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    Rong Shu's eyes softened, and she smiled as she leaned on Mama Zhang's arm, coquettishly saying, "Uncle scolded me a bit, but I don't care. After all, it's not often I come back to Yangzhou, so how could I stay cooped up in Shen Yuan? Mother told me to visit our ancestors' old residence when I return. Not just the ancestors, but also Aunt Guo and Uncle Shi Yi. You have to help me cover for Zhaozhao!"

    Seeing that Rong Shu seemed normal, Mama Zhang heaved a sigh of relief.

    She knew about Shen's request for Rong Shu to visit the ancestral home, so she reluctantly agreed, "This old servant can help you, but you must promise not to overexert yourself and hurt yourself."

    With that, she arranged for someone to prepare water for Rong Shu's bath. After Rong Shu finished washing up and the room was filled with soothing incense, Mama Zhang quietly left the bedroom when even breaths signaled her daughter's sleep.

    Lan Yan was resting in a neighboring room, and with the burning incense, she was likely already in a dreamland.

    Maintaining her gentle expression, Mama Zhang made her way slowly to the Three Reflections Hall.

    At this moment, no one else was in the hall except Shen Zhi; even his most trusted attendants had been dismissed.

    Upon seeing Mama Zhang, he stood up, asking, "Is there any instruction from the princess?"

    Mama Zhang took a letter out of her sleeve and said, "Everything the princess asked for is written here. Young Master has two missions in Yangzhou, both of which serve as tests for him. Unless Young Master's life is in danger, do not act rashly."

    Shen Zhi nodded solemnly, accepting the letter but not immediately opening it. Instead, he looked at Mama Zhang and inquired, "How is the princess's health? Has Wen Xi settled well in Su Prefecture?"

    Mother Zhang chuckled and replied, "Young Master has a kind heart. Both the Duchess and Miss Wen Xi are doing well. This old servant cannot stay any longer; I must return to Yi Lanzhu."

    Upon her departure, Shen Zhi unfolded the letter and read it several times over its few lines. Then, he pushed open a sliding door to enter the study.

    The study was adorned with rows of huanghuali wood bookshelves. Shen Zhi passed through them, stopping at the wall where he gazed intently at a painting by Master Spring Mountain.

    He stood there, mesmerized for a long while before gently lifting the painting and pressing it against the wall. With a soft creak, a hidden compartment slowly slid out.

    Shen Zhi placed the letter inside the secret compartment, meticulously arranged the scroll, and then left the study.

    Rong Shu was unaware of Mother Zhang's visit to the Three Reflections Hall that night, for she had fallen asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow the previous evening.

    Waking up with a fuzzy head the next morning, she still summoned the strength to have breakfast and call for Luoyan. Carrying the gifts prepared by her mother, they hastily left Shen Yuan.

    The Shen family was known for their benevolence, and most of the clan members, whether from the main or secondary branches, resided in Yangzhou. Rong Shu was headed to the ancestral home of the Shen family today.

    The ancestral house was situated in a picturesque area on the outskirts of the city, surrounded by lush greenery and blessed with excellent feng shui.

    Rong Shu had often visited this place since she was young. The clan's elders, undeterred by her inauspicious birth hour, would happily tell her stories about the rise of the Chen family and how it had been passed down through generations. Among them, Auntie was the kindest to her.

    Auntie was the maternal great-aunt, currently the oldest member of the clan.

    As people grew older, they tended to reminisce more about the past. Once Auntie started talking about old times, she couldn't seem to stop, pouring out stories that she had kept hidden for years. With Rong Shu's coaxing, secrets were spilled like beans from a jar.

    "Actually, your uncle was quite suitable as your mother's elder brother. Your maternal grandfather had intended for your uncle to become your mother's right-hand man, shouldering the responsibilities of the Chen family's business. But it's too exhausting for a lady to be constantly socializing with others, discussing trade deals, and even traveling far away with servants for business. It's best for women to stay at home and leave external matters to men. Look how well your uncle has managed the family business these years."

    Rong Shu never interrupted Auntie when she spoke, but she couldn't let this statement slide.

    "That's not true. If Mother had led the Chen family, she wouldn't have done any worse than Uncle."

    The elderly matriarch wasn't annoyed. She knew how much Rong Shu cherished Zhen Niang and felt heartened by this. Repeating "good" several times, she praised, "Your mother is the most capable."

    Only then did Rong Shu smile. After staying in the ancestral home for seven or eight days, she gradually pieced together the events of the past.

    Her uncle was indeed from her maternal grandmother's side, technically an elder cousin of her mother's from five generations back.

    Her maternal grandfather had taken him in from a young age and taught him everything he knew about business, all to ensure that he could support Mother in preserving the Chen family's legacy once he married into the family.

    Everything changed after Uncle returned from the capital.

    The turning point was in the thirty-sixth year of Jiande.

    Not long after his return, Mother went to Grandfather herself, declaring that she no longer wished to marry Uncle, but only to remain his sister.

    Rong Shu knew her mother's temperament well. If she truly disliked Uncle, she wouldn't have waited until almost her coming-of-age ceremony to express it. Something must have transpired between Uncle and Mother that prompted her to seek Grandfather's intervention.

    Subsequently, Grandfather defied all objections to include Uncle in the family registry, indicating his trust in him.

    Yet, when Mother married, Grandfather secretly stashed a third of the family fortune in her dowry and forbade her from informing Uncle. This seemed to suggest a newfound wariness towards Uncle.

    What happened during those three years?

    One cannot help but suspect when doubt arises towards another, as every action they take appears suspicious.

    In Rong Shu's previous life, did Shen Zhi truly betray the country and conspire with the enemy?

    And did Grandfather really die of illness?

    At this thought, Rong Shu's brows twitched in surprise.

    Exiting the ancestral house, Luan Yan hurried over and whispered to Rong Shu, "Miss Rong, Lord Gu from the Board of Censors wishes to meet you. He's currently waiting by the pond."

    Gu Changjin?

    Rong Shu looked toward the pond in surprise and indeed saw an inconspicuous carriage stationed there.

    The carriage curtains were slightly lifted, revealing a man's snow-white chin and thin lips.

    It was indeed Gu Changjin.

    After their last encounter at the ferry, she hadn't seen him again.


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