[If you’re not reading this on chichilations, then you’re reading a stolen copy. Reposts are not allowed anywhere or for any reason!
Links for mobile viewers: Ko-fi Donation — Chichi’s Twitter — Project Index — Digital Version Library
I see all your likes and comments~ Thanks in advance~
Enjoy! Meng Xi Shi’s always a treat.]
[Arc 1: The Case of the Marquis Wu’an Estate]
At near noon, two people walked out of Jubilance.
The leading one was a coxcomb, his face white with a sparse beard. An everyday set of clothes covered his body similar to how it would have covered a bamboo pole, and beneath his eyes were a pair of blue-black circles. He yawned for every two steps he took.
Following behind him was a boyservant that matched his pace. Not daring to slight him, the boy held an umbrella up for him in one hand, and carried a lantern whose flame had already gone out in the other.
Upon seeing this, passersby sidestepped them, one after the other.
The reason was none other than that Jubilance was a brothel, and brothel rules were that they should only open their doors and welcome guests in the evening. Right now, the other party had come out of the building in broad daylight; that had to mean that this Don had not only fooled around the whole night, but had also fooled around all morning, and his backing was so profound, Jubilance had no choice but to break the rules for him.
It would be great if someone like that had a good temper. In the case that he possibly had a bad temper and something happened, the ones who would suffer would be the powerless commoners. For that reason, everyone naturally had to duck out of the way when they saw him.
He couldn’t be provoked, so he needed to be avoided.
The coxcomb’s eyes suddenly brightened, and he gazed dead ahead.
The boyservant didn’t understand why. Upon following his line of sight, it suddenly became clear.
Their counterpart was in a set of everyday clothes as well, yet the similar style was worn with a dissimilar result. If the coxcomb was stated to be a bamboo pole with clothes on, then this man was an elegant and graceful jadeite tree. If someone that had a bit of literary grace was here, they might recite a few lines like ‘floating like a roaming cloud, darting like a startled dragon’ and such.
However, the coxcomb clearly wasn’t able to say such words that were rich with content. He was preoccupied with staring at the other man, eyes giving off light, after which he stepped airily forward to strike up a chat. “I don’t know this Don’s distinguished name. Where are you wanting to go?”
The boyservant grumbled inwardly. Their Young Lord’s addiction to intimacy-fishing, where he shied from neither man nor woman, was really annoying. Anyone that caught his eye in passing could be obstructed and harassed. The capital had nobles and officials all over the place; even though his family was hugely influential, if he happened to bump into an imperial censor, he would inevitably get accused of misconduct… and it wouldn’t be the first time.
Against expectations, the young man getting harassed merely raised his brows, then spoke his identity aloud. “Marquis Wu’an’s eldest son, Zheng Cheng?”
The boyservant suffered a shock at first, but he trailed by his Young Lord’s side year-round, so he had quite a bit of a discerning eye. Immediately recognizing that this man wasn’t a junior of the Marquis Estate, he thus rebuked him. “How bold of you, to state the taboo name of our Heir!”
The youth casually cupped his hands in greeting. “Forgive my rudeness, but, to the best of my knowledge, the Dynasty seems to have not yet issued a decree appointing your Don as the Heir. Since he’s not the Heir, you addressing him as such is already a violation, were it to be looked into. If somebody submits a report before His Majesty, then your Marquis will suffer via implication with you.”
The boyservant’s head filled with big sweatdrops whilst the other spoke, increasingly afraid of being rash. “This lowly one has spoken insolently! Please forgive me, Don!”
Zheng Cheng, however, was one-of-a-kind. The conversation had gotten to this point, yet he still wasn’t aware of his own life and death, smiling as crudely as ever. “Since you recognize me, beauty, that makes things easier. Wouldn’t it better for us to find a spot, drink a few cups, and have a nice chat?”
His lecherous eyes swept back and forth over the other’s body, only just short of using them to peel all his clothes off.
The young man smiled. “Very well. How about Censor Xian’s home in the city’s east for that chat?”
The boyservant jolted. No longer daring to look down upon the man, he stepped forward at once, barred the paw his Young Lord was about to reach out, and cupped his hands. “My Lord drank last night, and now the intoxication has gotten to him. His speech and actions have gotten quite a bit ruder, so may you please excuse him, Don. I’m not sure what your illustrious name is?”
The other smiled. “This question of yours is interesting. Why would I tell my name to you? If you go back and file an accusation to your Marquis, wouldn’t I never finish suffering the carriage of that blame?”
His intentions having been seen through, the boyservant had no choice but to powerlessly watch him leave. Only then did he wipe his sweat off, sigh in relief, and mentally narrate that that had been a close call.
The people of the grand Marquis Wu’an Estate heard the two words ‘Censor Xian’ the same way mice would see a cat, and that was simply because heredity titles of the Great Ming Dynasty were aplenty, from the descendants of the Zhu family to nobility of different surnames. Starting at the Hongwu era and coming to the present time, one could grab a big handful of them, the majority being of little value. On top of that, the imperial censors were overly aggressive, and would even dare to admonish the Emperor to his face. If they learned that Marquis Wu’an’s eldest son, under the full light of day, had harassed a good citizen in the middle of the street, they would likely urge the Emperor to nix his title straightaway, to say further nothing of the fact that the man from just then hadn’t appeared to be an ordinary person.
How could a normal commoner clearly know that he was Marquis Wu’an’s son, yet still use that tone to speak to him with?
“Are you seeking death? How dare you obstruct me, your Lord!” Zheng Cheng was greatly displeased with having a good time ruined.
Milord, that was me rescuing you! the boyservant thought while he smiled apologetically. “The Old Master might be waiting at home this very moment. If you return late, you’ll definitely suffer the rod again, so you have to take some caution!”
As soon as he heard his old dad’s title, the still-not-yet-sober Eldest Don Zheng couldn’t help but shudder and quiet down.
The boyservant followed him as he returned, turning to look back at the same time.
The other had long since gone far away, his figure nowhere to be seen, but the servant still couldn’t resist musing: who was that, really?
Tang Fan was shouted awake from his sleep in the middle of the night.
The one that had come looking for him was a messenger surnamed Wang from Shuntian Prefecture, his banging on the door at midnight a sound that shook the sky. Thankfully, Tang Fan lived alone in this courtyard, as anyone else might have taken him as a bandit dropping by.
Old Wang had a face of anxiety as soon as the door was opened. “Sir Tang, something major has happened! Quickly, come with me!”
Tang Fan blinked. He was draped only in an outer garment, remnant tiredness on his face. “What major something?”
Old Wang lowered his voice. “A murder case!”
An ordinary murder case definitely wouldn’t be able to make him come visit in the dead of night, heart burning with anxiety.
“Marquis Wu’an’s eldest son, Zheng Cheng!”
Tang Fan was startled, immediately waking most of the way up.
Back when Zhu Yuanzhang obtained the realm, the entire batch of meritorious officials that had fought alongside him for it were granted titles. Later on, he killed pretty much all of them, and then some of them stood on the wrong team in Jingnan, getting killed by the Yongle Emperor.
Of the current remaining hereditary titles, the majority were descendants of meritorious Jingnan officials appointed by Yongle, which were then passed down through generations, and a couple others were granted following the Tumu Stronghold Crisis. Ones that were a bit better still had some real authority, with the ability to lead troops and stand guard at locales. Ones a bit less fortunate were just like this Marquis Wu’an and his present murder case — all he could do was stay in the capital for his retirement, to the extent that if he carelessly got dragged into anything, his title would be gone in the blink of an eye. He appeared well-off, but in reality, the one drinking the water was the one that knew whether it was hot or cold.
Even the Heirs of these families had to pass through the Emperor before the granting of a title would go into effect. It wasn’t that they could casually have an eldest wife-born son, then have him be the Heir as a matter of logical course; if the Emperor didn’t find him pleasing to the eye, he could drag it out for a decade or two, and might find an excuse to expunge the title. For that reason, these dandies from rich families might not be any more highly regarded than an active seventh-rank capital official as they walked the city.
The first generation Marquis Wu’an was that exemplary Jingnan official, and the hereditary title had since been passed down to the fourth generation. Zheng Ying had inherited it just last year, and he was serious and cautious by nature, never daring to cause trouble outside whilst wielding it. Even so, he had produced a son that made no progress in life. Marquis Wu’an’s heart nearly broke apart with worry for him; beatings and scoldings were even commonplace in their household.
Despite the beatings, Zheng Ying merely hated that his son was a disappointment. He never wanted him dead.
At this time, his eyes were thoroughly red, complexion ashen. He stood outside of Zheng Cheng’s room with his hands behind his back, not saying a word.
The small, brightly-lit courtyard was filled with people all around. Neither the men nor the women were giving consideration to avoiding people’s suspicions. There were those that were terrified and those that were weeping, clamoring into a muddled mess.
By the time Tang Fan hurried to the Marquis Estate, Shuntian Prefect Pan Bin had already arrived, and was in the middle of speaking with Zheng Ying.
A crowd of bailiffs came to surround Zheng Cheng’s room, driving out all those runners and servants that were going to and fro.
Due to Old Wang’s urging, Tang Fan hadn’t had time to put on his official’s uniform, and only wore typical clothes. Even with that, Pan Bin still waved him over as soon as he saw him. “Runqing, come here, quick!”
“Marquis, Mister Prefect.” The atmosphere was quite tense, yet Tang Fan didn’t appear to be any sort of nervous, having that same relaxed presence as ever. In contrast with those in the environs, he was somewhat unusual.
Boyservant Zheng Fu, who was standing amongst the crowd, couldn’t help but let out an ah, pointing at Tang Fan. “Aren’t you that guy from today?”
At thar sound, everyone looked over.
Afraid that this would give rise to some kind of misunderstanding, Pan Bin quickly replied, “I haven’t made introductions yet. This is Shuntian Prefecture’s Judge, Tang Fan, Runqing. He is bright, of quick wit, and excels in solving cases. I had him come here this time precisely because of that.”
Zheng Ying’s eyes flashed. In spite of him not being someone that participated in court politics, he, too, had heard of the name ‘Tang Fan’ before.
It had been no more than gossips of various sorts, which were ultimately inferior to what he saw in front of him. What a pity that his son had now died a violent death, and he was in no mood to exchange pleasantries. “What is this actually about?” he questioned directly.
With Marquis Wu’an sweeping his cold gaze over him, Zheng Fu hurriedly explained the cause.
Tang Fan cupped his hands. “My words were not in harmony with the good Don this morning. I hope that you can forgive me, Marquis.”
Zheng Ying sighed. “What an insolent dog of a son. He impinged on you, Sir, what did that have to with you? If wasn’t for him being… hah, I’d certainly give him a harsh lesson!”
Saying so, he revealed an expression of anger, hatred, and sorrow.
In spite of Tang Fan being only a minor official of the sixth rank, his reputation and history were not minor, so Zheng Ying was naturally going to be polite.
“Restrain your grief, Marquis. Please detail what happened with the good Don.”
Zheng Cheng had been a foppish young man; there was no doubt about that point in the slightest. His foppishness was primarily reflected in his sexuality, with both men and women being fine, given that they looked pretty. Still not thinking the pretty wives and concubines in his home were enough, he also kept sidepieces outside it, which yet resulted in him running off to flower lanes all day long. It was also precisely due to his pleasure-seeking and poor notoriety that the Dynasty was thus dragging its feet, and hadn’t yet passed down a decree that would dub him the Heir, causing Marquis Wu’an to feel both resentful and helpless.
During daylight today, Zheng Cheng had just gotten back from Jubilance when his old dad, who happened to be home, caught him red-handed. Don Zheng got scolded like dog’s blood was getting dumped on his head, then was ordered to stay in his room on house arrest. Zheng Ying had believed that he would be able to live in peace for a few days, but, unexpectedly, as soon as he turned his head, his son was again fooling around with a servant girl.
At two shichens ago, when Zheng Ying received the report and scurried over, Zheng Cheng was already naked, lying bare-bodied and silent on the bed. To the side knelt a servant girl in unkempt clothes, who was weeping shrilly.
Based on the boyservant Zheng Fu’s account, the incident occurred about near the time of the Boar.(9-11p) Zheng Cheng happened to inadvertently see the maid Ah-Lin passing by outside. Noticing that she had some charms, he got the mind for sex, and wanted to pull her into his room. Ah-Lin was half-willing, half-not, and both sides were in a snag for a minute until they finally went in. Zheng Fu followed until the doorway, not entering.
Following around an incense stick’s worth of time, he heard Ah-Lin’s shrieks coming from inside.
He quickly pushed the door open, came in, and saw Zheng Cheng’s state of being unconscious on the bed.
He swiftly ran out to call for someone. What happened after didn’t need to be explained.
To speak according to reason, Zheng Cheng hollowing out his health from being so promiscuous seemed to be a matter of when. Yet, with his son dead, Zheng Ying had no way to see to chiding him, so the maid became the trigger that would bear the brunt of it. Zheng Ying’s pain at losing his son, and rage at the Estate losing a lot of prestige due to scandal, were both wholly issued upon her.
However, a problem arose there. If the maid was a slave, that’d be the end of it, and he could handle it how he wanted to; secretly beating her to death, filling a well with her body, and then finding a pretext to dupe the outside world. Household scandals were ill-suited for propagating out of said house, and further still wouldn’t require him to bother Shuntian Prefecture with setting to task. Bad news was, the maid was a proper citizen, and hadn’t signed a contract selling herself into slavery for the Estate.
Since she wasn’t a slave, she couldn’t be beaten to death as pleased. Had the Estate otherwise taken care of things rashly today, it would inevitably become a handgrip on it, and its behavior would be denounced — someone as cautious as Zheng Ying wouldn’t dare to do this.
For that reason, getting the authorities was the first thing he chose.
The translator says, after actively choosing to translate a historical novel: OH NO HISTORY LESSONS
Instead of the term ‘Young Master’ that lots of people complain about, I’m using Don. Nice ‘n succinct.
 A quote from A New Account of the Tales of the World, a compilation by Liu Yiqing, section Appearance and Manner. These lines in particular are meant to describe… calligraphy, more so than a person.
 In most of China’s history, people (mostly men) would have courtesy names when they came of age. Their usage depends on the era (and writer, tbh, I’ve seen it go all over the place). In this case, the ‘taboo name’ would be the birth name, which you’re not supposed to use if you’re not familiar with the person in question.
 Concubinage was a legal thing in ancient China, and concubines were always lesser in formal rank than officially-married wives, of which a man could only have one at a time. Wife-born children automatically eclipsed the rank of concubine-born children, even beyond chronological seniority.
 In ye olde times, having any sort of contact with the opposite sex when you’re a) not married to them, b) not related to them, and/or c) not a eunuch was taboo, because it roused people’s suspicions about you banging and whatnot just because you were in the same room. The severity of this depended on the era, the family’s rank, and the family itself.
 Like a red-light district, but instead of red lights, there’s… flowers. Both literal and metaphorical, sometimes.