Chapter 46 Rising Wind: Conundrum
By the time the Administrator entered the courtyard, the two aides dragged behind him by the officers, Feng Luodi had already packed up the food and wine. The three of them sat upright by the stone table.
“Your Grace, Grand Tutor, Miss Feng.” The Administrator greeted the few of them before taking a seat.
“How is it going?” Situ’s eyes narrowed as they swept over the two aides kneeling on the floor. These two look normal and harmless, but of course, looks can be deceiving. I myself have trained many soldiers well versed in the arts of deception before.
“Follow your tip off, my officers had shadowed these two to the oleander fields in the outskirts of the city. They had been seen collecting the oleander flowers, and we caught them when they were about to place the toxins into the base of the statue.” The Administrator explained.
“Have they confessed yet?” Situ took a sip of tea. Feng Luodi and Jiang Moyin were only here to watch and assist in the case, Situ was in charge.
“Yes they did.” The Administrator waved for the officers to bring the two aides forward. “They had tried to convince us that they were innocent, but confessed when we ignored their pleas and brought them straight here. Your Grace, do you have any other questions for them?”
“What were you intending to do?” Situ’s raven black eyes looked coldly at the two men shaking involuntarily on the floor.
“We…we had intended to let the poison slowly seep into the statue throughout autumn and winter, which will then be dispersed in a thick smog over Chang’an when the heat from spring and summer releases all the toxin at one go.” One of the aides spoke up.
“How malicious.” Situ smirked. “Who’s instructions are these?”
“Nobody. We did it on our own accord.”
“Nobody?” Situ said it slowly, his voice as cold as ice. He drew a bundle of cloth letters1 from the folds of his robe. “Then why did I find letters exchanged between the two of you and the Ailao ambassador in your houses? Your deaths alone would not be enough to pay for this crime; this will implicate all nine generations of your family.”
The two aides were scared half to death, shaking and whimpering uncontrollably on the floor.
“Your Grace, please spare us! We had no other choice! We will tell you everything!”
“You had no other choice?” Situ laughed, a cold and sharp sound. He slowly took a sip of his tea. “Tell me about it, then.”
“My wife and son has been kidnapped by the Ailao ambassador.” One of the aides spoke up, his face full of anger and pain. “They threatened to kill them if I did not obey their orders. I had no choice!”
“Your families were kidnapped?” Situ put down his teacup, and rubbed his chin. “Are you stupid? You could have turned to your Chief or the yamen for help, yet you decided to take their money and poison the thousands of civilians, all the while lying to yourselves that you were only doing it for the sake of your family. If we hadn’t caught you before spring, you would have killed thousands of people. They would be your neighbours, your colleagues, or your friends. How foolish.”
Feng Luodi listened to Situ’s speech, a look of awe on her face. I have never seen Situ speak so many words in the same breath before! His words are so sharp and critical! He is so….
“Isn’t he charming?” Jiang Moyin leaned in and whispered quietly in her ear.
Feng Luodi quickly shook her head, and Jiang Moyin smiled.
Situ turned to the Administrator. “We will have to trouble you to bring them back to the yamen for their statement. Keep the entire case under wraps, and have them in solitary confinement. Nobody can speak a word about this.”
“Of course, your Grace.” The Administrator look worriedly at Situ. “I’m worried about something else. We have to destroy the statue in the North Plaza, but that is exactly something we cannot do because of its significance! Moreover, what should we do about the Ailao ambassador?”
“I will see to that. Of course, I will require the statements of these two to be sent to me. I will convene with the Emperor on both matters, and act according to his wishes.”
“I see. I thank you for your help in this matter, your Grace. I will take my leave now.” The Administrator looked relieved, and quickly left with his men and the two aides.
Feng Luodi was confused. “Putting the matter of the statue aside, can’t you just bring in the ambassador as well, seeing as how you already have evidence of their participation in this? They are blatantly harming the lives of our citizens; surely there is no need to be diplomatic!” Her tone was raised at the end.
Situ did not speak, but Jiang Moyin pointed at the bundle of cloth letters on the table. Feng Luodi reached over to open them, and was surprised to see it all empty.
“You put on a show for them! And they bought it because you were so convincing!” Feng Luodi exclaimed, but her brows furrowed again. “Since they had bought your fake, can’t we just bring the ambassador in with the statements of the two aides?”
“But at the end of the day, we don’t have concrete evidence of their involvement in the matter.” Situ poured himself a cup of tea. “He can simply claim that they are innocent, and convince the rest of the other countries at the meet of being mistreated by us.”
“You sound very experienced in this; has it happened before?” Feng Luodi’s focus quickly shifted.
Situ turned to look at Jiang Moyin, and Feng Luodi followed his gaze.
Jiang Moyin smiled. “It has happened before, but it was said by an ambassador from our kingdom.”
Feng Luodi’s eyes widened. “Brother, you were the one who did that? That can’t be possible; you don’t look like that kind of person to me.”
“You have to have more faith in your brother’s eloquence. He can’t beat anyone with his fists, but he can beat ten times as many people in a debate.” Situ smiled.
“Woahhhhhh!” Feng Luodi looked in admiration at Jiang Moyin.
Lu Bo walked in with a few rolls of bamboo slats. “Your Grace, these are the statements from the two aides. Both of them have been signed and endorsed by themselves.”
“Good.” Situ took over the slats, and got up from the bench. He turned to the other two. “I will have to head into the palace now. No worries, I’ll send word regarding any further developments.”
“Send them straight to Dream Mirrors instead.” Jiang Moyin suggested. “I’ll be with Luodi at Dream Mirrors for the next few days.”
Situ looked at him, and paused for a moment. “Alright then. Till the next time we meet.”
When Situ was out of earshot, Feng Luodi looked at Jiang Moyin, surprised. “Why are we going to Dream Mirrors? I’m not a fan of dances; I prefer music.”
Jiang Moyin smiled. “I’m asking on behalf of a certain someone, who had been rejected at the door of the Feng household when she went to feed you.”
“Jianqiu?” Feng Luodi blinked a few times, and looked a little displeased. “Has she went to look for me before? Why wasn’t I informed of this by Fu Bo?”
“You’re supposed to be grounded these days, aren’t you.” Jiang Moyin said with a twinkle in his eyes. “Let me guess: they’d found out about your involvement in Autumnal Ombre?”
Feng Luodi smiled lightly, and placed the pot of tea over the small stove. “Let’s just take it as that.”
If it was before, Jiang Moyin would not have pushed the subject any further once he saw the despondent look on her face. However, he reached over and gently pulled her hand away from the kettle.
“Hmm?” Feng Luodi looked at Jiang Moyin, and turned back down to her hand.
“Aren’t you always very careful with your hands? If you had left your hands on the kettle any longer, it would have been scalded.” Jiang Moyin carefully inspected her hands, and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that her hand was perfectly unscathed. “Can’t you tell me about it?”
Feng Luodi sighed. “I guess you could say that I had upset some people when I tried to stand up for my mother.”
Her tone was casual, but a rage burned deep inside of her. Father had loved Mother dearly. Even though she was no longer able to bear child after she had given birth to me, he had not taken another concubine until the pressure from his relatives was too much to bear. I can understand his decision, but his lack of concern for Mother from then onwards is unacceptable to me. Now that the Second Lady is pregnant, he cares even less for Mother. She may take it lying down, but I have to stand up for her. Feng Luodi had been kept her frustration within her, but was scolded by her Mother after having a disagreement with the Second Lady a few days ago. That, coupled with the realisation that she had continued seeing Situ and her involvement in Autumnal Ombre, resulted in her being grounded for the past few days.
“Is it really acceptable to forget about Mother once you had gotten yourself a new wife?” Feng Luodi could not keep her anger down any longer. “Has he forgotten about all the vows he had sworn to her?”
“I cannot understand that, seeing as how I am still single.” It was the first time Jiang Moyin had seen this side of Feng Luodi. She was sad and vulnerable, even more so than she was when the First Lady was in critical condition. His voice was grave and serious when he spoke. “I will only marry one person in my life, and I will stay by her side forever.”
“But you are not my father.” Feng Luodi pressed her lips in a thin line. “He has already married two women.”
Jiang Moyin was at a loss for words. In the Xuan dynasty, it was commonplace for a men to have many wives, but also not unacceptable for a man to only have one wife. It was all dependent on the man’s love for his wife.
“Then do your best to ignore it, and use your intelligence to help your mother.” Jiang Moyin poured a cup of tea for Feng Luodi from the heated kettle.
“I don’t want to waste my energy in such affairs.” Feng Luodi glared at him. “What’s more, Mother doesn’t need my help at all. She is much more beautiful, smarter, and gentle than I am.”
“Woah! Are you serious! How amazing of a woman can she be, if you’re already so attractive and mesmerising?”
Feng Luodi couldn’t help but smile at his tone. “Brother, you are pretty sweet with your words too, aren’t you?”
Jiang Moyin smiled, and waved to an attendant. “The day is still early. Why don’t you play a song for me, my mesmerising lady?”
“Stop teasing me!” Feng Luodi glared at him. “I didn’t bring my zither today. Why don’t we head to Dream Mirrors tomorrow and listen to music as we watch their dance?”
Jiang Moyin shook his head. “The mood is already set – it calls for a musical performance. No worries; I have many zithers in my household.” As he spoke, the attendant brought forward a zither, and Jiang Moyin handed it to Feng Luodi.
Feng Luodi refused to take the zither from him, and smiled mischievously. “I’ve always heard that the Second Gentleman of Chang’an is well versed in the arts of the zither. It’s such a pity that I, as his sister, had never heard him play before! Will I be graced by your music today?”
“It is my pleasure to play for one such as yourself, Miss Luodi.” Jiang Moyin smiled warmly and put his hands to the strings. Music flowed from the zither as he gently plucked at the strings.
Feng Luodi’s mouth opened in surprise. The song that he’s playing is “Blue-flower Porcelain“! She smiled, and waved to the attendant again. As he returned with another zither, Feng Luodi looked at Jiang Moyin, and set her fingers to the strings as well.
Under the blue sky, two pairs of hands weaved a duet tinged with nostalgia into the autumn air.
- Although the Xuan Dynasty is supposedly based off the historical Tang/Song Dynasty where paper has already been invented, it is safe to assume otherwise in this series. If disregarding this fact, cloth would be the cheaper alternative to bamboo, and it would be a preferred medium for simple, non-official documents used by the general population. ↩