“Hmm?” Yun Ruoyan glanced at the papers that Li Mo had just put down, then began to laugh. “And here I thought my dear Slaughtering King was working on official business! But this…”
The papers scattered on the desk were all drawings of all sorts of ornamental hairpins: simple, understated jade; ornate gold; translucent pearl…
“Yan’er, you’ll be of age after your coming birthday. After that, you’ll be able to accessorize with all sorts of hairpins, and I have to prepare them for you, don’t I?” Li Mo explained. “As for your clothes, you’ll need a set for cultivation, a few for casualwear, and even more for formalwear.”
“Can’t you let Sister Li Luo handle this?” Yun Ruoyan laughed. “And if you prepare so many sets of clothes, I won’t have an opportunity to wear them all! Right after the marriage will be another training session, and then we’ll depart for the alternate dimension. Surely you aren’t planning on having me bring these clothes along?”
Li Mo smiled. He knew that these preparations were strictly quite unnecessary, but he couldn’t help wanting to be personally responsible for them, as though it were a necessary part of expressing his joy.
“Look! I can change the Scarlet Eye’s size at will now.” Yun Ruoyan extricated herself from Li Mo’s lap. “Won’t you teach me swordflight?”
Just as Yun Ruoyan pulled Li Mo up from his chair, Su Nan’s voice came from outside. “Your Highness, the dossier you had me prepare on Madam Qin, Qin Jianmei, is ready.”
Su Nan entered, a few stacks of papers in his hands. When he saw Yun Ruoyan, Su Nan bowed, handed the papers to Li Mo, then stood to one side.
“This is all the information I had my guards prepare on Qin Jianmei.” Li Mo pulled Yun Ruoyan back down onto his lap, and the two of them began flipping through the pages of information together.
“Oh? Madam Qin’s not from the capital,” Yun Ruoyan murmured. According to one page, Qin Jianmei had followed her father into the capital, and her father was a travelling physician. “And apparently she’s known my father for quite some time—likely even before my mother married into the Yun family!”
Yun Ruoyan handed Li Mo the page of information she was looking at. Allegedly, Qin Jianmei’s father was a common guest among the noble houses because of his talent as a physician. The Yun manor was one of the manors he frequented, and it explained how Qin Jianmei and Yun Lan had met.
The third year after Qin Jianmei arrived with her father, however, he died suddenly of an unknown cause. At the same time, Qin Jianmei assumed her father’s role as a physician and continued living in the capital alone, until she eventually married Yun Lan as a concubine and gave birth to Yun Ruoyu. Ever since then, she had mostly stayed in her own cottage in the Yun manor.
“Is there any information about Madam Qin’s family before she moved to the capital? Where was her hometown?” Yun Ruoyan asked, curious.
Prepared, Su Nan stepped forward. “Qin Jianmei and her father wandered the Chenyuan continent before entering the capital, and we’ve traced their movement through each of the four kingdoms. However, we don’t have a good understanding of any notable events that happened during their journey, or of their original hometown.”
“Who would have expected Madam Qin’s origins to be so mysterious?” Yun Ruoyan mused.
After reading through the stack of information, Li Mo then handed the sheaf of papers back to Su Nan. Although his guards weren’t able to determine whether Madam Qin was indeed responsible for her mother’s poisoning, her mysterious background drew Yun Ruoyan’s attention.
“Li Mo, have you heard of the carmine embrace?” She lay on a futon, curled up against Li Mo.
“What, your poison?” Li Mo mussed her hair as he spoke.
Yun Ruoyan sat up straight and turned to him in shock. “You know it? How did you find out?”
“Do you remember the first time we met? I knew that you had been poisoned then.”
“Of course I do! I saved your life, and you tried to return the favor by promising to find me an antidote,” Yun Ruoyan replied mischievously. “And I did receive two bottles of spiritual pills from you, but never an antidote. I bet you forgot about the matter entirely! Luckily, my grandfather helped prepare me an antidote. Li Mo, if we look at the situation this way, don’t you still owe me a considerable favor?”
“I hadn’t forgotten. In order to determine the origins of that poison, I even made a trip to the Yue kingdom. It was there that I found out that the poison originated from a shamanic tribe, and I even met with one of the elders of the tribe. However, I only managed to learn the name of the poison from him before he died in a kamikaze explosion,” Li Mo explained. “He was the only member left in his tribe, and the other tribesmen had long since wandered to all corners of the Chenyuan continent. I had no means of acquiring an antidote, but luckily, you were cured by the next time we met.”
Their gazes met, and they both thought back to that sunny afternoon when the phoenix orchids were in full bloom. Li Mo had fallen from a tree, shrouding them both in his expansive robe. That was the second time they had been in close contact with each other, and it was then that he noticed how unique Yun Ruoyan was.
“Could Madam Qin have been from that shamanic tribe?” Yun Ruoyan suddenly said.
“Yan’er, why do you think so?”
No one would think of connecting the third wife of the Yun family to a shamanic tribe that lived deep in the mountains of the Yue kingdom.
“This is only my conjecture,” Yun Ruoyan explained, snuggling into Li Mo’s embrace. “My grandfather had an ancient tome which described the carmine embrace, allegedly stemming from a shamanic tribe of the Yue kingdom. So far, this agrees with your research—but the tome continued by elaborating on the cultural practices of this tribe. Supposedly, the tribesmen worshipped a deity of reincarnation, one that required constant prayer from dawn to dusk. Madam Qin does just that.”
However, there were so many devout Buddhists around that Madam Qin’s actions couldn’t be taken to be suspicious on their own, and this was only a small reason for Yun Ruoyan’s hypothesis. “Furthermore, do you remember the sandalwood fragrance that Physician Ceng mentioned? I smelled something very similar in Madam Qin’s cottage.”
Yun Ruoyan took a deep breath, then continued. “In addition, the sudden changes in Madam Qin and Yun Ruoyu’s behavior have left me very suspicious.” One thing alone might have been a coincidence, but three?
“What of the motive?” Li Mo asked. “Does she bear some grudge toward your mother?”
Yun Ruoyan shook her head. “As far as I know, they had an amicable relationship. When I was little, she took good care of my brother and me. This is the hole in my conjecture: if they truly got along, then why would Madam Qin poison my mother with such a malicious, vile poison?”
She pushed away from Li Mo and stood up suddenly. “No matter what her motive is, and regardless of whether she was truly responsible for my mother’s poisoning, this is something I have to clear up. Tonight, I’ll sneak into Madam Qin’s rooms.”
Night fell, and a howling blizzard descended on the capital. Amidst the heavy snowfall, Li Mo flew Yun Ruoyan to the mountain at the back of the Yun manor, separated from Qin Jianmei’s rooms by only a wall.
Li Mo sheathed his sword and vaulted over the wall after Yun Ruoyan. By then, it was so dark that the manor was silent all over—yet despite the late hour, Qin Jianmei’s prayer room was still brightly lit.
Could she be praying even this late at night?
Yun Ruoyan and Li Mo exchanged a glance as they crept toward the source of the illumination, then poked a small hole through one of the chamber’s windows. Through it, they could see Qin Jianmei praying earnestly, kowtowing thrice and inserting a stick of incense into the incense burner.
Yun Ruoyan’s gaze then turned to the figure of the Buddha.
“Something’s wrong,” she murmured.
“What’s the matter?”
“The Buddha. The last time I was here, the statue was of Guanyin, not Buddha! Buddha in a past life, and Guanyin in the present… Madam Qin truly is a descendant of that shamanic tribe!” Yun Ruoyan was just about to break in through the window when Li Mo pulled her back.
“This alone isn’t enough to convict her.”
“Who is it?!” The commotion that ensued drew Qin Jianmei’s attention, and she began walking toward the window.
Two meows suddenly caused her footsteps to stop. Through the window, she could see the silhouettes of two cats in heat fornicating by the window and tearing holes in it as they tussled.
“Two little bastards… How dare you disturb the Buddha’s repose?!” Qin Jianmei’s placid face suddenly turned dark. She flung a hand at the window, shooting out two silver needles as she did so. Before they could even cry out, the two cats tumbled down the windowsill and landed headfirst in the snow.
What impressive needlework, Li Mo thought, before pulling Yun Ruoyan away from the area.
“Li Mo, let go of me! Why didn’t you let me catch her on the spot?” Yun Ruoyan asked.
“What good would that do? Did you think it would be as easy as restraining or killing her?”Previous Chapter Next Chapter