Note: Mature content in the chapters to come. Oh and prepare some tissue boxes.
Jing Rong watched with gravity from a seat reserved for him, as the Magistrate ordered to open the doors to the great hall and the runners aligned themselves into two columns. Magistrate Liu smashed the table with his gavel, “Peasant, your name.”
Yu Sao refused to answer. She kept her head bowed down and even started humming as she gently tapped Ah Yu’s back.
Has she gone mad? thought everyone present with no small wonderment.
Magistrate Liu was provoked by Yu Sao’s disregard. He made a gesture to strike his gavel again, but Ji Yunshu stopped him, “Milord, perhaps it would be better to bring Li Zhao forth.”
As always, Magistrate Liu heeded Ji Yunshu’s advice, so he asked a runner to fetch Li Zhao from his prison cell. Meanwhile, Ji Yunshu approached Yu Sao and knelt down right beside her. She asked her in a soft voice, “Yu Sao, Ah Yu is asleep, I could bring her to a place with a bed, okay?”
Yu Sao continued humming her tune. She moved her eyes and saw Ji Yunshu beside her, “It’s you, you came to my home yesterday.” She did not seem surprised at all. Instead, she smiled very miserably.
“Can I have a look at Ah Yu?”
Yu Sao continued her tune and rocked Ah Yu gently. Ji Yunshu realised that there was something wrong with her; she looked at Ah Yu and had a wild guess, “Yu Sao, can you let me have a look at Ah Yu for a second? I promise you that I won’t hurt her.”
“Don’t touch my Ah Yu! She’s asleep now, she’s asleep now. Don’t wake her up, stop disturbing her,” answered Yu Sao with a smile.
Has she really gone mad?
Ji Yunshu extended her arm carefully and grazed Ah Yu’s bare feet without letting Yu Sao notice. She nearly lost the strength in her legs and broke down in tears when she realized what had happened.
“Ah Yu is dead?” Ji Yunshu’s observation surprised the crowd, especially Wei Wu and Wang San, who accompanied Yu Sao from Zhao Village, but did not notice anything abnormal about the little girl she carried.
Ji Yunshu finally understood why Yu Sao acted so abnormally. Her heart had probably been extinguished along with Ah Yu, to the point that it seemed like she had lost her sanity. Shock and remorse struck Ji Yunshu. Had she known this would happen, she would definitely have removed Ah Yu from her humid and somber cell the day before.
The sight of Yu Sao murmuring a lullaby while carrying a corpse was an ordeal for Ji Yunshu, each second passing as if a thousand knives stabbed through her heart.
Magistrate Liu was dumbstruck by the turn of events, but he did not forget to verify the veracity of Ji Yunshu’s statement. He beckoned a runner and said to him, “Go have a look, is that little girl really dead?”
The runner was about to forcefully remove Ah Yu, but Ji Yunshu signaled him to stop. “Please, leave Ah Yu to her; in her heart, Ah Yu is still alive.”
“Yu Sao was ready to do anything for her daughter, even if it would end up costing her own life. I don’t think that she’ll outlive her daughter for very long.” This remark was easy to understand, but its gravity was much harder to fully appreciate. Nobody understood why Ji Yunshu was stricken with such an outburst of empathy.
Nobody but Jing Rong, that was. He noticed the glow of tears in her eyes, and the deep sorrow and guilt on her countenance. To his compassion for the fate of the little girl, he added a slice of Ji Yunshu’s grief, and both made his heart ache.
Ji Yunshu bit her trembling lips, to the point that it created bloody fissures on the surface of the skin. After a few involuntary spasms, hinting at the tremendous amount of effort required, Ji Yunshu managed to hold in her tears.
“I didn’t kill anyone, let go of me.” Li Zhao’s voice grew louder as he entered the hall, but he knelt down without resisting. A few straws were stuck to his hair and his face was barely distinguishable through the muddy blotches which covered it. An uneven beard and his disorderly garments completed the portrait; the two days he spent in the jail completely swept away his refined air from a few days ago.
He’s like that after only two days? Will he start pissing on himself in a few more days?
At the sight of his elder sister, Li Zhao started begging as soon as he knelt, “Please, help me, elder sister. I don’t want to stay in jail anymore. It’s dark, the food is bad, and I can’t sleep well. I keep having nightmares. Please, elder sister, get me out of there.”
Li Zhao failed to notice that Madame Jiang’s attention remained fixed on Yu Sao. He did not see the panic in her eyes as he crawled to her, raised his head and pleaded miserably, “Elder sister, please, go ask dad. Go ask grandfather, ask them to come and help me. Dad is going to help me. Elder sister…”
He’s so noisy and irritating, thought Ji Yunshu as Li Zhao’s voice pulled her out of her anguish. She turned around and said to Li Zhao, “Don’t you worry, you’re not the culprit. You won’t die today.”
Upon hearing Ji Yunshu’s words, Li Zhao jumped and seemed to hardly believe her. “Am I really not the culprit?” he asked. After being tortured by terrible nightmares for two consecutive nights, Li Zhao conviction in his own innocence dwindled.
Bad luck for Madame Jiang, who has to deal with such a younger brother. It must be atonement for sins from another lifetime.
It was at that moment that Li Zhao realised that someone else was beside him, a woman with a little girl in her arms. He looked carefully, and, although her face was hidden behind tousled hair, he recognised her instantly.
“Yu… Yu Sao?” cried Li Zhao as he collapsed on the ground in shock.
His reaction was even more violent than Madame Jiang’s, to everyone’s astonishment: it was indeed curious to see Yu Sao, a simple peasant, surprise, or even scare Madame Jiang and her brother to such an extent.
Ji Yunshu recollected herself and slowly approached Madame Jiang, “I finally know why Madame Jiang didn’t alert the yamen about the death of her own husband. Instead, she buried his corpse with the help of her brother.”
The sudden statement made veins pop out on Madame Jiang’s forehead. She jumped upon hearing the voice which beguiled her towards a confession. “What nonsense are you spewing?” she said as she turned her head violently to stare at Ji Yunshu.
Still denying the truth, even now?
“Madame Jiang, Yu Sao is right here. She’s the one who murdered Lord Jiang. As for you, you saw her do it.”
The revelation dropped into the hall like a stone into a calm lake. The buzzing sound of the runners whispering to each other, exclamations of disbelief and even monologues of deduction replaced the silence that persisted a moment ago.
The first one to speak out was the Magistrate, who, along with many others, had difficulty believing that Madame Jiang could have been a witness to her husband’s murder, and, instead of telling the yamen, she abetted in the burial of the corpse, “What did you say? Madame Jiang saw Lord Jiang murdered in front of her? That makes no sense!”.
Ji Yunshu did not answer his question right away. She looked Madame Jiang in the eyes and repeated with determination, “If my deductions are correct, you were actually quite happy when you saw Lord Jiang murdered by Yu Sao. In fact, you longed for him to die for a long time.”
“You… you are spouting slandering lies.”
“Lies?” said Ji Yunshu with a cold smile, “Very well, if you won’t confess, then I’ll do it on your behalf. I shall tell everyone exactly what happened that night.”
Madame Jiang was surprised by such a daring proposal.
Ji Yunshu walked at a leisurely pace until she stood in front of Li Zhao. Then, she lowered her head to look at him and said, “That night, you were dead drunk. In the courtyard, you saw Lord Jiang alone. Perhaps being drunk gave you the courage to ask him for some money. Not only did Lord Jiang refuse to lend you any money, but he also scolded you and even said that he would talk to your sister about it. You angrily shoved him to the ground and left. However, during his fall, Lord Jiang sprained his ankle and hit his head on the trunk of a tree, so he was unable to get up.”
Ji Yunshu was next to Yu Sao now, “Lord Jiang sat on the ground, and he could not get up. I’ve said that the depth gradient of the markings on his bone suggested that the culprit is taller than lord Jiang; I was mistaken. There is yet another possibility: Lord Jiang was on the ground when he was stabbed by the culprit, who was standing. That culprit… is Yu Sao.”
Yu Sao did not answer the accusation. She was still emotionlessly rocking Ah Yu and humming her tune.
Ji Yunshu took out the little knife from her sleeves and displayed it, “After Li Zhao left, Yu Sao, came out of her hiding spot behind the tree and used this knife to stab him to death from the front while he was defenseless.”
“Proof?” asked Magistrate Liu.
“This small knife constitutes an irrefutable proof. I’ve used vinegar to wipe its blade. There are indeed traces of blood on it.”
“The blood would have come from anywhere, couldn’t it? What about a cooking accident?”
“Impossible,” answered Ji Yunshu as she brought out the paper which had been stained in crimson. “On this sheet of paper, I’ve collected pigments from Lord Jiang’s wound on the ankle. The color, which can only be extracted from the bones by adding vinegar and camphor juice, matches the hue of Lord Jiang’s blood. It’s identical to the blood found on the knife, and even melts into a homogeneous whole when you mix the two.”
“This is enough to show that the blood on the knife belongs to Lord Jiang. There’s no doubt that Yu Sao killed him,” concluded Ji Yunshu.
Surprise within the crowd turned into a few murmurs of amazement.
Ji Yunshu continued, “When Yu Sao took Lord Jiang’s life, Madame Jiang, who was nearby, saw everything with her very eyes. After Yu Sao left the scene, Li Zhao came back, terrified, and Madame Jiang asked for his help to bury Lord Jiang’s corpse.”
“Wait, wait…” said the Magistrate as he gestured with his arm and frowned. “You still haven’t explained why she did that.”
Ji Yunshu glanced at Ah Yu’s inanimate body, still within Yu Sao’s embrace. Her glance collided with Madame Jiang’s regard midair and answered, “Because she knew that if she told the yamen, not only would everyone know about her husband being a yin-yang man, but it would also become evident that he was an individual of inhumane cruelty.”
The statement hit Madame Jiang like an invisible hammer and almost caused her to collapse to the ground.
Ji Yunshu accosted her and said in a severe tone, “Madame Jiang is someone who cares a lot about her honour, the honour that she inherited from the Li family. The preservation of her own honour was more important to her than other people's lives.”
“Enough,” said Madame Jiang, who finally interrupted her.