The Eternal Sanctum - Chapter 15
The servants all trembled, struggling to keep themselves upright as they sent furtive looks towards each other. Observing such a sight, Wei Xuan released a cold breath before placing down the joss stick onto the table.
With a wave of his right hand, a ghoulish, blue-grey flame burst on the tip of the joss stick.
“The time for introspection has started,” the minister mused, surveying the kneeling servants.
Sitting in his chair, he then withdrew a book from his chest pocket, proceeding to read with great relish. The servants’ eyes riveted onto the joss stick, watching the unearthly fire slowly gnaw away at their lifeline.
However, the servants refused to capitulate, their hearts teetering between the magnitude of the minister’s influence and someone else.
The Eldest Young Master.
Other than Wei Xuan as the rightful head of the Wei Family, only one person could ever match him in influence and prowess, Wei Chang Feng. The First Madam’s first son, the legitimate future master of the Wei Family.
To summarize his achievements in a single sentence would be to call him one of Jiang’an’s Esteemed Young Scholars.
Mastering the Eight Strokes of Great Yong Calligraphy in six years, achieving consecutive wins in the younger generation’s annual debate for the fifth year in a row, accompanied by a swift speed in cultivation, having entered the third division of the Profound Enlightenment Realm at the tender age of eighteen. As a natural star envied by the citizens of Jiang’an, the servants in the Wei Household had acquiesced to his authority and presence with great ease.
The pagoda of the Eldest Young Master had already taken root in these servants, displaying equal influence as the minister himself.
They were confused as to why Wei Xuan was suddenly displaying such rage and coldness to them after three years of a warm relationship of master and servant.
After all, all they had done was to introduce a few young and adorable maidens to serve alongside the fellow maidservants to gain experience.
…were the Master and Eldest Young Master in a cold war?
Silence enveloped the courtyard, the only sound being the occasional giggle of the flames as it eagerly consumed the joss stick, a small pile of ash beginning to accumulate on the table.
The two Madams, two Young Misses, and the guard stood in silence as they gazed at the minister with various emotions displayed on their countenance, from apprehension, acceptance, and an indifferent servitude.
Suddenly, Wei Xuan raised his head to glance at the burning joss stick, a cold voice resounding throughout the courtyard.
“It seems, this minister does not have any loyal servants-“
“Lord Minister, this servant will speak! Lord Minister, please spare our lives!”
A servant in the middle of the group abruptly kowtowed, his terrified voice directly interrupting Wei Xuan. As the minister raised a disapproving and inquiring eyebrow, he rushed out of the group to kneel before Wei Xuan’s feet.
“…why did you wait until so long to confess?” Wei Xuan asked, a hint of disappointment and sorrow hidden within his voice.
“Is the influence of mutilation heavier than this minister’s own words?”
“This servant doesn’t dare, this servant had no such intention!” the servant hastily responded.
“It’s just that…”
“Just what? What is this secret matter you speak of? Do you think this minister is interested in your hidden love towards the beautiful, elegant little palace maids?”
“This-this servant doesn’t dare!” the servant panicked upon hearing the minister’s sarcasm.
Bowing his head low until it rested against the cold cobblestone ground, the servant quickly reiterated the events that had transpired, his voice diminishing in volume with each sentence until a deafening silence had enveloped the courtyard once more.
“It-it was Eldest Young Master who had presented us with the additional servants. Senior-senior Maid Ke was informed that they were to obtain experience at the Flowing Wind Residence as per the First Madam’s order. All we know is that they were in charge of maintaining the decorations…this servant truly has no idea of what had happened following that…”
“Nonsense! How dare you slander your own master!”
The First Madam broke the silence as she spoke in total rage, her hands trembling as she pointed towards the kneeling servant. Her chest heaving, she continued to berate the servant, the young girl by her side clutching her sleeves in worry.
“Who dares use my name to cause mischief in the minister’s manor!? Just because they uttered my name, you allowed them to enter the Flowing Winds Residence? Have you forgotten my rules since coming here, that each and every servant from my residence was to carry around a jade token personally issued by myself if they were to enter a different courtyard? How dare they, and how dare you!”
“Mother, calm down! You mustn’t get angered!”
“Speak.” Wei Xuan coolly uttered as he gazed at the servant. Closing his eyes, he seemed to have lost all emotional attachment as he continued.
“The names, their ranks, and a detailed report of their activities. I will then spare your lives from mutilation.”
The servants gazed at each other in in silence, a wave of complex emotions immersed in their eyes. Just then, a senior servant stood to bow towards the minister, completely ignoring the aching pain in his knees.
“Greeting Lord Minister. This servant is a second-ranked servant issued over the management of the study. In the morning, this servant witnessed four young maids dressed in the Autumn Winds Residence’s uniform greet Sister Ke at the backyard of the study, each of them holding a wooden serpent calling bell in their hands. After that, this servant saw them run towards the private bathhouse in the afternoon…and that was the last time this one saw the four maids from the Autumn Winds Residence.”
Wei Xuan blinked once, his gaze glinting with an indeterminate light. However, his gaze returned to normal in the next moment as he gestured for the next servant to speak.
A female servant rose to bow towards the minister, her voice quivering as she spoke.
“This servant…this servant…received four serpent calling bells in the morning from the four maids from…from Autumn Winds Residence. All this servant was told that the bells were from the southern islands, hence…hence this servant accepted the gift…please forgive me!” she recounted.
The next moment, she rushed out of the group to kneel next to the servant before Wei Xuan’s feet.
“They…they called themselves Xiao Ning, Xiao Wei, Xiao Cuiwei, and Xiao Tang. This servant was only told that they were of the third rank…and they all had…” she paused to glance at the First Madam, her gaze flickering back to fixate onto the stone ground. “they all had…First Madam’s jade token…”
Reaching into her sleeve pocket, the servant presented four white and plain jade plaques to Wei Xuan. Receiving them and turning them over, the minister found a neatly carved character of ‘Sheng’. Secretly craning her head to peek at the plaques to confirm their veracity, the sight of the four ‘Sheng’s gleaming in the wan moonlight caused the First Madam to lurch back, her countenance paling a deadly white.
“Impossible…” she murmured, leaning against the young girl.
“The plaques were last issued thirteen days ago to Yueqing Pavilion…how did they end up in the Flowing Winds Residence?”
The woman stared dumbly at the ground, her previous righteous rage nowhere to be found. Wei Xuan’s gaze scanned over the occupants of the courtyard, before reaching out to grasp the burning joss stick.
With a tremble of his arm, the stick disintegrated into powder, the flame sputtering out into nothing. The servants all sighed in a collective relief, only to palpitate when the minister’s voice washed over their heads, pouring down a bucket of ice water on their already fatigued and strained body and mind.
“Since some of you dared to confess, this minister shall spare your lives,” Wei Xuan stated in a languish manner.
“However, the joss stick burned a fifth of its length before any of you obtained the courage to speak. Hence, all will be consigned to fourteen beatings of the rod two days from now. The servant that dared to accept bribes from outside residences, they shall no longer serve in the Wei manor henceforth.”
Sweeping his sleeve, the minister departed from the courtyard. The First Madam collapsed into a heap, dragging her daughter with her as she stared at Wei Xuan’s departing back.
The Second Madam and Yan Yue rushed forward to console her as the First Madam wept, her suppressed voice imbued with betrayal and disappointment.
“Chang Feng, Chang Feng,” she lamented.
“Such a stupid idea, did you think it would have achieved anything? No wonder you asked for the jade plaques from your mother those days ago…”
Tears of sadness graced the cold cobbled ground, the servants all daring not to speak as their First Madam continued to whisper wistfully to the sky.
“Since you joined that sect, you’ve changed far too greatly, ah. As your parents, you will receive our everlasting support…but was it necessary to go after your Fourth Sister? The minister not noticing that you were behind it, why did you think of such a miracle ever happening?”