Old Madam Li was delayed by some matters, while Guan Qing sent a letter to say that she was going to visit some people with their grandmother and wouldn’t be home for a few days, so she told Song Caitang to go back only after they had returned. And so, Song Caitang continued staying happily at Tianhua Temple for a few more days.
Before leaving, she made a copy of all her autopsy reports and looked through them carefully to check if she had made any mistakes, if there were areas she missed, if there was any room for improvement.
Doing this was normal behavior and was perfectly fine, except that she was doing it in the middle of the night.
In the dead of the night, sometimes it was too cloudy to see any stars or the moon and it was too dark to see anything without light. The one candle in her room had a flame only as large as a bean. She wore an all-white robe and her fair face was illuminated very slightly by the candle flame. On top of that, she kept muttering things like, “It would have been better if I made an incision here” or “When I remove the stomach, I should take note of this”…
Aaaaaand…that’s how rumors of ghostly voices in the temple started.
Also, this was a ghost that was very infatuated with internal organs!!
Everyone was so glad that they were in a Buddhist temple that would be able to keep such nasty ghosts in check and nothing bad would happen to them. Nobody had ever seen this female ghost and nobody had gotten hurt so far, after all.
But they were sure that she would definitely rip them to shreds and gobble them up if they weren’t in such a place!
Song Caitang didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry when she heard about these rumors, but she did her best to keep it down after that. She did her best to keep her learning as a daytime activity, and if she woke up in the middle of the night… she decided to read a book instead.
At least she wouldn’t scare anybody that way.
Waking up in the middle of the night became Song Caitang’s habit. Not sleeping and appearing out of absolutely nowhere also became Zhao Zhi’s habit.
They would run into each other near the lake, and after a while, Zhao Zhi made checking on Song Caitang a habit. He would go to the lake to take a look every night, and if he spotted Song Caitang there, he would be grouchy and chase her back to her room. But if Song Caitang was a good girl and didn’t go to the lake, he would give her a little something.
His gifts were… basically just of one sort. Food.
It could be anything – duck necks, minced meat, pig trotters, steamed snacks, dried fruit, dumplings, sweets… Sometimes it was even fruit or soupy dessert.
There was no pattern. He bought whatever he saw and he’d bring it to her.
Song Caitang suspected that he would buy something every day, then check on her. If she went to the lake, he would throw it away. If she didn’t, he would give it to her.
His actions were very clear and direct. Not like some of those manipulative MCPs.
And since she was getting free food, she didn’t say anything about that. The only problem was, despite eating all this stuff, she didn’t gain any weight.
Qingqiao was even sadder about that than she was.
There was a knocking on the window.
Song Caitang didn’t even need to look up to know that was Zhao Zhi.
This time, Zhao Zhi got her a yummy bag of pumpkin seeds.
Song Caitang took a sniff and immediately broke into a big smile. The smell told her that this bag was going to be really delicious!
“You helped me to crack the case, so I’ve been giving you food over the past few days as my way of saying thanks. I was busy today and didn’t get you anything fancy, so don’t pick on me for it,” Zhao Zhi leaned coolly against the windowsill, “I’m going to leave this place, so after today, you won’t even get pumpkin seeds.”
She wasn’t surprised that he was leaving. Given his personality and the way he did things, she knew that he had many things to attend to. And even if he had nothing to attend to, he’d find something. The Tianhua Temple murders were already solved, so there was no reason for him to stay on.
So, she raised an eyebrow and pretended to be unhappy as she teased him, “I helped you to solve the case and all you do is buy me food?”
Zhao Zhi frowned, “Are you a woman or not?”
Song Caitang raised her eyebrow even higher, “What did you say?”
“You don’t seem to have any emotions at all…” He suddenly seemed to have realized something and he narrowed his eyes, “You’re looking forward to me leaving?”
Song Caitang tapped the table with her finger, “It’s not nice to change the topic like that. You seriously only have a bag of pumpkin seeds?”
Zhao Zhi scowled and snatched the bag back from her. “No pumpkin seeds even.”
Song Caitang was speechless.
Her behavior wasn’t womanly, but snatching the bag back like this was manly? What?
This man had money, power and a temper, so he lacked nothing. But he wasn’t generous enough to let her have a bag of pumpkin seeds?
Song Caitang glared right back into Zhao Zhi’s aggressive and fearsome eyes, which didn’t look very scary to her at all. And as she glared at him, she suddenly remembered something.
“That jade token that you found at Madam Ge’s, the one that originally belonged to Yun Nianyao… It’s with you, isn’t it?”
The topic switched from pumpkin seeds to proper business suddenly, so Zhao Zhi did not answer her immediately. His expression darkened and his stare became even nastier, as though he was going to bite someone.
“It is with me. What about it?”
Song Caitang slowly lowered her gaze, “When you threw the jade token onto the floor that day, everything happened too quickly and I didn’t get a good look at it. But I’m pretty sure I saw a tiny hole in it.”
“The sun was shining on it, so I could see that the color of the hole was a very different color from the rest of the piece. It was obvious from my angle, so perhaps I’m the only one who noticed it… Surveillance Commissioner Zhao, there’s a catch inside that token, right?”
Her gaze was too clear and too bright. Zhao Zhi narrowed his eyes and did not deny it.
Since he didn’t deny it, then it meant that she was right.
Her fingers twitched a little.
If there was a catch, then there could have been something inside the token.
And judging from Zhao Zhi’s expression, he had probably retrieved whatever it was from the token already.
That jade token was something that Yun Nianyao had brought with her from the capital, and her grandfather had hired a very highly skilled craftsman to carve the pattern he wanted. The design was very intricate and it looked like an ordinary piece of jade. If she did not happen to stand at that angle, she wouldn’t have noticed that hole.
Ordinary people might not have thought of it as a catch, or might not know how to release it. But someone who had gone through years of experience with such contraptions and tricks like Zhao Zhi would have been able to.
The catch itself wasn’t important. The thing inside the token was more important.
Yun Nianyao had asked the pacification commissioner Lu Guangzong for a favor. Besides asking him to help with her grandfather’s matter, she had also asked for one more thing: an expert who could authenticate and appraise calligraphy.
That secret letter definitely existed, but they had not found it at the scene of the crime at all. At the same time, there was this catch on the jade token. What did that mean?
That meant that the secret letter was inside the token!
The token was in Zhao Zhi’s hands, so the secret letter must be with him too!
This concerned treason, so Song Caitang didn’t want to be overly involved. She was too far from the palace and couldn’t do anything about such matters either. She mentioned this because she trusted Zhao Zhi to take care of this, and she also wanted to remind him.
The situation on that day was quite out of the ordinary and she felt that she should have been the only one who noticed the anomaly on the jade token. But what if she hadn’t been the only one?
Did this item have to be handed to the authorities? Did they have to tell Governor Li, Governor Zhang and Wen Yuansi about it?
Zhao Zhi did not express any opinion on this topic and just said, “It’s been a long time since it last rained.”
Song Caitang stared at him, “Huh?”
“The weather is very poor this year. Some older farmers predict that there will be a famine.”
Zhao Zhi threw the bag of pumpkin seeds back into Song Caitang’s hands and said, “Get your family to sell a little less grain, and you should also worry a little less. Just focus on examining bodies and cracking cases. Don’t poke your nose into other things.”
He turned and walked away, waving casually without even looking back, “Song Caitang, we’ll meet again someday.”
So… did he take the hint or not?
The night sky was completely dark. It was impossible to see. Song Caitang froze for a few moments, then figured that Zhao Zhi should have understood what she was trying to say.
After all, he had told her not to poke her nose into other things.
This matter involved treasonous acts, so it was very sensitive and difficult to handle, and it was only right for her to avoid getting involved. But she had a feeling that she was going to run into these things again…
She peeled the skin off one of the seeds and popped it into her mouth. The crunchy fragrance of the seed filled her entire mouth. It was really yummy and seemed to be freshly roasted. She could taste the lingering smoke on the seed.
Saying farewell to Zhao Zhi didn’t make her feel sad at all. With a cup of warm tea and yummy pumpkin seeds to munch on next to her, along with the gentle candlelight and the faint smell of the book in her hands… Song Caitang felt that this was a nice night to be all alone. It was great that Zhao Zhi was gone…
But when it came to Wen Yuansi, she felt a little different.
This magistrate was so elegant and so gentlemanly, as warm as the sun, yet gentle all the time. He was meticulous, considerate and most amazingly, he was like this to everybody he met, not just Song Caitang.
That was a really wonderful characteristic to have in this patriarchal society.
When Song Caitang helped Old Madam Li into the carriage, she nearly sighed out loud.
Old Madam Li thought it was because she liked this place, so she patted Song Caitang’s hand and said, “I’ll bring you along again the next time I come here.”
Song Caitang smiled, “Sure.”
The carriage ambled along and eventually reached the main road of the temple, went past the various halls and arrived at the main gate at the top of the mountain.
There were two paths in front of the gate. One was wide and flat, and it was meant for horse carriages. The other was a rather narrow flight of stone steps. The stairs were winding as they led down the mountain and it was impossible to see the bottom of the flight from above. Many worshippers refused to take the wide and flat road because they wanted to show their piety by climbing the steps one by one. They wanted to use their own feet to get over the difficult mountain terrain.
The two paths did not run parallel to each other and this was the only section where people on either road could see each other.
Song Caitang saw a mother and son.
They had climbed up all the way from the foot of the mountain and were extremely tired. The mother’s face was covered in perspiration, and the hair around her ears were drenched. She looked a little frazzled, but one could still see her pretty features. She was a beautiful woman with a very gentle gaze and a slight worry between her brows. The woman was in her thirties, yet she exuded the helplessness of a young woman. That was a woman who definitely turned heads.
Her son looked around 14 years old or so, very skinny and seemingly unhappy. Unlike his mother, he didn’t like this place. Or perhaps, he didn’t believe in Buddha.
“Tangtang, what are you looking at?” asked Old Madam Li curiously.
Song Caitang let the curtain fall back down over the window again, “Nothing.”
Old Madam Li personally sent Song Caitang home, and once word of that got around, the Guan residence became very lively. Many people came asking if they could visit and tried to find out more.
Anybody who was good at networking would be very sensitive to such news. Who was Old Madam Li? She was a woman who had created a miracle in the capital and had plenty of connections and resources! Song Caitang might have a despised job, but as long as they could somehow get to Old Madam Li through her, they were going to try!
Madam Zhang became incredibly busy, but she was also very pleased as she thought of even more ways to make use of Song Caitang…
But Guan Rongrong was deeply unhappy and very jealous. She pulled a long face.
Madam Zhang sighed, then called her daughter over to counsel her, “Are you feeling unhappy because you feel that Song Caitang has overshadowed you?”
Guan Rongrong scoffed. “Who does she think she is? Her parents are dead and she’s living off us! Worse still, she only touches dead people! Nobody would like her!”
“Silly girl,” Madam Zhang gently stroked Guan Rongrong’s hair, “That close friend of yours, Fu Xiuxiu. Do you know why she dreams of marrying Magistrate Wen?”
Guan Rongrong’s face reddened, “Because Magistrate Wen is an elegant gentleman and he exudes an extraordinary aura…”
“No, no. It’s because there’s a member of the Fu family who managed to become an official. Her family isn’t good enough to match his, but Wen Yuansi doesn’t have parents, so it’s not like he doesn’t have any faults. If she works hard enough, she might get a chance.” Madam Zhang looked at her daughter, “But you don’t seem to have such dreams. Why? Magistrate Wen isn’t outstanding enough?”
Guan Rongrong wrung her hands, “Of course not! Magistrate Wen is so outstanding…”
She was slowly beginning to understand. Wen Yuansi was handsome and elegant, so he was the man of almost every unmarried woman in Luanze’s dreams. It wasn’t that she thought he wasn’t outstanding. She just didn’t dare to even dream of marrying him.
Her family was too lowly, so dreaming about him would only cause herself suffering, so she didn’t dare to even dream.
But since her mother was saying this…
“Everyone only wants the best, of course. In the past, you didn’t have a chance, but now, you do.” There was a flicker in Madam Zhang’s eyes as she pointed toward Song Caitang’s residence. “Whatever Fu Xiuxiu can dream of having, my daughter can too.”
Guan Rongrong’s heart started trembling and sweat appeared on her forehead, “But I heard that Magistrate Wen seems especially concerned for Song Caitang…”
“You’re being silly again,” Madam Zhang shook her head, “Magistrate Wen is the local magistrate, so naturally, he will need a coroner. Song Caitang is good at this, so if he wants to make use of her skills for his job, he has to be extra nice to her. But getting married is impossible. No matter how magnanimous Old Madam Li might be, she wouldn’t allow a lowly coroner to become her granddaughter-in-law.”
Madam Zhang looked intently at Guan Rongrong and emphasized her words, “Song Caitang is only able to get in contact with officials because she is a coroner. If she no longer works as one, then everything we have now will disappear. But regardless of who she is, as long as she’s held such a job before, she will never be able to raise her head high. But that’s not the same with you.”
“Rongrong, you are Song Caitang’s older sister. If Song Caitang gets an opportunity, you will gain a bridge of sorts. If you work hard during this time, you’ll be able to marry someone from high society. Song Caitang is enjoying the limelight now, but in the future… hoho…”
“Do you understand what you need to do now?”
Unlike most other young ladies, Guan Rongrong did not manage to grasp everything that Madam Zhang was capable of doing. But when it came to getting married and all the pros that came with it, she understood how everything worked and was not shy to talk about it.
In the past, she dared not dream of marrying someone like Wen Yuansi. But now… it was as though someone had doused her heart in oil, and it was going to just take a spark to set it on fire.
If that man could become hers…
Her face reddened and she bit her lower lip. “Mother, so you’re saying… we should not make things difficult for Song Caitang but get close to her, so that she’ll bring us some benefits?”
“Song Caitang is my niece, so I’m more than happy to shower her with love and affection. Why would I make things difficult for her?” Madam Zhang smiled at Guan Rongrong, “What I’m saying is… you need to think about the way you ought to look at Song Caitang, how you can treat Song Caitang like she’s your real younger sister, how to present yourself well in front of the other married women in the community so that everyone will notice you and have a good impression of you. Make full use of this stepping stone, use it to look further and higher, and use it to help yourself to find a good place to anchor yourself for life…”
Guan Rongrong’s eyes seemed to sparkle like fireworks, “Mother, don’t worry! She’s coming back, right? I’m going to welcome her at the front door myself!”
Madam Zhang patted her daughter’s hand with an even gentler smile.
She got her daughter to set her sights on the local magistrate, but if Song Caitang could bring even more highly ranked people in society closer to the family and bring even more benefits to her, then she was going to be even more ambitious too.
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