If, and it’s a big if… if time could be turned back, the Zhu family would definitely have locked that woman from the Wang family in a pigsty after she committed that disgraceful act. This would have prevented all the trouble that followed. But time only moves forward and there’s no potion for regret. As the head of the Zhu family in Dashan Village, Zhu Wenhua could only say he had ‘invited trouble into his own home.’
When the guards, holding Lord Rong’s command, knocked on the Zhu family’s door, the whole Zhu family was in chaos. The guards first arrested Zhu Wenhua, and upon learning that Zhu Wencai was Old Lady Wang’s brother, they didn’t show any mercy and took him away as well. With the two pillars of the Zhu family taken away, the entire family was in disarray and the elders of the Zhu family hurriedly led a group of people to follow.
Wang Qing, who had just finished class, saw his father waiting for him as soon as he left the academy. Wang Shijing had already learned what had happened at home, but he had no intention of avoiding it. Regardless of whether he was a bastard or a wild child, he needed to understand his own background. He calmly explained the situation at home to his son and Wang Qing’s reaction was to go back home too.
Wang Shijing brought his son back home, as Jiang Kangning had already arrived with the yamen officers. This time, Jiang Kangning was determined… the entire Old Lady Wang’s family could not be allowed to stay.
When Wang Shijing brought Wang Qing back to Xiushui Village, Jiang Kangning had already set up a case table at the entrance of the Wang residence for an open trial, as per Shao Yunan’s request. While King Rong could use his authority as Lord Wang to suppress this matter, public opinion could not be so easily silenced.
Wang Shijing’s true parentage needed to be clarified today; otherwise, he would carry the stigma of being a bastard for the rest of his life. This wouldn’t benefit Wang Qing or their little girl. Wang Dali’s family had started this matter and Wang Shijing was determined to bring it to a conclusion.
Jiang Kangning knew that Wang Shijing would return, so he had been waiting for him. The Zhu family members were also brought over. None of the villagers went back to prepare dinner upon hearing the news; they all waited to see the outcome. Aunt Wang, Uncle Yin, and his family, upon hearing the news, hurried back to the village, infuriated by the actions of Old Lady Wang’s family.
With everyone gathered, Jiang Kangning slammed the table with a loud ‘crack.’ The yamen officers on either side tried to intimidate the crowd. Most of the villagers were witnessing a courtroom proceeding for the first time. They held their breath and covered their children’s mouths, afraid to make a sound.
King Rong sat at the lower end of the table, while Shao Yunan stood to his left. Wang Shijing returned to the village, calmly faced the varied gazes, and held Shao Yunan’s warm hand. His own hand was also warm, without a trace of cold anxiety. Wang Qing was called over by King Rong and stood on the right side with Jiang Moxi and Nizi.
Jiang Kangning said, “Below are Zhu Wenhua, head of the Zhu family in Dashan Village, Zhu Wencai, and Wang Wenhe, head of the Wang family in Xiushui Village.” The three of them replied, “We are.”
Jiang Kangning continued. “Zhu Wenhua, Zhu Wencai, and Wang Wenhe, you are accused of marrying the unchaste woman Wang Zhu into the Wang family, causing shame to the Wang family. Do you acknowledge this?”
Both Zhu Wenhua and Zhu Wencai were startled, then Zhu Wenhua suppressed his fear and said, “I didn’t know. My sister’s marriage was arranged by our parents, who were still alive at the time. I only attended as the one to give her away.”
“You’re lying!” Wang Shuping stepped forward and knelt down. “My lord, I am Wang Shuping, the son of Wang Wenhe, head of the Wang family. When Wang Zhu was married to Wang Dali, she had already taken pregnancy fruits. The time from the engagement to the marriage was only one month, and such a hasty arrangement suggests something suspicious. I kindly request my lord to investigate.”
Zhu Wenhua said, “How can you, a junior, determine if your elder has taken pregnancy fruits? What nonsense!”
Wang Shuping replied, “This was confirmed by my uncle, Dali. All the villagers in Xiushui know about it.” Zhu Wenhua, Zhu Wencai, and the Zhu family members who had followed them over were about to collapse.
Jiang Kangning said, “Bring Wang Dali!” Wang Dali was brought (dragged) up, as he was already petrified with fear. Jiang Kangning asked, “Wang Dali, I’m asking you, did Wang Zhu take pregnancy fruits before marrying you?”
Wang Dali nodded dumbly. Zhu Wenhua protested, “You’re spewing nonsense!”
“Disturbing the court, thirty strokes!” Zhu Wenhua dared not say anything more.
“Wang Dali, I’ll ask you again. Did Wang Zhu have a fruit embryo in her when she married you?” Wang Dali nodded again.
“Crack!” The gavel was struck, and Wang Zhu was brought forward. She was more terrified of Jiang Kangning than King Rong. Jiang Kangning asked, “Wang Zhu, I ask you, did you consume pregnancy fruits before marrying Wang Dali?”
With disheveled hair, covered in dirt, Wang Zhu shook her head in panic. “No, I didn’t!” Jiang Kangning narrowed his eyes. “You’ve always been full of lies and this isn’t the first time I’ve questioned you. It seems you don’t intend to tell the truth. Bring the thumbscrews!”
The yamen officers immediately presented the thumbscrews. Just seeing that device, Wang Zhu collapsed on the ground, crying. “Yes… I consumed them…” The temporary courtroom was in an uproar. Old Lady Wang confessed!
The Zhu family members were ashen-faced. Jiang Kangning said, “Zhu Wenhua deceived the court, thirty strokes!” and threw down three red vouchers. With those vouchers thrown down, there was no escaping. Zhu Wenhua was scared out of his wits and immediately kowtowed, pleading for mercy. “Lord spare my life, Lord spare my life!”
But the yamen officers paid him no heed and were about to proceed with Zhu Wenhua’s punishment. Zhu Wencai shouted, “My lord! It’s true that Wenhua didn’t know! My younger sister secretly consumed pregnancy fruits, lost her chastity while unmarried, and brought disgrace upon our family. According to our family’s traditions, she should have been locked in a pigsty to uphold our family’s honor. However, because our mother was still alive at the time, she threatened to commit suicide, leaving our clan leader with no choice, but to spare her life and arrange her marriage.” Saying it filled Zhu Wencai with shame and regret. He wished he could dig a hole to hide in.
Shao Yunan spoke up. “County magistrate, that woman Wang Zhu has insulted my husband making his parentage unclear. I would like to ask Wang Zhu about the identity of the person responsible for her loss of chastity. Master Sun mentioned that my husband bears a striking resemblance to his deceased uncle. However, Wang Zhu continues to slander my husband. I would like to know if there’s any resemblance between my husband and the person responsible for her loss of chastity, which has led her to defame my husband in such a way.”
Jiang Kangning looked at Shao Yunan, whose expression remained calm. Jiang Kangning understood his meaning and spoke. “In that case, let’s summon that person to the court. Zhu Wencai, I ask you, who is that person?”
Everyone’s eyes fixated on Zhu Wencai, who kept his head down and remained silent for a while. Jiang Kangning raised his voice, “Zhu Wencai! I ask you, who is that person!” Zhu Wencai knew he had to answer, regardless of whether the magistrate pressured him or not. Beyond the county magistrate’s influence, there was also royalty sitting there. If he wished for the survival of the Zhu family, Zhu Wencai had to respond.
Suddenly, Old Lady Wang Zhu burst into loud sobs. Zhu Wencai closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and slowly spoke. “It’s my distant uncle.”
A momentary silence enveloped the surroundings, followed by an explosion of reactions. Goodness, Old Lady Wang Zhu actually had an affair with her own uncle, regardless of proximity or distance of their kinship. Wang Shijing’s tightly clenched fingers nearly broke. Shao Yunan held onto him, preventing his almost impulsive move, but Kangning exclaimed, “Then bring your uncle here.”
Zhu Wencai, with closed eyes, replied. “My uncle has passed away.”
“Then he must have children. Summon them and let’s see if they resemble Shijing!”
Zhu Wencai opened his eyes. “My uncle’s children are not in Yongxiu County.” Shao Yunan stepped forward. “What do you mean? Are you trying to create an unverifiable situation? My goodness!”
“Yunan,” King Rong pulled Shao Yunan back and addressed Jiang Kangning. “I request the county magistrate send someone to investigate whether that family still has members in Yongxiu County.”
“No need,” a male voice interjected, diverting everyone’s attention. Then, the crowd parted, revealing a middle-aged man with gray hair walking through. He approached the kneeling Zhu Wenhua.
“Uncle Jiuxi?” Zhu Wencai and Zhu Wenhua exclaimed. Among the Zhu family members, murmurs arose. “How come Uncle Jiuxi is here?” The man glanced disdainfully at Zhu Wencai and Zhu Wenhua, leaving them embarrassed.
The man knelt down and introduced himself. “Sir, I am Zhu Jiuxi, the paternal uncle of Zhu Wencai and Zhu Wenhua. Their aunt is my sister. My original family does not entirely belong to the Zhu family of Dashan Village; there’s just some distant blood relation. My actual family in Dashan Village has ancestral property, and I often accompany my elderly parents there.”
“Twenty-eight years ago, my sister and her husband came to the village to pay respects to our ancestors. Because my brother-in-law held a position and had some wealth, that woman from the Zhu family, disregarding morality and ethics, pursued him shamelessly. My sister and her husband were deeply in love, but that woman tried to seduce my brother-in-law and even drugged him, attempting to marry him at all costs.”
“She even declared that she’d be a concubine if necessary. However, her plans failed. Though my brother-in-law was tempted, my sister arrived just in time and saved him. I was present and summoned the Zhu family. It wasn’t until my aunt knelt and promised to marry off the woman from the Zhu family, forbidding her from disturbing my sister and brother-in-law, threatening self-harm, that my sister and brother-in-law decided to spare her.”
“Now, my brother-in-law and my sister have passed away, and their children are far away. Coincidentally, I recently returned to our ancestral home for ancestral rites and learned about this incident. Therefore, I’ve come to clarify the truth. Wang Shijing bears no resemblance to my brother-in-law. He was a handsome man, scholarly and refined, quite unlike the men in our family…”
Everyone started scrutinizing Wang Shijing. Handsome and refined… but Shijing was actually fierce and dark! Scholarly aura… Shijing’s aura seemed more like murderous intent! Refined and gentle… That was more like a county magistrate, right?
“Most importantly, my brother-in-law was not tall and the men in their family are not robust.” If Wang Shijing had a beard, he would look like a fierce bandit! “The elders of the Zhu family have met my brother-in-law; they should know I’m not lying.”
Jiang Kangning, “Zhu Wencai, is what he said true?” Zhu Wencai absentmindedly nodded. Old Madam Wang stared blankly at Zhu Jiuxi, looking dazed. Wang Dali, Wang Tianyan, the newly apprehended Wang Chunxiu, and the now awakened Wang Zhisong all stared at Wang Shijing in astonishment, dumbfounded. Was Wang Shijing really the biological son of Old Lady Wang and Wang Dali?!
Zhu Jiuxi also assessed Wang Shijing, then bowed to Jiang Kangning, saying, “Sir. After the birth of this child, Old Lady Wang wrote to her brother-in-law, stating that he was her brother-in-law’s son. Though her brother-in-law might not have been in the right state of mind that night, he is a man. How can he not know about siring offspring? Without sowing the seed, where could there be fruit?”
“My brother-in-law was an upright scholar. Even if he didn’t like it, if Wang Shijing was really his son, he would have acknowledged him. My brother-in-law replied, warning that if she continued her nonsense and harassment, he would report her to the authorities. Today, I earnestly ask you to use blood to establish the truth and clear my brother-in-law’s name. If it can be proven that Wang Shijing and his father share the same bloodline, every word I’ve spoken will be true.”
Zhu Jiuxi’s words were sophisticated. In simpler terms, Old Lady Wang Zhu had relations with her brother-in-law, but as her brother-in-law didn’t remember sowing the seed and was rescued by her sister, Old Lady Wang Zhu couldn’t have been pregnant.
“Ha,” someone scoffed.
Jiang Kangning, “Yunan? Do you have any doubts?”
Shao Yunan, “Even if we mix our blood, it’ll still blend together! Try it if you don’t believe me.”
Rumbles of disbelief spread among the villagers who knew the customary practice of blood acknowledgment. Shao Yunan didn’t engage further, saying, “Bring a bowl of clean water. I’ll show you all!” Jiang Kangning considered and ordered, “Fetch a bowl of clean water.”
Shao Yunan added, “Let Wang Zhisong go and get it, so no one accuses you of foul play.” Wang Zhisong was too weak to fetch water. Jiang Kangning commanded his men to escort him home for a bucket of water and a bowl was filled on-site. Shao Yunan, without hesitation, cut his finger and let a drop of blood fall into the bowl, saying to Zhu Jiuxi, “Grandpa Zhu, you also drop a drop. We certainly have no blood relations.”
Zhu Jiuxi, suspicious, cut his finger and dropped blood. The crowd gathered around. Soon, Zhao Yuande exclaimed, “They’ve blended together!”
“Could blood acknowledgment really be that ineffective?” The Yamen officer presented the bowl to Jiang Kangning and King Rong. Indeed, the blood had mixed. Both these once ardent believers of this method looked incredulous.
Shao Yunan asked Wang Shijing to help him stop the bleeding, saying, “Think about it, if blood from unrelated people could blend, then what’s the point of saying blood will flow like rivers? Regardless of whose blood, it will merge once it enters the water. If you don’t believe it, try it at home. This method is utterly false.”
King Rong… “So Yunan, do you have another good method?”
Shao Yunan said quite confidently, “It’s simple to determine Shijing’s lineage. Grandpa Zhu, let me ask you, did your brother-in-law have single or double eyelids? Mine are double; those without folds have single eyelids.”
Since Shao Yunan called him Grandpa Zhu, even Zhu Jiuxi immediately found him respectable and polite. Zhu Jiuxi kindly replied, “They were single.”
Shao Yunan… “Shijing has double eyelids. If both parents have single eyelids, their children will have single eyelids. If one has single and one has double, the children might have either; if both have double, the children will certainly have double. Look and see if this is true.”
The onlookers immediately started observing.
“Dad, you and mom both have double eyelids, so do I!”
“Dad! How come you have single eyelids! No wonder I’m so ugly, mom has double eyelids!”
“Oh, I didn’t know about this.”
Wang Dali and Old Madam Wang staggered. Wang Dali had double eyelids, Old Madam Wang had single eyelids, and several of their children had single eyelids. However, Wang Zhisong and Wang Chunxiu had double eyelids! Wouldn’t that align with Wang Dali?! Most importantly, Wang Shijing also had double eyelids!
“Grandpa Zhu, I’ll ask you again, was your brother-in-law’s nose bridge high?”
Zhu Jiuxi… “Not particularly high or low.”
“Everyone, look at Shijing’s nose bridge… very high and straight. Just like double eyelids, it doesn’t depend solely on the father or mother.” Everyone took a look.
“Oh! Dali! How come your nose bridge is so high! I never noticed it before!”
“Madam Wang’s nose bridge isn’t low either, so Shijing definitely can’t have a low one!”
“Did you notice how ugly Wang Tianyan is? But his nose bridge is high!”
Shao Yunan motioned, “Brother Qing, Nizi, come here.” Wang Qing immediately led Nizi over. “Take off your shoes and socks, both feet.” Without asking why, Wang Qing and Nizi, amidst curious eyes, removed their shoes and socks. Shao Yunan picked up Nizi and said, “Everyone, look at the pinky toes of Nizi and Brother Qing.”
Jiang Kangning and King Rong stood up, and those not kneeling came closer. Initially, people couldn’t see anything different and were puzzled, but after a while, King Rong spoke up, “Why does Nizi have two toenails on the pinky toe?”
Others exclaimed, “Two?”
“Indeed, there are two!”
“Brother Qing also has two!”
“How can someone have two fingernails on their pinky toe?!”
Shao Yunan placed Nizi in a servant’s arms and bent to remove his shoes and socks. Others followed suit. Usually, people paid little attention to their toenails, especially the smallest pinky toenail. Many peasants usually don’t even wear shoes and have dirty feet so they were unconcerned and unaware how their pinky looked.
“Mine don’t have two.”
“Neither do mine.”
“Oh, I also have!”
“How come I have too!”
Shao Yunan took a look at his own feet. Even King Rong had taken off his shoes and socks. King Rong was quite surprised. “Heh, heh, strange, strange. I’ve never realized that I also have two fingernails on my little toe!”
“Shijing, take off your shoes and socks,” Shao Yunan said. Wang Shijing quickly removed his shoes and socks, and everyone looked at his little toe.
“It’s two! Shijing has two!” Shao Yunan observed that almost everyone had removed their footwear and exclaimed, “Have you all noticed? In the Wang family, having two toenails on the little toe is quite common. Now let’s have Wang Dali’s family take off their shoes and socks and see.” Wang Dali and the Wang family had no strength to resist. Except for Wang Chunxiu, even Wang Zhenzheng was carried out and had his shoes and socks removed.
“Wang Dali has two!”
“Tianyan also has two!”
“Take off Chunxiu’s shoes and socks too!”
Wang Chunxiu cried and struggled, but led by Fourth Aunt Wang, a few women removed her shoes and socks. Wang Chunxiu’s little toe also had two fingernails. It could be said that in the Wang family, only Old Lady Wang did not have two.
Jiang Kangning, if not for being the presiding magistrate, would have likely taken off his shoes and socks to check. King Rong eagerly asked, “Yunan, what’s going on?” Everyone fixed their gaze on Shao Yunan, waiting for an explanation.
At that moment, Zhu Jiuxi spoke up. “My brother-in-law had only one toenail. I took care of him during his illness and even bathed his feet, I remember clearly. My nephew also has one toenail; I raised him since he was young. Sir, you can verify this.”
“Yunan! Quickly, explain what’s going on!” King Rong couldn’t wait. Shao Yunan put his shoes and socks back on, preparing to explain.
Edited by: Jaisland