Chapter 127 The City of Chang’anSong Yi, the mayor of Peace County, turned out to have nothing to do with Ma San’s plots. He did not know the existence of the secret chamber or the objects in it.
That truth was a little disappointing to Li Mu.
But it was the fact. And Song Yi did not hold any back from him when they had a private conversation down the secret chamber.
Li Mu was perfectly sure of that because during their meeting he utilized some means to ascertain whether Song Yi lied to him.
By now, it seemed that some pieces of the puzzle could be put together—To cozy up to Song Yi, Ma San offered him assorted treasures, resources, and beautiful girls; and on the surface, he was obedient as Song Yi’s dog. But when no one was looking, he was taking advantage of the mayor’s power to do something that even Song Yi had no idea of.
Thus, Song Yi was not in league with Ma San.
That made the case more interesting.
After his encounter with Ma San, Li Mu knew Ma San had all the qualities of a scoundrel. He was aggressive, unbridled, and imprudent, but he was no wily schemer, so there was no way for him to pull off many secret moves under the nose of the mayor. Could he be a really good actor or was there another crafty man behind the scene?
Li Mu found the latter more plausible.
“Tonight, after Ma San and his gang met their doom, where could that man pulling all the strings go?”
“Was he also killed during the chaos?”
Suddenly, Li Mu halted his train of thought.
“You wait for me in the inn.”
He gave an order to Zheng Cunjian, who was still behind the curtains of the sedan chair.
Then, in a flash, he leaped up to the air like an eagle with his utmost body-lighting skill and vanished in the darkness.
The morning dew evaporated.
Another sunrise of the twin suns took place in Peace County.
The last night’s stir in Ma San’s mansion had waked up a number of the neighboring residents. Due to noise and right, many had not slept all night. When it finally came to the daybreak, some bold natives scuttled to the outside of the mansion and peeked in. They saw government soldiers bustling in and out of the place and sensed the faint smell of blood in the air. However, there was no trace of those domineering gangsters.
Soon, a piece of breaking news swept through the entire Peace County as fast as a tornado.
“Ma San and his gangsters got wiped out!”
At first, not all the people who heard it were convinced of their downfall.
But when the official notice was released, that news was confirmed.
Moreover, the official notice harshly denounced the sins Ma San and his lot committed and enumerated more than thirty of their crimes. Reading between the lines, it was clear that the government thought that murder suited them well and would not continue to explore that case. The notice even smartly included a paragraph saying that Mayor Song had pointed it out in particular that the government would take severe measures against the crime of picking quarrels and provoking troubles at all costs so as to enhance public security in Peace County.
That notice made the whole county seething with excitement.
All those years, Ma San’s lot had put the residents of Peace County under great suffering. Some were beaten up by them and became paralyzed, some were left to die on the streets, and some even lost all their family members because of their bullying. It could be said that people had been boiling with resentment but did not dare voice it. But today, those villains were all killed overnight. None of them could do horrible things to the residents again.
For heaven’s sake, could there be more thrilling news than that?
Shortly after the notice was publicized, many people in the county set off firecrackers to celebrate.
The county was drowned in whoops and cheers.
Caicai and her grandma also joined the whooping crowd.
“Granny, Brother Madcap really did it…” yelled Caicai, who was standing in front of the official notice, her eyes filled with exhilaration. She knew a little ‘inside story’ of the big change, for her Brother Madcap had told her he would go and punish Ma San and his lot. Sure enough, he had fulfilled his promise.
Being equally excited, Granny Cai broke into tears.
Now, she did not have to flee to the country with her granddaughter.
“Granny, it’s terrific! We can continue to sell vegetable noodles on the street. And we’ll soon make enough money to go to Chang’an and take daddy back.” Caicai calculated with the help of her fingers and then called with joy, “We need only another 230 pence before we can go on the trip.”
Granny Cai reached out her heavily lined hand and softly stroke her granddaughter’s hair. “Yeah, it won’t be long before we have your dad back.”
Caicai’s eyes immediately gleamed hopefully. She then asked, “After we pick up daddy, can we stay together forever?”
“Yes, yes, yes.” Granny Cai assured her as she wiped off her tears.
A while later, the two of them carrying the usual load arrived at their old food stall. Caicai set up the table and the chairs with proficiency and then reached for the drawer beneath the one holding the noodles to take the tableware out. Just at that moment, she let loose of a shriek.
“Caicai, what’s the matter?” asked Granny Cai, who craned her neck to look at her granddaughter.
“Granny, look, this is…” She pointed at the tiny cabinet. At the center of the tableware in the second drawer sat a shining gold ingot. It was the payment for a bowl of noodles that woman in white gave them yesterday.
But to their puzzlement, they remembered that they had given it back to that woman in white, hadn’t they?
The granny and the little girl stayed rooted to the spot.
After quite a while, Caicai rubbed her eyes incredulously and then hastily closed the drawer.
“Granny, that beautiful sister has gone. How can we return this to her?” questioned Caicai innocently.
Granny Cai had no idea of the answer.
“Granny, how about we take it that the money is borrowed from that beautiful sister. Let’s use it to pick up daddy from Chang’an first. Then, we’ll make more money by selling noodles. One day when we find that beautiful sister, we’ll pay the money back to her. How does it sound?” Caicai looked at her granny with eager eyes.
Granny Cai was still hesitating.
“Granny, I miss daddy too much…” pleaded Caicai.
Wavered by her pitiful look, Granny Cai clenched her teeth resolutely and nodded at the little girl. “Okay, let’s do it. We’ll set off right away.”
“Really? That’s wonderful!” Caicai jumped with delight. “Oh Yeah! I’ll have daddy back!”
Li Mu returned to the inn with an awkward look.
He had been lurking around Ma San’s mansion all night but failed to find out any more clues. The schemer behind the scene in his imagination did not go back to the mansion as he had expected… In fact, none of the scenes he predicted occurred last night.
Well, that was sort of embarrassing.
Li Mu now reckoned he had overthought the thing last night.
After settling the problem with Ma San, it was time for him to hit the road again.
Bathed in the festive atmosphere of Peace County, Li Mu and Zheng Cunjian got on their black-maned horses and left the county.
The next two days passed uneventfully.
Li Mu traveled unhurriedly to observe the customs and practices of this world.
In general, people in the northwest of the Western Qin Empire were sturdy and honest. They preferred meat, especially lamb, and a variety of cooked wheaten food. Delicious dishes could be seen everywhere along the way. But the beef was scarce, because farm cattle was one of their most important means of production. And the laws of the empire also forbade slaughtering any farm cattle.
However, the public security in the places Li Mu went by was not very good.
Li Mu sniffed a whiff of corruption underneath the ostensible prosperity.
Particularly, the style of governing in many counties along the way was stern and inefficient. Bureaucracy was thriving everywhere, which gravely slowed down the workflow. Some small counties even placed a customs pass on the government-built road and called it ‘a necessary measure to maintain public safety’. In truth, that pass was set up for extracting money from traveling merchants, rendering the folks rather miserable.
“This Western Qin Empire seems to have been heading for its end. Or something inside of the ruling group is wrong. Everything here is telling me this is the last reign of the dynasty.”
Li Mu thought to himself.
Of course, that judgment was merely based on some theories he had learned from the history class in his junior high. As to whether his opinion was correct, well, he had to wait and see.
Before the smaller sun dived down the horizon on the second day after he left Peace County, Li Mu already reached the foot of Chang’an.
The city of Chang’an enjoyed a quite special status in the history of the Western Qin Empire.
Until two hundred years ago it was still the capital of the Western Qin Empire. Although the empire was not founded there, when the Easter Qin Empire declined and Emperor Qin Wu, the one who resurrected the empire as the present one, moved the capital to Chang’an, the city’s high walls and firm defense had fended off the disturbances for the Western Qin Empire for three hundred years.
But two hundred years ago, Emperor Qin Dang expanded the land of the empire by sweeping out the foes that defeated the Eastern Qin Empire and repelled its people from the pasture. After that, he removed the capital to Qin City and ended the history of Chang’an being the capital.
Precisely due to that history, people in the Western Qin Empire had a special feeling for Chang’an.
Even though Chang’an was no longer the capital since two hundred years ago and it was just one of the dozens of provincial capitals of the empire, that special feeling was still around. Plus, compared to the rest of the provincial capitals, Chang’an was more prosperous.
After they crossed the city river that was over a hundred meters wide, admired the defensive walls that were more than a hundred meters in height, and awed the entrance gate densely covered in holes and marks weapons left, Li Mu and Zheng Cunjian handed in the entrance fee and finally entered the ancient city that had a history of five hundred years.
The moment they stepped in, they were greeted by a waft of vintage air.
Unlike the underdeveloped Taibai County where nature’s beauty dominated, Chang’an was like an armored guard that had steadfastly stood on the ground in spite of all the storms. The streets and buildings in this place were mostly made of black rocks. The road was wide and smooth, the high-rises were standing in lines and stretching into the distance. Such solemn black was the most favorite color of the common folks, which was also an embodiment of their tough and stern character.
Riding on the street, Li Mu felt like he was walking through the thousand years’ evolvement of the empire.
The streets were boisterous with husting and bustling merchants and trade caravans.
The night market was about to open.
In Chang’an, there was no curfew.
In comparison with Chang’an, Taibai County was really small. Li Mu felt as if he had traveled to a big city like Shanghai from a small town. After all, the difference between the two places was striking.
Li Mu felt dazzled by the thriving scene in Chang’an.
Although the martial arts-oriented civilization could not be measured with the standards of the technology-dominated world on Earth, the architecture in Chang’an was still unbelievably magnificent. Many of them were built not in compliance with the architecture principles on Earth, such as a building piled up with black boulders that each weighed several thousand tons. The technologies on Earth certainly could not do that.
Li Mu paused at intervals to enjoy the view.
After an hour, he suddenly heard a roar of clamor ahead.
And the street was abruptly packed with crowds.