FYC 134: In Peril

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Character Guide and Glossary


Even though they hadn’t found Xu Sui in the Xu household that day, Lu Lingxi felt like he was likely still hiding out in there. Even if he wasn’t, someone of the household must know his whereabouts. Thus, Lu Lingxi kept watch near the rear gate of the Xu residence, spying for news straight from the Xu servants, hoping to find something related to Xu Sui in the process.

However, for two successive days, he had been disappointed. People came in and out of the Xu’s rear gate daily, their cooks and workmen often chatting about daily life when the farmers came to deliver their vegetables, yet they never mentioned Xu Sui. At most, all they brought up was that Tang Fan had brought people to raid the house, saying that when their Master got back, that Censor would be out of luck and whatnot.

Just like Steward Xu, in the eyes of the Xu servants, Master Xu was a very capable person, where even the local Prefectural Magistrate had to be more polite to him. They looked up and only saw the one-mu Xu land that did not exceed Ji’an’s boundaries, so they believed that Tang Fan could do nothing against them, quite a hint of schadenfreude to their words.

Despite his upset, Lu Lingxi knew that there was no need to bother with the finite knowledge of the poor.

On this afternoon, as per usual, he was leaning against the trunk of a tree not far from the Xu’s rear gate. This spot was close to the wall and in a very hidden location, where generally no one would make a specific detour to go see him; he was skilled enough to leave before anyone found him, anyways. Like it was habit, he listened to the Xu servants speak far away as he basked in the sun.

This time, however, Lu Lingxi heard something about Fang Huixue’s daughter.

“Supposedly, his eldest daughter had another betrothal before she married off, but he broke it off on his own to marry her as the Envoy of Education’s second wife.” At this point, Lu Lingxi held off for suspense. “Can you guess what they were doing on the sly, Brother Tang?”

Tang Fan cocked his head slightly. “Cursing him out for his betrayal?”

“No!” Lu Lingxi replied with a grin. “Everyone says that he was benevolent for it!”

The other raised a brow. “Oh, that’s odd. Why so?”

“The original betrothal had also been set by him for his daughter, that’s why. It’s said that the man of it was a rich kid from Nanchang Prefecture, but he had been unlearned, unskilled, and took in countless prostitutes before he had even been married. That reputation had even spread to Ji’an. To make a long story short, he was probably worse than Xu Sui and Shen Si’s type. Back then, the Fang family appeared to have been in dire straits due to business difficulties, so they planned for their daughter to marry this guy. For some unknown reason, though, Fang Huixue suddenly changed his mind, withdrew from the betrothal, and pulled against a losing tide. His family that had been on the verge of decline was restructured into a rich family that no one in Ji’an dares to take lightly, and he chose a new betrothal for his daughter.”

Tang Fan straightened up, expression turning serious. “Speak more about what went on with Fang Huixue.”

“What do you want to hear about?”

Tang Fan thought for a bit. “The Fangs started off in commerce, with no scholarly honors. Even as a second wife, the Envoy of Education shouldn’t have been too happy to marry their daughter. Is there something else going on?”

“Yes. I heard that Fang Huixue also used to be a spoiled fop when he was younger; after inheriting the family business, his stupidity quickly turned the household into a wreck, and only then did he needed to use his daughter’s marriage to maintain his livelihood. However, for whatever reason, he suddenly turned better, his skills in trade got more and more formidable, and he used the money he earned from his business to build bridges, pave roads, and aid the poor, thus making his reputation in Ji’an all the better. In contrast, hardly anyone at all speaks of his earlier affairs. After hearing about his daughter, I specially asked around about this… what’s wrong, Brother Tang?”

His brows knit tight, there was no iota of a smile on Tang Fan’s face, which caused his entire person to look slightly frosty. He didn’t answer him, instead asking, “You said he got better all of a sudden. When was this?”

“I’m not too sure, they just said it had been several years.”

“From a few years ago until now, he’s changed massively?”

“He should have, else there would have been no way he could have managed the declining Fang family into its current state, right? I heard that went they were at their worst, all of the servants and workers were dismissed, totally incomparable to how they are now… Brother Tang, are you suspicious of something? Do you think that the Fang family was funded by the White Lotus Society to reach the scope it has today?”

Tang Fan’s expression was overcast. “I’m afraid it’s not that they received funds.”

Lu Lingxi was slightly confused. “Huh? Then why—“

“Has the Fang home still been motionless these days?” Tang Fan interrupted.

“Yes, everyone says that Fang Huixue is laying in bed. Even Magistrate Fan visited himself and didn’t get to meet him. It seems his illness is too heavy. It’s good that you didn’t go; if he’s as arrogant as Xu Bin, you might have lost awful face then… Brother Tang?”

Tang Fan had stood up with a bang, startling Lu Lingxi with the immensity of the act, causing his voice to stop.

The other removed his identification token and passed it over. “Go to the one that peddles candy not far in front the Fang home at once. Say it’s on my order, and have him gather staff to raid the inside of the home. Even if they have to dig three-chi deep, they need to find Fang Huixue for me!”

The candy peddler in front of the home?

Appearing to make out his surprise, Tang Fan gave some more words of explanation despite feeling that time was tight. “They are Brocade Guards in disguise, there to secretly watch under my orders. You will know when you see them!”

Seeing that the other was about to leave, Lu Lingxi hurriedly called out to him, “Wait, Brother Tang! What if we can’t find him? If this is like the Xu family, your situation will be on thin ice!”

Tang Fan didn’t look back. “Don’t mind that. Even if you can’t find him, not one member of the Fang family can be set free! Make sure to get information out of them!”

With such explained to Lu Lingxi, he brought Xi Ming with him straight to the county bureau. The bailiffs recognized him, quite surprised to see that he had come himself without sitting in a sedan chair.

He didn’t even wait for them to bow, asking, “Where is your Magistrate?”

“Answering you, Sir, in the bureau!”

That answer settled Tang Fan some, and he passed them to go straight into the bureau. After questioning some people along his path, he learned that Ji Min was drinking tea in the rear hall’s rain-watching pavilion, and brought Xi Ming along with him.

This bureau hadn’t been large to begin with, but some Mister Magistrate before Ji Min had renovated the bureau’s rear courtyard, simply creating a space for the construction of a garden and planting flowers so that it could be used for rest, enjoying the scenery, and entertaining guests. He hadn’t been able to use it for a few years, instead giving latecomers the advantage. Tang Fan had been here once, too. It was a bit on the small side, yet had a special sort of feeling that Jiangnan gardens had: lush trees, babbling brooks, and good soundproofing. When speaking here, there was no worry about being overheard.

The rain-watching pavilion had been build atop an artificial mountain in the garden’s center. Beneath the mountain was a small stream that converged into a lotus pond; this was the period when fields of lotus leaves blossomed with flower buds, making a very pretty sight when viewed from above.

However, at this moment, Tang Fan wasn’t of the mind to appreciate it at all. Only when he saw that familiar rearview figure did he slow his pace. “Brother Ziming,” he uttered.

The other turned his head, showing a look of surprised, after which he smiled. “This humble official barely managed to steal some leisure time here; I didn’t expect to be caught red-handed by you, Sir.”

Tang Fan smiled back, told Xi Ming to wait at the foot of the mountain, then skipped steps climbing up, reaching the pavilion in no time. “It’s good that you’re here,” he said; an inadvertent glance over the stone table let him see that there was tea pot, yet two cups.

“You rushed to come here. Was was so important to come find this humble official for?”

When interacting in private, even though he called him ‘Sir’ and himself ‘this humble official’, Ji Min’s tone was that of joking with an old friend, appearing familiar and casual.

“I have something to ask you,” Tang Fan said with a slight smile. “Why don’t we go out and chat?”

Ji Min shook his head. His suddenly gained a half-smiling, half-mocking expression. “Just talk here. It’s no good outside.”

It was perfectly fine. How was it no good?”

Goodness aside, Tang Fan was the superior, and Ji Min, the inferior. He shouldn’t be talking to him like this.

In an instant, those words caused a trace of alert to spring up in Tang Fan’s mind. He unconsciously drew a few steps away.

However, the next second, there came the sound of blades crossing from the mountain below!”

“Sir, something’s wrong here! Leave, now!” Xi Ming called out.

There was no need for him to say; Tang Fan already knew something was wrong. The stratagem of those several opponents was exactly the same as those that had tried to assassinate him that night — they were likely one and the same. Xi Ming and his group hadn’t been able to overcome them, to say nothing of the fact that he was alone now. Four against one gradually landed him downwind, in an unpromising situation.

He looked at Ji Min, saying gravely, “Ziming, what is the meaning of this?”

The other’s expression didn’t change. “You can see it for yourself.”

“Let him go. I’ll do as you say.”

Ji Min shook his head. “Even if I don’t, you will.”

Right then, someone unexpectedly said from behind Tang Fan, “Why are you talking to him?! Just kill him and be done with it!”

In the voice’s wake, a burst of wind came at the back of his head.

Tang Fan’s expression changed, but when he turned to dodge, it was already too late — all he felt was a sharp pain on the back of his head, and his body collapse limply to the ground, beyond his control.

He opened his mouth in a want to speak, yet couldn’t utter a sound. The sound of weapons clashing still entered his ears, getting vaguer and vaguer.

No wonder there had seemed to be so few people the whole time he had walked through the bureau. Those bailiffs must have long been dismissed by Ji Min, so that no one would hear the commotion over here…

At just that extent, his thoughts abruptly cut off, and he completely sunk into darkness.

Were time’s flow able to be reversed, perhaps Tang Fan might have had a bit more caution before coming to find Ji Min. He might have brought Lu Lingxi or more people, or just straight-up surrounded the bureau, making it hard for Ji Min to take flight.

However, Mister Tang was ultimately not a deity. At most, he was more prudent than others, but that was about it; he was no seer, and had never thought that Ji Min would dare to brazenly attack an imperial ambassador in the county bureau.

Based on the phrase he had heard before passing out, Tang Fan had expected that he would have cut his life short, and not that there would come a time that he would wake up again.

He subconsciously shifted a bit, discovering that his eyes were apparently covered and limbs bound. He was laid on his side in a not very elegant pose, something similar to a handkerchief even stuffed into his mouth. A vibrating sensation was beneath him, and his unclogged ears could hear the rolling of a carriage’s wheels.

To speak precisely, he had been awakened by the noise of an argument.

“Ji Min, don’t think that I don’t know that you’re old pals with this prettyboy, but I advise you not to waste your brainpower. The second-in-command hates this guy to the bone! If you don’t let me kill him now, once he gets to him, his death will be even worse!”

Tang Fan slightly creased his brow. He felt that voice to be a little familiar, immediately after which he recalled that this ought to be the man who said he should be killed.

“It’s precisely because he’s so important to the second-in-command that I’m personally bringing him to him. He’s the one who should decide whether he dies or not, it isn’t your say.” In comparison, Ji Min’s voice was much calmer. “Also, you ought to be calling me Vicar Ji. As the Vice Vicar, if you disobey, I’ll have to tell the second-in-command the truth.”

Another person bah’ed. “Vicar Ji? You can’t even put in the slightest bit of effort! Being a County Magistrate is something he helped you get, too, so put on less airs in front of us brothers, will you! If it weren’t for the Society lacking in talents right now, it wouldn’t have been your place to be any sort of Vicar!”

“Old Wu, shut it!” the man from before shouted at him. “Vicar Ji, the carriage goes quick. So that you don’t get underfoot, please get in!”

There quickly came to be no sound outside, or perhaps the speakers’ voices had reduced, leaving him not able to hear too well.

A short time later, the carriage’s curtain was lifted, and wind blew in from outside, swirling Tang Fan’s hair into a mess. He surmised that his bun must have been set free.

Very soon, though, the curtain seemed to lower again.

“Are you awake?”

That was Ji Min talking. Tang Fan continuing to feign unconsciousness would obviously not work well, so he nodded.

The next instant, the kerchief was pulled out of his mouth.

He let out a long exhale; instead of doing something stupid like wasting energy calling for help or requesting that his blindfold be taken off, he asked, “Where’s Xi Ming?”

“Where do you think?”

Tang Fan went quiet for a short moment, then asked, “Where are we going now?”

“You’re being brought to see Daoist Li. You should be pretty familiar with him.”

Tang Fan smiled bitterly. “Indeed I am. We’re old enemies.”

Ji Min said nothing.

The wheels ran over rocks from time to time, the carriage jolting along with the bumps. Tang Fan, feeling like his internal organs were about to come up from being knocked around, couldn’t help but say, “Brother Ziming, can I trouble you with helping me sit up? If this goes on, I’m afraid my soul will fly nine days away before I can meet your Daoist Li.”

Only after a good long while did a pair of hands help him up.

Sitting was just as bumpy, but with his back against the carriage wall, it was overall much better than laying fully powerless on the ground.

“Thank you.” Tang Fan sighed in relief, nodding slightly in the direction Ji Min might be sitting.

“You still call me Brother Ziming.” Ji Min’s voice was slightly mocking. “I thought you would call me a White Lotus demon.”

Tang Fan laughed. “Instead of squandering time on those useless disputes, I have a lot of questions to ask.”

“Such as?”

“Such as: after you kidnap me, won’t you be unable to keep being the Luling Magistrate?”

Ji Min sneered. “You’re a real worrywart, Sir Tang. Your life is about to be in peril, yet you’re concerned with this humble official’s career path. That isn’t for you to worry about.”

Tang Fan sighed. “Why do you keep using that tone of voice with me? Could our friendship of many years not withstand a Vicar position? What’s so good about the White Lotus Society, anyways? Those outlaws follow Li Zilong, who stupidly thinks to fight with the Court over money, and risk their lives readily. You had great future prospects; why did you join up with them for no reason.”

His eyes were still blocked with a cloth strip, so he couldn’t see Ji Min’s sarcastic expression. “Great future prospects? You think too much of me, Runqing. If it weren’t for the Society, I would still be tilling the land in the countryside, and who knew how many years it would have taken me to fill a vacancy. How could I be mentioned in the same breath as all of you Palace Honorates?”

When they had separated at the capital, Ji Min’s heart had been full of disappointment, but Tang Fan had only just stepped onto his own career path then. Apart from comfort, there was no way he could have given him any help of real substance. Furthermore, the realm had many equal talents, and there were far too many that wanted to get on the golden roll, with too few spots supplied for scholars. Every single year, disappointees like Ji Min were uncountable. Some with gray hairs kept rushing about for scholarly honors, making Ji Min not the worst out there, but whenever one was in the midst of despair, they would always feel the most defeated and miserable in the world.

At this moment, if Tang Fan said something akin to, ‘You’re still a Provincial Honorate, why don’t you just work harder’, that would doubtlessly add oil to the fire, so he said, “If you say that, the ‘kind merchant’ from your hometown that funded your donation into the ranks was actually the Society?”

“Yes,” Ji Min answered, self-mocking. “You know that my family is poor, and them being able to vainly support me for over twenty years is their limit. I didn’t test into being a Palace Honorate and had no money to buy a post, which was my incompetence. I can’t let my family suffer from being related to me, raising a lazy man that eats while contributing nothing, and banks on a hope three years from now. But, if I was made to be like those old Provincial Honorates in the countryside, only able to flaunt myself in my homeland all my life, nameless, I wouldn’t be willing for it, either.”

Truthfully, Ji Min’s ambition was something Tang Fan had sensed when he had just gotten to know him; but what scholar that studied for a decade was not doing it to make their ancestors proud? To make those dreams of saving the world and its people a reality, one must first have honors and an official place, else it would all be only baseless talk.

Being an official was tantamount to being on a higher level. Descendants that grew up in an influential official family, like Lu Lingxi, might not feel too deeply about it, but for someone of Ji Min’s background, getting honors was their only hope.

In his poverty, with no money to bribe his way into a vacancy and no guarantee that he would have been able to become a Palace Honorate in three years, the branch that the Society had extended had become his live-saving branch, yet the same moment he had accepted the other party’s present, he had become tied onto their boat.

“Tang Runqing, I’m actually quite envious. I’m jealous of even you, Brother Yuqiao, and the rest of them, because you all have good backgrounds, good talents, and get what you want with almost no effort spent. When I called you all my brothers, one side of my heart envied you, and another resented you, itching to seize all that you own. You see? Even as a County Magistrate, I still need the Society’s help, while you’re younger than me, yet are an imperial ambassador and Censor already. I can’t accept that! I really can’t accept that!”

Tang Fan leaned slightly, switching arms that leaned on the wall. Due to the carriage’s trembling as well as his arms being tied behind his back, his upper body was numb.

“Ah, Brother Ziming. You clearly aren’t that sort of person,” he said with a sigh. “Why do you keep saying such things to make me misunderstand you? When I just arrived in Ji’an, you actually gave me a warning, but I was too slow to understand. That was why, before this, I still didn’t know that Fang Huixue is Li Zilong.”

“When did I remind you?” Ji Min said sullenly.

Tang Fan smiled. “At the welcoming banquet, when I matched your latter couplet, you later used four of the characters from it for a word puzzle. A squirrel behind the branch is the character Li (李). Was that not to warn me?”

“Since you knew that much, why did you come looking for me?!” Ji Min said angrily.

Tang Fan was a little nonplussed by his sudden-onset rage. The one getting quashed right now was clearly him, right? “I’m not a deity. How could I anticipate the enemy’s foreactions in everything? Even if I knew that you might be referring to something, how could I have known that Fang Huixue was Li Zilong? If you want someone to blame, you can only Daoist Li for being too capable at deceit. After all, he replaced Fang Huixue years ago and has been operating there this whole time — presumably to constantly do business while he rushed all around the country, which was nothing more than a cover making it easy to go out and handle things. Still, having said that, why did Lin Fengyuan have to die? Is it because he found out Fang Huixue’s real identity?”

“No. He simply witnessed the Brocade Guard’s unbridled sweep within Jiangxi’s boundary, and remembered Huang Jinglong’s fate, so he got scared, not wanting to cooperate with the Society anymore. How could the higher-ups tolerate him leaving just because he said he would, though? Right when the imperial exam case occurred, the second-in-command ordered Lin Zhen murdered, framed Shen Kunxiu, and kidnapped Lin Fengyuan’s second son to force him into submission. When others saw the grudge between the Shen and Lin families, all they would believe was that Shen Kunxiu used government means for a private grudge, not associating it with the Society.”

Tang Fan furrowed his brow. “What went on with the deaths of those evaluators after, then?”

“The Fang and X families have had some business dealings for a long time now. Xu Bin is greedy by nature; even though he faintly detected what was involved in back of the Fang’s, but for the sake of making money, he didn’t completely draw a line with them, and also refused to get too draw in. Bluntly speaking, he’s trying to be both work as a whore and establish an arch in the name of his own chastity.”

At that point, Ji Min laughed in mockery. “But how could something so perfect exist under this sky? They could be said to have made their own sins. Xu Bin and Shen Kunxiu weren’t strict in teaching their sons, causing a lot of trouble that narrowly implicated their old men. Shen Kunxiu feared that you would interrogate the ‘good deed’ his son did out of those evaluators, so he sought help from Xu Bin, and Fang Huixue… well, the second-in-command took that opportunity to egg him into killing the five and having it all be done with. He also said that since he was backed by the Wan party, as long as he made a light threat, you wouldn’t dare to act against the Xu family. Xu Bin, the halfwit, had a brain aneurysm and agreed to it.”

Tang Fan realized something. “In that case, Lin Fengyuan’s death was by the Society’s hand?”

He didn’t use ‘you’, but ‘the Society’ to refer to. Ji Min took note of that minor detail, some complicated feelings bubbling up in his heart for a time. A good while after, he said, “Yes. Someone was keeping watch at his side, yet he still wasn’t settled, thinking to hint at you. The second-in-command found him out.”

“So he just ended up dying still,” Tang Fan lamented.

“But his death wasn’t completely useless,” Ji Min said coldly. “Didn’t you find that key clue off of his painting? That makes his death too late. Had he died earlier, there would be no such headache!”

Tang Fan shook his head. How could there ever be such a seamless wall? The truth would always see daylight, it was just a matter of when.

He wanted to say something, only to hear Ji Min say, “I’ve told you all that you wanted to know, which is enough for you to die without regrets. Since you’re an old friend, I fought to have you stay alive a little longer. Whether you can keep doing that depends on our second-in-command’s compassion.”

“Wait! I still have some questions…!” Sensing the other’s approach, Tang Fan leaned his head back automatically, only to find that he had nowhere to run. His mouth was quickly covered by a cloth, the smell on it inhaled through his nose, which made him get a bit groggy.

“Sleep. We’ll be there soon,” he heard Ji Min say coldly.

Tang Fan had not expected in any way that when he regained consciousness yet again, it would be by a basin of ice water being poured onto his head.


The translator says: Achievement unlocked: Get Kidnapped (Again)
I had a suspicion against Ji Min, but I kept it to myself. The Fang Huixue reveal was something I knew from Googling the riddle many chapters ago, too, which I also kept to myself… gotta keep that ~suspense~

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Character Guide and Glossary

3 thoughts on “FYC 134: In Peril

  1. Actually I too had a suspicion about Jiming right from the start gor that he won’t be picked up again in this Arc for no good reason. How could it be possible for a mearly-failure-scholar like him suddenly got so lucky that a from-who-knows-where merchant invested in him to be a Luling Magistrate?? That was way too suspicious from the start and definitely Tang Fan wouldn’t be likely to notice his behind-the-curtain acts due to their old good brotherhoodship. Look like this Arc gonna be the final appearance of White Lotus Society as the story is getting closer to the Ending!!!

    Like

  2. Gosh, the title is so accurate! I’m even a bit worried about Lu Lingxi and Sui Zhou now… Do you think it’s Li Zilong’s turn to fall in love with Tang Fan and keep him alive longer than he should? XD

    I only suspected Ji Min because of mystery novel rules that the least suspicious guy is always guilty… And Fang Huixue’s “oh I’m too sick I can’t see anyone” act was strongly hinting at a hidden identity, but I hadn’t dared to guess the big man himself.

    Thank you so much for translating!

    Like

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