Lu Feng took a glance at ZhuangZhong before leading him to a secluded place in the Wang’s family house without saying a word. All the servants who served them were also sent away, and only the two of them were left standing in the courtyard.
“Go ahead.” Lu Feng’s voice was low and did not contain his prior excitement.
This made ZhuangZhong even more sure that Lu Feng had already guessed something. Hence, he no longer hesitated and came forth about the matter of YuanJue truthfully.
After hearing his words, Lu Feng clenched his fists tightly till the veins on his head were protruding obviously. He then pounded hard on the imitation rock beside him. Despite hitting a corner off the rock, his hand only reddened slightly. ZhuangZhong’s heart thumped. If that fist had hit him, he would have died on the spot. However, despite such a fear in his heart, he did not step back.
Lu Feng’s eyes were as round as bronze bells. “You said that YuanJue was then my real nephew. What proof do you have?”
ZhuangZhong fished out a piece of paper from his pocket, and Lu Feng took it from him. On top, a person could be seen painted on it. Despite the slight strangeness and uncommon drawing techniques used, the drawing was lifelike and more realistic than usual paintings.
“This is the portrait I once painted for YuanJue. Since he was a child, he was raised in a temple and was unable to find any material evidence regarding his birth, especially after experiencing some setbacks.” Besides being one of the best in the forensic circle for restoring human figures from skeletons, ZhuangZhong was also extremely good at sketching people.
When Lu Feng saw the person in the paper clearly, his pupils shrunk, and he forcefully suppressed the distress he was feeling. The man on the paper was a young monk that looked very alike to his sister Lu LiuZhi!
“Where was he buried?”
“On the top of the mountain where he was killed.”
Lu Feng suddenly grabbed the collar of ZhuangZhong’s clothes with frightening sharpness in his eyes. “Did you deliberately kill him with the intention to assume his identity!?”
ZhuangZhong, who felt strangled, replied with difficulty, “I… If I really had such intentions, why… would I tell you? Besides, all of you were unable to find any evidence, so why… would I cause trouble to myself? Even in front of Marquis WenYuan, I… have never admitted to anything.”
It was only at this moment that Lu Feng released his grip, causing ZhuangZhong to cough fiercely. It took ZhuangZhong a long time to catch his breath before he began to speak again, “At that time, the guards sent by Marquis WenYuan managed to arrive in time to save me, and they can verify that. After all, I am just a little monk in the mountains and do not have the means to employ any assassins. The truth is that YuanJue died to save me, and I am not the perpetrator. Both of us are as close as brothers, and we even planned to resume a secular life together. I was also not aware of YuanJue’s status at that time, so how could I harm him for this?”
“Then how do you know that those people were not refugees and that they were not coming for you, but for the son of Marquis WenYuan? Perhaps, their target had always been you.” The gaze Lu Feng gave him was like a sharp knife, allowing no one to escape.
As ZhuangZhong’s heart was open and clear, he explained without any fear, “I’m just a little monk with no significant background, so there is no need to send so many killers to deal with me. In the beginning, I was also unsure whether they were targeting the son of Marquis WenYuan, as the marquis’ people also mistook me for the marquis’ son when they saw me. However, it was they who told me that someone did not want the marquis’ son to return to the capital.”
As Lu Feng remained silent while frowning, ZhuangZhong was unsure of what he was thinking. ZhuangZhong then added, “I am also sure that those people were not refugees, as their orderly actions indicated that they were trained. So, the first evidence is that their group organization cannot be compared to any random group that was put together. Secondly, on that mountain, they came straight at us despite the presence of those who had more food. What can they actually rob from a monk? Besides, they also rushed towards us with the intention to kill directly. Most refugees will rob people of food first and only kill when they encounter resistance. After all, the large number of refugees on that mountain also means that killing randomly will only incur people’s wrath. Lastly, they all had the same diaoqing1 “雕青” is not a term but the author did explained further on that it was something like a tattoo. I will just be translating it as “tattoo” so that the reading process will be easier for all of you. on their bodies.”
Diaoqing was also known as a tattoo. At that time, in order to examine the bodies, ZhuangZhong had put in a lot of effort to convince others to let him. It was exactly because of such a perfect devout display that he had to put on the pretense of a monk up till now.
“Tattoo? What did it look like?”
“I copied it down.” ZhuangZhong proceeded to fish out another piece of paper from his pocket that had a fierce stare of a beast with a dragon head and a jackal body2 I was unable to find any official Chinese mythical/folk beasts that looked similar to the beast mentioned so it was probably created for this story..
Lu Feng frowned even more deeply. “Was it seen by other people?”
“At that time, ZhouTong, the steward who came along, saw the tattoo on the corpses and immediately pulled me away. He also did not allow me to ask much about what happened after that.”
When ZhouTong saw the tattoo, he quickly found an excuse to let ZhuangZhong leave the scene. He also did not allow ZhuangZhong to come into contact with these people again, citing that the so-called ritual of cleansing the unclean souls had not been completed. This then made ZhuangZhong suspicious and led him to believe that the tattoo was an important clue. Besides, this also made the real culprit behind the scenes even more unclear. On the surface, ZhouTong seemed to be Madam Hou’s people. So, if these people were sent by Madam Hou, ZhouTong should not be that contradictory, as if he was afraid of divulging a secret and stopped him from the start.
On the other hand, if these people were sent by Concubine Yin as suggested by ZhouTong, then he should have let ZhuangZhong examine the tattoo carefully. Along the way, he also never mentioned the tattoo despite his continuous suggestion that those people were sent by Concubine Yin.
Lu Feng put away the paintings of YuanJue’s portrait and tattoo. Despite being no longer as fierce as before, he was still serious, “What is your motive for pretending to be YuanJue?”
“To find out the killer.”
Lu Feng rebuked in a measured tone, “That should not be the only reason.”
ZhuangZhong raised his back and faced Lu Feng’s doubts upfront. “If this general does not believe me, then I promise to leave Marquis WenYuan’s house and return back to where I came from after I find out the truth.”
ZhuangZhong straightened his stance with a clear gaze as Lu Feng stared at him fixedly.
It was only after a while that Lu Feng retracted his gaze and said with a gentler voice, “To be able to tell me such words means that you do not have a bad heart. I, Lu Feng, am also not blind. After these past few days, I feel that you are someone acceptable. Besides, since my poor nephew and you are brothers, you will also become my nephew. I will reject others’ objections regarding this too, but you will have to agree to one condition.”
Lu Feng’s face turned a little ugly as he replied after a while, “You cannot go on investigating this.”
ZhuangZhong felt as if his head was blasted open, and he could not help but raise his voice, “Why?! Did you not love your nephew the most? Do you want him to die with such injustice, unable to even experience a good life? The reason why I revealed all of this to you was not to listen to such words, but for you to search for the real murderer with me!”
Lu Feng sighed. “I will investigate this secretly, and you shall not be entangled in this. There are also some things I cannot tell you. If you really want to investigate, you will have to wait until you become a high-ranking official of the court, so you cannot be rash now. My nephew also exchanged his life for you, so his greatest desire will be for you to live well.”
When ZhuangZhong heard this, he calmed down. He had thought that it was just a minor issue, like a fire in one’s backyard. However, he did not expect it to be that complicated. What did that tattoo mean, and why was Lu Feng so cautious? For Lu Feng, a great general, to be so careful suddenly made ZhuangZhong realize that this issue ran pretty deep. This also made him fear that the path to avenge YuanJue would not be easy, as there must be great obstructions. Thinking till here, ZhuangZhong felt slightly disheartened. As someone who had been in the judicial department for a long time, he was very aware that some cases just end up unsettled due to external reasons.
ZhuangZhong cupped his hand in front of him and almost pleaded, “I would like to ask General Lu to give YuanJue’s death justice.”
When Lu Feng saw that ZhuangZhong was down in spirits, he patted his shoulder and said, “YuanJue is my nephew, and I, Lu Feng, will not let him die with such injustice.”
On the surface, ZhuangZhong may have told Lu Feng that, but his heart actually had other plans. He was just completely unable to just stand by and watch, so he would just need to be more careful in the future. Besides, Lu Feng was not totally unaware of ZhuangZhong’s thoughts and he was satisfied. For ZhuangZhong to easily remove himself from the matter just by saying such words was really acting too distant.
Lu Feng continued saying with a severe countenance, “Do not tell a third person about today’s affairs, including your aunts. From now on, no matter who asks, you will be my nephew and the son of Marquis WenYuan.”
ZhuangZhong also did not intend to let too many people know he was a fake as he would still need this identity.
When they returned to the crowd, Lu Feng acted as if there was nothing going on, treating ZhuangZhong the same as before.
However, there was unhappiness in ZhuangZhong’s heart. He initially thought telling Lu Feng would bring him closer to the truth. However, unexpectedly, it brought him even further. That night, he proceeded to drink a large amount of alcohol at the Wang’s. Although the alcohol concentration here was not high, he still could not bear it if he drank too much. So, in the end, he fell drunk onto the table.
The next day, he woke up in the Lu family house. As there was only a widow, Madam Wu, left in the Wang family, it was not appropriate for him to stay there. So, the people from the Lu family carried him back. After eating breakfast there, he only managed to return to Marquis WenYuan’s house at noon, which he was then promptly called for by Madam Hou.
“In a few days, you will be going to study in GuoZi Xue. As it has merged into Tai Xue, the rules are now the same as those in the Tai Xue. You will have to live there without anyone to attend to you. Every month, you will also only have four days off. Most importantly, I have already ordered someone to help you gather everything you need. Go back and see what is missing or undesirable, and tell me quickly. Since there is still time, we can change it quickly.”
ZhuangZhong bowed and thanked her, “Thank you, Madam. As you have always done things well, I do not have any dissatisfaction.”
When Wei YuHua saw ZhuangZhong being polite and refusing to get close to her, she was upset. In order to welcome him back at the banquet held a few days ago, Wei YuHua had deliberately made it a big and rowdy event. One of the reasons was to rub it on Yin YueHan’s face, while the other was to show her goodwill to him. Essentially, all those who had some relations with the marquis had been invited in order to let everyone know that they currently had a legitimate eldest son in the marquis’ household.
Alas, how would she know that despite her hard work and efforts, she did not manage to reap any benefits. Although Marquis WenYuan did not say anything, she was unable to restrain her shiver whenever she thought about his gaze then. Meanwhile, during that day of the banquet, ZhuangZhong only knew how to keep his mind shut, completely not realizing her good intentions. ZhuangZhong also did not know how to take the initiative to socialize, so her efforts to help him foster connections in the capital were in vain. In the end, the buzzing banquet she planned ended up like those dinners at an eating establishment where people dispersed right after their meal. She felt extremely painful when she recalled the banquet and how she had invited Yin YueHan’s mockery for nothing.
Wei YuHua took a deep breath, suppressed the resentment in her heart, and said with an expression of affection, “Although we are not a pair of biological mother and son, I do still like you from the first time we met. I may also appear like a serious person, but my heart is actually quite soft, and I am also easy to talk to. So, there is no need for you to be too cautious. If you do not like anything, just say it directly and do not hold it in your heart. After all, we are a family, and there is no need to be distant with each other.”
However, despite her words, ZhuangZhong remained the same. “Many thanks to Madam’s care and concern. I feel that everything is pretty good.”
Wei YuHua felt dejected. Her conversation with ZhuangZhong had always been these few words. Despite the fact that he does not make trouble and she cannot pick out any mistakes in his etiquette, she still felt very angry. Such a lukewarm reaction meant that he would remain harmonious with Yin YueHan, as he also managed to get along with her for quite a few days already.
All this while, Wei YuHua had been pondering: how can Yin YueHan maintain such calmness now? ZhuangZhong had snatched away her sons’ opportunity to study in GuoZi Xue, but she appeared unworried, totally unlike her usual style. Personally, Wei YuHua also knew that she was being too anxious as, after all, ZhuangZhong had just returned not too long ago. Even if she wanted to go against Yin YueHan openly, it should not be that quick. It was just that sometimes, despite understanding certain things, she was unable to maintain her calm.
“I have found some medicine that can make your hair grow faster. Take it back and give it a try. If it works, I will continue to ask for it next time, as it will be inconvenient for you to go out when your hair has not yet grown out.”
HuaMei, the servant girl beside Wei YuHua, presented a tray with several medicine packages and said with an artful smile, “Madam had personally gone to seek the highly skilled Doctor Xue especially for these medicines. As Doctor Xue rarely sees patients now, Madam was exposed to the sun for several hours before she even had the chance to meet him.”
Doctor Xue was a famous and legendary figure in DaYou. Born from a jinshi3 Mentioned before in chapter 9, 进士 (jinshi) refers to a successful candidate in the highest imperial examinations., he once served as a high official in the Ministry of Justice. Had he not retired, he would have become the prime minister. Many officials had even personally inscribed plaques4 Here, I think the author was referring to those Chinese plaques that one would hang on the top of one’s main door/gate. If I remembered correctly, I read somewhere that having a high ranking person to inscribe it for your house will be a great honor (especially the emperor). for him. Driven by his interest, he also never paid attention to the status of those he gave medical treatment to. Hence, to request a meeting with him was not easy.
Wei YuHua rebuked, “What is the use of saying such things when it was nothing? Going out and getting some air is good.”
HuaMei looked like she wanted to say something but was given a stare by Wei YuHua. So, she pouted and stopped talking.
ZhuangZhong said with profound respect and humility, “This… this, Madam, how can I accept such great kindness.”
Wei YuHua replied with a smile, “Do not listen to this girl’s nonsense as it was not that difficult at all. Take the medicine and go. I will let HuaMei inform Cui’er on how to boil the medicine well.”
Reverent and respectful, ZhuangZhong thanked her and left without any further words.
As HuaMei looked at ZhuangZhong’s departing figure, she twisted her mouth, “Madam, you treat him with all your heart, but we still do not know whether this young master who arrived will be appreciative.”
Wei YuHua frowned with a look of melancholy. Wetnuse Fang then said, “People’s hearts are always made of flesh. As long as you take good care of them, they will not make things difficult for us even if they do not know how to repay us in the future. He also looked like a smart man, so he must have known who will be beneficial and who will be a threat to him.”
Wei YuHua sighed deeply and rubbed her delicate and well-maintained pale fingers on her temples. “I hope that it will be so too.”