Chapter 8: First confrontation
Lou Xi Yan’s eyes followed the crowd’s line of sight to a slim figure crouching on the ground with his head down. After a long time, the person slowly stood up. A big hat covered most of his face obscuring his appearance and a large coarse linen was draped around his body. He seemed even more petite. He just looked like a harmless youngster, but Lou Xi Yan doubted that.
The person maintained his silence, amused Lou Xi Yan inquired: “Did you write this appeal?”
Zhuo Qing kept her head down, her voice low, feebly replied: “Yes.” How much she had wanted to deny it, but the kneeling idiots behind her will only get her into trouble, it’s her first time to “abhor” such simple but kind-hearted working people.
Qi Tian Yu looked at Zhuo Qing up and down sizing her up, gently he shook the appeal on his hand, he deliberately exclaimed loudly to Lou Xi Yan: “The wording is fairly concise and sharp, but the handwriting is awfully ugly.”
Zhuo Qing still kept her head down, not saying a word. Never before has she anyway claimed her handwriting is beautiful, he just wanted to provoke her, still he had a point.
Zhuo Qing decided to play dumb and stared blankly, Lou Xi Yan wasn’t perturbed, turning towards Wu Si, he asked: “you are not his family and not linked to this case, why are you clamoring for his innocence? What is your evidence that he was wrongly accused?”
Wu Si did not dare look directly at Lou Xi Yan’s eyes, the words he has rehearsed countless times before poured out of his heart like a stream: “Prime Minister Da Ren, Lin Bo Kang is the benefactor of our entire village! The Niu Jia village has only three wells. All villagers, animals, and plants for our food rely on these source of water. During times of bad weather, frequent droughts caused crop failures. Over the last few years, it was our benefactor who sustained us by providing us food and even winter blankets. Doing this not just for one or two days, but for ten years in a row. A whole decade! He’s such a great philanthropist. How could he be guilty of substituting shoddy goods, stealing and switching military provisions? Our benefactor is absolutely nothing of the kind! He must have been wrongly accused! Prime Minister Da Ren, please reconsider!”
As it turned out, this is about that case of theft and switching of army provisions, as early as a half month ago, the Ministry of Justice has already passed judgment on it. The case had human testimony and material evidence, even a letter of confession, Lou Xi Yan was puzzled, “the government office has already judged this case. Lin Bo Kang also pleaded guilty and even signed a letter of confession. What is this charge of injustice about? Unless you have supporting evidence in your hand?”
“We …” They do not have such evidence! They’re simply relying on their conviction! Fearing that Minister Lou was not convinced of its truth, Wu Si kneeled again and began to knock his head on the ground.
“Benefactor will never do such a thing! Da Ren, please reconsider!”
A big man, choking back his sobs while kowtowing, the villagers behind him followed suit, kneeled down and also began to kowtow. Dong, dong, dong … Hearing these thumping sounds really fired up Zhuo Qing’s ire. This is unbelievably a bunch of pigs! They ought to speak but they don’t, all they know is to kowtow! Zhuo Qing grabbed Wu Si’s shoulders and coldly said: “enough.”
Standing out of the crowd, Zhuo Qing stood opposite him and coldly narrated: “according to what Lin Bo Kang’s wife said, she visited him in prison after the case was sentenced. Lin Bo Kang still insisted that he was wrongfully accused. How can a man who already pleaded guilty still insists on his innocence? The case was not heard in public, we have grounds to suspect that Lin Bo Kang’s confession was extorted under torture. Either he was forced or his fingerprints were pressed on while he was in an unconscious state.”
“Torture?” Such an interesting word, though his appearance is still obscured, but his clear, calm voice and unflappable bearing, gave Lou Xi Yan a feeling that this person is no ordinary villager. Step by step he neared Zhou Qing and tenaciously asked: “having said this, do you have evidence?”
A strong sense of oppression! His voice is undoubtedly very gentle, his smiling expression very light, but every time this said gentle line of vision always makes Zhuo Qing inexplicably tense.
Gu Yun always claimed that offense is the best defense, she believed this just now! She’s never been one to retreat, today is as good as any day. Slightly raising her head, Zhuo Qing confidently said: “whether or not he was interrogated under torture, checking his body for injuries will naturally clear the issue. Lin Bo Kang insists he is wrongly accused, but obviously there’s someone who could not wait to settle this case. I dare ask the Prime Minister, if it really was interrogation under torture, what are you going to do about it?”
Lou Xi Yan was caught surprised, unexpectedly he wasn’t cowed! Under the moonlight, two people stood opposite each other. A pair of clear eyes below the hat met his steady gaze.
Yes, they’re clear! He had not come across such clear eyes in so many years. Having spent a long time in the imperial court where everyone wore masks, he almost forgot this openness. Feeling warm in his heart due to to this rare openness, Lou Xi Yan replied in a lowered tone: “If it is truly as you claim, then of course, there’ll be a retrial.”
Oh great! Pressing for more as a follow up to this victory, Zhuo Qing purposely asked aloud: “for the sake of fairness, will the Prime Minister conduct the retrial of this case in public?”
A retrial open to public? He cornered him on this! If he does not consent to a public hearing it would seem justice is not served!
Very good! With a smile Lou Xi Yan lightly nodded, languidly he responded: “I think this idea is great, making the retrial of this case open to public is very good!”
As soon as this sentence was out, Zhuo Qing basked in delight, but was thrown into the abyss soon after hearing the next sentence. “It’s just that …” Deliberately stalling his voice, Lou Xi Yan closed in on Zhuo Qing, underscoring every word distinctly, uttering every word in an exceptionally slow manner, “according to Qiong Yue’s established laws, in the absence of new evidence to prove a prisoner’s innocence, if after a retrial, he’s still convicted of the original crime, the proponent of the retrial is guilty of the crime of contempt of the court of law, his punishment can be light with a hundred cane strikes or heavy as serving the army for three years!”
What? There is such a law?! What kind of judicial system is this, filing an appeal could even possibly lead to committing a crime? Why did no one tell her about this? She swore she saw a spark of humor in the eyes of the Prime Minister, even though it was fleeting, but definitely it was there!
Zhuo Qing was just about to open her mouth, but Wu Si as soon as he heard Minister Lou was willing to reopen the case promptly got excited, loudly declared: “As I’m convinced our benefactor is innocent, I’m ready to take responsibility of this crime!”
Ready or not, my foot! Not to mention Lin Bo Kang may not necessarily be innocent, if he is really innocent, what is the evidence? Zhuo Qing itched to give Wu Si a hard kick!
She was almost overcome with anger, but at this time Lou Xi Yan displaying an exuberant smile spoke: “You! What’s your name?” This fellow is very interesting, upright and clever, and yet as if not understanding him at all, from the beginning Lou Xi Yan was covertly observing him among the mob of angry villagers, his interest in him increasingly grew.
She took a breath, restraining herself not to give vent to her anger, Zhuo Qing replied coldly: “Before you ask other people’s name, you should state your name first, this is basic courtesy.”
Is that so? Lou Xi Yan faintly smiled and replied: “Lou Xi Yan (樓夕顏).”
“Xi Yan (惜顏)?” Zhuo Qing mumbled under her breath, a pair of bright eyes flitted repeatedly across Lou Xi Yan’s face.
[Note: Lou Xi Yan’s first name means “evening countenance”, but Zhuo Qing mistook it for its homonym which means “cherished countenance”. I admit I don’t know much about Chinese names, but from the context here it seems this ‘mistaken’ name sounded a bit effeminate.]
From Zhuo Qing’s strange facial expression, Qi Tian Yu acutely sensed there was going to be a good show to watch, folded his arms across his chest and laughed: “young fellow, do you have objection to that?”
Shaking her head nonchalantly, Zhuo Qing readily replied: “none.”
Was that all? Just when Qi Tian Yu grew disappointed, Zhuo Qing in a not loud nor soft, not light nor heavy tone blurted out: “imagine an illustrious man bearing a woman’s name.”
The aftermath of Zhuo Qing’s “blurting out aloud her private musings” was startling, the hundreds of people gathered in the entrance of the village instantly fell into dead silence.
A sense of horror swamped the villagers, Jing Sa and Mo Bai scowled, Qi Tian Yu was struck dumb, even though he himself also considered Xi Yan’s name very . . . But no one ever dared to mention this to his face! Ah .. this kid! To have such chutzpah!
Qi Tian Yu swore he just caught sight of the ever gentle and refined Prime Minister Lou who’s renowned among the six kingdoms for his invariable affable smile, for the first time the corners of his mouth curved stiffly into a smile like they were . . . twitching.
Someone’s going to encounter bad luck!