As Liu Yuxi took a sip of the soup that Yujia brought, she began recounting certain memories of her past. It wasn't like how her master retold his stories— slow and steady, with an organized, chronological manner. Madam Liu had her thoughts scattered all over the place. Though she was eager to retell Yujia's childhood and her past, she was, at the same time, incapable of recounting the details perfectly. She went off tangents easily. The memories that she described were blurry.
Regardless of all these issues, Yujia still managed to understand the gist of the Fourth Miss's childhood, as well as the story of Liu Yuxi. Afterwards, when she returned to Lingxin, she would scribble all these details down on a paper, organizing the cluttered, mixed-up memories into something like a timeline .
This was the story that she heard.
Liu Yuxi was not born into poverty.
She was the young miss of the Liu Family, with her father being an imperial physician. Though imperial physicians were placed at a low social status, her father was one of the better physicians for the Emperor. A few successes in his career boosted his status to a fifth-rank official, making it so that the household had amassed a decent amount of wealth.
She lived with a carefree attitude, happy with the life she had. She had friends as well— friends from other families of imperial doctors, mostly,
There was one notable person, her closest friend, the Second Miss from the Zhang Family: Zhang Ruoyu.
The two grew up as each other's friends, though Ruoyu's father was one rank higher than Yuxi's. They were as close as sisters, to the point that Ruoyu's older sister would occasionally joke that Yuxi might as well be a young miss from the Zhang Family, considering that Yuxi was so close with Ruoyu.
But of course, everyone who heard that knew that it was a joke. If Yuxi and Ruoyu were as close as sisters, then Ruoyu's relationship with her actual older sister, Zhang Ruoqing, was even closer, perhaps like the relationship of twins. The bond between them was unbreakable.
While Liu Yuxi grew older, she experienced the various stages of life with Zhang Ruoyu. Her moments of happiness, her moments of sadness, her moments of success, and her moments of failure were all accompanied by her best friend. It was no exaggeration to say that most of Yuxi's childhood was made up of this friend of hers.
So, of course, Liu Yuxi's first heartbreak, her first betrayal, happened involving her best friend as well.
Yuxi fell in love with the son of a fourth-rank official, Yang Chen.
She liked him, and she thought that he liked her as well— until Zhang Ruoyu fell in love with him.
Ruoyu was convinced that she was in love. Still, though, Yuxi didn't think that Yang Chen would like Ruoyu. He met her first. The two grew closer first. Ruoyu only met him by chance, on a brief occasion. How could the two of them possibly get together?
The two friends fought. From that very moment when Ruoyu first confessed to Yuxi that she had feelings for Yang Chen, a crack was already beginning to grow in their friendship, spreading like a web.
Yuxi eventually told Ruoyu how she felt. And in the end, the two actually arrived at a conclusion: for the sake of their friendship, they would not let a man break the bond the two shared. Ruoyu would step aside. She wouldn't try to talk to or catch Yang Chen's attention. Since Yuxi and Yang Chen already had something blossoming between them, it was only fair that she did so.
Yet when it came time to choose, the Yang Family selected the Zhang Household over the Liu Household. Yang Chen selected Zhang Ruoyu over Liu Yuxi.
It was heartbreak, in the cruelest way possible.
Yuxi realized that simply because of the fact that Zhang Ruoyu was from a family of physicians one rank higher than Imperial Physician Liu, Yang Chen would've never chosen her. If this was the only reason, perhaps the heartbreak wouldn't have been so bad. But Yang Chen went and explained to Yuxi that it wasn't only because of power and ranks that he chose Ruoyu. He said that Ruoyu and him spent so much time together that he felt like Ruoyu was the one for him. Even though he liked Yuxi, Ruoyu was just the better choice for him.
That was when Yuxi realized that Ruoyu had lied to her. All those promises that she wouldn't try to talk to Yang Chen, that she wouldn't try to get Yang Chen to love her back— they were all lies. These lies, coupled with the fact that the person who Yuxi thought was her best friend chose a man over their years of friendship— this was what hit the hardest. It was what completely shattered their already cracked, fragile friendship.
Liu Yuxi and Zhang Ruoyu stopped talking after that.
On the day of Ruoyu's marriage, Yuxi originally planned to attend, perhaps out of pure courteousness, or perhaps as a way to say her final farewell to this couple.
Only, that was when she received news that her father was thrown into prison.
Her whole family was shocked, unable to comprehend what crime the Old Master could've committed. They were eventually informed. Yuxi's father was one of the few imperial physicians who tried offering a cure to a disease that had suddenly struck the Empress Dowager. None of them could figure out a cure. The Empress Dowager's symptoms only worsened, especially after drinking Imperial Physician Liu's medicine.
And so, the physicians who tried to treat the Empress Dowager were all thrown into prison.
Their fate would be decided if the Empress Dowager would survive or not. If the Empress Dowager died, all of them would be executed as well, for being incapable.
After all, the life of an imperial physician did not mean anything. There were plenty of them, just like how there were plenty of fourth-rank officials, and they could be discarded and executed as needed. Furthermore, the empire didn't need incapable individuals.
The Empress Dowager was sickly to the brink of death. The whole family knew the impending fate of their Old Master, as well as the fate of their family. Yuxi's father had no sons. With him gone, the savings eventually would dry up, and the Liu Household would fall apart.
While Zhang Ruoyu was dressed in red, celebrating her marriage with the man that Yuxi loved, Yuxi was running to the prison, begging for the ability to meet her father one last time.
With some taels as bribery, she managed to finally see her father.
Upon seeing her, he had a flood of words erupting from him. He exclaimed about how his formula should've worked, how it shouldn't have worsened the symptoms of the Empress Dowager, how he was confident that it should've all been good, that nothing which had happened should have happened…
He was the only one who touched and took care of the medicine for the Empress Dowager. What could've gone wrong, if he was so careful?
These last words that he exchanged with her were carved into her brain.
While they announced that the Empress Dowager had passed, she thought about his words. While her father was sent to the execution grounds, she thought about his words. While her family mourned and sobbed, she thought about his words. She thought about it with the tears flowing down her face, with a withered heart in her chest.
Liu Yuxi was determined to figure something out, and keeping his words in mind was the only way that she could carry on with all this stress.
And she did. She knew that her father was not the type to make mistakes that would cost his life. He was always a meticulous person. Someone must've done something to the medicine her father prepared, but only he had access to his private station. Only one person was allowed to enter, and this was a person that her father trusted.
Zhang Ruoyu's father, Imperial Physician Zhang, who had always worked closely with Yuxi's father: he was the only person who could've done anything to the medicine.
Yuxi searched for more clues and hints. She studied medicine furiously, taking the knowledge she had before from occasionally watching her father work, to reading all of his records and notes, to memorizing all the herbs, to figuring out exactly what medicinal herbs her father used, to seeing the predicted effects of his formula.
Sure enough, like he said, his formula should've only helped, not harmed.
She went even further to analyze the remains of the medicine that was supposed to be dumped out in the trash, which she managed to get her hands on. There were inconsistencies with the formula of the remains to the formula her father had planned to put together. It was clear that someone did something to the medicine, altering the dosage and types of herbs used to change the function of the medicine.
Piece by piece, like that, she put together all of the evidence she found, until the truth that she discovered was solid. It truly was Imperial Physician Zhang who was the cause of the defective medicine.
She was about to present it to anyone who could help her, in the hopes that this could clear the name of her father and family.
On the night where she made this decision, a large half of the Liu Villa, including the courtyard that Yuxi lived in, burnt down due to a candle dropped by a careless maid.
Fires were common. But all the evidence— all the hard work from Yuxi— burnt down in a matter of seconds. She was too concerned with saving her own life and escaping the villa than saving the evidence.
Although the evidence was all gone, her hard work all burnt to ashes, the fire actually awakened her.
She realized that even if she had all the evidence, who would help her? Who would be willing to believe the rambles of a young girl? And if she managed to prove something, what point was there? Her father was already dead. Her family was already falling apart. The villa that she grew up in was burnt down into ashes.
There was no point in anything. It was all hopeless.
The servants were all dismissed. The one concubine that her father had in the past had already left a long time ago, taking her daughter— Yuxi's half-sister, who Yuxi never spent too much time with— away with her. Yuxi moved into a smaller house with her mother, who had fallen ill.
Now, it was just her and her sickly mother.
Liu Yuxi, who was decent enough at embroidery, sold her needlework to sustain their lives. With the money she made, she had enough to feed and clothe them, but not enough to pay for all the expensive medicine her mother needed.
That was how Yuxi delved more into the study of medicine, learning carefully from the resources that she managed to salvage from the fire. She went up to the mountains to gather medicine on her own, slowly being capable of creating the kinds of medicines that her mother needed. When she wasn't sewing or caring for her mother, she was studying medicine. She borrowed and read countless books, to the point where her mind was brimming with knowledge— knowledge about herbs, about formulas, about poisons, about techniques, about pill formation, about taking pulses, and about diagnosing patients.