Chapter 57 Abysmal: A Close Call
Feng Luodi had been detained in her room in Situ’s courtyard for the past three days, but thanks to the regular visits of Qi Jianqiu, her days hadn’t been too unbearable. She was afraid at times, being unable to do anything about how predicament, but she placed her faith in Situ and Jiang Moyin, knowing that they would do their best to help her get out of this predicament.. An elder brother and good friends – that is my biggest reward in this world.
On the third day, a member of the Covert Guard appeared before Situ in his study.
“General, we have found the families of the seven merchants. Unfortunately, I had to kill a few of their captors in the fray.” The Guard knelt on the floor on one knee.
“That is fine. Have the families been escorted to the yamen?” Situ stood up.
“Yes.” The Guard paused. “However, the captors that we have subdued denied working for the 7th Prince; the Administrator had not pressed the issue.”
“Have the merchants changed their statements?” That was what Situ was more concerned about. I will have more time to sort out the Administrator in the future.
“Yes, they have. They now say that they were blackmailed by Zhao, the owner of the Mingxuan Zither Emporium, into falsifying their statements. The Administrator has already sent orders to bring in Zhao.”
“Good. I will head to the yamen first. Monitor the constables when they escort Luodi to the yamen.”
“Yes, General, I understand.”
When Feng Luodi reached the yamen escorted by uniformed constables, she saw Situ sitting inside, his features uncharacteristically angry. Seated in the hall, naturally, were the Administrator, the assistant magistrate, and a troop of constables. Kneeling on the floor were the seven merchants she had never met, and Owner Zhao from Mingxuan Zither Emporium. Beside them knelt a few wounded men, dressed in the fashion of mercenary guards. Situ was sitting in for the session, and though Feng Luodi was the suspect, she wasn’t made to kneel.
The Administrator was looking at the owner of the zither emporium. “Zhao Wu, answer my question: were you the one who had ordered the abduction on the merchant’s family to have them testify against Feng Luodi?”
“Administrator, I have been wronged! It is true that I know these merchants, but I was not the one behind the kidnapping, nor the one who had gotten them to slander Miss Feng. Please believe me, Administrator!”
“How outrageous, still trying to lie through your teeth?” The Administrator pointed at the seven merchants beside him. “Are these merchants not commissioned by you for Feng Luodi?”
“Yes, they are. But I have no idea why their families were abducted, nor did I know that they were blackmailed to slander Miss Feng. Please believe me, Administrator!”
“Is he speaking the truth?” The Administrator asked the merchants.
The merchants exchanged looks, and the leader, Merchant Wei, spoke up hesitantly. “I’m not very sure about that, sir. I am acquainted with Zhao Wu, but I cannot confirm if he is involved in this.”
The Administrator furrowed his brows, and turned to the wounded guards kneeling on the floor. “Were you instructed by this man?”
The guards shook their head in unison. “We’ve never met him before.”
Feng Luodi frowned. At the rate this goes, Zhao Wu would be released as a free man. But there’s no way that he didn’t participate in this!
The Administrator was conflicted. He wanted very much to end the case as it is, but he knew Situ and Jiang Moyin wouldn’t let Zhao Wu’s involvement slide like that. Just as he was thinking of what else to do, the constable brought in another man, dressed in black.
“Sir, this man had turned himself in, confessing that he is the person who had kidnapped the families of the merchants and blackmailed them.”
“Who are you? Why did you want to frame Feng Luodi? Tell me the details of how you’d kidnapped and blackmailed the merchants.” The Administrator quickly commanded him.
The man replied the Administrator’s questions. Out of the corner of the eye, Feng Luodi saw Situ leave the hall.
Outside, a member of the Covert Guard reported to Situ.
“General, this is indeed the man I’d seen the other time. Do you need me to testify that he is a follower of the 7th Prince?”
Situ shook his head. “He is a sishi, a phantom without any official identity. There is nothing we can prove his affiliation with the 7th Prince.”
“Are we going to let the prince go just like that?”
“Aren’t you still investigating the officials from the Judicial Bureau? We’ll work on that.” Situ’s darkened. There is no way I am going to let the 7th Prince off so easily!
“I understand, General. I will see to it immediately.”
“Good. Remember to continue keeping tabs on Zhao Wu. Be careful about it.
When Situ entered the hall again, the merchants were testifying against the man animatedly. “Yes! It’s him! He is the one who had kidnapped our families and used their safety to blackmail us!”
The wounded guards had testified against him as well.
The Administrator smiled, eager to close the case. “Miss Feng, are you satisfied with the outcome of this investigation?” He looked at Situ.
Feng Luodi looked to Situ as well, reading his decision from his eyes. She turned back to the Administrator. “I am satisfied. Let’s close the case.”
“I hereby announce that Feng Luodi is found not guilty, and to be released immediately. Zhao Wu is found not guilty, and to be released immediately. As for the seven merchants, I have decided to lighten your sentence seeing as how you were blackmailed into it. As for Xiao Yi, you have been found guilty of kidnapping hapless citizens, framing others for crime they did not commit. You will be thrown into prison for seven years.”
When the case was closed, Situ and Feng Luodi ignored the Administrator who had tried to approach them and quickly left the yamen. Feng Luodi stopped halfway.
“Thank you so much for your help this time. Go on ahead, there is something I would like to ask Owner Wei.”
Situ stopped, and looked down upon her because of their height difference. “Are you waiting to ask about the whereabouts of Abysmal?”
“Yep.” Feng Luodi nodded.
Situ felt a rage rising up within him, a nameless fire burning in his chest. “How can you still possibly be thinking about the Guqin at this point of time, when your relentless search for a Guqin almost had you exiled? They already know your weakness – it might be a matter of life and death the next time your enemies lay a trap for you!”
That was the first time Feng Luodi had seen Situ so angry. Even though her head continued to think logically, she knew fear showed in her eyes. Fear, that broke the heart of the person who looked into those eyes.
“Like I’ve said, the Guqin are more important than my own life. I will not tell you the reason.”
The two stood in the middle of the street, eyes locked unflinchingly. The sudden appearance of a Covert Guard broke their stalemate.
“General, Xiao Yi has just committed suicide by biting his tongue.”
Situ sneered. “There goes our only trail of clues, then.” He turned and walked away without looking at Feng Luodi.
When she was certain that he had left, she quickly looked around. Seeing Owner Wei leave the yamen with the other merchants, she quickly approached them and was told the whereabouts of the Guqin by the apologetic merchant. By the time Feng Luodi strolled back to Autumnal Ombre, it was already dusk.
Fei and Scarlet had been anticipating her arrival anxiously outside the shop, previously informed of her release.
“Young miss, it’s great to have you back!” Scarlet ran towards her as she wiped at her eyes.
Feng Luodi patted her back lightly. “Don’t cry now; see, I’m completely fine!”
“She has been crying like that for the past few days, young miss.” Fei laughed a little. “You should have seen Jet in the household. Man, did cry a river for you.”
Feng Luodi was deeply moved, but dared not express it, quickly changing the topic instead. “Was the business of Autumnal Ombre affected because of my detention?”
“It wasn’t.” Fei shook his head. “The few employees sent by Miss Qi were very capable; the business has only gotten better since they’d arrived.”
“That’s good to know, then.” Feng Luodi nodded, and stepped into the shop. She took a seat in the inner room, and Scarlet quickly served snacks and tea.
Fei looked at her. “Young miss, I have an idea.”
“What about it?”
“Autumnal Ombre can sponsor our own caravan. With that, we will be able to sell our wines all over the kingdom, and our merchants can search for the Guqin that you seek during our travels. At the end of the day, our own employees are much more trustworthy than hired merchants, and something like this wouldn’t happen again in the future.”
“That’s a great idea!” Feng Luodi was excited just thinking about it. “But there is a problem: with only so few of us at the shop, there wouldn’t be enough people for day-to-day running of our shop if we formed a caravan.”
Fei continued. “We can buy over the few liquor stores that haven’t been doing well lately and, after doing a detailed background check on the employees, employ them as our own workers. I will lead the caravan just to be safe.”
“That was very well thought out.” Feng Luodi smiled. “Now, who’s the one that came up that?”
Fei scratched his head embarrassedly. “I knew it wouldn’t escape you! Master Jiang had came by a few days ago, and proposed that to me.”
“Oh, it’s elder brother.” Feng Luodi laughed. “It’s a good plan, but it’ll be too heavy a responsibility for you to lead the caravan. I will select someone else instead.”
“No need for that, young miss.” Fei shook his head. “I want to have the opportunity to travel the lands and see it for myself. I want to engage in trade in the future, and it’ll be a good experience for me to learn from the caravan.”
“Alright then, you can be in charge of this.” Feng Luodi rubbed her forehead. “Let’s close early for the day and go home together. I still have to face Mother.”
“The First Lady does not know about the case.” Fei explained. “Master had us hide it from her.”
“That’s for the best.” Feng Luodi smiled. “Mother’s health has never been good; it’ll be best not to let her know.”
“Don’t worry about it, young miss. We know what to do.”
It was dark by the time they had returned to the Feng household, and Feng Luodi quickly headed to the study to greet the Chamberlain.
“Father, I have returned. My apologies for making you worry about me the past few days.”
“You were implicated by me this time.” The Chamberlain spoke gently, but quickly changed to berate Feng Luodi. “Since you are my daughter, you’ll have to understand my position in the court. Such things may happen from time to time, and you will have to consider the implications of every action you make. We are a family; what affects one of us affects all of us.”
“I understand. I will be more careful in the future.”
“That is good. Go talk to your mother.”
“Yes. I shall take my leave.”