The class system was strict within Daqi, boundaries between them clearly drawn. Upon coining a master-servant relationship, it was as such for the rest of their lives.
The servants and handmaidens were all properties of the owner. Owners had the ultimate power over their bodies and lives.
The owners could kill them and they must not resist. At most, the owners would bribe the police or pay a small fine. If the servants bullied their owners, it was the most serious crime. The lightest punishment was exiling them to the military while heaviest punishment was public execution.
Madam Xie was usually very kind to her servants. Although none of the servants had committed major mistakes, they still had minor mishaps here and there. Madam Xie’s sudden change in attitude today scared them terribly.
Agatha’s face was completely pale, her hands clutching each other at her stomach. She thought she had left the tiger’s cave to enter the demon’s lair.
Madam Xie yelled sternly, “Li Chengfeng, you’d better take this punishment seriously! The Zhan family of the northwest were anointed as Counts during the establishment of the empire! Even the Li family at the time did not dare cross them! Especially not now when we’re so broke already! You’ve got the guts, how dare you dig our family’s grave for a servant? You think you’re cool, you’re so proud of it, aren’t you?!”
Asparta was an honest man. He did not show mercy since Madam Xie had already given him the instruction. Ten hits later, Li Chengfeng was already seeing stars. He couldn’t help but say, “It’s that b*stard who started it first!”
She yelled, “So if you see a tiger charging at you, you run towards it?”
Li Chengfeng looked up stubbornly, “Of course, I’ll kill it with my fist!”
Madam Xie was utterly furiously, smashing the teacup next to her unto Li Chengfeng’s forehead. With a loud crack, the skin on his forehead was sliced open. Blood flowed down his face.
Without wiping the blood, as if he felt nothing, he said, “Must we always hold it in when someone more powerful than us bullies us? There are too many people more powerful than us in the world! Then should we just let all of them walk over us?”
Madam Xie could not even speak, her entire body trembling as she pointed a shaky finger at Li Chengfeng. “You… Are you not afraid of driving our family into the grave?”
Of course he was afraid, but he was a stubborn young man. He was in an argument with his mother in front of so many servants, he could not back down now. “We’ll cross the bridge when we reach it, and if we can’t solve the problems, we can just hide! What’s there to be afraid of?”
Before she spoke, a voice rang. “Well said! What’s there to be afraid of?”
Everyone looked towards the voice to see the patriarch Li Chun clad in formal attire at the door. He looked solemn, his gaze sharp. There was no sign of the haziness usually seen in them.
Although he was often insane when his sickness flared, he was still the patriarch. When he had his wits about him, no one dared argue with him.
His eyes swept across the hall as he said proudly, “The Li family of the Cleansing Moon Sect has lasted for many centuries, why would we be afraid?”
Madam Xie forced a smile and walked towards him. She extended her hands to support him at his elbow, and in a gentle voice, “You’re up? And I see you’re feeling well today?”
As if he did not hear her, he said, “You don’t need to be afraid of the Zhan family. The Champion Marquis’s power is only in the Northwest, his feelers cannot reach us! Plus our Li family has a trump card!”
Madam Xie smiled bitterly. With so many servants here, she had to protect her husband’s dignity so she went along with it, “What is it?”
Li Chun enunciated, “A No-Death Gold Card!”
The crowd was shocked. Green Bead, who hadn’t had the guts to speak, gasped, “No-Death Gold Card?”
Asparta and Agatha looked at each other in shock. Although they were foreigners, they knew that extremely few families in Daqi had the Gold Card!
Madam Xie gasped, “Since when did we have a No-Death Gold Card? Why.. don’t I know of it?”
Li Chun looked delighted with himself. “Ancestor Li helped Heavenly Emperor Zhang Zhaoyang defeat the Devil King of Heaven’s Corner, Sun Heluo along with the Ancestral Emperor. It was all because of his efforts at the Immortal Passing Block, we received the Gold Card for his sacrifice.”
Madam Xie was suspicious. “Why haven’t I seen it before?”
Li Chun grinned. “The Gold Card has always been carried in secret by the patriarch, you haven’t seen it.”
Madam Xie thought: I’ve seen every inch of your skin, turned every brick in our house! There isn’t a Gold Card!
However, Li Chun looked very serious and she had hope. “The Gold Card is with you now?”
Li Chun nodded and fished for it in his clothes. Everyone widened their eyes, including Li Chengfeng and Zhao Xiaobao who were lying on the ground, as they craned their necks to see.
Li Chun took something out and held it up solemnly. “Look closely, this is the No-Death Gold Card!”
Everyone saw a white, soft object in his hand with multiple fingerprints on it. It was a fifty-cent bun from down the street!
Su Yuehan, who was watching the show, almost laughed out loud. Everyone quickly looked down and forced themselves to think of the saddest thing they had experienced in their lifetimes. They must not laugh now.
Li Chengfeng covered his face, hoping the ground would swallow him. He had just been beaten in front of so many people, yet this was more embarrassing.
Madam Xie did not see the difference. She forced a smile, her voice shaking as she instructed Green Bead, “Green Bead, bring Master back to rest.”
Li Chun was puzzled. “Look at it, it really is the Gold Card! With this, the Zhan family would never dare touch the Li family!”
“Send him back!” screamed Madam Xie suddenly, shaking like a leaf.
Two strong servants quickly scrambled to hold Li Chun on both sides, carrying him off. All they could hear was Li Chun’s shouts as usual, “It really is the No-Death Gold Card! Our family really has it!”
The shouts slowly faded into nothing. After a long time, she finally spoke with great sorrow, “Xiaobao, seeing as you have cared for Chengfeng for so many years, you won’t die today.”
Zhao Xiaobao was ecstatic. He scrambled to get up, then kowtowed. “Thank you for your mercy, Madam! Thank you…”
She then suddenly said coldly, “You will still be punished, even if it isn’t death! Green Bead, get Xiaobao one hundred silvers, then kick him out!”
Zhao Xiaobao looked as if he was struck by lightning. The hall was deathly quiet.
Li Chengfeng was especially stunned!
He shouted, “Mother, no!”
Zhao XIaobao suddenly kowtowed vigorously, knocking loudly on the stone slabs as he cried loudly, “Madam, I have learned from my mistakes!”
Madam Xie’s face was solemn. She did not speak.
He cried, “I have lived in the Li family since I was young, this is my home! If you kick me out, I’ll just be a stray without a home!”
She did not change her expression, saying mercilessly, “The empire has its laws, my house has rules too. If I forgive you today, what about tomorrow?”
Li Chengfeng protested, “Mother, if you kick Xiaobao out, isn’t it the same as killing him?”
She replied coldly, “If he doesn’t leave, we die. Do you really think it is worth risking all our lives for one life?”
Zhao Xiaobao was hopeless now. He turned to kowtow at Li Chengfeng, “I can no longer serve you anymore, Young Master! Please take good care of yourself!”
Li Chengfeng gave her a long look, trying to make out her true intentions for this. After a while, when he helped Xiaobao up, he whispered, “Go to the place we hid the stuff we stole at Cheng village, take all of it out and find a way to change them into money. Wait for me there. If I don’t show up, find a way to meet me.”
Zhao Xiaobao nodded slightly, a little calmer now. He wiped his tears and left with Green Bead.
After the huge fight at Liu Sumei’s place, where he was at a disadvantage, he had already injured his tendons despite the victory. And due to his stubbornness, he had been beaten upon reaching home once more. Even worse, Xiaobao had been chased out by his own mother. All these took an unimaginable toll on his body so when he was supported to his bed, he collapsed.
“How is he?” Green Bead asked Madam Xie anxiously, sitting on the edge of his bed.
Madam Xie was checking his pulse, her brows furrowed. “His pulse is very erratic, and he’s already injured his tendons…”
Li Chengfeng struggled to grab her wrist, saying in a low voice, “Mother! Xiaobao and I are practically brothers! If you chase him out now after he’s already offended the Zhan family, he’s going to die for sure!”
Madam Xie fell silent for a while. She looked at Green Bead, who understood. She looked left and right at the door, then closed it. When Su Yuehan saw it, she also closed the window.
Green Bead looked at her, puzzled. She did not understand why Su Yuehan did not leave, given the current situation.
Madam Xie noticed her confusion and smiled to show her trust in Su Yuehan. Green Bead regarded Su Yuehan from head to toe, studying her.
Madam Xie said to Li Chengfeng, “We are leaving Cheng’an!”
To Green Bead and Su Yuehan’s surprise, Li Chengfeng did not look shocked. After a pause, he said, “When are we leaving? After the ancestral prayers?”
She thought for a moment. “We will leave the day of the ancestor prayers. We won’t attract attention then. We will pay our respects outside of the city, then take the opportunity to leave to Yongle City of the Lu County in the south.”
Chengfeng asked, “Why Yongle?”
“I allocated some of our family assets there two years ago, plus it is close to the temple.”
Li Chengfeng said, “So today was just an excuse to divert attention?”
“It’s about time I reminded everyone of our house rules anyway.”
“But… what about Xiaobao?”
Madam Xie cut him off. “You must respect our family rules! Do not speak of this again! Rest well, the ancestral prayers will be in three days. You’ll be busy then.”
When she finished, she stood up to leave.
She opened the door to be greeted with snow fluttering from the sky. In the beginning, they were sparse but soon, it filled the skies and the lands, as if goose down was falling from the heavens. The sky was grey, everything was covered in pure, white snow.
She exhaled, which formed a cloud of steam. Surprised, she said gently, “It’s snowing.”