After a long silence, the citizens started whispering among themselves. Pressured to do something, Meng Fuyao used a hand to cover part of her face and the other hand to clap the gavel onto the table. Then, she cleared her throat and called out, "Who are you and why have you come?"
She sneaked glances at Yuan Zhaoxu, unsure of what game he was trying to play as he simply smiled and answered slowly, "Sir..."
Meng Fuyao shuddered.
Not retreating, Yuan Zhaoxu lifted his robe sleeve in preparation to get down on his knees.
Meng Fuyao leaped from her seat, wanting to stop him but his movement turned out to be a false alarm. He had simply bent his knees a little and straightened them right up. He smacked his head, laughing. "Oh no, Sir, I've forgotten about my scholarly position. There's no need for me to kneel."
Meng Fuyao glared at him, mouth twitching, all guilty conscience vaporizing into the air. What's there to feel guilty about? 'This fellow isn't even willing to give in at all and will come for me eventually. Why should I feel bad, then?'
She straightened her back, slapping the gavel on the table again but more viciously this time. "Report what you have to now!" she shouted.
Smilingly, Yuan Zhaoxu retrieved a silk fabric from his robe. Yao Xun, the ad hoc master, stepped forward to receive it. Upon lifting the fabric and seeing what was inside, he pursed his lips, attempting not to laugh and then sending it forward with small steps.
Meng Fuyao took it over suspiciously. 'Does he really have something to report?'
She opened the folded fabric and saw in it a full set of fish bones.
As Meng Fuyao stared at it with a blackened face, she immediately recognized it as the bones she had spat out on Green Pearl Mountain.
Hadn't she thrown it away? How did he get it back?
What a unique 'report paper'...
Before she could organize her thoughts, she heard the man below saying, neither slow nor fast, "I, Yuan Zhaoxu, am here to report a citizen of Taiyuan Nation for causing trouble and abandoning the scene, always acting against my wishes, lacking in emotions and loyalty, being fickle..."
Meng Fuyao was about to spurt blood.
'What is he yapping on about?'
'Mister Yuan Zhaoxu, we're in an official court, under the jurisdiction of Yaocheng, Wuji. How dare you say such things?'
'I... cause trouble and abandon the scene, act against your wishes, lack emotions and loyalty, am fickle?'
Her fingers were trembling, and she almost failed to stop herself from throwing the fishbones at him. They were in a court after all, and she had an image to maintain. Nevertheless, she couldn't help the redness that exploded in her face. She shot Yuan Zhaoxu a death glare, but he had on that usual honorable expression of his, as the white fluff sat unashamedly on his shoulder.
Meng Fuyao lowered her voice and said sternly, "This report paper doesn't seem to fit the rules."
"Is it? Yuan Zhaoxu asked with a slight smile. Pointing at his silk fabric, he continued, "Show it to the audience, Sir. I do think it's appropriate to be used here. I have even placed a love token inside as proof."
Gossiping was an instinctive behavior that did not discriminate. Upon hearing the words "love token", the citizens broke into a loud discussion and started nudging their way forward in order to have a closer look at the treasure concealed within the silk fabric. Sir Meng stared at the fish bones, about to break down. 'Alright... love token.'
She hurriedly wrapped the bones, while conveniently smashing them in her hand. "You're making sense, and I have verified it. Since it has come to this, I'll take on your case, but you're reporting a Taiyuan citizen in Wuji border, which means it's not under my administration. It's better if you report the case to Taiyuan court."
Having said that, she immediately felt satisfied and confident that he would have nothing more to add. She shifted her bum and got ready to end the court session when the man before her smiled again.
Her hair stood up, and she quickly settled back into her seat. He had more to say indeed. "Sir, this lady might be a citizen of Taiyuan, but she enjoys roaming about. In fact, she's hiding within Wuji borders now, in Yaocheng to be exact. She's a con-artist who violates people's modesty and is after people's wealth. I can't be sure that she wouldn't harm anyone else after poisoning me with tea. Please seek her out and bring justice back."
"After people's wea... wealth... violates... modesty..." Sir Meng stuttered. "What wealth.... What modesty..."
"She stole a strand of fur that belonged to my pet. It's not just any ordinary fur, and each strand is worth a lot." Yuan Zhaoxu expanded on his point, which excited the attention of his valuable pet which then turned his body around.
"As for modesty..." Yuan Zhaoxu trailed off, his long eyelashes drooping down but not concealing the light in his glistening eyes. "I can't say it here, but you should understand, Sir."
'Shameless. Beyond shameless. This duo is simply too much.' Meng Fuyao was in a quandary, but after some time she sprung up from her chair and slammed the gavel, shouting, "Because this case is unique and personal, this trial will not be publicized. Men, close the door and release the dogs."
The doors closed, shutting out hundreds of citizens' inquisitive gaze. Some even attempted to peek through the gap at the bottom of the door, suspecting that the new sir and strange victim were committing adultery. Meng Fuyao then ordered her men to splash water through the gaps, effectively chasing the gossipers away.
Following which, Sir Meng got rid of Yao Xun, who was giggling away, and Xiao Dao, who was watching the show with big bright eyes. Finally, she lay paralyzed on her seat, crying out, "Alright... Mister Yuan, Lord Yuan, Grandfather Yuan, please. Stop playing me alright?"
Yuan Zhaoxu approached her slowly before leaning forward. "Don't you look great, Mayor? Looks like you've been leading a comfortable life here."
"That's not true," Meng Fuyao responded weakly. "I'm repenting for my sin."
Light flashed across Yuan Zhaoxu's eyes. Surprised that she was so quick to cede, he smiled. The girl before him was ruthless on the outside but righteous on the inside. Why else would she step down from guilt? He hadn't expected such a confrontation-free reaction from her.
Before others, Meng Fuyao wasn't an easy one to deal with.
In a good mood, Yuan Zhaoxu patted her shoulder, asking, "Aren't you planning to receive your old friend, who has traveled so far to get here, Mayor?"
"Oh," Meng Fuyao uttered before forcing herself off the chair. "Not much space left. Mind squeezing with Zong Yue?"
"He's gone to Suishui," Yuan Zhaoxu answered absent-mindedly. "Invited over to treat King De's illness."
Meng Fuyao turned to stare at him. "You and him... what kind of relationship do you two share?"
"Friends with complementing interests, which means we can easily become enemies when our interests start clashing one day," Yuan Zhaoxu shared straightforwardly.
"You have a lot of time," Meng Fuyao continued probing, her eyes fixated on him. "Can the crown prince's advisors run about so freely?"
"The crown prince has sent me here to supervise the army. I'm on a work trip." Yuan Zhaoxu smiled. "What else would you like to know?"
"I also want to know how black your heart is, and in your stomach, how many..." Meng Fuyao murmured.
Pretending not to hear, he simply followed her into the back hall and walked leisurely through the mini garden. The weather in the southern border was warm and moist, and the garden was filled with winter bougainvillea, whose bracts were massive, and petals were of a brilliant purple and red. They way these bloomed flowers spread added a kind of intense beauty to the garden.
Far away, the man in light purple robe walked together with a youth in black clothes, their postures both elegant and charming.
Meng Fuyao passed through the clusters of flowers while stroking their silk-like petals, and an indescribable calm took over her heart. Since her arrival in Yaocheng, a series of grueling events had been charging at her like a hurricane, and she had never let her guard down. Now she felt tired, as though a wave of weariness had been roused from deep within her veins, instantly shrouding her body.
She crooked her head and looked at the man beside. Was it him? She had always been able to relax when he was around. She felt, soul-deep, herself being freed, and it was comfortable and peaceful. This man, who was able to affect her emotions... had they really met just a few months ago?
There was a smiling expression in her eyes at this point, as the softness and elegance that she had so often kept hidden was let out for a moment. Yuan Zhaoxu quickly detected it and smiled at her, abruptly bending down to pick a bougainvillea and then removing her official hat, as if about to insert the flower into her hair.
Meng Fuyao blushed, subconsciously leaning forward. All of a sudden, a white light flashed by as a love rival took the chance to scuttle over, his teeth biting on another flower.
'Big red flower... for my owner... ripples... of youth...' Lord Yuan Bao's eyes had been outshined by his big teeth and fluttering snow-white fur as he thought happily about his love for his owner.
The hand holding onto the flower shifted to the side, turning Lord Yuan Bao's vision a sheet of black. A huge object descended from above his head and covered him.
Yuan Zhaoxu had trapped Lord Yuan Bao inside of Meng Fuyao's hat. He then swooped it up and hung it off a tree nearby. Smile returning to his face he carefully placed the flower between her hair strands.
The fiery red flower highlighted the silkiness of her black hair and the resplendence in her big eyes. She was soul-suckingly beautiful.
The soft breeze blew over and a faint fragrance dispersed into their surroundings. Yuan Zhaoxu carefully observed the lady before him, his eyes deep and meaningful, as if an old thought had passed. Sometime later he added, "I still prefer seeing you in a dress."
His tone was drawn out and profound, and Meng Fuyao's heart skipped a beat. Something seemed amiss. Momentarily forgetting about her shyness, she opened her mouth to ask, only to see that he had already turned to walk away. Behind him, Lord Yuan Bao cried for help, unable to get out of her hat.
Meng Fuyao strode over to retrieve her hat, holding it in her hand and swinging it about. Finally, Lord Yuan Bao flew out of it and into his owner's heartless embrace.
"If you're here to supervise the army, shouldn't you be in Suishui? Why have you come?" Meng Fuyao questioned, while effortfully trying to keep up with Yuan Zhaoxu's small but quick steps.
"Isn't Yaocheng on the way?" Yuan Zhaoxu returned a question without turning back. "The Rong and Han people live together in this city. It is a common boundary belonging to the Rong tribe and the locals. The real military ground..." he trailed off, suddenly extending his hand and picking out a small person from behind a tree. "Eh? You like the view here? Especially beautiful?"