The death of their witness marked the end of their lead.
Ji Yunshu refused to accept such an outcome. She pondered and suddenly asked the magistrate, “Lord Liu, is it possible to find out Seventh Uncle’s address by today?”
Magistrate Liu shifted his eyes pensively and answered, “There are lots of people called Seventh Uncle in this city, but only one should have worked in the Jiang Mansion. I’ll send someone to investigate the records, and we should be able to find him." As he said so, Magistrate Liu called over a few runners to explain the task at hand.
Ji Yunshu had a heavy heart, and bewilderment clouded her judgment. Seventh Uncle’s sudden death... Was he really silenced by Madame Jiang?
Jing Rong, who was aware that by now Ji Yunshu had completely sunken into her thoughts, quietly sat on the rosewood chair and savoured the freshly infused tea. Ji Junshu kept herself busy. First, she asked for a brush, a sheet of paper, and ink. Then, she painted a portrait that she carefully folded up before putting it away into her sleeves.
It wasn’t long before the Magistrate came back with a piece of paper on which an address was written. He handed it over to Ji Yunshu and said, “Yunshu, this should be the place. What do you…”
“I intend to go there.”
“Then I’ll go with you…” proposed the magistrate, who was interrupted before he had the chance to finish.
“Milord, please stay in the yamen. It is perfectly possible that my trip will turn out to be fruitless.”
Well, that’s true, thought the Magistrate,
Jing Rong, who had just been sipping his tea, opened his mouth, “How would I do for a companion?”
Ji Yunshu stored away the address, looked at Jing Rong and said, “This humble one will not inconvenience Prince Rong for such an errand.”
Jing Rong stood up and approached her. His sharp expression revealed a hint of irritation, “What? I’ve just expressed my trust in you, and now you’re refusing to reciprocate; instead, you’re distancing yourself?”
“This humble one is too lowly to be worthy of being bestowed with your trust, Your Highness.”
“I'll have the sole opinion over whether it’s worth it or not.”
Jing Rong was itching to step forward, lift Ji Yunshu’s chin up, and force her eyes to focus on him. He wanted her to have a good look at him, consider his proposal, and see his sincerity. But he stopped himself from doing so; he did not want to forcefully touch her delicate visage.
As for Ji Yunshu, she lowered her head and dodged his gaze.
Seeing that she remained silent, Jing Rong said, “Teacher Ji, we cannot afford to postpone this case, and you know that better than anyone else. In addition, I’m the one who ordered to continue the investigation or else madam Jiang would have been allowed to dispose of the corpse. If your investigations amount to failure, then I will seem like one as well. So, this isn’t just about you and the yamen. I have a personal stake in this case.”
Just admit that you want to come. At least it’ll spare me a headache from following you through all these circuitous pretexts. Ji Yunshu could not do anything but nod at this point, “If Your Highness wills it so, then I cannot refuse. Please follow me then.”
As she spoke these words, Ji Yunshu exited the hall. Jing Rong raised the corners of his lips, relaxed his brows, and followed suit.
Upon leaving the yamen, the two headed toward Seventh Uncle’s home. Fortunately, due to the size of Jinjiang City, any neighboring village was bound to be close by as well. As such, the pair arrived at their destination after roughly an hour.
Ji Yunshu was focused on her steps and did not pay any attention to Jing Rong, in contrast against the quiescence of the latter - happiness and satisfaction were written all over his face. He glanced at her straight posture and the way she walked, which was neither too fast nor too slow. Something as simple as that seemed absolutely adorable to Jing Rong.
He remembered Lang Po’s words from a few nights ago: “Milord, we’ve found it. Teacher Ji... well, Miss Ji to be exact... she’s the third miss from the Ji Mansion.”
Jing Rong remained still for a long time after hearing what Lang Po said. Then, he abruptly slammed the table with his palm and exclaimed, “I knew it; I said that there’s no way I was interested in men!”
Oh, the joy which soothed his heart!
Then, Lang Po reported the reasons behind the injuries on Ji Yunshu’s back.
Oh, the fierce anger which then burned within his heart!
Therefore, the next day, he delivered some turniplike cowparsnip roots and immediately taught Ji Shuhan a lesson.
But…’‘Has my little Yunshu noticed it?
Jing Rong slowed his steps as he came to this thought. Ji Yunshu noticed his slow pace, turned around and said, “If Your Highness is tired, shall I finish the errand alone?”
What entered Jing Rong’s sights as he raised his eyes was Ji Yunshu’s silhouette more than a few meters away, attired in a lightly tinted robe with her sleeves fluttering in the rising wind. As she turned back to look at him, the snowy background only accentuated her beauty.
Jing Rong’s mind melted as he witnessed the picturesque scene and did not answer.
Ji Yunshu puckered her lips lightly and did not dare to meet Jing Rong’s fervid regard. She lowered her eyes and asked once more, “So, does Your Highness still desire to accompany me?”
That brought Jing Rong out of his reverie, and he answered, “Yes, of course.”
He quickened his steps and rapidly caught up with Ji Yunshu. She kept her head lowered, always maintaining a pace a little faster than Jing Rong’s, as if she feared meeting his gaze once again.
The way he looks at me kind of scares me.
When they finally arrived at their destination, they found it vacated. An elderly woman, with white locks of hair and features worn out by fatigue, came out of the dwelling.
“Who are you?” asked the woman, who became alerted by the presence of two strangers in her yard.
Ji Yunshu approached her and asked with a soft voice, “Old madam, would you have the kindness to tell us if this is Seventh Uncle’s home?”
Upon hearing the question, the old woman sighed and answered, “My husband passed away this morning. What are you here for?”
Ji Yunshu unfolded the portrait she drew in the yamen earlier and offered it to the old woman. “Is this Seventh Uncle?”
The old woman’s eyes reddened at the sight of her husband, and her hands which held the paper trembled uncontrollably. “Yes, that’s him!” said the woman as she sobbed.
It seems like the Seventh Uncle that Madam Jiang mentioned really was the old man who followed me.
The old woman’s sorrow spread to Ji Yunshu as well. She shared some of her anguish but still pressed on with her question, “Old madam, I would like to offer my condolences, but I would also like to know if your husband’s corpse is still intact.”
“It’s gone. I burned it as soon as he passed away,” sighed the old woman.
Ji Yunshu found it difficult to understand her answer. “This quick, but he just…?”
The woman raised her head and interrupted her, “It’s a tradition from our village. When someone passes away, we burn the body immediately. Only the ashes are buried.”
“Did Seventh Uncle see anyone before he passed away? Did anything happen to him?” asked Ji Yunshu.
The woman thought for a while and shook her head, “No, my husband wasn’t feeling well these past few days, so he stayed at home. I would never have thought that he…”
Her answer was cut short by the glitter of tears within her eyes.
The sole witness is dead, and his corpse, burned. What am I to do? Ji Yunshu was now at a dead end.
Ji Yunshu did not want to worsen the woman’s grief, so she stopped asking questions and left the place. Her brows remained furrowed until Jing Rong broke the silence on the way back, “Teacher, you’re quite perspicacious, aren’t you?”
What? “Why do you say so Your Highness?” asked Ji Yunshu.
“You knew that you had to draw a portrait to confirm that the man you saw was actually Seventh Uncle. So you did worry that the person you saw might not be the same as the one Madam Jiang talked about,” explained Jing Rong.
Yup, that’s exactly it. That’s why I drew that portrait. It does seem like I indeed saw Seventh Uncle
“I would think that Your Highness is the perceptive person here. Nothing remains hidden from you,“ said Ji Yunshu. At this moment, they nearly touched shoulders.
Grenn's Rants Corner
Sometimes, I would love to put specific ranting when the chapter is still a teaser, but it would be too much of a spoiler.