Happy birthday to my amazing friend, StackedSnowflake. I probably would’ve lost my mind translating this novel without her help!
When Fan Jin Chuan received the news, he raced out in a flurry.
Before reaching the gate, he saw a group of people file in with Prince Wei out front. After a hasty salute, he surveyed the people successively approaching, but Fang Feng Sheng was not among them.
Seeing Uncle Yu walk past the threshold, he hastened forward and inquired, “Where is Worthy Brother Fang?”
Caught unawares by his abrupt query, Uncle Yu signaled his eyes ahead as he trod on. Fan Jin Chuan followed suit with a heart full of misgivings. He began mulling over how, if Worthy Brother Fang had been ahead, why didn’t he see him just then?
He chose not to ruminate over it and brisked along.
He grew even more befuddled the deeper he went inside, because Prince Wei actually paced towards the courtyard where Fang Feng Sheng resided. Fan Jin Chuan had no family. He and Fang Feng Sheng occupied the entire rear court, and Feng Sheng had chosen a separate small courtyard.
“Your Highness, Prince Wei, you’ve gone the wrong way……”
De Wang held him back. “Lord Fan, how could His Highness go the wrong way? Say nothing more.”
It wasn’t until he trailed all the way to Fang Feng Sheng’s room that Fan Jin Chuan’s expression churned.
He watched with utter bewilderment as Zong Yue installed the thing in his embrace on the couch. The thing bundled in the cloak stirred a few times, and a person emerged out.
Feng Sheng couldn’t refrain her face from blushing to the extreme. Once she felt she had landed on something, she no longer bothered about scruples and prioritized untangling the cloak for air. After finally getting comfortable, once she looked up, Zhi Chun’s, Zhi Qiu’s, and Fan Jin Chuan’s astonished eyes confronted her.
“Worthy Brother Fang, you and His Highness, Prince Wei……”
Feng Sheng wanted to bury the whole incident, but to her chagrin, the flush on her face only deepened.
“What is my lord so surprised for?” After two deliberate coughs, she cupped her hands towards Zong Yue. “Thank you, Your Highness, for your help. Otherwise, I really couldn’t walk by myself.”
Zhi Qiu hastily pounced towards Feng Sheng, proving herself to be a devoted little maidservant. “Young Master, are you injured? Where are you hurt?”
Zhi Chun also threw herself on her master to team up fussing over her.
“I’m fine. I’m just sick and sprained my ankle……”
“Worthy Brother is injured? I’m calling a doctor.”
Zong Yue watched her assume a feigned manner with cool detachment and sat by her side.
The two girls’ assiduous and fervent attention couldn’t restrain Feng Sheng’s face from stiffening.
This Zong Yue was truly too annoying. Time and again, she would stumble upon him while in straitened circumstances. In the eyes of outsiders, she was the crafty and resourceful Advisor Fang. However, this man, he alone not only knew that she was a woman, but also always shot her a derisive look of, ‘you keep pretending, this prince will quietly watch you act.’
The crux was that she couldn’t defy nor refute.
“Young Master, what’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing, just a little dizzy. Zhi Qiu, you go and bring some hot water. I want to wipe myself.” She cast Zong Yue a constrained smile and requested, “Can Your Highness withdraw for a moment?”
Zong Yue’s gaze cruised down her face. He snorted coldly and strode away.
After waiting for Feng Sheng to wipe herself and switch into clean clothes, Fan Jin Chuan brought the doctor with him.
Taking her pulse, the doctor stroked his beard and spewed words that made people’s heads hurt. The general idea was that, Fang Feng Sheng was already frail, but because she had disregarded her health, her illness struck like a landslide. If she wanted to completely recover, she would need to recuperate in peace for a period of time.
Although Feng Sheng dismissed it as a simple case of wind chill and expressed that caution need not be excessive, Zhi Qiu and Fan Jin Chuan demanded that she nest in bed and convalesce.
Anyway, she was basically debilitated, so convalescing was par for the course. As for whether or not she should further recuperate in peace after her health had slightly improved, she had already ceased listening at that point.
Once the doctor left, Fan Jin Chuan looked at Feng Sheng with a tinge of guilt and said, “Worthy Brother, you’ve suffered.”
A yamen runner had recounted a comprehensive account of the incident. If it wasn’t for Prince Wei’s unforeseen arrival, everyone might have lost their lives.
This was Feng Sheng’s first time witnessing such a remorseful Fan Jin Chuan, and it made her a bit uncomfortable. “My lord, I’m fine. Pay no heed to their overstated story.”
“How can you possibly be fine? Don’t worry, I won’t let go of those criminals who want to harm you. I will immediately order someone to investigate who actually had the impertinence to ambush the local government while out on a task.”
Feng Sheng responded with an ‘oh’ as Zhi Qiu handed her the medicine. She took the bowl and downed it.
After consuming medicine, she noticed Fan Jin Chuan rooted on his spot without any sign of leaving and gave him a curious look.
Fan Jin Chuan shot her a complicated glance and shook his head as he exited.
“What’s wrong with his lordship?” Feng Sheng asked.
“This servant doesn’t know. Well, Young Master, don’t care about these things. What you need to do now is to get well and sleep. When you wake up, you will feel much better,” Zhi Chun said.
Together, she and Zhi Qiu lowered Feng Sheng’s pillow and covered her with a quilt. Feng Sheng was already exhausted, so she soon fell asleep.
For the next few days, Feng Sheng camped in her room to nurse her health.
It was said that Fan Jin Chuan had personally interrogated the few people Zong Yue had brought back, but his efforts were futile. These people were very close-lipped, always replying ‘don’t know’ to everything asked.
Things were at an impasse. It had developed to this step, so how could Fan Jin Chuan not decipher who the perpetrator behind the incident was? Only those who had swallowed huge losses during the land rectification loathed Fang Feng Sheng so much that they were itching to kill her. Of course, it was also plausible for the other party to think that, if they could kill Fang Feng Sheng, maybe the whole land rectification ordeal would end without a hitch.
After all, to rectify land wasn’t enough. It had to be implemented.1
All in all, it was just those people.
Unfortunately, without evidence, they would remain unshackled from affliction.
It was unknown what else transpired during this period, but Zong Yue ordered his men to take the captives away without warning.
The next day, the Military Inspectorate and the Taizhou Salt Distribution Division joined forces to arrest a rich household surnamed Mao from the Fu’an Yard under the charge of conspiring to murder an imperial relative. Apart from the Mao family, several other salt-boilers were also embroiled.
The whole of Taizhou was shaken by the news.
Only then did they realize that these people actually had the audacity to assail the county yamen’s functionary consigned to rectify land. Never did they imagine that His Highness, Prince Wei, would also be on board.
Plotting the murder of an imperial relative was destined to end in seizure of property and beheading.
Gou Qing was the one who delivered the news to Feng Sheng.
He stopped by under the guise of visiting a fellow official, but Feng Sheng was aware of his true motives.
When Gou Qing arrived, Feng Sheng was playing Go with Zhi Qiu in her room.
There was obviously a charcoal brazier blazing in the room, yet she was encased in a thick cotton coat with a rat-skin muffler hugging her neck. Nevertheless, she was in good spirits; her eyes were bright and her complexion was florid.
“Inspector Gou is too polite.”
Zhi Qiu received Gou Qing’s present and served tea, then retreated outside with Zhi Chun.
Gou Qing sat in Zhi Qiu’s place, picked up the Go pieces and set one down.
Feng Sheng accompanied him to play Go. The two parried back and forth with superficial tranquility. In reality, the Go surface had a surfeit of murderous intent.
While Gou Qing was growing increasingly absorbed in the match, Feng Sheng was taking intermittent sips of her tea in undisguised leisure. After a dozen more moves, Gou Qing tossed the Go stone in his hand into the case, smiling. “Advisor Fang is excellent at Go. I never would have expected such a clandestine move.”
Feng Sheng nonchalantly smiled and replied, “Only because Inspector Gou allowed me.”
Gou Qing pointed to a black piece on the Go board. “Advisor Fang buried this move early. Once this piece was set, regardless of how many variations and ideas I had, one careless move had resulted in complete loss.”
“This move was purely an accident. A fluke, just a fluke.”
Gou Qing eyed her with interest and smirked. “Whether it was a fluke or an accident, it was still a good match. It’s rare meeting such a Go opponent. Anyway, Advisor Fang is burdened with illness. I hope you recover soon so we can resume our match.”
“That’s for sure.”
“Then, I won’t stay long. I still have official business. No need to send me out.”
Despite this, Feng Sheng still escorted him to the door.
Feng Sheng stood at the door and watched the other party’s back disappear before she returned to her room and sat on a chair.
Just now, her conversation with Gou Qing seemed like a banter about Go, but in fact, it was pregnant with meaning.
She used her finger to touch the black piece Gou Qing had pointed out. Prince Wei’s appearance was an accident. She absolutely had not anticipated such a move. Based on her original plan, should something happen on the way back, she would use the yamen runners as bait, cheat the intruders under cover of a diversion, and choose another way to elude.
When news would break out, she would have been back at the county yamen to catch the private salt dealers off-guard by striking them for the crime of murdering local officials. She had made arrangements in advance so that none of them could escape.
In fact, it didn’t matter whether or not they caught actual culprit. It was precisely just to warn the monkey by killing the chicken; not only aiming at rich households and rich salt-boilers, but also at Gou Qing.
Unfortunately, when things came to a head, she realized that she wasn’t hard-hearted enough to sit by and watch others perish for her.
Then, things had gone wrong. Fortunately, Zong Yue’s sudden intervention saved her life. Afterwards, Zong Yue’s actions restored her original plan to an extent even more satisfactory than her initial calculations.
Gou Qing also seemed to have misunderstood that there was Prince Wei standing behind her, so she once again dared propose the matter of cooperating with him. Feng Sheng also had no intention to resolve the misunderstanding.
“Young Master winning this match was truly a fluke. One absolutely mustn’t let emotions hold sway in the future,” said Uncle Yu, who appeared in the room at some point. Apparently, he had found out that Gou Qing dropped by before coming over.
Feng Sheng pursed up the corners of her mouth, declined to comment, and stood up.
“I’m going to check on his lordship.”
Fan Jin Chuan hadn’t appeared for a few days, which diverged from his usual temperament. Who would have thought that, just as she stepped out, Feng Sheng would run into Zong Yue, who was walking her way?
Helpless, she could only turn back again.
Once inside, Zong Yue’s gaze fell on the Go board and the two teacups that had yet to be removed.
After another glance at Feng Sheng, he sat behind the Go table.
Feng Sheng had a bit of a headache. She hurriedly signaled at Zhi Qiu with her eyes to remove the teacups and the Go board. Upon withdrawing the teacups, Zong Yue said nothing, but when it came to the Go board, he reached out his hand to block it.
Seeing this, Feng Sheng could only hold a smile and say, “Would Your Highness like to have a match?”
Zong Yue remained unspeaking, but his eyes were considered acquiescent.
He sat as if he were holding a long sword on horseback,2 unmoving. Feng Sheng could only deposit all the stones on the Go board into the case, attending to her duty in fortitude before politely lifting her hand and inviting, “Your Highness first?”
Zong Yue glanced at her, picked up a black piece, and slammed it down the middle of the Go board.
Stone on board, right at the center.3 This was defiance.
1 In case you find this confusing, Feng Sheng and her party hadn’t physically confiscated any land as of yet. They just measured the land to determine which ones to confiscate and sell at market price. Once they sorted out the necessary paperwork, the whole matter will be concluded, and the land rectification fully implemented.
2 大马金刀: literally means “as if holding a long machete and riding on a horse.” It’s used to describe a character’s raw, exuberant and heroic manner.
3 落子天元: 落子 (luò zǐ) playing stone on board, usually denotes how the stone is placed on the board; 天元 (tiān yuán) tengen, lit. “origin of heaven”. The Chinese Go terms are all listed here if you’re interested. The general rule is to take the corner first and then remove the sides… If you take center in the first step, it means that you have a high level of Go and you have the meaning of contempt for the opponent, which means disrespect to the opponent.