“To find someone,” Fu Nian answered without hesitation.
Indeed, he was going to find someone. One was the person who had planted the heart-connecting gu for him, and the other was to finally discover who Chu Zhaoyi had married.
To be able to maintain such affection from the day of their grand wedding until now, never leaving the palace, he was genuinely curious about the kind of person who could earn such deep love and favor from that unyielding man.
“Find someone? Who exactly are you looking for? What do they look like, and how old are they? I have a few friends in the capital who might be able to help with inquiries,” Pei Zhou offered.
“Looking for…,” Fu Nian paused for a moment before continuing, “Looking for my ex-wife. It’s nothing that should concern you, just some trivial matters that are beneath dignity. Revealing them would only invite ridicule.” Fu Nian’s expression and tone remained steady as he stared at the ground.
Pei Zhou listened and gave a slightly embarrassed smile. “I see, I apologize for prying.”
“No worries,” Fu Nian replied flatly.
To maintain their fast pace, they hardly stopped in towns along the way, so there were no particularly good resting conditions.
Fu Nian, however, found the speed of travel quite comfortable. Over the past few days, he and the coachman had taken turns driving day and night. They either nibbled on dry rations or purchased food from nearby villagers.
However, the young man in the carriage was different. Perhaps due to the cold night wind and the rain on the road, he had been intermittently running a low fever.
When they were about a hundred miles away from the capital, Fu Nian used his hand to feel Pei Zhou’s forehead and found it to be even warmer. He asked, “Do you want to continue the journey urgently? The nearest town is Xiao Jingling, which is about a hundred miles from the capital. Should we rest briefly in a nearby town or continue the journey? We should reach the capital in about a day and a night.”
“Let’s rest for a bit,” Pei Zhou said weakly. “By the way, over these days, you haven’t rested at all? When I traveled to the capital before, it took at least half a month. We’ve covered it in less than six days…”
“I’m used to it,” Fu Nian replied before letting down the curtain and moving to the front of the carriage to resume driving.
While driving, Fu Nian contemplated the situation. Pei Zhou seemed young, and his claim of heading to the capital for studies seemed a bit odd… saying it would take at least half a month to reach the capital. This suggested that it might not be his first time traveling to the capital…
There was likely a hidden story here, something that required him to be cautious around strangers, making it inconvenient for him to speak freely. Fu Nian didn’t dwell on it or attempt to speculate further.
Upon arriving in Xiao Jingling, Fu Nian found an inn and had the coachman tend to the horses. He carried Pei Zhou inside the inn.
Once inside the room, Fu Nian set Pei Zhou down and said, “Rest for now. I’ll go find a physician for you.” With that, he turned to leave the room.
“No need,” Pei Zhou said, “It’s an old ailment. Regular physicians can’t cure it. I have a prescription in my baggage. You can follow the prescription to gather the herbs…”
Fu Nian didn’t respond but nodded and began searching through Pei Zhou’s luggage.
Apart from books, writing materials, and some clothing, there was nothing else. Fu Nian quickly found the prescription.
“I’ll be back soon, rest for now.” With that, Fu Nian draped on his cloak and hurriedly left the room.
The new prosthetics were quite satisfactory. At least when covered by clothing, they looked no different from an ordinary person. Although his hand was not as agile and sturdy as before, it was still usable for binding concealed weapons.
After walking through the streets for about twenty minutes, Fu Nian finally found a well-stocked apothecary.
“Excuse me, I need to get a prescription filled,” Fu Nian said as he placed the prescription on the counter, waiting patiently for the physician’s response.
The physician was an elderly man with graying hair. He took his time picking up the prescription and carefully examining it. “Young man, do you want me to prepare the medicine according to this prescription?”
“Yes. I appreciate your help.”
“Except for this half qian of frost-cold ginseng, I have all the other ingredients here,” the old physician looked at the prescription and furrowed his brows, “This prescription seems to have been written several years ago. Nowadays, frost-cold ginseng is not only unavailable here, but I doubt you’d find many even if you searched the entire nine provinces. All apothecaries avoid this particular herb.”
Fu Nian paused after listening. In his impression, while this kind of herb might be more expensive than ordinary medicines, it shouldn’t be so scarce to this extent. For usual cases of internal heat and fever, just a small piece boiled into medicine could quickly take effect, but it had significant side effects and was only suitable for emergencies.
If there was heat-toxin in the body, it was remarkably effective when taken regularly. For instance, back then, Fu Nian remembered that when he was poisoned, the doctor said that if no one had planted the connecting-heart gu in him to share the toxicity, he might have needed to take this medicine regularly to alleviate the heat-toxin. However, until his death, Fu Nian had never tasted this medicine.
“Frost-cold ginseng has a bitter taste and extremely cold nature. It’s not usually needed for common illnesses. How did it become so rare?” Fu Nian looked at the prescription with the half qian of frost-cold ginseng. This amount would only provide quick relief from fever. Considering Pei Zhou’s condition, it made sense.
“Who knows? Starting from two years ago, there has been a massive demand for this ginseng medicine in the capital, and the mountains nearby have been dug bare of it. Some say it’s needed to save the life of some young master, others claim it’s used by the Taoist alchemists around His Majesty, and there are even more far-fetched rumors. Who knows… By the way, young man, what are you looking for this medicine for?”
“Oh. A friend fell ill and had a fever. He asked me to fetch the herbs according to this prescription,” Fu Nian calmly explained, “If frost-cold ginseng isn’t available, you can substitute it with something else. I appreciate your assistance in preparing the medicine.”
“Alright,” the physician replied, then slowly rose from his stool and made his way to the medicine cabinet.
Leaning against the counter, Fu Nian lowered his head, contemplating the words the old physician had just spoken.
This kind of large-scale acquisition of a specific herb for private use had taken place in the capital, and it was impossible for Chu Zhaoyi not to know about it. Moreover, considering Chu Zhaoyi’s character, he would never allow such a situation to occur without reason. It had to be a matter that concerned him personally or someone important to him.
Yet, the thought of extensive use of this herb made Fu Nian think of the peculiar poison inside him that required its consumption.
It just so happened that it was in the capital. Fu Nian couldn’t help but think deeply.
However, before his death, he had forcibly removed the gu from his heart and entrusted it to the Imperial guard, which meant Chu Zhaoyi must have been informed. If the gu had died, then the person who shared the gu with him was likely gone as well.
Fu Nian remembered asking Chu Zhaoyi about the person who had planted the heart-connecting gu for him. Chu Zhaoyi hadn’t provided a direct answer, only mentioning that it was an absolutely loyal person who would never betray him, and that person would never walk ahead of Fu Nian, reassuring him completely.
Although Fu Nian didn’t know the specific identity because Chu Zhaoyi remained distant from everyone, he knew that this person must have been highly trusted by Chu Zhaoyi.
It seemed the scope of people who could have planted the heart-connecting gu for him was already narrowed down.
“Young man, the medicine is ready,” the physician’s voice brought Fu Nian out of his reverie.
“Thank you.” Fu Nian quickly refocused, paid for the medicine, and then headed back towards the inn.
The current problem… was how to infiltrate the palace after entering the capital.
Fu Nian pondered this throughout his journey and unknowingly arrived back at the inn.
After handing the medicine to the kitchen, he headed upstairs, knocked on the door, and entered the room.
Pei Zhou was evidently not sleeping; he was softly coughing on the bed.
Fu Nian stood straight, spoke clearly and with proper tone, “I’ve just gone out to fetch your medicine. The frost-cold ginseng wasn’t available, so we substituted it with something else. All the other ingredients are in accordance with the prescription. The medicine has been handed over to the kitchen and will be brought up with porridge later.”
“It’s normal not to have it… cough, cough. It’s been a long time since I could get this herb. It used to be quite common when I was a child, just a bit more expensive.”
Separated by the curtain, Fu Nian couldn’t see Pei Zhou’s expression, only his weakened voice.
“By the way, Young Master Pei, did you frequently consume this herb since childhood?” Fu Nian asked casually.
“Not frequently, only when I had a fever. It works faster than common herbs for reducing fever, though replacing it with something else works too, it’s just slower.”
“I see.” Fu Nian didn’t probe further.
Based on that explanation, it probably was indeed used to treat fever. However, Fu Nian kept a watchful eye.
After the young attendant brought the medicine, Fu Nian carried the tray over to the bedside and asked, “Can you take the medicine yourself?”
After asking, Fu Nian didn’t hear an answer; he saw Pei Zhou struggle to sit up, his trembling hands lifting the bowl.
However, a sudden cough caused the bowl to nearly tip over, spilling some of the medicinal soup.
“Let me do it.” Fu Nian took the bowl effortlessly from Pei Zhou’s hand, tested the temperature with the back of his hand, and without waiting for Pei Zhou’s refusal or agreement, he began spoon-feeding him.
“This isn’t necessary…” Pei Zhou began to protest, but before he could finish his sentence, the spoonful of medicine was gently placed into his mouth.
Unexpectedly, Fu Nian’s manner of feeding was gentle, which sharply contrasted with his cold and distant appearance.
“There’s nothing wrong with it,” Fu Nian responded calmly.
Indeed, there was nothing wrong with it. Feeding medicine with a spoon was an action that Fu Nian was confident wouldn’t harm the person.
He had even tested the temperature, ensuring it wouldn’t scald Pei Zhou.
As Fu Nian watched Pei Zhou reluctantly finish the medicine, he set down the bowl and picked up the porridge.
Before he could attempt to feed the porridge, he heard Pei Zhou speak.
“I… I can do it myself. It’s really not necessary…”
“What’s wrong?” Fu Nian was puzzled, still holding the bowl of porridge, and asked in confusion.
“As someone who’s been married before… Brother Cang Er should know that actions like feeding medicine or porridge, unless the relationship is very close, can be a bit embarrassing when done by someone else,” Pei Zhou explained and quickly added, “I’m not saying you’re not good, I’m very grateful for your care along the way, but having you feed me medicine, I feel uneasy…”
“Feeding medicine with a spoon is just that, what’s there to feel uneasy about?” Fu Nian was still puzzled, trying to recall past experiences. Feeding medicine with a spoon was something only physicians or imperial doctors would do to him; he would also feed his colleagues this way. After all, he and Chu Zhaoyi wouldn’t need a spoon for such an action.
Thinking this through, Fu Nian calmly explained, “When I feed medicine to my closest person, it’s mouth to mouth, never with a spoon. Of course, such an action would never be done with outsiders.”
“Cough, cough, cough, cough, cough, cough, cough—”
Fu Nian had barely finished explaining when he saw the young man in front of him suddenly experience a severe fit of coughing, and the soup he had just swallowed came shooting out of his nose.