Edited and Proofread by KitKat
The next day, An Chang Qing went out with Zhou He Lan and Tie Hu. Xiao Zhige left with them before parting ways at Yong Le lane. When the people saw him on the street, they did not scatter like before. Instead, they stayed and snooped around the Wang Manor’s carriage, hoping to catch a glimpse of the good-looking Wangfei and his interactions with Wangye.
Wangfei and Wangye had not been out on the street together for several days, causing a decline in new story scripts for the masses to read. Even San Wei Zhai’s plum blossom cakes were not selling well like before.
Unfortunately, Wangfei had stayed in the carriage and only opened up the curtain to wave goodbye to the Northern Warlord.
Rumor has it that Wangfei was like a fairy and catching a few glimpses of him could bless your offspring with beauty!
It was just that the coachman had such a menacing look that it deterred away the lingering eyes of any onlookers.
Under the stares of the people of Yejing, the carriage slowly made its way to the Western Lane.
Unbeknownst to An Chang Qing, due to the spread of those creative scripts, he had been hailed as an immortal descended from above and all over Yejing, people would grab any chance they could to have a look at him.
Arriving at the teahouse, the group was led by a waiter to the second floor. An Chang Qing sat and waited through a cup of tea before Anfu came in with two beggars, one was an old beggar he was familiar with while the other one was a newcomer in his teens.
Just like their previous meeting, An Chang Qing sat behind a screen, only allowing them to make out his silhouette. Without making idle talk, An Chang Qing went straight to the point, “What did you find?”
Previously, the old beggar would relay messages through Anfu. The information he gathered were either which of the Wu Marquis’s young masters were taking in a concubine or trivial things like thieving servants. Until a few days prior, he suddenly claimed that he had found something incredible and requested an audience with An Chang Qing to tell him in person. Thus, An Chang Qing made this trip today.
The old beggar bowed and said, “Ah Jiu is the one who discovered this, he should be the one to tell you about it.”
An Chang Qing nodded.
The young beggar called Ah Jiu stepped forward, cleared his throat and spoke clearly, “I had been the one keeping watch on the Marquis’s manor for several days. Nothing was out of the ordinary except for a few nights ago when Young Master Wu, the person we were told to keep an eye on, sneaked out of the manor. I traced the carriage’s prints and found that it had stopped at the gates of a nunnery.”
The young beggar changed his tone and continued, “I couldn’t find the carriage so I waited outside all night. Only when the sound of roosters crowing was heard that I saw the carriage coming out of the nunnery.”
An Chang Qing was in deep thought. There was indeed a nunnery right outside the city but because of its remote location and the fact that majority of Da Ye citizens believed in Taoism, the place was scarce of visitors. This would be the perfect place to hide someone.
“In addition, I’ve also found something else…” The young beggar bowed low and dared not speak.
“What is it? You can speak,” An Chang Qing said gently.
“After my trip to the nunnery that day, I’ve asked my friend stationed nearby to watch the place. The day before yesterday, he told me about a crazy old woman who went to the nunnery and caused trouble. She was berating a woman, claiming that she was a vixen and had caused her son’s death after hooking up with someone from a noble family.”
This story which his friend had told him out of amusement had nothing to do with the Marquis’s house but strangely enough, after they parted that day, he was nowhere to be found.
Although the beggars each have their own territory, the place they sleep at night would not change. He had gone to his friend’s ‘home’ to find him but no one was there. Others had also said that they had not seen him in two days.
His intuition told him that something must’ve happened, most likely linked to the happenings of the nunnery. They were vagabonds without families or relatives, it was not unusual for them to stumble upon things they shouldn’t see, only to pay dearly for it.
This was why he had insisted on meeting with An Chang Qing. Maybe the information he provided could help him find his friend.
After hearing his story, An Chang Qing deeply pondered.
Wu Juan Shu’s concubine was probably hidden inside the nunnery. The crazy woman who had made a ruckus and accused someone there of colluding with a nobleman and killing her son… That person was most likely to be Wu Juan Shu.
And this matter might even involve a life.
But whether it was his last life or this one, An Chang Qing had never heard of the Wu Manor being involved in any murder cases. After all, they were under the Emperor’s jurisdiction, no matter how powerful, they still would not dare to commit murder.
Unless the woman was spouting nonsense or that the nobleman was not someone from the Marquis’s manor… Or another possibility was that the Marquis himself had managed to bury this crime.
Just like the beggar who had disappeared into thin air.
An Chang Qing fidgeted his fingers, thinking back to Xiao Zhige’s words to him, ‘always strike where it hurts’, he wittily formed a plan in his head.
An Chang Qing said to Anfu, “Pay the rest of the money and reward each of them another ten silver taels. Let this matter regarding the Wu Manor from now on be sealed in your memories.”
The old beggar thanked An Chang Qing repetitively but the young boy hesitated before lowering his head and begged, “I do not want the reward, I only hope that your grace will help me find my friend.”
This matter nevertheless was triggered by him. Seeing that he was still young and exhibited comradeship, An Chang Qing agreed, “Keep the money, it’s your just reward. As for your friend, I will help you look for him but I cannot guarantee any results.”
“Thank you sir,” The little beggar shook his head, “Your willingness to help is already a great kindness. If he can’t be found… then that is his fate.”
After sending them away, Zhou He Lan said, “Is your grace investigating the affairs of Marquis Wu?”
An Chang Qing was surprised, “You know of the Marquis’s Manor?”
“I’ve heard a little about them. It’s all praise for the Marquis’s righteous ways in regulating his family and also for how generous and virtuous his wives are.”
Marquis Wu had eight concubines, over ten sons and seven or eight daughters. His wife and concubines were harmonious and even his children were friendly with each other, much unlike most other families who would bicker and compete for favors. As such, the Marquis’s family dynamic was the envy of many.
The Marquis had many wives and children. That, An Chang Qing was well aware of but hearing this from Zhou He Lan, he was quite skeptical. Take his father for example, he had one wife and only two concubines with a handful of children and they were already at each other’s throats. Therefore, with that many wives and children, having no enmity was realistically impossible.
Moreover, any family would have their own share of squabbling, and yet, the Wu manor was just overly harmonious.
With something this abnormal, there ought to be misgivings hidden underneath. An Chang Qing tapped on the table twice then instructed Tie Hu, “Have someone investigate that nunnery. Also, keep an eye on it.”
Leaving the teahouse, An Chang Qing did not return to the Wang Manor right away. Instead, he took Zhou He Lan and Anfu to inspect the shops.
So far, all the shops’ accounts under the Wang Manor from the previous years till now had been submitted to him. By the New Year, each store manager would come to the manor to pay respects and receive their bonus. An Chang Qing did not want to outrightly admonish these store managers but knowing thy enemy is half the battle won. If he wanted to manage these shops effectively, he would have to find out the current situation of each of them.
Due to the conspicuity of the Wang Manor’s carriage, An Chang Qing thought it over and decided to change into regular clothing and ditched the carriage. He then strolled the streets with Anfu and Zhou He Lan.
Along the way, many passersby looked at him inquisitively.
An Chang Qing rarely showed his face whenever he went out so not everyone in Yejing was familiar with Wangfei’s looks. No one recognized him and despite having two servants behind him, he was dressed in regular clothes, unlikely of being someone from a rich family. Many wondered where he came from and why this was the first time they’d seen him.
The Da Ye Empire revered beauty. Whether it was male or female, anyone attractive was sure to get attention. And thus, this trip had caused An Chang Qing to garner a lot of unwanted oglings, even the ladies were bold enough to throw flowers his way.
A few who had seen Wangfei from afar whispered, “Doesn’t this person look a bit like Wangfei?”
Others immediately refuted, “Nonsense. How’s it possible that Wangfei is dressed in such a shabby outfit? And walks by himself?”
From the tales, Wangfei was personified to be an immortal flying through the clouds and dressed in rainbow-colored clothes made of feathers. Even if he had descended, he should still ride in a magnificent carriage and clothed in silk and brocade. Wangye would be with him and not let him traverse the streets on foot.
How could this person in modest clothes be Wangfei? It’s simply nonsense!
First off, An Chang Qing went to the nearest garment store.
There were many shops under Xiao Zhige’s name and he remembered that this one was well managed and had a decent reputation. Many dignitaries would send their fabric there to be tailored. However, according to Steward Wang, in recent years, its business had been robbed by other stores and also due to the declining demand for ready-made garments, the store’s sales had dwindled.
When An Chang Qing arrived, he saw that there were indeed very few people in the store.
The store was located on the most bustling street of Eastern Yejing. By right, as the New Year drew closer, the store should have been teeming with customers as new clothes would be on demand, much unlike the current uncrowded state of it.
An Chang Qing cast aside his suspicions and entered the place. A store clerk saw him and immediately went to welcome him.
“Sir, would you like to buy clothes? Whether it’s ready-made or tailor-made, we have it all.”
An Chang Qing browsed the store and casually pointed to a padded robe and asked, “What’s the price for this?”
“Two silver taels a piece.”
“That expensive?” An Chang Qing did not expect the price to be so high.
In the Da Ye Empire, one silver tael is equivalent to one hundred wen (copper coin). A single wen is enough to buy three meat buns, and ten wen- a bucket of rice. Two silver taels can buy twenty rice buckets and when rationed properly, these twenty rice buckets could feed a person for half a year.
No commoner would pay half a year’s grains to buy a padded robe.
An Chang Qing never bought clothes for himself but he still knew that the price was outrageous. He glanced at Zhou He Lan and saw him shake his head subtly.
“It’s a cotton padded robe, why is it so expensive?”
Who knew that when he raised the question, the clerk immediately changed his attitude. He looked at An Chang Qing from head to toe and said with contempt, “Raise your head and look at our plaque. This is Tian Yi Fang. There are no cheap clothes in Tian Yi Fang’s stores. If you want something cheap, go somewhere else.”
If a customer was served with this attitude, they would leave in anger or dispute with him. An Chang Qing frowned, “Even if it’s Tian Yi Fang, doesn’t mean it’s reasonable to charge two silver taels for a cotton padded robe.”
Cotton and hemp fabrics were bountiful and inexpensive in Da Ye, even the peasants could afford them.
The clerk sneered and waved his hand impatiently, “If you can’t afford it, then don’t come here. You have a good face but dress like a pauper. Your beauty is a waste on you.”
An Chang Qing was driven out of the store like a pest. Anfu was enraged. He was about to confront the clerk but was stopped by Zhou He Lan who shook his head at him.
“Hey look! There’s a beauty over there!”
On the second floor of a restaurant diagonally opposite Tian Yi Fang, Xiao Zhige was having a drink with several members of his platoon. Towards the end of the year, the barracks outside the city were on hiatus. Several generals decided to have some fun and dragged Xiao Zhige along.
Xiao Zhige was not a sociable person but these generals had been with him for many years and they had formed a close bond. Even when he couldn’t care less for the drinking, he still agreed to come. However, while the others were loud and rowdy, Xiao Zhige was drinking in silence.
Hearing He Lao San’s exclamation, Xiao Zhige did not even lift an eyelid. He was thinking in his heart that on the way home later, he should drop by Jufuzhai and buy back a roast duck. He had heard that the roast duck from Jufuzhai was particularly good.
Just when he was deep in thought, someone beside him said excitedly, “Wangye look, is that person’s beauty comparable to Wangfei?”
They had long heard of the rumors and read the scripts. Knowing that Wangfei’s beauty was a sight to behold, they were envious of Xiao Zhige and at the same time felt happy for him. Unfortunately, Xiao Zhige put on a straight face everyday and kept his Wangfei well hidden, none of them were able to have a glimpse of this dazzling figure.
Now that they had spotted this rare beauty, they couldn’t help but compare.
Xiao Zhige turned sullen when he heard their words and when he was about to have a word with them, he caught sight of a familiar figure. He squinted and found that there was a commotion happening in the streets below. With haste, he got up and left the place without a word.
Everyone at the table was stupefied as they stared at the empty seat.
After snapping out of their daze, He Lao San whined loudly, “Oh mother! Wangye just ran off to find the little beauty!”