Chapter 202 : To Find Oneself Completely Isolated
“Minister Jiang,” Sun Xu said with a straight face, “The court is not a place for you to mess around at will; we hear from the witness first.”
Before Jiang Quan could speak any further, Hu Die kowtowed to Sun Xu and said, “Replying to Daren, this servant is here to disclose the crimes that were committed by Furen (Xia Yan).” Her head was lowered, but her voice was clear and loud, just enough to reach the ears of the populace outside who were watching the excitement. “At that time, when the previous Furen (Zhao Mei) was still alive, my family’s Furen was still just a yiniang. Although Master dearly loved her and Young Miss, the position of the matriarch was still held by the previous Furen (Zhao Mei). My family’s Furen had always been proud and arrogant and coming from a noble aristocratic family, she was naturally not willing to be inferior to others. Although daily necessities like food were not too bad, and sometimes her status was even higher than that of Furen, she was still dissatisfied.”
Although Hu Die’s words seemed to be just stating the facts, once it fell upon others’ ears, it felt entirely different. No one was unaware of how Xia Cheng had gotten his Marquis title in the first place: if it wasn’t for his brother’s early death, as one who was born as a shu son, the title would never have fallen on him. Moreover, the title had only been obtained after Xia Yan entered the Jiang fu. Before that, she was just the daughter of a minor official shu son. How could she have regarded herself as part of a noble official family– to think that she had the cheek to say that about herself– because if she were truly a noblewoman from an aristocratic line of officials, why would Jiang Quan have married Zhao Mei first instead of Xia Yan? For a daughter that came from a shu son to be this vain, when according to Hu Die’s words Xia Yan’s status in the Jiang fu was even higher than that of Zhao Mei, if this wasn’t neglecting the wife to favor the concubine, what else could this be?
Everyone had heard of the rumours that Jiang Quan only favoured Xia Yan, but they had assumed that this had happened only after Zhao Mei’s death. However, to find out that Jiang Quan had done such ridiculous things not too long after Zhao Mei married into the Jiang fu, didn’t this truly show how he couldn’t bear to be parted from her (Zhao Mei) family’s power? And yet, when he found out that the relationship would not bring any benefits to his official career, he revealed his true colours.
Hu Die continued, “Later, Furen thought about it. As an official of the court, Master could not divorce his wife without rhyme or reason, so she would have to live under another’s thumb for the rest of her life. And, as she was unwilling, she decided to poison the previous Furen. Back then, Furen used a lot of money to buy poison from a foreign country and have it mixed into the previous Furen’s daily meals. She was poisoned bit by bit, until eventually enough poison accumulated in her body and one day she breathed her last. And, Master knew about all of this. One time, Furen’s poison was discovered by Master but Master simply reminded Furen to be careful and to not leave any traces behind that could be used against her.” After she finished speaking, Hu Die kowtowed twice to Sun Xu and said, “Daren, everything that this servant has spoken of is entirely true, I wouldn’t dare to speak one false word.”
“It’s nonsense! It’s all nonsense!” Jiang Quan pointed at Hu Die and cursed angrily. “Who gave you the courage to speak nonsense here, to disturb people’s hearts! Hu Die, don’t forget who you are! You are a servant of my Jiang family! “
Hu Die shook her head. “Master has probably forgotten. Hu Die’s deed of slavery is no longer there, and Hu Die is no longer a member of the Jiang fu.” As she spoke, although she tried her best to suppress her feelings, there was still a trace of hatred shown in her eyes.
Jiang Quan was at a loss for words, and Sun Xu slapped the wooden gavel again. “Silence!”
Hu Die knelt on the ground and spoke again, “Responding to Daren, this servant has physical evidence to share!”
Jiang Quan was taken aback, and Sun Xu asked in a deep voice, “Where is the evidence?”
Hu Die glanced at Jiang Ruan, who was sitting peacefully on a seat at the side. The smile at the curl of her lips seemed to be unshaken since the very beginning. Hu Die’s heart settled calmly as she continued with an honest tone, “It is in the residence where Furen lived. At that time, the poison was so rare and precious because of its origins, and since Furen didn’t know when the previous Furen would become terminally ill, she ordered me to keep it as she had thought that the poison might still be useful in the future. So this servant buried it under a tree in Furen’s yard. There, the prescription remained, but later Master said it was still useful so he kept it for himself in a box in the study. However, the Master probably forgot about the box. Sometime later, Furen asked this servant to clean up the study, and this servant placed the box into a wooden chest. That wooden chest had not been touched for many years because it only contained numerous old things.”
Zhao Guang cupped his hands at Sun Xun and nodded his head towards him, and the tone in his words was already unquestionable, “Sun Daren, since all the evidence has been presented, wouldn’t it be prudent to send someone to search for it?”
“Naturally.” Sun Xu replied with a stern expression, “This official has already ordered the officers to search Minister Jiang’s fu.”
Jiang Quan sneered, “Truly ridiculous, you think you can convict me with a few words of nonsense? Hu Die, I think you are not afraid of death!” Smug with a well thought out plan in mind, he was confident that the officers would be unable to find anything in the Jiang fu. Moreover, he had never directly intervened when Xia Yan was poisoning Zhao Mei, and Xia Yan would not have been so stupid as to leave any evidence. She was careful and considerate in doing things; always making sure to clean up all loose ends so that no information could be used against them. Although he didn’t know what benefit Hu Die had received from Jiang Ruan to falsify evidence like this, Jiang Quan firmly believed that not just anyone could enter the Jiang fu. His study room, being the most important place of them all, was personally checked by him several times a day. What wooden chest, what box, he had never even heard of these before.
Hu Die probably only cared about lying, but she couldn’t produce any real evidence. If you couldn’t produce it, then no verdict could be made, so what would happen to Hu Die? Upon thinking of this, he glanced at Jiang Ruan’s expression and saw her sitting upright. She seemed to notice his gaze, and turned her head to smile at him. Jiang Ruan’s smile was even more calm than Jiang Quan’s, and there seemed to be some subtle ridicule hidden within it. That gaze immediately woke up Jiang Quan’s heart, and he couldn’t help but feel a little scared. It’s not that Jiang Quan didn’t know how evil his daughter was. For so many years, whether it was the Xia family or him, none of them have been able to extract any benefit from her. The Jiang fu was an impenetrable fortress, and yet they could not keep her from coming up with some unforeseen ways to harm them.
In the next moment, the officers in charge of the search returned, and the leader of the officers strode into the courtroom with a report. He leaned over and whispered a few words to Sun Xu, and Sun Xu glanced at Jiang Quan while listening. Jiang Quan’s heart thumped. Before he could figure it out, Sun Xu slapped the wooden gavel and shouted, “How bold of you, Jiang Quan! As an official of the imperial court, you don’t manage your family strictly, let your concubine harm others, and even colluded with her to murder your wife. How should you be punished? The officers have found evidence from the box in the wooden chest in your residence, what else do you have to say?” After finishing speaking, the official beside him presented an iron box, which everyone could clearly see. A thin piece of paper floated out of the box that Sun Xu opened in his hand, and it was impossible to fake it under the watchful eyes of everyone.
Zhao Yuan Ping got up and walked towards Sun Xu. He took it in his hands to read. After reading it at a glance, Zhao Yuan Ping returned the paper to Sun Xu, and when he looked at Jiang Quan again, his smile was completely indifferent. “Minister Jiang is really good at scheming! If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, this nobleman wouldn’t have known that there could be such a cruel and unscrupulous person in the world.”
Zhao Yuan Ping was usually subtle when he rebuked others with mean sarcasm and Jiang Quan’s face turned livid after he heard his words. But, what was happening was unbelievable. He came and stood on trial today, but before he left, he had checked the study carefully. He had not seen any wooden chest or box, so how could one suddenly appear? What exactly was going on here? He cried out about this injustice, “I definitely did not do this. Sun Xu, as an official in charge of the case, the investigation should check all loose ends thoroughly. To dare convict me of crime with merely a small prescription? Isn’t it obvious that someone is deliberately framing me? How can you not be aware of this?”
“This official has always only looked at the evidence.” Sun Xu said unhurriedly. It was not that he did not understand the underlying threat in Jiang Quan’s words, but what kind of case was this? This was Xiao Shao’s wife, the current Jinying Wangfei, and the former Hong’an Junzhu who had personally filed a petition. No one in the imperial court of the capital was unaware of the kind of power that the Jinying Wangfu, which supported her, had. Xiao Shao had even personally given him his greetings, thus how could he dare to neglect this. Moreover, the murdered woman in this case was still the apple of the eye of the General fu. If he was unable to give them a proper explanation, given the nature of Zhao Guang’s family’s protectiveness, he feared that they might tear him apart; not to mention that person in the palace had also given his regards as well.
Although the investigation department specialised in cases that ordinary people dare not handle, even if high officials in the capital were involved, Sun Xu was fearless because he relied on the Emperor to support his official career. So, he need not fear anyone’s displeasure. However, if it was someone the Emperor trusted, there would be no fish when the water was clear; Sun Xu knew this ‘truth’ very well. After so many years of convicting many high officials, while still holding strong to his position without fail, Sun Xu was extremely astute at managing such relations. Now that Xuan Pei’s status in the palace was rising steadily, the Emperor looked favourably on him. Whilst the Fifth Prince and Eighth Prince were only fighting openly and manoeuvring covertly, no one could be certain who the throne would fall to. Maybe, the future heir apparent of Great Jin would be the budding genius Thirteenth Prince. Xuan Pei had especially asked someone to send his regards. Although he was unsure of the reason, Sun Xu felt a lot of pressure. It was precisely because they had been colleagues for so many years that Sun Xu could see clearly that it would be very difficult for Jiang Quan to be given benevolence now, because everyone that he had offended, each one of them had the ability to put him to death.
Zhao Yuan Feng said leisurely, “Minister Jiang, the Jiang fu is your residence, so naturally only your people can enter it. You don’t even know when the box was put in, so you can’t ask us outsiders for the answer you are looking for. Ever since the fu was established, I am aware that apart from my meimei, the Zhao family has never set foot inside your Jiang fu.”
What Zhao Yuan Feng said was not without irony. At first Zhao Mei broke off contact with the Zhao family, but after Zhao Mei’s death, the Jiang family also banned all relations and contact with the General fu. They even secretly regarded the General fu as an enemy. Consequently, since the Zhao and Jiang families had never dealt with each other, it wasn’t worth mentioning that this Zhao family had never entered their fu.
Jiang Quan had hit a snag but had no intention of arguing with Zhao Yuan Feng. It seemed that he had finally understood the magnitude of these affairs. With all the witnesses and material evidence, and after looking at Sun Xu’s attitude, it was looking very difficult for him to escape any conviction. By now, Jiang Quan, who had always been confident, was somewhat in a panic. He was desperately thinking about how the box had appeared in the study, and his eyes swept around the crowd without focusing, before he suddenly froze.
A familiar figure was mixed in the crowd. It was a young and beautiful woman, and Jiang Quan was taken aback momentarily before a few thoughts flashed through his mind. He immediately called out, “Xia Yue! You despicable woman, you have actually hurt me!”
The figure of the woman in the crowd was Xia Yue, the current Furen of the Jiang fu. Initially she had lowered her head to avoid Jiang Quan’s gaze after meeting his eyes, but upon hearing Jiang Quan shouting so loudly, she couldn’t help but feel a little annoyed. Immediately becoming overwhelmed, she blushed and remained silent.
Jiang Quan seemed to have figured it out in an instant, and without caring where he was, he cursed loudly, “It’s her! It was this conniving woman who colluded with outsiders to harm me. She is the only one who can enter my study! Only she could sneak something into it in the shortest amount of time without anyone noticing. Xia Yue, I have treated you well, but you are so vicious to harm your own husband! You poisonous woman!”
Xia Yue was in the crowd, and everyone turned their attention to her. She endured it, then suddenly shed two trails of tears. “Laoye, since Yue’er has become your wife, have I done something wrong for you to treat me like this? To even pin such a crime onto Yue’er, how could Yue’er frame Laoye? If anything happened to Laoye, how can Yue’er, a helpless woman, survive? Yue’er knows that Laoye and Yan Jiejie had feelings for each other like the depths of the ocean, but Yue’er has not been favoured by Laoye since she passed the door. But Laoye, Yue’er is also your wife, how can you treat Yue’er like this?” She naturally looked thin and timid, and these words of hers revealed an extremely sad disposition. Showing a heartbroken attitude, she knelt down and kowtowed a few times towards the gate of the courtroom. “Forget it, Laoye, since you and I are husband and wife, if Yue’er can save Laoye, Yue’er would be willing to use her life to do so! It is true, the box and wooden chest were placed inside by Yue’er!”
When she said this, she burst into tears, almost fainting from crying. People would always sympathise with the weak, and if the weak was a beautiful woman, their sympathy would be doubled. The more Xia Yue spoke, the more everyone suspected that Jiang Quan had even framed his new wife. He was really a selfish man. Xia Yue’s words were reasonable. Indeed, now that the Xia family was gone, why would she frame Jiang Quan, because if the Jiang family fell, she would become a widow, and how hard it would be for her to live. As for what Xia Yue said about Jiang Quan still deeply reminiscing about Xia Yan, the audience sneered. They feared that only a man like Jiang Quan would still deeply long for an unfaithful woman who made him wear a green hat. Truly, whatever pot there was would only fit that lid it needed.
Jiang Ruan watched Xia Yue’s performance with a smile, only finding it interesting. The women of the Xia family seemed to be born with an acting talent, especially when it came to making people cry and sympathise with them. What Jiang Quan succumbed to the most back then was Xia Yan’s little tricks like this. But now that Xia Yan had changed to Xia Yue, who knew if Jiang Quan could still tolerate it. Only with true experience, would one be able to tell the greatness of a woman’s lies and tears. Now Jiang Quan probably hated the Xia family too.
Xia Yue was a smart person. Now that the Xia family had collapsed, her being a pawn to maintain the relationship between the Xia and Jiang families was completely useless. Xia Yue was also aware that with Jiang Quan’s ambition, as a useless person, one day she too would be kicked like a stumbling rock to the curb. Besides, she was now the furen of the Jiang family, and she knew exactly what state the Jiang family was in– a mansion with an empty shell would collapse sooner or later. Whilst Jiang Quan treated her rather neutrally, Xia Yue was still young – how could she be reconciled with such treatment. The women of the Xia family had always been ambitious, and even if Xia Yue was a distant cousin, she was not willing to be buried like this for the rest of her life. Jiang Ruan had offered her a deal, and so without any hesitation, Xia Yue betrayed Jiang Quan for her own future.
Jiang Quan was really going crazy with anger, and the eyes of the people around him were full of suspicion. He wanted to find someone who could help him speak up, but in the end he found that no one was willing to. None of his wives, his children, his colleagues, or even his allies were by his side now. He suddenly realized that he had become the one who was abandoned; he had become a useless abandoned person.
“Is this what you want?” Jiang Quan stared heavily at Jiang Ruan, and suddenly laughed miserably. “You have made everyone betray me. What a good daughter I raised, hahaha, I didn’t know that I raised such a good daughter!”
“Too many unrighteous deeds will only lead to death.” Jiang Ruan lightly replied, “Minister Jiang, the Heavens are watching, so don’t think you can get away with anything. When you did all of this to my mother back then, you should have considered this ending.” Yes, she wanted Jiang Quan to taste the fate of being betrayed. In her previous life, her father had strategized and turned all those who were not valued by him into pawns in his hands, stepping stones for the Jiang family, as he paved the way step by step for Jiang Su Su’s position as the Empress. Every step of the glory of the Jiang family was forged by the sacrifice and blood of the three of them, her mother, brother and herself. Now Jiang Quan should also have a taste of this: this kind of struggling with nowhere to go, lonely and hopeless, and a sudden awareness that you have been betrayed by everyone. Furthermore, the ironic realisation that one has become truly useless. He liked to play chess, right? That was fine too! In this life, she would just change the person in charge of the chessboard. She would write the stratagem for this round and he would be the final move and the final useless piece in the game. He was nothing but a useless pawn!
Jiang Quan suddenly shut up and he looked straight at Jiang Ruan. Jiang Ruan’s undisguised hatred and crazed eyes met his, and he suddenly felt a burst of fear. He didn’t know where Jiang Ruan’s hatred came from, or how a person could show such a terrifying expression, like a man-eating beast.
“Jiang Quan, do you plead guilty?” Seeing that the chaos was almost over, Sun Xu slapped the wooden gavel and shouted.
Jiang Quan turned around dully, looked at Sun Xu on the pedestal and slowly laughed. He stood there and said with some disdain, “Sun Xu, why are you pretending to be noble? Everyone is an official in the same dynasty, and none of us are innocent. Today you treat me like this because I admit that my strength is inferior to others, I have nothing to say. I also admit to this crime! But I hope you remember that I just succumbed to authority. Today, if I could have been powerful enough to withstand this, I would have fought to the very end!”
When Jiang Ruan heard what he said, the corners of her eyes slowly bent downward, and she smiled slightly. As expected of Jiang Quan, who had been an official for many years, he could see the significant points at a glance. In today’s matter, in fact, the witness testimony was not that important, and the physical evidence was not important as well. It all merely depended on how the case was tried. And, Sun Xu’s attitude was the most important thing. Jiang Quan had probably thought that Sun Xu would not dare to go too far for the sake of them being colleagues, but Sun Xu’s attitude could only explain one thing- someone was doing something to support Jiang Ruan. No matter who that person was, someone who could make Sun Xu bow down for him must have a strong background. When Jiang Quan pleaded guilty, he even kept a hand to himself. He pretended to be so generous in pleading guilty, but those last few sentences of his would make others wonder and speculate about other things. Even if he pleaded guilty, he would take advantage of the opportunity to pour a basin of dirty water on Jiang Ruan and Sun Xu, which was really sinister of him.
Was Jiang Quan the only one capable of doing such a thing? Jiang Ruan smiled slightly, Jiang Quan never wasted time on useless things. Now that he had confessed his sins, what effect can such innocuous splashing of dirty water everywhere have? This kind of behaviour seemed to be one of an incompetent person who was finally grabbing and biting randomly. In Jiang Ruan’s eyes, she could only find it ridiculous. She slowly stood up and walked to Jiang Quan. Everyone looked at the pair silently. Jiang Quan was emotional, his old face was flushed and distorted, and his thin cheekbones that had protruded slightly had darkened– he no longer had the appearance of a handsome young official. In contrast, Jiang Ruan was youthful, with a snowy skinned appearance and a very calm expression; she even had a gentle smile on her face.
These two people, one ugly and one beautiful, one manic and one calm, one angry and the other smiling, they really didn’t look like father and daughter at all. Jiang Ruan walked up to Jiang Quan, and Jiang Quan glared at her tightly, there was anger and resentment in his eyes, and even a trace of fear, but there was really no trace of warmth in his eyes. Jiang Ruan had long since been used to this. She stopped in front of Jiang Quan, sighed suddenly with a soft voice and said, “It turns out that Minister Jiang, who has always had great ambitions, will have a moment where he succumbs to power.”
She said it with a sigh, but it was like a slamming punch hitting Jiang Quan’s heart. What appeared vaguely in front of his eyes was actually memories when he was proud to have been newly ordained as a noble of the imperial court. Even though his ambition was greater than the sky, his fortune was thinner than paper. He had always wanted to pretend to be like a clean stream and unworldly, but now he had taken the initiative to admit that he had fallen under the footsteps of power. This was a fatal blow to him and an intolerable shame. And this shame had come from this daughter of his who he had only treated like dirt.
The more glamorous Jiang Ruan seemed, the more Jiang Quan felt the humbleness of his current status. He had always been a cowardly and hypocritical person from the bottom of his heart, and he had always valued the way others look at him, so it took him many years to build a clean and honest appearance. Now that this layer of skin had been torn off, Jiang Quan couldn’t bear it anymore, he felt that he couldn’t breathe, and passed out straight away.
Two officials quickly carried Jiang Quan away as Sun Xu slapped the wooden gavel and shouted, “Minister Jiang Quan has pleaded guilty in court. He conspired with his concubine, Xia-shi, to murder his wife and harm his children. These are heinous crimes. The evidence of the crime is clear. Everyone, even though families have their own values, the empire has laws. According to the law, if anyone commits any kind of vicious act, they will be thrown into prison and stand before the court the next day!”
The crowd watching the excitement from outside suddenly chattered raucously as Zhao Guang clenched his fists tightly. He had restrained himself very well today, now, after hearing Jiang Quan had pleaded guilty whilst he was certain that he would not be able to escape his crime, Zhao Guang still couldn’t stop from going out of control. Zhao Yuan Jia comforted him whilst Zhao Yuan Ping and Zhao Yuan Feng looked at each other with heavy eyes.
Jiang Ruan stood there indifferently, watching Jiang Quan being dragged away, and slowly lowered her eyes. Is this the end? Of course not.