As he approached, the housekeeper did not raise his eyes even once to look at Ji Yunshu. “What use would you have for this old servant?” he asked. His voice betrayed his deep loneliness.
A gentle smile hung on Ji Yunshu’s lips as she handed the brocade box over to the housekeeper, “Old mister, I came to bring this to you. If you grind it, add brown sugar and some spirits, and then apply the mixture onto the scar on your face, it’ll certainly help,”
The housekeeper was so taken aback by this sudden display of care, he almost seemed terrified; his body trembled as he raised his eyes to meet the kindhearted visage of Ji Yunshu. His first reaction was to decline her offer, “Please, Teacher. This old servant has done nothing to deserve the bestowal of such a valuable medicine.”
“Please accept it, old mister. The value of a medicine depends entirely on the patient. If it’s useful for the patient, then it’s precious indeed, but for those who don’t require it, it has very little value. I believe that it’s best used on you, and that’s why I hurried to bring it to you, despite the snow. I insist that you accept my gift,” said Ji Yunshu.
Ji Yunshu gave him no chance to further argue and pushed the box into the old housekeeper's chest, “Please, I insist.”
It was true, that if the medicine were to be properly preserved until the modern age, it would be worth millions. But, to each what is needed. Ji Yunshu liked money, but there were lines that she would never cross. If she could not return to her own time, her only fate was to become a pile of bones.
In the end, the housekeeper held onto the box and said, “Your old servant is extremely grateful for your kindness, teacher.” As he spoke, he bent down to salute her.
Ji Yunshu, whose young age made it inappropriate for her to receive such a display of thankfulness, hurried to stop him before he could fully prostrate himself by supporting his elbows, “Please, old mister, there’s no need for such formality. I wouldn’t dare to receive a bow from you,”
“Teacher, you are a kind man, how can this old servant ever repay you?”
“Please make good use of this medicine to mend the wound you have on your face, that’ll be enough.”
“Again, you have my deepest thanks,” said the old housekeeper.
Ji Yunshu smiled back and was about to reply when she suddenly felt something sticky on her fingers. It seemed as though something got stuck to her hand as she reached for the elbows of the housekeeper. She glanced at his sleeves discreetly while maintaining her smile and saw a dark spot: the fabric was burnt. Whatever was on the housekeeper’s sleeves had become stuck to Ji Yunshu’s thumb when it hadrubbed against the fabric.
Ji Yunshu stopped looking at the old housekeeper’s arm and moved her hands away from his elbows, as if nothing happened. She then asked in a quiet voice, “Old mister, I left my sandalwood box here during my last visit. Did you happen to find it?”
“Yes, of course, I’ll bring it to you right away.”
Ji Yunshu nodded. The moment the old housekeeper turned away, the smile on Ji Yunshu’s face vanished without a trace. Instead, it was replaced by a grave look. She raised her hand and carefully inspected her thumb: there was a thin piece of wax adhered to it. She sniffed it and knew instantly. This unique scent could only come from a mixture of Roxburg rose flower and lotus flowers.
This is out of place. She remembered the burn on the housekeeper's sleeves. The wax must have gotten there as the fabric touched the flame of a candle. I remember smelling this somewhere, but where?
Ji Yunshu seemed to be on the verge of grasping something, but it was staying just out of sight.
“Teacher, here’s your box, I’ve put everything I found in there,”
The sight of her sandalwood box, carefully presented to her by the housekeeper, interrupted Ji Yunshu’s thoughts. She looked at the old housekeeper, at the scar which ran across his visage, and something clicked in her head. “I shall bid you farewell then,” said Ji Yunshu.
“Allow this old seravnt to escort you,” proposed the housekeeper.
“No need, the roads are slippery now, it’s best for old mister not to see me out,” Ji Yunshu smiled at him. However, she did not head home; instead, she went directly to the prison. According to procedure, she ought to first ask for the permission of the magistrate before she could visit anyone who was incarcerated. However, since the magistrate held her in high esteem, he had ordered that she held the same authority as himself to his subordinates.
As a result, as soon as she showed up at the entrance of the prison, a yamen runner opened the gate without any questions, and greeted her with a large smile meant to flatter her. Displeasing her in any way would surely spell disaster for him.
“Teacher Ji, what a pleasant surprise to see you here today! Oh, please mind the steps, it’s dark around here.” The words “Would you like to hold onto my arms” almost slipped out of runner’s mouth.
What a waste for him to not become a eunuch.
“Where are the two prisoners from yesterday? The two from the Zhou Mansion,” asked Ji Yunshu.
“They are inside, Teacher.”
“Bring me to the woman,” ordered Ji Yunshu.
“Very well, please follow me,” said the runner. Ji Yunshu followed him as the latter led her through the dark corridors linking the many cells found within the prison. An uncomfortable humidity exacerbated the gloominess, and it was quite easy to understand why prisoners who had been incarcerated for a long time would suffer from atrocious joint pain. This would be called rheumatism in the modern age.
The runner stopped at the leftmost cell of the corridor and said, “Teacher, this is the one.”
Under the dim light from the corridor that filtered into the cell, Ji Yunshu was barely able to discern its occupant. Suyun was curled up in a corner, trembling as she hugged her arms close to her for some desperately sought comfort. A bone-chilling wind, incessantly circulated throughout the cells. Without the protection of warm clothing, it was perfectly conceivable for a prisoner to freeze to death before he or she could ever see justice delivered.
“Open the door,” said Ji Yunshu.
“There’s a prisoner inside…” answered the runner.
“Do I need you to remind me of that?” asked Ji Yunshu.
The runner smiled sheepishly and opened the lock which held the chains wrapped around the door.
Ji Yunshu took an oil-lamp from the wall off and stuffed her sandalwood box into the hands of the runner. “Take good care of this and wait for me outside.”
She approached Suyun and knelt right beside her. As the lantern’s light shone brighter and brighter on Suyun, Ji Yunshu was finally able to see her ghastly face clearly. It was a face whose pallor would have been unfathomable the day before.
“Suyun,” said Ji Yunshu.
There was long silence before an answer came. With trembling limbs, Suyun raised her head and looked at Ji Yunshu. Her eyes, which were deeply sunken into the orbital sockets, were filled with bitterness and seemed devoid of emotion, as if she possessed some kind of lucidity about the imminent death which awaited her.
“Suyun, do you want to get out of here?” Ji Yunshu’s voice resonated in the tiny cell, and seemed to make the air even harder to breathe than it already was.
Suyun opened her mouth, but no sound came out of it due to the feebleness of her body. She struggled to barely croak out her response, “What did you say?”
“I said, do you want to save yourself? Do you want to save Lin Duan’s life?” Ji Yunshu repeated her question.
Suyun laughed quietly, “I killed someone, so I’ll have to pay with my own life. There’s no getting out of this…”
“Oh, there is.”
“What do you mean?”
Ji Yunshu brought the oil-lamp closer to Suyun in the hopes of warming her a little using the swaying light it emitted. “Suyun, listen to me carefully, and think before answering my question. What I’m about to ask you is very important,” said Ji Yunshu very seriously.
Suyun took a little while, but nodded.
“Tell me, on that night, when you entered the young Miss’ bedroom, what did you see? Was the room dark?” asked Ji Yunshu.
Grenn's Rants Corner