[If you’re not reading this on chichilations, then you’re reading a stolen copy. Reposts are not allowed anywhere or for any reason! Nor are unauthorized EPUBs!
Links for thee: Ko-fi Donation — Translator’s Twitter — Project Index — EPUB Library — Discord Server
I see all your likes and comments! Thanks in advance!
The inside of the yellow-tinged envelope was packed thick with a pile of stuff. Li Yannian’s familial background, relatives, and even the whole course of his forty-three years of life were all listed out, article by article and in no specific order of importance, using tiny, flyhead script. He read it down ten lines a second. The more he saw, the more fearful he became, and when he got to the end, both of his hands were trembling uncontrollably.
As if there had been a pair of eyes nearby him for all his years, staring, a layer of bone-penetrating chill scattered across his back. Jing Qi gently pushed down his wine cup. “You’re truly very fortunate, Sir, to be in deep love with your wife. As an appointed Dynasty official, you have droves of maidservants at home, but you still being able to eat sweets that the venerable Madam had personally cooked up on the day of the Kitchen Sacrifice is truly to be envied.”
Little New Year’s eve… had been just the night before.
Jing Qi sighed with some seeming emotion. “Splashing tea as you both collect books, the wife lifting a tray to her brow-level for you… both of those things are ordinary boudoir trifles, but what’s the big picture in one’s lifetime? Isn’t it just having a place like that to lodge in when you’ve come back from making your way in the world during bleak wind and bitter rain, and having a person like that waiting for you with the lamps lit? Tell me — is there or is there not sense in this, Sir Li?”
Li Yannian stared dead at him, a vague emergence of dread coming over that always-affable and delightful face. Jing Qi, unmoved, questioned him once more. “Tell me… is there sense?”
There was an instant of stillness between them. Ji Xiang stood to the side, not daring to make any loud sound at all, and thought that this small pavilion filled with coal and fire had gotten cold and lonesome. Jing Qi’s smile did not wane, but the fear on Li Yannian’s face diluted drop by drop until only a certain unspeakable determination remained, along with a silence that was near to viewing death as a return to home.
He nodded afterwards. “Yes. What you’ve said has sense, Prince.”
Jing Qi finally curbed his probing smile. When he wasn’t smiling, it was like a film of clouds and fog had been removed from him. He got up, hands clasped behind him as he stood, and leaned against the railing to gaze off into the distance. The thousands of li of white snow resembled the sand of a vast ocean, far removed from the endless land and without bounds, washing the dust of the human world clean in a single sunset.
A long time passed before he spoke. “Ever since this Prince had arrived here, you’ve been the one scurrying around most diligently, Sir Li. This is Governor Liao training you to act as a confidante. As I see it, whether it’s your ability or your methods, neither of them ought to wrong you with residing in this place.”
Li Yannian buried his head down low, not making a sound.
“Governor Liao has a close relationship with the Eldest Highness,” Jing Qi continued on. “What all he’s done on behalf of the latter is something you know, as well. This Prince is about to ask you this — under Liao Zhendong’s hand, how many troops have been privately reserved? In the Guangs, how many businessmen have given him bribes before? How many official’s spots have been sold? How many human lives have been scythed like grass? During this disturbance in the Guangs, how many people with any sort of ulterior motive have been maneuvering within it?”
Li Yannian’s expression was unwavering, and he responded unperturbed. “Answering you, Prince, Liao Zhendong has sixty-thousand private conscripts and innumerable personal armaments, which are stored in four separate areas. Not counting the dealings of minor merchants, he has previously been in contact with all four of the local major trading families. The amount of official’s positions sold ever since this humble official has been keeping record sums up to eight-hundred and sixty-four. The lives lost have all been documented in the register. This incident…” He paused, displaying the trace of a smile. “Prince, the sky knows, the earth knows, he knows, and I know. You feigning stupidity is something well understood, too.”
Jing Qi turned his back to him. “You are quite thankless, Li Yannian,” he said, words drawn out. “You knew the second you met me. You are someone accustomed to mulling over people’s hearts, and are the most capable of seamlessly incurring affection for yourself in others. There’s no one better to use for dealing with the achievement-striving sort that Helian Zhao is. Liao Zhendong has had contacts in the capital for so long, that it can be plainly discerned that if you were willing, you would have long become a capital official, following along at Helian Zhao’s side and getting more protections for Liao Zhendong, right? I’m thinking… that you’re actually as void of ambition as a canyon. In such great circumstances, you still have no aspiration to climb upwards. It’s likely that Liao Zhendong has no idea, either, that he’s raising a white-eyed wolf who has methodically schemed to jot down all sorts of information for use against him.”
Li Yannian knelt down, face calm, then took off his official’s hat and placed it to the side, baring his head. “This humble official has acted for the sake of righteousness. I was born into an ordinary commoner family and raised to adulthood by my elders back home, so I had responded by demanding justice for them. I will accept being methodically scheming, but the words of ‘white-eyed wolf’ are ones I absolutely don’t dare to bear. Prince Nan’ning, as things have reached this point, there is no need for you to say anything else; punishing me is proper. I, Li Yannian, have conducted myself respectably and stood tall, thus I will die with meaning.”
With that, he hung his eyes, as if he was averse to taking even one more glance at Jing Qi. Turning his head to size him up for a short moment, the expression on Jing Qi’s face then gradually softened. He bent over, personally lending his arm to help the man up with a smile. “Were I to punish you, Sir Li, who would I get to help me with arresting Liao Zhendong and bringing him to justice in one fell swoop?”
Li Yannian abruptly lifted his eyes to look at him with incredulity, making him laugh heartily.
Snow passed the teal sky like a cleanse. After a hundred-plus day haze in the Guang area, sunlight was finally seen.
Jing Qi and Li Yannian conspired together, ending with He Ji sending him off himself. A dark shadow flashed by in the rear courtyard, then leapt in from an open window; the movements were soundless, his attainments in lightness arts evident. Liang Jiuxiao excitedly cupped his fist towards him. “Prince!”
Jing Qi nodded, extending his hand out to him. Liang Jiuxiao busily pulled a letter out of his lapels. “This is the reply from General Cui, who fortunately did not fail in his mission.”
General Cui’s full name was Cui Yingshu. He had formerly been directly under the command of Feng Yuanji, and now that the Feng army had declined, he had been in a dismayed slump for a good few years, solely called upon for events like this insurrection.
Taking it, Jing Qi skimmed it over, then chuckled. “This is good. We can just sit here and watch the excitement, waiting for someone to throw themselves into the net.” Having said so, he still prudently moved the reply near to a candle’s flame and burned it away. After that, he sat down, with Ji Xiang serving the two of them tea in a timely matter.
Jing Qi nodded at the eager-to-try-some Liang Jiuxiao. “Sit.”
Liang Jiuxiao widened his eyes into two big mirrors, peering at him solicitously. The guy’s face-changing skill was indeed outstanding, as after he washed off the substance on it, his face was robust-looking and a bit candid. In spite of Jing Qi having seen a lot of things, he, too, was dazed for a while; learning that the immensely charming, hidden-orchid-in-an-empty-valley beauty from that day had actually turned out to be goods like this gave him quite some sense of disillusionment, even if he was fully aware that it had been fake. “Prince, let me go rendezvous with General Cui again!” Liang Jiuxiao exclaimed. “We’ll snatch that dog official Liao Zhendong in one move!”
The other shot him a look. “If you dare to go and inconvenience me, I’ll beat-… I’ll get your sect-brother to break your leg.”
Liang Jiuxiao stared at him, aggrieved, but listened as he explained things to him with rare patience. “Liao Zhendong has been rooted in the Guangs for many years, and his influence is knotted and deep-set. Those mischief-making merchants set him up in secret, but all of them have kept their own strength hidden, as well. No one is standing up, and everyone is watching the fire from across the bank, waiting to see the way the wind blows in the Dynasty. Who, in that gang of old jerks-turned-elites, would be willing to poke their head out? If there was no name set to this, for what reason would General Cui revolt against Liao Zhendong? Furthermore, if that sixty-thousand legion of Liao Zhendong’s actually kicked up trouble, could either you or I bear the burden?”
Blinking from his scolding, mouth agape, Liang Jiuxiao looked at him stupidly.
Jing Qi sighed. There was nothing else going on, anyways, so he might as well debate thoroughly with this blockhead to avoid him going out and causing trouble in a bit. “Now that the pit has been dug, Liao Zhendong is sure to jump into it. I’ll ask you this; what is his biggest wish right now?”
“Um?” Liang Jiuxiao shook his head.
Having had no hope that he would answer to begin with, Jing Qi went on ahead. “His sort, which are accustomed to playing the local Emperor, are the most arrogant and maverick. At this moment, he’s likely relying on having the Eldest Scion’s support; prior to getting into real trouble, he definitely thought that this matter was nothing more than a momentary miscalculation that he made, and if he got a do-over, it certainly wouldn’t happen again. For that reason, what he’s most anxious to do now is set repairing his relationship with those very major merchants to task. If they hadn’t caused havoc, the Guang insurrection would have never come to exist.”
Liang Jiuxiao listened, not daring to make even a loud exhale.
“Yet, he hadn’t expected Helian Zhao to give me that list of names, having me safeguard those people, but not them… instead, the pawns were being abandoned to protect the chariots. Governor Liao, to that Master of his, is only a round fan in the autumn chill.” Taking in a breath, Jing Qi proceeded on. “As for the technique of using profits as a lure, the key is simply to know yourself and your enemy — whatever they want is then what they should be given. I gave this idea to him, and my reason for saying that is because he was thinking that in his own mind, too. If he wasn’t, then, regardless of whatever logic I had, he would merely take me as a decorative puppet and disregard what he’d heard. However, with a statement like this, and despite it coinciding with his own views, the old man would definitely still get other ideas incited from the occasion.”
He stopped, suddenly returning to the capital; it was as if he was harping on about these survival skills to that taciturn youth of few words, and he couldn’t help but smile gently. Yet, when he turned his head to look, there was no obstinate-yet-intelligent teen seated there, but a fool boy with his mouth open in bewilderment, and he couldn’t help but get a bit disheartened. “Understand?” he asked with some impatience.
“No.” Liang Jiuxiao was utterly honest.
With a huge roll of the eyes, Jing Qi continued on by himself. “Given that they’re the old loaches that they are, they’ll want to slip out of hand, and need to achieve the same thing; nothing at all can be done on your own initiative, so raking in benefits from other’s fights is the best thing they could possibly do. I raised the issue, so he would naturally think to exploit me to take initiative. Merchants? Merchants are nothing but heavy money-making, in the end. At present, Governor Liao has probably begun to ponder using my name to feed elephants to all those greedy snakes still surveying, and he’s gotten nice and ahead of himself in thinking to suppress this matter by my hand. The stigma of an appointed Dynasty official bribing businessmen would also be borne by me, allowing him to be neatly removed from it.”
Quick-witted Ji Xiang’s eyes looked about. “Master, just now — didn’t you have Sir Li refer from that name list to go make secret inquires into those people in turn? You said that merchants are heavy money-making, so doesn’t that indicate that they’re benefiting by means of Liao Zhendong’s work?”
Jing Qi glanced at him, thinking that when it came to stewarding, Ping An was much better than Ji Xiang, but when it came to scheming, he was the real inferior one. In that instant, he smiled. “Don’t you worry. When you to get to work, you’ll still have to handle giving all those redeemed aristocrats a welcoming banquet to banish the dust of their travels, then.”
Ji Xiang gave a hey, cheerful. Only reacting a long time later, Liang Jiuxiao stammered out, “Th… then, Prince, what… what am I doing?”
Jing Qi wasn’t happy. “I said all that, but you don’t get it?”
“‘No’ and ‘no’ — did you jump in a river?!” Jing Qi seized a book and smashed it directly on the guy’s skull. “Everything’s already ready and the only thing we’re lacking is the driving eastern wind, so go put on women’s clothes for me!”
On New Year’s Eve, Cui Yingshu returned in triumph bearing captives and troops, and Prince Nan’ning had a big feast with the official crowd. However, right when the singing and dancing was about to reach its climax, a duo of officers suddenly barged in and cleared the way, after which a large group of people followed in. Among them were richly-bedecked merchants in brocade clothes, scholars waving fans in winter because they were pretending to be aloof, and disaster victims with ragged clothes that didn’t fit their forms, all numbering in the thousands. They held a million-word note written in blood, which filed charges against Guang Governor Liao Zhendong, the Provincial Coordinator, and a miscellaneous group of other officials.
Caught off guard, Liao Zhendong had no choice but to play dumb, kneel down, and weep bitterly that he had been accused wrongly. Jing Qi took the letter of blood, pretended to read it, and laughed, saying only two words — arrest them.
Whilst no one in Liao Zhendong’s crew — not even his group of imperial guard lackeys — could react, the entertaining ‘beauties’ on scene suddenly transformed into rakshasa, easily subduing all who were present.
Concurrently, Cui Yingshu had already arranged troops on the sly to heavily encircle the place.
“You dare to touch me, Jing Beiyuan?!” Liao Zhendong cursed furiously. “Are you not afraid of tens of thousands of my soldiers becoming roving bandits, turning the Guangs to anarchy from here on out?!”
Jing Qi propped his head up with one hand, ignoring him. “Sir Li? Where’s Sir Li Yannian?”
Li Yannian stepped forward. “This humble official is present. Reporting back to the Prince and General, soldier’s wage bundles have since been issued. Those who were willing to leave have taken the money and left, and those that weren’t have been incorporated into General Cui’s troops.”
Eyes widening until they threatened to crack, Liao Zhendong stared at Li Yannian, speechless.
“Don’t you see, Sir Liao? Didn’t I tell you?” Jing Qi asked with a smile. “Do you have the components of that famous general? When Han Xin led troops, he dared to state the more there were, the better; what do you even have? No matter how many people are in your hands, all of them are what’s called a mob — come, detain him!”
Liao Zhendong died suddenly in prison three days later, his cause of death not concrete. Jing Qi’s letter stated “the rebel traitor killed himself.” Helian Pei’s only comment was: “What a good death for a traitor like that!”
The pitiful bunch of small fry that ordinarily followed Liao Zhendong either suffered implication as scapegoats, or they didn’t know anything at all and babbled a lot, itching to clean themselves of blame right away, then stomped on Liao Zhendong’s body ten thousand times to demonstrate their viewpoints. The Guang case came to a conclusion like a swift sword cutting through tangled rope, all due to the novice Prince Nan’ning.
Cui Yingshu came back to Court with his troops, triumphant and having made a huge contribution. On his return, he requested the grant of weaving quite a few more people into his ranks, and his aspirations were then satisfied.
Li Yannian had been hibernating for many years. With this single strike that hit true, the aura of gloom inside him was exhausted, causing him to pat his chest and let out a long sigh.
Every citizen of the Guangs celebrated.
Helian Pei was happy to search and seize the possessions of the corrupt official’s Estate, conferring the ill-gotten gains to the Repository of Internal Affair’s treasury.
Helian Zhao was also quite happy, even. Jing Qi had been the peak of capable at handling this; he totally prevented the man from entering the capital alive, solved the matter neatly, and didn’t incriminate him in the slightest. The private troops were a regret, but he could plainly see the situation — considering that good-for-nothing Liao Zhendong had made up a mob — and didn’t mind it, merely minimizing the losses as much as he could. As for that Li Yannian, he was an acquaintance, too. Once a few years had passed and talk had loosened up a bit, the Guangs would still be his infinite-treasure bowl.
What difference was there between Liao Zhendong and Li Yannian? They had different names and surnames, yet were the same exact dogs.
Jing Qi let out a light sigh of relief, slowly traversing in the freezing wind as he returned to the capital.
The author says: Going back~ Finally going back~~~~ Comrade* Xiao Wu, please prepare yourself behind the scenes!
The translator says: After thinking it over, I’ve decided to change all instances of Southern Xinjiang to Nanjiang. I had been using Xinjiang for complicated and kind of boring pinyin differentiation reasons, but I think there’s getting to be some conflation with real-life Southern Xinjiang, which is not the same, and not even in the South, really.
*The word used here (同志) is also slang for a gay guy LOL