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    As usual, Mama Zhang sat beside the canopy bed and conversed with Rong Shu turn by turn. After half an hour, her speech became slower, and her gaze grew distant and unfocused.

    Rong Shu realized that the medicine was taking effect. She quickly helped Mama Zhang sit up and spoke gently, "Are you feeling unwell, Mama?"

    Mama Zhang leaned against the bedpost and chuckled weakly while looking at her affectionately, "No, I'm not uncomfortable, Mama is fine. My dear child, drink your milk."

    Rong Shu was startled, never expecting Mama Zhang's hallucination to be her childhood self.

    For a moment, her nose tingled with emotion.

    She gritted her teeth and asked again, "Mama, before you came to Shen Yuan as a wet nurse, did you serve any other masters? And now, who is your master?"

    "Masters to serve?" Mama Zhang lifted her gaze, her expression dazed, "My master is you, always you. You, my dear child, were the one I brought up."

    Rong Shu looked at her and coaxed gently, "Think about the Three Reflections Hall, think about that study room. Mama, you told Zhaozhao why you entered Uncle's study that day."

    But Mama Zhang fell silent, only giggling repeatedly, "Be a good girl, listen to Mama."

    Rong Shu gently held her hand and softened her voice, speaking slowly and deliberately, "Mama, think carefully. Why did Uncle go to Fu Jian? Who did he want to meet there?"

    "Uncle, Uncle... Uncle did it for the lady."

    "Which lady?"

    "Which lady?" Mama Zhang repeated softly, then chuckled. "Of course, it's you, Lady."


    In a corner, the hourglass sand trickled down grain by grain.

    Perhaps due to the excessive medicine, Mama Zhang's words were jumbled beyond comprehension. Despite Rong Shu's attempts to clarify for half an hour, she could not make sense of it all.

    If she continued questioning, Mama Zhang might fall asleep.

    Rong Shu's expression turned slightly solemn as she fished out a wooden box from her bedding. Addressing Mama Zhang, she asked, "Do you know how to open this wooden box?"

    Mama Zhang's gaze was dull as she stared at the box, taking a long while before responding, "Align with the stars, strike at the star positions."

    Initially, Rong Shu had given up hope due to Mama Zhang's incoherent rambling. But upon hearing her response, she quickly lowered her head to study the wooden box closely.

    A star position?

    Referring to the stars on a Go board?

    Rong Shu flexed her fingers, aligning them with the star points on the board. Gently, she tapped four times on the side carved with the auspicious beast spewing a pearl.

    As the tapping ceased, she held her breath.

    Moments later, four consecutive "crack" sounds could be heard, gradually resonating.

    Immediately afterward, a mung bean-sized keyhole appeared prominently at the very center.

    Rong Shu's pupils constricted. Swiftly, she took out the key Master Guan had given her and inserted it into the lock.

    A soft "crack" echoed as the wooden lid of the box split into two, parting slowly to reveal a folded yellow parchment concealed within.

    Her entire focus was on the yellow paper, completely unaware that the moment she took it out, Mama Zhang, leaning against the bedpost, slowly lifted her gaze. Clarity shone in her eyes, a stark contrast to the earlier confusion and distraction.

    A delicate fragrance wafted out from the wooden box, and in that fleeting moment as it tingled Rong Shu's nostrils, she barely had time to discern the words written on the paper.

    In the second year of Jia You, on the sixth day of April.

    Night fog swirled over the endless sea, hiding stars and the moon behind dense clouds, casting not a single ray of light.

    A dozen official vessels sailed silently through the waters, their hulls battered by the rhythmic waves.

    At three in the morning, in the cabin of the last ship, a man lying on a wooden cot abruptly opened his eyes and sat up, pressing a large hand to his chest as he gasped for air with great intensity.

    Chang Ji and Heng Ping, resting on a bed on the other side, heard the commotion and quickly rose, asking, "Master? Is your wound hurting again?"

    Cold sweat trickled down his forehead, dampening the hair at Gu Changjin's temples.

    He shut his eyes tightly, then opened them again, but the palpitations in his heart showed no sign of subsiding.

    He ordered in a cold voice, "Tell the helmsman to head back to Yangzhou!"

    Chapter 64

    At Yi Lanzhu.

    A single flickering lamp cast its dim light.

    The paper slipped from her fingertips as Rong Shu reached for the silver bracelet on her left hand with sluggish movements. Her thumb trembled as she prepared to press the small clasp inside.

    Mother Zhang sighed softly, placing a gentle hand on Rong Shu's to still her. She slid the bracelet off her wrist slowly and said soothingly, "My dear, there's no need for this. It won't work on me."

    Rong Shu's eyelashes quivered. "Why won't it work?"

    Such a naive girl.

    Mother Zhang looked at her affectionately.

    She was well aware that the combination of Honeysuckle and Spring Breeze Powder was the old grand physician's secret recipe. Rong Shu had even prepared the medicine herself and fed it to the princess, allowing her to see Crown Prince Qiyuan in a hallucination for one last time.

    She had learned about poisons from Nurse An since she was young and could recite the Poison Scripture by heart. How could she not understand the effects of this drug?

    "You've always been unable to hide your emotions since you were little. When nervous, you'd fidget, and your ears would turn red when lying. After returning from the ancestral mansion, you started to be cautious around me, didn't you? You gave me that Autumn Pear Soup just now to extract information from me," Mother Zhang supported Rong Shu, who was on the verge of collapsing. Speaking warmly, she continued, "I raised you from a young age, and I know you better than anyone else."

    Rong Shu felt a growing numbness all over her body, as if she had lost all strength and collapsed into a limp heap.

    "Why, Mother, would you harm me?"

    "Mother doesn't mean to harm you. It's for your own good. The less you know, the longer you'll live. Be a good girl and listen, then you won't suffer."

    Mother Zhang gently laid her down on the couch before rising and walking over to the tea table. From her waist, she retrieved a honey pill, crushed it into the tea, and then held Rong Shu's chin, feeding her the mixture spoon by spoon.

    Forced to swallow, Rong Shu found the taste of the tea eerily familiar - a subtle musk mingled with the sweetness of almond. In a fleeting moment of clarity, she recalled the long period of illness she had endured when she first arrived at the Sishi Garden. Back then, she was in a daze all day, oblivious to whether it was morning or night.

    The medicine she had taken back then carried this very distinctive flavor.


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