Your Reputation Precedes You
Su Fu raised the knife in his hand and quickly cut off the mutton leg. In the meantime, Ran Yan continued slicing her share of meat at her presumed pace.
Someone once said that eating Western cuisine with Ran Yan was a horrifying experience. Although her handling of the knife was elegant, her bearing always felt queer.
“Master Su seems to know me quite well?” From the start, Ran Yan had been skeptical. When she was in the forest, she had said but one word, yet Su Fu had actually confirmed her identity.
Placing the plates on the table, Su Fu quietly glanced at her. Then his cold voice followed. “Your reputation precedes you.”
Ran Yan’s heart tensed up. This “reputation” was courtesy of the autopsies she had performed! Yang Pansi’s residence was near the East Market, and Su Fu had also appeared in the East Market. Based on the reasoning at that time, Ran Yan had a reason to suspect Su Fu as Yang Pansi’s killer.
Now, did he know that she had examined Yang Pansi’s corpse?
Su Fu poked a piece of meat with the tip of his dagger, brought it to his mouth, and slowly chewed on it.
Ran Yan too finished cutting the meat and similarly put some into her mouth. The delicate and crisp taste rendered her momentarily stunned. Her stomach rumbled with hunger and she abandoned all formalities.
“Miss Ran must be quite familiar with me, too.” Su Fu’s movements remained elegant, despite the pace he was devouring the food. In a blink of the eye, the meat was polished off by him.
Ran Yan’s actions momentarily paused. She had only seen Su Fu a few times. Once when she had her veil on, another when hidden behind the curtain of Bank’s roses, and that other time when both were wearing masks. There was that one time he had sneaked into her carriage and pressed a dagger against her neck… Ran Yan wasn’t wearing a veil then, but his face had remained covered.
If Su Fu was referring to that time, it shouldn’t be considered as them being ‘familiar’.
Could it be…
“I’ve always been wondering if I should have killed you.” Su Fu took out a handkerchief to wipe his mouth. His cold gaze fell upon Ran Yan’s face as if what he said was an ordinary greeting.
Ran Yan ate a mouthful of meat as she had already figured everything. An assassin could not only distinguish people through their appearance but also aura, temperament, and subtle signs unique to their persona.
“If that is so, why haven’t you killed me?” Ran Yan asked, indifferently.
Su Fu’s eyes remained serene, he didn’t answer her question and just said, “Go back when you’re done eating. Don’t let me see you entering this forest in the future.”
Saying so, he got up and walked towards his courtyard. When he was about to reach the bamboo door, he turned around. “Tomorrow, throw the umbrella into the forest.”
The door creaked as Ran Yan withdrew her gaze and silently took two more bites of the well-cut meat. Suddenly, she noticed the puddle of blood at the place where the man had been sitting.
To shed so much blood in such a short period of time, he must’ve suffered a very serious injury. Ran Yan didn’t know what to say about Su Fu, after all, it wasn’t strange for an assassin to be injured in the middle of the night. But to sit down and eat meat after being seriously injured, she could not understand what was going on inside his mind.
Ran Yan was in a little dilemma… Should she meddle in his affairs?
Collecting her thoughts, she stood up and pushed open the bamboo door. The courtyard was filled with blood-red cockscomb flowers. In the silvery, cold moonlight, the flowers stood out like a dried bloodstain, their redness striking.
The bamboo courtyard was not large, and there were three houses occupying all three sides. Ran Yan followed the crimson trail along the porch until it stopped in front of the bamboo hut on the east side.
Upon reaching the tightly shut door, Ran Yan inhaled deeply before reaching out to open the door.
A cold wind, carrying a rusty and slightly sweet smell, brushed by her, and a chilly voice followed. “You are indeed daring.”
When everything had quieted, Ran Yan was offered a clear view of what lay beneath his robes that were slightly undone. The sturdy upper body and abdomen were like an impeccable work of art. The scars lacing the chest, instead of diminishing, only added to his handsomeness and extraordinariness, making him even more flawless.
“Since I’ve eaten your meat, I have come over to see if you need any help.” Ran Yan ignored the sword that was pressed on her neck. Her gaze wandered around his chest, looking along for traces of the wound before raising her head to meet his gaze.
His dark blue eyes searched through Ran Yan’s orbs as if he wanted to know if there were any emotions hidden within. Unfortunately, his efforts were futile.
“There’s no need to look. I always speak my mind.” Her gaze rested on the blood seeping from his waist and she calmly said, “Seeing is believing and the hearing can be misleading. But there are many who, like you, never believe what their own eyes see.”
Su Fu gradually lowered the long sword in his hand and stabbed it into the ground to support his body.
As she felt his killing intent dissipate, Ran Yan took the initiative and asked, “Do you need me to help address your wounds?”
As an assassin, Su Fu had long lost the ability to trust others. But for some reason, when he looked into the serene eyes before him, he actually nodded his head.
Ran Yan supported him to sit on the bed. After finding a few pieces of clean cloth and medicine on the table, she was ready. She reached out to remove his clothes.
Su Fu watched as his clothes were swiftly stripped by a young woman. His expression, which was more rigid than a thousand-year-old glacial block, turned more rigid. He pursed his lips as his gaze landed on the woman’s visage. When he glimpsed its solemnity, his tensed muscles gradually relaxed.
Ran Yan first cleaned up the blood near the wound and sprinkled the hemostatic powder1a powder to arrest bleeding on it. Then, she raised her head at him and said, “The wound is too deep, I have to sew it up. Do you have a needle?”
“In the medicine box.” Su Fu raised his chin and gestured towards the box.
Ran Yan followed his directions and found an inconspicuous wooden box. Opening it, she saw that there were bottles and jars of different sizes, most of which were small light blue porcelain bottles.
Since there were no lamps in the room, the moonlight that shone through the gaps in the window was the only source thus far. Although Ran Yan had found what she wanted after some groping, she did not have the confidence to blindly sew the wound. She got up and opened the window. The water-like moonlight slightly illuminated the room, increasing her visibility.
Even so, for a long time, she still could not guide the thread through her needle. In the end, she could only helplessly say, “Are there any lamps?”
Su Fu took the needle and thread in her hand, and without a sound, easily thread the needle and asked, “Length?”
“Three feet2It sounds like a lot, but it has to be doubled over – So, 1.5ft, i.e., 45cm. For neat sutures, that would be a minimum length.,” she replied.
He swiftly cut off the thread and handed her the needle.
Ran Yan took the needle, squatted down, and with two of her fingers pinching the wound began to skillfully sew.
Since Hua Tuo’s period, the concept of surgery and suturing had always been present. The treatment of this type of wound by the Chinese method was in no way inferior to that of the West. Although the Tang period’s current medical knowledge was inferior to that of the subsequent generations’, Hua Tuo’s reputation as a doctor was widespread. It should not be out of the ordinary for her to sew a wound with a needle and thread. At the least, Su Fu’s medicine box had a needle and thread inside, and Ran Yan didn’t think that he was using them to sew clothes either.
With Su Fu’s cooperation, Ran Yan was able to stitch at a rapid pace, quickly finishing the task at hand.
“You—” Ran Yan straightened her back and seemed as if she wanted to say something, but in the end, changed her mind. “Now, we’re even.”
Although she was not afraid of anything, she did not want to make meaningless sacrifices either. She didn’t know Su Fu well enough.
Su Fu said in an icy voice, “There’s still the umbrella.”
Ran Yan nodded. “Tomorrow, I’ll throw my umbrella in the forest.”
She felt that the umbrella must be of great importance to him. Otherwise, how would he, a person who did not feel any pain from discarding such an expensive sword, care so much about a mere umbrella? Perhaps he was not as cold-blooded after all…
When Ran Yan came out of the forest, it was already late in the night. She washed her hands in the courtyard’s wooden basin, then quietly returned to her bedroom.
The moon was still and soon, everything returned to peace.
The next morning, Ran Yan was awakened by a shrill scream. Still dressed in plain clothes, she drowsily climbed out of her quilt and went to the courtyard. She frowned while asking, “What happened?”
Xiao Man’s face was pale. “This servant was scared to death! This servant was going to wake up Miss but discovered that the basin of water that was placed in the courtyard last night had turned into a basin of blood.”
Ran Yan was stunned for a moment before she harked back to the events from last night. She remembered being anxious about returning that late into the night and in her haste washed her blood-stained hands in the basin without giving it much thought.
“Um, then… dump the water.” Ran Yan ordered.
Xing Niang was still anxious. “Miss, we have only just arrived here and something like this has already happened. Does Miss want Master to come over to take a look? Or does Miss want to change to a different courtyard?”
The mountain breeze was cool, quickly dissipating Ran Yan’s drowsiness. This matter could not be elaborated, nor could it be brought up to the nuns. Ran Yan could only maintain a calm facade and said with a cold voice, “No need. Word of my affairs has already spread all over the city. Do you want to fan the flames by telling the nuns of this matter and taking the basin to the foot of the mountain, laying the events bare for all to see?”
Wan Lu felt that what her mistress said was indeed reasonable. If someone with ulterior motives were to hear of this matter, she couldn’t imagine the consequences if the incident were to spread. She quickly picked up the water basin and left towards the forest on the south.
There wasn’t that much blood in the first place, it looked scary because of blood mixing with water. After the basin was emptied out on the ground, nothing could be seen anymore.
“No one is allowed to mention this matter to anyone,” Ran Yan spoke out calmly.
As if knowing what’s going on, Xing Niang placed this matter at the back of her mind. When she saw the pale Xiao Man, a faint smile appeared on her own face. She held the other’s hands and said, “Don’t panic. It’s just a basin of water. I don’t know which little nun has her period and a thin face that she sneaked into our courtyard to secretly wash her stained clothes.”
The corners of Ran Yan’s mouth twitched, she sighed. Xing Niang’s imagination was beyond the scope of ordinary people, period… Why couldn’t she think of this?
After dumping the water from the basin, Wan Lu and Xiao Mao waited upon their mistress to dress her up.
When Ran Yan was done getting ready, a little nun with a box of food appeared by the door. “Amitabha! Is there anyone in the courtyard? Master requested breakfast to be delivered to Lady Ran”
Xing Niang went out to take the food box. “Many thanks to little master.”
“Amitabha, Master usually starts her lesson in the mid-morning. In the afternoon, the Master asks Lady Ran to come to see her,” the little nun said.
“This Master is?” As Xing Niang listened, it became apparent that the master they knew and the master the little nun spoke of now were probably different people – The nunnery seemed to have many masters.
The little nun continued to explain with a smile on her face. “Master’s name is Jing Hui. There are only four masters here. One is the master of the nunnery, another is my master, and the other is my martial uncle, whose name is Jing Xue. Another one is the martial uncle, Jing Yuan, who is not in charge of anything. The Temple Master is very gentle. If Lady Ran needs anything, Lady can go visit my master or my martial uncle Jing Xue.”
“May thanks to little master for your explanation.” Xing Niang slightly bowed.
Upon handing over the Buddhist alms, the little nun peered into the courtyard once again. Xing Niang asked, “Are you looking for our family’s Miss?”
“Nothing, there is nothing.” The little nun avoided Xing Niang’s questions, waved her hand, and left in a hurry.
Xing Niang stared at the little nun’s back as she carried the food box inside the courtyard.