Joy of Life - Chapter 269

[Updated at: 2021-01-12 01:47:58]
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Chapter 269: A Saint?


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


Returning to the residence, Ye Ling’er and Princess Rou Jia went back as well. Fan Xian returned to his own room and requested that Si Qi brew him some tea. The maid was very much like Si Si, for in the autumn, she frequently complained. Now, alone with his wife, Fan Xian asked, “Has there been any movement in the palace lately?”


Lin Wan’er sat next to the window, illuminated in the pane-borne light, continuing to stitch. As she heard him talk, she felt odd. She raised her head to speak. “What’s going on?”


The sun was setting and the light of dusk did not provide the brightness best suited for her stitching. As Fan Xian watched her eyes tighten, he walked forward and rubbed the space between her eyebrows, saying, “The light is no good here. Why do you continue with your stitchwork?”


Wan’er’s face was a little pale, which was most likely due to her lack of rest the previous night. She laughed and looked down, attempting to conceal the item she had been stitching. She told Fan Xian, “I will let you see it once I am done.”


Fan Xian looked upon his wife’s weakened face and her long lashes. Doing so, he could not help but feel sorry. Ever since he had left the capital, in the spring, the care and attention he had given to wife had lessened and waned. That was not to suggest his love for her had receded, however. Fan Xian had yet to take a second wife, and due to the trouble and political intrigue he could never seem to take a break from, the ability to spend time with his family had suffered.


Lin Wan’er recalled what Fan Xian had asked, and so she responded, “The palace has been quiet. There has been nothing of too great a concern; why do you ask?”


With a wry smile, Fan Xian said, “Your cruel uncle has put me in control of the First Bureau. My placement there has offended a great deal of officers. The masters of many of the officers reside in the palace, so it is only natural for me to be concerned.”


Lin Wan’er’s identity was quite unique. The Empress Dowager took great interest in her well-being, and the Emperor made sure to look over her when he could. The position and regard she held in the palace was higher than Fan Xian assumed. The Emperor did not bear a daughter and it was because of this that the Qing Kingdom did not have a true princess. But despite this, she was almost treated as one.


She thought about it and smiled. She reaffirmed Fan Xian by saying, “Do not bring your own mind unease. The Emperor is fond of you. Even the ladies of the palace only have kind words when they speak of you.”


Fan Xian smiled and said, “The Emperor? I have only seen him a few times; what makes you believe that he is indeed fond of me? If you told me that the Emperor liked you, then I would have no trouble believing it; I feel that the extent of his warmth toward me merely extends to a cordial knowing, and acknowledgment of my marriage to you.”


Lin Wan’er’s eyes gleamed with the spark of love, and she quietly spoke to Fan Xian. “You are always like this…” After a brief pause, she continued to say, “Lady Shu frequently compliments you these days. And Lady yi… you know, we are relatives. She has many nice things to say about you, also. It is just the Empress who is as quiet as usual. As for his other wives, they do not even have the privilege to speak, so there is nothing I can tell you about their thoughts or feelings.”


Fan Xian believed his wife. He knew that even if he were to assume total control of the Overwatch Council in the future, the palace was one place that he could not direct. But Wan’er had unknowingly proven to him to be his most reliable spy and fly-on-the-wall there. The reason Imperial Consort Shu spoke kindly of him was because Fan Xian had done her a favor, but still… words were cheap.


“What did Lady Ning say?” Fan Xian asked with a stroke of curiosity. “When I fought for passage with the crown prince; the news about that should have reached the palace by now.”


Lin Wan’er brought her hand to cover her mouth and laughed. She told him, “Auntie Ning would not care. She always liked me the most, saying that you and the crown prince were little more than two idiots throwing a fit at each other. She said she would happily have you both lashed fifty times!”


Fan Xian feigned a fright and said, “Oh, no! The punishment of the palace is far too cruel, you’ll have to do your best to appease their wrath and tell them how great I am!”


Lin Wan’er could not be bothered to join in with his gag, and so she said, “You have always enjoyed offending others. You cannot always ask me to clean up after you.” She took the cloth that she had been stitching and, with a laugh, told Fan Xian, “Do you have any more to ask of me? If not, then you can leave. You should not interrupt me while I am busy in the middle of something.”


Fan Xian pulled back the hand he had extended in preparation of grabbing hers and said, “I have no idea what you are doing that is so important.” Getting ready to leave, he then recalled one other name he had forgotten to inquire about. He asked, “Did you see the Empress Dowager?”


Lin Wan’er’s hand stopped, and she raised her head. The light of her eyes had dimmed somewhat, and she mournfully said, “I saw her, but she did not say anything.”


The Empress Dowager had forever lived in the palace. She was actually the real leader of the palace. That which was strangest was the fact that on each occasion Fan Xian had entered the palace, he had not yet been given the opportunity to meet her. When Fan Xian entered the palace alongside Lin Wan’er the previous time, the Empress Dowager had a message sent, saying she was too sick and could not see them. But it seemed that whenever Wan’er entered the palace alone, the Empress Dowager was always happy and willing to see her. The Empress Dowager would hug her and tell her how much she adored her. It was fairly obvious by this point that the Empress Dowager was simply avoiding Fan Xian, and this brought Wan’er a heavy heart and muddled thoughts.


Fan Xian coldly laughed inside. He knew what the Empress Dowager was guessing, but he wasn’t afraid of this.


Lin Wan’er looked him in the eyes and sighed. She said, “Linger told me today about the last time she entered the palace. My love, I know that your work has proven strenuous, but you are yet to discover who you are. To me, it seems as if you are using her, but you are merely too afraid to owe her a favor. What you told me last night was scary. The second prince may look like a nice person on the surface, but he is as stubborn as a mule on the inside. If you have to investigate him, I can only suspect that something will go wrong in your doubts of him.”


Fan Xian looked at his wife, who was visibly worried, and smiled to reaffirm her. He told Wan’er, “I did not expect that you were the one who gave the second prince his nickname of ‘the stone’, when you were young.”


“He may seem fairly lax, but it is little more than a facade; never would he divert from his own route or concede a matter at the behest of others.” Wan’er spoke these words with a look of anguish.


Fan Xian believed that for being in a relationship, honesty was paramount. After his rebirth, if he could not trust or place faith in the person he was to sleep with each night, it would be the recipe for an unhappy existence. This was why he did not hide the fact that he was investigating the second prince. Taking further note of Wan’er’s growing apprehension, he approached to comfort her. He told her, “I am just trying to help the second prince. To see what has occurred now, the officers are confused; they don’t understand why the Emperor wants to keep the crown prince. If no one were to stay the prince’s ascent now, then it would only become more of a challenge to come back down.”


Wan’er smiled. Without wanting to continue the conversation, she said, “I fear that I truly do not know how your heart works. You perceive things differently from others, and in more complex ways. Your mind is… crooked.”


“My mind is crooked?” Fan Xian almost spoke out loud, but he knew the reality of it was that he was good at acting. He knew however, that the only thing he could truly rely on was his gentle veneer and sub-surface cruelty. With a prolonged stare toward his wife, he said, “Yet I am nothing compared to you, the master strategist, for you are fairy who escaped the scheming halls of the palace.”


Wan’er was laughing, and in response, she said, “Do you truly believe that life in the palace was that difficult?”


Fan Xian laughed as well, and he replied, “A monk once said that if this world was a brothel, then that palace was veiled in a darkness where no human could stay.”


Wan’er heard these words and froze, her heart feeling slight offense at the jest. She looked down toward the ground. Fan Xian only now just recalled that his wife was born and raised in the palace, so to say something like this was quite callous. He laughed and apologized, which quickly brought the two back to their earlier disposition of happiness. After a moment of silence elapsed between them, Wan’er began to feel emotionally touched. Although her mother was the eldest princess, how many women in this world, following their marriage, could still be treated with great respect from their husband? She had never heard of any other man apologizing to his wife before.


Wan’er softly said, “The palace is not as you surmise. My uncle, the Emperor, is a very wise man, and he is not addicted to chasing women. A few of the princes in the palace tread in his footsteps, also. The methods of rule that you spoke of in your novel were something no one would dare to use here. The Empress Dowager is always watching, and if something set its sights on the ruin of this kingdom, she would not dare allow it.


After Fan Xian heard this, his heart jumped, and he was then brought solace.


Wan’er was laughing, and she then said, “The Emperor is rather strict when it comes to the establishment of relationships. He treats all of his wives with equal respect, and so there is no cause for resentment or bitter rivalry between them in terms of who garners greater affection. The Empress did not care about any of the issues that transpired in the palace, and so the ladies occupy their time with idle joys like card games. It is good to have competition in games, and that isn’t at all different from a traditional family.”


Fan Xian was quite shocked. He did not expect life in the palace to be like this behind the scenes. It meant that the books he had read in his past life about emperors, dynasties, and imperial politics were most useless to him here. He quizzically scratched his head and said, “It is no wonder you are so good when it comes to Mahjong. Even Fan Sizhe can only achieve a draw with you.”


As soon as he said the word “Mahjong”, Wan’er’s face lit up like a lamp. The glow of her stare was almost scary to Fan Xian. He stepped closer to take a look and noticed that despite her best attempts to hide her desire, it was too ardent to withhold and suppress. With her being as radiant as she was now, he called her “the master of light”.


Wan’er rolled her eyes and looked at her husband, who was not being serious. She said, “I was just bored. I married you and yet you are busy every day. I never get to see you! Still, I am lucky that I can grab my brother-in-law, who is a genius in Mahjong.”


She gritted her teeth and rolled up her sleeves. She menacingly rubbed her fists and said, “Actually, where the hell has Fan Sizhe been lately? Every time I want to play Mahjong with him, he is gone! Instead, I end up playing with his mother, which is a tortuous affair! She is always letting me win. Ugh, she’s just like my grandma.”


Fan Xian simply poked her tall nose and told her, “What kind of thing is that to say?” He continued by jovially saying, “Of course Lady Liu is not like your grandma. And you’d best not get too impetuous in our manor.”


Wan’er did not relent, and she rebuked by saying, “Do I look like that sort of person to you?” With a hasty change of subject, she said, “In a few days, we are going to go see the flowers. According to tradition, the nobles from the palace will be going to Xi Mountain. I am not sure how they will be arranging our travel this year, however. We must go there, yes, but we’ll have to see how we are to get there. Perhaps in a few days, the palace will send a eunuch over and deliver us a message. Don’t let this slip your mind.”


“See the flowers?” Fan Xian’s eyebrows warped. He knew that the autumn was cool and dry, and that the people of the capital often enjoyed going to the countryside so that they could admire the flowers. He simply did not expect that this was a past-time of the Royal Family as well. Since it was a large gathering of the Li clan, it was inevitable that Fan Xian was to go. Thinking about the events that had occurred recently, were the old men going to observe the flowers with the same rigid austerity as they did Fan Xian?


She did not notice that her husband was silent and in deep contemplation. With a tone of gravity, she told Fan Xian, “I haven’t been able to play Mahjong recently, and the flowers have yet to bloom. I’m just so bored. The book that you promised me before we married—when are you going to write it? When are you going to finish it so that I may read it, huh?”


Fan Xian’s mind was still clogged with thoughts of business, political intrigue and other such matters. Where was he going to find the time to continue writing Dream of the Red Chamber? With a wry smile, he begged her, “I would say that you should just let me off the hook for that one.” He saw Wan’er’s eyes twist to give a murderous look, one which called out for the manuscript she so ardently desired. Fan Xian no longer dared to stay within her presence, and so he quickly ran to the door, pushed it open, and ran off.


Fan Xian sprinted away like he was being chased by a ghost. He ran across the wide path that separated the houses until he met a few maids who promptly began laughing at him. Realizing his slightly immature behavior, he coughed and straightened himself up to act with the demeanor of the noble stature he was expected to possess. Like a pencil, he stood up straight. But in less than a second, he reclined his walking pose to that of a slouch. He gritted his teeth and thought to himself, “If I want to live my life happily, why should I care of what others think of me?” Reaffirmed, he made a loud “hum” noise and began singing. With a spring in his step, he danced a jig and kept going until he reached his study.


He had obtained a hefty batch of information from the conversation he had just shared with his wife, even though that wasn’t his sole intent of the talk with her. What weighed on his mind the most, though, was Fan Sizhe’s behavior. What had he been up to lately? Fan Xian frowned and began to feel the tender pangs of worry. He then turned his mind to think about the Dream of the Red Chamber, and then thought of the northern Qi Kingdom’s emperor, who did Fan Xian a favor by keeping the news of the story’s authorship a secret. It looked as if it was best to send him a chapter. But still, he thought he could no longer hide the fact that he was indeed the author. He decided not to use the methods that were frequently employed by the Overwatch Council, like sending a secret letter.


He sat there for a bit. The light outside the room had not yet grown too dim. He saw then that Yan Bingyun had arrived. Fan Xian took a look at the document he delivered and couldn’t help but rub his temples. Earlier in the day, he looked over the scroll that Mu Tie had delivered, and then he established the main points with Shi Chanli. Later, he visited the “Old Hall” to do business before returning home to comfort his wife. Now, he was to speak with Yan Bingyun. To do so many things in one day, it looked as if the life of a powerful counselor was a difficult and strenuous one.


“The person you wanted me to capture? It is done. I don’t know if it will assist your work in any capacity, however.” Fan Xian did not look at the scroll, he just casually asked. A while ago, the “beating of rats” incident did not seem to have made much of a difference or affect the field of politics. But actually, Fan Xian was covered by many old leftover cases and carefully got close to the second prince’s secret ally. He tried to arrest two officers but Yan Bingyun believed the rank of the officers he wanted was too low. Fan Xian, on the other hand, thought that they were two pivotal characters that could be used to find out whether or not there was a connection between the second prince and the eldest princess.


Yan Bingyun sat on a chair and, with a calm look, pointed out the scrolls in front of Fan Xian. He simply told him, “It is done.”


Fan Xian was shocked and blurted out, “That quickly?” Fan Xian could not be bothered reviewing the scrolls and asked him plainly. “What was the conclusion?”


Yan Bingyun spoke coldly. “The amount of contraband they smuggled to the northern Qi Kingdom and Dongyi City from Xinyang was of an incredible amount. On the surface, it did indeed look as if there was a deficit created by the crown prince from the eastern palace, but it was actually a large amount of money. It was sent to the second prince via the Ming family. It was to bribe the officers within the government and buy off the border ministers. So, yes, your judgment was correct. The eldest princess does indeed have the second prince’s support.”


Fan Xian frowned and said, “The Ming family? The family that is married to the Cui family?”


“Yes.”


“This is a huge amount of money we are talking about. How can it get sent to the second prince from the palace treasury?” Fan Xian asked.


“To nobody’s surprise, it is not as if they are taking the path through the capital. They went around from Jiangnan. In the middle of their route, they were split up into a few royal merchants. From the lowest to the top, they eventually all gathered up with the prince again.” Yan Bingyun then looked directly at Fan Xian and said, “The progress is complicated. I wrote it all down in the scroll; if there is something you do not understand, take a look inside. It is far more difficult for me to tell you.”


Fan Xian ignored the tone of Yan Bingyun’s voice, which sounded as though he doubted Fan Xian’s ability to read. Instead, he descended into deep thought. He felt that his judgment had been correct. After taking a deep breath, he said, “I am going to the palace to meet the Emperor. Are you coming with me?”


Yan Bingyun was surprised, but did not mince his words. He told Fan Xian, “I am not going. Besides, is it really necessary to reveal all of this to the Emperor?”


Hearing this, Fan Xian asked, “The eldest princess and the second prince have been doing all of this secretly, yet we were able to uncover the truth with little to no effort. Do you truly believe that the palace is not aware of these dealings? Do you think it is possible that Chen Pingping didn’t know, as well?”


“Even if the palace knows of this, they may not be in possession of the appropriate evidence.” Yan Bingyun half-closed his eyes and said, “Please do not forget that the last chief of the First Bureau, Zhu Ge, had always been a man of the eldest princess. For this case, if you do not take total control of the First Bureau, and obtain the full co-operation of each and every department, it may become impossible to find out. The situation we are in right now is this; if this case is made public, the capital may very well descend into chaos.”


He said these words calmly, but Fan Xian could hear and feel the coldness that accompanied each syllable. Aside from the resources that the Overwatch Council provided, a big part of this relied on Yan Bingyun’s abilities. Quite obviously, Yan Bingyun was not willing to let the case that he had been working so diligently on bring harm and ill repute to the kingdom. Such chaos would be the complete opposite of the peace and prosperity that had graced the kingdom since its founding.


In the end, Yan Bingyun was not entirely loyal to Fan Xian. Instead, he was simply loyal to the Overwatch Council, the Kingdom, and the Emperor.


Fan Xian looked at him and said, “Do you know what will happen if you keep this a secret?”


Yan Bingyun shook his head and replied, “All I know is that if these issues were to come to light, your wife would be the one thrust into the worst situation and possibly suffer the most.”


Many nobles knew that Fan Xian’s wife was a daughter of the princess, but it wasn’t a subject of much talk. If Fan Xian really wanted to bring this up, there was no doubt that the Emperor would be forced to make a difficult decision. Whatever that was to be, it would put Wan’er in an awkward and extremely difficult situation.


What Fan Xian did after he came back to the capital was soothe the fighting that had transpired within the palace by trying to make up for the exile of the eldest princess. What Fan Xian wanted was to force the Emperor, who had another plan, to strip the eldest princess of her powers in the shortest time.


“I respect my wife.” Fan Xian looked at Yan Bingyun coldly. “But I am not going to slow myself down due to the awkward position she may find herself in.”


Yan Bingyun slowly raised his head. His eyes expressed a look of confusion. He said, “This is what I don’t understand about you. Sir, what do you want?”


“There are two different things that I desire.” Fan Xian stood up and walked toward the window. He observed the setting sun and noticed that in the corner of the courtyard, there was a woman raking the lifeless leaves that had departed their trees. Fan Xian continued his speech by saying, “The first thing is simple. The government has a lack of money, and the river in the south has been in disrepair for years. This year, the embankment broke down and it hundreds of thousands of deaths. I may not have witnessed the event myself, but just the mere thought of it makes me sad, my friend.


“Where are we going to get the money to save these people? This is a problem that has plagued my father’s mind, also. The financial situation of the country is different from other countries throughout history. Over the years, the wealth of the kingdom has been poured into the military. The source of where the money comes from is odd, too. Much of the entire country’s annual income comes from the palace treasury. But the palace treasury holds the Emperor’s own personal wealth. You and I both know that those funds were left behind by Lady Ye; that means they rely on that business to generate an infinite amount of money to support the kingdom.”


Fan Xian turned around, looked back toward Yan Bingyun, and said, “And the eldest princess? She loves nothing more than power. All these years, the wealth of the palace treasury has been taken and used to buy-out countless officers for a trade of allegiance, all to boost her support… Excuse me, I misspoke. Let me say it a little more plainly and succinctly; she is taking the Emperor’s money and using it to steal his own people. All this money has been spent on buying the feeble support of officers and now, when the kingdom is in dire need of such money, there is none left to be used.”


“Money is just money; the problem is how it is used. You do not know how much I would rather this money go toward helping victims of the flood, rather than allowing all the money to crumple in the officers’ rotten hands.”


“So, am I in a rush to investigate the second prince and the Cui family? Yes. Why? To prevent the eldest princess and second prince, who constantly wears the facade of an honorary scholar, to throw away all of the kingdom’s money.” Fan Xian looked down toward the ground and lamentably told Yan Bingyun, “Of course, if I do reveal this, it is highly unlikely that Emperor would not be willing to punish his own sister. But just like last time, when she was exiled, the Emperor kept on trying to delay the matter. He would rather check out the palace treasury and instead tell off the second prince. And I? He will probably believe me to be nosy and become angry at me. With wrath, he’ll have me forcefully evicted from the Overwatch Council and dragged away to the ends of the earth.”


He reached out and stretched. His face was now wearing a naïve and innocent smile. He said, “This is the only way. I just hope the Emperor will at least allow me to return to Danzhou.”


Yan Bingyun’s head was slanted, his face petrified. It was as if he had no idea who the man ranting before him was. He said, “But you are going to take over the palace treasury next year. Begin your investigation at that time; wouldn’t that be the correct course of action to take? It would look much better.”


Fan Xian laughed, continuing to talk like a wholly different person. “But our kingdom no longer has surplus supplies. If I can put an end to the squandering of the palace treasury’s funds but a single day earlier, then the poor civilians of the south can receive many more bowls of porridge to eat. Everything else can wait, but to miss a meal is to starve.”


Yan Bingyun stared at Fan Xian without blinking. It seemed as if he wanted to know if the person in front of him was an insidious officer or a genuinely kind, earnest, self-sacrificing saint; one who feared no evil


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