Lord Seventh Chapter 31-40

Chapter 31: Riot in Guangdong and Guangxi

Wuxi seems to be born with a lack of security in a place where there is no relative and crises step by step. He doesn't like to be in contact with people. Even the necessary conversations are kept as short as possible. There is only one thing that can relax him slightly-that is, familiarity.

He didn't know why, he had a kind of familiarity with the white-haired person. Even if he couldn't see the other person's face, he could feel as if he had known this person for a long time. There is a strange and secret excitement and joy in my heart.

Wu Xi was consciously guided by that person, like a small animal, and couldn't help but gnaw at the other person's skin, eagerly entangled with him, trying to get closer to him.

The autumn frost outside the curtain was cool, and the hibiscus spring account was warm.

Wuxi has never had such an experience. The soul floated up from his body. He chuckled in his ears. He looked at it with a stare, and the white-haired face seemed to be clearer for a moment, and a pair of peach-like smiles filled with laughter. Wuxi slammed into his heart, and Wuxi was startled and suddenly awakened.

The sky was bright.

There was a sticky dampness on the mattress, Wuxi sat up, and the consciousness was still immersed in Fang Cai's dreamlike reality.

There is no separation between medicine and poisoning. In the clan, if there is a problem that is difficult to treat, the wizard will assume this responsibility and take the patient from the herbal doctor. Wuxi naturally knows what it is. The Jade House is the Goulan Courtyard. Although I haven't been to it before, I have heard that these places will give some gentle reminders to the guests. The effect is very slight. Does not affect anything.

Considering his own **** age, it is normal for him to dream like that.

Wuxi understands that this is just proof that he has grown into a normal man, but it does not mean that he will not be embarrassed.

Especially he remembered the eyes of the man in his dreams. Thinking about it this way, if there was any fragrance before, and that person's vague chuckle, they all found the source.

Wuxi groaned against his forehead.

I think this dream is too absurd, why is he? He really likes Jing Beiyuan. Although he doesn't say it, if he doesn't like him, he won't accompany him to waste so much time and go to places that are incompatible with himself. The wizard has taught himself since he was a child. Remember that others are good for himself. If someone is better for himself, he must double his reward.

Nu Aha told him that those who had been kicked out by him before did not find trouble because of the peace of the palace. Many things are added together, Wuxi is not thankful, and secretly regards him as his best friend, but whatever he says, as long as he can do it, he has to do it for him. .

But ... no matter how good you feel about this person, Jing Beiyuan is also a man!

Wuxi is too simple, even after coming to Beijing and seeing a lot of extravagant / sexual things, after all, it is very limited. Although Jingqi didn't change the tone, he would not take a teenage boy into those dirty land boundaries. Last night's "Lantang Nightlife" was the first place where Wuxi set foot on fireworks.

Therefore, Wuxi did not know where it was thirty steps from the two streets of Feicui Tower, and there was another place called "Huanghua Pavilion", where the pick-up was not a girl, but a boy full of fat.

Jing Qi told him about the political situation of ancient and modern times, and the aspect of vertical and horizontal, but forgot to mention to him the affairs of the emperor's backyard-for example, Helene's other courtyard specially raised more than a dozen "talents" For example, the older the older adults, the more they like little girls. If others do n’t say that, it ’s just Jianzong Jianshangshu, and they have a group of 11-year-old “daughters”.

In contrast, Lord Lu and His Royal Highness occasionally went to Su Girl to listen to the music, and then made a lot of remarks, but still asked some blame.

So now Wuxi feels confused.

He kept suggesting that it was just a dream, but it was the scent that was contaminated in the place of fireworks yesterday, plus the misunderstanding caused by Jing Qizhuang's drunkenness. But the more I think about it, the more I can't help but compare the person in the dream last night with Jing Qi, those always smiling eyes, long eyebrows, dangling nose, slightly pale lips, warm Body, cold fingers, and tight and flexible waist ...

Wuxi was skeptical that he had gone into a demon. He didn't return to God when Ai Lai saw that he hadn't got up yet and thought he was sick and knocked on the door.

In the afternoon of that day, when it was time to go to Jingqina for a seat, Wuxi finally made a shameful move-escape. Jing Qi was also worried about whether he was injured last night. He specifically called out safely and greeted him, and Wu Xi used the rotten reason of "I was cold at night" to confuse him.

He really couldn't figure out how to face this friend.

Jing Qi didn't care, and he didn't even know his "teenage feelings", because he had more important things to do now, such as conspiring with Zhou Zi, how to deal with the follow-up of this incident.

Zhou Zishu has sent someone to watch Su Qingyu. Last night, Wuxi's hands and feet were extremely neat. Lu Yu waited for the corpse to be processed and the site was packed before returning. He promised to pass by Cheng Wumen this morning. No one can see that a few hours ago, there were twenty people who had disappeared silently.

At present, how to deal with Su Qingying is a problem. Does he let Helianchi know? It wouldn't take long for Helene to find out that the group of black witches he had disappeared out of thin air. It was another question whether Su Qingyi had the brain to escape the suspicion. Many things are still pending.

Although Lu Shen has been in the officialdom for several years, plus the entry from the Hanlin Academy, the life of the person has also been smooth, but after all, he is a clean man, He Yunxing is young and vigorous, but his heart is too bright, so this kind of thing Can only be discussed by Zhou Zishu and Jing Qi.

The two agreed that Su Qingyu was a person who couldn't speak for himself. Fortunately, the prince was also a wise man and had to teach him to discover. These affectionate things are the most complicated. Although He Lianyu is only Chu Jun, and his heart is unpredictable, he has a deep understanding of this point. For the present, only constant changes should be made. First pretend that nothing is happening here, don't fight against the grass, and then see how Su Qingxuan copes.

Who knows, the black witches helped them. The black witch leader suspected that Helene was not good, and planned it. In order to come and go, in the Taoist temple, he was already ignorant of ghosts. The "informed people" who had been in contact with it were consciously poisoned, and as soon as they left Taoist temples, they let the poison develop—the dead can best keep the secret.

And the use value of Su Qingyu was only before killing Wuxi. For the black witches, such a weak and weak woman, by the way, gave her a knife and sent her on the road.

Caution in the front made Helianki completely unaware of how the black witch disappeared, thinking that they would leave without saying goodbye, and the negligence behind him just saved Su Qingyi's life.

Therefore, at this time, as long as Su Qingzhen is not stupid enough to go to Helianqi to admit his mistake, this matter will not be left.

Su Qingzhang hid there. When she saw Jing Qi, she trembled, but she did not say that Jing Qi was also happy to accompany her to perform. She still played the role of her sister-in-law to the end. After a long time, Su Qingxi I really thought that it was the Black Witch who had changed something, so he didn't let others discover it, so he felt relieved.

Gou Tong couldn't say anything about the black witches in the southern Xinjiang, and He Lianqi couldn't toss it out, so she suffered a dark loss.

However, at this time, someone knew that something had happened in the DPRK, which made the Second Highness think that he had found an opportunity to escape his suppressed anger during this time—

Jing Qi originally wanted to see Wuxi. I do n’t know why. This child kept hiding from himself during this time. Who knew that he had not been out yet and was sent in by the urgent letter from the palace. When did the emperor rush to summon the ministers? This time it must be a big event, but what happened at this time, Jing Qi really can't remember it-come on, this time, no one looked at it, went to the sedan chair.

When he arrived in the palace, Helianji was already there, and when he saw Jing Qi, he shook his head with a dignified expression on his face. Jing Qi greeted Helian Pei, stood beside Helian Pei, and whispered, Helian Pei lowered his voice and said, "There is something wrong with Guangdong and Guangxi."

Jing Qiyi was so excited that he remembered what had happened this year—the floods in the south this summer. Seeing that winter was here and the days could not pass, the victims were rioting.

At this time in the previous life, it was when he was planning for Helianyu, and at the same time he began to control the real power of the DPRK. The riots between the two Guangxi victims were a big deal, but it was not under his control.

This riot was not just a flood problem, but the governor of Guangdong and Guangxi, Liao Zhendong, and the lawlessness of corruption and lawlessness, as well as the sale of government officials and private taxes plus official taxes, did everything, which made the people's sentiment excited, and at the same time, they were provoked by the people who were interested.

In the place of Guangdong and Guangxi, far away from the capital city, the officials and officials have always been intertwined. This errand is extremely difficult to handle. It is only the responsibility of doing it, and an error will cause a lot of anger.

At that time, He Lianqi asked for himself in person, for nothing else, because Liao Zhendong's backstage in the capital was unfortunately his elder brother He Lianzhao.

Later, because of this incident, Helian Qi was provoked by Helian Qi, and Helian Pei was furiously confined to Helian Zhao, which basically missed the position. The faction of the great prince was so upset.

Jing Qi moved in his heart. He has been acting low-key in this life. He Lianzhao has already buried chess pieces around him, and he is counting on him to face against He Lianqi. If it is such a stir, I am afraid it will be difficult to follow up. Now it is impossible to let He Lian Qi went south as he wished.

Not long after, He Lianzhao, He Lianqi, and the six ministers and military ministers all arrived, and He Lianpei asked Father Gong Xi to read the urgent news from Guangdong and Guangxi on the spot, with a shameless face. Sure enough, when the sentiment was in a circle and started to talk about the matter and discuss how to solve it, Helien Qi came out first.

Helianki said: "Father emperor, since ancient times officials have forced the people to oppose the people. The two Guangdong and Guangxi are far away. It is difficult for the emperor to be supervised in the capital city. Send a mob, and then the emperor appointed the emperor to investigate the cause and give the people an explanation.

He Lianpei raised his eyebrows and asked, "Well, talk, who should you check?"

Jing Qiyuguang glimpsed, all kinds of thoughts in his heart turned sharply, and refuted He Lianqi's words had come to his lips.

Unexpectedly, Helianqi said: "Children thought that it was a great honor to investigate the corrupt officials and ministers for the people of the society. I am a rising star in the middle of the dynasty, and just use this as an experience. With all my heart and time, I will dare to recommend for the future pillars of Daqing. "

Helen was startled, and subconsciously reached out to pull Jingqi. One did not hold it, and Jingqi took a calm step forward: "Thank you His Royal Highness for your lifting, and I will make no choice but to ask the emperor."

He Lianpei groaned for a moment. Obviously, in the eyes of this grandfather, the so-called "Guangdong-Guangzhou riots" were just a mob riot. According to He Lianqi, find a suppression of the army, there will be no major incident, and then borrow It's not a big deal to get a few corrupt officials to do it. It will be an achievement in the future.

Taking this opportunity, it is also good to ask the child who is not serious to eat, drink, play and play all day to go out and hone. If this child can become a talent, he can be considered worthy of the death of Jing Jingyu.

At a glance, Helian knew that his dad, who was just like eating, was no longer four or six, and he was busy: "Father, this ... I'm afraid Beiyuan is young and not enough to convince the public." While winking at Jing Qi, he called Don't hesitate to swim in muddy water.

As everyone knows, Helian's 21 words are in the middle of the picture. The little prince is blind, but he has not received the anxious expression of His Royal Highness.

What a rush, what a rush ...

He Lianqi's small abacus was shrewd in the mind. Behind Liang Guang was He Lianzhao. Was Jing Qi in the past? If it is the former, He Lianzhao will turn his face with him, and he will drag the water with He Lianyu, and let them fight with each other. Wouldn't it be good for the fishermen to profit.

If it is the latter ... I'm afraid that others can do it. His Royal Highness Prince, who has an unselfish expression all day, cannot be spared.

So Helianki laughed: "The Prince's words are bad, corrupt officials, and crickets of the country. Everyone has to get it. What qualifications do you want? What does Wang mean?"

"His Royal Highness is very good." Jing Qi was very uncooperative with Helianthuan. "In the ancient times, there was a twelve-year-old prime minister. Beiyuan was not talented. He would like to emulate the sages and serve the country and the people."

He Lianpei laughed, "Okay! Good, good, ambitious, come, pass on purpose-"

The author has something to say: sirs, I'm leaving Beijing to go back to Shanghai

Alas, the Internet is not very convenient, I dare not say anything else, I can only guarantee that I can update in the next few days, I will try to update

ps do not wait on the twelfth, i am on the train on the twelfth

Chapter 32: Eventful autumn

He Lianpei's decree was happy, and Jing Qi's decree was even more happy. This old one, who was so secretive that He Lianqi began to feel less happy, looked at Jing Qi with some thought.

He was not sure that this was the young King of Nanning, especially when Jing Qi didn't know what method was used, and when he started to approach He Lianzhao secretly and secretly, he called both He Lianqi and Li Taoist to be alert and afraid of himself. It's a sorrow for no one—I don't know if it's a coincidence, or it's the young Naning King who is thinking about it.

However, when people were in the temple, he was shocked. He Lianqi had always been good at killing.

Who knows at the moment, all the people standing here now know that the Guangdong and Guangxi affairs are tricky and silent, and only the emperor and the future commissioner remain optimistic.

Jing Qi came out of Helianpei and ran out of the palace, lest he be caught by Helianyu. The face of His Royal Highness Prince, who was steady, was colorful in the end. It's a pity that He Lianhe was moving faster than him. Jing Qi came to the gate of the palace and saw a sedan waiting for him. A line of guards stood in front of him and put a line saying "I want to pass by and leave." Fortune "style.

Jing Qigan laughed, and did not hide in generous generosity. He slowed down, stood in front of the sedan chair, and said respectfully, "Have a greeting to His Royal Highness."

"You roll over for me!"

This compartment even forgot to say that it was irritated. Jing Qi touched his nose, and frankly approached the sedan chair, and was dragged in by a hand that protruded inside.

Jing Qi was stunned. He raised his hand and seized the door of the sedan chair, so he did not directly give a five-body shot to Helian. He carefully looked at His Royal Highness's face that was full of rain and wind, so he felt that he was the best choice. Is the eyes and nose, nose and mouth to be honest.

Helien glared at him coldly, and commanded: "Back to the East Palace."

His Royal Highness ’s sedan chair is indeed large, soft and incense. Even though King Qi ’s standing is not a flock of chickens, he can be said to be slender and straight. The height of this sedan chair is still a little bit to him. Not enough, he had to bend his waist slightly and lower his head to be able to stand down. It was OK for a while. It was really uncomfortable after a long time.

He quietly glanced at Helianchi, and found that His Royal Highness didn't look at him at all, and made him feel guilty, so he had to sigh in his heart, and looked forward to reaching the East Palace soon.

When the sedan came to the place dazzlingly, He Lianji did not look at him, and strode out. Jing Qi quickly got out of this place where he was suffering and trot up to follow, while His Royal Highness was not paying attention, and quietly Loosen your sour shoulders.

Lu Shen was already waiting in the study. When Helian rushed in anger, before he could persuade a sentence, he saw that he had swept the pen and ink on the desk to the ground with anger, and picked it up. A tea cup, without seeing it, smashed into the door. The debris and water drops splashed everywhere. Jing Qi paused at the door, glanced down at the wet hem of the official uniform, and smiled bitterly: "Prince Is this for the minister to listen at the door? "

"Come in!" Herren exasperated.

Jing Qi "obeyed" very obediently, and Lu deeply sighed, staring at Helian's expression of eating, so he wisely swallowed nonsense like "Xi An" which he just wanted to say. For a long time, Helien pointed at the "you" of Jing Qi's "You You You", his hands trembled, sighed at the end, and sat down, whispering: "Jing Beiyuan, are you mad?" No? "

Jing Qi bowed his head and acknowledged his mistake.

Helien asked: "Do you know what the riots between the two Guangxi provinces are for? Who is Liao Zhendong?"

Lu Shen also frowned: "Master Wang is really reckless this time."

Jing Qidao: "Because the riots in Guangdong and Guangxi didn't know what, the emperor just asked the officials to investigate, but Liao Zhendong's bottom line still knows a little, for example, this person is from the past six years of exploration, and he was also a fellow of Lu Renqing Lu University The student, who later married the younger sister of Lan Tai Ling Wu Junhui, has since begun the official transportation, and even became the governor of Guangdong and Guangxi. "

He paused and said: "Wu Junhui didn't have much ability, he was a short-lived ghost and died early, but he is the nephew of Jiansong Zongjianshangshu. The land of Guangdong and Guangxi is far away from the emperor. Farming is all good, but ... the grandpa's cash cow. "

Hellen's fire "took up" and went up, pressing his throat barely and saying, "You still know!"

Jing Qi smiled and climbed the pole with a smile: "Without a steel drill, I dare not take this porcelain job."

"What kind of steel drill do you count ?! Jing Beiyuan, do you know the height and height of the sky?" Helianchi slaps his hands on the table, so anxious that he can hardly speak, "You still know the emperor there Far! The local officials and officials are intertwined, and if you are not respectful, it is a country like an iron barrel. How old are you and how many things have you seen? You are not afraid ... are you not afraid of getting burned? "5

Jing Qi froze for a moment, looking at such a terrible, but really worried, Helianji who was worried about himself, a little while, and then sighed: "Prince, do you know where your highness collects money?"

He Lianzhao was naturally aware of it. After Feng Yuanji's death, He Lianzhao repeatedly reached out to the army on several occasions. It was even rumored that He Lianzhao was brave enough to raise soldiers in private.

Jing Qi continued: "If ... if His Royal Highness is being banned for rebellion right now, the Prince feels that there is a chance to win against His Royal Highness?"

Helen was stunned.

But listening to Jing Qi went on to say, "If I do n’t go, who will give the justice of the people in the world? And if it is someone else, even if the people in the world are just, can He Lianzhao escape?"

The boy lowered his eyes, exhaled, and the corners of his eyebrows were filled with clear air. The sigh-like voice was authentic: "Your Highness, although Yu Guo is small, it is a barrier. If it breaks today, it must be a ...... Too cold. "

Lu Shen was silent for a while, and suddenly rushed to the ground to Jing Qiyi: "The rat and the mouse were so impressed that they had misunderstood Wang Ye in the past."

Jing Qi did not dare to wave. With a pair of eyes staring, Helian stared straight at him for a long time, and then trembled and asked, "Are you ... for me?"

For a moment, Helianchi suddenly wanted to hold this person in his arms, and suddenly he wanted to put aside the whole country and the world, and he would not dare to blindly blind him. He wants to say that in the future, I will block you for the wind sword and frost sword. In this life, there is only one person, even if you don't want the three mountains and six rivers.

But in the end, Helianxu was Helianxu. He closed his eyes gently, sat silent for a moment, and then suppressed it. Those thoughts were just imaginations, and they couldn't destroy themselves, let alone destroy them. Got him.

"More people in the world." Jing Qi face is still indifferent.

Feng blowing sounds like Caixia, I do not know who is outside the wall. Each has his own concerns, and each has his own attachment. Jing Beiyuan's authorities did everything, not for Helianji, Helianji devoted himself to planning, nor for Jingbeiyuan. The sentiment in that heart is too shallow, the wind blows away and ignores the sound, but the outside wall is outside the sky, which is no place to reach in any case.

At the moment, Helianchi's face was frustrated and exhausted. Jing Qi scored clearly. For three hundred years, no one could know this man better than him, but ... Jing Qi thought to himself, if everyone had his own The shackles of that, most of the time, he and Helien have never been locked on a chain.

This night is destined to be long--

Not long after Jing Qi returned to the house, Helien Zhao came to the door in person, sealed a hundred and twenty thousand silver ticket to give him "travel expenses", wrote several people's names, said only "old knowledge", can sell a few In terms of face, if there are any difficulties in Jing Qi ’s visit to Guangdong and Guangxi, you can find them. The arrogant part of his face disappears, and Jing Qi is as close as his brother.

Helien went out of the house by himself, and did not return all night, returning to the East Palace the next day. After he left, Su Qingying was holding a few red plums on the snow-white sheets, and the smile on his beautiful face, which had grown up in the flesh, finally fell down, crying. Within a few days, Helianchi bought a place secretly outside the palace, and God unconsciously picked up Su Qingyu. From then on in the capital, there was no longer that big night, the moonlight on the river and the country, and the shocking moon goddess.

Wuxi was distracted and took Nu Aha out of the door. He wandered in the street bored, and suddenly found that without Jingqi, the prosperity of the capital became boring, and he walked down to the jadeite floor.

It is the Emerald Tower, not Lantang, and even the most superficial essays are unwilling to do it. The girl who sang the small song was very teasing, and the fans were applauded.

Nu Aha blushed at the first glance. A big man with a tiger-backed back grabbed Wuxi's clothes and twisted, "Witch, witch boy, what are you doing here?"

Wuxi was experiencing God. When he asked coldly, he hadn't returned yet, so he asked softly: "You said ... if I don't know if I should be alone, what should I do?"

Nu Ah asked: "This is easy, like someone, always thinking about her, what she wants, you want to do it for her, always thinking to make her happy, you will miss her when you don't see it ... ... "

Wuxi's heart leaked like a beat, and froze.

Seeing him like this, plus that they were standing in such a place, said that Nu Ah was naturally misunderstood, hesitated for a moment, and tentatively asked, "The person the witch boy likes is ... the status is not appropriate. of?"

Wuxi thought, a big man, of course, his identity is inappropriate, so he nodded.

Noah's misunderstanding is even deeper. He is different than Alai. Although Alai is brave and upright, he also looks arrogant and impulsive. Noah is more stable. After thinking about it, he said cautiously: " Then ... Is she beautiful? Is she good-natured? Is she good to a witch boy? "

Wu Xi thought that he was a man, and "beauty" was naturally not as soft as that of a woman, but he was also beautiful. Of course, his temper is good, with a smile on his face.

Wuxi nodded silently.

Nu Aha looked up, looked at the sign of the Jade House and the girls that Yingying Yanyan greeted, and said comfortingly: "People ... can't just look at the surface, sometimes a person looks The character is bad, and the things she does are bad, but she is good to you, the kind of heart and soul-I can't say anything beautiful, but it is always the truth. "

Wuxi thought that in his opinion, Jingqi was sometimes very bad, especially this person likes to deceive people-maybe for this guy, lying and changing his face acting like eating and drinking, but to himself It's really good. So he nodded and said, "I sometimes think he loves to tell lies, but he doesn't like to lie to me, and treats me well."

Nu Aha then nodded and said, "Witch boy, we in southern Xinjiang do not pay attention to identity. As long as you are true to her and she is true to you, you will marry her back, and we will respect her. . "

Wuxi glanced at him confusedly, and suddenly felt that Nuaha was going farther than he thought.

At this moment, a female voice from upstairs came out softly: "May one's heart, Baishou not parting ..."

This sentence was like a hammer, struck straight on his heart, Wuxi was almost obsessed: "May one person's heart, white heads do not part."

Chapter 33: Enough Wealth for a Whole Nation

Prince Nan’ning’s Estate, which had been still for many years, seemed to have become a high-demand sweet cake in the span of a night. Over several days, guests arrived in a continuous stream, heavy carriage traffic right before its gate. Jing Qi, feeling that his face had already gone somewhat stiff from smiling, thus sighed in lament. Leaning on the doorway and selling smiles to entertain the guests coming and going all the time was indeed a variety of physical toil.

Wu Xi, upon circling back from that day with Nuahar below Jadeite, couldn’t sleep a wink at night, as he thought that the man had made sense. So long as there was sincerity between them, whoever the other party was — man or woman — really made no difference. He had that figured out all of a sudden.

He was always thinking of him, and whatever he wanted, he would always want to get it for him, and he always wanted to make him happy, and he missed him if he didn’t see him for a while… was that not fondness to a T?

Priceless worldly treasures that were easy to obtain had always existed, whilst amiable people were difficult to find. Wu Xi believed, however, that as long as one strove hard, there would come a day where they would get the things, as well as the one, they liked. If success was not had, that merely illustrated that they had not worked hard enough.

Therefore, the very next day, he went to the Prince Nan’ning Estate.

This was quite strange, though. When he had gone to find Jing Qi before, the other would be pretty much doing nothing; given that it wasn’t the period at daybreak when he had gone to Court, whenever he came was whenever Jing Qi would inevitably be idling about. However, upon going to the Estate following a few days of hiding away, he discovered that the bloke had gotten busy all of a sudden, as he had made a few trips over there yet had never caught sight of his shadow. Even Ping An was going to and fro with his feet never touching the ground; only after he asked did he learn that this was to help get Jing Qi’s luggage in order.

As soon as he noticed that he had come over, Ping An hastily steeped some tea and poured water out for him, which was followed by Wu Xi asking him where Jing Qi had gone to. Ping An, seeing this as having caught someone to gab with, thus complained without end once he opened his mouth.

“Wasn’t it said that there’s people making trouble someplace in the Guangs? And I don’t know what…” He looked out to the side, suppressing his voice. “I don’t know what His Long-Lived Majesty was thinking, having our Master go act as some kind of Imperial Envoy. I’m telling you, that Lord of ours didn’t suffer through cold this winter nor endure heat this summer, gets clothed with a lift of his arms and fed with a lift of his mouth, has never walked more than a few steps during a journey, and doesn’t dare to be even a little late for every tea and snack break. This is a long excursion, but he told me not to abandon the Estate and won’t let me follow him. No one nearby knows what the hot or what the cold is, and he definitely doesn’t care, either, but how is that good?”

Once Ping An got to prattling away, he became unable to put a brake on it, though Wu Xi was faintly dumbstruck. “He’s going to go so far away?”

“Right?!” Ping An grumbled without rest, rolling his eyes as he thought that the most of what his Master did was precisely to go looking for trouble when he had none. “I’m not sure who’s gorged themselves to bursting now. There’s so many idle gentlemen in the Dynasty that grow weeds in their idleness, yet he was called to go.”

Naturally, Ping An overlooked the fact that their master, in the vast majority of people’s eyes, was also part of the clan of ‘growing weeds in idleness’.

Ruminating for a bit, Wu Xi pulled out about eight small bottles that he had stored on his person, then requested a brush and paper to distinctly write out the effects of the contents packed inside each, carefully handing it over to Ping An after. “Give this to him for me. They don’t occupy much space on the body to keep on hand. In such a faraway place, no one can come to look after him, so this is for him to use as self-defense.”

In spite of Ping An’s astonishment at this ‘if I can’t think up words shocking enough, I won’t give up on that until I die’ little Lord suddenly doing and saying things, he was still aware that what the Shamanet carried on him was — if not top-grade poison — then top-grade medicine, not to mention that any rarely-used stuff that would have gotten pushed to the recesses of his storage were about the same class anyways. Face propering up on the spot, he hurriedly expressed thanks.

Wu Xi silently shook his head, got up, and left. The next day, Jing Qi departed the capital at morning in an extremely low-key manner, only having enough time to dispatch someone to the Shamanet Estate to say thank you.

It had already become habitual for Wu Xi to rise before the sun came up everyday, but on this dawn, he didn’t go practice martial arts. Once he got up, he sat by himself on the roof of a restaurant neighboring the city gate, silently awaiting Jing Qi’s carriage. Then, he followed his departure out with his eyes, after which he soundlessly returned to the cage that was the Shamanet Estate.

This parting would take a further greater half of a year, as well, until fall and winter had passed and been cycled out for spring and summer.

The thing known as ‘affection’ was very strange, sometimes. For instance, if he hadn’t had that bizarre and outrageous dream, he might currently still be interacting with Jing Qi as normal, occasionally scolding him or saying a few things to anger him, and occasionally being markedly earnest versus his nonchalance.

If he hadn’t cared so much to reflect on what that dream ultimately meant, he wouldn’t secretly trace the outline of the other’s features, again and again on repeat, every day on the sly. He wouldn’t involuntarily match up his looks together with the person from his dream, nor would he involuntarily miss him, yet not dare to go see him.

If it weren’t for that misfired conversation with Nuahar, or that songstress’s lyrics which were too touching to the heart…

If it weren’t for him having just thought to get a feel for him and gone to get close to him in conjunction with his own feelings, then, with Jing Qi leaving for such a long time, perhaps the minor sentiment produced in the midst of disorientation would have still not yet taken form, and died out within a sigh of ‘I took things for granted back then’ after however many years.

Yet everything appeared to be preordained from a previous life, coming in just perfectly.

Even if one looked at something every single day, they wouldn’t necessarily be roused much in their heart. Only when they couldn’t see them would they toss and turn at night, frequently reminiscing on the other’s looks, where each cun, thread, and hair slowly seemed to engrave into their soul. That was then their fate, where missing them changed its flavor, and pining was forever inside their bones…

It was just like a stretch of grass; the seeds were accidentally planted, inadvertently taking root and germinating, and departure was exactly what made it grow like mad via raindew and fertilizer.

The water before the palace ran out the years,[1] and the interior of life lacked one person. With that big missing chunk, his juvenile feelings thus went out of control inside his vacuous adoration.

Juvenile feelings or whatever, in Jing Qi’s opinion, could be compared to floating clouds on the horizon, since he was hurrying down his journey urgently. Outside of Imperial City Guard He Ji, who had been appointed to him by Helian Pei, and a few guards from the Prince Estate, only Ji Xiang was brought to attend to him.

[T/N: It’s not the same He as He Yunxing.]

To speak with finality, the alleged ‘Guang insurrection’ was nothing more than a group of disaster victims that couldn’t keep living with being malnourished, thus they hefted up bits of broken metal and waved them all about. Seeing how very many people there were was very frightening, but in reality, it was just a mob. Even though the Dynasty could no longer put forward an army as powerful as when Great General Feng was alive, it still had a standing one. It wouldn’t be able to handle anyone else, but towards this band of ordinary people, it still had some clout.

Jing Qi rushed along at every speed, and by the time he arrived, the rebellion had since been suppressed. Its few leaders were all arrested and harshly interrogated, while the rest were simply purged clean.

Liao Zhendong had gotten the news long ago and brought people thirty li out to welcome him. They were both royal envoys, but Jing Qi was likely the one that received the most courteous treatment — Liao Zhendong was currently overwrought, and had ordered simultaneous death upon those that participated in the riot, killing them in ones and twos. He was well aware that if what he had done actually got exposed by someone, killing ten thousand in a row still wouldn’t be enough.

Unexpectedly, the Heavens had blessed him, as he heard that the gentleman coming had synergy with His Eldest Highness in the capital. Supposing that he incurred Prince Nan’ning’s favor right now, this affair would not reach its dead end.

Right after the Guangs flooded, hundreds of thousands of its victims had nowhere to settle in. Then, during this year’s cold season — as if the Heavens were doing so deliberately — it got frigid that it was soon impossible to live through, regardless of it only being November. In areas of the Guangs that had never seen even the dregs of snow in prior years, snow fell down heavily from the sky. The amount of nameless corpses that were added onto the ground after the fact could not be determined for certain.

Jing Qi’s arrival was right during a pause in this once-in-a-century snowfall. For fear that he’d freeze, Liao Zhendong had imperatively conscripted over ten-thousand people to construct a canopy, its end unable to be seen at a glance, in the period of a few days. It was covered entirely in first-rate satin to guard against the wind, which looked exceptionally good fluttering in the breeze, and the space inside was just enough for the carriage and its entourage to pass through.

Accustomed to seeing all sorts of luxurious things in the capital, Jing Qi still couldn’t resist sucking in a cold breath as it engulfed him, uncontrollably pausing in his steps. Ji Xiang and He Ji were at both his sides, and they heard him recite something almost inaudibly. “…Wholly adorned shopfronts, eaves and rooms as one, abundant canopies arranged, valued goods heaped, figures bustling about, vegetables sellers also using dragon’s beard mats…”[2]

Neither He Ji nor Ji Xiang had studied any divine scriptures prior to this, so they only half-understood, though they could hear a bit of stifled wrath in his voice.

“Master…” Ji Xiang whispered.

Jing Qi gently closed his eyes. When he opened them again, the tense lines on his face had already softened, and the eyes that had just been wintry brought a familiar smile back to them.

Liao Zhendong led folks from far off to receive them.

All the people gave big bows, Jing Qi said ‘the sacred form of the Emperor is in health’ — this was but a spectacle of custom. He then rubbed his hands, tightened the cloak around himself, and smiled. “I never could have imagined that there would be a time of such cold here. I’ve just gotten off the carriage, yet the northwestern wind nearly bowled me over. Sorry to trouble you with thinking of how to assist me, Sir Liao.”

Liao Zhendong quickly smiled apologetically. “You rushed over here without fear of the long roads, Prince. This humble official has merely exhausted a bit of meager strength that’s within my capabilities. If there are places in the border area that are improperly looked after, please do not take offense.”

He let out a sigh of relief on the inside. Seeing Prince Nan’ning’s demeanor, the majority of it was quite satisfactory, and there was politeness in his words, as well; he had no fixings that would flagrantly make things difficult. Seeing how old he looked, he also came to have a bit of an understanding; the Eldest Scion had privately sent him a letter telling him that he didn’t need to be worried, as the Emperor is unconcerned with the Guang rebellion, and he only need give directions at will for the other to handle it. Seemed like that was the truth.

Once the rock was off of Liao Zhendong’s heart, his speech was promptly revitalized.

The Superintendent of Education, Li Yannian, was one most able to accommodatingly provide impromptu clownage. Upon seeing an opportunity, he acted upon it, amusing Jing Qi with a bit of talk. Adding to that, Jing Qi was someone who would be fine with water splashed from any direction, so he intentionally ingratiated himself towards him, making for momentary harmony.

Immediately following that, Liao Zhendong grandly set up a reception banquet for Jing Qi to wash the hardships of travel off himself. No matter what the latter was thinking of on the inside, others wouldn’t be able to make it out, and he was always glad to accept things on at least the surface. The entire sum of the several hundreds of Guang officials came to help entertain him; on exhibition were eighty-one rare delicacies and sixty-four types of seafood. Jing Qi had formerly believed himself to be an uncontested connoisseur of eating, drinking, and making merry, but he had never tasted more than half of these things before.

“Guard He, have you ever once seen so many names when imperial dishes were served?” he couldn’t help jesting with He Ji.

He Ji immediately paused for a long while. “This subordinate has learned just today that I am akin to a villager in the countryside,” he replied quietly.

“Right? This Prince has also learned just today what they like to call, ‘having enough wealth for a whole nation’,” Jing Qi said with a smile.

The instant that came out, Liao Zhendong swiftly broke into a full-body cold sweat in the middle of this frosty winter. Weren’t those words, inside and out, saying that he had eclipsed the Emperor…? Th-th-that was immensely disrespectful!

He raised his head to look at him, insides quivering in disarray, but he saw Jing Qi just smiling brainlessly as he spoke to him. “I can’t blame them all for scrambling to come here, if going abroad is actually so lucrative an assignment. How fortunate the Emperor’s fondness is. Pitifully, this Prince has been in the capital year-round, having never even had the time to go out and view the world. You’ve been very courteous today, Sir Liao, so if you come to the capital in the future, my Estate is available. I’d like to return the invite.”

Was this guy actually a dimwit, or purposefully…? Peering at Jing Qi’s innocently smiling face, Lian Zhendong agreed to him like a yes-man, his mind a mess.

Changing direction towards the rear courtyard by means of leaving for the latrine, another was beckoned over with a wave, and such-and-such was explained.

That was why, right when everyone had drunk and eaten their fill, someone was vaguely heard to be causing a commotion. Before anyone else could react, Lian Zhendong went roaring. “Sir Imperial Envoy is present! Who is it that’s eaten an ambitious leopard’s guts, since they’ve dared to make a racket?”

With that said, Jing Qi also put down his chopsticks and looked over.

Note:
[1] A reference to Setting Spring’s Farewell at Chan River: “Passersby mustn’t listen to the water before the palace, as that’s the sound of years passing by.”
[2] The author says: From Zizhi Tongjian/A Mirror for Governance Aid, which states that Emperor Yang of Sui, in order to demonstrate the nation’s strength, fixed up the marketplace prior to the arrival of foreign merchants, providing those of each country a tour. Every store underwent revamp, with minor peddlers of vegetables having to spread out carpets in their shops. Silk was even used to wrap around trees by the road, but the outcome was that the merchants were baffled by how there was so much affluence, yet the curbs still had the immoral occurrence of beggars.

Chapter 34: Messy Complications

A young man in a long tunic was seen barreling straight in, a few imperial guards hunting him down from behind. The pitiful scholar, with his long hair falling loose and fluttering in the night scene’s breeze, looked just like a living ghost.

The ruckus drew the eyes of everyone on-scene over. Oppositely, Jing Qi raised his head, swept a glance at him, then went to look at Liao Zhendong with a smile. “Which opera is this that’s being sung, Sir Liao?”

Liao Zhendong hurriedly admitted his error (like a yes-man), then turned his head and scolded the guards who hurried in afterwards. “What’s this thing that you’ve let free to come in?! What am I keeping you all around for?!”

In but a moment, the scholar was captured, both arms fastened behind him. The guard that caught him pressed him down like his life depended on it, making the man bend at the waist. Two more then came up and made to tow him outside, but the scholar was witnessed to struggle hard, cursing as he did so. “Such audacious, corrupt officials! What ‘Governor’, what ‘Imperial Envoy’? You two are a snake and rat in a nest, fog and mist colluding with each other! Just look at… at this land today; whose realm actually is it? Is the one seated in the throne room not blind—”

Jing Qi narrowed his eyes slightly, then lifted his face up slightly. “Don’t be hasty. Release him for now.”

After the guards looked at Liao Zhendong, they let go of the tunic-scholar that was laid out on the ground. He actually had no fear, despite the sorry figure he cut, and didn’t neglect to erect his back tall when he stood up, gazing towards Jing Qi with glimmering eyes.

Jing Qi smiled. “Why, you’ve claimed that Governor Liao and I are in a nest together. Which of us would you say is the snake, and which the rat?”

The man straightened his neck. “Governor of the Guangs, Liao Zhendong, makes his living off the fruits of the peoples’ labor. First, he eats the fortune of the salary the monarch affords him, then, he drinks the blood and marrow of the citizenry. He doesn’t fix the government, he nibbles away at the assets of the people, he’s avaricious yet fears humanity; is he not a huge rat? You, majestic Prince Nan’ning, have come from the capital carrying the three-chi-long Sword of Dominion on your back. You do not take pleading on the nation’s behalf into consideration, but are here, losing yourself in song and dance and ambrosia on jade plates like nothing is wrong! You covet the rat’s delicacies and are willing to share a pillow with him, so how are you being accused unjustly when I say that you’re in the same nest?!”

“Impudent!” Ji Xiang was the first to not let this slide.

Jing Qi waved him off. “What is your name and surname, scholar?”

“I, Mu Huaiming, will never alter my given nor my family names!” the scholar said, voice bright.

Jing Qi nodded, picking his wine cup off the table and leisurely taking a light taste. A while after, he asked, “Is anyone still in your household? Haven’t you any classmates or friends?”

“My parents have already passed,” Mu Huaiming replied, loud and clear, “but I have two young servants. We rely on one another for survival, depending upon each other as we scratch out a meager existence. My friends…” His voice faltered, an emotional look appearing on his face, but he repressed it by force, pointing at Liao Zhendong. “The majority of my friends and classmates have already been snatched by this dog official, and the rest are waiting at the entrance with indictments in hand!”

“Indictments?” Jing Qi smiled lightly, looking at Liao Zhendong. “I say, Sir Liao, despite the wealth you have here, you also don’t have much peace.”

Liao Zhendong bowed his head and just said nothing, intending to wait and watch how Jing Qi resolved this.

Yet, against expectations, Jing Qi abruptly set the wine cup down, then knocked moderately against the alcohol table with a crisp sound. Young Prince Nan’ning’s smile was cold as he gave orders to those around him. “What are you still waiting for? This wicked, commoner thug has openly slandered the Dynasty, wildly letting loose a lot of talk. Why are you not arresting him, nor that group of mad apostles at the entrance? If you all dare to let one slip away, this Prince will only have all of you to interrogate about it!”

That bout of shouting just made everyone in the environs freeze for a second. Jing Qi minutely bowed his head and fiddled with his sleeve. “What? This Prince said to do it now,” he continued, bizarrely imitating Helian Qi’s manner of speech. “None of you gents have listened carefully, have you—?”

The guards quickly held up Mu Huaiming, put him in a five-flower bind, and hauled him out. At the same time, someone also took the order to call a group of the Estate’s courtyard guards over, and, not long after, each of the kindred scholars outside had been tied up and brought back.

Mu Huaiming cursed furiously whilst they dragged him like a dead dog. “Corrupt official! Vicious courier! What benefits has Liao Zhendong given you?! Jing Beiyuan, you’re tyrannically preying on the flesh of commoners! There will come a day where you are struck by lightning, and you won’t die a good death—!”

Though Scholar Mu was a bookworm, he still had quite a great voice. His holler of ‘won’t die a good death’ had cadence, which was felt to reverberate around the rafters for three days.

Jing Qi smiled faintly. How a bad death comes about isn’t something you can call. You can have your own conscience clear for hundreds of years, yet still never experience a good death.

Liao Zhendong was the first to get up from his seat. “This humble official has handled things unfavorably. Please issue punishment, Prince,” he said, as if he was fearful before royalty.

Even with that, his heart settled. No matter what was said, Jing Qi’s yelling had clearly demonstrated where he stood. Prince Nan’ning and he could now be considered grasshoppers crawling the same rope.

Superintendent Li Yannian was even quicker to take notice of the opportunity, and with one clap, a pack of plain-clothed beauties came in single-file from the end of the veranda. No brightly-colored jewels or hair ornaments were to be seen, just qins and xiaos matched with them. The one leading was all the more stunning, almost on par with the capital’s Miss Moon Su Qingluan in terms of looks, with quite a bit of similarity between them; she was somewhat more remote than Su Qingluan’s loveliness, though.

Jing Qi inwardly smiled. They were going straight for the weak points, alright. The Two Guangs were far away, but these gentlemen’s information hadn’t been cut off in the least. They even thoroughly scouted out his preferences.

Li Yannian first cupped his hands towards Provincial Coordinator Zhang Xun, then spoke to Jing Qi. “These are nothing more than a few women from ordinary families. They can’t be claimed as national beauties, but Sir Zhang did go to a lot of trouble to look for them. You are a refined one, Prince, so, out of fear that you would disdain their plain adornment, he had them specially instructed with care. Those with us here are all considered to be the apex of looks, and there’s hope that they’ll be able to catch your eye, Prince.”

He had just applauded his superior, then applauded his superior’s superior. Jing Qi tilted his head to sweep his eyes over him. He had met this man on the road when he arrived, and his impression of him was rather deep; though he was a Superintendent at present, it was still a slight waste of talent.

“That’s right. So to speak, they indeed can’t compare to the capital’s Miss Qingluan that you’re familiar with, Prince. They’re not that bad, though, and each have their own unique style,” Zhang Xun said with a smile.

The corner of Jing Qi’s mouth bent. He tried desperately not to laugh. Upon getting it under control only an age later, he raised his head to aim a look at Zhang Xun, not making a sound. No wonder this Late Emperor Initiate Scholar of twenty-three years had gotten to a fully white beard, yet was only acting as a Coordinator out in the hinterland. He probably had to spend money in bribes to get the position, too.

Even Liao Zhendong glared at him, thinking to himself: aren’t you undermining this? You’ve just started talking, yet explicitly told him ‘we know every trend that goes on in your capital, no one’s business is too small’.

It was most taboo for others to make inquiries on the whereabouts of the capital’s nobility. Zhang Xun had said nothing for such a long time, but as soon as he opened his mouth, he committed a faux-pas, acting the lead opera star in the process.

That the beauties sung and danced during the banquet went without saying. After the party dissolved, Liao Zhendong gave a signal with his eyes, and someone sent the leading beauty to Jing Qi’s room. Thus, it came to the event that once Jing Qi pushed open his door, he caught sight of a grand, beautiful woman sitting inside, her swaying figure under the lamplight inspiring words that were put a stop to, which narrowly caused him to retrace the step he had just taken out of fright.

Coincidentally, as if he had telepathy, Wu Xi was in the capital, listening to Nuahar informing him of what he had scouted out. Nuahar couldn’t investigate every thought of every everyman, naturally, so he could only divulge the general idea of what everyone knew.

“You’re saying it’s because he was dispatched to go investigate a rebellion?” Wu Xi asked.

Ashinlae added spice to the story. “I heard that the officials over there are really rotten. Commonfolk will only create a disturbance if they don’t have the means to keep living. Though, I think that rotten officials are the Great Qing’s specialty, so those ones might be the pinnacle of rotten.”

Wu Xi creased his brow in worry. Weighing the other’s body language, Nuahar quickly said, “But you don’t need to be too concerned either, Shamanet. Zyale is intelligent, nothing will happen.”

‘Zyale’, in Nanjiang, meant ‘good friend’. Wu Xi cast him a look. “He’s not zyale, he’s the one I like. I’m going to take him back to Nanjiang later,” he retorted like this was no big deal.

It went quiet for a short moment. Nuahar and Ashinlae, whose smiles were frozen on their faces, looked at each other, narrowly believing that they had heard wrong.

The Shamanet, who wanted their lives, said further, “I didn’t lie, and neither of you heard wrong. It’s true. I like him.”

Of course it was true, their Shamanet had never told a lie… Nuahar’s rump sat on air, and he fell from the small stool. Ashinlae opened his mouth, “th-that”ing and “th-this”ing for half the day, yet could not organize his words into a full sentence.

“However, I will request that you two don’t let anyone else know. If Beiyuan knew now, he wouldn’t agree to it, and might not want to see me again,” Wu Xi said mildly. “Wait… wait for a while to pass to speak further on it.”

Saying so, he disregarded them, stood up without prior consultance, picked up the little snake that had curled up into a ball in his arms, then went towards the back courtyard.

He pondered on how those rotten officials Ashinlae spoke of might want to exhaust their means to buy off Jing Qi. The guy once said that what people sought out was nothing more than the few words of riches, beauty, power, and lust. Power and riches and whatever were things he might not attach much importance to, but… what about beauty?

Of course, he might not attach much importance to that, either. Based on what Wu Xi understood of him, he believed that the guy, at most, would like it on the inside while feigning that he didn’t on the outside, and not care too much. To use his words, he had ‘come across a stage and was putting on a play’, and would not actually get bought off.

However, once he brought Jing Qi’s casual attitude to mind, in joint with ‘like it on the inside’ and ‘come across a stage’ and such, he felt the roots of his teeth itching, making him urgently want to go find something to grind them on.

He was truly accusing Jing Qi unfairly, though, as he was one of devotion and infatuation in this world again, absolutely no different from the Lord Seventh that had previously sat tall beside the Three-Life Rock for over sixty years; he just did too many regular, perfunctory social niceties. Wu Xi, the earnest and opinionated one, could not distinguish between putting on a play and taking genuine pleasure in something, so he always viewed the other’s heart to be quite flower-like.

After the riches came the beauty, Jing Qi jested to himself. That Sir Liao really hadn’t spared any effort. Being only vaguely shocked at the doorway, he thus stepped foot into the room, then shut the door offhand. The beauty stood and bowed respectfully. It was far from obvious just now, but it seemed that the makeup she had on was very unusual; there appeared to be just a touch of it, meticulous and in good taste, yet, with a closer look, one would detect some other mysterious element at play.

Zhou Zishu and Jing Qi had been associating for a long time. The former was a national expert in face-changing, which entailed the latter coming to understand a small amount of its various techniques. He couldn’t do them himself, but he could make out a thing or two by looking.

He marginally froze, thinking to himself that Liao Zhendong really didn’t know when to quit. Why was one thing happening after another? He came this whole way to feel him out, then a huge scene was just kicked up. How was that still not enough? Somewhat impatient, he tamped his temper down and asked her with indifference, “Who had you come here?”

“Governor Liao,” the beauty whispered back, head lowered.

“Hm. What are you called?”

“Miss Jiu.”

What he asked was what she answered, no honorifics. Her eyes were constantly cast downwards, every sentence was truncated extremely short, and her voice was pressed down into her throat, extraordinarily tender… yet vaguely having a sense of disharmony. He frowned, glanced at her again, then discovered that this beauty… was a bit tall.

He reached out to grab “Miss Jiu”‘s chin, narrowed his eyes as he sized her up carefully, then let her go, unable to glimpse any emotions from her charming face. “I don’t need you to attend to me, then. Go on out,” he said while waving her off.

With that, he turned around and paid her no more mind. A long time passed, but he didn’t hear sounds of movement. “Why haven’t you left yet?” he thus asked in some displeasure.

An arm abruptly reached out and hugged him from behind, the puff of a fine fragrance wafting with it. Miss Jiu’s warm body was almost plastered onto his back. “Am I not good enough, Prince?” the beauty asked delicately.

He knocked her arm off, flinging her away. “This Prince dislikes people who are ill-behaved. Scram,” he expressionlessly replied.

Miss Jiu raised her gaze to look at him, complete coldness inside the gorgeous drawn lines of her eyes, with a cold glint of light suddenly within her sleeve…

Chapter 35: The Variable Ninth Heaven

In the midst of imminent peril, Jing Qi nevertheless moved to the side with exceptional dexterity, critically dodging her. Miss Jiu’s slim, jade finger held a knife, its edge swiping across the hem of his clothes and slicing open a shallow cut on them.

Her hit not landing, she turned her hand and swept it horizontally out, straight for his middle. He quickly drew three steps back to evade it, but the other’s killing move came at him again.

Once he saw that… great. This was likely an ace of the martial forest, he wasn’t a match for her, and it was probably too late to call for anyone right now. He Ji, that bastard — if there was ever a bad time to go out and ‘fix your clothes’, it was this one!

He kept dodging and retreating all the way into the corner, where he couldn’t retreat any more. Miss Jiu’s knife came sweeping. Desperate, he took a small bottle out of his lapels and sent it right into the blade’s edge. With a crisp sound, a greater half of the bottle was pared off. Looking on as she cut Jing Qi’s hand, Miss Jiu nonetheless suddenly shrieked, tossing the knife away and abruptly taking a couple of steps back. That greater-half of the bottle she had doggedly cut apart happened to have ricocheted, leaping onto her hand.

The area that was contaminated from bumping into the bottle’s liquid felt like it was burning her all of a sudden, infiltrating with a sharp pain. Once the pain was done, it went numb, and the numb feeling followed along her hand, straight up her arm, and to the rest of her. Not long after, half of her body could no longer move.

Miss Jiu glared viciously at him. “You… you… dog official! You actually employed a despicable method like this!” As soon as ‘she’ said this, no more care was given to concealing anything, as that deepness and hoarseness was obviously a man’s voice.

The door got abruptly pushed open from the outside. He Ji barged in with Ji Xiang following behind, the latter cautiously carrying a small lidded cup in hand. Upon seeing this war, he promptly cared about nothing else. “Master!”

Jing Qi rolled his eyes, thinking to himself if I had been counting on you guys, I would’ve really been dead without even pants to go off in, and waved him off. “It’s fine, both of you go. Keep watch at the door for me.”

Once He Ji came near, he noticed Miss Jiu’s awkward predicament of being unable to move a muscle, and was minutely startled. He was someone who came from the palace, though; he hadn’t been following Jing Qi his entire time, but he still knew what matters were taboo, so he bowed and withdrew. Jing Qi swept his eyes over to Ji Xiang. Even if the latter was unwilling to, there was nothing he could do, either, so he had no choice but to place the cup down and say softly, “Master, the day is cold, if you’re wanting to drink.”

Nodding cursorily, Jing Qi expressionlessly watched them retreat. The door shut tightly once more, he casually sat down and observed ‘Miss Jiu’ — who had already gone numb through his leg and couldn’t stand at all, only able to kneel on one side and pant heavily — with a smile. “This Prince wholly doesn’t deserve the praise of being despicable and whatnot. Speaking of methods, my good… brother, you’re a majestic man disguising yourself in women’s trimmings. That’s also not very open and honest, is it?”

‘Miss Jiu”s mouth suddenly moved, but Jing Qi’s hand was even faster, clasping his jaw and nimbly unhinging it. “What are you up to? Is this you thinking of imitating suicide-agent[1] assassins, biting down on poison kept in your mouth?”

He leaned over and picked up the knife from the floor, weighed it in his hand, then brought it up close before ‘Miss Jiu’. “Do you know what sort of knife you ought to use in late-night assassinations?” he quietly questioned.

This was clearly bullying a man that couldn’t speak. Smiling, Jing Qi spoke on without input. “You’re an amateur, aren’t you, Hero? The knives used in daytime are different from the ones in nighttime. This one you have glinted with cold light, so how blind would one have to be to not see it in pitch darkness? I’ll teach you, buddy; the next time you do something like this, seek out a master and get them to give you one specialized for use at night. Neither its blade nor hilt will be able to reflect light, as there’s going to be dark copper covering them.”

‘Miss Jiu’ had his mouth open, unable to close it, with saliva already dripping from it. Never before had he suffered this degree of mistreatment, watching Jing Qi’s gaze that seemed like it was going to swallow him whole.

Jing Qi recognized that the guy evidently had nothing to do with Liao Zhendong. If it weren’t for the stuff Wu Xi gave him coming into use just now, he might have had to hand over his little life here, and Liao Zhendong wasn’t too likely to be at the point that he would put on a fake show for a real act. Hesitating a bit, he crouched down, peering at ‘Miss Jiu’ as he spoke whisper-like to him. “I’m going to hinge your jaw for you now. A manly man, even one that’s an assassin, needs to have the presence of being able to kill someone within ten steps, even a distance of a thousand li unable hinder you. Isn’t it thus unpresentable for you to seek death because you got caught?”

His eyes were too clear and bright, a smile indistinctly inside of them, which made ‘Miss Jiu’ look at him blankly. Jing Qi had since carefully pushed his chin back in, though, not minding the filth, then sat on the ground next to him. Not waiting for ‘Miss Jiu’ to open his mouth, he asked, “You’re an assassin that kills corrupt officials, so what are you fixing your gaze on me for? With that sort of skill, Liao Zhendong is in the front courtyard — why didn’t you go chop his head off? Would that not be solving one problem to end them all?”

“That greedy official really cherishes life and fears death, and he knows that he’s guilty of doing lots of things. Afraid that a demon would drop by in the middle of the night, the place he stays in is layered up with what are openly imperial guards, but are actually all privately-stationed troops. Their patrols are so strict, they’re not any lesser than the royal palace, so how could I get inside it? I was thinking that if this Mister Imperial Envoy was good, then even if I put my life at risk, I could still lend him a strong arm, but I didn’t expect… that you and him are scoundrels conniving together, bringing harm to a loyal subject and meting out punishment to everybody! I am untalented, but I might as well have had you take his place!” ‘Miss Jiu’ explained angrily.

Turned out the guy was aware that he had gone picking for soft, low-hanging persimmons.

Jing Qi “oh”ed, narrowed his eyes, and drew his syllables out. “Privately-stationed troops… is this him about to rebel?”

He chuckled as he shook his head. Taking out a row of bottles and jars from his lapels, he spread them out on the floor, fished out a piece of paper, then compared them in turn. “Martial arts is something I’ve practiced for a few days,” he said mellowly. “I don’t dare boast, as it’s barely enough to get by in use. It can’t be compared to yours, of course — you could tell so, too.”

‘Miss Jiu’ huffed coldly. “If you didn’t use poison, I definitely would have fetched your dog life within two moves!”

Jing Qi didn’t mind him, reaching out to leave two bottles in the pile behind as he stuffed the rest of them back into his lapels again. “Of the two people who came in just now, one is my bookboy. All he does is serve tea, bring water, calculate bills, and run errands; all the more someone not to set in your sights, Hero. The other is a Forbidden City Guard that has martial artistry, and might barely be on par with you. There are also a few folks I had brought from the Prince Estate. You’ve noticed it, too — you made such a huge ruckus with your flailing about just now, yet they didn’t hear it at all. That’s because Sir Liao intentionally set up arrangements for them elsewhere, and had done so under the glorious name of strengthening protection against mob movements.”

Having not expected to hear a set of words like that, ‘Miss Jiu’ couldn’t help but be stunned.

He saw Jing Qi smilingly pick up a small bottle, which he passed beneath his nose. An acrid scent shot to the top of his head, and though ‘Miss Jiu’ promptly sensed that there was still no strength in his body, the potency of the numbness had gone away a bit. Before he could react, Jing Qi picked up another bottle, poured a pill out of it, then relentlessly stuffed it in his mouth and forced him to swallow it. “This stuff isn’t mine,” the other muttered to himself, “I’m just going off instructions. I don’t know if it’ll have effect or not. If, by any chance, I made a mistake, don’t blame me when you go off to the Yellow Springs, brother. You did try to assassinate this Prince first.”

‘Miss Jiu’ was stupefied at the start, but after hearing this, his face trended towards turning green.

He heard Jing Qi continue on. “You said… you were going to risk your life to help me. Dare I ask, Hero, why is that the way you’re going about it? There’s nothing you can do about Liao Zhendong, so you go congregate with our master-servant tri—… Ji Xiang wouldn’t matter, but, even if you got two-and-a-half people, would you be able to take him down then?” He suddenly jabbed ‘Miss Jiu’ hard on the head, quietly scolding him. “Hero, you were born of wheatpaste sellers, yes?”

Despite Hero ‘Miss Jiu’ having decent martial arts and a few tricks at hand, he was but a young lad that left his thatched cottage for the first time, acting only in accordance to being full of hot blood. He hadn’t expected this overlap, going stunned on the spot from his jab. Hesitantly, he reached up and felt the area where he had been poked, thus discovering that he could move again. “You…”

Jing Qi stood, patted the dust off himself, took the cup Ji Xiang had brought over, lifted its lid, and took a light sip. “Oh, right, you said that this Prince has brought harm to loyal subjects — I’ll explain this to you, Hero. You said that Sir Liao has tight security where even you couldn’t infiltrate it easily. How was that ‘loyal subject’, who didn’t even have enough strength to fight a chicken, able to charge in all willy-nilly?”

‘Miss Jiu’ stared blankly where he stood. He donned the fine painted skin of a beautiful woman, but his expression right now was that of an idiot’s. With an accidental glance at him, Jing Qi nearly bust out a laugh, and the rampaging little bit of fire he had tossed out was also gone. “Tidy yourself up,” he said, waving him off. “When someone asks after you go out, just say that this Prince dislikes excessively tall ‘beauties’ and told you to withdraw. Go on, then.”

There was a fake face on ‘Miss Jiu’ — no changes could be seen on it, but his ears did go red. “S… so you’re saying that you and Liao Zhendong aren’t in a group?” he mumbled.

Jing Qi laughed mockingly, thinking to himself that this guy was actually a sincere one. “This Prince never said that.”

Those words exceeded the scope of the Hero’s comprehension. He didn’t leave, nor did he stay, being bewildered for a long time before he had an epiphany. “No, you and he aren’t in a group. If you were, you could have killed me just then, or given me to that dog official.”

“Maybe I want to exploit you for something,” Jing Qi said, not even lifting his head.

“Anything you had, you could go tell it to Liao Zhendong, since he’s eager to fawn on you. If he couldn’t do something, how could I?” ‘Miss Jiu’ replied, completely self-confident.

Jing Qi lifted his head to look at him with some surprise, thinking that the guy was kind of interesting; when he thought someone else was crooked, then, regardless of how crooked they were, he would turn around and think towards whatever good areas they had. Disinclined to be caught up with him anymore, he nodded perfunctorily. “You said it isn’t so, so it isn’t so. Go. This Prince is going to rest.”

‘Miss Jiu’ was unforgiving, however. “No way. I swear to you, if you’ve come to investigate corruption on behalf of the commonfolk, I will stake my life to assist you!”

“This isn’t a matter you have use in.”

You not stirring up trouble would be great. That’d be helping.

“You say the word, and I’ll definitely be able to accomplish it for you.” ‘Miss Jiu’ looked at him with a determined face. “I won’t blink come mountains of knives or seas of fire.”

Despite the bit of exasperation, Jing Qi also inexplicably felt some geniality, thinking that this fake ladyfolk was somehow the same as that little toxic thing, obstinately walking a path into darkness. “What’s your name and surname?” he asked with a grin.

“My surname is Liang. I’m called Liang Jiuxiao.”

Jiuxiao, ‘the ninth and highest heaven’, with no small amount of spirit. Jing Qi nodded, but before he thought to speak, he suddenly remembered something… Liang Jiuxiao? That name was a bit familiar-sounding!

He recalled that, prior to his departure, Zhou Zishu had specifically sought him out and said that he just so happened to have a younger sect-brother that had gone off on his own to experience the world in the Guangs, and he was free to go find him if he had any use for him. That ‘sect-brother’… seemed to have been called ‘Liang Jiuxiao’. “What’s your relationship with Zhou Zishu?” he couldn’t resist blurting out.

Liang Jiuxiao’s eyes lit up. “You know my big sect-brother?”

Jing Qi nearly wanted to smash his head against something and die — what kind of convoluted mess was all this?

Note:
[1] 死士 – A person employed for something that is willing to die on the mission, and/or will kill themselves if something goes wrong and they get captured so they don’t get interrogated.

Chapter 36: Arranging an Ingenious Match

Jing Qi peered at Liang Jiuxiao, mute, for a good while. Then, he put a hand on his forehead and smiled helplessly. He had believed himself to have witnessed a considerable amount of absolutely absurd events in this vast, complicated world before, but he didn’t expect that, by happenstance, there would be a situation like this that made him feel debilitated as well. Liang Jiuxiao, who caused Prince Nan’ning’s yet-helpless smile, smiled at a bit of a loss.

Ever since he was a child, his natural aptitude hadn’t been very great at all. Whether it was studying, practicing martial arts, or even the technique of face-changing, he was a few beats slower in all of them than his fellow sectmates. Luckily, he was willing to put in painstaking work, and, a long time later, he was contrarily much more solid than those who were naturally gifted but unwilling to try hard. Who he admired most all his life was precisely his omnipotent-seeming eldest sect-brother; on this event of going out on his own to experience the world, he was holding in his power, harboring the inclination of wanting to make a career like Zhou Zishu had. As it happened, he had received a letter from that sect-brother a few days prior that stated that he had a friend coming to the Guangs, and they had been entrusted with an object as proof. So, if they had a need, he was to provide assistance as Zhou Zishu’s allocated local agent.

Vaguely recalling something at this point, he couldn’t help but open his eyes wide.

Jing Qi pulled out a piece of green jade from his lapels, placing it on the table. “This… this is my sect-brother’s…” Liang Jiuxiao exclaimed.

Endlessly astonished, he took the jade into his hand and carefully examined it. Something that he had been accustomed to seeing since he was small would, naturally, not be mistakenly recognized. He then lifted his head to look at Jing Qi, immediately after which he knelt onto the ground with a thunk. “This commoner didn’t know that the Prince was… I have highly offended you. Please forgive me,” he said, unflinching.

His manner of speaking had already gone respectful.

“Don’t do that. This Prince can’t withstand your gracious gesture,” Jing Qi replied cheerfully. “If, by any chance, I’m a villain, wouldn’t you now be suffering a huge loss?”

Liang Jiuxiao bowed deeply. “This commoner has deep knowledge of my eldest sect-brother’s moral character. If you really were a corrupt, fawning official that mowed human lives down like grass, Prince, then he absolutely would not make friends with you. This commoner has treated you rudely; I was alarmed by your handling, and narrowly made a huge misstep…” Following that, he mumbled until no words came out, simply kneeling on the floor and kowtowing on end, refusing to lift his head up.

He was genuinely regretful and repentant, the anxiety even making his eyes go red around the edges. Jing Qi mentally sighed, thinking that Liang Jiuxiao was different from his sect-brother and his bellyful of schemes, being a truly sincere kid — if he didn’t give him a way out of this, he would probably annoy him to death on the spot. As a result, he leaned over and personally helped him up. “Well, then, since you’re Zishu’s brother, I actually do have a little something to trouble you with.”

Liang Jiuxiao’s eyes brightened. “Please state it, Prince!”

Jing Qi took out a brush and paper, then jotted down a string of names at flying speed. “Help me by secretly making contacts to get information about these couple of folks… family background, close paternal relatives, the more details the better. Especially on this Li Yannian.”

Liang Jiuxiao was surprised. “Isn’t he Liao Zhendong’s crony?”

Jing Qi shook his head, not giving him much explanation. “Just having someone research him is fine,” he said simply. “As this Prince is in this place, I’m afraid sending letters to others will be quite inconvenient. I’ll need to rely on you all.”

Since this guy incidentally bumped right into his hand, to not utilize him would be meaningless.

Liang Jiuxiao hurriedly nodded with passion. “Got it!”

“You go on ahead, then, and have a bit of caution in your comings and goings.”

His movements were entirely in the dark. Despite Liang Jiuxiao being a moron, he had some amount of self-awareness. Once he obtained Jing Qi’s instructions, he never acted willfully again, and whatever Jing Qi commanded was what he did, turning him into a legitimately immense help. In the eyes of Liao Zhendong and the others, Prince Nan’ning hadn’t come to investigate the case, but to have fun, apparently.

That day, a few people had been specially invited to ask whether there were any local specialty trinkets, as he claimed that he wanted to take them home with him to give to his little friend in the capital for his amusement.

Governor Liao didn’t know who the ‘little friend’ he was referring to was, guessing that they were some descendant of nobility. He had sought out a group of four people – Li Yannian and himself included – to take turns entertaining him; Jing Qi was awaiting the triumph of pacifying the riotous army in name, while he enjoyed eating, drinking, and entertainment in reality.

As such, peace and balance were dwelled in.

He was unfettered here, but because he had hurried out of the capital at this critical juncture, he didn’t get to catch up with a grand occasion there — the wedding of the Crown Prince.

The evening before it, Helian Yi dismissed his attendants and sat alone in his study for the night. Beyond the innermost, deeply-buried stack of documents about scriptures, history, religion, and anthologies, he opened a secret compartment, taking a small box out from it. As if he was holding a rare treasure, he opened it very carefully; inside was an oddball pile of faded knick-knacks, as well as a scroll painting.

These things were helter-skelter in quality, some fine and some crude, but they had all been given by one person.

He remembered that when Jing Qi was a boy, he spoke with a kiddie voice while he acted like a little adult, but once he turned around, he would have an evil grin, liable to go up on the roof and tear off its tiles were he to go three days without discipline — there were many times that Grand Tutor Zhou would get so angry, he wouldn’t be able to say anything, his beard shaking all about. He recalled how that tiny ball of fair softness would present a little gift to him like it was a treasure every time, readily putting on a natty intonation like he was wheedling a little girl, which he had learned from who-knew-where.

“Your Highness, this one I brought back specially from a stroll outside the palace. If you’re going to make me mad again, I won’t be wise and kind.”

“Crown Brother, Uncle Emperor gave me a pair of bunnies yesterday. I specifically wanted to leave one for you, but no one let me… Grand Tutor Zhou punished me with copying the Book of Rites, too. Do you… think you can help me with a few pages? Just a few?”

“Quick, look, Crown Brother, I made this little bamboo pig myself… huh? Uncle Emperor’s katydid cage? The… th-the bamboo on this really wasn’t broken off of that one. I already hid the one that I did break it off of.”

“Crown Brother…”

“Crown Brother…”

The corner of Helian Yi’s mouth unconsciously raised up in a light wisp of a smile, an unspeakable feeling of tender affection suddenly swirling in his eyes.

He then waved his hand to open the scroll. Inside the painting was a teen sitting casually atop bluestone, with his features angled low, hair loosely coiled in a bun, a miscellaneous book on his lap, an attentive grip on the writings, and a faintly discernible, leisurely smile on face — it was lifelike. The one who painted it was of average skill, but beneath his brush was indescribable emotion, as if every single iota of the youth in the picture was seeped into his heart, and once he shut his eyes, all his frowns and smiles would be before him.

Helian Yi abruptly shut his eyes, closed the scroll, then moved it closer to the margin of a candle. He stayed there for a long time, only to extinguish the small, burning flame in a flurry, sighing quietly in the end. Cautiously, he put the scroll and tiny things away once more, then placed them into the deepest depths of the secret compartment.

It’s only because he’s Jing Beiyuan, and I’m Helian Yi…

It’s only because—

The long night was near to over.

The Crown Consort was the granddaughter of Grand Preceptor Song, a young mistress of reported virtue and goodness that also bore the fragrance of orchids and the qualities of osmanthus. This was the first time Wu Xi, who was watching from the sidelines, had seen as majestic a wedding ceremony as this.

The month of the Ox of Man, the day of the Rabbit of Man, and the year of the Rooster of Toil all cut the West off, and thus were suitable for marriage.[1]

Fanciful attire to worship the heavens, divination to announce auspiciousness, maintenance of the gift list of seasonal works and treasure. A hundred officials stood before the Hall of Revered Heaven. The Sacred One sat in dark red robes, overseeing the toast and sacrifice of drink. The royal Crown Prince personally welcomed the Consort outside the main gate, donned in beaded crown and robe with guards guiding, as was tradition.

Each step had particular standards. The sky and earth and yin and yang harmonized, alongside hundreds of things going by unhindered. Fortune was prayed for and peace was sung for, the sound transmitting endlessly for dozens of li. The lyrics were indistinct inside the incomplete noise of the wind, solemn and profound with a bare trace of inviolable isolation faintly suffusing it. Wu Xi listened to it distractedly; he couldn’t understand the majority of the verses, but he suddenly felt somewhat lonesome.

He turned his head to once again gaze towards the infinitely-important palace that had lasted through countless ages, determining that the entire capital was a four-sided cell. During his daze, his seven-ish year situation was like a short flash, passing by with such pressing. He had believed himself the prisoner at the start, but, as it turned out, everybody was a prisoner.

He recalled dreamland Jing Beiyuan; his body so cold with only that one thread of warmth even on his lips, a fuzzy haze always seeming to have shrouded his features, and that head of shocking white hair, too. The idea in his mind of bringing the other back to Nanjiang suddenly became stronger than ever; he didn’t want to have him ruminate on things day and night, fawning on people contrary to his will, nor to have him exhaust his mind for every scheme, eternally having difficulty with finding peace.

He contemplated on the nearly-vanished Su Qingluan, who was currently in a tiny courtyard waiting to sing for one person alone every day. Today, that person got his own wife, and every single official and commoner in the whole city had gathered together for the excitement. Was she mixed in with the crowd and wandering about by herself, or was she silently polishing her qin inside her own little yard?

He couldn’t understand it, really. That woman had handed her entire life over to Helian Yi, so why would she want to betray him? Or, in the event that her heart was awry to begin with, what was she even thinking right now?

Getting a frustrated knot in his heart all of a sudden, he thus wordlessly turned around and returned.

Life had no roots, floating like dust above a path. Yet, there were forever quite many lovesick children that thought of someone more than a thousand li away: concealing them in their heart, yearning for them in both waking or sleeping, dreaming about them, reflecting on them like mad.

Because he had been a newborn calf, he hadn’t been afraid of the world’s ways that were vicious as a tiger, constantly believing that there would be a day that he’d be able to return to the mountains and forests of nature, fleeing the confinement of the human realm. Following very many people and very many years, the wind from the overgrown gate of heaven blew and dispersed his youthful hesitation, and his heart’s boulder turned into a huge amount of sand, scattering with a light bump.

How many people were there that could die without cowering back, die without turning their head, die without yielding?

If one really could, then the Heavens would obey their will. However, that logic was something the majority of people would not understand.

In any case, Jing Qi, who had gotten reminisced about by two people, just had other things to do. The insurrection had already been fully quelled with the Dynasty troops returning victorious in a few days’ time, as was foreseen when they were coming over. Jing Qi used this moment to quietly call Liao Zhendong over, who was confused over his intent. “Prince, this is…”

Cracking melon seeds in his teeth, Jing Qi crooked his fingers at Ji Xiang, who tacitly understood to take a letter out of his lapels. Not saying anything, Jing Qi simply passed the letter over so that Liao Zhendong could read it for himself. The latter accepted it, his bewilderment boundless, but one glance told that it was in Helian Zhao’s handwriting. Obscurely hinted on it was that there were several fairly major figures that were within the Eldest Scion’s scope of influence in the Guangs, the implication glaringly obvious.

Liao Zhendong lifted his eyes to look at Jing Qi, merely listening to him speak. “Sir Liao, open people don’t speak in veiled words. This Prince had come on this trip and will, nevertheless, have to give an explanation to the Emperor and those gentlemen. How this will be explained, however, is up to you.”

The man firmed up, cupping his fist. “I request your pointers, Prince.”

“Ah, Sir Liao…” Jing Qi sighed, swiping his hands clean of seed shell debris. “You’re silly. Are you aware of why the Guang mob riot came to be?”

Liao Zhendong was caught off guard, only to hear him continue on. “Let me ask you this; how much money do those couple of big local merchants and landlords pay you each year, and how many benefits have they given you?”

The other’s eyes widened into circles. “Prince, nonsense mustn’t be spoken.”

Jing Qi smiled slightly. “But, Sir Liao, regardless of whether it’s officialdom or merchantdom, there’s no getting up early if there’s no profit in it, everyone comes out to idle away their days, double-crossing is most taboo, and words are uncalculated. Since they’ve spent money to buy security, in what way did you then stretch out your hand aboard the ship others were ferrying? Sitting on the ground and divvying up the spoils can still get your human head beat into a dog’s one. This treachery of yours…”

He chuckled, stopping there. Liao Zhendong, of course, internally understood that inside this was the interference of local wealthy households, which were taking advantage of the disarray to blacken him. He couldn’t help but show distress on his face. “Prince…” Following that, he used his eyes to signal at Jing Qi’s Helian Zhao letter, voice subdued. “The appetite of those mentioned gets greater and greater. This humble official has many difficulties that I have no choice in, as well.”

Difficulties, my ass. Your greed is insatiable…

Jing Qi pat the back of his hand, his next words heartfelt. “Sir Liao, the midday sun will shift, and the full moon will wane. Stop everything while you’re ahead, have both leniency and strictness, and then thin water can flow as a long stream; why trouble yourself with digging your own grave? I’ll ask you again. Counting up every type of idle operative in the Guangs, how many positions are there in sum, and how many were sold by you? It was with great difficulty that they had accumulated a bit of an estate, and then they contributed for rank on behalf of their heirs, so even if a position is idle, it still has an official’s salary. You’ve made an uncountable hash of things like this, giving them both empty power and wealth; are you aware of how many below will hate you so much that their teeth itch?”

Liao Zhendong wiped his sweat off. “Th… this humble official didn’t think things through enough.”

“Now that something bad has happened, you still want to cover things up, which just makes it worse,” Jing Qi said with a sigh, shaking his head. “This Prince really doesn’t know what to even say to you. If it weren’t for the Eldest Highness… tch!”

The other knelt down, trembling. “Prince, please save this humble official’s life!”

Jing Qi grinned and crooked his fingers. “Bring your ear closer.”

Once the briefing for this and that was given, Liao Zhendong withdrew, his heart filled with anxiety.

Jing Qi sat idly about, alone in the pavilion, for a full half-day. Beside him was fresh, unfiltered wine with green foam, a little red clay stove, and brilliant snow outside the pavilion.[2] All of a sudden, he horribly crooned out a discordant rendition of the Song of Resentment.[3] “Newly-made qi silk, shining bright as snow, cut to make an embroidered fan, round as the bright moon. In and out of the cradle of the lord’s sleeve, it sways to create light wind, ever fearing the autumn festival’s coming… heh-heh, ever fearing the autumn festival’s coming, eh…”

At that moment, Ji Xiang came in close and said a few things into his ear. He nodded. “Call him in,” he said, his mood quite good.

Ji Xiang turned and left. A short while after, he brought Li Yannian over the small veranda and into the snow-viewing pavilion, who gave an obsequious smile. “You truly are someone of refinement, Prince. Now could be said to be the exact right time for snow viewing. What a pity that we rarely see this white here in average years, look at how clean it is.”

Jing Qi smiled. “Have a seat, Sir Li.”

Li Yannian thanked him and did so. Ji Xiang poured wine out for the both of them, then retreated soundlessly to the side.

Li Yannian took a taste, only to detect a heart-penetrating fragrance shoot right up to the crown of his head. He couldn’t help but cry out that it was great, though Jing Qi was unmoved. After downing it in one breath, the latter spoke unhurriedly to him. “Sir Li, the first thing this Prince invited you here for today was for wine-tasting, and the second…”

He drew out a yellow-saturated letter from his sleeve, passing it before Li Yannian with a grin. “The second, I found something a bit interesting. Please, look it over.”

The man took it, and, right when he opened it, his expression changed drastically at once.

Note:
[1] *eagle screeches in pain* Okay. Bear with me. This is all in reference to old calendrical yearkeeping; the sexagenary cycle. The Twelve Heavenly Branches (the zodiac animals) and Ten Heavenly Stems (the attributes) are crossed with each other to label 60 different years (even though 10 x 12 = 120, they only use half of the combos), after which the cycle resets, kind of like how there’s multiple zodiac years of the Horse and whatever. On top of that, they label months and days the same way, though with different formulas… honestly, it’s a big goddamn mess, and they calculate auspicious days with it, somehow. (Here’s a table that illustrates it better than I can – xin you is the Rooster of Toil year, the 58th.) The West is typically a euphemism for death, hence why cutting it off is a good thing, though hell if I know why a date would do that.
[2] From Bai Juyi‘s Inviting Liu Shijiu.
[3] Written by Consort Ban, comparing herself to a tossed-away autumn fan after losing favor with the Emperor.

Chapter 37: Catching a Colossal Rat

The inside of the yellow-tinged envelope was packed thick with a pile of stuff. Li Yannian’s familial background, relatives, and even the whole course of his forty-three years of life were all listed out, article by article and in no specific order of importance, using tiny, flyhead script. He read it down ten lines a second. The more he saw, the more fearful he became, and when he got to the end, both of his hands were trembling uncontrollably.

As if there had been a pair of eyes nearby him for all his years, staring, a layer of bone-penetrating chill scattered across his back. Jing Qi gently pushed down his wine cup. “You’re truly very fortunate, Sir, to be in deep love with your wife. As an appointed Dynasty official, you have droves of maidservants at home, but you still being able to eat sweets that the venerable Madam had personally cooked up on the day of the Kitchen Sacrifice is truly to be envied.”

Little New Year’s eve… had been just the night before.

Jing Qi sighed with some seeming emotion. “Splashing tea as you both collect books, the wife lifting a tray to her brow-level for you… both of those things are ordinary boudoir trifles, but what’s the big picture in one’s lifetime? Isn’t it just having a place like that to lodge in when you’ve come back from making your way in the world during bleak wind and bitter rain, and having a person like that waiting for you with the lamps lit? Tell me — is there or is there not sense in this, Sir Li?”

Li Yannian stared dead at him, a vague emergence of dread coming over that always-affable and delightful face. Jing Qi, unmoved, questioned him once more. “Tell me… is there sense?”

There was an instant of stillness between them. Ji Xiang stood to the side, not daring to make any loud sound at all, and thought that this small pavilion filled with coal and fire had gotten cold and lonesome. Jing Qi’s smile did not wane, but the fear on Li Yannian’s face diluted drop by drop until only a certain unspeakable determination remained, along with a silence that was near to viewing death as a return to home.

He nodded afterwards. “Yes. What you’ve said has sense, Prince.”

Jing Qi finally curbed his probing smile. When he wasn’t smiling, it was like a film of clouds and fog had been removed from him. He got up, hands clasped behind him as he stood, and leaned against the railing to gaze off into the distance. The thousands of li of white snow resembled the sand of a vast ocean, far removed from the endless land and without bounds, washing the dust of the human world clean in a single sunset.

A long time passed before he spoke. “Ever since this Prince had arrived here, you’ve been the one scurrying around most diligently, Sir Li. This is Governor Liao training you to act as a confidante. As I see it, whether it’s your ability or your methods, neither of them ought to wrong you with residing in this place.”

Li Yannian buried his head down low, not making a sound.

“Governor Liao has a close relationship with the Eldest Highness,” Jing Qi continued on. “What all he’s done on behalf of the latter is something you know, as well. This Prince is about to ask you this — under Liao Zhendong’s hand, how many troops have been privately reserved? In the Guangs, how many businessmen have given him bribes before? How many official’s spots have been sold? How many human lives have been scythed like grass? During this disturbance in the Guangs, how many people with any sort of ulterior motive have been maneuvering within it?”

Li Yannian’s expression was unwavering, and he responded unperturbed. “Answering you, Prince, Liao Zhendong has sixty-thousand private conscripts and innumerable personal armaments, which are stored in four separate areas. Not counting the dealings of minor merchants, he has previously been in contact with all four of the local major trading families. The amount of official’s positions sold ever since this humble official has been keeping record sums up to eight-hundred and sixty-four. The lives lost have all been documented in the register. This incident…” He paused, displaying the trace of a smile. “Prince, the sky knows, the earth knows, he knows, and I know. You feigning stupidity is something well understood, too.”

Jing Qi turned his back to him. “You are quite thankless, Li Yannian,” he said, words drawn out. “You knew the second you met me. You are someone accustomed to mulling over people’s hearts, and are the most capable of seamlessly incurring affection for yourself in others. There’s no one better to use for dealing with the achievement-striving sort that Helian Zhao is. Liao Zhendong has had contacts in the capital for so long, that it can be plainly discerned that if you were willing, you would have long become a capital official, following along at Helian Zhao’s side and getting more protections for Liao Zhendong, right? I’m thinking… that you’re actually as void of ambition as a canyon. In such great circumstances, you still have no aspiration to climb upwards. It’s likely that Liao Zhendong has no idea, either, that he’s raising a white-eyed wolf who has methodically schemed to jot down all sorts of information for use against him.”

Li Yannian knelt down, face calm, then took off his official’s hat and placed it to the side, baring his head. “This humble official has acted for the sake of righteousness. I was born into an ordinary commoner family and raised to adulthood by my elders back home, so I had responded by demanding justice for them. I will accept being methodically scheming, but the words of ‘white-eyed wolf’ are ones I absolutely don’t dare to bear. Prince Nan’ning, as things have reached this point, there is no need for you to say anything else; punishing me is proper. I, Li Yannian, have conducted myself respectably and stood tall, thus I will die with meaning.”

With that, he hung his eyes, as if he was averse to taking even one more glance at Jing Qi. Turning his head to size him up for a short moment, the expression on Jing Qi’s face then gradually softened. He bent over, personally lending his arm to help the man up with a smile. “Were I to punish you, Sir Li, who would I get to help me with arresting Liao Zhendong and bringing him to justice in one fell swoop?”

Li Yannian abruptly lifted his eyes to look at him with incredulity, making him laugh heartily.

Snow passed the teal sky like a cleanse. After a hundred-plus day haze in the Guang area, sunlight was finally seen.

Jing Qi and Li Yannian conspired together, ending with He Ji sending him off himself. A dark shadow flashed by in the rear courtyard, then leapt in from an open window; the movements were soundless, his attainments in lightness arts evident. Liang Jiuxiao excitedly cupped his fist towards him. “Prince!”

Jing Qi nodded, extending his hand out to him. Liang Jiuxiao busily pulled a letter out of his lapels. “This is the reply from General Cui, who fortunately did not fail in his mission.”

General Cui’s full name was Cui Yingshu. He had formerly been directly under the command of Feng Yuanji, and now that the Feng army had declined, he had been in a dismayed slump for a good few years, solely called upon for events like this insurrection.

Taking it, Jing Qi skimmed it over, then chuckled. “This is good. We can just sit here and watch the excitement, waiting for someone to throw themselves into the net.” Having said so, he still prudently moved the reply near to a candle’s flame and burned it away. After that, he sat down, with Ji Xiang serving the two of them tea in a timely matter.

Jing Qi nodded at the eager-to-try-some Liang Jiuxiao. “Sit.”

Liang Jiuxiao widened his eyes into two big mirrors, peering at him solicitously. The guy’s face-changing skill was indeed outstanding, as after he washed off the substance on it, his face was robust-looking and a bit candid. In spite of Jing Qi having seen a lot of things, he, too, was dazed for a while; learning that the immensely charming, hidden-orchid-in-an-empty-valley beauty from that day had actually turned out to be goods like this gave him quite some sense of disillusionment, even if he was fully aware that it had been fake. “Prince, let me go rendezvous with General Cui again!” Liang Jiuxiao exclaimed. “We’ll snatch that dog official Liao Zhendong in one move!”

The other shot him a look. “If you dare to go and inconvenience me, I’ll beat-… I’ll get your sect-brother to break your leg.”

Liang Jiuxiao stared at him, aggrieved, but listened as he explained things to him with rare patience. “Liao Zhendong has been rooted in the Guangs for many years, and his influence is knotted and deep-set. Those mischief-making merchants set him up in secret, but all of them have kept their own strength hidden, as well. No one is standing up, and everyone is watching the fire from across the bank, waiting to see the way the wind blows in the Dynasty. Who, in that gang of old jerks-turned-elites, would be willing to poke their head out? If there was no name set to this, for what reason would General Cui revolt against Liao Zhendong? Furthermore, if that sixty-thousand legion of Liao Zhendong’s actually kicked up trouble, could either you or I bear the burden?”

Blinking from his scolding, mouth agape, Liang Jiuxiao looked at him stupidly.

Jing Qi sighed. There was nothing else going on, anyways, so he might as well debate thoroughly with this blockhead to avoid him going out and causing trouble in a bit. “Now that the pit has been dug, Liao Zhendong is sure to jump into it. I’ll ask you this; what is his biggest wish right now?”

“Um?” Liang Jiuxiao shook his head.

Having had no hope that he would answer to begin with, Jing Qi went on ahead. “His sort, which are accustomed to playing the local Emperor, are the most arrogant and maverick. At this moment, he’s likely relying on having the Eldest Scion’s support; prior to getting into real trouble, he definitely thought that this matter was nothing more than a momentary miscalculation that he made, and if he got a do-over, it certainly wouldn’t happen again. For that reason, what he’s most anxious to do now is set repairing his relationship with those very major merchants to task. If they hadn’t caused havoc, the Guang insurrection would have never come to exist.”

Liang Jiuxiao listened, not daring to make even a loud exhale.

“Yet, he hadn’t expected Helian Zhao to give me that list of names, having me safeguard those people, but not them… instead, the pawns were being abandoned to protect the chariots. Governor Liao, to that Master of his, is only a round fan in the autumn chill.” Taking in a breath, Jing Qi proceeded on. “As for the technique of using profits as a lure, the key is simply to know yourself and your enemy — whatever they want is then what they should be given. I gave this idea to him, and my reason for saying that is because he was thinking that in his own mind, too. If he wasn’t, then, regardless of whatever logic I had, he would merely take me as a decorative puppet and disregard what he’d heard. However, with a statement like this, and despite it coinciding with his own views, the old man would definitely still get other ideas incited from the occasion.”

He stopped, suddenly returning to the capital; it was as if he was harping on about these survival skills to that taciturn youth of few words, and he couldn’t help but smile gently. Yet, when he turned his head to look, there was no obstinate-yet-intelligent teen seated there, but a fool boy with his mouth open in bewilderment, and he couldn’t help but get a bit disheartened. “Understand?” he asked with some impatience.

“No.” Liang Jiuxiao was utterly honest.

With a huge roll of the eyes, Jing Qi continued on by himself. “Given that they’re the old loaches that they are, they’ll want to slip out of hand, and need to achieve the same thing; nothing at all can be done on your own initiative, so raking in benefits from other’s fights is the best thing they could possibly do. I raised the issue, so he would naturally think to exploit me to take initiative. Merchants? Merchants are nothing but heavy money-making, in the end. At present, Governor Liao has probably begun to ponder using my name to feed elephants to all those greedy snakes still surveying, and he’s gotten nice and ahead of himself in thinking to suppress this matter by my hand. The stigma of an appointed Dynasty official bribing businessmen would also be borne by me, allowing him to be neatly removed from it.”

Quick-witted Ji Xiang’s eyes looked about. “Master, just now — didn’t you have Sir Li refer from that name list to go make secret inquires into those people in turn? You said that merchants are heavy money-making, so doesn’t that indicate that they’re benefiting by means of Liao Zhendong’s work?”

Jing Qi glanced at him, thinking that when it came to stewarding, Ping An was much better than Ji Xiang, but when it came to scheming, he was the real inferior one. In that instant, he smiled. “Don’t you worry. When you to get to work, you’ll still have to handle giving all those redeemed aristocrats a welcoming banquet to banish the dust of their travels, then.”

Ji Xiang gave a hey, cheerful. Only reacting a long time later, Liang Jiuxiao stammered out, “Th… then, Prince, what… what am I doing?”

Jing Qi wasn’t happy. “I said all that, but you don’t get it?”

“…No.”

“‘No’ and ‘no’ — did you jump in a river?!” Jing Qi seized a book and smashed it directly on the guy’s skull. “Everything’s already ready and the only thing we’re lacking is the driving eastern wind, so go put on women’s clothes for me!”

On New Year’s Eve, Cui Yingshu returned in triumph bearing captives and troops, and Prince Nan’ning had a big feast with the official crowd. However, right when the singing and dancing was about to reach its climax, a duo of officers suddenly barged in and cleared the way, after which a large group of people followed in. Among them were richly-bedecked merchants in brocade clothes, scholars waving fans in winter because they were pretending to be aloof, and disaster victims with ragged clothes that didn’t fit their forms, all numbering in the thousands. They held a million-word note written in blood, which filed charges against Guang Governor Liao Zhendong, the Provincial Coordinator, and a miscellaneous group of other officials.

Caught off guard, Liao Zhendong had no choice but to play dumb, kneel down, and weep bitterly that he had been accused wrongly. Jing Qi took the letter of blood, pretended to read it, and laughed, saying only two words — arrest them.

Whilst no one in Liao Zhendong’s crew — not even his group of imperial guard lackeys — could react, the entertaining ‘beauties’ on scene suddenly transformed into rakshasa, easily subduing all who were present.

Concurrently, Cui Yingshu had already arranged troops on the sly to heavily encircle the place.

“You dare to touch me, Jing Beiyuan?!” Liao Zhendong cursed furiously. “Are you not afraid of tens of thousands of my soldiers becoming roving bandits, turning the Guangs to anarchy from here on out?!”

Jing Qi propped his head up with one hand, ignoring him. “Sir Li? Where’s Sir Li Yannian?”

Li Yannian stepped forward. “This humble official is present. Reporting back to the Prince and General, soldier’s wage bundles have since been issued. Those who were willing to leave have taken the money and left, and those that weren’t have been incorporated into General Cui’s troops.”

Eyes widening until they threatened to crack, Liao Zhendong stared at Li Yannian, speechless.

“Don’t you see, Sir Liao? Didn’t I tell you?” Jing Qi asked with a smile. “Do you have the components of that famous general? When Han Xin led troops, he dared to state the more there were, the better; what do you even have? No matter how many people are in your hands, all of them are what’s called a mob — come, detain him!”

Liao Zhendong died suddenly in prison three days later, his cause of death not concrete. Jing Qi’s letter stated “the rebel traitor killed himself.” Helian Pei’s only comment was: “What a good death for a traitor like that!”

The pitiful bunch of small fry that ordinarily followed Liao Zhendong either suffered implication as scapegoats, or they didn’t know anything at all and babbled a lot, itching to clean themselves of blame right away, then stomped on Liao Zhendong’s body ten thousand times to demonstrate their viewpoints. The Guang case came to a conclusion like a swift sword cutting through tangled rope, all due to the novice Prince Nan’ning.

Cui Yingshu came back to Court with his troops, triumphant and having made a huge contribution. On his return, he requested the grant of weaving quite a few more people into his ranks, and his aspirations were then satisfied.

Li Yannian had been hibernating for many years. With this single strike that hit true, the aura of gloom inside him was exhausted, causing him to pat his chest and let out a long sigh.

Every citizen of the Guangs celebrated.

Helian Pei was happy to search and seize the possessions of the corrupt official’s Estate, conferring the ill-gotten gains to the Repository of Internal Affair’s treasury.

Helian Zhao was also quite happy, even. Jing Qi had been the peak of capable at handling this; he totally prevented the man from entering the capital alive, solved the matter neatly, and didn’t incriminate him in the slightest. The private troops were a regret, but he could plainly see the situation — considering that good-for-nothing Liao Zhendong had made up a mob — and didn’t mind it, merely minimizing the losses as much as he could. As for that Li Yannian, he was an acquaintance, too. Once a few years had passed and talk had loosened up a bit, the Guangs would still be his infinite-treasure bowl.

What difference was there between Liao Zhendong and Li Yannian? They had different names and surnames, yet were the same exact dogs.

Jing Qi let out a light sigh of relief, slowly traversing in the freezing wind as he returned to the capital.

Chapter 38: Throw a Peach, Get a Plum Back

Year by year, those atop Fullmoon River were annually different, but the sights were always similar. The spring wind passed the ten-li-long shore once, separating people by nine steps and three turns of the head.

All the vermilion was observed turning to teal.

The year’s song on the River was missed, along with the night of the Lantern Festival. Once Jing Qi caught sight of the distant gates of the capital, some sort of continuously stifling yearning faintly arose in his heart.

Yearning for the remote and carefree Prince Estate, the nagging Ping An, and even the neighboring little monster, Wu Xi.

He couldn’t resist laughing. “In your opinion,” he said to Ji Xiang, who was attending at the side, “will that conscienceless sable at the Estate still recognize me?”

Ji Xiang quickly smiled ingratiatingly. “You’ve spoken baseless words, Master. That little thing has been kept beside you the whole time and would never let anyone else close. How could it not recognize you?”

As if he had remembered something, Jing Qi smiled as well. “Yes, animals are much more conscientious than humans… hey, do you know why that is?” It was idle chatter, but it took Ji Xiang a bit aback, and he didn’t understand what the Junior Prince meant — why had he dragged the topic here? Was it homesickness? Thus, he shook his head.

“Humans have too many things they worry about, such as parents, siblings, friends, family, wives, children, elders, and juniors, along with daily socializing that can’t be skipped, and there’s constantly untold amounts of temptations that they might get ensnared in,” Jing Qi explained, with some apparent feeling. “Animals are different, though; their daily worries are no more than living, eating, and drinking. Raise them, and you’ll be the only one they will normally look at and recognize. You have this great big mortal world outside, yet they remember your kindness alone…” Talking up to there, he stopped.

Ji Xiang was at a loss and didn’t get it, so he was obliged to smile deferentially, nod, and say “right.”

“Prince, why is what you’ve said so… so painful to hear?” Liang Jiuxiao suddenly asked, however. He inhaled through his nose, thought for a long spell, then had to say, “Prince, you’re coming home from an assignment, and I’m able to meet my sect-brother I haven’t seen in a while. Those are both happy events, so let’s not say things like that, okay? They make one feel sour in the heart listening to them.”

Jing Qi cast a glance at him. “I was just weighing the matter offhand. What’s painful about it?” he asked mildly.

Liang Jiuxiao’s entire face wrinkled up, and he shook his head. “No, it sounds painful, like a breath’s caught up in my chest. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, as if… if… as if I’ve gotten disappointed with something so many times, I refuse to think about it anymore.”

The corner of Jing Qi’s mouth curved. He said nothing.

He believed that, sometimes, the Heavens were extraordinarily impartial; what one’s aptitude was would also be their shortcoming. The greater part of intelligent people, for instance, thought more, but their lives wouldn’t necessarily pass by easier than fools’. Shrewd, deep-thinking people that were constantly mulling over the minds of others, for another instance, always had an intrinsic perspective when viewing people, but were often inferior to honest-natured folk, ill-versed in the ways of the world, that had near-mystical intuition.

Wu Xi had that type of intuition, as did Liang Jiuxiao.

Jing Qi was convinced that, in actuality, everybody had it when they were newborns, but as more and more time passed… even their own hearts wouldn’t believe in it.

Suddenly, the carriage stopped, startling him. Ji Xiang promptly poked his head out to ask after it. The front side said something in answer, and he hopped off, coming back a short moment later with joy seemingly across his features. “Guess who’s here, Master.”

“Hm?” The rays of light were somewhat dim, and he wasn’t taking note of Ji Xiang’s expression, so his brows nevertheless furrowed once he heard that, tumult immediately roiling in his mind. He was lightly decorated and simply accompanied, walking ahead of Cui Yingshu for the sake of sneakily returning to the capital; no one had been informed of that so he could go directly into the palace, come before the Emperor, and explain the incident’s settlement, preventing there from being a time where Helian Qi would kick up a fuss out of nothing. Yet, his footprints had been discovered here…

Who was it that was so magically talented? Where had the stake been hammered in? Near him? Not possible — they might be near Zhou Zishu…

And what was the meaning of obstructing him here?

Silent for a time, he then reached his hand out, his surface yet undisturbed with no emotion to be seen. “Help me down. I’ll take a look at what kind of friend has such magical abilities.”

As soon as he disembarked, however, he was stunned.

On an ancient road in the capital’s outskirts, there was a wine pavilion-turned-‘rest pavilion’. Three willows were at its doors, pedestrians passing them by, and the snapping off of a branch would transmit yearning for a thousand li out. Were one to walk any further out, they would go beyond the city gates.

Currently, in the open area at the pavilion’s entrance, a single person was seated.

The teen had grown fast. Having not seen him for the greater half of a year, he almost couldn’t recognize him. His height had risen by a good amount, rather like a crane amongst a crowd of chickens. There was no veil on his face, and the forever slightly-boyish curvature from his memory had nevertheless seemingly been polished by time; he had grown up overnight by virtue of a gust of wind. The eyes he gazed at him with were extraordinarily bright, even bringing a smile with them.

Jing Qi had never seen such a gentle smile on the young man’s face before, and for a moment, he felt somewhat unfamiliar.

Of course, he wasn’t the only one who had never witnessed a smile like that on Wu Xi. Even the accompanying Ashinlae and Nuahar couldn’t help but be horrified. Following the day their Shamanet had spoken those words that scared the world and made spirits cry, the two’s minds had continuously been in chaos.

Forget about Ashinlae — not even Nuahar could understand why the Shamanet was fond of a man.

What was so great about this guy? Not nice-smelling, not soft, and solid-bodied; he couldn’t speak in a delicate voice, nor would he wash clothes, cook food, bear children, or manage the household. Nuahar peered at Ashinlae, silently imagining the same man being labelled a wife and taken back home… he immediately got goosebumps all over and narrowly vomited up food he had eaten last night.

He increasingly felt that the Shamanet was hexed.

Every day, he would be overcome with boredom as he escorted Wu Xi to sit in this lousy little wine pavilion for a while, and he wasn’t sure what the other was doing, either, since he didn’t eat anything. He did the same stuff each time where he would ask for a pot of wine, then pay and leave once he finished it, taking a longing look at the towering city walls on his departure — that was it.

But the instant Prince Jing got off the carriage, both Wu Xi’s eyes and smile suddenly shone, like a thunderclap that struck Nuahar’s heart. He understood at a glance that this wasn’t the Shamanet being hexed; it was heartfelt.

Back in the day, when his own older brother would pick a daily small basket of Nanjiang’s most beautiful silkgrass from highly dangerous areas — braving the peril of losing his life at any time — and then bring it home to his wife, he frequently would have an unconscious expression like this on his face.

Upon seeing that someone, it was a look akin to a plant on the verge of withering getting a second of sweet nectar, its entire form coming alive.

For that reason, Nuahar’s mood was complicated as he followed after Wu Xi to go meet him. He secretly took a measure of the familiar man. Jing Qi’s looks were indeed good, and not a woman’s type of good — he was tall-statured, his apparel sharp as a jade tree facing the wind, and his entire person held an indescribable refinement and sophistication. While within this impeccable dressing, his speech and conduct nonetheless involuntarily held a brand of unrestrainedness that minded nothing, and could relinquish anything; a bit overly perceptive, but, as a friend, able to be bonded with out of admiration.

This was a fine person, but… he was a man! Nuahar automatically cast a stealthy look at Ashinlae. Contemplating how the one the Shamanet liked was a big ol’ manfolk like him, Nuahar was all the more in a snag.

Naturally, Jing Qi was unaware that at this very moment, someone else was in the process of mentally establishing a description-defying connection between him and the big-and-rough Ashinlae. All he was thinking about was that his recent vigilance had been a bit ridiculous.

He was accustomed to meticulous caution, even being slightly skittish.

For some reason, he relaxed as soon as he saw Wu Xi. Despite knowing on the inside that the little brat had a poisonous heart, poisonous hands, and poisonous everything else, he still had a sincere sense of security. In any case, on the whole, he didn’t need to have his mind calculating before him; he could relax some, smile when he was in a good mood, and not force a joyful appearance when he wasn’t, as if he was going by his nature, too.

“I didn’t expect that the first person I’d bump into at the capital would be you,” Jing Qi said with a grin.

Wu Xi abruptly reached out and hugged him. Stupefied, Jing Qi adjusted only after a short moment had passed, and clapped the other forcefully on the back. “You ran off into a farm and pilfered some peasant family’s compost to eat, eh? I haven’t seen you for a few days, and it seems you’ve gone mad.”

Wu Xi detected the man’s bones pressing painfully into his arms, as if he had gotten thinner compared to before he had left, and his heart ached dully, having a feeling of sadness and joy weaving together. He had never known previously that there could be so very many subtle feelings in a person’s heart, and half a year’s worth of pining tilted out, the flood turning into a disaster.

In the end, all he sullenly said was, “I missed you.”

Jing Qi’s heart warmed — Helian Pei was awaiting the list of equity he had taken inventory of, Helian Yi was awaiting the collection of corrupt officials he had caught, Helian Zhao was awaiting news that he himself had been washed clean, Zhou Zishu was awaiting his sect-brother… not one would have come to this rest pavilion on an old road, where noise and dust were liable to scatter about, to hug him tight and say I missed you.

Nothing else. Just missing you, just you alone.

“So you do still have something of a conscience.” He couldn’t resist laughing.

A long time later, Wu Xi let him go, watching him unblinkingly with dark black eyes. “Why are you here?” Jing Qi asked.

“I have nothing else to do regardless. I heard you would come back down this road, so I’ve been coming to watch every day.”

Jing Qi’s eyes widened. “Every day?” he blurted out. “I left for over half a year. You, every single day…”

Wu Xi nodded like it was by rights. “I sit here for a while, then go back. I didn’t expect you would be gone for so long.”

How was this kid so affection-invoking…? Abruptly feeling pretty gratified, Jing Qi thus beckoned for Ji Xiang to bring a small box over, then took it and passed it to Wu Xi. “I bought little trinkets for you.”

Wu Xi accepted it mutely, an odd look suddenly emerging on his face that resembled extreme happiness, which was then forcibly repressed. “For me?” he whispered.

Jing Qi nodded. “Folk specialties of the Guangs. They’re not worth anything, but I was thinking that you might not have seen them before, so you can take them back home and do with them what you will.”

“Then… they’re for me alone?” Wu Xi asked again.

Those who have grown to independence are indeed grown, Jing Qi thought to himself. Something one would regard as important had to be carefully planned for (and baubles for cajoling small children were naturally unfit to be seen in public), so he nodded. “Who else would I get them for?”

Fully satisfied, Wu Xi carefully opened the satin-wrapped box. Inside was an intricate ivory case, its surface decorated with the designs of fauna that were all nothing short of exquisite. Since time immemorial, the signature of tusk and horn had been juxtaposed with the jade of the Kunlun mountains, the pearl of the bright moon, the pendant of the night’s brilliance, and other such things, the shine and affluence to it not needing to be said. The case was opened, and inside that were twelve small figurines of the Zodiac animals, all carved in ivory, and each painstakingly crafted with palpable innocuity.

Wu Xi cautiously accepted it, placed it exceptionally preciously on his chest, then gave a smile that didn’t have the slightest affectation. “I really like it.” Saying that, he took a dark-green, jadeite ring that he was wearing off his finger. “You gave me a gift. I will give you one also.”

Nuahar and Ashinlae’s eyeballs nearly bulged out — Shamanet, that’s been passed down through generations of Great Shamans! The Great Shaman had given it to him prior to his exodus, instructing him to keep it safe, and if he didn’t bring it with him in the future, then it definitely had to have been gifted to his wife… that’s… but then…

Ashinlae opened his mouth, wanting to speak, and Nuahar stomped on his foot hard. He choked it back down with an ashen face.

Jing Qi waved him off and smiled. “You’re no fun, huh? They’re but some curios. Gifts are just gifts; mess around with them when you want to, toss them to the side if you don’t.”

“What you give me, I will absolutely never toss to the side — this is different, too. You must accept it,” Wu Xi replied earnestly.

Jing Qi blinked. Taking the jadeite ring, he observed it in the light. He knew it was a good item, but, as Prince Nan’ning, he had hitherto seen genuinely too many good things, so he didn’t care much about this piece of jade, either. “What’s different about it?” he questioned, teasing.

Wu Xi went quiet for a bit. “I can’t tell you right now. Anyways, it’s different.”

Delighted at the prospect of mystery, Jing Qi went to speak, but he noticed Wu Xi looking at him with utter seriousness. “You must accept this,” he insisted.

There was no need to wrangle with him over this trifle. Mood good, Jing Qi readily went along with him. “Very well. It would be rude to decline.”

He compared it to his hand. It wouldn’t go on his thumb, but it was a bit bigger than the rest of his fingers. The attentive Ji Xiang swiftly got a section of string from wherever and strung it for him to hang around his neck.

Wu Xi smiled silently.

Prince, you have received a token of this one’s love…

Chapter 39: Overflowing with Hesitation

Wu Xi was not an especially chatty person. Most of the time, someone else would be doing the talking, and he the listening. Regardless of whether he was absorbing what he heard or not, the majority of his responses were brief questions, or nods and shakes of the head. After getting to know him for a long time, though, Jing Qi found out that his expressions from when he was actually listening versus casually skimping were unalike.

During others’ nonsense talk, Wu Xi’s eyes would generally be looking downwards, half-hooded and motionless, making it hard for him to time his nods with precision. When he was seriously listening, though, his eyes were fixed directly onto the other party, as if he never wanted to blink.

Every time he was looked at with eyes like that, he couldn’t resist talking a bit more.

When one constantly faced some complicated people and complicated emotions, then witnessed simple, unadulterated things, they were particularly prone to soft-heartedness. That was why Jing Qi always had unusual patience towards young children and small animals. What a shame that, despite reincarnating so many times, he had never had his own heirs.

At times, he would abruptly want a son just like Wu Xi, who would open his big, black eyes to soundlessly urge him to keep going whenever he was talking. During any situation, his mind couldn’t get sidetracked, he would clearly identify matters of right and wrong for himself, and he would never wantonly waver — ‘I’ll allow your wind to blast and rain to beat, but I’ll be a motionless peak.’[1]

Having none of those, Jing Qi believed that the type of person Wu Xi was ought to be the luckiest; as he lived, even if he would sometimes get tired, he would not ever be exhausted.

Because he was forever persevering with a few things that were very clear-cut, he would not be at a loss, nor regretful, nor overcautious to the point that he would hesitate and not put his foot forward.

In spite of the admiration, something that was innate nature couldn’t eventually be learned.

Jing Qi collected amusing events of the whole journey as he chatted with him, with Ji Xiang, Ashinlae, Nuahar, Liang Jiuxiao, and the rest of them following behind. “Who is that?” Liang Jiuxiao asked Ji Xiang quietly. “He doesn’t look like someone of our Great Qing.”

“That’s the Nanjiang Shamanet, who lives next to our Estate and visits often.”

Liang Jiuxiao’s eyes shone, and he couldn’t help but feel a bit eager. “He’s the Shamanet? Isn’t he the one that you said had awesome martial arts?”

“Young Master Zhou has praised them before, too,” Ji Xiang replied with a smile. “His other skills are good as well. As it goes, those bottles of precious stuff that the Prince had on hand were also made up by him.”

Hearing of his eldest sect-brother Zhou Zishu, Liang Jiuxiao promptly seemed to get injected with chicken blood, and he itched to rush up and compare notes with Wu Xi. Then, he heard the latter half and couldn’t keep from being astonished. “Oh, that drug that put me down when a little bit got on me?”

The two were trailing them not-closely and in hushed voices, but Wu Xi had extraordinary hearing. He hadn’t been paying attention at first, but once he caught this, he couldn’t resist turning his head with a slight crease of the brows. “Who is that one?”

“Zhou Zishu’s younger sect-brother. He helped me out a lot with this… oh, right. Ji Xiang, when I go into the palace later, you don’t need to follow. Bring Young Master Liang back, have people entertain him properly, then send someone to invite Young Master Zhou to talk with him.”

Ji Xiang nodded and affirmed.

Wu Xi was yet unsure. “Was there any place unclear in the usage of them that I wrote for you, for you to harm him by mistake?”

Jing Qi shook his head and bust out laughing. Liang Jiuxiao’s face went thoroughly red, but he was a straightforward person; before Jing Qi could speak, he stammeringly explained the matter, sneaking a peek at Jing Qi as he talked. Seeing that the other was only taking it as a joke without the slightest trace of moodiness, he therefore said out loud, “Regardless, the Prince is a great benefactor to the people of the Guangs, as well as me. I had transgressed you, yet you didn’t get mad, as you are a truly good man. If there is an errand I can be sent on later, then I, Liang Jiuxiao, will not decline it, even if my head falls to the ground and my blood shoots to the sky!”

Both Nuahar and Ashinlae’s mouths were wide open. They looked at this big-talking brother, then at Wu Xi, having a bit of reverence in their hearts. He dared to admit that he tried to… tried to assassinate the Shamanet’s future wife, to his face. Truly, phenomenally courageous.

“You? You not causing trouble for me is fine by itself. You’re lacking in successes and have an abundance of failures, so how could I dare to trouble you, O Great One?” Jing Qi cheerfully scolded.

Wu Xi narrowed his eyes at Liang Jiuxiao expressionlessly, though. If the look in his eyes that he just had while listening to Jing Qi could be described as being akin to a gluttoned little sable, this one would instead be of a hissing viper’s. Liang Jiuxiao suddenly felt a bit cold, thinking that Nanjiang was a place where barbarians stayed, indeed. Even this guy was so eerie, one look of his made him feel discomfited all over for a very long time.

Wu Xi latched onto Jing Qi. “Did he harm you?”

Before Jing Qi could speak (again), Liang Jiuxiao cried out automatically. “How could I? Had I harmed the Prince, wouldn’t I had to have made up for it with my death?”

Upon peeking at Wu Xi’s face, Jing Qi knew that he was a bit angry. Afraid that he would split hairs over Liang Jiuxiao being some kind of villain, he consequently gave a laugh. “It was a misunderstanding, just a bout. I got to experience Hero Liang’s practiced face-changing arts, so it was worth it.”

That was the truth. Zhou Zishu was even more practiced at it, able to switch out his face like a carousel lantern, but he generally seldom turned himself female. On the occasions he did, they were only in the category of haggard village women, and not like this guy, who displayed originality by turning himself into a major beauty. As was known, although face-changing sounded divine when spoken of, it ultimately wasn’t without flaws, and for that reason, experts usually avoided making themselves up too extravagantly so they wouldn’t look unnatural.

“If it weren’t for that beauty being too tall and robust, I likely wouldn’t have been able to tell anything was amiss,” Jing Qi teased.

Things would’ve been fine if he hadn’t said that. Wu Xi wasn’t an unreasonable person, since the misunderstanding was unmasked and the other wasn’t truly injured, but once he heard those words, he swiftly felt that looking at this stupidly-smiling guy was displeasing to the eye. He had disguised himself as a woman, then went by himself late at night to… to that man’s bedroom.

Good. Very good.

Hence, that very night, Liang Jiuxiao almost puked and trotted himself half to death. The following day, he got a whole body rash, and the fact that it wouldn’t be going down for a few months would temporarily go unmentioned.

Even Zhou Zishu, an old jianghu hat, couldn’t tell what had befallen his sect-brother, and merely took it as him being unadapted.

Anyways, Jing Qi returned to the Estate on the same path as Wu Xi, hastily changed his clothes, then went to the palace.

Junior Eunuch Wang Wu welcomed him, a heap of smiles on his face. “The Emperor invites you inside, Prince.”

Jing Qi walked to him, beaming, then passingly fished out a hefty pouch from his sleeve and handed it over. “Thanks for your trouble, Eunuch Wang. We haven’t met for over half a year. The Emperor is in good health and Eunuch Xi Ning is getting older, so you’ve had a lot of work, eh?”

Wang Wu hurriedly denied this with deference. “Waiting upon the Emperor is a boon that this slave has cultivated over several lifetimes. How could I claim it to be work? The Emperor has just awoken from an afternoon doze, so his energy is currently rather high. He was just reminiscing about you, Prince, and then you return; isn’t that a coincidence?”

Jing Qi exchanged pleasantries with him. As he followed him towards the inside, he heard him speak into his ear in a extremely quiet voice. “The home remedy that you asked the Shamanet for last time was truly effective, Prince. This slave’s old mother took two doses, and her legs have gotten a bit stronger… I thank you for your great kindness and virtue, Prince…”

He swallowed down the latter part. The palace was an important place with ears all around, and some words could be understood implicitly.

Despite Wang Wu’s body being incomplete, he was a most-rare filial son. His mother’s legs were bad, and she took a fall last spring that left them completely paralyzed while Wang Wu had still been on duty in the palace, enduring being right under the Emperor’s nose. Unable to manage both sides, he got overly anxious, and poured out scalding tea due to negligence, thus getting berated by Helian Pei. Jing Qi just-so-happened to be on scene, so he asked after it in private, then sought out Wu Xi to seek a remedy for him, which actually worked.

Jing Qi smiled. “It was no more effort than the lift of a hand,” he said lightly.

Slight effort exchanged for someone’s lifetime of deep gratitude — what wasn’t to love? The wind and waves of the world were easy to dodge, but there were too many hidden ravines to capsize ships. What made things easier for someone else also made it easier for oneself.

Wang Wu sighed. “The Emperor has been excited these days. The Second Highness has acquired many strange creatures from somewhere, and this slave has never seen them before. This act of filial piety has coaxed the Emperor into quite some joy.”

Jing Qi’s peach blossom eyes narrowed slightly, but he didn’t stop in his tracks, merely nodding — Wang Wu was pointedly warning him… that Helian Qi was moving about a lot at the Emperor’s side recently. Evidently, he had dropped a lot of medicine in his eyes, too.

Helian Pei was very affectionate when he saw him, calling him to his side, then saying he was tall, then saying he was thin, continually moaning and groaning about stuff once through. Conversely, he only carelessly listened to his explanation of the Guang event before towing him into some gossip, sighing ruefully during. “Had we known you would be gone for most of a year like this, we wouldn’t have made you go to that place of simultaneous gusts and snowfall. Child, we know without being told that those things were all done by Cui Yingshu and his band of rough-skinned folk. You rushed in to get up close to whatever excitement there was?”

Jing Qi touched his nose and merely smiled.

“You are one of innate wealth. In light of what we’ve said, we don’t request that you do any sort of wondrous feat. Just like with Mingzhe, being safe and sound your whole life is good. There’s only one thing — you mustn’t follow his nature of not being able to let things go,” Helian Pei educated him.

His heart jolted. Carefully, he raised his head to look at the man, only to see a gentle smile on his face without any particular expression. He then knew that Helian Qi must have done a lot of talking in circles to stab him with hidden knives in this segment of time. Mind in a flurry, he put a wronged look on his face, lifted up his sleeve, and came close before Helian Pei in that friendly sort of way, resembling what he had done as a child. “Speaking of that, take a look, Your Majesty.”

Helian Pei looked and saw a scab on his fair arm, dark and outstandingly large. “Oh, how did that happen?”

“It’s a burn.”

“Which slave has forfeited their life to have dared burn your arm so?” Helian Pei asked worriedly. “Have you sought out an imperial physician yet?”

Jing Qi waved his hand and put his sleeve down. “I got a local doctor to take a look at it. It’s fine; he said that it wouldn’t leave a scar, and it’s even close to healed. This subject hadn’t wanted to add to your burden, but when you said such a thing just now, I couldn’t hold back this bit of grievance that I’ve had in my heart the whole journey — this burn was from me myself. Everyone said that the Guangs were a warm place, but, unexpectedly, it became cold once a heavy snowfall came down. This subject unwisely held a portable heater all through the day, and the instant I wasn’t being careful, I burned myself.”

“Oi, look at you!” The man reached out and poked him on the forehead. “How old are you? You weren’t going to tell? Ah, you kids. We watched you all grow up, and the one day you’re not in our sight, you have to add a drop of variety.”

“Right?” Jing Qi replied, aggrieved. “This subject regretted at the time that I wasn’t staying at a good place in the capital, having instead run off to such a distant region. I was just thinking at the time that everyone had already gone out there, and if my business wasn’t settled, I wouldn’t have any face at all to meet my fellow countrymen with, so I forced myself to do it.”

“You still have no face to meet them? Which opera are you singing?” Helian Pei asked him in jest.

Jing Qi’s mouth curled. “Over there, one moment I’d be thinking that I needed to argue on behalf of Royal Uncle and Father Prince, and then another moment I’d be thinking that, later on, I would never listen to someone else conning, meddling, and making trouble again. It sounded easy, but the doing was really awful. Next time, I’ll get beaten to death and still not go.”

Helian Pei was taken aback, as though he was only just now remembering that Jing Qi’s departure to the Guangs was by Helian Qi’s urging. All of a sudden, he had nothing to say.

Jing Qi yet appeared to be ignorant of this, continuing to recount some interesting news from the Guangs, after which he took his leave.

Quietly, he let out a sigh of relief. The mark on his arm was from before leaving on the trip; he suddenly had a thought, so, in order to protect against the unexpected, he had Liang Jiuxiao personally use face-change stuff to make something for him where the fake could be passed off as the real, and others wouldn’t be able to easily tell so.

Against expectations, his worry had come true.

Sure enough, keeping one’s monarch company was akin to keeping a tiger company. In the heavenly family, there was no such thing as father and son, to say nothing of an unverified foster son…

He abruptly recalled that, in his previous life, Helian Pei seemingly didn’t have gripes with him. Back then, his mind was entirely devoted to Helian Yi, as if every other thing up in heaven and down on earth aside from him was no more than a thought. Perhaps it was exactly because of that that Helian Pei was unusually at ease.

In this lifetime… everything was instead too precise, and it narrowly became a pitfall.

Note:
[1] These are lines from two different poems by Mao Zedong. He’s a controversial figure, especially in China, but I certainly don’t have any good things to say about him, so let’s leave it at that. The poems are Swimming and Mount Jinggang.

Chapter 40: Spring Arrives in the Imperial City

Spring in the imperial city exhaled soundlessly, the bitter cold still present, yet faintly collapsing. The spring’s chill would abruptly turn to warm, then back to cold again, like both were scouting out with advances and retreats.

Jing Qi emerged from the throne room, face gone apathetic, and rode the palanquin straight back to the Estate.

He calculated inwardly that he had indeed been a bit over-the-top the time before. Having kept silent for all these years, the majority of those in Court only took him as a wealthy idler. However, starting from when Jiang Zheng incited unrest, his movements hadn’t been small whether they were open or hidden, and with the Guang incident now, those interested saw through him all the more.

The words of ‘once he wanted to sing, his first song amazed the world’ were said of the King of Chu; if they fell upon his own head, it would be enormously far from encouraging.

Whitewater had to withdraw, one day. Jing Qi dismissed the servants and sat alone in his study for a moment, unconsciously fiddling with the jadeite ring hanging on his neck that Wu Xi had given him. He pondered how, from what Helian Pei had said, it had probably come time for him to need to draw back. This realm was the Helian family’s, in the end. Some things were fine for adding fuel to the fire, but climbing onstage with them to put on a show wasn’t necessary.

“Where is Ping An? Ping An!” he suddenly called out.

A response came from outside, and Ping An pushed open the door and came in. “Master.”

Jing Qi ruminated for a bit. “When the Crown Prince got married, I wasn’t in the capital, and didn’t attend. I’ve oft been close with him, and he hasn’t taken any less care of us these years, so that ultimately doesn’t feel very fitting, when I think about it.”

Ping An was startled, understanding his hidden connotation immediately, after which his face crumbled. “Master, even if you weren’t in the capital, there’s no logic in saying that we servants didn’t carry through for that big event. The gifts for His Highness’s wedding had been delivered long ago, and when they were being prepared, I asked you to look over them, too… what’s more, you can go to the East Palace in person to apologize for your fault with sincerity.”

Peering at him, Jing Qi only felt amusement, and he deliberately teased him. “Go in person? If both my hands are empty, wouldn’t others still say that this Prince is insincere?”

“How could you be insincere?” Ping An quickly replied. “What objects could be comparable to you having the mind to make a personal visit, Master?”

“I still have the self-awareness to know that I’m not that valuable,” Jing Qi followed.

Turning his head to see Ping An’s twisted-up, big-pancake face, he thus got twisted up on the inside as well, and reached out to poke him hard between the brows. “Is our Estate going to run out of money? It’s just a supplementary gift for the Crown Prince, and no one will find the extra courtesy strange. That look of yours is like you’re going to have to go pawn the planks off of coffins. Talk less nonsense and go do whatever it is you should be doing,” he scolded.

There weren’t many people in the Estate. Jing Qi had been born into a noble household, so its daily expenses didn’t need to be announced, but it wasn’t to the extent that it was lavish, and most of it went according to the norm. Despite loving to mess around and be able to live it up some, those were non-excessive occasions set for a fixed amount of time. The majority of the Estate’s expenditure went entirely to socializing and bribes.

Ping An was internally distressed. The one not making the money was the one that didn’t know how to spend it wisely, but there was nothing he could do, either, so he mumbled to himself as he left.

Not staying there for the night, Jing Qi walked to the East Palace himself.

Normally, those who had just gotten married ought to have their countenances glowing with light. For some reason, though, His Highness the Crown Prince was haggard, looking to be more exhausted than him, the one that had barely returned to the capital and been running about all over the place before he even had time to drink a sip of water. Only when he saw him arrive did he have the slightest bit of radiance to his face, and he pulled him over to take a close measure of him, sighing quietly a long while later. “You’ve gotten thinner.”

Not waiting for Jing Qi to say anything, he spoke to those attending. “Go see if that medical meal is done stewing, and have someone serve a bowl for the Prince.”

Jing Qi waved his hand repeatedly. “Don’t do that, don’t. I can’t stand that taste.”

Helian Yi completely ignored his protest, paying it no attention as he questioned him in a pileup of noises. “Did your work go smoothly? I heard that heavy snow fell from the sky there this year, did you freeze?” The look in his eyes was pressing, and he forgot to let go of the hand holding Jing Qi’s wrist, either because he was unaware that he forgot, or he was emotional.

With a light cough, Jing Qi drew a half-step back to the side and pulled his hand out, feigning insouciance. “What’s this all about? Liao Zhendong treated me with good food and drink. Fearing that I would freeze, he specially erected a few li long canopy in wait for me. My life had been much more comfortable than it had been at the capital.”

For but a short moment, he suddenly sensed that there appeared to be something hidden in Helian Yi’s expression, but he refused to investigate it.

Once one was bit by a snake, they would fear well ropes for ten years. Sometimes, the pain would be difficult to deal with, and the fear, close at hand; upon putting a moment of more thought into things, he felt scared out his wits, and couldn’t wait to get eight zhang away from him.

It was said that, in a foreign land, there was a species of animal known as elephants — huge, long-nosed, and possessing the strength of thirty-thousand catties. If one was chained to a wooden stake when young and grew up bound to it, then, many years later, when it had the ability to wrap around a tree and uproot it, it still wouldn’t be able to struggle free of that tiny little stake.

Jing Qi understood well that instinct could not be resisted, because Helian Yi was, at times, his stake.

Helian Yi’s complexion imperceptibly dulled some, following which he let go of him in coordination, sat down, and sipped his tea like nothing had happened. “I heard that you had only just come back today and debriefed Father Emperor. How come you’re not resting at this moment, but have run off to my place?”

“I have a gift for you, Your Highness,” Jing Qi said with a smile. “I was afraid that you wouldn’t be able to get it if it was any later.”

Helian Yi glimpsed the trunk Jing Qi had someone carry in, and he promptly understood what the ‘gift’ was. Lowering his lashes, he smiled without rushing to speak, then waved his hand to have everyone in the surroundings withdraw before he answered. “Could it be that you’ve gotten inside information on Helian Zhao?”

Jing Qi picked out important words as he explained the entire series of events in his visit to the Guangs, after which he opened the box, displaying a layer of calligraphic works, paintings, brushes, inkstones, and other such stuff; since he had a good eye, everything being gifted to the East Palace was quality goods. In ordinary times, Helian Yi would be fond of fiddling with these baubles, but he didn’t have any inclination to do so at this time. He watched as the other irreverently arranged those masterfully-crafted, strenuously-obtained works of art on the floor like he was setting up shop, noticing thereafter that the trunk was packed full of string-bound ledgers.

Helian Yi stood to reach out and grab a volume, casually flipping it open. The more he read, the more shocked he was, and he quickly picked up another volume in sequence. The eyes of the Crown Prince, who had previously never shown happiness nor anger in his looks, widened into two circles. “Where… where did you get these from?” he asked in a hushed voice.

“Inside here are records of all sorts of illegal dealings that happened between Liao Zhendong and Guang merchants over the years, with copious ledgers of him having sold official’s positions and titles of nobility therein,” Jing Qi responded, grinning. “It was Li Yannian who had written down each and every word of them, as he had been following Liao Zhendong these years. As for the rest… they’re Liao Zhendong’s contacts with other people in Court. Those are from when their steward couldn’t withstand being under torture any longer, and quietly pointed out a hidden room for me to search.”

Immediately hearing something amiss, Helian Yi raised his gaze to look at him with a furrowed brow. “You secretly enacted torture while interrogating the convict?”

The Great Qing hadn’t tolerated cruel methods since its beginning, apart from what was properly endorsed by the Ministry of Justice. Even the Emperor’s Imperial Envoy could only go as far as taking a case to trial, or giving a couple of beatings with a switch — they weren’t allowed to conduct torture in private.

Jing Qi smiled, voice low. “No one will know.”

…Everyone that knew was dead.

Helian Yi’s face underwent a couple of changes. He stared at Jing Qi for a good long while, then sighed. “Beiyuan, you shouldn’t… do stuff like this.”

Jing Qi raised the corner of his mouth into a smile. “I’m willing to toil like a running dog for you, Your Highness. I only request that you don’t forget my assets in the future,” he stated pointedly.

Helian Yi watched him for a bit with a deep look in his eyes, as if he was slightly disappointed, then waved his hand. “What’s done is done, and that’s the end of it. You… should be careful, anyhow.”

He quickly took the out. “Right. Thank you for your guidance, Crown Prince. I will not disturb your rest any further, then.”

With Helian Yi’s visage sickly, Jing Qi ceased talking, and went to bow and withdraw. When he was about to walk out the door, he heard Helian Yi suddenly speak up from behind him. “You refused to even rest for a night, instead sprinting to me. Did Father Emperor say something to you?”

Jing Qi paused in his steps.

In truth, reporting to the Emperor when he had just returned from handling such a huge, outside case was within the norm, but apart from him, it was ill-advised to get in contact with anyone else straightaway, lest people suspected that hidden agendas were had. For example, even if he was allowed to, Helian Zhao wouldn’t be so bold as to go seek him out and hastily gift him stuff. As it happened, the Crown Prince managed the Ministry of Appointments, so if Helian Zhao went looking for him later, it would be regarded as being within decency.

He had anxiously taken a trip to the East Palace in person; on top of the reason for it, he had also faintly made it clear to others that his loyalty was to the Crown Prince’s party.

It had been an implicitly understood thing, but Helian Yi, for some reason, bluntly pointed it out all of a sudden. Jing Qi was stunned where he stood. “What do you mean, Your Highness?”

Helian Yi didn’t look at him, though, only telling him in a quiet voice of unclear implication: “Don’t worry, okay?”

Don’t worry? Don’t worry about what? Don’t worry about Helian Pei, Helian Zhao, or Helian Yi himself?

Amused in secret, Jing Qi played dumb. “Are you okay, Your Highness? What would this subject have to worry about?” With that, he paid him no more mind, departing the East Palace following another bow.

After he was gone, candle flames flickered. Helian Yi abruptly gained a feeling of physical and mental exhaustion.

Once Helian Zhao realized that Jing Qi had him fooled, he already knew that all the things that weren’t on his table had come into the hands of the Crown Prince. Subsequent to being frightened out of his mind, he understood one thing — now, he was truly on the same boat as the Crown Prince. He inwardly issued his fury by mentally chopping Jing Qi to pieces several hundred times.

He shot geese every year, but this time around, a goose pecked his eyes. Against expectations, Jing Beiyuan was so profoundly scheming, he had played a naive follower while actually taking every single person into consideration in his plans.

That old man in the dragon throne had better stay alive. His death awaited otherwise…

If the rebellion plot came true, then the ledgers Helian Yi had would automatically turn into wastepaper.

On a separate side, Jing Qi was talking to Wu Xi. “In this realm, there’s the possibility of enticing the benefits of the Eldest Helian, yes, but I can’t give what’s not in my hand. Since I couldn’t entice him with profit, coercion was necessary to make him sit on the same stool as me… speaking of, I should thank Helian Qi.”

Wu Xi had resumed his habit of reporting daily to the Prince Estate at a set time, but now, he took it even more seriously. He had intentionally bought an entire set of books — ranging all across ones for instructing children, like the Three Character Classic and the Student and Child Standards, to all of the Four Books and Five Classics — and came there every day to bug Jing Qi about explaining them.

Jing Qi was fond of lecturing, and Wu Xi listened to him earnestly; over time, it genuinely came to look like a student reporting back to his teacher. Jing Qi even joked that Wu Xi should show him filial piety and pay for the private tutoring lessons. Unexpectedly, the very next day, Wu Xi had actually made side-inquiries on the proper tutoring fee for tongue-tilling teachers, and gave him a presentable amount of it. Prince Nan’ning, who had just earned money for the first time ever, wasn’t sure how to react.

Ashinlae, a straight-talker, was internally anxious, thinking to himself: didn’t the Shamanet say he liked him? Why doesn’t it look like he’s making any moves? Bearing the energy of an imperial eunuch being anxious while the Emperor was unruffled, he quietly asked Wu Xi, “Shamanet, with you and the Prince always being like this, when would he agree to go back to Nanjiang with you?”

Wu Xi’s line of sight didn’t stray from the book he held, but he paused upon hearing that. “I haven’t spoken to him yet.”

“Why not?” Ashinlae worried. “Are you afraid that he won’t be willing?”

Wu Xi nodded, then shook his head. “Even if he’d be willing, I don’t have the skill right now. How could I not make him worry again, were some incident to happen? It’d be better to train up on my capability first, so that I’m able to protect him someday.”

Ashinlae thought about it, then tested for something. “Then… what will you do if he doesn’t like you?”

Wu Xi was taken aback for a long time. “I’ll treat him well. He will know so, of course.” He spoke no more, turned, and went back to the study, ignoring Ashinlae, who was pulling his hair in distress.

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