Chapter 30 – Crown Princess Long Rong

Fang Tinglan had already formed a plausible conjecture in his mind.

Whether or not this count named Simona was harboring ambitions himself or if a shadowy force was lurking behind him and coveting the Amber Emperor’s power, it was absolutely necessary for Fang Tinglan to meet up with him. Just as Zhou Buyi had said, Fang Tinglan was a “cunning fox”, and always came prepared. Dwelling on these trivial matters, Fang Tinglan stood at the entrance of the Grand Theater. In one hand, he tucked away the ticket that Hai Lian had given him, reached into his pocket, and pulled out another.

From ancient times to the present day, Tisu’s plays had been greatly revered. Though in the past, they had only served as a way to worship the gods and sing praises for heroes with song and dance, today, they had evolved into a leisurely pastime for the nobles. Those solemn prayers and sacred rituals had turned into bizarre narratives and sidesplitting productions. Thereafter, the Grand Theater became Jiumeng City’s most luxurious performance center, and naturally, it was looked upon favorably by the populace.

After Fang Tinglan pulled out his ticket, the attendant at the entrance who had been eyeing him suspiciously immediately became respectful and called over a little page boy to directly guide Fang Tinglan up from the foot of the corridor to a box seat overlooking the stage.

As a matter of course, those who could afford to sit in the upper galleries would receive better treatment than the groundlings and commoners in the lower galleries. Not only were the patrons inside these boxes provided with tea and delicacies, but there was also a waiter ready to be summoned at any time on the outside of each box. 

The person who Fang Tinglan was supposed to meet today had already been waiting inside the box for a long time; when he heard the movement behind him, he stood up hastily: “Tinglan.”

“I’m not late, am I?”

“How could that be?” Smiling, Qin Weiyu fished out a few coins and dropped them in the hands of the little page boy who had led the way. This action immediately caused a smile to bloom on the child’s tiny cherubic face, and he hurried to bow and close the door for them. 

“Did you visit the address I gave you that day?”

“Of course I did.” Fang Tinglan walked near the balustrade. The play hadn’t started yet, and the audience below was still settling down. “It took a little effort, but luckily, it was worth it.”

“Did he really know about Fei Yi’s whereabouts?”

“More or less. Granted, the leads he gave me were all from eight years ago. To get more accurate information, I will have to search for it myself. In a little bit, I might have to make a trip to Yun Sea. Wait for me to come back. Then, we’ll return to Dongzhou together.”

“Really?” Qin Weiyu asked joyfully.

“Really.”

Fang Tinglan casually replied to Qin Weiyu, but his eyes were constantly scanning the rows below; he was mentally counting each seat one by one until his line of sight finally froze on a certain number. 

Hai Lian.

On ordinary days, the young man was too lazy to take care of himself, but today, the messy hair which he had often casually tied up was carefully combed to the back. The shirt on his body was the one which had been newly gifted by Lady Yener. Since there was no formal wear in his closet, most likely, his coat was borrowed from Ahbri An. It was too wide for him, and the ink stain on the cuff was like a small tail extending out from his wrist. The little pirate had obviously never been to such a formal and upscale place; discomfort and awkwardness emanated from his body. Even though he had been able to find his seat after much difficulty with the ticket in his hands, he still refused to sit down and instead looked left and right, as if searching for someone.

Unfortunately, it was already too late. Fang Tinglan secretly sighed. When he turned around, he realized that Qin Weiyu had been looking at him suspiciously.

“Tinglan? I called you several times. Didn’t you hear me?”

“Sorry, it was a bit noisy downstairs; I got distracted,” Fang Tinglan apologized, “What did you just say?”

“I said to pay attention to the box opposite to us.” Qin Weiyu also took a glance towards the bottom; unfortunately, he couldn’t find anything that might have distracted Fang Tinglan.

“Opposite to us?” Fang Tinglan’s gaze moved upwards. At this moment, the box across from them was very lively. Inside it were several young girls surrounding a woman in a luxurious gown. They were chattering about something, but unfortunately, it was too far away for Fang Tinglan to hear their conversation clearly. Moreover, a layer of tulle separating the box from the outside blurred their faces.

“Who are those girls?”

“You don’t need to know who they are; you only need to know who the person sitting in the middle is,” Qin Weiyu explained. “The customs of Nanjing are different from those of Dongzhou. Children of royalty, as long as they are not born to the empress, are not permitted to live in the palace until they come of age. The Amber Emperor sitting on the throne today was no exception; before coming of age, he also lived in Wanlin City, 100 li11 li = 500 m away from Jiumeng City.”

“Sudharshi, the previous emperor of Tisu, only had two children. The first, named Berensu, was an illegitimate child born between him and an unnamed lover. Due to his lowly origins, the child was too inferior to be shown in public and was entrusted upon birth to a farmer couple on the outskirts of Jiumeng City; since then, that child has stayed in the countryside for seventeen years. The second child is the daughter born to the emperor and his queen. Her name is Long Rong, and she is the girl sitting in the middle.”

“I heard in the past that this princess Long Rong was kidnapped as a child?” Fang Tinglan’s expression flickered.

“You’ve heard that story too?” Qin Weiyu looked unsurprised, “Her Royal Highness Princess Long Rong was kidnapped by bandits when she was twelve years old. It was the Amber Emperor who led a team to round up the whole lot and bring the little girl back. However, by that time, the princess was already gravely injured, and her psyche had suffered a terrible shock. From then on, her health became very fragile, and she would fall deathly ill at the slightest disturbance or trouble. With such a delicate physique, naturally, she could no longer be the crown princess. At that time, Berensu was only nine years old. Having been raised in the countryside his whole life, he couldn’t even read a single character2Berensu is illiterate, and the inheritance, which had been in dispute, finally fell at Abale’s feet.” Speaking up to here, Qin Weiyu paused. Then, he smiled at Fang Tinglan, “Tinglan, what do you think of this story?”

Unlike Qin Weiyu expected, Fang Tinglan did not sigh deeply but instead directly asked, “What month was Princess Long Rong kidnapped?”

Qin Weiyu hemmed and hawed for a bit; he racked his memory before stating, “I think it might have been early winter.”

Early winter…

——”Alas, on that winter night, my dog suddenly wouldn’t stop barking at the door. I called out his name: ‘Lutuo, Lutuo…’”

A piece of the puzzle fell into place.

“What kind of people were those kidnappers?” Fang Tinglan asked.

“This….no one has really talked about this; most likely the royal family has decreed it into silence.” Qin Weiyu couldn’t help but be confused, “Why are you asking about this?”

“You know how I am; every time I hear a story, I like to get to the bottom of it. Even the old granny of the past was baffled by my questions.” Fang Tinglan laughed, unperturbed, “Then no one knows where Abale found the little girl either?”

“The Amber Emperor himself said he found her at Niutou Cliffs on the outskirts of Tisu. That place is very desolate; the population is sparse, and the land borders a prison. Everyone thought it was inauspicious, so it seemed reasonable for kidnappers to escape over there.”

The prison of Niutou Cliffs…….

——“There was a giant hole in the girl’s chest, and the rest of the corpses either had broken necks or were missing their arms. If I hadn’t seen prisoners being executed at Minotaur Rocks in the past, I would have fainted from fright long ago…….”

Another piece of the puzzle had fallen into place.

The conversation he had with the old beggar one month ago rushed back into Fang Tinglan’s mind. He sifted through the facts in his mind: The story of the princess’s kidnapping eight years ago manifested clearly before his eyes.

——A group of Dongzhou assassins who had stolen away Tisu’s crown princess were intercepted by the Amber Emperor and his Amber Scorpions amidst their escape to Minotaur Rocks. A bloody battle ensued, and the Dongzhou side was completely destroyed. Abale was able to successfully bring his niece back to the palace; however, by this time, the young princess, who was barely twelve, had already suffered a terrible blow to her psyche and became delicate and frail. Sudharshi, who suddenly fell seriously ill, was bedridden, and there was no choice but to make Abale the heir to the throne.

No, that can’t be right.

Fang Tinglan pursed his lips.

What if he approached this from a different angle? An eccentric tyrant like the Amber Emperor…would he really risk his own life to rescue a little girl who directly threatened his own right of succession?

What if……Abale was the real kidnapper, and the Dongzhou assassins were the ones actually trying to save the princess? 

Supposing this was just a crudely planned out coup d’état that had been foiled midway, Abale’s display of “brotherly affection” was probably a pretense. Emperor Sudharshi’s sudden serious illness…was it really a “serious illness”?

In any case, the Abale of that year had already gotten what he desired, did he not?

The moment Fang Tinglan’s thoughts reached this point, a layer of cold sweat formed on his back.

Right now, he was already certain that the group of Dongzhou assassins that had been massacred had definitely been a part of Shang Weiji’s brethren. They had followed their master from Dongzhou to Nanjing, and from thereon, had gone undercover. However, he never expected that the most elite assassins of the South from eight years ago would face such a dismal ending after crossing swords with Abale and his Amber Scorpions.

Fang Tinglan took another glance at the box opposite to them. The play was about to start, and the layer of tulle separating the box from the rest of the theater had already been pulled away. The animatedly chatting girls surrounding the crown princess were now sitting well-behaved in their seats, and at their center, Long Rong, now twenty, was sitting upright. It was too far to clearly distinguish her facial features; the only thing that could be seen in the dim theater was her small pallid face, which shone brightly like a tiny full moon. The jewels embellishing her dress were like the dazzling stars encircling the moon. Although she was only sitting there quietly, it was impossible to ignore such a noble presence in the theater.

There was only one piece of the puzzle left.

To convince Abale to let go of the young crown princess, Shang Weiji must have used something to make a trade. That something must have been precious enough, important enough, and utterly indisputable in its power to have been able to persuade the “mad cripple” to spare the life of the girl next in line for the throne.

A thing like that.

Mellifluous strains of a guqin3guqin: like this flowed down from the stage, and everyone’s eyes converged on one place. At the same time that Fang Tinglan turned his head, the corners of his mouth slightly rose.

The “key” to Tianji’s Treasury.

 


A/N: Fang Tinglan is very smart. ^^ I’ve finally tied together some of the previous clues orz4orz = “I’m overwhelmed!” / “How tiring!”. It’s my first time creating such a long buildup; I hope it won’t collapse. >.<

  • 1
    1 li = 500 m
  • 2
    Berensu is illiterate
  • 3
    guqin: like this
  • 4
    orz = “I’m overwhelmed!” / “How tiring!”

Lucia Rose

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