Chen Jingyin had an unexplainable trust in Xia Xun, so she said: “My father keeps a caravan of the Hu people in his estate. They often go to the west on business for him; I have seen them a few times, all from a distance, without speaking to them.”
Xia Xun asked again, “Do you know their names?”
Chen Jingyin nodded.
“They all have long names, some of which I can’t remember, but they are all from the same family, so their surnames are the same.” She paused and said, “Their surnames are all Fumeng.”
Xia Xun’s expression did not change as he thanked her.
“Thank you very much, Miss Chen, and I wish you… a smooth life.”
Chen Jingyin laughed cheerfully.
“Why are you so serious? I’m going to walk around and buy some food for Lord Qi, his tongue is probably bitter from drinking medicine every day!”
She departed with the young man who had accompanied her.
Xia Xun watched their backs, and his hand hidden in the sleeve clutched the bird whistle.
That night, when no one was around, he found a hidden corner and blew the whistle again.
As soon as Xia Xun lowered his hand, the man appeared on the wall, looking down at him from above.
“You remember what I said last time, don’t you? This is your last chance.”
Xia Xun tilted his head to look at him and replied, “I know who you are.”
Fumeng Tancha smiled contemptuously.
“Of course you know, I told you my name myself.”
Xia Xun shook his head.
“It is not just your name, I know that you are a man of Duke Chen.”
Fumeng Tancha froze for a moment, then grinned widely.
He bounced off the wall, swinging his scimitar, and slowly walked up to Xia Xun: “What are you talking about? Qi Yan has more than one enemy. You can’t say I’m one of Duke Chen’s men just because I’m going to kill him.”
Xia Xun continued: “You are Duke Chen’s man, but you want to kill Qi Yan not for Duke Chen.”
Fumeng Tancha shrugged and said indifferently, “Whatever you say.”
Xia Xun said thoughtfully: “You are a merchant hired by Duke Chen, but in reality you are his secret assassin, and over the years, you and your companions have done a lot of dirty work for him. When Qi Yan went to Lingnan, Duke Chen was worried that his jade mine would be exposed, so he sent you to follow him all the way.
“When you arrived in Douzhou, you found out that Qi Yan had met with me and investigated my identity. You found out that my surname was Dong, and you also found out that my brother and I were both ordinary merchants, which is why you said that you knew me from Lingnan.
“Since you followed Qi Yan all the time, you would know that he only stayed in Douzhou for a few days and didn’t even go to Duke Chen’s mine. Even if he was suspicious, he couldn’t have obtained any substantial evidence. The only thing he brought back to the capital was me.”
Xia Xun spoke faster and faster.
“If you had reported this information truthfully to Duke Chen, he would have never tried to kill Qi Yan, after all, assassinating a court official is a serious crime, and he would not choose to do so until he absolutely had to. So I guess you must have lied to him.
“You lied to him, saying that Qi Yan had found evidence, that I was the witness he brought back to the capital, and that Qi Yan kept me under close protection so that one day he could bring me before the emperor to prove Duke Chen’s guilt. Seeing that the paper could not hide the fire, Duke Chen decided to cut the loose ends and ordered me to be killed along with Qi Yan, so that there would be no more trouble.
“Your mission was to assassinate Qi Yan, while the task to kill me was given to his men far away in Lingnan. Duke Chen did this to mislead a possible investigation and remove the link between our two deaths. Otherwise, I really can’t figure out why the Bai Yue people would travel thousands of miles to kill me; after all, I have a special status and there are obviously easier ways to get rid of me. Unless Duke Chen doesn’t even know who I am, of course.”
After finishing his speech in one breath, Xia Xun exhaled deeply.
He lowered his eyes and looked at the grass under his feet where a few crickets were chirping, then asked Fumeng Tancha: “Do you think that my guess is correct?”
Unimpressed, Fumeng Tancha asked him in return: “What you say is all guesswork. Why would I do such things? I have no quarrel with Qi Yan, so why should I lie in order to harm him?”
Xia Xun hesitated and said:
“That’s what I haven’t figured out. What I say is just a small talk, no need to take it seriously. My guess is that you want to use Qi Yan’s death to get out. You don’t want to do evil deeds for Duke Chen anymore. You deliberately provoked him to kill Qi Yan, and in turn, you will use Qi Yan’s death to blackmail him so that he lets you go.”
Fumeng Tancha’s expression froze.
Although it was only for a moment, Xia Xun didn’t miss it.
He said softly, “I guessed right.”
Fumeng Tancha fell into silence, his face extremely gloomy, and the scimitar in his hand stopped swinging.
He unleashed his murderous intent and asked solemnly: “You know so much. Should I kill you to silence you?”
On the surface he was asking Xia Xun, but in reality he had already moved to kill.
Xia Xun appeared unperturbed and looked at him calmly.
“I have come to you to tell you the way, the way that will allow you to break away from Duke Chen without any effort. Do you want to hear it?”
Fumeng Tancha looked at him with a deadly stare.
“You would be so kind? What are the conditions? Tell me straight.”
Xia Xun met his eyes calmly.
“Don’t be in a hurry. Listen to what I have to say and then see if this solution really works. If it works, I hope you can do me a favour.”
Xia Xun told him that the investigation of Duke Chen was an order from the emperor himself, who had long wanted to use an excuse to eradicate Duke Chen.
Even if Qi Yan did not find evidence, as long as the emperor ordered a thorough investigation, the crimes of Duke Chen would be exposed sooner or later.
Fumeng Tancha did not need to kill Qi Yan, he only needed to wait for a while, and it would not be long before Duke Chen would be convicted.
When Duke Chen was imprisoned, Fumeng Tancha would be free to leave and would no longer be under anyone’s control.
“How’s that? Isn’t this method very effective? It’s much better than what you thought of yourself, isn’t it?”
Fumeng Tancha’s face brightened a little and he asked doubtfully: “You didn’t make it up to protect Qi Yan and trick me, did you?”
Xia Xun said casually:
“You have nothing to lose by trusting me. If things do not turn out as I say and Duke Chen is still standing, you can come and take my life or Qi Yan’s life at any time. Isn’t it easy for you?”
Fumeng Tancha thought for a long time and finally decided to trust Xia Xun for the time being.
“So be it, I will not kill Qi Yan, but remember, if you lie to me, I will never be merciful to you.”
He thought for a moment, then added.
“You are so young, but your mind is deep. With so little information, you can deduce so many details. You are really deep and secretive, I think you are even more powerful than Duke Chen.”
Xia Xun looked coldly, his emotions invisible: “It is because you are defenceless against me and answer all questions that I have the opportunity to take advantage of you.”
Fumeng Tancha gave him a sidelong glance.
“Why do I get the feeling that there is something in your words? What do you want me to do for you for telling me this? Let’s be clear, I won’t do you any favours that are too big.”
Xia Xun took a deep breath and said resolutely:
“I want to go back to Lingnan, can you send me back?”
Fumeng Tancha looked surprised.
“You have arms and legs, why don’t you walk on your own and need to be sent there? You are not a little girl! Is it Qi Yan who doesn’t let you go?”
Xia Xun said: “For one thing. For another, Duke Chen’s men might hunt me down along the way, and, most importantly, I am penniless and have no money for the journey.”
Fumeng Tancha cocked his head and snorted.
“Fine! I need to prepare for a few days. Duke Chen is suspicious and afraid that I will not do what I was paid for, so he has sent people to follow me and spy on me. When I get rid of them, I will come and help you with this!”
Under the moonlight, he drifted away.
Xia Xun turned around and headed for his room.
He hadn’t actually told the truth; he wasn’t penniless, he still had the jade belt hook that Qi Yan had given him.
It was just that Xia Xun had another use for it, so it couldn’t be used as road money.
Zhi Gui waited for him in his room.
Ever since she arrived at the magistrate’s office, she had been restless and unable to sit still.
Several times she had wanted to speak to Xia Xun, and several times she had stopped talking.
Previously, Xia Xun had not had the energy to pay attention to her abnormalities.
Now, he could finally talk to her properly.
Xia Xun took out Qi Yan’s jade belt hook, placed it on the table and said to her:
“Zhi Gui, take this, and when we get to Qingzhou, you can go.”
Zhi Gui was shocked.
“Young Master! What are you talking about? I am a slave of the Qi household, where else can I go? Is it because this slave has not served you well that you want to kick me out?”
Xia Xun eased his tone and did his best not to seem aggressive:
“Zhi Gui, you are not from Qingzhou, are you? Your ancestors, I believe, have the Hu blood. Moreover, it was you who revealed our whereabouts to Duke Chen’s men, right?”
Zhi Gui’s looks were typical for the Central Plains, but Xia Xun had seen her up close and her eyes were very light in colour, which was clearly a feature of the Hu.
Dazed and dumbfounded, she was unable to say anything for a long time. Then she said incoherently:
“This slave’s, this slave’s great-grandmother was indeed a Hu, Young Master is so sharp-eyed, you have discovered this… Only, this slave has not come into contact with Duke Chen’s people, my status is humble, how could I know such a big man? Young Master must be joking with this slave!”
Xia Xun said indifferently.
“Had someone not tipped them off, how could those Lingnan people have caught up with our carriage in such a short time? The only one apart from Qi Hui who knew where we were going was you. Qi Hui would rather die than betray Qi Yan, so the only person who could have tipped them off could be you.”
Zhi Gui was petrified.
“Young Master… you… you…”
Seeing her panic-stricken look, Xia Xun understood most of it.
“You don’t need to make excuses, I’m not here to accuse you. I just want to confirm whether my guess is right or not, and now it seems that it is indeed you.”
Zhi Gui slowly lowered her head, her fingers clenched tightly.
After a long time, she said quietly:
“Young Master guessed right… it was indeed this slave who did it…”
Zhi Gui told Xia Xun that just before Qi Yan set off for Qingzhou, a Hu man had found her and asked her to find a way to follow Qi Yan along, reporting his whereabouts to him on the way.
At first, she refused to do so.
But the man offered her a large sum of money and told her that she was a descendant of the Hu people and that she had disgraced her ancestors by willingly becoming a slave to the Han.
She did not recognise her Hu ancestors, but there was one point in his words that really struck a chord with her.
She thought hard about it all night and eventually agreed.
That day at the inn in Binzhou, after Qi Yan had decided to split, she secretly wrote a note with the direction Qi Yan was going to take and threw it under the table.
This was the contact method taught to her by the Hu man.
This man must have been Fumeng Tancha, Xia Xun thought. He was so clever that he was able to bribe one of Qi Yan’s servants.
Later, Qi Yan and Xia Xun were indeed caught by the assassins.
“After Lord Qi was injured, this slave regretted it. I was so ashamed that I couldn’t eat or sleep because of the guilt I felt. Now that you have guessed it, I can finally breathe a sigh of relief. I only beg you not to tell my parents about my death, I kowtow to you!”
She made a gesture to bow.
Xia Xun stopped her.
“Who said I was going to kill you? What do I need your life for? I just don’t understand why you are doing this. Qi Yan has always been generous to his servants, you usually receive a monthly payment and a reward, so how could you betray your master for a few taels of silver?”
Zhi Gui’s face was wet with tears as she said to Xia Xun:
“Because… I never want to be a slave again!”