576. Spin-Off – Oddity (4)
Yuwen Qi’s and Yuwen Lin’s bruises were rather severe. Mr. Mu applied some ointment to them and then lightly kneaded their knees for quite a while.
The massage was very painful, but Yuwen Qi and Yuwen Lin merely gritted their teeth against the pain, not daring utter a word.
The sight of this gave Ling Xingzhong another pang of unbearable heartache.
In fact, Ling Zhang was upset as well. He had been very angry after being informed of the matter, but afterward he had forgotten about the whole thing due to his busyness. It had surprised him that the three children had been so obedient as to have been kneeling there all along until his return.
After unblocking Yuwen Qi’s and Yuwen Lin’s meridians, Mr. Mu said, “It’s nothing serious. They’ll make a full recovery after the bruises on their knees heel. They should try to avoid strenuous exercises in the next few days. Apply this ointment to their bruises and then knead their knees for a quarter of an hour every night.”
Yuwen Yue’s injury was relatively minor. Mr. Mu handed Yuwen Tong and Ling Zhang some ointment, which was supposed to be applied to their daughter the same way it should to Yuwen Qi and Yuwen Lin.
Because of the three children’s leg injuries, Ling Zhang and Yuwen Tong decided to bring them back to the imperial palace.
Ling Xingzhong’s face was still sulky when Ling Zhang took his leave. On their way back to the palace, Ling Zhang was rather quiet.
“Daddy, it’s our fault, not yours. Great-grandfather’s anger won’t last long. Don’t be upset,” said Yuwen Yue beside him in a low voice as she perceived his silence.
Ling Zhang’s heart softened and he felt more strongly that he had excessively punished the children. Guilt was bubbling inside him, but he showed no sign of it on his face.
He knew his daughter too well to be unaware that the little guy would become unruly if it came to her knowledge that he could be rendered soft-hearted this way.
“Today you admitted your mistakes with full awareness of them and also underwent your punishment without cheating, so there will be no further punishment after we return, but if you commit the same wrong again, I still won’t let you get away with it easily, and Great-grandfather’s intercession wouldn’t be of much help to you. Understand?”
In the other horse-drawn carriage sat Yuwen Tong bluffly, flanked by Yuwen Qi and Yuwen Lin, both of whom were so nervous their bodies were rigid.
“Was it you who had your great-grandfather called over?” Yuwen Tong slowly asked.
Unlike Ling Zhang, he did not go soft just because Yuwen Qi and Yuwen Lin had hurt their knees. Those were just some bruises. It was not like they had broken their legs or something. They would fully recover after a few days’ rest cure. He had seen far worse injuries than theirs on the battlefield. Besides, this time the three children had indeed done the wrong thing.
Yuwen Tong would have fallen out with Ling Xingzhong when the latter had dressed Ling Zhang down were the old man not Ling Zhang’s grandfather.
On hearing his voice, Yuwen Qi and Yuwen Lin felt the hairs on the backs of their necks stand on end, involuntarily sitting bolt upright. “It wasn’t us who did that. A servant in there saw it and informed Great-grandfather.”
“A servant?” Yuwen Tong looked at him. “Which one?”
“Uncle Li, the butler,” answered Yuwen Qi, inwardly making an apology to Butler Li. He had no choice. He did not dare lie to Yuwen Tong.
Yuwen Tong snorted, opened his mouth with the intention to say something but eventually closed it again.
His chance encounter with Butler Li in that year had been the reason why he had found out about the existence of the written marriage contract. Furthermore, these years Butler Li had been working in the Ling Mansion with toilsome service and with high merits, taking good care of the other members of the Ling family, which had spared Ling Zhang from a lot of worry.
Yuwen Tong made no comments on Butler Li’s action, but he would not let his two sons off the hook so easily.
He glanced at his eldest son, who had first done his homework poorly and then attempted to get away with it by pleasing Ling Zhang. This little guy wanted to do something he would get compliments for? Humph.
Then he shifted his gaze to the other boy, who looked sensible and poised but was actually quite secretive for his age. Humph.
Cold sweat broke out over Yuwen Qi’s and Yuwen Lin’s backs at the two glances from Yuwen Tong. They had feared Yuwen Tong ever since they could remember, and that fear had not changed a bit until this day.
Knowing that they were guaranteed to be punished after they got back, the two of them started wailing inwardly.
When they had returned to the palace, Ling Zhang walked Yuwen Yue back to her place, told the handmaids to take good care of her and then went to visit his two sons.
“Do you think Daddy’s being unduly stern with you?”
Yuwen Qi and Yuwen Lin hastened to shake their heads.
Yuwen Qi said, “It was my fault. I shouldn’t have brought Lin and Yue to see the fun without your knowledge.”
Yuwen Lin followed suit. “I should’ve talked Qi and Yue out of it. It was my fault.”
Ling Zhang did not speak. It was after he sat down that he said, “Tell me why you brought your sister to see the wedding.”
Yuwen Qi lapsed into silence. Yuwen Lin flicked him a glance and then replied, “It was me who was itching to go and check it out. Crescent was just–”
“Enough. I want an honest answer,” Ling Zhang interrupted him, sounding serious.
Seeing this, Yuwen Qi and Yuwen Lin had no alternative but to tell Ling Zhang the reason why they had brought Yuwen Yue into the crowd.
“Crescent has been cooped up in this palace for too long. She’s hardly been to anywhere else except for the few occasions when she’s been brought to the Marquess Huaiwen’s or the Marquess Fuan’s, and she’s never seen any of the celebratory events outside. When we chanced upon the wedding convoy, she was very happy, but she didn’t dare get out of the carriage to follow the procession to see the fun like the other girls did. I thought that it did no harm to go along for the ride and prolong her delight a little, that nothing could go wrong with me, Lin, the guards and the secret bodyguards protecting her. It never crossed my mind that things would turn out like that. Nobody knows what happened to that bridegroom.”
After saying this, Yuwen Qi appeared rather frustrated. He would never have taken Yuwen Qi and Yuwen Yue there had he known beforehand that the bridegroom would lose his mind on the street. Who could have foreseen he was a lunatic?!
Ling Zhang asked, “What did you do after finding that something was wrong?”
Yuwen Qi gave him a blow-by-blow account of what had happened, omitting no detail.
Ling Zhang, having asked all the questions he wanted to ask, said, “I punished you because you brought your sister out of the palace without my permission and then was reckless enough to mix into the crowd to see a wedding. You came perilously close to disaster. You deserve the punishment.”
Both Yuwen Qi and Yuwen Lin hung their heads slightly in shame.
“However,” Ling Zhang continued, “You two are considerate to your sister. Although your decision was fairly impulsive and you failed to cover all the bases, as her big brothers, you two did a good job in those circumstances. After sensing danger on the street, you did not hesitate and decisively ran in the same direction that the crowd was heading. You also told the guards and the secret bodyguards to intercept the demented bridegroom, creating opportunities for many citizens on the scene to escape. Your actions were brave and you performed your duties as princes. You did nothing wrong in these actions of yours – they’re commendable, actually. I’ll talk to your father and make sure he metes out no further punishment to you. Have some rest and nurse yourselves back to health. In the next three days there will be no kung fu lessons, which means you’ll be having literature classes in the morning and resting in the afternoon.”
Yuwen Qi’s and Yuwen Lin’s eyes lit up. “Thank you, Daddy!”
Ling Zhang, after talking with his sons, went to the imperial study.
Seeing him enter, Yuwen Tong asked, “Are you here to intercede for them?”
Ling Zhang was unsurprised that Yuwen Tong had guessed it. “Not all their actions were wrong, and they’ve been punished already. Maybe you should let them off the hook, considering the praiseworthy part of their deeds.”
Yuwen Tong said, “I don’t think that constituted a punishment. Those are just some bruises. Your grandfather’s probably the only one who’d make a fuss about it.”
Ling Zhang smiled, “Are you mad?”
Yuwen Tong said, “I don’t even have the heart to say a word about it, but he kept shooting you dirty looks.”
Ling Zhang said, “Stop sulking. My grandfather’s at his advanced age, and he likes the kids. Back there Qi’s and Lin’s bruises looked rather severe. It’s a natural thing that he got angry.”
“You don’t have to defend him. I didn’t say I was going to do anything to him,” said Yuwen Tong, disgruntled.
Ling Zhang said, “Tonight I’ll make you dinner in person.”
Yuwen Tong’s eyes brightened at first, but the next moment his face fell again. “It wasn’t your fault, and it’s not you that I’m mad at. Why should it be you who’s going to do something to please me? I’m not eating it.”
“Really?” Ling Zhang raised his eyebrows.
Yuwen Tong, ” ... ”
Ling Zhang almost dissolved into laughter at the sight of his countenance.
In fact he had come to understand why his grandfather had done that right after his return to the palace. His grandfather had been worried about him ever since he had been married to Yuwen Tong – since Yuwen Tong’s enthronement, to be precise. The old man feared that his grandson might be hard done by and unhappy in the palace. It had been ten years, and he now had children, but his grandfather was still concerned about his well-being. Earlier this day, his grandfather on the surface had seemed to be angry with him, but in fact Ling Xingzhong had merely been, in his own way, trying to prevent Yuwen Tong from blaming his grandson. Apart from everything else, as the old man had acted that way, it would be insensible of Yuwen Tong to dress him, Ling Zhang, down.
However, his grandfather did not know that Yuwen Tong had no intention of criticizing Ling Zhang. Yuwen Tong was even sterner with Yuwen Qi and Yuwen Lin than Ling Zhang was, and he was not the kind of person who would cosset his sons either. Most importantly, Yuwen Tong had discerning eyes and ... always put Ling Zhang first.
Naturally, Yuwen Tong was too smart not to have divined the reason why Ling Xingzhong had displayed that kind of anger. What had annoyed Yuwen Tong was mostly, Ling Zhang believed, Ling Xingzhong’s lack of trust in him.
“My grandfather is indeed a little intransigent. Thank you for being tolerant of him,” said Ling Zhang quietly.
Yuwen Tong gave a little snort and said, “I’m a magnanimous man.”
Chuckling, Ling Zhang leaned closer and pecked Yuwen Tong’s lips.
The look in Yuwen Tong’s eyes changed slightly and with that he pulled Ling Zhang into his embrace and deepened the peck.
The next day.
“I don’t know if there’s anything matching that description in my house. A lot of things have been moved in there recently ... ” said He You the bridegroom weakly, dark circles under his eyes. In merely one day, the handsome, high-spirited bridegroom had been reduced to such a sorry sight.
The He family had been taken into custody, their residence cordoned off.
The bridegroom was totally unaware of what had happened to him and did not know anything about Soul-Devouring Trees. Even his father, He Shijing, had no idea how things had come to this. The whole family were on their knees, wailing.
Common people were unable to recognize Soul-Devouring wood, so Mr. Mu paid a visit to He You’s house and searched it in person. Eventually, he found a wooden, carved writing brush holder on a desk in the study.
Soul-Devouring wood was very durable. Though having been soaked in sea water for years before re-emerging with the island, it was still tenacious. Unless you counted the fact that its fragrance could drive people crazy, it was indeed excellent for carving. Still, nobody, except those with a death wish, would use it to make a writing brush holder.
“Where did you get this writing brush holder?” a guard inquired of He You.
He You looked at it and answered, “My father bought it for me not long ago. It’s only just been placed there.”
He Shijing was marched inside for interrogation. At the sight of the writing brush holder, guilt registered his face.
Anybody could tell that he knew something about it. Xie Shi, the interrogator, naturally did what he was supposed to do and dragged a full confession out of He Shijing.
Xie Shi walked out of the room with a rather serious face. “That writing brush holder was an article of tribute. He Shijing illegally took possession of it.”
An article of tribute?
Everybody’s face became grave. Tribute was supposed to be delivered into the palace. But who had made this writing brush holder out of a piece of Soul-Devouring wood and attempted to have it delivered into the palace? And why had He Shijing secretly pocketed it?
He Shijing was just the owner of Nantong Chamber of Commerce. Rich as he was, he did not have any contacts in the imperial court who could have helped him tamper with the tribute.
But He Shijing owned a large security company.
Half a year ago, the Nanya governor had commissioned his company to deliver a batch of tribute to the capital city to congratulate the imperial couple on their tenth wedding anniversary.
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