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“Do you not think it’s possible?” Tang Fan cocked his head, seeing his sister’s slightly strange expression.
Tang Yu hesitated. “We’ve plotted against the He’s like so, but will they consent to it? I’m afraid that the Patriarch will be the first to refuse.”
He lightly laughed. “You don’t need to worry about that. We’ll handle the Second first, and then I’ll handle the Patriarch.”
Apparently, Mister Tang was capable of resolving other’s troubles very handily, but when confronting his own troubles, his brain frequently seemed to sog in water, and he would constantly do things that made one unsure of whether to laugh or cry.
Tang Yu couldn’t help but poke him awake. “You need to find a chance to be frank with Guangchuan. Don’t be fussy for no good reason.”
Tang Fan’s face went blank, instantly completing the transformation from outstandingly shrewd to dull-witted. “Wh… what did you say?”
Listen to that, he had actually stuttered.
Tang Yu placed her hand on her forehead, giving a long sigh.
When she had learned about this last night, it had shocked her beyond compare. Today, her emotions had gradually steadied, and her logic had gradually returned to her. After analyzing all sorts of merits, drawbacks, gains, and losses when it came to Tang Fan, plus seeing how he was now, she felt some sympathy for Sui Zhou.
“Nothing. All follows the laws of fate.” Sister Tang had been visiting temples to worship the Buddha occasionally as of late, so she now had a bit of mysticality in her speech. “If you spend your life happily, our parents in the Nine Springs will definitely be at ease.”
Tang Fan’s hairs stood on end from her meaningful look. Sui Guangchuan, you wretch! he thought to himself. What did you tell my sister while I was away?!
Envoy Sui, who was currently devastating his subordinates in the Northern Bastion Office’s training grounds, lightly sneezed.
From then on, Tang Fan infrequently sent people to ask after his brother-in-law’s current situation. Seemingly, He Lin had indeed calmed some, as he didn’t make a brouhaha when he was sent to the old home in the countryside for his studies.
The He family speedily moved to the capital. On the day of their moving banquet, Tang Fan brought He Cheng for a visit to hand over gifts himself, which gave enough face to Patriarch He. The latter naturally reciprocated, gifting He Cheng many things in turn.
Tang Fan had many same-year friends at Hanlin Academy, and Wang Zhi was on-duty in the palace. The hearsay he had told Tang Yu was reliable, as after not too long, the Court announced the news that a provincial grace branch of the exams would be opened this autumn.
This year, a provincial grace branch, and the next year, a metropolitan grace branch.
There was a basis for the opening of the grace branch, of course. As was known, the Emperor had truly deep affection for Consort Wan, and because her fifty-fifth birthday would be next year, he planned to open a grace branch in order to celebrate his favored consort’s longevity and paint up her renown.
Though no one dared to say so, flattery took hard work, and whether it was common opinion or the Court officials, impressions of Lady Wan were not very good. There was no lack of civilian novels based on her, which portrayed her as a termagant tyrannizing the Emperor’s harem.
Just because they didn’t like Lady Wan didn’t mean they would hate the grace branch, though. The scholars of the land were naturally pleased to be able to have another chance at getting on rolls, individually gearing up to bury their heads into strenuous study. Those that were already County Honorates, but too far from the province capital, needed to leave their homes and get on the roads early, lest their exam times be delayed.
Of Patriarch He’s three sons, two had already gained their honors and become Court officials, while the Second He alone was a gent of County Honorate status. The Second refused to relinquish this opportunity, naturally. Every day, he studied hard in the old country home, waiting for when he became a Provincial Honorate to let out a sigh of relief.
He Lin had failed to make the roll so many times, that even Patriarch He didn’t hold any high expectations for him, to say nothing of anyone else. He already had two promising sons, anyways; adding the Second He to that would be more of a good thing, but if not, it would be no big deal.
When it came to He Lin’s temperament, Patriarch He worried that if he became an official, he would offend someone, then bring calamity onto the He family. Such a thought made it seem that He Lin’s failure to place was actually a good thing.
He Lin himself certainly didn’t believe that, though. The provincial exams were his only opportunity to reverse his fortune.
As he got older and the years romped by, he was too afraid to imagine the shameful scene of him still going to the tests with graying hair. Harboring such a notion, he exerted nearly all of his power in preparing for the grace branch.
Under such circumstances, Tang Fan found a chance to travel to Xianghe County’s countryside himself, paying a visit to his sister’s husband.
He Lin was astonished at this visit, and had a coldness that was difficult to conceal. Tang Fan didn’t care, simply chatting happily with him for a time, speaking only some words for the occasion.
In He Lin’s eyes, his brother-in-law was amply devious, sinister, and full of schemes. People of different paths did not seek each other out; making himself have the patience to speak with him was uncomfortable.
Seeing that the other man was going around in a circle, He Lin couldn’t help but ask his guest to leave. “Is there something urgent? If not, I will go to study.”
Tang Fan didn’t mind it. “How are your reviews going?”
“Fine,” He Lin answered coldly.
The other laughed. “I heard that the presiding examiner of Northern Zhili next year will be Pan Bin, Pan Zilin.”
“What of…” He Lin’s voice abruptly cut off. He was not up-to-date on current affairs, but he had heard before that this Pan Zilin seemed to be Tang Fan’s senior of the same teacher. “What are you planning?”
His expression darkened, as he only believed Tang Fan was wanting to trip him up.
Tang Fan inwardly shook his head. The Second He’s biggest issue was not that he couldn’t pass the provincials, but his personality. It didn’t require careful thought to know that if such a man even could get into officialdom, it would likely be difficult for him to receive promotions. Perhaps Patriarch He had seen as much, and thus didn’t have any expectations for his second son.
In order to get He Lin to understand what he was hearing, Tang Fan had to switch angles, though he couldn’t be too explicit. “My senior’s personality is one that doesn’t seek merits, but does seek to not offend. It may seem like mountains are not fond of being level, but at the provincial exam scene, it would be better to have more caution. I have a few eight-legged essays here, all made by capable people. A few among them are ones I did in the provincial exams, myself. If you don’t disdain doing so, you should take a look.”
He had once read He Lin’s typical essays from Tang Yu. The writing wasn’t too shabby, really — He Lin had been called a child prodigy in his youth, so how could it be? Moreover, not only was it not bad, but it had quite some literary flair, giving even the strictly demanding format of eight-legged essays color.
Even so, it was too pompous, and He Lin was too high-and-mighty, having to add in his own thoughts and opinions every time, thus leaving an aura of arrogance on the paper. If he was lucky enough to come across an examiner of generous personality, that would be fine. If he came across the kind of examiner that preferred overcaution, or one that wasn’t fond of his style, he would be out of luck.
Tang Fan surmised that that might be the reason why He Lin had been able to test into being a County Honorate, but had repeatedly failed to be a Provincial Honorate.
By the by, the examiners-to-be in Northern Zhili’s provincials — Pan Bin aside — would all be older and wiser men. Were the Second He’s bellyful of whining to be brought to the exams and written onto the papers, it would most likely be thrown out again.
Tang Fan had taken great pains, too, intentionally going on such a big detour to make He Lin pass the provincials on the proper route. The selected essays couldn’t have any relation to the current examiner, either. It really had taken a lot of effort.
As for whether He Lin would be able to puzzle it out or not, that would depend on the man’s own destiny.
His goal achieved, Tang Fan didn’t stay longer upon seeing He Lin’s persistent confusion, soon getting up and taking his leave.
He Lin wasn’t yet the pinnacle of stupidity. He had thought that Tang Fan had come here to show off his own dazzling achievements and mock him, but after the other left, he did a lot of thinking, and finally grasped something of what the other had been playing at. He immediately picked up the essays Tang Fan had left, pinched his nose, and studied them thoroughly, meticulously, and repeatedly.
He had failed too many times. Regardless of Tang Fan’s intent, he didn’t have any further option but to try.
Starting out with not too much hope in his last-minute effort, after he came back from the provincial exams, he didn’t loiter, heading straight back to the old country house. When the autumnal exam spots were announced, and the old servant that helped with reading the roll came back to report alongside the notifier bearing the good news, he was in disbelief, as if he had fallen into a dreamland.
I actually made it?
He Lin confirmed his name and place with the notifier over and over, dazed, afraid of the great embarrassment that would happen if they had gotten the wrong person.
The notifier must have met many like him before, as he smiled without impatience at He Lin’s endless checks, then took out a big red roll call for him to verify it.
Ninety-third place, He Lin.
Provincial exam enrollment had a set number of spots that varied by province. Northern Zhili had the most out of all, having about a hundred spots for each provincial branch. Ninety-third place was not much at all, but compared to all those scholars that had fallen off the roll, He Lin had gotten really lucky.
The He family soon learned the news of He Lin’s achievement. Even Patriarch He couldn’t help but inwardly sigh for Heaven’s blessings; evidently, his decision to make the other return to their homeland for studies had been a good one. If he had let He Lin move to the capital and face this world of distractions, he might not have been able to calm his mind enough to prepare for the exams.
The He’s had only just moved to the capital, so having family friends in it was quite out of the question, but Patriarch He still had some old pals from his days in officialdom. The Third He was appointed to the Ministry of Justice and had also forged some friendships with his colleagues; when those people heard about the Second He passing the provincials, they all dropped by for congratulations, saying that Patriarch He was mighty blessed to have two sons on official paths, and now even his least remarkable one was having a lucky turn, the misfortune turning into a boon. This was a portent that the He family was on the verge of a flying rise to the top.
No matter how anyone else gave their praises, He Lin knew best of all that if Tang Fan hadn’t given him hints and those essays at his visit, he would not have been able to pass the provincials. To say it differently, despite his high self-regard, he hadn’t gotten to the extent where he viewed nothing around him as important, or felt himself to be the sole supremacy in all of the world.
He didn’t understand why Tang Fan had helped him, but upon thinking about it, he could only ascribe it to Tang Yu and He Cheng.
The Tang and He families were still in-laws. In this day and age, particular attention was paid to the wife relying on the husband’s nobility; were he to be met with contempt, Tang Yu and He Cheng would subsequently be met with mockery. For his sister and nephew, Tang Fan would inevitably lend a hand.
After figuring that out, He Lin didn’t feel a single bit of happiness, simply determining that in the next year’s metropolitan grace branch, he had to get on the roll without relying on anyone. Tang Fan would take a nice long look — it wasn’t like he wouldn’t be able to get it apart from him.
Having that motivation, he had a rare bout of not going wild with happiness after passing the exams, and didn’t go to visit the Tang home. Contrarily, he rejected Patriarch He’s proposal to let him live in the capital, and proceeded to stay in the old home in preparation for next year’s metropolitan exams.
Perhaps he understood him too well, as Tang Fan didn’t come to bother him, nor did he ever drop by to flaunt his credit for the achievement. After He Lin passed, the Tang family was quiet, neither sending gifts of congratulations, nor sending word from Tang Yu and Tang Fan.
The other side’s calm reaction just made He Lin feel ill-disposed. He was used to everything being a hassle, only able to think poorly of the Tang family, and that Tang Fan looked down upon his insignificant Provincial Honorate status. He wanted all the more to make a stunning hit at the metropolitan exams, and let the Tangs see how tremendous he was.
Time passed in the blink of an eye. The third month’s grace branch in the nineteenth year of Chenghua soon arrived. He Lin smugly stayed for three days in one of the Ministry of Rites’s numbered rooms, then sent a servant early to go read the list on the day of its release, feeling both tensed and ecstatic. The entire morning, he had paced around the study in the He’s capital house — in order to get the roll’s information in a timely matter, after the provincials, he had finally set aside his ego to move from the old country home to the new residence.
Patriarch He was also sitting in the study to await the news. Even though he did not place as much value onto He Lin as he did his other two sons, that didn’t signify that he didn’t wish for He Lin to pass. A son having promise would be a father’s delight.
Besides, having three Palace Honorates in one family would be a hundred times more impressive than having two.
Noticing that his mind wasn’t at peace, the Patriarch deliberately diverted his attention so that he wasn’t unduly anxious, and there would be scene of joy when the time came. “After passing the provincials, did you ever send someone to give word to your wife and brother-in-law?”
“Didn’t you send someone for it?”
Patriarch He hated his lack of ambition. “Is me saying so the same as you saying so? That’s your wife and her brother!”
Seeing that his dad wanted to berate him again, He Lin had to frown. “Wouldn’t it be even better to wait until I get Palace Honorate for that?” Giving this a thought, he added something else. “The Tangs don’t look highly upon us at all. I heard that mother invited them for a small get-together for her day of longevity, but they refused. Why bother rushing to press myself against someone else’s cold rear?”
“They sent gifts! There’s nothing impolite about them coming or not!” the Patriarch raged. “How did you get to be such an idiot? Tang Fan is already unhappy with you! If you don’t take chances to mend your relationship, how long will you need to wait? Are you going to cast your wife and son to Tang Fan for all time, making him help you with supporting them?!”
What vexed He Lin about his father was how he readily scolded him, yet whenever he saw him interact with the Third He, he was never so harsh in words. Presumably, he liked He Lin the least.
Right when he wanted to argue, he heard a burst of rushed footsteps come from outside.
Despite feigning a calm look of carelessness, he had long become skittish at heart, and jumped to open the door.
Standing outside was the steward, tailed by the servant who had been sent to read the list. The two’s faces did not have the joy typically seen when their master had passed a test, but instead hesitation.
This sight made He Lin’s heart promptly thud.
After experiencing years of failure, he had gradually turned desperate for exam luck. For this metropolitan exam, despite his hard work and immense hopes, he was not conceited enough to place himself as Prime or Second Scorer. In his opinion, being a second-roll Palace Honorate would be a hugely pleasant surprise.
“How was it?” Patriarch He asked.
“I must inform you, Master, Second Lord, that this lowly one looked all around the rolls, and did not see the Second Lord’s name…” The servant hesitated. “But it may be that my lousy eyes weren’t working and I couldn’t read it clearly. I ask that another be called over to take a look, in case I made an error.”
The Patriarch felt a wave of disappointment. How would the servant have ever dared to come back and report this, had he not verified it multiple times? He Lin’s name must not be on the roll.
He Lin was even more disappointed than he was. He stood there mutely, only hearing that he had fallen off the placings yet again, no other words left to enter his ears.
What stunning hit? What scene would the Tangs be looking at? His previous ideas were now turned into complete jokes. He had really thought that he would turn upset into a cause for celebration, only to end up having the Heavens play a trick on him.
Could it be… that being a Palace Honorate genuinely wasn’t in the cards for him?
Following his burst of disappointment, Patriarch He let it go. His sons didn’t stop at just He Lin, and the latter had been lucky enough to pass the provincials. Making extravagant demands was ultimately rather greedy.
For He Lin, however, this was a fatal strike.
During his time of near-collapse, Tang Fan dropped by again. He Lin believed that he wanted to mock him, but that was him underestimating him; were it not for his sister and nephew, Tang Fan wouldn’t have come to do this.
The previous setup had come to fruition, and it was time to take back the net.
He arranged for He Lin to meet him alone in the study, then got straight to the point. “Do you want to keep taking exams, or do you want to get right into your official career?”
He Lin was caught off guard, furrowing his brows as he stared at him. “What do you mean?”
“You are a Provincial Honorate, so you can go straight to being an official. It will be a lower post, but promotion won’t be an impossibility for the future. I can help you, if you want to take that path. Of course, if you want to continue taking tests, you can do as you will.”
Forever having vigilance and guard towards Tang Fan, He Lin asked, “Why would you help me? What are you trying to get?”
It wasn’t He Lin’s crazed thinking at work this time, and Tang Fan didn’t hide anything. “I want you to separate from my sister. Also, Qilang must change his surname to Tang. From that point on, you will have no sort of married life.”
He Lin grasped Tang Fan’s plan at last. He grew immensely angry, sneering. “You believe that I’ll sell off my wife and son to seek fame? Tang Runqing, you’re really despicable! Don’t even think about using that as blackmail!”
Tang Fan did not get angry, remaining calm. “I urge you to consider it. My suggestion is actually perfect for both sides. There’s a vacant post for Official Mentor of Miyun County; my own post isn’t prominent, but I would have no issue in helping you out for this. Your two brothers are also in officialdom, but they probably won’t be able to help you with anything right now. As long as you perform spectacularly in your three years, you can be promoted to County Magistrate. Your future would not be any lesser than that of a true second-roll Palace Honorate.”
He Lin was struck stupid, speechless.
“You’re still young,” the other continued. “Remarrying and having children wouldn’t be hard for you. Qilang will only be one of your many children, but he was carried by my sister for ten months. The weight in values there is clear. If you’re willing to adopt my plan, it will give you a hundred advantages with not one harm.”
“…What if I refuse?” He Lin grit his teeth. “There will be another metropolitan exam next year. I can pass it with my own ability, so why would I accept your charity?!”
Tang Fan lightly smiled. “You being able to pass on your own ability is something you could do, of course. What can I say on that? However, above-board people have knowledge of the self. Think about this carefully — the Official Mentor post will not be open forever. Many people in this world want to be officials, so if you refuse, others will certainly be willing. After passing by this village, there will be no shops; if you have regrets, then want me to help you, I’ll likely be powerless.
“Furthermore, I’m not handing out charity, but performing a collaboration that benefits both sides. If you agree, my sister and I will be grateful to you. No matter what, Qilang is your flesh and blood, and that will not falter — he will not refuse to acknowledge you as his father because of the change in surname. He and my sister are simply disappointed in the He family, and no longer want to be involved with its name.”
He Lin’s expression changed. After a good while, he said, “I want to meet with her.”
Who ‘her’ was, Tang Fan knew well. In his mind, He Lin had no belief that Tang Yu would be so unfeeling towards him.
Tang Fan nodded. “You may.”
Three days later, by means of his connection to Wang Zhi, he reserved a private room in Immortal Cloud for Tang Yu to meet He Lin in. Tang Fan himself withdrew. It was unknown what discussion his sister and the Second He had, but upon seeing Tang Yu return looking relieved from a burden, he knew this matter had its proper end.
“He agreed to it?” he asked.
She nodded, then immediately became a little worried. “Do think the He family will have refutes on their end?”
Tang Fan laughed. “They definitely will, but they’re not able to plot any good way forward for He Lin. Even if they oppose it, it won’t work. He Lin is Qilang’s father; given that he agrees, everything will go smoothly.”
This ended with He Lin taking his suggestion instead of waiting to take the exams next year, which demonstrated that he was not certain that he would pass them. Just as Tang Fan had said, opportunities were transient, with a whole gaggle of people busting their heads open to get even that Official Mentor position. If he gave it up, then failed the exam again, he would have lost his wife along with his army.
Tang Fan was actually a little confused, though. “Sis, do you really detest the He family that much? Why did you insist upon changing Qilang’s surname to Tang?”
“Are you not unwilling to take a wife for right now? I won’t force you, you can get married whenever you like. If Qilang changes his surname to Tang, that can be something of a justification to our parents.”
“Sis!” He suffered a shock, having never imagined that her insistence upon the surname change had such an idea behind it.
No wonder he had always felt that her behavior of not loathing the He’s very much, yet persisting with getting He Cheng to leave them, was really strange.
“Fluffy, if this were the past, I might have still urged you to marry soon, but I don’t think that way anymore. I don’t want you to be like me or your brother-in-law, where you force a bond. Even if it gives you momentary bliss, it will turn you into a pair of resentful spouses as time goes on. I only hope that you live a happy life, and don’t need to suffer any sort of discomfort. Do you understand?” she spoke softly, touching his shoulder.
Her little brother had gotten so tall. She could no longer reach up to pet the top of his head.
“You seem intelligent, but in truth, the closer you are to someone, the dumber you get. I can see something of Guangchuan’s intent towards you, and you should get this over with, too. You can’t lead people on, you have to be clear on what exactly is happening.”
Out of nowhere, this was the topic she was bringing up. Tang Fan was stupefied for half the day, his face that was typically thicker than the skin of a boar’s slowly turning red. “…What crap did he say to you?!”
She smirked. “He didn’t say a thing. If you want to know, you should go ask him.”
The author’s mini-theatre:
Tang Fan: My skin is thicker than a boar’s… couldn’t you switch that to a more refined comparison?! (╯‵□′)╯︵┻━┻
Author: Pigskin can be made into pigskin jelly! Doesn’t that fit in exactly right with your attribute?
Tang Fan: What attribute? Explain yourself clearly!
Sui Zhou: Eating.
Wang Zhi: Eating.
Tang Yu: Eating.
He Cheng: Eating.
Tang Fan: …