Chapter 56 Abysmal: Mastermind
“Duke of Anping, Grand Tutor.” Chamberlain Feng entered the antechamber and bowed formally to the two men.
“No need to be so polite, Chamberlain. Please, have a seat.” Jiang Moyin gestured politely.
The Chamberlain took a seat, cupped his hands together and thanked the two of them. “Sorry to trouble you with my daughter.”
“It’s no trouble at all.” Jiang Moyin smiled. “I am Luodi’s elder brother, after all. I cannot just stand by and watch if she’s in a pickle.”
“The honour is my daughter’s.”
Situ watched coldly as the two of them exchanged formalities, and went straight to the point. “I believe that Chamberlain Feng is only here after hearing the news?”
“Indeed.” The Chamberlain nodded. “I am unable to interfere with the Administrator’s investigation, but I’ve done my own digging.”
“Please enlighten us, Chamberlain.” Jiang Moyin invited.
“I was approached by the 7th Prince a year ago, regarding a crime committed by a member of the royal family. I had spurned his intentions and reported the case as per normal. Afterwards, Concubine Shu had approached my wife a few times regarding the marriage between the 7th Prince and my daughter, while the prince himself had visited my household more than once, despite me denying all of his advances. I’m sure you know what that entails.”
“The 7th Prince wants you to join his side.” Jiang Moyin nodded along. “Or, to put it frankly, he wants the power of the Judicial Bureau in his wings.”
“There is another thing.” The Chamberlain, who had always maintained a neutral position in court, continued on. “I find myself incapable of controlling the ambitions of my subordinates.” He turn to Situ. “I’m sure the Duke knows who I’m talking about.”
Situ remained silent, while Jiang Moyin asked. “What do you mean?”
“They have since ceased to listen to me.” The Chamberlain stood up. “I have to deliver the report regarding the Yuzhang Commandery Prince into the palace. Please excuse me.”
Jiang Moyin stood up as well. “Are you not intending to check on Luodi?”
“No need for that.” The Chamberlain shook his head. “Luodi has been implicated in this because of me, but it is also time for me to keep a tighter rein on her.”
Jiang Moyin watched as the head steward escorted the Chamberlain out of sight before he turned back to Situ. “A man of few words, wise and concise.”
Situ raised an eyebrow and nodded.
There was a pause before Jiang Moyin spoke again. “I have some evidence of the 7th Prince’s misdeeds, something that will definitely abhor the Emperor. With the addition of the information you’ve gathered, we should be able bring him down. What do you say we work together?”
Situ shook his head. “I have no intention of working with the Heir as of this moment.”
Jiang Moyin laughed. “Alright then, I’ll be going as well.”
Just as Situ turned to return to his courtyard, a member of the Covert Guard appeared in front of him.
“General, I bring good news. The people assigned to keep watch at the prison witnessed a meeting between the leader of the group of merchants. They overheard the man blackmailing the leader with the safety of his family, promising to release them once Miss Feng is indicted three days later. I have seen the man before – he is a sishi1 working for the 7th Prince.”
“Seems like the 7th Prince really is the mastermind behind all of this!” Situ was deep in thought.
“General, could it be that someone is attempting to get rid of the 7th Prince by forcing your hand?”
“How should I know? Chang’an looks peaceful to the public, yet when you dig past the surface it’s a jumbled mass of undercurrents and pitfalls.” Situ raised an eyebrow. “Have you located the families of the merchants?”
“My apologies, General. My inefficiency has hindered the progress of the search. We are currently working on it, and I’ve pulled back the men we’ve previously sent to monitor the officials of the Judicial Bureau2 and tasked them to help with the search as well. I believe that the Grand Tutor’s men are already tracking the few officials in the Judicial Bureau you’d wanted us to monitor.”
“So that’s what he was referring to.” Situ shook his head, recalling the Chamberlain’s words. “Don’t worry about the officials. You can do that after the case is settled.”
Situ returned to his own courtyard, and headed into Feng Luodi’s room. He poked his head in to find Feng Luodi sitting alone, engrossed in a pile of bamboo slats in front of her. Qi Jianqiu was nowhere to be seen.
“Has she went back?” Situ walked in casually and poured himself a cup of tea.
“What else can she be doing?” Feng Luodi did not even raise her head.
“You are the one being charged, yet she looks more upset than you are.” Situ started poking fun at Feng Luodi.
Feng Luodi looked up at him, and smiled. “Did my father come by just now?”
“Girls shouldn’t be too smart.” Situ sipped his tea calmly.
“If I wasn’t smart enough, I’ll be counting the money you’re paid when you’ve sold me to human traffickers.”* Feng Luodi rolled her eyes, moving to sit beside him.
“There’s just one last thing, before the case is closed. It’s just as you predicted.” Situ poured her a cup of tea.
“Well, it’s all thanks to you.” Feng Luodi’s smile reached her eyes as she reached for the teapot and refilled Situ’s cup.
Situ laughed, and paused for a second. “Moyin had helped a lot as well.”
“Of course he did.” Feng Luodi did not even bat an eye. “It is his duty to protect his cute younger sister – me!”
“Cute?” Situ’s eyes widened and his brows rose, unable to believe what he’d just heard.
“Cough, cough!” Feng Luodi mentally slapped herself for her slip of the tongue, looking away to the ceiling. “You didn’t hear anything.”
“I have the best hearing in the entire army.” Situ’s eyes twinkled, refusing to cooperate with Feng Luodi.
“Hmph! How stubborn!” Feng Luodi’s face changed, but she quickly remembered that her life rested on Situ’s shoulders. Her tone softened. “You are in for a treat tonight. Jianqiu had went back to make a dinner for us; it’ll be a feast!”
“Her culinary skills are definitely good.” Situ smiled. “But I’d rather try your cooking.”
“Mine?!” Feng Luodi’s eye twitched, her gaze wandering all over the room. “Ha ha! My cooking is inedible. You’d have to urge to strangle me with your bare hands after eating the food I cook.”
“Wow! Now that, is truly impressive.” Situ laughed, and Feng Luodi was embarrassed. Why did I even say that!
Situ managed to contain his laughter, and looked at Feng Luodi. “How about some fresh game for a change?”
Feng Luodi’s eyes brightened. “Are there mountains in the area around Chang’an?”
Situ explained patiently. “There is a hunting ground on the Guan Mountain. It’ll be the Autumnal Hunt in ten days, and the Emperor will lead all the courtly officials to a retreat in the hunting grounds for five days. All officials of the Third Rank and above can bring their families along.”
It was rare to see Feng Luodi so excited about something else other than the ten Guqin. “Once I get out of detention, I will beg Father to bring me along!”
She turned to Situ. “You must be good in barbecuing food right? It’s always said that soldiers know the best way to enjoy their food.”
“You’ll find out when the time comes.” Situ continued drinking his tea.
While her two friends were sipping tea, poor Qi Jianqiu was busying about in the kitchen whipping up a feast for Feng Luodi. When she finally entered Feng Luodi’s room in Situ’s residence, she was shocked to see Situ sitting beside Feng Luodi. What! There goes my private dinner with Luodi!
Shooting daggers at him while smiling sweetly at Feng Luodi, Qi Jianqiu slowly introduced each dish to her. “We have here Fresh Prawn Dumplings in Red Oil, Chicken Soup Dumplings, Chicken Chunks dipped in wine, Ji Fish in Tomato Sauce, Tofu and Prawn Stew, Garden of Pearls and Lotus, Peppered Corn, Honeyed Ribs, and Fish-laced Tofu.”
Feng Luodi exclaimed. “I don’t believe it! How did you even manage to cook nine dishes in such a short span of time!”
Qi Jianqiu beamed broadly. “Aren’t I good at this? I can control the fire for three pots at the same time!”
Feng Luodi clapped encouragingly. “Of course you are! You’re amazing!”
“You could learn how to make this dish.” Situ casually took a piece of chicken and placed it into Feng Luodi’s plate. Qi Jianqiu glared at him and placed a piece of tofu into Feng Luodi’s plate as well.
When dinner ended, Qi Jianqiu looked down at the table, and said to Feng Luodi. “I’m sorry, Luodi. I wasn’t of any help at all this time.”
“Nonsense! You helped me so much!” Feng Luodi grinned. “I couldn’t eat nor sleep well before you came, andit was only thanks to your cooking that I can finally enjoy my first meal!”
Lying through her teeth! How outrageous! Situ looked at Feng Luodi bemusedly. This woman would still be calmly playing her zither and sipping her tea, even if the sky crashed down on her head! The only things that seem to be able to rile her are the ten Guqin… Remembering the Guqin, the light in Situ’s eyes dimmed. What is it that’s so special about the Guqin that makes her so determined to get them? No… to be exact, they make her obsessed with the Guqin.
Feng Luodi quickly made Qi Jianqiu laugh again, and soon the conversation between the two girls veered to sensitive girl-topics where Situ quickly excused himself. Qi Jianqiu quickly turned serious.
“Luodi, don’t you think it’s bad for you to stay here in his courtyard? You have yet to marry, and he is single as well. If news of this gets out, it’ll ruin your reputation!”
“You know I don’t care about that, and neither does he.” At the end of the day, she didn’t care too much about her reputation since she was planning to leave as soon as possible.
“Of course he doesn’t mind, he’s a man! But you are a distinguished maiden, Luodi. The rumours and gossips of the city will bury you alive!”
“I’ve never cared about what others thought of me. Those who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter.”
Qi Jianqiu sighed. “How can you be so different from the rest of us?” She was unable to convince Feng Luodi otherwise, and quickly changed her approach.
“Has there been any developments between the two of you? You guys have been living in the same courtyard.”
“What can happen?” Feng Luodi was puzzled. “We don’t live under the same roof; he minds his own business, and so do I. Besides, Situ is usually quite busy most of the time.”
“Then have you ever thought about why he is always so insistent on helping you?” Qi Jianqiu pursed her lips.
“Are you saying…that it’s not because I’m irresistibly cute?” Feng Luodi exclaimed exaggeratedly, and Qi Jianqiu laughed.
“Fine, fine. You win this time.”
- The Sishi are a group of loyal followers to a certain person in power, loyal to their deathbed. They are mostly responsible for the underhanded work that the rich have to do. The original Chinese characters meaning “Death Warriors” – a little too melodramatic to put it in the context of the novel 😛 ↩
- Situ had previously sent men to ‘spy’ on those who would benefit from Chamberlain Feng’s impeachment. ↩