Chapter 151: Deciding Upon Strategy
The Northern Gathering of Sages was an establishment located in the north side of the city, close to the northern gate also called the Exalted Peace Gate. Going any further north would mean exiting the city. It wasn’t a busy section of the capital, but there were several large families who called this area home.
Steward Zhong led Qin Yining to Good Health Alley, a quiet street near the Exalted Peace Gate. There weren’t any large manors present here, just some typical houses. A black lacquer door hid itself in the wall at the end of the alley, and two bored men were stooped in front of the door, cracking nuts as they whiled away the time.
The mere sound of the carriage wheels rolling by the alley caused the men’s heads to whip towards the head of the alley. This startled Qin Yining into tightening the crack between the window curtains.
“They’re certainly alert.”
“That they are. Thankfully, my men are equally cautious and avoided detection. These two men are their guards.” Steward Zhong pointed at a few places outside the carriage. “Those people randomly wandering the street are probably also their men. Even though this manor seems to have a small entrance, it’s very deep inside. It’s two large houses deep, and it wouldn’t be a problem to house roughly a hundred people.”
Qin Yining nodded. “Something is definitely off here. Is this the only exit? Are there any other doors?”
“In response to you, miss, I had some men explore the area. There’s only a front and back door to the manor, and a narrow dog hole that leads to a side street. There are no other exits.”
“Mm.” The girl nodded slightly. The carriage had wheeled past the alley, and the groom was hesitatingly slowing down. He was unsure whether or not to turn around, but Qin Yining spoke, “Don’t turn back. Keep driving straight ahead and take a longer way around to the back of the manor.”
The groom assented, and drove the horses forward.
The two men at the door and others on the street had taken careful notice of the carriage. They relaxed only when the carriage rolled past without stopping, taking it as someone just passing by.
Qin Yining was deep in thought. This place is definitely strange. Judging from the presence of guards and Steward Zhong’s investigations, there were definitely Tatars living in that manor.
But this was the Great Yan capital, a place where security was paramount and the emperor cast a watchful eye over everything! Was there really no one who’d discovered the Tatars taking up residence here? Not to mention, the northern commander of Warden’s office was stationed at the Northern Gathering of Sages, and the northern Bureau of Fire Control had their office close by. These two were solidly aboveboard government offices. Would Tatars spies really pick a stronghold so close to enemy agencies? Wouldn’t that be asking to be exposed?
But there truly were Tatars in that manor. There’s just something very odd about all this.
As she pondered the oddities, the carriage had looped around the huge manor and reached its back door.
The rear wall of the manor was noticeably taller than its two neighbors. Thankfully, there weren’t any men guarding the back door. Perhaps this was out of conscious imitation of their neighbors. No one else had guards posted to their back door. If only this manor had guards, that would actually appear more suspicious instead.
“This looks like a regular residence, but its defenses are airtight. There’s no place to begin if we wanted to investigate it.” Steward Zhong sighed. “I’d wanted to send people in, but was afraid of alarming the target. It’d be bad if we were exposed.”
“Indeed.” Qin Yining nodded. “We can’t forcefully investigate this place. Think about it, this manor is so close to the yamen, and the warden’s soldiers patrol the surroundings everyday. Can they really have no idea of the situation? If they do and still allow it, then there’s something much deeper at play here.”
The steward was a smart man. He immediately caught the owner's drift with just those few words. His expression grew grave as well. “If this is the case, then we really can’t investigate directly.”
Qin Yining nodded. There’d actually been a split second where she wanted to give up investigating this matter. The Tatars had been involved in an assassination attempt, so the emperor would naturally send his elites after them.
But if they didn’t follow the clues they’d gathered now, greater trouble might appear in the future. The Tatars had threatened the Duchess of Ding, her, and her father. Things weren’t as simple as they seemed. The fact that these people yet remained within the city indicated that they had more missions to carry out. Who knew? Maybe next time they’d make an attempt on her family.
Qin Yining mentally dismissed any ideas of taking a step back when her thoughts reached that final point. She lifted her eyes in time to see a patrol from the Warden’s Office walk by. She recognized the leader as Xu Mao, the East Area Commander of the Warden's Office from the Celestial Nunnery attack.
Although she was puzzled why he would be patrolling the northern part of the city, she didn’t think much of it. Instead, she had the carriage stop and lifted the window curtain to give Bingtang some instructions.
The maid jumped off the carriage seat and headed to Xu Mao, but the steward didn’t understand, looking inquiringly at the Qin fourth miss. But Qin Yining was intently focused on seeing Xu Mao’s reaction.
The commander followed Bingtang to the carriage before long. Qin Yining didn’t put on airs and lifted the curtains to nod a greeting to the man. “Long time no see, Sir Xu.”
“So it’s Miss Qin.” Xu Mao was a lot more respectful to the girl than before, an obvious indication of how high Qin Huaiyuan’s new position of marquis was.
“I have something to trouble Sir Xu with, and apologize for the hassle.”
“Not at all! Please speak of whatever you need, Miss Qin.”
“I just passed through the area with my servants and accidentally dropped a gold bracelet embedded with jade. The jade in the bracelet is of exceedingly fine quality and is highly valuable. But I saw a tall, large man pick it up. My servants called out to him but he ran off quickly, entering that manor.” Qin Yining pointed at the manor with the Tatars. “Therefore, I’d like to trouble Sir Xu to get my bracelet back for me.”
Pfft. A girl alright. They only know to concern themselves with trifles like these. Xu Mao was first highly contemptuous as he listened to the story, then quickly turned grave when he heard that the bracelet had been picked up by a man of that manor. He thought for a while and then smiled apologetically.
“A lost bracelet isn’t the most important of matters. If Miss Qin really likes that bracelet, then this official will buy another one for you. However, I can’t search that manor. Even if we had more concrete evidence than your words, I still don’t have the right to do so.”
Qin Yining lifted her chin proudly. “But I saw the people of that manor take my bracelet. It’s a priceless piece of jewelry! Will Sir Xu still not help?”
Impatience crept into Xu Mao’s tone. “It’s not that I don’t intend to help, but that Elder Statesman Cao gave instructions that great personages live in this manor. They’re not to be disturbed, so I recommend you let the matter rest.”
A stroke of inspiration struck Qin Yining when she heard about Statesman Cao. The look of pride on her face instantly morphed to one of wariness, and she responded with a look of embarrassment. “Forget it, it’s just a gold bracelet. It’s nothing major.”
The commander heaved a sigh of relief when he saw that the Qin fourth miss was bending to the situation and not making a further fuss about her bracelet. He raised his hands in a salute and left to continue patrolling. Qin Yining let down the curtains and rushed the groom back to Cloudsoar Inn.
The steward and Qin Yining took a seat each inside a quiet house. Jiyun and Bingtang were on guard outside, to keep from anyone eavesdropping on the conversation inside. The steward broached the subject worriedly when it was only the two of them inside. “Do you still wish to investigate, miss?”
“Yes. These people have already attempted two assassinations, so there may be a third or fourth attempt. How can I let this latent threat continue brewing?”
The steward nodded approvingly. “However, it won’t be easy to take them out. We can’t even investigate their manor.”
Qin Yining found the task daunting as well. It wasn’t difficult to nab one of them for an interrogation, but what if the other didn’t give them a chance to ask questions? If their captive committed suicide, it’d only alarm the enemy and make their own investigations more difficult in the future. Should I tell father about this?
Previous Chapter Next Chapter