The horse and carriage flew speedily as it continued travelling forwards, causing the carriage to bump along uncomfortably.
Ju Mu’er and Su Qing tightly held onto each other as they tried to shrink against one small corner of the carriage, not even daring to breathe too loudly. This was because they were not alone in the carriage, there was a man together with them.
The leader of these kidnapper-thugs was seated right across from them. His entire face was covered in facial hair, obstructing them from getting a clear view of his appearance, but those thick eyebrows and glaring eyes were extremely ferocious and all the more intimidating. There was a dagger in his hand, one he used to threaten the two young ladies with, forcing them to remain quiet. For the entirety of their journey, both Ju Mu’er and Su Qing had no courage to utter even a single syllable.
The carriage was not spacious, so with two young ladies and a large man squeezed together, it had begun to feel quite cramped. Furthermore, the leader thug seemed to continuously emanate some sort of devilish aura from his eyes, his obscene manner and infrequent mutterings of disgusting things were more than enough to scare the two young ladies till they trembled like leaves in the wind.
Su Qing steadfastly kept Ju Mu’er in her arms, and with her back faced against the bandit, she kept Ju Mu’er hidden from his wandering eyes. While she did this, Ju Mu’er took the opportunity to secretly write some words in her hand: (Remember the way).
Su Qing earnestly tried to calm herself, then she replied by trying to squeeze Ju Mu’er’s hand, showing that she understood the message.
The carriage was simple, and there were cracks between the wallboards of the carriage interior, Su Qing continued to hug Ju Mu’er as they were, and it just so happened that her eyes could see the surroundings outside the carriage that were directly ahead.
Su Qing kept her focus as she surveyed the passing scenery, she had to know where they were being brought to! If they were lucky, perhaps they might be able to find a chance to escape!
The carriage continued to move for about another hour, and after a few turns, then began to climb up the mountain.
The mountain trail was rough, and after just a little more movement, the carriage was forced to come to a stop, it seemed to be impossible to continue onwards. The bandits roughly forced the door open, and then reached in to drag Su Qing out and down from the carriage.
Su Qing and Ju Mu’er both burst into shrill screams, the two of them tugging onto each other, reluctant to let the other go. Finally, the two of them were dragged down onto the ground outside the carriage.
All the kidnapper-bandits quickly jumped off the carriage, and three of them began leading away the horses towards the forest. Su Qing kept watch, and inside her heart she guessed that this was probably where they kept their horses.
Just then, the carriage turned direction, and went down the mountain. The kidnapper-bandits forcibly pulled Ju Mu’er to her feet, and Su Qing hastily scrambled to get on her own feet, grabbing Ju Mu’er so she was back in her arms again.
The leader sent a chilling glare towards Su Qing, then, with a somewhat sinister smile, he released Ju Mu’er. Then, he loudly called out, “Brothers, let’s go.”
The burly men then separated into two groups, and with the two young ladies sandwiched between them, the whole group began moving up the mountain.
As Ju Mu’er was blind, her walking speed was extremely slow, and her feet were continuously tripping over pebbles or stones on the path. The bandits walking behind her would huff at her, and from time to time try to shove her forward.
She bit her lip as she struggled to keep moving, her bamboo staff tightly gripped in her hand. She didn’t dare to let go of it, she was fearful that if she accidentally dropped it, then it was highly unlikely that those men would be so kind as to pick it back up for her.
Su Qing lent her an arm to support her, and with great determination and caution, continued to memorise where they were going as they walked.
After about half a day’s worth of walking, they finally made it to the depths of the forest. The bandits pulled aside the thick branches of some shorter trees, and soon, a few dusty-looking houses came into view.
Alas, Ju Mu’er could not see any of this, and could only anchor her attention on listening to the sounds of the footsteps of others. Yet as Su Qing’s gaze swept over the houses, her heart was filled with despair. It was such a concealed place, how could those people coming to save them easily find it?!
Ju MU’er and Su Qing were soon forced into the houses by the bandits. At the very same time, Long Er was stepping out of the Ding Residence.
As soon as he exited, he silently sent a look towards the alleyway across from the residence. Then, under the watchful gaze of the servants of the Ding Residence, he got on his horse and rode away.
Inside the Ding Residence, Ding Sheng’s face was black as thunder, his anger palpable, while Ding Yanshan was sobbing into her hands.
Abruptly, Ding Sheng cursed loudly, “What are you crying about, what a bunch of useless people!”
"How can he slander me like this, why would I do such a thing, how can he look at me like this."Ding Yanshan felt both sad and angry at the thought of this.
Ding Sheng was already angry from the humiliation he experienced by Long Er's barging in through their door, and the fact that his daughter was currently crying and making a fuss only added to his anger, causing him to angrily reprimand her, "Of course you couldn't do such a thing, you don't have the brains for it, stupid girl! What's the point of birthing you all? The only thing you guys know is how to cause trouble for me."
His angry roar shocked Ding Yanshan and she instinctively looked up at Ding Sheng. Ding Sheng continued to scold her, "Go back to your room and don't bother me here."
Ding Yanshan bit her lip in frustration, she didn't dare to continue loudly crying here, and gritting her teeth, she turned and ran back to her room with tears.
At this time, a servant came in and softly informed Ding Sheng, "Master Long Er came here on his own, he also left by himself. No one else was with him."
Ding Sheng paced back and forth a few steps, seemingly deep in thought, then he nodded and waved to dismiss the servant.
After Long Er left the Ding Residence, then without stopping he went directly to the Yun Residence.
On the corner of the street next to the Yun Residence, two small vendors were loudly yelling to attract customers to buy and sell from their stalls. As he passed by, something flashed across Long Er's eyes, even as the vendor raised the item in his hand up high, Long Er didn't even glance sideways. Without sparing them a second glance, he headed straight towards the entrance of the Yun Residence.
Yun Qingxian had just received word that Ju Mu'er had been kidnapped by the bandits, currently he was informing Ding Yanxiang that he was going out, he planned on bringing some men with him to go look for Ju Mu'er. At this time, he suddenly heard the door guards come in to report that Master Long Er was here. Yun Qingxian frowned, hesitating but a moment to think before he asked the servant to lead him in.
The minute Long Er entered, Yun Qingxian didn't waste any time on pleasantries, and hastily said, "Is Second Master here because of the kidnapping of Young Lady Ju? I just received the news, and was about to mobilize a group of people to help with the search. "
Long Er too didn't bother trying to be polite and asked directly, "Do you know where she is?"
Long Er's tone had a hint of reprimand in it, and this caused Yun Qingxian to pause in confusion, immediately he felt a sense of displeasure at this, and coldly replied, "I have yet to lead my people to go search for her, so naturally I have no idea where she is."
Long Er's face remained stony as he continued to ask, "Do you know of any leads? Where are you planning on searching, Lord Yun?" His snide tone was truly unpleasant to listen to.
"Master Long Er!" Yun Qingxian also had a surly expression, "Master Long Er, judging by what you just said, are you accusing me of being involved in this?"
"Lord Yun has handled a lot of cases in the past, so naturally you must know this. Anyone who commits a crime must have a motive. From my point of view, Lord Yun must have been greatly humiliated by Mu'er's rejection of marriage. It's a perfectly reasonable guess to think that the incident might have caused you so much embarrassment that rage blossomed within you and you tasked someone with kidnapping Mu'er as payback, what say you, Lord Yun? "
This was basically insinuating that he was the culprit behind everything! Yun Qingxian's face sank, and didn't reply immediately. However, for Ding Yanxiang who was standing beside them, she couldn't help it anymore, said angrily: "Don't venomously slander others! My husband would never do such things. How can you just barge in here and act as you like without any solid evidence, Second Master?"
"He wouldn't do such thing, then what about you?" Long Er turned his head, looked at Ding Yanxiang coldly, and turned the flames of his wrath towards her, "On the day you forced Mu'er into marriage on behalf of Lord Yun, did you not threaten her with her own safety and the safety of her family members? Then, when you failed to force her into marriage, you instructed those two matchmakers to use that ploy of 'stealing' a marriage, but that too failed, you have long since hated her for all this haven't you? Now that Mu'er has been kidnapped, perhaps it is because you are merely putting your plan into action, the very threats that you warned her about on that day, am I correct?"
Ding Yanxiang was so frustrated by this accusation that her face seemed to turn green, but Long Er had mentioned the her past scandalous actions, and somehow she had no idea how to refute them.
On the contrary, Yun Qingxian had already not seen eye to eye with Long Er, and add that to the fact that he harboured an intense hatred for how Long Er had won over Ju Mu'er, now that he was at their doorstep and spewing such nonsense, truly made Yun Qingxian yearn to draw his sword and challenge him.
He clenched his fists, took a few deep breaths, and finally succeeded in smothering his anger, then ended the confrontation by guturally shouting at Long Er, "Get out!"
Long Er was hardly ruffled by this, and he didn't panic. He merely looked at both faces of this husband and wife duo, and sneered, "This time, it's my turn to say to you, wait and see!"
With that, Long Er turned around and exited the Yun Residence.
Inside the Yun Residence, Ding Yanxiang had covered her face and begun to weep as she said, "Husband of mine, it's all my fault... I'm the one who did something stupid, if I hadn't been so carried away that day and visited the Ju Family, then I wouldn't have caused you to experience being verbally abused by someone within your own home today. ..."
Yun Qingxian gritted his teeth, then after a long pause, let out a sigh. He impatiently waved a hand in reply, "Forget it, it's nothing, what's the use of saying this now?"
Ding Yanxiang was in tears, but did not dare to speak any more.
Yun Qingxian glanced at her a few times, and finally gave in to pitying her. He reached out his hand to wipe her tears, and said, "I'll be going then."As soon as he said this, he turned around and left.
Ding Yanxiang watched as his silhouette moved further and further away from her, and gritted her teeth at the sight.
After Long Er left the Yun Residence he went back to the government office again.
Steward Tie was currently asking around for information there, and when he saw Long Er arrive, he hurried forward to report, "Second Master, the government's office has received a tip, it was mentioned that apart from Young Lady Ju, other girls have also been kidnapped outside the city today. However, the location and direction are completely different, Young Lady Ju was seen heading to the east while the other girls seemed to be heading west. Those bandits were even loudly clamoring that they were entering the city with the sole purpose of looking for some young ladies. His lordship the magistrate has already ordered for an all-out investigation and has also instructed for the police presence within the city to be strengthened. All infromation on previous cases that involved bandits as well as their locations has alerady been collected, but his Lordship mentioned those cases have already been closed, the bandits' nests have also been wiped out and he thinks the infromation won't be much of a help. As for the cases that are still unsolved, their locations have yet to be confirmed."
The expression on Long Er's face was hard to make out, and after a moment of silence, he nodded his head. Then, he walked into the government's office to greet the magistrate Qiu Ruoming, personally pressuring him to promise that he would use all his assets to assist in the search for Ju Mu'er.
As a result of the previous case of Zhu Fu, Qiu Ruoming had a very deep impression of Ju Mu'er, and he immediately promised that because of Young Lady Ju's help the last time, he had been able to catch the real murdered, and he had been very grateful for this. As such, today he was more than willing to go all out to help find any leads on where she might be, and help rescue her.
After Long Er carefully discussed all the details and made proper arrangements with Qiu Ruoming , he took his leave and returned to his residence.
Steward Tie could see how expressionless he was throughout the journey home, it almost seemed as if his soul had left his body, and this made Steward Tie extremely worried. He had witnessed the growing up of all the Long Family brothers, and Long Er had been the most shrewd of the three, plus the one whose personality had been the hardest to read. He could smile when he felt angry, coldly stare at you when his temper flew, even ridicule and mockery were common things to see, but to see him like this now, without even the faintest glimmer of expression, this was rare indeed to see on Long Er.
Steward Tie thought to himself, Poor Second Master, it took so long for even a hint of his marrying someone to appear, but who would have expected that it would be filled with so many twists and turns? Having to face such a thing, if Young Lady Ju was unlucky, she might end up fatally losing her life, even if she did get lucky, then it was highly likely that she might fail to protect her innocence. The rumors that were being passed around outside were extremely unpleasant, and even if they were able to rescue Young Lady Ju, who knows what state she would be in? And what would happen to her plans for marriage?
Long Er got off his horse and walked into the house. Steward Tie followed him, silently suffering as he racked his head to think of ways to comfort him. At first Long Er calmly continued to walk, then he suddenly turned around and said, "Nothing will happen to her."
Steward Tie was taken aback for a moment, his mouth falling wide open as he struggled to respond.
Long Er's face looked woodenly stiff, but he continued to explain, "She will wait until I can go and save her, so nothing will definitely happen to her."
Steward Tie moved his mouth, wanting to say "yes", but at that moment, he felt like it truly was too hard for him to continue to coax Second Master even as his own conscience protested. For if reality greatly deviated from his master's expectations, he was afraid it would hurt Second Master even more.
Long Er continued to say, "She'll be fine, you don't know how smart she is, she will wait for me to go save her."
Looking at him like this, Steward Tie felt the corners of his eyes dampen, and his old tears were very close to being spilled. However, Long Er merely ignored him, turned around and walked away in a hurry.
Li Ke walked up to greet him and said, "I have already sent out people to scout ahead following the direction in which the kidnapper's carriage escaped, but there were too many forks in the road, so there currently isn't any good news."
"What about the situation in the Ding and Yun Residences?" Long Er asked. Seeing how he had literally kicked down the door to kick them a few times today, ordinarily speaking those people ought to have some form of reaction.
"Lord Yun went out, he headed to summon some people from the Ministry of Justice, then he had the men spread out, it seemed like they were looking for someone. Our informants also separated amongst themselves and followed them. There are still 2 people tracking Lord Yun. There was absolutely no change in the Ding Residence.
Long Er didn't speak, then after a while, he said, "Look for a chance to capture Ding Yanshan, and find a place to keep her. Since those bandits mentioned that they were entering the city for young ladies, then let's help them make it real. Regardless if this was the doing of people from the Ding Residence or the Yun Residence, once Ding Yanshan goes missing, let me see just how long they can keep this up."
Li Ke confirmed this command, and immediately got on his horse to head over to begin making the necessary arrangements.
Long Er sat down and stretched out his hand to Steward Tie, "Where are the case scrolls?"
Steward Tie hurriedly handed over the scroll, Long Er turned over one page after another, as he scanned their contents, he emotionlessly asked, "Is there any news from number three?" His subordinate standing by his side hurriedly answered that he hadn't.
Long Er asked again, "What about the informants stationed at the pleasure house, have they been given clear instructions? These type of bandits like to show off and brag, maybe the ladies at the pleasure house might have some leads, don't forget to ask around the prostitutes working at the dark inns too."One of his subordinates standing beside him answered that arrangements had already been made, but that they had yet to receive any news.
When he heard this, Long Er fell into a short daze, before lowering his head to continue reading through the case scrolls. Steward Tie watched as his movements were stiff, and he let out a sigh inside his heart, hastily turning to instruct one of the manservants to serve Long Er a fresh pot of hot tea. As for himself, he was in a hurry to go and re-arrange the plan for their search.
After he finished reading the case scrolls, he drew out a map of the Capital and carefully perused it. Just then, an informant rushed back, loudly reporting, "Second Master, Young Lady Ding has been kidnapped!"
Long Er's eyes sharply snapped upwards, "By who?"
"Two commoner men dressed up as porters." Replied the informant, before he continued, "We had just finished preparing and were waiting for an opportunity to sneak into the Ding Residence. But then, we saw Young Lady Ding run out through the rear entrance. She didn't seem to have any maidservants with her and was in a state of fitful weeping, judging from the direction she was walking in, it seemed like she was heading to the Yun Residence. We were just about to make a move, when two large men whipped by us in a carriage. They caught sight of Young Lady Ding, knocked her out then dumped her into a sack before throwing her onto their carriage. Then they turned the carriage around, exiting through the city's East Gate, heading straight for the outside."
"Did you guys manage to tail them?"
"Yes we did."The informant nodded his head, "Don't worry Second Master, my brothers are discreet, they know the importance of this and won't let them get away. They were headed east, Master Li is personally leading them and I came back to report this to Second Master."
Long Er nodded his head at this and lowered his head to continue staring at the map.
His large palm heavily slammed down on the section of the map that covered the outskirts of the city in the East.
End of Chapter
A/N: I've been a bit busy lately and I've had to consider how to edit the chapters as well as think about plot development. Due to lack of time I haven't been able to reply to all the comments, I apologise, but I really do read them all. During these few chapters, quite a number of you have been pushing for them to get married already, so I'm just going to answer this question here.
Actually, in the stories I usually write, the plot moves quite fast, and if I've set things and have yet to reach them I tend to get a bit anxious, but this is also another reason why I can end up writing chapters badly. Just like how I included the clue a bit early in one of the previous chapters. If I include it too early, then the reactions of my characters feels wrong, and the development of things will be affected, which is why I re-edited these chapters.
And although everyone seems really anxious to witness them getting married, on my part I think it's not only about them getting married as an end result, but that you all must want to see progress made between the two of them. I really understand you all, because I feel the same way. However, if the plot points I planned out aren't completed, then the personal development of the characters cannot be achieved, and even if they just get married it won't do if they can't continue to develop as a couple together ah. These few chapters are actually planned with resolving Ju Mu'er in mind, resolving her development of feelings towards Long Er to be exact. From their first meeting to the the first time being married to him, there needs to be something she has to experience that can pave the way for later developments. Not to mention this also includes other important characters, and with the effect of past and present, then only can the "three marriages" seem logical.
And regarding Ju Mu'er, in handling some of the details previously, like her dialogue, I feel like I was a bit lacking, so for the later parts I plan to take my time in pondering over them and editing them, because I really hope I can write this story well. Finally, I really hope they everyone can be patient with me, she will definitely be married to him, and thanks for all your support!
Also, if you guys have any ideas you want to suggest, I'm not afraid of slapping bricks, if I can discuss good plot points with everyone, that would be great.