Chapter 3: Beauty, how could you have fallen to become a thief?

Zhen Ting Yun did not know that her grandmother was currently fretting over her marriage prospects.
She was having a discussion with Steward Lin, “Uncle Lin, Grandma, and I debated on this issue just now and felt that this incident with the horse thief shouldn’t just be dismissed like this.
What are your thoughts? Do you think we should report this to the bailiffs?”

Father Zhen was born into a poor family and only became a civil official due to passing the imperial examination.
If Father Zhen had come from an aristocratic family, he would have had plenty of backing and manpower.
However, due to his background, the number of valuable servants on hand was limited.
Because he worried that his old mother and young daughter would not have a smooth journey, he sent Steward Lin, a resourceful person that served by his side.
Steward Lin had been by Father Zhen’s side for many years.
He was capable and had a decent amount of experience.
So, Zhen Ting Yun modestly addressed him as ‘Uncle Lin’ to build a sense of familiarity. 

As the horse was brought over by Steward Lin, he knew better than anyone else that it was a superior breed of rare horse.
In addition, after observing how meticulously Zhen Ting Yun took care of it and how it was unfortunately stolen by the horse thief, Steward Lin felt heartache on his master’s behalf.
At the same time, he could only sigh in regret at the Young Miss’ horrible luck.
However, now that they were far from home, Steward Lin was apprehensive about seeking out unnecessary trouble.
Although he brought along a security team, he had to take into consideration of the elderly Old Madam and young Second Miss.
It was not an ideal situation to create unnecessary issues.

“Miss, even if we go ahead with reporting to the bailiffs, we cannot guarantee that the horse would be recovered.
On top of that, our trip would be delayed.
Master and Mistress are still awaiting Old Madam and Young Miss’ arrival to the Imperial City.” Steward Lin reasoned with her.
Then, he lowered his voice and whispered to Zhen Ting Yun, “And, one more thing, currently there are bandits fighting over territories.
This horse thief was so arrogant that he dared to steal a horse from the inn.
There is a chance that he might have people backing him.
Since we’re just passing by this area and we’re pressed for time, it’s not ideal to provoke the local tyrants.
Miss, we’re currently traveling and in unfamiliar territory, it’s best to be more cautious.”

Although Zhen Ting Yun also understood this reasoning, she was still not resigned.
She replied, “Uncle Lin, you’ve also said that this horse thief is arrogant.
Who knows? He might’ve already sparked the public’s ire long ago and people are just waiting for someone to step forward! Besides, these people are bullying us because we aren’t local and know that since we’re rushing, we would just dismiss the whole incident.
Hence, they dared to take action.
If we let them off today, wouldn’t it just boost their arrogance further? I really can’t swallow this grievance!”

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Steward Lin secretly lamented, ‘As a little young lady, where did such a big temper come from? To even claim – I really can’t swallow this grievance!’ 

After saying that, Zhen Ting Yun raised her eyes and solemnly looked at Steward Lin, “Uncle Lin, this horse was personally selected by Father, and Eldest Sister kindly gifted it to me.
If it was lost just like that, wouldn’t it hurt their sincere sentiments?”

Born with a delicate face and a little baby fat, coupled with her current indignation, her eyes seemed to be lit with fire, shining black and bright.
Her cheeks were flushed with a tint of rosiness causing her countenance to take people’s breath away; she looked very dazzling. 

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Ohld Fvloyae Nkd, obs kdvlaynvle okvb bla vbaswtbswv vblka fswadlu, nswze dsv blzr cwv cl vyjld ycynj.
Vsdelakdt sd obyv Hbld Mkdt Zwd bye pyke yde pbl lhld caswtbv wr Yypvla Hbld yde Ozelpv Ykpp Hbld, bl qkdyzzu nyhle, “Ebu dsv ol es kv vbkp oyu, pkdnl kv’p nwaaldvzu aykdkdt, kv’p clpv dsv vs hldvwal swv dso.
Ebld vbl aykd pvsrp vsxsaaso, ol nyd plde rlsrzl swv vs ldiwkal ycswv vbl pkvwyvksd swvpkel.”

Gzvbswtb bl eke dsv rasxkpl vs alrsav vs vbl cykzkqqp, bl yzps eke dsv ekpaltyae bla aliwlpv.

Tldnl, Hbld Mkdt Zwd oyp iwkvl pyvkpqkle okvb bkp alrzu.
Fbl dseele okvb y takd, yde bla xswvb oyp pollv yp bsdlu, “Qaydexy ypjle xl vs cakdt swa xlyz wrpvykap.
Bdnzl Nkd pbswze byhl uswa ekddla lyazu yp olzz, esd’v pvyahl uswaplzq.
Fkdnl kv’p clld nsdpvydvzu aykdkdt, vayhlzkdt xwpv dsv cl lypu.
Rv’p pvkzz xydytlyczl qsa Qaydexy yde xl pkdnl ol’al akekdt kd vbl bsapl nyaakytl.
Jwv usw yzz yal lmrsple vs vbl lzlxldvp, ps usw byhl vs vyjl clvvla nyal sq uswaplzhlp…”

Gduoyu, tsse osaep es dsv nspv xsdlu.
Hbld Mkdt Zwd lqqsavzlppzu pyke vbspl osaep, cwv Fvloyae Nkd oyp lmvalxlzu vswnble.

Gqvla vbyv, Hbld Mkdt Zwd oldv vs vbl jkvnbld vs byhl vblx ralryal vblka qsse clqsal nyaaukdt vbl ekpblp wr yde plahkdt Xze Yyeyxl Hbld kd byhkdt bla ekddla.

Xze Yyeyxl Hbld oykvle qsa y qykazu zsdt vkxl qsa bla taydeeywtbvla vs alvwad.
Gp pbl sdzu bye y nwr sq vly kd vbl yqvladssd, pbl oyp dyvwayzzu qllzkdt bwdtau.
Gqvla pwnb y zsdt oykv, obld pbl prsvvle Hbld Mkdt Zwd, kd y qkv sq ydtla, pbl pnszele, “Xvbla rlsrzl’p taydeeywtbvlap yal yzz qkzkyz yde pxyav.
Ebld kdpvawnvle vs es psxlvbkdt, vblu sclekldvzu es yp vblu’al vsze.
Jwv R fwpv ps byrrldle vs cl vbl wdzwnju sdl.
Lsv sdzu es usw dsv zkpvld vs xl, ypjkdt usw vs byhl ekddla plahle, usw yzps byhl vs vyjl byzq y pbknbld1! Gkus, vbydjqwzzu R’zz cl alzukdt sd xu taydepsd vs rashkel xl okvb qsse yde dsv xu taydeeywtbvla.
Rq dsv R’zz elqkdkvlzu pvyahl vs elyvb!”

Wsatlv kv, Xze Yyeyxl Hbld bye yzoyup bye pwnb y vlxrla.
Fbl oyp qswz-xswvble yde pbl nswze tlv akzle wr shla dsvbkdt.
Rv oyp ds osdela sdl nswze dsv czyxl Vlk-Fbk, vbkp eywtbvla-kd-zyo, qsa byhkdt alpldvxldv kd bla blyav.
Bdvkz dso, Xze Yyeyxl Hbld bye ulv vs zlv ts sq bla tawetl qasx ps xydu ulyap cynj.

Hbld Mkdt Zwd bye zsdt tsvvld wple vs Xze Yyeyxl Hbld’p yvvkvwel.
Fbl eke dsv tlv ydtau obld pbl blyae vbspl osaep.
Rdpvlye, pbl pxkzle, “Fkdnl Qaydexy eslpd’v oydv vs lyv vbkp taydeeywtbvla’p qsse, vbld R pbyzz lyv kv xuplzq.”

After that, she lifted the bowl and dug into her meal.

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When Old Madame Zhen heard Zhen Ting Yun’s words, she became a little anxious.
Yet, she was not willing to soften her stance, so Old Madame Zhen could only continue glaring at her in frustration.

Spotting Old Madame Zhen’s sullen appearance, Zhen Ting Yun could not hold it in anymore and burst out laughing.
After her laughter died down, she handed over the bowl and chopsticks.
She took the initiative to back down, allowing Old Madame Zhen to have a way out, “I’m just joking.
Grandma is the head of our family.
How dare I eat before you do?”

Somewhat embarrassed, Old Madame Zhen received the bowl and chopsticks.
Deep down, she also knew that her words were uncalled for, so she offhandedly added, “You should dig in as well.” 

The grandmother and granddaughter duo finally sat down and ate dinner together.

The inn was built at the edge of an official road and there was a courier station nearby.
There were quite a few traveling businessmen that resided in the inn and the cook’s skills were not bad.
Particularly, that evening they were served grilled fish.
The whole fish was encased in a salt rub before it is placed to grill until the fish skin turns brown.
Using a pair of chopsticks, one would peel back the fish skin, revealing the snow-white flesh within.
The meat was extremely tender.
The grilled fish was accompanied by a small dish of sauce.
If one felt that the fish was too bland, one could dip the sauce.

As Old Madame Zhen was getting up in years, Zhen Ting Yun was also inclined to know some medical knowledge to care for an elder.
She often persuaded Old Madame Zhen to consume food with less oil and salt.
Throughout the meal, she made sure that Old Madame Zhen did not touch the dipping sauce.
Hence Zhen Ting Yun picked out a lot of tender meat and also ladled a small bowl of radish soup for Old Madame Zhen.

After their meal, Old Madame Zhen was a little tired.
She sat by the window, her eyes fluttering as she slowly dozed off.

On the other hand, Zhen Ting Yun tidied the cutleries, put them aside, and wiped the table down.
Then she took out a brush and paper, ground some ink before she sat, and practiced her calligraphy.

Da Xi2 placed importance on literary.
Most aristocratic families would want their daughters to learn literature and calligraphy.
And when they reached the appropriate age, they would sit for a test to see if they qualify to attend a women’s academy and later on, become a female scholar.

With regards to the women’s academy, it was first established by the founding Empress.
Therefore, in the world, two of the ten top women’s academies were found within the Imperial City.
They were Jingdu Women’s Academy and Yuhua Women’s Academy.
Over the years, the international competition for the top spot had always been between Jingdu Women’s Academy and Yuhua Women’s Academy.

As Zhen Ting Yun was not lucky.
She grew up in the countryside with Old Madame Zhen.

In the countryside, the matters of studying were a tremendous expense to bear.
To support a child to study was a whole family’s affair; brothers would have to share the burden of funding the child.
Back then, Father Zhen had the aptitude for studying and good luck to encounter a brilliant teacher that resulted in his current future. 

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Therefore, although Da Xi placed importance on literary, it was extremely fortunate that this country girl was even literate.
Naturally, Old Madame Zhen did not even think about inviting a tutor for her granddaughter.
She just wanted to ask Zhen Ting Yun to learn some needlework and cooking.
At least if she had some proficient life skills, she would be able to live a good life when she marries in the future.
Unfortunately, Zhen Ting Yun had been a delicate one since she was a child.
Incapable of doing farm work, unwilling to do house chores, and even needlework was just putting up an act to dupe Old Madame Zhen.
It truly angered Old Madame Zhen half to death.
In the end, it was still Zhen Ting Yun’s idea to invite a female teacher over to gain some knowledge. 

Old Madame Zhen despised this kind of unrealistic skillset the most.
Yet, her granddaughter was not able to pick up any other life skills.
In the end, it seemed like she could only learn such unrealistic skills.
Hence, Old Madame Zhen gritted her teeth and took out some private funds to invite a female teacher to teach Zhen Ting Yun calligraphy and reading.
And thus, Zhen Ting Yun was not raised to be truly illiterate.
It was just that in such a rural place, the female teacher Old Madame Zhen hired would not be of high caliber.
The female teacher only taught Zhen Ting Yun how to read and write.
After all, one pays for what one gets.

Since she was a child, Zhen Ting Yun had her own opinions and thoughts.
Knowing that her mother, Pei-Shi, was also a female student who graduated from a women’s academy and everyone praised her to be a talented lady.
Zhen Ting Yun, as her daughter, knew that she had to work hard and maybe in the future, she would be able to partake in the women’s academy entrance exams.

Da Xi women’s academy usually required one to be proficient in Confucian Six Arts; etiquette, music, archery, horsemanship, calligraphy, and arithmetic.
Zhen Ting Yun attempted to learn all of them.
However, the resources available to her in the countryside were limited and Old Madame Zhen monitored her strictly.
From time to time, Zhen Ting Yun was still able to buy some copybooks to practice her calligraphy daily.
Whenever she saw someone selling used books, she would buy them, like and taught herself some basic foundations.
When she was ten, she also went to find the elderly scholar from the neighboring school to buy an old unwanted zither.
Then she brazenly borrowed some music scores and wheedled her way into learning the zither arts.

As a result, before heading to the Imperial City, Zhen Ting Yun dreamt of such a dream.
She felt more and more that her parents were unreliable, so it was best to strive for self-improvement.
Naturally, she would now put in more effort and work harder than before.
Even if the journey was arduous, she made sure that she never skipped out on the time needed to practice her calligraphy.
In the field of calligraphy, only when one preserves unremittingly, would one obtain the desired results. 

Therefore, Zhen Ting Yun focused attentively on practicing her calligraphy.
Her practice lasted until the sky darkened.

Before she completed her brush strokes, she heard someone running up the stairs and knocking on the door, “Miss Zhen, Miss Zhen! Something happened!”

Zhen Ting Yun calmly finished her character before placing the brush down.
She got up and walked to the door before asking, “What’s wrong?”

“Your horse,” the innkeeper blurted out after running over with perspiration all over his face, “Your horse came back on its own!”

Zhen Ting Yun was pleasantly surprised, “Truly?!”

“That’s great!” Zhen Ting Yun skipped around the room with joy, and continued, “I say, after feeding it so many carrots and apples along the way.
If it left with others, it would’ve been very silly.”

The innkeeper secretly wondered, ‘Can a horse be considered silly?’

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However, the innkeeper had something else to add.
After gasping for breath, he continued, “Not only did your horse come back on its own, but it also…”

“What else?” Zhen Ting Yun was a little impatient when she saw that the innkeeper was gasping for breath.
She was in a hurry to go down and see her horse. 

The innkeeper finally said, “It brought the horse thief back as well.”

Before he could finish his sentence, Zhen Ting Yun sneered, “Very good! I also want to take a good look at the scoundrel who dares to steal my horse!”

After speaking, she rolled up her sleeves like she was going down to fight with someone, and rushed down to the stable, disappearing like a wisp of smoke.

Zhen Ting Yun hurriedly down and finally spotted Ma Lan Tou in the stable.

Ma Lan Tou was standing in the stable with a black-clothed man on its back.
The man was the very horse thief whom Zhen Ting Yun caught a glimpse of at the beginning.
But for some unknown reason, he was unconscious, lying motionlessly on the horse’s back.

There were several waiters surrounding Ma Lan Tou.
They were trying tentatively to reach out to pull the horse thief off the horse.

Yet, Ma Lan Tou had an unfriendly temperament and was quite aggressive.
It fiercely stamped its hoofs in irritation, not wanting strangers to come closer to it.

On their journey, Zhen Ting Yun got along quite swimmingly with Ma Lan Tou.
When she finally spotted Ma Lan Tou, she was like a mother finding her kidnapped little daughter.
She rushed over and lovingly called out ‘Ma Lan Tou’.

Ma Lan Tou was also very close to her.
It hurriedly nudged its head against her before lowering to lick her palm.

And because of this, Zhen Ting Yun was closest to the horse and became the first to see the genuine appearance of the horse thief.

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In all honesty, the rain had yet to stop.
The night sky was overcast causing the outside to look dark and gloomy.
The inn’s stable was only lit by an oil lamp, causing it to be fairly dim.
There was much debris scattered around and rainwater dripped onto the ground.
It was damp, messy, and overall very dirty and muddy. 

However, as soon as the man’s face was exposed, it was like the bright moon brushing away the dark clouds, instantly illuminating the entire stable.

His presence brought light to that humble dwelling; like pearls and jade, extremely dazzling.

Zhen Ting Yun was also a person who only read a few books.
She was not a scholarly lady and was not very knowledgeable in literature.
But at this very moment when she saw the man’s face, she could only think of a sentence, ‘Beauty, how could you have fallen to become a thief?’

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