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Yuan Liang was someone known to Tang Fan. When he was at the Crown Prince’s, he had already asked about the people that might have been around Han Zao from when he entered the palace to his death.
Upon coming in, he was seen off to the palace gates by the Han’s, after which the attendant named Yuan Liang led him to the East Palace. During the course of walking there, Yuan Liang wasn’t too likely to have had an opportunity to specifically carry out murder via Han Zao’s acupoint. What’s more was that, according to the Prince’s words, Yuan Liang had been following him since before he was even dubbed the Prince, his degree of loyalty high. It would be impossible for him to have murdered Han Zao for no reason.
In the process of Han Zao departing the East Palace midway through with his secret task of going to the West Palace and checking up on Lady Wu, only Yuan Liang had been with him the whole time. The probability of someone else being there was not much. At the West Palace, Yuan Liang had been outside helping keep lookout, whilst Han Zao alone went to stay with Lady Wu and them for a short period of time, relaying the Crown Prince’s respects plus current situation.
On the basis of Lady Wu’s circumstances, she would have had ample motive and conditions to prep for this case, placing the blame upon Consort Wan — this, Tang Fan had been taking into consideration when he had insisted upon coming to the West Palace for investigation. Sometimes, there were things that couldn’t be asked outright, because the attitude and expression of one’s counterpart would change when confronted personally, which would be great supplementary evidence.
However, it now seemed that Lady Wu’s suspicion in this could be ruled out.
In other words, since that was so, Han Zao’s murderer very likely wasn’t of the palace.
As they exited the West Palace, Tang Fan continuously sorted out his thoughts, mentally re-organized Han Zao’s experience in the palace, then confirmed the murderer’s locale, all of which made it easier to execute the next step.
Wang Zhi had been uncharacteristically taciturn in the West Palace. While Tang Fan, Lady Wu, and the maid were conversing, he had merely stood to the side and surveyed with a cool eye. At the present, however, he suddenly started laughing darkly. “Tang Runqing, your rapport with the deposed Empress was seamless. What a good show you put on!”
“I’m not quite sure I understand what you’re talking about,” Tang Fan answered.
The other sneered. “Still playing dumb with me? There’s clearly always been a connection between Lady Wu and the Crown Prince! Let me guess, Han Zao was the mediator between them? People in the East Palace really are loyal at heart, to have kept this so airtight, even I was completely in the dark about it. Tell me; if the Consort were to know this tidbit, what would happen?”
Tang Fan sighed. “Eunuch Wang, one should always leave lines behind so that future meetings will be pleasant.”
Wang Zhi ignored him, continuing to talk on his own. “Because she’s been deposed, Lady Wu has resentment in her heart. She’s a deposed Empress, after all, and it wouldn’t be unusual for there to still be people at her side that would do errands for her. That’s why she had planned to take advantage of when the Consort sent the soup to draw Han Zao into her Palace after he left the East one to play, then killed him to frame the Consort. That way, the case is solved; His Majesty’s difficult problem is fixed, the Consort’s suspicion is cleared, and the Crown Prince isn’t implicated. Everybody’s happy. It can just be reported like that, can’t it?”
Genuinely afraid that he would actually do that, Tang Fan quickly replied, “If that happens, the Consort definitely won’t be fully satisfied with killing just the deposed Empress; she’ll also take the chance to begin another purge, completely rooting out everyone in the harem that she finds unpleasant to look at. The Crown Prince would certainly be affected by that, so why would you do such a thing that ruins the peace? Furthermore, Lady Wan obviously has nothing to do with this.”
Wang Zhi huffed coldly. “Since you know what fear is, don’t keep thinking to hide things from me. Tell me about the connection between her and the Prince, in complete detail!”
To be capable of occupying a high post, one couldn’t be a moron. Even the Cabinet Solons that appeared to be forever doing nothing were all tremendously shrewd characters. Tang Fan wouldn’t not take them seriously just because they refused to do anything practical.
Even so, he found that he had still underestimated this Western Depot Director; his acumen was indeed the topmost of keen. Tang Fan had self-admittedly been as careful as he possibly could when speaking with Lady Wu and the maid, revealing no flaws at all, and hadn’t expected that Wang Zhi would still be able to see the signs.
With things at this point, he had no way to keep concealing this from Wang Zhi. He explained that when the Crown Prince had been in dire straits long ago, Lady Wu had taken care to conceal him. “The Prince has praiseworthy filial piety,” he said afterwards. “She isn’t his birth mother, but he hasn’t forgotten her on account of her grace, even if he’s since assumed the position of Crown Prince. To remember grudges is easy. To remember kindness, hard; someone that doesn’t forget the kindness of others is someone that assuredly won’t be an evil and treacherous person in the future. If he’s guided well, he will most likely become a wise ruler. You’ve received the patronage of His Majesty and the Consort, but you must think towards the future nonetheless. In the views of those below, a charitable Crown Prince is much better than a miserly Crown Prince with dark thoughts, yes?”
Wang Zhi snorted. “No need to be afraid. Since I’ve already consciously decided to tie this string of fate, I won’t go back on my word! If I didn’t intimidate you, would you ever get scared and tell the truth to me?”
Tang Fan thought to himself, You really were going to scare me to death. If you went to Consort Wan with this, Lady Wu would be finished, and the Crown Prince would also suffer implication, to say nothing of this little pawn of his. On the surface, though, he kept smiling bitterly. “Do forgive me, Eunuch Wang. The Crown Prince made me keep this a secret. After all, the fewer people that know, the less risk there is of it circulating outwards.”
Wang Zhi narrowed his eyes, glaring at him. “Since we’re going to work together, you need to have good faith. I’ll tell you that I’m not going to sell out the Prince. As for Lady Wu, I can let her slide; but if there’s any interactions between you and him from now on, I have to be in the know!”
Tang fan smiled. “That’s a matter of course. If you’ll be open-minded and fair, I’ll be willing to be candid with you.”
Wang Zhi looked at him for a long while before asking, “So, Lady Wu really is unrelated?”
Tang Fan explained his own recent deduction about her, then said, “Right. We might need to switch direction and go investigate the Han family.”
“Pertaining to Han Zao’s cause of death, it’s for certain that the cause was the shuifen acupoint?”
“After the Han’s heard the news, they came to His Majesty to petition for Han Zao’s body to be returned so that they could bury him. As you know, Han Fang had once been His Majesty’s teacher, and the latter is softhearted… so, their request has already been approved. If Han Zao’s death was related to someone in the family, we can push the boat along that water; the murderer might not be able to resist doing something to Han Zao’s body, and when that time comes, we’ll come to catch the turtle in a jar. How about it?”
Tang Fan mentally said “How about no?”, but he and Eunuch Wang had only just entered a ceasefire agreement of cooperation. The other party absolutely could not be upset again, or his humiliation might turn to anger, and he might actually go run to complain to Consort Wan in his hot-headedness, which would be less than stellar. Thus, Sir Tang speedily gave him a thumbs-up, petting him along his fur as he portrayed his endorsement. “Great! That’s a really great move! You’re worthy of being you!”
Wang Zhi laughed icily. “Fake! Too fake!”
The other side-eyed him. “When people want to lick my boots, do you know how they lick them?”
“I’d like to hear details,” Mister Tang answered modestly and studiously.
Wang Zhi, hands behind his back, explained it proudly to him. “Last year, I had been ordered to go on a mission outside the capital. When I got to the place, a crowd was led to welcome me. A local official noticed that I had arrived covered in dust from travel, my boots covered in dirt. Because they only had wine ready for my greeting with nothing else, he first had me sit down, then personally took my boots off for me, personally lowered his head to lick them clean, then personally helped me put them back on. Can’t you learn a real lesson from that, Tang Runqing?”
In accordance with Wang Zhi’s authority and care from the Emperor, that official had taken a humble stance that spared no degrading act in order to curry favor with him. Even though it sounded disgusting to hear, if he could hug Eunuch Wang’s thigh via that, it would be considered worth it.
Mister Tang’s rebound arc took a bit long. After a short time passed, he let out an ah. “Saliva!”
“Those boots got drenched with saliva. Did you wear them the whole time, then, Eunuch Wang? Leather is quite thick, but if the other party had a bit of tuberculosis or some other disease, the saliva would leave yellow phlegm hanging on the boots in its wake. Also, on account of them being black, it wouldn’t be too obvious…”
He analyzed this with deadly seriousness, the main point of his focus having long skewed off into somewhere above the clouds.
“What is actually going on in your head?!” Wang Zhi shouted angrily.
Tang Fan looked back at him with pure and innocently-blinking eyes.
Wang Zhi had originally wanted to flaunt how others fawned on him, beating on Tang Fan while he was at it, but the end result was that he got nauseated for no good reason by the man’s gab.
“Talking to you is truly the worst!” Eunuch Wang, completely livid, brushed his sleeves to the side and left, straight-up casting Tang Fan behind him with no care as to whether he could follow him or not.
“Hey, don’t walk so fast,” Tang Fan called from behind him, in no hurry. “My limbs are old, I can’t keep up!”
The case had happened at the East Palace, the responsibility for it heavy. Every move and action was being watched by all; even the Son of Heaven was interested in this anomaly. Despite Tang Fan shouldering an imperial order, his actual rank was still where it was, and he couldn’t simply have an audience with royalty whenever he wanted. Wang Zhi had thus gained a particularly important use.
He wasn’t the primary investigator, but he could speak to the Emperor and Consort Wan, as well as have audience with them at any time, which was equal to him serving as a messenger between Tang Fan and His Majesty. Each time the case progressed a stage or had some headway, he was required to go and make a thoroughly detailed report.
Now that preliminary findings stated that this might not have too much to do with the palace itself, everyone sighed in relief. The Emperor was also content with this outcome; his beloved woman wasn’t implicated, nor was there a need to raise a tempest in the palace. He felt slightly sorry for his teacher, but this was indeed the best result.
He delightedly agreed to the Han’s request, having Wang Zhi send Han Zao’s body back to them. Meanwhile, on the Crown Prince’s side, Tang Fan was giving his own report of the result. After hearing that this had nothing to do with Lady Wu, the Crown Prince was also happy, and thanked Tang Fan in person.
Tang Fan smiled painfully. “You mustn’t rush to thank me, Your Highness. To this day, the murderer has revealed no clues, there’s still many bits of doubt, and the entirety of the truth isn’t clear. I can only claim that there’s a possibility that the palace is unrelated, not that it’s unrelated for certain.”
The Prince smiled bashfully. “I know. You must be under no small amount of pressure over this, Judge Tang. If you really can find Xiao Zao’s killer, I will thank you too, of course!”
Despite his youth, he had an insight that exceeded his age when looking into people and events.
It was said that children of the poor had to be independent early. The Prince was obviously not the child of a poor family, but he had encountered a vast many trials, his survival over the danger of death more difficult than for children of the average poor. Back when the son of Consort Bai had been dubbed the Crown Prince, not even two years had passed before he inexplicably died — everybody knew who the killer was, but nobody dared to say it. Hence, in spite of Zhu Youcheng now being the Crown Prince,he was terrified with every step he took in the palace, as if he was walking on thin ice.
“To be specific, Imperial Eunuch Wang was also ordered to assist with the investigation, and his all-out effort in rushing about has been no lesser than this humble subject’s. The Consort had some suspicions about the East Palace because of Han Zao’s incident; it was thanks to Eunuch Wang’s endeavor that things were cleared up to her and His Majesty!”
What was Wang Zhi putting all his effort in for? It was to make a good impression on the Crown Prince, wasn’t it?
Thus, Tang Fan was happy to go with the flow and do a little favor for him in the Prince’s presence.
Having not expected that Tang Fan would use such a means, Wang Zhi was pretty ecstatic on the inside, promptly bowing to the Crown Prince. “This subject doesn’t dare to falsely claim that I’ve toiled hard, Your Highness. This is all for the sake of comforting the deceased, finding out the truth, and allowing both you and His Majesty set your minds to rest!”
In general, eunuchs and maids would self-appellate as ‘this slave’, but for Wang Zhi, Shang Ming, and others in their positions, they were no longer of inferior status, comparable to palace maids appointed into management positions. Even the Emperor would address them as ‘Insubject’, which meant that they could call themselves ‘this subject’ like the major Dynasty officials elsewhere.
The Crown Prince knew that Wang Zhi was one of Consort Wan’s people. He also knew that she hated him, the Prince.
Most people believed that Consort Wan had done Han Zao in, while she suspected that the Crown Prince had purposefully framed her. Wang Zhi explaining things to her so that she quelled her suspicions about the Prince was an immense favor.
The latter was beyond surprised. “You’re too modest, Insubject Wang,” he quickly answered. “You have done your duty with the utmost of loyalty. I’ve often heard Father Emperor mention you, as well. This case will rely heavily on your hard work!”
“I will never dare to neglect your trust, Your Highness,” Wang Zhi answered, serious. “I will do all that I can!”
Once they left the palace, a smile was on Wang Zhi’s face. “Alright, Runqing, I really hadn’t read you wrong! You’re pretty loyal!”
See? When he was mad before, he called him by both his name and surname, but now he called him by his courtesy all friendly-like. Eunuch Wang could turn face faster than he could turn pages.
“Look up at the sky, Eunuch Wang — weren’t there a bunch of thick black clouds there just now? Why are they clearing up? This really is a June day; just tell the weather to change, and it will!” Tang Fan meaningfully teased.
Wang Zhi laughed, pointing a finger at him. “This eunuch is generous, so I won’t be bickering with you. Try saying all that to Shang Ming! He’d definitely hold a grudge and mess with you until you’re crying for you parents!”
“Are you saying that since I can get along with you, I can get close to Shang Ming, too? Talk about birds of a feather flocking together!“
Wang Zhi simply had no way to handle him at all. Was there anyone else that could twist things around into self-praise like he could?
It wasn’t to be claimed that Tang Fan’s words didn’t pass through his brain first. Everything he said had profound meaning as well as jocular wit, and it seemed offensive, but actually wasn’t. Even Wang Zhi was sometimes annoyed and angered and unable to keep from provoking him back; he didn’t like any other people much, but he was willing to squabble with Tang Fan.
All day long, when dealing with people, he had to be cautious in his words and actions, or had to constantly be on guard against others’ plots, or had to plot against others. For that reason, sparring verbally with Tang Fan was actually relaxing to him, and could even be called a type of fun.
The two wasted no time, heading directly to the Han Estate after leaving the royal palace.
Having received the Emperor’s permission, the Han’s had just gotten Han Zao’s body back from the Western Depot, and were currently making funeral preparations for him.
With both Wang Zhi’s established status and his taking of royal orders, no one would dare to slight him. Han Qi led the entire family in opening the center gate to greet him, but Han Zao’s parents, Han Fang and Lady Lin, were not present. Representing the second branch was Han Hui, Han Fang’s adopted son.
Han Hui was just shy of crown age. Ten or so years ago, Lady Lin had been married to Han Fang for not even a few years. On account of her having no children and Han Fang refusing both divorce and concubinage, Lady Zhou made them acknowledge the same-clan Han Hui as their son.
Han Qi smiled bitterly as he expressed his apologies to Wang Zhi and them. “After hearing about what happened to their son, Ah-Zao, the married couple suffered a huge shock, and have both become bedridden. When the body came back yesterday, Lady Lin forced herself up again, then insisted on keeping watch for him all night despite urging, resulting in her taking ill again this morning. I invite Eunuch Wang and Judge Tang to sit for a short time while I go to have them come greet you.”
The eldest branch, Han Yu, was currently acting as a foreign official. Han Qi was now over sixty, and his luck in officialdom had been inferior to his two sons’, as he had only reached the rank of a minor Recordkeeper in the Six Ministries. Seeing as he was getting older with no promotion in sight, he had simply resigned to be in idle retirement at home.
Although both sons were officials, his second was also a former teacher of the Emperor. Even if it was a thing of the past, it didn’t matter if he was the Emperor’s teacher or a current Minister of real power; Han Qi would absolutely never dare to offend Wang Zhi.
Wang Zhi waved him off. “No need, the investigation is urgent. If need be, we will go ask them questions ourselves and request that they quell their grief. We have come before you to offer condolences, so we will tour the Estate in passing. I request that you find someone to guide our way; that alone will be fine. Please also inform the women of the house ahead of time so that they won’t be alarmed by the uncertainty.”
He was young in age, yet rather majestic. Donned in his gorgeous qilin robes, his every action was inarguable, and his soft femininity suddenly turned into harshness. In the presence of Chief Eunuch Wang, who grasped immense authority, even the Han’s breaths had to slow down some.
Contrastingly, Tang Fan was purely an extra head, sitting there as a prop.
But, he didn’t really care about that, of course. He was content to do nothing, actually. He would give a few confirmations on occasion, but for the most part, he just watched Eunuch Wang interact with the Han’s.
As for Wang Zhi’s speech, the Han’s quickly agreed to it. Immediately after that, they sent Han Hui off to instruct every level of the family to cooperate with the investigation and not impinge upon the two of them.
Eunuch Wang impatiently exchanged a lot of pleasantries with Han Qi, and the latter started feeling ill at ease about the former. When Han Hui came back, he used him as a pretext to shirk all this, making them both a lot more comfortable.
Han Zao had died young. Somewhat unlike Zheng Cheng, it was inappropriate for his funereal matters to be arranged too hastily. Aside from Han Hui and the servants of the second branch having faces full of sorrow, no sort of disturbance was present on Han Qi, Lady Zhou, nor the rest of them. It was thus plain to see that the relationship between the second branch and his parents, plus his elder brother’s branch, was mediocre.
“I can take you two gentlemen anywhere you’d like to start looking,” Han Hui said to them.
Han Hui was a cultured youth not tall in stature, with speech and mannerisms both gentle and polite. After he had heard of his little brother’s early death, he requested leave, and then rushed back from the Imperial College. Han Fang and Lady Lin were unable to care about anything right now, so all the ins and outs of all the funerary arrangements were basically handled by him, with assistance from servants. Over a single day, his face had gotten haggard, and his eyes were shot red.
“Han Zao was the youngest grandson of the Han’s and should have been irreplaceably precious. Why does it look to me like his grandparents aren’t heartbroken in the least, though?” Tang Fan asked.
Han Hui smiled, pained. “Descendants aren’t to speak of the lives of their elders. I shouldn’t say this, but since you’ve asked, I have no choice but to state the truth. My grandparents don’t like my mother, so they were subsequently quite cold to Xiao Zao. In contrast, the one they dearly love is a cousin from my uncle’s side.”
“How is the relationship between them and your father?”
The other hesitated. “From my observations, it seems to be quite plain.”
Tang Fan changed the subject of questioning. “When Han Zao set off for the palace that day, who was in charge of the escort?”
“I’m studying in the Imperial College. I saw him off most days, but I happened to have a tenth-day exam then, so I didn’t go home the night before and stayed overnight at the College,” Han Hui answered, remorseful. “Xiao Zao’s boyservant sent him instead. This is all my fault… if I had been the one to see him off like usual, maybe this wouldn’t have happened.”
“He and you had a good relationship, yes?”
He sounded sad. “Yes. I’m ten years older than him. I had watched him grow up, really. Normally, because no one else in the Estate liked him much, he would always come to bug me alone—”
“Who doesn’t like him?” Tang Fan interrupted.
“My grandparents, all the people in the eldest branch. My mother spoiled him a lot, but she…”
He didn’t say anything after that, merely shaking his head.
“Is Han Zao’s boyservant here?”
Han Hui nodded. “Yes, but after what happened to Xiao Zao, he was locked into the firewood shed by my mother and not allowed to eat. I still snuck him a little something, else he would have long starved to death. He’s being watched by her people right now, however. If you two would like to see him, can you go see her first? Otherwise, if she starts assigning blame, I’m afraid I won’t be able to assume it upon myself.”
When had Eunuch Wang ever needed to ask permission from an irrelevant person to do something? If they were talking about Han Fang, he would still give him some face for having formerly served as Chenghua’s teacher, but he didn’t have any such kindness in regards to Lady Lin. “A woman that knows nothing? How could we allow her to make biased remarks when we’ve accepted orders to investigate? There’s no need to see her. Just go and bring the boy right over to us!”
“Be calm, Eunuch Wang,” Tang Fan then said. “Lady Lin is Han Zao’s mother and Young Tutor Han’s wife, so we should go pay a short visit.”
Wang Zhi rolled his eyes at him, not giving any objection.
Han Hui could tell that out of the two gentlemen before him, Eunuch Wang was of higher status, but when it came to investigating the case, Tang Fan was the one in charge.
He smiled in appreciation at Tang Fan. “Please follow me, then.”
Through his guidance, the two came to the main room where the second branch lived. Hearing that they had arrived, Han Fang got out of his sickbed to receive them. He was indeed pale-faced and ill-looking.
“For the Sacred One to have ordered an investigation on my son’s tragic death is an immense grace. You two have toiled hard, and I really can’t be thankful enough!”
Following some polite phrases, Tang Fan asked about the boyservant locked up on Lady Lin’s orders.
Han Fang smiled bitterly. “I’m ashamed to say it, but my wife suffered a lot of hardships after marrying me. Back then, I had been non-stop busy all day long, and hadn’t paid attention to what went on in the residence. By the time I had realized that she was depressed to the extent that her personality had changed drastically, it was already somewhat too late. Fortunately, we later got Junji, and then she had Ah-Zao, after which she gradually got a lot better. I’ve let her down!”
‘Junji’ was Han Hui’s courtesy.
“Like so, it appears that the relationship between your wife and the other women of the house isn’t good?”
Han Fang sighed. “Yes. Because of the resentments of previous years, my wife has been at loggerheads with my mother and sister-in-law.”
Apparently, what Wang Zhi had said before about the Han family was entirely correct. From Han Fang and Han Hui’s words, it wasn’t hard for Tang Fan to outline the visage of a petty-natured woman. Even a clean-living official would find family matters hard to settle. Since there were so many people that had grudges with Lady Lin, one of them acting against Han Zao in order to retaliate against her wouldn’t be that shocking.
“We want to see the boyservant first.”
“My wife is now resting in the back hall. I will go talk to her. Please wait a bit.”
He could have decided on such a trivial matter himself, yet still said that he needed to ask his wife. Deep love gave no fear; even though Lady Lin had a poor relationship with the rest of the family, she had Han Fang treating her sincerely, and willingly not taking concubines in.
“Since we’re already here, let us visit her with you.”
Their group came to the back room. “Where is the Madam?” Han Fang asked the maid outside.
“She is now resting inside,” she answered.
As soon as she said that, an inquiry came from within. “Who’s there?”
The maid quickly lifted the curtain and spoke. “Nanny, the Master has come. There’s also a couple gentlemen that say they want to ask about Young Lord Zao.”
Following a short minute, the interior replied, “Please enter.”
Tang Fan and them walked in behind Han Fang, wound around the screen, then caught sight of a middle-aged woman half-reclined on the bed, and on the cusp of getting out of it. An old woman attended to her nearby.
Han Fang quickly stepped forth to stop her. “Your health isn’t good, just lay down. These gents are Eunuch Wang of the Western Depot and Judge Tang of Shuntian Prefecture. They were ordered by His Majesty to come investigate Ah-Zao’s death, so they wish to see his boyservant.”
“If the Madam is unwell, there’s no need to get up,” Tang Fan added. “We will come over there to greet you.”
Lady Lin was in her thirties, but she was still attractive, her charms and features all of the topmost quality. There was little surprise as to why Han Fang was wholeheartedly devoted to her all these years. Even so, her complexion was slightly sallow, and gloom lingered about her face.
“You’ve both worked hard on my son’s behalf. I’m really sorry…” She spoke warmly and fittingly now, but once she caught sight of Han Hui standing behind Han Fang, her expression suddenly changed.
“Who let you in?!” she shouted harshly at him.
“Miss Xuan…” Han Fang pleaded.
She ignored him, glaring dead at Han Hui. “Get out! I don’t want to hear or see you!” she said hatefully. “Is it not enough for you to kill your little brother? Do you want to come kill me, too?!”
Han Hui didn’t know what to do. “Mom—“
“I don’t have a son like you!” she shrieked. “You could have sent Xiao Zao to the palace that day! Why didn’t you?! Did you do it on purpose?! Did you think that if he died, you’d be the only true son of the second branch?! I’ll tell you this — don’t get such high hopes! I didn’t birth you! Go find that old harpy! She’s the one that had you come into the Han family, so you can go be her son!”
Noticing that she was speaking more and more improperly, Han Fang had to shout, “Miss Xuan!”
She panted, her psyche collapsing in an instant. She pounded on her chest, wailing and yelling. “Xiao Zao! Xiao Zao! Ah, your mother’s heart! You died so awfully! Who was so cruel as to hurt you?! Was it Lady Zhou? Lady Wang? Give your mother a sign in her dreams! When I take revenge for you, I’ll join you! My boy!”
Her sharp wails pierced right into the eardrums, making Tang Fan frown. Eunuch Wang could bear with it even less so, straight-up throwing out a “I don’t know what to say,” then turning and leaving with a fling of his sleeves.
Han Hui quickly followed after him in avoidance. Helpless, Tang Fan watched as Han Fang softly consoled his wife and slowly coaxed her to stop. Asking nothing else, he also turned and left.
Exiting the room, he saw Wang Zhi and them standing in the courtyard. Han Hui was bowing and apologizing to him. Upon seeing Tang Fan come out, Han Hui gave him a pained smile. “Please forgive us, Sirs. My mother’s mind has been a bit off since a few years back. Things like this happen with sudden stimulants sometimes, where she can’t recognize her own family.”
It could be told from his smile that Han Hui must endure a lot of wrongs usually, and Lady Lin’s words had been really heart-stabbing, too. Though he said she had lost her decorous speech from the stimulation, that speech held an overall glimpse of the subconscious truth, hadn’t it? That was how his adoptive mother viewed him, and Han Hui really didn’t know how to feel about it. Even Tang Fan couldn’t help but feel indignant on his behalf.
They naturally had no idea that later generations would have a vivid description of Lady Lin’s symptoms: ‘persecutory delusions’. In other words, she imagined up that people were going to hurt her, feeling that she had enemies in all directions; Lady Zhou, Lady Wang, and Han Hui were all on her list of imaginary foes.
Due to the cautious expressions of the maids and nannies from Lady Lin’s room just then, the latter likely had these episodes often, was poorly-tempered, and would throw things onto the ground. If Tang Fan wasn’t guessing incorrectly, this ailment ought to have been caused by the day-and-night repression she had faced after marrying into the Han family. Han Fang felt guilt, so he allowed her to go on like this for many years.
“How long has she been like this?” he asked Han Hui.
“I don’t remember much, but since I was a child,” the other answered, as expected. “Mother felt that I was forced onto her by my grandmother, so she didn’t like me. It wasn’t until Xiao Zao was born that this got better, but a few years ago, because of the thing with my aunt…”
He hesitated, looked at them, and didn’t continue.
“Why aren’t you speaking?” Tang Fan questioned.
Han Hui smiled bitterly again. “This is actually just my mother’s baseless hearsay… my grandmother’s niece — my father’s matrilineal cousin, that is to say — came to seek shelter with us after being widowed. My grandmother had wanted to make Father divorce Mother and then marry the cousin, but he refused.”
Tang Fan nodded, having already heard Wang Zhi explain this. “And after that?”
“Father didn’t want to take concubines, and Aunt Zhou didn’t want to be wronged in concubinage, so no one brought it up anymore. However, Mother somehow learned of it, which resulted in her going to Aunt Zhou and making a fuss, fussing until the latter was so ashamed and angry that she nearly attempted suicide. Because of that, Mother’s personality got more intolerant, and she put a lot of restrictions on Xiao Zao. Since Aunt Zhou had treated him very well, he was willing to play with her, but after Mother found out, she strictly prohibited him from going to see her, as well as forbade him from going to his uncle’s courtyard…”
Bringing up all these messy household affairs made Han Hui more embarrassed the more he spoke of them, especially since the targets of his discussion were all his seniors.
“…That’s the rough idea of it. In short, as you all have seen, my mother is now increasingly unable to suffer even the slightest bit of irritant. She always feels that other people have evil intents towards her. Now that Xiao Zao is dead, she’s gotten even more…”
He had a sorrowful expression.
Tang Fan patted him on the shoulder. “It must be hard for you.”
Han Hui shook his head. “It’s not. Don’t you gentlemen want to see Xiao Zao’s boyservant? I’ll bring you over there.”
The translator says: Fun fact: one of the words for flattery in Chinese is 马屁, lit. ‘horse butt’. I translated it as ‘bootlicking’ because, surprise surprise, that’s how it goes in English, but I just want everyone to know that when Wang Zhi said ‘when other people want to lick my boots’, he literally said ‘when other people want to slap my horse’s ass’… even though bootlicking happened to coincide with his little story about literal bootlicking. How weird the world is.