13 Chapter Twelve

They rushed to the scene. Meiyue went with them, going against Yuzhe's advice to stay safe in the manor. Baotong led the way and told them more details about the incident. He said that the target vanished into a home for a long time that he thought was his own house. When he was about to leave his other friend to report to the princess there was a scream coming from the inside. Soon they found out that the target had long escaped through the back door after killing a man in the house.

The place they came to was similar to the slums. Several old buildings positioned close to each other were divided into many small compartment for rental rooms. The walls were coated in black from long years and something else that looked unpleasant. People gathered around a particular door. The crowd was so thick Yuzhe had to elbow their way between to get to the front. When they did Yuzhe would not step away from the princess's view.

"You don't have to see this," he said in front of her. Meiyue persisted and eventually sidestepped him. The horrid sight before them rooted her to the ground.

Blood. Everywhere. From the threshold of the house to the road where someone must've had taken the victim out. Now he laid on the ground in a bloody pool. A hay mat covered his body up to his face. A woman knelt near the body, shaking with sobs, and a little boy wailed beside her. Meiyue thought she couldn't bare another look at them. The sight of so much blood dizzied her. She turned away, and leaned on Yuzhe.

Her guards were right behind, looking at her with concerned faces. She wanted to come on her own will. She couldn't afford to falter. Now that Kenshin was absent the only person who held power in this city was her. It was up to her to put order back.

Meiyue steeled herself and straightened. "Take care of the body," she said, "and make sure there is a proper funeral to be held immediately." Baotong and the rest of the guards bowed and moved to the task. A couple of people seemed to hear her and were now casting her questioning glances. Some looked as shaken as she felt.

The crowd parted when the victim's body was carried away. The woman and her son followed and were soon gone from the scene.

Meiyue spoke, her voice carrying over the crowd and won their attention. "People of the town. What happened here today is a murder enacted solely upon burglary by a criminal, who belongs to a certain group that we, the government, are pursuing after. Hence this tragic incident, it already proven insufficient to pursue them with just our forces. Therefore I would like to request for your assistance. We should work together and bring them down before the law."

She drew strength from Yuzhe behind her, and met each of the audiences' eyes. For a moment she thought they wouldn't be convinced of the reason she used to cover it up. She wasn't even certain if they knew why the victim was killed, though she had a huge suspicion that it was a warning that the criminal left to show that he was aware of being followed. But Meiyue needed, the state needed strong-willed people who could stand up together with it. She couldn't have them forever cower in fear of what might happen to their family next.

A middle-aged man came forth. "What should we do?"

Meiyue felt her hope elevated. "Anywhere from your workplaces to your homes, I would like you to keep an eye on a certain tattoo of a crow. If anybody you see has that mark on anywhere of their body, I want you to alert us at the Nishiki manor."

A murmur went through the crowd. The man in front of her considered before asking, "Do you maybe work for Lord Kenshin?"

Meiyue hesitated. Things already came down to this. If she wanted the people to help then they should at least had the right to know who they were speaking to.

"I am Long Meiyue," she said simply. Nobody shared the same surname as the royal bloodline. A few gasps sounded from somewhere. Then the whole spectators knelt with their heads to the ground.

"Please forgive our disrespect, Your Highness," the man pleaded at her feet.

Meiyue quickly told them to rise. "Thank you for your willing to collaborate with us. We will make this town a safer place. For all of us."

A united roar erupted from the crowd. She turned to Yuzhe, who held a proud smile for her. Meiyue did not look at the scene behind them. And even though she did not see, she could still hear the wails of the little boy, weeping for the lost of his father.

~~~~~~~

Back at the manor Xiaonu flustered at their return. The princess hadn't realize she was tired until she stepped into a warm bath Xiaonu prepared. She would not tell the girl why she was back late, more because of she didn't want to reminisce about the sight of all the blood.

Kenshin returned late at night. Meiyue sat in the dining room with him and related about the occurrence of that day. The mayor listened gravely and insisted that he would dispatch some of his men to patrol the town more often, in case the people sighted anyone suspicious. He appeared more glad by what she did about seeking for the public to help. It was good to let them know so that they could be more cautious he said.

The princess scarcely had touched her food. Yuzhe did not join them for dinner. Soon later, she found him sitting on the stone bench from last time in the garden. The flower petals had been swept away from the ground and new ones replaced them. Meiyue went to sit beside him.

"What you said back there was commendable, as a princess," Yuzhe said to her later.

She sighed. "I only made big promises, but don't know how to keep them." She felt Yuzhe's eyes on her. She stared at the stone arrangement on the ground. "I still can't believe that an innocent citizen had been murdered. But for what, exactly?"

"Heavenly Messengers," Yuzhe recalled. The name had a certain inkling to it that was unsettling. "We don't know what we're up against. It might be best to leave it to the government to investigate."

"I'll figure a way to help," Meiyue whispered.

Yuzhe put a hand on her shoulder, drawing her eyes. "You've done what you can. Besides, the people is not your responsibility alone. Actually it never was in the first place, if I'm not wrong. But you care for them."

Indeed he was not wrong. The citizens and matters of the state weren't things she needed to look after. That was Ruixue's responsibility as the future queen. As for Meiyue, she was just a princess and always would be. Her value to the state was to be married off for some political gain.

She decided to put the depressing thought away for now.

"Thank you for coming here with me and listening to my selfish needs," she said, smiling up to him.

"You're not selfish," he said, then thought. "Maybe a little stubborn."

"Now you're charged with a crime for calling a princess stubborn."

Meiyue laughed at the look on his face. She might had guessed it but Yuzhe appeared a little relieved as he looked at her now. "So what do we do now, Your Highness?" he asked her playfully.

Meiyue thought shortly. "Would the funeral be over by tomorrow?"

"Yes." The smile left his face. "Why?"

"We will go back home tomorrow," the princess said. "And we will bring the woman and her son with us."

~~~~~~~~~

At dawn the family of the victim was summoned to the Nishiki manor to speak with Kenshin.

Meiyue was in her room with Xiaonu, having some preparation done for their departure. The girl was muttering about leaving suddenly. Apparently her sculpture had yet been half way done. The princess assured her that they would do a sculpture together sometime soon in the future and that quieted her down. Meiyue didn't mind her. She was still fifteen after all.

There was no way Meiyue could continue her vacation pretending away the murder incident. Though she did not want to admit, sleep didn't come easy last night. If they couldn't track the group with the tattoo, then Meiyue could at least spread heed and prevent anymore tragedy from befalling on other families.

A guard waited outside in the courtyard. When they were ready, Xiaonu unloaded the luggage onto him. She was dressed back in the peach ruqun that was the official uniform for the maids inside the palace. Meiyue wore an exquisite amethystine hanfu that bellowed in the wind as she stepped out to the front courtyard.

Yuzhe was leading their horses out from the stable. Her golden mare neighed at the sight of her. Meiyue went to it and stroke its silky mane.

"You can keep her once we get back," Yuzhe said, coming to her. He smelled of soap that reminded her strongly of lemon. His attire was a pale ruqun with an embroidered coat.

Meiyue chuckled when the beast nibbled her ear. "I will be chastised daily for visiting the stable if I do," she said, trying not to be vexed at the thought of being completely incapable back in her home. She brushed the thought away. "How is Kenshin speaking with them?"

Yuzhe saddled a chestnut horse. "Oh, they went to pack their things."

"As expected," Meiyue responded, more or less impressed. Kenshin was now put in her list of those with 'silver tongue.' Junqian, ever always the diplomat, occupied the first place.

The guards joined them. Baotong secured the palanquin to his black stallion. Kenshin appeared from his office just as the woman and her son were escorted to where they were in the garden.

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"Your Highness," the woman greeted the princess and curtsied. She held a small bundle of things wrapped in a cloth. Her little boy held onto his mother, looking intimidated by the adults surrounding him.

Kenshin went up to the boy. "You're going to see the palace soon. Aren't you excited?" The boy lit up and nodded vigorously. "Good boy. Behave well." He ruffled his hair, earning a giggle.

"We're glad that you're coming with us," Meiyue said to the woman.

"Thank you so much, Your Highness." She wiped her face and clung to her son. Both of their eyes were red and puffy.

Meiyue turned to Yuzhe and their procession. Xiaonu insisted that she rode in the palanquin and had climbed in before them. She peeked out from the window and waved to the little boy, beckoning him to join her. The princess made way for them.

"How about you, Your Highness?" the woman questioned.

Meiyue waved her hand. "Can't stand it," she murmured as she went up her mare. The woman looked at her, puzzled. Yuzhe came to help her up the vehicle, reassuring her it would be alright. Meiyue heard the little boy whining about something that included her mare before his mother shushed him and they climbed into the litter.

Soldiers moved to open the grand gate. Meiyue rode ahead with Yuzhe beside her. Kenshin walked them to the gate and promised the princess that they would meet again. Then the procession began to roll out of the manor.

~~~~~~~

They reached Yuzhe's household before dawn the next day. Hours of hard riding and short essential breaks didn't do much to relieve the numbness of Meiyue's legs as she slipped to the ground. She stumbled a bit and Yuzhe steadied her from behind. She envied his endurance, but fatigue was also visible under his eyes. Meiyue didn't want to imagine how she was appearing.

The princess and the guards deposited the horses back to Yuzhe's stable. The house was dark. They moved quietly through the yard, not wanting to arouse Uncle Liping and Zhonghong. Xiaonu was keeping the woman and her son company in the palanquin. Again, Meiyue didn't want to imagine how they managed to fend in that cage for so many hours.

Horses back into the stable, the soldiers went to wait by the gate, leaving Meiyue alone with Yuzhe. She realized she actually missed this place now that she was here. Yuzhe led his horse in last. The gray stallion didn't seem to want to be back in the stall, giving him a hard time to finally urge him in. Meiyue's mare nudged the princess gently and breathed warm air into her face.

"I can walk you home," Yuzhe said once the horses are all in the stable.

She would love to have his company longer, but he must be as tired as she was. "The guards can escort me back. You should get some rest too," she told him, and stifled a yawn.

"Be careful." He came close to her and brushed a lock of her hair away behind her ear. Meiyue noticed that his scent hadn't quite faded. "Come by sometimes."

She wanted to retort that she would still be sneaking out to see him and nothing would be different. But the look he gave her now kept her quiet. Behind him dawn touched the horizon. "I'll see you soon," she said.

Yuzhe gave her a fatigued smile. "Go on." She nodded and left his place. Somehow, she was not that sleepy anymore.

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