Supporting the small body, Wei Kun asked with surprise: "What is Ah Luo saying? Does madam want to sell you? Didn't she take you to burn incense at Huguo Temple? Where is everyone?" Since he mentioned them, he looked around, and not seeing a trace of Madam Du, furrowed his brows, "How did you come back?"
The maidservant, who had delivered Wei Luo to the reception pavilion, muttered quietly: "Fourth Miss was brought here by a bodyguard… At that time, there was no one else with the fourth Miss."
That was a serious issue — Madam Du had led her out, but the girl had come back alone. No matter what, Madam Du hadn't properly looked after Wei Luo. Wei Kun's complexion wasn't very good. Ah Luo was crying as well, the tears soaking through his clothing material. His heart hurt for her. He squatted down and held Ah Luo's small face, asking gently: "Ah Luo, tell Daddy clearly, what has actually happened? Who was that guard? What about Madam?"
Wei Changhong, who was standing nearby, was equally distressed. His older sister was crying, but he had no idea why. He stepped forward to comfort her, but didn't know what to say.
He slowly reached for Wei Luo's hand, his grip tightening the longer he held it, "Ah Luo…"
Wei Luo was crying very pitifully, out of breath, her beautiful little face was red. She was wiping her tears and at the same time piling up the accusations: "After we finished burning incense, we passed through a forest on the way back, and two people were waiting there… Elder sister Jin Lu heard them, Madam said she was going to sell me to them…"
She repeated everything that had happened that morning. Her words were child-like and simple, but each spearhead was pointed at Madam Du. She was the one, who had contacted the slave traders, had prepared the sedative medicine and had wanted to snatch her forcefully… The more she cried, the more dejected she looked. Finally, she asked Wei Kun in a terrified way: "Daddy, did Ah Luo make a mistake? That's why Madam doesn't want me. Daddy tells Ah Luo, Ah Luo can change…"
Wei Kun's complexion was black like the bottom of a pot. His thumbs gently wiped the tears from her face, his tone was doting: "Ah Luo hasn't made any mistakes. You're Daddy's little treasure."
He had barely spoken, and Wei Zheng, who had heard everything from beginning to end, shouted angrily from the entrance: "You're saying nonsense! My mother didn't do that, she's not a bad person. You're lying to Daddy!"
Although Wi Zheng was five, she could roughly understand what was going on. Wei Luo complained to father, saying that mother had done something wrong. She saw that father looked very angry, and would certainly punish mother later. She subconsciously knew she had to protect her own mother, couldn't let Wei Luo's scheme prevail.
Wei Zheng wasn't aware of the whole truth behind this matter. Madam Du alone had planned it all in secret. Today, Wei Zheng had wanted to go to Huguo Temple together with them, and even threw a fit that Madam Du was favoring Wei Luo, only taking her. Madam Du had had no choice but to tell her, as long as she behaved, she wouldn't ever see Wei Luo again. After considering for a while, Wei Zheng had nodded in agreement.
Wei Zheng and Wei Luo had never gotten close. Wei Zheng's temper was very similar to Madam Du — competitive, doing anything to fight for first place, wanted to be more outstanding than anyone. So whenever Duke Ying praised Wei Luo, she couldn't accept it in her heart.
Where was Wei Luo better than her? Why did everyone like her? Mother had said that Wei Luo didn't have a mother, that she was an illegitimate child. She quietly bore these words in mind, therefore had always thought Ah Luo's status was lower than hers. Now that she saw Wei Kun being so good to Wei Luo, she got even more furious.
Wei Zheng stepped forward, prepared to pull Ah Luo away from Wei Kun's embrace, and yelled: "You're lying, you're a liar!"
However, before she managed to touch Wei Luo's clothes, she was shoved away by Changhong. She staggered back a few steps, couldn't come to a stop, and slumped on the ground.
Changhong stood protectively in front of Wei Luo, his small face very serious, eyes cold: "Don't touch her!"
Wei Zheng hadn't seen Changhong so furious. She was usually calling him "Wei Changhong, Wei Changhong", never called him sixth elder brother. She didn't regard him as an older brother, let alone respect him. Yet now, as she looked at Changhong's fierce face anxiously, she suddenly felt scared. Turning to Wei Kun, she saw he was still comforting a crying Wei Luo, and simply had no time to pay attention to her situation. Frustrated, she also started crying.
Wei Kun coaxed Wei Luo with great difficulty, and asked the maidservant Jin Ge to bring her in the blue-screened room to lie down for a while.
Just as Jin Ge got close, she tightly held onto Wei Kun's neck, not letting go: "I don't want her!"
Jin Ge awkwardly froze in place.
She clearly remembered the past Jin Ge and Jin Ci's actions. As soon as she saw them, Wei Luo would think of the way Madam Du had strangled her neck. She hated everyone who had been at the scene, but most of all the indifferent Jin Ci and Jin Ge. At that time, they had already been bought over by Madam Du. She would definitely not trust them now, and if the opportunity came, she'd give them both a harsh lesson.
She also refused to be held by unfamiliar servants.
Wei Kun thought she didn't allow anyone to get near her because she'd received a scare, so he indulged her: "Alright, since you don't want her, Daddy will take you."
An ironwood arhat bed was set up in the blue-screened room. Wei Kun put her on the bed gently and rubbed her head: "Ah Luo, stay here for a while. If you want to eat anything, tell Daddy, so I can ask people to prepare something."
Wei Luo was tossed about for most of the day. Aside from one bowl of small wonton in the early morning, she hadn't eaten anything. Today had tired her out more than usual, naturally, her belly was also hungry. Looking at Changhong, she still remembered the dishes they'd always liked to eat: "Daddy, I want to eat hibiscus cakes and pine nuts fish."
Wei Kun was brooding over the earlier matter, barely forcing out a smile, "Alright, I'll ask the kitchen to make them."
After his departure, he sent a maidservant to the kitchen to let them prepare these two dishes, in addition to eight treasure gourd chicken and shrimp sauce tofu, also stewed carp soup, and a few side dishes. He had just returned from the Imperial Academy. There had been no time for lunch yet, but he didn't have an appetite anymore. He settled the two children first, then sent people to the Pine court (Madam Du's court). The people, who had recently served Madam Du were called to the front of the pavilion, kneeling neatly in two rows.
These people served Madam Du daily, it was certain they had to know something to a degree, but they weren't saying anything. The thought that these people had ganged up to harm Ah Luo, had him quaking with fury.
A maidservant brought over a pot of freshly brewed green tea. He took the ink-colored small cup and smashed it in front of the servant, the hot tea spilling all over the ground. He said: "Flog each person 20 times, and don't spare the rod!"
The people cried out as one, claiming they were innocent and knew nothing.
They truly didn't know, as Madam Du hid everything from them and only kept her closest attendant informed. But Wei Kun was extremely angry. He didn't listen to excuses, and without even waiting for Madam Du to come back and explain herself, punished all the servants in Pine court.
In the blue-screened room, Wei Luo and Wei Changhong were sitting on the arhat bed, while a maidservant gracefully placed the food to the side and waited on the two children.
Wei Luo picked up a hibiscus cake. She was half-done eating it when she noticed Changhong hadn't moved his chopsticks, but his gaze was firmly locked on her. Not in a hurry to eat, she put down the chopsticks, and holding her cheek, asked: "Changhong, why aren't you eating? Are you full just from watching me?"
Changhong wasn't hungry as he still hadn't gotten over his shock, after listening to Wei Luo's words from earlier. More mature than his peers, he could understand what had happened. He knew what 'slave trader' meant. Although he wasn't too intimate with Madam Du, usually he'd show respect for her and regard her as an elder. It never crossed his mind she would harm Wei Luo.
Pursing his lips, Changhong slowly and solemnly said: "Ah Luo, I'll protect you from now on."
Wei Luo's hand paused over her food and raised her head to stare at him blankly. She'd never had the chance to hear such words in her previous life. Though they really affected her, Changhong was still only six years old. She'd lived ten years longer than him, it made more sense for her to protect him.
There was no trace of the sadly sobbing in Wei Kun's bosom appearance on Ah Luo's face. She picked up a piece of gourd chicken and held it in front of him, asking with a smile: "You're younger than me, how can you protect me?"
Changhong anxiously raised his head to argue: "Only younger by an hour!"
Oh, he was actually younger than her in that way as well. Ah Luo didn't bicker with him over that, and shook the chicken between the chopsticks, "Are you eating or not? My hand is all sore from holding it up."
Of course, Changhong ate it. As he chewed, he suddenly remembered, "The maidservant said you were brought back by a bodyguard. Who is he?"
He unexpectedly thought of the point that even Wei Kun hadn't taken note of.
Wei Luo thought it really wasn't an easy matter to explain, so from the thousand words, she formed a single sentence: a good-hearted person passed through there by chance, and conveniently rescued her.
Saying that Zhu Geng was too cheap. Instead of saving her, he wanted to deliver her to his master for retribution.
Changhong didn't think much of it and didn't ask further. They sat on the bed and finished eating their meal. When the maidservant went forward to tidy up the tableware, they heard someone announce from outside that Madam Du had come back.
Ah Luo jumped down from the arhat bed full of enthusiasm, in a few steps ran up behind the sliding door, and pasted her ear to the surface with a mysterious appearance.
Changhong followed after her bewildered, "What are you doing?"
Ah Luo turned around, raised up a white and tender finger to place it on her lips, and hushed him, "Madam is back…"
After Madam Du returned to the residence, she wanted to go directly to Pine court, but the gate servants specifically told her the fifth master was waiting for her in the reception pavilion and had her escorted there.
Madam Du was able to guess correctly the reason for this. It was certain that Wei Luo had come back and blabbed to Wei Kun one-sidedly. Wei Kun had always loved Wei Luo, so he must have believed her. As he was positively angry right now, he'd try to find trouble for her (Du).
She clenched the fists hidden in her sleeves, forcing herself to calm down, and signaled the maidservant Ning Xue with her eyes. Ning Xue caught on quickly, quietly slipping away to go to the rear court of Pear courtyard — the third family branch living quarters.
Together with Madam Du, Jin Lu and Nurse Ye also arrived at the reception pavilion. After Zhu Geng carried off Wei Luo, they had pursued part of the way, but couldn't catch up with him. Madam Du had wanted to silence them immediately while they were all in the wilderness, getting rid of two witnesses, as well as removing Wei Luo's close confidantes, killing two birds with one stone. However, one had to pay attention to the bigger picture. If Jin Lu and Nurse Ye died, it would only make her look more suspicious. By then, no matter how much she explained, it wouldn't be enough.
Anyway, she couldn't admit her own thoughts of bringing harm to Wei Luo. As long as she insisted Jin Lu and Nurse Ye were speaking nonsense, she would also have a little wiggle room to save the situation.
Though she was thinking so in her heart, when she passed by the main hall's wall, she saw the servants kneeling outside the reception pavilion. Madam Du suddenly felt her legs giving out, and shrank back.
It seemed like Wei Kun was for real this time.
Wei Kun's temper was mild and tolerant, he rarely punished the servants. Today, those servants had injuries as if they had been flogged. She couldn't help but tightly grip the nearby Nurse Dou's hand, taking a deep breath: "Nurse… I'm afraid I can't get out of this today…"
Nurse Dou was the wet nurse she had brought over from her maternal home. She'd taken care of her since childhood, so they were very close and affectionate. Narrow-minded, mean, and crafty, selling off Wei Luo was half her idea. Wuzhou and Wang, those two slave traders, were also her acquaintances.
Nurse Dou comforted her, "Madam, don't worry. You've shared marital affections with the master for 5–6 years…"
Saying that they walk into the reception pavilion.
Wei Kun was sitting on the ironwood mandarin chair with a cold face. He saw her coming in but didn't speak a word.
Madam Du steadied her mind, fixed a smile on her face, and was about to ask what had happened. Before she could ask, Wei Zheng, who was held by a nearby maidservant, cried out: "Mother!" She was waving her thin arms, wishing to jump into Madam Du's arms, "Mother run, Daddy is angry, he wants to punish you…"
Madam Du clutched at her heart, "Zheng!"
She wanted to go forward to hug Wei Zheng, but Wei Kun ordered in a cold voice: "Take the fifth Miss outside!"
The maidservant obeyed Wei Kun's instruction, Wei Zheng was forcefully taken away. Even as they disappeared from sight, Wei Zheng's weeping could still be heard from outside.
Hearing her cry so sadly, Madam Du felt her own heart breaking. No matter what Wei Kun intended to do, she had to say: "How can master treat Wei Zheng so heartlessly, she's your daughter!"
Wei Kun looked at her, finally letting his anger out, "You dare say these words? Is Zheng my daughter, but Ah Luo not?" He paused, took a deep breath, and asked enraged, "Where did you take Ah Luo today? You met anyone?"
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