“Go with me to Shagui Bay? What for? Supervising me?” Hai Lian wrinkled his brows.
“No, to help you,” Fang Tinglan corrected.
“With your skills?” The young man’s gaze trailed from Fang Tinglan’s face to his body. Eyeing Fang Tinglan’s expensive silver-threaded robe1something like this, he scoffed, “I’m just afraid that before ‘Young Master Fang’ reaches Shagui Bay, he’ll be swallowed up and not even his bones will remain.”
“Is that so? However, I seem to recall that in a naval battle long ago, it was your Dufeng which was crushed by me,” Fang Tinglan replied confidently.
Hai Lian: “……”
“I really am going there to help you, since I’ll also be helping myself.” Fang Tinglan seldom explained himself. “If you think rushing into the enemy’s lair by yourself is too risky, I have a plan that’ll guarantee your escape, unscathed.”
“What kind of plan?”
“That plan……” Fang Tinglan drawled, “….will be to….” Pulling back on the reins to cue the old horse to turn, he divulged his plan. Hai Lian listened politely, his fingers gently smoothing the newly gifted clothing in his hands. However, by the time Fang Tinglan had finished speaking, they were ready to pinch through the fabric. “Just doing that will be enough?”
“Pretty much. As for the rest, we’ll wing it.”
“Don’t try to trick me; you’ve clearly told me only half of your plan.”
“It’s true that I’ve only thought of half. We’ll leave the other half in suspense. How about it?” Fang Tinglan showed his familiar fox-like smile.
Hai Lian hated that expression the most. After making a dismissive gesture, he turned away from the other, not wanting to look at him anymore.
In the shaky carriage, the two of them traveled from Chenming Palace to Anwan’na District. When they arrived, it just so happened to be the red-light district’s peak business period. Their surroundings were packed, and there was no room to park any more carriages on Lady Jinling Hua’s establishment. Fang Tinglan was forced to take the old horse to Pearl Tavern, but the proprietress immediately refused him. According to her, such a broken-down carriage would use up two carriages’ worth of space and cost the tavern a business opportunity. Plus, that old horse looked like it could die anytime. If it toppled over, it would bring bad luck to the entire establishment.
Thus, Fang Tinglan was forced to pay double.
As he walked back, Fang Tinglan wondered whether he should buy two sets of poor people’s clothes. However, when he reached his residence, he saw Hai Lian waiting for him at the entrance. Seeing him, Hai Lian passed over the two items in his hands.
“Ahbri An said he wanted to return half the money first. As for the other half, I’m sure it’s coming soon. The truth is, he’s a very diligent person, just unlucky.” Seeing Fang Tinglan about to open his mouth, he quickly added a sentence to seal it up again, “Don’t you dare spout any more nonsense about ‘cousins’. It’s your own money. Keep it.”
Fang Tinglan smiled. He obediently tucked away the purse filled with coins before looking at the other object in his hands: “This is…?”
“A ticket to the Grand Theater. From him to you. Consider it as interest.”
Fang Tinglan used the light from the window to read the words on the ticket. His lips moved slightly. If his recollection didn’t fail him, then this play, The Silver Key of the Lake, was exactly the one he and Qin Weiyu had agreed upon for their next meeting.
“He only gave one ticket?” His gaze wandered over to Hai Lian, who was waiting for his reply.
“Then, will you be going, too?”
“Yes,” Hai Lian nodded. A promise to a friend had to be kept.
“Please send him my thanks. If I don’t have any other arrangements on that day, I’ll also go to support him.” In his heart, Fang Tinglan sighed a little ruefully, but spoke with a smile.
The other’s answer was a little ambiguous. However, this was not something Hai Lian needed to care about; his job was only to act as the messenger. The young man turned to go, but after a moment of thought, he turned back around to face Fang Tinglan. Raising his head, he said, “I’m still thinking about the plan that you told me earlier.”
“Hmm?” Fang Tinglan blinked, “Is there a part of the plan you believe unsuitable for you and would like to change?”
“No, I’m not as astute as you. There’s no way I can brainstorm that many possibilities and fail-safes. Your plan is good.”
“Originally, I just wanted to hurry up and deliver the money and ticket to you and be done with it. Regarding the bullsh*t you spouted before about being companions and whatnot, I believed none of it.” Hai Lian stared directly into Fang Tinglan’s eyes and spoke calmly, “But this time, if I decide to go along with your plan and travel to Shagui Bay as per your arrangements, I’ll be placing my life into your hands. Fang Tinglan, how will you make me trust you?”
“Is this matter very important to you?”
“Very important. Extremely important.” Hai Lian’s voice was dead serious.
However, the street on which they were standing was truly not conducive to discussing such important matters. Lying in wait on the other side of the wall was a sordid picture of humanity: Overflowing wine, lurid lamps, bestial desires, and sexual intercourse. Lady Jinling Hua’s high-pitched laughter echoed through the air like the screeching of some large bird of prey, circling endlessly in the night skies. On the other end of the street, wheezes of a perpetual cough, resentment, discontent, disease, and poverty lurked. A man with a lame leg was berating his wife. A child was crying while washing what seemed to be a never-ending pile of clothes.
In such a place, neither should one expect a fateful promise to be made nor a meaningful love to be born.
Amidst this cacophony of laughter and tears, Fang Tinglan lowered his eyes. How could a person as Hai Lian be born among such squalor? His initial interest in Hai Lian had only been superficial and stemmed from the secrets the young man seemed to be hiding. He only intended to investigate him. And so he got close to him, half-jokingly teased him, then watched as the little pirate got angry. However, this little pirate was not one to bear grudges and still clearly distinguished right from wrong. He wouldn’t stay silent in the face of injustice.
Before his reason could stop him, Fang Tinglan had already taken Hai Lian’s hand into his, then slowly pressed it to the left side of his chest. Under Hai Lian’s astonished eyes, he lowered his head——just two hours ago, their foreheads had collided in the worst way imaginable. Now, they collided again, but this time, very gently. As if Fang Tinglan was a lover affectionately dropping a kiss on Hai Lian’s forehead.
Then, Fang Tinglan said: “With this, I ask you to trust me.”
One month later, Fang Tinglan found himself at the entrance of the Grand Theater. He hadn’t seen Hai Lian once since the incident.
At first, he thought that his abrupt actions that night had frightened the little pirate into fleeing and not wanting to meet him again. Once, staring at the tightly locked door on the roof, Fang Tinglan had even wondered if Hai Lian had moved away. However, yesterday, when he went out to the pub to share a drink with Zhou Buyi, the other inadvertently mentioned that the governor-general of a certain district a couple hundred miles away from Jiumeng City had died bizarrely on his way home.
“It was a very clean death. The governor’s life ended with a single cut to the throat. The killer must have been an experienced assassin. Not only did he know not to leave any traces of his nefarious deed, but he even knew how to deal with the body in the aftermath. It wasn’t left hanging out in the streets to rot, which would have attracted the attention of the authorities. On the contrary, early in the morning, a drunkard ‘coincidentally’ awakened in a garbage heap and discovered that he had a ‘companion’ next to him. The most interesting thing of all was that three days after this man died, Tisu immediately intercepted a confidential letter.” Zhou Buyi took a sip of wine, “Which should have been on the body of that unfortunate governor.”
“What was inside that confidential letter?”
“I don’t know; my mistress2likely referring to the pretty Tisu girl who appeared in Chapter 23 wasn’t able to find out.” Zhou Buyi shook his head, “Pillow talk, this thing, if it’s too strong it will give you a headache. Not worth it. They all say it was the hand of the Amber Scorpions, but I don’t think so.”
For some reason, Fang Tinglan’s intuition was telling him one thing——it was Hai Lian who had done it. He had always been quick to catch on, however.
“Is this because the letter did not appear directly in the Emperor’s hand?” He asked.
“Exactly.” Zhou Buyi held up a finger, “It was a count named Simona who got it.”
“Does this count have anything particular about him?”
“He’s extremely infamous, powerful, and arrogant. If we were to hold a competition on who could lick the crippled Emperor’s shoes the cleanest, he’d definitely be leading the pack.” Zhou Buyi drank the last sip of wine in his cup, then started snacking on nuts, not letting his mouth rest for a minute, “But from the intuition I have gained from licking Qin Weishen’s stinky feet so many times, I’m certain that this guy has a problem——after all, being a knave and a bootlicker does require some skill, but this guy is just too much. Let me give you an example. Right now, the Emperor’s wench….uh, let me use a more proper form of address…lover, is this woman called Lady Nanduo. In the past, this woman was a dancer at the Grand Theater, but later, she became Simona’s wife. Then, the Emperor slept with her. Not only did this count’s face betray no emotion, but he also obsequiously sent his woman into the Emperor’s palace.”
“Maybe he’s just spineless?”
“Officer Fang, I’m not an idiot,” Zhou Buyi looked very dissatisfied, “there is no need to tell me this.”
Fang Tinglan laughed before asking directly, “How can I meet this person?”
“Who knows. He’s one of the Emperor’s favored ministers. The thousands of treasures and great wealth bestowed upon him are like a bottomless abyss. He even handed Lady Nanduo, a woman who was beautiful enough to topple cities and kingdoms, to the Emperor on a silver platter. So clearly, money and beauties won’t move him. We need an even stronger bargaining chip on our side in order to lure him out,” Zhou Buyi said, “the ‘real’ him, that is.”
“I understand,” Fang Tinglan nodded, “Tomorrow, I’ll be meeting with Qin Weiyu. Let’s see if he has a way.”
“Fang Tinglan, a cunning fox like you would have been better off working as an unscrupulous merchant.” Zhou Buyi looked pleased.
“How could an unscrupulous merchant earn more than an unscrupulous high official?” Smiling a little cryptically, Fang Tinglan placed the money for the wine on the table, got up, and left.
A while later, a furious exclamation came from behind him.
“——Fang Tinglan! You b*st*rd, get back here! You only paid for your own f*cking share of wine!”
[Sushi]: Please welcome our new co-translator, Lucia Rose ~~
(She’s such a blessing, and, as you can see from this chapter, her English flows like honey~~)
[Lucia]: Thank you so much, Sushi! I will do my best! 🥺💗
- 1something like this
- 2likely referring to the pretty Tisu girl who appeared in Chapter 23