Once a day, Rin would drink the nourishment tonic given by Master Qiu. At this point, she seemed to be well. Jia was pleased to see that the girl was slowly recovering.
As the sun slowly sets that night, Jia walked into the small bedroom with a quilt in her hand and stared at the girl silently gazing out the window.
The drafts from the gaps of the window lifted Rin's forelocks slightly. Jia walked over and placed the thick quilt on her small shoulders. "Are you warm enough?"
Rin shifted her gaze to look at the girl and nodded. "Yes."
"Although you seem healthy enough, you still look too thin." Jia frowned. "Do you not like the food here? Is there anything specific you like to eat that I could make?"
Rin glanced up at Jia awkwardly as if she had been scolded.
"The meals have been wonderful," Rin protested. "If anything, the food here is delicious. I truly am indebted to you and your brother."
Rin smiled at Jia and the small boy standing at the entrance of the door, whose face began to blush. Jia curled her lips up in a sheepish grin and let out a laugh.
"Well, since you enjoy my meals so much and you're rather healed up, you can head down to the market with us later to purchase some supplies for dinner tomorrow."
"Mm." Rin nodded her head.
"Aiguo and I will be sleeping in the other room if you need anything."
"Thank you," Rin said.
Jia ensured the girl was nice and warm on the bed before turning to grab the little figure snooping by the door out. Rin sighs softly to herself and looks at the winter moon's light.
Grandfather…Uncle Guo…I hope you're doing well.
Rin glanced at the candle by her bedside and leaned over to blow it out. Before going to bed that night, Rin quietly thought to herself.
An Sun…she hoped he was doing well.
Early the following morning.
Rin put on a thick coat. She wore boots stuffed with hay to keep her feet warm and waited by the door outside. The air was frigid and misty, the feeling of deep winter still present.
Jia came out momentarily, her tall, lanky body dressed in a thick coat with Aiguo right behind her.
"Are you well?" Jia glanced at the girl up and down and noticed her exposed, pink-tinted ears. "Here, wear this. It'll protect your ears."
Rin nodded obediently and draped her head with the thick muslin scarf Jia handed her to cover her exposed ears. The girl's covered and cute appearance gave Jia the urge to pinch her little cheeks.
She couldn't help but tease. "Hehe, you look like one of those aunties selling fish."
Rin blinked her eyes and laughed softly. Aiguo looked up the girl and furrowed his brows.
"Rin is far more beautiful than those old rags at the market."
Jia frowned and smacked her brother one the head as she scolded him to be careful with his words.
Aiguo protested. "But it's true! Her figure is much more beautiful than the aunties in the market! Their breasts sag to their knees!"
"Aiguo!" Jia said through clenched teeth and smacked the boy on the head again.
Rin's eyes widened in shock.
Why did she feel as if the young boy's words have another meaning?
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The three left the small hut and walked down to the village market.
The sharp winds cut through their bodies. Jia glanced at Rin, worried that the bitter weather would be bad for the girl. However, her almond-shaped eyes lit up, clearly showing how happy she was to be outdoors. It was as if she were oblivious to the cold winds.
Jia couldn't help but reveal a smile and continued to walk around while holding her brother's hand. Rin's gaze surveyed the market and felt a sense of comfort enter her.
It all reminded her of the market with her mother. When inside the palace, on a rare occasion during the Autumn Festival, her mother ordered Wei Jingyi to take her out and explore the city.
Just like now, fishermen and civilians were selling their merchandise.
Rin's eyes lowered at the thought as she retracted her gaze from the shops and followed the two siblings.
When the three entered the butcher shop, the tall young proprietor smiled at the entering figures.
Rin glanced around and noticed two young men behind a wooden counter. The taller one with a pointy, rough face smiled more frequently, while the shorter one bore a softer face.
The butcher and a young man beside him looked at the familiar siblings coming in with kind expressions. At that moment, they noticed the petite figure beside the tall girl and were astonished.
A muslin scarf wrapped around the girl's head, revealing the quiet and clear expression on her face, highlighting her pretty looks. Curved brows, pink lips, almond-shaped eyes, and rosy cheeks. Yet, what stood out the most was the girl's bright, emerald eyes.
The lady before them was so pretty and delicate, like a blooming flower!
Jia bowed politely to the men, and Rin retreated silently into the corner of the shop with Aiguo.
"What will you be preparing this time, Jia?" The young owner asked.
"Hello, Gen Rong! May I please have shinbones and a bit of meat? I plan to prepare soup tonight."
Gen Rong turns to the young helper behind him who nods. Gen Rong turns back to look at Jia and glances at the figure in the corner.
"I see you have an extra mouth to feed."
Jia glanced at Rin who stood quietly in the corner. Rin noticed their stares and raised her head, glancing over at Jia. She didn't say a word but gently nodded. Gen Rong bobbed his head in return.
"She's a relative from out of town."
"A relative?" Gen Rong arched a brow.
Jia didn't respond to his remark and merely stared back at him with a sharp expression. Gen Rong chuckled slightly at the tall girl's attempted aggressive expression.
The young helper returns with a paper packet from the back and grabs three large hunks of shinbones from the stock of beef bones. He wrapped a handful of stew meat and placed it on the wooden counter.
"Will that be all?"
Jia took a brown pouch from her pocket and looked inside. Her expression turned strange. Jia scratched her head, and embarrassment appeared on her broad face.
"Ah, how much for just the shinbones?"
Jia clicked her tongue. "You're rather stingy with your meat prices, Gen Rong."
Not at all offended, the young owner just smiled. "Haha, well, we have to make a living somehow. Meat is becoming harder to hunt for in this weather."
Jia could only sigh in agreement. "Well then, pardon my error, but I'll only be buying the shinbones today."
"Of course." Gen Rong returned the meat to the case. "You're making a broth tonight?"
Jia let out a snort. "As one would expect. What else would there be to cook during this unpleasant weather?"
"It would be better to have broth with some meat, I would imagine." Gen Rong spoke with a smile.
"Yes, it would. If only the prices were lower would we be able to enjoy that." Jia laughed.
Gen Rong crossed his arms and laughed out loud. He suddenly unlocked the case of meat and reopened the paper packet of bones to place half the meat he previously returned inside.
Jia was stunned and looked at the young owner with wide eyes.
"Hey, I was just kidding around. I can't take this for free..."
"Consider it the first sale of the day." Gen Rong smiled and stole a glance at the beauty in the corner. "You have an extra mouth to feed after all."
Jia wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. Grasping the meaning of his actions, she kindly thanked him and turned toward the two figures waiting in the corner.
Outside the shop, Rin glanced at the paper package in Jia's hand.
"If things are becoming difficult to afford because of me, I don't mind helping out." Rin offered.
When Jia looked to meet Rin's concerned gaze, her heart softened.
"Don't worry. You won't need to lift a finger. If you accompany me on my trips from now on, we'll receive free food for a long time!"
Confused, Rin tilted her head.
Jia giggled. "Gen Rong, the butcher just now, he likes you. It was a present."
Rin opened her shiny, emerald eyes wide.
She coughed slightly. "That doesn't seem like a reason to sell away free meat."
"You'd be surprised by what men will do for beautiful women. Believe me, a single glance from a beauty like you, and he'll be passing you his entire shop!"
Rin revealed a helpless expression. "Jia…"
Jia couldn't resist laughing as she looked at the complicated expression on the girl's face.
She grabbed Rin's hand and swung it back and forth. Jia said in a clear and pleasant voice, "Now that I have my own little beauty as a friend, we'll be unstoppable in this town!"
Rin's face flashed a very subtle emotion as her eyes swept over the tall girl playfully holding her hand. Although Jia wasn't a beauty, her kind dark eyes and broad smiles made one feel warm and comforted.
She called her a friend.
Suddenly, Rin smiled.
This feeling…it was nice.
Three days later, time slowly passed in the village.