To be honest, Han Jiao just wanted to carry his little brother and leave this terrifying woods immediately.
In over twenty years of his existence, it was the first time he experienced the feeling of pulling a sword inch by inch from a corpse.
It was smoother than he had imagined, without the “squelch” sound he’d heard in TV dramas. But strangely, his mind was now filled with memories of pulling out the sword. In those memories, the sword had a sound, a sound like steel scraping against bones, sending shivers down his spine.
He should quickly run out of this woods and seek help from the authorities instead of going back to face certain death.
However, his mind, which clearly belonged to him, was beyond his control. As he sprinted with his brother in his arms, he couldn’t stop picturing the image of the big boss being turned into a hedgehog.
These dreadful fantasies were more painful than the feeling of pulling out the sword.
Right after that, while running, Han Jiao was tripped by a large wooden post under his feet.
The wooden post was about half a person’s height, similar in size to the riot shields used by SWAT teams.
It was as if a sign from the Heavens: “I’ve even prepared a shield for you. Are you really going to let someone die?”
So, Han Jiao’s conscience kicked in. He hid his little brother, took the enormous “shield” sent by the Heavens, and sprinted back to face danger.
“Don’t come closer!”
The moment Han Jiao heard the shout from the big boss, his guilt vanished.
This robust voice didn’t seem like it could come from someone turned into a hedgehog.
As soon as he spoke, something thumped against the wooden post in his hand.
An arrow struck the wooden post!
The coachman lying in ambush in the bushes had turned towards Han Jiao.
The goal of diverting attention from the boss was achieved. Han Jiao quickly crouched down, using the entire wooden post to shield himself. Then, he crab-walked sideways toward the big boss.
The enemy’s archery was much worse than he had expected. Arrows kept flying at him, with most missing even the wooden post.
With a close call, Han Jiao successfully positioned himself in front of Xie Duo and shouted, “Your Highness, take cover behind me!”
After shouting, he realized that the big boss had already done so without hesitation, using him as a shield.
To cover up his recent attempt to flee, Han Jiao turned to face the big boss and confidently said, “He’s sure to run out of arrows. I’ll ensure your safety, Your Highness.”
Xie Duo gazed at the little child prodigy with a complex expression. “Since you’ve returned, why didn’t you take the opportunity to flank and attack him while he was assaulting me?”
A moment of silence followed.
Once again, it was a familiar, deadly stare.
How didn’t he think of that?
Han Jiao humbly lowered his head, attempting to justify his oversight, “My main concern was Your Highness’ safety. I wanted to reach Your Highness as quickly as possible.”
Xie Duo narrowed his long, menacing eyes.
Han Jiao had to change his statement, “I was, in fact, concerned that I might not be a match for him.”
Xie Duo continued to look at him the same way.
“It’s my oversight, alright!” Han Jiao gave up on the discussion. “I’m not skilled in combat to begin with. I’m a Confucian scholar well-versed in poetry and books. You can’t expect me to write strategies and lead troops simultaneously.”
Receiving a satisfactory response, Xie Duo then shifted his focus back to the enemy’s position and replied lightly, “It’s the first time I’ve heard someone praise themselves as a Confucian scholar well-versed in poetry and books.”
Han Jiao: “……”
Before long, the haphazardly flying arrows gradually ceased.
“Are you out of arrows?” Xie Duo called out loudly to the bushes. “Do you want to continue this standoff? My guards will arrive soon.”
The person in the bushes didn’t respond. After a moment, a desperate sob could be heard.
Did the big boss really frighten the opponent into tears with just one sentence?
Suddenly, the person in the bushes yelled loudly, “Anyway, I won’t survive. Please, kind masters, let me bury my uncle!”
Han Jiao didn’t understand his meaning. Who was his uncle?
Behind him, Xie Duo immediately responded in a loud voice, “Drop your bow and crossbow, step out, and turn around. I’ll spare your life.”
There was no reply from the other side, but there was a sound of something landing.
Before long, a short and slender young man emerged from the bushes.
The young man looked disheveled, walked slowly toward Han Jiao and Xie Duo, stopped at a distance of several yards, and turned around on the spot, indicating he had no weapons.
He wiped his nose and eyes, trembling, and said, “Gentlemen, I beg you to let me bury the person!”
“Approved.” Xie Duo stood up from behind the wooden post, lowered his head to shake the iron shackles around his wrists, and asked the young man, “Do you have the keys to unlock these?”
The young man timidly shook his head and replied shakily, “These are locks used by the Ministry of Justice for imprisoning criminals. They don’t have enough personnel, so they had our Ministry of War provide troops to set up the mechanism. They didn’t give us the keys.”
The big boss didn’t lose his temper either. He simply waved his hand, indicating that the he would figure it out on his own. Then he lowered his eyes and looked at Han Jiao.
Han Jiao immediately got up and began searching for some grass roots, preparing to unlock the big boss.
Xie Duo whispered a reminder, “First, go and get the bows and crossbows from the bushes to avoid further trouble.”
Han Jiao: “……”
Right, he should retrieve the weapons first.
Why did his mind always freeze whenever he encountered the big boss?
This wasn’t his true capability!
“I was just about to do that,” Han Jiao lowered his head, massaging his forehead to cover the fact that he was looking for grass roots. “Squatting for a long time made my head a bit dizzy.”
The big boss watched him with an expressionless face.
Han Jiao was struggling to keep up the act.
The big boss’ eyes suddenly squinted as he started to smile.
It wasn’t a smirk that exposed Han Jiao’s disguise but the same kind of smile as before, a smile that found something funny. His little sharp tiger teeth shone brightly.
Han Jiao couldn’t fathom what the big boss found amusing. He could only obediently retrieve the weapons from the bushes and then crouch down to search for some grass roots.
Unexpectedly, Xie Duo asked, “Were you planning to leave me behind just now?”
“Your Highness, why would you think that?” Han Jiao hurriedly replied, “I was going to find some wood to shield us from the arrows.”
“Lift your head and look at me when you answer.”
Han Jiao dared not raise his head. The big boss’ eyes seemed to possess a truth-revealing power. During eye contact, there was no way to lie.
“So, you really intended to abandon me?” The voice from above carried a hidden threat. “After I’ve chased you all this way, single-handedly. How chilling.”
Han Jiao: “……”
In the novel, all the traitors who made the boss feel chilled ended up dead.
At this critical moment, a group of imperial guards arrived late on the scene.
Several guards rushed forward, inquiring about the Ninth Prince’s condition, while the rest of the guards subdued Han Jiao and the coachman who was still digging a hole in the distance.
After a brief inquiry, Xie Duo sent someone to escort Han Jiao and his little brother back home, and then he rode back to the palace himself.
The coachman and the unconscious assailants were taken to the Ministry of Justice to await interrogation.
Like a sudden nightmare that arrived and ended just as abruptly, his mother fainted in shock when Han Jiao returned home covered in blood, carrying his little brother.
Since this kidnapping case almost involved the Ninth Prince, the court was sure to investigate thoroughly. Those behind the scenes were likely too afraid to cause trouble again.
Han Jiao didn’t have time to pause and calm the darkness in his heart. He returned home, cleaned himself up, burned the bloodstained clothes, and then resumed his focus on the account books.
On the second day of the incident, Han Jiao was brought for interrogation at the Ministry of Justice. Surprisingly, Prince Yan personally appeared.
After listening to Han Jiao’s account of the events, Prince Yan appeared deeply grim. He hadn’t expected someone from the Ministry of War to be so audacious.
Prince Yan merely came to review the military budget records.
The court’s finances were open for scrutiny by anyone, even the seventh-rank officials from the Remonstrance Bureau and the Investigating Censors from the Censorate. This was to prevent corruption.
It was unexpected that this would lead to a significant kidnapping case that nearly involved Prince Yan’s brother.
When the interrogation was over and Han Jiao was about to head home to continue his bookkeeping, he heard the heavy voice of Prince Yan from behind.
“Han Jiao, come up here. I have some questions for you.”
Han Jiao climbed into Prince Yan’s carriage.
“What’s the real story behind these account books?” Prince Yan stared at Han Jiao with a serious expression. “Why can others scrutinize them, but I can’t?”
Han Jiao lowered his eyes and thought for a moment. He took a deep breath and replied, “To answer Your Highness, the Ministry of War has many officials, and some of them take advantage of their official duties to embezzle public funds. Clues to their misdeeds can be found in these account books.”
Prince of Yan was puzzled. “If they are embezzling, why leave the evidence in the account books? Why not simply erase it?”
In ancient times, many officials were more focused on literature, and they often didn’t pay much attention to accounting matters.
Han Jiao gave a simple explanation. “The Ministry of Revenue allocates funds to the Ministry of War for various expenses, and all transactions are clearly recorded. The total amounts are meticulously documented at the Ministry of Revenue. If someone intends to embezzle public funds, they would have to manipulate the accounts. However, even if they manage to create flawless false accounts, discrepancies are bound to arise when comparing the numbers with the actual records. Falsified accounts remain falsified, and while it may be challenging to detect discrepancies in the accounts of a single military outpost, it becomes easier to expose irregularities when examining the accounts of the entire Liaodong border. Those at the Ministry of War who are unaware of why the accounts are being reviewed may naturally become uneasy if they have something to hide.”
Prince Yan closed his eyes and shook his head slowly. “The state of affairs in the officialdom today is truly chilling.”
Han Jiao remained silent, bowing his head to indicate his agreement.
“This was my oversight.” Prince Yan looked at Han Jiao. “I should have first obtained the account books at the palace and discreetly sent them to you. This unforeseen trouble nearly jeopardized the lives of your family.”
Han Jiao felt warmth in his heart. Prince Yan, a man of his stature, was apologizing so sincerely. He truly lived up to the role of a noble and upright male lead.
“I was too hasty in my actions, and I didn’t anticipate this complication. How can I shift the blame to Your Highness?”
Prince Yan gazed steadily at Han Jiao for a moment and then spoke softly, “To be honest, I didn’t have high expectations for you originally, so I didn’t inquire much. I just obtained the account books for you to investigate at your discretion. But today, after our conversation, I find that your insights surpass my initial expectations. I’m curious to know how you plan to proceed with your strategy.”
Han Jiao nodded. “When I first came to propose a plan, I should have presented the entire strategy to Your Highness openly. The reason I kept it hidden was not to appear mysterious, but because a significant part of the strategy involves my own speculations. If I were to speak without concrete evidence, it might be seen as framing someone. I humbly request Your Highness’ patience. In two days, I will provide you with a satisfying outcome.”
Prince Yan silently observed him for a long time, with lingering doubt in his eyes. After a while, he replied in a deep voice, “Very well, I’ll wait for your results.”
The carriage came to a gradual stop not long after, and a eunuch lifted the carriage curtain. Both of them alighted.
Han Jiao glanced around and realized they had arrived at Prince Yan’s residence.
He initially thought Prince Yan was kindly giving him a lift back home, but it turned out they had returned to the Prince’s residence, leaving Han Jiao to find his own way back.
In the novel, when Prince Yan escorted his sweetheart home, he practically wanted to accompany her all the way into the bedroom. It seemed this was indeed a case of a double standard for the male lead…
While he was grumbling in his mind, Prince Yan took the initiative to explain, “Han Jiao, you will temporarily reside in the mansion on the east side of my estate. Your family and the account books have already been sent there. Guards have also been stationed outside the estate to prevent any further mischief.”
The mansion on the east side of Prince of Yan’s estate?
That was a luxurious residence with a full garden. Han Jiao and his father couldn’t afford such a mansion even if they saved for two hundred years in the capital.