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“When the famine happened last year, Wu and Wujiang were both wrecked by Lake Tai overflowing. At the start, we at Suzhou wanted to allocate a thousand shi of provisions, then leave the remaining two-thousand for Wu, but Chen Luan told me that he hoped I could allocate three-thousand shi to Wujiang. He could help me pacify the refugees in Wu, and in that way, all of them would be congregated in Wujiang. As for Wu, it wouldn’t suffer any impact, which would be beneficial for my reputation.”
Tang Fan raised a brow. “You believed that he would so kindly help resolve your issue for no real reason?”
Hu Wenzao smiled painfully. “Of course not, but his uncle is the Nanjing Minister of Revenue. You can’t look at just the monk’s face, but the Buddha’s, too… I anticipated that he might embezzle grains to sell to merchants and make staggering profits, but I never expected that he would be so unreasonable as to not even leave a tiny amount of food for the refugees. He even collaborated with Yang Ji to push all the responsibility onto me! Brother Runqing, you have to pull me up instead of be led around by the nose!”
“That isn’t right, is it?” Tang Fan suddenly asked.
The other was caught off guard. “What isn’t right?”
Tang Fan leaned back in his chair. From a night of no sleep, his energy was a little lacking and voice a little hoarse, but his expression was still relaxed. “Brother Hu, we are open people that don’t speak in riddles. You just shouted your throat raw about being innocent and indignant — you, as Suzhou’s Magistrate, had someone switch three-thousand shi out for thirty shi right under your nose, yet you didn’t notice at all. Tell me, should I believe that? Forget me, actually; you don’t even believe it yourself, do you?
“At this point, Chen Luan and Yang Ji want to shove you out to be their meat shield. You only have two roads you can pick between: the first is that you can work with me, and the second is that you can continue to say nonsense with your eyes wide open, where I only need to stand by and watch with my hands in my sleeves while those two push all sorts of blame onto you. No matter what, it would be someone else’s problem, and the one who gets the bleak end would definitely not be me.”
Hu Wenzao’s expression was unsightly. His lips were opening and closing, as if he wanted to argue, but ultimately couldn’t say anything. All he could do was sit there, dejected, even hunching over a bit more than typical, the desolate aura of being at a dead-end coming off of his whole body.
Tang Fan didn’t have the least bit of sympathy, though. The day this man had said nothing was the day he should have expected to be cast away like a pawn.
When in officialdom, one couldn’t solely think about getting promoted and getting rich. They should also be ready to lose their posts, or even their heads.
“I told you before to simply say what you need to. I don’t have that much patience. If you won’t explain, I have other channels to use to check,” Tang Fan said, then stood in preparation to leave.
“Wait!” Hu Wenzao quickly called out to him. “I’ll talk! I’ll talk!”
Tang Fan turned to look at him.
“If I act as a witness and expose them, can you ensure that when Chen Luan’s group is pulled off its horse, I’ll be safe?”
Tang Fan loathed his behavior of still trying to bargain whilst on the brink of death, but for the sake of the situation at large, he had to say, “Of course. You likely don’t know that the youth with me was sent to help me by Eunuch Huai, of His Majesty’s side.”
Hu Wenzao was slightly moved. “You mean to say… that His Majesty already knows about this?”
“Correct,” Mister Tang lied without a change in expression. “I’ve already sent report of Chen Luan and Yang Ji obeying no law and deceiving the monarch. Now I just need to gather up more evidence. If you are willing to abandon the darkness and turn towards the light, I will plead on your behalf in the future, and ask that the Court punish you lightly. You might not be able to continue being Suzhou’s Magistrate, but your life and property can at least be safeguarded. If things go a little better, you might even be able to continue being an official.”
Hu Wenzao’s eyes shone. Tang Fan’s words had touched the bottom of his heart.
“To tell the truth, this…” He gulped, speaking with some difficulty. “…has a further story to it.”
Tang Fan raised a brow. “Be more clear.”
“Suzhou genuinely did allocate three-thousand shi to Wujiang while Chen Luan secretly changed it to thirty — I knew of this. At the time, he used his uncle’s name to pressure, threaten, and tempt me, saying that if I kept quiet and feigned ignorance, I’d get a thirty-percent cut of the profits gained from the three-thousand shi. If I refused to obey, Yang Ji would denounce me for ineffectual disaster relief. I had no choice but to bend to their tyranny.
“It doesn’t end there. We all knew that the Court would send an imperial ambassador this year to investigate how the disaster was going, and that Yang Ji might not be able to circumvent him. That’s why the two put on a joint show of denouncing each other, which had three goals: the first was to clear them of responsibility, the second was to demonstrate their respective stances to the Court, thus creating the false image that they weren’t cooperating, and the third was to laudably portray their complaints to the Court. When the time was right, as long as the imperial ambassador could be duped, this would be over, and everything would be fine.”
“Since you’ve said that, when the Court had you all submit statements, did you already know all of this?”
Hu Wenzao nodded. “Yes. Chen Luan said that I only needed to remain silent and claim that I knew nothing. Once the imperial ambassador came, he would deal with it, and I wouldn’t need to bother with anything.”
Tang Fan chuckled. “And now I’m here, yet they lied, shoving all the blame onto you!”
Hu Wenzao grit his teeth. “If I had known before that they would do something like this, why would I ever play deaf and dumb?!”
“What’s going on with the five-thousand shi you said was in the granary, then?”
“After those three-thousand shi were given to Chen Luan, there really was two-thousand shi left. I can honestly swear that I’m not lying! But, as you also saw, there was not a single grain of rice left in there; the only possibility is that when Chen Luan requested three-thousand shi, he actually pulled all five-thousand clean out. Because I didn’t want to cause trouble, I turned a blind eye to it, not even coming to the scene myself to check… and they just exploited that! They even tampered with the grains registry! There’s no evidence at all now! I… I…”
“They sold government provisions to merchants?”
“Yes. Because of the famine, food prices rose quickly. They sold the provisions at high prices, making enormous profits off of them, and only a small portion was used for disaster relief.”
Beneath Tang Fan’s lightly weary expression was a hidden coldness not easy to detect. “And you knew all this well, sitting and watching on the sidelines as the refugees died of starvation and plague?”
“Chen Luan told me that he would properly settle them, and had me move Wu’s refugees to the outside of Wujiang City — I didn’t know that he would treat them like that!” Hu Wenzao quibbled.
Tang Fan didn’t want to get hung more up on this issue with him. “You said that all of this was Chen Luan’s doing. Is there proof of that?”
If there was no proof, the chamberpot would end up upended over Hu Wenzao’s head. In order to get rid of the unjust blame and ease his crime, Hu Wenzao was going to have to wring his brain juices dry thinking.
“Chen Luan’s profits from selling the provisions were divided up to me using Maochang-notated banknotes. They total to about two-thousand taels. Could that be used as evidence?”
Tang Fan shook his head. “The banknotes can’t speak by themselves, as who knows where you got them from. At best, they could be used as auxiliary evidence. Keep thinking.”
Hu Wenzao was so dejected, it was hard to speak. He had to think up something else.
The Emperor of Heaven didn’t betray hope, as he actually did come up with something. “Chen Luan would definitely have a grains registry with the correct number recorded, but I don’t know where he’s hiding it. If it can be obtained, that would be proof.”
Tang Fan nodded. “That would be the most direct and effective proof, but the issue with that is that your own registry was tampered with by Auditor Liao. It’s likely that only Chen Luan himself knows where such an important item is hidden. How would it be found?”
Hu Wenzao was dispirited. “This won’t do, that won’t do… what would you have me do?”
“How would I know what to do?” Tang Fan said with a smile, not taking responsibility. “You’re the one that’s in trouble, not me. If you want to save yourself, you need to think of a solution, though I do have a word of advice for you.”
“Please say it,” Hu Wenzao said, restraining his annoyance.
“Since they’ve already thrown you out, they certainly won’t pick you back up. You’re still of two minds, holding onto the notion that you can have one foot in each boat; you’re cooperating with me here, yet you’re still capitulating to Chen Luan there. If there isn’t even enough left of you for a burial when the time comes, don’t blame me for not warning you ahead of time.”
Getting his thoughts seen through, Hu Wenzao’s face was scorching hot, and he forced out a smile. “You think too little of me, Brother Runqing. I definitely am not like that!”
When all was said and done, he still hadn’t decided upon completely falling out with Chen Luan, nor did he believe that Tang Fan would be able to defeat the other. As the common saying went, a strong dragon would find difficultly crushing a snake in its home environment — and beyond that, Chen Luan was not really a snake at home anymore, but a dragon at home!
Tang Fan stood. “It’d be best if you weren’t. Your life is your own — if you don’t value yourself, no one else can help you.”
Hu Wenzao finally got scared. “Brother, wait!”
Tang Fan stopped in his tracks.
“You’re right. There’s no taking back an arrow let loose from its bow,” the other said, dejected. “Now that I’ve told you everything, that pretty much counts as a witness account. Chen Luan will never let me off. I’m afraid that I could be met with an ‘accident’ at any time; could you find a martial expert to protect me?”
“Why, you’ve decided to work with me at last? Aren’t you afraid that I can’t beat Chen Luan?” Tang Fan teasingly countered.
Hu Wenzao smiled painfully. “They all sold me out. If I still held on to hope for them, would I not be irredeemably stupid?”
Seeing that he was speaking from the heart, Tang Fan nodded. “That’s good. Wait a bit, I’ll find someone when I get back.”
Hu Wenzao became so frightened, he straight-up grabbed onto his clothes and wouldn’t let him leave. “What will I do when you leave? If you go out, they’ll silence me on your heels! Then what’ll happen?!”
Tang Fan wasn’t sure how to react. Only now did this guy know to be afraid; how had he not been disposed of sooner? “If you don’t let me go, how can I find someone to protect you? Besides, no matter how quick Chen Luan reacts, he’s still in Wujiang. It would be impossible for him to get the news straightaway.”
No matter what was said, Hu Wenzao refused to let him go. “Then I’ll leave with you! Wherever you go, I’ll go!”
“That will only alert them further,” Tang Fan scolded. “I don’t want you to die more than anyone else would, so put yourself at ease! I, Tang Runqing, have never said anything that I couldn’t fulfill before! You’re a stately fourth-rank Magistrate, too — why feign being such a wimp? How scandalous!”
The other was scolded by this younger-than-him, of-the-same-rank official until he was worn-down and unable to speak, only able to let go of his clothes out of embarrassment. He now looked like a wronged little wife, which was worlds different from how he had been before.
Tang Fan had no choice but to give him some words of comfort before he brought Lu Lingxi away. The latter had heard a bit from standing outside the door, and he asked, “Brother Tang, why didn’t you leave me to protect him? With me there, that would guarantee that no one would get the idea to attack him.”
Tang Fan shook his head. “I have something more important for you to do. Hu Wenzao’s knowledge isn’t much, and there wouldn’t be a huge difference whether Chen Luan silences him or not, so it’s unlikely that he would do anything like that. Still, for the sake of keeping him calm, I’ll ask someone else to defend him. Using you would be like killing a chicken with a cow cleaver.”
Lu Lingxi felt a sweetness in his heart when he said that, unable to keep from smiling.
However, a burst of clamor came from ahead — a couple of dandies were harassing a maiden on the street. He gave them a careful look, then gasped. “Isn’t that the woman that fell into the water outside of Yangzhou City?”
It hadn’t been clear that one night, but now that she was seen during the day, the woman’s beauty was even more striking — she was practically so gorgeous, she could overturn a city. In addition to that, she was only accompanied by one maid and wore no veil. No wonder she had attracted lechers.
Lu Lingxi was responsible for Tang Fan’s safety, and he didn’t want to be too nosy. Seeing that someone else was already stepping up to fight this injustice, he thought to take Tang Fan on a detour.
However, the other said, “Go on and save her.”
Lu Lingxi was caught off guard. “Um?”
“Seeing injustice on one’s travels warrants the drawing of a blade to help. What happened to your heart of chivalry?”
“But someone is already helping out, and those lechers aren’t too tough to deal with. In any case, the authorities will come soon…”
“A woman’s reputation is heavier than Mount Tai, and will be damaged if she’s saved a little too late. Furthermore, we rescued her once before, and meeting another time is simply fate; go on and help her.”
Lu Lingxi was a little displeased, but couldn’t argue, forced to step up and beat the lechers away. The pretty woman clearly recognized Tang Fan and him, not only gratefully thanking Lu Lingxi over and over again, but also coming over to thank Tang Fan herself.
“Thank you for your help, benefactors. You previously denied me getting onto your ship to thank you, yet we’ve met again today. I really cannot repay your grace in saving me twice,” she said respectfully.
“Why don’t you bring a few more people out with you?” Tang Fan asked. “You won’t be able to escape by a fluke every time.”
“This lowly woman’s parents passed early on, and my family has fallen. I had been planning to seek shelter with family in Suzhou, but since the famine from last year, my relatives have all been wiped out, not a one to be found,” she answered sadly. “I had to find somewhere to settle down in before anything else. Because my funds are shamefully low, I couldn’t afford to keep many servants, and had to let a few go. Now, I only have this maid left.”
“A house with a leak in its roof will encounter several nights of rain… your circumstances are truly lamentable,” Tang Fan said, quite sympathetic.
Tears filled her lashes, but she held back and didn’t let them fall, instead turning her head, as if she didn’t want him to see her sorry state. However, she had no idea that such a lovely pose was all the more pitiable, and able to incite a man’s protective instincts.
No matter how much of a nobleman Tang Fan was, he still fell within the category of ‘male’. “Dare I ask your good name, Miss?”
She bowed. “My surname is Xiao, and given the lone character Wu.”
As refreshingly beautiful and divinely charming as the frail and slender woman was, she ought to have been valued and favored by being hidden away in a cushy home, not out to suffer the wind and rain.
“Have you been able to find somewhere to live now, Miss Xiao?”
She bit her lip, shaking her head. “Rent here is too expensive. Now, I… I’m…”
Her voice became quieter and quieter, until she ultimately said nothing.
Tang Fan wouldn’t make her expose her difficulties, of course. “If you have no place, you can stay in the posthouse for the time being, then find other accommodations as you see fit.”
Xiao Wu raised her head, staring blankly at Tang Fan. There was a look both grateful and conflicted in her eyes. Obviously, her self-esteem was wreaking havoc and she didn’t want to accept others’ help, but her current situation was truly bad, putting her in a hard spot.
He didn’t push. Prior to this, he had been rushing to the posthouse, yet was now patiently awaiting her answer.
“Brother Tang, wouldn’t having her there be inappropriate?” Lu Lingxi had to ask, his volume not too loud, but just enough for Xiao Wu to hear.
The latter flushed with embarrassment, immediately giving a bow with her hands overlapped in front of her, turning, and going to leave.
In a rush, Tang Fan reached out and grabbed the hem of her clothes. “Wait, Miss Xiao! This little brother of mine is young and speaks tactlessly. He wasn’t actually aiming at you, it’s just that there are others at the posthouse, those two you’ve seen before on the boat with me that day. My brother feared impinging upon you, is all. He wasn’t being malicious, please don’t think much on it!”
She bowed her head, wanting to take back her clothes, but he was holding on tightly. Her face slowly turned red, but it was not much like the embarrassed red of before. “I-I wasn’t thinking as much, but I don’t want to cause you all further trouble…”
He beamed. “There’s no trouble, not a bit of it. Since it’s our second time meeting, this is fate. To you, these have been great favors, but to us, they’ve taken no more effort than the lift of a hand. Please don’t reject this.”
What effort? You’ve clearly been entranced by beauty! Lu Lingxi mumbled in his head. No matter how pretty Xiao Wu’s looks were, they had turned into a disaster in his eyes.
Still, as Tang Fan was insisting that she stay, he couldn’t say anything more to prevent this, else he would be reducing Tang Fan’s standing.
Seeing that Tang Fan’s intentions were sincere, and also being quite at a loss herself, Xiao Wu finally agreed to his proposal. “This one has bothered you for days, Sir. This great kindness is something worthy of grateful tears. I don’t know what to say.”
Tang Fan smiled. “Then you don’t have to say anything.”
This interlude was fairly long. By the time Tang Fan’s group returned to the posthouse in the city, it was nearly noon.
Qian San’r was waiting at the main gate, looking this way and that, face full of anger added with deep worry. The instant Tang Fan returned, he quickly stepped forth to report. “Sir, you’re finally back! Zeng Pei and Wu Zong, those two bastards—“
Tang Fan waved his hand, stopping him from continuing.
Being clever, Qian San’r immediately noticed that this was the wrong place to speak, quickly shutting up.
“Yiqing, take Miss Xiao and her maid to settle in first,” Tang Fan said to Lu Lingxi.
Xiao Wu didn’t question much, merely thanking him repeatedly, then leaving with Lu Lingxi. Despite this, all along the way, her alarming beauty had long been attracting attention. Even Qian San’r was distracted for a very long time before he could react, staring at her back and stuttering, “S-Sir… does that lady know you?”
On the night Tang Fan had helped Xiao Wu, Qian San’r had been in the city to buy stuff, not present. This was the first time he had seen her true face, shocked by it.
In the wake of Xiao Wu’s footsteps, many burning gazes landed upon her, but a government posthouse was just that, after all. Even if the woman was a nation-toppler, her safety could be ensured. However, were Tang Fan’s group to return to the capital one day, a frail woman like her would incite much coveting, her looks often earning her misfortune.
Tang Fan turned Qian San’r’s head around. “Come with me to the room.”
Qian San’r seemed to have just woken up from a dream. Tang fan had since strode towards his own little courtyard, going so quick, he was nearly uncatchable, totally unlike someone that had been running around for one day and night.
Back in the room, Tang Fan didn’t care to freshen up, immediately asking, “What happened?”
“While you were out, Suzhou’s merchant society sent someone to deliver a gift. I refused to take it, of course, but those two bastards, Zeng Pei and Wu Zong, accepted it in your name!” Qian San’r answered angrily. “I kept a firm watch on the courtyard to stop them from bringing it in, so they left it outside and left afterwards. I can already tell that this was meant to pour foul water on you!”
After hearing this, Tang Fan didn’t get angry, instead looking deeply thoughtful.
“Sir?” Qian San’r was anxious.
“Where is the gift now?”
“Just outside the courtyard. It’s a small box, and pretty heavy,” Qian San’r answered hurriedly.
“Go carry it in.”
Tang Fan was annoyed. “Why are you being dumb? Move!”
Qian San’r was anxious, fearing that his own brain was having a momentary lapse in function. “But they’ve made it a set fact that you’ve accepted a bribe! If you bring it in, that’s just… just…”
Tang Fan smiled. “Does you not putting it in the courtyard mean I haven’t accepted it? Go pick the box up. You can do that by yourself, can’t you?”
“Then do it!”
Without choice, Qian San’r had to jog away, then move the box in. “There’s a key, but it’s pressed under the box. I brought them in together. Do you…?”
“Open it,” Tang Fan ordered.
The second it was, Qian San’r’s mutt eyes were nearly blinded. He sucked in a breath. “Th-this…?!”
The inside was packed with gold ingots, their gaps stuffed with fingertip-sized pearls.
Ingots aside, the pearls were also each around the same size — smooth, round, clear, exquisite, and desirable. Qian San’r had once traveled all around, even going for the tomb of a Song emperor, so how could he not tell the value of these objects?
He wasn’t the slightest bit happy, though, because the greater the gift from the other party was, the more trouble Tang Fan was signaled to be in.
“Sir!” he said, anxious. “What do we do now?! You can’t actually want to keep—“
“Yep! Why wouldn’t I?” Tang Fan answered with a smile. “It’s like getting a pillow handed to me when I want to sleep. If I take such a huge amount of money, I won’t have any worries for the rest of my life!”
Qian San’r’s mouth was open wide. He looked at him like he had gone mad.
Tang Fan ignored him, simply reaching out to touch the ingots, then pick them up and examine them, as if drunk on the gold color filling his eyes.
Meanwhile, Qian San’r was pulling his hair out.
It was not out of the ordinary for Great Ming officials to accept gifts from merchants. On the contrary, it was all too ordinary, to the point that many major merchant notations had Court officials backing and speaking out for them, which had even become a thing of mutual, implicit understanding.
Such a thing happening with Tang Fan made one feel odd no matter how they looked at it, though.
When Tang Fan slowly showed a smile while viewing the ingots, Qian San’r finally couldn’t help himself. “Sir—“
“You need to listen very carefully to what I say next,” Tang Fan interrupted.
Qian San’r’s expression went harsh. Uncaring about what had just happened, he subconsciously straightened out his back. “Please instruct, Sir!”
Tang Fan took off the identification token from his waist, as well as a stack of silver banknotes, and set them on the table. “Take the box and these banknotes away.”
The other was surprised. “Take them where?”
“Bring the token to Millarch Jiang of Suzhou’s Guard post, and have him take haste in taking all these things back to the capital and giving them to Wang Zhi.”
“Sir, can Millarch Jiang be trusted?”
Tang Fan nodded. “Yes, he’s on Guangchuan’s side. I’ll have Yiqing go to the capital with him; based on his connection to Huai En, that’ll be another channel.”
“I’ll set out immediately! Do you have any other orders, Sir?”
Tang Fan thought a bit. “Wait a moment.”
There were pre-prepared brushes, ink, inkstones, and paper in the room, with the ink not even needing to be ground. He sat down, spread out paper specifically used for writing memorials, and, after a bout of thinking, immediately wrote a memorial up.
Qian San’r watched from the side, agape. He hadn’t been able to read many characters once, but after helping out in Tang Yu’s store, he had gradually learned more; however, there was no way that he would be able to so breezily write memorials of literary flourish like Tang Fan could.
This caused his admiration for Tang Fan to reach another level, for no other reason than that he didn’t know that these were the basic survival skills needed for Great Ming officials. Many typically used the ghostwriting of aides, but that didn’t mean that they couldn’t write themselves.
It wasn’t long until the memorial was written. Tang Fan waited for the ink on it to dry, then folded it up and handed it to Qian San’r. “Put the memorial and banknotes in the box. Have them all given to Wang Zhi; he’ll know what to do.”
Qian San’r hesitated. “Sir, Lu Lingxi’s skills are much better than mine. If he’s not here, who will protect you? If those two bastards, Zeng Pei and Wu Zong, swindle their way in, I’m afraid I won’t be able to hold them back…”
Tang Fan stretched his back, smiling carelessly. “It’ll be fine. If you lot are around, how will I get close to the beauty, anyways?”
Qian San’r was dumbstruck. A good minute later, he suddenly babbled, “Then… then what about Envoy Sui?”
“…Take the stuff and get out.”
Lu Lingxi soon returned. Once he heard Qian San’r’s explanation, he swiftly objected. “That won’t do, Brother Tang! You’ve set your heart on going against Chen Luan, so what if he jumps the wall like a desperate dog and does something to you?!”
“That’s why I’m having you go to the Brocade Guard for help,” Tang Fan replied. “Tell them to send two, no, four people here. Two will stay by my side, and two will help protect Hu Wenzao, so as to keep him from being scared stiff all day long.”
Lu Lingxi still wanted to speak, but Tang Fan waved to stop him. “Yiqing, this is very important. These valuables aren’t the most crucial pieces of evidence, but only with them will His Majesty believe my words more. I have to stay here and continue to look for Chen Luan’s grains registry, so going to the capital will be entrusted to you. You and San’r must hand over the objects and memorial to Wang Zhi or Huai En.”
Not wanting to leave Tang Fan at all, yet pressured by his feelings of righteousness, Lu Lingxi couldn’t say anything, merely being silent.
Tang Fan patted him on the shoulder. “Alright, don’t get fussy,” he said softly. “You’re a County Honorate, so how come you’re acting like a child?”
“I’m not a child!” Lu Lingxi refuted.
“Sure, sure, you’re not.” Tang Fan laughed. “San’r is loyal, but his skills are lacking, and you’re familiar with Huai En. You must have a way to see him in person. This is something you have to do; if things go smoothly, the next time we meet, it’ll be in the capital.”
Lu Lingxi grit his teeth. “I’ll give the stuff to Huai En as soon as possible, then come back and look for you!”
Saying so, he turned and left, forgetting to even say goodbye.
And you said you don’t have a child’s temper? Tang Fan thought, exasperated.
Chen Luan’s methods were inexhaustible. First, he had collaborated with Yang Ji to put on an act that deceived the Court, then brought Tang Fan to see a false scene, then gave him ten thousand taels, and then sent money using the name of the merchant society, even getting the Eastern Depot’s people participating. Had Tang Fan been a little weaker-willed, he might have compromised by now, no longer wanting to spend energy messing with this thankless work anymore.
With one thought towards the refugees outside of the city, though, he didn’t end up changing his mind. Only by completely toppling Chen Luan could those outside the city be properly settled down, and could later arrivals be warned to prevent similar things from happening in the future.
After Lu Lingxi and Qian San’r left, Tang Fan finally felt exhausted from staying up all night. Not bothering to change his clothes, he collapsed right onto the bed, falling into a deep sleep in no time, aware of nothing at all.
When he awoke again, it was due to the sound of knocking coming from the door, and a woman’s inquiring voice. “Is anyone in there?”
Lashes trembling slightly, he slowly opened his eyes, mind still a little sluggish. The chaos was not fully waking him up.
“Sir Tang, are you in there?” the person outside asked again.
He huffed, rubbing his head as he sat up. “Is that you, Miss Xiao?”
“I’m bringing you a nighttime snack.”
Hearing the words ‘nighttime snack’, Tang Fan raised his head to look out the window, discovering that it was completely dark out.
He had wanted to say that Qian San’r should have done this, but then he remembered that he had sent Qian San’r and Lu Lingxi away, their figures gone from sight. He also had no idea if they had found the Brocade Guards like he had asked, thinking of such as he got out of bed. “Wait a moment, Miss Xiao. I’ll get dressed first.”
“Okay,” she answered softly.
After a short moment, he was dressed up neatly. “Please come in.”
Xiao Wu pushed the door open and entered. Tang Fan saw that she was carrying a food tray that looked to have some weight to it, yet had stood for such a long time outside with it without complaint.
He got up and took it from her. “You’ve worked hard, Miss. There was no need for you to bring it yourself, this place has workers.”
She smiled lightly. “It’s no problem. The workers have posthouse chores to do, while I’m idling around. You can just send me on any task you have, Sir.”
She lifted the lid of the stewing pot. The aroma of chicken soup subsequently came upon the senses, and by its side was a bowl of white rice and a small dish of green veggies. It could not be more appetizing.
Were this the past, Tang Fan definitely would have begun to chow down. Now, despite his stomach already starting to growl, he remained unmoving, only staring at her solidly, as if he had a thousand things to say, yet no idea where to start.
Beneath such a gaze, a snowperson would melt, to say nothing of the very alive person that Xiao Wu was. Her face slowly reddened, head also bowing slightly, revealing the fair and beautiful neck beneath her collar.
The room’s atmosphere gradually turned warm and ambiguous.
And, at right that moment, a knocking came from the door again.
Having a good thing interrupted, Tang Fan was a little annoyed. “Who is it?”
“Sir, this subordinate was sent by Millarch Jiang of the Suzhou Guard post to protect you,” a rough voice sounded outside.
Xiao Wu seemed to snap out of that weird mood, face getting even redder than before. Tang Fan was unhappy, but said to the one outside, “Wait out there!”, then turned to Xiao Wu with a pleasant look on his face. “Why is there only one bowl of rice? Did you already eat, Miss Xiao?”
She bashfully looked down. “I did. Please eat soon, Sir.”
He nodded, appreciated the beauty’s timid look, then reluctantly took his gaze back, picked up a spoonful of the chicken soup, and went to put it in his mouth.
Right before the spoon reached it, he stopped. “I suddenly remembered something important.”
Xiao Wu gave him a confused look.
“Did you not put anything in this soup?” he asked with a smile. “Like arsenic, crow’s head, or thornapple, for example?”
She stared blankly at him. “Sir, what are you saying? I don’t understand—“
Another disrupting knock came from the door.
Tang Fan smiled warmly at Xiao Wu. “Then I’ll trouble you with doing one thing.”
“Please state it.”
All of a sudden, he reached out and pulled her right into his arms!
Following her tiny exclamation, the door was pushed open from the outside.
The translator says: it was the kool-aid man. this confused everyone