… How can Chu Zhaoyi remember this so clearly?
Fu Nian couldn’t help but furrow his brows and shrink further into the crevice.
If he’s found… would they really have to play out a resurrection?
Fu Nian had already started to ponder how to deliver his opening words later. Should he say… that his soul was residing here without anyone to guide him to the afterlife, preventing him from reincarnating?
Or perhaps he should outsmart the situation and be forthright, stating that he didn’t know the reasons behind Chu Zhaoyi’s grand wedding and that the intended partner didn’t find peace after death, hence refusing to move on in the cycle of reincarnation?
In the midst of his anxiety, Fu Nian heard Li Gonggong’s voice, “What nonsense are you spouting again…”
“But I feel like he’s right here, hasn’t gone anywhere.”
Fu Nian broke out in a cold sweat.
He didn’t know if this person was delusional or what.
He didn’t dare to peek down, just listening to the voices below and assessing the situation.
“Last time you said the same thing, the time before that too. But every time, apart from finding some rats and other animals… there was nothing. Lord Fu has been gone for so long. If he truly cared about you, if he was reborn, he would return to your side.”
Fu Nian: …
Is he spying on his whereabouts?
Fu Nian quickly confirmed several times that no one could see him in the corner he was in.
“Let’s go back. Your body can’t be exposed to the wind. The imperial physician has already prepared ginseng soup for you…” Li Gonggong’s voice gradually faded.
Then he seemed to hear Chu Zhaoyi sigh.
He also heard Li Gonggong and Chu Zhaoyi whispering to each other for a few moments, followed by the sound of the carriage departing.
Fu Nian breathed a sigh of relief.
Listening to the carriage gradually fading away and the Imperial Guards and Shadow Guards retreating, Fu Nian finally relaxed a bit.
When he crawled out of the crevice, it was already deep in the night, and Fu Nian didn’t have a moment to waste. He hurried toward Xiao Jingling, as Pei Zhou was still waiting for him to set out early in the morning.
When he returned to the inn in Xiao Jingling, it was the hour of the ox, and the pale light of dawn was visible on the horizon.
Fu Nian had no intention of sleeping at all. He sat outside, counting the scratches on his prosthetic limb while waiting for daybreak.
Just as the day was breaking, Fu Nian heard coughing coming from inside the room. He quickly got up, knocked on the door, and upon receiving permission, entered briskly.
“Is Young Master Pei awake?” Fu Nian asked stiffly.
“Hmm. Weren’t you supposed to go to the capital ahead of time for something?”
“I’ve already gone and come back. Since I promised your honorable father to safely escort you back to the capital, it’s only natural that I see you safely arrive,” Fu Nian said as he handed Pei Zhou a cup of water. “Is your health improving? When I returned, I had the kitchen prepare some medicine, it should be ready now.”
“It’s much better already. Thank you for taking care of me all this way…”
“Alright.” Fu Nian’s response was still rather cold.
It was almost half an hour before they resumed their journey.
This time, Fu Nian didn’t fight with the coachman for work. He sat quietly in the carriage, staring at the ground without moving.
“By the way, after Brother Cang Er enters the capital, do you have any plans? I know you’re coming to find your former wife. I mean, after you find her, do you have any plans?”
“No.” Fu Nian replied honestly.
“If you don’t have any plans, would you consider coming to find me… While I came to the capital to study, it was also to seek refuge with sworn Brother. He’s very kind. Not only does he provide for my education, but he has also taken in many homeless children with physical disabilities…”
“Thank you for your kindness, but there’s no need.” Fu Nian’s response was resolute.
“I apologize for disturbing you. Here, take this. If you need to find me, it’s at the address written here. It’s my sworn brother’s residence, his surname is Fu.”
Hearing that surname, Fu Nian paused for a moment, feeling a sense of unease.
He temporarily forgot to take the bamboo tube that was being handed to him. “May I ask, what’s your sworn Brother’s name?”
“Brother Fu? His given name is Zhen. Is there a problem?”
Fu Nian quickly replied, “No problem.”
There are too many people with the surname Fu in the world, and moreover, in their sect, their names are assigned in numerical order. There’s no such person.
Once they entered the capital, the coachman left them near the bustling area and went on his way.
“Can Young Master Pei manage the rest of the journey alone?”
“No problem, my sworn Brother will come to pick me up.”
“Very well, then we’ll part ways here.”
“Alright, take care!”
Fu Nian turned around and left in the opposite direction.
Walking along the road, Fu Nian pondered on how to infiltrate the palace.
The palace originally had a few secret passages for entry and exit, but the idea of approaching Chu Zhaoyi’s residence, the Chengyuan Hall, without alerting anyone was wishful thinking.
Fu Nian remembered that these palace guards were so diligent, it seemed like they still couldn’t escape his influence. In the past, as the closest shadow guard to the Emperor, he might not have held any official title, but his authority sometimes surpassed even the Chief Instructor. He recalled how, for the Emperor’s safety, he had rigorously screened the guards, purging the lazy ones and retaining those who strictly adhered to palace rules and remained loyal to the Emperor.
Now, Fu Nian wished he could go back and smack his previous self from the last lifetime.
He absentmindedly reached into his sleeve.
Not a single coin left.
Originally, Pei Zhou had left him some silver coins as a token of gratitude, but at that time, he refused to accept them. After all, he had already agreed to protect Pei Zhou on the journey to the capital, and there was no reason to change his terms along the way.
“… I regret it.” Fu Nian rubbed his rumbling stomach and muttered quietly to himself, sighing.
Fu Nian wandered aimlessly on the street when suddenly he heard a commotion not far away. He looked up, following the crowd to a spot where a new notice was posted on a bulletin board.
Before getting close, he heard the crowd starting to discuss the content.
“It’s that younger brother of the Emperor again, how many concubines has he taken now…”
“It’s over a dozen by now, who’s it this time, Juan Er or Cui Er from which brothel…”
“It’s not from a brothel. This time it’s a girl from the South Street Weaving Workshop. I saw her when she was a child; she was quite adorable and her parents were honest people…”
“It must be Xi Wang forcibly taking her. Which family would willingly let their daughter serve him…”
“Regardless, at least every time he takes a new bride, he hosts a feast inviting all the neighbors. The food and wine are provided according to the feast’s standards…”
Fu Nian didn’t pay much attention to the gossip about marriages. He just heard there was free food and his whole body jolted.
He couldn’t help but stop in his tracks and quickly retraced his steps to the bulletin board, joining the crowd to read.
“Free food…” Fu Nian’s eyes widened.
Originally, he had planned to test his luck tonight and see if he could sneak into the palace. Previously, he wouldn’t spend time looking for food until he had finished his important tasks.
However, now, with no other options in sight and night descending, Fu Nian decided that trying his luck in the palace could wait until tomorrow.
As the sky darkened, from ten blocks away, he could hear the sound of drums, gongs, and firecrackers in the distance.
When he reached the vicinity of Xi Wang’s mansion, Fu Nian stopped in his tracks.
He had encountered Xi Wang a few times in his previous life, and he wasn’t sure if the man remembered him. Nevertheless, to avoid unnecessary trouble, Fu Nian decided to conceal his features and maybe add a little something to his face to prevent interruptions during dinner.
The season was rainy, and there were many puddles of water by the roadside.
Fu Nian randomly chose a seemingly clear puddle, taking advantage of the nearby dim light to observe his reflection.
His residual limbs were the same as in his previous life, so Fu Nian thought his appearance wouldn’t have changed much.
However, after seeing his reflection in the water, Fu Nian froze.
This face… it’s not a matter of beauty or ugliness, but there are many stitched marks on it.
It was as if his entire skin had been peeled off and then reattached, and there were even bite marks from some wild beast on the left side.
Due to the repeated sewing of his facial skin, the once soft flesh on his cheeks had disappeared, and it wasn’t an exaggeration to say it was almost like skin stretched over bone, giving his features a much sharper edge than before.
Apart from his eyes, which were still as dark and deep as before, and the relatively unchanged shape of his nose, everything else looked completely different from his previous life.
Fu Nian stared at his reflection in the water for a while.
No wonder he had felt that Pei Zhou had been surreptitiously glancing at his face during their journey. Previously, his face only had some old scars that weren’t immediately noticeable at a glance.
However, he couldn’t be considered unattractive now, but at first glance, he did seem… rather intimidating. Well, at least that meant he didn’t have to put any effort into disguising himself further. Fu Nian thought to himself.
After a while, Fu Nian stopped worrying about his appearance and focused on the more pressing matter: food.
Entering Xi Wang’s mansion along with the crowd wasn’t particularly difficult.
Unlike others who were eagerly joining the commotion to witness the bride, Fu Nian quietly stood in the front courtyard by the table that had yet to be served.
After standing there for who knows how long, Fu Nian overheard discussions among the crowd.
Apparently, the bride had entered the mansion in tears, causing those who had come to watch to feel embarrassed for Xi Wang.
Fu Nian remembered that Xi Wang was the only brother of the current Emperor who hadn’t been killed by Chu Zhaoyi. There was no particular reason for it; he was just known for indulging in food, drink, and pleasure. At the time, Fu Nian had been cautious, wondering if he might be a hidden danger.
Now, it seemed… he had probably overestimated him back then.
When the food and wine were brought out, Fu Nian mingled with the crowd, but instead of joining the frenzy to grab food, he quietly stood by a table in the corner where fewer people were vying for the leftovers. He grabbed a piece of coarse grain flatbread.
After munching on the flatbread and alleviating his hunger, Fu Nian contemplated gathering some unwanted grease later to lubricate the joints of his prosthetic limb, preventing a repeat of the tragedy from last time.
As he observed the food and wine being served for a couple of rounds, Fu Nian discreetly followed the servants clearing the table and made his way to the courtyard where the leftovers were being disposed of.
In the cold night, the grease in the disposal pool was starting to solidify.
Fu Nian frowned; although he had done dirtier tasks before, he still needed some mental preparation before handling this.
Before he could reach the disposal pool, he heard voices from the rear courtyard.
“Ben Wang* knows you had a deep affection for Miss Qiao, but Ben Wang insists on taking her as my bride. What can you do about it? Furthermore, even if Ben Wang didn’t take her, tomorrow you would still be joining the camp as the Emperor’s guard. Then you’d be leaving a fool here alone, guarding an empty home. Aren’t you just delaying the inevitable? At least now I’m willing to give her a proper status. You should be pleased…”
* royalty referring to themselves
Xi Wang’s voice.
This voice was unmistakable. Over the years, Fu Nian considered himself someone who stayed away from the affairs of knights and heroes, but Xi Wang was indeed the first person he ever saw, and just hearing his voice made him want to give him a sound thrashing.
For a moment, Fu Nian’s thoughts were completely focused on the conversation, eager to hear the reason behind this situation.
“Oh, and by the way, although your martial skills are remarkable and you are indeed a rare talent, you were chosen by the Emperor, having to leave my place. Hence, the two months’ salary I owe you won’t be given.”
Fu Nian clenched his fist as he listened.
He hadn’t experienced the feeling of having someone steal the one he loved, but withholding payment so blatantly… Fu Nian remembered his previous employer who dared to withhold his wages had long since passed away.
“In any case, I ask you to quietly listen outside tonight. When she entered crying, she called out your name. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such an interesting pair of lovesick birds…”
Fu Nian listened and then quietly leaped onto the courtyard wall, perching on the roof, observing the farcical scene before him.
As he watched the man clench his fists, his face a mix of anger and speechlessness, Fu Nian suddenly had an idea.
If sneaking into the palace as a petty thief wouldn’t work, what about entering under someone else’s identity with bold confidence?
With this thought in mind, Fu Nian felt a surge of courage.
He leaped into the backyard, quietly circling around behind the man. He was contemplating whether to resort to intimidation or persuasion when he suddenly heard crying coming from a chamber in the inner courtyard.
Seeing this, Fu Nian extended his left hand and placed it on the shoulder of the man in front of him.
Fu Nian didn’t rush to speak; he waited for the man to turn his head.
When the man saw Fu Nian’s face, he was startled, but quickly regained his composure.
Fu Nian calmly spoke, “One silver, and I can help you knock out that so-called Wangye, sneak the girl out, and you can escape together.”
“I… I dare not. His Majesty personally appointed this last time and my name is already on the military roster. If I run away, they will definitely…”
“I didn’t ask if you dare. I asked if you want to.” Fu Nian added, “Just one piece of silver, seize the opportunity, I have a way.”
“I want to…”
Upon hearing the response, Fu Nian didn’t say anything further. He swiftly removed his cloak and outer garments, and then started to strip the man’s armor. “Clothes, switch with me. What’s your name? Give me your waist token. Where are you from? Your parents’ names, their occupation?”
“Lian Nian, I’ve been a servant purchased by the Wang Mansion since childhood.” Lian Nian quickly responded, changing clothes with Fu Nian while introducing himself, “Wait a minute, your hand…”
Fu Nian had already finished changing clothes quickly and put on his forearm guard. “What’s wrong with my hand?”
“Nothing, I must have been mistaken…” Lian Nian thought to himself that he must have been seeing things. He clearly saw earlier that this man’s arm was just a bone, but now it was perfectly normal, able to move freely. How could someone have only bones without flesh? He must have been mistaken.
“You’re going to take my place and go…”
“Yes.” Fu Nian cut him off before he could finish asking, answering quickly.
“If you’re discovered, you’ll lose your head. Your family… what about your loved ones? And the skilled guards in the Wang Mansion—”
“I’m an orphan, just like you.” Fu Nian swiftly ended the topic.
After he said that, he sensed that the man on the other side fell silent.
“Alright, go to the east side of the Drum Tower near the North Gate and wait for me. Give me half an hour. I’ll exchange the money and the person. Oh, by the way, I’ll be using the name Lian Nian from now on, for both your sake and mine.”
Before the man could finish his sentence, Fu Nian already heard footsteps approaching. He hastily scolded, “Hurry, go!”
Just as he finished scolding, Fu Nian saw several heavily intoxicated guards coming from the front courtyard not far away.
“Lian Nian, Wangye called you over. He says he wants to offer you a toast today to thank you!”
“If it weren’t for you, Wangye wouldn’t have found such a lovely maiden, hahaha. They’re about to enter the bridal chamber. He wants you to take a look!”
Fu Nian didn’t respond. While he appeared motionless, he was secretly adjusting his hidden weapons, concealed within his sleeves.
After making the adjustments, Fu Nian paid no attention to the taunting crowd. With confident strides, he walked towards the chambers in the inner courtyard.
Fu Nian was confident in dealing with the guards in Xi Wang’s mansion; many of them were troublemakers he had expelled from Chu Zhaoyi’s side and sent here.
At the entrance of the inner courtyard, Fu Nian didn’t bother to hide his presence. He walked openly and boldly inside.
“Hey, Lian Nian! You can’t go in, if the Wangye finds out, you’re done for!”
When stopped by the guard, Fu Nian hesitated for a moment.
Before he could decide how much injury would be sufficient to deal with the obstacle in his path, he heard that annoying voice from behind again.
“Oh, still not giving up your thieving ways? She’s already this Wangye’s consort—.”
Before Xi Wang could finish speaking, Fu Nian turned around in one swift motion. He seized Xi Wang’s collar and pressed him against a tree.
As Fu Nian heard someone approaching, he quickly determined their position based on the sound and raised his arm, releasing a sleeve arrow backward.
He heard the sound of someone falling behind him.
“You’ve gone too far! How dare you—”
Fu Nian didn’t give the man in front of him a chance to finish speaking. He directly seized the man’s throat.
“Would you dare kill a Wangy—”
“I dare, but you’re not worth it.” Fu Nian suppressed his voice as much as possible.
When he sensed that the person in his grasp was barely breathing and slipping into mild unconsciousness, Fu Nian promptly released his grip. He let Xi Wang slump to the ground and continued walking towards the chambers in the inner courtyard.
In the past, when Xi Wang clung to Chu Zhaoyi, Fu Nian had wanted to strike him. However, due to his past identity, he couldn’t take action.
He was settling old scores.
With this thought in mind, Fu Nian’s steps became brisker. He pushed open the door and immediately heard sobbing from behind the curtains.
“Don’t come any closer!” The girl under the blanket panicked when she heard someone enter. “I, I have scissors in my hand!”
“Don’t reveal your weapons to the enemy.” When he entered the room, Fu Nian couldn’t resist his old habit and gave her a reminder.
“Who are you—”
“Let’s go.” Fu Nian didn’t let her finish speaking. He walked up to her, lifted her onto his shoulder, and escaped through the broken window.
As they fled the Wang Mansion, Fu Nian vaguely heard pursuit from behind.
However, they were just a bunch of small fries.
Fu Nian didn’t even pay them any mind. Carrying the girl on his shoulder, he hurried towards the agreed-upon Drum Tower.
When he arrived, Fu Nian saw several horses waiting below the tower. He quickly walked over, set the girl down, and said, “I’ve brought her. One piece of silver.”
The man who was standing suddenly jerked and turned around. “This… it’s not even half an hour yet. Little Sister Qiao, it’s really you!”
Seeing the pitiable couple reunite with tears of joy, Fu Nian softly reminded them, “One piece of silver.”
“Right, silver. Thank you. May I ask for your name?”
Taking the silver from the man’s hand, Fu Nian slipped it back into his sleeve and replied nonchalantly, “I already told you, from now on, I’m Lian Nian.”
“That makes sense. But I still want to ask—”
Fu Nian didn’t give the man a chance to finish his question. He disappeared into the darkness.
Given the speed of those guards, they would likely arrive soon.
Fu Nian thought for a moment and removed his prosthetic limb beside a major road.
The new prosthetic didn’t fit quite right, and it caused some friction against his skin.
Moreover, during the recent fight, his hand had been damaged.
Fu Nian pondered for a moment and decided to make it seem like his limbs had been crushed by a carriage.
Otherwise, it would be hard to explain the sudden loss of limbs.
Staring at his slightly bloodied residual limb, Fu Nian steeled himself and broke the damaged prosthetic, thrusting it into the residual limb with force.
Although the residual limb’s sensation was weaker compared to his other body parts, driving a sharp object into it still caused pain.
With the first thrust, Fu Nian’s hand trembled from the pain. The intense sensation reminded him of the feeling when he had removed the gu from his body before his death.