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Once the name ‘Rejuvenation Hall’ was heard, it was bound to be an apothecary. The overwhelming majority of apothecaries in the capital weren’t called Rejuvenation Hall, though, but something like Kindness Hall. All that identicalness made people think that they were all owned by the same person.
The Rejuvenation Hall located at Tangxibai Street was a household-name store. Among the ten or so ‘Rejuvenation Halls’ in the capital, this was the one with the most flourishing public reputation. However, in this particular age, there was no such thing as intellectual property rights, so after this Rejuvenation Hall’s name came into success, other apothecaries successively followed suit, taking on the same name, while the one on Tangxibai could do nothing about it.
Business at the Hall wasn’t bad, with all the people coming and going that were getting prescriptions written and drugs made up. Not only was the medicine here widely known, but even the physicians seated in it were famed, typically getting a line of people out the door just for a visit to them.
However, it was raining today, and the patients were quite a bit lacking. Not a lot of people were coming for medicine, even. His work finished for a spell, the young fellow Gao Yazi was right in the middle of being bored when he saw someone outside put away his umbrella, leave it at the entrance, wipe the rain off his clothes, then walk inside.
Despite his back being to the light, a crow-black color could faintly be seen suffusing the rainwater-damp hair hanging beside his face. His jade everyday clothes drifted to and fro with the wind, making him unfettered and stylish.
Gao Yazi had been an apprentice at this apothecary for three years and had seen an uncountable amount of people, but he had never seen such a good-looking one before. He couldn’t resist staring fixedly at him for half the day — until the other walked over and knocked on the counter in front of him. Only then did he snap out of it, face flushing thoroughly red. “What can I help you with, customer?”
The other man was nice to look at, and even his smile was gentle and elegant. Gao Yazi could read, but he hadn’t read many classic books, so he couldn’t think of any nice-sounding adjectives. He only thought that this person was akin to the drizzle outside — a coolness that brushed past the face, sweeping away the stuffy heat of early summer to make one quite comfortable.
“I’m looking for Shopkeep Liu. Is he here?” the other asked.
“That’s unfortunate. He just left,” Gao Yazi answered.
The one that was standing in Rejuvenation Hall and talking with Gao Yazi right now was, of course, Tang Fan. Hearing that the shopkeeper was out, the space between his brows couldn’t help but scrunch, and he immediately questioned, “Before he went, did he ever say when he would come back?”
The young man thought back for a time. “Right before he did, he said he would only return by noon. What is your respected name? If you have something you need and it isn’t critical, it’d be better to talk to me about it. I’ll convey it later on for you so you won’t need to make a trip again!”
He was an eloquent speaker, talented in stepping forth for social interactions. It was no wonder that he was so young, yet could work by himself at the Hall.
Tang Fan smiled. “My surname is Tang. I have nothing to do right now, so I’ll just wait for him here. Would that be okay, or no?”
Nice-looking people always had an unfair advantage; if he was swapped out for someone with a crooked nose and bulging eyes, Gao Yazi might not be so cordial, but Tang Fan saying so made him answer in haste. “Of course it is! Have a bit of a sit for now, Mister Tang!”
After that, he poured him tea himself and brought it over. He could be described as ‘excessively kissing up to him’.
The tea wasn’t great, but Tang Fan nevertheless accepted his enthusiasm, slightly nodding at him with a smile. Gao Yazi suddenly felt like he was about to float to ascension.
It was still early in the day, and Shopkeep Liu wouldn’t return that quickly. Tang Fan simply sat to the side, drinking tea while he watched the resident physician admit patients, which actually wasn’t that boring.
Around half a shichen later, another three people came in from outside. Donning yisan with decorated pleats, mala-colored clouds that went from the shoulders all the way to the sleeves, and spring-gilt sabres at their waists, they were majestic, and had an intrepid grandeur. The one leading them in particular had an abstruse and grave look, his gaze as sharp as a sword. From just a light sweep around, it made onlookers subconsciously move away from his line of sight one after the other, not daring to meet it.
As soon as the people in the apothecary saw those uniforms that had been described so many times they were almost personally familiar, they showed all types of expressions of amazement, dread, and admiration, promptly moving closer to the side of their own accord to make them a path.
In the Great Ming Dynasty, only the Brocade Guard or the Eastern Depot’s arrival could receive such treatment.
Of course, there was the addition of the Western Depot now, too.
The three Brocade Guards stopping at the apothecary instantly turned into a spectacle with thousands of people watching.
Not a peep was heard in the surroundings. Everyone was watching them, too afraid to even whisper in each others’ ears.
The Guard’s esteem had started at the Great Ming’s founding, gone through eight Courts, and long been transmitted throughout the realm, able to stop children from crying at night.
Tracing back to those years, at the initial establishment of the Ming Dynasty, the Great Ancestor had a killer addiction to killing people. He felt that those of the Ministry of Justice were entirely inefficient, since, whenever they killed a person, they had to first arrest them and then put them on trial, which wasted who-knew-how-much time for no reason. In consequence, he set up the Regional Commissionary Department of his personal Brocade Army, then took the Guard as a blade in his hand, using it to exterminate corrupt officials and dissidents. Later on, he maybe thought that he had killed too much and could stay his hand, so the Guard was abolished. Unexpectedly, as soon as Yongle took the stage, it was reinstated once again, and — in a buy-one-get-one-free deal — was supplemented by the innovative Eastern Depot.
The Guard and Depot each managed their own duties, but they also had mutual overlap, causing their business competition to be very fierce and conflicting views long extant.
In the Emperor’s view, the Eastern Depot was a eunuch principality, and those had all accompanied him since childhood while he was growing up in the palace, causing them to naturally be closer to him than the Guard. In some circumstances, however, the former could not replace the latter.
No matter how one spoke of them, the Guards were menfolk that had their ‘equipment’, while the Depot was the domain of eunuchs, and civil officials were innately hostile and vigilant towards eunuchs.
Yet, regardless what conflicts and struggles there were on the inside, on the outside, once the Guard came out, no one — from the high nobles down to the ordinary citizens — was not terrified of and extremely respectful to them, afraid that one bit of inattention would offend these gentlemen and senselessly incite misfortune.
And that was the reason why Tang Fan had given that idea to Pan Bin.
The Guard and Eastern Depot didn’t like to see each other, and the Eastern Depot hated that the Western Depot had cropped up to fill up space in the sky, as it diluted their own publicity and power. The Ministry of Justice and Court of Judicial Review had absolutely no favorable opinions of these three intelligence agencies, but they were also quite fearful of them, and didn’t dare to impinge upon them. Under the impediment of several parties, Shuntian Prefecture was the least eye-catching in contrast.
Gao Yazi speedily welcomed them, forcing out a smile as he trembled in trepidation. “Gentlemen, you honor this little store with your presence. How can I help you all?”
Their leader did not speak, but a Guard behind him did. “Where is the shopkeeper?”
Another person came looking for Shopkeep Liu?
Surprised, Gao Yazi quickly answered, “I must inform you all that he left early today, and I’m afraid he won’t return until noon!”
“Where did he go?” the man asked again.
“At the time, relatives of his came to find him. It seemed someone in his family was sick, so he went in a rush. In regards to where those relatives live, this humble one has no idea.”
When it came to Tang Fan, he enthusiastically urged the other to stay a while, but in the face of these fiends, he looked forward to them leaving as soon as possible.
Who could’ve know that the Guard would instead coldly say, “Then we’ll just wait here.”
Gao Yazi grumbled on the inside, but didn’t dare to say anything, promptly inviting them to sit as he simultaneously made them tea in a rush.
By either good or bad fortune, it was only him and the sitting physician in the apothecary today. One saw patients, and one made up meds; even if they wanted to go notify their boss, they couldn’t do two things at once.
Gao Yazi brought the hot tea over, smiling politely. “Gentlemen, this is top-notch cloud & mist tea. Please drink it slowly.”
None of the three ever spoke gruffly, but, somehow, as soon as they said anything with their stern faces, they exuded an air from head to toe that said that strangers were not to come forward. Gao Yazi thus felt his calves spasm, and he nearly collapsed limply to the ground.
Only after a good long while did he conquer his mental barrier, mustering up the courage to ask, “This humble one talks too much, but I would like to ask if Shopkeep Liu has committed something. If it’s a major crime, I can go try to ask the boss to come over…”
The leading Guard shot him a look, and Gao Yazi was immediately unable to say the second half of his words.
“No need,” the other said after a decent minute. The man resembled an ice sculpture, the words he spoke straight-up giving off an icy air. Gao Yazi, as a young apprentice-slash-assistant of an apothecary, had never witnessed a scene like this before, and was nearly scared into pissing himself.
Watching the three Guards seemingly unintentionally make things hard for someone, the physician and in-patients started to tremble in apprehension. They all got back to their positions — those that came to see the doctor got seen, and those that came to get their pulses taken got them taken.
Gao Yazi got patted on the shoulder a few times. He turned his head, only to see that Mister Tang, who had just been sitting at the side, was hitting him with a comforting smile, after which he asked the three Guards, “You gentlemen came because of the Marquis Wu’an Estate case?”
The leader narrowed his eyes, measuring him up for a short moment. “Who are you?” he shot back without answering.
Tang Fan cupped his hands. “Tang Fan, Runqing. A Judge of Shuntian Prefecture.”
“You really are him?” The other appeared to know of him.
Tang Fan had to laugh. “This Tang Runqing is no honored official, nor aristocrat. There’s presumably no worth in anyone pretending to be me, yes?”
Only then did the other cup his hands. “Gonfalon of the Northern Bastion Office in the Brocade Guard, Sui Zhou.”
Tang Fan was a sixth-ranked official, while the other was trueseventh-rank. To speak of posts, he was lower than Tang Fan, but the position of the Brocade Guard itself could not be discussed according to conventional principles. Thus, even though the man had only cupped his hands without rise, Tang Fan said nothing about it, still maintaining his markedly graceful smile.
“Are you looking for the shopkeeper because of the Estate case, Gonfalon Sui?”
Sui Zhou still answered with a question, instead. “What have you found out, Sir Tang?”
“My discoveries must be approximately what yours are. If you’re interested, it would be better for my Prefecture and your Office to join hands and collaborate, so that we can find the real killer earlier and get His Majesty a confession.”
He noticed that this Gonfalon Sui treasured his own words like gold, so he assuredly disliked talking rubbish, and disliked others talking rubbish, too. For that reason, he didn’t make much small talk, and openly got to the point.”
Sui Zhou stared at him for a time. “I heard that on the same day Zheng Cheng died, he previously bumped into you on the street, and spoke impolitely to you at the time. Did this event actually happen?” he asked without expression.
Taken aback slightly, Tang Fan nodded. “It did indeed.”
“As that’s the case, then you also have a motive for killing him, Sir Tang. If you have the free time, you may as well come back with me to the Office, and then you can talk more about arrangements for collaboration.”
The translator says: Mr. Guard there’s title literally translates to ‘chief flag’, so he gets to be named after a type of banner I’ve literally never heard of before until now.