Chapter 109: Shared hopes Original and most updated translations are from volare. If read elsewhere, this chapter has been stolen. Please stop supporting theft.
After seeing Mu Qingwu and Han Yunxi both fall silent, the tea servant long figured that something wasn't right. But the things that the young general had asked about were all recorded in the teashop receipt ledgers, so she didn't dare to lie.
Not long ago, Second Young Miss Han had left behind a canister of first-class spring tea here. Many influential officials who drank tea here would forget their tea leaves and never come back to find them. As a result, she'd grown a wicked heart and hid that particular tin for herself. Unexpectedly, the Han Family actually sent over people the next day to look for the tin. It was awkward for her to bring it out again, so she could only pretend that she'd never saw it. All of Second Young Miss Han's gifted teas were first-rate leaves that exceeded the quality of some of the teashop's own blends. If it could be sold on the tea market, it'd definitely fetch a good price.
The tea servant had originally planned to find time and secretly take the tin out to sell, but who knew she'd run into this situation today? Her heart was trembling with fear. How could she dare sell those tea leaves now? She only hoped that they wouldn't trace things back to her. If the manager found out that she'd stolen a guest's tea, she'd be dead meat.
Seeing Mu Qingwu's reticence, Han Yunxi lightly sighed and spoke. "Young General, you set my mind at rest, so of course I'll set yours at rest too, don't worry!"
The tea servant didn't understand these words, but Mu Qingwu did. When they were investigating Mu Liuyue, he'd promised that he wouldn't act wrongly out of personal considerations. Today, the most likely suspect had shown up in the Han Family, and esteemed wangfei was giving him the same pledge. He never expected that a woman like esteemed wangfei could have such an inspiring sense of righteousness. Mu Qingwu cupped his fist in his hand before his chest, face filled with trust and deep respect.
It was exactly this trust that increased the pressure on Han Yunxi and bolstered her determination. No matter who the culprit was, as long as it was the real one, she'd definitely uncover them.
"When Second Young Miss Han gives her tea leaves, does she ever steep them here?" she finally asked.
The tea servant shook her head. "Second Young Miss Han steeps the tea from her own leaves and leaves the tins here for us, but the tins she give to Eldest Young Miss Mu are always sealed."
"Are they all the same tea leaves?" Han Yunxi asked again.
"Sometimes. Sometimes they're not, so it's not set," the servant answered truthfully.
"Do you still have some left over?" Han Yunxi continued.
Immediately, the servant stood up and brought back two tins of tea leaves. "These were left behind recently by Second Young Miss Han."
Han Yunxi examined the tea leaves but found no traces of poison. Everything was normal. Mu Qingwu hesitated before steeping the leaves to take a sip. As soon as he smelled the scent of tea, his face grew intoxicated.
"What is it?" Han Yunxi asked curiously.
For Mu Liuyue to keep accepting Han Ruoxue's teas meant that their quality wasn't ordinary.
"This flavor...this tea is the first batch of spring tea grown by the southern borders, one of the highest-grade green teas," Mu Qingwu was very certain.
The extra same tea tree, when planted in different locations, yielded differences in their leaves as well. Climate, earth, and watering all determined the minute differences within the tea leaves, creating different flavors of tea. An ordinary person wouldn't be able to tell, but senior level tea fanatics could find out with a single whiff.
"This really is spring tea from the southern borders. Only the red earth at the borders can cultivate this flavor of green tea. Young General is very formidable!" the tea servant was all praise.
Actually, she wanted to say that the sealed tin left behind by Second Young Miss Han was even better, but she didn't dare.
"Is this tea rare?" Han Yunxi asked, not understanding.
"Esteemed wangfei, teas from the southern border are in the greatest demand, especially spring teas. They're produced in minute quantities so orders are sold out before they're even harvested," the tea servant replied.
If he hadn't drank the tea himself and heard the servant's explanation, Mu Qingwu wouldn't have realized his frequently drunk green tea came from such a particular place. He looked significantly at Han Yunxi and said, "Over the past two or three years, I've grown obsessed with this flavor of tea. Many of the leaves Liuyue sent over was green tea from the southern borders.
Southern border green teas?
Han Yunxi crinkled her eyebrows. While Mu Qingwu and the servant weren't paying attention, she silently took a few tea leaves and placed them in her medical pouch, then grabbed an acupuncture needle to sample some of the tea water before placing that in the pouch as well. In actuality, she was borrowing the action to send both items into her detoxification system dimension for analysis.
The results showed a marked difference: these tea leaves and tea water contained a high level of iron! Before, her analysis on two batches of tea leaves had resulted in failures when she tried to combine them with Ten-Thousand Snake Poison. First she'd analyzed them according to types of tea, then seasons of tea. She'd never tested them based on place of production.
Souther border green tea, could this be it?
Han Yunxi couldn't wait any longer. As soon as she finished analyzing the composition of these tea leaves, she started mixing them with the poison in her detox system. Her eyebrows furrowed in concentration, expression serious as she focused entirely on producing results. By her side, Mu Qingwu and the tea servant watched and waited, wondering what was the matter.
"Esteemed wangfei, are you all right?" Mu Qingwu asked in concern.
It was only a second before Han Yunxi recovered with a sigh. "I'm fine."
Well then, another failure!
The southern border green tea and spring tea had failed, not her. Did they make a mistake about Han Ruoxue? Or were there differences in the tea Han Ruoxue steeped in the teashop, versus the ones she gave to Mu Liuyue unopened? If there was, then a tea fanatic like Mu Qingwu would be able to tell just from tasting. Han Yunxi hesitated before waving her hand to dismiss the tea servant and surrounding attendant girls.
When they all left, Mu Qingwu leaned in to ask, "Esteemed wangfei, what did you find out?"
"The tea Liuyue gave you, does it differ from the other teas you drink?" Han Yunxi asked.
Mu Qingwu knew the purpose behind her question, but he didn't know how to give her a clear answer. "Esteemed wangfei, that's hard to pinpoint. The tea leaves from the exact same place, season, and breed will have similar tastes if stored normally, but there would still be plenty of minute differences." He paused for a bit before adding, "When comparing the same batch of tea from the same place of production, Liuyue's teas would always be a bit better than the others. It's mainly in the method of curing and preserving the leaves so that they're fresher. Of course, sometimes it's the water, utensils or time used to steep the tea that make the difference. It's really difficult to say."
Han Yunxi understood as soon as she heard Mu Qingwu's words. To find an extra answer from all these subtle and immeasurable idiosyncrasies was impossible. Just a simple technique of curing the leaves would create large minute differences. Where were they supposed to start tracking them all down?
Han Yunxi originally wanted to look into the method of curing teas and find evidence from that end. As things stood now, she'd be stuck following that clue without end and still not find a thing. She organized her thoughts, leaving aside all sorts of distractions, and returned to the source of uncertainty about the tea leaves.
If the problem laid undoubtedly with the tea, then the open path they had was to find tea leaves containing poison. But at this critical juncture, perhaps the suspect had already taken precautions against them. If that was the case, where could they go to find poisoned tea leaves? If they gave up this clue, then their only choice was to make a move towards the suspect. Han Yunxi's concerns were exactly Mu Qingwu's as well. Seeing his dignified face, she began to smile.
"Young General, we still gained results from this trip. There wasn't any progress on the matter of the tea leaves, but at least...we determined a most likely suspect."
Actually, just from all the clues they gathered today, Han Ruoxue was already plenty suspicious. Add that to her own discoveries at Third Madame's house and the suspicion grew. She didn't mention Long Feiye's involvement in the matter since it was related to the Northern Li spies, whom Long Feiye had been secretly investigating all the while. She could only wait with anticipation for Long Feiye to find additional clues.
Mu Qingwu hadn't expected today's clues to lead them to the Han Family's Second Young Miss. When he returned, the first thing he'd do was report to the Duke of Qin. He thought it should be easy for His Highness Duke of Qin to investigate the backgrounds of Han Family's Third Madame Li and Second Young Miss. Since this matter concerned the case of the Northern Li spies, it couldn't be made public. Neither was it convenient for him to divulge details to esteemed wangfei.
Both of them inadvertently focused on the suspect and placed their hopes on Long Feiye, though neither was aware of the other's thoughts.
Mu Qingwu nodded his head. "Esteemed wangfei, don't worry. The general's estate will seize the time to investigate this matter. If there's any news, we'll tell you right away."
"If I make any progress, I'll tell you as well," Han Yunxi said frankly.
Mu Qingwu was startled. Was this mistress going to do a personal investigation? First of all, she was the married-off daughter of the Han Family, so it wasn't good for her to frequently return home. Secondly, she had to have some scruples regarding certain affairs, in her position as Qin Wangfei.
"Esteemed wangfei, as this official sees it, you should..."
Before Mu Qingwu could finish, Han Yunxi stood up lazily. "Let's go buy some tea!"
Her thoughts were in a mess, so she wanted to clear her mind and avoid thinking about this case for awhile. It wasn't convenient for Mu Qingwu to press her again, so he asked, "Which tea does esteemed wangfei like? We could have the tea servant bring it over."
"I heard that their...Red South Peak isn't bad. You have to personally go into the mountains to harvest it?" Han Yunxi couldn't help but think that she needed to bribe Long Feiye so he could hurry up and investigate the Han Family's third wife's affairs. With his level of efficiency, she'd definitely get results within three to four days. If she happened to make a mistake, then she'd still have time left over to keep investigating.
"Esteemed wangfei is truly perceptive. Celestial Fragrance's Red South Peak is grown especially for the imperial family, and not sold to outsiders," Mu Qingwu laughed.
Han Yunxi was a little disappointed. "Does this mean that it's not for sale?"
"This official can't buy it, but esteemed wangfei is part of the imperial family so you naturally can. This official doesn't know whether he can take advantage of esteemed wangfei's honorable presence today?" Mu Qingwu teased. After all their meetings, he'd unwittingly relaxed a lot more and wasn't as reserved or cautious as before. It was something even he himself hadn't noticed.
Han Yunxi was immediately taken with the idea. "Naturally," she replied.
With a tea servant leading the way, Mu Qingwu and Han Yunxi climbed halfway up the back mountains into the area where Red South Peak was grown. Row after row of neatly arranged trees stood just far enough apart for one person to walk through them. The tea trees weren't very high, but neither were they short. They reached halfway up to the height of a person standing beside them. Under the guidance of a tea master, Han Yunxi quickly grasped the technique involved in harvesting tea and walked with Mu Qingwu into the tea groves.
Since it was a mountainous road and Han Yunxi's foot was still injured, Mu Qingwu couldn't attend to harvesting tea, but hovered by Han Yunxi the entire time, afraid that she'd fall or sprain her ankle again. Han Yunxi noticed that many of the tea leaves had been chewed on by bugs and muttered to herself, "There's quite a few bugs, they probably didn't spray any pesticides."
In modern times, it was perfectly normal to spray tea plants with pesticides so that they repelled insects. A few black-hearted tea growers even used insecticides heavily to guarantee a full harvest, or even sprayed drugs prohibited by the country's laws.
"Pesticides?" Mu Qingwu didn't understand.
Yet Han Yunxi suddenly spun around in shock. "Poison!"
What if they sprayed Ten-Thousand Snake Poison on the tea trees?