On another note, despite already being old enough to marry, Li Hongcheng had yet to do so for unknown reasons.
"I don’t have time to joke around," Li Hongcheng said with a dark expression, "There had been a double murder yesterday in a manor just at the foot of the mountains. Both Wu Bo’an and the second son of the prime minister died."
Fan Xian went pale with shock. "What?"
Li Hongcheng said, "You heard me right. Your future brother-in-law is dead."
Fan Xian, however, wasn’t thinking about such complicated family relationships. This news made him panic somewhat. Wu Bo’an’s death had been within his predictions, but… if this wasn’t the work of Uncle, rather someone trying to eliminate all evidence, the second son of the prime minister wouldn’t have been caught up in it. Fan Xian knew well enough that his status was far below his brother-in-law. Since he and Wu Bo’an died together, could it be that the one who plotted the assassination was…the father-in-law, the prime minister?
Fan Xian didn’t hold much sentiment towards this brother-in-law he had never met. But thinking about it, Fan Xian couldn’t help but be troubled. He calmed himself down and asked, "How did they die?"
Li Hongcheng described the crime scene. Because the manor was relatively secluded, normally a something like this wouldn’t be discovered for a long time. However, on the third day, people came to deliver some orders and discovered the bodies. Because the victims were the son of the prime minister and Wu Bo’an, who had special status, the incident was reported—skipping the government building and Ministry of Justice and going directly to the palace.
King Jing was in the palace today and happened to hear the news. He asked the father-in-law he knew to pass it on to Fan Xian.
This suddenly hit Fan Xian; King Jing should know of his visit today. For King Jing to take the risk to deliver the news meant it must be important for Fan Xian to know. But why? Seeing Fan Xian’s confusion, Li Hongcheng lowered his voice, "The Council is looking for Wu Bo’an because they heard he is related to your assassination attempt. And for him to die at a time like this, people might suspect you."
Fan Xian pretended to be frightened and waved his hand. "I’ve nothing to do with this mess. If the Council couldn’t find him, how could I? If the prime minister believes I did it, how am I supposed to continue living?"
Li Hongcheng was convinced and let out a sigh of relief, "If you really did it, I had to reevaluate my opinions of you; I have to really be on your good side in the future."
Fan Xian and Li Hongcheng had gotten this familiar with each other by now. Fan Xian scolded jokingly, "What a rotten thing to say. I could only pray to heaven that the prime minister wouldn’t link his son’s death to me."
Li Hongcheng reassured him, "That shouldn’t happen. Your words hold a lot of weight. You haven’t been in the capital for too long, and there is no way you could catch someone who eluded even Director Chen. Even if he was caught, he wouldn’t randomly start killing." He looked at Fan Xian seriously, "I believe you. I’m also going to speak to my father on your behalf; I think not even the prime minister would act irrationally."
Fan Xian sighed, "I’m just afraid that the prime minister would want to explain why his son was with Wu Bo’an. You should know that Wu Bo’an is connected to the spy from Northern Qi; he is a confirmed traitor."
Li Hongcheng nodded and spoke with slight worry, "It’s just that the old prime minister lost a son. After suffering such a blow, if he were to be framed by the political enemies for having connections with Wu Bo’an, his life would most likely not be peaceful."
Fan Xian secretly gave the prince a look, thinking, "Aren’t those ‘political enemies’ you and the second prince? Why speak as if this doesn’t involve you?"
Leaving King Jing’s manor on the Fan carriage, Fan Ruoruo noticed her brother had an uneasy expression. Worried, she asked him, "Do you feel unwell? Too much time under the sun?" Fan Sizhe also came over, giving Fan Xian his folding fan.
Fan Xian was a bit irritated and in a foul mood. He spat out, "None of your business!" Only after he said it did he realize it wasn’t appropriate of him. With an uneasy smile, he explained, "Something really complicated came up; I really have to think on it. Don’t worry about me for now."
Once back to the Fan manor, the first thing Fan Xian did was run to his father’s book chamber. Fan Jian was not there; perhaps he had been summoned by the palace.
Fan Xian went back to his room, a bit unsettled. After sitting down at his desk, he discovered the back of his shirt was drenched in sweat. In truth, as soon as he heard Li Hongcheng describe the bodies, Fan Xian knew who the killer was; in this world, no one was more familiar with Wu Zhu’s methods than him.
The night he found out Wu Bo’an’s name, Fan Xian knew the man was as good as dead—however, he did not expect Lin Wan’er’s second older brother to die too.
While no one knew how Wu Zhu found Wu Bo’an, it was regular practice for him to kill whoever plotted against Fan Xian’s life. Wu Zhu was as strong as a grandmaster; in his eyes, he didn’t care if a person was the son of the prime minister. In his eyes, everyone were merely flesh-and-blood bodies. As long as it could bring Fan Xian trouble, no one would was safe from Wu Zhu’s iron stake.
The reason Fan Xian found it unsettling was because, if even King Jing suspected him, what would the prime minister think? He did want to avenge his bodyguards, not to mention Teng Zijing and himself; he also considered the one behind it all could be the prime minister, his future father-in-law. Even if the latter were true, Fan Xian would only kill Wu Bo'an as a warning. The death of Lin Wan’er’s second brother was completely unexpected. The Lin family only had two sons, supposedly the eldest had some problems…
Thinking of Lin Wan’er gave Fan Xian a headache. Even though she grew up in the palace and wasn’t that close with the rest her family, they were still siblings related by blood. That was an indisputable fact.
Fan Xian stood up and circled around his desk a couple times. By the time he focused his eyes, he decided to keep this from Wan’er for the rest of his life; he must never let her know it was his uncle who killed her brother.
Deep in the royal palace, there was only utmost solemnity. However, the room where the one with the most authority in the world resided wasn’t as impressive as the land upon which he ruled. Incense gradually burned down, leaving behind only a pile of ash. The sun, descending eastwards, casted its light through the door, illuminating the floating puffs of willow seeds.
The room floor was paved in pale stone. To either side stood dozens of high-ranking government officials. There was no official court summon today, and this was not the Imperial court, but rather a side palace. The great emperor of Qing wasn’t sitting high up on his dragon throne, but in an ordinary chair.
Today, the emperor was dressed in a casual blue-green outfit. He wore a gold silk belt decorated with dragons, and his jet-black hair was tied back tightly, although a few white strands shown through his sideburns. He sat leisurely on the chair, placing himself lower than the officials standing around him. But somehow, he still retained the same aura as if sitting at the top of the world, looking downwards at his retainers.
The political events had already been discussed. Only some senior and very important officials stayed behind.
Chen Pingping was the first one on the left. Because he was in a wheelchair, he was quite conspicuous. He hung his head, seemingly without much energy, to the point of almost falling asleep. The other officials present all knew he was His Majesty’s number one aide, Director Chen. Due to his insights, he was exempt from the court summons. But this summon for today was mandatory.
The Prime Minister, Lin Ruofu, was the first one on the right. Because of his special circumstances, he too was seated, but on a round stool. Due to his robes being a bit long, he looked somewhat humorous. This notorious man had a nice complexion, his eyes were full of spirit. Only his slightly graying facial hair exposed his true age. He must had been very handsome in his younger days.
Today, his eyes were slightly red, and his lips a bit pale. It appeared that he had been weeping.
"My condolences, Prime Minister," the emperor said gently, his voice reverberating in the room. "You may rest a few days at home, so that you can… bid farewell to your child."
Lin Ruofu stood up and saluted in respect. With a strained voice, he said, "I wouldn’t dare. This was merely about that son of mine; to trouble Your Majesty was already a crime."
The other officials too, offered their words of condolences, saying stuff like you can’t bring the dead back to life, among other things.
Suddenly, Lin Ruofu raised his voice, "Your Majesty, pardon my disrespect, but I ask that Your Majesty seek justice on my behalf, for that dead child!" After saying so, he knelt down. This prime minister normally had a heart of stone, but even he nearly fainted upon hearing about the death of his second son. The old burying the young; how could he withstand such emotional trauma?
The emperor showed the most inconspicuous sign of a smile, but it went unnoticed, since no one dared stare His Majesty in the face. stare at His Majesty in the face, the expression went unnoticed. The emperor showed surprise at the prime minister’s words. "It hasn’t been too long since the young son of Fan household was attacked, and now came another violent crime. Of course, the capital will take care of it, rest assured. I promise to give you an answer… if anyone were to catch the criminal, they are to send them to the Ministry of Justice. If anything couldn’t be worked out, then let Director Chen be in charge of dealing with it.
Although he appeared to be deeply asleep, Chen Pingping opened his eyes and replied with a smile.
There was a flash in Lin Ruofu’s eyes, but only for an instant. He kowtowed to the emperor and didn’t stand back up until the other officials urged him to.
The emperor looked at him calmly. The Qing Kingdom did not place too much importance on such formalities, and the emperor knew it was not easy being the prime minister. Suddenly, he frowned and asked, "There was involvement from Northern Qi in the previous case; that was to stir up the Imperial court. Could this case also involve foreign criminals? Has the security really fallen to such pitiful state? Send down the order, have Bei Sansi do an investigation."
He then scolded harshly, "Chen Pingping, you should be more mindful as the director! Have you forgotten your duties? Your home-visit this time dragged on for an entire month, and it took the death of several people to get you to come back!"
In front of the emperor’s rage, the entire room was quiet.