of them.”

After last night’s fright, Zhang Qingyu appeared increasingly distracted, and listened to all these silently.
It was just then that he interjected hesitatingly, “If there are too many people, the news will spread even faster and farther.
What if….”

Duan Tongzhou never bothered with asking for his opinion and casually offered some words of comfort.
“Lord Mayor, don’t worry.
The orders given to the men are brief and kept to a minimum.
So even if someone makes inquiries at some future point, what could they possibly know?”

Officer Qian waited for a while, and seeing that the mayor did not continue to object, he knew that Master Qin was now calling the shots.
Sighing silently, he clasps his fists to accept the order and immediately went about making arrangements.

After being a government official for so many years, Zhang Qingyu understood many things about the ways of the world, and his concerns were justified.
Officer Qian’s direct subordinates were reasonably well-trained.
They followed orders closely, but those transferred over from the other departments just for this operation were a motley crew not entirely within their control.
Most of them were locals who were related to each other, and it wouldn’t take long before they pieced all the little bits of information together.

The locals of Datong Prefecture had very high regard for Fufeng Hall’s physicians.
After learning that the three physicians might still be alive, Shopkeeper Huo immediately went around making discreet inquiries, calling upon decades of favours owed, and it yielded good results.
While Officer Qian was still recruiting manpower, Fufeng Hall had already received responses to all their inquiries.

When he first that Xiao Yuanqi was actually here in Datong and involved in this matter, Xiao Pingjing was greatly surprised.
They were both young imperial family members of similar age who studied in the palace together for two years.
Having spent their childhood together, they were once close.
It was only later, after Xiao Pingjing was apprenticed to Langya and didn’t return to Jinling for over a year that they drifted apart.

Xiao Pingjing’s impression of his elder cousin was that he was someone who had always been obedient to his widowed mother and wasn’t the kind to concern himself with other people’s business.

The five courtyards the Marquis of Laiyang rented are too far apart from each other.
Unless we know exactly where Physician Cheng and the rest are staying, it’ll be difficult to get ahead of the soldiers.” Shopkeeper Huo was so anxious his face wrinkled up like a dumpling as he looked anxiously at Xiao Pingjing.
“Second Young Mater, what should we do now?”

The government office didn’t have enough men to deploy, let alone Xiao Pingjing, who certainly couldn’t be in multiple places.
Holding his head in his hands, he walked up and down the room, but couldn’t come up with any foolproof solution.
“As it stands, it looks like we’ll have to pick one of these courtyards, quickly head over and gamble on our luck.”

Unlike the second son of Changlin, who could only gamble on his luck, Duan Tongzhou did everything in his power to ensure his plan was foolproof. After gathering his forces, he divided them into five teams, each led by himself, Officer Qian and three other trusted aides.
Then, swift as lightning, they mobilised their teams simultaneously, preparing to descend on all five targets in one fell swoop.

The black lacquer gate in the front was smashed open by force.
As the smoke and dust dispersed, Xiao Yuanqi’s upright silhouette could be seen in the middle of the courtyard.

The place where the Marquis of Laiyang was residing at was where the witnesses were most likely hiding.
Duan Tongzhou was excited, thinking that his luck was improving, and his lips lifted in a smile.

Xiao Yuanqi’s mood was obviously not as good as his.
Facing the soldiers who had forced their way in, the young marquis shouted angrily at them, trying to contain them in the courtyard.

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It didn’t matter that he didn’t have an official position in court, the Marquis of Laiyang was still a direct descendant of the imperial family.
Wearing a robe embroidered with a three-clawed dragon motif and surrounded by several bodyguards, he looked rather powerful.
Filled with trepidation at the sight of him, the common soldiers stopped and turned to look at Duan Tongzhou, waiting for further instructions.

Smiling broadly, Duan Tongzhou straightened his clothes, walked in and clasped his hands in courtesy.
“This subordinate greets Marquis Laiyang.
Lord Mayor heard that Young Lord Marquis had been kidnapped by some ruffians and sent me to rescue you.
This subordinate is relieved to see that you are here safe and sound.”

Xiao Yuanqi flushed with anger.
“Nonsense! When did I….”

Duan Tongzhou was merely paying him lip service and didn’t have the patience to listen to what the young marquis had to say.
Turning around, he gave an order.
The black-clothed swordsmen he brought with him from the capital rushed forward, followed by a throng of soldiers.

Ah Tai immediately shouted and ordered the bodyguards in their entourage to encircle and protect Xiao Yuanqi with their weapons drawn.
However, since nobody attacked, they couldn’t act out of self-defense, and if they initiated the attack, the difference in strength would be too great.
In the end, they could only stand there and watch helplessly.

When he first saw Xiao Yuanqi, Duan Tongzhou was sure of success this time.
However, he didn’t expect that after thoroughly searching the main house, the wings, the front yard and the rear kitchen, practically digging the courtyard down three feet under, there was no shadow to be seen, which was a great disappointment.

Not even two hours later, news arrived from the other four teams, one after the other, bearing similar outcomes.

At this moment, Xiao Yuanqi no longer had the frantic look he had at the beginning.
His head was held high, his face expressionless, but his eyes bore a trace of arrogance.
Duan Tongzhou turned his head to glance at him, suppressing the anger in his chest.
His royal status was clear for all to see no matter how you spin it.
Although he wasn’t afraid to offend, he couldn’t simply detain and interrogate him at will.
Even though both sides knew that all this was just an act, they had to play it out in its entirety.

“Looks like the ruffians have already fled the scene.
Since the Young Lord Marquis is well and uninjured, this subordinate shall return to the government office to make his report to the Lord Mayor.” Duan Tongzhou squeezed out a smile as he clasped his hands.
“If anything out of turn happens in the next few days, Young Lord Marquis should not hesitate to summon us.”

At his signal, the people in the courtyard quickly retreated like the tide.
Ah Tai followed behind and after keeping a lookout from behind the door for a long period of time, he let out a long sigh and turned to look back at his master.

Xiao Yuanqi’s forehead had long been covered with a thin film of cold sweat, and he sighed with feeling as he raised his hand to wipe it off.
“What a dangerous situation! If Ping Jing didn’t rush over to pick them up in advance, who could survive such a battle?”

“Yes, yes indeed.” Ah Tai seized this opportunity to persuade.
“Second Young Master has already taken the witnesses away.
Young Lord Marquis has already done your best in this matter and can let it go now.
I hear that the scenery in neighbouring Quanzhou…..”

Xiao Yuanqi glared at him.
“This is a major case related to the imperial court’s military supplies, and not Uncle Changlin’s family’s personal affairs.
Since I was the one who first encountered it, I should see it through.
How can I give it up halfway?” With these words, he flicked his robe sleeves and walked out.

After having been in Laiyang Manor for so many years, Ah Tai was naturally aware that the young marquis’s lack of achievements ate at him, and so he didn’t dare to further persuade him, and followed behind with a long-suffering expression.

There was not a soul in sight in the alleyway outside the courtyard, but one could be certain that the other party would have left a spy behind.
Xiao Yuanqi appeared not to care if he was being followed, and strolled leisurely along the streets for the better part of an hour with his hands behind his back before finally arriving at Fufeng Hall, which had reopened its doors the day before.
There, he openly entered, and before that, even smiled deliberately at the person secretly keeping watch just outside, with the intention to provoke.

It was clear that Fufeng Hall was internally well-established.
As long as they did not harbour the four witnesses within, there was no fear of action by the government office.
The pharmacy had long since returned to its previous appearance.
Several physicians were at their tables attending to patients, while patients and their families came and went.
At the counter, there was a number of people waiting to collect their medicine.
Just as Xiao Yuanqi stepped through the door, Aunt Yun greeted him with a smile and without a word, led him across the atrium to the rear courtyard.

Xiao Pingjing was standing at the foot of the stone steps waiting for him, and they both embraced each other happily.

“This is such a major affair, I knew that uncle would definitely send someone over.
I just didn’t expect it to be you.
I thought you were still in Langya Pavilion!” Xiao Yuanqi punched him with some force and asked impatiently, “I didn’t have a chance to ask when you came to pick them up.
How did you manage to find us first?”

“We’ve known each other since we were kids and I can understand you to some extent.
You’re afraid of grass and bugs, don’t like secluded forests, and yet you want a peaceful and quiet environment.
You’ve been pampered and spoiled since young, so you won’t be able to stand a little bit of dirt…..” Xiao Pingjing glanced back at Lin Xi, who was sitting under the eaves, and smiled.
“Miss Lin found someone to describe the five courtyards in detail, and I wondered, of the five places, which one would Yuanqi choose to stay in, and so I chose that one.”

Xiao Yuanqi was stunned for a moment, then, eyes wide with astonishment, he said “So it was all a guess?”

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Xiao Pingjing shrugged.
“I had to take a gamble.
Luckily my guess was right.”

At that moment, Aunt Yun came in bearing the tea tray.
Seeing that Yuanqi was still in a bit of shock, Xiao Pingjing pushed him out to the courtyard, sat him down at the stone table, and then poured him a cup of hot tea.
“Calm down first.
I’ve already questioned them briefly, and we’re in luck.
The captain of the passenger ship is still the key person.
It’ll be impossible for the Datong officials to get away scot-free.”

Xiao Yuanqi composed himself and downed the tea in one gulp.
“Nobody can be clearer about that night’s incident than they are, but these are only witness testimonies.
If only we can find physical evidence…..”

As Aunt Yun laid out the refreshments, she interjected, “I heard they couldn’t salvage one of the shipwrecks, and barely managed to tow the other two to the shore since they had rotted so badly.
I’m afraid it would be difficult to find any physical evidence….”

Xiao Pingjing and Xiao Yuanqi turned to look at her simultaneously, their faces twin expressions of shock.

Aunt Yun didn’t know what she had said for them to look at her like this and stammered, “What, what’s wrong…..”

Xiao Pingjing stood up, inadvertently raising his voice as he said, “You mean….the shipwrecks which had been towed ashore are still there?”

Although the news of the young Marquis of Laiyang entering Fufeng Hall was of little use, those keeping watch outside still did their best to report it.
After receiving the news, Officer Qian headed to the study, intending only to say a word or two, but as soon as he entered, he saw that the room had been smashed into a mess.
Seeing Zhang Qingyu sitting by the window, his face waxen, he went to sit by his side without uttering a word.

After many days of panic and anxiety, and finally obtaining a reliable lead with great difficulty, Zhang Qingyu had high hopes for today’s operation.
As a result, he had greater difficulty accepting its failure compared to Duan Tongzhou, and smashed everything in order to vent his anger.

Duan Tongzhou waited for him to calm down before stepping forward to appease him.
“Daren, calm down.
It’s just someone’s personal testimony, nothing more.
If you grit your teeth, you can fight it.
His Majesty is lenient by nature, and he has always been cautious when dealing with things.
As long as Changlin Manor is unable to produce physical evidence, this isn’t necessarily an unsalvageable situation.”

Zhang Qingyu was completely disheartened, and the only hope he had left was for the protection of someone in the capital city.
In his helplessness, he could only echo Quan Dongzhou’s words to cheer himself up.
“I hope it can be as Master Qin says.
Actually, I’m not worried at all about physical evidence.
Back then, when the Provincial Head sent men to supervise the salvage of the shipwrecks, it had already occurred to me that this matter will be investigated, so I’ve already disposed of all trail of written evidence.”

Duan Tongzhou’s body stiffened as he asked sternly, “What did you say?”

“I, I said that there’s no trail of written evidence…..”

Duan Tongzhou surged forward abruptly “What shipwreck salvage? The ships were already sunk deep in the water.
Why did you salvage them?”

His tone was overbearing, and even though Zhang Qingyu was soft by nature, he couldn’t help feeling annoyed, and retorted coldly, “It’s not something I could help.
Even though this is within my boundary, because it’s such a big matter, the Provincial Head had to get involved.
If the higher authorities arranged for someone to oversee the salvage, how could I stop them?”

“But it’s been so long since they salvaged the shipwrecks.
Everything was in your hands.” Duang Tongzhou stared at him in shock and anger.
“Didn’t you take the opportunity to take care of it?”

Zhang Qingyu frowned, obviously not understanding.
“All I did was bribe the boat man to intentionally not give way.
We didn’t tamper with the shipwreck.
It’s just a pile of rotten wood after all.
What’s there to take care of?”

Filled with a sense of foreboding, Duan Tongzhou neglected all superficial courtesies, and rushed out before Zhang Qingyu had finished speaking, disappearing completely without an explanation.

Zhang Qingyu stood up in a daze, and looked at Officer Qian, both their faces filled with horror.

========================

A note on the chapter title:
The title’s translation is literal.
It’s an idiom that means “to help the weak fight against injustice.” This idiom is used in reference to the Marquis of Laiyang’s using his noble status to help the fugitives escape.

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