Chapter 118 – The Journey Back to the Capital
The next day, the fire in the Ji Mansion had been extinguished. However it was not before the reception hall and the West Side courtyard were completely burnt to the ground, along with Ji Yuanzhi’s corpse and coffin. The morning came with yet another news: over the night, Old Madame Ji, who had suffered an emotional trauma and a cold, had passed away. What followed the information was a letter of banishment from the Ji Mansion:
The descendant Ji Yunshu, for the decadence of her words and actions, for her lack of filial obedience and her lack of moral decency, is henceforth banished from the Ji family, never to be inscribed into the Ji genealogy.
Ji Yunshu looked at the piece of paper, at the characters traced in a distinct black ink and at the official seal of her family. She gave a cold laugh and threw it into the furnace. She stared at the document as it turned into cinder, and her eyes glittered with pleasure; she knew that the rest of her family must have wanted to slice her with a thousand blades, and throw her remains into the woods for the wolves and jackals. Ji Yuanzhi and Old Madame Ji were dead.
‘Who will you blame now? Me? Make no mistake, I will not carry the burden of your bad deeds.’
Jing Rong’s orders went through, and the preparations for the trip back to the capital began. The carriage was readied and waiting for her right outside of the manor.
Before leaving, Ji Yunshu stopped by the Wei Mansion. She left whatever belongings she had received from the Weis to Wei Fu and instructed him to send the servants home if matters were to come to the worst. The case at the Capital would no doubt take over a year, and when all was over, maybe she would simply settle down in a small town with Wei Yi and live there as a simple coroner.
It took Wei Yi quite long to pack up, and when he was done, he had several sacks piled up in front of him. “When mother was alive, she said that you must always bring everything with you whenever you go out.”
He pointed at a yellow bag. “These are my clothes.”
Then at a blue bag. “These are my shoes.”
Finally at a small chest. “These are things father and mother bought for me. A kite, a necklace and…”
“Wei Yi,” Ji Yunshu interrupted him.
“Yes, Shu’er? Are you calling me?”
‘Of course I am, otherwise, it would seem like you are going to forget that I am still here.’ Ji Yunshu gave him two rolled-up pieces of paper she had brought. “Bring these with you, as for the rest, you’ll only need two sets of spare clothing.”
Wei Yi looked at the rolls, perplexed. He unfurled them and cried out in happiness, “It’s mom and dad!”
Ji Yunshu had completed these portraits overnight. Wei Yi clung onto them and refused to let them go, completely forgetting about the big and small sacks that he had prepared.
On the road back to Grand Canal Manor, Ji Yunshu could overhear gossips about what had happened at the Ji Mansion. Some people were claiming that it was the third miss who set the mansion on fire, and that she murdered Old Madame Ji. Apparently, she had gone mad and even disfigured herself.
‘I’ll confess to the arson. Only that, the rest are just rumors, rumors! Luckily there are no social media, otherwise I’ll become the epitome of ungratefulness, and I’ll probably drown in the spit of gossipers before I can make it out of Jinjiang City…’ thought Ji Yunshu.
Outside of the manor, Jing Rong was already mounted on his horse. He held the reins and pushed slightly against the belly of the horse with his gold-laced boots. The purple robe he wore, emblazoned with golden motifs, was replaced by metal armor and a silver helmet; he was proud like a general ready for great conquests. Upon seeing Ji Yunshu and Wei Yi, he threw a glance at Lang Po and signaled a nod. Lang Po pulled the vehicle over and said to Ji Yunshu, “Miss Ji, the preparations have been made, please mount the carriage with Young Master Wei.”
“Yay, we can ride a carriage now!” Wei Yi jumped onto the carriage with the two portraits without waiting further.
Ji Yunshu flashed a glance at Jing Rong, who had his back turned. She whispered to Lang Po, “Is your Highness not riding in the carriage?”
“Prince Rong has said that he would not share the carriage with commoners.”
‘Oh, he really remembers what I’ve said.’ Ji Yunshu acquiesced and also mounted into the carriage.
She had barely dropped down the curtain and sat down when she heard a familiar voice outside. “Yunshu, I’m here to bid you farewell.”
Ji Yunshu raised the curtain with her pale finger and saw the sweaty face of the Magistrate outside. “Lord Liu?”
He seemed saddened and frustrated by her departure. “Yunshu, after leaving like that, how am I going to take care of the cases in the yamen?”
“Are you insisting that I stay here?”
“Well…” Magistrate peeked in Jing Rong’s direction fearfully and hesitated. “I wouldn’t dare to keep whomever Prince Rong seeks.”
Ji Yunshu pondered for a second and said, “Lord Liu, go to the Li family village and look for someone called Li Hai. He’s a coroner. Let him replace me at the yamen.”
“He worked on the abandoned corpse case a year ago. He’ll surely be of great help.”
“Yes, I’ll make sure to look for him.” Magistrate Liu hurried to express his approval. He sighed and added, “with the fuss at the Ji Mansion, it’s probably for the best that you leave. But, if you ever return, don’t forget to tell me about it.”
Ji Yunshu was often frustrated by this not-so-bright Magistrate, especially with all the cases she has gone through over the last five years. However, she had to admit that he was very kind to her. Whenever she needed money or was not in a good mood, he would always try to appease her with silver. He tried his best to meet all of her demands.
‘Hmm, I wonder how much extra silver Jing Rong will be willing to add in for the Lin Capital case… Ah, nevermind, I’m straying off again.’ She pursed her lips into a smile and looked at the Magistrate one last time. “Farewell, you blockhead.”
She retracted her head back into the carriage and dropped the curtain. A smile appeared; she would miss that blockhead Liu.
“Shu’er, who’s a blockhead?” Wei Yi stared at her and asked.
She shook her head and did not answer him.
The carriage picked up its pace, and they were out of Jinjiang City before long. She thought of the place one last time; there was nothing worth remembering, except for that plum flower park and the young man who stood under the tree. The party entered the mountains following the small path from the city, and, when night fell, so did the vernal rain. The rain patted the ceiling of the carriage, and gusts of cold wind blew the curtain open and penetrated within the carriage, accompanied by a few droplets. Some of them fell onto the veil Ji Yunshu wore and sank into her cheeks, bringing a tingling sense of coldness. Ji Yunshu kept her eyes closed for a while, and, when she opened them once more, she saw Wei Yi sound asleep with the two rolls of paper between his arms.
The carriage waggled from the uneven road, which was not maintained by the kingdom. Ji Yunshu tugged at the curtain and saw the forests and the woods outside: they must still be within the mountains. She looked at the road ahead and saw a couple of guards leading the way with torches in their hands, casting a bright light upon the road they were traveling on. Her gaze halted on Jing Rong. She stared at his figure, at the gloss of his damp silk robe. Jing Rong seemed completely unaffected by the downpour.
“Prince, we’ve found a broken temple ahead!” Someone shouted.
Ji Yunshu immediately shrank back into the carriage. For reasons she herself could not quite explain, she was afraid that Jing Rong would notice her. They halted at the entrance of the temple. Ji Yunshu shook Wei Yi until he woke up, and pulled him into the derelict building. Jing Rong’s guards gathered some dry wood and piled them up into two fires. Jing Rong, Lang Po, Ji Yunshu, and Wei Yi gathered around one of them, whereas the dozens of guards huddled around the second. They had barely sat down when another group of people rushed into the building. Five or six of them carried a coffin which looked quite heavy, and their clothes were completely soaked.
“Quick, quick! Get it in quickly! Before the body of Madame becomes wet!” A man, who had put up an umbrella for his master, ordered the people who carried the coffin.