# 146. Eat you, Brother The morning of the next day, Xu Qi’an awoke in high spirits. The person beside him had already gone, and all that was left in the brocade duvet was the remnants of a woman’s perfume. He propped himself up, his limbs feeling weak and sore, as if he had just ran a kilometre sprint the day before. *I’ve overslept again… however, I have a good excuse in being late, I came to the Jiaofangsi to investigate.* Xu Qi’an sat up cross-legged and started deep breathing, slowly relieving the fatigue in his cells, returning his body as quickly as possible to its best possible state. He breathed through two microcosmic orbits, as some life came back to his aching muscles. Creak~ The bedroom door was pushed open, and Fuxiang with her dress pulling behind her, came in with her maidservant. Her jet-black hair was tied tightly up, adorned with ornate jewellery. Her pale beautiful face was somewhat sallow. Her eyes were still somewhat red and swollen, her eyelids plump from crying. “Master Xu is awake.” She smiled lightly, wearing a distant and formal smile, “I’ve asked the kitchen to make you some duck broth.” “Put it over there,” Xu Qi’an took toiletries from the maid, and quickly brushed his teeth and washed his face. Coming back to the table, he picked up the bowl, and whilst eating thought: *The Yao woman yesterday was from the Wanyao kingdom remnants, implying that this has nothing to do with the northern Yao… the suspicion on the Zhenbei King is very light… is the target of the Wanyao kingdom the sealed item, or something else?* The reason Xu Qi’an would think this way, is that if the target was indeed the sealed item, then the Yao kingdom’s people would cash in and flee, rather than stay in the capital and cause more trouble. *…There’s another possibility, that not only are the Yao after the sealed item, but there’s a much greater plot, and the sealed item is just a means to an end.* The different leads of the Sangpo case had pretty much been uncovered. The main conspirators: One, traitors in the court; two, the remnants of the Wanyao kingdom. The target: Unknown. The sealed item: A powerful person’s severed hand. Factors, people, and powers involved: The Wanyao Kingdom, The Earl Pingyuan, the Minister of War, the Sitianjian, the Crown, Princess Pingyang, the Monk Henghui, Baihu Zhou Chixiong of the Jinwu guard… Points of interest: The handless powerful person, the monk Henghui, Princess Pingyang. *If I can find out the identity of the severed hand, then I can deduce what the true objective of the Wanyao kingdom is… then, if I can capture one of Henghui or Princess Pingyang, then I can work back to find the true events…* Xu Qi’an drank his broth, and sighed in satisfaction. Only then did he have time to tease Fuxiang: “Are you angry?” Fuxiang’s smile was sweet, “Master Xu should not make fun of your servant, your servant is just a prostitute girl, what right do I have to be angry with the Master?” *Alright, “Dear” has now become “Master Xu” has it…* Xu Qi’an nodded, stretching in a carefree manner, “Prepare some hot water, I want a bath.” Fuxiang nodded, smiling, and arranged a maid to bathe him. She herself led her personal maidservant out, to walk. Xu Qi’an had a comfortable hot bath. He tidily dressed, tied on his bronze gong, strapped on his sabre, and then thought for a moment, asking “Could you prepare some ink and a brush for me.” The small maid softly answered “Yes sir.” … “Madam, are you not being too cold to Master Xu?” In the alleys of the Jiaofangsi, the maid asked. Fuxiang’s gaze remained facing forward, as she shook her head slightly, her tone somewhat mournful, “You don’t understand. I once pleaded with him, if he could buy my freedom, yet he refused.” The maid fell silent, and then tried to explain for Xu Qi’an, “Master Xu probably has no silver. Madam’s contract at the low end would be three to four thousand taels of silver, and it might even have doubled.” Fuxiang drew back her gaze, looking at the floor, “I’ve saved quite a lot of silver over these years, it is possible…” She laughed bitterly, her expression melancholy, “In his heart, I’m no different to you. Before I didn’t want to believe it, I tried to deceive others and deceive myself, but the events of last night made me see myself properly.” It was nought but wishful thinking; as flower petals fall into a stream with desire, yet the stream has no feelings for the flower. As she walked, unconsciously she came to the Azure Pond Courtyard, and a clamorous series of sounds caught her attention. Two men in Nightwatcher uniforms with Bronze Gongs, walked out with Mingyan in shackles. The old brothel keeper blindly followed their footsteps, her expression panicked, vigorously protesting: “Officers, officers, this must be a mistake, it must be a mistake!” The oiran Minyan’s face was full of terror, “Mother, I was wronged, I was wronged!…” She knew these two silver gongs, they were the two that usually accompanied Xu Qi’an in drinking games at the Reflecting Plum Pavilion. She remembered one was surnamed Song, the other … that one was too silent, she couldn’t remember. *What’s happened? Yesterday Mingyan was perfectly fine. Right, why did Master Xu suddenly come back to my Reflecting Plum Pavilion… did Mingyan offend the master? And so she was set up?* She immediately discounted this thought; even though her heart was ashen towards this man, she still believed Xu Qi’an was not that type of person. Fuxiang frowned, and met the Nightwatchers, giving a full bow, “My sirs, what crime has Madam Mingyan committed?” Song Tingfeng stopped, and replied with squinted smile, “Madam Mingyan secretly conspired with the Yaoguai, and provided shelter. Last night through Sir Xu’s covert investigation, he found the female Yao that was hiding as her personal maidservant. “The Yao woman has already been executed, we are now bringing her in for questioning.” The brothel keeper beat her chest and stamped her feet, “This is a false arrest! Mingyan is merely a weak woman, how could she have conspired with the Yaoguai? Do you know how much blood and sweat and silver went into raising and training her? I’m going to report this to the Ministry of Rites, the Ministry will defend us!” Zhu Guangxiao said solemnly, “I now suspect that you are also in cahoots.” The brothel keeper suddenly fell silent, her will to stay alive taking over and making her back away. Song Tingfeng squinted, before nodding towards Fuxiang, and leaving. Fuxiang stared in a daze at their backs, and started thinking… *Mingyan conspiring with Yao? Master Xu covertly investigating?* *Last night he decided to stay at the Azure Pond Courtyard, not because he was enamoured with new people, but because he had official duties, yet I was just a pouting troublemaker.* *I saw him come back last night exhausted, I had thought that he and Mingyan… I’ve wronged him, and this morning I gave him such an attitude… but why didn’t he explain? Right, he couldn’t explain, because this is official business of the constabulary, case details must be kept secret.* *And yet even like this, though he knew he was being misunderstood, wronged, he didn’t show a sliver of annoyance, silently taking it all…* Fuxiang suddenly picked up her skirt hems, and sprinted towards the Reflecting Plum Pavilion. “Madam, where are you going, slow down…” the maidservant was startled. As she flew back to the Reflecting Plum Pavilion, and rushed into the bedroom, Fuxiang shouted out “My Dear…” The room was empty, he had already gone. At this moment, she felt as if she had lost something precious, as if she had lost a part of her heart. “Madam, madam…” the maidservant caught up, and saw her Madam standing emptily by the doorway. “I’m tired, support me.” Fuxiang said softly. The maid supported her onto the bed, and glanced at her, sighing inside. She did not dare to disturb her, and so turned to tidy the room. She saw the pen, paper, and ink stone on the table by the screen divider, and let out a soft “eh?”. Walking over, she said: “Madam, there’s a poem here, perhaps Master Xu left it.” Fuxiang immediately came to life, rushing barefoot to the tableside, snatching it from the maid as if she was snatching a precious jewel, and read: *A fair girl draws the blind aside.
And sadly sits with drooping head;
I see her burning tear-drops glide
But know not why those tears are shed.*[^1] “My dear, my dear…” She first laughed, and as she laughed and laughed, teardrops began to fall like rain. She sagged towards the floor, clutching the paper to her heart, both crying and laughing, like raindrops on pear blossoms. “I’m going to find him.” Fuxiang wiped her tears, rising, and jogged towards the door. The maid was greatly shocked, as she clung onto her Madam’s waist, “No no no, you’re an oiran, the most famous oiran in the Jiaofangsi, if this were to get out, how will you continue on? All that fame that you’ve gained would all be gone. “There’s never been another oiran without style like this.” Fuxiang angrily shouted “Let go of me!” “Absolutely not!” … Xu Qi’an bought six large meat buns at a street stall, and leisurely rode towards the constabulary. *The oirans of the Jiaofangsi are all pretty good looking… each have their allure, there’s nothing beautiful that can be imagined… mn, when the Sangpo case is finished, I’ll go and exchange experiences one by one with them, and then publish a “Guide to the Oirans of the Great Feng”.* *The only issue is that I don’t have that much money. Every day I can only pick up three cash of silver, and with the price of the Oirans it takes at least thirty taels to sleep one for a night.* *Thank you, nine years of mandatory education[^2]… those poems weren’t for nothing. Heh, I’m really a disgrace to transmigrators, they use literary talent to get high official jobs, and I freeload prostitutes…* *I’m nearly twenty now. At least Auntie isn’t my mum, she won’t bother with my marriage, I can decide for myself. Caiwei is a disciple of the Sitianjian, it’s too hard behind the scenes, almost like trying to marry a lesser princess, I won’t be able to go out and play much more…* *But let’s not be hasty. A few more years of sleeping around, after all the Jiaofangsi has twenty-four oirans! Haha, I’m thinking out of my arse anyway, as if the disciples of the Jianzheng even deign to look at me as a suitable partner.* Freeloader Xu mocked himself in his mind, his thoughts going all over the place, finally returning to the ase. He was the one who had encouraged Song Tingfeng to arrest her. Even though he confirmed last night that she was innocent, he still had questions to ask, such as when did that maid enter the Jiaofangsi, who was she close with, what was her daily habits, etc. … In a quiet courtyard, the willow trees trailed down branches like hair, all devoid of leaves and looking rather desolate. Thumping and clattering came from within the house, as well as the pained grunts of a man… a moment later, all activity stilled. “Creak~” The door opened, and a black-robed Henghui walked out, coming directly to the well in the courtyard. He stared into the deep well for a moment, before waving his hand. The well opening suddenly alit with a golden sauwastika[^3], before breaking . After the seal was removed, Henghui jumped in. In the dim well bottom, the mud gave off the light stench of stagnant water. A middle-aged monk sat with his back against the well wall, cross-legged in meditation. He looked dreary and desolate, his lips were dry and cracked, as if he had been badly hurt. The middle-aged monk had a tall and sturdy build, with a light grey beard shadow, his face displaying a great bitterness. If Xu Qi’an was here, he would immediately recognise this monk: someone that Xu Qi’an had been searching in worry for a long time; Hengyuan. “Brother…” Henghui’s voice was hoarse. Hengyuan ignored him; sitting silently. “I’ve been gravely hurt, the severed hand is biting back.” Hengyuan opened his eyes, and said with concern, “Henghui, look back and the shore is at hand.”[^4] Henghui shook his head, “Brother. At the age of six I came to Qinglong temple. I’ve followed by your side, you taught me how to meditate, taught me the sacred texts, looked after me for food, bed, and clothing. You treated me like a blood brother, now I plead with you for one thing.” Hengyuan sighed, and nodded. Henghui raised his head, showing a pair of eyes with no white. He laughed fiercely, “I need to eat you, brother.” --- [^1]: 怨情 Yuan Qing “Resentment”, by the famous poet Li Bai. The translation is taken from [here](https://m.kekenet.com/kouyi/201509/397708.shtml). [^2]: Mandatory education in China starts at 6, and goes for 9 years, with 6 years primary, and 3 years junior high. This is followed optionally (but realistically always) by 3 years senior high and then higher education afterwards. [^3]: 卍 [^4]: Buddhist saying. Look back and repent (you can still be saved).