The next day, just as Ah Luo had predicted, the continuous rain that had lasted for two weeks, finally ended. The sky cleared up.
The sunlight was hitting the glazed tiles of the Ying Duke's residence. It reflected into the courtyard, where the trees threw spotted shadows over it, painting a beautiful picture.
The maidservants of Pine courtyard (Songyuan) had finished serving the masters and already couldn't wait to pick up the colorful jumping rope to play in the garden. Pink coats and azure skirts were swaying back and forth with the rope, the garden was filled with laughter and happy voices. One maidservant was particularly skillful, could both skip rope and kick the shuttlecock. She kicked the shuttlecock in the air, jumped over the rope, then extended a long leg to catch it behind her steadily.
People cheered in unison. The Duke's residence wasn't very strict with the servants, as long as they had completed their tasks and let their masters know, they could play or take care of their own matters.
The maidservants were playing in high spirits, when a little girl wearing a scary green mask suddenly jumped out from under the parasol trees and ran towards them with open arms: "Boo — "
Several maidservants were caught off-guard and got fooled by her. A timid one directly fell on her butt, her face ghostly pale.
Under the mask, a clear giggling could be heard. Wei Luo laughed loudly and pointed at the fallen maidservant, barely gasping out: "Elder sister Jin Ge is a coward!"
Jin Ge stood up from the ground sluggishly, patted away the dirt on her clothes, and said with an embarrassed face: "Fourth Miss is bullying people…"
The girl raised her hands to untie the strings and took off the mask, first revealing a pair of lustrous black eyes, then an exquisite fine nose, tender pink lips, rosy cheeks as if carved out of jade. She was wearing a green dress woven with gold threads, standing under the parasol trees grinning. A blossom landed on her bun triumphantly. Placing her hands on her waist, she asked: "I've frightened you with this same mask several times already, and each time you get scared. You tell me, did I bully you, or are you just stupid?"
Clearly only a six-year-old, but her words were so tyrannical, not giving way to anyone.
The speechless Jin Ge blushed and ran away.
Wei Luo stood under the eaves, thinking of her old self.
That childishness and naivete was something of the past.
She clearly remembered today's scene. She wore the mask to frighten this group of people, her father and Madam Du came afterward. Madam Du coaxed her with a few words and let her alone to leave the residence. Wei Zheng stayed home. At that time, she should've found it strange. Madam Du loved Wei Zheng so dearly, why wouldn't she take her to the lively festival, but leave her behind instead?
It was a scheme in the first place, did her father know about it? In the past, she was almost killed by Madam Du, what was his response?
Wei Luo didn't know, but in any case, she hated Wei Kun. Hated that he married a second wife early, hated that she couldn't call her own biological mother, but had to call a cruel and ruthless woman 'mother'. She raised her hands and threw the mask on the stairs, where it got cracked in two.
The servants in the courtyard got alarmed by the noise, one by one stopped their activities to take a look at her.
She was amused, and even jumped on the broken mask, splitting it into more pieces before she stopped. Her father had bought her that mask from the lantern festival, it was her treasure. The mask had really suited her tastes, and she had often brought it out to scare people, just like a child. Now, she didn't want it, only wanted to destroy it.
"Ah Luo, why did you throw the mask?"
A serious question came from behind. Wei Luo turned her head. Not too far from her, she saw two people standing under the veranda. One was her father, Wei Kun, the other — her stepmother, Madam Du. It was Wei Kun who spoke a moment ago.
Wei Kun was wearing a plum-colored loose robe with black bamboo leaves pattern. His face appeared stern, but his eyes revealed a doting expression. He stepped forward, "Didn't you like this mask the most?"
Wei Luo paid no attention. Lowering her head, she stomped on the mask, as if she hadn't heard his question.
Wei Kun bent down to hug her. His lips curving, he said with a smile: "Who made our Ah Luo angry? Tell Daddy, I'll go and take revenge for you."
Madam Du stood several steps behind. She had put on a coat with hibiscus embroidery, a matching purple dress inside, she was covered in pearls and jade jewelry. There was a smile on her face, but after seeing how much Wei Kun favored Wei Luo, the smiling expression turned somewhat chilly.
Lying on Wei Kun's shoulder, Wei Luo happened to see the change of expression.
Before, she was young, couldn't read people. Even if she saw it, she wouldn't think much. But it was different now. When she looked at Madam Du, she could feel the fake pretense everywhere.
Wei Luo rubbed her face on Wei Kun's shoulder tenderly, using a sweet soft voice to complain pitifully: "Ah Luo fell sick, but Daddy didn't come to see me. Daddy doesn't love Ah Luo…"
The reason turned out to be like that.
How could Wei Kun not love her? Because he adored her so much, when she fell ill, he sat at her bed the whole night, only leaving after she woke up. This heartless thing, only knew that she couldn't see him after waking up, didn't know he actually came to visit her several times while she was asleep. Wei Kun sighed, "It's Daddy's bad. I should have come to see you a few more times. Ah Luo was right to throw the mask. Your Daddy was wrong."
Wei Luo looked up, just in time to see Madam Du's face turn uglier.
Wei Kun's doting likely made her have a sense of crisis. She was afraid Wei Luo would rob all of his love away from Wei Zheng, hence she was so impatient to sell her. Thinking about it, her father really doted on her more than Wei Zheng, why was that? Both were his daughters, what was the difference?
Wei Luo thought the root of the problem was her birth mother.
Wei Luo didn't have any impression of her, but fourth aunt had said, that not long after she and Changhong were born, their mother disappeared. Outsiders said that she had died after giving birth, but fourth aunt insisted that their mother wasn't dead, simply didn't want to be with them. Once she was gone, no one was able to find her. Fourth aunt further added, that her father really loved her mother, loved to no end. In order to make the old master promise to marry them, he knelt at the ancestral hall for three days and three nights, until he fainted from hunger. In the end, the old master reluctantly agreed.
She learned that after they got married, father spoiled mother unconditionally, and their days passed without a problem. But later, no one understood what had happened, two days after giving birth, she left. Father almost went insane searching high and low for her whereabouts, looked for three months without any results. Not long after, he took Madam Du as a second wife, and nine months later Wei Zheng was born.
Did he still have her mother in his heart? Did he even remember what she looked like?
Wei Luo, buried in Wei Kun's neck, sneered. She'd never seen her mother, didn't have any sentiments about her. But she was a little moved, so she wanted to know why her mother had to throw away both husband and children in the past.
"Since the mask was broken to pieces, why don't we buy a new one for Ah Luo when we go out today? Do you want to?" Madam Du, who couldn't get a word in until now, proposed with a smile, once she saw Wei Luo quiet down.
Wei Luo glanced at her with cold eyes, the icy look was very unusual coming from a child. Madam Du got a shock, her heart was bewildered by this look. When she was about to examine her more carefully, Ah Luo switched to a delightfully smiling face: "Will Daddy go together with me? Ah Luo hasn't gone out with Daddy for a long time, I want Daddy to keep me company."
Regardless of how much Madam Du stared, she could not see that expression again, did she get confused?
Wei Kun patted her head with regret, "I must go to the Imperial Academy in a bit, cannot keep you company outside."
A few years ago, Wei Kun had become a successful candidate from the Imperial civil service examination. Currently, he was a scholar at the Imperial Academy, busy studying every day, taking exams, he would frequently be unable to come home all day. In the past several days, because of Wei Luo's sickness, he'd spent a lot of time at home. He wouldn't feel relieved unless he remained by her side to take care of her, so he'd taken some time off.
Nearby, Madam Du relaxed.
Wei Luo laughed on the inside, and held onto Wei Kun deliberately: "Can Daddy bring me to the Imperial Academy?"
Wei Kun thought she couldn't bear to separate from him, both joyful and helpless, "Daddy has some matters to take care of, I can't bring you. Be obedient and go with your mother to burn incense in Huguo Temple. By the time you're finished, I'll be back home."
Will be back? If she really went obediently, would she have the opportunity to come back?
Wei Luo, leaning her head, finally looked at Madam Du, "Elder sister Jin Lu said I was still sick, have to bring my medicine on the road. My nurse has the prescription, madam, can I take elder sister Jin Lu and Nurse with me?"
Jin Lu was the maidservant she trusted the most, and Nurse Ye was the one who had brought Wei Luo up. Both of them were wholeheartedly loyal and devoted. If the two of them were by her side, an accident wouldn't easily happen. Her past self couldn't read people, had brought Jin Ge and Jin Ci along. She hadn't known that these two maidservants were already bought over by Madam Du. At the critical moment, while she was getting killed by Madam Du, they had looked on, shivering and hiding away on the sidelines.
Madam Du gaped at her, "What did you call me?"
Wei Luo repeated, "Madam!" (meaning of 'wife', but not 'mother')
Madam Du threw a glance at Wei Kun, twisting her brows, "This child, she called me mother before, suddenly changed today. What sort of nonsense did the maidservants tell her?"
Wei Kun also asked her what happened. She appeared to understand there was a problem, but not really grasping the essence, and said: "Fourth aunt said that I have a mother, the madam is not my mother." She held the lower corner of Wei Kun's sleeve, raising her head to ask naively: "Daddy, who is my mother?"
Madam Du looked as if someone had slapped her face, almost unable to maintain her calm expression.
She knew that before he married her, Wei Kun already had a wife. Because her maternal family was backed up by Count Zhongyi's residence, usually nobody would dare mention the first wife, Jiang Miaolan, in front of her. Ah Luo was very outspoken today and didn't watch her words, upsetting her greatly.
A painful light flashed through Wei Kun's eyes but quickly returned to normal, "Ah Luo be good, madam is your mother. You may not ask this question in the future."
A person, who would choke her daughter to death, was still called a mother?
The corner of her eyes sharpened coldly. Ah Luo decided, even if her mother didn't want Changhong and her, she would never call Madam Du 'mother' again.
The capital's streets were prosperous. Since the country's founding, Emperor Chong Zhen had ruled fairly. Since he was impartial in administering rewards and punishments, the good order of the capital and several other important cities were properly managed. The common people lived in peace and worked happily, the streets bustled with activity. Sitting in the carriage, the passengers could hear the various business owners calling for customers, as well as the noise coming from the wineshops on both sides of the road.
Wei Luo followed Madam Du into the carriage. She sat near the window and raised the gold-embroidered dark curtain, turning her gaze to the street.
Madam Du considered it normal for a child to show curiosity towards the happenings on the street, so she left her to do as she pleased. Just thinking how this thorn in her side would soon be gone, the corners of her mouth couldn't help but bend in a smirk.
All these years, she found Wei Luo and Wei Changhong most irritating, but for the sake of her virtuous reputation, she had to maintain the kind facade and do their bidding with a smile. In fact, she was already thoroughly sick of the act. Every time she saw these two children, she would remember she was merely the second wife. Like a needle in her heart, it didn't let her sleep in peace.
Especially Wei Luo. Madam Du couldn't stand Wei Kun's adoration for the girl.
Not only was Wei Luo clever, but her bright face was also lovable. She showed off in front of the old master and stole Wei Zheng's thunder. How could she not be jealous? Although her daughter was not mediocre, compared to Wei Luo, she seemed lacking.
Madam Du was planning for Wei Zheng to have a smooth future and get betrothed to a wealthy family. She only needed to get rid of Wei Luo first, sell her to a distant place, never to come back. As for Wei Changhong, that small child… after she gave birth to a son, she'd find a way to deal with him later.
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