Chaos Of Beauty

Chapter 28 — Raising The Water
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Chapter 28: Raising The Water

Lashes like fans gently flutters, eyes slowly opening, a pair of exceptionally bright orbs illuminating within the darkness, Gui Wan holds her body up, grabbing the clothes on the bed frame, dressing herself in a leisurely manner, lifting the curtains, she gets out of bed. Pushing open the windows with a “zhi” sound, the moonlight pours down, such brilliance of pale lighting floods into the room, using the faint moonlight, she attends to herself in front of the dressing mirror, single-handedly taking the ribbon, very casually combing up a men’s bun, tying it up with the ribbon, after a little self-grooming, she pushes open the doors.

With the autumn air already thickening, frosty chills mixes with the moonlight as it seeps into one’s heart, she follows the garden path, distantly gazing towards the lit up discussion chamber, heart slightly saddened. With a pause she arrives at the front courtyard, having just stepped inside, she sees eight guards on duty in front of the courtyard, vigilantly standing, faces expressionless. They too see Gui Wan at the same time, the two stood up front were somewhat dumbfounded, blankly staring not knowing what to do. Gui Wan coldly glances across them, eyes like a river in winter, the several people originally guards of the Prime Minister Estate, were instantly silenced, leaving Gui Wan to freely wander into the restricted area of the Prime Minister Estate alone.

The discussion chamber although brightly lit up, but is currently completely silent, the lighting inside shining out onto the courtyard where the winding path leads, vaguely carrying a few points of strangeness. Thinking all over the place, Gui Wan had already passed by the little path, arriving at the doors of the discussion chamber, making guesses with uncertain thoughts, she gently pushes the doors, without thinking the door would actually open with a sound, exposing a little gap. Gui Wan was slightly surprised, not expecting such restricted area for secret discussions would actually be this easy, complicatedly thinking over it again, she thinks about the number of guards that could be hiding around the courtyard, this act of closing the doors is pretty much pointless, such ajar door, can still make herself appear honest and righteous, with no ulterior motives.

Carefully treading into the hall, outside the hall is empty without a single person, candlelight brightly greeting the eyes, to Gui Wan who has treaded all the way here in darkness, it really is rather blinding. She observes her surroundings, slowly walking up to the doors of the inner hall, until she was just one step away from the doors, did she finally hear faint voices. The clear and gentle voice is Lou Che, the unruly and prideful voice should be Prince Duan, also a smooth and deep voice-- could it be Prince of Nan Jun?

The few people discussing the recent big matters within the imperial court in seeming ridicule, some about elderly members relocating, some about the reforming movement, the three of them eloquent, just like great friends who have not met for years. Gui Wan is clearly aware, just a year ago, Lou Che and Prince Duan were still political opponents, to actually be sat together laughing and chatting right now, on one hand it comes down to the situation, on the other hand it is also with the means of benefitting from this joint force. Looks like within officialdom, there are no permanent friends, nor are there permanent enemies, this phrase truly is not wrong at all.

Lips carrying a bitter smile, she suddenly hears Prince Duan burst into hearty laughter, one can even imagine the crazy state he is in from the doors. Ears not missing a single word as she listens to him say: “Prime Minister Lou, that star pupil of yours truly does take after you quite a bit ah, the means he takes to and style of doing things is no less than you, right now he is but a loyal dog of the Emperor, not only viciously biting me one, it looks like he also wants to bite back at you the teacher who graced him now.”

During the Changes of Feng Shan incident a year ago, Guan Xiu Wen condemned Prince Duan who was originally able to free himself from the blame, and even caused him to have his official post terminated, his home raided with goods confiscated, at the time he could only hold back the fire inside of him, not expecting that having spent so many years freely roaming the world of officialdom, he would actually fall under the hands of a kid yet to rid of his air of naivety. And after that, Guan Xiu Wen had been incorporated into the Emperor’s faction of close ministers, with vicious ruthlessness, sparing no consideration, he takes to any means possible, causing everyone within the imperial court to avoid him, no one had ever thought that the young First Ranked Scholar from back then, who was as clear as water would actually become this terrifying.

Officials often uses Lou Che as a comparison, Lou Che’s methods can also be considered viciously ruthless, but likes to use his own power to rid of others; and Guan Xiu Wen is different, always blocking those before him, destroying all those in his path, regardless of friend or foe, sometimes it can even be said to be despicable. All of a sudden, all those within the imperial court are having difficulty in distinguishing the relations between these two people who are teacher and student in name, just that no one dares to speak of it outside, thus also lending a hand to Guan Xiu Wen’s further intensifying cold-hearted artifices.

“Prince Duan is just being too modest, you should know that it was but you who strongly guided and supported him back then, thus giving rise to the situation we are facing today.” Lou Che filled with smiles, ironically speaks.

Gui Wan stands outside the doors, heart jumping upon hearing this. listening to their tones, Lou Che and Prince Duan may be allies, but between them is a matter of passing back and forth, with underlying means of ridiculing, it really is rather strange. But she is extremely quick witted, her mind rapidly thinking over it, and very quickly figures out the mystery within. The biggest tie between Prince Duan and Lou Che is Yao Ying. Right now, although the two people stands together on the same boat, but towards where Yao Ying’s heart lies, inevitably, Prince Duan secretly minds it, that is why he would occasionally poke at Lou Che out of sourness.

The fortunate factor is that Prince of Nan Jun is also present today, occasionally making intercepting quips, thus keeping everything in control. The three of them once again starts discussing the huge matters within the imperial court, speaking of the Emperor secretly sending a message for Lin Rui En to dispatch troops down south into the Capital today, another scheme must be underway, all of them gathers away their playfulness, serious in facing this matter, the dreary atmosphere in the room suddenly tenses up.

Even Gui Wan who is standing by the doors could feel the time passing by very slowly, one slight pause bringing upon suffocating pressure. Listening to them discuss, finding out that the Emperor has the intentions to send troops, her heart suddenly bursts into panic, the Emperor and Lou Che’s party, exactly till when will they stop competing? Lou Che unable to let go of his obsession to the end, the Emperor is also unwilling to stand alone, the dispute between them, could it be they really need to establish a winner and loser?

A sense of vastness in her heart spreads, Gui Wan freezes on the spot, recalling the betting deadline with the Emperor, recalling the long talk within the Lin Estate, recalling all sorts of happenings with Lou Che during all this time……in this moment, she is actually about to go crazy, she is never one to display her emotions on the outside, no matter how great of an emotion she is feeling, it will be deeply hidden inside, although having compassionate thoughts, she would never act upon it, only this matter of fighting for power, has gradually become her heart disease. The reasoning of a stable world Lin Rui En spoke of, she understands, the situation derived from Lou Che’s background, she also understands; back then, that stick of “The Emperor Swallow” she drew before getting married, and all the subsequent fateful encounters, have all produced ominous clouds deep within her heart, even the mentioning of imperial power would make her feel a trace of taboo……she has the carefree and easy-going nature like that of the cloudless skies, but is also sentimentally attached to the happiness of ordinary people, in terms of loving feelings, she too inevitably has blind feelings, all of this entangled within the heart, one word of “chaos” really is insufficient to describe it all.

Always wanting to use tender affection to rub off Lou Che’s ambitious heart, yet the effect is very minimal. Personally seeing the battle between factions of the imperial court grow increasingly fierce, her heart is hung up high unable to settle back down, she is very well aware, competing with imperial power, the final result would definitely be of tragedy, exactly how long the alliance between Lou Che and Prince of Nan Jun, Prince Duan would last is still unknown, one year? Five years? Ten years? Or even longer?

She is not doing this for the country, nor is she doing this for the people, it is just that her heart is pained, afraid that Lou Che taking to such great pains, only to be reaching for a moon reflected in the water, such a flashy chess game, leading to such an outcome, how is anyone able to accept this? Husband ah Husband, how should all this be put to an end?

An upsurge of emotions unstably rising and falling, hit with realisation, she hears the three people inside the room begin to discuss what countermeasures to makes, ideas thrown out left and right, seeming to have plans to transfer the southern troops into the Capital, in order to not alert the Emperor, they are also planning to split up the army, it is originally a usual thing to mobilise small numbers of soldiers for protection, if the southern troops are sent on the move in scattered numbers, number one it can avoid the eyes and ears of others, number two it can also eliminates the risk of arousing suspicions.

Listening to them have everything planned out[6], not one of the strategies they came up with lacking in backup plans, both offensive and defensive, Gui Wan also secretly held great admiration. Suddenly hearing a strange sound that is practically almost inaudible from behind her, she jumps in surprise, looking back, she only sees a maid holding a tray, placed on it are three fire glazed cups of clear floral designs, seems to be a sort of ginseng soup supplement. The maid seems to also not expect someone to be here, mouth opening wide, looking at Gui Wan in surprise.

Gui Wan suppresses the panic in her heart, placing a finger to her lips, this maid is also quite bright minded, shutting her mouth as she stands behind Gui Wan. At this moment, the inner room has also sunken into silence, seeming to discuss the current situation of deadlock, within the scene of silence there harbours the killing intent of blade lights and sword shadows.

“Dragging though mud and water like this, exactly how long will it continue, might as well move the southern troops into the Capital, I do not believe, obtaining the Capital, we still need to be afraid of him not giving in……by that time, with titles, with positions, taking the……”

These words travelling into her ears, panic rising like sudden thunder hitting the ground, Gui Wan oozing in cold sweat. Not giving it much thought, she extends her arms and forcefully pushing the doors, a sound of “ga zhi”, cutting off the outrageous remarks of the one inside. The three people inside were slightly stunned, filled with murderous intent they turn towards the doors, waiting to catch a clear view of the figure, one shocked, one doubtful, one surprised.

Late autumn dew thick, chilliness invading the body, waves of thin cold follows the opening of the discussion chamber’s doors and rushes into the room, the three men by the table with high positions and great power simultaneously looks towards the outer area, Gui Wan had already taken the tray from the maid’s hands, stepping into the room, a faint smile, a wisp of gentle breeze, eyes circling around, carefully looking around the room.

She already had familiarising encounters with Prince Duan, as for the one sat to the left of Prince Duan, middle aged, noble and dignified, fine facial hair above the lips, bringing out the charm of maturity, a burly figure, sharp eyes of an eagle, heroic spirit revealed within firmness, even when silent he still holds the air of a leader.

“Tonight really is lively, why is Madam Lou still not asleep?” Prince Duan laughingly greets Gui Wan who just entered.

One by one placing down the cups of soup in front of Prince of Nan Jun, Prince Duan, Lou Che, Gui Wan turns around, lightly sweeping a glance at Prince Duan, “Your highness is working so hard, Gui Wan with kind regards, have come to send some midnight refreshments.”

Hearty laughter coming from the mouth of Prince of Nan Jun: “Madam Lou truly is virtuous.” Not knowing whether this is of praises or ridicule, Gui Wan smiles as she courteously performs a wan fu bow. (Wan fu bow 万福礼 - a greeting by women, whereby they fold their hands on the lower right side. A gesture that symbolises, wishing you happiness and good luck)

Prince of Nan Jun has kept his eyes locked onto her since the moment she stepped in, but seeing her fairy sleeves float at first glance, dimples like the spring peaches, just as the rumours have stated, a one in million peerless beauty, what is even more commendable is that sense of inexplicable elegant ease. Observing her for a while, he suddenly catches glimpse of Lou Che’s state of displeasure, anger displayed between his brows; in this muted moment, he once again deeply gazes at Gui Wan, sure enough Lou Che’s face darkens even more, Prince of Nan Jun hurriedly looks away, lowering his head to drink ginseng soup that is still a little hot, secretly sneaking a few laughs inside, didn’t think Lou Che would actually expose such clear display of emotions, actually he is more than double the age of Madam Lou, not to mention he already has a beloved wife back home.

Lou Che holds Gui Wan’s hand from across the table, feeling that it is a little chilly, he looks at Gui Wan with half blame half pity, Gui Wan holds his hand with a faint smile, “Drink it whilst it’s hot.”

Originally a room of surging undercurrents, the slyness of plotting, vanished without a trace amongst the warmth of the hot soup. Prince Duan who carried hidden malignant influences just before also lowers head, taking a drink of the hot soup, eyes circling between Lou Che and Gui Wan.

With the room falling into quiet, Gui Wan sees the three of them intently savouring the ginseng soup, obscured behind the smoke, also seeming to be in their own thoughts, staring with her beautiful eyes, her lips parts as she says: “Taking advantage of this spare time, I shall tell a story for your leisure.”

Lou Che is slightly taken aback, Prince of Nan Jun and Prince Duan appears somewhat interested. Women talking during a dinner is originally an irregularity, apart from a small number of honourable women who specially holds high positions, and these women’s spoken topic during the dinner would even more be of utmost cautiousness. But right now Gui Wan is speaking so frankly, her attitude so natural, because of this all three of them were speechless, waiting for her to continue.

“Zhuang Zi spent an entire lifetime in a state of utter poverty, King Wei of Chu greatly admired his talents, sending an emissary to use a heavy sum of gold to make him become an official, he refused saying: ‘I much prefer playing games and delighting myself in the filthy mud water, than to be willing to be bound by those in power, I am unwilling to be an official for as long as I live, allow my spirit to gain happiness.’ Zhuang Zi’s great friend Hui Shi on the other hand was unable to hold himself back from riches and honour, going to Wei to become the prime minister, Zhuang Zi wanted to go see him, when someone sowed discord saying to Hui Shi: ‘Zhuang Zi wants to come replace you as prime minister.’ Hui Shi in great panic, went searching for Zhuang Zi for three days three nights within the state. Zhuang Zi upon knowing this, tells Hui Shi: ‘Down south there is a type of bird called phoenix, the phoenix flies from the southern sea to the northern sea, if not a plane tree it will not perch on it, if not bamboo it will not eat it, if not sweet spring water it will not drink it. An owl finds a dead rat, thinking the phoenix will come snatching it away, it loudly screams at the phoenix flying over!” A clear voice of dripping jade tells the story, originally a familiar story, thus gives off yet a different kind of feeling. Gui Wan smiles at the three people, they deliberately scheme to seize power, exactly is it gold? Silver? Treasures? Perhaps in the eyes of some people, it is but only a dead rat. (Zhuang Zi is the respectful name for Zhuang Zhou - an influential philosopher during the Warring States Period)

After listening to this, Prince Duan’s expression darkens, eyes locked onto Gui Wan. Prince of Nan Jun actually appears to be in deep thoughts, those in the room were all able to understand the meaning behind Gui Wan’s words, temporarily sinking into their own thoughts, seeming to be affected in the heart, also seeming to have their schemes frankly pointed out.

“Madam really is carefree and easy going, using a dead rat to compare with power and position……” Prince Duan sounds a dry laughter, speaking in a heavy tone.

Gui Wan declined to comment. Prince of Nan Jun actually speaks up full of smiles: “Zhuang Zi’s action certainly delivers his sincere intentions with refinement, Madam’s story is even more profound and moving, I have really received a lesson.”

Seeing his sincere attitude, seriously taking the story into consideration before speaking, Gui Wan knits her brows, didn’t think that this Prince of Nan Jun is even more of a personage than Prince Duan. She breaks into a lucidly elegant laughter with a sound of “pu chi”, “It is but a story, there is no need to take it too seriously.”

The original cold and still atmosphere inside the room is swept away by this one laugh, Prince Duan and Prince of Nan Jun also cracks a smile, the two people’s heart both turning cold, vaguely guessed that Gui Wan has heard their conversation, but she insists on chatting and laughing so freely, acting as though it is all unintentional, but is faintly affecting the atmosphere.

Each one of them making a turn of thoughts, Lou Che remains silent to the end, holding Gui Wan’s hand, firmly refusing to loosen his hold. Gui Wan stands up, looking around in a circle, “Gui Wan shall not bother you all further, excuse me.” Deeply gazing back at Lou Che, waiting for him to let go, she faintly smiles tranquilly, dainty refined steps making a move, heading out of the discussion hall.

Having just left the discussion hall, the frosty cold hits the face, with absolutely no warmth that she felt in the room before, Gui Wan looks up towards the lone hooked moon hanging in the air, remaining motionless for a long while, hearing footsteps from behind, she turns around, Lou Che was already close in front of her.

Hand held by him again, sleeves covering them, under the moon, those orbs of his actually appears clearer than the moon itself, “Gui Wan, you cannot……”

“Cannot?”

Lou Che hooks her in from her delicately fine waist, tightly hugging her with not the slightest of open gap, with some irrepressible impulse, “Cannot abandon me first, towards you, I will not let go, you got that?” That story just now, Gui Wan was saying it to him, how could he not know what the deeper meaning behind it is, recalling the words she has once said, he actually felt rather flustered and restless.

Gui Wan nestles into his embrace, clutching onto his clothes, softly saying: “There’s an old saying amongst the commoners.”

“En?”

“Marry a chicken follow the chicken, marry a dog follow the dog.”

“Oh?”

Gui Wan faintly smiles in his embrace. In regards to responsibility, she clearly knows he will not change his mind, but she still made the effort to persuade him; in regards to feelings, she too can only walk hand in hand through good and bad, no leaving no abandoning. From now on, they shall never tread through this wave of murky water anymore, the world shall proceed to go on as it should, just now she has already done whatever she herself could do, no longer does she need to shoulder any psychological burden that does not belong to her.

“Gui Wan……”

“En?”

“……look, the moon view is really great……”

Gui Wan raises her head in slight surprise, finding that Lou Che’s brows are highly lifted, appearing very cheerful, ever so slightly, she still seem to feel a little shy, unable to hold back, she laughs out loud……

This power holder with the court and public in one hand, yet is also a man who occasionally reveals himself crystal clear……is but her husband……

******

Half a year later.

The Prime Minister Estate extraordinarily bustling, endless streams of horses and carriages at the doors, rubbing shoulders and following steps, a mass of bobbing heads, causing all the surrounding public to rush forth to take a look, pot after pot of flowers being brought into the estate. At this time it is currently the end of spring and early summer, the brilliance of red coming to an end, the garden appears fairly still and silent, with only herbaceous peonies (芍药) either budding, about to bloom, or already blooming in sparkling radiance. Flowers linking to flowers, leaves linking to leaves, some like crowns, some like bowls, some like silk embroidery balls (xiùqiú / 绣球), flowers and greenery, accompanied with all sorts of floral fragrance. Therefore right now all the flowers being sent here from all over the land, only has one species, that is the herbaceous peony.

Gui Wan walks into the garden, seeing the brilliance of purples and reds filling the entire area, she secretly sighs at such a beautiful scenery, like entering fairy wonderland. Eyes glancing all around, when she suddenly sees another pot of extremely gorgeous flowers being brought, carefully taking a look, it is actually a tree peony (), she was slightly stunned, walking up front, the gardener stops what he is doing, awkwardly looking at Gui Wan.

Observing it over and over again, finding that it is indeed a pot of tree peony, Gui Wan ponders in silence. The herbaceous peony and the tree peony are named “The Great Two” amongst flowers. Since the ancient times, it is said: “Tree peony is the flower king, herbaceous peony is the flower prime minister.” Officials from all over the land has been sending herbaceous peonies as tribute this year, with the means of flattering Lou Che, meaning “under one person, above thousands”. And right now, there is actually someone who sent a pot of the flower king tree peony, the meaning behind this is suspicious, she asks: “Who sent this?”

The gardener slightly panics, hurriedly answering: “By the doors, a lord on the horse carriage sent it.” Stammering as he speaks, very compliant, heart lingering in fear as his body half crouches, fearing that any mistake will lead to punishment.

“Where is the one who sent the flowers?”

The gardener raises his head, a face of great fear, pointing towards the right of the main doors, “That horse carriage turned into the small alley by the side.”

“Lead the way, I need to go see.” Gui Wan gently speaks, looking around, she sees Ling Long, Ru Qing, Ru Ming the three maids attending to the courtyard, well organised, her heart felt much more at ease, lightly throwing back her sleeves, she follows the gardener to the doors.

The main doors were already blocked by the tightly packed crowd, the family’s retailers seeing their Madam coming, deliberately opens the right side doors, allowing the two people through. The gardener turns around the right corner where there is less of a crowd, clamouring sounds also gradually fades, Gui Wan squint her eyes as she carefully looks at the small path, suddenly realising this is where she first ran into Ye Li of the Nu Tribe, because this place is right in centre of the Capital, the residencies around here are all of dignitaries, that is why it is particularly quiet. Having only stepped into the alley, she catches glimpse of a black horse carriage parked up at the side of the alley, simple and unadorned, but the fine horses in front of the carriage has shoes as white as snow, are big and tall, clearly a rarely seen precious horse.

Heart suddenly jumping with a trace of anxiety, Gui Wan stops in her steps, standing at the end of the alley, saying to the gardener who is a few steps in front: “Enough, return now.” Just when her words were spoken, she turns around, with a sudden blur of her vision, the gardener was actually stood in front of her.

The gardener who was still trembling before with a humble face, is looking as usual right now, revealing a few points of sternness, saying: “Madam, please go take a closer look.” Tone stiff, where is there still the stammering appearance from before?

Heart filled with anger, she starts growing suspicious deep down, Gui Wan lightly scolds: “Impudence.” How could the servants of the Prime Minister Estate possibly be this bold, usually when she needs things done within the estate, she will always hand it over to Ling Long who always gets the job done smoothly, other than her personal attendants, she is not particularly familiar with other servants, with many people coming today, could it be that he has slipped himself into the estate? As she was thinking, Gui Wan glances over to the alley opening, finding a cluster of black shadows, the alley opening seems to be guarded. She really has taken things too lightly, only wanting to investigate the identity behind the one who sent the flowers, not even keeping her guard up against the servants of the Prime Minister Estate. Looking at the current situation, the identity of the one in the carriage must be extraordinarily honourable, unable to help but to think of one particular person, but that person should be in Yu Gan Hall, and not in the rear alley of the Prime Minister Estate.

“Madam, Master invites you over for a little chat, may Madam not make things difficult for this little one.” The gardener bows his head, once again making an appearance of a courteous and humble servant.

In this situation she cannot refuse. The front doors of the Prime Minister Estate is too rowdy, loudly yelling out will have no use, if the one inside the carriage really is the he that she has guessed, he would inevitably give rise to surging waves on this peaceful ground, here to stir up trouble. Having weighed out the situation like this, Gui Wan combs back the scattered hair by her temple, once again turning back towards the carriage and walks forth.

Only two steps distance away from the carriage, there is absolutely no movements, Gui Wan starts to hesitate, looking back, the gardener is actually not there anymore, in this little alleyway, only her and this horse carriage is left. Wind constantly blowing past inside the alley, it is currently May, the sun brightly shines, the faint flower fragrance lingering in the air, it just so happens that within this elegant tranquillity there carries a trace of unpredictable changes. She considers this over and over again, before taking half a step forward, reaching out to the carriage curtains.

Hand just an inch distant from the curtains, when the black fabric makes a sudden move, rippling as it opens, being lifted from the inside, Gui Wan looks into the carriage in slight surprise.

Suddenly seeing the brightly lit interior, Zheng Liu in a body of light casual clothing, ink coloured patterns embroidered onto the Confucian robes, a jade hair crown holding up his hair, a paper fan in hand, completing the look of an elegant literary person, the corners of his lips raising into a slight curve, those deeply quiet pool of orbs carrying a shallow smile, first gazing at Gui Wan for a moment, before delicately saying: “What? Does Madam not know me now?”

Verifying her previous speculations, the moment she personally sees it, her heart is still somewhat shocked, thoughts making a turn, this spot is within the Prime Minister Estate’s range, it is not the inner courtyard of the imperial palace, even if it is the Emperor, he too cannot go to all lengths without hesitation. Gui Wan spreads a smile of indifference, bowing in greeting, “Greetings to your majesty”

“Forego the formalities.” The person in the carriage makes the first move, the paper fan in hand held out, supporting Gui Wan’s half bent body.

The frame of the fan placed on her wrist, passes on waves of coolness, Gui Wan withdraws her hands, elegantly smiles like the chrysanthemums, lightly raising her head, eyes obliquely looking towards Zheng Liu, meeting his veiled and unpredictable dark orbs, she hurriedly looks away in a smooth and neat manner.

“My longing for Madam like the waves, yet Madam actually avoids me like it is the auspicious thing to do, this really makes my soul flee in grieving ah!” Zheng Liu lazily leans against the carriage walls, paper fan gently swaying, fanning one moment and not the next, the refined elegance and warmth he usually faces the ministers with, cannot be seen at all, indiscipline behaviour greatly on show.

Secretly annoyed by this half real half fake attitude of his, as though the entire world is but a game to him, but just have to feel rather afraid of his volatile temperaments, Gui Wan faces him with an attitude of casual ease, “Your majesty must be joking.”

“Joking?” Zheng Liu lifts his thin lips, smiling as he says, “Within this entire world, my ‘monarch’s words are no playful matter’ are of the greatest value, Madam actually does not believe me?”

“I dare not.” Smile unchanging, Gui Wan stands three steps away from the horse carriage, allowing Zheng Liu to carry sharpness within tenderness like the scissor sharp spring breeze of February, she has always used a smile to deal with it, neither stiff nor soft, neither lifted nor lowered.

“Is it daring not to? Or is it not wanting to?” Eyes circling around her body, paying special attention to her every expression, line of sight quietly wandering around, there is also that brisk glowing look that withers within the wind, one by one making its way into the eyes, repeatedly savouring the taste. Wrist making half a turn, fan pointing to a spot, signalling her to take a seat, “Is it not tiring standing there? Come, accompany me for a little chat.”

The fan in Zheng Liu’s hand is pointing towards the area where the carriage and thill connects, capable of holding one person, if she sits here, she will be sitting on the same shoulder level as the Emperor, Gui Wan declines saying: “Thanking your majesty, etiquette between monarch and subject are indispensable.”

“Etiquette between monarch and subject,” Coldly sounding a scoff, Zheng Liu’s lips like the half moon, within the curve of a slight smile, cold words spits out, “I have said before, do not use this type of unnecessary and over-elaborated formalities to restrain me.”

Anger already contained within his words, but within those orbs like deep pools, there is still tender warmth, “Madam, time flies like a spinning spindle, two years have already passed.” Purposely mentioning this topic, watching Gui Wan’s smile faintly gather away in great satisfaction, but upon seeing her knit her brows together, his heart makes a sudden jump, seeming to ripple out, surging with both familiar and unfamiliar emotions, could this be what they call……dismay?

Gui Wan rapidly makes calculations in her mind, did not think that that day’s irresponsible remark of the two year period only has half a year remaining now……

“Didn’t think that your majesty still remembers that playful joke.” Playing innocent as she sounds a melodic laughter, she is set on denying this to a cleaned out end, this matter is only known to the heavens, the earth, the Emperor and her, there is not a third person to stand witness, she insists on saying it was a playful joke, what can he possibly do to her?

“A playful joke?” A sudden rise of his voice, a sharp flash passes Zheng Liu’s cold fear inducing pupils, even he himself received a shock, upon seeing the moment she desperately tries to disassociate herself from him, a chord of a particular root of reasoning within his brain snaps in response, wrathful anger rising within his chest, face instantly turning cold, “Madam is taking this for a playful joke?”

Initially he did indeed take this casual gambling deal as a playful pastime, who knew that when he threw it to the back of his mind, he will encounter her in the palace again. Seeing her accompany him in sitting alone within the cold wind, entertaining herself at the side, clearly concealing the hate in her heart, yet her face only shows a beautifully sweet smile, the efforts of acting differently to how one actually feels inside, how familiar he is with it, like seeing himself in the mirror, he suddenly finds, she is happy and contented with herself, wilfully takes care of herself, with the fluttering style of soaring in the skies, blends in with the norm, but also casts away the norm.

This kind of beauty endowed with the spirits of the universe, his heart grew envy of, also wanting to obtain it.

Sensing his anger dispersing over along with the flow of the wind, Gui Wan unmindfully turns her head to look, eyes sweeping past his fan and that ink coloured clothing rising in the wind, secretly thinking how she is to face his rage. Suddenly seeing his lips hook up, actually sounding another round of laughter, such laugh extremely frivolous.

“Gui Wan, you think that this gambling deal was made by you, thus ending it is also to be set by you?” A charming voice escaping from those lightly pressed lips, Zheng Liu locks his gaze onto her with a ridiculing smile, the tip of his fan placed on the carriage thill, “I did not say to stop, thus this bet must continue.”

Name being called out from his mouth, Gui Wan sucks in a breath, sensing that he is only laughing like this due to his anger reaching an extreme state, under the watch of such a smile, her entire body feels like it has stiffened up, “Your majesty has the highest honour as the monarch, how could you quibble over the smallest things with me this mere woman……” If you wish to quibble, the damage inflicted is but only to your honour as the Son of Heaven.

“Using these words to stimulate me? You think the same method can be used on me twice?”

Lightly shrugging her shoulders, Gui Wan displays a helpless demeanour, “Should your majesty really think like that, Gui Wan can also do nothing about it, your majesty rules the world in the name of benevolence, it is best to think all matters over three times.”

Hearing this, Zheng Liu is slightly stunned, only now did he get a taste of this woman’s wretchedness, blade hidden within her smiles, a seven inch threat drawn at every line, in this very moment, to actually not see her with any falsely adorned smile of slyness, charm like the radiant sun, his heart thumps, instantly speechless.

Catching onto Zheng Liu’s moment of loosened expression, Gui Wan was slightly surprised. Perhaps today she has occupied the upper hand and not the Emperor, this absurd idea suddenly plunges into her mind, but is quickly abandoned with one smile of hers.

To be unoccupied with the advantage right now, is it because of his intention to confuse her? With the bottom of the fan supporting his jaw, Zheng Liu remains silent for a long while, his anger gradually fading, eyes restoring its clear farsightedness, “Since that is so, then the matter of the gambling deal shall be dropped.”

“Yes.” Gui Wan simply sounds a reply. Although this is the ending she had hoped for, but the success came too fast, practically without any twists and turns, causing her heart to give rise to doubts, also feeling a little uneasy, just getting the feeling like the opposition’s purpose is far more than this.

Right now in the alley, not a single noise can be heard, silent to the point of getting a little stuffy, yet the Prime Minister Estate separated by just a wall away is filled with the liveliness of people’s voices, gasps and sighs, praises, yelling, occasionally traveling into the ear, sometimes quiet sometimes noisy, in complete contrast, like being in two different worlds. Just when Zheng Liu sunk into silence, Gui Wan in anxiety, a sound of unexpectedly loud yelling as though it is of close proximity “Provincial Governor of He Nan, one pot of Xian Jiu Chong” such voice comes piercing through the air.

“Provincial Governor of He Nan?” Laughing aloud, Zheng Liu extremely casually rests his feet on the carriage thill, turned his head and slowly speaks: “I heard the Prime Minister Estate is having a small celebration today, a grand occasion like this, seems like I really have not come in vain.”

A seeming praise when heard, but is actually of ridicule, Gui Wan raises her eyes, seeing him smile like the warm southerly wind (harbouring unpleasant feelings), unable to make out the unpredictable meaning right now, she faces it with indifference.

Hearing all the sounds of relaying reports from the alley, Zheng Liu cracks a smile, “In the end I have underestimated Prime Minister Lou, not only in control of the six divisional ministers, but even has the local officials of other provinces in his palm. Madam, you tell me, Prime Minister Lou in the imperial court, exactly is it beneficial or harmful?”

A thorny problem thrown right into her face with one change of the subject, really a great sly fox of an Emperor.

“Your majesty has asked wrong.”

“Asked wrong?” Raising his brows, Zheng Liu half squints those devilish eyes, smiling as he asks, “How have I asked wrong?”

“First of all, your majesty is asking the wrong person, these words should be asking the three councillors and nine ministers, should be asking the high officials of the court, should not be asking me this mere woman; secondly, your majesty as the highest honour on the imperial throne, naturally has the spirit of the Son of Heaven, to not doubt those working for you, this little bit of tolerance, how could you not have any?”

Zheng Liu freezes for a moment, followed by a round of hearty laughter.

“Good, good……” Once again using words to catch him out, the woman before him appears frail, every word is a gem, every phrase sharp and cutting, constantly making him hatefully grit his teeth, but there just also has to be a trace of nameless unwillingness, “A great glib tongue. Gui Wan, you being so pressing with that sharp tongue, are you not afraid I will steel my heart to destroy you? You really think I will endlessly condone you?”

Seeing him speak so coldly, anger revealed on the outside, Gui Wan was secretly in fear, nodding as she says: “It is your majesty who told me to answer the question, could it be that speaking honestly and frankly is also wrong?” Such tone as though suffering injustice, not even giving in an inch of a step. Today she has gained the location advantage, she just does not believe the Emperor will launch an attack on the spot.

Clearly aware the pitiful look of suffering injustice she is displaying is mainly an act, but hearing the tender delivery of voice, somewhere in his heart, he softens up, the anger he felt also half dispersed, the remaining half gloomily resting in his chest. Zheng Liu darkens his face, seeing her carrying seven points of false attitude towards himself, he increasingly dislikes this feeling, just like admiring flowers in the fog, unable to see the distinctive realness in it no matter what. Could it be that this realness is that hard to find?

“Since you want to speak honestly and frankly, then let us speak our minds today.” Face filled with warmth, Zheng Liu uses the fan to tap at the carriage thill, “Are you not tired? Come take a seat in accompanying me.” The final sentence filled with tenderness.

Originally not feeling it, upon hearing his reminder, Gui Wan could only feel both her legs already nearly as numb as wooden logs, unfortunately that carriage thill spot is absolutely off limits, and the surrounding area has not a single area to take a rest at, lightweight, her face appears contented, “Not tired, many thanks to your majesty’s good intentions.”

“One question, you rejected me twice, could it be my good intentions, you disdain this much?” His grace, everyone across the world will bow down in hopes for it, only she will although respond with a smile, but actually refuse it from thousands of li away.

Looking into Zheng Liu’s eyes in surprise, actually catching the fleeting feeling of hurt, she knits her curved brows together, changing the subject: “Should your majesty wish to speak freely, Gui Wan shall respond standing here, only then will we be complying with the social customs.”

Coldly sounding a scoff, Zheng Liu declines to comment, look of displeasure directing at Gui Wan, pausing for a moment, he asks: “You think……being within the Prime Minister Estate range today, I cannot afford to make a public display of any kind, thus being completely restrained?”

Her inner thoughts nailed down in one phrase, Gui Wan frankly shows a faint smile, neither denying nor admitting.

“The entire Capital City sits in the palm of my hand, for how long can the glory of the Prime Minister Estate last? Prince of Nan Jun has already returned to his land two months ago, Prince Duan has although been vindicated, but reduced to a second rank (official), far less than before. Could it be you really think Lou Che joining hands with these two people, is able to win?”

Within this past half of the year, first the northern division entering the Capital, then the southern army moving north, the armies equal in strength, but also cannot stay in the Capital for a long time, in the end they could only do nothing about it; however after this deadlock, the Emperor had not choice but to put an end to Prince Duan’s injustice, clearing off the suspicions from the Changes of Feng Shan. On the surface, it looks like Lou Che has prevailed, first causing the northern division return with no success, then pushing the Emperor to give in. But thinking about it carefully, amongst all this, Lou Che’s political alliance did not receive the slightest bit of profit. In order to counterbalance the Emperor’s military troops, mobilised the southern army’s defence forces, the use of the northern division is the burden of the nation’s treasury (funding) , and the use of the southern army, is the burden of Nan Jun, one’s loss is another’s gain, how can the power of one county compete with that of one country? And Prince Duan is promoted in name but demoted in reality, a great loss of power, faux power held in name only. Therefore the apparent glory displayed on the surface over this past half of the year, is in fact of extreme danger, one careless step, far beyond redemption.

This score, Gui Wan is naturally well aware of, leisurely speaking in a melodic tone: “Your majesty is that certain of winning? Even if you win, there is still a definite heavy price to pay, the country is but your majesty’s, with the slightest damage, the one most distressed, is still your majesty right?”

“Growing a malignant tumour on your hand, one should cut it off first, you cannot just wait for it to wear away the entire body right? I will not let the entire body go into ruin, just because of being unable to bear losing one hand.”

“Unfortunately, before any malignant tumour has grown yet, cutting off that hand, could this be a wise decision?”

Engaging in dispute with Lou Che, putting the imperial court in danger, under one war, both sides suffering losses, an outcome like this, even the Son of Heaven, cannot possibly accept it so easily.

“Without this one hand, I can also find another hand in replacement, within this world, could it be there is no one capable of replacing Lou Che?” A scorning thorn as though pricking into Gui Wan’s innocence, Zheng Liu speaks ever so softly, implied chill thoroughly exposed.

Understanding the aesthetic pleasure upon hearing the striking of chords, Gui Wan immediately thinks of the youth who was once as clear as water, being held in importance use by the Emperor, emerging as a striking figure in the imperial court, gradually earning himself a position amongst positions, although still incapable of endangering Lou Che as of now, but recalling the causes and consequences of him entering officialdom, she is still finding it difficult to unburden her heart. Sunken into deep thoughts for moment, she actually forgets to answer the Emperor’s question.

Up until Zheng Liu looks at her still in the eye, asking: “Is no one able to replace Lou Che? All that he has given, I can also give……”

“Madam……Madam!” The old housekeeper’s hoarse voice mingled with anxiety floats over the wall, from far and swiftly nears, Gui Wan hearing this, solves the dilemma before her eyes. The hidden guards appears one after the other from the corner of alley, approaching the horse carriage.

Seeing the guards come surrounding them, Gui Wan secretly makes a speculation, this is the opportunity to escape. Just as she was about to turn around, feet upon making the slightest movement, the tingling numbness of both her legs were tremendous, difficult to raise her foot, it was in this slacking moment, that Zheng Liu gathers away his laidback attitude, jumping down from the carriage, just like a swimming dragon, he darts forward, abruptly seizing her hand, strong capturing her in place, Gui Wan caught off guard, pulled in front of Zheng Liu, facing Zheng Liu’s sharp eyes in surprise.

“He can, could it be I can’t then?” Catching her seemingly wanting to escape, he is angered by this, not caring for the inappropriate timing and place, also not caring for his personal bodyguards freezing on the spot due to his unusual behaviour, taking no measures with his actions; he only stares at her relentlessly, as though wanting to gather any traces of clues from her face, not paying any attention to anything else around him, although appearing wild he still continues to be crazy.

“Cannot, because you are not Lou Che.” Wrist gripped onto by him, burning sensation spreading out from her wrist, a faint stinging pain, she endures, not showing the slightest bit of weakness in her tone, revealing calm arrogance.

From within her leisurely clear and bright orbs, he sees his own wild arrogance being reflected, Zheng Liu feels the increasing sensation of his heart firing up, rather than hearing this kind of answer, it is better to continue seeing her be fake and indirectly astringent, that way, it will not be like this very moment, unable to let go, but also cannot not let go. The darkness in those slightly narrowed eyes deepens, calm but also holds lingering feelings entangled with pain, even his refined and free smile braces such bitter taste.

One hand pinching onto her chin, watching the wind bring a few strands of hair stroking past her lips, he lightly lets out a long drawn out sigh, deeply grabbing eyes darkening even more, lowering his head in wanting to kiss those sweet smelling lips.

Heart missing a beat, hurriedly trying to move her head back, deeply desiring to avoid his demand, the hand free from his grasp pushes against his chest, who knew he would remain absolutely still, unable to evade it, that hot breath that is already at an extremely close distance grows more dense in between breaths.

“Huang……Huang Gentleman.” Not knowing who spoke up from the side, cutting through the space of this alleyway. Zheng Liu jumps awake, lips moved to the side, a light kiss brushing past Gui Wan’s cheek; once again bowing his head to look, seeing the look of pain on her face, his hand loosen its hold.

Gaining her freedom, Gui Wan desperately takes a big step back, the guards have already surrounded the horse carriage in a circle, the leader amongst them looking at Zheng Liu with a few points of anxiety, opening his mouth but does not know how to say it. The lively noises by the front doors of the Prime Minister Estate has already lightened, with no signs of reporting flower names for a long time now, the crowd has already begun to disperse, soon there will be people passing by the alley, such scenario, what are they to do?

Realising they cannot stay for any longer, Zheng Liu gathers away his devilish state, gloominess hidden within his deep orbs, looking at Gui Wan, those thin lips slightly hooks up into an arc, fine sharpness sweeping past the eyes, containing remnants of chilling cold.

“Looks like my condoning towards you……is already far beyond expectations,” Zheng Liu smiles with seeming self-mockery, “But the price for this, you may not be able to bear, Gui Wan……” A final sound of tender calling, like a curse escaping the lips, he throws back his sleeves, boarding the carriage without looking back, the black curtains rises and falls, blocking the sight of those from outside the carriage.

From another side of the alley, a few horses have already been pulled out, the guards swiftly mounting the horses, coachman raises the whip, the horse carriage turns to another direction, the spinning of the carriage wheels accompanies the bursts of horse hooves, drifting further away.

Gui Wan turns her back, walking out of the alley, wrist still sensing pain, pulling up her sleeves, she reveals a her fair wrist, a big red mark clearly visible, the edges are even starting to turn purple, gently stroking it, she lets out a breath of relief, the Emperor’s temper is originally extremely unpredictable, today it is even more insolent, abrupt anger abrupt gloominess, full of ups and downs.

“Madam……” The old housekeeper upon seeing her, face revealing happiness, quickly making his way over, “Madam? Where exactly did you go? Haven’t seen you for half a day, I even……pei, pei, look at my old mouth, almost spoke of the unpleasant.” Rambling on, upon getting a close look, he finds that Gui Wan’s face appears a little pale, receiving a fright. “Madam? What happened? Did you come across something?”

“Nothing, it was a little noisy inside, I came out for some fresh air.” Turning her eyes with a smile to cover up.

Nodding in acceptance, the old housekeeper places the doubts within in his heart, Madam is Lord Prime Minister’s treasure in the palm, servants need only to serve in dedication, daring not to intervene at all.

“Where’s Lord Prime Minister?” Following the old housekeeper in returning into the courtyard, seeing the servants of the Prime Minister Estate busying around, people lined with flowers, flowers reflecting the people, blossoming flowers like embroidering everywhere, amongst them there is just no sight of the Prime Minister Estate’s master.

“Lord Prime Minister is in the study room discussing matters with visiting officials.” Waving his hand from the side, telling the servant to bring a chair over, placing it in the shaded area of the garden, allowing Gui Wan to sit there, whilst taking a nice little rest, can also admire the flowers for entertainment.

“What people are there in the study room?” Very leisurely asking this, Gui Wan leans back on the chair, one hand supporting her chin, gathering the beautiful scene of the courtyard into her eyes. A few divisional officials within the Capital, also a few lower ministers, state governors of He Nan, Tan Zhou, also……” Respectfully saying everything that he knows, but at the very end, reveals a slight holding back of the tongue.

“Also?” Gui Wan raises her brows.

Heavily nodding his head a few times, the old housekeeper shows a demeanour of helplessness, explaining: “There is also a strange person who came today, not only gifting flowers, also self-claiming to have the talents to bring peace to the country, Lord Prime Minister summoned him, actually also letting him discuss matters in the study room……” Perhaps because this matter has never happened before, the old housekeeper’s tone reveals endless amounts of curiosity.

Lightly sounding a reply, Gui Wan declines to comment, silently sitting in waiting within the courtyard, waiting like this, she waited till the sun descends the mountain peaks, bright lanterns hung up. The study room doors finally opens, filing out are a few officials old and new in silk clothing and jade belts, all with a distinctive look of sternness, when stepping out the doors, they were still whispering to one another in discussion of something, several people catches glimpse of someone within the courtyard, examining eyes looking over, seeing Gui Wan sat amongst the clusters of flowers, not one did not reveal a stunned look, followed by thinking of something, their faces all changes slightly, turning their heads away, lowering their heads whilst walking, heading out of the courtyard.

The last one following behind, is actually a man in cotton clothing, this is originally of no wrong, but following after the group of glamorously dress officials, it indeed appears a little strange. Gui Wan immediately understands this is the strange person the old housekeeper spoke of, only seeing him look towards her, with no expression at all, just like seeing nothing, and also follows the others’ pacing, walking in leave from the courtyard.

Waiting till all the officials have cleared away, Gui Wan stands up, walking up to the study room, before reaching the steps, the study room doors opens, and Lou Che walks out.

“Gui Wan?” The fragrance of herbaceous peony drifting over the entire garden, Lou Che smiles towards her.

Setting foot onto the steps, Gui Wan contains a tranquil smile, “About time Husband finished busying yourself……”

“Waited for long?” Holding up her hand, they slowly head towards the floral hall, “No need to wait for me to eat, careful of your body, don’t starve yourself.”

Lightly leaning on him, heart feeling as ease, Gui Wan smiles without answering.

The floral hall is already brightly lit up, Ling Long stands by the table, upon seeing the two of them arrive, she hurriedly orders the servants to start dinner. An entire table of steaming dishes, just smelling the aroma, will arouse one’s appetite.

Cups and dishes crisscrossing, seeing Lou Che down two cups of wine, Gui Wan was secretly surprised, placing down the jade chopsticks, asking: “Husband is in such a good mood today, did you encounter some sort of happy matter?”

“A person,” Looking at the alcohol swirling in the wine cup, Lou Che says: “Today I gained someone who is of great benefit to me.”

Is he pointing to that youth in cotton clothing? To actually be able to receive such great acknowledgement from Lou Che? “Oh? According to Husband’s words, even more talented than Guan Xiu Wen?”

Hearing this name, Lou Che’s wine cup touches the table, a dark expression faintly spreads. Back then in the estate he already felt that there is a gap between them that could not be eliminated no matter what, sure enough, that thought has been verified now, this boy takes to such viciously brutal means, acts with cutting decisiveness, also just like a promising youth of the next generation of the imperial court, although still lacking success right now, but in time, he will definitely become great disaster. And towards him, what annoys Lou Che most, is not his increasingly solidifying strength and capabilities, but his eyes, clear like water, yet also carrying madness.

That state of obsession seems to be dedicated towards Gui Wan……heart bursting into boiling irritations, seeing Gui Wan naturally blurt out this name, appearing calm, Lou Che is relieved, answering: “This person’s talent is not of the First Ranked Scholar talent, completely different to Guan Xiu Wen.”

Lightly curling her lips, Gui Wan sounds a laugh: “Could it be a military talent?” Seeing the appearance of that young commoner, he does not seem like a military talent, compared to Lin Rui En, feels like he is missing something.

“He may be highly skilled in martial arts, but does not have the talent to lead troops in battles,” Seeing Gui Wan’s displeased state, Lou Che is slightly startled, no one could have imagined, even though they have been married for more than three years, seeing her heavenly smile every day, his heart still palpitates because of her, seeming to have already been completely satisfied, “His talent lies in being able to replace any single person within the imperial court.”

Seeing Gui Wan lightly crease her brows, Lou Che explains: “Gaining him alone, is equal to gaining an entire family line. Have you by chance heard of the Shu Clan down south?”

Seeming to have seen a recording of this in San Niang’s notebook, vaguely remembering San Niang has once noted that this family comes from the martial arts world, but operates in an honest and upright manner, a rich and generous family. Gui Wan takes a look at Lou Che, “What of the Shu Clan?”

“This family has gave birth to talented people for generations, carries out tasks extremely carefully, with but a few years, emerged as a rising power within the southern area, a promising future.”

Gaining one person, equal to gaining the entire family is originally of this meaning. The final mouthful of soup into the throat, Gui Wan raises her head, looking at Lou Che, originally desiring to tell him of today’s matter, but looking at it now, it is not the right time, sighing in her heart, forget it, forget it. The conflict within this imperial court is already intense, why add another score to it, he and the Emperor really is to further deepen the bad blood between them, only afraid that these days of peace is already coming to an end.

Vaguely seeing worries hung between her brows, Lou Che softly asks: “Not feeling well?”

Shaking her head, Gui Wan’s smile blossoms, “Sat in the garden for too long, the flower fragrance has made me feel drowsy.”

Taking a closer look at her fatigue already showing, Lou Che is absolutely pained in the heart, standing up, he takes her hand, “Since you are tired, do not force yourself to go on, quickly go back to take a rest.” Reaching out to stroke her hair, lightly stopping at the tip of her hair, when she stands up, he gently holds her waist.

Although aware that Gui Wan is not frail, but he always unconsciously wants to tuck her under his wing. With the current situation of instability, only this Prime Minister Estate, seems to be the ark in the chaotic waves, no matter how the outside world is struggling in the open rivalry and hidden scheming, here, it will forever be of fragrant flowers and singing birds. His turn of a hand to form clouds, flip of hand to form rain, is all but in exchange for a corner of cosiness. During early dawn, to see Gui Wan groom herself in front of the dressing mirror, inside and outside of the courtyard, seeing Gui Wan’s laughter linger around. An entire life intoxicated in trickeries, only he knows, gaining power is not easy, losing it is but within a blink of an eye.

“What is Husband thinking about?” Turning down the corridor, already arriving at the room doors, Gui Wan turns her head to look at Lou Che.

Lou Che gently strokes her cheek, whispering: “Blusher lighting the jade.” Pushing open the doors upon entering, lighting up the candles, the inside of the room instantly brightens up, silk brocaded draperies, tassels of the glass palace lanterns swaying, dressing table made of carved rosewood, all greeting the eyes.

Taking out the hair ornaments, allowing the black hair to flow down, Gui Wan’s body like mist covered water circulating around her, “Looks like Husband really has special liking to the herbaceous peony,” This blusher is a famous herbaceous peony product, a lot of it has been sent into the estate today.

This smile of hers really is like dispelling the clouds to see the sun, no words can describe how distinguished and admirable such elegance is, Lou Che silently watches her clear off the excessive magnificence (make up), long hair fluttering along with her beauty.

Lifting her up, placing her on the bed, covering her with the silk quilt, watching her close her eyes, until her breathing settles, revealing the state of sinking into sweet sleep, and only then did he settle down, placing a kiss on her cheek, with soft speech and low laughter: “This blusher lighting the jade, since when was I speaking of the peonies.” Reluctant to part, he repeatedly looks at her, before finally standing up, walking out of the room.

Feeling like he was only in the room for short moment, only upon stepping out did he find, the moon is already sitting above the willow tree.

The old housekeeper and Lou Sheng stands at the entrance of the courtyard, waiting for Lou Che to step out of the inner courtyard, the two of them bows their head in apology.

“I heard someone sent a pot of tree peonies today?” A deep voice asks, Lou Che reveals a biting chill within his faint smile.

“Yes,” The old housekeeper follows behind him, heading towards the discussion hall, “Heard a lord amongst the many carriages sent it.”

“Who did Madam see today?” Gui Wan was a little absentminded, he may have not mentioned it, but has indeed noted it inside.

“This……” Forehead lined with sweat, the old housekeeper evasively answers, “Madam did leave for a little while, perhaps it was only to admire the flowers by the front doors……”

A sound of a cold scoff cutting off his words, Lou Che turns to his left, “Lou Sheng!”

Lou Sheng silently takes two steps forward without a word, closely following behind.

“How did the investigation go?”

“Unfortunately failed to accomplish orders.” A sonorous and forceful answer.

******

The study room quiet to point that one can even hear a needle drop, Lou Che sits at the desk for a long time, suddenly letting out a long drawn out sigh: “You’re saying, in the end there is no movements?”

“Yes, General Lin is stationed at the border, this past month, only a small number of defensive troops have been mobilised, all within a normal range.” Lou Sheng stands straight, with not a trace of laxness as he answers, the terrible scars on half his face hidden in the shadows.

“Stationed at the frontier? Could it be an imminent war?” Lou Che has a trace of suspicions, “Nu King passed away two months ago, the Nu Tribe is currently thrown into chaos with inner struggles, Lin Rui En has no need to personally take charge of the frontier……”

“That is right, according to investigations, the Nu Tribe is indeed showing no signs of starting war.”

Waves of faintly elegant floral fragrance flowing in from the half opened windows, like the sweetness of fruits, Lou Che half squints his eyes, as though he is in deep thoughts, hooking up a smile, “These two months, you have been at the frontier, from what you seen, Lin Rui En, how is this person?”

Surprised by this question, Lou Sheng raises his face, without thinking of the previous two questions, he immediately answers, feeling a little hesitant right now, thinking over it a few times, before saying: “Is a true man.” Work and rest along with the other soldiers, not arrogant not impulsive, good mannered, calm and collected when commanding, indeed the demeanour of a famous general.

Knowing that his words “true man” contains many meanings, Lou Che smiles, eyes as darks as night sweeping past him, “The Lin family has been loyal and righteous for generations, gaining the most trust from the Emperor, at this time, with no signs of war, he stands guard at the borders, this sure is interesting……”

A great Zheng Liu, is this the imperial heart standing on top this time round?

Using fundamental principles to face the shifting events?

All along, he has been keeping watch of Lin Rui En’s every move, what Zheng Liu relies on, other than the portion of close ministers within the Capital, is this military pillar, this time round, not transferring Lin Rui En back into the Capital, is it because of putting another scheme in play, or is to fool others?

“Lord Prime Minister.” Lou Sheng lowly calls out, watching Lou Che very leisurely open his eyes, “Just now, I saw that Shu Yu Tian wandering outside the Prime Minister Estate.”

“Shu Yu Tian?” Lightly mumbling this, only just recalling this is the name of the southern Shu Clan’s leader, Lou Che creases his brows, a long while after, he says, “Send for someone to continue monitoring Lin Rui En’s every move, also, investigate into the southern Shu Clan’s situation.”

Lou Sheng simply answers yes, his lowered bowing posture unchanging.

The room restores its earlier silence, slight stuffiness also contained within, floral fragrance overflowing, also tasting like the influence of pure alcohol in affect.

Lou Che lazily leans back on the chair, eyes lightly closing, seeming to have already fallen asleep, yet Lou Sheng remains absolutely motionless, silently waiting.

“Lou Sheng.”

“Here.”

“Tell the housekeeper to pick out a few beauties, then choose some treasures, gifting it to Shu Yu Tian.” Opening his eyes, Lou Che supports his cheek in one hand, displaying the clear noble demeanour of dignitary.

Lou Sheng freezes without responding, although gifting wealth, gifting beauties is a good way to win people over, but very little does Lord Prime Minister use this method, why would he order such this time? To have ordered to investigate the Shu Clan’s background just now……towards the Shu Clan, exactly is he trusting or not?

“Lord Prime Minister, what if he does not accept them?”

“Not accepting, is a clear statement that he has other intentions.” If he does not accept, this point will be proved, everything the Shu Clan wants, is far beyond status and money.

“Shu Clan is originally wealthy, not accepting, could perhaps be because he does not care……” Knowing Lord Prime Minister currently needs to use people, Lou Sheng speaks up in the Shu Clan’s defence.

Lou Che lowly laughs upon hearing this, but his smile does not reach his eyes, “One who is money greedy never has enough of gaining money, one who is lustful never has enough of gaining more beauties. if he really does not accept it, then it is clear that his ambitions does not just stop there, this type of person, will definitely become great disaster in future.”

Heavily nodding a few time, announcing his leave, Lou Sheng walks out of the study room.

Slowly standing up, Lou Che paces up to the window, within the darkness, using the thin lighting of the moon, he sees an entire courtyard of herbaceous peony flowers arousing sympathy and affection as they sway in the wind, a willowy posture.

“Tree peony……” Lightly sounding a sigh, practically inaudible, he deeply frowns.

In this entire world there is only one person who dares to send the king of flowers on this day……a great trick of psychological attacks makes the best offense, both wanting to shake his confidence, also wanting to use the flowers to warn him, no matter how valuable the herbaceous peony is, it is still below the tree peony.

Not putting Lin Rui En to use, could it be the Emperor has another dependence? Is it the Capital’s provincial commander in chief? Or is it the one with gradually strengthening wings Guan Xiu Wen?

Between long term survival and disputes, Lou Che has already grown accustomed to the existence of intrigues, only this time, there is no warning at all, yet he is able to sense an existing danger……

Must gradually consolidate with every step, only then would he be able to keep hold of everything.

Playing on the chessboard, playing with the entire world.

******

Hurried steps entering the inner courtyard, the fragrance of herbaceous peonies clinging to the nostrils, relaxing the heart. Lou Sheng slows down his pace, waves of pleasant laughter suddenly reaches his ears from the chambers of the inner courtyard, he attentively looks over, by the flowerbeds in the inner courtyard, Prime Minister Lou, Madam playing a game of chess, Ru Qing, Ru Ming and other maids standing in waiting, even the old housekeeper is standing by the side, attentively watching.

Silently coming to a stop, Lou Sheng stands at a distance, a small booklet firmly held in hand, not knowing whether to enter or withdraw in this moment.

Summer air gradually thickening, rendering the entire city in lush green, just like the previous years, southeast wind rises, bringing great vitality to the Capital City. And this year, within this high spirited green there is the addition of other gorgeous colours blending in, really does give a great feeling to the heart.

The situation in the imperial court like an arrow readied on the bow, tensing the more it stretches. Battle of the political parties appears to be unavoidable, the camps of officials in the Capital has also been sharply divided, seeming to be a huge gamble, choosing one between the two parties, the victors shall continue to stand prideful in officialdom, the losers will have nothing.

The Lou Estate is clearly the leading wave of the war, first to be affected, but right when this undercurrent is surging, amongst such time of open rivalry and hidden scheming, this inner courtyard is actually overflowing with floral fragrance bringing faint leisure, flowers clustered like a brocade.

Laughter occasionally drifting past right now, peace masking the disputes in the imperial court, or is it but a scene of illusionary splendour?

“Lou Sheng, why the need to stand so far away?” As he is placing down the chess piece, Lou Che turns his head to see a figure stood in the courtyard, calling out to him.

Lou Sheng nods his head, walking forward, standing to the left of the chessboard as he hides the booklet behind him, only here, is one able to see Lord Prime Minister’s sincere and hearty laughter, why should he rudely disturb him?

Lou Che as white, Gui Wan as black, performing exhilarating kills on the chessboard, Gui Wan’s chess skills is in fact far more lacking that that of Lou Che’s, with but only one word of ingenious is she able to repeatedly engage in the struggles with Lou Che, Lou Che too is holding back a bit, the two people’s joy lies in playing chess, and not in winning.

White rises black falls, in a blink of an eye the chessboard already reaches another win-lose conclusion, Ru Qing, Ru Ming covers their mouths in laughter, Gui Wan pouts her lips, ten fingers spreading out, pushing across the chessboard, murmuring: “Lost again, not playing anymore.” On the chessboard, the black and white chess pieces mixes together, beyond recognition.

Even the old housekeeper could not hold back from spreading a smile, Lou Che is only able to smile in helplessness, only in this precise moment, is he able to catch a glimpse of Gui Wan’s reckless and spoilt demeanour, how could he bear to disagree with her, just let it go with a smile, not speaking of winning or losing again.

Gui Wan raises her head and notices Lou Sheng stood by the side, although carrying a faint smile, but hands are hidden behind his back, slightly aware that he must have important matters to report, she gathers away her deep smiles, standing up, mouth mumbling chess is a waste of mental thinking, leading the two maids far away in leave.

Elegantly delicate laughter faintly fades after her.

“Lord Prime Minister,” Lou Sheng presents the booklet in hand before him, passing it to the front of the chessboard, “Here is the investigations of the southern Shu Clan and the recent situation in the Capital.”

Left hand holding a black chess piece, very casually tossing it onto the chessboard, sounding a clear ring as it falls, Lou Che accepts the booklet, flipping through the pages, coming to an abrupt stop, eyes fixed on the booklet, “How did the sending of gifts go?”

Lou Sheng’s eyes also falls upon the page Lou Che has his attention on, it is only a very ordinary report introducing the family structure of the Shu Clan, slightly surprised, he answers: “Already sent them over, Shu Yu Tian accepted them all, and appeared very pleased too.”

Very attentively looking over the same page a few times, Lou Che closes the booklet, “This Shu Clan is still a truly difficult puzzle.”

“Did Lord Prime Minister not say, if he accepted all this, then it is good to use the Shu Clan?” Lou Sheng speaks of the questions in his heart.

“You say he accepted the beauties and treasures with a very pleased expression,” Lou Che stirs the scattered chess pieces beside the chessboard, seeming to be considering something, suddenly smiling, “In your eyes, do you think Madam is beautiful?”

Freezing on the spot, not only Lou Sheng’s mouth drops, even the housekeeper reveals an expression of being hit by the absolutely unimaginable. Struck dumbfounded for a while, Lou Sheng snaps out of it, seeing that Lord Prime Minister seems to be waiting for the answer, he seriously thinks it over, in his heart, naturally there is no woman better, prettier than Ran Yi in this world. But he too is no fool, naturally aware of Madam’s beauty, a rare find in this world, such direct answer, would it not be too rude? It is in his nature to not lie in front of Lou Che, and so he bluntly speaks: “Madam is beautiful beyond compare.”

“I heard Housekeeper say, when Shu Yu Tian stepped out of the room, seeing Gui Wan, he turns a blind eye, a person like this, even Gui Wan’s beauty is unable to shake him in the slightest, how could he be tempted by the beauties gifted, afraid that his attitude of pleasure is also an act. This person’s scheming is far beyond yours and my expectations.”

Sailing through the many ups and downs within officialdom for many years, he had long gained the insight into the phenomena in the world, gaining the First Ranked Scholar title before the tender age of twenty, then due to contributing to Crown Prince’s death, experienced standing on top of the political dispute against the Empress Dowager, all this were not reliant on luck.

“According to Lord Prime Minister’s meaning, Shu Clan is to be abandoned, not of use?”

“Such talent, how could we possibly not use,” Lou Che stands up, sweeping his eyes across the garden of flickering emerald green, “Use whenever of use, the Shu Clan has all types of talented people, rather than letting others use them, why not leave it for our own use, but must remain three points on guard towards them.” A matter of urgency, need to first solidify his power, this battle of power between him and Zheng Liu, the stances of the officials within the Capital is already very difficult to change at this point, to gain assisting strength at a time like this, it will undoubtedly add to a better grasp, as to whether this assisting strength will become a threat in future, it is better to wait till the dispute with Zheng Liu is over before taking it into greater consideration.

Lou Sheng bows his head gladly convinced, “Yes, I shall go arrange work for the Shu Clan.”

A month after this, the Shu Clan is working under the Prime Minister Estate, indeed as Lou Che has expected, using the Shu Clan is very beneficial, taking action within the Capital, wining over officials, passing on information and so on, they carry out tasks thoroughly, careful in taking care of matters. Be it in terms of people, finance, material, the Shu Clan holds extremely strong assets, playing up a multiplier effect.

The situation in the Capital remains at a deadlock. The reforming of the “Central Academy” proposed by the Emperor has not progressed in the slightest, and the six divisions based in Prime Minister Lou’s party are also actively working, other than increasing the influence on the Capital’s officials, Lou Che has also established contact with local officials of the southern region, consolidating the power in his hands.

In imperial court lies peace and prosperity, outside imperial court lies disputes and struggles.

Amidst the heat of July, Minister of Personnel from the six divisions dies a sudden death. Not even three days after the news of death spread, and the original Assistant Minister of Personnel has taken over the minister post, at the same time, Zheng Liu announces Guan Xiu Wen as Assistant Minister of Personnel. The former Assistant Minister of Personnel is a cowardly person by nature, was originally wavering between the dispute of two political parties, to face such a severe situation right now, he is even more afraid to speak too much of matters regarding the ministry of personnel, taking shelter with the front of recuperating his health, Guan Xiu Wen this newly appointed Assistant Minister thus perfectly justifiably becomes the true power holder of the ministry of personnel.

******

Mid-July, Prime Minister Estate.

Summer heat scorching hot, people exhausted as cicadas sounds their calls, lotus leaves linking together, with red lotus head floating above the green waves, a passing of slight breeze, lightly forming ripples, the fireflies happily frolics around, dots of red against the emerald green, such movements suitably fitting.

“A great strategy of raiding……” Looking at the beautiful scene within the courtyard, Lou Che sounds a sigh, “Rather than putting Zhang’s hat on Li’s head (to wrongly attribute something to another), just grasp hold of the ministry of personnel, his majesty can also be considered to have expended much care and thoughts.”

“Lord Prime Minister, the timing of Minister of Personnel’s death is far too coincidental, could it be……” Lou Sheng lowers his voice as he speaks, reaching up to wipe the sweat on his face. The study room is located in a peaceful area, but with the scorching heat of summer, the heat endlessly flows in from outside, so stuffy that it gets to one’s head.

“So what if that is the case, the outcome already turned out like this, even if we are to investigate the cause of death, it will still be of no help.” Within such gentle refined tone there hides a trace of anger that even he himself does not realise, Lou Che takes hold of the teacup from the table and takes a drink, fan gently swaying, looking out to the cloudless skies and lotus pond.

Towards this move of Zheng Liu’s, he cannot not be full of praises, to take to such means, is not only beyond everyone’s expectations, but also holds a shock factor.

Lou Che silently stands, for a while, not a single person makes a sound within the study.

“Lord Prime Minister,” The old housekeeper stands outside the study room doors, solemn and cautious as he reports from there, “Shu Yu Tian is requesting for an audience.”

“Oh?” Arousing a trace of interest, Lou Che sits up straight, “Welcome.” To come at a time like, he believes there must be a strategy to offer, he shall like to see, exactly what kind of spectacular capability the Shu Clan has.

The housekeeper sounds his reply, for a moment no sound can be heard from outside, after a while, the half opened doors are slowly pushed opened, a youth in commoner’s clothing steps into the room, his facial features very delicate, but once put together, it can only be described with the word ordinary, the most characteristic feature is that pair of phoenix eyes, elegance exhibited within his gaze. Upon entering, he bends his body in a bow, “Greeting Lord Prime Minister.”

“Why all the formalities, please sit.” Lou Che faintly smiles, graciously motioning his hand, signalling for him to sit on the guest seat.

The housekeeper behind him orders a maid to serve up tea, Lou Che exchanges a few words of pleasantries with him, Shu Yu Tian acts reasonably, neither humble nor pushy, responding appropriately, speaking carefully yet smoothly.

“Is Lord Prime Minister troubled by the ministry of personnel matters?” Only three people remains in the room, Shu Yu Tian takes a few glances outside, thinking over it a few times, before speaking out loud.

Straight to the point[1], also eliminating the need to speculate his thoughts, Lou Che frankly says: “That’s right.”

“Lord Prime Minister originally had six divisions in the palm of your hand, holding the lifeline of the imperial court, despite the bad blood between you and his majesty, his majesty misgivings are too deep, daring not to do anything, this is Lord Prime Minister’s greatest advantage to this day. And with Minister of Personnel’s death, the situation goes through a huge shift, the current minister holds the position but does not care for its matters, the one who truly holds power is Lord Guan. Lord Guan may be Lord Prime Minister’s student in name, but his heart is more biased towards his majesty,” Pausing for a moment, he takes a peek at Lou Che’s expression, seeming to show no signs of annoyance nor anger, Shu Yu Tian puts his heart at ease, the endless flow of analysis continues, “The six divisions are thus unable to connect into one wall, Lord Prime Minister’s power has also revealed a crack. The ministry of personnel to others, may not be of much importance, but to Lord Prime Minister, it is of extreme importance, is it not?”

A clear flash sweeps past those deep orbs, Lou Che hooks up the corner of his lips, smiling at Shu Yu Tian, “Your observation is very thorough.”

“Lord Prime Minister is over praising, our Shu Clan is dedicated in serving Lord Prime Minister, of course we will look at Lord Prime Minister’s political career in greater importance than anything else.” Shu Yu Tian sits straight, behaving with utmost seriousness, “Amongst the six divisions, ministry of personnel determines the promotions and transferring of officials, one cannot see the importance of their role within a short moment, but as time goes on, it will definitely affect Lord Prime Minister. This one move of the current Emperor, can be described as taking away the firewood from under the cauldron[2], is of extreme formidability.”

Indeed a talent, analysing the situation without a single drop of flaw, Lou Che casually sways his fan, faintly speaking: “Whatever great plan you have, you may speak of it directly.”

Appearing rather surprised by such direct manner of Lou Che’s, Shu Yu Tian is slightly stunned, then smiles: “Lord Prime Minister, since his majesty disrupted our camp, we can completely follow his example.”

Using one’s doings to apply on another’s body, indeed a great plan. Lou Che deeply ponders without a word, taking into consideration each and every possible candidate in his mind, unable to think of who he can send to the Emperor’s side and also be able to disrupt the opposition. The forbidden courtyard of the imperial palace is completely within Zheng Liu’s grasp, with no place to lay a hand on, as for the officials’ side, it is also difficult to control and win over.

“His majesty is a profound person, difficult to predict, it is difficult to lay hands on such aspect.” With a wave of his hand, lightly disagreeing with this strategy, Lou Che’s eyes does not even blink as they stare at him.

“Others are unable to implement this strategy, but for Lord Prime Minister, it is not impossible.” Shu Yu Tian speaks of it so leisurely, seeming to have everything thought out[3], “May Lord Prime Minister first listen to two literary quotations.”

“I am all ears.”

“The first one, to endure hardships to accomplish ambitions in practice of eclipsing[4], the story of offering a beauty to King Fu Chai of Wu and restoring the state; the second one, is Lu Bu Wei of the Qin state, with a song hostess marrying King of Qin and so on, the story of power tyranny in the web of court relations[5].”

These two stories have long been overripe in his ears, even young children knows of them, Lou Che creases his brows, a chill carried within his smile, self-knowing projecting from within his eyes, “The beauty trap is of no use on his majesty.” The matter of Consort Ying serving as a lesson, Zheng Liu is simply good at acting, and not actually one who is intoxicated in beauties.

“Perhaps Lord Prime Minister does not know, I have received word from within the palace, his majesty has ordered for the main hall of Jing Ye to be named Yin Yue Hall, and there was once a woman who lived within the hall for as long as half a year, his majesty’s attitude towards this can be said to be of an extreme special case,” Shu Yu Tuan abruptly stands up from his seat, kneeling on the ground, “This person, is Lord Prime Minister’s Madam.”

Because of this one phrase, the entire room falls into still silence, one can still hear the sound of cicadas outside the window, each little cry, pricking into one’s heart, the originally still incomparably hot air, upon seeping into the study room actually carries a chill. Lou Sheng watches the person kneeling on the ground, face suddenly pales, suddenly reddens, sweat sliding down from his face onto the floor, carrying an incomparably abnormal silence. First turning his head to the side, looking at Lou Che, his face of gloomy chill, fingers tightly clenching around the fan, knuckles already white.

“You---want---to---die?” Lou Che grits his teeth as he spits the words out one by one, hand unconsciously exerting strength, restraining his monstrous fumes.

“Lord Prime Minister,” Even if it has come to this point, Shu Yu Tian’s voice is still as calm as before, his bowed head raises, facing Lou Che, “In terms of patience and endurance, his majesty undoubtedly stands above you, over time, Lord Prime Minister’s power is bound to take a fall. Lord Prime Minister, Madam is a fatal soft burden to you, rather than having it this way, why not turn your greatest weakness into his majesty’s soft burden, such disadvantage will be eliminated, this is but a great advantage to you ah! One woman, in exchange for the power to grasp hold of this world, is it not worth it?”

Such speech blurted out from his mouth, renders the entire study room silent, this unimaginably bold strategy clear and resounding, leaving all those within the room thunderstruck.

Hand stealthily gripping onto the sword handle by his side, Lou Sheng glares at Shu Yu Tian, his face cold and murderous, just waiting for Lou Che’s one word of order, he shall immediately spring into action, making sure to have the one kneeling on the ground splatter his blood in all five directions.

Shu Yu Tian notices his killing intent, his kneeling posture remains absolutely unchanged, coldly glancing at Lou Sheng, with not a single move, he stares ahead, with calm demeanour, an appearance of complete certainty.

The air abnormally heavy and pressing, flowing with hot breathing, every minute and second becomes very long, Lou Sheng hand tightly gripped onto the sword handle grows sweaty, but still hears not a single order from Lou Che, his heart hit with a chill, turns his head towards the person at the desk.

Never has he seen Lou Che like this before, such evident expression of dejection clearly displayed on the face, the nicely shaped eyebrows deeply knitted together, face slightly paled, even that elegant smile that is always displayed has disappeared without a trace, Lou Sheng was secretly afraid. Just when his doubts were uncertain, Lou Che closes his eyes, covering the deeply heavy pain within his eyes, acting like he is in deep thoughts, half leaning back against the chair.

Lou Sheng’s hold on the sword handle can only loosen, in this incomparably stuffy and hot afternoon, the calling of cicadas can be constantly heard, all of this is just like an illusion, behinds such peace there lies battles, plotting, and all this once again makes this originally hot summer grow even more intensely heated, practically making people feel suffocated.

Exactly what is Lord Prime Minister who has both his eyes closed thinking?

Lou Sheng’s mind is blank, within such haziness, he suddenly recalls many things that he originally should have forgotten, but is eventually lost amongst the memories of stories from the past.

He is one who followed Lou Che since the very beginning.

In his memories, back at the Crown Prince Estate, Lou Che was still a grown child no longer small, born with delicate and graceful handsome looks, eyes bright and clear like water, first time he saw him, he had even thought he is a gentleman of the Crown Prince Estate, only later did he find out he is but a freeloader, of lowly status.

But it is this frail youth, who diligently studied literary documents every day, such embodiment of perseverance even he this martial arts person could only sigh in acknowledgement of his own lacking compared to him. Ever since then, did he find, this good looking youth has the potential to become successful.

Listed as First Ranked Scholar at fifteen years old, practically becoming the phenomenon of the Capital City at the time.

A body of a young man, silk clothing jade hair crown, leaping body onto the horse, distinguished and admirable, glorious good looks.

When the flow of congratulating people came coming up to the doors, he finds that that youth has started to change, a smile hung on his face at all times, such smile like the spring breeze, the clearness in his eyes slowly fading away, replacing it is deepness like a quiet lake.

Becoming an official under the Crown Prince is but a matter of course, and he himself has become his person bodyguard, watching him step by step get closer to the heart of power, watching him transform from original nervousness into increasing sophistication.

Like a snowball growing bigger and bigger as he was drawing closer to power. Giving rise the Crown Prince’s dread, even motivated him to kill, and that youth who had been involved in officialdom for two years was a step ahead in sensing the danger, acting decisively on the spot, turning to assist the Empress Dowager at the time, giving her advices and suggestions from behind the scenes. Once Crown Prince died of illness, Empress Dowager seizing all power, the youth had already transformed from a little chick into a soaring eagle.

With exceptionally keen insights, great courage holding no fear no dread, taking to lethal means between cheerful chatting and laughter, with astuteness and resourcefulness of devising strategies in a command tent……practically all conditions required to all successes, he has them all.

In such turbulent struggle, he even managed to take the first step before that sly old fox of an Empress Dowager, winning over the senior officials, pinning accusations, leading the imperial guards, eventually forcing the Empress Dowager to her death in Chong Hua Hall.

The dreariness of that scene back then, just like a vivid happening before his eyes, after the Empress Dowager drank down all the poisoned wine, bleeding out from all seven apertures within the hall, Lou Che step by step steps down from the hall, dampened blue robes, eyes like bright stars, carrying a posture of innate noble elegance, a touch of unknown meaning in his smile, disdainfully side eyeing the arrogance of all the officials, such shocking talent.

Once he regained his senses, he only just found that he himself has already unconsciously kneeled down in the hall, it was also from that very moment, he loyally devotedly guarded this master, standing behind him, watching him rise higher and higher, standing above the clouds.

Power growing greater and greater, the original crystal clear youth was never to be seen again, waiting for so many years, finally meeting Madam, only deep within this garden, are there truly sincere smiles, could it be……right now he has to once again abandon all this for power?

Officialdom like the sea, has no limits, exactly what direction will his master head into?

Memories like a tide, thoughts tumbling, Lou Sheng holds very deep feelings, clanking man suddenly gains an additional sound of a sigh, silently waiting for Lou Che’s final decisions. (Clanking refers to the clanking noise of metal, referring to Lou Sheng as a man who only knows how to wave his sword around and fight).

******

Lou Che silent leans his back against the chair without a word, closing his eyes to think, cutting off all outside interference, Shu Yu Tian’s every word has hit against his heart, constantly echoing.

The world……

How much forms this word can take on. The power of one hand covering the skies, the ability to grasp hold of fate, all this is what he had vaguely looked forward to having. Nearly a decade of roaming the sea officialdom, time and time again brushing past death, this battle of the imperial court with no swords and blades visible, who knows how much more dangerous it is compared the fighting with all one’s might on the battlefield.

Since the age of twenty, he understood how to protect himself, how to eliminate opponents, all types of means and resourcefulness honed through survival, became his instincts.

Everything he has today are all his personal gains, with no one else’s help, even with people ridiculing him “sly as a fox, venomous as a snake” behind his back, he just turns a deaf ear, giving his all, to gain such attitude of looking down on the world in return.

And right now, all of this can possibly come to naught overnight……

Zheng Liu, never did he know he hid it so deeply, whilst he was opposing the Crown Prince with full force, he must have been coldly observing from the side right? Such deep obscurity, truly makes Lou Che admire him from the bottom of his heart.

Imperial power, originally thinking it is already something he cannot reach for, today he is evenly matched with and is struggling for, and the one holding the imperial power, seems to have also fallen for Gui Wan.

Truly laughable to the extreme……

He had long grown used to scheming, but never did he think, one day, Gui Wan would be dragged into the scheme, and he must also make a choice.

Mind endlessly replaying the journey he took on throughout these years. Within the Crown Prince Estate, he studied literary documents written by wise men day and night, outside in the courtyard, there is also a pond dyed blue from the rinsing of ink from his brushes, every day accompanied by books, learning how fight for power within such loneliness. Outside the imperial court, a very very long official road, he slowly walks past, seeing hundreds of officials lower their heads in bowing, every word every deed, deciding the movement of the imperial court.

Struggling for so many years, other than power, what else has he gained?

Suddenly opening his eyes, Lou Che looks out of the window, Lou Sheng and Shu Yu Tian were both surprised, simultaneously following his eyes in looking outside, the sky of cloudless blue, emerald green flickering in the garden, every spot flowing with the uniquely rich flavour of summer.

In a situation where no one else is able to sense anything out of the ordinary, Lou Che actually reveals a trace of faint smile, only he, seems to hear a burst of extremely pleasant laughter.

“No.” The painful struggles expressed on his face completely vanishes, Lou Che lowers his head and looks at Shu Yu Tian, restoring his handsome elegance, within that seemingly warm and gentle voice, there actually carries firm rejection.

Shu Yu Tian completely freezes, seeming to have not expected such an outcome, “Lord Prime Minister, think over it again……” This great opportunity is hard to come by, in accordance to Lou Che’s personality, he should not be rejecting this suggestion, why……

One wave of a hand stops him from speaking further, “Enough, you listen to me, let me hear such words again, then you shall not bother thinking of leaving this place alive.”

Heart thunderstruck, Shu Yu Tian understands he is able to do as he says, heart not feeling resigned, still wanting to speak again, when Lou Sheng had already took two steps forward, completely blocking off his opportunity to speak. Sinking into silence for a while, he struggles repeatedly, lamenting, he could only give up.

The room turns quiet, Lou Che watches Lou Sheng half carry a threatening demeanour in “sending the guest” out the door, only he alone remains in the room.

Feeling somewhat irritated, even he himself cannot clearly tell, why he had flatly rejected Shu Yu Tian’s suggestion just now, and can only attribute it to instincts, thinking that he cannot let Gui Wan remain in the Prime Minister Estate, he could not suppress the pain in his heart; thinking that he needs to send her beyond those tall red walls, his heart even more so felt like someone was twisting a knife into it.

The woman he dotes on, the woman he loves, how could he bear having her suffer the slightest grievance?

Forget it, forget it……

“Why still sitting there when you finished discussing?” The study room doors are pushed open, the ray of light follows in, Lou Che opens his eyes, amongst the radiant glow, he sees Gui Wan step in, her clear resonant voice giving him a sense of peace.

Raising his brows, before he could speak up, he sees Gui Wan walking into the room, carrying a sweet and elegant smile, heart missing a beat, words stuck in his throat, not a single sound uttered.

Heart like a clear mirror, he suddenly understands.

Monstrous power, one hand covering the sky……in exchange, turns out he needs only her……

One shallow smile ah……

******

Walking out of the courtyard, Shu Yu Tian has a face of gloom, refusal to feel resigned, looking back at the Prime Minister Estate plaque, expression filled with complications. He slowly walks towards a horse carriage waiting around the corner from the Prime Minister Estate, hopping onto the carriage, having just sat himself down, yet to regretfully speak up, inside the carriage is already a person who is sitting cross legged, his posture strange, smiling towards him: “What’s wrong? Looking at your face, seems to be very regretful……”

“Lou Che is originally a trickery talent, who knew he would also be so blockheaded,” Shu Yu Tian looks at the other person, continuing to say, “Unfortunate, really unfortunate……”

“Unfortunate? What’s unfortunate?”

“Unfortunate his failure is already showing, looks like this side of mine is also going to lose.”

The person in the carriage could not hold back from bursting out in laughter, after half a day did he hold back his laughing: “No need to haste, Yu Hai’s side also does not seem to be going smooth, be it win or lose, it is not yet conclusive. Besides, so what if you two lose or win, in the end, the final victor is the entire clan.”

Shu Yu Tian’s face gradually eases down, recalling the scene back in the Prime Minister Estate just now, he lightly sounds a sigh, not saying anymore.

The horse carriage heads west, amongst the afterglow of the sunset, it gradually disappears……

******

In heaven’s recording of the fourth year, in the occasion of early autumn, the inner imperial court is swept into endless storms, although it is no big matter that greatly impacts the situation, trivial matters are coming one after another, struggles between factions are intensifying the longer it drags on, even the ordinary commoners of the Capital City can somewhat smell it in the air.

At the end of august, a little known low ranked official of the Hanlin Academy (an imperial academy), suddenly petitioned to impeach the Minister of Revenue. In the memorial to the throne, he clearly and precisely points out that the Minister of Revenue having been an official for many years, has been taking bribes and bending the law, abusing power for personal gains, even all of Minister of Revenue’s entry accounts have been marked clearly, just like looking at the original copy. Also grieving that should such officials not be eliminated, it is difficult as a civilian to overcome such difficulty and respect the laws of the imperial court, all that was written in the memorial to the throne, was written in sharp cutting strokes, full of feelings. It was on the very next day, the Emperor although did not clearly speak of it, but already has the meaning to charge such offense. The current Grand Secretary of the imperial court, Prime Minister Lou declined to comment.

On the next day, another official under the ministry of labour impeached that low ranked official of the Hanlin Academy, pointing out that during his time in the Hanlin Academy, the history book recordings of the late emperor were written with ill intent, with the treacherous intention to profane the late emperor. All of a sudden, the low ranked official of the Hanlin Academy turned from being the original prosecutor to being the accused. Amongst the imperial court, the two factions engaged in endless disputes.

This matter opened up the prelude to the battles of factions in the heaven’s recording of the fourth year, later recorded in history as “Hanlin Petition”. A historian of a later generation had pointed out, this matter merely pulled out the past few years of small scale struggles between the two factions onto the main stage, at the same time, it is also the first time the Emperor and Lou Che directly went head to head in confrontation, both having the means of probing at each other. And that low ranked official of the Hanlin Academy and the ministry of labour official, merely opened up the path to this confrontation stage.

******

The Prime Minister Estate is still the same, red maple leaves fluttering down as they descend.

Ever since that secret talk, Lou Che stood on higher alert towards Shu Yu Tian, but did not act upon it, there is only one reason for this, to separate energy and manpower right now in order to deal with Shu Yu Tian, is an extremely unwise course of action, it will directly affect the capabilities and strength of the Prime Minister Estate, moreover, it is easy to deal with Shu Yu Tian, but to eradicate the stable foundation of the Shu Clan in the southern area is no easy task.

At the same time, he has grown extremely doubtful of the Shu Clan. Matters of the back courtyard in the imperial palace, ever since Zheng Liu personally took charge, it is extremely difficult to gain intelligence, and the matter that Shu Yu Tian mentioned in the study room, clearly shows he is well notified of matters within the palace. Could it be that he also has an insider in the palace?

Maintaining countenance as he continues to use the Shu Clan, Lou Che appears extremely careful, secretly wary of the movements of all parties, taking methodical steps in carrying out deployment, waiting for the storms of the imperial court to come.

The situation in the imperial court is already like rising winds foreboding the storm to come. In the Lou Estate, officials comes and goes in discussions, hectic with tensions running high; and within the inner courtyard, it is still filled with joyful chatting and laughing, unaware of the worries.

In the inner courtyard, the maids and servants are lit with smiles as usual, having not experienced hardships before, they firmly believe, as long as Lou Che is here, the Prime Minister Estate’s skies will not fall down.

Note:

[1] The original phrase for straight to the point is kāi mén jiàn shān / 开门见山- literally translated as opening the doors to see the view of the mountains.

[2] To take away the firewood from under the cauldron or fǔ dǐ chōu xīn /釜底抽薪 - the Chinese equivalent of the phrase is to cut the ground from under one’s foot.

[3] The proverb used for having everything planned/thought out is calledchéng zhú zài xiōng / 成竹在胸 which literally translates to having acomplete [image of] of bamboo embedded in one’s chest (heart) - before painting bamboo, the image of bamboo is already in one’s heart.

[4] First of all the practice of eclipse means to lose oneself for a while before bathing in glory again, like how the sun is hidden behind the moon. Whilst to endure hardships to accomplish ambitions or wò xīn cháng dǎn / 卧薪尝胆 -literally translating to sleeping on firewood, tasting the gall is a proverb that derives from the story of a King Goujian of Yue who deliberately put himself through the hardship of sleeping on firewood and tasting gall every day in order to remember the humiliations of serving under the enemy state, the state of Wu ruled by King Fu Chai, after persevering with this for many years, he later wipes out the Wu state, successfully gaining his revenge.

[5] The Lu Bu Wei story involves a complicated web of treachery, centring around a song hostess called Lady Zhao who was Lu Bu Wei’s concubine but later becomes the king of Qin’s consort (and subsequently the Empress Dowager), under the scheming of Lu Bu Wei she also gains a lover called Lao Ai who is disguised as an eunuch. With Lao Ai, she gave birth to an illegitimate son and schemed to have him succeed the throne, which was found out by the emperor, leading to Lao Ai launching a revolt, ending in failure.

[6] The proverb used for having everything planned out is called chéng zhú zài xiōng / 成竹在胸 which literally translates to having a complete [image of] of bamboo embedded in one’s chest (heart) - before painting bamboo, the image of bamboo is already in one’s heart.

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