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Tuesday, 22 July 2008 08:49

Chapter 13 - Third Madame Shen's Secret


 
It was pitch black inside that room.

Third Madame Shen had on a long flowing robe, it looked like she had just washed her face. Her countenance looked pale and afflicted. Streaks of blood covered the towel in her hands.

"Are ... are you okay?" Ma FangLing asked.

Third Madame Shen did not answer, instead she asked her, "You knew that I left here before?"

Ma FangLing smiled and winked at her, "Don't worry, I'm a woman too. I can pretend that I didn't see a thing."

She was smiling not because it was the first time that she felt like an adult. Keeping secrets was something that only fully mature people were capable of doing.

Third Madame Shen didn't say another word. She soaked her towel in a tub of water and watched as the blood washed away.

The taste of blood was still fresh in her mouth. She had kept in that mouthful of blood the whole time she was running back until she reached her room.

GongSun Duan's fists really weren't light.

Ma FangLing jumped onto her bed and lifted her legs. She was usually very reserved in this room but now she was acting rather casual and unrestrained.

"Do you have any wine here? I feel like drinking wine!" Ma FangLing suddenly said.

Third Madame Shen furrowed her brows and said, "When did you learn how to drink wine?"

"Don't tell me you never drank when you were my age?" Ma FangLing replied.

Third Madame Shen let out a sigh and said, "There's wine in the bottom drawer of that cabinet over there."

"I knew you'd have wine stashed away here. If I were you I'd probably drink a few cups when I'm having trouble falling asleep at night." Ma FangLing said.

"You seem to have really grown up in these last two days." Third Madame Shen said.

Ma FangLing reached for the wine jug and removed the lid. She put her mouth to the brim and took a sip.

"I'm already an adult you know. You should really just tell me who you went to see before." Ma FangLing said.

"Don't worry, it wasn't Ye Kai." Third Madame Shen said.

Ma FangLing's eyes flashed, "Who was it then? Was it Fu HongXue?"

Third Madame Shen's hand that was still rinsing her towel suddenly froze still. After a long while, she finally turned her head and stared at Ma FangLing.

"Why are you looking at me like that? Was my guess correct?" Ma FangLing said.

Third Madame Shen suddenly snatched the wine jug out of Ma FangLing's hands and scolded, "You're drunk, you should go back to your room and sleep. Come back tomorrow when you're sober and awake."

Ma FangLing made a sarcastic face at her and replied, "I just wanted to know how you managed to seduce a man like him. Otherwise, why would he fall for a woman of your age?"

"Don't tell me he's the one you like? I thought it was Ye Kai?" Third Madame Shen said.

Ma FangLing looked like someone had just slapped her across the face. Her pale white cheeks suddenly flushed red. It seemed as if she was about to slap Third Madame Shen as well, but just then the sound of footsteps were heard coming from the corridor.

The footsteps were slow and heavy, they stopped in front of the door and were followed by the person's voice, "Third Madame, are you awake?"

It was Ma KongQun's voice.

Ma FangLing and Third Madame Shen were both startled. Third Madame Shen gestured with her mouth at the bottom of her bed. Ma FangLing bit down on her lips and slipped underneath.

She felt just as uneasy as Third Madame Shen because she had unspeakable secrets as well.

Luckily Ma KongQun did not barge in, he stayed at the door and asked, "Are you awake yet?"

"Mmm."

"Did you sleep well?"

"Not really."

"Come upstairs with me, okay?"

"Okay."

They had spent many years together, the words they shared were terse yet intimate.

Ma FangLing felt slightly confused. She had heard her father bringing home a woman just now, why would he ask Third Aunt to go upstairs with him?

And just who was that woman?

Ma KongQun occupied three rooms upstairs. The first was his study, the second his bedroom, and the third was his private quarters. Even Third Madame Shen had never been inside there before.

His posture was perfectly straight even when he walked up stairs. If someone were to see his figure from behind, they would've never imagined that he was such an old man.

Third Madame Shen followed him quietly from behind, she had never refused him before. She was never too affectionate towards him, yet she was never too cold either. Whenever necessary, she could fully satisfy all his desires. She was exactly the type of woman that Ma KongQun needed. A man of his age had no need for women who were too passionate.

The door to the first room was shut, Ma KongQun stopped just before it. He suddenly turned to face her and asked, "Do you know why I asked you to come up here?"

Third Madame Shen lowered her head and replied softly, "It doesn't matter what you ask of me."

"What if I wanted to kill you?" Ma KongQun said.

His tone was very solemn, not even the slightest trace of humor could be found. Third Madame Shen suddenly felt a cold sensation rush through from her feet, it was only then that she realized she was barefooted.

Ma KongQun suddenly smiled and said, "Of course I could never bring myself to harm you. There's someone waiting to see you inside this room."

"Someone waiting to see me? Who is it?" Third Madame Shen replied.

The smile on Ma KongQun's face looked extremely odd, "You'll never guess who it is!"

He turned and pushed open the door. Third Madame Shen just didn't have the courage to go inside.

________________________________________

The morning sun had finally risen.

Fu HongXue was slowly sipping on his hot porridge.

Ye Kai had a nagging feeling that Cui Nong would not return. He started to put on his boots.

Everything in the small pavilion was calm and quiet.

GongSun Duan had just dunked his head into one of the horse troughs and was guzzling cold water like one of the horses. But it seemed like all the water in all the rivers in the world wouldn't sober him up now.

There was still the stench of blood and flesh that drifted in the morning winds.

Hua MenTian and Yun ZaiTian had both returned to their rooms and were preparing to go to the main hall for breakfast. The two of them would always show up in the mornings at the main hall for breakfast, it was one of the 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses' customs.

________________________________________

Third Madame Shen finally gathered the courage to step through those doors.

Who was inside that room waiting for her?

Cui Nong's hands were wrapped around her knees as she sat curled up in one of the large chairs in that study room. She looked exhausted and stricken with fear.

When Third Madame Shen met eyes with her, both of them seemed a bit startled.

Ma KongQun slowly examined the expressions on both of their faces as he coldly remarked, "I see that the two of you are acquainted."

Third Madame Shen nodded her head.

"I've brought her here to stay with us so you don't have to go off in the middle of the night to look for her anymore." Ma KongQun sneered.

Third Madame Shen's reaction was very peculiar. She seemed to be in deep thought and she seemed to not have heard Ma KongQun's words at all.

After a long while, she finally turned to face Ma KongQun and said, "I did leave the house last night."

"I know." Ma KongQun said.

"The person that I went to look for wasn't Cui Nong." Third Madame Shen said.

"I know." Ma KongQun said.

He had taken a seat by now, his expression was still extremely calm. No one could tell just what he was thinking.

Third Madame Shen stared at him and slowly said, "The person I went to see was Fu HongXue!"

Ma KongQun heard her clearly, but it seemed as if his eyes didn't even show the slightest reaction. Not only was shock and anger missing from his expression, he almost seemed sympathetic and understanding.

Third Madame Shen was very calm as well as she continued, "I went to look for him because I had a feeling that he was the killer!"

"He's not." Ma KongQun replied casually.

"I know that now, but I had to find out for myself, or else I would've felt uneasy." Third Madame Shen said.

"I understand." Ma KongQun said.

"I could tell from his mannerisms. Women have this innate feeling, if he really did hate you, then his mannerisms towards me would've been different." Third Madame Shen explained.

"I see." Ma KongQun said.

"But the entire time that I was there, he was really courteous to me. Although he was a bit startled when he first saw me, he didn't try to keep me when I wanted to leave." Third Madame Shen said.

"He is a true gentleman." Ma KongQun replied.

"It's a shame that the same can't be said of one of your friends." Third Madame Shen said.

"Oh?" Ma KongQun exclaimed.

Third Madame Shen gritted her teeth, her eyes shot red. She unbuttoned her collar and her garments fell to the floor. Although she was in her thirties, her body still looked youthful. Her breasts were firm, her stomach was flat, and her legs were long and slender. It was a pity that her snow white complexion was bruised and swollen all over.

Cui Nong couldn't help but let out a soft scream. Third Madame Shen started to tear as she asked softly, "Do you know who did this to me?"

Ma KongQun stared at the bruises on her body, anger leaked from his eyes. After a long while he finally replied, "I don't want to know."

Of course Third Madame Shen knew what he meant. She slowly picked up her clothes and said, "It's fine if you don't want to know, I just wanted you to understand that I'd do anything for you."

The anger and rage in Ma KongQun's eyes turned into pain. After a long while he sighed and said, "These past few years, you've really done a lot for me. You've suffered many hardships for me."

Third Madame Shen suddenly fell to the floor and started weeping at his knees. Ma KongQun gently consoled her and brushed his hands through her hair, while his eyes were fixed at the window.

The early morning breeze blew over the grasslands.

"This place was originally nothing but wilderness. I don't think I could have made this place as grand and magnificent as it is now without your help. No one really knows how important you are to me." Ma KongQun said.

"As long as you understand then I'll be satisfied." Third Madame Shen said.

"Of course I understand. You helped me build up my empire because you want me to suffer even more when I lose it all." Ma KongQun said.

Third Madame Shen suddenly lifted her head and exclaimed, "What ... what ... are you talking about?"

Ma KongQun didn't look at her anymore as he replied, "I'm talking about your little secret."

"What ... what secret?" Third Madame Shen said.

The pain in Ma KongQun's eyes looked even deeper as he continued, "I knew who you were since the first day you arrived!"

Third Madame Shen's entire body started to tremble, it looked like somebody was strangling her. Her breath had even stopped as she stood up slowly up and retreated step by step. Her eyes were filled with dread.

"Your last name is not Shen, it is Hua." Ma KongQun said.

Those words were like a hammer, slamming down hard onto her head. She collapsed to the floor.

"Bai TianYu's mistress, Hua BaiFeng, was your elder sister." Ma KongQun said.

"How ... how did you know?" she said.

"Maybe you don't believe me, but I've seen you before you came here. You were together with your sister and Bai TianYu. You were still young back then, and your sister was already pregnant with Bai TianYu's child." Ma KongQun said.

Third Madame Shen suddenly stopped trembling and froze still.

"After Bai TianYu's death, I had actually looked for the two of you. Your elder sister was nowhere to be found. But who would've guessed that you would show up here by yourself?" Ma KongQun said.

Third Madame Shen stumbled backwards onto a chair and stared at him. She had spent the last seven years sleeping with this man at least ten times a month, having to endure his clumsy, fingerless hands caressing her body, having to endure his sweat and stench all over her. Many times it felt like she was sleeping next to a horse, an old horse.

She endured so much for the past seven years because deep down inside she believed that one day he would finally pay the ultimate price. Only now did she realize that she was wrong, so very wrong. She suddenly felt like the worm in a child's hands, constantly being toyed with.

"I was long aware of who you were, but never said a word. Do you know why?" Ma KongQun asked.

Third Madame Shen shook her head.

"Beacause I was quite fond of you, and I really needed a woman like yourself." Ma KongSun replied.

Third Madame Shen smiled hysterically and added, "Not only that but I delivered myself to your doorstep willingly and free of charge."

She really was smiling, but smiling was probably much more painful than crying right now. She suddenly wanted to throw up.

"I long knew about your relationship with Cui Nong as well." Ma KongQun said.

"Oh?" Third Madame Shen replied.

"Cui Nong spreads information about the 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses' for me, and she tells me everything she hears from the outside." Ma KongQun laughed as he continued, "You were pretty smart in trying to use a person like her to communicate information."

"It's a pity that you long knew about it already." Third Madame Shen said.

"I never bothered to stop you two because I never had any important information to reveal anyway." Ma KongQun said.

"Or maybe because you still wanted to know about the information that I gave her." Third Madame Shen said.

Ma KongQun let out a sigh and said, "Too bad your sister is so much more clever than you. In all these years I've been unable to find even a single trace of her."

"That's why she's still alive." Third Madame Shen said.

"What about her son?" Ma KongQun asked.

"He's alive as well." Third Madame Shen replied.

"Has he already come back to Bordertown?" Ma KongQun asked.

"What do you think?" Third Madame Shen replied.

"Is it Ye Kai? Or Fu HongXue?" Ma KongQUn said.

"You can't guess?" Third Madame Shen responded.

Ma KongQun smiled and said, "Even if you don't tell me, I have ways of finding out."

"Then why bother asking me for?" Third Madame Shen said.

Ma KongQun let out a sigh, "You know, even up to this day, I never wanted to expose your secret. Because I really enjoyed the relationship that we had."

"It's a pity that you have no other choice now." Third Madame Shen said.

"Because this secret can no longer be hidden." Ma KongQun said.

"Since you've let it drag on for this long, what difference does it make that you let it drag on for another few days?" Third Madame Shen asked.

"I have a son, a daughter, and hundreds of followers. I don't want to see any more of them die before my very eyes."

"How many more people died last night?"

"Enough." he replied solemnly.

"Who do you think the killer is? Ye Kai? Fu HongXue?"

Intense hatred leaked out from his eyes as Ma KongQun exclaimed, "I don't care who the killer is, but this I guarantee: he will never escape!"

"The heavens are like a great net, nothing can ever slip through. Murderers will always be punished ... isn't that correct?" Third Madame Shen said.

"Precisely." Ma KongQun replied.

"Then what about yourself?"

The anger in Ma KongQun's eyes suddenly turned into fear, a fear so deep that it sunk into the bones. He suddenly stood up and walked towards the window, as if he didn't want to let Third Madame Shen see the expression on his face. It was just then that the sound of gongs rang out from the outside.

Ma KongQun sighed and exclaimed, "Just like that another day has passed. It's time for breakfast once again."

"You still have your appetite today?" Third Madame Shen said.

"This is a custom that I instituted myself, it's not something that I can break!" Without glancing another eye at her, he stormed towards the door.

"Wait a second." Third Madame Shen said.

Ma KongQun stopped.

"You're going to leave just like that?" she asked.

"Why can't I?" Ma KongQun replied.

"What ... what are you going to do with me?"

"Nothing."

"I don't understand what you mean."

"There's nothing to understand."

"You exposed my secret, aren't you going to kill me?"

"Exposing your secret is one thing, killing you is another!"

"But ..."

"I know that you can no longer bear to stay here."

"You're letting me leave?"

Ma KongQun smiled and incredibly sorrowful smile, "Why wouldn't I let you leave? Do you really think that I could bear to kill you?"

Third Madame Shen stared at him in amazement. She realized that she could never understand this person. Perhaps she had never understood this person at all. She couldn't help but ask, "Since you were going to let me go anyway, why did you reveal my secret?"

Ma KongQun smiled and said, "Because I didn't want you to take me for an idiot."

"Or maybe you just don't want me here anymore." Third Madame Shen added.

"Perhaps."

He didn't say another word as he walked out. The sound of his deep, heavy footsteps echoed as he descended those stairs. It was as if his mood had sunk as well.

"Why didn't he kill me? Could it be that he genuinely cared for me?"

Third Madame Shen clenched her fists and was determined not to dwell on it any longer. Thinking about it would only cause even more pain. It was this person who had deceived her, who had played with her. But when others would have had no choice but to kill her, he actually let her go.

Perhaps he never wanted to deceive her, it was only because she wanted to deceive him.

No matter what he had done before, he really did owe nothing to her.

Third Madame Shen suddenly felt a sharp piercing pain in her heart. A pain that she should not be feeling, a pain that she would've never imagined that she would feel.

But we are only human. Human emotions are always full of contradiction and pain.

Cui Nong rose to her feet, walked up in front of her and said softly, "Since he's letting us go, why aren't we leaving yet?"

Third Madame Shen let out a long sigh and replied, "Of course we'll leave, it's just that ... I really should've never came in the first place."


- END CHAPTER 13 -