Peerless Chapter 101-110

Chapter 101

Maiden Yu and Cui Er loved each other deeply, yet they were separated by life and death so early in time. Even if the road ahead was a long journey, to her, it was simply mourning her late husband. However, that shameful incident was a nightmare prolonging until the present, for even a bastard was produced.

During a thundering storm through the night, she found it difficult to sleep. One moment, she felt that she had betrayed her husband and wanted to ingest some medicine to abort the baby, yet in the next, she felt that the child was innocent for it was not his choice to choose such a terrible biological father.

At the same time, grievous news came from the Yu family. When Father Yu came to the village to visit his daughter, he had experienced a fall. It hadn’t been too severe in the beginning, but his situation turned for the worse all of a sudden.

Once Maiden Yu heard of it, she abandoned everything to hurry back to her own family to accompany her father by his bedside. She didn’t even tell him what happened, fearing that her father would pick a fight with the Cui family and worsen his condition.

However, even having the light of his life by his bedside could not heal him. After all, he was in his senior years and that fall had caused him to hit his head. Not long after, he passed. Mother Yu suppressed all her grief as she made arrangements for his funeral, and very quickly she too fell ill and never woke up. The Yu family was sustained by only sons for a few generations, but when it reached Yu Mo, she was the only daughter. Yu Mo lived apart from her family in foreign lands, so even if she had the heart, there wasn’t much she could help with, and she definitely could not counterbalance the Cui family. Yu Mo did not wish to burden her mother more, so she swept this under the rug.

“When women encounter these sorts of incidents, they would usually mourn and weep from sorrow or simply submit to fate and allow themselves to be pushed around by everyone. Maiden Yu was like any other wise and fragile lady, she had never even roamed the province of Jianghu, yet she managed to weather through this all with a tough heart even after one tragedy came after the next. This is truly respectable.”

Feng Xiao raised his head to look at the sky. The rain abated; light drizzles diminished into little flying needles that dampened their clothes. However, Cui Buqu’s shoulders and back were all heavily wet.

Naturally, Feng Xiao was nowhere near better. Had it been on usual days, he would have already furrowed his brows, returned to take a bath and changed into a new set of clothes. Tonight, however, he could miraculously stomach it as he stood here. He has surprised even himself.

He did not pester Cui Buqu to return, because he knew that today, the reason Cui Buqu came here wasn’t just to tell him a story. More than that, he was giving a sense of justice to the owner of the grave.

Additionally, Feng Xiao was very curious about the next part of the story.

Since he guessed the beginning wrong, then there would be incidents taking place later on which were also beyond his expectations.

Cui Buqu said plainly, “Her heart was definitely tough, however, things may not be as people wished all the time.”

Father Yu’s death caused Maiden Yu to lose her closest family member. It made her completely reject the decision to abort this child. Because then, at the very least, she would still have someone blood- related to her in this world.

As Yu Mo was still a widow of the Cui family, she couldn’t conceal the truth from everyone when it came to giving birth to a child, therefore, she paid Cui Yong a visit and told him everything.

Originally, Cui Yong had thought that by putting Cui San under house arrest, this matter would end, but since there was subsequent follow-up like that, he had been so shocked that he couldn’t speak.

He strongly objected when Maiden Yu proclaimed that she was determined to give birth to the child, because if Maiden Yu gave birth to a child now, then everyone would know that the child wasn’t the child of Cui Er. Even if Cui Yong understood that the child was a descendant of the Cui family, the affair between an uncle and his sister-in-law was such a shameful matter, it can never be exposed in front of others.

However, Yu Mo had enough arguments to persuade Cui Yong. She said that if even she did not have this child, she would have adopted a son of the Cui family in future so that she could continue the bloodline of Cui Er, but instead of picking that choice, why not just allow her to give birth to this child in secret? And tell everyone that he was adopted from a distant branch of the Cui clan, then place him under the name of Cui Er. This would have been perfect.

Maiden Yu was determined not to abandon the child. The words she had spoken were also quite movable. After spending a very long time thinking, Cui Yong finally agreed and allowed Maiden Yu to live in the village for a longer period of time. Cui Yong even sent people whom he trusted to attend to her.

Unfortunately, there was no secret that wouldn’t be unraveled in this world. The news of Maiden Yu’s pregnancy spread and finally reached the ears of Cui San’s wife, Maiden Lu.

Maiden Lu herself came from a prestigious clan. How could she stomach her husband giving her this kind of shame? Naturally, she was furious. She knew that even a little wind of anything regarding the child’s background in the future would be like a slap to their face. Since she is Cui San’s wife, then she would also be shamed. So, Maiden Lu switched out the medicine meant for Maiden Yu in secret. Yu Mo did not realize this and nearly had a miscarriage. Thankfully, she was lucky and was discovered early. But unfortunately, her body had been damaged, and even the child inside of her was incomplete. It made Maiden Yu’s birth extremely difficult. After the child was born, illnesses harassed him inconsistently.

The chilling wind bellowed and Cui Buqu coughed twice.

“When I was young, my body was never well. I refused to speak. My reflexes were slow. I seemed to love sitting alone on my own most of the time, paying no one any attention. It was as if something was wrong with my brain. I might have been a mute.”

Feng Xiao sighed deeply, “Your background was never meant to be something proud. If your health was unwell, it was very difficult to make it to adulthood. Whatever was spoken about succeeding Cui Er’s bloodline would not have been much use at all. So, Cui Yong definitely regretted it.”

Cui Buqu smiled, “That is right. He did regret it.”

Cui Buqu’s existence required depleting the manpower of the Cui family to suppress all rumors revolving around it. They needed to make up a false branch of the Cui clan to cover his identity, and they even needed to console Maiden Lu to avoid her from reaching out to her family and triggering unrest between the Cui and Lu families. Additionally, this child was born riddled with illnesses. They were wasting resources to do something with no guaranteed end.

However, if he died, then everything would be well. The Cui family’s disgrace would no longer exist.

So Cui Yong finally had the intention to kill. It was easy to solve the problem of a child. He did not even need to do it himself. The only obstacle in his way was Maiden Yu alone.

Although Maiden Yu was ill, she could feel that her child wasn’t in a prime condition, so she kept him with her at all times, never leaving his side day and night. With every meal given to the child, she would taste it herself first. She kept track of everyone by her side getting in and out one by one. Maiden Yu knew that it was impossible for her to protect her child, so she dragged herself to look for someone.

She did not look for Cui Yong, neither did she look for the eldest son of the Cui family, Cui Da Lang. She instead sought out the youngest son of the Cui family, Cui Pei.

Maiden Yu begged Cui Pei. She told him that she didn’t have much time left, and begged him to take care of Cui Buqu.

Cui Pei’s heart was soft, so he agreed.

Not long after, Maiden Yu passed away. Cui Pei wasn’t married yet and fearing that since he often left the house, he was unable to protect the child, so he took Cui Buqu to pay Cui Yong a visit and begged him to spare him as Maiden Yu’s dying wish, even if he was sent far away to hide his name.

Among all his sons, Cui Yong loved this youngest son of his the most. Although he thought that he was soft, under the pitiful begging of the other, he finally agreed to let this child remain. The only requirement is that he shall be recorded as a servant of the Cui family and grow up under that identity. No one should ever tell him his past.

A few years passed. The rumors of that toiling year died down. The younger generations of the Cui family have grown up. Although they knew nothing of what happened a few years ago, they knew that there was a child of the Cui family that was raised among their servants. The seniors mentioned him from time to time, but once he was mentioned, their expressions were always strange and their words were scarce as if there were a lot of things they were unable to tell. When curious folks asked the seniors, they would even be lectured. After a long time, they knew that this child who didn’t even have a name, contained a lot of secrets and that the seniors of the Cui family did not like him.

Children were ignorant and yet they were sensitive. They would notice and surmise the thoughts of their elders and thus knew that they could unrestrainedly play pranks on that little child, giving him a variety of names like A-Cao and A-Hua, A-Mao and A-Gou. They gained entertainment by being mischevious, placing all kinds of creepy crawlers on his body and mixed dirt in his meals, even going so far to punch and kick him.

That child was obviously born with an ill body. He struggled to survive and fell ill every two to three days, dragging a broken body as he worked with the other servants of the Cui family. Yet, he refused to die. He knew that it was pointless for him to report his bullies, because the only one who could protect him, Cui Pei, was often out traveling. He could not remain by his side around the clock to protect him. So gradually, he learned to fight back, however, it was still unavoidable for him to be bullied at least a few times a month.

Fevers and colds came regularly. Even if his frail life was ravished back from the hands of the Judge of Hell, his body still became weaker and weaker.

He could not even attend classes regarding the Cui family’s ethnology and could only use his sweeping chore as an excuse to hide outside the house, eavesdropping on a few sentences from the adjacent wall. No one could see him using the couch grass broom as he drew lines on the ground, using his fingers to write the words ‘Spring and Autumn’, ‘Turn Left’ in the sand.

Once in a while when Cui Pei returned, there came his good days. Cui Pei would bring him to Doctor Sun’s to mend his health, and he would also bring him to the villa to pay his birth mother a visit. He would tell him of the things that happened in the past. Cui Pei had considered bringing Cui Buqu with him when he went out traveling, but Cui Yong objected to it. Cui Pei could not make an enemy of his own father for the sake of his nephew with a shady past since after all, Cui Buqu’s body couldn’t have withstood the strain of long journeys.

Even more members of the Cui family, unlike the little children who bullied him, would still stare at him with queer, disdainful gazes, ironically remarking right in front of his face about how tough this child was. It was a miracle he could live until the age of nine without dying.

There was nothing different in the things he wore and ate compared to the servants of the Cui family. Cui Yong did not torture him on purpose, but he was deliberately neglecting him. He knew that Cui Yong was curious. He was curious as to why his body, despite being so ill, could still sustain one hardship after the last.

That was because he wasn’t the slow, stupid kid that everyone said he was. He knew how to protect himself, using strategies to avoid troubles and working hard to stay alive.

However, he was still young. The sky above his head restricted him, even after beating around the bush and fumbling in circles, all he wanted was to find a way to live.

Cui Pei told him that he actually had a name. His grandfather had named him Cui Jie, hoping that he would resemble a stepping stone, taking one step at a time as he moved forward.

He knew that the meaning behind these two words was not the one he was told.

He would rather be called A-Mao or A-Gou, but he was not willing to be called Cui Jie.

During his ninth year, he fell heavily ill, worse than any previous time he experienced, and yet he was abandoned on the bed alone with no one to care for him. Thankfully, Cui Pei came back on time and carried him on his back to Doctor Sun’s. The Zhou Dynasty was still reigning during that year. Cui Pei was noticed by the Emperor for his outstanding talents and was requested to have an audience with him in the capital. So Cui Pei left him in Doctor Sun’s care temporarily.

He knew that his chance finally came. He begged Doctor Sun to let him go and tell the world that he died from an illness. Since every single person within the Cui household looked forward to his death.

If he vanished, then the knot in the Cui family’s heart would be undone.
They would heave a long breath of relief on this matter.

He knew that Cui San’s wife, Maiden Lu, had always wanted him dead. Cui San obviously knew, but he chose to step aside. Even if he could escape it once or twice, he could not escape her forever. He considered his grandfather, Cui Yong, to still have a silver of sentiment for him, but Cui San and Maiden Lu wouldn’t have been so compassionate.

He needed to leave. Even if he died out in the open, he was free.

Doctor Sun was vaguely informed about his past. He could not bring himself to reject his plea, so he finally agreed to tell that lie to the world. He even made him a few pellets to bring around with him, gave him clothes, and delivered him to a merchant group that was traveling south.

Cui Buqu spoke calmly, and Feng Xiao listened silently.

There were no bombastic exaggerations in his words, but hidden in it was thrill.

Feng Xiao had seen people that experienced worse than Cui Buqu, but they had not managed to live until adulthood. He had also seen people who were more determined and stubborn than Cui Buqu, but those people, including himself, had never experienced even one or two-tenths of the hardships Cui Buqu experienced.

When Heaven bestowed a great responsibility upon someone, they would be exhausted, beaten, starved and find everything against their favor, for it was only through such experience that it could strengthen their hearts and enhance their abilities.

Everyone could recite these words from books, but how many of them could stay determined until the end?

How many people have given up before the end? How many have given up themselves due to fatigue?

“Since Doctor Sun pitied you, why didn’t you remain by his side?”
Feng Xiao asked.

Cui Buqu replied to him plainly, “Doctor Sun also has friends and relatives that lived locally. How would he make an enemy of the Cui family for my sake? To do his best and listen to Fate is already his greatest kindness. I am already grateful for this favor of his.”

Feng Xiao, “So, you renamed yourself Cui Buqu, meaning that you would never return to the Cui family for life?”

Cui Buqu shook his head. He balled his fists and coughed in a low voice, “Maiden Yu’s original intentions for me was to be the offspring of Cui Er. The reason I used the surname Cui was to honour her wish. As for Buqu, every one of them wanted me dead, they were waiting for the time I would die—“

A profound smile appeared on his lips, “Yet no one can make me choose that path. I chose to live. Even if living with illnesses hurt, even if my life was torture, this determination still burns.”

He looked at the tombstone, yet Feng Xiao was looking at him from behind.

It was as if a fire had suddenly ignited in his heart, burning wordlessly.

After a long time, Feng Xiao turned his gaze away, “Then when you travelled south, where were you heading?”

Cui Buqu, “Looking for a place to belong.” The world was chaos. Even if a child like him was wary enough, it was still very easy for him to meet nefarious people. Doctor Sun had been meticulous enough to deliver him to the care of a group of trustworthy merchants so they could guarantee his safety more. However, when the group of merchants arrived in their destination and made their exchanges, he would still need to be on his own. No one can protect him forever.

The leader of the merchant group admired his sharpness, so he offered to let him remain and help out. Cui Buqu considered the pros and cons and felt that since he was alone, it would be difficult for him to care for himself, so he agreed. From then on, he followed the merchant group in their travels. From the leader, he learned how to take care of inventories, how to observe a man’s language and countenance. He learned more and more words and he met more and more people. However, the condition of his body did not turn better because of this. The burden he experienced in his early years followed him into adulthood as he aged and worsened. The leader adored him and his talents, so he pitied him. Since he did not have any children of his own, he nurtured him like one of his own, even bringing him to very famed physicians.

It was a pity that the leader unwittingly offended a group of gangsters that called themselves the Qixing Gang. They were pursued by the chieftain to be killed. Cui Buqu lost his support and was alone ever since and led a wandering life, all until he met Fan Yun who later became his teacher.

He was born intelligent with a photographic memory. He remembered most of the things that happened when he was young, even if some of them were slightly blurry in memory. Once he succeeded the Zuoyue Bureau, he managed to seek out the truth when he sent his men to investigate.

Feng Xiao said, “Then, the Qixing Gang surely had a very miserable end.”

The corner of Cui Buqu’s lips curled, “The Qixing Gang’s chieftain was supported by the Demonic Sect, Hehuan Sect, from Jianghu. They thought that no one would dare to make an enemy of them. I deployed a small tactic, provoking the fury of the number one organization of the Chen Dynasty, the Linchuan Palace Academy, to attack the Qixing Gang. They were annihilated.”

Who said that people who didn’t know martial arts could not live in the province of Jianghu? Whoever made an enemy of Cui Buqu would not even realize what they had done until the day they die.

Feng Xiao, “So these years, you weren’t just tolerating the Cui family, but you were looking for a chance?”

Cui Buqu, “People who are concerned over fame and names like Cui Yong, would find it worse than death to watch the entire Cui family crumble piece by piece, watching himself fall from the seat of power in the Cui family. There was also Cui San. These years, he was also held under house arrest in Boling, not allowed to take even a step outside. His wife was disappointed in him. Both of them squabble every day. He couldn’t stand the loneliness and got himself a mistress, yet this was also found out by his wife. The Cui family never had a day of peace. To live their lives in this way was even crueller than killing them with a single strike. Only in this way, they can experience suffering.”

Feng Xiao, “So, last time you said that Cui Da Lang was financially aiding the Chen Dynasty’s Linchuan Palace Academy. Was that the truth or a lie?”

Cui Buqu raised an eyebrow and coughed, “Naturally, it is the truth. I originally had my own ways of dealing with the Cui family, but since Cui Da Lang gave me his own evidence, there was no need for me to waste my strength.”

Feng Xiao smiled, “Good. Very good. I love listening to stories like these. This is the Cui Buqu that I know. Taking vengeance without mercy!”

Cui Buqu’s coughing didn’t stop. He coughed repeatedly until he bent his back. “Alright. The story has ended. Maiden Yu has also heard it. This time, you would definitely avenge her!”

Feng Xiao couldn’t bring himself to turn away from him. He reached out to help him, “Look at the way you cough. I fear that if you stand a while more, you won’t be able to see the next sunrise. I still wish to see what happens when we return!”

He hadn’t used much strength at all, but Cui Buqu was dragged until he almost fell.

Feng Xiao reached out in time. Heavy and damp robes fell into his hands, he could almost squeeze the water out of them.

“If I wasn’t here, would you still be able to go back?” Feng Xiao twitched his lips before forcibly carrying the other person on top of his back.

“If you weren’t here, the one with me would be either Qiao Xian or Zhangsun. Worse come to worse, there would still be Zuoyue Guards.” Cui Buqu coughed as he spoke, his tone and expression were both very calm. “The Cui family is definitely looking for us everywhere now. If we go back now, we might be able to watch the show.”

“Can your Qiao Xian and Zhangsun compare to one out of ten thousand of me?” Feng Xiao laughed coldly, complaining as he walked, “They’re all just bones. Fortunately, I am still willing to condense into a simple man and carry you on my back personally. I am wet all over, this set of robes is also done for.”

Since someone was carrying him, Cui Buqu would also try to avoid being contentious. He had suffered the wind and rain. His head was also all wet and he felt a little dizzy. Unbeknownst to it, he placed his head on the base of the other’s neck. Through that, he felt warmth flowing in him, melting down the cold.

He comfortably sighed, “It is your honor to carry me.” Feng Xiao, “Would you believe me if I said I’d let you fall right now?” Cui Buqu, “Then you wouldn’t be able to see the excellent show later.” As both of them walked further away, their shadows also disappeared.
Yu Mo’s grave was all alone, wordlessly facing the lantern in front of it.

As the rain dissipated, the moon reappeared once again, painting both the grave and the lantern a colour of silver.

Green leaves fell from trees and landed on top of the tombstone; raindrops that gathered in the heart of leaves also trickled down the side of the tombstone, melting the frost, like the tears of a maiden through her smile.

A-Cao and A-Hua, A-Mao and A-Gou: A-Cao (Grass), A-Hua (Flower), A-Mao (Cat), A-Gou (Dog) it’s like calling Cui Buqu names.

Fan Yun: Just in case, Fan Yun was mentioned in Book I when Cui Buqu and Feng Xiao first met. Although Cui Buqu was bullshitting for the greater part, he wasn’t completely lying.

Chapter 102

One name caused the Cui family to descend into chaos. No one was more terrified than Cui San.
After so many years, it wasn’t the fact that he didn’t know what he did. It wasn’t because he knew what he did wasn’t something to be proud of, something that would not be tolerated by the world. However, people would usually feel a sense of avoidance towards the mistakes they have made, as though if they didn’t pay it attention, then nothing bad would happen because of it.

More than twenty years have gone by, he had already cast the name ‘Yu Mo’ to the back of his head. He had never thought that there would come a day when that name would forcibly split open the past he refused to think of again, tearing open that memory that was dripping with blood.

He couldn’t help turning his head to look at his father.

Cui Yong was shocked at first, but after that, he managed to calm down very quickly; nothing could be read on his face, and it remained as that very strict and steady look of the Cui clan elder.

Cui San’s anxiety waned away gradually.

That’s right. Yu Mo had been dead for so many years. The Yu family had all died out. Even if that child was lucky enough to live until now, what could he do? Maiden Yu wasn’t killed, she had died from her own illness. As for that child, the Cui family never killed him. They even spared his life. If he had grown up into an adult and held resentment for the Cui family, regardless whether it was power or morals, it would not stand—the Boling Cui clan has been a hundred-year long prestigious family. How many famed officials and soldiers have they produced? How many members of royalty’s backgrounds could compare to them? How could their family be overturned so easily?

Cui Pei observed his third brother with a cold gaze. He watched how he transitioned from being terrified and uneasy, to releasing a breath of relief. It was as if he could guess what he was thinking about and couldn’t help but ask, “Third brother, if Young Master Feng really is that child then how do you plan to confront him? You couldn’t possibly want father to stand out for you and take care of the things you did?”

Cui San was scared for a moment and spoke angrily, “I have already received my punishment for everything that happened that year. I’ve been held in Boling by father until today. Is this not enough? Ever since he was born, I have never really seen him, nor have I done anything to him. How can this be called a confrontation?!”

He swallowed, feeling that the motivation behind his words was not enough, for the guilt still brimmed in his heart, so he added, “It’s because he ran away from home later on, otherwise the Cui family would still be raising him. Since he was alive all these years, he never sent a word back. This only proved that he is unfilial, disloyal, and unsentimental! Not pursuing the matter is already our greatest generosity. He should confess and ask us for forgiveness!”

Cui Pei was angered into laughter, “So you can really speak for yourself! If it hadn’t been for you who tolerated third sister-in-law attacking the child while I was away, why would he run away? He did it because he couldn’t stand the torture! He was only nine that year, even with Doctor Sun’s help, he was still alone. The world is big and vast, where could he go? Weren’t you the cause of all of this?!”

If Cui Buqu never came back, then Cui Pei’s resentment would have remained inside his heart. On the surface, he would still be brothers in arms with Cui San. The Cui family would be getting along pleasantly as their business flourished. In this generation, there would be Cui Pei, in the next generation, there would be Cui Fei. From generation to generation the starlight would transcend. Perhaps during the Qingming Festival, he would think about his second sister-in-law and that pitiful little child. He would have gone to her grave to offer some incense and pray, sighing with regret.

A single stroke cannot write two ‘Cui’ characters. On top of him, there was his father with powerful authority, and below him, he had to think for his sons and daughters. Cui Pei admitted that he was weak, unable to free himself from the glory and imprisonment of the Cui family for life. So he couldn’t make an enemy of Cui San for the sake of his second sister-in-law and her child who died years ago and unravel all the shady secrets of the Cui family, pushing them in a tight corner.

Yet now, a Young Master Feng whose face he hadn’t seen yet reeled back all the past, along with the guilt that Cui Pei had kept in his heart for many years.

“Shut up, all of you!” Cui Yong shouted, “As of now, the origins of that Young Master Feng have yet to be revealed, yet you all already began bickering among yourselves. Don’t you all feel preposterous?!”

Cui Da had just been informed of the news and quickly rushed in. When he arrived at the door, he already heard his father’s shouting, so he immediately put his hands together and said, “Please be at peace, father. There is nothing that cannot be said. Si Lang (Cui Pei) just came home, so you shouldn’t ruin your mood.”

On the journey here, he was already surprised to hear the housekeeper when he told him everything, so right now he was completely calm, “Father, since that person could name Yu Mo, even if he wasn’t the child, it might be possible that he shared a past with Maiden Yu. The name he gave, Feng Xiao, was familiar to me. When I think about it, it’s as if I’ve heard it mentioned by someone before. The Second Commander of the Jiejian Bureau, established by the present Emperor, also had the surname of ‘Feng’.”

Cui Yong furrowed his brows, “The Jiejian Bureau?” Cui Pei said, “That’s right. I have already heard about this matter. It’s said that the Jiejian Bureau holds the same degree of power with the Six Ministries. They specialize in aiding the Emperor to take care of private affairs between countries and investigating the movements of Göktürks.”

He looked at his father as he spoke, so he didn’t notice the change in Cui Da Lang’s expression.

Cui Yong spoke in a deep tone, “The Emperor will not ask after family affairs. Even if Feng Xiao really is the Commander of the Jiejian Bureau that you spoke of and shared a past with Maiden Yu, it cannot be linked back to the Cui family. The rise of heroes during the end of the Han Dynasty, the change of two Jin Dynasties, and when war broke out in the North; which Emperor since those times wasn’t supporting the Cui clan so we could sustain until today?”

There was a sense of pride in his words. Everyone took note of it and nodded their heads.

That little bit of guilt in Cui San’s heart had long flown out of the window.

As for Cui Da Lang, he never took this matter seriously from the beginning. He told Cui Yong, “Father, I think that if the other didn’t mention Maiden Yu, then we should also feign ignorance. There is no need to bring it up.”

Cui Yong also felt that he was a little impetuous before. With only a name, he had sent people out to look for them, wasn’t that just admitting that something was wrong about himself?

Cui Pei sighed a silent breath.

He raised his head and looked outside the hall. The courtyard was vast, and there was an old tree planted in the patio whose years were far more than his and Cui San’s age combined.

However, this old tree was a lot younger than the Cui family’s genealogy. An aristocratic family would naturally have their own pride. Even if Cui Yong mentioned the present Emperor there was no need to be terrified, so he definitely would not take a simple Feng Xiao seriously.

However, if Feng Xiao was truly a Commander of the Jiejian Bureau who mentioned Maiden Yu on purpose to gain his attention, then how can it be that simple?

Cui Yong delved into his past glory, refusing to look forward.

Cui Pei roamed the world and gained many worldly knowledge from it, however, he wasn’t in complete control of the Cui family.

He could only sigh and reason that his father had grown old.

Not long later, a servant from the outside came to report that both guests had returned. It was raining outside and they did not bring an umbrella, so they were drenched wet. They were going to take a shower and change first before coming to greet their host.

Cui Yong nodded his head and didn’t just sit there. He ordered the kitchen to prepare some dishes. Since the brothers gathered together on the same table was not often seen, dinner was almost ready.

When Cui Buqu stepped into the inner hall, a few gazes fell upon him at the same time.

He turned a blind eye to it and showed no formality, instead, he laughed, “Host Cui called us in the middle of the night, may I know if there is anything of importance?”

Cui Pei examined him closely and found that he couldn’t link the connection between that skinny and silent child with this young man.

Cui Yong had already returned to his usual calmness and level- headedness. He caressed his beard and smiled, “Nothing at all. You people are not locals, and tonight the roads are slippery, I fear you cannot find the way back, so I’ve sent someone to look for you. If you haven’t had dinner, I will have someone deliver it soon.”

Cui Buqu sighed, “To be frank with you, it has been very long since I came back. I almost could not recognize my own hometown. The blue mountains and green rivers were still the same as they were before. This time, other than participating in the Literary Festival, I also came to pay my late mother a visit.”

Deathly silence.

Everyone present was stunned for a moment. No one could have guessed that Cui Buqu would have been so frank, getting straight to the topic immediately.

Cui Pei excused himself and stood up, looking a little bit emotional.

If Cui San and Cui Yong could see that Cui Buqu looked familiar, naturally he could also see it. Those two brows, his jaw, were almost seventy to eighty percent like his mother.

“You—Who is your mother?” He suppressed his emotions and asked gently.

“Didn’t you all manage to guess already?” Cui Buqu smiled.

Feng Xiao realized that Cui Buqu’s smile was unlike the ones he gave on normal days.

Or perhaps, it was very different from the ones he gave him.

Cui Buqu never smiled often. Most of them were sneers, mockery, and that sort of laugh he gave whenever he successfully pitted someone like a fox who stole successfully. He was very controlled, and would often hide his intentions in his eyes. Often, when he won a bicker with Feng Xiao, or when he had the upper hand, his lips would curl and his eyes would squint altogether, softening the coldness which sat on his brows. However, they have never gave this sort of gaze: a look that seemed like smiling but wasn’t, more accurately, hiding his true intentions behind a smile. It gave one a feeling as if they couldn’t determine whether he was truly happy or angry.

Feng Xiao who discovered this detail was like a hunter who finally caught the fox’s tail; he felt his heart singing in glee, he couldn’t help taking out his fan from his sleeve and flipped it open.

No one would pay attention as to why he fanned himself during a rainy night, for everyone had already placed their attention onto Cui Buqu.

Cui Yong spoke in a dull voice, “You people have just happened to pass by and met Ninth Lady. I found you youthful and talented, only because of my love for young talents I’ve decided to let you stay the night. If you have been poorly attended to, then just be honest with it. Why is there the need to behave in such a strange manner!”

Cui Buqu smiled lightly, “After so many years, Host Cui you are still the same. You have not changed at all. You have always spoken in one way or the other, appearing to be absolutely fair and just, but in reality you have always played favouritism. Your son ruined my mother’s reputation and gave birth to a bastard like myself, yet he still tolerated his wife causing harm to his sister-in-law’s life. For the sake of the Cui family’s name, you decided to conceal the entire matter. If I didn’t live, how would I be able to reclaim justice for Maiden Yu and settle off old scores?”

The words ‘settle off old scores’ caused Cui Yong’s heart to jump.

He slapped the table and rose to his feet, “So you really are Cui Jie! In the past when you were young, you could not have known what happened. The Cui family raised you, yet not only did you run away without a word and refused to send a word home for many years, today you even dared to reprimand your own elders, biting the hand that feeds!”

Cui Da Lang also spoke, “That right, A-Jie. In these years when you weren’t here, we all missed you. Doctor Sun claimed that you died, father was even saddened to tears. Since you are alive now, of course we are glad. As for the matter regarding your mother, there’s more to what happened. Please sit down first, so we can converse thoroughly about it, let us not make a fool of ourselves in front of outsiders.”

Feng Xiao practically laughed out loud.

The words they used to temper justice with mercy could be used to cheat past normal people. If Maiden Yu’s son hadn’t been such a prospective child, he could never have faced the Cui family alone, and after hearing these words, perhaps he might feel a sense of unjust but in the end, he could only admit defeat.

However, what sort of a person was Cui Buqu?

To continuously give rise to winds and waves, sending every member of the Yunhai Thirteen Stories under the Heavens into chaos. Even Prince Jin who had received endless love and favours had to curry favours with him. Cui Yong’s words, when spoken before Cui Buqu, were practically laughable.

Feng Xiao dared to bet with Pei Jingzhe’s head that right now that Cui Buqu was leisurely watching the Cui family playing a show. He wasn’t in a hurry to show his own hand, as if he was toying with a mouse, waiting for them to show their final imperative call.

As expected, Cui Buqu laughed, “During that year, although I was young and seldom spoke, there are many things I remember, for example, how the Cui family servants who received orders to raise me mixed poison into my food under the instructions of Maiden Lu with the intention to poison me to death. It was a pity that my life was tough and I was always on alert, insisting not to ingest food for three days so I could faint from hunger in front of everyone when the prefecture’s magistrate came to visit Host Cui so that he might never escape questioning. Right now when I think back about it, taking my background into consideration, the fact that the Cui family didn’t kill me was truly a gift from the Heavens!” Every member of the Cui family’s expressions was in patches of red and white. Even the older ones like Cui Yong practically lost his composure.

Cui Buqu was like a perpetual thorn in his heart. As long as he lived another day, he would suffer for another day. However, he couldn’t afford to bear the name of murdering his own grandson, so he could only let him live and let fate run its own course. Cui Yong wasn’t ignorant of the fact that the other was bullied pitifully, but he turned a blind eye to it, only paying attention whenever he came across it, but if he didn’t then he feigned oblivion.

However, who could have guessed that that child who shouldn’t have lived long didn’t die in the streets, but even came back after so many years to confront them face to face?

Among all present, only Cui Pei walked forth filled with emotions, wanting to place a hand on Cui Buqu’s shoulder, but a fan reached out to barricade his path, so he could only stop his steps.

“A-Jie, it really is you! All these years, I have deeply regretted, I’ve regretted failing your mother’s dying wish before her passing and caused you so much suffering as you strayed outside. It’s thanks to Heaven’s blessings that you are safe and sound. Please come back and be named under me. I will treat you as my own, and never will you ever be bullied again!”

Cui Yong furrowed his brows, as if he wanted to say something, but held himself back.

Cui Buqu, “My name is not Cui Jie. It’s Cui Buqu.”

Cui Pei was shocked, “Which ‘Buqu’?”

Feng Xiao said coldly, “’Buqu’ which means ‘refuse to go’. How pleasant it is to the ears, and how extraordinary a name; when others hear of it, they would definitely ask about its origin. Won’t all these filthy secrets of the Cui family be known to all then?” Cui Pei’s expression was rather pale and he laughed bitterly, “Those were my wrongs. My wrongs!”

Cui Da Lang spoke in a low voice, “A-Jie, we all know that the resentment in your heart isn’t light, but times have changed and that generation is gone. Whatever happened in the past, just let them be. Since you’ve already returned, then don’t leave…”

Feng Xiao laughed and said, “And let you people poison him a few more times? Or was it that you people will stop perceiving him as your disgrace? Could he be recorded in the genealogy, could proudly be introduced by all as one of the Cui family, and after his death, will he be buried in the Cui family’s ancestral burial cemetery?”

Cui Da Lang’s words were all spoken by him, so he simply choked on them, his eyes glaring but failing to continue.

Cui Yong watched Cui Buqu and said slowly, “If you are willing to come back, I can be the judge of it. You can be adopted by Si Lang, and then you can rightfully become a member of the Cui family. No one will ever speak nonsense again.”

Not only Feng Xiao wanted to laugh, but Cui Buqu too wanted to laugh.

Both of them exchanged glances, and from Feng Xiao’s eyes, Cui Buqu saw pity.

Yet it wasn’t pity for Cui Buqu, it was pity for Cui Yong.

He pitied him for he had gone old. He sat on the throne of the Cui family’s elders for far too long and became blinded.

If Cui Buqu really coveted the identity of a Cui, then why was there the need for him to come back only after so many years? He even dared to speak as if he was bestowing a favour. Was he hoping for Cui Buqu to thank him sentimentally like he was thanking the Emperor’s edict? Feng Xiao: ‘Master Taoist Cui, how glad to know that you took after your mother.’

Cui Buqu could hear these words from the movement of the other man’s lips. He coughed twice, not wanting to pay Feng Xiao any attention, and instead turned towards the Cui family and said, “I’ve said before. My visit this time was first, to pay my late mother a visit, and secondly, was to participate in the pomegranate flower Literary Festival. As for the Cui family—“

His gaze fell on Cui Da Lang, Cui San, yet it lingered on the latter longer, before falling onto Cui Yong.

“From the beginning, I never had the intention to be one of the Cui clan. Never and won’t ever be. Perhaps you people perceived the Cui clan as something even more important than Heaven itself, but the reason my surname is Cui was to fulfill my mother’s wish when she was alive. It is completely unrelated to Boling Cui.”

The angle of his lips was cold, but soon it disappeared. Every word he said was clearly delivered into the ears of every single member of the Cui family, “Never once have I coveted the surname of this clan. Let alone be recorded in your genealogy, even if you present me the entire Cui family, I have zero interest.”

“If Host Cui does not have any matter of importance, then we will be turning in to rest, so we won’t fail to wake up tomorrow for the Literary Festival. Please excuse us.”

Cui Buqu threw a bomb into this pond that was the Cui family, scaring all the fishes and prawns and causing them to flip and jump about. Yet, he himself left after excusing himself, robes swaying in the wind with an air of superiority.

Chapter 103

Both of them swaggered off, leaving those few members of the Cui family in the hall soused in deep and long silence.

Cui San was guilty at heart since, in the end, this matter was related to him. Throughout the conversation, he hadn’t uttered a word and couldn’t help wishing that everyone around him could just forget about his own existence.

The truth remained that Cui Yong had no time to pay Cui San any attention. He realized that he’d forgotten to ask about Cui Buqu’s identity and origin a moment ago because Cui Buqu was hurrying him. Until now, he didn’t even inquire about his falsified use of the name Feng Xiao, and whether he was really related to the Jiejian Bureau, or simply just waving a paper tiger.

Cui Da also came to realize this issue, so he asked his father, “This man didn’t come with good intentions. I fear he will create a disturbance in the Pomegranate Flower Literary Festival. Should we expel them and forbid them to show up tomorrow?”

Cui Pei stifled his anger as he said, “Father, elder brother, despite it all he is still one of the Cui family’s bloodline. Now it’s already deep in the night, if we expel them, where can they go? Bonds between enemies are easily wrought but not easily undone. We should take appropriate care of this matter.”

Cui Da furrowed his brows, “Si Lang, after so many years, are you still so naïve? If he wanted to reconcile, why would he pick a time like this to reach our doors? Obviously he wanted to make it difficult for us in front of the scholars from all four cardinal directions, as well as the local villagers and the new Prefecture’s Magistrate!”

Cui Pei raised his voice, “This is what we owed him since the beginning! Are you expecting him to return happily and thank us for raising him?”

Cui Da Lang also became furious, “Does he not owe us that? Had it been for someone else, they would have smothered a bastard like him to death! How would they raise him into adulthood?!”

Blood bubbled within Cui Pei; after all these years of guilt, seeing Cui Buqu at the peak of his life before him caused him to birth the courage to talk back to his elder brother. He pointed at Cui San, his hands shaking under all the fury toiling in him, “Forgive me for saying what is not pleasant to the ears, but the one who should be smothered to death isn’t him, the one who ruined someone else’s repute isn’t him either, it should be third brother!”

Cui San really did jump, “Si Lang (Cui Pei), why are you defending that mother and her child? Could it be that you have always been lying in wait for her? Don’t tell me that bastard is actually your…”

Not waiting for Cui Pei to raise his fist to punch someone, Cui Da already took a step forward and gave Cui San a fitting punch to his face, sending him to the ground.

For a man who had always been prudent and modest, at this moment he lost his temper and shouted in resolution to the servants, “San Lang (Cui San) is behaving abnormally. Gag him and drag him away!”

Cui Yong remained silent through the entire process of Cui San struggling wildly before finally being dragged away, and approved of his eldest’s method of disposal.

Cui Pei exhaled heavily, forcibly calming himself down before speaking,
“Father, we cannot run them out now, otherwise, they might seek out the Prefecture’s Magistrate in a moment of fury and publicize the incident, and by then that would be unsightly for us. If he really does belong to the Jiejian Bureau, and the matter is laid before the Emperor…”

Cui Da interrupted him, “The Emperor takes care of thousands of matters in the day, how would he pay any heed to these trivial sorts of matters? Additionally, the Emperor himself came from the noble house of Guanlong. Taking into consideration all the powerful families under the Heavens, which house has never committed a few dejected things? From the way I see it, we should run them out of Boling to prevent the prolonging of this nightmare!”

“Father!” Cui Pei exclaimed furiously, “When his birth mother passed that year, members of the Cui family bullied him because there was little to no one left in his mother’s family. Her name was tainted, so she was forbidden to be buried with Er Lang (Cui Er). We were in the wrong first, and all that child wants is justice. Couldn’t we just ask him here and tell him everything, before permitting second sister-in-law to enter the Boling Cui’s ancestral burial site and end his decades-long fury? When things get worse enough for people to remember it, would that be beneficial to the Cui family?”

As he watched both his sons bicker among themselves, spiraling into a row that was no longer diplomatic and neither could convince the other, Cui Yong finally raised a hand and did a gesture, signaling for them to quiet down.

“Can you guarantee that you are able to convince him?” Cui Yong turned towards Cui Pei.

Cui Pei remained silent for a while, before asking him back, “In this generation of the Cui family, the fifth position should have belonged to him, but when he was born, you recorded his name under the servant’s, so he has never been in our genealogy book. Now that he has returned, father, will you have a change of thoughts?”

As he listened to this, Cui Da Lang once again felt discontented, “To allow his mother into the Cui family’s ancestral burial site is already being generous. If he formally entered the Cui family, how can we explain him to the world? What will the younger generations think once they know about it? It was a shameful past from the beginning, should we really illustrate everything out clearly?”

Cui Pei remained silent, he only looked at Cui Yong.

……

“With how rashly you’ve alerted the enemy, I fear they will be sending us on our way quite soon.”

Cui Buqu and Feng Xiao swaggered back to the adjacent manor, their sleeves bellowing as they sauntered. The servants of the Cui family would have heard of a thing or two by now, but without their master’s orders, they could not hinder Cui Buqu and Feng Xiao’s entrance. Only that on their way back, it was unavoidable to receive odd gazes from them.

“They won’t.” Cui Buqu replied very calmly, “They will definitely be debating incessantly right now. However, Cui Yong will be fearful of us being driven into fury from embarrassment and publicize the incident. So before the Literary Festival ends, they will still elect to conceal the matter and pacify the people. They will choose to convince us to be calm and once the scholars, as well as the Prefecture’s Magistrate, leave tomorrow, he will seek us out to settle the deal.”

Feng Xiao, “That fourth uncle of yours, Cui Pei, promised Maiden Yu before her death that he will protect you but failed to do so. If he had protected you well, you could have led a better childhood.”

Cui Buqu said expressionlessly, “He still has a conscience, but his abilities were limited, and he was the youngest among his siblings. He cannot make an enemy of the entire Cui family just for my sake. Had it not been for the fact that she could not depend on anyone else in the Cui family during that time, Maiden Yu would not have entrusted me into his care. As people, we must eventually be responsible for ourselves, so I do not resent him.” Feng Xiao smiled, “Then I should thank him. If he had insisted on keeping you by his side, then today, I wouldn’t have a rival I respect.”

Then his days would have been quite boring compared to now. However, these were words with an undeveloped implication, so he didn’t voice them out loud.

Yet, Cui Buqu could hear him. He nodded understandingly, “I understand. I have also come across many people like Commander Feng, such as Prince Jin for example, and people from the Yunhai Thirteen Stories. Proud sons of Heaven who had everything they wanted, yet when it came to intelligence quotients, they were only above average…”

Feng Xiao gave a sound “Hmph” through his nose, raising his tone on purpose as if he was threatening, “Only above average in terms of intelligence quotient?”

Cui Buqu was unfazed, he continued speaking, “As days were too boring, they look for something to do, or find someone to rival with. These sorts of behaviors are downright ridiculous and also masochistic.”

Feng Xiao answered him sarcastically, “And who in the world could it be that originally received orders to form an alliance with the Göktürks, yet after hearing about the Khotan Ambassador’s murder, he exhausted his mind to make every attempt at ravishing the glory of solving it? In the end, he was poisoned with the Naihexiang drug and almost lost his life. To kill a thousand enemies while sacrificing eight hundred of his own. Isn’t this the behavior of a masochist?”

Cui Buqu twitched his lips, “Am I not just delivering myself to Commander Feng’s door since he felt that his life was too boring?”

Feng Xiao laughed, “Haha! I like the way you say this! I wager the Cui family only thought that as long as they allow you into the genealogy book and to formally welcome you as a member of the Cui family, you will be infinitely grateful and forget everything in the past. It’s a pity they’re foolish beyond imagination to not know what sort of a person Cui Buqu is to think that you would come for something so trivial?” Cui Buqu sighed, yet he felt no pity at all. His expression was only one of mockery, “They are not foolish. It’s only that when one sits upon a throne for too long, they’ve grown to underestimate the values of others.”

However, the grace of the Zuoyue Bureau’s commander didn’t last long.
As he finished speaking, he sneezed continuously a couple of times.

Feng Xiao chuckled at his misfortune, “Look at your body, and still you want to get drenched by the rain. Before you can setback the Cui family tomorrow, you’ve already fallen down.”

Cui Buqu sneezed until his nose itched, even his voice became muffled.

“I will be fine after a good sleep. However, in a while, Cui Pei might seek me out. In order to present you with a good theatre tomorrow, I will need the help of Commander Feng to steady your course.”

Feng Xiao raised a brow, “Where are your Zuoyue guards?”

Cui Buqu, “Sent off by me to conduct some things. They will be back tomorrow.”

“That’s not right.”

Feng Xiao’s steps suddenly halted.

Cui Buqu covered his nose, intending to force that itchiness back, but doing this only made his sneeze brim up his eyes, causing them to be puffy and wet.

“Without Qiao Xian at this moment, it’s not wise to send for a doctor. The Cui family would give anything for me to die from illness, so I better return to take my medicine and lie down. These trivial matters will need to depend on Er-lang.”

Feng Xiao was stunned by the gentle tone rarely found in the other. He looked at Cui Buqu’s tearful eyes and neglected to say the refuting and ridiculing words in his mouth; added with the pleasant address of ‘Er-lang’ floating into his ears, he immediately suspected that Cui Buqu was possessed despite the fact that the month of July had yet to come.

Watching the other’s back, he suddenly remembered what he had forgotten to say just now.

“Stand right there.”

Cui Buqu did not look back from his staggering steps and vanished within his sight in the blink of an eye.

Feng Xiao: “…He really is faking it.”

So, was he here to watch the theatre, or to be Cui Buqu’s Zuoyue guard? He touched his chin, pondering seriously over this question.
……

Pomegranate flowers bloomed in May.

In reality, pomegranate flowers bloomed throughout the summer, and the so-called Pomegranate Flower Literary Festival had only borrowed its name. In the year before, the literary festival held by the Cui family had used the concept of Wang Xizhi’s Orchid Pavilion, varying through the years.

From the county of Boling, all the way to the northern part of the country, the Cui clan’s literary festival was renowned. Every year a myriad of people would participate in hopes that they would spring into fame, and among them, there was no lack of scholars that already have a name for themselves. The past Prefecture’s Magistrate had a reputation for his love of talents, and every year he came here to be seated as a local guest, scouting for champions in the festival whose performances were outstanding. They might even be recommended by him to the Imperial Court to take up the post of an official. Presently, the dynasty had changed, and a new Prefecture’s Magistrate had taken up the post, but to display his affection for the people and share in their happiness, the new Prefecture’s Magistrate informed the Cui family that he will attend the festival in person.

The literary festival will be held in one of the courtyards of the Cui clan. The land adjoins a country park with blue streams. It contained pear blossoms that have yet to wilt and waters that yielded flawless reflections, enclosed by walls and opened wooden gates. From inside the courtyard to the outsides, one was free to roam through a few pomegranate trees that were planted. Maidservants came carrying fruits and wine with scented clothes and gorgeous hair, scholars wore fluttering robes with wide sleeves and jade that hung by their sashes. These things were too much for one to take everything in at a glance.

Cui Pei stood next to Cui Yong, introducing to him all the honored guests that came forth to pay respects. Among them were greatly respected seniors of the literary world as well as poetry singers that were his friends of old. With his literary talents, even if he couldn’t emerge as the champion in today’s literary festival, he would still be in the limelight.

However, it was unknown why in Cui Pei’s heart, he felt uneasy and anxious, for even his eyelids could not stop tingling.

Cui Da Lang, who was attending to a few guests somewhere else, found a chance to approach Cui Pei and dragged him aside, before asking in a hushed voice, “Yesterday when you sought him out, what did he say?”

Cui Pei laughed bitterly, “He fell ill from being out in the rain and took a rest. I was stopped by that friend of his, so I didn’t meet him.”

Cui Da Lang furrowed his brows, “How imprudent! It seems he is waiting for us to take more steps backward, so he could reap more benefits.”

Cui Pei, “Elder brother, I do not believe he is that sort of person. Otherwise, he would have come back earlier all these years. The Cui family has failed him in the end.” Cui Da Lang disagreed, “He is definitely related to the Jiejian Bureau in one way or another, and think that he can use that against us, that’s why he behaved so cockily, wanting to return home in silken robes. Nevertheless, whatever he wishes to do today will fail, because we’ve had men keeping watch on him. Once they say anything that shouldn’t be said or do anything that shouldn’t have been done, then we can immediately have them dragged away.”

Midway of speaking, the Local Magistrate and Prefecture’s Magistrate arrived. By their sides clustered the local high and low ranking officials of the county. The atmosphere of the place brightened up once more.

Cui Da Lang could not spare the time to tell him in detail. He quickly assisted his father to move forth and pay their respects.

Cui Pei pushed his way through the sea of people, and only through great difficulty, he found Cui Buqu’s head among many others. The latter was standing with Feng Xiao under a pear blossom tree situated neither far or close, festive smiles hanging upon their faces similar to the other scholars present. They looked as if they would enter the stage to participate in the literary competition anytime soon.

The elegant sight of pear blossoms rendered Feng Xiao’s peerless grace even more conspicuous. Even Cui Pei, who had placed all his focus on Cui Buqu, could not help but divide his focus partially to Feng Xiao.

Then, he suddenly recalled something: Since Cui Buqu had been using the false alias ‘Feng Xiao’ in the beginning, then wouldn’t this friend of his be using a false name as well? How was it possible for a man as flawless as fine jade like him to possess such a mundane background and identity?

On the other hand, Cui Yong was at the peak of his excitement.

After conversing with the Prefecture’s Magistrate and his men, he rose to his feet to place his hands together while facing the audience, illustrated the original intentions of the literary festival and expressed his welcome, he said, “All the people who came to the literary festival today outnumbered those who came last year. The seats are filled to the brim and extraordinary guests enrich the place. This old man declares that today, a thousand masterpieces that surpassed the old times will be made, and to prove my sincerity, I am willing to offer a treasured zither as a reward to the best participant today!”

Wang Xizhi’s Orchid Pavilion: Wang Xizhi (303-361) is a Chinese calligrapher, writer and politician who lived during the Jin Dynasty (265– 420), best known for his mastery of Chinese calligraphy. ‘Preface to the Poems Collected from the Orchid Pavilion’ was his calligraphy work. In the
raws, 王右军 (Wangzuo Jun) was used, but they are the same person.

Eyelids could not stop tingling: Usually, it’s a bad-omen when one’s eyelids are tingling. As if something bad is going to happen.

Chapter 104

When he heard Cui Yong speaking of the zither Yu Yin, Feng Xiao sneezed.

“This isn’t right, this really isn’t right.” He rubbed his nose.

On the other hand, Cui Buqu was in a good mood, “Since yesterday night you kept repeating ‘this isn’t right’. What on earth is ‘not right’ to you?”

Feng Xiao groaned, “Everything isn’t going right.”

Cui Buqu did not prod further, “I never thought that Cui Yong would willingly take out the zither Yu Yin and gamble on it. Are you planning to rob it openly in broad daylight, or quietly steal it away?”

Feng Xiao cast the zither a leisure look; with his brilliant eyesight, he could see the zither clearly without needing to examine it up close.

Cui Yong used a finger to pluck the string a little bit, and the sound of the zither overflowed the place, touching everyone’s heartstrings.

It was certainly an excellently made zither.

An excellent top-quality zither when in the hands of skilled musicians, is able to produce the clear songs of nature, and when in the hands of people with deep profound inner strength, it too can bring results that were beyond expectations. Yu Yin was not the number one zither beneath the Heavens, and to Feng Xiao, it was not a must to obtain it, but since they crossed paths and it was sitting just a few meters away from him, it would be a pity if it didn’t fall into his hands.

He pondered over how he should get the zither when he heard Cui Buqu’s words, he responded, “Why? Can’t I just rely on poetry to prove myself, so that Cui Yong has no choice but to give me the zither himself?”

Cui Buqu felt a little taken aback, “I couldn’t have believed that Commander Feng possessed literary skills that could outmatch the exemplary scholars present here. Can I experience it first-hand now and satisfy my curiosity?”

Feng Xiao snorted a laugh, “A poem from me is worth a Yu Yin zither. If I recited it for you, what can you give me in return?”

Cui Buqu remained silent for a moment, “Both my sleeves are empty with nothing but clear wind1. You’d better keep your skills to stun all the people present later.”

At this moment, Cui Yong’s opening speech had already given rise to a thousand waves of excitement.

Although there were more than a dozen people present who didn’t know martial arts, this didn’t prevent them from having heard of the zither Yu Yin’s name. Even if they hadn’t heard of it, the zither that Cui Yong would take out and use as a gambit would definitely be a zither of a brand. Right now, originally those who came here simply to join the crowd had also begun to brew stunning poetries in their hearts.

Cui Yong caressed his beard and smiled. As he conversed with the Prefecture’s Magistrate, his gaze intentionally and unintentionally fell upon the direction of Cui Buqu and his company.

Cui Buqu noticed this, and Feng Xiao had noticed it earlier than he did. “Look at how terrified you’ve made him; he’s like a bird that’s being startled by the mere twang of a bow. How long before you plan to end his misery?” Feng Xiao scoffed as he said.

“Wait.” Cui Buqu’s gaze fell upon someone else’s. He picked up his footsteps and walked towards the direction of Cui Yong; yet Feng Xiao reached out to hold his wrist, so he had no choice but to look back and replied to him honestly, “This new Prefecture’s Magistrate was also an old family friend from those days.”

An old family friend. Little to no one was left of the Yu family, and he believed he had also seen all the people from the Cui family that mattered.

At the stroke of lightning and meteors, Feng Xiao recalled the story of Cui Buqu and thought of one person.

“…Maiden Yu’s senior apprentice-brother?”

Cui Buqu nodded, “Yuan Sheng was bereaved of his father at a young age. Father Yu couldn’t bear to watch his talents go to waste, so he took him in as his apprentice and invested efforts into nurturing him. However, Yuan Sheng left to see the world and until presently his whereabouts were unknown. In truth, he went to Nanbei before he was nominated to be an official, and was offered the name Yuan Sansi. This became his name. He began from the magistrate of Huozhou, before he was promoted to the Prefecture’s Magistrate of Boling today. As the saying goes, to return to one’s hometown in silken robes.”

Perhaps Yuan Sheng was just coincidentally relocated to this place, or perhaps, he had quietly returned that year to visit his family and after hearing of Maiden Yu’s case, it provoked him to pursue this path, hoping to avenge her one day. However, these were no longer important. With Cui Buqu present, he will finish what he came to begin. Yet since the only old family friend also showed himself, if he wanted to see him and ask a little about his birth mother, it was perfectly reasonable.

Feng Xiao released his grip as if he was waving a little kitten or puppy away, “Go then, go then. I also want to start exhibiting my poetic talents.” Cui Buqu was very suspicious of the words he spoke, but after looking at him for a while, he turned around to leave.

Feng Xiao shook his fan and smiled as he walked towards the crowd of people that gathered.

“Pomegranate flowers bloomed beautifully in May…”

A young scholar in white robes and black sash chanted in a high tone. Someone from the side was wielding his brush furiously as he recorded all the poetry songs made by everyone.

The ones nominated to judge were a few local scholars. One of them was an elder who once worshipped the doctor Yu Bozhong from the former dynasty, therefore he was one of the leaders of the northern literary world.

Although it was a themed pomegranate flower, the poetry songs were not limited to just pomegranate flowers. When talents assembled, there were a variety of delicacies, and none of them couldn’t be turned into a theme itself. If someone wished to craft something out of the ordinary, to write something of a tragedy, it was not forbidden. As long as it comes out extraordinary, there was no need to worry that this single event would not make them famous.

Everyone employed their full set of skills, depleted their brain to cudgel for ideas. Some of them had written their piece prior, and knew it by heart, only for the sake of gaining the attention of a famed scholar. As for those who already made a name for themselves in the literary world, naturally, they were expected to perform excellently, only then will they be living up to their name.

That young scholar finished reciting his poetry and was nervously waiting for his senior to remark on his work. Those elders did not shame him, they only laughed and said, “Beautiful and worth recommending. It’s definitely an above-average piece of work.”

Hearing this, the scholar knew that those words embodied the implication that his poetry was mundane. So let alone being the top three, it would be difficult to make it to the top ten. He felt a little upset in his heart but dared not be impetuous. He immediately raised his hands and sat down politely, offering the stage for the next one in line.

When it came to writing, it really does partially depend on one’s talents. Were it those sorts of pieces brimmed with flowery proses, then even if one memorized a few more books, even if they couldn’t learn to write it, they could still vaguely mimic it. Only those masterpieces that could send one to strike the table and call for an applaud can be found by accident, ever since the Wei Jin Southern and Northern Dynasties, it had only been for a few such people like San Cao and Xie Lingyun.

Moreover in a gathering such as this, the more someone stood out from a crowd, their voices will be heard by all of the participants present.

“This one’s talents are mundane, but I fell in love with the zither Yu Yin at first sight, so I too have poetry to offer. Should my piece satiate the criteria of Host Cui, then Host Cui shouldn’t be miserly.”

The one speaking was Feng Xiao. Everyone felt that something glimmered before their eyes at the other’s handsome face, like a phoenix leaping into the tableau, a radiant enchanted day in spring, where the gardens bloomed splendidly.

Cui Yong’s eyebrows furrowed slightly.

He had seen Cui Buqu speaking with the new Prefecture’s Magistrate just now, but he couldn’t stop him on purpose, so he could only allow Cui Da Lang to keep an eye on him. If the other said anything that wasn’t supposed to be said, then he’d have someone to gag his mouth and take him away. The most they would need to do was to apologize to the Prefecture’s Magistrate afterward, yet what they didn’t expect was to see Feng Xiao appearing here after they’d taken care of Cui Buqu.

With just the two of them, they couldn’t have done anything. Even if they spilled out everything in front of everyone, Cui Yong had his own ways of dealing with it. However, with how they’ve appropriately obeyed every rule at present, such a scene was difficult for him to control. Everyone was naturally more tolerating of beautiful people. Even an elderly man with a white head like Yu Bozhong could not avoid it, so he joked, saying, “If this little friend can really offer a splendid masterpiece, even if Host Cui is being stringy, I will snatch the zither and gift it to you.”

Feng Xiao smiled, “Then I offer my thanks. My piece is a wujue2.”

The elder nodded, “Let it be heard.”

The ears of spectators all were also stricken themselves. They wanted to hear what sort of poetry this handsome and young man could do that would shake the heavens and earth and could make the gods and demons cry.

So Feng Xiao pursed his lips and began chanting, “Pomegranate flowers bloomed beautifully in May, Boling holds a grand occasion. All the scholars fought for name and fame, thus came I for the zither Yu Yin.”

Silence.

Awkward silence.

The sort of silence that even spring orioles forgot to sing.

Everyone retained the look they were wearing before they heard the poetry a minute before. They did not even have the time to revoke the smile that hung frozen and dazed on their faces.

It was a pity for the Heavens to see, but ever since the first literary festival held by Boling, they have never heard of such a rotten wujue!

This can no longer be called a wujue, at most, it can only be called a doggerel that was only plain and mundane.

The crowd was certainly shaken, but there was no glamour.

From where did this blockhead leap out from? How dare he shame himself by reciting such an unsightly poem in a literary festival? Even that white-haired elder that was fairly charmed by Feng Xiao just now, who was armed with the virtue of patience, was practically forcing a smile on his face, “The poetry from this little friend, er, is barely passable, a great many improvements await. Try to practice more often on usual days.”

Cui Yong practically dropped his molar laughing, and in his heart, he said: The kind of assistants sought by Cui Buqu, are but only pewter spearheads that shine like silver3 who thought he could gain the upper hand simply by having some looks?

Yet Feng Xiao didn’t show an ounce of feeling ashamed. He said with a face full of innocence, “Didn’t Host Cui said that the most prominent talent present would be rewarded with the zither Yu Yin? Yet why since I’ve recited the poetry, you’ve gone back on your words?”

Cui Yong replied plainly, “With a poem like yours that wouldn’t even be considered true poetry, even if the old man I have you the zither Yu Yin, I fear people would think that you are an estranged grandson of mine.”

Everyone laughed in unison and praised Host Cui’s humor.

Feng Xiao disagreed, “There is no best writer; nor is there a second best fighter4. On so-called good poetry, different people have different opinions, no one can submit to the other. As for rotten poetry, everyone present could clearly determine it. Just now you said ‘the most extraordinary poem present’, but you did not say whether it was the best nor the worse, so I do not think that I’ve breached any rules.”

Cui Yong twitched his lips, “This gentleman, there is no longer the need to dally here. You may leave.”

The gaze everyone used to look at Feng Xiao was a little strange; they either thought that his brain was damaged, or that he was purposely currying favor in front of the crowd, to gain attention through walking the crooked road. Everyone but Feng Xiao didn’t take it to heart. He remained smiling, and when Cui Yong asked him to leave, he really did as he was told, leaving as he waved his fan. Those left were the female scholars who didn’t mind how his poetry talented were gathering in crowds, asking all sorts of questions and drawing the envy of a few male scholars.

The new Prefecture’s Magistrate Yuan Sansi watched the young man before him who had a pale and sickly complexion and waved his hand, ordering the servants from his left and right to leave.

“You have something to tell me?”

Originally, common people would not be able to speak to the Prefecture’s Magistrate so easily.

However, today was the literary festival, and most of its participants are people of letters. Since the Prefecture’s Magistrate came to share the festive of the people, naturally he couldn’t throw his weight around.

The most important thing was, when he saw Cui Buqu, he couldn’t help feeling that he looked familiar, as if he could recall an old family friend.

Cui Buqu nodded, “After a while, there will be a theatre. Prefecture Magistrate, you needn’t interfere. All you need to do is to watch, and after the incident is through, I have something else to discuss with you. So I beg your patience not to leave this place too quickly.”

Yuan Sansi was very suspicious, but he couldn’t pay attention to his boldness and asked, “What theatre?”

Cui Buqu looked at Cui Da Lang who was approaching, and he smiled from the corner of his lips, “A theatre regarding how the Cui family colluded with the Southern Dynasty.”

From the way Cui Da observed, Cui Buqu’s conduct before the Prefecture’s Magistrate seemed as though he wanted to say something but couldn’t. The other has no post as an official, neither did he have an aristocratic family to back him up, however when speaking to the Prefecture’s Magistrate, he was neither proud nor was he humble, he even looked as if he was a superior speaking to his subordinate. He really did have an exaggerated opinion of his own abilities.

Yet as he walked close and heard the words ‘how the Cui family colluded with the Southern Dynasty’, his face turned pale.

“What nonsense are you talking about!” Cui Da Lang barked at him.

Yuan Sansi felt very shocked. His gaze bounced between the two of them. He was very intelligent, not saying a word before he knew what was happening regarding the entire matter.

However, to be concerned is to be in chaos. Cui Da Lang was not as calm as Yuan Sansi.

Cui Buqu smiled faintly, “Whether I am speaking nonsense or not, you could question yourself. This matter is entirely on you alone, or was it Cui Yong’s? If other members of the Cui family are involved, then mercy will be offered to honesty. Now you still have the chance, but after a while, I cannot say the same.”

Cui Da Lang forcibly calmed himself down, before speaking with a heavy heart, “A-Jie, I know that you still resented the Cui family for everything that happened when you were young. However, didn’t everything the Cui family did was for the sake of your mother’s reputation? It was also to protect you. If your background was known to everyone, can you really bear the brunt of those rumours and accusations?”

Yuan Sansi couldn’t help but interfere, “What are you saying? What reputation, background?”

The corner of Cui Buqu’s lips raised, speaking with a calm and gentle tone rarely found in him, “Do you people still not know the old name of this new Prefecture’s Magistrate? His name was Yuan Sheng, he was the apprentice disciple whom my maternal grandfather took in, the apprentice-brother of Maiden Yu that left home and lost word of.”

As he finished saying, he wasn’t surprised to see the shocked look on both of their faces.

Yuan Sansi for the ‘Maiden Yu’ that came out of his mouth, and Cui Da Lang for the true identity of Yuan Sansi.

Originally, it was an old past that had been buried deep in yellow soil, never to see the light of the day again, but who could have guessed that all the old parties involved would be gathered once again. Dead people were found to be alive again, and missing ones came back with an entirely new identity.

After a long moment of silence, Cui Da Lang was speechless, but in reality, a tidal wave of storms have already been brewed in his heart.

Yet Cui Buqu didn’t allow him a moment to catch his breath. He laughed as he said, “Since you have lost the chance to be honest, then do not accuse me of not being merciful.”

Before Cui Da could entirely digest these words, he heard Cui Buqu exclaimed in a loud voice, “Step out, all of you!”

Who to step out?

From where are they to step out from?

Cui Da was delayed for a moment, before turning towards the direction of the sound. He saw that all around the garden, a group of guards in black emerged silently, reaching Cui Buqu’s feet silently before kneeling on a knee.

Cui Buqu said coldly, “How did matters go?”

“Commander, everything has been settled.” The one in charge spoke with his head low. Within these two days he had been executing Cui Buqu’s orders, approaching the nearest Ye city to mobilize a huge group of Zuoyue guards here for this exact purpose: to catch all the Cui family in a single draft, not allowing a single one of them to escape.

Cui Buqu brought two Zuoyue guards with him. One of them was sent to gather enough manpower, and the other was tasked to slip into the Cui family’s home last night to search for evidence. As Cui Buqu divulged his identity, everyone in the Cui family was in chaos and paid no attention to anything that was happening, thus the Zuoyue guard successfully gathered the evidence and accomplished his mission.

“Surround the courtyard, take down Cui Da, then let them bring you to search his study and bedroom.” Cui Buqu said with the utmost satisfaction.

Cui Da Lang felt both his arms being twisted behind him till it hurt, only then he realized in shock that this wasn’t a dream.

“Unhand me! Unhand me! Cui Jie, you treacherous, heretic bastard!”

The appearance of the Zuoyue guards and Cui Da’s uproar drew everyone’s attention. Cui Yong received news and hurriedly rushed over, colour draining from his face: “Let him go! What are you people intending to do?!”

Cui Buqu paid him no heed as he divulged a seal, turning it between his fingers before tossing to a Zuoyue guard, who flashed it before Yuan Sansi, Cui Yong, and everyone.

“He is the Commander of the Zuoyue Bureau that was elected by the Emperor himself. By his Majesty’s orders, he was tasked to investigate the case of the Cui family colluding with the Southern Dynasty. As of now, the investigation has come to light. Since four years ago, the eldest of the Cui family, Cui Xu, financially aided the Southern Dynasty’s Linchuan Palace Academy. Three years ago, a disciple of the Linchuan Palace Academy, Yue Gu, failed to assassinate the present Emperor and fled to Boling, taking an anonymous shelter under Cui Xu for a few days. One year ago, drought plagued the northern regions, victims are unnumbered. The Imperial Palace opened the vault to offer provisions, allowing officials to bring them to aid victims. Yet Cui Xu and Yue Gu conspired together, using the chance to spread rumours regarding the Imperial Palace’s disinterest in relieving the victims and thus allowing them to perish on their own. Then, they allowed Yue Gu’s accomplice to rob those provisions in the forests and cart them south, resulting in the starvation of drought victims and giving rise to a rebellion.”

With every word he spoke, Cui Da Lang’s colour drained from his face a little more.

Cui Yong looked at his eldest with an unbelievable expression.

The Cui family operated through many generations. Even the change of dynasties was not able to uproot them, because regardless of which Emperor of any dynasty sat upon that throne, they will need talents, and talents brimmed from the Cui clan. That was where the value of their aristocratic family lies.

The north and the south stood independently, and as the winds and clouds toiled, a countless number of heroes emerged one after the other. They hoped to prove their worth and shake the world. A great many aristocratic families also had their own standing, and when it came to Cui Yong’s generation, he saw potential in the greatness of Sui Emperor, so he had chosen to side with the Northern Dynasty. However, among all his sons only Cui Pei alone stood out, and thus he turned his attention upon his eldest grandson, Cui Fei. Who could have guessed that his eldest had committed such a huge offense behind his back!

Cui Xu’s responses and look laid bare to everyone that Cui Buqu wasn’t framing him.

Everyone was stunned, they were in awe of the superiority of the Zuoyue Bureau, thus they dared not utter a word.

Thus, Cui Buqu who stood among the Zuoyue guards held an air of superiority that made one too afraid to look at him in the eye.

Cui Pei had seen his eldest brother walking towards Cui Buqu prior and feared that the first would make it difficult for the latter, so he had originally intended to walk forward to help him, yet he’d run into this scene and was frozen on his spot.

Ninth Lady Cui who was originally speaking with Feng Xiao by the sidelines, at this moment, she also couldn’t help turning towards Feng Xiao perplexed.

“If he is the Commander of the Zuoyue Bureau, then who are you?”

[1] Both my sleeves are empty with nothing but clear wind: uncorrupted and therefore poor.

[2] Wujue: A four-line poem with five characters to a line and a strict tonal pattern and rhyme scheme.

[3] Pewter spearheads that shine like silver: Impressive-looking but a useless person.

[4] There is no best writer; nor is there a second best fighter: ‘There is no best writer’ means that no one can be the best, because the marks given to someone’s poetry entirely depends on the person themselves—these are like essays, it depends on whether what was written suited the teacher’s tastes; while ‘nor is there a second best fighter’ means that martial arts are the opposite of literature—if you lose, then you lose. No one can lose and still rank the same as someone else, for it’s more easily determined.

Chapter 105

Cui Yong didn’t know what Ninth Lady Cui asked Feng Xiao, or what Feng Xiao answered her. At this moment, all his focus was invested in the unexpected change of events before his eyes.

Originally, he thought that the most Cui Buqu could do was to unmask the whole incident in front of everyone, or perhaps seek out a chance to speak with the Prefecture’s Magistrate and invite him to uphold justice. Regardless of what the other wanted to do, the Cui family would know how to deal with him. With just a Cui Buqu alone, in the end, it would be simply a case of fighting against overwhelming odds, and he would have retreated without victory. If he knew his place, then Cui Yong could still take a step back and either let him pursue Cui Pei in studies, or allow him to manage one shop belonging to the Cui family. After the one coaxes, the other coerces, it will be enough to make Cui Buqu submit.

In life, one’s greatest dependence was his family’s clan. At most, they could give him a wife; but with how talentless Cui Buqu was and with such a fragile and weak body, they fear that getting him a wife would be nigh impossible. The fact that he was able to live for so many years was already hard-earned. If the Cui family was willing to take a step back and allow him to remain, they were already the greatest philanthropy and generosity.

Cui Yong also believed that the reason Cui Buqu came back to create such a scene was for this purpose alone. Exposing his background to the world would do him more harm than good, but if Cui Buqu still had a brain, then he wouldn’t make such an idiotic move. However, Cui Yong could never have believed that the other took the unorthodox path and chose to attack from Cui Da Lang’s flaw.

Then, he looked at those Zuoyue guards, clad in blacken robes and equipped with long swords and looking ferocious, yet they would only hearken to Cui Buqu’s orders alone. Even if Cui Yong continued to deceive himself, he knew that this was a reality that cannot be altered.

The Cui Buqu before his eyes was not the Cui Buqu from before, and no longer was he the same person who allowed the Cui family to step all over him as they please, nor push him around.

For the first time in his life, Cui Yong felt the true meaning of a heart confused and disconcerted.

He could not question his eldest on the spot, for that would only give Cui Da Lang the chance to say things that shouldn’t be said.

“Since Cui Xu has committed such an offence, then the Prefecture’s Magistrate should step out and question him, it shouldn’t be you who…” Cui Yong bit the inside of his cheek as he forcibly suppressed the fury in his heart. He walked quickly in between his eldest and Cui Buqu, although he knew that doing that was pointless.

Cui Buqu spoke coldly, “Such a great offence should be taken with special care, so naturally it cannot follow the usual protocol. Bring the man away!”

“Wait!” Cui Da’s face was as white as ash, yet Cui Yong wanted to struggle in his deathbed, “The way you do your job with simply just taking anyone you wish; you speak of evidence, but that “evidence” has yet to make it to your hands. It’s difficult to accept! Since the Han Dynasty, my house prospered over centuries, yet what we’ve depended on wasn’t the Emperor’s favour, but the strength of character of our members, the strength and influence of our house. Today, if you take my eldest away, all the aristocratic families beneath the Heavens will surely be bitterly disappointed because of this. I request an audience with the Emperor, to uphold justice for us!” There were many members of the aristocracy present; as the saying goes, “If the rabbit dies, the fox grieves”, so when they heard Cui Yong’s words, they couldn’t help feeling a heart full of sorrow.

A few people stepped out to beg for mercy, even the magistrate spoke, “Today is the grand ceremony of the literary festival. On such a virtuous day, even if there is a case, can it not be taken care of after the festival?”

As everyone listened, they nodded their heads in agreement. Someone even asked the Prefecture’s Magistrate Yuan to step out, but as a new official who succeeded his post and should have originally sided with the people, he reverted from his familiarity just now, remaining silent as an onlooker.

Cui Buqu looked towards Cui Yong and saw the threatening look in his eyes.

Today, he has finally seen the power of a family of influence.

If he dragged Cui Da Lang away now, after a few days, a few edicts about him will appear on the Emperor’s desk.

The joint powers between aristocratic families was something to be taken seriously, and Boling Cui was definitely worthy of this capability.

Only, it was a pity that Cui Yong’s opponent was Cui Buqu.

Cui Buqu raised his hand and waved a finger at the Zuoyue guards. Before the eye could blink, the Zuoyue guards ignored everything spoken by onlookers and simply dragged Cui Xu away forcibly.

“Cui Xu sowed illicit relations with foreign countries. Upon valid evidence, he will now be taken into custody and questioned by the Ministry of Justice, the Court of Judicial Review, and the Four Judiciaries of the Zuoyue Bureau. If anyone has any objections, you may proceed to the capital to raise an appeal. However, if I discover anyone to be an accomplice, I fear that your appeal will not stand, and you will join Cui Xu instead to keep him company. This can be called, as people say, ‘To share life and death together with morality that transcends the Heavens.’”

His tone was arguably gentle and soft, but as far as one can tell, people who met his gaze couldn’t help but look away, not daring to see him eye to eye.

Watching this all, Cui Yong’s heart sank into hopelessness. In his heart, he knew that other than the Cui family, no one would dare put up a squabble with Cui Buqu today.

“Save me father, save me!” Cui Da shouted, yet his voice was drifted apart in the end.

Their relationship was profound, his heart hurt. Cui Yong was unstable to stand it in the end, he dragged himself forward but very quickly stumbled down. Thankfully, Cui Pei’s reflexes were quick and held his father in time.

“You! You’re avenging a personal grudge in the name of public interest!” Blood veins appeared in Cui Yong’s eyes. He glared at Cui Buqu, uttering every single word.

Cui Buqu raised a brow, “Ridiculous! What grudges do I share with the Cui family?”

Words slipped from Cui Yong’s mouth, “You are obviously bearing grudges for your dead mother, and from when you were young—“

“Father!”

Cui Pei’s words woke Cui Yong to his senses. The rest of his words remained unspoken upon the realization.

Cui Yong’s lips quivered.

Of course, what could he say? Maiden Yu’s identity, or Cui Buqu’s past? Regardless of which, it would only bring shame to the Cui family. Cui Buqu stared at him with a smile that didn’t look like a smile, as if he was certain that Cui Yong wouldn’t dare to speak nor ask.

Cui Yong felt a surge of intense emotions caused by this smile. He felt his chest suffocating, he couldn’t breathe.

Zuoyue Bureau. Zuoyue Commander.

Who could have guessed that all these years drifting in the outside, not only did Cui Jie lived a pleasant life, he even returned with an identity which overrides power from that of usual people.

Even if he became an official, had he been just like any magistrate of a county or prefecture, the Cui family would not need to fear.

Yet, he reached the Heavens with a single step, succeeding as the Zuoyue Bureau’s commander at such a young age.

The eldest grandson of the Cui family, Cui Fei, who was a few years older than him was only a scholar with a little amount of fame.

Cui Yong couldn’t help but regret it. Had his attitude been softer yesterday night and allowed Cui Pei to let Cui Jie into the family’s genealogy, perhaps this incident would not have happened today.

However, there was no ‘what if’s in this world. Like the year Doctor Sun announced Cui Jie dead, no one would have suspected the truth, and no one would have sought it out either, because during that time, none of them took Cui Jie seriously.

Compared to Cui Yong, Cui Pei’s inner thoughts were even more of a mess. Guilt existed within his heart, so he couldn’t bring himself to reprimand him, yet he also couldn’t watch his eldest brother being dragged away. So he could only beg tactfully, “Cui…Commander Cui, my father’s day of birth is half a month away. May you raise your hand high so I may pass under it as your mercy, and come back to arrest this man half a month later?” Cui Buqu raised a brow, “Why don’t you say then, ‘after his next birthday, and the year after it’?”

These words obviously meant that his pleads were rejected. Cui Pei’s heart was filled with bitterness.

Felicity never turned out in pairs, disaster piled up one after the last; it was as if the Heavens wanted the Cui family to experience all manners of wind and rain today.

Cui Da Lang had just been taken away, then the county’s magistrate brought a few men to their doors and said that something happened in the Baoning Hall of the Cui family. Doctor Sun issued a wrong prescription and that it had cost someone their life. Right now, he was already arrested, but since Baoning Hall was under the Cui family’s name, on the day someone died, everyone related must be brought back for questioning. Among them included Cui San and all the employees.

The employees have been taken away, yet Cui San remained in the Cui family. Thus, the assistant county magistrate brought men to their doors.

The assistant county magistrate knew that the Boling Cui clan was powerful and that today was the Literary Festival, so he feared that it wouldn’t be easy to deal with. Originally, he wanted to wait until the festival was over so he could seek a solution from the county magistrate, but he couldn’t have known that Cui Buqu would act first and arrest Cui Da Lang. A thought clicked on the assistant county magistrate’s head; this was a good opportunity for himself. Refusing to let the opportunity pass, he gathered all his men and approached their doors.

As the saying goes: ‘rain happened to pour continuously when the roof was leaking’; Cui Yong practically turned pale on the spot.

He didn’t even cast a look at the assistant county magistrate, his finger pointed at Cui Buqu and with a trembling voice, “All right, all right! Your ruthlessness prevailed!” Cui Buqu didn’t care enough to explain that this has nothing to do with him, he turned to the assistant county magistrate, “Since an incident happened, take whoever you deem necessary. However, I wish to listen to the trail, may I know if it’s permitted?”

The magistrate prefecture that hadn’t uttered a word just now also said,
“I too wish to witness it.”

Since both his superiors have spoken, how would the assistant county magistrate dare to decline? He immediately said, “Both of you, this way please!”

Once both of them left, the remaining guests were at loss of what to do. Who would still have the mood to craft poems? Every one of them rose to their feet and left.

Cui Yong had no heart to accompany them. He allowed the servants to help him sit alone in the study and allowed Cui Pei and the housekeeper to send the guests on their way.

Once the women of the Cui family heard the news, they immediately rushed here to beg Cui Yong to rescue the men. However, Cui Yong knew clearly in his heart that Cui San’s matter was done for, and he feared that there was no escape for Cui Da Lang as well. He could save neither of them.

The only one who could save them couldn’t wait to see the Cui family turn into a joke. How would he extend a helping hand?

Cui Pei, who returned from sending off guests, pushed the door and entered. His heart twitched when he saw his father who seemed to have aged a few years.

His old father’s voice was dull as he raised his head and asked him, “Say, do you think that if I begged him in person right now, and knelt on my knees, he would show mercy?”

As for who ‘he’ was, it was needless to say. Cui Pei understood. “I fear he will not.” After a moment of silence, Cui Pei answered honestly.

Cui Yong closed his eyes, “It was my fault. Either I remain and do nothing at all, or leave no room for manoeuver. I failed to be cruel enough during that year, thus leaving a seed of trouble.”

“Father!” Cui Pei was shocked. Listening to him, it was as if Cui Yong didn’t regret that he wasn’t kind to Cui Buqu, but he had regretted that he hadn’t cut out the grass and destroyed its roots.

Cui Yong replied blandly, “I have placed the most faith in you. Your prudence surpassed all your brothers. The only flaw in you is that your heart is too soft, and you are too kind.”

Cui Pei remained silent for a while, “Elder brother truly collided with the Southern Dynasty?”

Cui Yong laughed bitterly, “Ever since Da Lang was little, he had enough diligence to spare but he wasn’t gifted enough. I had never dared to completely let go, fearing he wouldn’t have been able to carry such a hefty responsibility. Who could have guessed that in order to prove his abilities, he walked the perilous path…”

Cui Pei immediately said, “Just now Cui… he also said that elder brother will go through the Four Judiciaries’ questioning, perhaps we can still hope for a turn of events. However, someone lost their life at Baoning Hall, this is a hard-press. Doctor Sun had saved lives aplenty, how could he deliver a wrong prescription and killed someone? There is more than meets the eye. Father, please think of a way to rescue them!”

Cui Yong replied coldly, “There is no need for you to worry. Without Doctor Sun’s help that year, how would he be able to stage his death and escape? If that vile spawn’s conscience is still intact, he would definitely devise a way to absolve Doctor Sun of his charges!”

Cui Pei was stunned on the spot. He only felt that the version of his father right now was unfamiliar to him. “Grandfather! I have something of importance to speak!”

The sound of knocking on the door broke the silence between both father and son. Ninth Lady Cui’s voice sounded from the outside.

Cui Pei inhaled deeply, suppressing all the chaos in his heart as he turned and opened the door, speaking in a low voice, “Ninth Lady, return to take a rest, here…”

Ninth Lady Cui interfered and spoke with urgency, “Forth uncle, listen to me. The man with the Zuoyue Bureau’s Commander is the true Second Commander of the Jiejian Bureau Feng Xiao. I heard that the Jiejian Bureau and the Zuoyue Bureau both walk their own paths, neither one is inferior to the other and they each hold their own set of powers. If we can invite Young Master Feng to step out and reason, perhaps there can be hope to save First Uncle and father!”

Cui Pei was stunned for a moment, “What you said, is true?”

Ninth Lady Cui nodded her head, “When I first entered the city with them, Young Master Feng did not behave like Young Master Cui’s subordinate. They even bickered with each other frequently on the road; to say they were friends would not be quite the case.”

Cui Pei turned around to look at Cui Yong. Naturally, Cui Yong heard their conversation. “Has he left?”
Ninth Lady Cui immediately said, “Only after ceaseless begging from me was he willing to stay a while more.”

Cui Yong remained silent for a moment, “Ninth Lady, go—no, Si Lang, follow Ninth Lady and have him invited here together.”

Feng Xiao really was still here. He didn’t accompany Cui Buqu in his departure, and instead remained and under the company of Ninth Lady Cui, he roamed the gardens and watched the variety of colours of flowers. He was carefree and content, compared to the Cui family’s anxiousness, he looked fresh.

Ninth Lady Cui left and returned to invite him over along with Cui Pei. He didn’t feel surprised by it, and laughed instead, “I thought that Host Cui would have come himself.”

Cui Pei gave him a solemn bow, “My father has just been through a series of grievances just now. He is experiencing precordial discomfort and found it difficult to even take a step forward, so we can only deign Young Master Feng to come forward himself.”

“Experiencing precordial discomfort?” Feng Xiao pondered and smiled, “Cui Buqu carried with him heart diseases and stridor. Shouldn’t he have been experiencing precordial discomfort ever since he was born?”

Cui Pei laughed bitterly, “Are you…feeling indignant for Young Master Cui? It seems father’s pleading will be hopeless.”

“Before speaking, how can you know it’s hopeless? Perhaps your father can relay a condition that I am satisfied with.” Feng Xiao raised his fan, and with such a faint gesture, one can see that he has been in a commanding condition for many years. “Lead the way.”

Cui Pei was feeling mixed emotions, midway in the journey, he couldn’t help but inquire in a low voice:

“Cui Jie… has he been faring well all these years?”

Feng Xiao, “Who is Cui Jie?”

Cui Pei was dejected, “My apologies. This name really should just be thrown away.” Feng Xiao ridiculed, “Those subordinates of his, no matter which one you choose, they treated him like priceless treasure, and like invaluable gems. They fear that he can be harmed by the slightest bit, couldn’t wish for anything but to take his place and be hurt themselves instead. Tell me, do you think he fared well?”

Cui Pei spoke in a harsh voice, “Naturally, he’s fared very well.”

Feng Xiao, “If you left the Cui family, you would lose at least half the capital of what you are proud of. As for him, even if his surname wasn’t ‘Cui’, he would have still been Cui Buqu.”

Ninth Lady Cui could not understand the ups and downs held in those words. She had a half-baked knowledge of what was going on, her face riddled with confusion.

Cui Pei refused to say more, not willing to humiliate himself further.

He thought that his father really had committed a grave mistake. He wasn’t wrong because he didn’t murder Cui Buqu when he was young, but he was wrong because he allowed that child to be born, but he never loved or was kind to him.

Otherwise, would he have had the need to worry that none of his bloodlines were left today?

Cui Yong at last, waited for Feng Xiao’s arrival.

To him, these fifteen minutes felt as if he’d waited half his life.

Dismissing Cui Pei and Ninth Lady Cui, he rose to his feet as he trembled and knelt before Feng Xiao.

“I beg Young Master Feng to spare Cui Xu’s life.”

The corner of Feng Xiao’s lips raised in keen interest, “Why should I save him?” He didn’t allow Cui Yong to rise to his feet, so Cui Yong could only stomach his knees hurting as he sprawled into a bow.

“The Jiejian Bureau was established by the Emperor himself. The power they wield is tremendous, and their position is not inferior to the Zuoyue Bureau. In all of Boling, you are the only one who could save Da Lang’s life. I understand that you possess high aspirations and interests, and that prosaic things would never meet your standards. I am willing to offer the zither Yu Yin and Emperor Wu of Han’s beloved suet jade bottle as a gift.”

Feng Xiao laughed, “Didn’t Host Cui said before that my poetry was not fit to be seen? If you gave me the zither Yu Yin, wouldn’t other people think that I am your grandson?”

Cui Yong grovelled his head, “This old man failed to recognize a great talent and have spoken such bizarre words, I beg for atonement from Young Master Feng.”

Feng Xiao, “That is to say that, Host Cui, you think of my poetry being decent?”

He had never begged someone else in such a dejected manner before in his life, but for the sake of his eldest son’s life, Cui Yong could only condescend himself, pinching his nose and utter things that were against his heart.

“Young Master’s poetry is fresh and refined with the air of aristocracy. It inherits the style of the Wei and Jin Dynasties, suffice to emerge as the grandmaster of a new generation. It looks seemingly vulgar, but it is actually elegant. My eyesight was dimmed, and I haven’t been able to tell in detail. To speak in such a way, I have sullied your efforts. Another day, I will compose an article to right your name.”

Cui Yong’s exaggerated as if it were raining flowers with a stoic face. It was extremely disgusting. Feng Xiao, however, felt his heart soothe as he listened. Even his voice sounded delighted, “It seems like Host Cui isn’t too willing to accept me as your grandson?”

Cui Yong laughed bitterly, “How would I have enough merit for such grace? Young Master is a generous and tolerant man, you would not haggle with us.”

Feng Xiao shook his head, “Would it not be too cheap for the eldest son of the Cui family to only worth a zither and a jade bottle?”

This meant that he intended to bargain.

Cui Yong gritted his teeth, yet he has no choice, “I have four granddaughters in my name. Among them, Ninth Lady Cui’s looks take the lead. She is well-mannered and well-learned. If Young Master does not mind, you may marry Ninth Lady.”

Feng Xiao, “As a wife? Then wouldn’t I become your son-in-law?”

Cui Yong closed his eyes, feeling cornered to the wall, but since their conversation had reached this point, it was not his choice to regret it.

“Be it wife or concubine, it will be as you wish.”

Author’s Notes:

Feng Xiao: How was my poetry?

Cui Yong: I have never heard such rotten poetry. Feng Xiao: Giving you another chance.
Cui Yong: Fresh and refined, with the air of the aristocracy, and the style of the Wei and Jin Dynasties, enough to be the grandmaster of a new generation.

If the rabbit dies, the fox grieves: to have sympathy with a like-minded person in distress. Rain happened to pour continuously when the roof was leaking: Unfortunate events happened continuously.

Cut out the grass and destroyed its roots: Get rid of something once and for all.

Chapter 106

Cui Buqu sneezed a few times.

Ever since he woke up today, his coughing didn’t stop, and his handkerchief never left his side.

He felt a little dizzy in his head, perhaps it was because of being drenched in rain yesterday night. However, for most of the year he would spend his time like this, so he was long used to it.

The county’s magistrate who walked next to him felt a little alarmed, because he only noticed the profound look of sickness on Cui Buqu when he stood close. By the end of May, the season was already moving into Summer, and the ice-cold hand with jade bones reaching out from beneath the mantle was jagged and skinny; it made one worrisome that it might snap under the lightest touch.

He couldn’t help wanting to ask, but Prefecture Magistrate Yuan was a step ahead.

“Why don’t we have a doctor see you through? It would not be too late to inquire about the details of the case after that.” This tone wasn’t one of an official who was simply fulfilling his daily routine, it sounded more like an elder speaking out of concern for his junior.

The county’s magistrate couldn’t help casting him a few glances.

“It is fine.” After Cui Buqu finished speaking he sneezed again, and in his heart, he said: ‘It must definitely be that fellow Feng-er badmouthing me behind my back.’

He took out a ceramic bottle from his sleeve and placed the medicine pellet into his mouth, swallows, and the colour of his face returned to normal. It was so natural as if he had been doing this on a daily basis.

If Qiao Xian was here, watching him use a medicine that was meant to recuperate one’s body to nurse his cold, she would have been so furious she would vomit blood on the spot.

Yet now, there was only Prefecture Magistrate Yuan and the county’s magistrate present. Both of them knew nothing about pharmacology. Once they saw that he’d stopped coughing after taking the medicine, they stopped persuading.

Once the three of them arrived at the county’s bureau, the assistant county magistrate brought everyone back and kept them temporarily in the prison, waiting for the county’s magistrate to begin the trial.

With Cui Buqu and Prefecture Magistrate Yuan present, naturally, the county’s magistrate dared not delay them. He immediately allowed his assistant to summon the victim’s family.

The victim’s family was her husband. They were a well-off family from this county. She was pregnant and had been frequently at unease, and thus she had originally gone seeking Doctor Sun for some antiabortifacient, but who could have guessed that after she drank two bowls, when night came to her stomach hurt and blood seeped out from beneath her body, leading to a miscarriage and abnormal bleeding from the uterus, causing the death of both mother and child.

The pregnant woman was still perfectly fine at first but died after she drank that medicine. The cause of her death was very easily connected to the prescription of her medicine by everyone. Her husband went to the bureau to file a lawsuit, and thus the county magistrate’s assistant brought men to arrest Doctor Sun and the employees of the medical hall. With the death of his wife and child, rendering what was supposed to be the welcoming of his child to the world into a funeral, of course, her husband’s face was filled with sadness. Once he saw Doctor Sun being brought up, he lunged forward immediately, gripping his lapels, “Doctor Sun! Our family trusted you so much all these years, why would you cause us harm!”

Doctor Sun’s beard and hair were unruly. In such a difficult situation, he only shook his head as he listened, “Impossible. I have trodden the path of a physician for decades, never once have I given a wrong prescription!”

The husband lamented, “We still kept the medicinal herbs from the container. We even had someone look over it. It was obvious there was some toad venom in it! That toad venom is a toxicant! How can it be given to a pregnant woman?!”

Doctor Sun was shocked, “That is impossible. I have never given pregnant women toad venom! Four qian of fructus aurantii, three qian of magnolia officinalis, three qian of nutgrass, two qian of fructus amomi, two qian of rhizoma atractylodis, two qian of tangerine…”

He recited all everything in the prescription, and finally in the end, “This prescription is divided into three packages. Pregnant women of five months can ingest it. I remember very clearly this, there are no toad venoms in this prescription.”

The county magistrate’s assistant said, “Three packages. The victim only used one; the leftovers after boiling from the first package and two other packages remained untouched. Does the magistrate wish to survey them?”

The county magistrate said, “Bring them up.”

Not long after, someone brought the leftovers from the container and the medicine itself. After extended periods of being treated by doctors, Cui Buqu became quite the doctor himself. Even if he couldn’t treat himself, it wasn’t difficult for him to tell the medicines apart. Very quickly, he found the toad venom from both the leftovers and the other two packages that haven’t been cooked yet.

One by one Cui Buqu picked the medicine out, “Other than toad venom, there’s still hyoscyamus niger. Was this hoping for the patient to have a swifter death?”

Doctor Sun shook his head, “Impossible! Impossible! These are not the prescriptions given by me!”

Cui Buqu asked the county magistrate, “Where are the written prescriptions?”

After the patient visited the doctor, took the medicine home to cook, the written prescriptions should be kept in the medical hall as evidence. These had been the old rules and regulations.”

The county magistrate’s assistant had always handled affairs appropriately. He has already ordered someone to store all the prescriptions that were found, so he said, “They’re all here!”

He took out the prescriptions. Cui Buqu asked nothing, he allowed them to be brought to Doctor Sun first.

The county magistrate’s assistant spoke to Doctor Sun, “I have crosschecked all the previous prescriptions that you have written. Judging by the parchment, they definitely belonged to Baoning Hall. The handwriting is also similar to yours. What else do you have to say?”

Doctor Sun took one of the prescriptions into his hand, took a look, before divulging a look of disbelief, “This prescription …”

The county magistrate’s assistant studied the change of his expression before he resumed questioning, “Did you want to say that these do not belong to you?”

“That’s not right, let me think…” Sun Jiming murmured, and suddenly, he gave a snap, “This prescription is wrong! This prescription was originally meant for Maiden Lu. Everything else matches, except the toad venom!”

The county magistrate’s assistant ordered someone to bring up an employee. The other was around seventeen to eighteen of age, carrying on him a smart and intelligent look, only that he looked a little nervous at the moment, his gaze couldn’t help looking around.

“Tell everyone everything that you know. Honestly.” The county magistrate’s assistant said.

“Alright, alright!” The employee bowed and said, “Yesterday early morning the mistress had a stomach ache again, so she allowed someone to send word, to invite Doctor Sun over to take a look and give a prescription as usual, before allowing me to bring the medicine over once it’s assembled. The mistress’ maidservant waited outside the gate to receive the medicine.”

The ‘mistress’ he mentioned was the wife of Cui San, Maiden Lu.

Cui San was the most useless one among all four sons of Cui Yong. He was an idle bummer who had never succeeded once in his life, but in these years of being held under house arrest in Boling, his father and brothers kept an eye on every move he made. It could be said that it would be impossible for him to commit grave wrongs, yet when it came to academics or martial arts, he was not made for that field. To avoid him completely wasting his life away, Cui Yong allowed him to manage Baoning Hall, a business under the name of the Cui family. Any gains or losses that came from it was his own responsibility. It wasn’t necessary for him to split the gains for his father. It was considered giving it to Cui San completely, it was also for the sake of giving him something to do.

In reality, with a famed doctor like Doctor Sun to serve as a mainstay in the hall, along with the employees and manager, there was no need for the boss to do much at all. It could be said that the so-called boss could just sweep his hands together and live a life of leisure. Once Doctor Sun listened up to his point, he continued, “That’s right. Although hyoscyamus niger contains toxic, it is taken orally in little amounts, and along with other medicines, it can slow down stomach diseases and regulate the stomach. However, using toad venom along with it would be incorrect. The toad venom was not written by me!”

The employee gave a shocked look, “Doctor Sun, when you wrote that prescription, I was just standing right beside you. I watched you write every single one of them. How could you now remember it yourself?”

Doctor Sun rejected it flatly, “I would never recall it wrongly. Surely it must be you! In fact, that prescription was meant for Maiden Lu, how can it reach Lady Chen in the first place?”

The county magistrate’s assistant raised his jaw, gesturing towards the employee, “Continue speaking.”

The employee said, “Lady Chen also came around the same time. Her prescription was also written by you. Very quickly, the medicine was assembled and when I was carrying them as I left, I ran into a servant of the Chen family. Both medicines had three packages in total, and the paper used to wrap them was also similar. I think it was that time I didn’t take a closer look, so the medicine that was originally meant for Lady Chen was mixed up!”

This way, everything was clear.

Doctor Sun consulted two patients and wrote two different prescriptions. The employee mistakenly ran into someone and mixed up the medicines. Maiden Lu who should originally be poisoned to death escaped by fate, yet it costed the life of the innocent Lady Chen and her unborn child.

The county magistrate asked, “Doctor Sun, what else do you have to say?”

Doctor Sun took a look at the prescription before his eyes and laughed bitterly, “For decades I trade the path of a doctor, and I have never once written a prescription wrongly, nor misused a single type of herb. This toad venom was definitely not from my hands.”

The county magistrate sighed, “You have passed the age of seventy. Your eyesights have dimmed. You have mistakenly written a prescription and misused a type of herb. This is not completely implausible. Even if you refuse to admit it, the evidence is all present. You cannot escape from being sentenced for manslaughter. Spoken by the laws of Sui, it is one of the six categories of murder. The sentence would be one degree lighter compared to intentional murder. However, on behalf of the people you have saved in the past years, I will beg for mercy on your behalf and lay out the causes. In the end, it would be decided by the Ministry of Justice. Do you admit guilt?”

What he didn’t say was, with the age Doctor Sun is at, even if he wasn’t sentenced to death and was instead flogged and banished, it would be enough to claim his life.

Doctor Sun shook his head, “I did not write a wrong prescription, I will not admit guilt.”

At this moment, constables rushed in from the outside.

“Sir, Cui San Lang’s wife, Maiden Lu, begs for an audience. She said that it’s heavily significant to the case.”

Once the county magistrate cast a glance at Cui Buqu and Prefecture Magistrate Yuan, verifying that they showed no objections, he said, “Let her in.”

Not long later, a woman in a red dress walked into the hall and bowed.

“Greetings to everyone present.”

County magistrate, “Rise. What case do you wish to report? Make haste.” Maiden Lu said, “Please call forth my husband. This matter needs to have him questioned directly.”

Cui Buqu spoke plainly, “Then send for Cui San.”

One he spoke, Maiden Lu’s gaze unwittingly fell upon him.

Regarding Cui Buqu’s background, although it had struck Cui Yong and the rest like lightning from the sky, he had forbidden it to be spread. Even Ninth Lady Cui was kept in the dark. All the members of the Cui family only knew that Cui Buqu was the imposing Commander of the Zuoyue Bureau who arrested Cui Da Lang, yet they were oblivious to the fact that he was the child of Lady Yu that was humiliated and degraded by the Cui family many years ago.

Although Maiden Yu was not willingly raped by Cui San, her name was still tainted, so after her death, Cui Yong did not allow her entry to the ancestral cemetery. Many from the younger generations of the Cui family also bullied Cui Jie when they were young, however, they were ignorant to Cui Jie’s background, and as they grew into adulthood, these trivial matters were gradually forgotten within their memory. Many of them had thought that Cui Er died young and that he was never married.

To Maiden Lu, she never forgot the humiliation given to her by Maiden Yu and her son. During that night, when Cui San returned from Cui Yong’s, she noticed that he looked unusually disturbed, and after ceaseless questioning from her, Cui San finally spilled out everything that transpired. Thus, Maiden Lu not only knew that Cui Jie was still alive, but that he had also returned with a wholly different identity wrought anew.

The county magistrate realized that she kept her gaze fixated on Cui Buqu, and wondered why a woman from such a respectable family like the Fanyang Lu clan would behave so inappropriately. He coughed twice, “Maiden Lu, this is the court, and both of them are high-ranking officials. One is forbidden to stare when they are not being questioned.”

Maiden Lu, “My apologies, sir, Lord Cui looked a little familiar, so I stared for a while.” Cui Buqu lowered his head to hold the jade ornament that hung by his waist as if he heard nothing of what she said.

Maiden Lu felt a little strange in her heart. She couldn’t tell whether she felt lucky, or disappointed.

In the middle of their conversation, Cui San was finally brought here.

When he saw Maiden Lu also present, he was stunned, and then when he saw Cui Buqu, the colour of his face changed.

The county magistrate urged Maiden Lu, “Now, you can speak.”

Maiden Lu adjusted her dress, “Bear witness, my Lords, as Doctor Sun had said: he has tread the path of a doctor for decades, how would he issue a wrong prescription that took someone’s life? The truth is that it was not manslaughter, but intentional! Originally, Doctor Sun didn’t intend to kill just anyone, for that person was me; it was only because his employee had an accident and took the wrong medicine that I could escape from the gates of Hell!”

Her words shocked everyone.

The county magistrate cast a glance at Prefecture Magistrate Yuan and Cui Buqu, yet the latter two did not meet his gaze, so he could only retreat and turn towards Maiden Lu, he said, “Do not raise an alarm. To claim a false accusation will earn you time in prison!”

Maiden Lu, “It is not a false accusation. I have evidence!”

County magistrate, “Speak.”

Maiden Lu, “My husband had a mistress hidden outside, and I have always known this. Only because the family’s harmony is the basis of success and happiness, I turned a blind eye to it. That mistress is the child of a respectable family, thus she was promised by my husband that if I died, he would take her as his new wife, proudly marrying into the Cui family aboveboard.” When Cui San heard of it, he jumped and said, “Nonsense! There is no such thing!”

Maiden Lu laughed coldly, “When you said these words to her, both of you were beneath the grape stand doing a lover’s talk. Under broad daylight, even you both don’t fear that it was offensive to decent morals, yet you could never have guessed that these words were heard by the maidservants, before reaching to my ears?”

Cui San was shocked, “Yu Song was spying for you?!”

Maiden Lu snorted coldly and did not pay him any attention. She continued, “Three days ago that mistress of his sent a trusted servant to seek out Doctor Sun. What was said was unknown, but I only know that when that mistress’ trusted servant went, they brought a bag of silver ingots with them, and when they returned, their hands were empty. Recalling it today, it is definitely because Doctor Sun has accepted their bribe, so he issued those medicine to attempt murder!”

“That’s nothing but nonsense!” Sun Jiming’s beard was quivering, emotions refuting, “All my life, I bear clear conscience when I look at the sky, and I bear no guilt when I look at the ground. How would I do such a thing?!”

Maiden Lu, “If sir refuses to believe me, you may send someone to search Doctor Sun’s house, perhaps you can still find that bag of silver ingots.”

When she spoke, there was a perpetual feeling of someone’s gaze on herself; it was razor-sharp like a knife, a knife that cuts into skin and flesh, peeking at what’s inside.

Maiden Lu couldn’t help raising her head and met Cui Buqu’s gaze.

It was unknown why, when that ice-cold gaze looked at her, she felt three points of emptiness. As if that deep in her memory, there was also a pair of eyes like that; indistinguishable whether they were happy or angry, chaotic or tranquil.

As that pair of eyes gave rise to fury within her, words spilt themselves from her lips, “You can also send for the mistress to be brought forward, and all will be clear when asked. Her looks even resemble an old friend, perhaps Lord Cui can recall who it is!”

Regarding the last sentence, perhaps everyone was confused when they heard of it, but this wouldn’t be the case for Cui Buqu and Prefecture Magistrate Yuan.

Prefecture Magistrate Yuan’s look had finally grown sullen, “Everything that was needed to ask has been asked. Show Maiden Lu the way out. A clamorous woman makes one feels vexed!”

Yet Cui Buqu said, “There is no need. Let her remain, perhaps she can witness herself the comeuppance that comes to a murderer.”

The corners of Maiden Lu’s lips were originally angular, for she had a well thought out plan, but hearing these words, for some reason without cause, she felt an inauspicious feeling.

However, thankfully, it was as if the Heavens were on her side, the people who were sent to search Doctor Sun’s house returned very quickly.

With them, they had also brought Cui San’s mistress.

The other’s looks were not overly bright like Maiden Lu, but she was still a delicate beauty like weak willows in the wind. Her brows were charming yet shy, and no matter how one looked at her, she looked familiar.

Prefecture Magistrate Yuan suddenly recalled that those eyes, brows, and mouth looked vaguely like Yu Mo from many years ago.

He swiftly glared at Cui San, fury rising within him. Maiden Lu laughed in silence, her back straightening. For Cui San to have a mistress that looked a little bit like Cui Buqu’s birth mother, who was he humiliating now?

Naturally, it was Cui Buqu.

For Cui Buqu to see that face, the first feeling he felt, of course, wasn’t to recall the memory of his mother, but he should be in a furious state similar to Prefecture Magistrate Yuan.

So, that Cui San’s whore is done for.

However, in the next moment, Maiden Lu could no longer feel pleased with herself.

Because there was no anger on Cui Buqu’s face.

Not only was he not angry, but his plain-looking gaze also swept past the mistress before falling back upon Maiden Lu.

Maiden Lu felt a bit panicked. Could it be that this method of ‘murdering someone with a burrowed knife’ wasn’t working?

Author’s note:

This case is more important. It is not only a medical case, but it will also bring out the mastermind at the back. Tomorrow, Feng-er will come out and conquer the scene as usual.

A small theatre unrelated to the main plotline

Cui Buqu sneezed: It’s definitely Feng-er badmouthing me behind my back.

Cui Buqu sneezed again and laughed coldly: It seems like Feng-er really put his effort in creating stories about me.

On the other hand, Feng Xiao was writing furiously. He wrote: Cui Buqu, original name Cui Jie, aged twenty-nine. Virtues: His hands are arguably beautiful, his face reluctantly pleasant to the eye.

Shortcomings: Poisonous tongue, poisonous tongue, poisonous tongue. Even when he is about to die, he still refuses to consult a doctor. Often gives cold laughs. Liking pitting people. Refuses to be taken advantage of. Taking revenge even for the smallest grievances…

At great length, he wrote practically a hundred shortcomings. Feng Xiao looked and looked at it again, and still felt dissatisfied, yet in the end, he sighed a breath and added another word under ‘virtues’—

Cute.
Antiabortifacient: It’s any substance that prevents miscarriage. Sir: Raws used ‘明府’, an address for an official of higher rank.
Toad venom: Traditional Chinese medicine called Chan Su used to cure cancer.

Qian: Unit of measurement in China that roughly equals 0.2 grams.

Had a well thought out plan: 胸有成⽵ means having a well thought out plan and was confident of its success.

Chapter 107

That mistress had been in a family of poverty ever since she was little. When she caught Cui San’s eyes and was kept as his mistress, she had managed to experience better days. How could she have experienced a scene like this before? Once she was brought here, her legs have already gone weak.

Everyone waited for an hour before the assistant county magistrate returned from his search, and truly brought back a bag of silver ingots.

Maiden Lu spoke once she saw it, “That’s right. As others speak of Doctor Sun being unsoiled by corrupted practices, having nothing but bare walls in one’s house, where could he get such a hefty sum of money from?”

The county magistrate weighed it in his hand. It was around thirty ingots in total, even more than his annual wage. If they only contained medicine fees, it really should not have been this much.

That woman exclaimed in protest with flowing tears, “A few days ago, I fell ill and truly did send for Doctor Sun, but I have only given what I was charged. I have never seen this bag of silver ingots in my life!”

The assistant county magistrate was not moved by this, “It would take one to detour around the entire Anping city to travel from your manor to Baoning Hall, and there were two other medicals by the Cui family in between. Yet you’ve chosen to travel so far just to see Sun Jiming. Why is that?” The woman mumbled to herself, then paused, before cowardly looking up at Cui San.

His wife’s imposing methods had caused a fire in Cui San’s stomach, so he couldn’t stop himself from saying aloud, “Because she is pregnant! Doctor Sun specialized in obstetrics. I am the one who asked her to make that trip!”

As Maiden Lu listened, she gave a cold laugh, “Then isn’t everything clear now? She’s pregnant, thus she decided to make use of the fact that she is loved to get rid of the wife. She made arrangements with Doctor Sun, beguiled him with money and oppressed him with power, to coerce him into harming me!”

Cui San said angrily, “You are speaking nonsense!”

The woman cried and said, “I did not! How dare I?!”

“You wouldn’t dare? Didn’t you once try to instigate Cui San to bring you back to the Cui family?!” Maiden Lu raised her head, “Sir, Lord Commander, once I knew that this woman was conversing with Sun Jiming, I sent people to investigate them in secret. I found that Doctor Sun and this whore’s father used to be old friends. With this relationship, added with some money, are they still insufficient to prove everything?”

The county magistrate looked at the elder, “Is this true?”

Doctor Sun sighed, “Her father was once my patient, and after that, we became chess friends and often kept in contact. That is all there is.”

Maiden Lu laughed a cold laugh, “Often came in contact, and that’s all there is?”

The county magistrate said in a gentle voice, “Doctor Sun, ever since I succeeded the post of magistrate, I’ve heard of your name. If you said that you’ve misjudged and issued a wrong prescription, it would still be possible; however, Maiden Lu claimed that you are harming lives for money, this is not just manslaughter. If you are found guilty, you would be taken care of as murderers would. You will receive a death penalty. What more do you have to say?”

Doctor Sun laughed bitterly, “Matters have progressed to this state, what more is left to be said? Only, I find it difficult to believe that, all this time I have cured illnesses and cured people, but in the end, the illnesses have certainly been cured, yet the hearts of people were not!”

The county magistrate furrowed his brows. This statement was incomplete, and a cloud of confusion was upon it. In the venue of the court, one speaks of evidence. Sun Jiming’s statement brought with it his vexation and frustration, yet he could not explain himself. To put it in another way, he had seen that all the evidence that had been gathered, and there was nothing more left for debate, thus he gave up.

“Is that supposed to mean that you admit guilt?”

Doctor Sun closed his eyes and did not utter a word.

The county magistrate made a request at Cui Buqu and Prefecture Magistrate Yuan, “Both my Lords, is there anything else that needs to supplement? If not, I will allow someone to bring them to the cells.”

Cui San immediately said, “Lady Zhou is pregnant, can parole be granted to her?”

The county magistrate replied in displeasure, “Your mistress is involved in a murder case, yet you still wish for parole?”

Right then, it seemed as if Cui San wanted to say something else, but Cui Pei rushed in a hurry, yet his entry was forbidden by those who manned the entrance, not allowing him into the chaos.

“Please forgive me for being late!” Cui Pei panted as he said.

Ever since he heard of this case evolving from manslaughter to murder, he had been running around looking for ways to relief Sun Jiming of his sentence. “These are written prescriptions I’ve found from both Baoning Hall and Doctor Sun’s house, more than one thousand in total, these were the prescriptions he issued for these patients all these years, they haven’t— haven’t fully collected. Yet these prescriptions have never been wrong. Also, just now when I heard Doctor Sun got himself involved in a murder case, I wrote a letter to appeal for mercy, and on it are fifty handprints of the people of this county. They have all been recipients of Doctor Sun’s kindness. As matters are pressing, I have only managed to gather this many. Please give me more time, at least half of the people of Anping city will be willing to give their handprints!”

Within only an hour, fifty handprints were already his limit. Cui Pei did not rest for even a second, and now sweat has drenched his back and clothes.

The county magistrate sighed, “Fourth Young Master Cui, I will not be the judge of this murder case, it should go through the Three Bureaus and then reported to the Emperor, only then will the final verdict be deemed.”

Cui Pei said, “I know, however with these written prescriptions and letter of appeal, it should bring some benefit to Doctor Sun, and perhaps the sentence will be more merciful!”

As Doctor Sun looked at the thick stack of issued prescriptions and red- coloured handprints, those old eyes reddened for a moment as he remained in silence.

Maiden Lu spoke angrily, “Fourth Uncle, Sun Jiming and Maiden Lu schemed to cause me harm, how dare you still beg for mercy on his behalf!”

Cui Pei, “Third Sister-in-law, I have trust in Doctor Sun’s character.
He would have never done such a thing!”

Maiden Lu was provoked by his words that she looked up, yet gave a cold laugh, “Fine! Fine! Every one of you from the Cui family is ganging up against me!” Cui San warned her in a low voice, “Have you had enough? Once you’ve had enough, go home!”

He attempted to take Maiden Lu’s hand but was flung aside.

“If I am making a scene, then what are you doing?!” Maiden Lu hissed these words through her teeth.

Cui San was stunned by the veins that spread over her eyes and could say nothing for a moment.

The county magistrate pondered and said, “The inside information within this case is complicated. Once I have rearranged the evidence, on another day…”

Personally, he pitied Doctor Sun, but pity cannot help one to relief themselves from their sentence, so he could only do what was within his abilities, which is to procrastinate the case for a few more days.

“There is no need to pick another day.” Cui Buqu suddenly interrupted.

He cast Maiden Lu a look, something that looked like a smile that wasn’t a smile, “There is something I do not understand, so I wish to ask you.”

Maiden Lu bit her lips and straightened her back, her hands that rested on her front tightened their grip on her handkerchief.

Cui Buqu, “This man Cui San, had great ambitions but lacked capability, possesses an endless amount of resentments, he is strict to others but lenient with himself. In past years, he had committed many acts of disgrace which you bear shame for, and now he has gotten himself a mistress who is with child. He went so far to the point of wanting your life. So why are you still speaking for him, and rounding up his lies?”

Maiden Lu’s face turned pale.

Cui Buqu pointed at Cui San, “Is a leech like him worthy enough for you to abandon justice for unjust, to abandon your life for his?” Cui San was utterly out of breath, “Speaking in such a way about me, you unfilial…”

Before he could finish, Cui Pei raised his foot and delivered a kick, sending him to the ground.

The county magistrate barked angrily, “In the court, how dare you create such insolence! Lock them all up!”

Prefecture Magistrate Yuan spoke coldly, “Cui San disobeyed the rules and roared in court. How will he be taken care of by the law?”

The county magistrate replied to him readily, “Thirty whips!”

On the left and right, Cui San was pressed to the ground and whipped without a second word.

His cries rang in the hall. The county magistrate waved his hand, and the constables used a cloth to gag Cui San, allowing him to just wail through cold sweat.

Cui Pei looked away, pretending that he’d seen nothing.

After thirty whips, let alone shouting, Cui San lost the strength to even speak. He could only groan.

Yet no one spoke to allow a doctor to see to him. Cui San could only drag his badly mutilated ass and sprawl on the ground of the court, half-dead.

Both of Maiden Lu’s eyes were watery as she turned away and avoided his gaze.

Cui Buqu took the piece of prescription that claimed someone’s life, before randomly taking another piece from the other stack of prescriptions.

“Sun Jiming had treaded the doctor’s path for decades and not once has he erred. Otherwise, the people of Anping city would have long drowned him in their spits. Is this the case, County Magistrate He?” As County Magistrate He watched Cui Buqu asking himself, he nodded,
“That is correct.”

Cui Buqu laughed briefly, “The handwriting on this issued prescription is certainly similar to the handwriting of the past prescriptions issued by Doctor Sun. No differences could be seen, yet within perfection lied an imperfection. From one aspect, there is a burst seam.”

County Magistrate He immediately asked, “Where?”

Tapping the written prescriptions, Cui Buqu spat a word out, “Ink.”

Prefecture Magistrate Yuan took both those prescriptions and smelled both of them, before asking in confusion, “They truly smell different.”

“The past prescriptions that Doctor Sun issued were all written in Shenyan Ink, a low-quality ink. Although this type of ink is similar to high-quality and middle-quality ink, manufactured with a kiln, Shenyan Ink was made from soot, and it’s different from the other two. For a medicinal hall’s usage, they would not need decent quality ink to write prescriptions, so other than these usual prescriptions, the other prescriptions from Baoning Hall should have also been written with Shenyan Ink.”

“This piece of written prescription,” Cui Buqu shook the piece of prescription that claimed someone’s life, “used high-quality ink. Although the handwriting is closely similar, the ink’s colour is rich, and its strokes are smooth, the smell of rosin is evident. Would it make any sense to purchase a high-quality ink on purpose just to research in handwriting, so that it would make everything grander?”

County Magistrate He also saw through it, “That’s right. Go, send people to the Sun residence and take the ink that Sun Jiming uses on a daily basis, take them all here!”

Cui Buqu took his time saying. “After you have taken them, don’t rush back, go instead to the Cui manor and take the ink grind from Cui San’s study and bring them all here as well.” Cui San immediately raised his head!

He who had been beaten until his life was hanging by a thread like a dead duck with a withering neck straightened all of a sudden, stretching long with both his eyes brimming with fear.

Especially when he was watching the deep, meaningful smile Cui Buqu was giving him, that look of his that was like watching a demonic ghost sprawling up at him yet could not, for the time of its death was near.

Cui Pei glared at Cui San with a look of disbelief. The latter didn’t try to disguise himself, thus his expression proved everything.

Let alone Prefecture Magistrate Yuan and County Magistrate He, even if it had been Cui Pei himself, they could all catch a glimpse of the truth from Cui San’s reaction.

Cui Buqu smiled faintly, “From what I am aware of, Cui San’s manor was never in peace. The couple did not get along and bickered as often as they ate. Yesterday, when I was a guest in the Cui family, I witnessed both of them pushing and shoving as they entered, simmering in resentment with each other. Cui San kept a mistress outside, and surely it would be very difficult to keep it a secret from Maiden Lu. Arguments between both of them are unavoidable. This written prescription that has claimed someone’s life was not written by Sun Jiming, but it came from the hands of Cui San. The person he wanted dead also wasn’t the innocent Maiden Chen, but his very own wife Maiden Lu!”

Even if Cui Pei was emotionally prepared, as usual, he was stunned wordless and became as idle as a wooden chicken.

Cui San wailed, vaguely saying things like “You are spouting nonsense” or something like that, but his mouth had been gagged, and he could not speak clearly.

“According to Sun Jiming’s confession, he said that he did, in fact, write such a prescription before. However, it did not have that medicine made from toad venom on it. This also means that someone had received orders to add the toad venom in the prescription in secret, and he didn’t realize that an accident by the entrance would have exchanged those medicine packages, finally killing Maiden Chen. After Cui San knew of the incident, he was terrified, and thus allowed someone to destroy the original prescription, before imitating Sun Jiming’s handwriting and made a wholly new one, hoping to cast the blame all onto Doctor Sun.” Cui Buqu’s gaze met Cui San’s, and smiled as he asked, “Am I correct?”

Cui San could not speak, so he could only shake his head wildly.

Cui Buqu turned towards the employee who was currently shivering now and hadn’t said a word, “Seen it all, didn’t you? If Cui San refused to admit guilt, then you would be pushed out by the Cui family to be their scapegoat. Do you think that your head can be reattached after it has been chopped down?”

The employee immediately sprawled to the ground and shouted in a loud voice, “It’s the master’s family! It was San Lang who ordered someone to add toad venom into those packets of medicine. I am oblivious to everything!”

County Magistrate He pressed on, “Why would he do that?”

The employee rambled on his own, “I don’t know, I don’t…He wants to kill the mistress!”

County Magistrate He pressed even more, “After it was done, the handwriting on the prescriptions were your doing?”

“No, no! No! This prescription was written by him before it was passed to me. He even reminded me time and time again that this matter cannot be leaked!” The employee bowed repeatedly at Doctor Sun, “Doctor Sun, I am not a decent person, but it was not my choice! If I lost my job in the medical hall, then my family will be left homeless!”

Doctor Sun sighed a breath and closed his eyes, neither looking nor speaking. The assistant county magistrate who left to search Cui San’s study had returned.

Following him was the eldest grandchild of the Cui family, Cui Fei. Likely it was because of the change of events in the Cui family, added with the assistant county magistrate reaching their doorsteps, Cui Yong knew that the case of Doctor Sun was not so simple, so he had sent Cui Fei over to listen. However, Cui Fei was forbidden entry, and he instead waited with the rest of the people outside.

The assistant county magistrate was skilled in his duty, for not only did he bring the brush and ink grinder from Cui San’s study, but he had also even brought the papers and scrolls that were on his bookcase, as well as papers that he had thrown away.

He laid everything in categories so that everyone could see them clearly. Among the papers that Cui San hadn’t managed to throw away, more than half of them were copied medicine prescriptions, and if one were to take a closer look, they were prescriptions of Doctor Sun’s. As for his usual exercises, they were mostly copies of calligraphies from famed aristocratic families of each dynasty.

In these years that Cui San was held in Boling, not allowed even a step out, he was idle and loafing about, passing each day by wasting his time away. The only hobby he could show was this set of skills to make flawless imitated copies of other books.

As he witnessed everything to this point, Prefecture Magistrate Yuan shook his head, “A pity you were careless and wasted Maiden Lu’s attempt of borrowing someone else’s knife to commit a murder. Had you been more discreet, perhaps you could have lived in disavow for a little while longer.”

Cui San’s face was as deathly as ash, and finally, he gave up struggling. Seeing that he had calmed himself down, County Magistrate He allowed someone to ungag him. County Magistrate He spoke in a dull voice, “Maiden Lu, as things have progressed to this point, do you still wish to persist your lies?! How did you find out that he wanted to kill you?”

Maiden Lu laughed all of a sudden, and said in a despairing voice, “When someone who sleeps on the same bed with you suddenly wishes you dead, pray tell which husband or wife would not be able to tell? After all, I have already said just now, that the maidservant Song Yu who served Maiden Zhou was spying for me. That day was a comedy of errors, he failed to kill me, and hearing that the medicine packages were switched, what was given to me was simply ordinary medicine, then I would have known that something would happen to someone else. He was terrified, and sought out a secret meeting in his study with the employee, thinking I would not have heard of it.”

County Magistrate He asked angrily, “You knew that an innocent man was involved, yet you did not file a report and instead elected to help a criminal to victimize innocents by concealing the facts about him!”

“To be husband and wife a day is a hundred days of grace. I have always thought of giving him another chance, to let him see clearly the good in me, then perhaps he would look back.” Two trails of warm tears flowed down her face, Maiden Lu cried in silence, “If the incident this time was exposed, then the third line of the Cui family would be finished. Our children would never be able to raise their heads, so I thought that I would help him for one final time, help him to conceal this lie of his…”

“I don’t need your help! You poisonous woman, you are only using this chance to murder Maiden Zhou!” Cui San strained his neck to accuse her, “Don’t feign anything, I care nothing for it!”

“Excellent!”

Cui Buqu clapped thrice, feeling not even a single ounce of pity. He laughed instead, “Maiden Lu, once Cui San is brought to trial, you may then die out of love for him. In the yellow springs of the afterlife, both of you can follow each other in life and death. There’s no need to disgust all of us here.” As he finished speaking, he turned towards County Magistrate He, “Cui San has committed murder, Maiden Lu is an accomplice, the Chen family lost one person and two lives. According to the laws of Sui, how would this be judged, and how will the statement be presented, I wager you already have a clear idea about it?”

County Magistrate He put his hands together and said, “Commander, be at peace, I will definitely deal with it with the utmost impartiality.”

Cui Buqu nodded and left together with Prefecture Magistrate Yuan.

“Young Master Cui, may I have a moment of your time?” Cui Pei called after him.

“No.” Cui Buqu did not even turn around, his footsteps never stopped.

Outside of the county’s bureau, Zuoyue guards and a horse carriage awaited.

Prefecture Magistrate Yuan made Cui Buqu stay for a moment, “The kindness of the Yu family has made me a new man, although I haven’t returned for many years, not a single day has gone by where I’ve forgotten about it. About junior apprentice sister’s matter, I only got to know afterwards. However, during that time I was simply a commoner with no status, thus I couldn’t go against the Cui family, and therefore was unable to avenge junior apprentice sister.”

As he spoke until this point, he laughed bitterly, “Even with the status I possess now, perhaps I could just make things a little difficult for them, but I definitely could not do it as thoroughly as you did. The younger generations have surpassed the older, and you finished the things I could not. Thank you.”

Yuan Sansi bowed towards Cui Buqu.

Cui Buqu said expressionlessly, “One can only have oneself to blame. I couldn’t have anticipated that Cui San would attempt to kill his own wife and try to shift the blame onto others when he failed, dragging out such a case itself.”

Yuan Sansi laughed bitterly, “Cui San is but only a leech on a huge tree. Cui Da only was the true successor of the Cui family. Once Cui Da’s crimes are sentenced, the entire Cui family won’t be going anywhere. Junior apprentice sister can now rest peacefully in the afterlife. For today’s wish, I hoped to go to junior apprentice sister’s grave, but the Cui family forbade her entry into their ancestral tomb. After I arrived here, I’ve yet to even find her grave, could Young Master Cui lead the way?”

Cui Buqu nodded, “This way.”

The other had answered him so readily, Yuan Sansi was a little taken aback. He had originally thought that since Cui Buqu’s methods were merciless and cruel, he would have held a grudge towards him for not being able to return on time to avenge the Yu family.

Maiden Yu’s grave was not far from here, and as both of them took a horse carriage, they arrived very quickly.

Yuan Sansi looked at the overly simple grave before his eyes, and he couldn’t help saying, “Do you have the intention to relocate? I can help you find a place where the scenery is prime, or the Yu family’s very own ancestral grave. I think junior apprentice sister would be willing to return home to accompany her parents.”

Cui Buqu replied plainly, “Death is like an extinguished flame; the so- called spirits of the deceased are simply for people to delusion or comfort themselves. If she had not led a pleasant life when she was alive, then what use is there to do these things when she is no longer consciously aware? If you had abide by the betrothal during that year and hadn’t left without a word, it would have been better for her to marry you compared to Cui Er.”

Yuan Sansi knelt next to the burning pot of fire, and piece by piece he burned the paper money he bought on the way. The light from the flames illuminated half of his face and also engulfed all the words he wanted to say.

The fire burned vigorously.

For a brief moment, he imagined that Yu Mo’s spirit would offer him a little hint of comfort through the fire, but in the end, Yuan Sansi could not avoid admitting that Cui Buqu’s words were right. Yu Mo was dead, and that he was just meaninglessly deceiving himself.

She needed no reparations.

What she needed was something he would never have been able to achieve.

“All these years, I have remained unmarried.” Yuan Sansi said in a harsh voice as if he was saying it for Maiden Yu, and as if he was saying it for Cui Buqu.

“Because of your identity as the descendant of the Yuan Wei Royal family? Or was it because you carry a priceless treasure map on you, and on your shoulders you carry the heavy weight of resurrecting your nation?”

Colour drained from Yuan Sansi’s face as he raised his head abruptly!

“You! You…” His voice was pitched, yet he suppressed it all of a sudden. He found it difficult to control his emotions, for even his tone had changed.

Cui Buqu rolled back his hands and stood, watching him silently and did not utter a response, as if those words did not come out from his lips.

“Right, you command the Zuoyue Bureau, what is there that you wouldn’t already know? If you know, then I suppose the Emperor knows it as well. Was your trip to Boling this time to arrest me upon orders?” Yuan Sansi put the pieces together, and gave a smile that looked uglier than crying, “If I said that I have never bared the heart for treason, would you believe me?” Both of them stared at each other, Yuan Sansi sat down on the ground flat and wiped cold sweat off his head, “You’re going to scare me to death!”

Cui Buqu, “I wouldn’t have guessed that Prefecture Magistrate Yuan was so timid.”

Yuan Sansi said helplessly, “Anyone tasked with such a burdensome secret for decades would have also turned into a sparrow that feared the mere twang of a bow, alright?”

As the Han Dynasty came to an end, the Three Kingdoms rose, and after the Three Kingdoms, it was the Wei and Jin Dynasties.

The great unification of the Jin Dynasty did not last long. Western Jin moved east and became Eastern Jin, but Eastern Jin was only a small southern part of Shenzhou in the Central Plains. Another great piece of land was divided into sixteen governing regimes, historically called the Sixteen Kingdoms of Eastern Jin.

Long divided, must unite; every regime in the midst of battle welcomed the establishment of the Northern and Southern Dynasties. Among them, the Wei Dynasty whom the Yuan clan had established was the predecessor of the Sui Empire.

Within that chaotic period in history, very few people were willing to reminisce it. In the process of the Wei Dynasty’s destruction, it was like any other dynasty unwilling to decline. It had experienced its subject’s fights for power, and the moving of capitals by its Emperors. As for Yuan Sansi, he was from the collateral branch of the Yuan clan, the descendant of the Emperor Xiaowu of Northern Wei.

“Once it reached my generation, the Yuan family had already declined. Even if there still exist someone who posts as an official in court, it was impossible to form any relations. Before I went to the Yu family, my mortally ill late father summoned me to his deathbed, and he told me that the Yuan family has left behind a treasure stove, and in it were armours made of gold and silver, made to be used in the future once an army rises. Even if my generation could not make use of it, or neither could the next,
 this secret must be passed from generation to generation. This is the code of the Yuan family, it cannot be betrayed.”

Yuan Sansi sighed, “For me to suddenly know such a grave secret, I have not been able to sleep or eat in peace, day and night I live in fear. When I was in the Yu family, I had a teacher who was willing to teach me patiently, and received warmth from apprentice mother and junior apprentice sister; but my heart still weighed down, and I felt even more terrified of telling that secret to anyone. Finally, there came a day when sire divulged his intention of betrothing junior apprentice sister to me. I thought for a while and finally decided to leave because I was afraid that I would drag them down. I was afraid that one day someone will know of this secret and reach our doors, and when that time comes, let alone me, junior apprentice sister and her family wouldn’t be able to escape. If junior apprentice sister and I got married and had children… Why should another person bear the burden of this secret?”

Cui Buqu, “From the beginning of history, he who is king is often fickle and suspicious, you fear that if you had told this secret, the Emperor would become partially suspicious, and if he came to the conclusion that you still have a card up your sleeve, it would be even more difficult to save your life.”

Yuan Sansi, “That is right. As someone by the Emperor’s side, you are familiar with this way of thinking. Every man of power under the sky is the same. If the secret was unknown, then there would have been a sliver of hope. However, I wouldn’t have guessed that you knew of this secret.”

Cui Buqu said, “Someone betrayed you, and that person had once saved your life in your moment of despair. Both of you became sworn brothers and forged a relationship of close attachment. Once when you were drunk, you mistakenly told him about the Yuan clan’s treasure stove. He engraved it to heart. After that, because he had offended someone from the Jianghu province, he begged for protection from the Liuli Palace and found my teacher, thus he told him.”

Yuan Sansi laughed bitterly, “I guessed it was him. From that day onwards, I never touched wine again.” Cui Buqu, “Originally, I only knew about this; but only this time after you came to Boling and I was investigating your identity, did I manage to link the mysterious treasure of the Yuan family and you.”

Yuan Sansi remained silent for a moment, “I have never been to the treasure’s whereabouts. Thus I do not even know whether it exists or if it was fake. I could give both the location and maps to you. By taking junior apprentice sister into consideration, when you report it to the Emperor, could you perhaps avoid mentioning me?”

Cui Buqu nodded, “Deal.”

Yuan Sansi released his breath, “Many thanks.”

He burned the last piece of paper money before rising to his feet and patted both his legs that have gone sore.

“Rest assured. Presently, I am taking the post of an official in Boling. I will pay junior apprentice sister visits frequently, and send people here to pay her respects and protect her grace. I won’t allow Cui San to do anything to it.” Yuan Sansi laughed on his own, “This is what I can do for her. The only thing I could ever do.”

Cui Buqu said, “In a while, I will seek you out. I wish to remain here for a little while more.”

Yuan Sansi sighed lightly and patted his shoulder before leaving on his own.

Once Yuan Sansi left, all that’s left was the carriage driver and two Zuoyue guards. All of them stood afar, not moving forward to disturb him.

Cui Buqu knelt down and took out a handkerchief, and little by little he wiped the tombstone clean.

His face was expressionless, but he certainly had the most absolute patience. Even as the sky dimmed, he would not descend into disconcertment. There are many fools in this world.

Maiden Yu for example, and Doctor Sun. They were kind people who often helped others, yet they did not have the same strength to protect themselves.

Himself, however, who was Cui Buqu, was different.

He had a heart of steel, and many schemes hidden up his sleeves. He could help these people eliminate all forms of predators, and annihilate all thistles and thorns.

Cui Buqu gave a cold laugh.

“Be free; reincarnate well. In the next life—“ He paused for a moment and said gently, “in the next life, let us not be mother and son again.”

As his words dissipated, a trail of silk fell before his eyes. It was light blue in colour and incredibly familiar.
Cui Buqu raised his eyes.

Between the branches where the remnants of golden light sat, a pretty face dropped and hung upside down.

Feng Xiao smiled and said, “Hey to this pleasant brother, what a coincidence to meet you in a place like this?”

Cui Buqu: “…”

Long divided, must unite: From the complete sentence, The empire, long divided, must unite; long united, must divide. Thus it has ever been. This is a quote from Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Chapter 108

The feet that hung themselves on the branch loosened, yet the person didn’t fall down. Feng Xiao skilfully did a flip and landed upright and once again he was that wayward graceful Commander Feng, as if everything that was seen just now was just an illusion to Cui Buqu.

“I never knew that Commander Feng has the habit of eavesdropping. In the future, if you no longer wish to remain in the Jiejian Bureau, you can consider becoming a little thief who runs along the walls, surely, that could also earn you a comfortable and luxurious living.” Cui Buqu told him coldly.

Feng Xiao was shocked, “I am listening proudly and upright in broad daylight, it’s just that you both failed to notice me, so how can this be called eavesdropping? I couldn’t have thought that you were so concerned over me, to think that you have even prepared arrangements for my future livelihood. How about this: once that treasure stove is found, it can be divided between us, then I will pretend nothing ever happened.”

Cui Buqu coughed, “After the treasure is found, I will report its finding to the Imperial Court and return it to the national treasury. You can ask the Emperor for it.”

Feng Xiao hit his fan against his palm, and said suddenly, “Now I understand; before this, you told me your past by initiative to bring up Yuan Sansi’s identity, and the goal was to make me let my guard down so I wouldn’t be suspicious when you two will acknowledge your past relationship, and that was to conceal the truth of the treasure stove?” Cui Buqu was expressionless, “Yes.”

“Outrageous duplicity!” Feng Xiao laughed and seized his shoulder, ignoring the other’s cold and declining face, “You were obviously just looking for someone to talk to. When one is atop a high mountain, they cannot bear the loneliness alone; in your eyes, I am the only one who is worthy to converse such things with you. Alright, you needn’t say more, I understand everything!”

Cui Buqu looked up at the sky wordlessly, and in his heart, he questioned; was it because his voice wasn’t loud enough and the other had allowed it to get over his head, or that Feng-er’s ears were faulty and he could only hear what he wanted to hear?

Just now he had said a bunch of things to Yuan Sansi, and his head began to hurt. Cui Buqu was too drawled to speak more, preparing to lie down for a good while in the horse carriage. Who could have known that once he got up the carriage, a shadow flew in faster than himself, and in the blink of an eye, it is already sitting upright in the carriage.

Cui Buqu’s expression darkened a little more.

Feng Xiao thumped his leg as he sighed, “Both of you were talking for so long, my legs hurt when I was on the tree. What are you standing there stunned for? Come up quickly, don’t let the driver wait too long! They have also waited here for a similar amount of time and had waited painfully, Master Taoist Cui, please spare him a thought!”

Watching the driver’s carefully and slight fearful expression, Cui Buqu twitched the corner of his lips before getting up the carriage slowly.

Feng Xiao smiled as he reached out to pull him in, but instead, he was cruelly hit on the back of his hand. He even exclaimed in an over- exaggerated way, “Taking my kindness and feeding it to the dogs, aren’t I just afraid that you will trip and fall?”

It was fine if he had remained silent, but once he opened his mouth it was like the beak of a crow. Yesterday it rained, and the soil was slippery. As he got up the carriage, Cui Buqu felt his foot slipping and thankfully he managed to grab the side of the carriage, avoiding falling head-on.

Feng Xiao couldn’t help but chuckle out loud. Cui Buqu felt even more inclined to remain silent.
However, if he said nothing, it didn’t mean that Feng Xiao would say nothing as well. As long as his mouth wasn’t stitched up, Feng Xiao could keep making annoying noises.

“Look at you. You said that you wanted to come to Boling, and it’s because I saw how heavily wouned was Qiao Xian while Zhangsun needed to serve as the mainstay in the capital, no one reliable was accompanying you, thus I came myself to guarantee your safety…”

Cui Buqu might as well interrupt, “Did you manage to get your hands on Yu Yin?”

Feng Xiao spoke in high spirits, “How could it be only just that? Your grandfather even wanted to offer his granddaughter to me as my concubine!”

Cui Buqu replied sorrowfully, “Then congratulations are in order for Commander Feng, for good news to come in pairs!”

Feng Xiao moved closer, “I feel that, with Cui Yong’s look at that time, looking entirely like he was grasping at straws, let alone giving me his granddaughter for a concubine, even if I wanted to marry his very own wife, eight out of ten he would have agreed to it.”

Cui Buqu did not bulge. His lips crooked a little, and immediately this gesture was caught by Feng Xiao. He even pointed it out slyly, “If you wanted to laugh, then just laugh. No one is here to stop you, so why are you suffocating yourself?”

“Cui Da Lang colluded with the Southern Dynasty and committed a grave offence, but the Emperor will take into his consideration the Boling Cui clan and will not bestow a death penalty upon him. He will not be able to succeed the patriarch of the collateral branch of the Cui family, and he needed to make a quick decision in order to save himself. Although Ninth Lady Cui is a daughter of the third son, she still belongs to the collateral branch. Thus let alone Cui San who had harmed the life of an innocent, he would not be able to escape the penalty of a murderer. The people of this family were unfortunate through and through. How much on earth did Cui Yong put into consideration before he made you this offer to buy your interference?” Cui Buqu smiled in contempt.

“When someone had been on a high plateau for too long, watching over that three mu of land, and there was no one around to stand against him. In time, their worldview on the horizon would narrow. Cui Da’s ambitions were loftier than the skies, and he wished to ravish another path for the collateral branch of the Cui family so they may live in luxury for a few more centuries, it was a pity that he had allowed it to go to his head.”

Feng Xiao chuckled and changed the topic, “I knew that Master Taoist Cui’s setup was not so shallow, to come from a thousand miles to the Cui family just to take revenge. Your goals were to bring Cui Da’s crimes to light for public eyes while contacting Yuan Sansi in the dark and make him confess the locations of the treasure stove himself. You even used the zither Yu Yin to distract me. With all that meticulous plotting, had I been just a little bit uncareful, I really would have let you lead me on like a fool.”

Master Taoist Cui did not smile on the surface, “Didn’t you find another path to walk in the end? You even found one on the tree!”

With Feng Xiao’s shamelessness, his face would not redden from just a mere sentence like this, “See, you know me so well, we could just make shift with what is on hand.”

Cui Buqu raised an eyebrow, “Make shift of what?”

Feng Xiao, “Make shift of an alliance together again. That treasure stove will certainly contain many trap mechanisms engineered. Even if you are the number one most intelligent man beneath the Heavens, it would still have been very difficult for you to manage your way through, but with me, things will be different.”

Cui Buqu replied with a “Mhm,” and continued, “Originally, I might have died in the trap mechanisms, but if I brought you along, it’s estimated that I might be pushed into the trap mechanisms instead.”

Feng Xiao laughed, “How would I be willing to part with you? Days without you would have been lonely!”

Cui Buqu gave a cold laugh, “Before getting to know me, how did all your subordinates manage to stand you?”

Feng Xiao waved a hand, “Are you referring to Pei Jingzhe? The one who often travels with me is him. This child is slow in his head, eight out of ten times I ridiculed him, he would not be able to get it in time. It was no fun at all.”

So the reason behind gluing himself to him was because he was more fun?

Cui Buqu felt his head hurt even more now. He pinched the bridge of his nose, “We can no longer stay in the Cui manor. I have ordered someone to search for an inn. In two more days, once the cases regarding the Cui family have been settled and handed over to people sent by the capital, we will move to seek out the treasure stove.”

Feng Xiao was surprised, “Cui Da fell under suspicion for treason, Cui San has committed murder, Cui Er has long been dead. Three out of the four sons of Cui Yong fell into unfortunate states; only the fourth one Cui Pei remained, though an orphan was entrusted to him by Maiden Yu before her death, he dared not act against the orders of his father, he was indirectly the reason you were harmed each time following the last, and you’re just letting him go like that?”

Cui Buqu propped his head, “Every injustice has its perpetrator; although he had not done his best, he never harboured the intention to harm, and to me, if I never obtained even that little bit of kindness, I would have died more than once twenty years ago. This time, consider the favour a means to sever our ties. This carriage’s wobbling is making it uncomfortable for me. I will lie down for a while, call me when we’ve arrived.”

As he finished speaking, he laid down with his back facing towards Feng Xiao, yet the jade ornament on his head was jerked off by surprise, his raven-black hair scattering all over his shoulder.

Cui Buqu wanted to turn around and glare at the other, but a hand had already placed itself on the meridians of his head and began massaging tenderly.

The degree of force it infused was controlled. Inner strength turned into warmth and flowed into his veins from his head. He squinted his eyes and for a moment, he had forgotten to denounce the culprit for his crimes.

These had always been done by Qiao Xian, and now that Qiao Xian wasn’t here when Cui Buqu’s headaches triggered, he could only endure them in silence.

At the same time, Feng Xiao’s voice that was filled with disgust sounded from behind him, “Was your hair not washed yesterday? Ah, right. The cushions of this carriage were taken by me the day before to use at the posthouse outside the city. Once we return to the city, remember to order them to change these into a new set. I do not wish to use the same set when we leave the city. Best buy an entirely new set…”

Forget it. Taking into consideration that his head was being massaged comfortably, he could stand the noisiness for a while. Cui Buqu recited a few sentences of ‘Unlimited Blessings of the Buddha’ and pretended that Feng Xiao’s voice was the chirping of birds that came from the outside of the carriage, and felt a lot more satisfied.

Not long after, Feng Xiao could feel that the muscles in Cui Buqu’s shoulders and eyes had loosened, and his breathing was deep and slow as if he had already fallen into slumber. He retreated his hand and watched as the other’s back gradually curved with a lack of guard and he thought: This person’s body is cold from top to bottom, even his bones are especially colder than others, but he’s forgotten that he has a soft and warm heart.

Cui Buqu felt that it’s been a long time since he had been able to sleep peacefully like this. When he woke up, his headache was completely gone, even all the discomfort he felt these days turned for the better. His mind was confused, wondering if he had lost track of time. He sat up and was greeted by the furnished displays around him, but then he suddenly remembered—

“What time is it? Is this place the inn?”

“What else could it be? You slept like a pig, so in the end, I was the one who carried you in.”

Feng Xiao was sitting at the table in his room munching in delight. The table was filled with steamy dishes, their fragrance filling the entire room. Cui Buqu believed that he was woken up by their delicious smell.

“Why aren’t you eating in your own room?” Cui Buqu stared at him.

Feng Xiao did not raise his head, “The smell would latch itself onto my blankets and pillows, and if I spilt anything, it would draw the mice at night. However, to eat at your place would be no big deal at all.”

Cui Buqu: “…”

“What are you staring at for? Come and eat. If you’re not hungry, I can take care of them all at once.” Feng Xiao urged him with a strange look when he realized he was staring off.

Cui Buqu sighed, bent over to put on his shoes, and sat down opposite of Feng Xiao.

“Cui Pei came looking for you.” Feng Xiao said, his tone bringing a hint of ridicule, “Even at present, the Cui family still covets unrealistic hopes.”

Cui Buqu, “Did he come to beg mercy on Cui Da’s behalf?” Feng Xiao, “No. They are now a little smarter, knowing that Cui Da committed a grave offence and is bearing unforgivable crimes, they no longer dare to beg for mercy on his behalf. However, he hoped you could lift your hand high in mercy, and spare Cui Fei.”

Cui Buqu raised an eyebrow, “Oh? The most outstanding eldest grandson that Cui Yong spoke of?”

Feng Xiao smiled, “Perhaps he is the eldest, but if you wanted to acknowledge your ancestors, the most outstanding one is you.”

Cui Buqu gave a forced smile, “So they’re still harbouring this idea.”

Feng Xiao, “Right now, let alone if you wanted to move Maiden Yu next to Cui Er’s tomb. Even if you wanted to become an elder of the Cui clan, they would agree to it.”

Cui Buqu gave a cold laugh but did not answer him.

Just by listening to this laugh, Feng Xiao knew that Cui Buqu held not even a tiny bit of interest in the Boling Cui clan. Not only that, but he might have even thought of more ways to pit them.

“This laugh of yours is terrifying me.” Feng Xiao rolled his eyes and smiled cheekily as he grabbed a mushroom with his chopsticks, “After listening to the Zuoyue Bureau Commander’s past, should I offer up my own past to you so that you will not harbour bitter resentment for me?”

“I have no interest in it.” Cui Buqu buried his head eating.

Feng Xiao, “Don’t be like that. I really want to say it. Only that when I was young, I really do not have any stories of being bullied then taking revenge. I am from a wealthy family, never having to worry about clothes or shelter, and because I was devastatingly adorable, I was incredibly likeable by everyone. Even as I walk on the streets, countless young ladies would turn around and give their attention. Once…”

Cui Buqu, “Silence. I don’t want to hear it.” Feng Xiao pretended that he had heard nothing, “Once, those kidnappers specialized in abducting children set their target on me. Taking advantage of the Lantern Festival, they drugged and kidnapped me in the midst of the crowd. That time I was only pretending to pass out, wanting to penetrate deep into the kidnapper’s den. Yet in the end, when onlookers saw us, they all rushed forward. Those little ladies even boxed the kidnappers to death. Sigh, you see, when someone is so pretty to this degree where he astounds the Heavens and earth and causes gods and demons to cry, it really is difficult for a hundred evils to take advantage of me. There is another time…”

Cui Buqu found it difficult to swallow in his mouth, his heart was in despair.

He really wished for the Heavens to send a thunder down and strike this oleander fairy to death once and for all!

Author’s Note:

PS, yesterday someone asked about QuQu’s identity as a disciple of the Liuli Palace. QuQu is not a disciple of the Liuli Palace. He is a rogue. It was only mentioned before that his teacher Fan Yun was a guest of the Liuli Palace, he is not a member of the Liuli Palace either. A guest would be like an honourable tutor, and that is all there about his origins linked with the Liuli Palace.

Beak of a crow: Crows are believed to be bad-omens, so when someone said something bad and it came true, it’s usually viewed as them having the beak of a crow.

mu: Chinese unit of measurement. One ‘English mu’ (acre) is equal to 6.0702846 Chinese mu.

Chapter 109

It was unknown if this happened because his ears had their fill of torture, because after that and for the entire night, Cui Buqu had a dream about Feng Xiao.

There was nothing else in the dream; all of it was that person flying around in high spirits, repeatedly saying:

“There was once… And another time…”

There was a murky sky and dark earth, where the sun and moon did not shine.

Until Cui Buqu woke up, the words, ‘there was once’ continuously resounded in his ears. There they remained, stubborn like troublesome march willows, once they stuck to one’s clothes, they were incredibly difficult to get rid of.

He got up clumsily to change his clothes and then got down to change his shoes. The knocking of the door sounded, and Cui Buqu seriously contemplated whether or not he should jump out of the window and be done with it. Thankfully, in the next moment, the other’s voice was his saving grace, permitting him to avoid the tragic scene of leaping down from the second floor and endure a broken leg.

“Young Master Cui, my apologies for the interruption, but might I inquire if you’re free for a chat? If not, I can come again later.” It was Cui Pei. Cui Buqu loosened his breath, “Go to the teahouse next door and look for a single unit. I will be there in a while.”

Cui Pei knew what to do; what followed was the sound of his footsteps travelling far away.

The view without Feng-er was incredibly pleasant if one were to ignore the odds and ends of the meal from last night that hasn’t been cleaned.

That man’s incredible fuzziness over cleanliness has reached a degree where Cui Buqu was willing to candidly admit defeat.

To think about it: who would have trained themselves in the art of combat using a zither just so they won’t need to fight their enemies up close and just so they could use their inner strength and send their enemies flying with the waves of music?

There was no one, only Feng-er.

So to speak, Feng-er willingly carried him down the carriage and into the inn in person was already an unprecedented treatment.

There was a sliver of something lingering in the air that had an unpleasant smell, it made Cui Buqu speed up his steps and leave the place, not willing to remain there any longer.

Cui Pei was a little perturbed.

Had it been just a few days ago, if someone had told him that Cui Jie was still alive and that he could decide the fate of the Cui family, he would have thought it was very absurd.

For in his permanent memory, the impression of that child was someone silent, someone who would never complain to him even if he had endured all the bullying and fell ill.

Afterwards, when Cui Pei had children of his own, he finally understood the hearts of parents, and every time he thought about that child, the more guilt he felt. Within two short days, the Cui family’s lives had turned upside down. The Boling Cui clan was like a bumpy boat in the midst of a hurricane that would overturn at any moment.

Members of the Cui family all found themselves in perilous situations. The women wet their face with tears and even some of them cussed and swore at Cui Buqu, cursing him to die a terrible death.

However, Cui Pei knew that Cui Buqu would never take these cusses and swears to heart.

From the moment the other left the Cui family, he had severed the last ties he shared with the Cui clan.

The verdict has yet to come from the Imperial Court. Cui Yong had already contacted the Fanyang Lu Sect to discuss a letter of mercy. Cui Pei did not know how much these actions will help their case, but as the only member of the Cui family who wasn’t directly involved and at the same time had an orphan entrusted to him before Maiden Yu’s death, of course, Cui Yong sent him here hoping to convince Cui Buqu to be merciful.

Before he left the door, Cui Yong reminded him, again and again, to be careful of what he says. It was important not to provoke Cui Buqu, and regardless of what conditions the other requested, he only needed to agree before returning to ponder over them.

As he thought to this point, Cui Pei couldn’t help laughing bitterly. He wasn’t afraid of what conditions the other will request, his only fear was that Cui Buqu will not request any conditions at all.

Boling Cui clan was one of the aristocratic family clans that everyone flocked to. How many people whose surname was Cui brewed plans to leech off the name of the Boling Cui clan? However, towards these temptations, Cui Buqu was completely uninterested in them.

“The reason I brought you here is because you met Young Master Cui and the rest outside the city and forged a good relationship. Later on, even if there is the need to kneel down and beg him, don’t hesitate. Without my orders, do not say anything rashly.” Cui Pei reminded the young girl next to him.

“I understand.” Ninth Lady Cui gave him a look of uneasiness.

Within the span of a single night, her father became a murderer and her mother had been a murderer’s accomplice. Both of them were doomed. Ninth Lady Cui and her other siblings felt like they had been hit from the clouds down to the sawdust on earth, receiving a hard impact on the head. They were stunned for the whole day, at a loss of what to do.

She should have hated Cui Buqu, but as she watched that tall and thin shadow entering from the outside, she could not bring herself to hate him a single bit. As for those complicated feelings left in her, it was too convoluted to narrate in words.

It was the same as the first time they met; Cui Buqu’s complexion was pale, and he did not display any look of happiness or anger when he saw them.

“I hope you are not here to beg for mercy.” Cui Buqu went straight to the point.

“With the way things have progressed now, how could we still dare?
Today, I only wish to take a look at you.” Cui Pei laughed bitterly.

Cui Buqu nodded slightly, hinting that he was waiting for his next words.

Cui Pei was at a loss of how he should continue. As a man over the age of fifty, he had roamed the world and visited many places. He had even seen the Emperor himself before, yet at this moment, he felt anxious.

“That year, it was I who betrayed second sister-in-law’s trust.” He thought over his words, not willing to provoke the other, “I know that you bear resentment in your heart, and regarding this matter, it was the Cui family who had wronged you. Father himself also has regrets.” Cui Buqu laughed all of a sudden, “If I had died out there that year, would Cui Yong still have regrets now?”

Naturally, he wouldn’t. Cui Pei had nothing else to say in return. He thought about his father’s behaviour from the beginning until just before his elder brother was being dragged away; he was still regretting that he hadn’t killed him all those years ago, and not regretting the fact that he had never been kind to him.

As he thought to this point, he felt a little downhearted. All of a sudden he no longer wished to speak.

Cui Pei sighed, “Is there anything I can do for you? If it’s to move second sister-in-law into the Cui clan’s ancestral burial site…”

Cui Buqu replied expressionlessly, “If she had never been buried, how could she move in?”

It was impossible to continue conversing like this. Had it been for someone else, they would have risen to their feet and slammed a hand on the table. Yet Cui Pei had always been meek, so regardless of what Cui Buqu says, he would shoulder it all upon himself.

“It was all my fault, had I been more determined in the past…”

“Do you want to be the elder of the Cui clan?” Cui Buqu asked all of a sudden.

Cui Pei suddenly looked up at him.

Cui Buqu expressed a long and eloquent laugh, “Before you, there are three elder brothers. Thus no matter what, the opportunity would never fall upon you. However, right now, it is different. Even if the Cui family was not affected by Cui Da’s sentence and could save themselves, members of the Cui clan would object to either of them taking up the post of the elder. Yet, if it was you, there might still be hope.”

Cui Pei’s throat was dry, “I have never thought about this.” Cui Buqu, “If one were to protect themselves and the ones they love, they would need strength. As of now, the collateral branch of the Cui family is in fragments. If even you were unwilling to stand out, then it would give the opportunity to others to step all over you.”

Cui Pei did not say a word, but Cui Buqu knew that he had listened to everything he said.

Cui Pei’s abilities were not bad, but as years and months passed, with his father and brothers on top of him, he never had the chance to prove himself. Even as a scholar with a reputable name outside, when people spoke of him, they would not neglect to mention that he was from the Boling Cui clan.

Cui Buqu had managed to walk out, but he didn’t and was doomed to be strapped by the three words, ‘Boling Cui clan’ for life.

Glory was also sometimes shackles.

From the outside, someone entered. It was a servant from the Prefecture Magistrate’s manor.

“I will go immediately.” Cui Buqu nodded.

Cui Pei knew that the other had no heart to continue speaking, so he immediately said, “I will visit second sister-in-law’s grave frequently. When you travel outside, please take care of yourself!”

He took out a written prescription and gave it to Cui Buqu.

“You might also know that centuries-long aristocratic families like us would certainly have kept valuable medical formulas. Since your body is unwell, this is what I have managed to find in the Cui family that could help regulate your body. Doctor Sun has also looked over it himself.” Cui Pei urged, “I know that right now, with your present identity, there is nothing you lack, but if you ever need it, just write a letter home, and I will try my best to do it for you.”

Cui Buqu paused faintly and accepted the prescription. Cui Pei certainly let out a breath of relief. Speaking with this nephew of his made him incredibly pressured, perhaps even more nervous compared to speaking with the Emperor.

“Of what I have said before, give it some thought. If you succeed the Cui clan as its elder, perhaps I will consider begging for mercy on behalf of the Cui family in front of the Emperor, to avoid involving innocent women and children.” Cui Buqu gave Ninth Lady Cui a look, “And to also save Cui Yong from offering Ninth Lady Cui to Feng Xiao as his concubine.”

Ninth Lady Cui gave a stunning look filled with disbelief, “Did grandfather…really say that?”

She turned to look at Cui Pei, and the latter avoided her gaze, not willing to meet her eyes.

“Young Master Cui!”

Ninth Lady Cui called out to Cui Buqu who was walking outside and finally said the words she had been holding in since forever, “Are you really as they said, my elder brother?”

Cui Buqu’s footsteps did not stop, he spoke expressionlessly, “Even if the Cui family is not finished, it would still cost them a hefty price. If you wish to pursue Sun Jiming in being a practitioner, this is the best chance. Do not be all words with no actions, proving yourself similar to those women who are timid and hesitant. Don’t make it so that I cannot be proud of you.”

The colour on Ninth Lady Cui’s face changed for a moment, and just as Cui Pei thought that she would rush forward to confront the other, all of sudden she fell on her knees before Cui Buqu and bowed to him.

“I am sorry.”

Cui Buqu was stunned for a moment. Ninth Lady Cui said in a low voice, “I am sorry. I have heard of your past from onlookers and I know that I am not worthy enough to speak for my father and mother, but I am born a daughter of theirs, and regarding what they have done to you in the past, it’s impossible for me to be completely absolved of it. Regardless of how they are now, I am unworthy to beg for mercy on their behalf, so all I can do is to say ‘I am sorry’. Please lead a good life in the future, sail a smooth journey, and be free from hardships.”

She parted her lips as if to address him as an elder brother, but in the end, those words did not make it past her lips.

As Cui Buqu walked further away, Cui Pei helped her to her feet. He watched tears trickle down her face and couldn’t help but sigh.

“Why would you bring such a thing upon yourself?”

“I should have hated him.” Ninth Lady Cui rubbed her now fully reddened eyes, but her tears refused to stop, “But when I recall how well I was fed and sheltered when I was little and received all the love I needed, yet he was out there enduring all the suffering, I cannot bring myself to hate him.”

Cui Pei spoke dejectedly, “It was not your fault.”

Ninth Lady Cui, “But it was not his fault either. Although he came back to arrest uncle and father, these were matters with reasonable cause and not enforced bullying with the oppression of power. Members of the Cui family still cussed at him terribly. I…I don’t know why in my heart, I feel stuck in panic.”

Cui Pei patted her head but said nothing.

He thought that perhaps because of Ninth Lady Cui, Cui Buqu could see that there was still a trickle of warmth that existed in the Cui family, which ultimately contributed to his decision to take a step back. Or perhaps, Cui Buqu was taking into consideration the late Maiden Yu and Cui Er. However, regardless of which it was, things have stopped here, and this was already the best ending they could have had.

……

Cui Buqu was led to the Prefecture Magistrate’s rear garden, thus he witnessed Feng Xiao and Yuan Sansi happily conversing with each other in absolute delight, practically as if they already have sacrificed the chicken, burned the yellow paper, and recognized each other as sworn brothers in the next moment.

He couldn’t help sighing, and in his heart, he said that prior to this, he had never witnessed Feng-er and Prefecture Magistrate Yuan being this close with each other. However, who could have guessed that once he knew that the other carried with him the location of the treasure stove, he was like a weasel who smelled food and refused to let go of it, insisting on bulging in and getting involved no matter what.

When Yuan Sansi saw him, on his face divulged a smile as he rose to his feet and bowed, familiar yet not lacking the necessary mannerisms.

“Buqu, Commander Feng here said that you have already told him of the matter, and that both of you were prepared to look for the treasure stove together.”

Cui Buqu gave Feng Xiao a glare which meant: You truly know how to wind yourself around the stick that beats you.

Feng Xiao returned his expression with a look of innocence as if he understood nothing from his expression.

As Yuan Sansi saw that Cui Buqu wasn’t objecting, he told them both,
“Both of you, follow me.”

He brought both of them to his study and took out a book from the shelf, before taking out a bookmark made of bamboo. The bookmark was quite old, but if one were to take a closer look, it was two bamboo pieces stuck together, and if a knife was used to split them, in the middle was a thin cloth.

Carefully, Yuan Sansi took that cloth out and meticulously spread it open, turning it into a cloth as big as half a palm.

On it was drawn, with special ink, a scenery from someplace.

There was snow on top of a mountain, a cave in the heart of its split, and turquoise rocks with gurgling water.

Feng Xiao and Cui Buqu stared at it for a moment, but they could not tell what place it was.

Most of the landscapes beneath the sky would have more or less a look like this.

If the Wei Dynasty really did leave behind a treasure stove, saving it for future use, it was not possible for them to just leave behind a vague clue like this to their descendants.

This wasn’t a riddle at all, this was pulling their legs.

Yuan Sansi said, “It was also my first time disassembling the bookmark and seeing something like this.”

Cui Buqu, “Was there a pointer?”

Yuan Sansi replied in determination, “Yes, there is. Hangzhou, Tiannan Mountain!”

Sacrificed the chicken, burned the yellow paper: The process between people who wished to become sworn brothers/sisters.

Wind yourself around the stick that beats you: In Chinese, it was 打蛇随棍上, which practically illustrates how a snake would wound up a pole that [someone] uses to beat it, referring to a person who knows how to take advantage of the situation they were in.

Translator’s Notes: As usual, Black Lotus and I will be taking a short break after every book. This time we’ll be only taking a shorter break since I feel that Book 5 and Book 4 are somewhat connected. The next chap will be posted within a few days!

Chapter 110

Hengzhou was the old capital of the former Wei Dynasty. Before Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei moved capitals, the Wei Dynasty’s capital was located here.

Although it was an old capital, it remained as the place that Emperors of a few generations had lived in before. As an old abode of Emperors, the essence of the dragon remained; thus, even though it cannot compare to the adjacent flourishing city of Luoyang, it was still considered a big city on its own.

If one were to travel north, after leaving the city and excluding the main road, flora filled the path and formed forests. During midsummer, an air of elegance warped themselves around leaves as they swayed in the breeze.

At the foot of the mountain next to the main road, there was a teahouse. A few bamboos supported a roof made of hay and a few mats made of cattail, without even a table, it was only meant for passing woodcutters and hunters to stop for a short rest once they entered the mountain.

On usual days it was difficult to even see a few presences, yet right now four people sat there, occupying all the cattail mats. It made the woodcutter at loss of what to do, and he wanted to take a detour around it to pass through but was called after.

“Mister, please stop!”

The Zuoyue guard took a step forward and passed a bowl of hot tea. Both the hot tea and the bowl were bought along the way from the city. Cui Buqu was determined not to waste money on extravagance, so he had refused to use them on purchasing new bowls. Thus, the money used to purchase them naturally came from Feng Xiao.

The woodcutter accepted the bowl and asked curiously, “Are the few of you intending to enter the mountain?”

He looked at those few people who wore clothing that looked better than others, thus he thought that they were from prestigious families who travelled out for sightseeing, so he conveniently added a warning, “The colour of the sky does not look good. It seems like a windy rain is coming. I suggest the lot of you enter the mountain after some time has passed.”

The Zuoyue guard laughed and said, “Many thanks to the warning. We wanted to ask if a Tiannan Mountain exists around this place?”

Originally, the woodcutter nodded his head, but suddenly he said, “There is indeed such a mountain. Us locals usually call it the Ruyi Mountain, but I’ve heard it has another name—Tian-something. I heard of it from a scholar back in the county, but I do not recall it. Not sure if it’s the one you people are talking about.”

Zuoyue guard, “Then where is that mountain?”

The woodcutter pointed at the front, “There, it’s just over there!”

Everyone turned to look, and certainly, the peak of a mountain stood right ahead after the slant of the peak in front of them. It was much taller than the one before it, like beads of abacuses standing up, its highlands surrounded by mist and clouds as if there were hidden immortals within them.

Feng Xiao looked at Cui Buqu.

The latter shook his head, meaning that even he himself could not be certain for sure. After the woodcutter finished speaking, he watched the others rising to their feet and bidding him farewell before heading towards the mountain. The woodcutter couldn’t help but warned again, “When the wind and rain comes, the road will be slippery, it is not a matter to be taken lightly.”

Feng Xiao smiled and said, “So we need to hurry up the mountain before the rain comes, many thanks.”

He waved his fan and took the lead, while the two Zuoyue guards stood in front and behind Cui Buqu each, guarding him. It was impossible to drive a horse carriage here. Cui Buqu held a bamboo stick in his hand and followed after Feng Xiao as they walked step by step up the mountain’s path, although his footsteps were much slower.

As the woodcutter watched their backs and how they refused to heed his advice, he couldn’t help shaking his head and sigh, ‘Young people these days’, before he carried his axe and basket and left for another mountain.

He didn’t know that on the other side, Feng Xiao also asked Cui Buqu.

“Dark clouds gathered at the peak. Are you sure that there won’t be any rain today?”

Cui Buqu lifted his eyelids, but too lazy to lift his head, “The rain won’t hail here.”

It hadn’t taken long before he finished when a windstorm arose. Cui Buqu was standing just at the turning. His foothold was unstable and he was practically blown down.

Before the Zuoyue guard could reach out, Feng Xiao already caught Cui Buqu’s shoulder and pulled him back to his original standing. He didn’t refrain himself from jeering, “From the way I see it, you should wait at the bottom of the mountain. How burdensome!”

Cui Buqu did not pay him any attention, he only raised his head and squinted at him for a long time before pointing at somewhere. “Let us go there and take a look.”

Dark clouds were blown to the adjacent mountain’s peak; from the east, the sun rose and from the west, the rain fell. Atop their head was completely sunny.

Feng Xiao didn’t know how Cui Buqu managed to cultivate such a skill, being able to identify something simply from standing afar. However, when they were going through untold hardships climbing up the mountain— mainly Cui Buqu enduring the most, for right now his face was pale like paper, and with every step, he needed to stop a while for rest; Feng Xiao even had a feeling that the other would be shattered by the blowing of wind in the next moment—everyone noticed that under the shade of a verdant and luxuriant tree, the entrance of a cave peaked out. It looked deep and dark; even with the glaring sunlight from the outside, it could not even penetrate into the darkness within.

The clue Yuan Sansi gave had been from many years before. The forest surrounding it was denser compared to the one in the picture. No matter how one looked at it, it was difficult to determine whether this place was the treasure stove of the former dynasty that Yuan Sansi had mentioned.

Feng Xiao asked curiously, “How did you recognize it?”

“The contour of the landscape was unique.” Cui Buqu tapped the landscape on the picture, before pointing at their feet, “Additionally, did you notice that this mountain was obviously steep, but on our way up, the journey was smooth and we didn’t encounter any dangers.”

Feng Xiao added, “You almost falling down aside.”

Cui Buqu listened but paid it no attention and continued, “On my way up just now, I realized that the tracks of that year were still retained on the stone path. This proved that a path up here once existed in order to make it convenient for the soldiers and craftsmen to transport materials for construction.” He allowed the Zuoyue guards to move the adjacent rock away and cut away a few grass blades in the entrance of the mountain, before reaching out with a leg to wipe away some sand, and truly, some scratches were uncovered.

These scratches were definitely not done by blowing wind or beating rain.

Feng Xiao knelt and used fingers to gloss over it, “The scratches are neat. They should be left behind by dragging something across the ground.”

Cui Buqu raised his gaze to study their surroundings, “They must have been looking for very long before they found such a place. This place is situated halfway up the mountain and the landscape around it is flat. All the tools were delivered from the foot of the mountain, inside is fully furnished, and grasses and trees grew aplenty outside, it would not be easily discovered. Even if woodcutters and hunters passed by, they would not enter just out of curiosity, even if they entered—“

He waited for a while, “They most likely wouldn’t be coming out.”

Feng Xiao raised a brow, “Are you certain entering inside such a small place will lead us to the treasure stove of a former dynasty? Even if it was true, with such a small cave entrance, how would those armours be brought out? Could it be that the Wei Dynasty never thought about this in the first place, and Yuan Sansi was misleading you?”

Cui Buqu shook his head, “Yuan Sansi’s background is something I’ve sent people to investigate for a long time. It is impossible to be mistaken. Something is definitely down there. We should go and take a look first before saying anything.”

The Zuoyue guard opened the way. Cui Buqu rolled up his sleeve wanting to go down, yet his wrist was caught by Feng Xiao.

The other man shot him a glance, behind it lurked unknown meanings,
“You can just wait outside. For a sickly man like yourself to go in, do you want me to go through all that trouble saving you?”

Cui Buqu sighed, “Did you think I would be willing to add to the trouble going down? There are definitely booby traps below. Although I am not completely familiar, I know a thing or two. Without me, I fear that even if your martial arts are unsurpassed, it would be very difficult to escape completely unharmed.”

Feng Xiao very quickly returned to his usual casual and playful façade and edged closer to him, “Master Taoist Cui, are you just being concerned for me?”

Cui Buqu replied blandly, “That is right. After all, Commander Feng is crucial to our safety on the returning journey.”

The Zuoyue guards have vanished within the cave, thus he didn’t say more but followed and entered.

As soon as he entered, dark and dense energy surrounded them from all eight cardinal directions, as if they’ve entered another world.
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