Chapter 9: The Beauty In The Painting
“Prime Minister Lou…Prime Minister Lou…” Sounds of callings reaches his ears, Lou Che halts his steps, turning his head towards the cries. An elderly man dressed in a blue robe hurriedly runs towards him. He seems to be the old minister of three generations (served three Emperors), the late Emperor’s extremely trusted Minister of Personnel, Yan Gang. Carrying a gentle smile, unmoving like a mountain, Lou Che waits for him to close in.
Once he reaches him, out of breath, Yan Gang’s face appears red due to the sprinting, yet he still speaks ever so cheerfully: “Prime Minister Lou, I heard that the new First Ranked Scholar is your star pupil?”
Lou Che nods with a smile, seeing his breathing settle down, he walks towards the imperial court with prideful strides, behind him, Yan Gang hastily follows after him, continuing to exaggeratedly praise: “A man endowed with such extraordinary talents, it’s quite like the you from back then, truly a hero amongst the youth.” Thinking of the appearance of this new First Ranked Scholar, typically comparable to none, Yan Gang was filled with emotions, this is the age of young and talented……
Hearing him sound a sigh, Lou Che understands his thoughts, saying: “Yan is still ever so capable, why the sigh?”
Hearing the words “still ever so capable”, Yan Gang could not help but to cheer up, “How so ……this is the new generation’s world now……” invariably sighing, he suddenly remembers a matter of crucial importance and hastily speaks up, “Prime Minister Lou, do you by chance, know the Nu’s emissary has already arrived at the Capital yesterday? He shall be entering the palace to meet his majesty today.”
Lou Che lightly raises his brows, letting out one simple sound: “Oh?”
Seeing that he seems to be unaware of this matter, Yan Gang hurriedly explains: “The Nu and our country has fought for many years, and the war has never really stopped, but this time, it sure is strange, the Nu has actually sent an emissary here with good intentions, is there some sort of hidden meaning in this?” He has not slept all night, all due to his concerns towards this matter, today, he hurried over to the imperial court, desperately looking for Lou Che to discuss this.
Lou Che was also somewhat surprised upon hearing this, the Nu requesting a peace treaty, has not necessarily never happened before, but having just captured the Nu’s Prince as hostage half a year ago, they had originally thought that, the Nu who are most faithfully committed towards grace and revenge, would exact their revenge without any restraint, who would have known that after such a long silence, they would actually come and request peace? Vaguely feeling that something is not right, but in this moment, unable to pick out the hidden meaning, Lou Che continues to faintly smile as he says: “This matter shall come to a clear understanding when we see his majesty in court.”
Yan Gang nods his head, and both people enters the main hall at the same time.
Practically all the civil and military officials have already gathered here, the court buzzing with discussions. Before the Emperor arrives, everyone freely speaks their minds whilst discussing. Seeing Lou Che arrive, the discussions quietens down a lot, one after another, nodding their heads in greeting, if not, they will be deeply bowing towards him. Lou Che heads towards the area closest to the dragon throne. Suddenly catching glimpse of a figure in crimson red, standing right at the most northern side of the large hall. It is the new First Ranked Scholar, Guan Xiu Wen. Guan Xiu Wen seems to have also sensed Lou Che’s gaze and turns to see him, he respectfully lowers his head, greeting “Teacher”, his voice neither loud nor quiet, just about good enough to be heard by Lou Che.
Lou Che vaguely sounds an “en”, not saying a single word, his steps does not falter as he walks towards the centre of the hall, standing below the dragon throne, on the left side, standing side by side with Prince Duan.
Upon seeing Lou Che, Prince Duan loudly sounds a laugh, and speaks up: “I heard the Prime Minister’s Estate has recently recruited several contemporary people of great capability and talents, Prime Minister Lou is so eager to learn, really makes me admire you.”
“How so, Prince Duan is highly erudite, how could Lou Che dare to compare?” Lou Che answers back sarcastically, didn’t think that Prince Duan is so clearly aware of matters within his estate, hearing Prince Duan bring up this matter, Lou Che also felt troubled.
The inviting of teachers within the estate, is actually all of Gui Wan’s doing. Ever since the “Hu Guo Temple” case, the Empress may have saved her position, but within the palace, she is basically being held under house arrest. Over the past month, Gui Wan has never mentioned what happened inside the tent again, her behaviour is exactly the same as before, but he still feels something has changed, this time, she has suddenly invited several teachers from all parts of the land, all whom are famous contemporary educationists, schemers, tacticians, Lou Che felt rather restless deep down.
Regarding all matters, he has mostly been going along with Gui Wan, upon thinking that she has been recuperating her body for over half a month, he would get concerned, he does not wish to drag Gui Wan into this power vortex, and would rather protect her for a lifetime, if not for the Empress……bitterly smiling, Lou Che could feel a sense of helplessness, nothing remains the same in this world, this sentence is truly correct, didn’t think that in between all this, he could actually pick out so many complex relationships. What exactly is it Gui Wan wants to do?
Seeing Lou Che plaster on a gentle smile, his face looking no different, but is actually looking a little distracted, Prince Duan coldly laughs, and was just about to speak again, when a voice from outside echoes “His majesty the Emperor has arrived“
Everyone in the hall immediately goes silent, all officials bowing to the ground, listening to the sound of footsteps, a warm voice sounds: “All ministers may rise.” Everyone in the great hall immediately stands up, neatly aligned in two rows.
Lou Che stands at first spot on the left, indifferently watching the officials report court matters, his elegantly handsome face carrying an unmoving smile like that of the spring breeze, after a while, the reporting of court matters have almost come to an end, with no major happenings. The imperial court falls into silence, at this moment, a minister steps out from the right, reporting: “The Nu’s emissary requests for your majesty’s audience, it seems to be in request of a peace treaty.”
The imperial court was instantly in an uproar, the Nu is originally a militant ethnic, for them to initiate a peace treaty, it is indeed strange.
The Emperor also felt rather surprised, rather hesitant, he habitually turns to the left, asking the first in line: “What does Minister Lou think?”
Taking on a respectful attitude, Lou Che says: “First allow the emissary to clearly state his purpose, it would not be too late to make a decision after.” A spring breeze blew by, naturally bringing along a warmth that calms the people’s hearts.
The Emperor nods his head, agreeing to the approach, he waves his hand, giving the Nu emissary, who has been waiting outside for a long time already, permission to enter.
From outside the hall, a Nu man slowly walks in, a well-built body, a resolute face, one look can tell he is considered a heroic figure. His attitude neither obnoxious nor humble, with vigorous steps, he walks to the centre of the hall, bowing a little bow towards the Emperor.
By the side, Yan Gang could no longer watch on, rebuking: “Seeing his majesty, why are you not kneeling down?”
The emissary’s face remains stoic, his imposingly deep voice, powerfully resonates: “He is not my majesty, why should I kneel down?” Between his show of attitude, there was a strong force, making people dare not to belittle him.
Yan Gang was just about to say something again, when he was cut off by a wave of the Emperor’s hand, the Emperor looks at the emissary, asking: “For what reason, have you come here from afar?”
“I am here under the Prince’s orders, specifically to request a settlement.”
The guessing from before was but one matter, but to personally hear it now, is yet another matter, an uproar immediately rises again within this imperial court, voices of opinions sounding from everywhere.
The emissary sees the officials quietly whisper amongst themselves, sees the stunned look on the Emperor’s face, and follows on, saying: “The Prince has prepared three gifts for the Emperor of the Celestial Empire, in a show of sincerity towards a settlement.”
His voice echoes throughout the hall, everyone turns their attention to him, looking at the emissary, the Emperor was also somewhat puzzled and doubtful. The Nu are militant, barbaric by nature, and has always been great trouble and suffering to the Celestial Empire, just like a malignant tumour that cannot be cut out, it has always been the Nu looting the border areas, the Celestial Empire has never taken anything from the Nu before.
Indecisively looking towards Lou Che again, he sees Lou Che steadily nods his head, all the other officials did not object either, and so he speaks up: “Serve up the gifts then.”
Hearing this sentence, the emissary stands to the side, loudly calling out to the outside of the hall in the Nu’s language, under the surprised eyes of the officials, four boxes were carried in.
The strange thing is, the first box was exceptionally large, requiring eight people on each side to carry it into the hall, as opposed to the second box, which was only as big as the palm of one’s hand, the sharp contrast made everyone feel curious. And the third one was a square shaped object covered in a thick cloth, the fourth one was a foot long, six inch wide box.
Was it not three gifts? Why are there four boxes? Everyone’s minds were wondering this.
Not waiting for everyone’s speculations, the emissary orders someone to open the first large box. As soon as it was opened, a faintly fresh aroma wafts out, everyone present looks towards the box, inside the box was actually the stump of a tree. People within the hall lets out a disappointed hiss, followed by another round of silence.
The emissary’s expression remains unchanged, proudly stating: “This is the thousand year Tong Xian wood.” Once spoken, a collected gasp sounds throughout the large hall.
This Tong Xian Wood is one of the world’s rarest finds, it is also a rare piece in the lives of the Nu. This type of tree can help blood circulation, treats blood stasis, has the magic to delay aging, and is also said to detoxify the body, use this wood to create chairs, tables, wooden bowls, and all will be worldly treasures hard to come by, not to mention this is the thousand year Tong Xian wood. The first gift is indeed valuable.
No one speaks, seeing such a valuable treasure, they too believed the Nu’s request for settlement is sincere. But there are still some lack of understanding, the Celestial Empire to the Nu does not hold military superiority, so the Nu’s request for settlement is indeed really unconceivable.
Without waiting for the officials’ reactions to subside, the second box that’s only as big as one’s palm was already opened, inside was a red coloured small flute. Seeing this, everyone was once again puzzled, but no one made strange noises this time, vaguely guessing that this object appears ordinary, but should also have a remarkable background.
The first one to react was General Lin Rui En, the moment the box was opened, he was immediately struck with shock, showing an expression of disbelief. This short flute is called Wan Xiao Flute (Absolute Elimination Flute), it is a flute that controls insects, to the Celestial Empire, in addition to having a well-built body and greater sturdiness, the Nu’s most formidable factor, is their knowledge in venomous insects. When battling the Nu, they would often encounter highly skilled individuals that are capable of controlling venomous insects, it truly is impossible to guard against, and it is only the Wan Xiao Flute’s effect that can prevent this, just as long as it sounds, the insects will all retreat. It is indeed a treasure.
Hearing the emissary’s explanation of the Wan Xiao Flute, everyone was overjoyed, never would have thought that such little flute, is actually able to solve such a migraine-inducing problem.
Amidst the noisiness, the third box has been opened, first lifting the cloth that covered the box, the box turned out to be full of holes, and then opening it. Within the large hall, the few ministers that were stood close to the box, clearly sees what is inside, and all of them steps back in fear, there was even one minister who screamed out loud. Turns out that inside the box, there lies a scorpion, an entire body glowing green, looking bizarrely horrific.
Amongst the gathering of people, no one was unafraid, only Lou Che, Prince Duan, Lin Rui En and a few others military commanders, also Guan Xiu Wen stood motionless, as stable as Mount Tai. The emissary lets out a contemptuous laugh, brightly saying: “This is our Nu’s poison king of last year, called ‘Bi Xue Xie’ (Jade Snow Scorpion), as long as you eat this, no poison can affect you.” Having said that, he casually closes the box.
Everyone felt a release of heavy burden, raising their heads towards the Emperor, the Emperor’s expression appeared level-headed, his lips curving into a smile as he gently speaks: “I thank your Prince for his kindness, I shall accept it in appreciation.” Saying that, he allows people to accept the boxes. The poor eunuch who took the poison scorpion box, even his legs were shaking.
Once all the boxes were taken away, the hall suddenly became more open and bright again, the officials have also all relaxed, with smiles hanging on their faces, whilst looking a little puzzled towards the fourth box.
Seeing everyone assessing the fourth box, the emissary says: “Emperor of the Celestial Empire, in order to express his sincerity, our Prince has gifted three treasures of the Nu, would Emperor be able to give the Nu a gift, in expression of your sincerity?”
The Emperor nods his head, saying: “That is but of course……” Seeing the emissary still have words to say, he stops speaking, waiting for the emissary’s words.
The emissary raises his fist, formally bowing as he slowly says: “Our Nu Prince would like to request for someone from the Celestial Empire.”
The Emperor freezes, the officials also freezes, secretly thinking: if the one he wants is Lin Rui En, their biggest enemy, do we still have to give him to them?
Whilst everyone were restlessly speculating, the emissary explains: “It is a woman.” Upon hearing these words, everyone’s face brightens up, so it is just a woman.
From the right side, a military commander laughs, loudly saying: “Nevermind one woman, even if it’s one hundred women, there would be no problem.” Hearing these words of his, the great hall bursts in hearty laughter.
Since the ancient times, reaching a settlement is not a strange matter, using women to exchange for peace also cannot be considered a big problem, thinking that it is just one woman, in exchange for peace, everyone in the great hall sighs in relief, they were originally thinking what kind of demanding condition the Nu would put forward.
The emissary walks up to the fourth box, extending his hand to open the box, this box is different to the others, compared to the three boxes before, it is much more precious, made with the high quality Yu Li wood, the borders were even inlaid with pearls all around, just from the box alone, one can see how much the Nu cherishes it.
The box opens, turns out that a roll of scroll lays inside, the emissary very carefully takes out the scroll, slowly unrolling it in the great hall, and everyone simultaneously look towards it.
Distinct sweetness passes through the assembly, earthly colours turns into nothing but dust.
These two sentences can be most appropriately used to describe the person in the painting, the painting depicts a beautiful woman in men’s attire, her light smile graceful, with jade-like posture, fairy-like form, a blindingly brilliant stare, and limitless charms.
Everyone was thrown into surprise, they could not help but to indulge in the beauty in the painting. Suddenly hearing a sound of whisper, all officials returns to their right state of mind, standing on the left, Lou Che’s expression shows a great change, overcast and unpredictable; and on the right side, Prince Duan twitches into a smile of interest, Lin Rui En also shows an expression of realisation, in such incomparably complex situation, a strange atmosphere suddenly falls upon the hall, the more intelligent and experienced ministers have all sensed something isn’t quite right. And the ministers who had better eyes, because of the familiarity of such unrivalled beauty, were able to guess the identity of the person in the painting.
The person in the painting is……
When the scroll was completely presented before his eyes, Lou Che’s one glance immediately recognised the beauty in the painting, his face could not help but show a change, his mind a mess, his temper in a volatile state, and as he looks at the scroll, he shows a clear look of displeasure.
The incessant talking amongst the imperial court does not subside, all officials whispers to one another, first marvelling over the beauty in the painting, secondly, expressing their curiosity towards her identity. A small number of ministers remains silent, amongst the few, were those who happened to have caught a glance of the person in question during the imperial banquet, such person truly is an unforgettable one, but seeing Lou Che’s face, no one dares to offer any words.
On the right side, a military commander steps out to speak, he is stood closest to the scroll, and looking at the painting in this very moment, he could not bring himself to look away, in an utterly astonished state, he says: “The Nu really has good eyes, to actually want such a stunning beauty.” Having said that, he laughs towards the emissary, highly praising the Nu Prince’s great eyes.
Seeing him foolishly continue to remain unaware of the impending doom, the military senior official who stands at the front, lightly calls out: “Do not chatter in court.” Only then did the officials gradually quieten down.
In this precise moment of quiet, Prince Duan suddenly sounds a laugh, within the curious eyes of others, he alone says: “Not only the Nu Prince has such great eyes, our Prime Minister Lou’s eyes are also astounding.”
Hearing the insinuation in his remark, everyone looks to the side, looking at Prime Minister Lou’s face, and then turning again to look at Prince Duan’s expression, both sides were people who are not to trifled with, the ministers who were knowledgeable and tactful, all chose to not say anything.
Seated above on the dragon throne, the Emperor was also very curious. He sees that the officials were unable to show any response, too bad he is too far from the painting, thus unable to get a clear look at it, at that moment, he beckons, allowing the emissary to bring the painting closer, upon an closer inspection, he was stunned on the spot, blurting out: “Is this Minister Lou’s……” Immediately shutting his mouth, he looks towards the first person on the left.
Lou Che smiles like the spring breeze, his face lit with warmth, turning around, he says to the emissary: “May Nu emissary leave the painting scroll behind, our court shall weight out and consider our reply, emissary can rest in the Capital for two days.” Having said that, he waves his hand, not giving the person the chance to answer or reject.
The Nu man was somewhat dumbfounded, momentarily not knowing what to say. Seeing the guards come up to take the painting, he hesitates for a long while, and gathers up the painting, saying: “This painting is the Prince’s most loved……the Prince has ordered that the painting must not leave me, if Celestial Empire wants to find the person according to the painting, you can have painters make a few copies.” Saying that, he places the painting back into the box with great care.
Prince Duan could not hold back his laugh, appearing as though he’s in particularly high spirits, “Your Prince truly is an attentive one.” Saying that, he glances at Lou Che.
The Emperor could also sense the tense atmosphere, on the verge of exploding, he beckons a nearby eunuch, quietly saying: “First send the emissary to get some rest, allow a painter to copy the painting.”
Seeing the emissary leave with long strides, the atmosphere within the hall completely changes, and an unpredictable silence falls.
The Emperor lightly coughs, breaking through everyone’s low spirits, seeing everyone turn their attention to him, he too did not know what to say, and could only faintly smile.
The military official on the right does not understand his actions, loudly saying: “Your majesty, we just need to find the person in the painting, we can immediately paste an imperial notice in search for the person.” Having battled at the borders for many years, there is finally hope for a peaceful settlement, the excitement was brewing within his heart, and he hated that they were not immediately reaching settlement in order to relieve urgency of the border wars.
Hearing such words, all the knowing people shows a change in expression, even the Emperor was unable to respond. Only Prince Duan appeared playful, saying: “Ho-ho, that’ll depend on Prime Minister Lou’s intentions. The person in the painting, doesn’t Prime Minister Lou just happen to be familiar with?”
The entire court fell into deeper silence, a portion of the officials who have never seen Gui Wan before were stirred up, one after the other looking towards Lou Che. Lou Che calmly smiles, his tone is as usual: “There are things in the world that are similar in appearance, people have look-a-likes, does the painting have to be of a real person? Just finding someone who looks seven points similar to the painting will do.”
“As far as I know, this painting coincidently looks exactly like the real person.” Prince Duan persistently refuses to comply.
No one makes a sound within the court, only military commander on the right was completely shocked, dumbly asking: “Who is it?”
Prince Duan turns around, facing Lou Che, seeming to unintentionally mention: “Other than the enchanting beauty of Prime Minister Lou’s household, what other family could possibly have a woman of such grace?”
His words triggers something, completely tearing through layers of paper, within the great hall, no one dares to speak again, all officials looks towards one another. Especially the military commander who could not hold back his words just now, his face looking particularly pale, thinking back to the words he had spoke of before, he was immediately dripping in cold sweat.
Face showing no change, Lou Che continues to speak in that voice that brings comfort and warmth to others: “Can I Lou Che not even recognise his own wife now? Needing Prince Duan to remind me.”
Every single person in the hall knew that Lou Che has really been angered, this young prime minister is famed for the hidden blades within his smiles, his face is like the spring breeze, yet between his smile, he sentences his enemies to death. Within this huge hall, there is also only a small number of ministers who dares to speak frankly in front of him, as for those who dares to rebuke him, perhaps there is only Prince Duan.
Prince Duan coldly laughs, and no longer speaks again, he turns to face the imperial throne, Lou Che’s eyes sweeps across the entire area, laughingly saying: “Those who have seen I, Lou Che’s wife, feel free to tell me, is the person in the painting my wife?”
An air of breath-taking force flows out, filling the entire hall. One after the other, the officials lowers their heads, avoiding the spearhead, no one dared to directly speak up. Lin Rui En frowns, deeply thinking for a moment, in the end he still keeps his lips sealed, saying nothing.
All of sudden, a soft voice sounds: “The person in the painting just happens to look a bit like Madam Lou, there was just some mix up just now.” Noticing Lou Che look over, he hurriedly speaks again, “From henceforth no one will make the same mistake again.”
“How could Madam Lou’s painting fall into the hands of barbarians?”
“I have seen Madam Lou before, she looks utterly different from the person in the painting.”
Hearing such comments, Lou Che smiles, without commenting, he turns to face the Emperor.
The Emperor upon seeing such a scene, was completely startled, his expression looks complicated as he calmly asks: “Ministers, how do you think this matter should be dealt with?”
Yet another tricky question has been thrown out, having gone through the incident just now, who would dare to step up right now? Silence falls, the extreme silence in the imperial court creates an awkward atmosphere.
In this inexplicably strange atmosphere, a crimson red figure steps out from the very back on the right side, bowing his upper body, his clear voice carries a kind of clear texture, invigorating people’s spirits: “Your majesty, allow this subject to take care of this matter.”
A very slim and handsome figure, with crystal clear temperament, the new First Ranked Scholar is like a breath of fresh air within the imperial court, seeing him step out, the officials let out a sigh of relief, considering he is Prime Minister Lou’s star pupil, there should not be much of a problem.
Lou Che turns his head, seeing the last in line on the right, Guan Xiu Wen, a look of surprise flashes by his eyes, upon looking at this youngster again, there is suddenly a strange feeling, he seems to have never seen through this youth, never noticed that he also carries the air of hidden danger within him.
The Emperor gives him a commending nod, looking at this young talent, he too was extremely satisfied. His head turns to the left, asking for Lou Che’s opinion.
Lou Che silently nods, and half the people in the court sighs in relief. The Emperor immediately orders Guan Xiu Wen to take care of this matter, thinking about it, this matter only need to finds someone who looks six or seven points similar to the painting, to send off, and so the matter can be considered to have been perfectly solved.
The court assembly today seems to have been particularly long, but one can at least consider themselves to have safely survived it. Once the Emperor has turned in, the officials also disperses, Lou Che was just about to start heading out, when a voice sounded from behind: “That beauty in the painting sure is extraordinary, with peerless elegance, no wonder the Nu would come all the way to the Capital in search for someone.”
Steps halting, Lou Che stops, turning his head around, and silently looks at Prince Duan, no emotions were shown within his deep orbs.
Prince Duan coldly laughs saying: “Could it be, Prime Minister Lou doesn’t think that the person in the painting is extraordinary? Worthy of being compared to Madam Lou.”
Within the large hall, there were still some officials who had not yet left, all who had their eyes on them. Lou Che and Prince Duan have never gotten along, the two people always holding a stance of one mountain cannot have two tigers, and this time, Prince Duan’s provocation is considered excusable.
Lou Che smiles indifferently, saying nothing, he coldly looks at Prince Duan, before turning to leave. The officials all stood finding the situation uncomprehensible, secretly harbouring disappointment, they had original thought that the dragon and the tiger will battle it out right here.
Only Prince Duan stands in his original spot, his spirits gloomy, emotions unstable, as he watches Lou Che’s leaving figure, a sense of unease rises within him, he has truly sensed Lou Che’s threatening force. That flawlessly warm smile like that of the spring breeze, has caused him to burst with hair-raising terror, there was also that parting glance that held no hidden meaning in it……
 The words ever so capable, could have also been translated to still has it in him, the phrase used here was actually bǎo dāo wèi lǎo / 宝刀未老 , it’s meaning, more accurately refers to someone (typically an elder or senior or some sort) who is still as capable as they were when they were young -talent and capability has not deteriorated with age.
 The Emperor’s throne is referred to as lóng yǐ / 龙椅 which translates tothe chair or the seat of the dragon - as you all know, the Emperor is often represented as a dragon, the ruler of the skies.
 The dragon and tiger battling it out or long zhēng hǔ dòu / 龙争虎斗 is a phrase used to refer to a fierce struggle between two evenly matched opponents.
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