The Rebirth of an Ill-Fated Consort

Chapter 192

Chapter 192 : Letting Go of Her Inner Demons

“Xiao Shao!” Jiang Ruan opened her eyes and suddenly sat upright in the bed.

The oil lamp was lit, and the burning charcoal in the house was extraordinarily warm in winter. A very concerned voice spoke out, “You’ve awakened?”

Jiang Ruan looked up to see the cold and handsome young man from her dream sitting beside the bed. Perhaps he was also startled awake by her sudden awakening, because his gaze showed a slight anxiousness. Yet his pupils were cold and dark, like a calm deep pool that incessantly draws people to dive beneath its depths.

“You…” Jiang Ruan was momentarily disheartened. The bitter past was but a dream, but it had been a long dream in which she had revisited experiences from her past lifetime, and had seen the various ends of all the people from that life. Now, upon seeing Xiao Shao, it felt as though all of that had happened in a different lifetime

Seeing her in a daze, Xiao Shao was slightly startled, and was about to get up to pour her a cup of water. “You must be feeling thirsty. You have been in a coma for more than ten days so drink some water.” But as he was standing, Jiang Ruan grabbed his hand. Xiao Shao turned around and raised his eyebrows before sitting down again beside Jiang Ruan. “What’s wrong?”

His voice was soft and reassuring, allowing the person who had just awakened from experiencing unprecedented brutality and tragedy while dreaming to sense a shred of reality. As Jiang Ruan timidly stretched out her hand towards Xiao Shao, Xiao Shao frowned because when she touched his collar, it was as if she was verifying that the person before her was indeed real. After pausing for a while with her hands on the collar, Jiang Ruan suddenly wrapped her hands around Xiao Shao’s neck and leaped forward to hug him tightly.

Jiang Ruan’s actions were quite surprising and Xiao Shao was slightly taken aback. But after being stunned for a moment, he looked at Jiang Ruan with some hesitation. Jiang Ruan’s head was buried in his neck, and the hands around his neck were extremely tight. After some thought, he stretched out his hand and patted Jiang Ruan’s back lightly. He softly called, “Ah Ruan?”

“Xiao Shao,” Jiang Ruan’s voice was a bit strange, as if she was suppressing a certain emotion, but her next words were also a little strange, “I didn’t understand at first why it was you, but now I understand.” Her voice slowly lowered, almost inaudible, “It turns out that you had already appeared a long time ago.”

In this world, fate and destiny does not happen by chance or randomness. While it seemed as though there should not have been any relationship or encounters between the two of them, in this life, both of them were constantly entangled in one another’s lives. Initially, she had just attributed this to mere coincidence until she experienced a dream of a lifetime* and everything from the past reappeared in front of her eyes. Some things suddenly became clear in her mind. In the previous life, Xiao Shao indirectly avenged her and unknowingly gave her justice for the wrongs done to her. Was it because of this that in this life she had become his lifelong companion in order to repay him?

*南柯一梦 (nánkēyīmèng) – lit. a dream of Nanke; fig. dreams of grandeur. The idiom ‘Nanke Yimeng’ tells people that the world is impermanent, all the wealth and glory are just like the void of an ant’s nest, and they will leave one day, so there is no need to be obsessed with it. People pursue prosperity and wealth, and expect fame and fortune, but they often find that what they have obtained through hard work and painstaking efforts is easily lost, and it is so short-lived that people feel unreal, as if it is an illusory dream.

Is there truly such a thing as karma in this world?

Xiao Shao lowered his eyes. His long eyelashes lowered to hide the meaning in his eyes, thus no emotions could be seen in them. However, his movements remained gentle as he softly patted Jiang Ruan’s back- even the silence was reassuring.

After some time, he felt hot liquid flowing down his neck. Was she actually crying?

Xiao Shao’s heart skipped a beat. He slowly held Jiang Ruan’s shoulders, and lifted her chin with one hand to see that the bright face that always had a smile was now covered in tears. A big teardrop hung on her chin, sparkling and translucent, and teetering on the verge of falling, just like her expression at the moment.

“You…” Xiao Shao was stunned by her expression, and was about to speak, when unexpectedly he saw the woman before him suddenly lunge forward and in the next moment he felt a soft light fleeting sensation as something warm touched his lips.

Xiao Shao frowned, and his body stiffened. Jiang Ruan’s actions today were very unusual. This was not to say that she would make such a move on any other day, but it was very strange to behold such passion in her. He wanted to pull Jiang Ruan away, but her slender arms hugged him even tighter as if she was afraid that he would run away. Xiao Shao’s heart softened. And Jiang Ruan seemed to have been further encouraged as her lips never left his for a moment; rather she acted even more boldly.

Xiao Shao’s fair and handsome face immediately blushed. The beauty had thrown herself into his arms and she was the woman he liked such that even a normal man would not be indifferent. However, no matter how cold Xiao Shao was normally, he would always be gentle to her. The sense of plunder and the desire to conquer were always there in the man’s bones. He was a strong and domineering man, but he just hid it under his indifferent appearance and more often than not it was overlooked by others. At this moment, he tightened his arms around her and drew her tightly into his embrace. With one hand, he held onto the back of her head, and switching from defence to offence, he resolutely deepened the kiss.

Their lips and tongues met. Drastically different from their gentle and cold outward appearance, this kiss was overbearing and passionate, almost as if they were engulfing each other. Expectedly, when their passion intensified, all their suppressed emotions were simultaneously communicated. It was a display of tender love and remaining inseparable in the midst of conquering death. The stunning beauty held the handsome young man tightly, and raised her head ready to accept their fated union from the two lives. The posture was so beautiful that snowflakes couldn’t help but melt, as if looking at spring flowers bursting forth with colours in the cold winter. The image was like ten miles of peach blossoms in the frozen wilderness, beautiful and fleeting.

The door was suddenly opened. Qi Feng and Xia Qing stared at the scene in front of them, and froze where they stood. Xiao Shao moved very fast, and shielded Jiang Ruan’s head in his arms with one hand, before shooting daggers at the two intruders. Xia Qing’s face turned red instantly before he scratched his head, and said with a guilty conscience, “Third Brother, I came over to see Third Sister-in-law. You guys continue, continue…” After saying that, he pulled at Qi Feng. Qi Feng withdrew his sad eyes and smiled saying, “Fifth Brother Xia and I will go see Shifu” After that, he closed the door and the two left together.

Jiang Ruan had already returned to her senses when she heard the voices. At once she buried her head in Xiao Shao’s arms. The man’s cool and refreshing scent filled the tip of her nose. For a moment she didn’t dare to look up at Xiao Shao. Just now she got excited for a moment and did such a disrespectful thing. It was just an impulsive act and she didn’t know what Xiao Shao was thinking at the moment.

“Are you trying to suffocate yourself?” Xiao Shao wanted to laugh a little, and pried Jiang Ruan, who looked like an ostrich, from his arms. Jiang Ruan’s cheeks were hot but she pretended to be calm and asked, “Where is this place? What’s wrong with me?”

Seeing her like this, Xiao Shao seemed to find it very amusing. He reached out and touched her head, then replied, “This is Mt. Jianan, the place where I apprenticed. You were poisoned when you were young, and someone reactivated the poison. Therefore, I brought you here for treatment.”

“Poisoned?” Jiang Ruan was startled, “You said when I was young?”

“Yes.” A chill flashed in Xiao Shao’s eyes. “You were born with this poison.”

“I know.” Jiang Ruan smiled slightly, “After I defeated Xia Yan, I heard her say that in order to get rid of my mother and me when I was young, she let my fourth sister, now Noble Consort Jiang, poison me. It was only later when I was sent to the rural residence that I stopped ingesting the poison”

This was the first time that she had taken the initiative to tell Xiao Shao about her own affairs. Xiao Shao glanced at her in surprise, but when he heard about Jiang Dan, he frowned and stated, “Your mother once raised Jiang Dan.”

“It’s a pity we raised a wolf,” Jiang Ruan said, “She was afraid of Xia Yan’s threats. Originally she only wanted to poison my mother, but later she was just afraid that I would divide her favour so she poisoned me too. Perhaps she was not just afraid that I would take away her favour, but she was also taking the opportunity to pave the way for the future.” In her previous life, Jiang Dan was just a shu daughter, and yet she was finally able to earn the title of a first-rank wife. This showed that she started her plotting early on. Moreover, who knew if her poisoning was all a part of some conspiracy.

“Leave this matter to me.” Xiao Shao said lightly, “You just need to recover your health.”

“No need,” Jiang Ruan said. Xiao Shao paused. Jiang Ruan looked at him and smiled, “I want to handle this matter on my own because I know who that person is.”

“Who?” Xiao Shao asked.

“The person who poisoned me this time.” Jiang Ruan lowered her eyes, “I was careless, but I will be careful in the future.” She raised her head and smiled at Xiao Shao. Although her smile was very light, there was something different. Xiao Shao was sensitive to the fact that something seemed to have changed and he was momentarily startled before looking at her closely without saying anything more.

* * *

In the imperial palace, in the concubine’s hall, a woman was dressed in brocade clothes, and her expression seemed to be very comfortable. The room was filled with warmth, the scent of the incense delicately rose, and exquisite jade articles were randomly placed on shelves. It was obvious that the mistress of these collectible items was extremely favoured. Jiang Dan slowly picked up a plum from the crystal plate and put it in her mouth. Looking at the man in the grey robe in front of her, she asked, “In the end, I did as you said, but why on earth did you want me to say that?”

The man’s robe was so long that it completely covered his feet and his hat almost covered half of his face leaving only his beautiful chin exposed. His tone was a bit slow and strange, “Those who know too much will only end up in greater trouble. Does Noble Consort Jiang really want to know?”

Jiang Dan suddenly stopped playing with the plum in her mouth, and a trace of tension flashed across her face. She was a smart person so she knew what he meant. Unlike Jiang Su Su, she never had the desire to control others and put herself in the highest position. Many years ago, she knew how to hide and lie low and she always knew to accept what was good for her. The deep meaning of this person’s words was really thought-provoking, and Jiang Dan had an intuition that the person opposite her was not ordinary. Immediately she laughed and said, ” I don’t care why you wanted me to say those words, as long as they can achieve the desired result. Previously you said that as long as I mention those things, Jiang Ruan would no longer be able to exist in this world. Seeing as how it has been ages since I have heard any news about her, it can’t be that you’ve failed too, right??”

Not too long ago in the palace, Jiang Dan had met this man in the grey robe through Xuan Li. The man in grey had then sent Xuan Li away and began to talk to her about matters pertaining to Jiang Ruan. The strange thing was that he seemed to be able to understand her fear of Jiang Ruan, and proposed that they collaborate to make Jiang Ruan disappear from this world. With Jiang Dan’s cautious temperament, ordinarily she wouldn’t have agreed to the request of his so hastily. But now that Jiang Ruan was the Wangfei of the Jinying Wangfu, and was also highly favoured by Xiao Shao, this really made Jiang Dan disgruntled. If Jiang Ruan could be dealt with as soon as possible, that would be the best outcome. Besides, this matter did not require her to take any risks as all she needed to do was to say a few words. Although she didn’t know what method he was using, it was clear that Jiang Ruan had unknowingly offended a seemingly difficult person, which to Jiang Dan was something that she relished and took great delight in.

“Your doubts are unnecessary.” He said, “If you don’t believe me, Noble Consort Jiang can do it herself.”

Jiang Dan’s complexion paled, then she smiled and said, “I believe in you. I am waiting for your good news, and after it is done, I have to thank you a lot.”

“Noble Consort Jiang should be thanking herself.” The man in grey suddenly laughed. Although she couldn’t see his expression, she could hear the smile in his voice, faintly discernible as it brushed over a person’s heart. It was truly a terrifying sensation. He said, “If it weren’t for Noble Consort Jiang’s machination many years ago, today’s affairs would not be so easy to accomplish, so it is also thanks to Noble Consort Jiang’s planning many years ago.”

His every word seemed to hit Jiang Dan hard, making her tremble, as if someone had pried into her deepest secret, and she almost collapsed on the chair. She thought that except for Xia Yan, no one else in the world knew about this matter and Xia Yan was dead so there was nothing to fear. Yet this stranger from unknown origins seemed to know of this. How did he gather this information? What was he up to again?

She forced herself to be calm and said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The man in the grey robe stood up slowly, his voice containing a hint of ominousness, “Noble Consort Jiang, there is no need for you to worry too much, as my goal is the same as yours. Afterall, our mutual intention is for her to disappear. On this point, you are no different from me. With regards to all other things, I don’t have the time to care or give any advice. So Noble Consort Jiang, why do you worry so much.”

“You have a grudge against her?” Jiang Dan probed.

“In fact, I have no enmity with Hong’an Junzhu.” The man’s answer made Jiang Dan’s heart tighten. Immediately she heard him saying, “But because she is a hindrance to someone, then it is imperative that she must disappear.”

The answer from the man made Jiang Dan heave a long sigh. She secretly suppressed the doubts in her heart, said with a smile on her face, “No matter what, I’m waiting for your good news.”

* * *

The scenery of Mt. Jianan was different from that of the capital. There was no trace of the bustling atmosphere of the city, on the contrary, it was like a paradise. When Jiang Ruan woke up, she found that the place she was staying in was extremely beautiful. Although she was a person who didn’t care about the outer trappings of things, she was absolutely enthralled by the beautiful scenery in front of her. This place seems to be isolated from the outside world, and it was not polluted by smoke and fire. It seemed that as long as someone stepped into this place, their entire being would be cleansed of any regrets in their hearts.

It was at the Lu Yang Villa where Jiang Ruan met Xiao Shao’s master, Teacher Ba Qi. He was an old man who looked very much like an immortal, quite different from the pretentiousness of Xu Kong. He had a disposition that transcended worldliness and the mundane life. He was gentle. When playing a game of chess with Jiang Ruan, she could see that his mind was lucid and sharp, and he was indeed a person of great wisdom. Because Xia Qing couldn’t find a cure for the poison in Jiang Ruan’s body, he had been studying for the past few days. He had once again dug out all the medical books in the attic of Mt. Jianan, trying to make up for his lack of knowledge, had holed himself in the attic all day long and didn’t meet with anyone.

At this time Xiao Shao and Qi Feng had gone out to hunt, leaving only Jiang Ruan and Teacher Ba Qi in the huge Lu Yang Villa. The chessboard was exquisite, and Teacher Ba Qi picked up a black stone and then set it down before suddenly saying, “Ah Shao is very nervous about you.”

Jiang Ruan raised her head to look up at Teacher Ba Qi, and Teacher Ba Qi smiled slightly. “Girl, pay attention to the game.” His expression was calm. Jiang Ruan couldn’t think of anything else. Reaching out, she picked up a white stone from the porcelain jar and placed it, “I know.”

“Girl, do you like Ah Shao?” Teacher Ba Qi asked. It was a bit strange for an elder to ask a junior this question, let alone as Xiao Shao’s mentor. Jiang Ruan didn’t want to hide this from the wise old man in front of her, so she replied without hesitation, “I like him.”

“I have had nine disciples in total, and of the nine disciples, Ah Shao has the coldest temperament.” Teacher Ba Qi placed another chess piece without raising his head, but his voice reflected his lingering recollection of the past. “At that time, he learned the Art of Qi Huang, which is traditional Chinese medicine. Even when everything was fine in the Jinying Wangfu, he had to bear many responsibilities. However, although he learned the Art of Qi Huang, he didn’t regard it as important. In fact, he is the most intelligent among my disciples…” Teacher Ba Qi smiled, ” Unfortunately, later something happened in the Jinying Wangfu, Ah Shao knelt before me, wanting to learn the art of assassination.” He became somewhat melancholic. “Ah Shao’s temperament wasn’t suitable to be that of a killer, and I did not agree to his request. That day, there was a heavy snowfall on Mt. Jianan, but still, he knelt at the foot of the mountain for three days and three nights.”

Jiang Ruan’s hand paused slightly, then she set down a stone. The Xiao Shao being described was not something she had seen before. Yet, when something happened in the Jinying Wangfu, for Xiao Shao, it would be very similar to how she felt when something untowards had happened to Zhao Mei and Jiang Xin Zhi. It was a pain that pierced right into the depths of their hearts. Now Xiao Shao was calm and introverted, and there was not a trace of joy or anger, almost as if nothing could ever shake his stoic indifference. However, when she thought about the noble young man who had raised the corner of his robe and slowly knelt down at the foot of the mountain that was covered with snow, his back straight and upright, that poignant silent serene scene was more than sufficient to move anyone’s heart.

“Later, this old man conceded to his request. Ah Shao treated himself ruthlessly, because he wanted to be a person he was not suited to be. He has been with the Jinyi Guards for so many years, yet he has never spoken of any hardship. This old man believes that it’s all his willpower. After all these years, he doesn’t seem to have any weaknesses.” He looked at Jiang Ruan with a smile in his eyes. “Girl, you are his first. You are his weakness.” He was sharp and straightforward with his words and suddenly the game on the chessboard underwent earth-shaking changes. He said, “However, this old man is very happy that you can become his weakness because in this way, he looks more like a ‘human’.”

Jiang Ruan was silent for a moment, and looked pensive as she placed her stone, “I won’t hurt him, he is my husband. If someone makes things difficult for him, no matter whether I can do it or not, I will use all that I have within me to avenge him.” In her previous life, he was benevolent towards her. In this life, it was not enough to just marry him to repay his kindness. What’s more, he had helped her time and again in this life. There was no way to repay all the debts that she owed him, so why not just owe him for the rest of their lives. Afterall, she had already tied herself to Xiao Shao.

Teacher Ba Qi stroked his beard and swiftly placed another stone, “Is it because of the previous life’s karma that you want to protect Ah Shao so much?”

Jiang Ruan’s hands trembled, almost unable to hold the chess piece in her hand. Her gaze instantly became indifferent and vigilant, and she looked at the old man sitting across from her without saying a word.

“Ah Shao has always been decisive. When you were in a coma, you once muttered a few words. Ah Shao is very smart. It’s not that he doesn’t know, it’s just that he will not take the initiative to ask. Ah Shao refuses to ask, but this old man wants to ask on his behalf. This old man is Ah Shao’s shifu, and in my heart, I regard Ah Shao as my own child. Although you are the girl that Ah Shao likes, in the eyes of this old man, you aren’t forthright and candid with him,” Teacher Ba Qi continued slowly.

Jiang Ruan’s heart surged and welled up into turbulent waves. So Xiao Shao knew about it. She naturally knew that there was no need for Teacher Ba Qi to lie about this matter, so that meant that Xiao Shao had probably figured out her secret. When she saw the ending of her previous life in her dream, maybe she said something unintentionally. At that moment, a sense of humiliation arose in Jiang Ruan heart, as she felt exposed as if she was pried open and picked clean. It didn’t matter if it was known by others, but that person happened to be Xiao Shao. She was a downtrodden and disgraceful person, born from the depths of darkness; how would Xiao Shao see her now?

“Girl, you don’t have to worry.” Teacher Ba Qi seemed to see her concerns, and said gently, “Since Ah Shao didn’t choose to ask, he doesn’t care about it. The one who is most concerned about those things isn’t him, but you.”

“I don’t know how Shifu knows about this matter.” Jiang Ruan said with difficulty, “I didn’t intend to hide it from him, but I just couldn’t face it.”

“Is it Ah Shao that you can’t face, or yourself?” Teacher Ba Qi asked.

Jiang Ruan was taken aback. “Shifu, what do you mean by this?”

“Ah Shao doesn’t care about this matter; no matter what the ending is, he is willing to endure all the hardships. If you are concerned about his thoughts, then there is no need for you to do so because he won’t change his feelings towards you because of this matter. The person whom you can’t face is always yourself.”

“Shifu is right, I really can’t face myself.” Jiang Ruan said, “I am not afraid of other people’s opinions; it doesn’t matter to me if I am regarded as a monster or a ghost. But if I put such a me in front of him, I feel ashamed and wanting.” She spoke frankly, without even the slightest concealment, “I can’t face the fact that the person standing beside him is one such as myself and because of this I had planned to never take the initiative to tell him. If it wasn’t for this incident, I would have never spoken of this secret for the rest of my life. Talking about such things will only create more trouble, and I don’t want to add to the trouble.”

“What about now?” Teacher Ba Qi smiled slightly.

“As Shifu said, he doesn’t care, then why should I care?” Jiang Ruan lightly replied. “When I revisited the past, I saw many things that I didn’t understand before. I also understood some questions that I couldn’t answer before. I just feel that I owe him a lot, and some things are predestined, so why should I stop them. Shifu can be at ease, I will tell him the whole truth. After hearing these things, whether he hates and despises me or not, it’s his decision to make. I will respect it.” After saying these words, Jiang Ruan seemed to have let go of a heavy burden that she had shouldered for many years. The secret of her rebirth has been buried deep in her heart for so many years. Each step she had made was challenging and difficult, yet she had never thought to share the load with anyone- not even with her brother Jiang Xin Zhi. She was prepared to carry this weight all by herself till the end. But now there was another person to share the load with her, maybe the burden would lighten by a lot, or maybe not. But no matter what the outcome would be, she was happy to face whatever the future holds and no longer be heavy hearted.

She spoke so frankly, and a flash of appreciation was shown in Teacher Ba Qi’s eyes. He said slowly, “Congratulations Girl, you no longer have any inner demons.”

Jiang Ruan was taken aback, and Teacher Ba Qi said, “You just said that you didn’t tell Ah Shao because it was difficult to face him, but now I think it’s not such a bad thing.” The old man in front of her suddenly winked at her mischievously as his voice was filled with teasing, “At least, it shows that you really care about Ah Shao.”

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