The crow flew into the distance, as though it had dived straight into the inky, black night sky and instantly merged with it. However the eye strained, not a single trace of it could be seen.
Ji Yunshu tilted her head back slightly and heaved a long sigh.
The weather lately was already not as hot as before. The start of autumn heralded the slow change to colder weather. The breeze brushed gently past her face, creating a comfortable sensation. Her icy hands were tucked into her sleeves. She kneaded her palms several times and sighed again.
Ji Yunshu stood in the little courtyard for a while as she went over everything she knew about the haunting of Marquis Kang’s mansion from the start to the end.
The bloody handprint on the signboard?
The entangled trees in the courtyard just inside the doors of the mansion?
The boulders of the rock garden that had deliberately been toppled?
Additionally, was Cai Da’s suicide really because of guilt that he had killed his own mother through others’ hands?
And the sound of that child; if it really were someone playing tricks, there was no reason why Jing Rong couldn’t detect anything even though he was in the ancestral hall at that time!
From another perspective, how many people in the household were involved in this?
When she was done thinking through all these incidents, Ji Yunshu called out into the air. “Zijin.”
Shi Zijin’s figure quickly landed by her side. “Teacher, what are your instructions?”
Even though she knew that Ji Yunshu was a woman, she still addressed her habitually by ‘teacher’.
Ji Yunshu told her sternly, “Later, look around the Marquis’s mansion secretly to see if there are any suspicious people or events. Once something happens, inform me immediately.”
“Yes.” She nodded.
Just as she was about to depart, Ji Yunshu called her again. “Zijin.”
“Does Teacher have other instructions?”
“Actually, you don’t need to be by my side every single moment. If there isn’t anything else, you should take care to rest properly too.”
“Teacher, please don’t worry about me. It’s already a great honor for me that His Highness commanded me to protect Teacher. Besides, His Highness said that the Marquis’s mansion is not peaceful and must stay beside Teacher at all times as protection.” She was extremely serious about it.
Ji Yunshu told her, “This is the Marquis’s mansion. There are estate troops looking after it so nothing will happen. What if you fall sick from overwork by doing this too frequently?”
“But His Highness’s orders cannot be disobeyed. In comparison, Teacher’s safety is more important.”
“Why did I never realise that you were so stubborn before?” Ji Yunshu teased her. Martial artists were just so inflexible, let alone the reticent and taciturn Shi Zijin.
Shi Zijin didn’t protest her words, but just kept silent.
Her face was clearly a woman’s but it lacked a sweet temperament and instead held an air of cold-bloodedness. She was perennially cold and disliked talking or smiling. In particular, those eyes of hers would carry a thick killing intent once they grew cold, making others afraid to meet her gaze. Perhaps it was because from young, she had lived in a complicated environment where she had to fight for her life, suffering wounds all over her body, developing into her resolute and loyal personality. How could Ji Yunshu not admire someone like that?
However, like Jing Rong, she was rather more stubborn than most. Just like an obstinate little wolf.
Ji Yunshu sighed and could only concede. “Alright, go investigate then.”
“Yes.” Shi Zijin cupped her hands in greeting and disappeared. Just like that crow from before, no trace of her could be found.
“Iron lady.” Ji Yunshu spoke into thin air, a wry smile on her lips as she went back into the room.
Meanwhile, Jing Rong had just returned to his own courtyard.
Lang Po solemnly passed him a letter. “It’s from Yi City.”
“When did it arrive?”
Jing Rong hurriedly took the letter and entered the room before he opened it. The page was crammed full of words written in a hand that was a little rough, obviously not from a scholarly person.
As he read, Lang Po reported, “Since the death of Empress Xuanshu, the Kong family had practically all left the capital. Kong Qu, the vanguard of the Yuanlin Army, had gone to the distant Northwest city of Yicheng. Although it’s far from the capital, it is a crucial stronghold for trade with the Huyi. Now that Kong Qu is the city master, he can live peacefully in the Northwest. Back then when Kong Qu was in the capital, he was an arrogant person. This time, if Your Highness wishes to borrow his troops in order to prepare for the fight against Prince Yi, I’m afraid… it might be a little difficult.”
It’s true! Ever since Empress Xuanshu passed away, the influence of the Kong family had waned. The few that still had some ability had all left the capital. Kong Qu had a wilful and aloof personality, always preferring to witness true ability on the battlefield over the fighting between factions in court. Thus, after Empress Xuanshu died, he volunteered to go to Yicheng and never took a single step into the capital again. He lived a carefree life at the borders, breeding horses, training troops, and the occasional horseback hunting. Who knew how laid back his days were?!
Now, Jing Rong had sent a secret letter requesting to borrow his troops, Kong Qu would naturally not agree. Without an official writ from the imperial court, he wouldn’t be likely to even budge a single soldier.
However, the letter that Jing Rong sent to Kong Qu also mentioned the death of the Crown Prince Jing Hua.
A line from the letter went like this: “If General Kong wishes to know the truth about the siege of the palace and attempted regicide by the Crown Prince, then permit me to borrow the troops. The truth will naturally be uncovered.”
Jing Rong didn’t directly reveal that Jing Yi had secretly sent people to incite Jing Hua’s rebellion.
Kong Qu himself knew that the Crown Prince was a bit of an idiot and wouldn’t easily attempt a siege and regicide, but he wouldn’t think too much about the implications either and would have let it pass. However, when he saw this letter from Jing Rong, he started having second thoughts.
On one hand, he was guarding the border stronghold of Yicheng, and he would be carefree as long as the Huyi behaved themselves. He had no desire to return to the court politics of the capital!
On the other hand, he truly did want to know the truth behind the Crown Prince’s siege of the palace. After all, the Crown Prince was the son of Empress Xuanshu, his own blood relative.
Thus, he struggled with this conundrum for a long time.
But in the end, he still declined in the name of it having ‘no official writ’. His refusal was clearly written in the letter that had just arrived.
When Jing Rong finished reading, he gently put the letter down by his hand, the corner of his lip curling up. “As expected.”
Lang Po was surprised and tilted his head, asking, “Does that mean that Your Highness already knew that this would happen?”
“This prince requested to borrow troops and mentioned the Crown Prince, merely to send a reminder to Kong Qu not to be so leisurely in Yicheng that he falls sick, just because he had left the capital. Now that he has seen the letter, he surely would not be able to sit still.”
“This subordinate does not understand what Your Highness means.”
Jing Rong took a few steps forward with his hands clasped behind his back and stopped in front of the door. “The Crown Prince was Empress Xuanshu’s son, so it’s only natural that the Kong family supported the Crown Prince. However, the Crown Prince sieged the palace and attempted regicide, then committed suicide in the Eastern Palace. Although Kong Qu is a general, the mere fact that he could volunteer to go to Yicheng after Xuanshu Empress died, and successfully leave the treacherous capital, shows that he is an intelligent person.
“Since he is so intelligent, how could he not think of the implications of the Crown Prince’s siege? Additionally, with the reminder that this prince’s letter offered, he would surely be perturbed and carefully think through the events and reasoning that led to that incident. At that time, like Imperial Father, he would naturally understand what happened. And since he is from the Kong family, he would never stay idle in Yicheng while clearly knowing that something was off about the Crown Prince’s siege.
“Thus, the letter that this prince sent was both a reminder and a hook. Although he had declined citing ‘no official writ’, I’m afraid he has already made a decision in his heart. Once he has decided, he would naturally send out troops for this prince.”