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After his bout of being startled, Tang Fan set down his chopsticks, wiped off his mouth, and said to himself with a smile, “So that’s how it is. Zhongjing Hall is indeed a spot of interest, so I’ll go check it out, too.”
Sui Zhou had never been fond of being a busybody, so him running off to Zhongjing Hall on his own initiative was quite surprising to Tang Fan.
Inevitably, he brought to mind that Miss Du he had met in the apothecary yesterday. She was beautiful, well-spoken, and at the age where she was like a flower. Were Sui Zhou to be moved, that would not be strange in the least; no matter how cold he was in character, Envoy Sui was, after all, a typical man.
However, the issue here was that there were way more exceptional women in the capital than Miss Du. His cousin from his uncle’s side was one example, and she still held a candle for him. Sui Zhou had no reason to not consider his childhood sweetheart of a cousin, yet he solely focused on Miss Du, whose face was all he knew. Did she have some particularity that was hard to forget?
Tang Fan’s mind swirled with confused thoughts, and he became slightly curious at heart. After breakfast, he moseyed over to Zhongjing Hall.
The Hall appeared to be busy on the daily; yesterday, it’d had throngs of people, and today, it was still packed so full, it was practically watertight. The line went out the door, with even the business of the bun vendor next door picking up. Many that had rushed over for a checkup hadn’t had the time to eat lunch, so they would buy a couple buns to eat while they waited in line, killing two birds with one stone.
People next to him were chatting in whispers, which Tang Fan couldn’t help but stick an ear out to. They said that Doctor Du himself was sitting in the hall today, and his medical knowledge was superb, which was why a particularly large amount of people had come here.
He hadn’t come for a check-up, so he squeezed through the queue to head straight into the main hall. As soon as he did so, he saw stars, as the wide-open area was just as packed full — how was he supposed to spot Sui Zhou?
While Tang Fan was looking all over the place, a worker that was greeting guests walked up to speak to him. “Pardon me, customer. Are you wanting a check-up, or to pick up medicine? If it’s a check-up, please wait in the line outside. If it’s a pick up, please hand the prescription to me.”
The instant he saw him, Tang Fan smiled. “Why, don’t you remember me?”
Seeing the other’s blank face, he reminded, “My arm was dislocated yesterday, so I came to see you all.”
The worker recalled this. Vaguely remembering that Tang Fan’s status seemed to not be low, he quickly smiled. “Sir. You’ve come here for…?”
“Your Miss gave me medicine yesterday, so I came today specifically to thank her.”
The other had a realization. “She happens to be in today. This way, please!”
The two squeezed past the clamoring crowd, the worker bringing him to the other side of the main hall. Only then did Tang Fan see that Miss Du was also seeing patients today; she had simply been blocked by other people, and was also seated, making her invisible for a short moment.
Everyone was seated in the hall, but there were a lot less patients near her than her father. There was also a beaded curtain separating her, thus marking it as its own area. The majority of those getting check-ups with her were women.
Tang Fan also caught sight of that ‘left-early-this-morning’ Sui Zhou sitting in a chair beyond the curtain, holding a book in hand that he appeared to be very earnestly reading.
The worker wanted to lead him over to Miss Du, but Tang Fan stopped him and let him go do his own work.
Due to there being far too many people all around that were coming and going, neither Miss Du nor Sui Zhou noticed Tang Fan’s arrival.
A little while later, a middle-aged man with a doctorly appearance came to take over. Miss Du rose and said a few things to him, then left her spot, lifted the curtain, and walked over to Sui Zhou, talking with a smile. Sui Zhou looked up, seeming to want to answer her, only to spot Tang Fan in passing.
As the two had noticed him, Tang Fan could only rub his nose and come on over.
Du Gui’r was a bit surprised. “Sir Tang?”
After yesterday’s scramble, she had learned his surname from Meng Cun.
Tang Fan smiled in greeting. “Hello, Miss Du. The medicine you gifted me yesterday has made my face as flawless as white jade, like it had been before. I came here to give my thanks.”
Had those words been said by the man beside him, they would have failed to be flighty, but when they came out of Tang Fan’s mouth, they were completely elegant.
Du Gui’r pfft out a laugh. “You are too polite, Sir Tang. It’s good that you’re okay.”
Sui Zhou didn’t appear to like watching this play of them talking and laughing. “You don’t need to go to Wang Zhi’s today?” he asked like the wet blanket he was, speaking like his great time had been interrupted.
Tang Fan couldn’t help but shoot him a look. “What would I go there for? I got slapped yesterday, so why would I run over to get slapped again today? I’m never going there again!”
Sui Zhou nodded, said nothing else, then turned right to Du Gui’r. “Didn’t you say that you were going to teach me to identify medicinal plants? Are you free now?”
She smiled. “Doctor Tian came, I let him take over. Where did you want to start from?”
“Anything is fine. You’ll be the boss.”
Their progress had already reached this point? Had he missed something? Tang Fan couldn’t help but widen his eyes slightly.
Sui Zhou and Du Gui’r appeared to not notice his expression, getting up one after the other to walk over to a medicine cabinet. Taking advantage of the time Du Gui’r was walking in front, Tang Fan couldn’t resist grabbing Sui Zhou’s sleeve and tugging him back towards him. ”How come I never knew before that you were interested in medicine?”
Against expectations, Sui Zhou’s answer made him choke half to death: “I’m interested now.”
Before they could speak more, Du Gui’r turned around. “Sir Sui?”
Sui Zhou’s sleeve gently slipped out of Tang Fan’s hand. “You can just call me by my courtesy, Guangchuan.”
Du Gui’r’s cheeks lightly flushed. “I’ll just call you Brother Sui.”
Sui Zhou hummed, not objecting.
The Hall’s collection of medicine was quite complete, the tall medicinal cabinet densely embedded with drawers. Each had a label for a material’s name pasted on them.
In order to not get in the way of people helping patients get their medicine, Du Gui’r chose a spot to the side to stand at. “I can’t reach the drawers that are too high up, so they’ll need a ladder. Let’s start identifying them from the bottom.”
Sui Zhou gave a nod. “Okay.”
She opened a drawer, grabbed a bit of what was inside, placed it into her other palm, then passed it to Sui Zhou, allowing him to take in its shape and smell. She also succinctly described the material’s properties and usages, as well as some contraindications and such. Sui Zhou, surprisingly, listened very studiously, sometimes even asking questions.
One taught, one learned, their minds having no other distractions. Even in this cacophonous environment, they seemed to be in exceptional harmony.
Tang Fan, meanwhile, suddenly felt like he had turned into an eyesore just standing there. Were it not for his complete understanding of Sui Zhou, he would genuinely believe that the other was planning to open an apothecary in the capital.
Though, if Sui Zhou wasn’t planning to do that… why did he show so much interest in identifying materials all of a sudden?
During Tang Fan’s pondering, Du Gui’r grabbed two other materials from two other drawers. “These are turmeric, and quasi-turmeric. Both have similar medicinal properties and can promote blood plus qi circulation, but while turmeric comes from turmeric rhizomes, quasi-turmeric comes from wild turmeric rhizomes, which are grown in Zhejiang. The difference between them is that turmeric can treat pains caused by blood clots in the chest, while quasi-turmeric is chiefly used to treat pain caused by arthritis.”
“Different physiologies,” Sui Zhou said thoughtfully.
She smiled and nodded. “That’s right. So, even though they have similar effects, the symptoms they treat are quite different. Someone with shallow medical knowledge could easily misuse them, which would end up causing huge problems.”
Clever by nature and faintly sensing that Sui Zhou seemed to have something of an interest in her, she wanted to tease him with the line of ‘Do you want to revere me as a teacher?’, only to catch out of the corner of her eye that Tang Fan was standing nearby. Quite a bit embarrassed, she could only swallow the jest back down, put the materials back into the drawers, and bring two more types out. “These are—“
“Mountain and golden honeysuckle?” someone nearby got to it first.
Du Gui’r startled, then smiled. “Correct. Mountain honeysuckle is mostly located in the South. Its shape is extremely similar to golden honeysuckle. Few northerners can identify it, yet you have such profound knowledge of pharmacology, Sir Tang.”
Tang Fan beamed, fixing his sleeves. “I can’t claim that it’s profound. I grew up in the South, so that’s why I knew that.”
Sui Zhou pat him on the shoulder. Tang Fan looked at him, confused.
“The three-delicacy buns at the shop next door are pretty good. How about you go try them?”
You called me your bosom buddy, but now that you have a fair lady in your sights, you’re trying to get me to leave?
Sir Tang thought as much sourly, but didn’t show it on his face, merely looking back at him innocently. “No thanks, I’m quite full from breakfast. You can go buy it if you’re hungry, and I’ll just stay here with Miss Du. I want to learn pharmaceutics from her, too.”
“…” Du Gui’r had no belief that she had suddenly become excellent enough to get two young capital talents interested in her, and so particularly flattering to her, at the same time. She observed the conversation between Sui Zhou and Tang Fan, getting the overall feeling that there were words within their words, a lot of unsaid implications therein.
“Miss Du!” the previous worker was heard to shout outside. He quickly crowded in with a middle-aged woman, panting. “Miss, Aunt Xing is here!”
Du Gui’r turned her head with a smile on her face, clearly familiar with the woman in front of her. “You’ve come for medicine again, Sister Xing?”
“Yes…” Aunt Xing smiled awkwardly. “I’m troubling you again. If you’re busy, I can wait.”
Her clothes were plain, no different from any woman of common origin on the streets. Despite seeming to be not that old, the deep lines at the corners of her eyes and mouth betrayed the fact that she had endured hardships for an extended period of time.
“It’s fine. You’re a regular, so you need extra special care!” Miss Du warmly answered. “Did you bring the prescription?”
“I did, I did!” Aunt Xing repeated, taking out a wrinkled piece of paper from a pocket.
The woman sighed. “Yes. He didn’t listen to me last time and insisted upon going up the mountain to gather herbs. As a result, it rained that day, trapping him in the mountains, and this problem arose when he came back.”
“Aunt, you need to persuade him. He isn’t that young anymore,” Miss Du dissented. “How can he be going up the mountain to forage? What would happen if he fell?”
Aunt Xing bowed her head. “I said as much, too, but he wouldn’t listen to me…”
Miss Du shook her head, not saying anything else on it. “Wait here for a moment, I’ll get you the medicine. It’ll be done quick. Am I making six doses this time?”
The other quickly took money out. “Your uncle said he wanted nine doses, so that he could take a little more and slowly get better.”
Miss Du pushed the money back, smiling. “Very well, I’ll make nine. Don’t hand money to me, else father will scold me later.”
“How would that do? If you don’t take it, I won’t dare to ever come again,” Aunt Xing said, at a loss. “Your uncle would definitely scold me to death if he ever learned of it!”
While the two of them were having a pushing match, Tang Fan nudged Sui Zhou, chuckling. “Miss Du isn’t drop-dead gorgeous, but she’s still really pretty. She’s also skilled in medicine and has a kind heart. It’s rare for our Bastion Envoy to be moved by mundane feelings; do you want me to help be a go-between?”
Sui Zhou didn’t refute that phrasing of ‘moved by mundane feelings’, only saying, “Don’t mess around.”
Tang Fan grinned. “How am I messing around? Do you not believe that I could coax her into having eyes on you?”
“She isn’t like ordinary women.”
Hearing this, Tang Fan couldn’t help but peer at him. Even though Sui Zhou’s face was as plain as ever, in Tang Fan’s view, he felt that there was a bit of tenderness within that dullness.
No wonder he had rushed over here at daybreak. He was actually affected?
Du Gui’r and Aunt Xing’s shoving match came to a conclusion, with the former accepting half of the payment, but giving the other half back. Aunt Xing could only thank her repeatedly, expression filled with gratitude, then follow the worker off to get the medicine.
“Miss Du, despite the saying that only benevolent sorts can practice medicine, Zhongjing Hall is not a charity. Why did you only charge her half?” Tang Fan wondered.
Du Gui’r sighed. “Aunt Xing’s husband, Uncle Jiang, used to be one of our doctors. Due to poor health, he’s no longer practicing, and went to rural Guangling County to retire. Unexpectedly, his son went into the mountains to gather herbs not too long ago, yet never came back. He was reportedly never found, either, so it’s possible that a wild animal ran away with him in its mouth. The older couple was left behind to depend on each other. As Uncle Jiang is himself a doctor, if he ever feels unwell, he makes all of his own prescriptions, then comes to us to fetch the materials. Life hasn’t passed easily for them. The money Aunt Xing has must have been in exchange for something at the pawn shop on the corner. That’s why I take less, if I can.”
“You have a heart and principles of benevolence. You’re destined to become a famed doctor someday,” he praised.
Her face flushed. “I dare not accept your compliment, Sir Tang. Who has ever heard of a woman being able to become a famed doctor these days? I simply follow my father’s teachings, and act according to my conscience.”
“Your words err, Miss Du. You haven’t mentioned Han’s Yi Shuo, or Song’s Lady Zhang. They were both famous female doctors of their generations. What difference is there between men and women, there?”
Who didn’t want to hear flattery? That was saying nothing of the fact that Tang Fan’s words had indeed gotten to the bottom of Du Gui’r’s heart. In spite of her silence, there was happiness upon her face.
Sui Zhou couldn’t stand to see Tang Fan cajoling a young maiden. “There’s a lot of people here. Tea and snacks are over there; go and sit for now. Wait for me to meet up with you.”
Tang Fan wanted to say that he wasn’t hungry, but under Sui Zhou’s focused gaze, he could only cough lightly. “Fine. Take your time chatting.”
On the table were dried apricots and milkvetch-root pastries. Zhongjing Hall was worthy of being a land of medicine, as even its snacks clearly had a healthy tinge.
Tang Fan picked up a piece and tried it, but felt that even though it was little sweet, it wasn’t as delicious as he had imagined it would be. While taking small bites, he strolled for the entryway out of pure boredom.
Aunt Xing, who had just been speaking with Du Gui’r, walked past him carrying medicine, not noticing him at all. He stood at the doorway, watching her leave the apothecary with a rushed gait, then quickly vanish around the street corner. It looked like she was heading towards the west gate.
At exactly that same moment, someone walked out of the pawnshop at the street corner.
Tang Fan finished off the final bite of pastry, wiping the crumbs off of his hands. Right as he thought to turn around and go back in, he got a passing glance at the other party out of the corner of his eye.
His memory wasn’t so good that he would never forget anything, but he seldom forgot people he had seen before. He paused, swiftly recalling the other’s identity.
The steward of the Commandant Estate?
He remembered that the Steward’s surname was also Wang. He had been following Wang Yue for years and was the utmost of loyal. When Tang Fan had initially visited the Commandant Estate, Wang Yue had even specially introduced him.
Steward Wang had currently come out of a pawnshop, but his mannerisms did not resemble their typical easiness. He looked kind of like he was up to no good.
Tang Fan’s eyes automatically chased him. He departed Zhongjing Hall, following him.
When passing the pawnshop, he took a deliberate look inside, and happened to meet with the line of sight of someone that looked like a shopkeeper inside. Not able to make out anything amiss, he turned away and concentrated on following Steward Wang.
The other’s pace was quick, and by the shelter of the crowd, he soon got a good distance away from Tang Fan. The latter had to pick up the pace and train his eyes ahead, in order to prevent himself from losing the trail.
To tell the truth, he had no idea why he was persistently following Steward Wang. Everyone had times when finances were tight, and it was very common to pawn things. The steward’s act was not at all inappropriate.
And yet, starting from when he had been standing in the apothecary doorway, he had been having a bizarre feeling that he couldn’t shake off, like he had missed out on some very important information.
He had no time to think carefully on that now. All he could do was set his mind on following the one ahead.
Perhaps Steward Wang had noticed that someone was tailing him, as Tang Fan saw his pace suddenly slow, after which he dashed into an alley next to him. Frowning slightly, Tang Fan rushed up and turned into the alley as well.
It was quite narrow with only one path to take, and required a right turn a few steps ahead. After taking that turn, he discovered a dead end, no exit around.
He was shocked, immediately realizing that the other party must have noticed him following. Without another thought, he swiftly turned and walked back out.
The populated street was close enough to touch. Before he could breathe a sigh of relief, though, a figure dashed into the entrance of the alley.
His counterpart pounced forwards, looking to have something sharp in hand. Tang Fan subconsciously dodged to the side, back slamming hard into the dirt wall, which was pursued by a sharp pain on his arm.
He couldn’t help but cry out in pain, while the other rushed up, felt about him randomly, then ran off once done. Since the thief held a dagger, Tang Fan couldn’t stop him, only able to helplessly look on as the guy snatched his coinpurse and left abruptly.
So… all that fuss had been just to rob him?
Sir Tang was dumbstruck, until he heard someone cry out in surprise next to him. “Little brother, your arm is bleeding!”
He inclined his head to find that the arm that had been dislocated just yesterday had a fresh injury — there was a slash on it, now. It didn’t get down to the muscle and bones, but blood flowed out of it, dying his sleeve dark in no time at all.
Who had he angered for this? Was his arm the bane of everyone’s existence, to the point that they all found it displeasing to the eye?
Feeling that the wound wasn’t that serious, he declined the offers of passersby to go with him to the apothecary, and walked all the way to Zhongjing Hall while covering the gash on his arm.
He hadn’t felt this to be such a long trek coming here, but on the trip back, he started panting, losing some amount of blood. By the time he got back, leaning against the Hall’s doorframe, he was a little dizzy.
That same worker greeted him again. Upon seeing that Tang Fan had gone out for no more than a minute, yet had returned with a wound, he went pale with shock, busily stepping forth to support him. “What in the world did you leave for? How did you get hurt?! Hurry! Miss Du! Miss Du!”
The people in the hall conscientiously made a path for them.
Du Gui’r bolted over when she heard the news. As soon as she saw this situation, she quickly said, “Into the back hall, now! There’s bandages and medicine there, stop the bleeding before anything else!”
The worker speedily helped Tang Fan into the back hall. Sui Zhou had already caught sight of this scene on his end, locating bandages and medicine in a wink. Without another word, he half-removed Tang Fan’s inner and outer robes, then began to help him treat the wound.
Du Gui’r had wanted to come in, but upon glimpsing this, she swiftly avoided doing so.
This had clearly not been Tang Fan’s fault, but seeing how Sui Zhou looked — wordless, and with tightly pressed together lips as he bowed his head to apply medicine and bandages — gave him some baseless guilt. He laughed dryly, attempting to lighten up the steeply-declined mood. “It was just a slash from a knife, it’s no big…”
The word ‘deal’ was unconsciously swallowed back down when his counterpart looked up at him.
Sui Zhou watched until the blood was no longer oozing out, yet his knit brows did not relax. He simply continued to sprinkle fine powder meticulously and evenly over it.
A prickling, numbing sensation caused Tang Fan to suck in a cold breath, though he could detect that the medicinal powder was very effective; the wound was slowly coming together via its active agents, at the very least. Blood had been flowing non-stop since the beginning, but it was only lightly seeping out now.
“Bear with it.” Sui Zhou believed that he was uncomfortable, his actions gentling a little.
“This medicine is worth a considerable amount. Don’t throw all that money to the ground, economize a bit. Miss Du will feel distressed later, otherwise,” Tang Fan had to warn him.
Sui Zhou didn’t even look up. “It isn’t your money being spent.”
Was he mad, or something?
Sui Zhou stared at the wound closing up until he felt that it was good enough, after which he wound the bandages around it fully.
“Hm?” Seeing the other’s serious face, Tang Fan couldn’t help but sit up straight.
“There’s a reason I’m getting close to Miss Du,” Sui Zhou said, voice low.
The back hall had no one else in it, yet his voice wasn’t too loud. Only the two of them could hear.
“The Du family dominates the market on the supplies needed by the army. When they transport materials in and out of the city gates, they don’t need to undergo extra checks, so if someone wanted to utilize that detail to get something done, it would be easy to. Don’t be angry.”
Tang Fan felt awkward. “I’m not angry…”
Sui Zhou looked at him with a ‘don’t even try to justify yourself’ expression.
Tang Fan coughed lightly, slightly guilty, and gave an embarrassed smile. “Alright, Guangchuan, you don’t need to explain so much to me. I didn’t mistake you as valuing charms before chums.”
The other’s eyes showed a bit of exasperation, though Tang Fan didn’t have time to guess at what he was exasperated about before the man resumed his typical placidness.
A little while later, Miss Du’s voice came from outside. “Brother Sui, how is he?”
Sui Zhou helped Tang Fan put his clothes back on. “Luckily, there’s nothing serious. You can come in.”
The door was pushed open. Du Gui’r lifted the bead curtain, saw Tang Fan seated there tidily, and sighed in relief. “Sir Tang, do you want me to have Doctor Tian check your pulse? I can have medicine made for you to recuperate with?”
Tang Fan smiled. “No need. An occasional bit of bleeding won’t hurt…”
“He’s hardship-averse,” Sui Zhou butt in.
Du Gui’r restrained her laugh. “Eat some more jujubes and such when you’re free every day to promote blood regeneration, then. You can also stew jujubes and carp together.”
Tang Fan felt that his formerly lofty image had been completely ruined by Sui Zhou’s paltry words. “Thank you, Miss Du,” he was forced to weakly say.
With Tang Fan being injured, Sui Zhou naturally wasn’t going to remain in the apothecary, thus saying goodbye to Du Gui’r, then leaving with Tang Fan.
Once they left, he asked, “How did you get hurt?”
Tang Fan didn’t answer directly. “Tell Wang Zhi to investigate Steward Wang of Wang Yue’s Estate.”
Sui Zhou stared. “Why?”
Tang Fan explained the sequence of events of him tailing the steward, encountering a mugger, then getting slashed, ending it with, “The thief had only robbed me, but the timing of that really feels too coincidental.”
“Did you get a good look at his appearance?”
Tang Fan nodded. “I can sketch it when we get back. You can start a two-front investigation; it isn’t convenient for Wang Zhi to go out in the open, so I’ll have to trouble you.”
Sui Zhou brought him back to the posthouse, then headed to Wang Zhi’s Estate alone.
This outing had taken most of the day. For the sake of awaiting Sui Zhou’s return, Tang Fan stayed in his room, only to end up dozing off unwittingly. It wasn’t until midnight that he sensed what seemed to be movement beside him, and he opened his eyes groggily.
“Back?” he asked. He thought to sit up using his arms as supports, but unanticipatedly bumped his wound, making him jolt in a pain that woke him up at once.
“Don’t get up,” Sui Zhou said. He shed his outer robe, blew out the candle, then got onto the bed, laying down on the outer side.
“How’d it go?” Tang Fan asked, while actively shifting inwards to make more room for him.
“The thief that hurt you was found.”
That piece of unexpected news startled Tang Fan, but he noticed how exhausted Sui Zhou looked. “We’ll talk more about it tomorrow.”
Sui Zhou hummed and shut his eyes. His breathing turned long and slow in short order.
Tang Fan was occupied with turning the news Sui Zhou had just given him over in his head, falling asleep without realizing it.
For one night, there were no words.
The next day, the two of them rose early. After freshening up, Tang Fan sat at a table, about to lift up his cup of soymilk and drink when Wang Zhi stopped by.
The translator says: ‘Charms before chums’, the antiquated version of hoes before bros that I made up just now.
 No decent English sources as of this writing, unfortunately, so here’s a brief overview of the two, according to baidu. Both of them have origin stories like typical protagonists, I swear…
- Yi Shuo (义妁) is recorded as the first female imperial doctor in China’s history, tasked with looking after the Empress Dowager in particular. Her parents were killed after being framed by a corrupt official, and she was taken in by her father’s friend, a doctor. Yi Shuo was determined to become a doctor herself, but her adoptive father forbade it, so she stole medicinal supplies to practice. Her father later died in a plague, passing his knowledge on to her beforehand, and steeling her resolve to learn medicine. She ended up becoming the disciple of another doctor, and went from there.
- Lady Zhang (张小娘子), was a old-timey surgeon (the removal of warts, sores, etc.). Reportedly, in her youth, she sheltered a wandering doctor, and he decided to teach her a few tricks, including gifting her a rare tome titled The Unusual Field of Abscesses. She became famed for the miraculous results of her surgeries, and even taught her husband the same.
 I’m unsure of what these are supposed to be, because you do NOT eat milkvetch root unless you want a stomach full of splinters. I hope that it was just made with milkvetch tea water or something. Seriously, though, don’t eat it.
 One delicacy from the sky, one from the sea, one from land; those are the ‘three delicacies’. In layman’s terms, it’s something typically made of pork, prawns, and chicken.