TIGR Chapter 4
The Imperial Guard’s Revenge
Chapter 4 Amnesia
The bitter cold was piercing as a layer of frost draped over the ground. The night was pitch-black, but the lights in the master courtyard of the Zhenyuan Marquis Mansion still shone brightly without a break.
Fu Tingzhou wrapped a bandage around his arm, listening to the report with a hard face: “Marquis, our men have searched an entire night and they could not find Miss Wang under the cliff.”
“Near the mountain pass?”
“We tried but the snow completely blocks the area, nobody can go.”
Fu Tingzhou massaged the spot between his eyebrows. He was still wearing his clothes from yesterday, only his arm was roughly bandaged and he did not even change his clothes. The footman saw Fu Tingzhou’s pale face and felt sorry. He tried to coax him: “Marquis, you have been working all night amd you are still carrying an injury. Why don’t you rest a little first.”
Fu Tingzhou put his hand down, his look turned ice-cold, almost like anger from a tiger, not from someone with his power: “She has not returned, how can I sleep? She fell right in front of my eyes, if it were not for her, my injury would not just be my arm. Give the orders to continue searching the west mountain. We will find the body alive…”
Fu Tingzhou stopped, he did not have the heart to finish the sentence “or dead”. How could she die? He was three years older than her, wicked, and heartless, but he was perfectly alive. Why did she have the accident?
When the people in the Marquis Mansion saw Fu Tingzhou’s livid face, they all stayed quiet and did not dare speak. The guard bowed in respect and silently left to search the mountain a second time.
When the guard pushed open the door, the cold wind blew in and flew straight into his collar. The footman pulled back his arm and cradled his hands, he hesitated a moment and spoke: “Marquis, it’s so cold outside, there is no one to go outside the city. There are no wild creatures in the western mountains, if Miss Wang lost consciousness after falling off the cliff, she would have certainly been right underneath. If Miss Wang did not lose consciousness, how could she not contact the Marquis Mansion. It’s been one night, and we still have not detected any activity, could it be that… Miss Wang is not in the outskirts of Beijing?”
Fu Tingzhou stood up and paced slowly in the studio with his hands behind his back. This was what he was the most afraid of. Whether dead or alive, people do not just fly away without any trace. But the bodyguard said that the area under the cliff was completely clean, and the narrow pass where they had been ambushed was covered by snow, no footprints remained.
How was this possible?
There was no trace, and that was the biggest tell. This could only mean that someone got to the cliff bottom before him, and they made a disguise one step in advance. Who dare attack the Marquis at the foot of the emperor, and who could perfectly disguise a crime scene, aside from that one who never does what he thinks.
Fu Tingzhou massaged the space between his eyebrows and sighed wearily. Lu Heng… He underestimated his lunatic again.
Fu Tingzhou was scared that Lu Heng would do something to the Fu family members, so he personally escorted the Old Madam and Wang Yanqing to the Dajue Temple for incense. Fu Tingzhou did not really expect that Lu Heng would go so far as to recklessly prepare an ambush on the outskirts of Beijing, right in front of Fu Tingzhou.
Did he have so much confidence that he thought he could escape untouched?
Fu Tingzhou got a terrible headache. If it was any other person, it would take less than three days for Fu Tingzhou to catch them with evidence, afterward, he could decide whether to negotiate, pressure, or let him off the hook. But if it fell into Lu Heng’s hands, then it had already become like trying to find a needle in a haystack, even Fu Tingzhou could not be sure that he would find Wang Yanqing.
The Imperial Guards specifically did intelligence work, they had eyes everywhere. If the commander of the Imperial Guards wanted to hide somebody, even if other people turned the capital inside out, they still might not find them. The footman saw that Fu Tingzhou’s expression was not good and said: “Marquis, you are the pillar of the Zhenyuan Marquis Mansion now. You must take care of your health. How about you go back and rest a little, then we will go to the court in a while.”
Fu Tingzhou had no mind to sleep now. He waved his hand and said: “No need. Have the gatekeepers prepare the horses, I will set off in a moment.”
Fu Tingzhou ordered that the main courtyard, which forewent sleep for a night, pack up and leave immediately. Since the master did not sleep, everyone had to endure alongside him. Fu Tingzhou quickly took a bath, then changed his ointment before wearing his court clothes. A maid led the kitchen staff in. She greeted Fu Tingzhou and flatteringly said: “This servant pays respect to the Marquis. Marquis, Old Madam heard that you were going to court, she was worried and sent her servants to bring you some hot food. Marquis, is your injury serious? Why don’t you tell the court that you are not coming and take the day off.”
Fu Tingzhou straightened his court dress and tucked his sleeves without raising his eyes, he said: Thank my mother for her concern, but it’s just a small injury, there is no reason to delay.”
This maid was favored by Chen Shi and she learned Chen Shi’s behaviors to the T, among them was ordering people around the inner mansion. When she saw Fu Tingzhou, she immediately put a huge smile on her face. She carefully watched Fu Tingzhou’s face and said: “Marquis, yesterday’s event terrified the Old Madam. The Old Madam heard that the light was turned on here and you did not sleep all night. Marquis, who was foolish enough to dare attack the Zhenyuan Marquis Mansion yesterday?”
Indeed, they were all fools. Fu Tingzhou closed his eyes and lifted his head with the last of his patience. Yesterday, the Zhenyuan and Yongping Marquis Mansions were attacked on their way down the mountain. Third Miss Hong almost rolled off the cliff and just when she was finally okay, Wang Yanqing fell. After all, the Fu family was a force to be reckoned with. They were caught off guard by the previous strike, but after recovering from the attack, they immediately organized a counterstrike. The other party already saw that their opportunity had left and had no interest to continue fighting, so they immediately withdrew.
Once Fu Tingzhou stopped bleeding out, he immediately left to personally search for Wang Yanqing. However, Hong Wanqing cried incessantly, and Chen Shi took his hand and started talking about all her fears. Fu Tingzhou could not escape and could only hand the matter over to his trusted aides while he escorted the women back home first.
After returning to the city, the Yongping Marquis Mansion thanked him greatly for his kindness, the Yongping Marquis also said that he would personally bring Hong Yanqing to his door in the coming days to thank him. Both families were experienced in the political world and knew the severity of the situation. The Yongping Marquis and Fu Tingzhou both agreed to push this matter aside, only saying that the women got a little fright during their journey to give incense. They did not want to publicize the matter.
Fu Tingzhou came back to the Zhenyuan Marquis Mansion to get his arm properly bandaged. For one whole evening, he watched for any activity and gave orders without any break. What came back was news that he did not want to hear.
She was nowhere to be found. It was as if she had never been by his side. She completely disappeared.
Fu Tingzhou was worried about Wang Yanqing and frightened of the degree of power that Lu Heng possessed. The people in the Zhenyuan Mansion also would not give him a break, they would even come running to ask him about who attacked them yesterday.
Fu Tingzhou was so frustrated that it was laughable. Who else could it be?
The maid was originally full of caring words, but after meeting Fu Tingzhou’s eyes, it was as if she was being stared down by a tiger. She suddenly became mute. Fu Tingzhou’s face was expressionless, and he said stiffly: “Because my mother is still frightened, she should rest well, not worry about outside matters.”
The maid was frightened and suddenly realized that she had made a mistake. Women managed inside affairs while men took care of things outside. Women were not allowed the ask about any outside affairs. Actually, Old Madam was also feeling light-headed, but she came to inquire about the Marquis.
The maid immediately hung her head, trembling with fear, and said: “This servant really did not mean to offend you, please forgive me.”
Fu Tingzhou did not have time to be angry with a small maid. He did not bother to glance at her and said: “You can go.”
The maid bowed down, promptly dropped her head, and withdrew. The maid’s somewhat eager footsteps faded away and the house became all the quieter. The footman personally arranged the dishes for Fu Tingzhou, then bowed and asked: “Marquis, it will be Laba in two days. Will this year’s gifts be the same as last year?”
|| Laba (腊八节) is a traditional Chinese festival that is celebrated on the eighth day of the twelfth month in the Chinese calendar coming just before the larger Spring Festival. It was originally dedicated to giving sacrifices to ancestors and praying for good fortune for their families.
The Ming Dynasty was a relationship-based society. Family politics, and sending and returning favor was a very important loop. It may have seemed like womenfolk from two mansions were mutually gifting gifts to each other, but this ritual carried a much deeper meaning. Normally, this would be the head mistress’s job, but with the current state of Fu Chang and Chen Shi, Fu Tingzhou did not dare to leave this matter to them, he could only take care of this himself.
Fu Tingzhou was about to speak when something flashed through his mind. He quickly asked: “What day is it today?”
The footman was taken back by this question, he answered: “Today is the second day of the twelfth lunar month.”
“The second day…” Fu Tingzhou stopped in place and suddenly felt a twang in his heart.
Yesterday was the first day of the twelfth month, her birthday.
He unexpectedly forced her to meet Hong Yanqing on her birthday and was the cause of her falling off the cliff. No wonder she was unhappy yesterday, he ignorantly blamed her for being pretentious, he hardly realized that it was actually him who was being excessive.
Fu Tingzhou absent-mindedly stood in front of the dinner table plated with steaming dishes, however, Fu Tingzhou had no mind to touch his chopsticks. Sounds of broken footsteps were heard from the window. Seeing that Fu Tingzhou did not look good, the footman quickly left to stop the unknowing person: “Right now the Marquis is having a meal, and it will be too late to go to court in a while. If you have anything to discuss, let’s do it later.”
The other person was stopped by the doorway, she was somewhat anxious. In spite of the warning, she raised her voice and looked into the room: “Marquis, this servant has something important to report.”
The footman saw her dare to peek inside the room and immediately looked displeased, moving to send her out. Fu Tingzhou recognized the woman’s voice and unprecedentedly said: “Let her in.”
The footman raised his eyebrows, first, her sudden explosion was not addressed, and she has also been allowed to stay, without any other option, he glared at the maid. Fei Cui bowed her head and apologized to the footman, she quickly walked into the room and lifted her skirts to kneel: “This servant has not fulfilled her obligations, please forgive me, Marquis.”
Fu Tingzhou knew this was Wang Yanqing’s personal handmaid, and because of his respect for Qing Qing, he was willing to tolerate her overstep. Fu Tingzhou asked: “What is the matter?”
Fei Cui did not dare to be careless, she bowed deep and presented an object with both hands: “This servant found this where the Miss kept her clothes.”
Fu Tingzhou initially asked casually, but when he glanced at the thing in Fei Cui’s hand, time suddenly froze around him. He stared for a while, then leaned over and took the few things.
Documents, maps, and a notice card. These were all essential for leaving, what was Qing Qing planning to do with these?
Lu Heng dismounted, and a gatekeeper ran down the steps to take Lu Heng’s horse. Lu Heng casually instructed, “feed him well”, then opened his clothes and strode to the back.
Guo Tao quickly chased behind Lu Heng and said: “Commander, the Fu family spent all night searching under the mountain, and this morning, someone was watching the west gate.”
Lu Heng smiled: “They dare spy on the Imperial Guards. That takes a lot of courage. It seems that yesterday’s arrow was shot too lightly.”
The court had dispersed just this morning. Fu Tingzhou gathered at the south gate as usual before entering the palace and court, nothing in sight was cheap. After dispersing, Lu Heng and Fu Tingzhou went their separate ways without so much as a glance toward each other. However, Lu Heng knew Fu Tingzhou had an injury on his arm, and he also knew the reason why Fu Tingzhou did not come to find him. It was not to keep his composure, it was because Fu Tingzhou did not find any evidence.
He did not have any proof. What was the use of confrontation if he had nothing to use. It would only give Lu Heng more information to use against him.
Lu Heng knew that Fu Tingzhou surely harbored suspicions about him, but he did not care. Guess what. If he wanted to prove that Lu Heng was involved, he needed proof. If Fu Tingzhou could find traces of evidence, he himself would also regard him as capable.
Fu Tingzhou was just the appetizer for Lu Heng, he had not intended to kill Fu Tingzhou. Lu Heng knew his place in the palace all too well. The emperor looked willful and rash, but he was actually very astute. When the court members fought with each other, it promoted imperial power and the emperor was more than happy to play deaf and dumb. However, if it went too far and threatened the safety of the Northwest border, the emperor would not hesitate to step in.
The Fu family had deep roots in the military, especially Fu Yue, who had guarded Datong for many years and was well-known in the Northwest army. The emperor still counted on the Fu family to guard the Western border and he would never let the Fu family have an accident at this juncture.
After attending to this troublesome matter, Lu Heng grew frustrated and decided to focus on his own matters. He asked: “Are those in prison willing to talk?”
Guo Tao shook his head: “No. They are all Hanlin government officials, each of them is delicate and expensive, we dare not give them our worst punishments. If they are hit, the outcome could be good or bad, but I am afraid we have no choice.”
Lu Heng spoke: “They have people to protect them, so they are not afraid. First, keep them locked up without food or water, I want to see how long their bones can last.”
Guo Tao hesitated: “Commander, isn’t this too harsh?”
Government officials from the Hanlin Academy were terribly incredible. They entered the Hanlin government officials as second-class palace graduates. Hidden behind them were complicated relationships of parents, relatives, teachers, and students. If you touched one, you touched them all. If they were released alive after they healed from their injuries, they would inevitably attack Lu Heng like mad dogs and if he was killed… a group of mad dogs would return the attack.
Lu Heng glanced at Guo Tao, the corner of his lip seemed to form a smile: “I also want to be a good person, but the emperor wants answers, not criminals. Where should I find answers?”
Guo Tao did not continue. He bowed his head and raised his hand: “I will do as you said.”
Regarding this matter, Lu Heng remembered something else. Yesterday, he went to deal with Fu Tingzhou and set up an ambush under the cliff, just in case. He did not expect that the Fu family would not be able to take care of their women and he unexpectedly received a gift. Lu Heng asked: “Is that woman awake?”
“Not yet.” Guo Tao thought of something, rather like rejoicing in someone else’s loss, and said: “You did not see them, Commander, the Zhenyuan Marquis Mansion was digging under the mountain all night yesterday, and they were still looking this morning. I remember that Fu Tingzhou’s fiancée did not fall, why is he so concerned?”
Lu Heng briefly smiled but said nothing. If it was Hong Yanqing who fell yesterday, it would be worse. He held a personal grudge against Fu Tingzhou, but if Guo Xun’s niece was involved, the situation would have blown up.
Lu Heng unhurriedly spoke: “I gave him a chance to play the hero and rescue his damsel in distress, he should be thanking me. Exchanging a younger sister for Guo Xun’s niece was not a loss. Return and interrogate those Hanlin scholars first, I will take a look at Fu Tingzhou’s ‘younger sister’.”
Guo Tao held his hands up in respect: “Of course.” Soon after, he turned around and left.
After sending Guo Tao away, Lu Heng comfortably walked toward the backcourt. His original focus was on Fu Tingzhou, grabbing Wang Yanqing was an extra surprise. There was not anything that the Imperial Guards did not know in this world, especially on their home turf in the capital. The chancellor himself could be unsure whether a child belonged to him, but the Imperial Guards knew.
Effortlessly, Wang Yanqing’s profile appeared in his mind.
The daughter of a military household in the Datong residence. Her grandfather, Wang Wei, died in battle in the spring of the third year of Zhengde. Her father, Wang Cong, took an arrow in the first year of Jiajing for Fu Yue and died. Her grandmother and mother were daughters from the same military household. In the first year of Jiajing, Wang Yanqing became an orphan, then Fu Yue raised her in Beijing for the next ten years. She was considered partly as Fu Tingzhou’s future bride.
Lu Heng had previously heard that the Fu family had an adopted daughter that was amazingly beautiful. Fu Tingzhou guarded her extremely from people, otherwise, someone would have offered. How could she remain until seventeen. When he saw her yesterday, indeed, her reputation was not in vain.
No wonder Fu Tingzhou hid her away mysteriously for the past ten years. It was a pity that Fu Tingzhou made a misstep and the person fell into Lu Heng’s hands.
The whole journey, Lu Heng thought about how he could use Wang Yanqing. Judging by his attitude last night, Fu Tingzhou cared about this woman very much. So much power just dropped into Lu Heng’s hand. If he did not do something to Fu Tingzhou, he would be doing the Lu family name an injustice.
Lu Heng walked into the backcourt and when the maids saw him from a distance, they lowered their heads as a greeting, not daring to move their bodies. The maid in the room hurriedly came over to give her blessings to Lu Heng: “I pay my respect.”
Lu Heng faintly nodded once and asked: “Is the person awake?”
The two elder maids seemed quite nervous, their shoulders tightly drawn: “The doctor came early this morning and said that Miss Wang had three injuries on the back of her head. She requires special medicine to heal. Just now, the servant fed Miss Wang her medicine. She should wake up soon.”
Lu Heng dipped his head and stepped into the main hall. Inside the room, it was very hot, and the spices smelled of medicine. One smell and he knew he was in a woman’s room. Lu Heng did not go inside. He planned to take a look and leave, but as soon as he entered, a sound of movement came from inside the screen.
The maids nervously clenched their hands. Lu Heng was surprised. Fu Tingzhou could not tell good from bad, but he had to give his sister some credit. Lu Heng comfortably sat down and poured himself a cup of tea and raised his chin slightly.
The maids hurried inside to tend to Wang Yanqing. After a burst of rustling movement, Wang Yanqing woke from her coma with strenuous effort. She opened her eyes, calmly looking at everything in front of her.
The elder maid, Ling Xi, felt that this person was good-natured. When she entered the Imperial Guard’s lair, she did not cry and did not fuss. Her eyes were tranquil like she did not recognize them. Ling Xi greeted Wang Yanqing gently and politely and said: “This servant meets Miss Wang. Miss, is there anywhere you are still uncomfortable?”
For a long time after Ling Xi finished speaking, Wang Yanqing did not respond. Ling Xi smiled and repeated: “Miss Wang?”
Wang Yanqing blinked and finally spoke: “Who are you?”
This sentence could still be said to be within Ling Xi’s expectations, but Wang Yanqing’s behavior in the next moment shocked her.
Wang Yanqing raised her head and tapped her forehead vigorously, straining, she knit her eyebrows deeply and asked: “Who am I?”
|| Translator’s Note: A bonus chapter because I missed last week’s post! University midterm week and two presentations were stressful! Happy reading!