Chapter 1 — Bodily Death (1)
The walls of the capital city were tall and lofty, akin to giants as they towered over the land before them, and Yuxi’s face brimmed with pleasant surprise as she took in the spectacle. After escaping from the village, she had walked for half a month. The days of starvation and misery were finally coming to an end; she was home.
When the rampart guard saw her desperately pounding on the gates, he shouted angrily, “If you don’t beat it right now, don’t blame me for not going easy on you!” A month ago, the city gates had closed. Without proper documentation, no one was allowed to leave nor enter.
Yuxi raised her head and answered loudly, “I’m not a refugee, I’m a Miss of the House of Duke Han! I implore you, please open the city gates and let me in!”
The rampart guard was amused—at this time of the year, in order to scrape by, people were capable of coming up with all sorts of lies. “Then why don’t you go ahead and call the Empress your sister?” He wasn’t exactly being sarcastic, as the current Empress really was from the House of Duke Han, so this woman claiming herself as a Miss of the House was the same as claiming that she was one of the Empress’s sisters.
Yuxi immediately exclaimed, “The Empress is indeed my elder sister.” They were half-sisters, to be precise.
Laughter rang out from the top of the city walls. The guard was no longer in the mood to continue humoring her—force and intimidation were the most effective in dealing with people like her. He drew back a bow and arrow, prepared to shoot the woman standing below the city walls but was held back by another guard.
This guard sported a mustache on his face, and he spoke coldly, “Lower your bow. Don’t you feel ashamed, raising your hand against a defenseless woman like that?” What kind of honest hero would only push around the women and children but not lay a finger on the roving bandits?
The young guard lowered his bow, not daring to point it at Yuxi again. The mustached man called out to Han Yuxi, “If you want to live, go to the west. There are refugee camps in the west.” He had given this woman a way out.
The sky gradually darkened. The cold wind battered her, and her entire body launched into a fit of shivers. She had no choice but to turn around and use her walking stick to support herself as she began to trudge in the direction of the west.
Too many had fallen victim to the natural disaster. The Imperial Court was afraid that if they didn’t make appropriate arrangements, the refugees would go on a rampage, so an area of the west had been set aside for them.
The refugees were provided with two bowls of porridge every day, allowing them to preserve their lives so they wouldn’t revolt. They had built quite a few wooden residences, but these sturdy, comfortable dwellings were not for Yuxi.
One of the married women who resided within the western refugee camp took her to a thatched hut that was constructed from twigs and leaves. “The previous occupants of this thatched hut died just this morning, so there happens to be space available. You can live here!”
Yuxi’s pallid face lost even more color, and her lips trembled for a while before she managed to squeeze out two words; “Thank you.”
The married woman glanced at Yuxi —who carried herself as a noble lady would— and wondered how she fell into such a wretched state, but the thought quickly dispersed. She could barely take care of herself—where would she find the time to worry about the woman in front of her? The married woman warned expressionlessly, “Don’t go out at night. It’s dangerous.”
During the past half month, Yuxi had suffered from quite a few shocks. If she hadn’t dirtied her face and smeared a foul-smelling herb onto her body, she wouldn’t have been able to safely reach the city walls.
Yuxi squeezed her way into the thatched hut, and a peculiar smell wafted into her nose. Coupled with the stench on her body, the combination was truly nauseating. She clenched her teeth and endured it—having a thatched hut to stay in for the night was already a blessing. At least, it could block out the wind.
The day’s journey had thoroughly exhausted her. She laid down and soon fell asleep, but hunger woke her up in the middle of the night. She dared not go out, so she clutched her stomach and held on till daybreak.
Since the refugee camp gave out two servings of porridge each day, she had to wait until near noon —so hungry that she became dizzy— before the time for food distribution arrived. Inside the hut, she found a bowl bestrewn with holes. Rather than call it a wooden bowl, it was more accurate to say that it was a hollow piece of wood.
Order in the refugee camp was alright; no instances of stealing occurred. Upon downing a bowl of porridge, Yuxi felt a lot better. Instead of returning to her hut, she mingled and inquired the surrounding refugees, “Senior, are the provisions we receive delivered from the capital?”
When she learned that the provisions were indeed sent from the capital, Yuxi wanted to seek out the envoys and ask them to carry a message from her to the House of Duke Han.
She was fortunate enough to find the envoys that evening. However, they caught the scent of her odor, and the majority of them covered their nose. One of the envoys had a face that resembled the character ‘国’. He stepped out and asked, “Do you have business with us?”
Yuxi hurriedly responded, “I am a Miss of the House of Duke Han. I would like to request that you deliver a message to the House telling them to send someone to come pick me up.”
An expression of surprise took over the man’s face as he wondered why someone from the Esteemed House of Han would be at a refugee camp. “Which Miss of the House of Duke Han are you?”
She stiffened and replied with difficulty, “I am the Fourth Miss.” She was also the Minister of Personnel’s daughter-in-law, Jiang Hongjin’s wife. It was just that she hated Jiang Hongjin; she hated his entire family and therefore was unwilling to say she was a member of their family.
Right as her words fell, a green-robed envoy sneered, “It wasn’t enough for you to impersonate just anybody, so you decided to impersonate a dead person instead? Half a month ago, in the village, Lady Jiang was killed by bandits. The obituaries were delivered, and the coffin was buried a few days ago.”
The green-robed envoy knew of this because Jiang Hongjin was simply too famous—after all, he was the top youngest scholar in Zhou Dynasty.
Yuxi heard him and began to tremble. She didn’t think that the Jiang family would be so ruthless. A corpse wasn’t even found, yet they had already announced the news of her supposed death. “I didn’t die. I escaped from the village.”
The man scorned, “That lot of bandits were merciless, and they never leave survivors. Let’s not mention you—even a stalwart man wouldn’t have been able to escape.”
She grinded her teeth and spat out her words out one by one, “That time the bandits raided the village, I happened to be in the mountains, picking flowers, and that’s why I was able to escape.” When she saw the huge fire spreading out within the village, she had immediately fled.
The square-faced man looked at Yuxi. “Where’s your maidservant then?” Members of rich and influential families always had an entourage of servants tending to them. Tightly fisting her hands, she slowly responded, “At the time, I only had one old maidservant by my side. That old maidservant’s husband and children were living in the village, so upon seeing the fire, she immediately left me and rushed down the mountain. I’m not lying to you, I really am the Fourth Miss.”
In the course of her escape, she had exchanged her valuables with food until not even a keepsake remained. At the moment, she could only entreat the square-faced man, “I beg you, please help me relay a message to Esteemed Madam Han. She knows I’m still alive and will definitely dispatch someone to come pick me up.”
Sympathy filled the square-faced envoy’s face as he contemplated her and said, “Even if I’m willing to relay the message for you, no one will come to pick you up,” at which Yuxi shook her head, “Impossible. Great Aunt knows that I’m alive, so she’ll definitely send someone. As long as you pass the message for me, I’ll reward you generously when I get back.”
This caused the square-faced envoy to believe that Yuxi was a bit slow, so he explained frankly, “Even if you’re from the House of Duke Han, you’ve been missing for half a month. Going back is a path of death.” A woman who was missing for half a month would be deemed impure since, after all, who knew what kind of unbecoming calamities she might’ve encountered in that past half month?
This was also the reason why the Jiang family declared that she had been killed by bandits, and the House of Duke Han would be similarly unwilling to let her soil their reputation like that.
Thus, if she went back, she would still be trending a path of death.
VIN: Hmm… depressing start?