The door opened with a "creak".
All of a sudden, the movements of the wobbling chair came to a standstill.
Su Qing snuck a peek out of the corner of her eye, and couldn't help a rush of sudden nervousness, so much so that her heart nearly stopped dead. She didn't dare to continue looking, for she was fearful she might catch the attention of those bandits and that those men might end up noticing that they had moved the chair somewhere under the window. She was paranoid about the bandits growing suspicious of their actions, and that said individuals might discover that they had already successfully pried open the window. Either way, she didn't even dare to breathe audibly.
The one who opened the door was a bandit of small stature, he looked around the room, instantly noticing how obediently the three young ladies were as they sat on the bed. Immediately after, he closed the door behind him again and had it locked.
The three young ladies remained frozen in place for a quite a while before they dared to move. Su Qing lightly ran to the door, trying to listen to what was happening before running back and whispering, "It's alright, let's continue, but first let me have a look at the real situation outside."
Ding Yanshan nodded her head, reprising her role as she stood watch and listened through the door, just like she did before this. Su Qing led Ju Mu'er over to where the chair was, guiding her so she could help hold the chair in place, then Su Qing got onto the chair herself.
She carefully peeked through the window, just above the windowsill. She made sure to confirm that there was no one outside before lightly pushing open the window. Alas, the window didn't budge an inch. Su Qing was caught off guard by this, and after taking a closer look, she could see that the latch had been prised open, but why was the window still unable to be opened?
She tried to calm her nerves, and exerted more force on her second try. Yet, she still couldn't push open the window. She jolted in shock, but pulled herself together, added pressure and tried again.
Alas, the window still didn't budge.
From behind the door, Ding Yanshan was filled with anxiety, so she ran over to them and asked, "What's the matter?"
"It can't be opened, but I've already opened the latch." Su Qing was so anxious, she had begun to perspire.
"Is anywhere else also latched?" Ju Mu'er hastily asked.
"No ah." Su Qing replied as she continued to look over it, just as she raised her head to get a better look, she suddenly said, "Ai-ya, I think the top is also latched." She had only just managed to release the bottom latch, yet there appeared to be one more on the top.
Su Qing wasn't tall enough to reach the top of the window pane, and she still couldn't reach it even if she stood on her tiptoes.
Ding Yanshan anxiously blurted out, "Shorty, get down, let me do it." As she said this, she forcefully yanked Su Qing down.
Su Qing was hardly ready to give in to her demands, and muttered, "I'm only 14, when I reach your age, I'll definitely be able to reach your height."
Ding Yanshan merely ignored her, snatching the hairpin from her and positioned herself on the chair, preparing to go and prise open that wooden latch. Upon seeing this, Su Qing knew that she knew what to do, so she hurriedly ran over to the door, listening through it to keep alert about what was happening outside.
After quite some time, with an increasingly numb arm, Ding Yanshan ultimately succeeded in prising open the wooden latch. She struggled against her instinct to cry out in joy, opting to whisper, "I've done it, I've done it."
Su Qing rushed over to her, "Don't be impatient about opening it, remember to check and see is there anyone outside?"
Ding Yanshan peeked through the tiny crack in the window, then shook her head and replied, "Nope."
Su Qing added, "Let me have a look."
A moment's thought had Ding Yanshan realizing that this was quite a terrifying thing to do, so she promptly jumped down from the chair, allowing Su Qing to climb up onto it.
Su Qing cautiously opened the window, and leaning her head out slightly, began to look around. Then, she gently pulled it shut again, and jumped down from the chair.
"I think we can escape." Her voice was soft and filled with excitement, "Although this window is a little tall, but it's all muddy earth beneath it. As long as we can control ourselves from shouting when we jump, we shouldn't make too much commotion. Since the forest is quite near, after we have escaped, we can run into the forest in a quick amount of time. As long as we get into the forest, it will be very easy to hide our tracks."
"What does the sky look like now?" Ju Mu'er asked.
"The sun is headed west." Su Qing replied.
"Then, now is the right time, you two hurry up and go! They've just come round to check on us, so they probably won't be back too soon. Right now they're most likely full on wine and food, so it's a time when their defenses are relaxed. The both of you need to leave now, before it gets dark, that way you'll still have a chance at escaping from this forest."
"Elder Sister, what about you?" Su Qing was quite miffed at Ju Mu'er's repeated use of 'you two'. "Elder sister, if you're not leaving, then I don't want to either."
"Nonsense, you have to leave!" Ju Mu'er's tone grew serious, "If I follow you two, apart from being a burden to you both, and delaying your speed of escape, I have no other use at all. I was the one who got you into this mess, if anything happens to you, I'll never be able to forgive myself. Qing'er, you are the only person who knows the story of the bird, do you still remember what I told you?"
Su Qing's heart trembled when she heard this, but she still nodded her head and replied, "I do." She paused for a moment, seemingly on the verge of tears as she continued to say, "But I don't want to leave, I want to stay together with jiějie, I can protect you!"
"Silly girl, if you stay here, apart from waiting here like a sitting duck, what else can you do? If you manage to escape, then you can quickly get others to come help me, that would be the right thing to do."
"That's right, that's right!" Su Qing instantly seemed to be filled with motivation, "Right, I'll go and look for people who can come back and save jiějie."
"Mmm." Ju Mu'er forcefully nodded her head, "Jiějie will be here waiting for you."
Su Qing felt her eyes begin to well up, and she tumbled down to hug Ju Mu'er, "Jiějie, you have to hold on until I come back alright, I'll be as quick as I can."
Truth be told, Ju Mu'er was no less anxious than her right now, but she still forced herself to portray a calm, unnerved self, "Alright, we can't delay this anymore, both of you had better leave now."
Just then, Ding Yanshan who had been quietly watching them from the side this whole time, spoke up and asked, "How do we leave?"
"Follow me!" Su Qing was filled with vigor at the thought of being able to get rescuers for Ju Mu'er.
A slight frown appeared on Ding Yanshan's brow, she really did want to escape from here, but asking her to follow such a little lass, really didn't sit too well with her. Alas, before she could say anything, Ju Mu'er suddenly pulled Su Qing to one side and said, "Qing'er, you can't forget what I told you."
Su Qing bit down onto her lip, instantly remembering what she had told her about what she had to if Ju Mu'er died, that she would inherit all those qin-music scores and qins... She tossed her head and replied, "I'll make sure to get someone to come back and rescue you!"
"If you can't find me when you return, and these bandits are already gone, then you have to remember Qing'er, there is another clue they can follow. That is, in the horse carriage that we were transported in after being kidnapped, I wrote my name inside the carriage." As she said this, she lifted her hand, revealing her injured fingertips. These injuries had been self-inflicted, when she had used all her might to gouge out the floorboards of the carriage. With her own blood, she had written the characters in a corner of the carriage, all this had been in order to help leave a marker by which they could later identify the carriage.
"I understand, in that case, that carriage is evidence! If we follow that, we will be able to catch hold of those darned scoundrels!" Su Qing inhaled deeply, trying to fight her tears back. Right now, the carriage was far from important, being able to survive this was far more valuable. "Jiějie, I'll be going then."
"Take care, Qing'er. If I... Take care of my father for me." Ju Mu'er gripped Su Qing's hand tightly, then failing to control herself, she embraced the other. Perhaps, this would be the last time they ever embraced... Ju Mu'er forcefully bit down onto her own tongue, determined to keep her tears from falling. She wore a slight smile as she repeated herself, "Take care, Qing'er."
Su Qing gritted her teeth, "Just wait for me, I'll quickly bring people back for you." Then, she turned to Ding Yanshan and said, "Let's go."
Although in Ding Yanshan's opinion running away with this young girl was a gamble, but compared to waiting for certain death here, she was definitely far more willing to try escaping. She turned round to look at Ju Mu'er, thinking about how they were about to abandon a blind person like her here seemed merciless to her too, and she bit her lip. In the end, she didn't know what else to say, and merely said, "Then, we'll get going now."
"Take care, you must reach home safely." Ju Mu'er said to Ding Yanshan as she began to steady the chair.
Su Qing just about reached the window, then she turned and told Ding Yanshan, "Remember, when you jump down from her later, you mustn't make a sound, even if you break a leg, you had better hold it in. Once you land, don't stop for a moment, don't say anything either, just follow me and run towards the forest over there without stopping, do you understand?"
Ding Yanshan nodded her head. Su Qing peeked her head out to survey the surroundings before finally softly speaking to Ju Mu'er, "Jiějie, I'm leaving now, you have to wait for me alright."
"Alright." And with Ju Mu'er's murmur of assent, Su Qing forcibly vaulted herself over, and jumped out the window.
There was quite a hollow thud as she hit the ground, the sound of which was enough to make Ding Yanshan and Ju Mu'er hold their breath. Luckily, there was no other sound after it, so it ought to have been a successful landing. Thus, Ju Mu'er continued to hold the chair steady, as she tried to hurry the other on, "Young Lady Ding, you had better leave quickly too."
Ding Yanshan stepped onto the chair and began to climb up to the windowsill, just then, Ju Mu'er seemed to lose a little control and words burst out, "Young Lady Ding, if you could spare a moment to listen to a word or two from me, let me tell you, playing dumb might save your life."
Ding Yanshan was a bit puzzled by this sudden reminder, and before she could mull over it, with the thrust from her feet, she jumped out.
Inside the room, Ju Mu'er heard the sound of her landing as well, and soon the sounds of the duo running away could be heard too. And it was only then that the tension inside her heart slowly began to disappear.
Her legs gave out and she fell to the floor, landing on her rear.
The floor was icy-cold, bone-chillingly so. The chill began to slowly creep over her body, and burrowed its way deep into her heart. As the bitter frost continued to gather inside her, it seemed to unleash her own pent-up feelings of fear.
She was petrified, frightened out of her wits.
The silence, the solitude were more than enough to scare her.
Ju Mu'er had no idea how long she just sat there for, perhaps it had merely been an instant, or perhaps it had been a very long while. Either way, she eventually seemed to regain her focus. She knew that she couldn't just hopelessly wait in the face of certain death, until the last moment was upon her, she was adamant she would never give up.
She crawled to her feet, but she still couldn't feel where her bamboo staff was. This tested her nerves a little, and she began anxiously feeling about all around her, until she finally remembered that she had placed it on the bed when she had entered this place. She felt her way along the side of the bed and successfully found her bamboo staff.
With her bamboo staff in hand, her heart felt just a little more at ease. Yet, it was still useless, the bamboo staff wouldn't be able to save her. Ju Mu'er sat down on th edge of the bed. This room was extremely cold and it was getting colder by every minute. She was so cold, her body was involuntarily shivering. She didn't know what would happen to her, nor did she know if Su Qing and company would make it safely back into the city. She also had no idea when those bandits might suddenly come over and open the door to this room where she was.
Ju Mu'er's entire body trembled, she didn't dare to imagine what might happen after they opened this door, she couldn't bring herself to think of what she might be forced to experience, but she suddenly thought of Long Er. She instantly recalled his arrogance, remembered how worried he was about losing face, how petty he could be, and also how good he was to her...
What Ju Mu'er didn't know, was that at that very moment, Long Er was thinking of her too. He was thinking of her, but he was also beyond furious at the same time.
Li Ke and his men had failed in tailing them!
He had hurried over as fast as he could, yet the news awaiting him was this sort of bad news?!
Li Ke didn't even dare to lift his head, his heart was full of self-reproach. They had been tailing two of the bandits who had abducted Ding Yanshan, and had watched as they abandoned their carriage at the foot of the mountain, switching to riding their horses up the mountain. The men had been worried that following the bandits too closely might blow their cover, so they had kept a distance when following. They hadn't anticipated that the terrain of the mountain would be this complicated, and after following them for some time, in the blink of an eye, they had ended up losing them.
They had spent close to half a day looking around their current location, alas they could find nothing more of the bandits tracks.
Long Er was already so mad that he didn't even want to curse at anything anymore. The informants at the Fu Ling Temple had initially narrowed down the direction, and it happened to be the same direction as the one confirmed by Li Ke and his men. Not to mention other informants had reported that they had come across some suspicious horse carriages near by. Thus, all this led to Long Er's belief that this are was the most likely location for their hideout.
He had rushed all the way here, thinking that with Li Ke and the others tracking Ding Yanshan, there would definitely be some development, but who would have guessed that just as they reached the doorway, they ended up losing their way.
Long Er stared at the giant mountain in front of him, "How many men did you send out?"
"I separated all my brothers into 10 groups, with five in a group, and all of them have gone up to continue searching." reported Li Ke, all while keeping his head bowed. The men sweeping the mountain had yet to report any information back, so they probably had not found anything yet. Right before their eyes, it seemed like the sun was about to set, and that would make the search much more challenging.
"What about the horse carriages?" Long Er asked again.
"They're all held over there." Li Ke pointed somewhere, before continuing, "My brothers found three suspicious horse carriages within a few miles radius of here, and they seemed quite similar to the description provided by Bodyguard Chen and others, as well as the ones used to kidnap Young Lady Ding. My brothers made sure to have all those carriages held back, but the coachmen all swore that they only used them to transport goods from their farmer homes, and my brothers were unable to find out anything else."
Long Er woodenly spoke, "Go on then." As soon as he said this, without a glance at Li Ke, he focused solely on walking to where the horse carriages were.
Li Ke let out a breath of relief, and hastily made his way up the mountain, joining the search teams.
Long Er soon arrived at the place where all the horse carriages were gathered, and soon caught sight of the three horse carriages and the three coachmen. The carriages were more or less the same, and the coachmen all looked like farmhands. Long Er looked over each and every one of the carriages, they were extremely simple, merely wooden planks nailed together. The carriage was empty and nothing was stored inside.
Just looking at it like this, he couldn't really make anything out.
Long Er walked once around all three carriages, he was imagining in his mind that if Ju Mu'er had been thrown into one of these, where would she sit? If he had been one of the kidnappers, he would definitely force her into the innermost part of the carriage, preventing her from jumping off half-way or calling for help.
Then, once she was seated in the carriage, what would she do? She would have been extremely scared, not to mention she wouldn't have been able to see anything, so would she have just sat there?
Long Er leapt up onto one of the carriages, and walked to the innermost part. He didn't believe for a second that she wouldn't do anything, he knew she would definitely leave something behind. Leaving behind a clue that would confirm that this carriage had been the one to kidnap her.
Long Er spent practically half a day staring carefully at every inch of the first carriage, but he still didn't find anything. Thus, he jumped onto the second one, and threw out all the bags with torn rags and some random items. This was to facilitate his search, and yet he found nothing.
Long Er jumped up onto the third carriage. The third carriage had a layer of padding made up of torn rags, it seemed like it was used to cushion goods, and the buildup of friction had caused them to lose color. Long Er patiently continued to search through the carriage, and suddenly his entire body froze. Beneath the torn rags, there were two characters in a sort of deep dark red——Mu'er.
Long Er stared at those two characters, disbelief welling up from deep inside him. He blinked his eyes again, looked at the same spot, and it was still the same two characters.
In that very moment, Long Er couldn't tell what his own feelings were, if she had been like how he had imagined her as, she wouldn't idly wait by, she was so intelligent, she would definitely leave some sort of clue behind for him.
It's just, that dark red seemed to painfully pierce his eyes, and he had noticed that there was some dark red in the gaps between the planks, it must have been the place she had used to break the skin on her own fingers, allowing her to write with her own blood.
Long Er swung himself down from his horse, face expressionless as he asked, "Whose carriage is this?"
A coachman tentatively stepped forward, trembling like a leaf in the wind as he did so, "In reply to Master's question, it's this humble servant's."
"What did you use your carriage for today?"
"I just used it to transport some grain to the village, two times today."
"You were present for each trip then?"
"That's correct." It was quite plain to see that the coachman was extremely anxious.
Long Er nodded then walked towards him. He walked over to that coachman's side, coldly smiling at him, then he reached a hand out, and then as quick as a flash of lightning, his hand clamped around the other's throat. With one lift from his arm, he had the coachman pinned against the branch beside them.
Long Er let out a slight smile, a murderous aura emanated from his as he slowly enunciated, "You had best immediately tell me where you sent that blind girl to, otherwise I will strangle you to death right now, and I couldn't care less if you're a real farmer or a fake farmer."
The author has something to say: They're about to be reunited, hopefully you all won't be able to guess what it'll be like when they do
~End of Chapter~