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TW: Rape mention.
Zhou Zishu always completed tasks tidily, with no room for error. Those who should die died, those who should live lived, and things that shouldn’t get out would not even be known by the dead.
One month passed. While Helian Qi had already forgotten about the Lord Leveret he had been keeping and was starting to look for new pleasures, the northwestern Zhang family had already overturned the heavens.
Once Zhang Jin’s concubine, Zhang Tingyu’s birth mother, heard the news that was brought back, she nearly died. It was with great difficulty that she was brought to life with strong medicine, only for her to take gravely ill and accompany her son not even a few days later. The old steward found a rope and hung himself is his own room the very next day, the body already gone cold by the time others discovered him. Zhang Jin spurted a mouthful of blood more than three chi out, and went terribly mad for over half a month, getting rigidly shaken out of it later by someone’s howling voice saying, “Master, if you die, who will avenge the Young Master?!”
Zhang Jin, while in his dying gasps, came to an understanding. He had no sons or daughters, and was watching helplessly as his familial line was being cut off, with no hope left for it; if he actually died too, the old Zhang family would disappear. He then thought of how he had given the absolute of his effort to that punk, Helian Qi, for the greater part of his lifetime, only to be given such a conclusion. It hadn’t been worth it. It really hadn’t been worth it at all.
For that reason, he no longer wanted to die. With strength gone to his head, he decided to struggle until the net split or the fish died. He could not merely be alone in having his family ruined and its members gone. He had to pull someone down to share his fate of death.
A fruit growing worms was no big matter, but if its core was spoiled, it was then completely inedible.
Zhao Zhenshu had greedily raked in wealth for decades like it was one day, bribing up and down to obtain fealty. He had just one secret: he followed his pockets, not his sky-high, faraway Emperor, and would do anything he could for them in his locality.
On the tough side, he had a division of Vakurah troops under his command, all of which were brutes that ate raw meat and drank blood — whoever had the material assets was whoever they followed to work for, and every single one of them was as robust as a small mountain, and several mortals at once wouldn’t be their match. On the soft side, in the line from the northwestern Spring Market to the capital, all of the merchant caravans, if not suppressed by him, were headed by his people, giving him endless profits in the northwest.
Provincial Governor of Gansu, Zhang Jin, and Zhao Zhenshu were close enough to wear the same pair of pants. The two had been partners in crime for decades, there was no individual distinction between them, and they were as close as a pair of hands or feet, just shy of being extra-charitable bosom friends. In the end, from Helian Qi’s impressive feat of overstepping his bounds, the overthrowing of royalty silently went on under the condition that Zhao Zhenshu had no idea what was going on at all.
Zhang Jin knew that there would be no gain in calling on Zhao Zhenshu for this matter. No matter how good of friends they were, the other was still Helian Qi’s person, and was lead along by who knew how many threads of benefits by the man, a grasshopper tied to the same rope. Furthermore, Zhao Zhenshu had a wife and children, a large family, and a large industry, so he wouldn’t commit to this risk for the sake of their so-called ‘friendship’.
As was said, whores had no feelings, and performers had no morals. This crowd of gentlemen had no feelings and morals, being no lesser than those whores and performers that roamed jianghu and leaned against banisters.
Zhang Jin hid the body of his beloved son inside their icehouse, keeping it a secret and not even having a funeral. He spent three days and nights hustling out all those filthy, reeking, sealed-up things from over the years, ledgers placed to one side and letters to the other. After that, he sat down and wrote a manifest, then prepared a good many portions of rat poison. He left one for himself, as well as one to every concubine he had — he couldn’t make them live the hardship of being widows.
When he finished writing, he pondered over one more thing. For the Emperor to be able to see the manifest when it was sent up, someone in the capital needed to help him out, or it would be unclear whose hands it would ultimately fall into. Over so very many years, the entirety of the connections Sir Zhang had in the capital were people he wanted to go against now, so the first one he thought of was Eldest Scion Helian Zhao.
To outsiders, he only mentioned that he had grown a malignant sore, following which he snuck into the capital to go meet Helian Zhao. Firstly, he put on a display of indiscriminately crying hard over his unfortunate son, and only when he had cried even Helian Zhao’s face green did he bring everything out, giving an explanation for this and that.
As soon as Helian Zhao understood what Zhang Jin meant to do, his eyes went totally blue, and he was more excited than if he had caught sight of a beautiful woman. Before he could state his position, he heard Zhuo Silai cough a couple of times next to him, and managed to tamp down his emotions to get someone to take Zhang Jin away for hospitality. Following that, Zhuo Silai came in close and said to him in a hushed voice, “Your Highness, have you forgotten the lesson given by Jing Beiyuan?”
Helian Zhao was startled. Back then, he had been banging his own drum while Jing Qi used him as a tool. Having loosened his vigilance, he thus allowed that little bastard to get a handle on him, and was unable to free himself from it for many years, ever itching to do something like peel Jing Qi’s skin off of him. Could this Sir Zhang be more of the same?
For that reason, he sat himself down, mulled it over for a short time, then let out a cold laugh. “I won’t stick out this time around, but simply watch the excitement of them biting mouthfuls off each other.”
The following day, Zhang Jin met Helian Zhao again, but he discovered that the Eldest Highness was beginning to trend towards ignoring him or dancing around his words. With the sort of person Zhang Jin was, he understood body language the most, so, once he saw this scenario, he knew that Helian Zhao was going to pull back, and consequently started to covertly think of other connections to be had.
The Crown Prince? No… Zhang Jin knew his own worth in catties and taels. The Crown Prince, in his impression, was an ethics pedant that consumed ancient texts without absorbing them, and had a clique of babbling, sagely rich kids under his command. Him not flaying him for being a ‘corrupt, fawning official with a cushy national job’ would be good enough; hoping for collaboration was an impossibility.
He thought and thought about it, then remembered another person — Jiang Zheng.
That old man had been clear on things for decades. The way he spoke was unpleasant, but since the Emperor kept him around, he clearly knew his stuff on some matters, and rubbed sand in his eyes the least. Zhang Jin hadn’t dealt with him himself, but at this point in time, he nevertheless had to try.
That same evening, he stealthily paid a nighttime visit to Jiang Zheng.
The man didn’t fail his expectations, either. Once he figured things out, he went pale with shock on the spot. The northwest’s privately-stationed Vakurah troops, the Spring Market’s forgery, the official-bandit collusion to mow human lives down like grass, the abuse of the law to sell nobility and officialdom, the rape and humiliation of a serving official’s son during a fast: any one of these would be sufficient to sully the Second Highness for a lifetime.
This was no small affair in the least. Jiang Zheng was stabilizing Zhang Jin in his Estate on one hand and mulling this event over in the other. It took a good couple of days to secretly send people to investigate Zhang Tingyu’s place of imprisonment, where it was declared true — and he really couldn’t sit still.
The day after, he summoned several trustworthy people together to speak over things on the sly, with Lu Shen included among them.
Helian Yi greeted him ahead of time. He didn’t plainly inform him of what Zhou Zishu had done, but Lu Shen had some idea of it, and thus comprehended the whole of the events as soon as he heard Jiang Zheng’s call. Even with he and Zhou Zishu being familiar friends, a layer of cold air scampered across his back. All he thought was that the heart the man had behind his thousand faces was malicious to an immeasurable degree, after which he became a bit worried; if a day came that this guy couldn’t be utilized by the Crown Prince, what would happen, then?
After a flash of mental effort, he bounced back to witness everyone, together with Jiang Zheng, being beyond mad. This gang of old scholars had scolded people their entire lives, the lifelong goal they strived for being to break their heads open on a pillar in the Great Hall. Jiang Zheng was old and stable; at the start, he felt that this matter was too massive, and feared that there were spots of uncertainty in it, but he had a fiery temper at his foundation that couldn’t withstand everyone’s clamor.
What a mob…
Lu Shen shook his head. Recalling Helian Yi’s entrustment, he stood up and spoke to Jiang Zheng. “Sir Jiang, this humble official thinks that this affair should be considered at length, and must not be acted upon hastily.”
Jiang Zheng had always been quite appreciative of Prime Scorer Lu. The young man had talent when talent was needed and knowledge when knowledge was needed, with neither his background nor moral quality able to be nitpicked. He was a smidgen precocious, but it contrarily made everyone else think him steadfast. Upon hearing him speak, he paused, looking like he wanted to hear his case.
“Sir, Mount Tai had an earthquake, and all classes of society are in a panic at present. Recently, the Emperor has been sacrificing to the heavens in sincerity, and diligent in politics for the love of the people even more, both reviewing his own noted faults and rectifying harem affairs, granting amnesty to the realm. Were you to speak out against the Second Highness’s acts at this moment, the Emperor will find it hard to take—”
Before he could finish, he got interrupted by an individual beside him. The interrupter happened to be Jiang Zheng’s son, Jiang Yuqing, who, also by coincidence, had taken the same examination as him. Nowadays, however, Lu Shen was already sitting in the storm of the Court, while Jiang Zheng was still a mere editor in the Hanlin Academy; that notion of negligible schoolmate rapport had also more or less dispersed. He looked mostly like Jiang Zheng, but didn’t have half his presence.
At the time Lu Shen spoke up, he couldn’t resist cutting him off to talk to Jiang Zheng and the rest. “Sir Lu’s words are lacking. Since ancient times, civil officials risking death to criticize the Emperor, and martial officials risking death to fight in wars, are common events. To die for the sake of the country and its people is a death in its proper place. If we’re all yes-men like Sir Lu that dare not to admonish, who will come preside over justice?”
Lu Shen knew the personality of his former classmate, and was disinclined to wrangle with him, looking only at Jiang Zheng. “Speak cautiously, Sir. Strangers cannot separate kin. The heir at His Majesty’s knee can be regarded as frail, and the Second Highness is in the middle of receiving favor. I’m afraid that…”
Had Zhang Jin sought out Jing Qi, the latter definitely would have suppressed this event. Helian Qi naturally had to be involved, but how he would be involved was an issue. He needed to be managed right now, and the best way to do that was to grasp the issue of ‘drinking, partying, and raping a citizen during a fast’; this would be the crime of unfilialness, but it wouldn’t result in death.
The Emperor was currently finding this second of son of his, who procured strange curiosities, pleasing to the eye. To carelessly fasten him with a crime as big as ‘treason’, even if the evidence for it was conclusive, would be impossible for Helian Pei to accept — it was forcing an Emperor to kill his own son. To bring Helian Qi under complete control, this needed to be simmered over a small fire, and with the effort extended over several years, Helian Pei would be made to spurn this son all on his own, and he could be eliminated in a single move.
Governing a large country was like boiling a small fish alive — everything seemed to be in a violent tempest, and there would inevitably be a bit of negligence, but with that bit of negligence, the opposite result would likely come to fruition. Helian Pei could calculate and induce, but he couldn’t reveal any tracks. A monarch’s mentality was something gods and ghosts wouldn’t speak of; it couldn’t be explained nor investigated, else it violated major taboo.
Zhou Zishu didn’t necessarily understand that principle, but Jing Qi and Helian Yi were very clear on it.
Lu Shen patiently conversed with Jiang Zheng and the rest for a good while. When the sun was tilted to the west, Jiang Zheng nodded in endorsement. Lu Shen sighed in relief and returned to his Estate, believing the matter was over with.
Against expectation, on the day after in Court, Jiang Zheng abruptly went back on his word, kowtowed hard, then presented each and every gathered clause of Zhang Jin’s testimony, his own research, and material evidence before Helian Pei, stirring up every single official. Lu Shen looked at the righteous-appearing Jiang Zheng in shock. The latter didn’t avoid it, the utmost of calm on his face; he clearly looked like he possessed the will to die.
Afterwards, one person after the other stood up to support Jiang Zheng.
Thus, the atmosphere was ultimately out-of-control, and the crowd’s emotions were incited. Helian Qi’s face was wretchedly pale, and his knees were as soft as noodles, unable to even get up from his kneel on the ground. Helian Pei nearly went mad as he sat atop the dragon throne, unable to say even a word.
Even He Yunxing, who had just begun hearings, was almost riled up by this ambience. When he about to stand up for reconsideration, Lu Shen thankfully moved quickly to pull him to a stop, and he didn’t count as an emerging head.
Jiang Zheng had been upright his whole life. Unfortunately, he was too upright.
It wasn’t that he had no tact, nor that he didn’t listen to what Lu Shen had said. From rousing this amount of people, he was banking on an Emperor that ruled the nation with humanity, and had never applied punishment to a whole crowd at once.
Jing Qi’s face nonetheless paled.
He raised his head noiselessly, and happened to meet Helian Yi’s gaze. He closed his eyes, quietly saying to him, “This is a rebellion…”
Punishment didn’t apply to a crowd… this, however, was a rebellion, Sir Jiang.
The translator says: It was a bad idea, #confirmed