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    Shen Yizhen was still waiting for Mother Zhang to wake up so she could thoroughly question her; how could she possibly hand her over to Shen Zhi?

    She replied, "Doctor Mu is on good terms with Father and will certainly do his best to treat Mother Zhang. She is Rong Shu's wet nurse, and her indenture is in my hands. I care more about her recovery than Brother does, so there's no need for you to worry."

    Shen Zhi knew that any further argument from him would seem abnormal.

    He had wanted to bring Mother Zhang back to Shen Yuan for treatment out of fear that the princess would blame him for his incompetence and to give her an explanation. But well, Doctor Mu was indeed an outstanding physician, and Mother Zhang would be safer at his medical clinic than in Shen Yuan.

    "That's a good idea. On this trip to Fu Jian, I acquired a very rare Cistanche tubulosa. Tomorrow, I'll send it to Doctor Mu as a gift."

    This gesture couldn't be considered anything but thoughtful.

    Most skilled physicians in the world were somewhat obsessed with rare medicinal herbs. Sending such a valuable Cistanche tubulosa would surely put a smile on even the grumpy Doctor Mu's face.

    "Brother is quite concerned about Mother Zhang," Shen Yizhen said with a smile. "Mother Zhang is Zhaozhao's wet nurse. I thank you on her behalf for caring so much about her. However, you learned of the pirates attacking Yangzhou before me yet didn't immediately return to protect Zhaozhao. You left her alone in Shen Yuan—weren't you afraid something might happen to her?"

    Shen Yizhen was far away in the capital when she received the news, and the waterways were already closed, forcing her to travel by land.

    In contrast, Shen Zhi was still on his way to Fu Jian at that time. If he had wanted to, he could have asked the boatman to turn back and reach Yangzhou within half a month.

    Yet he didn't. He continued his journey to Fu Jian and only returned to Yangzhou two days ahead of her.

    When Shen Yizhen spoke, her voice was as cold as ice, and disappointment was evident on her face.

    Upon hearing this, not only did Shen Zhi freeze, but even Rong Shu was taken aback.

    When the incident in Yangzhou occurred, she had never placed her hopes on Shen Zhi. Hence, whether or not he came back, it didn't matter to Rong Shu.

    On the day Shen Zhi returned to Yangzhou, upon learning that she almost got kidnapped by pirates, he merely offered some casual comfort, which was not even comparable to how he endured his discomfort today while showing concern for his mother.

    Rong Shu had to admit that in the past, she had harbored a certain level of admiration towards Shen Zhi, always subconsciously remembering his kindness and never blaming him.

    Thinking back now, during those years in Yangzhou, Shen Zhi would often leave her alone in Shen Yuan and only share stories of the outside world with her when he returned from business trips or had leisure time at home. Occasionally, he would spend a day or two accompanying her to pick flowers or play in the snow.

    Rong Shu had received too little affection since childhood. So little that any bit of kindness shown to her would be cherished deeply in her heart for a long time. She remembered the joyous moments spent with Shen Zhi during those brief intervals, rather than the endless loneliness she experienced when she was alone in Shen Yuan.

    With her mother's words today, Rong Shu finally realized that her uncle had never been as good to her as she had imagined. In truth, Shen Zhi treated her even less favorably than Mama Zhang, let alone compared to Uncle Shi Yi, Aunt Guo, and Grandma.

    "Zhen Niang is right. I haven't been a good uncle. No wonder Zhen Niang blames me," Shen Zhi said after a momentary pause, pouring himself a cup of wine and smiling warmly. "Uncle will punish himself with this drink. If something like this happens again, I promise to rush back immediately to protect Zhaozhao."

    Rong Shu lifted her gaze, her clear and pristine eyes reflecting no emotion.

    She gazed at Shen Zhi's pale, somewhat uneasy face and smiled faintly without responding.

    The autumn air was cool like water, and the scent of osmanthus flowers permeated the breeze.

    The array of exquisite dishes on the table was untouched, removed by the servants as Rong Shu gently walked hand in hand with Shen Yizhen along the cobblestone path.

    The rooftops, bathed in moonlight, shimmered with a frosty glow, a tender embrace unique to autumn nights.

    Since Shen Yizhen's arrival, Rong Shu found that the looming sword above her head seemed to have vanished, and the urgent anxiety in her heart was soothed by this gentle night.

    After extinguishing the lights, Rong Shu nestled with her mother on the bed, whispering secrets.

    "Mother, aren't you afraid that Zhaozhao might be wrong?" Rong Shu leaned against Shen Yizhen's shoulder, her voice soft. "What if Zhaozhao is mistaken about Father and the Cheng'an Marquis Estate?"

    "I wouldn't want your uncle to remain the head of the Shen family even if he is right," Shen Yizhen replied. "When the pirates attacked Yangzhou, if he truly remembered the Shen family's teachings, he should have immediately returned to defend the city alongside its people. As for the salt, as long as he has the salt permit, he can collect it anytime. His insistence on going to Fu Jian for the salt either means there are ulterior motives, as you've suggested, or that he has been blinded by greed and forgotten his commitment as a member of the Shen family."

    "As for the Cheng'an Marquis Estate, there's no need to elaborate. When news of Yangzhou's predicament reached the capital, only your elder brother and your second sister sent someone to inquire at the Minglu Yard," Shen Yizhen said with a mild tone. "Your father and grandmother were unaware that you were in Yangzhou. When I set off for Yangzhou, I had yet to receive the letter from Uncle Shi Yi assuring me of your safety. Throughout the journey, I constantly pondered how I would cope if anything unexpected happened to you."

    Rong Shu's eyes brimmed with moisture.

    "My Zhaozhao doesn't like the Cheng'an Marquis Estate or the capital. Then let's leave. Anyway, I've grown tired of staying in the capital," Shen Yizhen said with a smile. "Nijing has already arranged for the permits for the horse ranch on your behalf. Cousin Chen's nephew has taken people to select land and buy young horses. Perhaps by next spring, we can head to Da Tong."

    Rong Shu softly acknowledged this, smiling through her tears. "When that time comes, with lush grass and fat horses, it will be so pleasant."

    The autumn wind whistled, swirling around the windows and gently brushing past them. The voices inside the room gradually quieted.

    On the sixteenth day of September, a passenger ship bearing the emblem of the Shen family anchored quietly at the ferry dock.

    The river breeze howled, reddening Rong Shu's eyes.

    Seeing her like this, Shen Yizhen teased her. "In no more than three months, Mother will return to the capital. Hurry in, don't keep others waiting too long."

    By "others," Shen Yizhen meant Gu Changjin, Chang Ji, and Heng Ping.

    They had disguised themselves as crew members on the passenger ship and accompanied Rong Shu on her journey back.


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