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The maid was bound with her hands behind her back. Many bruises were on her body, and two palmprints were on her cheeks. She had presumably been taught a hard lesson by the whole Estate after the incident, her clothes and hair both similarly in disarray, and then had been pushed into a kneel. That she was delicately-featured was dimly recognizable.
“What’s your name and surname?” Tang Fan asked.
“This maid’s name is Ah-Lin.”
“Explain tonight’s situation in detail.”
She voiced the whole story whilst sobbing in bursts.
What she said had gone on truthfully differed very little from what Zheng Fu had said. The only difference lied in her repeatedly claiming that she hadn’t done anything at all with Zheng Cheng in his room.
Zheng Ying laughed coldly. “You’ve spared no bit of effort for the sake of shedding yourself of blame. I’ll ask you this; why did you, a servant of the front courtyard, run off to the back courtyard for no reason, then pass by the complex of the Eldest Don? That was a clearly-arranged plan to aim for a higher branch and turn into a fenghuang! Who could’ve known that now that he’s dead, you’d be in a hurry to want to say that you had no sort of relationship with him?! When I rushed in, the both of your clothes were disheveled, and even Zheng Fu said that he had stood outside for a stick of incense’s time, at the minimum — you still dare to claim that nothing had happened yet? Do I have to make someone come here to give you an inspection before you’ll be willing to tell the truth?!”
“You are as brilliant as a mirror, Marquis — the Young Lord and I were truly innocent!” Ah-Lin sobbed out. “After going in the room, he first said that he was hot, and started to take off his clothes, then through that, he said he was dizzy, so I helped him to sit down. We said some things, and after all the talk, he suddenly collapsed onto me, and after… after that… Zheng Fu broke down the door to get in!”
Zheng Ying was disinclined to vie with a young maidservant, so he looked at Pan Bin. “Take a look, Sir Pan. This bitch of a maid won’t acknowledge her crime even unto death. It seems that I’ll have to bother you with stepping forward!”
“Rest assured, Marquis,” Pan Bin quickly answered. “If the good Don’s death actually does have something to do with her, this humble official will enforce the law impartially.”
Zheng Ying was obviously somewhat dissatisfied with that perfunctory-esque answer.
Pan Bin sent a meaningful look to Tang Fan.
“Are there any discrepancies in what Ah-Lin just said?” Tang Fan asked Zheng Fu.
“This lowly one isn’t clear on what happened after the Young Lord and her went into the room, but everything else fits.”
“How long was the interval of when you went out to call for help and then came back?”
“Around a quarter of an hour.”
“Did anyone ever come during this time period?” Tang Fan then asked Ah-Lin.
“Marquis, where is Don Zheng’s body?”
“It’s right in the room.”
“I’d like to go in and examine it.”
“Please do, Sir Tang.”
At this moment, the coroner had also finished hurrying over, so Tang Fan went in with him.
They pushed the door open and entered. The interior was still in complete disorder.
Zheng Cheng was reclined on the bed, his clothes in a right mess. His body still held some remnant warmth, but he had a pale complexion, having long since gone breathless.
The coroner crouched beside the corpse, pried open Zheng Cheng’s mouth and eyelids, then went and felt about his limbs and body for a spell.
Tang Fan was looking over and searching everywhere. Seeing that the coroner was still over there, he asked, “What have you found?”
The other briefly hesitated. “No distinct markings of wounds were found, but it seems… like he didn’t die from a sudden flare-up of acute shed-yang disease…”
Tang Fan nodded, brows slightly scrunched, then checked out the corpse immediately after.
“What have you discovered, Sir?”
“Let’s leave first, and talk later.”
The two stood up and went out. Zheng Ying and Pan Bin were currently waiting outside. Seeing them come out, they asked, “How is it?”
The coroner was someone of little weight. How could he dare to speak first? Thus, he looked at Tang Fan.
Right then, however, Tang Fan passed a white porcelain bottle that he had just picked up from the bedside in front of Ah-Lin’s eyes. “Can you tell me what this is?”
The maid repeatedly shook her head, readily denying it.
He then questioned the boyservant, Zheng Fu. The latter hemmed and hawed for half the day, then finally conceded. “In the bottle is a drug called ‘yang-rich spring’. It has the effect of boosting yang sex drive and supplementing the kidneys. The prescription was one the Young Lord collected himself, and an outside pharmacy makes it.”
Zheng Ying was angry and hateful upon hearing this. All day long, the guy had sought out pleasures, shallow in age yet using this grade of pharmaceuticals to add to the fun. If he hadn’t been dead already, Zheng Ying would have the mind to string up and harshly beat his unfilial son.
Right now, he was all the more certain that when his son lusted after the maid and went to bed with her, shed-yang disease made him spontaneously perish. He wished that he could take up his sword at once to behead this master-tempting slut and be done with it.
Tang Fan poured out a pill that was in the bottle and sniffed it. After mumbling to himself for a while, he asked, “Marquis, where are the Don’s spouses? Please bring over anyone he had been in contact with before tonight. Everyone else may withdraw.”
Zheng Ying wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, but he was still rather cooperative. In not even a minute, every person got summoned there.
Zheng Cheng had one wife and three concubines. That didn’t seem like a lot, but this was because he liked looking for wild flowers outside. No matter how beautiful a woman he took into his threshold was, he would get tired of her in no more than three days. Therefore, starting from when he began to eat meat at fifteen, there were altogether only four women that could stay by his side for very long.
The first wife, Lady Sun of Zheng, was the niece of Count Yingcheng. She came from an equivalent noble family, its background on par with the Marquis Estate’s, making this a beautiful event of families being matched in status back in the day. Now, Lady Sun was no further than her twenty-fourth year of blossoming, yet she had already become a widow. In accordance with Zheng Cheng’s fickle heart, it stood to reason that, even when he was alive, there wasn’t anything good in their feelings of husband and wife. Yet, she was a virtuous person whose name was known far and wide, so even Tang Fan had heard of her before.
Of the four women now standing there, three each had their heads hung, wiping their tears. Lady Sun alone was pale, speechless, and still had tear stains on her face. It was likely that she was already so excessively heart-broken, she couldn’t weep anymore. Even Zheng Ying softly consoled her. “Daughter-in-law, you’ve been married into the Estate for five years now, being extraordinary filial in waiting upon your in-laws like we were your own parents. In contrast, it is our family that has considerably turned its back on you. Now, my unfilial son has passed on early, but didn’t leave any blood offspring behind. I will choose a day to talk this over with your family and have you accepted back into your maternal home, so as to avoid disappointing the prime of your life!”
“You do not have to say so much, father-in-law,” she replied, voice hoarse. “In conduct, wives should do the utmost of their duty. Now, I only hope that my husband will be able to be buried at rest someday soon.”
Zheng Ying sighed and said no more.
In addition to Lady Sun, the damsel-names of the three concubines were Miss Wan, Miss Hui, and Miss Yu.
Miss Wan was the oldest, already a half-aged, but still graceful woman. She was the earliest one to follow Zheng Cheng, even earlier than Lady Sun’s entrance, and her personality was relatively honest and subdued, so she typically had a very quiet sense of existence in the Estate.
Miss Hui was the best-looking, and had previously been favored for a time.
Miss Yu was young, and more delicate. Before Zheng Cheng’s death, she was the most favored of them all.
The three’s behaviors were also all different at this moment.
Miss Wan was hiding behind Lady Sun and silently crying, Miss Hui was loudly bawling, and Miss Yu’s wailing was even louder than Miss Hui’s, but it didn’t have that charming sound to it that could discreetly move someone’s heart, making it obvious that there was literally no reason for her to be favored.
Even if no one said anything, people that were adept at observation like Tang Fan could tell that things were surely not too peaceful between the two favored concubines, and fighting over attention definitely had to have been a commonplace event.
He took out the bottle and inquired as to whether they had seen it before. All of the women denied it.
Then, he questioned them on where they had been when the incident happened. The four all openly explained themselves, and with the testimonies of the servants in the house, they didn’t appear to have made any of it up.
Having watched Tang Fan mess around for a long time, Zheng Ying couldn’t help but ask, “What else are you wanting to ask, Sir Tang?”
He believed that the evidence for this crime was conclusive, so there was simply no need to interrogate and then interrogate some more. Just take that stiff-lipped maid right back and enact punishment on her; the confession would be quick and effortless. Why maneuver irrelevant people in to question them? Was it possible that he still wanted to make her out to be guiltless?
“I’ve asked all that should be asked,” Tang Fan replied. “I’ll ask Mister Prefect and the Marquis to take a step to the side for a talk.”
Zheng Ying had the others go into their respective rooms, then invited the two of them into his own study.
“If you have anything to say, Sir Tang, say it in its entirety.”
“I dare ask, Marquis; had the good Don been frail-bodied since childhood?”
Why was he asking an irrelevant question?
“Yes,” Zheng Ying answered, curbing his displeasure.
“Was a doctor ever hired? What did he say?”
“He said it was a defect brought about in the womb, something of an innate deficiency. It wasn’t a big hindrance, though.”
“He was abnormally thin. That was presumably the cause of his difficulty in having heirs?”
“Correct. What do you really want to say, Sir Tang?”
“If I haven’t guessed incorrectly, there might be something fishy about his death.”
Zheng Ying startled. “Why do you say that?”
“Shed-yang disease is also known as the ‘prompt breeze’. If rescue isn’t made in time, one will die a sudden death. Doctors believe this is caused by an exhaustion of one’s qi and yang. Those that contract the disease will develop a red circle on the palms, and on those circles must be red tendons. This accumulates over a number of days, and doesn’t simply come to be without any prior warning. However, when I checked his palms just now, I didn’t find that symptom.”
Zheng Ying wasn’t quick to answer, jolting. “You mean that my son’s death was from another cause?”
Tang Fan didn’t respond to that, continuing on. “If one dies of shed-yang, then their fully bloodshot eyes would be seen when their lids were lifted. A manifestation like that wasn’t found on him, so that’s why I just asked you the question of whether he was naturally frail, Marquis. While it can be assumed that he was lacking in some kidney qi, it wasn’t yet to the extent that it would consequently be fatal. It’s merely that, as a result of his everyday fondness of feminine charms, some people have misunderstood some things.”
It wasn’t merely one or two people that misunderstood things, actually. Didn’t even Zheng Ying himself think that his son had over-indulged himself to death?
Zheng Ying was alarmed into terror, breaking out into a furious look. “Who dared have the guts to murder the son of I, Marquis Wu’an?!”
“Right when the coroner and I went in to investigate, we discovered that his body was quite clean, with no stains at all. That demonstrates that what the maid Ah-Lin had said was not untrue; nothing indeed had occurred between them. Since he didn’t die from shed-yang, there had to be another cause. Furthermore, she had stated that he had felt dizzy after taking yang-rich spring. Maybe the issue is with this bottle of medicine I hold, but that’s only my one-sided conjecture. This matter needs to wait until after the investigation for a final conclusion to be made.”
After saying that, he asked, “What enemies did he normally have?”
Anger gradually placating, Zheng Ying went quiet.
Zheng Cheng had been a foppish coxcomb. How could he have any enemies that wouldn’t rest until he was dead?
Even so, to say that there were none couldn’t be done.
Beyond that, Zheng Ying’s own progeny didn’t stop at Zheng Cheng. Such a huge Estate had numerous concubines with even more children, as well as a lot of shameful secrets of the house that had to be kept inside it. The Great Ming’s law did not stipulate that only the eldest wife-born son could inherit titles; if there was no wife-born son, then the other sons could still accordingly inherit after undergoing the Dynasty’s investment. This caused Zheng Cheng to be the target of multiple arrows within the Estate. If he could be labelled as ‘determined and mature’, that’d be good, but he instead loitered in flower lanes all day long. How could that convince his other brothers?
Furthermore, with how Zheng Cheng was, even Tang Fan got harassed by him on the road with no rhyme or reason; that spoke nothing of those with no power that he took a fancy to. One of them harboring resentment and wanting revenge wasn’t an impossibility, either.
Even further still, there was no lack of fighting for affections amongst the other degenerate dandies. The second they got angry, a big fight would break out, thus making the starts of feuds even more run-of-the-mill.
Thinking about it like that, there were actually too many possibilities. It was frankly beyond his means to guess.
Seeing that he was dejected and not talking, Pan Bin said, “Marquis, this incident’s happening is surely going to disturb His Majesty. Before he has time to issue a decree, Shuntian Prefecture will do its utmost to investigate this thoroughly, arrest the real killer, and let the Don’s spirit in Heaven know.”
Zheng Ying nodded. “I will trouble you, then, Sir Pan.”
Marquis Wu’an, too, had grown up inside of the tall gates and deep courtyards of nobility. He had always known that inside the home, in order to fight for favor and seize the title, the actions taken were not any softer than those of the gentlemen in Court, and many of their vicious tricks were all the more sensational to hear. If it was discovered that the murderer actually was of the Zheng family, that would truly be an enormous joke.
When his thoughts reached that point, his heart chilled. The rage he just had upon hearing that the killer was someone else had long since died.
The translator says: Take a shot of vodka every time Mister Marquis is annoying! (Don’t, actually. You’ll die.)
 In Traditional Chinese Medicine, yang is related to men(’s sexual health), and the kidneys are believed to supply life-giving qi/‘energy’ to the rest of the body. (Read more in-depth here.) TCM is bogus, by the way. Listen to actual doctors.
 Essentially petnames given to concubines in a harem, typically based off of pretty/delicate things and not their actual names — the three in this scenario roughly translate to ‘grace’, ‘lily’, and ‘jade’, respectively. It was considered rude to call married women by their first or actual names, if you weren’t her husband or family.
 Named so due to the formerly-stated belief that men were primarily made of yang, so sexual overexertion, AKA ‘shedding yang’ via ejaculation, was seen as extremely poor for a man’s health. This was also known as ‘horseback/prompt wind’, for obvious reasons.