Chapter 170: Bo Yan
Liu Zhongming hadn’t even reached the dismounting stone when he saw someone waiting outside the palace gate. He quickly swung his leg over the horse and threw the reins to the person behind him before going forward to greet the visitor.
“Today, I’ll trouble Commander Bo,” he said.
“No trouble at all. It’s just a small favor. It’s an honor for the Shizi to personally come,” Bo Yan smiled and cupped his hands, but his gaze went past Liu Zhongming and fell on the person behind him.
The person wore no official robes, only the attire of Jinxiu Ying. Despite facing Bo Yan’s gaze, the person met his eyes for a moment, then turned his face away, snorting through his nose.
Liu Zhongming smiled and walked alongside the somewhat awkward Bo Yan as they headed inside.
“Commander Bo has always been busy, and I haven’t had the chance to apologize to you. Now I have to trouble you again,” he said.
Naturally, he was referring to the previous incident involving Ren Rui and the Left Valiant Camp. Back then, with the Emperor’s decree in hand and the Southern Bureau under Qi Wang’s command, he had already informed Qi Wang.
Bringing it up again this time was twofold: first, they needed to take someone from the Southern Bureau, and second, to see the situation with Bo Yan.
Although Bo Yan had been responsible for the deployment of troops in the Southern Bureau before, without the protective shield of Qi Wang, his awkward helplessness became apparent.
Huai Wang and Ning Wang coveted the power of the Southern Bureau, and Bo Yan had grievances he couldn’t express, not even to the Emperor.
The Southern Bureau needed a new leader, and Bo Yan needed a new protector, someone who could hold sway in front of the Emperor and have a say in matters.
Although Mu Jingchen was granted a title, he was far from being able to replace Qi Wang’s position in the court.
When Bo Yan followed Qu Chenzhou’s guidance and found his way here, he had already guessed Bo Yan’s intentions. But he was well aware of his own weight and understood that he couldn’t bear this burden.
“You’re being too modest, Shizi,” Bo Yan’s face showed signs of fatigue, but he forced a smile. “If there really is a problem with the palace guards, it’s my negligence. There’s no need to mention any trouble.”
The three of them followed along the palace wall, heading west, and entered the patrol room where the daily patrol schedules and waist badges were recorded.
The duty officer had already received instructions and handed the roster from a few days ago to Bo Yan. The three of them entered the inner room, and as Liu Zhongming nodded, he took the roster and turned to the screen behind him.
Bo Yan waited for a long time but didn’t hear the other person speak first. Instead, he heard his own heartbeat growing faster and faster.
It had been a long time since he felt so at a loss, as if the person standing before him was still the same, as if at any moment, he would hear a reprimand from that person.
“Master…” After so many years, he called out these two words again for the first time. “Master, how is he… is he doing well?”
Fang Wuyang crossed his arms and leaned against a pillar, glancing at Bo Yan before shifting his gaze towards the screen.
Bo Yan felt even more awkward, lightly stroking the surface of the mahogany table with his fingernails. If it weren’t for his stroke of luck back then, being noticed by someone at first sight, he wouldn’t have the qualification to sit here now.
But when his master left with his official seal, he shamefully retreated.
Although he would never betray his master like Liao Guangming, he couldn’t bring himself to argue for his master’s cause or stand together with him. The only thing he could do was quietly stop Liao Guangming.
Comparing himself to Liao Guangming, he thought he had done better, but that night became a nightmare for years, where he saw the debt in his conscience.
Guilt was a worm that grew and feasted unnoticed, burrowing deeper into his conscience.
Fang Wuyang’s appearance was a sharp blade thrust into that hole, but it was also a redemption that lifted a heavy burden off his shoulders.
“Your name is Fang Wuyang, right?” Bo Yan asked softly. “I noticed before that your hand skills are good, but your foundation is not solid. As for master…”
Fang Wuyang finally responded this time. “Since you’ve figured it out, I won’t hide it from you. His legs are becoming more and more useless. But don’t expect me to take you to see him. Are you still unwilling after causing harm to him once?”
Bo Yan choked for a moment, unable to refute. After a long while, he asked, “Did my master ever mention anything about me…?”
“What do you want him to say about you?”
Bo Yan had no words to reply. Even before meeting this junior disciple, he had considered various possibilities. This response was already one of the gentlest.
In fact, he should have realized earlier, considering his master’s personality…
“You also know our master’s temperament,” Fang Wuyang glanced at him from the corner of his eye, sighing rarely but reluctantly speaking. “What’s done is done. He rarely complains about it and there’s no need for him to ramble on like an old man recalling memories.”
“But before I came to the capital, he had a hearty drink with me, got me drunk, and told me not to get drunk again in the future.”
“That day was also the only time he mentioned you.”
“He said, upon seeing Bo Yan, to say one more thing – instead of dwelling on past mistakes, it’s better to raise your head high and do something meaningful. Take this!”
Bo Yan was stunned as he listened, abruptly awakened and reflexively accepting the object in his hand.
The tightly wrapped oilcloth was unfolded layer by layer, revealing a bright and gleaming dagger sheathed in honeysuckle leather. The blade was icy cold, yet it felt scorching hot, making him hesitant to touch it.
“He said he promised you before, and later found a good piece of iron to make this. It’s the most suitable one, but his health isn’t great, so he guided me in making it. It’ll have to do,” Fang Wuyang explained.
Bo Yan caressed the dagger, and tears suddenly welled up in his eyes.
Although Liu Zhongming’s gaze fell on the duty roster, he could still hear the suppressed sobbing from outside, faint yet controlled, which soon disappeared.
After all, this was not a place for unrestrained weeping.
But with just that one sound, he felt relieved.
Ever since Bo Yan visited his father late at night to inquire about Pei Xiao’s condition, he had this plan in mind, and Qu Chenzhou opened up a new way to influence Bo Yan.
With Qu Chenzhou’s guidance, Liu Zhongming was already about 80-90% certain of the outcome.
The only thing left was the case of Wen Lan’s death.
In fact, this matter wasn’t particularly troublesome. With the emperor’s decree, he had taken those two eunuchs to Jinxiu Ying.
The young eunuch who kept watch outside the Star Gazing Pavillion wasn’t a tough nut to crack. After enduring for a while, he confessed and admitted that Xiao Liangzi had indeed delivered a message to Qu Sitian around midnight. Qu Sitian’s statement about the time of his departure was accurate.
However, it wasn’t so easy to manipulate Xiao Liangzi, who could be placed by the emperor’s side.
Xu Ziwen had been promoted to an official position and was in charge of the judicial system. He was eager to make achievements in front of Commander Liu. It only took a few drops of the Bi Hongzi to make Xiao Liangzi wail and confess to everything.
But the confession didn’t yield the desired result for Liu Zhongming. It implicated the person who had given false imperial orders to Xiao Liangzi—Consort Xian.
Although Consort Xian had brought him the person, those who could be placed by the noble consort’s side were different from those elsewhere. The only thing he achieved was a lifeless body that refused to speak.
It wasn’t until now, seeing it with his own eyes, that Liu Zhongming realized the horror of the Bi Hongzi. Each agonizing scream felt like a barbed iron heated in a fire, repeatedly tearing at the hole in his heart.
The former him, ignorant and unpardonable, found every breath he took now to be an agonizing experience as he learned more about the truth and recalled the past. And that was not to mention that he could see Qu Chenzhou every day now.
He longed for Qu Chenzhou to say a few more words to him, but he had already abandoned such opportunities and qualifications with his own hands.
Liu Zhongming vigorously slapped his face, forcing himself to regain composure as he flipped through the duty roster.
He had consulted Ling He about the case, discussed and analyzed it several times, but they couldn’t find any mention of Wen Lan in Xiao Liangzi’s testimony. When asked about it, Xiao Liangzi seemed bewildered.
It was highly likely that Wen Lan’s death had nothing to do with the incident of bringing Qu Chenzhou to the Yuxiu Palace.
However, it was just a coincidence that these events happened simultaneously, and fortunately so.
In this case, they could only start with Wen Lan’s Anle Palace.
Ever since the incident at the Left Valiant Camp, bits and pieces of the interrogation inevitably leaked out, causing many to take notice of this young commander.
When he took several people to Jinxiu Ying and none of them returned, the palace maids couldn’t help but shudder at the sight of him, especially the delicate young ladies.
Liu Zhongming questioned a few palace maids who were close to Wen Lan, and they quickly confessed. Wen Lan had been acting strangely for several months. Those who were closer to her mentioned that she had privately embroidered a handkerchief but never used it.
Even without the palace maids explicitly stating it, Liu Zhongming could infer the situation. Wen Lan must have had a lover, and judging from her infatuated appearance, it couldn’t be a eunuch. It had to be one of the guards who frequently moved around the palace.
With Bo Yan’s cooperation, they only needed to investigate the soldiers who entered the palace that day, especially those who patrolled the route between Yuxiu Palace and Cining Palace. There had to be someone who was alone during that time.
With a little questioning, they would be able to find the person with whom Wen Lan had a rendezvous. As for Wen Lan’s death, it must be connected to that person.
However, these were not Liu Zhongming’s greatest concerns. His worries centered around Qu Chenzhou.
Given that it involved a murder case within the palace, it was understandable why the emperor didn’t want the empress to intervene. But instead of handing the case over to Ling He, it was directly entrusted to him.
He couldn’t grasp the underlying meaning and made a trip back to his father’s residence.
His father had a clearer understanding of the emperor’s intentions, and his words sent shivers down Liu Zhongming’s spine.
The emperor understood more than anyone else that he was becoming increasingly reliant on Qu Chenzhou, even against his will.
But the emperor’s side was not an easy place to go. Whether it was the emperor’s own realization or someone quietly reminding him, the emperor had placed everyone who could be suspected within his line of sight.
Including Liu Zhongming.
By sending Qu Chenzhou to Jinxiu Ying this time, the emperor was testing Liu Zhongming’s attitude.
Liu Zhongming was now caught between a rock and a hard place, facing a dilemma.
Even if it was just an act, he couldn’t bring himself to interrogate Qu Chenzhou harshly, let alone present false evidence to implicate him in Wen Lan’s murder.
And he dared not think about what would happen to Qu Chenzhou if, after him, the emperor sent someone to Huai Wang’s residence for probing.
He couldn’t afford to gamble.
But if he were to lay out the case clearly and send Qu Chenzhou back to the palace without any hidden agenda, what would the emperor think?
Both Qu Chenzhou and himself could immediately become targets. All the hardships and torment Qu Chenzhou had endured before being sent here would be in vain.
On the other hand, Qu Chenzhou asked him to complete the Pagoda project in the south within five months.
Although he didn’t know what Qu Chenzhou intended to do or what he had seen in his divination, but his fox pale complexion and the fact that he sought his help indicated that it wasn’t a trivial matter.
Even if he had to walk through a mountain of blades and a sea of flames, he had to go.
Liu Zhongming felt like he was being roasted over a fire, but he forced himself to calm down. Qu Chenzhou was walking on a razor’s edge now, and if he panicked, how could he support him properly?
As the sun shone through the window onto the desk, Liu Zhongming drew a map of the patrol route from that night and wrote down the names of several individuals before leaving the privacy screen.
Bo Yan’s expression had returned to normal, but as he escorted the two men out, he couldn’t help but steal a few more glances at Fang Wuyang.
“Shizi,” he bowed to the two men in front of the palace gate, responding to Liu Zhongming’s gratitude with a hidden meaning in his words, “It was just a small favor. Shizi, you’re too kind. If there’s anything else I can do to serve you, please don’t hesitate to ask.”
“How could I always trouble Commander Bo? It’s far from being a small favor,” Liu Zhongming’s smile was faint, “I only ask for your care when the need arises. Thank you, Commander Bo, for your concern.”
Bo Yan’s gaze flickered, as if he understood what Liu Zhongming was saying to some extent, but also felt a bit puzzled.
The horses’ hooves, now wrapped in straw, sank into the muddy ground.
Although it had only been drizzling all along, the continuous rain of the past few days had made the ground a mixture of deep and shallow puddles. It was tolerable to walk with each step sinking deeper, but now the horses were getting stuck, which posed a great problem for the team.
Jiang Xingzhi was covered in mud, in a sorry state, with no trace of his former elegance.
Together with others, he exerted all his strength to pull the reins, finally managing to extract the neighing horses.
Qi Wang threw the horse whip on the ground and sat heavily on a damp stone nearby, panting heavily. He wanted to curse but found himself devoid of any extra energy when he looked up at the dark clouds looming overhead.
The hundred or so people sat silently in place for a short while, and then they heard the sound of hooves splashing through the muddy water from a distance.
Everyone looked in one direction.
Jiang Xingzhi stepped forward and brought the person before Qi Wang. The scout had run himself to exhaustion and practically collapsed on the ground.
“Wang Ye, there are people waiting in the town to the northwest. Their numbers are not large, around thirty to forty. We didn’t dare linger, nor did we observe their skills,” the scout reported.
Jiang Xingzhi waved his hand, dismissing the man, and then looked at the worried Qi Wang before calling out, “Wang Ye.”
Although the scout hadn’t made any inquiries, they all knew that those who could wait on the road would not be insignificant. With their large group, it was impossible to bypass the other party’s gaze.
“D*mn it!” Qi Wang couldn’t help but curse, “How did I end up in such a situation?”
“Wang Ye, don’t panic. Although the road has been rough, haven’t we made it this far?” Jiang Xingzhi comforted him, “Once we pass Jiping and reach your fiefdom, we’ll be safe.”
Qi Wang looked at Jiang Xingzhi, who was in a sorry state, and sighed after a long while, “Xingzhi, I never expected that it would ultimately be you who remained faithfully by my side. Thank you for your arrangements on this journey.”
Jiang Xingzhi smiled, “Wang Ye, this is not the time for such words. Should we detour to the southwest?”
One could easily guess that the southwest direction wouldn’t be a peaceful place either.
Qi Wang furrowed his brows, “Near mountains, but not near water… Xingzhi, perhaps I shouldn’t have trusted those words. If we had taken the waterway…”
He sighed and didn’t continue speaking.
Given the current situation, someone didn’t want him to reach his fiefdom alive. Even if they took the water route, it wouldn’t necessarily be smooth sailing. He was not skilled in naval warfare and might suffer great losses.
“Wang Ye, there’s no need to be disheartened or regretful. The letter seeking reinforcements from the capital should be arriving soon. Even if the reinforcements from the capital cannot arrive immediately, Jiping should come to our aid,” Jiang Xingzhi reassured him, gently twirling his fingers in his sleeve as if the ash-like secret letter was still in his hand.
“Wang Ye, there’s no need to worry. Everything has been arranged, and all our desires will be fulfilled.”
Author’s note: Today, I ordered a durian mille-feuille cake [I’m so happy, I feel like flying! Haha]. Thank you all for your blessings. Let’s be happy together!
PS: I guess many people have forgotten what the Thousand Child Pagoda is. It was mentioned earlier when writing about the sin born children. The emperor built pagodas in four directions, claiming it was for blessings, but in reality, it was to ward off the spirits of the women and infants he had caused to die. Follow the story to find out more. Each time the net is cast, we may not fully understand what butterfly effect will occur, but we will know when it is drawn in. I can’t guarantee that each time will be successful, but more than 90% of the plot is not useless. There are connections between the past and the present. Hmm, according to my current estimation, it will be completed in May, with a slight estimation error, and there will be a few chapters with locked content warnings in between.
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