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    "Xuan Ce?"

    The man before him still wore his gray monk's robe, with his shoulder-length hair tied high in a cloth wrap, revealing a sharp-featured face.

    "Should I address you as Your Highness the Crown Prince or Lord Gu?"

    Xuan Ce's phoenix eyes lifted, and he relaxed his grip, slowly walking towards the secret passage. The door slammed shut behind him with a thud.

    "Either is fine, Master," Gu Changjin observed his face and said, "You're injured."

    Xuan Ce's robe was stained with blood, and his own complexion had lost its color, indicating an internal injury.

    With a casual glance over Gu Changjin's shoulder, Xuan Ce replied, "This humble monk has found the woman with the scar that Lord Gu was looking for. However, on the way back to the capital, a group of people appeared and abducted her. As for Miss Wen Xi, when I left Su Prefecture, I happened to encounter the people who were sent to fetch her. If I'm not mistaken, they were likely from the government."

    Gu Changjin's brows furrowed slightly. "Who was that woman with the scar? And who abducted her?"

    "That woman's surname is Ding, originally from Taiyuan. She was a kitchen helper at a Taoist temple on White Pine Mountain in Datong Prefecture." Xuan Ce spoke softly. "A month ago, she left White Pine Mountain and headed for Su Prefecture. Coincidentally, during those days, Princess Danzhu was capturing Tatar spies who had infiltrated Su Prefecture. To escape, those spies took the Ding woman hostage. This humble monk rescued her. Ding was very afraid of being seen, so she hurriedly left after being saved. The next day, she surprisingly came to ask this monk to protect her on her journey to the capital."

    "Do you know why she wanted to go to the capital?"

    "She wishes to inquire about a murder case that took place in Su Prefecture," Xuan Ce lifted his gaze to Gu Changjin. "The county magistrate who handled the case, Lord Gu, is someone you also know."

    Gu Changjin raised an eyebrow. "You mean Lord Guan?"

    The "Lord Guan" he mentioned was none other than the third-ranked scholar, Guan Shaowei, who had jointly presented a petition to the emperor with him during the Jia You Eighteenth year. Mention of Guan Shaowei reminded Gu Changjin of a recent case that had been the talk of the palace.

    That case was likely the "murder of a husband" Xuan Ce had spoken of.

    The defendant in the case was a young maiden from Su Prefecture named Chen Mei, while the plaintiff was her nominal husband, Qian Da. Qian Da was known as a local bachelor who idled away his days without any real occupation. Chen Mei's uncle, driven by the desire for a few dozen silver taels as dowry, forced Chen Mei to marry Qian Da against her will.

    On the day of their wedding, Chen Mei wounded Qian Da with scissors and then turned herself in at the local government office.

    "It's indeed that case. Originally, County Magistrate Guan ruled the marriage contract between Chen and Qian invalid, and thus, the charge of 'murdering her husband' could not be upheld. However, when the case reached the hands of the prefect, he convicted Chen Mei of attempted murder and sentenced her to death. County Magistrate Guan disagreed and appealed the case to the Ministry of Justice."

    Gu Changjin pondered. "What connection does Lady Ding have with this case?"

    "I did not ask," Xuan Ce replied with a detached expression. "As for Lady Ding's involvement in this matter, it would be for Lord Gu to investigate personally. When Lady Ding and I were surrounded by the black-clad men, she seemed to recognize them and urged me to leave quickly, assuring me that they wouldn't harm her."

    Despite his efforts, Xuan Ce was unable to protect Ding from the overwhelming number of attackers, and she was eventually abducted by the group of black-clothed men.

    Their sole target was Lady Ding. Once they had her in their grasp, they retreated swiftly. Xuan Ce traced their tracks all the way to the capital.

    "Ding's wife is currently in the imperial capital," Xuan Ce's cold eyes flickered with a hint of murderous intent, "This humble monk will scour the earth to find her if need be."

    Xuan Ce, upon saying this, seemed to be reminded of something, and suddenly added, "Once the matters here are settled, this humble monk intends to depart from Daci'en Temple and head to Datong. The promise this monk owes to Lord Gu can be fulfilled in the future, should Lord Gu seek me out in Datong."

    Gu Changjin's eyes flickered slightly, and upon hearing Xuan Ce's words, it seemed as if he was about to completely let go of the grudges with Master Fan Qing and depart from the Da Ci'en Temple.

    Upon finishing his words, Xuan Ce didn't bother waiting for Gu Changjin's response; he turned and left on his own accord.

    Rong Shu had always been shielded by Gu Changjin, so every word of their conversation in the secret tunnel echoed clearly in her ears.

    Upon hearing Xuan Ce's account of the "husband-killing case" in Su Prefecture, she instinctively pursed her lips, likely due to the sheer astonishment that even the grip of Gu Changjin's hand tightly holding hers went unnoticed.

    The moment Xuan Ce's figure vanished from the secret passage, Gu Changjin effortlessly took her hand and led her outside.

    "Let's go out first."

    In the span of a short tea break, they returned to the courtyard. The night grew deeper, and the moisture in the air condensed on the leaves above them. A gentle breeze would cause a "pat" as droplets landed on Rong Shu's wrist.

    The chill on her wrist finally alerted her to something amiss. With a gentle tug, her hand slipped from his grasp.

    Gu Changjin glanced at her.

    "I might have an idea about Lady Ding's connection to that 'husband-killing case,'" Rong Shu raised her gaze, her clear eyes as pure as water from a spring. "Judge Guan declared Chen Mei's marriage contract with Qian Da invalid because Chen Mei's uncle had no authority to arrange her marriage. According to Great Yin's law, only if both parents are deceased can her uncle make such arrangements for her."

    Gu Changjin responded, "Are you suggesting that Lady Ding is Chen Mei's mother?"

    Rong Shu nodded. "Official records do indicate that Chen Mei has lost both parents, but she insists her mother is still alive and visits her secretly. Therefore, it's highly possible that Lady Ding is Chen Mei's mother."

    "But Sir," Rong Shu looked intently at Gu Changjin with a serious expression, "this case shouldn't have happened in Jiayou 21st year. It emerged after you went to Qingzhou, in the third month of Jiayou 23rd year. Chen Mei should have married Qian Da and wounded him, leading to her imprisonment, in the tenth month of Jiayou 22nd year. Why would this case occur earlier than it should?"

    The laws of this world were particularly harsh on women. If a wife was accused of attempting to harm her husband, regardless of whether the husband died or not, the severity of the injury, or the circumstances behind the act, the government would always sentence the wife to death.

    The key to this case was whether Chen Mei's marriage to Qian Da was valid. To prove its invalidity, they needed to establish that Chen Mei's mother was still alive.

    "Are you suspecting someone is trying to force Chen Mei's mother, Lady Ding, to reveal herself through this case?"

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