The light from the lamp flickered faintly.
Upon hearing Ji Yunshu’s question, Suyun’s dark pupils stared at Ji Yunshu with a hint of trepidation.
“Teacher Ji, why… why are you asking about that?” Suyun asked.
“What’s important right now is that you answer my question. Think about what you are going to say very carefully,” said Ji Yunshu. Her face, lit by the lantern, looked forbiddingly stern.
What Suyun had inside her mind was not just the key to solving the murder, but also a path to salvation for herself and Lin Duan. Otherwise, they were doomed. Suyun’s hands, which rested on her knees, clasped a corner of her own clothing tightly as she lowered her head and started to recall that night, “That night, I snuck back into the mansion, and poisoned the young Miss’ soup while it was still in the kitchen. After seeing the soup make it all the way into her room, I knew that it would only be a matter of time before she drank it and went to bed. Even Qiaoxin wouldn’t enter the room to disturb her sleep. But I was scared and worried sick.”
The tips of her fingers paled as she grasped the cloth held between her hands ever so tightly, but she continued narrating the events of the night, “So I hid and didn’t dare to do anything until everyone had fallen asleep. Then, I snuck into the young Miss’ room. I remember that the room was dark when I pushed open the door... Yes, I’m sure of it. The young Miss was still on the ground, and the entire bowl of soup was spilled onto the ground beside her… That’s all I saw.”
Under the glow of the oil lamp, a tint of redness could be seen climbing back onto Suyun’s bloodless face as she put more and more effort into remembering what happened.
Ji Yunshu seemed quite tense, “Are you sure that the room was dark when you entered?”
“Yes, absolutely.” Suyun shook her head with a conviction that matched her strong desire to live.
“Alright. Then, think carefully. Did you see any bruises or any traces of injury on the young Miss?”
Suyun thought about it and shook her head.
“Really? No marks? Are you sure?” asked Ji Yunshu once again.
“I’m fairly sure. If she was injured anywhere, I would have noticed when I moved her body onto the bed,” replied Suyun.
At this point, Ji Yunshu had a solid hypothesis about what had occurred, but she did not dare to go to the yamen without being certain. Her head began aching as she thought about what to do. The feeling of Suyun’s hands grabbing her own interrupted Ji Yunshu’s train of thought.
Ji Yunshu looked at Suyun: she stood up from where she knelt and was trembling with excitement. “Teacher Ji, I told you everything I know. You said that you can save me and save Lin Duan too. Is that true?” The flame of hope was set alight and now burned fiercely within Suyun’s eyes. Ji Yunshu’s arm, on the other hand, burned in a different way; her arm, which was getting gripped tightly, really hurt!
Ji Yunshu frowned from the pain and answered, “Suyun, if I’m here talking to you, then of course I have a good guess about who the real culprit might be. But this case is a little complicated, and right now, all the clues point to you as being the murderer. Since you confessed, I’ll really need to find more evidence before I can prove that the real culprit is someone else.”
“The real culprit? Did the young miss not die by poisoning?” asked Suyun.
“I’m not so sure of it anymore,” answered Ji Yunshu.
Ji Yunshu’s answer stirred Suyun’s emotionsand she began sobbing. She pressed her lips firmly together in an attempt to silence her cries, but from time to time a nearly inaudible sob would escape her mouth.
Ji Yunshu pondered a little more, and asked again, “That night, what kind of medicine would your Miss drink?”
“The young Miss often suffered from headaches. The medicine she drinks is a sedative,” answered Suyun.
“What kind of ingredients were used?”
“Seeds of sour dates, seeds of oriental arborvitae, polygala roots and cortex albiziae. Oh yes, there’s also Roxburg rose flower. The young miss disliked bitterness, so she would always tell us to add a few of those into her medicine,” said Suyun with conviction.
Roxburg rose flower!
Ji Yunshu did remember its characteristic scent from that thin layer of wax, there was no mistake! Ji Yunshu felt her heartbeat quicken as she started to ponder Suyun’s testimony. Suyun’s hope for salvation, which had been ignited with much difficulty, needed to not take a fatal blow right now. She would not be the one to let Suyun’s hope turn into cold ashes once again.
Seeing that Ji Yunshu remained silent, Suyun asked with bloodshot eyes and a voice filled with anxiety, “Teacher, no matter how it turns out in the end, can you promise me that you’ll help Lin Duan? It’s all my fault. He doesn’t deserve to die. He just wanted to help me; this has nothing to do with him. I’ll take all the blame.” Tears rolled down her cheeks as she said these words.
What Ji Yunshu feared the most in her life was a woman crying. She wanted to reach for her handkerchief and wipe Suyun’s tears away. But she was a 'man' right now, and it would be inappropriate. She resisted the urge, instead using a conciliatory tone to say, “You truly care for him, as he does for you. The heavens are always kind to people who are so devoted to one another. You lost a child, but another one will be bestowed upon you. So, don’t lose hope. I’ll make sure we see the end of this case.”
The inspiration for those cliched lines probably came from some of the romance novels she had read in the past. But for Suyun, this was undoubtedly a cure to her woes.
Suyun’s hollow look slowly dissipated, and she nodded energetically.
Ji Yunshu walked out of the prison with an inscrutable facial expression, making it difficult to guess what she felt at the moment. The yamen runner came to her with her sandalwood box clutched in his hands. “Teacher Ji, are you leaving?”
What else can I do, talk about my life with you? Ji Yunshu threw the runner a cold look, took back her wooden box, and wiped it to clean the layer of dust that settled on it. “What’s your monthly salary?”, Ji Yunshu was curious.
“What?” The runner was surprised by the question. He scratched his head, shrugged his shoulders, and concealed his answer in a laugh of embarrassment. “Two taels of silver,” said the guard as he made a hand gesture.
Ji Yunshu nodded, took out three taels of silver, and shoved it into the hands of the runner. The heaviness from three taels of silver caused the runner to crack a smile, revealing his yellow teeth. He did not expect to receive compensation, even less, three whole taels.
What Ji Yunshu said next doused his excitement like a bucket of cold water, “Go buy some warm clothes and cold medicine for the woman in there, and then buy some good food for a man called Li Duan. Be sure to deliver it.”
Crack. So this was what heartbreak sounded like.
The taels were not meant for him after all! The heartbreak translated into a frown on the runner’s face. He bowed and complained, “Teacher, these people are prisoners. I can’t do that; it would be against the rules.”
“Let me ask you this. Is it true that as long as the verdict notice from the ministry of punishments hasn’t been announced, the rules stipulate that even a prisoner, who is sentenced to death, needs to stay alive and well?”
“For this case, Lord Liu has already filed a report to the ministry, but the notice hasn’t been issued yet. If a prisoner dies here, will you bear the consequences?”
To call him a yamen runner was a compliment. In practice, he was but a common jailor. There was no way he could, under any circumstances, shoulder the responsibility for such a big mistake, “But, Teacher Ji, I’m following the protocol…”
What an idiot. Is he too dense as to not understand my request? Ji Yunshu glanced at him and said, “The rules tell you that you need to keep an eye on the prisoners. No one can stop you from buying clothes and medicine for them. Irritate me any further, and I won’t give you the extra tael.”
What? He would be able to receive a tael out of three? The runner smiled more broadly than ever before. He licked his lips and answered, “Yes, yes, Teacher. I’ll do as you say, and I promise that you’ll be satisfied!” He quickly snapped his fingers as if to deliver on his promise right away.
Money really does make the world go round.
Ji Yunshu, who did not want to pursue the conversation any further, left with her sandalwood box safely between her arms.