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Chapter 82 Part 2: Three Division Trial, Chu xiang saves the day

    At this moment, inside the prison of the Ministry of Justice, Qu Zhang Qing was lying on the ground in a cell that reeked of the fishy, moldy smell of blood. His arms and legs were bound tightly in iron shackles. Su Yuan must have been using his official authority for his own petty personal gain, since he had Qu Zhang Qing's neck clamped with an iron ring that weighed around 5 kilograms.

    Because of the serious back injury he had sustained at the border station from a sneak attack, he could not sit, and had been lying on the ground ever since he was hauled to the prison. In addition to his poor condition and poor surroundings, Su Yuan adamantly refused to have a doctor come look at his health.

    Su Yuan was not satisfied, and had people place numerous leeches on the straw-strewn ground of the cell. Within a short day, the Qu Zhang Qing who had had no food or water was already pale as a sheet, all the blood and energy was drained from his being. However, he had always been a fighter, and toughly endured everything without so much as a breath of complaint. He merely glared at the moldy roof of his cell, unspeaking.

    Clang!

    The lock turning broke the silence in the hellish prison. He heard a few footsteps coming towards him, but he remained in his original position, his eyes glued to the roof, as if the person who had just entered had nothing to do with him whatsoever.

    "Qu gongzi, long time no see. I hope you're still okay." Su Yuan's cold eyes gleamed with a malicious intent as he stood steadily in front of Qu Zhang Qing. He observed the sorry figure of the normally svelte and princely young man, and some of the anger in his heart dissipated in favor of glee.

    Facing Su Yuan, Qu Zhang Qing had no words to say. Or rather, because of er gumu and Yun Qian Meng's matter, the Qu Clan and the Su Clan had become sworn enemies. Qu Zhang Qing would not waste a breath on Su Yuan to preserve his own bodily energy. He would wait until it came time for the three-department hearing, when the importance of his quick wit and eloquent tongue would truly be useful.

    Against Qu Zhang Qing's silence, Su Yuan didn't seem to care. "Qu gongzi is truly one with a strong backbone! And yet, benguan has heard, the Emperor has already decreed that Fu Guo Gong Fu's residents are under house arrest, and laotaijun actually fainted on the spot. Oh, that's right, gongzi must not yet know this, but half a month ago, Qu houye was stabbed, and his life is in critical condition. The Empress Dowager originally wanted to plead for gongzi's life, but the Emperor also put her under house arrest. Tsk tsk tsk, gongzi, you've harmed your whole family. With such a bright future ahead of you, why didn't you just continue being your hou shaoye in peace? Why did you have to be one of those traitors to the dynasty? What good can come of it? Besides, the Emperor relies heavily on Fu Guo Gong Fu, and has a loving respect for the Empress Dowager, now that you've done so, their relationships are as good as severed! Why would you push your family and Clan to such an undesirable state?"

    Su Yuan spoke slowly, but his glinting eyes were trained on Qu Zhang Qing's expression.

    Qu Zhang Qing's heart rose tumultuously as he heard Su Yuan's every word, but he kept his expression serene and blank.

    Also, seeing Su Yuan's gleefully malicious expression, Qu Zhang Qing did not even have the heart to get angry. He had never been one to listen or believe the words of an enemy. He closed his eyes instead, so as not to have to look at Su Yuan's disgusting face.

    Su Yuan, seeing that his words hadn't aroused the desired effect, started getting angry again. He raised his foot and stamped it on Qu Zhang Qing's chest.

    Qu Zhang Qing only felt liquid ooze out on his body. He must have had stamped his foot and killed that leech, showing how much energy Su Yuan had exerted. Torture had no effect on Qu Zhang Qing whatsoever. He merely sneered, causing Su Yuan's heated temper to cool down.

    "Gongzi can be reassured. I, Su Yuan, am definitely not someone petty who takes advantage of people while they are weak. Besides, should people see at the three-department hearing tomorrow that gongzi's body is full of injuries and scars, bengong would have a hard time explaining. Bengong, during this time, will definitely not use any torture on gongzi. Not only that, but benguan will treat gongzi 'very well'. Come! Bring Qu gongzi to the front hall!" Saying so, he retrieved his foot, bringing his trusted aide along with him to leave this dirty and miserable prison cell.

    After receiving Su Yuan's kick, Qu Zhang Qing felt like his chest was on fire. A slow stream oozed out of his chest, reeking of blood. He forcibly pushed down the pain.

    The shackles on his wrists and ankles combined added to around 15 kilograms. With the excessive loss of blood, Qu Zhang Qing was completely unable to stand up and walk on his own. He could only allow the two jailers to support him.

    Once he got up, a vile stench filled the entire room. The two jailers looked down and saw several leeches on the rice straw, each had grown robustly fat and juicy. It was extremely disgusting, and even these two jailers who usually tortured people without batting an eyelash could not help but feel a begrudging admiration for the gongzi who had grown up pampered and guarded within the Fu Guo Gong Fu. The two jailers holding him up used considerably gentler force.

    "Gongzi, excuse us. Let's go," the jailer said in a low voice, seeing Qu Zhang Qing's face already as white as a sheet. He and his companion helped Qu Zhang Qing out of the prison cell.

    "Hehe, I've kept the two daren waiting, begong has brought over Qu Zhang Qing." At this time, there were two people seated at the head of the main hall: Left Imperial Censor Qin daren and Imperial Prison Chief Executive Zheng daren. Because today's location was at the Ministry of Justice, the two of them had left the middle seat for Su Yuan.

    Seeing Su Yuan arrive, the two of them slightly rose up before sitting back down.

    Qin daren was someone nearing seventy years of age, with a head full of white hair. When his eyes shone bright, an air of justice prevailed. Seeing Su Yuan approach, he made no attempt to conduct small talk, only politely standing up and waiting for Qu Zhang Qing's arrival.

    On the other hand Chief Executive Zheng daren had a face that looked to be loyal, but there was a hidden cunning and slyness lurking underneath his gaze. When he saw Su Yuan, he nodded briefly, but their gazes met before they were dropped.

    PA!

    Su Yuan slapped the table used for official cases. With a clear voice, he announced, "Bring forth convict Qu Zhang Qing!"

    His voice had barely died down when the two jailers came forth with Qu Zhang Qing.

    Qin daren, seeing Qu Zhang Qing's face drained of color, his entire body stained with blood, immediately frowned. His righteous gaze flickered towards Su Yuan. "One should not use torture before the trial. As the Minister of Justice, surely, Su daren did not plead ignorant of this law?"

    Su Yuan, upon hearing this, immediately rushed to defend himself. "Qin daren has accused bengong! Qu gongzi was already injured when he was brought back to the capital. Bengong only delivered Qu gongzi into a prison cell, there was definitely no torture involved. If daren doesn't believe me, the coroner can inspect Qu Zhang Qing himself."

    Su Yuan's expression was solemn and his words and voice righteous, letting people think that Qin daren accused him.

    Zheng daren saw that they had not even started the trial and there were already signs of some internal strife. He quickly laughed to ease the tension. "These two daren, please, please, calm down. Bengong has also heard that Qu Zhang Qing had been heavily injured at the border station. If Su daren really used torture, I'm afraid Qu Zhang Qing might already be long dead. Qin daren was only saying so to uphold justice and peace, so as to avoid any mistrials on the part of us three, which can lead to disappointing the Emperor's trust in us! Furthermore, bengong sees that even though Qu Zhang Qing's complexion does not look good, his clothes are intact, truly doesn't look like someone who's been tortured."

    Zheng daren's words calmed down both Qin daren and Su Yuan. But Qu Zhang Qing, seeing Su Yuan's feigned expression, gave a sneer.

    "Qu Zhang Qing, do you admit your crime?" At this moment, Su Yuan turned to Qu Zhang Qing, asking him head on in a loud voice.

    Qu Zhang Qing lifted his head, seeing that the rays of light penetrating the interior of the main hall was overcast. The sordid atmosphere of the prison cell seemed to congest even worse within this main hall, and that executioner Su Yuan was seated peacefully at the head of it all, his unjust pettiness blending in perfectly with the filth of the environment. He looked to be even more of a murderous dictator than he was.

    Qu Zhang Qing smiled coldly, but his voice was steady and firm. "A man intent on beating his dog will never lack a stick."

    Hearing this, Su Yuan's eyes flashed with an impatient ferocity. He quickly followed up, "Qu Zhang Qing, the evidence has already been laid out for all to see, are you still trying to get out of it? The Emperor himself has sent us three today, it's obvious that he wants you to admit your faults and give yourself a chance at a new life! However, you are being obstinate and persist in denying the truth. Disloyal and lying subjects like you aren't worthy of the Emperor's time and effort! The guillotine is waiting for you!"

    Su Yuan's speech seemed to be insisting on Qu Zhang Qing's faults and guilt, even adding to whatever offense he might originally have been perceived to have. Qin daren frowned. After Su Yuan had finished talking, Zheng daren followed up, "Qu Zhang Qing, you say that 'a man intent on beating his dog will never lack a stick,' but is it not true that we found, in the front piece of your jacket, a letter and keepsake given to you by the people of the Northern Qi dynasty? What do you have to say for yourself regarding this?"

    Qu Zhang Qing gave Zheng daren a look. Though his words were clear and in order, it was obvious that he was siding with Su Yuan in pushing all those crimes on his head. He instead fixed his gaze on Qin daren, speaking slowly word for word, "How do I explain to daren the actions that I have not committed? Is it just to declare me guilty of a crime based on a letter and keepsake alone? Letters and keepsakes can be fabricated, crimes can be misattributed. But what I haven't done, even facing death itself, I will never admit to!"

    Qin daren felt the truth radiating from Qu Zhang Qing's every word. He recalled Su Yuan's relationship with xiang fu and understood now the words that had just been spoken. He said, "If that is so, then I would like to ask Su daren to present the evidence."

    Su Yuan, seeing that the Left Imperial Censor was unmoved by his and the Chief Executive's words, felt a burning rage within. His gaze flickered towards Qu Zhang Qing, but saw that the kneeling man only had eyes for Qin daren. His temper flared up even more, a killing intent flashing in his gaze. However, he maintained a calm expression as he ordered, "Come! Bring forth the evidence!"

    The jailers complied, hurriedly leaving the hall and returning with two items of evidence to present to the three judges.

    "My fellow daren, please look. These are Qu Zhang Qing's items that prove he's in covert communication with the Northern Qi dynasty. This letter envelope bengong has examined himself carefully for ten or so times. Every word, every line inside, everything points towards a complaint against my dynasty's son of heaven! The letter fawns and flatters the Northern Qi dynasty's Emperor and discusses the city of my dynasty, even putting some important information on it. This truly causes one to have suspicions! Furthermore, this jade waist medallion has a word engraved on it: Qi! I'm afraid that this was given to him for Qu Zhang Qing's easy comings and goings within the Northern Qi Palace!"

    Su Yuan, seeing that Qin daren and Zheng daren had risen from their own examination tables to have a closer inspection of the evidence, immediately gave them an explanation, while raising the emerald green medallion at the same time, for everyone in the room to see clearly the character engraved on the stone.

    The other two people, after having examined the two items thoroughly, slowly changed their expressions.

    It was possible that the letter was fabricated, but the waist medallion, as well as the engraved character, was a specialty of the Northern Qi. It had been attempted, but never was another country able to manufacture a similar piece of stone. Furthermore, only the Royal Family of Northern Qi had the privilege to possess this type of waist medallion. And yet, it was found to be among Qu Zhang Qing's possessions! With this type of solid evidence, even someone who really wanted to help Qu Zhang Qing would be fighting an uphill battle.

    Qu Zhang Qing was startled upon seeing this jade medallion and why such a precious thing would be found from his personal belongings. However, his expression remained level and open.

    "It looks like Qu gongzi is unable to deny these charges and planning to keep his silence forever." Su Yuan had meant to let Qu Zhang Qing see the jade medallion, which was why he raised it so high up awhile ago, in the hopes of seeing a helpless and panicked expression that would allow him to pin the crime on the man.

    However, Su Yuan did not anticipate that Qu Zhang Qing would be able to keep his composure so well. His face remained expressionless. Su Yuan began to fear that if they continued down this path, the situation would change and the advantage would go from his court to Qu Zhang Qing's. He ordered, "Come! Use torture on this man."

    At the moment, with evidence pointing to Qu Zhang Qing's guilt and his staunch silence, there was nothing the other two daren could do to prevent Su Yuan from using torture.

    Several jailers came into the hall hoisting the torture weapons that had long been well prepared: a four sided metal-barbed bed and a vat of scalding hot water. A jailer walked up to Qu Zhang Qing and began roughly tearing away his clothing.

    Qin daren had long heard of the punishments and torture methods of the Ministry of Justice, and now, seeing that Su Yuan was actually about to use the comb-and-wash method on Qu Zhang Qing, he immediately called out, "Wait! Su daren seems to be unnecessarily cruel! Even if this is a criminal, he shouldn't be subject to this. Do you want to force Qu Zhang Qing to speak, or do you want to kill him? If Qu Zhang Qing turns out to be innocent, how will Su daren explain himself to the Emperor?"

    The comb-and-wash torture technique subjected the victim to gut-wrenching pain worse than death. The mere fact that they had to tear off his clothing before being subjected to it... letting a convict be punished in the nude, among these civilized and educated people, was the most humiliating experience one could be subjected to.

    The previously cool-headed Qu Zhang Qing, after seeing his own top torn off, now had a steely fury in his eyes. He looked at Su Yuan with an expression of unbounded hatred.

    "Qin daren has misunderstood! This Qu Zhang Qing is so obstinate and hard-headed. If I don't use a bit of heavy torture on him, I'm afraid he will never admit the truth. Furthermore, the Emperor is waiting for the result of our trial on this day, I fear we have not much time to squander on this man." Su Yuan smiled superficially at Qin daren, before turning to the jailers who had halted mid-action. "What are you all doing just standing there?"

    The group of jailers, hearing their higher-up speak, picked themselves up immediately for fear of being accused of slacking off. They returned to the tasks at hand. The great hall had been filled with steam from the vat of boiling water, increasing the temperature inside the room to an uncomfortable degree. Everybody present started to sweat, but Su Yuan complained that the water was not hot enough, and had someone else prop up the frame to put the iron vat above for an even more heated temperature.

    Qin daren, seeing Su Yuan's obstinate willfulness and Qu Zhang Qing without a shirt, he already felt like he couldn't bear to let this go on.

    When Qin daren finished contemplating and was once again about to open his mouth, a jailer ran inside from the main door and knelt in front of the three officials. "Daren, Chu xiang is here."

    "What is he doing here?" Su Yuan, seeing that his good opportunity was about to be disturbed, furrowed his brows, his eyes gleaming with killing intent.

    "Hurry and invite Chu xiang inside," Qin daren said, before Su Yuan had a chance to even open his mouth to deny entry. The aide-de-camp from his side ran out to invite Chu Fei Yang, who was already at the door, inside.

    "Such a hot day, but Su daren doesn't even seem to feel the heat, even setting up a boiler inside the hall! I wonder what Su daren is up to."

    As Chu Fei Yang walked in, his clear voice, with traces of smouldering anger, reverberated throughout the hall, entering the ears of all those present.

    The three officials immediately stood up to welcome Chu Fei Yang, and bowed with their hands in front to greet him respectfully, "Xiaguan greets Chu xiang."

    Chu Fei Yang didn't respond, sweeping his magnanimous gaze across Qu Zhang Qing, who looked no better than a beggar at the moment. Seeing the wound that had festered and expanded across his back, Chu Fei Yang's eyes turned hard. As he looked over to Su Yuan, his expression turned even colder. "Su daren's management of the Minitry of Justice is overwhelming! Braving the heat and even personally trying the prisoner."

    Su Yuan had already been dissatisfied by Chu Fei Yang's arrival, but what could he do? Chu Fei Yang was not only Xi Chu's left minister, Chu wang himself had military authority. Even though Su Yuan had attachments to Chen wang, he understood clearly that at this moment, if he were to openly go against him, it would be like trying to break a stone with an egg. And so Su Yuan said reverentially, "Xiangye's compliments are misattributed! Weichen is merely sticking to one's duty as a royal subject and help lessen the pressures of the Emperor!"

    "But why does benxiang feel like Su daren is creating obstacles for the Emperor? The Emperor ordered the three legal officers to hold a trial, which means that he doesn't want a mistrial and false accusation. This is also the Emperor's solicitude towards the Empress Dowager and Fu Guo Gong Fu, and he wishes for the daren before me to be able to wash away the injustice thrown upon Qu Zhang Qing. How unexpected that Su daren would want to obtain confessions under torture, and go against the Emperor's intentions." Seeing Su Yuan furious to the point of speechlessness, Chu Fei Yang raised an eyebrow and admired his work, each word growing sharper and sharper towards the end of his speech.

    "Chu xiang is extremely right. Xiaguan will handle the matter justly and will not allow confession under torture to happen. Put away all the torture tools!" Qin daren immediately grabbed the chance Chu Fei Yang's words granted him, since he was originally unwilling to watch Su Yuan's cruelty in the first place. He waved a hand to let the jailers lift and remove the tools from the hall.

    Su Yuan's face had slowly turned hostile while he was being ignored. He sneered. "Chu xiang might not know this yet, but Qu Zhang Qing's betrayal of our country has already been proven. The evidence is on hand, and not a word he says can counter cold, hard proof."

    "If this is truly so, then I must invite the three daren to report to the Emperor and tell him of the result of the trial... and not to secretly use torture. If this matter were to spread, Xi Chu civilians might become terribly disappointed with the Emperor because of Su daren's behavior! If the Emperor's reputation should receive injury, can Su daren shoulder this crime?" Every word of Chu Fei Yang's speedy retort struck admiration in Qin daren's heart.

    Su Yuan made no reply, he was so angry that he turned his back, picking up the two pieces of evidence from the table and then smiling said, "Chu xiang, why not examine the evidence first before we speak further?"

    One corner of Chu Fei Yang's lips turned up in a smile, but he did not reach over to receive the evidence in Su Yuan's grasp. "These items of evidence can all be fabricated. Furthermore, the Emperor has already given them for benxiang's inspection. Su daren has been administrator of the Ministry of Justice for so many years now, but I never thought he'd be muddled by something like this! Qu Zhang Qing stayed at the border station for so many days, if he truly had the Northern Qi Royal Palace's medallion, then hypothetically, he could freely come and go as he pleased, why would he even need to write a letter to Northern Qi to tell them of our Xi Chu's situation? Wouldn't that be unnecessary? Or could it be that Qu Zhang Qing felt like it was all a good game, and wanted himself to be caught and called a traitor to his nation? If Su daren is trying this case and cannot even get past this obvious point, then I'm afraid he can't very well call himself worthy of the position of Minister of Justice now, can he?"

    Chu Fei Yang's concise analysis evoked a sigh of revering admiration from Qin daren. Su Yuan's face was pale white, and Zheng daren sat quietly in his corner, observing the changing situation.
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