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    One's heart was simmering with countless emotions, entangled and persistent.

    Suddenly, someone firmly patted Gu Changjin's shoulder from behind. "Hey, you, what are you daydreaming about? Come help carry the goods!"

    Gu Changjin turned his gaze, meeting Shiiun's mischievous fox-like eyes. Lowering his head, he acknowledged, "I'm coming."

    The two of them wove their way through the crowded cargo at the ferry. Shiiun had spent three years in Yangzhou and knew every nook and cranny of the city.

    Half an hour later, they arrived at an old house with gray tiles and white walls next to Wu's Brick Bridge.

    Shiiun took out a key to unlock the door. Upon entering the courtyard, he said, "Chang Ji and Heng Ping are still on their way. After delivering Master to Shen's guest ship, they sent me a message. I've been keeping watch at the ferry these past few days."

    Gu Changjin nodded, glancing at the poplar tree by the door. He noticed that the base of the tree was stacked with empty wine jars.

    Following Gu Changjin's gaze, Shiiun nonchalantly remarked, "That wine was all given to me. The girls along the Qinhuai River are too enthusiastic. They get upset if I don't accept their gifts."

    Inside the house, Shiiun poured Gu Changjin a cup of iced tea. "What's your plan now, Master? You didn't come to Yangzhou for nothing, did you? Xu Fu must have something in mind."

    A cold glint flickered in Gu Changjin's dark eyes. "She wants to kill Liang Xiao and use the opportunity to frame Liao Rao."

    "General Liang?" Shiiun scoffed. "Is that old hag out of her mind? Liao Rao is all show and loves to take credit. For years, the sea bandits have been attacking annually, growing bolder each time. If not for General Liang, how could the coastal defenses in Jiangsu and Zhejiang have possibly held up?"

    Gu Changjin was well aware that Liang Xiao couldn't die.

    He turned to Shiiun. "Have you placed someone near General Liang?"

    Shiiun nodded. "Certainly. I have an informant within the Yangzhou garrison. However, he's just a lowly soldier and doesn't usually have access to General Liang."

    "No problem. I'll ensure he earns a commendation then. General Liang cannot die. Xu Fu has connections in Yangzhou, so we can't rescue him directly. We'll have to rely on others to do it for us."

    This was about using that soldier's hand to save Liang Xiao.

    Shiiun tittered, "This feat might just land him a post as a thousand-household commander. Were I not already a man deceased, I would be coveting such glory myself; the young ladies of Wu Family Bridge hold the commanders of the Yangzhou Garrison Division in high regard."

    The sons who dedicate themselves to protecting their homeland are admired even by the ladies of the pleasure quarters.

    Gu Changjin continued, "Has there ever been a person named 'Feng Lady' in Yangzhou?"

    "Princess Phoenix?" Shiiun savored the name carefully. "I must say, during my years in Wuji Bridge, I haven't come across such a person. Should I inquire about her today, my lord?"

    Qinhuai's courtesans were renowned throughout the Great Yin, and Yangzhou's "skinny horses" had become a popular gift for those seeking to curry favor.

    Wu Jiaqiao was the liveliest area of brothels and pleasure houses along the Qinhuai River.

    His men were present in every such establishment, and he knew many secrets of Yangzhou Prefecture. If there really was such a person, he would likely have heard about them.

    "Your Excellency may not know, but there is a man in Yangzhou known as the 'Gossip Oracle.' I spent over two years helping him out of a few tight spots before we became sworn brothers. He knows everything that goes on, big or small, in this city," Shiiun said with a smile, his words carrying a hidden meaning. "The information about Miss Rong and Yang Xu's adopted son that you asked me to investigate? I obtained it indirectly from his lips."

    Gu Changjin raised an eyebrow. "Who exactly is this Gossip Oracle?"

    "Lu Shiyi."

    As the two conversed, Shen family's carriage had already come to a halt at Shen Yuan.

    After drifting on the canal for over a month, Rong Shu's bones ached with fatigue. Shen Zhi was occupied with business matters and thus unable to come fetch her.

    With Shen Zhi away, Rong Shu spared herself the trip to Three Reflections Hall and headed straight for Yi Lanzhu instead.

    Not in a hurry to rest, she changed into a new set of clothes before telling Luan Yan, "Sister has never been to Yangzhou before. Let me take you to Ciying Lane; it's filled with martial arts academies."

    Rong Shu's visit to Ciying Alley had nothing to do with the martial arts academy; she was there to meet Uncle Shi Yi.

    In her previous life, it was her uncle who had presented the evidence of Shen family and Rong family's collusion with the enemy to the Da Li Si. No matter how much trust Rong Shu placed in Shen Zhi, she couldn't afford to be careless.

    If the Shen family truly were traitors, she would denounce them, even if her uncle didn't turn himself in two years later, for the sake of justice.

    But if the Shen family were innocent, then she needed to uncover the reason behind her uncle's deceit. Was he coerced by others, or did he take the blame to protect someone else?

    Mother has always held dear Uncle and the Shen family, enduring two decades in the Marquis's residence, day after day, living a life she does not truly fancy.

    If Uncle is guilty, why would he commit such a heinous crime of treason? This is not something a Shen family member would do.

    If he was innocent, did he ever consider Mother when he presented that evidence of treason?

    Rong Shu understood clearly that her investigation into the Shen family matters must be kept from Shen Zhi. To conceal it from the Shen household, she didn't even confide in her mother or Madam Zhang.

    The sound of hoofbeats echoed for almost half an hour.

    Ciyin Lane is an ancient street in Yang State Prefecture, inhabited by generations of long-time residents of Yangzhou.

    The Lu family is one such lineage, having resided in Ciyin Lane for ages.

    In this lane, out of every ten households, seven have members serving in the local government offices. There are clerks, scribes, jail guards, coroners, and grain inspectors – a significant portion of Yangzhou Prefecture's bureaucracy resides here.

    As the saying goes, "countless county magistrates come and go, but the clerks remain steadfast."

    These clerical officials have lived in Yangzhou for generations, intimately acquainted with the local customs and able to connect with all walks of life.

    The Lu family was the most esteemed "clerk lineage" in Ciying Alley.

    Lu Shiyi was the same age as his maternal uncle and four years older than Ah Niang.

    Rong Shu's friendship with Lu Shiyi originated from when she was six years old, during the Lantern Festival, when she got lost and nearly fell into the hands of kidnappers. It was Lu Shiyi who saved her that day.

    Within just two hours of her disappearance, Lu Shiyi had led a group of constables, armed, straight to the kidnappers' hideout.

    There were at least twenty children in the den, yet Lu Shiyi, for some reason, recognized her instantly. He plucked her out from among the wailing children, smiling as he asked, "Are you Shen Yizhen's daughter?"

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