Chapter 390 - Banquet of Hongmen
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Everyone in the abandoned temple was startled, their eyes focused on the old man. Some of them were alert and excited, while others wore an expression of concern and worry on their faces...
Ji Yunshu felt electricity run down her spine, jolting her awake. “Old sir, what happened in Yuzhou for people to die?”
That old man sighed. He waved at her as if chasing away evil omens as he spoke in a trembling voice. “Nothing happened.”
“Oh? Then what is this all about?”
The old man turned to Ji Yunshu and put three of his fingers before her face. “Three people have died in the last month in Yuzhou City; everyone is one on their toes. Meanwhile, the county magistrate can’t seem to find any leads, leaving the murder still at large and able to kill more people. As a result, nobody dares to stay in the city, leaving behind only those who have no other choice!” The old man shivered as he finished, shaking his heebie-jeebies off.
Ji Yunshu pondered for a moment, before continuing, “Could I trouble you to describe it in more detail to me?”
“I heard from someone that those three saw a ghost before they died. It was an evil spirit with a face from nightmares. They went crazy that night and died the next day, their faces frozen into feral masks and their limbs stiff. The strangest thing was that they all died by hanging, strung up high on a large tree.They say that it was a vengeful spirit seeking revenge, wanting to find their replacement. I don’t know what’s what, but either way, nobody dares to go outside at night now.” He let out another huge sigh.
Jing Rong shot Ji Yunshu a meaningful glance. He reminded her softly, “We already lost time in Shanhuai County. If you want to meddle, we’ll reach Yufu next year.”
“Think about Aunty Xie. Didn’t she travel all the way to the Capital to seek vengeance for her daughter? If you want to meddle in everyone’s affair, at least consider making it ‘first come, first served’. Yuzhou is so large that I don’t believe they can’t find someone capable to solve this case. Let the Yuzhou County Magistrate worry about this himself and keep yourself out of this one.” All these words were in the hopes that Ji Yunshu would not ‘be a busybody’.
Ji Yunshu eyed Aunty Xie, who was slumped at the corner of the temple. That faded yellow bag was still firmly in her arms, her eyes dull. Aunty Xie had not spoken much over the last few days. Even when they were in Shanhuai County, she had hardly left her room, much less tried to encourage Ji Yunshu to get going. Ji Yunshu thought about it, agreeing to Jing Rong’s argument, “I understand.”
Jing Rong was pleased at her rare display of obedience, but one of Zhao Huai’s men suddenly shouted, “What’s so strange about it? What ghosts, spirits - all superstition.”
The old man refuted him straightaway, “Don’t speak too soon, young fellow. You can’t think too lightly of these things. Wait till the scapegoat spirit comes for you - it’ll be too late then.”
Ugh! That man of Zhao Huai’s was sorely frightened, the hairs on the back of his neck standing up as he kept his mouth shut.
That old man reminded him again, “If you lot are thinking about entering the city, then don’t. If you’re planning on passing through it, you’d best take a detour around it.”
The large temple was eerily silent. That old man stopped his chatter and began to eat his steaming hot bun.
How did something like this happen in Yuzhou City? Lang Po asked Jing Rong, “Your Highness, should we still enter the city tomorrow? If we take a detour, it’ll be an extra two-day journey.”
“There’s no need. We also need to replace and buy some items and food when we get to Yuzhou City.”
Jing Rong glared at him, “Why? Worried that the vengeful spirit will take your life?”
Lang Po quickly answered, “No, no. Your Highness knows that this servant isn’t afraid of these things at all.”
“Then? Forget about it and quickly rest. Once we replace our stock in the city tomorrow, we’ll leave immediately.”
“Understood!” His men nodded off again, their swords firmly in their grip. A heavy stone settled in Ji Yunshu’s heart as she stared vacantly into the dwindling embers, not noticing Zhao Huai’s gaze from where he sat a distance away...
The following day.
Everyone packed up their belongings and left for Yuzhou City. Jing Rong’s party travelled in front with Zhao Huai and his men bringing up the rear a short distance away..
As soon as they arrived at the city gates, the county magistrate was already there to welcome them in. That county magistrate was neither like the despicable Liu Qingping, nor was he like the bootlicking Capital Governor.He looked to be upright and just, resembling a poor scholar. His brows were deeply furrowed, making him seem even more pitiful. Next to him stood a heavily bearded stern-looking constable.
Wasn’t this Constable Zhang? That same reckless Constable Zhang whom Ji Yunshu met in that inn on her way to the Capital?
The Yuzhou County Magistrate Lord Fang came forth with his hands cupped in respect, “This official, Fang Mingsan, warmly welcomes Prince Rong.” Jing Rong pulled open his curtain and glanced outside. Before the humongous city gates stood masses of yamen officials, the public pushed to the sides of the road, stopped in their travels. This party, this display - an obvious trap!
Jing Rong smirked as he disembarked from his carriage and walked over to Fang Mingsan, “Is Lord Fang preparing a banquet for this Prince?”
“This official wouldn’t dare.”
“Wouldn’t dare? Not only do I think you dare, you planned to prepare this banquet of Hongmen. [1. 鸿门宴 (Hong men yan) - a banquet with sinister intentions; refers to a famous episode in 206 BC when future Han emperor Liu Bang 劉邦 LiúBāng escaped attempted murder by his rival Xiang Yu 項羽 XiàngYǔ.] Lord Fang, when you ascended to your position in Yuzhou back then, it was this Prince who handed you your official robes. Others may not understand what little schemes you’re planning, but it’s crystal clear to this Prince. Your little jumbled up plots - you’d better unravel them all!”
Fang Mingsan smiled, raising his large sleeves. His expression was no longer as gentle as he spoke calmly to Jing Rong while eyeing the latter’s carriage, “This official really can’t hide anything from Prince Rong’s eyes. This official heard that there is a Teacher Ji travelling alongside you on your journey to Yufu County, am I correct?”
Jing Rong’s expression darkened, “Stop beating around the bush. Speak.”
“How about first entering the city to discuss this further, Your Highness?” Even a fool could tell he wanted to talk about the recent murders in Yuzhou City.
Jing Rong surveyed his surroundings, his astute gaze growing more serious, “If this Prince were to refuse to enter the city after Lord Fang had gone to all this trouble to put on this show at the city gates, then this Prince would seem too petty. Lord Fang’s methods have really improved.”
“Thank you for your praise, Your Highness.”
“Forget it. We’ve journeyed for an entire day, and my men need to replenish their supplies. Let’s have a sit-down; drink a cup of tea.”
Fang Mingsan bowed. Jing Rong did not return to his carriage, hopping onto a horse to ride beside Fang Mingsan. He finally recognised Constable Zhang and laughed, “It’s only been a few months, but Constable Zhang looks much better than before.”
Constable Zhang looked down at the ground, “Your Highness is teasing this servant. I didn’t expect that I would meet Your Highness again.”
Jing Rong chuckled, “Best not to be as impulsive as back then, Constable Zhang.”
All of them entered Yuzhou City, settling down in the county yamen. When Ji Yunshu and the others stepped off their carriages, Fang Mingsan came forward courteously, “This must be the famous and esteemed Teacher Ji.”
Famous and esteemed? When had her name been exaggerated to this extent? Ji Yunshu returned his greeting without delay, “Lord Fang has spoken too highly, this one is no more than an average man.”
“Teacher Ji need not be too humble. The name of a man of great talent will surely spread far and wide.”
Ji Yunshu was speechless.
Constable Zhang, on the other hand, was troubled, staring at Ji Yunshu as soon as she got off the carriage. He found this person extremely familiar - whether it was his figure, or the way he walked. He was sure the person he met back then in the inn was a veiled young miss. Why was this Teacher Ji a male?
ChouFleur Rants Corner
Sneaky, sneaky Lord Fang! And is Ji Yunshu's identity going to be revealed?
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