IBTBTED Chapter 143
It’s Better to be the Empress Dowager
Chapter 143 Extra: Previous Life 6
Zhao Chengjun’s hand holding the scroll suddenly tightened. He had been looking for her for four years since he left the palace.
But over the years, no matter how many people he dispatched and how many scouts he spread, it was like a stone dropped in the ocean without any news. Zhao Chengjun never gave up, but he became more afraid in his heart.
He was afraid that he remembered her name wrongly, afraid that he could not find her, afraid that she had already married, and even more afraid that she was no longer alive. Now suddenly hearing the news, Zhao Chengjun’s first reaction was to avoid it.
However, he forced himself to face the facts. He sat at his table for a moment and slowly unfolded the portrait brought back by his people.
Zhao Chengjun was mentally prepared, but when he saw the woman in the portrait, his eyes slowly warmed up.
It was her. Although she looked young, he could see that her facial features were the same.
It was truly good that she was still alive.
Zhao Chengjun focused on looking at the portrait and did not pay attention to the slightly strange expressions of his subordinates at all. His subordinates struggled for a long time but still felt that they had to warn Wangye, “That girl’s family name is Tang, and her boudoir name is unknown. However, according to the old servants in the family, the eldest young lady is not favored. All the information of this the eldest young lady of Tang is in line with the person Wangye is looking for, but…”
Zhao Chengjun’s mood was just starting to relax but when he heard these words, he suddenly became tense. He clenched his fingers unconsciously and asked, “But what?”
“But the eldest young lady of Tang is only ten years old this year.”
Zhao Chengjun did not expect this answer at all. He was startled for a moment, and his voice rose unconsciously, “How old do you say she is?”
“Ten years old.”
Zhao Chengjun was dumbstruck. He thought of many circumstances and even prepared for the worst, but he never expected that Tang Shishi was younger than him.
So much younger.
This was a little tricky. Zhao Chengjun sat behind the table with a calm face and gently tapped on the armrest with his fingers. He originally thought that after finding Tang Shishi, he would immediately take her back to the Jing Wang mansion to prevent further complications. Even if she got married, he could also take some special measures. However, she was only ten years old…
This was really impossible to bring her back. Zhao Chengjun could not even go to see her. If his whereabouts reached Jinling, then Empress Dowager Yao would be suspicious and would be in trouble at that time.
But he could not completely put it down. A young lady of twelfth and thirteenth was at the peak of betrothal. What could he do if he appeared late and Tang Shishi had made a marriage contract?
He could not be too early or too late, so he could only have to calculate the time well. Zhao Chengjun pressed the center of his eyebrows with a headache and said to his subordinates, “I know. You can go out now. You’ve done a good job on this matter and must be rewarded. However, if you leak any information…”
The subordinates immediately showed their loyalty, “Wangye can rest assured. This subordinate will definitely keep my mouth shut and will never tell anyone else outside of Wangye, not even the family members.”
Zhao Chengjun was relieved and waved to them to retreat. After they left, Zhao Chengjun opened the portrait again and looked at it with concentration. His eyes were focused as if tracing every inch of her skin, bit by bit outlining her current appearance. Zhao Chengjun looked at it for a long time, then opened the nearest drawer and took out a scroll painting.
Looking at the color of the paper, this painting had been painted a long time ago, and it had been taken out from time to time. Zhao Chengjun opened the scroll painting and placed the two paintings side by side on the table.
In the older one, a young lady at her prime leaned against the window sleeping with her head propped up, and behind her was the sun shined brightly, and the spring scenery all over the garden seemed to pour on her side. In the newest one, a seven- or eight-year-old girl wearing a double bun, sitting on a swing and looking up at the wall, as if she was thinking about something.
The backgrounds, brushstrokes, and styles of the two paintings were completely different. Only the young lady in the paintings was obviously the same person.
Zhao Chengjun closed the portrait and exhaled.
When she was in the palace, she always regretted that she could not see the Lantern Festival in Jinling. Zhao Chengjun did not answer her, but he quietly remembered the incident in his heart.
After his Emperor Father died, his Imperial Concubine Mother was forced to death and his third brother died simply because of delayed treatment. Zhao Chengjun was sent to the desolate and bleak Northwest while having a high fever. Only a year later, his second brother died. These were the most significant changes in Zhao Chengjun’s life, but no matter how difficult it was, he always held on to his breath and refused to fall from the beginning to the end.
He was not afraid of death. However, when he thought that he had not found Tang Shishi, he still did not know where her family was and where she was, so he was extremely unreconciled and always refused to close his eyes.
He had not taken her to see the lanterns in Jinling and had not paid off the debts of his previous life. How could he die like this? This voice supported him through the high fever of unconsciousness, supported him through the days and nights of being tortured by hatred, and supported him to crawl back from the battlefield with mountains of bones. Now, more than a thousand two hundred days and nights have passed, and he finally found her.
Long time no see, Tang Shishi.
When she disappeared four years ago, she persistently told him not to trust Empress Dowager Yao, not to talk about adopting a child, and especially to be careful of the arrow behind him. Zhao Chengjun understood the first thing, but he could not guess the reason behind the latter two.
Anyway, it did not matter. Since she did not like it, Zhao Chengjun just did not talk about adopting a child. In the past, he planned not to get married, he did have the idea of adopting a son to solve all his troubles but later he met Tang Shishi and the idea of not having a family quietly faded away.
Therefore, he had no need to talk about adopting a child. He would not do it even more especially after Tang Shishi reminded him. When he was on the battlefield, a deputy general with a family named Xu died for saving him. Zhao Chengjun compensated the other’s family, left a lot of money for the Xu family’s orphan and widow, and also sent that child to a private school. After that, Zhao Chengjun looked for Tang Shishi with all his heart and mind.
She said it herself that every year there was today and there was today every year. That being the case, she would spend every New Year with him, regardless of yin or yang, life or death, past or afterlife.
She would always belong to him.
In the blink of an eye, Tang Shishi was fourteen years old now. In the past four years, Tang Shishi has become even more captivating and beautiful. No matter what she was wearing, she could be seen at a glance standing in the crowd.
The reputation of the eldest daughter of the Tang family was also slowly gaining prominence. In recent years, Qi Jingsheng had come to the Tang family more and more frequently, and his road to the imperial examination had been smooth. He had become a scholar last year and was now preparing for the provincial imperial examination. The Qi family said that in order to make Tang Shishi look good during the wedding ceremony, Qi Jingsheng vowed to propose marriage after he became a Juren so that Tang Shishi could get married grandly. Tang Mingzhe was so happy that he was grinning from ear to ear. Lin Wanxi was also very gratified and emotional and prepared Tang Shishi’s dowry wholeheartedly.
Lin Wanxi was even imagining what the baby’s name would be when Tang Shishi gave birth to a child in the future. Tang Shishi did not have any mood to marry anyone, and she felt uncomfortable all over just thinking of marrying Qi Jingsheng. However, Lin Wanxi was so looking forward to this wedding.
In the end, Tang Shishi did not say anything.
During the warm spring of the third month, the flowers bloomed, the grasses were tall, and the nightingales were in the air. Tang Mingzhe liked ostentation and invited people to the Tang family for a banquet. The noise in the front was so lively, so not to mention how busy concubine Su and her daughter were. Whereas, Tang Shishi avoided the crowd, went to concubine Su’s room quietly, and found her portrait in the cabinet.
Everything was the same as her memory. In the spring when she was fourteen years old, the Flowers and Birds envoys were looking for beautiful young ladies everywhere. Concubine Su secretly asked someone to paint a portrait of Tang Shishi and handed it to the Flowers and Birds Emissary while no one was looking. Later, Tang Shishi was selected and received the imperial kindness to have the privilege to enter the palace.
The marriage between her and the Qi family was also naturally invalidated.
Tang Shishi held the portrait in her hand and hesitated for a moment. She knew that as long as she put down the portrait and returned to her room pretending she did not know anything, she would be selected by Flowers and Birds Emissary just like in her previous life. After three years of training, she would be sent to the Jing Wang mansion. She missed him in her previous life. As long as she avoided Zhao Zixun in advance this time and moved closer to Zhao Chengjun, maybe she still had a chance to achieve good results with him.
However, this might be just her wishful thinking.
Tang Shishi stood for a long time. In the end, she put concubine Su’s portrait into her sleeve and replaced it with the portrait she had prepared.
The spring of the second year of Shentai passed peacefully. Tang Mingzhe was busy doing business, while Lin Wanxi was busy embroidering dowry for Tang Shishi. Everything was the same as usual, except for concubine Su’s private complaints, no one knew that the Flowers and Birds Emissary had come to Linqing.
In the seventh month, Madam Qi came to discuss the six rites with the Tang family ceremoniously. According to Madam Qi’s idea, there was no need to wait for the mid-level provincial imperial examination since the triennial provincial imperial examination would not be completed in a year and a half and it was not impossible to start performing the six rites now.
The adults were discussing in front while Tang Shishi sat in the backyard doing embroidery and even pricked her fingers several times. When the maids saw that, they laughed and winked at each other, “The future mother-in-law is here, and the eldest young lady’s mind is not in the rear courtyard. She even pricked her fingers.”
The maids originally intended to tease her. They did not expect that Tang Shishi would put down the embroidery ring and her face suddenly sank, “Presumptuous. Who allowed you to talk about master’s affairs?”
The maids were all frightened. Tang Shishi shouted coldly, “Still don’t go do your work quickly?”
The maids responded with a grievance and dispersed in confusion. After the maids left, Tang Shishi looked at the messy mandarin duck that was made by her and was so upset that she could hardly even sit down.
After a while, a little maid ran up and said dumbly, “Eldest Young Lady, Master asked you to go to the front hall to meet a guest.”
She did not even have to think about it, he must be asking her to meet the Qi family’s father and mother. Tang Shishi was already upset at first. When she heard this, she was even angrier, “Don’t go!”
The little maid was scared away. Tang Shishi thought she could have some peaceful moments this time. She did not expect after a while, Tang Mingzhe’s housekeeper ran to her, “Eldest Young Lady, this distinguished guest has made it clear that he wants to see you. The Tang family dare not provoke this big Buddha, so you should better go out to have a look!”
Tang Shishi’s anger had reached its peak and exploded. She went to the front hall angrily. She wanted to see which scumbag dared to bother her again and again!
Tang Shishi went to the front hall and entered through the side door carrying her skirt. In front of the side door stood a screen of six beautiful young ladies with flowers, the screen was tall and precious, dividing the front and back into two parts. Tang Shishi stood behind the screen and looked at the people in front of her quietly.
Tang Mingzhe sat in the main seat with his back facing Tang Shishi. Many people surrounded him, and more than half of the Tang family had come over. A young man was sitting in the first guest seat with his side face facing the screen. From the perspective of Tang Shishi, she could only see his perfectly straight figure and the coiling dragon with bared fangs and brandished claws on his black clothes.
Tang Mingzhe’s tone was respectful and flattering. He said with a gentle and cautious manner, “I don’t know that Wangye is coming, and excuse me for not going out to meet you. I wonder why Wangye is looking for my daughter?”
A voice shed from youth and full of adult man’s strong and heroic spirit sounded, “Nothing, just reminiscing about the past.”
Reminiscing about the past? Tang Mingzhe did not know whether to be happy or disappointed when he heard this answer. Tang Mingzhe tactfully warned in a roundabout way, “However, my daughter already has a betrothal, and will perform the six rites soon. I’m afraid it’s inappropriate to see a foreign man.”
“Oh?” His voice still sounded calm, but everyone on the scene inexplicably heard a murderous spirit, “She actually has a husband-to-be?”
“Yes ah, it has been almost five years since the arranged betrothal at the age of ten.”
Zhao Chengjun smiled, turned his face sideways, and looked at the screen forcefully and directly. Behind the sunflower pattern, a slender figure was standing by the side quietly.
“It did not matter if she has a husband-to-be, I don’t admit it.”
She was his. She was the pearl he missed in his previous life, and this life was the love debt he would repay for the rest of his life. Even if in the next life, she was also his destined wife.
Life after life, never stop.