Joy of Life - Chapter 673 - Gentlemen, Friend, Escape[Updated at: 2021-01-12 01:50:37]
Chapter 673: Gentlemen, Friend, Escape
Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio
At noon, with one hand against his forehead to block the dazzling sunlight and no thought to spare for the sweat dripping into his eyes, Scholar He quickly left the serene Royal Palace. He didn’t enter the Hall of Governmental Affair’s row of small rooms. Instead, he climbed into his sedan chair and went to the Imperial Censorate’s yamen. It was only after he entered the yamen that he realized his uniform had long become soaked through with sweat. Somewhat unconscious of his surroundings, he walked into the hall and sat alone for a while before coming back to his senses.
He had been called by the Emperor into his study earlier. With just a few simple sentences, He Zongwei knew that his secret plans were all known to the Emperor. The Emperor knew what he was investigating but had not been bothered to ask or care about it. He only watched coldly.
Thinking of this, Scholar He’s entire body trembled with fear. His reasons for investigating were not righteous. Given the Emperor’s wise gaze, how could he not know this? He was surprised that the Emperor did not scold him sternly about the matter. Instead, he wearily gave instructions and sent him away.
In the cool and quiet hall of the Imperial Censorate, He Zongwei sank into thought. The Emperor had not been angry. Why? Had the internal court and Ministry of Justice actually found something in the Dazhou region? Was it the Tiger Guard Gao Da or Wang Qinian, who had definitely not died, who had revealed a trace of themselves? Although Dazhou was not far from Jingdou, time was still needed for the back and forth delivery of reports. He Zongwei had nothing else he could do. He could only wait excitedly and nervously in Jingdou for the report. Until now, he still did not know that because of his move in searching for Gao Da near Dazhou, he had catered to the will of heaven and blocked the old Director Chen returning home outside the city. At the same time, he gave Chen Pingping a chance to strike.
It was also the Emperor’s chance to strike.
It was not only He Zongwei who did not know about everything that was happening. Hu the Scholar of the Hall of Governmental Affairs and the officials of the six ministries and three departments had also not guessed that the Qing Kingdom was situated in a volatile environment. They had only sensed something strange was happening. No one had connected that with the already retired old Director Chen.
Even the wisest person could not have thought that something would go wrong between the Emperor and Chen Pingping. Furthermore, the officials didn’t even dare think in that direction.
Even the officials of the Overwatch Council had never questioned their superior’s loyalty to the Qing Kingdom and Emperor. Loyalty to the Emperor and everything for the Qing Kingdom was the mantra each secret agent of the Overwatch Council received when they first entered the Council. Through the decades, with Chen Pingping in the lead, all of the black-clothed officials had worked tirelessly for this goal, the growth of the Qing Kingdom and safety of the Emperor. Who would have thought that the Overwatch Council had also become one of the Emperor’s targets?
It was because no one had thought of this that one had the sensitivity to investigate in that direction. As the most powerful intelligence system and Special Forces organization in the world, many signs of the unusual things that would happen in Jingdou had been noticed by the officials of the Overwatch Council. The rise in the Imperial Army’s defenses, the sudden mobilization of the Jingdou Garrison, and even Scholar He’s abrupt entry into the Palace and disappointed exit were all seen by different eyes and sent back to the square black-grey building through different routes.
Of the eight bureaus, other than the Fifth Bureau of the Black Knights, all of the leading figures were in the black-grey building. The sun had just shifted east when the reports gathered in the Second Bureau. They had been combed through by different intelligence officials and placed on the table of the head of intelligence in the Second Bureau.
The head of the Second Bureau was a middle-aged man who the old officials of the eight bureaus had kept with difficulty. Ever since Fan Xian became the Commissioner of the Overwatch Council and gradually began to take over power in the Overwatch Council, Chen Pingping had, in order smooth his takeover, urged the old officials in the eight bureaus to retreat. These officials were people who had built the Council together with Director Chen, so they had no wish to conflict with the son of Mistress Ye. They had retreated naturally and happily.
Mu Tie took over the First Bureau. Fan Xian’s younger brother disciple of his poisons teacher took over the Third Bureau. Yan Bingyun took over the Fourth Bureau. Additionally, the Commander of the Black Knights had become the silver-masked Jing Ge, the bald leader of the Seventh Bureau had left his position early, and the head of the Eighth Bureau was someone Fan Xian had picked from the Qinian Unit.
Only the Second Bureau, because of the importance of the intelligence reports, continued to be maintained by the old head. Sincerely, responsibly, and diligently, he raised his deputy. Once the deputy could shoulder the burden of the entire Qing Kingdom’s intelligence system, he would allow a person close to Director Fan to take over his position.
The Overwatch Council and Imperial Censorate had long fought on different sides. Director Fan disliked Scholar He very much, so He Zongwei had always been the focus of the Overwatch Council’s surveillance. Although the Emperor disapproved of such surveillance, the Overwatch Council was using its resources for casual things. Plus, the court could not watch them every day. The middle-aged head of the Second Bureau furrowed his brows as he looked at the file in his hand. He didn’t know what He Zongwei had talked with the Emperor about for his expression to be so ugly.
As for the adjustment of the Imperial Army and mobilization of the Jingdou Garrison, they were sensitive reports. The head of the Second Bureau furrowed his brows in thought for a long time. He still could not understand. The Qing Kingdom was surrounded by strategic locations, what power needed such focus from the court to handle? The palace didn’t even let the Overwatch Council know about it. That was truly different from before.
He scooped up the files on the table, coughed, walked out of the door, up the stairs, and to the silent secret room. He knocked twice, pushed open the door and entered.
A young official in white clothing, completely at odds with the sinister atmosphere of the Overwatch Council, was sitting behind a large table intently reading something.
The head of the Second Bureau smiled slightly. He watched as Yan Bingyun sighed about something. He then went forward and put the files in his hands on his desk.
The old director had retired, and Sir Fan junior had finally become the true director. It was clear that Sir Yan junior was not only going to be in charge of the Fourth Bureau but would probably also take over Fan Xian’s position and become the new Commissioner of the Overwatch Council. During these years, Chen Pingping had long been nursing an illness, and Fan Xian did not have the patience to deal with details. Thus, all the affairs of the Overwatch Council had long been shouldered by Yan Bingyun alone. When Yan Bingyun became the Commissioner that handled all the miscellaneous matters of the Overwatch Council, all of the officials would already be used to it. There would not be any objections.
Sir Fan junior was talented, and because of his connection to Mistress Ye and old Director Chen, the old officials of the Overwatch Council were absolutely loyal to him and respectful. There was a distance to this kind of respect. In comparison, the son of Yan Ruohai, who had grown up in the Overwatch Council and sacrificed a great deal for the Council in Northern Qi was, without question, much more intimate.
“Uncle Liu, what is it that requires you to bring it up personally?” Yan Bingyun smiled warmly, completely without the iciness he had in front of Fan Xian. Standing, he invited the head of the Second Bureau to sit and then casually flipped open the files.
“The mobilization of the Imperial Army and Jingdou Garrison only have to be reported to the internal court and Bureau of Military Affairs, so it’s not a big deal that we don’t know anything about it,” the head of the Second Bureau said worriedly as he looked at Yan Bingyun. “But, it doesn’t align with precedence. For such a major matter, there must be a purpose. However, until now, the Council still does not know what happened…”
Yan Bingyun had already flipped through these reports. The lines by his mouth remained steady. With a slight smile, he said, “Recently, there has been unrest near Dongyi. There are many aces there. Furthermore, the jianghu people are violent. Perhaps the Palace is worried that a few assassins might make their way in like during the Hanging Temple incident before. The Imperial Army raising their alertness levels is nothing.”
“However, the Jingdou Garrison,” Yan Bingyun said with a shake of his head. “Send a message to the Bureau of Military Affairs and ask them about it.”
“The Bureau of Military Affairs can ignore us,” the head of the Second Bureau said with furrowed brows. “The current problem is that Shi Fei is personally leading the troops. The Palace must have given an order.”
He suddenly thought of something. He remembered that old Director Chen’s carriages had not left Jingdou for long. He immediately shook his head with a self-mocking smile.
“What’s wrong?” Yan Bingyun’s gaze was serene as he glanced at him carelessly.
“Nothing.” The head of the Second Bureau shook his head and said with a smile. “I’m getting old. The mind easily thinks of strange things.”
He could not imagine that the Palace would turn against the old Director he respected the most, so he unconsciously severed his earlier thought. Just like Gong Dian and Ye Zhong’s confusion and like Commander Shi Fei’s fear, no one was able to think of this.
Yan Bingyun slowly lowered his head and said, “The Council’s surveillance of the military has never been something public. It’s better to not send a message to the Bureau of Military Affairs. What’s the usual procedure for this?”
“We cannot interfere with the military. Usually, we draft an intelligence report and send it into the Palace for the Emperor to read,” the head of the Second Bureau said after a moment of silence. “Of course, we should react quicker for unusual actions like the ones today.”
“Alright.” Yan Bingyun said, still with his head down. “Immediately format these reports into a list and send it to the royal study via a secret channel.”
“Yes.” Unconsciously, the head of the Second Bureau replied like a subordinate. He suddenly felt that Yan Bingyun’s reaction was slightly strange. He still had not raised his head. It seemed rude. He was an official of the same rank. Plus, he had not yet truly taken the post of Commissioner, yet he… He shook his head again. He had watched Yan Bingyun grow up and knew he wasn’t like that. He thought something might be wrong with the Yan manor and didn’t think more of it. He scooped up the files and left.
Just like this, the Overwatch Council missed its first opportunity to react. In front of the Qing Kingdom’s powerful national machinery, it might be best for the country, the court, and even the square black-grey building if the Overwatch Council did not have any reaction.
The room returned to the quiet that had persisted for countless years. Yan Bingyun slowly raised his head. If there was someone beside him right now, they would certainly have seen the increasingly powerful struggle and pained expression in his eyes.
Below the table, Yan Bingyun’s hands were clenched tightly and did not open for a long time. His thin lips were also pressed together tightly to the point there was almost no blood left in them. He slowly rose and walked to the window. Lifting up the black curtain, he gazed out and immediately saw the shimmering corner of the Royal Palace under the clear autumn sunlight.
He remembered the first time he entered the Overwatch Council. The old man in the wheelchair had met him in this room. It seemed that the black curtains had never been taken down. It was as if the old man was used to the darkness and could not bear to see sunlight anymore.
Later, the old man had left this room and returned to Chen Garden. Fan Xian did not like being in such a severe and sinister place every day, so the person who stayed in this room the longest had been Yan Bingyun.
In the past, the heads of the eight bureaus would sit on either side of this long table and make their reports. Now, the long table was completely empty. In the past, there had always been a wheelchair at the head of the long table and a patch of shadow behind the wheelchair.
Now, the wheelchair had been gone for a long time. Yan Bingyun slowly let go of the black curtain in his hand and gave a long sigh. The confusion, struggle, and pain in his eyes gradually disappeared. Since he was the second master of this room, he had to carry on the previous master’s nature and determination. Since he had made up his mind, he could not hesitate.
Yan Bingyun had been one of the seven young officials the Qing Emperor had summoned into the Palace when he wanted to bring new people into the court. These seven young officials were the new people the Qing Emperor had prepared for the future of the Qing Kingdom. Other than Qin Heng, who had died in the rebellion, the rest of them had begun to shine in the Qing court.
Of the six of them, He Zongwei had risen the fastest. Despite his young age, he was a passing scholar in the Hall of Governmental Affairs and held the position of the Imperial Censor of the Left. Yan Bingyun and Cheng Jialin, one of Fan manor’s four disciples, had been placed by everyone into Fan Xian’s faction.
No one knew how much pressure and force the Qing Kingdom’s mighty Emperor had put onto Sir Yan junior of the Overwatch Council during the discussion that night.
Of the so-called seven gentlemen, in the Emperor’s eyes, the most important were He Zongwei and Yan Bingyun.
Yan Bingyun slowly sat down. He spread his palms flat against the table and gently brushed them over the Overwatch Council’s complicated documents and intelligence reports. He then gently nocked on a bell and summoned in his direct subordinates and those of the Qinian Unit he could use. Quietly, he issued order after order.
These orders did not seem related and did not draw people’s attention. However, the reinforcement sent toward Dongyi and exchange with Deng Zi Yue in Xiliang Road would consume most of the Overwatch Council’s attention during these dozen days.
Four orders easily emptied the Jingdou Overwatch Council of most of its strength as they began to move toward various places in the Qing Kingdom. These mobilizations were not unusual, so they didn’t draw anyone’s attention. But, it would make it difficult for the Overwatch Council to pull together a powerful force in Jingdou if it wanted to.
There were not many people who were able to do this. Even if Fan Xian did it personally, he probably couldn’t do it as quickly as Yan Bingyun. In the end, Fan Xian did not have the patience for details. He understood the Overwatch Council but not as well as Yan Bingyun. Only a few places had to be moved in the giant Overwatch Council for this result to be achieved. Sir Yan junior’s logistical skills were as powerful as ever.
It was only the First Bureau of the Overwatch Council that he could do nothing about. The First Bureau was responsible for monitoring the actions of the officials in Jingdou and had been personally run by Fan Xian initially. Although Mu Tie was the head of the First Bureau now, the officials of the First Bureau still saw their direct superior as the Director. Although Yan Bingyun had Fan Xian’s command token, he could not move them out of Jingdou with some outlandish order.
After Yan Bingyun had done everything, he took a deep breath. It was as if what he had just done had almost suffocated him.
“Everything for the Qing Kingdom.” Yan Bingyun slowly closed his eyes and couldn’t help but remember the conversation he had before with his father. The smooth corners of his eyes involuntarily twitched as he muttered, “Or everything for the Overwatch Council?”
When Eunuch Yao left the royal study and came to the foot of the palace walls to announce the imperial edict to Ye Zhong and Gong Dian, not many people in the Royal Palace knew about it. After Ye Zhong and Gong Dian knelt on the floor and accepted the edict while forcibly resisting the shock and unease in their hearts, Eunuch Yao handed over the Emperor’s letters and said without expression, “Commander Shi Fei is waiting for his edict.”
Ye Zhong stood and accepted the Emperor’s letter like he was accepting Dong Mountain. It was so heavy that he could almost not raise his arm. Presently, he was one of the few ninth-level aces in the Qing Kingdom. When faced with this letter, he still felt that he could not shoulder it.
Fortunately, the person who truly needed this letter was Shi Fei. Since he had not been in Jingdou for a long time, the important official sent by the military in Yanjing was given such a dangerous mission by the Qing Emperor. As the head of the Bureau of Military Affairs, Ye Zhong couldn’t help but feel a wave of sorrow for Shi Fei. At the same time, a chill rose in his heart.
The Emperor had the Yanjing military carry out this matter instead of having the Dingzhou military. Other than the Jingdou Garrison led by Shi Fei, who was outside of his control, it had to be said that with Ye Zhong’s long stay in Jingdou, the Emperor was not very assured about his connection to Chen Pingping.
Ye Zhong thought through this, but his expression did not change at all.
Eunuch Yao left empty-handed from the Imperial Army’s camping ground. With his body bent, he slowly headed back into the Palace. Like Ye Zhong, many complicated emotions rose and fell inside the heart of this head eunuch. Having served in the Palace for a long time, he was used to seeing the conversations between the Emperor and Chen Pingping, which were entirely unlike those between a normal ruler and subject. He knew that inside the Emperor’s heart, Chen Pingping was not just an ordinary official.
Thinking about the Emperor’s anger in the royal study, the smile on Eunuch Yao’s face involuntarily turned bitter. In his view, if the Emperor truly wanted to do something to old Director Chen, it would have been much more convenient for the Emperor to do it while he had been in Jingdou when the Director had come into the Palace to give his farewell. Why had he delayed until the old Director had already left the capital and was on the way home before taking action?
The matter was in Dazhou. The Tiger Guard who escaped before the battle was in Dazhou. The Ministry of Justice aces that Scholar He sent were in Dazhou. The aces the internal court sent to help the Imperial Censorate were also in Dazhou.
Eunuch Yao understood the Emperor better than anyone. It seemed the Emperor was still waiting. Eunuch Yao knew that if the old Director really wanted to get away, the Emperor would have to personally lead troops in pursuit. Otherwise, no one could stop that old creature.
He walked to Taiji Palace and leaned against a column, enjoying the rare quiet. The eunuchs and serving girls passing by respectfully and slightly fearfully bowed to him, then left silently. Eunuch Yao closed his eyes and enjoyed the autumn afternoon sunlight. Sighing quietly, he muttered to himself, “Director, since you have left, don’t come back. The Emperor also doesn’t want you to come back.”
After the cold-blooded and heartless Qing Emperor secretly investigated for a long time, he still went against his nature and gave Chen Pingping a chance to explain and leave. Before Chen Pingping left, he would not explain himself. Now, outside Dazhou, he ran into the court-pursued Gao Da. It would all depend on if he was willing to leave.
If Chen Pingping was willing to leave, perhaps the matter would stop there. If he wasn’t willing to leave, then he would return to Jingdou.
This was not the Qing Emperor’s affection for Chen Pingping. It was probably more so a questioning, inquiring, or interrogation of Chen Pingping’s heart.
The Qing Emperor and Chen Pingping had known and kept each other company for decades. He could accept anyone betraying him because a paranoid Emperor did not believe anyone in the world, but he could not accept the idea of Chen Pingping betraying him. He didn’t even believe the truth he had found himself.
Each person living in this world was afraid of loneliness, particularly the person sitting on the throne. Perhaps even the Emperor had not noticed that Chen Pingping, the seemingly lonely old cripple, was the only person, the only warm place, in his icy heart that could prove he was a living person.
That was why the Emperor was angry, worried, and, until the end, carried a sliver of disbelief as he interrogated his and Chen Pingping’s heart.
Those involved did not see clearly. Perhaps the only person who could see everything clearly was the head eunuch leaning against the column of Taiji Palace basking in the sunlight.
Old Eunuch Hong liked to bask in the sunlight. Eunuch Yao also liked to bask in the sunlight. Eunuch Hou, who had died to Fan Xian’s hand, also liked to bask in the sunlight. It was probably because these strange people’s hearts contained too many secrets and had a more ruthless gaze than anyone. They knew too many of the Emperor’s joys and sorrows. Yet they could not speak of it or ponder it. They could only sun themselves endlessly to prevent the secrets from molding in their bodies and the icy emotions from freezing them.
Eunuch Yao closed his eyes and breathed slowly. He was not a powerful warrior like Hong Siyang and did not have the spirit to sacrifice himself for the Qing Kingdom to unify the world. He was only a careful and cautious person. His only goal was to ensure that he lived on calmly and safely. Other than fear, he had no other thoughts concerning the matter between the Emperor and old Director Chen.
“Today’s sunlight is truly very nice,” Eunuch Dai said with a smile as he leaned beside him, having just come out of the palace.
Eunuch Yao glanced at this old friend with a smile. The two of them had entered the Palace together. Eunuch Dai’s time in the Palace had not been as calm as his. Eunuch Dai was first in Lady Shu’s palace and was greatly liked by the Emperor. The important matter of sending edicts to the manors of officials were all given to him to do. One day, he lost power and lived wretchedly in the palace. It was not until Sir Fan junior’s help and his outstanding behavior during the Jingdou rebellion did he rise again in the Palace.
All of the eunuchs and serving girls in the palace were afraid of Eunuch Yao. After all, he was the head eunuch closest to the Emperor. Eunuch Dai did not have the same fear as everyone else. After all, they were old acquaintances. Furthermore, Eunuch Dai also had substantial power and Sir Fan junior stood behind him.
Eunuch Yao didn’t comment. He only moved to the side to give half of the space to him.
Eunuch Dai glanced at him. He started to speak and then stopped. He sighed and said, “When we first entered the palace, we would be lazy and bask in the sun here which resulted in us getting caught by old Eunuch Hong and given 50 whacks with the paddle. Do you still remember?”
Of course, Eunuch Yao remembered. Among the young eunuchs then, Xiao Houzi had already died. He sighed and knew what Eunuch Dai wanted to ask. Presumably he had also sensed the oddness in the Royal Palace. However, this matter was too big. Probably only five people in the entire world knew of it. Furthermore, Eunuch Dai was close to Sir Fan junior, so this had to be kept from him even more.
Eunuch Yao smiled and glanced with a narrowed-eyed smile at the sun to his left and said, “Of our friends back then, some have died and some have scattered. How many are like me who still remember the bond of being punished together?”
“We are still alive. As long as we are alive, it is good.” Eunuch Dai shook his head.
Eunuch Yao suddenly raised his head and gazed down to the end of the long corridor. He saw a young eunuch walk toward them slowly with a slight bow. He narrowed his eyes and said, “Hong Zhu has been following you recently. How has it been?’
“This kid was probably traumatized three years ago. He grows more and more silent.” It was clear Eunuch Dai very much liked the clever but silent little eunuch. With a sigh, he said, “At the time, he was very popular with the Eastern Palace. Who would have thought that he would end up like this?”
“He used to serve in the royal study too. Silence is a good thing,” Eunuch Yao said calmly. “You talked too much in the past.”
Eunuch Dai smiled self-mockingly and didn’t say anything more.
Two days later, in a mountain outside Dazhou, the rapidly advancing army arrived. The Jingdou Garrison had rested for less than a day when they received an extra urgent secret message from the Bureau of Military Affairs in Jingdou. Shi Fei accepted the secret letter and broke the seal. He then read each word inside carefully. His pupils shrank and then immediately returned to normal. He did not stay silent for a long time. He handed the letter to his personal attendant beside him.
“Put this away safely. You are not to show yourself tomorrow! If I die, give this letter… to Sir Fan junior.” Thousands of Jingdou Garrison soldiers were waiting for orders in the valley. Commander Shi Fei only had his personal attendant with him as he stood under the setting sun, watching the movements in the not-distant Dazhou in front of him.
The personal attendant was shocked. He thought, The Yanjing Army has never had anything to do with Sir Fan junior, or even the Overwatch Council. Why is this letter so important?
Shi Fei laughed coldly but did not explain anything. He looked at his subordinates in the valley. There was no confidence in his heart. Even he didn’t know if there were Overwatch Council spies among the Jingdou Garrison soldiers.
Although the court had clear rules, and it was also clearly listed in the Overwatch Council’s regulations that the Overwatch Council was strictly prohibited from entering military affairs, such a person as Commander Shi Fei would not believe such things.
Even such a powerful figure as the old Qin Master had fallen to the hands of Overwatch Council spies. Shi Fei did not think that he was more powerful than Qin Ye.
He took a deep breath and said, “Reduce speed and move closer toward Dazhou.”
He was afraid of failing and dying, but he was more afraid that once he died, the Emperor would push the crime of killing Director Chen onto him to comfort Sir Fan junior. That was why he gave the Emperor’s letter to his personal attendant. If he failed, then the letter must be delivered to Sir Fan junior’s hands.