The two bailiffs who were on duty last night had no idea what happened before they were knocked unconscious. Fortunately, Ye Qi didn’t drop the chain. He saw the woman who came to the prison and was certain that she was the assassin who attacked the lord. If they followed the line of the Fragrant Sky House, they would surely uncover the secret of this assassin organization.
Yu Hanjiang took the opportunity to say decisively, “Go to the Fragrant Sky House and see if we can find any evidence.”
It wasn’t convenient for Shao Qingge and Ye Qi to go to the Fragrant Sky House during the day. Yu Hanjiang asked the two of them to stay in the prefectural magistrate’s office to wait for news. He took Xiao Lou and Old Mo to the Fragrant Sky House to search for evidence.
The famous flower street in Jiangzhou was full of people at night but it was very quiet during the day. There was no one on the street. Yu Hanjiang walked to the door of the Fragrant Sky House at the end of the street and knocked on it hard.
The watchman at the door yawned and questioned lazily, “Who is it? Knocking on the door of the brothel in broad daylight, are you sick…”
Mo Xuemin spoke seriously, “This is the prefectural magistrate, Yu daren.”
The watchman’s spirit awakened and he made a flattered smile. “Yu daren! Cough, you are here. What’s wrong?”
Yu Hanjiang asked softly, “Has Aunt Qing come back?”
The watchman shook his head. “Aunt Qing hasn’t returned for two days!”
Yu Hanjiang stepped into the Fragrant Sky House.
According to the description from Ye Qi, apart from the maids and miscellaneous servants, there were 15 girls officially listed as part of the Fragrant Sky House. Most of them were singers and dancers and their residences were on the second and third floors. 12 people had participated in the birthday banquet at the prince’s mansion. It included the first group of four people dancing, the second group of five people performing the sword dance and three girls responsible for playing the accompaniment.
After Xue Yan’s failed assassination attempt, the remaining girls and the boss, Aunt Qing, were taken to the dungeon. Now they were all rescued except for Ye Qi.
In other words, there were 11 women involved in the case and only Ye Qi didn’t know about it.
There were three girls in the Fragrant Sky House who didn’t attend the birthday banquet at the prince’s mansion. It was 8 in the morning and they were still sleeping. Yu Hanjiang asked people to wake up these girls while taking Mo Xuemin and Xiao Lou to check the rooms of the remaining girls.
The people in the Fragrant Sky House were disturbed and wanted to stop them, but were frightened back by Yu Hanjiang’s sharp eyes.
Mo Xuemin shouted, “The prefectural magistrate is investigating a case. Any idle people, quickly back down!”
The servants didn’t dare go against an official and had to hide in fright, discussing what happened in private. What happened to Aunt Qing that led the prefectural magistrate himself to search the Fragrant Sky House?
Yu Hanjiang thoroughly searched the rooms of all the girls who took part in the prince’s birthday banquet, focusing on Aunt Qing’s room first.
He found a locked wooden box in Aunt Qing’s house and pried it open. It was full of jewellery and looked like her private safe. Among the piles of jewellery, a long chain caught Yu Hanjiang’s attention. It seemed this chain wasn’t a necklace but it wasn’t suitable to be hung from the waist. What was it used for?
He didn’t understand the jewellery worn by women but he felt there was something wrong with this chain. He handed it to Xiao Lou beside him and spoke in a low voice, “Madam, this thing is a bit strange. The style seems a bit different from those worn by the women of Daqi.”
Xiao Lou didn’t understand jewellery. He only wore a plain wooden hairpin on his head and didn’t know much about these jewellery. He took a closer look and stated, “This is very special in shape and design. I haven’t seen it on the streets of the capital. It really doesn’t look like jewellery from Daqi.”
Mo Xuemin came over to take a closer look and muttered, “I seem to have seen it somewhere… Ah, I have a book in my study called ‘Sights and Aspirations’. It contains records of women’s jewellery!”
Xiao Lou heard his words and was immediately interested. “Do you remember the contents of the book?”
Mo Xuemin took a step forward and took a look at the jewellery in Xiao Lou’s hand. “Sights and Aspirations records some customs and habits of the four countries. At first, I thought it had little to do with the case and it only introduced their clothing so I put it aside after glancing through it. I have an impression that the jewellery worn by the women of the four countries have different styles. This type of jewellery made of coloured stones and silk thread shouldn’t be commonly used by women in the Qi Dynasty. I just don’t remember which country it is from.”
This couldn’t be blamed on Old Mo. He spent two days looking over the files of Jiangzhou over the years and it wasn’t easy to note down the key cases. He couldn’t memorize all the books on the shelves.
Seeing Old Mo’s face fill with guilt, Xiao Lou smiled. “Don’t worry about it. Is the book still there? Let’s go back and check again.”
Yu Hanjiang also said, “Bring these jewellery back and compare them carefully to the book.”
Old Mo nodded and carefully put the jewellery box away.
Yu Hanjiang went to the other women’s rooms to search and found some similar jewellery. He handed them all to Old Mo.
He looked down from the end of the third floor corridor. There were some pigeons kept in the most concealed position in the backyard and they should be used to deliver pigeons. However, there were no signs of letters at all in the rooms of all the women, including Aunt Qing. It seemed that the boss of the Fragrant Sky House was very careful. She read the letters and burned them to leave no traces behind.
By the time Yu Hanjiang returned to the hall, the three sleeping girls had woken up.
The three girls didn’t know the whereabouts of Aunt Qing. They all said they wanted to participate in the prince’s birthday banquet but Aunt Qing thought their dancing skills weren’t good enough and wouldn’t let them go. Ye Qi was called because he was famous as the Fragrant Sky House’s first card.
Thus, only Ye Qi was in the dark about the assassination attempt on the prince.
Yu Hanjiang frowned and asked, “When was the Fragrant Sky House established?”
A girl called Qiu Shuang said, “The Fragrant Sky House has been in Jiangzhou for 10 years. I heard that a gold master spent a lot of money to build it. Aunt Qing became the boss of the Fragrant Sky House and recruited many talented girls.”
Yu Hanjiang asked again, “Do you know the origin of Aunt Qing? Where is she from?”
Qiu Shuang thought about it. “It is said that she is a Jiangzhou person. Her parents have died since childhood and she suffered a lot. She only returned to Jiangzhou 10 years ago.”
Yu Hanjiang wondered, “How does Aunt Qing usually treat you?”
Qiu Shuang said, “She is very kind to the girls. We can get 60% of the rewards from the patrons and if the guests get drunk and bully the girls then Aunt Qing will help them out. She is the best boss on this street.”
Yu Hanjiang was silent for a moment before asking, “When did you come to the Fragrant Sky House?”
Qiu Shuang looked at the two women next to them. “The three of us and Miss Ye all came here a year ago.”
Yu Hanjiang wondered, “What about the others?”
“The other dozen girls only came in the last two years.”
Yu Hanjiang questioned, “Did you know the girls who used to be in the Fragrant Sky House?”
Qin Shuang replied, “When we came, there were several girls in the Fragrant Sky House who had made enough money to leave on their own. Some found people willing to marry them. They paid enough ransom and went to be a concubine.”
Next to her, a girl called Qiu Yue added, “Oh, I heard that the last prefectural magistrate took a fancy to our top girl, Yang Liu, and made her a concubine.
Yu Hanjiang glanced at Mo Xuemin and Mo Xuemin looked embarrassed. He didn’t know about this matter at all. No wonder why he always scored an A in the Hearts room. It seemed that he wasn’t careful enough and didn’t investigate the family affairs of the former prefectural magistrate. He hadn’t expected the former prefectural magistrate to marry a girl from the Fragrant Sky House as a concubine!
Yu Hanjiang didn’t blame Old Mo. After all, when Old Mo came to this world, his predecessor had already died and Yu Hanjiang was immediately transferred to Jiangzhou as the prefectural magistrate. The cast hadn’t happened yet.
He glanced back at Qiu Shuang and asked, “Are there any detailed records of the names and whereabouts of the girls who have left the Fragrant Sky House, those who have come here recently and those who have married?”
Qiu Shuang told him, “We don’t know but there should be records?”
Qiu Yue added, “In the time since we’ve come to the Fragrant Sky House, the personnel hasn’t changed. It has always been us 15 people.”
Yu Hanjiang glanced at the three people and finally said, “You really didn’t see Aunt Qing last night?”
The trio replied in unison, “No!”
Qiu Shuang added, “Since going to the prince’s mansion to perform, Aunt Qing has never returned. We were all worried but didn’t dare go to the prince’s mansion to find her… Daren, what happened to Aunt Qing?”
Yu Hanjiang couldn’t say that Aunt Qing was the leader of an intelligence and assassin organization and had to reply in a perfunctory manner, “She is involved in a case and is temporarily detained by the government for investigation. If you see any of the girls coming back to the Fragrant Sky House then immediately report it, do you understand?”
All three nodded.
After leaving the Fragrant Sky House, Yu Hanjiang returned to the prefectural magistrate’s office and then went directly to Master Mo’s residence with Xiao Lou.
Mo Xuemin quickly found the Sights and Aspirations book that introduced the clothing of the four countries on the bookshelf.
Liu Qiao had been paying attention to the progress of the case and came to the prefectural magistrate’s office to inquire about the news. She also gave some poisonous medicinal powder to Xiao Lou for backup. If there was a danger then this poisonous powder could be used to attack.
Shao Qingge and Ye Qi heard the movement and everyone gathered in Mo Xuemin’s study. They found that he had a wall bookshelf with too many books on it.
Ye Qi couldn’t help lamenting, “How can you remember so many books?”
Mo Xuemin had a headache. “Most of it is a collection of classics and there is no need to read it. Some of it was my case interrogation notes during my time as a master here. I focused on these cases and didn’t look carefully at Sights and Aspirations, which recorded clothing and folklore. I just flipped through it and didn’t expect this book to be a key clue!”
Fortunately, he glanced at the customs of the four countries and had an impression of the clothing. Otherwise, if he missed this clue then it would be too difficult to check the source of the jewellery.
Yu Hanjiang handed the book to Xiao Lou.
Xiao Lou sat at the desk and carefully read it. He quickly found the relevant section and turned to page 10 in the book. He found some images of jewellery on it and compared it to those found in the Fragrant Sky House. Then he looked up at Yu Hanjiang. “This is the women’s headband of the Yan state.”
The surrounding teammates sucked in a breath.
After checking, it was actually the Yan state? Aunt Qin and the others were people of Yan?
Yu Hanjiang realized the seriousness of the problem and immediately came to Xiao Lou’s side, leaning over to take a closer look.
The images in the book were black and white while the jewellery was coloured but the shape, design and structure were exactly the same.
Xiao Lou stated, “According to the records in the book, the Yan state is located in the northwest. Many women have learned martial arts for hunting since they were young. They are a nomadic people and like to use pure natural stones for jewellery. When a girl is born, her mother will make a ‘hairband’ for her, using coloured silk thread wrapped around a beautiful stone. This is similar to the ‘amulet’ given by a mother and can keep her daughter safe.”
Aunt Qing’s special jewellery really did have many stones connected by silk thread.
Although Yu Hanjiang didn’t understand women’s jewellery, his keen observation skills made him aware of something wrong when he first saw it. The other jewellery were made of jade, gold or silver. Only this one used a lot of coloured stones tied with silk thread.
This clue might’ve been missed by careless people. Now just from the women’s jewellery, the shocking truth had been discovered. Aunt Qing was someone from Yan and the Fragrant Sky House girls were all likely to be Yan people!
Mo Xuemin wondered, “A hairband with many stones. Is there any meaning to it?”
Xiao Lou speculated, “Aunt Qing’s hairband has the most stones while the others have around 18~20. Since their mother gave them the first stone when they were born, perhaps one more will be added every year in the future to have the meaning of blessing? Of course, there is no record about the number of stones in the book so I’m just guessing.”
Yu Hanjiang agreed. “Madam’s speculation is very reasonable.”
His use of ‘madam’ was very smooth and Mo Xuemin paid no mind to it. He just thought Group Leader Yu was seriously playing the role. Mo Xuemin opened his mouth, “It seems that this hairband has great significance to the women of Yan so they will keep it with them.”
Xiao Lou nodded. “My guess is that Aunt Qing and the others acted in haste last night and didn’t have time to return to the Fragrant Sky House. Or they were heading back to the Fragrant Sky House when something happened on the way, causing them to temporarily change the plan and leave these jewellery behind.” He looked at Yu Hanjiang and spoke warmly. “Fortunately, Group Leader Yu was alert enough not to miss this clue.”
Yu Hanjiang was happy at being praised and there was a slight smile in his eyes.
Shao Qingge waved his fan and spoke thoughtfully, “I heard from my father that Yan is located to the northwest and the weather is harsh. The people there never wear silk and they make clothes from animal fur. Our Shao family has never been able to open a market in the Yan state.”
Ye Qi actively analyzed, “Aunt Qing is actually from the Yan state. Aren’t Yan and our Daqi fighting? If the girls of the Fragrant Sky House are all sent by the Yan state then it makes sense that they would assassinate Yu daren and the prince!”
Yu Hanjiang pinched his brow. “It seems our previous speculation is wrong again. The assassin group and the murderer of the eldest young lady and Young Master Lin aren’t the same.”
They always wanted to connect the assassin group with the murder case, thinking that the assassin was sent by someone who wanted to rebel. After encountering the eldest young lady, they killed her.
Now it seemed that the assassins were spies sent by an enemy country early on. In ancient times, it was common for two countries to send spies to each other.
Xiao Lou spoke helplessly, “This time, the two cases happen to be mixed together but they actually aren’t related. We have to split them. The assassin case is one plotline and the murder of the eldest young lady is another line.”
Yu Hanjiang nodded in agreement. He opened the book and looked at the map of the four nations. “The world is set up to have four countries: Qi, Chu, Yan and Zhao. The Chu state doesn’t have any relations with any country nor does it have any hostility. It keeps to itself and should have little to do with this case.”
His slender fingers touched the page and travelled across the spheres of influences of Yan, Qi and Zhao. “Among these three countries, the border between Yan and Qi has constant fighting. The general that Daqi sent to the front lines should be a powerful person and has resisted the Yan state’s invasion many times. Meanwhile, Daqi and the Zhao state have always had friendly relations.”
Xiao Lou spoke thoughtfully, “So 10 years ago, Yan sent Aunt Qing to Jiangzhou because Jiangzhou is the birder between Qi and Zhao. Aunt Qing set up an intelligence organization here so she can observe the movements of Qi and Zhao at any time?”
Yu Hanjiang nodded. “This time, if the marriage is successful and Qi and Zhao join hands to deal with the Yan state then the end of the Yan state can be imagined. Therefore, they used the intelligence organizations set up at the junction of Qi and Zhao to assassinate Jiangzhou’s prefectural magistrate. It is also reasonable to assassinate the Eighth Prince. This means the death of the former Jiangzhou prefectural magistrate definitely isn’t simple.”
Xiao Lou wondered, “The former prefectural magistrate married the top girl of the Fragrant Sky House… did you hear about this?”
Mo Xuemin shook his head. “I don’t have this in my memory. However, it is normal for the prefectural magistrate to have a concubine and it is normal not to tell me. After all, it isn’t suitable for the prefectural magistrate to marry a girl from the Fragrant Sky House. He might’ve secretly taken this Yang Liu home?”
Yu Hanjiang frowned. “I remember you said that the former prefectural magistrate died of illness, right?”
Mo Xuemin nodded. “It was recorded that he was old and his body wasn’t good. He died at home.”
Xiao Lou speculated, “His body has always been bad. This might be a chronic disease or it might be chronic poisoning. If the Fragrant Sky House girl he married was also a member of the intelligence organization and became a concubine, it should be very convenient for her to poison his food every day.”
Mo Xuemin shuddered. “It makes sense! By the way, I have overlooked a detail. The former prefectural magistrate might be dead but what about his family? His wife and children don’t seem to be in JIangzhou.”
Yu Hanjiang’s face was solemn. “His family members might’ve been poisoned.”
Ye Qi suddenly spoke seriously, “I have a guess. That girl called Yang Liu married the elderly Jiangzhou prefectural magistrate and became a concubine. She must’ve gone to the prefectural magistrate’s side to inquire about news, court documents etc. She might’ve looked secretly and as a result, the prefectural magistrate found she was wrong. Then she simply killed the prefectural magistrate’s entire family to shut their mouths?”
Shao Qingge followed his thoughts with a smile. “However, Yu daren is famous for having a deep relationship with his wife and his character is also upright. The plan for a girl of the Fragrant Sky House to be around Yu daren will definitely be difficult to realize. Therefore, there was an assassination attempt on the night when Yu daren came to Jiangzhou to take office, wanting to kill him?”
Old Mo wondered, “Is their assassination attempt on the prince in order to destroy the marriage plan between Qi and Zhao?”
Ye Qi immediately nodded. “Yes! The death of the prefectural magistrate is enough for the court to have a headache for a while. If the prince dies then the marriage of his relatives will have to be postponed and Qi and Zhao can’t form an alliance. Perhaps these assassins will also pour the dirty water on the envoy from Zhao, so that Qi and Zhao will turn on each other? The more chaotic Qi is, the more favourable it is for them!”
Xiao Lou and Yu Hanjiang glanced at each other.
Under their influence, their teammates had started to reason things out carefully and put on the look of a detective.
Today, the truth of Aunt Qing’s identity became clear. The reasoning of Ye Qi, Old Mo and the others was also logical. The assassins were from Yan and the assassination attempts on Yu Hanjiang and the prince weren’t related to the rebellion. It was to stop the marriage to Zhao.
if they failed then they would certainly have a plan for the next step.
Thinking of this, Yu Hanjiang’s expression changed and he stood up. “The second young lady is in danger!”