“I remember now.”
After thinking for a moment, Fu Nian finally recalled that earlier, at the physician’s clinic, he hadn’t been dressed properly, and that attendant had barged in on her own.
Ultimately, Fu Nian was only interested in the package of frost-cold ginseng. When he saw Lu Yi’s anger, he had been contemplating whether she was upset because he had seen the frost-cold ginseng inside. However, it turned out she was angry because he had acted improperly.
Honestly, Fu Nian breathed a sigh of relief. Thankfully, Lu Yi wasn’t confronting him over him seeing the frost-cold ginseng.
“What did you remember?” Rendong looked at the person in front of him who seemed rather carefree, and he became even more anxious.
“Earlier, when I was in the room, I wasn’t properly dressed because I was adjusting my prosthetic with Physician Xu. But she barged in on her own,” Fu Nian explained, extending his not-very-nimble fingers and sighing, “It’s just false accusations. Don’t listen to them.”
“It’s not about whether I believe them or not. Of course, I believe you. But right now, people are coming to beat you up. You better hide first and then talk!”
Fu Nian looked up. “Who’s coming to beat me up?”
Fu Nian wondered if Chu Zhaoyi’s little royal uncle had remembered him. He was swamped with official matters; how could he possibly have the time to deal with trivial matters involving servants and attendants?
Rendong quickly said, “Several guards from Ze Wang’s residence, those who usually accompany Ze Wang when he enters the palace. If Miss Lu Yi is mistreated in the palace, they’re the ones who hold others accountable. You might not know, but even though Lu Yi is Ze Wang’s attendant, her treatment is almost on par with the young ladies of the mansion. Everyone in the palace treats her with great respect…”
“I see.” Fu Nian understood now that Ze Wang wouldn’t likely have time for such matters. “So, there’s nothing to worry about.”
Having said that, Fu Nian continued walking back at a brisk pace.
After taking just a few steps, he saw Rendong blocking his way. “What do you mean, ‘there’s nothing to worry about’? They’re coming to beat you up! There are many of them, and if they really start fighting, someone might get killed! You better hide…”
“In that case, I promise that if I have to fight back, I won’t kill them. Is that fine?” Fu Nian thought Rendong was concerned that it might turn deadly. “Rest assured, I’ll be restrained when fighting in the palace.” After saying that, Fu Nian patted the petrified child in front of him and continued walking back.
Although he hadn’t found concrete evidence yet, all the clues indicated that Ze Wang was likely his lifesaver. Regardless, Fu Nian planned to show some restraint.
Upon returning to the living quarters area and before entering the courtyard, Fu Nian noticed that everyone’s gaze was fixed on him. Even those who were gambling on the roadside had stopped to look at him.
“I’ll go remind him…”
“Don’t meddle in unnecessary affairs. The guards from Ze Wang’s residence have already made it clear that anyone who informs him is in for a beating…”
“Isn’t that Rendong? Let him take the blame by himself…”
Fu Nian overheard people whispering nearby.
It seemed Rendong was quite loyal, risking a beating to pass on the message.
When he reached the courtyard entrance and stepped over the threshold, he saw three fierce-looking men standing in front of him.
Their attire was slightly different from the palace guards. Although they didn’t carry swords, they were robust and strong.
Standing in front of them, Fu Nian even felt somewhat fragile.
“Stay there. You, with the disabled arms and legs, stay put!”
Fu Nian was stopped before he could enter further.
“You’re Lian Nian, right?”
“It’s me.” Fu Nian turned around and answered expressionlessly.
As soon as he finished speaking, one of the men threw a punch at him, directed at his abdomen.
Fu Nian didn’t dodge; he took the solid punch directly.
It hurt a bit, he thought.
“Fight back, why are you just standing there?”
“Originally a cripple, who gave you the audacity to be so improper—”
Upon hearing the word “cripple,” Fu Nian narrowed his eyes. Without waiting for the person to finish speaking, he leaped up.
His right arm prosthetic extended fully, like a blade, aiming straight for the man’s shoulder.
Piercing through one person, Fu Nian then used the prosthetic like a hammer handle, striking the next person with his body as the hammerhead.
Seeing both of them fall to the ground, Fu Nian retracted his prosthetic, looking at the one guard still standing.
“Apologies, I overestimated their fighting ability. I didn’t expect things to end so quickly,” Fu Nian said, glancing at the two guards from Ze Wang’s residence lying on the ground, then looking back at the one who was unscathed. Puzzled, he asked, “By the way, did you… have something to discuss with me?”
Seeing them remain silent and not pushing further, Fu Nian didn’t rush to inquire further. He lowered his head and glanced at his prosthetic hand that was still bleeding.
The new prosthetic wasn’t as sturdy; just a couple of strikes earlier, a small piece of stone had crumbled off. Though it didn’t affect its functionality, it didn’t look very aesthetically pleasing.
“May I… ask how you managed to make Miss Lu Yi cry?” After a long silence, the guard who was still standing finally lowered his tone and cautiously asked, “Although she cried and told us that someone harassed her, looking at your demeanor, you don’t seem like that kind of crude person. There must be some misunderstanding.”
Seeing that the guard’s attitude was relatively reasonable, Fu Nian also respectfully cupped his fists and bowed slightly. He calmly replied, “At the time, when I was having my prosthetic repaired by Doctor Xu, Miss Lu Yi came in unexpectedly. I didn’t have time to put on my clothes, so it wasn’t intentional. I’m not very eloquent, and my words often create ambiguities. Also, the sight of a missing limb can make people uncomfortable. It’s probably a misunderstanding on Miss Lu Yi’s part. I genuinely had no inappropriate intentions.”
“I-Is that so? It truly seems to have been a misunderstanding.”
Seeing the man standing in front of him forcing a smile, Fu Nian wondered if he should offer a slight smile too.
Amid this awkward standoff, Fu Nian heard a voice coming from a distance, “Lian Nian! I’ve come to save you—”
Turning his head, Fu Nian saw Rendong, who had somehow managed to find an iron shovel taller than himself. He was struggling to carry it on his shoulder.
Even before Rendong reached him, he froze at the door, staring blankly at the scene before him.
“I promised you there wouldn’t be any fatalities. They’re just unconscious,” Fu Nian said, crouching down and gently tapping the two people lying on the ground with his prosthetic to signal that they were alive.
Seeing Rendong still immobile, Fu Nian temporarily gave up on explaining to him, turned back to the standing guard, and asked, “Is there anything else you need or want to discuss?”
“N-No, there isn’t.”
“Alright then. If there are any future misunderstandings, it’s better to address them openly. Resorting to physical violence… is quite distasteful.” After saying this, Fu Nian looked at the bloodstains on his prosthetic arm with disdain. He then walked toward the frozen Rendong at the doorway.
“Put the shovel back. Be careful not to hurt anyone later.” After saying that, Fu Nian patted Rendong’s shoulder.
Rendong still didn’t move, staring in shock at the scene before him.
—It wasn’t just Rendong who was in shock. Almost everyone present was staring in disbelief.
Turning around, Fu Nian saw that the unconscious men had been taken away, leaving only bloodstains on the ground.
“H-How did you manage to fight them off?”
After a silence that seemed to stretch forever, Fu Nian finally heard Rendong speaking up.
“It didn’t take much effort. After all, they were just guards from the Wang palace. If it were three Chu Yaos coming to fight me, I’d probably be the one lying on the ground right now,” Fu Nian calmly replied.
Although he had been away from the palace for many years, with a prolonged period of death in between and the replacement of his prosthetic limb, he had once been an assassin capable of assassinating the former emperor. He was a loyal subject who paved the way for the current emperor’s ascension to the throne, a man everyone wanted to beat up but who also inspired terror in those who heard his name.
The starving camel is bigger than a horse.
“…” Rendong didn’t reply, thinking to himself when did the Great Shadow Guard turn into a unit of measuring strength. He didn’t dare ask and could only quietly set down the iron shovel.
Fu Nian fetched a brush and sat by the well, scrubbing the bloodstains off his prosthetic limb.
In a short while, some of the blood had already seeped into the cracks between the stones. Even with vigorous scrubbing, it was difficult to clean completely.
“I found soap berries.”
While he was scrubbing his prosthetic, Fu Nian heard Rendong’s voice and reached out to take them. “Thanks.”
Although the soap berries were of some help, the bloody smell seemed to linger no matter how much he scrubbed.
After scrubbing for a while, only clear water remained. Even though Fu Nian still felt that it wasn’t clean enough, he had to put down the brush.
“I appreciate you passing on the information and warning me not to take it too far today. But you don’t need to take risks in the future; I know how to restrain myself when fighting back,” Fu Nian struggled to organize his thoughts for a moment before smoothly expressing his gratitude. “However, you don’t need to worry about me being hurt by them anymore.”
Rendong fell silent for a long while before revealing the truth, “Actually, I was originally worried they might kill you…”
Fu Nian paused for a moment.
This was the first time someone had been worried for him in this way.
In the sect, a mission failure indicated a lack of ability, and failing while revealing one’s identity was punishable by death. After following Chu Zhaoyi… at the very least, he had never heard any gentle words spoken openly during broad daylight, let alone caring for him to the extent of worrying about his life.
“Thank you.” After a long pause, Fu Nian murmured his gratitude.
What was said in books wasn’t wrong; the feeling of someone caring… was truly heartwarming.
Later that evening, Fu Nian continued to acquaint himself with his new prosthetic on the training grounds. Apart from throwing knives, he started trying to grip longer weapons.
However, the results were far from satisfactory. Even if he managed to grip them for a moment, his grasp would quickly loosen, and he couldn’t maintain control.
The weight kept slipping away… Fu Nian thought back to times in the past when his life hung by a thread, and he had relied on his prosthetic to hold his entire body, even supporting the weight of two people to survive.
After a few more attempts, Fu Nian eventually sighed, threw down the weapon he was holding, and laid down on his back on the ground.
Just as he had lain there for a while, he heard someone calling him not far away.
He hurriedly got up from the ground and ran over.
He found a palace eunuch he didn’t recognize.
“Guard Lian, Ze Wang has a message. He wants you to meet him at the pavilion near the Mirror Flower Pond at midnight.”
Fu Nian assessed the eunuch’s attire; it did seem to be that of a palace attendant. However, he had no authority to check the eunuch’s waist token, so he could only respond skeptically, “I will obey.”
If it really was Ze Wang looking for him, it made sense.
After all, even if they punished him according to palace rules for injuring the two attendants, it would still be a loss of face.
No matter how well someone concealed their fighting habits, it was nearly impossible to avoid giving away some clues.
As night fell, half an hour ahead of schedule, Fu Nian arrived near the agreed-upon location.
He was quite familiar with the paths in the palace, especially the Mirror Flower Pond, which wasn’t far from the Chengyuan Hall. Fu Nian remembered that in the past, Chu Zhaoyi liked the scenery here a lot. He often held banquets and listened to operas in this area.
Fu Nian hid in the bamboo forest of the artificial mountain. After a while, he heard footsteps nearby, indicating someone’s movement.
However, he couldn’t hear anyone speaking.
It took quite some time for the footsteps to finally stop. Gradually, he began to hear faint voices coming from a distance below the artificial mountain.
“Engage immediately when you see the person coming over. You’ve fought him before, so you know his attacking habits… Avoid causing serious injuries. If you get the results, then withdraw immediately…”
The voices were intermittent, making it difficult for Fu Nian to discern who was speaking.
Even if someone tried to hide their fighting style, it was impossible to completely conceal all the clues.
Had someone become suspicious of his identity?