If it were not for the fact that Feng Huan had not arrived in the capital and was trapped in XiNan for a long time, Zhuang Zhong would have thought that all of this was his ploy. After all, he had come across Fang YingYing before, and at that time, she was healthy. So, for her to fall sick like this would naturally be odd.
Besides, if such news arose when Feng Huan’s status was still unknown, Zhuang Zhong could still understand. However, at this point in time, Feng Huan had obtained a great victory and had a better reputation than before, becoming one of the most eligible bachelors in DaYou. For Fang YingYing to suffer from a serious illness now, Zhuang Zhong could not figure it out. Perhaps the Fang family was trying to avoid arousing suspicion, so they did this intentionally? After all, Feng Huan was in the eye of the storm. Now that he had killed the bandits in XiNan, he was regarded as a deity by the common people. A tall tree would always catch the wind, and it would no doubt frighten those who were cautious.
Regardless, everything had already been settled, and Fang YingYing had been sent to the ancestral temple to recuperate. Before Feng Huan had returned, the marriage had already been terminated by the two families, and Imperial Concubine Song had already begun searching for a new match.
“Mother, your child has returned.” Despite being worn from his journey, the first thing Feng Huan did after rushing back was pay his respects to Imperial Concubine Song. He had lived dangerously the past few months and experienced several brushes with death. So, to be able to return safely, he felt more emotional than usual.
Scrutinizing him carefully, Imperial Concubine Song also noticed that no harm had befallen him and felt relieved. “It is good that you have returned. I prayed every day, hoping that no harm would befall you.”
Feng Huan cupped his hands together. “This child is unfilial. In the future, I will not cause Mother to worry again.”
Hearing that, hatred burst out of Imperial Concubine Song’s eyes. “I initially planned to arrange the marriage after your triumphant return, but who would have known that at this critical juncture, Lady Fang would suddenly become seriously ill?! This is truly inauspicious. What was even more laughable was that they wanted to replace her with their other daughters. Do they think it is that easy to enter the Prince Si Zhao household?!”
“Mother, why did Fang YingYing suddenly become seriously ill?”
Imperial Concubine Song replied hatefully, “Truly an unlucky thing to cause trouble at this critical juncture.”
Feng Huan raised his eyebrows. “They were the ones to initiate the termination of the marriage?”
Imperial Concubine replied impatiently, “That Fang YingYing is dying. How could I let you marry her back home?”
Feng Huan sighed. “Mother, it is not anyone’s wish for something to happen to one’s body. So, to break off the marriage at this critical juncture is truly not proper.”
Imperial Concubine Song patted Feng Huan’s hands. “Do not worry. How can I be that muddled and let control fall into other people’s hands?”
“What sickness is it for them to reach the stage of having to break off the marriage?” Initially, Feng Huan did not have any interest in Fang YingYing, but since he had no aversion towards her, he had decided to go along with Imperial Concubine Song’s choice. Who knew that after accepting it in his heart, something would go awry with the other party, making him unhappy. Besides, he had also seen Fang YingYing before, and she was well. How could she suddenly become seriously ill?
Imperial Concubine Song waved her hand impatiently. “Whatever it is, it has nothing to do with us. After all, she is just an unlucky girl, and there is no use caring about her. You should instead look at these beautiful portraits. Is there any that catches your attention?”
“Mother, I do not have the mind for this right now.” With a face full of weariness, Feng Huan felt extremely sleepy, as he had rushed back on a horse for three days.
However, as if she was confronted by a formidable enemy, Imperial Concubine Song said, “Huan’er, don’t tell me you are already attracted to Fang YingYing?”
Feng Huan rubbed his head that was throbbing with pain and replied, “Mother, no matter what, she was still my ex-fiancée. If there are other matters, we can speak later. I have not slept for days.”
It was only here that Imperial Concubine Song finally let Feng Huan off and ordered him to rest quickly. Other plans could be arranged after resting.
When Zhuang Zhong came across Feng Huan again, it was already three days later. Feng Huan’s originally fatigued face had been restored to its radiant state, and his previous haggard appearance before could not be discerned.
“Congratulations, you have brought another group of villains to their end.”
Feng Huan smiled. “It is only for their treasure. After all, riches have the ability to move people.”
Zhuang Zhong found it hard to believe his words. “Does Prince Si Zhao even lack money?”
“For a 5,000 person cavalry, it is never enough no matter how much money is given. So, we can only get it from the bandits.”
Zhuang Zhong rubbed his chin. “That is indeed a good idea. It can not only improve combat effectiveness but also obtain money, saving a lot of expenses.”
“Let’s go. I will teach you how to ride a horse.”
Looking at the thick snow outside the house, Zhuang Zhong shivered. “Are we learning to ride a horse in such cold weather?”
Feng Huan could not help scorning Zhuang Zhong, “As a man, how can you be afraid of the cold? The faster you learn horse riding, the faster we can go hunting. Hunting in the winter is the most interesting.”
“I am a man but not made of metal, so of course I will be afraid of the cold. Why don’t we wait until it is warmer? After all, even by learning horse riding, I still cannot hunt. I have not used a bow before.”
Feng Huan slapped his hand directly on Zhuang Zhong’s head. “Why can’t you do anything?”
Zhuang Zhong replied as if he was in the right, “I used to be a monk, and we are not supposed to kill!”
Feng Huan refuted disdainfully, “Your hair can be tied up already, so do not take this as an excuse. If it is like this, then we can learn horse riding and how to use a bow together.”
Zhuang Zhong’s face turned bitter. “It is not as if I do not want to learn, so couldn’t we take things slowly?”
“The prince is willing to deign himself and teach you, but you are being so picky. Are you tired of living? If you are a man, then do not be so fussy.”
In the end, Zhuang Zhong followed Feng Huan out with heavy steps, feeling reluctant to leave the warmth. Just from opening the door, a cold blast of wind already made him shiver, and if it were not for Feng Huan keeping an eye on him, he would have gone back in. Besides, since winter arrived, Zhuang Zhong had not gone out if he could not help it and spent most of his time inside. Without his insistence on doing indoor exercise, his stomach would have gotten rounder during this period too.
Before arriving here, the places Zhuang Zhong stayed were usually greater than ten degrees, and he had not seen snow since he was young. So, when he first came to this place, he found it novel, but after that, he only had one way to describe it: cold. Without his arrival to this world, he would not have known he was that afraid of the cold.
With the chilly weather, the streets were much more desolate than usual. Meanwhile, Zhuang Zhong, who actually got out, did not feel that it was as cold as before. After all, Wei YuHua did not neglect his material possessions, and the clothes she purchased for him were of excellent quality.
“Coming out to walk around is also quite good.”
Despite their slow speed, Zhuang Zhong and Feng Huan found the journey enjoyable as they walked side by side.
“Riding a horse in the snow is then exhilarating.”
Zhuang Zhong sniffed. “Absolutely. When you stop, you would also realize that your snot has frozen stiff, and your nostrils have gotten stuffed by the cold.”
Hearing such words, Feng Huan was immediately speechless. “You are really…”
“Eh?! There is a child.” Saying that, Zhuang Zhong hurriedly ran forward. At the corner of the street, there was a shrunken figure of a child. From afar, he did not seem to be moving and looked as if he had fainted from the cold. As Zhuang Zhong approached him, he was stunned. Was this not Yu ZiAn?!
With Yu ZiAn’s face frozen until purple, Zhuang Zhong quickly carried him to a doctor.
However, after the doctor examined Yu ZiAn, he shook his head and said, “He cannot be saved.”
Zhuang Zhong refuted furiously, “He is clearly still breathing! Never mind, just bring me some leftover hot ashes in a bag.”
When the doctor saw the two people’s attire, he inferred that they must be influential and dared not to delay. Meanwhile, Zhuang Zhong searched for some felt and rolled Yu ZiAn up with it before using a rope to hold it in place. He then placed him on stable ground and made Yu ZiAn face him before rolling the child’s body back and forth. When the doctor finished making the heat pack, Zhuang Zhong also pressed it onto Yu ZiAn’s heart area and changed it whenever it got cold. Like this, it was not long before Yu ZiAn opened his eyes.
The doctor was pleasantly surprised. “He is alive, alive!”
Here, despite feeling relieved, Zhuang Zhong dared not to be too complacent. “Is the medicine I told you to make finished?”
“Yes. When it cools down, he will be able to drink it.”
Since the doctor was more proficient in the follow-up and Yu ZiAn was not as chilly as before, Zhuang Zhong also stopped meddling. “This child is the son of Yu Ming, the vice minister of the Court of State Ceremonial. How did he get on the streets during such a cold winter? If we had not found him then, he would have lost his life.”
As the capital was the stronghold of the emperor, the imperial court attached great importance to the resettlement of the homeless every winter. So, no matter how cold it was, very few people would freeze to death. Who could have then expected that while the homeless were not freezing to death, the son of a five-grade official almost died in the streets like this?
“It is his fortune to have come across you.” Saying that, Feng Huan handed a cup of hot tea to Zhuang Zhong.
“Thanks.” Zhuang Zhong sighed, “This child is on good terms with my cousin, and he had told me that Yu ZiAn was not favored by his father. Last time, he was almost abducted and sold, disappearing for about a night. However, despite being found, his father did not come to pick him up. I am afraid that this time, he had run out secretly. Can you send someone to inform his family?”
Yu ZiAn, who woke up, coughed and said weakly, “I do not want to go home…”
“Don’t move. You have frostbite.”
At this moment, Yu ZiAn’s tears poured down like a torrent. “Brother Zhuang, wu…I want to see XiaoBao, but I cannot find my way there.”
Zhuang Zhong embraced Yu ZiAn in his arms and said, “Fine, we will not go home. When you regain your strength, I will take you to XiaoBao.”
“Brother Zhuang, I don’t want to go home. My father says I am not his child, and my mother ignores me. They don’t want me anymore.”
Zhuang Zhong was surprised. “ZiAn should not talk nonsense. Your parents’ words were just spoken in a fit of anger.”
Yu ZiAn shook his head fiercely and cried miserably, “I am not talking nonsense. I heard it with my own ears when my parents were quarreling. My father said I was not his flesh and blood, and my mother almost hung herself because of that. Now, with both of my parents ignoring me, no one wants me anymore.”
Zhuang Zhong frowned and comforted him, “ZiAn is the most obedient and clever. We all like you very much. Later, I will take you to XiaoBao, who has been missing you. How about playing with him for a few days first?”
Yu ZiAn nodded while sobbing, “I will have to trouble Brother Zhuang then.”
After saying that, his expression suddenly turned uneasy. “Will I be troubling XiaoBao if I go and find him like this?”
“How could you be? The Lu family is the friendliest, and they will be happy to see you.”
Sure enough, as soon as Lu XiaoBao saw Yu ZiAn, he leaped up happily. However, when he noticed Yu ZiAn’s sickly appearance, he could not help feeling anxious. “ZiAn, what is the matter with you? Do you feel unwell somewhere?”
Zhuang Zhong said, “He was exposed to the extreme cold, so you should be careful with him.”
Hearing that, Lu XiaoBao immediately caused a ruckus as he fussed around Yu ZiAn.
Initially, Fifth Aunt had been surprised to see Yu ZiAn with Zhuang Zhong. So, when she heard this, she asked curiously, “How can ZiAn be exposed to the cold? Why is he with you?”
Feng Huan had not accompanied Zhuang Zhong to the Lu family. After sending a carriage to escort them, he had left. Although it was not mentioned explicitly, Zhuang Zhong understood that Feng Huan was trying to avoid arousing suspicion. After all, Feng Huan has never gotten close to any officials, and now that he had just exterminated the bandits in XiNan, his every word and deed would no doubt attract more attention. Besides, with Zhuang Zhong’s special status, he would have to be careful.
Meanwhile, as Zhuang Zhong recounted what happened, everyone immediately frowned. Fifth Aunt’s eyebrows knitted together as she said, “Due to XiaoBao and Yu ZiAn’s close friendship, we have heard some things before. Apparently, Madam Yu and Yu Ming are childhood sweethearts and they had Yu ZiAn not too long after they got married. However, it was a premature birth, so ZiAn’s body had not been good. After that, the originally well-matched couple also became estranged, and Yu Ming even accepted a concubine, making others sigh at the development. Perhaps there is something going on behind the scenes?”
In the end, because it was other people’s family affairs, it was not appropriate for them to speak about it further. Nonetheless, they pitied Yu ZiAn for being treated like this at such a young age. If Zhuang Zhong and Feng Huan did not pass by the Lu family’s house, they would not have run into Yu ZiAn, who had lost his way, and he would have suffered a bad end.
No matter what, the child was always innocent. Besides, Yu ZiAn was very obedient and was Lu XiaoBao’s good friend, which made them feel even more sympathetic towards him.
After a long time, someone from the Yu family finally came, and like the last time, it was not Yu Ming but Uncle Wang.
Seeing that, Yu ZiAn’s eyes turned completely dim.