Joy of Life - Chapter 268

[Updated at: 2021-01-12 01:47:58]
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Chapter 268: Interlude of Black and White

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

Fan Xian ordered the First Bureau to capture Dai Zhen precisely because of the head eunuch standing behind him.

Seeing that even Eunuch Dai submitted without a hassle, all the officials in the capital were stunned by the First Bureau’s determination and Commissioner Fan’s method. In the dark, the First Bureau began to systematically carry out its work. Going by the usual procedure, they broke in under the darkness of the night and silently took those officials back to the Council.

Such a sudden purge brought a cold wind to the capital. The various officials thought this great scholar was going to shake up the entire capital like he did with the examinations back in spring. But gradually, people discovered that wasn’t the case. The officials involved were all ranked rather low and unimportant. There were no major cases involved either.

The senior members of the Imperial court and the princes’ subordinates did not show any strong reactions. As time passed, they discovered this disturbance did not threaten anything crucial within the political circles, only bringing knocks on random doors. Once again at ease, they guessed that Fan Xian, being new to his position, was merely trying to show off his power.

While nothing became widespread, there were always people who worried that something would, which was why over the past few days, Lady Liu became the busiest person in Fan manor. Contrary to her usual ways, she began to collect money, which was turned over to Fan Xian, who gave the majority of it to the Bureau and the remainder to Yan manor.

Since ancient times, money had been the best tool to buy people, to placate them.

As a result, the First Bureau personnel became more motivated in their work, while those that came close enough to touch Lady Liu’s fingers became much more at ease—the ones giving out money, receiving money, all received their own consolation.

With everything entering the main phase, Fan Xian did not go to Xinfeng Restaurant that day. Instead, he stayed home in his book chamber, looking through the casefile written by Mu Tie. Mu Tie’s handwriting wasn’t exquisite by any means, but the content was clear-cut.

Eunuch Dai’s nephew, after paying a hefty fine, finally returned from the Overwatch Council. Taking advantage of a loophole in Qing law, he wasn’t sent to the Ministry of Justice or Supreme Court, but he could no longer keep his lowly position of inspecting produce. There were some other minor cases, all of which were taken care of appropriately.

Under normal circumstances, since the Overwatch Council wished to investigate the case involving the Produce Inspectorate, not only would Dai Zhen lose his official headwear, he would most likely lose his head as well. However, Fan Xian was somewhat appreciative of Eunuch Dai being sensible and considerate, helping him avoid some future complications, not to mention Ye Ling’er went to the palace on her own accord to speak on his behalf and to deliver a plea from Lady Shu; it was only natural, then, that he do them this favor.

Shi Chali, watching this young “master” sitting across from him, felt uneasy. After the spring examinations, he and his three good friends—Hou Jichang, Yang Wanli, and Cheng Xilin—had already been sent out to become local officials. According to the letters, they were all doing well in their counties—Prime Minister Lin, having been serving in the Imperial court for so many years, naturally had many connections in the various counties. And now, with everyone’s eyes on Fan Xian, his three “proud students” were being looked after as well.

Among the four, only Shi Chanli failed to land himself on the score list and therefore was unable to begin a career immediately. Before Fan Xian left for Northern Qi, he left Shi Chanli a letter, telling Shi Chanli to wait for his return. Contrary to the letter, however, this Sir Fan immediately took over the duties of the First Bureau. Shi Chanli really had no clue on how to help the master; his friends had all become important officials, while he could only sit and copy some casefiles. Despite being an outgoing person, Shi Chanli couldn’t help but brood over that realization.

Fan Xian raised his head, smiling, “Is this getting too boring?”

Shi Chanli smiled bitterly, “Teacher, you’re several years younger than I am, and yet you’re able to remain so calm and steady amongst all this paperwork. It looks like I, as the student, must hone my patience.”

Fan Xian chuckled. Had it been Hou Jichang, he would definitely stand up to retort; had it been Yang Wanli, he would probably start asking why he was releasing a major criminal. Only Shi Chanli would be so mild-mannered to the point of lacking words. It would appear that Fan Xian hadn’t been wrong in choosing him to stay by his side.

“Stop calling me ‘teacher’,” Fan Xian said, “it just feels so ridiculous. I’d rather you call me ‘Sir’.”

Shi Chanli was confused for a moment. It was actually quite common for a test-taker to be younger than the test official, so he didn’t feel anything wrong with it.

Fan Xian gave him the casefile on the desk, “Do you have any thoughts on the matter?”

Shi Chanli didn’t know if Fan Xian was testing him, but he had thoroughly memorized these official documents in the past couple of days. He shook his head and said honestly, “I really don’t understand… Sir, what does this mean? If we’re really going after a tiger, we shouldn’t have to keep an eye out for these rats.”

Fan Xian smiled, “It’s to give those cats over at the First Bureau somethings to do, to familiarize, so that they wouldn’t panic too much when the time comes to tackle big things.”

Shi Chanli pretended to not hear “big things” and said sincerely, “Sir, it is only expected for an official of the Imperial court to alleviate some of His Majesty’s concerns and do work for the court. But in the past few days, even though you only went after the smaller targets while letting the bigger ones go, you still offended some people.”

“Offending people is one of the Council’s essential traits,” Fan Xian explained, “As you know, the Overwatch Council is His Majesty’s private organization. It is not a public tool, but a personal one. We devote our loyalty to His Majesty only. Having said that, no matter if it’s from the views of the palace, or from our own views, we must play our role of provoking people… With the First Bureau situated right in the middle of the capital, surrounded by all the prosperity, it has started to lose sight of His Majesty’s original intention, and is now lacking toughness and ruthlessness. The reason His Majesty let me take charge of the First Bureau was to regain our initial role as the ones most willing to offend people.”

With Fan Xian being this transparent, Shi Chanli could no longer disguise anything, “So His Majesty wants you to… become a solitary official, without support.”

Fan Xian nodded, “Impartial, taking no sides, His Majesty wants me to become a second Chen Pingping, it’s just that…” Fan Xian changed his tone to a slightly mocking one, “I visited Sir Director’s manor, the extravagance there surpasses what some members of the nobility could afford. But the loneliness of it was just simply not for me.”

Shi Chanli immediately understood what he meant and put on a pained expression, “But Sir, if you only agree out of courtesy without any sincerity, you could not fool His Majesty’s wisdom and insight. I fear it would only be detrimental to your future endeavors.”

Fan Xian grinned and didn’t say anything. Under normal conditions, that old emperor shouldn’t have any thoughts crueler than a tiger’s.

Shi Chanli also realized he had said too much, so he changed the topic, “With the First Bureau’s current investigations, although the tradition of apprehending people at night has been restored, you still wouldn’t keep information hidden. What if someone were to find out and expose everything? On that I really have to disagree.”

Fan Xian asked, curiously, “Why?”

Shi Chanli replied, “The Overwatch Council is His Majesty’s special organization. Excluding its special privileges set by Qing law, it is able to shake hundreds of officials largely due to its mysteriousness and the way it operates in the dark. People are ignorant, the more they don’t understand something, the more they fear it. Sir, now that you intentionally put the First Bureau on display out in the open, I fear it will weaken people’s fear and lead to them not taking Overwatch Council seriously.”

Fan Xian acknowledged what Shi Chanli said, but responded, “I know you disagree with some parts of the First Bureau’s new rules—the release of information, for example—and I do admit that keeping our public image as a demon which devours people in the dark would greatly benefit our operations.”

Shi Chanli was surprised Fan Xian agreed with him. Was Fan Xian unhappy about his image in the eyes of the people and trying to change it?

What Fan Xian said next invalidated that question, “On the other hand, I don’t care how people view the Overwatch Council… But you must understand, I’m currently only in charge of the First Bureau, not the entire Council. With it in the capital, other than the agents planted in the manors of nobles, everything simply could not be kept hidden. The officials in the capital are as numerous as stray dogs and swimming fish, with they have tens of thousands of connections… Since I can’t maintain the First Bureau’s secrecy, I might as well do things out in the open; it might even add to the intimidation.”

Fan Xian then said seriously, “But, I only demand that the results of the investigations be presented clearly and honestly. In order to accomplish that, I am willing to accept all sorts of means to get it done, no matter how dark and sinister… You should know that I do not wish to be a saint.”

Shi Chanli nodded, satisfied with that. Sure enough, his teacher really was someone who dared to expose the wrongdoings of current politics, and he was simply reserving his opinions at the moment.

Fan Xian, unaware of Shi Chanli’s thoughts, said, “Starting today, with all the cases being handled by the First Bureau, you are to write a report which is going to be posted after each one is closed and sent to the Ministry of Justice of Supreme Court. You should explain the details in it, such as how the case came to be. As for the location, I already decided on that wall between the First Bureau and the Supreme Court.

Shi Chanli was flabbergasted, “This… This… This goes way too far against the grain. The Ministry of Justice post wanted posters, the Imperial court post the results of examinations, the Overwatch Council… Also posting announcements?!”

Fan Xian became moody, “It’s the First Bureau, not the Overwatch Council! Didn’t I say to be more open in doing things? Unless you want me to write a novel and sell it.”

Shi Chanli misunderstood and responded happily, “That would be for the best. You would be able to clarify the people’s confusion and also somewhat maintain the First Bureau’s do-not-approach vibe… Besides, you have already opened a bookstore, which would make things even easier.”

In his anger, Fan Xian spat out a breath of disgust and walked outside, with Shi Chanli carefully following behind. Eventually, Shi Chanli couldn’t hold back his question, “Teacher, does this mean I’ve now started working in the Overwatch Council?”

Fan Xian sighed, knowing that no scholar in this world would want to get involved with such shamelessly dark organization. He patted Shi Chanli on the shoulder and said, “You are my private secretary. I’m going to have a word with my father to temporary place you in the Ministry of Revenue. Let’s stop here and discuss this at another date. Don’t worry, no one is going to point fingers and call you the Council’s dog behind your back.”

Walking in the shockingly huge garden of the Fan manor, Fan Xian frowned slightly, “Using dark and sinister methods, to achieve clear and honest results?” He accepted the fact he wasn’t a saint; although he would more than gladly serve Qing and its people, make some adjustments to the rotten politics and at least ensure the embankment of that great river to the south wouldn’t crumble so quickly. As for the changes he made to the First Bureau, those were out of his personal desires.

Despite having the title of “Poetry Sage” and being secretly praised by the recent generations of scholars, twenty years of dirt from the Overwatch Council would still more or less tarnish his reputation. That was the reason why he wanted the First Bureau to operate more openly; a favorable reputation would assist him greatly in the future.

Thinking about dark and sinister versus clear and honest reminded Fan Xian of when he chatted with Hai Tang in Northern Qi. He had mentioned how the dark night gave him dark eyes that he rolled at the world. He couldn’t help but be worried about the situation up north, not knowing if Hai Tang could successfully arrange the task—Uncle Wu Zhu was still missing, and there were no words on Ku He returning to Shangjing.

A few girls could be heard chatting in the distance. Today was a clear autumn day, the grasshoppers were jumping about in the grass, while the last remaining cicadas of the year, nearing the end of their lives, screamed away in the trees. Big Bao was catching ants; Fan Sizhe wasn’t at school, but wasn’t home either.

Fan Xian squinted and discovered Ye Ling’er had come to visit again. He couldn’t help but groan to himself. Every since that girl believed she had been a great help to Fan Xian, she had been visiting more frequently in the past few days without any restraint. When Fan Xian saw the timid Ruo Jia sitting next to Ye Ling’er, he felt even more troubled. The young girl had turned thirteen… But still a young girl nevertheless, and Fan Xian did not want a young girl to look at him with such adoration.

Recently, Fan Xian had refused Li Hongcheng’s invitations on multiple occasion. Before Yan Bingyun finds out anything, he had to keep a low profile. And today he must keep himself away from Rou Jia, the little girl who seemed to fall in love with him. Channeling his zhenqi, the young Sir Fan silently leapt out of the manor using the qinggong he has practiced before.

Arriving at the residence Wang Qinian had bought for one hundred and twenty silvers, Fan Xian took a seat in the innermost room and stretched comfortably. This was his most secret hideout. Other than the Qinian group and Chen Pingping, no one knew he often worked on both official and official businesses here, not even his own family members.

Deng Ziyue put two bamboo tubes on the desk and then withdrew from the room. He knew he hadn’t earned the same amount of trust from this Commissioner as Wang Qinian.

The two tubes were of similar color, perhaps both coming from Yan Mountain in nearby Shangjing. Even the wax seal looked alike, showing the same degree of neatness that shouldn’t be touched. On the tube were subtle marks to let the Council agent in charge of delivering them know that these two letters were top-secret and belonged to two separate routes in the northern network.

Picking up the tubes, the first thing Fan Xian did was to inspect their seals. On the wax seals was Wang Qinian’s unique handwriting, which could not be easily forged. Having made sure the tubes weren’t opened, Fan Xian took out the letters.

One letter came from Si Lili, while the other was from Hai Tang. Fan Xian had set up a communication line specifically for Hai Tang in order to keep contact with her more easily.

Si Lili didn’t have much to report. While she did what Fan Xian and Hai Tang had planned for her to do, which was to join Tianyi Dao, her efforts after entering the palace hadn’t shown any results for the time being. As for Shangjing, Chen Zhong’s household was completely dismantled; other than being a heavy blow to the Rear Faction, it didn’t incite any severe repercussions. Shang Shanhu had been trapped at home and the letter made no mention of Ku He returning to Shang Jing. Although no one dared to suspect otherwise, Si Lili strongly believed that grandmaster had been wounded in one way or another.

Fan Xian smiled. In this world, only those couple of grandmasters could tussle with that man-eating monster named Ku He.

Hai Tang’s letter didn’t even mention the word “grandmaster”, not that Fan Xian expected her to disclose anything. All he cared about was how she had handled that task.

After giving it some thought, Fan Xian began to write a reply, urging Hai Tang to proceed with their agreement. For Hai Tang, it was something that could be done on a whim, but for Fan Xian, it was of utmost importance. In his letter to Si Lili, he only recited a short poem by Li Qingzhao as a gesture of consolation, nothing more.

During the days he had spent dealing with the First Bureau, what took up most of Fan Xian’s mind was Ruoruo’s marriage to Li Hongcheng. This fundamentally had nothing to do with the prince’s character. To Fan Xian, whether their political standpoints would come in conflict depended on one crucial aspect.

Would Ruoruo like it?

The answer to that was a negative; Ruoruo had made it clear. Fan Xian, like all older brothers, felt helplessly frustrated at this girl in puberty, thinking, “So you’re never going to get married, ever?” However, he was mostly being protective. Since his sister didn’t like it, he must break up this marriage; it was that simple.

But doing so was no trivial matter. In a sense, it could be considered the most complicated matter Fan Xian had ran into since leaving Danzhou. This match had been made by His Majesty, there was simply no room or reason for Fan Xian to intervene.

Fan Xian was left with two options: first, keep a close eye on the Second Prince and be ready to bring him down at any moment while dragging down Li Hongcheng at the same time; requesting that the marriage be annulled when that happened just might work. Second, starting with Ruoruo, make an offer of interest not even the emperor could ignore and have Ruoruo leave Jingdu for a time.

With his first option, there was no knowing how much chaos it would cause. As for the second option, it seemed so insubstantial not even Fan Xian felt confident.

“As they say, ‘a general’s success came from the deaths of thousands’; must I cause the deaths of thousands to break apart this marriage?”

Fan Xian laughed at himself. If unsuccessful, he could merely trouble Uncle Wu Zhu to bring Ruoruo to wander the world. On the other hand, His Majesty shouldn’t execute the entire Fan household over this matter.