Chapter 98 Confessing on Your KneesLi Mu was not as bitterly hostile as the others had pictured when he arrived at the gate of the county office.
Chu Shufeng, the new Deputy county magistrate, came to the gate with a group of black-armored soldiers to welcome their county magistrate with a broad smile.
“Your honor, welcome back to the county office.”
Chu Shufeng, who was still smiling, bowed to Li Mu, perfectly displaying the wholehearted respect and awe of a lower-ranking official towards his superior.
The armored soldiers also saluted Li Mu.
However, Li Mu took no notice of them and went straight through the gate.
Silently following behind him were Feng Yuanxing, Ma Junwu, and Zhen Meng, who were all carried by prison guards and accompanied by doctors.
They also ignored Chu Shufeng.
As if that newly-appointed Deputy county magistrate was invisible.
Chu Shufeng’s expression altered and he now looked rather awkward.
Very soon, when he caught sight of Ning Zhongshan and Li Bing, who had been yanked in the wake of Li Mu as though they were dead dogs, Chu Shufeng’s eyes reflected a trace of cruelty.
But he quickly lowered his head to disguise it.
When he raised his head again, he was wearing a sincerest and humble smile.
He hastily scuttled forward to catch up with Li Mu and then announced with a big smile, “I was told that your honor had just returned, so I’ve got everything ready in the county office. The distinguished Mr. Zheng from the Chang’an government also prepared a great dinner to welcome back your honor.”
Li Mu still did not make any reply.
Having been given a cold shoulder, Chu Shufeng was not exasperated at all. On the contrary, he was still smiling obediently and continued to lead the road for Li Mu.
At that time, he could not help but notice there were fully armored soldiers in shining black uniforms stationed in every hallway and every corner of the county government.
The entire place was packed with those troops.
“Those soldiers are the black-armored army that the magistrate of Chang’an dispatched here to protect Mr. Zheng Cunjian. Due to Mr. Zheng’s special status, the magistrate of Chang’an attaches much importance to his safety. Thus, the soldiers here are all elites selected from the Chang’an Army, the main force of the Chang’an government,” explained Chu Shufeng with a flattering smile.
Actually, all he was trying to say was that the magistrate of Chang’an valued Mr. Zheng very much.
But Li Mu still didn’t respond.
He even didn’t pay any attention to those sharp-looking black-armored soldiers.
Chu Shufeng felt a little crossed as he observed Li Mu’s indifference.
“Humph. I’ll just let you enjoy a moment of your cockiness, because soon you’ll be in tears. You’re merely an uncivilized barbarian. How could you possibly defy the superior Mr. Zheng? Sooner or later you’ll fall into the trap Mr. Zheng set for you.”
Chu Shufeng cursed internally.
He delicately hid his emotions and did not show any of his anger on his face.
Shortly, they went through the winding corridor and came to the meeting chamber outside the front yard of the county office.
Around 40 elites of the black-armored soldiers stood there to welcome Li Mu. Each of them was holding a broadsword or a spear as the military flags were billowing behind them. They looked quite sharp and aggressive, definitely much tougher than those who fleed from the prison gate without putting up a fight. And every one of them was emitting a chilling aura that objected others’ approach.
Aside from the soldiers, the civil officials of Taibai County assembled there as well. They all stood perfectly straight.
The arrival of Li Mu made the crowd of officials stir. They all flickered their eyes in his way, their looks mixed with a variety of feelings. Li Mu could tell that most of them were sympathetic, while some were gleeful, and only a few were full of concerns but did not dare say a word.
At the gate of the meeting chamber stood a thin and handsome scholar in an ethereal robe. He was also smiling.
The scholar dressed like a man living a secluded life. Waving a feather fan gently, he looked as unworldly as ever. But it was a shame that he had a scarlet birthmark on one cheek, which spoiled his otherworldly air and made his appearance somewhat gloomy.
That man was Zheng Cunjian, the Heartless Scholar.
Next to Zheng Cunjian stood a pretty-featured but pale-faced young attendant in cyan, that was Qing Feng. He was quiet and calm, his expression quite serene.
“Haha, I heard that your honor has returned. After waiting for so long, I finally met your honor in person.”
With a warm and agreeable smile, Zheng Cunjian stepped down the porch and bowed at Li Mu, as if he was meeting an old friend.
The scholar’s friendly behavior surprised and baffled Ning Zhongshan, who was hauled unceremoniously here by the prison guards.
“Didn’t he put Li Mu on the wanted list and agree to do away with this damn guy who passed the highest imperial examinations?”
“Why is Mr. Zheng being so polite with him?”
A rush of suspicion and resentment surged in his heart, but he did not say anything and continued to let the events unfold. He knew sometimes Mr. Zheng’s schemes could be too complex and delicate for him to speculate, so he decided to stay silent in case his thoughtless remarks ruined Mr. Zheng’s crucial plans.
Meanwhile, Feng Yuanxing and Zhen Meng, who were being carried in bed, exerted themselves to stay sober. But as they saw such the scene, they both began to worry for Li Mu. They had seen the true color of Zheng Cunjian and Chu Shufeng at an earlier time, so they knew it clearly that the two were as evil as two poisonous serpents, and they were evidently malicious towards Li Mu.
By now, the two vicious serpents had not bared their poisonous fangs or hissed to Li Mu. Instead, they had been putting on a smiley face. That actually made Feng Yuanxing and Zhen Meng feel more ominous.
But unfortunately, the current occassion did not allow them to remind Li Mu of that with plain words.
“Hahaha, I was told your honor have been chasing after some scoundrels in the Wulin. But I got quite worried after losing track of your honor during the past several days. Today seeing you return safe and sound, I finally felt relieved,” said Zheng Cunjian with a heartfelt and ardent smile. He came up to Li Mu and reached out a hand to shake his as if they had been close friends while he continued, “When I was in the Chang’an government, I already heard that a hero with peerless combat ability had emerged in Taibai County. After meeting you in person today, the stories I learned about your honor are finally verified. Sure enough, the hero in Taibai County is as young, handsome and talented as the rumors have.”
Li Mu glanced at the scholar.
His eyes were icy and harsh.
Then, he coldly stared at the hand Zheng Cunjian raised towards him and did not speak, but his face turned more frosty.
A murderous air quietly emanated from Li Mu.
Zheng Cunjian felt his body become rigid, and a wave of chill climbed up from the end of his spine.
He even had a vision that Li Mu was now as furious as a provoked tyrannosaur. If he unknowingly completed the handshake with Li Mu, a catastrophe would break out the moment he touched Li Mu’s hand.
Therefore, his outreaching hand could only hang there up and dry.
At that moment, a disdainful sneer curled up Li Mu’s lips.
Then, he went straight passed Zheng Cunjian, crossed the stairs, and stopped before Qing Feng.
The little attendant in cyan looked quite normal. His clothes were clean, his hair tidy, his beautiful face and slim palms carefully washed, and he was wearing a mild pleasant perfume of orchid. He was standing there upright. Except for his tightly pursed swollen lips and his fairly pale countenance, the little attendant seemed totally unharmed.
Li Mu sighed with relief.
His stern face finally softened a little. Affectionately, he rubbed Qing Feng’s hair to comfort him.
“Qing Feng is just a kid with no titles. Perhaps the lot from the Chang’an government went easy on him.” Li Mu guessed.
“Are you alright?” He asked the little attendant with concern.
Smiling while still keeping his mouth zipped, Qing Feng nodded.
“Where is little Ming Yue? Why do I not see her? Perhaps she has not come back to the county office, has she?” Li Mu inquired again.
The little attendant responded with the same smile and a nod.
Li Mu frowned.
“Ming Yue still hasn’t come back?”
“That damn old beggar could not have betrayed me and simply taken away that adorkable girl, could he?”
Li Mu mused. Then, he detected Qing Feng’s unusually swollen lips and the trace of blood stained on the corner of his mouth as well as the smell of healing ointment. Obviously, the little attendant’s mouth was hurt. He immediately questioned, “What happened to your lips?”
“Well, the kid accidentally had a slip-and-fall when crossing the stone stairs and hurt his lips and lost a few front teeth.” The new Deputy county magistrate Chu Shufeng hurriedly came to the kid and beat him to answer the question. He then gave a smile and said, “If you want, ask him yourself.”
Qing Feng beamed and nodded again to show his confirmation to that explanation.
But Li Mu was already getting suspicious.
He bent down and stared at the little attendant for a moment. Then, he held up a hand trying to touch his lips.
Qing Feng was frightened by his movement and swiftly stepped back to avoid his touch.
“Stay still,” ordered Li Mu. He rapidly held out a hand and rolled up Qing Feng’s sleeve. A dreadful strangulation mark appeared on his elbow, which bit deeply in his flesh. The skin around the mark was seriously festered, and one could almost see the white bone beneath it. That sight came as a total astonishment to Li Mu. He yelled with great alarm, “What… what happened?”
The little attendant lowered his head, not sure how to reply.
He began shivering.
Beads of sweat dropped down from his forehead.
Blood drained from his face and he eventually turned as pale as a sheet.
Li Mu knew he was in pain.
With a rasping sound, Li Mu ripped off both the sleeves of the little attendant.
The next view made him gasp.
He saw strips of strangulation marks stretched all over Qing Feng’s upper arms like wriggling serpents. Those marks were emitting the stinking smell of rotten flesh, which was not very pronounced because of the orchid perfume. Li Mu was completely incensed now. He resolutely tore open Qing Feng’s collar to find out that his body was also covered by layers of strangulation marks. The skin was so strewn with wounds that it looked like chapped. The sight was too horrible to look.
That kind of injury was outrageously disturbing.
It was really unbelievable that Qing Feng was still able to stand there and smile in spite of such daunting injuries.
“What was the matter? Who did this to you?” Li Mu asked in a deep voice.
Noticing things might go south, Chu Shufeng hastily explained with a smile, “Your honor, this is not what it looks like. In fact, he got some problems with a soldier and…”
Li Mu turned round and bellowed, fuming.
That angry growl as powerful as a clap of thunder shot out from his mouth and blew upon Chu Shufeng’s chest. Then, audible cracks of the ribs sounded as Chu Shufeng let out a wail before being thrown over the stairs and landing several meters away from the stairway.
Everyone in the yard felt a thunderclap just exploded near their ears and now their ears were buzzing.
At the sudden attack of Chu Shufeng, Zheng Cunjian’s face rapidly changed from friendly to furious and then to appalled.
Chu Shufeng stumbled to his feet. At that point, his face was written with anguish. His smile was gone, instead, the eyes fixed upon Li Mu was full of undisguised sinister.
The black-armored soldiers directed their broadswords and spears towards Li Mu.
Li Mu, however, seemed totally oblivious to their offensive act.
“You tell me.” Li Mu turned and gazed at Qing Feng, hoping to hear the truth.
But Qing Feng shook his head. He then stuck out a finger and began to write in the air.
“I’m fine. No need to look into this matter.”
Li Mu caught on the imaginary words he wrote.
“They have forbidden you to tell the truth, haven’t they?” Li Mu inquired, vacillating between getting upset and feeling moved. “If I guessed it right, they must have told you keeping quiet was the only way to protect me, and if you say anything inappropriate, you would get me in trouble, such as I would be removed from office or beheaded or thrown down to the hell and that sort of thing, right?”
Qing Feng raised his finger and attempted to write some more words in the air.
But when he met Li Mu’s eyes, he suddenly could not bring himself to do so.
“I don’t need you to protect me, especially in this kind of way. Bear that in mind. Do I make myself clear?” Li Mu rubbed Qing Feng’s hair understandingly and then stood up and turned to the doctor, “Please, doctor, come and start his treatment.”
That doctor answered right off and hurried over to exam Qing Feng’s injuries.
Li Mu then darted his eyes to Zheng Cunjian and his cronies.
“Your honor, we, we might have some misunderstanding here. I…” Zheng Cunjian tried to defend himself more. The news from the county prison brought him to the realization that he probably had underestimated Li Mu’s strength. And that was the reason why he now displayed a humble gesture to avoid a head-on conflict against this dangerous figure.
But the Heartless Scholar was not truly frightened, for he still had an ace in his sleeve— he was waiting for a man to come to his help.
Once that man arrived, he would not fear Li Mu at all.
However, Li Mu simply cut him short.
“Get on your knees.” Li Mu commanded menacingly.
“What?” Zheng Cunjian was taken aback to hear that.
“Get on your knees before you tell me,” Li Mu goggled at him and roared, “what you lot did to Qing Feng, who gave the word, and who executed that order. Drop to your knees now, and tell me everything… I’m not in a good mood. Only when you’re on your knees can I restrain myself from chopping you up right now.”