Chapter 242: A Twist in the Tale!
“Who is He Fang? Do you two know each other?” The woman that Yan Tingfang was supporting paused for a moment, looking somewhat confused as she asked.
Suddenly coming back to her senses, Xia Yuqing assumed that this elderly woman must be the Shao family’s Madam Shao, whom Emperor Feng Tingye had mentioned earlier. Before anyone else could react, she quickly stepped forward and preemptively interjected, “How could Miss Yan possibly know her? She must have mistaken her identity. Cuihua, isn’t that right?”
Even Cuihua, who had not expected to encounter Yan Tingfang in this place, blurted out without thinking, caught up in the surprise of the moment.
Realizing that the atmosphere had noticeably changed due to her words, Cuihua immediately sensed that she might have said something wrong. She forced a smile and said, “Yes… I made a mistake. At first glance, this young lady resembled an old friend of mine, but upon closer inspection, I realized that they don’t look alike at all. It was… my mistake.”
“That’s right, that’s right. There are so many people in this world who look similar. Mistaking someone for someone else is a common occurrence. I’ve been mistaken by others before too. It’s nothing special. Hahaha…” Xia Yuqing laughed awkwardly and echoed in agreement.
“Is that so?” Madam Shao narrowed her eyes slightly, asking casually. Although she had a smile on her face, Xia Yuqing instinctively felt a sense of danger.
What’s wrong with this woman? Xia Yuqing unconsciously took two steps back.
She appeared dignified and amiable, but why did Xia Yuqing sense such a terrifying atmosphere from her? Could it be… that she accidentally triggered another incredible boss battle? Good heavens, did she really have to experience this?
Just as Xia Yuqing was at a loss for how to respond, a hand suddenly reached out from behind and wrapped around her waist, halting her retreat.
Xia Yuqing was startled and looked up in surprise, meeting the half-smiling face of Feng Tingye.
Feng Tingye glanced soothingly at Xia Yuqing and then looked up at Madam Shao, softly calling out, “Aunt Shao.”
Madam Shao glanced at the hand that Feng Tingye had placed on Xia Yuqing’s waist and raised an eyebrow, a hint of understanding crossing her eyes. “So it’s His Majesty and the Empress. Madam Shao greets the Emperor and the Empress.”
Although Madam Shao respectfully greeted the two of them, Xia Yuqing couldn’t sense even the slightest hint of respect from her. It seemed as if it was just a routine greeting.
But that wasn’t the most surprising part. What astonished her the most was that Feng Tingye didn’t show the slightest hint of anger towards Madam Shao’s presumptuous behavior. It was as if he had long been accustomed to such actions.
Who on earth is this person? How can she openly challenge Feng Tingye’s authority and still stand there, chatting and laughing as if everything is normal? It feels… so terrifying! Whimper…
“Madam Shao, there’s no need for excessive courtesy. If Madam Shao had informed us of her rare return to the capital, we could have made earlier arrangements and held a banquet to welcome you and provide you with some rest and refreshments.” Feng Tingye discreetly moved Xia Yuqing behind him, shielding her from Madam Shao’s inquisitive gaze.
“Hmm?” Xia Yuqing looked at the two conversing individuals with some confusion. Did the Ultra Seme Lord say that Madam Shao rarely returns to the capital? In other words, Madam Shao wasn’t in the capital before and only recently came back?!
Madam Shao’s eyes flickered slightly, but the smile on her lips deepened. “So, this is the renowned virtuous consort of Yours, the Empress of our Ye Kingdom?”
Madam Shao’s gaze lingered on Xia Yuqing for a moment, and she smiled faintly. “The Emperor has a good eye.”
Xia Yuqing’s face blushed slightly, unsure why she felt a sense of nervousness similar to when facing Senior Grandmother. Ahwoo… What’s with this shy feeling of being acknowledged by an elder?
Although Feng Tingye didn’t say anything, the pride between his eyebrows betrayed his true thoughts at the moment.
“Madam Shao, you haven’t answered me yet. Why did you suddenly return to the capital? Could it be that you missed Zitang?”
Shao Zitang silently rolled his eyes at the sky. If this woman really cared about him, she wouldn’t have kidnapped his father and run off to the wilderness for a romantic getaway. Sometimes he really doubted whether he was their biological son!
Madam Shao smiled nonchalantly, “That is one of the reasons. But the main reason is that Fubo mentioned a girl who could potentially become my future daughter-in-law in the mansion. It concerns Little Tangtang’s lifelong happiness. As a mother, how could I sit idly by? So, I hurriedly brought my husband back to take a look.”
“…” So, Madam Shao specifically came back to assess the future daughter-in-law. Now it’s a problem. If Madam Shao finds out about Miss Yan’s background…
Yan Tingfang clearly thought of the same thing as Xia Yuqing. Her face turned pale instantly, and the harmony she had achieved with Madam Shao over the past few days disappeared in an instant. She glanced at Cuihua, who was not far away, feeling a mix of guilt and uneasiness, and pursed her lips. Is it finally happening…?
“I see.” Feng Tingye glanced at Shao Zitang, who remained calm and composed, and chuckled. “I see. It’s getting late, and Madam Shao also came to visit Yan Ran. Since that’s the case, why not join us?”
Madam Shao nodded and glanced at Cuihua before walking together with Feng Tingye into the residence.
“We should hurry as well.” Cuihua felt like she had said something terrible just now and was still somewhat frightened. As soon as she saw the group entering the residence, she hurriedly grabbed her brother and tried to leave. Before leaving, she anxiously turned her head for a glance and found that Yan Tingfang seemed to have noticed her and turned to look at her. She immediately gasped in shock and quickly left, holding her brother’s hand.
Originally, Yan Ran was quite happy to hear that Xia Yuqing and the others came to visit. Considering their outstanding performance during his wedding, Yan Ran had planned to take this opportunity of his illness to properly reprimand this couple. However, he didn’t expect… that accompanying Feng Tingye was Madam Shao.
Yan Ran’s little plan instantly shattered when he saw Madam Shao walking in from the entrance.
“Madam Shao, why have you also returned?” Yan Ran stared at Madam Shao in shock as she walked in, his face turning pale. He even managed to pull off the weak and delicate sickly beauty look.
Madam Shao smiled radiantly, exuding an extraordinary aura. “Naturally, I came to visit my little enchantress. Tsk tsk tsk, spending the wedding night alone in the bridal chamber, enduring the cold breeze all night… My little enchantress, you’re becoming more and more capable.”
“Little… little enchantress!” Xia Yuqing’s mouth hung open, dumbfounded, as she watched the interaction between the two. Her jaw almost dropped to the floor.
Madam Shao just called the Grand Tutor “Little Enchantress”? Speaking of which, Madam Shao also called the little Shangshu “Little Tangtang”? Normally, whenever the little Shangshu is called by the Grand Tutor with this nickname, he would definitely become furious. But just now, when Madam Shao called him that, the little Shangshu didn’t even show a hint of anger or any small emotions. What kind of monster is she? Why do these people who usually walk with arrogance everywhere turn into little kittens in front of this woman?!
“Madam Shao, this is just an accident, an accident…” Yan Ran hastily let out a loud sneeze and looked pitiful. “Madam Shao, I’m currently ill, I beg for your forgiveness.”
Madam Shao glanced at him calmly, swept her eyes around, making sure there were no other women present besides them. There was a trace of understanding in her eyes as she lightly chuckled. “You’re so severely ill, and the new bride doesn’t even want to spare a glance at you. You, as the groom, are really pitiful. After all these years, I never expected my little enchantress to not make any progress at all. Instead, you seem to be regressing.”
“Ahahaha… I was just worried about her, you know? I didn’t want anyone to go and tell her. And she was still angry at that time, so it’s not surprising… she…” Yan Ran couldn’t stop laughing foolishly, but his laughter was even more ugly than crying.
That old butler only said that Feng Tingye had come with another person. How could he not mention that Madam Shao was also with them? No, Madam Shao came back, and no one even bothered to inform him. This is not right! This must be someone plotting against him. This is definitely a conspiracy!
The old butler stood silently on the side, innocently looking up at the sky. He didn’t admit that he did it on purpose. Who told you, Young Master, to be so shameless? You have a pile of romantic debts that angered the madam, and you even dared to use a feigned illness to make the madam come and take care of you. You brought this upon yourself! Now, instead of bringing the madam, he brought Madam Shao. Let’s see how you handle this!
Many people know that Yan Ran and Feng Tingye grew up together since childhood, and their relationship is different from others. But few people know that among this group of people, Yan Ran and Shao Zitang have the closest relationship. The reason is simple: their mothers were real sisters.
After Yan Ran’s parents passed away due to an accident, Shao Zitang’s parents took care of him. They treated him as their second son and, as a result, Yan Ran regarded Madam Shao, who was like a second mother to him, with respect and fear, not daring to show any disrespect.
“You’re still protecting her? Well, it’s expected. It was your fault from the beginning, so it’s not the girl’s fault. I thought you had grown up and become sensible after all these years in the capital, so I couldn’t be bothered with you. I thought that despite your stubborn nature, you would still maintain your integrity. But it seems that it was all just my wishful thinking. What kind of place is a brothel? Is it a place where you can freely indulge and ruin yourself? Those girls in the brothel are full of seduction, engaging in questionable activities. Mixing with them, you’ve picked up bad habits. You won’t even know how you’ll end up. How will you explain to your deceased parents when you meet them in the afterlife?”
Madam Shao’s words were filled with weight and concern, causing Yan Ran’s face to turn pale.
“It’s not that exaggerated,” Yan Ran mumbled in response, feeling utterly ashamed under the scolding.
Madam Shao’s gaze casually swept past Yan Tingfang’s face, but she fixed her cold gaze on Yan Ran and sneered, “Where is it not that exaggerated? I’ve heard about it. Even the bride you’ve married now, you once did something disgraceful to her and abandoned her in the end! How is that any different from those courtesans in the brothels who deceive and betray men?”
“…” Which despicable person betrayed this Grand Tutor!” Yan Ran thought to himself, wearing a miserable expression.
Yan Tingfang’s expression also changed, and her legs weakened.
“Miss Yan, are you alright?” Xia Yuqing had been watching her and quickly reached out to support her when she saw her distress.
“Yes, Fang Er, what happened? Why did your complexion suddenly turn so terrible?” Madam Shao turned around upon hearing the commotion and looked at Yan Tingfang with concern, asking anxiously.
Yan Tingfang shook her head. “I just suddenly felt a bit unwell. Perhaps… perhaps I caught a chill last night because I kicked off the blanket.”
“I see. Then you should go back and rest. I’ll have Fubo find a doctor to check on you.”
“No, it’s fine. It’s just a minor cold. I have some medicine at home. I’ll take it and sleep, and I’ll be fine.”
Madam Shao glanced at her suspiciously but didn’t insist. “Alright then, you should go back first. There’s still a patient here, and it wouldn’t be good if the condition worsens. If you feel uncomfortable later, let Fubo know, and he’ll call a doctor for you.”
Yan Tingfang nodded and glanced at Shao Zitang before turning around and leaving the Grand Tutor’s residence.
Xia Yuqing looked worriedly at her departing figure, completely unaware that Feng Tingye was observing Madam Shao with a pensive expression.
Once Yan Tingfang left, Madam Shao turned her cannons completely towards Yan Ran, scolding him until he felt utterly worthless. His face turned pale, and he couldn’t utter a word.
Poor Yan Ran had only caught a minor cold, which would have improved after a few days of rest. However, under Madam Shao’s relentless bombardment, he felt like a severely ill patient with one foot already in the grave.
Xia Yuqing looked at his extremely unpleasant face and, for a moment, doubted if he would have a heart attack and collapse right then and there.
After Madam Shao finished her satisfying scolding and left without taking a cloud with her, Yan Ran was left with barely any breath.
Xia Yuqing watched with trembling heart and overwhelming guilt and sympathy. She glanced at Yan Ran one last time and immediately pulled Feng Tingye away.
As soon as they got on the returning sedan, Xia Yuqing couldn’t help but curiously grab Feng Tingye’s arm and ask, “Your Majesty, who exactly is the mother of this little Shangshu? She’s so fierce! Look at the little Shangshu and the Gorgeous Grand Tutor. Normally, they are not afraid of anyone. But in front of her, they didn’t dare to say a word. They behaved like tigers with their claws removed, so obedient!”
Feng Tingye glanced at Xia Yuqing, who was full of curiosity, and smiled slightly. “The Shao family was one of the famous aristocratic families in Ye Country even during my grandfather’s time, just like my mother’s Zhang Sunshi family. When Zitang’s grandfather passed away early, his grandmother single-handedly supported the entire Shao family and unexpectedly led them to a period of great prosperity.”
Xia Yuqing sensed the emotions in Feng Tingye’s words and couldn’t help but feel dissatisfied. “What’s wrong with women? When women exert their power, they can be just as capable as men. Back in the Tang Dynasty, wasn’t Empress Wu Zetian the one who brought the mighty Tang Dynasty to its peak? Those who look down on women will undoubtedly suffer a great loss, hmph!”
Feng Tingye looked at Xia Yuqing pouting her lips, rarely displaying such a childish side. The smile at the corners of his lips deepened, and he reached out to poke her nose, asking with a smile, “Who is Empress Wu Zetian?”
Xia Yuqing, accustomed to being casual in front of Feng Tingye, didn’t hide anything. “Empress Wu Zetian, ah, she was the first and the last female emperor in history. Although opinions about her vary, it cannot be denied that she led the Tang Dynasty to its most prosperous era. Perhaps she wasn’t a good wife or mother, but she was definitely a capable emperor.”
Feng Tingye was intrigued by Xia Yuqing’s impassioned response and asked with amusement, “My Ai Fei seems to admire this female emperor?”
Xia Yuqing was taken aback for a moment, realizing that she had unintentionally steered the conversation off track. She cleared her throat and said, “Let’s not digress. The point is, don’t underestimate women. Not to mention distant examples, haven’t you had enough trouble with Princess Chang and Imperial Concubine Roujia? When women get angry, they can set the whole world on fire.”
“Yes, yes, Zhen has been enlightened,” Feng Tingye said, finding it rare to see Xia Yuqing being so serious. He wanted to cooperate but couldn’t help but feel amused.
Xia Yuqing also noticed this and snorted, unwilling to continue arguing with Feng Tingye on this topic. She took the initiative to ask, “You just mentioned that the Old Madam Shao brought the Shao family to the top, and then what happened? Is the Shao family still under Old Madam Shao’s control?”
“No, Old Madam Shao passed away more than ten years ago. After her death, the Shao family became much more low-key compared to before. However, the accumulated family power over these years should not be underestimated,” Feng Tingye explained.
“Oh,” Xia Yuqing nodded, pretending to understand. “So, the little Shangshu’s family has power and influence. That’s impressive! But what does it have to do with Madam Shao?”
Feng Tingye looked deeply into Xia Yuqing’s eyes and continued, “Does my Ai Fei know who inherited the power of the Shao family after Old Madam Shao’s passing?”
“Huh? Generally speaking, shouldn’t such a heritage be passed down to the successor? It should be with the little Shangshu’s father or even with the little Shangshu himself, right?”
Feng Tingye stared at Xia Yuqing’s eyes, a glimmer of mischief flickering in his own. He teased, “The power of the Shao family has been in the hands of Aunt Shao since the passing of the old lady.”
Upon learning that Madam Shao not only held the highest power of a prominent family but also had a close relationship with the Zhang Sunshi family, like sisters, Xia Yuqing finally understood the meaning behind Madam Shao’s scrutinizing gaze when she inspected her as a potential future niece-in-law at the Grand Tutor’s residence that day.
Upon realizing this, Xia Yuqing fell into a melancholic state. On one hand, she was relieved that Zhang Sunshi was not as difficult to deal with as Madam Shao. On the other hand, she worried about Yan Tingfang’s situation.
Women value their reputation, even in modern times with more open-minded thinking, not to mention in the conservative ancient times.
After the incident between Li Yuan and Yan Ran, due to Yan Ran’s indecisiveness, Li Yuan almost ended up with Yin Xiang. Xia Yuqing had worried for Yan Ran at that time.
But this time, the situation was much more serious than before. At least back then, Yin Xiang genuinely came for Li Yuan and held significant power. Even if Li Yuan really ended up with him, no one would dare to gossip.
But now, it’s different. The relationship between Yan Tingfang and Shao Zitang is already unstable, and Madam Shao is clearly not an agreeable person.
As portrayed in television dramas, the reputation of prominent families is crucial. How could they tolerate a courtesan becoming their future mistress? That day, Madam Shao’s attitude towards Yan Tingfang was indeed quite good, but it was clearly based on her not knowing Yan Tingfang’s identity.
If Yan Tingfang’s nearly five years of unsavory past were to be dug up in the future, the consequences might be more severe than they could imagine.
Yun Xi also heard about this matter and was extremely worried for Yan Tingfang. In her eyes, Yan Tingfang had finally emerged from the shadow of her family’s tragedy. If she were to face another blow because of this, it would be devastating…
“Sister Qing, you mentioned that Madam Shao has a close relationship with the Empress Dowager, right? Why don’t you inform the Empress Dowager in advance? The Empress Dowager cares a lot about you. If that young madam opposes Sister Yan and Lord Shangshu’s relationship due to Sister’s past, maybe the Empress Dowager can support her from the side and bring about a turning point,” Yun Xi suggested.
Upon hearing Yun Xi’s proposal, Xia Yuqing nodded, thinking it made sense. She planned to find an opportunity to inform Empress Dowager Zhang Sunshi in advance and seek her support. Unfortunately, before she had a chance to speak, something happened at the Shangshu’s Residence.
“Sister Qing, Sister Qing, something bad happened!” Just as Xia Yuqing had finished lunch with the two children, she heard an urgent shout from outside.
Everyone in the room turned their heads and saw Yun Xi rushing in, panting heavily. She exclaimed, “Something bad happened at the Shangshu’s Residence!”
“Don’t panic. What happened?” Lu Rui quickly stepped forward to support Yun Xi and comforted her in a low voice, while Cui Er brought a cup of tea.
After taking a sip of tea to calm her breath, Yun Xi urgently explained, “Um… Madam Shao seems to have discovered Sister Yan’s identity. She sent people to investigate her. I just went to see Sister Yan because I noticed she hasn’t been in a good mood lately, and I wanted to talk to her. But as I was about to leave, I saw the steward of Madam Shao’s household leading two people who seemed to be brothel servants and an old madam towards Sister Yan’s direction.”
Xia Yuqing and the others’ faces slightly changed. After a moment of contemplation, Xia Yuqing asked in a low voice, “Is the little Shangshu at home?”
“It seems that Lord Shangshu is not at home. When I was leaving, I overheard the servants saying that he recently went to the palace. He probably hasn’t returned yet.”
“Went to the palace?” Xia Yuqing was momentarily stunned. She grabbed Lu Rui and said, “Lu Rui, go to the Emperor and see if Lord Shangshu is with him. If he is, ask him to return to the residence immediately. The rest of you stay here to take care of the two children. Cui Er and Xiao Xi, come with me to the Shangshu’s Residence now and see if we can buy some time.”
Xia Yuqing and the others hurriedly rushed to the Shangshu’s Residence. Before they could enter, they heard Madam Shao’s voice coming from Yan Tingfang’s room.
“Fang Er, do you recognize these people?”
“I heard that these people and you are all old acquaintances, and they used to work at the same brothel.”
Upon hearing the word “brothel,” Xia Yuqing and the others couldn’t help but tremble. Without waiting for Shao Zitang to come and rescue the situation, Xia Yuqing hastily pushed the door open.
Upon hearing the commotion, everyone in the room was startled and turned to look.
Madam Shao was surprised to see Xia Yuqing but quickly recovered and smiled faintly, “Why didn’t the Empress inform me in advance of her visit to my humble residence? I would have gone out to welcome you.”
Xia Yuqing’s lips twitched, thinking that even the Ultra Seme Lord doesn’t dare to ask you to personally welcome him, let alone someone like me, a mere young woman.
“Madam Shao is being too polite. As an elder, how can a junior ask the elder to personally welcome them? Ahahaha…”
Madam Shao laughed at the remark. Her eyes, which were strikingly similar to Shao Zitang’s, slightly narrowed, revealing a trace of coldness at the corners, causing Xia Yuqing to unknowingly shiver and feel an inexplicable chill down her spine.
“So the Empress does remember that I am her elder. I thought you had forgotten. And, seeing the Empress entering my residence without permission, it seems that you don’t consider me as an elder at all.”
Xia Yuqing chuckled dryly a couple of times and shifted her gaze, acting somewhat stubbornly, “Madam, you misunderstood. I have always held great respect for you in my heart. Ahem, it was indeed my mistake to enter without permission. But originally, I intended to give you a surprise. Who would have expected to hear that Madam had come to Miss Yan’s place just as I arrived…”
Madam Shao remained silent after hearing Xia Yuqing’s words. She simply swept her gaze from Xia Yuqing to Yun Xi beside her, staring at them intently, making the two of them feel uneasy. She then lightly chuckled, “Surprise? I didn’t feel any particular joy from it. I have only been startled.”
“Ahahaha…” Xia Yuqing didn’t expect Madam Shao to be so straightforward in her words. She forced a laugh and kept racking her brain on how to buy more time.
Unfortunately, before she could come up with a reasonable excuse, Madam Shao changed the subject and smiled faintly, “Since the Empress has come, why not sit on the side for a while? I happen to have some household matters to attend to. Please sit for a moment, it won’t take long.”
“!” It can’t be resolved so quickly! If you resolve it right away, it will be pointless when Shao Zitang returns.
“Madam…” Xia Yuqing was about to speak but was quickly interrupted by Madam Shao.
“Empress, didn’t you come for me? In that case, waiting for me for a little while should be fine, right?”
Madam Shao’s words completely silenced Xia Yuqing and instantly extinguished the courage she had gathered.
Seeing Xia Yuqing no longer causing trouble, Madam Shao turned her gaze to Yan Tingfang and the others, smiling faintly, “Fang Er, about what I asked you earlier… Is it true or not? They all claim to be acquainted with you. If you deny it, then they must be lying?”
“Madam, please understand, we…” Before Yan Tingfang could finish, those kneeling individuals suddenly raised their heads one by one, anxiously wanting to defend themselves.
“Enough!” Yan Tingfang’s low shout successfully restored the tranquility in the room. “They are not lying.”
Everyone widened their eyes and looked at Yan Tingfang, including Madam Shao, who was also stunned. Her expression instantly turned grim. “So, what they said is true. Fang Er, you…”
Yan Tingfang closed her eyes silently, her lips slightly pursed. She struggled to utter a sentence, “Yes, I used to stay at the Yingchun Courtyard… for five years.”
As soon as Yan Tingfang said this, a gasp resounded through the room, and Madam Shao’s expression turned extremely ugly.
After a brief silence, Madam Shao let out a sigh and said, “Fang Er, you should know that I used to like you a lot, but you…”
Yan Tingfang’s hand hanging by her side suddenly tightened, and she lowered her head with a hint of choking in her voice. “I have disappointed Madam.”
The smile on Madam Shao’s face completely disappeared, causing Xia Yuqing and the others on the side to feel a sense of unease.
After a while, they heard Madam Shao let out a sigh and said, “You may leave.”
“Madam Shao, Fang Er actually…” Yun Xi exclaimed, wanting to plead for Yan Tingfang, but Madam Shao cruelly interrupted her.
“No matter what the reason is, some things, once done, are done. The Shao clan cannot allow a future mistress with a courtesan background. She is not worthy of my son!”
“Madam Shao!” Xia Yuqing’s expression changed slightly, and she couldn’t help but take a step forward, wanting to speak, but once again, Madam Shao seized the initiative.
“Empress, this is my family matter. I ask that you don’t meddle.”
Xia Yuqing choked up, and the excuses she had prepared with great difficulty were abruptly cut off.
“Someone, escort her out!” Madam Shao gave the order, and the people who had been waiting in the room immediately approached Yan Tingfang.
“Sister Qing!” Yun Xi exclaimed softly, anxiously looking at Xia Yuqing.
Xia Yuqing’s emotions were also restless at this moment, but how could she alone stop Madam Shao from kicking someone out? The only plan she had left was…
Whimper, little Shangshu, where are you at this critical moment? If you don’t show up soon, your future bride will really be driven out!
Perhaps the heavens heard Xia Yuqing’s complaint because just as those people were about to touch Yan Tingfang, with a loud bang, the tightly closed door was kicked open from the outside once again.
In the next second, Shao Zitang, whom Xia Yuqing and the others had been waiting for, walked in with a cold expression on his face.
“What are you all doing gathered here?” Shao Zitang’s gaze swept over everyone, finally landing on the group of guards surrounding Yan Tingfang. His eyes suddenly chilled, and he asked coldly, “What do you intend to do to her?”