Chapter 21 Wind Crane: Murder!
After that encounter with the 7th Prince, Feng Luodi learnt her lesson and started spending her time at home, playing the zither and accompanying her sick mother. In the span of a few days, news and rumours of her spread like wildfire, some good and some bad. Some said she could play the zither better than the supposed best zither artiste in Chang’an, while others focused on the fact that she was rejected by the 7th Prince because of her ungainly looks. Interestingly enough, there were rumours that the Grand Tutor Jiang Moyin favoured her, seeing as how he stood up for her in the hall. Many of the nobility tried to fish for information about her through the Chamberlain, but he was a man who was only interested in his duties and took no notice.
Another factor that kept Feng Luodi in the household was the First Lady’s recovering health, now able to sit and dine with the rest of the family. Feng Luodi constantly felt guilty about taking over this body, and tried to make up for it by spending as much time as she could with the First Lady. As for Wind Crane, she could only spend her nights thinking of a solution, feeling restless at night..
One morning, just as Feng Luodi finished getting ready for the day, Scarlet ran in, panting heavily.
“Young miss, this is bad! Really bad!”
“What’s wrong?” Feng Luodi was calm as she poured a cup of tea. “Come have a cup of tea. I woke up early today and brewed it myself.”
“Young miss!” Scarlet dashed over and grabbed Feng Luodi’s sleeve. “Come with me to the antechamber! This is really bad!”
“What happened?” Feng Luodi looked at her. “You need to tell me what happened so I can assess the situation. We can’t go stumbling into the antechamber at this hour, it’ll spell big trouble for us if we interrupted his meeting.”
“I…I…I…” Within a moment, Scarlet was gasping for breath. Now it was Feng Luodi’s turn to panic. She quickly stroked Scarlet’s back in an attempt to help her regulate her breathing.
“Your lungs are weak. Next time get a servant to do it, don’t run around so quickly yourself.”
In a few minutes, Scarlet’s breathing stabilised waving a hand to signal she was fine.. “I’m alright now, young lady.” She paused for a second and looked at Feng Luodi. “The Administrator of Chang’an is here and talking to the Chamberlain right now. He’s accusing you of murder!”
“What? Murder?” Feng Luodi was shocked. Somebody died? How can someone who’s been at home the whole time possibly be a suspect?”
“It’s Miss Linglong of Moonglade….I mean, her two handmaidens, who were responsible for taking care of Wind Crane. They’ve been found dead, and Wind Crane missing!” She stammered nervously, “Y-you showed a great interest in Wind Crane that day in Moonglade…the Administrator sa-says you are suspected of killing them to steal Wind Crane. The Chamberlain was furious at the Administrator and accused him of slandering your name. Right now, he’s still arguing with the Administrator in the antechamber, and has already missed his time to go to court today. He specifically told us not to let the First Lady know about this.”
Now Feng Luodi understood the situation. It was perfectly understandable why she would be suspected if the crime involved the theft of Wind Crane. She strode out of her courtyard after instructing Scarlet to rest from her exhaustion, and quickly reached the reception hall. Inside, she saw a man she did not recognise in court-attire wiping his brow furiously. The Chamberlain had his back to the man and was reprimanding him, fury apparent in his voice. Seeing Feng Luodi arrive, the Administrator relaxed visibly. But before he could say anything, the Chamberlain waved her away. “I’m discussing matters with the Administrator here, go back to your room right now, young lady.”
“Wait a moment, young miss!” The Administrator quickly interrupted, “I just want to ask you a few questions, like what you were doing when it happened. Just some routine investigation, that’s all.” The Administrator was visibly anxious. When word of the crime got out, the 7th Prince immediately sent a message to him, hinting to him that Feng Luodi might very well be responsible. However, Feng Luodi was the daughter of the Chamberlain, and it would not look good for him, or the Feng Household, if she was taken into custody. Although the Chamberlain’s status could not compare to that of the prince, he was much higher in rank than the Administrator. Moreover, the Chamberlain was the head of the singular most important bureau in the kingdom, the Judicial Bureau, and was someone nobody wanted to offend. Stuck between the Devil and the deep blue sea, one could only imagine how stressed the Administrator felt.
Before the Chamberlain could lash out at the Administrator for his disrespectful request, Feng Luodi spoke up quickly. “Father, I can understand why the Administrator will classify me as a suspect. I do have motive to steal Wind Crane, and it would be best to clear my name with the routine investigation. I am willing to follow the Administrator to the yamen to help in the investigation.”
“That is impossible! You’re my daughter, the daughter of a 2nd Rank Official in the kingdom. If news of this spreads, nobody will be willing to take you as their wife in the future!
“No no, that won’t be the case. We just need to ask a few simple questions, make a statement of it, and we’ll send her back immediately! Nobody will know about it, your Honour.” Seeing Feng Luodi’s willingness to aid in the investigation, the Administrator quickly jumped at this chance.
Seeing that the Chamberlain was about to say something again, Feng Luodi quickly walked over and tugged on his sleeve. “Father, you’ll be late for court if you don’t leave now, which I know you’ve never been. Trust me, I know what I’m doing.” She paused. “I’ll bring Fu Bo* along as well, you can trust him even if you don’t trust me, alright? Besides, do you think they’ll dare to lift a finger at me, knowing that I’m the daughter of the Chamberlain of Chang’an??”
“Argh…fine then.” He exhaled noisily through his nose. He glanced at the Administrator, knowing he wouldn’t do anything to Feng Luodi. More importantly, he believed in Fu Bo, who’s been with him for more than 20 years. I can count on him to control the situation if things go south.Patting Feng Luodi lightly on her arm, his voice softened. “Be careful later, alright?” Turning to give the Administrator a hard look, he quickly left to get ready for court.
As soon as the Chamberlain left, the Administrator heaved a sigh, relief apparent on his face. He turned to bow at Feng Luodi. “Young miss, follow me if you will.” As the two left, Fu Bo and Scarlet, who just arrived at the antechamber, quickly followed behind.
When they reached the yamen, a set of brush, ink and bamboo slats were brought out quickly. As Feng Luodi was the daughter of the Chamberlain, the Administrator took charge of the questioning, out of respect for her father.
“Where were you two nights ago, at nine in the night?”
“I was at home. I had just finished bidding goodnight to my mother, and was about to turn in for the night myself.”
“Are there any witnesses?”
“All the handmaidens and servants in the household can attest to that. If that’s not enough for you, my mother can bear witness as well.”
“Oh that…” the Administrator looked conflicted. “They won’t be able to count as witnesses, they are all part of the household, and are directly related to you.”
Fu Bo interjected before Feng Luodi could say anything. “Administrator, I acknowledge the fact that our young missus did have an interest Wind Crane, and is a possible suspect in the case. But she can’t be the main suspect, right? If everyone in the household cannot qualify as a witness, I’m sure the hawkers and vendors along our street will be able to verify that our young missus have not left the household at all. Of course, you are free to question them yourselves.”
“Of course, of course.” Although Fu Bo was a mere butler, the Administrator did not take his words lightly, and quickly summoned the vendors along Zhengnan street for questioning. After some time, the Administrator was satisfied with their answers, and naturally, Feng Luodi was now clear of suspicion.
He smiled apologetically at Feng Luodi. “Now that it has been checked out, we can confirm that although Miss Feng has motive, she has an alibi and concrete evidence to support that. I have it all written down, and you will not be implicated anymore, young miss. Thank you for your help with the investigation, you may now return home.” The Administrator had already decided to hand this statement to the 7th Prince, and with the accusation of Feng Luodi out of the way, finally be able to investigate the murder.
However, Feng Luodi did not move, but bowed at Fu Bo. “Fu Bo, my name has already been cleared, and you can return home now. I have a few things I would like to ask the Administrator.”
“Young missus, this…” Fu Bo hesitated.
“It’ll be fine, Scarlet is here with me even if anything happens.” Feng Luodi smiled playfully at him, “My father knows that I’m here as well, nothing can happen to me.” Hearing that, Fu Bo excused himself to the Administrator, and promptly left the yamen, after reminding Scarlet to take care of Feng Luodi.
The Administrator looked quizzically at Feng Luodi, unsure as to what was happening. “Miss Feng, do you have something to ask me?”
Feng Luodi smiled. “Yes, I do. Like you said, I have motive to commit the crime, and that is my desire to play a song on Wind Crane. Because of that, I am very interested in this case as well. May I participate in the investigation as well? If I was allowed to visit the crime scene, I may be able to find some clues, and that may help to speed up the investigation.”
“Oh?’ The Administrator hesitated. “That isn’t in accordance with the rules.” He looked at the assistant magistrate to confirm, who nodded in agreement.
“I know that breaches protocol, sir.” Feng Luodi replied earnestly, “But as you well know, my father is the Chamberlain of Justice. And thanks to that, I am well versed in the various aspects of crime scene investigation, and will definitely contribute to the investigation efforts.”
“The constables of my yamen can do their job well.” The Administrator immediately said.
“Of course, I am well aware of that.” Feng Luodi nodded in agreement. “They must be competent enough, to be able to work under a experienced magistrate such as yourself. What I meant was that in a place like Moonglade, many of the clientele, and hence your suspects, would be people of high status, thanks to its fame as the best zither parlour in Chang’an and the beauty of Miss Linglong. Their status and ranks will no doubt prove an inconvenience for your investigation.”
The Administrator and the assistant magistrate exchanged looks, knowing it was true. The problem was one they had already faced, with the 7th Prince using his authority to accuse Feng Luodi.
“What do you propose then, Miss Feng?” The assistant magistrate asked.
“My father’s duty as the Chamberlain of Justice is to investigate political crimes, and his position is one whom the officials and nobles wouldn’t dare to cross.. Although I’m only his daughter, my presence during the investigation could represent him to some extent, and will very likely make it easier for the constables to question the clients of Moonglade.” Feng Luodi said calmly.
“All that I request, is to be issued a badge of authorisation, that gives me access to the crime scene to assist in the investigation. The sooner we retrieve Wind Crane, the sooner I can borrow the Guqin from Linglong. If you decide that I am hampering the investigation in any way, I am willing to accept punishment, in accordance to the rules of the Xuan Dynasty.” Seeing the hesitation in the Administrator’s eyes, Feng Luodi added quickly.” Of course, I could also write a statement now to clarify that I am acting on my own accord, and that my actions do not represent the yamen in any way.”
Now that Feng Luodi has promised to not implicate the yamen, the Administrator had no reason to refuse. “If that is the case, you may follow the constables to the crime scene and participate in the investigation.”
“Thank you, sir.” Feng Luodi curtsied, not expecting the Administrator to be convinced so easily. Perhaps he just doesn’t want to offend anyone, I guess.
Receiving her badge from the assistant magistrate, Feng Luodi and Scarlet quickly followed Constable Zheng, the most reputable constable in the yamen, to Moonglade. As they walked, the constable briefed Feng Luodi on the details of the case.
According to the owner of Moonglade, the victims were the two handmaidens responsible for the security of Wind Crane. The estimated time of death is 9pm, two days ago. Our autopsy results shows that one died from a stab wound to the chest, while the other had her throat cut. Both of them were drugged, and there were no signs of struggle in the room they were found. We have already cordoned the area”
He continued on. “As Moonglade is only a zither parlour, there are only two guards watching grounds at night, and were already sleeping during the estimated time of death. No witnesses have come forward as of yet, and we have yet to find the murder weapon. The two handmaidens were orphans, taken in by the owner since young, and were given to Linglong as her personal handmaidens.”
The constable sighed. “The amount of people the handmaidens contact frequently are very limited, yet we have no leads at all.”
“I’m sure there’s more to this case, than meets the eye, Constable.” Feng Luodi asked, gazing up at the building of Moonglade as they approached.
*Bo: A term used to a refer to old servants, usually experienced. Similar to mama