Joy of Life - Chapter 275

[Updated at: 2021-01-12 01:48:01]
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Chapter 275: The Bright Fist in the Dark


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


Inside the carriage, it was all dark. The young man raised a smile on his lips, but it wasn’t a natural one. It was forced, and it gave the impression that he was trying not to look too deliberate with his expression. It was not right for some men to carry a look of timidity. The end of his eyebrows spread like the strokes upon the paintings in Qing Temple. It gave off an old-fashioned and earnest expression.


“I don’t understand.” The young man’s smile was one of a person who looked troubled. “I don’t understand a lot of things, like why he had to investigate me in the first place. Does he not know that I truly admire him?”


His fingers slightly rubbed the inside of a perfume bag that was tied to his waist. He brought his hand up to waft the smell of lilac and allow it to permeate the atmosphere of the carriage. He lightly put his head against the soft wooden wall and with eyes half closed said, “Is it normal for me to admire him? Father was used to an immediate life; why does he think of him as such an important person?”


No one dared to reply to his words for no one possessed the capacity to formulate a response that would put the young man at ease. And so, the young man remained trapped in the vortex of his wild imagination.


“Why?”


“Why?”


The shy smile began to dissipate from his face. He placed his fingers into his perfume bag once more and brought his finger back up to his nose and sniffed vigorously. He wanted to inhale and gorge himself on every fragrant trace that remained on his hand.


“This is not right.”


“But it isn’t working.” The young man sighed and turned around to look at the grapes beside him. He grabbed a hold of the stalk and emotionlessly threw them out of the carriage. “Father loves him far too much.”


“More than he loves me.”


He looked to be neurotic. He gave a twisted smile, thinking about the crown prince in the palace and thinking about his aunt in Xinyang. He waved his hand and spoke to the officers that were groveling before him and said, “Seek peace.”


The Imperial Censor He Zongwei did not participate in this mission. He was surprised at the act and just raised his head. He took notice of the second prince’s eyes, ones which looked to be tired, and did not say a word.


The Imperial Censorate’s censors were beaten up badly, and they were remarkably bloodied. This event had become the latest hot topic in the capital. The official newspaper that had been released from the palace, however, only made light reference to what had transpired. The newspapers that were released from other publications, though, made thorough descriptions, accounts, and explanations of the affair.


Everyone knew that the Emperor was attempting to display the power of the Overwatch Council to the world through this incident. But what was made even more obvious to all was his affection and protection for the young man named Fan Xian.


This young man had taken a seat in the royal study room, and he had a position of importance in the Overwatch Council. When the Censorate wanted to frame him, they ended up getting lashed by the Emperor. “Fan Xian”; this name was already shining brightly, but now, alongside that brightness, encroached a touch of dark. This dark aura that now skirted the man’s name put fear into the hearts of other officers.


On the day when the censors were lashed, there were rumors of the young Commissioner kneeling before the royal study chamber, pleading that the Emperor halt his punishment of the censors. The reason why the censors were allowed to live was because of Fan Xian’s mercy and forgiveness of the deeds they had attempted to do upon him. The person who oversaw the punishment was Eunuch Hou. A statement given by this man explained that the reason why the censors were not killed after three lashes was because Fan Xian requested that they not beat the men so harshly.


Fan Xian did not use this entire event as leverage for the Imperial Censorate to owe him a favor, either. Following the ordeal, he remained tight-lipped about the whole event and made no further reference to that day. This attitude worked out in his favor, garnering him more support and preferential outlooks upon his character; after all, he managed to keep the censors alive. For the officers and students who had already supported the young man, it reassured them regarding why they initially placed their faith and trust in him. It worked to remind them of why they bet on the horse that they did.


In the Qing Kingdom, people always thought that the Overwatch Council was just a puppet of the Emperor. Until this happened—perhaps it was because Fan Xian’s name was one of such renown—people began to learn that there was a secret, dark operation lurking behind the scenes. At least the impression of the First Bureau was beginning to change. It was not possible for things to remain black and white, with a clear-cut separation of good and bad. There was a morally ambiguous realm residing between the two.


This “grey” zone was where the Overwatch Council resided.


The royal flower-viewing excursion was in a few days. Fan Xian was half-bending his head, sitting in the yard of his house. He was contemplating several things; he wondered what Wan’er was in the process of stitching; he also wondered what Fan Sizhe had been doing to keep himself occupied lately. He even wondered whether or not the second prince, to whom he was much acquainted and in certain ways alike with, still had a smile on his face.


When Fan Xian thought of this, a foreboding sense of unease enveloped his temperament. Shy? Naive? This was Fan Xian’s personality. All of a sudden, he had found out that someone of a much higher class and position of nobility had many of the same traits and qualities as him, and it was because of this that his mind was slightly disturbed.


“Sir?” Teng Zijing asked politely. “I did what you requested of me. Miss Shen has already moved in.”


Fan Xian nodded in correspondence and replied, “How was she? Has she been acting strangely these past few days?”


Teng Zijing answered, “Aside for the fact that she has been slightly low-spirited, I would not surmise that her acts and ways have been odd of late.”


Fan Xian nodded once more. He closed his eyes and told him, “Help me extend an invitation. I would like you to invite the Eldest Lord of the Yan family to come over and have dinner.”


“Should I inform your father?” Teng Zijing looked at him whilst asking.


Fan Xian smiled and said, “Of course. If Lord Father knows, then he can come and have dinner with Yan Ruohai as well. This will make him very happy.”


Teng Zijing agreed and then informed Fan Xian, “A fellow, the Imperial Censor He Zongwei, visited the manor once more. Do you still not want to meet with him?”


Fan Xian opened his eyes, but a read of them could not be gleaned. He knew this man, He Zongwei, for when Fan Xian first entered the capital, they were both keen to interact with each other in the Yishi Tavern. Back then, that scholar was still allied with Guo Baokun, who was the only son of Guo Youzhi, the Director of the Board of Rites. He would not let the opportunity to engage with Fan Xian slip away lightly. Fan Xian thought of him as a scholar with a passion for power; a curious combination.


In regards to how he had become an Imperial Censor, Fan Xian was well aware of how this came to be. He also knew that this person had come to visit each day for the fast few days, and he knew that he was visiting the manor in representation of a matter pertaining to the princes. Because Fan Xian himself avoided Li Hongcheng, he thought that it was inevitable for the second prince to be annoyed about it.


“I’ll meet with him.”


Fan Xian waved his hand and took to his feet. The stuff he had prepared in the council was almost ready. To meet with this man and present his thoughts on matters was not the worst thing to do.


Fan Xian had been walking the length of the yard for half the day and even he began feeling slightly annoyed. He walked to the front of the residence, thinking of the night that he returned from the northern Qi Kingdom. He asked himself, “How could I have run so fast?” It was quite possible it all came about through the belief that his sister may have run off and his wife had cheated on him.


To think of such things, he could almost feel the path that winded through the rocks and trees lessen to hasten his passage. He ran to the study near the front residence and acknowledged that the Imperial Censor He Zongwei was already sitting inside.


Seeing Fan Xian arrive, He Zongwei quickly stood up and performed a gracious bow before him. He said, “Greetings, Mister Fan.”


Fan Xian waved his hand and said, “It’s not as if this is the first time we have met. There is no need for such a display of grace.”


This was true. During spring of last year, He Zongwei frequently visited Fan Manor. Perhaps he wanted to do as the Fan family did? Regardless, he did not expect Fan Xian to be so wise as to think of this so quickly. Besides, Fan Xian wasn’t too keen on the man due to the fact he often concealed his emotions and true thoughts on certain subjects. It was because of this that he hastily drew a line between them, and did not interact with him much at all.


Having come here a few times already only to be greeted by no one, He Zongwei was aware of the fact that he wasn’t entirely welcome or looked upon fondly. But this famous scholar of the capital knew all about the Fan family.


He Zongwei knew that there were no others present in the study he was currently occupying and so, without reprieve or hesitation, he bluntly said, “I came here due to what has come to pass.”


“That which has come to pass?” Fan Xian said this sentence and closed his mouth. He raised his eyebrow to look at He Zongwei with a face of interest. But he also waved his hand to prevent further discussion.


He Zongwei’s face was tanned. One could see that he was born into a poor family and had spent much of his youth in impoverished conditions. Nowadays, however, it seemed as if his working in the capital and its government over the past few years had given him the appearance of someone most trustworthy. The way he held himself was very much like the scholar he was, as well; someone filled with vehement pride.


His eyes were his most striking physical trait, for they were curiously bright. They complimented his face, which was positioned in a way that silently spoke of him as a person who was truly righteous. It made those who looked upon him feel he would be difficult to get along with. This was an aspect of his character that Fan Xian despised.


“What are you talking about?” Fan Xian squinted when asking this, and he further continued to say, “I do not understand what you’re referencing.”


He Zongwei was the mouth of the second prince. He smiled, and his dark face highlighted the brightness of his teeth all the more, making his smile one that few could miss. He proceeded to tell Fan Xian, “It was nothing. I made a mistake. I have only come here to deliver a box of tremendous tea leaves; leaves that hail from the Yunwu Mountains. They are courtesy of the second prince.”


Fan Xian looked at the unadorned box that had been presented to him, and he fell into a silent trance. He knew that if he were to accept this gift, the odds that had arisen between them would be settled. From the second prince’s point-of-view, Fan Xian had not lost anything; instead, he had earned a major boost to his reputation. So, the second prince thought that he would accept the tea and agree to let things go.


“When you misspoke just now, I thought of something.” Fan Xian smiled at He Zongwei.


He Zongwei’s heart was the recipient of a sudden chill, as he thought of young and handsome Mister Fan. This young man had only recently entered the capital and already he had stolen his thunder as a scholar. How could he have the same expression as the second prince?


“What event are you referring to?” He Zongwei’s heart was now trembling with nerves.


Fan Xian looked at him coldly and said, “I left the capital in the spring and travelled to the northern Qi Kingdom. I did not expect that, within a few months, things were to change so drastically within the capital. Even my father-in-law was forced to retire during my absence.” He Zongwei’s tongue was bitter. He could not formulate a response – that which he had feared the most had now at last happened.


Fan Xian quietly proceeded to speak, “I suppose you know who Wu Bo’an is?”


He Zongwei replied, “He is an advisor of the prime minister.”


Fan Xian raised his eyebrows and continued. “Do you recall earlier in the spring of this year that you entered the capital with Wu Bo’an’s wife? It’s the funniest thing; I cannot for the life of me recall where she has since gone.”


He Zongwei gritted his teeth, stood up, bowed, and told him, “Sir Fan, I was too upset about the death in the Guo family. It was because of this that I recklessly brought Wu’s wife into the capital. I confess that there is indeed a connection between me and the prime minister’s retirement, but this was a matter that involved Qing’s law. I did not dare to hide. For this, I can only hope that you forgive me.” In his heart, he did not expect Fan Xian to let him off the hook so lightly. But due to his allegiance with the second prince, it gave him the wind to speak. “You can hate and despise me however you wish, but the words and sentiments of the second prince are sincere and true. It is my solemn desire, at this moment, that you do not turn down this gracious gift of his.”


Fan Xian looked upon the man before him and lightly said, “I am an officer of the government; I am not inclined to picking on anybody. But as anyone else surely does, I keep accord of those that do me wrong out of spite.”


He Zongwei’s looked at him with a glint of hatred. He now realized the futility of the parley he had come to engage in with Fan Xian. He thought that although the retirement of the prime minister did have something to do with him, he was just an officer of the Qing Kingdom. It was not at all strange for people to go behind someone’s back, and it was not as if Fan Xian and the prime minister were not inclined to use such tricks, either. As he thought about this, he stood up and prepared to leave.


Fan Xian looked upon him with a face of utter disgust and, all of a sudden, did something most out of character for a man of his status. He walked forward and, with a raised foot, kicked He Zongwei in the stomach.


A grand thud shattered the silence, and quite embarrassingly, He Zongwei fell to the floor like a sack of potatos.


This scholar was a rather famous man in the capital, and a member of the Imperial Censorate. He madly brought himself to his feet and yelled, “You-you-you dare strike me!?”


Fan Xian was clenching his fists and said, “Yes, I am going to beat you up. You asked for it. You came into my manor and politely asked for it. Who am I not to oblige your request?” Then, Fan Xian proceeded to throw He Zongwei a few punches. Even though Fan Xian did not dare to beat the man to death, he most certainly resolved to paint his face a wide array of colors.


He Zongwei did not dare stay in the manor any longer. He held his head in pain and remembered that Fan Xian was infamous as being the “Brute of Fan Manor”. So, quickly, he ran to the door as fast as he could, tripping and tumbling over himself as he went. Just as he was about to exit, Fan Xian’s foot personally escorted him through the door with a tremendously powerful kick. The tea and its leaves followed like a flurry of darts.


Fan Xian, seeing the embarrassing and clumsy figure of the censor, felt quite a bit better. He lowered his voice and said, “You deceive and disgrace my father-in-law, only to think that you can come here and establish peace with a few tea leaves? If you were not asking to get beaten up, why did you possibly come here?”


Teng Zijing popped his head around the corner and with a wry smile said, “Sir, if word of what has just occurred here was to spread, your father would be most displeased!”


Fan Xian shrugged and responded, “I’m just beating up a dog that won’t bite; delivering a message to his master.”


A few months ago, while Fan Xian was still within the envoy travelling north, he received a newspaper from the Overwatch Council. It was about the prime minister, his father-in-law, and it detailed the progress of his retirement. Through the assistance of the old man Xiao En, the judgment provided over this incident had proven most accurate.


Wu Bo’an was an advisor to the prime minister placed there by the eldest princess. Last summer, he requested the assistance of the second lord of the Lin family and several agents of the northern Qi Kingdom to assassinate Fan Xian on Niulan Street. The assailants that attempted to do this ended up dead. It was because of this that Wu Bo’an’s son was tortured by the subordinates of the prime minister in Shandong. Fan Xian was still not aware that it was Yuan Hongdao, Chen Pingping’s most covert agent, who did it.


Wu Bo’an’s wife was arranged to enter the capital by Xinyang. Quite cleverly, she had to pass through He Zongwei, who put her up in the old residence of an aged Imperial Censor. There, she begged the Emperor for a trial.


The truth of the incident which saw the prime minister evicted from his position was a senseless murder.


On the streets of the capital, a hitman attempted to murder Wu Bo’an’s wife. It seemed as if a subordinate of the prime minister sought to silence her, but quite strangely, she was saved by the second prince and crown prince Jing.


This entire ordeal was dragged into the palace, and so the Prime Minister Lin Ruofu made a secret negotiation that allowed him to depart the capital.


Fan Xian began to grow suspicious, contemplating the roles that the second prince and crown prince Jing played in the entire incident. He had done so ever since he read that newspaper. The day he read it was also the day that he started to ponder the second prince’s relation to the eldest princess in Xinyang.


Every time he saw Da Bao, Fan Xian could not help but think about his father-in-law, who had no choice but to return to his hometown. This had nothing to do with the politics of the country; it was a personal rivalry between Fan Xian and the second prince. And on this topic, Fan Xian would have further ideas to formulate. He was the son-in-law of the man who was wronged and, for this, Fan Xian would ensure a just retaliation was served.


Fan Xian rubbed his knuckles, and flexed the bones and ligaments of his fingers. Almost immediately, he felt much better. He turned around and returned to the back of the residence. As he was walking, he spoke to Teng Zijing. “Do not mention my actions to father. That He Zongwei will probably be too embarrassed by what happened to spread word of what happened, anyway.”


Fan Xian arrived at the back of the residence where Wan’er was still deeply engaged with her stitchwork. He looked at his wife, smiled, and walked toward her.


Of the incident that had just occurred with He Zongwei, it was true that he would have been too ashamed of his beating to tell anyone else about it. It was not something that he would be able to hide from the second prince, however. After hearing of his deeds, the second prince struggled to wrap his head around how Fan Xian could continue to display such arrogance. There was a time when the second prince began to feel as if he had no power or sway in the government, but after receiving aid from the eldest princess in Xinyang, he was able to gain many trusted allies to change that. It was because of this that he viewed Fan Xian as a person of little importance.


Now that he had had the time to think about it, Fan Xian was merely a scholar with brains. Since when did he become such an unreasonable officer? Can one’s association with an organization such as the Overwatch Council have such a profound effect on one’s character?


The second prince assumed that Fan Xian’s lashing out at He Zongwei was merely a release of pent-up, accumulated anger. With him behaving the way he was, the second prince wasn’t quite willing to go visit Fan Xian any time soon. But, the beating must have at least worked to lessen his rage by some degree. Following these thoughts, his mind worried the matter a touch less, and so the second prince simply took to writing a letter to Xinyang.


In the beautiful palace in Xinyang, a gorgeous tree of immense age was now losing leaves and twigs to the autumn breeze. The golden leaves landed to decorate a dove-white tent. From inside, a hand reached out and into the air to gently catch a falling leaf. The veins on the hand did not look rough, for they were hidden beneath skin like pale jade. Like the concentrated beauty of a gemstone itself, it was beautiful to behold.


The eldest princess Li Yunrui, who had been away from the capital for over a year, yawned like a teenage girl. She let the leaf go, and allowed it to continue its descent to the ground. She raised her arm to support her jaw and with a roll of her eyes said, “What do you think, Mister Yuan?”


Yuan Hongdao, the man who sold out the Prime Minister Lin Ruofu, had now joined Xinyang. His face was one deprived of emotion, but a certain glint in his eyes revealed that he was afraid. He replied, “Even though the second prince is a member of the royal family, he continues to underestimate his enemy.”


The eldest princess laughed and said, “This Fan Xian is just a young man. For you to call him an enemy is a title that far exceeds his worth.”


Yuan Hongdao wore a wry smile and he said, “He is no ordinary man. The incidents of the northern Qi Kingdom, although they may not have unfolded the way he wanted – something that could be said about the plans of your own – Fan Xian was involved with it all, but remained clear, clean, and out of sight throughout it all. He even manipulated the northern Qi Kingdom’s emperor to secretly assassinate Shen Zhong. For a character with a list of achievements like this, none can say he is reckless or foolhardy. He’s even the greatest poet this generation has ever seen. With a personality such as that, I can only fear that his heart views situations and scenarios from different perspectives than most people can comprehend.”


The eldest princess sighed. She raised herself up from her bed, and the elegant noble clothing she was garbed in revealed a large portion of her back. The skin was so pale and delicate, it was like a swan.


“This man… Let us not forget that he did not save Xiao En. And before everything was over, he got Shen Zhong killed. The Cui family are over here each and every day complaining. The northern Qi Kingdom’s Discipline Commission provost position is still yet to be filled. The Brocade Guard could never dare to lead, and they have even blocked the routes of their shipments.”


The eldest princess’ trusted aide, Huang Yi, who had been quietly observing the eldest princess and her conversation with Yuan Hongdao, now spoke. He politely told her, “We are trying to discuss it with the empress dowager of the northern Qi Kingdom. But the northern Qi Kingdom’s emperor is far too stubborn to pay heed. He has prevented the dowager from giving the position of provost to Marquis Ning.”


The eldest princess laughed coldly and remarked, “That old hag in the northern Qi Kingdom is such a fool! Can’t she just choose someone trusted and who is not conspicuous? She has to make her brother become some sort of spy leader? What? Does she think her son is stupid?”


Yuan Hongdao was near, and made sure to remind her by saying, “Let us not discuss the affairs of the northern Qi Kingdom. For now, we don’t know what’s going on in our own capital.”


Huang Yi was not keen on Yuan Hongdao, because he had only just recently arrived at Xinyang, but the eldest princess favored him and placed much faith in him. He suppressed his jealousy to say, “After a few minor incidents in the capital, things will calm down pretty soon. I don’t think the Emperor wants the leader of the Overwatch Council, the one whom he picked himself, to fight and go up against his son.”


Yuan Hongdao coldly laughed and commented, “I am unsure of what the Emperor is thinking, but I know for a fact that this ‘Fan Xian’ is not a person who is likely to concede. This time the Imperial Censorate attempt to frame him was a simple way to refresh his memory and allow him to recall that there are some things he is unable to touch. Who would have expected the Emperor would be so kind to him?”


Huang Yi had to look into his face to say, “Is Fan Xian going to keep going on about this?”


The eldest princess smiled and spoke, “Mister Yuan does have a point. I should not have been as hasty as I was to try to get the Imperial Censorate to clamp down on him. Ugh, this guy is just so stubborn!” She held her mouth and forced a smile and laugh before continuing to say, “Huang Yi, didn’t you say that this son-in-law of mine loves to create trouble? Fan Jian, that old man, gave Fan Xian the courtesy name An Zhi. And now that I think about it, it makes sense. He knows that my son-in-law is unable to remain quiet.” [1]


She held her mouth again and laughed once more. It was quite the pretty scene to catch in this palace. Her eyes looked to be vivid and full of life, and her eyebrows were most attractive. They were painted like the raindrops of autumn, moisturizing every room she entered. Huang Yi, seeing this beauty, froze. He could formulate no response. It even caused Yuan Hongdao to be lost in the space between atoms.


“I can only surmise that this good son-in-law of mine will bite the second prince once more,” the eldest princess smiled and continued. “Write a letter. Write one up and implore that the second prince makes peace with Fan Xian. No matter how much pride he has to swallow, no matter how bad it must feel… Make peace.”


Although the prettiest woman in the Qing Kingdom spoke softly, the power beneath the surface was something none could judge. Huang Yi wanted to say something, but he held his tongue and merely shook his head.


The eldest princess had another sweet smile and she said, “My mother sent me a letter, saying that I should be in the capital’s palace for the New Year. When I return there, just you watch. I will play this game that my son-in-law so very much loves.”


The capital was in the embrace of another night of autumn. The First Bureau’s agents were put into motion.


The Director of the Imperial Observatory was a position that was most tame, but on a special occasion, such as when a star was spotted to be falling, or a lunar eclipse, he had to report to the Emperor. His explanations of such events were paid great heed to and the consequences could be grave.


He was allied with the second prince, but it was not yet his time to prove his usefulness. And already, he had been bitten by the infamous black dog of the Qing Kingdom.


A chorus of whooshing sounds echoed down the lane. A dozen men, all clad in black, looked like demons overtaking the streets. They leapt straight into the manor of the Director of the Imperial Observatory and, before the guards could react, their master was tied up.


They did not depart, however. They then lit up torches in the middle of the manor’s yard.


With them now illuminated under this bright light in the yard, the heavily armored guards did not dare to fight the men who were clothed in black.


Wearing pitch black clothing, Mu Tie was leading the team himself. He coldly looked back at the director’s family and the others who had come to observe. He said, “The Overwatch Council is working here.”


After this, the officers from the First Bureau dragged the Director of the Imperial Observatory out from his manor and shoved him into a carriage. Not long later, it disappeared, becoming one with the shadows of the night. Crying sounds could be heard from the manor as the torches extinguished.


[1] In Chinese, Fan Xian’s courtesy name An Zhi can be taken to mean “silence him”.


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