Ji Yunshu was not at all grateful for his apparent magnanimity, since it was something to be expected - he was a prince after all! What's more, it was first come, first serve! “Many thanks for Prince Rong’s understanding. This humble one will retire first.” Ji Yunshu bowed.
“I’m going with you.” Jing Rong got up.
Ji Yunshu remained expressionless. “Your Highness, you are of noble status and your body is precious. The Zhou family is currently handling funeral arrangements which may offend your being.”
“What noble status and precious body?” Jing Rong narrowed his eyes. “Is that something that can be touched? Or perhaps seen?”
Ji Yunshu was unable to stop herself from giving him a blank stare at his sarcastic words, “I was merely concerned…”
Jing Rong interrupted her, “No need to be concerned. I just happened to be free right now. Besides, I’ll make sure to make myself low-key - I will not disturb your work.”
Ji Yunshu could not be bothered to argue with him, so she finally agreed. In the end, he was Prince Rong and she was only an insignificant painter who would have to follow his commands. Alongside the county magistrate and his group of yamen runners, they departed for Zhou Mansion in a grandiose fashion.
On their way to Zhou Mansion, Ji Yunshu walked at the front while Jing Rong followed behind in the rear. He observed the slender and nimble figure, dressed in a black gown, walking as if she was being led by the breeze. She was refined and elegant, coupled with an unusual pair of rather dull eyes that revealed much cleverness. In fact, nothing on the surface could have hinted that this person was so capable of handling those corpses! As Jing Rong relaxed, the corner of his mouth slowly pursed into a deep appraising smile as he thought to himself - it was indeed worth pondering over that person’s value.
Not long after, they arrived in front of Zhou Mansion’s entrance. Bitter and tragic cries resounded through the night as the coffin containing the young miss of the Zhou family was transported to the entrance. The county magistrate ordered people to stop the coffin carriers. Striding quickly forward, he walked to Lord Zhou and spoke, “Lord Zhou, the burial will have to be postponed.”
Lord Zhou’s expression sank and he scowled, “What do you mean by that, Lord Liu?”
He had yet to finish his sentence when Madame Zhou dashed out and fiercely slapped Liu Qingping’s face before wailing, “My daughter died so tragically, but you went as far as ordering people to block the way and not allow my daughter to be buried. What is your problem?! My poor daughter, your mother has failed you! Aaah!”
“Madame Zhou, it isn’t like that…”
“Then hurry up and get out of the way. My daughter has endured enough suffering during her life. Even in death, she is still receiving this kind of insult.” Madame Zhou cried to the heavens and lamented to the earth, but thankfully, she didn’t faint this time.
In all manners of truth, Lord Zhou was at his wit’s end as he restrained his sobbing wife, but she did have a point!
The county magistrate could do no more than stand there dumbly, his eyes staring helplessly at Madame Zhou. By now, he had already completely forgotten the real purpose of his visit.
Ji Yunshu shook her head as she watched this debacle unfold. She stepped forward and stretched out her hand to support Madam Zhou’s arm, “Miss Zhou was truly born beneath a bad star. At such a tender age, she has been bereft of her life. During her life, she had much fondness for beauty, but after death, she was changed beyond recognition. Who knows how much hatred and grievances there existed to actually harm her in such a way.”
The words spoken were neither heavy nor light, but it strongly startled Madame Zhou. She turned and grabbed onto Ji Yunshu’s wrist, staring at Ji Yunshu with eyes filled with shock. “What did you say? What hatred? What grievances? What do you mean by ‘harm her’? Was my daughter killed by someone?”
“This humble one can naturally clear the doubts within Madame’s heart. It’s better to instruct the servants to transport the coffin back inside. Staying at the entrance like this is somewhat inappropriate.”
Madame Zhou was stunned for a moment, but then fiercely nodded. She turned to her servants, ordering them to bring the coffin back inside. Standing on the side, Lord Zhou asked Liu Qingping, “What’s going on?”
“I also don’t have a clear understanding, but in short, mysteries abound within.”‘
Mysteries? Lord Zhou heaved a sigh. He flourished his sleeves and followed behind the coffin. The county magistrate was about to enter as well when Ji Yunshu pulled him aside. She whispered, “Milord should wait for the people carrying the coffin to come out before blocking their road. Stopping them at the entrance is bad luck.”
“R-r-right! It’s inappropriate and improper.” As it was, Liu Qingping was currently regretting his actions to death. It was said that stopping coffin carriers at the entrance would invite endless disasters the following year! He was being a true muddle-head. Ji Yunshu stayed silent as she stepped inside the mansion, not expecting to be delayed again.
Behind her, Jing Rong was in high spirits as he murmured, “It’s certainly interesting.”
The coffin was once again carried into the main room situated in the rear courtyard. Everyone encircled the room and observed Ji Yunshu with inquisitive eyes as she ordered, “Unseal the coffin.”
Several servants looked at each other, then in unison, they glanced at Lord Zhou. Lord Zhou swallowed his saliva before asking, “Teacher Ji, let’s suppose that my daughter was harmed by someone. Why didn’t you mention it yesterday?”
“I was a bit tired yesterday, so I didn’t think about investigating it.”
How willful! Lord Zhou was actually left speechless. He hastily nodded to the several servants. The coffin lid creaked as the servants raised it. A strong stench of rotting corpse, mixed with the odour of rotten wood, wafted out from the coffin, making people nauseous.
While everyone was busy pinching their noses and frowning, Ji Yunshu took out some Chinese honey locust powder from her waist and scattered it around the coffin unhurriedly. Her line of sight had zeroed in on the inside of the coffin. Miss Zhou’s decaying corpse had now become rather sinister looking. The red flesh on her rotten face had now changed into a pale purple. The eyeball that was barely hanging in her socket yesterday had dropped into her hair, strands sticking to it. It must have been due to the humid weather that her face had swelled to the point it seemed to be on the verge of exploding. The bones and flesh were indistinguishable, while visible veins densely covered her skin.
In one swift move, Ji Yunshu’s hand reached inside the coffin, grabbing Miss Zhou’s clothes and tore them, exposing her fair shoulder. The decisive action frightened everyone. The male servants subconsciously looked away, not daring to raise their heads.
“What are you doing?” Lord Zhou’s face turned green.
Ji Yunshu pinched Miss Zhou’s shoulder before nodding in satisfaction, “How fortunate…”
Fortunate? The person is dead. How can it be fortunate?!