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Tang Fan sighed. “Lady Sun, no matter the reason, a murderer must pay with their life. Karma being a cycle is a principle you should always be aware of. You’ll be coming back with us to the bureau!”
She smiled distantly. “Pay with my life? Why is it that wicked people never get any retribution for their wickedness, but instead force good people to set to task in killing them, resulting in that good person being punished for the crime? Sir Tang, you do actually enforce the law impartially, but if you arrest me, won’t your conscience be ill at ease?”
“However Zheng Cheng’s moral character was is no justification for your murder. If you didn’t like him, you could get an annulment. Why the need to commit such an evil act?”
It was like she had heard some kind of joke. “Annulment? Count Yingcheng’s and Marquis Wu’an’s Estates were joined in marriage; if he wasn’t dead, how would I ever be allowed to get an annulment? Count Yingcheng is my uncle, but if I hadn’t taken it upon myself to kill Zheng Cheng, the Sun family wouldn’t have quickly helped me deal with the aftermath out of fear that I would implicate them! Even all the money used for Feng Qingzi’s house purchase and self-redemption had to be scraped out of my dowry! Don’t you understand that I could only be free if he died?!”
Her face turned ferocious. “I know that I had never done evil deeds, from my youth to my adulthood. I had wanted to be in perfect harmony after I got married, imitating the mutual respect of ancient peoples. But after all that, the Heavens set me up with Zheng Cheng; how could I not resent that?! I fully put up with a man like that for five years! Even one look at him made me sick! If you want me to plead guilty, forget it! Death can’t wipe out his sins! It’s good that he’s dead, hahaha!”
Her laughter hadn’t yet stopped when her figure suddenly moved, and she threw herself straight at the nearest pillar!
“No! Catch her, now!” Tang Fan shouted.
Sui Zhou reacted quickly, immediately stepping forth to grab her.
Unfortunately, it was too late.
When Lady Sun had come in, the men and women had to be kept separate; even though they were in the same lobby, Tang Fan and Sui Zhou were both relatively far away, while her present movements were the utmost of determined.
In the opinion of someone that held the resolution to die, there was nothing that could stop them.
Sui Zhou could only clutch a corner of her sleeve, but because her charging speed was too great, the sleeve instead tore off, not curbing her momentum in the slightest.
With a muffled bang, her body fell limply to the ground alongside the pillar.
Her skull had split open, brains flowing out together with her blood, red and white. The ferocity of the force used was self-evident.
She passed away on the spot.
Marquis Wu’an was stunned by this scene, unable to move from his chair.
All of the servants stationed outside were in uproar. Screams and shouts flooded the whole courtyard.
Nanny Cui rushed over, only to catch sight of Lady Sun’s corpse. She threw herself forward, wailing and howling.
“All of you… all of you forced the Missus to her death! Ever since she married into the Zheng family, she made visits to her in-laws on the daily, trembling in fear; when had she ever done wrong? Yet how did all of you treat her?! Zheng Ying, you’re an old bastard, and Lady Liu is an old hag! Neither of you taught your son properly! You won’t have good deaths! You won’t!” In her inconsolable grief, she paid no attention to inferior and superior statuses, pointing at Marquis Wu’an and soundly cursing him.
Presumably from having suffered an exorbitant blow, Marquis Wu’an sat there blankly, permitting her to scorn him hatefully without a word.
Sui Zhou had been wanting to bring Lady Sun back for in-depth interrogation, but didn’t expect that she would die here. Her status was ultimately higher, and she had admitted to the crime; as that was so, her body could not be forcibly taken away, else Count Yingcheng’s Estate would likely refuse to let the matter lie.
Sui Zhou and Tang Fan respectively instructed people of the Northern Bastion Office and Shuntian Prefecture to survey and record, then took their leaves. The Marquis naturally didn’t have the energy to urge them to stay, these series of incidents having attacked him until he couldn’t even stand up, nor even look at Tang Fan and the rest. He seemed dumbstruck as he sat there dully, permitting the sky-shaking cries in the lobby as more and more people congregated.
No one had foreseen that things could end like this.
Thinking about Lady Sun’s recent scene of suicide, Tang Fan couldn’t help but sigh. “Marquis Wu’an now has one dead son and one banished son, accompanied by a dead daughter-in-law. He’s over half a century old, an elder having to see off the young; how tragic!”
“Their whole family made its own sin, that’s all. It’s no one else’s fault.” Gonfalon Sui wasn’t fond of talking, but the other man was Tang Fan, who didn’t fall within his scope of counterparts that he didn’t feel like talking to.
In the past, he looked down upon helplessly-sighing civil officials, always thinking them to be extraordinarily hypocritical. ‘Loyalty comes up every time in lowborn classes, while the majority of ingrates are those learned’ — this was about those insincere, two-faced literatis. However, Tang Fan differed from them in every way, his usage of practical actions causing Sui Zhou to change. Compared to that old fuddy-duddy Shuntian Prefect, Pan Bin, having contact with someone like Tang Fan was undoubtedly much more satisfactory.
Even more importantly was that they had handled this case together, founding a tentative friendship. He had quite the appreciation for Tang Fan’s brand of pragmatic, non-extravagant work ethic and skills. Being well-read was one thing, while being able to set to task and conduct oneself well were others; a talent with those would have boundless future prospects, while Tang Fan was someone of all three. Working in tandem with such a man would not be torture, of course.
Upon hearing Sui Zhou’s comment, Tang Fan sighed again, and said no more.
Was Lady Sun pitiful? She was.
A delicately beautiful woman from a rich family, well-born and well-educated — if she could have married a good gentleman, then everything certainly would have gone smoothly for her, and she would want for nothing. Instead, she was a bright pearl cast into darkness, and got married to a bastard that didn’t value treasures like Zheng Cheng, who performed varying, copious feats of dining, drinking, wenching, and gambling. Men feared entering the wrong profession, and women feared marrying the wrong gent, leading to the total ruination of the rest of their lives.
Even if she hadn’t killed herself just then, her end wouldn’t have been a good one. The Marquis Estate would never let a woman go that had conspired to kill her own husband, and would surely see it to its end, while the Count Estate would surely abandon its niece in order to save its own integrity. For that reason, her suicide was truthfully a choice made due to no better options.
As for Zheng Cheng, was he loathsome? Of course he was.
Marrying a man like that was a definite portent to having a lifetime of frustration. Had she been a bit weaker, she would continue to hold her breath, but she was someone soft on the outside, tough on the inside. Her husband was dissolute and lustful, her mother-in-law loved to make things difficult for her by laying down a set of rules, her father-in-law forever ignored the affairs of the house — she endured it until she couldn’t anymore. She did not die in silence, but inevitably blew up in silence.
But… could that really be the reason she became a murderer?
Feng Qingzi; for the sake of obtaining her freedom and reuniting with her little brother, the woman had been perfectly happy to act as Lady Sun’s blade, and ended up choosing suicide to protect him. With no freedom to act on her own all her life, she was the most pitiful.
There was also Lin Chaodong, that apothecary worker. His whereabouts were a mystery, but he had likely long met with harm, and nobody was concerned about the safety of a nobody. Were Tang Fan and Sui Zhou to go inquire Count Yingcheng’s Estate about this, they were bound to shirk all responsibility, then shove the totality of it onto the already-dead Lady Sun’s head. Hence, his location was destined to remain unfound.
Further still was the nearly-forgotten maid, Ah-Lin. If it weren’t for these two peeling the cocoon open and investigating it layer by layer, she would probably be stuck with the crime of assassinating her Master.
If Tang Fan wasn’t an appointed Dynasty official right now, he would have certainly sighed to his heart’s content and sympathized with the weak. But he was. In his position, and seeking his law, even direct killers like Zheng Zhi and Miss Hui faced the death penalty; Lady Sun, as the mastermind behind the scenes, naturally would have had no basis on which she could escape.
That atmosphere of the Marquis Estate’s had been very heavy. Once they had gone far away from it, they gradually gained post-solving relaxation. Tang Fan stretched his back, the slightly inelegant motion contrarily pleasing to the eye when he did it. “The most gratifying thing about this case is that Ah-Lin can finally be cleared of responsibility!” he said languidly.
“Her original intent was to seduce Zheng Cheng, so she’s clearly not the daughter of any sort of good and decent family,” Sui Zhou answered.
Tang Fan smiled. “Her moral character being good or bad has not a thing to do with whether she should suffer an unjust accusation. Making friends with someone and convicting someone are similar; both require their actions to be considered, and not their cores. Just like you, Gonfalon Sui. You must have looked down on a feeble, scholarly official like me at the beginning, but if I made a final decision based on that and didn’t collaborate with you, wouldn’t I be missing out on a good friend today?”
The present Emperor of the Great Ming had gradually placed more importance on civil officials and less on martial posts, meaning that military officials had to bow their heads to literary ones of the same rank. In spite of the Brocade Guard’s might, where typical civil officials were all apprehensive and irreverent towards them, Tang Fan was the opposite, and ultimately held Sui Zhou up to the position of ‘friend’. What a wondrous person.
Would anyone feel upset at words like that?
It was little wonder as to why others said that among the Palace Honorates of the eleventh year of Chenghua — even though he didn’t get Prime Scorer — Tang Runqing still had pals all over the realm. Popularity this good could not be faked. Pan Bin had some defects in morality, but he still fought for Tang Fan to come be a Judge at the Prefecture, and that definitely wasn’t merely because he was his junior.
Sui Zhou gave him a profound look. “Where is that wonton stall you mentioned?”
That out-of-the-blue question caused Tang Fan to be at a loss for a short time. “Huh?”
“It’s where you and Xue Ling went to eat last time.”
Tang Fan had an epiphany. “You like eating wontons, too? C’mon, c’mon, c’mon, then, better now than later! I’ll take you there! That stall not only has wontons, but noodles in broth, and the owner knows me. His broth base is different from other places’; it’s especially authentic, because he uses pork bones that he boils for seven or eight shichens. If you go there a lot and get your face known, he’ll even ladle you a little bit more…”
The epicurean Mister Tang was beyond ecstatic to find a comrade, brainwashing the other man as he walked.
The two headed to the city’s north, the sound of their footsteps gradually getting further away.
[End Arc 1: The Case of the Marquis Wu’an Estate]
The translator says: The lesson learned from this case is; if your son is a fuckboy, maybe actually do something about it, stupid.
 A two-stanza poem by Cao Xuequan.