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After sighting Sui Zhou, Meng Cun rushed up to greet him. “Sir Sui! Are you heading out of the city?”
“No. I’m just looking around,” Sui Zhou answered indifferently.
Not bothered by his cold attitude, the other continued to beam. “How about I show you around? This humble official happens to be on patrol duty today, and as a local, I’m quite familiar with the area!”
Meng Cun’s smile became all the more courteous. “Where would you like to begin, Sir Sui?”
Sui Zhou shook his head. “I’m not familiar. Go where you will.”
“How about here, then? This is the southern gate. Go west, and there’s the South Monastery. Go east, and there’s the armory plus training grounds…”
“What’s up ahead?”
“Heading straight, there’s a drum tower and Shrine to Lord Guan, which is overflowing with incense. I’m not sure which year it originated from, but there’s a rumor that Lord Guan once manifested there. All scholars seeking merits go there to burn incense. Since today is the fifteenth, there must be a lot of people there; shall we head towards the South Monastery?”
Sui Zhou’s words were scant. About ninety-percent of people would get bored being with him, but fortunately, Meng Cun had quick lips. Even if Sui Zhou didn’t say a thing, he could talk non-stop for the lesser half of a day.
“There’s a Shrine to the City God near the training grounds that gets a lot of incense, too. Purportedly, those seeking wealth or peace won’t go to Lord Guan’s shrine, but the City God’s. Though, it’s strange to say that despite there clearly being a Shrine to Flourishing Literature, those scholars do not pay respects to the star of literary feats, but go pay respects to Lord Guan. Wouldn’t you say that’s odd?…”
Sui Zhou hadn’t been hearing substance he wanted to in a long time, so he was forced to speak up, reining back the topic that had run off like a feral, out-of-control horse. “Datong has four gates?”
Meng Cun let out an ah. “Yes, yes! Our Datong City has four towers, one in each corner. A city like a fenghuang spreading its wings.”
“Why do you say that?”
Seeing that he appeared to be a little interested, Meng Cun cleared his throat. “There are four major gates in each cardinal direction of the city. The Gate of Martial Decisiveness is north, with a Shrine to Zhenwu just outside. The Gate of Eternal Peace is south. The Gate of Clean Remoteness is west, with a Shrine to the Dragon King outside. The Gate of Serene Yang is the nexus of entries and exits. When you entered the city earlier, you came in through the east; if you want to pass through to the south, it would be a bit more convenient to take the southern gate.
“’A fenghuang spreading its wings’ refers to Datong City’s overall shape. It was built back when Prince Zhongshan was garrisoned, by orders of the Great Ancestor. It’s secure in the details, but in recent years, the Tartars coming and going messed this place up into not resembling that at all. It was rebuilt to its current state after Mister Commandant arrived.”
The ‘Prince Zhongshan’ he spoke of was Xu Da. Ever since the founding of Ming, on account of the frequent confrontations had with foreign northerners, Datong, which was along the Great Wall, had turned into Shanxi’s first line of defense, its position beyond important.
After hearing his introduction, Sui Zhou asked, “Following the letters confiscated from those spies, did you ever close all the gates to conduct an investigation?”
Meng Cun was clever. Upon hearing this, he promptly replied, “We did, but no matter which gate is closed, the amount cannot exceed two days. Datong Prefecture has a large population with frequent trade dealings, especially for those merchants. The amount of people coming and going from the gates each day is really not any lesser than the capital’s. Keeping them closed for too long is impossible, else the food supply will dry up, the price of food in the city will rise, and that rise will incite chaos. This was why Mister Commandant only ordered for a day of closure.”
Sui Zhou nodded, saying nothing else.
According to Meng Cun, the strategy of shutting the gates to trap the rats inside would not work. Regardless of whether any treacherous snakes were mixed in with the dragons, if the enemies hid just a little deeper, the soldiers would have difficulty finding them. Beyond that, the gates couldn’t be shut for too long, and as long as they were open, the spies would always be able to find a way to slip out. Thus, it would be best to capture the source, finding the one that was passing information to the Tartars from their own internal encampment.
Seeing that he didn’t appear to have anything to ask, Meng Cun just laughed. “Let’s walk over on this side, Sir. Noon is approaching, and there’s going to be some more people on that side, so there might be a collision…”
Before he finished speaking, someone suddenly turned a corner up ahead, a case held in their arms, and charged towards Sui Zhou in the blink of an eye!
His figure darted away a bit, easily avoiding the person that was so boldly charging forward. The other party instead tripped, then fell onto Meng Cun, case and all.
Meng Cun didn’t have Sui Zhou’s lightning-quick reflexes, immediately stumbling from the hit. The two automatically pitched backwards at the same time.
As a big and sturdy man, he was able to stabilize himself after a few steps, while the new person fell straight back, landing solidly on the ground.
And yet, the calamity did not end just yet, because when the other party crash-landed, the case dropped from her hands happened to land right on Meng Cun’s foot, causing him to immediately shriek out of pain.
He swore, grabbing his foot. “Which son of a bitch—“
His voice abruptly cut off when he got a good look at the woman in front of him, becoming awkward at once, and having the wronged look of wanting to curse at her, but not being able to. “S-So it’s you, Miss Du…”
He forced out a tiny smile, but it would have been better if he hadn’t, as it made his greeting tone of voice seem to squeeze out from between his teeth.
The woman tearfully stood up. She had likely been struck hard, but as this incident had been her fault to begin with, it would be great if the others simply didn’t blame her. She had to apologize to him, rather. “Hello, Corporal Meng. I was just rushing back to the apothecary, and wasn’t looking where I was going. Please forgive me! How about you go with me and have my father see if you need help?”
The medicinal supplies in the case had all scattered about. As the young lady apologized, she bent over to gather them up. Sui Zhou, completely unscathed, lowered his head to help, and he moved much faster than her, the case soon loaded back up with the stuff.
Miss Du hurriedly thanked him. “Many thanks for your help, Mister. What is your name?”
Sui Zhou was not in his qilin uniform that could terrify people, but his aura alone would not let anyone mistake him for an unnamed pawn.
“This is Sir Sui from the capital,” Meng Cun introduced, pulling a smile that was uglier than a crying face. “This is Miss Du, daughter of the doctor of Zhongjing Hall. She’s a doctor, too. Zhongjing Hall provides us with medical supplies, and Doctor Du often treats our soldiers.”
He knew what Sui Zhou wanted to hear, so he quickly clarified the woman’s identity, and also indirectly explained why he couldn’t get mad at her despite his smashed foot.
Miss Du showed some curiosity towards Sui Zhou’s status, but she didn’t inquire after it, merely giving a blessing-bow, then turning to Meng Cun. “Corporal Meng, you might be badly hurt. How about you come back with me to the apothecary for a visit?”
Meng Cun looked hesitantly at Sui Zhou, mentally wringing his hands. He had originally wanted to leave a good impression on Sui Zhou, which was why he had offered himself up to give a tour, only for him to injure his foot before he could lick any boots. He was like a student that had finished his lessons, yet died before he could make anything of himself.
Sui Zhou glanced at Meng Cun’s foot. “It’s a heavy injury. Go get it checked out.”
“I will go with you.”
Meng Cun felt embarrassed. “How could that do? That will hold up your work!”
“Can you walk by yourself?”
Meng Cun tried it out, then nearly collapsed to the ground in pain.
“She wouldn’t be able to support you, either,” Sui Zhou pointed out.
As the main culprit, Miss Du clutched her medicine case, apologizing profusely. What was Meng Cun going to do, yell at her? He had to put on an expression of suffering. “Then I’ll have to inconvenience you, Sir Sui.”
Wanting to use flattery had ended with him suffering sudden disaster! Why was he so unlucky today?!
At the Defending Supervisor’s Estate, the master of the house was leaning against a banister, slightly stooped over as he sprinkled fish food into the pond.
Tang Fan slowly walked over, laughing in mockery. “Silent before the wind, standing for a quick moment, catching a pair of koi. You’re so leisurely, Eunuch Wang.”
Wang Zhi didn’t turn his head. “I’m just stealing a half-day of relaxation.”
He tossed the rest of the food he held into the pool, clapped his hands clean, then straightened back up. “Is your ploy actually going to work in fooling him?”
Tang Fan spread out his arms. “I have no idea.”
Hearing that irresponsible remark, Wang Zhi couldn’t help but turn his head and side-eye him.
The two Wangs fighting today had ultimately been a joint performance that had followed Tang Fan’s scheme.
“It’s the eve of a battle, while the Commander and Military Supervisor are at odds. The spy definitely won’t be able to sit still on such a big chunk of news,” Tang Fan said. “If Guo Tang really is the one passing information on to the Tartars, he’ll certainly find a way to pass this on.”
“And if he isn’t?”
“If he isn’t, then someone else will do it, of course. Whoever has bizarre movements at that time will be whoever is most suspicious. Did you inform anyone about the details of your fight with Wang Yue?”
“No. I didn’t even tell Ding Rong.”
Tang Fan smiled. “That’s good. We’ve thrown out the bait; it’s up to whoever can’t wait to jump out and get it.”
Wang Zhi creased his brow. “How long do we need to fake it?”
“Not for long. In a minute, have someone spread the news that after I left the Commandant Estate, I came over here to persuade you to make up with Wang Yue, but ended up quarreling with you, after which you drove me out of the Estate in rage, saying that if Wang Yue doesn’t bow his head to you first, you will never be able to come to an agreement with him.”
Wang Zhi stroked his chin. “He’s gone off to patrol Cloudriver Post right now. If the Tartars learned of this, they’d definitely go wild with joy and attack the Prefecture. That’s a good strategy.”
Tang Fan chuckled. “It’s actually not, but if you want to catch the traitor, you can only draw the snake out of its hole. There’s simply no better strategy.”
The other beckoned to him. “Come here.”
“What is it?” Tang Fan asked, mystified.
Wang Zhi smiled in a friendly way. “I have to say something personal to you. Come here.”
Sir Tang was immediately on guard. “There’s no one else here. Just say it where you stand.”
“Are you coming here, or what?” Wang Zhi asked impatiently.
“…I’ll be taking my leave.”
He turned to go, but Wang Zhi was quicker than him, straight-up grabbing his collar from behind and hauling him up, whereupon he twisted and pulled his arm, then threw a slap at his face.
The sound of the strike was crisp. The servants standing watch on the other end of the corridor couldn’t help but turn their heads to look, witnessing in fear that the two that had been talking pleasantly had had a falling out for some reason, where Eunuch Wang had even set to hitting the other party.
Inexplicably getting slapped and even having his arm dislocated, Tang Fan was immediately both confused and enraged. “What are you doing?!”
Wang Zhi patted his hands off. “What I ought to. Didn’t you say that you wanted me to get thundering mad and drive you out of the estate? How could just a verbal fight be enough? In light of my personality, I’d definitely get violent, so you getting beaten up by me will look serious, but just be all talk in reality. You can go find Sui Zhou to get that set.”
“Don’t slap me in the face too for that!” Tang Fan raged.
Proudly observing the handprint on his fair cheek, Wang Zhi answered innocently, “It was you who said you wanted to act out a full drama. If not done like so, how could we get others to believe us? When the traitors are arrested, do you want me to let you hit me back?”
“…” Mister Tang stifled back swears that could not be said, forced to furiously leave the estate with a twisted-up expression.
Ding Rong apprehensively went to send him off. “Sir Tang, Eunuch Wang has had a bit too much of a temper these days! Please don’t mind him!”
Tang Fan covered his face, three zhang of flames shooting off of him. “If I don’t mind him, who am I supposed to mind?!”
The other smiled apologetically. “Your injury needs panax powder applied to it, as it improves bloodflow and eases bruising. Cattail powder will work, as well. How about I accompany you to Zhongjing Hall for some medicine? It isn’t far, just a right turn up ahead. Their white panax ointment is specially made for treating external wounds and bruises, it’ll be quite effective!”
“Effective, my ass!” the ever-refined Mister Tang said in a rare instance of profanity, then walked right out with a flick of his sleeves.
After returning to his senses, Ding Rong rushed over to find Wang Zhi. “Gods, by all my ancestors — why did you hit Sir Tang?! Th-this is—“
“This is what? You’ve been alongside me for how long, yet you panic when any little thing happens? What’ll you do when there’s something big?” Wang Zhi tsk’ed.
“But… isn’t he on good terms with you?” Ding Rong’s face was pained. “Won’t beating him up just make him go to Guo Tang’s side?!”
Wang Zhi sneered. “So what if I hit him? He’s an insignificant Left Metropolitan Censor that delusionally urged me to reconcile with Wang Yue! I gave him a little bit of face before, so he takes himself to be a celebrity? If he wants to go take refuge in Guo Tang, let him! I don’t need anyone to help me!”
“B-But the Bastion Envoy supports him! This lowly one can apologize to Sir Tang on your behalf!” Ding Rong pleaded.
“The Bastion Envoy isn’t shit! You’re not going. You can’t go right now, at least. If I’ve just hit him and you go off to apologize, where will I put my image?!” Wang Zhi shot him a look.
Ding Rong understood implicitly. “Then, I will wait until evening to go directly to the posthouse and apologize to him.”
“As you will.” Wang Zhi huffed from his nose, then left in a whirl.
Back to Sui Zhou’s side, Miss Du brought them to Zhongjing Hall, then found a physician that specialized in bone-setting to check over Meng Cun’s foot. She also asked Sui Zhou to have a seat nearby, and personally steeped tea for the two of them.
The main hall of Zhongjing Hall was large, almost equivalent in size to all three of the shops neighboring it. Even so, there were still many patients queued up, some standing before the cabinets in wait for medicine. It was bustling and lively with clamor.
As these two’s statuses were different, and Miss Du had been the one to injure Meng Cun’s foot, they were able to rest in the back hall. The instant they entered, they noticed how much quieter it was.
The doctor told Meng Cun to take off his shoe and sock, then felt around. “Thankfully, there’s no broken bones, but some are cracked. You’ll have to put medicine on them, and not pressure, for now; using a cane would be best.”
Hearing that they weren’t broken, Meng Cun finally exhaled. “How long will I have to apply it for?”
“Serious injuries take three months, so at least two months will be needed.”
Meng Cun went pale with fear. “How am I going to fight, then?!”
The doctor smiled bitterly. “You can only rest.”
Meng Cun’s face was now difficult to look at.
When Doctor Du had learned that his daughter had injured a Corporal, he had rushed over himself, and now that he heard this, the guilt on his face grew all the stronger. “Corporal Meng, I am truly sorry for what happened today. My little girl is too reckless, and I’ve already reprimanded her! From now on, if you ever need medicine or a check-up, all you need to do is report your name, and it’ll be free of charge. Please be generous, Sir, and do not take offense!”
Meng Cun could no longer force out a smile, laughing blandly. “Thanks, then.”
Had it not been for Zhongjing Hall providing necessary medical supplies for the army and Doctor Du having some respectability before Wang Yue, he would have long been raging up a storm. Doctor Du was clearly aware of that, too, as he was not only apologizing over and over again, but had also told his daughter to come over, offer tea, and apologize herself.
Even with all that, Meng Cun’s expression was not great to look at.
“I need someone on my side who’s familiar with Datong City,” Sui Zhou spoke up at last. “You will accompany me for this timeframe. I’ll go explain to Commandant Wang later.”
Hearing this, Meng Cun’s expression changed, finally having some happiness to it. He had inquired before about Sui Zhou’s origins, and knew that the one before him could speak directly to the Emperor; being able to follow him was better than going anywhere else. “If you don’t mind this subordinate getting in the way, I will do my best, Sir!”
The contrast between his before and after was way too strong, to the point that the Du father-daughter duo, and even the doctor that had examined Meng Cun’s foot, couldn’t help but look a little longer at Sui Zhou. They guessed at his origins, but, unfortunately, they couldn’t glean any clues off of his frosty face.
Meng Cun no long cared about his injury, at least. Miss Du finally let out a sigh of relief. It wouldn’t be good for her to leave just like that, so she stayed nearby to talk.
In a cold sweat from the pain, Meng Cun had no free time to chat with her. It was instead Sui Zhou that questioned her about medicinal materials, greatly interested.
Miss Du had grown up in this border city, and had practiced medicine with her father since her childhood, unlike average women that never left the inner household or stepped foot outside their homes’ gates. Rather bright by nature, she was able to answer all of his questions, and upon seeing that he was interested in the business’s supply of materials for the Ming army, she took it upon herself to explain. “The Du family has been responsible for the treatment of Datong’s army since my paternal grandfather’s time. After Commandant Wang came to Datong, he had people inspect all of the apothecaries in the city, and learned that Zhongjing Hall’s ingredients were top-quality, as well as that we do not discriminate between patients. He thus let us take responsibility of the army’s supply needs. Even when Commandant Wang falls ill, he sends someone to invite my father over to examine him.”
“Are all of the medicinal materials of the counties under the Prefecture’s jurisdiction provided by the Hall?”
“Yes. We have branch halls opened in those other counties. This city is the mother store that has a relatively complete collection of materials, while the branch halls generally have shortages, so goods are gotten here first.”
“Where do you get your materials?”
“There’s two channels. A large amount is purchased from merchants in advance, while a smaller portion is acquired from villagers in neighboring counties that harvest them. My father is magnanimous and buys them at a price ten- to twenty-percent higher than other apothecaries do, so the villagers prefer to sell the materials to us first. Are you going to open up an apothecary in the capital, Sir?”
She peered at him with bright eyes, seemingly puzzled as to why he would be so interested in the business of medicine.
“The capital’s market is likely different from this area’s. I’m just asking ahead.”
Miss Du smiled. “There isn’t much difference, really, it’s simply that the capital will have more channels for purchasing materials than we do… though the price will be comparatively higher, as it is the capital, after all. I heard that homes over there cannot be purchased without having over a thousand taels; is that true?”
Sui Zhou gave a rare smile. “Not necessarily, it depends on location. But you’ve said something false.”
Her dark black eyes looked at him. “Which was?”
“Capital medicine can only be cheaper than Datong’s.”
She let out an ah. “Why so?”
“More channels,” he answered.
Being as bright as snow, she understood with just that. “Because there’s so many channels, competition will also be tough, yes? For the sake of standing out, the price wouldn’t be too high?”
Sui Zhou showed a slightly appreciative look. “Correct.”
He was always quite a cold person, yet in a short span of time, he was happily conversing with Miss Du. That had to be said to be fate.
Catching sight of this, Meng Cun was surprised, and got an idea in his heart. “Speaking of complete collections of medicine, if the Du’s are second in Datong, no one would dare to claim first! If you’re interested in medicine, Sir Sui, how about you bring Miss Du back with you to take a look?” he proposed with a grin.
Miss Du flushed a little at that, appearing to get his implication. She shot a glance at Sui Zhou, lightly biting her lower lip, yet not refusing.
Her given name was Gui’r, and she was over seventeen this year, an age where she was long overdue to be betrothed, or even married. However, she had been personally taught medicine ever since her youth, her life experience different from typical women, and her looks were some of the best in Datong. A lady like her surely had some pride in her bones; she refused to get married, have children, be trapped inside the house, and lead a boring life.
The man of her dreams was a broad-minded one that would not keep her from practicing medicine nor showing her face, willing to accept and understand her goals. However, a man like that was quite hard to find in this day and age. What commonplace male would be willing for his wife to disdain being in the home after marriage, instead running out every couple of days?
It was for this reason that the Du’s were very worried about their daughter’s marriage, and Du Gui’r herself was feeling like she might die alone in old age.
And yet, seeing Sui Zhou in this moment, she had an inward appreciation towards the man’s presence and behavior, having a simultaneous feeling during their talks that he might be the one she had been forever looking for.
Sui Zhou appeared to not get Meng Cun’s implication, looking at Du Gui’r with his regular expression. “Will it be too much trouble for you, Miss Du?”
She laughed. “Of course not. If you please, Sir Sui.”
Just as they rose, they saw a worker scurry in from the side to call for the bone-setting doctor. “Doctor Liu, come look, quick! Someone has a dislocated arm!”
Doctor Liu was still bandaging up Meng Cun. “They’ll have to wait for now. I can’t just leave!”
The worker agreed. Right when he went to exit, the man ahead couldn’t wait, walking straight in. “Sorry for the disturbance! I really can’t stand the pain, so I’ll have to trouble you with helping me set this, first!”
“Oi, oi! Why did you come in?! This isn’t a place you can just waltz into!” the worker exclaimed, hurriedly blocking him.
Doctor Liu looked up with a dark face, wanting to say that a dislocation wasn’t really that big of a deal and that he should just deal with it, but he saw a figure dart past him. Sui Zhou, who had clearly been on the other side of the back hall, had somehow come to be in front of him, and he lifted the new person’s arm, gently pressed on it, then set the dislocated joint back into place.
“Who hurt you?” Sui Zhou did not resume his recent calm. Seeing the handprint on Tang Fan’s face, his expression was so overcast, it was soon about to drip water. Roiling off of him was a dense black aura, causing others to be too afraid to approach.
“Wang Zhi.” With the pain stopped, Tang Fan wiped the sweat off of his forehead.
“Why did he?” Sui Zhou touched his cheek, carefully checking it over. “Are you hurt anywhere else?”
“No. Let’s go back before I explain.” Tang Fan lightly pat him on the wrist, hinting for him seem less murderous, because it was clearly scaring everyone else.
Sui Zhou paid no heed to the others, only furrowing his brow as he looked at that bright-red palm print, feeling extremely annoyed by its presence. “Why didn’t you come find me?”
“How was I supposed to know where you went? I went to an apothecary to get a doctor to set this before anything else, as was natural.”
Sir Tang was slightly wronged. He had been smacked for no reason; why would he take the chance for a longer route to let even more people know that Wang Zhi had attacked him?
As the slap mark was eye-catching, yet not too terribly swollen, Sui Zhou finally curbed his imposing aura to turn and ask Du Gui’r, “Is there any anti-inflammatory ointment here?”
The Northern Bastion Office normally had an ointment of similar effect, fixed up by imperial physicians themselves. Unfortunately, when the Guard had set out on this trip, they had only brought internal-use medicine, forgetting to bring external-use stuff.
Du Gui’r started, then quickly reacted. “Yes! Wait just a minute!”
She rushed to the fore hall, then found a bottle of ointment. “Apply this here. There will be no trace left in a shichen or two.”
Sui Zhou thanked her, opened the bottle, scooped some out, and applied it to Tang Fan.
Doctor Liu was taken aback watching this, thinking to himself, Miss, you really don’t know the cost of rice and firewood when you’re not in charge of the finances! How could you have given away the best ointment our store has so easily?!
Noticing that Sui Zhou’s expression was ugly, Tang Fan stood there obediently and didn’t move, allowing him to finish applying the stuff. Once done, he smiled at Du Gui’r. “This medicine is quite expensive, isn’t it? How many taels does it cost? I’ll pay it back.”
She laughed. “No need, no need! I hurt the two of them on the road just now, so take it as compensation!”
Tang Fan wanted to say something else, only to witness Sui Zhou say right to Du Gui’r, “We will leave for today, and come back tomorrow.”
He then looked towards Meng Cun, preventing him from having to get up. “Get your medicine. You’ll be able to find Pang Qi at the posthouse later.”
“Take care, Sirs. This subordinate cannot see you off farther,” Meng Cun had to answer.
After the two hurried out of the store, their figures gone without a trace, Meng Cun reluctantly took back his line of sight. Though, turning his head back, he couldn’t help but laugh — he wasn’t the only one that had suffered something, it seemed.
Despite their aims being different, he lightly coughed upon seeing Du Gui’r’s frustrated look. “Miss Du.”
She turned to look at him.
“I heard… that Sir Sui has not yet taken a wife,” he went on with a grin.
Her cheeks speedily dyed the pigment of rouge. She really wanted to answer that with a ‘What does that have to do with me?’, but when she spoke, it somehow changed to, “He isn’t that young, right? Why hasn’t he yet?”
“I’m not sure, but I’ve heard that people in the capital marry a little later. He’s gotten such a high and powerful rank at a young age, that it’s possible that he’s overlooked major life events due to his busyness.”
“What is his status, really?”
“He’s the Bastion Envoy of the Northern Bastion Office in the Brocade Guard, sealed as Count Ding’an by the Emperor.”
Expectedly startled by those two titles, she hesitantly asked, “Is he an imperial relative?”
“I heard that title was bestowed due to his merits.”
She had believed Sui Zhou to be quite mysterious to begin with, but now, the man’s image in her mind was floating further and further away. That originally sweet little thought of hers was suppressed to the bottom of her heart.
So, he’s that powerful.
Such a lament faintly appeared in her mind. It was unknown whether it was a thought of joy, or loss.
Meng Cun couldn’t comprehend the woman’s thoughts, still enthusiastically detailing things to her. “I asked after this before. He’s a relative of the current Empress Dowager, and the Emperor deeply relies on him. If you’re interested, Miss Du, how about I help with asking around for you?”
As was claimed, a woman that pursued a man would need a layer of partitioning cotton, and the female party was clearly interested. The Du family had countless branches of apothecaries opened in Datong, making them rich, while their Miss was both talented and pretty, everything about her outstanding. If this marriage could be tied, that would be a great event for both parties, while Meng Cun’s relationship with Sui Zhou would get better due to being the matchmaker. (It was because of that notion that he was so energetically being a wingman.)
However, Miss Du, who had formerly had quite good feelings towards Sui Zhou, turned indifferent upon hearing that. She told Doctor Liu to help Meng Cun with the medicine, then left.
“I was trying to help your Miss build a bridge… is it that she’s shy?” Meng Cun asked, his head filled with fog.
Doctor Liu was an old hat, glancing at him. “Maybe she thinks that the traits you described are too good, and she isn’t worthy of them,” he answered leisurely.
Meanwhile, Sui Zhou brought Tang Fan back to his room in the posthouse, shut the door, then looked him up and down to carefully check him over. Only after verifying that there was nothing majorly wrong did he stay his hand and ask after the current situation, cold-faced.
Tang Fan allowed his messing about, unsure of how to react, while he gave a full explanation.
“This way, even though I had some superficial pain, its effect will be really great. In all likelihood, by tomorrow, there will be news that the Wangs are at odds, and I got beaten up after trying to persuade them to make peace.”
Sui Zhou said nothing, merely rubbing the other’s struck face with a gentle hand.
The ointment had since penetrated into the skin, leaving no stickiness behind. Tang Fan only felt a slight tickle from being touched by his lightly callused fingers; he couldn’t resist grabbing his hand with a smile. “I’m alright. This debt will be written down, and followed up with him later. I’m not even angry anymore, so don’t you be.”
“I will find him to settle that debt,” Sui Zhou said with a nod. “Don’t eat at the posthouse tonight. I asked Meng Cun; there are some good restaurants in the city. I’ll bring you to try them out.”
Tang Fan laughed aloud. “Are you taking me for a child that needs coaxing?”
Sui Zhou took out the ointment, placed it in a trunk, and shot him a casual look, his implication being: If I don’t coax you, then who would I? “One is famed for pea noodles and smoked chicken, the other is an expert at making muttonbit noodles. They apparently have fresh-roasted mutton every single day. Which one do you want to go to?”
“Why not both?” Sir Tang’s eyes shone as he nearly drooled.
Sui Zhou wanted to laugh, thinking to himself, Didn’t you say that you aren’t a child?
Later on, the two went to both of the restaurants, and tried everything that they felt like. Sui Zhou ended up fine, while Tang Fan stuffed himself into having a round belly, ending up swaying thrice for every step he took, slowly walking back. He didn’t go to sleep until midnight, resulting in him being exempt from breakfast the next day.
Him getting slapped had not been for nothing.
On the morrow, the news that he had dropped by to speak for peace, only to instead get violently beaten up by Wang Zhi, with even his arm getting dislocated, had already spread. Everyone knew that Wang Zhi and Wang Yue had had a falling out, where even Censor Tang, who had just arrived from the capital, had been swept into it. Eunuch Wang was even more domineering than before, making it quite clear that the Datong Commandant was unimportant to him, and compelling Wang Yue to run off to Cloudriver Post to temporarily force the limelight.
No one doubted the authenticity of this rumor, because Wang Zhi and Wang Yue’s quarrel had been personally witnessed by Guo Tang, while Tang Fan, in his sorry state, had left Wang Zhi’s home and run all the way to an apothecary to get his arm popped back into place. Not only had the whole Wang household seen it, but half of the people of the city had seen it.
Reportedly, after Wang Zhi had struck Tang Fan, for the sake of face and affections, he’d had to send Ding Rong to the posthouse with generous gifts to apologize to Tang Fan. The former had then been thrown out of the posthouse along with said gifts, forced to leave in dejection.
That particular part was especially liked, everyone believing in it.
News of discord at the top tier quickly spread throughout Datong’s officialdom. Many were watching to see where this conflict was headed, and there was no lack of people beginning to frequently get into contact with Guo Tang in secret.
At the same exact time, there was another piece of information that was silently diffusing: when Wang Yue left Datong, he had brought half of the city’s military forces off to Cloudriver Post. In other words, under Datong Prefecture’s jurisdiction, only Datong and Huairen’s forces were the most fragile.
However, Tang Fan was completely unconcerned about the direction of these rumors. He had eaten too much last night, and had thus slept in quite late. Only when the sun was high in the sky did he get out from under the covers, freshen up, and eat.
When the server of the posthouse brought the meal in, Tang Fan asked, “Is Sir Sui up?”
“Yes. He left early this morning.”
“Did he say where to?”
“Yes. He said he was going to Zhongjing Hall.”
Tang Fan was startled.
The translator says: I feel like Wang Zhi isn’t going to survive this arc. At the very least, his pride isn’t.
 From a collection of seventy-one verses by a Song poet called Shi Lehui/释了惠.