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TW: This chapter contains references to topics of sexual assault, self-harm and violence.
Once, in grief and indignation, I used to curse those who destroyed the Fu Clan with the most vicious words. But I didn't realize the impact my suppressed anger could wreak after five years of burying it at the bottom of my heart.
I broke free and slammed the man hard against the wall. When he looked up in surprise, his face bled with five striking scratches from my nails.
With fury on his drunk face, he spat a mouthful of spittle and stumbled, "You ......"
"Hu Zhen," walking under the lantern, I snapped, "open your dog's eyes and see who I am."
He stared at me, his face drooping with disbelief: "You, you are Fu Jin?"
Hu Zhen was the son of Empress Bian's cousin Hu Xun. After Empress Bian gained power, Hu Xun presided as the Minister of Justice. As far as I knew, he played a key role in framing and convicting my Father with false charges.
Hu Xun led the raid on Fu Residence and imprisoned my Father and Brothers. Hu Zhen lusted after Du-shi, my beautiful Eldest Sister-in-law, and raped her. Consumed with hatred, she threw herself into a well. Unable to bear the Clan's humiliations, my Mother hanged herself in her prison cell.
Every nightmare recurred when Hu Zhen appeared in front of me, sparking my fury like a matchstick on dry firewood.
"Furen! This ......" As the man about to grab Hu Zhen turned pale with fright, Hu Zhen shoved him.
"Haha ......! Haha Haha!" Hu Zhen stared at me and burst into increasingly loud laughs.
"I wondered who it was, it turned out to be you!" He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and commented cryptically, "I heard that you were lonely in Laiyang and hooked up with Wei Jue's son. What? Did you come to Huaiyang to meet your old lover Pei Qian and ......?"
Before he could finish his sentence, a fist arced through the air and punched him. Bones shattering, he rolled to the ground with a scream.
I didn't know that Pei Qian had arrived. Ashen-faced, he stood in front of Hu Zhen: "If you dare to talk more nonsense, I will break your legs!"
Hu Zhen squirmed on the ground, mumbling "ouch, ouch", before he propped himself up to a sitting posture.
"I'm talking nonsense?" Half his face swollen and shiny, he spat spittle mixed with blood and broken teeth. "Pei Qian! With the Empress gone, even you dare to hit me! In the past, your Father came to our doors and begged us to spare your Pei Clan. He vowed to do anything my Father wanted in return! Haha! Now that they have passed away, and the tea has cooled, you dare to vent anger on your old lover's behalf?! And you!" Hu Zhen turned to me and laughed sinisterly, "I remember your Eldest Sister-in-law's surname is Du? Haha, her screams then were delicious! Don't believe you can provoke me just because you have the Wei Clan's support, I ......"
A short knife stabbed his throat, and the dull sound of metal piercing flesh severed his words.
Hu Zhen's mouth was half open, and his eyes stared at me, as round as copper bells.
Anger and hostility stained my eyes blood-red.
Gasping for breath, I yanked the knife out and watched him collapse to the floor with convulses. Blood gushed out of the cut, dirtying both my hands.
"Ah Jin ......," behind me, Pei Qian whispered.
As I turned around, his figure was hazy under the dim lantern. Yet, the complexity and hesitation in his face couldn't escape my eyes.
"Is what he said true?"
"No!" Pei Qian denied sharply, "although my Father was afraid then, he never took part in the Fu Clan's framing!"
"He went to beg Hu Xun! If Hu Xun had wanted him to frame us, he would have, right?!"
Pei Qian stared at me, his face stretched taut, but didn't speak.
Everything was quiet. As I waited for him to deny my accusation, my hammering heart dropped to the pit of my stomach, my blood growing cold.
"Ah Jin," after a while, he whispered, "it's all in the past."
A cloud of bitterness burned and suffocated my heart, stoking waves of pain.
"It hasn't passed yet for me," I whispered. I glanced at the empty scabbard on his waist, placed the knife on the floor and rose to leave.
"Ah Jin!" Pei Qian rushed to grab my hand, "Where are you going?"
When I raised my eyes, Pei Qian's gaze was like a deep well, covered with a film of water. It was hard to distinguish whether heartache or despair filled them.
I wrestled my hand away, whispered, "Don't follow me," and inched towards the door.
As the crescent moon cast shadows on the murky ground, I saw mine lumbering forward like a zombie.
Soldiers patrolled the streets, and many people moved in the shadows. But it was none of my business.
What am I doing? Where am I going? I didn't have answers to my mind's questions.
I just wanted to keep walking away from the past's nightmares.
"...... Furen?" A soldier walked up to me and asked, "Where are you headed?"
I ignored him and kept walking straight.
In the street's dead silence, the singing of some lady playing with her children drifted over, "bright moon, shining on the ground ......"
"...... Under a bright moon, a scholar rides, on a white horse, across a lily pond." A long time ago, my wet nurse crooned to me as she waved a sunflower hand fan, "Chives planted on the pond's bank, offered for matrimony!"
My mother said, "What countryside folk song is that? Makes little sense."
The wet nurse laughed and said, "Not a random song, but one for our NuiJun and scholar Pei, a match made in heaven."
My mother also smiled and looked at me with eyes full of pride ......
I choked back a sob, wanting to cry, but no tears fell. Ahead, dark shadows shrouded the city walls, while below, candles burned.
Suddenly, my feet stepped on empty air, and I stumbled to the ground. When I looked down, I noticed a pit in the ground. A sharp pain seared my sprained ankle, and I gasped, tears streaming from my eyes.
"Furen!" As someone ran towards me, I raised my teary eyes and recognized Yang Ke.
"What happened?" Before Yang Ke could reach me, a deep voice sounded behind me, and then a shadow loomed.
As I froze, Wei Tan squatted on the ground, held my foot in his hand, and frowned: "sprained?"
When I saw him, his eyebrows, eyes, nose and ears, I hated every bit of his face. A hidden anger surged, and despite the pain in my foot, I shoved him away: "none of your business!"
Without a trace of anger, he caught my hand and pulled me closer.
"Look beside us," his voice was low, "are you going to let everyone continue staring?"
I looked around and stopped moving. Soldiers on patrol under the city gates surrounded us, every pair of eyes curious and eager.
"If I walk away, you'll have no choice but to crawl back," Wei Tan warned.
As I bit my lip in hesitation, he loosened his grip on my feet.
My forehead temples throbbed, and I hastily tugged his sleeve.
His lips curving, he glanced at me, and picked me up into his arms.
"Nothing to see here! Everyone, return!" He yelled to the soldiers and carried me away.
The night wind blew and mixed with the warm breath near me.
I let Wei Tan hold me, not moving a muscle. Behind his shoulders, the moon hung in the sky, bright and almost gaudy.
"What are you thinking?" Wei Tan asked suddenly.
I didn't answer. He didn't ask again either, and continued walking, his lone footsteps echoing in the deserted street.
"Elder Brother!" As he strode into an alley's entrance, Wei An's voice sounded.
He ran over and froze when he saw Wei Tan carrying me.
"What happened to Eldest Sister-in-law?"
"Sprained foot. Go have someone fetch a bucket of well water and boil it warm."
"Oh ......" Wei An nodded and ran back into the alley.
Wei Tan followed him, carrying me, and before long, a Mansion appeared in front of us.
"Young Master," several servants in the courtyard greeted him. When they saw me, they froze simultaneously and bowed again, "Furen."
I gazed at them and nodded awkwardly.
Wei Tan said nothing and walked into the house.
He lowered me onto the couch, gentle and careful not to bump my injured foot.
When I finally left his embrace, I couldn't help but relax. Whenever I was with this man, I was inexplicably on tenterhooks.
A servant brought a basin of water, and Wei Tan said, "Wash your hands."
Prompted to look, I noticed that the blood on my hands had dried, black and ugly.
As I recalled the earlier scene, I dipped my hands into the water. I scrubbed hard, as if coated with the most disgusting thing on earth. The water rippled and overflowed from the basin, clouding with a muddy color.
When I finally stopped after the basins changed thrice, my hands had flushed red. As a servant entered the room, carrying two buckets of water, Wei Tan walked over and reached out to lift my injured foot.
I pushed him away. Wobbling a bit, he raised his eyes to stare at me, gaze sullen.
When I met his gaze coldly, he paused and reached out again.
"It's not your business!" I pushed him again, but he stayed as steady as a rock. Anxious, I lifted my other foot to kick him.
"Sit still!" He suddenly shouted.
Startled, my foot halted in mid-air.
Wei Tan glared at me fiercely and squatted on the ground. He removed my stockings, fished up the corner of my skirt, and immersed my feet into the bucket.
After soaking in the heated water, the pain in my injured foot plummeted.
"I'll do it myself," I said, my mouth still stubborn.
Wei Tan didn't reply, but held my foot for a moment and slowly swirled it in the water.
"Make a sound if it hurts."
As I bit my lip, he glanced at me, and his hands slowed.
"Are you feeling sorry for yourself? Are all of you like this? Often looking down on others, but when feeling wronged, do you pity yourself and think that everyone else is evil?"
Unable to answer, I reluctantly said, "What 'all of you'?"
Wei Tan said nothing, but raised my feet from the water and removed the bucket. As he moved another bucket from the side, I wanted to ask him to speak in plain words. Distracted, my foot bumped into the bucket's walls, and I cried out in pain, "Ah ......"
"Stop flailing." When he dipped my foot in the ice-cold water, the pain relented.
I obediently stopped talking and watched as he alternately soaked my foot in cold and warm water several times. Finally, he dried it, applied medicine, and bound it with a cloth.
"If you don't want your foot to swell up into a hoof, don't walk around, call a servant."
I shot him a glance and then at my cocoon-wrapped feet, wondering if I should say "thank you" at this point. But before I could open my mouth, the door slammed open.
"Furen!" Ah Yuan ran in, her eyes red, she pounced on me, "You scared me to death ...... When I heard noises and ran out, a dead body was lying outside and you were missing ...... They said you murdered someone......"
T/N: I wanted to get this chapter out quicker because of the cliffhanger. Merry Christmas everyone!
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