Jing Rong was waiting obediently for her. Even though he was standing under the roof, the driving rain did its best to get to him, only to be deterred by the grass raincoat. “Done investigating?”
She nodded lightly.
“Then let's go.”
Just as Ji Yunshu put on her straw hat and raincoat, a call came from the distance. “Who's there?”
Two yamen runners with lanterns hurriedly ran towards them, waving around their sabres. Jing Rong immediately hugged Ji Yunshu and jumped onto the roof, disappearing mysteriously into the rainy night sky. The two yamen runners were left clutching at thin air.
One of them wanted to enter the mortuary to check but was stopped by the other. “What are you doing?”
“I wanted to see if there's anything missing.”
“There are only corpses in there, and it stinks. What could be missing?”
“What about those two people?”
“Forget it. It's already so late. It’d be too much trouble if you reported it to Lord Liu now.”
That's right! With that, the two suppressed news of the incident and left with their lanterns swaying in the wind.
The next day.
The heavy rain lessened as the weather improved. The news of the public hearing of the murderer who buried people alive had long spread across the small Jinjiang city. The commoners concerned about the case were all gathered outside the public court of the yamen, pair after pair of curious eyes atop necks craning to get a better view inside.
Ji Yunshu and Jing Rong also went to take a look but remained incognito within the crowd. Out of curiosity, Tang Si also followed along but was trapped by Ji Yunshu’s side to prevent her from causing trouble with her antics. Soon after, Liu Qian entered the court in his official robes from the left and sat down on the presiding seat.
This person had a fierce visage. Thick, heavy brows pressed down against a pair of sharp eyes. A neatly trimmed, short beard sat below lips pressed tightly into a thin line. At a glance, he looked nothing like a benevolent official and looked rather more like a bandit. Maybe due to his background as a warrior, he didn't exude a single whiff of scholarly air at all. Instead, he appeared aloof and domineering.
As Liu Qian sat, he raised his gavel and brought it down strongly.
This sound was much more resonant than when Liu Qingping did the same. The commoners gathered outside the courthouse immediately went silent, not daring to let out a single squeak.
“Guards, bring up the suspect.”
Fu Bo was dragged into court by two yamen runners. They unceremoniously hit the back of his knees with their scabbards, forcing him to kneel down. The crowd gasped.
It wasn't because the suspect had appeared, but because Fu Bo's body was crisscrossed with bloody marks. Although lash marks were visible on his skin through the gashes in his clothes, his face was untouched. Fu Bo swayed listlessly as he kneeled on the ground, trying his best to stay upright, but he eventually collapsed. The crowd started muttering amongst themselves.
The impatient Tang Si staggered a step and groused, “What kind of official would beat up an old man like this? Are there still laws? How dare he whip him! I must teach him a lesson.”
As she spoke, she fumbled at her waist to draw out her silver whip but was immediately stopped by Jing Rong. “If you're going to be like that, I'll let Lang Po send you home immediately.”
Her hands froze in place. Glancing towards Lang Po at the side, she found that he was also looking at her. She could only unwillingly bank the flames in her belly and loosen her hold on the silver whip.
Another clap of the gavel travelled out from the court. “Accused, do you know your crimes?”
Only then did Fu Bo raise his head. His hunched back trembled violently. “I didn't kill anyone.”
“How dare you deny it when there's both a witness and material evidence? You may be spared a beating if you confess truthfully!”
“Milord, I didn't kill that person.”
“Very well. Since you refuse to admit it, let me show you the evidence.”
Liu Qian's sharp eyes signalled the yamen runner at the side. He nodded and quickly presented the evidence. On the tray was a long belt. The yamen coroner also stepped forward.
Liu Qian glared at Fu Bo on the ground and questioned, “Take a good look. Does this thing belong to you?”
“It...it's mine, but…” He was interrupted before he could finish speaking.
“That's right, it's yours.” Liu Qian then looked towards the middle-aged coroner.
“Old Chu, tell us what you found out from the body.”
Old Chu bowed and nodded. Pointing at the belt, he spoke confidently. “My Lord, this belt was found in the hands of the deceased. The cause of death was also found to be asphyxiation due to constriction by this same belt. Saponin powder, which is commonly used in memorial halls, was also found in the grooves of the deceased's soles. There are brushes and scratches on the deceased's hands, and there was an eyewitness to Fu Bo burying something in that forested grove. Thus, I conclude that the deceased must have gone to the memorial hall; there, Fu Bo became amorous. When the woman resisted, he restrained her by her wrists. After the deed, he strangled her with his belt.”
The crowd was aghast. They started whispering to each other, some saying that Fu Bo was unbelievably vicious, while others were still not entirely convinced. Ji Yunshu was itching to open her mouth and curse at them, but she was still waiting and couldn't go in now!
Fu Bo shook his head, trying to explain himself, but the words stuck in his throat and just wouldn't come out. The pair of rheumy old eyes could only stare humbly ahead, trying to convey his innocence.
Liu Qian’s cold expression tightened further. “Fu Bo, do you have anything else to say?”
Yes! Of course, I do! He choked out, “Milord, I’ve been wronged.”
“Then explain, how did your belt end up in the hands of the deceased? How do you explain your presence in the forest where the body was found?”
“If you don’t speak, this official will conclude your guilt.”
Fu Bo finally opened his mouth and said the truth. “A few days ago, that lady suddenly came to my memorial hall. She said she was attacked and lost her chastity. She was too ashamed to continue living and hoped that I would bury her in the hills after her death without informing her family in order to save them from embarrassment. At that time, I tried to stop her and consoled her. After she calmed down, I thought that she had already given up thoughts of suicide. I left for a moment and didn’t expect that she would have already hung herself from the beams before I got back. She used this exact belt to hang herself. I originally wanted to report this to the authorities, but the lady was already dead. The worst thing for a dead person is a lack of peace; she was already ruined and pitiful enough. Thus, I followed her last wishes and buried her. Since she wouldn’t let go of that belt, I buried it along with her. Milord, I really didn’t kill anyone, neither would I do something like that to anyone.” He spoke with full sincerity, eyes gleaming with tears.
But Liu Qian didn’t believe a word of it. He had steeled his heart to convict Fu Bo. “This is merely a one-sided statement. How can this official believe you?”
Just as he finished speaking, a voice spoke from within the watching crowd. “Then, would you believe this one?”
The crowd turned as one towards the source of that voice, unconsciously forming a path in the center and retreating to the sides. Ji Yunshu strode past the crowd and entered the court with an air of proud righteousness.
“Isn’t that Teacher Ji?” Someone exclaimed.
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;;-;; poor Fu Bo. And that Liu Qian!
Translator: ChouFleur, Editor: Dray
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