Chapter 239 – Black Bones
Original and most updated translations are from volare. Please don’t read elsewhere and stop supporting theft.
Li Shiyan gave Xiao Luzi an unfriendly stare, then turned to face Ji Yunshu. He bit his lower lip, eyes full of regret, and said warmly, “Shu’er, I’m really leaving.”
He continued, “I know that you don’t like me much, that you can’t be bothered with me. But, it’s my fortune to meet you.” He smiled earnestly.
To be fair, the two of them had not had much contact; the most they had exchanged was when they were discussing the case on Liang Mountain. Hence, they were not the fastest of friends, but Ji Yunshu was not as put off by him as she used to be. She bowed. “Take care.”
He nodded, then waved his fan, just like when they first met at that inn in Yu Province.
He finally shuffled his feet out of the estate, looking back every step of the way. He could still be heard him berating Xiao Luzi from far, far away. Poor thing!
Ji Yunshu’s mind settled down as the surroundings reverted to their peaceful state.
She circled the coffins and reached out for one. The fresh soil sullied her clean hands, the coolness of the dirt emanating throughout her entire body down to her bones. She muttered to herself, “What really happened fourteen years ago to have caused the entire household to perish?”
‘Just as Ji Huan said, something must surely be afoot with this case. But would it be too difficult to investigate? If it really involved the royal family, who would it be? How could I speed up this hefty process? It would be too tiring to make clay models and sketch portraits day and night for two years…’
Lang Po and some servants arrived shortly after. Without any notice, they began busying about the yard – some cleaned, others washed; broken furniture was disposed of outside, and new ones moved in. The rich really were rich – there was a perfectly good chair with a chipped corner that was thrown out immediately!
Ji Yunshu sighed. Even though it was not her money, that was no way to live! She could not resist, “Brother Lang!”
Lang Po came bounding over, “Did Teacher Ji need something?”
“Is the Rong Estate moving into this manor?”
“No, His Highness made no such comment. Moreover, His Highness’s estate cannot be moved without reason.” Lang Po was serious.
Ji Yunshu sighed, furrowing her brows. She looked around and sternly said, “Since His Highness is not moving, then why are you demolishing this yard?”
Lang Po quickly refuted, “What is Teacher Ji saying? This humble servant did not have anyone demolish this garden. These things were just too old, so they have to be thrown out.” Spoken like a true rich man!
Ji Yunshu shook her head. “If these items are not broken beyond repair, then they don’t have to be replaced. I’m not staying here forever – if you redo the whole place, a lot of money will be spent. These taels are the people’s and shouldn’t be spent needlessly. Let these men bring back all the items you threw out – just cleaning them would suffice.”
“It’s settled then. If you decide against it, then return to the Rong Estate. I will get used to it.” She turned and headed towards the coffins.
Lang Po was torn; all he wanted was to refurbish this dusty, neglected place. How did he offend Ji Yunshu!
Hence, he ordered the others to move the furniture outside back in, getting rid of only the really rotten ones. The place was finally in order after a whole morning’s work.
Ji Yunshu circled around the coffins, waiting for the damp paper to dry before getting a few servants to open one of them. An expected foul stench filled the air, causing some of the servants to gag! Luckily, there was no more rotten flesh and only bones were left, or otherwise, it would have been even more disgusting! But this set of bones were black, not white.
She mulled over it for a moment, then asked Lang Po, “Where is the name register from the Ministry of Revenue?”
“The Capital Governor has a copy.”
“Good. Go and retrieve it, then ask if there were any sick servants in the Imperial Duke’s estate.”
Lang Po took no time to make his way to the capital governor’s place and back. He handed over a register, saying, “I asked around – there was one man named Zhang Kui who was sick. The Imperial Duke was very nice to him and even had the imperial doctors come to treat him, but he had an incurable illness and could not live long.”
“Was there only this one man?”
“It was recorded as such.”
Ji Yunshu nodded, saying, “Since this Zhang Kui was only one to have ever been ill in the whole of the Imperial Duke’s estate, there is no need to sketch a portrait – this skeleton is Zhang Kui’s.” She declared there and then.
Lang Po was puzzled, “How are you so sure?”
Ji Yunshu flipped through the register in her hands until she reached Zhang Kui’s name and lightly struck him off with her fingernail. Removing this name would save her about a week’s time. She did not forget to explain to Lang Po. “Only those who were poisoned or had cancer while they were alive would have black bones when they died.”
“I guess it’s what you refer to as an incurable illness!” Lang Po seemed to understand but was still confused.
Ji Yunshu closed the register and had the men open another coffin. The skeleton in that one was not strange and looked intact, but it was difficult to be certain just by looking at its height and build. She had to sketch its portrait.
Ji Yunshu put on her gloves and removed the skull from the coffin, placing it onto the coffin cover, and said, “Could I please trouble Brother Lang to bring my two sandalwood boxes and some moulding clay from the Rong Estate?”
“I understand!” Lang Po was unbelievably efficient – he brought what she requested in no time.
Ji Yunshu held the skull firmly in her hands and headed for the study in the yard after instructing a servant to close the coffin. While she concentrated on reconstructing its face, Lang Po kept watch of the outside, keeping Ji Yunshu undisturbed.
“Zijin,” Ji Yunshu placed the skull on her desk and called out softly towards the air. A shadow flew down beside her. Shi Zijin was expressionless as usual, awaiting her orders.
Ji Yunshu took a furtive glance outside before saying, “There is something I need you to help me do outside the capital!”
Grenn’s Rants Corner
Let’s talk about the “black bones.” In real life, it’s more complicated to determine if someone had cancer from their bones alone. Many types of cancer don’t change the shape or color of the bones, like stomach cancer, and having black bones doesn’t mean the deceased had cancer. The usual signs of bone cancer are the deformation of the bones more than the color. In Chinese Drama, black bones are fictionally associated to a disease/poison. I guess the author didn’t want to spend lots of arcs on the identification of each corpse, thus using this to quickly strike out one names from the 67 corpses. If you’re interested in the taphonomic of bone staining/coloration (a.k.a study of why buried bones don’t have normal coloration) or forensic bone pathology, click on the links if you don’t mind seeing a few human bones pictures: here and here.
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