Chapter 97: Do Not Look If It’s Inappropriate
He Yan didn’t immediately sit up, but rather groaned while holding her head, her mind occupied with other thoughts.
It turned out that Yuan Baozhen had indeed come to test her. First, he wanted to test how she had discovered the issue with the wine cup. Second, he wanted to see if she was truly blind. This man was extremely calculating, even arranging for Ding Yi to play a part, specifically to observe her reactions. If there was even a slight deviation in how she responded, it might lead to other suspicions between her and her servant.
Her hearing was exceptional, and she had already heard Ding Yi’s movements earlier. She also knew that Yuan Baozhen hadn’t left immediately, so she deliberately cooperated with them to act out the scenario that Yuan Baozhen wanted to see. But while Yuan Baozhen was testing her, she was also testing him.
Despite their significant connection, they insisted on describing it as mere acquaintance. However, Ding Yi, the servant of He Rufei, wouldn’t be here without a good reason. As for the wine, it indeed had an issue. But what puzzled He Yan the most was the role He Rufei played in all of this. Was he conspiring with Yuan Baozhen to harm Xiao Jue? Or was he the mastermind himself? Or perhaps they were both acting on behalf of someone else?
Next, she would have to follow Ding Yi to find out what these two were up to.
Outside, there was no more commotion, and He Yan’s groaning grew a bit louder. There was movement behind her, and it was the sound of Fei Nu’s voice. He asked, “What’s wrong with you?”
“I just bumped my head a moment ago,” He Yan replied absently, reaching out to grab him. “Big Brother Fei Nu, come help me up. I’ve sprained my ankle.”
Fei Nu stepped forward to assist her, but since her eyes were covered with a cloth, he couldn’t see her emotions. He had no idea what He Yan was thinking at the moment.
In fact, the performance earlier was not only for Yuan Baozhen’s benefit but also for Fei Nu’s.
Yuan Baozhen and Ding Yi were both intent on testing He Yan, but they failed to notice that Fei Nu had been standing at the door, listening to the commotion inside. They were unaware, but He Yan had noticed. Fei Nu had simply removed the bowls and plates, but his prolonged absence was more than it seemed, like a mantis stalking its prey while unaware of the lurking bird of prey.
For some reason, He Yan had a lingering feeling that neither Xiao Jue nor Fei Nu completely trusted her. It was understandable since she had no prior connection with them, and trust wouldn’t naturally be established from the beginning. However, her keen instincts picked up not just lack of trust but also a sense of caution and suspicion from Xiao Jue.
He Yan couldn’t quite fathom why this was happening. She pondered over the fact that she hadn’t done anything to arouse suspicion. Now that she was in this place, her interactions with Yuan Baozhen were minimal, and they had no prior history together. She couldn’t understand why she was being doubted.
She decided to brush it off as mere suspicion and carried on with the act. “Big Brother Fei Nu, where did you go just now? That Imperial Censor Yuan sat with me for a while, and you didn’t even notice.”
Fei Nu avoided her question and simply asked, “How’s your head?”
He Yan touched her head and said, “It’s swollen quite a bit. I don’t know when it’ll go away.” She sighed deeply, “This is like the Feast at Hongmen. I think my little brother is quite clever not to have come. It’s much more dangerous than being forced into marriage.”
If it were Cheng Lisu in this situation, it’s unclear how things would have unfolded.
“You rest for a while,” Fei Nu’s voice carried no discernible emotion. “I’ll be right outside. Call me if you need anything.”
He left again.
He Yan laid on the bed, blindfolded by the cloth. Fei Nu couldn’t see her expression, and she couldn’t gauge his reaction either; they were both inscrutable.
She had no idea when Xiao Jue would return.
Xiao Jue returned late in the night.
On that day, He Yan and Fei Nu stayed inside the Sun residence, not doing much. They meticulously tested the food and wine brought by Sun Xiangfu for poison using silver needles. As He Yan couldn’t see, she chose to spend the day sleeping in the room, while Fei Nu kept watch outside.
When Xiao Jue returned, Fei Nu woke up immediately and went over to him, saying, “Young Master.”
Xiao Jue gestured for him to come into the inner room. Fei Nu glanced at He Yan, who was sound asleep on the bed.
Under the dim lamplight, she appeared to be sleeping peacefully. Fei Nu followed Xiao Jue into the inner room, completely unaware that the young man lying on the bed was lightly tapping the bedding beneath him with his hands. He Yan certainly wasn’t asleep. After sleeping throughout the day, how could she possibly continue to sleep at night? She wasn’t a pig raised in a village. Second Young Master Xiao clearly had something to discuss with his trusted subordinate, and Fei Nu would likely inform him of everything that had transpired at the residence today.
Master and servant exchanged quiet words, but He Yan didn’t dare to eavesdrop. Xiao Jue wasn’t like Yuan Baozhen; he had real skills. Once she exposed herself, there would be too many complications, and the risks would outweigh the benefits. However, she could guess what Fei Nu was likely telling him. He Yan felt that their act today had likely fooled Fei Nu.
As for whether they could deceive Xiao Jue, she wasn’t so sure.
In the inner room, a lamp had been lit.
Xiao Jue placed his sword on the table and took a seat in one of the chairs.
“Master, Yuan Baozhen came today,” Fei Nu said.
Xiao Jue looked up. “What’s the matter?”
“It seemed like he came specifically to find He Yan. Yuan Baozhen had a few words with him.” Fei Nu recounted the conversation between Yuan Baozhen and He Yan verbatim and then added, “It seems like Yuan Baozhen was trying to test He Yan.”
Xiao Jue pondered for a moment and asked, “What’s your assessment?”
“Based on how He Yan answered, it seems like she doesn’t know Yuan Baozhen. There weren’t any noticeable flaws. However, it’s also possible that the two of them were acting together. But overall, the suspicions surrounding He Yan have been temporarily cleared.”
“Cleared?” Xiao Jue chuckled, saying, “Fei Nu, the liar in our room even fooled you.”
Fei Nu was puzzled.
“Don’t forget, when He Yan competed with Wang Ba in archery with her eyes covered, she shot down a bird in the sky. Do you think someone with such exceptional hearing wouldn’t notice when Yuan Baozhen’s guard placed a stool in front of her?”
“Are you saying…”
“She could have easily avoided the stool but chose to fall, fooling Yuan Baozhen was one aspect, and fooling you was the other,” Xiao Jue nonchalantly explained. “This person is quite skilled at deception.”
The common perception of a blind person is someone who stumbles and appears nervous, unable to do much when there’s no one around to help. Yuan Baozhen and Fei Nu, being ordinary people, naturally held such views. Seeing He Yan fall helplessly perfectly fit the image of a blind person. However, He Yan wasn’t an ordinary blind person. Even with her eyes covered, she could shoot a bow and arrow better than most.
Yuan Baozhen hadn’t witnessed He Yan’s blindfolded archery, but Fei Nu had, and even so, he had overlooked this crucial detail.
“Deceiving you is secondary; the person she most wants to deceive is Yuan Baozhen. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have come up with such an absurd story about a flying insect in the wine.”
A flying insect in the wine? How could that be possible? It wasn’t summer, and the Sun Mansion paid extra attention to such matters, with sachets of wormwood hanging everywhere to repel insects. It was hard to believe that a flying insect would end up in the wine, making He Yan’s story even more unbelievable.
“Master, then is he really working for Yuan Baozhen?” Fei Nu was now confused. If he were Yuan Baozhen’s man, why would he go through all this trouble to arouse suspicion?
“It doesn’t seem like it, but we can’t say for sure,” Xiao Jue said, as there were writing materials on the table, likely arranged by Sun Xiangfu. He didn’t particularly enjoy these things but seemed to appreciate a touch of elegance.
Xiao Jue took the pen and wrote a few words. His handwriting was elegant and bold, appearing exceptionally striking on the paper.
“I want you to take a letter to Lin Shuanghe.”
“Young Master Lin?” Fei Nu, who usually wore a calm expression, finally showed surprise on his face. “Master, didn’t you forbid Young Master Lin from coming to Liangzhou?” Suddenly, something struck him, and he said in disbelief, “Is it… for He Yan?”
The ink dried quickly in the breeze as he sealed the letter and prepared to leave. He lowered his gaze and said, “For his sake, but not entirely for him.”
Fei Nu didn’t press for more answers and finished sealing the letter. He was about to leave discreetly when Xiao Jue noticed and chuckled.
“Why are you being so cautious? The person outside has already awakened,” he remarked.
“Young Master?” Fei Nu froze in his tracks.
“Never mind. When it comes to deception, you’re not his match either,” Xiao Jue shook his head lazily and added, “Besides, he doesn’t have the courage to come in.”
Fei Nu stood still for a moment, then left the room. Once he was gone, Xiao Jue adjusted the lamp wick with a twist, illuminating his bright, piercing eyes in the light.
His words were swallowed by the night.
When He Yan woke up, Xiao Jue was gone again.
These past few days, he seemed quite busy. Whenever He Yan was awake, he had already left, and when he returned, she was already asleep, so they hadn’t even crossed paths. She suspected that his activities were related to the events at the Sun Mansion’s night banquet, but she couldn’t follow him around. All she could do was sit here and wait.
But waiting wasn’t her preference. Fortunately, as the afternoon turned to evening, Fei Nu also had to leave for something important. Before he left, he gave her countless reminders and cautioned her to stay inside, to avoid any trouble.
He Yan nodded in agreement.
In He Yan’s view, the Sun Mansion wasn’t as dangerous as Fei Nu had implied. Based on the events of the nighttime banquet, it seemed that the assassins’ target was only Xiao Jue. With Xiao Jue not present, the mansion was already seventy percent safer. The remaining thirty percent didn’t necessarily pose a threat to her, considering her abilities.
Early that morning, He Yan had removed the blindfold from her eyes. It had been two days, and it was time to replace it. Unfortunately, the physician who had been scared away by Xiao Jue last time hadn’t returned, so there was no one to make a new blindfold for He Yan.
Despite removing the blindfold, the people in the mansion still treated her as if she were blind, except for He Yan herself.
Suddenly removing the blindfold, He Yan felt that the daylight was too bright, which made her a bit uncomfortable. Yesterday morning, she had removed the blindfold in front of Fei Nu but maintained her usual expression. Only she knew how much she had wanted to shed tears at the time—it was truly dazzling.
In fact, He Yan had never really been “blind.”
On the night of the banquet, the servant who was sent by Ding Yi to attack her did indeed throw something like a powdery substance. She had deflected it, and at the time, her eyes did sting a bit.
After all, she had been blind once before, and her heightened anxiety and sensitivity about her eyes led her to subconsciously feel that her surroundings were blurry and suspected that she might be going blind. But once she calmed down, she realized that she had actually evaded it. Later, during the night when there was no one around, He Yan had secretly removed the blindfold and could see the light from the lanterns outside.
It had been a simple misunderstanding caused by excessive tension, and she had initially intended to explain it on the following day. However, as time passed, she changed her mind.
A blind person was seen as non-threatening. It was much easier to approach Yuan Baozhen as a person with no perceived threat than as the “clever Young Master Cheng” who could detect poison in wine.
So, when she removed the blindfold in front of Fei Nu, He Yan showed no signs of difference. She had been pretending to be blind for quite some time, and she could mimic all the typical reactions of a blind person without a single discrepancy.
However, she hadn’t expected Yuan Baozhen to be so cautious and come to confirm whether she was really blind or not. This made her situation even more difficult. But at the same time, it strengthened her conviction that there was definitely something going on between He Rufei, Ding Yi, and Yuan Baozhen. Rufei must have been involved in the plot to harm Xiao Jue. Although He Yan didn’t understand why Rufei had a conflict with Xiao Jue, the enemy of her enemy was her friend. Right now, she and Xiao Jue were most likely allies.
She needed to find out what Yuan Baozhen and Ding Yi were up to.
He Yan tied her hair up and quietly left the room.
Everyone knew that Young Master Cheng was now blind, and he spent his days in his room except for when he needed to use the restroom. Moreover, in the past few days, everyone in the mansion was concerned about their own safety, and Sun Xiangfu was busy clearing his own name. In this situation, no one paid much attention to He Yan. Luckily, she had a good memory for directions and had explored the Sun Mansion thoroughly on the first day she arrived.
However, He Yan didn’t know where Yuan Baozhen was staying. As she was pondering this, she noticed someone walking quickly through the garden in front of her. It wasn’t just anyone; it was Ding Yi.
Perfect! He Yan silently praised herself and began to follow him. She moved quickly and knew exactly where to find cover in the mansion, thanks to the elaborate garden decorations. She approached Ding Yi stealthily, and the mansion’s layout, filled with rock gardens and ornate structures, provided many hiding places. He Yan went unnoticed and finally saw Ding Yi stop in front of a certain room.
For some reason, the room where Yuan Baozhen stayed was quite far from the main hall, almost isolated, and there weren’t many people around. It was autumn in Liangzhou, and as evening fell, the sky had already darkened. Sensing the opportunity, He Yan estimated the situation and decided to climb up to the roof.
With her small and slender frame, He Yan easily reached the roof. The rooftop had ornate eaves and intricately carved stones, making it a challenging place to move around. However, He Yan was exceptionally agile. She carefully searched for a while and finally found a gap. It seemed like a piece of fragile crystal tile had broken, revealing a small crevice. He Yan pressed her face against it, listening to the sounds inside the room.
Inside, Ding Yi walked in.
“How did it go?” Yuan Baozhen asked.
Ding Yi shook his head. “Lost him.”
“You weren’t discovered, were you?”
“No,” Ding Yi replied hesitantly. “I didn’t dare to get too close, to avoid being discovered by him. He left the house early today and headed east towards the city. I later searched the vicinity but couldn’t find him.”
Yuan Baozhen’s expression was uncertain. “What does this Xiao Jie really want to do? Clearly, there was an incident at the Sun Mansion, but he insists on staying here. He goes out every day, and I don’t know what he’s up to. I have a feeling that something isn’t right.”
When He Yan heard this, she became suspicious. Did Yuan Baozhen instruct Ding Yi to track Xiao Jue?
“What about the yamen? Is everything taken care of?” Yuan Baozhen asked.
“Yingyue and her group are all dead, there’s no evidence. The insider in the mansion is also dead. I had informed Sun Xiangfu in advance, so there shouldn’t be any issues,” Ding Yi said. Then he hesitated and added, “I still don’t understand how Cheng Lisu knew about the actions of the insider and discovered the poisoned wine.”
“Do you think there’s something wrong with him? But you saw it yesterday; he’s blind and just an ordinary young man.”
“Even so… I can’t shake the feeling that something is off.” Ding Yi couldn’t put his finger on it. The young man should be blind; otherwise, he wouldn’t have pretended so convincingly. The servants in the mansion had also mentioned that he stayed in his room all day, guarded by Xiao Jue’s guard, making him look like a powerless rich young master. However, Ding Yi remembered the glance Cheng Lisu had cast his way during the banquet.
That gaze had been fleeting, as if a casual glance at someone nearby, but for a moment, Ding Yi had felt a sense of surprise and anger in the young man’s eyes. When he looked again, the young man had already turned his gaze elsewhere, as if what he had seen earlier was just a figment of his imagination.
But was it really an illusion?
As they discussed this on one side, He Yan was shocked by what she heard. “Yingyue is dead,” “no evidence,” “informed Sun Xiangfu.” This meant that Yuan Baozhen was indeed behind the assassination attempt on Xiao Jue. Perhaps Sun Xiangfu had also lent a hand.
And now that Xiao Jue was still staying here, wouldn’t that continue to attract further harm?
Just as she was thinking about this, she heard Yuan Baozhen ask, “Has Brother He sent you any letters recently?”
This “Brother He,” He Yan thought, was most likely referring to He Rufei.
“No, Master ordered me to ensure the success of this mission. If it fails, I won’t be able to explain to Xu Xiang,” Ding Yi replied.
He Yan’s heart skipped a beat. By the words, it seemed that He Rufei had tasked Ding Yi with assassinating Xiao Jue to fulfill some obligation to “Xu Xiang.” But who was Xu Xiang? She knew that the current Prime Minister of the imperial court was Xu Jingfu, but she wasn’t sure if he was the “Xu Xiang” Ding Yi was referring to.
“We’ve already failed,” Yuan Baozhen said, a mixture of frustration and despair in his tone. “I didn’t expect Xiao Jue to be so stubborn, and now he suspects me… I don’t know if we’ll have another opportunity in the future.”
“Xiao Jie is indeed difficult to deal with, but he has a blind nephew,” Ding Yi said. “This person is already blind and seems to be quite clueless, behaving like a fool. I think he can be of use.”
“How do you propose to use him?” Yuan Baozhen asked.
“Don’t forget what I used to do,” Ding Yi said with a sly smile. “I have my ways…”
Before he could finish his sentence, there was a creaking sound above him, and a small piece of green crystal tile fell down. Ding Yi’s expression changed. “Who’s there?” He leaped out.
Under the moonlight, a figure swiftly passed by, as light as a swallow, and disappeared into the night in the blink of an eye.
He Yan couldn’t help but curse inwardly. Sun Xiangfu was quite the enthusiast for aesthetics, even using crystal tiles for roofing. They looked nice, but they were extremely fragile. Even someone as thin and frail as her could accidentally break them if she crawled onto the roof. She suspected that Sun Xiangfu might be pretending to be weak while secretly ensuring that no one could eavesdrop on the roof. If it were an ordinary man, they would probably fall off the roof just after crawling up.
In the distance, Ding Yi was still in hot pursuit, but for some reason, he didn’t call for the mansion’s servants to capture the intruder, perhaps due to his own suspicions. He Yan took advantage of her familiarity with the surroundings, hiding left and right, while her mind raced with the recent conversation she had overheard.
Yuan Baozhen came to Liangzhou, Ding Yi came to Liangzhou, and He Rufei was in Shuo Jing, all for one purpose: to assassinate Xiao Jue. They all had to answer to “Xu Xiang.” Xiao Jue was still alive and well, and all of the assassins were dead. Yuan Baozhen was eager for another attempt, and Ding Yi had his eye on her, this “useless blind fool.” They wanted to use her, a blind person, as a tool to murder Xiao Jue.
Thinking it over, using one person against another typically involves defection, hostage-taking, or using them as an unknowing killer. Since Cheng Lisu and Xiao Jue are uncle and nephew, it’s unlikely that Yuan Baozhen would consider defection. So that leaves two options: using Xiao Jue as a hostage, but that wouldn’t work because she wasn’t truly Cheng Lisu, and Ding Yi probably couldn’t overpower her.
The only option remaining is using her as an unknowing killer….However, they seem to have forgotten a crucial point: He Yan is not blind, and she has been cautious of Ding Yi from the beginning.
As she pondered these thoughts, He Yan had already reached her own room. The room was lit, indicating that Fei Nu had probably returned. She touched her clothes and realized she had left the blindfold inside. She knew that she would have to put on an act for Fei Nu later, and the thought gave her a headache.
She was worried about being caught by Ding Yi, so she quickly leaped forward and swiftly entered the room. Just as she turned around, she nearly choked on her own saliva.
The room had a wooden tub for bathing, and it was filled with steam. Sitting in the tub was Xiao Jue, the beauty entering the bath, his skin fair and clear, illuminated by moonlight sneaking in through the cracks in the window. The moonlight gave his black hair a cold luster, making him exceptionally alluring. His slender shoulder blades were particularly eye-catching. For a brief moment, He Yang’s mind drifted elsewhere as she thought about how she had never seen this man take off his outer garments when they were at Xianchang Academy. Most soldiers were rough and sturdy, and Xu Zhiheng might be considered refined among them. However, Xiao Jue was different. He was not only handsome but also exuded strength. His slender waist was particularly enticing, and she thought that whether one was a man or a woman, they would surely admire him.
It turned out that this man not only had a handsome face but also a unique physique, making his title as the “Jade-Faced Commander” truly fitting.
The swirling mist made it difficult to see his expression. Xiao Jue realized that he probably wasn’t too pleased with her sudden intrusion. He stood up with a splash of water.
He Yan: “…”
This was a disaster. She had seen everything she shouldn’t have seen. In this moment, she cursed herself for not wearing her blindfold, wondering why she had decided not to put it on today. If only she were truly blind, that would have been much better.
Xiao Jue quickly grabbed a nearby piece of clothing and put it on. He looked at her coldly.
The room seemed to grow even colder.
He was about to say something when he saw the young man in front of him open his arms and clumsily try to close the door. His eyes were wide open, but they reflected nothing. He asked, “Who…who are you?”
“Hah.” Xiao Jue couldn’t help but laugh at this poorly acted performance.