Chapter 155 : Xiao Shao, the Jealous Lord
In the imperial study, the Emperor observed the young man in front of him with severity. “Zhen wonders when Imperial Grand Tutor Liu first became concerned with Hong’an Junzhu‘s affairs.”
“This subject is simply carrying out his duties. There’s no harm in waiting for a little longer, especially since there are a lot of questions in regards to this case. The Ministry of Justice will continue its investigation for a few more days. A trial in court will increase everyone’s confidence.” Liu Min was neither modest nor arrogant. The young man had never formed cliques for his selfish gain. Even though he was new to the officialdom, he had made great achievements in the imperial court. And even now, he remained dignified and calm when confronted with the Emperor’s inquisitive gaze.
A book landed on Liu Min with a thud, and the Emperor yelled with a stern face. “Zhen is asking when did you become so concerned about Hong’an Junzhu‘s affairs!”
The eyes and ears of the monarch of the realm were everywhere in the palace. Some days, it was inevitable to hear rumours. The Emperor was already displeased with Liu Min, but Liu Min still stood upright, his expression unchanged, and continued to give his response in a quiet voice. “This subject is simply carrying out his duties as a minister. There’s no ulterior motive.”
Eunuch Li gave the person opposite him a quick glance. The young man was n.o.ble, benevolent, and appeared gentle; nonetheless, he possessed the scholar’s obstinacy and pride. This man was cultivated by the Emperor for the future of Great Jin, but even after touching upon a sensitive subject, he still had the appearance of being unwilling to give up until his goal was achieved. Eunuch Li pondered in his mind. This afternoon, General Zhao had visited, and Empress Dowager Yi De had also spoken. Even though Xiao Shao did not speak, knowing his temperament, he too would definitively not stand pa.s.sively by. And now, even Liu Min, the candid and outspoken Imperial Grand Tutor, was speaking to the Emperor. Sure enough, Hong’an Junzhu, the eldest di daughter of the Jiang family, was not an ordinary person. Unfortunately, given that Liu Min had made his remarks whilst the Emperor was in a foul mood, he had quite possibly added fuel to the fire. It was not a good strategy.
 拂逆鳞 (fúnì lín) – touching the scale at the bottom of a dragon’s throat, means offending the monarch, touching someone’s sensitive subject.
 直臣 (zhí chén) – the official who dares to remonstrate against the Emperor bluntly.
The Emperor gazed coldly at Liu Min before slapping the table fiercely. “Not having an ulterior motive indeed! Since you have all come here one by one to intercede for Hong’an, how about zhen grants you even more days? Zhen would like to see what other evidence you can provide! Get out!”
The Emperor’s countenance was so filled with rage that Liu Min could only bow and retreat in a low voice. Eunuch Li whispered, “Your Majesty need not be overly concerned. What Imperial Grand Tutor Liu stated is not without reason. I fear that there is something odd about this matter. I’m worried some people intended to cause a commotion. Therefore, it would be better to wait a few extra days.”
“Are you taking zhen for a fool?” The Emperor scanned the ledger on the table with a somewhat exasperated look. “Zhen just doesn’t understand how they were intoxicated by Jiang Ruan. Could she really be a siren?”
* * *
After leaving the imperial study and exiting the palace, Liu Min suddenly made the journey to the prison where the Ministry of Justice held its prisoners. The warden, who was initially stunned at seeing him, quickly stood up to greet him. “I was unaware that Imperial Grand Tutor was coming today. What can I do for you?”
“I’m here to see someone.” Liu Min frowned slightly. Even after serving several years as an official, he was still not accustomed to being fawned over and flattered by others. Nonetheless, he pulled a silver ingot from his sleeve and handed it to the old warden.
The warden accepted it with great pleasure. Inwardly, he thought, the rumour from the court was that this person was honest and upright. However, the holier-than-thou Imperial Grand Tutor was just the same as everyone else, knowing how to get things done in the officialdom by giving bribes, so there was no need to make it seem like he was n.o.ble and virtuous. But even though he felt this way in his heart, he had to act very respectfully. “That is not an issue. Imperial Grand Tutor can just inform me. As long as it is convenient, I shall try my absolute best.” He then inquired, “Who does Imperial Grand Tutor wish to see?”
“Hong’an Junzhu,” Liu Min answered.
Jiang Ruan was locked up in the deepest part of the prison where people on death row were kept. Even though the punishment had yet to be determined, nearly everyone a.s.sumed that she was doomed this time, as it would be absurd to let the murderer of a royal princess walk free. However, thanks to Xiao Shao’s or Zhao Guang’s arrangement, her time in prison was also rather uneventful; prison guards did not make life unpleasant for her.
When Liu Min entered the prison, he noticed Jiang Ruan sitting on the ground against the wall, not knowing what she was thinking.
“Junzhu,” He called out.
Jiang Ruan came out of her trance, looked up in surprise and then gave a slight smile. “Imperial Grand Tutor Liu.”
Liu Min knelt in front of the prison cell and peered at her. As he surveyed the cell’s interior, he noticed that, while the condition was poor, it was not harsh, which was unlike what he had seen in other cells along the way. Jiang Ruan’s clothes were in good condition and were clean. She also didn’t seem to be suffering. Someone must have paid bribes for her sake.
“Imperial Grand Tutor Liu, what is your business here?” Jiang Ruan inquired after observing that he merely glanced inside without uttering a word.
Liu Min glanced at her. “I…am here to see you. ” After a pause, he inquired, “Are you all right?”
The young man’s eyes filled with affection. Even though he did his best to keep it hidden, his emotions inadvertently leaked out to some extent. Jiang Ruan was a skilled observer. Her expression broke into a smile after a brief frown. “I’m fine, I have troubled Imperial Grand Tutor.”
She had always been very courteous, yet emotionally distant. Liu Min felt slightly bitter. Reflecting on what had happened today, he told her, “I believe you did not kill Princess He Yi.”
Liu Min felt that although Jiang Ruan looked like a cold and indifferent person, she was a very kind person at heart. Otherwise, she would not have intervened when Princess He Yi bullied Thirteenth Prince.
“Of course, I didn’t kill her,” Jiang Ruan said, looking at him.”I didn’t need to do that.”
Liu Min’s face lit up when he heard Jiang Ruan’s words. “Don’t worry, I’ll figure out a way to save you.”
Jiang Ruan was a little taken aback. Although she a.s.sisted Liu Min to pave the way for her one day, the Imperial Grand Tutor acted in a manner that contradicted her original intent. Such genuine feelings were undoubtedly a source of stress for her.
“Thank you, Imperial Grand Tutor Liu.” Jiang Ruan murmured, “But I have my own thoughts about this. The truth will be revealed one day. Please don’t worry too much.”
Liu Min’s eyes flashed with a look of disappointment. “You do not consider me a friend.” He spoke without waiting for Jiang Ruan’s response. “You helped me at the time, but now it’s my turn to repay the favour. I will help you once, you don’t need to say anything else. The kindness of giving a drop of water should be rewarded with a gushing spring. Because of you, my fate was rewritten when you showed me such kindness. What kind of person am I if I don’t repay you?”
Jiang Ruan shook her head after a long silence. “Imperial Grand Tutor Liu is sincere. I am eager to make friends, but I have an idea for this matter. You should not rush to a.s.sist me. If I have any problems in the future, I will surely seek Imperial Grand Tutor Liu’s a.s.sistance. Please do not refuse when the time comes.”
“It’s impossible for me to refuse.” Liu Min said hurriedly. Jiang Ruan’s eyes shone like water in the dim light, and her facial features were even more stunning. As soon as his heart was stirred, he blurted out without thinking, “You, would you like me to protect you?”
Jiang Ruan looked at him with surprise.
Liu Min’s handsome face blushed slightly. This was his first time saying these words to a girl. In his gaze, there was no sign of aloofness or conceit, merely awkward shyness. “I, I have always admired Junzhu. Now that Junzhu is facing a difficult situation in court, it is clear that many people wish to frame you. If Junzhu continues in this manner, it will be difficult to prevent them from happening. If Junzhu could marry into another family at this time, there would be an additional layer of defense. Liu Min is untalented, and despite his lack of accomplishments, he wants to spend his entire life protecting Junzhu. I will do my best to shield Junzhu from even the smallest offense.”
Jiang Ruan gazed at him. What on earth had happened to Liu Min in his previous life? She did not know. She believed that, given Liu Min’s brilliance, he must have died if Xuan Li was unable to use him. She had seen him rise from obscurity in her past life. It was an odd turn of events. In the end, she gave this upright young man a chance to prosper. Along the way, he got better, and he finally lived up to his lifelong ambition.
In this life, however, the people who had never met in the past met due to an unforeseen change of events. She just wanted to use him, but inadvertently received his sincerity.
“I…” Jiang Ruan was about to respond when she heard a familiar cold voice from the front, which seemed displeased.
“She doesn’t need your protection because she’s my person.”
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A familiar figure emerged from the shadows. In the darkness, the plain black hem of his robe produced some golden radiance. Xiao Shao approached the prison door, cast a fleeting glance at Liu Min, then Jiang Ruan, and handed in the basket through the small window. “The snacks made by w.a.n.gfu’s cook and some clothes. It’s cool at night, don’t catch a cold.”
She was so immersed in thought that Xiao Shao had to gently tap her on the head. “Focus.”
Jiang Ruan was not accustomed to such closeness. “Tian Zhu should have informed you about this. I already have an idea, so please don’t interfere.”
“I know.” Xiao Shao whispered. “Just go for it. You have my full support in everything.”
His words were rea.s.suring. Jiang Ruan bowed her head and said, “Thank you.”
“I would be happier if you asked for my a.s.sistance though,” Xiao Shao said. Tian Zhu was right. Jiang Ruan was accustomed to solving problems on her own and did not readily accept help from others. Even if she asked for help, she adopted a businesslike demeanour where both the parties can use each other, and she will not receive any favors in vain. In fact, this is actually her way of isolating herself from others and preventing herself from receiving any warmth or affection.
Xiao Shao looked at her thoughtfully. He couldn’t figure out Jiang Ruan’s secret, and Jiang Ruan refused to reveal it. When one’s heart was sealed, it was difficult for others to enter. Xiao Shao hoped that now that Jiang Ruan was with him, Jiang Ruan would not consider fighting alone. At the very least, Jinying w.a.n.gfu was capable of protecting her. One that stood beside Xiao Shao could only be protected by him alone.
“There is no need, “Jiang Ruan turned him down. “The rear residence is a battlefield for women. Consider my elder brother. If he is invincible on the battlefield, then I naturally have my own means to stand in the invincible position inside this deep palace’s rear residence.”
Finally, Xiao Shao stretched out and squeezed her shoulder. “I’m always on your side.”
* * *
Wu Ming, the palace’s most senior coroner, sighed heavily upon seeing Princess He Yi’s body. He then removed the cloth cover he had been wearing and wiped the sweat from his forehead. “In response to your question, Daren, Princess He Yi was stabbed in the abdomen and died from blood loss. The time was exactly as stated by Fourth Prince.”
Commandant of Justice Luo, the person in charge of the Ministry of Justice, lowered his eyes and pondered for a moment. He gave his aide instructions, “Go and record the inspection results. The rest of you will come with me to the crime scene again.”
 廷尉 (ting wei) – the chief officer of the highest judicial body in the government, who revises the law in accordance with the emperor’s will, summarises the number of prison sentences in the country, and is responsible for edicts issued by the Emperor.
The Emperor had issued a death sentence, and there would be a court hearing three days from now. This was not an ordinary case. Hong’an Junzhu‘s case appeared to be a straightforward murder case witnessed by the royal family, but in reality, it encompa.s.sed numerous factors. A negligent and incorrect verdict would cause an imbalance between the forces in the imperial court. For him, it was an endless disaster.
In the instance of Hong’an Junzhu, the Emperor, Imperial Consort Shu, and Fourth Prince were on one side, while Empress Dowager Yi De, Zhao Guang, and Xiao Shao were on the other. He could not risk offending either side. When he considered his predicament, Luo Daren could not help but sigh and reflect carefully.
At the Eight Prince fu, Xuan Li was turning the white porcelain wine cup around in his hand, gently shaking the wine in the cup, and smilingly asked, “How are things going?”
The subordinate responded quickly and respectfully. “It has been completed, Your Highness. The coroner has examined the body. There is no issue.”
Xuan Li had an excellent grasp on the wind direction in the palace for many years. He was not incompetent. He had put his own people everywhere. It was not impossible to tamper with Princess He Yi’s body; for him, it was a piece of cake. n.o.body would dispute his words if he just used deceptive tactics to keep the coroner in the dark. The coroner’s examination of the body was material evidence. With Xuan Lang as the witness, it was easy to pin down the criminal charges.
Nothing in the world is more intolerable than asking for something and not receiving it. If he did not get the position he desired after asking for it, he would eventually obtain it. It’s fine if he liked someone and was rejected because she was just a woman. He would just discard and kill her because he couldn’t get her. A great man had to be ruthless. Since Xiao Shao wanted to fight him for her, he might as well destroy Jiang Ruan.
But for some unknown reason, a slight unease flashed across Xuan Li’s heart, and it was so subtle that he almost ignored it. He calmed down, tried his best to ignore the strange sensation, clasped the wine cup in his hand slowly, and took a light sip.
“I’m truly sorry, Junzhu.”
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