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    The scent of blood permeated every breath she took, and unless it was thoroughly cleansed, she doubted she could find sleep all night.

    Gu Changjin hadn't expected her request to be so insignificant. He nodded and said, "Wait for a moment."

    The house faced south, and Rong Shu's chamber had a window overlooking the courtyard.

    After Gu Changjin left, she pushed open the window and saw him enter a small kitchen in the corner, lighting a lamp and starting a fire to boil water for her personally.

    Rong Shu wanted to help but her limbs were as limp as noodles. She could only lean against the window frame, silently watching the open wooden window of the kitchen.

    The tall figure of the man would occasionally appear in that window.

    As Rong Shu waited, she couldn't resist propping up her chin, tilting her head slightly.

    Inadvertently, she pulled on the wound in her palm, causing a burning pain.

    Lowering her gaze, she noticed that someone had carefully tended to the injury, applying medicine and wrapping it with gauze.

    There was no need to guess who had done this for her.

    The figure reappeared in the window across from her, with a veil of mist flowing softly out. Half of Gu Changjin's profile was concealed in the haze, at a distance that was neither too close nor too far. Rong Shu could discern his lowered eyelashes and prominent nose bridge.

    Perhaps sensing her gaze, he turned his head to look at her.

    Rong Shu instinctively curled her fingertips, feeling a strange awkwardness akin to being caught peeping.

    Just as she was about to smile at him to ease the tension, a creak sounded as the wooden door opened. Gu Changjin walked towards her.

    The moonlight stretched his silhouette, and in just a few breaths, he stood beneath her window.

    "Does your wound hurt?" he asked.

    Rong Shu was slightly taken aback. He had come over because she had glanced at her palm, assuming her wound was painful?

    Indeed, it did hurt quite a bit.

    "It doesn't hurt," Rong Shu shook her head.

    Gu Changjin gave her a glance before gently taking her injured hand in his. Lowering his gaze, he examined the white bandage, relieved to see that it remained untainted by blood.

    "I'll reapply the medicine for you once you're done bathing," Rong Shu whispered softly.

    Rong Shu barely made a sound in response, her voice barely audible.

    Moonlight cascaded down from the eaves, bathing the young maiden's face in a gentle glow. Her raven-black hair flowed like a waterfall, and her beauty resembled a blooming flower.

    The water in the kitchen was likely boiling by now, but Gu Changjin had no intention of leaving.

    One sat inside the window, while the other stood just outside. Apart from their shallow breathing, the only sounds that could be heard were the rustling of leaves and the chirping of autumn insects hiding within the breeze.

    Despite the lack of silence, Rong Shu found an extraordinary stillness in this moment.

    Her left hand, with its fingertips still touching the warmth of the man's palm, gently withdrew, grazing across his hand.

    Gu Changjin felt as if a soft willow branch had brushed against his palm, causing his jaw to tense. With great effort, he refrained from grasping that tender shoot.

    The man's hand resting on the windowsill slowly lowered.

    "The water should be ready. I'll go fetch it now."

    Rong Shu agreed amiably with a simple "Alright."

    Pausing for a moment, she sincerely expressed her gratitude.

    Gu Changjin's Adam's apple shifted slightly as he responded with a low "Mm," then turned to head for the kitchen. After just a few steps, a soft sound echoed from behind him.

    She had closed the window.

    Chapter 68

    The following day, at the Imperial Court of Justice's prison.

    A jailer fumbled with the keys at his waist, nervously unlocking the door. The wooden door creaked with a heavy and dry sound. The jailer respectfully handed the keys to Meng Zong before bowing and retreating, not daring to even breathe loudly.

    In the cell, Fan Zhi gazed at Meng Zong as he entered, his usually composed expression betraying his surprise.

    "Has Lord Meng come because there's news from Yangzhou?"

    His voice was feeble, each word escaping like wind through a worn-out drum, strained and labored.

    Despite his ailing body, this old man on the bed had not lost any of his determination. With wise eyes, he gazed quietly at Meng Zong.

    Meng Zong pulled back the corner of his robe and sat on the floor, saying, "What news does the Elder wish to know? The Four Square Island disaster? Liao Rao's death in battle? Or that Eunuch Liu and Lord Gu are bringing Jiaofeng and Elder Lord's niece to the capital?"

    The defeat at Four Square Island, Liao Rao's demise, Jiaofeng and Jinshu on their way to the capital—these few words were enough for Fan Zhi to deduce that the situation in Yangzhou was mostly settled.

    He smiled slightly and said, "I already know what I wanted to know. Thank you, Lord Meng, for your generosity in telling me. I suspect your visit today is not solely about Yangzhou. Speak now, while I still have some breath left, perhaps I can help clarify some of your doubts."

    Fan Zhi thought Meng Zong was here regarding the case of Liao Rao and Pan Xueliang, but Meng Zong furrowed his brow and said, "Others say the Emperor inherited the throne due to the military prowess of the Qi family and the scholarly influence of the Xing family. But they don't know that it was Elder Lord who convinced His Majesty to lead troops to the capital."

    Meng Zong's words were unexpected for Fan Zhi.

    After a moment of surprise, Fan Zhi lowered his gaze and smiled. "Please continue, Lord Meng. I am listening."

    "Our current Emperor, if not pushed into a desperate situation, would likely not have left Taiyuan Prefecture to seize the dragon throne. Only Empress Qi knew about Elder Lord's visit to the Emperor there. No one else in the world knew whether the Emperor marched north because of Elder Lord's advice. Now, the Emperor has two sons. Both princes have been educated in the Wenhua Hall under my tutelage, and I'm sure Elder Lord is aware that they are mediocre talents. The Crown Prince, being the eldest, enjoys the support of Minister Xing and his literary officials, barely qualifying as literate and courteous. However, he is too indecisive and obedient, not even daring to refute the eunuchs around him. If he ascends the throne, he will merely be a puppet emperor."

    Meng Zong paused briefly, poured himself a cold cup of tea from a nearby teapot, sipped it, then continued, "As for the Second Prince, things are much worse. As Empress Qi's only son, he has the entire Qi family and the capital's military officers behind him, making him much more courageous than the Crown Prince. Unfortunately, this prince is overly arrogant and hasty, his actions drawing criticism. He is certainly not a suitable ruler."

    Meng Zong's words were both treasonous and sincere.

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