[Chapter 19 - Da Yan City] Trickery is everywhere
[Chapter 19 - Da Yan City] Trickery is everywhere
The night is cold; eunuch Si Xi brewed a pot of hot tea and sent it in, bowing his head and retreating from the bedroom afterwards .
Duan Bai Yue closed the window along the way: "It's already very late, why are you still not sleeping?"
Chu Yuan answered: "Waiting for you . "
Duan Bai Yue: " . . . . . "
Chu Yuan put down the missive in his hand, raising his head to look at him, his tone a little mocking: "Why, only you are allowed to send someone to keep watch over us, and are we also not allowed to have spies in Xi Nan manor?"
Duan Bai Yue raised his eyebrow: "Then after this king returns from this trip, I should check thoroughly, and see just who has such nerve . "
Chu Yuan smiled while shaking his head, pouring a cup of tea and handing it to him .
"Everything is going well, why did you suddenly come to this Da Yan city . " Duan Bai Yue sat by the table .
"Have you heard of Tian Sha sect before?" Chu Yuan asked .
Duan Bai Yue, a little surprised: "Tian Sha sect?"
"They're located in Xi Nan, you should some understanding of them . " Chu Yuan said .
Duan Bai Yue nodded: "The sect leader is called Lan Ji; proficient in creating poisons, her ways of martial arts is extremely unrighteous; why do you want to ask of this suddenly?"
"This Da Yan city belongs to Zi Yun(1) province; with dense forests, there are many rare types of wood, and many woodworkers . " Chu Yuan said, "If they're said to be from Da Yan, even if it's a handful of carved chairs, if placed in the shops in the capital, their prices can increase at least three times . "
"So?" Duan Bai Yue still doesn't understand .
"Not only chairs and tables are made here . " Chu Yuan said, "Concealed weapons, wooden swords, and Ling Long tower(2); those old men sitting in the alley chatting about nothing everyday; one of them may just be an expert in creating traps; allegedly, that Jiu Xuan Ji that was destroyed by you, the original blueprint also originated from here . "
"Do you like the Fen Xing?" Duan Bai Yue asked .
Not expecting that he would suddenly bring this up, Chu Yuan visibly hesitated .
Before he was chased out, Duan Bai Yue withdrew the topic in the nick of time: "I have heard of rumors before, allegedly the artisan who created Jiu Xuan Ji is named Mu Chi Lao Ren(3), but I didn't know he's from Da Yan . "
"We received the information a while ago, saying that Mu Chi Lao Ren has already returned to Da Yan, hence the excuse of coming here to examine the governance . " Chu Yuan said, "Only arriving here then did we know, Tian Sha sect has already gotten a step ahead and kidnapped him; to this day it's not known if he's dead or alive . "
"Lan Ji kidnapped Mu Chi Lao Ren?" Duan Bai Yue rubbed his chin, "I thought the evil women of the demonic sect will only kidnap young, strong and handsome men . "
Chu Yuan looked at him head-on .
Duan Bai Yue calmly said: "Didn't kidnap me before . " Though they kept coveting Yao-er .
"We have already sent someone to scout out information near Tian Sha sect . " Chu Yuan said, "A reply will be received in a few days' time . "
"Why find Mu Chi Lao Ren?" Duan Bai Yue asked, "Is it to create concealed weapons, or is there any traps that have to be solved in the palace?"
Chu Yuan moved away from his line of sight: "This issue is no concern of King Duan . "
Duan Bai Yue rubbed his chin: "What if Xi Nan Manor is able to be of help?"
"If you wish to help us, then stay further away from Tian Sha sect in the future . " Chu Yuan said .
Duan Bai Yue thought about it: "Afraid that this king will be kidnapped by a beautiful woman?"
Chu Yuan accidentally spilled a cup of tea .
"Your Majesty?" Eunuch Si Xi, hearing the commotion, asked discreetly outside .
"Nothing . " Before Chu Yuan opened his mouth, Duan Bai Yue replied first .
Eunuch Si Xi placed down his worry, continuing to stand with his arms in his sleeves .
Chu Yuan: " . . . . . . . "
The room is a little too silent; Duan Bai Yue casually picked up a plate of pastries from the table: "Can they be eaten?"
Chu Yuan replied: "They're poisoned . "
Duan Bai Yue smiled and took a bite, shaking his head afterwards: "It's quite sweet, I think you won't like it either . "
"Are you very hungry?" Chu Yuan frowned .
"Rushing for three days without rest and without sleep, what do you think?" Duan Bai Yue helped himself to fill up the tea .
Chu Yuan instructed for Si Xi to send in some food .
It's the middle of the night; the lady cooks in the relay station naturally can't serve up a feast of seafood, but there's still an appetite for two bowls of vegetarian noodles and some small side dishes . It's just that before Duan Bai Yue's chopsticks could even stir the noodles twice, eunuch Si Xi announced outside the door, saying that the person sent out to scout for information has something to report, and is waiting outside .
Duan Bai Yue carried the bowl, picking a few buns along the way, and directly went behind the screen, continuing to eat while crouching .
Chu Yuan doesn't know whether to laugh or cry, calling for Si Xi to let the person come in .
"Your Majesty . " The name of the person who returned is Xiang Lie, he's one of Chu Yuan's personal imperial guards; his qing gong is highly skilled, "This subordinate received news today, the provincial magistrate Xu Zhi Qiu of this Zi Yan province, seems to be secretly linked to Tian Sha sect . "
Chu Yuan's expression visibly turned stiff, Duan Bai Yue also frowned slightly . Xi Zhi Qiu is the Ministry of Works Lord Xu Ran's eldest son, and is famous in the capital as an accomplished gifted scholar . Chu Yuan originally wanted to let him learn through experience for a few years, then recall him back to the imperial court and entrust to him some heavy responsibility, but didn't expect that he be connected to Tian Sha sect .
Murky relationships between government officials and demonic sects of Xi Nan; it's a capital offense if known .
"This subordinate found a half burnt letter in the brazier in the study of Xu manor, Tian Sha sect is written inside . The contents aren't known, and it's not known whether if it's a forgery by someone else; it can't be considered concrete evidence . It's just that Your Majesty has instructed previously, any hints, however small, must be reported immediately, hence I dare not be remiss . " Xiang Lie said, "The magistrate is now surrounded by Da Nei experts, and the entrances and exits to the city are also guarded in secret . "
Chu Yuan nodded: "Continue to observe, if there's any more new information, report immediately . "
"Yes!" Xiang Lie received the order, turning and walking out of the room with big steps . It's just that he doesn't understand; hearing the breathing sounds, there's obviously another person behind the screen, but he doesn't know why His Majesty was so undisturbed, not even giving him a hint of a need to conceal .
Duan Bai Yue, carrying the empty bowl, walked out from behind the screen .
Chu Yuan: " . . . . "
"Want me to observe Xu manor?" Duan Bai Yue asked .
"We brought enough people this time . " Chu Yuan said, "No need . "
"That's also good . " Duan Bai Yue sat by the table, still having no intention to leave .
The beds in the relay station are very big .
. . . . . . . . . . .
Chu Yuan casually picked up a report from the table, continuing to look through it line by line .
Duan Bai Yue, with his cheeks in his hands, sat by his side drowsily .
Chu Yuan: " . . . . . . . . "
A moment later, Chu Yuan couldn't stand it anymore: "When does King Duan intend to go back?"
"Lan Ji is used to evil and ruthless methods, since there's danger in the city, this king must naturally stay here . " Duan Bai Yue answered calmly .
Chu Yuan said: "We are afraid of just a demonic lady?"
"The Chu emperor is naturally not afraid . " Duan Bai Yue said, "This king is afraid . "
Chu Yuan really wants to chase him out with a beating .
"Your Majesty . " Eunuch Si Xi said outside, "The night is late, I can boil some hot water and send it in?"
Duan Bai Yue said: "Many thanks . "
Chu Yuan had already given up on opening his mouth, only pretending that these two people are not present .
Eunuch Si Xi instructed with a chuckle; someone brought in hot water not long after .
Of course, when the bathtub was brought in, Duan Bai Yue had no choice but to temporarily crouch on the roof beams .
Chu Yuan is full of complicated feelings inside .
But not long after, a new upheaval erupted in the city .
A charity hall in the west caught fire, brightening almost half the sky; the raging fire couldn't be constrained; when the government officials and citizens finally extinguished the fire with great difficulty, the initially spacious and exquisite compound has been burnt into a mess; even the neighboring houses were also affected .
"Your Majesty!" Xu Zhi Qiu hastily rushed over with his men; upon seeing the disastrous scene, his legs lost strength, collapsing and kneeling on the ground .
The surrounding people all kept their heads low, not speaking much, but their hearts are full of pity; the people staying in the charity hall are all elderly people over seventy years of age, to have met such a ferocious fire, even a young man may not be able to escape this, it's afraid that this time it's also more bad than good .
As expected, the guards reported that there's quite a number of corpses were underneath the big beams, the features of each and every one indiscernible; the total number of victims can only be determined after the temperature inside has cooled down some .
"This lowly official has reneged his responsibility, I beg for Your Majesty's forgiveness . " Xu Zhi Qiu's face is white .
"This matter is to be handed to Commander Xiang, there's no need for Lord Xu to interfere . " Chu Yuan said without emotion .
"Yes, yes, yes . " Xu Zhi Qiu nodded vigorously .
The day is brightening; Chu Yuan glanced at the still smoking charred wood, turned and returned to the relay station .
"How is it?" Duan Bai Yue asked .
"It was deliberate . " Chu Yuan said, "Xu Zhi Qiu should have realized what's happening, or he wouldn't be in such a panic .
"How are you so certain?" Duan Bai Yue said, "Even if the fires reached the heavens, this is originally a wooden residence, once it starts burning it can't be stopped . "
"It's precisely because it's a wooden residence, so the position of the fire hose is taken into account during its construction, in case of a fire . " Chu Yuan said, "The houses next to the charity hall are also made of wood, but only half a side room was destroyed . Only if it had kerosene spilled over it, then will it catch such an uncontrollable fire . "
Duan Bai Yue frowned: "To treat a group of lonely elderly so ruthlessly like this, that person is sure utterly heartless . "
"Xiang Lie originally held the post at Da Li government office, the investigation shouldn't be difficult for him . " Chu Yuan said, "Looking at how this city has anomalous happenings, it's afraid that this will be a long stay,"
Duan Bai Yue reached out his hand .
Chu Yuan flinched, but didn't dodge from it .
Duan Bai Yue used his thumb to rub away some dust on his face, the corners of his mouth turning up: "The ruler of a country, is running everywhere for such a insignificant thing?"
Chu Yuan's ears flushed red, hitting his hand away,
"It's almost day soon, rest for a while . " Duan Bai Yue said, "Even if you must go to the magistrate, you cannot not sleep, not rest too . "
"Could it be Tian Sha sect?" Chu Yuan asked .
"According to the style of Tian Sha sect, it has some possibility . " Duan Bai Yue took back his hand, "But knowing that you're are here, and to yet provoke the power of the heavens purposely, what's the aim of this?"
"To intimidate Xu Zhi Qiu, or to simply show us a show of strength . " Chu Yuan said .
"To intimidate the government official makes sense, but if it's targeted at you, Lan Ji should know better the difference between life and death . " Duan Bai Yue shook his head, "It's only an insignificant demonic sect, it's not worthwhile for them to cause trouble for themselves . "
"You are very familiar withh her?" Chu Yuan's eyelids rose .
Duan Bai Yue said calmly: "Forty, fifty years old, she's enough to be my mother . "
Chu Yuan: " . . . . . "
Duan Bai Yue called for warm water to be brought in, and said afterwards: "I will go take a look in the provincial office, maybe I can find out something . "
Chu Yuan nodded: "Good . "
Eunuch Si Xi, hands in his sleeves, looked at Duan Bai Yue climb over the wall, feeling deeply in his heart that the appearance of the Xi Nan King is quite vigorous .
Chu Yuan coughed twice from behind his back .
Eunuch Si Xi immediately turned around with a smile: "Your Majesty . "
"Busybody!" Chu Yuan harshly rapped his head; if talking about ignoring one's duties, he can sure compete with Liu Da Jiong .
A disaster has befallen the city; the people naturally will not laugh and cheer as before, the atmosphere is more solemn than usual . The provincial office is even more somber; Xu Zhi Qiu sat in the study, sighing constantly; when he gets impatient he starts pacing around in the study, and even chased the servants who brought tea out .
Duan Bai Yue lied on top of the roof beams, roughly examining the layout of this study . Compared to buildings from other places, the design is truly more elaborate; a room with the same size, and yet it can store twice as many books .
Caches are everywhere . . . the corners of Duan Bai Yue's mouth lifted, it's really a good place to hide things .
Once Xu Zhi Qiu was in the study, he stayed for half a day; until when there were guests visiting in the afternoon, then did he straighten his clothes and put on his hat, going out the door . After he left, Duan Bai Yue jumped down from the roof beam and roughly looked over once; the ones placed outside are all some normal books, and naturally do not have much problems, as for the section in between . . . . . . Duan Bai Yue tried pushing the cache lightly; it does not move a tiny bit, as expected .
With sounds of footsteps travelling from outside, Duan Bai Yue quickly hid behind the screen, but it's only a servant coming in to retrieve some account books, his arms carrying a huge bunch of them; he even dropped some in his rush, there shouldn't be anything secretive inside .
And in the charity hall, Xiang Lie also brought people to carry out the corpses of the elderly out from the embers, covering each one with a white cloth . Some young men came forward to help, and upon seeing the situation lamented endlessly, the people staying here were all elderly people who are alone with no sons and no daughters; they would always give children some sweets and pastries with a smile when sitting on the main streets and enjoying the sun, to have ended up like this, naturally no one's heart feels good about this .
A moment later, the imperial bodyguard in charge of checking the bodies reported, saying that there were a total of twenty six elderly who died an unfortunate death, their bodies charred black, it can't be determined who is who .
"Twenty six?" Xiang Lie frowned, if he didn't remember wrongly, when looking at the name list in the morning, there should be twenty five names of the elderly, why did an additional body appear out of nowhere .
For such a disaster to happen to the charity hall, the caretaker also sighed remorsefully, blaming himself for not hiring a few more people to guard the place . Upon hearing that the imperial bodyguard said that Commander Xiang is asking for him, he hastily wiped away his tears and ran over . After hearing what Xiang Lie has to say he stared blankly at first, behind hitting his head, saying that it's twenty six people, there's no wrong .
"Previously there was certainly twenty five people, but yesterday in the early morning, another elderly, chased out by their unfilial children, drifted here, and was sent to the charity hall by a good Samantarian, and couldn't be included in time into the name list that was handed to the magistrate . " The caretaker said, "This morning was too chaotic, and I simply forgot about this, the number of people are correct . "
"So it's like this . " Xiang Lie nodded, and continued, "This incident is too strange, I'm afraid that the deceased cannot be buried for now, I seek the forgiveness of caretaker . "
"Of course of course . " The caretaker said with a sigh, "The people in this city are all also waiting for the emperor to find out the truth, it will give everyone a peace of mind . "
A large part of the house was burnt down, the charred wooden beams so brittle till a light step could break it . Xiang Lie went alone to the backyard to examine, and picked up a part of a window frame that still has red paint on it along the way; there's a strong smell of kerosene .
Duan Bai Yue left the prefectural office, and made a detour to take a look at the charity hall from far away; upon seeing groups of imperial guards are everywhere, he decided to stop interfering and returned to the relay station .
The sky is darkening; Chu Yuan is still sitting by the table .
The Xi Nan King also still . . . jumped in over the wall .
Eunuch Si Xi, hands in his sleeves, stood at the door with a smile, with a portly stomach .
"How is it?' Chu Yuan asked .
"A tragedy that happened last night, the magistrate is expectedly solemn . " Duan Bai Yue said, "Xu Zhi Qiu stayed in the study uneasily for a whole morning, then discussed with Hui ZHou merchants on trading between the two cities; it seems to have been set a month in advance, so there's nothing peculiar . As for that study, the caches inside are not just a few, but the cache locks are delicate, if opened with force, I'm afraid that the other party will find out about it . "
"This magistrate office was built almost a hundred years ago, it's afraid that the carpenters from then are already not of this world . " Chu Yuan said, "The best carpenter in this Da Yan city currently is called Tian Yu . "
"The assassins from Xi Nan manor will arrive in the city tonight . " Duan Bai Yue said, "If you're afraid that the imperial guards will be too conspicuous, some things can be handed to them to do . "
Chu Yuan nodded: "Many thanks . "
"Why say thanks . " Duan Bai Yue smiled, pouring himself a cup of tea .
"It's been left overnight . " Chu Yuan took the teacup from his hand, letting Si Xi bring in a new pot of tea, and instructed for dinner to be sent in . There's fish and meat; it's already more sumptuous than yesterday night's .
Duan Bai Yue took a bowl of fish soup and picked the bones out, placing it in front of him .
Chu Yuan frowned .
The corners of Duan Bai Yue's mouth lifted: "Since you're the son of heaven, someone must attend to you while eating . "
Chu Yuan used a spoon to stir it; a long fish bone appeared in the bottom of the bowl .
Duan Bai Yue coughed twice .
Since he doesn't do this much, it's inevitable that he's out of practice .
He will be more better after a few more times .
Halfway through the dinner, Duan Bai Yue had already added salt, chili and pepper to his bowl at least ten times, even scraping clean the container in the end .
The cooks of Da Yan city, their food is sure bland .
Chu Yuan: " . . . . . . "
Eunuch Si Xi reported from outside, saying that Commander Xiang is asking for an audience .
Duan Bai Yue cursed inside, this person sure knows how to pick a time, he arrives every time when they are having a meal .
Chu Yuan said: "Go wait in the front hall . "
"Yes!" Xiang Lie received the order and left the small yard . Duan Bai Yue passed over a bowl of stew: "Eat first before going there . "
Chu Yuan stood up: "No appetite . "
"A bowl of noodles, a bowl of soup and a plate of vegetables, where is there an emperor who will eat so lightly . " Duan Bai Yue pressed him down again, "At least eat half of it . "
Chu Yuan reluctantly ate two spoonful's; feeling that the food is oily and his mind is occupied, he pushed the bowl back to him, turned and went out the door .
Duan Bai Yue finished the rest of the bowl himself, thinking whether after he returns to Xi Nan this time, should he find a cook to send to the palace .
The scene of an incense burning(4) passed by, with the yard remaining silent; Duan Bai Yue pushed open the door; Eunuch Si Xi is strolling about outside -- the imperial physicians all think he's too heavy, and urged him to walk more than usual .
"It's afraid that Xi Nan King has to wait for a while . " Seeing him come out, eunuch Si Xi said, "His Majesty just sent this old servant back to rest, saying that they should only be finished in about two hours' time . "
"No matter . " Duan Bai Yue sat on the steps, "I came out to take in some fresh air . "
Eunuch Si Xi continued asking: "Did the dinner suit your tastes? The emperor specially instructed for lighter dishes to be cooked, avoiding beef, lamb, and seafood, he is probably still worrying about your internal injuries . "
Duan Bai Yue, surprised, really?
Eunuch Si Xi continued to practice his moves calmly in the yard .
Looking at the Xi Nan king's expression, he just knows that he's definitely satisfied with the meal .
Seems like this cook must be rewarded .
When Chu Yuan came back, it was already deep into the night, and yet when he opened the door he didn't see Duan Bai Yue . Eunuch Si Xi hastily said: "King Duan had left not long ago, saying that his people should have arrived, he's going to meet them first . "
Chu Yuan patted his belly: "Did we ask you that?"
"Didn't ask, didn't ask . " Eunuch Si Xi laughed, "This old servant is too talkative . "
After washing up and when going to sleep, the inside of the blanket was cozy; one touch and one knows it's a warming jade .
Chu Yuan leaned on the headrest, taking a book to read as usual; he fell into a deep sleep after flipping through just a few pages .
Eunuch Si Xi carefully moved the candlelight away, covering Chu Yuan properly with the blanket, thinking that ever since the Xi Nan King has arrived, the emperor also looks to be more relaxed .
It's really quite nice .
In the charity hall, Duan Bai Yue removed the white cloth, and saw that the corpses are all disfigured beyond recognition . Because they met with a sudden fire, most of the bodies are curled together . After examining all twenty six corpses, he felt something was off instead -- looking at the bones of one of the bodies, he seemed like a young man, and not a man of old age . After looking through the corpses once more, Duan Bai Yue shook his head, stood up and went back to the inn .
On the morning on the second day, just as Chu Yuan opened his eyes, he heard eunuch Si Xi talking with someone outside: "The emperor is still sleeping, I'm afraid King Duan has to wait for a while more . "
"No matter . " Duan Bai Yue said, "Then this king will go out for a stroll . "
. . . . . .
It's very cozy inside the blanket; so cozy till he doesn't even want to move .
It's rare for Chu Yuan to be able to be lazy, he laid inside for quite a while before getting up .
Duan Bai Yue coincidentally opened the door, bringing in a burst of cold air, two meal boxes in his hands .
"Going to the streets so openly, not afraid that someone will see you?" Chu Yuan asked .
"I naturally know my limits . " Duan Bai Yue took out the morning pastries one by one; steamed meat buns, sour and spicy soup, and a few small dishes; looks like his taste is not light .
"Going to think that it's greasy again?" Looking at his expression, Duan Bai Yue smiled, "These are all famous local dishes, try a little, I still have something to say after eating . "
"What thing?" Chu Yuan asked while drinking his soup .
Duan Bai Yue brought a meat bun to his mouth .
Chu Yuan instinctively retreated a little .
Duan Bai Yue laughed: "What are you afraid of?"
Chu Yuan hit him away with a hand, some annoyance showing in his eyes .
Duan Bai Yue knowingly stopped it, only opening his mouth after finishing breakfast with him: "Last night I went to the charity hall . "
"Did you find out anything?" Chu Yuan asked .
"Those bodies don't seem to be the elderly from the charity hall . " Duan Bai Yue said .
Chu Yuan is surprised: "All of them?"
Duan Bai Yue nodded: "All of them . "
"But Xiang Lie has examined them before, the deceased certainly are of old age . " Chu Yuan said .
"The bodies are disfigured beyond recognition, even if it's Commander Xiang, he could only determine it via the uncharred remnants of skin and the bones . But to let a young man become an old man, it can be easily achieved via a few gu chong . " Duan Bai Yue said, "If I didn't see wrongly, the bodies in the charity hall, nine out of ten are all young men who met with unfortunate disasters; with a few more days' time, I can maybe even find the gu chong from amongst them . "
Just as he finished speaking, an imperial guard reported from the outside, saying that someone went to report a case to the magistrate, that someone was missing in bizarre circumstances in this city .
(1) Zi Yun: 紫云 - lit . purple cloud . It still exists today as a county .
(2) Ling Long tower: 玲珑塔 - It's either an ancient tower or a legendary object, containing seven mystical weapons said to be able to defeat demons . Since the previous two phrases are referring to weapons, the meaning here should be the latter too .
(3) Mu Chi Lao Ren: 木痴老人 - lit . wood silly old man .
(4) incense: 一炷香 - means 15 minutes