The Princess’ Shadow Guard – Chapter 73

Senior Sister Chapter 3

If anyone see, they might think I’m bullying you (comforting)

Welcoming customers at the teahouse, Song Shuqing felt as busy as a butterfly fluttering around.

Even though the spring weather was mild, her forehead was damp with sweat from running back and forth.

Coming back from a delivery, Cao Yun drove the carriage and, frowning with concern, spoke to the woman leaning lazily behind the counter, “Junior Sister, I passed by the Chunfeng Tower and it seemed like there was a commotion, even the officials were there…”

“The Chunfeng Tower?” Song Shuqing, who rarely stood still, raised her neck abruptly, her face darkening. Rarely serious, she asked, “Are you talking about Zi Yan?”

Nodding, Cao Yun replied, “There were quite a few people, and it wasn’t easy to get close since I was driving the carriage. Junior Sister, do you want to…”

“Got it!” Swiftly leaping over the counter, Song Shuqing dashed out without looking back, “Ah Yun, could you please watch the shop…”

Hastening towards Chunfeng Tower, before she even got close, she saw the young man from yesterday leading officials and shouting at the entrance of the brothel.

Recognizing the familiar official leading the group at once, Song Shuqing squeezed through the crowd and called out, “Magistrate Li, what’s going on here?”

Since learning that Princess Chongwen resided there, the nearby officials had already sent a group to the teahouse to pay their respects, and everyone had become acquainted as a result.

Especially in the past six months, with the help of several 『former』 shadow guards, there had been remarkable breakthroughs in crime solving and maintaining public order in the area. The local officials also showed Song Shuqing some respect in their actions.

The official surnamed Li, looking troubled, turned back and found a familiar woman. He bowed respectfully and explained in a low voice, “Master Song, this man came early this morning claiming his sister was kidnapped by the brothel’s people and requested our help to bring her back home.”

Scratching his head, he looked pained, “But when we investigated, the contract of sale was indeed valid, with her sister’s own thumbprint on it… There really is no reason to forcefully take her away…”

“And how does Zi… her sister feel about this?” Song Shuqing glanced at the man yelling at the door, feeling frustrated.

“The courtesan has already come down and tried to persuade the brother to leave… but he refuses to listen.”

Not able to stand it any longer, Magistrate Li leaned down and whispered to the woman beside him, “I overheard their conversation. It seems that there are elderly and young family members to support at home, and the young scholar brother can’t earn much money. That’s why the sister had to sell herself to the brothel.”

“But that brother’s words are rather unpleasant, saying he would rather be poor than debased, pretending to be noble…”

“Is that so?” Song Shuqing suddenly chuckled, her meaning somewhat unclear.

“Magistrate Li, please take him and your people away, don’t block the door and hinder business…” After quietly instructing, the woman swiftly made her way into the center of the crowd using Qinggong. She looked at the man being pulled and still trying to force his way into Chunfeng Tower. Grabbing his collar, she threw him heavily to the ground.

(If you're not reading on, it means this has been stolen)

“What… what are you trying to do?” Recognizing the aggressive woman he encountered yesterday, the man known as Hong’er, with a red face, struggled to get up.

“What am I trying to do?”

With a cold laugh, Song Shuqing reached out and pushed the man who had just gotten up back down. “I’m not doing anything, am I? You just happened to block my way, and I find it quite annoying.”

“I mean, how shameless can people like you be, always causing trouble for women.”

“You’re the ones who like taking advantage, and you’re the ones who love to criticize, right? What gives you the right to think you’re standing on a moral high ground and have the power to talk down to others?” Feeling extremely irritated, Song Shuqing tightened her lips, her expression ice-cold as she placed her foot on the man’s thigh, near the groin.

“Whether it’s ancient times or the 21st century, why are people like you always cropping up endlessly?”

“What… what are you talking about?” The man winced in pain, struggling to break free from her grip. “You crazy woman, let me go…”

“If you want to bring back your so-called disgraced sister, then who will pay the penalty for breach of contract? And if you successfully bring her back home, then what? Will you spend every day reminding her that she sold herself to support the family?”

The pressure from Song Shuqing’s foot intensified, showing no mercy. “Furthermore, who will bear the financial burden of the vacancy left behind? Huh? Will it be you?”

Looking up and down at the pale, weak man, she sneered, “Having hands and feet but still relying on your own sister for support. Who should feel ashamed here? Isn’t it clear enough?”

Continuously reminding herself that the man at her feet was Zi Yan’s brother, Song Shuqing suppressed the urge to crush his bones. Taking a deep breath, she bent down, lifted the man by his collar, and casually tossed him to the nearby official.

“Get lost. Come back when you’ve cleared out the fossils cluttering your mind and learned to speak like a decent human being!”

With a disdainful look at the screaming man being dragged away, the woman nodded to Magistrate Li in acknowledgment.

As the crowd dispersed, Song Shuqing shook her sleeve and prepared to walk back to the teahouse, but hesitated after taking a few steps.

Zi Yan, she should be fine, right?

She’s an adult now, so there shouldn’t be much to worry about.

But… she couldn’t help but feel concerned.

After hesitating, Song Shuqing stamped her foot in frustration. Despite typically not wanting to meddle in others’ affairs, she let out a troubled groan.

Ah… should she go or not?

(If you're not reading on, it means this has been stolen)

Hela, forget it.

She decided to go upstairs and check.

After all, a free guqin player is so precious that she must take care of her.

Swiftly entering the alley, in a moment unnoticed by anyone, Song Shuqing flipped onto the roof and gracefully climbed up to Chunfeng Tower by deftly maneuvering through the gaps between the tiles.

The woman inexplicably felt even more anxious than before. Along the way, she cut her finger on a sharp stone, but paid it little attention.

Pushing open the partially closed window, she was greeted by the sight of a fallen screen inside.

The lustrous porcelain jars lay shattered on the ground, rouge and powder spilled over as if trampled, leaving chaotic crimson footprints on the wooden floor.

Observing Zi Yan sitting alone in front of the guqin, she appeared different from her usual self, not as poised and regal as a swan, but with her head slightly lowered, allowing loose hair to cast a shadow over her eyes.

In her tightly gripped hand was a black cloak that did not belong to the courtesan.

The air inside the room felt heavy and oppressive, stirring a mix of emotions within Song Shuqing. Despite her aversion to trouble, she regretted interfering by going upstairs. However, seeing the lonely and delicate figure in the corner, she slowed her pace and quietly approached the woman.

“Song… Master Song…” Sensing movement beside her, Zi Yan raised her head, forcing a faint smile as she spoke in a hoarse voice. “…Can today’s music be postponed? Perhaps we could reschedule for three days later, would that be acceptable?”

“Stop forcing a smile.”

Seeing the woman in front of her trying to smile through the discomfort, Song Shuqing’s typically aloof tone carried a hint of nasal congestion. Unable to bear it, she knelt down and took a handkerchief from her pocket. “I’d rather you give me your usual cold expression… your current smile is unbearable.”

With a coarse and gruff voice, but hands incredibly gentle as they held the woman’s bare ankle, wiping away the rouge stains underneath, “Anyway, I’m not in the mood to listen to music today, and suits me just fine if you don’t play.”

The white fabric turned red with rouge, as Zi Yan, with her body trembling, felt a pang in her heart while watching the person kneeling beside her with lowered head. Her fair toes curled up, “Don’t do this.”

Her voice quivered.

“Master Song, please don’t do this…”

Don’t treat me like this… as if I am truly precious…

What should I do if the filthy me misunderstands accidentally?

(If you're not reading on, it means this has been stolen)

Please don’t do this…

“If you don’t clean your feet first, the room will get messy again when it’s tidied up.” Song Shuqing responded impatiently, disregarding etiquette completely, reaching under her skirt to pull out the other foot of the courtesan and began to gently wipe it clean.

“And, walking barefoot on the floor with all those shards, aren’t you afraid of getting cut?” Wiping away the rouge stains between the toes, the inner turmoil of the shadow guard grew, “Bleeding hurts a lot, don’t let yourself get hurt for someone who causes chaos!”

One by one, why are the people she encounters always so troublesome?

“He is not a troublesome person…” the silent woman spoke with difficulty, her voice barely audible.

“What did you say?” Unable to hear clearly, Song Shuqing tossed the handkerchief aside and turned her head to ask.

Taking a deep breath, as if gathering all the courage in her body, Zi Yan raised her voice, “That man is my younger brother. I deceived him, never expecting him to actually come here from Jiangnan.”

“I… I had no choice. After our father passed away, we had no support at home. No one would hire my deaf-mute mother, and my two younger siblings are still children. We needed money for food, even for Hong’er to take the county exam…”

Her voice weakened, becoming increasingly hysterical. Zi Yan hugged herself, shaking uncontrollably.

“Without a recommendation, there’s no way to become a maid in an official’s household. I… I… truly had no choice… it’s all my fault, I deceived them, it’s all my fault, I’m so filthy, so filthy…”

The usually composed woman seemed to have lost her senses, vigorously scrubbing her own flesh as if trying to wipe away a layer of unseen dirt, her gaze vacant, deaf to any sound.

“Zi Yan.”

“Zi Yan!”

Seeing the woman before her, her arms under the oversized sleeves already a deep shade of red from the self-inflicted marks, unresponsive no matter how she called out, Song Shuqing forcefully restrained the courtesan’s hands. Drawing closer, she stared directly into her reddened eyes.

“Zi Yan, listen to me.”

The usually lazy woman felt an inexplicable anger in her heart, not directed at the courtesan before her. Song Shuqing’s rare determined tone and expression were firm, “You are not filthy, do you understand?”

“Brothel? So what? You’re not stealing or robbing to support your family. Who dares to say you’re wrong? Your brother, a grown man capable with his hands and feet, still relies on you for support. I find it amusing for him!”

“As for those who dare to speak ill of you, calling you filthy, what right do they have? Did they offer you any other choices when you were in difficulty? Did they ever think from your perspective to solve your problems? And if making money makes one dirty, where do the ones paying the money go? Why aren’t they criticized? It’s all nonsense!” The woman’s tone was fierce, her face full of disdain.

“It’s all just bullsh*t!”

(If you're not reading on, it means this has been stolen)

After venting a string of words, Song Shuqing paused to catch her breath, feeling the continued slight trembling of Zi Yan. Hesitantly, she pulled the courtesan into her arms, “Anyway… don’t listen to what others say. You haven’t done anything wrong, and you don’t owe anyone an apology.”

Stiffly patting the woman’s back as if to comfort her.

For a while, though the person in her arms gradually calmed her breathing, Song Shuqing still sensed the weight of tears falling onto the fabric. Helplessly sighing, she lifted the woman’s chin, “I don’t have any spare handkerchiefs…”

In the candlelight, the courtesan’s elegant and cold face bore traces of tears, her tightly pressed lips seemed to be enduring all grievances and resentments. Her tear-filled eyes stirred a sense of pity in Song Shuqing’s heart, “Make do with this for now.”

Avoiding the rough calluses on her palms, Song Shuqing lightly wiped away the woman’s tears with the middle joint of her finger that was slightly curved, then chuckled, “Tsk, looking so pitiful. If anyone saw, they’d think I was bullying you.”

Undoing the disheveled bun on Zi Yan’s head, Song Shuqing spread out her fingers to gently smooth the woman’s soft hair. “Please don’t cry, I really have nothing to wipe your tears with.” Lowering her head to look at the tear-streaked face, Song Shuqing teased, “Strange, when did you become such a crybaby? Are you trying to bankrupt me by making me buy handkerchiefs?”

“…In the cabinet.”

Suppressing the urge to hit someone, Zi Yan slumped in the unexpectedly comforting embrace of Song Shuqing, whispering softly, “…In the cabinet, there are still handkerchiefs.”

“Oh my, please, I was just joking. I don’t really need your handkerchiefs.” Song Shuqing pushed aside the strands of hair stuck to the woman’s cheek, her tone helpless yet amused.

“Anyway, stop being sad, it’s not worth it.”

The courtesan did not reply, only lowering her gaze, unable to meet the eyes of the person in front of her.

Her heart ached, not from self-loathing in her veins, but from a different, more passionate and tremulous emotion.

Her eyes drifted to the wound on Song Shuqing’s index finger, the bloodstains now dried, leaving a dark red mark. Zi Yan held the wrist of the shadow guard gently, covering the tip of the injured finger with her mouth, extending her tongue to delicately lick it.

“Hey! Zi… Zi Yan, what are you doing? Are you a dog?”

Feeling the warmth of the fingertip, Song Shuqing was startled. If she hadn’t realized there was a live person sitting in her arms and couldn’t just toss them aside casually, she might have been scared enough to take off right on the spot.

“Master Song, you’re bleeding…” Tasting a hint of rust, Zi Yan mumbled, still not moving away. “You just said, bleeding hurts…”

Song Shuqing felt incredibly awkward, her ears turning red. “That’s nothing, I barely felt it.” Unable to resist, she pulled her hand back and looked at the silver thread on her fingertip, avoiding the courtesan’s gaze. “The wound is smaller than a mosquito bite. If you don’t pay attention, it’ll be healed in the next second.”

Licking her lips, Zi Yan curled up in Song Shuqing’s warm embrace, her expression not as calm as usual, but rather veiled in a hint of confusion.

Before they could say much more, the two of them heard a woman in her fifties knocking on the door from outside and calling out, “Zi Yan, tomorrow is the fifteenth, remember to clean up.”

“…This month is Lord Jia, gotta take good care of him.”

LP: Re-translated on April 20, 2024

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