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    Guo Jiuniang paused, her tone turning grave as she continued, "Let me tell you this, Sir – our Lv Yi has no regard whatsoever for Governor Liao. There was an occasion when he was drunk, and in an attempt to make her laugh, Liao Rao insisted on teaching her how to wield a sword."

    Gu Changjin's brows knitted slightly. "When did this happen?"

    "It was last September. He must have had one too many drinks that day. To amuse Lv Yi, Liao Rao picked up a sword and tried to show her the moves," replied Guo Jiuniang with a smile. "Lv Yi has a fiery temper; she lashed out at him in a fit of anger."

    In truth, Liao Rao's feelings for Lv Yi were genuine. When she injured his hand that day, Guo Jiuniang thought it would lead to a major conflict. Surprisingly, after shedding a few tears, Lv Yi managed to smooth things over.

    For a military commander to have his hand wounded by a courtesan in a brothel was not a tale one would want circulating. Very few people knew about the incident, and no one dared to spread the word. The matter was kept tightly under wraps, so much so that even Governor Liao's own wife was unaware of the cause of his injury.

    Rong Shu secretly breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing Guo Jiuniang voluntarily mention Liao Rao's injury without her asking.

    There was something off about Liao Rao's letter to the former Minister.

    Given Gu Changjin's astuteness, he had likely already sensed the irregularity.

    Chapter 48

    Sure enough, the moment Guo Jiuniang finished speaking, Gu Changjin's lips thinned instantly.

    The letter from the former Minister had given Gu Changjin a profound sense of unease, and now he finally understood why.

    Looking at Guo Jiuniang, he asked earnestly, "I wonder if Mother Guo and Miss Lv Yi would be willing to serve the imperial court?"

    Guo Jiuniang waved her fan nonchalantly and smiled faintly. "Are you asking us to become your spies? Liao Rao might be lustful, but he's also very capable and sharp-minded. Otherwise, he wouldn't have been able to hold onto his position as Governor of Two Rivers for so many years. Please forgive me and Lv Yi for not being able to lend you our assistance."

    There were some things Guo Jiuniang couldn't say.

    Liao Rao was like a towering mountain here, wielding immense power. The officials in Jiangsu and Zhejiang all deferred to him.

    It was only after General Liang arrived that someone could finally match Liao Rao in terms of influence.

    This man before her was indeed too young. So young that Guo Jiuniang didn't believe he could defeat Liao Rao.

    It was this lack of trust that made her hesitant to take risks.

    Gu Changjin knew what Guo Jiuniang was worried about and didn't push the matter. After Rong Shu finished talking with Guo Jiuniang, they left the Spring Moon Building together.

    It was the liveliest time on Wu Family's Brick Bridge right now. The plucking of the pipa sounded like pearls dropping into a plate, accompanied by the flirtatious laughter of men and women carried on the fragrant breeze. If one listened closely, they could even hear faint gasps of breath.

    The two walked in silence down the corridor. After a few steps, Rong Shu suddenly stopped. Gu Changjin glanced at her composed expression, which was clearly strained, and also came to a halt.

    "I'll lead you through the back alley via a wooden ladder. That's how I used to enter and exit the Spring Moon Building when I was young," she said casually, trying to downplay its significance. "It's been so long since I've been back to Yangzhou that I'd forgotten about it. It's much quieter over there."

    Gu Changjin replied simply, "Alright."

    The wooden ladder Rong Shu mentioned was adjacent to the back door of the Spring Moon Building. It was a narrow and dark escape route used during emergencies.

    Following her memory, Rong Shu quickly found the path.

    The air was no longer filled with the sweet, alluring fragrance from before; instead, it carried a musty smell from old wood.

    Though the scent wasn't pleasant, Rong Shu felt much more at ease.

    "There are no lanterns here, Lord Gu. Watch your step," she kindly warned him.

    "Uh-huh." Following behind her, Gu Changjin's gaze fixated on a red agate hairpin shimmering in her dark tresses in the darkness. "You used to walk this way as a child. Weren't you afraid?"

    Of course, she had been scared before, but some fears fade away with time.

    She was indeed too alone in the Shen Garden, as Shen Zhi was often away, and Mother Zhang was occupied with managing Yi Lanzhu, constantly bustling about. She felt like a caged fledgling, unable to venture anywhere.

    Fortunately, the old nursemaid never restricted her.

    Perhaps it was because she herself had been confined in the palace for decades, always longing to escape, that she could empathize with Rong Shu's suffocating feeling of being trapped in a cage.

    Back then, the old nursemaid would smile and say, "You're a lady from the Cheng'an Marquis Estate. Once you're married, you won't have the freedom you do now. Take advantage of your youth and explore the world outside more."

    She also made an informal agreement with Rong Shu: if she behaved well and learned her manners, she could go out to play for two hours, without any restrictions on where she went. Even if she wanted to visit the Spring Moon Building, the old nursemaid would allow it, but only when it was not open during the day.

    Yet even during the day, this wooden ladder remained dark. Without Guo Jiuniang coming down to lead her up, Rong Shu didn't dare to climb it.

    After mustering courage and making a few trips, she eventually grew brave enough to go up by herself.

    Thus, many things became easier with familiarity.

    Rong Shu thought this, and expressed it accordingly.

    Gu Changjin remained silent.

    One could get used to it, so there was no need to fear it.

    Rong Shu had intentions to discuss the matter of the Shen family with Gu Changjin.

    Exiting the Spring Moon Building, she asked, "Does Lord Gu have some free time now? I have a few words I'd like to share with you."

    Gu Changjin's dark eyes paused for a moment. "This isn't an appropriate place for a conversation. My residence is nearby. If Miss Rong doesn't mind, we can continue our talk there."

    Rong Shu had no objections and gracefully lifted her skirt as she followed behind Gu Changjin.

    While crossing the bridge, she caught sight of the exquisite boats on the waterway, and her gaze couldn't help but trail after them, causing her pace to slow down.

    Gu Changjin slowed his steps in response, subtly glancing at her face illuminated by the lantern light.

    On the cobblestone road, people came and went, with some vendors calling out to sell snacks.

    Rong Shu could already smell the sweet aroma of pine nut candy from afar, making it difficult for her to proceed.

    "Lord Gu," she called out.

    "Mmm."

    "I still owe you for those plum blossom soup dumplings we had in Wutong Lane last time. How about I treat you to some pine nut candy today?" Rong Shu's gaze had already passed him, resting on the vendor across the bridge who was roasting pine nuts. "If you come to Yangzhou and don't try their pine nut candy, it would be like not having visited at all."

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