Since there was flour on the top of the wall, as well as similar shoe prints on the wall and windowsill, Zhuang Zhong concluded that the man who went over the wall and entered was also the murderer of Yuan LiangJun.
This must be a planned murder with a purpose. Otherwise, it would be too coincidental for the murderer to pick up Han Chuan’s knife, sneak into his house to kill his roommate, and plant it on him. It could not have been done for money either, as when Zhuang Zhong searched the room just now, Yuan LiangJun’s valuables were still in his cases, and there were no signs of people going over them.
Even though the Yamen runners had turned the room upside down and destroyed the scene, Zhuang Zhong had already memorized everything before entering. He had a good memory, especially when it came to photographic memory. As long as he remembered it deliberately, it was almost like taking a picture and storing it in his mind, only that it would fade over time. Apparently, despite transmigrating and being much younger in age than before, his memory had become significantly better.
According to the analysis of the scene, if the murderer was actually discovered and killed in a panic, it was unlikely. He was very calm, and it did not appear to be a hasty murder. Quick, ruthless, and accurate, he killed with one slash, confident that it would lead to death. After that, he even hid the knife under Han Chuan’s bedding, and throughout this whole process, there were no sounds of his movements. Whether he was just being extremely audacious or it was a premeditated murder, it was certain that he possessed great skills. The question was, who had Yuan LiangJun incurred enmity with to make the other person want to kill him? Or was the killer aiming at Han Chuan and Yuan LiangJun just happened to be the one to die due to a strange combination of circumstances?
As the clues got connected, the truth emerged little by little in front of everyone.
Feng Huan asked, “Did Yuan LiangJun have any enemies outside?”
Tang BaiShan replied, “Brother Yuan is a forthright and honest person who treats people sincerely. Whether it is in Tai Xue or outside, he was very popular and never stirred up trouble. As far as I know, he had no enemies, and I have never heard of him quarreling with anyone, except for having little disagreements with Jiang Xun. Besides, Brother Yuan is not from the capital, and he knew few people outside. Only during rest periods can he go out to have tea and drink, and every time he was with a lot of people. If he had enemies, we would have known.”
Da sicheng also added, “Yuan LiangJun is the son of a wealthy family in a region south of the Yangtze River, and I have some understanding of his family. The family has a good reputation in their local area, and they are kind. I have never heard of any hatred between his family and others.”
“Although it was Yuan LiangJun who died, it seems everything is pointing towards Han Chuan.” Feng Huan nodded as he did not think that this case was related to Yuan LiangJun either. After all, how could there be such a coincidence in the world for the murderer to pick up or steal the knife belonging to LiangJun’s roommate, then killed him. Even if the murderer had something to do with LiangJun, Han Chuan could not deny his involvement either.
“Did Han Chuan incur enmity with others?”
As soon as Feng Huan said this, all the students on the scene did not know how to respond. Han Chuan’s temperament was really unpleasant, as he liked to take advantage of others and spoke ruthlessly. If the other party did not comply with him, he would say that they were too stingy and had no gentlemanly bearing, spreading such words across the whole Tai Xue. Although these were no big matters, they really made one seethe with anger. He was obviously also a talented scholar, but somehow, he was soaked with the aura that one associated with the common people. Instead of being ashamed about it, he even called it as having elegance.
If all of the students broached the topic in the future, they would have found it really interesting. After all, such amusing relationships between scholars did exist. However, such behavior time and time again would only revert such a view, and this behavior of coveting little advantages would be unconcealable even if he donned a scholar’s robe. It was just that scholars did not speak and do things straightforwardly, so they felt embarrassed to haggle over such trifles, turning a blind eye to it.
Han Chuan quickly denied, “I am also not from the capital, and my popularity is no way worse than Yuan LiangJun. It is impossible for anyone to want to kill me.”
All the students standing on one side lowered their heads. Although Han Chuan’s behavior was not that infuriating for them to want to kill him, he still dared to pit his popularity with Yuan LiangJun. He really did not know himself well enough. Abruptly, the scene became silent, and everyone did not know where to look. It should have been extremely embarrassing, but Han Chuan still did not realize what he said was wrong and only looked puzzled.
Tang BaiShan gave a dry laugh, breaking the silence, and said something very implicitly, “Although Brother Han’s behavior is sometimes astonishing, it is not to the extent of invoking someone’s killing intent.”
Some people really did not know how they have offended others, so Zhuang Zhong asked in a different way, “Have you ever had a dispute with someone outside?”
Han Chuan shook his head. “I have always been kind to people. Besides, I do not go out much, so I have never had a dispute with anyone. I never even said a hurtful remark before too.”
At this time, Fang Xiang’s expression was not good. His eyes flashed, and he was about to speak but ended up saying nothing. Feng Huan, who had been paying close attention to the expressions of all the people at the scene, angrily rebuked, “You! Just say it if you have something to say. What are you being so shilly-shally for?”
Fang Xiang was so frightened that he quickly bowed. He glanced at Han Chuan and finally said, “Debt… Does owing a debt considered a form of incurring enmity?”
Han Chuan’s expression suddenly turned bad, and he glared at Fang Xiang angrily. “Do not talk nonsense. I am not the kind of person who takes advantage of others.”
Fang Xiang immediately hesitated.
Feng Huan squinted his eyes. “Speak quickly! If you dare to hide something, you can scram back home now. As someone who does not even dare to say anything, you will just end up as a fatuous and self-indulgent official in the future.”
When Fang Xiang heard this, he did not dare to conceal the situation anymore. “It is the tadpole noodles stall. Ever since Han Chuan learned that the store owner and he are fellow villagers, he would go there to eat whenever there was a rest period. He will also lead a group of people every time, but usually not as many as yesterday. I… I follow him every time, so I know that he owes money on credit and has never once paid for it.”
Han Chuan, who was afraid that his reputation would be destroyed, quickly explained, “I do not mean to not pay, but it was just not worth it. As it is troublesome to pay the bill piecemeal every time, I said I would remember to settle it all together later on. I do not mean to force them to accept credit! If you do not believe it, you can ask the lady shopkeeper.”
Feng Huan asked, “Lady shopkeeper? Is the boss of tadpole noodles stall a woman? Is she married?” In DaYou, there were not as many restrictions on women as in the Ming and Qing dynasties, and many women also appeared in public to work. However, most of the shop owners were married women or widows, and those who were single would usually not come forward to do business.
“The shop owner is a woman. She has a husband, but he is not usually seen, so it is mainly managed by her. I once saw a man passing by and asked if he was her husband and a fellow villager…” Han Chuan suddenly stopped and frowned as if he was thinking about something.
With Feng Huan’s sharp eyes sweeping over him, Han Chuan quickly added, “In the end, he was turned away by the woman, and his expression was very strange. At that time, I also asked Fang Xiang why she did not dare to admit that they were together. Is it not invoking other people’s assumptions when everything is not explained clearly?”
Fang Xiang also recalled, “I remember you joking at that time that they were so secretive because they had eloped to the capital. When I told you not to speak nonsense and ruin people’s reputations, you disagreed. You had said that there was such an incident where a guard ran away with his wealthy master’s concubine, and there was a big reward offered if they were found.”
Zhuang Zhong’s eyes brightened, and he was very excited. “Yesterday, Han Chuan invited us to eat tadpole noodles, and then we went back to Tai Xue directly. It is very likely that the knife was dropped in the tadpole noodles shop. Tadpole noodles are also made of flour…”
Hearing that, Feng Huan slammed the table and stood up. “Let us go to the tadpole noodles stall and catch people!”
Feng Huan was vigorous and resolute, directly leaving with big strides. His guards and the Yamen runners also uniformly rushed out of Tai Xue to the tadpole noodles stall. It was expected for the guards to follow, as they had to guard Feng Huan. But the Yamen runners were all under Official DaWei, and they just followed without any of his orders, making him unbearingly angry. He might as well stay in Tai Xue and not get involved in the arrest. Since Prince Si Zhao was fond of meddling in other people’s business, just let him get tossed about then. After all, the best suspect had “ran away” and he achieved nothing.
At this time, Jiang Xun came over with the support of another. Zhuang Zhong quickly went forward and asked, “Didn’t the doctor tell you to have a good rest? Why are you here?”
Jiang Xun coughed weakly. Although he was supported all this way by another, the strain was enough to make him pant. “I.. I came to talk about yesterday’s events.”
Zhuang Zhong did not expect that Jiang Xun would recover so soon. Nonetheless, he did not look too well – his face was green, his whole body was trembling, and his voice was very weak. At least he did not look as dead as earlier and was in greater clarity despite being slightly out of sorts.
The one supporting Jiang Xun said, “Just now, Jiang Xun suddenly got up from the bed and insisted on coming over, saying he had something to report to the official.”
Official DaWei hissed, “You can really pick such a time to gain clarity.”
Jiang Xun’s body was weak, so he did not pay attention to Official DaWei’s taunt, only wanting to finish his words quickly. He calmed down and weakly recalled his memories of yesterday. “Yesterday, I left the library last night at about mao shi. When I went to the southwest pavilion, I suddenly saw a dark shadow passing through the nearby woods. With some suspicions in my heart, I chased the person and went in the direction of his disappearance. The man ran very fast, so I do not know whether I had been mistaken or someone really snuck in. Later, when I arrived near Yuan LiangJun’s building, I saw Tang BaiShan. I thought that if there were really someone, he would have seen it. However, he seemed unperturbed and turned away, so I did not stay there for long. I was afraid that if Yuan LiangJun knew it, he would have ridiculed me for sneaking around at night.”
The official slammed the table powerfully. “Such a highfalutin reason. You clearly knew someone snuck into the courtyard with bad intentions but did not speak up, causing Yuan LiangJun to die like this.”
Jiang Xun’s face turned pale. He had not recovered completely, so with such a blow, his eyes became dazed again. “Yes, I caused the death of Yuan LiangJun. How could he have died if I had not cursed him in the daytime and told him that I saw someone that night? It was all me, it was all me…”
Like this, Jiang Xun spoke to himself while shaking tremendously. Zhuang Zhong quickly ordered someone to call the doctor while comforting him with words. “This was just something unforeseen and coincidental. Yuan LiangJun’s death has nothing to do with you. The one who should be condemned is the murderer.”
Da sicheng was also angered. “Official! This is Tai Xue, and all the students are the pillars of the country. How can you maliciously insinuate things about them! Today, you kept on going against the students in Tai Xue. Do you really think I have no temper?! Tomorrow morning, I will speak to the other officials in court about this.”
As someone who could directly report the situation to the emperor, Tai Xue da sicheng’s reputation was extraordinary, and most of the court officials respected him. He was also soft-tempered and did not like to argue with others. Seeing Feng Huan’s departure, Official DaWei felt that his oppressor had finally left, so he took his anger out on Jiang Xun. If these students were not coincidentally misleading, how could he have misjudged and lost face like a fool? However, he did not expect that da sicheng would suddenly turn hostile towards him.
Official DaWei felt empty in his heart, but he insisted, “This is the nature of interrogations. If we do not use certain means, how can we get to the truth?”
Despite such words, da sicheng did not want to speak any further with him and only said, “Official DaWei should be clear why it is like this.”
In the end, Jiang Xun was unable to hold on, so he fainted and was carried back. Da sicheng was worried. It was really troubling. There was going to be a public examination soon, but such a thing happened. Originally, he had high expectations for Jiang Xun, but it would not be easy for him to persist in the public examinations.
Half an hour later, someone came to report that the murderer had been caught.
This time, Prince Si Zhao directly surpassed Official DaWei and became the judge. Zhuang Zhong’s heart rippled. Last time, although Prince Si Zhao had intervened, he did not take over the governor’s role, but this time, he directly intervened. It seemed that he did not trust Official DaWei at all. After all, he was only a Prince Si who did not take up any relevant official post, so he could not be the judge by right. No matter how arrogant he was, he could not just break the rules either. Thus, there was only one explanation – Prince Si Zhao had been granted the relevant official post, so that was why he had dared to do so.
Even though he forced a flask of wine onto Zhuang Zhong the last time, it seemed that from the two cases so far, he was much more reliable than officials like Official DaWei. If he were in charge, it would be a blessing for the people, and he will have a chance to stand out. Zhuang Zhong was certain that Prince Si Zhao had appreciated him.
“I am wronged. My lord, I am wronged.”
The owners of the tadpole noodles stall, a man and a woman named Zhao Xiong and Xu Mei Niang respectively, were kneeling in the hall. Zhao Xiong was tall and strong, while Xu Mei Niang was as beautiful as her name described.
When the judge’s gavel1 The author used “惊堂木” which has a similar purpose to the judge’s gavel we had in current modern courts. However, it probably does not have the appearance of a hammer but more towards a block of wood that when slammed down, calls for silence. was vigorously slammed down, there was immediate silence.
Feng Huan coldly hummed, “Since you are wronged, why did you run just now?”
Zhao Xiong quickly explained, “This lowly one was just frightened.”
“How could you be afraid of the Yamen runners if you had not done something bad?! When it comes to death, you still dare to quibble. This will add on to your crime.”
Xu Mei Niang tugged at Zhao Xiong, wiping her tears and saying, “Zhao-lang2Here, “lang” is a form of address for men, it usually comes after the surname., we should admit to it. You and I are doomed to have no fate in this life and can only hope to see each other again in the next life. I just hope that we will not be as miserable as we are in this life.”
Zhao Xiong grabbed Xu Mei Niang’s hand and vowed, “Mei Niang, even if I have to fight with all my life, I will never let that damned rich man take you away!”
They knelt down in front of the court and looked at each other while expressing their emotions. Such a scene really caused serious goosebumps to form on Zhuang Zhong.
“Do you both really take the court as a stage?! Zhao Xiong, you snuck into Tai Xue last night, killed the student Yuan LiangJun, and then framed it on Han Chuan, who was rooming with the deceased. Why are you still not admitting to what had happened?”
The sweethearts who only had each other in their eyes were shocked when they heard that.
“My lord, I am wronged. Last night, I was at home, so why would I go to Tai Xue and kill someone? Just now, when you came to arrest people, I had assumed that the fact that I ran away with Mei Niang was finally discovered. That was why I ran away in such a hurry.”
“Yes, my lord. Zhao-lang and I have been sweethearts since we were young, but my family was poor, so my father sold me to a rich family as a concubine. I did not expect to see Zhao-lang a few years later when he became the guard of that rich family. The master was not a good person, beating and scolding me. Once he almost killed me, but he never even called a doctor for me. Later, when Zhao-lang found out, he bought some medicine and requested someone to send it to me. Initially, I had already given up and did not dare to think of anything else. However, I could not bear the abuse anymore, so I eloped with Zhao-lang to the capital. When we left, he also stole some money, so he was always worried and ran away as soon as he saw the Yamen runners. Zhao-lang did not kill that student!”
Xu Mei Niang was very eloquent and knew how to express her words emotionally. She successfully expressed the helplessness and fear of a pair of ill-fated mandarin ducks3 “鸳鸯” (yuanyang) refers to a pair of mandarin ducks. 鴛 (yuan) and 鴦 (yang) stand for the male and female mandarin ducks respectively. The Chinese believe that they are lifelong couples, unlike other species of ducks. Hence they are regarded as a symbol of conjugal affection and fidelity, and are frequently featured in Chinese art.. Although eloping with a concubine was punishable, it was a much lighter case than killing.
Feng Huan laughed, but his eyes were still cold. “The story is very moving.”
Xu Mei Niang quickly kowtowed. “This lowly one is only telling the truth.”
Zhao Xiong also straightened his neck and said, “My lord, this lowly one knows that he has committed a crime and deserves punishment. However, I do not admit to killing someone, so I hope that you will make a fair judgment.”
Feng Huan sneered, “I knew that you would be so cunning, so I ordered the Yamen runners to yell that they were catching a murderer and for others to give way before entering the store. If you are not the murderer, why would you be frightened and run away? If we had not ambushed the store, we would have to take great pains to catch you both.”
Xu Mei Niang said hurriedly, “My lord, we were busy at that time, and we did not hear such words. We just heard from the customers in the shop that the Yamen runners want to arrest people, so we ignored everything else due to our fear.”
Feng Huan did not bother to refute them further and gave a look. A Yamen runner came up holding a tray with a pair of shoes and a dagger on it.
“Zhao Xiong, do you recognize this knife?” Zhao Xiong looked at it and shook his head. “I have not seen it before.”
“Are you sure?”
“I dare to use my head to guarantee that I have never seen it.”
“Since you do not care so much about your head, I will take it off for you in a moment.” Feng Huan stood up and went to Zhao Xiong. “This knife is the one that killed Yuan LiangJun, and there is a little flour on it. It must have been accidentally contaminated when it was on the murderer, so he should be someone who often deals with flour. In addition, the footprints found on the walls of Tai Xue were the same as those on the windowsill of the deceased. A little flour was also found on the top of the wall. The evidence was conclusive, and you still dare to quibble!”
Zhao Xiong quickly retorted, “My lord, I make tadpole noodles and often come into contact with flour. However, this cannot prove that I am the murderer. After all, many people come into contact with flour on normal days.”
Despite such words, Feng Huan ignored him and continued, “The owner of this dagger is Han Chuan, who is from the same hometown as you and has been eating for free at your stall. He once suspected that you two had eloped, and you know martial arts. No matter the motive, the conditions of the attack, or the traces at the scene, it can prove that you are the murderer!”
Zhao Xiong immediately yelled injustice. “My lord, you have wronged me. Although everything is tallied by chance, it is not enough to prove that I am a murderer! Just by being someone with martial arts and having to deal with flour constantly does not prove that I am the murderer!”
Feng Huan stared at Zhao Xiong with a faint smile. “At this point, you still do not want to confess? Initially, I wanted to give you an easy way out, but now it seems that you and your lady deserve death.”
Zhao Xiong’s eyes widened. He was about to say something, but Xu Mei Niang interrupted, “My lord! My husband is by no means an evil person who kills people. If we are only convicting my husband on these grounds, I do not accept it! There are so many coincidences in the world. We are not the only ones handling flour, and my husband is not the only one who knows martial arts. In fact, we did not even pay much attention to Han Chuan. Would we become responsible because Han Chuan owed us money? If that is so, there are many shops on this street that are oppressed by him, so should they not all be arrested too?”
Feng Huan did not retort and only took the tray with the dagger to them. “Look carefully again. Have you seen this knife before?”
“Absolutely not!” They both said in unison.
Feng Huan’s eyes turned cold. “Both of you have no idea of death or danger! Zhuang Zhong——”
Hearing that, Zhuang Zhong hurried out from the side.
Feng Huan went to the chair, swiped his robe, and sat down. “Make them be convinced of their crimes.”
Zhuang Zhong bowed. “Yes.”
He put down the case he was carrying. While opening it, he said, “Everyone’s fingerprints are different from others, and it is impossible to find any repetition in the world. As the body naturally secretes sweat, it is easy to be contaminated with dust and other materials on one’s fingers. So when touching other objects, a person will leave corresponding fingerprints on that object. However, it is not obvious, so it cannot be seen with the naked eye and can only be extracted with a special solution.”
“You said you have never seen this knife before, so now I will take your fingerprints first. If it overlaps with the fingerprints on the knife, then you two are lying. It can also prove that Zhao Xiong is the murderer!”
This time, Zhuang Zhong did not deliberately conceal his words as he wanted them to appear profound and frightening.
Xu Mei Niang’s eyes were full of panic when she looked at the dagger. She said, “No way, there is nothing on it, so how can fingerprints be left? Do not use this to deliberately frame us!”
Similarly, Zhao Xiong’s expression also changed dramatically.
“That is why people should always read widely, or they will be killed by their own superficiality.” Zhuang Zhong’s smile appeared warm, but there were no such feelings in his eyes. As he said this, he even placed the magnifying glass in front of his eyes while facing Zhao Xiong. For a moment, Zhao Xiong was startled by this “bull’s eye” and spoke uneasily, “What-what is this?”
“Magnifying glass. Tut, tut, you do not even know that? This is the most common one out of all these treasures. Alas, you have not been reading widely.”
As Feng Huan sat there, he held back a smile as he looked at Zhuang Zhong playing around. However, he soon realized something. He also did not know there was such a thing as a magnifying glass, so was Zhuang Zhong also mocking him together with them? He suddenly felt unwell.
There were a lot of strange utensils in Zhuang Zhong’s case. Besides several pairs of scissors, there were also some that were unrecognizable, which chilled Zhao Xiong and Xu Mei Niang’s hearts. Zhuang Zhong proceeded to take out some odd pieces of paper from the case. “These are fingerprint and handprint cards. Come here and press onto them. This is the left hand, and this is the right hand. Do not make a mistake, as the lines of the left and right hands are also different. You all should have heard the rhyme about fingerprints too, right? One spiral means poor and two means wealth…4 “一螺穷二螺富” is a part of an old rhyme. There are many different folk beliefs that detail the connection between one’s fingerprint patterns and a person’s destiny.”
At this time, Zhao Xiong immediately yelled, “My lord! I am the one who killed Yuan LiangJun! I am the only one who did it, so please let Mei Niang go. She does not know anything!”
Meanwhile, Xu Mei Niang was paralyzed on the ground with empty eyes.
When Zhao Xiong pleaded guilty, Zhuang Zhong let out a sigh of relief. Many people have touched this knife, and his equipment was insufficient, so it would not be easy to collect and identify fingerprints. That was why he deliberately bluffed, hoping to skip this procedure. Besides, he did not bring along many of the solutions, and he could not make them himself. If he could save them up, he would take the chance.
As they had said, Zhao Xiong and Xu Mei Niang really eloped to the capital and stole a lot of money from their master. Zhao Xiong used to be a youxia5“游侠” (youxia) is a person adept in martial arts and given to chivalrous conduct. and had some connections, so he managed to help Xu Mei Niang re-register her residence, hide her name, and run away from her hometown. She also deliberately dressed up completely differently from before, while Zhao Xiong also tried not to appear in front of people in order to cover up their ruse.
They then proceeded to open a small food stall in the capital with the money and even lived a very nice life. It was unexpected that Han Chuan would accidentally enter, recognize Xu Mei Niang’s accent as someone from his hometown, and joked that he seemed to have seen her somewhere before. Every time he visited, he never paid the bill and forced them to accept credit, making the couple think he knew something to dare to act so boldly.
Later on, as Han Chuan became more and more arrogant and she heard him mention the word “elopement” with his classmates before, Xu Mei Niang was even more frightened. While Han Chuan’s appetite got bigger and bigger, Zhao Xiong started to harbor evil intentions too. He had never been afraid of others, and this issue was like a bottomless pit. If they wanted to avoid disaster, they had to make it disappear.
Through conversations, Xu Mei Niang managed to obtain the particular location Han Chuan was staying at. Zhao Xiong also managed to worm himself into Tai Xue, where he previously took on the bricklaying job when renovations in the courtyard were going on. Everything was available, so they just had to wait for the right time. When Zhao Xiong saw that Han Chuan had called so many people to eat and drink for free this time, his heart was burning even crazier, and he ended up stealing Han Chuan’s dagger among the chaos.
That night, he then snuck into Tai Xue, planning to kill Han Chuan. However, just when he arrived at the door of Han Chuan’s room, Tang BaiShan pushed open the door. He had no choice but to go over the window, making some noise. Startled, Tang BaiShan called out, and Yuan LiangJun happened to turn over at this time. Zhao Xiong thought that the sound had woken up Yuan LiangJun, so he killed him directly.
Originally, he wanted to kill Han Chuan and let another one in the room be the scapegoat. This way, they would not be able to trace it back to him. However, now that he killed another, he could not kill Han Chuan despite feeling great reluctance. He could only stuff the dagger in the quilt and leave, never once thinking that it would leave traces of his crime, and he would have to plead guilty.
“I-I do not know anything. I was just-just saying that you looked familiar just to cotton up to you. Besides, I just placed my debt on credit for the time being, and it is not like I would not pay it back.” When Han Chuan heard that, he was paralyzed on the ground, thinking that it was no wonder that she had treated him warmly every time. She had spoken a lot to him, but it turned out to be just conventional verbal exchanges. He did not expect that she was hiding her fangs at all.
In the end, it turned out that everything started because of him. Now, even if he was proven innocent, he could not stay in Tai Xue any longer, and his future would be ruined.
Essentially, as Zhao Xiong and Xu Mei Niang were concealing some matters, they did not like to deal with others and did not know that this was the typical attitude of Tai Xue students. With a guilty conscience, they had assumed that Han Chuan knew something to dare to act so boldly. After all, ordinary scholars usually paid attention to their reputations, so they never thought that they would do such dishonorable things. In fact, this was all because there were ghosts in the bottom of their hearts, causing the couple to mistake the shadow of a bow in one’s cup as a snake.
Even though Zhao Xiong and Xu Mei Niang learned the truth, they could not turn back anymore. After all, someone had died, and they had to be responsible for their own behaviors.
“My lord, this matter has nothing to do with Mei Niang. I did it all by myself. If you want to punish me, punish me! I am willing to bear the burden of being executed or dismembered6 “五马分尸” is an ancient method of death punishment where a person body is torn limb from limb by five horses..” Zhao Xiong vigorously kowtowed on the ground, and soon his forehead was stained with blood.
Xu Mei Niang quickly grabbed onto Zhao Xiong and cried, “Zhao-lang, if you die, I do not want to live either.”
Zhao Xiong’s tears also rolled down his face. “Mei Niang, it is me who has harmed you. If I had been resolute, I would not have watched you marry another, and such things would not have happened either. I caused you to leave behind glory and wealth to live a rocky life with me, a life with fear. Now, I contaminated you with such things. I really-really…”
Zhao Xiong raised his hand to slap himself but was stopped by her.
Xu Mei Niang kept shaking her head. “No, no, these are my will. As long as I can be with you, no matter how bitter things were, it is still sweet.”
Zhao Xiong hugged Xu Mei Niang with a tearful smile. “Mei Niang, promise me to live well.”
This kind of scene should be moving, but as long as one thought of Yuan LiangJun’s unjust death, no one could feel sympathetic. When Zhuang Zhong saw this, he felt even more indignant. Since they were so unwilling to separate from each other, why did they even break the law and kill people?! Was the life of a stranger and one’s lover different so they could weigh it differently? Instead of feeling regretful now, why not refrain from doing it in the first place!
The startling sound of the judge’s gavel interrupted their show of emotions.
“The case of Zhao Xiong killing Yuan LiangJun has solid evidence, and he will be sentenced to be executed after autumn. As Xu Mei Niang collaborated in this crime…”
“My lord!” Zhao Xiong suddenly exclaimed, “I have something here, and I want to exchange it for Mei Niang’s life.”
Xu Mei Niang became frightened. “Zhao-lang, you cannot do this.”
Zhao Xiong laughed, “At this point, we are already in this state, so what else do we have to worry about? If we hand it over, there is still a glimmer of hope. If we do not, how can your delicate body stand the punishment of imprisonment?”
Feng Huan snorted coldly, “Although Xu Mei Niang did not directly kill Yuan LiangJun, she could not deny her involvement from it. It may not be as severe as yours, but it is also a big crime. If you want to redeem her from a felony, it depends on whether that thing of yours is worthy enough.”
Despite such words, Zhao Xiong was confident. “My lord, I stole that rich merchant’s money and abducted his concubine. The reason why he did not dare to report to officials and only dared to offer a reward in private was because I had something belonging to him.”
- 1The author used “惊堂木” which has a similar purpose to the judge’s gavel we had in current modern courts. However, it probably does not have the appearance of a hammer but more towards a block of wood that when slammed down, calls for silence.
- 2Here, “lang” is a form of address for men, it usually comes after the surname.
- 3“鸳鸯” (yuanyang) refers to a pair of mandarin ducks. 鴛 (yuan) and 鴦 (yang) stand for the male and female mandarin ducks respectively. The Chinese believe that they are lifelong couples, unlike other species of ducks. Hence they are regarded as a symbol of conjugal affection and fidelity, and are frequently featured in Chinese art.
- 4“一螺穷二螺富” is a part of an old rhyme. There are many different folk beliefs that detail the connection between one’s fingerprint patterns and a person’s destiny.
- 5“游侠” (youxia) is a person adept in martial arts and given to chivalrous conduct.
- 6“五马分尸” is an ancient method of death punishment where a person body is torn limb from limb by five horses.