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The old woman was already more than sixty, her head full of gray hairs. Her age and physical strength were evidently not enough to allow her to move very fast, but she still used the entirety of her effort to do so, feet going at flying speed. Passing through the dense courtyard, she was very soon gasping for breath, her forehead giving off sweat.
“Oh, Nanny Cui! Where did you come from? Here, wipe your sweat off!” Shan Cha had lifted the curtain to come out from inside only to catch sight of Nanny Cui’s sorry state, promptly taking a handkerchief out of her lapels and passing it to her.
This woman was a first-rate celebrity at the Missus’s side, having been sent over along with her dowry. Even the Head Maid couldn’t offend her.
However, Nanny Cui seemed to have not noticed Shan Cha’s goodwill, directly asking her, “Is the Missus up yet?”
Shan Cha looked a bit put-off, but smiled anyway. “She is, just did. If you have something to say, allow me to go in and report it for you!”
The other had an anxious expression. “No need. Since she’s already awake, I’ll just go right in!”
With that, she didn’t wait for Shan Cha to speak, lifting the curtain and going in.
Behind her, Shan Cha stomped once in resentment, then followed.
Entering the room, Nanny Cui saw a young woman seated before a dressing table, holding a mirror as she looked at her own reflection. Behind her was a young maid that was in the middle of slowly combing through her hair.
“Missus!” Nanny Cui hurried over, not stopping for a breather.
Lady Sun turned her head. Seeing how Nanny Cui was, she was somewhat surprised. “Shan Cha, Shao Yao, both of you go on and retire,” she ordered quickly after.
Both maids simultaneously affirmed, then withdrew.
It wasn’t like Nanny Cui didn’t see the displeased look in Shan Cha’s eyes before her departure, but she wasn’t in the mood to bicker with a little maid over trivial affection rivalry. Seeing the two leave, she deliberately went over, shut the door, and then completely stopped concealing her own fretful appearance.
“Missus, they arrested Feng Qingzi!”
Lady Sun’s combing hand paused. “Who are ‘they’?”
“The Northern Bastion Office!”
Lady Sun mumbled to herself unintelligibly.
“You know as well as I that the Brocade Guard’s methods are the most abominable!” Nanny Cui said, worried. “I’m not sure that they’ll be able to pry something out of her mouth, but if that time comes, it’ll be terrible!”
Yet, Lady Sun was a lot calmer than she. “When did she get arrested?”
“Missus! Missus!” Shan Cha’s voice came in from outside.
Nanny Cui swiftly wiped her tears and stood, turning her head to call, “What is it?!”
“The Marquis sent someone to invite the Missus over, saying that there was something that needed to be asked!”
Nanny Cui’s expression completely changed. “Missus, did he find out…?”
In contrast, Lady Sun had the sort of calmness born from planning to make a bad situation worse. She turned around and stroked the hair beside her face in the mirror. Currently, mourning apparel had to be worn for Zheng Cheng, so everyone in the room was wearing it. This manner of dress was plain, yet she took a jeweled hairpin off the dressing table, put it in her hair, and asked Nanny Cui, “Is it on straight?”
Nanny Cui stared at her, confused.
Lady Sun lightly smiled. As if she didn’t care about the other’s answer, she stood up. “Open the door,” she ordered.
Coming back to her senses, Nanny Cui threw herself down to hug her thigh. “You can’t! Don’t go, don’t! Listen to me; let me bear this alone. I’ll tell them that I’m the one that did it! Don’t you say anything!”
Lady Sun helped her up. “Stop talking. Just stay here in the room and don’t go anywhere. I’ll handle this.”
Several people were sitting in the reception hall.
Lady Sun pondered for a spell. “This won’t matter. Lady Feng doesn’t know where her brother lives, so interrogating her won’t be of use. Even if she admits to our connection, there’s no proof of it, and as women of this Estate, they can’t just casually come in to question us.”
Pale-faced, Nanny Cui said nothing.
Lady Sun noticed that something wasn’t right with her expression. “What’s wrong?”
“Missus, a-after I heard the news, I got worried about changes on Feng Qingwen’s end, so I took the deliberate long way around to glance at the house from nearby. But don’t worry, I didn’t approach it, let alone go inside…”
Lady Sun’s lips pursed tight, her face getting unsightly. “With the Guard’s capabilities, if they had followed you, it wouldn’t be difficult for them to find the place.”
Nanny Cui knelt down with a thud. “It’s all my fault, Missus! I shouldn’t have acted on my own! I’ve endangered you!”
Lady Sun sighed, helping her up again. “Get up, now. You were only wholeheartedly thinking of me, so how do you have any fault? This should have been flawless, but it actually ended up reaching this plight… this must be my retribution!”
Nanny Cui became enraged. “What retribution?! That Zheng Cheng bloke is the one who really got retribution! You’re a treasured woman of the Marquis Estate, how dare he treat you like that! It’s good that he died! Even without you, Miss Hui and Zheng Zhi wouldn’t have wanted him alive!”
In middle of the two’s talking inside, they suddenly heard the entrance being knocked upon urgently.
Marchioness Wu’an had taken ill due to excessive grief from her son’s death and hadn’t been able to get up to date, so she wasn’t able to show.
This time around, not only was Zheng Cheng dead, but the place had even lost the Marquis’s favorite son, the Estate’s reputation plummeting a thousand zhang in his wake. Zheng Ying hadn’t collapsed yet, but he did look more than a dozen years older than before, his visage one that had undergone great changes from the stress.
In regards to Tang Fan and Sui Zhou’s arrival, his face was awfully ugly. With two sons dead in a row, he only wished that the matter would end here and not have any further developments, but things again went contrary to his wishes. Them coming to his door, and moreover asking so see Lady Sun by name… if he had any difficulty inferring what that signified, he’d really be an idiot.
“I’ll only ask this, and I hope that you two will answer truthfully; did my son’s wife have something to do with his death?”
As things had come to this point, Tang Fan didn’t hide it from him. “We do indeed have that suspicion.”
Marquis Wu’an’s eyes suddenly flashed. “And what of Zhi’r? If that’s so, then hasn’t he been wrongly accused?”
Tang Fan shook his head. “The proof for Second Don Zheng’s crime of murdering his brother is conclusive. How was he wrongly accused? It’s simply that the murderers didn’t stop at just one.”
Marquis Wu’an refused to believe that his son killed his own brother even now, smiling wretchedly when he heard this. “It looks like you’ve come determined today to request that I allow the Zheng family’s ruin!”
Tang Fan cupped his hands. “Your words are too heavy, Marquis. All things have causes and effects. We’re just fulfilling our duties with the utmost of loyalty. Surely, you don’t wish for your son to be dead in uncertainty, Marquis?”
At the mention of Zheng Cheng, the Marquis finally said no more. His gaze merely drifted away, expression dismal, as if the two were now invisible in his eyes. It wasn’t clear what he was thinking.
Ever since their group had entered the Estate, there was no part of it that didn’t have a grim atmosphere. That was normal, though; one son was dead, and one was banished to the army, the year and month he’d be able to be pardoned unknown. Anyone else experiencing this situation wouldn’t withstand the hit, so it wasn’t surprising that the Marquis had continuously opposed further investigation from the start. In all likelihood, he had long anticipated all this on the inside.
Even having said that, were it not for him initially attempting to keep the matter a secret, and hinting for Pan Bin to conclude the case rashly, then Wang Zhi wouldn’t have been enticed to intervene, contrarily getting the forces of all parties involved and causing the truth to float to the surface during their contest.
Thus, many matters of the world inexorably seemed to be led along by an incorporeal thread, twisting around and around until they ultimately returned to their starting points.
When Lady Sun came in and noticed them, she looked utterly calm, and did not have panic in her mannerisms. She bowed to the Marquis as properly as ever; docile, and resembling the virtuosity that others construed.
The Marquis sighed. “Go ahead and ask whatever you all have.”
“Many thanks for your accommodation, Marquis.” Tang Fan first cupped his hands towards him, then said to Lady Sun, “Did you kill Zheng Cheng?”
“Where did this come from, Sir Tang?” she replied. “Could it be that you, a Shuntian Prefecture Judge, haven’t succeeded in your work of splashing dirty water on the head of someone else?”
Her tone was gentle, light, and lacking in sarcasm, as if she was only asking an ordinary question.
“When Miss Hui and Zheng Zhi thought to kill Zheng Cheng,” Tang Fan answered, “you sensed it, and secretly fanned the flames. By means of that apothecary worker, you helped them make up the drug, supplying it conveniently for them. However, it was slow-acting, and might not have necessarily ended up killing Zheng Cheng — it was possible that it would only make him sterile. You waited for a long time, but never got the result you wanted, so you couldn’t resist contacting Feng Qingzi to get her to do it herself. Following that, you also used her only little brother to coerce her, making it so she wouldn’t betray you.
“You wanted to kill him, but you didn’t want anyone to know about it. That’s why you had her take advantage of when he was sleeping to strike his baihui acupoint with a hammer. That was a decent method, indeed. Those that can accomplish it while not being detected are few, and she was included among them.
“That acupoint is located on the crown, and has hair covering it. A typical person wouldn’t take notice of the area that easily, but back when I saw Zheng Cheng’s body in the Estate, his hair was undone. By the time it arrived at the Northern Bastion Office, it was suddenly combed back. You had been wanting to conceal the evidence better, yet hadn’t foreseen that that would just give you away.
“When we pursued Jubilance, the top name there, Miss Qingzi, admitted to killing him herself. We followed the trail until we tracked down the home she had previously purchased, inadvertently discovering a couple of memorial tablets. From the contents of those, we learned that her surname had originally been Feng. As early as thirteen years prior, her family suffered implication due to a Jing-Xiang relative, Feng Zilong, starting trouble, and all her close kin died out, with only two survivors; one is herself, and the other is her little brother, Feng Qingwen. Somehow, she got to a brothel to be a prostitute, while her little brother, being male, was appropriately banished to the army. The Yellow River flooded at the time, and Henan needed to repair dikes; thus, by happenstance, Feng Qingwen was included in the group of people Count Yingcheng had ordered to help with that.”
Tang Fan watched Lady Sun. “After your attendant, Nanny Cui, learned of Feng Qingzi’s arrest, she feared that we would get information out of the latter’s mouth, and impatiently ran off to a place she normally never went to take a peek. The counter-result of that was that it allowed us to find Feng Qingwen, which confirmed that all of our previous conjectures were correct.”
Lady Sun shook her head. “Sir Tang, it was in vain for you to have once received the Emperor’s personal praise! All that you’ve explained is completely your own guesswork. It’s true that I actually have heard of Feng Qingzi before, and that’s because her brother works for my uncle, which isn’t strange. However, she’s a brothel woman, while I’m the daughter of a rich family; how would I be able to get into contact with her? As for your claim that I’m coercing her brother, that’s even more absurd. I’m guessing none of you questioned Feng Qingwen about anything, on account of him not knowing anything about it in the least.”
“In spite of the guesswork, all the clues are ultimately related to you,” Tang Fan replied. “How do you explain that?
“After the Bastion Office took Zheng Cheng’s body, the Eastern Depot immediately snatched it, resulting in a coincidence where the area his body was held caught on fire that very night, and the people on watch duty then also happened to be your uncle’s subordinates. Beyond that, Feng Qingzi was able to redeem herself with five thousand taels all of a sudden. Doesn’t the source of that money arouse one’s curiosity?
“In accordance with what I know, these years, your dowry’s taels in silver went to the Marquis Estate. Outside of brothels, Eldest Don Zheng also frequented gambling dens. Even if the Estate is rich, it didn’t have him alone as a son in it, so he would of course be prevented from squandering funds like that. So, where did he get the money for gambling from? He didn’t request it from you, so he had to have asked his mother, the Marchioness. For that reason, you could never scrounge together five thousand taels all at once, nor were you willing to borrow from your birth family for this. You thus pawned your own jewelry , which summed up to four-thousand, five-hundred and seventy-eight silver taels. I ask you, where are those banknotes now?”
She remained silent.
“You gave the banknotes to Feng Qingzi, and she took them to the bawd in a request for self-redemption. We’ve found them all now, together with those precious ornaments you had someone pawn for you. Would you like to take a look?”
The Marquis had been sitting in his chair this whole time, wordless. Listening up to here, he couldn’t resist pointing at her, teeth gritted in fury. “Was it you? Is he telling the truth?!”
With things having come to this, what would be the use of her still not admitting to it? Complexion wan, she lifted her head, looking at everyone without the slightest trace of fear. “Even without me, Zheng Cheng would die. I’m not the only one that wanted him dead!”
With unprecedented agility, Marquis Wu’an jumped up and viciously swung a slap at her.
She was slender and weak-statured; how could she withstand that? She promptly stumbled back several successive steps before running into a nearby pillar.
He seethed in anger. “What an unfortunate family this is! Why did my son marry a woman as venomous as you?! To think, that I had believed you to be wronged!”
She sneered. “You’re wrong, father-in-law! My malice is due to this house not having a single good person in it! When I had just been married, how could I not have wished to wait upon my husband, show respect to my in-laws, and pass my days nicely? What kind of man did I marry, though? A profligate that does nothing all day but go to brothels and play with the women! Not only does he play with them, but he brings them back home, one after the other! I’m the daughter of an influential family, too — where do you lot want me to put my dignity? People all across the capital claim that I’m virtuous, but on the inside? They’re all mocking my incompetence!”
The Marquis was pained and infuriated. “Why didn’t you tell me, or go tell your mother-in-law?! All of us could have helped you with getting justice! Why did it get to this extent?!”
“Mother-in-law?” she answered coldly. “All she would do is devise every possible method to take my wealth from me! You heard what Sir Tang said just now; all my dowry money was taken clean away by her excuses! I wanted to protect this family’s security, I wanted to keep the peace — but who was coming to protect me?! Who was coming to pay me that security back?! The first year, the second, the third… I endured year after year, but who ended up taking my patience seriously? Was I going to have to endure this pit of hell my entire life?!”
She was in no rush to get back up, looking the Marquis dead-on. The contempt in her eyes wasn’t masked well. “Oh-so-stately Marquis Wu’an, you completely losing your great-grandfather’s post is a given, but you also entertain your favorite concubine in running amok, ignoring her behavior towards your first wife, and have no standards in educating your sons; whether it’s the first or the second, you either teach them to become wealthy pricks, or have them turn into haughty, fratricidal morons! What qualifications do you have to talk about anyone else?!”
“You! You…!” He was so furious that he couldn’t speak, a hand over his chest as he drew a couple steps back, collapsing into a sit on his chair.
The translator says: There’s no way this is ending well for her, but fucking roast ’em, sis.