There was grave silence in the hall. One could have heard a pin drop.
As the light in Xiao Chi’ye’s eyes slowly dimmed, he removed his own waist-badge.
Li Jianheng’s chest heaved forcefully as he said, “Governor-General of the Imperial Guard, Xiao Chi’ye, has been suspended from duty pending investigation, and is confined to his family estate! In the meantime, Qu Capital’s defence and patrol duties will be taken over by the Brocade Guard and the Eight Battalions.”
Amongst the congregation, Xi Hongxuan did not shift or speak as he looked through his black muslin hat towards the still-silent Xiao Jiming. But Xiao Jiming stood imperturbably still, as though nothing he had seen had anything to do with him.
Damned good composure!
Xi Hongxuan cursed in his head.
Xiao Jiming really was a tough nut to crack. He’d watch Xiao Chi’ye fall into such dire straits and still maintain his sangfroid, giving away not a a hint of panic, nor even an inclination to open his mouth.
When court was dismissed, they reconvened at Ouhua Lodge.
Shen Zechuan shed his gilded badge, changed into an elegant set of subtly embroidered wide-sleeved robes, light moon-blue in colour, and was led upstairs by one of the girls. Xi Hongxuan reclined on a small daybed there, watching the tea being brewed.
As he entered, Xi Hongxuan’s laughter boomed out. “Lanzhou, that felt good today! Ever since we got back from the hunting grounds, Xiao Ce’an’s had the upper hand on us every single time. Today felt bloody fantastic!”
Shen Zechuan took a seat, and said, “Fu Linye was a good move. I didn’t expect that you would manage to collect someone like him.”
“What sort of dreck was the Fu family, in the early days? They shovelled cow shit outside Chun city’s gates. Had it not been for my old man and his love of talent back then, who helped them escape their caste, the Fu’s would still be herding cattle today.” Xi Hongxuan accepted the tea from the serving girl, took a few savouring sips, then continued, “Only it’s a pity that Lord Wei’s scheme went to waste, and Xiao Jiming didn’t bite.”
“It’ s already a feat to nail Xiao Ce’an,” Shen Zechuan sampled the tea, and said, “Going for Xiao Jiming now may do more harm than good.”
“It’s good strategy to follow your first victory with hot pursuit. If we don’t go for him now, what are we waiting for?” Xi Hongxuan dismissed the serving girl with a wave of his hand, and straightened in his chair. “Even if we only manage to trip Xiao Jiming up a little in Qu Capital, it’ll still be a crack in that armour.”
“I thought you’d set your sights on the Capital. I didn’t think you’d start dreaming of chasing the border territories when your own foundations here are still unstable,” Shen Zechuan said. “The Eight Battalions are not yet firmly in your grasp. If you pass over Xiao Ce’an now, you’ll more than likely land on your face.”
Xi Hongxuan put down his teacup, and said, “Then in your opinion, what more should I be doing?”
“You said it yourself,” Shen Zechuan smiled, “It’s good strategy to follow victory with pursuit.”
Xi Hongxuan thought for a moment, then said, “Our move today has alienated Xiao Ce’an from the Emperor and taken his badge from him, so he won’t be budging before spring arrives. But at the end of the day, he and the Emperor have been old friends for years. We won’t get rid of him for good with this one incident.”
“As long as Xiao Ce’an remains the Imperial Guard’s Governor-General, the defence of this city will eventually fall back into his hands. Have you gentlemen put in all this effort with me simply to pick up the Eight Battalions’ reins, fool around for a month or two, and then hand the prize back to him?” Shen Zechuan said, “We’ve scored a hit on Xiao Ce’an. When spring comes and he’s built himself back up again, how will you deal with his counterattack?”
Xi Hongxuan dragged his fan open, gave it a few waves, and said, “What other option do we have? There’s no way we can take him down right now.”
“We can’t take him down, but we can wear him out.” Shen Zechuan did not enjoy strong tea, and did not touch his cup after his first taste. He said, “A rift has formed between him and the Emperor. In the coming days, the rift will only grow deeper, and that will be your cue to act.”
“I have neither a scholar’s acclaim, nor a soldier’s achievement,” Xi Hongxuan laughed, “How can I compete?”
“Don’t discredit yourself,” Shen Zechuan rapped a knuckle on the table. “Every one of your tunes from Ouhua Lodge is a breath of fresh air. Even the Emperor, a perennial patron of the entertainment scene, is diverted by them. Do you still think you can’t out-play Xiao Ce’an, second young master Xi?”
“Even putting aside Elder Hai, all the playing in the world won’t let me climb to Xiao Ce’an’s position,” Xi Hongxuan said. “You must have a follow-up, don’t you?”
“Xue Xiuzhuo has made it into the Court of Judicial Review, and the cases he handled on either side of his promotion were major ones. But he’s ultimately just one man, and overshadowed in talent by the wandering Yao Wenyu. At this point, if he wishes to go further, if he wants to lay down early groundwork for his path into the Cabinet, then he has to find a sponsor.” Shen Zechuan’s finger traced a small circle on the table. “Last time, you made quite a splash in front of the Academy scholars, and left a good impression. Isn’t that just the thing to trade off to Xue Xiuzhuo, as a kind favour? As it happens, Elder Hai has been thinking of setting up a new Imperial college. Xue Xiuzhuo will quite conveniently be able to hand pick his men from there.”
“Expand our ranks, and turn this ripple into a tide,” Xi Hongxuan mused. “But Yanqing already has his people. Why does he have to go to the college for more?”
“In order to tackle Xiao Ce’an, we have been trying to settle our differences with the other Families in order to join hands against him. However, the Yao Family has been unreceptive. Think about it: this Family holds an unshakeable eminence in the hearts of the literati. It’s all very well if they simply refuse to join us, but if they turn around and throw their hats in with the Xiao’s, we’ll be in real trouble. And if that’s so, why not kick the Yao Family out as soon as we can, and open up their position for the next able party?”
That made Xi Hongxuan laugh. He said, “You’re from Zhongbo, you don’t understand the Eight Families’ tangled history. Even if the Yao Family refuses to collaborate, they must never be kicked out — because it simply can’t be done.”
“Long ago, at the height of the Yao Family’s power, there was no place at all for the Xi name anywhere in the Imperial Court.” Shen Zechuan drew out his handkerchief, and dabbed droplets from his fingers. “I know how deeply the aristocratic families run together, but I am asking you to nail down the Yao Family. The present state of affairs will no longer permit anyone else’s hand in this. Young Master, if you dither when you should be decisive, the problem will come back to bite you in the behind.”
Xi Hongxuan dared not make this decision on his own, and so said, “We’ll come back to this later. Let me have a think about it.”
Xiao Chi’ye was stropping his sword. He polished Avarice carefully, until not a speck of dust remained on the blade.
Zhao Hui served Lu Guangbai his tea, and asked, “Er-gongzi‘s been cleaning his sword over and over. Is he out to chop someone up?”
Lu Guangbai chuckled as he drank his tea. “The way things went for him today, he’d hardly make it out the door with the sword. Jiming, did you get a good look? When they made him take his badge off, I thought the lad might actually start crying.”
“It was a rare sight,” Xiao Jiming chuckled too, “The day has finally come when that foul temper of his has to be corked up.”
“Watch who you’re ragging on,” Xiao Chi’ye folded up his handkerchief, disgruntled.
“We’re praising you,” Lu Guangbai sighed. “You’ve definitely spent time in the Capital. That was some great acting.”
“It’s the only thing I’ve learnt here, isn’t it?” Xiao Chi’ye sheathed his sword and went over to sit down, propping his legs up. “I’ve really got to give lao-Wei some credit for putting in so much effort. And it’s all very well for other people, but why are my own elder brothers so thrilled to watch me get pinned down and thrashed?”
“But it’s such a rare sight,” Zhao Hui sighed.
“And here I was worried that you’d let it get to you,” Lu Guangbai said. “You can party with anyone, but you can’t party with the Imperial family.”
“His Majesty was dropped into the throne, then attacked successively, and he was never a brave man to start with. It’s only to be expected that he’d get spooked here,” Xiao Chi’ye said. “But what I didn’t expect was that Fu Linye would be cut from the same sorry cloth.”
“Fu Linye has ties with the Xi family, but as a person, he’s not likely to sink so low as to become a lackey for the aristocrats,” Xiao Jiming said. “When he complained about you, he was most likely just going with the flow, and trying to win himself a few points with both His Majesty and Wei Huaixing.
“And you did well putting the pressure back on them, so that Wei Huaixing had to bring out the last of what he’s got,” Lu Guangbai said. “Now it’s all out in the open, we can make a precise counterattack.”
“The fact that Wei Huaixing has been around for so long and still hasn’t made it into the Cabinet, has a lot to do with his character,” Xiao Chi’ye contemplated. “When Hua Siqian was around, he was put to use, but with a lot of contempt. And today, wary of an aristocratic takeover of the Cabinet, Elder Hai has been holding him back as well, keeping him from his promotion. He’s bitter, and if he wants to go up against Elder Hai, then he has to join hands with Xi Hongxuan, offer himself up as their vanguard, in the hopes that some time in the future, he’d finally be able to step over the threshold which has kept him down for these ten-odd years. At a time like that, I’d only have to show the slightest hint of backing down, and he’d come right after me with that last piece of evidence.”
“With such high stakes, even if it’s false evidence, it’ll have been made to look as good as the real deal,” Xiao Jiming said. “He went after the Imperial Guard’s finances because he knew that ever since the Hua faction debacle, Hai Liangyi has been particularly uptight about military expenses, and won’t suffer the slightest transgression there. In the next few days, when the Censorate comes to audit you, Fu Linye cannot be permitted to come alone. We’ll have to pick out someone impartial from the Censorate, or another official authorised to conduct an audit, to do it with him.”
“Most likely it’ll be someone from the Brocade Guard to collaborate on the investigation with Fu Linye.” Zhao Hui paused. “This is an assassination case, after all.”
“The Brocade Guard,” Lu Guangbai looked towards Xiao Chi’ye. “Not only do we have no allies in the Brocade Guard, it’s full of adversaries. A’ye, you’re really going to get a thrashing this time.”
Xiao Chi’ye smiled, a little wickedly. He said, “…The Brocade Guard? But we’re old friends.”
A few days later, the Censorate commenced its audit of the Imperial Guard’s ledgers. Before heading off, Fu Linye came across his collaborating auditor, Shen Zechuan. Recognising him as one of the Emperor’s new favourites, he dared not neglect him, and immediately called for the good tea to be brought up.
Shen Zechuan took a few sips, and said pleasantly, “This will be my first official duty, so I’ll be troubling you for guidance, Master Fu.”
Fu Linye assumed he belonged to the aristocrats’ faction, and was decidedly wary of him despite the friendliness. Therefore he only said, “I wouldn’t presume to call it guidance, but I am grateful for your company in this, Master Adjudicator. The Imperial Guard is almost watertight in their secrecy, and I fear that there may be hidden duplicates kept of many of their accounts. I shall be counting on the Master Adjudicator to conduct a very close search.”
Search whom, and search where? Fu Linye carefully said nothing of that. He wished neither to offend Hai Liangyi by throwing himself in with the noble families, nor to offend the aristocracy by joining Hai Liangyi. He was a fence sitter, keeping an eye on the way the winds blow whilst swaying in their wake. But even he recognised that he had thoroughly offended Xiao Chi’ye this time, and knew without a doubt that things would be made difficult for him when he went to perform his audit. After all, everyone knew what a tyrant Xiao Ce’an could be. Searching his household would only add fuel to the fire. Therefore, he did not volunteer himself for the task. Instead, he thrust Shen Zechuan forward, and had Shen Zechuan do the looking, so that Shen Zechuan would stick his head out in his stead.
And Shen Zechuan was only too happy to accept.
Fu Linye’s wariness eased a little when he saw this, and he decided that Shen Zechuan must be simple.
The party divided into two, with Fu Linye heading to the Imperial Guard’s operational headquarters, while Shen Zechuan left for the Lord of Libei’s manor.
They were still quite some distance away when Ding Tao spotted them from where he was sprawled on the rooftop. He sighed, and said, “How can he be like this?”
Gu Jin said, “Be like what?”
Ding Tao stammered.
So then Gu Jin said, “You mean how he got all chummy with Er-gongzi, but now he’s helping them investigate Er-gongzi, like that?”
“And not even the average kind of chummy!” Ding Tao interjected.
“That’s men for you,” Gu Jin twisted the cork off his wine skin. “You’ll know when you grow up, we’re all like this. Cuddling up together is inside business, but when your clothes are back on and you’re out the door, that’s outside business. They’re two separate things…you don’t have to write this down too!”
When Shen Zechuan arrived, Zhao Hui and Chen Yang met him at the door. As Zhao Hui held concomitant military rank, Shen Zechuan had to salute him instead.
“The north wing belongs to my lord the scion,” Zhao Hui said to Shen Zechuan. “Most of what’s there are Libei’s military documents.”
Shen Zechuan took the hint, and said, “I am only here today to take a look at Er-gongzi‘s affairs. We have no business with Libei.”
Zhao Hui nodded, and understood that he had not come deliberately to stir trouble. He gave Chen Yang a look, and Chen Yang came up to lead the way, saying, “Er-gongzi‘s rooms are in the east. Please follow me, Master Adjudicator, fellow Brocade Guards.”
Shen Zechuan saluted Zhao Hui again, and went off with Chen Yang.
Xiao Chi’ye’s wing of the estate was large, technically larger than the scion’s, but Xiao Fangxu had been too lazy to make the change back then. The brothers did not quibble over these things, and so Xiao Chi’ye had always lived there. After he was Governor-General, Xiao Chi’ye came home less often, and mostly camped out in that small house near the Imperial Guard’s operational offices.
When Shen Zechuan saw him, he was wrapped up in a straw rain cape, fishing by the pond.
“What an early start to your morning, Master Adjudicator,” Xiao Chi’ye said over his fishing rod. “Have you had breakfast?”
“I had it at the Censorate,” Shen Zechuan replied. “What a refined and leisurely pastime, Governor-General.”
“I’m an idle, unemployed man, unlike the Master Adjudicator,” Xiao Chi’ye twiddled his fishing rod. “If you’re going to search my house, show me the warrant first.”
“We’re both old-timers in the bureaucracy here,” Shen Zechuan said equably, “Will you dig your hooves in just to get in my way for these few minutes, Governor-General? It’s a little unsporting.”
“I go by paperwork,” Xiao Chi’ye stood up, and tossed his fishing rod. “You wanna come in here without papers? I decline.”
The censor assigned to this trip hurried forward to smooth things over, placating on both sides, “No problem there, no problem, please give us a moment, Governor-General, and let’s not have any hard feelings here, Master Adjudicator.”
“The Brocade Guard has always known to stick to the rules,” Xiao Chi’ye walked up, and snapped, “Haven’t you learnt anything since you crawled out of the Temple of Penitence?”
Shen Zechuan looked him in the eyes, and said, “How the mighty have fallen. Today, whether a mongrel like me chooses to show you the paperwork, you will put a smile on and let me in.”
Dabbing sweat from his brows, the censor squeezed in between the two of them, his hands clasped together, pleading, “Easy there, easy—”
“You’ve got quite the mouth on you,” Xiao Chi’ye shoved the censor aside, “You wanna go?”
“No going, we’re not going anywhere!” The censor cried, his neck straining. “We’ve got the warrant here, Gov’nor, you can have yourself a look, and we’re goin’ with the search too, if you’ll hang on for a sec, Master Adjudicator. Let’s talk about it, eh, we’ll talk about it! There’s no need fer us t’ get all het up!”
When this censor gets worked up, his tongue shows his provincial roots!
7 thoughts on “Book One, Chapter 53: Inspection”
such a fast update!! kissing you !!!
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Absolutely loved the tl! Thank you for the update. Truly appreciate it as a(n) English linguistics teacher and book nerd: you have my appreciation! ❤
Ahh if that’s the case don’t look too closely! 🤣 Thank you as always for following along.
Everyone’s comments about CeZhou are so funny… Do they hate each other? Do they love each other? Not even they are certain!!!!
Thanks for the update!
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Thank you for the update!!!❤❤
Thank you for reading! ❤ ❤
cezhou bantering with each other in front of everyone as if they weren’t just discussing how to play into their hands the night before is everything to me. xiao chiye is being as difficult as he can get away with just so to make it believable. lanzhou who’s being as ruthless as ever and getting in xiao chiye’s personal space while the censor is sweating and trying to get them to calm down lol