Dai Youming was a scholar whose hometown was a month away from the capital on foot. While his hometown wasn’t derelict, his family lived on pennies. For that reason, his only means of improving their life was through assiduous studying for ten years. Seeing how deprived his family was, the people in his hometown donated their savings to sponsor his trip to the capital. Alas, he encountered problem after problem.
Dai Youming finally qualified in the scholastic examinations in Yuansheng’s thirteenth year, winning Prime Minister Li’s approval for his determination and spent the next seventeen years to rise to fourth rank.
In the nine years prior to Dai Youming’s success, his relative kicked him out after his first failed attempt in the exams, leaving him to sleep with the cattle. Subsequent to his second failure, his uncle seized the only inkstone his father left him, forcing Dai Youming to purchase it from him even though it wasn’t worth squat.
To make ends meet while studying and taking examinations, Dai Youming wrote letters, sold paintings, toiled in manual labour and even worked in the kitchen. The day he received news he had passed, he was begging for food and donations on the street. On the same day, people started being friendly with him again. That was also the day that he realised his naivety. “This is the true nature of humans,” he realised.
It didn’t take Dai Youming long to learn the rules of the political arena when he had already witnessed people throwing morals to the curb or otherwise twisting them whenever it was convenient.
Dai Youming’s last seventeen years of service didn’t benefit the nation. He flattered his superiors, partook in dirty businesses, recruited local officials into his faction and made money whenever the opportunity presented itself. Anytime the imperial court could dip their hands in something, his hand was in the dip. As such, he knew who to flatter and who was at the heart of the hurricane in the capital.
Over a month had gone by since Emperor Yuansheng instated Red Prince in his stead while the former “joined Empress Dowager on Mount Zisheng”, and it was apparent that the latter wasn’t up to standard.
Despite having been in the capital for a long time, Red Prince hadn’t made any noteworthy accomplishments thus far for two reasons. Firstly, there was no opportunity for him to demonstrate his abilities when his father was around. Secondly, his constant conflicts with Orange Prince didn’t help either of them create a good impression. As a consequence, Red Prince was never given any duties. This was perfect for Dai Youming. After all, where there is a problem, there’s room for someone to “fix” things.
Red Prince once said, “I must always have jade on me if there is no sound reason for me to discard it.” What jade item could a fourth rank official possibly offer a Prince? Who else would have likely seen a wider variety of jade goods? No matter, though, for Red Prince had another hobby that a fourth rank official could capitalise on – women, especially young ones from Jiangnan. Though there were no rumours of Red Prince having a concubine, which Orange Prince was notorious for, if you thought about it, it made sense for them to keep up appearances for the throne’s sake.
As luck would have it, Dai Youming happened to spot a lively, graceful maiden at Jianan House’s jade store with her lover. Judging from her pronunciation, she had to be from Jiangnan. He later found out she was even the daughter of a jade artisan. For a fan of jade and a young girl from Jiangnan to be packaged into one individual, that would be the most ideal gift. Thus, Dai Youming ambushed the couple when they went out during the lantern festival to kidnap her and then silence Bei Clan, breaking her lover’s leg in the process.
It took a while to pave the way to Red Prince’s manor, so Miss Chai was locked in Dai Youming’s secret chamber. Needless to say, she was provided with the best treatment to ensure she was presented to His Highness in her best condition.
Red Prince expressed interest upon hearing from Dai Youming and sent an envoy to his place last night to retrieve her today. The ship was sailing smoothly until a group stormed the manor when only a few golden rays were on the horizon.
As he got dressed, Dai Youming thundered, “You think you’re above the law?! How dare you vandalise my manor?!” He booted his steward and added, “And you! How dare you drag me out?!”
The steward, zoning out as though he couldn’t feel the pain from the kick, only muttered, “So pretty…”
Dai Youming no longer needed clarification or questioned the mental health of his steward when he saw Ming Suwen dimpling despite his raging, seducing with her succubus eyes. Had it not been for the tall man beside him, he would’ve fossilised.
The intuition of Liu Shan Men’s constables warned them not to take their eyes off Red Prince’s towering envoy dressed in aged red attire.
Dai Youming’s guards were just roving warriors he hired. Therefore, they stood no chance against Liu Shan Men’s female constables, who had been polishing their reputation through the several cases they recently cracked. With Zhu present, however, Dai Youming had no need to fear the constables.
“S-Sir Zhu, you must help this one.”
Without looking back at Dai Youming, Zhu responded, “If she violates the law, I shall aid you.”
“How dare you trespass into an official’s property without an edict?! You think you can do as you please just because you’re constables of Liu Shan Men? I’m reporting you to His Highness now.” Because he couldn’t get a response out of Ming Suwen, Dai Youming erupted, “You deaf?! I’m talking to you!”
“I heard you.” Ming Suwen plugged her ears with her fingers and frowned. In spite of being cognisant that he was being treated as a fool, Dai Youming couldn’t find it in him to yell again. “I apologise for entering without notifying you first,” she added, clasping her hands but showing no intention of getting up to show sincerity.
“Mm… Since you know you were impulsive, you shouldn’t have made the mistake. What’s your n-”
Ming Suwen pursed her lips into a subtle upward curve. “I am a constable of Liu Shan Men. My surname is Ming.”
“Ah, Female Official Ming.”
“Female official” was a term created for female officials in the imperial court. Since Shen Yiren established the female constables as an official division of Lui Shan Men, there were bound to be rankings within, so Dai Youming deemed it safest to opt for a general term than to mistake Ming Suwen’s rank.
“You need not sound so distant, Sir. You are of the same rank as our vice-captain. We will be looking up to you as our exemplar.”
“… I do have to respect Vice-Captain Shen and Captain Song.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
Seeing as Ming Suwen was polite, Dai Youming stopped yelling and toned himself down to a voice appropriate for discourse.
“May I ask what purpose of your visit is so urgent that you could not even wait for me to be notified first? If I am not happy with your explanation, then… whew.”
“Reporting! Nothing in the eastern buildings.”
“Reporting! Nothing in the western buildings.”
“Reporting! Nothing in the garden.”
“Reporting! Nothing in the study.”
Ming Suwen regarded the four constables who flitted in too fast for Dai Youming to see. “Keep searching.”
She had her subordinates search my place without my permission?!
“Female Official Ming, wh-what is the meaning of this?”
Ming Suwen grabbed her chin and leaned back in her chair, still not sparing Dai Youming a glance: “I am searching for answers at your manor. Is it not obvious? We will be done soon.”
Who does she think she is?! Wait, wait, wait… If she finds out…
“Y-you are disregarding the law! You call yourself a constable, yet you are searching an official’s property?!”
“Eh? Am I not allowed to? Kelan.”
Kelan passed Ming Suwen a stack of paper thoughtlessly, and the latter chucked them out front, bereft of thought. As a scholar, Dai Youming didn’t understand martial artists. When he saw the seal of the Ministry of Rites, nonetheless, he freaked out, fearing his secret agenda had come to light. He shakily picked up a sheet and stretched his eyelids apart. He picked up another sheet and then turned pale. Meanwhile, Ming Suwen started grinning to herself as she lifted her hands to her ears.
“Are you out of your minds?!” Dai Youming belted as he waved the sheets around. “You trespassed on all thirteen officials’ estates to investigate a case?! Every single one of these are complaints about Liu Shan Men, aren’t they?! How do you rack up a mountain of complaints?!”
Ming Suwen poked her tongue out.
“You even vandalised the secretary of Ministry of Works’ place? You people are crazy!”
“Don’t say that. Lu is my sister. We get along like best friends.”
She’s acquainted with the Secretary of Work’s family? This is bad… If she didn’t have any qualms about searching his place, what am I to her when I’m only his subordinate? I doubt the legal repercussions even crossed her mind!
Ming Suwen narrowed her eyes, causing Dai Youming to devolve into further panic. “So you are hiding a secret at home, Sir.”
“N-no, I am not! Sir Zhu, you must arrest her.” Dai Youming tried to take cover beside Zhu, but the latter moved away. “You are his subordinate, and you are here to retrieve your guest, no? Look at her. She’s thousands of times prettier than the other girl. She might be a better fit for his tastes. If you offer her to him, our futures m-”
“Unless there is a violation of the law, I will not intervene.” It’s not common to associate red, the colour Red Princes’ people liked to sport for uniform’s sake, with calmness, yet the tall swordsman with an inlaid ruby in his sword hilt and red bandana came off as the most frigid man Dai Youming had ever met.
“How has she not? Did you not see the sheets? They clearly state her violations. Moreover, they are searching this one’s property. The law does not permit that.”
Zhu turned to Ming Suwen: “Woman, you have stepped out of line.”
“Yeah, and so?”
When Zhu walked over, Lan Kelan immediately clutched her sword hilt: “Sis… let me…”
“You’re not his match.” Ming Suwen got out of her seat and performed wrist circles, though Lan Kelan could tell the former was serious for once. “I might not be, either, but we’ll have to try.”
Zhu chose not to draw his sword from his red-scaled belt, responding to Ming Suwen’s palm thrust with his own. As soon as they made contact, Ming Suwen immediately moved out of Zhu’s counterattack position. Based on her movement, the superior pugilist was already clear to them.
“Before you act, measure yourself up to the task. Challenging an obstacle you cannot climb over will only result in you falling to your death,” Zhu asserted in a stoic voice.
“Why so serious, punk?”
“This is outside of your jurisdiction.”
“And if I insist?”
“… Tell your people to leave.”
Zhu initiated this time, coming out harder, yet Ming Suwen smiled despite her previous loss.
“Now we’re talking.”
Ming Suwen circled around to Zhu’s back and pushed her energy through him after pressing a hand on his back. Their energies combined to tear apart the floor, revealing the hollow section below. The rumbling prompted the other female constables to race back to the main hall.
Underground were eight cells, where three young maidens were held captive in each – save for the last one, who was already dressed up as a bride.
Dai Youming, who fell through, pleaded, “Sir Zhu, please help this one…”
Zhu’s freezing gaze was focused solely on Ming Suwen.
She borrowed my force to break the ground… No, the first exchange was a ruse to deceive me. Who is she…?
“Hehe, Sir Dai, I did not know you had residents who have a hobby of living underground,” Ming Suwen teased.
“They… They… They are actually pitiful girls. I, this one rescued them from their kidnapper and was… was planning on having them testify as witnesses. We just haven’t brought them up fr-”
“Ah, I see.” Ming Suwen offered a thumbs-up. “Now that is why you are a true friend, preparing everything for us to sweep in and take the credit. We shall save you the hassle of reporting. Bring them up.”
Desperate, Dai Youming took out a knife and pointed it at Miss Chai from outside her cell. “Nobody moves, or I w-, kgh!”
As agony flourished in his newfound stump, Dai Youming watched his hand fall to the ground. “Y-you would dare?!”
“Sir Dai, you seem to misunderstand something important. I am not interrogating you as an official from Liu Shan Men, so you don’t need to worry about losing your status. I’m just here to help some moping parents find their daughters. What you should be worrying about is whether or not you’ll be alive to continue holding your status after conducting this odious deed. I shouldn’t need to expound any further.” Ming Suwen spun around and, once again, added in a soft tone, “I hear… you’re a scholar.”
Prime Minister Li’s praise for Dai Youming returned to his mind. He gasped up a mouthful of blood and then passed out. Whether that was permanent or not was for another to tell.
Thus, the kidnapping case was solved overnight.
“Ning’er! Ning’er! You’ve finally come home.”
“Tsk, tsk, what a touching father and daughter reunion.” Ming Suwen pointed to the other maidens. “Huahua, choose a couple of sisters to join you. Ask them for their addresses and escort them home. Ask them for a testimony once they’ve had their rest.”
On their way out of Dai manor, Lan Kelan inquired, “Sister Suwen, how was this case?”
Ming Suwen raised her head to let the golden light illuminate her beautiful face and squinted. “… Pretty boring.”
Ever since Ming Suwen joined Liu Shan Men, she spent more time bored than any other emotion, ostensibly dissatisfied and yearning for something the same way she’d peer into the distance as though what she yearned for was found at the end of the world.
“That said…” Ming Suwen looked back to Miss Chai and her father with a smile. “Nothing is more important than their safety.”
Kelan – Pronounced like “ker lan”.
Female officials – this is not a real thing as far as the history we know. Depending on which era we’re talking about, the term can entail more than ladies-in-waiting (which were also referred to as palace women, palace ladies or court ladies). This is why the author added in the explanation.