Once life in the North Courtyard began, Yujia's day-to-day tasks were much easier. She went from scrubbing chamber pots and carrying buckets of water to watering plants and gathering flower petals. In fact, Yujia even dared to say that she enjoyed doing some of the tasks she was given. Playing around with creating fragrances was actually quite fascinating and enlightening.
Of course, consequently, these small tasks weren't very time consuming. Yujia discovered that she had a lot more time to work on case-related things. Clearly, the free spaces in her schedule had to be the work of Yang Xiaoyi— and Yujia was infinitely grateful to her younger sister for that.
She came up with the theory that there had to be a few thieves in the North Courtyard. When she asked Xiaoyi about items that have gone missing, the younger girl managed to pull up a whole list of items just from her courtyard Therefore, Yujia knew that there had to be a few thieves lurking around.
As a result, for the next few days, Yujia got closer with a few new faces. In particular, there was one girl, Lianye, who Yujia talked the most with. There were two reasons for why Yujia became close with her.
Firstly, Lianye was on the list of suspects which Yujia memorized.
Secondly, Lianye was a naturally— and perhaps overly— chatty person.
The moment Yujia moved into the North Courtyard, Lianye immediately latched onto her, eager to make another friend. She was excited to meet a new face just as how Yujia was excited to meet another suspect. It ended up with Lianye being the one who introduced Yujia to the daily schedule of the Fifth Miss and the one who accompanied Yujia in most of her tasks. During the time that she interacted with Yujia, even if she had the dullest topics to discuss, Lianye also always had something to say. She could weave an engaging story out of the most mundane of things, so it wasn't like her rambles were boring to listen to either. Her chatting skills may have been a bit overwhelming at times, but in most cases, Yujia found it nice to have someone to talk to.
If Yujia could describe the sort of energy that radiated off of Lianye, she would acquaint it to the hyper energy of a puppy.
While the days passed, Yujia admitted that she didn't want Lianye to be one of the thieves. She knew that because Lianye's name was on the suspect page, it would really be a pity to see a young girl— Lianye was barely fifteen— corrupted by the path of thievery.
It was one calm morning when Yujia had a surprising conversation with Lianye.
Yujia had been watering some flowers, deep in thought, when Lianye popped out of nowhere, holding a pastry in her hand. She greeted Yujia with a bright smile, her usual large, doe-like eyes shining with excitement.
"Sister Ling!" Lianye called out, skipping in front of the plants that Yujia was watering, "Guess what?"
"Hm?" Yujia glanced over at the pastry in Lianye's hand. She speculated that the young girl was excited about that. It really didn't take much to energize her.
"I was just dropping by the kitchen to fetch tea for the Fifth Miss, and I ran into Brother A'Yan! And then— and then he gave me this pastry!" She raised the pastry up. Instead of waving it around, her movements were careful and delicate as if she didn't want to lose a single crumb.
Yujia continued watering. Hearing about one of A'Yan's kind acts was not anything new. "That's nice," she remarked simply, "Hope the pastry tastes good."
Lianye turned the pastry around in her hand, looking at it from all sides. "I almost can't bear to eat it! Hehe. I know it's just a pastry but it's a gift from Brother A'Yan— so it's really precious, right?"
At this, Yujia raised an eyebrow. "You think so?" A smile graced her lips. "Don't tell me… you have a small crush on him?"
"What?" Lianye immediately exclaimed, jumping. "No! Who says that I do? I would never— no— never ever! Brother A'Yan is just like ah— uhm— an older brother!"
Yujia held back a laugh. Based on the flustered blush creeping across Lianye's face, Yujia would be surprised if she was expected to believe Lianye.
She closed her eyes and nodded. "Alright, alright, whatever you say. So, tell me, what do you like so much about him?"
Lianye continued denying. "No! I really don't like him! I mean— I like him, but not that way! Definitely not! Why would you even suggest that? What made you think so? I— we— this is impossible! It's impossible for me to have a crush on him!"
"Sure—" Yujia slowly continued nodding. "Lianye, you are a really bad actor."
Hearing this, Lianye fell silent for a few moments. She bit her lip and scrunched her face up, then looked up. "Alright, okay! I admit it! I do like him… a little bit! But just a little bit! Okay?"
"Yes, yes, just a little bit." Yujia grinned.
Ah. Young love. Yujia remembered her days back in high school, with her crush on Yu Zixu's lookalike, Wu Hao. Wasn't she also easily flustered like this?
Yujia was about to remark that perhaps A'Yan was a little too old for Lianye. He was around twenty, after all, and she was only fifteen. Yet after thinking her comment through, Yujia decided against it. These were the ancient times, so she supposed that their age gap standards were slightly different. Besides, Lianye's adoration for A'Yan seemed to resemble that of a fangirl to their idol. The chances of an actual relationship between Lianye and A'Yan seemed fairly nonexistent.
It might be a better decision to not say anything too against this crush, or anything too supportive towards it.
Before Yujia could decide what to remark on, Lianye started talking again. "Sister Ling, don't tell anyone about this, okay? You better not. Especially not to Brother A'Yan!"
"Of course," Yujia agreed.
"But! Can I admit something to you?" Lianye leaned forward, her eyebrows knitted.
Yujia answered, "Yes. I'm always willing to listen. What is it?"
"I think I lied before—" Lianye blurted, "I don't like him just a little bit— I think I like him a lot! What do I do? It was just a few days ago when I started realizing this because he was really kind and helpful and he lent me a hand with carrying fabrics for the Fifth Miss and then I started having these feelings! But it's so awkward to face him now and I don't like how my face gets all heated up or anything! Except at the same time it's kind of exciting yet also depressing 'cause I feel like if I say anything about it, he won't like me very much or return my feelings and I don't want to risk that!"
Yujia stopped watering the plants. She reached forward and patted Lianye's shoulder, advising, "Just let those feelings sit for a few days. Maybe you'll come back to it and realize that they aren't as passionate as you thought they were. Young love is always like that."
"You sound like a grandma!" Lianye declared with a snicker. "Sister Ling, should I begin calling you Grandma Ling instead?"
Pretending to pout, Yujia said, "I'm just telling you from experience."
Lianye's eyes lit up again. "What experience? Tell me, was there maybe— hehe— a guy you liked in the past? Who?"
Yujia thought about Wu Hao. Obviously, she couldn't tell Lianye about him.
And then, for some reason, Yu Zixu's face surfaced in her mind— perhaps because he shared the same face as Wu Hao.
The moment when Yujia realized that she was thinking about Zixu at this question, she immediately straightened up, blowing those thoughts away.
Her lips curved up, deciding to answer Lianye by saying, "Maybe you're right. I don't know much about love anyways, so I really am not qualified to give advice."
Towards late noon, Yujia was sitting at the same spot where she was at in the morning, staring at the flowers she had been watering earlier. She was thinking about the case and methods to perfect her strategy when in the corner of her vision, she saw a familiar face peeking through the front arch of the yard: A'Yan.
Seeing it was him, Yujia stood up. She walked over and called out, "Brother A'Yan, what are you doing here? Looking for Lianye?"
His eyes met with hers. "Lianye? Why would I be looking for her?" he asked, tilting his head.
"Nevermind—" Yujia quickly said, realizing that she shouldn't have brought up the name of the younger girl.
"Oh, okay," A'Yan responded, "Actually, I was looking for you."
"For what reasons? Did you need my help in anything?" she questioned with a puzzled smile.
He pressed his lips into a thin line. "No, well, there's a small light festival coming up tomorrow. I was wondering if you were interested in going to see the lanterns with me.��� A small smile now traced his expression.
Yujia paused. "We're allowed to, as servants?"
A'Yan nodded. "All the other servants are planning to go look. It's one of the rare occasions, you know?"
Then, Yujia definitely could not go to look at some lights. As fun as it sounded, she knew that this was one of the opportunities that she had been looking for— one where most of the servants were out of the villa and she could snoop around without fear.
So, she had to apologize with a lie, "Sorry— but I don't really like large crowds." Seeing how A'Yan's expression immediately fell, Yujia hastily added on, "It's nothing against you— I just really don't like crowds."
He scratched his neck, looking down. "Alright. That's fine. I understand."
"I'm really sorry," Yujia continued to apologize profusely.
"Nah. You're good," A'Yan assured, now looking up with a smile— one that didn't seem as bright as before. "Sorry for bothering. I'll get going now."
The moment he left, someone leapt out in front of Yujia— Lianye.
Her eyes were wide, and she pointed back in forth between Yujia and the place where A'Yan was just standing. "What was that, just now?" Lianye demanded to know.
"Nothing much." Yujia began walking back to her previous spot, a bit guilty at making A'Yan this disappointed. "He just wanted me to go with him to the light festival tomorrow, and I said no."
Lianye's eyes threatened to pop out. "Are you crazy? I— you're so lucky! And you just said no?"
What could she say? Yujia really just needed an opportunity to explore the villa.
Lianye went on, "Even if you didn't want to go, you should've passed the opportunity to me— ah—"
"You want to go watch lights with him?"
"Of course I do!" Lianye proclaimed.
Yujia pursed her lips together, thinking of the strategy that she had been cooking up in her mind. She thought about how Lianye was a potential thief, even if she didn't want that to come true.
"Well then, shall I do you a favor?" Yujia mused. "I can maybe set you two up…"
She knew that this was completely against her prior decision of not directly supporting or going against Lianye and A'Yan, but for the sake of her mission…
Lianye seemed more than eager at the idea. "Sister Ling, if you really do, I will be eternally grateful to you!"
Yujia cracked a small, guilty smile, knowing that she was doing so for manipulative purposes. "Alright. So if I never need any help in the future…"
"Come ask me! I'll try to do anything, as long as it's something that I can do!" Lianye immediately answered.
Just like that, the deal was set.
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