Book One, Chapter 52: Accusations

Under a glittering blanket of white snow, night settled.

Shen Zechuan could not stay any longer. As he was leaving, Xiao Chi’ye also rose. He retrieved his greatcoat from the rack and handed it to him.

“I haven’t seen this sword of yours before,” Xiao Chi’ye leant over and picked up Rising Snow, which leapt lightly into his hand. “A new acquisition?”

Shen Zechuan nodded, putting on his coat with his face turned towards the door.

Xiao Chi’ye slid out a length of cold brilliance with his thumb, and said, “Nice blade. What’s its name?”

Shen Zechuan replied, “Rising Snow.”

When it rises, it spouts three mountains’ worth of snow, and when it levels, it may swallow a hundred rivers.1 Xiao Chi’ye sheathed the blade and took a step forward, pressing himself into Shen Zechuan from behind as his fingers deftly hooked Rising Snow back onto Shen Zechuan’s waist. He bent his head a little, and said, “Pretty to look at, and a pretty name to match.”

Shen Zechuan whipped around, but Xiao Chi’ye already had a hand clasped about his waist, and easily pulled him into his arms.

“How are you going to be looking at me out there, after today?”

“However might be appropriate for the occasion.” Shen Zechuan quickly turned back around, and the brush of cheek on cheek there was a mimicry of affection.

“If it all gets too much, feel free any time to ask your Er-gongzi for help,” Xiao Chi’ye said cheerfully, as his fingers found the approximate measure he sought.

Er-gongzi can barely save himself,” Shen Zechuan said. “He’s more likely to come beg my aid instead.”

Xiao Chi’ye released him, commenting as he did, “You’ve lost weight since last time. If I guess correctly, you’re still taking some kind of medicine to mask your physique.”

Shen Zechuan secured his coat about himself, and did not speak.

“A word of advice,” Xiao Chi’ye said. “That medication takes a toll on the body when used frequently. It’s your own health you’ll be ruining in a few years.”

At the door, Shen Zechuan sighed softly. “Your Teacher has sharp eyes, to have been able to tell from one quick encounter.”

Xiao Chi’ye said, “You’d go this far, for these things you’re doing?”

“As I live or die on the whim of strangers, I must naturally exercise the utmost caution in all things.” Shen Zechuan’s hands were very cold. He said, “I’ve practiced the Ji Family Fist for years. Without this ruse, I would not have fooled Ji Lei’s eyes.”

Xiao Chi’ye said, “Ji Lei is dead.”

The scent of wine still lingered on Shen Zechuan. He said, “And I’ve stopped taking the medicine.”

When Shen Zechuan had gone, Xiao Chi’ye stood in the snow and the wind, and recalled Zuo Qianqiu’s words.

“This is a medicine which came from the East, and gives its user the appearance of being sickly. Once or twice would not matter, but over time, it becomes an affliction. The poison settles within the body, where it causes no immediate trouble. But what’s to come will come in time.”

“What’s to come?”

Zuo Qianqiu gazed into the teacup in his hands, and said, “Poison accumulates into pathology. If not tended to and allowed to heal, then when time runs out, the individual may well be irretrievably crippled.”

Xiao Chi’ye lifted a hand, and the remnant warmth in his palm was swept away by the wind and snow. He cast his mind back to that night, and remembered the way he had kneaded and worked Shen Zechuan between his hands until he thought he could have melted away, but how, really, it had seemed only to give a few fleeting moments of warmth to Shen Zechuan.

Beauty has always carried the illusion of fragility.


Under his straw hat, Qiao Tianya urged the horse-drawn carriage on, hastening towards the old house in Donglong Avenue where Shen Zechuan lived. Shen Zechuan sat against the walls of the carriage within, eyes closed, dozing.

When they arrived, Qiao Tianya pulled to a stop, and drew the curtains aside to let Shen Zechuan down. Shen Zechuan alighted, and retreated into his rooms to bathe and change his clothes.

By Imperial decree, he had achieved a meteoric rise this time, leaping to the fifth-grade office of Adjudicator. However, there were two parts to this office, a south and a north: the South Adjudicator’s service handled the internal affairs of the Brocade Guard, and the North service administered to the Imperial Prison. Li Jianheng had intended to place him in a key position, but the civil ministers of his cabinet had had ideas of their own. Because of Shen Zechuan’s background, they were disinclined to hand over control of the Imperial Prison to him, and upon deliberation denied Shen Zechuan’s assignment as North Adjudicator, instead switching him to the South service.

As this would certainly have upset Li Jianheng, the Cabinet further increased Shen Zechuan’s military rank, promoting him to lieutenant of the upper fifth rank. This, in addition to the quadruped-dragon robes and double-trimmed belt which Li Jianheng had decided to gift him in bonus, amounted to an exceptional honour.

Shen Zechuan had seen the Cabinet’s rejection coming.

He had used Han Cheng as a stepping stone in his ascent this time, and while Xue Xiuzhuo had let him have his promotion as promised, he had also been obliged to hit him somewhere it would hurt. This was so he would understand that even though he had saved the Emperor’s life, he had a long way to go yet before he could contend with them.

Shen Zechuan put himself together neatly, and when he came out again Qiao Tianya was waiting with an umbrella. The man commented, “In light of your felicitous promotion, Master, this house has become pretty shabby. It’ll be a tight squeeze with all the visitors you’ll be having.”

“There’s no hurry.” Shen Zechuan swept his robes aside and climbed into the carriage. As he released the hangings, he said, “Plenty of time to move when I make Director.”

Then the curtains fell, and he resumed his nap.

The weather was poor today, and officials awaited court outside Mingli Hall with snow-capped shoulders. They could not move about as they wished, or make casual gestures, nor raise their voices or cough.

Shen Zechuan stood with Han Cheng, swords at their sides, and his skin was snow-white against his scarlet quadruped-dragon robes. His eyes, when he smiled, took on an entrancing loveliness, but beyond their warmth and ease was the sense of a dangerous cruelty.

Xiao Chi’ye, too, was in red, clad in the lions of his second-grade office, which made him stand out ever more distinctly amongst the throng. He looked rather disinterested just now, and only flicked a brief glance towards Shen Zechuan.

The two men stood separately, and yet between them somehow gave off the distinct impression of a stand-off, so that even Hai Liangyi turned a few times to look at them.

The civil ministers conversed with their eyes, the same unvoiced thought circulating amongst them.

Before long, Han Cheng said quietly, “Let’s go.”

The palace doors opened, and the eunuchs of the Office of Ceremony and the key ministers of the Cabinet entered first — as the Office of Ceremonies sat currently vacant, it left only the Cabinet ministers, headed by Hai Liangyi, to lead. Han Cheng followed immediately after, and climbed the steps with Shen Zechuan to take their positions, foremost on the left beneath the throne.

On the throne, Li Jianheng, his hands on his knees, asked, “It has been two nights since the attempted assassination. Has the Ministry of Justice made any fresh progress?”

Minister of Justice, Kong Qiu, came forward, made his obeisance, and said, “Your Majesty, Palace Maiden Fu Ling’s coercion of Gui Sheng into the assassination attempt has been verified through evidence. I will be submitting those to the Court of Judicial Review today for appraisal.”

For some reason, Li Jianheng shot a look at Xiao Chi’ye, then looked back around and continued, “But have you got to the bottom of why she did it?”

Kong Qiu said, “After investigation, it was confirmed that on one occasion, Fu Ling had smashed one of the Imperial Kitchen’s Imperial plates, and consequently had her name marked down in the records, which caused an indefinite deferral of her release from Palace service. She often told others of her mother’s advancing age, and of her desire to leave the Palace to care for her, which she could not do due to Palace rules. She had repeatedly bribed the previous secretary of the Office of Ceremonies, but always to no avail. Having been swindled of all her life savings, she became enraged, and conceived of thoughts of revenge.”

“Your Majesty, I have something to say.” The vice minister of the Court of Judicial Review, Wei Huaixing, was the second trueborn son of the Eight Families’ Wei’s, and the elder brother to Concubine Wei of the Emperor Xiande’s time. He stepped out, and made obeisance.

Li Jianheng said, “Please speak, Lord Wei.”

“Your Majesty, I have determined that the palace maiden Fu Ling had previously made sexual transactions with the residing Justice of the Imperial Guard, Yuan Liu. The very house which her mother lives in was obtained on credit through Yuan Liu’s personal negotiation.” Looking at no one, Wei Huaixing continued, “This investigation is presided over by the Ministry of Justice, and concerns the matter of His Majesty’s personal safety. It cannot be said to be inconsequential. And yet, Minister Kong has only related one half of the confessions to His Majesty. Is there something which may not be spoken of, or someone who may not be mentioned?”

Kong Qiu turned around, and replied, “……There is a full account of this matter in the report I have submitted to His Majesty. How would this constitute deliberate omission?”

“The Morning Court is the epicentre of political discussion, but when His Majesty asked if you had gotten to the bottom of the matter, you mince words and obfuscate.” Wei Huaixing raised his head, saying, “‘When before his Emperor, an official should serve earnestly and to the utmost fulfilment of his loyalty’.2 The halls of court are no place for the harbouring of filth and corruption. What are you afraid of? If you dare not say it in front of him, then let me — Your Majesty, not only are each of the three judicial branches implicated in this case, but also the Imperial Guard!”

Xiao Chi’ye’s expression was dark, almost sneering.

Li Jianheng had initially intended to quash this thing, but it had now become awkward to continue to fudge around. He dithered for quite a time, then said, “……And what do you say, Ce’an?”

Xiao Chi’ye replied, “There are twenty thousand men enrolled in the Imperial Guard, Your Majesty. One by one, I can verify each of their backgrounds, but even I cannot look into every one of their personal affairs. In this matter, I am guilty of oversight in management, Your Majesty, and I submit myself to be penalised as you see fit.”

Li Jianheng opened his mouth.

Wei Huaixing kowtowed before he could say anything. “Governor-General Xiao, why won’t you speak the truth before His Majesty either? Certainly it is difficult to look into the private lives of twenty thousand enlisted men, but your relationship with Yuan Liu was never merely ordinary. How can you pretend not to know about him, either!”

Shen Zechuan looked across.

“I have special relationships with heaps of people,” Xiao Chi’ye swept Shen Zechuan a look, and grinned carelessly. “But I’ve already got a babe on my arm, and I’d be blind to go shag some old bloke instead. Yuan Liu’s old enough to be your dad, Lord Wei. It’s one thing if you’re going to make baseless claims, but why would you slander me like this?”

“We are at court,” Hai Liangyi coughed lightly, and said, “Please mind your language, Governor-General.”

“His Majesty knows the kind of scumbag I am through and through, and I’ve never found the need to put on a charade in here.” When Xiao Chi’ye decided to be unreasonable, he was a complete tyrant, and had no regard for even Hai Liangyi. “If you want to investigate the Imperial Guard, go ahead — I’ll quite naturally step away, hang my badge up, and all of your lordships can investigate to your hearts’ content. But if you’re going to stick me with trumped-up charges, then I’m sorry, I decline.”

“Crass words and wilful defiance before the Emperor, what a grand specimen the Xiao family has produced!” Wei Huaixing drew a sheaf of paper from his sleeve. “The Governor-General says I’ve no proof, but as a member of the Court of Judicial Review, would I dare?”

Xiao Jiming, who had thus far watched this unmoving, lifted his head slightly, and looked towards Wei Huaixing too, curious to see what proof he would offer.

Wei Huaixing said, “Yuan Liu was originally only an Imperial Guard platoon leader. It was the Governor-General who personally promoted him to Assistant Justice, and not two years after that, moved him up again to Justice proper. I have to ask the Governor-General: in those few years, the Imperial Guard took on no critical operations, so on what merit was he promoted time and again?”

Xiao Chi’ye scoffed, “He’d served for long enough, and if he hadn’t achieved much, he’d done nothing wrong either. The Imperial Guard has been recruiting widely these few years, and this guy Yuan Liu isn’t the only old timer I’ve promoted for old times’ sake. Why don’t you list them all out, Lord Wei, and count them all towards my nepotism?”

“Isn’t the Imperial Guard these days the Governor-General’s own little autocracy anyway?” Wei Huaixing countered steadily, “Each of them loyal to the Xiao name, aren’t they, instead of His Majesty?”

His words were double-edged. Explicitly, he seemed to be talking about Xiao Chi’ye, but implicitly, he had roped Xiao Jiming in.

And as expected, Xiao Chi’ye snapped. “Stick to the facts, and keep my family name out of your damn mouth! I, Xiao Ce’an, got to where I am by toughing it out with His Majesty — unlike you, Lord Wei of the upper crust, destined for a smooth-sailing path to greatness.”

Having waited for him to lose his temper, Wei Huaixing now unfolded his report, and said, “At the end of last year, you attended a drinking party, Governor-General, and Yuan Liu made you a gift of a large sum of gold at the table. Do you admit to this?”

At this, even Li Jianheng was thrown. He squeezed his fist tightly, and did not try to speak again.

Xiao Chi’ye said, “I’ve never gone drinking with Yuan Liu.”

“All the girls in Xianghui House on Donglong Avenue can testify. That night, Yuan Liu forked out a fortune to host the Governor-General at his banquet, where you became heavily inebriated, and Yuan Liu gifted you a basket of peaches made of solid gold,” Wei Huaixing said. “Do you still deny it, Governor-General?”

Xiao Chi’ye said, “All I’m gonna ask you is, how is a minor sixth-grade official like Yuan Liu supposed to have golden peaches to give away?”

“That’s a question the Governor-General will have to answer for us,” Wei Huaixing said, finally introducing his checkmate. “When Yuan Liu acquired the house he would later gift to Fu Ling, he also signed for three other houses overlooking Donglong Avenue. I have confirmed that the document he used as guarantee was the Governor-General’s handwritten commission! In recent years, the Imperial Guard first renovated their barracks, then expanded to a training ground at Feng Hill, but where did they find all that money? Hasn’t the Governor-General coaxed it from the brokers, using his position in the Imperial Guard as leverage? And the man who saw to it all on your behalf, Governor-General, was Yuan Liu himself. Now we find that Yuan Liu has instructed Fu Ling to assassinate His Majesty, and you claim it has nothing to do with you?”

Xiao Chi’ye did not answer.

The Right Chief Censor, Fu Linye, stepped out from the ranks, and said, “I, too, have something to say, Your Majesty.”

For some reason, Li Jianheng’s fingertips trembled violently. He said, “Speak!”

Fu Linye said, “I, too, must bring a charge against the Governor-General today. By law, before the Three Branches of Justice have completed their joint trial, unless by Imperial permission, no other person may visit the offender in our prison. Yesterday, though he had no permission, the Governor-General made his way to the prison, and has failed to report this despite ample opportunity.”

Xiao Chi’ye’s expression grew darker.

“When the Governor-General left the prison, Fu Ling’s mother passed away.” Fu Linye kowtowed. “I would like to invite the Governor-General to explain what happened there, before His Majesty.”

Xiao Chi’ye said, “Well, aren’t the two of you well coordinated. What a coincidence!”

“Do not evade the question, Governor-General,” Wei Huaixing said coldly. “Give it up now, before it’s too late!

“A man with a mind to make false accusations will never find himself at a loss for words.” Ambushed from all sides, Xiao Chi’ye went silent for a moment, then said to Li Jianheng, “I have not done these things you speak of, gentlemen. The decision today is entirely in His Majesty’s hands!”

In the scorching anxiety that suffused the air, Li Jianheng’s knee grew damp in his own grip. He looked back at Xiao Chi’ye, and asked suddenly, “That letter in your handwriting, how do you explain that?”

Xiao Chi’ye’s gaze fell, as he said, almost with a half-smile, “I did not write it, Your Majesty.”

Li Jianheng stood abruptly, paced a few steps in agitation, and said, “Show me!”

Wei Huaixing presented it to him. Li Jianheng flipped through it for a second, then suddenly began to shake. His lips quivered, opening and closing. “Isn’t this your handwriting… Ce… Ce’an!”

Xiao Chi’ye said, steel in his voice, “I did not write it, Your Majesty!”

Panic gripped Li Jianheng. He held that letter in his hand, but then threw it from himself like a hot potato. Almost hysterically, he asked, “That Yuan Liu, was he your man or not!?”

Xiao Chi’ye lifted his eyes.

Watching him, Li Jianheng found himself gripping the arms of his throne, a little frightened. And in that flash of fear, he remembered the coldness in Xiao Chi’ye when he left him behind in the mud. Then an infinite revulsion rose in him, and waving his arms as though to drive off some dreadful thing, he said with all the strength he had in him, “Take his badge away first!”

Xiao Chi’ye said, “I—”

Wei Huaixing stood forward and cried, “If he dares resist, the law allows his arrest immediately!”

Xiao Chi’ye’s eyes turned abruptly to pin Wei Huaixing. Then he looked towards Li Jianheng, and said coldly, “I, Xiao Ce’an, may of course be arrested, but you must at least name a charge I can respect.”

Li Jianheng had already begun to swing towards the accusers in this barrage of attacks, feeling as though he had misplaced his trust. Receiving this attitude from Xiao Chi’ye now, hot fury overcame him in the moment, and he barked, “Get on your knees! We will have your badge today!”

Xiao Chi’ye still did not move.

Apoplectic now, Li Jianheng cried, “We have charged you to kneel!

Author’s notes:

[1]: Li Bai, “Gufeng #33”

[2]: Zhang Yanghao, “Admonishments for the Politician” 《为政忠告》

13 thoughts on “Book One, Chapter 52: Accusations

  1. oh my god, i was so scared you disappeared again for a second until i saw my email this morning! you won’t believe the joy it brought me… thank you so much for the update ❤


      1. Like this

        Or maybe just a [note] after the paragraph of the note, since when you are on mobile it is a bit annoying to scroll all the way down and then all the way up again!

        For example

        “When it rises, it spouts three mountains’ worth of snow, and when it levels, it may swallow a hundred rivers.“[1] Xiao Chi’ye sheathed the blade and took a step forward, pressing himself …..

        [1]: Li Bai, “Gufeng #33”

        …..Continuation of the translation

        ~ just a suggestion though! I would not add extra work to you if it is inconvenient but it just makes it easier to read in a flow ~

        Also is it okay to point out spelling mistakes if we see any?

        Thank you so much!


  2. Ahhhh thank you for your translation!! it’s so high quality it’s beautiful 😭😭 hope you get used to your new work schedule soon! Btw I also second the clickable footnotes if possible ofc if not then don’t worry.

    I’ve read it before but the way ce’an looks at Lanzhou when he says he has special relationships with many people and how refers to him as a babe is just 😌👌


  3. i was so worried about you. i’m so thankful you’re back ❤
    take as much time as you need and take care of yourself


  4. I genuinely hope that if QJJ gets licensed in English, they contact you for the translation (as long as they pay you well and you’re available!!). I have to say the story isn’t exactly what I usually like to read, but your writing makes it very easy to follow. Also, every scene with XCY/SZC makes me lose my mind!!!! They have the best scenes. Thank you so much for these translations – would be super happy to tip you and follow the translation at your pace.


    1. Hi serenadinglands! (not gonna lie read your handle as “serenading glands” at first… need to get my head out of work 🤣) I actually half-hope a professional picks up the official translation, so I can learn! But then I remember how the chinese version of Harry Potter went, and I rethink that wish. Ce’an and Lanzhou are the best power couple 😊 Thank you for following along!


      1. HAHAHAHAHAH sometimes the glands need serenading too, who knows!! I think I meant to use this account as a travel blog but then covid happened and I was like well what’s even the point if I’m a shut-in normally lolol. Anyway! True, hire the professional and also you, then! 🙏🏼 I almost yelled in public when I saw you had updated with the next chapter, btw hahaha thank you!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s