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    He had promised this maiden that he wouldn't leave, fearing she might wake up alone in the middle of the night. Thus, he decided to stay and keep her company through the hours.

    Just a few steps away, behind the gauzy curtains, lay the lady he favored. Yet, his heart was devoid of any amorous thoughts; he closed his eyes and soon sank deeply into slumber.

    In his dream, the sensation of being tossed about persisted, with the rain still pouring. A drop of thick ink hanging from the tip of his writing brush splattered, utterly ruining the letter he had been composing.

    Gu Changjin tore off that piece of paper, unfolded a new one, dipped the brush in ink, and began to write.

    "To my beloved wife, Zhaozhao,"

    Time is fleeting, allowing no leisure for extended discourse. Yet, I hope my dear wife understands that I am now aware of the matters concerning the Marquis' residence. I beg of you, do not worry your heart over this. I shall uncover the truth myself and handle the situation. I implore you, my beloved, to withdraw from its midst and avoid any perilous involvement.

    At the foot of Mount Ci'en, I possess a retreat, a hidden haven for my occasional seclusion. This garden is named 'Four Seasons,' inspired by my wife's wish for harmony and beauty throughout the year.

    My wife once said to me, may I think of you in the spring, miss you in the summer, love you in the autumn, and admire you in the winter. For the rest of my life, I shall never be free from you.

    The drunken whispers of my former wife still echo in my ears.

    Yet you alone are unaware, my heart has long been delighted with my wife Zhaozhao.

    "Three years into our marriage, I have kept my thoughts hidden deep within me, but today, I can no longer remain silent.

    For it is only with your safety that my heart finds peace.

    The current situation in the capital is treacherous and fraught with danger. I sincerely wish to keep you away from such peril. When I return, I hope my dear wife will follow Chang Ji and Heng Ping to the Sishi Garden, awaiting my news there.

    My words are scattered, I implore my beloved wife to understand.

    Gu Yunzhi pays his respects."

    With the ink exhausted, Gu Changjin set down his pen and gazed at the letter.

    There were so many things he wanted to tell her, but time was scarce, allowing him only to jot down a few brief sentences.

    Never mind, they had many more days ahead of them. All those words left unsaid, he would share with her one by one when all matters were settled.

    Chapter 67

    Gu Changjin handed the letter to Chang Ji, saying, "When you reach the Sishi Garden, convey to her that on the day I come to fetch her, I will make up for the longevity noodles she missed during her birthday this year."

    On the seventh day of the seventh month, as the carriage entered the city, it was stopped by Commander Xie Hushen of the Imperial Guards.

    "Lord Gu, Her Majesty the Empress invites you to have a conversation at the Kunning Palace."

    Empress Qi?

    Recalling Xu Fu's disdain when speaking of Empress Qi, Gu Changjin could not fathom the reason behind her summons to the palace.

    In the past, the court and the harem of the Great Yin Empire were always strictly separated, but in recent years, Empress Qi, with great effort, has promoted the female official system, occasionally summoning some ministers from the court for audience.

    At first, many court officials criticized Empress Qi for her actions, deeming them inappropriate according to the laws and customs. However, each time these memorials reached the emperor's desk, they were kept unaddressed.

    Thus, people gradually realized that the emperor tacitly approved of the empress's deeds.

    Empress Qi was renowned for her virtue in Taiyuan Prefecture. She organized relief efforts, established schools, opened an academy for women, and during years of famine, she personally led the servants from the palace to cultivate barren fields alongside the common folk.

    That temple dedicated to the empress was not merely a symbol; it represented the genuine respect of the people of Taiyuan Prefecture.

    As Gu Changjin entered the palace accompanied by palace attendants, Wang Dehai was already awaiting him at the Golden Water Bridge, bowing deeply with two young eunuchs.

    Wang Dehai, the chief eunuch of the Palace of Heavenly Purity, was Emperor Jiayou's most trusted confidant. His presence here suggested that Empress Qi had sought his audience with the emperor's knowledge.

    With a casual glance at Wang Dehai's overly deferential demeanor, Gu Changjin's heart skipped a beat. He fished a pill from his sleeve and, using the cover of a cough, swallowed it discreetly.

    Wang Dehai stepped forward to hold an umbrella for Gu Changjin with great diligence.

    The grand palace was veiled by the drizzling rain, while gentle rumbles of thunder rolled over the glazed jade tiles.

    Outside the Kunning Palace, the imperial litter stood at the foot of the jade steps.

    Step by step, Gu Changjin ascended the pristine marble staircase and entered the long corridor.

    Hexagonal palace lanterns cast fragmented shadows as he gradually clenched his hand, hidden within his sleeve. Everything Xu Fu had planned hinged on this day.

    Likewise, the path he had resolved to take since he was six years old – a path to survival – also depended on what happened now.

    At this life-or-death juncture, only one word resonated in Gu Changjin's mind: "Hurry!"

    He must hurry! Find her and bring her to the Sishi Garden! Only after all the dust settled could he bring her back safely!

    "Chang Ji, hurry!"

    In the silent room, the man's eyes were shut tight as he muttered under his breath.

    Rong Shu caught only the word "hurry," causing her to groggily open her eyes. She then stared blankly at the plain white canopy above her for a long while.

    The canopy was made of rough material with a dark hue, something she had never seen before.

    This was not Yi Lanzhu, nor any other place she had previously been.

    Glimpsing sideways, Rong Shu gazed at the vague silhouette outside the curtains. She vaguely recalled that the "hurry" she had just heard came from the person outside.

    She was in immense pain now, feeling as if her entire body had been crushed, with agony emanating from every limb. Her head throbbed relentlessly.

    Rong Shu took a deep breath and partially propped herself up, peering through the curtains.

    Perhaps her movements had disturbed him, for the moment she lifted the canopy, the man's eyes also happened to open.

    A hint of bewilderment seemed to linger in his eyes. As their gazes met, Rong Shu heard him softly call her name, "Rong Zhaozhao."

    Rong Zhaozhao.

    This was how Gu Yunzhi addressed her, with a tone uniquely his.

    Rong Shu's hand froze, and the curtains slipped from her grasp, gently falling and severing their entwined gaze.

    Just as she wondered if she had imagined that whisper, a long, fair hand reached in, slowly drawing back the curtains and securing them with a bronze hook on one side.

    "Are you feeling unwell?"

    The man's voice was low and hoarse, as if it had been scraped against gravel.

    Rong Shu lifted her gaze to look at him. His eyes had regained clarity, fixed intently on her with his lowered gaze.

    Memories from the previous day gradually resurfaced in her mind.

    She had been poisoned in Yi Lanzhu, and he was the one who had detoxified her and saved Sister Lianyan and Mother Zhang. After that, he must have taken her away from Shen Yuan and brought her to Pingnan Street.

    She replied, "I'm not uncomfortable."

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