Joy of Life - Chapter 191[Updated at: 2021-01-12 01:47:29]
Chapter 191: White Birds on the Lake, People on His Mind
Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio
“All for the Kingdom of Qing.”
“All for the Kingdom of Qing?”
Yuan Hongdao sat in the carriage headed for Xinyang, the fiefdom of Eldest Princess. The phrase that he had kept deep in his heart for so many years felt absurd.
Many years before, when the Eldest Princess had first taken a liking to the man who was now Prime Minister, Yuan Hongdao had been a secret officer of the Second Bureau of the Overwatch Council. Chen Pingping had arranged everything for Yuan Hongdao: he was to have a new identity and a new life, and would gradually ingratiate himself with Lin Ruofu, who at the time had yet to reveal his talent.
At the time, they were simply two scholars who happened to cross paths.
Lin Ruofu was high-spirited. Yuan Hongdao was steady and straightforward. After a serious of coincidences arranged by the Council, they finally became close friends. As the years went by, Lin Ruofu rose through the ranks of the bureaucracy supported by the Eldest Princess, and Yuan Hongdao was happy to stay by Lin Ruofu’s side as his confidant. Even on the many occasions that Lin Ruofu hinted or even explicitly stated that he could make Yuan Hongdao a county magistrate, he simply smiled and refused.
And it was for this reason that Lin Ruofu saw him as his truest friend. But the Prime Minister never expected that this friend had an ulterior motive from the very beginning.
Yuan Hongdao gradually got used to his life, because the Council never gave him any other task, and those who knew his identity were always kept at a distance. Over the years, the only thing that Yuan Hongdao had helped the Council do was frame the City of Dongyi, telling a lie on behalf of the Council in the aftermath of Lin Ruofu’s son’s death at a villa in the Cang Mountains.
Because he was the one who said it, Lin Ruofu believed him.
Yuan Hongdao had only betrayed Lin Ruofu once in his life, and it was enough to have him sadly withdraw from the royal court. This was the Emperor’s wish, and through the Overwatch Council, he had been tasked with carrying it out.
Perhaps it was this betrayal by an old friend that forced the Prime Minister to see things as they really were. The next day, there was no way to stop him from entering the palace—not even Fan Jian’s repeated suggestions that he could turn a blind eye. As for the future of the Lin family, the Prime Minister had placed all his hopes on his son-in-law Fan Xian; he did not want to have the father of his son-in-law dragged into this mess.
In mid-March, Guo You, Director of the Board of Rites, died, and Minister of Justice Han Zhiwei was demoted. The Prime Minister humbly begged forgiveness. The Emperor urged him to stay, but to no effect. He claimed his pension and returned to his hometown.
The Imperial Censorate’s investigation into the Wu Bo’an case disappeared; Lady Wu left for parts unknown. His Majesty decreed that He Zongwei was a talented and virtuous scholar. He entered the palace and was bestowed the title of Imperial Censor.
“Why?” Fan Xian sat in his carriage, softly fingering the piece of paper in his hand. It was a report from the Overwatch Council on developments in the royal court. As commissioner, although he was far away in the north, he received the news from the capital only a few days later than those in other places had.
His father-in-law was not a good official in the purest sense. The accusation of corruption was not without basis. But Fan Xian still felt that it was absurd for the Prime Minister of such a magnificent nation to be unexpectedly deposed by a silent power struggle within the nation’s bureaucracy.
Fan Xian had to think about what came next. Although his father-in-law the Prime Minister seemed not to have helped him much in the past year, he knew that the reason the court officials had been so tolerant of everything that had happened during the exam scandal was because they had taken their lead from his father-in-law. Other than the two ministers who had already been deposed, he had never encountered real conflict in the bureaucracy of the Kingdom of Qing.
The person he posed the question to was a formidable talent, bound up in chains and unable to move – Xiao En.
“Why?” Xiao En gave his cold analysis. “Because you made your move. The Emperor of Qing seized the opportunity to weaken the power of the bureaucracy, but how could a mere two ministers be enough to satisfy the appetite of an Emperor? You are the son-in-law of the Prime Minister, and your reputation now precedes you. If the Emperor truly wishes to hand the Overwatch Council over to you one day, then for the sake of safety, the Prime Minister must quickly step down.”
“As for how he steps down…” Xiao En laughed mockingly. “If an Emperor wants an official to resign, he has countless methods. Moreover, your Emperor has always been fond of using the Overwatch Council.”
The reason he had said that the Emperor of Qing was fond of using the Overwatch Council was because the Council’s power was far too great, and yet the Emperor still had complete trust in Chen Pingping. This was unusual.
Fan Xian shook his head. “There is something strange about this. Even if my father-in-law was pained by the death of his son, and wanted to wipe out Wu Bo’an’s entire lineage, there are other ways to do it. As for the ambush on Lady Wu, it is still rather fortuitous that the Second Prince and Li Hongcheng just happened to pass by. Such an idiotic approach is unbecoming of my father-in-law’s power.”
“There is a turncoat by the Prime Minister’s side,” said Xiao En casually. “As for whether it was one of the Eldest Princess’s men, or one of your Emperor’s own men… in truth, there is no difference.”
Fan Xian did not dare to confirm it. “If they can make my father-in-law resign, then there must be solid evidence. My father-in-law is a prudent man. How could he let a spy from a hostile power get so close to such important business?”
He could never have imagined that the person who sold out his father-in-law was Yuan Hongdao. And for the time being, he had no idea that the Overwatch Council was behind it.
Xiao En smiled, seemingly somewhat delighted. “What can a young man such as you know of such things hidden in the dead of night?” He was entitled to say such things. The turmoil that had once enveloped the Qing court was all singlehandely plotted by the old man. If it had not been for the sudden deaths of those two princes, perhaps there would be no Kingdom of Qing today.
Fan Xian’s eyelid twitched. In his days of conversation with Xiao En, he discovered that although he had been imprisoned for many years, and was not completely sure of the distribution of power in the Kingdom of Qing, once Fan Xian had explained things somewhat, Xiao En had clearly discovered where the problem lay. He had even guessed exactly what punishments were to befall those officials involved in the exam scandal.
Xiao En had once said that the Prime Minister would resign for exactly this reason. But this matter had not been foreshadowed in the slightest; the exam scandal had not involved the Prime Minister’s office, and the Eldest Princess – with whom the Prime Minister had such a ruptured, resentful relationship – was far away in her fiefdom in Xinyang, so Fan Xian was not particularly convinced… He hadn’t expected him to be so accurate. Fan Xian couldn’t help but feel astonished by his sinister gaze. Finally, he knew for sure that his reputation was warranted.
Fan Xian sighed as he looked at the old man. “I am becoming more and more curious as to why the Overwatch Council didn’t just kill you the moment they captured you.”
“Because there are many things inside my head that they can use.”
“Then they could at least be a little rougher with you,” said Fan Xian. “Like cutting off your fifth limb.”
“What’s ‘fifth limb’ mean?” Xiao En was curious. “Everything has its limits. If things ever got more than I could bear, then I think I would at least still have the ability to kill myself, and you… wouldn’t want to pay that price.”
Fan Xian wrinkled his brow in thought. The old mad had a point. He bowed to him and left the carriage.
He stood by the side of the carriage, looking at the reeds that fluttered slowly in the wind by the side of the distant lake. He vaguely understood the Emperor’s true desire. The royal court needed fresh blood – flowing water does not rot, they said – and the Prime Minister had already been in his position for too long. His own sudden rise in the capital had made the Prime Minister’s resignation a matter of vital importance.
No bigwig in the imperial palace would allow the Prime Minister, as head of the bureaucracy, to have a son-in-law who commanded the Overwatch Council. If His Majesty truly planned to make use of Fan Xian in the coming years, then he had to get rid of the Prime Minister… Otherwise, he had to beat down Fan Xian. But Fan Xian knew that the distant Emperor could not truly suppress him.
The new constantly replaces the old, like how the rear waves of the Yangtze River drive on those before them. If Fan Xian was a wave at the rear, then the Prime Minister was undoubtedly the spray beating powerlessly against the riverbank in front. He had to depart the stage of history to make space.
This was normal in the bureaucracy; for the new generation to replace the old. He was still confident about the Prime Minister’s departure. He presumed that he had anticipated the end to this story. But Fan Xian thought of Wan’er, staying in the capital, and he thought about the simple-minded Dabao with whom he inexplicably got along well with. His worry formed faint lines on his brow.
“I hope that my father and Chen Pingping can look after the rest of the Lin family.” He frowned and looked at the golden reeds. Why hadn’t they changed to green? His heart was still pounding as he began to think of the role the Overwatch Council had played in all this.
For some reason, Fan Xian felt a hint of anger. He was a Commissioner of the Overwatch Council, and he did not believe for a second that the Council could not know the Emperor’s intentions. He thought of the poison coursing through Si Lili’s body, and he suddenly felt a shiver.
Chen Pingping was simply removing the obstacles in Fan Xian’s way. Even if the obstacle was someone Fan Xian held dear. The methods of removal were particularly indifferent and ruthless, taking absolutely no account of Fan Xian’s own feelings.
That afternoon, after many days of travel, the diplomatic mission finally approached the great lake that bordered the two nations. The great lake had no name, but was simply called the great lake, because it was particularly big. Fan Xian watched the endless blue-green ripples before him and felt the strong breeze from the lake push past him. He felt completely refreshed, and a handsome smile floated across his face.
Although the diplomatic mission convoy had already reached the great lake, they had to go eastwards around it. It would be a number of days before they actually entered the Northern Qi border. Fan Xian knew that if Xiao En was going to act, it would be in the next few days.
In the distance, water birds cautiously circled above the lake, their long beaks sliding into the water, nimbly scooping up fish and flying back to the bank where they trampled the spasming fish with their slender claws. With the fish in their beaks, they faced up toward the sky, swallowing them in one gulp, looking completely at ease.
Fan Xian’s heart suddenly skipped a beat. He made his way toward the carriage that he had not visited for many days, lifted the curtain, and entered. Seeing Si Lili’s somewhat startled and then confused face, he smiled.