Lady Xu thought her son was being shameless, but now her heart cheered at the sound of his cursing. She gave a cold smile towards Han Yunxi, waiting for her to refute him! Han Ruoxue hadn't expected this either and couldn't help but gloat over the misfortune.
"Aiya, Lady Xu. Who's eldest young master cursing about? Sounds offensive."
"He's cursing at someone who deserves to be cursed. Whoever steals is a thief, so of course they deserve the abuse," Lady Xu laughed, pleased that someone was singing the same tune as her.
"Is that so? Heheh, a thief deserves condemnation. They're even smellier than the sewer rats, living with no sense of shame!" Han Ruoxue chimed in.
"That's just so. It's a pity that there's still so many of these people around in this time and age."
Lady Xu and Han Ruoxue seized the chance to make disparaging remarks, expecting Han Yunxi to flip out. Yet she remained indifferent. Seeing this, the two felt like their fists had rammed into cotton; unable to exert full force, they couldn't help but to feel extremely stifled. Han Ruoxue couldn't accept this and was about to speak when Han Yunxi beat her to it.
"Second Madame, did you invite everyone here to listen to eldest young master curse loudly?" As she spoke, she lowered little Yi'er to the ground and handed him over to Seventh Madame. "The respectable eldest young master of the Han house has this sort of character? It's no different from a shrew."
Lady Xu was about to reply when someone suddenly tossed out a vase from indoors. "Scram, slut! All of you, scram!"
Hearing this, Lady Xu's smug face became twisted and ugly. What was wrong with this damned Yuqi? Were his brains muddled? Why was he cursing everyone else now? Han Yunxi shot a glance at the shattered vase and smiled slightly, the corners of her lips lifting into a mocking curve as she remained silent. But that smile was like a needle piercing Lady Xu's heart as she suddenly felt disgraced. She was the one who made everyone wait here, but who knew her son would act so shameless? It was obvious that it was inappropriate and Han Yunxi wouldn't be happy. But if everyone went inside, Heaven knows what kind of mess Yuqi had made indoors. Wouldn't she just be letting Han Yunxi see a joke?
Lady Xu thought it over, wondering whether they should head to the main hall instead, but Han Ruoxue spoke up. "Lady Xu, how about we not go in? Eldest young master needs somewhere clean and quiet to recover. Since my mother hasn't arrived yet, why don't we go to her courtyard instead? It's very nearby, so it won't take more than a few steps."
Han Ruoxue didn't want to miss such a good chance! She wanted to see Lady Xu immediately trouble Han Yunxi about the storehouse key! With her paving the way, Lady Xu was naturally glad to follow along and nodded her head.
"That's good as well."
"Esteemed wangfei, please allow the change. My mother has some excellent high-grade spring tea," Han Ruoxue was in a great mood.
Han Yunxi was puzzled. Right now, it's still wintertime in Tianning Country. There's a month left before spring arrives, so where did this spring tea come from?
"Let's go. No matter how far away it is, this wangfei will still go if it means drinking spring tea in wintertime," Han Yunxi smiled softly.
"Third Madame might be a northerner, but she's an old fiend when it comes to tea. I'm guessing that this spring tea must have been bought from some high class store by the southern borders?" Lady Xu asked, smiling as well.
So it's from the southern borders. It should be springtime there by now. Han Ruoxue wouldn't avoid topics that gave her face, and flaunted her knowledge of tea leaves the whole trip over. Han Yunxi listened intently. She really didn't know that Third Madame and Han Ruoxue had put so much research into tea before.
Third Madame's Sunset Cloud Enclosure really was closeby to Lady Xu's courtyard, so they reached it after crossing a section of grass. When Han Yunxi and the others arrived, Madame Li was just about to leave. Seeing these arrivals, Madame Li hurried forward and made a respectful bow towards Han Yunxi. "This commoner Madame Li greets esteemed wangfei. May esteemed wangfei meet with 10,000 blessings."
Truthfully speaking, Madame Li gave Han Yunxi a better impression than Seventh Madame. Seventh Madame was too humble and timid, but Madame Li was neither haughty nor humble and made everyone comfortable. Han Yunxi didn't have a deep impression of Madame Li, but in her memories this Third Madame had never had conflicts with any of the other houses. No one dared to provoke her, but she wouldn't provoke others on purpose, either. In public view, she was always generous and appropriate. Nobody would overlook her, but neither would she attract much attention to herself. Han Yunxi mused, if Han Ruoxue had been a boy, perhaps Han Congan would consider passing the title of head to the Third House.
Though Han Ruoxue could still find a husband to marry into the family, it wasn't considered honorable. Besides, the Han house still had male heirs.
"Rise," Han Yunxi waved a hand to allow Third Madame up.
She rose but remembered to greet Lady Xu and Seventh Madame as well, polite and extremely self-possessed. She even smiled at little Yi'er. Han Yunxi saw everything but didn't change her expression.
As soon as they entered the courtyard, the scent of tea assailed their nostrils. It was said that Third Madame never stopped brewing tea in her quarters. Once inside her rooms, Madame Li personally fetched a tin of spring tea and smiled. "I only got this tea a few days ago and wanted to give everyone a sample to try. Luckily, this day came. Lady Xu, no matter what business you have, since you've come, let's all try this tea first."
Of course Lady Xu agreed, though she was preoccupied and gulped down multiple cups. Seventh Madame didn't understand tea, nor was she interested. Her face was etched with worry as she tried to figure out a way to warn Han Yunxi. But Han Yunxi wasn't hasty at all. She tried the tea with gusto. This spring tea was much fresher than the tea she had used for her experiments!
The little pageboy had brought her autumn tea. Though it was well preserved, it was still old, and the color, scent, and flavor were far inferior. As Han Yunxi drank, she mused how the same tea tree could produce different flavors of spring tea and autumn tea. The composition of the tea leaves varied much as well!
Maybe I should experiment with spring tea instead?
After a pause, she asked, "Third Madame, why does this spring tea taste better than autumn tea?"
Third Madame smiled and said, "True spring tea isn't grown in the spring. Instead, it's gathered from the first leaves of a tea tree that's survived the winter. The mesophyll of spring tea is plump and thick, and its leaves contain a certain fragrant substance along with other substances. So compared to summer tea and autumn tea, the flavor is fresher and the fragrance, extremely pleasant."
Han Yunxi was on full alert as soon as she heard these words. A certain fragrant substance, along with other substances? What did Third Madame mean? Was she talking about trace elements in the leaves? After all, such things had only been studied extensively in modern times. In ancient times, even Chinese medicine doctors had only rough understandings of drug efficacy and composition. It was rare for prescriptions to go as low as a "mace" in terms of measurements.
Yet Third Madame had researched into such fine specifics!
Did all tea fanatics research so extensively, or was Third Madame a special case? Han Yunxi kept her surprise in her heart without revealing a thing on her face. She continued, "In that case, spring tea is probably stored differently from other teas too, right?"
Third Madame seemed to be conscious of something as a cautious look flitted past her eyes. She smiled and said, "True spring tea is rare in the end. Most of it can be drunk within a month, so I haven't looked into preservation methods."
Han Yunxi asked a few more probing questions. Third Madame's expression retained her slight smile as she answered patiently, but all of her answers were things that Han Yunxi already knew beforehand. After a few brews of tea, Lady Xu finally reached her limit and shot Madame Li a look to stop talking.
Madame Li shut her mouth and switched to brewing a different batch of tea leaves. Lady Xu was very satisfied as she set down her teacup and sighed with emotion. "Esteemed wangfei, after Old Master was sent to jail, many things happened in this household. A few concubines ran off with much silver, so there's only us three sisters left. Aye..."
Lady Xu deliberately looked at Madame Li and Seventh Madame as she spoke. "Old Master was given a life sentence and we're not even allowed to see him. There's no one to speak in his place, so imagine how many clansmen are casting their covetous eyes here? Yesterday third tangshu came by to say if the household's young master can't support the place, then the storehouse key should be handed over. He said something about the key and the 《Han Family Medical Canon》 both being part of the Han Clan, not our family. See here, aren't these words infuriating?"
Silence greeted her words. Everyone knew the storehouse key was in Han Yunxi's hands. Seventh Madame kept her head down, afraid to make a sound, while Third Madame busied herself with brewing tea. Anyone intelligent enough could tell that Lady Xu's words were beautifully positioned to hint that Han Yunxi had no right to have the storehouse key, even though no blame was placed directly on her shoulders.
Han Yunxi didn't speak either. She held little Yi'er with one hand and poured tea with the other, calm and composed. The spring tea was fresh but not tiring, with a wonderful texture. She was started to grow attached to the taste. Only little Yi'er's expression was earnest and focused. Those dark eyes seemed intent on figuring out the meaning behind Lady Xu's words.
Seeing no reaction, Lady Xu wasn't flustered. She'd gathered Seventh Madame and Third Madame here today, not because she expected them to speak up, but to have them be witnesses. In this case, they couldn't refute her once she took back the storehouse key. Lady Xu gave a light sigh and continued.
"Yesterday was third tangshu, but today fourth tangshu came as well. His meaning was the same as third tangshu. Won't you all say that they're just bullying our Han house because no one's here?"
Though nobody replied, Lady Xu warmed up into her speech. "In any case, our Yuqi's already an adult and the eldest young master. How could they treat us this way?"
By now, the Han Ruoxue sitting by Third Madame's side couldn't take it anymore and asked, "Lady Xu, father's been in prison for awhile. Why did those people just come calling now?"
At these words, Third Madame stomped viciously on Han Ruoxue's foot beneath the table. Han Ruoxue was in a lot of pain, but had no choice but to endure.
With someone replying, Lady Xu was much happier as she sighed. "Aye, I don't know where they heard the rumors that the storehouse key was in esteemed wangfei's hands. It's because they think our young master can't support the household and had to rely on esteemed wangfei's power and influence, so left the key with esteemed wangfei!"
At these words, Lady Xu finally met Han Yunxi's eyes. "Esteemed wangfei, won't you say...if word of this spreads, it's fine if the Han house loses face; but the effects won't be good for you either! Once Grand Concubine Yi finds out, she probably won't be pleased."
If Grand Concubine Yi knew, of course she'd be unhappy! The Han Family might be a big family business, but they weren't even worth the tip of the iceberg that was the Duke of Qin's estate. How could Grand Concubine Yi care about such a little thing like their family properties?
Once news of this spread, just the fact that Qin Wangfei had returned home to dispute the family properties would be enough to make Han Yunxi the lead news in the capital! In the end, she'd be losing face for the Duke of Qin's household!
 mace () - qian, a unit of measurement approximating 1/10th of a tael, or 3.78g.
 tangshu () - a father's younger male cousin, equivalent to an uncle from the father's side.