Chapter 535 Madam Ming’s Former Residence
Ning Yuling was feeling smug as she took a carriage to the Lord Protector’s Manor with her maid.
Of course, the manor wouldn’t have invited a mere concubine like her, but she was Ning Huaiyuan’s biological sister, and the manor didn’t say that it would kick her out of the family records. Even if Madam Dowager wasn’t happy with her attending the ancestral ceremony, she wouldn’t say anything in front of everyone. On the surface, at least, she was still a lady of the Lord Protector’s Manor.
Moreover, she had someone backing her up now. When she left her manor earlier, a man dressed as a guard respectfully saluted her by the road. She immediately relaxed. With a guard who knew martial arts, there were no other possibilities for what she was about to do next.
Today would be the day of Ning Xueyan’s ruin.
She returned to the Lord Protector’s Manor in high spirits. Even if the guards at the gate weren’t enthusiastic about her return and Madam Dowager didn’t send anyone to pick her up, she didn’t care. She went straight to the Qingrong Courtyard. Her courtyard had remained the same as there weren’t new people in the manor. Although it was dusty from neglect, it was still a livable space with a little cleaning.
She brought two maids with her this time; one of them an actual maid and the other not. The guard had followed her into the manor disguised as a maid. Fortunately, the guard at the gate didn’t seem to approve of her, once the Second Young Lady of the manor. He had merely looked at her for a little while before letting her in. It was the day of the ancestral ceremony, so he dared not to let Ning Yuling in.
Even an infamously vicious woman like Madam Ling was allowed to return. A lady who willingly accepted a depraved life like her didn’t seem so unforgivable by comparison.
When Ning Yuling arrived, Madam Ling was at the Qingrong Courtyard. She was no longer the First Madam of the manor, so naturally, she couldn’t live in the Auspicious Clouds Courtyard anymore. Madam Dowager had only taken her back in out of consideration for Ning Huaiyuan; either way, Madam Ling would be sent away in the future. The servants at the manor knew that Madam Ling had little future left, so they left her aside without arranging accommodation for her. Having nowhere to go, Madam Ling ended up at Ning Yuling’s Qingrong Courtyard.
“You’re early, Mother. Why didn’t you go in and have a seat?” Ning Yuling’s eyes gleamed when she found Madam Ling already there. She then affectionately helped Madam Ling into the house while instructing her maid, “Go and see if the kitchen has any water. Bring a pot of water back and clean the teacups as well. Make a pot of tea from the tea leaves she brought.”
“Yes,” her maid answered from behind her and stepped away.
The guard disguised as a maid stood behind Ning Yuling with his head lowered. The three of them entered the house together.
No one had lived in the house for such a long time that there was indeed dust everywhere. Not caring if it was dirty, Ning Yuling picked up a nearby rag and wiped a stool clean before graciously helping Madam Ling sit down.
Something flickered in Madam Ling’s gloomy, dull eyes and they regained some of their former lusters. The rim of her eyes turned red as she watched Ning Yuling’s well-practiced movements. “Ling’er, how have you been doing?”
She knew her daughter best. How could a once-spoiled girl do something like this, and be so proficient at it too?
“It’s all right, Mother. I became a concubine when I got married and all this hard work is inevitable. I wasn’t able to recognize people for who they are and didn’t listen to you, Mother. This outcome is my punishment. It’s just that Elder Sister…” Ning Yuling’s eyes started turning red as she spoke. “She got married as the official wife… but they treated her so badly and demoted her… making her a concubine.”
Ning Yuling wiped her eyes with a handkerchief as she spoke, looking as if she was too sad to continue.
“It’s that bitch’s fault,” Madam Ling said resentfully. Concubine? Had she known earlier, she would have been more ruthless. Things wouldn’t have turned out like this had she poisoned that bitch to death. “Don’t worry, Ling’er. Even if it means death, I swear I’ll kill that bitch.”
She gritted her teeth and her ashen face appeared malevolent.
“I understand, Mother. Eldest Brother still needs your help. You can’t afford to make any mistakes now. Look, I prepared this for you. With him around, dealing with that sickly Ning Xueyan would be as easy as pie.” Ning Yuling wiped away her non-existent tears and pointed to the guard disguised as a maid behind her with a sad expression.
The guard stepped forward and saluted them.
“A man?” Madam Ling asked hesitantly, sizing the man up.
“Yes. He’s a guard that Eldest Brother sent. You can use him with ease.” She had to push the responsibility to Ning Huaiyuan, for she couldn’t explain how a concubine like her would have a guard.
“All right. Let’s do it then.” Madam Ling gnashed her teeth as she made up her mind. For the sake of her son and daughters, she must kill Ning Xueyan. Otherwise, her children would never have a future. They had already lost the position of the heir and the first wife of a manor. All of her children were suffering all because of the bitch that Madam Ming gave birth to.
The words that Ning Yuling said at the mountain temple that day strangely overlapped with her words now, causing Madam Ling to be short of breath. What little hesitation that she had was now gone. She looked at Ning Yuling and felt a deep ache in her heart.
She had spoiled her daughters for more than ten years. One of them suffered a terrible fate, while the son that she had the highest hopes for lost a good background. It was as if a demon was dancing in the cusp of her heart and clamoring. This was all that bitch, Ning Xueyan’s fault. Her children would only be able to get ahead if that bitch died.
This was for her children’s sake. Even if it meant putting her life on the line, she swore she would kill that bitch.
A myriad of thoughts overwhelmed her, making her expression look increasingly malicious. Ning Yuling watched this all quietly. She motioned to the guard on the side, who nodded silently in return.
When Ning Xueyan arrived at the Lord Protector’s Manor, the first place she visited was the Lucky Garden. Madam Dowager was surprised that she came so early, and upon questioning, learned that Ning Xueyan came back early because she was feeling unwell. So, Madam Dowager told her to get some rest at the Bright Frost Garden before the announcement of the Imperial Examination Ranking and the start of the ancestral ceremony.
No one knew if Ning Huaiyuan managed to make the ranking, so they kept the ancestral ceremony between the family members and didn’t invite other relatives. It was a small ceremony, so there weren’t outsiders around.
After returning to the Bright Frost Garden, Xinmei went out and came back shortly. She whispered a few words to Ning Xueyan, who nodded.
The matter had been handled, so all she had to do was wait for Ning Yuling.
“Fifth Young Lady is already home?” Ning Yuling looked at the maid fetching water in surprise and stood up abruptly.
“Yes. The kitchen is preparing pastries for the Bright Frost Garden, saying that the Fifth Young Lady is unwell and has returned early. She’s currently resting in the Bright Frost Garden. The Third Young Lady is still waiting for the ranking to be announced,” the maid replied.
That meant Ning Xueyan was the only one at home and Ning Qingshan wouldn’t be getting in the way. This made Ning Yuling feel even more confident that her plan would work. Although Ning Qingshan was adopted under her mother’s name, Ning Yuling had always been wary about her. It would be best not to be in contact with her.
Ning Qingshan was incredibly shrewd; she might just cause some trouble in the middle of her plan.
So excited that she spun around in place twice, Ning Yuling asked, “Mother, where did Mother Chen go?” Mother Chen was a key figure in her plan. Her presence was vital.
“I told her to check on the situation over there. She’ll be back soon.” The light in Madam Ling’s eyes flickered twice.
“Mother, why don’t we go over now? Ning Qingshan isn’t here. As long as everyone in the manor takes our side, no one will say anything even if Ning Xueyan dies. She can’t blame anyone for her carelessness. I’ll say that you’ve been with me all along. There’s no one around anyway. If I say you’re here, then you’re here.”
Ning Yuling said excitedly.
“All right. Let’s strike while the iron is hot. I’ll go out and find Mother Chen now.” Moved by her daughter’s suggestion, Madam Ling stood up and nodded. She would put everything on the line to make use of this chance and kill that bitch as soon as possible.
Xinmei looked at the unfamiliar-looking maid in front of her and frowned. “Are you here for our Master?”
“Yes. I heard that they found some of Madam Ming’s things that they have never seen before. Madam Dowager wants Consort Ning to see if those things are important,” the maid replied wittily.
“All right then. My Master and I will go over and inspect the things right away,” Xinmei said, nodding. Since they had discovered Madam Ming’s things, they had every reason to check it out.
“Should I show you the way?” The maid looked like she wanted to get on Xinmei’s good side.
“It’s fine. I know the way. Go back and tell Madam Dowager our answer.” Xinmei shook her head.
This was within expectation. As a former maid at the Lord Protector’s Manor, it was only natural for Xinmei to know the way. Moreover, Ning Xueyan’s relationship with Madam Dowager had indeed soured. If the maid were to lead the way, they wouldn’t be able to have an honest conversation.
The maid nodded, a joyful expression flitting across her face. She was able to earn ten taels of silver just by passing on such a message. She had requested leave from Madam Dowager to handle a family problem. She returned to her room and left with a bag of clothes. It would be at least half a month before she would return. Whatever happened during that time was none of her business.
She had just turned around, ready to walk, when a sharp pain stabbed the back of her head. Her vision turned black and she fell unconscious.
When Madam Ming first got married, she stayed in the main residence. Out of all the inner courtyards, it wasn’t a place where the Bright Frost Garden could ever hope to compare. But ever since Madam Ming requested a divorce, that residence didn’t go to Madam Ling either. It remained empty for more than ten years, perfectly fine until it was abruptly burned down one day.
With most of the bricks and gravel cleared, all that was left was a large vacant lot and a few courtyard walls that had escaped the fire.
Looking in from the outside, one couldn’t tell that there were still things inside the residence.
The door creaked when it was pushed open. Ning Xueyan entered the residence with Xinmei in tow. In the empty courtyard that had been scorched black in the fire, a particular well appeared particularly conspicuous. People used to draw water from this well. Now, there were only some collapsed rocks around it. Even the mouth of the well was incomplete.
Perhaps people had accidentally ruined the platform in their hurry to draw water and extinguish the fire back then.
Ning Xueyan once came here with Ao Chenyi. Back then, the courtyard was old but decent. It wasn’t at all like its current ruined state.
Ning Xueyan picked up the hem of her skirt and jumped over a few of the scattered rocks on the ground. Subconsciously, she walked toward the well. Everything in this courtyard was evident at first glance. There was nothing here except for collapsed rock next to the well platform. On the rock were a few dark, shiny things. From a distance, she couldn’t make out what they were…