The pimp rolled his eyes, frustrated that Chengfeng had meddled with his business. He wanted revenge. He ran up to Chengfeng and walked alongside him. He said with a forced smile, “This way, Master Li. That was a misunderstanding, let bygones be bygones.”
Chengfeng mulled over the pimp’s words, but he remained silent. As they continued to stroll, Chengfeng saw a wide, spacious garden behind the court. The garden had swings, gazebos, ponds, and even a little bridge.
Chengfeng remarked, “Who knew that Lady Sumei, a stoic-looking lady, enjoyed a little bit of fun?”
The pimp replied with a courteous laughter, “Our Lady may seem cold and unbothered, but she’s quite the opposite. You’ll get to know her better once you start talking to her.”
Qiu Liansheng quipped, “Oh yes, we’ll get to know her very well.”
Although the pimp despised Chengfeng, his face made no indication of it. He coyly remarked, “I’ll let you in on a little piece of information, ever since Miss Zhixin’s cremation, our Lady has been constantly thinking about you.”
Liansheng laughed, with barely disguised horniness, “Oh brother, looks like you have a chance to really ‘get to know’ her tonight!”
Both Liansheng and the pimp laughed in response to Liansheng’s joke. But the pimp stopped himself from laughing too heartily, for it hurt his injured ear.
The three of them made their way to the main hall. In the hall, a group of people can be seen drinking, conversing, and surrounded by entertainers and courtesans. One of them was a man, who was standing. The surrounding people were dressed simply, as if they were servants, but they looked as if they carried themselves highly and confidently. Some of the people also looked like scholars, who seemed as if they were there because they managed to curry favours with someone. It was at this moment, the man waved his glit jade folding fan and yelled, “One hundred and fifty taels!”
The entire hall roared and cheered.
Chengfeng was shocked. His eyes were wide and jaws dropped. ‘One hundred and fifty for drinks and entertainment? Who the hell is this?’
This was too much. Five silvers alone could sustain a small family’s expenditures for a month. To spend one hundred and fifty on drinks and entertainment, it was unheard of.
The pimp said softly, as if he heard Chengfeng’s thoughts, “The young master who’s standing, the one with blue sleeves, that’s Zhou Qingyang.”
Chengfeng’s eyes darted towards the man as described by the pimp. Between two bodyguards who were built like towers, stood a young, slender man. He wore a fine, blue robe, with an expensive fan in hand. He looked handsome and princely, and carried an air of regalness around him.
Although Chengfeng was secretly fuming, he remained calm. He was plotting his next move.
The moment the young master barked his order, all the other masters in the hall were stunned. A normal day of drinking and entertainment wouldn’t cost more than twenty or thirty silvers. For this idiot to yell out one hundred and fifty silvers, it was absurd. This person had too much money to spend!
The hall was thrown into an excited discussion. But it was quickly interrupted by a beautiful piano melody which came from the floor above. The crowd turned their attention towards the melody. They saw a window open, and perched on the window was a maiden of exquisite beauty. She was beautifully done up and dressed, but the most noticeable thing about her were her eyes which shined like a pair of crystals. Her stare seemed to have a lingering effect among the crowd whom she scanned through.
The master with the fan roared with proud laughter, “Hah! I dare say there’s no such woman who doesn’t love money! Come to daddy and show me the way!”
The handmaiden above shot back, “Hmph, who cares about your money? I’ve seen better!”
“Then why did you open the window?”
The handmaiden was incensed, and shot back with hands on her hips, “I opened the window to see which toad would drool over the swan! Alas, it’s just another toad: you!”
Those among the crowd who disdained the master’s spending habits laughed at the handmaiden’s remark.
Zhou Qingyang’s face was red with embarrassment. He stepped forward to shout, “You little wretch, watch your words! Do you know who I am?”
The handmaiden, whose name was Little Bell, took one look at Qingyang and replied, “Hmph, isn’t it the young, dumb playboy, Master Zhou Qingyang? Now that Zhixin’s dead, you can’t wait to get yourself some fresh bosom?”
Qingyang was taken aback, “Zhixin and I were just friends, nothing else!”
Little Bell was enraged, “You can’t fool me! Everyone else may not know what you’ve done, but I sure as hell do!”
Qingyang laughed icily, “I, Zhou Qingyang, am an intelligent scholar who studied the texts of Confucius. A prodigy of the literature and arts by thirteen, a national scholar by seventeen! What have I done that is so despicable? Care to share?”
As Little Bell was about to say something, a hand reached out from behind and gave her a little tug. She turned to see who it was, and saw Liu Sumei, who shook her head ever so slightly. Little Bell had no choice but to swallow her words.
Across Daqi, cultivators are highly regarded. But the ones who manage the country’s affairs aren’t the high-ranking priests, it is the Circle of Scholars. They wield a large chunk of the world’s resources and influence the leaderships and teachings of countries!
Had Little Bell said what she was about to say, who knows what will happen to her if Qingyang reports this back to members of the Circle?
Little Bell usually got the final word in arguments. But this time, she would have to lose. She was very unhappy with it.
Upon seeing Little Bell’s silence, Qingyang smugly said, “Little handmaiden, here’s an advice for you: don’t be too eager to open that window of yours. You might just piss off a very expensive client, and you wouldn’t be able to bear the consequences!”
There was some hesitation on Little Bell’s face, which fuelled Qingyang’s arrogance. He continued, “Go on! Usher everyone else out!”
An awkward silence settled among the crowd. Seeing the situation, Chengfeng quickly removed the bag he was carrying and passed it to Liansheng. He took a box out from his chest pocket and opened it. He used a finger to rub some of the ointment in the box, and then used the same finger to rub it at the corner of his eye. Immediately, the corner of the eye shrunk by half of its initial size, transforming his once legendary gaze into a funny-looking lazy eye. His back shrunk slightly, giving him a hagged and wretched look. The transformation completely changed his demeanor, which no one would be able to recognise him.
Liansheng, who was beside Chengfeng and watched the transformation, found it somewhat amusing. Chengfeng made his way through to the crowd and towards Qingyang. Chengfeng then yelled for Qingyang, “Master Zhou! Master Zhou!”
Qingyang turned towards Chengfeng, who he found to be somewhat familiar. But due to Chengfeng’s transformation, Qingyang couldn’t tell who he was looking at. He furrowed his brows and asked, “Who are you?”
Chengfeng rushed towards Qingyang with a worried look, but was quickly apprehended by one of the young master’s bodyguards.
Chengfeng quickly shouted, “Master Zhou! I’m sent from the family’s management!”
The management was the Zhou Family’s highest order of management and housekeeping. Qingyang was surprised, he assumed Chengfeng to be just one of his family’s hundreds of servants. He could never remember any of their faces. Qingyang waved his hand and said dismissively, “Tell them I’m attending to some important guests, I can’t go home now,”
Chengfeng pressed on urgently, “It’s Silver Hairpin!”
Upon hearing her name, Qingyang’s face turned pale. He pretended to not know the matter, but his quivering hands were betraying him. “What are you talking about? Who’s that?”
Chengfeng lowered his voice, but still loud enough for everyone else to hear, “Master, it’s Silver Hairpin! They’ve found her!”
Qingyang’s face was a map of panic and fear. He replied with a shaky voice, “And what’s that gotta do with me?”
“But, but, she said -”
Qingyang couldn’t contain himself any longer. He lunged towards Chengfeng and grabbed his collar, and hissed, “She’s still alive? How’s that possible?”
Chengfeng locked eyes with Qingyang, as if relishing the fear. “Of course it’s possible, isn’t it?”
Qingyang’s lips trembled a little, but he quickly recovered, “She… she’s alive? That’s great! That’s wonderful!”
Chengfeng laughed, “Yes, Miss Silver Hairpin said that death may befall her, but her unborn baby must be spared.”
Qingyang’s temporary relief quickly dipped. He stammered, “Didn’t I tell her…” He quickly stopped mid-sentence. He looked at the crowd around him. Everyone looked at him with all sorts of expressions. Qingyang gulped and laughed forcibly, “Why, that’s got nothing to do with me. Why are you all looking at me like that?”
Chengfeng rubbed his eye. Suddenly, his eye was no longer shrunken, his back no longer curved. He glared at Qingyang and spat, “You know why they’re looking at you.”
Qingyang realised he’d been tricked in front of everyone. He gripped onto Chengfeng’s arm and screamed, “Let me go! I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Chengfeng’s firm grip hardened. He forcibly brought Qingyang to his feet. He felt a searing hatred towards Qingyang.
Not only did Qingyang murder an innocent Zhixin, but he brought Chengfeng into this mess, disgracing his name and innocence. Why should he let Qingyang go?
Chengfeng roared, “You made Silver Hairpin pregnant, murdered Zhixin and Silver Hairpin to eliminate all witnesses! She had an unborn child in her! You dare weasel your way out of this?”
Qingyang was both furious and terrified. He quickly shot back, “Nonsense, that’s all slander! You’re in cahoots with the prefecture chief’s little wh*re. You killed both Zhixin and Silver Hairpin!”
“Where’s the proof for that?”
Qingyang glared viciously. He laughed and replied through gritted teeth, “The chief himself already confirmed this. Why the need for proof?”
Chengfeng paused. He looked at Qingyang’s face to call his bluff. But then he laughed, almost maniacally. This unnerved everyone else, who weren’t used to Chengfeng’s maniacal laughter. It was incongruent with their impression towards him.
Qingyang was quivering. In a feeble attempt to threaten Chengfeng, he said, “You dare hurt me? I’m a national scholar! My father is the sixth-ranked officer of the government!”
Chengfeng paused, a little longer this time. He suddenly released his grip, and muttered, “Alright, alright. Wow you’re so powerful and influential, how scary!”
But Chengfeng leaned into Qingyang’s ear and whispered, “Well said. I, Li Chengfeng, confirmed that you’re guilty of their deaths. Why the need for proof?”