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Dread appeared in the very depths of Mu Boxiu’s eyes. “Y-you…”
Fu Shen gave an ambiguous smile. “You are, as a matter of fact, still alive and well. If you don’t believe me, pinch your thigh and see if it hurts.”
The more he played the part of a falsely-civil snake, twisting and turning and not getting to the meat of the matter, the hollower Mu Boxiu felt. For a second, he wished he could just straight-up die, as that would be better than falling into Fu Shen’s hands to suffer his persecution.
“Why do I get the sense that you seem to be very afraid of me, General Mu?” Fu Shen asked, fully spirited. “You fear death even more, hm?”
Really, though, Fu Shen was not of the Flying Dragon Guard, who made people lose their nerve at just hearing their name. He was still a charming and attractive young man, so ordinary folk shouldn’t have been trembling upon seeing him act like this.
Mu Boxiu clenched his teeth hard, putting on a show of looking tough as he shouted. “So, the grand Marquis of Jing Ning has illegally imprisoned an ordained official of the Court — aren’t you afraid that the Flying Dragon Guard will trace it back to your head, General Fu?!”
Yu Qiaoting and Xiao Xun: “…”
Fu Shen laughed, giving him a few claps in applause. “Allow me to remind you, General Mu. You mustn’t forget that you’ve since become ‘dead’, with your corpse parked in Shuntian Prefecture. Or maybe you still believe that you’re getting out of here alive?
“As for the Guard, their Envoy is already mine. And if they trace it to my head? This Marquis will simply be looking forward to that.”
Yu Qiaoting coughed, urging him to pay attention to propriety, quickly get on with his business, and not show off so horribly.
Mu Boxiu finally realized that Fu Shen was toying with him, like a cat that caught a rat and was in no hurry to eat it, about to play with it half to death before he would keep talking. “What do you want?” he asked, unable to take it anymore.
“You’re a smart person. I’ve appeared before you in a wheelchair; are you still not able to guess what I want?”
Mu Boxiu grit his teeth. “No.”
Fu Shen’s smile swiftly iced over. “You don’t have to uphold your reputation,” he said gently. “I’ll ask only once. Will you talk?”
“No,” the man repeated.
The end of that ‘no’ hadn’t yet rung out when Fu Shen sprang into action, the sound of wind cleaving followed by a sudden flash of cold light — a crossbow bolt had whizzed through the air, and stuck itself into Mu Boxiu’s left shoulder.
Sharp pain exploded from the sudden piercing wound. Mu Boxiu was caught completely off-guard, letting out a muffled groan.
Fu Shen held an elaborate crossbow. Its second arrow was pointed away, at his right shoulder. “Do you still not want to talk?”
Mu Boxiu broke into a cold sweat from the pain, leaning against the corner weakly and refusing to answer.
Fu Shen gave him no quarter, and without prior warning, he let the arrow loose.
This one used even more force, as the tip went straight through Mu Boxiu’s shoulder to nail him firmly to the wall.
Fu Shen unhurriedly placed a new arrow in. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to talk right now. There’ll be plenty of time for you to slowly rethink that before you’re fully turned into a sieve,” he said softly. “A dead man can’t speak, granted, but a living one… would I still be afraid that you wouldn’t open your mouth?”
This time, he took aim at Mu Boxiu’s right leg. “Don’t worry, my archery’s still pretty good. If I say that I’m going to hit your right leg, I definitely won’t accidentally hurt your left one. Here’s three.”
The third arrow flew out, and Mu Boxiu gave a horrid scream that didn’t sound human.
The blood flowing from his body had already soaked into the ground. What a shame that the three before him were all iron-hearted Generals that could kill without batting an eye; in the face of this torture, not a one called for it to stop, their gazes high-and-mighty as if they were watching an insect. It caused Mu Boxiu to feel a chill even more frightening than death.
Fu Shen slightly parted his lips. Just as the word ‘four’ was about to leave them, the captive in the iron cell finally abandoned his resolve, groaning in a feeble voice. “…I’ll talk.”
“Please do,” Fu Shen replied courteously.
“You guessed right,” Mu Boxiu picked up. “The ambush at Blue Sand Pass was what we were ordered to carry out, and the arrow that didn’t manage to hit you was shot by me.”
Fu Shen held one of his hands out, and Xiao Xun passed him a split-open wooden box. He opened it, displaying the inside to Mu Boxiu. “Was this the arrow?”
Mu Boxiu struggled to lift his head and give it a look. “It is.”
The arrow’s shaft was entirely black in color and about six cun long. It had a triangular steel head with deep grooves carved on both sides. At its tail end was Armament Supervision’s signature character for ‘army’ (軍), and at the connecting part of the head and body was a cursive character for ‘leopard’ that looked like an animal.
Yan Xiaohan had once told Fu Shen that this leopard symbol represented the Leopard Quiver Guard.
The Leopards were one of the royal family’s Imperial Guards belonging to the Ten Guards of the Southern Office, and it was a very low-key branch. Its nomenclature referred to quivers made out of leopard skin, and the Guard got its name from always standing watch in high places in the imperial city, as well as having expertise in using bows and arrows.
The arrow in Fu Shen’s hand had been produced by Armament Supervision’s Crossbow Manufacturing Bureau. He had ordered it to be investigated; several years ago, the Bureau had manufactured a batch of armor-piercing bolts for crossbows, then distributed them to the Imperial Guards and military departments of the imperial city. However, thanks to the bolt having too short a range and only being able to be shot one at a time, it was of little use, and thus wasn’t promoted on a large scale throughout the military. The not-very-useful arrows were then tossed into an unknown storehouse to collect dust.
The arrow type was only a blip within the Imperial Guard. Fu Shen had never seen it before, and with the extremely rapid weapon upgrades the Imperial Guard went through, no one remembered that they had once used that type, either.
If that hinting piece of paper hadn’t been wedged within that box before, and then underwent Yan Xiaohan’s authentication, it was likely that Fu Shen’s people wouldn’t have had a clue about it at present.
“I didn’t expect that you would find it… I thought it had been buried in Blue Sand Pass.” Mu Boxiu laid onto the ground in despair, eyes empty and mutters blank. “This is the Will of the Heavens…”
Though crossbows developed by Armament Supervision weren’t very suited for use in combat, they were unsurpassed in lightness, portability, and dexterity, with immense lethality at short or medium distance, making it quite the weapon to avail oneself of for use in assassination.
Yet, that crossbow became Mu Boxiu’s fatal mistake. He had always had a post in the Imperial Guard, starting in Leopard Quiver, then later getting transferred to Golden Crow. All weapons used by the Imperial Guards came from Armament Supervision, and that led to Mu Boxiu overlooking a bit of common sense out of habit; other areas of the army used ordinary crossbow bolts, and wouldn’t have the Supervision’s signature ‘army’ character.
Fu Shen wasn’t in the mood to listen to his useless post-regret, so he got right to his question. “Who was the mastermind behind the ambush at Blue Sand Pass?”
Mu Boxiu acted like he had heard the biggest joke in the world, as he laughed hoarsely. “I’m already here, General Fu. Do you still not know who wants you to die?”
Fu Shen’s expression didn’t change. “I don’t. If I knew, I wouldn’t be asking you.”
Did he really not know?
The problem with coming across an ambush at Blue Sand Pass was that the route they had used was something only the Northern Yan Army had known. Fu Shen’s biggest suspicion at the time was that someone was a traitor and communicating with the enemy, while his secondmost, vaguer suspicion was that he and Prince of Su’s little movements had offended Yuantai. No matter how probable each was, there was definitely a saboteur in the Northern Yan. He had taken advantage of the opportunity his injury gave to step back from his position as Commander, having the mind to find the saboteur, but they hadn’t even waited for Fu Shen to make his move when the arrow, which could be considered a key piece of evidence, was presented right to him.
He had long been a nail in the regent’s eye, and thorn in his flesh. Even if Fu Shen had, like a lizard shedding its tail, already handed over military power over Gan and Ning Provinces, broke off relations with the Duke Estate, and was cautious of his words and actions as he lived in seclusion in a corner of Beijiang, he was still unable to escape Yuantai’s abyssal distrust.
Ignorant, unthinking, naive, and stupid. If he wasn’t trying to kill him, then who?
Mu Boxiu laughed loudly and madly, using his injured arm to point at area above him. “The Will of Heaven!” he yelled. “Don’t you get it? It’s the Heavens that want you dead!”
Yu Qiaoting clenched his hands into fists. Xiao Xun was breathing heavily. Even if they had long known what was going on from their own speculations, personally listening to a perpetrator identifying him… the feeling of a real stabbing was different, in the end.
Fu Shen was calmer than they were. He was the one who had experienced the dual strikes of the truth breaking out and the marriage sanction, so that most unforgettable, pervasive pain had passed. It was fortunate that Yan Xiaohan had been keeping to his side, then; Fu Shen hadn’t revealed too much, but with Yan Xiaohan’s keenness, he had about surmised the truth. There wouldn’t have been that nearly-obedient attentiveness and consideration that could be have been called meticulous, otherwise.
He couldn’t help but admit that Yan Xiaohan was still quite skilled at that. When Fu Shen recalled their past matters now, those feelings of pain and hatred were very diluted, and what he could remember was all the trivial, everyday stuff between them.
“Unfortunately, I’m not dead. Very sorry.” Fu Shen’s face was blank. “Listen carefully. I’ll ask you these: who passed down the orders to you, who got the gunpowder and by what means, and which superior of yours plotted this ambush?”
The one who could make the Emperor bypass the Flying Dragon Guard, getting such an important and confidential assassination mission handed to him — that was crucial.
Mu Boxiu, who had just been acting deranged, suddenly shut up and quieted down.
“What, you don’t want to talk?”
The three arrows stuck into his body were still bleeding. Mu Boxiu couldn’t forget the heartless lack of mercy under Fu Shen’s calm tone, and those words caused him to involuntarily shiver, the desire to keep living plus his rationale frantically pulling at his heart.
Yet, Fu Shen didn’t make a move this time, instead propping up his head and asking another question, looking thoughtful. “Speaking of which, I remember that you were initially in Leopard Quiver, then got promoted to Colonel based on your archery. Why would you later get transferred to Golden Crow?”
Having captured Mu Boxiu, he was naturally very clear on the man’s family situation and past history. Not counting the Flying Dragon Guard, there were sixteen total Guards of the North and South, and none were harder to get into than Golden Crow. It ranked first of the Southern Office, being the frontmost imperial attendants and distinct in its nobility, practically all of its entrants being the sons of the higher-class, or meritorious officials. Mu Boxiu hadn’t been born of very high background; even if his abilities stood out, accomplishing a high rank in Leopard Quiver would be the highest he could go. How could he have gotten into Golden Crow?
Mu Boxiu continued with his silence. Fu Shen continued with his blind guessing. “Was it because someone promoted you? And in order to repay that kindness, you’re willing to remain tight-lipped for him?”
Mu Boxiu seemed to be determined to play the part of a clamshell. That reaction, on the contrary, further proved that Fu Shen’s conjecture was probable. He sneered frostily. “You’ve got some kind of deep loyalty, hm? There’s something you still probably don’t know about, General Mu,” Fu Shen boasted. “I’ve always been one to pay mind to using diplomacy before violence, and I’ve never killed an innocent at will. My people might have been investigating you for some time before this, but I’m positive that they’ve never alerted you.
“For that reason; why, on the third of January, did you suddenly abandon your wife and family to flee in a hurry? And, after that, even used someone else’s corpse to take your place in order to vanish from this world without a trace from now on?”
Mu Boxiu immediately startled. “That wasn’t you?” he asked doubtfully.
“What were you hiding from?” Fu Shen asked.
Mu Boxiu was clearly wavering, but he still didn’t yet dare believe Fu Shen. “You didn’t hesitate to use your death to get away from this person, which illustrates that they want your life,” Fu Shen said after thinking it over. “Meanwhile, I have things to ask you, so my people wouldn’t do anything before I got to see you for myself.”
He stared at Mu Boxiu, that feeling of oppression honed from years of life on the battlefield pressing down on the other’s head, until he could no longer lift it. “Who is he?”
Mu Boxiu was not the sort of fool who would do a favor for someone that had wronged him. Fu Shen wasn’t trying to hoodwink information out of him; he had already gotten a grasp on a bit of the fiber.
“I advise you to accept this and move forward,” Fu Shen said. “You’ve fallen into my hands; you’re dead anyways, and death will drag in a scapegoat.”
The context of that was all but understood. Even if Mu Boxiu didn’t talk, as long as Fu Shen had the time, these clues were enough for him to find out who was behind him.
He was also willing to dilly-dally with Mu Boxiu here, showing that the latter still had worth. Providing that he talked enough, he might even be able to live a few more days.
Mu Boxiu sank into silence again. Fu Shen didn’t prompt him this time. After a short moment, he finally gave up resisting, opening his mouth as he struggled mentally.
“I was seventeen when I entered the Leopard Quiver Guard, and became a Colonel-slash-official at twenty-two, but because I had unintentionally offended a superior, I went through repeated suppression until I was thirty, not advancing a single cun more. It was he who discovered my above-grade archery by random chance, and he made an exception to bring me into the Golden Crow Guard, considering me a reliable aide.
“The Northern and Southern Offices have never been on the same level, especially after Yan Xiaohan took the top seat. The Flying Dragon Guard sits up high, and the Northern Office presses down on the heads of the Southern. He was unreconciled to being overlooked like that, so he used every possible method to entice people who stood out to come enrich Golden Crow, and has handled many ‘disobedient’ high-ranking officials for the Emperor.”
The three who were holding their breaths as they listened all felt cold.
The most glitzy of the sixteen Guards, the eternally ‘never thinking about going forward in life, only about mucking around until death’ Golden Crow, had actually silently transformed into an assassination corps for imperial use without any of them noticing.
“In these past two years, the Emperor had been sending more and more letters to Golden Crow. After the battle of West Autumn Gate last year, he selected a few people from the Guard to set up an ambush plan at Blue Sand Pass.
“The Pass is at the shared northern border of Tong and Yuan Provinces, and in order to bring the Eastern Tartar diplomats you were escorting into the capital, you needed to pass through it. That’s why, before your Northern Yan Army arrived at Yuan Province, someone had already been dispatched to the Pass to investigate. The defending Generals of Yuan are the Emperor’s people, so we mixed in with their squadron and set up the gunpowder around the Pass.”
“Wait,” Fu Shen interrupted, “where did your gunpowder come from?”
Gunpowder was for military use, and not something citizens could sell privately; all that went in and out of the army had to be recorded down. Yuan Province was an encampment of the Iron Cavalry, so even if there were people acting together both inside and outside the army, they wouldn’t be able to keep any pilfered gunpowder a secret. Not only that, Fu Shen had ordered people to investigate the gunpowder transit for every Province in the vicinity of the Pass, but no abnormalities were found.
“It came from a grass road,” Mu Boxiu answered. “There’s one between the border bandits and Tong Province’s defending army. The army secretly burgled and sold gunpowder to the bandits; their gunpowder accounts are all phony. We pretended to be Eastern Tartars, and bought it from there.”
Yuan Province was under Fu Shen’s direct command, and Tong Province was his former division of underlings. The magnificent Commander of the Northern Yan didn’t die on the battlefield, but was actually capsized into the gutter, planted there by his own people. His lungs nearly exploded from rage, chest filled with burning fury yet nowhere to vent it. “Those backstabbing, leeching bastards!” he squeezed out from between his teeth.
“Keep your anger down, General,” Yu Qiaoting quickly soothed.
Fu Shen paid him no mind, calming his emotions and steadying his expression. “Go on.”
“According to the plan, two people were in charge of lighting the fuse, and I was keeping watch up high. If the rocks didn’t stop you, I was to fix that with an arrow; in any case, you definitely couldn’t be allowed to leave Blue Sand Pass alive.
“Who could have known that your fate would be stronger than rock? All that, and you still didn’t die, coming back alive.
“I feared that you would find me out, living on edge every single day. Eventually, very late at night on the second of January, someone broke into my house and tried to kill me. By chance, my wife had brought the kids back to her parents’ place that day, and I was the only one at home. I wounded the man and assumed that the matter had been exposed, so, on that night, I packed up my valuables and fled from the capital.
“Once I’d escaped to Eastbloom Village, I got the sense that people were following me the whole time, so I stole a corpse from a coffin home, dressed him up in my clothes, deliberately put a jade thumb ring on him that never left me, then cut off his head and threw the headless corpse into a dried-up well. I buried his head in the woods behind the village, so it’s probably decomposed into just bones by now. That way, if someone found the corpse, those hunting me down would know that I had already died.”
After Mu Boxiu faked his death, he wanted to keep running South, but to his surprise, he didn’t get to leave the county town, as the Northern Yan men that had been tailing him for a few days captured him.
The whole chain of events linked up, and did indeed correspond to the facts he knew, but there was still something that Fu Shen didn’t understand: if it was to silence a witness, why did that person not do it sooner, insisting upon waiting until now? Maybe he hadn’t originally planned on doing so, but something ended up making him sense danger, so he consequently had no choice but to sacrifice the chariot to protect the commander?
Or, was it not only Fu Shen and the Golden Crow Guard, but yet another person that wanted to kill Mu Boxiu? Apart from they who knew the truth, there was still the one who had sent the arrow to Fu Shen.
How many forces were getting involved in this pool of muddy water?
Mu Boxiu’s voice was getting weaker and weaker due to excessive blood loss. He likely predicted a fatal conclusion to this, yet at that moment, he reached tranquility as he spoke to Fu Shen. “The person I’m talking about is someone you should know very well, General Fu… he’s the Head General of the Left Golden Crow Guard, Yi Siming.”
“No need to say it,” Fu Shen replied. “I sussed as much.”
He had been a good friend in his youth, a loyal brother who willing to risk finding a place for the Jin descendant for him… but he ultimately became a behind-the-scenes villain that had the heart to set up the place of his demise.
That noble Don that was arrogant to the extreme, brimming with disdain for the Court lackey in former years, had, in order to pressure the Northern Office, turned the Golden Crow Guard into a group of assassins with even less of a bottom line than the Flying Dragon Guard.
Fu Shen didn’t know how he should be assessing Yi Siming. The emotions he felt were not as intense as when he had heard of the Tong army’s falsifying of accounts. He couldn’t even remember any interactions had with him these years.
The friendship of youth was ephemeral as morning dew, evaporating with the rise of the sun, as all people would inevitably change from how they were before.
It was just that some people retained their general shape, while some morphed beyond recognition.
The world was fickle, the whims of the Heavens hard to grasp.
Fu Shen indicated for Xiao Xun to wheel him out. Forcing a confession was hard work, and he needed time to slowly digest these truths.
Mu Boxiu listened to him leave. He didn’t beg for forgiveness at any point, shutting his eyes with exhaustion in the cell.
Bright daylight and fresh air poured in together, causing the senses to clear up. Yu Qiaoting closed the stone door behind them. “Have Du Leng tend to his wounds,” Fu Shen suddenly ordered. “Don’t let him die.”
“Got it,” Yu Qiaoting complied. “It’s already noon, let’s go eat first.”
“I’m not eating.” Fu Shen waved him off. “Wasn’t the bedroom cleaned up? I’m going to go sleep. If nothing’s the matter, don’t come bother me.”
It could be seen that he wasn’t in a good mood, and there wasn’t anyone who dared to console or defy him right now. Xiao Xun had just pushed Fu Shen into the bedroom, and Yu Qiaoting stood beneath a tree in the courtyard, letting out a long sigh. “Seriously… what a world this is.”
Xiao Xun silently clapped him on the shoulder.
Those who were always wandering along the edge of life and death had a kind of near-intuitive, keen presage for danger. Yu Qiaoting and Xiao Xun both looked towards the dense clouds amassed on the horizon. With winter’s leaving and spring’s arrival, every living thing was recovering, the sound of thunder faint, yet the future seemed to be covered in a layer of dark shade. This year… might not have the stillness some people were hoping for.
Fu Shen was under the impression that Yan Xiaohan would be busy for at least a while, and hadn’t expected him to show up at the manor’s breakfast table on the third day, giving him a bout of rare astonishment. “Did you finish?” he asked in bewilderment.
“I didn’t.” Yan Xiaohan candidly sat down across from him. “It doesn’t matter.”
“The nine days of the honeymoon aren’t to be used for working on trivial stuff,” Yan Xiaohan deadpanned.
“That doesn’t sound like something Mister Yan would say. All you Flying Dragon Guards are the best at making things out of nothing. Why don’t you go devote yourself to releasing your ready-made cracked eggs?”
Yan Xiaohan didn’t turn hostile at his ridicule, voice indifferent. “Is this not me coveting you?”
Fu Shen was eating his food, and, upon hearing that, threw down his chopsticks on the spot. Yan Xiaohan restrained his laughter as he placatingly stuffed the utensils back into his hand. “Alright, alright, I’m done talking. Eat up.”
Fu Shen nodded at him. “If we were in Yan Province, you’d have been dragged out to get beaten by now.”
“Who was it that chose those words first?” Yan Xiaohan knew he was bluffing, so he took all the more advantage of that. “So very unreasonable.”
Fu Shen genuinely had no way to handle him, and was forced to use a steamed bun to viciously jam up his mouth.
When the meal was finished, Yan Xiaohan pushed him outside for a stroll to aid digestion, and then the two resumed the subject from the table. “How’s progress on the case? You should have found out a lot of stuff these two days. Are you really not going to keep investigating?”
“When I said it ‘didn’t matter’, I literally meant that it didn’t matter. Yuantai has already ordered Shuntian Prefecture to work with the Ministry of Justice and Court of Judicial Review to investigate it. The affairs of the Golden Crow Guard don’t belong to our Guard’s jurisdiction.”
Fu Shen jeered at him. “Ohhh. You made all that noise, and it turns out that he just kicked you out. You’re still pretending to be a big-tailed wolf with me here, hm?”
Yan Xiaohan, exasperated yet humored, lowered his head, happening to meet with Fu Shen’s opposing gaze.
He stood towering above, an indulgent smile billowing in those deep and pretty eyes, looking effortless and natural. According to Fu Shen’s observations, Yan Xiaohan’s state of being wound up in front of people was not because he was tense, but rather because his words and actions were all too precise. Even his skillfulness and carelessness seemed to be by design; as if he was an iron pot that never leaked, his true natural reactions were entirely concealed under a thick metal skin.
Today, however, somehow… he had suddenly dropped his guard and disguise, his entire person transformed into its original incarnation as the capitalized words ‘serene’ and ‘gentle’. Fu Shen had been staring at him for a long time, and unexpectedly felt his face heat up a little.
He conceded that he had been attracted a while ago, but that was because of the years-long relationship they had between them. Fu Shen didn’t consider himself a shallow man, yet, unpredictably, he was being dazzled by beauty now.
Yan Xiaohan watched as his ears slowly turned red, then laughed, reaching out to pinch one of his lobes. “I thought you were tired of looking at swindlers, Marquis. I didn’t imagine that you… would still be quite fond of me?”
You don’t say. You’re looking right at me, how do you figure I’m fond of you.
Fu Shen pinched him on the waist. “Take your hand back. Why are you touching me for no reason? Speak properly,” he said sternly.
Yan Xiaohan readily gave him an mhm, but because he had been beside himself with joy for a moment, he didn’t suppress the upturned lilt it had at the end, and Fu Shen immediately nitpicked him. “Don’t ‘mhm’ so insincerely. Try it again.”
Despite the joking around, they returned to the topic that had gotten eight-thousand li away from them. “Even though the Emperor didn’t let you meddle in it, you’ve definitely checked it out in private. What did you find?” Fu Shen asked.
Yan Xiaohan didn’t comment, responding with his own question. “Why do you care so much about this case?”
“You’re not someone who sticks their nose into other people’s business. Does Mu Boxiu have something to do with you?”
Fu Shen narrowed his eyes. “Since you want to ask that, I want to ask this; did you coming to find me today not have a single thing to do with him?”
Yan Xiaohan stared at him quietly, the two confronting each other in silence.
“Alright.” Yan Xiaohan was the first to back down. “I’m not suspecting you, I just have some questions. When I had someone go investigate Mu Boxiu’s history and background, I heard that someone else had also come to do so a month before; that’s one. The headless male corpse found in Eastbloom Village was already rotting, and he was speculated to be Mu Boxiu based solely on the clothes he was wearing, plus the objects he had on him. Yet, the goal of the beheading was so people wouldn’t be able to recognize who the corpse was, so why did the murderer leave behind his thumb ring that could be used as proof of his identity? It makes no sense. That’s two.
“He had originally held a post in the Leopard Quiver Guard, and was later transferred to Golden Crow. I remember one day last year, where you brought up Leopard Quiver to me.”
“Have you concocted so many false charges, Mister Yan, that you’ve already forgotten how to investigate a case normally?” Fu Shen rebuffed coolly.
“You also don’t make sense,” Yan Xiaohan continued. “Yu Qingheng is your close confidant, yet at the juncture of the Northern Yan losing its backbone, you took him back with you to the capital, and then were determined on staying in a mountain villa. Let me ask you something; on the night of our marriage, did all those Northern Yan men stay the night in the Marquis Estate?”
Fu Shen didn’t reply. It wasn’t clear whether he was intending to admit his sins and put his head on the chopping block, or preparing to kill him to keep his silence, his expression blank as he awaited his next words.
“The final thing is that Yuantai’s attitude towards this case is also very odd.” Yan Xiaohan paused for a moment. “The Flying Dragon Guard is the Son of Heaven’s eyes and ears, and its investigations are far more efficient than those of the Three Departments of Law. A Court official was murdered; even though it concerns the Southern Office, there’s no logic in not using the close-by Flying Dragon Guard, and instead having the further-away Ministry of Justice and Court of Judicial Review find out the truth.”
“A similar situation appeared last time, with the case of the diplomatic convoy. Do you understand what I mean?
“If something happens, and His Majesty already knows the truth behind it, he then won’t use the Flying Dragon Guard for it.”
The atmosphere abruptly fell to its freezing point.
“Hey, you’ve finally stopped being daft, and have passed into anger.”
That stagnant, frozen air melted at once. Fu Shen reclined against his wheelchair, back relaxed, and smiled widely. “I warned you once before that he didn’t trust you as much as you thought he did. If you’re not careful, your Guard will be disbanded sooner or later.”
Yan Xiaohan’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”
“You just about guessed it. The corpse in Eastbloom Village was Mu Boxiu’s self-made diversion in order to avoid pursuit by another group. As for what he has to do with me, that’s considered classified info of the Northern Yan, so it’s not suitable for you to know, nor is it much relevant to you.
“It’s also a waste of effort to investigate this case. The only news that isn’t too major, yet would be useful to you, I can just straight-up tell you: beware the Golden Crow Guard. Yuantai doesn’t have only your Guard to use as a weapon.”
Neither the Flying Dragon nor Golden Crow Guards were anything good, but whether it was out of selfishness or righteousness, Fu Shen was still willing to offer this much to Yan Xiaohan. At least he knew what Yan Xiaohan’s essence was; Yi Siming’s qualities really didn’t let anyone dare feel at ease.
Yan Xiaohan was rooted to the spot, many ideas swooping through his mind until they were gathered back up and put into order, one by one. Concerning the Flying Dragon Guard’s survival, the information Fu Shen had divulged was indeed a huge problem for him.
“Many thanks,” he said to Fu Shen with a solemn look, following a moment of contemplation.
Yan Xiaohan really hadn’t thought that Fu Shen would call his attention to something having to do with his Guard. Despite Fu Shen letting the matter slide on the Jin Yunfeng case, it still couldn’t cover up the fact that he had turned his blade on Fu Shen to climb up higher. The Iron Cavalry was strictly guarded against the Flying Dragon Guard these past years, so he had always believed that Fu Shen had a particular hatred for it.
Yet, just now, to his face, Fu Shen had broken standard.
He couldn’t be unaware of the weight that warning held. It was practically the equivalent of strangling the Guard’s biggest archenemy himself.
His emotions were complicated, while Fu Shen didn’t seem to take this too seriously. “No need for thanks. It’s nothing much to me,” he replied impartially.
Yan Xiaohan was staying the night at the manor. Fu Shen called for Xiao Xun to get a guest room for him, then went to go find Du Leng to change his dressings by himself. To his surprise, when he returned to his room, there was an extra living, breathing person in it.
“What are you doing here?” Fu Shen asked.
“The guest room wasn’t cleaned up,” Yan Xiaohan answered. “No one could stay in there.”
“Rubbish. I just had people finish putting those in order yesterday.”
“I’m not staying in it. We’re married, why can’t we share the same bed?”
“You think I wanted this? The one that granted you the marriage is the one you should go look for,“ Fu Shen said unfeelingly.
However, Yan Xiaohan seemed to have a feel for Fu Shen’s bottom line, and was aware of the extent to which he would put up with mischief. “Since time immemorial, many rosy-cheeked beauties have had unkind fates,” he thus dramatized mellifluously. “You were just watching on, unable to tear your eyes away, yet in the blink of an eye, your affection has dulled as that beauty waned…”
Fu Shen felt like his head was going to pop. “…Don’t keep yowling like a huli jing, go and make the bed!”
Going into luxury from frugality was easy; the other way around was not. Fu Shen had been reluctant before this to face the fact that he had been pampered by Yan Xiaohan tending to him, but when the man came over today, all the discomfort and disquiet had after he started staying in the manor seemed to be cured immediately.
Xiao Xun and Yu Qiaoting weren’t so attentive in looking after people. The afternoon of the day Fu Shen had finished interrogating Mu Boxiu, he had just sat idly by in his room until late at night. When he got hungry and wanted to go find a bit to pad his stomach with, he went out only to find that the food and tea in the dining room had long gone cold.
During the time he was recuperating in the Yan Estate, it was like he had never even thought of the word ‘hungry’.
A piece of something warm and soft was placed against his lips, an aroma filling his nose. “Open up,” Yan Xiaohan’s voice sounded from overhead.
Fu Shen took a bite out of it. The freshly-made pastry was sweet and spongy, melting in his mouth. “It’s a bit sweet,” he said casually.
“I thought so, too.” Yan Xiaohan placed the saucer on the table, passing a cup of tea to him. “I’ll tell the cook to put in less sugar the next time she makes it.”
“You had the kitchen make food just now? Did you not eat enough at dinner?”
Yan Xiaohan went to the wardrobe to find inner clothes for him in a way that was all-too-familiar, not lifting his head as he gave his reply. “You ate too plainly then. If you eat a bit of something before bed, you won’t wake up starving in the middle of the night.”
Fu Shen falteringly touched his nose.
“Speaking of, that Medic Du of yours… he seems like he’s not from the Central Plains?”
“Yeah, he came from the Southwest. Why?”
“I just went to take a look at the prescription he had for you, and the substances used aren’t that similar to Central Plains physicians. I think he only specializes in connecting bone and mending meridians, not attaching importance to nursing the health. Looking back, the first time I had Shen Yi’ce come take your pulse, he wrote out a few supplemental drugs, and made up a medicinal diet… taking medicine frequently hurts the appetite, so be sure to eat well.”
Ever since the time the two had gotten into a row over Fu Shen not drinking his medicine, the problem with getting Fu Shen to drink it had basically turned into Yan Xiaohan’s problem. In this field, Yan Xiaohan had the absolute authority, and on the whole, he was as good as his word. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that if he wanted to poison Fu Shen one day, the latter might not be able to notice it at all.
Whatever he brought to mind or nagged him about, Fu Shen responded perfunctorily. He suddenly felt like this constant, continuing tenderness was pretty great; this room had been a bit too big to begin with, but with an extra Yan Xiaohan in it, it was now just right.
A bundle of soft clothes fell onto his lap. Yan Xiaohan bent over to lift him from the wheelchair. “Hold your clothes. It’s time to bathe.”
The villa still used bathing tubs and had no screen, only utilizing a curtain for separation. Fu Shen was huddled up in the tub when he suddenly heard Yan Xiaohan ask him something from the other side. “Who helped you bathe these past two days?”
“Xiao Zhongshan,” Fu Shen replied easily.
Yan Xiaohan thought of how he himself normally waited upon this Don while he bathed, and was then subconsciously tinged with sourness. “Why didn’t you think this through? You really wanted to go live out in the middle of nowhere, and now you can’t even take a bath at ease.”
Fu Shen was actually very innocent; he would ordinarily just have Xiao Xun push the chair into the bathroom, then support himself against the wall to lower himself in. In other words, Yan Xiaohan could carry him, but even Yu Qiaoting couldn’t rightfully do so. He didn’t hear the jealousy and vinegar-drinking in Yan Xiaohan’s voice, so his response missed the mark. “Which family’s Lady are you? You’re so picky.”
He gave up on comparing the heart of a crook to the core of a nobleman. A while later, he took Fu Shen out of the water with resignation, returning him to the bed in the bedroom. “I’ll go get your medicine. Wring your hair dry before… ah?”
Fu Shen suddenly grabbed his collar, hauling Yan Xiaohan over to him, then used a finger to lift a corner of his lips up.
“In the future, I’ll cherish you alone, and I won’t bathe without you. Stop being jealous, will you?”
Yan Xiaohan froze, subconsciously snatching Fu Shen’s hand into his own.
He fixed his deep gaze upon him for a moment, as if confirming something, then eventually lowered his head, softly pressing his dry lips against his cheek. “Okay… those are your words.”
Fu Shen’s heart stopped beating for a split second, starting back up again soon after to channel a stampede of endless horses, rumbling loud, exploding like a sky full of fireworks.
When Yan Xiaohan was about to get up and leave, he quickly reached out and placed his hand on his nape, drawing him back in.
They embraced each other, the unprecedented closeness bringing an extreme warmth and exultation. Fu Shen had thought that he had only held a tiny bit of affection, but, unwittingly, so much of it had already accumulated.
It was merely an instant of hard-to-control emotion. At the same moment Yan Xiaohan had kissed him, the possible reactions Fu Shen would have whirled about in his mind, yet this present situation was the only one he hadn’t foreseen.
He heard Fu Shen’s smiling voice resounding right against his temple; he seemed to be crooning, low and husky with an unspeakable amount of softness and sweetness.
“That wasn’t a bad kiss. Want to do it again?”
The translator shrieks like an eagle and flies off into the distance.
 A reference to a strategy in xiangqi, a game a lot like chess (hence the name, which means… “like chess”). Chariots (rough equivalent of a rook) would be sacrificed to prevent commanders (rough equivalent of kings) from being ‘killed’.
 This exchange references the phrase ‘苍蝇不抱没缝儿的鸡蛋’: houseflies won’t surround/covet a chicken egg with no cracks. This means that if there’s no issues going on, no one will be able to find a weakness to exploit; so if you want to frame someone, you have to plant your own cracked eggs. Of note, ‘抱’ also means ‘to cherish/embrace’.