Joy of Life - Chapter 255

[Updated at: 2021-01-12 01:47:53]
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Chapter 255: Fighting for Passage

Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio

As the nobles of the envoy were lost in thought and contemplation, the band arrived at the final courier station of their journey; the one before the capital. Looking at the Honor Guard lined up in attention, Fan Xian sighed and thought to resolve Miss Shen’s situation upon their arrival in the capital. He believed her presence there was entirely unnecessary, and she only remained with the envoy because of her friendship with the Princess and Yan Bingyun’s sympathy.

At this time, officers from the Board of Rites, Honglu Temple, and Taichang Temple were already there, awaiting their arrival. Watching the envoy slowly approach its destination, they dusted themselves off and greeted the princess of the Northern Qi Kingdom with the utmost grace and respect. Fan Xian, with merely a look, signaled the Tiger Guards to shield the princess’ carriage and hide the presence of its additional passenger.

In truth, given Fan Xian’s current authority and stature, he did not have to be so careful.

“I appreciate your perseverance through these most laborious times, Mister Fan!”

“Mister Fan, your trip has reflected upon our kingdom greatly and pleases His Majesty tremendously. Upon your return to the capital, I suspect further deeds of importance await you.”

“You are incorrect, old Hu! Nowadays, Mister Fan…”

Amidst this cacophony of flattery, Fan Xian entered the courier station, passing by a copious amount of officers. The Northern Qi Kingdom’s princess was resting indoors. The pageantry involved with the welcoming of the Head Diplomat was even more grandiose, however. If one did not know of Fan Xian’s identity, one would be perplexed as to why Qing’s counselors would respect such a young, middle-ranked officer so much.

Fan Xian smiled and waved back to the officers around him. He wasn’t visibly annoyed, but he wanted such proceedings to go by quicker. He looked around him and realized that he knew most of those who were celebrating his return. Some were once colleagues of his from Taichang Temple, while some of them were those he became acquainted with from the times Honglu Temple negotiated with the Northern Qi Kingdom. Only the officers from the Board of Rites held some semblance of fear in their greetings with him, and Fan Xian knew exactly why; he was entirely responsible for ruining Guo You’s machinations, after all.

He sat down on a chair and had a sip of tea before asking, “What is to happen next? The palace has yet to receive the decree. When can the envoy proceed to the capital?” He did not wait for the officer to reply. In self-deprecation, Fan Xian said, “I am the head diplomat. I have no idea how this should proceed.”

The Board of Rites’ officers weren’t often given the opportunity to get close to Fan Xian, so who would have passed on this chance? One officer quickly responded: “No worries, Mister Fan; the Honor Guard was established by us, and all the arrangements with the palace have been taken care of.”

A lesser-ranked member of Honglu Temple spoke: “The Emperor is aware that the envoy has been away from home for a considerable amount of time, and you are undoubtedly longing for your return. Thus, he did not issue the decree. Therefore, you are free to enter the capital whenever you may. However, upon returning, make for the palace…”

He was unable to finish his dialogue as an officer clad in a fourth-ranked outfit entered from outside the chamber. The officers were quick to welcome his presence. Fan Xian chuckled as he stood up, approached the officer and placed his arms around him jovially. “Mister Ren, why have you come?”

This man was the vice-minister of Honglu Temple, Ren Shao’an. He was also a bannerman of Fan Xian’s father-in-law. Ren Shao’an, upon seeing Fan Xian had safely returned, felt great relief, and this brought a wry smile to his face. “The Qi Kingdom’s princess is getting married; it’s a huge event. We of Taichang Temple cannot work too hard; there is no need for the Imperial Censorate’s censor to come visit, so I will have to leave.”

Fan Xian laughed, beguiling the uncertainty in his heart. Knowing that the envoy arrived today, he pondered why the vice-minister would appear as late as he did. Fan Xian bid farewell to the officers in the house and pulled Ren Shao’an outside alongside him before asking, “What is going on?”

Ren Shao’an knew the person in front of him was young, but his personality was one that only appeared compassionate on the surface, misleading his tough-as-nails character beneath. Being in the capital for only one year, he was the impetus behind many incidents and concerning events. He had overthrown many officers, and Ren Shao’an was unsure of whether or not he should mention that. But Prime Minister Lin Ruofu was already retired, and the Lin family could only rely on the Fan clan. Upon consideration of both of these situations, Ren Shao’an was hesitant. “Mister Fan, what do you mean?” he asked.

Fan Xian looked straight into his eyes and said, “I am no fool. The envoy is returning to the capital. When we left Shangjing, the regulations that the Northern Qi Kingdom set down was something that our Imperial Court should know of. To have the princess in our envoy be greeted by such low-ranking officers… Where is Xin Qiwu? And the ministers of the Board of Rites? The princess is getting married; at least send some of the old countesses from the palace. You are from Taichang Temple; this is one of the royal matters you are supposed to be in charge of. If I don’t ask you, whom else should I ask?”

Ren Shao’an gave another wry smile and said, “Today, as luck would have it, Xin Qiwu and members of the Board of Rites have gone there. Please don’t lay the blame upon me, Fan Xian. I hurried on my way over here and displeased the people over there by my doing so.”

“Where is this ‘there’ you keep mentioning?” Fan Xian asks with surprise.

Ren Shao’an laughed bitterly, his wry smile still glued to his face. He said, “The Great Prince will be returning to the capital today, as well. He has made camp only a mere three miles from here. That is quite the coincidence, isn’t it? Those from the Board of Rites, Bureau of Military Affairs, and the Ministry of War are stationed there. It should come as no surprise as to why the envoy’s greeting would be a slightly more subdued affair!” Continuing his speech, Ren Shao’an said, “Fan Xian, I know of the friendship that exists between us, and in light of it, I am unafraid to ask; do you truly care so much for the frivolity of such circumstances?”

Fan Xian, finally acknowledging Ren Shao’an’s true plight, laughed. Shaking his head, he said, “Personally, I just want to hurry on back to the capital, but the princess is still a princess. If the Imperial Court does not treat her with the respect she deserves, people may start to gossip. And that can never bode well.”

Fan Xian was at the very least relieved to have his confusion regarding the envoy’s dim reception clarified. After all, the Great Prince was the figure in command of the kingdom’s entire military forces. It should not be surprising why the officers would attend the return of the Great Prince instead of the arrival of the princess of another kingdom; if they were to suck up to someone, they’d do so to someone of greater importance.” Fan Xian gestured with his hand to interrupt Ren Shao’an, and then asked curiously, “The decree that was established at the beginning of this year, the one that referred to the Great Prince’s bid for departure, stated that he was to return at the end of autumn. Why has he returned so soon?”

“According to that which I have heard, Empress Dowager has missed her grandson a tremendous amount and as such, called for his return sooner than expected.” Ren Shao’an gave a profound laugh. “And here they are, returning sooner. I do believe that the army in the west remained in Dingzhou. The prince brought with him 200 of his men.”

Fan Xian, shaking his head once more, said, “Those officers from the Board of Rites, did they spend far too much time with the Guo clan and have their stupidity rub off on them? The envoy is returning to the capital and the Great Prince is returning to the palace; could this not have been prepared for more adequately? Or how about a letter to inform us, at the very least? I’m sure either the envoy or the Great Prince would not mind the prospect of delaying travel for an additional two days, if it meant we would each receive a fairer welcome. Tremendous, this is. We are all stuck here, outside the capital, to await the bickering and sorting out of which party should be allowed to enter first.”

“The Board of Rites and even Honglu Temple sent numerous letters, informing you to slow your envoy’s quick pace. Who would have thought an envoy bearing a princess would not even spend a day’s rest? It was your envoy’s quick pace and eager desire to return that caused this.”

Fan Xian chuckled in amusement, but had no response. It was actually his own idea to quicken the pace of the envoy’s return, but he had no desire to mention this.

“All that can be asked of you is a little patience in waiting for these procedures to be resolved and sorted out. An additional two days should be sufficient; is that okay?” Ren Shao’an, upon saying this, made sure to watch Fan Xian’s eyes. He never did know how long he had been a member of the Overwatch Council, but he hoped that in his time there, the snobbish and arrogant attitude of Chen Pingping had not rubbed off on him. As he thought of this, Ren Shao’an said, “The new Director of the Board of Rites was too embarrassed to come tell you, so he sent me to relay the message.”

“Blast! There is nothing more I desire right now than to return home and hold my wife.” Fan Xian shared a close friendship with Ren Shao’an, and as such, his typical formalities were keen to lax in his presence. “And now I must wait for a further two days? The next time you visit my manor, be wary of my wife, for she’ll kick you in the rear for this.”

A bead of sweat trickled down Ren Shao’an’s forehead, for he knew what Fan Xian’s wife was indeed like. Despite her frail body, with her tendency to fall ill frequently, her background suggested that she was not one to trifle with.

Fan Xian had no desire to cause trouble with the Great Prince, whom he had never met before. He was the Great Prince, after all, and Fan Xian’s stature held no comparison; for this, there was no point in even attempting to compete over who may enter the capital first. Laughing, Fan Xian patted Ren Shao’an’s shoulders and said, “Fret not, for I won’t thrust you into any awkward position.” He continued by saying, “I will go and inform the princess. There’s no use trying to risk the establishment of bad blood between the princess and her soon-to-be husband. And we, the little guys, are the ones who must explain it to her.”

Ren Shao’an froze as Fan Xian approached the room in which the princess was resting. In his heart, he pondered what benefit Fan Xian might claim by telling the princess this. There was nothing entirely wrong with waiting an additional two days, after all. What if the princess was the sort to lose her temper if things didn’t go exactly the way she desired? What if this would start an argument? These were the many thoughts that crossed Ren Shao’an’s mind as he stood there.

Ren Shao’an wasn’t aware of Fan Xian’s incredibly selfish nature. The truth was, Fan Xian did not care at all about the possibility of bad blood between the Great Prince and the Princess. He merely, and quite impatiently, wanted to return home first, and if this was the way in which he could achieve that, then he had no qualm with confiding in the Princess.

It was sweltering, and so Ren Shao’an wiped the sweat from his brow. As he did this, he caught sight of a rank-four officer run into the courier station frantically. His back was drenched in sweat. Although it was just the beginning of autumn, it had been considerably hotter than most years, which made it particularly difficult for this man, who had been running back and forth between the princess in the envoy and the Great Prince, three miles away. This man was the vice-minister Xin Qiwu of Honglu Temple. He too caught sight of Ren Shao’an, and so he bowed before him and said, “Hey, you’re here early!”

Ren Shao’an acknowledged that Xin Qiwu was of the eastern palace, but they weren’t particularly close with each other, unlike how Ren Shao’an was with Fan Xian. In fact, their bond was so close that when the Prime Minister resigned, those who worked in the government offices put those two together as a team. Ren Shao’an laughed and said, “Mister Fan is in there. You can go in, but I will most certainly not. If the princess begins yelling, it’s better that you be the target than I. Besides, why are you so late? I thought you were quite close with Fan Xian. Regardless, you must now be wary, for he may get mad at you for your tardiness.”

With a wry smile, Xin Qiwu replied, “Mister Fan is not that sort of person.” Thinking about the day’s events and revelations, he found it quite humorous how the envoy managed to arrive at the same time the Great Prince did. “I see. Well, let’s not dwell and speak of how the Board of Rites mishandled these proceedings. It’s no wonder why all these officers are confused, pondering whom they should welcome into the capital first. Tell me, who do you think we should greet first, Mister Ren?”

It was a brief while before either of them spoke again, and the silence that quickly encircled them was a little awkward. After some time, they each coughed. They came to the conclusion that the envoy was equally important as the Great Prince, which was of course quite absurd, and they realized this. But was the reason that they thought this because of Fan Xian’s presence? He was, after all, head of the Overwatch Council, and he was transporting a considerable amount of legendary scrolls and scriptures with him in the envoy. Could it be that they regarded Fan Xian with as much importance as the Great Prince himself?

Xin Qiwu shook his head and shelved those ridiculous thoughts. Still, he couldn’t deny that in the hearts of many, Fan Xian was held in extremely high regard; the confusion between whom to welcome was testament to this. Whatever the case may be, Fan Xian had a profound effect on the people of the capital. He was the catalyst to a whole swathe of important events in the space of the single year he had been there. And now, in his envoy, there was a princess from a foreign land, but it was doubtful that she was the reason for so many officers being there. The officers, instead, wanted to be close with the Fan family and the Overwatch Council.

“Mister Fan didn’t see me earlier. Did he mention me at all?” Xin asked with care.

Ren shook his head, which brought relief to Xin’s mind. Now smiling, Xin said, “If we were to be reasonable, the Great Prince would undoubtedly go first. So for now, I must go aid the eastern palace in welcoming him. Mister Fan is little more than a courteous fellow who knows his place.”

“I don’t really know my place.” Fan Xian approached Xin and Ren as they concluded their dialogue, waving as he walked. In jest, Fan Xian said, “Will you share a beverage with me, Xin? I have been away from this country for many months, and upon my return, you weren’t even here to welcome me. I am very angry. Haha!”

Xin Qiwu laughed apprehensively and was on the verge of saying something when he caught sight of Fan Xian smiling. Then, Fan Xian said lightly, “To be reasonable, you are the vice-minister of Honglu Temple, and you are versed in the diplomacy of foreign affairs; there was no need for you to visit and welcome the envoy. And furthermore, why did you have to go welcome the Great Prince? Are you planning to join the Bureau of Military Affairs by heading over there to lick his boots?”

He spoke gently, but there was clear contempt behind his words.

Xin was taken aback and thought it quite intrusive of Fan Xian to make mention of such things.

And there Fan Xian was, facing two young, high-ranking officers. He bowed, stood up straight and then said, “The envoy will be entering the capital today. Can you two set it up? I am unable to locate anybody else from the Board of Rites, so it will have to be up to you.”

If they were taken aback before, now they were aghast. Never did they believe that Fan Xian possessed the guts to supersede the Great Prince in any particular matter. It seemed as if the palace had forgotten all about it, as they had no decree; thus, if the envoy truly wanted to enter the capital first, the rules dictated that such a thing was indeed allowed.

The greatest problem that faced them was the fact it was the Great Prince himself they were opposing.

Ren Shao’an coughed again, to hint to Fan Xian that Xin Qiwu was in the crown prince’s camp. He thought it unfair to back Xin Qiwu into such a corner, making him appear so rude before the Great Prince – but this did not concern Fan Xian. Instead, Fan Xian continued smiling and repeated, “The envoy wants entry into the capital first. You two ensure that this comes to pass, as it is the princess’ idea. The Great Prince can wait!”

Following this, Fan Xian promptly turned around and exited the courier station. Almost immediately, he began rallying those in the envoy to prepare their departure for the capital. And while he did so, the two vice-ministers continued to stand dumbstruck. Though they did not say it out loud, they both shared the same concerns, asking themselves, “Who does he think he is? How dare he try to supplant the Great Prince in any matter!” Xin Qiwu`s face became distorted in an array of shifting facial expressions, until at last he clenched his teeth and said, “I won`t do it. If the palace has no further orders for me, then it is settled. I don’t care.”

Ren Shao’an curiously asked, “If you do not do this, where will you go? If you as vice-minister of Honglu Temple completely disregards matters concerning an envoy bearing the princess of a foreign land, be wary of losing your position!”

Xin laughed and said, “I am not particularly concerned about the Great Prince. This is my job, after all. Even if the Great Prince is made unhappy, I still have a reasonable explanation; for I have been following the envoy. And what about you? You are vice-minister of Taichang Temple. You are in charge of the royal family’s business. That includes the emperor’s son; while the envoy includes the emperor’s soon-to-be daughter-in-law. Which side will you stand for?”

Ren Shao’an, cursed Xin within the pits of his heart but said nothing. At the end of the day, he was a good friend of Fan Xian, so what else could he do? He shook his head and reluctantly made the decision to go inform the Great Prince about his need to wait, and to inform the Board of Rites to prepare a welcoming ceremony for the envoy. How the Great Prince would to react, he had to wait and see. And he wondered just what would occur upon the only official road into the capital.

Fan Xian embarked Yan Bingyun’s carriage, shook his head, and told him, “Stay here and do not reveal yourself to anyone. When we enter the capital, Mister Yan will send someone to retrieve you. Now remember, prior to your debriefing, do not give away a smidgen of information.”

Yan Bingyun raised his drooping head and said, “What the hell are you fighting for? This is the Great Prince you are snubbing – he is the son of the Emperor! What gave you the idea that you could compete with him? You aren’t a stupid person, so why are you committing such a stupid deed?”

“The prince?” Fan Xian decided to sit down beside Yan Bingyun, as all they were doing was waiting for the envoy to recommence its journey, anyway. He laughed and asked, “Does this not happen often? And besides, it’s not me going against him. It is one of the other nobles that has decided to compete with the Great Prince.”

Yan Bingyun was perplexed, and Fan Xian laughed once more. He followed up by saying, “Those two have yet to lay eyes upon each other and they are already quarreling over which one of them will be the boss. This princess was once a gentle woman, but the moment she heard that the Great Prince sought to enter the capital first, she changed completely. She stood near the banks of the eastern river with her mouth agape… This woman. She still did not understand.”

“Eastern river? What river? What are you talking about?” Yan Bingyun denounced Fan Xian by saying, “Your meddling and provoking both of them are plain to see. I do not understand. We have yet to even reach the capital and already you have gone and picked a fight with the Great Prince himself. What the hell are you thinking?”

“Wow, you are starting to grow concerned for the well-being of your boss.” With a soured expression, Fan Xian declared to Yan Bingyun, “I truly did not provoke the princess. Who would have thought the princess harbored such a lust for dominance?” This speech was taken directly from chapter eighty-two of Dream of the Red Chamber. Fan Xian had not yet written it; he was simply speaking aloud. Inside his heart, he had grown somewhat happy, and there was nothing more that he desired right now than to return home and see his wife. And quite simply, this was the catalyst for his deceptive actions on this day.

“The reason I have chosen to displease the Great Prince is quite simple. Not often am I provided with such an opportunity; that opportunity being a way in which I can display how much I genuinely despise the Great Prince.”

“Why do you feel this way?”

“Even though you had been in the north for a long time, I can only surmise that lately you may have heard a lot regarding my exploits from others in the envoy. Fan Xian looked at Yan Bingyun.

Yan Bingyun nodded.

“Do you know what my relationship with the eastern palace is like?”

“It would appear that there has been turmoil and a barrage of disputes in recent times, but believe it or not, the Crown Prince cares for you quite dearly. The same applies for the civil service examinations; the Crown Prince supported you then, as well. And he did so for the diplomatic mission to Northern Qi too. He has been most kind to you.”

“That is good news. So, I must look after the eastern palace in return.” This conversation is in reference to the examinations scandal, but this was not something Fan Xian had ever told Yan Bingyun about. Continuing, he said, “And I am in Crown Prince Jing’s good books, also. Furthermore, he is associated with the second prince; which means my relationship with him can’t be all that bad, either.”

Yan Bingyun was beginning to understand why Fan Xian sought to offend the Great Prince.

“So, in regards to the eastern palace, my relationship with two of the princes is good. In the future, if my relationship with the Great Prince improves…” Fan Xian’s face then changed to suggest more light-hearted self-deprecation and with a smile he said, “If there was a young man in charge of the Overwatch Council and the palace treasury, and he was someone who had become friends with the three princes, one would wonder what this young man truly desired. The women that see him in the palace would consider him an eyesore.”

Outside the capital, on this day, it had been chaos. The only entity with the authority to quell the disorganization was the palace, but they had yet to issue a decree. Sweating in the sweltering heat, the officers who were stood outside the city gate with unease saw the two separate caravans in the distance. In their hearts, they bid ill words to Fan Xian for his actions on this day. Of course, they would not dare to think the same of the Great Prince, for he was the Great Prince.

Many of the soldiers that marched with the Great Prince were battle-weary warriors returning home from the western front. Seeing the envoy, they scoured their thoughts for any possible solution that would enable them passage into the capital first; they were unhappy. Those who were under direct command of the Great Prince, however, were most disciplined. They were unaffected by almost anything and as such they possessed no cruel or bitter thoughts about the large envoy that now passed them by. There was one horseman of the cavalry amongst them, however, that could not bide his tongue. As they passed, he yelled, “Where is that foolish officer? Does he have a death wish!?

The envoy and the Great Prince’s caravan came to a pause right beside each other. The tension was palpable.

Fan Xian disembarked his carriage and hastily dusted himself off. He looked towards a carriage that resembled the sort the Great Prince may be within and hollered, “It is I, Fan Xian. I bid thee greetings.”

“Fan Xian? You are Fan Xian?!” An intimidating voice arose from within the carriage. With great scorn, the voice continued, “I cannot believe you are the husband of Chen’er. How dare you compete and attempt to supplant me! You are not brave. Nay, you are foolish!”

Fan Xian smiled and politely responded, “To compete against you was never my intent. It’s just that…”

Before Fan Xian could finish his response, a quiet, yet confident voice came from the fabulous carriage behind him; it was that of the Princess of the Northern Qi Kingdom. “I am a weak woman, but I have travelled an extreme length of distance. Would you truly force me to wait outside the capital for a few more days?”

The soldiers of the Great Prince looked on in disbelief, only now recalling that the envoy bore the presence of an important noble. It was the woman who was to be their empress.

Fan Xian glanced at the Great Prince’s cavalry. “This is family business,” he thought to himself. “Best stay out of it.”