Chapter 73 – Laba* (23.1)
[*T/N: Laba 腊八 – refers to the eighth day of the La Month (or Layue 臘月), which is the twelfth month of the Chinese calendar. People celebrate the Laba Festival on this day. Before the Qin dynasty, it was a celebration of the new harvest. Later it was used as a commemoration of Gautama Buddha’s enlightenment at the age of 35.]
Inside Xue Gui’s house, the atmosphere was a heavy sheet of alarm and gloom. Who would have thought that a healthy and lively member of their family would leave the house in the bright morning and be found as a cold corpse come the dark of night?
Xue Gui received such a shock from the news that he collapsed upon a chair. His heartbeat hastened with the increasing instability of his emotional state.
“What exactly is going on?”
Under Xue Gui’s watchful gaze, the servant that had just returned replied in a trembling voice: “Today, the young master ate dinner with the young master of the Zhang family. Afterwards, they went to the Yihong Building to drink and party with female entertainers. Then the young master and the young master of the Zhang family rushed back on horseback. Along the road, I don’t know what happened but the young master was thrown off his horse. He landed on his head. This little one and the young master of the Zhang family hastened over to check and saw that the young master’s neck had snapped. The young master he… he wasn’t breathing.”
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“How could this be! How could this be! Zhi Qi’s riding skills have always been very good… This shouldn’t be [happening] even if he drank a little wine…” Xue Gui believed that this was someone’s plot to harm his son. “Investigate… go and investigate this for me…”
When Xue Zhi Qi’s mother, Zhao-shi, heard the bad news, she hurried over. She simply could not believe it. “My son, ah… my son, ah… how could you leave [this world] before your mother?”
“Wu wu… my lord, you have to avenge our Zhi Qi. Our good child was led astray by that young master of the Zhang family…” Xue Zhi Qi was her only di son, and she was starting to lose her rationality in this situation. “Wu wu… that kid from the Zhang family is fine [and alive], but my son is dead…”
[T/N: Reminder, “wu wu” is Chinese onomatopoeia for crying. “Di” son means the son of the main wife.]
“I will get to the bottom of this matter. I will definitely get justice for Zhi Qi.” Xue Gui considered the possibility of Zhang Ying Xiang murdering his son, but Zhang Ying Xiang’s father was his confidant and has been by his side for decades. He has always treated the other man well, so it shouldn’t be the Zhang family’s doing…
“Wu wu… my lord, you must investigate carefully. If that boy from the Zhang family… you must make him pay with his life, ah… pay with his life…” Zhao-shi said fiercely. Her son was gone, so other people’s son shouldn’t expect to be let off easy either. It would be even better if they were buried with her son!
In the Zhang family’s study room, there was only the Zhang father and son pair. The atmosphere of the study was extremely solemn.
“Just what the heck is going on? Tell me everything that happened.”
Zhang Ying Xiang looked absolutely terrified, “Father, I really don’t know how this happened. Young Master Qi and I went to the restaurant to drink tea and dine as usual. Then we went to the Yihong Building to drink and party with female entertainers. We even got two of the popular women to accompany us. By the time we left, it was already very late, so we rushed home on our horses. But on our way back, I saw Young Master Qi fall off his horse. At that time, the horse was not startled by anything. Young Master Qi must’ve been muddled by too much liquor…”
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“So you’re saying it was caused by intoxication? How is Young Master Qi’s alcohol tolerance normally?” Zhang Ji He asked his son.
Zhang Ying Xiang also found it very strange. “It stands to reason that Young Master Qi’s alcohol tolerance is not that bad, but it is true that Young Master Qi fell off his horse by himself. It was late at night, and there was no one else on the road except for us…”
Zhang Ji He continued to inquire, “Then, did anything special happen to you two today? Were there any disputes or grievances with other people?”
Zhang Ying Xiang thought for a while, “No, nothing special happened. Besides, who in the capital would dare to provoke Young Master Qi of the Xue family?”
Zhang Ji He asked again: “Son, think about it carefully. Was there really nothing out of the ordinary? Did you meet or see anyone?”
“No… Today there was only me and Young Master Qi, the two of us…” Zhang Ying Xiang scratched his head and tried to recall, “Hmm… who did we see… that’s right! Today when we were dining in the restaurant we saw a very pretty xiaoshi in the streets. Young Master Qi was very interested and even poked fun at the boy. Then the xiaoshi’s master glared at us once. After that there wasn’t anything else…?”
“Oh… do you recognize that person?” Zhang Ji He asked.
“I’ve never seen him before. It was a new face to me. The man is about my age and looked very cold. But they didn’t seem like anyone important. I even promised Young Master Qi to help him get the xiaoshi. But I have yet to send anyone out to make inquires before Young Master Qi fell from his horse. I don’t think there is any relevance between two, probably…” Zhang Ying Xiang said.
“Have you told the Xue family about this?” Zhang Ji He frowned. He felt that there was something off about this situation.
“No, I didn’t think about it at the time… If you didn’t keep asking me just now to think back, I wouldn’t even remember this incident…” Zhang Ying Xiang replied.
“All right, if you didn’t mention it from the start, then if the Xue family asks you again in the future don’t bring it up again either. No need to deliberately complicate the issue.” Zhang Ji He instructed his son, “Stay in the manor for the next few days and don’t go out anymore.”
After his son left the study, Zhang Ji He pondered the case some more. The more he thought about it, the more that something felt off. A cold-faced young stranger with a xiaoshi… who could it be?
Translations by Vanilla Muse.
Zhang Ying Xiang was still young, so he didn’t know that many people yet. He has yet to meet all the noble people in the capital. But the Xue family was a powerful one. Most people would not dare to mess with them…
Zhang Ji He paced within the study. Young Master Qi’s had a great impact on their Zhang family. When Young Master Qi got into an accident, only his son was present, so the first ones that the Xue family would suspect would be their Zhang family. But his son really didn’t know anything. Zhang Ji He has been with Xue Gui for decades, and he was very familiar with the other man’s temper. He’s afraid that the Xue family would take their anger out on the Zhang family, even though they were not at fault…
Alas… it seemed like his time as Xue Gui’s confidant has come to an end…