Xia Xun approached the front courtyard. As the fleeing servant had said, the place was indeed full of soldiers wearing armour and holding weapons. They didn’t look like ordinary soldiers.
Xia Hongxi and Xia Wen were kneeling in front of them, while Lady Xia and Xia Yin were confined in the house because they were women. Some servants scattered and fled, but more were held down by the soldiers, pushed down to kneel in the courtyard.
Xia Xun’s heart sank. It seemed like a big move by the authorities. The matter was unusual; he was afraid it would not end well.
His steps were getting slower and slower. He didn’t know if he should come closer.
It was not that he didn’t think about hiding or escaping. He couldn’t decide yet but when he saw the man standing in the courtyard, all his doubts were gone, leaving him stunned and confused.
Standing in front of a large group of soldiers, the only man among them who was not wearing armour was Qi Yan.
He stood proudly holding the imperial decree, looking down at Xia Hongxi with a contemptuous, cold look.
Xia Xun was so shocked that he didn’t notice the moment he walked into the courtyard.
Some soldiers were sharp-eyed enough and immediately pointed at him, demanding:
“Who is that man? Arrest him immediately!”
Several men rushed up, bound Xia Xun’s hands, escorted him to the courtyard and pressed him to the ground, making him kneel side by side with Xia Wen.
Someone asked in a stern voice: “Who are you? What is your relationship with Xia Hongxi?”
Qi Yan’s voice came from above: “He is the third son of the Xia family, Xia Xun.”
Xia Xun looked up at him, and someone pressed down his head: “How dare you! Keep your head down!”
Xia Xun resisted, refusing to lower his head no matter what, staring at Qi Yan with wide eyes: “Qi Yan…? You, how can you— what are you doing here…?”
Xia Hongxi suddenly jerked up, breaking free from the soldiers holding him down, and looked up, angrily scolding Qi Yan:
“You’re just a mere deputy of this official! What qualifications do you have to act like that in front of me? Untie me at once! I want to see His Majesty!”
Xia Xun could not believe his ears.
“Deputy? Who? Qi Yan?! Isn’t he, isn’t he…?!”
Xia Hongxi looked at Xia Xun suddenly, his eyes like a blade: “Qi Yan? Where did you hear that name—?”
Qi Yan paced in front of Xia Hongxi as if he was walking idly on a promenade and then slowly squatted down to meet his gaze:
“Lord Xia, it seems that you still remember my name? When you killed my parents, did you ever think that today would come?”
Xia Hongxi’s face changed dramatically. Horrified, he stammered, his eyes wide open: “…your parents? You’re… you’re… you’re still alive? Impossible! You are definitely not Qi Yan! How can he still be alive—?”
Qi Yan sneered, his tone ghastly: “You really do remember the dirty things you did. Good, so now you can go on your way cleanly.”
Xia Hongxi roared with insane fury: “You dare to kill me?”
Qi Yan stood up, not looking at him anymore.
“It’s not that I want to kill you. It’s that His Majesty wants you dead. Come, read His Majesty’s decree to Lord Xia.”
Qi Hui took the imperial decree from his hand and read it aloud to Xia Hongxi.
“Xia Hongxi served as a water transportation official and used official ships for private profit for ten years, enriching himself by an unaccountable amount. Xia Hongxi’s crime is of extremely evil nature and cannot be forgiven. The sentence is beheading. Lady Xia for her crimes is granted the right to commit suicide. The rest of the family is taken to the Imperial Court of Judicial Review, awaiting sentencing!”
Qi Yan raised his hand and a eunuch carrying three feet of white silk stepped forward.
Qi Yan leisurely said: “His Majesty is merciful, not only leaving your wife with her body intact, but also sending white silk, such a precious thing, from the palace, for your wife to use. Lord Xia, you should thank His Majesty.”
Qi Yan lowered his hand. A few soldiers accompanying the eunuch carrying the white silk walked into the main hall.
In the house, Lady Xia was already paralyzed with fear, falling limply on the floor. Her mouth was open but she was unable to say even a word to beg for mercy.
Xia Yin tried to stand in front of her.
“What are you doing?!”
The soldiers did not speak to her and simply dragged her away. Without Xia Yin, no one was shielding Lady Xia anymore.
The eunuch holding up the white silk said to her:
“Lady Xia, His Majesty asks you to go on your way.”
Lady Xia looked petrified, her eyes wide open.
“No, no—! I don’t want to die—!!!”
The eunuch said solemnly: “Lady Xia, by the rules of the palace, if you can’t do it yourself, this slave will have to personally send you on your way.”
Lady Xia’s face was wet with sweat, deathly pale.
“What are you going to do?!”
The eunuch said gently: “Wrap the white silk around your neck, of course. Are you ready? I’ll do it now.”
He picked up the white silk and was about to put it around her neck, when Lady Xia realized that there was no way out for her. Who knows where her last strength was coming from but she suddenly pushed the eunuch’s hand away.
“…I’ll do it myself…!”
The eunuch handed over the white silk to her, saying: “That’s right, why make such a fuss out of it?”
Lady Xia staggered up and stumbled under the beam, carrying a round stool with trembling hands.
She raised her foot to step on the stool when her legs went soft and she fell to the ground together with the stool.
The eunuch said in a loud voice: “There are so many of you, won’t you help the lady?”
The soldiers standing by his side immediately went forward, picked up the stool and almost carried Lady Xia up on it.
Lady Xia breathed heavily, desperate tears flowing over her face, as the white silk was placed around her neck.
The wooden stool fell to the ground and she hung in mid-air struggling for a few moments, not long before she lost her breath.
After a short eerie silence, Xia Yin let out a shocked cry, screaming and hiding behind the pillar.
Xia Wen swept a glance at the embroidered shoes on Lady Xia’s feet and quickly averted his gaze, unable to bear looking at them again.
Xia Hongxi roared and lunged at Qi Yan, but was firmly held down by the soldiers. He could not struggle, with the only way to vent his anger to curse Qi Yan in the most spiteful language.
Xia Xun was dumbfounded.
He couldn’t stop looking at the body of Lady Xia.
It was a beautiful autumn day, the blue sky was cloudless, the sun was blindingly bright and the warm breeze swayed the piece of expensive silk wrapped around Lady Xia’s neck, making her body hanging from the beam rock gently back and forth.
Xia Hongxi’s curses were sharp and vicious but Qi Yan didn’t seem to hear them.
And Xia Xun really didn’t hear them.
All he could see was the white silk glowing in the daylight, the sun reflecting on it making his eyes sore.
Xia Wen noticed his abnormality and pushed him hard, blocking the view with his own body: “Don’t look!”
Xia Xun was knocked to the ground and pulled back to his knees by the soldier guarding him.
He knelt on the ground again, and the only thing he could see was the hem of Qi Yan’s robe.
His eyes slowly followed Qi Yan’s clothes all the way up, past his hands hanging on the sides of his body, his belt, his chest, his chin, finally stopping on his eyes.
Qi Yan looked proudly at Xia Hongxi, indifferent to Xia Xun’s gaze.
“Lord Xia, you do not need to be so angry. His Majesty also knows that you have deep love for your wife. You must not want her to leave alone. Do not worry. Although my parents died at the hands of you two, I will still fulfil your wish, send you and your wife on the road together.”
Xia Hongxi stared at him as if he wanted to gouge the flesh off Qi Yan’s face with his gaze.
“Even if this official is guilty, he must be personally punished by His Majesty after being interrogated by the Judicial Review Court! Who are you? How dare you play tricks here! You’ll pay for killing my wife! One day, I will seek revenge on you!”
Qi Yan suddenly drew the sword out of the sheath.
“Lord Xia, I’m afraid you didn’t hear it clearly. His Majesty sentenced Xia Hongxi to be beheaded in public. This sword was given to me by His Majesty himself, so you should be able to rest in peace after dying under such a precious sword.”
Before anyone could react, Qi Yan swung the sword.
The sword fell, and with a fountain of blood, Xia Hongxi’s head was chopped off and fell to the ground, bounced a little and then rolled up to Xia Xun.
Xia Hongxi’s headless body fell with a thud, and the blood that splashed out of his neck spilled all over Xia Xun’s face.
Xia Yin didn’t have time to let out a scream before she passed out.
Xia Wen was trembling, staring dumbly at his father’s corpse, shaking his head unconsciously.
“No, no… you can’t kill Father, you can’t… how can… how can…”
Xia Xun’s attention, from the beginning to the end, was on Qi Yan.
He was like a small wooden carving he had carved out himself, stiff and with his mouth half open, gazing at Qi Yan’s face.
He tried to see any emotion on Qi Yan’s face, but Qi Yan was expressionless, indifferently wiping the blood from his sword and putting the sword back into its sheath.
“Xia Hongxi’s body will be displayed in the city as an example to others! Xia Yin is to be sent back to her husband’s family. Xia Wen and Xia Xun are to be imprisoned in the Imperial Court of Judicial Review, and the rest of the household people are to be confined in the house, awaiting punishment!”
This was the last thing he said.
After saying that, he put away the bright yellow imperial decree and turned around to leave.
His footsteps were determined, without a trace of lingering, leaving Xia Xun feeling cold.
Qi Hui followed closely behind.
At the same time, Xia Wen and Xia Xun were put into iron shackles, half dragged and half pulled by the soldiers to the prison cart at the entrance.
Even at this moment, Xia Xun’s eyes were still glued to Qi Yan’s back. He stared at him with undying fascination, only to see the two of them get on their horses and leave without looking back.
The tails of their horses disappeared around the corner of the street, and Xia Xun suddenly realized that he could not speak.
The prison of the Judicial Review Court, the very cell where Xia Xing had been held once, now welcomed Xia Wen and Xia Xun.
Xia Wen was lost in thought, with his face buried in his hands as he tried to clear his confused mind.
This morning, he was at home with his family, and a few hours later, his parents were dead and he was sent to prison.
He couldn’t accept it.
He was worried about Xia Yin, about his wife and about his own future, but what he couldn’t understand was who was the man that beheaded his father with his own hands, the Qi Yan who had returned from hell like an evil spirit to take revenge.
“Qi Yan..?” Xia Wen clutched his hair: “How come I’ve never heard this name… why in the end…?”
Xia Xun was slow to move. Xia Wen let out a long, painful sigh and distracted himself from his thoughts to glance at him.
Xia Xun sat dumbfounded, motionless, his eyes looking somewhere outside the cell.
Xia Hongxi’s blood was still on his face; he did not wipe it at all. With the dark red splashes on his skin, Xia Xun looked like an evil ghost that had just eaten a living being.
Xia Wen lowered his head and sighed deeply, then said, “…Xia Xun, wipe your face, it is all covered in blood.”
Xia Xun shivered but his eyes did not move.
Not getting an answer, Xia Wen called him again, “Xia Xun? Do you hear me?”
Xia Xun remained in the same position, not responding.
Xia Wen went to his side, rubbed his face with his sleeve, wiping off the blood on his face.
After the blood was wiped off and Xia Xun’s face was revealed, Xia Wen finally realized that something was wrong.
From before to now, Xia Xun’s expression had not changed, his mouth half-open, his eyes staring blankly ahead, not blinking even once.
Xia Wen had a bad feeling. He vigorously shook Xia Xun’s shoulders: “Xia Xun? Don’t scare me! What’s wrong with you?”
Xia Xun was shaken back and forth by him, but it seemed like his soul had left his body, leaving only an empty shell to be stuck in a dark prison cell.