Chapter 98: Another Attempt to Probe
“Uncle? Is it Uncle?” He Yan showed a surprised expression, fumbling around like a blind person reaching out, “Where are you?”
Xiao Jue coldly watched her act, sarcastically saying, “Aren’t you able to shoot arrows blindfolded and recognize things by sound? Can’t you tell where I am?”
He Yan’s actions suddenly stopped, and after a moment, she chuckled awkwardly, “I was afraid you might feel embarrassed. Uncle, are you taking a bath?”
The young man opened his eyes and stared straight ahead without blinking. Even though he had put on his clothes, Xiao Jue felt quite uncomfortable.
“Where did you just go?” he asked.
“To the latrine. Big Brother Fei Nu went out, and I didn’t dare to trust the servants here. So, I went out on my own to relax a bit. Uncle, why did you come back so early today?” He Yan asked. “Has Big Brother Fei Nu returned yet?”
Xiao Jue shifted his body and put on his outer robe, saying, “Don’t wander around here.”
He Yan observed him and thought about what she had overheard from the conversation between Yuan Baozhen and his servant. She then said, “Uncle, have you been investigating the assassins from the night banquet in these past few days? Have you found anything?”
Xiao Jue glanced at her and asked, “What are you trying to say?”
“Well… isn’t it possible that someone in this mansion is responsible for what happened to you? Even though County Magistrate Sun claims he was unaware, the incident did occur in his mansion. How could he not have known? And as for Imperial Censor Yuan…” He Yan tried to imply further, “I find him rather suspicious…”
“Oh, in what way?” Xiao Jue inquired.
He Yan didn’t know how to answer this question. She couldn’t possibly say that she climbed onto the roofs and eavesdropped on their conversation, or that she had been blinded by the guard in her previous life. She could only say, “Imperial Censor Yuan visited me before, and he asked me some strange questions. If you want my opinion, I’d say it just feels a bit off. Uncle, you should be cautious around them.”
The young man sat down, his movements slow and deliberate. Xiao Jue noticed that she was being unusually serious and was surprised by her change in attitude. He asked, “Are you telling me to be cautious of Imperial Censor Yuan?”
“Yes. Think about it, if he really is responsible for what happened to you, there might be another attempt. Uncle, normally you’re not at the mansion, so you don’t need to worry… But wait, that doesn’t make sense. You’re never at the mansion, so why are you living here?” He Yan suddenly remembered something.
He has to live in the Sun Mansion but also goes out every day. Isn’t that contradictory?
“You should put more effort into your eyes instead of these matters,” Xiao Jue said lightly. “Can your eyes really not see?”
He Yan’s heart skipped a beat, pretending to be innocent, she said, “Of course not! What benefit would pretending to be blind have for me?”
Her words were assertive, and Xiao Jue, looking at her again, couldn’t help but feel that everything she did seemed like that of a real blind person. If it was an act, it was really impressive. But this person was skilled at deceiving others; otherwise, she wouldn’t have deceived Fei Nu as well.
He Yan, seeing that Xiao Jue was not saying anything, fearing that he might continue with this topic, smiled and said, “Uncle, you were bathing just now, weren’t you? I disturbed you, didn’t I? Do you want to continue? You can go ahead, I’ll wait outside the door, making sure no one comes in or bothers you.” With that, she groped for the door, pushed it open, and sat down on the steps outside, guarding the door like a gatekeeper.
Xiao Jue: “…”
He Yan didn’t pay attention to the commotion inside the room. She didn’t know if Second Young Master Xiao still had the mood to continue bathing, but her own thoughts were in disarray. Too much had happened today, and she didn’t know where to start processing it all. He Rufei’s connection with Xu Xiang, Yuan Baozhen’s involvement with Ding Yi, and the chaotic mess of events all seemed to culminate in Xiao Jue’s bathing situation.
“Phew, phew, phew,” He Yan muttered to herself, thinking that this supposedly “not blind” person might end up truly blind after this ordeal. Although she was a woman, upon careful reflection, she wasn’t sure who had taken advantage of whom.
Early the next morning, Xiao Jue was once again nowhere to be found, and after Fei Nu delivered her breakfast, he also disappeared. These two master and servant seemed to have something to do each day. He Yan sat on the couch, contemplating whether she should sneak out today to follow Yuan Baozhen and his guard. However, after last night’s incident, Yuan Baozhen would probably be keeping a close watch on the roof. The Sun family’s roof was already fragile, and it wasn’t advisable to climb it repeatedly.
Before He Yan could come to a conclusion, Ding Yi showed up at her door. He stood there, his voice respectful, and said, “Young Master Cheng?”
He Yan looked up, and Ding Yi’s tone remained polite and courteous, “Lord Yuan invites you to join him for tea.”
“What kind of tea?” He Yan asked casually. “I’m quite picky about tea.” “We have all kinds of tea,” Ding Yi smiled, “If Young Master Cheng is unwilling…”
“I’m willing, I’m willing,” He Yan said as she stood up, supporting herself with the bedpost. “I’m all alone here, and it’s quite boring. It’s rare that Imperial Censor Yuan remembers me and wants to keep me company. How could I refuse? Lead the way.” Her eyes were still covered with a blindfold. “Please fetch my bamboo staff.”
When Fei Nu returned the night before, he had brought back a bamboo staff for He Yan. It was neither too long nor too short, just the right size for her to use for support while walking. Although He Yan could tell that this person appeared quiet and reserved, he was actually quite considerate. After all, given the untrustworthy nature of the Sun Family’s servants, relying solely on herself was inconvenient. With a bamboo staff, she could at least appear more like a blind person to outsiders.
Ding Yi said, “Of course.” He turned his head and saw a bamboo staff standing by the table. He picked it up and walked towards He Yan, offering it to her. “Please take it, Young Master Cheng.”
He Yan reached out with trembling hands to accept the staff, but just as she was about to grasp it, Ding Yi suddenly pulled it back, causing her to miss her target. She swayed and nearly fell. Fortunately, Ding Yi caught her in time, asking with concern, “Is Young Master Cheng all right?”
“I’m fine,” He Yan said with a trembling heart. “I almost fell.” Then, in a despondent tone, she added, “Now I can’t even pick up something.”
“It’s my fault,” Ding Yi said apologetically. “I should have handed it directly to Young Master Cheng. I’m sorry for startling you.”
While he apologized, his gaze remained fixed on He Yan, trying to detect any flaws in her expression. Unfortunately, with her eyes covered by the blindfold, it was challenging to discern her emotions. Unbeknownst to him, He Yan was silently chuckling to herself.
She had modified the blindfold last night. It was a black cloth with an extremely subtle seam near her eyes, allowing her to see through it ever so slightly. This tiny opening enabled her to observe people’s movements outside while appearing to be a blind person to anyone else.
Ding Yi’s probing actions, his scrutiny of her face, were all captured by He Yan. She hadn’t expected that Ding Yi would still be suspicious of her. But why? She had escaped swiftly last night, and Ding Yi should not have noticed anything. If he was trying to remind Xiao Jue not to drink the wine at the night banquet, the previous time when Yuan Baozhen came to visit, the probing should have ended.
Why the repeated attempts?
He Yan couldn’t figure it out, so she leaned on her bamboo staff and said, “Forget it, it’s none of your concern. Let’s go.”
“This subordinate better support you,” Ding Yi suggested.
“No need,” He Yan replied, her tone stubborn. “If I truly can’t see anymore, I’ll have to adapt to this life sooner or later. Why should I always rely on others to do everything for me? Besides, I have this bamboo staff; it just makes me slower. I won’t fall behind, and you can guide me on the way.”
The young man’s voice sounded stubborn, as if he were determined to be strong even if he were blind. Ding Yi couldn’t find any flaws and said, “Very well, then, please follow me.”
He led the way, instructing He Yan on where there were steps and when to turn left or right. He Yan walked very slowly, her bamboo staff tapping lightly on the ground, making a faint “thump, thump, thump” sound. He walked seriously, and Ding Yi was patient. They were both on guard against each other. In one person’s eyes, the other might reveal a tiny inconsistency. However, He Yan had come prepared. She had lived as a blind person in the Xu family, and she didn’t need to pretend now. By imitating her past behavior, she could appear genuinely blind, and no one would suspect otherwise.
They walked side by side, one pretending to be blind, the other observing closely. They were both cautious of each other. When they finally arrived at Yuan Baozhen’s door, Ding Yi said, “Young Master Cheng, be careful of the steps. We’ve arrived.”
He Yan followed the guidance of her bamboo staff, trembling as she ascended the steps. With Ding Yi’s assistance, she entered the room.
Yuan Baozhen’s room was in a shaded area, where sunlight was scarce even during the daytime. He had lit a lamp inside. A small table was set with a teapot, several teacups, and a plate of snacks. Ding Yi guided He Yan to sit in front of the small table.
Yuan Baozhen raised his head and greeted He Yan with a friendly smile, “Young Master Cheng, how have you been these days?”
“Fairly well,” He Yan replied casually, gesturing to her eyes. “Except for this.”
“Your condition hasn’t improved?” Yuan Baozhen asked.
“No,” He Yan sighed. “I wonder when the renowned physician uncle is searching for will arrive in Liangzhou.”
This was a lie meant to deceive others. Yuan Baozhen didn’t take it to heart and turned to look at Ding Yi, who shook his head, indicating that he hadn’t found any loopholes on the way.
That meant he was truly blind.
As Yuan Baozhen looked at He Yan, she was also looking at him through the tiny gap in the black cloth, her vision blurry but focused. He sounded polite, but because she couldn’t see, even the smile on his face seemed forced. There was a hint of impatience in his expression, as if something wasn’t going smoothly.
Understandable, given their mission to assassinate Xiao Jue had yet to succeed despite repeated attempts. Moreover, they hadn’t seen any trace of Xiao Jue in days, and nothing seemed to be going their way.
Yuan Baozhen pushed a teacup and plate of snacks toward He Yan, saying with a friendly tone, “Please have some snacks.”
He Yan clearly saw that the snacks on the plate were sprinkled with crushed peanuts.
She remembered Cheng Lisu’s warning before she left – eating peanuts would cause her to break out in hives. This was interesting. Did Yuan Baozhen know that Cheng Lisu couldn’t eat peanuts? He probably did. So the purpose of this plate of snacks was evident; it was another test.
If she ate the snacks and didn’t break out in hives, there would be an issue. If she refused to eat the snacks, that would also raise questions.
He Yan couldn’t help but wonder why Yuan Baozhen was repeatedly testing her like this, thinking she had done something extraordinary to deserve it.
She didn’t reach for the tea or snacks but instead smiled in a peculiar manner and said, “Lord Yuan, I can’t actually drink tea or eat snacks.”
Yuan Baozhen’s gaze shifted, and he asked, “Why is that?”
“Do you know about the incident at the night banquet?” He Yan asked. “Since then, my uncle has prohibited me from eating or drinking anything in the mansion. All my meals are delivered by Fei Nu. It’s not that I don’t trust you, Imperial Censor Yuan, but my uncle is very strict. If he finds out I’ve been eating secretly, he’ll be furious, and I can’t afford the consequences.” The young man spoke with an air of nonchalance and even seemed puzzled by why Yuan Baozhen was being so naive. He continued, “I advise Imperial Censor Yuan not to eat anything from the mansion either. Endure the cravings for now; don’t risk your life over it.”
The young man’s response was quick, revealing no hint of deception, making it difficult to discern whether he was telling the truth or not. Yuan Baozhen smiled and said, “The refreshments here were purchased by my attendants.”
“Food from outside is even riskier,” He Yan emphasized with a serious tone. “If it comes to it, Imperial Censor Yuan, you can wait. When my uncle returns to the mansion, you can discuss it with him and get his approval. Then I can eat these snacks. How about that?”
Yuan Baozhen couldn’t respond to this suggestion. If he requested Xiao Jue to come back for tea, wouldn’t that expose himself?
He Yan felt that her words had been flawlessly delivered. After all, Cheng Lisu had always been a bit of a cowardly pushover, especially when it came to her uncle!
Yuan Baozhen withdrew his hand and shook his head with a smile, “If Young Master Cheng doesn’t want to eat, that’s fine.” His tone was somewhat disappointed.
“No problem, I came here to sit with Lord Yuan, which is also nice.”
“Then, there’s something I’m curious about,” Yuan Baozhen looked at the young man in front of him and changed the subject, “Commander Xiao cares for you so much, why has he left you alone in the mansion these past few days? There’s only that guard by your side, and even though he’s a guard, he’s not with Young Master Cheng all the time. If there were really any issues in the mansion, wouldn’t Commander Xiao be worried about Young Master Cheng’s safety?”
With this question, He Yan suddenly understood why Yuan Baozhen and his servants were so fixated on her.
Because it was inherently unreasonable for Xiao Jue to leave his own nephew alone in the Sun Mansion. Xiao Jue’s decision was based on the fact that first, He Yan had martial skills. Second, she was not truly Cheng Lisu with no blood relation to Xiao Jue. The aloof Second Young Master Xiao naturally wouldn’t treat her differently. However, if the real Cheng Lisu were here, Xiao Jue would surely take every precaution to ensure his safety, unlike the current situation where He Yan was left alone in the Sun Mansion, seemingly abandoned and unwanted, like a fallen, unloved concubine.
He Yan had always carried herself with dignity, so she didn’t feel anything was wrong. However, from the perspective of outsiders, it seemed inappropriate. She suddenly realized that this was the reason why Yuan Baozhen and his servants had been suspicious of her and had been watching her closely.
But Xiao Jue was an intelligent man; how could he overlook such a thing? He Yan found it impossible to believe. When they were in Xianchang Academy, He Yan was careless, but Xiao Jue was always cautious. She couldn’t believe he would overlook this, so there was only one possibility: Xiao Jue was doing this intentionally. He deliberately let her show her vulnerability, causing Yuan Baozhen and his servants to become suspicious and repeatedly test her.
But why? Even if Xiao Jue had suspicions about her, they should be on the same side for now. Could it be… this scoundrel was using her as a shield? By attracting the attention of Yuan Baozhen and his servants, Xiao Jue’s side would be free to do their own thing?
The more He Yan thought about it, the more likely it seemed. She felt an intense urge to tear Xiao Jue apart with her bare hands. However, she didn’t show her true feelings and maintained an innocent demeanor. “What danger could there be? My uncle has already said that the real danger is not in this mansion. I’m safe staying here. Lord Yuan, let me tell you,” she whispered, “the real danger is outside the mansion.”
“Outside the mansion?” Yuan Baozhen and Ding Yi exchanged glances, and Yuan Baozhen asked He Yan, “Young Master Cheng, what do you mean by that?”
“I don’t know,” He Yan shrugged with an innocent look, “I overheard my uncle saying so. If you want to know, just go ask him directly. I’ve noticed that he’s been outside the mansion these past few days; maybe he’s dealing with that ‘danger’.”
Fine, since Xiao Jue was using her as a decoy, she would redirect their attention outside the mansion. After all, her image as a clueless useless young master was deeply ingrained in everyone’s minds. She figured that Yuan Baozhen wouldn’t find any flaws in her story.
“Young Master Cheng has a sense of humor,” Yuan Baozhen chuckled. “Since it’s a matter concerning Commander Xiao, I won’t inquire further.” He shifted the conversation to other topics.
However, He Yan’s body tensed.
She saw Ding Yi approaching her closely, almost brushing against her. He bent down and untied a small fragrant ball tied around her waist.
Cheng Lisu was meticulous and had many expensive accessories. He Yan thought the items were too valuable to risk losing, so after searching for a while, she found a relatively simple fragrant ball. It was about the size of two fingertips, a small round ball woven from purple vines, hollow in the middle, and filled with fragrant herbs. When worn around the waist, it emitted a faint fragrance, making it both cute and elegant.
Ding Yi held the fragrant ball in his hand, and his movements were so gentle that they were almost imperceptible.
She wouldn’t think that Ding Yi stole the scented ball because he liked it. Sure enough, Ding Yi opened the top of the scented ball, removed the herbs inside, carefully stowed them away, and then filled it with something else.
It definitely wasn’t something good.
Having completed everything, Ding Yi gingerly retied the fragrant ball around He Yan’s waist. Throughout this process, He Yan remained still.
Yuan Baozhen appeared satisfied with the situation, and Ding Yi returned to his position beside Yuan Baozhen. From the outside, everything seemed normal, as if nothing had happened.
He Yan continued chatting idly with Yuan Baozhen about some anecdotes from the capital while feeling the fragrant ball around her waist growing slightly warm. In her previous life, she had suffered from poisoned food. He Yan suspected that Ding Yi might be skilled in using poison. She remembered the conversation she had overheard last night in Yuan Baozhen’s chambers, where they planned to use her as a means to obstruct Xiao Jue.
This fragrant ball likely contained poison, and it was quite potent. If she wore it, she would die, and if someone close to her, like Xiao Jue, were to smell it, they would die too. Even Fei Nu wouldn’t escape. This way, if a coroner came to examine the bodies, they would discover that she wasn’t truly Cheng Lisu, making her the perfect scapegoat for an assassin plotting against the Right Army Commander.
He Yan shuddered. She couldn’t let this happen.
She said, “Imperial Censor Yuan, I need to use the restroom. Can I be excused for a moment?”
Inside the Sun Mansion, Xiao Jue entered.
Fei Nu followed closely behind him, as if he had been waiting for him for a while.
“Young Master, Imperial Censor Yuan has taken He Yan away,” he reported.
Xiao Jue placed his sword on the table and turned around, saying casually, “They are probably still testing.”
“They couldn’t find Young Master, so they had to make a move on He Yan.”
Xiao Jue smiled without confirming or denying anything. He had released He Yan as a decoy, making it easier for him to move around unnoticed. Others might think he had left the mansion, but in fact, he had only done so today.
He had been hiding within the Sun Mansion, staying concealed in the shadows, and no one had discovered him.
“If you continue like this, Young Master, won’t He Yan eventually figure it out?”
“He probably already has, but he can only tell lies,” Xiao Jue replied. “This man was lying from the moment he first met Imperial Censor Yuan, although I don’t know why.”
He Yan handled the situation well. The better she handled it, the more Imperial Censor Yuan would become suspicious. After all, leaving his nephew alone in the Sun Mansion was riddled with flaws.
“Young Master used Yuan Baozhen to test He Yan, and he used He Yan to test Yuan Baozhen. But what if they’re actually working together?”
So far, apart from the assassination attempt on the night He Yan arrived at the Sun Mansion, Xiao Jue had remained largely detached from the unfolding events. He believed that by having He Yan and Yuan Baozhen test each other, they could potentially uncover the backgrounds of both individuals, effectively killing two birds with one stone.
“If they are working together, we can capture them both in one fell swoop,” Xiao Jue said calmly. “Originally, this matter should come to an end soon.”
Fei Nu remained silent for a moment, then seemed to remember something and said, “Today, He Yan went to Yuan Baozhen’s room, and one of Yuan Baozhen’s guards swapped the scented ball she was wearing.”
Xiao Jue raised an eyebrow, “He didn’t notice?”
“No,” Fei Nu replied.
“Just an act then.”
“But there’s probably poison in the fragrant ball. Commander, today, you should keep your distance from him.”
Xiao Jue glanced out the window and suddenly said, “At this time, He Yan should have returned. Why is he still outside?”
Before anyone could answer, a maidservant from the Sun Mansion arrived, panting heavily, and said, “Something’s wrong, something’s wrong!”
Fei Nu opened the door. “What’s wrong?”
The maidservant stammered, “Young Master Cheng… Young Master Cheng has collapsed in the restroom!”