This Mr. Dong’s full name was Dong Yufei. He was a Dutou Official of the western region of Chang’an, a seventh-grade empire official that enjoyed the same status as a county magistrate. Although he might be deemed as a high-level official in any other place, he was barely a middle-level one in a city that was crammed full of authorities like Chang’an.
Dong Yufei was five feet six inches. Fat, beardless, and fair skinned, he looked quite greedy and wretched. He was a close friend of Zheng Tianliang. Well, technically, he was his mercenary friend. In fact, a while ago, Zheng Tianliang had furtively sent a signal to this friend of his, hoping he would come to his aid at the fastest speed. However, when Dong Yufei and his twenty cronies arrived at the yard, Zheng Tianliang was already reduced to a headless corpse.
“Who is so unscrupulous? How dare he murder Mr. Zheng?” snarled Dong Yufei. Shocked and infuriated by the scene, he turned to stare at Zheng Tianliang’s guards and servants.
“A little monk inside killed Mr. Zheng.” Laifu pointed at the door of the yard.
“He claims to be the son of that old woman, and he is good at martial arts,” added Wangcai.
Before Li Mu stripped off Zheng Tianliang’s head, the guards and servants overheard him revealing his identity.
“The old woman?”
“That woman His Honor has divorced?”
“He is her son?”
“Then, he should be…” Dong Yufei gasped at the new discovery.
He had lived in Chang’an for two decades, so he knew what had happened in the past—the magistrate of Chang’an divorced his wife and married another woman, and his second son, the young and reckless Li Mu, severed the ties with his father by launching three punches against him and swore that he would be something in the future and came back to revenge before running away from home. That incident had once given rise to much discussion in Chang’an.
Accordingly, over years, the ex-wife and the son who ran away from home had become a sore spot for the magistrate of Chang’an.
Specifically, it was said that the son named Li Mu had died out there because he never sent back any letter or message for all those years. But how come, after eight years, he made it back alive?
After giving it a thought, Dong Yufei beckoned one of his cronies over and whispered something in his ear.
Then, that crony turned and scuttled away.
“Come on, let’s go and meet that Second Young Master. Humph.”
Dong Yufei pushed the door open and led his men in.
Considering that Li Mu was an outcast who had terminated his relationship with his father, the magistrate of Chang’an, Dong Yufei did not find him much a threat. Rumors had it that the magistrate loathed his second son to the extreme, and shortly after Li Mu ran away, he had sent assassinators to hunt him down. But none of his men found a trace of the rebellious son, so, eventually, he gave up.
“My son! Oh, my poor baby! How did you end up being a monk?” inquired Madam Li, who held Li Mu’s hand with concern.
Li Mu got to his feet and said, “Mom, I’m not a monk. I just keep my hair a little short… I’ve achieved something in the academic. I am one of the best scorers in the imperial exams. Thanks to the infinite royal graciousness, now I am the magistrate of Taibai County subject to the governance of Chang’an. I just took the office three months ago. When I finished most of my duties, I hurried here to visit you. Mom, from now on, you have me to protect you. I won’t allow anyone to pick on you anymore.”
At the precise moment—
“Wow! You’re talking big! A humble county magistrate dares to kill an official in Chang’an. Do you really think you have power superior to anyone else when you became an official?”
With a chilling smile, Dong Yufei broke in along with his men who were all armed to the teeth.
At the sight of those armed soldiers, the maid, Grassy, instantly grew tense.
She had recognized the fat official taking the lead. He was close to Zheng Tianliang, and had frequently visited the latter’s place. The pair of them often called each other brothers.
Li Mu frowned at the fuss. He glanced over his shoulder and shouted, “Get out!”
Dong Yufei was taken aback at that rude treatment. He immediately flew off the handle and demanded, “Li Mu, what did you say? You…”
But a thud cut him off!
Li Mu gave him a punch.
The imposing energy in that punch swiftly lunged at Dong Yufei and the soldiers behind him like a furious tornado. Even though they were also martial arts practitioners, they felt they were suffocating at that moment, as if a torrent lashed towards them and whirled them in. Then, the energy torrent carried them across the wall and threw them onto the ground outside, rendering all of them dizzy or unconscious.
Groaning in pain, Dong Yufei struggled to stand up. His heart pounded fast with horror.
“How could Li Mu have such horrible power?”
“It’s just a punch, but it sent me and the twenty soldiers to the air. And he did it effortlessly. It appeared that he reserved some force on purpose. If he had gone all out, probably I and my soldiers would have already been a pile of bodies now, wouldn’t we?”
As that thought crossed Dong Yufei’s mind, he started to feel the panic.
“But this doesn’t sound right.”
Truthfully, Dong Yufei had some clues about why Zheng Tianliang took on Madam Li tonight. It was a man at a higher level who had inspired him to do this. Otherwise, Zheng Tianliang, a mere wealth merchant in the western region, would not have the guts to have a go at Madam Li. Anyway, she was the ex-wife of the magistrate of Chang’an.
Dong Yufei reckoned Zheng Tianliang was just going to give her a bluff, but now…
He was killed by a county magistrate. Although in Chang’an, a county magistrate was as insignificant as an ant and there were a hundred ways to deal with him, the said county magistrate happened to be a formidable martial arts expert. So, the problem was tricky.
Dong Yufei stretched his limbs with a screwed face and did not dare to step into the yard once more.
Come what may, the message was already sent out.
By then, that man at a higher level might have received it. What step they should take was up to that man. Despite the eager to impress that man, Dong Yufei preferred to back away from the frontline. After all, the outstanding usually bore the brunt of attacks.
Standing in the yard, Zheng Cunjian clapped a hand on his forehead and went speechless.
“He is… so violent as before.”
He had noticed that Li Mu appeared to be completely composed and carefree on their way to Chang’an. At that time, he assumed that the county magistrate must have planned everything. But now it seemed that he had no plan at all. And the reason he was so carefree was that he was too strong to fear anything.
“Is he really that confident about his strength?”
Zheng Cunjian was bemused.
Based on his observation during the past few days, he could tell Li Mu was not a thoughtless man. But how come the young man could be so confident and fearless? They were now in the city of Chang’an, a place never short of martial arts experts. Could he dominate Chang’an as he did when he was at Taibai County?
Nevertheless, no matter what thought he had, Zheng Cunjian would not mention it to Li Mu.
Because he was truly afraid of Li Mu.
“My son passed the imperial exams? And now is a county magistrate?” Madam Li started quivering with excitement.
Her son, who had gone for eight years without leaving her a message, finally went back as a county magistrate. What a thrilling new it was! Moreover, her son was still at a young age. She believed there was no man across the history of the empire who had made the county magistrate at fifteen, was there? With such talent and luck, her son was highly promising as long as he did not make any major mistake.
“Yes, I am. Mom, let’s go to live at the foot of the Taibai Mountain. The view there is picturesque, the people there are simple and honest, and the climate is pleasant. You can begin to take care of your health and enjoy your life. When I was little, I failed to see how wrong it was to leave you behind. Now, come to think of it, I was a real jerk. But in the coming years, I’ll look after you, and be with you all the time,” promised Li Mu, who gradually sank into the emotions of his role.
He felt Madam Li’s elation and her deep down gratification and love.
That was the kind of warmth that only a mother could generate.
Since Li Mu had never met his birth mother, he was really appreciative for having experienced such warmth.
“Old lady, though I am not your son, I share the same name with him. What kind of odds it is! Perhaps we’re destined to meet in this way. From now on, I’ll treat you like my real mother.”
Li Mu muttered to himself inwardly.
“Good… I’m so glad… My son finally grew up. I can stop looking out for you now,” sobbed Madam Li, who could not stop her overflowing tears.
Those were tears of delight and excitement.
The maid, Grassy, was also in tears as she watched the scene.
The day she had been looking forward to for so many years came at last.
“Young Master has come back!”
“And he is an official now, and an excellent martial arts expert… This is wonderful!”
“Now there is someone who can look after Madam.”
“Miracle does exist! Now, even if I have to die, I’ll die with a smile,” thought Grassy.
Then, the mother and the son continued to confide their feelings in each other.
During the whole time, Madam Li did not detect anything suspicious. She just tightly grabbed Li Mu hand as if he was the whole world. Cheered up by the great news, she suddenly became radiant and looked much younger. Even her wellbeing seemed improved, as though all her illnesses and pain were lifted in an instant.
“My dear son, you must have gone through loads of hardships over those years. If not, you can’t be so slim,” sighed Madam Li.
“My boy, you’re back. That’s all I wished. Actually, I never expected you could be so successful. As long as you’re safe and healthy, I will have no worries… Oh, right, where are those who came in just now? Why haven’t they said anything?”
“And don’t forget to talk to Mr. Zheng friendly. You should not make an enemy out of him. Now that you’re an official, you need to maintain good connections…”
Madam Li talked on and on.
Given that she was completely blind, what she heard was insufficient for her to learn that Zheng Tianliang was already killed by Li Mu or Dong Yufei and his men were thrown out of the yard by his punch. Thus, she was still under the impression that those men were still in the yard.
“Mom, please relax, I’m alright. And I’ve talked to them. We’re good. They said they dare not to stir up trouble again.” Li Mu reassured her.
“Right, my boy, you must have not eaten anything all the way down here. Are you hungry? I… I’ll cook for you… When you were little, you loved my noodles. You gobbled down a large bowl of it every time I made it…” recalled Madam Li whiling wiping her tears.
When the overwhelming surprise and thrill subsided, as a mother, the first that came to her mind was whether her son had enough nutrition.
“Yeah, mom, I haven’t had dinner yet. But let’s go to someplace nice first. This yard is awful. As your son, I can’t stand seeing you suffer anymore,” suggested Li Mu.
“Are we setting off for Taibai County?” asked Madam Li.
Li Mu answered, “No, we’ll find a fine inn to settle down. I still have some business to attend to, so I need to stay in Chang’an for a few more days.” In fact, he still wanted to tour the city so as to expand his horizon. Perhaps he could run into some strong practitioners and witness the power of real martial arts experts.
“But…” Madam Li seemed a little concerned. “Does your father know you’re back?”
“My father?” repeated Li Mu. The corner of Li Mu’s lips twitched. “Mom, are you referring to that brute magistrate? I’ve given him three punches and cut off our relationship. He certainly doesn’t know.”
It took Madam Li a second to realize the man her son just addressed was Li Gang, the magistrate of Chang’an.
After all those years, Madam Li had completely given up on Li Gang. Since he not only married her only for her powerful family but also dumped her the moment her family fell apart, her ex-husband had hurt her so thoroughly that she wanted nothing to do with him anymore. But Li Gang had become the governor of Chang’an and a commander of border-provinces. Taibai County was also in the jurisdiction of Chang’an, which meant Li Mu, the magistrate of Taibai County, had to follow Li Gang’s order.
Naturally, Madam Li was very worried about her son’s position.
“He is, after all, the magistrate who reigns the whole Chang’an. You’re a county magistrate subject to his authority. What if…” She still attempted to persuade her son to be more obedient.
But Li Mu laughed, “Mom, relax. I know, I’ve got it all straightened out. If that brute doesn’t pick on me, I won’t go to pick on him. But if he persists… Then, he will no longer be able to be the magistrate.”
Before his words faded away, another man’s voice came in from the outside of the yard.
“Humph! You darn vile spawn. That’s really a big talk. How dare you speak of your father like that.”