Chapter 63: The Case of The Coffin Bearers
Translator: Translation Nation/chuchutrain Editor: - -
The county government's office stood in the north, but faced the south. It occupied a large plot of land, and had a huge gate at the entrance. The Great Court, Second Court, Third Court and the Soldiers' Hall each had their own courtyards and offices. The atmosphere within the government's office was stern and serious.
At this point the County Magistrate had risen from his sleep. His wife was preparing breakfast for him, when a bailiff attempted to barge in, panting and anxious. He was stopped by a constable outside, "What is going on, you look extremely disgraceful. What a scandal!"
The bailiff pulled the constable aside, and whispered into his ears. The constable was appalled when he heard this, "What? This is a big matter. Are you for real?"
The bailiff immediately responded, "Your excellency, I am absolutely certain, as I saw this with my own eyes."
The constable's expression changed, as he turned around and entered the Magistrate's living quarters.
"Your excellency, something bad has happened!" This constable entered hastily, intruding on the Magistrate's breakfast. He had just started eating and was interrupted. The Magistrate seemed extremely displeased.
The constable lowered his head and reported, "Your excellency, there are a hundred people in front of the county gates, all wearing white headscarves and dressed in mourner's garb. There are more than ten coffins that had already reached the entrance. They were saying.... They were saying...."
"What?" When the Magistrate had heard this, he too was stunned. This was a grave matter. Could it be that someone was trying to interrupt the peace of the nation? The Magistrate was flustered and said, "Quickly tell me. What were they saying?"
"They said they had dead soldiers with them, and the soldiers too were wearing white headscarves and mourner's robes. That means that an official has been murdered."
"What? Prepare my ox-cart for me at once. Take me to the county entrance." The County Magistrate was shocked. Could it be an uprising by the soldiers? He immediately commanded his men to prepare for their short trip to the county entrance.
At this point there was a huge crowd gathered before the county entrance. However the soldiers who were guarding the entrance of the county were military men, and had to do their duty. One of them stepped toward and rebuked the crowd, "Where are you people from? Why have you come dressed in mourning attire and brought your coffins here to the county. Are you here to start a rebellion?"
Pei Zi Yun stepped forward to and shouted, "I am a newly conferred High Scholar. Just last night my village came under the attack of bandits, and more than 20 people have died. Today I've come to lodge a report. You dare to stand in my way?"
"Master Top Scorer?" The soldier started trembling. His face gave off a look of extreme fear, and Pei Zi Yun stood in front of him. Almost as if he was daring the soldier to challenge him. Pei Zi Yun's face remained expressionless, as he stood there in his High Scholar robes.
Cao San then stepped forward and lashed out at him in anger, "Li Si, are you blind to not be able to recognize Master Top Scorer? Our Chief Patrol Officer is dead. Let me tell you, something big happened last night. Move aside, if not, I will ensure you receive the appropriate punishment."
Pei Zi Yun led his mourning villagers through the gates. The guards fell back as none of them dared to obstruct the group.
The procession walked through the city gates and entered the county city. As they walked, they played a sorrowful tune. The streets of the county were lively with the regular hustle and bustle of the crowd. The minute the group of people dressed in mourner's clothings entered the city, everyone stopped what they were do and watched on. There was no other sound apart from the crying and sobbing of grieving women, and the mourning music being played. Many people came to observe this queer sight, and even children pushed past the crowd to get a closer look, receiving scorn from their parents.
The County Magistrate's ox-cart had just been prepared. They had travelled a short distance when the ox-cart came to an abrupt halt. A bailiff then shouted, "Constable Wang, where are you heading to? Do not bother traveling in that direction. The roads are all blocked up. Master Top Scorer is leading a group of people, carrying coffins and saying they wish to lodge a report. Hurry and warn the Magistrate. This matter is becoming more serious.
The constable's face became pale. Just as he was about to reply the bailiff, the County Magistrate parted the curtains of the ox-cart and stuck his head out. He then asked, "Tell me, exactly what's going on?"
The County Magistrate listened attentively to the bailiff as he described what he knew. Just immediately after, the Magistrate's face fell. He then ordered the constable, "Hurry turn back. We need to prepare!"
Before long, they had reached the county's government office. Pei Zi Yun noticed that the office was situated in the north, yet was facing the south. There was a big golden signboard perched atop the entrance, and a grievance drum was placed in the middle of the yard. This drum was placed there for citizens to use whenever they seek justice, or when a grievance had be done unto them.
There were several seconds of constant drum beatings. A bailiff who had just reported for work, and was unaware of the situation stuck out his head and answered, "Who's hitting the drums. What matter do you wish to report?"
This bailiff swept a glance across the people who had just arrived. He noticed that there were many coffins, more than he had ever seen in his life. There were also a big group of people lined up outside. He took in a deep breath.
"Enter the Court!" two rows of bailiffs stood within the court, one on each side. They were holding onto rods that were a meter long, and tapping it on the ground, rhythmically in unison. The Magistrate was sat atop the highest seat. A signboard was pinned to the wall just above him. The signboard indicated that judgement served by the Magistrate shall be impartial and fair.
Pei Zi Yun led the Village Chief and Cao San into the great court. The minute the Village Chief entered the court, he knelt down and started crying in apparent distress, "Your excellency, redress the grievances I had to endure. Last night a group of bandits led by Elementary Scholar Zhang Jie Yu infiltrated our village and killed 23 villagers. Thankfully Chief Patrol Officer, his excellency, was present at our village during the time of the attack. He led the group of soldiers to defend the village. The bandits were savage and attacked viciously. The Chief Patrol Officer died while fending these bandits off. Thanks to these soldiers and the brave men of my village, the bandits too, suffered great losses. The brave men rallied under the command of Cao San and managed to capture some of these bandits, and we present them here today."
Cao San who had been standing beside the Village Chief fell to his knees and shouted, "Magistrate sir, I am the Chief Patrol Officer's soldier and followed the Chief to different villages on patrolling duty. It was at Snail Village that we came under the attack of these bandits."
"This Zhang Jie Yu was half a sorcerer. Not only was his martial arts techniques strong, he also knew magical spells. The Chief Patrol Officer had been under the effects of his spells, and thus fell to the bandits. Among the people who had attacked our village, there were some from Luo gang of the Hu River and some monks from Silver Dragon Temple. I have caught a few of these bandits alive for their confession."
As he said this, he waved his hands and four bowmen pushed four black robed bandits forward. These bandits had been injured and when they were brought forward, they were forced to their knees. They removed the cloth covering the bandits' faces, one of them was a monk with fresh scars on his head. The other three bandits were clearly fierce looking gangsters.
The County Magistrate went weak in the knees after seeing a sight like this before him. He knew that Silver Dragon Temple and the River gang exerted considerably influence across the county. They owned many businesses and were related to many high ranking officials in court. If this case were to be brought up, he would be blown up.
The sound of the grievance drum being hit broke his thoughts. A bailiff brought a messy haired youth into the court. He led a group of Elementary Scholars into the court. This youth started crying and wailing, "Your excellency, County Magistrate, save me. Save me!"
When the Magistrate saw this messy hair youth being brought in, he took his gavel and hit it hard on the table before him, "Quiet!"
The youth then raised his head to look at the Magistrate. It was Tang Zhen, and he was wailing louder than ever, "Your excellency, I've been maligned. I am Tang Zhen, whose title of Elementary Scholar has been taken away, and yet I'm not what everyone think me to be. I have some inside information that involves these Elementary Scholars as well. We have all been set up and dragged into Zhang Jie Yu's poisonous and devious schemes. We were threatened with our lives, that if we do not do as he instructed, we will all be killed."
The few Elementary Scholars behind Tang Zhen all ran up, knelt down, and started crying as well.
Just when these Elementary Scholars were crying, another few old women and young ladies started hitting the grievances drum. These women were brought in and were wailing loudly as well, "Your excellency, redress our grievances."
The County Magistrate then asked, "Why are you women not at home. Instead you've come all the way to the county. What do you wish to report about?"
"Master County Magistrate, I am the mother of Zhang Quan. A year ago, Zhang Quan had fallen into the river and drowned. Before his death, he had left a letter, saying that he had been threatened by someone. If something should happen to me, it means that I've been murdered. However the letter said not to report the incident immediately, but wait for something else of this nature to happen before lodging a report, and avenge his soul."
Seeing the evidence of the letter placed before him, the County Magistrate was so shocked he started perspiring profusely. A case of such magnitude was extremely shocking to witness.
When this had happened, the door opened and 23 coffins entered the courts. Even the county's Deputy and Registrar Official had arrived. They had been listening from outside the courts. When the matter got more and more severe, his face turned pale.
The County Magistrate sat on the platform, above everyone else. However, at this very moment it seemed like as though he was sitting atop a chair of needles, in extreme discomfort. Things were getting very serious.
The county's Registrar Official took a deep breath and entered the court and heard the Magistrate mumbling under his breath, "This is absurd. How could this man dare. How could he dare to do something of this scale. This is threatening an official. Does he not want to take another Imperial Examination again?"
It was very obvious what was happening. Pei Zi Yun had planned for all of these to happen. He had arranged for the villagers, Cao San, who was half an official, the Elementary Scholars and even a grieving mother to show up. His intention was to make his case against Zhang Jie Yu foolproof. But in doing so, he was offending the officials here. Was he not afraid that he would never reach Grand Scholar status?
"Magistrate, he is a High Scholar. The next examination for him would be held in the palace. Although these attacks seem to be a big matter in the county, when it actually reaches the capital it wouldn't be that big of an affair." The county's Registrar Official said matter of factly, "Besides, I've heard everything there was to hear about this matter, and I'm afraid we cannot hide it and make it go away."
"Not even speaking of the fact that the bandits had killed more than 20 villagers, they killed an official. His body is in a coffin outside. That itself is enough. What's worse is that this official had managed to rub shoulders with officials of higher ranks and got himself a promotion. The Imperial Order had just arrived that he was to be promoted to a County Lieutenant. That would make him an Honorable Official."
"Ever since the establishment of the dynasty, it impossible to cover up all these bandits attacks, especially if lives had been lost."
The County Magistrate was trembling in his seat. He then whispered to the county's Registrar Official, "Something so grave had just happened under our watch. It seems like our ability to govern a county is dashed. It's not even that we will never get promoted again, but we might even completely lose our appointments"
"Master County Magistrate, this matter is too big to be covered up. It's not even a question of whether we will be able to retain our appointments as Magistrate and Registrar. It's whether our ranks will be stripped off or not." In the blink of an eye however, the Registrar had an idea come to him. He spoke in whispered voices to the Magistrate, "Magistrate, I have a plan. You can say that the county had obeyed orders and intended to conduct a thorough cleansing of bandits from the county. However, the bandits unexpectedly showed up and retaliated. They wanted to exact revenge for wiping out the Black Wind Stronghold."
"In this matter, your excellency wanted to defeat the bandits, and remove their threat from our nation. Who can say which happened first? Our County Lieutenant had died in his line of duty, and it was the intentions of the bandits to kill him of as a display of their revenge."
The Magistrate heard these words spoken by the county's Registrar Official and paused for some time before smiling. Handling a case of this gravity required taking a hard approach, as taking a soft approach would invite rumors and suspicions. The Magistrate should dig deep into this case, apprehend the suspect, and put the weight of all the blame upon him.
As long as he managed to apprehend a person, and hold him responsible for this, he would succeed. With a case of this magnitude, instead of going to jail and being stripped of his rank, he might even get a promotion.
The county's Registrar Official stepped over to the side. The Magistrate's face seemed like he was deep in thought. He reconsidered everything that had been said, before hitting his gavel. He waited for complete silence before saying, "Quiet. Report the details of this case to me. I shall launch a thorough investigation."
As the Magistrate asked his questions, the old recorder was at the side, recording every word being spoken. Every witness that came forth had to put their thumbprints onto their testimony as a signature. Tang Zhen stepped forward and looked at the written version of his testimony. With a stoic expression, he pressed his ink stained thumb down onto the piece of paper.
The soldiers and old woman did the same, pressed their thumbs into an inkpad, before reading their written testimony, and imprinting their thumbs onto their testimonies. The County Magistrate looked at their endorsed testimonies and said, "I've already understood the case. Everyone, please return home now. I've heard of these bandits and what they can do long ago, and thus I've sent the Chief Patrol Officer to investigate quietly. Who would've expected these bandits to attack the village in the middle of the night, and kill off the Chief Patrol Officer and other villagers. I will administer justice to the villagers of Slow River County, rest assured."
The County Magistrate stood up and said with gusto. When everyone else has left, he turned to Pei Zi Yun and said, "High Scholar Pei has been affected by this matter. I would never imagine that this sorcerer would be so vile and cruel, to kill the Chief Patrol Officer. I will investigate this monster, and bring him to the courts and administer justice upon him."
To disobey the regulations and restrictions imposed by the imperial courts on Daoists would deserve a severe punishment, "What a monster."
Pei Zi Yun could not help but feel suspicious. Since the Magistrate spoke this way, could it be that he had some inside information and really dispatched the Chief Patrol Officer to our village? However, he was very polite to Pei Zi Yun, who clasped his hands and saluted the Magistrate before thanking him profusely.
The Magistrate then turned around and entered his inner chambers. He then called on the county's Deputy and Registrar Official to enter the chambers as well, "Deputy Li, although we often have differing opinions, this matter concerns out black hats. If we do not handle this well, we could lose it. What do you say we do?"
(TN: Black hats refer to the headwear worn by higher ranking officials, a symbol representing a person's official career.)
The county's Deputy eyed the Registrar Official, as he sat down and thought for sometime. He then raised his head, his eyes filled with purpose and said, "We have to get this done properly. As for after the matter is settled, we will fill in the details accordingly. It won't be too late."