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[Arc 7: The Case of Weining Sealet]
Consort Wan’s favor having not waned for decades was a miracle.
She might have been charming during her youth, but she was now over fifty years old. No matter how much of a world-toppling beauty she was, that couldn’t conceal the wrinkles at the corners of her eyes, and due to her gradual aging, she was putting on weight, the slimness she’d had in her earlier years not to be spoken of in the same breath. Even so, it was such a woman that had captured the Emperor’s heart, several decades passing like just one day.
Perhaps it had not been because of her that the Emperor had stopped favoring harem women. After the Crown Prince had come to light before all, the Emperor had relaxed his own restrictions even further, having sons one after the other, though that didn’t at all lower the important spot Consort Wan had in his heart. She was an unparalleled existence in his life, where the older he got, the more he heeded her. It could make anyone click their tongue in astonishment.
That might merely be a rare romance story in the palace, but to some people, it was an asset to be utilized.
Take her little brother, Wan Tong, for example. His collusion with the Southside Gang from last time had nearly caused the children of major Dynasty officials to be trafficked, creating such a huge mess, even Consort Wan hadn’t been able to protect him. Out of anger, the Emperor had taken away his post, ordering him to return home and reflect upon himself.
Still, with that great big sister that he had, everything would be fine for him regardless of what happened. In the blink of an eye, the Emperor’s anger had thereafter vanished, and he felt that his in-laws were more reliable than average, so he had called him back to reinstate him as the Brocade Guard’s Commanding Envoy.
People that had good things happen to them would be ecstatic, and this was coinciding with Wan Tong’s fiftieth birthday. The Emperor even joked that life was half-complete at fifty, so there was no harm in throwing a big thing for it; with his weighty words, Wan Tong naturally held no scruples, straight-up ordering his Estate to go nuts in setting things up. The invitations had been sent to every official in the capital that was over fifth-rank, purely in a posture of getting ready to catch everyone with one net.
Just imagine; that Wan Tong, a consort-kin of no merits that had not grown wise with age, could still have high officials visit him for his longevity celebration… what a flattering, majestic thing.
Many dissented, but they heard that even the Cabinet Solons were going to show their faces, so they felt that not going would be too conspicuous, forced to grit their teeth and attend the party.
Today, the Wan Estate could be described as having brilliant friends filling its seats, dazzling brightly.
Looking all around, those that sat at the head table — apart from the birthday gentleman — were the three Solons, as well as three Ministers. On the table nearby, there sat a specially-bestowed gift, given by the Emperor when he had heard of his brother-in-law’s birthday.
In addition to those few, bystanders could see from a distance a couple powerful figures that had shown up before the Emperor recently: Transmissions Officer Li Zhisheng of the Office of Transmissions, and Chief Eunuch of the Eastern Depot, Shang Ming, who was as equally famous to and in a bitter rivalry with Wang Zhi.
With the Eastern Depot’s status, Shang Ming was able to sit at the head table. This was not shocking; had Wang Zhi come today, Wan Tong would have had to invite him to the head table, too. However, Li Zhisheng was a fourth-rank Transmissions Officer, yet was sitting with high officials and technical-royals — that drew quite a bit of interest.
Today, guests filled the gates, horses and carriages flowing like water, the doorkeep’s hands going soft from all the red envelopes being taken at the doors. As it came to be later, whenever he saw someone he didn’t recognize or was of a lower rank, he wouldn’t even bother to smile, looking at people much like he would plates of food. Guests being a bit bothersome would make his nose quickly go askew in anger.
No one was going to come by wearing their official’s uniform on such an occasion. The people Tang Fan came with were those who had been in Hanlin with him back in the day.
Even though they all had come from more or less the same circumstances, their later encounters had been individually different. Some had become lecturers at the East Palace and were giving lessons to the Crown Prince, some were still simmering their qualifications in Hanlin, and some had entered the Six Ministries and Five Courts, like Tang Fan.
However, after these few years, it was Tang Fan that had been promoted the quickest. The reason for that was that his luck had had its ups and downs, and perils had sprung up in his life, making his road incomparable to those of others’.
As was said, the higher the risks were, the higher the rewards. Those with capabilities would eventually be able to occupy high positions. Outsiders, naturally, had nothing to say about this.
Tang Fan was a loyal man, too, and would help in any way that he possibly could if anything happened with his yearmates. Whenever others were in dire financial straits, he would hand his own funds over without another word. That behavior of helping those in need out of righteousness was not something just anyone could imitate.
Thus, despite everyone’s teasing, none of them were envious, instead vaguely following his lead.
Capital officials were poorer than abroad officials. This was a bizarre phenomenon in the Great Ming, and especially true for Tang Fan and the rest, who were in ‘clearwater’ bureaus that didn’t take in much gray income. They, inevitably, had no way to compare to high officials, which made their gifts comparatively simple.
The doorkeep was used to accepting gifts, unable to judge their weight once they entered his hand. Seeing that the names on all of their invitations were nothing special, he arranged for them to sit at a table near the door.
“He’s really as self-important as his master!” Xie Qian joked in a whisper.
“Whatever. We were reluctant to come here, anyways,” Wang Ao said with a grin. “Those gifts were an exchange for the food, which is a profit for us!”
They all couldn’t resist laughing at that — wasn’t it true? Looking at this present setup, there was definitely going to be abalone, sea cucumber, shark fin, and swim bladders, with one table having to cost hundred taels, at least. That their worthless gifts could be payment for this meal was a steal.
A few sat at remnant tables, the scene now bustling restlessly. Most officials of low rank, after coming in, would successively go for the head table to pay respects to the Solons and Ministers, but not all did so; some were like Tang Fan’s group, who sat right down after their arrival, waiting for the banquet to begin. There were too many people, regardless, and no one could keep track of anyone. Perhaps even those Solons at the head table couldn’t keep track of who had come to pay respects to them.
Tang Fan’s eyes briefly swept around, and he saw Sui Zhou, who was at the third-ranked table, happen to raise his head.
Their lines of sight meeting, they both smiled a bit. The curve of Sui Zhou’s lips was much smaller, of course, and Tang Fan couldn’t necessarily see it clearly from so far away, but he could still sense that the other was genuinely smiling.
Within these vis-a-vis smiles, there was a mutual rapport, and implicit understanding.
The table Sui Zhou was sitting at was for meritorious officials, with not many arrivals to it. As was evident, none of the nobles really placed too much importance onto consort-kin like Wan Tong, who relied upon women to get up in the world. Despite not having power, famed families were still famed families, and many of those titles had been received from helping Yongle seize the throne back in the day. Such people had enough confidence to not give Wan Tong face; apart from being unhappy, there was nothing he could do against them.
Strictly speaking, Sui Zhou also belonged to the ranks of consort-kin, but he actually had talent. One look told that he wasn’t like Wan Tong, and he thus wasn’t isolated by the others of the table.
Judging from Sui Zhou’s personality, he certainly wasn’t fond of attending events like this, yet he worked under Wan Tong, and it wouldn’t be good to snub him… though, even if he was sitting there, his expression was grave, not that much different from how he normally looked.
Aside from Tang Fan, no one could tell whether he was ultimately happy or not.
At the second-ranked table were more officials, among which was Tang Fan’s teacher, Qiu Jun. Now being the Right Capital Censor, he sat with the Left Capital Censor, Chang Zhiyuan, as people occasionally came up to greet the two of them.
Both Capital Censors were high officials of truesecond-rank, the same grade as the Six Ministers, yet they were only seated at the second table; this wasn’t because Wan Tong was deliberately snubbing them, but rather to express the close atmosphere of the first table. Many there — like Li Zhisheng, Shang Ming, and the rest — were people Wan Tong had frequent contact with, and it wouldn’t be undue to say that they were diehard friends.
While Tang Fan was delighting in having found an oddity within these seating arrangements, he got clapped on the shoulder all of a sudden. He turned his head right as his senior brother, Pan Bin, sat down beside him.
As he was an old acquaintance, there was simply no need to be further polite. Beyond that, Pan Bin was truethird-rank, while Tang Fan was truefourth-rank — with just one rank of difference, there was no need for a distinction between higher and lower.
“Senior, you came!” Tang Fan called out, cupping his hands in greeting with a smile.
“What’s the situation here? Our teacher actually came… doesn’t he hate occasions like this the most? There isn’t going to be trouble in a minute, is there?” Pan Bin’s whisper bit him in the ear.
Tang Fan shook his head, portraying that he had no idea. “There shouldn’t be. He isn’t someone that can’t act appropriately between settings. Sir Chang is here, too, so he ought to have come along to give him some face.”
The other faintly sighed. “I sure hope so.”
Guests came in quick succession, seats filling up in equally quick succession. Those that were walking about slowly returned to their spots.
Seeing that the hall was crowded with all sorts of high officials, half-mainstays of the Dynasty all sitting in wait for him to speak, Wan Tong senselessly had the lofty aspiration of ‘getting all the heroes of the land into my control’ well up within him.
What a shame it was that he wasn’t Taizong of Tang, nor could he ever be.
He stood, cupping his hands. “Today is this Wan’s fiftieth birthday. So many of you gentlemen honoring me with your presence is truly gratifying. I have no way to repay this, other than toasting you all with some meager wine — I also hope that none of you be too polite, and simply enjoy it, not going home until you’re drunk!”
With that, he laughed some, the military officials present laughing along with him to spare him some face. The civil officials were conceited in their statuses, unwilling to lower themselves to perform such an unrefined act, where even the Solons at the head table only smiled lightly, not echoing him at all.
They were in Wan Tong’s faction, but were ultimately not his cronies. All of them walked the same path only because of shared political benefits. That they had come to Wan Tong’s birthday at all was already giving him an immense amount of repute.
Tang Fan’s group was far apart and uninvolved, feeling this to be a little funny, while Wan Tong was a little embarrassed and annoyed. Even so, he quickly adjusted his attitude, his complexion as it always was, and let the guests free, sitting down to chat with those at his table. Dishes were constantly being served, and there was also a band troupe that the Wan household had invited over, which played a jaunty ditty. The sound was pleasing to the ears, yet not so cacophonous that it would affect anyone’s conversations.
As far as many here were concerned, they might not view Wan Tong highly as a person, but since they had been invited, coming over to have a completely-justified meal was a rare boon for them. As was known, being a capital official was the envy of many other-locality officials, since they were under the impression that being at the Emperor’s feet meant quick promotions, but if one wasn’t in grease-getting bureaus like the Ministries of Appointments and Works, it wasn’t easy for them to look after a whole family. A feast full of delicacies like today’s would be wasted if not taken advantage of.
In spite of him also being an impoverished capital official, Tang Fan’s recent days had been plenty comfortable.
Tang Yu’s cosmetics shop had already begun to turn a profit. She allocated one-tenth of its monthly earnings to Ah-Dong, because the girl would frequently help run errands for the store, her hard work indispensable for it to remain open. Also, she was currently a well-known young lady of the Tang’s, so that coin could be used for her future dowry.
Another three-tenths, Tang Yu gave to her little brother. Back when she had married off, Tang Fan had gathered up the full sum of valuables their family had to give to his big sister for her dowry, leaving only a few things for himself as an afterthought. That deep affection was something she had always kept in her mind, and those three-tenths of her profits were just her expressing her heartfelt gratitude.
He presently lived with Sui Zhou, occasionally went next door to have dinner with his sister and Ah-Dong, had some funds come in from his literary works every once in a while, and now had thirty-percent of the profits from Tang Yu’s shop. At long last, he was living a life where he had surplus money each month.
Of course, even if this was the before times, when he’d had no extra money, he still wouldn’t have worried about not eating with Sui Zhou around. Even now, the man would watch him constantly, telling him not to go buy midday snacks every single day he was off of work, as that spoiled his appetite for proper meals and was really turning right and wrong on its head.
Discussing the present, this display of dishes pouring in like water, each one cooked with exceptional flavor, made these capital officials that typically only ate plain congee and veggies drool massively. Xie Qian, the descendant of a rich family, was used to seeing such scenes, and couldn’t help but sigh ruefully at the feast’s extravagance.
Wang Ao, who was seated beside him, saw him slightly shake his head, and asked, “What’s wrong?”
Xie Qian used his empty chopsticks to pick up one delicacy that had just been served. “This is honey-roasted deer tongue, made from a fawn’s. Only the tongue is extracted, and there’s a restriction to the fawn’s age. This dish alone likely costs about a hundred taels.”
Hearing this, everyone couldn’t help but be tongue-tied, all having a total new comprehension of the lavishness of this banquet.
Still, they hadn’t spent this money themselves. Despite their surprised gasps, they were not too hesitant in picking up their chopsticks. Due to Xie Qian’s introduction, they became curious about the deer tongue, and took turns quickly tasting it.
At right that moment, Li Zhisheng was heard to say, “Lively people are across the board, today. Having food and wine isn’t yet enough; it would be better to play drum-and-flower to liven things up, though we’ll use the little lady’s pipa in place of drums. As soon as the beat stops, whoever is holding the flower will recite a verse or couplet to congratulate the birthday gentleman. How about that?”
Wan Tong laughed. “Everyone here is of remarkable literary talents. As crude a man as I am, that I can read at all isn’t too bad. I might not even be able to appreciate all that, as it’ll be the equivalent of playing the qin for a cow. Whoever has the flower might as well tell a raunchy story! Then again, if it comes across someone pedantic and inflexible, that’ll be a headache, so let’s not.”
He was actually being sincere. Not a culture snob, he straight-up admitted that he would understand nothing.
“It’s Envoy Wan’s birthday, so he’s obviously the boss of the day,” Shang Ming answered with a smile. “Since poetry can’t be done, how about we switch it to each person telling a story? It needs to be a very interesting story, not one that skimps. If everyone thinks that it isn’t interesting, we can request that the one in question tell a new one.”
“What if you don’t have a story to tell?” someone asked.
“That’s easy. The birthday gentleman will ask the other party a question, and it’ll be up to them to answer. If they don’t, they’ll be punished with downing thirty cups of wine!”
Thinking that to be fun, everyone gave quick agreements.
The game of drum-and-flower had been around since ancient times. With so many people arranged at separate tables like they were today, after one was fully passed, the last person to get the flower would pass it to the guests at the nearest table, and it would continue like that until the sound of the strings ceased.
The playing woman was asked to turn around. Maids of the Wan’s immediately offered up a flower made out of silk.
A short time later, the pipa sounded out, and the flower began to pass around the first table. When it reached Liu Ji’s hand, the music abruptly stopped.
Everyone looked at the greatly unlucky Cabinet Vizier, beginning to laugh evilly.
Liu Ji was collected, though, getting up and cupping his hands. “I shall be disgraceful by telling a joke, then. It was said that in the Song Dynasty, there was an official with the surname Li that presented verses to a higher-up of his, one sentence among them being: ‘My little brother was lost south of the river, my older brother died in a northern pass.’ The higher-up saw this and sympathized, saying, ‘You are too tragic, to have your brothers all dead.’ Official Li answered, ‘No such thing happened. This humble official was simply crafting couplets.’”
He deliberately paused. Upon hearing that there was a second half to this, everyone listened up curiously.
“His higher-up then said, ‘You can just completely swap that out for this: Loved concubines doze in the home of monks, pampered wives sleep in the room of the Dao. Why make your brothers be dead for no reason?’”
After hearing that and letting it sink in, the hall was uproarious with everyone’s laughter, all of them clapping hard. The atmosphere warmed up at once. Liu Ji had passed, and the game proceeded.
When the string’s sound stopped for a second time, the silk flower was in the hands of Peng Hua, Left Assistant Minister of Appointments. He, too, told a joke, but it was one that had gotten old over a decade ago — the crowd made a fuss, saying that it didn’t count.
There was no distinction made between higher and lower during such a spectacle, as using the air of a superior to suppress people would be much too boring. With no other choice, he had to rack his brains to think up another one, and only then did he pass.
The sound of the strings varied in length. At the third time, the silk flower ended up in the hands of the Right Capital Censor, Qiu Jun.
Right then, even Tang Fan’s table cast all of its eyes and attentions over to him.
Just like how Tang Fan had guessed, Qiu Jun had indeed only come here to give the Left Capital Censor repute. Both Capital Censors belonged to the same rank and were in charge of the Inspectorate, but, according to current custom, the Left was slightly more important than the Right. Chang Zhiyuan was the head of the Inspectorate, in reality.
The latter was a people-pleaser with the mannerisms of a gentleman. When he had been scolded by Qiu Jun, who was deeply aggrieved by that improper trend spread throughout the Inspectorate, Sir Chang had not gotten angry, but rather advised Qiu Jun to not try to get results in one bound, as those should be gotten in increments. Although Qiu Jun hadn’t agreed with his viewpoint, he was quite respectful towards his colleague-slash-senior.
This event was an example; were it not for Chang Zhiyuan personally inviting him, he likely wouldn’t have come. Since he had come, he couldn’t senselessly diminish the dignity of his host, and told a joke to the crowd, willing to accept his loss in this bet.
Unfortunately, Mr. Qiu was a famed Neo-Confucian that was stiff by nature, so he really wasn’t great at telling jokes. Everyone uproared, wanting him to drink.
At that moment, the Wan steward, who was filling the post of command-giver, smiled and spoke up. “The rules state that the birthday gentleman should ask a question first. He’ll have to drink only if he can’t answer.”
Wan Tong laughed. “I don’t know what to ask. Do any of you have any questions? I can back down!”
“This humble official has something to ask Sir Qiu,” Li Zhisheng then spoke up.
“That’s fine, go on and ask!” Wan Tong answered breezily.
Li Zhisheng cupped his hands. “Could you answer one question, Sir Qiu? If you do, you will pass.”
Qiu Jun wasn’t fond of types that ascended via luck like Li Zhisheng, but this was a birthday, not Court; it wouldn’t be appropriate to bicker too seriously. He just nodded. “Go ahead and ask.”
“I heard that you once denounced Wang Zhi?”
Everyone had been steeping in the happy mood, none of them having expected that he would suddenly bring up Court matters. They were all slightly shocked.
The hall slowly quieted down.
Qiu Jun gave him a look. “Yes. And?”
“You are of upright character, Sir Qiu. I truly admire you. Dare I ask; if you were told to denounce him again, would you dare to?”
Given that one wasn’t a moron, they could hear something amiss in those words. How could someone ask such a fun-spoiling question at a perfectly good party?
Looking to Wan Tong, he currently had his head turned to Wan An to speak to him in whispers. It seemed like he wasn’t paying attention to what was going on over here at all.
How was Qiu Jun going to respond to such an instigating question?
Say that he would dare to, and that was tantamount to accepting it. Were Qiu Jun to not present a memorial later on, it would demonstrate that his word was not to be believed.
Say that he wouldn’t dare to, then wouldn’t people believe that he was scared, and too afraid to face off against Wang Zhi?
Tang Fan slowly set down his chopsticks, his face getting harder and harder to look at.
Clearly, Li Zhisheng and the rest had conflict with Wang Zhi, so they had purposefully chosen this occasion to set up a trap for him. As for Qiu Jun, since he had denounced Wang Zhi before, he was logically being made into a raft.
Pan Bin’s face paled beside him, and he whispered, “As soon as Teacher opens his mouth, he’s going to offend someone! I’ll stand up in a second and say that he’s not feeling well, while you’ll go take him away!”
Tang Fan shook his head. “Don’t move. I’ve got it.”
Qiu Jun’s complexion wasn’t nice to look at, either. He was no idiot — how could he not know of Li Zhisheng’s intentions?
His own denouncement of Wang Zhi had been out of public outrage, not private enmity, but to these people, since their interests clashed with Wang Zhi’s, they were taking him as being on their side, just with different views. Had his action become a joke, in their eyes?
He laughed coldly. Right as he thought to berate Li Zhisheng, he heard someone’s crisp voice. “Sir Li has broken the rules of the game!”
Shocked, he followed the source of the sound, like everyone else was. His youngest disciple was standing there, a smile on his lips, his presence unsurpassed.
Li Zhisheng was displeased. “How did I break the rules?”
Tang Fan lightly smiled. “The rules we just agreed to only required the other party to answer one question, and Sir Qiu already answered you; you asked if he denounced Wang Zhi, and he said yes. Yet, you also asked a second question. As that broke the game rules, logically speaking, shouldn’t you have to drink as punishment?”
Li Zhisheng was not at all a Palace Honorate, but he had received the Emperor’s favor and trust on account of his practice of Daoist spells, even getting into a department as important as the Office of Transmissions. Now, he was red-hot popular enough to scald the hand, and no one dared to offend him, making him feel quite good about himself as time went on.
He had set a snare for Qiu Jun, aiming to agitate the man into denouncing Wang Zhi, precisely because he knew the old man had gone to Nanjing on account of Wang Zhi before. With Qiu Jun’s haughty personality, indirectly influencing him would be of great use.
Unexpectedly, a Cheng Yaojin had popped up to ambush him partway through his attack, thus helping Qiu Jun out of this predicament. Li Zhisheng automatically narrowed his eyes, sizing up the young man before him. “Who are you? Why don’t I recognize you?”
He had believed that with how young the other party was, he was, at most, a fifth-rank official, but Tang Fan answered: “Left Metropolitan Censor, Tang Fan.”
He was actually truefourth-rank?
Li Zhisheng startled slightly, promptly remembering the man’s identity. “Are you that Tang Fan that became famous for solving the Xianghe County case some days ago?”
He himself had only recently been promoted. Before he had even come to the capital, Tang Fan had already gone to Henan to investigate the Song Emperor tomb, after which he had been dismissed; meanwhile, Li Zhisheng had been wholeheartedly boring into the palace, having therefore not paid any attention to him.
Tang Fan cupped his hands. “That was a mere trifle.”
Li Zhisheng couldn’t help but get angry, thinking to himself, I’m provoking Qiu Jun — what does that have to do with you? Was you jumping out to help him out of his situation necessary?
Seeming to see his thoughts, the other smiled. “Allow me to explain, Sir Li; Sir Qiu is this Tang’s teacher. His disciple toiling to solve his troubles is only natural. Since you’ve broken the rules, should you not get the drinking penalty?”
With that, he reached out and beckoned.
Li Zhisheng was taken aback.
Wan Tong, on his end, laughed loudly. “He should, he should! Thirty cups of wine, Sir Li… though that’s really up to you!”
Li Zhisheng forced a smile. “Those willing to take bets must accept defeat… I’ll take the punishment, of course.”
He ordered someone to pour the wine, then drank thirty cups in a row. Time seemed to slow down for everyone in that moment, and they all applauded.
Seeing that the crisis had been averted, Tang Fan sat down again. “You shouldn’t have been so impulsive,” Pan Bin said to him. “You’ve offended Li Zhisheng this time, and that’s not a man of nice words.”
Tang Fan knew his reminder had good intentions, so he laughed. “I don’t start things, but I’m not afraid of things that are started. As a disciple, if you see that your teacher is having difficulties, yet don’t act, not only will your teacher’s prestige lose luster, but even we as students will certainly be pointed at by others.”
As Pan Bin seemed to want to say something still, he comforted him. “Brother, I’ve already offended Wan An because of what happened with Liang Wenhua, so there’s no need to worry about bearing more debts. One more won’t be a big deal. You shouldn’t take after me; if I get unlucky in the future, I’ll have to rely on you to help me out!”
Pan Bin’s young junior was simply of meticulous thought. As the other had already spoken through about the good and the bad, what else could he say? He inwardly sighed, concedingly pat Tang Fan’s shoulder, and didn’t say anything else.
He had been a bit envious of his junior’s rapid promotion rate, getting near his own level in a brief couple of years, but one had to give as much as they got. Tang Fan being able to get great opportunities lied within his own great wisdom and great bravery — others could not envy that.
The recent scene seemed to only be a tiny interlude, quickly drowned out inside the drinking and talking. The game continued, and a few more people got penalized. Once it came to Tang Fan’s table, by sheer coincidence, in the split second the flower landed in Tang Fan’s hand, the twanging pipa stopped.
Everyone glanced over — oh, wasn’t this little Sir Tang that had just stuck his neck out for his teacher? — and started laughing.
Tang Fan also gave a slightly bitter smile, unsure if someone had deliberately set him up, or if this really was a coincidence. Then, he cleared his throat, now smiling with elegance. “I’ll tell a joke as well, then. If I don’t tell it well, don’t any of you be polite. I’ll be sure to make you all laugh before I can be done.”
The crowd guffawed. Xie Qian and the others teased, “Don’t dawdle, tell it now!”
“Hold on,” a voice called out at this inopportune time.
The speaker was none other than the birthday boy, master of the Wan Estate: Wan Tong.
He looked forthright, but in reality, he was a man of deep schemes that was adept at getting into the palace. He wouldn’t have been able to rely on his sister alone to crawl up to the position he was at today, plus receive the Emperor’s confidence, elsewise.
When it came to hang-ups, the one between Tang Fan and Head Vizier Wan An was only a small, indirect one — the one he had with Wan Tong was a big one, truthfully.
This was due to the Southside Gang, which had been one of Wan Tong’s sources of wealth, getting previously wiped out by Tang Fan, Wang Zhi, and the rest of them joining hands, thus costing Wan Tong a huge amount of revenue, and almost preventing him from returning to the Brocade Guard. That had started quite some beef.
To this point, despite the main culprits including Wang Zhi and Sui Zhou, bringing those two down was no easy matter, especially in regards to Sui Zhou, who now had a lot of the Emperor’s trust. Wan Tong didn’t want to end up invoking the Emperor’s unhappiness due to a moment of impulsive behavior.
By contrast, Tang Fan was a minor, inconspicuous figure. He had become greatly famous in recent times, but in Wan Tong’s opinion, messing with Tang Fan so that he couldn’t be an official was easy. The issue was how to drag Wang Zhi and Sui Zhou into the water, too.
He hated the three of them unto death, but his surface was as undisturbed as ever, and he had still happily used his birthday to invite two of them over.
After he said ‘hold on’, he smiled at Tang Fan. “Don’t tell a story this time, Sir Tang. I heard that you’re a god at solving cases, and I happen to have a little case of my own that’s thorny and difficult to crack. I’d like to ask you for your help in solving it.”
By means of the Xianghe case, everyone had come to hear of Tang Fan’s name, and they all became rather interested at Wan Tong’s statement.
Tang Fan smiled. “This Tang is untalented, and cannot be called a case-solving god of any sort. There’s an unknown amount of gentlemen here that are more tremendous than I. How would I dare to be Lord Guan, brandishing a broadsabre before the gates? That would be much too lacking in self-awareness of me.”
Head Vizier Wan An twirled his mustache. “Alright, Censor Tang, don’t be so modest. Old brother, do tell; I believe that everyone is intensely curious to know.”
In order to hug Consort Wan’s thigh tight, Wan An used his shared surname to call her his relative. As she was from humble origins, she had naturally been willing to have such a noble relation, and they had hit things off immediately. Hence was why Wan An, glorified as the stately Head Vizier, called Wan Tong ‘old brother’ — it was comical, but unsurprising.
Wan Tong grinned. “Very well, I’ll just say it. It goes that my neighbor has two sons. He became wealthy through commerce, and doesn’t want to split his assets, so he’s thinking to select one of his two sons to inherit the family capital. However, the older is neither filial nor virtuous, while the younger is sharp in wit and adept in grasping the feelings of others. My neighbor is in a bit of a hard spot; according to logic, the older is the eldest, so him inheriting it is right and proper, but if it did come to be in his hands, he would only squander it. Even though the younger is young, he would certainly be capable of expanding my neighbor’s business. In your view, Sir Tang, if there can be no split in assets, how should this be sectioned off? Who should the assets be given to?”
The translator says: C R A S H T H E P A R T Y
Oi… there’s a bit of an error in the original text, here. Several times, it states Pan Bin is truefourth-rank, but according to earlier in the novel + what baidu says the rank of the Shuntian Prefect is, he’s truethird-rank. He also hasn’t been demoted. (I tend to use older versions of the text due to censorship issues, so this may have been fixed in print.) I edited the text to remedy the errors.