly rose from her bed, bypassed the sleeping woman’s feet, and got out.
She walked on tiptoes towards the table, grabbed the oil lamp atop it, took the flame stick, and returned to the end of the bend.
Holding her breath, she slowly poured all of the oil in the lamp onto the bed curtain, ignited the flame stick, and aimed it towards the bed curtain.
A tongue of flame was kindled and quickly made its way to the ground.
Very soon, half the bed curtain was burnt, and the bed framing followed.
The crackling fire began to spread, and the smoke gradually thickened.
Zhu momo was still dead asleep, or perhaps suffocated by the smoke, and remained lying there with no signs of waking.
Jiafu covered her mouth and nose, enduring through the dense smoke until the fire spread.
She then wrapped her body with a cloak she had grabbed at random, ran to the door, and opened it.
Once outside, she directly came across the guard on night duty who had rushed over after hearing the commotion.
Jiafu pointed behind her and exclaimed, “The room is on fire! Zhu momo is still asleep on the bed! Go and see!”
The guard hastened to the doorway.
Sure enough, he was startled to see the thick smoke billowing out accompanied by a raging blaze.
He raised his feet and hurried inside.
Jiafu immediately faced about and dashed outside, turning to that corridor, but she afterward heard footsteps approaching from behind.
Another guard on night duty had discovered her and began pursuing her.
Jiafu did not look back.
She raced with all her strength towards the courtyard opposite the corridor, earnestly hoping that Pei You’an was inside and that he would open the door himself.
In the end, however, she did not make it to the door past the courtyard gate.
There was only a short path left to traverse, but the guard managed to catch up and obstructed her path with one stride, and what ensued was the sound of swearing and violent coughing from behind.
Zhu momo had also managed to catch up.
“Da Biaoge! Save A’Fu!”
Jiafu sprinted towards the direction of the front courtyard, shouting with all her strength.
“Gag this little slut and drag her back inside!”
Zhu momo’s brows and hair had been scorched black by the fire, and she had tailed after her in disheveled clothes, coughing on one side and yelling on the other.
The guard had been traveling with them for over half a month, and although he was aware that the carriage had this girl inside it, he had never before seen Jiafu’s face.
Suddenly meeting her face-to-face like this, he was rather stunned.
With hesitation, he extended his hand to Jiafu, who let out a scream.
She pulled up the remaining shoe that had not gotten lost during her escape, threw it at his face, obstructing his reach, and turned around to firmly embrace the railing by her side, once more wailing, “Da Biaoge——”
The guard was holding the shoe Jiafu had hurled at him, already at his wit’s end for that brief instant.
Zhu momo was burning with a frenzy of rage.
She darted to where she was and seized her, put her hand over her mouth, and bellowed to the dumbstricken guard, “Hurry up!”
The guard returned to his senses and hastened over.
That same moment, the door of the courtyard at the end of the corridor opened with a creak.
“Let her go.”
A voice then ordered.
It was merely a short sentence, no more than three words, but to Jiafu, its sound was akin to music from heaven.
She had not yet beheld the man clearly, but she recognized this voice.
This voice was Pei You’an’s.
He finally came out!
Jiafu’s nose became sour.
She opened her mouth and fiercely bit Zhu momo’s hand.
Zhu momo yelped in excruciating pain and shook her off.
Jiafu instantly released the railing, whirled around, and desperately charged towards the figure beneath the moonlight in front of her.
She launched herself on him with reckless abandon and vigorously wrapped her arms around his waist, never letting go.
“Da Biaoge! Save me……”
She whimpered, tilted her face up, widened her pair of tearful eyes, and gazed up at Pei You’an who had lowered his head to look at her.
The two staggered slightly after she pounced on Pei You’an.
Before he could retrieve his senses, he felt a body, so soft that it was almost boneless, clinging to him.
Moreover, she entwined her arms around his waist so tightly that his whole body froze involuntarily.
Both his hands were riveted to his sides, and he could not move.
He hesitated for a while, exhaled slowly, and gently placated, “Don’t be afraid.
Let go of me first.
If you have something to say, speak slowly.”
1 Xiao Yintang is Prince Yunzhong’s heir, so people call him “Heir”.
His wife is addressed as, 世子妃, which roughly translates to “consort of the heir”, but it’s rather long.
I used “heiress consort” in this case.
2 The phrase here is actually: “Speak of Cao Cao and Cao Cao appears”.
Basically the Chinese version of “speak of the devil”.
Background story as to why this phrase came to be can be found here: Chinese Version Of Speak Of The Devil | Mandarin House