For chapters that I have done final edits on, it's stated on the chapter itself. Feel free to reread or not, lol.
[Chapter 21 - Wooden small box] Let me help you to put on a disguise
On the early morning of the second day, just as Chu Yuan woke up, eunuch Si Xi sent in a piping hot breakfast, stating that it was bought by Xi Nan King from outside personally, they are all mild flavors.
"Is there someone holding a funeral outside?" Chu Yuan's brows are lightly creased.
"Reply to Your Majesty, the locals of this city raised money, and hired a master to conduct a ritual for the elderly who passed away." Eunuch Si Xi replied, "Although the charity hall is sealed, and the deceased can't be buried and be at rest for now, but reading section of the scripture from the street outside, that's also the intention of everybody."
Duan Bai Yue, carrying a bag of pastries, walked in.
Eunuch Si Xi discreetly retreated outside.
"Is your nose alright now?" Duan Bai Yue asked.
Chu Yuan nodded, pulling out the chair and sitting by the table.
"I didn't buy this just now, try it while it's hot." Duan Bai Yue opened the paper wrapping, "Fried dumpling, with the regional specialty of dried fish."
Chu Yuan frowned: "It's fishy."
"You have not eaten it yet, how do you know it's fishy." Duan Bai Yue poured some vinegar into the small saucer in front of him, picked up a dumpling in between his chopsticks and dipped into it, "Try it."
Chu Yuan bit a mouthful; plump and juicy, exceptionally delicious.
"How is it?" Duan Bai Yue asked.
Chu Yuan put down the chopsticks, avoiding his line of sight and looked outside: "It's still fishy."
Duan Bai Yue laughed while shaking his head, and passed him a bowl of vegetable porridge.
"The bodies from the charity hall, can anything else be examined from there?" Chu Yuan bit into another fried dumpling.
"We're still eating, do you really want to talk about the corpses?" Duan Bai Yue felt ridiculous.
Chu Yuan said: "I want to."
"Those corpses should be infected with insects after their deaths, gu chong nibbled away and change the shape of the skeletons, and with the raging inferno, even if it's an experienced coroner, they may not be able to see that the deceased are all young men." Duan Bai Yue said, "As for Sun Man's body, it was fabricated using gu chong by force when he was almost at death's door, so it was different from the other bodies; it can't be easily detected at a glance, but with close examination, some clues can still be found.
Chu Yuan firmly placed his chopsticks down, not wanting to eat anymore.
Duan Bai Yue, grudgingly: "I should have let you finish the meal."
"Are you able to see where the corpses come from?" Chu Yuan continued asking.
"The damage is too severe." Duan Bai Yue answered: "My men has already went to check; the common grave(1) doesn't have any traces of being disturbed, and there's no news of missing people or tombs that were dug up."
"Then the bodies must have been transported from somewhere else, in order to switch away the elderly in the charity hall secretly." Chu Yuan said, "Normally the charity hall only has twenty five people, thus the murderer only prepared twenty five bodies. Who would have known that on the night when they acted, there was one more person; in a moment of desperation to cover up their carelessness, they went to the streets to snatch someone, and met with Sun Man who was going to a secret rendezvous, and thus murdered him.
Duan Bai Yue nodded: "Large goods often come and go here, transporting the bodies into the city can't be difficult, but twenty six living person are unlike the others, to leave the city will take some effort. And after the great fire, the entrance to the city is heavily guarded, even a mosquito can't fly out; inferring from this, the elderly from the charity hall are most likely still hidden in the city."
"What's the purpose?" Chu Yuan's brows creased slightly.
"The people staying in the charity hall, are all old woodworkers." Duan Bai Yue knocked on the table, reminding, "Mu Zhi Lao Ren is also an old woodworker."
Chu Yuan asked: "Tian Sha sect?"
Duan Bai Yue nodded: "Kidnapping such a number of old wood workers, I'm afraid that Lan Ji wants to open some old traps."
"Why act now?" Chu Yuan said, "They obviously know that we are in Da Yan, even if she has kidnapped them, it's difficult to bring them out too."
"In order to intimidate Xi Zhi Qiu." Duan Bai Yue said, "If you're not here, then he is the most powerful man in this city; the demonic sect may not necessarily be able to threaten him. But now if anything unusual happens, he will also tremble with fear; if Lan Ju wants to make use of and entice him, this would be the best opportunity."
"It's truly a pity about the lifelong loyalty of Official Xu." Chu Yuan shook his head, "For the son to fail to live up to expectations like this."
"Now the truth is not yet revealed, it's still premature to say this." Duan Bai Yue said, "As for the bodies from the charity hall, let them be buried and be at rest tomorrow, it will also let Lan Ji relax her guard, thinking that we didn't find out anything."
Chu Yuan nodded: "Good."
"The matter about the deceased are finished, do you still wish to go to the study of Xu manor tonight?" Duan Bai Yue asked.
Chu Yuan replied: "Yes."
Duan Bai Yue smiled: "Then sleep for a while more in the afternoon, so that you have energy to stay up all night to investigate."
Seeing at the faint bruises under his eyes, Chu Yun wanted to say something but hesitated; in the end he only lowered his head and ate a mouthful of porridge.
Rushing to Da Yan without sleep or rest, then encountering the fire at the charity hall right after; thinking about it, he only slept for a few hours last night, and yet went out in the early morning to buy breakfast, and even bought it twice. And upon thinking about this, although Chu Yuan still has no appetite due to the discussion of the bodies, he still finished a plate of dumplings and a bowl of porridge, before going to the study to handle government affairs.
After he left, just as Duan Bai Yue wanted to return to the inn and take a look, eunuch Si come in, saying that the emperor has left instructions; if Xi Nan King has nothing to do, might as well rest at the relay station for the afternoon, and don't run all over the place again.
Duan Bai Yue laughed silently: "Don't run all over the place again?"
Eunuch Si Xi also laughed, hands in his sleeves: "The verbal order from the emperor is indeed this."
Duan Bai Yue gladly agreed, or simply put...it's exactly what he wanted.
The past few days had truly been tiring, thus not long after his head touched the pillow, Duan Bai Yue already fell into a deep sleep. It's extremely quiet outside, don't talk about people, even a mouse will not be able to come in. A group of imperial guards surrounded the courtyard, bewilderment in their hearts; the emperor is obviously in the study, why were they ordered to guard this empty courtyard, could it be that something precious is hidden inside.
A vivid twilight; when Chu Yuan had just returned to his residence from the study, eunuch Si Xi said that Xi Nan King has been sleeping throughout, and didn't eat anything at all.
Duan Bai Yue, lying on the bed, leisurely listening to the sounds outside, the corners of his mouth lifted. He's a martial arts practitioner, and, as expected, has woken up when the doors of the courtyard creaked; yet he didn't make a sound, only waiting for that person to come in and call him.
A moment later, someone indeed opened the door.
Duan Bai Yue turned his head, and saw eunuch Si Xi walk in.
Duan Bai Yue calmly withdrew his line of sight, continuing to stare at the roof of the bed.
"The emperor is still waiting to have dinner with the king." Eunuch Si XI stood by the bedside, a hint of smile in his eyes. This time he didn't call him, but maybe next time he will; after all, the temper of the emperor, no one can predict it; he must not be discouraged by all means.
The dishes on the table are still as bland; moreover even the jars of salt and chili were put away.
Duan Bai Yue looked at the big bowl of vegetarian fried rice in front of him, a placid smile on his face.
Chu Yuan ate, minding his own business.
"There are wild mushrooms from the mountains added in, and the soup is from a fresh pot, it's nutritious." Eunuch Si Xi attended to them by the table.
"Very good." Duan Bai Yue picked up his chopsticks, bravely swallowing a mouthful.
It's expectedly bland, but it's really very good.
Just for that one sentence "The emperor has specially instructed for cook mildly, it's afraid he's still worrying about the king's internal injury."
Don't talk about food without oil or salt, even if it's scorpion, poisonous insects or bitter medicine, it's afraid he will can eat it without a change in his expression.
The study of the Xu manor is as before, it's obvious that Xu Zhi Qiu didn't find out that it was intruded. This time Duan Bai Yue used a translucent muslin pouch to contain a night pearl, even though there's no moonlight, it's still enough to slightly illuminate the place.
Chu Yuan, head lowered, rapidly copied the account books, Duan Bai Yue guarding by his side, his eyes not leaving the side of his face for even a moment. It's rumored that the past Empress of Chu had exceptional looks; it does seem to be supported -- or else how can such a handsome and outstanding emperor be born.
"Done." Chu Yuan blew dry the ink, and put everything back into its place, "Let's go."
To be honest, Duan Bai Yue is a little unwilling to leave just like this.
But Chu Yuan has already went out the door.
Duan Bai Yue sighed internally, following behind him.
"The weather is dry, be careful of fires!" On the main street, a night watchman walked past.
It's empty and spacious all around, Duan Bai Yue grabbed the wrist of the person beside him, landing in a small courtyard.
"Mister..." A constant stream of obscene sounds traveled to their ears, two brilliantly red lanterns hung high up on the eaves of the building; it's a brothel.
Duan Bai Yue: "......"
Chu Yuan first stared blankly, then angrily shook him off his hand, returned to the relay station alone, and locked the bedroom door without turning his head back even once.
Eunuch Si Xi bumped into a nose full of dust, asking quietly: "Why is the emperor angry?"
Duan Bai Yue answered with the same quiet voice: "Because he found the crimes of Xu Zhi Qiu."
Eunuch Si Xi had a moment of realization: "So it's like this."
Looking at the tightly closed door, Duan Bai Yue got Si Xi to go back and rest, himself sitting on the steps, looking at the moon.
The sky slowly brightened; Chu Yuan placed the accounts that have been tidied up to one side, exhaling a long sigh.
At least this night wasn't a waste.
Outside the door, Duan Bai Yue is breaking off pieces of insects, feeding a spider; it looks to be the size of the fist of an adult man, the alternating black and white colors is slightly terrifying.
Chu Yuan saw this scene upon opening the door, and so his expression froze.
Duan Bai Yue: "......"
Chu Yuan asked: "What is this creature?"
"Don't know." Duan Bai Yue stood up, sweeping the spider to a corner of the wall, his tone casual, "Picked up from the courtyard just now."
The white headed spider, dizzy and oriented, obviously not understanding at all why halfway through its meal, it was thrown into the bushes by its master.
"What do you wish to eat?" Duan Bai Yue asked, "I will go and buy."
"The symbols in the accounts seem to all have some sort of pattern." Chu Yuan said, "As long as the approach is found, it's not that hard to understand."
"So?" Duan Bai Yue tried asking.
"Although only a few pages were copied, but just relying on the amount on these few pages of the accounts, it's enough to prove that Xu Zhi Qiu has not only greed, but extreme greed." Chu Yuan said.
"This doesn't seem justifiable." Duan Bai Yue shook his head, "Greed must also have a way, just what shady business is he doing secretly, to have the capability to rake in such wealth inconspicuously, even the locals didn't sense anything wrong."
Chu Yuan sat on the steps with a frown, visibly unable to make sense of this.
"Even if the answer can't be found in a short while, meals must still be eaten." Duan Bai Yue said, "Or else you're not the emperor, but an immortal."
"Think of a way, force Xu Zi Qiu reveal his true nature himself." Chu Yuan said.
Duan Bai Yue nodded: "Yes."
Chu Yuan felt it's laughable: "You're saying yes so easily?"
"Tasks that I have agreed to, I will find a way to accomplish it." Duan Bai Yue sat by his side, "But there's one condition."
Chu Yuan's expression froze, turned his head and looked at him.
Duan Bai Yue raised an eyebrow: "Xi Nan manor is never on the losing side."
"What do you want this time?" Chu Yuan's expression became distant, his tone also turning slightly colder, "The entire Xi Nan, it's all King Duan's nowadays."
Duan Bai Yue smiled, rose up and walked out of the courtyard.
Eunuch Si Xi passed by him, and wanted to greet him with a smile, but out of the corner of his eyes he saw Chu Yuan's look, and thus hurried to lower his head and bow, not daring to say another word.
Everywhere is a scene of tranquility; the white headed spider carefully climbed over, continuing to finish the insect dregs that were dropped on the floor previously, and even had to constantly be on the edge, afraid that it will be stepped on.
Eunuch Si Xi stood by the side, worry inside his heart, the emperor and Xi Nan king was alright before, after just a night's time, just what had happened.
After the passing of around half an hour, Chu Yuan stood up and wanted to return to his room, but Duan Bai Yue jumped down from the walls of the courtyard.
"Does King Duan still have matters?" Chu Yuan avoid his eyes.
"Braised chicken, just bought." Duan Bai Yue held onto his wrist, bringing him into the room and closing the door, some laughter in his voice, "Finish eating this peacefully, and I will promise to help you."
Chu Yuan: "......."
Eunuch Si Xi held his breath and with rapt attention, listened from outside with a bent waist.
Duan Bai Yue washed his hands, opened the paper wrapping and tore off a chicken drumstick; plump, tender and golden, and even is dripping with gravy; it looks quite appealing.
Chu Yuan hesitated a moment, then said: "This is your so called condition?"
"What else?" Duan Bai Yue passed the drumstick to him: "Eating three days' of vegetarian noodles, the one in the know says it's the emperor, the one who doesn't know will think it's a monk."
Chu Yuan: "........"
Duan Bai Yue also had a bite of meat, saying with a sigh: "Having to be on the move the entire day, I reckon that tonight when I come back it's again a bowl of vegetables and noodles, at least mix in some oil first."
Chu Yuan is between laughter and tears; wiping his oily fingers, he peeled a braised egg to eat.
Upon hearing the two people in the room starting to chat again, eunuch Si Xi finally relaxed, continuing to stand out, leisurely looking at the clouds with his hands in his sleeves.
After a day, rumors spread in the city again, saying that the emperor is not happy with the Xu magistrate, guessing that orders will be passed down not long after, removing him from the post and recalling him back to the capital.
And some also said, it doesn't seem to be as simple as just sacking him from the post; and yet when bystanders asked for the reason, no one is able to answer.
And some even said, this time it's not just Magistrate Xu, even Lord Xu in the capital may also be involved.
Rumors flew everywhere in a short time; people talked about infinite possibilities; naturally this has also travel to the ear of Xu Zhi Qiu.
Thus he became increasingly anxious, everyday seemingly as if a mouse that has seen a cat; even meals are left uneaten, terrified that he will be called on by the emperor.
This afternoon, a handcart full of firewood went in from the back door of the magistrate office, the people accompanying it are all helping to unload cargo in the warehouse, and yet there's a small and thin man, directly rushing to the rear court.
Duan Bai Yue got down from the tree, following behind him without a sound.
"You dare to come now?" Xu Zhi Qiu is writing a letter in the study, and had his mouth covered by someone from behind suddenly; he immediately turned pale with fright.
"There is no need for lord to worry." The villager who sent in wood released his pressure points; a melodious voice, it's actually a woman in disguise.
"In this city now, imperial guards are everywher!" Xu Zhi Qiu stomped his feet repeatedly.
"Lord also knows this is a time of crisis." The woman sneered, "Even a three year old child is also saying, that the emperor is discontented with the lord's political record; there's no use merely worrying, only if you agree to sect leader's request, then you protect your wu sha mao(2)."
"The emperor is still in the city, what is there that cannot be said later?" Xu Zhi Qiu lowered his voice, clenching his teeth.
"If the emperor is not around, I'm afraid that this lord is also not willing to be controlled by others." The woman said, "If the lord understands, then hand over the mountain of gold in your private warehouse obediently, then sect leader won't make things more difficult for you."
Duan Bai Yue frowned slightly upon hearing this; in the morning he was still saying that this person is very greedy, but he didn't expect that he could be so greedy till there's a mountain of gold; he can't help but think that it's a bit too outrageous.
Xu Zhi Qiu's face alternated between white and red for a while, then sat on the chair with an ashen face.
"Lord is truly so obstinate." Seeing him like this, the women clicked her tongue and shook her head, "As long as Qiu Feng(3) village is still around, there's no need to worry about the lord's private warehouse being empty of taels; this time there's none, simply earn it back the second time; With the green hill remaining, why be afraid that there will be no firewood?"
"Shut up!" Upon hearing the three words 'Qiu Feng Village', Xu Zhi Qiu visibly become more anxious.
"It's best for lord to think about it once more, my sect leader is not a patient person." The women finished talking and left. Duan Nian who has been keeping watch over the study of Xu manor, got an order from Duan Bai Yue, also following the woman out of the manor to find out what's happening.
Duan Bai Yue returned to the relay station first instead.
"Qiu Feng village?" Chu Yuan said, "With a quick horse, it can be reached with an hour's time. After all, the land of Da Yan is limited, and thus some bigger roof beams and carriages, are all built in Qiu Feng village first, then sent in and put together in the city's shop, finally sold to everywhere else in Chu through Yan Shui river(5)."
"Want to go and take a look?" Duan Bai Yue said, "Hearing the conversation between the two of them, Xu Zhi Qiu's funny business should be there."
Chu Yuan nodded, and said: "If we are found out?"
"Just a disguise will do." Duan Bai Yue said easily.
Chu Yuan: "......."
He learnt martial arts from young, but had never learnt how to put on disguises.
Duan Bai Yue said: "The people of Xi Nan manor, each and every one is an expert at disguise."
Chu Yuan could only sit on the chair, letting him apply makeup on his face. His fingertips feel soft and slightly cold; the corners of Duan Bai Yue turned up, his thumb rubbing the side of his face.
Chu Yuan really wants to chase him out with a beating.
Duan Bai Yue got closer and closer, his expression focused.
Chu Yuan couldn't stand it and retreated and hid, but there's nowhere to hide; in the end, he was almost stuck onto the wall.
Duan Bai Yue gently lifted his chin.
Eunuch Si Xi accidentally saw it between the window gaps, quickly turning and facing his back towards back, indicating that he really didn't see anything.
The distance between the two of them is extremely close, so close till the the tip of their noses are almost touching each other.
Feeling the hot breath of the other person, Chu Yuan finally couldn't tolerate it anymore, pushing him away.
Duan Bai Yue, puzzlement in his eyes: "Emperor Chu, what's the meaning of this?"
Chu Yuan wiped his face, and said with clenched teeth: "We are not going, this matter can simply be handed to Xiang Lie."
"It's already done, if we don't go, won't I have wasted my efforts?" Duan Bai Yue placed a bronze mirror in front of him, "Satisfied?"
The person in the mirror has mediocre features and a dull expression, and some spots; one look and he looks like a businessman from outside.
"Still, let's go and take a look, there's nothing to do in the relay station anyway." Duan Bai Yue picked up another mask; very quickly he stuck it on his face.
Chu Yuan frowned.
Duan Bai Yue calmly explained: "When in Jiang Hu, I frequently disguise myself, of course I will be more familiar with it."
Chu Yuan: "......."
"Let's go." Duan Bai Yue muttered to himself, "Qiu Feng village, it sounds like a good place."
Merchants frequently come to see goods, hence suddenly seeing two outsiders, no one would find it unusual either.
Kids are playing noisily on the embankments of the field; Along the way, Duan Bai Yue plucked a string of red flowers from the roadside, pulling out the stamen: "Want to eat?"
"Eat?" Chu Yuan frowned.
"It's sweet." Duan Bai Yue said.
Chu Yuan directly rejected it. He's the emperor; if he was like a kid from an average family, stuffing anything he can get his hands on, it's afraid he can't live till now.
"With me here, no one can harm you." Seemingly having seen through his issues, Duan Bai Yue smiled, "This is called Deng Long Xin(6), it's everywhere in Xi Nan."
Chu Yuan pretended not to hear, quickening his pace, walking towards the nearby village.
Since their livelihood is wood working, the signboard of Qiu Feng village is more elaborate than the usual ones. In the small yard on both sides of the road, men are cutting wood while their wives are weaving cloth; quite a significant number of scattered parts are also piled up; they all greeted with a smile upon seeing the both of them, thinking that they're merchants who have come to check and take their goods.
Walking a round around the village, there's still nothing unusual to be seen; every household is sawing wood, making handicrafts, and upon seeing people, they didn't hide either; instead if met with a friendly one, he would even ask them to go in for tea; there really doesn't seem to be any secrets hiding here.
In a farm at the tail-end of the village, a man is sawing wood, dripping with sweat; Duan Bai Yue and Chu Yuan walked over together, asking if he has a bowl of tea to drink.
"Of course." The man put the handicraft in his hands, and quickly brought out tea from the house, "These two, are you here to check out goods?"
"Yes." Duan Bai Yue nodded, "We want to order a batch of carriage wheels, seeing that this big brother's yard seems to have quite a lot of parts, so we came in to ask."
"Buying goods, you'll have to order it from the shops in Da Yan city." The man said, "These are all just parts, every household is in charge of different parts, in the end the builders are all in the city."
"I see." Duan Bai Yue suddenly understood, "Then this big brother only makes this carriage wheel?"
"And table legs and wooden boxes." The man wiped his sweat.
"Wooden boxes?" Duan Bai Yue asked, "To store jewelry?"
"I don't know about this, everyone in the village are all wood workers, and don't know what is good to sell outside. The shops in the city pass the blueprints to us, then we simply make it accordingly." The man said.
"Looks to be a bit big, and doesn't seem to be something a woman will like." Duan Bai Yue picked up a wooden box, "This big brother's skills are this adept, I think you have must done it for a long time."
"My forefathers made carriage wheels, as for this wooden box, I only started a few years ago, but it's the best selling item." Probably because few people come here usually, the man began to talk more, saying with a smile, "At least two hundred plus boxes are sent out every month."
"It seems very elaborate, can I bring one with me?" Duan Bai Yue asked.
"That's out of question." The man had a difficult expression, "Landlord Wu said before, this wooden box cannot be given to outsiders, no matter they offer."
"So it's like this." Duan Bai Yue apologized, "I was reckless."
"It's nothing, this guest is too courteous." The man waved his hand, "If it was mine, you can bring however many you want, but the superiors really do not allow it. If this guest really wants it, simply go to Wu family dealership to ask about it; after I finish with these, they're all to be sent to the dealership."
Duan Bai Yue nodded: "Many thanks."
The two of them sat for a while, leaving the village after finishing their tea, returning slowly through a small road.
"That wooden box just now, is there anything unusual?" Chu Yuan asked.
"Can't be considered unusual, but it really doesn't seem like a daily household item." Duan Bai Yue said, "Since it's bulky and not nice looking, and can't contain many things, it's more usual for it to not sell."
"We will know once we go to the city." Chu Yuan said, "Wu dealership is not far from the relay station, I have seen it before, their business seems to be not bad."
Duan Bai Yue nodded, and returned to Da Yan city with him.
(1) common grave: 乱葬岗 - lit. disorderly burial mound, a cemetery that's not taken care of, especially in times of mass epidemics or war, where there's too many bodies so burial is done without care, leading to wild fauna and bleached bones everywhere.
(2) wu sha mao: 乌纱帽 - black silk hat, the hat is worn by government officials.
(3) Qiu Feng: 秋风 - lit. autumn wind
(4) with the green hill remaining, why be afraid that there will be no firewood?: 留得青山在，还怕没柴烧不成 - Since the hill is still green ie. has trees, there's no need to be afraid that one cannot find firewood.
(5) Yan Shui river: 雁水河 - lit. wild goose water river.
(6) Deng Long Xin: 灯笼芯 - lit. lantern core.
Let me know if there's any mistakes!